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Review New Releases

PostPosted: Sun Feb 17, 2008 2:03 pm
by sunny
These could be a recent theatrical release or DVD. You could personally review a recent film you have seen, or post a professional review of a film you have seen or would like to see. We can keep each other up-to-date on little noticed or interesting films.

My first pick is a film I'd like to see that had a limited theatrical release. I can't wait for it to come out on DVD, which so far is unscheduled. Keep a look out for it. Here's Roger Ebert:

The Orphanage (R)
December 28, 2007

Cast & CreditsLaura: Belen Rueda
Carlos: Fernando Cayo
Simon: Roger Princep
Aurora: Geraldine Chaplin
Benigna: Montserrat Carulla
Pilar: Mabel Rivera

Picturehouse presents a film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Written by Sergio G. Sanchez. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R (for some disturbing content). Opening today at the AMC River East and Landmark Century.

By Roger Ebert

Now here is an excellent example of why it is more frightening to await something than to experience it. "The Orphanage" has every opportunity to descend into routine shock and horror, or even into the pits with the slasher pictures, but it only pulls the trigger a couple of times. The rest is all waiting, anticipating, dreading. We need the genuine jolt that comes about midway, to let us see what the movie is capable of. The rest is fear.

Hitchcock was very wise about this. In his book-length conversation with Truffaut, he used a famous example to explain the difference between surprise and suspense. If people are seated at a table and a bomb explodes, that is surprise. If they are seated at a table, and you know there's a bomb under the table attached to a ticking clock, but they continue to play cards -- that's suspense. There's a bomb under "The Orphanage" for excruciating stretches of time.

That makes the film into a superior ghost story, if indeed there are ghosts in it. I am not sure: They may instead be the experience or illusion of ghosts in the mind of the heroine, and since we see through her eyes, we see what she sees and are no more capable than she is of being certain. That means when she walks down a dark staircase, or into an unlit corridor or a gloomy room, we're tense and fearful, whether we're experiencing a haunted house or a haunted mind. And when she follows her son into a pitch-black cave, her flashlight shows only a thread of light through unlimited menace.

The movie centers on Laura (Belen Rueda), who as a young girl was raised in the orphanage before being taken away one day and adopted. Now in her 30s, she has returned with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their young son Simon (Roger Princep) to buy the orphanage and run it as a home for sick or disabled children. She has memories here, most of them happy, she believes, but as images begin to swim into her mind and even her vision, she has horrifying notions about what might have happened to the playmates she left behind on the summer day 30 years ago.

Simon, too, seems disturbed, and since no other children have arrived, he creates imaginary playmates. One of them, a boy with a sack over his head, he shows in a drawing to his mother, who is startled because this very image exists in her own mind. Does that mean -- well, what could it mean? Telepathy? Or the possibility that Simon, too, is the product of her imagination? The line between reality and fantasy is so blurred in the film that it may even be, however unlikely, that Simon exists and is imagining her.

(*the following paragraph contains a spoiler*)

It matters not for us, because we are inside Laura's mind, no matter what. And when a decidedly sinister "social worker" (Montserrat Carulla) turns up, Simon learns after her visit that he is adopted and dying. He apparently runs away, even though he needs daily medication. His parents spend months searching for him, putting posters everywhere, convinced he is not dead. But many children may have died at the orphanage. The parents consult a psychic (Geraldine Chaplin), who possibly provides what people claim they want from a psychic (but really don't): the truth.

The film, a Spanish production directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro ("The Devil's Backbone," "Pan's Labyrinth"), is deliberately aimed at viewers with developed attention spans. It lingers to create atmosphere, a sense of place, a sympathy with the characters, instead of rushing into cheap thrills. Photographed by Oscar Faura, it has an uncanny way of re-creating that feeling we get when we're in a familiar building at an unfamiliar time, and we're not quite sure what to say if we're found there, and we might have just heard something, and why did the lights go out?

You may be capable of walking into any basement on earth, but if you go down the stairs into the darkened basement of the house you grew up in, do you still ... feel something? ... 70301/1023

PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:21 pm
by KeenInsight
Ok, I guess I could try this out. I watched one movie recently that has "current events" applications. It's not a less known film either and it can be bought/rented/downloaded, etc. currently.

The Kingdom (R)
September 28th, 2007

(My own review) I didn't want to watch this film on purpose as I already knew what it was about. Terrorists blowin' up people, garnering anger in said individuals who feed on such drivel and, of course, the characters within the film recite their anger as well. They want to "KILL" or at least torture the mass murderer Middle Eastern Arab guy, throwing out any shred of humanity whatsoever. This shining crapola is a TRUE example of a cluster fuck movie (MOVE OVER CLOVERFIELD).

Instead of a film yet to be seen that perhaps looks at the atrocities and horrors of those that suffer in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine by Tyrants/Imperialists, or the real movers behind Extremism, OR, on a happier note, explore Middle Eastern culture without notions of hate, we have this film. There are the FBI Agents seeking revenge and their ally Saudi police guys, looking for the same.

There is really nothing else to be said. The "good guys" win and kill plenty of Muslims without even a second thought. It's almost like a video game to them as you see the female character, for instance, mowing down some guys with face masks about to behead her FBI friend. They get their sweet, sweet justice by filling the Super Bad Terrorist guy with plenty of bullets. All in good fun.

I really hate this film even if it tries to portray Americans and Saudi's (that it is to say, any other Arab country is an enemy) getting along/being friendly to one another. Oh crap, those Arab women were wearing veils!? Too bad people don't know that, under non-radical rule, Women wear veils and cover their body so other Men (especially married ones) are not tempted by them. A secondary application is that the visibility of the woman's eyes are the central focus of their beauty, rather than busting boobs and cleavage in American society.

PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2008 2:11 pm
by sunny
Thanks KeenInsight. You've just expanded the purpose of the thread to include new releases to avoid!

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:03 pm
by sunny
I saw American Gangster in the theater, but my husband bought it the other night so I watched it again.


The film is darn near perfect. Interesting true story with a great denoument, ie 3/4 of NY's DEA agents and lots of city cops at the time were indicted for corruption. Whooo hooo! The cop who brought down Frank Lucas was also the prosecutor who convicted him, plus 150 others. He then turned around and became a defense attorney and his first client was Frank Lucas.

The acting is great, except I had a hard time seperating Frank Lucas from Denzel Washington. He just seemed so himself in this part, cool and sophisticated. Crowe was perfect as the schlubby detective and he really kept it low-key.

The dialogue, setting, and soundtrack were so spot on you feel immersed in 'late '60's early 70's NYC and that is a genuine pleasure.

However, that vague dissatisfaction I felt after my first viewing came into focus upon watching the DVD. There is something missing, a certain alchemy that great movies should have to be truly great, and this film should have been truly great. It's not something that can be manufactured or planned for, it just happens. It did not happen with this film and that is not for lack of high quality all around. The Departed had it despite it being an inferior Scorcese product, imo. I don't really know how to explain it-it's not just chemistry between actors, it goes beyond that. It's more like a spell has been cast over the entire effort, a perfect storm of elements that come together to make a mesmerizing whole.

Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors and it is too bad he was snubbed again for the awards he deserves, but in this case it is understandable.

PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2008 9:16 am
by sunny
"Flight of the Red Balloon"

By Stephanie Zacharek

IFC Films / Tsai cheng-tai

Simon Iteanu as Simon in "Flight of the Red Balloon."

April 4, 2008 | Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's pictures are more like delicate paper cutouts than movies. He never outlines anything too starkly -- he'd rather cast shadows and capture glimmers of meaning than make declarative statements.

But overselling the subtlety of Hou's movies -- his last was the marvelous triptych of love stories "Three Times" -- can make them seem like abstraction rather than the beautifully concrete traceries that they so often are, and there's nothing elusive or difficult about his latest, the quietly astonishing "Flight of the Red Balloon." This is a flight of fancy grounded in real life. Hou's inspiration is Albert Lamorisse's 1956 "The Red Balloon," about a lonely young Parisian boy who is befriended, and seemingly protected by, a balloon that follows him everywhere, even when he's not clutching its string. Hou's picture is a love letter to the earlier one; it also features a lonely boy, Simon (played by Simon Iteanu), and a watchful red balloon. And like Lamorisse's film, it's set in Paris, but through Hou's eyes, the setting is a cross between the dream Paris and the real one, as if Hou were a visitor not from another country but from another time, or perhaps another planet. Hou and his frequent cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping Bing, give the city a pearlescent glow, like a prize to be found within a giant oyster's shell. The look of the movie, along with its gently unfolding, unforced narrative, gives it a momentum that's both soothing and urgent. This is a transportive picture, the kind with the power to carry you outside of yourself; it is itself a flotation device.

Lamorisse's film, which was made in postwar France, touches on the ways children are bound by adult rules that often don't make much sense, and on how the world can so often be hostile and confusing to children. Lamorisse himself defies authority by dispensing with the laws of physics, giving us a helium balloon that disobeys all the rules, a symbol of self-sufficiency and self-determination.

"Flight" uses Lamorisse's picture as a launching pad to suggest that, even in the days of meticulously planned play dates and endless soccer practice, there are certain things about childhood that don't change much. "Flight" draws a reassuring web between the old ways of life and the new, exploring the affection and sense of protectiveness that stressed-out modern parents feel for their children; the ways city children, specifically, respond to their environs, adamantly remaining childlike even in the midst of the symbols of progress and sophistication all around them; and the bonds that form, slowly and almost imperceptibly, between children and their caretakers, just out of casual, everyday interaction.

The picture opens with Simon trying to coax a red balloon, hovering nearby, to come with him. Will it or won't it? In that stream-of-consciousness patter that kids use when they don't know they're being observed, he offers it all kinds of bribes, including "a million pieces of candy." The balloon -- is it real or figurative? Does it matter? -- can't seem to make up its mind, but Simon at least has human beings to watch over him. His mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), is a harried, distracted woman who supplies voices for a puppet troupe. She loves her son dearly but seems to know intuitively that he needs someone more attentive to look after him, and so she has hired a nanny, Song (Song Fang), a young woman from Beijing who has come to Paris to attend film school.

There isn't so much a story in "Flight of the Red Balloon" as a collection of textures that add up to something like everyday life. We see Song and Simon tentatively getting to know each other: She picks him up from school, and the two return to the modest, cluttered apartment he shares with his mom. She doesn't yet know the routine; she asks questions about it -- what should be done, and when? When two neighbors -- as it turns out, they're tenants of another apartment in the building, one of two that have been left to Suzanne by her late mother -- come to the door and assert that Suzanne has told them it's OK for them to cook in her kitchen, Song is skeptical. Before granting permission, she calls Suzanne, just to make sure. She moves quietly around the flat while Simon takes his piano lesson: The piano is located in the neighbor's apartment, which makes the whole kitchen-sharing business seem more logical. The two explore the city together, and Song tells Simon about a film she's making, based on "an old film, made in 1956" by Albert Lamorisse. Simon tells her things, too, relating a story that at first seems like a tall tale, about an older half-sister who takes him for jaunts around the city whenever she's there, which doesn't seem to be often enough.

"Flight of the Red Balloon" is about loneliness and anxiety -- not horrible, life-shattering loneliness and anxiety, but the kind that makes us human, and sometimes even holds us together. Simon is a generally happy kid, but as Iteanu plays him, there are the usual doubts and insecurities hovering about him: A happy childhood isn't necessarily a perfect one. And Binoche gives a wonderful, wide-open performance: Her Suzanne has a flurry of bleached-blond hair; she dresses in an assortment of crazily semi-matched outfits that suggest the splendid '70s ragbag finery she may have worn in her youth. The character is, at times, insufferable: She's self-absorbed, scattered, too artsy for her own good. But as the movie winds its way forward, we learn more about her life: She has a partner, Simon's father, who has been off in Montreal working on a novel forever, and who probably will never come back. The tenants who believe it's OK to use her kitchen without asking are friends of his, and they're a thorn in her side -- partly because they don't pay rent, and partly, it's easy to surmise, because they only remind her of her partner's absence and of how little he seems to care for her.

We also wonder how she makes ends meet: How much money does anyone make working for a puppet troupe? No wonder Suzanne is anxious and sometimes distant. But just as she's working herself into a series of little knots, she'll catch sight of her son -- perhaps flopped on his stomach in the flat, just being a kid -- and be brought back to the here and now, to the fleeting moment of his childhood. "Flight of the Red Balloon" is about, among other things, keeping that moment within reach, even though, by the time we reach adulthood, it may seem eternally out of our grasp. It's possible to keep that balloon nearby, even long after we've let go of the string. ... index.html

PostPosted: Wed Apr 09, 2008 10:05 am
by Jeff
sunny wrote:"Flight of the Red Balloon"

Thanks for posting this. A few weeks ago I found the trailer and was captivated. The original was a forgotten fixture of grade school, and rediscovering it refreshed some faded impressions of my childhood.

PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 11:02 am
by sunny
The Orphanage is now out on DVD.

It's good, people. It had some problems, namely the ending which made me cry like a baby but nevertheless was sort agey feel-good is how I guess you could describe it. Also, there was one logical flaw that bugged me, but it didn't ruin it.

I don't understand this part of Ebert's review:

Or the possibility that Simon, too, is the product of her imagination? The line between reality and fantasy is so blurred in the film that it may even be, however unlikely, that Simon exists and is imagining her.

There is just no indication that we are to take any part of the film either as the imagination of either character, a delusion, or a dream.

even the ghostly children are presented as really being there, and not the product of imagination or delusion.

***end Spoiler***

It reminds me of an old ghost story I heard as a kid. It's spooky. It's also excrutiatingly sad, and touching. The atmosphere was one of impending doom throughout and I revelled in it. The theme is motherly love, the fierce bond between mother and child and how it can drive a woman to do anything for the sake of her child. I completely identified with it.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:47 am
by sunny

Not Your Mother's Rabbit Hole

Coraline / Agent Bedhead

Eyes are the windows to the soul, or so we’ve been told countless times. Sometimes, however, we cannot trust even our own eyes, for looks can often be deceiving. This disturbing duality forms the basis for Coraline, a spooky film with an ominous “be careful what you wish for” tagline that sets the tone for the cautionary tale within. Simultaneously anxiety-inducing and affecting, Coraline is an exquisitely attractive film that never achieves its visuals at the expense of the story itself. This seemingly impossible feat occurs through an astonishingly effective collaboration between Neil Gaiman, author of the 2002 horror novella, and director-screenwriter Henry Selick (A Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach). So much could have gone wrong on the way to the big screen in the hands of a lesser director, but Selick has achieved the fairly tenuous balance between his own craftsmanship and Gaiman’s work. This total integration took seven bloody years to achieve, and, quite frankly, I am amazed that Selick never went insane during the entire process.

Coraline is, of course, an adaptation of a much beloved book, which was spawned from bedtime stories that Gaiman told his own daughters before weaving these tales into his own sparingly detailed and characteristically clear prose. Those familiar with Gaiman’s writing will recognize that, although his work is often subject to multiple interpretations on the larger themes of life (and death), he doesn’t prescribe any particular meaning for his readers. For that matter, Gaiman doesn’t bother wasting words on anything that is inessential to the plot. Such simplicity, however, is often beguiling in the case of an author whose prose often descends into fantasy with no notice at all. In a dizzying yet deft manner, Selick uses his own dazzling style to smoothly guide the plot through such transitions. The director does, however, make a few judgment calls to both Americanize the tale and add a new character. Those small changes aside this is a faithful adaptation of the source material. Now, on with the phantasmagoria.

Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) and her parents move to Oregon, land of everlasting drizzle. In these dreary new surroundings, Coraline finds herself with everything that she needs but nothing that she wants. She misses her old friends, and her Mother (Teri Hatcher) and Father (John Hodgman), who are both writers with deadlines to meet, only pay as much attention to daughter as is required by law. So, Coraline attempts to engage herself but is unable to relate to her attic level neighbor, an allegedly drunk trapeze artist named Mr. Bobinsky (Ian McShane, or her basement neighbors, a pair of burlesque dancers named Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Forcible (Dawn French), whose glory days have long since past. The closest thing to a friend that Coraline encounters is a somewhat irritating boy, Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.), whom she would prefer to just shut up. In short, the young girl is very lonely, quite bored, and vulnerable to temptation. At this point, Selick’s pacing is such that we feel the full banality of Coraline’s frustrations at living in a grey, lifeless flat with nothing to do but stare outside at the rain. As such, when Coraline decides to open the little door in one of her home’s walls, we fully feel her exhilaration as she crawls through a portal resembling an otherworldly umbilical cord and emerges within a reality almost identical to her own, only much better.

This alternate world is much cheerier and brighter, as well as pretty much everything that Coraline has longed for. Her “other” parents (also voiced by Hatcher and Hodgman) are attentive and nurturing. Coraline thinks she could never be happier, but she gets the feeling that something seems just a bit off because all people, animals, and toys have buttons instead of eyes. Well, all except for an enigmatic Cat, who strolls through both realities but, in the alternate world, speaks with the dulcet tones of Keith David. The Cat arrives with a warning: “You probably think this other world is a dream come true. But you’re wrong.” Coraline attempts to brush this remark aside, but her unease is confirmed when the Other Mother presents a gift box containing a sewing needle and two black buttons, which must replace the girl’s own eyes if she wishes to stay. The Other Mother insists, “Soon, you’ll see things our way,” and, as Coraline recoils in horror, so does the audience. Things get even creepier from that point on.

Adding to the audience’s immersion, along with all of the exceptional voice talent involved with this film, is the realism of Selick’s old-school stop motion animation that was created, frame-by-frame, pose-by-pose, puppet-by-puppet, and with stunningly careful attention to detail and movement. After a restrained sprinkling of 3D effects, the respective inertia and kinetic energy of Coraline’s two different worlds feel real. Unlike the binary robotics of CGI, Coraline, as a film and as a heroine, seems as alive to us as the animators themselves. Many 3D flicks these days are scripted around the 3D gimmicks themselves, but, in contrast, Coraline is merely enhanced by its 3D touches, which makes everything feel quite comfortable and altogether natural, aside from a shiver-inducing sewing needle during the opening credits. Most of the 3D here isn’t used to intrude upon the audience but instead to provide contrast and depth to the stop-motion animation. The total effect, although subtle, is that, instead of jumping away from the film, the audience gets pulled into the story. How odd that a director has resisted the temptation of ejaculating all over his audience with all of the 3D wizardry now readily accessible and available. It’s quite the novel approach, really.

This is an achingly gorgeous film crafted in diligent detail and accompanied by Bruno Coulais’ deathly beautiful score. Much like the heroine herself, Coraline is clever and inquisitive but more than slightly surly at times. Actually, a good measure of the third act comes with quite a bit of scariness for children under ten years. Coraline may come with a PG-rating, but this is really more of a PG² sort of movie. Don’t be surprised if, after watching this film, you awaken with a nightmarish start, only to discover that a whimpering child is attempting to climb into your bed in the middle of the night. Whew.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be found at

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