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The Movie Report
September 2005

#474 - 476
September 2, 2005 - September 30, 2005

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)


The Movie Report / Film Flam Flummox

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#476 September 30, 2005

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#475 September 16, 2005


Corpse Bride one-sheet Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (PG) *** 1/2
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In Brief

Cry_Wolf one-sheet Cry_Wolf (PG-13) * 1/2
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Everything Is Illuminated one-sheet Everything Is Illuminated (PG-13) ***
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The Exorcism of Emily Rose one-sheet The Exorcism of Emily Rose (PG-13) ** 1/2
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The title conjures up images of heads spinning, mysterious languages spouted in growly demonic tones, and, of course, projectile vomiting. So those fright-minded moviegoers looking for an Exorcist redux will be in for something even more shocking with Scott Derrickson's film--it's a courtroom drama! Based on actual events, the focus is not so much on the titular exorcism than the trial that takes place after it, as the priest (Tom Wilkinson) who performed the rite is charged with the young woman's mysterious death. While a sober, straightforward treatment of this fascinating story would be completely justified, co-writer/director Scott Derrickson wants to have his pea soup and eat it too. Instead of limiting the bizarre demonic occurrences to subjective flashbacks by the priest and Emily's family members, he also has mysterious creepiness torment the real life of the priest's lawyer (Laura Linney). Thus the final product is something frustratingly confused, with the very talented leads lending credibility to the dramatic material and pertinent questions about the existence of spiritual forces only to be hamstrung by the far less intelligent formula requirements of the genre, with close calls and fake-outs involving things going bump in the middle of the night (or, more specifically, 3:00 AM) and key witnesses disappearing at crucial moments like clockwork.

Just Like Heaven one-sheet Just Like Heaven (PG-13) ***
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Reese Witherspoon's image may loom head and shoulders above everything else on the movie posters, but this candyfloss comedy belongs to her far-less-prominently featured leading man, Mark Ruffalo. With last year's long-in-the-coming mainstream breakthrough 13 Going on 30 and now this, indie stalwart Ruffalo has found a nice commercial niche injecting an uncommonly edgy likability to big studio rom-coms. Here he plays a sadsack layabout who moves into the apartment of a not-quite-departed young doctor (Witherspoon), whose spirit still literally lingers around the place and everywhere he goes. It's a cheesy-sounding premise, but leave it Ruffalo to approach it with the right balance of disbelief and sincerity; his eyebrows are raised right along with ours, yet we believe that he can, against all rational thinking, ultimately fall for this ghost. Of course, it's no spoiler to say that the two don't let their initial dislike and the little matter of physical tangibility get in the way of blossoming love; what is a surprise is how easily director Mark Waters makes the syrupy confection go down. Ruffalo and Witherspoon strike a nicely combative banter, and their rapport makes for a convincing transition to lovey-dovey sparks. The supporting cast also does what's required of it--namely, support. Wisely, Waters didn't bow to Jon Heder's Napoleon Dynamite popularity and needlessly expand his screen time as a spacey book store owner; he, like fellow supporting players Donal Logue (as Ruffalo's best friend) and Dina Waters (as Witherspoon's sister), do their jobs and don't outwear their welcome--except, perhaps, for one closing scene with Heder, but that's only a light bitter aftertaste for an otherwise agreeably sweet entertainer.

Lord of War one-sheet Lord of War (R) ***
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The Man one-sheet The Man (PG-13) * 1/2
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Hear in your mind's ear the line "He's my bitch" spoken in the nasally, nebbishy tones of Eugene Levy. Now you no longer need to bother with buying a ticket to The Bitch--er, The Man, as that's perhaps the only halfway funny joke in the entire tired enterprise. Samuel L. Jackson, phoning it in for a paycheck, plays an ATF agent whose big bust goes awry when Levy's chatterbox dental supply salesman unwittingly butts in. The usual mismatched duo antics ensue, with Levy's chirpy goody-two-shoes annoying the crap out of Jackson's no-nonsense, profanity-prone fed--that is, until they against all odds (well, at least not according to screenwriting formula) find some common ground to live up to the "buddy" half of the "buddy comedy" designation. So by-the-numbers is this movie that in hacking the film down to a slight 86 minutes, director Les Mayfield allows basic continuity to fall by the wayside since everyone knows where the whole thing going; at one stage Jackson and Levy turn up in a pool without any explanation as to why they're there, let alone why Jackson is undressed and Levy is fully-clothed. But then anything that spares us any more cheap, desperate gags such as the Levy character's red meat-induced flatulence can only be considered a good thing--and anything remotely resembling relief is hard to come by during this tiresome film.

Proof one-sheet an unfinished life one-sheet Proof (PG-13) **
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an unfinished life (PG-13) * 1/2
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Train Ride DVD Train Ride (R)
Movie: *** 1/2; Disc: ***
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Rel Dowdell's Train Ride can easily be pigeonholed into a number of simply-defined categories. College film. Issue film. Low-budget film. Black film. Independent film. Direct-to-DVD release. While all of these descriptions do apply, to attach any of them--or their frankly less-than-promising sum--to the film is to too tidily and dismissively label a tough, intelligent, and riveting drama.

Personifying all three of those qualities and then some is Wood Harris, whose performance here (which pre-dates his more recent and well-known work in the likes of The Wire and Remember the Titans) begs the question as to why Hollywood hasn't (yet) made him a superstar. As Will, the university senior who tricks his buddies Ellis (Russell Hornsby) and Ron (Thomas Braxton Jr.) to join him on a videotaped "train ride" of date-rape-drugged freshman Katrina (MC Lyte), Harris indeed nails all the requirements of creating a menacing and truly despicable villain, but what makes his performance all the more creepily effective are the attractive qualities he lends the role. His Will is charismatic, affable, sharp as a tack--and hence an all more believable and diabolical seducer and manipulator. No scene better sums up all the symbiotic charm and smarm that is Will than an astonishing single-take monologue where he positions himself as the victim to one of Katrina's concerned friends; his behavior is remarkably repellent, yet it's undeniably captivating to witness such a mind at work.

That scene is also reflective of the film's deceptive surface simplicity and Dowdell's sly filmmaking smarts. Based on the basic plot summary, Train Ride can be pegged--and fairly accurately at that--as a message film of sorts, addressing the issue of college guys gone far too wild. But the film never comes off as preachy or sermonizing as Dowdell embeds his social and moral commentary in a story that works alone as an engrossing dramatic piece. The issue of the rape looms large, but it's not the be-all end-all of the film; its greater function is as a catalyst for more compelling, character-based dramas where every single move and decision organically set off events that rapidly, messily, and all too realistically spiral out of control. As whispers of a scandalous videotape grow into a campus-wide roar, tensions build not only within the circle of the three guys but also between Katrina and the two friends (Nicole Prescott and Anika Hawkins) who initially joined her for the fateful get-together at Will's apartment. Neither of these conflicts, however, are as dramatic as those within Katrina herself. As her memories of that night gradually resurface, the truth of the night ironically becomes even less clear for her--was she a victim, or did she invite this upon herself? As doubts devolve into despondence, her heartbreaking trajectory is made all the more so by how believably it develops in Dowdell's script.

But good writing would remain just that it if there weren't capable actors giving it life, and it speaks of the abilities of Dowdell's ensemble that they all make formidable impressions alongside the commanding Harris. The casting of hip-hop star Lyte as the naive and fragile Katrina is a definite stretch, but the risk pays off; knowledge of her tougher real-life image just intensifies the impact of her character's arc. Like Harris, Hornsby has gone on to snag more high-profile work, and his strong debut performance here shows why; on the other hand, Braxton's impressive turn as the increasingly harried Ron makes one wonder what this promising (and heretofore largely unseen) young talent has been up to since. Each of the principal actors makes their own unique mark, but there is a unity in their fearlessness--mirroring the largely uncompromising nature of Dowdell's vision. The finale, while satisfying for many viewers, rings somewhat false in offering an overly tidy coda to a story that rather bravely reveled in the untidiness of bad deeds and their tangled web of consequences, but the bum note is easily drowned out by all the top-notch work and food for thought that lingers long after it's concluded.

The sole extra on Sony Music/RuffNation Films' DVD release is a feature-length commentary with Dowdell, executive producer Louis Brody, and associate producer Craig Carpenter, but then no other supplements are needed given the comprehensive discussion they have during the film's tight 90-minute run time. Only on a couple of occasions do the three fall silent and start watching the film, and even when that common commentary malady does occur, it quickly passes. They also generally eschew the bad habit of simply describing what is taking place onscreen, instead discussing various production logistics as well as the meanings and intents behind certain choices. In a rare showing of humility on a director's yak track, Dowdell doesn't dominate, often throwing out questions to his cohorts to keep them involved and active throughout. The commentary's glaring misstep, however, is through no real fault of any of the three: nowhere on the disc, menus, or packaging are Dowdell's fellow participants identified, nor are they given any introduction at the head of the track. However, such a practical oversight is easily forgiven when there's an unusual amount of intelligent substance--in both the film and the audio discussion--to compensate.

Specifications: 1.85:1 letterbox; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround. (Sony Music/RuffNation Films)

Special Edition Catalog Titles

Coyote Ugly DVD Sling Blade DVD Coyote Ugly full movie review
Movie: no stars; Disc: ***
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Sling Blade (R) full movie review
Movie: *** 1/2; Disc: *** 1/2
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The idea of an unrated version of Coyote Ugly incites excitement... for about a nanosecond, after which one realizes: what is the point? After all, part of the perverse novelty of this 2000 songwriter-becomes-a-dancing-bartender epic from that purveyor of Important Film, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is that it's a T&A flick within the confines of a PG-13 rating. By adding some gratuitous (and rather obvious body double) toplessness to our heroine's (Piper Perabo) love scene, the film loses a large part of what made the film so uniquely amusing. Aside from this longer cut, the DVD is virtually identical to the original 2000 DVD release, the only major exception being the the two separate commentaries (one with Perabo and co-stars Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Tyra Banks and Isabella Miko; the other with director David McNally) have been combined into a single track. Standard behind-the-scenes featurettes and a music video imported from the original release fill out the platter (for more details on those features, read about the original disc.).

A much more worthwhile Buena Vista DVD reissue is the two-disc Collector's Edition of Sling Blade. Billy Bob Thornton has been so completely absorbed by mainstream Hollywood culture (after all, he's toplining a remake of Bad News Bears), it's almost too easy to forget that he first hit the big-time radar as an indie maverick with this 1996 Academy Award underdog. Watching this new DVD edition is truly like a trip back in time, travelling back to a simpler era before the Angelina union, the anorexia, and such to when Thornton was just a good ol' boy making good with the sheer force of his talent in writing, directing, and starring in a dark, gritty tale of a simple-minded former asylum inmate who befriends a young boy and his mother. But more than that, it's also an artifact of when Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Miramax were at the peak of its awards campaigning power, for included among the supplements here is one of their now-legendary infomercials that aired on Los Angeles and New York stations in the thick of awards season, the Thornton pimp piece Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood. This is actually one of the campaign infomercials that the 'Max or any other studio (others adopted the practice in subsequent years after Miramax deployed them so effectively) has ever produced, as it is a fairly in-depth exploration of Thornton's background and artistic approach--which reflects the rest of this very comprehensive set.

The original director's cut of the film (pre-Weinstein-induced cuts) is presented here with insightful Thornton commentary, and various other extras--the infomercial, a Bravo profile, a roundtable discussion with the director-star and select cast and crew, behind-the-scenes featurettes--offer a very detailed glimpse into his work approach. The icing on this very tasty cake is a full-color booklet that includes trivia factoids and a Thornton interview previously published in Esquire. However fully loaded this edition is, it does have one glaring omission: Thornton's original Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade short film, whose rights sadly belong to another video company.

Coyote Ugly specifications: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen; English DTS; English 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Surround; English and Spanish subtitles; English closed captioning. Sling Blade specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English and French 5.1 Surround; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; English closed captioning. (Coyote: Touchstone Home Entertainment; Sling Blade: Miramax Home Entertainment)

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#474 September 2, 2005

In Brief

The Brothers Grimm one-sheet The Brothers Grimm (PG-13) ***
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The Cave one-sheet The Cave (PG-13) *
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The Constant Gardener one-sheet The Constant Gardener (R) *** 1/2
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Reel Paradise one-sheet Reel Paradise (R) ***
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Transporter 2 one-sheet Transporter 2 (PG-13) ***
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Underclassman one-sheet Underclassman (PG-13) * 1/2
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Undiscovered one-sheet Undiscovered (PG-13) no stars
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Dear Frankie DVD Dear Frankie (PG-13)
Movie: *** 1/2; Disc: ***
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Shona Auerbach's gentle drama had its release date punted across Miramax's schedule for about a year before finally receiving a quiet and fairly fleeting release earlier this year, and this subtle charmer deserved far better. But then a number of quirks about the film didn't exactly make it a marketer's dream. Our young protagonist Frankie (Jack McElhone) is deaf, a fact strangely and conspicuously left out of all trailers and even the DVD box synopsis. Frankie's mother (an excellent Emily Mortimer) hires a stranger (Gerard Butler) to pose as Frankie's absentee father to spare him the less-than-ideal truth, and not surprisingly all of the marketing pushed a "romance" angle between these two characters. What is surprising, however, is that Auerbach wisely makes that pair's relationship a very minor concern, as the heart of the film is the very touching mother-son story. Hopefully audiences will appreciate this film's many sweet charms on the home screen, brought to deeply affecting life by Mortimer and McElhone.

If the studio didn't do right by the film for the theatrical run, it certainly has for home entertainment posterity. Auerbach especially gets ample opportunity to say her piece, in a commentary track, commentary on the deleted scenes assortment, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and an "interview" piece that is obviously made of EPK soundbites. Despite falling into the trap of simply describing what is onscreen and not really going into any detail about the challenges of tackling the dual tasks of director and cinematographer, her obvious passion for the project comes through on the commentary and in the other supplements. The deleted scenes are basically throwaway shots or very brief scene snippets, and while they are not missed in the final cut, one can easily imagine them in the film and be no worse for it--a tribute to the simple power of the story.

Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English and French 5.1 Surround; English and Spanish subtitles; English closed captioning. (Miramax Home Entertainment)

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