Archive for 2009

The Double Hour

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on June 14, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Psychological thriller concerns Sonia, a young and pretty hotel maid who attends a speed dating event eager to meet a boyfriend. She finds one in Guido, an ex-cop-turned-security guard. They begin seeing each other. Then bad stuff happens. The way the mystery unfolds, that is, the design of this suspense puzzle is intriguing.  But the specifics cannot really be discussed in much detail without spoiling the fun. The movie is unpredictable right from the start. Within the first few minutes, a young woman jumps to her death from a hotel window, apparently a suicide attempt. No explanation is given. It’s one of those dramas where looks can be deceiving and nothing is as it seems. Duane Dudek of the Journal Sentinel described it as a “moebius strip of a tale” and that’s such an apt description, I had to quote him.

The script is interesting, but what ultimately draws you in the most, are the performances of the two leads. Russian actress Kseniya Rappoport plays Sonia with a mysterious, ambiguous quality that is alluring, but also aloof and distant. Italian actor Filippo Timi is a more simple fellow. He’s approachable and trusting but with a guarded exterior. The couple have such chemistry, their interaction is fascinating. Their association is even highlighted by a steamy romantic encounter. Erotic scenes can sometimes come across as laughable, particularly when they are overly intense. It’s a tribute to the stars’ magnetism that the affair here is seductive.

Much has been made of the debt the story owes to directors like Hitchcock but this decidedly chilly thriller has much more in common with European art house pictures like “Read My Lips,” and “Tell No One” than any Hollywood production. Those modern movies are good so it’s definitely a compliment. However, Hitchcock’s characters displayed considerably more humanity that this lot. There’s an inaccessibility, a distance between them and the viewer, that prevents us from truly getting to know or understand them.

Film noir, melodrama, suspense, even horror elements are all expertly crafted into an intricately woven plot that holds our attention until the very last frame. The title refers to those moments when a clock reads double digits, such as 11:11 or, in European time, 23:23. It’s at precisely those minutes you are entitled to make a wish. Whether these aspirations come true is open for debate. It’s an enigmatic film. One that doesn’t always play fair with the audience, but thanks to the two charismatic leads, we really don’t care.

Fish Tank

Posted in Drama with tags on May 7, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Award winning coming-of age drama is a searing full frontal assault into a 15 year old girl’s difficult life. Or is that a difficult girl’s life? Her hardscrabble world in England is the subject here. From a working class background, she lives with her single mother and foul-mouthed younger sister in decaying government funded public housing. Mia is one tough cookie and has built an emotional wall around herself, not allowing anyone in and certainly not letting any emotions out. Her lone joy is dancing to the American hip hop of artists like Ja Rule and Nas. Then one day her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor, enters the picture and from then on, things will never be quite the same. The fish tank is her claustrophobic existence. Director Andrea Arnold forgoes traditional wide screen for a 4:3 aspect ratio, a virtually square frame that goes a long way in highlighting the anxiety within Mia’s depressed reality. This is pretty dreary stuff, but the portrait is honest. She’s a genuine character, albeit distant, that grows on you. Heretofore unknown actress Katie Jarvis is remarkably natural as the troubled teen. Granted, Mia is partially a victim of her surroundings. She responds admirably to positive encouragement. But she’s also consistently sour and it’s awkward rooting for her at times. The storyline is intent on always showing us the ugly side of her life. It’s raw and while I admire the realism and sincerity of human emotion on display, the script wallows a bit too much in despair. These characters are miserable. One late plot development is a deception so thorough, it feels as if even the viewer has been betrayed. She just can’t seem to catch a break. It ends on an unpleasant note and that reaction is what lingers after the film is over.

The Secret of Kells

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 20, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Animated Irish folk tale about young Brendan, an apprentice in a monastery who becomes obsessed with completing the legendary Book of Kells, a treasured illuminated manuscript.  Set in the 9th century, this hand drawn film is a glorious mixture of Celtic art and geometric cubism; sort of The Powerpuff Girls Go to Ireland! in illustrative style. When Vikings attack the monastery, the assault is a brutally gorgeous scene, a stylized war of blood and snow.  The problem is with the spiritually muddled narrative.  It’s random and doesn’t flow like a good storyline should.   We know from history that the Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the New Testament.  That would explain its significance, yet although Brandon is compelled to finish the text, no explanation is ever given as to why.  Additionally, character development is minimal.  When Brendan goes out into the woods he encounters Aisling, a magical fairy.  She appears at first glance to be just a human girl.  Her ability to change form is never explained and a source of bewilderment whenever she is on screen.  Other sequences feel too abstract.  When he does battle with Crom Cruach, a Celtic snake god, the encounter becomes rather conceptual in style.  The odd execution feels lifted from the pages of Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Visually, however, this stunning fable is a joy to watch, a luxurious burst of color and glow.  The story is admittedly an awkward amalgamation of Christianity and pagan folklore.  Nevertheless, every frame is dazzling and the artwork’s hypnotic power can be appreciated even when the action is confusing.


Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on February 9, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketWho knew that back in 1956 when little Patty McCormack played Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, that it would lead to an entire genre, the “evil child” film?  What once was a uniquely deviant idea has now become the norm.  Indeed, these days whenever a youngster starts to exhibit some antisocial tendencies, we expect them to be the devil incarnate.  The trick is to bring innovation to the genre.  Young actress Isabelle Fuhrman is suitably creepy as 9 year old Esther.  She’s good.  At home, her adoptive parents also have a deaf-mute daughter named Max and her relationship with Esther is unexpectedly touching at first.  Their friendly bond as supportive sisters suffering from being different, is a detail that could have been explored with more depth.  Perhaps she is just misunderstood?  Later, when she attends school and attracts the nasty taunts of a fellow student, the script plants the malevolent notion that we might actually want little Esther to take revenge on this nasty classmate.  That’s an interesting concept.  Sadly, the plot ignores those ideas and deteriorates into formula.   Esther illogically turns on every person who has ever supported her, making her motivation nonsensical.  The story is even plagued by several “Surprise!  It’s not over yet” endings. By the time this overlong movie tediously concludes, we’ve already ceased to care. [Footnote: Star Vera Farmiga also played the mother of an evil child in the similarly themed Joshua in 2007, a superior film]

Solitary Man

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 28, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketTalky drama about an aging New York businessman who finds his life falling apart, unable to control his salacious desire for young women. Well written script underscores this redemptive character study. Star Michael Douglas, perfectly chosen for the lead, gives one of his most memorable performances in years. Not many actors could bring such a magnetic presence to this role. Let’s face it, his character is downright unpleasant. You wouldn’t have any patience for a person like this in real life. Thus it’s a tribute to his talent that he can make this figure so engaging. However at best, it’s a magnificent achievement in a mediocre picture. The story plays out a little like a Lifetime movie from the male perspective. Call it Ben Kalmen: Portrait of an Aging Lothario. He’s backed up by a distinguished cast. Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker and Jesse Eisenberg have supporting parts. But it’s Michael Douglas that elevates this chronicle beyond its humble objectives. He alone is the reason to see the film.

The Messenger

Posted in Drama, War with tags on January 25, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Powerful account of two soldiers who are assigned to the Casualty Notification Office delivering the news to families of people in Iraq who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Captain Tony Stone is the old hand doing this and it’s up to him to train Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery to communicate the message properly, without getting emotional.  Both Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster are extraordinary as military men selected to perform a task no one would want.  They develop a close bond as both have no choice but to deal with a bad situation. The individuals that must drop a bombshell such as this, prove that war on the home front can also be hell.  This theme may not be a deeply original, but the story here feels fresh and is told from a new perspective.   There’s even an interesting ethical dilemma concerning actress Samantha Morton as a woman whose husband is killed in battle. Indeed it’s painful viewing to see so many get such horrible news, but it’s handled with sensitivity.  These vignettes are the most compelling scenes in the film.  It’s a testimonial to the script’s power that it never seems exploitative.  We experience nothing less than genuine emotion.

Youth in Revolt

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on January 23, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Director Miguel Arteta’s adaptation of the novel by C.D. Payne is a smart-alecky escapade about love and teen angst.  Nick Twisp is a 14 year old smitten with an attractive neighbor.  His goal to lose his virginity is not the noblest of objectives, but it allows for many witty one-liners on the difficulties of dating and romance.  It might’ve helped if his dream girl, Sheeni Saunders, was a bit more tender.  She treats him with casual indifference for most of the film.  Despite being one of star Michael Cera’s lesser efforts, the story still has several moments of genuine humor: his accidental act of arson, those Kama Sutra hallucinations, or his failure at faking his own death are funnier because of his quirky charm.  The action  is populated with eccentric individuals with which Nick playfully interacts.  One such character  is Nick’s alter ego Francois Dillinger, brazen and confident in the ways of seduction.  This writer’s device is somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s reliance on Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again Sam.  Youth in Revolt is not even close to that legendary film’s appeal, but in 2009, you could do worse.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 28, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Dark comedy is true account concerning con artist Steven Jay Russell who met the love of his life behind bars.  Bizarre feature is alternatingly funny and touching at different times and the weird shifts in tone are frustratingly uneven.  One moment the movie attempts to be a poignant love story, the next it’s a vulgar farce making exaggerated jokes about the relationship.  Witty satire that sends up the stereotypical expectations of a perfect life and Steven’s uncanny ability to break out of prison over and over, are fascinating details only fleetingly touched upon.  Jim Carey, in a seriously mannered performance, always appears to be on the verge of bursting out laughing and yelling “gotcha”.  He manages to keep it together, but he looks uncomfortable.  His physically gaunt appearance throughout the entire film is off-putting too.  In the end, the discordant script wants to both be hilariously raunchy comedy and touchingly emotional drama and eventually doesn’t succeed on either level.

Everybody’s Fine

Posted in Drama with tags on November 6, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Minor family drama about father Frank Goode who sets out to visit each one of his adult children after they separately cancel their plans to have dinner at his house.  There’s some nuanced acting here, particularly from a uncharacteristically calm Robert De Niro, who is engaging.  Unfortunately the whole affair is just so thoroughly underwhelming.  Slight doesn’t even begin to describe the plot.  It’s surprising the story was able to attract such a high caliber cast.  A mildly charming diversion, but certainly nothing to write home about.  (I could barely summon up the energy to write this review)  Remake  of a 1990 Italian drama starring Marcello Mastroianni.

The White Ribbon

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on September 22, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Director Michael Haneke’s movies are languidly paced mood pieces that slowly unfold toward an enigmatic conclusion (see Funny Games, Caché). That’s not to say that along the way, the audience isn’t treated to a beautifully shot, fascinating study of power and control. Here a quiet village is persecuted by a series of aggressive acts by an unknown source. The Protestant pastor, the doctor and the Baron of the community all exert their authority in dictator-like fashion. The fictitious small town of Eichwald is supposedly a microcosm of German fascism. Very well, but what’s the point? Yes, the action has an ominous feel that is bewitching. This strikingly photographed, black and white drama looks like some long lost Ingmar Bergman film from 1957, but it has none of that auteur’s focus or optimism. Oppressively gloomy and dark, there is a lot to admire but not much to love.