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"Eagle Eye" * 1/2 (118 minutes)

Thursday September 25, 2008

What a mess! The opening sequence is the only recommendation I can give. And with ticket prices averaging around $10 a pop, those 5 minutes are hardly worth your hard earned cash as the remaining 113 minutes of this typical Hollywood dreck looks more like a bad Jerry Buckheimer production (and there a quite of few of those) than Steven Spielberg. Director D.J. Caruso (who did last year's modest winner "Disturbia") crams more car crashes and insane improbability into this monstrosity that you'll laugh out loud so many times those seated around you might think this is a comedy-if they aren't rolling in the aisle themselves. Caruso once again employs rising Hollywood star Shia LeBeouf (whose last film was "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") as an everyday schmo who is directed by a mysterious female voice over his cell phone to obey her every command or risk instant death. The power behind the voice also has a way to control every electronic device (and even trash compactors!) on the planet allowing every threat to possibly come to fruition. The film utilizes a script by 4 screenwriters, including Dan McDermott (who wrote the story, as well as the screenplay for the "wonderful" 2006 remake of "The Omen"), while including a noisy totally annoying soundtrack by Brian Tyler. And it shamelessly copies from several classics, such as "2001-A Space Odyssey", "1984", and "The Manchurian Candidate", to name just a few. The requisite female companion is played admirably by Michelle Monaghan ("Gone Baby Gone") who is enlisted into the outrageous goings on, with Billy Bob Thornton playing a relentless FBI agent chasing LeBeouf at the same time thinking he is a terrorist. Such suspense, such action, such crap!

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" *** 1/2 (99 minutes)

Thursday September 18, 2008

It took director Marina Zenovich 5 years to complete this engrossing documentary which focuses mainly on the sensational trial surrounding the unlawful sexual encounter between the famed director and a 13 year old girl in 1977. When it became clear that the judge in this case, Laurence J. Rittenband, would possibly sentence him to jail time instead of granting probation, Polanski decided to flee the U.S. To this day, he has remained in exile in France. Marina has taken great care to present an unbiased work that chronicles the details of, what appears to be, a total travesty of justice. Most people do not know the ins and outs of the sensational trial and many will be shocked to see how one person (Rittenband) could shamelessly put his own ego way ahead of the scales of justice. The appropriate history is presented: the director's life as a French born who grows up in Poland only to have his parents slaughtered during the Holocaust; his early extraordinary success overseas as a director; his U.S. success at the helm of such masterpieces such as "Rosemary's Baby" & "Chinatown"; and, of course, his ill fated marriage to the late Sharon Tate. All this helps to create a certain amount of sympathy for the director who then makes the wrongful decision, no matter what the circumstances, to offer drugs and have sex with the underage girl. What really makes this all so fascinating is the access Marina has to virtually all the principals involved-including the now 34 year old victim. Although Polanski is not interviewed for the film, you won't notice as everyone from the victim, prosecutor, attorneys, to even the court reporter at the time (who astonishingly reveals that, at one point, Rittenband asked him how he should decide Polanski's fate). Correctly, Hollywood chose to honor his brilliance in absentia with the Best Director Oscar in 2002 for "The Pianist". The doc was presented by the filmmaker (brought in by folks at The Maryland Film Festival) who, at the Q & A, when asked if Roman saw it and, if so, what were his comments, said he approved by asking her about her next project. The film was purchased by HBO and was in limited release around the country earlier this year. It has already screened on the network and will show it again sometime in the future. This is an amazing well crafted account of one of the most curious episodes in Hollywood history. In the end, you can't blame Roman for his decision never to step on our soil again.

"Boy A" *** (100 minutes)

Sunday September 7, 2008

The inaugural film opening the 2008 fall series of the Cinema Sundays at The Charles comes to us from Scotland. This tough, in-your-face movie by director John Crowley ("Intermission") is not the kind of flick that will have you dancing in the aisles with joy, to say the least! Anthony Perkins look-a-like, Andrew Garfield ("Lions For Lambs") plays a young man newly released from prison after spending the previous 14 years as a juvenile offender. There to greet him is his caseworker, Terry, played by talented Scot Peter Mullen ("My Name is Joe"), who will help him adjust to his new life. Based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell, the film might bring to mind the case of the 2 juveniles who were seen on a mall video in England leading away a child who was later found murdered. However, when we meet "Boy A" (as the courts referred to him to protect his identity) we see him as an introverted soul who seems soft and kindly. Only later do we learn, through flashbacks to his pre-prison life, how he got involved with "Boy B" and what led to his incarceration. The film raises many questions about how society treats its youthful criminals, if these criminals should be given a second chance, and whether justice is really served in the final analysis. Outstanding performances by the leads (especially Garfield who exhibits a full range of emotions throughout) enhances the utter realism of the proceedings. My main fault is a pet peeve: the decision by the filmmakers not to include subtitles for the dialogue spoken by the heavily Scottish accented cast. However, if you like great acting and films that make you think and debate tough timely issues, be certain to put it on your list.

"Righteous Kill" *** (101 minutes)

Wednesday September 10, 2008

Much has been made of Hollywood icons De Niro vs Pacino's brief one scene confrontation in Michael Mann's brilliant 1995 "Heat". Although these 2 living legends had appeared in the same film way back in 1974's "Godfather II", this was the first time they actually shared screen time together. Many wondered why it took them both to be into their 60's before they traded acting chops again but, as the saying goes, better late than never. Director Jon Avnet (whose career took a misstep with one of this year's major flops, "88 Minutes", after showing much promise with his offbeat 2004's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and one of my favorite films of 2001, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her") barely succeeds in this endeavor by devoting almost every scene to the 2 master thespians. And for that alone, this one is worth the price of admission. In fact this would be a mildly entertaining 2 1/2 star flick if it wasn't for their presence. Just sit back and marvel as these 2 deliver the goods as 2 longtime NY detective partners investigating a serial killer/vigilante trying to clean up the streets of the city after the courts repeatedly fail to do so. Method acting is on display in all its glory in this police psychological thriller that has shades of Sidney Lumet all over it. Both actors are in their very comfortable element once again playing detectives in the city that never sleeps, and watching both you will be reminded of previous movies in which they played the same types of characters. But this time the story by 2nd time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz ("Inside Man") puts enough smart dialogue between them to keep the proceedings moving along to keep you interested. Avnet uses some tiresome frantic cutting; and the constant pounding of the soundtrack to signal incessant dread in the action becomes way overused. However, again, its De Niro and Pacino together that makes it all worthwhile.