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History of Violence'
By Dan Vinson
"Tell me the truth... what
are you?" Edie Stall asks
husband Tom about midway through
director David Cronenberg's latest,
most-complete effort yet. The
Stalls (Viggo Mortensen and Maria
Bello) live in the quiet town
of Millbrook, Ind., where everyone
waves and watches out for each
other. They have two nice kids,
Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah
(Heidi Hayes), and a tiny restaurant.
But some bad men are coming.
In the opening scene, these
twisted killers (Stephen McHattie
and Greg Bryk) have already committed
grisly murders somewhere west,
and when they arrive at Stall's
Diner, they demand more than coffee.
A coffee pot is swung, a gun grabbed
and unloaded many times - with
laser precision. Tom Stall looks
around with the other patrons
and staff at his mess. Two men
are dead, and he seems to scarcely
know how. As if flies on the walls,
news crews immediately descend
to glom onto this new American
Hero and anybody remotely connected
After Tom returns home from
the hospital (his foot got stabbed),
the family wants to move on (especially
humble Tom). But Jack obliterates
a bully at school, and shiny black
cars keep hovering at their house
and diner. Eventually, more men
come to harass and goad Tom. Fogarty
(Ed Harris), a facially scarred
man, keeps calling him Joey -
loudly - insisting that he knows
him from Philadelphia. They leave,
but Tom's afraid they'll come
back. And they do. On a shopping
trip with Sarah, Edie tells Fogarty
off, but not before he plants
the seeds of doubt. Could her
husband really be crazy Joey Cusack
At home, things start unraveling.
Fogarty and friends visit and
threaten. Tom strikes Jack during
an argument. Edie feels betrayed.
Fogarty comes back again, this
time holding Jack (who ran off
after the argument), and Tom quickly
kills Fogarty's henchman - with
the help of his son. By this time,
it's clear that his family (and
the audience) suspects that he's
Joey, but it's not clear precisely
why he deceived them. Without
spoiling too much, Tom does go
to Philadelphia to stop more men
from haunting his life - if he
still has one. But if he makes
it home again, what can he expect?
The final scene, though wordless,
Also revealing is longtime Cronenberg
cohort Peter Suschitzky's beautifully
composed cinematography, replete
with close-to-medium shots that
favor emotions and unease over
scenery. Howard Shore, the director's
longtime composer (this is his
11th score) supplies themes both
heroic and unsettling. Among the
uniformly outstanding performances
here: the fearless Mortensen and
Bello, the perfectly menacing
Harris, and William Hurt, whose
scene is unforgettable.
"A History of Violence,"
based loosely on the graphic novel
of the same name, hearkens back
to many cinematic styles from
westerns generally to film noir
(especially "The Killers"
and "Out of the Past")
to psychosexual family madness
(like "Straw Dogs")
to more recent works examining
American families and violence
("Road to Perdition,"
based on another graphic novel
- does this mean something?).
Spreading like an infection,
the violence here is swift, shocking
and unusually gruesome, and a
large part of the film, identity
mystery aside, is about the reactions
to and repercussions of this violence.
Edie is at once repelled and allured,
and so is, to some extent, Jack.
Suddenly, David Cronenberg (a
Canadian) has fashioned a powerful
social critique looking down the
barrel at America's own history
of violence. CV
Review: 'The Thing About
By Erin Randolph
The thing about "The Thing
About My Folks," is that
it's the equivalent of a Hallmark
card. It can be a bit funny, a
bit sentimental and, in the process,
a bit trite.
Ben Kleinman (Paul Reiser) is
a bit befuddled by his father,
Sam Kleinman (Peter Falk). Sam
grows wiry body hair in weird,
sporadic places, is honest to
a point, has a weird obsession
with talcum powder and is constantly
amused by his own, seemingly uncontrollable
flatulence. And on top of all
that, Sam and Ben never really
got to know each other in the
clichèd father-son way:
they never went camping, they
never went on a road trip, etc.
Sam was always too busy with work,
trying to provide for his family,
to spend the time at home that
was necessary to really get to
know his wife and kids.
After 50 years of marriage,
Sam's wife Muriel (Olympia Dukakis)
has left him. He shows up at Ben's
door unannounced, which is out
of character. And while Ben's
sisters attempt to round up their
missing-in-action mother, he takes
his father on a day trip upstate
to look at a farmhouse. When their
plans go awry, their day trip
becomes more of a road trip, as
the two embark on a journey that
will teach them not only about
themselves, but also about each
other. They also finally get to
do all the things fathers and
sons are allegedly supposed to
do: fishing, attending a baseball
game, drinking, hustling pool
and, um, line dancing.
A little over midway through
"The Thing About My Folks,"
the overall feel turns from a
humorous father-son ill communication-type
film to more of an aww-shucks
romp that's perhaps a little too
wet with sentimentality. While
Falk adds a great comedic punch
to "The Thing About My Folks,"
it never really graduates from
the clichèd generational-gap
misunderstandings that have already
played out in other films of this
ilk. That said, it's still a film
worth seeing for anyone who doesn't
understand their parents' quirks
- and isn't that all of us? CV
Review: 'Into The Blue'
By Lexi Feinberg
After filming "Blue Crush,"
with its stunning underwater cinematography
and hot twentysomethings in skimpy
bathing suits, John Stockwell
decided to challenge himself with
some deeper material. And with
"Into the Blue"... Oh
wait, he actually decided to use
the exact same vehicle as "Crush,"
with yet another eye-candy buffet
and a ton of empty cinematic calories.
Sure the scenery is fine. But
without a coherent plot or anything
in the way of a script, "Into
the Blue" would have been
better as a silent movie.
"Blue" deals with
a group of people in the Bahamas
searching for underwater treasure.
And while diving down deep, Jared
Cole (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend
Sam (Jessica Alba) make a startling
discovery - a centuries-old Zephyr
ship, loaded with ancient jewels.
There's just one catch. Next to
the ship is a crashed plane, stuffed
to its gills with more cocaine
than a Kate Moss photo shoot.
So the duo decides to pursue the
new American Dream: looting money
instead of earning it - and trying
to steal the drugs to finance
their quest to collect goods from
the sunken ship.
Complicated? You bet, especially
when the caper is in the hands
of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit
gang. And like that particular
issue, "Blue" is nothing
but a big tease. There could be
something juicy there, but anything
good is covered up with ignorant
dialogue (Walker manages to say
the word "gnarly" without
so much as a grin) and a call
for the suspension of disbelief
(a number of the skin-diving scenes,
i.e. no tanks, last up to a half
an hour). Then again, when you're
this good looking, who needs air?
In the end, Stockwell and "Blue"
are all wet. Sure there is a nice
action sequence and a shark attack,
but no sex, all leading to a campy
underwater fiasco - a leftover
summer movie that sat on the shelves,
and out in the sun, for too long.
By Dan Vinson
After "Red Eye," this
year's other frenzied airplane
movie is the newest Jodie Foster
vehicle, structurally similar
to her last, "Panic Room."
Here, Foster's Kyle Pratt is trying
to protect her 6-year-old daughter
Julia (a superb Marlene Lawston)
in a tight space,
albeit a larger, airborne one,
when faster than you can say "panic
plane," Julia disappears.
The story begins in Berlin,
where Kyle says goodbye to her
deceased husband before taking
him back to the United States
for burial. His sudden death,
a "fall" from their
apartment building's roof, was
shocking, and Kyle's just barely
keeping it together. Her reality
seems to be a mixture of submerged
grief and mysterious memories.
Scared at night, or even walking
to the taxi, Julia's not faring
any better. They board the behemoth
two-story plane that engineer
Kyle helped design.
Also aboard are 463 other passengers
and probably a dozen crewmembers,
including Erika Christensen as
a flight attendant and Sean Bean
as Captain Rich. There are a few
empty rows in back, so Kyle and
Julia decide to go stretch out
and catch a few winks. Unfortunately,
Kyle is out for three hours, and
when she wakes up, her daughter
is gone. Within minutes, Kyle
has frantically searched every
aisle, lavatory, and overhead
bin on both decks, making both
the crew and passengers anxious
and suspicious (of her sanity).
You see, as the captain explains;
in the presence of a summoned
air marshal named Carson (Peter
Sarsgaard), they have no record
of Julia on the passenger manifest,
or ever having boarded at all.
In fact, nobody recalls even seeing
the little girl.
Unconvinced, of course, Kyle
continues searching the plane,
demanding the captain follow post-9/11
protocols and get the crew involved.
As she becomes increasingly despondent
and belligerent, Kyle must have
Carson with her everywhere. Her
demeanor grows still wilder and
she even accuses two Arab men
of kidnapping. (She thinks she
saw them spying across the street
the night before. The fact that
they're Arabs is incidental -
though not to them.) Foster has
never been less in control, which
is great to watch. She at least
knew where her daughter was in
For messing with the plane's
mechanics, Kyle gets handcuffed
in her seat. Now she wonders if
she really is delusional. Did
Julia really did die, too - is
she just hallucinating? But then
she figures something out, and
must escape to confirm.
Until a huge red herring is
nonchalantly revealed at an odd
works and is quite entertaining.
This, however, drops the bottom
out of the well-conceived suspense,
and from there, the film digresses
to familiar thriller territory
and prompts many questions. (Why
doesn't Kyle tout her engineering
pedigree? Would everyone on board,
crew included, be so forcibly
apathetic? How did they find 400-plus
Americans in Berlin for one flight
Director Robert Schwentke, with
only a couple of German features
to his credit, has made an impressive,
if uneven, start in Hollywood.
Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus'
(son of current Scorcese camera
man Michael) camera is everywhere,
roving throughout the amazing
set. Bean, and especially the
always-intense Sarsgaard are solid
opposite Foster's insatiable energy,
but Foster is in danger now of
starting a cottage industry playing
characters who do amazing things,
but who you hardly get to know.
"Flightplan" is being
touted as Hitchcockian, but from
its opening scenes, "Red
Eye" truly deserves that
Review: 'Happily Ever After'
By Erin Randolph
Extramarital affairs are nothing
new. And neither are movies broaching
the subject. "Happily Ever
After," a French film by
Yvan Attal, does nothing to set
itself apart from other films
of that ilk, except that it offers
no lessons or solutions. It merely
is what it is: a film about wanting
something you shouldn't have,
mostly because you're not supposed
to have it.
The film's main characters are
Gabrielle (Charlotte Gainsbourg)
and her husband Vincent (Attal,
Gainsbourg's real-life husband).
While their marriage is pleasant
and they have a healthy son, even
antics mean to spice up their
bedroom life do little to bring
back the fire to their relationship.
Then there's Georges (Alain Chanbat),
who's miserable in his marriage
to feminist Nathalie (Emmanuel
Seigner), a woman he manages to
love and despise all at the same
time. Both Georges and Vincent
are incredibly jealous of their
playboy friend Fred, who beds
a bevy of attractive women. Despite
being the envy of his friends,
however, Fred secretly longs for
stability. So Vincent takes a
mistress, Georges remains miserable
yet faithful and Fred continues
to sleep with as many women as
he can until circumstances finally
allow him a change of pace.
Perhaps the film's greatest
triumphs occur during its pregnant
silences. Like when Gabrielle
shares an intimate moment with
a stranger (Johnny Depp) in a
Virgin Megastore. While the two
don headphones and listen to the
same Radiohead song, it's clear
they have some unspoken sexual
connection. What's infuriating
on the part of the viewer, however,
is that Gabrielle's daydreams
about infidelity are presented
as if they're somehow morally
equivalent to her husband's fully
Further confusing "Happily
Ever After" are dream sequences
that are thrown in without warning
or introduction. They're merely
offered up as any other sequence
in the film, trusting the viewer
to be intelligent enough to decipher
the reality of them when the reality
is, we probably could have done
without another film about extramarital
By Jon Gaskell
In Tim Burton's world, it seems
the darker the sentiment, the
brighter the depiction. The stop-motion
animated feature "Corpse
Bride" is no exception.
Set in a 19th-century English
village, "Corpse" -
which is based on Russian folklore
- involves the story of Victor
(Johnny Depp), a young man who,
after experiencing cold feet the
night of his wedding rehearsal,
leaves to get a breath of fresh
air and fortuitously proposes
to a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter)
when he slips the ring, a sentiment
he couldn't handle during the
dry run, suavely onto what he
thinks is a twig. He is whisked
away to the brilliantly colored
and exhilarating world of the
dead, leaving behind the gray,
strict world of the living and
Victoria (Emily Watson), his supposed-to-be
And as with 1993's "The
Nightmare Before Christmas,"
Burton creates loads of ghoulish
fun by forcing two worlds to collide.
Victor, although desperate to
get back to Victoria, has to decide
whether to return "upstairs"
to his one true love or make the
ultimate sacrifice in order to
give his corpse bride hers. Like
Jack Skellington of "Nightmare,"
Victor becomes wrapped up in his
bizarre new world - although the
concept slightly escapes him -
while yearning for the familiarity
that is far from fantastic.
doesn't have, ahem, the pulse
that "Nightmare" had
- nor the wild musical ride or
obvious appeal to children of
all ages. This is, after all,
about dying. And at 75 minutes,
it feels somewhat drawn out, while
wasting time laying down pun after
pun (says a cadaver in a crowded
bar, "The living are just
dying to get down here").
Still, "Corpse" is
Burton at some of his most beautiful
best. Is "Corpse" a
great ride? No. Is it incredible
to look at? Without question.
And in a year during which Hollywood
got crushed for depending on every
trick in the book - from stories
to scripts to screen - there deserves
some merit for someone simply
painting a pretty picture. CV
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