Wednesday, August 31, 2011

THE DEBT: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:

 THE DEBT (Dir. John Madden, 2011)

How can a film that features impassioned performances from such acting heavyweights as Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Sam Worthington among others, be such a dreary drag?

I believe it has something to do with the plotting. THE DEBT goes back and forth from 1966 to 1997 to tell the story of 3 Mossad secret agents (Mirren, Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds) who have been keeping a secret about the fate of a Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen) they had once kidnapped in East Berlin.

Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas play the agents in the '60s who track Christensen who is known as the Surgeon of Birkenau. When he escapes after a brutal fight with Chastain, they agree to lie about his death. 30 years later they learn that Christensen may still be alive, so Mirren travels to the hospital he's reportedly in to finally finish him off forever.

The movie miserably goes through the motions, with no sense of a compelling narrative. It's perplexingly tension-free especially considering the subject matter. There is a strand about a love triangle between the 3 leads, but it's handled in such a murky unaffected manner that it feels like it doesn't matter. Maybe that's because it doesn't.

It also has one of the most unsatisfying endings of a drama that I've ever seen.

The premise of revenge on an aging Nazi war criminal is really tired at this point too. I sure hope it was handled better in the 2007 Israeli film that this is a remake of. As gritty as it is with solid work by a fine cast, THE DEBT adds nothing notable to the genre.

The studio (Focus Features) must have known that too by dumping it into theaters now (on a Wednesday for some inexplicable reason) instead of waiting for closer to Christmas when movies dealing with monsters of the holocaust usually drop.

More later...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Out today on Blu ray and DVD:

THE PERFECT HOST (Dir. Nick Tomnay, 2010)

As the affluent, refined Warwick Wilson, David Hyde Pierce can't help but bring a healthy bit of Niles Crane to the character. The major difference is Warwick is a demented psychopath who has dinner parties with his many imaginary friends - who just might be his hallucinations of the people he's murdered.

A very Ray Liotta-resembling Clayne Crawford, as a fugitive being hunted by the police for robbing a bank, accidentally crashes one of Pierce's parties in order to get off the streets.

This is a huge mistake Crawford soon learns as Pierce drugs his wine ("It's a cheeky little drop, isn't it?"), and he wakes up tied up at a table set for 6. We see the guests Pierce sees in some shots played by actors including Cooper Barnes, Tyrees Allen, and Annie Campbell, and they disapear in others.

A pyschological power play is at hand, with Pierce looking like he's having a blast as the cunning host who delights in showing off his scrapbook of polaroids of former party guests, and dancing in a non-existant conga lines.

In his drugged up stupor, Crawford flashes back to strained moments with girlfriend (Meghan Perry) where we learn she was an accomplice in his crime, and the film film randomly checks in with the Detectives (Joseph Will and Nathaniel Parker) who are on the trail.

Funnily enough, "I Am Woman" singer Helen Reddy has a cameo as a noisy neighbor.

For most of its running time "The Perfect Host" has an enjoyably wicked wit, mostly due to Pierce's sharp confident performance, but it breaks down a bit towards the end.

To say how would be too much of a spoiler, and this review has already had too many of those so I'll just say that there may be one twist too many.

No matter, the fun that Pierce haves with this juicy part is contagious, and the film is a promsing debut for writer/director Tomnay. It has "worthwhile rental" written all over it.

Special Features: A "Making THE PERFECT HOST with Writer/Director Nick Tomnay", the Theatrical Trailer (which you can watch above on the left), and "HDNet: A Look at THE PERFECT HOST.

More later...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ANOTHER EARTH: The Film Babble Blog Review

This sci-fi tinged indie drama is now playing in the area at the Colony Theater in Raleigh, and the Galaxy Cinema in Cary:

ANOTHER WORLD (Dir. Mike Cahill, 2011)

Director Mike Cahill and actress Brit Marling's feature film debut, which they also co-wrote, has an intriquing premise: what if a dupicate world to ours, one that contains doppelgangers of every single person on the planet, was revealed after hiding behind the sun all this time?

Marling plays a young woman just accepted into MIT's astrophysics program who hears about the phenomenal discovery on the radio driving home drunk after a party. She looks to the sky to see it, causing a major automobile accident which kills a woman and her child, while putting the father (William Mapother) into a temporary coma.

After Marling is imprisoned for involutary manslaughter for 4 years, she is released and takes a job as a janitor at a local high school, as news about what is now called "Earth 2" blares from every radio and television in her radius.

Wracked by guilt, Marling tracks down Mapother (best known as Ethan from Lost) to apologize for her tragic crime, but she freezes in the moment at his country home, and tells him she's from a cleaning service. Oblivious to her identity, the despondent Mapother hires her, and a bond forms between the two, despite the stickiness of the situation.

The stretches stretches dealing with these lost souls' egg shell existence are lengthy enough to almost make one forget the fantastical Earth 2 scenerio, but many shots of the mirror earth looming in the sky above keep reminding us (the film is low budget, but this effect is fairly convincing).

Marling enters a contest to win a seat aboard a shuttle to Earth 2 as she struggles with how or when to confess to Mapother. Things get more tangled as a possible romance blooms between them.

ANOTHER EARTH can be ponderous as it pussyfoots a little too much about getting to the meat of the matter, but its not pretentiously contrived. It's thoughtfully engaging at its best, and just drags slightly at its worst.

Through their touching on-point performances, the leads' fascination with the lives of their doubles can be sincerely felt in such moments when Mapother says: “I can't stop thinking about it; another me up there.”

You won't be able to stop thinking about it either. Well, at least for a day or two. And these days moviewise, that's a very good thing indeed.

More later...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Dropping today on Blu ray and DVD:

TROLLHUNTER (Dir. André Øvredal, 2010)

With its opening text telling us that this film is a rough cut made from 283 minutes of footage found in an anonymous package received by the Norwegian production outfit Filmkameratene, there's an undeniable BLAIR WITCH PROJECT vibe going on, but don't worry because TROLLHUNTER is a much better, and more thoroughly thought out horror mockumentary.
And it's funnier and scarier than BLAIR WITCH too.

In choppy yet very watchable chunks resembling digital video we follow a 3 Valda college student film crew (Tomas Alf Larsen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, and Johanna Mørck) as they investigate a series of mysterious bear killings.

The trio stalk a hunter (Otto Jesperson) who they believe is a poacher, but one dark crazy night they learn different. Jesperson refuses an interview initially, but after they witness some shit go down he lets them tag along, and before long they witness him killing an amusingly animated giant 3-headed troll.

The grizzled Jesperson, who is working for the government (the "Troll Security Service") and has to fill out "Slain Troll Forms" after every killing, warns the youngsters that the trolls can smell Christian blood. This he shares along with other tricks of the trade, and random bitching about European bureaucracy.

We learn that the troll problem has spread since trolls have broken out of their designated territories (Jesperson points to normal looking power lines informing us that they are "electric fences to keep the trolls at bay").

The film concludes with a gritty dawn-lit showdown with a King Kong-sized troll called a Jotnar in the snow covered mountains of Norway that has moments of genuine grip.

Although it drags in places, TROLLHUNTER is a crafty comic thriller of a mockumentary that is played so straight that it feels convincing, that is when there aren't CGI-ed trolls on screen.

Special Features: Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Extended Scenes, Visual Effects, a "Behind the Scenes" featurette, Photo Galleries, and HDNet: A Look at TROLLHUNTER.

More later...

Friday, August 19, 2011

ONE DAY: The Film Babble Blog Review

ONE DAY (Dir. Lone Scherfig, 2011)

This British rom drama, based on the David Nicholls bestseller, traces the entangled lives of Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgis from 1988 to 2006. All the significant events of their will they/won’t they relationship apparently only take place on July 15th, which is St. Swithin’s Day (I’d never heard of it before either) which is apt because this is a pretty swithy movie. I know “swithy” is not a word that means anything – don’t bother to look it up – but I’m going to assign it the definition of “too convoluted and corny.”

ONE DAY is not without a modicum of charm; Hathaway convincing accent wraps itself around some witty lines, there’s beautiful photography, and a nice new Elvis Costello and the Imposters track (“Sparkling Day”) plays during the end credits, but mostly it’s failed fluff.

Hathaway and Sturgis, best known as the McCartney-esque bloke from ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, meet on July 15th, 1988 at the University of Edinburgh and almost hook up, but they decide to be friends – half naked in bed, mind you. We check back in with them almost every year after that on the same day, and see them through relationships with other people (he marries model Romola Garai; she moves in with comedian-wannabe Rafe Spall), and various careers.

Along for the ride through time are Ken Stott and Patricia Clarkson as Sturgis’s parents, and Tom Mison as his overly slick school chum.

Problem is, they’re supposed to be soul mates but the 2 leads have precious little chemistry.

Sturgis is such a cad, a spoiled rich brat who goes up and down the ladder of success as a TV talk show host, then bottoms out in a blast of raving cocaine clichés (showing us that it’s the mid ‘90s) that he’s too obnoxious to care about and we never get what Hathaway sees in him.

Hathaway fares better, but as an aspiring children’s book author, her character is transparent and boring. Still, there’s a little fun to be had seeing her sport a series of period hair styles throughout the years.

Towards the end the film flashes back to the beginning of the story so we see that there was more to that first St. Swithin’s Day than they let on, but it doesn’t resonate in the sentimental manner it’s supposed to. Likewise, a manipulative shocker attempt in the last third.

I don’t want to just write off ONE DAY as a chick flick that guys won’t see unless they’re dragged to, although that’s what it is, because director Scherfig (AN EDUCATION) does add some attractive gloss to this tripe.

It’s just that ONE DAY is way too swithy for its own good. See? I bet I can get that word to catch on.

More later...

Friday, August 12, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS: The Film Babble Blog Review

30 MINUTES OR LESS (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2011)

“2 guys in masks jumped me and strapped a bomb to my chest and now I have less than 9 hours to rob a bank.”

Right there a frantic Jesse Eisenberg sums up the premise of this comedy to his best friend Aziz Ansari as a wise-cracking school teacher who responds just as frantically: “And your first thought was to come to a school filled with young children?!!?”

This is one of many spastic exchanges between Eisenberg and Ansari as they run around through this fast, and very funny farcical heist flick set in Grand Rapids, MI.

Like in his directorial debut ZOMBIELAND, Fleischer takes a well worn genre and jazzes it up with a winking wit.There’s shades of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS in the plotting (along with the casting of Danny McBride), along with RAISING ARIZONA and even bits of BOTTLE ROCKET in the mix, but those elements aren’t what makes 30 MINUTES OR LESS tick.

It’s the ton of hilarious lines and amusing moments, many of which were the obvious results of improv (and many out of the mouth of Ansari), and the infectious spirit of how these folks play off one another.

McBride and Nick Swardson are the slacker criminals who kidnap pizza delivery boy Eisenberg and outfit him with a bomb, and it’s because they want the money he’ll rob to hire a hitman (Michael Peña) to kill McBride’s father (Fred Ward) for the inheritance money.

Meanwhile Eisenberg is in love with Ansari’s sister (Dilshad Vadsaria), which is a romantic subplot that doesn’t really matter except for some third act leverage, but I didn’t mind because it raced by like the rest of the action onscreen.

I laughed a lot during this movie. It’s definitely one of the funniest movies of the year, up there with BRIDESMAIDS and HORRIBLE BOSSES. In a chaotic car chase scene with Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On” blaring on the soundtrack, recalling BEVERLY HILLS COP, I had the sense of being in on the joke more so than in those other comedies.

Though the story comes close to falling apart in its last half, it’s a brisk but bountiful laugh fest (be sure to stay through the credits for a bonus scene) with the everyman Eisenberg, an amped-up Ansari, a much more on point than in the Medieval misfire YOUR HIGHNESS McBride, and the best big screen work of Swardson I’ve ever seen (though that’s not saying an awful lot judging from his filmography).

30 MINUTES OR LESS is getting some attention because of the similarities to a real life happening, but that incident is quickly forgotten once you get with the tone and the timing of this film, and that took less than 30 seconds for me.

More later...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: The Film Babble Blog Review


Actor turned documentary director Rappaport doesn’t re-invent the band bio-doc format here, but he’s crafted a solid engrossing piece of prime infotainment that pulls no punches in telling the story of hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest nonetheless.

Rappaport opens the film backstage at a 2008 reunion gig at which band members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg clashed, having never resolved differences since their last album: 1998’s “The Love Movement.”

From there we are taken through the history of the group from Queens with photos, performance footage, clips from music videos, and interviews with Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe as well as testimonials from many of their peers like Mos Def, Ludacris, Common, De La Soul and the Beastie Boys.

It may feel at times like a big Behind The Music episode as it tells the story hundreds of music documentaries have told before that a band’s future is often jeapordized by a couple of guys who can’t seem to get along, but this tale is so compellingly told with tons of infectiously head bopping music pumping throughout that it transcends the overly familiar framework.

Rappaport’s voice can be heard from behind the camera in a few scenes, but he wisely doesn’t incorporate himself into the film. As he’s a huge fan of the band, he obviously wants to pay tribute, but he also wants to get to the bottom of how this band imploded. By the time the film winds back to that 2008 reunion run-in we fully get via the blunt statements from Q-Tip and Phife Dawg more than an inkling of what went down.

Tribe has one more record left on their contract with Jive Records, but the vibe on display here tells us we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for it.

I only knew a few tracks going in, but this background schooling has made me seek out more Tribe – picked up a copy of “The Low End Theory” (1991) on CD today as a matter of fact. “Beats Rhymes & Life” is an excellent example of a documentary that will satisfy hardcore fans yet at the same time it serves as a great gateway drug for the uninitiated.

More later...

Friday, August 05, 2011


(Dir. Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

Here's a movie that answers the question that I didn't know anybody had been asking - how exactly did Earth become the Planet of the Apes?

According to this prequel/reboot/whatever, it sprang from a San Francisco scientist's (James Franco) attempts to cure Alzheimer's.

Franco experiments with genetic engineering on a test subject ape named Caesar (a CGI monkeyified Andy Serkis), and before long it's check out the big brain on Caesar-time!

The movie moves fast with short scenes forming a dark and supremely suspenseful set-up. We see Franco, with a little help from his simian pal, hook up with Frieda Pinto (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) try to help his ailing father (John Lithgow), and, as anybody whose seen even a quick TV spot for this film knows, deal with the ginornous revolt of thousands of newly intellectually enhanced apes fixated on destroying the city.

Before we get there we've got to see that humans are the villains here, not the apes, so there's Tom Felton as a douchey facility guard who taunts Caesar (couldn't wait to see him killed), and David Oyelowo as a clichéd corporate baddie. There's also David Hewlett as Franco's complaining neighbor who gets tangled up in the origin story in a clever way I won't reveal.

There are some nice shout-outs to the original 1968 PLANET OF THE APES: Felton gets to say Charleton Heston's classic "damn dirty ape" line, and you can see Caesar playing with a Statue of Liberty toy at one point.

Serkis's Caesar dominates the movie with his powerful presence. We feel like we can fully follow his thought processes as he carries out a plan against the humans. Most folks looking for summer blockbuster fun will mainly be waiting just for the destructive finale, and it doesn't disappoint - especially the much hyped Golden Gate bridge sequence - but the thoughtful vibe and tense tone throughout should be equally enjoyed.

Although filled with action and mayhem, the last third is a bit anticlimatic as it ends just as it starts to really get going, but I know, that's the point of such a set-up for a new take on the franchise.

I'll have to wait 'til next time for complete world domination by the apes, but for now this is one Hell of a tasty appetizer.

More later...

An Extremely Skippable R-Rated Switcheroo

THE CHANGE-UP (Dir. David Dobkin, 2011)

Let me just start by putting this out there – I like both of these guys.

Jason Bateman is an effective everyman who has shined in a string of lame ass comedies (this summer's HORRIBLE BOSSES isn't bad actually), and Ryan Reynolds can be obnoxious sure, but there's a good actor underneath all that smarm (see last year's BURIED if you don't believe me).

But this gross-out switcheroo puts their likability to the test. The premise of body switching was tired back in the late '80s, and smothering it in profanity and loads of disgusting pee, poop, and porn jokes does nothing to freshen it up.

In the first couple of minutes of the film there's a baby feces scene that unfortunately sets the terrible tone. I won't go into any detail, I'll just say that so much of the movie consists of things that most people would pay not to see.

So we have Bateman as a settled down family man, Reynolds a hard partying womanizer living in Atlanta (the location really doesn't matter except in skyline shots and a few minor references - it could've been set anywhere) who drunkenly one night when peeing in a fountain say in unison "I wish I had your life!"

The next morning they wake up and are in each other's bodies and have to deal with it - and so do we.

Bateman's wife doesn't believe them, and they find that the fountain has been moved so they are stuck in this filthy FACE OFF predicament for a few weeks until they find out where the Zoltar Speaks machine, sorry the fountain, was moved.

The only slightly amusing factor is Bateman and Reynold's mimicry of each other's amped up antics, otherwise this is a profoundly unfunny experience that just makes you feel sorry for everybody involved including Olivia Wilde (COWBOYS AND ALIENS) and Alan Arkin who luckily is only in a couple brief scenes.

This hasn't been the greatest summer for comedies, but this is the lowest of the low. Even if you're looking for a air conditioned reprieve from the current extreme heat, I'd opt for sweating. The stench with that is so much more bearable.

More later...

Monday, August 01, 2011

THE DOUBLE HOUR: The Film Babble Blog Review

This Italian thriller that more than lives up to its tagline ("Nothing is what it seems") is now playing  in Raleigh at the Colony Theater:

THE DOUBLE HOUR (Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi, 2009)

I didn’t know anything about this film going in and for that I'm grateful as I'm sure seeing a trailer or even a cursory look at a plot description would've ruined some of the suspense.

That said, I'll try my best in my summary not to spoil this film's at times confusing yet fascinating twists and turns.

Here goes: Ksenia Rappoport is a hotel maid in Turin who meets former cop turned security guard Filippo Timi at a speed dating event. Romance is in the air, but on a date at the villa he guards, armed masked men assault the couple and tie them up during the theft of tons of priceless paintings.

A scuffle ensues and Rappoport wakes up to find out Filippo was killed.

In a tramatic state she tries to go about her daily routines, but she's haunted by Filippo who she sees on a monitor at work and in the darkness of her apartment.

To say anything more than that would be a crime as THE DOUBLE HOUR (which means the time of day when the hour and minute are the same like 11:11) is full of wonderfully unpredicatable moments.

It's a keep guessing what's what experience, sensitively shot, with ace acting by the two leads, especially Rappoport whose frazzled tormented demeanor carries the film.

In his directorial debut, Capotondi, who's well experienced in the world of music videos, shows that he really knows how to create an effective engrossing mood. I was caught up in this film's aura from start to finish and was very satisfied by the ending, even if I was reminded a bit of the cold cutting conclusion of BODY HEAT.

Wait, was that a spoiler? I so tried not to do that.

More later...