The Bottom Line on the Bottom Line

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ask the Dust Review

Ask the Dust
Directed by: Robert Towne
Screenplay by: Robert Towne based on the John Fante novel
Starring: Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland
Rated R- 117 minutes

Robert Towne is best known for writing CHINATOWN. In that film he won the Oscar, the Bafta, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Golden Globe, and the Writers Guild Award and was pretty much crowned the best, most promising sceren-writer in America.

Since that time, Towne has written the screenplays for Mission Impossible I and II, The Firm, Days of Thunder, 8 Million Ways to Die and forayed into directing with Tequila Sunrise and Without Limits. Ask the Dust is very much a return to what he knows best and what he did best in Chinatown. It's a noir, slow-moving film that takes place in Los Angeles in the Depression.
The film is based on the book by John Fante, who was also a screenwriter in the 1950's and 1960's before his death in 1983.

Fante's most famous films include the Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyk film WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and the Judy Holiday comedy FULL OF LIFE.

Ask the Dust is very much an indulgent piece. It's about a writer named Arturo Bandini (very much John Fante writing about himself) directed by in the film version by another writer- Robert Towne. Therefore, it's no wonder that there is very little action that takes place in the film, instead, it is the subtle nuances and dialogues and neurotic schisms that take up much of the film's 2 hour runtime.

The story in Ask the Dust follows Arturo Bandini, the Italian-American struggling writer who arrives to 1930's Los Angeles with a dream and a suitcase full of copies of his only ever published work from the East Coast. He moves into a hotel, struggles with his writing and can hardly afford a cup of coffee, let alone a glass of beer. He's down to his last nickel, and he meets the fiery Mexican waitress named Camilla (Salma Hayek). Bandini and Camilla are like cat and mouse. Camilla taunts Bandini for being poor and mean and Bandini responds by insulting her for being Mexican and illiterate. The mutual hatred and love ensues, but it does so slowly and allows for much more to develop in the film before it pays off.

Ultimately, the story unfolds and does so in a worthwhile manner. Perhaps the ending is cliche' and lackluster, especially for what came before it, but such is usually the case when transferring a book from page to screen.

Ask the Dust is a worthwhile film to see if you have a sufficient attention span to sit through countless minutes of redundant dialogue and masturbatory writer-centric conversations which the average person could never relate to unless they too have suffered from writer's block.
The performances by Farrell and Hayek are good. Farrell manages to muster up a near perfect imitation of a 40's American screen actor accent. The only problem with this is that it is obviously an imitation from the second his words leave his mouth. Hayek, who manages to keep her Mexican accent intact is beautiful and breath-taking, but also fittingly bi-polar in this role.
Towne's direction and Caleb Deschanel's cinematography are good, but in an era of MTV fast-edits and jiggly-cameras. There's something so jolting about a film that is so steadfast. In fact, in one memorable scene in the Pacific Ocean (film was shot in South Africa not in LA), a naked Colin Farrell and naked Salma Hayek take a midnight dip in the water and the camera sways back and forth so much to the point that the viewer becomes dizzy. This only could have happened in a film so -otherwise- steady and slow-paced as this.
2.5 Stars

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

V For Vendetta Review

V for Vendetta
Directed by John McTeigue
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Rea


disclaimer: Dory Benami did not watch Matrix 2 or 3 and purports to not be a fan of the first Matrix film. Dory Benami also hates "geeky films" and fell asleep while viewing all Lord of the Rings films.


In view of my disclaimer above and the fact that I viewed the film at the Grove (worst place to see a film in LA) in the rain after having one of the worst work-days of my life and deciding to quit caffeine on the day in question- it is a major miracle that I did not fall asleep or hate the film V for Vendetta.


In fact I didn't hate the film at all. Without getting into the nuances of the film or revealing too much of the plot unnecessarily let me say that V for Vendetta isn't for everyone. The film is quite brainy in the same way that the Matrix was (supposed to be). Only this film's discussion revolves around issues that exist in today's society. Again, I will not give much away in this review, (so don't read anyone elses's review because I am sure that they will not be as generous as I) but I will say that the society of the future in which V for Vendetta exists is foreseeable in that it looks into the future in a thoughtful way with today's post 9/11 society as a starting point.

As far as the technical the film is superb. The directing is fluid, the camera moves beautifully and the shots and effects are worthwhile. The film looks stylish and the score is fitting. Sit-close so you can hear and feel this one. The performances are very good. Most notably Hugo Weaving as V. He takes on the role of the Phantom of the Opera/Monster in such a distinguished way. Doing so much with his voice behind a mask that he truly deserves some kind of award or distinction. Natalie Portman is divine. To look at and her soft and tender performance as well as her non-offending British accent. She definitely won points in my book (not to mention her brilliant rap on SNL this past weekend.). Also, I'd be remiss not to mention that Natalie Portman is ISRAELI (it's a known fact that all Israelis must mention Natalie Portman's birthplace and nationality whenever her name is brought up- it would be criminal not to).


Lastly, Stephen Rea, the conscience of the film. A police officer from the future, but a conscience from today. He truly is the audience's perspective and since The Crying Game he hasn't been as good or as interesting to watch. My one fault with this film is that it - although it is good- is 10 minutes too long. It takes a little time to start up in the beginning and drags a tad at the end. Ultimately it is a film worthy of 2 hours, but at its current run time of 132 minutes (2 hours and 12 minuets) it is overly indulgent.


3 Stars

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscars- How did I do?

Overall it was a good year. I think that I did quite well. Especially in the categories that mattered and I must say that I guessed horribly in the categories where I hadn't seen any of the films, such as the documentary and animated categories.

Jon Stewart was a great host and the show was short, to the point and didn't lag very much. I think they were effective in keeping the speeches short and keeping things moving.

Here's a run-down of what I got right and what I got wrong:

Best Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Dory's Guess: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
CORRECT

Supporting Actor
George Clooney
Dory's Guess George Clooney
CORRECT

Actress
Reese Witherspoon.
Dory's Guess Reese Witherspoon
CORRECT

Supporting Actress
Rachel Weisz
Dory's Guess Amy AdamsINCORRECT. But am glad Rachel won the award as now Regency's THE FOUNTAIN will gain in her award.

Animated Feature
Dory's Guess Howl's Moving Castle
INCORRECT- Should have gone with Wallace & Gromit which won the award and with Nick Park the creative mind behind the series who is a former Oscar winner. Didn't see any of the nominees. I suppose that was my disadvantage.

Art Direction
Memoirs of a Geisha
Dory's Guess: Memoirs of a Geisha
CORRECT


Cinematography
Memoirs of a GeishaDory's Guess Memoirs of a Geisha
CORRECT

Costume Design
Memoirs of a Geisha
Dory's Guess: Memoirs of a Geisha
CORRECT

Director
Ang Lee
Dory's Guess Ang Lee
CORRECT

Documentary
March of the Penguins
Dory's Guess: March of the Penguins
CORRECT

Documentary Short
A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin
Dory's Guess God Sleeps in Rwanda
INCORRECT- Again, having not seen any of the nominated shorts and going solely on the subject matter I place blame on getting this category incorrect on ignorance.

Editing
Crash
Dory's Guess Crash
CORRECT

Foriegn Language Film
Dory's Guess Tsotsi
CORRECT

Makeup
Chronicles of Narnia
Dory's Guess Chronicles of Narnia
CORRECT

Music-
Brokeback Mountain
Dory's Guess - The Constant Gardener
INCORRECT- here I knew it was a 2-horse race with Brokeback and was sure that John Williams had screwed himself over with his 2 nominations. Brokeback's theme music was great and added much emotion to the film. However, for me that added emotion translated into schmaltz and I gave the edge to Constant Gardener. I learned my lesson. Never fear the cheesy.

Song
Hustle and Flow
Dory's Guess: TransamericaINCORRECT- I truly believed the Academy would not vote for a song with the word "pimp" in it and I should have gone with my heart and not my head as you will see I was rooting for Hustle and Flow to win here and am glad that they did.

Animated Short
The Moon and the Sun an Imagined ConversationDory's Guess The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello- INCORRECT- Again, having not seen any of the nominees, I relied simply on the one-sheet.

Best Live Action Short
Six Shooter
Dory's Guess Our Time is Up
INCORRECT- Again, having not seen any of the nominees in this cateogry, I relied solely on the premise in making my selection.

Sound Editing
King Kong
Dory's Guess King Kong
CORRECT

Best Visual Effects
King Kong
Dory's Guess King Kong
CORRECT

Best Adapted Screenplay
Brokeback Mountain
Dory's Guess - CapoteINCORRECT - Here, I think the Academy was wrong. Capote's structure was tight, but this category was very rich and Brokeback got to me what seemed like two consolation awards- Director and Screenplay in response to not getting Picture.

Original Screenplay
Crash
Dory's Guess - Match Point
INCORRECT: Here I should have relied on the momentum that Crash had built and that Paul Haggis as a writer had attained this year for this film and last year for Million Dollar Baby. I went with my heart which told me that Match Point was the best written script of the year and the most courageous career move that Woody Allen could ever make. But ultimately, the head should have ruled out on this one.

Picture
Crash.
Dory's Guess Crash
CORRECT


TOTALS: 9 INCORRECT / 15 CORRECT (62.5 orrect)
If you exclude the Shorts, Animated Films and the Documentaries - my score improves to 5 INCORRECT / 14 CORRECT (74 orrect)

These scores - if you consider that an random selection would be 1 out of 5 in each category- equal to 20 to me are quite good.

Here's how I compared to the "experts" at Box Office Prophets.com and Noted Film Critic Roger Ebert

Dory Benami- 15 Correct
Kim Hollis- 15 Correct
Krovich- 15 Correct
David Mumpower- 12 Correct
Sulewski- 12 Correct
Roger Ebert- 16 Correct

Saturday, March 04, 2006

16 Blocks Movie Review

16 Blocks (Warner Bros.)
Starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def and David Morse
Directed by Richard Donner

16 Blocks is a character-driven cop movie that takes place in New York City. The premise is simple. Downtrodden cop Willis has to take career criminal Mos Def 16 blocks from a holding cell to a court so that he can testify on a bunch of dirty cops. Morse and a handful of cops are out to stop Mos Def from testifying and will do whatever they need to- to make sure he doesn't get before the grand jury.


Simple premise, simple delivery and complex characters with significant personal history and good chemistry combine to achieve what I feel to be a solid film. Some national reviewers dismissed the movie citing Mos Def's annoying, whining nasally voice or the fact that pretty much every scene in the film is cliche'. Well, his nasally voice didn't irritate me too much and I think it added some to his character's depth. As for the the cliche's. I dare you to name a truly original movie that's been released this year. Didn't think you could...

What 16 Blocks does succesfully achieve is a sylized, camera moves, interesting and thoughtful film. It is paced for an adult audience, and judging by the crowd at the theater I saw the film in (average age of 35) - that makes sense. Director Richard Donner who gave us Lethal Weapon series is now very grown up at 70 years of age. He's not making a movie for the MTV audience, this film is a buddy movie between two different characters from different backgrounds and not a movie about special effects or CGI. I'm glad that we finally have a film that relies more on characters, performance and emotion instead of fancy camera tricks and quick edits or huge explosions. In fact because of the lack of huge action sequences, the action we do see is more appreciated and the viewer isn't numbed by it all as is the tendency in most action films.

There is a sufficient arc in the film to demonstrate how each character grows and overcomes their warts and all - and the ending delivers a somewhat emotionally poignant feeling to merit a few claps from the audience as they emerge from screening the film.

Look for this film to do good business in subsequent weeks because of good word of mouth. If opening box office isn't above $15 million, I'd blame the slow-moving older target audience of the film and not Mos Def's fans. Ultimately this film will surpass the $65 million mark.

3 Stars