Peter Eramo Rants: Recent Romantic Comedies That Simply Blow


Is it me or have the majority of romantic comedies that have been delivered to us from the Hollywood womb in recent years just totally sucked? The litany of these 100% formulaic, predictable, and pathetic films have just made me angry, distressed, and quite frankly, bored out of my skull. How many more of these movies starring Jennifer Lopez, Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston and others like them must be released before this mediocrity stops?! And why does Hollywood continue to greenlight and crank out this mindless drivel? Hollywood though is only partially to blame here. I point the real blame at the movie-going public — the drones who go out to see this nonsense. Let’s face it — Hollywood producers would stop making them if you just stopped seeing them. A movie doesn’t make money, they won’t make another. Five, ten, fifteen of these types of films flop at the box-office, and that sends a wake-up call to Hollywood — WE ARE BEING INSULTED…WE WON’T PAY OUR $10 TO SEE THIS STUPIDITY.

I don’t even have to see “The Backup Plan” (Jennifer Lopez’s latest cinematic triumph) to tell you what happens after seeing the trailer or reading the simple synopsis. As of this posting, the film has only generated $15 million domestic which is not very impressive at all. So two things here: (1) Thank God and (2) Shame on any of you who actually went out to support this crap! And is Gerald Butler the new poster boy for co-starring in these moronic films? What does he have to offer to film except for perhaps being eye-candy to much of the female demographic. Jennifer Aniston — you made “Management” which was a wonderfully original romantic comedy. “The Bounty Hunter“???!!! Come on! You can be so much better than that! This film also did not fare well at the box-office…so maybe America is starting to wake-up and demand a more intelligent type of romantic comedy. And Katherine Heigl — it seems to me that these kind of films is all she is really good for – and not much else. This example is more bizarre than Butler because she is not eye-candy at all. I swear if I saw another promo for “The Ugly Truth” I was going to lose it! Didn’t see it — but I bet the remainder of my car payments that I can tell you how it ended!

Sandra Bullock has made a ton of this junk (see: “All About Steve,” “The Proposal,” “The Lakehouse“) and she goes out and steals an undeserved Oscar win simply because she publically declared that she was tired of making these train wrecks. She was very good in “The Blind Side” and that was it…nothing more people.

What also bothers me about these asinine films (on top of the horrid, horrid screenplays) is that we are not paying to watch acting at all. We are paying to watch Aniston do her cute, ditsy stammering (she’s been in over 10 films of this genre), and Hugh Grant do his awkward, British, pardon-me schtick (“Music and Lyrics”???….Really??!!), and so on. Hollywood just casts two mega-popular celebrities (careful not to say ‘actors’) from the covers of supermarket tabloids, gives them a story as thin as Heidi Klum and markets the shit out of it. These people are merely playing themselves, but with different names, different lines to say, different costumes and different love interests — we are paying for pop culture personalities…not actors at the height of their craft.

It isn’t that charming, clever, sweet romantic comedies aren’t being made…they are just harder to find. Look at last year’s unique “(500) Days of Summer.” A wonderful independent film that made a respectable $32 million domestic. That’s not bad. A positive step. More recent examples of strong romantic-comedies that sweep the viewers off their feet without insulting us are: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Ghost Town,” “You Kill Me,” “50 First Dates” (yes, with Adam Sandler…a very clever premise actually; and I know Barrymore is in it, but if I enjoy it, I can’t dismiss it), “High Fidelity” and “Lars and the Real Girl” — all movies with heart, humor and brains.

So keep it up movie-goers! Continue to put your foots down and stop seeing piss-poor movies masquerading as romantic comedies. Demand more for your entertainment buck. When a film like “Valentine’s Day” grosses over $110 million at the box-office though, I am convinced that there is still much work to be done. Just the trailer made me throw up a little in my mouth. What does Patrick Dempsey really have to offer us, except, “Oh, I love that guy from Grey’s Anatomy…” Keep him there! That’s what television is for….there lies all the mindless entertainment you could ever want….the sole reason I don’t watch a single sitcom, reality show, serial drama or primetime soap. I’d like to think the movie-going public is better than that. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Peter Eramo Asks: What Movie are You MOST Excited to see This Year?

With “Iron Man 2” opening on May 7th, the 2010 Summer Blockbuster Season is officially under way. However, with “Clash of the Titans” already released, you may argue the fact that the Season has already begun. Be that as it may, there are a number of movies coming out this year with high box-office expectations…not unlike any other year in Hollywood. The litany of sequels, big-budget action films, and remakes are upon us…with a few films coming out by the more “seasoned” directors like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers for good measure.

I want to know what movie YOU are most looking forward to this year. Yeah, I know there’s plenty of them to choose from, but you only get one choice.

I am hoping to make the poll feature a regular feature on this blog in the hopes of making it much more interactive. Let me know your thoughts here! Take the poll…

What Movie Are You MOST Excited to See This Year???
The Green Hornet (w/ Seth Rogan)
Toy Story (from Pixar)
Iron Man 2 (w/ Robert Downey, Jr.)
Inception (Christopher Nolan’s latest)
Robin Hood (w/ Russell Crowe)
Salt (w/ Angelina Jolie)
Shrek Forever After (yes, another one)
Grown Ups (w/ Adam Sandler)
The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan’s latest)
Black Hole (David Fincher’s latest)
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (w/ Kristen Stewart)
Eat Pray Love (w/ Julia Roberts)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Stone’s sequel)
True Grit (Coen Bros. remake starring ‘The Dude’ Jeff Bridges)
The A-Team (w/ Liam Neeson & Bradley Cooper)
What the Hell?! My Choice Isn’t Listed Here!

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The Top 10 Films of 2009 Ranked by Peter Eramo


2009 was a relatively weak year for films. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid to be a film critic (not yet anyway) so I don’t see eveything that comes out. Though I did manage to view 125+ films for the year — I try and stay away from the “safe bets” guaranteed to be crap like “The Proposal” or “The Land of the Lost” or “The Ugly Truth” and focus on the ones that look as if they are worth my time and money. There was not a stand-out phenomenal film this past year…no modern-day classic to speak of. Hopefully, 2010 brings us a better crop in the months ahead.

In any case, here is my list of the Top 10 films from 2009, complete with a list of honorable mentions that are also all solid films. At the bottom of each post is a link to view the official trailers in case you’d like to give it a peek. Give it a read, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject…what do you feel I omitted, what film am I nuts for including, where was I actually (dare I say) right on the money?

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)

Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, among others, this was certainly the best animated film of the year, without a doubt. And don’t give me “Up”…please. Based on the story by Roald Dahl, this film was pure enjoyment to watch — as well as being uproariously funny. For a full review on this film, click on this link.

9. Sunshine Cleaning (dir. Christine Jeffs)

A charming, poignant and offbeat indie film from the producers behind the Cinderella film, “Little Miss Sunshine.” This film revolves around the relationship between Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah (Emily Blunt), two sisters who are leading completely unfulfilling lives — but manage to set up shop and start their own business…crime-scene clean-up! Once upon a time, Amy had her whole future ahead of her when she was a popular cheerleader in high school dating the star football player. Now she is a single mom with a young son and though she still sees that same football player (Steve Zahn), it is nothing more than an illicit, thankless affair since he has married another.

The film focuses on Amy putting her foot down and getting her life in order, but it also does a terrific job at exploring the relationship between the two diverse sisters. Emily Blunt (who is just adorable to watch anywhere, anytime) is incredibly effective here — the hard-as-nails, pot-smoking aunt on the outside, but underneath, we see that she is simply vulnerable and frightened. Alan Arkin is great (no shocker) as their dad and his scenes with his precocious grandson are very humorous. Though it is not laugh-out-loud funny, there are some terribly funny moments here, especially as the gals start going out on jobs cleaning up shackled homes of people who have just committed suicide. When Rose is asked by one of her friends (who apparently has actually made something of her life) if she actually likes her grotesque job, she responds, quite philosophically, somewhat appropos: “Yeah. I do. We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound – and sad. And they’ve lost somebody. And the circumstances, they’re always different. But that’s the same. And we help. In some small way, we help.” A bittersweet film, with a genuine and effective script and authentic performances all-around, this one was too enjoyable for me not to include here.
*To watch the trailer for “Sunshine Cleaning,” click here

8. A Serious Man (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

I’m not sure I would recommend this film to someone unfamiliar with the ouevre of the brilliant work of the Coen brothers, but to me, it surely ranks as one of their stronger films and is most similar in style and tone to their masterpiece, “Barton Fink.” It is certainly their most universal — and most Jewish film to date. Not a full-out comedy like “The Big Lebowski” or “Raising Arizona,” but filled with much of the dark humor that has been a staple in nearly all of their films. This is a very mature, intelligent work with skilled art direction, use of music, and a helluva image to use as the film’s final shot. No big stars in this film at all, which I think was a bold, smart choice. Rarely do these guys make a wrong turn (well, there was “Intolerable Cruelty,” but so what…one bad turn).

The film is set in 1967 and revolves around the relatively simple life of college professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). He lives in a world of formulas and certainty, but many times, the world around us doesn’t follow rules or certainty. Ironically, he teaches the Theory of Uncertainty, but really doesn’t grasp its concepts beyond the mathematics. His whole world is coming down around him and he merely seeks answers as to why and the film focuses on Gopnik trying to cope with all the chaos that is swarming around him.

Amazing performances by a relatively unknown cast. Michael Stuhlbarg was certainly snubbed of a Best Actor Oscar nomination here as the film is all on his shoulders and he does a wonderful job as our modern-day Job. Richard Kind is great as Larry’s bizarre brother, and Fred Melamud plays Sy, the man who is having an affair with Larry’s wife. Melamud is perfect casting here…a seemingly perfect gentleman on the surface, but what a slimeball this guy is! A top-notch screenplay and careful, astute direction (as always), I cannot wait to give this movie another viewing. Like all of the films made by the Coen Brothers, there is always something new to catch and one gains a greater appreciation for the movie as a whole. A clever, dark, and honest film.
*To watch the trailer for “A Serious Man,” click here

7. (500) Days of Summer (dir. Marc Webb)

Viewers of this film are warned even before the credits even roll that “This is Not A Love Story,” so those who may enjoy the typical formulated, predictable romantic-comedies (can anyone say Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock) may be disappointed here. It tells the story of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he reflects back on his relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The fresh and creative script jumps us back and forth in time through the (500) days of their bi-polar relationship and director Marc Webb uses some amusing techniques (split screens, animation, a hokey/cute musical dance number set to Hall & Oates) throughout to show the viewers how Tom is experiencing things. He is head over heels in love with the quirky and independent Summer – Tom fully believes that she is the one. The only problem is that Summer doesn’t believe in long relationships or in love – she feels that life will always get in the way. Tom seeks advice and guidance from his two best friends, but most of all from his little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz).

Despite the forewarning we are given, “(500) Days of Summer” is love story. There is no way around it. It may not be the typical love story — or follow the conventional “love story” plot devices, but this is a wonderful departure from all of that and that is what makes this film a breath of fresh air. Gordon-Levitt (excellent in “The Lookout“) is very natural here, very soft-spoken as Tom, the greeting card writer who aspires to become an architecht — and who is desperately trying to win over the woman he loves so passionately. Deschanel is a joy to watch. She is not your typical leading lady at all, but there is something about her that keeps your eyes glued to her every move. She’s got that hypnotic sing-song voice and of course, is lovely to look at – we can see and understand why Tom is bitten so hard here. Their chemistry here seemed very natural throughout. I could not believe the film was snubbed of all Oscar categories, especially for Original Screenplay. But it remains one of the stronger, more creative romantic-comedies (too bad guys…it is one) in recent years and surely one of 2009’s very best.
*To watch the trailer for “(500) Days of Summer,” click here

6. Watchmen (dir. Zack Snyder)

I could not believe how much I enjoyed and how overly impressed I was with this unique superhero film. I am not a reader of graphic novels and knew nothing about this particular one written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, so I went in completely blind. Unlike most films of its genre, “The Watchmen” is highly stylized, dark, and cynical, containing much more material for adults than teens (in themes, graphic violence and sex/nudity). What I also enjoyed (and was surprised by, quite frankly) was the moral questions that the film raises and tries to answer. I enjoyed this film more than “The Dark Knight” and almost any other superhero film I have seen.

The film is set in an alternative 1985, with Richard Nixon in his fourth term as U.S. president, the Cold War raging on and superheroes are banned from using their powers despite the constant threat of a nuclear war. After one of the masked members of the Watchmen group is murdered, an investigation (initiated by the memorable Rorschach character) follows and with it, a far deeper plot that the heroes must combat.

The film is so beautifully stylized, with tremendous visual effects and art direction. How this film wasn’t nominated in a handful of the technical Oscar categories still escapes me. And though it is high in budget, there still has a feel of art-house in it. The soundtrack is phenomenal, as it cleverly incorporates some classic rock tunes by Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, among others. Jackie Earle Haley steals the show as Rorschach, but Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) are all great here. I remember before its release, a film-blogging friend was a bit worried about the movie because he absolutely loved the graphic novel and was a loyal follower of it. He was so overly impressed with it, I think he went at least 8 times in the theatre to screen it. He told me how faithful it was to the novel and that it far exceeded any expectations he had going in…and this is from a guy who is an avid follower of the literature. Again, I went in “blind” and loved it as well.
*To watch the trailer for “Watchmen,” click here

5. Das Weisse Band or The White Ribbon (dir. Michael Haneke)

A magnificent cinematic achievement, “The White Ribbon” takes place in a small, rural town in Germany during 1913-1914. reminiscient of Bergman’s masterpiece “Fanny and Alexander” in some ways,Haneke’s film explores the darkness of man and foreshadows the darkness of what is to come in Germany in the years that follow. A number of peculiar, horrific crimes/acts occur in this small village and the mystery abounds as to who is responsible for them. But Haneke is not concerned with solving this mystery as much as he is trying to illustrate the brutality that exists in both adults and children. Filmed in gorgeous black-and-white, the white ribbon of the title suggests an innocence which has been lost and possibly the looming apparition of facsism; the small community, an analogy for a world on the brink of war.

The performances here are extraordinary. Though the pacing may be slow to some, it is a riveting drama exploring character and the hypocrisy of domestic and religious values. Yes, there are moments that are rather difficult to watch (in the best way possible), but they surely serve a greater purpose. Haunting, profound, potent and altogether human, “The White Ribbon” is a triumph of a film.
*To watch a trailer for “The White Ribbon,” click here

4. The Invention of Lying (dir. Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson)

You’re probably laughing at me right now, wondering why in the world is this film included here, let alone ranked so high on the list itself. Is it a higher cinematic achievement than “The White Ribbon” or “A Serious Man“? Probably not, I would agree. But my reasoning here is quite simple — pure enjoyment! Comedies are always overshadowed by their big brothers – the more serious dramas and “arthouse” films on these kinds of Top 10 lists. I did not want to fall victim to that. But that is not the only reason I include this film. It was just too damn funny, too damn smart and too damn fine a film.

The film is set in a world where no one has ever told a lie. That is, until Mark Bellison, a writer who is about to be fired (Ricky Gervais), creates one on the spur of the moment for personal gain. Mark is overweight, under-successful, short and comes from a poor gene pool. He is in love with Anna (Jennifer Garner) who is way out of his league as she is looking for the perfect mate with ideal genes to create perfect, good-looking children. Of course Mark begins to take advantage of his discovery little by little until one day, the hospital staff overhear him speaking to his mother on her deathbed as he desribes what Heaven is truly like. Everyone believes him of course and Mark not only becomes famous, but a prophet of the people as well.

What Gervais and Robinson have created here is one of the better comedies I have seen in years (although “Tropic Thunder” is right up there as well). I was constantly reminded of the better films of Albert Brooks and Woody Allen throughout. Gervais gives an endearing, hilarious performance here and manages to also include his own personal opinions on God, religion, love and the backwards priorities of our society. An entirely original film, I was blown away at how funny and clever it was. The film also features some great cameo appearances (which I won’t spoil here) and execllent supporting work from Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill. Gervais is certainly making a name for himself here in the States — I only hope that people begin to recognize that this is a major force in comedy right now — not only is this one downright hilarious, but on top of that, has a heart to match.
*To watch the trailer for “Invention of Lying” click here

3. Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Well, one thing is for certain…this film is unlike any other war film you have ever seen. That’s for damn sure. The film reeks of Tarantino dialogue, plot twists, homages to the spaghetti westerns and French New Wave cinema — as well as the dark humor that has been a trademark of his since his debut with “Reservoir Dogs.” I went in really not wanting to like it (as I’m not the biggest fan of his), but I could not deny what an excellent film he helmed here.

We are in Nazi-occupied France during World War II and a platoon of Jewish American soldiers are enlisted to spread fear throughout Hitler’s Third Reich…they have one mission — to kill and skin the heads of us many Nazis as they possibly can. The Basterds are headed by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a Southern American with a thick accent and passion for killing Nazis. The other part of the film focuses on Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus (a very impressive Melanie Laurent), who is plotting her revenge several years later after witnessing the slaughtering of her family. The first scene of the film itself (a long, fascinating scene) keeps you glued to the edge of your seat…Tarantino does a brilliant job of building the suspense here with effective use of editing, exceptional dialogue and the masterful performance of Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa) who steals the film and has created one of film’s very best villains, wholly deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win. Waltz is unbelievable and is at his most evil when there is a smile across his face.

There is hardly a dull moment here and when you are thinking one thing is going to happen, you find that you are wrong and something else does. Pitt is fine here with his deadpan delivery and is actually quite funny. Great use of color, set design and photography, this is a film that builds from the very first scene and never lets up. Yes, it is not at all historically accurate, but Tarantino knows that and he also knows his business is to entertain….he does that here in spades.
*To watch the trailer for “Inglourious Basterds” click here

2. Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman)

An American film that does such an interesting, on-the-mark job of conveying modern American values and the historical unemployment recession that has fallen on us these recent years. Jason Reitman wrote/directed the utterly brilliant “Thank You for Smoking” and the tad over-rated “Juno,” but rebounds nicely with this superb script which makes for a highly pleasing film and one of the year’s very best.

Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) job is to fire people from theirs. He spends nearly his entire life living out of a suitcase, going from airport to airport and hotel to hotel – and he loves every minute of it. He has almost no connections in his life – not even his family. The firm takes on young Natalie (Anna Kendrink) who has come up with a method of firing these poor schleps via video conferencing, thereby threatening Ryan’s way of living — his way of being. He takes her under his tutelage on one of his cross-country firing sprees and as the brash Natalie begins to see the actual pain and suffering she is causing real people with real families, Ryan is beinning to discover a lot more about himself. Along the way, we follow the relationship between Ryan and Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a fellow corporate traveler. The two try and meet up as often as their schedules will allow and Ryan begins to feel that perhaps he may want more from Alex than just sex in a different hotel room each time.

The script in itself is a great achievement. I’m still angered that it did not capture the Best Original Screenplay Oscar as it most certainly deserved it. The performances, all solid. Clooney is perfect as Ryan Bingham – he is confident, charming, quick-witted and at times, vulnerable…in other words, he does his “Clooney thing” – he can do this in his sleep. Vera Farmiga is wonderful here and in one scene in particular (she’s in her car alone), you just want to smack her. Jason Bateman also has a strong supporting role as Bingham’s boss – a clever bit of casting here. “Up in the Air” is a timely film, a well-made film and most of all, a very, very enjoyable film. Reitman is really building up quite a nice resume here and I am anxious to see what he gives us next.
*to watch the trailer for “Up in the Air” click here

1. District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

I am in no way a science-fiction film. But it is so much more than that. I was not expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did and though it came out relatively early in 2009, it never lost its ranking as what I perceived as the best motion picture of the year. The onset of the film has an authentic docu-drama look and feel to it, but as the film builds, it morphs into sci-fi character drama and finally, a police thriller. And all the while, it never loses its sense of realism, nor do we ever not believe in any of the characters or their choices.

An extraterrestrial race is forced to live in slum-like conditions in Johannesburg — a refugee-camp where humans refer to them as “prawns” as they exploit and abuse these creatures since they arrived on Earth in 1982. Now it is 2010 and Multi-National United, a munitions corporation is forcing the eviction of these aliens from District 9 to a new camp. The man in charge of the operation is Wilus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). At first quite clumsy and a somewhat silly authoritative figure, van der Merwe is suddenly exposed to a strange alien chemical and must now rely on his new prawn friends to save his own life as his human family and friends begin to turn on him.

The analogies in the film (apartheid, Guantanamo Bay) are evident, but it doesn’t hit you over the head or insult the viewer. The relatively unknown Copley gives an outstanding performance here and the visual effects are top-notch even though it’s not technically a high-budget film. What makes “District 9” such a remarkable film is its excellent work of character, its sense of authenticity, crisp editing, great action sequences (especially the last 20 minutes or so) and the way it makes you sympathize and feel for the aliens. The very last shot in itself is a memorable, chilling one. A powerful, intelligent, and moving film on a whole. This is Blomkamp’s first major film (produced by Peter Jackson) and he has delivered a near-masterpiece of a film that I think will be remembered for years to come…the best to come out in 2009!
*to watch the trailer for “District 9” click here.

HIGHLY HONORABLE MENTIONS
Though they did not crack the Top 10 list, here is a brief listing of some other excellent films that came out last year that I would surely recommend. They are, in no particular order:

Sin Nombre (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Funny People (dir. Judd Apatow)
The Cove (dir. Louie Psihoyos)
Julia (dir. Erick Zonca)
Management (dir. Stephen Belber)
The Road (dir. John Hillcoat)
The Last Station (dir. Michael Hoffman)
Crazy Heart (dir. Scott Cooper)
The Great Buck Howard (dir. Sean McGinly)

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Review of HBO Films’ “You Don’t Know Jack”

The premiere of HBO Films’ You Don’t Know Jack” aired this evening to much press and media hype. Directed by Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), the film stars Al Pacino as the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian – and it follows us from his days at being an unemployed physician in the early 1990’s, through the over 130+ assisted suicides that he aided in, and finally, the well-known trial that brought an end to his morally questionable practice.

Not only is “You Don’t Know Jack” an important piece of filmmaking (thank you HBO), but brings to the forefront such fascinating moral and ethical dilemmas about a person’s right to die that have always followed in the shadows of Dr. Kevorkian. Perhaps this is an odd choice of wording here, but the film is also a pleasure to watch – as it draws the viewer into this beguiling debate with each passing scene.

With the passing of Marlon Brando in 2005, and then Paul Newman three years later, Al Pacino may very well be the finest screen actor alive (although if you told me Daniel Day-Lewis, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight). Pacino shines here as he immerses himself into the man that is Jack Kevorkian – the slouched-over way that he walks, his voice, his eyes as he watches his patients slowly fall into a sleep that they will never awake from…as a biopic, much of the film rests on Pacino’s mighty shoulders, and he carries it in such graceful fashion all the way. Here, Pacino plays the Kevorkian that most of America has seen in the news and on interviews, but more impressively, he plays the Kevorkian that we never knew – his close relationship with his sister Margo (a wonderfully strong and funny Brenda Vaccaro), his ascetic lifestyle, his maddening stubbornness, and his supreme dedication to serve his patients and fight for the one thing he truly believes in…even if it killed him. This is thanks in part to Adam Mazer’s careful screenplay and his characterization of the man, to Levinson’s subtle direction, and of course to Pacino, who looks so effortless doing it all. The use of grey and pale blue color throughout the film, the precise use of close-ups and simple art direction all work very well.

The supporting cast is led by Danny Huston who plays Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian’s arrogant and successful attorney. The intimate scenes between the two are great entertainment. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman play colleagues who believe in what Kevorkian stands for and are there to assist him throughout his journey. Goodman has a great look to him and his sympathetic face works wonders on the viewer. In one particular scene (where he is helping Kevorkian with a suicide in which they may not have enough supplies), he is placing a plastic box around the patient’s head – the looks he gives to Kevorkian say it all and it is very moving to sit through.

There are some great moments in the film – when Kevorkian famously came to court dressed in a powdered wig complete with ball in chain, a confrontational scene between brother and sister in a local Bob’s Big Boy, a moment when Kevorkian finally lets himself open up to Janet Good (Sarandon) and tells a small bit from his past…it all works to add another piece to the Kevorkian puzzle. I was especially moved by the scenes with Kevorkian and his patients, as the videotape was recording their conversations. Levinson shoots these scenes as if they were homemade videos and it is quite effective. I don’t believe the movie works to manipulate your feelings about its subject one way or another. I don’t think viewers will watch this film and change their opinions on such a vital subject, though I do believe it is important for them to watch.

In the end, if you defy the rules long enough and go against the norm, you’ll end up getting the horns, which is what happens when Kevorkian submits his videotape of what was to be his last assisted suicide to CBS’ “60 Minutes” all but putting himself behind bars. This is what he always wanted – a chance to put the issue of euthanasia on trial and Kevorkian naturally defends himself. With no legal training whatsoever, Kevorkian’s case gets weaker and weaker. Geoffrey Fieger barks in the hallway, “It’s like watching a man hang himself!” The line is quite fitting as earlier in the film Kevorkian, at the dinner table, tenderly recites a line by Arthur Miller’s protagonist John Proctor in the brilliant play “The Crucible”:

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

It is a line that Kevorkian will incessantly (and deliriously) repeat when he is in jail and on his 19-day hunger strike. In the play, Proctor can go back home to live his life with his faithful wife and kids – if only he lies to the judge and says he has witnessed others in Salem trafficking with the devil. Proctor cannot do it…and he is hanged for it. He is, in many ways, a martyr – a man who is willing to die for what he believes in – Dr. Kevorkian is his descendent here and the comparison works nicely. I highly encourage you to see this film — a strong, weighty work by Mr. Levinson, his cast, and crew.

Rating:
Year: 2010
Director: Barry Levinson

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Movie Poll: What’s Your Favorite Woody Allen Film?


Peter Eramo Asks: What’s Your Favorite Woody Allen Film?
Manhattan
Take the Money and Run
Radio Days
Annie Hall
Hannah & Her Sisters
Sleeper
Broadway Danny Rose
Bullets Over Broadway
Crimes & Misdemeanors
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Purple Rose of Cairo
Love & Death
I Don’t Watch Woody’s Films
One Not Listed on This List


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The Top 10 Films of Woody Allen

He’s been directing films since 1969 (debuting with the hysterically funny “Take the Money & Run“) — about 40 in all. Some are modern-day classics, some very good, others not so great, and then there are those handful of films that were, well, just hard to stomach. I have remained a loyal, ardent fan of his short stories, plays and films for years. When there is a new Woody Allen film, I will most surely go out and pay my $10 to see it. Here is (for better or worse) my Top 10 Woody Allen Films of All-Time; a very difficult list to put together, I assure you. I desperately tried to squeak “Deconstructing Harry” or “Take the Money…” in there, but alas, ten spots goes pretty quickly. All ten films are outstanding in their own ways. Give it a read — and please make sure to let me know what you think…where you agree, where I was led astray and anything else you might like to add. Your comments are always welcome. Enjoy!

10. SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999)

In my opinion, the last film of Woody’s that I can actually classify as “great.” A great mix of comedy and drama in this one with Sean Penn in the lead role as Emmet Ray, the world’s second greatest guitar player behind Django Reinhardt. Unlike most actors who take on the male lead when Woody takes a backseat, Penn does his own thing; not becoming the typical Woody-archetype (the perfect example being Kenneth Branagh basically mimicking Woody throughout the dreadful “Celebrity“) – and he is nothing less than sensational, giving one of his best performances in a career filled with so much strong work. In Emmet Ray, Penn creates a despicable, immature, conceited, narcissistic, rude human being who cares about nothing but his music – and Django Reinhardt. When he meets Hattie, a mute, simple gal, his life is turned upside down. As Hattie, Samantha Morton breaks your heart. She is simply adorable here and without saying one word through the entire film, earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination. She matches Penn in each scene they share merely with her body language and facial reactions. Two great actors here and it is so enjoyable (though at times painful because of how Ray treats her) to watch.

The music used throughout the film is sensational – one of Woody’s best compilations. I never get tired of the soundtrack. Another period piece, the look and feel (from art direction to costumes) is wholly authentic. A smart, insightful script by Allen. In the end, this comedic “biography” plays out like a tragedy. One of the definitions of the tragic hero is that he/she brings about his/her own downfall. Here, we watch as Emmet Ray does just that. And as miserable as he is, we still have compassion for him throughout – a testament to the work of Sean Penn here under Woody’s subtle direction. It is tough to make a top ten list of Woody’s films without trying to make a spot for this winning film.

9. INTERIORS (1978)

Following the phenomenal success that was “Annie Hall” came this film, Woody’s first entirely dramatic film, sans any humor really at all. In fact, during a dinner scene when the characters are all laughing at a joke, we never even get to hear the actual joke. Another note: this is the first film Allen directed in which he did not act in at all.

Of all his films, this is the one that most resembles that of Ingmar Bergman – in theme, story and how it is shot (by his longtime collaborator, Gordon Willis). The entire film takes on a very somber, pragmatic aura. Arthur (E.G. Marshall) decides to leave his overbearing wife (Geraldine Page). The three daughters must now come to terms with this as they also come to terms with their own lives and their own relationships with one another. The family is an artistic one: one daughter is an actress, the other a successful writer and the third, is trying desperately to find her artistic niche. Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt and Kristin Griffith play the trio of sisters. Geraldine Page as Eve sparkles in this very demanding role of the matriarch of this dysfunctional family. She is the nucleus of this film. Maureen Stapleton is great comic relief (if you can call it that) and she brings great life and color to this otherwise bland, upper-class, eastern Long Island existence.

Though nominated for 5 Oscars, the film is not for everybody. In fact, I would only recommend this one to devout fans of Woody Allen. I surely wouldn’t cite this film for someone to watch if he/she was just starting to view his films. I look at this particular work and appreciate, admire and enjoy it. After churning out those “early, funny” movies, this was quite a daring move. And the performances here are bold and strong. I admit, I need to be in a certain mood to watch this one, but it does truly stand out as one of his finest, most mature efforts.

8. LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

Classic early Woody Allen comedy and one-liners here. Filmed mostly in Hungary, the film revolves around the ultimate coward, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) being forced to enlist to save his country from an invasion by Napoleon himself. Most improbably, Boris becomes a war hero and he may now finally make for an ideal partner for Sonja, the woman of his dreams (Diane Keaton), who always preferred his brother Ivan to him. The film is filled with timeless banter between Keaton and Allen here – such a pleasure to watch. When Sonja finally relents to Boris’s proposals, she convinces him to help her assassinate the French dictator.

In addition to some very clear references to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona” (the camera angles of various close-ups during the infamous “Wheat” scene) and Dostoyevsky’s works, Woody is his hilarious, incompetent, psycho-babble self. When the Countess tells him he is the greatest lover she has ever had, Boris deadpans, “Well, I practice a lot when I am alone.” Nothing cracks you up like a primo masturbation joke. The blithe music of Prokofiev works well here and the script harkens back to Allen’s earlier prose tackling such subjects as love, loyalty, fear of death, honor, and morality (“If it turns out that there IS a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever”). Like his prose, Allen manages to face such profound themes by way of slapstick and comedy. A wonderful comedy and a pleasure to watch anytime.

7. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)

Woody has said on a number of occasions that this was his personal favorite of all his movies. If nothing else, it may certainly be the most original and compelling, simply for the premise alone: Set in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) needs an escape. An escape from her tedious job as a waitress and from her abusive husband, Monk (a nasty Danny Aiello). She goes to the movies. Here she sees the handsome and enchanting Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in the film “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” She goes again and again until one day…Tom just walks off the screen – and into Cecilia’s life. There is a problem though: Tom is not…you know, real! While Cecilia and Tom begin their own fascinating relationship, Hollywood execs are furious as they discover that Tom Baxters across the country are leaving their own movie screens. This is amazing stuff — what more can you ask for?!

Woody’s period pieces always feel quite authentic and this one is no exception. He has always written wonderful, 3-dimensional dialogue for women – again, this film does not disappoint. Jeff Daniels plays the 1930’s movie star with pizzazz, dignity and good humor. Things really get interesting when he begins to realize that this very real world is different than the imaginary one he just escaped from. There is also some very funny banter between the characters on screen waiting to see if Tom will return to them so they can get on with their own (movie within a) movie. An ingenious screenplay with a tremendous heart, this one goes right at #7, though I can fully understand why Woody himself places it at the apex of all his work.

6. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

There are the films known as Woody’s old, ridiculous comedies (“Sleeper,” “Bananas,” “Everything You Always wanted to Know About Sex…” etc.). Then he began getting a bit more dramatic. And then he went back to full-out comedy with this delightful and uproarious black-and-white film. Now for many, you either love Woody’s humor or you don’t. Not much room in between. He certainly is an “acquired taste” and has his own style/brand of humor. But if you like his comedy and haven’t seen this one yet – do yourself a favor and go rent it…now!

Woody plays Danny Rose, a very unsuccessful talent agent with a heart of gold. He goes above and beyond for his bizarre list of clientele. His one big client is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who stays with Danny more out of loyalty than anything else. Canova hasn’t been big for quite some time, but now has a chance of making a tremendous comeback that would pay off for both. He asks Danny Rose to do him a huge favor…make sure his mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) is there to see him perform at a very important concert. Canova is married, so Danny and Tina must play off like they lovers. What happens from there is great comedy from Woody – original and warm…downright hilarious stuff. This makes the final scenes between Tina and Danny so effective…it really does hit you in the gut.

Woody’s comedic acting chops shine here. And Farrow, as the Italian broad is equal to the task. Woody has made a career out of playing the “loser” type who is down on his luck. Danny Rose is the epitome of this model, but we sympathize with this character 100%. The Thanksgiving Day dinner scene is a sad, tender one. His advice to his pathetic clients is classic Woody and him trying to get them work is even more hilarious. When trying to get a booking for an unimpressive client, Danny says, “My hand to God, she’s gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But you – I’ll let you have her now at the old price, OK? Which is anything you wanna give me. Anything at all.” Great stuff.

The film though belongs to the adventure that Tina and Danny go through. The helium balloon scene by itself is classic. In a new age of comedy films (either Judd Apatow, teen comedy flicks, Tyler Perry, et al), none of them measure up to this comedic classic…not to me at least. This stands as one of Woody’s best.

5. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992)

In the wake of Woody’s well-publicized scandal of a break-up with longtime companion Mia Farrow came this harsh, raw and wonderful film in 1992. Woody has admitted that he wanted to break the traditional rules of filmmaking here and he does so, using hand-held cameras, breaking up scenes in the middle of dialogue and not caring one way or another if the camera was on the front, side or back of the head of a particular character on screen. It does have the style and feel of a pseudo-documentary, complete with narration given by the film’s costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland.

The film opens with Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) announcing to their best friends Gabe and Judy (Woody and Mia Farrow) that they are separating. Jack has taken a much younger lover who may be too much too handle for Jack – and yes, perhaps a little too dumb as well. Judy is way too highbrow for this sort of thing, but she does try to get back out in the dating world once again, even if her prime years are long behind her. Gabe and Judy have the seemingly perfect marriage at the film’s onset. But Allen here delves into and analyzes the long-term effects of being with the same person for years on end. And if you are aware of his works, you know that it won’t end well. Gabe is a college professor and he is soon tempted by a young, fawning, overly-sexed student (Juliette Lewis) that threatens to break up Gabe’s stable world.

I loved this film. I loved how Allen shot it, though many have told me that the constant camera movement made them somewhat nauseous. All of the actors are at the top of their games here. I am not a Mia Farrow fan at all and never thought she made much of an ingénue for Allen (unlike the ever-stronger Diane Keaton) throughout the course of their longtime collaboration, but here she does an admirable job. The wonderful filmmaker Sydney Pollack is very strong here and is quite natural in front of the camera, at odds with his wife and opening up to his close friend, Gabe. Juliette Lewis plays Rain with a very Lolita-like air and is a natural for the role (though she was not Allen’s initial choice). Liam Neeson has a great supporting role here too – he is low-key, polite, charming and stuck in the middle of the chaos that surrounds both Sally and Judy.

This film is unlike most in Allen’s canon of films and that is part of the reason I find it such a great watch. He doesn’t stray from familiar ground very often, so when he does, I am excited for the freshness of it all. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes, as in this instance, it certainly does.

4. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Woody has said that he was re-reading Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and was inspired to write this marvelous, enjoyable film. The film spans one full year, opening on Thanksgiving Day and closes at a dinner party on the very same day. I know Woody always manages to recruit an all-star cast, but of all his films, this one feels most like an ensemble film, with no one really taking the lead, but everyone playing an integral role in the story – and doing a damn fine job of it as well (including Michael Caine and Dianne Weist who each won a Supporting Actor Oscar for their respective roles here). Caine is amusing as the conflicted & unscrupulous Elliot, who cheats on his wife – with her sister Lee (Barabara Hershey) who he is absolutely crazy for and woos with the same gusto as a high school sophomore. Weist is out of control and steals every scene she is in – she is dangerous on the outside, but vulnerable and insecure beneath. Mia Farrow does a fine job as Hannah — the glue that holds the cast together. Max Von Sydow plays the reclusive Frederick and it is great to see him here working with Woody, who is an unabashed Ingmar Bergman fan, so that comes full circle. Von Sydow’s scene with his lover Lee is one of the films highlights. If any character is the outsider here, it is Woody himself. He plays Hannah’s (Mia Farrow) ex-husband, Mickey. They are on friendly terms. Mickey impulsively quits his job to find out what the meaning of life is after he realizes that he is not dying of a brain tumor – a theme that occurs repeatedly in the Allen oeuvre. Unlike most of Allen’s films, this one has a rather upbeat, optimistic ending that goes along with the Thanksgiving Day spirit that the film ends with. Allen explores the topics of religion/faith, love, family, and adultery (as always), but it doesn’t get very heavy as in some of his other films…this one seems more light, more airy – with great music and great one-liners (“And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.”) For someone who is not familiar with the work of Woody Allen or told me they weren’t crazy about him, this is the first film I would show him/her – it’s that much of a crowd pleaser.

3. MANHATTAN (1979)

Gorgeous to watch from the very beginning in its glorious black-and-white photography set to the music of George Gershwin. Woody is the consummate New York film director…always has been. The sights, sounds and beauty of New York City resonate in his films. This one may be the hallmark of all that. This was Woody’s first film shot using the widescreen anamorphic Panavision process and he disliked the work here so much that he offered to direct another picture for United Artists for free if they just shelved this one permanently. Thank God they didn’t listen to him, as this one ranks right up there with Woody’s best films. Made just two years after “Annie Hall,” we are again treated to the wonderful on-screen chemistry of Allen and Keaton. Isaac (Allen) is experiencing a mid-life crisis and has been dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), who is still in high school. He knows that the relationship can’t progress much further and he is embarrassed to take her out in the professional public. Perhaps she is the safe choice to roll around with after taking a beating from his ex-wife turned lesbian Jill (Meryl Streep) who is in the midst of writing a tell-all book about her marriage to the narcissistic Isaac (“I came here to strangle you!” Isaac barks at her). He meets Mary (Keaton) and is immediately smitten. Mary is dating Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). But Yale is married and is never going to leave his wife. Yale gives his Isaac permission to take his mistress out. Isaac does so and immediately falls head over heels in love with her, ditching the sweet-natured, lovable, and loyal Tracy. But – is this the right decision? Streep is terrific as the ex-wife – strong, quick-witted and bitter. Hemingway makes a perfect Tracey and we absolutely want to comfort her when Isaac gives her the bad news or when he patronizes her with her age throughout. Murphy is a great counterpart to Woody here and we can’t stand him for being such a bad friend. Diane Keaton sheds the Annie Hall aura and plays the cerebral, self-confident and urbane Mary. She does a marvelous job and as always, is a delight to watch. A classic Woody scene comes when he is sprawled out on the couch alone, speaking into his tape recorder and answering the question “Why is life worth living?” Uproariously funny, and at times, quite touching, this is a wonderful love letter to the city the filmmaker loves and a picture to relish in with each and every viewing.

2. ANNIE HALL (1977)

A staple in the annals of film history, “Annie Hall” is one of the great films in motion picture history. Period. Ironically, it is viewed as one of the greatest comedies ever made, but the film was indeed a major turning point for Allen as a filmmaker, as it instilled so much drama and serious themes that he had not yet delved into. Diane Keaton (as Annie Hall) created one of the silver screen’s most memorable and beloved characters ever here…she was without a doubt, the perfect yin to Woody’s yang. To this day, she remains one of my most favorite actresses simply because of her portrayal of Annie. What can I say? I love her! Here, she is flaky, quirky, lovable, sweet, innocent, strong and funny. The hat, the tie, that vest? Lah-di-Dah, Lah-di-Dah…She’s a dream. And I cannot get enough of Woody’s Alvy Singer. I love his reactions to things around him, his disgust at others, his paranoia, his egotism…and of course, his revulsion to any and all things on the West Coast. The chemistry between the two (dating back to “Sleeper” and “Love and Death”) is one of film’s greatest duos – not to be overlooked by other classic onscreen couples. And here, everything that happens (big and small) between the two is just so real – things every couple goes through (click on the poignant and comical “Spider in the Bathroom” scene below and you’ll understand exactly what I mean here). Again, some wonderful one-liners (“That’s ok…we can walk to the curb from here”), great characters, terrific performances (Colleen Dewhurst, a doting Carol Kane, a suicidal Christopher Walken, a pretentious Shelley Duvall)…winner of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977, it deserves every bit of acclaim it has ever received. I can watch it anytime and have seen it more times than I care to admit. At its core, it is a typical New York love story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl realize that they are “a dead shark” and break up. It doesn’t sound like much – but with the phenomenally woven script, the delicate direction and our two lead actors – it is one of cinema’s greatest films ever.

1. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

To date, this is Woody Allen’s masterpiece. A perfect fusion of old-style Woody comedy (Woody’s plot line) and Bergman-esque calamity (Martin Landau’s story). Obviously inspired by the seminal themes of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Woody would later re-visit these same themes in his latter films with much less of an impact. Here, it is done perfectly. Martin Landau is sensational as the married man (a highly respected opthalmologist) who gives in to temptation (Angelica Huston, who plays her character with such desperation, we can’t help but empathize with her) and then wants the easy out. Alan Alda is deliciously snooty and patronizing as Woody’s brother-in-law and Sam Waterston as the blind rabbi brings a “moral structure” to the narrative. There are some classic Woody one-liners here, some profound symbolism sprinkled throughout and it all is woven together so beautifully when Woody and Landau meet one another near the very end of the film.

Woody here plays his classic loser character making documentary films that no one wants to see – and his scenes with Joanna Gleason and Alda are filled with timeless dialogue. He agrees to make a documentary of Alda’s character in order to pay for the much smaller documentary on spirituality he is trying to make. In the process, he falls in love with the TV producer (Mia Farrow), but he’s already in a marriage with a wife who can’t stand him anymore — plus, Alda’s character wants her for himself! Woody has always grappled with the heavy themes of faith in God, truth, deception, love and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness — but he has never done so in such an intense and insightful manner than he does right here. Hysterical and haunting at the same time, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a modern-day classic film of the highest order. Woody truly outdid himself here.

THE BOTTOM FIVE (or “Ones To Stay Away From”)

1. Anything Else (2003)
2. Celebrity (1998)
3. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
4. Scoop (2006)
5. Shadows and Fog (1991)

Peter Eramo Reviews: “The Ghost Writer”


The latest film from master-director Roman Polanski, “The Ghost Writer” is a taut, intelligent and suspenseful film that echoes some of his older works and a bit of Hitchcock thrown in as well. Ewan McGregor plays “The Ghost” (referred as such in the credits), a writer who is hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister. The previous author mysteriously drowned and he has left behind a massive manuscript that our Ghost feels is un-readable and quite boring. The Ghost takes the job reluctantly (egged on by his assertive agent) and takes the long, exhaustive journey to the beach house of Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

As soon as the new writer begins work on the manuscript, PM Lang is accused of authorizing the kidnapping and torture of suspects. The story is sprayed all over the news and an indictment seems imminent. It is not a wise legal move to fly back to England, so instead, Lang flies to Washington DC for a photo-op with the current administration. In the meantime, our Ghost does some checking on his own and, little by little, realizes there is much more to Adam Lang and the death of his predecessor than he first thought. Lang has flown to Washington with his aide, Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) who he is openly having an affair with. Who stays home with the Ghost is Lang’s strong-willed and loyal wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), in addition to the countless number of security around the impressive home. As The Ghost presses for information, his own life is in danger.

The atmosphere of the film blends well with the suspense — here, Martha’s Vineyard is dark, rainy and gloomy throughout (although it was filmed in Germany due to the fact that Polanski could not step foot in the United States). The home of the Prime Minister is also detached and cold, yet elegant. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman does an impressive job shooting the characters and the elements around them. The use colors, interiors and design all fall in line with the dynamics of the film.

The performances, for the most part, are damn strong. Ewan McGregor makes a fine Ghost. He is a man with no real past and no meaningful connections in his life at the moment. We see him take on this assignment that is much more than he can chew and he plays the author struggling to find answers and the truth quite well. I’m sure McGregor would have made a fine Hitchcockian protagonist, in the same manner that Cary Grant was. Pierce Brosnan makes a great Prime Minister (though made to look far too much like Tony Blair). he is affable, charming, handsome – but at the same time, we can see he can blow into a fit of rage at any moment. We can never really make out if he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of or not, which means good job by Brosnan. The few scenes between the two actors make for excellent viewing. We can’t help but feel that Lang is trying to assist the Ghost with completing the book, but that there is much underneath that he would prefer not even be mentioned.

Olivia Williams is wonderful here as Mrs. Lang. She is bitter, reilient and somewhat sexy. Her presence on screen demands your attention and I am hoping that she gets more work and greater recognition. Her silent reactions and body language are astute and she doesn’t cease to catch one by surprise. The supporting cast is also very effective. I don’t think I can ever say a negative thing about Tom Wilkinson and here, he plays the very distinguished and celebrated Harvard professor, Dr. Paul Emmett. His scene with McGregor is extraordinary and his ominous portrayal is indeed strong work. Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach and James Belushi also play bit roles — and all do fine work. Eli Wallach plays a local trying to help the Ghost out on a gray, rainy day…it’s a pleasure to watch him work. And James Belushi — good for you! Though only in one scene, he looks great and fits the small part very nicely…a pleasant change from doing sitcom work for so long.

The train wreck is the embarrassing Kim Cattrall. Who the hell watched the dailies of this film and allowed her to continue working on this project? She is just dreadful to watch here. Perhaps it was some of the lines she was given, but she just over-acted with each line she spoke…she just over-did everything. I have never seen the “Sex and the City” stuff at all, but maybe she picked up bad habits from that…I’m not sure. Here, she doesn’t work and all of her exaggerations hurt the film. She seems much better suited for a 40’s noir piece opposite Robert Mitchum than she does trying to play naturally opposite the low-key McGregor.

All in all, a very smart looking film from the eclectic, auteur Polanski. He knows suspense and he knows how to shoot a thriller. He does not insult his viewers by using modern gimmicks, but rather lets the actors tell the story and lets the suspense build slowly. The last scene here is a riveting one and keeps you in your seat while the credits roll. Though it has some loose ends (plus horrid work by Cattrall) and has too many overt references to the Bush administration (including Halliburton and Condoleezza Rice), it remains an impressive work nonetheless by one of our great filmmakers…I must say that I am glad to see him continue adding to his impressive resume.

Film: The Ghost Writer
Year: 2010
Director: Roman Polanski

Rating:

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Spinning Into Butter” (*)


This film has a lot to say…on some very intriguing and crucial topics concerning our society. However, in the hands of its writers (Doug Atchison and Rebecca Gilman adapting from her poorly constructed play), it is painful to sit through for its unrealistic dialogue throughout. Five minutes in, I thought the film was condescending to the viewer…it got worse and worse as it went along.

The film stars the very popular (but I’m not sure why) Sarah Jessica Parker, who I admittedly have a tough time watching. She plays a school dean at a predominantly white college in Vermont who once taught at a more multicultural, urban school and developed deep prejudices against minorities. Now she is expected to be the spokesperson for the few minority students after a terrible hate crime has occured on campus. She is also asked by school administration to write up a 10-point bullet list on how to “resolve” racism. Parker is game and up to the task, but unfortunately looks foolish doing so – no fault of her own really. The script and poor direction do it all for her.

The very talented Miranda Richardson is given horrible direction here (by Mark Brokaw)…playing a simplistic, one-dimensional caricature along with the rest of this cast…all given unbelievable and embarrassing lines to speak. If you want to make a meaningful or even lasting statement on a subject as serious and as important as race relations, you better put it in the hands of an effective writer and a director who can relay that vision to the audience in a provocative manner. Instead, both writers and director here manage to exploit, patronize and humiliate the very characters who they believe they are speaking for.

Near the end of the film, Mykelti Williamson screams to the student who is responsible for the hate crimes going around on campus (which was predictable in itself): “This is an embarrassment!” I think he was speaking for everyone involved in this empty, embarrassing film. Skip it…save your time….you’re welcome!

Film: Spinning Into Butter
Year: 2009
Director: Mark Brokaw

Rating: * (out of 4 stars)

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Wonderful World” (***)


This one’s a relatively low budget indie film that didn’t get much of a push at all when it was released earlier this year. Matthew Broderick plays Ben Singer, a one-time famous children’s folksinger who has turned into a career pot-smoking proofreader and is miserable living in a world that he has no control over and one in which he cannot relate to. Ben is rude, misanthropic, and pessimistic. He is a poor weekend dad who struggles to relate to his pre-teen daughter (Jodelle Ferland), his ex-wife, his co-workers, and everyone around him. The one person Ben does relate to and can truly call his “friend” is his Senegalese roommate, Ibu (Michael K. Williams). Ibu is Ben’s opposite of course, always seeing the good in everything and trying to give Ben some sound advice during their routine chess matches. When Ibu gets sick and is forced to stay at a hospital, his sister Khadi (Sanaa Lathan) comes all the way from Dafur to help take care of him. She stays at Ben’s and a peculiar relationship ensues.

Josh Goldin has written and directed a sweet, pleasant film and it is nice to see Broderick play such a miserable curmudgeon. Even when he is being insulting or downright offensive, we can still not hate him, but rather root for him to pull himself out of his middle-age funk. The awkward scenes with his daughter are well played and Ferland is a nice find here…a strong actress for her age. The beautiful Lathan is terrific in trying to find the good in Ben and her chemistry with Broderick is convincing. Phillip Baker Hall has a small role as “The Man” who pops up every now and then in Ben’s subconscious to try and teach him life lessons. It always seems to be Ben vs. “The Man” in society and Hall makes for great casting in this part. This theme is brought to fruition during Ben’s seemingly frivolous court case.

I also admired the ending to the film. When Ben goes to Dafur and meets up with Khadi again, it would have been very easy for Goldin to give us what we are expecting and take the easy way out. What Goldin does with his final act is give us a more believable, authentic ending with a glimmer of hope during the nice final shot. The original music by Craig Richey is also quite effective and very nice to listen to. There is nothing spectacular about the film other than the way people react to and communicate with one another. What this film is, is a little gem in the rough – a quirky dark comedy with the proverbial lessons to learn. I enjoyed it – and if you’re looking for something to rent and you’re not in the mood for a meaningless sequel or big budget blockbuster with much glitz than substance, I’d certainly give this one a shot.

Film: A Wonderful World
Year: 2010
Director: Josh Goldin

Rating: *** (out of 4 stars)

Peter Eramo Reviews “Fantastic Mr. Fox”


I’ll start by saying that, like most avid film fans I know, I am not at all an admirer of Wes Anderson films. I enjoyed his debut film “Bottle Rocket,” felt “Rushmore” to be a tad over-rated, disliked “The Royal Tenenbaums” and could not stand “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Having said that, I went into “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with little expectations — and absolutely adored it! With an all-star cast and an enormously witty script adapted from the famous Roald Dahl story, this is a wonderfully funny, touching and enjoyable film this is for audiences of all ages.

The film revolves around Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his mid-fox-life crisis. He says to his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep): “Honey, I am seven fox years old. My father died at seven and a half. I don’t want to live in a hole anymore, and I’m going to do something about it.” With that, Mr. Fox goes behind his wife’s back to re-enter the once adventurous life he had before the Foxes were expecting their first cub. You see, Mr. Fox is a highly skilled chicken thief, but gave his word to the adorable Mrs. Fox that he would give up that life to become a devoted family man. But Mr. Fox wants more in his life…he misses the excitement, the rush; he wants to live better and in a nicer house. In going back to his life of crime, Mr. Fox puts the entire animal community in jeopardy. He’s the one who gets everyone in this mess — and he’s the one spearheading the plan to get them all out.

The stop-motion animation works brilliantly here. The casting of Clooney is perfect. Mr. Fox is quick, charming, whimsical, irresistable and struggling with himself. Mrs. Fox tells him at one point, “You know, you really are…fantastic” to which Clooney replies in that wonderful dead-pan delivery, “I try.” And the film is peppered with the dry humor that is a trademark of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach (who co-adapted the script). Meryl Streep makes a delightful Mrs. Fox. She knows what she signed up for when she married her daredevil husband (“I love you, but I should have never married you,” she tells him at one point).

The rest of the cast who lend their vocal talents to the film also fit admirably. Jason Schwartzman (an Anderson fav) is ideal playing Ash, Mr. Fox’s son who is dying to be an able athlete and is at odds throughout the film with his cousin Kristofferson (who, of course, is a quite gifted athlete). Ash wants his father’s approval and he wants the attention of the ladies — but Kristofferson has the innate talent to capture both…a great foil for Ash.

Bill Murray (as Badger), Willem Dafoe (playing a bad-ass rat with a knife) and Owen Wilson (as Coach Skip) round out the great cast. Michael Gambon is also terrific as Franklin Bean, the man out to kill Mr. Fox and the entire animal community.

I laughed throughout the film (distributed by 20th Century Fox) — it is just as good, if not superior to Pixar’s output and was robbed by the much-hyped, though sweet film, “Up” at this year’s Oscar ceremony. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the better film – it’s smarter, it’s funnier. It is aimed to adult viewers just as much as it is to kids. The chapter titles are fitting and I was amused by the use of the word “cuss” when the characters wanted to…well, use other words instead. And beneath all of the humor throughout the film, there are those serious themes that do not go unnoticed. There are some rather profound moments which hit even harder because of the proper balance with the comedy.

I highly recommend this film to those who love animated films and those who never really give them much of a chance. And if you are like me and said to yourself that you wouldn’t see another Wes Anderson film after you had to sit through the snooze-fest that was “The Life Aquatic…,” then give Anderson another shot…you will not be disappointed.

Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 2009

Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 4 stars)

Peter Eramo Reviews “Crazy Heart”


For at least 15 years, I have been saying to those who will listen that Jeff Bridges is our most under-rated screen actor (alongside Kevin Kline) and with his performance in this film — and the many accolades that have been bestowed on him, I am afraid I won’t be able to say that anymore. Suffice it to say that I am enormous fan of his work. Here, his performance and the character of Bad Blake is what this film holds its cowboy hat on. In a word, Bridges is sensational and is deserving of every award he has received thus far, including the most prestigious — the Academy Award this past year. Not to dampen what he puts into his work/performance, but he looks so damn effortless doing it. He is Bad Blake, through and through — from his chain smoking, to his eating habits, his interaction with people, the way he wears his belt, his drinking — and of course, his singing. Bridges has a great country-western voice here and impresses with that as well. He grabs our attention and holds our empathy. Bad Blake has been down on his luck for sometime (he is his own worst enemy there), but we want him to succeed and beat the demons that have haunted him for a good number of years.

Surrounding the raw and gripping performance of Jeff Bridges is Colin Farrell — which is a very interesting choice here – playing the young and mega-successful musician who has learned everything he knows from the older, broken down Blake. Farrell is quite likeable here and does a fine job in his scenes with Bridges and on the stage singing as well. Maggie Gyllenhaal , who I usually have problems watching, is fine as the young and eager newspaper reporter and her rapport with Bridges works well…the chemistry is there – not a whole heck of a lot, but it’s there. Gyllenhaal is a good choice here, though I don’t believe she was worthy of the Oscar nod.

The music throughout the film is outstanding and I am no fan of this genre of music. The central song, Ryan Bingham’s The Weary Kind” is a great work that encapsulates the essence of Bad and the film. T-Bone Burnett’s score also works quite well, as is his usual. As it was shot in about 24 days, this is a grand independent achievement. It reminded me a lot of Nick Nolte and his terrific work in “Affliction” – another great work. A touching character study by director Scott Cooper with a solid script (his own adaptation from the novel), strong performances and a great score complete with songs that fit the backdrop splendidly.

FILM: Crazy Heart
Director: Scott Cooper
Year: 2009

RATING: *** (out of 4 stars)

FILM TRAILER:

Peter Eramo Reviews “Tyson” Documentary


There is a moment near the end of James Toback’s documentary Tyson that is quite revealing, somewhat telling, and inevitably tragic. It is footage of what would end up being Mike Tyson’s last fight (back in 2005) against journeyman fighter, Kevin McBride. The bell rings for the start of the 7th round and Mike Tyson simply does not get up from his stool…refuses to leave his corner. He quits. He is done. And so is his magificent (and topsy-turvy) boxing career. He is interviewed immediately after the fight and admits that his heart is no longer in the sport, that he was not ready for this particular fight, that he would retire from the ring…for good.

The scene is moving and yes, sad, for many reasons. This is the same fighter who, when he first entered professional boxing, was a one-man wrecking machine. A street-fighter who would intimidate and beat his opponents with his ferocious stare before the bout even began. If the fight went more than one round, it was considered a bit of a defeat for Tyson. He was young, he was strong and he seemed virtually unbeatable…a tiger caged up and ready to pounce. Discussions about whether Mike Tyson could possibly become the greatest fighter in the history of the sport were not unheard of and with each passing fight, Tyson made a great case for himself.

This documentary does a wonderful job at showing this beginning stage of Tyson’s career, it’s tragic end in the McBride bout — and all of the drama that made up the years in-between. Toback (the writer of “Bugsy“) puts the camera right on Tyson in a number of one-on-one interviews and lets Tyson do all of the talking about his childhood, his career, his love life, his time in prison, and so much else. We don’t hear Toback and most importantly, the filmmaker lets the viewers make up their minds as to what they think about Mike Tyson the fighter, Mike Tyson the husband, Mike Tyson the human being. It’s really a kind of self-portrait done on film, in the same manner that Rembrandt or Van Gogh would do, but rather than use canvas, Toback uses the medium of film. Should we trust everything that Mike Tyson has to say here? Again, that is left up to you, the viewer and that is part of the beauty of this documentary.

I enjoyed the film as a whole. It was fascinating to watch this once destroyer of men open up — here, he is candid, vulnerable, intelligent, angry, caring….in a word – raw. The only point that is actually “staged” for the film is when we hear Tyson narrate a poem in the middle of the film. Everything else is Tyson on the cuff, simply answering questions about his professional and personal life. We see what a tremendous influence his manager and personal friend Cus D’Amato had on him and how he remains with him to this day, though Mr. D’Amato passed even before Tyson became the heavyweight champion of the world. The relationship comes through here on film and it is truly touching.

We hear Tyson’s view on women which is fascinating. He speaks of his ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens and the footage of their interview with Barbara Walters is an interesting one as we watch Givens humiliate and embarrass her husband for millions to see. We also see Tyson get into his rape conviction and the years he spent in jail for his assault on Desiree Washington. To this day, Tyson denies this charge and we can see the bitter resentment he feels about his accuser. Toback also gets into Tyson’s sour relationship and attitude regarding promoter Don King and the infamous ear-biting fight with Evander Holyfield.

There is a lot covered in this 90 minute documentary. You don’t have to be a fan of boxing to appreciate the film at all. Nor do you have to be a fan of Mike Tyson. I found it an enjoyable watch (for lack of a much better word) because Tyson is such a fascinating public figure…he is either loved or hated. And his life does resemble that of a classic Greek tragedy, which is illustrated nicely here. Toback does a great job of including old footage and taking us on the journey that is Tyson’s rise and fall. There is a bit of footage of Tyson at a press conference and a reporter asks him an insensitive question — Tyson goes ballistic! I mean, he goes off! He starts screaming and cursing and insulting this man. He looks like a raving madman ready to kill. The scene is interesting because I did not hate Tyson here. By this time, I understood the man a bit more and could only feel sorry for him. It was a defense mechanism that Tyson has been using all of his life…he reminded me of a King Kong that was taken out of his indeginous surroundings and put on display, out of his element.

Overall, a strong, tightly edited film. Very moving and it was rather enjoyable listening to Tyson speak to so much that has happened to him. I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in this multi-faceted, fascinating man…

Film: Tyson
Director: James Toback
Year: 2009

RATING: *** (out of 4 stars)

FILM TRAILER:

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