Saturday, January 23, 2010

Christmas with Walt Disney - Movie Review

By Jonathan W. Wind

Christmas with Walt Disney

Christmas with Walt Disney is the latest effort to humanize an icon, but somehow there is a lack of warmth even in this one hour special feature. Narrated by Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, now in her mid 70's, the movie shows the Disney family over the years on foreign vacations and the Christmases spent at Disneyland, at his studio and at home, for his family and of course the fans. Diane and her adopted sister Sharon are shown enjoying all the perks of the rich and famous, a big house, a 40 foot Xmas tree in the living room and a Xmas gift playhouse complete with running water and electricity, their excitement caught on film. Most exceptional of these perks was their access to film and photo equipment. How many near octogenarians have home movies of themselves splashing in the family pool at age 2, or vacationing in France as toddlers.

Walt Disney was married to Lillian, she appears ethereally here and there, but is mostly, well, ignored. I noticed even in the Walt Disney Family Museum itself, where this feature is being screened, there is a vast array of Walt Disney memorabilia over two floors, but Lillian seems rarely mentioned or acknowledged. I found a wall of photos with one of Walt, Lillian and a shiny automobile that read Walt with new Studebaker, it just struck me as odd. In the movie there are some interesting home movie clips of the original Mouseketeers attending a Christmas benefit for flood victims in Southern California, Annette and the gang, all looking very professional really, much of their talent was real. Walt is also shown over successive years in the Main Street Christmas Day Parade, puttering down the street in a Model T with his many grandchildren.

Christmas with Walt Disney is Directed by Don Hahn, the legendary producer of the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and many other Disney features, but there is an underlying ripple of discord even in the presentation. Directed without any real depth, the feature screens in the the museum's very intimate little wide-screen theater.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a vast array of memorabilia about Walt Disney, did I mention Walt Disney, it's about Walt Disney. I recall when Wednesday nights were special in anticipation of an hour in the Magic Kingdom, the extraordinary animation and cinematography - and the full length spectacles, one princess after another, Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. So I am willing to listen to his biographical detractors, but perfection takes work and cooperation, just look at the luminous results, but some cannot forgive poor tyrannical Walt, his struggles with his artists and the unions have taken on a life of their own.

This special holiday screening includes scenes from Fantasia and snippets of many more holiday cartoons. I could spend all day watching Disney epics but the man was just was not as funny or Santa-like as you would hope him to be. I say see the museum and enjoy the hundreds of interactive displays and learn some cinematic technique and history, but wait till they edit down this "movie" and offer it for free.

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 11/25/09
Movie Magazine International

Uncertainty - Movie Review

By Jonathan W. Wind

Uncertainty begins in an uncertain way. It's July 4th and young lovers Bobbie and Kate are walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Plainly in love they need to make a crucial decision. So they flip a coin at the center of the bridge. Suddenly he takes off toward Manhattan and she sprints off toward Brooklyn. On the Manhattan side he hails a yellow cab, jumps in and seems unsurprised to find Kate, they speed off for dinner in Chinatown. On the Brooklyn side Kate steps into a green sedan driven by no other than Bobbie. So begins this cinema of alternate realities played out on the same day in different boroughs by the same couple. Along with scene-matching color coordinated wardrobes, the words yellow for the cab, and green for the sedan, are prominently displayed on screen as a reminder of how to keep track, because it only gets stranger from there.

In Manhattan Bobbie and Kate's plans turn nightmarish as Bobbie's attempt to return a lost cell phone turns deadly as two desperate claimants threaten and chase him, one claimant murders the other and the chase continues to a roof in Chinatown where Bobbie and Kate try amateurishly to ransom the cell phone, soon becoming victims to high-tech paranoia as they are tracked block by block, leaving nowhere to hide. Later, on the roof top, they make love and all is right with the world. In Brooklyn Bobbie and Kate's parallel universe counterparts pick up a stray dog on the way to the family BBQ where they deal with familial love and manias, ending in fireworks in the sky and between the sheets. Even though the two stories never converge or influence each other, Manhattan Bobbie and Kate and their real-time Brooklyn clones manage to escape their captors and chase their dreams simultaneously from the centers of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, bridges a mile apart on the east river, no easy feat.

Written, produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, their collaboration is in a cavalier hand-held camera style meant to show momentum but succeeds only in proving attention disorder has become standard move fare. The movie is further made worse by intentional improvisation throughout, a style lending itself to doleful stares and lame conversation. The final script contained no dialogue, the actors were given acting parameters and told to switch it on, and it shows. The dialogue is unnatural and witless,often just stupid, the audience laughed. It is plain the actors are straining to come up with a meaningful flow of conversation.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is that kid from Third Rock from the Sun, which by the way ran for 133 episodes, and he has made a huge number of forgettable movies, he's lovable but stiff as Bobbie in this gimmicky, overlong thriller. Lynn Collins, an X-men starlet, goads and presses, sighs and pouts and confirms their total lack of chemistry.

I tried really hard to like this movie, after all it is an out-of-the-box love story with a young couple and a dream, but something was missing. Oh, I remember, it's called character development. While inventing a snappy if preposterous plot, they neglected to give the characters any depth at all. In Brooklyn I wasn't sure which relatives were present, in Manhattan they awake on a Chinatown rooftop, starry-eyed in love, fresh-breathed and ready for coffee. Character development linked to an improvisational style didn't work in high school and it doesn't work here and other than the scenic NY panoramas, there is not much to look forward to or back from, no matter which bridge your standing on.

Jonathan W. Wind for Movie Magazine International

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 12/09/10
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bitch Slap - A Movie Review

By Moira Sullivan
To tell you the truth I didn’t know what I was getting into when I saw Bitch Slap at the Stockholm Film Festival in November. The three actors in the film came on stage to introduce the screening and were quite sporting about the questions that they received from the audience, and as I later understood, obviously hadn’t seen the film.

Julia Voth, Erin Cummins, and America Olivo play Trixie, Hel and Camero in this retro female exploitation film directed by Rick Jacobson. I didn’t know that he had directed installments of Hercules and Xena:Warrior Princess before hand (as well as played the part of Poseidon in "Xena") so I was surprised to see Kevin Sorbo, showing up as a tough guy, and Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor as nuns and in the spirit of the female exploitation genre. Cameos, all the same but a lot of fun to meet up with these super heroes.

The name of the film Bitch Slap is a slang expression which basically means, that if you are hit by a woman it won’t hurt as much as getting punched by a  man. You can see a bitch slap coming, they say. Wrong. Oh does it hurt. These three women beat the beatitudes out of the guys, and each other. And you don’t see it coming. You don’t see much of the film coming. These women are bad: a stripper, a drug pushing psychopath, and a corporate power broker. They wind up in the desert at a gas station with an underworld bad guy in the car trunk (Michael Hurst also from "Xena", and "Hercules" playing Iolaus). He is in for real trouble.  But it seems that the real enemies are the "bitches", and they begin to clobber the crap out of each other, with many surprises in store.

In a real gender bender with a queer subtext, the film is riddled with word plays, which according to Erin Cummins took a long time to learn and has increased the cult status of the film. Stunts are choreographed by the inimitable Zoë Bell, and the actresses perform martial arts with gusto and skill. This is not only fighting but spiritual conquest. It is hard to determine who is the more cunning fighter. Camero seems truly deadly, but Hel has a brain with punch and kick power. It’s a little irritating to watch Trixie play a forlorn wimp in counter point to Hel and Camero but it tickles the fancy as to why she would be in the midst of these baddies to begin with.There are some breathtaking shots, and jumps to other environments in a fast forward, back tracking non linear narrative. And the momentum of the film is fast and smart.

Bitch Slap portrays women as deadly fighters and defies all the conventions that require them to be rescued or conquered. Instead the tables are turned so completely and are so inspirational that a Bitch Slap 2 is in the works.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 01/06/10
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Top Five Films of 2009 - Special Report

By Moira Sullivan

I've traveled the earth to bring you the very best top five films of 2009: no they are not the films that mainstream critics trot out with the usual list of suspects. They may not be nominated for Oscars or Golden Globes, or People's Choice awards. They don't get promoted and promoted over and over again in the same venues. They are my favourite films from festivals in France, Italy and San Francisco and although they may not be coming to a theater near us, they did, they will, they are out on DVD and they are positively and absolutely accessible. Here goes:

First up is Rick Jacobson's Bitch Slap and it will be coming to San Francisco next month. Why? Because how often do you get to see three women beating the crap out of each other AND the bad guys, including the guy that tries to rescue one of them. How cool is it to see Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor as stunned nuns in a convent while one of the heroines gets its on with a novice. The stunts by Zoe Bell are too good to be true, which is why Bitch Slap 2 is in the works. This B movie female exploitation has reinvented the wheel.

From Udine, Italy, I absolutely fell in love with this one at the Far East Film Festival. In this gem of a venue many of the films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia go straight to Udine Italy, and by pass North America. Chocolate was screened at the Far East Film Festival in April where Thai directors Panna Rittikrai and Praycha Pinkaew were guests. They have created a female action film about Zen, a young autistic girl played by JeeJa Yanin, takes on the underground world of her mother and pounces them to smithereens with Thai kick boxing. You have never seen a young woman fight like this, and there is no romance or male lead to share the limelight. To demonstrate that he and Panna are on the same wavelength in the burgeoning interest of martial arts by young women today Praycha says he is currently working on a new martial arts film with seven women. Now out on DVD and Blueray.

Made in U.S.A. is an elliptical fantasy film of intrigue set in an imaginary town called "Atlantic Cité" with a very young Marianne Faithful singing As Tears Go By. The film made in 1966 is an adaptation of a story by the American crime writer Donald Westlake and because Jean Luc Godard never paid him it has never been shown in the USA: so the Castro Theater screening this year in San Francisco was a must see!

Anna Karina plays Paula Nelson who is out to avenge the murder of Richard …. We don’t know what is last name is because whenever it is mentioned , phone plane or care noise drowns it out. Godard makes an inventive use of the camera and music, with colorful backgrounds and interesting shots, but the heavy hitter in the film is the trench-coated gun toting Paula Nelson. Every line spoken by Anna Karina is delivered with cool determination, "like a Walt Disney movie only with blood”, as it was billed.

Anna Karina will be the special guest of a tribute to her by the Mill Valley Film Festival in the spring.

From the Cannes Film Festival last year comes a film released this year made by the Belgian Dardenne Brothers who won the Best Screenplay award for Lorna’s Silence, the story of an Albanian woman who acquires Belgian citizenship by marrying a Russian Mafioso. If you have seen Jean Pierre and Luc's work you will love them for a hyperrealism in story, and the close intense relationship of the camera to the actors, and in this case, the extremely engaging story of a woman who is used by local thugs and manages to stay on top of the situation.

To top off my five choices, I want to single out the performance of Heath Ledger this year in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, a new film by Terry Gilliam. It is not until Ledger comes on screen that the film actually gets off the ground. Ledger plays a young man who is hung for stealing from children, and although he died in the middle of the production, and his scenes were finished by Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel and Jude Law, Heath Ledger outshines them all.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/30/09
Movie Magazine International

Chéri - Movie Report

Why did Stephen Frear's Chéri go straight to video in the USA? Why was it given limited theatrical release after its debut at the Berlin Film Festival this year? The film based on a novel by Colette stars Michelle Pfeiffer in probably one of her best all time roles, as Lea de Lonval , a mature high class courtesan who befriends Chéri played by Rupert Friend to teach him the ways of the world. Maybe we are not used to seeing Pfeiffer in such a role, but her performance makes one understand how her acting has ripened beyond the point of excellence. Colette doesn't really do Lea justice and Frears only at the very end shows how she erroneously thinks, that maturity can be no match in the long run for youth. You will recall Pfeiffer, Frears and screenwriter Christoper Hampton from Dangerous Liaisons in 1988 and its lavish costumes.

Chéri is raised by loose women his entire life, and his mother Madame Peloux played by Kathy Bates encourages Lea to take on Chéri as an apprentice and teach him about etiquette with women. Once Lea apparently succeeds, Peloux marries him off to the drab young Edmee, played by Felicity Jones but one can hardly wait till Pfeiffer gets back on screen. The setting is the Belle Époque era in pre World War I France and Frears though frugal in set design compared to Dangerous Liaisons is still able to convey the excesses of the period. The dialogue by Frampton is savory and works well with Frears' sense of timing. Chéri is a luscious and contemplative gem, but it is Michelle Pfeiffer that steals every scene, every moment and shows how versatile she is as a great actress and a strong contender for best actress at the 2010 Golden Globes, where the Hollywood Foreign Press has certainly paid more attention to Chéri than the US box office.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/30/09
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Telstar - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

Before it was a movie, “Telstar” was a stage play. We are used to seeing a room and a room and a room and yet another room when we go to see legitimate theatre. Right or wrong, we demand that movies take us places, that they move. The character study that is “Telstar” doesn’t quite do that. Once you understand that independent movie producer Joe Meek created all those amazing 1960’s songs in an ordinary flat, not a state of the art recording studio, you are left to stare at the man himself.

Con O’Neill must have been something to see on stage and he still is on film. Sadly, it’s the screenplay, adapted by Director Nick Manan with playwright James Hicks, that is nothing much to hear. It is especially groanworthy when Meeks disparages the commercial prospects of The Beatles and the Kinks while he fuss budgets his way to drug fueled madness. His business partner Major Banks, is played by Kevin Spacey, who is as believable as a stuffy British businessman as he was as Bobby Darin. Then there is Pam Ferris as Miss Violet Shenton, Joe Meek’s landlady. Mrs. Shenton is a pleasant, motherly woman, the last person you’d expect to be the victim of a violent murder. She breezes in and out of sequences, asking for rent here, trying to jolly her tenant out of a dark funk there. Without her, there would be no movie. Or there would be, and Joe Meek would be a tragic martyr to success, shady bookkeeping, shifting industry trends and/or on amphetamines. Take your pick. Meek was gay when homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain, musically illiterate when many clever lads and lasses were rewriting musical history and he was a helluva music producer, bold and innovative.

“Telstar”, “Have I The Right” and “Just Like Eddie” are musical footnotes, not landmarks. In spite of all his flaws, Joe Meek seems to be remembered fondly by his colleagues, some of whom appear in this film. I wish “Telstar” did a better job helping us to see the Joe they thought they knew.

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/30/09
Movie Magazine International

The Missing Person - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

The makers of “The Missing Person” have a lot of nerve calling it a neo-noir mystery. Movie buffs like me will seek out ANY film in ANY genre that’s even remotely noir. Noah Buschel’s latest film is filled with schticks and in-jokes so riveting that I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch “The Missing Movie-I mean Person.” One of the schticks is that John Rosow, the private eye, played by Michael Shannon wants to smoke cigarettes and other people (like cabdrivers) won’t let him do it. Meanwhile, he follows a man from Chicago to California. At one point, he suspects that the man is a pedophile. His suspicions are incorrect. The guy’s wife just wants him to come home to Manhattan, a place he abandoned after 9/11/01.

Is it ethical for Rosow to accept a chunk of change to drag this guy back to his wife? If you care about the answer, “The Missing Person” is your movie. It isn’t mine because it’s S-L-O-W, great actors like Margaret Colin, John Ventimiglia and Liza Weil are wasted in nothing roles and because John Rosow, as played by Michael Shannon, seems to be suffering from constipation, NOT post 9/11 angst. Writer\Director Noah Buschel has already acquired a following from critics who get a kick out of his sluggish narratives. They are, after all, going SOMEPLACE: just no place Monica Sullivan for Movie Magazine wants to go. Zzzzzzz………..

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/23/09
Movie Magazine International

Frenzy - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

After "Psycho," Alfred Hitchcock made "The Birds" & "Marnie" with Tippi Hedren, a beautiful former model with serious limitations as an actress, then "Torn Curtain," with the miscast and mismatched Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, then "Topaz," which is so boring that it hardly seems like a Hitchcock movie at all. When "Frenzy", his first British film since 1950s "Stage Fright", was released in June 1972, the advance word was that it was VINTAGE Hitchcock. That it was, and then some. "Frenzy" is murder most explicit AND murder most subtle. Jon Finch, not a star and therefore not someone in whom the audience has any emotional investment, is bartender Richard Blaney. After he gets fired from his job, only fruit stand owner Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) and cocktail waitress Babs Milligan (Anna Massey) seem to like him, so when his former wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) is strangled, he's the prime suspect. We know he didn't do it, because we saw the whole thing. But the police aren't grilling us. Babs tries to help him and Bob tries to help him. Another murder occurs in broad daylight. We don't see this one, but, even before we see the body, we can imagine every grisly detail as the camera retreats from both killer and victim back down the stairs and out onto the bustling street.

Alec McCowan and Vivien Merchant are wonderful as Inspector and Mrs. Oxford. They discuss every graphic aspect of the case as she tries to force inedible "gourmet" food down his throat and he tries to toss and/or spit it out behind her back. For some reason, Mrs. Oxford believes in Mr. Blaney, and while her husband dreams of humble cups of tea and coffee in truck stop diners, she lists the points of evidence that show how Richard Blaney couldn't possibly have committed ANY murders, let alone two. Although we never feel the same as Mrs. Oxford does about Blaney, that's hardly the point. A character doesn't have to be likeable to be innocent of murder. The reverse is true, too, of course. The most charming and appealing people can also be murderers. "Frenzy," a striking and disturbing film, may be the most personal of all Hitchcock's pictures. No one shoved a star down his throat this time, so there are none in sight, and thus no narrative compromises. The humor has never been darker, the sexual undercurrents have never been as obvious. Hitchcock doesn't show us what we EXPECT to see: He shows us what we DON'T want to see. Except with the Oxfords, we are always off balance and uneasy. We don't feel relief when the credits roll because Blaney's deliverance means nothing to us, two people we liked are dead and now we know what happens behind closed doors, even in the daytime. Based on the Arthur La Bern novel "Goodbye Piccadilly Farewell Leicester Square".

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/16/09
Movie Magazine International

Lauren Holly - Special Report

By Monica Sullivan

When Elizabeth Montgomery died in 1995, we gave her a “Movie Magazine” tribute. When we recorded the segment, a male listener wanted to know why we were honoring someone who was not a “real” movie star. I was stunned. Anyone who saw Montgomery’s Emmy-nominated work on “The Untouchables”’ “Rusty Heller Story” or who watched her in the riveting “Legend Of Lizzie Borden” couldn’t possible dismiss her talents so lightly.

Nearly 15 years later, there are so many wonderful actresses who do their primary work in television. The roles the small screen gives them are often superior to the lightly sketched roles offered to most wide screen actresses. Even so, they rarely get the respect of the gals who can open a mediocre theatrical feature. A current case in point is Lauren Holly, who is absolutely terrific when she’s offered a decent script and sensitive direction. Although she’s been in dozens of films since the mid-eighties, she has accepted more than her fair share of underwritten parts in which she gets lost in the shuffle.

Her best performance in a series was in “Picket Fences” as Max, an insecure young member of the Rome, Wisconsin police force. Holly had the chance to show a full range of emotional growth and evolving depth. It was a meaty part for her and she made the most of it. Yet a few years later, when she was cast in the role of the director of the “N.C.I.S.” unit, Holly was offered few stories to show what she was fully capable of delivering. It was no surprise when her character was killed off and replaced by character actor Rocky Carroll. In Lifetime movies (ignored by the cognoscenti, but eagerly pursued by actresses like Gina Gershon and Michelle Pfeiffer) Holly can be quite wonderful in “Caught In The Act” as a mother-turned-detective trying to salvage her life after she discovers her husband is cheating on her. Also powerful is her performance in “Too Late To Say Goodbye” as the sister of a murder victim shot by her spouse. When Holly is in a role that is right for her, she turns on her laser-like eyes, her innate humour and a flair for irony. At 46, Lauren Holly is at a precarious point in her career. In the Hollywood jungle, she deserves better breaks than she’s received and I hope she gets them soon.

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 11/11/09
Movie Magazine International