Archive for the Crime Category

WHIP IT :: DRAMA :: 040

Posted in Crime, Drama, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 03/09/2010 by joycereview

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut met my heart with shrills of “more Ellen Page,” with mounting excitement (after viewing Netflix’s “Very Long Wait” status), with an 8-year old’s jubilant bounce when I saw it at Best Buy for 50% off (only $9.99) and finally with saddening disappointment as it attempted to reach various highpoints, only to fall victim to cliches and poor acting.

Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a character as hip and independent as Juno, but without the tongue-savvy eloquence.  She’s somewhat a slave to her beauty pagent-loving mother (played by Macia Gay Harden).  One day she sees some tattoo-wielding roller derby girls and attempts to prove her best friend Pash (played by Alia Shawkat) wrong by auditioning for the preeminently underdog team, the Hurl Scouts.

There’s Smashly Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor) and Babe Ruthless (Ellen Page).  The names are fun, the energy is high (at times), and there is something sexy,… very sexy about girls being tough and headstrong.

Bliss Cavendar finds her passion in roller derby, and instead of giving non-derby-watching audiences a better understanding of the rules and competitive progression of the Hurl Scouts, screenwriter Shauna Cross (and director Barrymore) give us, even though some chemistry is present, an awkward courtship between Bliss and indie-rocker Oliver (played by Landon Pigg).

Let me explain myself a bit – –

  • Climbing through a window to have a very PG-13 sexual first in a lit-up pool.  Not your normal kanoodling; we’re talking about overly romantic, fully submersed aquatic relations with Page’s skinny bod desperately trying to stay submerged (let’s not forget that we are aware that her character wears contacts and couldn’t possibly keep her eyes open for that amount of time).
  • Also, when the very intimidating Iron Maven instigates what would realistically be a full-fledged cat fight, playfully becomes a benign food fight, despite the gutsy and “Ruthless” tackling by Bliss on Maven.
  • Band frontman Oliver and derby “Jammer” Bliss are laying on Oliver’s car hood.  When it’s time for Bliss to get to practice, he checks his pockets to find that his keys are lost, somewhere in the large wheat field.  Miraculously, through a game of Marco Polo, Oliver finds them… and then (obviously because he wants to keep Bliss longer) he throws his keys back into the field, creating a moment that (to me) would have meant something along the lines of an immediate castration.  But later on in the film, Bliss draws the “line in the sand” over him not returning her call.  Go figure.

Most of this film, we’ve seen before, but it’s a more-than-decent flick that continues to display the wonderful talents of Ellen Page.  Kristen Wiig is also sensational.  More of a drama than a comedy, Whip It entertained, but did not impress. 

Ellen Page should not have turned down Drag Me To Hell to play this movie, but then again Whip It, without Page, would have been something very frustrating.  It would probably be like when you come home from school and you press power on your old-school Nintendo and you get nothing.  You blow inside the gate, you blow the game inputs, and it leaves you with nothing; empty and depressed…all day long.

Glad that wasn’t the case. 

What were your thoughts on Whip It?

ANGELS AND DEMONS :: DRAMA :: 028

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/18/2009 by joycereview

I’ve got a major itch when it comes to films that explore spiritual and religious matters, and the way Dan Brown can mix such mystery, history and drama is like a masterful wizard creating a potion.  The movie, however, is as interesting as watching someone line up colors on a rubix cube.  The thing is this- I’m quite amazed at someone working a rubix cube, especially when the turns happen swiftly and the colors never fail to stack.  To many film-goers, my fellow readers, they’ll undoubtably feel barraged by the relentless pace and the overly-genius clue-finding of symbologist Robert Langdon.  His surprisingly uncharacteristic and non-agnostic parting lines to the last living seed of Christ (played by Audrey Tautau) was “Godspeed”… and boy!… if that wasn’t a clue at how the successor of The DeVinci Code would play out, I don’t know what is.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has returned to Harvard (they have an awesome swimming pool by-the-way) and is met by a Vatican representative explaining they have reason to believe that a secret brotherhood, The Illuminati, has returned and is seeking vengence on the Holy Church.  Four cardinals, papal favorites (known as the “preferitti”), have been kidnapped by someone working for the Illuminati.  The threat is given- one priest killed on the hour (8, 9, 10, and 11) and then Rome will be “purified by light” with stolen anti-matter (yes, let’s amp up our security of nuclear research centers shall we?).  Langdon and physicist, Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) traipse quite hurriedly across Rome, clue-by-clue, to save the lives of the abducted priests and the numerous leaders and followers of the Catholic Church whom have traveled to the Vatican for Sede Vacante (time from the death of the pope to the election of the new pope by the College of Cardinals).  No fear – for Robert Langdon’s skills are something of a “Godsend” and he’s on the case!

Symbologist Robert Langdon is no Saint Paul, he’s a firm believer of what is “proven” and this is a mutually interesting character for both religious believers and non-believers.  The more eloquent of the scientist agnostics, the character of Langdon (as well as that of the represented Catholic clergy) maintain a respectful boundary between religion and science.  Galileo would be proud.  The large set pieces and locations provide an exuberant amount of eye candy.  Not scenery that initially impresses and dwindles, but ones that make you thirst for more; like a cherry flavored Jolly Rancher.  Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Star Wars I-III), Stellan Skarsgard (Ronin, The Glass House), and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Music Box, Shine) are equally great, although I’d actually give an extra-special nod to Armin whose playing of Cardinal Strauss was exemplary.

Where the movie took a nose-dive, was in the condensed editing and the dialogue stylings.  It felt like you were in a museum filled with beautiful paintings…  but instead of leisurely viewing each masterpiece piece-by-piece, you are whisked, tugged and pulled along by a hyperactive 10 year old, leaving you inept of its full meaning.  Lucky for me, I can take speed (if I know what direction I’m going)… and I’m quite used to “not understanding full meanings.”

What was annoying was the dialogue (mainly of Langdon, Vetra and Camerlengo McKenna).  While momentarily impressed when Langdon asked his escort for help with italian, Langdon delivers countless details, myths/ histories to people that already know them… then he might saying something fancy in Latin, and will then make it a point to re-explain (most likely for the audiences benefit.  damn our feeble minds!).

The most laughable of these “failures to deliver” comes when the Camerlengo (McGregor) breaks into a closed enclave of cardinals and gives the mightiest of pep-rally speeches to a congregation of superiors, virtually all of them 3 decades his senior.  There is also a scene involving him, and a helicopter that kills me – watch for it.

I also found it strange that particle physicist, Vittoria Vetra, off the top of her pretty little head, knew the signs and symptoms of a particular poison that may or may not have killed the Pope – like she was a medical doctor!  Hmm… well… I’ve a couple of moles that need a looking at when she gets a chance.

Well many may say that this a great improvement to The DeVinci Code, I miss the self-flagellating albino, Silas (Paul Bettany), and sexy French Agent, Sophie (Audrey Tautau)- Beauty and the beast  (I’ll let you decide for yourself who I’m talking about).  But that was separate movie and my love for Audrey Tautau is just plain biased and we will have none of that here at The Joyce Review.  With Hans Zimmer’s music, along with Joshua Bell violin solos, fast-paced problem-solving in picturesque Rome, Angels and Demons succeeds, but doesn’t triumph.

BURN AFTER READING :: COMEDY :: 027

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/11/2009 by joycereview

Burn after Reading is just another Coen brother’s film that begs the questions, “Does Joel and Ethan ever make a bad movie?”  It’s obvious once the credits roll that it doesn’t have the re-watchability of say, Fargo or The Big Lebowski, however, it has a special, quality all its own.  And I mean “special” both in, like, “it has a warm place in my heart” and in the fact that is was cute, you know, in a slightly handicapped sort-of-way.  Hmmm… is that too insensitive?

This film reminded me of a story I heard as a child about the blind men and the elephant.  You ever heard it?  You know, the story where each blind man was given a side of the elephant- one got the tusk, one the side, and the other the rear.  The one sightless chap at the front thought it was a spear, the visually inept guy #2 thought the side was a wall, and the final, sightless scoundrel thought the tail was a rope.  The point of the story was not that these blind men were morons (oh no), but that they had a different interpretation of what they thought was reality… and they were all wrong!

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich- Of Mice and Men, Being John Malkovich) begins to construct his memoirs after being fired by the CIA.  His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton- The Chronicles of Narnia) is messing around with Harry (George Clooney- Solaris, Up In The Air), a State Department marshal, and they bed-talk about divorcing their “other halves.”  A compact disk of “highly-sensitive CIA shit” is found by local fitness gym employees Chad and Linda.  Chad (Brad Pitt- Interview with a Vampire, Fight Club) is the high-energy, affable HardBodies trainer who goes in cahoots with Linda (Frances McDormand- Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There), a woman who’s bent on using the disk to fetch her some elective cosmetic surgery money.  When Chad and Linda’s sales pitch blows up in their faces, they decide to take it to the Russians.  And from there… you could say things get pretty loco.

The fun part of this movie is that everyone is eccentric, going mach 5 in the wrong direction.  Brad Pitt is at the top of his game (not that he’s a great “game-player”), in a role that I can easily say, “you’ve never seen him in before.”  He is a complete cartoon of a character, but one that is so darn like-able that you can’t stop grinning.  And boy does he have some good lines!- my favorite being when Chad calls Osbourne Cox.

[ Chad on the phone] Osbourne Cox? I thought you might be worried… about the security… of your shit.

It might not read (right away) as funny, but much of the movie is situational – it’s people trying to get away with stuff, it’s false accusations, it’s misconceptions…(sigh)…it’s a fun time is “what it is!”

Burn After Reading definitely has the Coen brother’s signature idiosyncrasy, similar to O Brother Where Art Thou, but with a meandering story-line and (what seemed to me as) a premature ending.  Following one of my favorite films of 2007, No Country For Old Men, it seems that Joel and Ethan were not just looking to return to their comedic roots, but were wanting to “get moronical.”  Ben Stiller shouldn’t have the monopoly on that!  And since I’m kinda tired of his movies, it’s nice to be able to sit down with another film, a different film, and not have to think much.

THE BRAVE ONE :: DRAMA :: 023

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/02/2009 by joycereview


The Brave One, a remake of the Charles Bronson classic Deathwish is a sensational flick, perfectly cast and well-acted.  Here’s the “skinny”…

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster), WKNW radio personality, walks the street finding sounds, stories and observations of New York life for her program Streetwalk.  On one dark evening, Erica and her fiance, David (Naveen Andrews) walk their dog through Central Park and are confronted by a group of malicious punks.  They are severely beaten and David dies from his injuries.  Her world completely shattered, Erica purchases a gun for self-protection, only to find it as an instrument for her chosen brand of justice and vengeance.

Many of you who read these reviews know that besides my love for critiquing films, I have a passion for educating and empowering individuals (women in particular) to defend themselves against violence (see The Golden Thread).  One of the major obstacles that I come across is convincing women to be proactive in their efforts to learn self-defense, to be diligent enough to train, and to come to understand themselves amidst a cloud of fear.  Erica Bain, unfortunately, began to understand the depths fear can penetrate after that tragic stroll.  A quote from the movie that I particularly like is

I always believed that fear belonged to other people.  Weaker people.  It never touched me.  And then it did.  And when it touches you, you know… that it’s been there all along.  Waiting beneath the surfaces of everything you loved.

The story of revenge is an old one, but plays to that part of our human nature that demands a certain “final” justice.  However, this film (achieved largely by the skilled actors, writers, and an extremely talented story-telling director in Neil Jordan) doesn’t, at any point, imply that her actions are justified.  If we have that notion of “They got what’s coming to them,” it’s on us… it’s our (0ver-)reaction towards violence… and it’s our sympathetic connection to the protagonist’s ordeal.  We are wrong.  Erica Bain knows she is wrong… that what she is doing is wrong, and this is a major quality in a film that transcends the typical revenge movie stereotypes.

It was nearly 30 years ago that Jodie Foster played opposite Robert DeNiro in the New York vigilante picture, Taxi Driver. The city has changed a lot in 30 years, but the history of violence stands and it is fitting to see Jodie play a character that is like so many of us: happy, optimistic,…blind.

There are so many things that are right about this film that it is hard to find any faults.  Jodie Foster’s performance is one of the best that I’ve seen and Terrence Howard does a magnificent job as the “detective playing his hunches.”  Artistically crafted by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) this film sets itself apart from the masses of revenge-driven stories and opens the doors for us to see our own morality and perhaps even question it.  Per example, “How can justice prevail, when the good do nothing?”

GANGSTER No.1 :: DRAMA :: 010

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 11/04/2009 by joycereview

8bearGangster No. 1 (2000) What if Alex DeLarge, from A Clockwork Orange, was able to parlay his “ultra-violent”-tendencies into an East Ender crime lord?  You’d have one hell of a brutal, sadistic.., and likely, sensational mob flick.  And that is just what you get with Gangster No. 1!

As a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (back when I first saw it in the early 90’s) a grin crept to my face when I saw Young Gangster (Paul Bettany) look across, intense and sinister, from under a lowered brow.  He even had the mannerisms of an “Alex” as he would disregard his victims sobs for sympathy with a smile that either meant “you amuse me” or “you have no idea you’re about to die.”

Gangster No. 1, directed by Paul McGuigan, is the story of a young gangster hired to work for The Butcher of Mayfair, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis).  It was 1968.  The young gangster is mesmerized by Freddie’s sense of style, reputation and panache but falls out of love when Freddie’s sensitivities get the best of him and falls for nightclub singer Karen (Saffron Burrows).  Now in his crazed mind, as the only gangster with a pair of yarbles, he sets out to become king.  Malcolm McDowell (Gangster 55) plays the role of the aged Young Gangster, high on his throne, in the present time, 1999.

One of my favorite scenes of the film, was the “coming-to-power” of Young Gangster after his mentor Freddie Mays gets “put away.”  In A Clockwork Orange, when Alex senses dissension in his group, he puts his droogs into their place, proper-like, with swift and brutal lashings of the ultra-violent.  Quite similar does the young gangster confronts the only member of the party with seniority, correctively squelching his tongue-wagging, and sits, decisively, assuming his throne; the exact spot that Mr. Freddie Mays used to occupy.

The best scene, and one that may go down as one of my favorite interrogation scenes of all-time, comes about half-way in the film when Paul Bettany’s character pays Eddie Miller (played by Eddie Marsan) a visit.  Eddie winces and shutters as if he knows in his gutty-works that he’s about to be snuffed out.  Every gross fascial fluid seeps from his blubbering face as he attempts to explain that his “meeting” with rival boss, Lennie Taylor (Jamie Foreman) “wasn’t what you think.”

For those who like: Reservoir Dogs, Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels…I viddy this one’s for you.  As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer… you can rely on me!  And although the ending could deliver more, the rest leaves you shagged, fagged and fashed… in a good way!

What where your thoughts on this film?