Archive for October, 2008

Nation’s most influential father-son duo make it to big screen

Posted in Reviews on October 23, 2008 by Steve Mesa

The subject for Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone’s new movie, “W.”, is none other than the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.
Coming off excellent roles in movies such as “American Gangster,” “Planet Terror” and the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men,” Josh Brolin is truly amazing as the current president.
When Brolin portrays W. in his fraternity days, Brolin barely resembles the Bush we know today . Later on, as Bush gets older, we see Brolin adapt to Bush’s speech patterns and mannerisms and become more like our current president.
Aside from Brolin’s performance, James Cromwell gives a great performance as George H.W. Bush.
In “W.” he commands the screen with his presence in every scene. Cromwell’s interpretation of Bush Sr. does not come across as a parody of the former president like former “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Dana Carvey’s impression of the elder Bush.
While the movie mainly focuses on the ups and downs of President Bush’s life, the real heart of the movie comes from the turbulent father-son relationship between Bush and his “poppy.”
Brolin and Cromwell’s portrayals of the two Bushes are tremendous, especially when the two actors share a scene together. Early on in the movie, Bush Sr. is disappointed with his son because he quits jobs that his father sets him up with. George H.W. Bush does not have faith in his eldest son’s future ambitions. This causes a chain reaction of events in which George W. Bush begins to do everything in his power to prove to his dad that he is not worthless, whether it is running for governor of Texas or owning a major league baseball team.
The cast of “W.” is outstanding.
Playing the Vice President that oozes with charm and evil is Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss.
Jeffery Wright plays Colin Powell as a man asking for a legitimate reason for going to war with Iraq.
British actor Toby Jones plays the man who tells W. what to say, Karl Rove.
Finally, we have Elizabeth Banks playing Laura Bush, the loving and loyal wife of George W. Bush.
“W.” is Oliver Stone’s third presidential-era film, following “JFK” in 1991 and “Nixon” in 1995.
While “JFK” focuses more on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, “Nixon” was basically the biographical story of Nixon from his days as a little boy to his disgraceful resignation.
There are two storylines covered in the film. One storyline focuses on Bush’s partying days, his sobriety and decisions that will lead up to having a career as a politician.
The other is the events that lead up to the Iraq War. I have to say that Stone loves extreme close-ups, because “W.,” much like “Nixon,” has a certain amount of those shots in both films.
One clear example of this in “W.” is when Bush junior is jogging in the woods and the camera is mainly focused on his face before he has a breakdown.
There are also a couple of instances in which Stone plays with fantastical elements such as the older Bush taking a swing at his oldest son in the Oval Office and our current president catching a home run ball in Yankee Stadium.
Brilliant performances from Josh Brolin and James Cromwell, outstanding ensemble and great direction from Oliver Stone make “W.” one of the best movies of 2008.
W: 4.5 stars out of 5

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‘Choke’ director Clark Gregg fights for first film

Posted in Features on October 12, 2008 by Steve Mesa

Clark Gregg, director of the recently released film “Choke,” recently sat down with The Beacon for an interview where he discussed the film, acting and his future plans.
The Beacon: How did you get started on this project?
Clark Gregg: I was hired at first to adapt the book into a script. I wanted to do this project because I loved the book and the movie “Fight Club.” I made all kinds of stalker-like phone calls to the producers saying that I wanted to direct this movie. They asked if I had ever directed a movie before. I said no but I wanted to do it anyway. Seven years later, I managed to pull it off.
TB: Were there any major deviations from the book?
CG: A million little deviations. The movie is basically a compressed version of the novel. There was a voiceover but it was just distancing in a movie.
The reason is that you are watching someone watching himself as opposed to kind of jumping with them in their dream more or less. There are a bunch of different sex addicts in the book that hook up with the main character and they all became one character. There are also a couple of scenes that I shot even with our budget or within the physical world of the movie that did not work.
TB: You play the main character’s boss in the movie. What are the demands as a director when you have to direct yourself and others in a scene?
CG: I usually did not have to force myself to watch a performance of mine as much as in this movie. I was a jackass to cast myself as the jackass for that reason. When I was on the set shooting my scenes, there were some producers I trust would tell me if I needed another take for my scenes in the movie.
TB: Following your first directorial feature, would you want to direct again?
CG: Absolutely. It was really stressful to get there but it was great when I had the actors of that caliber acting with the script and making the scenes work in the steamy and disease-ridden mental asylum. It was as much fun as you can imagine and to the actors, seeing people laughing at a dirty joke that tends to clear a room was a pretty good feeling.
TB: How do you feel about working with Sam Rockwell, not only as an actor but also as a director?
CG: When you are [working] with actors you [have] worked with before, it is a big responsibility. I was lucky because Sam is a great person and from day one, he liked the script so much that he dove headfirst into the project. When everyone else comes on the set and sees the lead actor treating you like you know what you are talking about, they tend to follow suit until they think otherwise.
TB: Do you feel pressured to create a cult classic like Palahniuk’s last book, “Fight Club?”
CG: I welcome it because Chuck’s fans are really smart and they know this is a different kind of story made in a different way. I also believe that what is so unique and ballsy about Chuck as a writer holds true in both different pieces.
TB: What would you want audiences to take away from this movie?
CG: I would want the audience to walk out of the film feeling the way they would feel after a successful date: a little giddy, confused and dirty.

DiCaprio, Crowe bring down terrorists in ‘Body of Lies’

Posted in Reviews on October 9, 2008 by Steve Mesa

Double-crosses, plot twists, car chases, gun fights and explosions: What more could you want from a modern spy drama?
Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott reunite, along with Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio to bring moviegoers the best spy thriller of the year, “Body of Lies.”
Based on the 2007 novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” is about Roger Ferris (DiCaprio), a CIA operative who uncovers a major lead on a suspected terrorist leader responsible for recent bombings in Jordan. In order for Ferris to capture the terrorist, he must gain the trust of Ed Hoffman (Crowe), a CIA veteran, and Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), the head of Jordanian intelligence. But can he trust these men enough to put his life in their hands?
The interaction between DiCaprio and Crowe is a highlight in this film. Ferris is “on the inside” in Jordan, doing jobs that have to be done in order to protect the homeland, no matter what it is.
Hoffman is a laid-back bureaucrat with such a smooth southern accent that you would not be surprised if he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
These two men are complete opposites but they have one goal in mind: to bring down terrorists.
Ferris and Hoffman do not like each other and the majority of their conversations are laced with profanity, whether it be Hoffman’s disapproval of Ferris’s romance with a Jordanian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani), or Ferris expressing how he does not like the way Hoffman gets things done.
“Body of Lies” is noticeably shorter than Scott’s last few movies, yet the director still had enough time to focus on what Hoffman and Ferris did when they were not out looking for terrorists.
In Jordan, Ferris is getting through the final proceedings for his divorce and romancing a local nurse. In the States, Hoffman attempts to balance his career with his life at home.
The cinematography makes this an excellent film from a technical standpoint. The only problem with the cinematography was that it did not focus on the action scenes most of the time. The camera will make audiences feel like they are on some sort of simulation ride.
The film has a good pace despite its running time of two hours and eight minutes. It keeps you engaged with all the developments surrounding Ferris’s mission.
Amazing performances from DiCaprio and Crowe, great cinematography and Ridley Scott’s direction make this film a grade-A spy thriller.
BODY OF LIES: 4 stars out of 5

‘Blindness’ turns to blandness after climax

Posted in Reviews on October 3, 2008 by Steve Mesa

When a disease that causes blindness ravages a city, what happens when quarantine fails to contain it?
Directed by Fernando Meirelles, “Blindness” starts off in a crowded intersection with the first casualty of “white blindness” being a victim who sees nothing but white. One by one, everybody in the city is blinded by this sickness including a doctor (Mark Ruffalo), his wife (Julianne Moore) and a bartender (Gael Garcia Bernal). The only person not afflicted is the doctor’s wife.
All of the people that get blinded are ordered to go to quarantine in an abandoned mental hospital. The doctor’s wife lies about being blind in order to go with her husband.
Once in quarantine, the bartender declares himself “king”, dictating to the rest of the people how they should get their food.In order to stop this madness, the doctor’s wife must find a way to overpower the bartender and his cronies and escape quarantine.
“Blindness” is based on the Jose Saramago novel “Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira.” The movie was the opening film for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the festival’s Golden Palm award.
While “Blindness” is promising from the get-go as the disease tightens its grip across the city, as soon as people enter the abandoned hospital, the story slowly descends into a deep, dark place.
Madness soon takes over as urine and excrement are seen everywhere due to lack of restrooms. Yet as soon as the movie reaches its climax, it becomes very slow. This two-hour movie should have been trimmed down by at least 10 minutes.
While this movie has a good ensemble, none of the performances from the actors really stand out. They act like they have never been blind, which is as much in-depth acting as performances can get in the movie.
Meirelles also directed the acclaimed foreign film “City of God” and the Oscar-winning film “The Constant Gardener” before directing “Blindness.” He does as much as he can with the film, yet it does not improve by much.
I have to credit Cesar Charlone for his amazing cinematography. It was shot with stunning camera movements across a city’s barren streets ravaged with debris and empty cars taking up space. One can definitely tell that this movie was shot out of the United States, but I would not have thought that this was shot in Canada, Uruguay and Brazil.
Although points can be given to the film’s cinematography for making the movie highly alluring, “Blindness” starts out strong but then becomes exceedingly uninteresting after its climax.
BLINDNESS: 2 stars out of 5