The Dilemma – Review


The Dilemma (2010)  

Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Vince VaughnKevin JamesJennifer Connelly

The truth might hurt, as the poster says, but so does this film!

In a way I should have known better, but in my defense I really wanted to go out and watch a movie tonight and it seemed like I had already seen everything else that my multiplex was showing. Ron Howard‘s latest comedy sounded like an easy watch for a Sunday night… How wrong I was!

This is one of the most misjudged film I have seen in a very long time and the possibly worse since I’ve started writing on this blog (I didn’t see “Vampires suck” last year, which I hear could have taken the crown).

The biggest crime of all, for a comedy of this kind, is that not only it’s just  un-funny (I probably chuckled once or twice at the most), but also it’s really boring. In fact I don’t even think it can be called a comedy… and yet it’s so superficial that it can hardly be considered a drama.

It has the longest introduction ever but I sort of decided to go for it anyway, hoping that the more time the film would spend setting up the scenes and its characters, the more engaging I would find it all once the “dilemma” would come.

Finally a good 30/40 minutes into the film (though it surely felt like a lot longer) the dilemma does arrive. Unfortunately that is almost the moment when I realized that the film was not going to improve and I plunged into complete boredom.

Everything about this film is wrong: Vince Vaughn’s monotone acting and his ludicrous religious moments, the pacing of the scenes, the lack of jokes and the complete misfires of the few that are actually there (the long speech at the 40th anniversary being the most glaring example of something which is supposed to be funny but fails on every level), the casting of Kevin James (who should clearly stay on TV) randomly paired up with Winona Ryder (never for a moment I believed that those 2 could have got married), the wasted use of Jennifer Connelly (she probably owed Ron Howard a favor from the time they did “A beautiful Mind” together: nothing else would explain why she should have taken this thin-paper part), and even Queen Latifah feels like it’s a character added in at the last moment, even on a half day re-shoot) because they felt the film didn’t have enough laughter.

What on earth happened to Ron Howard?!? I mean, only a few years ago he did Frost/Nixon, which I really loved and whatever you thought of A Beautiful Mind (over-rated Oscar bait in my view) at least it had a style and it felt as if it actually had been “directed” by somebody who knew what he was doing. Ransom was a fairly competent film too, edge of the seat drama/thriller (completely ruined by one of the worse trailer ever, which gave away 9/10 of the plot). Apollo 13 (which I haven’t seen in ages) was huge at the time and quite engaging. I even remember liking Cocoon back in the 80s (though I haven’t seen it since…).Despite all this he’s not the kind of director I would expect to see behind a comedy, but then again with Parenthood and even Edtv, he did prove  that at least he knew how to make entertaining light films… And after all, he was one of the forces behind “Arrested Development“, or was he? I’m beginning to doubt he was even involved with  the photocopying of the scripts in that series!

I’m not even sure Howard himself knew what kind of film he was making, as the film switches from bad slapstick to slow melodrama (a balance that as the New York Magazine noted “Perhaps the late Blake Edwards could have got right, but not Ron Howard”).

The general un-likability of the (potentially good) cast and the fact that this is a Ron Howard’s film makes the failure even greater.

I probably shouldn’t even waste anymore words on this.

The real dilemma for me was whether to give the film more than 1 star! In the end 4.5  will do.

4.5/10

Loose Cannons – Review

Loose Cannons (2010) 

(Mine vaganti: Original Title)

Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Starring Riccardo ScamarcioNicole GrimaudoAlessandro PreziosiElena Sofia RicciIlaria Occhini.

Italo-Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek goes back to what he knows and does best: a”coming-out” comedy” about homosexuality and family values, full of memorable quirky characters, laugh out-loud moments mixed with bittersweet and poignant reflections.

These are also the themes of one of my old favorite Ozpetek’s film, the Ignorant Fairies (Le fate Ignoranti), made 10 years ago.


It is all fairly watchable stuff and it sort of works as long as it’s on the screen. However, any attempt of social comment or critique at any serious issue (the close mindedness of the South of Italy, and the way Italians like to appear which is more important than the way they are, among the others) quickly fades away and gets diluted in the pursuit of easy laughers and in the over-the-top, almost caricatural depictions of the characters. Of course, it is supposed be a comedy… but sadly that’s all it is.


The story is set in Lecce, a city in the heel of the Italian boot, in the deep south. and it focuses on the large Cantone family (so large that it took me a while to work out who was who). Tommaso, is about to come out to his parents. One night, at the dinner table, just when he’s about to break the news to the family, his older brother, Antonio announces himself to everyone that he’s gay.

The father’s refusal to accept or understand his older brother’s sexuality gives him a heart attack and leaving Tommaso at the helm of the family pasta making business, whilst at the same time trying to deal with his own hidden truth (fearing that his father won’t survive the news of both of his 2 sons being gay).

There are a lot of other storylines, and the family is certainly large enough to offer several opportunities for sub-plots. Unfortunately most of the characters remain just superficial caricatures (the wise grandmother, the loony aunt, the apprehensive mother, the homophobic father, the girl in love with the gay man and so on…) and in the end the film falls into the same clichés the director is trying to ridicule in the film.

In a way, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, (funnily enough even within Ozpetek’s previous films too) but it’s good to see the overshadowed-by-the-Vatican-Italy finally arriving there too.


The film is handsomely filmed and the great looking, almost-perfect settings only seem to enhanced the imperfections of the family itself.

The editing (and direction) both seem a bit too pleased with themselves: some scenes could have gained something by being trimmed a bit. Even the most emotional moments always seem to go on for a bit too much than it’s needed (I’m thinking of the scenes around the tables, or more crucially – SPOILER COMING –  the one where the grandmother decides to go for her cakes, or even the one at the beach. You get the point after a few seconds and yet both scenes go on and on and on).

The same goes for the over-used music, both in terms of the actual score (which once again stresses the slapstick aspect of the film) and known songs, most of which seem rather random and a bit intrusive.

Most of the acting is very good especially the woman grandmother (Ilaria Occhini) who seems to be the only one really sees what’s happening within her family.


In the end I am happy I saw this film, and I did enjoy it, but I’m still longing for the return of the real Commedia all’Italiana of the 50s and 60s (and to a degree the 70s too) which really provided a mirror of Italian customs and values, attacking prejudices and questioning the general thinking of elites and institutions in a much more subtle way. The sometimes dark and bleak vision of the society and the bittersweet laughers those films provoked, felt a lot less forced than they are in this film which is clearly trying to be bit more commercial. Still, we’re probably heading towards the right direction.

7/10

You can read more about “Commedia all’Italiana” on my previous post on Mario Monicelli

Mario Monicelli (1915 – 2010)

Catfish – Review

Catfish

Directed by Henry JoostAriel Schulman. Starring Yaniv SchulmanMelody C. RoscherAriel Schulman

It’s virtually impossible to talk about Catfish without spoiling it for all those people who haven’t seen it. As the poster itself says “don’t let anyone tell you what it is”, so I’ll try to be extremely careful, just  in case, because I do think people should see this film!

Catfish will suffer from the expectations that moviegoers might have been given by the advertising campaign, which once again is very misleading.

The trailer sells is as something that it is not: A thriller or some sort of dark twisty tale. And it’s certainly dark but not in the way you’re expecting it to be: it’s actually so much more than that. It’s a window into today’s world. A touching modern tale of online dating and chatting. A look at today’s society and the ability anyone can have of living a “second life”.

If you go into it thinking that it is a horror, you will leave very disappointed. However if you go in with no expectation or an open mind, you will find yourself moved by this touching documentary.

The authenticity of the documentary itself has been called into question (though the film-makers swear it’s all true). Personally I don’t think the documentary is a fake, or at least the main story isn’t, mainly because it all seems way too plausible.

Yes, of course, some of the sequences might have been re-staged afterwards and some of the realism looks a little too real: for example, all the stuff around the setting up of the microphones, or the shots were the camera has been left on in the car just long enough for us to get the idea that our characters are getting ready.Or the shots of our main guy, with his hand in his pants, as if he didn’t even realized that the camera was on him… Or the final few scenes around the last package that arrives. Even the main’s character’s haircut conveniently changes when we need to know that time has passed .

However whether it’s all true or not is irrelevant to me.

It’s interesting to compare it with fake-documentary (released only few months ago) “I am here” by Casey Affleck. In that case, the fact that the documentary had been faked it, made the whole thing seem pretty redundant and in the end, you’re just just left with a scam which is hard to take seriously.

Here the message of the film is clear and yet at the same time it manages to be quite subtle.

It works either way, whether the whole thing has been set-up or not… Oh I wish I could say more!

I should probably watch this film again to be able to tell you whether the film is a one time trick or if it might even work on repeated viewings, however I was hooked and on the edge of my seat all the way through.

On the visual side of things, Catfish has the usual “handheld/shaky-cam” style we are so used to seeing these days, but it’s also full of little touches that fit the story so well. For example the Google-Maps and Street View style to show characters’ locations both in New York and Michigan and the houses of people miles away and yet so clear and so real…

This is what good storytelling is. It’s a clever, thought-provoking and intelligent documentary that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled on.
I saw this a week ago and I am still thinking about it.

8.5/10

Barney’s Version – Review

Barney’s Version 

Directed by Richard J. Lewis. Starring Paul GiamattiMacha GrenonPaul GrossDustin HoffmanMinnie Driver.

This is a very unusual film which took me completely by surprise. About 1 hour into it I was actually ready to hate it. Then something must have happened about half way through because slowly (maybe too slowly) what was up until that point just an average comedy, turned into something quite different: a touching story, with a very powerful ending which I am sure will stay with me for quite a while.

Paul Giamatti is the real strength of “Barney’s Version”, a film which otherwise would have become a fairly forgettable ride. He somehow manages to turn the part of the obnoxious, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed, hypocrite and quite repellent television producer, Barney Panofsky, into a moving character right at the end, just when you’re ready to dismiss him. This is certainly one of the best performances of Giamatti’s career (and that says a lot, since he’s always been very good).

Having said this, 132 minutes spent in the company of someone like Barney who is so focused on himself, so smug would stretch anyone’s patience.

His actual character is virtually impossible to comprehend and in the end, despite being present for pretty much every single scene in the film,  he does remain a mystery (and i don’t mean it as a compliment). This is certainly not Giamatti’s fault but a combination of the script (adapted from a novel by the Canadian Mordecai Richler) and a bland direction (unsurprisingly Richard J. Lewis comes from TV from things like CSI, makes no attempt to bring any style or pace to the film).

The main problem, length aside, is that you never quite believe why so many attractive women could fall in love for the sweaty, drunken Barney. And yet, he does get married 3 times and has constant flings everywhere else too. At some point I even wondered whether Giamatti was really the best choice for this story (though he is so good that he almost gets away with it).

The whole first part of the film is probably the weakest. It is fairly episodic and tries too hard to be a comedy without being funny enough. There are too many subplots which feel too random and disjointed but also there are way too many supporting characters, most whom might have played better in the novel, but here they all feel too much like caricatures (the father in law, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman among many), as the film barely scratches their surface.

Then, about 1 hour into the film, something quite big happens (I won’t tell you what it is, don’t worry) and from there onwards the film finally seemed to find its way and became more focused.

Rosamunda Pike enters the film  and the relationship between her and Giamatti takes the centre stage. I have  never been really crazy about Rosamunda Pyke, but in this film she’s really good and she definitely plays one of the her best part.

Slowly the film settles into what it really should have been from the beginning, a slightly more poignant and focused film about a guy feeling the weight of the guilt and regrets for the life he’s spent. The last act is heart-wrenching and probably the most original part of the film. Some people may find it a bit too heavy handled, especially since our emotional investment in the main character has been somewhat limited by his awful persona.

It really worked on me but I can see how somebody could argue it’s rather manipulative.

On a separate note, there some in-jokes cameo appearances by some of Canada’s most notable directors, for diehard movie geeks out there: these are mainly people who have worked for producer Robert Lantos (producer of Eastern Promises). Even David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan also turn up as directors of Barney’s TV show.

6.5/10

Buried – Review

Buried (8.5/10) 

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis.

Let me just start by saying that this film is brilliant!! I had heard about the concept (90 minutes with a man stuck in a box/coffin with a lighter and a cell phone) and I was already waiting for pretty claustrophobic experience. However, what I also found was an incredible roller-coaster of an action movie, wonderfully told, constructed, directed and perfectly balanced. And, more importantly, despite its premise, it was never boring, slow or repetitious (I don’t think there’s a single shot being repeated twice). In fact, they even managed to have a couple of really tense action scenes: yes action scenes within a box!!!

The director has been very brave to even attempt something like this, but he’s also been able to play the game within the rules he had set up and never cheat: the camera never leaves the confinements of the coffin. This is a film that Hitchcock could have made, and he would have made him proud!

You know you’re in for something quite interesting from the title sequence itself, which once again is reminiscent of those Saul Bass titles in a Hitchcock’s movies. They’re beautifully designed, perfectly paced and they’re accompanied by a sort of “Hermanesque”score that you would probably expect from an action movies, but not from a movie which you know it’s going to take place inside a coffin.

And that pace, energy and inventiveness permeates the whole film from there onwards.

The first few minutes are probably the toughest to watch (well, in fact there’s very little to watch since most of that time is spent on a black screen): it’s the moment when our character realizes he is “buried” alive.  It’s a claustrophobic experience, beautifully orchestrated just with simple sound effects of his body moving around, thumping against the side of the coffin (the use of the 5.1 sound is impressive), breathing heavily and then finally screaming. It is excruciating! At one point I remember thinking to myself: “If it is all like this I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it…”.

But somehow, once the film gets going and the mystery unravels, then you almost became used to the settings, just like the main characters gets used to it too.

I don’t really want to give away too much, because part of the fun is discovering what’s going as the story unfolds. The script is beautifully constructed,  giving the audience new and interesting clues every few minutes, thus making us always intrigued and, as I said before never bored.

There’s a sequence involving a snake at some point, that might be a bit of a cheap trick but actually ends up being one of the most accomplished action-packed moment I’ve seen in any action film this season. To be able to pull something like that off, it is an achievement indeed!!

And just when you think the film may run out steam, here comes a new idea and a new trick in the bag. I may even go as far as saying that despite the overall silliness of this movie, it is at the same time one of the most accomplished and inventive I’ve seen in a while.

Technically it is pretty much faultless too: the camera swoops around the box showing you the action from any conceivable point of view and using pretty much any every trick in the book (zooms, tracks, extreme close-ups and so on). The sound design and sound mix on this film are both just as important and they are both top-notch, as they’re so carefully balanced to making you really feel you’re in there inside the box.

I am looking forward to seeing what the BluRay will look and sound like (This will be coming out around Valentine’s Day, although I cannot think of a worse date movie…).

I should also spend a couple of words praising Ryan Renolds, who literally carries the whole film on his shoulders as he’s on screen from every single second.

The music, as I mentioned before for the title sequence, treats it all like a real action movie and to me that was probably slightly overdone. It works for most of the film, but I can’t help thinking it was a bit too bombastic in a few other places.

But I am really picking needles here and I shouldn’t, because this is a little MASTERPIECE: it’s not just a tagline or a gimmicky one-trick-movie, but it’s a true lesson on creating and building tension in a movie.

Rodrigo Cortes understand film-making, how to build tension and how to sustain it throughout. He’s been able to create an action film which is also, moving and funny in places. I can’t wait what he’s going to do next.

I can see that “Buried” might not be for everyone, and it’s definetely not for the faint-hearted or those people who suffers from claustrophobia, but if you like tension, thrillers, action romps or simply good film-making and pure cinema this is for you!

8.5/10

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