Saturday, July 18, 2009



James O'Reilly, Canadian playwright
Paul Auster, American novelist
Fred Frith, Musical improviser
Dannion Brinkley, former CIA hitman

Although the footage of electical storms is stunning, while examining the effect a lighting strike had on seven different people too much time is devoted to researchers studying the electrical impulses of Fred Firth’s brain as he plays his guitar. What has that got to do with lighting bolts?

But it is the last four or five minutes that will test your patience as Firth recreates a lightning storm using a guitar and other “instruments”. Interesting but far too long.

How come you can’t find a Film Editor when you need one?


I cannot remember the last time I saw so many people leave the theatre before the end: in fact, 25% of the audience got up and left (5 out of 20).


War drama

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) soldiers are the Army's preeminent tactical and technical explosives experts. They are properly trained and equipped to attack, defeat, and exploit unexploded ordnance (UXO), improvised explosive devices (IED), chemical, biological, and nuclear ordnance and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Guy Pearce: Squad Leader of Bravo Company, Sergeant Matt Thompson
Anthony Mackie: Sergeant J.T. Sanborn, head of the support team
Brian Geraghty: Specialist Owen Eldridge
Jeremy Renner: Staff Sergeant William James
Christopher Sayegh: "Beckham"
David Morse: Colonel Reed

It soon becomes apparent that this is a well-acted suspenseful movie with sequences of considerable tension. Frequently there is a palpable sense of foreboding so don’t go to see it expecting a relaxed feet-up experience: it is anything but.

The effective use of a hand-held camera lends itself to capturing the realistic action scenes. In fact all of the camera work is outstanding and unlike most films it tells the story rather than relying on the narrative to do so. How refreshing.

The film does not glorify war; indeed there is no political agenda at all. Nor are there any comic book heroes, just the portrayal of real people doing a dangerous job.

Excellent editing keeps things moving and great attention to detail makes it all too real. The director has been careful to not dwell on the gory aspect of war but the squeamish like me will have to avert their eyes about half way through as Sgts. James and Sanborn check out a suspicious building.

for war violence and language.

• At the beginning of the film, a title card indicates that these events took place in 2004. Seeing someone with a video camera, Sanborn jokingly suggests that it will soon be on YouTube. Trouble is, that website did not come into existence until 2005.
• Specialist Eldridge is playing on an Xbox 360 when Colonel Cambridge comes to see him. This video game console by Microsoft only came on the market in 2005.

The running time is a whopping 2 hours and 7 minutes. But in my opinion, not a second more than necessary.

Friday, July 17, 2009



The Belle Époque (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I. This was a "golden age" for the upper classes, as peace prevailed among the major powers of Europe while new technologies improved lives resulting in the dramatic separation between the fortunes and daily life of the “haves” and “have nots". In the United States, this time frame was dubbed the “Gilded Age”.

Michelle Pfeiffer: retired courtesan Léa de Lonval
Kathy Bates: her friend Madame Charlotte Peloux
Rupert Friend: Charlotte’s son 19-year old Fred aka Chéri
Felicity Jones: 18-year old Edmée

High production values have captured the look of the Belle Époque. In fact the look of the film is its strong point: lovely sets, stunning costumes, beautiful cinematography and great attention to detail. But it fails terribly in creating an interesting story and seems like a soap opera without the commercials.

As with most films adapted from a novel, there are too many words. But the words don’t ring true. Nor does the romantic relationship that develops as time goes on.

As for the acting, Bates and Pfeiffer are better than Rupert Friend. Way better.

Perhaps the best indication of the film’s shortcomings is the voice-over explaining what is going on: a well written movie doesn’t need that.

for some sexual content and brief drug use.

Léa comes down and stops at the foot of the stairs to greet Madame Peloux. But with the change in the camera position, Léa has magically put herself in front of Mme. Peloux as they begin walking towards the dining room.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Science fiction

Sam Rockwell: Sam Bell, contract employee with Lunar Industries
Kevin Spacey: his "assistant" the computer GERTY
Dominique McElligott: Sam’s wife Tess

With the knowledge gained from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey a certain element of dread underlies the actions of GERTY, Sam’s only companion on the Moon station. Other than that most of the film is devoted to Sam’s daily routine and it’s only at the half-way point that there is any new development.

So you have to be patient since not much else happens: no battle scenes, no explosions, no impending disaster. There’s just Sam and GERTY, which is hardly enough.

for language.
That’s got to be a mistake: there are more swear words in most PG rated movies than in this one, nothing sexual and no violence which are generally the earmarks for a classification of this sort.

1. Sam puts a bandage on his hand after scalding himself with hot water. The bandage does not stay in place and “moves” closer or farther away from his knuckles between different scenes.
2. Sound needs a medium to propagate and cannot travel in a vacuum. The Moon has an atmosphere so thin as to be almost negligible so you would not hear the sound of the hatch being slammed shut when Sam is checking out the equipment.
3. In the replay of Sam’s conversation with Eve there is no pause before he asks “Are you sure?”. But in the original transmission, the pause is at least 5 seconds long.

There are eight known isotopes of helium, but only helium-3 and helium-4 are stable. Helium-3 (written 3He) is present on Earth only in trace amounts. The Moon’s surface contains helium-3 at concentrations in the order of 0.01 ppm, far more than on Earth. A number of people, starting with Gerald Kulcinski in 1986, proposed mining the helium-3 as a safe and clean source of energy when used as fuel in a nuclear fusion process.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Zero stars out of 5


Sacha Baron Cohen: Brüno
Gustaf Hammarsten: his assistant Lutz
and others who appeared after I left the theatre

If I had to describe the principal character in six words or less I’d say “He is a megalomaniacal dissolute individual.” That is not the kind of person I want to associate with, not even if it’s in a movie theatre.

As for the movie itself it is gross, vulgar, tasteless and obscene with no redeeming value. In a word: a total waste of time and money.

At the risk of being too offensive for some, let me give you a couple of examples of the drivel presented as comedy:
• full frontal shots of talking male genitalia
• an explicit, prolonged, graphic demonstration of gay sex with an imaginary partner
• undergoing “anal bleaching” while making a phone call

for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Of the 600+ movies I’ve reviewed, this is only the second one that has warranted such a low rating.

Once more Ralph’s One-Man Show Rating Rule holds true: the maximum number of stars is inversely proportional to the number of key positions any one person is credited with. In this instance Sacha Baron Cohen is the Producer, wrote the Screenplay, authored the Original Story and is the main Character. On this basis alone the maximum stars would be one.

Friday, July 10, 2009


In French with English subtitles
Original title: De Père en flic

Michel Côté: Montreal Police Constable Jacques Laroche
Louis-José Houde: his son Marc
Caroline Dhavernas: Marc’s girlfriend Geneviève
Rémy Girard: Charles Bérubé, lawyer
Patrick Drolet: his son Tim

Although this film has a slightly different take on the usual cops and robbers stuff it only comes close to being funny infrequently. At best there are some moments of levity but for the most part it is about dysfunctional relationships and there’s nothing funny about that.

for some language.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Crime drama

Johnny Depp: bank robber John Dillinger
Marion Cotillard: coat-check girl Billie Frechette
Christian Bale: F.B.I. agent Melvin Purvis
Billy Crudup: J. Edgar Hoover, F.B.I. Director
Stephen Graham: rival gangster Baby Face Nelson
Branka Katic: Anna Sage, “The Lady in Red”

Dillinger’s life was one of robbing banks, shooting it out with the police, spending time in jail, escaping from jail and repeating the process. So this is what we get to see for 2 hours and 20 minutes as it covers the last year or so of one of the most infamous criminals in the United States (the F.B.I.’s first Public Enemy number 1).

But apart from being repetitive, the major shortcoming is the failure to tell us anything about the man. I’m not suggesting a complete biography but 4 or 5 minutes of flashback would allow us to better understand why he turned to crime and the reason for his popularity, why he became a working-class hero (answer: his gang never took people's money, only the bank's money).

Not unexpectedly there are lots of criminals but the line is too often blurred as to their relationship with Dillinger: rival? associate? friend? Keeping it all sorted out is not made any easier by sub plots that go nowhere: case in point Dillinger meets with the Chicago crime boss who says he’s bad for business and the mob will no longer assist him. But then nothing is made of this so why include it at all?

Unlike most movies of this sort, there is a surprising lack of tension with the emphasis on the relationship between Dillinger and Frechette.

One thing that must be said though: the film looks good with great detail to recreating that period. Too bad they did not put in as much time and effort to edit it more stringently and provide some background narrative.

for gangster violence and some language.

• An opening title indicates the year to be 1933. As Dillinger enters a bank, prominent on a teller’s window is the logo of the FDIC which indicates the bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. This U.S. government agency to protect individuals from losing their deposits only came into effect in January 1934.
• When Dillinger first meets Agent Purvis he refers to him as “the man who killed Pretty Boy Floyd” which is true but that did not happen until October 1934, three months after his own death in July of that year.
• While stopped at a red light Dillinger sees 3 soldiers standing on the corner. In the crane shot of the car waiting until the light turns green they are gone but when the camera angle returns to inside the car they magically reappear.
• While getting ready to go to the movies Dillinger checks his pocket watch. The time is 5:00 but in the closeup about a second later it is now 6:30.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Animated cartoon

Chris Wedge: Scrat, a male sabre-toothed squirrel
Karen Disher Scratte, a female sabre-toothed squirrel
Denis Leary: Diego, a saber-toothed tiger
John Leguizamo: Sid the Sloth
Ray Romano: Manny, a male wooly mammoth
Queen Latifah: Ellie, a female wooly mammoth
Seann Scott and Josh Peck: the possums Crash and Eddie
Simon Pegg: Buck, a one-eyed weasel

In keeping with the series’ tradition the film begins with Scrat once more on the hunt for an acorn. As usual, his antics are hilarious.

From there on we get to see our old friends cope with new adventures, some of them at a breakneck speed. And all of this in 3D which adds a nice element to the movie experience.

A lot of what they do is mildly amusing but there are some “laugh-out-loud” moments too. You can’t expect much more than that from today’s style of comedy (I harken back to the days of the British Carry On series of pain inducing laughs…but I digress).

The “fear factor” has increased with scary creatures suddenly making their appearance and lots of wild rides. But I’m the only one who noticed: the kids in the audience didn’t seem to be all that perturbed, they take all that stuff in stride. In other words it’s child-friendly and for grownups too.

for for some peril and innuendo.

To my mind, the series is getting better with every installment:
• in 2002 I gave Ice Age a 3 finger rating (out of 5)
• in 2006 Ice Age: The Meltdown got 3½ stars (out of 5)
• in 2009 this one got 4 stars (out of 5)
That’s a pretty good report card.

Keen observers will note the evolution of my rating system over the years:
Initially the range was from a one-finger salute to high-fives then to stars and half-stars and finally just stars (no half-stars) which makes it a tougher call sometimes but hey I’m stuck with my own system; so be it.