Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wiseguy DB Reviews- The Day of the Jackal, The Bourne Supremacy, Stranger Than Fiction

June 14, 2009
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The Day of the Jackal (1973) ***1/2

Directed by Fred Zinnemann

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There are literally two hours worth of set up in order to deliver a payoff in the film’s final sequence which is only marginally satisfying. At a painfully long 143 minutes, The Day of the Jackal tests the viewer’s patience—that is unless the viewer is fascinated by the meticulous and totally believable preparation that the Jackal goes through in order to assassinate French Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle. I’m not naturally interested in the mechanics of things; however, I was sucked into this plot enough to be ultimately entertained. Edward Fox plays the Jackal with a sense of true stoic evil which manifests itself in some effectively disturbing kills. Unfortunately, too many supporting characters clutter the film from beginning to end, and none of them are really all that fleshed out. The Day of the Jackal could have used a few more trips to the editing room in order to improve upon a film which isn’t bad at all to begin with.

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Labels: 1970s, Thriller, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Three and a Half Stars

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The Bourne Supremacy (2004) ****

Directed by Paul Greengrass

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Greengrass took over the reins of directing from Doug Liman who directed The Bourne Identity, the first in the Jason Bourne series. He utilized handheld cameras in order to disorient the viewer and add a heightened sense of suspense and danger. Though Supremacy is nowhere near as excellent as The Bourne Ultimatum, which was also directed by Greengrass, it does deliver top notch thrills and smart filmmaking which help elevate the source material into a conspiracy flick that’s head and shoulders above the abundance of dreck that infests movie theaters every year—like Taken for example. This time around, I was most impressed with Matt Damon’s brilliantly understated and humble performance. He’s an actor that knows his strengths and abilities; he seems totally in tune to how he comes across on screen and uses this to his advantage and to the audience’s benefit, never once going over the top in order to feed his own ego. The Bourne trilogy is one of the most satisfying movie series in film history, and Supremacy certainly proves itself to be a worthy entry.

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Labels: 2004, Action, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Four Stars

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Stranger Than Fiction (2006) ****1/2

Directed by Marc Forster

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Following in the footsteps of Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Bill Murray, Will Ferrell decided to attempt a more serious film, though Stranger Than Fiction still ought to be described as a comedy. Ferrell plays IRS auditor Harold Crick who lives an obsessively rigid and monotonous life until he starts hearing a voice narrating his every move as if he is the character of a book. When he finds out that he is going to die at the end, he goes on the hunt to find reclusive writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) with the help of an eccentric literary professor named Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). It’s through this search that he stumbles upon love with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and of course, he also learns what is really important in life. This is pretty clichéd stuff, but it’s executed with more charm that you can fathom! Emma Thompson is a force of nature in the right role, and Hoffman gets the chance to be Dustin Hoffman by playing a character that doesn’t call for much restraint. Yet, it’s Ferrell’s likeable and ironically innocent quality that ultimately makes Stranger Than Fiction one of the true “feel good films” of the last decade. You’ll laugh; you’ll smile; you’ll witness great acting! Someone told me that this movie is what really propelled his deep love of film. That right there shows how great this little gem is!

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Labels: 2006, Comedy, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Four and a Half Stars

Wiseguy DB Reviews- You Can't Take It with You, Shadow of a Doubt, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

June 13, 2009


You Can’t Take It with You (1938) ****1/2

Directed by Frank Capra

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A friend of mine tends to judge movies based on the quality of the messages and morals contained within. I personally don’t judge films this way unless the moral is well articulated and easily digestible as is the case with the wonderful Oscar Best Picture winner You Can’t Take It with You. The family of newly engaged Alice Sycamore is one that I absolutely adored spending time with! As Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, Lionel Barrymore gives the most wonderfully sincere and gentle performance ever captured on screen, and the supporting actors who play other members of this unusual, eccentric family unit perfectly convey the joy that absolutely radiates from the screen. I’ve seen the play done on stage, and this adaptation falters slightly when the action is taken outside of the home and into a jail, a courtroom and corporate meeting halls. Further, Jimmy Stewart surprisingly detracts from the overall viewing experience. His character seems to be making fun of the family when laughing at them, and his desire to steal every scene with an all too aggressive attempt at comedic line delivery makes his character downright unlikable in comparison to all of the other gentle souls we meet throughout. Still, the message to be true to oneself is so effectively communicated in this treasure of a screwball comedy/morality tale!


Labels: 1930s, Comedy, Best Picture Oscar Nominees, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Four and a Half Stars


Shadow of a Doubt (1943) ****

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Hitchcock called Shadow of a Doubt his favorite of all his films, and though it’s nowhere near my favorite of his, it is pretty great! As usual with a Hitchcock joint, the plot is quite convoluted, though at its core is the story of two people with the same name—Charlie Oakley. One is a supposed cold-blooded murderer played by the great Joseph Cotton, and the other is a brilliant, courageous and sensitive young woman who is the murderer’s niece. The Best Years of Our Lives’ Theresa Wright is absolutely terrific in this pivotal role. Female Charlie doesn’t want to believe that her uncle, who has always been her hero, could do what he’s accused of, and as she learns more, she has to deal with life’s disappointment while also fighting to stay alive. There are glimpses of a psychic connection between the two which reminded me of something Stephen King would include. Shadow of a Doubt is surprisingly modest in scope, and unfortunately, the stakes do not build all that much tension. By the end, I was entertained, but nowhere near as much as I was watching North by Northwest and Rear Window; however, as a portrait of innocence lost and naivety shattered, Hitchcock certainly made a winner!


Labels: 1940s, Thriller, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Filmspotting’s Hitchcock Marathon, Four Stars


The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1968) ****

Directed by Norman Jewison


This movie makes its lasting mark around an hour in when its comedy is allowed to play out in frantic, almost anarchic, chaos. The exposition leading up works fine, but it’s nothing original and inspired until the parallel struggles of the goofy Russians and the wacky inhabitants of Gloucester Island off the coast of New England provide both laughs and smart sociological insights into the ultimate oneness of humanity. At the time of the film’s release, the country was at war with Russia, and the threat of a nuclear attack permeated the fears of everyone in society. One of the best ways to deal with fear is to face it head on—hence the success of the horror film genre. Dr. Strangelove in 1964 made it acceptable to laugh at this particular fear; The Russians Are Coming went beyond pure farce to explore the fact that all people have the potential to be fundamentally decent. The very best moment involves the Russians and the islanders abruptly ceasing a battle in order to help a little boy in danger. Sure, it’s hokey and manipulative, but within a film that at times plays out like Benny Hill on speed, it works. This isn’t among the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, though it does have some great laugh out loud moments. There’s a lot more going on with The Russians Are Coming than simply being another run of the mill screwball comedy—this one will surprise you.


Labels: 1960s, Comedy, Best Picture Oscar Nominees, Wiseguy DB Marathon, Four Stars