Now in Cinemas: Reviews for Feb. 21, 2008

Now in Cinemas: Reviews for Feb. 21, 2008

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

An exhilarating return to form for Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is the director’s best film in 25 years (since – at least – 1982’s The Verdict). Lumet launched his film career in the late 50’s/early 60’s with classics like 12 Angry Men and The Pawnbroker, before establishing the gritty New York City style that would define him in the 1970’s with Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and other films. At age 83, Lumet has returned to his roots and is back in full force with the stark, compelling, wickedly ironic Devil.



Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Rating:

Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Brian F. O’Byrne. Written by Kelly Masterson.

Showtimes
IMDb link

Film begins with a jewelry store robbery horribly wrong, leaving both the robber and an elderly shop assistant in pools of blood; the layers leading up to this key event are then slowly peeled away, as we´re taken through various points-of-views of members of the Hanson family. Brothers Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) could both use some money (who couldn´t?) – financial exec Andy to support his drug habit, pitiful divorcee Hank to afford his child support payments. Mom (Rosemary Harris) and Dad (Albert Finney) own a jewelry store. So the brothers hatch a seemingly simple plan in which everybody wins. As we already know from the opening scene, however, things don´t go exactly as planned. And as the story unfolds – we already know what happens, just not how it came to happen – things become more and more emotionally devastating; we watch with dreaded anticipation, not concerned with the outcome, but with the decisions of these characters, and how they could be so wrong and so stupid and cause such a horrific mess. Every member of the cast, down to the smallest role, is perfect; Finney and Hoffman are solid as usual and share a number of key scenes, and Hawke, cast against type, gives one of his best performances as the cowardly, pathetic younger brother who seems to be at the center of the family´s troubles. Low-key production values enhance the mood and heighten the realism. But the most surprising thing about the film is Lumet´s direction: he pulls off the nonlinear timeline with gusto, drawing us into the story slowly but surely before pulling the emotional punches. Haunting, memorable original score by Carter Burwell.

Title is derived from the famous Gaelic toast that opens the film: “May you be in heaven half an hour…before the devil knows you’re dead.”

***

Rambo
Rating:

Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Graham McTavish, Matthew Marsden, Reynaldo Gallegos, Jake La Botz, Tim Kang, Paul Schulze.

Showtimes
IMDb link

An ultra-violent return to the Rambo franchise, Sylvester Stallone´s precisely-titled Rambo doesn´t achieve quite the same level success that the director-writer-star achieved in 2006´s surprising Rocky Balboa, but it´s a quite an experience nonetheless. And it just might be the best film in the Rambo series, which was never that good to begin with (though First Blood seems to have its legion of fans). Gone is the comic-book mentality of the previous two films as Stallone takes this one seriously – far too seriously, injecting a politicized story with graphic, realistic bloodletting.

Stallone stars as the titular character, John Rambo, now entrenched in a Taiwan jungle, apparently hunting venomous snakes for a living. Some Christian missionaries stop by looking for a ride into war-torn Burma; after some convincing, Rambo takes them. Of course, soon he´s headed back to rescue them, this time with crew of mercenaries hired by the church. None of these characters are fleshed out – we don´t care about the missionaries, or the mercenaries, or even Rambo, for that matter, despite his iconic image, but we do learn to hate the Burmese militia, who violently rape and kill and make peasant farmers race each other through a swamp littered with mines.  Thus, though we have nothing invested in the good guys, it´s all the more satisfying when our hero almost single-handedly takes what seems like an entire army by the end of the film and we´re treated to countless explicit deaths. To be fair, the rest of the film is something of a bore, visually unappealing, not exactly mentally stimulating, but there´s something to be said for sitting back with your popcorn and soda and watching John Rambo rip out a man´s throat with his bare hands or literally turn someone into a cloud of blood with point-blank chain gun fire. And Stallone isn´t winking at us, either; this is modern-day exploitation filmmaking at its finest. From IMDb: the film has a kill count of 236, or 2.59 deaths per minute. This is not a good movie in any kind of traditional sense, but I had a boatload of fun here.

***

The Eye
Rating:

Directed by David Moreau, Xavier Palud. Starring Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey, Rade Serbedzija, Fernanda Romero, Rachel Ticotin, Obba Babatundé. Written by Sebastian Gutierrez, based on the 2002 film written by Yuet-chun Hui Jo Jo and Oxide Pang and Danny Pang.

Showtimes
IMDb link

“Seeing is believing” begins the god-awful voice-over narration spoken by a blind Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) that opens David Moreau and Xavier Palud´s deficient The Eye. That follows this dialogue, occurring after Sydney saves a skateboarder from being hit by a truck: “You saved my life – I didn´t see it coming!” he thanks her. “Neither did I,” she replies with a smirk worthy of Drew Barrymore, before striding down the street with all the blind subtlety of Stevie Wonder. Three lines into the movie and my eyes were firmly entrenched in the back of my skull; this garbage was already D.O.A. The Eye is based on the creepy 2002 Hong Kong film by the same name, directed by the Pang brothers, itself followed by three sequels (so far). Plot is nearly identical, as our heroine undergoes a cornea transplant to restore sight, finds out she can see more than she should (ghosts!), and attempts to solve the mystery behind the death of her new eyes´ donor. Gone from this version, however, is any sense of atmosphere, suspense, or terror; you´ll only be scared here if, like my pet dog, you´re frightened by loud noises or sudden movements. On a side note, the ‘stingers´ in this film, those cliché soundtrack quick-scare tactics that punctuate suspense scenes in most horror films, are stretched out to 10-15 seconds during flashbacks here; the effect is nails-on-a-chalkboard whenever the movie tries to shock us. Alba turns in a career-worst performance, unconvincing while playing blind, unconvincing while having sight (quite a feat!). No one else in the cast is given much to do; the underrated Parker Posey is completely wasted as Sydney´s sister, while Rade Serbedzija suffers the same fate as Sydney´s orchestra teacher (I believe he was playing a Czech immigrant, appropriately named ‘Simon McCullough’). This is another by-the-numbers, run-of-the-mill Asian horror remake, interchangeable with The Ring and The Grudge and all their sequels and remakes and rip-offs. It´s not a total loss, however; I laughed harder at this junk than any ‘comedy´ in recent memory.

***

Also opening: the Czech fairy tale Nejkrásnější hádanka (showtimes | IMDb), from director Zdeněk Troška (Kameňák). Film is screening in Czech without subtitles.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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