Now in Cinemas: Reviews for August 9, 2007

Now in Cinemas: Reviews for August 9, 2007

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
for Expats.cz

An odd mix of psychological thriller and camp satire, Bruce A. Evans´ Mr. Brooks wanders all over the map but succeeds greatly whenever Kevin Costner and William Hurt – playing separate personalities of the titular character – are sharing the screen. Earl Brooks (Costner) has just been named Man of the Year by the Portland Chamber of Commerce; somehow this resurrects a long-dormant split-personality (personified by William Hurt), who urges Brooks to commit random murders. You see, Brooks is a serial killer known as the “Fingerprint Killer”, and he´s about to return. The film could have stopped there with plot and I would have been satisfied, but no, we have over-writing at its worst here, and it´s on prominent display.



Mr. Brooks
Rating:
Directed by Bruce A. Evans. Starring Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Danielle Panabaker. Written by Evans & Raynold Gideon.
Showtimes
IMDb link

Thrown into the mix: a photographer (Dane Cook) who witnesses Brooks commit a murder and decides he, too, wants to be a killer; Brooks´ daughter Jane, who may have the serial killer gene, and Earl´s attempts to cover up her tracks; and three (!) separate storylines involving a cop (Demi Moore), who is chasing Brooks, being chased by another recently-escaped serial killer, and going through a messy divorce. This could have been material for a campy Serial Mom-esque comedy but not really the dark psychological thriller Evans seems to want it be; the story threads are too out there, there are too many of them, and none of them are handled with enough care. Yet, when the film works, it works: the banter between Costner and Hurt is often beautiful. But almost every scene with Moore´s underwritten character – whether she´s flying through the air or spraying baddies with bullets – causes a jarring tonal shift that´s difficult to recover from. I´m on the fence here; I recognize this is a bad film, yet I enjoyed watching it (even when it doesn´t work, it provides unintentional comedy), and it represents welcome counter-programming to the typical Hollywood fare. Ultimately, the direction simply is not up to task; while always watchable, the film is never as compelling as it should be, it lacks a consistent visual style, and (as other reviewers have noted) the tone is all over the place. In the hands of a more talented director, Mr. Brooks could have been a blast.

***

Pan’s Labyrinth
Rating:
Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massagué, Gonzalo Uriarte.
Showtimes
IMDb link

A rich, beautiful, violent fairy tale for adults (despite the presence of a pre-teen lead), Guillermo del Toro´s Pan´s Labyrinth is easily the director´s most accomplished work, topping 2001´s excellent The Devil´s Backbone. 1944, post-Civil War Spain: rebels are still fighting fascist troops as Franco´s regime has seized control of the country. Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother travel to a remote military outpost, where stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López) heads a military unit combating the last of the rebels. Ofelia escapes reality through a mysterious labyrinth, meeting a faun who tells her she is a princess and gives her three assignments to complete. The fantasy world Ofelia ventures into contrasts sharply with wartime reality, although it isn´t always a relief; scenes in the world of the faun are tense and frightening, and have dark (even sexual) overtones. The harsh realities of war are presented in shockingly graphic (if isolated) fashion, catching the audience entirely off-guard in this otherwise (almost) family-friendly film. The cast is remarkable, particularly young Ivana Baquero, effortlessly sympathetic in the lead, and Sergi López, as one of the most grotesquely memorable villains in recent years. Effects are remarkable – original, stylized, bizarre. The film represents a rare uncompromised cinematic vision, directed with precision and care; Pan´s Labyrinth is one of the best mainstream films in recent years.

Note: film is playing in Spanish with Czech subtitles on Prague screens.

***

Surf’s Up
Rating:
Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck. Featuring the voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Diedrich Bader, Mario Cantone, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado. Written by Lisa Addario, Christian Darren, Don Rhymer, Joe Syracuse.
Showtimes
IMDb link
Predictable but engaging animated feature breaks no new ground (and how many more penguin-starring features do we need?) but remains likable and visually pleasing throughout. Young hotshot Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) travels to from Antarctica to compete in the Big Z Memorial, a surfing contest named after his fallen hero. After initial humiliation at the hands of champion surfer Tank (Diedrich Bader) and some heavy waves, Maverick winds up in the hands of love interest Lani (Zooey Deschanel) and her uncle Geek (Jeff Bridges), who will serve as a mentor to the overzealous youngster; banter with friend Chicken Joe (Jon Heder) serves as the main comic relief. Faux-documentary approach borrows a bit too heavily from reality TV, but remains a welcome contrast to the more conventional storytelling techniques usually found in animated films. Animation is modest but pleasing – the characters have a warmth and personality missing from many other computer-animated features, and the surfing scenes are smooth and accomplished; backgrounds, however, often look curiously flat. Film is at its best in the water, and seems to have a genuine love for the sport of surfing; grainy flashbacks to Big Z at the outset are filled with a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Overall, it´s satisfying feature that has enough to entertain adults as well as kids and doesn´t overstay its welcome.

Note: film is playing only in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens.


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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