Mini Reviews (June & July 2004)
The Gunman, My Mother Likes Women, The Stickup, My Boss's Daughter, Two Days, A Home at the End of the World, Alila
The Gunman (June 11/04)
There are confusing films and then there's The Gunman. Writer/director Daniel Millican introduces several plot strands but fails to resolve at least half of them. There is a good movie here, though it's buried underneath a lot of superfluous elements. The story revolves around Ben (Sean Patrick Flanery), a cop with a score to settle after his wife is brutally murdered. Left to raise his daughter alone, Ben - along with his new partner, Daphne (Joey Lauren Adams) - is assigned the task of tracking down a vigilante that's targeting child abusers. Meanwhile, fellow cop Roland (Brian McNamara) seems to be going after criminals on his own time - for reasons that remain muddled until the film's conclusion. Also thrown into the mix is an old friend of Ben's named Eve (Mimi Rogers), who's struggling to cope with a debilitating disease. While Millican does clear up a lot of the more confusing elements at The Gunman's end, there are still many unexplained plot points that seem to have been forgotten. An encounter midway through the film between Roland and a criminal, in which the criminal seems to know Roland, is likely the most obvious example of this. Though their meeting turns violent, it's fairly obvious that the two know each other somehow - but Millican's script doesn't allow for any further explanation. Similarly, the murder of Ben's wife makes little sense primarily because the killer's M.O. had already been established, and it certainly didn't involve executing the wives of police officers. Millican is otherwise a competent filmmaker, though his propensity for interrupting awkward moments with sappy ballads is distracting (to say the least). The most welcome surprise in the movie is Flanery, who convincingly steps into the shoes of a grizzled cop. The actor delivers an effective performance that certainly deserves a better film, while squeaky-voiced Adams isn't terrible as the detective out to prove her worth. The Gunman certainly isn't terrible, and should provide enough entertainment to justify a rental - though it might be a good idea to watch it with a friend, preferably one who's seen it already.
My Mother Likes Women (June 15/04)
My Mother Likes Women is an enjoyable - if perhaps a little too light and fluffy - romantic comedy, featuring a fantastic performance from Leonor Watling (she played the comatose woman in Talk to Her). Watling is Elvira, one of three sisters whose mother has taken up with a much younger woman named Eliska (Eliska Sirová). The trio of siblings is, obviously, not entirely pleased with this dramatic development (their mother had never displayed any homosexual tendencies prior), hatch a scheme to trick Eliska into falling in love with Elvira - thus proving to their mother that Eliska can't be trusted. My Mother Likes Women has been co-written and directed by Daniela Fejerman and Inés París, who effectively give each of the three sisters something to accomplish by the film's end - resulting in an ending that's almost ridiculously happy. But that's the sort of thing one expects out of a film like this, and it's hard not to root for all these characters to get what they want.
The Stickup (July 3/04)
Contemporary video stores are full of unknown little movies like The Stickup - movies that are, on the whole, awful. While finding a good one is a daunting task - think needle-in-a-haystack - they are out there, and The Stickup is a great example of a film that's unfairly fallen through the cracks. The less said about the plot the better, but in a nutshell, the story follows cop-turned-bank-robber Parker (James Spader) as he holes up with a bitter nurse named Natalie (Leslie Stefanson). Also thrown into the mix is a determined cop on Parker's tail - who happens to be Natalie's ex-husband - and a rookie FBI agent looking to make a name for himself. The Stickup's been written and directed by Rowdy Herrington, who also helmed the underrated Bruce Willis thriller Striking Distance. Herrington's got a great ear for dialogue, something's that's particularly evident in Parker and Natalie's initial barroom encounter. Their conversation resembles something out of a '40s film noir, and the ensuing relationship is just as compelling. It certainly doesn't hurt that Spader and Stefanson are just about perfect in their respective roles, while the supporting cast is peppered with familiar and not-so-familiar faces. Herrington toys around with flashbacks and our perception of reality to mostly positive effect, though a late-in-the-film revelation might be a tad too convenient. It's a minor quibble for an otherwise superb film, one that's certainly worth tracking down.
My Boss's Daughter (July 9/04)
After sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, My Boss's Daughter was unceremoniously dumped into theaters last summer. But the film's not as bad as you might think, thanks mostly to David Zucker's expectedly zany direction and an eclectic assortment of actors. Ashton Kutcher stars as Tom Stansfield, a straight-laced businessman who finds himself suckered into watching his boss's house - where everything that can go wrong, does. The first half of the film is incredibly uneven, and plays like a series of sketches tenuously strung together by a thin storyline. But as the movie progresses, more and more of the gags hit rather than miss; Zucker's trademarked and inexplicable sense of humor becomes far more evident. As the film's straight man, Kutcher is surprisingly effective; his comedic timing is undeniable, though his performance consists almost entirely of befuddled reaction shots. And with a supporting cast that includes folks like Michael Madsen, Terence Stamp, and Andy Richter, it's fairly difficult to ever become completely bored (it's really just a matter of getting past the fairly awful opening half hour).
Two Days (July 23/04)
Two Days is an unexpectedly engrossing and entertaining little film about an actor who, in the days before committing suicide, allows a film crew to follow him around and document his final hours. Starring Paul Rudd, the movie has its independent origins written all over it; the self-referential dialogue and hipster characters are a dead giveaway (there's even a pair of Jay and Silent Bob clones!) But as the film progresses and we come to know Rudd's character, it's hard not to get caught up in the whole thing (and hope that he doesn't actually go through with it). The acting is uniformly excellent, with Rudd giving one of the best performances of his career. Donal Logue is electrifying in his one scene, while familiar faces like Mackenzie Astin and Marguerite Moreau pop up in small roles. Writer/director Sean McGinly (who, amazingly enough, also wrote schlocky flicks like Venomous and Sexual Roulette) does a fantastic job of ensuring all the characters become developed to a certain extent. Two Days is certainly worth a look, if only for Rudd's astounding central performance.
A Home at the End of the World (July 27/04)
The last thing one expects from Colin Farrell is a subtle performance. While there's no denying the actor is extremely talented and charismatic, Farrell has thus far made a career out of playing cocky characters like Stu in Phone Booth and Bullseye in Daredevil. But in A Home at the End of the World, Farrell effectively sheds that persona and becomes someone that is - above everything else - vulnerable. And despite the fact that he doesn't have his usual tricks to fall back on, Farrell gives a performance that's just as commanding and compelling as anything he's done before. The film casts Farrell as Bobby, an easy-going guy who wants nothing more than to be liked by those around him. His best friend is Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), though the two haven't spoken since they were teenagers. But when Bobby decides to move in with Jonathan, who is now living in New York, he soon finds himself falling for Jonathan's roommate, Clare (Robin Wright Penn). The plotless film follows the ins and outs of the offbeat relationship between the three. What the movie really comes down to, though, are the characters - along with the actors who play them. The central trio is exceedingly memorable, so we don't mind when it occasionally seems like the story is meandering along.
Alila (July 29/04)
There's no doubting the fact that director Amos Gitai is fairly talented. With Alila, it's the visuals that prove to be the most intriguing aspect of the film; Gitai has populated the story with one unlikable character after another, making it impossible for the viewer to connect with anything on screen. The film is set in Tel Aviv, and follows the various residents of a rundown apartment building as they go about their daily lives. But unlike a movie along the lines of Short Cuts or Magnolia, there's not a single compelling figure to be found here. Well, in all fairness, the army-deserting son of two of the characters does hold some promise, but the movie barely spends any time on him. However, Gitai's exceedingly creative sense of style - which is evident right from the beginning, when he read the credits aloud and wishes the audience a "good screening" - goes a long way towards making Alila watchable. Other unusual choices follow, particularly a penchant for long takes, but it's not quite enough to allow the audience to overlook the inherent dullness in the characters.