Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Any piece of film noir should possess all the same outward traits: men in hats and five-piece suits, shadows, the femme fatale, and cigarette smoke, to name a few.  The best, however, will have you remembering those facets outside the genre's basic prototype: a great story, a stellar performance, or a distinct shot, for example.  In The Woman in the Window, adapted on to the silver screen by Nunally Johnson from J.H. Wallis's novel Once Off Guard, we are given the pleasure of such extrinsic rewards.

The film starts with Professor Richard Wanley, played by Edward G. Robinson, parting with his family to lecture in psychology in New York for the summer.  He meets with a couple of his good friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon) for dinner on his first night in town.  Outside his hotel, before their rendevous, Wanley takes some to stare at a portrait of a woman.  He explains to his acquaintances his fondness of the artist's work to which they jocularly call attention to the attractiveness of the woman in it.  He admits that might have something to do with it as well.  The three catch up over dinner and move on to cigars and drinks.  Wanley is asked if he'd like to extend the night by presumably spending it in a club or other night venue of entertainment but he denies, citing his middle age and maturity.  After his friends leave he spends some time in the lobby then goes out for a smoke and another look at that mesmerizing portrait.  To his astonishment, he finds the portrait's subject, Alice (Joan Bennett), in person watching him.  She invites him over to her apartment to gaze over more works by the artist in which she models and contradicting the very philosophy he advocated to his friends earlier, takes her up on the offer.  While there, a man, who is later identified as Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft), storms into the flat and rabidly assaults Wanley by choking him.  Alice hands a pair of scissors to Wanley who manages to stab the assailant several times in the back, releasing him of the attack and killing the man in the process.  This prompts the most pivotal line in the film, from Alice: "What are we going to do?"

Though it is an act of self-defense, neither Alice nor Wanley want the police's involvement for their own respective reasons, so they decide to dispose of the body and the crime scene.  From this point on the The Woman in the Window becomes a psychological thriller.  Thanks to the direction of Fritz Lang, with its dark lighting, dramatic close-ups and jaunting camera angles, we can't help but fret through every weave the story takes.  Of course Lalor the D.A. offers to Wanley (and us) "confidential" information regarding the progress the homocide unit is making in the case and at one point even escorts Wanley back to the crime scene where the body was found.  Nerve-racking schemes like this in the film are wonderfully put together and executed.

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson.
Though Robinson's acting as a conservative member of upper class who never wanted to be in this mess is superb (and at times channels bits of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov) throughout the film, its most sensational sequence comes in Alice's home when Heidt (Dan Duryea) is trying to extort her and Wanley is absent.  Heidt, a bodyguard who had been paid to follow Mazard as part of an exlsuvie sub-plot, knows of Alice and her mystery accomplice's guilt and threatens his way into her apartment to snoop around and list his demands.  He is sharp as a tack avoiding a trap Wanley has set up for him that Alice is unable to execute.  During their shared screentime, Heidt's gaudy smile mixed with that treacherous cunning has Alice's heart skip a few beats -- and likely the audience's as well.

Without giving away too much, the film ends with what I would call a controversial approach.  That is about as much as I can say without spoilers, so stop here if you prefer to avoid them.  As Alice is regrouping herself after a terrifying encounter with Heidt and Wanley contemplates suicide, events take a significant turn.  Heidt is shot and killed by the police in an unrelated skirmish and found with Mazard's pocket watch (initials engraved) on person. While the film is in the height of its culmination as Wanley sits in a chair after ingesting an overdose of heart medicine and the phone is ringing incessantly with Alice on the other end eager to break the news about Heidt's death...a slow zoom-in to Robinson's troubled face followed by a zoom-out has us back in the lobby at 10:30pm, prior to when the mischeif had all began.  In other words, it was all a dream.  Wanely has a Wizard of Oz moment when he recognizes the faces of those in his dream as part of the hotel staff and the film chooses a light-hearted, comical finish: Wanley goes outside to take a gander at the portrait (just as he did to start his dream) at which point a woman asks if he has a light for her cigarette.  He rejects her and madly runs off in the opposite direction.

While I'm not going to categorize the dream as a cop-out, it is certainly a ruse.  Its smooth, on-screen reveal (to which the credit goes to Lang helps) lessens that sentiment, but nevertheless we cannot help but feel abruptly torn away from the story to which we have been so committed.  On the other hand, this review is being written in 2012 and this film was put out in 1944, so it should be noted that today's viewers are likely more jaded by the dream outlet.  What can be agreed on by all, is that The Woman in the Window is a fresh story with quality performances bundled up in classic noir cinema.  And no unexpected waking moment is going to take that away.

--Review by Mike Dorfman

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn begins with a soft yet seductive song and dance number by Michelle Williams, as she attempts her best Marilyn Monroe impression. The scene pans out and we see that Marilyn is being watched on a movie screen by a group of moviegoers, and at the forefront is young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the gentleman whose eventual book gave us this movie.

Though the next several scenes serve to further introduce Clark, whose perspective is what we see the movie from, the opening scene is designed to inform us who the movie is really about -- Marilyn.

In arguably the most ambitious role in her career, Williams takes on the role of one the most famous and possibly infamous starlets to ever grace this planet. The movie was heavily promoted as the "first screen adaptation" of Monroe. Thus, to say that Williams had big shoes to fill is an understatement. But she doesn't just perform the role admirably, but outstandingly. After a mere ten minutes, you can't even tell who is who.

The "first on screen adaptation" of Marilyn Monroe is not a biopic. Directed by Simon Curtis, it is an adaptation of two of Clark's books, "My Week with Marilyn" and "Me, the Prince and the Showgirl." The autobiographic books detail the alleged relationship that Clark, a young 23-year-old at the time, had with Monroe, who then, was 30, over the span of about a week. The screenplay was written by Adrian Hodges.

The film takes place in 1956. At the start, Clark is a naive, wide-eyed young man straight out of university. His family, who is absurdly wealthy, wish him to pursue a real job, but Clark wants to pursue his dream and enter the movie business. He uses his connection, none other than Sit Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who he once met at a party, to get a job through his production company as the third-directorial assistant on the film The Showgirl and the Prince, starring Olivier himself, and of course, Ms. Monroe. or should I say Mrs. Monroe, as we are informed that she just recently married the famous playwright, Arthur Miller -- Her last of three unsuccessful marriages.
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne
as Colin Clark in My Week with Marilyn.

For anyone who enjoys cinema, watching My Week with Marilyn is like watching history unfold. Monroe was already a superstar by every stretch of the word, but her most famous of her movies (Some Like it Hot) was yet to come. Oliver, also a household name, is portrayed brilliantly by Branagh as a warm, compassionate yet hot-tempered individual.

Clark is young, but he has devilish good looks. He immediately romances one of the film's wardrobe assistants (Emma Watson), before setting his sights on bigger things.

But again, it's all about Marilyn. As part of a younger generation, we've heard stories about Monroe's irrational behavior, and Williams portrays it as such. Williams' version of Monroe is beautiful, meek, lightheaded, playful, emotionally unstable and drug reliant, all rolled up into one. She is extremely high-maintenance, relying on her acting coach, Paula (Zoe Wanamaker) to get her through her emotional stretches, much to the dismay of the rest of the cast and crew.

But being young and wide-eyed, Clark immediately is entranced by Monroe's beauty and aura, and she notices it. She quickly befriends Clark, and the two begin an intense friendship that turns into something a little more in a short period of time.

My Week with Marilyn also serves to give the viewer a little insight as to how a movie is made. One of the primary settings of the film is on the set of the movie, which creates a slight paradox of a movie set inside of a movie set. Movie aficionados should find it all quite interesting.

Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier
But the film is carried by its brilliant cast, led by Williams and Branagh. Redmayne more than carries his own amongst much more accomplished actors than him, and there are also other roles of old celebrities, with Dougray Scott playing Arthur Miller, Judi Dench as actress Sybil Thorndike, and Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh, the Gone with the Wind star who was Olivier's wife at the time.

Much credit should also be given to whoever was responsible for set design and wardrobe, for conveying the scenery and attire of 50+ years ago so sharply and convincingly. No doubt, this movie was in professional hands.

The cleverness of the film was to not get too overly ambitious and turn itself into a Marilyn Monroe biopic, but to actually surround itself around an intriguing plot that involves multiple characters and a story line that will keep the viewer more than interested. The slight distraction really gave Michelle Williams a little less pressure, but given how brilliant she was, it probably would not have mattered anyway.

 ~ Review by Ddubbs

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Man From Earth (2007)

Science fiction is a genre there to push our minds to new and expansive modes of contemplation.  Its foundation always derives from the science that we know until it inevitably seeks to make the aforementioned push.  As viewers, whether we have a firm grasp of science or not, it is our willingness to be openly taken for the ride that defines as us SciFi fans or not.  There is no better example of this internal strife that comes with dropping inhibition and going out on a limb than The Man From Earth.

Completed on his deathbed in 1998, Jerome Bixby's screenplay for The Man From Earth takes place in a single room with a cast of eleven, only eight of whom contribute substantial dialogue.  Cinematically it is not daring.  There are few, if any, camera tricks and zero special effects.  Its director, Richard Schenkman, does not set out to do much other than capture the discourse in the living room of John Oldman (David Lee Smith).  Music in the film is scant as that would only detract from the words being exchanged on screen.  There are no action sequences, and only one true moment of drama down the film's stretch.  Given all these observations, I was surprised to find that The Man From Earth was not originally intended for the stage.

The story that provides the impetus for the conversation is this: John Oldman is moving after serving 10 years on the faculty of an unnamed university.  His academic colleagues, professors from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, art history, biology and psychology, have come over to his home to wish him goodbye.  Everything he owns is boxed up minus the furniture and so once everyone has arrived he breaks out a bottle of Johnny Walker to entertains his guests.  The question on the minds of everyone he has invited eventually surfaces: Why is he moving on?  He insists that there is no reason, that he's done this before and that he prefers a change of scenery every decade or so.  His feeble answer only fuels the flame of their unrelenting curiosities until they begin to wonder if something is wrong.  It is soon after that John decides to do something he recollects only having ever done once before in his lifetime - tell others the truth.

John was born in the time of caveman (he is a Cro-Magnon to be exact) approximately 14,000 years ago.  To date he has survived the times and has witnessed pre- and modern history.  His memory of wordly events is limited in proportion to the way we can recall our past.  For example, when challenged by Edith (Ellen Crawford) to recall where he was in 1292 AD, he coolly asks where she was a year ago on this date.  This is just one bullet of the bulky Q&A session that ensues.  Just as fascinating to watch as John's ability to answer every question and foil the numerous attempts to trip him up in his "story" is how each member of the farewell party reacts in their own right to what it is he has to say. 
David Lee Smith as John Oldman
Given that his guests are intellectuals in a variety of fields, he is met with poignant and efficient interrogation.  As you would expect all begin with a healthy level of skepticism, which as the film progresses, is slowly chipped away at by John's mild-mannered and rationale response to everything that is thrown at him.  Dr. Will Gruber (Richard Riehle), the psychiatrist, who is actually called over to the house midway into the conversation by an original invitee, only ever falters and revelas his own instabilities in trying to reason with and/or diagnose John.  Edith, a practicing Christian, is the first to breakdown emotionally when John is begged to air his knowledge of religious phenomena in his lifetime.  Meanwhile, Sandy (Annika Peterson) confides that she has a romantic interest in John, which gives impetus to all other kinds of considerations given his claim.

Before John presents his secret as truth, he disguises it as a theoretical work of science fiction he may write up, and asks his friends for their input.  They play along, searching for all the different ways an author must bend the corners, toying with the bounds between the possible and impossible.  Shortly thereafter, once he discloses this concept as his actual biography, their respective rapports with him change and so do their moods.  But as viewers of a movie, we are left behind at this first stage of knowing that what we witness is science fiction.  As the proverbial fly on a wall then, we can appreciate the creativity that went into Bixby's writing John's story, but the truly fascinating stuff in The Man From Earth are those observations we can draw on regarding human nature based on the room's versatile dynamics.

While it is clear that Bixby never sought to utilize cinema's full potential in his final screenplay, The Man From Earth is an intrinsically galvanic script that lends itself to all kinds of great takeaways for its audience.  It should also not go without saying that David Lee Smith's portrayal of John Oldman is adeptly done, and at times chilling.  His calm demeanor and understated performance gives off an aura of aged sagacity.  Paired with his bottomless bag of answers it make for the perfect 14,000 year old racanteur.  So watch The Man From Earth and try, for a stretch, to envision yourself in that room.  More important than any question you could pose to John is the one single question the film poses to you:

How would you react?

--Review by Mike Dorfman

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This Means War (2012)

After watching This Means War, one can't help but think why such prominent actors like Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy and Chris Pine agreed to do this movie. Or maybe the more the greater question is, why was this movie even made?

The genre of the movie lies in the realm of romantic comedies, with a bit of action thrown in. Hardy's character, Tuck Henson, is an agent in the Central Intelligence Agency. His coworker and best friend, FDR Foster, portrayed by Pine, also is a CIA agent.

The film, directed by McG (Terminator Salvation, We Are Marshall), starts out with an action packed scene where the two are chasing after a an international criminal named Heinrich (Til Schweiger.) The scene, while colorful and extensively choreographed as the two heroes chase the villain over a rooftop, immediately lets the viewer know that this film will not apply to the basic laws of human abilities. The scene happens fast, and before you know it, we're back at the CIA headquarters and you don't even really know what just happened.

Witherspoon, meanwhile, plays Lauren Scott, an executive for a product testing agency, and has a best friend named Trish (Chelsea Handler), who exists to try and create humor. Through certain circumstances that don't really matter, Lauren ends up dating both FDR and Tuck at the same exact time.

Tuck and FDR become aware of this -- Lauren doesn't -- and the two engage in all-out "warfare" to try and be the one who wins her over. As CIA agents, the two totally abandon their actual responsibilities, and instead use all of their resources to track Lauren using various invasive and very illegal strategies such as hidden microphones, GPS trackers and breaking-and-entering.

The film doesn't even remotely attempt to portray the CIA in a realistic way, and instead tries to portray the agency's headquarters as some new-age technologically advanced building that you might see in a movie that's supposed to take place 20 years from now. I know it's a fictional and lighthearted story, but even so, that the two men could disregard their patriotic duties in such an obvious manner with no consequences is a flat-out insult to our government.

Meanwhile, Lauren actively plays both men against each other, and pretty much portrays every stereotype women possess by being overly oblivious, needy, desperate, indecisive and blonde. Her character is a flat-out insult towards women everywhere.

I can see why Pine, whose character is supposed to be a womanizer, would have taken this role. He more than held his own in a leading role in 2009's Star Trek, and was even adequate in Unstoppable (2010). But he's not quite A-list yet, so taking a role along side names like Reese Witherspoon and budding star Tom Hardy was a no-brainer.

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine play CIA agents in This Means War
Hardy, whose character is more reserved and compassionate, is a little bit more of a mystery. My only rationale is that, at the time, knowing he would have a strenuous and taxing role as Bane in Christopher Nolan's upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, he decided to take an easier, lighter role, and at the same time, make some serious dough. However, he did excel in his role a bit more than the others, and is the only real character that you can relate to in the entire production, even if it's just a little.

Witherspoon, meanwhile, has been a big question mark ever since her career-defining and Oscar-winning role as June Carter in Walk the Line (2005), has had a hard time distinguishing herself since then. She's done a wide array of movies, including rom-coms, dramas and political thrillers, but this one by far represents herself the worst. Her character in This Means War makes her role in Legally Blonde seem as authentic and politically correct as can be.

The movie really does not have many redeeming factors at all. I suppose if you are a big fan of one of the actors, then you can try watching it. Despite it being a romantic comedy, it's not romantic and it's not funny. It purely relies on cheap, slapstick and crude humor with no real intelligence.

The movie attempts to wrap up by adding a little drama between the three characters, while intertwining it with the original plot line involving Henrich, but all it ends up adding up to is more disbelief and a giant mess.

~ Review by Ddubbs

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chronicle (2012)

The use of handheld cameras is becoming a popular trend for supernatural thrillers. It started over a decade ago with the Blair Witch Project (1999), then became popular again recently when JJ Abrams incorporated it into his 2008 mega monster-movie Cloverfield. Abrams then not only employed it once again with his next film -- but even based the title around it -- in Super 8 (2011). All three of those movies were met with success, at least commercially, and officially set a precedent.

Josh Trank's Chronicle (2012) is no different. Every scene in the movie is seen through a lens as viewed by another character in the film. The majority of the time, it is through a video camera.

While this strategy is certainly unique -- and adds a feeling of realness when done well -- it is also very restrictive. In Chronicle, the video camera is explained immediately when the main character, high school senior Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) tells his drunk and abusive father (Michael Kelly) that he will be "filming things now." This is said when his dad, Richard, is trying to break down a door to enter Andrew's room. This is effective because it makes us sympathetic right off the bat, and prevents us for questioning the video camera.

Andrew's mother, Karen (Bo Peterson) isn't out of the picture just yet, but she's close to it, as she is bedridden and slowly dying from cancer. Because of this dysfunctional family, Andrew has a very meek and defeated appearance and lacks self-confidence. As a result, he gets bullied at school.

His only salvation is his cousin, Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) who is a bit cooler, and is friends with one of the more popular kids in school, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan.) Through Matt, and later through Steve, Andrew maintains some relevance in his high school.

One of Matt's friends, and romantic interests, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) just happens to be a video-blogger, or a "vlogger," which is obviously a manufactured plot device to allow the movie to be viewed through a camera when Andrew isn't on the screen.

But anyway, let's fast forward to why the movie actually exists. About twenty minutes in, Matt convinces Andrew to go to a high-school party, and while there, the two of them, along with Steve, venture into the woods when they discover an odd looking crater. They go into it, and it leads them into a tunnel that contains very bizarre crystalline objects. The objects make noise, which becomes deafening, and makes the trio pass out. When they wake up, they soon learn they have superpowers, such as telekinesis and the ability to fly.

Now, teenagers acquiring superpowers is hardly original in today's era of film. For reference, see any superhero movie ever made. But what I like about Chronicle is that the three teenagers don't use their abilities to halt bank robberies or fight crime, but they do what any teenagers would do if they were in the same situation -- they goof off.

Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan and
Dane DeHaan in Chronicle.
For example, in one scene they visit their local grocery store, and mess around with people as they casually shop, all the while laughing in the background as they film it. In another scene, they head to a local junkyard to practice their flying, and in one more scene, they flaunt their abilities during a school talent show.

Peter Parker may have had a noble agenda, but this is what teenagers would genuinely do if they were to ever miraculously acquire superpowers.

The effects are pretty solid, as well. But the movie intentionally keeps things low budget, using the aforementioned video camera which adds as much realness as you can for a movie that involves superpowers.

The first 45 minutes of the movie is like watching a more composed version of Jackass, and it is fun and light to watch the three kids fool around. But then the film takes a total 180-reversal, as Andrew's family situation worsens, and -- falling into the superhero/villain cliche -- he reaches a level of frustration that forces him to abuse his newfound powers. From there, the film goes from a light comedy to a full-out superhero/monster movie. But, hey, it makes for some great entertainment.

For unknown actors, the acting really isn't half bad. I was mostly impressed with DeHaan, especially since he had the greater task playing the more unstable character. But he was up for it.

There were definitely scenes where finding an excuse to have the action viewed through a video camera were extremely forced, but it's mostly nitpicking, since it works well the other 90 percent of the time. Lastly, Chronicle is a fun movie to live vicariously through, because, well, who the heck wouldn't want to be highschooler with superpowers?

~ Review by Ddubbs

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Great Dictator (1940)

Historical context is paramount when discussing Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. The year is 1940, and although the United States was just one year away from joining World War II, the country was still technically "at peace" with Germany. And yet, Charlie Chaplin took no notice and promptly made every effort to mock Adolf Hitler in his film.

Internationally known as one of the biggest stars in the silent film era, Chaplin undertook his first speaking role in The Great Dictator, a film in which he wrote, directed, produced and starred. Chaplin was actually born in South London, but he filmed the movie in the U.S., where it was subsequently released. And though he indeed looks the part -- there is no Jewish ancestry in Chaplin's background.

Anyway, in the film, Chaplin portrays two characters: Adenoid Hynkel -- an obvious satire of the unruly dictator himself -- and an unnamed Jew, who starts as a soldier fighting for the Central Powers, and then, back home, is a barber. He simply goes by the name, the Barber. Chaplin plays both characters because the Barber is meant to be Hynkel's doppelganger; he looks exactly like him, but could not act more differently.

The film begins with the Barber during warfare. During this sequence, and throughout the rest of this movie, Chaplin employs his special brand of slapstick humor. Though this special type of comedy may not appeal to all, Chaplin is masterful at it, and even speeds up the filming during some scenes to make his character -- already ditzy and clumsy -- look even moreso. He soon finds his ticket out of the war when he stumbles upon an officer, Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner), who is in danger. The Barber hops in Schultz's plane, and flies it out of enemy territory, eventually crash-landing it and requiring medical attention for the both of them.

And then, we meet Hynkel. Whereas Hitler has an intimidating, commanding presence, Hynkel is the opposite. He is small, wimpy, and rather dumb. One humorous scene revolves around Hynkel occupying himself in his office by using every part of his body to keep a balloon-globe afloat. Undoubtedly, Chaplin -- adverse to the real life Hitler -- did not bother holding back in his belittling and satirical depiction..

While Hynkel is evil and malicious and ill-hearted, The Barber is warm and kind and good-natured. But upon his return to his barbershop, located in the Jewish ghetto, he is constantly targeted by German soldiers for prejudice. They beat him, and spray racial slurs on his shop, which eventually forces him into hiding. But before that, he befriends a fellow Jewish woman, Hannah, a sweet, idealistic and self-sufficient women who becomes the Barber's romantic interest. Hannah, portrayed by Paulette Goddard, was Chaplin's wife at the time, but the pair would divorce shortly thereafter in 1942.

Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel
The Barber is momentarily redeemed when he once again runs into Commander Schultz, who recognizes him as his rescuer from the war, and consequently issues direct orders that the Barber should not be harmed. This eventually leads to a treason charge of Schultz for befriending and aiding Jews, and he is forced to go into hiding with the Barber and eventually Hannah.

Meanwhile, not only does the film mock Hitler, but Benito Mussolini as well. Depicted as Benzino Napaloni (Jackie Oates), the fellow dictator joins Hynkel at one point to discuss foreign policy. Though the two try to employ psychological warfare upon each other, the end result is a hysterical food fight between the two leaders.

More hilarity ensues as the Barber remains in hiding with Hannah, Schultz, and other Jewish comrades who, prior to the war, held prominent positions in the world. The group decides to conspire to take down Hynkel, and end things once and for all, but humorously cannot decide who the one person will be to do it. Eventually, the plan is foiled when the Barber and Schultz are captured, and Hannah and the rest of the group escape to Osterlich (a fictional depiction of Auschwitz).

Again, I stated earlier that though the film is a satire, it is not a pure comedy. Contrarily so, the movie truly makes the viewer run the emotional gauntlet. At times you will find yourself laughing out loud, at times you will find yourself angry at the irrational displays of prejudice, and you will find yourself warmed by the innocent moments of affection between the Barber and Hannah.

Chaplin, as the Barber, with Paulette Goddard.
But, you knew that the Barber and Hynkel were doppelgangers for a reason, and eventually, the German military confuses the two. As a result, the Barber, who everyone thinks is Hynkel, is pushed to a podium to give a speech while standing in front of not only the entire German military -- but thousands upon thousands of German countrymen.

What follows is arguably one of the most important moments to ever occur in the history of film. The Barber, who is no longer the Barber anymore, but Charlie Chaplin himself, stares directly into the camera and delivers a speech that every human being needs to hear at some point in their lives. His minutes-long speech is a direct commentary on human behavior during his time period -- which was amidst warfare -- and his words could not be more relevant, even to this day. He preaches for the goodness of our race, and reminds everybody of what we all ought to be. Quoting the speech would not even due it justice, and thus, I will link to it here.  Would it take away the payoff by watching the speech before watching the entire film? Perhaps -- but it certainly wouldn't spoil the movie for you.

During a time of deepest uncertainty in the world, Chaplin courageously stepped forward and risked everything to give his insight into the state of the world. He mocked one of the most powerful figures at the height of his reign, and did not fear the repercussions. Chapin himself was investigated for Communism during points of his life, and he even requested that the film be pulled from theaters during the height of the war.

Allegedly, an escapee from Germany who worked in the Ministry of Culture, told Chaplin that Hitler privately screened The Great Dictator two times. Said Chaplin in response, "I'd give anything to know what he thought of it."

So would I. Very much so.

~ Review by Ddubbs

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Man on a Ledge (2012)

The title "Man on a Ledge," could not be more literal. A mere three minutes in, the film's main character, Nick Cassidy -- portrayed by Sam Worthington -- steps out of a New York City hotel window and onto the ledge. Had he jumped off right then and there, he may have saved the viewer an hour and a half of over-convoluted plot twists, cheesy dialogue and an overabundance of characters.

But, he doesn't jump. Instead, he balances himself on the ledge, forty floors up from the ground, and watches as national attention comes his way within minutes. Thinking he's on the verge of committing suicide, the New York City Police calls in its negotiator team, led by Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) to try to talk him out of it.

Nick, however, is not a suicidal maniac. We learn that he is a former cop who was arrested after he was found guilty of stealing a $40 million diamond from businessman David Englander (Ed Harris.) Nick maintained his innocence, alleging that Englander employed policeman to frame Englander, and accomplished so by knocking him unconscious and placing the diamond on him. Englander's motivation would have been to collect the insurance money that he lost in the economic collapse.

Since nobody believed his story, Nick decided to take drastic action by escaping prison while granted a leave to attend his father's funeral. He eludes the supervision of his guards, but not after being involved in a fight with his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell). From then, he decided to get his story out to the world by standing on a ledge as a means to attract attention. However, his intentions are twofold; we soon learn that across the street, Joey and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are attempting to break into Englander's vault to find the diamond and prove Nick's innocence -- and that's just in the film's first 25 minutes.

Unwilling to speak to Dougherty, Nick personally requests a different negotiator named Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) who is seeking her own personal redemption. Just recently, her attempt to inhibit a potential jumper was unsuccessful, and she's been unable to sleep ever since. Supervising both Mercer and Dougherty is Dante Marcus (Titus Welliver) who tries to keep the entire situation under control, as crowds of people, including media, swarm the surrounding areas to watch the developing scene.

Sam Worthington on a ledge.
From then on, we get a cluster of different scenes, ranging from Nick's interactions with Mercer, Englander talking with his associates, shots of the crowd at the base of the building, and Joey and Angie pulling off an Entrapment/Ocean's 11-like heist as they make their way through a building en route to Englander's vault to retrieve the diamond and prove Nick's innocence. Their elaborate maneuvers involve wires, ropes, bungee cords, explosives and other tricks, which amazingly occur flawlessly even though we are given every impression that Joey is a lifelong loser and Angie is an airhead. But by far the most captivating part of the film occurs during this sequence -- when Angie changes into a tight jumpsuit, showcasing her impressively sculpted body in underwear. That scene alone is probably more interesting than the rest of the film combined.

Oh and there's one more character -- Nick's former partner Mike Ackerman (Anthony Mackie), who we quickly learn was probably not as loyal to Nick as previously believed.

The first 45 minutes or so of Man on a Ledge are bearable. While perched on the ledge, the film does a decent job developing Nick's back story, slowly informing us why he is on the ledge to begin with. But as the film progresses, too many characters are developed and the film loses its way.

Just when you are waiting for the payoff at the film's conclusion, wondering how exactly it will end, the sequence of events that materialize are almost laughable. To describe it in a word, it's a mess. Englander, who is supposed to be this brilliant, savvy businessman, makes folly after folly that ultimately leads to his demise.

But the movie puts all of it's money on a gimmick. Worthington's character spend practically all of his screen time on a ledge. To film this, director Asger Leth never shows both Worthington and the crowd hundreds of feet below in the same shot. Occasionally, we get shots from street-level that show us a man standing on a ledge, which is obviously a stuntman.

Since the movie contains so many characters, and tries to compact a convoluted storyline into a 90-minute film, I can at least vouch that Man on a Ledge never really has any lull throughout. However, I still think all parties would have been better served if Worthington's presence on the ledge lasted five minutes -- and not 90.

~ Review by Ddubbs