Writer/Director: Joby Harold
Starring: Jessica Alba, Hayden Christensen, Terrence Howard
Go into this movie with no expectations at all. I almost guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. This is a hell of a debut for writer/director Joby Harold, who puts together this film with the feeling that he's directed many times before. Man, I really respect people who write and direct their own stuff. Anyway, in case you don't know, the movie is about Hayden Christensen's character who is supposed to be asleep during an operation he's having - but the anesthetic doesn't work. He's temporarily paralyzed, but can feel and think as if everything was completely normal. That's the basic premise. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you can stand a few hours of those surgical shows on TLC then you'll be fine. I liked this film a lot; it was intense when it should have been and the character development was great. In those aspects alone it reminded me of 1408 (which not everyone liked, but Awake isn't getting particularly good reviews either. Once again - go in with no expectations). I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers didn't try to throw us any supernatural curveballs or add anything mystical or maniacal in order to explain plot points or character's motivations for their actions. It was very logical, and that was a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with cliches and over-the-top cheap thrills and scare tactics. The movie was also unusually short - only an hour and eighteen minutes. That alone would be the only reason I'd maybe recommend this for home viewing. A lot of films are almost not worth seeing in the theater these days unless A) it's a movie that NEEDS to be seen on a big screen (ala Transformers) or B) you're one of those people that loves to watch movies regardless. I happen to fall into that latter category (and I'm sure a lot of you do as well), so as always I'll leave it to your discretion whether you should check it out now or wait a couple of months until the DVD drops. A small side note - I really like the poster for this movie. It reminds me a lot of the poster for The Prestige.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney
This one surprised me, too. I figured an 83-year-old director might not be exactly on top of his game, but I have to give Lumet some credit: he knows what he's doing. The guy has directed some classic movies in his time, including 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead definitely has that "independent" feel to it, eliciting fantastically intimate performances from every cast member. The leads in the movie were phenomenal; Hoffman and Hawke (sounds like a sweet law firm) should team up more often in these types of situations. They play brothers who are in some serious debt and decide to rob their own parent's "mom and pop" jewelry store. Naturally, they know the place inside and out since they've been around it all their lives, so they figure it's a win-win and nothing bad could happen. It'd be an incredibly boring movie if it was that easy, so after the robbery goes awry we realize that Marisa Tomei's character (naked for a good portion of the movie), who is married to P.S.H., is having an affair with the other brother, Ethan Hawke. Oh, how the plot thickens. From there it turns into a well crafted modern noir with a seventies flair, if that makes any sense to you. There's no smoky back alleys or black and white silhouettes, but a lot of the conventions of noir (desperation, recklessness, getting in deeper than you anticipated, etc.) come into play and make this really exciting to watch. As an audience, we also get the vibe that Lumet shot this movie the same way he would have shot it (stylistically) if he were shooting one of his famous masterpieces of the 60's or 70's. Everything technical about the movie was solid, but it was the acting that took this thing to that proverbial "next level." Interesting bit of trivia, though - while it may have the feel of a movie made thirty years ago, Lumet actually shot the whole thing on high definition video and thinks that celluloid (aka film) will be dead in five years, calling the process a "pain in the ass" when working with film over digital.
Albert Finney (the dad in Big Fish) was riveting as the broken father of the two brothers, and Rosemary Harris (Aunt May from the Spider-Man series) stepped in to play the mother. Even Marisa Tomei, who won a controversial Oscar for her performance in My Cousin Vinny, was great as the wife caught in the middle of the family. And as Joe so eloquently stated, she "sure has aged well." Well said, sir - I couldn't agree more. I haven't seen such intense performances since The Departed. Good luck trying to find this movie if you're interested in seeing it - we had to resort to a local independent theater in Gainesville to check it out. And aside from the opening sex scene, excessive language, cold blooded murder, and rampant drinking, this is the perfect movie for the kids as the holiday season approaches. Until next time...