The League (2008, Kyle Higgins)

A lot about The League is impressive. The filmmakers do a good job creating a stylized 1960s Chicago on a very low budget–director Higgins has some great overhead shots where they change the light saturation to hide it being modern cars on the streets below–and there's a definite attention to detail for most of the scenes.

The short concerns teenage superhero sidekick grown up and investigating a series of murders. Higgins and co-writer Alec Siegel do a decent job plotting out the first half of the short, with Paul Papadakis's masked protagonist playing gumshoe, but everything falls apart once the mystery's solved.

Higgins has problems directing actors (and fight scenes). Papadakis and Reginald James are all right, but Rick Cramer has some really weak moments and lots of screen time.

The League's often impressively produced, but those production values can't overcome Higgins's inability to create tension and the narrative deficiencies.

1/3Not Recommended


Directed by Kyle Higgins; written by Higgins and Alex Siegel; director of photography, Andrew Davis; edited by Dylan Highsmith; music by Joe Clark; production designer, Dorothy Street; produced by Michael Campbell, Wickyladyslaw Czerski and Robin Phillips.

Starring Paul Papadakis (The Wraith), Rick Cramer (The Grey Raven), Reginald James (Blaze), Camden Toy (Nicolai Lennin), Karl Herlinger (Eclipse), David Nett (Vibro) and Andrew Hilyard (Sparrow).

The Business of Being Born (2008, Abby Epstein)

Watching The Business of Being Born, one has to wonder about the structure. It starts as an investigation into the way hospitals deliver babies in the United States (the responsibility is not entirely with the hospital, of course; the film opens discussing Manhattan mothers scheduling their cesarean sections). But the narrative changes course once director Epstein discovers she’s pregnant.

This development comes about halfway through the film, which ends soon after Epstein delivers. Given she’s not the subject of the documentary, it’s surprising how much of her private moments she includes. One’s never seen Michael Moore with his shirt off (I hope). But in the final few scenes, Epstein talks about working on the film and it suggests it may have gone somewhere quite different if she weren’t, you know, taking care of a baby.

So there are two films here. One is an inspiring, enthusiastic look at the connection between mother and child. It’s beautiful. Great music from Jason Moss and Andre Pluess–just a lovely experience.

But the film Epstein doesn’t finish is a lot more… useful. The startling rate of cesarean sections in the United States is something even the OB/GYNs interviewed for the film are mortified over. These same OB/GYNs dismiss the idea of midwifery and home births, which are statistically (taking the cesarean into account) safer.

The film is definitely worth seeing (even with an awkward, disconnected epilogue).

One has to wonder, however, if executive producer Ricki Lake affected her quirky hat obsession.



Directed by Abby Epstein; director of photography, Paulo Netto; edited by Madeleine Gavin; music by Jason Moss and Andre Pluess; produced by Epstein, Netto and Amy Slotnick; released by Red Envelope Entertainment.

Featuring Abby Epstein (Filmmaker), Paulo Netto (Abby’s Boyfriend and Filmmaker), Tina Cassidy (Journalist and Author of Birth), Robbie Davis-Floyd (Medical Anthropologist), Ina May Gaskin (Midwife), Nadine Goodman (Public Health Specialist), La Juana Huebner (Parent), Gregor Huebner (Parent), Cara Muhlhahn (Certified Nurse Midwife), Michel Odent (OB/GYN and Researcher), Mayra Vazquez (Parent), David Radzinski (Parent), Catherine Tanksley (Midwife), Julia Barnett Tracy (Parent), Van Tracy (Parent) and Ricki Lake (Actress and Producer).

Role Models (2008, David Wain), the unrated version

Role Models is shockingly good. It fuses the inappropriately blunt comedy genre with a listless thirties white men growing up genre. The result is a constantly funny film–I mean, it’s Seann William Scott swearing at kids… from the two minute mark–with a solid emotional core. And it’s never artificial.

Scott isn’t the lead (though he gets top billing), rather Paul Rudd. Rudd plays a miserable thirty-something, depressed over the lack of substance in his life (of course, he’s ignoring having a grown-up relationship with lawyer girlfriend Elizabeth Banks), who lands he and Scott in trouble.

Their punishment? A Big Brother program.

The film overcomes its occasional contrivances–besides Banks being a lawyer to represent Rudd and Scott, the midsection has a painful juxtaposition of both men realizing they aren’t being the best Big Brothers they could be. But Wain, whose strength as a director is making the absurdities wholly believable, keeps the sequence going until it works.

Scott is hilarious–he’s playing his American Pie role aged–but Rudd makes the film. He doesn’t worry about being appealing, since Scott fills that function, instead selling the character’s developing self-awareness.

As their charges, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb’e J. Thompson are both good. Mintz-Plasse probably gives a better performance, but Thompson is funnier.

Banks is solid too, grounding the film.

The supporting cast is excellent, Jane Lynch and Ken Marino in particular. Especially Lynch.

Role Models is earnest and thoughtful. It’s a fantastic grown-up comedy.



Directed by David Wain; screenplay by Paul Rudd, Wain, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling, based on a story by Dowling and W. Blake Herron; director of photography, Russ T. Alsobrook; edited by Eric Kissack; music by Craig Wedren; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Luke Greenfield, Mary Parent and Scott Stuber; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Danny), Seann William Scott (Wheeler), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Ronnie), Jane Lynch (Sweeny), Elizabeth Banks (Beth), Ken Jeong (King Argotron), Joe Lo Truglio (Kuzzik), Ken Marino (Jim Stansel), Kerri Kenney (Lynette), A.D. Miles (Martin), Matt Walsh (Davith of Glencracken), Nicole Randall Johnson (Karen), Alexandra Stamler (Esplen), Carly Craig (Connie), Jessica Morris (Linda the Teacher) and Vincent Martella (Artonius).

Blindness (2008, Fernando Meirelles)

Maybe there’s a longer version of Blindness where they explain what happens to all the cast members who fall away from the film. Or what happens to them while the film’s busy on other stuff—like Danny Glover, who disappears for a large portion of the film, only to return in an integral part at the end.

Poor Mpho Koaho ingloriously disappears after being in the film from the first few minutes. I guess it’s all right—Glover’s good, Koaho isn’t. The film, which is in an unnamed city (which looks suspiciously Canadian—it filmed in Toronto), has some vague bureaucracy at the beginning (again, it seems very Canadian) but it soon descends into a weak Lord of the Flies with the blind instead of stranded kids. Leader of the bad guys are Gael García Bernal and Maury Chaykin. All the other bad guys, we later learn, as Hispanic males. All the good guys (the men, at least)… white or black. I’m not sure if the filmmakers realized it.

Bernal is laughably bad. Chaykin is at least mildly competent.

The lead is ostensibly Julianne Moore, the only seeing person in the world of the blind. Screenwriter Don McKellar (seemingly intentionally) writes in caricatures and makes Moore’s character ludicrously passive.

Due to McKellar’s weak writing, second-billed Mark Ruffalo gives a mediocre performance. Alice Braga is okay; the best performance is easily Kimura Yoshino.

Meirelles’s direction is unimpressive and obvious, like the film itself….

It’s not terrible, just pointless and boring.



Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Don McKellar, based on a novel by José Saramago; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Daniel Rezende; music by Marco Antônio Guimarães; production designers, Matthew Davies and Tulé Peak; produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Niv Fichman and Sonoko Sakai; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Julianne Moore (Doctor’s Wife), Mark Ruffalo (Doctor), Danny Glover (Man with Black Eye Patch), Gael García Bernal (King of Ward 3), Maury Chaykin (Accountant), Alice Braga (Woman with Dark Glasses), Mpho Koaho (Pharmacist’s Assistant), Iseya Yûsuke (First Blind Man), Kimura Yoshino (First Blind Man’s Wife), Mitchell Nye (Boy) and Don McKellar (Thief).

Factory Farmed (2008, Gareth Edwards)

Factory Farmed is a great example of how digital video has made it possible for anyone to put together something great looking without actually having the previously requisite levels of talent. It’s a harsh statement—and I actually would rather have made some comment about auteur Edwards assuming everyone cares about his silly sci-fi premise (it reminds a little of Screamers in more ways than one, with no credit). Edwards does fine composition. His editing and camerawork, however, are weak.

The short looks fine—pointless, but fine—whenever Edwards is shooting a static shot. His lone actor roams around the countryside, searching for someone or something, walking across and through frames. Daniel Pemberton’s score is excellent. The whole thing gives the impression of being weighty and profound.

Then Edwards tracks the camera and it’s amateurish.

It’s a shockingly long five minutes. I got bored after a minute twenty.

1/3Not Recommended


Written, directed, edited and photographed by Gareth Edwards; music by Daniel Pemberton; produced by Zoe Eilliot.

Starring Jacob Court and Allen Leech.

The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier), the extended version

After seeing The Incredible Hulk in theater, I knew a couple things. First, I knew the extended version–the one Edward Norton fought for, that fight costing him the role in future productions–would be better than the theatrical release. Second, I knew its release would be contingent on Norton’s future involvement with the franchise.

So, something of catch-22.

Luckily, there’s an Internet.

The extended version of Hulk runs about thirty minutes longer. It still has the problems the theatrical version does–for example, the big long fight scene at the end is a terrible way to end a movie about three people coming to terms with their actions (Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt)–especially when you take into account it boils down to Hurt not liking his daughter’s boyfriend. Simplest is often best and Hulk does get there.

What the extended version improves is everything until that finale. It fleshes out characters–continuing the distilled reading, Norton’s nemesis becomes Ty Burrell (Tyler’s jealous boyfriend), instead of Tim Roth’s creepy but ultimately goofy aging career soldier.

Norton and Tyler–whose relationship anchors the entire film, theatrical cut or extended–becomes even more compelling, the film taking its time with them.

Unfortunately, the added character development makes Hulk‘s competing intentions clash even more. Making a simplistic summer blockbuster out of a tragedy doesn’t work.

Still, the extended version’s a significant improvement. And if Norton and Leterrier ever did get to do a professional revision… I imagine it’d be incredible.



Directed by Louis Leterrier; screenplay by Zak Penn and Edward Norton, based on a story by Penn and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Rick Shane, John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky), William Hurt (General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross), Tim Blake Nelson (Samuel Sterns), Ty Burrell (Leonard), Christina Cabot (Major Kathleen Sparr), Peter Mensah (General Joe Greller), Lou Ferrigno (Security Guard) and Paul Soles (Stanley).


Speed Racer (2008, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I may be a little naive, but I think one of the aspects of adapting materials between mediums is to encourage (or at least tacitly imply) someone to look at the original material. I find it particularly odd in the case of Speed Racer. Being somewhat aware of the cartoon but never having seen it, I’ve now formed the opinion–just based on the film–it’s for six year olds and anyone older than six years of age watching the cartoon is a little slow. The Wachowskis’ adaptation suggests there isn’t a single intelligent thing in the source, something their insanely bad, outrageously expensive adaptation gleefully amplifies.

The film is aimed at an audience of adults–it’s not aimed at NASCAR fans, simply because it gives the appearance of being high brow (but couldn’t be further from)–but adults who think the things they liked at age six are good. Not realizing a six year old might not make the best cinematic or literary recommendations.

Still, the film is so unbearably bad–the green screen shooting (there are very few real sets) looks terrible–I find it hard to believe the film has supporters, but I know it does… I’ve read positive reviews. Though such reviewers must be driving to work in a gift from Warner Bros….

I do have one positive observation to make about the film. The casting of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. While their performances are awful, their makeup is very successful.

Otherwise, it’s indescribably bad.



Directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; screenplay by the Wachowskis, based on a manga and an anime by Yoshida Tatsuo; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Zach Staenberg and Roger Barton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by the Wachowskis, Joel Silver and Grant Hill; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer), Christina Ricci (Trixie), John Goodman (Pops Racer), Susan Sarandon (Mom Racer), Paulie Litt (Spritle), Roger Allam (Royalton), Rain (Taejo Togokhan) and Matthew Fox (Racer X).

Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone), the director’s cut

I just went back and reread my response to the theatrical release of Rambo. I haven’t seen it since the theater and, while I could pick out some added scenes (Stallone’s director’s cut, titled John Rambo, runs about ten minutes longer), I couldn’t remember if my problems with the director’s cut are the same as my problems with the theatrical.

They are not. Not entirely.

Stallone’s director’s cut is much more thoughtful. It raises these great human contradictions–for example, a pastor hiring mercenaries to kill brown people to save his white people, white people captured while trying to stop brown people from getting killed.

Rambo‘s still incredibly problematic–this cut doesn’t fix the ludicrously unearned and unexplained end–and raising questions is far better than trying to answer them.

This time through–and this cut through–Stallone’s treatment of the Christian missionaries is, while I’m sure it’s unintentional, rather damning. Julie Benz’s character is a good fundamentalist Christian woman who uses sex (the idea, not the act) to bewitch Stallone. This development is new to this version. Maybe in the spinoff, Benz will run for vice president.

It makes Stallone’s Rambo pathetically attached to this woman who abandons him for her tool of a fiancée (John Schulze).

Most interesting, reading my first response, is the idea Stallone portrays Rambo as an animal thrilled at killing. He doesn’t in this cut. He gives Rambo a soul the whole time, not making him earn it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve the movie.



Directed by Sylvester Stallone; screenplay by Art Monterastelli and Stallone, based on a character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Sean Albertson; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo), Julie Benz (Sarah), Paul Schulze (Burnett), Matthew Marsden (School Boy), Graham McTavish (Lewis) and Tim Kang (En-Joo).

I Come with the Rain (2008, Tran Ang Hung)

I Come with the Rain is a strange one. I doubt I can even give away how weird without spoiling the… surprise (it’s one of the two surprises to take the problematic but brilliantly made–not shot, bad DV–picture into the dumps). But there’s enough weirdness without spoiling.

First and foremost… the movie’s in English. There’s no reason people can’t speak Chinese to each other and English to top-billed Josh Hartnett. I’m trying to figure out what Hartnett’s doing in this one. I mean, I know Tran’s a well-respected director and Hartnett probably wanted to see Hong Kong and the Philippines, but those aren’t convincing arguments. He does get a couple good monologues and his scenes with Elias Koteas (how did no one realize he’d make a great serial killer before?) are something to see. They’re… singular.

That element of the film, the serial killer investigation trauma, is like Tran decided to make a Manhunter sequel–Manhunter goes to Hong Kong. The Manhunter comparisons go far–down to certain physical realizations of Blake-like painting subjects.

But the movie really belongs to Tran Nu Yên-Khê and Lee Byung-hun. It’s about their relationship, he the vicious gangster, she the heroin addict with the heart of gold. Kimura Takuya has a role about as big as Hartnett’s, but really doesn’t… it’s hard to explain how Kimura works in this one.

Fundamentally, I think Tran’s just got pretentious intentions and can’t lucidly pull them off.

Great music though.



Written and directed by Tran Ang Hung; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Mario Battistel; music by Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Benoît Barouh; produced by Jean Cazes, Jean-Pierre Marois and Fernando Sulichin; released by TF1 International.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Kline), Tran Nu Yên-Khê (Lili), Lee Byung-hun (Su Dongpo), Kimura Takuya (Shitao), Shawn Yue (Meng Zi), Elias Koteas (Hasford) and Eusebio Poncela (Vargas).

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008, Edward Neumeier)

I love this movie. Seriously. Not just because it features the most idiotically jingoistic song since Grease 2‘s “Do It For Our Country.” There’s a fair amount of political commentary (instead of going for the easy Bush jugular, Neumeier’s a lot more complicated, particularly when it comes to how religion is sellable as war propaganda) and a lot of good acting.

However, I hate Neumeier a little for wasting the finest performance Casper Van Dien is, likely, ever going to give. The movie follows Jolene Blalock (who’s awful at the start, but then turns good when the film enters its second act–Marauder‘s so shockingly well-plotted, I can’t believe they didn’t give it a limited theatrical… it’s an actual sequel to Starship Troopers, not a direct-to-video continuation) at the expense of Van Dien and it’s not right. Sure, Blalock’s got a romance with Boris Kodjoe (also way too good considering) and a personal discovery storyline, but Van Dien’s actually really good. It’s a tragedy his… yes, I’m going to say it… ability is wasted.

Unfortunately, besides those three–and Stephen Hogan, who’s fantastic–the supporting cast is pretty weak. At times, with the reasonable CG and the competent if unspectacular direction and good script, it feels like Marauder is a “real” movie… until the supporting cast speaks. Marnette Patterson and Cécile Breccia are both, sadly, laughable. I just wish they’d been able to get solider actors.

But again, I love this movie. It’s an unbelievable success.



Directed by Edward Neumeier; screenplay by Neumeier, based on a novel by Robert A. Heinlein; director of photography, Lorenzo Senatore; edited by Michael John Bateman; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Sylvain Gingras; produced by David Lancaster; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring Casper Van Dien (Colonel Johnny Rico), Jolene Blalock (Captain Lola Beck), Stephen Hogan (Sky Marshal Omar Anoke), Boris Kodjoe (Gen. Dix Hauser), Amanda Donohoe (Admiral Enolo Phid), Marnette Patterson (Holly Little), Danny Keogh (Dr. Wiggs), Stelio Savante (Chief Bull Brittles), Cécile Breccia (Lt. Link Manion) and Garth Breytenbach (Pvt. Slug Skinner).

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