First Look International

Thick as Thieves (2009, Mimi Leder)

Maybe ten years ago, Thick as Thieves wouldn’t be a direct-to-DVD release (it’s actually a hit, which is kind of scary). Ten years ago, Mimi Leder hadn’t bombed out with Pay It Forward, Antonio Banderas movies–most of them–were still opening in theaters. Morgan Freeman usually gets even a limited release out of his more vanity projects.

But Thick as Thieves (or The Code, the also inexplicable title for DVD) isn’t a vanity project. It’s an attempt at a heist movie with a couple film personalities in it, putting it in the same sub-genre as films like Desperate Measures and, I don’t know, something else with Andy Garcia in it after it was clear he wasn’t going to break through.

Leder’s a terrible director. She was always bad–her positive buzz was based entirely, as I recall, on her “ER” experience–but now she does fast-forwarded shots and all sorts of other malarky for a movie with seventy-two year-old Freeman and forty-nine year-old Banderas. The film doesn’t acknowledge their ages, but since one is supposed to watch it with them in mind as actors not characters, it’s inevitable.

The script’s dumb. Ted Humphrey’s script’s desperate for flavor and has none.

The acting’s fine. Freeman is solid (is he ever bad? I didn’t see those Ashley Judd movies), Banderas is fine. Radha Mitchell is okay. Rade Serbedzija and Robert Forster both pretend they’re in a real movie.

Still, an inoffensive time killer.



Directed by Mimi Leder; written by Ted Humphrey; director of photography, Julio Macat; edited by Martin Nicholson; music by Atli Örvarsson; production designer, Nelson Coates; produced by Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Johnny Martin, Lori McCreary and Les Weldon; released by First Look International.

Starring Morgan Freeman (Keith Ripley), Antonio Banderas (Gabriel Martin), Radha Mitchell (Alexandra Korolenko), Robert Forster (Weber) and Rade Serbedzija (Nicky).

Guy X (2005, Saul Metzstein)

No studio picked up Guy X for a theatrical release. I kept seeing it in Jason Biggs’s filmography, kept waiting for it to show up in a theater and it never did. I assumed the worst from the lack of theatrical release–not to mention thinking Mena Suvari was in the film (it’s Natascha McElhone). After seeing it–actually, maybe halfway into it–I realized why there was no theatrical release. It’d be impossible to sell. Guy X is an epical story masquerading as a character study. Most of the epical narrative developments occur off screen. There are no gripping, tense moments. It’s not even subtle. It’s disinterested in the viewer’s expectation. I’m guessing it’s either a good adaptation of the novel or there’s a lot on the editing room floor.

The plot–Jason Biggs is mistakenly sent to a remote Army base in Greenland (instead of Hawaii) and encounters a strange set of characters, an alluring young woman (McElhone) and a nutty colonel (a great Jeremy Northam)–is kind of simple and kind of not. Guy X could easily be a M*A*S*H knock-off–it does feel a bit like the show anyway–but it’s not. It kind of reminded me of Antarctic Journal, a film no one involved with Guy X could have seen (unless they visited the future). Guy X has lots of scenes of isolation–Biggs is frequently alone in the film, with the supporting cast often less salient than the scenery–but that theme isn’t the prevailing one… but I don’t know what is then.

There is lots of comedy, sometimes easy, sometimes not. There’s a scene with the soldiers watching the same movie they’ve seen week after week, reciting the lines in unison and it’s funny, but there’s something else to it. There’s romance–the film wastes no time establishing the attraction between Biggs and McElhone and the actors do a fantastic job. But then there’s also the big story line, the important one, and the film handles it in a particular manner. It’s hard to explain but basically, the film never explains why Biggs does what he does and, more singularly, it never applauds him for his actions. There’s no payoff for the viewer.

Biggs, whose career has gotten depressing to the point I don’t even want to look on IMDb (but I am and ouch, why has Woody abandoned him), is great. It’s a non-comedic leading man role from him, something I kind of wasn’t expecting. He’s fantastic–especially given he’s got to make the character, a relative enigma, work with all sorts of mild revelations. McElhone is good too. Much of the film depends on their chemistry and they excel.

The supporting cast is all strong. Northam’s playing an American here, great job. Michael Ironside’s great. In the flashiest role, Sean Tucker does a fine job.

Saul Metzstein hasn’t directed much but he does a wonderful job. There’s the wide aspect of the always light Greenland landscape contrasted with the confined Army base–then even more confined when everything goes dark. At times, he reminded me of Lars Von Trier, though I don’t know why… something about the handling of space. François Dagenais’s cinematography and the music–by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Charlie Mole–are also essential components.

As the film ended, I wondered if I was giving it too much credit or too little. I decided on too little. (It’s gotten to the point I can’t believe it when recent films are actually good).



Directed by Saul Metzstein; screenplay by Steve Attridge and John Paul Chapple, based on a novel by John Griesemer; director of photography, François Dagenais; edited by Anne Sopel; music by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Charlie Mole; production designer, Mike Gunn; produced by Mike Downey, Jason Piette and Sam Taylor; released by First Look International.

Starring Jason Biggs (Rudy), Natascha McElhone (Irene), Jeremy Northam (Woolwrap), Sean Tucker (Lavone), Hilmir Snær Guðnason (Petri), Harry Standjofski (Chaplain Brank), Rob deLeeuw (Slim), Donny Falsetti (Genteen), Jonathan Higgins (Vord) and Michael Ironside (Guy X).

Quicksand (2003, John Mackenzie)

Most of Quicksand plays like a multi-national mystery from the 1970s, filled with familiar faces (or a few familiar faces anyway). About three-quarters of it, approximately. There’s good and bad stuff in those seventy minutes. Michael Keaton’s excellent, which isn’t surprising. Michael Caine shows up for what appears to be a small role (it gets bigger later) and has a fun time. He’s playing a washed up action star who’s too busy drinking and gambling to realize his career’s over. Kathleen Wilhoite and Xander Berkeley also have small roles–the plot moves Keaton from New York to the south of France for the dramatics and, presumably, cheaper location shooting–and both are great. There’s also Rade Serbedzija, in an unfortunately mediocre role. He’s fine, but it’s just a lame character. Unfortunately, the female lead–Judith Godrèche–cannot emote while speaking English. It’s obvious the first time she tries and, after that scene, she always has tears (Visine?) to show she’s upset.

But something happens once Caine becomes more integral to the plot. Quicksand all of a sudden gets neat. The script is very standard thriller fare and, in most ways, the resolution isn’t Archimedes hopping out of the tub, but it’s well-constructed and works.

In the last fourth (maybe third, I didn’t time the end credits), Berkeley gets a much bigger role–Quicksand might be one of his best performances and, given what a solid actor he is, it’s saying something. It’s a simple role–the friend–and he does it perfectly. Godrèche doesn’t really get any better, but the plot requires different things from her and she becomes more appealing.

When the film closes, it’s on a strange uptick, like it took a short cut to an ending it didn’t quite “earn,” but maybe getting to those places and getting a pass on the question means it did.

It’s not a particularly compelling mystery and Mackenzie somehow makes the south of France boring, so I spent a lot of time bemoaning the lack of more Keaton films. (Someone thought, at some point in production, the film was going to get a theatrical release, because they spent money on the casting agency). And then it gradually improves after a point, going from a standard thriller (which seem consigned to direct-to-DVD these days) to a moderately pleasant surprise.



Directed by John Mackenzie; screenplay and screen story by Timothy Prager, based on a novel by Desmond Lowden; director of photography, Walter McGill; edited by Graham Walker; music by Hal Lindes and Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Jon Bunker; produced by Jim Reeve; released by First Look International.

Starring Michael Keaton (Martin Raikes), Michael Caine (Jake Mellows), Judith Godrèche (Lela Forin), Rade Serbedzija (Oleg Butraskaya), Matthew Marsh (Michel Cote), Xander Berkeley (Joey Patterson), Kathleen Wilhoite (Beth Ann), Rachel Ferjani (Rachel), Elina Löwensohn (Vannessa), Clare Thomas (Emma) and Hermione Norris (Sarah).

The Dead Girl (2006, Karen Moncrieff)

I had assumed, just because of the large cast, a Nashville approach for this film. However, frighteningly, I think it might have been inspired by Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity (the film, not the short story collection). The stories are all independent, more about their central characters than about the event tying them together, in this case, a dead girl. The stories range in quality from terrible to mediocre. Even if they’re mediocre, they don’t have a decent conclusion. The most interesting part of these stories is what is going to happen next. In fact, in most cases, the only important thing is what is going to happen next and the film makes no assumptions. In some ways, it creates unsolvable cliffhangers for the characters… baiting the viewer with an ominous promise (the possible killer, the suicide attempt) then delivering on nothing.

There are five stories. The first two are traditional romances. The third is an awful, dumb thriller, which creates an impossible situation then cheats its way out with the end of the section. The fourth has the most promise but only in terms of what happens immediately after the story ends and then at some point in the future in those characters’ stories. The last story, which finally gets around to revealing the dead girl, is terrible, but not the worst. The way Karen Moncrieff ends it, syrupy, tragic sweet… is an offense to the good work a lot of her actors put in.

The most amazing performance in the film is easily James Franco, just because he not only doesn’t suck, he’s actually really good. He’s in the second story with Rose Byrne (Byrne being the whole reason I had any interest in the film in the first place). She’s good, but her role’s so simple, it’d be hard for her not to be good. Other good performances include Marcia Gay Harden, Josh Brolin, and Giovanni Ribisi. Terrible, unspeakable ones… well, just Mary Steenburgen, who plays a stereotypical role (just like everyone else in the film except maybe Brolin and Ribisi) and does a really bad job of it. Kerry Washington’s good when she’s not doing her Mexican accent. I guess her eyes emote well. Mary Beth Hurt and Nick Searcy have the dumbest roles in the film and there’s really nothing for them to do with them.

The Dead Girl offers absolutely nothing new to… anything. It’s a useless film, filled with decent and good performances. Moncrieff’s an adequate director in parts, but usually not. There’s nothing distinctive about her composition (something I realized in the first five minutes, never a good sign). I guess her dialogue’s okay, but the film’s a bunch of Oprah episodes strung together, which might be fine if there were some artistry or competence involved.



Written and directed by Karen Moncrieff; director of photography, Michael Grady; edited by Toby Yates; music by Adam Gorgoni; produced by Eric Karten, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern; released by First Look International.

Starring Josh Brolin (Tarlow), Rose Byrne (Leah), Toni Collette (Arden), Bruce Davison (Bill), James Franco (Derek), Marcia Gay Harden (Melora), Mary Beth Hurt (Ruth), Piper Laurie (Arden’s Mother), Brittany Murphy (Krista), Giovanni Ribisi (Rudy), Nick Searcy (Carl), Mary Steenburgen (Beverly) and Kerry Washington (Rosetta).

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