Rosario Dawson

Trance (2013, Danny Boyle)

Trance is extremely cute. It’s sort of Hitchcockian, with James McAvoy actually playing the female role and Rosario Dawson the male. Director Boyle and screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge figure out some neat ways to change up expectations of that relationship along the way. Besides being a technical marvel, full of good performances, Trance’s most important feature might be its approach to gender roles.

The film opens as tough but fun heist picture. Boyle skips around the narrative, building toward a big reveal. Only Trance reveals its biggest twist about halfway through. The final revelations are significant, but they aren’t the MacGuffin. Boyle and the writers manage to move past the MacGuffin reveal into new territory. Some of it isn’t expected (there’s a little too much foreshadowing, but one could also just chalk it up to good acting).

Both McAvoy and Dawson are fantastic. She’s the better, just because she has a lot more to do. McAvoy just acts slightly crazy and lost as an amnesiac. Dawson’s got to hold it together as the shrink he goes to see. Meanwhile, Trance is also a crime movie, so small time crook Vincent Cassel is also in the picture.

Amazing photography from Anthony Dod Mantle (anyone who complains about lens flares needs to see this one), editing from Jon Harris and music from Rick Smith. The filmmaking is so strong, at some point I realized the conclusion barely mattered.

But Boyle’s got a good conclusion too. It’s rough and great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Jon Ahearne and John Hodge; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Jon Harris; music by Rick Smith; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Boyle and Christian Colson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring James McAvoy (Simon), Rosario Dawson (Elizabeth), Vincent Cassel (Franck), Danny Sapani (Nate), Matt Cross (Dominic), Wahab Sheikh (Riz) and Mark Poltimore (Francis Lemaitre).


Sidewalks of New York (2001, Edward Burns)

Sidewalks of New York is Edward Burns embracing the idea of becoming the WASP Woody Allen. Well, Burns is Irish Catholic, so not exactly the WASP Woody Allen… but something nearer to it than not. It’s his attempt at making a quintessential New York movie while being aware he’s making a quintessential New York movie.

And he partially succeeds. Even with one enormous—so enormous I’m tempted to call it ginormous (even if Oxford thinks it’s a word, I don’t)—problem, Sidewalks is a good film. It’s an extremely finished, safe film, but it’s a good one.

What’s so striking about the film is how comfortable Burns gets with his cast. It isn’t the traditional Burns cast—these aren’t Irish guys on Long Island, it’s a bunch of New Yorkers from the boroughs transplanted to Manhattan.

It’s somewhat anti-Manhattan, actually, even though every scene except one is set there.

The acting is all wonderful, particularly from Rosario Dawson (who, unfortunately, is victim of the ginormous problem), Brittany Murphy and David Krumholtz. Burns is good, but he really doesn’t give himself a big role. He usually lets Dennis Farina (who’s hilarious) overpower their scenes. Stanley Tucci is good, just giving an excellent Tucci performance. Heather Graham is sort of out of her league, sort of not. My favorite is when she can’t help laughing at Tucci.

In smaller roles, Michael Leydon Campbell, Nadja Dajani and Libby Langdon are excellent.

It’s Burns being unambitious and gloriously so—that statement’s a compliment.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi ; edited by David Greenwald; produced by Margot Bridger, Burns, Cathy Schulman and Rick Yorn; released by Paramount Classics.

Starring Edward Burns (Tommy), Rosario Dawson (Maria), Dennis Farina (Carpo), Heather Graham (Annie), David Krumholtz (Ben), Brittany Murphy (Ashley), Stanley Tucci (Griffin), Michael Leydon Campbell (Gio / Harry), Nadia Dajani (Hilary), Callie Thorne (Sue) and Libby Langdon (Make-up Girl).


Unstoppable (2010, Tony Scott)

It would go a little far to say Scott’s reinvented the disaster genre with Unstoppable, but he’s certainly reinvigorated it. He borrows from the traditional standards (the Irwin Allen is heaviest in the first act, when setting up innocent people–children no less–in peril), then a little from the revisionist standards (the Die Hard approach), while maintaining a brisk pace. The present action isn’t quite real time, but close to it.

Scott maintains his formula (solid composition if you can catch it–he cuts away from his shots every one and a half seconds) and it works out. He and cinematographer Ben Seresin construct a thoroughly acceptable action picture. But–even though Mark Bomback’s script waxes melodramatic for the protagonists’ ground situations–the movie really succeeds because of Denzel Washington.

Why Washington, maybe the most assured movie star of his generation, wastes his time with Scott films is inexplicable. His performance here is outstanding, whether it’s chewing or hopping from train car to train car. It’s so good, in fact, it hurts Chris Pine.

Pine does an okay job. Bomback’s script gives him a stupid backstory and continues it through the entire film instead of just setting him up and leaving him alone. Worst is when Jessy Schramm, as his wife, shows up. She probably has three lines and she’s absolutely godawful.

Great supporting turns from Rosario Dawson and Kevin Corrigan and an excellent score from Harry Gregson-Williams round it out.

It’s easily one of Scott’s strongest films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; written by Mark Bomback; director of photography, Ben Seresin; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Robert Duffy; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Julie Yorn, Scott, Mimi Rogers, Eric McLeod and Alex Young; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Denzel Washington (Frank), Chris Pine (Will), Rosario Dawson (Connie), Kevin Dunn (Galvin), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Werner), Lew Temple (Ned), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), T.J. Miller (Gilleece), Jessy Schram (Darcy) and David Warshofsky (Judd Stewart).


Wonder Woman (2009, Lauren Montgomery)

They really should have cast Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman. Never thought I’d be typing those words–even if it is just voice casting–but Dawson is so much better than Keri Russell, whose Wonder Woman comes off as dependent on Nathan Fillion’s male for everything down to pseudo-feminist banter. Russell’s voice defers and doesn’t suggest any authority–well, except the script also bestows Fillion’s character kung fu on par with the Amazonian goddesses (are they goddesses, it’s never clear), which confuses things even further.

But Wonder Woman is still pretty good, even if its sexual politics are all trite platitudes. The most honest moment comes at the end, when it’s suggested men, even acting under the best of circumstances, need to be coddled by women into believing they, men, are still capable of offering something to the “weaker” sex. It seems completely unintentional, since only a few scenes before the whole problem with the world is boiled down to warrior women stepping away from it. You know who should have written Wonder Woman–Lily Tomlin. Was she too busy? A Wonder Woman movie written by a feminist icon, one who’s had time to reflect on the movement… would have been spectacular. Instead they turned it into a… pardon the expression… neutered Disney movie.

Well, neutered but still with lots of killing, sexual innuendo and almost a curse word.

It’s a pleasant surprise to be sure, but would have been as a feminist reaction to the Disney Princess “franchise.”

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Michael Jelenic, based on a story by Gail Simone and Jelenic and the DC Comics character created by William M. Marston; edited by Rob Desales; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Keri Russell (Diana), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis), Marg Helgenberger (Hera), Oliver Platt (Hades), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), Julianne Grossman (Etta Candy), Vicki Lewis (Persephone) and David McCallum (Zeus).


Killshot (2008, John Madden)

It’s hard to say whether Killshot falls apart because of the filmmakers or because of the source material. Killshot changes its mind about what to deliver every three minutes. The script can’t decide on a main character–is it Mickey Rourke’s hit man or is it Diane Lane’s woman in distress or is it Thomas Jane’s estranged husband to the woman in distress.

Rourke’s great, playing a half Native American hit man. It’s implied there’s something more to the character than that description. But there isn’t.

Thomas Jane’s similarly great in a simple role. Killshot‘s filmmakers seem to intend for their scenes to be weighty; they aren’t. It’s not trite, but it is rote.

Diane Lane isn’t bad. She’s competent enough.

Gordon-Levitt, technically, delivers a good performance. But his character’s poorly written. He and Rourke’s relationship is inexplicable. Whenever the film tries to rationalize it, Killshot becomes silly. Maybe some of the worst scenes were cut (apparently, they cut out an entire character–Killshot runs ninety-five minutes).

Rosario Dawson plays Gordon-Levitt’s Elvis-obssessed girlfriend and she’s lousy. Hal Holbook and Tom McCamus show up for a scene each. They’re both good.

Lois Smith has a couple scenes in one of those small, useless Lois Smith roles.

Killshot looks like a Canadian production, providing Madden with a wonderful opportunity to comment on Hollywood North productions. He doesn’t.

Killshot isn’t entirely without qualities–Rourke and Jane. It’s at its best when it’s using either of them as the protagonist.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Madden; screenplay by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Mick Audsley and Lisa Gunning; music by Klaus Badelt; production designer, Andrew Jackness; produced by Lawrence Bender and Richard N. Gladstein; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Diane Lane (Carmen Colson), Mickey Rourke (Armand ‘The Blackbird’ Degas), Thomas Jane (Wayne Colson), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richie Nix), Rosario Dawson (Donna), Aldred Montoya (Lionel), Lois Smith (Lenore), Hal Holbrook (Papa) and Tom McCamus (Paul Scallen).


Ash Wednesday (2002, Edward Burns)

Burns must have cast Elijah Wood because of Lord of the Rings, figured his presence would boost Ash Wednesday‘s salability. At some point during filming, as Burns watched Wood’s useless, laughable, whiny performance… he must have regretted it. It’s not like the film’s only problem is Wood–far from it–but he’s just so terrible, so incompetent, the whole proposition becomes ludicrous when he appears.

And the appearance of his character is actually one of the film’s other primary problems. The first twenty-five minutes–save a useless prologue, probably only in there to get Wood on screen at the outset in order to satisfy that rabid Elijah Wood fan-base–are a solid, boring day in the life. Burns isn’t going for metaphor with the title, the film takes place on February 16, 1983. He’s playing a bar owner who goes about his morning, trying to get to church and stuck hearing about his brother (Wood)–supposedly deceased–back from the grave. He’s got good mobsters, bad mobsters and a priest pestering him. It’s a solid twenty-five minutes, because there’s no indication Wood’s still alive, and it’s just day-in-the-life and Burns does it well. I wonder if he distracted himself from Wood’s performance with the exquisite direction. He futzes with the focus for effect at times and it doesn’t work, but Ash Wednesday has some wonderful composition. It’s so good, one can forgive Burns his sepia filter, which he must have been using to give it the 1983 look. It doesn’t really work, but, again, it’s forgivable.

The problems with the script are a different matter. Burns’s protagonist is barely a character. The more people talk about him–the main source of information about the stoic, somber individual–the more difficult it becomes to reconcile Burns’s portrayal with the imagined personality. One of Burns’s greatest strengths as a writer-director-actor is his ability to write himself a good character. He’s not Marlon Brando–in most of his films, the flashier performances go to other actors–but here, he misfires. Presumably, the Wood role was supposed to be flashier, but instead it’s like a mob comedy–like that movie with Charles Grodin and Martin Short where Short plays a little kid–Wood is playing a tough guy.

There’s also an inherent problem with the genre. The Irish crime genre has almost no successes–all I can think of, recently, is The Departed. Almost every other notable one–I’m thinking primarily of State of Grace–is a disaster. Burns certainly doesn’t bring anything new to it, but there’s a potential to Ash Wednesday he doesn’t seem aware of.

If the film had been a day-in-the-life where Wood doesn’t show up until the last act (or not at all)–and Burns had written himself a better role–it would have been something interesting… a character drama set in a crime-friendly environment. Would have been solid.

It’s just a shame such good direction–and such a good cast (Oliver Platt, James Handy, Peter Gerety)–got wasted on such a poor effort. David Shire’s music too. It’s a simple, repetitive piano score. Boring, like the entire movie should have been.

Still, without Wood, it would have at least been passable… though Rosario Dawson doesn’t have an ounce of chemistry with anyone in the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by David Greenwald; music by David Shire; production designer, Susan Block; produced by Margot Bridger and Burns; released by Focus Features.

Starring Edward Burns (Francis Sullivan), Elijah Wood (Sean Sullivan), Rosario Dawson (Grace Quinonez), Oliver Platt (Moran), Pat McNamara (Murph), James Handy (Father Mahoney), Michael Mulheren (Pulaski), Malachy McCourty (Whitey) and Peter Gerety (Uncle Handy).


Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino), the extended version

The funny thing about Death Proof is the first half is excellent. With the exception of Sydney Poitier, who is awful, it’s a fantastic hour. Tarantino’s got great editing, great shots, great mood, great conversations, great everything. I had planned on going on and on about it–like, for example, how charming and scary Kurt Russell’s performance is–it’s kind of like he’s playing Elvis again. Or Vanessa Ferlito, who’s excellent. Even how Tarantino really made the retro concept work, with the music and the sound design. When he uses the love theme from Blow Out–even if it’s on a scene with Poitier–it’s real movie magic….

But then there’s the second half of the film, which doesn’t have the retro feel to it. I imagine it’s supposed to mimic Vanishing Point or some other car movie Tarantino really likes, but it’s a piece of unimaginable crap. The conversations are idiotic–the new characters are all in Hollywood and, wow, can stuntwoman Zoe Bell not act. Even forgetting some of the glaring problems–like Russell’s villain is stupid now instead of smart (and he doesn’t reinforce his car as well in the second half)–Tarantino’s casting of Zoe Bell in a speaking, significant role is the biggest flare the film fires. He does not care about making a good film. I mean, Poitier’s bad and all, but she’s at least acting. Bell isn’t. The problem with Death Proof is Tarantino gets to do whatever he wants, which obviously isn’t a situation he works well in. Thinking about it, suffering through the second half, I should have realized the second set of girls wasn’t going to die (except Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who’s left by her friends to be raped and murdered), because it’s all the Tarantino standards, with Tracie Thoms doing a bad job of impersonating Samuel L. Jackson. No way Tarantino is going to kill off Rosario Dawson because to his target audience, Dawson is gold.

Tarantino’s level of disrespect to a thinking viewer is truly amazing and quite surprising. But more so, he fails to do what he set out to do, which was make a retro film with all the film grain, missing frames, bad looping and wear and tear. He flushed the idea once it became his neo-Tarantino movie… and I say neo, because it’s not something he would have done ten years ago. It’s obviously Robert Rodriguez’s influence (Rodriguez, who had so much love for the “Grindhouse” concept, he slapped his CG Troublemaker Studios logo on the front of it, killing the retro feel before the movie even started).

If the film weren’t two hours, I think I’d be more upset… but after suffering through the pathetic second half, I’m just glad it’s over.

Dawson and Winstead are both okay in the second half at the beginning, until Bell shows up and Dawson gets obnoxious (becoming the type of person–knowing full well what’s going to occur–to leave her friend to be raped and murdered) and Winstead becomes a half-wit.

Death Proof is such an insult, I’m so agitated I didn’t even end on that great “I’m glad it’s over” line. Seriously, the person I feel worst for is Russell. The first half is career resurgence, amazing performance, yada yada yada–the second half… he should have not shown up for work and just let Tarantino call Michael Madsen.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, directed and photographed by Quentin Tarantino; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, Steve Joyner; produced by Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez, Erica Steinberg and Tarantino; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Kurt Russell (Stuntman Mike), Zoe Bell (Zoë Bell), Rosario Dawson (Abernathy), Vanessa Ferlito (Arlene), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Jungle Julia), Tracie Thoms (Kim), Rose McGowan (Pam), Jordan Ladd (Shanna) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lee).


Clerks II (2006, Kevin Smith)

I was going to start this post with a comment about how, even with all its problems, Clerks II is easily Kevin Smith’s best film. I guess I’ll still start with some of those remarks–Smith’s editing is excellent here, not to mention the traditional romantic comedy between Brian O’Halloran and Rosario Dawson–which is incredibly movie traditional and well-done by Dawson and Smith (O’Halloran is awful in the scenes). There’s a musical number in the film and, as I watched it, I realized, whether he acknowledges it or not, whether he ever utilizes the skills again, Smith’s finally become a good filmmaker.

A lot of Clerks II is an attempt to gross out and shock the audience. It’s not particularly tied to the existing Kevin Smith universe and when the characters finally reveal what they’d been up to for ten years, it’s a surprise. Even though the film opens with some direct references to the first movie, it does not feel like much a sequel… and it might be the most impressive sequel, in terms of artistic achievement, I’ve seen in a long time. There doesn’t need to be a Clerks for there to be a Clerks II. The film doesn’t “stand on it’s own” or whatever, it succeeds where the first film could not. Listless thirties angst versus listless twenties angst… there’s no contest.

I’m going to try to go through the bad stuff here and then bring around the last paragraph to–try to–express the film’s success (I’ll fail). Smith as Silent Bob–but not Jason Mewes–is unbearable. He plays the part like a cartoon, whereas his own script calls for a semblance of reality. And as incredibly embarrassed as he should be for himself (so embarrassed I started the sentence with an “and”), nothing should compare to the embarrassment over (his wife) Jennifer Schwalbach’s performance. She and O’Halloran’s scenes are bad high school level acting. It really reminds of the terrible acting in the first film, which at least had the excuse of not having a budget (Clerks II should also have been black and white… kind of… it should have had exaggerated colors maybe, since Smith does use the black and white in parts and to extraordinary success). But anyway, she’s atrocious. In fact, writing about her has made me forget a lot of my other comments.

The first half of the film has a lot of missteps, because it’s hard to get used to Rosario Dawson acting and Brian O’Halloran doing his thing, it’s hard to get used to Schwalbach being treated like she’s not awful. It’s also very obvious how Smith is giving Dawson and the romantic comedy a lot of screen time and shoving Jeff Anderson off on anti-fanboy rants. Anderson’s great at those, but, like in the first one, he’s capable of acting and acting well and in one sequence, where Smith works the editing and the music, he and Anderson pull the movie around.

Then, the film goes through an odd third act, featuring all the scenes meant to enrage the MPAA (not really, Smith seems to have tried that one early on)–but disgust the MPAA and realize an R-rated “Family Guy”–and ends up in an amazing resolution. A mature, thoughtful resolution….

I was expecting something self-referential–especially during the cameo scenes–but Smith avoids all those traps… if it weren’t for Rocky Balboa, I’d say it’s the most successful delayed sequel in a long time… but even with Rocky (and some of Clerks II’s successes are artistically similar), it’s one heck of an achievement for Smith.

If only he could fire his wife (I can understand O’Halloran–he kind of has to be in it, but there’s no good reason for Schwalbach).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Kevin Smith; director of photography, David Klein; music by James L. Venable; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Scott Mosier; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Brian O’Halloran (Dante), Jeff Anderson (Randal), Rosario Dawson (Becky), Jason Mewes (Jay), Trevor Fehrman (Elias) and Jennifer Schwalbach (Emma).


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