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Thumbnails May 2009

by Tony Medley

Adventureland (10/10): Everything about this movie surprised me, from the perceptive script and sensitive, intelligent directing of Greg Mottola, to the acting by the entire cast. While Jesse Eisenberg, the leading man gives a diverting performance as the virginal, disingenuous protagonist, the person who stole the movie for me was Kristen Stewart, the girl who captures his heart. It is her sensitive, tantalizing performance that makes this film something special.

Tyson (10/10): Whatever you thought of Mike Tyson, this eye-opening film shows him with all his warts, and tries to explain them. Producer-director James Toback, who used Tyson as an actor in three of his films, got him to tell his story in his own words. Using steadicams, he made a Hi-Def shoot during a week of intense complexity. Then followed eight months of research and editing. The result is a fascinating autobiography using Tyson’s contemporary interviews in front of Toback’s cameras, combined with archival films of his past interviews and fights, often brutal. There are no competing voices in this film, and it doesn’t seem as if any are needed because Tyson is disarmingly honest about his failings.

Knowing (5/10): This is a classic example of a film that should have been subjected to a detailed preview process, one in which the producer should have paid attention to the comments of the viewers. For 100 minutes, it is a rip-snorting, tense, interesting film. Then, because of an unsatisfying ending, it completely falls apart.

State of Play (5/10): Almost a duplicate of “Knowing.” This fast paced, attention-holding film with music by Alex Heffes and cinematography by Rodrigo Pietro that heighten the tension created by director Kevin MacDonald, and a typically great performance by Russell Crowe, falls apart with an ending that should have been played under Peggy Lee singing Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?” The enormous talent of Rachel McAdams is wasted in a role that requires her to stretch from A to A minus, but Helen Mirren sparkles.

Paris 36 (2/10): This does not capture 1936 Paris (the film was shot in Czechoslovakia), although that’s what was intended. You have the feeling you are watching characters in a fantasy location, which is exactly what you are doing. One of the wonderful things about “Casablanca” (1942) was that, despite the hokey titles, which are almost comical today, you really feel as if you were in the real city of Casablanca, even though what Warner Bros. presented was as far from the real Casablanca as New York City is from Ponca City. It doesn’t have to be accurate to seem realistic. What Director-writer Christophe Barratier presents is a set so phony that it robs the film of the ambience it advertises in its title. In addition, unfortunately, both the characters and plot lack verisimilitude.

Il Divo (2/10): Maybe if you are a fan of Italian politics this slow, boring, convoluted biopic of seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo) and his alleged Mafia ties, loaded with ECUs, might be fascinating, but I doubt it.

Observe and Report (0/10): Where does integrity fit into creative arts? Smut sells. So does that mean that smut is OK, so long as it makes money? Or should a major studio have some obligation to art and society to publish material with at least an iota of serious value? This movie is an obscenity, loaded with F bombs, full frontal male nudity, extremely low moral tone and a story line that would seem stupid to a nitwit.