Category Archives: 2008

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

CREDITS

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).


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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.

2/4★★

CREDITS

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).


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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.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

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).


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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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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).


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