Prisoners

September 26, 2013 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”)

While it’s script might transform from intriguing police procedural into something that could be described as controlled chaos, director Denis Villeneuve 153-minute long drama is effectively tense. Anchored by a raw and powerful performance from Hugh Jackman and a solid contribution from Jake Gyllenhaal, this film about two young girls who are kidnapped confronts some extremely hard-hitting themes and scenarios that would make any parent shudder. Things get messy as the film spirals to a conclusion, but there’s no way you’re going to move unless you know how it all ends (even though you technically don’t).

Towelhead

September 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Summer Bishil, Aaron Eckert, Peter Macdissi
Directed by: Alan Ball (debut)
Written by: Alan Ball (“American Beauty”)

As a first-time screenwriter, Alan Ball hit one out of the ballpark in 1999 with his masterpiece “American Beauty.” As a first-time director, not so much. Still he manages to find an aggressive and discomforting voice that combines “Beauty” with something as disturbing as Todd Solondz’s 1998 film “Happiness.”

In “Towelhead,” which Ball adapts from a novel by Alicia Erian, 13-year-old Jasira Maroun (Sumer Bishil) is sent to live with her father after her resentful mother (Maria Bello) finds out her boyfriend shaved Jasira’s pubic hair so the girls at the pool will stop calling her Chewbacca. This happens in the first few minutes of the film, so if it’s already too appalling for your taste, don’t even bother.

“Towelhead” continues down its dark and comical path by writing Jasira, who is a half Lebanese Arab-American, into some emotionally painful and sexually awkward scenarios. It starts with her flamboyant and cold father Rifat (Peter Macdissi), who takes Jasira into his home out of obligation rather than out of love.

Jasira starts exploring her sexuality when she catches the young neighbor boy she babysits looking at one of his dad’s adult magazines. Her interest in the female body is timed perfectly with the start of her menstrual cycle, her interest in boys and the introduction of a sexual predator (Aaron Eckhart), a military man who seduces the 8th grader and takes advantage of her naivety.

Not all filmmakers play nice so don’t let Ball give your children the birds and the bees speech if you want them to stay innocent. His repulsive characters matched with his dark and effective dialogue is piercing. Ball does, however, let the narrative get disconnected and allows some of the characters to become too cartoonish. Adding Oscar nominated actress Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense”) to the cast as the only dependable adult in Jasira’s life was a solid decision. Her presence grounds these personas and doesn’t let them get overly outrageous

As a young girl growing up entirely too fast, Bishil is dead-on. In real life, the 20-year- old actress playing a 13-year old is so authentic, it’s terrifying to witness her life unfold without any real positive influence. Eckhart, who returns to a character more deplorable that the one in “In the Company of Men,” was bold to take this role. It works out well for him. He never shies away from the character and he is shocking enough to make us forget that he just starred in the biggest blockbuster of the summer. It’s always good when an actor can make you focus on present work and not what he or she is best known for during that specific year.

During most of “Towelhead,” you will wonder if Ball will do some of the things that the scenes are leading up to. When he crosses that line, it’s extremely coarse. It’s a noteworthy albeit flawed little gem, which, depending on the degree of explicitness you can handle, should be seen even out of morbid curiosity.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

August 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li
Directed by: Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”)
Written by: Alfred Gough (“Spider-Man 2”) and Miles Millar (“Spider-Man 2”)

When one of the characters in the third installment of The Mummy saga declares “I’ve seen enough mummies to last a lifetime!” you can’t help but giggle at the fitting statement and wonder why execs at Universal Pictures didn’t get the memo. Mummies are the monsters in yesterday, so making room for another archeological dig is probably just the studio’s way of simply shaking every grain of sand from Brendan Fraser’s lucrative boots.

Fraser is back as tomb raider Rick O’Connell, but neither director nor leading lady returns to round out the trilogy. Instead, Stealth’s Rob Cohen replaces director Stephen Sommers and Maria Bello takes over for Rachel Weisz. In this chapter, the team, which includes Rick’s son, Alex (Luke Ford), travels to China to stop a cursed emperor (Jet Li) and his stone army from unearthining and seeking eternal life.

Like the first two unmemorable albeit money-making adventures, Emperor relies heavily on special effects to divert the audience’s attention from the film’s misplaced and scanty humor, action sequences, and dialogue. An example of all three: a yak vomiting on someone’s face, an Abominable Snowman using a human as a football to kick a field goal, and Bello’s Egyptologist character proclaiming “There’s something incredibly romantic about vanquishing the undead.” If rotting corpses and three-headed dragons don’t make your heart flutter, then file, er, bury this one, a mediocre movie only a – dare I say – mummy could love.