Films review February


Quintessential Mike Leigh working class drama examines the family dynamic of a cab driver (Timothy Spall) and his diverse family. Lesley Manville is strong as Penny, Phil’s (Spall) distant wife who has to deal with negative influences both within and outside the family unit.

Like most of Leigh’s films, character and dialogue take precedent over everything else, and while both are gripping, those looking a little excitement will be sadly disappointed. Those looking for a superb drama with meaningful characters and human conflicts will appreciate the effort. (MGM Home Entertainment)


Writer-director-star Edward Burns does an excellent job of creating mood in this quasi-mobster drama, but once you get past the warm and inviting tone, what’s left is a talky character study that aspires but never rises to greatness. In his fifth film as writer-director, Burns once again explores the conflicts of Irish-American characters, here two brothers whose father was an enforcer for the mob. The film is set on Ash Wednesday, first in 1980, when younger brother Sean (Elijah Woods) is supposedly killed during a shootout that left three mobsters dead. The remainder of the film takes place in 1983, where Sean is very much alive, and living in the safety of older brother Francis’s (Burns) apartment. Anxious to venture back out into the world and into the arms of his girlfriend, Sean is appropriately restless. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have the same edgy feeling. (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment)


In “City by the Sea,” Robert DeNiro plays veteran Manhattan homicide detective Vincent LaMarca, a man who put his career ahead of his marriage and relationship with his son. It’s been fourteen years since LaMarca last saw his son Joey (James Franco), now a drug-addict scouring the decrepit boardwalk of Long Beach, Long Island for his latest fix. DeNiro has played so many cops they’re second nature to him. Like a worn out phonograph needle trying to navigate a broken record, DeNiro is back in the same groove. He’s not bad a LaMarca, a man whose past weighs down on him like an anchor. LaMarca is good at his job. What he’s not good at is relationships. Please click on title for complete review. (Warner Home Video)


A couple of years ago, Walt Disney Pictures announced they were going to remake “The Parent Trap.” I was outraged. “The Parent Trap,” starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith and Maureen O’Sullivan, is not only a personal favorite, it’s a classic of its kind. I had no desire to see the remake, but duty called. I went in expecting the worst, and came out feeling as if I had just relived a piece of my childhood. Shouldn’t every generation have their own “Parent Trap”? Those adorable twins, Mary- Kate and Ashley Olsen, pulled off a quasi-remake of “The Parent Trap” called “It Takes Two” and the world didn’t explode or reverse its orbit. Please click on title for complete review. (Paramount Home Video)


Delicious, thoughtful study of a woman who uses her culinary skills to hide loneliness and life’s disappointments. Martina Gedrick is excellent as Martha, a German chef who knows her way around a kitchen but can’t seem to navigate life’s emotional roller coaster. All that changes when Martha squares off against a newly hired chef, whose Italian cuisine upstages her creations. What begins as a personal grudge match eventually blossoms into mutual respect and more. The arrival of an orphaned niece (Maxime Foerste) proves instrumental in Martha’s metamorphosis, forcing her to care about someone else other than herself. Writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck does a splendid job of mixing pathos and comedy, and like “Chocolat,” uses food as a metaphor for life. In German with English subtitles. (Paramount Home Video)


I’ve always been weary of those “One Hour Photo” booths and the people who work there. Because they have to quality check each print, the clerks have access to your life. I don’t mind sharing vacation photos with them, but I would never drop of a roll of family snapshots. That would be the same as inviting complete strangers into your home. That’s the chilling premise of writer-director Mark Romanek’s thriller “One Hour Photo,” featuring an extremely creepy but conservative Robin Williams as Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a photo clerk at the discount store SavMart. With his closely cropped blonde, almost Aryan hair, geek glasses and a intensely annoying Milquetoast voice, Williams becomes one of society’s fringe players who want desperately to become something more. Please click on title for complete review. (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)


Roger Avary, co-writer of “Pulp Fiction,” tackles the Bret Easton Ellis novel with the ferociousness of a pit bull in heat, and the end result is a dazzling yet ultimately unsatisfying character study. It’s impossible to root for any of the characters, all whom seem self-absorbed and selfish. It’s also difficult to get behind Avary’s slice and dice editing and cinematic trickery that uses reverse motion and jump cuts to tell the tale of three college students on a collision course with reality. James Van Der Beek plays Sean Bateman, the sexually promiscuous drug dealer who has a thing for virginal Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon), who is saving herself for her boyfriend, who is off in Europe looking for himself. Sean is so intent on scoring with Lauren that he doesn’t realize that Paul (Ian Somerhalder) has a crush on him. Avary relates each of these stories in “Roshamon” like vignettes, each told from a different point of view, but by the time we finally get to the beginning, we pray for the film to end. Interesting idea gets lost along the way. (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment)


This independent film about a wayward high school football player and his relationship with a questionable coach is a winning character study that almost scores a touchdown. The writing-directing team of Andrew and Alex Smith incorporate a number of familiar elements into the film, but their first string cast manage to carry the ball beyond the obvious. Ryan Gosling, who is becoming noted for playing troubled youths (The Believer), scores again with his portrayal of a Montana high school player Roy Chutney, who is hit with a double whammy after he loses his spot on the varsity team and well-regarded father at the same time. When all looks lost, Roy is recruited by down-on-his-luck ex-coach Gideon Ferguson (David Morse) to play on a six-man football team. Just as Roy begins to believe in second chances, and starts to look upon Ferguson as a father figure, a secret in the coach’s life threatens everything. While the secret is telegraphed long before its revelation, the cast is engaging enough to make us want to hang around until the end. Morse is excellent as a man who wants nothing more than the same second chance he provides for his players. (Sundance Home Video)


One of those little films that sneaks in under the radar, “The Sleeping Dictionary” is both beautiful to look at and behold. Set in the remote rainforest of Sarawak during the1930s, the film explores the forbidden relationship between an Englishman and a local tribes woman assigned to him as a servant and concubine. Hugh Dancy is outstanding as John Truscott, whose job in the British colonial outpost comes with a native servant named Selima (Jessica Alba, much more adult here than in “Dark Angel”). Even though tradition allows them to share the same bed, they are forbidden to fall in love, and are closely watched by John’s boss and the locals. That doesn’t stop John and Selima from sharing more than a bed, an unforgivable act that brings about dire consequences. An excellent cast of supporting players, including Noah Taylor, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn and Bob Hopkins, help brings this exotic, lush romantic drama to life. (New Line Home Video)


I like strawberries. I like strawberries a lot. I hate prunes. I mean, I really hate prunes. Now for the $64,000 question: Would I be willing to endure a prune in order to feast on some strawberries? Being a film critic means taking the good with the bad, or more precisely, suffering through “Stealing Harvard,” a porta-potty of a comedy that overflows with crappy jokes and pee-brained performances. Jason Lee stars as an aspiring executive who has just saved up enough money to marry the boss’s daughter (a dowry of $30,000, just enough for a down payment on a house). Please click on title for complete review. (Columbia-TriStar Home Video)


Anyone for a killer game of Monopoly? Then how about a deadly round of Taboo? That’s what happens when three college couples meet for an innocent game of truth or dare, only to end up as dead meat. An attractive, young cast led by Nick Stahl, Eddie Kaye Thomas and January Jones do what they can with the flimsy material, but in the end the film is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill thrill-kill flick. Secrets can be deadly, and so can investing your time on this teen trifle. (Columbia-TriStar Home Video)

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