Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead movie poster


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a pow­er­ful, elec­tric return to form for the 83 year-old Sid­ney Lumet, direc­tor of such canon­i­cal clas­sics as 12 Angry Men, Ser­pico, Net­work, and, uh, The Wiz?

Kelly Masterson’s screen­play tells the high-tension tale of a pair of wholly doomed broth­ers as a non-linear nar­ra­tive from mul­ti­ple points of view. Each jump in time and p.o.v. is accom­pa­nied by a thrilling edit­ing tech­nique I haven’t seen any­where else but Den­nis Hopper’s Easy Rider: the cur­rent and sub­se­quent scene ric­o­chet back and forth in increas­ing speed until we’re hur­tled through time into another frag­ment of the narrative.

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You're DeadSid­ney Lumet’s mas­ter­class in block­ing, Fig. A

The movie is full of exam­ples of a fine direc­tor know­ing how to use the form to the story’s advan­tage. For one exam­ple of how the com­po­si­tion of a shot reflects the sub­text of the scene, note how that when­ever Andy (Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man) and Hank (Ethan Hawk) plot their scheme in the bar, Andy phys­i­cally looms over Hank and dom­i­nates the frame with his bulk.

Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei in Before the Devil Knows You're DeadStar­ring Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei’s boobs

The act­ing is great all around, includ­ing a dev­as­tat­ing turn from Albert Finney as a bit­terly dis­ap­pointed father, and Marisa Tomei as a woman who cast her lot with two of the worst prospects on the planet. And in case you think Hawke and Hoff­man are mis­cast as sib­lings, well… just watch.

Watch the trailer.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

The Omega Man

The Omega Man movie poster


Now that’s a good intro: Robert Neville (Charl­ton Hes­ton) cruises through an empty city with the top down. It’s eerie, but he seems happy, groov­ing to jazz from his onboard 8-track cas­sette deck. But sud­denly! Screech! Ka-pow! He brakes, pro­duces a machine gun and fires at a fleet­ing humanoid sil­hou­ette. A strik­ing mon­tage fol­lows of a des­o­lated, deserted city.

Hes­ton was once known as a lib­eral, and here his char­ac­ter enter­tains an inter­ra­cial romance (with afro-licious Ros­alind Cash) no more com­mon in movies now than it was in 1971. Unfor­tu­nately, it’s now impos­si­ble to take Hes­ton seri­ously, thanks to Phil Hartman’s clas­sic mock­ery on Sat­ur­day Night Live and to Heston’s own Alzheimer’s-fueled descent into right-wing senility.

Charlton Heston in The Omega ManAl Gore can take my gun from my cold, dead hands

Inter­est­ingly, Heston’s oeu­vre is dom­i­nated by dystopian sci-fi: Planet of the Apes, The Ωmega Man, and Soy­lent Green form a tril­ogy of apoc­a­lyp­tic despair. Remakes of Apes (by Tim Bur­ton) and Ωmega (Wil Smith’s I Am Leg­end) made him nearly obso­lete even before he died. Can Soy­lent Green (which is, inci­den­tally, much bet­ter than its rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests) be far behind?

Com­pared to the bes­tial vam­pires that pop­u­late I Am Leg­end, the crea­tures in The Ωmega Man are an intel­li­gent, religous cult. They don’t attack Neville with tech­nol­ogy (like, say, shoot him) sim­ply because they choose not to.

Charlton Heston in The Omega ManIs the last man on earth man enough?

As for enter­tain­ment in a time before VHS, the last man alive on earth is stuck with what­ever hap­pened to be in the the­aters at the time; he screens the con­cert film Wood­stock over and over. As for The Ωmega Man’s own music, the orches­tral jazz pop score is not just out­dated, but bizarrely inappropriate.

The cru­ci­fix­ion pose at the end is a bit much. I didn’t expect much sub­tlety, but that’s lay­ing it on a bit thick.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl


Lars and the Real Girl is warm, funny, and mov­ing, but felt a lit­tle “screen­play” to me. Aside from the indie film cliché of The Small Town (which affords an iso­lated com­mu­nity of eccentrics and an eco­nomic small cast), it seems to be a pre­cisely work­shopped explo­ration of a sim­ple com­pelling premise: a man falls in love with a sex doll (and yes, they actu­ally exist). How­ever, the fine script and per­for­mances really do sell the unlikely con­ceit. Ryan Gosling makes a poten­tially unap­peal­ing char­ac­ter very sym­pa­thetic, and indie queen Patri­cia Clark­son is so sub­limely calm (watch her respond to each out­ra­geous devel­op­ment in Lars’ life with a blink and a pause) that I sus­pect she would make a great shrink in real life.

Lars and the Real GirlGuess what’s com­ing to dinner

If I were in a screen­writ­ing class work­shop­ping this script, I think per­haps I might point out one miss­ing aspect: we see the town pull together to sup­port Lars, but would they do so for just any cit­i­zen? I’m not sure there’s a sense of why they’re espe­cially pro­tec­tive of Lars in particular.

Lars and the Real GirlEven bet­ter than the real thing?

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Baby Mama

Baby Mama


A true com­edy auteur, Tina Fey’s act­ing has always come in tan­dem with her own writ­ing. This dou­ble act has pro­gressed from improv com­edy at The Sec­ond City, to head writer for Sat­ur­day Night Live, to sup­port­ing player in the fea­ture film Mean Girls, (for which she wrote the screen­play), and finally to exec­u­tive pro­ducer and star of her own sit­com 30 Rock.

Baby Mama, writ­ten and directed by Michael McCullers, marks Fey’s first star turn in a project which she did not orig­i­nate or write. Still, it cer­tainly feels a lot like a Tiny Fey joint. Judg­ing by the gen­eral tone and the chaotic improv of Fey’s partner-in-crime Amy Poehler, I sus­pect the two enhanced the pro­duc­tion with a fair amount of script-doctoring. Indeed, Fey’s char­ac­ter fits firmly in the pub­lic per­sona of Endear­ingly Neu­rotic Thir­tysome­thing Sin­gle Girl estab­lished on SNL’s Week­end Update, as Ms. Nor­bury in Mean Girls, and as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock. The Tina Fey Not­lash notwith­stand­ing, she is evi­dently more grounded in real life, and mar­ried with a child. Mean­while, the fic­tion­al­ized “Tina Fey” is the idol of every girl with glasses and crush of every boy with… uh, glasses.

Baby MamaWell, excu­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­u­use me!

Fey must have an impres­sive rolodex, for like her flag­ship TV show 30 Rock, nearly every lit­tle role is Baby Mama is filled by a famil­iar face. When not being amused by alumni from The Daily Show and SNL, we’re treated to Steve Mar­tin as a wild and crazy organic food mag­nate and Sigour­ney Weaver as an ini­tially creepy but ulti­mately sym­pa­thetic fer­til­ity doc­tor. But per­son­ally, I wouldn’t dare make fun of Sigour­ney Weaver’s age, lest she come after me with a flamethrower or a space fork­lift.

Baby MamaTrashy and takin’ out the trash

Offi­cial movie site:

AVP:R — Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem

Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem


Rid­ley Scott’s orig­i­nal Alien is one of the most effec­tive and influ­en­tial hor­ror films ever made, and a per­sonal favorite of this Dork Reporter, who makes no apolo­gies. Its art direc­tion and visual aes­thetic were so far ahead of their time that pretty much only the hair­cuts have dated, but the real keys to its longevity are its brains and depth of sub­stance. No doubt there have since been dozens of dis­ser­ta­tions on its gen­der themes and often overtly sex­u­al­ized imagery designed by bio­me­chan­i­cal artist H.R. Giger. Once you real­ize the por­tal to the crashed space­craft is a giant vagina and the Alien’s head is an erect penis, you will never be able to un-see it.

But Alien’s most unfor­tu­nate legacy is that it has for­ever melded the sci­ence fic­tion and hor­ror gen­res in movie­go­ers expec­ta­tions. Aside from the odd excep­tions to the rule rang­ing from the parable-for-all-ages E.T. to the gut-wrenching social cri­tique Chil­dren of Men, we now can’t have a hor­ror film with­out a rub­bery alien or a sci-fi film with­out evis­cer­a­tions and gore.

Worst of all, the Alien fran­chise has been cursed with dimin­ish­ing returns. Prob­a­bly but not nec­es­sar­ily by design, James Cameron’s vapid sequel Aliens com­pletely drained the core themes and sub­texts from the orig­i­nal in favor of the mere spec­ta­cle of space­ships and bul­lets. Sub­se­quent sequels achieved the rare feats of being by far the worst films of two extra­or­di­nar­ily tal­ented direc­tors: David Fincher’s com­pro­mised Alien3 (the only install­ment with the tra­di­tional numeral in the title) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s bizarre-but-not-in-a-good-way Alien: Res­ur­rec­tion.

Part of the prob­lem is that there can be only a lim­ited set of vari­a­tions on the core premise. The orig­i­nal Alien found the right recipe on its first try: lone but nearly invin­ci­ble crea­ture vs. unarmed bunch of humans in claus­tro­pho­bic envi­ron­ment = teh awe­some. Most sequels mul­ti­plied the num­ber of aliens only to find that their col­lec­tive dra­matic impact was less­ened when all it took was a futur­is­tic Colo­nial Space Marine’s rifle to dis­patch one.

Aliens vs. Predator - RequiemNope, I just see two dudes in rub­ber suits

Mean­while, the less ambi­tious Preda­tor fran­chise man­aged to only rack up a mea­ger two install­ments. Per­haps their lesser appeal is attrib­ut­able to what the Alien films got right; the “aliens” are not intel­li­gent mem­bers of a soci­ety like the Preda­tors, whose entire cul­ture is based upton the con­cept of hunt­ing for sport. Aliens are instinc­tual beasts that live to eat and (espe­cially) to breed, so sav­age and ani­mal­is­tic that their species doesn’t even have a name.

The two spent prop­er­ties found a new life together in the unholy crossover mar­riage “Alien vs. Preda­tor” that began as comics and video games. Inevitably, they found their way back to cin­e­mas as Hol­ly­wood attempted to reboot the cash flow with the first Alien vs. Preda­tor film in 2004. But this “new” series has already run out of vari­a­tions on the core premise in only its sec­ond installment.

Believe it or not, AVP:R is the first Alien film set not only in the present day, but also actu­ally on Earth. This time around we have a sin­gle Preda­tor vs mul­ti­ple aliens, with a vari­ety of help­less human bystanders caught in the cross­fire. Basi­cally, the Preda­tors screw up and acci­den­tally seed Earth with a batch of aliens they had intended to breed as hunt­ing stock. A lone Preda­tor, per­haps fan­cy­ing him­self a sort of space age Mr. Fixit, attempts to white­wash his col­leagues’ mess. He’s no sym­pa­thetic hero, how­ever, for he doesn’t hes­i­tate to take the pelt of a human as a tro­phy when the oppor­tu­nity arises.

To go back to the afore­men­tioned vari­ety of help­less human bystanders: any decent screen­writer or pro­ducer (or, hell, any­one who’s seen a cou­ple of movies) should have real­ized that there are three prob­lems with this sce­nario: “vari­ety,” “help­less,” and “bystanders.” The huge cast of human char­ac­ters all remain under­de­vel­oped. The lamest thread involves a bunch of so-called teenagers, obvi­ously writ­ten by a screen­writer that was never actu­ally a teenager. The only rec­og­niz­able face (to this Dork Reporter, at least) is Reiko Aylesworth from 24, mis­cast as an Army sol­dier on leave. Her only pur­poses in the story seem to be to instruct the audi­ence that guns work bet­ter if you shout while shoot­ing, and to have some­one on hand who might plau­si­bly know how to fly a helicopter.

Aliens vs. Predator - RequiemMandible with care

AVP:R is so divorced from the six prior Alien films that there are only two ten­u­ous con­ti­nu­ity threads to link them. A Mrs. Yutani appears, pre­sum­ably of the Weyland-Yutani cor­po­ra­tion that, in the future, has the secret agenda of locat­ing more aliens as it strip mines the galaxy for fos­sil fuels. But per­haps the one true link to the orig­i­nal Alien film from 1979 is a sequence involv­ing a chick strip­ping down to her skivvies. In the orig­i­nal, the truly badass Rip­ley (Sigour­ney Weaver) deservedly kicks back her heels and gets ready for a suspended-animation nap in her undies, but here all we get is a bland “hot­tie” strip­ping for her unlikely dweeb crush (an inci­dence of nerd wish-fulfillment that speaks vol­umes as to the matu­rity and life expe­ri­ences of the filmmakers).

What should have been another major screen­writ­ing red flag is the hugely unsat­is­fy­ing end­ing. When the Preda­tor, the clos­est thing the film has to a hero or pro­tag­o­nist, finally closes in on his prey, they go at it look­ing for all the world like two pro wrestlers in rub­ber suits. And then imme­di­ately… they’re both oblit­er­ated by a nuke. A small hand­ful of the humans are only barely proac­tive and man­age to sur­vive untrau­ma­tized despite hav­ing watched all their fam­i­lies and loved ones killed.

So why do I keep pun­ish­ing myself by watch­ing each Alien sequel? I don’t ever again expect some­thing as mul­ti­lay­ered as the orig­i­nal Alien, but I do keep think­ing that these kinds of movies are sup­posed to be at best enter­tain­ing and at worst a lit­tle fun, and yet they always turn out tor­tur­ously awful. AVP:R’s best qual­ity is its brisk 86 minute run­ning time, even in its unrated extended DVD cut.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Sense and Sensibility


In this Dork Reporter’s opin­ion, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity is the best of breed of Jane Austen film adap­ta­tions. Please note, how­ever, there are two very good rea­sons to dis­credit my opin­ion on this subject:

I. Despite my Eng­lish major, I am ashamed to admit I have read only one Jane Austen novel: Emma. Yeah, I know, I’ve got to get work­ing on that.

II. Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity fea­tures two of this Dork Reporter’s all-time favorite movie crushes: Emma Thomp­son and Kate Winslet. Any film fea­tur­ing just one of these Eng­lish roses auto­mat­i­cally earns extra credit. Any film fea­tur­ing Emma and Kate, together, equals porn (espe­cially if they hop into bed together, as they do here… granted, as sis­ters keep­ing their toes warm, but still!). Any film fea­tur­ing Emma and Kate, plus a screen­play by Emma, equals orgasm.

Sense and SensibilityKate’s got a bee in her bonnet

A few extra notes:

  • Dork Report guest com­men­ta­tor (and first-class Austen afi­cionado) Snark­bait has coined the best phrase for this genre: “Regency Era froth”
  • Actor Greg Wise (John Willoughby) later became Mr. Emma Thomp­son, after Ken­neth Branaugh fool­ishly let her get away
  • Hugh Grant’s trade­mark stam­mer, per­sis­tent inter­est in the car­pet, and out-of-control hair are still charm­ing even in 18th Cen­tury sur­round­ings. But it is dif­fi­cult to sti­fle a snicker when the dev­il­ish Grant, as Edward Fer­rars, expresses an inter­est in join­ing the Church
  • I wish I had Alan Rickman’s (Col. Bran­don) vocal cords
  • Hey, look! It’s Tom Wilkin­son in a cameo as the soon-to-be-late Mr. Dash­wood! The Dork Report thinks Wilkin­son is one of the finest actors work­ing today
  • required view­ing: Emma Thompson’s 1996 Best Adapted Screen­play Oscar accep­tance speech (not on YouTube as of this writ­ing, but here is the text)

Sense and SensibilityIt ain’t easy being sensible

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

In the Valley of Elah

In the Valley of Elah


In the Val­ley of Elah is a dark story about the psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age of war, cer­tainly not a recipe for an enter­tain­ing night at the movies. This Dork Reporter will cop to find­ing it dif­fi­cult to work up the enthu­si­asm to see it, fear­ing the resul­tant depres­sion (despite my love and respect for cin­ema as an art form, and staunch sym­pa­thy for the anti-war move­ment, some­times a per­son just needs a lit­tle light enter­tain­ment). But writer/director Paul Hag­gis struc­tured the plot as a mur­der mys­tery, with a few pinches of wry humor, to craft an excel­lent film that is not pun­ish­ingly sad.

Hank Deer­field (Tommy Lee Jones) is a pious, patri­otic, and dis­ci­plined man. But he is also emo­tion­ally detached; he inves­ti­gates the mys­te­ri­ous death of his son as would an almost super­hu­man detec­tive. Draw­ing upon his skills as both a for­mer army sol­dier and police sergeant, he out­wits both the army’s own inves­ti­ga­tors and the res­i­dent local police smar­ty­pants Det. Emily Sanders (Char­l­ize Theron). Impres­sively for an old coot, he is even able to locate a back-alley cell phone phreaker, in an unfa­mil­iar town, using only a diner’s phone book. But the seem­ingly cold man does reveal his pain and weak­ness before the end, and even a hid­den unsa­vory side involv­ing racism.

In the Valley of Elah(Don’t Go Back To Sgt.) Rockville

The title derives from the Bib­li­cal para­ble of David and Goliath, a macho mano-a-manu beat­down that occurred dur­ing the bat­tle of the Israelites vs. the Pales­tini­ans. Aside from the obvi­ous par­al­lels to the locale and par­tic­i­pants of the ancient and never end­ing Mid­dle East con­flicts, the tale is also a metaphor for how Deer­field views man­hood and how he raised his son: to stand tall against any odds. But as Deer­field learns unpleas­ant truths about his son (drugs, tor­ture, pros­ti­tutes) and his coun­try (unjus­ti­fied war, insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion), he must, late in life, come to reeval­u­ate his most core beliefs. So what makes this clearly lib­eral anti-war film spe­cial is its respect for exactly the type of per­son it might indict: the god-fearing patriot.

In the Valley of ElahWhitman’s Sam­pler, my favorite!

Finally, I’d like to high­light one excel­lent scene (in every way: writ­ing, act­ing, and direct­ing): as Deer­field phones his wife Joan (Susan Saran­don) to tell her their son is dead, the scene begins in the mid­dle, and in the end the cam­era pulls back to show Joan has torn apart the room. A lesser film would have shown the whole thing, for the sake of melodrama.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild


Like many young men cursed with a priv­i­leged life of edu­ca­tion and time to think for them­selves, Chris McCan­d­less (Emile Hirsch) wanted only a vaguely defined “truth” and to not have to rely on any­one. Syn­the­siz­ing his read­ing of Henry Thoreau and Jack Lon­don, he imag­ined for him­self a life of self-sufficiency in the wilder­ness. So McCan­d­less dropped out of soci­ety in the sum­mer of 1990, leav­ing behind all con­nec­tions what­so­ever, includ­ing his legal name and iden­tity. Despite his absolutely clean break, he never seemed to view this trans­for­ma­tion as per­ma­nent; he men­tions more than once that he may write a book when he “comes back.”

Inter­est­ingly for a young man, he also seems to make a point of avoid­ing even tem­po­rary female com­pan­ion­ship. He rejects the friend­ship of Jan (Kather­ine Keener), and aban­dons his younger sis­ter Carine (Jena Mal­one), the per­son with whom he appar­ently had the clos­est bond. Carine nar­rates the film, with total sym­pa­thy for his beliefs and actions. But even she points out that he acted with “char­ac­ter­is­tic immoderation.”

Into the WildThe Rough Guide to Self-Actualization

McCan­d­less died alone in August 1992. He remains a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure (should his asceti­cism be admired, or was he a fool?), and his soli­tary death the sub­ject of an intrigu­ing mys­tery (was he really trapped with food poi­son­ing, or did he allow him­self to die slowly as a form of pas­sive sui­cide?). This film inter­pre­ta­tion of his story does make it clear that he was a priv­i­leged kid who hadn’t truly suf­fered. While drink­ing with new buddy Wayne (Vince Vaughn), he lets slip his ado­les­cent belief that one of the worst forms of tyranny in the world is “par­ents.” As we see, his par­ents (Mar­cia Gay Harden and William Hurt) are all too human and not half as mon­strous as he imag­ines. So per­haps his adven­ture was more than an ide­al­is­tic reac­tion to mere money, soci­ety, and mate­ri­al­ism. He was also run­ning away from the “free” things that liv­ing in soci­ety affords, what every­one craves in life: fam­ily, friends, and lovers.

Into the WildHence the title

A note on the music: just as McCan­d­less looks back­wards for lit­er­ary inspi­ra­tion, he also has anti­quated taste in music for a kid liv­ing in the early 90s. His new name for him­self, “Super­tramp” puns on the clas­sic rock band and his new lifestyle. He chris­tens his new and final home, an aban­doned bus, after The Who’s “Magic Bus.” For the music of the film itself, direc­tor Sean Penn drew upon two musi­cians that made names for them­selves in the early 90s: Pearl Jam’s Eddie Ved­der (who con­tributed songs to Dead Man Walk­ing), and guitarist/composer Michael Brook. Vedder’s songs for the film were released as an album, but Brook’s excel­lent score is also avail­able dig­i­tally.

Into the Wild is yet another in a long series of films I’ve seen recently that are based on books I haven’t read (The Kite Run­ner, No Coun­try for Old Men, The Name­sake, The Assas­si­na­tion of Jesse James, etc.). But even so, I believe I can detect a few rem­nants of the film’s prose ori­gins as John Krakauer’s book:

  • the film is bro­ken into “Chap­ters” with onscreen titles
  • voiceover nar­ra­tion
  • the visual device of super­im­posed text from McCan­d­less’ own jour­nals pro­vides a sec­ond “voice”
  • episodic feel — but that’s jus­ti­fied by the events/phases of his jour­ney — he keeps mak­ing clean breaks every time he comes close to set­tling in somewhere

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd


Any­one who’s ever had the mis­for­tune of a con­ver­sa­tion about movies with this Dork Reporter is no doubt aware that I like musi­cals about as much as I like biopics. That is to say, not very much. I do, how­ever, love Tim Bur­ton, and count Ed Wood among my per­sonal favorite films. So if he could make a biopic I can love, I didn’t think it unre­al­is­tic to hope that he might melt my cranky moviewatcher’s heart with a musi­cal. But it’s been a long time since Bur­ton has directed a per­sonal project, instead work­ing on exist­ing fran­chises and remakes like Planet of the Apes and Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory. He did add a healthy dose of the trade­mark Bur­ton fla­vor to each, not to men­tion key mem­bers of his troupe (Helena Bon­ham Carter in Apes and Johnny Depp in Char­lie), but fans like myself are still wait­ing for the next burst of pure Bur­ton mad­ness in the spirit of Edward Scissorhands.

Sweeney ToddOi t’ink he’s up to summat

The Sweeny Todd tale orig­i­nated in a prose ser­ial form in 1846, and after sev­eral per­mu­ta­tions, even­tu­ally became a stage musi­cal by Stephen Sond­heim in 1979. Burton’s 2007 film adap­ta­tion doesn’t quite man­age to break free of its stage­bound, er, stag­ing. Despite the oppor­tu­nity a film has to expand a play’s world, the action is lim­ited to just a few loca­tions. The rich art direc­tion doesn’t defeat the impres­sion that the whole thing was shot on a small sound­stage. Speak­ing of art direc­tion, Burton’s vision of late 19th cen­tury Lon­don is very col­or­ful, pro­vided that that color is blue. That said, it isn’t long before a few gen­er­ous gal­lons of red are splashed about the place.

Sweeney ToddAnd now, the chew­ing of scenery, for your delight & edification

Tim­o­thy Spall, once of Mike Leigh’s British kitchen sink dra­mas, con­tin­ues to indulge in the new scenery-chewing per­sona he devel­oped as Peter Pet­ti­grew in the Harry Pot­ter films. Helena Bon­ham Carter looks like she just stepped out of The Night­mare Before Christ­mas, and Sascha Baron Cohen sports no less than two out­ra­geous accents.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Bar­ber of Fleet Street joined Wait­ress in the most unlikely mini genre of 2007: movies about pie shops. But while Wait­ress was a largely cutesy con­coc­tion, Sweeney Todd adds to the recipe a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with venge­ful can­ni­bal­ism à la The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

And finally, a tech­ni­cal note: the DVD edi­tion suf­fers from an unusu­ally uneven audio mix. The music is far, far louder than dia­logue sequences, so be pre­pared to drive your remote con­trol vol­ume switch throughout.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Se, jie (Lust, Caution)

Lust Caution movie poster


As a pub­lic ser­vice, The Dork Report would like to issue a warn­ing to any­one that under the impres­sion that Se, jie (Lust, Cau­tion) is an NC-17 erotic thriller. Judg­ing from the mar­ket­ing cam­paign alone, one might under­stand­ably imag­ine that the lat­est film from the direc­tor of Sense & Sen­si­bil­ity and Eat Drink Man Woman would be a sexy drama suit­able for view­ing with a sig­nif­i­cant other, but be warned that most of it is quite far from tit­il­lat­ing. In fact, the first of three sex scenes can only be clas­si­fied as a rape (albeit one com­pli­cated by the char­ac­ters’ com­plex relationship).

Se, jie is set in 1942 Japanese-occupied Shang­hai, with flash­backs to the few years pre­ced­ing. A naïve but sin­cerely ded­i­cated bunch of Chi­nese stu­dent activists form a ter­ror­ist cell, with the aim to assas­si­nate col­lab­o­ra­tor Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). The­ater stu­dent Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang) dis­cov­ers she is a nat­ural actress and gifted impro­viser, which unfor­tu­nately also makes her a superbly qual­i­fied as a under­cover spy.

Lust CautionA scene from what might be called Ang Lee’s “Deceive Rape Man Woman”

To fully inhabit her cover story as a mar­ried woman, she must first lose her vir­gin­ity. This hap­pens almost simul­ta­ne­ously with her cell los­ing their metaphor­i­cal vir­gin­ity as they mess­ily exe­cute their first right­eous assas­si­na­tion. As Paul New­man dis­cov­ers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Cur­tain, mur­der is hard work, and takes time.

Se, jie was released in the same year as Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book and con­cerns many of the same themes: wartime occu­pa­tion, vio­lent resis­tance, and the use of sex as under­cover ingra­ti­a­tion. But while Ver­ho­even couldn’t resist front-loading his film with plenty of cheese­cake, Ang Lee and James Schamus take the high road and don’t pre­tend that the morally empty Mr. Yee isn’t vio­lently twisted, and that Wong Chia Chi doesn’t absolutely suf­fer for her cause.

Lust CautionThis blog is rated NC-17 for pub­lish­ing naughty film stills

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report: