In the cinematic desert that is the January-February movie-release schedule one gains a greater appreciation for mere competence. And that’s precisely what you’ll get with Man on a Ledge a mid-budget thriller with modest aspirations and genuine popcorn appeal. Sam Worthington (Avatar Clash of the Titans) stars as Nick Cassidy a former New York City cop wrongly convicted for the theft of a prized diamond. After exhausting all judicial avenues for exoneration he takes the unusual and seemingly desperate next step of planting himself on a ledge outside the penthouse of midtown’s Roosevelt Hotel and threatening to jump. An NYPD psychologist (Elizabeth Banks) is summoned to talk him down unaware that Nick harbors an ulterior motive. From his perch above midtown he is secretly orchestrating a scheme to take revenge against the corrupt corporate chieftain (Ed Harris) who engineered his demise and prove his innocence once and for all.
Director Asger Leth making his U.S. feature-film debut with Man on a Ledge keeps the pace brisk and never allows the tone to stray into self-seriousness which is crucial for a movie whose premise is so devoutly ridiculous. The script from Pablo F. Fenjves provides enough feints and twists to keep us engaged. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez aren’t the most believable of couples but there’s a screwball charm to their comic routine as amateur thieves charged with aiding Nick’s scheme. (Leth can’t resist inserting an entirely superfluous – but nonetheless greatly appreciated – scene of the criminally gorgeous Rodriguez stripping down to a thong in the middle of a heist.) Worthington makes for a likable populist protagonist even if his Australian accent betrays him on copious occasions and Harris’ disturbingly emaciated frame lends an added menace to his devious plutocrat villain.
Cloverfield may go out with a bang but it fades in with a whimper albeit for good reason. It’s the attack of…Exposition 101 a necessary evil never more so than during the movie’s beginning. We meet the characters with whom we will watch Manhattan get shredded like a piece of paper over the course of one night and more importantly the handheld video camera that will capture it all. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is leaving for Japan and his buddy Hud (T.J. Miller) is charged with filming his going-away party and the goodbye speeches that accompany it. Hud keeps the camera steady on the object of his drunken affection Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) until Beth (Odette Yustman) shows up for a showdown. See she and Rob were lifelong friends before hooking up and sabotaging everything and it only ends on worse terms when she leaves the party hastily. With the exposition complete Cloverfield soon moves on to that attack on NYC shown so often and cryptically around the Internet. It is not a manmade attack--common knowledge for those who partook in the movie’s viral Web campaign--but further description might necessitate spoiler alerts and nobody wants that. This much is safe to say however: Savor the opening scenes’ relative quiet because your hearing may never recover from what is to come! Where Cloverfield shelled out some cash for special effects it compensated with a starless cast. Most moviegoers won’t recognize a single name or face of the actors who portray the six main yuppies on the run from God-knows-what but that helps this movie much more than it hurts. Besides no mere human could measure up to the real star that thingamajig terrorizing Manhattan. The whole cast comes off well however by acting spontaneously--we are after all supposed to believe this is as-it-happened footage and these twentysomethings were caught off-guard. Best of all there isn’t that clichéd hierarchy of roles we're used to seeing in similar movies; there is for example no true Hero character no Will Smith from Independence Day trying with guaranteed success to save the world. Stahl-David’s (The Black Donnellys) Rob is the closest the movie gets to that sort of banality but his quest is at least a somewhat realistic one. Miller (Carpoolers) as Hud adds some comic relief from behind the camera while everyone else--including Mike Vogel (Supercross) as Rob’s brother Jason and Jessica Lucas (Life As We Know It) as Jason’s girlfriend--is just the right amount of frantic. What producer J.J. Abrams (Lost forthcoming Star Trek) achieved off screen was just as remarkable as what director Matt Reeves achieves on it. Abrams an Everygeek god whose marketing savvy matches his film IQ embarked on an ingenious hush-hush campaign for Cloverfield that has simmered since its teaser premiered alongside Transformers--for a while the title was even a secret. The movie arrives with better-than-Snakes on a Plane Internet buzz and foam coming from the mouths of Abrams-philes everywhere. And director Reeves an Abrams crony from way back in the Felicity days does not disappoint. The incredible special effects reportedly executed under a very tight budget by today’s standards make Peter Jackson’s $200 million productions seem gratuitous--yet Reeves still evokes an indie/B-movie feel (thanks in no small part of course to the frenzied cinematography of Lost’s Michael Bonvillain). Reeves’ Cloverfield is whiplash-quick (80 minutes!) to the point and out of your head not long after the end credits; it’s popcorn cinema done almost flawlessly. And Drew Goddard’s (Lost Alias) script is smarter than it seems because he must keep the story contained within what is for all intents and purposes an impromptu videotape. That means casual moviegoers looking for escapism that is completely predictable might be disappointed.
September 05, 2003 4:12pm EST
Father Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger) and Father Thomas Garrett (Mark Addy) the last two members of an ancient Catholic order called the Carolinians are summoned from New York to Rome to investigate the mysterious death of their former mentor. The crime scene shows signs that some sort of ritual took place and strange marks on his chest indicate that his death was anything but natural--and they're right. Before his death Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti) who had been excommunicated from the Church had called upon something known as a "sin eater" to "ingest" his sins so he could get a clear shot at the pearly gates. As the myth goes a sin eater is an immortal being who absolves the unforgivable of their sins outside the Church by "eating" their sins. Alex begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together but what he doesn't realize is that the sin eater named William Eden (Benno Furmann) is tired of his immortal life on earth and fraught by centuries of evil needs someone to eat his sins grant him eternal peace and take over the torch. He offers the post to Alex but when he turns down the job Eden is forced to use the woman he secretly loves Mara (Shannyn Sossamon) to manipulate the situation to his advantage.
Ledger (The Four Feathers) is quite convincing here as the complex character Father Alex Bernier. He is old-school yet young and rebellious; he is dedicated to the institution of the Carolinians but also questions some of the Order's traditions. One of the hardest issues Alex grapples with is his fuzzy feelings for Mara a suicidal woman who once tried to kill him during an exorcism. The character a tormented artist is played by Sossamon a wonderful actress who after starring in The Rules of Attraction has truly mastered the dark and troubled persona. Sossamon and Ledger however had much more on-screen chemistry in the period romance A Knight's Tale than they do here. Their relationship in The Order has a platonic feel to it that taints their eventual physical escapade which isn't all that sexy considering how taboo it is. German actor Furmann however steals Ledger and Sossamon's thunder as the sin eater Eden. Eden is such a dichotomous character: he believes in God and is a very spiritual being but he also recognizes the corruption within the Church. He truly considers himself a god and Furmann is able to channel that pre-eminence in an odd sensual kind of way.
Director Brian Helgeland's The Order you may recall was originally slated to open Jan. 17 but 20th Century Fox postponed the release because of some unintentionally funny special effects. A post-production insider who spoke to Variety on condition of anonymity said the effects depicting sins flying out of the human body looked "like calamari." Eight months of post-production work later the flying sins went from looking like calamari to box jellyfish complete with long clear tentacles. But the interesting thing about the effects is that they're not even necessary. Written by Helgeland (A Knight's Tale) this unique story--like most supernatural tales involving religion stigmata and exorcism--is incredibly scary but these blatantly silly special effects only interrupt the chilling tale.The rest of The Order with its cool bluish hues and dusty sets is extremely well shot. Apart from the flying sins effect the only downside to the film is that it has too many subplots which detract from its most interesting premise the immortal sin eater.
October 19, 2001 5:57am EST
The film opens with prison warden Colonel Winter (Robert Redford) greeting the highly respected General Irwin (James Gandolfini) at the start of his 10-year sentence for disobeying a presidential order. When they meet Irwin makes a snide remark about Winter--a non combatant--proudly showcasing military trinkets and memorabilia in his office. The comment instantly touches off a power war between the two which ends with Irwin threatening to take over the prison and flying the American flag upside down--a symbol that the castle has fallen. Winter rises to the challenge and the two begin their strategic plotting. Irwin wins the respect of his fellow inmates in an overly drawn scene where he is forced to carry large stones from one pile to another in the prison courtyard and forms an army of inmates using clichéd chess tactics to demonstrate his assault plans. Winter meanwhile watches from his cozy office overlooking the courtyard as if he was watching a reality series on a big-screen TV.
The highly regarded General Irwin is a simple solemn type which unfortunately is what is fundamentally wrong with the film. While Redford does the brooding thing quite well the script never calls for him to do anything more than that. James Gandolfini takes on the role of prison warden Colonel Winter with fitting simplicity. He accentuates Winter's dumb-thug persona by over-enunciating his words and speaking in an unnaturally slow manner. Redford and Gandolfini both churn out great performances but it would have been more rewarding had the script called for their characters to be more well-rounded. Steve Burton plays Winter's right hand man Captain Peretz convincingly considering what few lines he has. His body language facial expressions and dialogue manage to convey his character's thoughts even when his lines don't.
Directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender) The Last Castle is a well-paced story without a dull moment. It concludes with a dramatic and exciting climax but the problem is it's just too simple. While it's easy to get caught up in the story it's hard to buy how easily the inmates are able to take control of such a heavily guarded maximum-security prison. Using cafeteria trays as shields is one thing but hurling stones using a giant catapult that somehow went unnoticed by prison security is hard to swallow. So is the fact that these inmates a group of hardened criminals cooperate so easily with hardly any friction. While it could have been a very emotional story it fails because the characters are one-dimensional and never really explored including the two main characters played by Redford and Gandolfini. One is a great strategist and the other draconian but viewers are left to guess why and how they got that way.