Monday, September 25, 2006

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Mira Kirshner, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson, Fiona Kay, John Kavanagh

Brian De Palma's stint in film noir -- a stint that reached its height with the release of crime classic 'Scarface' in 1983 -- continues over twenty years later with this adaptation of James Ellroy's novel, 'The Black Dahlia'. In this typically 40's crime drama, Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart are two L.A. cops on the hunt for the brutal killer of aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short.

Bucky Bleichert (Hartnett) and his partner Lee Blanchard (Eckhart) are drawn into the investigation, but when Blanchard begins to obsess over the case, Bleichert is left to pursue it alone, meeting along the way what can only be described as a very against-type Hilary Swank as Madeleine, the mysterious, sumptuous daughter of Hollywood tycoon Emmet Linscott. But as Blanchard grows ever more unstable, Bucky is drawn closer to his wife Kay, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Although 'The Black Dahlia' is based on a real-life murder, the actual murder was never solved, and therefore the characters in the story are entirely a work of fiction. Presumably this is why they have virtually no authenticity at all, bar the Dahlia herself -- a truly captivating performance by Mira Kirshner -- and plucky Bucky, the leading man of the debacle. It is Hartnett that leads the audience amidst a typhoon of boring, somewhat ridiculous characters that are either underplayed (Swank), overplayed (Shaw), or simply badly acted (Johansson). De Palma watches the level of intrigue in his plotline move from little to zero, while Hartnett struggles bravely against a tired and at times painful script.

While Dahlia is almost adequate for the first hour, it quickly spirals downward when we can no longer be kept at a distance from the unfathomable reality that is the final act of the film. As things hot up, and Dahlia's love triangle subplot is ended once and for all, the pieces of the puzzle do finally begin to merge, or rather, splat together. But while De Palma likes to keep us dangling on a string for much of the film -- a string that's very very very fine I'd like to add -- he wastes no time in wrapping the film up into a frayed and bundled mess. Most disappointing is a finale that reeks of bad TV Whodunits, racing towards a silly conclusion like 'Murder, She Wrote' on acid (and I LOVE Murder, She Wrote). But hey, if you're lucky, you might blink and miss this manic, desperate culmination altogether. Here's hoping.

Grade: D+

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

As Summer Fades...

As we are midway through September(shocking isn't it) I feel it's time to do a current list of what I would nominate, had the year ended now. Having only seen a meagre 40 films it's kinda shoddy but I'll work with it. Without further ado... Oh wait. Almost forgot. A bravo for the My Summer of Love girls. I never had any doubts. Ok, lets go:

Best Picture
A Cock and Bull Story
The Devil Wears Prada
Little Miss Sunshine
*The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Runners Up: Hard Candy, V For Vendetta, Poseidon

Ken Loach's piece about the formation of the IRA and the road to Civil War in Ireland is by far the best film I've seen this year. Loach chooses to focus on one or two select characters to chronicle the Irish debate, and thus succeeds in creating an impacting and moving realistic insight into a relatively murky area of history. Prada is an efervescent and effortlessly fun journey about one woman's entrance into an alien world, and her adaptation to it. Sunshine's cute and simple approach to everyday problems within fleshed out and touching characters allows for plenty of hilarity and warmth. Clean handles a familiar plotline with refreshing intricacy, and A Cock and Bull Story is an undeniably dry and clever British comedy that never hits a wrong note.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Maggie Cheung (Clean)
*Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Ellen Page (Hard Candy)
Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)

Runners Up: Natalie Portman (V For Vendetta), Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill)

Bynes is a barrel of fun in her dual role, adapting to Shakesperian humour like a duck to water. Palmer's warm and relatable nature elevates the film from its somewhat sentimental familiarity. Page rips into her role like a dog off its leash, getting under your skin with an eager and ruthless unrelinquishing vengeance. Yet Meryl's devil is the essence of ruthlessness, iconic of an idea and theme that she flaunts so gloriously easily, like a model parading around with unfathomable swagger. Majestic and effortless.

As much as I'd like to say that Streep's fashion bitch is the best character work so far this year, I really can't. Helen Mirren takes a figurehead that is essentially cold and unrelatable, and creates empathy with her layered, patient portrayal. An astonishing, titanic achievement.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
*Steve Coogan (A Cock and Bull Story)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking)
Josh Hartnett (The Black Dahlia/Lucky Number Slevin)
Cillian Murphy (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)
Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy)

Runners Up: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick), Nathan Fillion (Slither)

For the record, I usually detest Josh Hartnett immeasurably. The fact is: he isn't terrible in Slevin, and in Dahlia is the only real character that you can take seriously. Amongst the carnage he leads the film as best he can. Eckhart, who I maintain you can't take seriously in Dahlia, is excellent in Thank You For Smoking. A gorgeously unapologetic tobacco tycoon he keeps your eyes on the screen and creates a guy with believably dim moral concern. Wilson very much plays the punchbag in his film, but whatever's thrown at him looks and feels like the instant, horrific reaction of a desperate man. Murphy's quiet and engaging role feels fresh and nuanced, even if it doesn't quite compare with previous Loach performances (i.e. Peter Mullan in My Name Is Joe). Still, it's British TV funnyman Steve Coogan that's been the real highlight of my year so far. In the side-splittingly funny A Cock and Bull Story, his arrogant instability is constantly entertaining and immaculately pitched.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
*Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Vera Farmiga (Running Scared)
Orla Fitzgerald (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)
Naomie Harris (A Cock and Bull Story)

Runners Up: Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), Maria Bello & Maggie Gyllenhaal (World Trade Center), Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Rob Brydon (A Cock and Bull Story)
Steve Carrell (Little Miss Sunshine)
*Padraic Delaney (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)
Nick Nolte (Clean)
Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada)

Runners Up: Ben Sliney (United 93), Laurence Fishburne (Akeelah and the Bee), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)

Best Director

Olivier Assayas (Clean)
Paul Greengrass (United 93)
*Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)
Wolfgang Petersen (Poseidon)
Michael Winterbottom (A Cock and Bull Story)

Runners Up: David Slade (Hard Candy), Christophe Gans (Silent Hill), Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes)