EW review: Color 'Red Eye' scary
By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy in "Red Eye."
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(Entertainment Weekly) -- What with terrorism anxieties, security snarls, flight cancellations, lost luggage, lost legroom, reduced meal service, and deadly Cinnabon calorie counts, air travel has never been more stressful.
Yet even the thousands of fliers recently stranded for days in London's Heathrow, for real, had a less agita-inducing time of it than Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), the young businesswoman strapped in next to her own worst nightmare at 30,000 feet in the quick-and-dirty suspense corker "Red Eye."
The biggest problem the Heathrow hordes faced is that they'd never make their connections. But for Lisa, a hotel executive used to handling the problems of querulous guests, the life of her daddy back home depends on how well she can handle Jackson (never "Jack") Rippner (Cillian Murphy), the attractive, alarmingly named young man seated next to her on the last flight out from Dallas to Miami.
At the terminal bar, he was the attentive charmer who bought her a drink and locked his big, pool-blue orbs on her velvety peepers. But in the air, he's a cold-eyed operative with a madman's calm who demands her complicity -- or her old man gets killed -- in a plot to assassinate the U.S. deputy secretary of Homeland Security.
It is no small coincidence that Wes Craven, the man from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream," directs this effective button pusher of a fright film, from a nifty script by TV writer Carl Ellsworth: A good measure of the movie's white-knuckle fun comes from Craven's old-hand familiarity with the way thrillers tick, predicated on the smallest and most banal of missed connections, the kind that get an audience to go crazy.
"Red Eye" begins with everyday, jittery, modern-life frenzy -- Lisa trying to get to the flight on time, Lisa dealing with a hotel problem by phone, Lisa navigating the airport din -- and then shifts for much of the ride to a setting of almost palpable aircraft-cabin claustrophobia, by which time Ellsworth and Craven have laid out an efficient grid of stalls and feints.
Nice touch, the Homeland Security thing; the filmmakers also brake to include a chatty passenger with a love of books by Dr. Phil, a tetchy flight attendant, reality check-ins with Dad -- seen puttering at home with Hitchcockian obliviousness (Pops is played by Brian Cox, so you know he won't stay passive forever) -- and, of course, tension based on that most useful of new anxiety props for a wireless generation, a dying cell-phone battery.
For all the bursts of action, though (and "Red Eye" builds by the handbook, happily setting up the audience for participatory screams), the movie's most exciting passages take place in stillness and close-up, with the low-budget simplicity of two faces reacting to one another by the glow of the overhead reading light in a darkened cabin.
Both McAdams ("Wedding Crashers") and Murphy ("Batman Begins") are on rapid career rises -- she for her rosy loveliness and he for the spooky aftertaste of his delicate beauty. But neither has risen too far, too fast yet to outpace the pleasure induced by their talents at playing real enough characters desperately engaged with one another. Locked in a surreal confluence of the menacing and the mundane, Lisa and Jackson scare us to hell so that earth feels safer.
EW Grade: B+
Reviewed by Scott Brown
"Valiant: opens with a newsreel from "the Department of Pigeon Propaganda": The Allies need brave pigeons -- like eager, featherweight Valiant (Ewan McGregor) -- to carry secret messages to the front.
Who recruits and trains these pigeons? Other pigeons, who wear clothes and take little notice of humans. Precious few of those warlike primates are glimpsed at all, in fact. It's a pigeon's army and a pigeon's world.
But it's not, of course, a pigeon's war. This disconnect between birdkind and mankind isn't a huge narrative problem ... since there's very little narrative to worry about, anyway. Wee Valiant joins up, gets an impossible mission, faces some Teutonic falcons, pulls a no-bird-left-behind with war buddy Bugsy (Ricky Gervais), and so forth.
But such conceptual laziness (why, exactly, does a Nazi bird have a human-size portrait of himself?) does make you appreciate the clever artistry of a "Chicken Run" or "Finding Nemo," where great care has been taken to cultivate a talking animal's essential "humanity" while leaving him firmly embedded in his natural milieu. Such delicate considerations clearly did not burden the pixel pushers behind "Valiant."
The production house, Vanguard Animation, was birthed by Disney as an alternative to pricey, lapidary Pixar -- which might be why this movie's aesthetics seem governed by its bottom line: The CG is on the rubbery side, and the backdrops are jarringly 2-D.
But "Valiant" isn't so hard to look at -- it's hard to listen to. The script is gabby and flabby in the first act, and the dialogue is balsa-wood inanity outside of Gervais' better bits. ("Maybe I'm not conscientious," says the rogue, attempting desertion, "but I do object.") On the other hand, the difficult issues of avian flatulence and bulimia are finally addressed. Vividly.
EW Grade: C
'Supercross: The Movie'
Reviewed by Scott Brown
"Should've kept up with the piano lessons," cracks an injured motocross biker from his hospital bed, and for a moment, we get an alternate-universe flash of "Supercross." It would be called "Ultrakeys," sponsored by Steinway, and set in the world of high-stakes, full-contact Rachmaninoff.
Hey, it could work. After all, a brand-encrusted infomercial like "Supercross" (bankrolled by a cartel that includes youth-pop merchant Lou Pearlman and sports-ertainment conglomerate Clear Channel) doesn't really derive its "drama" from the sport it's pimping.
Substitute NASCAR, break dancing, or backgammon: It's always the story of a diamond in the rough (Steve Howey), his wingman/brother (Mike Vogel), and the gals (Cameron Richardson and Sophia Bush) who sidecar their own dreams and plotlines to help their guys Win the Big One, while footage fit for ESPN6 unspools.
Vogel, a scruffy hipster hobbit, is the standout: As Trip Carlyle, maverick younger brother to Howey's cautious K.C., he passes (on this film's relaxed terms) for a lazy James Dean and lends some limber fun to a venture so clearly boardroom-born.
Amusingly, "Supercross" puts up a fierce anticorporate front, lauding the self-financed "privateer" over the "factory" cyclist. If this is a joke, few will get it; newbies will be too busy decrypting all the moto-jargon. Luckily, the camera, caressing gleaming spokes and toned groupie hindquarters with equal ardor, speaks the international language of trash: Get the girl, win the race, spin some mud in some dude's face.
EW Grade: C
'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress'
Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum
To the question of "How're ya gonna keep her down on the farm after she's read 'Cousin Bette'?" the answer in "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" is, ya can't.
Adapting his own nostalgic semiautobiographical novel about reeducation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, filmmaker Dai Sijie has created a dreamy memory of hardship -- part familiar Chinese parable, part familiar French romance -- in which love of the radiantly beautiful, remote Chinese landscape outlasts bitterness at the Mao era's blinkered commitment to intellectual ignorance.
The three principals in the film (made in 2002 and banned in China) are radiantly beautiful too, which doesn't hurt. Sent for "rehabilitation" to a remote mining village in 1971, as penance for their educated upbringing, Luo (Chen Kun) and Ma (Liu Ye) court the tailor's granddaughter of the title (Zhou Xun) by reading to her from a stolen cache of forbidden classic literature. Enlightenment is good, Dai acknowledges. But the movie's more provocative assertion is the notion that ignorance was also a kind of bliss.
EW Grade: B
'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance'
Reviewed by Owen Gleiberman
When you're watching movie violence designed to give you a queasy shudder, context is all. The ear-severing torture scene in "Reservoir Dogs" is a cheerful sadist's dance of hell, but it's also one element in a carefully constructed collage of brutality; it earns its cringe factor.
In "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," on the other hand, when a man stands over the corpse of his 11-year-old daughter, recoiling (along with the audience) as an autopsy saw slices open her chest, the hideousness serves no dramatic purpose. It's just there as a sick kick, a hardcore moment of how-strong-is-your-stomach "flamboyance."
The director, South Korea's Park Chanwook ("Oldboy"), specializes in such rabid moments of showpiece Guignol, and he also specializes in stringing them together in as haphazard and mangy a fashion as possible. In "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf and mute young man with hair dyed to look like green fiberglass, tries to fund his sister's kidney transplant by kidnapping the daughter of his former boss (Song Kang-ho). The scheme goes haywire, and so does the movie, which is so busy shoving characters like Ryu's shrill Marxist girlfriend (Bae Doona) into our faces that it barely bothers to establish how we should think or feel about them.
"Dirty Pretty Things" (2003) used the British live-organ black market as the backdrop for a humanely terrifying vision of the underbelly of immigrant life, but "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" is so badly told that it ends up dissecting a corruption that exudes from nowhere but itself.
EW Grade: D
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