vin

Burning Rubber One More Time

The tagline of “Fast & Furious” promises “New Model. Original Parts.” Well, yes and no. “Parts” is a remarkably apt way to describe the people of the movie, a crew of affectless hard bodies reunited from the 2001 B-movie sensation The Fast And The Furious.

Led by Vin Diesel, an inexpressive chunk of man whose actorly range is largely restricted to the occasional furrowing of a brow, the cast is slotted into a narrative involving revenge against a Mexican drug cartel, outlandish vehicular mayhem, flaunting of custom bodywork (both automotive and anatomical) and settings that encourage people to wear tank tops.

As for the newness of the model, the script (by Chris Morgan) is primitive at best, while the direction (by Justin Lin) is more or less functional. Less, in fact, would have been more: “Fast & Furious” could stand to lose 20 minutes to suit its truncated title.

This inoffensive if uninspired example of presummer pop diversion will be best appreciated by future audiences flabbergasted by its unabashed revelry in fossil-fuel consumption.

“Fast & Furious” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for outrageous moving violations and tough-guy talk.

FAST & FURIOUS

Directed by Justin Linn; written by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Christian Wagner and Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production designer,Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell and Vin Diesel; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

WITH: Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), John Ortiz (Campos) and Laz Alonso (Fenix).

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evenxlarge “Seven Pounds,” which reunites Will Smith with Gabriele Muccino (who directed him in “The Pursuit of Happyness ), begins with a series of riddling, chronologically scrambled scenes. A man calls 911 to report his own suicide. He badgers a blind call-center employee — whom we suspect will be a significant character, since he’s played by Woody Harrelson — with complaints and insults. He embraces a lovely woman in an even lovelier beach house. He visits a nursing home where he terrorizes an administrator and comforts a resident.

For a while it is pleasant enough to contemplate these loose ends, and to tease from them the possible contours of a story. It is never unpleasant to watch Mr. Smith, who likes to play peekaboo with his charm, hiding it now and then behind fleeting shadows of anguish or malice. The music (Angelo Milli’s score and a handful of emotive pop songs) combines with the deep colors of Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography to summon up intensities of sentiment not yet arrived at by the narrative, creating an interesting frisson of suspense. After a while, though, as the pieces of the puzzle snap together, curiosity gives way to incredulity.

Near the end of “Seven Pounds” a carefully laminated piece of paper appears, on which someone has written, “DO NOT TOUCH THE JELLYFISH.” I wouldn’t dream of it, and I’ll take the message as a warning not to divulge the astonishing things that happen, not all of them involving aquatic creatures.

Frankly, though, I don’t see how any review could really spoil what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made. I would tell you to go out and see it for yourself, but you might take that as a recommendation rather than a plea for corroboration. Did I really see what I thought I saw?

And I wish I could spell out just what that was, but you wouldn’t believe me, and the people at Sony might not invite me to any more screenings. So instead of spelling out what happens in “Seven Pounds,” I’ll just pluck a few key words and phrases from my notes, and arrange them in the kind of artful disorder Mr. Muccino seems to favor (feel free to start crying any time):

Eggplant parmesan. Printing press. Lung. Bone marrow. Eye transplant. Rosario Dawson. Great Dane. Banana peel. Jellyfish (but you knew that already). Car accident. Congestive heart failure.

Huh? What the … ? Hang on. What’s he doing? Why? Who does he think he is? Jesus! That last, by the way, is not an exclamation of shock but rather an answer to the preceding question, posed with reference to Mr. Smith. Lately he has taken so eagerly to roles predicated on heroism and world-saving self-sacrifice — see “I Am Legend” and “Hancock” — that you may wonder if he has a messiah clause in his contract. Which is not to say that he doesn’t show range in these films, in which he credibly plays a research scientist, a dissolute superhero and, in this latest one, an I.R.S. agent.

An I.R.S. agent who wants only to help people. This is a nice, small joke that provides a few grace notes of levity in what is otherwise a lugubrious exercise in spiritual bushwa. For all its pious, earnest air, “Seven Pounds” cries out to be remade as an Asian horror movie, so that the deep, creepy grotesqueness of its governing premise might be allowed to flourish, rather than to fester beneath the surface.

As it is, the movie is basically an inverted, twisted tale of revenge. Ben Thomas, Mr. Smith’s character, is in essence a benevolent vigilante, harassing, stalking and spying on unsuspecting citizens for their own good, and also to punish himself. Why such misery should also be inflicted on an innocent, affirmation-hungry audience — and also on the marvelous Ms. Dawson, who plays one of Ben’s victim-beneficiaries — is another matter entirely.

But maybe I’m approaching this in the wrong way. Maybe “Seven Pounds” isn’t a spiritual parable about redemption or forgiveness or salvation or whatever, but rather a collection of practical lessons. Don’t drive while using a BlackBerry. Fertilize your rose bushes with banana peels — sorry, that was a spoiler. But please, whatever you do, don’t touch the jellyfish.

I’m serious. Don’t.

“Seven Pounds” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Swearing. Soulful sex by candlelight. Car accident. Eggplant parmesan.

SEVEN POUNDS

Directed by Gabriele Muccino; written by Grant Nieporte; director of photography, Philippe Le Sourd; edited by Hughes Winborne; music by Angelo Milli; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Todd Black, James Lassiter, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch and Will Smith; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes.

WITH: Will Smith (Ben Thomas),  Rosario Dawson(Emily Posa),Woody Harrelson (Ezra), Barry Pepper (Dan) and Michael Ealy (Ben’s Brother).

rab-ne-ban-di-jodiThere hasn’t been such a soothing title in Bollywood for ages. Aditya Chopra has made a movie with his “ghar ka beta” Shahrukh. You do not need reasons to watch a Shahrukh movie. I didn’t waste time searching for one…I was present at the first show….

PLOT and CAST:

A common man who knows the value of love but has his own ways of expressing it tries to win the heart of his better half. No! It’s not old wine in a new bottle. Shahrukh excels as Surinder Sahni. A common man working for Punjab Power Ltd, who longs for love from his better half, and even enjoys love in the lunch box she packs for his work.

The new comer Anushka is promising. She is quite a treat to the eyes to be honest (both her looks and performance). She was on par with the Bollywood King. Be it the initial aversions or the later intimacies. She dances quite well and emotes perfectly.

Vinay Pathak does his job fantastically as a fellow pal of Surinder. The comedy element hits the bulls eye when they both share the screen. He plays quite a vital role in helping Suri to do things to win Taani’s love…..

BRILLIANCES:

Writer-Director – Aditya perfectly blends sentiments and bubbly sequences. I wonder how this guy’s story telling ability is still the same even after a gap of 9 years. (Mohabbatein was his last). Honestly, I never felt bored at any part of the movie, which is the most difficult part in today’s film making. Neither the star cast over-acted nor the story lacked pace. Kudos to the director.

Music….To me, something that really goes well with the movie and perfectly highlights the happy and sad moments is good music….It is superlative in that sense for this movie…Best…..Haule Haule is the pick of the lot and comes at a perfect timing….True for any Yash movie, this serves the BGM for the first half….”Tuj me Rab diktha hai” is the next best that serves the purpose during second half….All the other songs are not speed breakers but catalysts for the pace of the movie….

Cinematography…Its none other than Ravi K Chandran…..perfectly shoots the Amritsar Golden Temple sequences and the nuances of a middle class household. The top angle shots and rotating sequences are trade marks of the director….The cameraman has done a splendid job and given what the director wanted….

NEGATIVES:

Only negative I see in this movie is the obvious plot. So what?? Love is still love after so many decades of romantic films….”And they lived happily ever after” is the ending of 99 percent of the movies….If you start guessing what’s going to happen in a thriller then you lose the total adrenaline shakes….Similarly in a Shahrukh movie you if you start moaning about the repetitive BGM’s and cheesy dialogues then you should stay away from it. It’s always watchable if its done by Shahrukh….That’s the thumb rule for Bollywood…

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Film star Angelina Jolie commands the biggest salary for Hollywood actresses, according to an annual list published by the Hollywood Reporter.

Jolie can expect to make $15m (£10.2m) a film, ahead of Julia Roberts and 2007 list winner Reese Witherspoon.

Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry are no longer able to make $10m (£6.8m), says the industry publication.

But male stars are outstripping their female counterparts, with Will Smith able to make $25m (£17m) for a movie.

Waning salaries

Jolie’s partner Brad Pitt is able to make up to $20m (£13.6m) for each star vehicle.

Jolie, 33, currently starring in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, made $15m for Wanted and could increase her pay-out to $20m for a sequel, said the Hollywood Reporter.

The actress finished in second spot in last year’s ratings.

Other actresses in the top flight are Cameron Diaz, Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway and former Friends star Jennifer Aniston, who made $8 (£5.44m) for comedy Marley and Me, due to open on Christmas Day in the US.

The publication added that salaries of key actresses are on the wane and are still lagging Hollywood’s leading men.

It also published its annual list of the most powerful women in US entertainment, in which talk show host Oprah Winfrey came out on top.

The TV star and media mogul was credited for her “immense cultural influence”.

balloonxlWould you be able to cope? That is the unspoken challenge laid down by “The Black Balloon,” a harrowing, unsentimental portrait of a middle-class Australian family whose oldest son has severe autism compounded by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Would you find in yourself the seemingly infinite reserves of love and patience possessed by the Mollisons, the movie’s itinerant, highly stressed army family who have just moved to the suburbs of Sydney? Maybe not.

“The Black Balloon,” directed by Elissa Down, was inspired by her experiences growing up in a household with two autistic brothers, the younger of whom served as the model for Charlie (Luke Ford), a mute who communicates in sign language and heaving, wheezing grunts. When calm, Charlie is adorably playful and cuddlesome, but when agitated, which is often, he makes noises that assume a feral intensity.

At his most intimidating, during uncontrollable tantrums, he becomes a desperate wild animal, flailing and spitting and biting. Mr. Ford, who was seen earlier this year as the hero’s rambunctious son in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” makes Charlie a character whose complexity transcends his disability; you can almost decipher the words he is unable to speak.

Ms. Down’s sympathetic alter ego is Charlie’s slightly younger brother, Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), a shy 15-year-old whose love for Charlie is increasingly compromised by his embarrassment. As the new kid at his school, Thomas is something of a fish out of water himself; barely able to swim, he struggles to stay afloat during lifesaving classes. He is so ashamed of Charlie, who attends a school for the disabled, that when Jackie (Gemma Ward), a sweet, attractive girl his own age, comes calling, he futilely tries to keep him out of sight.

“The Black Balloon” offers a wrenching portrait of the Mollison household. The boys’ exhausted mother, Maggie (Toni Collette), only days away from giving birth to a third child, refuses the bed rest ordered by her doctors. When she goes to the hospital to give birth, her husband, Simon (Erik Thomson), a gruff, good-hearted army officer, mistakenly imagines that the house can run smoothly while she is away. No sooner has she left than Charlie begins wreaking havoc.

The scenes of Charlie running amok are agonizing. One afternoon he flees in his underwear and, with Thomas in frantic pursuit, dashes through the neighborhood and into a strange house to use the bathroom. In a supermarket checkout line he flops onto the floor and begins bellowing when Simon asks him to return some items to the shelves; eventually he has to be dragged out of the store screaming. At one point an angry neighbor summons child services to the Mollisons’ home.

In the most repellent scene, Charlie is discovered in his room smearing his feces on the carpet and over his body. Thomas is expected to clean up the mess. His growing sense of being trapped by his brother’s disability is evoked in moments when he anxiously listens to Charlie’s noises and to the squall of the newborn through the door of his room.

The blooming puppy love between Thomas and Jackie lends “The Black Balloon” a welcome strain of tenderness. Mr. Wakefield and Ms. Ward project the innocence of shy, sensitive young people for whom a tentative shared kiss is a very big deal.

But Ms. Collette’s Maggie is the film’s prime mover. This wonderful Australian actress, who hasn’t a shred of vanity, virtually disappears into the complicated characters she plays, and Maggie is one of the strongest. With every forceful gesture and glaring look, Ms. Collette portrays Maggie as an indefatigable woman of heart and sinew who, through sheer determination, holds off chaos.

THE BLACK BALLOON

Directed by Elissa Down; written by Ms. Down and Jimmy Jack (a k a Jimmy the Exploder); director of photography, Denson Baker; edited by Veronica Jenet; music by Michael Yezerski; production designer, Nicholas McCallum; produced by Tristram Miall; released by NeoClassics Films Ltd. In Manhattan at the AMC Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Rhys Wakefield (Thomas), Luke Ford (Charlie), Gemma Ward (Jackie), Erik Thomson (Simon) and Toni Collette(Maggie).

rightxlargeThe title of the spectrally beautiful Swedish vampire movie “Let the Right One In”  comes from a song by Morrissey, a romantic fatalist who would surely appreciate this darkly perverse love story. “Let the right one in,” he sings in “Let the Right One Slip In.” I’d say you were within your rights to bite/The right one and say, ‘What kept you so long?’ ” These may sound like words to live by, though in the case of a film about a boy and the girl next door who may just be a vampire, they could easily turn out to be words to die for.

I’m not sure if the director Tomas Alfredson is a Morrissey fan, even if, like the singer, his movie smoothly and seemingly without effort works through a canny amalgamation of cool and hot, diffidence and passion. (John Ajvide Lindqvist, who adapted the screenplay from his horror novel, openly borrowed the title from Morrissey, a favorite.) The film’s cool is largely expressed in visual terms, in the enveloping snow, the wintry light and the cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s meticulously and steadily framed compositions. There is a remarkable stillness to many of the film’s most indelible images, particularly the exteriors, which are so carefully photographed, and without the usual tiresome camera jiggling, as to look almost frozen. It’s no wonder that pale, pale little Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) looks so cold.

Pale and strange: with his light blond hair and alabaster skin, the 12-year-old Oskar appears not quite of this world, an alienation of body and spirit that causes him enormous pain but proves his salvation. The seemingly friendless only son of divorced, emotionally remote parents, he is also an outcast at school. The other children taunt him, particularly a pint-size sadist who grows crueler the more Oskar retreats into himself. But there are few other places he can go, which is how he ends up alone at night outside his apartment building thrusting a knife into a tree as if stabbing his tormentor. It’s an uneasy revenge fantasy that attracts the notice of a girl even paler than he is, Eli (Lina Leandersson), an outcast of a deadlier kind.

The bedraggled Eli drops into Oskar’s life like a blessing, though initially she seems more like a curse. Mr. Alfredson has an elevated sense of visual beauty, but he knows how to deliver the splattery goods. One of the earliest scenes features Eli’s guardian or slave (it’s never clear which), a defeated-looking middle-aged man named Hakan (Per Ragnar), headed into the night with a little black kit, the contents of which — a knife, a plastic container, a funnel (ick) — are soon put to deadly use on a strung-up victim. The ensuing stream of red is all the more gruesome for being so matter-of-fact, though the sudden and comical appearance of an inquisitive poodle quickly eased at least one violently churning stomach.

There are other interested animals in this story, and many more unsettling excuses to laugh. Yet while Mr. Alfredson takes a darkly amused attitude toward the little world he has fashioned with such care, he also takes the morbid unhappiness of his young characters seriously. Both are achingly alone, and it is the ordinary fact of their loneliness rather than their extraordinary circumstances that makes the film more than the sum of its chills and estimable technique. Eli seizes on Oskar immediately, slipping her hand under his, writing him notes, becoming his protector, baring her fangs. “Are you a vampire?” he asks tremulously at one point. Her answer may surprise you, but it’s another of his questions — “Will you be my girlfriend?” — that will floor you.

“Let the Right One In” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Dripping and gushing blood, as well as some knife work.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

Directed by Tomas Alfredson; written (in Swedish, with English subtitles) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel of the same name; director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema; edited by Dino Jonsater and Mr. Alfredson; music by Johan Soderqvist; production designer, Eva Noren; produced by John Nordling and Carl Molinder; released by Magnet Releasing. In Manhattan at the Angelika Film Center, Mercer and Houston Streets, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes.

WITH: Kare Hedebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Hakan), Henrik Dahl (Erik), Karin Bergquist (Yvonne) and Peter Carlberg (Lacke).

26chri600Every holiday season, either out of respect for tradition or sheer spite, at least one Hollywood studio is sure to release a drippily sentimental, gratingly cheerful “comedy,” indigestible as a fruitcake and disposable as wrapping paper. All appearances to the contrary, “Four Christmases” is not this year’s version. Yes, it follows a charming, mismatched couple on a sentimental journey involving presents, family and the sharing of food and feelings, but the picture, briskly directed by Seth Gordon from a snappy, many-authored script, is refreshingly tart and lean, forgoing the usual schmaltz and syrup.

Don’t get the wrong idea. “Four Christmases” isn’t anything astonishing, but at 86 minutes, divided into four farcical set pieces, plus necessary exposition, denouement and interstitial drive time, it’s an efficient and stress-free entertainment package. For the audience, that is. The main characters seem pretty miserable most of the time, which is as it should be.

To an unusual and welcome degree, “Four Christmases” makes merry with an impressive range of modern American social awfulness. In its view of the discomfort that persists between parents and their grown-up children, it flirts with the misanthropy encapsulated in Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse,” which begins with an unprintable axiom and concludes with the advice to “get out as early as you can/and don’t have any kids yourself.”

This is the counsel Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) seem to have followed. An unmarried, fun-loving San Francisco couple, they have tactfully estranged themselves from parents, stepparents and siblings. Each Christmas Kate and Brad invent an exotic charity project as cover for a hedonistic jaunt that takes them far from the claims of kin. This year, though, their planned escape is foiled, and they must run a grueling (and surprisingly brutal) gantlet through the homes of four divorced parents, enduring awkwardness, humiliation and sexual ickiness.

“I swear I never had sexual feelings for your mom until I was 30,” Brad’s childhood best friend tells him. It’s much funnier, as well as more appalling, in context.

Mr. Vaughn is supposed to be the offspring of Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, a curious casting choice unless the editors left out a flashback in which the infant Brad fell into a vat of human growth hormone. Kate’s parents are played by Mary Steenburgen and, all too briefly, Jon Voight, and her undermining, aggressively fertile sister by Kristin Chenoweth.

Brad’s feral brothers, a pair of semi-professional extreme cage fighters, are Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau, and the generally high caliber of the supporting performances — Dwight Yoakam as Pastor Phil, Kate’s mom’s latest boyfriend, also deserves mention — goes a long way toward making “Four Christmases” palatable.

And Ms. Witherspoon serves as a game comic sidekick to the irrepressible Mr. Vaughn, who basically does what he always does, which is to stammer, bluster and wheedle his way through a performance that scrambles the distinction between brute and wimp. He has a tendency, slyly mocked in a church pageant scene, to upstage whomever he’s paired with, and Ms. Witherspoon, though a fine comedian in her own right, is perhaps a bit too decorous and obliging.

The difference in size between them presents an interesting visual challenge, as they fit into the frame like Gandalf and Frodo, or Marmaduke and a Hummel figurine. There are other reasons not to believe them as a couple, one being that no sane woman could endure more than 90 minutes of Brad’s company. But since you don’t even have to endure that much, it really isn’t your problem.

“Four Christmases” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has profanity and sexual situations and references.

FOUR CHRISTMASES

Directed by Seth Gordon; written by Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, based on a story by Mr. Allen and Mr. Wilson; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Mark Helfrich and Melissa Kent; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Jonathan Glickman; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes.

WITH: Vince Vaughn (Brad), Reese Witherspoon (Kate), Robert Duvall (Howard), Jon Favreau (Denver), Mary Steenburgen (Marilyn), Dwight Yoakam (Pastor Phil), Tim McGraw (Dallas), Kristin Chenoweth (Courtney), Jon Voight (Creighton) and Sissy Spacek (Paula).