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Reviews for June 30th, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector

Directed Vikram Jayanti.

This engaging albeit awkwardly structured documentary the rise and fall of record producer and songwriter Phil Spector as well as his 2007 trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Spector serves produced many rock ‘n roll singles and albums since 1958. The tuneful songs he produced include “Corrine, Corrina” by Ray Peterson, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You” by The Ronettes, and even John Lennon’s “Imagine”, among many others. He openly discusses his childhood, regrets, frustrations, and how he rose to fame in the music industry, although he does come across as somewhat crazy in the noodle and high on himself. As he sits on the couch in his living room with John Lennon’s piano in the background, there’s sadness in his eyes even though he does maintain a sense of humor and seems intelligent throughout. In a fascinating moment, he describes how the song “Be My Baby” was used without his permission in the film Mean Streets and, after being begged not to file a lawsuit, he agreed to let it be used and, to this very day, he believes that the film was successful because of his song---be sure to play close attention to how he mispronounces Martin Scorsese’s name. While you learn how Spector’s life and work in the music world, you also catch glimpses from the 2007 trial where he was accused of murdering actress Lana Clarkson. Not surprisingly, he claims that her death was an accidental suicide at his own residence. Not a speck of blood or tissue was found on Spector’s clothing, though, so perhaps he was telling the truth---it’s hard to tell because, after all, if he did actually murder her, do you really think he would admit it before his subsequent conviction of second degree murder in 2009? Perhaps when he’s released in 2028 he’ll reveal the truth about what happened. Director Vikram Jayanti overlaps the trial with some of the songs that Spector produced, so you rarely get to actually hear anything of what’s being said during the trail. On top of that, there are distracting texts that describe the songs more in depth, but you’ll only be able to observe the trial, listen to the songs and read the texts concurrently if you’re a good multitasker. A sharper focus on the proceedings of the trial, separate from his music, would have helped you to feel much more absorbed emotionally, though. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is engaging, illuminating and occasionally funny, but awkwardly and distractingly blends Spector’s songs and murder trial footage.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by BBC Arena and VixPix Films.
Opens at the Film Forum.

Love Ranch

Directed Taylor Hackford.

*Full review coming soon*

Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by E1 Entertainment.
Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Directed by David Slade.

Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) still lives with her father, Charlie (Billy Burke), the Chief of Police. As soon as Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) gathers together the Newborn Army of vampires, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) come to Bella’s aid to defend her from the imminently approaching army. Riley (Xavier Samuel) leads the Newborn Army and prepares his blood-thirsty team for battle. Meanwhile, in a parallel subplot, Bella finds herself in a love triangle between Edward and Jacob, even though she doesn’t readily admit her love of her good friend Jacob. Edward wants to marry her before she becomes an immortal vampire once and for all. The screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg suffers from essentially the same problems that New Moon suffers from: contrived dramatic scenes, a romantic subplot that lacks subtlety and chemistry, and unspectacular action sequences. Worst of all, the dialogue feels so dumbed down and stilted that you’ll roll your eyes or laugh unintentionally whenever Bella interacts with Edward or Jacob. One such dumb line of dialogue occurs during a picturesque view of a mountainous area when Bella looks at the scenery and comments about how pretty it looks. Unless audience members were blind, that comment is essentially redundant and a waste of time. So many scenes are spent showing the melodramatic love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob that you’ll find yourself looking at your watch waiting for the inevitable battle between them and the Newborn Army. How many times does director David Slade have to show Jacob Black’s muscular chest? It quickly becomes an annoying and cheap way to entertain the audience. All of the action sequences seem so poorly edited that they’re more headache-inducing than exciting like they should have been. To top it all off, each actor and actress, with the exception of the brief appearance of the underrated Anna Kendrick, gives a mediocre performance at best. Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, in particular, pretty much sleepwalk through their roles and fail to add any emotion whenever they recite their dialogue. At an excessive running time of just over 2 hours, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is poorly-acted, bland, overlong and thrill-less. It insults your intelligence from start to finish.
Number of times I checked my watch: 8
Released by Summit Entertainment.
Opens nationwide.

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