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Movie Reviews

by Jerry Salisbury

Click on a movie's name to go directly to the review, or scroll down and proceed through them all.

8 Mile, Auto Focus, Bowling for Columbine, Femme Fatale, The Grey Zone, The Ring, The Rules of Attraction, Secretary, Star Trek: Nemesis, White Oleander

The Ring

There is a long road between idea and execution. The Hollywood path is littered with the victims of failing one or both of these. There have been ideas, which have sounded good in principle, but lost in translation due to poor writing, performance or depiction. The Ring is yet another example of this. While the initial idea is intriguing and the setup is creepy and chilling, the writing and progression of the story is a letdown and in the end, we are left with many more questions than answers, and not in a good sense either.

As the teasing and haunting trailer states, there is a video tape that once you watch it, you will die within seven days. Preaching to the natural propensity and obsession of America to watch and record events using videotape, the film tries to ignite our fears by giving us something simple and common and making it dangerous or scary. Horror movies have been doing this for years, from babysitting (When A Stranger Calls) to dolls (Child's Play), we are scared most by what is around us and what we do not understand. Apparently though the wrong person has seen this tape. After her niece dies from watching the tape, a journalist, Rachel (Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts), does some digging and investigating to find out what the secret is behind it and possibly save the lives of those she cares about who have seen tape; either intentionally or accidentally. What she begins to uncover is a mysterious series of events on a remote island involving horse ranchers, fertile mothers and an abandoned well. She enlists the help of Noah, a videotape editor who conveniently has a connection to Rachel and her son Aidan. Together Rachel and Noah race against the calendar to solve the mystery and hopefully prevent their own demises. This is where the film loses all of its steam.

Screenwriter Ehren Krueger puts in some uncomfortable dialogue, which nearly offsets the disturbing imagery and diffuses any fear-inducing momentum that the film builds up. As far as the ending goes, it suffers the rampant cinematic disease of indecisive resolution and excessive explanation. There are at least 2 solid points, prior to the actual ending, that the film could have wrapped and been a bit more effective. Instead the film keeps trying, like the audience just doesn't, or may not, get it. It is a shame too, because the film is very well made and chilling to look at. Director Gore Verbinski has established an atmosphere similar to The Others; cold, dark and creepy and combined with Angelo Badalamenti's score (teamed with Watts again after their wonderful collaboration in Mulholland Drive), it makes the film a hauntingly delicious vision. But alas the story is as empty as the center of the namesake ring. The film left me with numerous questions, which for the sake of the film I will not print here, but a film should not leave the audience in a state of confusion without giving some basis or hint at the answers. Lynch and M Night Shyamalan's Sixth Sense both generate a mysterious, supernatural aura but have a solid story as the basis. For all of his cinematic tricks (including insert subliminal clips from the video into the movie) and establishment of atmosphere, Verbinski does not, and the holes are glaring and distracting.

Ultimately, The Ring is a film that paints itself into a dark corner and then tries to creep and scare its way out by offering too many elements and not enough genuine fear. The key to a good mystery/suspense/horror movie boils down to four basic points; establishment, plausibility, execution and resolution. The Ring hits about one and a half of these. While the idea is setup well, and seems relatively possible in that darkly alternate universe that exists, the writers and directors seemed lost as to what to do with things. This results in a meandering story full of holes and questions, and a resolution that will leave the audience scratching their heads in confusion rather than amazement. The underlying message of the film seems to preach to all dysfunctional families out there. It preaches that we should listen to our children, to pay attention to them and then bad things will not happen. Who knew that Jerry Falwell was a consultant to horror movies? This film was a pseudo remake of a Japanese film and I have to wonder if that film makes more sense and/or makes things a bit clearer than this one does. Confusion does not breed success, unless you're David Lynch and have a basis or at least a common thread to link things too. In The Ring, Verbinski shows us that he is no David Lynch and still needs to work on his storytelling skills.

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction takes place at a supposedly fictional university called Camden College. Now, let me give you an overview of what I imagine their promotional listing would look like in a catalog:

Small quaint co-ed college located on the beautiful East Coast of America. Frequent interaction between students allows for a relaxed environment so that focus can be put on your education. Come experience our inspiring End of The World Party, or our Dress to Get Screwed social mixer for you to get to know your fellow students better and foster lasting relationships. Morality, consideration, honesty and fidelity not accepted, so check your emotions at the gate. Student teacher relationships increased by relaxed drug and alcohol usage, while promiscuity is encouraged to allow exploration and emotional growth.

Sounds like your kind of college doesn't it? Attraction is not a film deeply rooted in realism. Its hedonistic attitude and morally deplorable nature explores the worst nightmare for any parent considering sending their kids away to college. Its characters go to the other extreme of most typical teen comedies. Whereas those films have rich, spoiled troubled kids, beautiful people flirting and toying with each other, nerds looking to fit in, and wallflowers trying to find themselves, Attraction has a group of students to whom social and financial status is not as much of a concern as it is an excuse for certain actions. The romantic tales explored here are the realistic aspect of the film. The pretty people do not have a cute meeting, a period of casual flirting, a relationship filled with discovery and emotional bonding, followed by a brief misunderstanding and concluding in a reconciliation and a happily ever after. Far from it actually, these students sample all of the available options like an amorous buffet. The romantic circles are a tad dizzying but do reflect the confusion and discovery that most college age students go through. I just really have to wonder if they are all this self-servient and morally void.

Don't let the previews fool you for a second. Just as in dating, when you see an attractive person that looks fun, nice, carefree and possibly a little wild and crazy, The Rules of Attraction turns that woman into an insecure, vice ridden, complex emotional mess. In its finest moments, of which there are unexpectedly surprising amounts, this is a darkly realistic, creatively filmed tale of the pains that love can cause. The kind of pains that Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco sing about, the kind that when they occur in younger life can scar and mold the future romantic endeavors of all involved. I would like to think that these are thanks to the words of Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote the novel on which this movie is based. This is a film that doesn't want you to like it, only try and understand the motivations behind its characters. These are not pretty teens, spoiled, rich, and beautiful without a care in the world. These are an opposing commentary and the film is at its best when it realizes that. At its worst however, it is little more than a depressing take on the carefree teen lifestyle films which are made as antithesis to the typical teen comedies, but are little more than American Pie or Heathers retreads. A friend of mine tells me that he cannot like a movie if there are no redeeming characters within the story. I am guessing that he's going to have a very hard time with this film. The characters are unlikable, pretty on the outside, ugly, troubled and conflicted on the inside. The film deals with the down side of a hormonally driven, drug induced lifestyle that is unfortunately very prevalent in college age kids these days. Ellis's novel must go into some detail explaining the characters a bit more, but we know just enough to mutually sympathize and despise just about everyone in the film. What pulls this film from the muck of typical films of this genre is the creative camera work, the non-linear storytelling method, the fearless nature with which it deals with sex, drugs, suicide, depression and obsession, and some shockingly solid performances from the relatively unknown leads.

Ellis's novels tend to deal in the repercussions, both visible and repressed, or excesses within the human condition. American Psycho tackled capitalism, while Less Than Zero dealt with drug usage and casual sex. In Rules of Attraction, he turns his wicked satirical perspective towards the uncomfortable nature of dating and love. Everything centers around an end of the world party being thrown on the campus of the aforementioned Camden college. Like Memento and Run Lola Run, we are introduced to characters, then rewound (we actually see the rewinding which helps explain the next scene) and introduced to another. We meet Paul (Ian Somerholder), a homosexual whose gaydar is apparently out of sync as he misreads the affections of a man, while pining for another. We meet Lauren (Shannyn Soussamon), a pretty but lonely girl who is pining for a boyfriend, Victor, who is off having his own frivolous sexcapade throughout Europe (the best sequence in the film). Lauren is still a virgin, but not for long as she is deflowered by a voyeuristic film student, not a wise career move, but probably closer to true than most Dawson's Creek episodes would have you believe. Speaking of that show, we then meet Sean (Dawson's Creek's James Van der Beek) a ruggedly handsome, drug addicted young man who tears up a purple note as he watches Lauren longingly. Paul stares at Sean, Sean stares at Lauren, Lauren disappears and reappears a different person. This is the groundwork, and it compels slightly as it flashes back to the events leading up to this moment. We are shown the courtship between Lauren and Sean, the mistaken attraction and relationship between Paul and Sean, and we are shown that Sean's life is slowly coming unraveled in a cocaine haze. The rest of the film, save flashes of this original creativity, becomes situations, which range from intense (a woman's obsession with Sean via correspondence in said purple notes) to slightly animated (Collins as a drug dealer with a Jamaican heavy) to downright silly (a rebellious gay friend of Paul's who appears, offends and disappears with very little discernible purpose). The dark themes of Ellis's novel are very visible, but often clouded amidst long sequences of boredom and the aforementioned silliness, the excessive nature of all the characters definitely carries on the theme of Ellis's previous works, namely American Psycho (one of the people at the frat party is Patrick Bateman although that information is only in the credits). This looks like what the college life of Psycho's main character may have been like. But for all of this edginess, the film loses touch too many times to have the impact that it should.

The depressing mode that pervades nearly every aspect of the film is oddly refreshing. It shows that not everyone thinks the world exists as it does in most of these types of films. The characters are flawed and have issues (Lauren looks at pictures of venereal diseases to dissuade her sex drive, while her roommate acts her sexuality out on those whom she knows will be most hurt by it). This should scare us, since most of us don't want to admit that our excessive lifestyles may be rooted in these kind of situations and our eccentricities may stem from deeper rooted occurrences. However, no matter how far the film goes, it could have gone farther, compacting things a bit more, excising certain unnecessary things, and driving home the point more effectively than it does. Thankfully, the full circle conclusion saves some face, as its characters have to deal with the repercussions of actions and decisions. It didn't quite make the journey worth the ride, but it showed that there was indeed something great lurking just under the surface. There is one disturbing sequence in the movie that may seem thrown in for shock value at the time, but if you reflect on it later, may be the most powerful representation of the damage that these types of actions can cause. It makes the audience almost want to scream at the character, pray for intervention or hope that it's all a dream. But alas, as the montage shows afterwards, life is not a dream, and neither are the messages that these characters convey.

Van der Beek is definitely trying to shatter his pretty boy, clean-cut image with this one in a similar manner that Cruise did in Interview with The Vampire. He uses those piercing eyes and disarming smile to mask a devious agenda beneath. Although his sensitivity still exists, we are given enough reason to doubt and suspect Sean of having ulterior motives. Soussamon finally shows some acting ability, after fluffy roles in Knights Tale and 40 Days, 40 Nights. Her natural beauty definitely conflicts with the troubled road that her character drives herself down. These are dark, moody performances, which carry the film even through its lulls. Mix in some cameos, some of which work (Eric Stoltz as an adulterous professor, Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz as overindulgent, oblivious parents who reflect how their children may have ended up with issues) to a seemingly overacting Clifton Collins, as the maniacal, but pointless drug dealer. These reflect both realized and wasted potentials of the film.

Ultimately, The Rules of Attraction is a film that does a lot of things right, but misfires one too many times for me to recommend it completely. We all seek perfection, happiness and acceptance in all that we do. When there are so many vices available to exorcise these needs, we feel we must indulge them. The film was definitely promising and showed great potential, but I have to believe that Avary lost Ellis's edge and intentions while trying to make the film more appealing for the very demographic that the film skewers. The promise is diluted in long, drawn out scenarios and situations. Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction and helmed the unappreciated heist film Killing Zoe, showcases his talent at utilizing the camera as a character of its own. From the recap of a hedonistic European vacation to the split screen camera meeting between Sean and Lauren, he truly gives this film a touch of style and thoughtfulness. For all this magic though, something was still missing. I really tried to like this film, there were so much potential; the entire backwards nature reflects how things make much more sense when told in reverse, or at least remembered that way. Unfortunately, for every one of these moments, there are too many droll stretches that dilute the overall message.

I was very conflicted on how to rate this movie. On one hand, it spits in the face of most conventional storytelling methods and successfully uses camera work to add an additional edge and impact to things. Told in normal fashion, this would be little more than a Lifetime teen movie of the week. But the abstract nature of the delivery was in the films favor. Still, I was left yearning for more. The moments that transition these sequences seem languishing if not altogether unnecessary. Without them, we may not have known as much about the characters as we do, but it would have given their ultimate actions a bit more impact. So when the smoke clears and the credits role backwards, I must hesitantly rate it the way I do; a nice effort that just misses. I applaud Avary's effort, I appreciate the soundtrack which includes some long forgotten great songs by Erasure, Public Image Limited, The Cure and Love and Rockets, but I scoff at the lines which Avary only teasingly crosses a few times on his way to the conclusion. With a little more edge, a little less monotony and predictability, this could have been an edgy guilty pleasure. As it stands now, it's a film that shows a ton of potential, moments of greatness, but like that glance at a beautiful girl across a room, the moments are fleeting and the imagined path that runs through the minds of all involved, become drowned in the reality of it all.


In the world of sadomasochistic (or S/M) relationships, the focus is on control and power. It is about establishing roles, namely master (or dominant) and slave (or submissive) establishing boundaries and the living a lifestyle based upon these establishments. Whenever things get to a point that goes over a personal boundary, the other will say, "Stop" and from that point on, the boundaries are established. For about 90 minutes, director Steven Shainberg's Secretary will have you absorbed, intrigued, mesmerized, laughing nervously, shifting uncomfortably and admiring its lead performers. Unfortunately, the film is 105 minutes long. Shainberg brings us slowly but surely into and under the dark world of sadomasochistic relationships, but unlike the lifestyle he portrays, does not know when to quit. The ending of the film seems tacked on, exploitive, feel-good and totally Hollywood, a sentiment that echoed through the rest of a film, filled with hothouse flowers, a ratty looking dog and the creepiest dictation session in film history.

In movies, the relationship between boss and secretary has always been portrayed as one of control, power and intimidation. Films like Working Girl, Clockwatchers, even the unwatchable The Temp, have all shown the very defined status separation between these two tasks. In Secretary, Shainberg takes things one step further, and way onto the darker side of things. Exploring the shadier side of relations that Clockwatchers touched lightly on, the film becomes more about the relationship, the psychology and about the people involved This unconventional love story explores both sides of this lifestyle, showing how people can look normal on the outside, but have a whole other aspect of them living inside. If you come into this film expecting to see some dark, twisted sex scenes somewhere in the neighborhood of the gimp scenes from Pulp Fiction, you will be sorely mistaken. Secretary explores the psychology of this lifestyle from both sides, and its participants are people who we may pass, dismiss or never give a second thought to on the street. Lee (Maggie Gyllenhall) is a woman whose self-esteem has been beaten into submission, figuratively and literally, by an unfulfilling home life. A mother who has energy and expectations that are almost comic, a father who is abusive and self-destructive and a sister whose postcard perfect life would nauseate Meg Ryan fans, all have contributed to Lee being where she is. Along comes E Edward Grey (James Spader), an image obsessed lawyer who has a knack for finding weaknesses, both in himself and others, and then attempting to overcome them by overcompensation. These two are a match made in Russ Mayer's dreamland. When Lee goes for a job interview as a secretary to Grey, the games begin. Slowly but surely, Shainberg proceeds down the trail of showing the way that someone can become entangled and engulfed in this lifestyle. The pacing is slow, but determined and relevant to the procession of the story and the characters relationship. For a while, the sexual aspect of the story becomes the least important and least interesting thing about these two. These are desperate lonely people who find each other, compliment each other and become a part of each other without realizing it. The development and depth of the character development is the key to this film's success. We know, we understand, we feel for, loathe, empathize and in some small way, even relate to both Lee and Edward; this is thanks to the screenplay and to the strong performances.

Gyllenhall and Spader apart are compelling to watch and behold. Together, they are nearly incendiary. She of Donnie Darko (and sister of Jake) manages to come across as vulnerable, wounded, shy, self conscious, yet seductive, sexy and impossible to take your eyes off of. People often talk about breakout roles, and if this one doesn't get her noticed and appreciated for the lengths she takes this character too, then there are a lot of blind and stupid people in movie land. She is a commanding and demanding presence every time she is onscreen, whether she's sheepishly peering up at us while being berated, or seductively crawling down a hallway with an envelope in her mouth. Her chemistry with the serpentine Spader is as undeniable as this movie is unique in its approach. Spader, who can slither through the role of a loathsome character in his sleep, adds depth and personality to his role. As Grey, he is demanding, controlling, bossy, but yet there is something more going inside him. We see it in his exercise obsession, we see it in his piquing curiosity over watching Lee as she becomes his submissive, and unfortunately, we see it in the all too conventional conclusion, which I will leave for you to see.

Ultimately, Secretary will go down as the most unconventional love story in quite a while, but to quote the otherwise forgettable Swordfish, they didn't completely push the envelope. There is a saying that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, meaning that control over another can have an effect on the controller, the controlled and even the envious observers. This film explores each of those with intelligence, depth and humor. The subject matter was one that could easily have been taken in a direction that would have made it Cinemax fodder without a blink, but Shainberg, working from the Mary Gaitwick short story, decides to put the focus on the characters themselves, and not their actions. By doing this, he creates a surreally interesting character study, an introspective cultural analysis into the power of giving yourself to someone, and the power of controlling another, and a very dark slice of society that definitely deserves a look. Sadly though the film and story lose their edge in the homestretch, choosing to play it safe against the grain of the preceding minutes. I was on the edge of my seat at times, peering curiously into a world I had only heard about before, while at other times I was cringing or laughing with an "oh my goodness did they just do that" look on my face. As I left the theater, someone asked me what I thought, and my response was a blank look, a smile and a simple comment that I will have to let this one soak in before I can fairly judge. After doing that, I am in admiration over the effort and thought put into the film, but a tad disappointed that it caved in the end. If nothing else, the film shows that a film can be sensual, without being filled with lots of beautiful sweaty bodies, just some really twisted minds. The thing is, to the outsider who would avoid this film on the ideal, it is about much more than that. We may not understand it, we may even scoff, laugh or criticize it, but at least we can now respect it and the people who make it their lives, because it, like the film, is about so much more when you look beneath the surface.

Star Trek: Nemesis

Thankfully, Star Trek: Nemesis is the last in the series of what was once a proud franchise, but has lately become formulaic rehash. This is the 10th film in the series that has seen two different casts age onscreen and now the stories themselves are starting to show age. The movies have usually followed a similar formula; take a humorous anecdote, mix in an element of danger and an ironic twist, throw in some cool special effects and watch the money roll in. In Nemesis, the whole effort is just tiring. The cast seems as weary of their roles as the audience becomes with story resulting in a staggering conclusion to something that showed glimmers or promise at best.

The previews show promise by hinting at a story involving mirrors of people or alternate universes of good and evil (not original, but slightly intriguing), and the film begins with 2 instances of this. Unfortunately that becomes secondary after being explained away completely in one case, and barely at all in another. As per Star Trek movie regulations apparently, the movie starts with a cute and happy bonding event. These movies either start with great tragedy or a cutesy event, in this case, we get the wedding of Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis). Since they have finally tied the knot, leaving the Enterprise is inevitable. But of course, things are never that simple. After encountering a life signal, the crew travels to a planet and finds an exact replica of Data, determined to be his brother. Meanwhile, a Romulan rebellion has exposed yet another dark force in the universe (with all this evil out there, are we really sure we want to find life on other planets??) Meanwhile, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a young upstart with an apparent chip on his shoulder is trying to um, take over the universe I think. Now this isn't different from most Star Trek movies, except for the fact that this one has a connection to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). I'm going to ruin the surprise, since the writers do so fairly early on as well; he is a clone of Picard. Now the moral issues at hand were mildly interesting, on both Data and Picard's storylines. They tried to tackle the ideal of how environment, exposure and surroundings can effect who a person becomes. Occasionally they stumble across some nice dealings with this, but in the end, it gets tossed in favor of lots of effects and a good versus evil storyline. The doses of humor seem force and wedged in, as the movie cannot decide if it wants to be humorous with serious side tones, or serious with humorous moments. It tries to be both, and fails in both counts. If only the film makers would have paid attention to a film like Galaxy Quest, which took a tongue-in-cheek entertaining look at things, and then had some fun while still getting its message across (of genetic engineering, good vs. evil in the same form, etc), then maybe this film would have been more than it actually is. Instead, only the above mentioned hints of originality come across but are drowned in boring, predictable and overdone clichés.

Ultimately, Star Trek: Nemesis takes things out with a whimper rather than an explosive bang. For as long as there have been children and freethinking wandering minds, people have stared up into the stars and wondered what is out there. Gene Roddenbury expanded on this idea and created a whole other universe filled with aliens and spaceships that also mirrored modern society and culture. He dealt with differences in races, military tactics and tensions and the heroic nature of individuals and teams of people brought together in a similar mindset. Director Rob Baird has lost this idea completely, and in an attempt to capitalize, has driven a droll stake into the heart of anyone who ever donned the pointy ears and the maize colored uniform with dreams of sitting in that big chair and talking to strange beings on a large screen. The flashy effects cannot hide the fact that this is a sad and dull end to a something, which has become a part of pop culture. The original series tapped into a youthful curiosity that seemed to transcend age barriers. Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious but always creative and innovative and on the cutting edge of what was cool in science fiction. Before Star Wars, there was this, and most would agree that Lucas got some of his inspiration from Roddenberry's baby. It seems that since that since his death, the franchise has lost some of its steam and nowhere is it more evident in this film. Previous efforts, while successful, were beginning to, like their cast, show signs of age. In Nemesis, the cinematic senility is complete in a film rife with retread ideas, boring villains, and a general sense that everyone involved is just tired of it all.

White Oleander

Needless to say, White Oleander will never be used as a promotional material for the foster care system. First time director Peter Koziminsky has fashioned a tale of maternal love, encircled by the universal search for love and belonging. The film is anchored by amazing performances from Michelle Pfeiffer and Allison Lohman. By deftly handling the screenplay, display and delivery, Koziminsky has given us a tale that is powerful, vengeful, brutally honest and effective in nearly aspect. The film has a panoramic view of the differing class structures in the midst of the formulative years of a young girls life. Films like Where The Heart Is attempted to tell similar tales of adolescent belonging and acceptance, but could not achieve the balance that Oleander does. The film just seems real, the occurrences are painful truthful and while the revelations are hard to swallow and watch, they are wholly believable.

As the film opens with a young girl, Astrid (Lohman) is seen working on an artistic creation of some sort. Through her narration, we learn that she is telling the story in retrospect because "the end doesn't make sense until you see the beginning." We then meet Astrid's mother Ingrid (Pfeiffer), a free-spirited artist who is raising Astrid on her own. After a crime is committed, Ingrid is imprisoned and Astrid is cast into foster care hell. Each one starts promisingly enough, the Bible thumping ex-stripper, the aspiring actress married to a successful workaholic screenwriter, the entrepreneurial Russian woman who lets anything go for the almighty dollar; each has their own appeal and benefits, but once settled in, things begin to show their true nature and colors. Sandwiched in between are visits to her mother which begin friendly, with the mother preaching female empowerment and independence, then slowly but surely becoming more vindictive and vengeful as Ingrid feels her daughter slipping away from her grasps. You can feel the balance of power shifting, through an uncomfortably devious confrontation between Rene Zellwegger and Pfeiffer (with Michelle showing a chillingly subtle serpentine quality) finally culminating in a more mature, transformed Astrid finally standing up to her mother. If I've told much, then you don't see enough movies. The true joy is not in the facts, but in the execution of these events. Each foster home seems to represent a different perception of what people perceive as perfection. Be it faith in God, social status or freedom to indulge, the story deftly explores each one, taking the universal approach that how things appear externally, may differ greatly than how they actually are. Films like 13 Conversations About One Thing and Full Frontal explored the search for happiness through various means, but this film takes one aspect and zooms painfully in on it. The occurrences may seem manipulative or typical, existing to tug at heartstrings or play on emotions, but actually it has just the right tension. It knows which strings to pull, when to pull them, and how hard to pull so as to get the desired effect while balancing the display of true and real emotion.

All the actresses put their best feet forward when on screen with each other. The tension is syrupy thick, without all the sap of your usual chick flick, and Kazaminsky picked all the right buttons to push with his storytelling method. The film is based on a novel by Janet Fitch, and from what I've learned; the film just touches the tip of the iceberg. In the book, certain things that were explored further (such as other foster homes) and aspects of the story, which were, explained more (such as the connection with the flower). From what I saw, what was included and told, the balance was perfect. Koziminsky knew exactly what to tell and how to tell it to achieve his message. For those who are interested, the flower known as White Oleander is an evergreen shrub reaching four meters in height. Leaves are 10 to 22 cm long, narrow, untoothed and short-stalked, dark or grey-green in color. It occurs along watercourses, gravely places and damp ravines. It is widely cultivated particularly in warm temperate and subtropical regions where it grows outdoors in parks, gardens and along road sides. The plant is very beautiful to look at, but toxic and fatal to ingest. Once ingested or inhaled, it can slow the heartbeat down until it shuts down completely. The plant thrives in heat and is not frost tolerant. It is the perfect reflection of the relationship and actions of the film. Pfeiffer's character seems to thrive and react (either good or bad, depending on your perspective and opinion) when the heat is on her.

Pfeiffer's turn is one that on the surface may seem evil and conniving, but on closer examination and attention, is actually a myriad or maternal reactions and emotions. It is said that mothers in the wild protect their young fiercely from all that they see as harmful. In the film, Pfeiffer, who is imprisoned by similar protective acts, reacts with love, pain, venom, passion and a burning desire to be a good mother. Her scene with Zellwegger is so subtly brutal and harsh, that you barely notice Pfeiffer picking her apart like a lion feasting on her prey. She is definitely more evil here than her intentionally over acted role in What Lies Beneath. What makes her that way is the generally natural way that her motives seem to justify her actions, if only in her mind. She doesn't have to try to do this, and that's what lends the role its power and intensity. Lohman is truly the shining star and holds her own in her scenes with Pfeiffer, while carrying the moments when she's the focus. This is her first film, and ranks right up there with Edward Norton's in Primal Fear and Leonardo DiCaprio's in What's Eating Gilbert Grape as strong screen debuts. An Oscar nod would not be unheard of, but probably makes too much sense for the Academy voters. Her role requires her to be a literal and social chameleon, gliding through the physical, mental and emotional hurdles that life deals her. This is truly a performance that deserves to be talked about for years to come. Supporting the amazing performances of Pfeiffer and Lohman are a cast of characters whose screen time ranges from barely there (Billy Connolly as a philandering screenwriter) to nearly scene stealing (Almost Famous's Patrick Fugit as Astrid's persistent paramour). These universally strong performances lay the groundwork for a truly stunning film.

Ultimately, White Oleander is a film that is not only an empowerment of maternal love, but also a strong commentary on the search for, and definition of love. People all have different ideas on what will make them happy, but usually the one constant is the love and support of at least one parent. White Oleander explores the challenges that arise when that is brought into question via actions and reactions. It is a much deeper and more complex film than some may expect, and like its namesake, is beautiful to look at, but painful to ingest and deal with at times. But that is what makes it appealing. It pulls no punches, bares its soul and cuts a swath through films that make everything appear sugary sweet and perfect. Life is not perfect; it is the result of overcoming the imperfections and complications that the journey throws at us. We may get lost, we may make mistakes, we may get knocked down, rebound and get knocked down again for similar reasons, but still we tread onward. The hope and search for love becomes our guide. White Oleander is a reflection of all of this, and a stunning debut for Koziminsky. The combination of the performances along with the aforementioned screenplay, some symbolism, which is never excessive but definitely intentional and relevant, and a score that is reflective of the mood, makes White Oleander the great film that it is.

Also, check out other reviews by Jerry at his own site, The Reel Rambler

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