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Monday, October 14

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose
The fact that the life and bizarre death of Emily Rose may or may not be based on a true story doesn't make the film any better or worse. The fact that, in real life, the possession and exorcism of Emily Rose was recognized and sanctioned by the Catholic Church is certainly an interesting bit of trivia, but, again, it doesn't guarantee that the movie version of these events is any damn good. The fact that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is populated by fine actors such as Laura Linney, Campbell Scott, Tom Wilkinson, and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) doesn't necessarily make this work worthy of your hard-earned money. However, the fact that this movie intrigued me as much as it scared the shit out of me — now we're talking.

The truth is that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is fascinating on several levels, attempting (with a certain degree of success) to map out the actual events in the final months of Emily Rose's life and those following her death as the priest who attempts to free her of her possession is put on trial for negligent homicide.

The film opens on the day of her death. A doctor visits the Rose family home in rural Minnesota, and it's clear that they are a small-town clan with deeply religious roots. As the medical examiner enters her room, the family priest (Wilkinson) exits with two police, all looking shell-shocked. When the medical examiner says that he can't say with certainty that Emily's death was by natural causes, thus begins the case against Father Moore, whom the Rose family had entrusted with Emily's care after the doctor failed to cure her of what appeared to be a severe mental breakdown.

With attorney Erin Bruner (Linney) assigned by her law firm to defend Moore on behalf of their client, the church, the court case pitted medical testimony to Emily's rapidly deteriorating condition against Father Moore's (and the Rose family's) belief that Emily was possessed by evil demons. What's most noble of the film's approach is that we're never 100 percent sure who is right in this case. When a doctor is testifying about the series of events that began during the early days of Emily's first year of college, the events are portrayed as if she was suffering from a mental illness that caused her to have delusions, physically change and contort her body in horrifying but still possible ways, and utter things in various languages to which she had possibly been exposed. When Father Moore testifies, we see the demonized version of these events. Both versions of the story are extremely disturbing, and we're never quite sure which one we want to believe.

Special effects are kept to a minimum here and every attempt is made by director Scott Derrickson to avoid the iconography of The Exorcist, the film Emily Rose will undoubtedly be compared to in every review. I'll admit, I got a bit of a Linda Blair vibe when Emily was screaming out in her demon voice, speaking German or Latin or Aramaic. But overall, Derrickson successfully avoids the trappings of the vastly superior film. Not that Emily Rose isn't effective. The filmmakers have wisely opted to fill the cast with great actors. Linney is quite good as the "non-believer," whose lack of faith is tested as she to gets a few late-night scares during the course of the trial. Campbell Scott plays prosecuting attorney Ethan Thomas, a shrewdly chosen church-going attorney, who must convince the jury that even he isn't buying this exorcism nonsense.

But the real shock for me is Carpenter as Emily. She not only has to be convincing as a 19-year-old girl being taken through the ringer by the forces of darkness, she has to show the torment of a young woman of faith who does not comprehend why God would allow her to suffer such pain and indignity at the hands these demons. And, man, can this girl scream.

The courtroom scenes sometimes slip into cliché (big shock there) as Linney and Scott put on their best lawyer faces and march around the room, object to things, and provide the most dramatic closing statements as if they've never done so before. (For the record, I have no idea if actual court transcripts were used in reconstructing these scenes.) But what the film lacks in originality in its depiction of the legal process, it makes up for with some truly terrifying sequences involving strange figures, noises and events surrounding poor Emily's ordeal. The only times major special effects are put into play are when we are seeing things through Emily's eyes, as if to say, "These may be events only she sees." It's a smart device and one that keeps us guessing.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a tough sell, since we know right off the bat that Emily is dead and that even a favorable outcome for the priest still means that many lives have been destroyed as a result of her terrible demise. There is a bit of hope, though, in the form of one sequence involving a vision that comes to Emily in the midst of all the hell on earth. In the scene, she gets a small grain of hope that all of her suffering may not be in vain. The film is a jolt (well, as much of one as a PG-13 film can be) and is guaranteed to make you think a little as you're peeling your hands away from your eyes.

An Unfinished Life
The parade of long-delayed Miramax films continues this week (last week we had the miserable comedy Underclassman, before that it was the disappointing Brothers Grimm, and next week we get Gwyneth Paltrow in the more promising Proof) with one of the stronger releases from the distributor since it became necessary to dump all of its remaining properties onto the market in rapid succession before the Weinstein Brothers split from Disney. An Unfinished Life is a simple but effective drama about a woman and her daughter on the run from an abusive boyfriend, and the crusty old ranch hand that shares a past with them and reluctantly agrees to take them in.

An Unfinished Life has been sitting on the shelf for nearly two years, and that's a real shame because the film is solid filmmaking from the largely reliable director Lasse Hallstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules). In a nice reminder that she's actually a strong actress, Jennifer Lopez plays Jean Gilkyson, a widow and single mother to daughter Griff (newcomer Becca Gardner), who is fleeing Iowa and her loser boyfriend (Damian Lewis). Not knowing exactly where to go, she returns home to Wyoming, where she met and married her husband, also named Griff, who died in a car accident in which Jean was driving. She goes to the only place she knows, the ranch where her husband grew up with his father, Einar (Robert Redford, also reminding us of what he is capable of as an actor). Not surprisingly, Einar has no love for Jean, whom he blames her for his son's death. But since Jean was newly pregnant at the time of the accident, he was unaware that he even had a grandchild. He reluctantly agrees to allow the two to stay briefly.

Einar's only friend is Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who, until about a year earlier, when he was mauled by a bear, worked the ranch with Einar. Mitch is in constant pain and Einar takes care of him with an unexpected tenderness. Not surprisingly, there's a reason for this that doesn't involve them sharing a bed. Jean finds a waitress job in town, while Griff stays at the ranch, hanging out and learning from Einar and Mitch. There aren't too many surprises in An Unfinished Life. We fully expect the ex-boyfriend to show up again; Jean hooking up with the town sheriff (Josh Lucas) pretty much guarantees that. We also anticipate Einar's anger toward Jean to subside thanks to the close bond he forms with Griff. And there's a subplot involving the aforementioned bear that isn't difficult to see the outcome of. But probably because I just enjoyed watching these fine actors do their thing, I didn't mind the predictability.

An Unfinished Life has a poetic flow that is real easy to get comfortable in. The scenery is magnificent and just watching the family members (and extended family) talk, work, and relate to one another has its rewards. There is something to be said for the simple pleasures in life, and I make no apologies for liking this movie a lot. I know Lopez has led a life (personally and professionally) that has been worthy of much scorn, but this film makes up for a lot of her nonsense. She used to be an actress who took chances, and An Unfinished Life is proof of that.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
For those who have been following South Korean film for a while now, the films of Chan-wook Park were probably some of the first you saw from this nation. His Joint Security Area presented a fascinating look at two military outposts on the border between North and South Korea. But it was last year's Oldboy that caught the eye of many fans of Asian cinema. What many of you many not have realized was that Oldboy was the middle chapter in Park's "Revenge Trilogy." The three films aren't necessarily connected, but their themes are. The first part of the trilogy was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (the final part, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance just recently opened in Korea to huge box office and is set for U.S. release early next year, but your next opportunity to see his work is later this year in the short-film collection Three...Extremes).

Mr. Vengeance, in many ways, is more relentless than Oldboy. A deaf-mute man named Ryu loses his job at a factory and quits art school to look after his dying sister, who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. When the brother discovers that he is not a match to donate, he and his girlfriend enter the disreputable world of black market organs. They kidnap the daughter of Ryu's boss at the factory, but the plan is not well thought out and everything goes horribly wrong in a hurry. It's probably best that I don't give away any more of this fascinating and shocking story. As you may have guessed from what I've said so far, Mr. Vengeance is a bleak and unforgiving film that relies heavily on fluid camera work and nervous energy. Much of what happens here is not pleasant, and the feeling you get from watching the film may leave you hollow, but I'm 99.99 percent sure that's the intention of the filmmaker. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

The Man
From clearly gifted director Les Mayfield, maker of such classics as Encino Man, Flubber, Blue Streak and American Outlaws (What?! You didn't like any of those? What's wrong with you?), comes another pile of donkey poo starring two of my favorite actors (under normal circumstances). The Man had the potential to be a so-bad-it's-good comedy, using the tried-and-true odd couple pairing of Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy. But the film ultimately tanks thanks to clumsy attempts to be all things to all people: a comedy, an action film, a sentimental family story, an edgy cop film about gun runners. To no one's real surprise, The Man tries to do everything and fails at every level.

Levy, who fairs better than others in this limp script, is Wisconsin dental equipment salesman Andy Fidler. He's a bit of a dweeb, but apparently quite good at his job and at keeping his home life happy. Traveling to a convention in Detroit, Andy accidentally gets mixed up with ATF Agent Derrick Vann (Jackson) during an undercover operation to break up a major gun-running operation. Threatening to jail Andy on trumped-up charges if he doesn't assist in the sting operation, Vann uses Andy as a means to get closer to the bad guys using the most contrived and ridiculous means available. In other words, nothing about this plot resembles anything that would ever happen in the real world. I realize that in comedies (and other film genres), you have to suspend belief, but that doesn't mean I have to suspend the desire to laugh. The biggest laughs that The Man generates come from fart jokes and a scene in which Levy gets to refer to Jackson as "my bitch" about 50 times. Ha. Ha. And a lame subplot involving Jackson's estranged ex-wife and young daughter only make a bad situation worse.

At times painful, but usually just uninspired and pointless, The Man is a classic missed opportunity to mix one of the funniest men in comedy today with one of the greatest bad-asses in film history. Even die-hard Jackson and Levy fans should stay the hell away from this one.

Green Street Hooligans
Elijah Wood has carved out quite a nice collection of film work since the Lord of the Rings trilogy wrapped; see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Sin City for proof. But Green Street Hooligans (released as simply Hooligans in the rest of the world) is his first as the above-the-title star (to be followed shortly by Everything Is Illuminated). And if nothing else can turn soccer into a popular sport in the U.S., perhaps the promise of gang violence after every match can.

Wood plays Matt Buckner, a would-be journalist kicked out of Harvard after a cheating scandal. Buckner didn't cheat, but he took the fall for a rich kid who paid him off to take the blame. Matt takes the money and flies to London, where his sister, Shannon (Claire Forlani), is living with her Brit husband, Marc (Steven Dunham). Matt arrives unannounced but feeling a bit pissed off about the turn his life has taken, and he agrees to accompany Marc's younger brother Pete (Charlie Hunnam of Nicholas Nickleby and Cold Mountain fame) to a football match. Matt quickly discovers that the only thing Pete and his hooligan buddies hate more than Americans are journalists, whom they believe give their lifestyle a bad name. Matt decides to keep his journalism background a secret.

Through lessons the hooligans teach Matt about the unique lingo and rituals of their group, we learn that reputation and fighting are everything. Matt's introduction into hooligan warfare occurs when he's jumped walking home alone after a match. Since Pete expected Matt might be followed, he and his crew are waiting for the opposing gang and give them a right whomping. It takes time, but eventually Matt is accepted into the group, and the combination of camaraderie and a means to work out his aggression suit him fine. Obviously Matt's sister feels differently, as we discover that her husband used to be the notorious leader of the crew, who dropped out when he married Shannon. But the risk to Matt's life as an impending brawl draws close inadvertently pulls Marc back into the fray.

Green Street Hooligans is certainly an eye-opening experience. I'd heard of these bands of men who organize on the fringes of football teams, but I had no idea how organized they were or that they lead strangely normal lives during the off-season. Pete, for instance, is a history teacher. Director Lexi Alexander lays out the basics well enough, but many of the directions the plot goes and the tragedies that befall our hero's crew are a bit obvious. Elijah Wood doesn't so much act as react to the insanity around him, making the real discovery here Hunnam, who moves and talks like a tornado has set off inside him. Hooligans isn't flawless, but it succeeded in making certain that I'll never attend a football match in the U.K. in my lifetime.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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