Thursday, December 4, 2008

National Board of Review 2008 Awards

Posted on IMDB today. I'm kind of shocked that Changeling found its way onto the best films list, but clearly there is some undue Clint Eastwood love circulating there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Synecdoche, New York


It's hard to comment on the narrative of Synecdoche, New York because it is as chaotic and dense as Charlie Kaufman would have you believe he intended all along. The truth is, that while Kaufman again offers insights in ways few other screenwriters or artists can, his story collapses into itself as it waltzes to its final fade out. That isn't to say there isn't merit to the chaos. S,NY is rife with themes that will plague your thoughts all the way home from the theater and into the next morning after you decided to try to sleep it off.

It's hard to give anyone a concrete synopsis. Yahoo Movies, Rottentomatoes, IMDB, and so forth all tried, but only managed to scratch the surface. What we watch, in a nutshell, is an artist waiting on a slowly but surely approaching death with the single intense desire to figure out the truth of his life through the fabrication of his life story as it happens past and present in a massive theater piece of which the scope is unfathomable as it increases in size until only the characters are still keeping track of who is who and why. Doesn't sound like a nutshell, huh?

I can talk about it all day and not really give anything away, because one watch isn't enough. It's a rough watch. I was uneasy and/or uncomfortable watching the film. There's plenty of Water The Fish(?) to go for miles. It seems impenetrable and so difficult to empathize or even sympathize with the characters on screen. It seems to go at least a half hour or so past its reported 2 hour and 4 minute runtime. I won't hurry back into the theater anytime soon to revisit the challenge, but somehow the anticipation of facing the challenge of watching Synecdoche, New York is exciting.

I can't really blame anyone for disliking this movie or even hating it. Everything negative you say is probably true, but there is a wealth of meaning and provocation under the dense and enigmatic surface.

On top of that and in spite of all claims otherwise, there are some amazing performances in this film. Phillip Seymour Hoffman carries this film on his weary and wounded shoulders, and conveys the essence of confusion, regret, loss, frustration, and fear that comes with living (though it is heightened dramatically). The best moments in this film are when he is quietly discovering something he had missed so easily while looking for it so very hard. And the truth is that S, NY is a cynical film, but above all a character piece about a man never able to see past himself. Kudos also to the supporting cast including a wonderfully alive and buoyant performance from Samantha Morton amongst the cold and uninviting atmosphere. The always enjoyable Diane Wiest, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams and Emily Watson also contribute a light in the awkward chaos. And I find it both comforting and frustrating that the entire cast and Kaufman himself seem so sure of their message and film. But it's not altogether serious either. There is an absurdity to the whole thing that never quite allows the audience to fully engage the story. But that story does not exist without that absurdity.

I'll finish this review with a quote from Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly: "The compulsion to stand outside of one's life and observe it to this degree isn't the mechanism of art -- it's the structure of psychosis." Hoffman's character turns inward into himself a seemingly infinite amount of times for the insight to his shortcomings both in health and relationships, but ultimately learns nothing that can satisfy his need to search.

***1/2

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Surf's Up



Surf's Up is a fairly good way to pass the time, but it doesn't offer the same creativity and fun that its CGI friends and competitors offer. It's a sweet story about surfing penguins told in a mockumentary style. In that way, it is special. The voice work of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, and Zooey Deschanel utilizes the awkwardness and spontaneity of the genre very well. The animation is beautiful and well-detailed and styled (the ocean is almost too real) and the story well told enough to enjoy, but there is little cleverness or ingenuity to the script. It's a small pleasure, but Surf's Up doesn't earn any more than a fond chuckle or smile or a babysitter's club seal of approval.

***

The Crying Game



I recently caught up with one of the more buzzed about films of the 1990's. The film is notorious for it's twist. I had long ago had the twist ruined for me in a magazine article or two, but I had always misinterpreted the twist as an ending. In truth, it happens midway through the film. Although it does change the direction of the film, I found it to be quite interesting despite my prior knowledge.

The real discovery for me was the talent of Stephen Rea, which I am apparently the last film fan to know about. He is the soul and center of the Crying Game, and although Jaye Davidson's performance is the one most remembered, it was Rea's portrayal of a disillusioned IRA man that still sticks with me. Obviously, considering the political climate and history of Ireland, a disillusioned IRA man is rife with complexities and conflicts. When he seeks out the girlfriend of a recently deceased political hostage, the story stretches beyond any conventional narrative I could have expected.

The film is not without flaws. Much of the film's believability lies in Davidson's performance. It's a performance reeking of inauthenticity from the first time performer. I was bothered by it, but any number of viewers could easily attribute that the the inherent and necessary inauthenticity of the character.

It's an unconventional non-love romance set against the backdrop of political unrest. It's exciting because it's utterly unpredictable. I've never seen a story like this before, nor have I since.

The DVD offers an insightful documentary about the making of the film, and shows that this unexpected hit was truly a labor of love.

***1/2

Rachel Getting Married



Be prepared for heaps of praise. I've been overusing the term "organic" lately, but Rachel Getting Married is certainly worthy of such a designation. There is not one false note in this film (perhaps to a fault). It is filled with lived in performances from an excellent cast deserving recognition come awards season. Chief among the standouts is Anne Hathaway. She stunned me with her vulnerability and willingness to leave her character to be interpreted and felt by the audience. Her character is not immediately likable, and she is certainly the catalyst for poking of the raw nerve of the family. She reveals her character slowly. I thought I had her pegged within the first 15 minutes, but there's depth to her and her relationships with her immediate family. Rosemarie Dewitt, as the title character, offers up a great supporting performance full of honesty, hurt, love, and tenderness that notes the breakout of a wonderful new talent. Family tragedy plays a large part to the raw nerve, but director Jonathan Demme and writer Jenny Lumet allow for the details to reveal themselves in fresh, real ways culminating with Anne Hathaway's Kym's harrowing confession to a support group. There's much to rave about when considering this film, but perhaps the biggest praise I can offer is that I not only watched this film but also felt every moment caught in the camera's grasp. Rachel Getting Married is a bare bones indie. There's not much style to it visually, though it certainly isn't bland. Rather, Demme allows the camera to be an unobtrusive voyeur in this family's intimate moment. The wedding rehearsal dinner might have gone on too long, but I chalked up its length to the revelation of these characters through unknown eyes and histories. And you better believe that there was a horror in my heart the moment Kym reached for the microphone. The wedding reception, also, may have run a bit long, but by that point in the film I had given myself over completely to these characters and their moment. I also was wonderfully aware that it was the coolest wedding I have ever seen. Rachel Getting Married understands and portrays the great complexity of familial love, resentment, regret, and heartache like no other film this year.

****1/2

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Rocketeer



I caught up with this 1991 film over the weekend and really enjoyed it. It had just the right mix of nostalgia, homage, and reverence for the 1930's and the films of the era and those that depict the era. But rather than strictly adhering to the tone and style of its influences (like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), The Rocketeer works as a film in its own right. It creates a memorable new hero for the silver screen. Billy Campbell plays Cliff Secord/The Rocketeer with classic charm, moxie, and stubborness. When he suits up, it's a special moment because he looks so darn cool and natural, like a product of another time plastered on the screen. His rapport with Alan Arkin is one of the chief pleasures of the film. There is a bit of goofball charm to the whole endeavor, but it fits with its overall aesthetic. I can't begrudge the film much because it's much too enjoyable for me to complain about small annoyances like the dated special effects.

****

Quantum of Solace



It seems that Quantum of Solace adds up to little more than action filler in between Casino Royale and the next installment of the series. It's an entertaining film, but doesn't pack any of the same emotional payoff as it's most recent predecessor. There is little for Daniel Craig as Bond to do except scowl, punch, drive, shoot, and ruminate in his anger. The film opens with a car chase and doesn't allow the audience a chance to breathe for about 20 or so minutes. And then there's a break that serves only to take us to another action sequence. I'm not naive. The Bond franchise is an action franchise. It obviously has to up the action ante as the sequel to the excellent Casino Royale. At least make the bigger and longer sequences memorable. Save for each of the sequence's finales (and the entire desert hotel sequence), there was little to latch onto. The editing, although certainly less frantic than the Bourne franchise, was too chaotic and quick to follow well during the film's first act. It seems like a lot of grumbling from someone who actually enjoyed the movie. Daniel Craig as Bond, even given very little to do, is still an interesting hero. Judi Dench does well in her small role to create a useful character behind the scenes. But let's go ahead and point out that Mathieu Amalric is not a intimidating villain. Until he and Bond duke it out in the climatic hotel fire, I barely noticed him. It's a waste of a fine actor. And the bond girls - there are really only two. One is barely a hiccup in the plot, though her death does create some danger surrounding Mathieu Amalric's evil-doer. Olga Kurylenko is not up to acting snuff as Bond's revenge-hungry cohort. She's not bad persay, but is certainly a big step down from Eva Green's wonderful work in Casino Royale. A fun, disposable film that leads me to hope for more for Mr. Bond to do in all follow-ups. And he doesn't have to driving or piloting to keep my interest. A pistol and too deadly fists will do more to keep my attention.

***

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Be Kind Rewind



Be Kind Rewind is a completely original movie about making unoriginal art and the community that art creates. One alone could conceive of this movie and direct it - Michel Gondry. His visual inventiveness has come through in both Science of Sleep and now Be Kind Rewind. But he also brings together a cast performance led by Jack Black and Mos Def that is inside its own world, has its own tone, and seems both organic and spontaneous. The film is a living breath of new life. And while the story itself is slight in scope, Be Kind Rewind has big heart and big laughs that are earnestly asked for and received. The story allows Gondry to show off his trademark visual flair, and it begs the question if one can exist without the other. However, it becomes clear that Gondry and his cast believe in its themes and style to the point where the audience needs to surrender its driver's seat and let Gondry take the wheel. He knows where he's going and what he's doing.

****1/2

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

RocknRolla



It's nice to see Guy Ritchie get back to his bread and butter, what has affectionately called Mockney crime films. He showed his skill with Lock, Stock and Snatch, then slid away. But RocknRolla, while not necessarily superior to its Mockney predecessors, is again a testament to his exciting talent. The excitement generated is inorganic and a kin to a "fizzy drink." But like my revered can of Diet Coke cooling in the fridge, RocknRolla is exceptionally made. There are a few standout scenes viscerally like the second Wild Bunch robbery, two heavies that won't go down easily, and the Johnny Quid club kill set to the "Rock and Roll Queen" song. Memorable adrenaline shots to the veins. It may not be fair to judge RocknRolla against Ritchie's past filmography. I should judge each film on its own merits, but I'm not gonna. Rocknrolla falls somewhere behind his first two films, but clearly excels over his most recent two ventures. It doesn't have the humor of Lock, Stock or Snatch (you probably won't hear me randomly quoting RocknRolla to pals), but it's a tightly plotted crime picture with finesse and character derived from its writer director and actors. It gets off to a rocky start with large amounts of voice over to hold our hands through the exposition and introduction of the characters, but finds its groove somewhere in the second act. And it just keeps getting better as the characters' situations keep getting worse. The cast's work is memorable and will bring me back for any of the proposed sequels if they ever actually get off the ground. RocknRolla also signals the break through of Toby Kebbel who plays thee rocknrolla Johnny Quid, who is all attitude and mood and a junkie weak enough to crumble and strong enough to strike the fear of Moses into you with a stare and twitch of his pencil.

***1/2

Tropic Thunder



Tropic Thunder is as irreverent as it claimed to be in its promotion. It certainly works to its benefit. Casting Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. in roles that lampoon their peers and themselves is a hoot of the highest caliber, and softens any of the bullseyes painted on their Hollywood peers. This is an in-joke out and out, to the extent that the Hollywood it satirizes was part of its success.

The movie is funny and laugh out loud so. It goes for broke and pushes boundaries, but kept me from cringing 90% of the time with the realization that the people doing these ignorant, bizarre, unacceptable things are portrayed as ignorant and foolish and self-important buffoons for our amusement. We're meant to laugh at them and not feel bad about it. And I did and did not. So mission accomplished.

I could literally spend a couple pages just doing the fan "remember how funny that one scene was" thing, but suffice to say it has enough entertainment to engage all the way through. An unusually well executed movie considering all the hype behind it. My favorite comedy since Superbad from a year ago, and definitely a cut above Pineapple Express.

The cast is good. Sometimes they're swamped in chaos, but it chaos engineered for comedy even if it seems unorganized and mashed together. Props to the three stars: Downey, Jr., Black, and Ben Stiller for flexing their funny muscles (Downey, Jr. in particular goes to the mat to humiliate himself for the good of his audience). Nick Nolte also is appropriately gruff and grizzled in the first role that seems perfectly tailored to his inherent outlandishness. And Jay Baruchel is a capable and winning foil for the zaniness of his co-stars in Tropic Thunder the movie and Tropic Thunder the movie. Note - the hilariousness of Tom Cruise's cameo has been exaggerated. I found Matthew McConaughey to be a bigger surprise after his romantic comedy slumming.

****

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mickey Rourke in Entertainment Weekly



If you've ever given a hoot about Mickey Rourke (and I sure do - Boogie in Diner, Henry in Barfly - 'nuff said), then check out this awesome feature from EW.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

schedule

expect reviews of Rocknrolla and Tropic Thunder late Sunday night or the early hours of Monday morning

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Body of Lies



Body of Lies is a solid thriller and the first war on terror movie of recent years to put entertainment first. That could be problem number one, but the filmmakers are aware of the need for the audience to stay engaged with the material when others have put messages and political posturing ahead of said entertainment. There are politics involved, but most of the heavy-handedness is left behind in favor of a lesser form of Tony Scott's Enemy of the State's satellite views and board rooms and Peter Berg's The Kingdom's street battles. Leonardo Dicaprio acts through his Southern Twang and curiously bushy beard (you get used to it - you shouldn't have to really, but you will) to play the CIA's man on the ground in the Middle East. Russell Crowe acts through his Tom Cruise in Collateral hair, accent, spectacles and protruding paunch (and more effectively than his counterpart) to play the CIA suit back in the U.S. of A.. And the excellent Mark Strong plays a Jordanian intelligence head. All the performers sink their teeth into their parts, adding considerable bravado to their roles. I bought into it, though the push to ACT may irk some. The film, like writer William Monahan's breakthrough The Departed, is an excercise in genre. Unlike The Departed (a film I still declare is overrated), Monahan's Body of Lies script doesn't have any overtly memorable dialogue. In truth, it entertains without being memorable. It's better than a one-watcher, but doesn't hold up to the shadow of the underrated and already forgotten August film Traitor. And after the entertainment ends in Body of Lies, I'm left to wonder what if anything I have learned, or more importantly if I should (given the setting, plot, and current world politics) be learning anything. Well directed, acted, and filmed but not lasting in impact. And then Traitor comes to mind...The problem is that Body of Lies is entertaining in a fun way - all the violence, backstabbing, and spying I appreciate in a CIA thriller...only it's really happening somewhere in the world right now. And maybe I should rethink entertainment in general. Because Traitor is entertaining AND says something more than just the reality of the complexity and difficulty of international intelligence. Plus Don Cheadle is as fine as any other actor out there right now. Here's me asking P.T. Anderson or Steven Soderberg to cast him in another one of their ensemble dramas again.



Traitor ***1/2
Body of Lies ***

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tell No One - Criticinema



I missed this one in theaters, but here good things. Dan at Criticinema said this:

DAN - Tell No One is a thrilling French mystery from director Guillaume Canet, based on a novel by Harlan Coben. The film follows Alex Beck, a doctor whose wife was murdered eight years ago. When new details emerge concerning his wife’s death, Beck must run from the law in search of the truth.

After seeing this film, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a sucker for French movies. Maybe it’s the romance of their language, or maybe I just don’t expect to see such well-made films from foreign countries. Either way, I liked this one.

Fran├žois Cluzet plays the protagonist well. I’ve never seen him before, but I enjoyed this performance. The supporting cast of characters, a few of whom I recognized, also works well.

One thing that I found somewhat odd about this movie was the music. There are a lot of lighthearted songs that don’t seem to fit the story, and it doesn’t help that most of them are in English. The presence of U2's “With or Without You” was especially jarring for me, but it led to a moment that suggested a romantic side of the film.

I loved the stunts in this film. Beck takes a few punches, jumps from windows, and nearly gets run over on a highway, and it all looks convincing. Even something as simple as tripping and falling onto the pavement made me cringe. It looked painful.

There were several points in the movie where characters made references to something I didn’t understand, and I’d say to myself, “What did I miss?” But it would all be cleared up before the end of the film. There’s a particularly lengthy scene of exposition that ties a lot of loose ends together, and it was a relief.

Tell No One threw me for some loops, but it all worked out by the time the credits rolled. I was never certain what to believe, and I didn’t see the twists coming, which is a good thing for any mystery. Good story, good performances, and good direction.

****

Body of Lies - Criticinema


I'm not likely to see this movie in a timely manner, so here are some trustworthy guys' opinions: from the Criticinema blog.

STEVE - Leonardo Dicaprio and Russell Crowe star in the latest film from Director Ridley Scott. Body of Lies is a spy film set in the middle of the Iraq War. DiCaprio plays Agent Ferris, a solo on the ground CIA spy who tries to stop terrorism single handedly, while Crowe plays as Ferris’s ever watchful boss Ed Hoffman, who is always observing from the sky.


Real locations and sets serve the mise-en-scene in creating Ridley Scott’s dirty and depressing modern day Middle East. The cinematography aids in creating a stylized and fast paced film that unfortunately becomes sluggish due to a creative but Hollywood contaminated plot.

I recall talking to a friend about the overall plot after viewing the film. There where many sideplots and subplots and loveplots and subparplots. And the main plot (for which the title is named) becomes sandwiched between all these other plots and ultimately is left with itty-bitty-little space to breath. I believe when attempting to describe how the main plot was executed the word my friend used was, (insert high pitch voice) “Bloop!” And I think that pretty much sums it up.

Body of Lies isn’t anything special. Good acting and decent cinematography regrettably doesn’t make up for a poor plot(s) that could have been salvaged into something superior. It’s an ordinary, middle-of-the-road, run of the mill film that leaves you with nothing more than a few, fun, distracting hours. The movie attempts to send a message, but it ultimately was lost. After watching I just kinda felt like… well… I’ve had better.

***

__________________________



DAN - Ridley Scott’s latest film is an espionage thriller set chiefly in Jordan. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a CIA operative with a plan to infiltrate a terrorist organization, and Russell Crowe acts as his boss at Langley.

There’s not much more to it. This film follows the recent trend of terrorist-related movies set in the Middle East (Syriana, The Kingdom). Throughout most of the movie, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it before. I wanted something new, but this felt like a rehash.

Near the end of the movie, Crowe’s character says, “Ain’t nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There’s nothing here to like.” As far as films go, I tend to agree. I’m bored by the deserts, worn buildings, and warfare.

I didn’t have an emotional investment in any of the characters, and I rarely felt that they were in danger. There’s a romantic subplot that develops halfway through the film, and it seemed out of place.

I was bothered by a couple of things that should have been irrelevant, but they caught my eye. Most of them aren’t worth mentioning, but here’s one example. Ever since I saw the trailers for this movie, I’ve been annoyed by the characters’ hair. I know it should be trivial, but there’s no reason to dye DiCaprio’s hair pitch black (including his goatee). And Crowe’s hair doesn’t need to be grey and spiky. It was noticeably fake and distracting.

I was surprised to see Mark Strong as a Jordanian character, but he pulled it off. Strong has played supporting characters in several notable movies, such as Sunshine, Stardust, and a few Guy Ritchie films. Sure enough, his character in this movie has awkward grey streaks in his unnaturally black hair.

Even with all of my complaints, Body of Lies is a decent movie. It’s just not very inventive. I want more from the likes of Ridley Scott.


***

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Hoax



I cannot believe I almost forgot to review this movie. This was the most fun I've had with a movie in a long time. Richard Gere gives a standout performance Clifford Irving, as the daring writer of the notorious Howard Hughes fake autobiography. He fooled smart people into giving him a million dollars to make up the famous Aviator and billionaire's life story, and he did it with guts, bravado, cunning, luck, and brilliance. It was an art. The fact that Gere as Irving is also self-centered, a liar, and a bit depraved is not lost in his performance nor the performances of the excellent supporting cast that includes Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, and Marcia Gay Harden. But Gere and Irving are charming and convincing of dubious lies and half-truths in a way that allows the audience to see his attractiveness and winning qualities. For all the lies and ruined lives that he left in his wake, Irving created what may be the most beautiful, complex, and artistic lie ever. His hoax is art. In an age when James Frey is vilified for his inauthentic memoir on Oprah, I wonder if in time and retrospect Frey's hoax will become art. The Hoax's director, Lasse Hallstom is the director of several acclaimed films including Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, yet his talent is often slighted by critics for his tendency toward Oscar-bait and heavy-handed material. Hallstrom guides The Hoax with a subtle hand. I never saw his hands on the film except for a CGI-lite plunge off a hotel balcony. Praise is due because he sculpted the performances, tone, and drive of the film in such a way that I rarely if never left the reality of the film while watching it to gauge his skill. The Hoax is the best forgotten or overlooked film of 2007. And Gere's performance in The Hoax (when included with other standouts roles in Chicago, Unfaithful, and underrated The Mothman Prophecies) cements his status as an actor of note after a subpar romance and thriller-filled decade in the 1990's.

****

Unknown



The film is a construct of its conceit, and therein lies it's chief attraction. Synopsis:
Five men waking up in a chemical warehouse and realizing they don't know who they are and how they got there. But through time they deduct that some of them are hostages and some are kidnappers. The men now must figure out who is who as they've learned the lead kidnapper is on his way and plans to kill the hostages.
-Yahoo Movies

It brings the best part of the first Saw to mind, but Unknown has a solid cast and better than average plotting. Its setup and thrust into the action and confusion is thrilling, but the film struggles to maintain that level of excitement and believability through the climax. Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano, Jeremy Sisto, and Barry Pepper (you go, boy!) are the five men and Bridget Moynahan is the fretful wife of one of the hostages on the outside. The writer and the director aren't aces at their crafts (as evidenced by cliched visual cues and slighted yet prominent characters), but there is enough mystery and slight of hand to keep the audience guessing. Even when I had it figured out, the film had one twist left. Though that last twist may be to the film and audience's detriment. It added apathy to what had been up to that point my mild enjoyment. Still, I can recommend the film to fans of the cast and someone looking for something new on the shelves of Blockbuster (do people still go to video stores?) on a Saturday night.

I will say this: Jim Caviezel's performance in Unknown shows a vague but familiar hint of the untold potential he showed first in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. I don't think Caviezel can realize that potential again unless he is revived by another visionary director with the right part.

***

Dreamgirls



There are many showstopping moments in Dreamgirls. When they're singing, the actors fully embody the full magnitude of their characters' emotional dramatic potentials. When they're not singing (which is rarely), the performances can come off a little stale. I can see why Jennifer Hudson won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2007 for her performance as Effie White: it's for her tumultuous, gut-wrenching, powerful rendition of the song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Wow. Breath-taking. Her handling of dialogue between songs: so-so and equal to the less acclaimed performance of superstar Beyonce Knowles as starlet and Diana Ross avatar (new favorite word) Deena Jones. The knock may be that while the production values, performances, and general entertainment are uniformly solid, Dreamgirls is not transcendent. None of these elements surpass the peaks of the musical genre. And perhaps my biggest knock is that none of the songs remain memorable to me save for Hudson's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and Knowles' "Listen". The one surprise for me was that the hype and praise for Eddie Murphy's performance as James "Thunder" Early is earned. It's an exciting, volatile, and entertaining performance that appears just as spontaneous as it does calculated.

***

Kung Fu Panda



Kung Fu Panda seems slight in substance. However, upon searching my memory, it's endlessly entertaining. The comedy and kung fu makes what probably would have been my favorite film if I was 11 or 12. As an adult, I can still see the seeds of calculated cunning. First, cast Jack Black as our hero Po. It seems an easy choice, and it is: because it's the right choice. He is able to infuse his onscreen avatar with his zany, boasterous humor, but temper it with a vulnerabilty and meekness that shows range (if only in his voice). Second, The script is smart and knowing. It understands that it is a cartoon for today. That's why any hint of self-seriousness is tossed away in favor of good-natured fun. That's why there're action figures with authentic battle damage. There's a lesson, but for the life of me I can't remember what it is. Maybe "believe in yourself"? Meh. Cue Rob Schneider (he's not busy): "You can do it!" The animation is also top-notch with character designs that put Kung Fu Panda in a league above other Dreamworks animated films like Shrek and Shark Tale. It's not up there with the Pixar elite, but it's a belly bounce in the right direction. Skidoosh.

***1/2

The Rocker



Comedy check: did I laugh? Yes. A lot? Not really. The problem with The Rocker is mainly that every beat is as predictable as the last. There's nothing unexpected to the humor in The Rocker. And the trials and tribulations of the protagonist's mediocre band are as old and tired as a VH1: Behind the Music rerun. The only unique thing about this band is the old guy playing drums. And Rainn Wilson was miscast in his role. He seemed blatantly out of place as the has been wannabe black sheep drummer uncle. I don't want to typecast the guy into his Office persona: Dwight Schrute, but it's clear this direction was not the way to go. Chalk Emma Stone, who was so good in her supporting role in Superbad, up to miscasting as well. Her character's meant to be an awkward-friend-outcast, but Stone's clearly gorgeous and charismatic and eminently noticeable to everyone but supposed teen heartthrob and singer Teddy Geiger. Geiger's as dull as a doornail and must cop to the easily most cliched and boring character. Bright spot - Wilson chasing down his fleeing former bandmates on foot as they make their getaway in a van. An inspired comedic moment that only made the subsequent lack more apparent. Bright spot - Josh Gad as Wilson's awkward nephew. Gad's performance is genuine in a movie reeking of artifice.

**

Get Smart



I'll preface this review by saying that I have only passing, vague memories of the original television show.

Get Smart as a comedy shall be judged by genuine, well-earned laughs. I don't remember laughing once, though I may have cracked a smile once or twice. As an action film, Get Smart shall be judged on thrills. I wasn't impressed by any of the action sequences. I approached the movie with a certain amount of expectations based on Steve Carrell's starring role. However, it seemed that Carrell was playing at a character rather than embodying a character. His performance was more a kin to his shoddy work in Evan Almighty than the highs of Dan in Real Life or Little Miss Sunshine. He was straining to turn the lackluster dialogue and hijink setups in the script into laughs and the strain showed always. Anne Hathaway was gorgeous and dull and not at all believable as a spy (even in a comedy). Dwayne Johnson should not act. And Alan Arkin made me cry with his grumpy/fuming/hoarse company man routine. He's done it better in better films (i.e. - Glengarry Glen Ross, 13 Conversations About One Thing). In short, I was unentertained by the whole spectacle, and I cannot think of one interesting thing to say about it.

*1/2

Me You and Everyone We Know



I think this film is best seen through the eyes of its creator - a performance artist. So I see the movie as as art outside the realm of what I am used to in terms of narrative, character expectations, acting, and so on. What it seems to be is an uniquely quirky film about odd-yet-easily-recognizable characters finding their way through love in its various forms. I was never bored. My interest remained peaked throughout. It was not always successful in cohesiveness - each of the "story" threads (July and Hawkes' love, Hawkes loves kids, creepy wannabe pedophile loves girls, online miscommunication) don't add up together despite writer/director/actress Miranda July's attempts. The sum of the parts is not the whole - and yet these are not vignettes. July's dialogue scratches her characters' surfaces, but it's the unsaid hurt and longing and apathy that lend her film gravity. As a performer, July is lacking. As an experimentalist, she's intriguing and refreshingly bold. Me You and Everyone We Know is not a complete thought. And I don't know that I get it all. But I want to know more...about everyone July knows or will know. I want to start with actor John Hawkes who has sparked my interest with tiny but memorable work in American Gangster and Miami Vice.

***

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best Actors Working Today?

I came upon this article on The Movie Blog (which I have never visited) interestingly enough. Here's the list and the link to the article and comments from yay and nay-sayers. Fun to make lists. Harder to agree.

Movie Blog's List:

#10 - DON CHEADLE
#9 - RALPH FIENNES
#8 - CHIWETEL EJIOFOR
#7 - BRAD PITT
#6 - SEAN PENN
#5 - WILLIAM HURT
#4 - TOM HANKS
#3 - LEONARDO DICAPRIO
#2 - DANIEL DAY LEWIS
#1 - RUSSELL CROWE

Honorable Mention (In no particular order)
- Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Christian Bale
- Edward Norton
- Joseph Fiennes
- Ed Harris
- Johnny Depp
- Tom Cruise
- John Cusack
- George Clooney


It made me recall a similar list I flipped through in my teens in Entertainment Weekly - Top Actors of the 90's (on the cover as "Hollywood's 25 Greatest Actors)

I believe in no particular order:
Sean Penn
Johnny Depp
Harvey Keitel
Nicolas Cage
Anthony Hopkins
Ed Harris
Robert Downey, Jr.
Kevin Spacey
Samuel L. Jackson
Kevin Kline
Jeff Bridges
Gary Oldman
Alec Baldwin
Robin Williams
William H. Macy
Tom Hanks
Morgan Freeman
Denzel Washington
Kevin Bacon
James Woods
Daniel Day Lewis
Laurence Fishburne
Ralph Finnes
Robert De Niro
John Malcovich

MY TOP MOVIE ACTORS RIGHT NOW/TODAY/AS WE SPEAK:
small print:2-3 top-notch performances in the last five years [released in the U.S. 2003-2008] establishes A)more than just potential and B)best work is not just behind them. "Top-notch" is a designation I will leave loosely defined - though I'll admit it must surpass "a lot of fun," "merely charismatic," or "personal favorite," - and is the word most easily and welcomely contested in debate. Choices limited by what I have seen within the last 5 years.

4 round process: each rounds results available upon request

Final Rankings:

1.Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages, Capote)
2.Robert Downey, Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints)
3.George Clooney (Syriana, Michael Clayton)
4.Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl)
5.Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
6.Cillian Murphy (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Sunshine, 28 Days Later)
7.Clive Owen (Children of Men, Closer)
8.Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac)
9.Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone)
10.Matt Damon (Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum, Syriana)


11.Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator, The Departed)
12.Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, Garden State, Jarhead)
13.Paul Schneider (The Assassination of Jesse James, All the Real Girls, Lars and the Real Girl)
14.Steve Carrell (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dan in Real Life, Little Miss Sunshine)
15.Brenden Gleeson (In Bruges, 28 Days Later)

comments are welcome

Anybody have a list they want to post?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WALL-E



WALL-E is a cute little romp in the way that Charlie Chaplain's adventures are cute -a compliment to be sure. I was entertained by a love story reminiscent in some ways to The Tramp's love stories. When the plot shifted to saving the humans, I was less involved. This is a common complaint. It's the only complaint I've heard. Humans just get in the way of these two robots in their perpetual meet-cute. It's not so off putting as to distract from all the films other considerable quantity of qualities, and must have been added to give the characters something interesting to do. Otherwise, the story could have been kept in short film form and been adequate enough. With all the added shenanigans, we do get a heart wrenching scene between a rebuilt E.V.E. and a hopeful E.V.E. that ends the film more sweetly than a short film with them making blocks of trash could. It's cute and creates two interesting hunks of metal that never utter more than their names and the word "directive." But WALL-E shows how much you can say with so little. And, oh yeah, it looks great, too. It's a good film, but I feel it's becoming overrated. I wouldn't put it in the ranks of Pixar's best.

***1/2

Hellboy II: The Golden Army



It's hard to point the finger at Hellboy II. I can't quite place my disappointment. I just think that it isn't a strong of a film as its predecessor. The problem may begin with Hellboy and Liz being in a relationship. Hellboy pining after Liz was a hell of a lot more interesting than there current domestic squabbles. Honestly, their relationship was more pedestrian than the participants. The exit of Agent Myers is left unexplained, and like the odd exit of Tank in The Matrix sequels, I was wondering why. Agent Myers was a useful tool in orienting the audience with the freaks, a foothold or familiarity amongst oddities. The same is true for the agent who was close to Hellboy in the first movie that met his demise. There are no human interests in this movie. It's a movie for the freaks. And while it explores these freaks longing for acceptance, recognition, and whatnot, there's no basis that this movie offers me for investment other than "Remember how swell these weirdos are from the first movie? They're back." And that's almost enough. They are all strange and charming enough in their own ways to merit sticking around for the whole runtime, but their adventure is no more relevant to me than Thomas the Tank Engine and certainly not the kind that sticks with you after it's over. That's a bit of a tangent. Regroup.

I understand the use of the Hellboy child on Christmas scene as a way to introduce a lot of information in a way that is more interesting than subtitle cards or scrolling text at the beginning. But Hellboy as a kid A) sounds off B) looks off C) acts poorly. This is not Hellboy as a child. This is a haphazard attempt to approximate how a child's Halloween costume with a budget might look. As for the exposition. It's a bit heavy before any real action has begun. I think it may have been better to let the audience be a bit disoriented along the way as the action unfolded and bits of the legend revealed itself. As is, the story is a bit different than the press coverage has led me to believe. Still, there is enough action, enough charm, and enough fun to keep audience members involved. I will say that I've viewed Del Toro as a visionary director for some time now, with little awe for his dialogue or storytelling. Pan's Labyrinth offered hope to the contrary, but I'm afraid that Hellboy II is more a return to his work in Mimic and Blade II. He knows how to entertain, but doesn't push further. It's fun and worth a night out, but I don't really need to see it again.

***

Cloverfield



It's an effective thriller - extremely well directed and staged - but it doesn't quite live up to the months of Internet hype. As a new way to tell an old, tired genre story, it excels. This is unlike any monster movie I've seen before, and unlike any other save for the similarly hyped Blair Witch Project. The two films share visual styles, but little else. Cloverfield has a bigger budget, working (but still unknown actors), and special effects that rival or surpass all other star-studded Hollywood blockbusters. There's also effective storytelling. It's streamlined, no information is superfluous even during the extended and meandering opening party scene. The party is our introduction to the cast of characters, and even with little background information or concrete reason to root for them, I found myself very invested in Rob's journey to his loved one in the heart of monster mischief and destruction. And the monster - after months of watching advertisements and trailers that showed no images of the thing (great idea), I was stoked to see the thing in action. A lot was riding on that thing. And...it was okay. It wasn't all that more horrifying than its monster genre brethren and not altogether new. I guess I just wasn't surprised when I saw it. Then again, it might have had to juggle skyscrapers and New York socialites while sporting a top hat. Still, there are scares. The little biting creatures are frightening. The acting may be the least authentic part of the movie that screams its own brand of authenticity, though it is oodles better than any average monster, slasher, horror, thriller in the canon. And this brand of authenticity requires a character to run throughout the movie with a handheld camera. It's completely believable. And at times annoying. It can be difficult to tell what is going on and can be headache inducing. But it's consistent and leads to several genuine moments such as when the night vision flares in the tunnel and Hud sees the monster up close from the helicopter and ground views. An interesting experiment that mostly succeeds.

***

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wanted



Wanted is the biggest disappointment of the summer - a big, dumb excuse to shoot guns and blow up rats (yes, RATS!). The film takes what it would call a irreverent tone, but it's far too cute to get me excited. It opens with awful voice over that serves as our introduction to Wesley Gibson (James MacAvoy), an office drone searching for himself. We spend the movie with him to the detriment of every other character. No one else has a chance to really do anything (just leap, bend, beat, shoot, and act bad ass). Angelina Jolie barely registers in her much hyped role. Morgan Freeman gets his little speeches, but there's nothing to his character or the other assassins of the secret fraternity. That leaves MacAvoy to keep our interest. And he can't. He can't handle the humor or awkwardness of the character. His line delivery is all over the place. It's truly disarming after his superb work in Atonement. He just seems very uncomfortable in the role and carrying this movie. It's not really worth carrying. The visuals can be fascinating with rather seamless special effects and stunts, but it often undermines this with ill-used dialogue or visual cues. I couldn't bring myself to care about this movie or its inhabitants. The stakes are (I suppose) big, but I can't be invested in the characters' lives so the stakes are moot. These people are willing to kill and die for something bigger than themselves, but I have to care when they do.

*1/2

I am Legend



Will Smith is a star deserving of a showcase like I am Legend. He's on nearly every frame of film and is forced to dig deep for character in the absence of a supporting cast to play off of. What he does get is a dog. Much like Wilson the volleyball in Castaway, the filmmakers must have realized their solitary man needed someone to talk to. It works. The film exercises a sense of atmospheric dread. It's when the film reveals the source of the dread that the film lost traction. These infected are computer generated baldies that reminded me of a cross between the loose-jawed namesake in The Mummy and the video game zombies of the original Resident Evil. And they weren't real. And I was fully aware of that. It's a flaw when I have to try to make myself believe during all the confrontation scenes. Also, how do people survive a grenade blast two feet away from them to deliver stilted voice over so we can have a sense of closure in this fallen reality? As much as this is a one man show, I wish Smith had more to do. More to stretch him than a dog (a capable actor in his own right) and hundreds of hungry freaks like the stretchy native in Street Fighter II. It's a well made film that knows what it's doing. I wish it just wanted to do more. In the end, there's just not that much to it.

***

Days of Glory



Days of Glory follows the lives of French/Algerian soldiers during World War II and the class and inner struggles they faced on the front lines. The film centers on the lives of three particular soldiers, though two brothers get an amount of screen time that distracts from the main characters' storyline. As a piece of history, Days of Glory chronicles interesting, new information. As a character piece, I was left wanting more. I couldn't attach myself to these people, so the time I spent with them and their ultimate demises and triumphs were a bit hollow when history would say otherwise. I don't fault the actors. I can't fault the filmmakers. There is care put into the making of this film; I just couldn't muster much. It didn't feel alive to me.

***

The Golden Compass



I have to say that all the conscience stretching I did before watching this movie didn't lead to much. Evangelicals hopping on the Pat Robertson/James Dobson information train should know that all the God killing that may be in the source material is watered down to a vague magical tale about helping your friends and making your own decisions. Sure, all the novel backstory that I became aware of during the months leading up to the film's release let me on to more of what was happening than any nonsuspecting audience member could catch. Honestly, I just enjoyed myself. It's a fully realized fantasy world with action, magic, and all the special effects the now defunct Newline could buy. It's a rousing piece of entertainment. My only real complaint is that the film lacks the character development that would have made this film a genre classic. There are dozens of characters that only get minor introduction in this first film of a desired trilogy, and it would have been nice to see how they fit into the heroine's destiny. Plot seems to trump character.

***1/2

The Invasion



The Invasion is at best laughable and at worst a low point in the participants' careers. The actors have no hope of giving authenticity to their dialogue. From the every day conversations prior to "the invasion" to the medical jargon they use to explain aliens with the stomach flu, none of the actors show that their characters believe the words coming out of their mouths. The aliens themselves are not too frightening though the overbearing score tries to fake their savageness at every appearance. There are also awkward flashbacks at story revelations that come too shortly after everything we've already seen. It's insulting to the audience. They're trying to remind us of all the things that we couldn't forget because that damn score lets us know when everything's important. A suggestion to those being attacked by body snatching aliens - run the children into bed posts. Seems to work every hilarious time.

My hat's off to the people who cut the awesome trailer from the lousy source material. That's skill, folks.

*

Renaissance



I had a strong reaction to this film the first time I saw it. It's a visual feast unlike anything I've seen before and has a solid detective storyline to keep my mind interested as well. It's like a twist of the Sin City graphic novel art and Blade Runner's noir sci-fi leanings. And that makes for some quality entertainment. There's good voice acting work from Daniel Craig and company. It's exciting to see computer animation go the grown up route. The plot twist at the end might not be as seamless a transition as it was intended to be, but it surprised me and put the rest of the movie in a different perspective.

****

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Savages



I had heard mixed reviews for this movie for a while, but I read the script for my screenwriting class and really enjoyed it. The movie was its own kind of pleasure. I think since I can relate to having a loved one in a nursing home with dementia, the character echoed my parents in ways I couldn't see before. The guilt. The awkward, heartbreaking goodbyes after short visits. The struggle to see your parents weak and frail and dying. And family. Another family movie that speaks to the strange ties that bind. Thick blood that sticks to everything even when it hurts. This is strong writing. This is strong acting. Laura Linney has her own brand of theatricity, but she is, to borrow a classic critic cliche, a winning performer. Her acting is specific to her and I can say with a smile that she played her character in a way no other actress could have. She's not imitating anyone. And after seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his spectrum of quality performances this year (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War), I'd have to say that his work as John Savage is my favorite. It's not the gritty drama of BTDKYD, but it offers its own kind of drama. The chemistry between Hoffman, Linney, and the fine Phillip Bosco as their father is palpable. He's able to create a conflicted character that easily could have turned into the "evil brother". Instead, there was a helpless sadness to the guy that seemed all too familiar. There's comedy, but this is really a drama through and through. And rewarding at that.

****

Gone Baby Gone



This film started out like an above average Law and Order episode, but eventually found its footing starting into the second act. The stakes kept rising - to the point where irreversible consequences were ahead of every choice. And it's a thriller that thinks. If you don't have something to talk about on the way home from this picture, you weren't paying attention. The way the pieces fit together might feel a bit contrived, but it makes a lasting impact unlike many of the more heralded films from last year. Casey Affleck turns in another work of skill (though The Assassination of Jesse James: BTCRF is superior just for the sheer amount of nervous energy and loneliness the guy gave off). The character allows him room to work. There are contradictions that make the guy unique, but a moral truth at the center that makes him easy to root for no matter which number door he chooses at the end. Michelle Monaghan provides stellar supporting work. I've been looking out for her since her turns in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Mission Impossible III (though I'm not going to touch Heartbreak Kid or Made of Honor). Like her character, Monaghan has the talent to back up her looks. More than just a pretty face. I have to say that Amy Ryan was good, but I probably wouldn't have noticed her without all the hoopla around her performance. And Ed Harris chews his fair share of scenery. And the dialogue is unsure of itself. There's a lot of you-don't-know-me posturing. But the filmmakers are sure of the story and how to package it into a pressure cooker. And it's a doozy.

***1/2

Rocket Science



I enjoyed the characters and the way that the director respected them enough to infuse them with quirk and qualities that ground them in familiarity. The situations were outside my realm of experience, but the feelings of awkward youth are all too familiar and seem to keep rolling into adulthood. And that's why these coming of age tales will keep me coming back for more. Rocket Science has a winning protagonist constantly in over his head. It makes for a good mix of comedy and just the right amount of angst. It works. Writer/director Jeffry Blitz has an ear for fast talking teens on the other end of the teen spectrum from Juno. And more importantly, he has the memory of one who has had circles talked around them.

****

The Fall


A ho-hum summer found a high-point (after Chicago trip) with The Fall. I was pleasantly surprised at how involved I was in the story. Its director, Tarsem, is indulgent and visually intelligent, but I felt a connection to his film's characters unlike my closest comparison - Pan's Labyrinth. While Pan's Labyrinth is superior is so many ways, my gut reaction to The Fall stands out. I had invested in the two leads (Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru) to the point where the spectacular visuals were secondary to their fates in the real world. Catinca in particular was wonderful. I haven't seen a child more natural on screen at that age in a long time. The chemistry between the leads carries the film even in the midst of all the razzle dazzle. And it does dazzle. Even when the dialogue in the story-within-the-story plays flat, the grand spectacle overcomes. The film offers some unsolved mysteries that fueled a confusing conversation on the long drive home, but only fuels my desire for another viewing.

****

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull



This will be the second time I've written a post for this - the first has disappeared into internet limbo. I'll make it short. I had fun. I had low expectations for this installment of the dusty franchise that were surpassed. I laughed (sometimes outloud) and was thrilled. None of the new characters made much of an impression, but I was impressed at how spry Indiana was (or his stunt men). I think that if all the naysayers would stop and think of all the pre-alien action in the film, they'd see it for what it was - an okay version of the hollywood big machine. The film may be over-concerned with it's own history, but for a casual night at the movies, it entertains.

***

The Incredible Hulk



Several things have become clear during recent weeks. One of which is that I am one of a ever diminishing few that have fond feelings for Ang Lee's The Hulk (2003). Marvel is still smarting from the audience backlash for what I thought was a step forward in character development in the comic genre. Take out mutant poodles and Nick Nolte and you've got yourself a really good movie.
The Incredible Hulk (2007) is the antithesis of the its predecessor. It tries to straddle both priorities - character and audience pleasing action. It ends up just doing okay on both accounts. The talented cast is given little to do except run or look frightened. The dialogue is average. The action is promising until the CGI Hulk starts to take center stage. It all culminates in a CGI blowout as The Hulk takes on his uber-villain, The Abomination. Truth is that I couldn't muster any interest in these two CGI goliaths colliding. I checked my watch. A CGI-heavy battle can be done well, the obviously CGI'd Kong and dinosaurs of 2005's King Kong left me riveted. Note to team Marvel: watch Iron Man again...and King Kong (for how to do a beauty and the beast cave scene right)...and any Edward Norton movie to see how to utilize your star. Kudos though to the heart monitor for building suspense. It almost worked.

**

Margot at the Wedding



The cast of Margot at the Wedding all offer remarkable performances in a somewhat unremarkable movie. I've never seen these actors perform these kind of roles before. There aren't really many of these kind of roles around. Like The Squid and the Whale, Margot spares no sore or bruise unturned in its family. Watching group dynamics is rarely this brutal or honest. It's a naturally flowing movie, but didn't give me that emotional payoff that Baumbach's other film's did. I cringed at the horror in a different way that I did during The Descent, but it was no less difficult to watch. There are layers there that will continue to reveal themselves on subsequent viewings (just check out the conversation with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Baumbach on the DVD for starters), but for now I can offer only a tepid intial response. Its revelations lack awe.

***

Speed Racer



It's hard to praise the Wachowski's after their dismantling of their once great Matrix franchise, so I'll keep myself restrained in this mild praise. Speed Racer is fun. It offers very little than entertainment, but I think that's priority number two (after box office dollars). The film is cartoony and maybe a bit too concerned with the antics of the youngest member of the Racer clan and his chimp. But Speed Racer dazzles. It has a look all its own and it's confidant in its handling of the world. The acting is suitable for the source material and demographic audience, but doesn't really utilize any of its talented cast. The dialogue isn't great, but it's not really a dialogue film. The film is a tad long. But it works. The races are far more exciting than I imagined they could be (when it was clear what was happening on screen). A fine one-watcher.

***

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead


I enjoyed the acting. It's the best I've ever seen Hawke or Hoffman (save for Capote), though they do slide a bit into act-ting mode at times. I'll chalk up to bravado. As for the story, it offers little surprises but has drama in spades. It's hard to see flawed people do awful things and try to make amends for these awful things with more awful deeds (it hurts to watch sometimes), but I felt for them. By the time the film reaches it's inevitable final note, I was emotionally drained - the film pours out itself, but offers no consolation for its audience. It's a difficult film that struggles to clean itself up after a messy third act, but it's a acting hammer from the acting gods. A throw back to dour character dramas from sporadic history.

***1/2

The Getaway (1972)



I've long subscribed to the Hollywood Steve McQueen myth: that cool can equate talent. That's why I keep checking out the guy's filmography. I've actually never really taken to any of his films, though The Great Escape is entertaining. The Getaway, however, is confounding for its misogynistic Steve McQueen character. The women exist in this movie to serve their criminal counterparts. And they're never good enough. To make matters worse, Ali McGraw offers little more than her pretty face to her role. She's wooden and bland. The whole film follows suit. The direction is uninspired. The violence may have seen daring at the time, but it's boring here. Very 70's. Red paint-by-numbers. My first Peckinpah experience was not good.

*1/2

George Washington


I love David Gordon Green. I had to see his first flick. I was a bit disappointed. The story and execution were classic Green, but the film lacked the definitive emotional punch that I got from his other films. A novice cast shows some nerves and growing pains in the acting process. But George Washington is original and offers several scenes of refined beauty in its unrefined world. It's daring in subtle ways, never flashy in its pursuit of the interiors of its characters.

***

The Descent



Good Golly, Miss Molly! What a fright. I watched this in the dark with the shallow, heavy breathing of my aging canine in the background. I was pleased with most everything here. Good characters and surprising development and staging for a horror film. I was constantly on edge. I cringed a lot. I enjoyed the film, but wonder what the film could have been with a better cast. Everyone does fine work, but a few knockout performances would have enhanced the atmopshere a bit. Great for a B-level horror flick, good for anything. Gore is involved - you've been warned. Also, kudos to the writer-director for writing a group of believable and interesting heroines into the genre. There were also countless times that I stopped to marvel at how awesome the camera work was. Tight, claustrophobic angles and locations abound.

Might be the scariest movie I've ever watched.

***1/2

28 Weeks Later



I gave this film another shot. I realized I hadn't given it a fair chance the first time around. I enjoyed it more the second time. The complaint of gore over character development is still relevant, but this is a solid sequel to the amazing first film. I guess where the first film offers hope at the end, this film offers none. "It's not all fucked," Jim said to Selene. The 28 Weeks guys say different. I guess I want the hope...and the character development. Weeks does offer real scares and a frantic pace that keeps the thrills constant.

***

Standing Still



I am in favor of hip young cast ensemble movies, especially when some of them are talented. But in the case of Standing Still, talent is useless as the cast is made to go through the comedic/heartstring/growing-up-is-hard-to-do motions. None of the characters or thespians made an impression in this breezy film. No one is given the chance to (save maybe for Ethan Embry's brief time on screen as a over-eager children's motivational guru). There's no excuse for wasting Amy Adams.

**

Iron Man



It's so pleasing to see a fun, competant superhero blockbuster. Witty, natural dialogue and solid performances from the accomplished cast help create worthwhile characters worth spending time with Downey, Jr. outside the suit. Still, they found a way to let some stilted, forced final battle dialogue creep in. A minor flaw in a very good diversion. The filmmakers made a good movie out of an okay-to-lame comic character.

***1/2

Short and Sweet Updates

I've neglected this site for far too long. I'm gonna throw out some reviews, so get ready.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In Bruges


This movie was a very pleasant surprise. The trailers try to pass In Bruges as a madcap, dark, edgy, action picture a la Pulp Fiction or Snatch, but it turns out In Bruges is quite melancholy. It's a character piece, with the two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in excellent performances each) being the chief draw. What makes these men tick? How do they handle conflict? These aren't the questions most hitmen movie even bother asking themselves. Bullets, pizazz, and edgy editing are the norm. In Bruges is anything but.

Sure, all the stuff in the trailer is in the film and it can be quite un-PC and irreverent quite often (sometimes strangely and offensively), but that doesn't distract from an interesting story about two men and the drama that comes in the form of regret, grace, vengeance, honor, and ambiguity.

The film can be a mess at times, but it's a organized mess. Things add up.

There's a doozy of an ending. A surprise without a twist. The kind of ending that leaves you a bit hobbled, stuck considering many things after the credits abruptly begin rolling and the theater lights come up. How many hitman movies can you honestly say leave you really thinking after they're done?

****

Wristcutters: A Love Story



There's comedy in Wristcutters, but the film isn't a light-hearted romp. There's a gloom and bleakness hanging over the picture. It's about a purgatory for people who have committed suicide, so it's quite fitting that those "living" in that purgatory can't smile. I didn't really smile either, though there were a plethora of well-earned chuckles.

There's a bit of a Water The Fish feeling for a lot of the movie - the world is strange and familiar at the same time. We can recognize it, but it's maybe a bit too mysterious. Much goes unexplained. The film's climax is a mess, but none of the characters actually seem that shocked or confused, so perhaps I'm overreacting.

I enjoyed it, though. Patrick Fugit was an excellent choice for the lead, as were Shea Whigham and Shannyn Sossamon in supporting roles. All can carry a similar deadpan, monotone, and bland tune like classical musicians. And that's not a knock on the performances at all. They fit perfectly into the odd-shaped holes the writer/director's script made for the characters.

I liked the love story, but to be honest I was more interested in these people being happy even in a world where that seemed impossible. That search for satisfaction was the chief attractor for me.

Great ending. Maybe a sloppy way of getting there, but still a big lift and pleasure at the end.

***1/2