Sunday, October 26, 2008

High School Musical 3

Strictly for the tweeners, this franchise is wearing out it's welcome. The songs are forgettable, the acting is below average, and the plot is wafer thin. The only thing going for it is the choreography which, while not Bob Fosse, is enough to keep adults awake during this shameless sequel.

Only in Disneyland, will you find a high school as squeaky clean as East High. Everything about this film shines like it's just come through a car wash. The film belongs on Disney channel like it's predecessors and releasing it in theaters was strictly a marketing ploy by the Disney machine to put more cash in it's coffers. And based on it's weekend take at the box office, their efforts paid off in a big way. Biggest opening ever for a musical will surely produce "High School Musical 4: The Reunion". And as long as kids continue to grow up with Disney channel, this franchise will live forever. Heaven help us!


Ed Harris pulls off a trifecta, co-writing, directing and starring in this old fashioned western, in the tradition of "Unforgiven". While not as powerful as that classic, "Appaloosa" will still satisfy lovers of the western genre.

Viggo Mortensen co-stars as Everett Hitch, Mr. Harris's best friend. The two men make their living as lawmen for hire. The relationship between these two fine actors is relaxed and natural, and their characters are men you can believe in. Rene Zellweger plays the woman who comes between them in the town of Appaloosa. And rounding out the major players is Jeremy Irons as the villainous, Randall Bragg.

Much of the screenplay has been lifted verbatim from the novel by Robert B. Parker and there is some wonderful dialogue as well as beautiful cinematography by Dean Semler. The film moves slowly but methodically and is filled with many classic western themes and clich├ęs. There are moments of suspense and surprise and while an enjoyable film, it doesn't break any new ground in a familiar genre.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Ann Hathaway plays against type in the new film from Jonathan Demme. She plays Kim, just out of rehab and returning to her family's home for her sister Rachel's wedding. Last year Noah Baumbach gave us the similarly theme, "Margot At The Wedding" with Nicole Kidman. "Rachel" is the more realistic and emotional charged film.

Ms. Hathaway reaches into her dark places and pulls out a terrific performance as Kim. Newly sober and loaded with emotional baggage, Kim bursts into the wedding weekend like a bolt of lightning, striking down everything in her path. This is a intense family drama filled with both anger and happiness.

The film co-stars Bill Irwin and Deborah Winger as Kim's divorced parents. Mr. Irwin is excellent as the father overly protective of his damaged daughter while at the same time, trying to celebrate his other daughter's big day. Ms. Winger is a welcome return to the screen and makes the most of her few scenes, especially during a raw confrontation with Kim. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Rachel, torn between an love/hate relationship with her sister, which casts a cloud over her wedding plans.

Mr. Demme's direction brings out the best in Ms. Hathaway, struggling with her family and her inner demons. She carries the film and it's her performance you'll remember most.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wrestler

From Darren Aronofsky, the man who bought us "PI", "Requiem For A Dream" and the metaphysical mess, "The Fountain" comes a raw and powerful new film, "The Wrestler". This is not a "Rocky" or "Raging Bull" saga, but rather an intimate portrait of man 20 years past his prime trying to find his place in the world.

Mickey Rourke...that's right, Mickey Rourke, gives the performance of a lifetime as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, past his glory days and looking for worth beyond the ring. Mr. Rourke bares his soul and gives everything he has to this character. It is an Oscar caliber performance that will not be forgotten.

Co-starring is Marisa Tomei as a world weary stripper connecting, against her better judgment, with "The Ram". Evan Rachel Wood also stars as the daughter long ago left behind, angry and bitter when Mr. Rourke shows up at her door. They only have a few scenes together but they are filled with emotion as father and daughter try to reconnect.

Mr. Aronofsky films with camera work that puts you in the story, capturing every detail and bringing stinging reality to every scene. This is an honest, sometimes violent, and yet poignant film that will thoroughly surprise you.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Miracle At St. Anna

Spike Lee goes to war and leaves me confused. The film starts out in the 80's when a postal worker, working at his window, shoot a customer point blank in the chest. The police discover the head of an Italian statue in his apartment and he refuses to explain the head or his actions. A few scenes later and we flashback to Italy in WWII where the majority of the film takes place.

The story centers on a group of four African American soldiers who become separated behind enemy lines. What starts out as a war story about the Buffalo soldiers division soon turns into a more intimate tale of these four men and their impact on the Italian village where they are hiding from the Germans.

Early on there is a massacre at a river and while it doesn't equal the ferocity of the opening moments of "Saving Private Ryan", it certainly makes it's point. Mr. Lee actually drills his point home as the camera lingers far too long over the dead soldiers floating in the bloody river. His characters are stereotypes of almost any war movie including the over the top racist Major.

Eventually we learn why the postal worker kills the customer and along the way there is much death and destruction. The ending, while obvious, is still too easy and I'm still left wondering why a postal worker would bring a gun to work everyday, much less get away with hiding it under his counter.

I admire Mr. Lee's past work but this project is very ambitious and could have been shorter, tighter, and more cohesive.