Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Brothers Bloom

Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo star as con artist brothers in this low key quirky comedy. The basic idea is a familiar one, one brother wants out and the other convinces him to do one last con. Their final mark is a wealthy young woman played by Rachel Weisz. Rinko Kikuchi as co-stars as "Bang Bang", an almost silent accomplice to the brothers.

Of course things do not go as planned and Ms. Weisz becomes the most interesting character in the film. Just who is conning whom becomes the central plot, along with exploring the strained relationship between the brothers.

The film takes us on a world tour from New Jersey to Greece with many other exotic stops along the way. There is a certain charm to the story as it unfolds with a fairytale-like quality. Mr.. Ruffalo, Ms. Kikcuchi and Ms. Weisz are all fun to watch, especially Ms. Weisz, who seems to be really enjoying herself. Mr. Brody on the other hand plays his usual brooding self and is rather a bore.

The highlight of the film is the opening sequence depicting the brothers as youngsters perpetrating their first con on the neighborhood kids, narrated by Ricky Jay. I would have really enjoyed the film more if it hadn't jumped to 25 years later.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Director McG reboots the system with this 4th entry in the Terminator series. Christian Bale stars as John Conner and Anton Yelchin co-stars as Kyle Reese. If these characters mean nothing to you, this is not the film for you.

For the fans, it's an action heavy glimpse at the world post "Judgment Day" and while plenty of things blow up (including a great sequence on a bridge), there are moments of humanity that poke through all the twisted metal.

Mr. Bale is in full "Batman-like" intensity as the leader of the resistance while Mr. Yelchin (who seems to be everywhere these days) does an admirable job as John Conner's father to be. The nice surprise is Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, a mystery man who holds his own against Mr. Bale and provides the emotional center . Dallas Bryce Howard and Moon Bloodgood also co-star to balance the testosterone.

McG pays his respect to the original film in a few surprising ways which I won't spoil here and if you are a fan, you will enjoy the metal carnage in this cross between "Terminator 2-Judgment Day" and "The Road Warrior".

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Night At The Museum 2: Battle For The Smithsonian

Some fun special effects and a perky job of acting by Amy Adams (as Amelia Earhart) save this overblown sequel from total disaster. As usual, Hollywood takes a winning formula and decides bigger will be better for the second time around.

Ben Stiller remains perfectly cast as the straight man to even more historical characters brought to life in this second go-round. If one monkey slapping him in the first film is funny, let's get two monkeys to slap him around in the second film...yawn. Steve Coogan reprises his role as a Roman soldier and his finest moment comes astride a squirrel. Say it ain't so, Steve! Owen Wilson also reprises his role as the plucky cowboy who is reduced to spending most of the film drowning in an hourglass. There are many other characters from the first film that are nothing more than cameos for the thin new plot.

Upping the ante at the Smithsonian is a great concept. Introducing new historical characters and bringing inanimate art to life make for visual treats and clever one liners but overdoing it exposes the weak story. Only Ms. Adams, Mr. Stiller and Hank Azaria have any depth to their characters. Ms. Adams, in particular, elevates the entire film simply by actually acting rather than picking up a paycheck.

Kids will enjoy all the PG mayhem but adults will have settle for the aforementioned visuals and the talented Ms. Adams.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Soloist

The trailer for this film has been in theaters for almost a year. When a picture's been on the shelf that long, you have to approach with caution. If it wasn't for the star power of Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, this would have been a pass altogether.

Unfortunately good acting by Mr. Foxx and Mr. Downey Jr. can't save the melodramatic script, even though it's based on a true story. The film tries too hard to be many things. It tackles mental illness, the homeless, and the powers of music and friendship.

As much as Mr. Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a fascinating subject, the film never truly engages the viewer and the subplot of Mr. Downey Jr. and his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) is confusing and unnecessary. Steve Lopez (Mr. Downey Jr.) is a writer for the Los Angeles Times. Finding Mr. Ayers on the street, befriending him and then telling his story was a worthy task. But you do have to ask yourself, just how much of this "friendship" becomes exploitive, considering the countless newspaper articles, book deal and movie rights that have ensued.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

Simply awesome! Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman deliver a terrific film completely reenergizing the Star Trek machine. The beauty of the new film is that you need not be steeped in Star Trek lore to understand the story or the characters. As for those who are long time fans, I can't imagine they will be disappointed either.

By taking the characters full circle back to their origins in Star Fleet, we can appreciate them from the beginning and watch their relationships take shape even in the face of certain disaster. The casting couldn't be more perfect. Chris Pine as a young James T. Kirk captures the impulsiveness, budding authority, and sex appeal of a young William Shatner. Zachary Quinto is incredibly believable as a young Spock and the rest of the crew works perfectly as the younger versions of iconic characters. Eric Bana, under much makeup, is a very credible villain and Bruce Greenwood, Wynona Rider, and Ben Cross all perform admirably in their supporting roles.

The plot works on all levels and the action moves at warp speed. Familiar lines and one terrific cameo will please the fans and even those new to this universe will enjoy themselves. Star Trek is back and I can't wait for the sequel.


All style and little substance, this X-Men origin story is strictly for Hugh Jackman fans or hard core X-Men fanatics. Mr. Jackman does a good job carrying the load, appearing in almost every scene but the flimsy story can't hold the weight of his metal claws.

Liev Schrieber, a fine classic actor, finds his inner animal and has fun with the role of Victor Creed, Wolverine's brother. Unfortunately the three times the brothers clash, it's like someone pressed rewind and by the third fight, boredom is setting in. Danny Houston replaces Brian Cox as Col. Stryker and falls short of Mr. Cox's commanding presence.

Ryan Reynolds co-stars as Wade Wilson and the screenplay totally messes with his character deviating from the Marvel Comics universe. As a fan of Mr. Wilson's "Deadpool" character, I was very disappointed by this story line but that aside, Wolverine's origin pretty much stays the course.

The climatic fight at the end is pretty well done but the actual end fizzles out weakly to the credits. The credits themselves are always worth reading as it takes a small army to create a film and everyone deserves some recognition but the extra footage post credits is disappointing compared to previous marvel films.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

State of Play

Featuring a pedigree cast, this is a pretty enjoyable thriller that may remind some of the paranoid political thrillers of the '70s. Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, and Jeff Daniels all play their parts effectively to solve the murder of a congressman's aide.

Mr. Crowe plays the grizzled old world Washington Post reporter who teams up with Ms. McAdams, the Internet blogger for the paper and the film mergers the old and new guard effectively while editor Helen Mirren goes on about, "its not about the story but the need to sell more papers."

The plot gets a bit muddied and there is the requisite twist at the end but the film will hold your attention and is a good intellectual alternative to most films out right now.