Sunday, July 26, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

"A story about love that is not a love story". So says the narrator of this smart, honest look at 500 days of a relationship between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel).

Not since "Say Anything" has a film about love been written this honestly from the male point of view. Mr Gordon-Levitt is known for quirky Indy dramas and "Third Rock From The Sun". It's refreshing to see him here in a lighter more natural role and as usual he does not disappoint. You feel all the highs and lows of his emotions as the film leapfrogs between the 500 days of his life with Summer. Ms. Deschanel is also excellent as Summer, the non-committal love of Tom's life.

Leapfrogging through their relationship is an interesting plot device that takes us from day 488 to day 1 and back to day 342 and so forth, showing us pivotal moments in Tom's courtship of Summer. The film also makes good use of animation, split screen, and a particularly good dance sequence (that represents Tom's feelings perfectly).

Director Marc Webb frames Los Angeles much the way Woody Allen would New York, bringing the city to life as another character in the story. His musical choices also blend in beautifully further enhancing the story. A good effort all around.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince

This is by far the weakest of the six Harry Potter films so far. The film creeps along at a deadly pace for more than two hours without much excitement but plenty of exposition. It is clearly a setup for the final book (which will be broken up into two films). You can consider this film the Potter version of "The Empire Strikes Back", without all the action.

All the lead actors are back but appear to be going through the motions at this point in the series. The most interesting performances are by Jim Broadbent as the potions teacher, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin as the young Tom Riddle, and Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley. The budding teen romances are awkward and provide little comic relief.

Visually the film would be memorable but it's hard to tell as the entire film appears to have been shot in the dark. What is really disappointing is the editing. Many scenes are very choppy and lack a fluid and cohesive motion between them.

The film is rated PG but really deserves a PG-13 based on some scenes that will definitely frighten smaller children. Also for die-hard fans, be aware a major plot point has been tampered with and that should cause much debate among the faithful

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Even more outrageous and borderline pornographic than "Borat", "Bruno" tries hard at shock and awe but ends up with just laughs and yawns.

This time around, Sasha Baron Cohen tries to hard to top his last film. Much of the set up is the same, throwing an outrageous character into the figurative and literal laps of clueless people, it's not as fresh as the first time around. Don't get me wrong, there some some very funny moments but much of it has a "been there, done that" feel.

Bruno worked very well as a character on a sitcom with short skits. As a full length film, it runs out of steam and hopes the more outrageous "Bruno" gets, the less you'll notice how empty it begins to feel. There are moments of genuine satire and eye opening commentary of the ignorance and intolerance still in this country but like "Borat", some of the sequences feel staged and that lessens the impact.

Of course real or staged, many scenes are really quite funny and if "Borat" worked for you, "Bruno" will too.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Writer/director Duncan Jones borrows some elements from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Silent Running" and creates a fascinating tale of isolation in space. Sam Rockwell stars as the sole mining company employee serving a three year contract on the Moon. His only companion is a robot named Gerty voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Mr. Duncan does a nice job creating the claustrophobic environment for Mr. Rockwell, especially when thing may no longer be what they seem. Without ruining the plot, I can say that Mr. Rockwell delivers a knockout performance in what must have been a difficult acting assignment.

Because of the basic story elements, the film does tend to border on tedious at times but stay with it as there is an emotional impact at the end and the final outcome should stir some thought provoking conversation.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Proposal

Romantic comedies are not really my favorite genre but my daughter picked this one so off we went. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is a stereotypical story of opposites attracting and fairly unbelievable but it works because of the chemistry of it's stars, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

Ms. Bullock is adept at physical comedy and not afraid to poke fun at herself. Mr. Reynolds has an easy charm about him and wonderful facial expressions. The two stars really click together and combine to make the film a lighthearted romp that works even though you know the end even before the film starts.

Betty White co-stars as the feisty grandmother (also a very typical role) but finds a way to infuse her own charm into the character. Other co-stars are Craig T. Nelson (nice to see him working again) and Mary Steenburgen as the parents, Denis O'Hare as a cocky Immigration officer and Oscar Nunez (so good on The Office but a setback for Latin American actors here).

There's a fun epilogue during the credits so don't rush to leave when the film ends.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Simply the most intense Iraq War movie since "Black Hawk Down". "The Hurt Locker" grabs you by throat from the opening minutes and never lets go. Director Kathryn Bigelow has made an visceral stunner of a film, based on the account of an embedded journalist who spent time with a bomb squad in Iraq.

This is an intimate portrait of three men and how the war affects them as they serve out their last month in rotation. While trying to survive the horror of the war itself, the intensity of serving on a bomb squad takes it to another level altogether. And to Ms. Bigelow's credit, her direction, camera work and editing put you, the viewer, right in the middle of this harrowing experience.

Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty make up the squad who's job is to solely diffuse both bombs and bombers alike. While all three actors are terrific, this is a star turn for Mr. Renner, who is just mesmerizing to watch. There are some blink and you miss them "star" cameos but the film truly belongs to Mr. Renner.

"The Hurt Locker" is authentic, suspenseful, tension filled and down right scary. It's a huge accomplishment for Ms. Bigelow and everyone involved and one of the best films of the year so far.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Whatever Works

Over the past few years, Woody Allen has tried many different actors to be his surrogate in his films. Some have worked (John Cusack) and some have not (Kenneth Branagh). Larry David is the perfect choice. His character in this new comedy from Mr. Allen is similar to his personality on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" but here it's even more abrasive and annoying. Boris worries about death and disease constantly, is negative about everything and appears to have no redeeming qualities at all.

Into his life comes Evan Rachel Wood (in her first comedy, I believe) and somehow these two completely different souls connect. Further complication ensue with the arrival of Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. as Ms. Wood's parents. The material is dated (apparently the original script has been kicking around for decades) and the film feels like a throwback to earlier Woody Allen comedies but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

It runs out of steam in the third act but there are plenty of great one-liners and some good acting particularly from Ms. Wood. If you are a fan of both Mr. Allen and Mr. David, you will definitely enjoy "Larry does Woody"...Whatever Works.

Public Enemies

Nobody working today can touch director Michael Mann when it comes to crime drama. "Public Enemies" works on almost every level for an adult audience looking for a quality film among animation, CGI, and explosions.

Johnny Depp stars as bank robber John Dillinger and Christian Bale is Melvin Pervis, the FBI's special agent charged with bringing down. Mr. Depp reaches deep to bring Dillinger to life and no one can top Mr. Bale when it comes to intensity. There are many scenes with little or no dialog and yet both actors convey so much through their expressions.

You can find similarities with Mr. Mann's earlier work, "Heat" starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. Mr. Depp and Mr. Bale only have a few minutes of screen time together but it generates the same excitement as that earlier film. And I found the gun play equal to or even better than the shootouts in "Heat".

Using hand held camera's, Mr. Mann draws us intimately into this violent world. His excellent cinematography, editing and use of the film's music adds so much depth and color to the story, at times scenes are just poetry in motion.

Marion Cotillard co-stars as Billie Frechette, Mr. Dillinger's "moll" and she proves here that her performance as Edith Piaf was no fluke. Billy Crudup makes an interesting choice as J. Edgar Hoover and the rest of the cast is filled out by very reliable character actors including Stephen Lang, Stephen Dorff and Jason Clarke.

"Public Enemies" brings the heat.