Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Adventureland


Fading quickly from theaters is the new coming of age comedy, "Adventureland". This film had "summer flick" written all over it and the studio releases it in March? Well, the good news is the DVD will be out in time for a hot summer night.

From the director of "Superbad", comes this really sweet coming of age story that takes place in the summer of 1987 at an amusement park called obviously, "Adventureland". The period is captured beautifully by the clothes, makeup, attitude and great '80's soundtrack. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star and are both completely natural in their roles. The film also features Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live and while they are always fun to watch, they are both wasted in underwritten roles. Ryan Reynolds also co-stars as the "hunk" employee with a secret.

The film doesn't have the same madcap moments of "Superbad" but it does capture the friendships and natural rhythms of its young cast in a comedy that will probably evoke memories of your own summer loves and low end jobs.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sugar


Baseball movies have been around almost as long as the game itself. Always filled with emotion, they never fail to bring a tear or raise your spirit. Now comes a baseball movie that avoids the Hollywood clich├ęs. "Sugar" is a fictionalized story of a young pitcher in the Dominican Republic who dreams of making it in the American big leagues and that's where the Hollywood version would start. However, that where it really ends.

The film takes you into the world of farm teams, A, double A, and triple A baseball. This is the harsh road leading to the majors littered with castoff hopefuls and wannabe superstars. We see the world through the eyes of Miguel "Sugar" Santos as he gets the call and gets his chance at American baseball.

Arriving in America, speaking barely any English, Santos might as well be on an alien planet. All he knows is baseball and like every other kid, dreams of playing one day in Yankee Stadium. The film takes us through the highs and lows of farm team baseball and shows the harsh realities for boys like Santos who dream big. It's an emotional journey with unexpected twists and turns. Algenis Perez Soto is excellent as Sugar. The camera constantly studies his bewildered face as he navigates through this foreign landscape.

This is a very different kind of baseball film. No big stars and certainly no big Hollywood ending. It will make you think the next time you consider the poor play of a major leaguer when you realize just how good he had to be to get to the big time. While "Sugar" may be a fictional character, his story is all too real.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Knowing


You "know" it's Spring when films like this can stay in the top 5 for weeks. "Knowing" is a weak script thrown in a blender with so many plot points from other movies that it comes out smooth but very bland.

Nicholas Cage stars in this "thriller" as an astro-physicist who figures out the end of the world when his son is handed a seemingly random page of numbers. The scribbled page was written and buried in a time capsule fifty years ago by a little girl who "heard" voices in her head. Without "knowing" too much, the film drags on with "X-Files" dialogue, a very disturbing plane crash, and some creepy men in raincoats.

Mr. Cage, along with Rose Byrne( both playing very serious) jump through the plot holes until the big reveal at the end. There are a few more disturbing scenes of catastrophe spaced throughout the film and it all adds up to nothing original.

Kudos to the film's composer as the soundtrack succeeds in sustaining a reasonable amount of suspense. What does it say when the music drives the film, rather than the plot? "Knowing" what happens only left me with more questions.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning


"Sunshine Cleaning" may remind you at first, of "Little Miss Sunshine". Alan Arkin plays a very similar character in both films. Both contain a cute child, and both explore the dysfunctional family theme. However, with a darkly comic plot device and strong acting by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, "Sunshine Cleaning" is an original experience. This comic drama is a perfect tale for these hard economic times.

Ms. Adams and Ms. Blunt play very believable sisters who couldn't be more different. Both have grown up dealing with their mother's suicide in their own way. Rose (Ms. Adams) is the more sensible one trying to make a living for herself and her young son. Nora (Ms. Blunt) is more of a wild child who matures through the course of the film when they go into business together.

The sister start a cleaning business for crime scene cleansing. This plot device allows for some strong drama as well as some unexpected comedy. Both women shine in their respective roles and are a pleasure to watch. Mr. Arkin plays their curmudgeon of a father always looking for a quick buck. The film also stars Clifton Collins Jr. in a role very different from his usual staple of villainous characters. Steve Zahn also plays against type as a married policeman having an affair with Rose.

This is an enjoyable and touching story, well played by it's strong cast.