Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fighter

Based on the true story of Mickey Ward, a welterweight boxer from Lowell Massachusetts, this is a sure crowd pleaser and Oscar contender in multiple categories. Mark Wahlberg stars as Ward and he is the anchor of the film. Standout performances are all around him in the form of Melissa Leo as his mother, Alice, Christian Bale as his brother Dicky and Amy Adams as his girlfriend, Charlene.

While the film is about fighters, it's center is really about family. For years, Mickey has let his mother be his manager and his brother, his trainer. It hasn't gotten him anywhere except for multiple losses. He is fiercely loyal to his family but decisions have to be made.

David O. Russell directs and takes his camera directly into the eye of the hurricane of this highly dysfunctional family. Dicky had his shot in the ring but his life choices have led him astray. Mickey's last shot is redemption for both of them and the last act of the film takes us to a rousing finish.

The film also has a terrific soundtrack. Who would have thought I'd be humming "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake, as I left the theater.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Year

Writer/director Mike Leigh's latest drama is an intimate look into the life of Tom and Gerri, a middle-aged, middle-class London couple that literally transpires over the course of a year. Divided into the four seasons, "Another Year" examines the impact and contrast of Tom & Gerri's happy, content life with the lives of their friends Mary and Ken as well as their son, Joe. The brilliant cast is led by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as Tom and Gerri.

Mary's life has been a series of failures and she clings to the warmth of her friend's marriage as a lifeline with one hand on the rope and the other wrapped perpetually around a wine glass. Played by Leslie Manville, Mary's downward spiral is hard to watch but heartbreakingly real. It's the standout performance of the film. Ken(Peter Wight), on the other hand has also had his failures. However, instead of fooling himself into thinking he's still got a chance at happiness, he's resigned himself to being a chain smoking, overweight drunk. Ken's attempt at courting Mary is only one of the many painful scenes throughout the film.

The counterbalance to the heartbreak and pain is the positive anchor of Tom & Gerri. Theirs' is such a strong, happy marriage that it almost falls into caricature. Can anyone be that happy? And can that happiness be absorbed by others? Credit Mr. Leigh with casting actors that never look or feel like they're acting. Furthermore, directing them with an improvisational style that gives the viewer a sense of watching real people navigate their lives... for better or worse.

All Good Things

Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst star in this "truth is stranger than fiction" crime drama. This is the fictionalized account of the Robert Durst scandal in New York during the '80's. Mr. Durst was the wealthy son of a New York real estate magnate who was suspected of killing his wife but never charged as her body was never found. The story got stranger as time went on and the film captures all of it with a knockout performance from Mr. Gosling as David Marks (aka Robert Durst).

The film also stars Frank Langella as Sandford Marks, David's father and the wonderful Philip Baker Hall as Malvern Bump, a man David befriends later in life only to get him caught up in his nefarious actions. Lily Rabe also co-stars as another important woman in David's life. Mr. Langella is so good at playing the strong-willed, overbearing patriarch and Mr. Baker Hall is woefully sympathetic as a man driven to circumstances beyond his control.

The story starts out simply enough as David and Katie (Ms. Dunst) meet, fall in love and marry but as the years progress, David's mental instability begins to come to the surface and and the "good things" take a turn for the worse. The film is directed by Andrew Jarecki, who's last film was the documentary "Capturing The Friedmans". It's a fascinating story and will definitely make you curious about the actual events. Thank goodness for Wikpedia.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tourist

European in style and Hitchcockian in nature, "The Tourist" will come as a disappointment for most mainstream audiences. The problem occurs when you attach two of the biggest stars on the planet (known mostly for action films) and you don't give them the big "Hollywood" action film the audience expects. Earlier this year, George Clooney failed for the same reason in "The American".

Angelina Jolie is the mystery woman Elise and Johnny Depp is Frank, the title character. Ms. Jolie is actually terrific in the role, glamorous, mysterious, and dangerous all at the same time. Mr. Depp is terribly miscast as Frank and their lack of chemistry proves the point. Mr. Depp can be many things but coming across as a mild mannered math teacher from Wisconsin is not one of them.

The film is directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, who did a brilliant job on "The Lives of Others". Here, as a European director, he is asked to do an American remake of a French film that will appeal to American audiences. This is not Mr. Henckel von Donnersmark's strength and he ends up with a hybrid of styles that ultimately fail. The only star here that really shines is Venice (where the film takes place) as the beauty of the city is revealed through the director's eye.

Some foreign films, in the wrong hands, just don't translate well into American films. If you were intrigued by the idea of "The Tourist", seek out the French original, "Anthony Zimmer". I hear it's terrific.

Monday, December 27, 2010

True Grit

I love a good western and "True Grit" is a good western. Is it great? No, I don't think so. In my humble opinion, The Coen brothers didn't need to do their own version of this film. I'm a huge fan of their work but this time out, they really don't infuse the story with their signature style. Even though they have tackled many genres, there is always something about their films that is distinctively "Coen Brothers". Their only mark on the retelling of "True Grit", is the fantastic cinematography of Roger Deakins.

Casting Jeff Bridges as "Rooster Cogburn", they might as well have called the film, "True Grunt". It's almost impossible to understand his dialog and subtitles would have been a blessing. As for his acting, he does redefine the role made famous by John Wayne but he plays it like an early ancestor of his "Crazy Heart" character, "Bad Blake". Matt Damon does a stalwart job as "LaBouf", the Texas Ranger. Josh Brolin gets top billing along with the others but his role is nothing more than a two scene cameo. The real praise must be given to Hailee Steinfeld as "Mattie Ross". Ms. Steinfeld won the role after apparently 15,000 girls auditioned for the role. The filmmakers got it right. This is her first film and she steals the movie with maturity and a natural charm.

The Coen brothers insisted this was not a remake but rather their own version of the book but if you watch the original film, you will still see that many of the scenes are shot for shot in the new version. I was hoping to heap accolades upon this film but I would give them to "A Serious Man", the Coen Brothers last film released in 2009 with an original story and better acting.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky brings us another minor masterpiece with "Black Swan". Using the same hand held technique he did in "Requiem For A Dream", he creates a claustrophobic world of ballet seen through the eyes of Nina Sayers, the dancer picked to play the Swan Queen in a new production of "Swan Lake".

Natalie Portman plays Nina. She is wonderful in a complex and difficult role as she slowly succumbs to the pressure of the lead. She also does an admirable job with her dancing as it is obviously her in many of the ballet sequences. Vincent Cassel, plays the controlling and manipulative dance company director and Barbara Hershey plays Erica Sayers, Nina's mother who has issues of her own. Winona Ryder has a small but pivotal role as Beth MacIntyre, the lead ballerina forced out by Cassel.

A real revelation (besides Ms. Portman) is Mila Kunis, who until now has not had any really significant parts. Here, she plays another ballerina who befriends Nina and yet is a rival for the Swan Queen. She shows a new maturity and depth to her acting. Ms. Kunis also does much of her own dancing quite well (at least to my untrained eye).

Mr. Aronofsky leads us into the world of ballet and then builds the suspense to a breaking point of an ending. The film has it's moments of beauty, shock and controversy and expect to be caught in it's seductive power.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


"Tron: Legacy" in IMAX 3-D is less a movie and more an amusement park ride. You are totally immersed in the digital world of the grid and it truly stimulates the senses. The audio and visual effects are wonderful and it really is quite the ride.

On the other hand, the plot is thin and the acting fairly robotic (especially considering two of the major characters are non-human). Jeff Bridges does double duty here as his image from the original film (some 30 years ago) is digital reproduced as the villain, "CLU" and he also plays his current age as Flynn, the inventor of Tron, trapped in his own creation. Garrett Hedlund, plays Sam, his adult son, drawn into the digital world who reunites with his father to bring down "CLU". Mr. Hedlund handles himself well in all the action sequences and also gets some help from the digital creation "Quorra", played by Olivia Wilde. The film also brings back Bruce Boxleitner (the original Tron) in a sentimental small role. Rounding out the major cast of characters is Michael Sheen, playing a digitally androgynous character named "Castor" who comes across as David Bowie circa "Ziggy Stardust".

Aside from the obvious father-son connection, the thread of a plot is concerned with "CLU" invading the real world with a digital army. There's lots of cyber speak and Mr. Bridges, as Flynn, talks a lot of Zen philosophy but you don't go to see Tron for the plot. This is all about the visuals and they are stunning. The "games" and various chase sequences are lots of fun and if you don't try to hard to understand the story, you will have a good time "lost" in this digital landscape.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Company Men

Last year, "Up In The Air" showed us what it was like to fire people in a downsizing economy. "The Company Men" gives us an idea of the receiving end of those pink slips. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are three levels of executives downsized by their company during the economic crash of 2008.

The film is both scary and depressing as writer/director John Wells holds a mirror up to the harsh reality of the employment crisis in this country. The film does have some redeeming moments though, most notably in the acting of it's three leads, each handling their situation in a different way. The script tends towards the melodramatic extreme in the case of Mr. Affleck and his family as their life crashes around them in less than a year but everything else about the film feels real.

A big surprise in the film is Kevin Costner, who shines in a supporting role as Mr. Affleck's brother-in-law. Out of the star spotlight, he can relax and just act naturally in his best role in years. Rosemary DeWitt is also excellent as Mr. Affleck's wife, standing by her man, even as everything they have is stripped away.

"The Company Men" is a hard sell as escapist entertainment when the subject matter is all round us but if you appreciate good acting, see it for the cast. They do their best to help the rest of us cope.

The Warrior's Way

A mash up of a samurai sword epic and a classic American western, this psychedelic genre crasher is a lot of fun. Filmed in New Zealand but mostly CGI green screen work, the film looks great and the stunts are plentiful.

The film's name stars are Geoffrey Rush, ("slumming" after what will be an Oscar nomination for "The King's Speech") as a drunken marksman, Danny Huston as the outrageous villain (disfigured face and all), and Kate Bosworth as the plucky love interest, good with blades of all kinds. Diminutive actor Tony Cox also has a key roll as "Eightball", the little person with a big heart. The real star, however, is the Asian actor Jang Dong-Gun, who makes intricate swordplay look easy.

When you take a semi-deserted town, throw in a bunch of circus rejects, add a bunch of villainous cowboys and ninja warriors, you get one crazy mix of a movie but writer/director Sngmoo Lee makes it work. It's got plenty of comic book violence, colorful characters and the most expressive baby I've ever seen.

If you're looking for something really different, "The Warrior's Way" fits the bill.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Barney's Version

Released in a very limited run (probably for Oscar consideration), this is a little Indie film with a big emotional payoff. Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, this is the story of Barney Panofsky and the journey through his adult life. It's dramatic with some comedic moments and you will quickly find yourself emotionally invested in Barney's life through all his ups and downs.

Paul Giamatti plays Barney and his rich, layered, terrific performance pulls you in and keeps you there for the entire ride. It's easily one of his best roles. Supporting him are Dustin Hoffman as Izzy, his father, along with Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike as two important women in his life. Mr. Hoffman is a joy to watch as he makes the most of his supporting character (he gets most of the laughs). Ms. Driver portrays a Montreal "Jewish American Princess" very accurately and Ms. Pike is a breath of fresh air in a role I will not reveal.

Richard J. Lewis directs this gem and condenses an adult lifetime into little more than two hours running time without sacrificing major plot points. Watching the film, you can imagine the complexity of the novel but the edited screenplay still captures the heart of the story and Mr. Lewis moves things along at a comfortable pace.

What makes everything work so well is Mr. Giamatti's portrayal of this fascinating character. I hope the release strategy pays off and he is recognized for his fine work here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The King's Speech

The true story of King George VI of England, who reluctantly becomes ruler when his brother abdicates the throne in 1936. His reluctance is due to a terrible stammer that destroys his confidence to rule. His wife, Queen Elizabeth finds speech therapist, Lionel Logue to help with the King's problem. Lionel's unconventional treatments eventually lead the two men to a life-long friendship.

Colin Firth stars as King George and Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue. These two actors are at the top of their game and are wonderful to watch as they bond over the King's problem. Mr. Firth is marvelous in a role with such vocal difficulty. Mr. Rush also shines as the commoner, not afraid of royalty but rather committed to helping a man in dire need. They should both easily get Oscar nominations for this film. Also outstanding is Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth. She makes the queen regal and yet, so human as a wife and mother.

Director Tom Hooper captures the period along with all the pomp and circumstance of the royal family perfectly. He directs an all star cast that also includes Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon and Sir Derek Jacobi. The film is obviously very British but the story holds a universal appeal. With perseverance, one can overcome handicaps and go on to great things.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Let's be real here. We're up to film number seven in the series. At this point, you're either a fan or couldn't care less. And if you are a fan, the film is pretty much critic proof. Warner Brothers decided to split the last book into two films. They claimed it was to enrich the story. Since we're being real here, let's be honest and realize they are milking the Harry Potter cash cow to the last drop.

The film picks up where we've left off with Harry and his friends on the run from the forces of Voldemort, trying to find the Horcruxes that will destroy Voldemort's power. The most original thing about the film is how it opens up the story from the confines of Hogwarts and ends up a travelogue for the British Isles. Otherwise, it's all the characters you've come to love (or hate) doing what they do best.

The film could have been done in one part if it didn't need to include countless scenes of Harry, Hermione, and Ron sitting around beautiful locations contemplating their next move in the war against Voldemort. There are some well done action sequences but they are far and few between. The look of the film is consistent with the others in the series. Dark is the operative word both figuratively and literally.

It's been fun to watch stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rubert Grint grow up and mature with each film. And as for the supporting cast, I think every British actor (with the exception of Hugh Grant) makes an appearance in "Part 1". There's still time for Hugh to show up in "Part 2".

I have to hold off complete judgment until "Part 2" next year when the series finally comes to an end. Wow, think of all the British actors who will end up "on the dole" after that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle and actor James Franco team up for an unforgettable experience. The film is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, an extreme sports enthusiast and in the hands of another director, it could easily have been a two hour bore. Utilizing similar techniques first seen in "Trainspotting", Mr. Boyle takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotion watching James Franco try to survive, trapped in a rocky gully in the Utah Canyonlands.

Mr. Boyle mixes audio and video imagery to create a non-stop rush of flashbacks, hallucinations, and agonizing close-ups of Mr. Franco's efforts to free himself from an seemingly impossible situation. There is a scene late in the film that is definitely not for the faint-hearted and by film's end, you will feel drained and exhausted as if you were actually there.

Credit Mr. Franco with his best role to date, bringing you into Aron's world and experiencing every moment of joy, agony, and everything in-between. He is in almost every frame and it is simply an amazing performance.

I won't explain any plot points or individual scenes. Try to see this film with little or no knowledge of what actually happened to Aron Ralston. "127 Hours" will reward your time and come next year, Oscar will surely reward "127 Hours". Danny Boyle has done it again.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fair Game

"Fair Game" is an uncharacteristic dud from director Doug Liman, best known for the "Bourne" films. This political drama is based on a true story of an exposed CIA agent during the Saddam years in Iraq. The film stars Naomi Watts as agent, Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, former Ambassador, Joseph Wilson.

The first hour is all background information on Valarie's operations around the world and our government zeroing in on supposed WMD's in Iraq. We get to the crux of the story when Joe writes a piece in The New York Times, calling the Bush Adminstration liars after he finds no WMD's on an overseas mission. The government then exposes Valerie in an attempt to deflect attention to their impending Iraq invasion. The story was a mild sensation for a moment and Mr. Liman tries in vain to create a "thriller" out of it. The closest the film comes to excitement is whether or not their marriage will survive the exposure and it's consequences.

Naomi Watts gives it her best as Valerie as does Sean Penn as Joe. I'm sure Mr. Penn was excited about a role where he gets to criticize the government multiple times. Their scenes together are strong but there is just not enough of a story here to keep an audience thoroughly engaged. Yes, you will be angry at what Mr. Bush and his "henchmen" do this family but the film brings nothing new to the story. In the end, the most interesting thing about "Fair Game" is Mr. Penn's haircut choice.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

The original Swedish "Millennium Trilogy" films have reached their conclusion. What started out in "Dragon Tattoo" as a enthralling mystery, continued in "Played with Fire" as an action thriller, now concludes with "Hornet's Nest" as a "talking head" thriller designed to wrap up all the loose ends.

The screenplay once again trims much of the book down to the central story, eliminating sub-plots and details. There is also some tweaking of story elements as cinematic timesavers. Reduced to the basic plot, it still provides closure for the fans and star Noomi Rapace never falters in her perfect performance as Lisbeth Salander.

If you haven't read the books or seen the first two films, "Hornet's Nest" will hold no interest for you even though there is much exposition to bring the audience up to speed. The political tone of the book tries to be replicated but everything about "The Section" is sliced thin to save time. What does remain, is the regrettable first half that find Lisbeth confined to a hospital bed, switching much of the story to Blomkvist and his quest to clear her name and expose "The Section". This read well in the book but slows things to a crawl in the film. The action picks up in the final act during Lisbeth's trial and even just sitting in the courtroom, Ms. Rapace lets her minimal facial expressions do all her necessary acting.

It will be interesting to see how David Fincher will reinterpret the story in his English versions which are filming now with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. But for those fans who can't wait, the original Swedish films are now complete and it will be hard to imagine anyone else as perfect as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist than Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A smart marketing campaign tells you this film is "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" so of course you are mildly interested since he has done good work in the past. However, while he wrote the story, he neither wrote the screenplay or directed the film. You would think in the hands of others, his material (which always starts out strong) would not fall apart at the end. "Devil" is a silly premise that is well executed and while it doesn't completely fall apart, the ending could have been stronger.

The story concerns five people trapped in the elevator of a high-rise office building and the various people trying to get them out. We learn early on that one of them is the devil in disguise. What works best here is the lack of superstar casting. You will recognize most of the cast but they are not your typical "A" actors and for that reason alone, the film will keep you guessing as the bodies begin to pile up.

The camerawork is very well done and has some unique perspectives. In particular, the opening credits disorient you right from the start. Keeping most of the action within the tight confines of the elevator, the camera keeps things fresh as we view everything from different angles and monitors.

In the end, this is just an extended "Twilight Zone" episode with all it's morality. A more exciting ending would have taken it to another level.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Not a documentary about an music distribution company (although that would probably make a fun film), but rather a silly, over the top but very enjoyable action comedy. "RED" is based on a graphic novel, and it's enjoyment is based on watching four very capable actors come out of CIA retirement to find out who is targeting them for assassination. "The Expendables" employed a similar idea earlier this year, taking action heroes of the '80's and dropping them into one last warzone. "Red" is filled with explosions and gunfire but the pedigree cast adds humor and class to all the noise around them.

Who can resist Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren bringing down the police departments of multiple states as well as corrupt CIA agents? Throw in Brian Cox as a sly Russian agent and Mary Louise Parker as Mr. Willis's reluctant girlfriend, dragged into the chaos and you have a dream cast that is obviously having as much fun on screen as we are watching them. And it's good to see Richard Dreyfuss and especially Ernest Borgnine back on screen.

We've seen this plot before but it moves at a rapid pace and is never dull. The action is completely unbelievable and yet, with these pros at work, it's still a lot of fun.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Michael Douglas reprises his role as Gordon Gekko in this entertaining sequel. While his name is above the credits, his role is secondary to that of Shia LaBeouf, who steals the movie as Jacob, a hungry young financial "player" who tries to balance his financial lust with his love for Gekko's daughter, Winnie, played by Cary Mulligan.

Oliver Stone once again directs but while fun, the film doesn't have the impact of his earlier work. There are far too many tracking shots of Manhattan trying to emphasize how the city is the center of the financial world. The acting for the most part is good, although Cary Mulligan is miscast as Winnie. Josh Brolin makes a very good villain and Frank Langella is impactful in a small role.

What really shines is the script. Even if you are not a financial "wiz", the story is easy to follow and laced with terrific dialog. However, I did have a problem with two plot points. When we first see Gekko, he is being released from prison. The film then jumps 8 years to 2008. That makes sense as the story is set during the worst financial collapse since 1929. However, we never understand how Gekko climbs back and learns to navigate in the new digital financial world. My other problem is understanding why Winnie would be attracted to Jacob in the first place, since she abhors everything about her father's world.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is a decent investment of your time. And yes that was a bad pun but it's also a key theme of the film.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Let Me In

A Hollywood remake that actually gets it right and is as good or possibly even better than the original, "Let The Right One In". This is a atmospheric, creepy and at times, horrific vampire movie that sets itself apart from any other vampire/horror film coming out of the Hollywood machine today.

As lonely 12 year old Owen befriends the mysterious Abby, brutal killings begin to occur. Writer/director Matt Reeves, known for "Cloverfield", does an terrific job, first adapting the screenplay and then slowly building the suspense, driving excellent performances from his young actors. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen and he acts way beyond his years with heartbreaking conviction. Chole Grace Moretz (the breakout star of "Kick-Ass") plays Abby, with a winning seduction of both Owen and the audience. One of the creepiest character actors working today, Elias Koteas, plays the fairly normal role of the policeman investigating the killings. And the wonderful Richard Jenkins also stars in a very pivotal role which I will not reveal.

Mr. Reeves sets up wonderful camera angles, unusual points of view, and makes great use of both the light and the dark. While much of the film is a slow build of dread, there are enough flashes of horror to jolt the viewer through to its inevitable conclusion. I can't imagine this film doing great box office as today's horror audiences want quick shock value. "Let Me In" will reward a patient audience and may haunt you long after it's over.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

Timely and relevant, "The Social Network" really does define a generation. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created an remarkable film based on the creation of Facebook. Mr. Sorkin's source material was "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mizrich and using his talent for intelligent, rapid fire dialogue, and sharp wit, he, along with Mr. Fincher, have brought the story to life in a very smart and entertaining film.

Mr. Fincher's direction is crisp and economical. Nothing is wasted and every scene sparkles with great dialogue and terrific acting. He continues to astound us with remarkable digital work, creating the important characters of identical twins by overlapping one actor's face and voice over the body of another. It's a seamless digital trick that is incredibly realistic. But his work with the other actors is just as strong. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg, the computer genius but socially inept creator of Facebook. Mr. Eisenberg is perfectly cast and this takes his signature style to another level. The film also stars Justin Timberlake as Napster creator, Sean Parker and Mr. Timberlake continues to grow as an actor with a real star quality. Armie Hammer co-stars as the aforementioned identical Winklevoss twins who sued Mr. Zuckerberg over the idea of Facebook. And another star in the making is Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Mr. Zuckerberg's partner who also ends up suing him.

The action moves back and forth between the past and the two lawsuits as we watch Mr. Zuckerberg bring Facebook to life while ironically alienating everyone else around him. He is brilliant but totally lacking in social skills, as we painfully discover in the opening scene. A scene in which we are also introduced to Roony Mara, the young actress Mr. Fincher cast as Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming American version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". Skeptical at first of this casting decision, after watch her in this film, I look forward to her portrayal of Ms. Salander.

The film works on so many levels. How much of it is actually true will be left to debate but as a source of entertainment, it is outstanding. Expect a "Best Picture" nomination and see it before you read all about it on Facebook.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck is developing a nice second career as a director. "The Town" doesn't have quite the character development of "Gone Baby Gone" but it's a taut crime drama with well done action sequences and some original moments.

Mr. Affleck directs himself and he is actually quite good as the bank robber with a conscience. Jeremy Renner, plays his childhood friend and partner in crime, "Gem" with a psychotic attitude and realistic menace. The film also stars Jon Hamm, as the FBI agent tracking them but it's hard to think of Mr. Hamm other than Don Draper from "Mad Men". He tries too hard to shed his signature character. Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively co-star as the women in Mr. Affleck's life and it's always good to see Pete Postlehwaite on screen, even if it's a minor role.

There are some exciting chase sequences through the streets of Boston and Fenway Park features prominently in the finale. The cinematography is crisp and for the most part, the editing is sharp. A definite recommendation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D

If you are a fan of this seemingly endless series, then you will make it your business to go. If not, stay as far from this worthless piece of celluloid as you can. Milla Jovovich returns as "Alice", the physically enhanced zombie fighter along with Allie Larter, as her zombie killing partner.

The film is a tired retread of all it's previous incarnations, ripping off "The Matrix" along the way. The gimmick, this time, to sell tickets is that it's in 3D. Unfortunately, this is the worst 3D film since "Clash of The Titans". The film is dark, the effects are cheesy and the medium is wasted.

Just remember, I see these films so you don't have to...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everyone talking about him)?

Many people know the songs (Without You, Everybody's Talking, Coconut, One, Me And My Arrow, etc...) but not everyone knows the name. Writer/Director John Scheinfeld remedies that with this new documentary.

Using rare, never seen before film clips as well as home movies and personal photos, Mr. Scheinfeld weaves an intimate portrait of the artist and the man. There are also dozens of interviews with friends, family and celebrities including Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson, Eric Idle, Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, the Smothers Brothers and many others.

The film starts with his early years growing up in Brooklyn, New York and moves through his career path showing us the highs and lows along the way. Mr. Nilsson reached his greatest success with "Nilsson Schmilsson", his most widely recognized album, produced by Richard Perry. There is some wonderful film footage of them in the studio as well as recollections by Mr. Perry of their years together. The Beatles had called Nilsson, their "favorite group" and the film has some great moments documenting his close relationship with both John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

After the success of "Nilsson Schmilsson", Mr. Nilsson's life began a terrible downward spiral and the film takes a honest look at the gifted artist on the road to self destruction. Mr. Scheinfeld balances the destructive "bad boy" with the loving family man and really answers the title question. It's a labor of love filled with great music and visuals that even a casual fan will enjoy.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Based on his fake trailer, writer/director Robert Rodriguez crafts a film filled with mayhem, violence, girls with guns, nudity, explosions, lots of fake blood and Robert DeNiro. Sometimes a film like "Machete" is just what the doctor ordered. Designed like a '70's exploitation film, "Machete" is the type of film best enjoyed in a drive-in as a double feature with "Piranha 3-D".

This mindless "popcorn" movie is actually a lot of fun when you go in knowing what to expect and get exactly what you pay for. It's great to see character actor Danny Trejo finally get star billing and his hard, weather beaten look is just perfect for the title character. The supporting cast is really amazing. When will you ever see a film again with Robert DeNiro (as a sleazy, racist, senator), Steven Segal (as a Latin crime lord), Don Johnson (as a racist vigilante), and Lindsey Lohan (shooting up people dressed in a nun's habit)? The movie also stars Jeff Fahey, Jessica Alba, Michele Rodriguez and Cheech Marin as one character more outrageous than the next.

Lost in the mayhem is a point about immigration laws and illegal immigrants (mostly from Mexico) but "Machete" makes too much fun of itself to be taken seriously. This film is so over the top, it's halfway down the other side.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Part Two)

The French crime epic "Mesrine" has been split into two separate films here in the U.S. but I'm not sure how it played in France. Having now seen the entire story, it could have been edited into one three hour film that probably would have worked even better. Part two, "Public Enemy" picks up moments after the start of the first film and like the first, dissolves into flashbacks to bring the story full circle.

Vincent Cassel continues an electrifying performance as the title character. As part two takes place in the '70's, we now find Mesrine older, heavier and a complete attention seeking egomaniac. Having made a daring escape from a courtroom (a terrific sequence), Mesrine's infamy continues to grow and he feeds off the fame with even more daring robberies and escapes.

Along for the ride this time is Mathieu Amalric as Mesrine's partner in crime, until even he is fed up with the antics of the publicity seeking criminal. Again, there is a daring prison break and also a great car chase through the streets of Paris. However, here is where part two begins to falter. While the first film moved at a kinetic pace, the second takes a different approach and slows down the story with much longer sequences. It begins to get repetitive and has more tedious moments in between the action. This is where more editing could have consolidated both films into one.

Having said that, it's still important to see both films and experience the full story. Mr. Cassel brings Mesrine to life and even through the slow spots is still mesmerizing to watch.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part One)

Part one of a two part epic, this crime drama plays like a French "Scarface" as it charts the rise of Jacques Mesrine, a notorious French gangster in the '60's and '70's. Loosely based on real events, "Killer Instinct" introduces us to Mesrine as he returns to France from the war in Algiers. He begins his rise through the French underworld under the guidance of an older mobster, Guido, played by Gerard Depardieu.

Mesrine himself, is played by Vincent Cassel and he is electric in his best role yet, understandably winning the French equivalent of an Oscar for his role. Mr. Cassel lights up the screen with a multi-layered performance that captivates the audience. He turns Jacques Mesrine into such a charming rogue that you root for him to succeed in his criminal ways.

The film is directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who also won the French award for best director. The film moves very quickly with Mr. Richet keeping each scene short and concise, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps between the editing. While this may turn off some viewers, it keeps the action going and ratchets up the suspense. There are some wonderful set pieces including an jailbreak in broad daylight and memorable bank robberies. The screenplay is based on Mesrine's autobiography which, while very colorful, is probably filled with much exaggeration but all of it, true or not is captured in the film.

Most of "Killer Instinct" takes place in the '60's and the costumes, sets, music and cinematography all work in concert to evoke the times. There are some scenes of brutal violence and the film is in French with English subtitles.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Writer/director David Michod's first feature film is a nasty piece of business imported from Australia. Guy Pearce is the only "name" actor American audiences will recognize but you will not soon forget the rest of this cast.

This contemporary crime drama centers around the Cody family. The film's narrator is 17 year old grandson, J Cody, who comes to live with his grandmother and three uncles after a shocking opening scene. J is played by James Frecheville who, in his film debut, leaves quite an impact. Jackie Weaver plays grandmother Janine, the matriarch of this criminal brood. She resides over her family like the lioness analogy of the film's title. Her scenes late in the film are especially chilling.

All of Janine's sons are also well cast and make a very scary lot, especially "Pope", the oldest, played by Ben Mendlesohn. Mr. Pearce plays the lead detective trying to bring the whole family to justice. He knows J is minimally involved in their dirty deeds and tries to turn him against his family.

Mr. Michod shows confidence behind the camera and builds his suspense well. Violence is hovering on the edge of almost every scene but credit Mr. Michod for creating the mood and keeping the actual violence to a minimum (graphic though when it does happen). I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Luke Wilson shines in an otherwise annoying film about the introduction of "porn for pay" on the Internet.
The story is "Inspired by real events" but inevitably creative license runs amok. The film is all over the place, at once comedic and then deadly serious. It's filled with stock characters like Russian mobsters, middle eastern terrorists, shady lawyers, porn stars and kindly FBI agents. At the center of it all is "Jack Harris", the problem solving business man with the brains to sort out everyone's problems and get rich quick.

Mr. Wilson does a great job as the family man, Harris, who succumbs to the lure of big money, sex and power only to find it's what what he really wants. Hmmm, haven't we seen this plot about a gazillion movies? While his acting is terrific, the story is annoying and grating on the nerves. The action constantly moves back in forth in time confusing the viewer and the constant narration by Mr. Wilson really gets under your skin (no pun intended). A good script wouldn't need the voiceover to explain everything happening on screen.

The film also stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht as the two drug fueled friends that start the Internet porn business and James Caan as the aforementioned shady lawyer. While all the acting is good, it's not enough to sustain your interest in all these unlikeable characters.

At it's root, this little known history lesson is a cautionary warning of excess. Let this review be a cautionary warning as well.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

What easily might be misinterpreted as another "torture porn" film in the vein of "Saw" or "Hostel" is actually nothing like that. Instead, the British import, "Alice Creed" takes a well prepared kidnapping and turns it south but not before many twists and turns in the road. There are scenes of violence as well as sexual situations and language but it is far from over the top and used sparingly without being exploitive.

This film reminded me a bit of an earlier British crime thriller, "Shallow Grave". All may not be what it seems and to say anything more would be unforgivable. The plot twists keep coming and I enjoyed every turn. The three character cast does a good job of keeping you guessing right up to the end.

Gemma Arterton stars as "Alice", the kidnap victim and while she plays most of the film tied to a bed with a gag in her mouth, she still manages to convey a wide range throughout the story. The only other characters are the kidnappers, Vic and Danny, played respectively by Eddie Marsan, (so good in "Happy Go Lucky") and Martin Compston ("The Damn United" and "Red Road").

There is some clever camera work particularly in the opening sequence and a great scene involving a bullet casing (which makes an interesting reappearance later on). Writer/Director J Blakeson takes a familiar plot and makes it fresh with the help of his talented cast.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Get Low

Not a lot happens in this backwoods tale of an old hermit who decides to throw himself a funeral before he dies but it's still worth the price of admission. The reason is simple...Robert Duvall plays the hermit, Felix Bush and Bill Murray plays the funeral director, Frank Quinn. It's a pleasure to watch these actors work.

Mr. Duvall is at the top of his game as the old man who decides it's time to "get low", a southern term for time to die, but not before he can confess a 40 year old secret. His "Felix Bush" comes off as a crazy old coot but he's a man with a twinkle in his eye, who knows exactly what he's doing at all times. His monologue at his funeral party is a class in acting all by itself. Mr. Murray's "Frank Quinn" is a perfect foil to Mr. Duvall. Quinn is a desperate man as business has been slow and he really needs this last shot to stay afloat. He's oily and conniving but Mr. Murray holds back what could have been over the top and balances his personal needs with his belief in his client.

Co-starring is Sissy Spacek, who is so comfortable in her scenes with Mr. Duvall, you'd think they've worked together for years (when in fact, it's their first film together). In addition to Ms. Spacek, Lucas Black plays Mr. Quinn's assistant, Buddy and the great Bill Cobbs plays Rev. Charlie Jackson, the only other person who knows Bush's secret. Everyone in this film is perfectly cast and the acting is just wonderful to watch.

The script is a simple one but filled with some great dialog and on-liners. The cinematography is breathtaking with beautiful shots in the Georgia woods. Like Mr. Duvall's character, the film itself is quiet and reserved but it sneaks up on you and will have a lasting impression.

Monday, August 02, 2010


It's been hard to escape the advertising for this film. Everywhere you go, you see these huge billboards asking the question, "Who Is Salt?". Salt is actually Evelyn Salt, play in full action hero mode by Angelina Jolie. Ms. Salt is a CIA agent who is identified as a Russian "sleeper" agent and suddenly everyone is after her, including her best friend and fellow agent, played by Liv Schreiber.

While the action comes fast and often, much of it is just hard to believe, especially Ms. Jolie's hand to hand fights with various agents and police. One punch or kick brings down every assailant. That criticism aside, it's still fun to watch her outsmart everyone and the script has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing which side she's really on.

This is a crowd-pleasing summer "popcorn" flick. You can check your brain at the door and just have fun with it. The ending leaves "Salt" wide open for a sequel although they do say, too much salt is not good for you.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


This award winning documentary from Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington is a harrowing journey that puts you smack into a year in the lives and deaths of a platoon of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The soldiers are real, the bullets are real and the emotions run high.

Credit Mr. Junger and Mr. Hetherington for capturing every moment, whether it be boredom or the middle of a firefight, with unflinching camera work and editing. The film was shot over the course of a year from 2007-2008 in the Korengal Valley, know as "hell on earth" to the soldiers deployed there.

The filmmakers avoid any political or outside commentary and concentrate solely on the 15-20 men that make up the unit, that comes to be know as OP Restrepo. (You'll understand the name when you see the film) The film intersperses headshot interviews of the various men in between footage of them going about the daily routine of war.

This is a "no holds barred" look at modern warfare in a war that will seemingly never end.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

It's entertaining to watch five good actors playing a very dysfunctional family but the novelty of this nuclear family having gay parents who's sperm donor suddenly enters their life wears thin. Not that the excellent cast doesn't try hard but the plot turns melodramatic and predictable.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play the parents of Mia Wasikowaska and Josh Hutcherson. Ms. Bening's character is written to be the annoying overbearing parent and she overplays the part annoying the audience as well as her screen family. Ms. Moore's character is more of a free spirit and it's hard to imagine they've been together at least 20 years, let alone raising two children who seem so well adjusted.

Into their lives comes Mark Ruffalo, when Mr. Hutcherson convinces his sister to contact their biological father. His presence soon turns the family dynamic upside down. Mr. Ruffalo's character is just too good to be true. He's sexy and single, owns an organic restaurant, drives a motorcycle and just so happens to be in need of Ms. Moore's gardening skills.

Everyone plays their part very well. It's a treat to watch the acting and there are some well written scenes but overall, it's just...alright.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Writer/Director Christopher Nolan is back in full brain twisting mode after giving us the thrill of "The Dark Knight". He confounded us with the trippy "Memento" which played with the concepts of the space/time continuum and now he enters our dreams to steal our thoughts and asks, "can the dream be the reality?"

This is a brilliant film filled with solid acting and wonderful effects. It demands your attention or, like many of the characters themselves, you will be lost in its dreams. Mr. Nolan constructs a multi-layered dream within a dream landscape and takes us on a wild journey that followed carefully will captivate and stimulate your own mind. Your pilot for this flight of fancy is Leonardo DeCaprio and he is excellent as the self tortured "dream extractor". Ellen Page is your co-pilot as "The dream architect" who's main purpose is appears to be the audience's avatar and ask the questions that help explain the logic of the film. This is Ms. Page's first foray into an "adult" role and she handles herself admirably against heavyweights like Mr. DeCaprio and Michael Caine (In a little more than a cameo as Mr. DeCaprio's father).

The film also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy. Mr. Levitt has a wonderful sequence without gravity that is remarkable to watch and even more so as I believe it was done without any CGI effects. Mr. Murphy plays the "mark" who mind is invaded by Mr. DeCaprio and his team. Also co-starring Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, and Marion Cotillard. The entire cast is just perfect without any false notes to shatter the concept.

If you have trouble following the plot, I recommend you just let yourself go and enjoy the ride. There will be plenty of time for analysis and debate once the credits roll. And trust me, you will analyze and debate. "Inception" is the first truly original movie of the summer and one of the year's best.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

All of the "Millennium" trilogy has already been filmed in Sweden and now Part Two arrives here with sub-titles for fans who can't wait for the American version. If you haven't read the books, you may still enjoy the film but also find it confusing and not really appreciate the nuance of the characters. The film is very much the middle of the story and will only be fully appreciated after viewing the final chapter.

To trim the story for film, excess parts have been exorcised and that's both good and bad. The entire first 150 or so pages of the book exist for mere minutes during the opening credits which is a good thing as that sub-plot was silly to begin with. What has been trimmed and very much missed, is the investigation from the police point of view. Detectives that figure so prominently in the book are reduced to minor roles as the film focus remains on Salander and Bloomqvist. A major plot point left out of the first film removes the explanation of why Lisbeth has stopped talking to Bloomqvist as the second film begins. There other other minor changes to hasten the film along but they can be forgiven.

The good news is that Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist have returned as said characters and it's fun to watch them, once again, bring these people to life. I can't imagine anyone else as Lisbeth Salander at this point as Ms. Rapace loses herself in the role of a very complicated woman. Thankfully, they will continue to play the roles in the third and final film, " The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest".

While the first film, "Dragon Tattoo" introduced the characters in a great stand alone mystery, this time the story gets personal and much more convoluted. Reveals and sequences stretch the boundaries of credibility but still make for an exciting story. Like the book, this film ends on a cliffhanger so don't expect closure. For that you'll have to wait for "Hornet's Nest".

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Knight and Day

After a recent round of Indie films, I decided to jump back into the Hollywood pool with "Knight & Day". Now I know why I prefer Indies. Before we get to the film itself, let's chastise the studio marketing department for the worst title and marketing campaign to come along in years. The title has absolutely nothing but a sliver of a connection to the film and has no appeal whatsoever. Therein lies the problem. 20th Century Fox figured they have Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz...heck we can call the movie "paper" and people will come. Guess what, they won't... according to the recent box office.

This film is a perfect example of the Hollywood machine gone awry. Take two superstars, add exotic global locations (including Brooklyn NY?), mix in a formula villain you can spot immediately and drag it out for maximum stunts, explosions and comedic interplay between the leads and what do you have? A film you have seen countless times before and probably done better. The script really insults the audience's intelligence.

You never forget for a moment that you are watching Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They don't even bother trying to create characters. They try hard to just get by on their looks and charm. Credit Ms. Diaz especially in the charm department. She actually outshines Mr. Cruise in the fun to watch category. She is obviously having fun with her role and lets the audience in on the gag.

To be fair, the stunt work is good and many sequences are exciting (with the exception of some sub-par CGI) but just when you've have your fill of explosions, globe hopping and gunplay, you get more. For a film that runs under 2 hours, it seems like an eternity. A better title would have been "A Long Day's Journey Into Knight".

Friday, July 02, 2010


From the fertile mind of writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet comes this wonderful new film. Mr. Jenuet has brought us "Delicatessen", "City of Lost Children", "A Very Long Engagement" and most notably, "Amelie". His visual style is like no other and his whimsical approach to storytelling brings us films you never want to end. "Micmacs" happily falls into the same category.

This is a most original tale of a man plagued by arms dealers (don't try to understand, it's clear when you see it) who, with help from a ragtag band of misfits living under a junkyard, plots his revenge in a most outlandish and amazing way. It is delightful from start to finish. The actors are wonderful and the cinematography is incredible. The artistic, visual storytelling is done with a minimum of dialog propelled by a wonderful score (including vintage Max Steiner material).

Dany Boon stars as Bazil, the loner seeking revenge and he is a combination of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau. The film also stars Andre Dussollier, a popular French actor known more for drama than comedy and Julie Ferrier, a charming and most nimble contortionist. Rounding out the cast are a number of Mr. Jeunet's usual stalwarts from his earlier films.

In New York, "Micmacs" is still playing at The Angelika in Manhattan and Cobble Hill Cinema in Brooklyn. If you miss it, add it to the top of your Netflix list. It is easily one of my favorite films of the year.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Killer Inside Me

Casey Affleck leaves his older brother Ben in the dust as the star of this new drama from director Michael Winterbottom. Mr. Affleck is mesmerizing as Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town in the '50's. Beneath his quiet and polite exterior lies a total sociopath who leaves a trail of broken bodies in his wake as he goes about his daily business.

Mr. Winterbottom directs from the source novel by Jim Thompson, the very definition of pulp fiction. This slice of film noir has it all. Sex, violence, blackmail and murder all boil to the surface in a mix of "Blood Simple", "Body Heat" and "Blue Velvet". Be warned, the violence is graphic and difficult to watch.

Co-starring with Mr. Affleck are Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Ned Beatty, Simon Baker and Elias Koteas. For Ms. Hudson, it's a brave departure from her usual roles and she is quite good. Any film with Mr. Koteas is always a bit left of center and yet for him, it's one of his more subtle roles. Ms. Alba is physically revealing but also taps an inner strength she has only hinted at in other films. And of course it's always good to see Ned Beatty back on screen (he's been busy of late. He also does the voice of Lotso Huggins Bear in "Toy Story 3"). Mr. Baker is a bit of a disappointment bringing nothing new to his character, the town D.A. and the only person who suspects the truth. He might as well be playing his role from "The Mentalist" minus the humor.

I can't say enough about Mr. Affleck, who puts you inside the mind of Lou Ford and it's a chilling place to be. It's a performance that should be recognized but probably won't be due to the graphic nature of the role.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Am Love

Tilda Swinton stars in this new Italian drama. She plays the matriarch of the rich and powerful Recchi family. A family that begins to show cracks in their perfect world as the film progresses. The story develops slowly as the camera lingers over every detail. Every frame of the film is like walking through an art museum. The direction and cinematography are exquisite. Ms. Swinton is excellent as always and one of the finest actors of her generation.

Metaphors abound in food, architecture, clothes and relationships. Food preparation becomes as sensual as new lovers in their seduction. Layers are slowly peeled away and new truths are revealed. This is very much an adult drama in a sea of animation and explosions typical of summer fare. Like a good meal, it is to be savored slowly. In many ways, it feels like a '50's melodrama and no doubt was inspired by films of that period.

The film is in Italian with subtitles. It's pace and low key style may not be for everyone but it does sneak up on you and lingers long after the credits roll.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Winter's Bone

Director Debra Granik made her debut with the excellent Indie film "Down To The Bone". That film also introduced Vera Farmiga, who has gone on to more well know Hollywood fare. Ms. Granik follows "Down To The Bone" with "Winter's Bone" and again launches the career of a wonderful actress.

"Winter's Bone", like it's predecessor, is set in bleak surroundings focusing on people living on or below the poverty line and features a strong female lead. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a 17 year old taking care of her ill mother and younger brother and sister in the Ozark mountains of Missouri.
When her missing father skips a bail bond, Ree must find him or lose their home (which was put up against the bond).

Ms. Lawrence is wonderful as Ree. She's both tough and tender, beautifully balancing a complicated character. Co-starring as her uncle "Teardrop", is veteran actor John Hawkes, who was a regular on the excellent HBO series Deadwood. Mr. Hawkes brings multiple layers to a character who easily could have been a one note role. They are both terrific.

The script has elements of a Hollywood formula but it frequently veers off that path. The film has a documentary quality as we follow Ree's hunt for her criminal father. Ms. Granik has a knack for capturing the resolve of her characters living in a bleak and raw environment. She can make you feel the chill of an Ozark winter and find humanity buried beneath rough and sometimes scary exteriors. Her camera transports you to Ree's world and if you are unfamiliar with this way of life, this film will certainly raise your social awareness.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jonah Hex

What is Josh Brolin thinking? Coming off terrific work in "No Country For Old Men" and "W", he picks this western based on a comic book for a follow-up? Josh, come on...I know Megan Fox is your co-star but really??

Based on the DC comic, "Jonah Hex" is the story of a disfigured bounty hunter looking for revenge against the men who killed his family. Mercifully the film is a mere 81 minutes but we still have to sit through wooden acting or in Ms. Fox's case, no acting and in John Malkovich's case, overacting. The premise is interesting only because of the supernatural twist (Mr. Hex can speak to the dead) but otherwise, this type of film has been done many times and much better. Ms. Fox appears on screen looking very pretty in her low cut bodice and if pretty were talent, she'd already have an Academy Award. Mr. Malkovich hams it up as the villain of the piece and while nice to see Will Arnett and Adian Quinn, their talents are totally wasted in small bland roles.

If you are a fan of the comic, which I was at one time, you'll want to see this out of curiosity, otherwise rent "The Outlaw Josey Wales".

Monday, June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3

Leave it to Pixar to get it right. An original story starring characters you've grown to love with witty dialog and wonderful animation. "Toy Story 3" completes the trilogy with sentimental closure that will satisfy and tug at your heartstrings.

All your favorites are back with their original vocal talents intact. Along with Woody, Buzz, Mr. & Mrs. Potatohead, Jessie and the rest, we are also introduced to Lotso Hugs Bear, Ken and Big Baby, among other new toys. When Andy (the owner of our favorite toys) grows up and packs for college, a new adventure starts and many adult themes are explored. There are many funny lines, some inside jokes (poking fun at other films) and surprisingly, quite a bit of suspense. Older kids as well as adults will really enjoy the film. Young children may find elements of the film very frightening and the message will definitely go over their heads.

The 3-D animation is not gimmicky but rather enhances and enriches the film, drawing out the colors and movement of the characters. I truly hope we don't get "Toy Story 4". Pixar nailed it here and these toys should go out on top.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

An interesting and insightful look at the comic icon, Joan Rivers. This new documentary follows Ms. Rivers through a year in her life, interspersed with video clips of early stages of her career. Directed by Rick Stern and Anne Sundberg, the film is a brutally honest portrait of Ms Rivers on and off stage.

Opening with a tight close-up of Ms River's face sans makeup, you know you're in for a revealing look and credit Ms. Rivers for letting the cameras so completely into her life. Even if you are not a fan, it's interesting to walk in the shoes (and fabulous clothes) of the most successful female comic working today and discover what makes her tick.

There are ups and downs, outrageous comedy, plenty of foul language, and some touching intimate moments. The film is obviously made with love and while honest, it does skirt some issues and avoids controversy.

Ms. Rivers truly is a piece of work and may she continue to work for years to come.


About what you'd expect from a bunch of TV stars playing movie stars. "Killers" takes an retread storyline, mixes it with Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara. It promises action, laughs and romance. All it delivers is an annoying Ms. Heigl, a bland Mr. Kutcher, Mr. Selleck's famous moustache (pointed out repeatedly in case you miss it), and Ms. O'Hara playing drunk for cheap laughs.

Spencer (Mr. Kutcher) and Jen (Ms. Heigl) meet "cute", marry and three years later live a dull life in the suburbs, when to her surprise, Jen discovers her husband is a CIA agent and people are suddenly trying to kill them. Mr. Selleck and Ms. O'Hara play Jen's parents who, under normal circumstances wouldn't have very much screen time but hang around enough for you to realize they are important to what passes for the plot.

You seen this before in "True Lies" or more recently "Mr. & Mrs. Smith". There is so much illogic in this film, 30 seconds can't cover all my questions. If you find the two young leads appealing, you probably won't be disappointed. If you care about acting and a good script, prepare to be let down.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Fans of this bestselling book will appreciate the work of the film's screenwriters. They have managed to trim the fat, streamline the story and for the most part, keep all the integrity of the book. I say most part, because I was disappointed in the ending. However, it's a minor point, especially for people who haven't read the book and are seeing the story through fresh eyes. Whether you know the story or not going in, it's a terrific mystery with clever plotting and unexpected twists.

The cast is excellent, especially Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Bomkvist and Noomi Rapace. Ms. Rapace, is remarkable as Lisbeth Salander. She captures the spirit and physical aspects of Lisbeth perfectly. She breathes life into Lisbeth with subtle facial expressions as well as broad strokes. She is an exciting actress to watch and I look forward to her recreating the role in the sequel.

The film is in Swedish subtitles but remains easy to follow for an American audience. There are moments of horrific violence but as in the book, they are important to the characters and the story. An American version is in the works with reportedly, Brad Pitt to star and David Finchner to direct. Mr. Finchner is a great choice to direct and Mr. Pitt, I'm sure will make a fine journalist but the success of the film will turn on who is cast as Lisbeth Salander. But don't wait. The original will grab you from the start and not disappoint.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holy Rollers

Inspired by true events, this is a fascinating story of Hassidic Jews that became Ecstasy smugglers in the late '90's. The film stars Jessie Eisenberg as Sam, a young man at a crossroad in his Jewish life and Justin Bartha as Josef, the Orthodox yet conniving hustler that gets Sam caught up in the drug trade.

With this film, Mr. Eisenberg is starting to shed the awkward teenage roles he has played for so long. He is an engaging young actor and always interesting to watch. Mr. Bartha, known primarily for "The Hangover" as the missing groom, shows his range here as he pulls Sam deeper into into a corrupt world, betraying his values, family and his faith.

The best part of the film is early on watching Sam go about his daily Hassidic life and then his initiation and seduction into the drug trade. From there on, the story takes on familiar themes of the "good guy gone bad" and it's only the unusual setting that keeps the viewer engaged. While the principles do a good job, many of the secondary actors fall flat and even a cameo from rapper Q-Tip is disappointing. He should stick to rap. Mr. Eisenberg, however, is taking the next step in what continues to be a solid acting career.

Solitary Man

Backed by a pedigree cast, Michael Douglas shines in this new Indie drama from writer/director Brian koppelman. Away from the trappings of Hollywood blockbusters, Mr. Douglas has always done his best work and come award season, he should not be overlooked for his work in this film. It is easily his best role in years.

Mr. Douglas plays Ben, a successful car dealership owner, who gets some alarming news from his doctor one day. It changes his life and not for the better. He becomes so self absorbed, he can't see his life unraveling before him and how he betrays and hurts the people in his life. Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Jenna Fischer, and Jesse Eisenberg are all family and friends impacted by Ben's downward spiral. It's particularly nice to see Mr. Douglas and Mr. DeVito together again in a film. They have a natural chemistry together and it's been too long.

This film is to Michael Douglas what "Crazy Heart" was to Jeff Bridges. He's not afraid to take risks here and immerses himself in the role of Ben with nothing held back. The story is not pretty, sad actually, but worth your attention to see an actor at his best.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Robin Hood

A subject done many times before, director Ridley Scott decides to take a new approach and make a prequel about Robin Longstride, the man and how he became Robin Hood, the legend. In doing so, both Mr. Scott and his muse, Russell Crowe try to recreate the depth and emotion they conveyed in "Gladiator" while throwing in a little "Braveheart" as well.

While enjoyable enough, "Robin Hood" doesn't quite reach the heights of either aforementioned film. The tone of the film is dark and very serious. Mr. Crowe"s "Robin" is a one-note character with nothing new brought to the role. For 2 1/2 hours, there is nothing you haven't seen before and nothing very memorable. Cate Blanchett co-stars as "Maid" Marion Loxley in a role that is beneath her skill and Hollywood status. She's an obvious box-office draw but her scenes with Mr. Crowe, don't exactly ignite the screen with passion and she is wasted in a "damsel-in-distress" role.

There is a well-known supporting cast including William Hurt, Max von Sydow, and Danny Houston, all doing average work. Mark Strong, who is making a nice career for himself as the villain of the minute (see "Sherlock Holmes"), plays the traitorous Godfrey with evil abandon. The climatic battle sequence plays like a medieval version of the "Saving Private Ryan" opening scene and Mr. Strong does get his comeuppance just as you would expect.

Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Cary Elwes, and a cartoon fox have all had their shot at Robin Hood. For my money, go all the way back to 1938 and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn. They just don't make them like the used too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Iron Man 2

With very few exceptions, sequels just don't live up to the originals. "Iron Man 2" definitely falls into this category. With the idea that bigger is better, actor/director Jon Favreau aims high but falls short with an over produced and overblown spectacle that will still appeal to fans simply because films like this are critic proof.

Robert Downey Jr. is still a dashing hero and quick with the one-liner but it's obvious he's working a lot harder than he did in the first film, which found him a lot more relaxed and natural. Gwyneth Paltrow isn't given much to do except whine and complain and Scarlett Johansson's best scene is when she lets her actions speak louder than her dialog. Don Cheadle, so loose in the "Oceans" films is stiff as the iron suit he wears as "War Machine". As the villains, Sam Rockwell hams it up as Justin Hammer and is actually quite funny while Mickey Rourke's "Whiplash" looks imposing but is beaten much too easy.

Mr. Favreau fills the screen with so much sound and vision, it masks the fact that there is very little action with only 3 sequences to pump up the audience. And while those scenes may look good, (don't be fooled by all the exploding cars and glass), there is never any sense of real danger or suspense.

Marvel Enterprises continues to use each film as building blocks in it's comic film franchise, hinting here to the arrival of a full blown "Avengers" film on the horizon(expected in 2012). We get more of Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson, who needs to be tougher), a piece of one hero's equipment put to comic good use, and if you stay past the credits, a sneak peek of the next Marvel hero waiting in the wings.

Despite it's overindulgent flaws, "Iron Man 2" was a bit better than expected and if you enjoyed the first film, grab your popcorn and immerse yourself in it's comic book silliness.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes

I hadn't seen all the nominees for Best Foreign film last year, but my money was on "A Prophet". That opinion has changed now that I've seen "Secret". This Spanish language film definitely deserves it's Academy Award. This multilayered film will haunt you and yet, satisfy as well.

Ricardo Darin, well know in South America, stars as Benjamin Esposito, a retired criminal court officer who decides to reexamine a case that has haunted him for 25 years. Mr. Darin gives a very nuanced performance balancing his way through the layers of the story which starts out like a episode of "Law & Order" but becomes so much more. The simple investigation of the crime soon becomes more complex with unexpected twists and turns.

On the surface, it's a murder mystery but there is a heartbreaking love story in place as well. The rape and murder of a young women sets the story in motion. Be warned that the scene of the crime is not pretty but the brutality of the crime is important to fuel Esposito's obsession in the case. When he decided to revisit the case, much of the film is told in flashback and the growing relationship between Mr. Darin and Soledad Villamil, reveals an unspoken love that still smolders years later.

Besides the two leads, there is some fine work by Guillermo Francella, as Pablo Sandoval, Esposito's friend and co-worker as well as Pablo Rago as the widower of the victim. All the acting is superb and the story grows richer with every scene. "The Secret In Their Eyes" is an intelligent, absorbing film that should not be missed.