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.