Friday, January 28, 2011

The Green Hornet

Michael Gondry, at first seems like an odd choice for a Seth Rogan action comedy but actor and director are on the same page for this juvenile and silly film. It is not without it's certain charms and will probably appeal to the 14 year old boy who may still be lurking in your adult mind.

Seth Rogan fans are sure to enjoy the sophomoric dialog and mass destruction. Some of the action sequences are actually exciting and there are a few "laugh out loud" moments as well. Where the film falters is the casting of Cameron Diaz, who is completely wasted and just shows up for the paycheck. After the disaster of "Knight & Day", Ms. Diaz's career seems to be going in the wrong direction. Also wasted is Christoph Waltz who basically plays the same role from "Inglorious Basterds" without the Nazi uniform.

What does work is the "bromance" between Mr. Rogan and his "sidekick" Kato played by Martial Arts master Jay Chou. Their relationship has depth and believability and drives the film (no pun intended).

Another in a growing line of gimmick 3-D films, "The Green Hornet" could easily have been 2-D saving it's audience the extra bucks. The 3-D does nothing to enhance the film except for adding some interesting depth to the closing credits. I can't tell you how much I hate this trend which shows no sign of going away anytime soon.

This film will never win over critics but it will appeal to an audience looking for a summer "popcorn" flick in the middle of winter.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Way Back

Director Peter Weir returns with this extraordinary tale of survival based on a true story. It's 1940 and a small group of multi-national prisoners stage an escape from a Russian Gulag in Siberia. They proceed to walk 4000 miles south to freedom in India. All the tension and suspense lie in who will survive.

The film stars Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan, and Colin Farrell. While the story holds your attention for two hours, it's the tale itself that bears watching and not the acting. This is man against nature at it's worst and while everyone is solid in their part, there is no opportunity to develop the characters and they become almost interchangeable. Mr. Harris is stoic, Mr. Sturgess is determined, and Mr. Farrell does a terrible Russian accent but still manages to appear menacing. That's the extent of it. When Ms. Ronan joins the group, she is the tragic figure who manages to get the men to open up a bit about themselves.

Aside from the characters lack of depth, the cinematography is gorgeous and the story is harrowing. Mr. Weir convincingly makes you feel every bit of icy cold and all the heat of the blistering sun.The ending is a bit rushed but ends on a sentimental note. It's an old fashioned adventure story filmed on location without the use of CGI and that alone makes it a breath of fresh air in what is usually the January dumping ground of movies.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Casino Jack

Kevin Spacey stars as disgraced Washington "super lobbyist", Jack Abramoff in this "inspired by real events", docudrama. During the first Bush administration, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist mostly involved in the gaming industry and in particular, Native American casinos. He had his fingers in many pies though and this is a fictionalized account of his fall from Washington grace and subsequent imprisonment.

As written, much of the film is played for laughs and it would probably be even funnier if most of what was going on at the time wasn't true. The situations are real and I would hope that the characters are enhanced "Hollywood" versions of themselves for entertainment value. Whether or not that's accurate, the film does have an essence of truth as to what goes on behind closed doors in Washington and that makes it scarier than amusing.

Mr. Spacey is great as Mr. Abramoff. He is so adept at playing these kinds of characters. He is also backed by a fine cast including Barry Pepper as his partner, Michael Scanlon, Kelly Preston as his wife Pam, and Jon Lovitz as Adam Kidan, a sleazy business partner. Mr. Lovitz is a terrific casting choice who balances comic relief and pathos in a serious part. Graham Greene and Rachelle LeFevre round out the major roles.

The film was directed by George Hickenlooper, who passed away two months before the film's release. He left behind a small but noteworthy body of work capped by the very entertaining "Casino Jack".

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Blue Valentine

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling star in a story of a failing marriage. Early on we realize things are not going well between Dean and Cindy and we watch as their marriage begins to fall apart. The film takes us to various moments in their relationship to show us the good times as well as the bad. We learn how they meet, fall in love, marry and raise a daughter. I was particularly impressed with the editing of how they meet which was very unique.

Both actors are incredible. They match each other for powerful, raw performances that don't hold anything back. The film cuts back and forth in time and it is difficult to watch the hurtful, angry moments after experiencing the early tender, loving ones.

The film was directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance. I suspect many of the scenes went off script and were improvised as so many reaction shots seem genuine and even full of surprise. If it was all scripted, credit even more, the brilliant acting by Ms. Williams and Mr. Gosling as well as Mr. Cianfrance's direction.

This is not an easy film to watch but it does reward you with two outstanding (sure to be nominated) performances.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Best & Worst of 2010

BEST OF 2010

10) Winter’s Bone- Chilling realism. A glimpse into the underbelly of contemporary rural America with outstanding performances.

9) City Island- Extremely enjoyable light comedy with a great performance by Andy Garcia.

8) Toy Story 3- Superb animation and a fun filled, heartwarming story. It’s still the best.

7) The Fighter- Crowd pleasing true story of boxer Mickey Ward and his crazy family. Excellent performances all around.

6) Micmacs- French comedy from Jean-Pierre Jeunet that is an an absolute delight.

5) Black Swan- A seductive and controversial ballet thriller with a great performance by Natalie Portman.

4) Inception- Christopher Nolan does it again in this visual mindbender. We're still debating "the top".

3) The King’s Speech- Fantastic performance by Colin Firth as well as Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in this true story of King George VI.

2) 127 Hours- Actor James Franco & Director Danny Boyle team up to create an amazing journey from a least expected situation.

1) The Social Network- The smartest and surprisingly entertaining film of the year. Great script, direction and acting.

Honorable Mention-

Let Me In- A very different sort of vampire movie.

Barney's Version- Terrific drama starring the amazing Paul Giamatti with strong support from Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike.

The Secret In Their Eyes
- Rich, absorbing and intelligent, drama.


10) Shutter Island- very disappointing mess from Martin Scorsese.

9) Middlemen- Luke Wilson is terrific in a very mediocre movie.

8) Alice In Wonderland- Very disappointing. Johnny Depp lifeless as the mad hatter and Tim Burton landscapes are rehashed from previous work.

7) Robin Hood- Give me Errol Flynn.

6) Jonah Hex- Don’t bother. God knows the actors didn’t.

5) Resident Evil: "Afterlife"- There isn’t any and the 3D was lame. Even fans of the series have to admit enough is enough.

4) Knight & Day- Awful action mess. A big misstep for Cruise and Diaz.

3) Killers- Ugh. Kill me now.

2) Clash of The Titans- Boring and terrible in 3-D. Only three decent moments.

1) Cop Out-
Possibly the worst "buddy-cop" movie ever. Bruce Willis just showed up for his paycheck.