Sunday, April 24, 2011

Water For Elephants

Having enjoyed the original novel by Sara Gruen, I was somewhat disappointed by the film version. Whenever a popular novel translates to the screen, sacrifices have to be made and there are subtle changes here that may bother fans of the novel. Now if you haven't read the book, you will probably enjoy this period love story set in a Depression era circus.

Robert Pattinson tries in vain to break free of his Edward Cullen (Twilight) persona. I give him credit for trying to break the mold he has created for himself but he comes up short. Playing the lead character, Jacob, Mr. Pattinson spends much of the film brooding much like his "Twilight" character minus the fangs. His love interest, Marlena, is played by Reese Witherspoon who does an admirable job with the animal cast but lacks chemistry with Mr. Pattinson. And the villain of the piece is well cast by the presence of Christoph Waltz, as August, Marlena's husband and the circus ringmaster.

The best casting decision is Tai (II) as Rosie, the elephant. Tai steals every scene she's in and has great chemistry with everyone. Her lemonade scene alone is worth the price of admission. While Rosie's sub-plot is both heartbreaking and rewarding, the love triangle between the leads lacks the passion conveyed in the novel. The film is hampered by a poor musical score that tries too hard to heighten the various moods and ends up bogging down the film.

There is still enough here to move an audience to break out in applause but it's not "The Greatest Show on Earth".

Your Highness

Even for the target audience, this medieval stoner comedy fails to bring the big laughs and ends up "Your Lowness". Danny McBride and James Franco try to recapture the laughs and silliness of "Pineapple Express" but spend too much time on juvenile jokes that fall flat and plot lines that veer off into just plain weirdness.

Starring as an odd couple of brothers, Fabious (Mr. Franco) and Thaddeus (Mr. McBride) embark on a quest to rescue Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of the evil Wizard, Leezar (Justin theroux). Along the way, they meet Isabel (Natalie Portman) a feisty warrior woman with her own agenda for Leezar.

Ms. Portman looks great and ends up funnier than everyone else because she actually bothers to act and takes her character very seriously. Everyone else is just enjoying each other's company and having a grand old time at the expense of the audience.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy) teams once again with actress Michele Williams in this minimalistic "western" about a small band of pioneers lost in the Oregon wilderness. The year is 1845 and guide Stephen Meeks has led three families off the main artery of a wagon train heading west. Ms. Williams plays Emily Tetherow, the young bride of Solomon Tetherow played by Will Patton.

Meeks is played with bluster by Bruce Greenwood (hidden under long hair and scraggy beard) who insists he can lead the group to a fertile valley. The other families are played by Paul Dano and Zoe Kasdan as The Gateleys and Shirley Henderson and Neal Huff as The Whites. The White family also has a young son, Jimmy played by Tommy Nelson. These are the main characters we watch struggle with their daily existence low on water and food. Halfway through, there is a twist on their situation that creates new tensions. There are endless shots of their wagon train enduring hardships across a barren landscape as they put their faith in Meeks to lead their way.

The film is beautifully shot with wonderful cinematography and the acting is very authentic. You find yourself forgetting there is a film crew all around these people and believe in their loneliness and struggles. Ms. Williams, as usual, shines in her role as the most assertive of the women. Not much happens as the narrative is not your typical Hollywood plot. Audiences will be very divided on this film but it does have it's charms if you accept it for what it is, a journey more than a destination.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jane Eyre

The seventh (I believe) version of the Charlotte Bronte classic stars upcoming actors Mia Wasikowska as the title character and Michael Fassbender as Edward Rochester. Star crossed lovers in the classic sense, their repressed passion builds slowly fueled by intelligent word play and soulful stares.

Both actors do an admirable job of expressing the love that grows between them but it is Ms. Wasikowska that really shines as Jane. She is in almost every scene and she is has a unique beauty that is hypnotic to watch. This classic love story also features Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins and Jamie Bell and plays out against a gorgeous windswept landscape in the English countryside.

The cinematography is excellent with lighting, in particular, playing an important part. Many scenes are lit solely by candlelight enveloping the viewer in Bronte's world.

Did the world need another version of "Jane Eyre"? Probably not, but for a younger generation, it's a great introduction to the classics.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Saoirse Ronan plays the title character, "Hanna", in this new action thriller. Unfortunately, while she is fascinating to watch, the film doesn't really thrill. With a score by the Chemical Brothers and a few set action pieces, the film tries hard but it's a thin story that's violent and ultimately senseless.

Hanna is trained as a child to become an unbeatable assassin by her CIA rogue father, played by Eric Bana. They live in a secluded forest in Finland cut off from civilization. Completely naïve when it comes to human contact, Hanna is a stranger in a strange land once she makes that contact. All she knows how to do is survive and lives by the mantra "adapt or die".

Upon learning of her existence, CIA agent, Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett hunts Hanna and her father, worried that they will expose her past secret experiments. It's all flimsy nonsense about creating super soldiers with poor plot twists you can easily see coming. Marissa is a strange character, (she has a weird obsession with clean teeth) and she employs an even stranger character, Issacs, played by Tom Hollander to do her dirty work.

The only saving grace is Ms. Ronan, who continues to hone her acting with each new role. There is something magnetic about her and as Hanna, she equally balances her naivety with her killer instincts. It's hard not to root for her, even when nothing makes too much sense.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


I had such high hopes for this new horror film after reading many other reviews. Maybe I've just been spoiled by too many good ones over my lifetime but "Insidious" just didn't give me sweaty palms and heart palpitations like "The Exorcist" or "Poltergeist" and certainly didn't send me to the nearest bar for a much needed drink after the original "The Omen".

Don't get me wrong. The film works very hard to scare you and definitely has it's "jolt" moments so if you are easily affected by these kinds of films, you will have a screaming good time. But for the true fan of the genre, this is nothing more than a poor rip-off of "Poltergeist". The film gives away to much in the trailer and even the poster so it's no surprise to say it's not the house that's haunted but rather a young family member.

The parents are played well by Rose Bryne and Patrick Wilson but they are stock roles (the worried mom and the disbelieving dad) until the last act when they both turn it up a notch to save their son. The film is rated PG-13 so there is isn't the usually gore factor to scare and repulse you. Instead the film relies heavily on atmosphere to pull you in and keep you nervous. Looking for an original angle, it's odd that the central evil presence looks exactly like "Darth Sidious" from "Star Wars". Was the makeup department budget slashed because too much money was spent on the fog machines?

If you are really looking for a good scare, invite some friends over, turn out the lights and watch "The Exorcist" or "Poltergeist", still two of the scariest movies ever made. Even, the original "House On Haunted Hill" (starring the great Vincent Price) surpasses "Insidious" for real goose-bump inducing horror. Until the next attempt, you just can't go wrong with the classics.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mick Haller, the title character, who operates his law practice from the back seat of a Lincoln Continental. The film is from the bestseller by Michael Connelly and it translates very well to the screen. Mr. McConaughey is perfect for the role of the streetwise lawyer and I can foresee this becoming a franchise for him as long as Mr. Connelly keeps churning out bestsellers.

The first rate cast also includes Marisa Tomei, as Mick's ex-wife, Ryan Phillippe, as the predominant client, William H. Macy, as Mick's legal investigator, Josh Lucas, as the District Attorney and John Leguizamo, as a shady bail bondsman. Also included are Frances Fisher, Michael Pena and the return of '80s star Michael Pare. Everyone is working an angle and this legal thriller, while revealing it's hand early, still has some aces up it's sleeve.

I was a little disappointed in the role of Earl, Mick's driver who doesn't have much to do and seems wasted. But that point aside, the plot and the acting will keep you engaged. Mr. McConaughey has done his share of lazy films but when he feels like really acting, as he does here, he can really carry a film.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" would make a terrific TV series if the producers ever decided to go that route. It's got the kind of characters you would easily enjoy seeing again. For now, it's those characters that drive "The Lincoln Lawyer" to a victory lap.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Source Code

"Source Code" is a twisty action-thriller with elements of "Inception" and "Groundhog's Day". Directed by Duncan Jones, this is an exciting and suspenseful film that is anchored by a terrific Jake Gyllenhaal. His performance alone, sells the story.

When Mr. Gyllenhaal wakes up on a commuter train, he is in the body of another man. Initially confused, he slowly remembers why he is there. Sitting across from him is Michelle Monaghan, who once again plays the pretty love interest in peril. She has become quite adept at these roles and here, performs admirably. Apparently Mr. Gyllenhaal is a soldier taking part in a Government experiment to stop a terrorist from blowing up a train. As the audience, we learn along with him as plot points are slowly revealed.

Overseeing the experiment is Vera Farmiga as his "handler" and Jeffrey Wright as the creator of the "source code". There is a lot of sci-fi mumbo jumbo as to how the source code works but even if it goes over your head, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Beyond the four leads, the rest of the cast is fairly unknown so that makes figuring out the identity of the bomber all the more fun. Usually a name actor will make it pretty obvious but that's not the case here which really helps propel the story.

I can't say enough how natural and believable Mr. Gyllenhaal is in the role of Colter Stevens. He really makes you root for the character and believe the situation, even when it gets fairly unbelievable.