Monday, May 30, 2011

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen's love letter to Paris is a charming light comedy and a most unexpected romance. It opens with a video postcard to the "City of Lights" before we even see the title credits. Mr. Allen's avatar this time around is Owen Wilson, as Gil, and his love affair with the Paris of old and new drives the plot.

While on vacation there with his fiancée, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, Gil is magically transported each night at midnight to Paris of the 1920's where he meets and parties with the likes of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and many other literary figures and artists of the time. He also develops a crush on Marion Cotillard (who wouldn't) who plays a woman drawn into affairs with the famous.

Gil is a screenwriter but longs to be taken seriously as a novelist. He brings his first novel to Gertrude Stein for a critique. Gertrude is played by Kathy Bates and she is terrific. All of the historical casting is spot on. Adrian Brody, in particular is a very funny Salvador Dali.

During the day, Gil contends with Inez, her parents and her annoying know-it-all ex-boyfriend, played by Michael Sheen but each night he is taken back to his magical era. Mr. Allen never explains the time travel but does draw us to Gil's eventual revelation that changes his life.

The film is an enjoyable soufflé without the calories.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

First of all, I saw this film in standard 2-D and saved the seven dollar 3-D extra fee. I don't think it made much of a difference as either way, the film is so dark, it might as well have been called "On Darker Tides". There were times I wished I had a flashlight to see any detail. Even the daylight scenes were poorly lit.

As for the story, it's pretty standard for what we've seen before from this franchise. You'll have no trouble following the plot as there is so much exposition, everything is constantly explained (even if it doesn't make much sense). Johnny Depp's charming rogue, Jack Sparrow wears out his welcome in the bloated two hour race to find the Fountain of Youth. He is at his best in the first third of the film. Geoffrey Rush is back as Captain Barbossa and he seems to be enjoying himself very much. The same can be said for Ian McShane who plays Blackbeard. You get the sense everybody is having fun playing pirate, including Penelope Cruz as Jack's rival/love interest.

The subplot of the handsome Christian falling in love with a Mermaid is an absolute waste of time and doesn't make up for the loss of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly. Keith Richards, however does make another cameo as Jack's father but is smart enough to jump ship after one scene.

I've heard Johnny Depp enjoys playing Jack Sparrow so much, he's already signed on for a fifth film. Stop before it's too late. Abandon ship. This franchise has sunk.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hangover, Part II

The original "Hangover" was clever and very funny and of course made a ton of money which made a sequel inevitable. "Part II" takes us to exotic Bangkok for basically a retread of the first film. The filmmakers needed an exotic location to hide the fact their script is weak and their actors are lazy.

Ed Helms is back as Stu and his wimpy, screaming tantrums are funny the first time but become as tedious as Bradley Cooper's Phil who's dialogue consists of cursing in every situation. Zach Galifianakis plays the very strange, Allen who's man-child schtick also grows old. A golden opportunity is missed by not giving Justin Bartha more to do. Understandably he was the missing groom in the first film but here is wasted as a minor character on the sidelines. I've seen Mr. Bartha do comedy live on Broadway and he can be very funny. Leaving him on the sidelines was a big mistake.

Ken Jeong is back as the maniacal Mr. Chow, an even more embarrassing stereotype here but effective as the driver in a well done car chase. A two scene cameo by Paul Giammatti just gives him an excuse to mug for the camera and forget he can act. The best actor in the film is the drug dealing monkey who becomes central to the story. I loved his Rolling Stones vest buy scenes of him smoking a cigarette border on animal cruelty.

No one in the film really exerts any effort. Even when a character loses a finger, it doesn't even garner more than a shrug from anyone including the character himself. There are a few funny situations and one or two great lines but they are far and few between. The audience laughed more at the trailer for "Horrible Bosses" than all of "The Hangover II". Pack it in, Wolfpack.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Double Hour

This is a terrific new Italian film that is difficult to review without revealing any of it's secrets. In basic terms, it can be described as a romance, a robbery and a mystery. But it is so much more that that.

When Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) meets Guido (Filippo Timi) at a speed dating session, a romance develops but events take a very unexpected turn soon afterwards. It is best going into this film without knowing anything else and take pleasure in deciphering the multi-layered puzzle it soon becomes.

The chemistry between the leads is excellent and so important to the story. Ms. Rappoport carries the majority of the film and she admirably pulls off what becomes a very complex role. The direction and editing keep things well paced and the viewer engaged. This is important as the film demands your attention. Entertaining and thought provoking, "The Double Hour" will garner much conversation well after it ends.

Monday, May 09, 2011


You don't have to be versed in the comic book or Norse mythology of Thor to enjoy a reasonably exciting adaptation of the Marvel comic character, "The Mighty Thor". You do, however, need to enjoy mindless action adventure filled with cartoonish violence.

Director Kenneth Branagh infuses just enough Shakespearean gravitas to add human drama to the story but "Thor" is no "Dark Knight" and for most of the film, keeps things light and moving quickly. After all, this "origin" film is just a set up for next year's "The Avengers", which will star most of the recent influx of Marvel screen characters.

The film stars Chris Hemsworth, who is well cast as the fallen God banished to Earth in order to prove his worth. He is banished by Odin, the allfather, played with much pomp and circumstance by Anthony Hopkins. Natalie Portman plays the love interest, Jane Foster (a nurse in the comics who has morphed into an astro-physicist for the film). A nice surprise is Tom Hiddleston, who plays Thor's half-brother, Loki. He is very well cast as the God of Mischief who's schemes drive the plot.

Most of the story is adapted intact from the comic source with some minor changes that may disturb purists but simplify the plot to keep it moving. The special effects are disappointing and 3-D is once again wasted, adding nothing special to the visuals. If anything the film is actually darker and harder to see with the glasses on. See it in regular 2-D if you can. You'll save at least $3.50 and never miss the effect.

If you do go, stay past the credits as you will be rewarded with a clip that adds another piece to the "Avengers" storyline. And also keep you eye out for Jeremy Renner in a cameo that sets up another Marvel hero.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Nominated at this year's Oscars for Best Foreign Film, "Incendies" well deserved the honor. This is an intense epic drama with a jigsaw puzzle of a plot that will draw you in and leave you reeling. It begins with the mysterious last wishes of a deceased woman and ends with a family changed forever.

A set of French Canadian twins are given two envelopes by their mother's attorney. The daughter is charged with finding their father (a man thought dead) and the son is charged with finding their brother (a brother they never knew existed). The daughter's search takes her to a unidentified Middle Eastern Country where she finally traces her father's path. Her brother soon joins her and he eventually discovers the truth about their long lost brother. Between their quest, there are flashbacks to their mother as a young woman that set the story in motion and plot her own course in this "Greek tragedy" of a tale.

The mother's story is both heartbreaking and remarkable. It is filled with sorrow and violence but also embraces the bond of love and family. Lubna Azubal portrays the mother, Nawal Marwan and she is fantastic in a very difficult role. The twins, Simon and Jeanne, are played by Maxim Guadette and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and they are both excellent, especially Ms. Desormeaux-Poulin as Jeanne.

The complex story pulls you in like a great novel that you can't put down. The revelations at the end and the final images will stay with you long after you leave the theater.