Friday, April 30, 2010

Touching the Void

I am a firm believer in the medium of film, but the docudrama Touching the Void may strengthen the argument that some tales are too great for the large screen to hold. It tells the true story of two young avid mountain climbers who, in 1985, attempt to scale the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, a feet that had never been done before (or since). Their ascent goes swimmingly, but on their descent one of the men falls and breaks his leg. He narrates how he survived this apparent death sentence. While watching this, though my mind was riveted pondering these scenarios, I felt the visuals did not do the stroy justice. Also, having the men narrate and knowing all along of their survival of the ordeal plays counter to the suspense. Though their story is enthralling enough, the way it is filmed does not live up to its material.
**1/2

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Departures

Foreign films introduce us to other cultures and have a way of looking at life differently then that in American Hollywood produced films. Many film lovers shy away from these films because they are subtitled or because they feel that nothing can be gotten from a foreign film which can't be gotten from a domestic film. I believe these views to be absurd and feel that no one can call themselves a movie fan if they do not experience at least some foreign films. Depatures is the 2008 film from Japan that earned the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It tells the story of a young man who returns to his hometown from Tokyo and takes a well-paying job preparing dead bodies for burials. Not all around him approve of his profession, and he is slow at taking to it, but eventually he becomes a master while taking pride in what he does. Departures is not a masterpiece by any stretch (many were flustered by the Academy when it won), but it is a quiet and observant picture that takes its time and makes you realize that many American films are geared towards an ADD audience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

11:14

The title refers to the time of a car crash and is also the jumping off point for five different stories all revolving around that event. The plot containing interlocking stories, or hyperlink movie is an idea that once seemed fresh and original and here seems trite and is used as an excuse to film a movie that may be unfilmable if told in a standard fashion. Though the style in which it is filmed does generate interest, the characters are bland as is the screenplay, and the movie seems more like a cinematic experiment devised by a film student rather than an engaging full-length motion picture.
**

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Book of Eli

As many of us have followed the career of Denzel Washington over the past twenty years, we have always known that he was a great actor, but could he ever succeed at playing a subdued role? I am not saying that The Book of Eli is a study in nuance, but Denzel does show much restraint and I believe this helps the role and the film come off successfully. It is 30 years after earth has been destroyed leaving few survivors. Denzel remains, and walks the earth while protecting the last known copy of the Bible. He wanders into a decrepit town that resembles one out of an old Western and is soon at odds with the saloon keeper who runs the town (Gary Oldman), a man who desires to attain Denzel's precious book. The film is very violent and is shot by the Hughes brothers in a tinted manner. This is not a great film by any stretch, but is entertaining nonetheless.
***

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mother

It opens with the title character doing an odd dance in the middle of the field. Soon her imbecile son whom she has a strange relationship with will be accused of a heinous murder, and she will launch her own investigation, doing whatever it takes to clear his name. Mother is a strange thriller out of South Korea. It experiments with several different tones and genres, which does not always amount to desirous results. The film is beautifully filmed and there are some wonderful camera shots, movements, and angles. Though this is an atypical film that isn't always shot the way you want and made in the tone you want, it is still refreshing to see originality at the local cinema.
***

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley is an excellent enrty from the late Oscar winning director Anthony Minghella. As the film opens and we meet Tom Ripley, he is playing piano at a Princeton function in a borrowed Princeton jacket. He is mistaken by a rich ship builder as a Princeton grad and friend of his son Dickie. The tycoon sends Tom to retrieve his aimless son, and it is almost immediately that he begins to assimilate himself into Dickie's life and ultimately transform himself into Dickie, by any means possible. Damon shines in the title role as the creepy, homosexual sociopath and Jude Law is great as Dickie. Other great actors make appearances as well such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The screenplay is nicely constructed and we are shown beautiful scenery of various locations in Italy. There are portions towards the end that meander, but all-in-all this is a wonderful film.
***1/2

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

So after about 9 years I have decided to finally cave in and watch the Harry Potter series. I want to be able to watch the final two films in the theaters both this year and next. And, though I think it is a tad overrated, I am not disappointed I started to watch it. The Sorcerer's Stone, the series' first entry, starts with professors from the esteemed Hogwarts School for wizards finding a home for the orphaned yet gifted infantile Harry Potter. Until his 11th birthday, he lives with a miserable family who treat him like a 3rd rate citizen. One day he is told about his destiny and is taken to Hogwarts where he meets friends, engages in the school and in its actvities, and fights against evil forces. Daniel Radcliffe makes a more than adequate Potter and the filmmakers made a wise choice by populating the film with gifted and touted British actors. However, though the beginning is a lot of fun, the film gets bogged down by its own sense of creativity and whimsy and it suffers greatly from overlength.
***

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Silly Little Game

Well, I am one of the 25 million people who participate in a Fantasy Sports League, as we are informed at the beginning of Silly Little Game, a documentary about the founding of Rotisserie Baseball, which started the Fantasy craze. There is not much to this film and it is really an excuse for the founding members to get together and relive old memories (one of them, Daniel Okrent, is pictured above). Even as a person currently managing six teams, I found this doc to be extremely boring. Like Okrent says in the film, "there is nothing more boring than hearing someone else talk about their fantasy team." Nothing besides a film about fantasy leagues.
**

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson

In 1993, the top high school athlete in basketball and football was involved in a bowling alley brawl in Hampton, Virginia that would ignite a national racial controversy and severely divide a community. Allen Iverson's story is brought to the small screen by Hoop Dreams director and fellow Hamptonian Steve James, who provides interviews with those involved with the incident and subsequent trial while also displaying a history of his hometown. This entry in the 30 for 39 series does not follow the same format of the other films, and is extremely riveting for the first half. The second half is not bad, but suffers when it runs out of material and turns to speculation of the interviewees. Despite your view of the extremely divisive A.I., No Crossover is an almost entirely engaging documentary.
***

The Girlfriend Experience

Steven Soderbergh is an Academy Award winning director who often makes great films, but also finds the need to experiment and it is when he takes on these projects that he usually fails. The Girlfriend Experience is an example of one of these projects. It details the life of a high-priced call girl in NYC during the height of the 2008 presidential campaign as she meets with Wall Street clients involved in the bailouts. At home is her trainer boyfriend who seems satisfied with the life his whore girlfriend has chosen. The Girlfriend Experience is beyond and feels long even at its 78 minute length. The characters are uninteresting, the dialogue is uninspired and it seems like no effort was put into the filming.
*1/2

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Repo Men

Repo Men is an ultra violent action film without a pulse, and is a prime example of not one but two stars not knowing how to pick their roles. Both Jude Law and Forest Whitaker exude an incredible amount of appeal as movie stars, but can't do much with this lifeless thriller. The film's premise is that in the future for exorbitant amounts of money, you can replace one of your organs with a metallic version of it. If you can't pay your bill, repo men (Law and Whitaker) will be sent to your home to retrieve the companies property. All goes well until one day, when Law is on a retrieval mission, he is electrocuted, and becomes one of the recipients of his company's products. When he can't pay his mechanical heart bill, they send Whitaker out to repo it. With all the action and blood, this film is surprisingly dull. It had an ending that I admired, done in a fashion that I hate. See the movie to see what I mean. Or don't
**

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gattaca

Gattaca opens with the setting posted on screen stating "In The Not So Distant Future" and we assume it is going to be a morality play of some sort. And so it is, and this particular one, the directorial debut of Andrew Niccol (who also serves as the writer), is about genetics and cloning. The film introduces to Vincent (Ethan Hawke), a natural born human in a world comprised mostly of genetically enhanced people. Vincent works as a janitor for Gattaca (it comprises the four letters that make up DNA) and dreams of going into space as one their explorers. Despite the fact that he is doggedly determined, he will never be allowed on the mission due to a heart defect. So, he decides to play himself off as a superior athlete (Jude Law) who has been crippled in a car crash, by using his genetic material to pass off as his own. Things go swimmingly for awhile: he meets a young counterpart (Uma Thurman) and is eventually assigned to go into space. This until the mission's director is murdered and things start to go awry. Gattaca is well acted and contains some nice performances from Hawke and the usually spectacular Law. It also and contains some nice, intense moments. However, it is extremely bland and does not contain enough flair to engage the audience effectively.
**1/2

Monday, April 19, 2010

Death at a Funeral

The movies have a certain appeal that can only be gotten in a theater, and with comedies, a crowded theater. Take Death of a Funeral for example. There are moments in the film that may amount to small chuckles at home but turned into uproarious laughter in the theater from the infectious surrounding laughter. It is a remake of the 2007 British film of the same name which I have not seen, which also may have increased my enjoyment of the film. It tells the story of a family gathering together to bury their patriarch, where absolutely every bad thing imaginable happens. It is directed with great comic timing by Neil LaBute, who usually directs satire (In The Company Of Men, Lakeview Terrace).  As I was watching this film, I got the feeling that maybe it wasn't as great as I thought, but I was having such a good time I could hardly care.
***

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is a wild, no-holds-barred superhero action picture that has been unfairly panned by certain critics. Yes there claims of disturbing violence involving children in the film is true, and some of these scenes are hard to watch, but these are not criticisms of the film but rather an objection to the material. If you don't want to see this type of material don't go and see it. With that out of the way, Kick-Ass tells the story of a pretty normal New York teen who wanders why no one dresses up in costume and finds crime. Then he decides to himself, has a fortunate mishap, and finds himself a YouTube sensation inspiring many to follow his lead. The best scenes in the film involve Chloe Moretz, a young girl who plays the super bad-assed Hit Girl and these scenes are filmed with style and flair. Though some of the material is troubling, it is in these scenes that Kick-Ass finds its greatest successes. Kick-Ass is a stylish film and a fun one as well, that doesn't leave you checking your watch, like many films do nowadays.
***1/2

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The Westerns always took themselves so seriously until Butch and Sundance came riding in and lightened things up. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is pure entertainment and it is a delight to watch Paul Newman and Robert Redford up on the screen. There are many memorable moments in George Roy Hill's film from the train roberries, to the bicycle ride set to Burt Bacharach's "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head", up until the memorable finale. It is also beautifully filmed by Conrad L. Hall and wonderfully written by William Goldman, both Oscar winners. This is not a perfect film though. The second half is not as fun as the first, and there are several lulls, mainly during some overly extended montages. Still, this is a classic film, great fun, and the movie that brought a sense of humor to the movies.
***1/2

The Damned United

It is 1974 and Don Revie, the beloved coach of England's soccer team Leeds United, has just resigned to take a job as manager of Team England. He knows who his replacement should be, but the board sees it differently and decides to hire Brian Clough, Revie's arch rival. Clough is an arrogant, pompous arse who believes himself God's gift to soccer and uses his newly acquired position to settle scores. During his short reign as Leeds manager, we are shown flashbacks of the years leading up to Klough's hiring and the rivalry between him and Revie. Here is a sports movie with teeth. One that is not about "underdogs" or "giving it your best." Rather, it is about the ugly side of sport, the side that rarely gets displayed on celluloid. Clough is not a nice man, but he is an entertaining figure and it is a delightful to watch the gifted actor Michael Sheen slip into his shoes. It also doesn't hurt that the screenplay is by Peter Morgan-the great screenwriter of recent history as well as frequent Sheen collaborator. The Damned United is one the great overlooked films of 2009.
***1/2

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Wallace & Gromit Films

A Grand Day Out (1989)
After running out of cheese on a holiday, Wallace and Gromit do the natural thing and invent a rocket ship to go to the moon where they can eat all the cheese they want. The first Wallace and Gromit film is not as sharp or well made as the later entries, but still is a very fine and clever first film. ***
The Wrong Trousers (1993)
It is Gromit's birthday, but Wallace is having trouble paying the bills so he decides to rent a room out. Soon, Wallace has taken kindly to his new tenant and even given him Gromit's room, but the poor pooch begins to suspect something sinister about his new roommate. This Academy Award winning short represents a triumph in animation and a sophistication of the Wallace and Gromit films. The final chase sequence is a knockout as well. ***1/2
A Close Shave (1995)
As the cheese lover and hit loyal dog try their hand at window washing, a widow, her evil dog, and a flock of sheep spell trouble for the duo. Not as strong as The Wrong Trousers, but still an excellent entry with a wonderful chase sequence at the end. ***1/2
The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)
Their feature length adventure is reviewed here 
A Matter Of Loaf And Death (2009)
The Oscar nominated short is reviewed here

The Best of Youth

The Best of Youth is an ambitious 6 hour Italian film from 2003. It takes place throughout Italy from the mid-60s to the early 21st century and focuses on two brothers whose lives take divergent paths. From a middle class family, both are groomed to be doctors and are studying for their medical finals when the film opens up. Nicola explores other options for awhile, but eventually does become a psychiatric doctor. Hot-headed Matteo drops out of medical school and decides to become a police officer. As we follow both of their lives we meet their families and lovers. We also experience their successes and tragedies. Both see Italy changing and both, in their own way, try to fight injustices they find. All is set against a beautiful background of Italian landmarks and countrysides as well as recent historical Italian events. Though The Best of Youth is a time commitment, it never seems long and is definitely worth the effort.
***1/2 stars

Friday, April 16, 2010

Go

Go is a movie that is both irritating and insulting. It is a hyper-kinetic film that depicts one day in the lives of several teens from four different starting points. Throughout the film, the different characters will enter in dangerous situations all involving different aspects of crime. The dialogue is terrible and the film is pretentious. When this was released in 1999 many called it Pulp Fiction Jr., but if this piece of rubbish had one iota of the wit, humor, or style of that great film, a comparison between the two films wouldn't be totally laughable.
*1/2 star

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chloe

Chloe is a movie that, given its material, would fall into a trashy Adrienne Lynn type of film. However, since it is directed by Atom Egoyan, the Canadian filmmaker who is said to bring dreamlike qualities to his films, it somehow rises above its material. It is a remake of the 2003 French film Nathalie, and tells the story of a happily married Toronto couple, who have forgotten that they are a happily married couple. After a text leads the wife to suspect her husband of cheating, she enlists the help of an escort to see what her husband would do if she came on to him-a plan that makes you wonder who in their right mind would think that's a good plan. Needless to say, things do not go as expected and the wife finds herself feeling emotions she did not anticipate. The film stars the great Liam Neeson as the husband and newcomer Amanda Seyfreid in the title role, but it is Julianne Moore who stands out in this film. She is such an interesting actress who plays roles as no other actress would. Watching her go through the many different emotions she goes through in this movie is like watching a master at work. I also liked how plot developments were handled as well. There is a plot twist in the end, but it is not presented with thunderous musical chords but rather with just a glance. Though Chloe has the type of material that may be called trash, it is a finely acted and well directed film that is worth the price of admission.
***

Gandhi

Gandhi is a grand spectacle, filmed in the same vein as a David Lean epic, though it was made as recently as 1982. With this film, British director Richard Attenborough won a Best Picture and Director Oscar after painstakingly crafting a film that took him decades to make. The hard work shows and the payoff is spectacular. The film opens with the assassination of the Mahatma, followed by his funeral which set the record on film for being the most people gathered for one shot-somewhere around 250,000 people (in the bonus features, Attenborough states it will never be recreated due to CGI). We are then shown the story of the young Indian lawyer who sparked change in South Africa through nonviolent resistance, and began to realize that he had the power to topple British rule of his homeland. Though all elements of this film are spectacular, it is Ben Kingsley who stands at the center as Gandhi. Kingsley, one of the most chameleon-like actors, disappears into the role so greatly. Gandhi is a great film that never seems to drag even at a long running time.
***1/2

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine is the latest entry in the recently popular raunchy buddy comedy genre, and though while offering occasional laughs, is not entirely successful. It is the story of three grown friends and one of their nephews who are all bored or in some way run down by their lives. After one attempts suicide, they decide to return to the now rundown resort where they shared so many good memories back in the day. Then they all share a hot tub, which transports them all back to 1986 and they have to decide how to act in the past considering its repercussions on the future, and also how to get backed. In addition to having a lot of the jokes go flat, I was surprised how much of this movie mirrored Back To The Future in so much that it borders on ripoff. Maybe it is meant to be more of a nod though to that time travel classic as BTTF actor Crispin Glover makes a funny appearance here. Though I liked the usually despicable John Cusack here, and think Craig Robinson is on his way and rightfully so the the top of the comedy world, there was just too much lacking here, and not enough originality to merit a full-fledged recommendation.
**1/2

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Date Night

They say that the romantic comedy is dead in Hollywood, and although I do not venture to see entries in the genre often, Date Night would serve as proof. Here is a genuinely bad film from a limp and lazy screenplay, one of the worst I've seen in awhile. It is loaded with a slew of talented actors, but not one of them can save this dud. It's premise is that a bored New Jersey couple, played by the surprisingly unfunny Steve Carell and Tina Fey, goes out to the city for dinner at a swanky restaurant. They do not have reservations, are unable to get a table, so they decide to steal another couple's table. This leads to a night of mayhem which reignites their love. There is not one inspired moment in the movie, and this can be chalked up to an utter disappointment.
*1/2 star

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an ultra-successful Swedish import that blends thriller elements with drama to create a quite satisfying film. It is the first of an already filmed trilogy, and an adaptation of the equally successful books by the late Stieg Larsson. The films is about a girl with a dragon tattoo, but it is also equally about a journalist named Mikael. As the film opens, he is being sentenced for libeling a tycoon and will be imprisoned in six months. He is also being shadowed and researched by the mysterious titular character who is a very adroit computer hacker, as well as a troubled young woman. She has been hired to track Mikael for another rich man who wishes to employ him to solve a murder nearly forty years old. Before they know it, both Mikael and Lisbeth, the girl are working on the same case. This is a fascinating film in which you don't even notice its 150 minute length until the very end when the filmmakers decide to squeeze in multiple endings and wrap things up perhaps a little to nicely.
***1/2 stars

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Vanishing

This 1988 Dutch thriller does several interesting things with the abduction movie in that the plot is disjointed and nonlinear and also in that it is more existential in nature. We know the plot has something to do with a woman's abduction so the beginning of the film offers scenarios in which a Dutch woman could be kidnapped, but never does, at least in the first couple of opportunities (This is similar to the opening of the classic Bicycle Thieves). When she is finally kidnapped, it haunts her boyfriend and he spends years looking for her, until one day the kidnapper contacts him. This is a thinking man's thriller where we meet real sympathetic characters. Even the kidnapper is shown in this way. The plot, like I mentioned, is told through flashbacks and this adds to the story's suspense.
***

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Piano

The Piano is director Jane Campion's hailed film from 1993 which earned her a Best Director nod as well as critical praise. Oscars also went to Holly Hunter and a very young Anna Paquin, as well as to Campion for her screenplay. It tells the story of a young mute woman (Hunter) and her daughter (Paquin). She has been sold by her father into mariage to a wealthy yet kindly landowner (Sam Neill). In the mid-1800s, they travel by boat to live in New Zealand and the natives port their belongings to their house, except for the piano which stays on the beach. Soon it is in the possession of one of the landowner's simple workers (Harvey Keitel), a crude man who soon takes up with the woman. The Piano is a film of great passion and beauty, with radiant colors eminating from every scene. Though the material is not as stunning as it may have been 17 years ago, it is still very powerful and strange at the same time.
***

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Edmond

Edmond is an adaptation of a David Mamet play written for the screen by the great playwright himself. Like most Mamet works it contains harsh material and very distinct language, and like so many of his stage-to-screen adaptations, it seems like it may have worked better on the stage though it is still great fun to listen to the back-and-forth banter and the individual monologues. This film stars Mamet vet William H. Macy as a worn down middle-aged executive on the verge of a nervous breakdown who has just left his wife. After a foreboding encounter with a psychic and another with a strange man who gives him a business card and some cash, Macy descends into a hellish nightmare as he encounters prostitutes, pimps, con men, and worse. The material is disturbing to say the least, but like I said, the way that Mamet's words role off of his characters' tongues is like music to the ear.
***

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Following

Following is director Christopher Nolan's feature film debut (though it barely qualifies as one with its 70 minute length) and his talent is evident even in the beginning. Shot on a shoestring budget in black and white, it tells the story of a lonely young man with a strange hobby. He follows, or shadows people as he calls it with no insidious intentions, just for the thrill of it. One day he is caught by one of his targets, a man of similar mind but with darker intentions, and he is soon involved in a burglary scheme. The chronology of the plot is disjointed, a similar technique Nolan would later apply in Memento, and the viewer if forced to think back on the plot. Though Following is more of a cinematic exercise than it is a fully fleshed out feature length film, it is a fun and short escape and a record of a young directorial master at work.
***1/2

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Prophet

A Prophet is a French film nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is the gritty story about a young man's stretch in prison. His name is Malik and he seems to come from and have nothing. We first see him on his first day in prison on a six month sentence for attacking a cop, a crime he says he didn't commit. But this isn't a redemption prison movie, but a film about Malik's rise to the top of the prison system. He has the good fortune of being Corsican and Arab, and speaking both languages. The Corsicans run the prison and soon have Malik on a mission to befriend and kill an Arab snitch. Soon after the deed, he's in their favor and his rise begins. The film is gritty like I said before, but it is also an arty film as well. The scenes of violence, though not prevalent throughout the film, are shot with grace and graphic detail.There are musical interludes where American pop music is played in the background. Words, names, and phrases pop up on screen. Deeper meaning probably loom under the surface. My low rating of this film doesn't indicate bad filmmaking. There is a lot here to appreciate. I'm just not sure the it all adds up, and the film is greatly marred by overlength, and maybe a lack of material to justify that running time.
**1/2

The Queen

It is election day in Britain in 1997, and Queen Elizabeth is having her portrait painted while expressing her regrets that she can't vote for members of her own government. She is also concerned about the apparent landslide victory of the modernist Tony Blair for Prime Minister. We then jumps to a couple months later and the death of Princess Diana. The rest of the film details how The Queen and they royal family, as well as PM Blair responded to this tragedy, which turned into an international circus. The film is nicely directed by Stephen Frears from a script by the great screenwriter Peter Morgan. At the center of the film stands Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth who garnered all sorts of praise including an Academy Award, and rightly so. Also excellent is Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, who disagrees with the Queen's response to Diana's death, but respects Her Royal Highness all the same. The Queen is a fascinating film that gets you inside the walls of Buckingham Palace.
***1/2