Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stonewall Uprising

In 1969 New York City policemen raided the Stonewall Inn which was mob run and was operating without a liquor license. These reasons did not have a role and the establishment was actually raided to clear out the numerous homosexual patrons who were known to frequent the joint. Instead of leaving peacefully as they were accustomed to doing, the patrons held their ground and started a riot leading to a successful standoff with police and ultimately the start of the gay rights movement. As part of The American Experience documentary program on PBS, Stonewall Uprising is a very well made film (I'm starting to think the background music plays a big part is the success of documentaries, and this film has a good score). As there is virtually no footage of the riot, we are shown recreations and interviews with participants. What is fascinating and downright laughable are the stock films of educational movies, news programs, and commercial warnings relating to homosexuality in the 1960s. I did have a problem with the attitude of the interviewees in the film who condone violence in general and attacks on police specifically as the only means for change. Comments such as comparisons of gay bars to black southern churches and the righteousness of this movement, as well as the general misguidedness of many of the people interviewed was a little off putting. Still Stonewall Uprising is a well made documentation of a volatile historical event.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Frank Capra won his second of three directorial Oscars for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a film made with his longtime collaborator and screenwriter Robert Riskin. Released at the height of the Great Depression, it spoke to the beset masses on two levels: first off it provided a strong populist view that sided with the common working man and criticized upper class greed and secondly it is an immensely entertaining piece of escapist cinema. Starring Gary Cooper is a wonderful performance and perhaps against type as the small towned lighthearted Longfellow Deeds who one day discovers he has inherited $20,000,000. Taking the news in stride he almost immediately decides to give the money away, saying he has no need for it. However, he is persuaded to go to New York City where is surrounded and hounded by people trying to take advantage of him. One of them is a reporter, another fine performance from Jean Arthur, who seeks Deeds' company in order to get a story, while slowly falling in love with him. All the while, the slimy attorney in charge of the estate soon realizes that Deeds will never sign over the power of attorney so the devious shyster plots on throwing a couple road blocks in his way that will prevent him from donating his millions to needy out of work farmers. Mr Deeds Goes to Town is a delightful film that works on both aforementioned fronts. Gary Cooper brings immense charm and likability to his role. I couldn't help but smile every time he mentioned "socking" someone who had slighted him. I really liked Jean Arthur as well who had a difficult role she pulls off wonderfully where she has to be a tough go getter yet sweet and innocent when in the presence of Cooper. The light moments in Deeds work wonderfully and when the film strives for more serious notes, it hits them as well. Mr. Deeds is wholehearted entertainment that holds appeal to a wide range of people due to it genuine and entertaining handling of it material.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brazil

In an Orwellian alternate reality emphasized by bureaucracy, a pencil pusher from an affluent family spends his time fancying himself a hero in his dreams and saving the woman he loves, although he seems content with his rudimentary existence. One day he is sent into the field to try to reconcile an administrative error when he actually bumps into the girl from his dreams, literally. As he attempts to find her, his nightmare existence worsens and he soon finds himself to be an enemy of the state. Brazil is from the imaginative mind of writer/director Terry Gilliam, who paints a fantastic comic satirical portrait here. With Jonathan Pryce ideal as the starry eyed, wimpy bureaucrat, he is surrounded by many fine (mostly) British actors: Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Jim Broadbent, Bob Hoskins, and Robert De Niro in a great bit part. The film meanders at parts and is largely nonsensical, but it nice moments of comic underlining and wraps up in a highly original and well conceived ending. When all is said and done, I can't help but admire Gilliam's scope and creativity. There's no denying he is an original. However, I just think that I am not attuned to his sensibilities as a filmmaker and his works are just not my cup of tea. Though it doesn't quite float my boat, I'm sure there are many who can gain satisfaction from watching this highly inventive film.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

John Muir in the New World

With the telling of the story of conservationist John Muir, American Masters has crafted another fascinating story about an incredible life. Muir emigrated from Scotland to Wisconsin in the mid 19th century. Without any formal education, he was able to break free from his life on the farm, educate himself, and enroll in college. A gifted engineer, he decided to break free from that life as well and pursue his dreams studying while living amongst the American landscape. Exploring the country on foot from coast to coast, Muir filled journals (which are eloquent and read aloud here) and novels with his explorations. His work would lead to the first conservationist movement in the country and the creation of the National Park System, beginning with the preservation of Yosemite National Park. Muir's story is told through pictures, recreations, narration, expert interviews, and the use of his own words. I would not call it well written as the narration often comes off as choppy, but still this is an engrossing story about a man who marched to his own drumbeat and was able to create awareness about our country's beauty.

Of Gods and Men

In the mid 90s, a group of French Catholic monks reside among a local Muslim community in Algeria. The film follows them as they engage in their day to day activities of prayer, mass, attending the needs of the villagers, and making and selling honey at the local market among other duties. They live peacefully with their differently oriented neighbors and are content with their regimented lives. Then one day word reaches the monastery that several missionaries have been slain by a group of Islamic fundamentalists and now fear has begun to spread. The monks now question whether should they should remain at their post with their lives being in danger. Each has a different response to the situation and some even begin to question their own faith as a palatable danger hangs over their heads. Of Gods and Men is based on true story which is simultaneously sad and shocking when it becomes apparent in the latter stages of the film, shocking because it seems to be an examination of a monk's lifestyle. The film is the work of Xavier Beauvios, and is an export of France, which it almost has to be because no U.S. producer would ever back a film that treats the Catholic faith and clergy so reverently. The film is solemn, beautiful, and meticulously structured capturing wonderful exterior shots as well as carefully constructed shots inside the monastery. Of Gods and Men is engaging and refreshing in its portrayal of the resolute men who held the courage of their convictions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hereafter

I wanted to revisit Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, fearing I may not have gotten enough out of it the first time around, and I'm glad I did. From a sensitive and nicely woven multi thread story from stalwart screenwriter Peter Morgan, Eastwood continues to demonstrate his directorial prowess with this examination of three people dealing with different types of grief. It is a tough subject to tackle and an even more difficult task to make engaging and all involved do a wonderful job at pulling it off. Additionally, the film includes a fine performance from Matt Damon and a terrifyingly beautiful tsunami scene that opens the film.


10/19/2010 review I came across a review of this film with the title "Saint Clint" and the article refers to the "heavy handedness" of this and possibly to some of his other directorial work. I would agree with that assessment if Clint Eastwood were not such a masterful storyteller and sure handed director with such a distinctive style and naturalistic approach to filmmaking (Is it fair to knock a legend because he is old-fashioned and in his 80s? Does every journalistic piece have to be politically slanted? Do the majority of movie critics even like movies?) Yes there are political undertones in the film, but down in its bare bones this is a nicely told story that is both literate and yes, moving. It tells the story of a medium and several people dealing with different stages of grief. It is leisurely paced, subtitled at parts, and I would not recommend it to the Jackass demographic. It is nicely written by the talented Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and again wonderfully handled by Clint (while watching his films, I catch myself thinking, "in any other hands.") It also must be said of Matt Damon that he has grown as an actor, and if the trailers for True Grit are not misleading, I bet that this is the year he walks home with a Golden Statue (for acting).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fort Apache

Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday is grumbling in his stagecoach en route to his new detail in a remote fort in the American southwest. He has a stellar war record and once held the rank of General. Now the stubborn and regimented cavalry man has been placed in charge of a rinky dink operation and when he arrives with his wide eyed daughter in tow it is everything he expected: a nothing happening locale occupied by disheveled and unorganized officers. Immediately he begins to whip his detail into shape, ignoring his underling's opinions who may have a better knowledge of the land and the local Indian population. However, when tensions begin to flare between his men and the Apache tribe, it goes beyond rubbing his men the wrong way and he may in fact be putting his company in jeopardy. Directed by  legendary director John Ford in his beloved Monument Valley, Utah, it was the first film of his cavalry trilogy (followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande). Loosely based on General Custer's Last Stand, it is a surprisingly sympathetic towards Native Americans, especially for a 1948 Western. Additionally it is a thoroughly entertaining film, laced with humor in addition to its battle scenes. Aside from a portrait of a martinet and the implications of his decisions, at its core this is a portrait of life on a military post. All facets of this all encompassing film are handled wonderfully. It is also delightful to watch Henry Fonda (as Colonel Thursday) and John Wayne (his second in command), arguably to of the greatest stars of the 20th century play, play against type and do it so well. Fort Apache isn't a typical Western and through its comedic sensibilities, action sequences, and sensitivity it should hold an appeal to all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Long Good Friday

There has been ten years of peace in the London underworld, and now mob boss Harry (Bob Hoskins) has finally found his chance to go legit. With a lucrative deal with American businessmen where he hopes to build casinos along the waterfront, Harry will soon be able to enjoy a luxurious life with his stalwart wife Victoria (Helen Mirren). Just as the celebrations have begun aboard his houseboat on Good Friday, bombs begin exploding and members of Harry's faction are being taken out. Now as soon as Harry finds the culprits, swift revenge will be had on all responsible. The deeper he digs, he soon discovers the problem is more complex than  it appears and that his enemy may be not quite as manageable as he had expected. The Long Good Friday is a gritty, very British film from director John Mackenzie, which has more in common with a top notch action thriller than an operatic mob film. Bob Hoskins made his mark on the film world with his performance as Harry, a quick tempered and ruthless little man whom we somehow sympathize with. Helen Mirren is great in an early role as his loyal and tough as nails wife. The Long Good Friday is a tough, violent, and complicated film that is entertaining but also challenging. It is a fine entry in the gangster flick genre.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mona Lisa

After doing a stretch in the joint, George returns to his boss who said he would take care of him with the expectations work. He is given the gig of chauffeuring a high end call girl. Although George is a tough talking thug who seems to know his way around the streets, he is taken aback by the sleazy world of sex for hire and seems surprisingly naive about what goes on there. As he gets to know his knew employer, he develops a contentious relationship at first but inevitably develops feelings for her. After developing a mutual trust, the girl asks George to find an old fellow call girl friend whom she has lost track of. While obliging, George is thrust down a path that will more than like end in misfortune. Mona Lisa launched the career of director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire) and is a noirish tale taking place amongst the underbelly of London. With shades of Taxi Driver, this is essentially a tale of loneliness. Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) gives a knockout performance as George, the role that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Cathy Tyson plays a difficult role as the prostitute. She isn't the heart of gold type, but is in fact independent and manipulative and Tyson handles the role nicely. Michael Caine is great as usual playing a ruthless cockney whom Hoskins works for. When watching Mona Lisa I would recommend using the subtitles to get the most out of the hard to grasp dialogue. This is a well made film elevated further by Hoskins powerhouse performance as a lonely soul looking for love in all the wrong places.

Water for Elephants

Oh how critics can put a damper on your expectations for a film. When I saw the previews for Water for Elephants, the adaptation of Sara Gruen's beloved bestseller, I was rife with anticipation for what seemed to be a stunning motion picture. Then the reviews came in and claims of "not being as good as the book" and "one ring short of a three ring spectacle" more than soured my outlook. In actuality, Water for Elephants is an unabashedly old-fashioned movie, epic in scope, that hearkens back to the days of the lush Technicolor films of the 50s and 60s. It is a glorious spectacle of a film, even if it is imperfect. The story opens with an old man (the great Hal Holbrook) showing up late to the circus. As the manager tries to get a hold of the nursing home, the man relays his story of how he was part of the greatest circus disaster ever back in 1931: As a young man (now Roberrt Pattinson), while preparing to graduate veterinary school, his parents were killed in a car accident leaving him with nothing in Depression era America. With just a briefcase in tow, he hops a train which good fortune would have be the locomotive for the Benzini Brothers Circus. There he procures a job as the company veterinarian, becomes the trainer of the new star elephant, and begins a love affair with a lead performer (Reese Witherspoon) who happens to be married to the charismatic but brutal circus owner (Christoph Waltz). Directed by Francis Lawrence from a script by Richard LaGravenese, Water for Elephants is made up of beautiful visuals shot in striking colors, as all the elements of the travelling circus are on full display. The love story seemed a little lacking. Pattinson isn't bad but he's a pretty boring actor and Witherspoon, whom I admire, is miscast playing her character in an unattractive way that makes you question Pattinson's feelings for her. However, Christoph Waltz is splendid, playing another character like his Oscar winning whirlwind in Inglorious Basterds, who manages to be simultaneously charming and repulsive at the same time. Although the two leads are somewhat uninspired, Water for Elephants is a compelling and old-fashioned film, the kind that is rarely seen today and should be embraced. Book comparisons have no place in film reviews and movies must be viewed independently from their source material as hard as it may be. The good thing about diminished expectations is that the film comes off as that much better when we are expecting a letdown.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Others

On the British Isle of Jersey, a woman and her two young children await in seclusion in a Victorian mansion for her husband serving in World War II. Due to being photosensitive, the children are kept in constant darkness by way of curtains and locked doors, in fear that they will develop blisters and suffocate if exposed to sunlight. One day, a trio of servants shows up at the front door to offer their services after the previous staff has mysteriously vanished. Then the children begin to report ghost sightings in the building. At first, the woman chalks it up to child playfulness but quickly realizes that their are more sinister forces at play which may be a threat to her and her children. The Others is the work of Chilean writer/director  Alejandro Amenabar. Starkly filmed, it is a ghost story not filmed in the usual manner. It is paced and builds its scares through good acting and mood, not by camera tricks and cheap set-ups. Nicole Kidman, one of our acting treasures, brings credibility to her role as a stern and possibly unstable mother. The film has a major plot twist which may be predictable to some (I try not to think about those things when watching) that is handled nicely. This movie should be a standard for how horror films are made, not the exception. Maybe the trick for a film like this to be successful is to have a strong base: good production values, camera work, and acting and then work the scary stuff in later. I believe the problem with the state of horror films is that they are put out by novices who care not for the look or quality of their films (on the whole). The Others proves that a horror film can be written, shot, and acted and still be a scary movie as well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red

A retiree has formed a relationship with a customer service representative by tearing up his CIA checks and engaging her in conversation when he calls and asks that his checks be replaced. He now plans to visit her but not before his Parma Heights home (Cleveland whattup) is attacked by a group of agents. After swiftly dispensing them, he kidnaps the woman (whose life is also in danger for some reason) and reassembles his old team while trying to uncover why their ex-employers are out to kill them. From a graphic novel, Red (Retiree Extremely Dangerous, a CIA acronym) is an exercise with over-the-top lunacy that, with an excellent cast having fun and doing their best with the material is kind of fun. Just look at the roll call, which is a assortment of esteemed and respected thespians: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, and Ernest Borgnine (I thought Malkovich was a hoot as a paranoid brain fried CIA agent). Like I said, the movie is fun but its paper thin plot eventually digresses into a 30 minute gun battle that closed the flick. Still, with a cast like this its hard to miss its worth the price of admission to see Helen Mirren picking off assassins with a sniper rifle in the snow.

Thirteen Days

In the fall of 1962, a spy plane took pictures of Russian missiles being assembled in Cuba. This led to a nearly two week conflict in which the United States and Soviet Union played a game of cat and mouse and nearly engaged in all out nuclear conflict. In the end cooler heads prevailed and the Cuban Missile Crisis would go down as the cornerstone of the Kennedy presidency. However, that this film decides to open with shots of nuclear weapons detonating resulting in what appears to be the apocalypse only serves as a reminder of how close we came to the end. The film follows the key players focusing primarily on JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and their close friend and presidential advisor Kenny O'Donnell. Events in the film are often seen through O'Donnell's eyes who acts as the go between among the Kennedys and the other members of the cabinet who often did not see eye to eye on how to handle the situation. Directed by Roger Donaldson, Thirteen Days seems like an honest reenactment of a historical event that will be informative to many people who are either too young to remember or uninformed of the events. I liked the casting in the film. Lesser known actors are used to portray familiar figures (Steven Culp and Dylan Baker and dead ringers for Robert McNamara and RFK respectively) but for the casting of Jack, Bruce Greenwood resembles him but elects not to impersonate his voice and simply act out the part. The result is a very convincing portrayal. I also think that Kevin Costner's role as O'Donnell is crucial, creating an everyman role the audience can identify with. I found myself to be somewhat removed from the material, although there are several fine speeches and intense moments. However, the payoffs during the standoff and other vivid moments are rewarding and it is nice to see such a painstaking historical recreation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Certified Copy

A British author is late for his own book discussion at a gallery in Tuscany, Italy. He has written a book that shares its name with the film's title, and is essentially about how a good copy is no different then the original. After the lecture, he decides to spend the day with a French woman who runs a small gallery in the village. Together they venture out into the countryside where he signs copies of his book while the two discuss matters similar to his book topic such as artifice versus genuine and other philosophical ruminations. After visiting a gallery where a highly revered copy is on display, the two stop in a coffee shop. As the man answers a call outside, the matron mistakes him for her husband and the woman doesn't correct her and in fact plays along. Yet she seems to be showing very strong emotions when talking about her "husband's" shortcomings. Eventually the man plays along, and as the two go about their day and seem to be having genuine marital spats as well as moments, the audience begins to wonder just what the hell is going on. Certified Copy is the work of acclaimed international director Abbas Kiarostami, this being his first film out of Iran. I have never seen one of his films. I'm not even sure if they're readily accessible, but with this movie his sure hand as a filmmaker is clear. Here we have a literate, philosophic film set in the beautiful Italian countryside that makes the audience think and decide for themselves what is really going on. William Shimmell, a middle aged actor though relatively new to films, is strong as the author but I really wanted to comment on Juliette Binoche. As I watched her nuances as she went from emotion to emotion, I wondered if the was a film actress in this country who could even rival her talents. On top of being such a lovely presence, she is able to convey an array of emotions just by a change in her gaze, and her work in this tricky film is much of what makes it work.

The Conspirator

As John Wilkes Booth carried out his monstrous deed in Ford's Theater on April 14. 1865, it was part of a grander plot that included the attempted assassinations of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Following Booth's killing, as the war torn nation further grieved and sought closure on the matter, a group of conspirators were put on trial, among them Mary Surratt. She ran the boarding house where the men stayed at and was the mother of one other men involved in the scheme. A civilian, she was subjected to a military court which amounted to no more than a kangaroo court, with the tribunal making up roles as it pleased. In her defense she was assigned to Frederick Aiken, a young Northern war hero who was more than a little weary of taking the case, well aware of the damage it would due to his career and reputation. The Conspirator is a workmanlike film directed by Robert Redford, who has developed a film that nicely captures Civil War era D.C. with a tinted color texture. The film is well cast as well, with the exception of Robin Wright who I never thought had the makings of an actress and does nothing to change that opinion here. Her Mary Surratt character is one dimensional and bland, though thinking about it that's probably how she was. James McAvoy does his best playing the uninspiring Aiken, though he does have a well realized closing speech. Fine actors fill supporting roles as well: Tom Wilkinson as a Maryland Senator who finds the trial an abomination. Kevin Kline as the Secretary of War, willing to do anything to see the accused convicted. Colm Meaney as a stalwart general leading the trial and Danny Huston, perfect as the bombastic prosecuting attorney. The Conspirator is the first work of The American Film Company, a group that will release historically themed movies. This is a nice start and I look forward to the future films it procures.

Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter

Towards the latter part of the 1960s The Beatles had broken up, The Rolling Stones were no longer making music, and people were generally tired and weary from the turmoil of the decade. Out of this dearth sprung the singer/songwriter movement centered in a little club in Los Angeles called The Troubadour. There many great artists of the time would use the club as a springboard to success. Among them were such greats as Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Elton John who all tell of the great creative period and how it sadly yet inevitably came to an end. This entry into American Masters documents many of my favorite musicians and it is wonderful to hear them speak over some of their greatest tracks. Steve Martin, who also got his start at The Troubador, has a quote that I liked which goes, "When Monet was making impressionist paintings, why were like six other artists making impressionist works as well. Because it was the right time." The turbulence of the 60s was the right time for a group of intelligent and sensitive individuals to put things in perspective and create some of the greatest music our country has seen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Angels & Demons

Following the lukewarm response to The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are back with Angels & Demons, a prequel that likewise dwells in mediocrity. This time Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Vatican as the Cardinals are in conclave following the death of the Pope. He learns that four of the Cardinals who are most likely to be elected Pope have been kidnapped and they will be executed one by one every hour beginning at 8:00 pm that night and culminating in an explosion that will wipe out the entire Vatican. Due to a cryptic symbol left at the scene, Langdon believes that this is the work of the Illuminati, a long thought dormant group of intellectual science minded individuals who rivaled the Church. Joining him in this ludicrousness is an Italian physicist (Ayelet Zurer) who helped design the explosive device which was stolen, a priest (Ewan McGregor) and confidant of the deceased Pope, and the reluctant head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgaard). Angels & Demons got the same mixed reviews that The Da Vinci Code got, and I do agree that they are not great films, but on their basic level I think they are fun as treasure hunt movies. This film offers some nice although staged location shots of Vatican City as well. Still I don't know why Howard and Hanks are involved with these projects. Both are capable of much better work, and the Langdon character is just downright bland. He even looks bored himself when he's on the screen. Ewan McGregor contributes his usual solid performance here, and the movie flows for awhile until it begins to drag out and in the end the uninspired directing and Hanks performance as well as the ridiculous plot overtake what should have been a fun movie.

Cary Grant: A Class Apart

Cary Grant was an inimitable leading man, bringing grace, humor, talent, and class to the big screen. Cary Grant: A Class Apart offers a humanistic portrait of the debonair star, and strips away any public preconceptions held about him. Grant was born to lower class parents in Bristol, England in 1904. As a child, his mother suffered from a mental disorder and would leave Grant, something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. After joining the vaudeville circuit and making his way to American where he would continue stage acting, Cary's dogged determinedness would eventually land him in Hollywood on the big screen where he would rapidly ascend to be the country's foremost star. Through interviews with friends, wives, costars and others we gain a clear picture of his career and personal life. We follow his successes and the relationships he made with leading ladies and the bonds he made with his directors. We learn how he was the master of his own career, as he guided down often success and the occasional failures. Examples of his charity are evident, like when he donated his entire salary for The Philadelphia Story to the British War effort. Then there are also the scandals and rumors that come with the territory such as a supposed affair with fellow actor Randolph Scott, his advocacy of LSD before it was made illegal, his many failed marriages, as well as his affair with Sophia Loren. We also learn that his personal life may have been in contrast to the one he projected on the screen, something he may have had a difficult time with. With narration by Helen Mirren, this is a fine portrait of a man who created an unmatched presence on the screen.

Cars

For someone who doesn't know a Buick from a Benz, I was expected to be totally bored with Cars, a film that definitely holds a high appeal for auto enthusiasts. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised with the movie, which really shouldn't be all that surprising since it is the product of the Pixar animated studio. Cars tells the story of Lightning McQueen, a brash and cocky rookie racecar who is on his way to super stardom and has little use for the help or camaraderie of anyone else. After being a part of a three way tie for the prestigious Piston Cup, McQueen makes his way to California for the tie breaking race where he plans on being lauded with gifts, praise, and women. On the way however, he makes an accidental detour in a small and forgotten town. As circumstances continuously prevent him from leaving, he gradually begins to warm to the residents of the town and the idea of friendship. I wouldn't argue that Cars is among the finest of the Pixar films, yet still it is an affable little film which contains great and inventive visuals. The film also represents the last film of Paul Newman, whose great presence is even felt here with voice work. It is fitting that Newman's last role is that of an old auto racing car, as Newman raced cars himself, even  up until the final years of his life. Here, even in a lesser movie for his company, John Lasseter and his crew have fashioned another animated film which sets the bar for the genre and refuses to reduce itself to a childlike level.

One Man Band
This is the short that played before the theatrical release of Cars, and is also available on the DVD. It is another nice little short that Pixar studios do so well and tells the story of two street musicians vying for the coin of a little girl
Mater and the Ghostlight
This is another short made for the DVD release that tells the story of the lovable tow truck from the feature and how he becomes wrapped in a myth about the eerie Ghostlight.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Best That Never Was

In 1964, the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi was a hotbed of racial strife as it was the location where the three civil rights workers from up north were murdered by the KKK with the cooperation of the local authorities. At that same, a child was born who would grow to be one of the most talented high school football players ever seen, who would bring the spotlight back to Philadelphia and help to repair its disreputable image. The Best That Never Was is the story of Marcus Dupree, one of the most touted high school footballers who ever played, who was recruited by hundreds of schools, often unethically, and never succeeded after making poor personal decisions in college. The Best That Never Was offers a nice southern flavor in the telling of a story of a man whom it is hard to feel sorry for. Dupree never came off as cocky or arrogant. In fact it seems that his laid back attitude, laziness, contempt for authority, and inability to deal with the hype surrounding his talent all contributed to him clashing with Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer, and leaving the school early. It seems that it probably also led to Dupree's tearing his knee at Southern Mississippi due to the fact he was not keeping himself in shape. The movie does feel overlong and repetitive as well as countless coaches, reporters, teammates, and friends speak to his superior talents while highlight clip after clip is played. Although Marcus Dupree only has himself to blame for his shortcomings, this film presents a true tragedy, one where a person is given everything and squanders it all away.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Iron Giant

In 1957 small town Maine, a mischievous and lonely boy is playing in the restaurant where his single mother works. He overhears the town cook being mocked for claiming he saw a metal giant fall out of the sky. Later that night the boy chances to meet the 50 foot creature, and the two begin to bond as the boy discovers the giant is capable of learning and showing emotion. The boy soon realizes that keeping his new friend hidden from the fearful townspeople will be a problem, but he soon befriends a beatnik junkyard dealer who reluctantly allows the boy to store his pal there. A bigger problem looms though in the form of a incompetent yet dogged government agent who has caught wind of the giant's presence and will stop at nothing until he is caught and destroyed. The Iron Giant is an animated science-fiction that also functions as a satire of 1950s atomic age America. The film wonderfully recreates the times and tells a greatly involving story as well. Brought to the screen by Brad Bird, who would later join the Pixar team and direct the fine films The Incredibles and Ratatouille, this is a wonderful and warm film made in the same vein as E.T. The creation of the giant is truly remarkable, and the responses and emotions he emits are touching. Here, Bird proves that animation need not only be for children, but, by being intelligent and involving, can also hold an appeal for adults as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gates of Heaven

Errol Morris has made a career out of documenting eccentrics, and it all began with this little film in 1978. Here Morris interviews people who are involved with pet cemeteries in Napa, California. We meet such people like Floyd McClure who was so stricken when his collie died, that he decided to devote his life to creating a respectable place to bury their beloved pets. We also meet the local manager of the rendering plant or "the glue factory" as McClure refers to it with great contempt, although the manager is a realist and presents a reasonable argument for his business while also offering a slight criticism of Americans regarding their pet priorities. Others show up including people who have their pets buried there, who describe their shock when McClure lost the land due to poor foresight and decided to move all of the interred pets to another plot! We also meet the proprietors of another similar burial ground, as well as their sons who didn't plan on a life doing what their doing. Gates of Heaven was hailed by many as a bonafide masterpiece by some, while I like to view it as a great start for a master filmmaker who was just beginning to hone his craft. It doesn't quite have the immediacy of his latter films, which are aided by his Interrotron and their Philip Glass scores. I also didn't understand why so much of this short film was devoted to the two sons, one constantly babbling on about business models while surrounding himself with pointless trophies. Still, this is an intriguing film by a director who immediately had an eye for the odd.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hanna

A young girl (Saoirse Ronan) was raised and spent her entire live somewhere in the forested European wilderness, where she has been trained by her assassin father (Eric Bana) to be just as intelligent and deadly as he is. When she reaches an appropriate age he gives her the option to experience live in the real world which she unblinkingly takes. As he flees, being a wanted man, she is taken in by operatives where she is interrogated by a team directed by her father's handler, a cold and ruthless woman (Cate Blanchett) who holds a secret to the young girl's past. After dispensing of the men at the holding facility, she escapes and makes her way across Europe to meet her father, while she will be chased by nasty Euro baddies and meet a friend while learning about day-to-day living. Hanna is a quality action film from director Joe Wright who has done some nice work before in period pieces Pride and Prejudice as well as Atonement, which also featured Ronan. Here his handling of action sequences is crisp and clear, where all the scenes are apparent and make sense. This cannot be said of many action sequences where often we must wait until a gun battle has ceased until we can decipher who survived it. Maybe the secret is hiring good directors to make action movies, while casting off the current ones? Saoirse Ronan, who is only 17, has quickly developed into a fine actress and gives credibility here to a high concept plot. Other than that, there's not much to say about the acting. Eric Bana is an actor I neither like nor dislike, and here he is just on screen once again bringing his bland presence to the film. Cate Blanchett, I'm a little shocked to say, does not really pull off her role as the callous villain. Her silly accent and dare I say poor acting choices result in a caricature. Still, Hanna is more than sufficient entertainment thanks to its action sequences and its young heroine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Inside Job

Inside Job is the 2010 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary that traces the roots of the global economic crisis that we face today. It is a maddening film that plays like an economics lecture where the professor continuously runs his fingernails down the blackboard. It opens not on Wall Street or Washington, but in Iceland which was always a prosperous and safe country until about ten years ago when the banks started borrowing hoards of money and committing unregulated, unsavory practices leading to chaos and economic ruin. It is supposed to act as a microcosm of our current predicament. We then learn how banks were deregulated in the 80s following 40 years of growth and prosperity. Greed fueled decisions for banks to take risky investments which led to short term growth but eventually the recession, bailouts, and the housing crises. We learn how this new system was perpetuated and even how many of the people responsible haven't been tried for crimes and how some are even still making decisions or holding economic positions! Inside Job doesn't really speak my language (and I would guess it doesn't speak others as well). The econospeak is above my head and I still don't know what a derivative or a CDO is but I think that's the point that many people involved and effected don't know either. The movie is well made, consisting of sweeping shots of New York City intercut with stock footage and interviews. It is nicely written and directed by Charles Ferguson and Matt Damon is a good choice for narrator. It is also nice to see a documentary without grandstanding or gags. I don't really like calls to action, but this is an important film and its own resolution at the end makes a lot of sense as we start to pick up the pieces shattered by corporate selfishness.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child tells the story of three women with the topic of adoption being the common thread that ties the stories together: A physical therapist in her early 50s (Annette Bening) regrets giving up her daughter when she was fourteen and is lonely and difficult as a result until she meets a fellow therapist (Jimmy Smits) who gets her to open up and seek out her daughter. The daughter (Naomi Watts) is a successful and independent attorney who is just as icy as her mother, and quickly taken up with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) at the new firm she has been hired at. Finally, a young woman (Kerry Washington) and her husband embark down the difficult road to adoption after they are unable to conceive a child. In many ways, Rodrigo Garcia's film is a solid work containing seemingly genuine emotions as well as several memorable moments. The cast is great as well, with some old pros given some nice roles (its nice to see Jackson in a serious role again). However, plot developments are overly contrived and the film turns mushy near the end. Also, like so many tiresome multistorylined films of the last ten years or so, Garcia finds it necessary to make all strands come together and this further hurts a film already damaged by its engineered story.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Infernal Affairs

Before Matt and Leo were moles playing cat and mouse games in dark movie theaters and abandoned rooftops in Boston, Andy Lau and Tony Leung played a similar game in Hong Kong in the 2002 film that was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese's The Departed entitled Infernal Affairs. The plots and turns of the two movies are nearly identical with Lau and Leung both being police recruits in the same class. While Leung is sent to infilitrate the local Triads, Lau is a mole for that gang. Soon the two are assigned with finding their respective counterpart, and soon ever increasing danger lies in their paths. This is a film that I regretted knowing what was going to happen, although the plot is so good and the film is so well made, I still found myself wondering what was going to happen during intense moments (particularly the two rooftop scenes). I would hate to take anything away from the original, but I do think The Departed is the superior film, with its fabulous dialogue from William Monahan distinguishing it. Still, this is a fine import, with the exception of an unnecessary flashback mechanism that mars the film, and a brilliantly conceived police thriller that inspired one of the crowning achievements of the previous decade in American cinema.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Days of Heaven

Terrence Malick's career as a director spans almost 40 years during which he has made a mere five films (which includes the upcoming Tree of Life). Yet, due to the sheer and unmatched visual beauty of his films, he has cemented his name as one of the great directors and his 1978 film Days of Heaven is the epitome of his work. The story involves Chicago steelworker Bill (Richard Gere) who has just inadvertently killed his supervisor and flees south with his kid sister and his girlfriend, who he passes of as his sister. Upon reaching the Texas panhandle, they find arduous work in the wheat fields of a rich farmer who takes a liking to Bill's girlfriend. When he proposes marriage, and after Bill learns of his terminal illness, he encourages the union which leads to a love triangle destined to end in tragedy. Days of Heaven is almost biblical in scope, with panoramic shots, and scenes filled with locusts and conflagrations. It contains some of the most beautiful visuals ever committed to film, which act as its own character and mute the still engaging story. The hypnotic tone is further given weight by the young girl's eerie narration and great composer Ennio Morricone's score. The camera work is that of Spanish cinematographer Nestor Almendros  (as well as the great Haskell Wexler who had to replace him due to scheduling conflicts) who won an Oscar for his work and goes through great lengths in his autobiography A Man with his Camera to demonstrate what went into this sumptuous film. Malick, who has a background in philosophy, together with Almendros crafted an arresting film whose visual beauty speaks louder than its story, and still leaves us too enthralled to mind.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Four Lions

Four Lions is a madcap romp about a group of bumbling jihadists living in Britain trying to pick a target for a terrorist attack. Lacking any form of sense or intelligence whatsoever, the team manages to bungle every aspect of their mission, from the opening warning videos, where the gun held by the camera subject is way too small to cause any fear, to their training at an Al-Qaeda camp where two members manage to blow up members of their unit when trying to come to their aid. They even clash on their target, as some members of the group actually think its a good idea to bomb a Mosque to stir up Muslim retaliation. Four Lions is a scattershot comedy that misses the mark more than it hits, yet when it makes its mark it nails it with a few inspired extremely hilarious gags. Its characters are actually likable as well and I particularly liked the work of Nigel Lindsay, a British Muslim convert who has joined their squad, Kayvan Novak who places an order after barricading himself in a gyro joint during an attack, and Riz Ahmed who is the only member of the who seems to have any semblance of brains and tries to talk sense into his fellow members. In addition to being hit or miss, the film also suffers from the shaky cam which again brings nothing to the table in terms of cinematography. Four Lions is a daring movie that comes off so well in some parts, but should have worked better as a whole.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Easy A

Easy A is a reworking of The Scarlet Letter with the story now being set in a modern day California high school. Our heroine is Olive, a smart and straight edged girl who goes unnoticed by her classmates. One day on a whim, she lies to her best friend and tells her that she slept with a guy over the weekend. This inadvertently starts a rumor which she does nothing to quell because she likes the newfound attention, and even begins to perpetuate it. As the rumors begin to get out of control, Olive realizes that things may have gone to far and her reputation may be beyond repair. I am not the target demographic for this movie and I admit that high school yarns are not exactly my cup of tea when it comes to cinema fare. This movie, though containing the irritating modern lingo, does something to rise above similar movies and this is thanks in large part to its star Emma Stone. She has such a nice, spunky presence which helps carry the film. She is also aided by veteran actors in supporting roles such as Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, and I really liked Thomas Haden Church as Stone's teacher and mentor. Easy A is the kind of movie I try to avoid, but its material is better handled than usual and elevated due to the contributions of some good actors, especially Stone who is great in this and should be delightful in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Once Brothers

In the late 80s, a group of friends from Yugoslavia on the national basketball team, a mixture of Croatians and Serbians, journeyed to America to take part in the NBA draft and join the league, something that prolific foreign players and had not done before. Once Brothers tells the story of the friendship between Vlade Divac, a Serb and Drazen Petrovic, a Croat. After growing as friends and teammates on the Yugoslavian team, the two men supported each other as they struggled to adjust to life in America. Then in 1991, the twos relationship began to wilt as Croatia and other countries began to break off from Yugoslavia and war erupted in Eastern Europe. After a misunderstanding, the two had a falling out with Petrovic never forgiving Divac for a perceived slight against Croatia. As Divac tried to repair their relationship, he eventually lost his chance when Petrovic was killed in a car crash the summer of 1993. Divac narrates this tale of healing, as he travels to Croatia for the first time in twenty years to speak to Drazen's mother and brother to finally gain some close the their wounded friendship. Once Brothers is an affecting story, woven with wonderful stock footage, that tells a sad and ultimately redemptive story.

Love and Other Drugs

It is 1996 and an intelligent, out of work, and underachieving Lothario goes to work as a pharmaceutical salesman, a job which he struggles at initially. Then he gets word that a pill to treat erectile dysfunction is coming out and he begins to thrive selling Viagra at the same time he meets a free spirit with Parkinson's whom he begins to fall in love with. Love and Other Drugs is a dismal sex comedy and it makes me weary just describing it. It is from director Edward Zwick who is best known for his historical epics (Glory, The Last Samurai), though he did make About Last Night... another romantic sex farce. Here he has made a film so bad, I never dreamed he had it in him. The humor is off putting and unfunny and the dialogue is simply cringe inducing. After a supposed romp in the first half, it turns mushy and decides it wants us to take it seriously. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are capable of good acting and have been good before, but here there poor qualities shine through, especially Hathaway. She has a proclivity to be irritating and pretentious and she just lets that inclination run wild here. The result is off-putting characters that I cared nothing about. I know they were playing characters who weren't necessarily supposed to be likable, but there is a way to play unlikable and this ain't it. Love and Other Drugs may make you seek your local pharmacists or other provider and help with the pain induced by this sad excuse for a movie. Next time Ed, stick to the battlefields.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is the often filmed enduring classic from Charlotte Bronte, and a work that I have never read nor seen. With that being said, the new film being released this year is a wonderful way to be introduced to the story. The film opens up with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) rushing out of a manor in a fury and journeying across the British moors until she collapses at the door of a tight knit religious family led by Mr. Rivers (Jamie Bell). As she comes to, Jane tells the story of how she was an orphan taken in by her cruel aunt and eventually cast off and sent to a ruthless boarding school. Eventually, she was hired as a governess at the household of the mysterious Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) and we gradually learn the story as to why she left his household on that stormy day. Brought to the screen by director Cary Fukunaga, Jane Eyre is a beautiful and affecting adaptation. Like his Sin Nombre which told the story of Honduran migrants making their way to America, this is a starkly shot and boldly beautiful film, filled with lovely imagery. Wasikowska is wonderful as the independent, timid, and headstrong Jane and Fassbender does fine work as Rochester, the older man from a different class who gradually begins to gain affection for his young governess. Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins also contribute nicely in supporting roles. Jane Eyre is a deeply affecting film, the rare kind where you actually feel like yourself standing alongside the characters, experiencing everything that they are, no matter how joyous or painful.

Win Win

Thomas McCarthy is a writer/director who specializes in making films about people coming out of their shells and getting in touch with their humanity: In The Station Agent a shy midget is befriended by two strangers. In The Visitor a closed off professor finds people squatting in his NYC apartment, who in turn help him come to terms with things. Now, with Win Win we have the story of an attorney with a shaky law practice who is having trouble making ends meet. When he finds out that one of his wealthy clients offers $1500 a month to anyone acting as guardian, he engages in an unethical act and takes him on as his ward. Then one day, the client's grandson shows up on the front door whom the attorney decides to temporarily take in and what do you know it, the kid happens to be a first class wrestler, just what her needs for the pathetic team he coaches and to help him maybe find a little joy in his life. Win Win has the warmth and likability of his other film due in large part to his cast: Paul Giamatti stars and has become one of our finest and most expressive actors. Amy Adams is another gem and does more good work here as his wife. Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale (who was also wonderful in The Station Agent) provide some nice laughs as the assistant coaches. Wrestling for a rag tag team in high school, I appreciated watching a similar team here and the scenes were presented by people who were actually familiar with the sport. Back to the film, I was surprised in that it didn't go the way I thought it would, yet it still seemed overlong and when the high dramatics start to fly in the latter stages, it lacks effectiveness. Still this is a warm and funny film and a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Bratenahl Lamplighter May Review Mike is a middle aged attorney in New Jersey with a struggling law practice where he can’t even afford to fix the broken water heater. He has two young daughters and home and doesn’t want to upset his worrisome wife. Then one day in court, before handing over one of his elderly client’s guardianship to the state, he precipitately decides to take responsibility for the old man, knowing the estate will pay him $1500 a month. Instead of taking the man home and looking after him, he places him in a respectable nursing home which the estate pays for. Not exactly a moral or ethical move. Then one day, the man’s grandson shows up and due to complications that prevent Mike from sending him home, they take the boy in. Wouldn’t you know it, the kid is an ace wrestler, just the thing Mike needs to help the hopeless team he coaches and maybe reawaken himself to his life.
            Win Win is a reaffirming yet not overly sentimental film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy who specializes in these kind of films that revolve around closed off lead characters who begin to open up through the kindness of strangers. In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage played a reclusive dwarf who came out of his shell with the aid of a local vendor and a divorced woman. In The Visitor, Richard Jenkins was a lonely professor who went to stay at his little used apartment in New York City to found illegal immigrants squatting there, who in turn help him find himself. Now, we have Paul Giammati playing a man who rediscovers his passion thanks to the help of a young teenager. These kinds of stories hold a general appeal, and McCarthy knows how to handle them.
            Paul Giammati doesn’t have the look of a movie star, but when audiences started taking notice of even about ten years ago in films like American Splendor and Sideways, I think it was exactly that everyman quality that people responded to. Since he has evolved into one of our treasured actors, bringing humanity and believability to his roles, and this film is no different. His Mike seems like someone we know or maybe even ourselves, and has us rooting for him. Amy Adams, who came to viewer’s attention in Gone Baby Gone as a virulent racist, has since endeared herself in subsequent roles and does her best here with an underwritten part as Mike’s wife. Bobby Cannavale (who was also great in The Station Agent) and Jeffrey Tambor provide hearty laughs as Mike’s assistant coaches.
            On a personal level, coming from someone who also wrestled for a ragtag team, Win Win is a film that demonstrates its knowledge of the sport, and that helped me appreciate it more. The film did seem overlong and when the high dramatics start to fly in the latter stages, it started to lack effectiveness. Still, Win Win is warm and funny and did not always go where I expected it to go. By the time this review is published, this movie may be in limbo, caught between the theaters and DVD. Before you are able to rent it, I encourage you to check out McCarthy’s other films.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Repulsion

After the success of his debut film Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski set out to direct his first English language film which he also cowrote, a disturbing psychodrama/horror film. Starring the beautiful Catherine Deneuve as a shy young Belgian who works at a London salon and lives with her sister, to whom she is strangely attached. When the sister goes on vacation with the married man she is having an affair with, the young woman begins to see specters and other visions in the house. After taking a leave of absence from work, she barricades herself in the apartment while falling into a state of psychosis where even more sinister occurrences are about to take place. Deneuve does a fine job in a tricky role where she hardly speaks and plays a character who is uninterested in sex on one level and fascinated by it on another. Polanski succeeds at making two kinds of films here, the ghost story with the boo moments and the psychological drama where we are drawn into the atypical behavior of the heroine. Polanski's considerable directorial skills are on display, and he never ceases to make a shot interesting, where in other hands this could have ended up being repugnant.

Monday, April 4, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Allen has been making a movie a year for over 35 years, many of them classics, so when his work doesn't quite live of to those standards, it seems as if critics pan those efforts instead of giving them the fair shake they deserve. This was one of those films, and upon watching it I was surprised was a nice little exercise in filmmaking it was, even if it wasn't a towering achievement. A man in his seventies has just left his wife of 40 years in order to regain his youth. This he does by tanning, working out relentlessly, and keeping the company of a young, ditzy call girl. The elderly couples daughter's marriage to a medical school doctor turned failed writer is failing. His latest book is about to flop and he has developed feelings for the pretty Indian musician across the courtyard while his wife has developed similar feelings for her boss at the art gallery she works at. All of this has been foreseen by the mother's fortune teller, who she believes wholeheartedly is the real deal. Allen returns to London for this film, and it is another combination of drama and his particular brand of humor. Anthony Hopkins as the born again father is a hoot, and I was laughing out loud watching him hit the weights in the gym and romancing his 20 something girlfriend at the dance club. Josh Brolin's character's resolution is quite humorous and inspired, and Naomi Watts is wonderful as his wife. The annual Woody Allen offering is something I await with anticipation, and when that old time music starts to play over those white on black opening credits, I know I'm in for something special.

Arthur

I'm a little hesitant to review Arthur without having seen the beloved 1981 Dudley Moore film (it's on my DVR), but here goes. Arthur Bach is a 30 year old man child as well has heir to a billion dollar fortune. He spends his days carousing while being picked up after by his maid, who also serves as a surrogate mother and best friend. In between blazing down the streets in his own Batmobile and looking out of his bathtub with his telescope to poke fun at passersby from his bachelor pad in Manhattan, Arthur meets a young tour guide who is different then most of the women he meets. He begins to develop feelings for her just as his icy mother issues an ultimatum: marry a corporate go getter in order to keep the family name in line, or be cut off from his inheritance. Now Arthur must make a decision between the woman he loves and the lifestyle he can't live outside of. Arthur plays out exactly how you think it would and isn't exactly made well. Still it has a sweet quality to it that gives it charm, starting with Russell Brand. When I first noticed him in his amusing role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I thought he was just going to be a flash in the pan, but his inherent likability gives again gives weight to this picture. Greta Gerwig, who endearing to Ben Stiller's jerk in Greenberg, brings that same quality here as Brand's love interest. The film wouldn't float without Helen Mirren, who not only demonstrates her acting prowess but shows she even has better comic sensibilities than many of the top billed comic actors working. Arthur is a good time that will leave you with a silly grin on your face similar to its lead actors. What more could you ask from a film?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sons of Katie Elder

Three sons arrive by train and stand with a crowd gathered at their mother's funeral while the eldest brother, not wishing to be seen by the crowd, watches from a nearby ridge. When the four brothers get together, catch up and tussle about a bit they realize that their beloved mother had been swindled out of the land they were raised on, and their father had been murdered six months earlier. Now the clan seeks revenge upon the person likely responsible for both crimes. The Sons of Katie Elder from director Henry Hathaway may not seem as grave as its plot description makes it out to be. Aside from an extended final passage comprising a shootout between the brothers and the villains, this is a surprisingly lighthearted movie where we see the brothers gamble, joke, drink, fight, and muck about with each other. Among the group is Dean Martin, who is a lot of fun as the gambler of the lot who'll bet anyone over anything and will never pay for his own drinks. And of course John Wayne, who made this film shortly after a cancer operation, stands tall above all as the eldest Elder and reminds everyone what a presence he was. Although I felt the film did get bogged down by that final segment, The Sons of Katie Elder is a rousing entertainment.

Due Date

Right off the bat I think it should be said that this movie is a direct ripoff of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and I don't think it could have been anymore similar. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as an architect making his way back to L.A. for the birth of his son. On the plane he has a scuffle with a wannabe actor (Zach Galifianakis), is thrown off the plane, placed on the No Fly List and forced to make his way by car with the slob who got him booted off the plane. This results in a disastrous road trip in which the two will ultimately bond. From Todd Phillips, the director of other successful comedies, crafts a funny film for the first half before resorting to gross out childlike antics that aren't funny. Robert Downey Jr. does his usual schtick which works and Galifianakis is pretty uproarious, growing on me again. Due Date is unoriginal fare with some good laughs that could have been better if the filmmakers kept the bar raised.

Bound for Glory

Woody Guthrie was an American Folk hero who fought for worker's rights and entertained thousands of down on their luck Americans during The Great Depression. His life is captured in this wonderful song filled biopic by director Hal Ashby. The film opens in 1936 Pampa, Texas where sign painter Guthrie sees his fellow dustbowl folk pack up and leave their barren land for California (there is a magnificent scene of a dust storm engulfing the city). Woody decides to follow their lead and make his way out west. As he meets folk by way of hitchhiking or train (the train hopping segment is spectacular) he becomes aware of the plight of the poor while playing his upbeat tunes. In Los Angeles he falls in with some union organizers, gets discovered, sends for his family, refuses to bow to authority, and continues to uplift the poor, all the while retaining his infectious optimism. Bound for Glory features a wonderful performance by David Carradine who embodies Guthrie and does all of his own strumming and singing. The cinematography by Haskell Wexler of the Texas dustbowl, boxcars, and California work camps is extraordinary and this is one of the finest looking films I've seen. This is a loving portrait of a man who saw hope in a time of despair and was able to inspire a country and a whole generation of songwriters.