Friday, May 28, 2010

Dear John (2010)

So yes. I wanted to see Dear John. Sue me. I think Channing Tatum is fun to look at. It was typical run of the mill Nicholas Sparks fare. Every review that came out at the time said basically that. And Channing Tatum was attractive in both shirtless and uniformed versions. But you know which character really got me? His father.

Richard Jenkins is a phenomenal actor. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for his role in The Visitor – which, unlike Dear John, is universally considered a great film. But in Dear John he plays a sixty-something year old father with Asperger’s syndrome.

Unfortunately, the fact that he has Asperger’s is pointed out during the film in literal terms. It would have been a very intriguing character trait to let it lie and not stick a sign post in the dirt saying “Socially challenged character on your left!” Ignoring that unfortunate element of the script, the character himself breaks your heart again and again.

When he cooks two lasagnas instead of one because he thinks John will bring his girl Savannah over for dinner, it’s heartwarming. When teenage John refuses to continue the tradition of attending coin shows with his father, the look on Richard Jenkins’ face makes you feel like John is an utter monster. When his father fails in his attempt to accompany John and Savannah to dinner at Savannah’s house, panicking in the car on the way there, it brings tears to your eyes. (My head: “He dressed up and everything! He was sitting there, just waiting to go. And John’s only in town for one night. He tried so hard!) And then, when his father shows up at the airport to say goodbye to John, you want SO badly for them to hug. But they shake hands and off John goes.

And of course - when the inevitable happens and Nicholas Sparks wields his executioner’s ax - John’s realization of how alone his father was and how much his father loved him made me sob the way any decent Nicholas Sparks story should.
Then John sells his father’s coin collection to pay for cheating Savannah’s husband’s medical care (I don’t care that she only married him because he was dying of cancer and his son was sick.) Those were his father’s coins! They were all his father had in life. And he sells them to help HER. Ugh! (I don’t think you’re supposed to feel quite as indignant about that as I did…)

So that is the tale of John’s Father. It should have been a small little independent movie about him. For the record, I don’t like Nicholas Sparks stories. Not only are they redundant as all hell, but they're manipulative in a fake, obvious way. He breaks hearts to break hearts. I do not give him the credit for the touching father character. I place all the credit sqarely on the shoulders of Richard Jenkins. And that’s that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

I'm a slightly obsessive Lord of the Rings fan so I don't want to write too much about it. It's sacred. I will say, my roommate and I watched the extended edition and I'm always shocked that Saruman's death and the Mouth of Sauron didn't make it to the theatrical cut. Those scenes are both amazing and the mouth, especially, is so uniquely creepy, it's too bad that not everyone has seen it.

If you've never seen the mouth - check it out.

Less Than Zero (1987)

I Netflixed Less Than Zero because I recently realized I haven’t seen any pre- Alley McBeal Robert Downey Jr. performances. I enjoy him so much these days, I thought I’d watch the movie that people claim garnered him his first critical acclaim.

This movie is an eighties movie. The clothes, the set decor, the MTV aesthetic, it’s hard to see the story through the heavy curtain of shoulder pads and television screens. So many television screens! Each party the characters attend (and they attend plenty) has televisions as part of the ambiance: a wall of TVs, a tower of TVs, a Christmas themed snowy mountain of TVs. There isn’t any theme or symbolism behind the TVs, it’s just a floating motif that means nothing.

Apart from the utter 80s-ness of it all, the first two thirds of this movie are a music video. Parties, coke, flashing lights and loud music. Not much story, not much drama. Robert Downey Jr. is good when he gets to act rather than just hang around looking sad and junkie-esque.

The last third of this movie changes tones so drastically, it’s difficult to judge it as part of the same film. But the last third grabbed me. For the first time, the relationship between Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Julian, and Andrew McCarthy’s character, Clay, seemed like a relationship. Consequently, it’s also the first time Clay seems to be anything other than a boring, preppy malcontent. Their relationship sold the end of this film and gave me something to care about.
The girl, played by Jami Gertz, is unnecessary beginning to end. This story could have been something great had the bromance been front and center as opposed to the uninteresting and unrealistic love triangle.

My final thought? I’m glad I saw it but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Push (2009)

I almost liked Push. Let me first say that Dakota Fanning is terrific and probably the best thing about this movie.

So – this movie. Let me give you a brief synopsis because I mentioned this film to a few people and none of them had any idea what movie I was referring to.

It’s the one with Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning and Djimon Hounsou that had the rock video trailers with vague information about people with special powers. Ring any bells? It sort of came and went without much fanfare. The general idea is that some people have powers and the evil government wants to lock them up. And there’s this girl who escapes them with some extra special drug that they want back. Heroes-esque. At least early Heroes-esque.

Truthfully, it’s not bad for what it is. Lots of magic action sequences, a cute-ish relationship between Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans, and some creepy evil Chinese men who have a scream that can make people bleed through their ears until they die. It ends open for a sequel that I doubt will ever come and thinking too hard about the plot will ruin the illusion, but I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t irritated by anything, and again, Dakota Fanning is very good.

Not a glowing review, I know, but if you like this variety of movie, this is an okay way to spend 111 minutes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Messenger (2009)

The performances in The Messenger are really the heart and soul of the film. Ben Foster is amazing, managing a delicate balance between war weary solider and old fashion gentleman. Woody Harrelson is also brilliant, his gruff, by the book character allowing for the few subtle moments of levity that this intense drama needs.

Samantha Morton is also fantastic, her real world girl believable and endearing. She’s often stellar in her roles. For me, she’s become of those actors whose decisions can be trusted – if she chose to be in a film, it’s probably worth seeing (my favorite Samantha Morton role being in the Ian Curtis biopic, Control which you should absolutely check out if you haven't seen). Side-note: Looking at her IMDb profile, I’ve learned she’s the voice of Ruby on the children’s show Max and Ruby. And now that I see that – yes, I can totally hear it. Mind=blown.

The final performance worth a specific shout out is that of Steve Buscemi in a role almost small enough to be considered a cameo. His performance as the father of a fallen solider who is informed of the death by our protagonists is heartbreaking and difficult to watch.

On a related note, there was one performance that completely pulled me out of the film. Any America’s Next Top Model viewer worth her salt would recognize Yaya in a seriously intense role as the pregnant girlfriend of a deceased solider. If you’re anything like me, this appearance will have you reflecting back to ANTM acting teaches and wondering what advice Tyra would provide Yaya for such a difficult role. “You really have to let go. It’s okay to cry, our emotions are what make us beautiful.” In the land of Ugly Betty, I can get over seeing top model castoffs, but in such a serious film, it was crazy distracting.

Oh - and what would a low-budget little independent film be without a Jena Malone appearance? She’s there too.

I haven’t seen any negative reviews for The Messenger so I’m not really stepping out onto any limbs by recommending it. It’s an intense watch, quiet and powerful beginning to end. It’s definitely worth seeing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Atonement (2007)

Atonement is beautiful and so is James McAvoy. When I learned - way back in the day - that one of my absolute favorite actors would be starring in an adaptation of one of my favorite novels, I was pleased to say the least. I love this film but I often find myself in the minority. The divide seems to occur between people who read the book and people who did not. For those who did not, the feeling of having the rug pulled out from underneath them at the end seems to overwhelm any other opinion they may have had about the film. I hear over and over again "I loved the first half..."

I love it all. I look at it like the novel - three threads of a complicated story. I find it to be one of the most faithfully adapted films I've ever seen. And just as he did with Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright fills the screen with lush imagery that can be both breathtaking and heartbreaking. He also has a great ability to depict romance, something that many current romance films lack entirely. Small moments - one hand set on top of another, a palm resting against a cheek - he uses these details to speak volumes and with great success (he for sure has a thing for hands and the power of touch). It's lovely and subtle.

And his long takes. Oh, his long takes. They get a lot of press. When Atonement came out, nearly every piece of writing I read on it centered on the monumental complexity of that shot on the beach. This long take outdoes, by a mile, the few in Pride and Prejudice. It truly is something to behold (and a constant reminder to me why I could not handle working in production). Clearly, I love Joe Wright. I only wish he would stay in this pseudo-genre of sweeping storybook romance. I'm hoping his upcoming film, Hanna, starring Atonement lead Saoirse Ronan, will allow for some of the grandiosity I love from him.

The one thing - and I can't fault any one in particular, it's simply the nature of the story - is in fact the ending. In the novel, it makes sense. Briony, in essence, says, "you've been reading the version of Atonement that I wrote. Not the truth of what really was." On screen, this concept is somewhat jumbled. Almost, "You've been watching an adaptation of the book I wrote, and now you're watching reality" except we're still watching that adaptation. It's a difficult sell and I can understand why having read the novel is almost necessary to warrant that ending for a first time viewer.

That aside, Atonement is a marvelous film. It's downer ending prevents me from watching it again and again as I am so prone to do with movies I love, but nonetheless, it was definitely one of the best films of 2007.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Sound of Music (1965)

The Sound of Music is obviously one of the best movies ever made. It’s been a favorite of mine since I was quite small, although only since adulthood have I appreciated the second half as much as the first. It’s a pleasure to watch a movie you’ve always known and experience it in a completely different manner.

As a kid, the fun of the children singing, the big showpieces and the fantasy beauty of Austria were what I was interested in. I couldn’t have cared less about the romance or the Nazis.

A few years ago, I dug out my old VHS copy of The Sound of Music and watched it again. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times since then. As an adult, it was fun rediscovering the drama and excitement of this story. Now, I think Christopher Plummer is dashing and the dance between Maria and Captain Von Trapp is amazingly charged. As a kid, Edelweiss and Something Good were two songs I routinely zoned out during. Now, I get choked up when the audience at the folk festival joins in with Edelweiss and I'm struck by the beauty behind the sentiment “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

Today, I had the odd experience of watching this movie with someone who had never seen it before (and she’s almost thirty!). How she managed a lifetime of Easters and Christmases without catching it on TV, I can’t imagine. I’m happy to report, she enjoyed it – although she did seem a bit irritated at the vast number of reprises we get near the end.

The Sound of Music is phenomenal and I only wish movies with such power and beauty were still being made on a regular basis.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stardust (2007)

Overall, Stardust was relatively enjoyable. It had some whimsy, it had some magic, and it had some fun performances – especially Robert De Niro as a gay pirate. But I’m not over the moon about it and I don’t know exactly why.

One gripe – perhaps a silly one – is that the lead, Charlie Cox, isn’t hot enough (Don't judge - I warned you it was silly). But Ben Barnes is in the beginning of this film and he’s a terribly charismatic actor. I couldn’t help but wish him and Charlie Cox could have switched roles. I don’t care that the character is supposed to be nerdy in the beginning. Play nerdy. Don’t cast nerdy.

It was also a tad long for the sort of movie it was. Perhaps the problem came from the big names. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer were given more screen time than their characters warranted, no doubt because they’re Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.

The things I loved? The idea of traveling by candlelight - how magnificent. And there’s a scene where a voodoo doll of a man is dropped into water. We watch as the man, in air, floats up toward the ceiling and slowly drowns. It’s delightfully creepy. And there’s also some amusing comic relief from a gaggle of very British ghosts.

The movie was fine – worth a few hours but I don’t regret not seeing it in the theater. Mostly it just made me want to read the book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

I have a thing about comic book movies. I think they should have an element of comic book-ness to them. Fun is the name of the game. I don’t particularly like the new Bat Man films (and yes – they scream “I am a film! Not a movie!” with Goddard like French accents) because they keep the zany comic book plots but take out the comic book camp. In my opinion, this makes them ridiculous. How seriously can we take forty five minutes of mountain top training with blue hallucinogenic flowers and crazy Liam Neeson? Much like Spider-Man 1 and 2, the Iron Man movies have it right. They have fun storylines, they’re over the top, and (unlike Mr. Raspy-Voice Christian Bale) Robert Downey Jr. is a delight to watch.

In fact, all the actors are. It’s clear that they’re having fun. Mickey Rourke is deliciously evil-tastic with his Russian craziness, his insane scars, and his metal teeth. And how cool are those electric whips? Sam Rockwell is, as always, fantastic. He reminded me of Giovanni Ribisi in Avatar; it’s not his typical part but he’s up for the fun of doing it. Don Cheadle is great as the antithesis of Tony Stark – quiet, unassuming, and all about authority. And together, these boys throw down and have a good time. The chicks don’t get much play – but Gwyneth Paltrow makes the best of her miniaml role to sell us Pepper Pott’s personality (say that five times fast).

At the end of it all, I can say confidently that I enjoyed my two hours in the theatre. These days, that’s really all I can ask for my $13.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fighting (2009)

A couple years ago, for my birthday, a friend of mine and I tried to get tickets to the fantabulous Broadway show In the Heights. We lost the lottery for the matinee and we were sad. Then, we found a fountain, made a wish, and that night, we won the lottery and saw the show front and center. It was a fun birthday.

That fountain is the setting for the first scene in Fighting. That scene is the only scene I didn’t find excruciatingly boring and you know why? Because it was our magic fountain.

The plot was absurd – I think protagonist Sean had a troubled past with a racist fighting coach father or something. And Terrance Howard was speaking with the most irritating affectation. Maybe he was going for a Chicago accent, but it sounded more like he was imitating a Rain Man.

However, I’m actually a fan of Channing Tatum. I don’t think he’s Brando and I can’t claim he’d feel at home doing Shakespeare in the Park, but he’s good at streetwise tough guy. Solider, fighter, street dancer (?) – these movies don’t suck because of him. They’re watchable because of him. And – who can argue with the below?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Craft (1996)

I liked The Craft when I was a young’un. Not only was Skeet Ulrich totally dreamy (and this before his psychotic sexy turn as Billy Loomis, the killer of our dreams in Scream), but there was (and still is) something alluring about witches. Who doesn’t want magic powers?

However, now that I am older, wiser, and not so quickly charmed by magic love spells, I see that this movie blows. Hard. Huge logic issues, Robin Tunney’s weird broken-neck look, and utter ridiculousness running amok remind me just how silly young(er) people are.

I have a very clear memory – perhaps my one and only The Craft related memory – of sitting in gym class in eighth grade talking to a few girls who I wasn’t really friends with. They declared that they had become Wicken – oooo – and they started blathering on about Manon and how “If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium they played on, the sun that shined down on them” And I said “Really? You’re just quoting The Craft. I saw that movie too” And they were offended and said “No. What? It’s real. We really are witches. Abracadabra!”

They may or may not have actually said abracadabra but either way, I remember thinking that they were stupid. So, former childhood me, you had questionable taste. And unfortunately, that taste will keep you tuning in to bad movies for nostalgia’s sake until the end of your days.

P.S. This movie was on E! Why should any movie ever be on E!? (I’m not even sure how to punctuate with E!’s exclamation point reeking havoc on my mind). Not that The Craft needed rapt attention, but the celebrity crawl at the bottom is a major distraction.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2012 (2009)

Crash! Bang! Destructo-vision. California into the Ocean. Water. Ahh! LOTS OF WATER! Quippy John Cusack. Water!!

Now it’s like you’ve seen 2012 too!

In all fairness, I love me a good disaster movie. I’ve seen Twister so many times I can quote it from now until the day the sun kills us or the earth’s core stops turning or a giant asteroid smashes us or whatever the hell happened in The Day After Tomorrow happens. But now these movies are all so similar. You can only watch the White House get destroyed so many times. Go back to the time of Twister, oh you disaster movie makers. It doesn’t have to be global. We’ve seen it. We know it’s fake. It’s not impressive anymore. And when the disaster sequences are the only thing you’re putting time and money (so much money!) into, you’re going to look like all the rest and be as easily forgotten.

And – they depict the 2012 Time Square with the Virgin sign still in place. Alas, illusion shattered.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Alan Tudyk. What else is there to say?

Okay. I have more to say than that.

But he’s always fantastic. I remember in the days of my youth, seeing a sneak preview of A Knight's Tale in a packed theatre. My group of Heath Ledger loving friends and I were super stoked about seeing the movie where Heath ledger had good hair. But who did we leave the theatre quoting? Alan Tudyk. “It’s called a lance. Heloooo?” It still makes me giggle.

Of course, it was years before I knew his name. He was “The guy from a Knights Tale who was also in 28 Days.” (When Fellowship of the Ring came out, Viggo Mortensen affectingly gained the title of “The guy from 28 Days.” But that’s neither here nor there).

Now, Mr. Tudyk is popping up everywhere. He’s the only reason I watched more than one episode of V and he was monumentally awesome on Dollhouse. His performance in Death at a Funeral was hilarity beginning to end and would be reason enough to see this film. However, this film had many reasons to see this film. Making fun of the 2010 remake is one of them.

It was fun watching this movie, pointing to Alan Tudyk and saying “He’s James Marsden – right?” Or pointing to Matthew MacFadyen (Mr. Darcy!) and saying “Chris Rock? Really?” But the best might have been Andy Nyman (pictured below) and saying “Ah yes! Tracy Morgan. The resemblance is uncanny.”

Peter Dinklege must be the only little person actor out there as we pointed to him and cleverly remarked “Peter Dinklage must be playing the Peter Dinklage role!” Har har har.

I didn’t actually see the 2010 remake of Death at a Funeral, but like everyone else, I did see the previews. Multiple times. Ad nauseam. And gosh darn it, I feel like I got the cinematic experience of it all.

This movie was brilliantly funny. It was very British, very well acted, and has joined the short list of movies I’ll buy in the near future.

Check out this article that compares the two films and laugh at the various clips.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A bit of a cheat as I saw this last weekend. But my thoughts are quick.

Watching this movie was like being trapped in a room with a billion balloons and a man with a pin.

No camp. No fun.

Overall, I wish great things for Kyle Gallner and maybe now a few more people will know who Connie Britton and Clancy Brown are (by the way - did you know Clancy Brown is the voice of Mr. Krabs? This fact has been blowing my mind for a year now). And as always Jackie Earle Haley was creeptastic. But I suggest you pop on over to Netflix and watch the original on demand. At least you'll get some Johnny Depp.

As an aside, I'm going to make a film and cast Jackie Earle Haley as the dashing male comedic lead. It'll be great.

A Serious Man (2009)

"Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?"

Ahh, me. Taking on The Cohen Brothers for my very first iWatch post. Alas, it is the film I have just seen and this little experiment of mine dictates that I write about whatever movie I happen to see whenever I happen to see it. So here goes:

For me, the Cohen brothers are always hit or miss. That may be putting it a little too gently. It’s more love or loathe. No Country for Old Men. Loathe. The Hudsucker Proxy. Love. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Loathe. Barton Fink. Love. Luckily for me, A Serious Man was love.

Most Cohen Brothers dramas leave me with a lingering “whaaat?” This “whaaat?” can be translated a few ways.

1. I can’t believe I wasted my time on that. What are other people seeing that clearly, I am not? (No Country For Old Men)

2. Wow. The Cohen Brothers must be really smart. What do they know about God that I don’t? (A Serious Man)

3. …… (Barton Fink)

Number two is king. A Serious Man didn’t leave me squirming between reality and symbolism, forced to impose my own set of meanings like Barton Fink did. I enjoyed being grounded by its somewhat clear-cut edict of “Questions no Answers.” Our protagonist, Larry, spends the film asking questions. Why is my wife leaving me? What is my brother up to? Will I get tenure? How will I pay for my wrecked car? The question he asks his rabbi, “Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?” is something the audience can ask of The Cohen Brothers. However, unlike the God that Larry wrestles with, The CB don’t leave us completely without answers (although they do leave out quite a few). It’s an interesting way to tell a story. Essentially stating “you don’t get to know all the answers in real life, why should you get to know all the answers in a film?”

My normal response would be BECAUSE IT IS A FILM. But in this case, the light ambiguity is intriguing and not craze inducing.

And, as an aside, the opening scene that depicts a CB created fable is a brilliant short film unto itself.

If you’ve ever liked a Cohen Brothers film, try this one. Unless, of course, you’ve only liked O Brother, Where Art Thou? and it’s simply because you’re old and George Clooney can do no wrong in your eyes.