Archive for February, 2010

26
Feb
10

Movie Review: When in Rome

Vote for Jose.

Starring Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, and Anjelica Huston. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson.

Hey Kids! You wanna make your own romantic comedy? Follow along!

First off: you need a strong female character whose life is hectic, but organized. She must so in love with her career that she doesn’t have time to find love. Take Beth (Bell). She’s the youngest art curator at a museum. She hasn’t found a guy that she loves more than her career.

Okay, now we need a reason for this strong, independent female character to fall in love, so we’ll inject “societal pressure.” Beth’s ex-boyfriend Brady Sacks (Lee Pace) walks up to her and tells her that he has found the perfect match and he’s getting married! Also, she receives a phone call from her younger sister who tells Beth that she is getting married in Italy! Double-whammy!

Let’s enter the Suitor that Even the Audience Knows She’ll Fall in Love with: Nick (Josh Duhamel). Nick is socially awkward, charming, and a sports journalist to boot. He has a geek friend/editor and lives in the “bachelor pad.”

The two need to meet. In this case, one is a bridesmaid and the other a groomsman. Now we have the problem of filling an additional 80 minutes because while we know that Girl A has to get together with Guy B, they can’t be together until the end of the film (in network TV this can take YEARS). This problem is often best fixed using magic or some ancient legend/curse/etc. How about having the female character get drunk and go in the middle of the town square and pick out a few coins. No harm, no foul. Right?

The female character must return to her hectic life, completely oblivious to the coming consequences of what she did. In this case each coin is magically connected to a guy who tossed it into the fountain looking for love on a whim. There’s the street magician Lance (Heder). And Italian artist Antonio (Arnett). And narcissistic model Gale (Shepard). And finally a sausage distributor (DeVito). Each of these characters must be two-dimensional at most (so as not to “show up” the Suitor).

Now, you have to add chaos to the mix and fill in that 80-minute gap to keep Guy and Girl from being together until the very end. For this movie we’ll have each of the other “quirky” suitors show who they are and how magically infatuated with the Girl they are. The Magician tries pulling a “Houdini” in Beth’s apartment. The Model shows up at a restaurant Beth is eating at and presents his modeling portfolio to her as well as taking his shirt off in front of the entire restaurant. The Artist paints an 80-foot tall mural of her naked. The Sausage Distributor shows up at her work and asks for a personal tour.

Each of these characters must find a way to further keep Guy from being with Girl. This includes excessive deliveries of flowers to her as well as breaking up a date. But this isn’t enough. You must instill a seed of doubt in the Girl that she has found True Love. Beth finds out that the reason she has been followed by the others professing their love is because she plucked their coins out of the fountain. Is it possible that one of the coins belonged to Nick?

We’re not done just yet; there’s the “running” scene. This scene is pivotal because the Girl needs to know that the Guy will go to the ends of the Earth for her, and the Guy has to physically run to show that he’s willing to go the distance for her (literal and symbolic) and to show that he’s athletic. This MUST occur with some hint of danger (guy doesn’t make flight/performance/gala event/etc.) Nick must outrun inclemently bad weather (read: lightning strikes) to make it to the museum unveiling.

Guy makes it there and Girl confesses that she loves him and vice versa. Everyone is happy, all has reverted to normal. Almost. There is still that shred of doubt that true love is not completely true. Beth runs out on her wedding to Nick but finds that yes, true love has prevailed in the end (like you couldn’t see this happening?)

Some motion pictures are films. Some are movies. And others are video, which is where “When in Rome” will probably end up.

I thought it was enjoyable but in the realm of film, it’s like junk food: enjoy it now and forget that you ate it later. It’s not a bad movie per se and there were a few laughs but for the most part there are better romantic comedies (my date suggested “Never Been Kissed” as being WAY better than this). “When in Rome” is lighthearted fodder and you could probably do worse. My favorite scene was when Nick and Beth went out on a date to a restaurant where they were served in complete darkness.

Also of interest is the “Napoleon Dynamite” connection. Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in “Napoleon Dynamite,” plays Lance’s assistant Jose who videotapes his tricks. Also the final bit of music, “The Promise,” was featured first in “Napoleon Dynamite.”

My grade: C+

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26
Feb
10

Movie Review: Edge of Darkness

It must be the “conspiracy” edge of darkness…

Starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic. Directed by Martin Campbell. Based on the British TV series of the same name created by Troy Kennedy-Martin

Dry, somewhat disjointed, but it picks up by the end.

Mel Gibson returns to headlining a film with this cinematic remake of the 1995 BBC TV series, “Edge of Darkness.” Gibson is Boston police detective Thomas Craven, a man who lives alone and on one particular weekend is waiting for his daughter Emma (Novakovic) to arrive. Emma goes to college and is a research assistant at a company called Northmoor. She doesn’t tell him exactly what she does except to say “I’m a glorified lab assistant.” Thomas is fine with that and things are going swimmingly until Emma pukes into an empty soup bowl and her nose begins bleeding. As they rush out of the house to go to the hospital a car pulls up and a guy in a mask shouts “CRAVEN!” before using a double-barreled shotgun to blast a hole through her chest. She flies backwards through the front door, the car peels off, and Thomas is left with his only daughter now dead.

Partners, friends, and other officers arrive on the scene and Craven is in a place he doesn’t want to be: the victim of a crime. His friend Whitehouse (Jay O. Sanders) tries to comfort him, saying that the Department will treat it as an “officer involved” incident. They expect him to take some time off for grieving purposes and they want to run through every file he has, spinning the idea that the gunman was aiming for Thomas instead of his daughter. Not believing that for a second, Craven goes out for answers with a side of vengeance.

Piece by piece we get to know Emma as Thomas gets to know the daughter he thought he knew. She worked for a company called Northmoor. At some point she became involved with a group of activists and had helped them get into, and out of, Northmoor. What Northmoor was doing and why, and how his daughter got involved in any of it, is the cloud of mystery Thomas is flying through.

Craven’s world is slowly dragged into the “conspiracy sphere”: bugged rooms, paranoid people, sharp dressed agents in SUV’s with tinted windows, etc (even though Mel starred in a film called “Conspiracy Theory,” he was relatively clueless in this one). Thomas traces a 9mm his daughter was carrying to her boyfriend Burnham (Shawn Roberts) who gives Thomas his daughter’s personal belongings duffle bag. Checking out her apartment he finds it broken into and her computer taken. Her best friend Melissa talks with him about Emma getting involved with the activists. She’s promptly killed after.

Enter Jedburgh (Winstone). He’s the guy that “stops people from connecting Point A to Point B,”; hired hitman, assassin, what-have-you. Jedburgh is brought in to keep tabs on Thomas Craven for Northmoor because Craven is the father of the girl considered a “security risk.” Thomas and Jedburgh meet, Jedburgh gives him an idea of who he is, Craven accepts this and continues doing what he does.

And finally the villain behind it all: Jack Bennett (Huston). Bennett is the head of Northmoor which not only keeps stock of items used for nuclear weaponry but its R&D division pumps money into the Massachusetts economy, and that’s just on paper. What the public doesn’t know and what we come to learn is that Northmoor is developing nuclear arms for foreign countries under their specs. Also, they gave “irradiated gas” to the activists and poisoned Emma Craven. Thomas is running out of options and against the clock as he tries putting the pieces together and exposing those who were complicit in his daughter’s death.

The movie is a long, slow train that heads for what could be called a “slambang” end. All the clues that are laid in front of us for the first hour slowly begin paying off and when the body count begins to rise, we see the “full extent of the conspiracy.” There are several twists and turns and by the end everyone dies. Everyone. (See also: “Hamlet,” “The Departed”)

Director Martin Campbell decided to re-adapt his 80’s British show in an American environment, choosing Boston because of its English and Irish influences. Campbell is known for previous drama/action movies such as “The Mask of Zorro,” and “Vertical Limit,” as well as the James Bond movies, “GoldenEye,” and “Casino Royale.” While “Edge of Darkness” does contain brutal realism within its violence (there are no pre-meditated vengeance camera shots) the acts are SUDDEN and the audience isn’t prepared, giving a sense of realism. Another plus for the movie is the fact that Campbell made Gibson’s character emote through most of the range of human emotions, even though his character is naïve (a Boston cop not knowing about conspiracy? Really?)

The major flaw for this film is the script. Watching it feels like someone edited the breathing room out of a TV show or rather constructed a film out of the best parts of one and structurally it’s apparent. According to reports the initial script had to be re-written to make it more “action oriented” and in doing so there’s a slapdash feeling to the pacing of scenes. The British sensibilities added to the story (the hitman confronting Craven, the voice of his daughter directing him to find justice) speak more to British films than American ones and could’ve been left out.

Can I honestly recommend this one? As long as you realize that it’s not the action packed movie advertised to you (nor is it really a psychological drama), you’re good to go. I would suggest matinee or the dollar theatre.

My grade: B-

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Road

Falling trees, cannibalism, suicide, and a long walk across post-apocalyptic America.

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, and Robert Duvall. Directed by John Hillcoat. Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy.

Oh future, why are you so bleak? What happened to flying cars, food pills, jetpacks, or anything on “Star Trek?”

The apocalypse has come and Man (Mortensen) lives in a cabin with his pregnant wife(Theron). Something catches woodland areas on fire and the world goes to hell in a handbasket. She has the child, a son (Smit-McPhee), and for a while they make it while the world outside is in chaos. Eventually she can no longer make it through the desolation and, late one night, strips down to nothing and disappears into the winter night.

“The Road” is a “road movie” by most standards (people traveling across America for a singular goal) as much as it is a post-apocalyptic movie in the vein of “Road Warrior,” and “Children of Men.” This is a world in which the sky is set on gray overcast all day, every day; a world in which trees are dying and falling left and right while horrendous fires consume forests. Men have taken to cannibalism by gathering in large groups and killing any outsiders and eating them, especially any children. There is no fuel left to find and no birds fly in the sky. The place is as depressing as it is desolate.

Through the movie we have no real background on Mortensen’s character; he doesn’t even have a name (then again, neither did the horse in that America song). He’s just a man standing against the end of days; a savage Grizzly Adams who keeps the fire inside him going for reasons known only to him.

His son travels with him but aside from being his son, there’s not a lot of connection between the two. The son, just born in the beginning of this Armageddon, doesn’t remember or know days of sunlight, or birds, or any of the happier days that his father can call upon during sleep. He desperately wants to meet another kid, to go out and play, to see his mother again, or just to be happy.

Following his wife’s last words to go south and get to the coast, the two do just that. With the only narration being Mortensen’s feelings on the oblivion surrounding him we piece together now so much what happened as what the world became: animals mainly out for themselves, or just to be left alone. The duo is cold, hungry, dirty, and want to part ways with the other but need to stay together to survive. Along the way they meet an old man (Robert Duvall), packs of marauders, and a guy who steals their stuff but spares them. And the road they’re on is long, cracked, and barren.

This is more of a visual-intellectual movie than say “Children of Men,” or the “Mad Max” movies. As shown in his previous film, “The Proposition,” Hillcoat uses long takes and exposures to give the audience a feeling of being there. And also like his previous film he likes pitting characters on a quixotic quest across the barren wilds.

The film is a journey. It’s a brutal, honest character study of two people as they make their way across the landscape for the purpose of getting to the ocean. There’s nothing else to do and nothing else to live for but they try to not let it on. Meanwhile, Death itself surrounds them in the form of houses where groups host cannibalism and farms where entire families have committed suicide. It’s a story of struggle and survival between man and man and man and a crumbling environment.

Did I like this film? Yes. It’s cerebral, bleak, but beautiful in its portrayal of oblivion. Mortensen has always been a good actor and this film showcases how great he really can be. Impressive as well is newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee whp plays his son.

Watch for “Proposition” alum Guy Pearce in a small role at the end, as well as Molly Parker playing his wife.

My grade: A-

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Visually fascinating and bleedin’ boring.

Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Terry Gilliam

I’m not a big fan of fantasy movies. There are a few I’ve liked such as “Legend” (Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, Mia Sara) the “Lord of the Rings” saga, and even “Stardust,” but Terry Gilliam is a different type of fantasy movie director. On one hand I can appreciate the fact that the guy can craft a scene and make it feel three-dimensional through the use of various lenses. On the other his ambition can exceed his grasp and the story he’s trying to tell suffers. Such is the case with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

The film opens with a wagon that’s seen better days navigating the streets of London like a naval carrier. It stops outside a bar and the stage unfolds. A guy (Garfield) dressed up as the messenger god Mercury traverses the stage, calling for people to hear of the exploits of the 1,000-year-old Doctor Parnassus (Plummer). A drunken guy climbs onstage and is thrown into a mirror. Once inside he is treated to a few punches from Valentina (Cole) and his undoing is wherever his imagination takes him, which happens to be jellyfish aliens that release him to crash to earth where he stumbles into a bar that explodes soon after he enters it.

And who is Doc Parnassus? Parnassus was once a monk living a thousand years ago. He held a sacred order in one of those inaccessible mountain areas where it snows all the time. On a personal note I’ve always wondered how these places are made, why they have a fairly decent population, etc. (movies never explain this). The monastery’s monks share a magic that allows them to float on carpets and their one mantra is that by telling stories the world continues to perpetuate existence. Hence, if no one tells stories then the world ceases to exist. The Devil (Tom Waits, wouldn’t ya know?) visits the Doc and gets him to gamble. The Doc wins and the Devil gives him immortality as well as the “itch” and in return, Parnassus becomes the Devil’s pet project.

Fast forward to modern day where Parnassus falls in love with a woman at first sight. He makes another deal with the Devil to become young and youthful again but the Devil puts in a stipulation: his first child would become the property of El Diablo once they turned 16. Parnassus’s wife turns 60 and dies during childbirth. Parnassus now finds himself an aged, immortal single father who has to keep the secret of his pact with the Devil from his daughter. This little fact becomes the subtext the movie rides on.

Fate or fortune intervenes when the crew of Anton (Garfield), Valentina (Cole), and Percy (Troyer) find a man (Ledger) hanging from the bottom of a bridge. When he comes to he can’t remember who he is, why he was hanging from the bottom of the bridge, etc. He exerts his wile, professional demeanor, and smooth capacity for salesmanship and brings money and attention to the traveling troupe’s show. It also attracts the Russian mobsters that tried killing him by hanging. He throws himself through the mirror (the entrance/exit of Parnassus’ mind) to get away from them.

For a moment let me discuss the mirror. The mirror allows people to enter a world they imagine. If more than one person enters the one with the most vivid, or prevalent, imagination trumps any other imagination. Otherwise the world is whatever the main person’s makes it. Eventually the “ride” ends when the Devil comes to claim the souls of the pure, part of the pact Parnassus makes with him.

Back to Ledger’s character Tony Shepherd. Tony apparently took money from the Russian mob for a children’s charity and didn’t know they were laundering their money through it. Or that’s the story he tells. While in the “mind” of Parnassus, Tony’s face keeps changing and it symbolically reflects the changing of his lies. He goes from looking like Johnny Depp, to Jude Law, then finally Colin Farrell. All the while he tries holding onto his flute which he shoves down his throat in order to keep his windpipe from crushing while hanging.

Note: this probably makes more sense while you watch it as opposed to me translating it on the page here.

So how did I feel about this one? If you’ve worked a full 8-10 hour day you would seriously need some coffee to get through this one. There are some really cool visual moments but Gilliam’s leaning on CG environments doesn’t always work and some instances look as if the graphics weren’t completed. The story flounders majorly and Ledger’s death caused various shifts in the movie. Or maybe Gilliam isn’t great on directing the “quiet moments” of the movie as opposed to the fantastical sequences. Whichever it may be I was hoping for more “umph” from the movie or at least something that felt more magical. This felt like someone going through the motions interjecting sad footnotes along the way.

And hey, I may not be the audience on this one; this plays more for those fans of Gilliam’s work. I liked “Tim Bandits,” and “Brazil” is almost a guilty pleasure for me, but that’s it. If you’re a Gilliam fan, this may be your movie.

Most of the actors do well with the parts they have to play. Plummer is good, Waits as the Devil was interesting, and Ledger worked for the scenes he was in but again, the tonal shifts with the various actors playing his character throw the story off. Lily Cole was beautiful and did a great job. Then again, the story didn’t really feel complete to begin with. My friend John said that it’s a literal re-translation of the Parnassus tale and I’ll have to research that…

Can I honestly recommend this? I recommend coffee (or some form of caffeine) before seeing it but if you’re a true blue Gilliam fan, go for it. Otherwise you may want to rent it.

My grade: C

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

I know this because Francois knows this…

Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard, Justin Long, and Ray Liotta. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Based on the book, “Youth in Revolt: the Adventures of Nick Twisp” by C.D. Payne

Meet Nick Twisp (Cera), certified and bona fide wuss. His unemployed mother Estelle (Smart) lives off the child support checks of his dad, George (Buscemi) and shacks up with any guy who will look her direction; the guy she’s currently with is Jerry (Galifianakis), a trucker and habitual liar. Nick’s dad is doing the midlife crisis-thing; he drives a BMW and his live-in girlfriend Lacey (Ari Graynor) is young, hot, and blonde.

Nick is a sixteen-year-old sitting in a sea of sexual stagnation. He’s the “nice guy” when all the attractive girls are looking for macho jerks. His record collection contains jazz love songs and would love for Frank Sinatra to be played once a day. French films are his specialty; at the video store he was renting a copy of Fellini’s “La Strada.” In short, there’s no way he’s going to get laid and even he knows that. His only solace is the fact that his friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) isn’t getting any and his weird neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Willard) is too busy being a political activist.

Fate intervenes in the form of three sailors who show up with a 70s clunker they paid Jerry $900 for. The car blew up a few blocks down the road and they found a banana peel in the engine; they’re pissed and they want their money back. Upon Nick relaying the info Jerry decides to take them on vacation with the new Cadillac he just bought (with the sailors’ $900).

Cut to Ukiah. Jerry is borrowing a friend’s place (read: decrepit trailer) by the beach. Upon return from the showerhouse Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, a girl his age. She takes to Nick’s awkwardness and finds it cute. Showing Nick around her home he finds out that her dad is a lawyer and both are majorly Christian. Nick finds that Sheeni wants to move to France but really wants to travel the world. By the end his vacation, Nick is in love and must find a way to get back to Ukiah.

Enter Francois Dillinger. The Tyler Durden to his Jack; the devil on his shoulder. Francois wears a light blue long-sleeved shirt and white pants, smokes cigarettes, and acts like the badass Nick wishes he was. Through a series of events involving the Cadillac and a POS trailer Jerry bought, Francois sets a business on fire. Nick’s mom’s new love interest Officer Lance Wescott (Liotta) suggests getting Nick out of town so it’s back up to Ukiah.

But everything doesn’t go as swimmingly as possible. Sheeni’s parents know what’s happened and send her to a private, all French-speaking school. Her better-than-you well-to-do boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is also switching to the school. Sitting in Ukiah with newfound friend Vijay Joshi (Adhir Kalyan), the two hatch a plot to meet up with her to bring her back. When the police here of Nick’s location, he tries to keep the tailspin under control in the ultimate hope of getting laid before going to Juvenile Hall.

I liked the movie and it was funnier than I thought it would be. Let me address some questions up front: is it funny? Yes, far funnier than you would think although it may not be for everyone. This is designed more for “emo”/indie likings as opposed to having a strong, male character presence (that I don’t think Cera could pull of just yet). Is it funnier than the trailers? Yes. There are moments in the film, specific for it, that are laugh-out-loud funnier than what you see in the previews.

Cera is definitely in his element here with the character Nick feeling somewhat like Paulie Bleeker from “Juno.” Both are awkward, sensitive, aware of their surroundings (with deep cynicism), and do not have any clue as to how to act/re-act to women. Bleeker went into sex casually while Nick beats himself up trying to get to it.

The rest of the cast do well enough and Portia Doubleday holds her own. Justin Long shows up as Sheeni’s druggie brother Paul (who ends up running off with Lacey). M. Emmet Walsh plays Sheeni’s father. Steve Buscemi (where has he been?) and a few others show up just to be a part of it. Really, this movie is more for Portia and Michael.

My only complaint about this movie is that I’m not a huge fan of animation and certain segments of this movie “wrapped up” events via animation. Some of it was funny but again, not a big fan.

Do I recommend this one? If you’re of the emo/nerd/geek/indie variety of person, yes. Would I recommend full price? I recommend matinee initially but if there’s nothing else to be watched, sure.

My grade: B