Saturday, December 29, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Today I saw Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, starring John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer.

It's the tale of Dewey Cox (Reilly), a Southern musician that alternately encompasses Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and other notable stars, as he sings his way through life after a terrible childhood tragedy.

A tragedy that happens to be slicing his brother in half with a machete.

Sound stupid? Of course it does. But they way it was written and delivered makes it hilarious.

Dewey's enduring love for Darlene (Fischer) is the backbone of the bio, which takes us through his entire career of milestones and mistakes (the now-famous 'penis' scene is among the funniest). Each wink to another era and yet another star has such goofy charm attached to it I found myself anticipating who would pop up next (thankfully, my Beatles hope came true with the incomparable Jack Black as McCartney and Paul Rudd as Lennon).

The sidekicks are also funny—Tim Meadows as Dewey's primary drug connection, Kristen Wiig as his first wife and Margot Martindale as Ma, but the real credit goes to Reilly, who I found myself confusing with Will Ferrell (that's a compliment). He was that funny.

Overall, it's what I expected: a ridiculous beginning, predictably clever songs and electric nonsense chemistry between Reilly and Fischer.

I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Juno

On Christmas Day, I saw Juno, starring Ellen Page and Jason Bateman.

Our Cinebanter review is available here.

Charlie Wilson's War

On December 23, I saw Charlie Wilson's War starring Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

With so many big names (Hanks and Hoffman are joined by Amy Adams and Julia Roberts) attached to this film, it was hard not to anticipate its merit before going in, but having been burned in the past by similar assumptions, I reserved judgement.

Thankfully, there was no need for me to.

Hanks dazzles as real-life Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, a booze-loving womanizer with the heart of an everyman who is faced with political demands from a wealthy mover and shaker (played by Roberts), who also occupies his bed. Luckily, he's on the same page with her intentions, to covertly help the Afghans defend themselves against the then-enemy of Russia.

The plot is pretty basic and simple to follow, but what makes this movie so watchable (and will have you wondering how the time went so fast when it ends) is the collection of charisma that ensues: partly a result of good writing; partly a result of the performances.

The main scene stealer is Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays the Greek colleague of Wilson's that has enough justified anger and sarcasm to fill each room he steps into. He is absolutely electric in this role and I wouldn't be sorry to see him score another Oscar® nod because of it.

Also great is Wilson's adorably smart administrative assistant played by Amy Adams. Just the right mix of wholesome and alluring, Adams possesses a unique balance of what most men want: sexy mixed with Betty Crocker. There couldn't have been a better actress for this role.

The clothing and sets are also authentic to the time (early 80s), however I did question whether the phrase 'dial it down' was used back then?

Regardless, this film is solid entertainment that just happens to contain a valuable history lesson: don't fuck up the end game.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

Today I saw Starting Out in the Evening, starring Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose.

The narrative takes us into the lives of washed-up novelist Leonard Shiller (Langella) and righteous graduate student Heather Wolf (Ambrose). Her mission seems to be resurrecting his career, while his goal is simply to finish his final book before dying. He is a senior citizen with heart problems; she is a twentysomething with a hungry heart.

It's inevitable that in the course of her spending time with him to complete her thesis (based on him) that these two will develop a chemistry. Thankfully, they do. It's what saves this film from being a completely predictable starry-eyed-girl-wants-crotchety-old-man bore.

Although Heather is slightly too righteous to be endearing, there are so many real people like her, I could look past her irritating nature. What's also great is the subplot of Leonard's daughter Ariel (played by the amazing Lili Taylor—Ambrose's former Six Feet Under co-star) and her inability to have a successful relationship.

The thing is, all of these characters seem to be making the choices they need to make for themselves as their lives intersect. Heather is persistent in her quest for information from Leonard (and in her sexual attraction to him), Leonard will only talk about the topics of his choosing and fights to focus on his writing. Ariel wrestles with feelings for two men in her life; neither who share her desire to have children.

These simple, yet interesting situations are all presented in a well-acted, well-written package with believable dialogue and character progression.

I'll confess to being alternately touched and disgusted by Leonard and Heather's love story, but I can't help but admit it felt real.

I also wouldn't be surprised if Langella and/or Taylor were nominated for their performances.

Nor would I be sorry if they won.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Golden Compass

Today I saw The Golden Compass, starring Dakota Blue Richards and Nicole Kidman.

I must confess—I went into this ignorant, having never read the book it's based on. But in this case, I think I probably enjoyed it more as a result.

The story follows the orphan Lyra (Richards), a petite spitfire in the possession of the last magic golden compass. The power it holds is immeasurable, as it has the ability to display the truth in any situation. This upsets the magistrate (a.k.a. church) and the evil Mrs. Coulter (Kidman) pursues her to retrieve the compass, at first kindly offering her a trip north (where many of Lyra's friends have been kidnapped to, and are having their free will revoked) then fiercely hunting her after she escapes.

The way the characters get through this is somewhat confusing, but the ride is so visually stimulating, you can forgive the jumble. A parallel British town is illuminated at each glimpse, while the scenes in the great north make you nearly shiver in your seat, they're so remarkable.

And I musn't conclude my review without a mention of the polar bears. These aren't your typical Christmas-Coke-commerical polar bears, these look and sound like the real deal (well, except when they don human voices and carry on conversations). The growls and snarling teeth are terrifying; the fluffy fur and awkward bodies are endearing. I really wanted my own 'armored bear' after seeing the final fight scene, too.

So really—this film was pretty entertaining. Good, solid acting from the female leads and supporting actors like Daniel Craig and Sam Elliot, and cinematography that's nothing short of beautiful. An easy choice for holiday viewing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Am Legend

Today I saw I Am Legend, starring Will Smith.

If I hadn't yet seen No Country For Old Men, I may have claimed this was the most nervewracking film of 2007, but even it can't match the Coen brothers gift for tension.

At the core of this science-laden story is heart. Will Smith, always great, plays Robert Neville—a successful scientist convinced he can reverse a terrible virus that has wiped out New York City (and apparently most of the United States as well). We learn the virus had initial good intentions as a cure for cancer (a cameo by Emma Thompson delivers this revelation), but went terribly wrong as it mutated.

As you can imagine, what ensues forces you to abandon all rational thought and play the suspension-of-disbelief game with a non-thinking head.

Instead of the infected just withering away (as one may expect, after an incurable virus attacks the immune system), these victims exhibit "rabies-like" behavior (who knew rabies enabled you to scale walls and pull apart houses with superhuman strength?) and terrorize all who cross their path. They're not vampires in the traditional sense of the word, but they do have an aversion to light and a tendency to chomp at flesh.

Amidst all of this silliness, Neville somehow manages to make us feel sorry for him and bask in his lonely existence (though if I were him, I wouldn't be 'borrowing' one DVD at a time from the now desolate video store—I'd borrow a whole shelf). His dog Samantha brings him a fair amount of companionship, as dogs generally do, and familiar sounds such as Bob Marley on the stereo and Ann Curry on an obviously taped vintage Today Show would undoubtedly help keep one's sanity in tact if they were the last human roaming the city (after all, deer, lions, etc. seem to have no trouble avoiding the virus).

In the visual sense, this movie is arguably great. When things jump out at the characters, you feel they're jumping into your lap; the sounds are just as unnerving.

But as a "I'm the last person left in the world, what am I going to do with myself?" sci-fi romp, I'm disappointed the character chooses to stay at "ground zero" to pursue his mission.

The movie, brief in length, does manage to keep the viewer engaged until the ultimate predictable ending commences. For that, all of the stolen ideas from 28 Days Later can be forgiven.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jimmy Carter Man From Plains

Today I saw the documentary Jimmy Carter Man From Plains.

Every time I watch a documentary, I ask myself the same questions: Is the subject a worthy topic? Is the information presented in a captivating way? Did I learn something about the subject that I didn't previously know before I watched this film?

In this case, two out of three isn't bad.

Really, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is a wonderful topic. He's as kind as he is smart and as driven as he is accomplished. As the first president I have any memory of as a child, I will always be especially curious about his history and his character because it helped shape my childhood as an American.

That said, watching a two-hour collection of interviews I could've Tivo'd wasn't the best way to educate me about this Nobel prize-winning man—though I did learn a few things.

Amidst this travelogue of president Carter's book tour (for his controversial book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid), I witnessed a man who finally seems comfortable in his skin and aims to make up for lost time. He does this in his trademark gracious way by making no apologies for his well-thought-out beliefs while showing the utmost respect to each person he tries to convince.

There is an innate refreshment in a transparent politician, probably because they're so rare. Carter lives the very definition of this role, alternately arguing with a TV host who is trying to misquote him, then thinking out loud about becoming fluent in Spanish because he has a program on his computer that would enable him to.

He's also the kind of Christian that gives Christians a good name: one who believes that science can co-exist with Jesus worship and also tirelessly serves the poor (in a too-brief segment, we see him building Habitat for Humanity houses in New Orleans). One who reads the Bible aloud with his wife each night and treats his staff as equals.

We see all of this in snippets of previously aired interviews and behind-the-scenes glances as he shuffles from city to city with his Simon & Schuster handlers. But what we don't see are the effects of his work. The people who read his book and saw the Middle East conflict in a different way as a result. The policymakers who defended his view and took his ideas to their colleagues for further debate. Where are they? Do they even exist?

The filmmaker doesn't attempt to pretend whose side he's on. You will love this former president from the first frame of the movie until the credits roll because the portrayal is so endearing, you'd be evil not to.

If that was the aim of the documentary, then I say "mission accomplished," but if the viewers were supposed to leave with an enhanced knowledge of the peace process, or an expert view on the background of Carter's legacy, it failed.

While many of the moments are sweet, that's ultimately all that this documentary adds up to: a series of moments. It's the dust jacket version of the story.

Makes me want to buy the book.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This morning I screened Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

The story, based on the popular musical, follows barber Benjamin Barker on his journey from happy family man to vicious killer. But there's more to it than that.

Without sounding like a complete cinelitist, many people will probably see and dismiss this movie as nothing more than a typical Burtonesque display of cool effects and crazy makeup. And that's a shame—because if they dig deeper and focus not only on the visual rewards, but the heart of the characters, they'll see a more profound film.

As usual, Johnny Depp (Barker) is brilliant as the main character, wearing more expressions on his powder-pale face than any other man could possibly muster. He is darling as a charming husband and father, then equally as effective as a violent monster. Alan Rickman is also notably good as his rival, Judge Turpin. Rounding out the main cast is the always-convincingly-creepy Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, a terrible pie maker who falls in love with Todd and becomes his key accomplice in murder.

If we unveil the allegory, we are left with this: terrible, unforgivable things happen to a good, decent person, robbing him of his faith in all of mankind. As a result, he retreats to a place so dark that he loses every trace of the person he once was, allowing negativity to thrive in its absence. That darkness arrives in the form of a typical jealous woman who will go to great lengths to conceal truth and protect her own interests. Only when it's too late will he realize that she has betrayed him and that he could've regained all that he lost—had be been open to just behavior.

Of course, because it's Burton, this is all masked in dark eyeliner and Einstein hair, but the core of the message remains clear. And it is delivered in a charming, if not slapstick, bloody way.

Were it not for the distractions like Sacha Baron Cohen (as a cartoonish con artist) and a wimpy sailor (Jamie Campbell Bower), this would've been practically flawless.

But then again, no one can be expected to make two Edward Scissorhands in one career. Even with the same genius actor.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Titanic

Today, in honor of my birthday, I saw Titanic.

And no, I'm not talking about the DVD version—I mean I saw it on the big screen again. In fact, on the biggest screen I've ever seen it.

My local Cinerama is having a 70mm series and today they just happened to be showing this film, which I happen to love.

And you know what? It ages well.

Although I know every twist and turn that's going to occur (from my original repeated viewings of it when it was released nearly a decade ago), the suspense, romance and sadness are all still present in heavy doses.

I suppose this means the heart really does go on...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

August Rush

This morning I saw August Rush, starring Freddie Highmore and Keri Russell.

If it weren't for Robin Williams, this may have been a great movie.

At the heart of the film is little Evan Taylor (Highmore), an orphan with an incredible gift for music who believes his long-lost parents will find him by "hearing" him. He's placed in a miserable NY home for boys and runs away only to fall into the trap of "The Wizard" (Williams), an evil transient that pimps out young musicians only to reap the financial benefits.

Meanwhile Lyla (Russell) is a heartbroken cellist that never got over the supposed loss of her infant son (and his father, whom she had a passionate one-night-stand with). The boy's father Louis (Meyers) is a guitarist-turned-suit who left the pain of NY behind for a mundane life in San Francisco.

As you can imagine, there are many cheesy scenes that lead up to the predictable, if not sweet ending. But woven into them are great performances from Russell, Meyers, Highmore and Terrence Howard, who has a minor role as a social worker.

Robin Williams' awful overacting ultimately ruins the film, which with its message of music as a saving grace, could have been so much more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Enchanted

Today I saw Enchanted, starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey.

I chose this film to kick off my holiday weekend because despite how silly the trailer looked, it's been well-reviewed and I like both of the lead actors.

The first, Amy Adams, is grossly underrated (I think she was robbed of an Oscar® for Junebug) and always adorable, therefore she was the perfect fit for the role of Giselle, the princess from the faraway land that gets catapulted into New York City after trusting that wicked queen from Snow White on her wedding day (long story).

Enter McDreamy himself to save the day as Robert, the handsome divorce lawyer/single father, whose awkward meet-cute (on a billboard) with the princess leads to...well...a fairy tale sort of love.

What I liked about the film was the acting (Susan Sarandon is great as the wicked queen, in addition to the leads) and the heart. It is a good, old-fashioned love story with an innocence that is rare in current cinema.

What I disliked was how dumb they made Edward (Giselle's supposed prince) and how they resorted to bathroom humor in a few places with Pip (the chipmunk), which took the overall sparkle off of the finished product.

Note to filmmakers: it doesn't have to be gross to be funny to kids.

That's all. Dempsey is hot and Adams is precious. Go see it for them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bee Movie

This morning I saw Bee Movie, featuring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zellweger.

What a breath of fresh air!

Full disclosure: I'm not a huge animation fan. In fact, save for The Simpsons Movie, I don't think I've seen an animated film in the theater since the anniversary of Yellow Submarine, so seeing this today was somewhat out of the ordinary for me. I'm glad I followed my instinct and ignored my self-imposed snobbiness though, because I really would have missed out on something great if I'd passed it up.

The story begins with Barry (Seinfeld) graduating from beehood and preparing to enter the job force, which basically consists of making honey exclusively. Adventure-seeker that he is, before he finalizes his career choice, he takes a trip outside the hive to see what the human world is like. While he's there (in present-day New York City), he falls in love with a human, Vanessa (Zellweger), and discovers the travesty that is bee slavery as he flies past the honey aisle at the grocery store.

What commences is somewhat of an animated genius that includes all of the components of a live-action Hollywood film: a sweet romance, courtroom drama, suspenseful action sequences, surprising celebrity cameos and a wink of an ending.

The voices are distinct (who could miss Chris Rock as the cunning mosquito?) but not at all distracting. Particularly great is John Goodman as the fat human defense attorney. And what's more, there are just as many jokes for the adults to laugh at as there are for the kids.

Go see this one in the theater—the bright yellow hues of the 'sets' cast a sunny glow on the whole production, which is nothing short of charming.

Friday, November 02, 2007

American Gangster

Today I saw American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #42, which is available here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Kid Could Paint That

Yesterday I saw the documentary My Kid Could Paint That.

The story follows that of alleged child prodigy Marla Olmstead and her family as they try to prove that the beautiful paintings they sold by the dozen were in fact done by her (a then 4-year-old).

This was a tough one to watch.

Of course, as a human being, you want the parents to be telling the truth and the girl to be supernaturally gifted, but watching this film, which includes the 60 Minutes footage that got everyone so worked up, you can't help but doubt the validity of the art.

To say much more would be to give too much of the movie away, but after you watch it, see if you agree with this theory:

• Mom was telling the truth (out of ignorance to the process)
• Dad was lying (but remorseful, as he probably didn't think "coaching" or "polishing" would be any big deal in the long run)
• Marla was innocent, and will probably be able to shed light on the controversy when she gets older
• Her little brother is adorable, and should have his own show
• Her manager is slimy and probably encouraged the "polishing"
• The art buyer in the end summed it up "the paintings look like they were done by two different artists"

Provocative and somewhat sad, this was not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lust, Caution

Tonight I saw Lust, Caution, starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Wei Tang.

It was 2 hours, 28 minutes long, and it felt like 4.

I typically love Lee's mesmerizing films (Brokeback I even counted as my favorite of 2005), but this one nearly put me to sleep.

It's a basic story: girl wants to be an actress, gets caught up in resistance, earns assignment she is both physically and emotionally not ready for - powerful, mean leader sees young eye candy and takes full advantage of it, being at once cruel and gentle. They both betray themselves and alternately fall in love and lust, which of course leads to tragic consequences.

The buzz surrounding this movie because of its graphic, NC17-earning sex has unfortunately clouded the story, which in itself isn't boring, but when drawn out for an unimaginable length of time sure turns out to be.

The acting by the two leads is phenomenal (Leung Chiu Wai is especially captivating) and their chemistry is completely feasible, but I could have done with a lot less of the glances across the room, the poised staring with cigarette in hand and the closeups of jewels and sweat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Tonight I screened Gone Baby Gone, starring Casey Affleck and Ed Harris.

I love it when movies make me think.

There are those that say they simply go to the movies to be entertained, and while that's important, if a movie forces me to calculate decisions as I'm watching, or question my morals when I've left the theater, I have to rank it a little higher on the list than the fluff. And this one did.

The story tells of two young 'private investigator' types (Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) who get caught up in a missing children case with the Boston PD only to arrive at disastrous results. But that's merely the beginning.

What unfolds is a story of deceit, vigilante justice, moral integrity, betrayal and heartbreak. And I'm still making up my mind about the characters.

Affleck gives a terrific performance as the quintessential good guy and Harris is equally good as the tried-and-true tough cop.

But the twists in the writing and the exciting camera work are really what make this a thrilling Departed-like ride.

Proof positive that the other Affleck (who directed and co-wrote this) is at his best behind the scenes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club

Tonight I saw Jane Austen Book Club, starring Maria Bello and Kathy Baker.

This is one of those I don't want to like, but I sort of can't help myself.

There are all the typical components of a shameless chick flick:

• Cheating husband
• Scorned wife
• Token lesbian
• Convenient free spirit
• Bitter spinster
• Obligatory nice guy

All of that, plus Starbucks, wine and literature, and I still lasted through the credits.

The buried delight of this film is that they are taking feasible situations and treating them in a more charming than realistic way, which actually makes it more digestible. Sort of like cough syrup chased with Coca-Cola or a caramel macchiato.

And what's more, the cute guy is truly very cute.

My main problems with the film were that men (with the exception of Mr. Very Cute) were portrayed as clueless oafs and women were only a superior emotionally unstable improvement.

And metaphorically, all of the characters' lives mirrored those of the books they were reading, but the interpretation was so literal, it was much less clever than it could have been.

But in the spirit of Austen, who really did tie everything up in a nice pretty bow at the end, the movie makes a decent attempt.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In the Shadow of the Moon

Today I saw the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.

I'll admit—I've never been a space fanatic. I had no aspirations as a child to be an astronaut, and up until now the only reason seeing footage of a shuttle launch would give me goosebumps is because it serves as a reminder of good old fashioned MTV (who used the clip to introduce videos in its early years).

But on my Cinebanter partner's recommendation, I decided that I would give this documentary a try and I'm so glad I did.

This may be the most endearing talking-head documentary I've ever seen.

Basically, it traces the steps of America's arrival on the moon from the point of Kennedy's challenge to the present day using the actual men who've walked upon it as narrators (save for Neil Armstrong, who is only seen in archival footage).

The split-screen clips of them at the time and them now only adds to the brilliant nostalgia that permeates this incredibly patriotic glance at what America used to be capable of. A president says we need to do something: a team of brave men get together and do it—within a decade.

We catch a glimpse of how the international community viewed Americans in the 60s (they trusted us), we learn that some of the astronauts felt guilt for not fighting in Vietnam (as if their mission was any less dangerous), we begin to understand the overwhelming peace that these men gained from realizing just how beautiful the earth we live upon is—only after traveling so far from it.

It's a simple film about an almost supernatural accomplishment, led by men of dignity and honor.

I hope it will be shown to future generations in the years to come.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Today I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen.

When I saw the first Elizabeth during Oscar® season of 1998, I remember being blown away by its intensity and glory. This time, I remained impressed by the acting and the cinematography, but the pace left me bored throughout.

The story of how the famous virgin Queen, played pitch-perfectly yet again by Blanchett, comes to form an attraction to Sir Walter Raleigh (Owen, who is equally fantastic) is the core of the narrative and undoubtedly spawns the most exciting scenes in the film. The two lead actors couldn't be more electric in one another's presence and watching their cat-and-mouse game is nothing short of tension-filled—in a good way.

The problem is, there's a whole lot of traditional 'period piece' yammering that happens in between all of the juice that has you begging for them to get on with it.

Sure, there are bright spots found in the wicked Mary Stuart, played convincingly by Samantha Morton, and also the delicate affair between Raleigh and the other Elizabeth, portrayed by an especially voluptuous Abbie Cornish. But overall it felt like we were jumping from bit to bit with only hints of excitement at each pit stop.

The singular saving grace (aside from the excellent performances) would be the scenery. The film is shot beautifully, from the long elegant hallways and candle-filled rooms inside the castle to the stormy golden-age sea, boasting magnificent ships on the majestic waters.

What was missing was the emotional presence of the first, which truly showed us how this leader was ruled by and ruled with her fragile heart.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Into the Wild

This morning I saw Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #41, which is available for download here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Feast of Love

This morning I saw Feast of Love, starring Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear.

I liked this movie a lot more than most critics.

Set in my home city of Portland, Oregon, the story follows Professor Harry Stevenson (Freeman) as he observes his friends and neighbors falling in and out of love as they're guided by (or prisoners of) fate.

The tender relationship he maintains with his wife Esther (played refreshingly by Tell Me That You Love Me's Jane Alexander) acts as an anchor to the turbulent love lives of virtually everyone he encounters.

His friend Bradley (Kinnear), who owns a coffee shop, is irritating in an unintentional way and this ultimately causes him to lose his wife to a lesbian. As he dusts himself off and tries to find another match, we're introduced to Oscar - one of his coffee shop employees who is a former heroin addict and his love-at-first-sight girlfriend Chloe.

Of all the relationships, theirs is the most genuine.

But that's not to say the rest aren't believable. There are many a married men who can't read their wives, cheat on them and make futile attempts to keep it together. And there are also mistresses who are genuinely in love with other women's husbands and still other women who may decide to switch teams after several years of being straight.

The main problem with this movie is that it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be an aw-shucks romantic comedy or a Crash-like preachy lesson on love, God and fate.

There's also a ridiculous character called The Bat, played by Fred Ward, who is possibly the worst-written alcoholic father in the history of cinema.

Nonetheless, I still enjoyed it (despite the fact that one of the scenes features a loud thunderstorm that would never happen in Portland).

If nothing else, go to be charmed by the ever-appealing Freeman.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Across the Universe

Tonight I saw Across the Universe, starring Evan Rachel Wood.

It will is the topic of Cinebanter #40, which is available here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Eastern Promises

This morning I saw Eastern Promises, starring Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen.

My best advice to anyone heading out to see this: be prepared for the blood. I'm not a particular fan of gore, but for the story Cronenberg was telling, it was necessary.

A London midwife (Watts) loses a teenage mother on the operating table having known nothing about her and finds a diary the girl had written. In an effort to place the orphaned baby with the family of the deceased, she needs to have the diary translated from Russian to English. She firsts asks her uncle, but he refuses, so she goes to a restaurant that she found by way of a business card tucked into the girl's diary. There, she meets the proprietor who is perhaps too anxious to help her.

What transpires are frequent run-ins with the Russian mob and a flirtatious game of danger with the main family's "driver," who is played pitch-perfectly by Mortensen.

The film was well-paced and the story was easier to follow than many of Cronenberg's others, but without the delicious chemistry between Mortensen and Watts, it would have been just a series of violent chapters with little payoff in the end.

I liked A History of Violence better.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chalk

Today I saw Chalk, starring Troy Schremmer and Shannon Haragan.

The film is staged like a fake documentary, which follows a group of teachers and administrators through a school year at an American high school.

Many of the stereotypical things about schools are targeted for laughs (nervous new teachers, the PE teacher being mistaken for a lesbian, gossip in the faculty lounge, etc.) as this is a comedy, but it wasn't quite strong enough to live up to its trailer.

I remember seeing a preview for this a few weeks back and getting very excited. Schools are a big part of my life—I now work at one, I once was a teacher and I am friends with several teachers. The culture is never dull, the stories are almost always funny and there is plenty of natural 'material' to draw on.

But as I was watching this movie, I got the sense they didn't really know how to harness that material without dumbing it down to a nearly slapstick level, and that left me longing for a real documentary to get the job done.

What I found most distracting were the actors' attempts to portray their roles as if they were guest stars on the American version of The Office. Many 'serious' diary entries to what I guess was supposed to be a 'home journal' were spliced in with 'action' shots and that didn't work at all.

The dialogue delivery was intentionally campy, when it should have really been more 'serious' to echo sincerity...THAT would have been hilarious.

They were just too conscious of their characters for it to be flawless.

That said, there were some funny moments—namely happy hour and the history teacher who takes away his student's cell phone.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cinebanter LISTENER'S CHOICE

Hello everyone -

For those of you who are fans of Cinebanter, consider this a special heads-up for our 40th episode: we want you to choose the movie.

Simply tell us what to review by e-mailing your choice to us at cinebanter@gmail.com.

Please have your votes in no later than Friday, September 21, and keep in mind that we've eliminated some of the contenders already:

BALLS OF FURY
DRAGON WARS
HALLOWEEN

Happy voting!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Today I saw King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the documentary about gamers Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell competing for the Donkey Kong world record.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #39. Click here for our review.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Superbad

Tonight I attended a screening of Superbad, which stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #38, and the direct download of that show is available here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rescue Dawn

Today I saw Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn.

I hate to say it, but I'm so immune to war movies these days, this one barely meant more than the last handful I saw.

And I'm not implying it was a bad movie—it wasn't—but I'm so tired of the story and the torture and the horror and the injustice that I don't feel like watching it anymore.

This particular film tells the tale of Deiter (Bale), an American pilot who goes down in Laos and becomes imprisoned with others who have been there for years by the time he arrives (and he gets there 'before' the war starts). He concocts a successful escape plan, executes it (along with some prison guards) and finds himself wandering the jungle with one of his fellow prisoners, Duane (Zahn).

The best part of this movie is the friendship that develops between these two.

Of course we expect that Deiter will survive, and when he does, his rescue is nothing short of inspiring, but we're still left with flashbacks of the carnage left behind, on both sides of the conflict.

Herzog made a good, solid movie—I just wish he'd have chosen a less-popular topic.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

This morning I saw The Bourne Ultimatum, starring Matt Damon and Julia Stiles.

This was definitely the best film of the trilogy. The first one lacked sentiment, the second one was simply a 'setup' device for the third, but this one had everything: action, suspense, drama, comedy and heart.

The heart is what really sets it apart from its predecessors.

In a very brief, yet pivotal scene, Nicky (Stiles) conveys more love for Bourne (Damon) than Marie (Franke Potente) did in either of the two movies. A twist I (and hopefully the rest of the audience) didn't see coming.

And while their 'love' story is never defined, her loyalty to him essentially saves him and vice versa.

Another standout in the film is David Strathairn as Noah Vosen, a bitter government big shot hell bent on burying Bourne and anyone who stands in his way from doing so. He's pitch perfect in this role because he's evil without being menacing and makes it easy for you to side with the assassin.

This film is also less dizzying than part two and the story moves at a more comfortable pace (read: I didn't feel like throwing up because of the camera work in this one).

My only gripe would be that it had a wink of an ending that almost begs for The Bourne Resurrection.

Let's hope they just let sleeping assassins lie.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Ten

Today I saw The Ten, starring Paul Rudd and Winona Ryder.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #37, which is available for download here.

After you listen, be sure to leave us comments on our site or e-mail us at cinebanter@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Today I saw A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie.

The story follows the tragic end of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl's life. It is told chronologically from the time he leaves his wife to go to that fateful interview, to the birth of their son Adam a few months after he was murdered.

Angelina, who plays Marianne, is magnificent as a strong-willed journalist who acts as an effective team leader in the search for her husband, despite the fact she's five months pregnant at the time of his kidnapping. Jolie not only captures Mrs. Pearl's mannerisms and speech patterns, she harnesses the essence of this amazing woman's spirit, portraying her as a calming presence in the midst of a personal and political disaster. It's a shame that many have not been able to overlook Angelina's fame when speaking about her in this role because she certainly could be nominated for another Oscar® as a result of it. She's that good.

Also wonderful is Irfan Khan (The Namesake) as the captain in charge of tracking down Danny's captors. His no-nonsense, yet compassionate aura never entered the annoying arena of personas that typically get exaggerated in stories like this. I guess what I'm saying is that his understated acting is a benefit to this role and ultimately to the film overall.

I also felt that the dramatic scenes that we knew were all coming, were treated with grace and not overdone as I somewhat expected.

It's a devastating story, but it's also heartwarming because we learn that law enforcement and the governments of the countries involved and the family and coworkers of Mr. Pearl all worked together in peace to try to bring him home safely.

And they came so close.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

Tonight I saw The Simpsons Movie, starring Homer, Bart, Marge, Maggie and Lisa Simpson.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #36, so tune in to hear our review.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Broken English

Tonight my Cinebanter partner and I saw Broken English, starring Parker Posey.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 35. Click here to download the show, free of charge.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

1408

Tonight I saw 1408, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson.

It's Kafka-esque kookiness with a bit of sadness...and a bit of humor thrown in.

The film focuses on author Michael Enslin (Cusack), who travels to 'haunted' hotels and reports on their paranormal (or just normal) activity. We soon learn he is a skeptic who recently left his wife after their only daughter died at a young age. His vices apparently include drinking and surfing. He is sarcastic and jaded and every other stereotype that writers are supposed to be.

After he receives an anonymous postcard to visit the Dolphin Hotel in New York City, he takes the bait and attempts to book the room referenced on the card. When he's unable to do this on his own, he gets his literary agent and lawyer involved and they force the issue. When he arrives at the hotel, a typically-charismatic Samuel L. Jackson (playing the manager) pleads with him to stay away from the room.

Now Samuel is wonderful, but the I-could-open-a-can-of-whoop-ass-on-you-in-an-instant rhythm of his speech is such a distraction, it's hard to take him seriously. And along the same lines, although Cusack is supposed to be a messed up, faithless woman deserter, he still somehow manages to be likable—even attractive at times.

But I digress.

At the heart of the movie is a man who is lost in grief and subconsciously hoping to find proof of something else in the universe.

In room 1408, he finds it and we jump.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Paris Je'Taime

Yesterday I saw Paris Je'Taime, starring Natalie Portman and Elijah Wood.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter 33, so tune in on July 3 for our review.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sex and Death 101

Last night I screened Sex and Death 101, starring Simon Baker (pictured below signing autographs after the premiere) and Winona Ryder.



Stay tuned to Cinebanter for my upcoming review.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cthulhu

Tonight I screened Cthulhu, starring Jason Cottle and Tori Spelling.

Listen to my interview with Director Dan Gildark, Screenwriter Grant Cogswell and Lead Actor Jason Cottle on Cinebanter 32, which is available here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Knocked Up

Tonight I saw Knocked Up, starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #32, which is available here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Evening

This morning I screened Evening, starring Claire Danes and Toni Collette.

The story begins with the main character, Ann (Danes/Vanessa Redgrave) traveling to her friend Lila's wedding at a posh family home on the east coast. We immediately sense that Lila is preparing to marry the wrong man and see the immediate connection between Ann and Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy).

As the story unfolds, the subject of class prevails—preventing Lila from marrying the boy she has passion for, Harris (Patrick Wilson). Turns out that Ann has passion for him too and Harris returns that passion on Lila's wedding night as twists and turns are turning a happy day into a tragic one.

This is all told through flashbacks that the elderly Ann is remembering on her death bed, as her daughters (Collette and Natasha Richardson) face similar challenges in present day.

Without adding spoilers, the moral of the story is: marry the person you have the magic with.

Not the guy your friends think is perfect for you or the girl your family happens to adore.

Spend the rest of your life with the person who brings joy to your days and passion to your nights.

Then you won't regret it on your deathbed and make the rest of us cry.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Walk the Talk

Tonight I screened Walk the Talk, starring Cary Elwes and Ileana Douglas.

Stay tuned to Cinebanter for my full review.

Interview

This morning I screened the film Interview, starring Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller.

Stay tuned to Cinebanter for my upcoming review.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jindabyne

Today I saw Jindabyne, starring Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne.

This is one of those films that will probably linger in my head for a while, but I'm not completely sure why.

The story tells of an already dysfunctional marriage between Claire (Linney) and Stewart (Byrne) that is disrupted further by a discovery Stewart and his friends make on a fishing trip. They find the body of a murdered woman and don't report it until the end of their stay at the river. This brings shame from the townspeople and anger from their partners as the crime gets investigated.

As the tale is based on a short story by Raymond Carver, I can see why they left many things a mystery, but I'm not sure it worked in this context.

What we do know is that Claire is Stewart's second wife, she left her husband once, her mother-in-law is a meddling nightmare, and their best friends apparently lost their adult daughter. We also know who the killer is and how he preyed upon his victim.

What we don't know is why Claire left Stewart (though all signs point to post-partum depression), how exactly their friend's daughter passed, why the killer kills and why the Irish Stewart and the American Claire are living in Australia in the first place.

As the film progresses, you think you may get the answers to some of these questions, but you don't. I guess that's the biggest problem I had with this film—too many stones left unturned.

But to call it boring wouldn't be fair.

The performances are good, the pace is fine and the subject matter is interesting, if not exciting.

2 Days in Paris

Last night I screened 2 Days in Paris, starring Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg (Adam is pictured here at the SIFF Q&A).

Visit this Cinebanter page for my capsule review.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Once

Today I saw Once, a harmonic love story starring Glen Hansard and Mark├ęta Irglova.

If I was forced to describe this film in one word it would be "chemistry."

The musical follows a guy and a girl (seriously—we're not sure of their names) as they meet on a Dublin street and fall in love...over music.

The guy is a street musician/vaccuum repair man who catches the eye of the girl who is a maid/flower salesperson, originally from the Czech Republic. There is an immediate spark between the two, and at first it seems as if the girl is chasing the boy.

Soon enough we learn the girl is married with a daughter and an estranged husband. This puts a damper on things, as the tables have quickly turned and the guy is the one doing the chasing.

Regardless, the two end up making beautiful music together—joining forces to create an actual CD with a handful of other musicians, and dancing around the topic that is their connection.

The movie is frustrating, as you're never quite sure the girl wants their love to be realized the way you and the guy character crave for it to be, but it's a beautiful journey nonetheless.

The original music, their undeniable chemistry and an especially gorgeous scene with a piano in the dark makes for a pretty romantic piece of art.

Go see it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Life Among Whales

Today I saw the documentary A Life Among Whales, which is part of the Planet Cinema series at SIFF.

To read my written review on Cinebanter.com, click here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Black Irish

Tonight I screened Black Irish, starring Michael Angarano and Brendan Gleeson.

Listen to Cinebanter #31: WAITRESS for my capsule review.

Red Without Blue

This afternoon I screened the documentary Red Without Blue.

To read my written review on Cinebanter.com, click here.

Outsourced

This morning I screened the film Outsourced, starring Josh Hamilton and Ayesha Dharker.

Stay tuned to Cinebanter for my full review—coming soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

American Shopper

Today I saw a press screening of American Shopper, a documentary about the first National Aisling Championship.

Visit this Cinebanter page to read my capsule review.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Zoo

Tonight I saw Zoo, a disturbing docudrama about a community of people who have sexual relationships with horses and other farm animals.

What possessed me to sit through this?

Well—the fact that the story it's based on made major headlines in my state, and that horrible curiosity I'm plagued with because I'm human. Thankfully, I had a friend who was just as curious as me, so we went to the film together (as this was not a flick I wanted to show up for alone).

Anyway, the movie details the events of the summer of 2005 as told by some of the members of the 'zoo' community who were present and the horse 'rescuer' who took possession of the animal after the incident.

What happened was, a group of men would meet at an Enumclaw, Washington ranch (after making initial contact through a zoo chat room), have drinks, watch movies and take the party outside. I don't need to be more graphic than that.

And what transpired one July night is what the entire film focuses on—one man—a divorced, father of one and engineer for Boeing, bled to death after intercourse with one of the horses.

Horrific, eh?

Yes. And what's more horrific is that by all accounts (save for the zoo habit), this guy was a productive, taxpaying member of society who boasted a promising career, loved his kid and had a great friendship with his ex-wife.

So how did he get there?

That's the problem with this movie. We have no idea.

Although the interviews are honest and meditative, they don't really offer any insight into why these individuals don't seek partnership with members of their own species. If I went into the theater wanting to learn anything tonight, it's how the hell some people find themselves so mentally messed up that they prefer the stimulation of an animal to a human.

But nothing about the film answered that question—and it's not exactly something you want to have in your browsing history should you decide to investigate for yourself.

If anything good came of the incident, it's that beastiality is now illegal in Washington state (it wasn't at the gentleman's time of death) and perhaps the awareness the movie will bring will make ranch owners check up on their livestock more often.

And I thought I'd seen it all...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Waitress

Today I saw Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Adrienne Shelly.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #31, click here to download the show.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Tonight I saw Spider-Man 3, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

It was the topic of Cinebanter 30, which is available for download here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Tonight I saw Hot Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

This film is the topic of Cinebanter 29, which you can download free of charge by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dirty Dancing

Tonight I saw Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. And yes, it still holds up.

Why am I writing a review of it now, 20 years after its release? Well, that's why. Tonight (and last night) all over the country, there were limited screenings of the film in honor of its 20th Anniversary. And to be honest, I'm the type of geek these 'fan events' are made for. The minute I saw the trailer for it months ago, my nostalgia antennae went up and I knew I couldn't miss it.

I'm so glad I didn't.

For a Seattle crowd, the group was loud—but in a good way. The energy was high, the giggles were frequent and the men were, well, scarce.

It had a crowd-participation vibe from the moment the black and white screen flashed with "Be My Baby" playing in the background. Everyone whistled when Patrick Swayze first appeared and clapped at the end of the first (awkward) dance between Johnny and Baby.

No one talked during the dialogue; everyone bopped in their seats when a great dance number took place.

This is the kind of cinema camaraderie I live for.

But getting back to the movie—yes, it's cheesy, campy and all of the other anti-snobby words you could call it, but it's also a movie about Social Class. And Abortion. And True Love. And Creative Expression.

The characters are drawn with very bold strokes, but in this case, it's a welcome blatancy.

And although the movie takes place in the 60s, it's got a definite 80s vibe with tunes from Eric Carmen and the like, providing the romantic backdrop.

A few of the scenes (Johnny and Baby crawling toward one another lip syncing; Baby practicing her dance moves on the steps) really took me back to the age I was when this came out—12.

I distinctly remember knowing every important line, singing songs from the soundtrack at slumber parties, and having a serious crush on Mr. Swayze.

Good times.

And after 20 years, since I still feel like getting up in the aisle and dancing along with the characters throughout, it must be a good film.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Black Book

Today I saw Black Book, starring Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 28, which is available here.

Tune in for our full review, then leave comments for us at cinebanter.com.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Grindhouse

Today I saw Grindhouse, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 27, which you can download free of charge here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

U2 at Cannes?

As a die-hard U2 fan, I was elated to learn today that their new concert documentary, U2 3D, will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival this spring.

Considering that the band all have homes on the French Riviera, I'd be surprised if at least one of them didn't attend the screening.

Hurrah!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Lookout

This morning I saw The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels.

The MP3 file of Cinebanter Episode 26, where Michael and I review this film, is available here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

First Snow

Tonight I saw a screening of First Snow, starring Guy Pearce.

This film was disappointing, despite an excellent performance by the always-good Guy Pearce.

Set in the southwest, the movie follows Jimmy (Pearce) on a personal journey of paranoia after a side-of-the-road fortune teller informs him he will only live until the First Snow.

First of all, the scenes where Jimmy consults with the 'psychic' are somewhat ridiculous because of the character they have painted him to be. Someone as slick as Jimmy would never take the word of a fortune teller as gospel and certainly wouldn't live his life based on the findings even if he did.

Second, the film feels like it's trying to be 'A History of Violence' meets 'Snatch' and it doesn't achieve the feeling of either. But the problem is not in the acting—Pearce and his supporting cast (a girlfriend, a few coworkers and a blatant enemy) do just fine. The issue is in the writing, which is shamelessly cheesy and undoubtedly predictable.

Lastly, although the movie has a clear, solid ending, it leaves you wondering what you were supposed to take away from the film.

Personally, I didn't take much.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Namesake

This morning I saw The Namesake, starring Tabu and Kal Penn.

Michael and I reviewed this film on Cinebanter 25, which you can download free of charge here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Zodiac

Tonight I saw Zodiac, starring Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter 24, so tune in on March 23 for our review.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Special Cinebanter Announcement

Hello everyone,

This is just an update to let you know that my Cinebanter co-host and I will be live blogging today during the Independent Spirit Awards and tomorrow during the Oscars on our Cinebanter home page.

We've posted an audio message explaining it on iTunes—you can access that mp3 here.

Join in the fun, watch the shows and comment along with us!

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

The evening of February 22, I saw Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, a documentary about the atrocities committed in the Iraqi prison.

The film was created by my favorite documentarian, Rory Kennedy and includes interviews with former prisoners, guards and military personnel who were there at the time.

What did I learn? Something I already knew: America should be ashamed of itself. There's really no other way to say it. As this war began, the Geneva Convention was thrown out the window and our soldiers were instructed to torture their captives using the most humiliating and extreme techniques. The photos in the documentary (many of which were seen through various media channels when the scandal was exposed) are still nauseating; the excuses still unacceptable.

What I found to be the most frightening part of the documentary was the nonchalance of the females interviewed, who were all but justifying their smiling photographs demonstrating these horrors. I didn't get any sense of remorse from the women, although all of the men displayed regret and guilt for their actions.

This film should be required viewing in every boot camp training course in every branch of the military.

But that will never happen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Breach

Tonight I saw Breach, starring Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillipe.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 23, which you can access here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

God Grew Tired of Us

This morning I saw God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan.

The story follows Sudanese refugees from their Kenyan camp to their new homes sprinkled throughout America. The most interesting parts of the film are watching the 'boys' adapt to their new surroundings.

They don't understand that the butter cubes on the airplane aren't for eating alone ("Tastes like soap!"), that the door should be kept closed when using a public bathroom, and that Americans don't always speak to one another if they're strangers.

What they do understand is how to earn a living, work hard for a better life and value their friends and family.

Although the movie is focused on showing what these Africans can learn in America and benefit from its opportunities, it really shows us how much we benefit from helping decent, honest people make a life for themselves.

The postcscript shares their successes including college degrees, positions of leadership and evidence of 'giving back' to the communities they came from.

As a country, we should do more of this. Helping people help themselves.

It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

Tonight I saw Letters From Iwo Jima, starring Ken Wantanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya.

This story of the Imperial Japanese fighting the Americans in the Battle of Iwo Jima is a sincere attempt to convey the horrors of war on both sides of the fence. However, it should've been an hour shorter.

The acting performances are superb and the battle scenes are an appropriately dizzy, harrowing ride, but the sentiment for me fell short—despite the fact the movie is well over two hours long. After witnessing the atrocities committed by both teams of soldiers, I was just anxious for the film to end because I didn't feel especially compassionate for either side.

Some would say that because the movie is based on a real battle and we know how it truly ended, that some of the suspense will inevitably be lost no matter how good the film is. I might have agreed with this had I not seen United 93, but now that I know it can be done, I no longer see that as a valid excuse.

This movie is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar® because of its beloved director Clint Eastwood, not because of its worth.

Eastwood's companion piece to this film, Flags of Our Fathers, better kept my attention—not just because I'm an American, but because it was a stronger story. What may have brought me into Iwo Jima more is if Clint had shown some familiar faces from his first movie and really tied things together. How compelling would it have been to see one of our beloved soldiers die from the opposite perspective?

More compelling than the result of this film, which left me bored and tired.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Painted Veil

This afternoon I saw The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

It is the topic of Cinebanter 22, so download our show to hear the full review.

Babel

This morning I saw Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Adriana Barraza.

Here are ten things I learned by watching it:

1. Don't go on vacation to an undesirable place just because your spouse wants to go.

2. Don't leave children unattended with rifles.

3. Seek counseling for any person who finds the dead body of their suicidal parent.

4. Being deaf is difficult.

5. If you're an immigrant and you want to work in the United States, become a legal citizen.

6. Don't drink and drive.

7. Don't provoke border guards.

8. Don't stand for political red tape getting in the way of your welfare when traveling abroad.

9. Always have a backup babysitter.

10. Don't run from your problems, even if they're difficult to deal with (i.e. accidental death of a child).

What's funny is that I knew all of the above before I sat through this movie.

We're all supposed to learn how to communicate with one another to achieve harmony in this world. Point taken.

This better not win Best Picture.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

Last night I saw Das Leben der Anderen, starring Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck.

What a fantastic film.

Koch portrays playright Georg Dreyman who is targeted by the Stasi (East German Secret Police) in an effort to remove him so one of their lead henchman can have Christa-Maria Sieland, a successful stage actress, all to himself.

The captain assigned to their surveillance, Gerd Wiesler (brilliantly played by Ulrich Muhe), is at first a stereotypical yes-man to his superiors, but soon becomes almost infatuated with the couple and questions his own Stasi loyalty.

What develops is a thrilling guessing game of "Who's-on-who's side?" that leads to a nailbiting climax and fulfilling conclusion.

Overall, it's a suspenseful, funny, sexy adventure illustrated by excellent writing and perfectly-cast actors. It feels authentic throughout, and although not based on truth, could've easily happened in mid-80s East Germany.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Italian

Tonight I saw The Italian, starring the adorable Kolya Spridonov.

Dickensian is a proper way to describe the film, set in an icy, perpetually damp Russia.

The story follows six-year-old Vanya, who lives in a miserable orphanage and is about to be 'sold' to an Italian couple who wants to adopt him. Before he's taken, he encounters a desperate mother who has returned to his orphanage to claim her biological son only to find out he's already been adopted. Seeing how much this mother loved her boy, although she'd originally abandoned him, gives Vanya hope that his natural mother may also come back for him.

Thus begins the adventures of Vanya.

With help from older orphans, he sets out to find his biological mother and endures amazing obstacles along the way. Without giving anything away, I'll just say I teared up throughout the film. Spridonov's performance is magnificent and the supporting cast are so realistic you feel as if they're living out their existences now, even though the movie has ended.

Heartwrenching? Yes. But definitely worth a watch.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Venus

Today I saw Venus, starring Peter O'Toole.

It's an unconventional love story about a young girl named Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) who moves in with her elderly great-uncle to help him around the house and develops a friendship with his equally elderly friend Morris (O'Toole).

The friendship crosses the line by way of neck sniffing and shoulder kisses, but in a wierd way it's not as bothersome as it sounds. Some have compared this movie to Lolita and I can understand why, but the main difference is that the heroine in this story (Venus) is of consenting age.

Peter O'Toole's performance has been hailed as one of the finest in 2006. I can't disagree with that, but he still doesn't get my pick for the Best Actor Oscar. I believe he's deserved it on many occasions, but this is not one of them. Here he is perhaps portraying the closest thing to himself rather than his competitors in the category (Gosling as a drug-addict; DiCaprio as a diamond trader from another continent; Whitaker as a dictator; Smith as a poverty-stricken dad). It's true this is probably his last great role, but to me that doesn't warrant a statue.

Overall, the film is pleasant enough to watch save for the moments of discomfort during a few borderline sexual scenes. An element of sweetness ultimately saves it, but I suspect seniors will embrace this film more than the average thirty/fortysomething viewer.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Amazing Grace

Tonight I attended a screening of Amazing Grace, starring Ioan Gruffudd.

What's really amazing is that I didn't fall asleep.

I mean no disrespect to the director (Michael Apted) or the story, which details the obstacles that William Wilberforce faced as he fought British Parlaiment to abolish slavery.

But my God, was this boring.

The film shows William's relentless quest to alter the opinions of crochety old Brits (with the help of a freed slave), explains how he fell in love with his like-minded wife, and shows us how sick he got along the way.

It hardly does the famed leader justice.

The real man who lived from 1759 to 1833 fought not only for the abolishment of slavery but also for child labor laws, education for folks with disabilities (such as deafness), and even for animal rights. He was extraordinary and unique.

In the film, he's merely a handsome good guy to root for.

I could've done without the countless pretentious speeches and seen more of the adversity. The courtroom scenes weren't as nailbiting as I suppose they were in real-life and the love story between him and his wife was barely fleshed out. And the two times the title hymn is sung in the film didn't evoke the goosebumps I expected it to.

Incredibly disappointing all around.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Today I saw The Last King of Scotland, starring Academy Award nominee Forest Whitaker.

MichaelVox and me review it on episode 21 of Cinebanter, which is available here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Miss Potter

Tonight I saw Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

What a delight!

The film tells the life story of one of the most acclaimed children's authors of all time—Beatrix Potter (Zellweger). We see her as a child of privilege with parents who took their London social status seriously and seldom let her forget it. We meet her friends in the form of pets...and drawings of pets that she began when she was a little girl. We learn that first, her illustrations became greeting cards. Then, she developed them into narratives and sold them as books.

Her life as a "spinster" is frowned upon, as her parents have presented many suitable suitors over the years and she has rejected all of them. But the one man who has always believed in her is her publisher, Mr. Warne (McGregor). A friendship transpires between the two (and his sister Millie, brilliantly portrayed by Emily Watson) and they soon become engaged. Because he's a tradesman her parents don't approve of the coupling, but that doesn't stop the engagement.

What follows is a satisfying and honest look at a woman who was a feminist before her time—and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. Beatrix Potter was independent, clever, powerful, thoughtful, intelligent and eccentric. The movie conveys that beautifully as her drawings literally jump off the page to interact with her and we watch a lonely girl transform into a competent businesswoman.

Yes, it's a light movie. There are no murders or suicides or dramatic scenes where characters break dishes in heated arguments. There are no drug users or orphans or accidents that typically surface when recounting the life of an writer. But the movie is all the better for it.

It stays faithful to the artist's story without creating illusions to mask the normalcy. And really, I can't think of a better way to pay tribute to the world's best-selling children's author of all-time.