Friday, December 31, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Today I saw Never Let Me Go, starring Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.

Kathy (Mulligan) seems to be a classic goody two-shoes. She is smart, helpful and kind to her fellow students at the refined British boarding school where she lives.

Tommy (Garfield) has anger management problems. Scenes featuring him during youth would lead many to believe he was perhaps autistic due to his outbursts. This is never confirmed, but is implied.

Kathy and Tommy form a tender friendship, which leads Tommy to buy a cassette tape for Kathy. The song she listens to repeatedly is called "Never Let Me Go."

Ruth (Keira Knightly) is the prettier, less-honorable girl at school who sleeps with Tommy to keep him from realizing his love for Kathy. Pretty straightforward love triangle, right?

Not so much.

It seems that the boarding school is merely a breeding ground for beings that are born from a laboratory for no other purpose than to harvest and donate organs. When they reach a certain age, they get their 'notice' similar to a military draft, and begin surgeries to give up as many parts of their body as possible. Their obligation is "complete" only when they die.

Kathy gets lucky and becomes a "carer," which apparently buys her a few more years. In the meantime, she cares for those not so lucky, comforting them in between surgeries and signing the releases for their bodies when they don't make it.

The film is solid; the acting superb; the scenery perfect. But something about its quiet pace doesn't quite instigate the anger that we should feel for these poor, sacrificed souls.

No matter how they were created, it is clear the students share human emotions and feelings, and therefore they should be entitled to a life longer than early adulthood. This injustice should trigger a more intense response from the audience, but falls short of doing so.

That said, it was nice to watch a movie that had an original plot, mixing character studies and science fiction into the same fold.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nice Guy Johnny

Today I saw Nice Guy Johnny, starring Matt Bush and Edward Burns.

Johnny (Bush) is a California sports broadcaster a few weeks shy of getting married. His fiancé Claire (Anna Wood) is pressuring him to give up his current low-paying job and take one arranged by her wealthy father. He is a nice guy, so he agrees to it.

Enter Uncle Terry (Burns), an out-for-pleasure bartender who thinks his nephew is too young to be taking the plunge and attempts to set him up with a young tennis player. Her name is Brooke (Kerry Bishé), she is naturally beautiful and somewhat perfect for Johnny.

But Johnny's a nice guy, so he refuses to play his uncle's games and comes clean about being engaged. Brooke finds this to be noble, but doesn't completely give up on pursuing him.

After some time away at the beach, Johnny reconsiders the vast career move he's about to make and mistakenly expresses his concerns to Claire. She has an unreasonable, crazy reaction, which leaves him soul searching for the right answers.

What's so great about Burns' films, this one included, is that every character feels real. It helps that with the exception of Burns, that this is a cast of unknowns, but even if there were A-list actors playing each part, I dare say they'd still reek of authenticity. Everyone on screen behaves the way someone we've all known behaves.

My first response to the character of Claire was that she was too over-the-top and bitchy to be someone that Johnny would want to marry, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I know several couples like that. One person is lovely and sweet; the other not so much and no one knows why they're together.

I also like the role reversal of Johnny, the guy, being the good person. Sure, Terry's character more than satisfies our need for male sliminess, but our hero here is not a wounded or scorned woman chewing her way through bad men. Our hero is a good man trying to sustain a relationship with a bad woman.

I, despite my gender, find that refreshing.

And really, refreshing is a great word to sum up this whole rom com. There are well-developed characters to root for, there's pretty scenery to look at and a sense of closure when it all comes together, which left a smile on my face as the credits rolled.

Nice Guy Johnny is available now On Demand and via iTunes.


True Grit

This morning I saw True Grit, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges.

I'll confess that I've never watched the original version of this film, but I'm bargaining that gives me an advantage at being objective here.

Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is on a mission to avenge her father's murder in the old west, and hires the notorious Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to help her track him down.

About five minutes into the film, the audience knows that Ross is the smartest person in town. Never mind the fact she's only 14 and has no experience chasing bad guys, etc. As my Cinebanter partner would say, there is nothing more annoying than a self-righteous, precocious child, but in this case, the character is not so bad.

The only problem with Mattie being so convincing is that all tension is removed. Everyone is aware that she will achieve her goal come hell or high water because her wit and determination will allow for no alternate result. Steinfeld plays the part earnestly and sincerely, and most likely has a bright career ahead of her, but that doesn't forgive the script for removing all surprise at the ending.

Bridges is absolutely believable as the boozy U.S. Marshal, but his speech is so slurred throughout the film that it borders on Sling Blade-like enunciation (or lack thereof). Less mumbling and more stumbling would've been preferred.

Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger in pursuit of the same criminal is another story.

Disclaimer: I love Matt Damon. I think he's one of the finest actors of my generation and I like him in nearly everything I've seen him in. But here, with a bushy mustache and a ridiculous accent, I just couldn't buy it.

He doesn't have the 'evil' or the 'anger' or the 'tough' I expect from gritty cowboys. He doesn't look like a ranger; he appears to be a young man playing dress-up in Western clothes.

I found this unfortunate casting to be distracting and disappointing, and his character to be annoying and forgettable.

The Coen brothers have always been hit (Raising Arizona) or miss (The Ladykillers) for me. Either I love them or I hate them.

In this film, I'm finally split down the middle.

I enjoyed watching Hallie Steinfeld steal the show, and Josh Brolin as a dimwit killer was a pleasure too. Yet Bridges' lack of articulation, Damon's cowboy impersonation coupled with the somewhat boring lapses of time in the middle of scenes kept it from being perfect.

The writer/directors may very well enjoy their customary Oscar nominations, but I truly doubt they have a prayer at winning.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How Do You Know

Tonight I saw How Do You Know, starring Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd.

George (Rudd) is a financial something-or-other in hot water because of his father's illegal dealings in the family business. As a result, his girlfriend leaves him, which allows him to pursue a woman by the name of Lisa (Witherspoon) who another friend attempted to set him up with.

Lisa, a professional softball player just cut from the team, is currently in a relationship with Matty (Owen Wilson), a pitcher living the high life and enjoying the perks that come with it.

Once she realizes that Matty isn't the most honorable of men, she treats their union with equal respect and goes out on a date with George. But the timing is bad—he's just been indicted and she's just lost her career, so neither of them is really in the mood for good conversation. They decide it would just be best to remain silent throughout the meal and that's how their entire date is spent—enjoying the peace and quiet.

Lisa decides to try to work things out with Matty and George's self-esteem convinces him to leave her alone (though he thinks about her constantly after their weird evening together).

What's interesting about this somewhat conventional romantic comedy is that the only person worth rooting for here is George.

His life has been turned upside down through no fault of his own and now he's falling for an unavailable girl who frankly isn't much fun to be around. Poor thing!

Witherspoon does a great job of communicating a neurotic, selfish, spoiled brat who appears to leave any situation she doesn't find totally hospitable. Sure, she's pretty; yeah, she's in great shape (though, oddly enough, we never see her on the softball field), but what about this woman's personality is so enticing? Nothing.

Matty is cute, rich and clueless. He has redeeming qualities in that he truly seems to care about Lisa, but a truer-to-life version of him would surely cheat on her.

Though the cast here is predictably great, the screenplay falls short of delivering any real romance or spark, and the laughs are too few and far between to be satisfying.

How do you know when you're in love? This movie won't provide the answer.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Rabbit Hole

Today I saw Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.

Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) have lost a son. Their beloved 4-year-old Danny chased their dog into the street and was struck and killed by a car. This was eight months ago.

Today their world is dismal. They don't make love, don't agree on ways to heal (he likes group therapy; she hates it) and have several problems communicating as a result. To top it off, Becca's irresponsible sister is knocked up and Becca can't help but be jealous and judgmental about the new baby.

Sound like fun? Well, of course not, but it's not quite as hard to watch as it sounds.

Sure, Becca is draped in depressing grays and exhibits the loss of energy any of us feel when experiencing pain of that magnitude, but there is a merit to what's happening on-screen.

The relationship Becca develops with Jason (Miles Teller), the teenager who was driving the car that killed her son, is tender and tragic—as if each time she looks at him she sees an age that her son will never reach.

Becca and Howie are angry, but they're not malicious toward one another, though their marriage is crumbling at every turn.

Gaby (Sandra Oh) is a friend Howie makes in group therapy and her presence seems appropriate and comforting in light of the circumstances. She's hurting too, and as the saying goes: misery loves company.

There is resolution without closure here, and it's done gracefully thanks to director John Cameron Mitchell. This 'slice of death' story could have been a blatant sob-fest if it had fallen into the wrong hands, but thankfully it did not.

Really, the only thing wrong with it is Kidman's inability to hold her American accent during outburst scenes. But that is forgivable in such a well-written, enveloping film.


The King's Speech

On Christmas Day, I saw The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

It's not difficult to speculate that this may be the role that finally earns Firth the Best Actor Oscar.

Firth plays Bertie, otherwise known as King George VI of England, as he struggles to cope with his problem of stuttering. His wife, who we knew as The Queen Mum, played wonderfully here by Helena Bonham Carter, is supportive and loving—constantly trying to find a professional to help him with his speech.

Enter Lionel Logue (Rush), an offbeat, unconventional therapist who will only work under the conditions he creates. This doesn't immediately mesh with the spoiled royal's philosophies, but he learns to embrace the rule when Logue's exercises begin to improve his speech.

The bulk of the film is the relationship between Lionel and Bertie, but there are strong supporting performances in the side story of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicating the throne to marry American divorcée, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). Pearce resembles the real royal so closely, it's borderline eerie. Best nails the essence of the bold Simpson, even if she's almost too pretty to be believed.

Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill would be my only complaint in the film. He portrays the iconic man in an exaggerated, over-the-top way that does no justice to the integrity he truly possessed.

Otherwise, Geoffrey Rush is so perpetually appealing, and Colin Firth is so consistently brilliant illustrating the progression of speech that it would be difficult to find fault with any other portion of this masterpiece.

I was entertained and enthralled from start to finish by what could easily be considered a boring topic. That's a testament to the sharp writing, the balanced directing, and most of all, the amazing acting.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Tourist

On December 13, I saw The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

Elise (Jolie) is in love with Alexander, who is being followed by the police via her. He sends instructions for her to find a man on an Italian train and make them think that this man is him. A decoy, if you will. Elise finds Frank (Depp).

Frank is a Midwestern math teacher who is trying to heal from a painful relationship and decides to use Venice as his medicine.

The chemistry between the two actors isn't what you'd expect (I thought since they're both a bit kooky off-screen they might just have a special spark on-screen, but they really don't). This lack of extra pizazz doesn't make looking at either one of them any less pleasant, but but also doesn't help the all-too-simple plot.

Once Frank gets mixed up in Elise's world, all hell breaks loose for him and he becomes the sacrificial lamb in her story of slaughter. Of course, since she's fond of him, she does swing by on a boat to rescue him in time of peril, and kisses him for good measure, but everything floats to the surface too easily to achieve any depth.

The ending was mildly surprising and welcome, since the rest of the film was ridiculously predictable. The scenery, however—both landscapes and lovers—was beautiful.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Swan

Tonight I saw Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #100, which will be posted at the end of December.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

127 Hours

On Monday, I saw 127 Hours, starring James Franco.

When I heard about the real news story that inspired this film, I was simultaneously repulsed and fascinated. How could anyone cut their own arm off to free their body from a rock? What conditions could be so dire that would leave no alternative?

Director Danny Boyle does a good job of spelling it all out for us viewers using James Franco's convincing talent to mimic what the real Aron Ralston must've endured.

When we meet Aron on-screen, he's a twentysomething adrenaline junkie seeking a Saturday hike in the canyons of Utah. He meets some cute girls, flirts with them and continues on his solo expedition. He jumps and climbs and leaps with reckless abandon. The angles and shots we see when we're experiencing his point of view are so dramatic, I had to wonder how close to danger the camera crew really came.

Very soon after leaving his new friends, a boulder falls during one of his climbs and pins his arm to a canyon wall. The remainder of the movie is his struggle to free his arm and eventually the desperate act of amputating it with a dull knife.

I wasn't sure I'd make it to the film, as I'm the squeamish type, but the buzz surrounding Franco's allegedly Oscar-worthy performance left me too curious to pass it up.

I'm glad I had the courage to go (even if I had to turn my eyes away from some of the most graphic parts) because his acting is first-rate and the story, though spoiled years ago by the nightly news, is still compelling. A man who was careless enough to go on a dangerous hike and not tell a soul where he was headed also turned out to be smart enough to survive—a feat many people probably couldn't have accomplished under the circumstances.

The only drawback for me was the distracting, almost Indian-sounding score that was overbearing at times.

Silence, I believe, can illustrate tense moments better than anything.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Today I saw Love and Other Drugs, starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Maggie (Hathaway) is a 26-year-old artist suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Jamie (Gyllenhaal) is a pharmaceutical salesman, peddling antidepressants who meets her one day as she's getting her breast examined. Seriously.

They banter back and forth about why he shouldn't have been in her exam room (he really shouldn't have) then consummate their attraction after their second encounter (this time, a coffee shop).

The sex is so good that both partners, who are anti-relationship, begin to crave more from one another. This scares Maggie, who doesn't want to tether anyone into being her caretaker for the rest of time, so she pushes Jamie away.

The two lead actors are phenomenal and share a very believable chemistry. Watching them become these two characters (forgetting they played a married couple in 2005's Brokeback Mountain) isn't remotely boring, and their spicy scenes keep us paying attention, if only for the skin.

What's wrong with the movie is everything else: the 'rich' brother that for some reason has to crash on Jamie's couch when his marriage falls apart; the waste of Hank Azaria (as a slimy doctor) and Oliver Platt (as a slimy salesman); the script discrepancies that throw us from a slapstick comedy to a depressing drama without warning.

I went into the theater thankful that this wouldn't be just another chick flick and came out disappointed that the result was almost worse.

At least Hathaway wasn't the only one who had to take off her clothes.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Today I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.

This movie was exactly what I expected—a faithful re-telling of the not-so-exciting portions of the final book in the Harry Potter series, sprinkled with enough charm to keep things interesting.

When this section of the story begins, Harry (Radcliffe) is by tradition leaving his aunt and uncle's house. Each book began this way with the young wizard heading off to Hogwarts for another year of school, but this final one has a twist: Harry is instead escaping to a safe house to elude the ever-so-evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

In the first chuckle-worthy scene in the film, a spell is cast on several of Harry's friends who have agreed to be turned into a replica of his likeness to throw the death eaters off the scent. Radcliffe shines, taking on the mannerisms of most of them while remaining in his own 'skin.'

Of course, he does survive this stunt, but that set-up launches the audience into over two hours of provoking, then escaping, only to provoke again.

Harry is naturally accompanied into this war by his two best friends, Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), who are preoccupied with their own chemistry, yet loyal to a fault.

It's difficult to squeeze even half of a book into a full-length film, but after a few meaningful scenes about the relationships between these three friends, I found myself wishing for more.

Sure, it's fun to see Helena Bonham Carter's Bellatrix throwing things around, and it's nice to see Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) squirm instead of smirk, but the genuine camaraderie between the three lead actors is such a pleasure, I hope the final chapter devotes more time to their bond.

As for this installment, I thought it was appropriately dark and full of exposition, and I nearly went to pieces at the culmination of Dobby's big sacrifice. If ever the lesser class had a greater hero!


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fair Game

Today I saw Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #99, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


This morning I saw Hereafter, starring Matt Damon and Cécile De France.

George Lonegan (Damon) is a retired psychic with a gift that won't stop giving. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr) is an enterprising businessman who convinces him to do just one reading for a Greek client going through a rough time. As a result of this spot-on reading, word gets out of George's abilities and Billy pressures him to return to his craft.

A few months prior, Marie (De France) survived what we must assume was the Sri Lankan tsunami, and has a tough time re-adjusting to life after her out-of-body experience during the tragedy.

As this is happening, Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a young British boy with a drunken mother, loses his twin in an auto accident.

Both Marie and Marcus go searching for answers following their respective events as George retreats into a solitary life of factory work.

Damon plays George so cold and guarded, he would be difficult to like if he weren't so appealing. That said, when faced with a burden of former fame, it's easy to sympathize with someone who doesn't want to confront death on a daily basis.

All of the stories are fleshed out well except the cameo by Bryce Dallas Howard, which still leaves me scratching my head. The overall topic of the film is engaging whether or not you're a believer in the afterlife, and the opening scene where the tsunami hits rivals any great action scene in recent memory.

But where director Clint Eastwood somehow misses the mark is in the quiet contemplation of each main character. Those suspended moments of thought and revelation don't need to be as long as he makes them, nor does the slow pace necessarily serve the screenplay well.

This film is like a beautiful piece of scenery captured by a camera that is just slightly out of focus, yet still pleasant to watch.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Today I saw Paranormal Activity 2, starring Sprague Grayden and Molly Ephraim.

I've arrived at the point where I cringe when I hear the announcement of a sequel. In recent years, very few sequels (save for Toy Story) have lived up to my expectations, and when I like the original film so much, I fear a bad second one will tarnish my memory of it.

That wasn't the case today when I saw the second installment of this independent horror success story. Today's film was more of a prequel than a sequel, but since it ends after the first one, I guess it's still technically a sequel.

Anyway, in this one we spend time with the sister, Kristi (Grayden), of the original star Katie (Katie Featherston), who makes a few appearances too.

Kristi has recently given birth to the first son on her side of the family in many generations. Her stepdaughter Ali (Ephraim) learns of this fun fact after she begins researching demons due to weird occurrences in their home. Doors open and close on their own, the dog reacts to 'nothing' and the automatic pool cleaner moves out of the water each night.

Dad (Brian Boland) believes nor witnesses any of it, but when the house is trashed and nothing is stolen, he installs surveillance cameras to try to catch the intruders. This footage point of view is how the audience sees the film 90% of the time.

Without giving anything away, the same tension and delayed jolts permeate this film the way they did the first, and surprisingly the effect is not diminished by anticipation. Though the plot is similar, even involving some of the same characters, at the heart of the plot the question "Why?" keeps everything interesting.

Why does this family have to endure this torture? What is the root reason of their link to the paranormal world? Will we ever know exactly what happened in the family's fire years ago?

The ending leaves all of these questions without answers, but remains satisfying because of the authentic feel of the cast and the less-shaky camera-work, which was a welcome improvement from the original.

All in all, this is a great movie to see if you want to stay spooked.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back to the Future

Today I saw Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

As many of my readers know, Back to the Future is my favorite film of all time. I was 9-years-old when it debuted in June of 1985 and since then, I've seen it over 90 times. Yes, that's 9 - 0.

To me, it's a perfect film.

For those who have lived under a rock for a quarter century, Back to the Future tells the story of Marty Mcfly (Fox), a high school student in 1985 who befriends a 'mad scientist' named Doc Brown (Lloyd) and ends up accidentally being the first human traveler in his new invention: a time machine.

Marty goes back to the year 1955, when his parents were in high school, and unintentionally messes with the space time continuum, causing his mother to fall for him instead of his father. He spends the rest of the film trying to undo this error and get back to 1985.

The charming parts of the story re-visit what was cool about the 50s: the novelty of television (a new invention), bobby socks, poodle skirts and a universal innocence that has never been duplicated.

The serious parts of the story examine common themes that everyone can relate to: bullying, first loves, protective parents and rejection.

Combine those two major elements with excellent acting by the perfectly cast ensemble, a witty script by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, and good old-fashioned heart-stopping action at the end, and you have a film that stands the test of time.

As a child, I loved it primarily because of my crush on Michael J. Fox; as a teenager, I identified with the restrictions Marty's parents put on the kids; as an adult I enjoy witnessing the nostalgia of my parents' era and my own as a child of the 80s.

At the end of the 25th anniversary presentation of the film I saw today, everyone clapped and cheered. I gave it a standing ovation.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Today I saw the documentary Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim.

American public schools are in trouble and each day leaders like Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee do their best to fight against a broken system that refuses to right its wrongs.

In this film we meet those reformers, along with a small sample of underprivileged children from across the nation who all have one thing in common: a desire to learn.

One girl's mom cleans hospitals while dad stays at home searching for a job; another boy's grandmother has stepped in to raise him because her son (his father) died from drug use. These aren't easy times for anyone.

But the children wake up each day, wash their face and head to school because they're determined to make a better life than the one they were born into. They all come from families who recognize the importance of education and for that reason we come to find out they're all entered into separate lotteries to try to gain acceptance into better schools.

The numbers are dismal: the US ranks near the bottom of the list for developed countries in nearly every subject. The cost of keeping a prisoner incarcerated for four years turns out to be more than the cost of an exceptional private education. Why can't our country do the math?

Waiting for Superman turns out to be more of a wake up call than a call for action (many of the situations seem hopeless from what they've shown us), and it has already succeeded in angering a large portion of the good public school teachers who feel they are getting a bum rap.

The presentation of the issues was engaging and well done, but proposed solutions for how to solve the problem would've been more powerful.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

Today I saw The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #98, so tune in for our review (coming soon).

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Today I saw Heartbreaker, starring Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris.

We all have loved ones with partners we'd like to trade. Whether they be adulterous or simply annoying, at some point we all fantasize about breaking said couples up, but seldom follow through.

However, if there were a breakup-for-hire third party who we could solicit to do our dirty work, would we take the risk?

Many would, according to the premise of this film.

Alex (Duris) makes a living seducing women out of their current relationships with the help of his sister and her dim-witted husband. He makes it a rule not to break up what he perceives to be "happy" couples and ends his pairings immediately after accomplishing his task.

The father of Juliette (Paradis) has commissioned him for a rush-project of sorts—her wedding to a Brit they're not fond of is due to take place in a matter of days, so Alex will have to work fast to win her over.

During his "research" of the client, he learns she loves George Michael music and quickly rigs the car with vintage Wham! hits (though the way he achieves it seems needlessly elaborate). He also begins memorizing her favorite movie, Dirty Dancing, to learn the dance moves of Patrick Swayze's character.

Alex poses as Juliette's bodyguard to gain 24/7 access to her, and like many formulaic romantic comedies, he doesn't like her at first. She is the pampered princess; he the working-class simpleton.

Of course that changes, and he begins to make progress on his mission, but this is where the movie lost me. Vanessa is model-beautiful and her husband-to-be is Prince Charming handsome. Alex is skinny, somewhat unclean and sloppy. His actions are so exaggerated he comes off as a buffoon and the way he conveys his "love" for the things she adores isn't terribly convincing.

Throw in the slapstick nature of the supporting characters (his sister and brother-in-law, and her sex-crazed best friend) and all of the sweetness of the idea here is gone.

I enjoyed the leading lady's performance, but without a believable match for her to have to decide between, this film just couldn't work as it was intended.

I may have to cleanse my palette and throw good-old Dirty Dancing into the DVD player.


Friday, September 24, 2010

The Town

On Wednesday, I saw The Town, starring Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) was the good kid from a bad Boston family. Dad is behind bars, mom has disappeared and his best friend, troublemaker Jim (Jeremy Renner) has taken him in as an adopted brother.

When we meet Doug and Jim, they're robbing a bank with their friends, and we see that Doug shows compassion for their hostage Claire (Hall), while Jim is more prone to aggression, beating an assistant manager savagely because he suspects he tripped the alarm.

Following the crime, the group needs to be sure the witness won't talk, so Doug follows Claire, quickly learning the emotional ramifications of what they did to her. He shows genuine compassion for her pain during a meet-cute at a laundromat and they begin dating.

Meanwhile, overzealous FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is determined to put a stop to this dangerous group and begins to put the pieces of the crime together.

From there it's a cat-and-mouse chase of further violence, action and mayhem leading up to a tense ending that had me holding my breath.

Affleck as a director is clear in his aim to make Boston its own character. Shots of the city are alternately beautiful and harrowing, depending on the neighborhood, and the ever-present accents never let us forget where they are.

He's also good at action scenes, getting just enough angles to keep it interesting without confusing us.

As for the performances, Jeremy Renner stands out as exceptionally evil, while Affleck appears sincere and conflicted at the life he's chosen vs. the life that was chosen for him.

Although it's a formulaic good-guy, bad-guy story, with the intent that the audience will root for the redeeming bad guy, I still enjoyed the ride and look forward to see what Affleck will come up with next.


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tillman Story

Tonight I saw The Tillman Story, a documentary about the late Pat Tillman.

It's a story that's far too familiar: a good American man wants to serve his country so he enlists in the military, goes on a tour of duty and is killed in the line of fire.

Only Pat Tillman wasn't just any soldier—he was a former football star who gave up millions of dollars and the promise of doing something he loved for the rest of his life to fight for the US.

Sent to Iraq (alongside his younger brother, who enlisted at the same time), Private Tillman was killed on Earth Day in 2004 by members of his own troop. First, the military claimed Tillman was a hero in combat against the enemy. Then, when word got out that it was truly friendly fire that got him, they billed it as an "accident." But the men who served alongside Pat knew better, and eventually, they spoke.

Tillman's mother, Mary, simply wanted the truth she was entitled to, and that's what this film is about.

It's about a family's struggle for answers, a group of soldiers who were friends of Tillman and wanted the truth to come out, and a collective of high-level government officials who covered up the real story so they could turn the Tillman death into a public relations stunt in favor of the war.

Talking head interviews with Tillman's family and fellow soldiers are the bulk of the film, but the commentary is never dull. We see footage of formal hearings, scenes from his memorial service in San Jose, and video from the actual day he died, in the area where he perished.

The movie is at once frustrating and devastating, but there is validity in its existence if only to expose the corrupt powers-that-be to anyone left who may mistake them for honorable.

Refreshing as well is the approach Tillman's mother has, which indicates she doesn't want her son to be thought of as a hero any more than any other soldier who traded his life for his country.

Though the lack of closure in the matter may make you angry as you leave the theater, you'll be proud to know that true Americans like the Tillmans still exist.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Going the Distance

This morning I saw Going the Distance, starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long.

Erin (Barrymore) is a grad student interning at a New York newspaper when she meets Garrett (Long), a record label talent searcher, disgruntled with the changing industry.

They have a meet-cute over a Centipede arcade game and fall in love at first sight. The couple's chemistry is believable (perhaps because they're a real-life pairing) and we can't help it that we want them to be together.

But what happens when two people find perfect bliss and then have to part indefinitely?

At first, nothing. When Erin returns to the West Coast to finish her degree, we experience the romance of long distance. There are late night phone calls, webcam chats and surprise visits. Absence is making the heart grow fonder.

Then, there's the realization that when each of them wakes up in the morning, the other is not lying next to them. That can hurt, especially when one is at a point in there life where major decisions are going to need to be made.

Erin is faced with such a decision regarding her career and her living situation (she's 31 and still bunking with her big sis). Does she sacrifice relationship for career or vice versa? The question may be a no-brainer for those who already have families, but for the single folk out there (especially the women) it's a much tougher call.

The story in this film is a simple one, but the writing and delightful presence of the leads makes it more than watchable. It's an enjoyable representation of modern relationships that all of us Gen Xers can surely relate to in one way or another.

I felt special kinship with Erin when she told her lover that she did in fact like saying "I told you so" when he was wrong. Those words have come out of my mouth more than a few times with partners, and it was nice to see a fictional person behaving so honestly.

This movie avoids typical rom-com clichés with just enough reality to keep us invested and the laughs come easily.

A refreshing change from the status quo.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm Still Here

Today I saw the documentary I'm Still Here about the Joaquin Phoenix's career transition.

Casey Affleck directs this sad film about the fall of a once-great actor through biased eyes (he married Phoenix's sister, Summer, in 2006) and as a result the story feels too calculated to be authentic, even if it's not a hoax.

The story begins with childhood footage of the famous Phoenix siblings performing a song-and-dance routine for a sidewalk full of gawkers. You get the sense perhaps you're supposed to pity these kids, as if they had no choice, but from all I've read of their commune-like upbringing, it's hard to believe that was the case.

Joaquin's older brother River was the true star of the family, and had it not been for his senseless fatal overdose, probably would've become one of the greatest actors of our time. Joaquin has never matched that magnitude of talent, but he's certainly displayed the potential to (he's been nominated twice for an Oscar).

In 2008, after receiving praise for his work in the critically acclaimed Two Lovers, Joaquin allegedly decided to quit acting once and for all, and begin a recording career in hip-hop. The fact that he commissioned Affleck to begin filing at precisely this time is why I say "allegedly."

He plays to the camera as someone who is "on" in every frame. Whether he's doing lines of cocaine (yes, I thought this was especially tasteless considering the manner in which his brother died), dancing and fondling hookers at his house, or ranting at one of his many pointless assistants, he's undoubtedly performing.

There are a series of funny exchanges between Phoenix and Sean "P Diddy" Combs, who is too smart not to notice that his entire genre of music may be mocked by Phoenix if he consents to produce him. Joaquin is disrespectful, showing up late and unprepared, and Combs gives it right back to him in the form of much-needed tough-love lecturing. It was the best part of the film.

In addition to that train wreck, there are plenty more (the now famous Letterman appearance; a scorned assistant retaliating in the most vile way imaginable), which makes this entire documentary nothing more than a meandering reality show. And no, I didn't appreciate the "bathroom" scenes.

I'm Still Here is meant to leave you wondering if it was all a hoax or if Phoenix was really delusional enough to think he could transition from being a serious, successful actor to a flashy, hip-hop star overnight.

I'm sure (and hopeful) it's probably the former, but whatever the case, I like Phoenix a hell of a lot less after seeing it.


Friday, September 03, 2010

Cairo Time

Tonight I saw Cairo Time, starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig.

Juliette (Clarkson) travels to Cairo to meet her husband who works for the UN as a refugee camp organizer in Gaza. He is (not surprisingly) detained, so he sends a friend to entertain her in his absence.

Tareq (Siddig) is a handsome, never-married Egyptian who runs a café, yet appears wherever Juliette needs him, whenever she needs him.

With additional husband delays, the waiting gets to be too much and restless Juliette begins to explore the city on her own. She finds this to be unsafe and solicits the company of Tareq as her informal tour guide. They cruise along the Nile, taste the "best coffee in the world" and get to know one another in a sweet, innocent way. She teases him about the girl who got away; he flatters her with jokes about her foreign pronunciation. They fall in love.

As we witness their chemistry develop, the director puts us in the places they are visiting in an almost visceral way. When the noise of Cairo is too intrusive for Juliette speak with her husband on the phone or to sleep, we're annoyed right along with her; when she takes constant sips of her bottled water on a dusty bus to the desert, we become thirsty with dryness.

The two main actors are perfect in their roles and the few supporting characters who show up are like seasoning on a pleasantly spicy dish.

The pace of the film is unimaginably slow, yet never dull. Watching a friendship grow into something unexpected is both exciting and frightening. Contemplating what one would do in a similar situation and wondering which man deserves Juliette's love keeps our minds going as the landscape quietly draws us into its mystery.

Also to be appreciated is the way the pyramids are savored in minimal, powerful scenes. There are no obligatory helicopter perspectives of the landmarks, nor do they steal the show (though they are breathtaking as seen from the characters' perspectives).

I'd recommend seeing Cairo Time on your own time, when you have the luxury of lingering right along with it.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

The American

Tonight I saw The American, starring George Clooney and Violante Placido.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #97, so tune in on September 13 for our review.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Last Exorcism

Tonight I saw The Last Exorcism, starring Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell.

Cotton Marcus (Fabian) is a Southern reverend who claims more to be a trained actor than a genuine voice of God. He agrees to let a film crew create a documentary about his "last exorcism" so he can expose all of his tricks and reveal the practice to be a universal sham.

His subject is a 16-year-old farm girl named Nell (Bell). She seems sweet enough during the daytime, but at night her Bible-bouncing father reports that demons emerge and she kills random pets/livestock.

With her father and brother as witnesses, Cotton performs his "exorcism" complete with fake sounds and a shaking bed, which he controls with fish wire. He proclaims the demons gone and leaves with a fat paycheck to a nearby motel.

Unfortunately, something is still the matter with Nell and she materializes at the motel, desperately in need of assistance. Cotton and the filmmakers take her to a hospital, but once she returns home, they learn she's hurt her brother. After another hospital trip, the reverend tries to convince the father to get her psychiatric help, but he doesn't believe in it.

Cotton (who really turns out to be somewhat of a decent fellow) feels responsible for Nell in some way, so he decides to help her himself and keeps digging to learn the truth.

The film is perfectly enjoyable/believable up to this point, then it all takes a turn for the worse.

One minor twist leads to a few different theories about Nell's evil, then the answer is given to us in an ending that makes you doubt the same screenwriter wrote the first half of the film.

The script did an excellent job of building the suspense and wonder through well-developed, complex characters and then left us alone with a convention that's been overused since film was invented.

What a shame.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hubble 3D

This morning I saw the documentary Hubble 3D.

Though I never had aspirations of becoming an astronaut, I have always wanted to know what it felt like to see earth from a distance. The closest I came until today was when astronaut Nicholas Patrick came to our school a few years back and brought a video of footage he'd taken in space. Though that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was surrounded by classes of antsy Kindergarteners, so it was hard to focus on the depth of what I was seeing.

Watching Hubble 3D in a quiet, dark theater on an IMAX screen so large it felt like it was surrounding me was a much more immersive experience.

Despite its short length (approx. 45 minutes running time), this film does have a plot. After the tragedy of the Columbia mission, NASA canceled the next scheduled mission to repair the Hubble telescope, a massive eye into the universe that took 10,000 people to create. Without the necessary fixes, the telescope would be rendered useless and years of hard work and money would be lost.

Thankfully, the engineers at NASA devised a plan that removed some of the risk from attempting another mission (basically having an extra shuttle ready if the astronauts became stranded in space) and in April of 2009, a brave team of heroes made the trip.

What we see in this film is their trip—a joyous, nerve-wracking, heart-pumping mission where they only had one chance to get it right. Their demeanor is surprisingly light-hearted, though their work couldn't be more dangerous. These folks are celebrating a lifetime of learning that earned them this place in history.

As we watch the careful maneuvering of an uncooperative tool, we feel like holding our breath (though if we watched the news at all last year, we already know the outcome). Although that alone is remarkable enough to keep us riveted, what's most amazing are the photographs that Hubble graces us with. The glistening close-ups of stars and energies that are billions of light years away.

Leonardo DiCaprio narrates what we're seeing sincerely, though the amount of times he plugs the Utopian qualities of earth becomes borderline preachy.

I'd recommend this film to people of all ages—especially Americans. I found myself getting goosebumps each time they showed a shuttle countdown. Perhaps that's because my earliest memory of space travel is watching the Challenger explode live on television in my 5th grade classroom. I remember my otherwise-stoic teacher bursting into tears and feeling sick that a class of students in New Hampshire would never again see their own teacher (Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher sent to space, was aboard).

In high school, I visited the memorial to the Challenger astronauts at Arlington National Cemetery and became nauseous with remembrance. Earlier this month I saw the trees that had been planted in their honor at the Johnson Space Center. Astronauts sacrifices, to me, are just as profound as those who serve bravely in our military.

Films like Hubble 3D remind us of their courage.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Other Guys

On Sunday I saw The Other Guys, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.

Allen Gamble (Ferrell) is a pencil pusher who does accounting work for the police department; his partner Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) is a bad ass detective who is relegated to desk duty after an unfortunate shooting incident.

Two of the most respected (and reckless) cops have just lost their lives in the line of duty and Terry thinks it's high time he and Allen—the other guys—take their place. Because Allen enjoys working at a desk, Terry has to threaten him to get him to go along with his plan. Soon they're both risking their jobs and lives in hot pursuit of a high-profile white collar criminal, all from the front seat of Allen's cherry red Prius.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it is, but it's meant to be and that's why it works.

Not for one moment do we ever forget that these two characters are meant to mock every buddy cop movie in the history of cinema. Never for a second do we mind.

Ferrell's deadpan delivery of a straight-man wanting to do the right thing and Wahlberg's naturally angry tough guy attitude make it hard for us to picture anyone else in their roles.

And speaking of perfect casting—don't even get me started on Eva Mendes. As Allen's sexy wife, Dr. Sheila Gamble, she shows more pitch-perfect comedic chops than any female in recent memory. Her alluring cleavage may be why she was considered; her acting is obviously why she was chosen. I've never enjoyed her more than I did here.

In addition to the acting, there are small yet hilarious reminders (such as quiet, cheesy saxophone music) that we're in a cop film. There are also random references (one that will make you want to pop in a T.L.C. record) that make no sense but somehow fit well in the context of the film.

I haven't laughed this hard at a movie since The Hangover. If you need a reason to smile, make sure to get to this movie.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Get Low

On Sunday I saw Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.

It will be the topic of our next Cinebanter episode, so tune in August 30 for our review.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Tonight I saw Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.

I can understand why some people won't like this film.

Jaded, cynical critics are practically forbidden from publicly praising any movie based on a "woman's journey," especially if that woman is an upper-middle-class white thirtysomething that seemed to have it all when she lost her mind.

As a critic who can admittedly be jaded and cynical much of the time, if I hadn't read the book I doubt I would've gone near the multiplex, but here's the thing: I did read the book, and I loved it.

Maybe it was timing? I don't know. I had just suffered the worst breakup of my life in the year prior to this book being released, so perhaps the story was literary tonic for me in the aftermath. All I know is that once I began reading it, I began calling other women in my life to see if they'd read it, and if they hadn't I was buying extra copies or loaning mine out so they could.

The film, based closely on the book, focuses on Liz Gilbert (Roberts)—a successful writer in Pennsylvania who decides she doesn't like being married, though nothing concrete is really wrong with her marriage. She breaks her husband's heart into a million pieces by suddenly walking out on him, then she embarks on an affair with a Much Younger Man, basically chewing him up and spitting him out too. Actions like this can leave one feeling very guilty and empty inside, so that's where the journey begins.

Liz decides to restore balance in her life by traveling for a year. It sounds terribly cliché and the fact that she had the money and time to do this makes many sour in jealousy, but amidst all of those privileges, it's hard not to feel sorry for how lost her soul truly is.

First, she ventures to Italy where she falls in love with the language and most importantly, the food. The book goes into greater detail, but the movie still brims with pasta and wine and pizza [Eat], so we're okay. In Rome, she also makes friends who encourage her to stop and smell the roses, which proves to be a valuable suggestion later in her trip. If only the film had captured more of Italy's ambiance, this section would have been more satisfying.

Second, she heads to India to learn how to Pray. This proves to be the most difficult task for anxiety-ridden Liz until she meets Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins). Richard is an emotionally wounded tough guy who tells it like it is and nicknames her "Groceries" (due to her fondness for food). In the book, the guy is barely likable; in the movie, Jenkins makes you weep for him. Seriously, if there is a performance to be noted in this film, it is Richard Jenkins. Every time he enters a frame we hang on his every word because we know we'll be entertained or even moved. He's enormously endearing and when it's time for him to leave in the film, we almost wish we could go with him.

Last, Liz lands in Bali where she inevitably falls in Love (though that's the last thing she planned to do). Felipe (Bardem), her lover, is sexy and warm and charming all at once and she is strong-willed putty in his hands. Roberts and Bardem don't have any special chemistry, but they're pleasant enough to watch as two divorcees finding their way back to beating hearts.

Overall, the film stays very faithful to the book. Nothing crucial is cut; no major portion of the story altered to meet Hollywood standards.

It's not the greatest work of cinema, but it's certainly not awful or hard to watch. That said, if you hated the book, chances are you'll hate this too.

But I didn't.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Yesterday I saw The Girl Who Played with Fire, starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Anyone who has read the novel this film was based on cannot help but compare the two, so I'll start by saying the filmmakers again did a good job of paring down the author's too-wordy text into simpler dialog, but I wish they hadn't changed certain details for the screen.

To explain them would be to spoil plot points for those who haven't yet seen the film, so I won't go into detail, but I will say that unless they payoff their changes in the third installment, I don't understand why they did it.

I also thought Lisbeth (Rapace) appeared less intelligent in this film, and that's something that could've easily been fixed by letting the camera linger on her smirks or having other characters reference her brilliance (as they do many times in the book).

My final complaint would be that Zala (Georgi Staykov) wasn't menacing enough for the monster that he is supposed to be. I was neither afraid nor repelled by his film version and felt that I should've been. Perhaps the director could've treated us to a few flashbacks with Liseth's mom?

On the good side: the casting again is superb. There isn't one person who doesn't fit the image of their literary likeness and act with conviction.

I also enjoyed the chemistry between Liseth and her girfriend Mimmi (Yasmine Garbi) and the tension between Blomkvist (Nyqvist) and Berger (Lena Andre).

In addition, as someone who is admittedly squeamish, I appreciated that the bloody scenes were not at all gratuitous and the violence true-to-life instead of ridiculous.

All in all, a satisfying middle to this thrilling trilogy.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Middle Men

Tonight I saw Middle Men, starring Luke Wilson and Giovanni Ribisi.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #95, so tune in August 16 for our review.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Tonight I saw Salt, starring Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber.

Like a pinball that's just been thrust into play, Evelyn Salt (Jolie) begins oh so calmly, then darts from one thing to another with reckless abandon. She's an employee of the CIA who has unexpectedly been accused of spying for the Russians. Because you can never be too careful, the higher ups want to hold her for questioning, but Evelyn is terrified the Soviets who are framing her will go after her (innocent, non-CIA) husband, so she escapes her own high security office building and heads home to warn him. When she arrives, he's already gone so she must continue on the run until she locates him. Or fulfills her Russian mission. You decide.

Along the way, her colleague/friend Ted Winter (Schreiber) does his best to defend her honor, but he can only do so much. The fact that she ran doesn't look good to the authorities and she's too skilled to let the boys track her down for a simple interrogation.

Everything you'd expect from an action thriller is here: high speed chases through traffic, security guards getting pistol whipped by a badass, confusion regarding who is on who's side and good old-fashioned Russian hatred for America.

Now, before you ask what decade the film is set in (present day, if you must), might I remind you that just last week our country (in real life) deported a handful of Russian spies who had been working in respectable American companies, living family lives in the suburbs like so many normal patriots.

With that out of the way, I can say that much of the film is completely unbelievable. There is no man's ass Evelyn can't kick; no weapon she is unprepared to use; no otherwise fatal car crash that she can't walk away from without a scratch. It's ridiculous.

But it's also undoubtedly fun, in a classic, Cold War sort of way.

What I found refreshing is that before every strategic move is made, there's not someone scrambling a signal on a cell phone or cracking some mysterious code on a laptop. In fact, the only typing we really see is in reference to launching a missile, and that I can forgive.

Plus, though she's a sexy woman who purses her lips on more than one occasion, the writers didn't make Evelyn too girlie. You never see her check her makeup in a mirror or even use her sexuality to win anyone over. The only indication you get that she has capacity for normal female emotion is the tenderness we see when she's with her husband. She must really love him.

So if you can get past the cheesy lines and the 80s explosions and the same-old spy twists, you might just have a good time with this flick.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Today I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace.

I'm always hesitant to see a film created from a book I enjoyed, but in this case it worked out for the best. The parts of the book I found cumbersome and verbose are eliminated, yet the story is undoubtedly fulfilled.

Mikael (Nyqvist) is a journalist who has just been convicted for committing libel against a powerful, wealthy man. Never mind that he was probably framed; he agrees to go quietly into prison once his sentence commences in six months.

Before he can begin serving that sentence, he is contacted by the people of billionaire Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to research the cold case murder of his niece Harriet who went missing 40 years ago. He is reluctant to take the offer, but the money is good, and coincidentally the missing woman babysat him in youth, so perhaps he feels remotely obligated.

Mikael doesn't get too far solving the mystery until he begins working alongside Lisbeth (Rapace), a twentysomething woman he caught hacking into his computer who has major social issues (and a menacing dragon tattoo).

Together they find the pieces of the never-forgotten puzzle and get close to one another as they discover them. On the side, Liseth overcomes some horrific personal violence (and no, if you can't handle brutal rape scenes, you shouldn't see this film) and fights demons from her own past.

The film succeeds in playing this all out in a realistic way. Nothing is over-stylized and the dialog is completely believable. We care about the characters enough to want to save them and root for any connections they can build with each other. That is both a testament to the strong adapted screenplay and the perfect casting of the two main leads. Really, how will any Americans measure up to them in a remake?

This was a very satisfying screen version of a book that could have been shorter. However, if you're going to devour both the film and the book, be sure to read the book first or you may not make it to the end.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Solitary Man

Tonight I saw Solitary Man, starring Michael Douglas and Jenna Fischer.

Car salesman are seldom liked and rarely respected, but you get the sense that before his dealership began running scams, Ben Kalmen (Douglas) may have been both. And when you're used to everyone adoring you and your world falls apart, it's hard to dissolve the natural arrogance that comes with the former privilege.

Susan (Fischer), Ben's adult daughter, just wishes he'd act his age. Instead of chasing skirts 30 years younger, she'd like for him to rebuild his life with a new job and a reasonable stability. His ex-wife Nancy (played by a cleavage-bearing Susan Sarandon) is apparently still fond of him, and his current girlfriend Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) chooses to look the other way as he cheats his way around their relationship.

All hell breaks loose when Ben takes Jordan's daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to a college interview out of town and sleeps with a barely legal girl. The consequences don't dent his conscience, but they do wreak havoc on his finances, his reputation and his ability to start a new car dealership.

Faced with eviction and homelessness, Ben turns to his daughter for help until he also betrays her and she's forced to cut him off. He has also received word that he may have heart trouble, but instead of getting the necessary tests to find out either way, he puts himself on a steady diet of baby aspirin and alcohol.

The entire film is a character study of a man choosing to live his life the way he pleases, regardless of the consequences. It's not that he doesn't love his family, or respect the natural 'order' life is meant to impose; he just feels his charm will overcome any situation too difficult to bear, and when that doesn't work, he just moves on.

Michael Douglas plays Ben superbly without an ounce of self-loathing, complete with slimy appeal. You really believe he would easily talk these young women into his bed because despite his flaws, he's sexy and smooth.

Supporting characters are also perfectly cast—Sarandon as the wistful, yet independent divorcée, Danny Devito as a long-lost friend and Jenna Fischer, an innocent, wounded daughter.

The ensemble is strong, the writing (which could've easily been one-note) is sharp without being too precious, and the direction is organic enough to make you feel as if you're in New York and Boston alongside the characters.

I have no idea why this interesting indie with an all-star cast isn't getting more attention.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

When Good Things Happen to Good People

I love that I have a reason to blog with such a headline.

Now let me explain:

In June of 2003, I attended an uber-geek event called the "U2 Fan Celebration" at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. I had recently joined a local U2 group through the website, and made friends here in Seattle who shared my love of the band—they were also willing to travel to Ohio for worship.

I'd already seen the U2 exhibit in February when it opened, but was determined to return in June, not just for the special events surrounding the celebration, but because I was an avid reader of a fan site called @U2, where I was addicted to a humor column by a guy named Answer Guy. This site was co-hosting the event, and its owner and several staffers were going to be there. I was a fan of these fans, and couldn't wait to meet them.

The first night I got lucky enough to sit with a few of them at the dinner table. Present were @U2 founder Matt McGee, @U2 cartoonist Kelly Eddington, and Aaron Sams, who runs a site called U2 Wanderer. I remember immediately bonding with Kelly over the fact we were both wearing Sally Hansen silver nail polish, and enjoying the lighthearted energy of the collective group. Everyone was so naturally kind and welcoming.

Here's a photo of Kelly and Matt at the Hard Rock Café that night:

Celebrating U2 at the Hard Rock Café

That weekend at the museum was nothing short of amazing. Aside from enjoying all the U2 content that was surrounding us, I came away feeling like part of the @U2 family.

When I returned to Seattle, I was flattered to learn that Kelly had featured me in one of her cartoons (that's me on the right on page 2). Though non-U2 friends made fun of me for appearing as a "fanatic," on a fan site, I couldn't have been more honored to have this artist reproduce me in such a way.

I stayed in close touch with my new friends, and in 2004, Matt gave me the opportunity to write as a contributor for the site. In 2005, just in time for U2's Vertigo tour, I was promoted to news writer, which changed my life.

@U2 threw an amazing party in my hometown of Portland, Ore. that year, in honor of the site's 10th birthday. And though I was already on staff, I still felt like a fan of all of these geniuses that had come before me. Many of them I met for the first time that weekend; others I spent time catching up with as if I were at a family reunion. Fans of the site were sweet to all of us, but the clear stars of the party were Answer Guy and Kelly the cartoonist, and it was easy to see why. Answer Guy was a naturally funny, sharp writer with a gift for sarcasm, and Kelly was a talented artist with a sense of humor that only enhanced her already-great writing.

Here's a photo of Kelly and me that night (she was making me a bracelet out of Christmas tinsel), taken by our mutual friend Michelle:


I was finally part of the crowd that I so longed to be associated with, and I considered my role on @U2 as a great privilege (5 years later, I still do). But as with all organizations and workplaces, people get married, switch their focus and move on. That's what happened with our brilliant Kelly, who was always putting out consistently wonderful, time-consuming cartoons. I was devastated when she announced her departure (as were thousands of fans who looked forward to her work each month), but as a friend I was glad that she'd found a more satisfying happiness in married life.

Since then, I've followed her blog, Alizarine, religiously, often making many of her delicious recipes and envying her idyllic home surrounded by the occasional woodchuck and deer. I was especially happy to see that she decided to follow her dreams and take a year off to paint. If only more of us were that courageous.

I've also branched out myself, focusing on my first love of film—co-creating the movie review podcast Cinebanter, which just turned four yesterday. My partner? A guy called Michael, who used to go by the name "Answer Guy."

Of course, all self-respecting film critics owe Roger Ebert for setting the bar so high and I am no exception. I immediately joined "The Ebert Club" when memberships were sold earlier this year, and consider him one of the best Tweeters on all of you can only imagine my delight today when I noticed that Roger was Tweeting about a certain watercolor artist, and that artist was Kelly!

You can read the full exchange on Kelly's blog, but basically Roger responded to her response to his earlier Tweet about film criticism books never getting their due in the background of films. She had done a painting recently that included one of his books on her shelf, and he not only wrote back in our club's blog, he Tweeted the sweetest endorsement for her art to his 180,000+ followers. As a result, Kelly's website has been getting countless hits, and I know of at least one painting that has already sold.

Congratulations Kelly, and thank you Roger, for recognizing the talent of my gifted friend.

It's so wonderful when good things happen to good people.


The Kids Are All Right

Today I saw The Kids Are All Right, starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Moore) are modern family mamas. They're married lesbians living the dream in California with two nearly grown children; one boy, one girl. One from each of their wombs, produced by the same anonymous sperm donor father.

Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18 and is preparing to leave for college at the end of summer. Her brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is pressuring her to inquire about their biological father because he is not yet of age, but dying of curiosity about his identity.

Finally persuaded, Joni contacts Paul (Ruffalo) and the three arrange to meet. The encounter goes well, and soon Paul has become a positive part of their lives, much to the dismay of their mother Nic, the most controlling (yet also responsible) of the family. Soon both children are spending quality time with him and Jules is designing his backyard (she's a landscape architect that just started her own business).

From here, things go awry as they do in many families: there is jealousy, betrayal, conversations no one ever wants to have—the family, once seemingly harmonious—is falling apart.

Nic, who is the instigator of much of the drama, is played almost too neurotic by Annette Bening. Of course there are people with her issues everywhere in life, but without anything redeeming to credit her with (aside from her obvious love of the family), it's hard to be on her side. In contrast, Mark Ruffalo's Paul is written to be so accepting and universally cool that I wanted to jump through the screen and start my own family with him. And really, he's not my type.

The real prize for acting, and remaining believable throughout the film goes to Julianne Moore. Her Jules is conflicted and honest and wounded and needy and likable all at once. She's one of those characters you can't help but forgive (and would probably do so in life if she existed), and I can't credit just the writing for that achievement. Moore's ability to morph into an entirely different spirit each time she graces the screen is in full form here.

Both children also do fine, though I would've liked more character development for Laser, and overall I would've favored an ending that didn't frustrate me.

I guess not everything about an enjoyably watchable movie can be satisfying.



Yesterday I saw Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #94, so tune in August 2 for our review.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Tonight I saw the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Thierry Guetta was a young boy when his mother passed away. As the youngest in his French family, her apparent illness was kept a secret from him, which made her death a horrible shock. He never truly coped with this grief, being swept away in the aftermath by relatives, and began filming every aspect of his life perhaps to ensure he'd never forget it.

As an adult, he moved to Los Angeles and began building a family, continuing to film even the most mundane of moments. Friends and neighbors grew accustomed to seeing him with a video camera in his hand, and after a while forgot they were constantly being taped.

At some point, Guetta became interested in the street art that was rapidly gaining notoriety. After learning more about the practice (really, just organized graffiti) he began shadowing some of the artists, traveling and filming their work, claiming he was making a documentary. Though his presence was obviously a nuisance to some, they let him play along, hoping his filming would shed a brighter light on their creations.

The film up to this point in the story is somewhat jumbled and dare I say: boring. If you're not a fan of basic cartooning, you may, like me, find yourself looking at your watch until Banksy appears.

Banksy is an undisputed genius of the medium. He's a British man cloaked in mystery who has made a name for himself by pushing the envelope with a sense of humor and a display of authentic talent. His "stunts" (painting along the controversial West Bank border; counterfeiting British money by replacing the Queen with Princess Di) have made international news, but there is an undeniable charm in his satire that makes him a coveted guest in the art world.

Unfortunately, he let Guetta into his life just long enough for the filmmaker to "learn the ropes" and decide that he would risk everything to create his own art show.

He's soon re-financed everything in his life and hired an army of true artists to make his concepts into artistic reality. And because he's good at self-promotion, he draws a crowd.

To say anymore would be to spoil the film, but I will say that I don't find Guetta to be the least bit endearing. If it were truly a film about Banksy (as it was billed to be), I would have been a lot less bored and perhaps this bad taste in my mouth would go away.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010


On Sunday I saw Cyrus, starring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #93, so tune in July 19 for our review.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Please Give

Today I saw Please Give, starring Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall.

If you're not prepared to view life as it is sometimes lived, you probably want to stay away from Nicole Holofcener films such as this. I, for one, happen to love the fact that this writer/director creates characters who feel like real, breathing human beings, but I can see how they may depress others.

The subjects of this indie are neighbors. Kate (Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are a married couple who own a vintage furniture business as they raise their only child, teenage Abby (Sarah Steele). Next door is 91-year-old Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a miserable aging coot who is looked upon by her granddaughters. Rebecca (Hall) is the responsible, patient radiologist that acts compassionately no matter how badly her grandmother treats her; Mary (Amanda Peet) is the sexy, shallow spa worker who only visits Andra when forced.

Kate has a habit of giving money to strangers because she feels so guilty about her business. She and Alex aren't involved in any illegal activity, but they have been known to take advantage of families of the recently deceased who have valuable furniture and don't realize its worth.

Everyone in this film is searching for something: Abby desires the perfect jeans to offset her battle with acne; Kate wants a charitable cause to fill the hole in her heart; Alex seeks the excitement missing from his marriage; Rebecca would like a boyfriend; Mary wants answers as to why a muscle-heavy saleslady stole her man; Grandma wants her shopping granddaughters to use her carefully clipped coupons. Please, give.

The lives of these neighbors are intertwined as they offer the odd olive branch, but of course not everything works out for the best. As in reality, there are lies, deceptions, awkward silences and guilty consciences as a result of the bad decisions they make.

What I liked about this film (and its entire stellar cast) was that none of the characters were people who were difficult to relate to. Even those making choices we hope we wouldn't make didn't seem like horrible people—they were just wounded.

There's something life-affirming about watching people struggle and then advance past whatever is troubling them. Please Give reminds us that life isn't simple for anyone.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

On Sunday I saw the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Love her or hate her, no one can dispute the trails Ms. Rivers blazed for female comics. This film does a dynamic job of tracing her path to success and showcasing her present fight to stay relevant.

Always self-deprecating and unafraid to push the envelope, Joan burst on to the scene with great support from legend Johnny Carson. Her frequent appearances on The Tonight Show led to her reign as Carson's permanent guest host; her decision to depart and do her own talk show on Fox ended their friendship. It also put a stop to all of her appearances on NBC until her recent stint on The Celebrity Apprentice, a reality contest, which by the way, she won.

Part of the charm of Joan Rivers is that she has no shame. At age 75, she will take any endorsement deal or commercial offered to her because she knows at the end of the day she needs a paycheck. She lives an extravagant life, but there will be no doubt in anyone's mind by the end of watching this that she hasn't earned it.

Though the overall essence of the film aims to spotlight her toughness, there are moments where you catch her sensitivity and heart: speaking of the business associate she may have to fire; delivering a meal on Thanksgiving to a sufferer of MS; commenting on a heckler after a show who was angry about a deaf joke she made. She's a thick-skinned lady, but that doesn't negate her enormous heart.

She talked openly of her husband's selfish suicide after the demise of her talk show, but it's clear she doesn't dwell on it. She picked up her life after the tragedy and kept going--both for herself and for daughter Melissa, who has become a celebrity in her own right.

Of course the film also provides us many glimpses of Rivers' hilarious stand-up routines, but to me the funniest moments were her impromptu bits of commentary behind the scenes.

This film is simply an inspiring pleasure to watch.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

Last night I saw The Secret of Kells, starring the voices of Evan McGuire and Brendan Gleeson.

When this film was nominated for an Oscar last year, you could almost hear a collective "What?!" from the mouths of American moviegoers. The movie had not yet seen even a limited release in North America, and compared to its fellow nominees, displayed a very old-fashioned form of animation.

There were no fancy CGI shots; no 3D or IMAX options for viewing it—and for me, that's what made it all the more compelling.

Instead of focusing on moving pictures jumping out at me during action scenes, or pondering how something looked so life-like, I spent the film immersing myself in what felt like a 75-minute painting, featuring my favorite colors (blue and green).

The story is simple: little Brendan is an Irish orphan who lives at the Abbey of Kells with his paranoid uncle, who spends all of his time constructing walls to keep the danger out. Forbidden to leave the compound, Brendan, like any other child hero would, sneaks out to explore the surroundings, on a mission to get berries that produce ink for an "unfinished book" Brother Aidan (a wise elder) is working on.

On his journey he meets Ashley, a faerie-like guardian of the forest who he can't help but find enchanting. They encounter many varieties of peril as they travel together, and ultimately it's understood that Brendan will probably get caught.

The book Aidan is working on is undoubtedly the famous Book of Kells, which in reality has lived at Trinity College in Dublin for centuries. In the film, the significance of this breathtaking document isn't paid tribute to in the story, but more by way of the visuals (some were inspired by the actual book).

The hues that dominate the screen from start to finish come across like brilliant watercolors muted to soften the edges of the drawings, which, though imaginative, are somewhat basic.

The line drawings that make up the people, places and animals in the film are charmingly whimsical, with eyes that show their emotion and blink-or-you'll-miss-them details. The pages of each scene, if frozen, would be framable works of art.

As someone who has a special fondness for Ireland, and has seen the actual Book of Kells in person, I may have enjoyed this more than the average viewer. However, I would still recommend it for little ones not yet biased by recent animation technology, or adult fans of historical Ireland.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Tonight I saw Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and Greta Garwig.

"Of course I know what it's like to live a life I didn't plan on.

Really, it could be the defining sentence of Generation X, and it's used well in this film to help us sympathize with Roger Greenberg (Stiller), who is in town from New York to babysit the L.A. mansion and dog of his brother's family, while they enjoy a vacation in Vietnam.

Roger is a 40-something who proudly proclaims to be content living an empty life of nothing. He tries to fill his days with whiskey, ice cream novelties and meaningless sex, but like everything, that doesn't seem to work for him.

He meets Florence (Garwig), his brother's pleasant personal assistant who resembles a cross between Kate Winslet and Elisabeth Shue. He immediately registers an attraction to her, but she's young, she works for his brother and she seems to understand him, so he most certainly doesn't want to begin a relationship with her. He makes this clear to her.

As the film progresses, we begin to form our love/hate relationship with Roger. Learning more about his past, we realize his issues are more severe than simple OCD—heck, he's even done time in a mental institution—but he's so nasty to everyone he comes in contact with, it's hard for us to like or excuse him.

Florence, however, is vulnerable and underutilized and so genuine in her fondness of Roger, we want to scoop her up and hide her from the inevitable pain she's about to experience.

In one respect, Roger is not unlike many men that choose to chase or settle with the woman that is "easy" for them to be with, instead of the girl that really "gets" them and loves them for their faults as much as in spite of them. Of course, it's the girl who understands Roger that receives the heartfelt mix CD.

In another respect, you don't want Florence to love Roger for who he is, because a lot of self-improvement needs to be achieved before he'll be worthy of her affections.

The writing here is excellent. The acting here is superb, but Greenberg isn't an easy pill to swallow. It's not fun to spend two hours with a man who spends most of his days writing hate letters to various corporations, then treats a sweet girl abusively. But, it's an incredibly interesting way to get to know characters.

"You like me more than you think you do." Florence says this to Roger at one of their most fragile moments.

I think she was right about him, and right about what I think of this film.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

Today I saw The Secret in Their Eyes, starring Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil.

What do you get when you cross a murder mystery with unrequited love that's simmered for 25 years? A hell of a great movie.

When the film opens we see Benjamin (Darin) struggling at his writing desk, trying to purge the haunting remnants of a brutal rape and murder from his mind. We soon learn this was a real case that he worked on 25 years ago as an investigator, and he's never been able to shake it. So, he's making a book based on his memories of it.

Next, we meet the woman he's adored for all these years—Irene (Villamil), who worked with him on the case and is now an accomplished judge. She is acting as a casual editor/admirer, sharing in his violent trip down memory lane.

Before I give the impression that this is a "flashback" movie, let me be clear in saying that it doesn't feel like it. Though it takes place both in 1974 and 2000, the audience is never tossed between the two unexpectedly.

The crime itself is ghastly, and we see just enough of it to register horror and want justice for the victim. The suspects are clear in their innocence and guilt, which is one of the genius elements of the script: we already know whodunnit. Unlike most stories, what we crave to learn is how the characters arrived in their present—seemingly peaceful—situations.

There are also supporting characters who are far more compelling than the main two. Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) is Benjamin's drunken sidekick we root for; a grieving widow of the victim is so calm, we figure there must be more to his story.

Of course the romance between our writer and his former colleague is what drives the tension throughout the film. Like perfectly written star-crossed lovers, they're attraction is undeniable, but their circumstances common: one of the two feels that they can never be together, so both spend agonizing years wondering what would happen if they could.

The movie teaches us that denying what our heart desires can sometimes lead to a life of purgatory, and our eyes hold the secrets of our truth.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story 3

On Saturday I saw Toy Story 3, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #92, so tune in July 5 for our review.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


On June 13, I saw Ondine, starring Colin Farrell.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #91, which can be found here.

Grease Sing-A-Long

On June 12, I saw the Grease Sing-A-Long, a spirited version of the 1978 hit musical.

For my highlights of that screening, click here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This Way of Life

On June 11, I screened the documentary This Way of Life.

Click here to read my review on


On June 9, I screened Monogamy, starring Rashida Jones and Chris Messina.

Click here to read my review on


On June 7, I screened Upperdog, starring Hermann Sabado and Agnieszka Grochowska.

Click here to read my review on

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Goonies

On Saturday, June 5, I saw The Goonies, starring Jeff Cohen and Josh Brolin.

As I nestled into a small Astoria, Oregon theater for this 25th anniversary screening, it had been only days since I last saw the film on DVD, but over 24 years since I'd seen it in a theater. I'm pleased to say it was just as magical for me at age 34 as it was for me at 10.

The story appeared strangely timely as our hero, Mikey (Sean Astin) and his brother Brand (Brolin) face the loss of their family home to foreclosure. The looming threat of papers being signed causes the kids to act fast in search of a treasure that could save them from moving. They achieve this by following an ancient map found in their attic with a host of their friends, who call themselves "The Goonies."

The iconic monoliths of Cannon Beach serve as their guides into the unknown, where they uncover a vicious crime family who is committing murders, and reveal clues from the treasure map one-by-one, putting them in a series of dangerous situations.

What sets the film apart from other kids-finding-treasures stories is the fact that the kids really talk like kids. It's a great credit to screenwriter Chris Columbus that they swear, discuss unimportant (yet vital at that age) topics, and form genuine bonds over old-fashioned pacts and crushes.

The movie is also heavy on comedy, provided mostly by Chunk (Cohen), a character known for exaggerating and eating. One scene where the bad guys are trying to torture him into talking is still one of the funniest, most believable 'kid' scenes in existence.

For those who have yet to see the film, I won't spoil it by discussing the ending, but will say the final beach scene still brings delightful chills to my spine.

What a pleasure it was to see that after all these years The Goonies remain timeless despite their 80s roots.

For more on The Goonies 25th Anniversary, visit


The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

On June 1, I saw the documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.

Click here to read my review on

Monday, May 31, 2010


Yesterday I screened the documentary Marwencol.

Click here to read my review on

Brownstones to Red Dirt

On Saturday, I screened the documentary Brownstones to Red Dirt.

Click here to read my review on

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sex and the City 2

Last night I saw Sex and the City 2, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth.

I never counted the television show Sex and the City as a guilty pleasure because in the years that it aired it was considered a smart, sensible enterprise that gave thirty-something single women a voice.

When the first movie based on the same characters opened a few years ago, watching it was like reconnecting with long-lost friends. Sure, it was kind of dark for a group of characters that became famous for talking about sex and fashion, but it still captured the spirit of the show and stayed faithful to the clever writing.

You know what? So did this one, which is why I'm so incredibly baffled by how badly my fellow critics are reviewing it. Was anyone really expecting Gone With the Wind? Sure, it's silly and no, it's not the least bit unpredictable, but it's still enjoyable, and really, that's all it set out to be, right?

The story centers on the dulling marriage of our heroine Carrie (Parker) and her husband-of-almost-two-years, Mr. Big (Noth). True to form, when Carrie does something she wants and her man follows suit wanting to do the same, she becomes offended and wounded and whiny--ready to make a big mistake, which she may or may not do about 2/3 of the way into the film. Luckily, we have the return of Aidan (John Corbett, looking particularly sexy) to complicate things.

Oh, and the girls get a free trip to the Middle East courtesy of Samantha (Kim Cattrall), who wins the award for being the most annoying cast member in this installment. The menopause jokes got old very fast, as did most of the clothing they draped her in. That said, she still had the best sex scenes (though I dare say SJP took the cake for cleavage).

The most interesting story was that of Charlotte (Kristin Davis), our Polyanna, Jewish wife who is miserable living the perfect life she always dreamed of. If you take away the million dollar apartment and designer wardrobe, her situation is the most realistic, as a mother who wants to hide in closets and cry because her children drive her nuts.

It's not the smartest comedy ever written, but it's fun to watch the ladies wear 30+ outfits in the scope of 2+ hours, and gawk at the men who are still at the top of the sexy meter.

To straight men who hate this film: I ask, what were you doing there? If you only came to see scantily clad women and juicy sex scenes, you can't have been too disappointed.

To gay men who hate this film: I know Liza singing Beyonce was scary, but you have to admit it was appropriate for a Stanford wedding.

To women (lesbian or straight) who hate this film: You must be incredibly bitter about life not to crack a smile at the drama of other women. We've all known (or been) characters like the four drawn here, whether we're proud of it or not.

Take solace in chick flicks from time-to-time, folks. Consider it a beach read and get over it.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

Tonight I screened Turtle: The Incredible Journey, a documentary from the United Kingdom.

Click here to read my full review, which is featured on

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Freebie

Last night I screened The Freebie, starring Sean Nelson and Katie Aselton.

Click here to read my review on

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nowhere Boy

Today I screened Nowhere Boy, starring Aaron Johnson and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Click here to read my review at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Robin Hood

Yesterday I saw Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #90, which is available here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Iron Man 2

Tonight I saw Iron Man 2, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke.

It was the topic of Cinebanter 89, which is available here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Cinebanter Featured on Sodapop Journal

My podcast partner (Michael) and I are featured in this week's Sodapop Journal, sharing our summer movie picks.

You can read the article here.

Be sure to also share your summer picks in the comments section!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Square

Today I saw The Square, starring David Roberts and Claire van der Boom.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #88, which is available here.


Monday, March 29, 2010


On Saturday, I screened Paulista, starring Silvia Lourenço and Maria Clara Spinelli.

When Marina (Lourenço), an aspiring actress, moves in with Suzana (Spinelli), her life is injected with opportunities that never seemed possible before. The street they live on in Sao Paulo, Avenida Paulista, is brimming with promise--socially and otherwise.

As we meet each character, we learn that they all share a connection to one another, much like a small town transported to a big city. There's Jay, who has fallen in love with a hooker, and he just happens to live in the same building as Marina and Suzana. Justine, a singer at a nearby club, quickly becomes the object of Marina's affection, and so forth.

None of the characters are boring and all of the situations presented (love, mystery, longing) keep you watching, but at the same time, none of what's happening is particularly unique.

I found the pace and transitions of Paulista to be very similar to that of the classic TV show miniseries Tales of the City, which was set in San Francisco. At the heart of both works is a message of people needing people, with a focus on how complicated our human desires and needs for validation can be.

Paulista is a sexy, enjoyable romp about a group of young people in the prime of their lives. Nothing more, nothing less.