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.