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.