Monday, February 21, 2011


Today I saw Unknown, starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger.

An upper-class American couple arrives in Berlin to find some of their luggage didn't make it from the airport, so the husband catches a Taxi to return to the airport and retrieve it. Unfortunately, during that ride, he's in a terrible car accident and ends up in a coma for four days. When he wakes up, he remembers everything about his life, but no one will confirm it—not even his wife of five years.

So here we have the story of Martin Harris (Neeson). A supposed brilliant scientist who is in Germany to give a presentation at an intellectual conference until he is made to believe that his life is not his own after all.

There are folks who swear they don't know who he is. His wife Liz (January Jones) and the alleged real Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn), for starters.

Then, there are those sympathetic like his doctor and nurse, who just want proof before they agree that he is indeed Dr. Harris.

The folks at the hotel and the conference don't know what to believe, but the police are called multiple times just in case he's nuts.

Left without any options, Dr. Harris tracks down the taxi driver (Kruger) who saved him after the accident for additional answers and seeks the help of a former spy who is now a private investigator. As this is happening, at least two people (not those two) die trying to help him.

To say that it's boring would be unfair, to call it "smart" would be equally unfair.

Liam Neeson is his usual good "desperate" character. There are car chases and flashed knives and guns pulled and men in black leather jackets there to let you know they are bad guys.

There is also sexual tension (with the taxi driver) and enough flashback shots of a flirtatious Liz to make you wish you were watching re-runs of Mad Men instead.

As for figuring out the mystery, after a certain point I quit caring about Dr. Harris.

Unfortunately, the box office returns didn't, so more empty action films like this are sure to be made.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Barney's Version

This morning I saw Barney's Version, starring Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike.

I'll swear when I watched the trailer of this it was being marketed as a comedy. Once I was about 30 minutes into the film, I realized I must have been mistaken.

Barney (Giamatti) is a sad sack of a man who has a habit of marrying the wrong women. His first wife is a hippie artist who we never quite understand his connection with; his second wife, played by a spirited Minnie Driver, is a rich brat with beautiful breasts who wins him over with her cleavage.

It's no surprise that by their wedding day, Barney is already looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, it's on his wedding day when he spots "The One."

Miriam (Pike) is a guest on his new bride's side, and catches his attention by simply looking stunning in her bright blue dress. After one conversation with the beauty, Barney knows he's made a huge mistake marrying his second wife. He begins courting Miriam right then and there, never giving up his pursuit for true love.

Of course, like many neurotic Jewish characters, Barney is his own worst enemy. Once he gets what he wants in any given situation, he carelessly discards it in favor of behaving like a bachelor.

And then his kids begin hating him, and we begin hating him, and the story takes an even darker turn with his health problems.

All of the acting in this film is great—no argument there—but the way Barney's character is written, I had trouble feeling any empathy for him.

Why would anyone want to spend time with this unattractive, uninteresting man, let alone build a life with him?

I only wish I hadn't wasted two hours trying to figure that out.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Sixteen Candles

Tonight I saw Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

There is something magical about a John Hughes film, even 27 years later.

Brought back to theaters in honor of Valentine's Day, the simplicity of teenage love shines on in the characters of Samantha (Molly), The Geek (Hall) and Jake (Michael Schoeffling). A love triangle if there ever was one.

When her family forgets her sixteenth birthday, Samantha is devastated. She whines to her friend at school and resents her sister who is getting married the following day. She's also taken an embarrassing written "sex test" that has fallen into the hands of the boy she has a crush on. She's had better weeks.

The Geek is obsessed with Samantha, bugging her on the bus, then hijacking a spot on the dance floor next to her later that same night. His sidekick friends, expecting the most from him, only make things worse.

Jake is a cute, popular boy with a bombshell girlfriend who is unsatisfied with his relationship. He's looking for more than a trophy, and is interested in learning more about Samantha.

And there you have the plot.

The rest of the film is a hilarious standard 80s teen comedy, complete with the obligatory exchange student, two Cusacks and an obnoxious kid brother.

Did I mention that I still loved every minute of it as much as I did when I was 9?

The formula of realistic dialogue, quotable catchphrases, and perfectly cast actors gets me every time.

John Hughes gave us even more than that, though. He gave us films with heart.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars® 2011)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown:

THE CONFESSION (United Kingdom)

What begins as a coming-of-age comedy based on two young boys discovering what it means to be Catholic rapidly turns into a dark, hopeless exploration of bad things happening to good people. Though the ending does provide closure, it's far from satisfying.

WISH 143 United Kingdom

A light look at what decisions we make when faced with our own mortality, this story centers on a 15-year-old boy who asks a charitable organization for one final wish: to have sex with a woman. Soon his virginity becomes the talk of the town and measures are taken to ensure his dream is fulfilled. Very cute, if you can suspend the disbelief long enough to enjoy it.

NA WEWE (Belgium)

The year is 1994. Rwanda is enduring a horrific civil war. When a van full of citizens is stopped by group of armed men, they each have to prove their nationality to stay alive. The tension is unimaginable, as we don't know who is telling the truth or who is lying. Thankfully, a U2 song interrupts the chaos for a moment of peace.

THE CRUSH (Ireland)

The strongest of the five nominees, this delightful short is short and sweet. A young boy falls in love with his second-grade teacher and challenges her fiancé to a duel for her hand in marriage. It's funny, sad, scary and completely charming.


A man is smitten with the drummer in his band, but unfortunately she's hot for his best friend (who is also in the band). He prays for her to return his affections, and as an answer to that prayer, receives in the mail a box of cupid-like arrows that possess supernatural powers. As he goes about casting love spells, he learns a bit more about relationships. It's a clever idea, but the execution was almost too wink-ridden to truly appreciate.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Company Men

This morning I saw The Company Men, starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is not a corporate asshole. Sure, his wife calls him one during a heated argument, and he does favor golfing and nice cars to the blue collar lifestyle, but at the end of the day he's a good guy. He adores his children, stays faithful to his wife and doesn't willingly try to harm anyone in his life's work.

His boss Gene (Jones) at the GTX Corporation is less of a good guy, but he does genuinely care about his employees and is incensed to learn that Bobby has been let go in his absence. He's even more pissed when it happens to him a few months later.

This is all the fault of the Big Bad CEO, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) who will step on anyone (even his best friend Gene) to "save" the company and his inflated salary.

An almost too-fitting film for our times, watching this felt like seeing Up In the Air turned inside out. Instead of the office side of the layoffs, we see the repercussions.

Each man deals with his loss in a different way: Bobby genuinely tries to land a new gig but the offers just aren't there. Phil (Chris Cooper) dies his hair to look younger (at the recommendation of a placement specialist), Gene goes into a state of denial.

If all of this sounds straightforward and predictable, it is, but I can't overstate how well it all plays out.

The families of the men define how they react, regardless of their pride; the safety net we all want to think is there for us collapses in a very un-movie-like way for several characters. Their pain, though difficult to watch, is refreshingly real.

The performances by Affleck, Jones and Cooper are nothing short of top notch. They aren't "too" Boston to be believable, but still capture the assumed manliness of that slice of America.

There are also great supporting stars here: Maria Bello as the devious downsizer, Rosemarie Dewitt as Bobby's practical wife, and Kevin Costner as the rough brother-in-law who dislikes Bobby, but still reaches out to help him.

I was glued to the screen from start to finish by this satisfying, honest film. Everyone who's ever been in dire straits (and that's all of us, I think) should see it.