Sunday, December 30, 2012


Tonight I saw Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem.

What a fun ride!

I'll confess that I haven't loved the entire library of Bond movies—and the last one left a lot to be desired—but this one brought me back.

The opening scene is nothing if not exhilarating, with 007 (Craig) jumping trains and operating heavy equipment (yep) to bring down his first enemy of the chase.

Behind the scenes, M (Dame Judi Dench) is calling the shots, and unfortunately not calling them too well. There are moments of worry that the entire film may turn into one long funeral, but of course that's not the case. Bond is back, after all.

And even as wonderful as the two of them are, nothing injects the story with more pizazz than the appearance of villain Silva (Bardem), who appears to relish in the art of revenge.

Bardem is in fact so good in this role, it sort of makes me wish he could just pop in to every movie and "be the bad guy" because he brings his characters to life with such dimension. We fear him, we loathe him and we can't take our eyes off of him.

He's sadistic here, but also sad—showing traces of the time when he was once on the right side of the action. That said, our threshold for tolerating gratuitous violence may be exhausted several times as we anticipate the good triumphing over evil.

Aside from the excessive guns and explosions (it is, after all, a spy film), this story twists and turns with sexy scenes and fast-paced thrills that never disappoint.

The running time of almost three hours just flies by.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

Tonight I saw The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, starring Edward Burns and Anita Gillette.

Jerry (Burns) wants his siblings to gather and celebrate his mother's birthday a few days before Christmas but they all have other commitments, so plan B is to reunite the whole family—including their estranged patriarch—for Christmas dinner.

The youngest of the bunch want nothing to do with their father, still holding onto anger from his abandonment years ago; the older children are more sympathetic, but vow to leave the final decision up to their mother (Gillette).

In the midst of all of the shuffling, one sister is dealing with an abusive husband, while another brother is hoping to propose marriage to the younger girlfriend he "likes a lot." Oh, and Dad announces that he has cancer.

What I love about Edward Burns' films (he wrote and directed this one as well) is that there are always a lot of moving parts, and plenty of characters who we may or may not really get to know. Why do I love this? Because it's just like life.

Every breathing soul in our world is not necessarily someone we know, but somehow in some way, they may have a lot to do with our life. And who lives a life free of drama? None of us. So it's nice to see that dysfunctional existence brought to the surface on screen.

Everyone here feels as if they have an actual beating heart, and everyone here is someone we may like. Or not. None of the members of this family are perfect (though Jerry probably comes the closest), but all of them have redeeming qualities. The beauty is that though conceptually the family is very stereotypical (Irish, Catholic, etc.), the characters are so well fleshed-out, they're anything but one-dimensional.

Location is less of a character compared to past films such as Sidewalks of New York and Purple Violets, but the cozy interiors tell enough of a story to satisfy a sense of place.

My only real criticism of this story would lie in the underuse of Connie Britton who plays nurse Nora. She's an endearing break from the core family drama, and sparks impressive chemistry with Burns. I wish she'd had more of a prominent spot later in the film, but perhaps she's being saved for the sequel?
I suppose time will tell, but until then, I'll wonder about who will be seated at next year's Fitzgerald Christmas dinner.

Les Misérables

Today I saw Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

The famous musical is so well-known at this point, I don't feel the need to recount the plot, but I will say that this rendition, sung live by its actors, certainly communicates the sentiment.

Director Tom Hooper thankfully doesn't add flash where none is necessary. Much like its anticipated awards season rival, Lincoln, it feels more like a stage performance than a film at some points, but that's forgiven in the context of the narrative.

Hugh Jackman couldn't be better as Valjean, with his earnest glances and dignified actions; Russell Crowe is equally superb as the rough Javert, nailing every line and mannerism.

Where I cringed a bit was when Anne Hathaway over-acted her part as Fantine, and her beautiful singing was overshadowed by her exaggerated looks of torture and despair. She would have been much more powerful if she'd played it understated. But oh, well. Her screen time is minimal after the first act, and others pick up where she left off—Amanda Seyfried as her daughter Cosette, and the refreshing Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier were welcome sights, as was Eddie Redmayne, who played an impressive Marius.

The aerial shots and meticulous costumes also add a grandeur to the film, which will surely be remembered at the Oscars for its sets and design, if not for its actors.

Overall, this is a satisfying, if not perfect, re-make of a story more often told as a play.


Monday, December 24, 2012

This Is 40

Tonight I saw This Is 40, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.

Debbie (Mann) and Pete (Rudd) are turning 40. Pete doesn't seem to mind it's happening to him, but Debbie has real trouble with it.

She begins to reflect on their family life (Mann's wonderful real-life children play their two daughters) and hopes to make positive changes before they get too old to enjoy one another.

Of course the more any of us try to plan our lives, the worse they turn out.

Pete is a cupcake-eating, secret-keeping, unwilling-to-face-reality loser who seems to care more about his record label than his marriage. Debbie is a judgmental, neurotic, worry wart who spies on her daughter's Facebook page and texts. The two only seem happy together when they escape for a weekend away and get high off marijuana cookies at a resort.

Though they try to make a 'deal' that they'll be better about kicking bad habits, and being nice to one another, all bets go out the window when the financial problems worsen and they begin calling their parents out on why they both turned out the way that they did.

I'm never a fan of films that justify adults blaming their parents for all of the problems in their grown-up lives, but luckily this film limits that rant to just a few scenes, so I can forgive it. It also shines a light on the lead couples' children calling their bluffs, so the absurdity is not lost on the audience.

The true-to-life dynamics between the children and the parents were some of the best points of the movie, even when it wasn't funny.

But mostly, it was funny.

I realize from my first few paragraphs, this film sounds heavy, but despite some isolated moments, it's really not. It's actually quite funny. And grown up, if you don't mind all the fighting.

Though I've not yet reached the dreaded age of 40, and don't have children of my own, I can relate to the fears about aging, and the frightening possibility that I may turn into a version of my parents.
Thankfully, this group of characters keeps it light enough to be enjoyable instead of haunting.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Yesterday I saw Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins.

Jackie (Pitt) is brought in to restore order to a community of criminals after some amateurs rob a mobster card game.

His driver (Jenkins) acts as a supervisor removed from the violence; Mickey (James Gandolfini) is the pro Jackie outsources to finish off a guy who knows him.

In between this all, some other men get high (and we're treated to an ridiculously long scene from their POV), while another gets almost beaten to death for the robbery (though he was uninvolved).

There's also a beautiful hooker, a lot of drinks, multiple gun shots, a few driving scenes and even a shot of one of the criminals walking his dog.

I'm not sure if this film was an attempt at Tarantino-style action or just a very confusing episode of The Sopranos gone wrong, but whatever it was, it wasted the wealth of talent within.

Be smart and skip this one.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Collection

Yesterday I saw The Collection, starring Josh Stewart and Emma Fitzpatrick.

Elena (Fitzpatrick) is a privileged twenty-something who decides on a whim to go with her friends to a popular 'nightclub.' Unfortunately, the club has been booby-trapped by a sadistic killer and few will make it out alive.

The story is a sequel to The Collector, which I'll confess to having never seen, but I doubt previous experience with the characters would have made this any less horrific.

Basically, the living demon responsible for all of the murders is big on torture and 'collects' things: body parts, the sanity of his victims, and a few living souls who will wished they were spared life once they realize what he has planned for them.

In films like this, that are primarily 'scary' because of slamming doors and bloody scenes, I find it hard to register actual fear, because the effects are so distracting.

I'm much more interested in why a human being would want to inflict such pain on others than seeing how they do it.

The acting here is just fine, considering the dialog they're given to work with is so weak. Stewart as an escaped prisoner of the killer who is forced to return to the scene of the crime (to rescue the rich girl) is brooding and hesitant (as one would be) and Fitzpatrick's Elena is determined and strong, despite the fact she's probably been pampered all of her life.

There are plenty of great horror flicks out there these days; this is definitely not one of them.