Wednesday, May 25, 2011

127 Hours


Directed by Danny Boyle.
2010. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
James Franco
Kate Mara
Amber Tamblyn
Treat Williams
Kate Burton
Sean Bott
Lizzy Caplan
Koleman Stinger


Eventually, Aron Ralston (Franco) travels inward until he reaches the murkiest depts. Of his soul. He comes to realizations he might not have, had he not been afforded so much time, not only alone, but unable to distract himself with his usual activities. Truthfully, his usual activities have gotten him into this mess. He’s a loner and an outdoorsman. As soon as he leaves work on Friday evenings, he’s normally off to some remote place to hike, climb and/or dive. This weekend, it’s Blue John Canyon. He goes alone, without telling anyone where he’s going.

At first, things are going great. Aron bumps into a pair of young ladies who are lost. He takes a couple hours to help them get where they’re going with laughs and giggles throughout. Once he parts ways with the girls, it’s back to his solo adventure. While exploring the canyon, he slips and falls. When he stops, he finds his right arm to be literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is wedged between the two walls of the canyon and cannot be moved by Aron. Despite his best efforts, he can’t get the thing to budge. Over the next five days, Aron spends his time trying to free himself, reminiscing on his life to this point, dreaming of a future he may never have and having the occasional hallucination.

Aron is also videotaping himself on the camcorder he carries on every excursion. He hopes that someone would get the footage to his family should he not survive this ordeal. In the horror genre, lost footage films are all the rage and have been since The Blair Witch Project up through the recent Paranormal Activity franchise along with a number of other such movies. 127 Hours is not considered a horror flick, but to me that’s precisely what it is. Movies about masked and/or disfigured boogeymen are gory and silly, even fun to watch, but they are hardly scary. Haunted house flicks can be a little more unsettling, if watched in the right setting. Even then, the uneasiness they cause might linger an couple hours after they’re over, at best. Watching a regular person make one misstep and find himself truly isolated is a bigger fright. It’s more tangible. It’s easier to see this happening to ourselves. I’m sure a homicidal maniac “could” show up and wreak havoc on my next camping trip, but its much more likely I’ll go exploring the area and get lost. If I’m lost long enough, the thoughts running through my head will probably mirror Aron’s. This would be even more true if I were facing something so immediately life-threatening as being pinned in one spot with access only to whatever I was carrying.

Since Aron’s predicament is somewhat relatable and the things he thinks about only make perfect sense, this movie wrecks our nerves. They’re calmed somewhat by the fact that this is based on a true story. The story made headlines, so many people know the outcome going in. However, even knowing how it turns out doesn’t prepare us for the pivotal scene in which Aron does something that will free him, kill him, or both. If you don’t already know what happens, I won’t tell you. Suffice it to say, I was physically uncomfortable watching it play out. I did mention that I consider this a horror film, right?

Director Danny Boyle keeps us engaged by letting us into Aron’s mind. He doesn’t merely point the camera at a man stuck to a rock. He explores the man. To make this work, star James Franco is willingly explored. For my money, this is easily his best performance. To be honest, I haven’t liked him in anything I’ve seen him in. Here, he plays his role wonderfully. It’s easy for an actor to be over the top when they’re often the only person on the screen. However, taking a cue from Tom Hanks in Cast Away, his emotions fluctuate perfectly throughout. The movie as a whole does the same. We ride the roller coaster anxiously as it ascends, afraid as it drops and excitedly through the loops.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Never Let Me Go


Directed by Mark Romanek.
2010. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Carey Mulligan
Keira Knightley
Andrew Garfield
Izzy Miekle-Small
Charlie Rowe
Ella Purnell
Charlotte Rampling
Sally Hawkins


A few years ago, director Michael Bay gave us “The Island.” In it, there was a colony of clones keptin in what was essentially an underground warehouse for spare parts. These clones existed only to provide any parts needed by the person they were cloned from. Eventually, a couple of them figure this out and all hell breaks loose. For my money, it’s easily one of Bay’s better movies. Nevermind that it was actually a rip off of an old 70s B-movie called The Clonus Horror.. Never Let Me Go starts with the same idea. In this case, our clones are being raised at a special school. When they eventually graduate, they are moved to various boarding houses until it is time for them to make “donations.” Depending on what’s needed, most of them make about four donations before dying in their early twenties. This movie takes a decidedly quieter approach to the subject. Where the latter half of Bay’s movie is essentially one long chase scene, “NLMG” has no such adventure. That’s okay. Sci-fi that uses its brain instead of its fx is a nice change of pace.

One of the problems is there isn’t much sci-fi beyond its premise. By that, I mean there are deep ethical and philosophical discussions to be had based on the mere fact of the existence of clones. There is a little of this at the beginning, a little more in the middle, then a bit more at the end. Most of our time is spent on a rather mundane love triangle. Kathy (Mulligan) has a crush on Tommy (Garfield) when the two of them are about ten years old. Classmate Ruth (Knightley) suddenly decides she likes Tommy and steals him away. Kathy spends most of the next 18 years pining over the only boy she’s ever loved.

Let’s get back to the sci-fi. There are some interesting things afoot. For instance, Kathy gets what can only be deemed as a stay of execution when she becomes a “caregiver.” Basically, she becomes a social worker to other clones who are going through donations. Eventually, she will have to go through them herself, but she gets to live a little longer. Sadly, exploring truly intriguing topics such as this are only skimmed while we plumb the depths of the aforementioned love triangle.

Honestly, I have nothing against movies about longing for love, if they’re done well. This one is trite and has an air of inevitability. It’s coming to a point we know that it must. No matter how much they try to fake us out, we just don’t buy it. There will be some that will be enthralled by the romance factor. To the rest of us, it will seem to have wasted its potential.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chloe


Directed by Atom Egoyan.
2009. Rated R, 96 minutes.
Cast:
Amanda Seyfried
Julianne Moore
Liam Neeson
Max Thierot
R. H. Thompson
Nina Dobrev
Mishu Vellani
Meghan Heffern


David (Neeson) is a college professor who often travels for speaking engagements. None too pleased about getting older, he purposely skips out on a flight home so he doesn’t have to celebrate his birthday with his wife Catherine (Moore). She, of course, has thrown him a surprise party. Guss who’s surprised. She figures out he went to dinner with some young, pretty co-eds. Combine this with his flirtations nature and the fact he likes to keep up with his students through IMs and texts and the wife realizes she might not be in a monogamous relationship. It doesn’t help that hubby is pretty secretive about the e-conversations he’s carrying on. Then, there is the couple’s son Michael. He’s an ingrate who despises his mom for reasons only known to him. He ignores her rules, including having his girlfriend sleep over. Really, he just ignores her altogether. He only speaks to her when she confronts him. When this happens, it’s all profanity laced attitude coming from his mouth. By the way, mom is a highly successful doctor. Other than that, her existence is pretty miserable.

As luck would have it, Catherine meets Chloe (Seyfried) in a restaurant restroom. It turns out Chloe is a prostitute. She’s also about the same age as all those girls David shares his laughs with. Putting her newfound contact to use, she decides to hire Chloe to present herself to David as a student and see what happens. As for her Catherine’s relationship with her son, she does nothing but whine about it. Her real energy is focused on getting all the juicy details of her husband’s meetings with Chloe. From there, a Skinemax flick breaks out.

For the uninformed, Skinemax refers to the soft-core porn movies that cable network Cinemax became famous for in the 1990s. They mostly aired late at nigh, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. Do they still do this? I haven’t had the channel in years, but obviously I know way too much about this. Still, there is a point. Most of those flicks seems to rip off Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, or have a plot that is some sort of hybrid of the two. This one goes the Fatal Attraction route. Chloe does indeed turn out to be our psycho. Who she is fatally attracted to is a twist that’s not all that surprising. Titillating? Sure. Unexpected? Not really.

The problem is once Chloe’s nuttiness becomes evident, we can always guess her next move. We’ve seen this before. Most of the other movies we’ve watched like this, such as Obsessed and Basic Instinct 2 at least have the good sense to go so far over the top they’re teetering on the edge of the cliff. Those movies revel in their ridiculousness. They are really bad, but enjoyably so. Chloe tries to traverse a more “adult”, artsy-fartsy road. Sadly, it never escapes the shadow of its Skinemax roots. Julianne Moore is a fine actress. I’ve always enjoyed her work. However, her role here could’ve been played by one-time B-movie queen Shannon Whirry. Seyfried could’ve been replaced with any number of less talented but similarly attractive wannabes. Liam Neeson? Let’s just say his role doesn’t really require someone with the chops of Liam Neeson.

Like most of, if not all the movies Whirry actually starred in, there is a good deal of nudity. Also like those movies, the nudity is not there to accentuate the plot, but to grab attention away from a weak storyline. Seeing Moore and Seyfried in various stages of undress, often in the presence of one another, becomes the point of the movie instead of a part of it. The result is we have a wonderful cast doing their best to elevate material that can’t be lifted.

MY SCORE: 4/10

Friday, May 20, 2011

Get Low


Directed by Aaron Schneider.
2009. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Robert Duvall
Bill Murray
Sissy Spacek
Lucas Black
Bill Cobbs
Gerald McRaney
Scott Cooper
Lori Beth Edgeman
Andrea Powell


From time to time, children dare each other to knock on Felix Bush’s (Duvall) door. He’s the hermit that lives in a house way out in the woods. The unlucky ones shiver as they approach, uneasily making their way up the porch steps. The invariably take off running once they hear the cocking of a shotgun, whether they knock or not. Without fail, he fires a shot. Felix traps this one whogets a gander at his unkempt beard, wildly jutting from his face in every direction. This one also sees the crazed look in his eye and, of course, the shotgun. This is the man the boy has heard stories about. This is the man the boy has been told has killed and won’t hesitate to kill again. Felix lets the boy live. We get the sense that thes occasional run-ins are the only human contact the old man gets. Still, everyone in town seems to have a story to tell about him.

Felix says he wants to hear these stories. He also wants something a little more peculiar. He wants to hear them while attending his own funeral. In case you’re confused, he doesn’t want to wait until he’s dead for this. He wants to be alive and to invite anyone in town who wants to come and share their stories about him. He wants it to be party. Oh, this is inspired by a true story.

After discovering the hermit has a wad of money, funeral home owner Frank Quinn (Murray) proves to be just greedy enough and crazy enough to take the job. With the help of his young employee Buddy (Black), the two sell themselves as the right guys to make it happen. Soon, they discover this is no easy task. More importantly, they find out there’s a lot more to Mr. Bush than meets the eye.

Moving forward, it becomes questionable whether the trio can pull this thing off. It also becomes doubtful that Felix even wants to. His ulterior motives have stirred too many old emotions. Mr. Bush and Frank bicker, agree and disagree. To showcase this we get a pair of outstanding performances from Duvall and Murray. Though this can’t quite be labeled a comedy, their scenes together are fill with perfect comic timing. The jokes are sly, but effective.

Well before reaching the end, we realize this is the tale of a man seeking redemption on his own terms. From whom, or what, is not immediately clear. When it’s finally explained to us, we understand the pain that’s transformed him into the man everyone has a story about.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fast Five


Directed by Justin Lin.
2011. Rated PG-13, 130 minutes.
Cast:
Vin Diesel
Paul Walker
Jordana Brewster
Dwayne Johnson
Tyrese Gibson
Ludacris
Elsa Pataky
Matt Schultze
Sung Kang
Gal Gadot
Joaquim de Almeida


Right away Fast Five lets us know what type of movie we’re in for. One of our heroes, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Since it would be a waste to have one of our stars sitting in a cell for two hours, this calls for a daring escape attempt. As Toretto is being transported to prison on a bus with a bunch of other inmates, Brian (Walker) and his girlfriend/Dominic’s sister Mia (Brewster) show up right on cue to rescue their guy from the clutches of the law. Basically, their plan is to use their supped up sports cars to cause the bus to flip about half a dozen times, pull Dom from the wreckage and speed off. Huh? We couldn’t come up with a better idea than hoping everyone on board doesn’t die when we try to kill them? When you see the bus tumble you just know there have to be massive fatalities. Yet, the new anchor reporting the spectacular event informs us, “Amazingly, no one was killed.” Toretto and pals ride off into the sunset. Cue opening credits. This is your chance to make a break for it. Leave now, and spare yourself two hours of pure retardedness. Or, sit and enjoy the unrelenting display. Having plunked down twenty bucks on a Mother’s Day treat for the wife, I chose the latter. Yes, she picked the movie. Why? Are you kidding? Vin Diesel and The Rock in one flick? She couldn’t possibly resist that much man in one place at one time. I can’t blame her.

Speaking of The Rock, he plays the federal agent tasked with hunting down our favorite fugitives from the law and rocking a cool goatee. He’s sort of like Tommy Lee Jones’s character in The Fugitive, only with the ability to lift my Ford Explorer and that goatee. I may be exaggerating, but that thing is so cool it should’ve been listed in the credits as a separate character. Anyhoo, he and his crew have tracked our heroes down to Rio de Janeiro.

In need of money, Brian meets up with old pal Vince (Schultze) from the original The Fast and the Furious and decides to help him out on a train robbery. Yup, a train robbery. Of course, they’re stealing cars off of this train. Don’t you know what movie we’re watching? Predictably, things don’t go quite as planned. In fact, they go craptacularly wrong. They wind up with a car that the most evil and powerful man in all of Rio wants very badly. This basically means he tries to kill them to get his hands on the thing. To solve this problem our crew, who still have no money since they haven’t been paid for the botched job, launch an operation that looks to have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not a million. This includes calling up people from other F and F movies and getting them down to Rio. It’s like they had a movie budget stashed away, or something. Not to mention, they have to deal with The Goatee catching up with them every so often and trying to drag them back to the US to face multiple charges.

As expected, we eventually get a knock-down, drag out fight between The Goatee and Vin Diesel. According to everything I’ve read on the internet, the combination of the ridiculous amounts of testosterone and machismo possessed by these two men should’ve resulted in a mix so volatile the universe would instantaneously implode once the first punch landed. Only those of lucky enough to be hiding in Chuck Norris’s beard would be safe. Luckily, we survived this potentially cataclysmic event to get to what is perhaps the most supercalifragilisticexpealidopeycoolstupid chase of all time. I’ll just say that, in terms of realism, I’m not sure if its more or less so than the A-Team trying to fly a tank in their movie.

I can’t blame anyone who hates this movie. The dialogue of the main characters is largely made up of them barking at one another. The supporting cast does provide some humor. Story-wise, there are so many gaping plotholes I accidentally dropped my over-priced tub of popcorn into one. They even create a plothole on the way out of theater. When the end credits roll, stick around through the end of the first song and see what the next F and F will be about. Will they call that one Fast Six? What about the series chronology? If Tokyo Drift has yet to happen yet, like they keep telling us, how exactly does our crew know Han? This gives us the best in-joke of the movie. Brian and Mia often talk about going Tokyo after pulling off the big job they’re working on because they don’t have extradition. When Han is asked about Tokyo, he says “We’ll get there, eventually.” How bad is TD that the rest of the franchise keeps distancing itself from it?

Let’s get back to this particular installment. As I said, there’s lots of yelling. There is also plenty of gunfire, fighting and of course, cars doing things I don’t think cars can do. Lest you get the wrong idea, I loved every single minute of this crap. It’s so bad, it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mary and Max


Directed by Adam Elliot.
2009. Rated PG, 80 minutes.
Cast:
Toni Collette
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Eric Bana
Bethany Whitmore
Barry Humphries
Renée Geyer
Ian “Molly” Meldrum


Mary Daisy Dinkle (Whitmore/Collette) is an eight year old girl living in Australia in the 1970s and is often left to her own devices. She develops lots of hobbies, eats lots of condensed milk straight from the can and watches lots of her favorite show, “The Noblets.” Unfortunately, her mom is drunk most of the time, her dad is usually at working or enjoying his own hobbies in the shed and Mary has no other friends. To change this, she decides to get a pen pal. To decide who the lucky, unsuspecting person will be, she randomly picks a name out of a New York City phone book. That name is Max Horowitz. She eagerly writes the first letter and mails it off.

Max is 44 years old, lives alone in New York and in many ways, is child-like. Like Mary, he spends lots of time eating his favorite food, in his case chocolate, and watching “The Noblets.” He also attends “Overeaters Anonymous” meetings and plays the lottery ever day, always the same number. When he receives Mary’s letter he’s taken aback, at first. Soon, he musters enough courage to return the gesture.

The pair continue to exchange the letters for the next three decades, through all the ups and downs of their lives. This long distance relationship frames their existnces, eventually coming to define them. Through the letters, they get to know each other in ways most people don’t. They truly become friends. The welcome side-effect is that we get to know them intimately, as well. They become our friends. We’re happy when they’re happy. We hurt when they do. A key moment comes when we find out that Max indeed has a diagnosed mental disability. However, this isn’t revealed to draw our sympathy. The real value is showing what effect this has on Mary. The heights and depths of her adult life seem to all stem from knowledge of Max’s affliction.

The question we desperately want answered is will they ever meet face to face? How this plays out is a brilliant and touching piece of film making. It’s not something we arrive upon easily, either. It’s truly a moment many years in the making. If you’re prone to crying at movies, keep the tissue handy. If you’re looking for hyperkinetic action, toilet humor and talking animal sidekicks, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to see two fabulously intertwined character studies, stay.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Going the Distance


Directed by Nanette Burstein.
2010. Rated R, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Drew Barrymore
Justin Long
Christina Applegate
Charlie Day
Jason Sudeikis
Rob Riggle
Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Ron Livingston
Jim Gaffigan


Boy meets girl a few hours after breaking up with some other girl. The boy is Garrett (Long). He works at a record company and is tasked with managing a band he hates. The girl is Erin (Barrymore), an intern at a newspaper with hopes of becoming a full-fledged reporter. However, with that industry steadily going the way of the dinosaur this seems unlikely. They meet in New York. Her internship is only six weeks long, after which she’ll head home to California. She tells Garrett this pretty much up front, warning him not to get too attached. As you might expect, thes crazy kids can’t help but fall in love over that span. The two decide to carry on a long-distance relationship after she moves back to the west coast, hence the title.

It’s pretty much the same old, same old. The ups and downs of their relationship play out as lots of other movie relationships have. It’s complete with surprise trips across the country, spontaneous sex and trust issues. It’s also funny in spots. To me, most of these spots involve Erin’s sister Corinne (Applegate) and her husband Phil (Gaffigan). They get the best lines and Applegate’s high-strung, control freak/germophobe act is great.

Most of the other funny parts come from Dan (Day) and Box (Sudeikis), Garrett’s misfit buddies. They are both an asset and a detriment to the movie. They’re an asset because occasionally they are hilariously funny. They’re a detriment because of what they aren’t, yet try so very hard to be. They’re basically an imitation of the slacker buddies that populate the Judd Apatow clan movies. Think Knocked Up or The 40 Year Old Virgin. Try as they might, these guys don’t quite measure up. This, combined with the occasionally raunchy dialogue of all the characters makes the whole thing feel like a copycat production.

Like many of the movies GtD tries to duplicate, the chemistry of the two leads is questionable. In this case, the problem is they exist as much to put themselves in awkward situations in front of others as they do to fall in love. Their relationship is a string of these occurrences. Others can always hear or see what they’re doing and jokes are made of this. Since neither of them is funny, this is how they provide comedy.

GtD is a fairly typical rom-com of the rated R variety. It has more curse words and blatant sex talk than its PG-13 rated siblings, but the story is the same. There are pockets of good humor, just not enough to save it from itself.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Faster


Directed by George Tillman Jr.
2010. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Dwayne Johnson
Billy Bob Thornton
Carla Gugino
Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Moon Bloodgod
Michael Irby
Mike Epps
Tom Berenger
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje


Driver (Johnson) gets out of prison today. There’s no one at the gate to pick him up. Instead, he hoofs it to the nearest junkyard where someone has left him a car with a gun stashed under the seat. His first order of business is to drive to a local business office and shoot some poor schlub in the head before he can even get out of his cubicle. Nice. Before you go thinking Driver is a random nut job about to kill everyone in the joint, he only pops the one guy and calmly walks out. It seems this dude had it coming. We learn pretty quickly that Driver’s brother was murdered by some double-crossers after a bank robbery and cubicle man was somehow involved. We can easily figure out now that Driver’s out of jail, a lot of people have it coming.

Since the law frowns upon vigilante justice, no matter how scummy the victims, there have to be police officers trying to stop Driver. Cicero (Gugino) is working the case. Just so we know how tough she is, she huffs out straight talk while keeping her hands on her hips. Reluctantly, she allows Cop (Thornton) to work with her. The first thing we find out about Cop is he’s got a drug habit. He also sucks as a dad. Hey, that’s a hard job. Trust me. The two of them trying to track down Driver as he wastes one sleaze bucket after another ensues. Oh, I almost forgot something. Someone who knows what’s going on has hired Killer (Jackson-Cohen), a hitman. Okay, so there wasn’t much thought put into the names in this movie. Anyhoo, not only does Driver have some killin’ to do, he’s being chased by Cop and Killer. Poor guy.

In case you’re still not sure, let me make this perfectly clear. This is an action flick, no more no less. If you want deep metaphors and explorations of the human spirit, look elsewhere. If you want to see The Rock kick some ass, get your popcorn and beverage of choice and enjoy. One of the reasons he became a superstar is because men lived vicariously through his wrestling persona. Whe he first broke into movies, that whole act transferred seamlessly to the big screen. In recent years, he’s headlined a few kiddie-flicks and basically lampooned his own image. Sure, these movies made a lot of money, but the people who made him a star stayed away in droves. They couldn’t smell what The Rock was cooking. Faster returns him to the mold in which he was cast: action hero.

None of what I’ve written should be construed as a pitch to make you believe this is the greatest movie ever. It is not. It is deeply flawed. For one, it would be a completely different film if Cicero asks a question at the beginning of the movie, like she was supposed to, instead of waiting until the end. She didn’t, and we got this. It is a dumb action flick. That doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s fun, brutal, fast, faster.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre


Directed by John Huston.
1948. Not Rated, 126 minutes.
Cast:
Humphrey Bogart
Walter Huston
Tim Holt
Bruce Bennett
Barton MacLane
Alfonso Bedoya


Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is an American living in Mexico in 1925. He’s homeless and jobless, making his way through life begging for handouts from any of his countrymen who happen to find themselves in his path. His standard line is “Say buddy, will you stake a fellow American to a meal?” Finally, he bumps into a guy who won’t give him any money, but offers him a job. He and Curtin (Holt), his buddy who is of the same social class, go to work. However, getting paid for their labor proves to be much more difficult than it should. Eventually, they manage to literally wrestle their earnings away, an absolutely fantastic fight scene by the way. With this money, they decide to go prospecting for gold, taking Howard (Huston) along. He’s the old man from the shelter who seems to know a thing or two about it.

Howard is our wise, old sage and something of a narrator. His mouth is moving a mile a minute and is constantly imparting his knowledge of gold digging and warning us of what’s to come. He tells us without blatantly doing so. Still, in “history repeats itself” sort of way, the things he says he’s seen often reoccur.

Someone once told me she didn’t like westerns. Hopefully, I’m not being disrespectful by saying she is of the age to have grown up when they were more popular. Her dad used to watch them all the time, so she’s had plenty of exposure. Her logic is that everything looks dirty, especially the men. She said that they look like they stink. This disgusts her. I don’t know if she’s ever seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or not. If so, it probably turned her stomach. I swear I could smell Bogart and his buddies through the screen. In Bogie’s case, this aids his performance. His sweat glazed face, scraggly beard and tattered clothing complement the crazed look in his eye perfectly. I’ve often said that he’s an overrated actor. Most of his performances are stiff, mechanical even. He drolly delivers his lines while standing still, except for the hand raising a cigarette to his lips. I still feel that way. However, he’s truly mesmerizing in this movie. His character’s descent into madness is completely well played. The way he portrays it, and understanding where he came from, it’s easy to believe that the precious gem clouds his vision a little more each day.

The ending is a bit curious. We know precisely how it turns out for Dobbs and Howard. We’re less certain about what lies ahead for Curtin. His story remains to be written. In that way, he is like us. After experiencing TToSM, we know we’ve been enriched, as he was. However in his case, neither he nor we can decide if it was a success. As we move forward and experience other things, we can revisit it and see how we feel at that moment.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mother


Directed by Roger Michell.
2003. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Cast:
Anne Reid
Daniel Craig
Cathryn Bradshaw
Steven Mackintosh
Peter Vaughan
Ann Wilson-Jones
Danira Govich


After her husband passes away, May (Reid) has an affair her daughter's lover Darren, played by a pre-007 Daniel Craig. By the way, Darren is actually married to another woman altogether. It's an interesting drama that wisely uses an older woman that's not extremely, rich, powerful or glamorous giving it an air of realness. She's also not a trailer-park caricature which keeps it from becoming a Jerry Springer inspired comedy. If you're looking for a drama that's a little bit but not overly melodramatic, and can handle James Bond getting it on with grandma, give it a shot. Warning: the ending is a bit of a downer. Warning #2: This is absolutely, positively a chick flick. Finally, the biggest warning of all, don't watch it with your mother or grandmother. The queasiness factor will likely be amped to the max, if you did. Still, it's nothing like most of the American movies aimed at the fairer sex.


MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Nanny Diaries

Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.
2007. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Scarlett Johansson
Laura Linney
Chris Evans
Paul Giamatti
Donna Murphy
Nicholas Reese Art
Alicia Keys


Every once in a while, you go into a movie fearing the worse and are pleasantly surprised. The Nanny Diaries is one such movie. Charged with picking out “something for everyone,” I settled on this, as it seemed to be the sort of flick my girls would like. “My girls” consists of my wife and two daughters. With my son away at a friend’s, I’m severely outnumbered, in terms of gender. This was not the time to pluck a testosterone fueled adventure from the shelf.

Our tale begins with Annie (Johansson) graduating from college. She’s more than a little unsure what she’s going to do in “the real world.” As luck would have it, she quite literally stumbles into a job as a live-in nanny to a very wealthy family on New York’s Upper East Side. Actually, calling her a nanny is understating her job quite a bit. She is more like a post-natal surrogate mother. She merely has to do everything for Grayer (Art), the little boy she nannies. Dad (Giamatti) is almost always on a business trip. Somehow, he’s still absent even on those rare occasions he’s actually in the same room as his son. Mom (Linney) dictates all activities but doesn’t participate. Apparently, she just can’t do with less than 12 hours of “me time” every day. As a result, “me time” is something Annie finds hard to come by. On top of that, she’s lying to her own mother (Murphy), whom she is hiding her occupation from. Then there’s Harvard Hottie (Evans). He’s the handsome rich guy who lives on the 12th floor and has taken a liking to Annie.

Johansson acquits herself nicely in the lead role. However, it’s Linney’s excellent turn as the control freak mom that drives the movie. She’s oblivious to her own villainy and operates through the fog of pain she’s trying desperately not to show. Her self-worth hinges on the two men in her life, her husband and son. Their failures, both real and imagined, keep her teetering on the edge of full blown depression. Linney plays it perfectly.

TND could’ve settled on the slapstick and pratfalls that mark Annie’s first day at work. Luckily, it finds its brain going forward. Perhaps, this makes it less funny, producing fewer laughs. However, it also makes it smarter, more enjoyable. When we get to the end, even though it’s fairly predictable, it’s somewhat satisfying. It doesn’t feel rushed or seem to come in out of left field. It also says what we’ve been dying to say for the last hour leading up to this.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tony Manero

Directed by Pablo Larraín.
2008. Rated R, 98 minutes, Spanish.
Cast:
Alfredo Castro
Paola Lattus
Héctor Morales
Amparo Noguera
Elsa Poblete


Ask movie critics to name the greatest American dance movies and they’re likely to recite the titles of films starring Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. No offense to those classics, but in the hearts of regular folks they were dethroned in 1978 by a little movie named Saturday Night Fever. At the time, it was the epitome of cool. It’s arguably the absolute peak of the disco era. Thirty years later, lead character Tony Manero is still the role most associated with John Travolta.

Apparently, the fictional Manero is an icon in Chile, also. When we meet Raul (Castro) in the days shortly after the film became a global phenomenon, he’s trying to get on a cheesy TV show that’s holds look-alike contests every week. He has shown up the week they’re doing Chuck Norris. He’s told he’s in the right place because they ask people to register a week in advance. Next week they’re doing Tony Manero. Very shortly, we find out he’s also the lead dancer in a SNF tribute show he’s constantly rehearsing for. It’s put on at the cantina that he lives above. The rest of his troupe includes his girlfriend, her daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend. Of course, he plays Manero. Seemingly, once a day he makes it down to the local movie theater which is currently running SNF. Clearly, he’s obsessed.

Raul’s obsession of choice, combined with the fact that he’s over 50 years old might seem a bit off putting. However, its just quirky enough to root for. What works against him, because it mortifies us, is that he’s a bad guy. I mean, he’s really a bad guy. His fixation on becoming the best Tony Manero he can be drives him to nearly unfathomable depths. Suffice it to say, as far as he’s concerned, murder is always a viable option. There is a political element at work here, as well. It is set during the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship. The director, Pablo Larraín, is known to be critical of his own culture. In this instance, could he implying that his people’s fixation on western culture is unhealthy?

The small dance troupe, plus the lady that owns the cantina make up Raul’s inner-circle. They’ve no idea of the atrocities he’s committing against the local population, but he’s hardly nice to them, either. He’s brooding, self-centered and has a hair-trigger temper. Still, the women involved pretty much throw themselves at him. It makes some sense because they’re a tight, if often bickering unit. We get the impression these ladies a) are horny and b) don’t get out as much as they used to. This makes him the most viable option. He soaks it all in, remorselessly doing whatever he pleases. Ironically, this doesn’t include actual sex. Despite his best efforts, we see him fail, time and again, in graphically miserable fashion. Another stab at our decadent lifestyle, perhaps? Maybe, this is a dig at those in power in Chile at the time. Both?

Through it all, the focus on his goal remains. The contest Raul wants so badly to win is rapidly approaching and the man he wants so badly to be is fleeting. The steps he takes toward achieving both goals repulses us. However, because of those steps his determination is almost admirable. He comes to define the word antihero. Possible politics aside, this a truly fascinating character study. When the credits roll, we’re not completely sure how we feel about it even though we know how we should feel. It seems Raul has much more in common with another 70s American movie icon, Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Battle of Algiers


Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo.
1966. Not Rated, 121 minutes.
Cast:
Brahim Hadjadj
Jean Martin
Yacef Saadi
Ugo Paletti
Fusia El Kader
Mohamed Ben Kassen


Native Algierians try to drive French colonialists out of their country. Based on occurences during the Algierian revolution. It's a rather matter-of-fact retelling of events that take place over a decade or so. When watching it for the first time, it feels choppy. There's a conversation or two, then something happens and before it seems to reach a conclusion or what we would think of as a logical transition point, it suddenly skips ahead several months or years in some cases. However, by the end its achieved an odd but meticulous and unbelievably effective continuity. It's also incredibly even-handed as we're not sure who we're supposed to be rooting for. Are the so-called revolutionaries, actively engaging in terrorism our heroes? What about the French colonialists attempting to co-opt a foreign land into their empire, denying a nation of people their independence? There are no easy answers. When the climax comes, we expect for the movie to show its hand, to let us know which side it's on. We think we know, but the outcome is presented more as a victory for one of the two evils, and not necessarily the lesser or greater one. This is an exhausting, powerful and brilliant piece of film that, given the events of the last decade, has gained new relevance. Subtitleophobes beware, we're speaking multiple languages and no English.


MY SCORE: 10/10