Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Invictus (2009)

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Since Clint Eastwood is fast becoming my favourite director, I was excited about seeing how he’d tackle a film which combined politics and sport. Based on true events, Invictus follows Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) first couple of years as President of South Africa and how he succeeded in achieving what many believed to be impossible, bringing a country which was completely divided together again and exceeding expectations beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

The film has a powerful opening as it juxtaposes shots of white children playing football with shots of black children playing separately. This immediately highlights the lack of unity in the country at the time of Nelson Mandela’s realease from prison and reveals the challenge he faced in bringing the country together.

Following his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa and came to power in 1994. His first priority as President was to “balance black aspirations with white fears” and attempt to end the tensions and hostilities that apartheid had created. He sees an opportunity to do this by getting behind the country’s Springboks rugby team in preparation for the 1995 world cup team and using their success as a way to bring the country together and defy expectations. Although he never actually states his intention outright, he arranges a meeting with the Captain of the Springboks Francois Peinaar (Matt Damon), and Francois gathers from this meeting that Mandela wants the Springboks to win the World Cup. Despite the odds being against them, as the Springboks are losing most of the games they play, Peinaar and Mandela set out to achieve this and change the mindset and performance of the team in time for the World Cup.

It was no surprise to see Morgan Freeman play Nelson Mandela as it’s a role he was destined for. He looks the part and completely immerses himself in the role to the extent that you completely forget you’re watching an actor, and not Mandela himself. Although the film mainly covers Mandela’s politics, it also reveal brief glimpses into his troubled family life and the strained relationship he has with his daughter, reminding the viewer that despite his great reputation, he is also an ordinary man with ordinary problems. Matt Damon is in impressive shape as Francois Peinaar and looks every inch the rugby player. He clearly put a lot of effort into getting fit and learning how to play the sport and this is evident in the rugby scenes, as he throws himself into the sport and doesn’t stand out from the other players. As Francois, he seems a little lacking in character and assertiveness. If this is what the real Francois Peinaar was like, it’s difficult to understand how he lead his team to victory when he could barely raise his voice. A little bit of artistic license could have been useful here in making the character’s leadership skills more evident.

The last thirty minutes of Invictus were probably the most entertaining as they cover the World Cup final match and show the gritty nature of the sport, as well as showing how the Rugby team have succeeded in making their country feel united, as black and white fans all get behind the team and cheer them on. Eastwood goes a bit overboard with his coverage of rugby scrums and there are ridiculous grunting noises played in slow motion, which are hard to take seriously. Yes, it’s a tiring sport, but there’s no need to rub this fact in our faces. It’s obvious.

My biggest complaint about Invictus is that it sometimes edges into corny. The music contains lyrics about defying expectations, and there are flashbacks to Mandela’s time spent in prison, which I thought was unnecessary. Everyone knows he spent a long time in prison, so these flashbacks just seemed surplus to requirement. The pace of the film is quite slow, but it’s such an interesting topic you don’t lose interest. The end credits add a touch of authenticity to the film as there is a photo montage with images from the actual match, reminding the viewer that these events really happened and leaving them feeling unavoidably inspired.

Dir: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman

rating: 6

Never Let Me Go (2010)

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Have you seen the 2005 Michael Bay film, The Island? That bloated and overbearing film was constantly in the back of my head as I was watching Never Let Me Go. The premise similarities are striking, as is the fact that the film (The Island) and the book (“Never Let Me Go”) came out around the same time. However, the film itself was purported to be a rip off of Michael Marshall Smith’s 1996 book “Spares” and Philip K. Dick’s 1964 novel “The Penultimate Truth,” so I guess the concept isn’t all that new. That “Never” is in the same vein as the rest of these works is not a spoiler, nor did the filmmakers want it to be. I was fortunate enough to catch an interview with the writer of the novel, Kazuo Ishiguro, together with screenplay writer Alex Garland. Alex clearly stated that the story they wanted to tell was a personal one and they did not want to be coy and keep anything a secret. In fact, there is a scene about 20 minutes in where someone, subtly but without question, spills the beans. The story of this dystopian world, a place that would allow this type of thing to happen, is just the backdrop and not the story that they wanted to tell. The morals and ramifications of such decisions are not discussed, so just because the storyteller does not want to share the answers does not mean that the audience won’t be asking, and be hounded by the questions.

In his novel “Never Let Me Go,” Kazuo Ishiguro (also the writer of “The Remains of the Day”) created a story of love, loss and hidden truths. In it he posed the fundamental question: What makes us human? Kathy (Carey Mulligan from An Education), Tommy (Andrew Garfield – The Social Network) and Ruth (Keira Knightley – those Pirate films) live in a world and a time that feels familiar to us, but is not quite like anything we know. They spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. When they leave the shelter of the school, and the terrible truth of their fate is revealed to them, they must also confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that pull them apart.

To return to my previous point, this is a very British film. Where The Island is full of huge passions, big explosions and all the delicacy of a flying brick, Never Let Me Go is filled with people and pauses that are pregnant with repressed and subdued emotions. The comedian Eddie Izzard put it best here. That was one of the things that kept me at such a distance from the characters in this film. These people in this film underwent some very traumatic and emotional experiences and they go through it as calm as Buddhist monks. It wasn’t until near the end that someone has a genuine and well-needed outburst. Until that happened, I hadn’t realized how much of the characters’ unexpressed emotions were building up within me and how much I was waiting for that release, waiting for someone to be…well…human.

The other thing that kept me at a distance was what I brought up in the first paragraph. I can respect that the filmmakers did not want to focus on the sci-fi aspects, but by ignoring the new world they are building, they may just as well not have made it to begin with. People are completely and fundamentally selfish. Things need to be taken from people by force. Even by having the main trio of friends discuss or witness some sort of rebellion would have been plenty, just so we know that it exists and what happens to those who try. Without it though, I was constantly asking myself why these people were willingly going along with their unjust fates. However, listening to the writers after the screening, they brought up a great point. The slaves in America did not become free because they rebelled, but because those who enslaved them decided not to do so anymore. The Jews did not stop their own genocide because they rose up against their oppressors but because the Allies occupied Europe. Ishiguro stated in the interview, “people are remarkably accepting of their fate.” It seems a truthful, if cynical, worldview to say that people just don’t escape.

The standouts for this film were the trio of main actors as well as the three children who played their counterparts at a younger age. Izzy Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe play Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield respectively during their time at Hailsham. For being so young, all three of them brought a great deal of depth and heart to their roles and I will be looking out for all three of them to see what they do with their talent. Keira Knightley has always been an enigma for me on screen. She never really seems to buy into any role she’s playing and it feels like she just goes along with the motions and says the words given her. In this film, especially in certain scenes, she rose slightly from that opinion although it was almost cruel to cast her next to Carey Mulligan. Carey is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses because she imbues all her characters with such pathos; she is electric. As far as Andrew Garfield goes, his character in this film was a bit of a spaz and bordered on being slightly mentally challenged. I don’t know if that was by writer’s design or by actor’s choice but I wasn’t really digging it. That said, Garfield is a force to be reckoned with. He is going to be Spiderman, for Pete’s sake. All six of these performances are the reason to see this film. It is a tour de force from all actors involved; I just wish the story would have let me get closer to them.

Lebanon (2010)

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

“Man is steel. The tank is only iron.” On July 12, 2006, conflict began between Israel and Lebanon. It began when Hezbollah soldiers fired rockets into Israel and blew up two armored Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border. Three soldiers died. Two other soldiers were taken by Hezbollah into Lebanon. Israel responded and for 34 days they carried out air strikes and rolled into Lebanon with tanks and foot soldiers. The writer/director of Lebanon, Samuel Maoz, was himself a gunner in one of those tanks, so this is a sort-of autobiography of his experiences. You can feel that placing this story on paper and on celluloid was a form therapy for Samuel. He places us, as the audience, in the dark, dank, cold, putrid, unwelcoming pit of a monster that he knows all too well. And because the camera never leaves the inside of that tank, save for two small book-ending scenes, he shows us what it felt like to be sequestered in those claustrophobic spaces only understanding the outside world what we see through the gunner’s scope.

A single tank is sent into a small town that has already been bombed by the Israeli Air Force. Inside the tank are four young men: Herzel (Oshri Cohen), the loader; Assi (Itay Tiran), the commander; Yigal (Michael Moshonov), the driver; and Shmuel (Yoav Donat), the gunner. For all of them, this is their first taste of war. The first day of fighting pushes all four of these men past anything they were trained for. For who can be trained to fire on unarmed civilians, to plow their way through streets that just hours before teemed with life, to see the blood and havoc that war creates and not let it change and effect their humanity.

The other film that is constantly being brought up when one speaks of Lebanon is Waltz with Bashir, the foreign picture Oscar contender of 2008. Both of them deal with the same war and the same psychological trauma it inflicted on its soldiers, but in wholly different ways. This film showed me an entirely new angle to war, one I had not seen in any war film. The closest comparison that comes to mind is the German film Das Boot but even in that film the sense of confinement doesn’t feel this suffocating. It is impressive that I felt the same heart-pounding, dizzying feeling I got from the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan from sections of this film and, as I’ve said, the camera never leaves the inside of the tank.

When the gunner is looking out his scope, we get to see some sunshine. We get to see a family torn apart. We get to see a soldier bleed out. We get to see inside a travel agency and have a weird feeling in the pits of our stomachs as the crosshairs of the cannon rests upon a picture of the Twin Towers. Most times with any slight movement the turret moans and creaks in protest, but as with any gimmick there are other times when this is cheated, when empathy is being attempted and the whirrs and clanks would get in the way, so they are left out all together. Apart from this story necessary hitch, the rest of the sound design makes it feel like the world is about to come crushing down around us. The only real gripe I have is that the score is sometimes misaligned and did not add to what I was watching. However, that is a small quibble for a film I honestly and whole heartedly respect.

The first thing that struck me as I was watching this film was how confident the filmmaking felt. For only being the second film that Samuel Maoz has ever directed and first one written, you can feel how much he knew this story and exactly how best to portray it. He was able to take what could have been a gimmick and made it impressive. If I venture to read more into it than may be there, it showed how myopic the “war machine” is. The young men, specifically the gunner, can’t really see most of the destruction that their shells are creating. One of God’s little blessings. Just as the people who sit in plush chairs and push pens across paper to declare war cannot see the destruction they cause. Like I said, that may not be what Samuel was going for, but it feels apropos.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Jennifer’s Body was pretty heavily slated on its release, and I can see why. It seems undecided about what genre it wants to be. It has elements of horror, teenage angst, romance, and revenge, but it switches from one to the next without really covering any of them properly. A lot of the plot goes unexplained and important parts, such as Jennifer’s transformation from high school evil to actual evil do not seem to have been thought through properly. However, considering the current film obsessions with most things demonic, not to mention Megan Fox,  i’m still surprised it wasn’t received better.

The film is based in a town called ‘Devil’s Kettle’ and revolves around the friendship between two teenage girls, Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy ( Amanda Seyfried). As her name suggests, Needy dotes on Jennifer and clings to every offering of friendship she doles out. The two are polar opposites, with Jennifer being the school’s most desired female and Needy being her uncool sidekick. The friendship takes a severe beating when after a virgin sacrifice gone wrong, Jennifer transforms into an evil demon with an appetite for human flesh.

The main problem with the movie is that too many things go unexplained. Jennifer turns into a demon but it is never really explained what type of demon she is. It’s clear that she is evil, but it’s not clear what happened to make her evil. All we are told is that an occult sacrifice has gone wrong. Flashbacks take us to a gruesome knife attack on Jennifer, which apparently kills her. Then the transformation happens. We do not see the transformation take place and no proper explanation is given, so the viewer is just left confused.

The soundtrack is the best thing about the movie. It is very retro cool and actually has the effect of keeping you engaged with the film. All the songs are well timed, and match the action that they are being played though. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have been able to watch the film to the end.

Amanda Seyfried is good at playing the long suffering friend ‘Needy’, but her transition from uncool friend to mentally unstable is not that convincing. Megan Fox is pouty as usual playing Jennifer and it’s easy to understand why every guy in the school wants to date her. It’s less easy to understand the random lesbian scene between Jennifer and Needy, which seems completely unnecessary. Needy does not appear to be attracted to women and actually has a serious boyfriend who she is obviously in love with. The lesbian kiss seems to be nothing more than a cheap stunt by the filmmakers to get more men to see the movie.

To conclude, Jennifer’s Body is poorly planned and disappointing. It is quite a cool and hip concept but not enough attention was paid to the dialogue or plot. As a result, it leaves the viewer feeling unsatisfied and unconvinced. I’d pay good money for the soundtrack, but not for the movie.

rating: 4

Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody

Dir: Karyn Kusama

Countdown to Zero (2010)

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Atomic apocalypse may still be upon us. That is what the filmmakers behind “Countdown to Zero” want us to remember. As President Kennedy says, “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness.” This quote is used as the thesis behind this film. They used this thesis to scare the guano out of me. Seeing images of nuclear bombs going off while being told how your internal organs may explode if you’re close enough to the epicenter, really makes one ponder how to not have that happen. And that is exactly what they are going for. Getting a response is their way to get their audience to act and do what they want them to do whether that be writing their government, texting to a specific number, donating to a charity or reducing carbon emissions. It is emotional manipulation and it works. However, the direction they are trying to get us to move in is not only naïve, it is futile.

In 1942, the Manhattan Project, led by the American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, came together to beat Germany in creating a fission-based weapon. Many of the world’s leading physicists were brought into this incredibly top-secret project. They decided to make two bombs and use uranium in one (Little Boy) and plutonium in the other (Fat Man). Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 while the Manhattan Project had yet to finish a working weapon. After a test in New Mexico that showed that the plutonium Fat Man released around 19 kilotons of TNT upon detonation, President Truman decided to use it against Japan. Little Boy was released above Hiroshima; Fat Man, above Nagasaki. At least one hundred thousand people died, most of them civilians. Tens of thousands would later die from radiation sicknesses and cancers.

Since 1945, the world has gone from two nuclear weapons to over 23,000 nuclear warheads. We’ve come a long way, baby. It would take just one-megaton bomb exploding in the air to throw the earth into a nuclear winter. So we have enough going here on this little planet to really mess things up. To have any bombs active really feels, on all sides, irresponsible. Like children picking up loaded guns, I wonder if our world leaders really comprehend what they have in their hands? The film’s solution to all this madness, disarm all the bombs. It’s great to aim high, but what are we truly trying to accomplish? In a way, the ancient demon we’re trying to destroy is the threat of great weapons in the wrong hands. It’s stopping outwardly antagonistic countries like North Korea and Iran from getting their hands on something that will kill us all. But then, is it right that we should have the bombs and they shouldn’t? As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted in the film as saying, “If they are good, then why should we be deprived? If they are bad, then why do you have them?” Are we really more reliable, more responsible then they? We, America, are the only country who has ever used one. So really that ancient demon is us – all of us. Every single human on the planet is the reason why the dream of disarming all the nuclear weapons is never going to happen. We are not trusting, nor trustworthy enough to bring the count back down to zero.

There are currently nine countries in the world with confirmed nuclear weapons. Even if by sheer will and luck we are able to get 7 of those countries to completely disarm, the two that are left will fall into a “No, you first” face off. There is just too much power in having something your enemy doesn’t, which won’t allow us to just let it go. We, as a people, do not trust enough to do that. We think, “If I disarm my bombs, and they SAY they’ve disarmed all their bombs, but they really have a secret stash, that will leave me open to attack. I need to have my own secret stash.” And we also think it’s safer for us to have an ace up our sleeve just in case something happens – and in that way we are not trustworthy either. The film is great in that it got me to ponder and talk about all these situations and scenarios. However, call me cynical, but the solution they offer is, I believe, a big pipe dream that will never be realized.

Inception (2010)

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

I did not intend to write a review for Inception. I didn’t want to. If I plan on writing about a film, I take my notebook and write my notes by glow of the silver screen. However, when I entered the midnight showing, I went empty handed. I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride. The lights dimmed; the film played; the curtain closed and something was planted in my head that has since festered and grown, taking over my dreams and my waking mind. I was compelled to write on what I saw and experienced. I sit here now, needing to share what I experienced, needing to tell as many as I can to run and have the same experience I did. A film has not haunted me so much in quite a while. It is the second of Nolan’s films to make me question reality and have me chattering like a gibbon as I left the theater – Memento was the first. They both messed with my head. Inception is so well tuned, so well structured, the world it creates is complete and nearly perfect. I not only understood, but I could easily manipulate the concepts it showed me so that I could see them every day around me. This is what film is about.

At some undetermined time in the future (or maybe happening now in the present right under our noses) people are able to jack into other’s subconscious and invade their dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best at doing this and at finding the secrets hidden within those dreams. He is hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to place an idea into his business rival’s, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), mind. The request is impossible, the stakes, high, but Cobb needs to do it to gain access back into the United States in order to see his children again. A heist. One last job. So, Cobb puts together a team of people to help him accomplish this task. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect; Yusuf (Dileep Rao) specializes in sleeping potions; Eames (Tom Hardy – stealing every scene he is in) has connections and munitions and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is Cobb’s right hand man. However, what none of them realize is that Cobb has a demon in his head in the form of his ex-wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard) that may materialize and wreak havoc while they are working.

The first person that must be praised is writer/director Christopher Nolan. He has proven himself time and again to be the best director working today. Is there any other director whose track record is so clean? He makes films that are great for film geeks and casual filmgoers alike. The critics love him with great reviews and the audiences love him with great box-office. Besides the misstep that is Insomnia, I am hard pressed to think of anyone else who is so prolific and still so successful. Some will say Tarantino but I would argue that Nolan has broader appeal. I really don’t know why more isn’t being said and written about him. He is a master storyteller. No one else would have been able to cram so much information, at such breakneck speed, into two and a half hours without confusing me, and keep me on the edge of my seat. Each piece of information is given at such a time that it either connects to what happened not so long ago, or so that we can use it to unlock the mystery that is about to come. Other directors would have had pity on the “incompetence” of the audience; they would have watered down the plot to help us understand all the information. Nolan drops us in the middle of a story and trusts us to keep up. He doesn’t bother with details that would weigh down the exposition (How can they jack into other people’s dreams?, Who discovered it?, How does it work?) but instead offers it up for us to buy into if we are to follow him.

The editing is the second thing that must be praised. The editing room is the final place that a director “writes”, and as such Nolan’s cutter, Lee Smith, (the one he’s been working with since Batman Begins) is a genius. For thirty to forty-five minutes in the second act of this film there are between four and six different storylines that are going on simultaneously and interrelate with each other. The deft work done here is like juggling chainsaws. If one of the storylines is botched and left behind, the whole movie is ruined. And someone may lose a limb. Added to that is the unbelievable score that Hans Zimmer, three-time Nolan collaborator, produces. It is as unrelenting as the editing. Looking back, I don’t recall more then five minutes tops that did not have music behind it, pushing it forward, raising the tension. There are a few spots in the film where I wished the movie would have slowed down some in order to let us feel the weight of an issue or a decision, and therefore I feel it lost something special in those moments. However, on the whole, it is a dizzying display of expert editing.

DiCaprio does better here then he has done in quite a while, perhaps because he’s not butchering some accent. His guilt ridden scientist is very similar in tone to the guilt ridden cop he played in Shutter Island. He is perfect in this role. After discovering Tom Hardy in 2008’s Bronson, I have found every role he’s been in mesmerizing. I’m glad he’s going to be getting a chance soon to be a leading man, I just wish it wasn’t as Mad Max. Joseph Gordon-Levitt keeps choosing amazing material to be in, although I do wish the costume crew didn’t always place him in the same dapper-looking clothes – shirt and tie with a cardigan again? Switch it up a bit, huh? And Marion Cotillard is an unrelenting force here. The inside joke of having the music that wakes everyone up be Edith Piaf (Cotillard’s Oscar winning role) was, I feel, inspired. Through it all, nothing was regretted by these dreamweavers.

Finally I want to discuss a scene that was in the trailer – guys floating around a hotel hallway. For some of it, I am still confused as to how they did it. There are two segments to the scene. The first is the fight, a fight that goes from floor to wall to ceiling to wall to floor with such ease and fluidity that even Fred Astaire, in all his dancing glory, couldn’t have dreamed that film would have come this far. That was incredible and I can’t even imagine how the fight choreographer wrapped his brain around the logistics of bringing that all together. The second is the zero gravity portion, long profound stretches of time where lots of people are suspended in zero gravity. That’s where I get confused. I suppose it could be CG, erase the wires that the actors are hanging from, however it appeared to me to be more of what they did for the Apollo 13 film in NASA’s KC-135 reduced gravity aircraft. But how would they have been able to build an entire hotel hallway, room and elevator into one of those aircrafts? It cooks my noodle, but I love it for doing so.

There are a couple of places where the visuals don’t quite work, where the CG lets the filmmakers down. There is a bit more of The Matrix (people being jacked in, not knowing which is the real reality, heck they even had a hot girl that was a complete fabrication of someone’s imagination) and of Vanilla Sky here then I would have liked to see. And though the ideas may not be completely original, the execution is. How you react to the ending and your interpretation of the entire film is more a reflection of your personality and your outlook on life. It’s awesome for a piece of art to mean so many different things to so many different people. Nolan has given us yet another a film that we will be watching for decades to come.

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Friday, July 16th, 2010
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Cyrus (2010)

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

The film sub-genre of Mumblecore has been around since 2002. They are characterized by improvised scripts spoken by un-proven actors on shoestring budgets. The plots are simplistic, people talking about what people talk about as they would normally talk. Nothing particularly spectacular happens and it’s okay. Slowly, the directors of these films have been getting noticed and given acclaim. Last year, the film Humpday was a huge critical success for writer, director, producer Lynn Shelton. Now, Mumblecore has come to a theater near you with actors you have probably heard of. The brothers Duplass, Mark and Jay, were given the go ahead to work the magic they brought to their previous works, The Puffy Chair and Baghead, into something with a bigger budget. What they have given us is Cyrus – a comedy that keeps its independent vibe and does not skimp on the quirk; yet by the end, if you stay with it, will surprise and charm you.

John’s (John C. Reilly) social life is at a standstill and his ex-wife is about to be remarried. Still single after seven years after the breakup of his marriage, he has all but given up on romance, but at the urging of his ex-wife and best friend, Jaime (Catherine Keener), John grudgingly agrees to join her and her fiancé Tim (Matt Walsh) at a party. To his, and everyone else’s surprise, he actually manages to meet someone; the gorgeous and spirited Molly (Marisa Tormei). Their chemistry is immediate. The relationship takes off quickly but Molly is oddly reluctant to take the relationship beyond John’s house. Confused, he follows her home and discovers the other man in Molly’s life; her son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). A 21-year-old new age musician, Cyrus is his mom’s best friend and shares an unconventional relationship with her. Cyrus will go to any lengths to protect Molly and is definitely not ready to share her with anyone, especially John. Before long, the two are locked in a battle of wits for the woman they both love. It’s a new twist on the old love triangle plot.

This film was made in an unconventional way. Instead of blocking the scenes – preplanning where the actors would stand when they say their lines so that they can be lit properly – the Duplass brothers lit the entire set so that their actors could move about freely and spontaneously thus encouraging the natural feel of their mumblecore entrees. Unfortunately, what it also does is confuse the cameraman. Since they do not know where the actors are going to be at any particular time, the camera work becomes shoddy, zooming in and out wildly, going out of focus when the actors get too close or too far from the camera. It almost looks like they are shooting a documentary. It was this unrefined style that initially turned me off to the whole mumblecore genre. It just isn’t something I dig. To me it comes off as being sloppy and uncaring. I also can’t stand slice-of-life type of films. If I want to see natural (read: boring) people do regular (read: extremely boring) things, I could stay at home and save my $12 and my two hours. That said, I really wasn’t looking forward to this film. On top of that, the trailers didn’t really sell this film properly. It was pushing an all out comedy, but I knew enough to know not to expect it. So I came into this film with all that prejudice of mine, and yet the acting and how delicately the directors handled the situations quickly pulled me out of my funk. It became just a change in style, neither good nor bad, just different.

John C Reilly is a master actor and a joy to watch in anything he does. His relationship with Catherine Keener is interesting to say the least. As exes, they act far more friendly and supportive then any separated couples I’ve ever met. John takes advantage of his ex’s friendship and, as Cyrus starts butting his way into Molly and John’s relationship, John starts becoming the Cyrus in Jaime and Tim’s relationship. Seeing him in this film, as a lead actor was an inspired choice, however he was shown up in the improvising area by Marisa Tormei. His delivery is short and choppy, he stammers constantly. Her delivery is smooth and polished and feels far more professional then either of her male counterparts. She lifts the entire film into a higher caliber. Jonah Hill has, with the Apatow troupe, gotten a lot of improv training in comedy and most of the all out gut-busting moments belong to him.

There are three moments in the film that really brought everything together for me, where the emotions completely congealed and I seriously fell in love with the characters and this movie. In these scenes two characters are talking, however the scene starts on the two people talking to each other, and as we continue to hear them talking, it cuts away to the same two people in other, disparate but related, scenarios and back again, all of this over a great piece of heartfelt music. It was in these times where I could see glimpses of how these directors really had a grasp on how to manipulate the cinematic art to do their bidding. I hope to see them continue to grow.

Letters to Juliet (2010)

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

It’s never a bad thing when you laugh the whole way through a movie, which is exactly what happened whilst  watching Letters to Juliet. The film is not a comedy though. I’m afraid to say my friends and I were laughing at how unbelievably bad and predictable the film was. Yes it’s a chick flick romance and these types of films always contain predictable elements: a happy ending, a romance which starts with a few bumps but ends up smooth sailing, and a love rival, but seriously, there’s such a thing as good scriptwriting which can at least make a predictable plot enjoyable. Clearly the team behind Letters to Juliet don’t believe in making an effort with scripts. I genuinely believe that I could have written better dialogue, and I don’t claim to have any script writing experience or talent.

The concept behind the main story is actually rather sweet. On a pre-honeymoon to Verona, Sophie (Amanda Seyfreid) comes across the lengendary wall and balcony where Romeo supposedly courted Juliet Capulet in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Women from all across the world visit the attraction and write letters to Juliet asking her for help. These letters are then replied to by a group of women who call themselves ‘Juliet’s secretaries’. Sophie finds a letter from fifty years ago that had gotten lodged in a gap in the wall. The letter is from a confused young british woman called Claire who has just jilted her fiancee because she was afraid her family would disapprove of the match. Although the woman will now be an old lady, Sophie decides to reply to the letter; an action which leads to the chain of events that take up the rest of the film. On receiving this late reply, Claire jumps on a plane and comes to Verona hoping to find her long lost love Lorenzo and apologise to him for her cowardice.

Nice simple storyline. Where did it all go wrong?

The two main men in the film were completely unbelievable and ridiculous. Christopher Egan plays Claire’s grandson Charlie with one of the stupidest British accents i’ve ever come across. Instead of trying to sound like a normal english person, it’s like he’s trying to impersonate a member of the royal family. It’s not obvious why he is talking so posh, since his grandmother’s accent is nothing like that. During the course of the film he is supposed to go from rude and offensive to charming and kind, but this transition does not work at all and although he comes across as slightly more likeable than his love rival, he’s really just the better of two evils. Gael Garcia Benal plays Sophie’s fiance and considering he’s proved himself to be a magnificent actor in films like The Motorcycle Diaries and can’t be short on work offers, I have no idea what possessed him to get involved in this film. This is the first English speaking role i’ve seen him in and I can only hope the next is better, as he really was terrible. He plays the role eccentrically and over the top, but he does this so excessively that it’s hard to comprehend why Sophie got together with him in the first place. To be fair, he was working with a poor script though.

Some of the dialogue was so bad that I couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief. In the pivotal scene where Charlie and Sophie declare their love for one another, Charlies doesn’t just say ‘I love you’, but makes a ridiculous speech about loving her ‘madly’, ‘deeply’, ‘passionately’. Pass me a bucket please. Even the soundtrack was predictable and cheesy. Taylor Swift’s song ‘Love Story’ was played during the happy ending. Need that bucket again.

rating: 2

Starring: Amanada Seyfreid, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave

Dir: Gary Winick

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

When you go see a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine you know you are not going to be seeing anything intellectual. You expect to see a silly film with hopefully a lot of laughs, and that is exactly what Hot Tub Time Machine provides you with. It never pretends to be something it’s not. Since I was fully prepared for ninety minutes of pure silliness, I found I rather enjoyed it.

There are no bad performances in the film, but the stand-out performance is from Rob Corddry as the suicidal and manic Lou. He is bitter and outrageous and his destructive tendencies tend to make it difficult for his friends to be around him. Rob Corddry plays Lou with a lot of energy and jumpiness, which makes the character seem even more unstable and unpredictable.

It was also nice to see John Cusack in a comedy that’s actually funny for once. His last few attempts at comedy, including the terrible Must Love Dogs were lacking in any humour.

The film revolves around four dysfuntional men. Three of these guys: Adam (Cusack), Lou, and Nick (Craig Robinson), were best mates in high school but have lost touch over the years, largely because they stopped liking each other. The fourth in the group is the teenage nephew of Adam, and is a geek who likes to spend all his time playing computer games, rather than doing anything remotely sociable. These four are brought together when Lou attempts to commit suicide and since he has no interested relatives, his old friends are called upon to help raise his spirits.

In order to cheer Lou up, they take him to a ski resort they used to go to in the 80s. When they arrive at the resort though, they find it is no longer the desirable place it used to be. The only upside to the place is that their room has a working hot tub. They surround the tub with copious amounts of alcohol, jump in, and start partying. Somehow, during the course of their partying, the hut tub takes them back in time and when they wake up the next day they realise they are back in the 1980s.

It is never made very clear what caused this time travel, but since it’s not a film that you are meant to take very seriously, you shouldn’t really care about this, and if you do, RELAX.

Crispin Glover’s role as the one armed bell boy provides the best laughs in the film. When the film goes back in time he is in possession of both of his arms, and the director plays with the viewer’s morbid curiousity as we hope to discover how he loses his arm. You know he’s going to lose the arm during the course of the film, but you have no idea how. There are numerous close shaves before the arm eventually comes off, and these near misses create the only real suspense in the film.

Overall I enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine. It kept me engaged and I didn’t find the time dragged at all. My only problem with the film was that I felt it could have been funnier. Although the jokes are flowing throughout, there are no real laugh-out-loud moments. It consistently makes you chuckle, but nothing more substantial. There were no surprises, and except for its ridiculous title, there is nothing very memorable about it.

Dir: Steve Pink

Starring: John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke

rating: 5