Monday, March 31, 2008

last of the first

apparently i saw a lot of films this month. i'm likely to take on less of a load in april. i say that because i'm not aware of much on the spring slate that sounds real promising. but then again, i was surprised by the first quarter returns. closed it out with another pair, in just under the wire.

what stands out most is that this one's a mtv films production. so during opening credits i'm clued in to what style of movie i'm getting. no surprises in that department. ryan phillippe does respectable work here. abbie cornish is versatile, yet i'm repeatedly distracted by how her character favors model/actress estelle warren. i'm then repeatedly glad i'm seeing the better actor. serious protagonist moral quandary addresses serious political issue, fairly addressed and adequately handled.
respectable: 2 stars

it's good. and for the first time i get jim sturgess. hooray - finally! a couple of the hollywood turns on these real events are a bit much, yet not enough to kill the pleasant buzz adroitly established (and maintained) by director robert luketic. kevin spacey does a spot-on kevin spacey, and kate bosworth is pretty. (and good golly, they work together a lot.) kudos to josh gad for some standout character moments in the nebbishy best friend role.
good: 3 stars

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

a dash of art house

banged out a coupla quick art house flicks last week while the rest o' you kiddies were checking out the new seuss:

paranoid park--
latest from director gus van sant, who is steady keeping up his dreamy pretty people on the fringe trope. about halfway through i'm annoyed, figuring this one too is going nowhere...and slowly. (i need not list how many disappointments in a row he's churned out.) lead gabe nevins gives us tone-perfect naturalism as alex, drifting through his daydream teen day-to-day. the direction follows slyly, meandering, honing in for focus/story clarity only as it needs to, in bits, as authority figures and friends alike peck around for clues to alex's existence. what develops is an adroitly explored, simple portrait of a young man growing into discovery of his sense of self. it's appropriately arty, intimate, careful--classic van sant, his best in years--lead with heart, and ultimately full of hope.
arty: 3 stars

funny games--
remake of 1997 austrian film also by writer/director michael haneke. rarely does a helmer get the chance to pull a "do-over," essentially reframing the same story for english-speaking audiences (read: for hollywood). my question is Why do it line-for-line, shot-for-shot? does he feel that, even ten years later, there is no room for improvement?on anything? bummer, i say, cuz the time away could have served him better. it's torture porn with a wink, an audience-inclusive what-if, literally questioning our desire for a nicely-wrapped package of story. clever enough exploration, yet i'd like a little more challenge in this game. like what if the director did something more than simply turn convention on its ear? the idea shows such great potential, then coasts along feeling good about itself. this do-over feels too much like opportunity wasted.
bummer: 2 stars

Friday, March 14, 2008

seasonal surprises

if you read my earlier posts, you're aware of how lightly i regard the standard releases during the early months of the typical calendar year. it is true that the multiplexes are still ripe with winter dreck. wedged therein between every four or five stinkers, however, there have already been a handful of surprisingly solid offerings. this week alone i was treated to three such legitimate exceptions, each a distinct genre--something, i suspect, to satisfy nearly any frequent filmgoer.

the other boleyn girl--
not only a period piece, a history piece; the stuff Heavy (read: boring) films are made of. throw in natalie portman, scarlett johansson, and eric bana, however, and you've got youthful spirit, sex appeal, and (whatdoyouknow?) box office. i was a bit worried in the first act, when setup is rather stock. once past what i'll call a directorial warmup, the work delivers. david morrissey's realistically villainous duke of norfolk sparks the intrigue early and keeps it rolling throughout. portman gives a commanding performance, her career best. johansson reminds us she's got chops. bana proves a convincing (albeit a bit too studly) henry. the writers have fun with their history lesson, in the process managing a most agreeable tone. also notable were the cinematography and costumes.
delivers: 3 stars

the bank job--
...really is as good as you've heard. so much more thriling when you see that it's based on a true story (some liberties, sure, but heaps of fun nonetheless). also the first authentically human character i've seen jason statham play. right on. the titular heist itself is handled fairly early, and the ensuing runabout pulls you into the action ever deeper. i found myself desperately wanting the hard-luck crooks to get away clean. and (no spoiler here) see for yourself, you'll be rooting for them too.
thrilling: 4 stars

snow angels--
it's not news to say that director david gordon green has a way with small-town life. he paints crisp, thoughtful portraits full of it-could-happen-to-you scenes with textured characters who never come off character-y. heck, he's flatout good for actors. this 2007 sundance standout gives wings to its ensemble. top tier turns from kate beckinsale, sam rockwell (devastating monologue in act two), adorable olivia thirlby (so dependable in juno), and relatable, likeable michael angarano. funny, poignant, romantic, and heartbreakingly sad, it is ultimately beautifully human.
standout: 4 stars

Monday, March 10, 2008

more from the multiplex

greetings, friends! a couple weeks now since the last fresh reviews. i've continued to catch some flicks, of course--including some old-timers and foreign gems (go rent this very instant films directed by korean slickster chan-wook park!) via dvd--just gave the oscars a little space to dominate the landscape. that being said, on to the business at hand. here's how i see it:

the spiderwick chronicles--
this could be one of my shorter roundups for two reasons: one, it's already been a few weeks since i saw the film; two, there just wasn't anything particularly special about it. i did appreciate the casting--a terrific bunch of recognizable names in both physical and voice talent. freddie highmore is a gifted young actor, good enough to handle playing distinctly different twin boys. kudos too to teen sarah bolger; she's got charisma in spades, likely a long career ahead of her. the adults don't have much to do, but the fx do. it's the usual kiddy fantasy fare all around, predictably dosed with some agreeable life lessons.
kiddy: 2 stars

10,000 b.c.--
devotees of this is spinal tap will surely appreciate the notion that i'd find it most fitting to give this film a two-word review. mind you, i only saw this because i figured i'd see some cool fx--you know, badass dinosaur chases and beastly fights and such--and have a few good belly laughs at the sheer inanity of it all. no such luck. it was just too awful--too dull, too long, too formulaic, too stupid--to even snicker at. i was bored out of my gourd, falling asleep, not once impressed by any element of craftwork. this appears in every way to be intentionally made for an audience of the lowest common denominator. it'll be tough to best this doozie for worst picture of the year.
awful: 0 stars

married life--
i'll give you a silly fun hollywood mash-up: this film feels like far from heaven meets little children. chris cooper, patricia clarkson, and pierce brosnan are all perfectly cast in this clever (almost farcical) ensemble drama. rachel mcadams rounds out the winning foursome, although neither her genteel character nor her platinum hair play to her strong suits. it's the snarky brosnan and his wry delivery (bolstered by smart narration) that really move the piece. (incidentally, if you don't know him yet as anything other than bond, rent the matador, evelyn, and see this [and oh, don't forget mrs. doubtfire]; he's consistently commanding in his versatility.) solidly put together, deftly executed, readily recommended.
winning: 3 stars

Sunday, March 2, 2008

top 12 films of last five years

over dinner with a trio of lovely ladies in las vegas the night before the academy awards, i was asked for suggestions on fantastic films from the last handful of years. i replied, naturally, that i could lay down a list of some doozies--maybe even a couple that they didn't expect and hadn't seen. i came home this week and pulled from my files, concocting a conglomerate of elites.

here's a list of my top 12 favorites--not Best, but Favorites--from the last five years (2003-2007), as per our dinner discussion. only the cream of the crop--ones that still Floor me, after this amount of time, with originality and execution. thank you, ladies, for the impetus to put this together:

whale rider
the magdalene sisters
eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
brokeback mountain
hustle & flow
children of men
pan's labyrinth
there will be blood
no country for old men

if you haven't seen any of these, get to it. if you have, it's time for another viewing. i'm truly in awe of how they stand up.
for a more extensive list, or for a breakdown discussion of any of these films, hit me up directly anytime.

hindsight: the Oscars in review

alright: well 15 of 24 is respectable. good enough to help one of my buddies to some office pool winnings, of which i shall (allegedly) be receiving an appropriately respectable 10%. most impressive is the 11/13 hit in what i'll call the top tier categories. misses on supporting actress and documentary feature were surprising, although i feel i should have seen the former coming.

i acknowledged that michael clayton was otherwise looking at a shutout on the evening, and with critical accolades being so evenly distributed among all the nominated ladies, the most likely beneficiary would stand to be indy queen swinton. she did/does consistently tremendous work, is highly respected by critics and peers alike, and it was too early for ryan, too small a role for dee, too many kudos for blanchett. that's the way it's done.
taxi to the dark side would have been my third pick for doc feature. surprise. bound to miss a few.

missed my 50/50 call on costume: my should win, elizabeth, did win. that has me look kinda right. right?
i tend to be real crap on tagging the technical awards and the shorts. just don't have my finger on the pulse of those conversations within the industry.
i definitely felt a disturbance in the force when i realized that i had predicted transformers would take home the second-most hardware. that just seemed too unlikely. and i kick myself for not seeing that bourne would be the most obvious choice in the sound categories. after all, we're talking Respect here. those filmmakers have it in spades, while michael bay gets...well, not as much.
visual effects? golden compass = mild surprise.
bourne for editing = big surprise. hell yes, Absolutely a well-earned trophy, yet a shocker nonetheless. bourne really turned out to be--next to the coens--the big winner of the night, coming from out of nowhere to take home three.

scoreboard looks like this:
no country for old men, 4
the bourne ultimatum, 3
there will be blood & la vie en rose, 2
with the rest of the wealth evenly distributed. and rightfully so.

i was Elated with the outcome of the categories that mattered most to me this year--actress and song.
i felt that marion cotillard's performance was one of the best in recent memory, and it would have been a shame if she were passed over. then Wow, she couldn't have been any cuter in her acceptance. her shock in the moment was palpable, and even as she left stage you could see she was Still trying to get a grip. adorable. Gorgeous and Talented and adorable.
once was my feel-good favorite film of the year, a thoroughly moving piece of artistry on every level. i shared the joy of victory with millions of other die-hard fans (i speak for them all when i say we feel we know hansard & irglova; they are our friends; we Love them) when they trumped the mouse house. my top memory of the evening was jon stewart's gracious gesture of bringing irglova back out to the mic after commercial break, and she made the most of her opportunity with words both heartfelt and inspiring.
overall, a good night at the academy awards. nothing earth-shattering, but definitely entertaining. the kind we've come to expect. why they play the game. why we watch.
the show--good: 3 stars
my picks--respectable: 3 stars