Thursday, December 25, 2008

what star power can (& should) do

the curious case of benjamin button--
rather like a less whimsical forrest gump in that it ties protagonist to decades' worth of historical events. even has its own magical through-line, a la floating white feather, in spectral hummingbird. at heart of things, an elegant love story. from production standpoint, money well spent in every department; absolutely breathes Quality. likely to garner most oscar nominations and must be considered best picture front-runner. should earn brad pitt his first nod for lead actor, as well.
Quality: 5 stars

despite early pre-production struggles and measure of questionable buzz, tom cruise & co. do pull pic off with aplomb. credit bryan singer & christopher mcquarrie (director and writer, respectively, of the usual suspects) with vision. they spin fact-based nazi struggle for internal power into noble crusade. it is fascinating tale, one deserving of big budget treatment. assemblage of international talent--top german-language actors from award-winning films like the lives of others, black book, and downfall, plus cream of brit crop--enables formidable ensemble.
aplomb: 3 stars

* the edge of heaven
(BONUS dvd review)--
winner of 18(!)--thus far--major international festival awards, including screenplay distinction, cannes 2007. frequently compared to critical darling babel, Much better at connecting the dots. authentic, gritty performances by talented multi-national cast. establishes writer/director fatih akin as one to watch on world cinema scene.
gritty: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

business that's personal

the wrestler--
i can't imagine a more appropriate star vehicle for mickey rourke at this stage of his career. and i can't imagine anyone else doing this role justice; he is sheer perfection. darren aronofsky's brutally intimate character study is a heartbreaker. gruesome hard knocks of modern-day gladiator's fading spotlight mirror the crumbling of his identity and deterioration of his very existence. marisa tomei's Stunning soulful stripper represents hope in more ways than one.
heartbreaker: 4 stars

revolutionary road--
not the first utterly depressing breakdown of 50's suburban culture. heralded reunion of kate winslet & leonardo dicaprio is all about tone. this time, rather than discover couple's freeing connection, we witness their suffocating dissolution. Busy(!) cinematographer roger deakins (also framed the reader and doubt) and composer thomas newton command while stars shout at each other. michael shannon, in juicy loony supporting role, justifiably calls into question sanity of everyone & everything Settled around him.
tone: 3 stars

* still life (BONUS dvd review)--
winner, best foreign language film, l.a. film critics. tricky title proves doubly telling. story explores parallel estranged relationships alongside china's yangtze river, where in spots entire villages were displaced by three gorges dam. quiet camera and subdued performances harmonize to reveal emotional core. pic unfolds gracefully into portrait of patience and resilience of human spirit.
patience: 3 stars

Thursday, December 18, 2008

let them have animation

following some really questionable logic, i felt compelled to go see an animated twin bill. as if i need to be running to the multiplex, adding even more to my docket. what can i say? i luvs me some movies.

madagascar: escape 2 africa--
all the earmarks of one to stay away from. yet i bit. and i coulda/shoulda done without. here we have one of those seemingly thrown together projects, hastily greenlit to cash in on success of predecessor. hokey script culls from prior greats. load roster with name voice talent, and that's entertainment? uh, no; not for me. granted, target demo kids (3-8 maybe?) don't know difference or care. bottom line is business, of course, so I'll do best to not support next low-grade waste of time.
uh, no: 0 stars

above pic wishes it could be this fun, smart, fresh. not quite as "awesome" as it purports to be, yet sure to speak to kids of all ages and entertain their parents, too. nice mix of animation styles. dig the peeks inside the hollywood machine and the dissection of Celebrity. would prefer, however, not to have miley cyrus crammed down my throat.
all ages: 3 stars

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

prepare to be challenged

seven pounds--
as biggest movie star on the planet, will smith has his pick of projects (and directors and co-stars and...). it says quite a lot that he selected this story by a rookie screenwriter. and that he went back so quickly to work with helmer of the pursuit of happyness. gabriele muccino Did help smith access something emotionally special therein, directing star to second best actor nom. even More spiritual punch this time around. equally critical: smith's genuine chemistry with rosario dawson (previously partnered on MIB2), who glows--grounded, connected, beautiful, sublime. a wonderful, powerfully moving film.
chemistry: 5 stars

synecdoche, new york--
first time behind the camera for triptastic scribe charlie kaufman. and here's his most personal, most out-there project yet. reminiscent of more esoteric of samuel beckett plays. certainly too deeply existential to grab mainstream moviegoers; some will hail it as genius. we're privy to base inner-workings of protagonist (a writer/director revealing truly heartbreaking self-awareness--is he not kaufman? everyman?), in on the ceaselessly challenging joke of life for many laugh out loud moments and even more melancholy. all the world's a stage, we're reminded. now do with that what you will.
esoteric: 3 stars

Saturday, December 13, 2008

respect must be paid

cadillac records--
first off, i consider jeffrey wright one of the great actors of this generation. here he's joined by a stellar ensemble, including adrien brody, mos def, eamonn walker (hbo's oz), and rising stud columbus short (stomp the yard). international mega-star beyonce knowles brings cache of another sort as well, introducing to a wide-reaching crop of entertainment biz fans everywhere these vital chapters of music history. writer/director darnell martin deserves praise for tackling such an ambitious tribute. script clicks with energy, thanks primarily to rockin' soundtrack, overflowing with early rhythm & blues classics.
tribute: 3 stars

the reader
indisputably packaged, positioned, and presented as Important oscar pic. felt more like three separate films to me, however, the latter two draining life from bold, fun, sensual central flashback storyline. crafty conceit thus bogged down in its own earnestness. kate winslet delivers as expected (no more, no less), ralph fiennes is sufficiently dour, while newcomer david kross truly leads. core strength in Look: legendary cinematographer roger deakins reveals luminous beauty; costume designer ann roth does wonders.
expected: 3 stars

Thursday, December 11, 2008

catholic church & vampires together again

john patrick shanley won tony award and pulitzer prize for hit play. adapts & directs his own work for screen with what appears to be The dream cast. focus now justifiably shifts to actors, with four frequently mentioned for award consideration. they are indeed good--alongside trio of A-listers, viola davis stands out in small supporting role--yet bigger even than names brought in or accolades handed down is hype. and frankly, pic just does not boast a whole lot of Special. writing never Impresses, direction feels basic and flat. count on plenty of notice and little to no hardware.
hype: 3 stars

let the right one in
truly original perspective on traditional vampire mythology. and damn cool. children are the focus--how they live, how they connect, how they love. hard enough for young human to battle his way through adolescence; try being vampire girl next door. goes just a touch further down road to trite than i'd prefer, yet doesn't lose freshness. this terrific film may not be at a theater near you anymore, so put it in your dvd queue Now.
freshness: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

a study in contrast

would you expect anything less than the most showy of spectacle from the man who conjured up moulin rouge! and romeo + juliet? fittingly and wisely, baz luhrmann's sprawling, reportedly $140M antipodean epic is narrated by an aboriginal boy (newcomer brandon walters), a dazzling youngster who declares the saga's storybook intentions from the start. then you're in for a 160-minute jaunt through WWII-era aussie cattle country, replete with pin-up cinema icons--preposterously hunky hugh jackman paired with porcelain nicole kidman, who appears to have done something tragic to her lips--extravagent, fantasy-colorful production design, and the requisite cast of thousands. with countless allusions to gone with the wind and the wizard of oz, pic is tribute to old hollywood glamour And celebration of historical oz. broad in every sense, sporadically fun, and (did i nearly neglect to mention?) Long.
storybook: 2 stars

wendy and lucy--
as close to antithesis of luhrmann production as i can presently imagine. read one review (i'm sure not the Only one such) labeling this film minimalist. if by that, critic meant ain't nothin' goin' on, then slap said label here. director/co-writer kelly reichardt proves relentlessly patient, makes most of simple emotional observations. michelle williams deserves praise for her work--it's so very minimalist--even more for Taking the job; without her, pic, as sweet as it is, would never have seen the light of day.
simple: 1 star

Thursday, December 4, 2008

heavy december underway

heaviest back-loaded film campaign Ever! seeing flicks every day during this time of year. coming w/in the next week: reviews of australia, wendy and lucy, and more....

in gripping denouement, narration comments on television's inherent power to reduce history to images. this film deftly flips a reversal on that process. writer peter morgan adapted his own insightful, powerful & surprisingly funny play--winner of 2007 tony award for broadway's best--then handed the reigns to ron howard & friends. whereas often such silver screen translations don't hold up, everything about production shines. look for oscar nods for best picture, director, screenplay, supporting actor michael sheen, composer hans zimmer, and--i'm calling it now--a win for lead actor, frank langella.
shines: 5 stars

* baby mama (BONUS dvd review)--
didn't expect much from what turned out to be a legit sleeper hit; hence how i held out for dvd to check it. since i Did wait, perspective reveals pic as smartest comedy of '08. right away i was struck by writer/director michael mccullers' script. clever format tweak, as opening montage concisely intros protagonist journey. tight jokes for grown-ups; wry and witty throughout, not crass. only aspect more impressive was cast--brilliant hires, hilarious peformances.
smartest: 4 stars