Friday, December 28, 2007

The Atypical Teen Comedy

If I said there were no words to express how great Juno is, then this would be one very boring review. But I must say it's hard to find the right words to describe how friggin' amazing Juno is. I've been working on this review for three days!

It's like Waitress with a little bit of Knocked Up and dash of every great indie film you've ever seen thrown in. The whole cast (especially Ellen Page) is wonderful.

Juno (Page) is not-the-popular-type teenager who has sex with one of her best friends, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) in a really comfortable chair. A few weeks later, she discovers that chair sex can lead to pregnancy. After a traumatizing experience at the abortion clinic, she decides to have the child and give it up for adoption. The lucky couple are Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), two people who've been trying for a baby for a long time.

What's so absolutely incredible about this movie is that it explores not what a 16-year-old knows about life, but what a 16-year-old doesn't know yet. Juno knows a lot about music and loves a good slasher movie, but her outlook on life is still quite naive. She even exclaims early on that she doesn't know what kind of girl she is.

What else is so great about this movie? It's funny. It's touching. And after it was over, I wanted to watch it again.

At first, the dialog threw me. I'm obviously officially old because I didn't understand half the things Juno and her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) say in their first conversation. It reminded me of the first time I heard my brother talk to his friends. Are they speaking a foreign language? No, and when I caught on (pretty quickly, I might add), I found myself loving the odd phrases. (Especially when Juno exclaims "Thundercats are go!" Holy hell, that was HILARIOUS.)

Behind solid storytelling is an incredible cast. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are the parents of the year in my opinion. Jason Bateman is perfectly subtle while still being funny. And even though Michael Cera is simply playing Michael Cera, the characterization of himself fits the story so well I can't even fathom a complaint.

The stand-out roles definitely go to Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner. Everyone who's seen the movie talks about Ellen Page's Juno. She makes this pregnant teenager into someone for whom you'll never feel sorry. She's strong and scared all at the same time. She's smart and naive as well. Juno is a well-rounded character that just blossoms even more with Page's acting prowess.

Jennifer Garner's Vanessa starts out as a bit of a cardboard figure. She's got a perfect smile plastered on her face through the first act and part of the second, but then a great thing happens. Subtle remarks and actions start to break her perfection, and all of a sudden, Vanessa is a complex character with real feelings.

I know not everyone will love Juno, and that's okay. It's a lot of movie to swallow, but it's still a great small story that tugs on all the right strings.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Singing Killer

I am a huge Tim Burton fan. For those who know me well, that's a bit of an understatement. I believe the man can do no wrong. (We’ll just ignore that little blip called Planet of the Apes.) I’m also a big fan of musicals. I know that it’s unnatural for people to just bust out into song in the middle of the street, but it’s just so damn entertaining, I can't help but love it.

So, when a Tim Burton musical opens, there's no way I'm missing it. And I'm probably going to enjoy it out of sheer principle.

Johnny Depp stars as Sweeney Todd, formally Benjamin Barker, a talented barber who’s returned to London after being imprisoned by the sinister Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Upon his return, Todd discovers his wife poisoned herself and his daughter is now the ward of the judge. With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Mr. Todd seeks vengeance on the judge and every one else that’s done wrong in the cutting their throats. To properly dispose of his pile of bodies, Mrs. Lovett cooks them in her soon-to-be-famous meat pies.

There’s tons and tons and tons of candy-apple red blood, enhanced sounds of arteries opening and necks crunching, and of course, there’s plenty of singing.

I never really doubted it, but it was still a very pleasant surprise to hear Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter not only carry a note but sound like real singers. Depp's rock 'n' roll take on the Sweeney Todd character made it more his own. Bonham Carter's dainty voice worked well to counteract Mrs. Lovett's creepy cooking methods.

Then there's Alan Rickman. It could very well just be me, but the man should really, really stick to talking. Who would expect a man with such a lovely speaking voice to have such a grating singing voice? During the "Pretty Women" duet with Depp, I found myself hoping for a throat slashing just to get him to stop.

Acting and singing aside, the star of Sweeney Todd is the set design. As with all Burton films, the look is highly stylized and slightly surreal. All the bright colors are muted and swallowed by the grays, making London into the “whole in the world like a great black pit” of which Sweeney sings. The best, and oddest, sets are those presented during Mrs. Lovett’s song “By the Sea.” As she sings of the life she could lead, the audience is taken on a visual acid trip. Technicolor skies, super white beaches, with brightly colored costumes abound, and there in the middle of it all, are the dark-eyes and pale faces of Todd and Mrs. Lovett. I was sort of giddy with the look of the whole thing. If nothing else, Burton definitely knows how to give your eyes solid entertainment.

Sweeney Todd is not my favorite Tim Burton film. It’s very good, but it's not spectacular. I also think Burton fans who have trouble with people bursting into song may find some fault with this one. No matter how dark and twisted and splattered with blood a movie is, when people sing whilst walking down the street, some moviegoers are simply turned off.

If you're anything like me, and you do love a good musical, see this movie. The grandiose sets and magnificent costumes are worth seeing on the big screen. Besides, the blood spattering just isn't the same without the THX sound.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Crappy Compass

If there has ever been a reason to read the book instead of seeing the movie, The Golden Compass is that reason. Whomever thought Chris Weitz (the producer of The American Pie trilogy) could handle an epic-type fantasy should be shot in the foot.

I am so mad for many reasons. Mostly because this was my second most-anticipated movie of the year. Damn you, Chris Weitz. Damn you.

All the interesting parts of Philip Pullman's story have been pulled out and all that's left is a hollow story that has no appeal to me, let alone any child who's asked their parents to take them. Granted, of the His Dark Materials trilogy, this is my least favorite, but it's still a far, FAR more interesting story than this film will ever be.

Honestly, the only thing this movie has going for it is pretty pictures and good casting.

I say it has good casting solely based on my reading Philip Pullman’s books. The movie versions of these people are but a fraction of the in-depth people on the page. Nicole Kidman has the most standout performance as Ms. Coulter. She’s flawlessly beautiful yet crazy and ruthless. Watching her interact with Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) made me feel a bit icky all over, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Daniel Craig only gets about ten minutes of screen time, which is a shame, but he did have a rather decent ten minutes. I'm kind of mad that Lord Asriel didn't play a bigger part. Maybe they'll write in some more for him to do in the second movie.

Dakota Blue Richards is a bit too spunky and too expressive. This is probably due to overzealous directing, but who knows. My favorite moment with her is right before the ice bear fight. She's standing next to Iorek Byrnison (Ian Mackellen, doing the best Sean Connery impression I've ever heard), and tells him there ain't no one better than him. Yep, she said "ain't." I had to look around and make sure I wasn't watching Huck Finn or something.

Sam Elliot, what can I say? He’s playing a cowboy type who flies hot air balloons. It was either him or Tommy Lee Jones.

The most disappointing role came from Eva Green’s Serafina Pekkala. When I read the book, Serafina always seemed like a very strong, fascinating witch. The film has reduced her to a flying woman with a cool voice effect.

Besides the pretty people, there are very pretty images. Granted, most of them are computer-generated, but I was still visually entertained even if I was bored out of my mind in the process. The cityscapes as well as the ice-covered mountains and vast plains are beautiful and just surreal enough to titillate without looking like a backdrop in a George Lucas film. The interior shots (which I assume are physical sets) are equally eye-catching. Nothing is lavish, but everything is beautiful.

And let me spend a minute talking about the ending. For anyone who is a fan of Philip Pullman’s books, you will be personally offended by the upbeat, Disney-esque ending. Guess what? People die in this book. Even though there's a pretty high body count in the movie, the significant death is left out. Hell, an entire very significant scene is left out.

For those who have never read the book, you’ll simply be disappointed and possibly confused as you hear half the theatre yell “bullshit” at the screen.

Maybe Chris Weitz should’ve been less concerned about keeping out the religious allegory and worried more about keeping an interesting story intact.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Holidays are Upon Us

People are queuing up outside the Honey Baked Ham store. Christmas songs are already playing at the mall. And health gurus and fitness nuts are making their rounds on morning talk shows.

It's the holiday season, and all us movie geeks know what that means. It's time for the heavy hitters to hit the cineplexes.

Here's my short list of must sees for the remainder of this year.

The Golden Compass (December 7)
I've been anticipating this movie since I first heard about it two years ago. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy is brilliant, and I just hope the first movie of the three is equally so.

Atonement (December 7)
I did not see the most recent Pride and Prejudice, but I definitely want to see this movie. Not because I have any appreciation for Keira Knightley's acting prowess, but I have a definite fascination with James McAvoy's. He has always proven himself a cut above the rest in every movie I've seen him in, and this looks like the perfect romantic period piece to see.

Grace is Gone (December 7, limited)
This was in my fall review, but it's release was pushed. So I'll just say what I said before. John Cusack has played tortured souls before, but they're usually expressive and animated tortured souls. In Grace is Gone, Cusack is a quiet, awkward man whose wife has just died in Iraq. He can't seem to find the right way to tell his daughters their mom is gone, so he takes them on a road trip instead. I think a box of tissue will be going with me to this one.

I am Legend (December 14)
Will Smith is possibly the most bankable actor in Hollywood, and I know the majority of his movies are popcorn fluff. With all that said, this movie looks great, and it comes from a great story as well. Plus, I'm always interested to see big actors act without anyone else around.

Juno (December 14, limited)
Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, Juno (Ellen Page) decides to give the baby up for adoption to a wanting couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). The cast alone (which includes Allison Janney, JK Simmons, Rainn Wilson, and Michael Cera) makes me want to see this. Watching the trailer sealed the deal.

Sweeney Todd (December 21)
So...Tim Burton made a musical about a murderous barber starring Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman, and Sasha Baron Cohen. Do I really need to say anymore?

There Will Be Blood (December 26)
When Daniel Day Lewis decides to take a break from his cobbling and make a movie, I always have to see it. P.T. Anderson hasn't done a theatrical release since Punch Drunk Love, so it will be very interesting to see these two off-beat talents working together. On top of that, it's based on an Upton Sinclair novel. I'm sold.

A Coen Action Picture

No Country for Old Men may not be the best Coen Brothers' film I've ever seen, but it might very well be the second best. In an interview, Ethan Coen referred to it as the Coen version of an action film. I must say I like their kind of action.

It's the early eighties in West Texas. Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers a briefcase with two million dollars next to the last man standing in a drug deal gone very wrong. He takes it, of course, and this decision puts him in the crosshairs of one very lethal man named Anton Chigurh. Meanwhile, several steps behind the methodical chase is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is trying to come to terms with a killer like Chigurh while simultaneously trying to save Llewellyn from his wrath.

If I had to describe the film in one word, that word would be brutal. Even though most of the actual violence happens off screen, No Country is not a movie for the faint of heart. It's  nail-biting, skin-crawling, heart-pounding 120 minutes of visceral cinema.

With barely any score at all, the feelings emulating from each scene are purely environmental. Listening to every character breathe or walk or die is a different kind of score that gave the movie a very touchable sense of reality. Possibly one of the freakiest sounds I've heard on film is not someone's scream before being shot but the odd hollow sound of a shotgun with a silencer. Yeah, that's what I said--a shotgun with a silencer. Let me never hear that sound in real life. Ever.

The entire cast is amazing. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald was utterly convincing as a West Texas housewife. Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper, and Barry Corbin had small roles, but played them to pefection. But the standouts are most definitely the three leading men.

If you thought Hannibal Lector was one scary son of a bitch, you have yet to meet Anton Chigurh. Javier Bardem may have just made my list of scariest men alive. Seeing the, dare I say, ecstasy on his face as he kills his first victim brings new meaning to skin crawl. A man who blows up a car just so he can steal some bandages from a pharmacy is definitely one man I never want to run into in a dark alley. Hell, I never want to run into him in a well-lit grocery store.

While Javier is someone I'd like to avoid. Tommy Lee Jones plays someone I would have watch my back. There are roles that some actors were meant to play, and I believe Sheriff Bell is the role for Tommy Lee Jones. The role, and the film for that matter, fit him like a comfortable pair of old jeans. If Oscar isn't calling his name come nomination time, I will be more than surprised.

Then there's Josh Brolin. Brolin really isn't the kind of actor we all go around boasting about. I have yet to see American Gangster or Grindhouse, his other two supposed breakouts of the year, but I will say that Llewellyn Moss should be defined as a breakout role. He never overplays the downhome hero, but a hero is definitely what Moss thinks he is.

Great acting, amazing visuals, and an impeccable storyline are what make this movie great. The ending is still on the fence for me, but it wasn't an odd enough ending to ruin the whole movie experience. All I can say is if you're thinking about seeing No Country, stop thinking and go see it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And the award for oddest casting...

For those who aren't in the know, Southland Tales is the new movie from writer/director Richard Kelly (the man who gave the world Donnie Darko). It stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, and half the cast of Saturday Night Live (past and present). The film looks really interesting and really out there, but the cast has me mesmerized,...and I'm not sure if it's in a good way.

I like Sarah Michelle Gellar; she's done some good work. Even though Johnson proved himself to be a decent actor in Be Cool as well as The Game Plan, I still am a little wary of his dramatic skills. Then there's throwing these two in the mix with a lot of SNL people, and I mean A LOT. You could play a drinking game with this trailer. Take a shot every time you see a SNL alum.

Watch the trailer, and let me know what you think. (That means you have to actually leave me comments!)

For the HD version, click here.

Southland Tales Official Trailer

Friday, November 9, 2007

Man Meets Alien--a Love Story

Martian Child is an utterly predictable movie. But I don't care. It's an utterly predictable adorable movie that made me feel warm all over.

John Cusack is David, a widower who's having a hard time coping. He and his late wife were going to adopt, and David's sister Liz (played by John's sister Joan) is trying to deter him from the idea. Oh well, it doesn't work, and David is introduced to Dennis (the adorable Bobby Coleman). Dennis is a little strange. He was abandoned as a baby, and he's convinced that it was Martians who left him, not his deadbeat parents. David writes sci-fi stories, so they're just a natural fit. Of course, there are problems, but it's easy to tell that David and Dennis are meant to be.

The story might be strong, but the script is a little stilted. Every character speaks far better than any real world person would, although John Cusack has a real knack for making it all seem so natural. I'm sure most of you know that I love John Cusack. But I swear I'm not being biased when I say he is the best thing about this movie. Bobby Coleman does a wonderful job playing the scared, intelligent, and slightly off kilter Dennis, but without John, I think this movie would've fallen flat.

Props must be given to Joan Cusack as well. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a lot of screen time, but the chemistry between her and John goes beyond familial. They are simply two great actors who work extremely well together.

Amanda Peet has a great smile and a cutesy demeanor, but I think her role is generic enough that any nice-looking actress could've done it. I don't know if this is her fault or just the way the character is written, but either way, I felt like the character was added at the last minute for some romance.

Gee, from this review I've just given, it sounds like I didn't really like the movie. Sorry about that! I loved the movie! It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to go hug my mom. This is a wonderful, sweet movie that celebrates family and makes parents out to be the heroes they definitely are.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Royal Action

In an interview I recently watched with Peter Berg, he said that the last thirty minutes of The Kingdom should be as if he's stepping on the throat of the audience. Well, consider my throat officially squashed.

I think Chris Vognar from the Dallas Morning News said it best: "The Kingdom has its cake, eats it, then blows it up with an RPG."


The opening credits, filled with the history of oil and Middle East/US relations, fools you into believing this is an anti-war movie. Watching a suicide bomber blow up a softball game filled with families almost solidifies the idea. But then, Jamie Foxx, with his mental guns blazing, comes out ready to fight and find those bad guys. He has no problem hunting them down, killing them, and then going home to hug his son. It turns out this is no anti-war or pro-war movie. It's a movie about war. It's a movie about the ugliness, the passion, and the copious amounts of bloodshed that war brings.

Oh, and it's an action movie. It is first and foremost an action movie...even though you don't really get to the action part until the last half hour or so. But that's okay, when that half hour came, I had a little trouble breathing. If the whole movie had been that visceral, I may have passed out.

Even though the story as a whole worked for me, I did have some issues with certain story elements. It was quite obvious that conflict was being forced. If you were the head of an "elite FBI task force" going to the Middle East, would you really bring a brass-balls type of woman and a Jewish wise ass with you on your journey? No. I didn't think so. But ask me if I enjoyed Jennifer Garner shooting the bad guys? Yes, yes I did. And vindictively, I couldn't help but think the last thought going through these terrorists' minds was, "I can't believe it. I just got killed by a woman."

A lot of critics have been tearing into The Kingdom because they claim it doesn't know what kind of movie it is. Is it an action movie? Is it a war movie? Is it a message movie? Well, it's definitely not a message movie. But it is an action war movie. Exactly how can you have a war movie without any action? Hell, even Casualties of War has action in it.

Anyway, I think Peter Berg was quite aware of what kind of movie he was making. The breakneck editing, the shaky hand held camera work--it all prepares the audience for that throat-crushing last thirty minutes. It may not be his best film (that honor goes to Friday Night Lights in my humble opinion), but it is an entertaining bit of cinema.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dan in (Movie) Real Life

Just as Little Miss Sunshine brought me a new appreciation of Steve Carrel, Dan in Real Life assures that appreciation. Dan is a great balance of laugh-out-loud hilarity as well as tissue-grabbing honesty, and Carell handles both incredibly well.

Carell stars as Dan Burns, a widower and father to three girls. Jane (Alison Pill), the oldest, is subdued and desperately ready to drive. Cara (Brittany Robertson) is overly dramatic and a bit too involved in the boy she’s know for three weeks. Lilly (Marlene Lawston) is the youngest, the cutest, and possibly the smartest of the three. Dan’s wife has been gone for four years, and his entire family is ready for him to move on. During a traditional weekend spent with the entire family as his parent’s vacation home, Dan meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), possibly the woman of his dreams, at a bookstore in town.

Anyone who's seen the preview knows that Marie turns out to be dating Dan's brother Mitch (Dane Cook). Just as in most romantic comedies, it is glaringly obvious Mitch and Marie make a horrible match. Mitch is an exercise guru who loves fast cars and usually fast women. Marie is a world traveler who’s quiet and extremely intelligent. Oh, and they're played by Dane Cook and Juliette Binoche.

Dan and Marie obviously make the better couple, and they both think so as well. What makes this different from most romantic comedies is that the meant-to-be couple knows they are meant to be. They aren't hiding secrets from each other; they're hiding from the rest of the family. Not very well, by the way, because before the big moment at the end, it's pretty apparent the entire family knows how Dan feels. His mother (Diane Weist) even tells him to "stop acting like a 15 year old."

On paper, casting Juliette Binoche opposite Steve Carell seems absolutely insane, but on screen, these two have incredible chemistry. (Far better than Dane and Juliette, but that's the point.) One great example is during a great bowling scene. I like bowling, but Steve and Juliette made it look like the most romantic thing to do ever.

Even though I think the story is rather realistic. I have to say that Dan's family is a little too perfect and too happy. I know that if I spent a long weekend with my entire family in a small cabin, there is just no way we’d all get along as well as these people, but I do know that I would have a great time making fun of my brother about his new girlfriend or lack thereof. I also don’t believe I’ve ever found myself naked in a shower with a guy I’m crushing on, but the reactions that both Binoche and Carell have during the scene are so real, I completely accepted the impossibility of it all.

Binoche and Carell aren't the only cast members that make this movie work. The entire cast is great. Everyone from Diane Weist to John Mahoney as Mom and Dad to Dane Cook as brother Mitch. I’m one of those people who usually prefers Dane Cook, the really funny stand-up comedian to Dane Cook, the not-so-funny actor, but I have to hand it to him in this movie. Director Peter Hedges did a superb job of keeping Cook subdued and underplayed. Only twice did the real Dane Cook peek out, and both times were acceptable and never stole Carell’s thunder.

It’s very rare that a movie can make me laugh so hard I squirt soda out my nose while simultaneously making me sniffle and tear up. Dan in Real Life does just that. It starts out as a great, small, quiet movie that grows louder and funnier and sillier, but then brings you back down to earth. The ending is very predictable, some of the moments are a little too sweet, but overall, Dan in Real Life is not to be missed.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cowboys, Hitmen, and...The Rock?

I feel that I've been neglecting this blog, especially since I've seen some pretty entertaining movies in the last month. So instead of trying to be all ambitious and write three full reviews, I'm just going to throw three mini-reviews together in one blog.

First up: 3:10 to Yuma. Never before have I been so anxious about people making it to a train on time! I knew there was very little chance of Yuma not being good, and I was not at all disappointed. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe just might play American cowboys better than the Americans who've done it in the past! Crowe's slick badman Ben Wade is likable even though he's a cold-blooded killer. Bale's Dan Evans is so honorable that, even though what he's doing is basically suicide, you root for him every step of the way. The standout star, however, is neither of these men. It's Ben Foster. You know, the guy who played Angel in X-Men 3? Yeah, he's MILES away from being angelic in this movie. His gun play is deadly and his sneers just might be worse. Everyone thinks these roles might put Bale and Crowe on the road to Oscar, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear Foster's name thrown around a bit.

Now, let's take a venture away from a solid story with a little gun play and talk about a lot of gun play with little story--Shoot 'Em Up. Never in the history of film has a movie been more aptly named. Shoot 'Em Up is like watching every single James Bond movie without any of those pesky plots. Clive Owen is a mysterious man named Smith who knows his way around a gun (and a carrot). Paul Giamatti is a professional hitman named Hertz who loves his violence more than he loves his wife and son. The beautiful Monica Bellucci is a lactating prostitute named Donna who cares for the baby that Hertz is trying to kill and Smith is trying to protect. Honestly, any movie that involves a professional hit on a newborn really shouldn't have a plot. But, since I knew what I was getting into going into the theatre, Shoot 'Em Up was a hell of a good time.

Now that I've talked about two movies I actually wanted to see, let's talk about one I didn't really have any urge to see--The Game Plan. I have nothing against a cutesy family film, but I usually like to wait until they're on DVD to watch them. But my editor at Critics Rant needed someone to review it, so I took one for the team. I thought it was simply going to be a silly story with an abundance of sight gags, sappy message moments, and an ending we all knew was coming before the end of the first act. Well, it is a silly story with all that stuff, but there is something about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that makes this story a little more interesting. No, it’s not his impressive biceps (though the opening sequence of him working out didn’t hurt one bit). Johnson is actually a decent comedic presence. If you’ve seen Be Cool, you know what I mean. The man may be physically suited to play the action hero, but his strong suit is definitely as the comedic hero. The combination of his on screen charm with the adorable Madison Pettis (as daughter Peyton) makes for an enjoyable two hours at the movies.

So, there you go. Three movies, three paragraphs. I'm hoping, in the coming weeks, I'll be able to keep up with the more in depth reviews not just for your reading pleasure but so that I can remember what I've seen over the past year!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hello Fall

The temperature is still 2 degrees cooler than hell, but the fall movies are about to make their way to theatres near you, and I think it's time for me to talk about what I plan on seeing.

While summer is a time for huge explosions, big laughs, and all around popcorn fodder, the fall lineup tends to bring about another kind of fodder--Oscar. When the temperature begins to drop, the drama begins to rise. Granted, there are some action and comedy movies coming out in September and October, but the heavy hitters for the awards season are appearing earlier and earlier. Don't doubt my list is going to be drama soaked, so put your summer brain away and strap on your intelligent one again, and let's get started.

(Psst...if you don't know the movie, click the title and watch the trailer.)

3:10 to Yuma
(September 7)
OK. So I love Russell Crowe, and Christian Bale ain't so bad either, but I'm a little wary of the western genre. It's always very hit or miss for me. What's changed my mind? I cut a segment about Yuma for work, and it looks amazing! Crowe is the intelligent, murderous Ben Wade. Bale is the down-on-his luck Dan Evans. The movie isn't just a typical shoot 'em up western, it seems to be a psychological thrill ride too. Yeah, definitely not missing this one.

Shoot 'Em Up (September 7)
So remember my intro from above? Forget it for a second. Shoot 'Em Up is a just a late bloomer. This is a total summer fun fest--a whole lot of senseless gun fighting, wisecracks, and Paul Giamatti with a very, very large gun. Shoot 'Em Up looks like Smokin' Aces but Jeremy Piven is now a cute little baby. Fun times!

Across the Universe (limited September 14, nationwide Sept. 21)
It's a musical with all Beatles songs that vividly reminds me of Hair. Supposedly, there's less than ten minutes of spoken word, and most of it is in the trailer! I love quirky movies, and I love a good musical, so what's better than a quirky musical?

The Brave One
(September 14)
Jodie Foster says the film is inappropriately named because her character is far from brave. No matter if the woman is brave or not, she's definitely a survivor. Foster does survivors better than anyone. Misnamed or not, The Brave One looks like one hell of a movie.

The Kingdom (September 28)
Someone awhile back called this movie "CSI:Saudi Arabia." Catchy, yet I think it's a little light for what this movie really is. Director Peter Berg said he didn't want The Kingdom to be more than an action movie about good guys winning and bad guys loosing, but when the good guys are Americans and the bad guys are Middle Eastern terrorists, I think your film automatically becomes more than just an action movie. With Berg at the helm, there's bound to be some dark humor and some harsh violence, but let's just hope the story sits well and entertains as he's hoping.

Grace is Gone (limited October 5)
John Cusack has played tortured souls before, but they're usually expressive and animated tortured souls. In Grace is Gone, Cusack is a quiet, awkward man whose wife has just died in Iraq. He can't seem to find the right way to tell his daughters their mom is gone, so he takes them on a road trip instead. I think a box of tissue will be going with me to this one. Maybe Cusack will finally get his Oscar props come January.

Gone Baby Gone (October 19)
I'm torn. I don't really like Ben Affleck, but the Ben Affleck I don't like is the one on screen. For Gone Baby Gone, he's behind the camera in the director's chair. Plus he's directing Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (as well as little brother Casey) in a film adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel. Dennis Lehane writes very good novels, Mystic River being among them. So I guess the pros outweigh the cons, and I'm just hoping for Affleck the director to be far superior to Affleck the actor.

Lars and the Real Girl (October 19)
Ryan Gosling, who thankfully is beginning to show up on the radar, plays Lars. Lars is a guy who has a bit of a social problem. Instead of trying to talk to normal girls, he begins dating a blow up doll. You want to see it now, don't you? So do I!

Dan in Real Life (October 26)
Say what you will about Steve Carell, but I believe the man is a genius of sorts. He's got the out-of-place schlub perfected, and he looks like he's bringing it to the big screen once again in Dan in Real Life. Dan (Carell) falls for a his brother's girlfriend (Juliette Binoche). Sounds like your standard romantic comedy, but I'm pretty sure with Carell in the title role and a stellar supporting cast, there's bound to be some not-so-standard moments.

There are lots more movies I plan to see in the next couple of months that didn't make it on the list. I'm not writing a novel here, just a blog, so I won't include them all. The ones I have listed are the ones I really hope not to miss, and if my "Ah...Summer" blog stands as an example, I probably won't miss them. (Unfortunately I did miss Talk to Me from my summer list, but let's forget I mentioned that.)

So...go cool off in a movie theatre and while you're there, see some good movies.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affection for Jane

I saw a movie this weekend that made me cry so much I brought on a massive headache.

Well, I don't know how true that statement really is, but I did cry a lot. Mostly because lost love is something worth crying about, and there's lots of heartache in Becoming Jane.

Jane is a young woman who, like her parents, wants to marry for affection, not for money. But, as in all of her books, money can never be ignored. The stress of marrying well is put upon her from the get go. Her mother (played by Julie Walters) wants her to remember that money is absolutely necessary. Her father (James Cromwell), though he supports her idea of happiness, tells her “nothing breaks the spirit like poverty.” Jane finds release from these constant pressures through her writing alone…until a young lawyer from London enters the picture.

Tom Lefroy (magnificently portrayed by James McAvoy) is everything Jane wants. He’s free-spirited, intelligent, and a little rude. I don't think she wanted the last part, but it grows on her. He quickly falls completely head-over-heels for her, and she with him. The movie was a little slow up until the point they declared their affection for one another. Once the slight glances and mocking arguments move into true “affection,” Becoming Jane shifts out of generic period drama into devastating love story.

Those who are looking for the intensity of the Pride and Prejudice (both the mini-series and last year's version) should probably wait until Becoming Jane is on DVD. It’s a slow-paced drama that doesn’t build true momentum until almost halfway through. Lots of time is spent on looking at the scenery and dancing. There's definitely a lot of time spent on dancing. I understand that dancing was the only way for young, eligible people to speak to one another, but I think this could've been a bit more interesting. I stopped griping about all this by the time Jane and Tom fell in love. The intensity of feelings exploding off the screen were enough for me to forgive the turtle pace of the first half.

Anne Hathaway stars as the not-yet-famous Jane Austen. She’s wonderful. A lot of critics have commented that she was miscast--too doe-eyed to play the serious Jane Austen. I don't think so. This Jane is supposed to be a care-free young woman. Hathaway's innocent, playful features bring life to young Jane. You believe that this whimsical young woman grew to be the extraordinary author she would become. More importantly, Hathaway is just as convincing a Brit as Renée Zellweger.

Hathaway doesn’t deserve all the love; the supporting cast is equally as great. James McAvoy is, unsurprisingly, great. I talked about him earlier in the year when he made an exceptional turn in The Last King of Scotland, and he plays Tom Lefroy like an old pro. In an interview I watched with Anne Hathaway, she says that when she met McAvoy he seemed "like a young nice man," but then we she started working with him she said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I now realize I'm working with a future legend." Hopefully, she's right. The man is a chameleon and completely blends into every role he takes on. Granted, he’s no Colin Firth, but I’m OK with that. :)

Julie Walters completely tossed aside the doting Mrs. Weasley and became the stern, but loving, Mrs. Austen. James Cromwell, though acceptable as Mr. Austen, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Hathaway on perfecting that English accent.

With her name so high up in the credits, I was really hoping to see more of Dame Maggie Smith, but she’s obviously pulling a Dame Judi Dench in this movie by making her presence very much known in the shortest amount of time possible on screen. (Watch her get an Oscar nod out of it or something.)

Becoming Jane is a fictionalized telling of Austen’s life. The story came from a letter Jane sent to her sister Cassandra about meeting a lovely young man named Lefroy. No one knows if they fell in love in real life. Screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams were obviously trying to mix Austen’s life with her work, but it’s hard to top the artist herself. For fans of her novels, little (and some not so little) glimpses of her characters will pop up. Lefroy could easily be Mr. Darcy with Jane as Elizabeth, or are they Willoughby and Marianne? No matter the truth and fiction of it, I think it’s a testament to how Jane Austen may have lived her life. She wrote stories of women who made it through difficult times by finding love because she was a woman who found a way to live through her difficult times by experiencing love.

2 Bloggers and a Movie...on Harry Potter

The film geeks have returned! And now we're talking about what, to me, was the most anticipated movie of the summer. Hmm, I guess now that I've seen it, I need a new "most anticipated" movie. Any suggestions?

A Conversation with Kate about
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Faith: Hey Kate! It’s been a while.
Kate: Sure has.
Faith: But hey, it’s Potter-mania out there, and we should discuss.
Kate: I'm all kinds of in Book Seven at the moment.
Faith: Yeah, I'm trying to separate my mind from Deathly Hallows at the moment too.
Kate: I'm gonna list some things that I liked and that will probably help reset my mind.
Faith: OK
Kate: Death Eater fight scene in the Department of Mysteries even though it was really short. Um… Luna was PERFECT. Oh...and was that a Mimbulus Mimbletonia that Neville was holding at the beginning? I also liked Helena as Bellatrix; she was awesome. And what's her head? As Umbridge? PERFECT...LOVED HER. And the cats? HAHAHAHA!
Faith: Imelda Staunton.
Kate: Thanks.
Faith: Welcome. I too loved Luna. The only thing that bothered me is that Evanna Lynch (that would be Luna, folks) is obviously no actress. She looked so nervous on screen.
Kate: That didn't bother me, not at all. I think it added to her character.
Faith: I got over it, but it was still there. I think we've got to discuss Imelda Staunton further.
Kate: Sure...shoot!
Faith: She was great! There, I'm done.
Kate: I've loved her in every thing I've seen, but I did have reservations. Her characters have always been too likeable in the past, but she was exceptional.
Faith: I always pictured Umbridge as squatter, but Imelda made me believe in a less-today Umbridge.
Kate: Wait, what?
Faith: Oops. That should've said “less-toady.”
Kate: Ooooooooooooh
Faith: Sorry. Typos are fun.
Kate: I thought you were somehow commenting on Umbridge: just how DID she effect the muggle "war on terror"...or something.
Faith: Haha. Not so much.
Kate: Well, you just never know. I bet Umbridge IS Bin Laden. Think the CIA has considered it?
Faith: Ha!
Kate: She might be more evil than him come to think of it.
Faith: Yeah, because Bin Laden doesn't have a magical wand and an entire government to back him up. Well...I guess he has a regime. Not the same though.
Kate: Disillusionment charms, my friend. That's how he's escaped capture for so long
Faith: Well, damn, the government needs to employ some aurors ASAP.
Kate: YES! I vote Ron and Harry. Then make Hermione the next J. Edgar Hoover
Faith: Perfect!
Kate: He always like dressing like a girl anyway.
Faith: I think we may be taking the political metaphor a little far now.
Kate: Yeah...
Faith: Moving on to other great casting moments. Time to get formal. From the first time I heard that Helena Bonam Carter was playing Bellatrix, I knew it would work, but not until I saw her did I know how well. She was absolutely spot on.
Kate: Yeah...she really was. I also could not have cast it better. I can't stand her, so there was no chance I'd be predisposed to like Bellatrix for any reason!
Faith: I do think she was a bit underutilized. I know she's evil because I’ve read the books, but was her true evilness really apparent in the movie?
Kate: Well...frankly I think everyone but Harry was underutilized.
Faith: Um yes. I've probably talked enough about Ron as the glorified extra. But come on!
Kate: Malfoy, Snape and McGonagal had, what, one line apiece?
Faith: Snape had about five I think.
Kate: Oh, forgive me. But I can still count it on one hand
Faith: Malfoy didn't actually even need to be in the movie for the amount of time he was on screen.
Kate: I think that's (of late) been my biggest gripe about the movies
Faith: The downsizing of character roles?
Kate: Exactly. They cram so much action in that the characters barely register. Not that the movies are "bad"...I generally enjoy them.
Faith: Very true. I think the action actually worked to their advantage in Prisoner and Goblet.
Kate: Why do you say that?
Faith: I felt like I got some character development in Prisoner, and I liked the action of Goblet, but I really missed characters in Phoenix.
Kate: Yeah. I remember thinking Prisoner was VERY rushed. It was like the book on crack…but enjoyable. Don't honestly remember what I thought about Goblet
Faith: Only the first ten minutes felt rushed to me. Maybe it was because the movie zoomed through the first seven chapters in about 10 minutes.
Kate: Order, I thought was good action-wise, but I lost a lot on the characters. I wanted to see more PEOPLE, too.
Faith: I enjoy the movies, but I tend to be reading the books around the time the movie comes out, and I know that makes the experience very different
Kate: Yeah...I concur. I do the same.
Faith: The characters were very much pushed to the side for this movie.
Kate: I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I can't believe they're not doing the LOTR treatment with these movies.
Faith: Just shooting them all at once or reordering the story a bit to make the movies flow?
Kate: Two and a half hour theatrical release and a 57 million hour DVD release for the uber-geeks who want to see more. I'd get it.
Faith: Oooh. Yeah, I'm really hoping for a slew of deleted scenes on the Phoenix DVD.
Kate: *crossing fingers*
Faith: All and all, I find them very entertaining. This one was just a little less entertaining than the others.
Kate: Yes...and all in all, I'd just as soon re-listen to the books! I owe the movies a lot, though. They've given visual reference to a lot of my imagination, which is lovely.
Faith: OK. I guess we're done.
Kate: Seems that way. I've got to run anyhow.
Faith: Oh, OK. We'll discuss some other movies later then.
Kate: Sounds good. Bye!
Faith: Bye!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The More Musical Remake

Remakes and I don't usually get along, but Hairspray is just too much fun. Before the opening number began, all I was hoping for was a good movie that didn’t ruin the original cult classic. Oh, and I was curious to see how spry John Travolta is in a fat suit. I did get that fun movie, and John Travolta can really shake his moneymaker even in the Edna suit. But I’ll save Travolta and his moneymaker for later. I want to talk about the music.

You had better be a fan of musicals if you’re going to see this movie. "Well, of course, Faith; it's a musical," you say. Oh yes, it is a musical, but it's not musical-light in the slightest. It isn’t one of those lazy musicals that have a couple of songs here and there. The cast breaks out into song at least every five minutes. The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” set the mood, and the poppy good feeling didn’t let up for the majority of the movie. The only slow number is “I Know Where I’ve Been” performed by Queen Latifah’s Motormouth Maybelle, but its spiritual feel doesn’t bring the movie to a grinding halt. Instead it just mellows you out for a serious note. Unfortunately, that song--plus the shortest protest in history at the television station--are the only real serious notes in the entire film.

This version was definitely more about the music and entertainment, not so much the message of race relations. John Waters’ original has a very strong underlying story about desegregation and acceptance. In director Adam Shankman’s version, this storyline is kind of touched upon but not really deepened. Yeah, Tracy talks about being different and being accepted, but it's more after school special-ly. I really did miss the everyone getting along message, but for a new generation of viewers who are simply looking for a good time at a summer movie, Hairspray definitely fits the bill.

Now let's talk about Mr. Travolta. His portrayal of Edna Turnblad is the only weak link in the cast. He may be quite spry in the fat suit, but he overplays Edna. With his far too exaggerated gestures and odd accent (is that what Marylanders sound like? I don't think so. No one in my family sounds like that), Edna comes off as more caricature than character. I also never got over the fact that I was watching John Travolta in a fat suit. Not necessarily a good sign when he’s supposed to convince me he’s playing someone’s loving mother. Christopher Walken, on the other hand, does a brilliant job of playing Christopher Walken. I’m sorry, I mean Wilbur Turnblad. No seriously, he is brilliant. He steals every last one of the moments he’s on screen, but that isn't a big surprise. Walken has always been very good at that.

Zac Efron, as Tracy’s crush Link Larkin, is so adorable that I just wanted to stick him in my purse and take him home. I think he may have been channeling Michael St. Gerard, the original Link, because his Elvis-like moves are spectacular, and the twinkle in his eye is very geniuine. And speaking of spectacular...Elijah Kelley’s Seaweed blew me away. The guy has got a serious set of pipes and some very slick moves to boot. Queen Latifah, as always, is wonderful. I felt she was a bit underutilized, but when she is on screen, you feel her presence completely.

Then there’s Nikki Blonsky. Like Ricki Lake back in 1988, Nikki Blonsky is new to this whole film business, but you’d never know it. She is Tracy Turnblad, a young girl who just wants to dance and be good. Nikki’s voice is perky and sweet without being artificial, and her dancing is not too shabby either.

If you want something fun, eccentric and a little off the grid, see the original Hairspray. If you’re looking for a big, bright summer movie with tons of music and a few off-color remarks, don’t miss this Hairspray. Oh hell, see them both.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ghosts and Demons and Hotel Rooms

"Don't go in that room. It's evil."

Never have truer words been spoken in a spooky movie. 1408 had me flinching, jumping, and keeping my hand near my eyes so I could cover them in moment's notice.

It was great!

Like I said in my "Ah...Summer" blog, Stephen King short story adaptations tend to go well, and this one definitely goes quite well. Being trapped in a creepy hotel room is enough to scare tons of people. Being trapped in a creepy hotel room from the imagination of Stephen King? Totally new ballgame.

Samuel L. Jackson, aka "I'm in almost every movie ever made" Jackson, plays the creepy hotel manager. He's probably not actually creepy, but I pretty much convinced myself that something wasn't right about this man. Bravo, Mr. Jackson, for doing that. It kept me a little on edge even before the film moves to room 1408. Jackson, though, is only in the movie for maybe a total of 10 minutes. (I think I'm actually being generous.) The star, and the film's carrier, is John Cusack.

I don't know if anyone knows it, but John Cusack is actually an underrated actor. He's probably one of the highest rated underrated actors in the business, but that doesn't change the fact that he doesn't get all the props he deserves. Eighty percent of this movie is about him stuck in a hellish hotel room with nothing but his freaked out psyche and his trusty tape recorder to keep him company, and much like Tom Hanks acting opposite a volleyball, Cusack does some great stuff.

Cusack plays Mike Enslin, the author of a handful of Top Haunted Whatever books. He used to be a better writer but his daughter died very young, and his life crumbled around him, making him an extremely cynical son of a bitch. When this cynical Mike Enslin first enters room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York, the audience is probably far more tense than he is. (Thanks, movie trailers.) Then things begin to happen--explainable things at first, then the unexplainable. The slow change from cynic to believer to scared out of his mind flows very smoothly across Cusack's face, almost as if the tension from the audience ebbs into the film.

1408 is kind of a hard movie to review. Mostly because I like to talk about story points and explain my reaction to said points. This isn't the kind of movie that should have bits revealed. Even if I try to be cryptic, I fear that I will give something valuable away. Let's just say that I like being scared, truly creeped out, and 1408 did a good job of that. (I'll never hear The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" the same way.) Yes, once some of the big bad revealed itself, I relaxed a bit in my seat, ...but not completely.

When Mike first walks into the room, many things are set up--odd paintings on the wall, a small closet next to the bed, a mysterious stain on the carpet. Oh, a let us not forget the grotesque pictures of all the deaths that have happened in the room. That'll stay with you through the movie! All of these things stay with you. Even after the initial tension has passed, you keep wondering when these things are going to come into play. That's the greatest thing about this movie--the anticipation. The payoff is by no means a throwaway topic, but nothing beats the seat-grabbing anticipation that keeps you going until something pops out and says "boo!"

If you're a fan of Stephen King or not, 1408 is what every good adaptation should be. It hints at the classic ways of scaring audiences. Much is left to your imagination, and even when the scary is revealed, it's only a blink. And you're still left to workings of your brain to make it more or less freaky. This, in my opinion, is far more nightmare-inducing than any cheesy slasher flick. Not the absolute best scary movie I've ever seen, but it's very far from being the worst.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

An Addition to the Commonwealth

There are movies that are hard to categorize, but you always find yourself lumping them all together the same. Driving Lessons falls into that familiar yet unnamable category of independent drama. Well, it was unnamable until my brilliant friend Kate (that's K8 to all you blog fans) came up with a great name for the genre—the Commonwealth Comedy. To quote the brilliant woman herself, "This humourous film generally centers on a somewhat odd, yet real, scenario and introduces its audience to an eccentric group of heroes and villains. Most importantly, these movies tend to originate from Great Britain or one of their many remaining commonwealths. Thus, the Commonwealth Comedy." That, my friends, is Driving Lessons in a nutshell.

A coming-of-age story in the vein of HAROLD AND MAUDE without the sexual tension, Driving Lessons is about a young man named Ben Marshall (Rupert Grint) who's been tucked quite securely under his mother’s (Laura Linney) wing for far too long. When she persuades him to find a job, Ben begins working for retired actress Evie Walton (played brilliantly by Julie Walters).

I’m not going to lie. I wanted to see this movie because I love Rupert Grint. I love Harry Potter, and I love Ron, so naturally I would have an affinity towards the cute-as-a-button kid who plays Ron. I am delighted to say, even though there are definite reflections of Ron, Rupert Grint doesn’t disappoint. Grint plays Ben with so much perfected awkwardness that I found myself urging someone to give the guy a good shake to loosen him up. Even when Ben finds himself at a club dancing with a pretty girl, his shoulders are still hunched and his smile never completely lets loose.

It's all probably because Ben's mother is a teensie bit overbearing and extremely Christian. Now wait a minute; don't beat me up. I have no problems with people being Christian. In fact, I tend to think it's a good thing for people to have good ideals. But Laura Marshall is one of those showy Christians--the ones who think it's a sin to sit in the back of the church. She believes that every good deed she does must be broadcast from the rooftops so everyone knows she's done a good deed. The overpowering need to be perfect makes Ben, as well as his father (Nicholas Farrell) a

This inability to emote shows in Ben's horrendous driving skills. He can't relax behind the wheel and finds himself running into a trashcan when he's taking his driving test. His mother wants him to keep taking driving lessons not really because she wants him to get better but because she wants to have the control.

When Ben begins spending his days with Evie, she slowly but surely sucks him into her world. At first, like he is with his driving, he’s scared out of his mind. When Evie tricks him into a camping trip, though, Ben finds a part of him that he didn’t know was there…and soon his driving, as well as his life, begins improving.

Like most Commonwealth Comedies, this film is a bit predictable. It’s pretty obvious that good things will happen to Ben, and he will break out of his goody-two-shoes life to become his own man. But who cares! The greatest thing about a good independent film is the story that gets you to that ending and the characters involved. Evie and Ben’s story is a wonderful one—a story that reminds everyone friendships can span generations and be more meaningful than family sometimes.

Writer/Director Jeremy Brock penned this script specifically for Walters and Grint, and it definitely shows. The familiarity the two have developed working together in the past (Walters plays Mrs. Weasley if you didn't know) shines on screen. This is probably the reason the middle of the movie is far better than the beginning. Ben’s life before Evie is mundane, and he sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore the scenes are slightly mundane and a bit awkward. Once Ben becomes a part of Evie’s world, the film definitely picks up, and makes up for the slow beginning.

When he leaves her world and returns to his mundaneness, it's all the more depressing to look at the life his mother has built for him. For all her showy Christian ways, the woman could learn a lot from her far more Christian family.

I think this movie is adorable and endearing, yet it is definitely not for everyone. If you find yourself turning your nose up to the likes of Strictly Ballroom or Blow Dry, maybe you should stick to watching Walters and Grint in Harry Potter, but if you like your stories small, quirky, and wonderfully (if predictably) charming, give Driving Lessons a try. Oh, and if you've never heard of Blow Dry, and you do like these kinds of movies, make it a Harry Potter character weekend. Blow Dry stars the lovely Alan Rickman.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


It's summer. That means it's time for the popcorn fodder (better known as blockbuster movies) to hit the big screen. High adventure, stupid comedy, and massive amounts of special effects are synonymous with this season. And who am I to turn my back on some good theatre-going fun? Here's my list of can't miss (at least I won't miss them) movies of the summer.

Knocked Up (June 1)
I just saw this. Laugh-out-loud hilarious, heartwarming, and definitely crude--Knocked Up is a comedy lovers must-see. Seth Rogen could very well be the next Will Ferrell. He's already sporting the curly mop 'fro, and his brand of comedy made me shoot Cherry Coke out my nose. Even though the jokes are raw to say the least (what do you expect from the people who brought us The 40 Year Old Virgin?), the story is genuine and will appeal to men and women alike.

Ocean's 13 (June 8)
George Clooney has become the king of slick. And I love a really slick movie. A heist is always fun. A heist that involves the likes of Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, and Al Pacino is right up my alley. Plus, this movie promises to be better than the previous sequel. (Steven Soderberg supposedly apologized for Ocean's 12 by making Ocean's 13.)

1408 (June 22)
John Cusack starring in a movie adapted from a Stephen King short story. You better believe I'll be seeing this one. Stephen King adaptations don't have the most solid track record, but movies from his shorts are usually very good. (Let's just forget Secret Window ever happened.) I'm always more one for classic ghost stories than slasher flicks, so 1408 is definitely my cup of tea. Oh, and did I mention that John Cusack is in it? :)

Ratatouille (June 29)
Though I wasn't 100% thrilled when I saw this preview attached to Cars last year, the story has grown on me. Besides, it's a Pixar movie. Even my least favorite Pixar movie has been better than most movies I see in a summer. With the added bonus of Brad Bird in the director's chair again, this is sure to be a very cute movie.

Live Free or Die Hard (June 29)
Bruce Willis is, without a doubt, the manliest man in Hollywood. People laughed when Sly Stallone decided to do another Rocky, but there has been no such laughter when previews for the fourth Die Hard hit the streets. And because I am such a guy when it comes to action movies, this will not be missed.

Transformers (July 4)
I am a child of the 80s. The teaser trailer that said nothing more than the title of this movie made me a little giddy. I'm suppressing the fact that Micheal Bay is directing it because I grew up loving the Transformers, and even he can't screw it up too badly.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (July 11)
If you know me at all, you know that I'm thoroughly excited about this movie. I do not see movies in their opening week, but I will be seeing this one! The fifth installment of the Harry Potter series has never been my favorite book, but after reading it the first time, I knew this would probably make one of the most exciting movies. I'm putting a lot of faith into fairly new-to-the-game writer Michael Goldenberg's script. From what I've seen in the preview, I believe the adaptation will not disappoint.

Talk to Me (July 11)
For all those who won't be standing in the long lines for Harry Potter, you should check out this smaller picture. Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor star is this true story about an ex-con turned radio personality in Washington, D.C. circa 1960. Radio DJ humor blended with civil rights activism plus two of the finest character actors in the Business starring opposite each other? That is just icing on the cake.

Hairspray (July 20)
Remakes and I don't usually get along, but this looks like too much fun. All I can hope is that the remake brings new life to the original cult classic without disrespecting it. I'm also curious to see how spry John Travolta is in a fat suit.

Becoming Jane (August 3)
In a summer full of big movies, Becoming Jane will be a nice diversion. Jane Austen is one of my favorite writers. Her novels, and movies adapted from her novels, have been near and dear to my heart for years. Why wouldn't I want to see a movie about her life? Anne Hathaway looks perfectly comfortable in the role, and James McAvoy is such a cameleon, I don't doubt for a second that he was perfectly cast too.

Stardust (August 10)
To continue the period motif, Stardust will be a week behind Becoming Jane. Yet this movie is more than a period piece. It's more like Shakespearean fantasy...or a cross between The Princess Bride and A Midsummer Night's Dream with a bit of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen mixed in. I don't love Claire Danes, but with a cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Ian McKellen, and Ricky Gervais, can I really complain (too much) about Danes?

Superbad (August 17)
Co-written by Seth Rogen, the star of Knocked Up, Superbad is a coming-of-age/buddy comedy that is a strange cross between Freaks and Geeks and basically every 80s teen movie I've ever seen. I mean strange is a good way because this might be the sleeper comedy hit of the summer.

I know there are movies that aren't here that you think deserve to be here. In fact, there are a few that I'll probably remember after I publish. So make sure to check your local listings for some great summer blockbusters, and don't forget about the little indies either. The summer months are full of those too.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sweet Misery

Jim (Nathan Fillion) gently pours fresh berries into a filled pie crust. Jenna (Keri Russell) removes melted dark chocolate from the stove top and pours it over the berries. As she stirs the mixture together, Jim leans over her in an achingly loving way. These two are so adorable together, you want to forget that they're both married to other people. And, for that moment in the kitchen, you do.

Scenes like this one are what make Waitress an extraordinary movie. Scenes that whisk you away from your movie theatre seat and transport you to this little southern town. I was so lost in this movie, I was almost startled when someone in the theatre laughed or coughed.

Jenna is a waitress at Joe's Pie Diner in a small southern town. She's married to an awful man from whom she simply wants to get away. Then she finds out she's pregnant. That's when her life starts to turn around. The new doctor in town is the adorable Dr. Pomatter. There's an instant attraction between the two, but Jenna tries to ignore it because there's a Mrs. Dr. Pomatter. But the attraction grows and soon they're all over each other at every moment.

I wanted to see this movie because I love Nathan Fillion. I also have a fondness for Keri Russell, so the cast sold me. Good thing I got treated to bright visuals and a wonderful story too.

Writer/director Adrienne Shelly was an extremely talented woman. Her prose are so quirky yet so natural, and the way she directed every scene made me instantly love every character. (Well, not every character. Jeremy Sisto's Earl is a pitiful little man who deserved an elbow to the nose once or ten times. But I know I wasn't supposed to love Earl, so it's okay.) The only disappointing moment for me was the end. I didn't mind the idea of everything being wrapped up with a nice bow. It's just that I didn't like the packaging so much. Sorry for the cryptic talk, but I can't give details without revealing major plot points. Let's just say a couple of characters should've gotten a different deal.

Even with a couple of small disappointing moments at the end, I still highly recommend Waitress. It's as sweet as Jenna's pies, and it's a wonderful movie to honor Adrienne Shelly's memory.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Silver Screen Made Small

I love movies. That has obviously been established. But lately, I've found a great love for television too. So, I thought maybe I should throw in a couple of blogs dedicated to the small screen. This blog is going to be about great made-for-TV movies and miniseries. I was trying to make the list just about made-fors, but since the best thing to ever air on television can't be left off this list, I had to include it. More on that later...a lot more if I know myself at all.

Because I have trouble putting things in any sort of order, I've decided to put these in chronological order. I know, I know, it's a cop out, but it's my blog, so I can do what I want. OK, enough lead in, time to get to the list.

Roots (1977) Originally aired on ABC
The ultimate classic in made-for-TV productions. Roots is a must see. Most people may forever remember Levar Burton as Geordi LeForge, but his mind-blowing performance as Kunta Kinte should not be forgotten. If you haven't seen this miniseries, check out the new DVD box set.

Stephen King's It (1990) Originally aired on ABC
This was a great movie to me. It was about kids (because I was 11 at the time). It was based on a Stephen King novel, and it scared the crap out of me. Honestly, one of my favorite adaptations of a Stephen King novel. Granted, the first half with the kids is better than the second half with the adults, but you need both halves for the movie to work.

And the Band Played On (1993) Originally aired on HBO
I was 14. My mother had just subscribed to HBO, and this was the first movie I ever watched on the channel. I watched it four more times after the first go around. And the Band Played On tells the story of the discovery of AIDS and the political/scientific fight that ensued in its early days. An all star cast--Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Anjelica Houston, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Ian McKellen--turn in excellent performances, and not until Philadelphia did I see a better movie about AIDS and its victims.

If These Walls Could Talk (1996) Originally aired on HBO
Does anyone see a pattern forming? Slavery, AIDS, murder...and now abortion. I'm a morbid person it seems. But hey, made-fors are usually heavy on the drama. This one is no exception. Spanning three decades--1950s, 1970s, and 1990s--this movie is really three short films wrapped into one. Each short piece is about the a woman who's struggling with an unwanted pregnancy. No matter what side of the fence you're on, these stories were meant to tug on your heart strings...and they do a good job of it.

Band of Brothers (2001) Originally aired on HBO
Remember in the opening comments when I said I must include miniseries on my list? Well, this is why. Band of Brothers is hands down the best thing I've ever watched on television. That's a lot for me, an obsessed fan of Lost, to say about something. But I will not shrink away from my love of this miniseries. I happened to catch a short marathon on HBO one day, and I was hooked. I recored all 11 hours of it (10 episodes at an hour+ a piece). Watched it once when it aired, twice on video. Then I bought the DVD set, and I've seen it three more times since then. It's a sickness, I know. My husband won't let me watch one episode on the History Channel because I'll have to watch them all. If you are a war buff, see this show. My favorite episodes are the first two which most people don't like because there are no battles, but without the opening episodes, you would never know where the men of Easy Company came from.

Boycott (2001)
Originally aired on HBO
Have you ever stepped back and realized that there's never been a theatrical biopic about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Kind of interesting, don't you think? Well, HBO filled a large void in 2001 with this movie. What's wonderful about Boycott is that it's not really a MLK biopic. It's the story of the Montgomery bus boycott that was first spark of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King is at the center of the story, but he's just showing hints of the strong leader he will become. Jeffrey Wright, an amazing actor in my opinion, plays the man with incredible grace.

See Jane Date (2003) Originally aired on ABC Family
Because I am a girl, there must be at least one chick flick. And since I don't watch Lifetime or Oh!, it's hard to find them on TV. But I love this movie! Charisma Carpenter plays Jane, a woman whose mother is pressuring her to find a man, but she just has the worst luck (as most women in these kinds of movies). The refreshing thing is that she doesn't meet Prince Charming until two minutes before the credits roll, so the movie is literally about a woman dealing with the dating scene. Yes, it's cheesy, but it's so cute I just don't care.

Iron Jawed Angels (2004) Originally aired on HBO
Hilary Swank is one hell of an actress. With the exception of The Karate Kid III and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, the woman never misses (ok, I didn't see The Reaping). In Iron Jawed Angels, she leads an amazing cast of women in a movie that every woman should see. I am an avid voter. I believe that my right to vote shouldn't be wasted or ignored. This movie instilled that idea two-fold in my head. Seeing the portrayal of these women struggle through the suffrage movement made me proud to be an American woman who will forever thank those women for allowing me the right to vote.

Something the Lord Made (2004)
Originally aired on HBO
I'll step down from my political pride high horse to talk about the last movie on my list. With sepia tones and subtle storytelling, Something the Lord Made reminds me of Cider House Rules. Mos Def plays Vivien Thomas, a carpenter with high hopes of going to medical school. When the Depression hits, his dreams are dashed, but he ends up becoming a technical assistant for Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), the chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins. Together, the two men make amazing discoveries in heart medicine but must also deal with racial prejudices. HBO knows how to make a heart-wrenching story (as if you couldn't tell by my list), and this one is no different. For those skeptics who think rappers can't act, watch Mos Def and get back to me.

Wow. That was a lot longer than I thought it would be. Looking back at the list, I seem to be a big fan of HBO. There's probably a reason they have so many Emmys! Let me know what made-for-TV movies you love. (Maybe you'll get me watching some other channels.) Have you seen any that appear on my list?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Third Time is Only Somewhat Charming

A good family film is one that can make a five-year old laugh as hard as a 35-year old. The first two Shrek installments did exactly that. With jokes about high school, marriage and fatherhood, Shrek the Third was made more for the 35-year olds. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was funny—downright gut-busting at times, but the kids sitting in the audience weren’t laughing nearly as hard as the adults. Last time I checked, that’s not good for family business.

Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are standing in for Fiona’s father, the ailing frog king. In classic Shrek fashion, every event they attend turns into a massive disaster. After a montage of uncomfortable, yet hilarious scenes, Shrek and Fiona are called to the king’s bedside. On his deathbed, King Harold (John Cleese) names Shrek and Fiona his heirs to the throne. Shrek doesn’t want to give up his beloved swamp and goes on a mission with Puss in Boots and Donkey (Antonia Banderas and Eddie Murphy) to find the only other heir—Fiona's cousin Arthur (voiced surprisingly well by Justin Timberlake). Meanwhile, Fiona is left at home with a bun in the oven and a gang of fairytale villains who want to take over Far Far Away.

King Harold’s death and funeral are two of the sharpest scenes in the entire movie. With classic overdramatic dying, John Cleese makes me snicker even if I know his character is about to expire. Puss and Donkey more than steal the scene with their tête-à-tête on whether the king is actually dead or not. And if these moments are funny enough, the funeral features a choir of frogs singing “Live and Let Die” while Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) pushes her husband to his watery grave in a shoebox (from Ye Olde Foot Locker of course).

Sadly, not every scene is this funny. There are still funny parts scattered throughout--most of them involving Donkey and/or Puss--but Shrek the Third doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Artie’s storyline is slightly funny, and it is cute to see him as the high school loser competing against jock Lancelot and pining over prom-queen-to-be Guinevere. Meeting crazy magic teacher Merlin (Eric Idle) in the forest brings on some serious guffaws, but I still can’t give this movie five stars.

The story lines are all too weak. I need more on Shrek’s journey with Artie or possibly more on his fears of fatherhood. More than anything, I need a more interesting foe than Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). His mother was incredible as the wicked villain in the Shrek 2, but Prince Charming is a whiny, fair-haired prince who couldn’t carry a sub-storyline if he wanted. Alas, Shrek the Third, though far better than many third movies I’ve seen, is simply the one installment that will sit unwatched in the box set you buy for your kids.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Forties Revival

I will never forgive Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls. It just won't happen. But I'll pretend to forget he ever made it since seeing Zwartboek (Black Book to us Americans). I went into the theatre not knowing what to expect, and I came out truly satisfied. I may have enjoyed Total Recall and Starship Troopers, but Verhoeven has never really impressed me. Black Book, in comparison to Verhoeven's past works, is spectacular.

Carice van Houten plays Rachel, a Dutch Jewish woman who's in hiding during WWII. In a matter of days (and minutes in the first act of the film), Rachel's hiding place is bombed, her entire family is gunned down by Nazis, and she's taken in by a resistance group where she receives a new identity as Ellis. With her new identity and a strong will to survive, Ellis infiltrates a Nazi commune in order to save members of the resistance. At first, Ellis slips easily in and out of her role as the beautiful girlfriend of a Nazi officer, but quickly things begin to escalate and snowball. This is when the film got really interesting.

Not being a connoisseur of Dutch films, I recognized not one of the actors, and I was grateful. I always find recognition hampering the first time I see a film. An unknown cast always helps the story flow better for me. And boy, does this story flow! Even in the tender moments of sex or death, the beat is quick, the moment gone before you can savor it. This speed may be harrowing for some viewers, but I think it works. This movie is about a woman who will do anything to survive. Ellis has no time to enjoy life, and Verhoeven doesn't allow the audience the grace either.

Verhoeven isn't just going back to WWII with his story, he wants the whole film to travel back in time. The fast paced, forties-style storyline is complimented by a forties feel. Not just in dress and speech but in the entire look. The editing is simple, never flashy. The characters are saturated in color. The backgrounds stay muted and pristine, looking so perfect they could be painted. The camera movements are simple and never overshadow the performances.

Even though Black Book presents an entire package, the story is still the shining star. It may be advertised as a war drama, but there is a fair share of mystery. Most of the film is pretty straightforward, but about halfway through, a twist pops up...then another and another. Not the kind of twist that M. Night Shyamalan is so proud of, mind you. The kind of twist that makes you crave answers. Many questions are answered by the time the credits roll, but you'll walk out of the theatre with a handful more. You'll be left thinking about what you may have missed, wondering about the mysteries left unanswered, and trying to figure out when you can watch it again. And that, boys and girls, is the true beauty of this film.