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.