Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mamet's "Fight Movie"

Pay no attention to the title of this blog. Redbelt is not a fight movie. There is fighting in the movie, but this is a David Mamet film. There must be more under the surface.

"There is always a way out. You just have to find it." From the very first scene, we hear Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a very proud and dedicated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor, utter these words.

That's what this movie is all about.

Mike's business is failing, causing tension between him and his wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), a struggling clothing designer. A surprising incident involving a lawyer and Mike's prize pupil acts as the starting pistol for the entire story. But it's not until Mike comes to the aid of actor Chet Frank (Tim Allen) during a bar brawl that his life truly begins to change.

Through a crazy bunch of events, Mike finds himself in a dire financial bind. He must enter a mixed martial arts competition in the hopes of paying off his debts. The thing is Mike doesn't believe in competitive fighting. Jiu Jitsu is pure to him, and fighting for money or glory just isn't pure.

At first, Redbelt seems lowkey and simple. A story that you'll enjoy but won't fill you up. But when the credits begin to roll--maybe even 15 or so minutes before that--you realize that there is way more to chew on in this seemingly subdued story. There are stories within stories and metaphors upon metaphors that you wonder about until they all come together seamlessly. There is no happy ending to this tale. There is no devastating end to it either. It's an end that is satisfying enough to close the story without closing the book.

Ejiofor, as always, is brilliant. He seems to take Mamet's stilting dialog and make it into something worth hearing. The passion he brought to the character made me believe that there is always a way out. From the get go, he just lays his entire heart out there for the taking.

Another incredible performance comes from Tim Allen. I've never seen him in a serious role, but he pulls it off exceptionally well. As the haggard, nearly washed-up actor, he plays the part of Chet with a believable cynicism and a touch of

Mamet has a tendency towards twists and turns as well as rapid-fire dialog, but to me, Redbelt feels very Mamet but not so. If you're a fan, you'll enjoy it. If you're not a fan, try it on for size anyway. If for nothing else, see the amazing work the Ejiofor puts on that screen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Summer Preview

Unlike my Spring and Fall lists, the Summer movies usually tend to be far more plentiful. Granted, most of them are popcorn fare, but who cares--entertainment is entertainment. For those who like to keep their movie watching a little high-class, I've thrown in a few indies as well.

Iron Man (May 2)
I've already seen it. For those who think I should review it, here you go:
See this movie. It kicked ass.

Redbelt (May 2)
Hanging out way below the radar is David Mamet's brilliant looking movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who not only has a name that just rolls right off the tongue, but has acting chops that make me want to drool a little bit. You might have to catch this one on DVD if you're not living on one of the coasts, but if there's an art house theatre nearby, check for it.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16)
This is on my list mostly because I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and also because I'm a sucker for fantasy films. At the moment, it's not doing so well in the box office, but it could be because all the kiddies aren't out of school yet.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22)
Definitely the most anticipated movie of the summer in my book, quite possibly the most anticipated of the year. (I don't know what's coming out this fall, so let's not jump the gun.) I do not care how old Harrison Ford is, I am still completely enthralled with the Indiana Jones franchise. After seeing the previews and reading the buzz, I know that this one will be more like Raiders and less like Temple of Doom. It better live up to the hype!

Sex and the City: the Movie (May 30)
I may be on pins and needles about a certain archaeologist, but I'm really excited about this long-awaited film as well. I'm ready for the crazy clothes, enviable shoes, and all the great cocktails Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda will bring. Men, stay at home, and catch this on DVD when no other man can see you. Ladies, I'll meet you at the theatre!

Mongol (June 6)
When this film came up in the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Picture, I was already interested. After watching the trailer, I knew I had too see this biopic. I'm sure, as most foreign pictures do, it will only get a limited release, but if you like primitive action-packed films with subtitles, you might want to check it out.

The Promotion (June 6)
I'd like to pretend John C. Reilly can do no wrong, but the last time he and Jenna Fischer were on screen together, I was suffering through the uneven comedy Walk Hard. This time, though, Reilly is back to his indie roots, and he's brought along Fischer, Seann William Scott, and Lili Taylor. The Promotion is like The Good Girl meets...yeah, I don't know what it meets, but it is a lot like The Good Girl. It probably won't be spectacular, but it looks simple and quirky. Sometimes simple and quirky is all you need in a movie.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13)
The first time I heard about this movie, I thought to myself, "Edward Norton as Bruce Banner? Hmm, I don't know." Now that I've seen the previews, I'm a believer! This version of the Hulk looks sleeker, grittier, and much, much more like the movie Ang Lee should have made.

The Happening (June 13)
Unlike nearly everyone else on the planet, I liked M. Night Shyamalan's last film Lady in the Water. For those who preferred the likes of Signs, this movie should be more your speed. I'm still a little irked by Mark Wahlberg's stilted performance from the trailers, but the creep factor is still there. Let's just hope the 90-minute movie holds up to the 3-minute trailer.

Get Smart (June 20)
If there was anyone else in the world who could fill Don Adams' shoes better than Steve Carrell, I'd like to meet that man! This movie may have a little extra silly, but I think it will be a great homage to a great TV series.

Wall-E (June 27)
Pixar's annual outing looks adorable. I know the chances of me not liking it are slim to none. Not much else I can say!

Hancock (July 2)
Will Smith is a deadbeat superhero. Jason Bateman is his PR guy. Peter Berg (the director of Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights, and The Kingdom) is in the director's seat. Three reasons that I'll be seeing this movie. Will Smith starring in a Fourth of July release--the reason everyone else will be seeing it.

The Wackness (July 3)
Ben Kingsley is a pot-smoking therapist who's dating Mary-Kate Olsen. I'm sure there's more plot to this movie than that, but I'm going to stay shallow and see it based solely on that fact.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11)
Yeah, I'm saying it. I want to see Hellboy II. How could I not?! Pan's Labyrinth was one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen, and from the previews, I can see Guillermo del Toro's visually styling all over Hellboy. He was obviously given a little more creative freedom the second time around. Plus, I had a great time watching the first one, so I think this one should be just as good if not better.

The Dark Knight (July 18)
I was captivated by the glimpse of Heath Ledger's Joker when the first teaser trailers were released, now it's bittersweet to see his last finished film on screen. I hope the release doesn't get overshadowed by his death because it looks like an amazing movie that deserves to stand on its own.

American Teen (July 25)
This documentary proves that all those WB dramas got something right about teen angst. It focuses on a group of seniors from a small-town Indiana high school. Each one fits perfectly into a stereotype. I missed it at the Nashville Film Festival, but from the excellent reviews and this tantalizing trailer, I don't plan on missing it a second time.

Pineapple Express (August 8)
Pineapple Express looks like Wes Anderson and Judd Apatow had a baby. It's stylized like a Wes Anderson movie, but has the wackiness of a Judd Apatow movie. All I know is that when I saw James Franco's foot stuck in the windshield of a police cruiser, I was completely sold.

Tropic Thunder (August 15)
Robert Downey, Jr. is playing a black man! Well, he's playing a white man who's playing a black man, but he's still playing a black man! After seeing Iron Man, I'm totally on the Robert Downey, Jr. bandwagon. Oh, and Ben Stiller and Jack Black also star in this partially-action, mostly-comedy movie.

Well, there you go. I'm sure there are some that aren't on the list that I'll end up seeing, but this is my must-see list. Hopefully I've given you a few extras that you hadn't thought about...or even heard of.

Enjoy the popcorn!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Faith's Fun at the Film Festival

From April 17-24, Nashville goes to the movies. This was my first visit to the Nashville Film Festival, and my third outing at a film festival at all. I must say, that this festival was the most fun I've had. I plan to get an all-access pass next year so I can see even more things!

Opening night was a real treat with The Deal, a comedy about what really happens in Hollywood starring William H. Macy and Meg Ryan. For those not in the business, this movie won't be as funny, but it's still plenty funny.

Bill Macy plays producer Charlie Berns, who's on the verge of suicide when his nephew shows up at his door with a script about Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century English statesman. Deciding that he could play studios the way they've played him, Charlie decides to market the script with a twist--instead of casting a middle-aged white man, he wants to cast L.L. Cool J. Of course the movie gets picked up, but everything goes to pot when L.L.'s character is kidnapped by extremist during the shoot.

I'm sure with the star power it's got behind it, The Deal will be picked up, so keep an eye peeled for it in theatres or at least on DVD.

Another stand-out feature was Out at the Wedding. It was, hands-down, my favorite film of the week. It's refreshingly original, hilarious, and just great storytelling.

Alex Houston (Andrea Marcellus) is living it up in New York. She's got a successful career and a wonderful boyfriend (Mystro Clark). When her boyfriend Dana proposes, Alex has to figure out how she'll break the news to her very southern family that she'll be marrying a Jewish black man. She also has to figure out how to tell her fiancé and his parents that her family isn't dead.

When she attends her sister's wedding, her best friend Jonathan (Charlie Schlatter) mistakingly starts a tiny rumor that Alex is a lesbian. Instead of clearing up the matter, Alex goes with it, and has to pull off the lie of a lifetime when her sister comes to visit her in New York.

Out at the Wedding has supposed been picked up by LOGO, so if you have cable, you should check for it there. It's definitely worth the watch.

As I like to do at film festivals, I watched tons of shorts. Because Americans are weird and really don't like their films under 90 minutes, the only place to see good shorts is at a film festival. A lot of these are available for instant watching on Netflix. Also, look for them in compilation DVDs available for rent at Netflix as well.

Of all the shorts I saw, there are four that really stand out.

A young gynecologist has trouble being intimate with his wife in Just One of the Gynos. At first, I thought it was just going to be a one-joke short, but this is well-written and had a bust-out-laughing moment that still makes me snicker a little. Plus, for fans of The Office, there's the extra bonus of Creed Bratton as the father-in-law.

Spider is a comedy about a man who has a fight with his girlfriend. When he tries to apologize to her, something goes incredibly wrong. When the "moment" happens, you don't know if you should laugh or cry. I pretty much just had my jaw on the floor.

Gaining Ground is a touching drama about illegal immigrants living in Germany who have to figure out what to do when their son reaches school age. Do they keep him away from the children he desperately wants to be with, or do they risk being found out? Political standing aside, this is an incredibly well-acted and written story that tugs a bit at the heartstrings. I teared up a little at the end, and even though I'm a big cry-baby, shorts don't usually get to me like that.

Another one that had me tearing up was Happy New Year, a story about two best friends who fought together in Iraq. One getting severely injured due to the possible incompetence of the other. The strength of their friendship is tested when their war experiences have brought them to very different places.

There were also a few I wanted to see but didn't get to catch. Some of those are definitely coming to a theatre--not necessarily near you, but just maybe. American Teen is a documentary about five teenagers living in a small town that fit very well into their stereotypical roles. Jump! is a documentary about competitive jump roping. I know that doesn't sound fascinating, but everyone who saw it loved it. I also want to see Then She Found Me, starring Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Midler. Helen Hunt directs this story about a woman who wants a family of her own, but when she finds out that she's been adopted, things go a little crazy.

If you haven't been to a film festival, I suggest going to one. Big or small, there's always good things to be seen.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Vulgarity...with Heart

Like Judd Apatow produced Knocked Up and 40 Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has its fair share of crude jokes, lewd scenes, and full frontal nudity. Also like Knocked Up and 40 Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has a solid heart with great characters. As one reviewer said, the movie isn't afraid "to strip a man naked, literally and figuratively."

Peter Bretter (Jason Segal) is a television composer who's one of the luckiest men in the world. He has a good job, and he's in a long-term relationship with hot television star Sarah Marshall (Kriten Bell)...until Sarah comes home one day and dumps him.

Needless to say, Peter doesn't take the break-up well. On the advice of his step-brother (Bill Hader), Peter takes a needed vacation to beautiful Hawaii, just to find Sarah there with her new man Aldous Snow (the friggin' hilarious Russell Brand). Seeing Peter's depression getting worse, hotel employee Rachel (Mila Kunis) encourages him to have fun. Peter and Rachel end up falling for each other, but things become complicated when Sarah realizes what a good man she's lost.

Because I don't usually go this route, let's talk about what didn't work in this movie. Her name is Kristen Bell. To be fair, her character Sarah is written as a bitch. She's stuck up, a little fake, and just all around the wrong girl for Peter. But Bell played the character with no real redeeming qualities. There's a scene near the end when Sarah and Peter have a heart-to-heart conversation, and I just didn't buy it. Maybe that's the point, but it just didn't sit well with me.

Even with Kristen Bell's so-so performance, I still loved the movie. Jason Segal's Peter is a great character, so great that I got the odd feeling Segal wrote the character from personal experience. Peter is perfectly pitiful (sorry for the alliteration), and all I wanted to do was give the guy a great big hug the entire movie.

Russell Brand, as I've already mentioned, is friggin' hilarious. Aldous Snow is an ultra-cool guy you just don't want to like. He's shallow, blunt, and a complete weirdo, but he's honest and likable too. And his music? Wow. I'm hoping the full music video will be an extra on the DVD!

Mila Kunis, who's work on That 70's Show never really impressed me, is terrific in Sarah Marshall. I've heard her comedy timing on Robot Chicken and Family Guy, but it's nice to see her when she's being funny as well. Rachel is the girl every guy wants to meet. She's cute, funny, and a little tomboyish.

Bill Hader's deadpan works perfectly. As Peter's step-brother Brian, he's the voice of reason that always seems to be the butt of Peter's jokes. His best scene starts with the line "Do you really want to go there?" Look for it. You'll laugh very hard.

The supporting characters include a spaced-out surf instructor (played by Apatow regular Paul Rudd), an overenthusiastic Aldous Snow fan (Jonah Hill, another regular), and newlyweds who are having, um, trouble in the bedroom (Jack McBrayer and Maria Thayer). The latter story is definitely odd, and the movie would've flowed just fine without it, but Jack McBrayer has one of the funniest lines in the whole movie. It involves paradise and sewage. You'll either laugh very hard or be a little grossed out, either way, it's still hysterical.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall has its romantic comedy predictability, but the vulgar, over-the-top sophomoric stuff helps you get past knowing exactly how the story will end. It's laugh-out-loud-with-tears-in-your-eyes funny, but it's also sweet and endearing.

Plus, any movie with a scene involving puppets gets extra points.