October 25, 2009

12 Angry Men - 1957

Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Reginald Rose
Starring: Henry Fonda, Ed Begley

In this classic film, one man on a jury attempts to convince the other 11 of the defendant's innocence.

IT MAKES JURY DUTY AWESOME. That's all that needs to be said.

October 21, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are - 2009

Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Spike Jonze & Dave Eggers
Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener; the voices of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, and Forest Whitaker

"You're the owner of this world. " You all know this story, from the 1963 beloved children's book: a young boy with an affinity for a wolf costume (Records) gets sent to bed without supper, and imagines himself sailing away and becoming king of an island of monsters.

One of the best parts of the film is that that's pretty much it. Unlike certain other (food-related) children's books that recently came to the big screen where the plot gets altered drastically to become a feature film, not much more happens in the film than happened in the book, and it really works for a change. Maybe it's just the wonderful performance of Records (a rare instance when I tolerate an actor playing a character with the same first name), or the stunningly brilliant visuals from Jonze, or even the soundtrack provided by Karen O and Arcade Fire. Some people will say that it's depressing, but I came out of the film with a wholly positive feeling. While I'd recommend that you only let the kids read the book, this one DEFINITELY needs to be seen as soon as humanly possible.

Kinsey - 2004

Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Bill Condon
Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell

"Love is the answer, isn't it? But, sex raises a lot of very interesting questions..." The film Kinsey details the life of Dr. Alfred Kinsey (Neeson), from his boyhood as the son of a conservative pastor (Lithgow), onto his marriage to one of his students (Linney), the sex course he teaches upon learning how sexually naive many of his students are (one, played by John Krasinski, doesn't perform certain non-penetrative acts with his girlfriend because he's afraid she'll get pregant), and the world-famous sexual study and publication of two books that would later bring him both renown and scorn among the masses.

The actors give mostly good performances, notable Neeson and Lithgow. Unfortunately, the film's subject matter turns what should be a serious moment or two into a laugh riot, at least for less mature audiences. On top of that, while his wife goes from dark brown hair to a very light gray by the film's end, Kinsey himself barely ages. Such a lack of attention to detail takes the viewer out of the cinematic experience. Overall, it's a decent film, but definitely not a must-see.

October 12, 2009

Jersey Girl - 2004

Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, Raquel Castro, Liv Tyler, George Carlin

"Forget about what you thought you were and just accept who you are." In the most superficially-heartwarming of Kevin Smith's films, Ollie Trinke (Affleck) plays a widower in New York City who wrecks his career as a publicist (at the time promoting then-musician Will Smith) by having a childcare-induced breakdown in front of hundreds of members of the press. He and his daughter Gertie (Castro) move back to his hometown of Highlands, New Jersey and he gets a job with his father Bart (Carlin) working for the borough. One day, he and his daughter head to the local video store, and a mix-up over the rental of an adult film ends up with the store clerk (Tyler) at home with Ollie for what she predicts to be "some very short casual sex" as he hasn't been with a woman in the seven years since his wife's passing. Gertie busts in on them, and as revenge for never being allowed to see Cats (Ollie hates it, calling it "the second worst thing to happen to New York City"), manipulates her father into taking her to see Sweeney Todd instead, which she proceeds to fall in love with (despite it being incredibly gory and her being seven), to the extent that she wants to perform a bit of "God That's Good" at her school talent show. And that's enough exposition on my part...

Jersey Girl gets a bad rap, for a couple reasons:
  • Ollie's late wife Gertrude, who is played in a few scenes by Jennifer Lopez (this movie came out at the height of the "Bennifer" craze, as well as post-Gigli)
  • A lot of hardcore Jay-and-Silent-Bob fans were disappointed that Smith finally made a regular movie
In the end, though, it's a nice little film with some great performances and stellar writing (which is still indicative of Kevin Smith, despite the PG-13), and a couple cameos by the Smith regulars are icing on the cake.

Boogie Nights - 1997

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham, the usual PTA cast

The film that made PTA a household name, Boogie Nights tells the story of an overly endowed young man (Wahlberg) with not only a lackadaisical attitude about showing off his member to other guys, but also the good fortune to work in a nightclub frequented by Jack Horner (Reynolds), a big-time adult film director. Horner wastes no time in bringing the newcomer, christened "Dirk Diggler," to the forefront of the industry, even allowing him to pitch some ideas for his own films. Before too long, though, Diggler gets into the rougher side of fame, falling into a downward spiral which threatens to end his career. And of course, it wouldn't be a PTA film without an ensemble cast, many of whom have their own tales: Little Bill (William H. Macy), a man who finds his wife in flagrante at every party; Buck Swope (Cheadle), an actor with a dream to run his own stereo business; and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), an early friend of Diggler's who aids and abets in the quest for money and drugs.

People complain about the length of most of PTA's films, and at just over 2.5 hours, this one is no exception. However, the reason that "the other Anderson" (as I've been known to call him, out of respect to Wes) has a justified fascination with epic filmmaking is that he's able to engage the audience for every moment. I left the room a few times for one reason or another, and found myself backing up the DVD to see what I missed, even though I heard it plain as day. The other show of brilliance by PTA is the long shot, which this man has made into an art form. On multiple occasions, you've got an actor walking through a building (as the camera follows him), interacting with someone else, and repeating this three to five times with other characters seamlessly. You never realize fully how much movies cut from one shot to the next, especially in dialogue-heavy scenes, until you go three minutes with all the fluidity of distilled water. I highly recommend you see this (as long as you can spare the time). And if you have a whole day with nothing better to do, check out Magnolia and There Will Be Blood as well.

October 4, 2009

The Invention of Lying - 2009

Directors: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Writers: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K.

In an alternate reality where the human race never develops the capability to lie, Mark Bellison (Gervais) is having a terrible life. He can't go on a successful date, gets fired from his job, gets evicted...he's doing better than his neighbor (Jonah Hill) that routinely attempts suicide, but not by much. One day, thanks to something never quite explained, he's able to say "something that isn't." Since every other human knows nothing but blunt honesty (people go out of the way to tell the whole truth at times), he's able to almost seamlessly make his life the way he's always dreamed. But when his mother dies, and he creates the idea of heaven to soothe her fears, he finds himself beholden to a crowd of followers at his doorstep, eager to hear what else he knows about after we die, and how he knows it.

Yet another great film. Gervais and Robinson have crafted the richest of environments, with nothing forgotten: the universality of truth is immediately apparently in everything from advertising (Coke is essentially brown sugar water that causes obesity) to film (reduced to a single man discussing a historical event to the camera), and above all, signs:
  • "a sad place for hopeless old people"
  • "a cheap motel for intercourse with near strangers"
  • "a quiet place to think about the man in the sky"
Much like Funny People, this film has a seemingly endless cavalcade of cameos (although the actors don't portray themselves this time): Christopher Guest, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hodgman, Jason Bateman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Edward Norton, just to name a few. While they are only onscreen for a moment or two, each is more enjoyable than the last, especially Norton's appearance as a mustachioed police officer. The main actors do a bang-up job as well; Gervais actually cries, and Garner's Gervais impression is knee-slappingly funny. Call it a religious satire, or just a take on the horrors of total honesty, or anything else, but it's still a great watch.

Zombieland - 2009

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone

This film, made mostly by unknowns in front of and behind the camera, is yet another interpretation of the zombie apocalypse that's become so popular these days, replete with the fast-moving sort of zombies that would actually be threatening. In this work, mad cow disease is the precursor to the zombie virus (so technically they're not zombies, at least in the "undead" sense). We follow an intrepid band of survivors, each with their own motivation:
  • Columbus (Eisenberg): formerly a WoW-playing, Code Red-chugging, multiphobic shut-in, he's just trying to stay alive
  • Tallahassee (Harrelson): the zombies got his "little pup," so he spends his life killing them in various brutal ways (especially if they stand in his way of finding the world's last Twinkie)
  • Wichita & Little Rock (Stone & Breslin): two sisters trying to reach Pacific Playland, an allegedly zombie-free theme park on the West Coast
I don't know what more has to be said about this movie than simply "wow." The script is a fresh take on an old favorite, each actor speaks their lines with skill that some twice their experience can't muster...I could go on and on. Zack Snyder needs to take a page out of this book, because these guys actually understand the proper use of slow motion (which can be surprisingly epic). Columbus lives by a set of often-humorous rules, which appear on-screen and subtly interact with the environment. Oh, and Zombieland also has the single greatest celebrity cameo I've ever seen. My only flaw with the movie comes with one scene: Columbus and Wichita are discussing what life was like for them in 1997, and say they were 14 at the time, meaning they would have to be born in 1983. Now, maybe it's just because they's both played high school kids recently (see Adventureland and Superbad), but I don't think either of them approach looking to be in their mid-20s, though Eisenberg is 26 and Stone is 21. At any rate, I'd say this is the best comedy of the year. Check it out ASAP.