May 29, 2010

Paper Man - 2010

Directors: Kieran & Michele Mulroney
Writers: Kieran & Michele Mulroney
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Lisa Kudrow, Kieran Culkin

"We both know you're not equipped to deal with your current circumstances, and until you prove otherwise, I feel compelled to be on hand." Paper Man tells the tale of a struggling New York writer (Daniels) whose wife (Kudrow) allows him to live in a quiet house in Montauk for a week at a time to work on his next book. And like any good writer, he's neurotic, which manifests itself in the form of Captain Excellent, the superhero imaginary friend that he's had since second grade. While in Montauk, the writer encounters teenage Abby (Stone), a young girl who, despite her own issues, may be the writer's first real chance at a friend.

To be totally honest, my main reason for seeing this was exclusivity, and there's few things more exclusive than a three-theater release. (The place here in Chicago I went to see it solely deals in foreign/indie/documentary films, and I could live in it and never see the light of day again. Only time I've ever wanted to see ALL the films I saw trailers for.)
I have mixed feelings about this film. On one hand, the mere appearance of his character incites deep chuckles and guffaws, and the part is tailor-made for his style of humor. Daniels, Stone, and even Kudrow also offer up great performances, Kudrow's stiff doctor being a pleasant 180 from her role on Friends. There's even a couple respectable plot twists thrown in there. However (and this is how I can see the film getting its 29% on RottenTomatoes) there's also too much plot; I counted three or four major storylines that, with a bit more enhancing, would have all made fine films on their own. In addition, the movie didn't know what it wanted to be--the shifts between comedy and occur without notice, and come again just as sharply. There was also a Superman-esque moment near the end, but that really can't be helped.

Oh, and even though IMDB doesn't list it, Chris Parnell is in this movie. Sure, he's in it for about two minutes, and has maybe one line of dialogue, but no reason why we can't have him in the credits BEFORE Ryan Reynolds, who's in just as much of the film as Kudrow and Stone are! Up in the Air did this with Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons, and it bothers me to no end. Long story short: only significant people get to be in the opening credits.

May 26, 2010

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 2010

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg
Starring: Michael Nyquist, Noomi Rapace

A reporter (Nyquist) recently found guilty of slander teams up with a punk hacker (Rapace) to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of a 16-year-old girl, but are quickly forced to widen their gaze when the scope of the happenings are more grand than they have been led to believe.

This Swedish film, based on the first book in Stieg Larsson's posthumous Millennium trilogy, is a wonderful thriller, and puts most Hollywood productions to shame. Despite the language barrier and lack of any recognizable actors, I was still able to follow the plot and discern characters. However, it was by no means predictable. The film took many twists and turns, and my jaw nearly hit the floor a few times in the final 30 minutes. My only gripe is that the titular girl isn't the main focus of the film, more of a secondary lead, and her tattoo is neither plot relevant nor explained. Regardless, I'll definitely be seeing the second and third films, both due out later this year.

Off to Chicago for a week. Thinking about seeing either Paper Man, Harry Brown, or Exit Through the Gift Shop. Any suggestions?

May 23, 2010

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - 1982

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Writer: Jack B. Sowards
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Kirstie Alley

"Ah, Kirk, my old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? ... It is very cold in space." Khan (Montalban), an old enemy marooned on a dead planet by Kirk (Shatner), returns to exact his revenge after fifteen years of exile.

    As a self-described non-Trekker before the Abrams reboot happened, I can say this is a really good movie. The characters are well-developed (motivation beyond the main plot) and the mains all perform well, especially Montalban's effortless take on the antagonist. Despite being a continuation of a plot of an episode of the TV show, watching said episode is unnecessary, thanks to the skill of the writer. I only have two problems with this movie (aside from a couple issues solely attributable to the fact this movie is nearly 30 years old): Kirk and Khan never have a face-to-face combat scene, which I was really hoping for after the "KHAAAAAAN!" scene, and the film's climax includes a scene with Spock that I didn't feel was properly explained. Otherwise, it's a spectacular film that I wish the Trek franchise began and ended with.

    May 21, 2010

    Cold Souls - 2009

    Director: Sophie Barthes
    Writer: Sophie Barthes
    Starring: Paul Giammati, Emily Watson, David Strathairn

    "Oh, god, no, I don't want my soul shipped to New Jersey, no." Paul (Giammati) is struggling with his role in Uncle Vanya, and turns to a soul storage facility headed by Dr. Flintstein (Strathairn) to unburden him. However, his newly soulless state wreaks havoc with his personal life, so he returns to the facility and gets a transplant soul from a Russian poet. Initially successful, his body rejects the new soul, but upon a third visit to the facility, he finds that his soul has been misplaced.

    I'd like to be able to name more prominent female directors than I have fingers on one hand, and if Barthes becomes one, I think I'd be okay with that. While some critics said the film was too similar to Spike Jones's 1999 Being John Malkovich, I call that a positive. The only real criticism I have is that some scenes in the film use Russian (part of the plot involves the unregulated soul donations, etc from the motherland) that wasn't translated, leaving the viewer in the dark plotwise, and making the scenes seem like a waste of time until they intersect with Paul's life. Otherwise, I really enjoyed it, especially the distinct performances from Giamatti pre-, post-, and with the replacement soul. I don't think he's ever been considered a proper A-lister (universal name recognition), but he deserves to be.

    May 19, 2010

    How to Train Your Dragon - 2010

    Directors: Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois
    Writers: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders
    Starring: Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

    "This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village. In a word? Sturdy, and it's been here for seven generations, but every single building is new. We have fishing, hunting, and a charming view of the sunset. The only problems are the pests. You see, most places have mice or mosquitoes. We have dragons." The directorial duo who brought us 2002's Lilo and Stitch have returned with How to Train Your Dragon, a film detailing the struggle of a village of Vikings who are constantly forced to defend themselves against frequent dragon attacks, and Hiccup (Baruchel), the town's scrawny yet intelligent misfit, always striving to gain his father's (Butler) approval.

    Dreamworks's CGI films have generally been less highly regarded than rival Pixar, and I personally would only recommend 50% of them, up to and including this one, whereas I can't point to any wholly bad Pixar film (although Cars was kind of meh). Sure, the adult Vikings have Scottish accents and the kids American, and then they throw Norse runes in there for the written language, and normally such things would bother me. But shockingly, I was able to put this aside for once and enjoy the movie. IT WAS THAT AWESOME. The script is solid, even the supporting cast is very entertaining (I laughed at lines from the trailer; I never do that)...and a film finally figured out the right way to use 3D. Remember the scenes with the flying creatures in Avatar? The dragon-flying scenes in this movie are a hundred times better. HEAR ME, JAMES CAMERON? THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT!

    Oh, and Baruchel's character shines in the moment when he imitates his father, with a spectacular Scottish accent. To see more of him, check out Fanboys, a movie from 2008 about four Star Wars fans attempting to infiltrate Skywalker Ranch to see an advance copy of Phantom Menace, back when we thought that might be a good movie. Remember those days?

    May 18, 2010

    Gandhi - 1982

    Director: Richard Attenborough
    Writer: John Briley
    Starring: Ben Kingsley

    "They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body--not my obedience!" Richard Attenborough's epic details the life of Mohandas Gandhi (Kingsley) from his struggles against apartheid in South Africa in the 1890s to his eventual death at the hands of an assassin in 1948, with his tremendous acts to gain self-rule for the people of India.

    The quality of this film is unquestionable, even though its 3:10 runtime makes for slow pacing at some points. I did end up learning a few things, such as the reason for Gandhi's hunger strikes (to encourage Indians to follow his example of nonviolence protest against the British) and the fact that leaders of anything, unofficial as he was, always need heavy security. It was a shame to lose someone like that, especially when the assassin was able to walk right up to him under the guise of being a loyal follower. The reason I chose to finally watch this movie now is because of the upcoming Prince of Persia adaptation. A bearded Jake Gyllenhaal plays the titular character of the film, complete with an accent that sounds vaguely British. I know I'm not alone when cross-racial casting like this occurs (another recent example would be M. Night Shyamalan's Last Airbender, and more than a few eyebrows were raise at Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of an Australian playing an African-American in Tropic Thunder). However, Ben Kingsley (in his film debut, no less) won one of the film's eight Academy Awards for his portrayal of the "great soul" (yes, I know he's Indian on his father's side, but he looks white).

    Why is it that Ben Kingsley can portray a role like this so well, as well as such a wide variety of others, yet I look at Gyllenhaal and only see a British Donnie Darko or Jack Twist who hasn't shaved or cut his hair in a while?

    May 16, 2010

    Twilight - 2008

    Director: Catherine Hardwicke
    Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
    Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

    "I'm the world's most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I needed any of that. As if you could outrun me. As if you could fight me off. I'm designed to kill." Twilight, as we all know by now, tells the story of Bella Swan (Stewart), a new resident of Forks, Washington, and her sudden and deep infatuation with the mysterious Edward Cullen (Pattinson), whose cold skin and disappearance on sunny days give the impression he may be even more peculiar than he seems.

    This movie is why I dismiss so many films based solely on critical reviews. I'm a little baffled, though: I know Catherine Hardwicke is a good director, because I've seen thirteen, and I know Kristen Stewart can act, because of The Runaways. Process of elimination tells me two people are responsible for this utter disaster of a movie: Stephenie Meyer and Robert Pattinson. Let's tackle the second one first. Apparently there wasn't money in the budget for an accent coach, and it's very apparent. Every word that comes out of his mouth sounds like a struggle. I guess it makes up for it that he hates the series as much as I do, and he's only in it for the paychecks. As for Ms. Meyer...I'll try not to go on for too long, but I need to say a few things.
    • Every other line of dialogue makes the film unintentionally hilarious.
    • Meyer's complete refusal to acknowledge vampire lore = fail
    • The most interesting character in the film (Bella's mom) gets the least amount of screentime
    • The villains weren't developed, and just kind of appeared and disappeared randomly
    • Stephenie Meyer's cameo wasn't handled well.
    Sadly, I can't drink enough Coppola wine to get through the rest of these movies, as enjoyable as more rip-it-apart posts like this one would be to write. For now, I'll call this film (and the series as a whole, I'm sure) the biggest waste of film since Edison invented the kinetoscope.

    Interesting tidbit: Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) gets about two lines as Bella's best friend. How she aged 5-10 years between the filming of this movie and her brush with the Academy a year later boggles the mind.

    May 9, 2010

    The Joneses - 2010

    Director: Derrick Borte
    Writer: Derrick Borte
    Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Gary Cole
    Derrick Borte's debut film, The Joneses tells the tale of a seemingly normal (yet affluent) suburban family with father Steve (Duchovny), mother Kate (Moore) and kids Jenn and Mick. However, the "family" is really a front for a multinational marketing company, unknowingly (to the outsiders) pushing every product that they wear or use to those around them. Things take a turn when the "husband" starts to become dissatisfied with his life of deception and yearns for a genuine family existence.
    Much like Up in the Air, this movie wouldn't have worked as well were it to have been made even a few years in the past, but there's much more to it than being in the right place in the right time. Both Duchovny and Moore turn out to be a lot better actors than I had anticipated, and it's good to see them working again. Even Gary Cole, who plays a neighbor (though best remembered as boss Bill Lumbergh from Office Space), hasn't really been heard from since portraying the villain in 2008's Pineapple Express. The script is mostly well-written (although the person I saw it with predicted a twist or two), with much of the dialogue sounding like it could come straight out of a commercial, but I didn't think the film explained its overall concept in the beginning as well as the trailer had done. All in all, though, I'd definitely recommend seeing this one while you can.

    May 7, 2010

    Iron Man 2 - 2010

    Director: Jon Favreau
    Writer: Justin Theroux
    Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson

    "If you can make God bleed, people will cease to believe in him. There will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come." Tony Stark (Downey), now known to the world as Iron Man, struggles to keep the United States government from getting its hands on his "highly advanced prostheses" that it deems weapons. The government then turns to rival engineer Justin Hammer (Rockwell) to cure what ails them. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Rourke) sets out for revenge on Stark's father, who Vanko claims wronged his own (recently deceased) father in the 1960s. The palladium in Stark's miniaturized arc reactor is slowly killing him, resulting in somewhat reckless behavior, and the eventual introduction of James Rhodes (Cheadle) as War Machine. Oh, and Nick Fury (Jackson) is back too, this time with Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) in tow.

    I'm going to break ranks with pretty much every other review so far and say it's better than the first one. The plot is a lot more cohesive than I just made it sound, and I'd say a solid plot is the foundation for any good movie. Downey continues to be the perfect Stark, and Rockwell (long overdue to have people know his name) serves as a great foil, being just as entertaining in his own scenes. I would have like to see more Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff (who was never once referred to as Black Widow), but time restraints being what they are, only the best stuff could be left in. I also noticed that quite a few bits from the trailers were left out (such as the "You complete me" scene with Stark and Pepper on the plane). However, finally seeing Stark drunk while in the suit was worth waiting for these past two years, as was watching two of the actors get to beat up on the director (who pulls double duty with his portrayal of bodyguard Harold "Happy" Hogan). In short, thank you, Jon Favreau, for reminding us why we all love Iron Man.

    And in the name of all that is holy, STAY AFTER THE CREDITS.

    May 3, 2010

    Color Me Kubrick - 2007

    Director: Brian W. Cook
    Writer: Anthony Frewin
    Starring: John Malkovich

    "I'm not Stanley Kubrick; I'm Alan Conway, one of life's great failures!" Throughout the 1990s, Alan Conway successfully impersonated film director Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket), despite not knowing much about or resembling the man, due to Kubrick's reclusive nature.
    John Malkovich is an actor who, like Robert Downey Jr., has been criticized for playing a similar character in each of his roles, one remarkably like himself. His performance as Conway-as-Kubrick shatters this fallacy; he's a typical Brit one moment and a flaming Jewish stereotype the next. (Kubrick wasn't gay, but Conway's vices, despite the impersonation, tricked many into believing so). The writing's been critized as lacking depth, but I think most would find this film as entertaining as the real Kubrick found the news that he had an impersonator back in 1998.

    May 1, 2010

    Love Me If You Dare - 2003

    Director: Yann Samuel
    Writer: Yann Samuel
    Starring: Guillame Canet, Marion Cotillard

    "A stupid game? Maybe so, but it was our game." This follows the lives of Julien (Canet) and Sophie (Cotillard) from their first meeting at age eight through the emotional turmoil of their adolescent and adult lives, most of which is brought about by a game of dares between them

    I'll keep this one short and sweet, because that's what the film is like. The story is heartwarming, the characters are relatable, and the writing is inspired. I'd compare this film to Amelie, for those reasons and more. Near the end, events get a little convoluted, and it's probably worth an additional viewing or two, but that's not necessarily a negative. And come on...who doesn't love Marion Cotillard? I'm amazed after watching this that it took her as long as it did to win an Academy Award.

    Pirate Radio - 2009

    Director: Richard Curtis
    Writer: Richard Curtis
    Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson

    "I'm an American citizen and I don't give a hootenanny goddamn about your nitpicking limey laws. I intend to broadcast from this ship 24 hours a day until the day I die. And then for a couple days after that." Quentin (Nighy) leads a raucous group of radio DJs (Hoffman, Frost, et al.) who play contemporary 1960s rock music against the wishes of the British government, especially Minister Allistair Dormandy (Branagh).

    Although sketchily based in reality, the movie remains entertaining throughout. The soundtrack is flawless, the ensemble cast performs as great as any other, and the seriousness of their plight is perfectly balanced by frequent comedic beats. There's a slightly unnecessary B-plot involving paternity brought about with a somewhat forced protagonist, but it's forgiveable in the end. I'd have preferred to see the 20 minute longer British version (entitled The Boat That Rocked) for completeness' sake, but this was a fine substitute.