June 27, 2010

Mystery Team - 2010

Director: Dan Eckman
Writers: DC Pierson, Donald Glover, & Dominic Dierkes
Starring: DC Pierson, Donald Glover, Dominic Dierkes, Aubrey Plaza

"He was involved in this drug deal once, that went bad, and some Bosnians stole his van door. But he still drives around like that, cause he don't give a fuck." Jason (Glover), Duncan (Pierson), and Charlie (Dierkes) are the Mystery Team, three friends who started up a detective business a decade ago, but continue to bust young children for relatively innocent crimes upon the ever of their high school graduation. To prove their worth as legitimate detectives, the trio takes on a double homicide case.

This relatively unknown group is
Derrick Comedy, a group of Internet comedy video creators.While I worried initially whether or not their unique brand of humor would translate well to a feature film format, those worries were alleviated in the first five minutes of the film. I'd recommend watching the group's short videos online first; on the off chance you end up not falling in sync with their particular brand of humor, don't bother with this movie. Otherwise, get ready to bust a gut laughing.

Driving Miss Daisy - 1989

Director: Bruce Beresford
Writer: Alfred Uhry
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd

"What are you doing?" "I'm trying to drive you to the sto'!" After the 72-year-old Daisy Werthan (Tandy) accidentally shifts into reverse and wrecks her car, losing any hope of being insured, her son (Aykroyd) hires 65-year-old Hoke Colburn to be her chauffeur. Despite initially detesting Hoke's presence, eventually she allows him to drive her around, and the two enter a begrudging acquaintanceship.
Initially, I wasn't enjoying this film. Morgan Freeman is an incredible actor, and his role in this film is disturbingly subservient, very "yessuh, nossuh." Despite taking place between 1948 and 1973, and taking into account the limited role of African-Americans in the South at the time, it still bothered me. However, as the film went on, my love for Jessica Tandy's Oscar-winning performance, Hans Zimmer's brilliant score, and the skill of Uhry's translation of his play for the screen eventually won me over to the deservedness of the Best Picture Oscar that year.

June 21, 2010

Amadeus - 1984

Director: Milos Forman
Writer: Peter Shaffer
Starring: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham

"I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar." Adapted from a ballet by Rimsky-Korsakov, which was in turn based on a slightly fictional play by Pushkin, this film depicts the rivalry between Antonio Salieri (Abraham) and the titular famed composer (Hulce).

This film won eight of its eleven Oscar nominations, including actor (for Abraham), directing, adapted screenplay, and picture. That said, I didn't enjoy it. It's far too long (an agonizing two hours and forty minutes) and turns a revered historical figure into a childish imitation of a man with a laugh that made me want to break the screen every time it assaulted my ears. If the real Mozart had been at all like this (there's no historical evidence to show he was), I wouldn't blame Salieri for indirectly killing him (which he didn't). The only things this movie has going for it are no different from any other period piece: set design and costumes. That's just not enough to spend three hours on for me.

Toy Story 3 - 2010

Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer: Michael Arndt
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton

“You're a piece of plastic! You were meant to be thrown away!” The final film of a saga that began 15 years ago, Toy Story 3 follows Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the gang as they cope with Andy's departure for college, ending up at a day care center where nothing is what it appears to be.

I don't think I need to say anything to get you to see this movie. This is the end of a franchise that made us fall in love with Pixar back in 1995, and it's just as good as it ever was. The characters are all back (more or less), the story's strong, and it's a great farewell to the Toy Story universe. Oh, and the short film preceding it is undoubtedly Pixar's finest to date. Also, don't leave when the credits roll, or you risk missing something wonderful.

A River Runs Through It - 1992

Director: Robert Redford
Writer: Richard Friedenberg
Starring: Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt

"It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding. " Based on Norman Maclean's autobiography, this film by Robert Redford focuses on the early adult years of Norman (Sheffer) and Paul (Pitt) Maclean, and their complex relationship with both each other and their father (Skerritt), a local reverend.

There's a certain category of films I can neither recommend nor discourage, and this film unfortunately falls into that jurisdiction. The performances are more than decent, it's a fair adaptation of the source material, and the cinematographic is deservedly Oscar-winning. However, the attention paid to fly-fishing in this film, as well as its sharp turn toward (and then immediately away from) a romance near the end, as well as a few other things, made the subject matter simply not interesting to me. If you have two hours to spare, and enjoy looking at trees and fish and Brad Pitt, go for it.

June 18, 2010

Jonah Hex - 2010

Director: Jimmy Hayward
Writers: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Michael Fassbender

Confederate-soldier-turned-bounty-hunter Jonah Hex (Brolin) embarks on a quest for revenge when a Union lieutenant (Arnett) tells him that reports of the death of Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich), the man responsible for killing Hex's wife and child, have been greatly exaggerated.

I gave this movie a chance. I said to myself, "Josh Brolin and John Malkovich are both really good actors, so I'm willing to put up with a scene or two of Megan Fox." On top of that, it's based on a DC Comics character, and with the recent success of the Batman franchise, you'd think only the most skilled hands would be associated with similar properties. So who gets this tale of vengeance? The guys who are responsible for Crank, and it shows. Too much focus on the action, not enough on writing a solid, cohesive plot. Oh, and the movie lasting less than 90 minutes? That didn't help at all. I liked Brolin's portrayal of Hex, Malkovich made a good "I'm better than everyone else" character as per usual, and the pseudohistorical (think Wild Wild West-type weapons) aspect hit more than missed, but it wasn't enough to make the movie worthwhile. Above everything else, though, was the dialogue. Most of it wasn't terrible, mind you, and I laughed once or twice, and heard a decent line here and there. It was next to impossible to understand! Seemed as though because Brolin was hard to hear through his facial prosthetic (Hex is scarred, for those of you unfamiliar with the character), some of the other actors decided to mumble at his level to make it seem less unusual. Wait to rent the DVD, and make sure you have the subtitles on.

June 15, 2010

Jerry Maguire - 1996

Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, Cuba Gooding Jr.

"I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game featuring you, while singing your own song in a new commercial, starring you, broadcast during the Superbowl, in a game that you are winning, and I will not sleep until that happens." After his latest foray into film was twisted into that mainstay of 1990s pop culture we now know as Friends, Cameron Crowe released this film, detailing the life of a sports agent (Cruise) who is cut loose after writing a mission statement partially condemning what he does for a living. Maguire then focuses his entire career on the sole athlete (Gooding) he was able to keep in his clientele, and gets to know the only employee (Zellweger) from his firm brave enough to follow him on his new quest.

I was expecting to see a movie that was basically Tom Cruise: Super Sports Agent. What I ended up with was (the probably far more entertaining) Watch Tom Cruise Struggle as the Universe Repeatedly Takes a Dump on His Life. This film, along with Say Anything... and Almost Famous, completes the trifecta establishing Crowe as one of the great writer/directors of the business. The man got me to love a movie about sports and romance, two things I've never much cared to see on the silver screen. On top of that, it's probably a close second of the few great performances by Cruise (his role as a motivational speaking in Magnolia edges it out), and Zellweger and Gooding also hold more than their own share. And who could forget the adorable little Jonathan Lipnicki playing Ray? It's a shame he's disappeared off the face of the earth. I won't say this film "had me at hello," but I went into it with high hopes and was far from disappointed.

June 12, 2010

Moulin Rouge - 2001

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return." A young writer (McGregor) leaves London in 1899 to journey to Paris, getting swept up in the bohemian lifestyle. During his stay, he is tasked to write a play for Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo) and falls in love with a courtesan (Kidman) with acting aspirations.

After watching A Knight's Tale and being immediately turned off by its use of contemporary music, as well as Luhrmann's take on Romeo and Juliet set in modern day (yet everyone speaks Elizabethan English for...some reason), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. The music meshes with the plot surprisingly well, the costumes are as elaborate as you'd expect from a period piece, the cinematography is ridiculously good, and the cast delivers spectacular performances of a script that perfects the balance of comedy and drama. It deserves both the rank of #9 highest-grossing musical ever and the 77% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. I can't wait to see what Luhrmann does with his upcoming Great Gatsby adaptation.

Swingers - 1996

Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Jon Favreau
Starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Heather Graham

"Vegas, baby! Vegas!" Mike (Favreau) is a heartbroken, unemployed actor and recent transplant to Los Angeles. To ease his sorrows, Mike's friends (Vaughn & Livingston) take him to Vegas, then out exploring the LA nightlife.

Jon Favreau deserves a lot more credit than he gets in the industry. Between his writing and acting in this and his directing of the Iron Man franchise (not to mention the rest of his career), I'd say he's in the top 25% of filmmakers currently in the business. The environment is rich, the characters are relatable (even Vaughn, who I normally can't stand)...it's just plain entertaining and well-written. The icing on the cake: Mike and his friends (all playing characters based on themselves, as Favreau had a similar experience when he first came to Hollywood), with the element of the 1990s swing music revival included, are analogous to the original five-member Rat Pack. It's a highly underrated modern classic; see it now if you haven't yet.

June 7, 2010

Chaplin - 1992

Director: Richard Attenborough
Writers: William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, & William Goldman
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Kline, Milla Jovovich, Diane Lane

"If you want to understand me, watch my movies." A decade after Gandhi, Richard Attenborough decided to make a second epic biopic, this time focusing on Charlie Chaplin (Downey), a man who amused millions while his own life was in shambles thanks to struggles with relationships, the United States government, and the transfer to talkies which threatened to make him obsolete.
Much like with Gandhi, Attenborough proves his adeptness at delving beyond the surface of a well-known figure, and he could do no better in casting than Downey, who holds his own not only in the accent department, but also shifts from comedic genius to dramatic expert and back in the blink of an eye. The actresses who portray the bevy of beauties in Chaplin's life are virtually interchangeable, but that's not entirely a criticism, as the film gives the impression hew never truly cared for any one more than the others aside from Oona, his fourth wife. While the script has been criticized by some for not properly encompassing the multifaceted life of Chaplin, I found the 2:20 runtime more than sufficient in being an accurate portrayal, even despite the framing device (an elderly Chaplin telling his life story to the editor of his biography, the sole fictional person in the film). The scenes in the old age makeup do serve one purpose: Downey's ability to emote through it cements this as his greatest performance to date, although in the light of Iron Man, one all too unknown.