July 30, 2010

The Kids Are All Right - 2010

Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writers: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

In what is sure to be Cholodenko's breakout film, Nic and Jules (Benning & Moore) are a lesbian couple with two children, Joni (Wasikowska) and Laser (Hutcherson), each mother having one via the same anonymous sperm donor. When Joni turns 18, her younger brother encourages her to contact their "father" (Ruffalo). However, his increasing involvement in the family dynamic is complicated, to say the least.

The overall critical consensus for this film is "remarkable," and it's hard for me to disagree. This family dramedy is filled with wonderful performances, a solid script (written back in 2004 before the director herself got pregnant via an anonymous donor), and some very sharp cinematography. You'd never know such a polished film was shot in only 23 days. While it may not pack the punch of past summer indie releases like Garden State or 500 Days of Summer, it's up there with the best of them, quality-wise.

July 24, 2010

World's Greatest Dad - 2009

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Robin Williams, Daryl Sabara, Alexie Gilmore
"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. It's to be surrounded by people who make you feel like you're alone." Lance Clayton (Williams) is a high school poetry teacher with grandiose dreams of being a writer that have, so far, resulted in five unpublished novels. After his son (Sabara) dies in a tragic freak accident, Lance suddenly finds himself receive the attention he always dreamed of, but not without a price.
Bobcat Goldthwait is indescribable, a persona that has to be seen to be believed. Before now, I never knew him beyond an occasional Hollywood Squares appearance and a voice in Disney's animated Hercules film several years back, and neither of those led me to believe that he was capable of creating this under-the-radar gem from last year. His script is the ideal balance of dark comedy and drama, and the performances his actors deliver are excellent. Williams hasn't done a film this good in years, and Sabara has come a long way from his role in the Spy Kids movies. Go buy this DVD, if only because a 30-theater, $220,000 release doesn't do this movie justice. You won't regret it.

July 23, 2010

Creation - 2010

Director: John Amiel
Writer: John Collee
Starring: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly
"It will be called On the Origin of Species, and I intend to keep God out of it, although He will likely consider it a personal attack." This barely-distributed film from early this year, based on the book Annie's Box (written by a descendant of Charles Darwin) tells the tale of Darwin's (Bettany) struggle while writing his famous work: balancing his relationship with his devout wife Emma (Connelly) and recognizing how integral to society the church has been, as well as fighting intense illness and coming to terms with the death of his daughter Annie.
Technically, this film isn't anything special; it's pretty much your average period piece from beginning to end. However, the performances of the two leads are both very good (enhanced, I'd say, by the fact the actors are actually husband and wife), but the story is where this film truly shines. This film turns Darwin from the cold logician intent on bringing down the church that I'm sure many on the right have seen him as for the past century and a half to a more human character, one who understands the gravity of the situation so much so that he sits on the work from the Galapagos Islands for a full 15 years for fear of societal rammifications, although not quite sharing his wife's belief of eternal damnation for his writings. The singular measure of success of a biopic is that it maintains the interest of the audience despite a forgone (and sometimes well-known) conclusion, and Creation fits the bill perfectly.

July 16, 2010

Inception - 2010

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Cilian Murphy
"What's the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules." Christopher Nolan's latest psychological thriller follows Cobb (DiCaprio), a man who has spent his life honing his ability to steal information from dreams of others, given the seemingly impossible task of inserting an idea into the subconscious, rather than withdrawing one.
With seven feature films to his name so far, Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be one of a small handful of writer/directors who is incapable of making not only a supbar film, but anything less than mindblowing. The cast aside (who are all great, aside from Watanabe's sometimes hard to understand lines), this film's true strength lies in Nolan's multilayered script. While not for the faint of mind (I personally plan to see it again to 100% understand it), this is definitely not a film to be missed, and will hopefully get some legitimate Oscar nominations.

July 15, 2010

Purple Rose of Cairo - 1985

Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello

"As your lawyer, I advise you to get control of it fast. A character from one of your productions on the loose? Who knows what he's capable of? Robbery? Murder? I see lawsuits. " A waitress (Farrow) during the Depression has only one escape from her financial situation and abusive husband (Aiello): the movies. So when one of the characters (Daniels) steps out of the movie because of his growing infatuation with her, what choice does she have but to go off with him?

Woody Allen achieved great things with this:
  • great period piece
  • a movie-within-a-movie with merits of its own
  • surprisingly believable screentime with Daniels playing an actor and his character side-by-side
  • a film without himself in it (or any facsimile thereof)
I'd put this up there with Annie Hall, Manhattan, and his other great works.

Cyrus - 2010

Directors: Jay & Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay & Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener

"Don't fuck my mom, John." John (Reilly), is a divorced man who meets Molly (Tomei) at a party one night, after being given some liquid courage from his soon-to-be-remarried ex-wife (Keener). John and Molly hit it off, but her mysterious departure in the early morning hours makes John suspicious. He follows her, only to discover the following morning that she has an adult son Cyrus (Hill), an eccentric young man with Oedipal issues who eventually makes it his mission to get John out of the picture.

I probably say this a lot, but this is a remarkable film. The Duplass brothers found the perfect balance of dark humor and drama, and the actors are all in top form, especially Reilly and Hill. The former succeeded where all others have failed: making me enjoy an actor portraying a character with the same first name; the latter seems to finally be coming into his own, and straying away from Superbad-esque roles that garnered him initial fame. My only real qualm with the film is a choice of cinematography: disconcerting quick zooms are used throughout, giving the film a slight pseudodocumentary aesthetic that doesn't really work.It's a relatively small issue, though, so don't let it turn you off from an otherwise superb moviegoing experience.

July 7, 2010

Strange Days - 1995

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: James Cameron & Jay Cocks
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Vincent D'Onofrio, William Fichtner

"Memories are meant to fade. They're designed that way for a reason." Before they both rose to fame with Hurt Locker and Titanic, respectively, Bigelow and Cameron collaborated on this film. Former cop Lenny Nero (Fiennes) is now a black market dealer for SQUID devices, which allow the wearer to relive the experiences of another person. In an attempt to regain a connection with former girlfriend Faith (Lewis), he and his friend Mace (Bassett) get tangled up in a case involving a series of SQUID-related deaths which may have greater ramifications than either of them realize.

Forget about Titanic, and definitely forget about Avatar; this is the James Cameron script everyone needs to see. Despite a 2.5 hour runtime, every moment is engaging, the characters are well-developed, and the dialogue is fresh. Fiennes especially brings a humanizing aspect to an otherwise scummy character, and Lewis surprises with her singing ability required by the role. The opening two minutes or so of the film (a first-person single take involving a robbery, which Bigelow discusses for over an hour on the commentary track) makes the film worth watching. I would say this is as good a film as Hurt Locker (albeit for very different reasons), and far eclipses anything Cameron's written that I've seen.