March 23, 2011

Extra Man - 2010

Directors: Shari Springer Bergman & Robert Pulcini
Writers: Shari Springer Bergman, Robert Pulcini, & Jonathan Ames
Starring: Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly

"So, there we are...where are we?" After moving to Manhattan to find himself, Louis (Dano) moves in with the older, eccentric Henry Harrison (Kline) and struggles with his urges to be feminine while Harrison teaches him the subtle art of being an "extra man," that is, an unpaid-by-money-or-sex escort for older women.

This film was tonally similar to The Living Wake, albeit a lot more grounded in reality. Dano seems to be an actor that people either love or hate (based so far mostly on Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood), and I'm in the former camp. It was a little hard for me to accept that he's old enough to be a convincing teacher, but he really comes through with the challenging bits of the film. As for Kline, he's an old pro at the acting game, and never fails to please (even in his less-than-stellar films from years past). For reason's I won't go into here, Reilly is the most obtuse character, and I'd have enjoying a bit more background on his character, but he's ultimately entertaining, despite not really entering the film until halfway through. A quirky little film perfect for a slow day. B+

March 22, 2011

Me and Orson Welles - 2009

Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Holly Gent Palmo & Vincent Palmo Jr.
Starring: Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes

"Orson left just two minutes ago... he took an ambulance to beat the traffic... Well, you know, according to Orson there's no law on the books that says you have to be sick to take an ambulance. Of course, that's according to Orson, which probably means it isn't really true but it ought to be..." In 1937, Richard Samuels (Efron) is hired to play Lucias in the first Broadway adaptation of a Shakespeare play (Julius Caesar) after a chance encounter on the street with media legend Orson Welles (McKay).

There are two kinds of period pieces: ones that wholly emulate the depicted era, and those that try very very hard, but ultimately fails. This is the later. The screenplay attempts to depict the jargon of the 1930s, but ultimately comes off as rather cheesy and hackneyed. McKay does give a wonderful performance as Welles, capturing his unique sort of eccentricities just as well as Vincent D'Onofrio or Liev Schrieber, but the movie's downfall is that it ultimately, it's not really about HIM (or his odd anti-fascist interpretation of Shakespeare's play). The proper title of the film should be Me and Two Random Ladies I Want to Get With. Efron's character (who was 15 in real life, but has gone through a name change and aged three years to legality) seems to rank hooking up with one of these women over his Broadway debut directed by Orson Welles no less. Sure, Welles hadn't directed Citizen Kane at that point, but he still had a bit of a following. Linklater's made some great stuff in his career, but this sadly isn't one of them. D+

March 21, 2011

Winnebago Man - 2010

Director: Ben Steinbauer
Starring: Jack Rebney

"I don't know if I'll be able to couch my vernacular into something that they'll understand." After viewing these excerpts from a 1989 Winnebago sales video, Ben Steinbauer embarked on a journey to find the crotchety old Internet superstar.

I really need to read some more film books. It's getting hard for me to review these documentaries. It's a great character piece, overlooked by the Academy, blah blah blah... A 

March 18, 2011

Paul - 2011

Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Heder, Blythe Danner, Sigourney Weaver, Jane Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor

"There is an alien in the kitchenette making bagels and coffee." Two British nerds (Pegg & Frost) come to America to attend San Diego Comic-Con and tour some alleged UFO crash sites, but their innocent journey becomes comedically perilous when they encounter Paul (Rogen), an alien escapee from Area 51 desperately in need of a ride home.

I walked out of the movie feeling like it was tailor-made for me. Pegg and Frost are just as great a writing duo as Pegg and Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), and they've brought us a rich and hilarious script that no performance other than their own could do justice to. There's a few movie-related jokes the rest of the audience didn't seem to get (Lorenzo's Oil, Mac & Me, Capturing the Friedmans), and even a certain rather well-known sci-fi film, but there's plenty of laughs left over for all audiences; even Lynch and Tambor, who have less than a combined ten minutes of screentime, make the most of every second. The visual effects team did a great job with the alien, to the point where you never get the feeling he's just a tennis ball on a stick. After 53 episodes of bleep, it's a great pleasure to hear former Michael Bluth's sailor's mouth come out. However, Wiig's the true scene stealer here, with a not-quite-over-the-top portrayal of a Christian fundamentalist who meets our heroes clad in a shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin in the head. Mottola replied to me on Twitter last night, and I took it as a sign to see this over Cedar Rapids. It was one of the best decisions I've made all year. A+

March 16, 2011

The Last Temptation of Christ - 1988

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul Schrader
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie

"God loves me. I know he loves me. I want him to stop." Based on the 1960 novel of the same name (and not the Gospels), the film tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth (Dafoe) struggling to reconcile his humanity with his divinity before going on to gain a following and preach his Father's word up until the crucifixion.

I could be nitpicky, and complain about how Dafoe is the sole blonde/blue-eyed individual in the piece, or how redheaded Keitel didn't shed his Brooklyn accent and Bowie was still very British. However, to do that would miss the point of the film entirely. Unlike a certain anti-Semitic film made a few years back with a similar premise, this wasn't about watching Our Lord and Savior physically beaten for an hour and a half. In fact, that bit of the film lasts less than five minutes of the overall runtime. Inspired by a novel given to him in 1972 by the woman who went on to play Mary Magdalene, Scorsese set out to make a film demonstrating that at the end of the day, even Jesus was still a man, and was tempted in the ways everyone is, to the point of having a personal crisis of faith, and initially not accepting that he is the Messiah or that he needs to be crucified to redeem mankind. Dafoe was a great choice castingwise, as he has the emotional depth and fortitude to do what the role demands of him. Keitel also comes through in spades as a man suffering his own private hell, knowing he must betray his greatest friend in the name of God. While the movie does run a bit long at 2 hours 40 minutes, it's something everyone should see, no matter how close or far that God is from one's heart. A

March 10, 2011

The Fall - 2008

Director: Tarsem Singh
Writer: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Lee Pace

"You always stop at the same part, when it's very beautiful. Interesting." In a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, paralyzed stuntman Roy (Pace) tells a little girl with a broken arm a fantastic story about a masked bandit, an Indian warrior, an ex-slave, an Italian demolitions expert, and Charles Darwin teaming up to end the reign of a cruel despot.

At first glance, The Fall may seem a bit unwieldy based on premise alone, but you'd be making a mistake to let that turn you off. This is by far one of the most visually breathtaking films I've ever seen, and unlike a certain James Cameron film, the storyline (while simple, as it's intended for a child) is wholeheartedly original. The cast does a great job in their dual roles and people in the hospital and characters in Roy's story, and Pace as well as the young actress playing the little girl are heartbreaking and heartwarming, respectively. I'm not terribly jazzed about the upcoming Greek mythology-inspired film from the same director, but this is definitely one I'd pick up to watch again if I saw it for sale. A-

March 5, 2011

Marwencol - 2010

Director: Jeff Malmberg

After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark Hogancamp builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populates the town he dubs "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helps Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds of the attack. When Mark and his photographs are discovered, a prestigious New York gallery sets up an art show. Suddenly Mark's homemade therapy is deemed "art", forcing him to choose between the safety of his fantasy life in Marwencol and the real world that he's avoided since the attack.

Malmberg's made his debut with a spectacular human interest story unlike any other, surpassing all those "issues" documentaries that were nominated for Oscars this past year. It deserves its 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and...well, that's all there is to it. See this one as soon as possible. A+

March 4, 2011

Rango - 2011

Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: John Logan
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina

"You want something to believe in? Believe in that sign. As long as it hangs there, we have hope." A pet chameleon with thespian aspirations is suddenly thrust into the role of a lifetime when, after falling out of his family's car during a drive through the desert, he comes upon a town entrenched in the old Western tradition, and his mettle is tested when as the new sheriff, he must track down a great deal of water suddenly missing from the town.

OSCAR NOMINATION FOR BEST ANIMATED 2012. (Pixar might take it again, but it's Cars 2 this year, so maybe not.) Yeah, it's that good. Nickelodeon is mis-marketing this as a children's film, but it's anything but; a vast majority of the dialogue (and jokes especially) will be lost on the young ones, so leave them at home. Even though he didn't have anything to do with it creatively, George Lucas (founder of Industrial Light & Magic, the company who made this their full-CGI debut) should be just as proud of it as he is of Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Johnny Depp plays a great fusion of the best parts of Jack Sparrow and Ed Wood, and young Breslin proves she can handle an accent with the best of them. There's two great cameos from legendary characters it'd be evil of me to spoil...and the whole thing only gets better when you know it was made with the actors being recorded while actually acting out the film, which I think helps the physicality greatly (as opposed to having the animators record themselves). The opening sequence is delightfully meta, and any true fan of film will love it as much as I did. Not many good movies out in wide release, so make this a priority. A