March 27, 2012

Friends with Kids - 2012

Director: Jennifer Westfeldt
Writer: Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns

After observing the rest of their social circle pair settle down, Jason (Scott) and Jewel (Westfeldt) decide to have a child together sans the mistake (in their eyes) of the usual associated romantic entanglement. However, things don't go as expected when the two engage in their respective first post-child relationships.

I'm not going to say anything about the plot of this film, aside from the fact that the ending is predictable; then again, you all knew Bridesmaids was going to end with Rudolph's character getting married, but I digress. Friends with Kids is a great lesson in the horrors of miscasting. That's not to say these are bad actors, mind you (although Megan Fox has no place being here, as she's far too young for Adam Scott), just that for this movie, the choices could have been more appropriate. The fault lies due to the fact that this is not the romcom that trailers would lead you to believe, but one of those "dramas with jokes" that are so popular nowadays. Aside from Hamm and Westfeldt, this is a cast of actors known for their comedic work. As a result of this, they all suffer from "Jonah Hill disease" to varying degrees. Remember what I said in my Moneyball review about Hill getting laughs at lines that weren't meant to be funny, because of his background here? This happens a lot in Friends with Kids, especially to Wiig. Actors like these need to do some straight drama so they can be taken seriously before attempting a film like this again. B

March 21, 2012

Falling Down - 1993

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Ebbe Roe Smith

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey

William Foster (Douglas) is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore! All of life's little problems, coupled with a violent nature, cause a mental breakdown, and the city of Los Angeles becomes the victim of the ensuing rage.

Just to get this out of the way, Duvall plays a cop on his last day before retirement who insists on leaving desk duty when he hears repeated reports of a white guy in a white shirt and tie committing random acts of violence. Yes, we've seen this trope before, and yes, this was directed by the same guy responsible for both this and this, but somehow it turned out incredible. I'm going to have to put this squarely on the shoulders of Douglas and Duvall, with credit to the film's supporting cast as well (notably one self-loathing homophobic neo-Nazi). Falling Down is a great time capsule of immediate post-Communism America, and certainly resonates with anyone who's had a day where nothing goes right for them. A

March 20, 2012

Midnight Cowboy - 1969

Director: John Schlesinger
Writer: Waldo Salt
Starring: Jon Voight & Dustin Hoffman

Joe Buck (Voight), a dishwasher-turned-wannabe-cowboy, leaves his native Texas to make it big as a hustler (read: gigolo) in New York City. Unfortunately, Buck is almost immediately taken advantage of by a real hustler, Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman). After the initial conflict passes, Buck and Rizzo form an unlikely bond (mostly due to Buck's naivete) and the two struggle together against the city's seedy underbelly.

Despite starting off a bit slow, the film quickly becomes spectacular across the board. Look at the well-deserved Academy recognition it got that year:
  • three wins (Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay)
  • four nominations (two Actor, Supporting Actress, and Editing)
Keep in mind the supporting actress's performance clock in at less than four minutes of screentime. Schlesinger found a great script to attach himself to, and proceeded to make all the right decisions. This is truly a masterpiece, a masterful film beginning to end that everyone needs to see. A+.

21 Jump Street - 2012

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Ice Cube

Rating: D

March 12, 2012

Silent House - 2012

Directors: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
Writer: Laura Lau
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen

Rating: C+

Game Change - 2012

Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Danny Strong
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris

Based on true events, Game Change follows the selection of Sarah Palin (Moore) by Republican strategists in an attempt to garner John McCain (Harris) the US presidency, as well as Palin's personal strategy and less-than-stellar interaction with campaign workers.

I'll be the first to admit this is a change for me, in the sense that I'm reviewing a made-for-television film. However, this is one of those HBO films, which in my experience, always turn out stellar. Specifically, Roach brought us the HBO film a few years back that covered the 2000 Florida recount debacle (a guy I know got to be an extra, since they shot in Tallahassee), so I had high hopes for his handling of political drama, albeit this time dealing with well-known figures. Oh, what a film it was! Moore's portrayal of Palin is dead-on, and it reads like Fey's without the jokes. But do you really need jokes when it comes to someone like Sarah Palin? In all seriousness, though, this isn't the "liberal lambasting" of the former vice presidential candidate one might expect; although she's by no means depicted as a flawless character, Moore's portrayal comes of as incredibly humanizing at certain points, notably the moment when she's on the campaign plane and her entire entourage is watching one of Fey's SNL sketches in total silence. Harrelson does a great job as well in his role of somewhat unwilling campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, an emotionally-beleaguered man who realizes the consequences of his decisions far too late. The only negative I found in this movie is Ed Harris. The reason people put so much weight in McCain's choice of Palin is that she had a very real chance of ending up as president by virtue of the 25th Amendment. Harris's version of McCain shows none of the weakness of his real-life counterpart, so the high stakes of President Palin never truly come to fruition onscreen. A

March 10, 2012

A Separation - 2011

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini

Simin (Hatami) wants to take her daughter Termeh (Farhadi) and leave her husband Nader (Moadi) to go to the United States, but he refuses to grant her a divorce to do so on the grounds that his Alzheimer's-stricken father needs someone to care for him. Nader finds himself dealing with the law again, however, after allegedly causing the miscarriage of the woman whom he hires to look after his father.

Don't have too much to say about this one. It's a terrific drama (aside from a bit of a unsatisfying ending)  that's beautifully shot, and filled with naturalistic performances. A Separation is truly deserving of its Oscar win as last year's Best Foreign Film. A

The Secret World of Arrietty - 2012

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, David Hendrie

Shawn (Hendrie), a boy with heart problems, is sent to his aunt's house in the country for the sake of rest and relaxation. Little does he know, the Pod family, members of a race of tiny people known as Borrowers, lives in the walls.

Many of you will probably remember the first time that Mary Norton's novel was adapted for American audiences; it introduced us to several actors who would later hit their strides in the Harry Potter franchise (including a young Tom Felton). This is almost entirely unlike that. The little people are in a house in the woods outside Tokyo now, Arrietty has no little brother, the aforementioned heart condition in Shawn (not Pete)...I could go on and on. It's not nearly as thoroughly unwatchable as most children's fare, and Studio Ghibli's animation comes through in spades as always, but the film's rife with issues. Shawn knows precisely where under the house the Homily family lives without being told, Pod completely disappears for a good portion of the second act, Will Arnett's lines (meant to sound old and haggard) instead come across as wholly emotionless, Shawn gives a speech that is wholly contrary to the rest of the film tonally, and Spiller...well, I'll show you.
Spiller's become a monosyllabic tribesman. If that's not the height of racial sensitivity, I don't know what is. Wait for the DVD on this one; you're not missing much. C+