Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Big Fan: Movie Review

Soul-fulfilling examination of a "Big Fan".

"Big Fan" is about Paul (Patton Oswalt) who is a really big fan of the New York Giants. It's a simple premise and one that you think you see on a regular basis. But this movie is different because we really meet Paul, on a very personal level. We see everything in his life that makes him who he is. Even though Paul takes the word "fanatic" to a very serious level, he's accessible and it seems very real.   2009

Directed by: Robert D. Siegel

Screenplay by: Robert D. Siegel

Starring: Patton Oswalt

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The American: Movie Review

Interesting mix between character study and thriller.

George Clooney is "The American", an assassin, hiding out in Italy. That, and his love of prostitutes, are pretty much all we know about him. It turns out to be an interesting mix between a character study and a thriller.   2010

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

Screenplay by: Rowan Joffe

Starring: George Clooney

Because I Said So: Movie Review

(2007, directed by: Michael Lehmann, written by: Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson, starring: Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore)
(Available now on DVD)

The comedy is overblown, but pretty good as a romantic drama.

In "Because I Said So" Diane Keaton plays an overprotective mother, Daphne, to Millie (Mandy Moore). The other daughters, Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo, are married so their lives are OK, but Millie doesn't have a man, so her life is empty, or so says Keaton. The main problem with this movie is that Keaton plays the overprotective mother very over the top, and it's just not that funny.

The sisters all have their own charm, although Perabo is underused. And the parade of men that come in and out of their lives are all very handsome. I particularly enjoyed the contrasts between the man Daphne chose for Millie (Jason, Tom Everett Scott) and the man that Millie chose for herself (Johnny, Gabriel Macht).

If they had chosen to follow more of a romantic drama route and explored all the different relationships, this film would have been significantly better. But as a comedy, "Because I Said So" is overblown and not funny.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Again: Movie Review

Offers a few laughs but for no real purpose.

"You Again" pits Kristen Bell versus her high school arch nemesis and relies on her physical comedy. Bell is always very likable and it's easy to get the audience on her side. And at least here her comedic timing is improving especially over her recent "When in Rome" debacle. It's fairly funny and the stars all work well together and let us feel as if we're apart of this family.

This is just a comedy. They went for slapstick instead of lessons on the malice of society. Bullies don't mature, and never recognize the harm they cause. So despite the film's insistence that this is not a fairy tale, it really is. The relationship and interaction between Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver is more realistic, but still wouldn't be as neat and shiny as portrayed.

"You Again" gives nothing of essence or real meaning. Just a few laughs for no greater purpose – though judging by the theatre-going audience that's all they were looking for. I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that Hollywood chose yet again not to tread on more truthful ground.

Puccini for Beginners: Movie Review

Uninspired musings on love and relationships.

"Puccini for Beginners" is yet another independent relationship comedy. I remember a long line of them coming out probably around the same time this one did. We have love triangles and writers waxing on neurotically about love and relationships.

The lead is a writer, a lesbian who is unable to admit her true feelings, and she goes from a break up to a man. He's a philosophy professor who loves everything about her that it doesn't matter that she's a lesbian. In addition to their differences in sexual orientation, there are other love entanglements that get in their way - "with all the twists and turns of a classic Puccini" as the DVD case says. I would agree with that if the twists and turns in Puccini operas are obvious and uninspired with contrived culminations.

I enjoyed the casting, Elizabeth Reaser has a fresh face and isn't your typical romantic comedy lead. I fell in love with Justin Kirk as Andy Botwin in "Weeds" and I fell in love with him again here. The actresses who play her friends actually look like regular friends. But the cast wasn't able to save the characters. We have a lesbian with the prosaic name of Allegra, a writer whose neurotic, and a philosophy professor who pontificated on her vocabulary and the virtues of love and relationships. And none of them had interesting character traits.

The characters, the love triangles and the imperious dialogue were all flat. And the references to Puccini? Allegra likes going to the opera. So does Philip. I think that sums up all the imaginative aspects of "Puccini for Beginners".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Sister's Keeper: Movie Review

Not as interesting and substantial as it could have been.

My problems with "My Sister's Keeper" were with the characters but not the story. The story that centers around Anna (Abigail Breslin) being born to be a donor for her leukaemia-stricken sister and then seeking medical emancipation from her parents so they couldn't force her to continue to donate her organs - is actually a great story. I found it original and intriguing.

This film is also about characters and their relationships. They explored the mother-daughter relationship between Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) and between Sara and Anna. But in doing so, they broke some fundamental rules of screen writing. To advance the plot, Sara acted out of character, and so did Anna. These characters were so inconsistent that any attempt at exploring them was pointless. The other relationship angles that they started, between husband and wife and son to the rest of the family, were conspicuously dropped, probably because they wouldn't be able to keep them in character either.

It was an odd mix of strong actors and weak characters. The lesser-known actors, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason Patric and Evan Ellingson were much stronger and were able to keep the light on their quieter characters. Vassilieva, in particular, stole the movie. Cameron Diaz played the mother, who was of course supposed to be unlikable. The problem is that ever since "The Mask" (1994), Diaz has been desperately trying to prove that she isn't just beautiful and she can play the unpopular characters too. Cameron is a good actress and she has long proved her point. The character of Sara would have been much better served if she was played by a not-so-desperate actress. And I think I have had my fill of Abigail Breslin.

The poor writing really detracts from the enjoyment of this film. I would be surprised if the book was this poorly written, but I'm not sure I care to find out. "My Sister's Keeper" could be a very interesting and substantial film, if written with quality. Unfortunately, this version is not.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

$5 a Day: Movie Review

The best of independent filmmaking.

"$5 a Day" is a father-son road trip movie. You may think you've seen that done way too many times before, but this plays out as if it's completely original. This is, quite simply, one of the best indie films ever. It may not be completely independent as it does have an all-star cast behind it. The handsome and completely endearing Alessandro Nivola is Flynn, the son, who is just trying to live a normal life. 2008 (with 2010 DVD release)

Directed by: Nigel Cole

Screenplay by: Neal H. Dobrofsky and Tippi Dobrofsky

Starring: Christopher Walken and Alessandro Nivola
Christopher Walken, still on top of his game, is Nat, the father, who schemes and lies his way into living and travelling on just 5 dollars a day.

After Flynn loses his job and Nat insists he's dying, Flynn agrees to drive his father across the country for treatment. There are plenty of hilarious cons and schemes, but also some touching honesty, along the way.

"$5 a Day" is a fantastic dramedy. It is billed as a comedy and it does have some low-key humour and many laughs. But by just calling it a comedy, that doesn't seem to give the film full credit for the brilliant character writing. There is a lot of intelligent undertones in the actions of the characters as they each mature in the journey. And the writer did that with subtlety and humour, no melodrama here.

This film was done better than I ever thought a relationship road trip movie could be done. I laughed all of the way, just enjoying the characters, and I didn't find all of the subtle lessons on relationships until after it was over. Walken and Nivola had great chemistry and completely won me over. I now expect them to play father and son in all of their future movies.
Best of 2010


The Joneses (2009) - A hilarious, original and inventive twist on "keeping up with the Joneses".

Blue State (2007) - The road trip genre taken to political and hilarious extremes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finding Lenny: Movie Review

Some uplifting quirkiness to this low-budget indie.

"Finding Lenny" is a low-budget South African comedy. Lenny (Barry Hilton) is a slovenly, unkempt man who loses his wife, his job and is kidnapped. But you know the saying, tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. And half-way through, it became a soccer film. Hilton had decent comedic timing for a straight man, but he failed to induce any sympathy or empathy. The other, white characters were even worse. I did at least enjoy the South African tribe.

Mostly this was just a film with adult characters in adult situations with some adult-level jokes and then some unfunny jokes. I haven't figured out how this is supposed to be for children or families, except that it is a PG comedy.

Lenny wasn't able to connect me to his story, and most of the other characters turned me off of it. Other reviewers have found "Finding Lenny" to be quirky and uplifting while ably delivering a decent message. I would even add refreshing because of its independent South African roots. However, I can't really recommend it because I found it boring and not funny and not directed to its audience. I do recognize that it deserves some fans. You might be one of them if you are looking for a small, low-budget independent film with uplifting quirkiness told through soccer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Reflections: Movie Review

Serial killer story - well made but not well written.

We start out going around the world following agents we don't know, who are chasing criminals we don't know, and talking about things we don't know. I was left feeling dizzy and disoriented. We finally settle down with Agent Tom Brindle (Timothy Hutton). There isn't much to this character, but Hutton portrays him well. Spanish actor Miguel Angel Silvestre aptly added some interesting levels to his character Marco.

But "Reflections" isn't about characters. It's about gruesome murders and getting into the mind of a serial killer. There was blood and guts but no real psychology. The tracking down of the killer had some strange pacing to it. Lots of rather complicated plot twists occurring way too quickly and then slow scenes where nothing happens that we didn't already know.

The director and writers appear to be fairly young, trying to establish themselves in the genre with titles such as "Knowing", "Criminal Minds" and "Cold Case", and now "Reflections". "Reflections" is the same type of story, ably-produced and acted, although I found the written story rather lame and confused. Fans of the genre may want to take a look as this could be a stepping stone into better feature films for the film-makers, but I wouldn't recommend this for anyone else.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just Wright: Movie Review

Just good enough for fans of basketball and romantic comedies.

Basketball and romantic comedy is a weird mix, but I happen to like both, so "Just Wright" worked for me. I'm concerned the producers probably thought that they were going to get the male sports market AND the female romance market, but they are very wrong on that. Too much corny romance for most male viewers and too many basketball references for most female viewers. This can probably only be enjoyed by romantic comedy fans who also like the sport of basketball.

The romantic comedy angle was very formulaic and obtuse. The entire story was laid out from the very beginning, and even earlier than that - it was all in the trailer. There was little depth to the characters and no depth to the situations. No laughs, no tears, but a few smiles.

If you won't get too pained by how obvious the story is, there are some positives. I enjoyed Queen Latifah and, surprisingly, the rapper Common was very enjoyable too. They both came across as likable people whom I wanted to succeed. The slim vs. fat conflicts were kept to a minimum because they aren't their weight, they are people. And, again surprisingly, there was even attempted thought put into the psychology of sports injuries. Although there is almost nothing new in "Just Wright", there is enough to keep fans watching.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Joneses: Movie Review


A thoughtful and original twist on keeping up with the Joneses. 

"The Joneses" asks, can you keep up with the Joneses (David Duchovny and Demi Moore)? And the answer is yes. The plot has enough original twists and turns to keep it interesting, but not so many that you can still notice the few levels of nuance and intelligence that they added. A very original take on the "keeping up with the Joneses" idea - everybody wants what the Joneses have. 2009

Directed by: Derrick Borte

Screenplay by: Derrick Borte and Randy T. Dinzler

Starring: David Duchovny and Demi Moore

It may sound like any other film where we watch rich people live their selfish lives, but they quickly turn that on its head. It's much more clever and interesting. The creative premise can seem a bit far-fetched but it was immediately brought back down to Earth with the realism of the characters. I was completely intrigued by these characters, and particularly impressed with the emotion that was shining from beneath Duchovny's handsome surface.

I had no idea what to expect from "The Joneses". And, well, that's exactly what I got - something that I never could have expected. And it was great. This film is original and intelligent, especially with some of their perceptions of society. It can be a bit cynical at times but that just adds some dark humour which all the best films have. I highly recommend "The Joneses", especially for people who like a little bit of thought and originality in films.
Best of 2010

The City of Your Final Destination: Movie Review


Like a classic piece of literature performed beautifully.

"The City of Your Final Destination" is about a young man (Omar Metwally) trying to write a biography of a late writer. He travels to Uruguay to meet the family still living on the estate. It's very reminiscent of "The Last Station" (2009), and just as good — in its own way. 2009 (with 2010 DVD release)

Directed by: James Ivory

Screenplay by: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on the novel by Peter Cameron

Starring: Omar Metwally

The cast is completely remarkable. Laura Linney plays the cold, mysterious widow; Anthony Hopkins plays the wise, and yet child-like brother; Charlotte Gainsbourg is an emotionally-affected beauty. New-comer Omar Metwally played a perfectly sculpted character whom we wanted to follow, but was flanked by the opposing Alexandra Maria Lara. These characters were so exquisitely created and performed that I would forget they were just actors. With a few parallels to "The Last Station", I was reminded that Hopkins was the original choice to play the elderly Tolstoy, but their schedules never jived. I'm assuming Hopkins then purposely sought out this film to be able to explore some similar characters. Great choice.

Written by the great and pioneering female screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and brought to vision by James Ivory, "The City of Your Final Destination" explores themes of literature and of people moving on in their lives once they realize that the central figure that once held them all together no longer is, and of course all of their romantic entanglements. It's shot beautifully in South America and plays out like a classic piece of literature. Recommended for fans of character studies and readers of good books.


Rabbit Hole (2010) - A couple struggling to stay together through grief, religion and science.

Howl (2010) - Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl brought to life.

An Education (2009) - The coming-of-age of a book-smart teenage girl.

The Last Station (2009) - The last days of Tolstoy played out historically and romantically.