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

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, a smart, entertaining independent film. It also doesn't hurt that it has 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.

Flynn has a job as a health inspector – a job he takes seriously, but struggles with. A lot of these restaurant owners and employers are just good, honest people trying to make a living, and if he writes them up for a small violation, he could be responsible for ruining their lives. The character of Flynn is loaded with these moral conflicts. The brilliant character writing and bringing these richly-defined characters to life like Nivola and Walken have, make $5 a day seem original despite a predictable plot.

Flynn’s past catches up with him and he’s fried from his job, so he comes home determined to save his relationship with his girlfriend Maggie (Amanda Peet), except his past has caught up with him there too and she’s already out the door.

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





Recommended:

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.

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. From director James Ivory, this film exists in the same vein as his literary cinematic icons Howard’s End and A Room with a View. 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. As you may have guessed these are all privileged people who can happily spend their time complaining about the past and non-stop obsession with their self-important lives. New-comer Omar Metwally playing Omar Razaghi is a perfectly sculpted character who the audience actually cares to follow, but he was flanked by the opposing Deirdre (Alexandra Maria Lara). Omar is an Iranian-born American grad student and his academic and monetary future relies on the family of late author Gund to give him permission to write his biography. They refuse.

These characters were exquisitely created and performed, it’s easy to get immersed in their lives of fortune and favour. 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.

In Omar’s quest to win approval from the Gund family, there are romantic entanglements aplenty, side deals, and a possible smuggling angle. There is enough of a plot and certainly the engaging character of Omar to keep this literary story of refined immorality afloat.

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. .




Recommended:

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.