Whereas director Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run is a nonstop frenetic ride, his Heaven is the complete opposite. Moving at a snail's pace, the ninety-five minutes of this tale which focuses on a British woman named Phillipa (Cate Blanchett) enacting revenge on the drug dealer who killed her husband felt like an eternity at moments. It's a shame because the film starts out incredibly promisingly with what is a criminal act gone wrong (told in a methodical tension-building manner), but Tykwer can't keep me interested in the slightest in the remaining eighty-five minutes once Phillipa gets caught by the Italian government and eventually begins a relationship with one of her guards, Fillipo (Giovanni Ribisi). Despite some decent performances, I just couldn't get into this one and the ending was just too pretentious to satisfy.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, and William H. Macy
Directed by Brad Furman
You've seen movies like The Lincoln Lawyer before. Courtroom tales featuring twists and turns galore with somewhat quirky characters peppered throughout. Nothing new is brought to the table here and, if I'm being honest, there's not a thing about this movie that would make it seem worthy to be seen on the big screen. But, seeing as how it's now on dvd, when watching it in the comfort of your own home, the flick becomes a perfectly adequate little mystery even if it tries too hard sometimes to be a little edgier than the rather stodgy story permits it to be.
Rich playboy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) gets accused of beating up a prostitute and hires the smarmy and somewhat sleazy lawyer Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) to represent him. With the help of his detective-for-hire Frank Levin (William H. Macy), Mick begins to uncover the truth behind the crime Louis is convicted of and soon begins to realize that there is more to Louis than he seems to be revealing.
If the summary above seems a little bland and uninspired, that's because the movie itself isn't anything particularly special. As I've said, there's nothing new brought to the table here. And, if I'm being honest, I'm surprised I was as interested as I was considering the fact that both Matthew McConaughy and Ryan Phillippe aren't exactly known in my mind as having the best acting chops. Their performances here do nothing to change my tune.
Still, somehow for some inexplicable reason, I somewhat enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer. I can't really explain why, so I won't even try (which I realize is the antithesis of what a review is supposed to do).
Starring Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, and Paul Dano
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
As a self-professed hater of westerns, no one is more surprised than me to be quite taken with Meek's Cutoff, a tale of a group of settlers traveling across Oregon in 1845. On the surface, Kelly Reichardt's flick may appear to be one of the slowest paced films you'll ever watch, but if you dig deep, you'll find that you're witnessing a horror story realistically portraying the struggles facing American pioneers. Ever growing in tension as the tale of our settlers' search for water grows increasingly more perilous, Meek's Cutoff turns into an edge-of-your-seat nailbiter unlike any film I've ever seen simply because it achieves this uneasiness by plunging the viewers into the utterly monotonous world of the settlers who begin to question whether their trek is a worthy one. It's an odd flick, but one that is rather ingenious in the way it tells its tale.
Key to the film's success is a cast of only nine actors who, for the most part, prove to be quite adept at showcasing the desperation of American settlers. The film's poster places the focus squarely on Michelle Williams and while it could certainly be said that she is the main character, her role as the headstrong (although never too "modern" in manner to seem out of place in the 1840s) Emily Tetherow never gives the film an overtly feminist tone that I thought I was going to see based on previews. Emily is still a woman who "obeys" her new husband, Solomon (a solemn and subdued Will Patton), but isn't afraid to express her views on how to find a watering hole.
It is her views on that very subject that are the impetus behind the flick's overarching predicament. Does the group of seven settlers follow their rugged and cocky guide Meek (a brilliantly offbeat Bruce Greenwood) who boasts about his abilities but has yet to really showcase his brilliance or the spiritual Native American (Ron Rondeaux) that they have captured whom they can't understand and may simply be leading them to their demise? Emily has her own thoughts on which man to follow and, needless to say, the group doesn't entirely agree with her.
The film looks stunning (great work from cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt). The first ten minutes are nearly dialog-free shots of our group of settlers living off of the land and traveling through the arid landscapes of the American Northwest. However, at the beginning of the film, director Kelly Reichardt often sets her camera outside of group conversations so that unless we turn the volume up full tilt, we're really unable to hear what's going on. After having seen the film, I now completely comprehend that in these scenes, we the viewers are supposed to be like the women traveling in the group, only able to hear bits and pieces of the conversations of the men...but it just irked me more than anything else. As the film progresses and Emily becomes a bit more forceful in having her opinions be heard, the viewers begin to hear all the goings-on and these sound issues become much less frequent.
I know full well that many will watch Meek's Cutoff and think it is one of the most boring films they've ever seen (that's assuming they even make it through the first thirty minutes). They may scream, "Nothing happens!" and, on the surface, I wouldn't be able to disagree with them. [And I should readily admit that there were moments towards the very beginning where I was doubtful I would make it through this one.] To me, though, I find it to be a great (and probably as realistic as you're going to get) glimpse at the life of a roving American settler in the mid 1800s. It's in this reality that the tension mounts and, like life itself, things aren't always tied up in a neat little bow in the end.
Starring Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Chris Henry Coffey, Viola Davis, and Liana Liberato
Directed by David Schwimmer
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
There is no denying that David Schwimmer's (yes, the same Schwimmer of Friends fame) 2nd directorial effort, Trust, is a difficult film to sit through. But this intense look at the aftereffects of a fourteen year-old girl's rape by a pedophile she meets in a chat room is simply riveting in that Schwimmer (and the screenwriters) focus not on the heinous crime itself (although that is uncomfortably witnessed in part as well) but on the repercussions the event causes both the victim and her family. Certainly aiding in this portrayal is a riveting performance from newcomer Liana Liberato in her first feature film who, as the young victim Annie, manages to create an amazingly complex character whose emotions and actions never seem forced or faked.
There's a naive innocence (or perhaps, looking at it from another angle, an advanced maturity) to Annie when we first see her in the film. She's well aware of other girls her age sleeping around (or at least saying that they do), but when confronted with situations that make her uncomfortable, she has the smarts to get out of them. For that very reason, it hurts us to see her begin to walk down the path she does with her online buddy Charlie. When she first begins chatting with the guy in a volleyball chatroom, Charlie tells her that he's fifteen, but then soon reveals he's a sophomore in college which then becomes a first year grad student. Annie's angry that she's being lied to, but she appreciates the attention Charlie is giving her seeing as how her parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) are somewhat preoccupied with getting her brother prepared for his first semester of college. Eventually, Annie agrees to meet Charlie (at a mall - a conspicuous location which further shows Annie's got a decent head on her shoulders) which is when she discovers that Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) is probably veering closer to thirty-five than twenty-five. Uncomfortable with the situation, but somewhat charmed by his smooth talking and feeling that she can trust him, Annie heads with Charlie to a local hotel and the unthinkable happens.
But that's just the first act. What follows is a complex look at a girl who feels as if she's been betrayed by everyone around her. Not only do Annie's parents and friends begin acting differently around her after the crime is discovered, but the man who said he loved her refuses to return her texts and calls. Seemingly alone in the world, young Liana Liberato gives a rather brilliant performance as Annie and that alone is worth the price of admission here. Liberato is intelligent, sympathetic, tough, sarcastic, humorous, heartbroken, and a bunch of other adjectives, but she takes this kitchen sink of emotions thrown at her and excels at every single moment shifting through them with ease. My heart broke for this character multiple times and ultimately that connection is what you hope for in a movie. [There's one scene in particular towards the film's conclusion in which Annie realizes that she's fooled herself into thinking this was "love" rather than "rape" that is just gutwrenching and Liberato is simply remarkable in it.]
One can't help but feel for the parents in situations like this as well and Clive Owen and Catherine Keener give some of the best performances I've ever seen from them. Keener's Lynn is devastated by the news, but is also angry that her husband Will seems hellbent on finding the rapist and punishing him himself. Despite his best efforts at leaving the crime-solving to the FBI, Clive Owen's Will is just as tortured as his daughter in a certain respect. This notion that he let down his family and failed to be the protector devastates him and proves to be harrowingly emotional in the film's final moments. But, if the film falters a bit, it is in the character of Will whose vengeful father sometimes seems to take things a step too far. Adding to this is the fact that Will is an advertising exec whose firm is finalizing a deal with a clothing company that sexualizes its young models and it feels like sometimes the character (via the screenwriters) is hitting us over the head with preachiness. Still, to me, these issues prove to be moderately minor qualms in the midst of the other overwhelmingly positive aspects.
With additional help from screenwriters Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger and some nice supporting performances including one from the calming and understanding Viola Davis as a psychiatrist helping Annie, Trust never stoops to exploiting the crime itself but instead explores its aftermath and the incredibly complicated plethora of feelings that a young victim such as Annie goes through. Congrats to director David Schwimmer. One can only hope that people will discover this film as time goes on. Not that the subject matter would have led to boffo box office, I can't help but think that it's a shame this one fell by the wayside completely as it would have been wonderful to have young Liana Liberato's name being mentioned as awards season rolled around in the upcoming months.
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Seth Rogen
Directed by Greg Mottola
Right off the bat I need to say that Paul isn't quite the movie I expected it to be. Based off of previews, I was thinking I was in for some Pineapple Express-like stoner comedy with a pot-smoking extraterrestrial. Instead, I got an oddly heartwarming romp about two British guys and an alien. While I'm certainly pleased that the movie veered towards the latter description than the former, it's still a flick that attempts to be a comedy, but provided me with only two or three laughs which isn't nearly acceptable.
Leaving California after visiting the geek heaven of Comic-Con, vacationing Brits Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) decide to trek across the Southwest in an old RV stopping at places prominent in alien folklore. Late at night, the duo witness a car veer off the road and crash. When stopping to help, they realize that the car was not driven by a human, but rather an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who's on the run from government agencies looking to snag some of his stem cells in order to better understand his kind. Somewhat reluctantly, Graeme and Clive agree to help Paul make it back to his spacecraft to return home to his planet.
Performances across the board (for the most part) are certainly enjoyable. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) are both incredibly likable and shockingly (and pleasantly) low key. They stand in contrast to Kristen Wiig's Ruth Buggs, playing a conservative Christian who gets picked up by traveling trio, who comes off as much too over-the-top amongst everyone else in the cast. Truth be told, her character is incredibly one-note when compared to everyone else, so I'm not quite sure if the blame can solely be placed on the oftentimes overacting Wiig.
Seth Rogen's voicework on the title character is amusing and rather charming. Yes, he's crude at times, but Paul's a genuinely nice guy and his rapport with Graeme and Clive is always a positive aspect of the film. Additionally, kudos to the special effects craftsmen -- Paul never once comes across as an animated character amidst a sea of real-life humans.
In a movie that's an ode to the Spielberg and Lucas classics of the late 70s/early 80s, it shouldn't be entirely surprising that the film skews a bit sweet and charming. Still, Paul tries to derive a good chunk of its humor from crudeness which just doesn't mesh with the overarching tone of the entire film for me. Yes, it would've been a completely different film and its R-rating would've been unnecessary, but I can't help but think it would've been a better overall tale. As it stands now, Paul is a confusing film for this reviewer in that I liked a good chunk of it and find myself thinking rather fondly of it, but can't help but think that a change in tone would've created a much better movie.
Starring Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Heard
Directed by Penny Marshall
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Awakenings is a pleasant enough film that I remember liking a little better the first time I watched it (probably fifteen years ago) than I did this time around. Don't be mistaken...the true story of Dr. Malcolm Sayer's work with chronically ill patients is an interesting tale. The problem lies in the fact that director Penny Marshall's film lacks a real momentum, taking a bit too long to get started and finding itself hampered by the fact Robin Williams's portrayal of Sayer is much too dry and bland to hold one's attention in the first third of the flick.
About forty-five minutes in, however, Awakenings takes a turn for the better as Dr. Sayer begins testing an experimental treatment on Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro), a man whom as a youth became inflicted with encephalitis causing him to lose all bodily control leaving him in a nearly comatose state. Sayer realizes that, like Lowe, the patients in the chronically ill ward still maintain their reflexes in their current state. Despite being catatonic, their minds are "still present" despite the fact that, for the most part, they're unable to communicate. Through this newfound special treatment, Leonard finds himself soon being able to function just like any normal human being and finds himself attempting to make up for the nearly thirty years he'd been unable to be "normal."
As I said, the biggest issue with the movie is that at its beginning, Robin Williams's Malcolm Sayer just wasn't a character worth crafting a film around. He's nearly a "nervous nelly," uncomfortable in seemingly every social interaction he encounters, appearing almost wall-flowerish amongst a sea of more interesting characters. Even the patients in the catatonic states were exhibiting more pizzazz than Williams. Admittedly, I don't really think it's the fault of Williams. The screenplay plays up his character as an unexciting homebody who likes to study plants in his spare time...not a whole lot to work with there.
However, once De Niro's Leonard comes into play, Williams's Sayer becomes much more comfortable in the role. And that's partly due to the fact that De Niro is pretty great here and makes everyone around him even better. As a grown man who hasn't really been alive for thirty years, when Leonard awakens for the first time, De Niro is forced to play a "grown up child," unaware of what happened in the three decades that have escaped him. Perhaps it's just because I'm used to De Niro slumming it in his roles as of late, but it's nice to see that the guy actually has some acting ability to fall back on should his disastrous Focker roles dry up in the upcoming years.
Starring Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano, Reece Thompson, and Lee Pace
Directed by Max Winkler ***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Ceremony is a quirky little dramedy that I'm sure 99% of people never heard of, and while admittedly it's not exactly a movie that deserves a ton of recognition, it was an interesting enough diversion for me not to be ticked off that I wasted my time watching it. That said, it's not without some story issues that end up .
Starting off rather promisingly, Ceremony follows early twentysomething friends Sam (Michael Angarano) and Marshall (Reece Thompson) as they trek to a coastal town for a weekend getaway. While Marshall thinks it's an opportunity to spend time with his buddy who has been preoccupied over the past year with writing his latest children's book, Sam's intent of the trip is to crash the wedding of the slightly older Zoe (Uma Thurman) with whom he had a relationship a few years ago. While Zoe still feels something for the younger Sam, she can't help but feel that their May-December romance would be doomed to fail despite her beau's attempts to woo her away from her documentary filmmaker fiancé Whit (Lee Pace).
Yes, there are moments where the oddball characters are too bizarre to be believed, but fortunately Michael Angarano is a rather charming leading guy. There's no doubt that his Sam is an unrealistic person, but Angarano sells the assertive romantic who's much more insecure than his hellbent attitude causes him to appear. Certainly the nucleus of the film, had Angarano failed, the flick would've been a disaster, but he managed to win me over from the opening scene and surprisingly carried the peculiar charm throughout.
In the grand scheme of things, Uma Thurman's Zoe is almost a throwaway...and that's partly where the film falls apart. In the end, Ceremony is a movie that's absolutely should be about the Sam-Zoe relationship, but much too much focus is placed upon Sam's failing friendship with Marshall. While the insecure Marshall was certainly an amusing character (and the nearly polar opposite of the headstrong Sam), the film isn't really about this duo and first time director-writer Max Winkler can't find the adequate balance between these two people in Sam's life.
Featuring the voices of Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Cheech Marin, and Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Having not seen The Lion King in probably more than a decade, I was looking forward to revisiting it upon its two-week limited engagement back in theaters in order to promote its upcoming 3D Blu-Ray release. The flick was never a huge favorite of mine and, as I discovered, my thoughts really haven't changed on that matter.
Don't get me wrong. The Lion King is a solid member of Disney's animation canon, but something just doesn't connect with me here and although I admittedly have a difficult time figuring out what my issue is with it, I think it stems from the fact that nothing in this movie is a stand-out. Everything skates by being better than average, but nothing screams "EXCELLENT" which, ultimately is a detriment that likely keeps this film outside of my Top Ten Disney Movies of All Time. [A list, by the way, which I need to get to one of these days on this blog.]
Let's look at the story, for starters. Despite a few amazing moments -- the stampede, the "Circle of Life" number, Scar as an overall villain -- the film feels too bogged down in metaphysical gobbledy-gook. Despite the fact that Rafiki is an amusing character, his swami-style New Age-y vibe gets under my craw at times. Additionally, I can' help but feel that Simba much too quickly agrees to return home upon his reunion with Nala. I just feel like there's no conflict there for him to overcome in order to want to return home. In general, Simba as an adult feels greatly underdeveloped and, with Simba as your main character, that's a bit of a problem. [The less said about the slow motion finale battle sequence the better...I'll just say it comes off as a horrible choice by the animators and it's almost laughable nearly two decades later.]
Music-wise, "Circle of Life" is stellar and "Be Prepared" is deliciously evil, but "I Just Can't Wait to Be King is a colorful disappointment, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" furthers the lack of development in the adult Simba as I mentioned above, and "Hakuna Matata," while funny, will always be the song in which Disney crafted a tune around bodily odors. Still, I remember thinking when this first came out that there was a lack of songs in this flick (and considering this came out in the era of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin this definitely has the least amount of songs in a Disney animated flick at that time). This time around, though, I feel like the songs are appropriately spaced and never seem out of place. The addition of more songs (like "The Morning Report" which was tacked on for the dvd release and thankfully doesn't show up in this theatrical rerelease) would have felt like overkill.
But enough about the criticisms...let's focus on some positives. Firstly, the humor here is better than I remembered. I worried that Timon and Pumbaa would come across as annoying sidekicks, but their one-liners were still quite successful. Similarly, the hyenas -- Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed -- were also just as funny as I remembered them and were quite effective.
The voice talent is also certainly a positive here. Jonathan Taylor Thomas as the young Simba probably has the most difficult part acting-wise, having to range from childhood innocence to sheer despair, and he's quite successful. Ratcheting up the humor, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella are the perfect duo in Timon and Pumbaa. Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin are also stand-outs as the aforementioned hyenas. And, despite the fact that I'm not a big fan of the character, Robert Guillaume brings a unique spin to the baboon Rafiki.
But perhaps the best part of the film and the reason it works as well as it does lies in Jeremy Irons's Scar. A perfect meld of voice acting, character design, animation, and story, Scar is one fantastic villain -- a stand-out amongst Disney films. Over-the-top at times, Scar is quite the campy theatrical villain...but I mean that in the most positive way (and considering the flick is loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, perhaps the screenwriters drew some inspiration from the Bard's evildoers).
The Lion King is certainly a successful animated film, but (and I realize I'm probably alone in this assessment) it's simply not a standout to me in the Disney pantheon. A good premise filled with some amazing moments, but it doesn't quite add up to a great film.
[As far as the 3D goes...the less said, the better, I guess. It's not the the film looks bad (and if 3D is what it takes to see this up on the big screen again then so be it), but I think I'm over the 3D fad. There has yet to be a 3D film that matches the genius of the experiences you have when you see the short 3D movies at theme parks. Granted, those flicks go for gimmickry, but in the end, isn't 3D a gimmick in and of itself? I want the gimmicks when I watch something in 3D and 99% of the time, they aren't present in theatrically released 3D.]
[It also should be noted that, in the grand scheme of things, I feel like I've maybe been spoiled by seeing Broadway's version of The Lion King twice since I last watched the film. Considering that the Broadway musical is perhaps the best thing I've seen on stage makes the film a bit more of a letdown for me. The play manages to significantly improve the role of Simba which is a big step up from the film.]
Starring Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman, and Molly Dunsworth
Directed by Jason Eisener
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Um...where to even begin with this one? Well, let's start by saying that the title of the film pretty much says it all. After he hops off a train in the lawless Hope Town, the Hobo (who, it should be noted is simply called "Hobo" throughout the flick) decides that he needs to take matters into his own hands to rid the town of The Drake (Brian Downey), a megalomaniacal crazyman who, along with his two sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) wreak havoc on the city. So, the Hobo (Rutger Hauer) purchases a shotgun and takes matters into his own hands.
Hobo with a Shotgun is an awful film...but it means to be. Meant to be an homage to the violent 1970s grindhouse-style flicks, it certainly never will be mistaken for a good movie. But, in its own ways, it's an interesting watch. It's gratuitously bloody, ridiculously over-the-top, and horribly acted for the most part...but those are all characteristics of 1970s exploitation flicks. The problem, in an odd way, is that Rutger Hauer's Hobo is almost too well-acted to be a part of this movie. His gritty portrayal is quite subdued and when everything else around him is so completely unbelievable, there are too many hints of realness in his character to make him a perfect fit in the movie. About halfway through the flick, I was hoping to spend more time with the Hobo than the rather silly villains who made portions of the flick unbearable. In fact, by the time the film's final thirty minutes rolls around, the whole thing just becomes a bit too over-the-top for my tastes. (Once I saw the giant octopus, I checked out.)
Still, I can imagine that this would be a funny film to watch with a group of people who have imbibed on perhaps one too many alcoholic beverages. And while I didn't hate this movie, it's certainly not anything I'd need to watch ever again.
Starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Rosemarie Dewitt, and Kevin Costner
Directed by John Wells
The Company Men is certainly a movie "for our times" as it weaves the tale of three corporate employees who lose their jobs due to downsizing. While the flick may be entirely relevant in this period of high unemployment rates, it's simply not a very good story. Its three main characters have the exact trajectories one would expect -- I had each of their resolutions pegged right at the get-go -- and writer-director John Wells isn't able to manage to keep things the least bit interesting.
Nursing a Boston accent that (considering his roots) surprisingly wavers, Ben Affleck is Bobby, "the young one" of the bunch who loses his white collar job when his company downsizes. Finding it difficult to give up all he's had -- the country club membership, the Porsche, the fancy house -- he begins to have trouble supporting his family. But Bobby isn't the only one who loses his job. Fifty-something Phil (Chris Cooper) also gets the ax and it's blatantly evident from the very beginning that Phil's a guy that's not gonna handle things like this all that well. The road he travels down is one that has been travelled by many a movie character and while it's believable, it's too obvious to come as a surprising turn of events. Finally, Bobby and Phil's boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) gets the boot, but finds that perhaps his firing may have been a blessing in disguise.
The biggest problem with The Company Men is that despite the fact that there could have been something quite substantive based on the subject manner, the film flounders in blandness. The flick needs more bite and oomph, but instead Bobby, Phil, and Gene feel like simply "stock character types" pulled from some "Screenwriting 101" class. There's a story to be told in grown men losing their jobs and being forced to reexamine their lives, but it's certainly not a story that's told well here.
The Personal Canon is a recurring column highlighting my favorite films of all time. While they may not necessarily be "A" rated, they are the movies that, for some reason or another, hold a special place in my filmgoing experience.
United 93 (2006)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
I knew no one personally affected by the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001, but in the grand scheme of things, all of us Americans were impacted by the events in one way or another. I will not hide the fact that watching these memorial services in these days leading up to the tenth anniversary makes me slightly emotional. Eyes well up, maybe even a tear falls...the whole thing hits at the patriotic core of me and many others. And while there were many heroes involved in both the tragedies that occurred in New York City and Washington, D.C., on that fateful day ten years ago, those passengers on the fourth hijacked plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were also patriots of the highest caliber. Director Paul Greengrass' United 93 is their story...and, in a very broad sense, it's the story of all of us Americans, caught up in the sheer chaos of that day, completely on edge not knowing what was going to come next. It's not an easy film to watch -- nor is it one I necessarily will feel the need to watch on any type of regular basis -- but it's a film that is simply amazing in a cinematic sense. Not only does it affect me personally on a visceral level, but I also think it's a fantastically well-made film.
The story of the passengers and crew is already well known so there's no need to discuss the premise of United 93, so let's instead focus on the experience as a film. Paul Greengrass (best known for directing the final two installments of the Bourne series) is masterful in both his writing and direction of this flick. Fast-paced and moving at a rapid click, Greengrass utilizes a handheld camera, but never allows it to get to a sickening shaky level. Jumping back and forth between the goings-on inside of the United 93 aircraft and the reactions of the air traffic controllers and governmental armed services responding to the hijacked aircraft, Greengrass creates a sense of unease, uncomfortableness, and tension. Certainly aiding the film's flow, the events are presented in real time once United 93 lifts off the ground and the sense of distress is immensely palpable with each frame of the film further intensifying what we the viewers already know is the inevitable conclusion.
Oddly (and surprisingly effectively), Greengrass never introduces us to any of the characters by name. Much like the passengers themselves wouldn't have known each other, we in the audience look at the heroic group as one entity. The choice of choosing no big name actors (and in certain cases casting the actual air traffic controllers on duty that day and real life flight attendants to create authenticity) certainly aids in bringing about this sense of "group one-ness" rather than a notion of "individualized" people.Still, we still find ourselves connecting with each person as they make their final phone calls to their loved ones and as they begin to formulate their plans to bring down the terrorists. We will never know exactly what went on during United 93's journey, but Greegrass culls believable dialog and actions from the real life phone calls made by the passengers. There are no knights in shining armor here, just "real" people responding to events they never thought they'd be a part of. Despite the lack of star power, it's a superbly well-acted film with every single actor performing at top notch levels.
Banding together, denying the terrorists their victory, and sacrificing themselves in the process, the flight and crew of United 93 were certainly heroes and director Paul Greengrass tells their story in a documentary-type manner that singles none of them out. United 93 is not a film that everyone is going to be able to watch. It's intense and at times agonizing to view, but simply from a cinematic standpoint it really is a marvel. When you couple the fantastic film aspects with a story that simply touches the heart of me as an American, you get a film that is an important one. Granted, it's one that I don't need to watch for another several years due to the sheer displeasure of the story itself, but it's a film that I imagine I'll revisit in time to get a glimpse at the true patriots that were aboard that fateful flight. While there may be more to come, United 93 is by far the best cinematic account thus far of the events that Tuesday morning ten years ago.
Starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Johnny Simmons, and Alexis Bledel
Directed by Robert Redford
A supposed metaphor for justice in this post-9/11 society, Robert Redford's The Conspirator never once manages to be anything but dull. While Redford culls some confident performances from James McAvoy and Robin Wright, neither of the two actors is able to lift this interesting (and little told) story into anything other than a stodgy and stuffy period piece.
When Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, it is discovered that John Wilkes Booth was only one of several people who had conspired to commit the crime. Boarding house owner Mary Surratt (Wright) is one of those accused conspirators and she is put on trial at a military tribunal. Her lawyer is fresh-faced Frederick Aiken (McAvoy), a young 27-year old former Union soldier, assigned the case despite his misgivings and distrust of Surratt. As the trial goes on, Aiken rightfully begins to believe that the government is doing whatever it takes (true justice be damned) to convict Surratt and quell the fears of the American public who are supposedly in turmoil after the assassination.
As I stated above, the story is an interesting piece of American history that isn't often told. (Although, that being said, considering Redford's admitted attempt to mirror what he feels are misdeeds going on with post-9/11 trials, I'm unsure how accurate of a portrayal this really is.) However, everything about this film just feels staged. The sets and lighting seem unnatural. With the exception of McAvoy and Wright, the acting seems over-the-top and scene-chewing. It certainly doesn't help matters that the pacing is slow as molasses either. There's a reason people often aren't fans of period pieces and this dreary, labored movie is an example of why that's the case.
"New York. My beautiful, gleaming, wounded city." So begins The Guys, likely one of (if not) the first film take on the 9/11 tragedy. As we near the tenth anniversary of this day that changed our country forever, I wanted to take a look at a cinematic take of the event. Taking place in the days immediately following that fateful Tuesday in 2001, The Guys (based on a play by Anne Nelson) focuses on an editor named Joan (Sigourney Weaver) who helps fire chief Nick Costello (Anthony LaPaglia) write eulogies for the members of his company that died that day.
Despite two very good performances including a particularly excellent and sometimes heartbreaking turn from Anthony LaPaglia's guilt-ridden fire chief Nick, the flick feels a little uneven. Nick's character arc is certainly touching and well-written, but the role of Joan is a much trickier one and it's here where The Guys falters. To me, Joan (who narrates the picture) is presented as being the heart of the film (and I'm not so sure that's a positive). Here is a New Yorker who, despite not knowing anyone who was closely affected by the attacks, was deeply affected by that day's events. By talking with Nick and doing what she does best -- writing -- she manages to express her feelings as well. While I fully accept and acknowledge that she is deserving of feeling grief, her pain ends up paling in comparison to that of Nick and I think the film attempts to place the two characters on an equal playing field in that department. I'm not making a judgment as to whether their respective grief should be equal or not, but if the film was attempting to try and state that (which in some ways, I think it was), it just doesn't succeed in showing us an equivalent grief in Joan. Bookending scenes with Joan spouting some odd thought probably worked very well on stage (and probably made the two characters more of an "equal"), but in the film, it just doesn't work.
The Guys isn't a bad film. In fact, I give it much credit for coming out so soon after the tragedy. It's a simple glimpse into the lives of two different New Yorkers days after the events of 9/11. Still, when that list of firefighters who gave their lives rolls by at the film's end, you can't help but get a little choked up even if the flick doesn't succeed on all levels.
Starring Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, and Chris Elliot
Directed by George P. Cosmatos
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Don't ask. I don't know why Leviathan was ever in my Netflix queue, but it was. And it popped up as a new Instant Watch flick and I was in the mood for cheese, so I put it on. A mix of Alien and The Thing taking place on an underwater deep-sea mining vessel, this thing is silly, pointless, yet kept my interest for a good chunk of it. There's some craziness involving some sunken Russian ship that somehow houses a human genetic mutation that manages to get aboard this US vessel and wreaks havoc on the crew.
Leviathan is anything but original. It comes complete with "alien life form breaking through the sternum of a human" a la its sci-fi predecessor Alien, but it at least knows that it's hokey...although it actually could've stood to be a little more tongue-in-cheek.
By no means am I saying Leviathan is any good, but I guess you could fare worse. That said, I'm kind of in the mood to watch Deep Blue Sea now for some reason...and that's coming to Instant Watch very soon...
Starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, and Guillaume Canet
Directed by Massy Tadjedin
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
Temptation is what Last Night is all about. Joanna and Michael (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) already seem to be simply going through the motions of being a married couple after only a few years of being betrothed. After a squabble one night, each of them finds themselves in a position to stray from their spouse -- Michael with his beautiful co-worker Laura (Eva Mendes) and Joanna with her French ex-boyfriend Alex (Patrick Dempsey's Gallic doppelganger Guillaume Canet). Will Joanna or Michael succumb to the allure of another or will they remember why they fell for each other in the first place?
Considering the fairly decent stars on display in Last Night, it's rather shocking to me that it received a wide release of only ten -- that's right, ten -- theaters back in May. It'd be one thing if the film was a dud, but director/screenwriter Massy Tadjedin's first effort as an auteur is actually a very nice glimpse at a relationship faced with outside temptations. While not without a few issues -- Tadjedin has an odd way of editing certain scenes with some pointlessly quick cuts, the first half hour hinges on tedium -- the film is overall quite a success in that it manages to have us root for this couple that we just met ninety minutes prior.
If anything, Last Night shows the public that Sam Worthington may actually prove to be a rather decent actor. We certainly didn't get a great glimpse at his acting chops in Avatar, but here he proves that without hundreds of millions of dollars of special effects, he's actually a rather thoughtful, subdued, and talented actor. Keira Knightley continues to act with her chin and lower jaw, trying to convey a tough exterior by moving her mandible around into odd positions. Still, despite this crutch of hers, her Joanna is a complicated character and she sinks her teeth into probably her best role in a while.
Add to that, this has got one heck of a final moment that I imagine will end up on the RyMickey Best Scenes list at the end of the year. It ends the flick on such an interesting note that the mere thirty seconds at the end make up for a bit of a lackluster start. (I actually rewound it to give it a second glance, I thought it was that clever.) Last Night is definitely worth an instant watch on Netflix.
Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Cherry Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by Jodie Foster
I've said this before in a previous review of one of his films, but what Mel Gibson does outside of a cinematic setting is one thing...I still like him greatly as an actor (and director, for that matter). In The Beaver, Gibson's first foray into acting since his most recent meltdown in which he berated his girlfriend, the actor takes on a role that seems rather suited for him in his current situation -- a depressed guy wanting to hide away from the world. Although married to a seemingly lovely wife (Jodie Foster) with whom he has two sons and despite being the top exec at a promising toy company, Walter Black is in a funk. Seriously forlorn, his wife Meredith kicks him out of the house, unable to deal with his lack of attention to his family. While throwing away some of his belongings in a dumpster, he comes across a beaver hand puppet, which, after he places it on his hand, becomes Walter's sole way of communicating with other people.
Right off the bat, The Beaver has an incredibly odd premise that seemingly would lend itself to comedy (or dark comedy at the very least). However, this is where the Jodie Foster-directed film ends up faltering the greatest. It's obvious that the ultimate goal of the flick was to find a balance between drama and humor, but the comedy never really made itself known. Foster simply can't foster the humor and it creates an uneven tone that never works itself out.
It's unfortunate, really, because Mel Gibson is actually pretty darn good here. Perhaps by studying the accent of his Edge of Darkness co-star Ray Winstone, Gibson's rough-around-the-edges British accent that he spouts whenever speaking as the puppet is spot on. But there's certainly more to his performance than an accent. This'll sound corny, but there was something in Gibson's eyes in this movie that just said all that needed to be said. While Gibson was spouting the Beaver's lines, the eyes of Walter were displaying what the character truly felt -- a man struggling with trying to find who he once was and how he possibly could have sunk so low.
While I placed a bit of the blame on Foster above, I think the film's biggest problem is a script that just doesn't quite know where it wants to go. To me, this thing would've worked infinitely better as a clever short 30-minute flick, but when the movie tries to expand its landscape by delving into the life of Walter and Meredith's eldest son Porter and his burgeoning relationship with the school valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence) who has troubles of her own, the whole thing falls flat.
There's part of me that wants to tell you to rent The Beaver simply because Gibson's performance is worthy of viewing. However, heed the warning that you won't really be seeing a quality film to go along with it.
Starring Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Aly Michalka, Frances Fisher, and Billy Zane
Directed by Christian E. Christiansen
Fatal Attraction meets Single White Female in The Roommate, a teenage spin on obsession. The acting here from Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly -- two ladies whom I'm not familiar with in the slightest -- as, respectively, the crazy one and the one who feels the brunt of the lunatic's insanity is pretty much as bland as could be. Add to that the complete lack of suspense and the failure to up the "cheese factor" (AKA "so bad they're good moments") until the film's ridiculous finale and this is on the lower rung of teen horror flicks (which we all know, for the most part, occupy quite a low rung most of the time anyway).
To be completely honest, I think I wrote this movie already in seventh grade. It was a masterpiece about an obsession between two high school gals -- one crazy and one sane -- I called FRIeND (yes, the 'e' was lowercase for some reason) crafted back in those days when I thought I was actually good at creative writing. I think it may be time to look back on the heaps of corny horror "novels" I wrote and see if I can make it in Hollywood. It's not like it can be a whole lot worse than this dreck they're producing nowadays.