Monday, September 28, 2009

'Bright Star'

'Bright Star' (PG) **1/2

Writer: Jane Campion based loosely based on Andrew Morton's biography "Keats"
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerrie Fox

I love poetry and I love trying to write poetry but love poems are hard to create because of the passion and dedication that has to come deep from the heart. A good woman that inspires you would be a good start and I can see why the poet John Keats would be inspired by Fanny the main character here played wonderfully by breakout actress Abbie Cornish. Fanny and Keats brief love affair is directed by Jane Campion who always has strong female characters at the center of her films. Campion does a good job of capturing this friendship that turns into an everlasting love. There were no letters or material left over from that time so Campion's job is to create Fanny from scratch. She does a great job and she is helped immensely by Abbie Cornish who you might hear a lot from in the future. Catch her performance in "Stop/Loss" and then this movie and you will definitely see her acting range and intelligence with the two performances. She can look different in every shot from being naturally beautiful, plain to captivating from one moment to the next. Ben Whishaw is also very good as Keats and Campion knows how to place her camera and capture this romance effectively. She gets great performances and if you love poetry you will get involved with this passionate romance.

So why didn't I love this movie? I wanted to but I really wasn't moved until the last half hour even though I loved watching Cornish. I felt the movie came alive at the end but I thought it was cold and and a little too proper in the first half. I felt the passion of the romance didn't kick in for me until the end. That doesn't mean that the movie fails because my reasons for the disconnect might be my own hang ups. First I know that their relationship starts out as a friendship and blooms into a passionate love affair but I still thought the movie could have been more passionate in the set up. I am also used to Campion's eccentric style and energy like she accomplished on "The Piano" and "Sweetie". I felt that she was too constrained and muted here which is fine but not what I expected from her. I like when a director tries to branch out and expand on her style but here I think it needed more of her offbeat passion. I never though felt an emotional connection to the material like I have with other fine movies about poets. Though Abbie Cornish is amazing here capturing the admiration of Keats that turns from friendship to an undying love that knows no boundaries. Keats and Fanny's brief but passionate love might have been short but it had more depth than most longer loves. I just wanted to feel more here and I just didn't feel connected. I must add that Paul Schneider is excellent as Keats friend Charles Brown. Schneider has been in small parts in numerous films and based on this performance I would like to see more of him in the future.. This movie is a good rental on a big screen TV when it comes on DVD.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Shoot the Moon'

'Shoot the Moon' (R) (82) ****

Writer: Bo Goldman
Director: Alan Parker
Starring: Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen, Peter Weller, Dana Hill, Tracey Gold, Tina Yothers

Alan Parker's "Shoot the Moon" comes from what I think was one of the golden years of cinema where almost all of my top ten list wound up on my best of the decade list. To think that the overrated "Gandhi" would steal away Best Picture at the Academy Awards in one of the greatest crimes in award history. Okay sorry about the rant but "Shoot the Moon" is hands down the best movie ever made about divorce. It contains great scenes of emotion and power that are real and not phony or contrived or laughable. This movie never takes a wrong step from first frame to last. It contains one of Albert Finney's best performances and an equally strong one by Diane Keaton who should have won Best Actress that year (yes even over Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice"). Her portrayal of a betrayed wife dealing with her sorrow, anger and emotions of her children is so real and lived in. Her scene with Peter Weller pre "Robocop" after a dinner as they drink wine, listen to music and kiss is one of the sexiest and most beautiful seduction scenes ever on film. This movie will pull no punches and captures every nuance, pain and emotion that goes through a divorce.

I saw this right at the same time my parents got divorced and it nails it. I cried a lot watching it then and every time I watch it I cry. The movie is quiet and that is such a strength because we can feel the anger and emotion unraveling as we can also hear a pin drop. So when an explosive scene is about to erupt the quiet adds to the suspense. There are also very funny moments and not all is dark because this feels like real life. The movie takes it's time building and telling it's story so we can take in the great performances and characters. The ending was criticized for being too abrupt and shifting in tone like it didn't fit. I think the ending is perfect and like a real divorce there can't really be a satisfactory happy ending. Issues can not be resolved and tied up in a little bow so we feel happy. The ending has a life goes on feel and is powerful for leaving us with doubts of whether anything good can come out of this divorce and it is a powerful, raw scene. Some of the best movies have endings that leave us wanting more and "Shoot the Moon" is one of my 100 favorite movies of all time. It is now on DVD and I urge everyone to check it out.


'Fame' (R) (80) ***

Writer: Christopher Gore
Director: Alan Parker
Starring: Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller, Jim Moody

Looking back at the 1980's version of "Fame" , you could tell it was made at the end of the 70's in it's feel and look. Now that a new version of "Fame" is approaching in theatres I wanted to take a look back at the 80's version. "Fame" was directed by the great Alan Parker and it is not one of his strongest films. Though I am glad he directed it because otherwise it could have been a cheesy mess. I remember the title song and how catchy and good it was and the big dance sequence on the streets which is very well directed and choreographed. That is a great scene but this movie is going to thrive on the characters and whether we want to follow them which will be true of the new version. I must say I did find these characters somewhat interesting even though there are many cliches and some unintentional laughs. With the great direction by Parker we get involved in the stories and the movie becomes quite entertaining. There is good music and a great feel for what it was like to attend classes and to work for a dream that will only come to a select few. There is some good young talent including Irene Cara who does an adequate job. Also Paul McCrane (ER) and Barry Miller ( Francis Coppola films) would go on to have good careers. Parker would go on to make an even stronger musical film with some similarities in "The Commitments" years later. What this film does which the new version has to do is make us believe in and follow these characters so we wind up caring or it won't work at all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'The Informant!'

'The Informant!' (R) ***

Writer: Scott Z. Burns based on the book "The Informant (A True Story)" by Kurt Eichenwald
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Tom Wilson, Candy Clark

Steven Soderbergh has had an eclectic and rewarding career as a filmmaker and storyteller and he has found another different and quirky story here in "The Informant!" Matt Damon has also had various great roles in his career but this is his most different character and one of his best performances. He has put on a few pounds, put on some nerdy looking glasses and sports a weird head of hair as Mark Whitacre. It is quite different from the Jason Bourne character who was a killing machine. Mark Whitacre is just delusional, a pathological liar and a misguided loser. This is a very light but entertaining movie. This is not one of Soderbergh's deepest films and it isn't supposed to be. This is more along the lines of the Oceans movies with an offbeat sense of humor and great lines of dialogue which is rapid fire. This is an adult movie where the words are what is powerful and effective not actions. This could have been made in the 70's and have been a very good companion piece to some of the wonderfully written comedies of that period. One of the masterstrokes of this movie is the narration of the Whitacre character inside his head. Most of Damon's Oscar caliber performance shows it's greatness during this inner narration as he says things totally outrageous inside is head which in no way relates to what is going on outside his head. Damon really disappears in this role giving us a very strange and delusional man and he is captivating. Soderbergh shoots this like a 70's film and there is great support by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale as FBI agents who don't quite know how to figure Whitacre out. I could have done without the 70's game show music by Marvin Hamlish though. This is a funny and entertaining movie that is light and the best part of it are the performance by Damon and the sharp and funny dialogue. Steven Soderbergh makes this seem effortless and he has given us another winner,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

'Jennifer's Body'

'Jennifer's Body' (R) **

Writer: Diablo Cody
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Lance Henrickson, JK Simmons, Adam Brody

"Jennifer's Body" has a great talented writer in Diablo Cody, an ex stripper who won an Academy Award for writing the wonderful "Juno". It also has a hot new actress in Megan Fox but Fox and Cody can't get the job done in this one. This is a horror movie with Cody's pop culture references and witty quips that she uses in her writing. It is like the main character of Juno from that movie was transported to a horror movie but there is no fresh voice like Juno and no standout characters in this boring high school. I expected a sexy, over the top, gory and scary horror movie but this is too dull for that. Megan Fox isn't sexy enough and the movie surprisingly doesn't go for the jugular like Jennifer does. Yes there is a hot girl on girl kissing scene but it lasts for maybe three minutes. There is blood but why not go all out like Sam Raimi did for "Drag Me To Hell" earlier this year. Diablo Cody is very funny, cool and has a wild sense of humor so why isn't this more out there, bloodier, funnier and sexier? This is actually kind of tame and boring for a demonic and gory horror movie. The focus on the promotion for this movie has been Megan Fox and she is very beautiful and a lot of boys and men find her hot but she disappoints in this movie. If you viewed this movie and watched Fox for the first time you would wonder what all the fuss was about. Actually the other lead Amanda Seyfried is actually more beautiful and talented here playing the straight girl. Seyfried was glowing and beautiful and had a smile that lit up the screen in "Mama Mia" and she actually stole that movie from Meryl Streep. I find her the most interesting part of "Jennifer's Body" and now she has stolen two movies away from the leads. I think she may have a great career ahead of her. This movie is just a little roadblock for Seyfried and Cody on the way to better things.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze (1952-2009)

Hollywood lost a very charasmatic and decent actor and human being this past week in Patrick Swayze. He might have not been an outstanding actor but he was solid and had great screen presence. 'Dirty Dancing' made him a big star and he deserved it because his sex appeal in that was undeniable. Patrick started out in a small role in the televison show 'Mash' and a forgettable teen movie in 'Skate Town USA' (79). He emerged on the screen with a huge cast of heartthrobs and future great actors in Francis Coppola's adaptation of 'The Outsiders'. I think that movie is a beautiful, under rated and flawlessly directed masterpiece and Swayze was very good even though it was a small part. He did make people remember him though with that role and casting agents saw it too. He made a small forgettable movie in 'Grandview USA' but I thought he was excellent in it. That same year came 'Red Dawn' which is hokey, cheesy and laughable in spots but it wasn't forgettable and he stood out in that.

A nice start to a promising career but then a little period piece with a hot soundtrack and great appeal would put Swayze on the map and make him a leading man and that was 'Dirty Dancing'. Yes you could pick it apart and find many laughable and cheesy scenes and goofy dialogue but the movie was highly entertaining. Swayze showed he had great potential and shocked people with his outstanding dancing skills and maybe there was more to him than just sex appeal. Before Swayze's biggest hit there was a little gem called 'Roadhouse' that came out and this is one of the best bad movies ever made. 'Roadhouse' was loud, violent, cartoonish, silly, laughable but damn entertaining, 80's cheese at it's finest. I also could watch it over and over because it was a lot of fun. I love it becuase nowadays no one would have the balls to pull it off. Swayze now showed that he could fight and when the pretty blond doctor came to stitch him up Dalton was so tough that he didn't need a shot to numb the pain. Swayze then filmed just a plainly terrible movie in Chicago called 'Next of Kin' but then his second super hit came in the Academy Award nominated 'Ghost'. Swayze had great chemistry with Demi Moore and sold us on a tricky role of someone the other characters couldn't see. This is clearly his best performance and it proved to a lot of naysayers that he could act. This is a classic Hollywood tearjerker and commerical hit that catapaulted him even higher in stardom.

Swayze then made a hard hitting, action packed movie with 'Point Break' which also starred another huge star at the time in Keanu Reeves. This was a big budget action blockbuster that delivered even though there are a lot of unintentional laughs and plot holes. Swayze could fight, dance and make people cry now and he had the potential to keep it going even higher. He made a bold move next in doing a small independent drama in 'City of Joy' which was actually good and maybe contained his best performance even over 'Ghost' but the film was not successful. He then showed he could even stretch even further by actually going drag in 'Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar' which was bold but the movie was forgettable. Patrick's career started to slide a little after that but he came back with an interesting television show in 'The Beast' but it was kind of dull. Patrick Swayze might have not set the World on fire with his acting but he was a better actor than most people think and he got the job done. He will be missed because I actually think he could have had a good second career as a supporting character actor. So long Patrick and thanks for the good movies you gave us and for all the memories.

Patrick Swayze's Films

The Outsiders (83) ****
Red Dawn (84) **1/2
Grandview USA (84) **1/2
Dirty Dancing (87) ***
Road House (89) ***
Next of Kin (89) *1/2
Ghost (90) ***1/2
Break Point (91) ***
City of Joy (92) ***

'Inside Moves'

'Inside Moves' (R) (80) ****

Writers: Valerie Curtin & Barry Levinson Based on Novel by Todd Walton
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: John Savage, David Morse, Diana Scarwid, Harold Washington, Bert Remsen, Amy Wright, Tony Burton

One of the great joys of movies and why I love the art of film is when a movie sneaks up on you and blows you away. A movie that hooks you from the first frame to the last and gives you characters that stay with you forever. 'Inside Moves' did not get a big push or a big Hollywood release even though the director of 'Superman' made it. This is one of those movies that Hollywood is afraid to give the public. Thank God Diana Scarwid was nominated for an Oscar which she maybe should have won. It also introduced us to now one of the best character actors on the planet in David Morse. His lead performance in this should have been nominated for Best Actor. Morse went on to make the television show 'St. Elsewhere' and has been in numerous movies since. John Savage from 'Hair' and 'Do The Right Thing' also was tremendous but since 'Inside Moves' his acting has been labeled mannered by critics and success escaped him. Here though was a role perfectly suited for his method acting. Diana Scarwid instantly makes you fall in love with her character and I had a big crush on her at the time. All three are supported by a great cast of veterans in Bill Henderson, Harold Russell and Bert Remsen

The subject matter of this movie is tough as it deals with suicide and handicapped people trying to live a normal life but the movie is definitely uplifting. I watch it every so often and I always cry at the many powerful, sad and heartbreaking scenes. This is a tender movie with good people, good laughs and a good sense of the city it inhabits. This is a classic Hollywood tearjerker that surprisingly is not maudlin and that is mostly because of the great acting and wonderful directing by Richard Donner. Other than 'Lethal Weapon' this is Donner's best movie. Diana Scarwid creates a character that is one of my favorite female characters ever on screen and I was shocked that stardom eluded her. The ending might be a tad cheesy but this is a movie that sadly nobody knows about and it should be seeked out. It is now on DVD in a new presentation and there is a great featurette on how the movie was screened for an audience of handicapped people and how it choked up the original writer who was upset on how the movie was adapted. The power of movies is such that sometimes you are at home and you watch a movie that you know nothing about and somehow it hits you and stays with you forever. 'Inside Moves' is one of my all time favorite movies and I could have missed it. You should seek it out and not miss it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'True Blood'

'True Blood': Season 2 ****

Starring: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Nelsan Ellis, Michelle Forbes, Alexander Skarsgard, Rutina Wesley, Ryan Kwanten, Sam Trammell, William Sanderson, Evan Rachel Wood

What a wonderfully entertaining, sexy, fun, wild and glorious television show 'True Blood' is! You have sex, blood, vampires, shape shifters, crazy and sexy characters and a well created time and place. You also have a cast of actors who have major careers ahead of them. Remember the names above because you will hear a lot from them in the future. Allan Ball who created 'American Beauty' and 'Six Feet Under' has done a great job adapting the Sookie Stackhouse books. The first season was solid and suspenseful and this second season has been a mix of Southern Gothic and theatrics. What keeps this enjoyable madness grounded is the wonderful performances of the whole cast who take this very creative story seriously. The show kept getting better and more interesting every week. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger and you definitely wanted to tune in again. Academy Award winner Anna Paquin and new heartthrob Stephen Moyer are very good but the show belongs to others. The next big thing will be Alexander Skarsgard as Eric who I prefer over Moyer's Bill. He is more interesting and the actor is very sexy and already has made a lot of women take notice. There is great comic relief from Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette and Ryan Kwanten as Jason. Those three have very promising movie careers ahead of them as does Sam Trammell as Sam. Michelle Forbes has been super sexy and wicked as the evil Mary Ann and Rutina Wesley is captivating as Tara giving the show a little shot of energy. This is a vampire story that puts Buffy and the 'Twilight' series to shame. I am getting tired of these weak Vampire shows and movies lately but I love 'True Blood' which is becoming one of my favorite shows. It is great fun and I am already missing it. I highly recommend that you rent Season One and catch up with Season Two if you haven't already seen this show.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'The Longest Yard'

'The Longest Yard' (R) (74) ****

Writer: Tracy Keenan Wynn
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Richard Kiel, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Mike Conrad, Bernadette Peters

'The Longest Yard' is the ideal movie to catch and revisit on the opening day of the 2009 pro football season. This is the original classic and not the limp Adam Sandler remake where the pro wrestlers gave the best performances. This is the movie that propelled Burt Reynolds into super stardom in the 70's. It is easily the best movie about football because most football movies are lame but still a classic comedy that everyone can quote from. It is also one of the best prison movies I have seen. Burt Reynolds had the command and sex appeal to give everyone somebody to root for even though he was a prisoner. It has two of the best villains ever in a movie in Eddie Albert and Ed Lauter. You laugh, you hate the bad guys, you get to see some hilarious and well done football scenes and some classic laughs. The last scene is brilliant with a wonderful use of slow motion by legendary director Aldrich. This and 'Slapshot' are probably the best sports movies and comedy classics of the 70's. Everyone knows and loves it, everyone remembers scenes fondly and it is always mentioned as one of Reynold's best. It deserves it's reputation and is a perfect movie to watch to get you in the mood for great movies and football. Hollywood hasn't made a perfect sports comedy like this in a long time! 'The Longest Yard' is currently on DVD. Skip the *1/2 star remake.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

'Risky Business'

'Risky Business' (R) (83) ****

Writer and Director: Paul Brickman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca DeMornay, Joe Pantaliano, Curtis Armstrong, Bronson Pinchot

'Risky Business' is the movie that made Tom Cruise a star and also a movie I think is one of the best coming of age movies. It is also my favorite movie set in high school and one of the ten best filmed in the Chicago land area. This was a very adult film that followed more in the line of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' than a John Hughes movie. You knew watching Cruise in the movie that he would be a major star and it announced a younger Joe Pantaliano as a future famous character actor. The movie has great location work including filming a car chase on the street I lived a few blocks away from. The cinematography is beautiful and fits perfectly with the dark material. Now it might not be a realistic look at high school sometimes but the characters seem real. There are major laughs but they are character and story based instead of cheap jokes. The cast is strong and another case of many actors that would go on to do much more. That includes Pantaliano, DeMornay, Pinchot and Armstrong. This is a great companion piece to 'The Graduate' and I think a better movie probably because it spoke more to me. This is a great look at kids having adult dreams and striving to become better even if it is running a prostitution ring. It is one of the movies that influenced me to want to become a director with it's message and it's craftsmanship. If you haven't seen it I urge you to because it definitely is a movie of it's time and defines the 80's perfectly. This is also on my list of my favorite 100 movies of all time.

Purple Rain

'Purple Rain' (R) (84) ****

Writers: William Blinn and Albert Magnoli
Director: Albert Magnoli
Starring: Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Clarence Williams III, Morris Day, Jerome Benton

Whenever I don't review a new movie in theatres or a new release on DVD I will revisit some of my favorite movies. I will start with Prince's 'Purple Rain' which is one of the best rock star movies ever made. There are many movies that rock stars have done that are very good but this has the most energy of them all comparable to 'A Hard Day's Night'. The acting mostly is raw and sometimes terrible for the most part but that adds to the greatness. This is set in Prince's hometown portraying his background and roots and his family life. The raw acting adds to the naturalness like we are watching real people that were a part of his life. If the acting was more professional it wouldn't seem right, it makes it more lived in and real. We feel like we are eavesdropping on real people in his life. That being said I still think Clarence Williams III should have been considered for an Academy Award nomination playing Prince's father. Also Morris Day and Jerome Benton are very funny and have a classic scene that would make Abbott and Costello proud. Best of all the soundtrack is one of the best, a classic and every song works. This basically ends as a concert film and one of the best with a powerful ending set to 'Purple Rain'. The location work is outstanding and the opening scene set to 'Let's Go Crazy' is brilliantly edited and choreographed. This was one of the most exciting and energetic movies of the 80's. It is easily one of the ten best rock movies ever made.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'Lookin' To Get Out'

'Lookin' To Get Out' (R) (82) ***1/2

Writers: Al Schwartz and Jon Voight
Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Young, Ann Margret, Bert Remsen, Angelina Jolie

In my grade school and high school days I absorbed a lot of movies on cable and video and discovered many adult themed movies I had never heard before. I also watched a lot of Siskel and Ebert review shows and saw them champion many movies that other critics hated. One of those movies was 'Lookin' To Get Out' with probably Jon Voight's last starring role and one of director Hal Ashby's last films. The movie was a box office bomb and critical disaster, the movie was delayed and there were rumors of trouble on the set. But Gene Siskel gave it four stars and Ebert loved it so I gave it a try and I found the hype was wrong and that this could be the best movie ever about Las Vegas and some of the losers that inhabited it. Now looking back at a new extended director's cut just released on DVD and watching a lot of movies this is my favorite movie about Las Vegas. Though it was filmed in late 1979 and it's a cheesy 70's,80's Vegas it still captures it very well.

It is about two losers in New York who are gamblers and the one character played by Voight is a very obnoxious one who has lost a lot of money to loan sharks. They travel to Las Vegas to get the money back and run into people from Voight's past. They include an ex girlfriend played by Ann Margret and yes at that time Ann Margret still looked hot. There was also two great supporting performances by Richard Bradford and Bert Remsen. Be forewarned this is a very loose, improvised movie in the style of John Cassavettes and the main character is a real jerk. The first hour is brilliant and funny setting up the main characters and letting us get to know them quickly but the end kind of loses steam. The location work in New York and Vegas is flawless. Hal Ashby films the scenes set in New York is back alleys and side streets that are grimy and seedy. He films the Vegas scenes in a fancy hotel and all the unusual places in it. The movie feels lived in and the loose dialogue makes it seem like real people talking instead of phony gangster dialogue. Jon Voight's character does get on your nerves but Voight is pitch perfect and Burt Young is a perfect, quiet counter balance. You also get a sexy Ann Margret you can enjoy staring at and a six year old Angelina Jolie. I might be in the minority on this one but I had fun. This is definitely a Hal Ashby movie because all of his movies have been quirky and unconventional starting with 'Harold and Maude'. If you want a conventional and seamless Vegas movie you will not get it but if you like something different check it out because I still think it's the best movie set in Las Vegas. Everyone let me know what your favorite movie is about Vegas because I am eager to know.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Times of Harvey Milk and Milk

'The Times of Harvey Milk' (84) ***1/2

Director: Rob Epstein

'Milk' (R) (08) ****

Writer: Dustin Lance Black (Academy Award)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn (Academy Award), James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill, Diego Luna, Josh Brolin

I wanted to revisit the flawless bio-pic 'Milk' before I do my official year end list in a few weeks. I wanted to because I had never seen the fine 1984 documentary 'The Times of Harvey Milk' which won an Academy Award in 1985 for best documentary. I wanted to see how much the 2008 Gus Van Sant movie got right or took from the documentary. At the end credits 'Milk' mentions thanks to Epstein and the makers of their film for their input. After seeing the doc I realize how flawless and great 'Milk' is. In fact it is turns out to be even better the second time. 'The Times of Harvey Milk' is a very straight forward telling of Milk's life starting with his origins and pre politics and his eventual winning of San Francisco City Supervisor and his Gay Rights bill and his opposition to Proposition 6. The documentary has great talking head interviews of those who knew Harvey well. It is a simple telling of events in his life and we do get to find out a lot about the man from the interviews. It is a fine movie and I learned a lot but I got more out of the 08 film. Though as a stand alone movie it informs and makes us feel and that is what a good documentary film does.

2008's 'Milk' though I felt was more powerful and I cried a lot during it. That is due to the deserving Academy Award winning performance by Sean Penn and Gus Van Sant's poetic direction. Before I saw the documentary I thought Penn was amazing. Now after seeing the documentary Penn turns out to give one of the best performances ever on screen. He might not look exactly like him but the way he inhabits the real man with mannerisms and voice he becomes Harvey Milk. It is a tricky performance to pull off because Milk was a fascinating man but he does it flawlessly. We are talking about a man who I think is a major voice in American politics and history. To me Milk's assassination was equal in impact to the Kennedy's and Martin Luther Kings' assassinations. His was the only voice in America that Gays and Lesbians had especially at that time. There would be no push for same sex marriages now and no chance for voices to be heard if Harvey Milk did not pave the way. Penn is so amazing as Milk that you forget after awhile that it is Penn and that is more sure after I saw the documentary.

Gus Van Sant has made two of my favorite movies in 'To Die For' and 'Drugstore Cowboy' but this is easily his best film. The recreations of the Castro district and the 70's are flawless and the movie has not one false moment. I think his movie also does a better job of capturing Milk's assassin Dan White here played in a pitch perfect performance by Josh Brolin. Also very good are James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Alison Pill in supporting roles. This is a beautiful movie that captures Milk's voice and impact in the Gay community with tender scenes and many powerful scenes. Seeing it a second time I cried a lot during the movie because I realized what Milk did for many that could not be heard. His compassion and devotion and love affected many people and this movie captures that tenderly and powerfully. This is a movie full of care, attention to detail, passion and it comes from the heart. You can tell Van Sant and Penn poured their souls into this. It is all captured in this movie which is one of the best of 2008 and of the decade. I urge you to check out the documentary before you see 'Milk' and you will also realize what Van Sant has done more fully.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

'Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan' (82) ***1/2

Writers: Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, Deforest Kelley, James Doohan,

Playing in Chicago this weekend at a 'Star Trek' expo 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' is the best of the 'Star Trek' movies. I also wanted to revisit it because I found the new reboot of 'Star Trek' a lot of fun and it reminded me of Wrath of Khan. After a dull and uncharacteristically flat first movie the Wrath of Khan revisited the spirit of the original television series. What a self indulgent snooze fest the first movie was as were the insufferable New Generation films with Patrick Stewart. This had one of the best villains ever in Montalban's Khan. It had great drama and suspense and great action scenes. There was that special humor of the show and a great love story of sorts between Kirk and Spock. It came out in the great movie year of 1982 and it was one of that summer's best movies. It had pretty much the same affect that 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' had the year before, a great popcorn movie. It also had a very surprisingly powerful finish. 'Star Trek III;The Search for Spock' is playing at this expo also. It is a pretty good movie but a little let down from the second. The other best are IV and VI, the worst is V and the New Generation movies suck except for one of them. 'Star Trek II is now on DVD.

'Star Trek' movies:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (79) **

Star Trek II;The Wrath of Khan (82) ***1/2

Star Trek III:The Search for Spock (84) **1/2

Star Trek IV:The Voyage Home (86) ***1/2

Star Trek V:The Final Frontier (89) *1/2

Star Trek VI:The Undiscovered Country (91) ***

Star Trek:Generations (94) *1/2

Star Trek: First Contact (96) ***

Star Trek:Insurrection (98) *1/2

Star Trek:Nemesis (02) *1/2

Star Trek (09) ***

Taking Woodstock

'Taking Woodstock' (R) **1/2

Writer: James Schamus based on book by Elliot Taber
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Demitri Martin, Eugene Levy, Imelda Staunton, Liev Schrieber, Henry Goodman, Emile Hirsch

'Taking Woodstock' is a very subtle and wistful movie that takes it's time establishing a time and place. It does this very well including developing some interesting characters. I just wanted a tiny bit more oomph in it's delivery and a little more depth in the characters. I wanted to know more about them because on the surface they seem like cool people. Comedy Central comedian Demitri Martin plays the title character Elliot Taber who made the Woodstock concert take place. Martin is good but his character is a little too quiet and dull sometimes. Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman play his parents and Goodman is fine but Staunton overacts a smidge. The best characters are played very well by Eugene Levy in a nice straight role and Liev Shreiber in a not so straight one as a cross dressing ex marine. His character is about to be the standout but then I wanted to know more about him and the writer doesn't flesh him out. This is an entertaining movie with some nice small moments but they don't add up to a whole. I do love though how simple this movies is in it's presentation and there are great wide shots of the farm and a great mudslide scene. Ang Lee is a great filmmaker but this doesn't seem like one of his best. I would probably recommend you rent the 1970 movie 'Woodstock' for a better feel.


'Extract' (R) ***1/2

Writer and Director: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins Jr., Gene Simmons

'Extract' sneaks up on you when you least expect it. You don't expect sharp, well written characters that are funny and endearing in a way and that is what you get. From the preview you might expect a lot of cheap jokes but this movie has heart and big laughs and not at the expense of the characters. Judge's other comedy cult classic 'Office Space' which got bad reviews and did bad business was the same. People had to catch up with it on DVD to make it a classic comedy. You might have to see this twice to appreciate the laughs because there are very funny parts and great quirky characters that are just as memorable as the Office Space ones. Jason Bateman was a child actor who made very good with sitcoms and now has emerged as a great comic actor. We are taking him for granted because his comic timing skills aren't being appreciated. He creates a character we root for and it takes great skill to pull this one off and he does it. Bateman is one of our finest comic actors. There is great support from SNL's Kristen Wiig, who I absolutely love, as his wife. Wiig I think is the Meryl Streep of comedy acting. Also good is Mila Kunis who is absolutely beautiful but has great comic skills as proven in 'That 70's Show' also. I must also mention I am not the biggest fan of Ben Affleck but he is very good and funny here and he is starting to grow on me. There is also a great small part for rock star Gene Simmons and he does an excellent job. Character actor David Koechner is also effective in essentially the role that Gary Cole provided in 'Office Space'. This is a comedy where the laughs come from the characters and situations instead of cheap jokes. When he is on the top of his game Mike Judge is very good.