Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Water For Elephants'

'Water For Elephants' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writer: Richard LaGravenese based on novel By Sara Gruen
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook,
Tim Guinee, Jim Norton, Paul Schneider,

"Water For Elephants" is a dreamy, corny, old fashioned romantic drama and that doesn't have to be a bad thing. I was surprised that I liked it and when people accuse me of hating the so called chick flick, movies like this prove that opinion wrong. I assume women will be drawn to this more than men and that is a shame, this movie is a great date movie.

"Water For Elephants: is based on a popular novel and it's lead is someone I have been picking on lately. Robert Pattinson plays Jacob, a college student who wants to become a veterinarian but gets sidetracked when his Polish parents pass away. He climbs on board a freight train and meets some men who work for a circus. Jacob sneaks his way in and meets the tough circus owner who also has a beautiful wife named Marlena who Jacob starts to fancy. You know where this love triangle is going and the movie isn't brain surgery. It is thin, sugary and soapy but there is a lot of charm on screen that makes this surprisingly solid.

I am not a big fan of the pouty and stiff Robert Pattinson who looks good but in the past had the personality of a tree stump. I am happy to tell the screaming female Pattinson fans that I like him much better here. He still needs to loosen up and stop posing and pouting but he smiles here and gives more energy and gravitas to his performance. I can watch Reese Witherspoon in anything and here she is solid again in a role that is really not that strongly written. The movie is stolen by Christoph Waltz as the brutish husband. He is very mean to the circus animals and some humans and Waltz brings the same intensity he brought to "Inglorious Basterds" though in a more subtle form of brutality.

The movie is a little too melodramatic and has it's flaws but I love a lot of the technical aspects of the movie. The cinematography is breathtaking and beautiful and fits into the dreamy fable like telling of the story. The production design is flawless and while I am not a big fan of the circus it looked right. The music is dreamy and beautiful to listen to. These are some of the best at what they do, Rodrigo Prieto, Jack Fisk and James Newton Howard for cinematography, design and music. The writer Richard Lagravenese is one of my favorite writers ( best of Harry Potter series, Fabulous Baker Boys) and he is a great book to screen adapter, he improved on the book of "Bridges of Madison County".

I love how the animals are used in the story especially the main elephant who steals the story and gives it heart. "Water For Elephants" could have gone so wrong but it turns out to be sweet and lushly romantic. Kudos also to Hal Holbrook as the older Jacob who narrates the story. You might hate yourself for liking this movie the next day but the movie does earn your admiration.


'Rio' (G) (2 stars)

Writers: Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Will i. am,
Jamie Foxx, Jemaine Clement, George Lopez, Alanna Ulbach

"Rio" is what is wrong with most animated movies today. The charm of simple, beautiful and fun animated movies like "The Illusionist", "Up" and Wall E" are being taken over by noisy and messy ones. Rare is that special animated movie that comes out and it is pretty much always from Pixar once a year. "Rio" has too many characters that I couldn't keep track of and none that I will remember a day from now. Also the music is lively and vibrant but again I can't remember any of the songs.

"Rio" tells the story of a Mccaw named Blu who is smuggled out of Rio de Janeiro and winds up in a street in cold Minnesota where a girl named Linda finds him. They grow up together and become life long friends. Linda is approached by Tulio who is a scientist who tells Linda Blu is the last of the male species of Mccaw that has to mate with a female to preserve the species so they all go to Rio de Janeiro. Blu then meets the female Mccaw named Jewel and they have a rough start but grow to like each other.

The opening scenes are simple, beautiful, charming, quiet and colorful. I love the opening scenes in Rio de Janeiro and I love the voice work. Jesse Eisenberg is the perfect choice to voice Blu and Anne Hathaway is charming and a good choice to play a sweet but head strong Jewel. I like the opening song and the music starts off promising and all seems good. Blu has to learn how to fly so he can escape smugglers and he hooks up with a family of Toucans to help him fly and evade capture.

When the family and the smuggling birds enter the picture this is when the movie falls apart. The movie introduces more characters and then more and the movie starts to get crowded. I couldn't keep track of everyone and no one is memorable except for Blu and Jewel. The movie should have stayed with the four principles, the head smuggler voiced well by Jemaine Clement and the Toucan family. But no, the movie has to add sidekicks and more sidekicks and the movie gets too noisy. The screen is cluttered and of course we need a big chase scene. Why do you need to have the movie end in action scenes? Don't you think kids today are smart enough that they don't need wall to wall eye candy and noise to keep them interested?

Look at past classic, animated movies like "Wall E" and "Up" and even "Tangled" which is much better. We spend time with the main characters, the movie doesn't hit us over the head with special effects and weak songs. The movie takes it's time to establish the story, atmosphere and characters. I don't mind having a chase at the end or a physical conflict but make it like it was in "Up" which had a busy ending but you could follow it. I couldn't follow anything here even though the flying scenes are cool in 3D. "Rio" has the same problem "Rango" earlier this year had, it has little charm after a while and I really didn't care for anyone because the style of the movie buries them. Little kids might like this but adults will be bored and movies like "Up" never bored adults.

Friday, April 15, 2011

'Scream 4'

'Scream 4' (R) (2 stars)

Writer: Kevin Williamson
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin,
Allison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, Anthony Anderson, Marley Shelton, Anna Pacquin,
Kristen Bell, Mary McDonnell, Amy Teagarden

The "Scream" franchise re-energized the horror genre while lightly teasing it. The screenwriter Kevin Williamson actually wrote a smart movie that knew the horror genre well. It also generated some scares and was entertaining but at some point after four movies it is going to get old. "Scream 4" is supposed to be new decade, new rules but I didn't see anything fresh here. The movie goes through the same things that the other three have just now the thrill has gone away.

"Scream 4" starts out with a brilliant, funny and exciting ten minute pre credit sequence. The problem is the movie in no way will have anything that is equal to that opening thrill. The movie starts out hot with that sequence and makes some excellent points about horror movie sequels and remakes. I like the energy of the picture all the way through but I started to feel numb and tired by the last half hour. I also think, except for some funny things to say about remakes, "Scream 4" is just recycled material from the other sequels.

All our favorite characters are back including Sidney, Gale, Dewey and Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette all do wonderful jobs. I also like the many additional characters including two that were very solidly acted by Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin. The pre credit sequence is awesome and especially when Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell are involved. The movie is very well directed by Wes Craven and I had fun for a while.

Now why can't I recommend "Scream 4"? This movie is pretty much critic proof, Scream fans will either dig this or find it the same old stuff. I would rather let the Scream community decide if the movie is any good or worth seeing. All I can tell you is I liked the fun but slightly over rated original. I really liked the under rated "Scream 2" and didn't care for the third one like a lot of viewers didn't. "Scream 4" is way better than the third movie, for the opening sequence alone, but not nearly as good as the first two "Screams". "Scream 4" at some point becomes it's own parody and it starts doing things that the original "Scream" would have made fun of. The movie gets two stars from me but to all you "Scream" fans I leave the rating open.

'The Conspirator'

'The Conspirator' (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writer: James Solomon
Director: Robert Redford
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Justin Long,
Danny Huston, Evan Rachel Wood, Colm Meaney

"The Conspirator" tells a story that I thought would not interest me and I was pretty much correct. It could have been made exciting in a way that Oliver Stone's "JFK" was. Maybe John F. Kennedy and the conspiracy behind his assassination is more fascinating material. I just found "The Conspirator as dull and generic as it's title. It comes alive in the court room scenes but when not in court it is pretty weak.

"The Conspirator" tells the story of Mary and John Surratt who were deemed responsible for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Mary was thought to be harboring the group of men that hatched the plot to kill the President. Her son John was one of the group of men who were supposed to go on trial with Mary but John escaped. Mary then became the focus of the trial for being one of the main people responsible sort of like guilt by association. A young Civil War veteran Frederick Aiken is asked to defend Mary Surratt and the deck is stacked against him. Secretary of State Stanton and the government want to see the men and Mary hanged for the crime even though there is no concrete proof that Mary was really involved.

Frederick sees this case as a violation of Mary's civil liberties because at the time the jury was made up of government officials. Frederick thinks Mary is not getting a fair trial because of course the government officials want revenge. This all sounds more fascinating than what the film gives us. I remember back in college one of my best friends Hal Surratt told me the story of his ancestors and he told it with more spark than this movie does.

The court room scenes are very compelling and well written. The scenes outside the court room are very dull and the character of Mary Surratt is weakly written. I learned a lot about Frederick Aiken but the movie never gave me a good ideal of who Mary is. Robin Wright Penn again is very good as Mary but the screenplay never does her justice. We don't even find out anything substantial about the men involved in the assassination or anything at all about John Surratt. The movie just doesn't seem to have any energy and it never got me emotionally involved. If the screenplay did a better job of portraying Mary's character we might have felt more anger. The scenes between her and Frederick outside the court room and between Frederick and his fiancee and friends are weak.

I like Robert Redford as a director and he makes this movie visually interesting but the screenplay lets him down. In the end I felt no emotion and didn't feel for any of the characters, the movie just left me cold. I like the message of the movie and I was fascinated with how juries were made up at that time. Again what happens in the court room is compelling stuff but the characters are shallowly written. I didn't learn anything about Mary and especially not John. The movie goes through the motions without generating any heat or momentum. It should have been as effective as a movie like "JFK" was but in the end it just falls flat.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


'Super' No MPAA Rating (2 stars)

Writer and Director: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker,
Nathan Fillion, Gregg Henry, William Kaat

"Super" might have come off fresh and exciting if it didn't come so close on the heels of last year's "Kick-Ass". "Super" is also a super violent (more so than Kick-Ass) and gory spoof of the super hero genre. "Kick-Ass" had a young man who decided to become a vigilante super hero and found out that the real life of a super hero involved real pain and death. "Super" comes off more jokey and like "Kick-Ass" it is obviously exaggerated and not realistic. "Super" stars Rainn Wilson (TV's The Office) as Frank who sees his wife run off with drug dealers. Frank decides to become The Crimson Bolt to get her back and also hurt people who break every day rules.

Frank decides that a true super hero needs a weapon and the only really funny part of this movie is his choice of weapon. He uses a pipe wrench and the best and only funny sight gag is seeing Frank beat people to death with it. Please don't pin me as a disturbed person who likes beatings and violence, it is a funny sight for the film's purpose. Frank doesn't want a side kick but he meets a young girl Libby played by Ellen Page. Lilly wants to be his side kick despite Frank's objection and she has so much spunk and energy that Frank decides she will become his side kick, Boltie.

I warn you that "Super" is extremely sick and violent and there is an exposed brain and a lot of gore. I don't mind if a movie is extreme like this but if it's a comedy it better be funny. "Super" has one or two moments but it is not that well directed and it is not really that funny. I liked "Kick-Ass" which a lot of people hated but it was at least funny and the story was solid most of the time. "Super" is shoddy, weakly written and most of the jokes fall flat and the super violence distracts from generating any laughs. Kevin Bacon and Liv Tyler are terrible and wasted but that is the director and screenwriters fault.

"Kick-Ass" had a great performance by Chloe Grace Moretz and without her I would have passed on "Kick-Ass". She is the real reason I liked it and in "Super" Ellen Page steals the movie as Boltie making this movie escape being hated by me. I love Ellen Page and she is funny here and uses the crappy dialogue she is given and turns it into gold. She is the life force of the movie, the rest is just bad gore and violence. When you make an extremely violent movie you better back it up with a good story, this movie doesn't have it. I also think Rainn Wilson is okay here but he is pretty much playing Dwight from "The Office".

"Super" could have had something to say about all these super hero movies that are being crammed down our throat. It just doesn't make any statement on the genre, it just is wall to wall shootings, impalings, cutting off tops of heads and pipe wrench beatings. What could have been funny turns out to be ugly, nasty and pointless.


'Insidious' (PG-13) (rental)

Writer: Leigh Whannell
Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Angus Sampson

"Insidious" is a horror movie that is heavily influenced by other horror movies and that is pretty much always the case. That is not a bad thing because it brings back memories of being little and seeing those movies. I felt warm nostalgia while watching "Insidious" and it is an effective shocker until the last half hour.

"Insidious" tells the story of a couple and their son who go through a test of faith as the son falls off a ladder and winds up in a coma. They believe the house they live in is haunted because the wife, Renal, sees shadows walking around the house. The husband, Josh, decides to move the family to another house but the evil spirits follow them there. The couple get some help to explain why these spirits still haunt them. They then learn that the house is not haunted but Dalton is.

"Insidious" from the starting point obviously is influenced by the 1982 horror film "Poltergeist". You have the family, the son being pulled into a spirit world and the help comes in the form of a psychic lady who will pull Dalton back. The lady, Elise, tells the couple that Dalton has gone into what is called "The Further" and when she says this I laughed but in a good way. The movie is also influenced by "The Exorcist" and "The Sixth Sense".

It is also I think influenced by one of my favorite horror movies, the cult 1981 film "The Entity". I believe this because the lead in that film, Barbara Hershey, is in this movie also and the film resembles it. If you have not seen "The Entity" and enjoy horror movies check out this very weird but effective movie. "Insidious" employs those same two geeks that come with the equipment to measure the disturbances that "Poltergeist" and "The Entity" had.

"Insidious" has a very effective first hour with a lot of good shocks and scares. The movie has better acting then a horror movie like this deserves and Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are fantastic as the couple. They have the hard task of acting like they believe in this material that is a little goofy sometimes and they do a credible job. The movie is very well done especially setting things up, making us jump a little and getting us going. The last half hour though lost me when the movie became a light show, became noisy and just wasn't scary anymore. There were people made up as devils and mannequins with weird faces and it came off like a bad, local haunted house show. I did love the shock at the ending though and it is an effective one.

"Insidious" was written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan who also worked on the "Final Destination" and "Saw" movies. I hate both of those series of movies but these two men do have talent. This is their best movie so far even though I can't say I liked it completely. They do a great job with the jolts, scares and setting up an eerie and foreboding presence. The producer of "Insidious" also made the fine "Paranormal Activitiy" movies. "Insidious" also resembles those a little but is not as good as them. Whannell and Wan are getting much better and I believe and hope their next movie will be a complete and scary masterpiece. "Insidious" entertained me but wait for it on DVD or cable because it is not something to rush out and see.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

'Sidney Lumet:The Poet of New York'

'Sidney Lumet:The Poet of New York'

On June 25, 1924 one of the most respected movie directors in Hollywood history was born. Sidney Lumet would become a legendary director and one of my favorites of all time and I will miss him. In an age of special effects, super hero movies and dumb dialogue he should be studied by all ages. Sidney Lumet was in love with the written word and all his movies told wonderful stories. Lumet made many films and of course when you do you will have a few stinkers. There are a few of his movies that are my all time favorites and that is because they were rich with well written stories and characters. Lumet's movies had substance, were about something and he wasn't flashy but man could he get outstanding performances by his actors. He would get the best performance of Paul Newman's illustrious career and he would find new talent that made their mark in his movies. Sidney Lumet loved New York, always making it a third character. His location work was impeccable and beautiful and he knew how to capture every facet of the city he loved.

Sidney Lumet started making an impact with his first major Hollywood movie in 1957 with "12 Angry Men" which was a sizzling court room drama. Lumet had acted before and directed things but this was his first major movie at a relatively young age. He had to direct Hollywood heavyweights like Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb and he does such a wonderful job directing them. The movie is full of suspense and is very compelling and explosive. Hollywood knew they had a special talent that had a wonderful future and he didn't disappoint.

The first Lumet movie I saw was as a 6 year old kid and my parents took me to it. It was Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" with a killer all star cast including Sean Connery. I wasn't aware of what I was really seeing at a young age but later on I rented it and had a lot of fun. There were delicious performances and a movie that moved along and kept me guessing.

A year before that Sidney Lumet directed one of the best police movies ever made and it wasn't even his best movie with cops. "Serpico" was seen by me for the first time while working at a video store when I was 16. It has one of Al Pacino's best performances and it was gritty and extremely compelling. Most police movies have cliches and bad dialogue but this movie was epic. It unfolded like a great novel and being based on a true story, it was a respectful and seemed real. This is one of the best movies dealing with the grittiness and under belly of New York City' crime and police corruption.

In 1975 Lumet would direct a movie that would wind up in my top ten great movies of the 1970's. "Dog Day Afternoon" was a blistering, powerful crime drama that was also an extremely witty and hilarious satire. This will be repeated again in another genre later but to me this is the best movie ever about a bank heist. Al Pacino would give another legendary, powerful performance as Sonny, a gay, Vietnam war veteran who sticks up a New York bank. His partner is played by the great John Cazale and again New York City becomes another character. This was a great character study, suspenseful crime thriller and one of the funniest movies I have seen.

In 1976 Sidney Lumet followed that movie up with another winner, the powerful social satire about television called "Network". This was another iconic film with one of the best screenplays about television. Again Lumet would get incredible performances by Faye Dunaway, William Holden and especially one of the saddest and most powerful performances of the 70's. Peter Finch was a house on fire as the embittered newsman who incites a whole city. Not only does this movie nail the inner workings of television but it also is a great look at the people of New York.

It would be a few years before Sidney Lumet would make another masterpiece after a few failures. The movie was a very small, independent crime movie but it was a sprawling epic about police and mobsters in New York called "Prince of the City". The movie had one of the most under rated performances by an actor ever. Treat Williams gave a star making performance as a cop trying to bring down a crime family and expose dirty cops at the same time. The movie is about three hours and it is never boring. The movie has suspense, rich characters and a multi layered story. There was also a great performance by Jerry Orbach and again Lumet got amazing performances from a large cast, each character making an impact. Also New York City becomes another character and the location work is amazing.

That was 1981 when "Prince of the City" came out and Lumet was rolling again in the 80's just like he did in the 70's. Though his work was much better in the early 80's he still had three of the best movies of that decade. In 1982 I would fall in love with a screen adaptation of a comedy thriller stage play called "Deathtrap". I now know every word of dialogue from that movie and I have seen it over 100 times. This was a movie that was stagy and sometimes campy but what great dialogue and what amazing performances. Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon were excellent but I saw Christopher Reeve in a totally new light after this movie. To me Christopher Reeve was always Superman but after this movie I knew he could also be amazing in other roles. This is one of the best times I have had in a movie. It is not a masterpiece but it is a spooky house, backstabbing, Gothic, funny and twisty thriller/comedy that is delightful.

In 1982 Sidney Lumet would make his finest film to date next to "Dog Day Afternoon" with Paul Newman's best performance of his career. "The Verdict" is the best court room drama that has been made up to now. In my opinion there will never be a better court room drama made in the future and I guarantee that. The movie had David Mamet's best screenplay he ever wrote and Paul Newman is amazing! We had never seen him before like this as alcoholic ambulance chaser Frank Galvin who takes a case that will change his life. This is a movie in love with the written word and there is so much potent drama. This movie was gut wrenching and at the end I was in tears. I was emotionally shaken because the story was so compelling and the ending so emotional. I also was in tears because I had seen a performance that is easily one of the best performances I have ever seen by an actor. This is a movie and performance that blew me away and it should be studied in film classes for years.

After "The Verdict" Lumet has a difficult time with serviceable and entertaining movies like "Daniel" and "The Morning After". They were not great movies but Lumet again got great performances by the actors in them. His next powerful movie would be in 1988 and it was "Running On Empty". It was a powerful, bittersweet and gut wrenching movie that was also poetic. This would be one of River Phoenix's last great performances and he was heartbreaking and amazing in it. This is a very under rated movie about the mistakes we make in the past and how it can affect our family. This would become one of Lumet's best movies since "The Verdict".

In the 90's Sidney Lumet would slow down a little but still made numerous movies. I probably couldn't name them all but I liked the under rated cop drama "Q & A" with Nick Nolte, Armand Assante and Timothy Hutton in 1990. Later on in his career he would make fun, quirky small films and even get a great performance from someone like Vin Diesel in "Guilty As Sin"

In 2007 Sidney Lumet would make another crime masterpiece with powerful performances that would become his best movie since 1988. "When The Devil Knows You're Dead" is such a wacky and extremely entertaining crime picture. It has amazing performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney. It is full of humor, suspense and thrills. The strength of the movie comes from a Lumet specialty, great characters, acting and a love of New York.

Sidney Lumet, more than most other directors, influenced me in words I can't describe that would give him justice. He is one of the main reasons I wanted to get into acting at a young age and become a film maker and storytelling. I love Chicago so dearly just like he loved New York. If I could make movies about Chicago, it's rich history and great people like he did for New York I would consider myself blessed. Sidney Lumet was to me "The Poet of New York", a man who loved the written word, great characters and powerful acting and he will be missed.

So here are a list of the movies I wrote about and if you haven't seen them please put them on your netflix queue right away!

12 Angry Men (57) (4 stars)
Serpico (73) (4 stars)
Murder on the Orient Express (74) (3 1/2 stars)
Dog Day Afternoon (75) (4 stars)
Network (76) (4 stars)
Prince of the City (81) (4 stars)
Deathtrap (82) (4 stars)
The Verdict (83) (4 stars)
Running On Empty (88) (4 stars)
Q & A (90) (3 1/2 stars)
When The Devil Knows You're Dead (07) (3 1/2 stars)

Other Good Lumet Films

Daniel (83) (3 stars) Timothy Hutton, Lindsay Crouse
The Morning After (86) (3 stars) Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges
Power (86) (3 stars) Richard Gere, Julie Christie
Find Me Guilty (06) (3 stars) Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage

I have not seen some Lumet movies that are supposed to be outstanding but I will watch them soon

The Pawnbroker
The Hill
The Offence


'Hanna' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writers: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden, Tom Hollander,
Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng

"Hanna" is not a conventional action movie and it seems like it is from another World but I liked it. This could be a cult film if it hadn't made so much money on it's opening weekend. This is not really an original concept concerning a female child killing adult bad guys. "Kick-Ass" came out last year and had a young female girl side kick slicing up bad guys. It is not original but as filmed by director Joe Wright it seems like it hasn't been done before. It is like a fever dream come to life and it has a hypnotic quality.

"Hanna" tells the story of a young teenage girl who is raised in the woods to defend herself by her father. She speaks several languages, knows martial arts and is very handy with a knife. The father turns out to be a rogue agent and he is tracked by CIA boss Marissa, delightfully played by the breathtaking Cate Blanchett. She is a very wicked Southern lady sort of like an evil Queen and Blanchett is wonderful here with her perfect and delightful Southern accent. I mentioned Marissa as an evil Queen and yes "Hanna" is like a fairy tale though a fairy tale about a teenage girl who kills.

The young and talented Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna and she is excellent. The director Joe Wright and Ronan worked together on "Atonement" which I hated. They do better work here and I like how Joe Wright tells this weird story. Saoirse Ronan was incredible in the flawed movie adaptation "The Lovely Bones" and here she gives her role more depth than it should have. The cinematography is grey and cold but I found it beautiful and hypnotic and the location work is cool. I also love the hard charging electronic rock score by The Chemical Brothers. The score is the best I have ever heard of it's kind and it beautifully fits the movie's drive. I actually wanted to download it on my Ipod right after.

I wasn't really enchanted by this movie but I love that it plays like a warped fairy tale and it does so subtly. The Marissa character is really an evil Queen out to destroy the young heroine. I also loved the middle section where Hanna hooks up with a family on vacation and becomes friends with another girl. This movie kicks the ass of a recent movie that tried to be a hip modern day fairy tale, "Red Riding Hood". I love the cinematography, the score and the crisp action scenes. I liked the performances and I could watch Cate Blanchett for days in anything. She is wickedly good here and doesn't go over the top. It could have been a disaster but Blanchett is a brilliant actress and she nails it. "Hanna" is like a cult movie that could have been made in the 70's when movies were not afraid to be dark and weird. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


'Trust' (R) (3 1/2 stars)

Writers: Andy Berlin and Robert Festinger
Director: David Schwimmer
Starring: Liana Liberato, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Chris Henry Coffey,
Viola Davis, Jason Clarke

The sobering and powerful "Trust" could scare any parents to death and when they leave the theatre it gives them and us a lot to think about. How safe is your child from the vast, wide Internet when there are predators out there feeding on their innocence and trust? This will not be an easy movie to watch for some, it even scared me and I am not a father.

Liana Liberato, in a breathtaking, mature and knockout performance, plays Annie. Annis has a nice family, great, cool understanding parents in Will and Lynn Cameron. She has a brother going off to college and a little sister. Annie spends a lot of time on the Internet talking to friends and chatting with a 16 year old boy from California. Her parents are pretty relaxed on their rules for this but can be strict also. As Annie chats with this boy, Charlie, he starts to change his story. Annie is a volleyball player and Charlie gives her advice because he plays. Then Charlie tells her he is really 20 and in college and then a graduate student 25 and out of college.

Charlie tells Annie he is coming to Chicago and wants to meet her. Annie is a smart girl but she is 14 and she is naive and wants attention and love. 14 is about the time we kids notice the opposite sex and Annie thinks Charlie is sweet so she meets him. I will not go into details but the meeting shocks Annie when she finds out that Charlie is much older, around 35. She is mad at first but this predator talks to her like she is someone, makes her feel wanted and desired. There are many times where we are screaming inside for Annie to get some sense.

Annie is assaulted and when her parents find out they become livid and the father wants to find this creep and kill him. "Trust" then could have gone the usual route where Annie goes to a therapist and the police start to hunt Charlie down. The greatness of "Trust" is it never goes down the predictable route. Annie actually still feels love for Charlie and actually defends him. She has found love for the first time, misses him and thinks age should not matter. The father is consumed in rage and he goes on web sites to track this man down. Annie becomes angry at her parents, she grows distant from her father. This are no easy solutions and I love that the screenplay is complicated in that way. You just can't say that Annie was assaulted and if the police find Charlie all will be right for everyone.

In this day when kids, heck even adults on dating sites chat with strangers, the ideal of meeting someone is downright bone chilling. There are people that are evil out there and prey on the weak and even succeed with smart girls like Annie. This movie is powerful, never seems to hit a false note and director David Schwimmer is excellent with his actors. The movie could have been more confidently put together, it doesn't flow sometime, but Schwimmer gets us really going and he never loses focus.

The performances are excellent and as Annie Liana Liberato is a revelation. She gives a mature performance that rivals Chloe Grace Moretz and Jennifer Lawrence. She is pitch perfect at playing Annie's smarts, vulnerable side and anger and hurt. At first she feels sympathy and love for Charlie but when she finds out Charlie has done this before to to her girls her anger is palpable. Clive Owen as the father Will gives the best performance of his career so far. He has a difficult role as the anger builds and builds in him and rage takes over. There is a powerful scene between him and Liberato at the end that will make you cry. There is also great support by the wonderful Catherine Keener as the mother and Jason Clarke (Chicago Code) as a cop on the case.

There is also a creepy performance by Chris Henry Coffey as Charlie and this is a bad guy that is played much better than it should be. Coffey is sweet to Liberato as Annie and we can actually see why Annie stays with him even after she finds out he is older. Coffey's performance is bone chilling and at the end we see a scene during the end credits. It will have you walking out of the theatre with even more things to startle you and make you think about. David Schwimmer I think was obviously influenced by Robert Redford's Powerful "Ordinary People) with it's small town look. Schwimmer makes this town a character like Redford did for Lake Forest, Illinois in People.

"Trust" is not a good time at the movies but the performances are wonderful and the story and execution are powerful. It does what all great dramas do, jolt us to reality and make us think and discuss afterward. I actually think "Trust" is a must see for parents to take their teenage kids to go see and for school groups to watch. This is a movie I will never forget and will haunt me for months.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

'Arthur: Then and Now'

'Arthur:Then and Now'

'Arthur' (1981) (PG) (3 1/2 stars)

Writer and Director: Steve Gordon
Starring: Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald,
Stephen Elliott, Barney Martin, Jill Eikenberry, Ted Ross, Anne DeSalvo

There I was in a dark theatre in 1981 at 13 years old watching the comedy "Arthur". I was just getting seriously into films and acting and lo and behold I was watching a classic comedy performance before my eyes. I went to see "Arthur" again for about four more times just to see the performance of Dudley Moore. I had seen him before when my parents took me to go see Blake Edward's "10". I did not realize it then but when watching "Arthur" I was seeing the peak of Moore's career and sadly his last great performance. Dudley Moore deservedly got an Oscar nomination for the role because he brilliantly mixed ribald, drunk humor with bitter sweet dramatic moments. You also have the great John Gielgud as Arthur's butler Hobson. The chemistry between Moore and Gielgud is classic and the biggest strength of the movie.

"Arthur" is a a very flawed movie but I love it for so many reasons. The movie is so much fun to watch and listen to. I know I am jaded now but comedies these days are all about shock, bad dialogue. If you actually see the movie now you forget how well written it was and how many smart quips were in it. Dudley Moore gives a performance you can watch numerous times and marvel at it. As I mentioned before the chemistry between Moore and Gielgud rocks and when the big death scene comes I cried. Also under rated here is the fine performance by Liza Minelli as Linda. Her character is a classic and Minelli's line readings are wonderful. She and Dudley Moore are completely convincing together. There are also some classic comedy bits dealing with the father of Linda played by Barney Martin (Seinfeld).

The movie breaks down towards the end with a very jarring bit of melodrama but that didn't even bother me. It involves some violence at the wedding ceremony and there is some over the top cheesy drama music punctuating it. Like I said before though this is a comedy that is solidly written and performed when most comedies these days are crude. The movie could have been a disaster with it's alcoholic playboy plot striking the wrong chord but the movie is harmless. Though today the movie could not be this careless with the subject of alcoholism. Nowadays alcoholism is seen as more as a disease and more serious.

"Arthur" may not be one of the funniest comedies but it gave us one of the best comedic performances ever by Dudley Moore. It also has one of the best friendships ever on screen and a comedy score that is one of my favorites. You also have that iconic theme song and you forget that this movie actually got a lot of Oscar love. Sadly the writer and director of "Arthur" passed away a year after the movie came out but at least his one movie is now considered a classic.

'Arthur' (2011) (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writer: Peter Baynham
Director: Jason Winer
Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Great Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Garner,
Nick Nolte, Geraldine James

The remake of "Arthur" is way more flawed than the classic original and I was ready to hate it. I thought that the movie would water down the alcoholic nature of it's title character and come off like a sitcom pilot. It is sometimes shallowly written but Arthur is still a drunk and Russell Brand is actually very good and funny here. The movie has it's problems but Brand actually can carry a lead in a movie and, surprise here, is effective as a romantic lead. The movie's strength is the relationship between Arthur and Hobson again and it's sweet love story.

"Arthur" again tells the story of Arthur Bach, a millionaire rich playboy who drinks a lot. He is forced to marry the daughter of a self made millionaire or he will lose his fortune. He has a butler named Hobson and a chauffeur named Bitterman who serve him and nurture his immaturity. Hobson, who originally was a man played by Sir John Gielgud, is played by Helen Mirren here. This is a genius casting move and change and Mirren steals the movie of course. She is nowhere as great as Gielgud but that is some of the screenplay's fault, all this movie pales in comparison to the original. Luis Guzman is Bitterman and Guzman is very sweet and funny and he is a great character actor.

Now there is no way Brand could be as great as Dudley Moore was in the original but he doesn't try to be Moore and I found him very funny and charming. His love interest is played by Great Gewrwig and she is just as effective as Liza Minelli was in the original. I love Gerwig with her super long legs, her sweet, funny personality and wholesome beauty. Brand and Gerwig are great together and their love story is solid.

I was very close to not recommending this movie but three things pushed me over the top. The first was the sweet love story, the second was the still solid relationship between Arthur and Hobson and yes again I teared up during the death scene. And the third thing was the genuinely good performances by Brand, Gerwig and Mirren.
Those three things overcome some glaring flaws in this remake starting with the horribly miscast Jennifer Garner. First her character I found very demeaning to women and Garner is too sweet to play a shallowly written bitch. This is a very weakly written character and I am glad it was balanced by the Gerwig character. Garner goes through some embarrassing and unfunny stuff here. There is also a terrible score and no classic theme song except for a remake of the original.

Sadly Nick Nolte has nothing to do as the father of Garner's character. When Nolte first comes on screen the scene is jarring and weird but he looks good and chiseled and I loved hearing Nolte's gruff voice. He seems like it is a struggle to be able to speak and I found it amusing. After that he doesn't have anything to do, there is no tension between him and Brand and that is a very lost opportunity.

You probably noticed I mentioned the actors but not some of the character's names. This is not as good as the original and most of the characters don't register but again I fell in love with Brand and Gerwig. This is a very sloppily made movie at times and there are a lot of weak moments but Russell Brand is fun and I can't wait to see him again. Also Great Gerwig and Helen Mirren are two very appealing women and actresses and they are memorable. A lot of people will be bored by this but for a romantic comedy good luck finding anything out there any good. I will take this inferior remake to the original over any romantic comedy out there right now.

'Source Code'

'Source Code' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writer: Ben Ripley
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright,
Michael Arden

"Source Code" is a super fast science fiction thriller that never catches it's breath. So even if the movie's plot was lame you couldn't figure that out before it was over. Actually the plot of "Source Code" made sense to me, I had fun. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who I like a lot, as Colter who finds himself on a Chicago commuter train. He is sitting with a woman he doesn't know but she sure seems to know him. He also looks in the mirror and sees someone else's face. Okay, that would freak me out too and Colter also finds out the train has a bomb on it. That is all I should tell you because the real fun of this movie is seeing the surprises come.

Colter has to find the bomb or the bomber so he can stop him before he sets the bomb. The movie also takes time during the rush of the train to stop and set up a neat love story that is so much better than the science fiction weakling "The Adjustment Bureau". The extremely cute Michelle Monaghan plays the woman Christina and her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is electric. There is also one of my favorite actresses Vera Farmiga who is really sexy but shows she can act playing a straight laced Army woman here. Also the very talented character actor Jeffrey Wright is funny here as a Doctor who tries to explain what is going on and doesn't quite get the job done.

The movie is written by Ben Ripley and he has quite a future as a writer of science fiction movies and thrillers. There is no excess fat, the story is lean and doesn't stop to explain the plot too deeply so you can keep guessing. The movie is pretty much an 8 minute segment repeated and twisted and turned. We try to piece the puzzle together with Colter and have a lot of fun with it. There are beautiful shots of the city of Chicago and the movie always moves fast. The director Duncan Jones, David Bowie's son, is a director I want to see more of. He made the smart and fine science fiction movie "Moon" that was so delightfully complicated I wanted to see it again. I want to go back and see "Source Code" again to see if it holds up and that is why the movie works.

Friday, April 8, 2011

'Your Highness'

'Your Highness' (R) (1 1/2 stars)

Writers: Danny McBride and Ben Best
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Toby Jones,
Justin Theroux

There is a fine line between being vulgar and tasteless while being funny and being desperate and unfunny. From looking at the past comedies of the last few years you can see how hard it is to be funny while going below the belt. "The Hangover" is the side of the line that is funny and "Hall Pass" is the bad side of the line. "Your Highness" is an extremely disappointing example of a gory and vulgar comedy that is desperate and not funny at all. If you are expecting a funny and touching comedy with a dark side that will remind you of "The Princess Bride", which the trailer makes you believe, you will be bummed out.

There is a lot of great talent involved here and it is some of the same talent involved with "Pineapple Express". That was a much better example of the gore and shock value being effective. Now that movie was hated by many so this one should be hated equally. "Your Highness" is a riff on that good old fairy tale where two brothers go on a quest to rescue a princess who has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer. One brother is played by James Franco who is the brave one and the other is played by Danny McBride who is the lazy one. Both actors seem lost and are not funny. McBride can be funny and sometimes he can be boorish and here all he does his use the f word. I was in a pretty packed theatre and the only time I heard someone laugh was when the characters used the f word over and over again. McBride is funny using swear words as every day language like he did in the HBO show "Eastbound and Down". The problem is here that is all the movie has got, there isn't that much here that is clever or funny as written.

I also was looking forward to Natalie Portman loosening up in an outrageous comedy but she doesn't show up until 45 minutes into the movie. I expected this movie to be a stoner comedy like Pineapple and even that is wasted and never part of any of the comedy. The movie is also very loud and chock full of special effects and the sound level gave me a headache. It is as if the filmmakers knew they were making a turkey and decided to ramp up the explosions and action. This is a desperate comedy that sets no sure tone and has no focus. Is it trying to be a gory comedy set to shock you or a silly spoof on fantasy films? There are talented and funny people here that are set on a mission to find comedy and never complete the mission.