Sunday, August 31, 2008


I guess you're wondering why you haven't heard of this movie. And for the life of me, I can't answer that. It's a great little thriller- well written, excellently acted, with an engrossing story. It's better than most films of this genre because it relies heavily on characterization- not special effects. Woody Harrelson is the enthusiastic train nut, who, after a humanitarian stint in China with his wife, Emily Mortimer, decides to go back home via the grim Transsiberian railway.(On a side note, Emily Mortimer is REALLY married to a friend's brother. So much for that two degrees of separation.) They meet another couple on the train and Emily reveals to the other woman the brief story of her past and the two realize they have commonalities and a bond is forged. You will think Emily is the most convoluted character, but in the end, I'd argue it was Woody. The first 40 min or so, you start to wonder if this is just a chatty art film. Then it kicks into gear and doesn't let up until the last scene. I just don't know if there are many films out where the actors are so capable, and so unself-conscious. There is really no humor in this, and at times, it is gruesome and if you are sensitive, maybe even nightmare provoking in spots. Certainly no children in this one. But it is worth every effort to find a theater that is showing it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller directed this occasionally hilarious, sometimes vulgar, but well acted comedy. Just about everyone in Hollywood is in it. I'm not kidding- everyone who is male. It's a guy flick, and the guys in our viewing laughed the loudest. It is technically a movie about making a movie about making a movie. Stiller is funnier than he's been because he isn't quite so silly in this. Jack Black also reigns in some of his mugging much to the advantage of the film. Tom Cruise does a great turn as a studio mogul- and I know, you can't believe that I said something nice about Tommy Boy- but he really is a good actor. Ahem. This film is funny and crass, and definitely not for children. While there is no nudity, there is so much graphic and X-rated language that I can't imagine someone bringing a child to that. Even a 15 year old. As someone said, it's not even a third date movie. And that is saying something. I thought it bogged down in the middle, was fairly unbelievable, and needed a little more editing, but as far as comedies of the summer go- it is the best. Having sat through the puerile Pineapple Express, I can tell you this movie, while far more adult, is twenty times funnier.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Henry Poole is Here

Luke Wilson finally uses his low-key blandness to his advantage. As Henry Poole, he finally shows us that he can act- though it is still his hang dog, mumbling, woe is me facade. Everyone else in this capable cast shows their acting chops. Henry has been given a terminal diagnosis, and he moves back to his childhood neighborhood to die in a really ugly tract house- the kind southern California has in spades. His perky realtor has the house restuccoed and painted before he moves in (as IF a realtor would do that!) and when a water stain appears to be the vague image of Jesus complete with blood tears, his neighbor struggles against Henry to make it a shrine. Now the film becomes a story of faith, and the power of faith, and it becomes almost a parable. Make no mistake, this is a story of belief and redemption- definitely. What could have been a sappy, silly, saccharin story becomes a sweet tale of how humans can create what they need and believe in it and not question it. I guess that is just called faith. Everyone in this film has expressive eyes- and if the eyes are the window to the soul, then, this movie is filled with it.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This movie was misnamed- the Vicky(Hall) grad student character is bland and annoying, the Cristina (ScarJo) character is adventurously unbelievable on all accounts, and Barcelona stands as a beautiful but mute backdrop. The movie SHOULD have been called Juan Antonio (Bardem) and Maria Elena (Cruz). Until Bardem and Cruz get together, the movie is as bland as tapioca- without the pearly things. The story is believable, sort of. But Woody Allen needs to get his act together and cast real actors with real facial expressions. You'll see what I mean when you are stuck watching Hall and ScarJo recite dialogue like zombies, and then the momentous electrical change when Cruz joins the group. Even in the quietest scenes, it is Cruz who provides the nuanced emotions without losing touch with the camera. It makes the most striking contrast with the actress Rebecca Hall. She is supposed to be playing an uptight, tight panty girl who is surprised by her own passion but she comes across as cardboard. Johansson has a few moments, but not many. Her eyes are what bother me- no sparkle, no life. It is okay, but not great. If you are a Woody Allen fan, then you have to see it, but if you aren't, well, don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pineapple Express

Sometimes there is a film that is so bad that how it ever got produced is not just a mystery, but confounding. Pineapple Express is the name for a kind of weed, as in grass, as in marijuana. And just like the definition I just put out there, it is repetitive, mind robbing and often a waste of time. I love a good stoner flick- or a flick with a good stoner in it- like Dazed and Confused, or my all time favorite from the Atlanta Film Festival in 1972 or so- Arnold's Wrecking Company. But this movie is pure, unadultered, unfunny, poorly written crap. If you enjoy people getting hit in the balls (even the female cop gets hit in the groin), smoke copious amounts of dope, get stabbed, shot, throw up, bleed, get an ear partially shot off, all to the the slowest, most self-absorbed, marginally acted, dialogue ever written, then this will be the film for you. It is endless and boring and contrived- unfunny and pretentious. Apatow and Rogan are beginning to suffer from Kevin Costner/Jack Black syndrome- when a few good reviews and some box office convinces you that you poop gold and can do no wrong. It's a bad sign.

Monday, August 4, 2008

American Teen

Director Nanette Burstein spent a 1000 hours filming 5 teens in Warsaw Indiana, trying to capture the essence of the commonality of the adolescent to adult experience in the senior year of high school. These are real kids. And they have all hotly stated that they were NOT scripted, but were trying desperately to get out of high school and into college. If you had any angst or trauma in high school, you will remember it as you watch. There is the incredibly unlikeable "popular" over achiever and head bitch, Megan; the jock, Colin, being overwhelmed with the need for an athletic scholarship; the most socially inept and oblivious horndog nerdy boy you'll ever see- Jake; the cool guy who ditches a girl with a text message, Mitch; and a very cute girl who considers herself "different", when what she is really is a sweet and talented and spirited girl who is far more decent than the other girls at her high school- Hannah. It is absorbing. And really, universal. You KNOW these people and you KNOW these parents. But of all, it is Hannah, the creative and exhuberant girl, who is essentially motherless with an adorable grandma, who will earn your respect. And well, you will remember the girls from your high school (mine were named Vera, Lynette, Sandra and Lanier), who went to great lengths to make others miserable while acting as if it was "just a joke". Enjoy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Brideshead Revisited

Following my guideline of "it is what it is", this is a beautifully filmed, well cast, British remake of the book by Evelyn Waugh. I had to read it in graduate school in a "British literature from 1940 to 1970" class. I didn't watch the tv series. So, though it appeared truncated in spots and overlong in others, it was compelling enough. Emma Thompson plays the matriarch with great control. The other actors were not familiar to me, so they rang true. The theme is one of religion more than one of homosexuality. Neither the book nor the movie state that the relationship between the two male leads is consummated. It is likely that the lead character is heterosexual. It is a story about the hand of religion and the fading of the aristocracy more than it is a love story. Catholicism, at lease the kind practiced decades ago, is at the core of the motion and guilt that drives the story. If you like this type film, you will like this one. I do have to say that the sets are visually stunning- the scenes in Venice put you right there. I'd not sit through it again- it was 2:30 in our seats. But it was beautiful and worth it the first go round.