Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #9: "SOURCE CODE," "PAUL," "NO STRINGS ATTACHED," AND MORE!


I'm starting to catch up on films from this year it seems, with three of my reviews being from this year, 4 from last year, and the rest are from this century. I really probably shouldn't brag about that, but this was a fairly mediocre week of filmviewing. That doesn't mean the reviews are mediocre though, the reviews are of my typical top-notch quality. Also though, after you finish my reviews, I invite people to check out a blog by Diana Eden, she's a renowned costume designer who's worked in Hollywood for over 30 years, and for and with many fascinating people, including the legendary Bob Mackie, and even if you're not that interested in Costume Designing, she's got many great stories to tell about her career. I've read all her blogs, and she's wonderfully fascinating, and has a lot of good insights into the inner working of the entertainment world. So her blog link is right below here:
Check it out, You will be entertained and informed. And now, the Reviews!
SOURCE CODE (2011) Director: Duncan Jones
4 STARS
"Source Code," kept me fascinated from the first minute, and kept me intrigued for the rest of the film, as similar to it's main character, it's constantly attempting to figure out exactly what, when, where, and what are the rules to this universe he's found himself in. It's the second feature-length film directed by Duncan Jones, he made the film "Moon," with Sam Rockwell a couple years ago and both films have similarities in how they challenged our essential understanding of body, mind, time and soul. I think if I enjoy "Source Code," slightly more, it's probably because it's in a familiar Hollywood structure. The film centers on a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhall), who suddenly awakes to find himself part of a strange procedure where he's been placed in a machine that brings him to a specific moment in time, in this case, a train that's about to blow up in exactly eight minutes, his job is to find out who's going to blow it up, and stop him. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright play his mysterious commanders who he can only talk to through a video screen. As he tries to find the bomber, he's also trying to figure out what and how he became involved in this project. A couple weeks ago, he was in Afghanistan. He gets greeted on the train by Christina (Michelle Monagan) who is some kind of friend to the person who's identity he takes once in the eight minutes. This movie plays with some quantum physics theory that only the characters on "The Big Bang Theory," might understand, but basically, he is experiencing the same eight minutes constantly, until he finally can get it right. Yes, there's some "Groundhog Day," in this, but the movie seems to know exactly what to borrow from and how to use it in an interesting and new way. Gyllenhaal is surprisingly good here, as is Monaghan, who has kind of a tricky part here; she has to constantly being in the same moment, while Gyllenhaal has to continually evolve, change and make many alterations to the same moment. This was probably tougher to shoot than it looks. It has a few more ideas than the typical Hollywood action film, but I came away, appreciating how it was simply good.  

PAUL (2011) Director: Greg Mottola
1 1/2 STARS
I have a question here, if this movie was simply a story about two guys who pick up a third, who just happens to have a bunch of people trying to find him, would the movie be any different if the Seth Rogen hitchhiker-type character, wasn't an alien, just a guy that a few people were pissed at? I'm not completely sure it would. "Paul," has many of the ingredients I would want in a wonderful little sci-fi comedy, but something was amiss, and it missed badly at that. The movie was written and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; this is the team that created the cult hit comedy "Shaun of the Dead," (On my Netflix, still unseen by me) and one of my favorite recent comedies, the cop-film parody film, "Hot Fuzz," and Director Greg Mottola, who did the great Judd Apatow production "Superbad," as well as one of my favorite movies in recent years, the teenage romance-comedy "Adventureland." The movie begins with a pair of comic book writers (Pegg and Frost) who decide to travel America hitting all the major alien sightings spot, starting with ComicCon of course. The scenes at the beginning where they're surrounded by fellow space nerds and other such beloved comic book characters and afficiandos is the funniest scenes in the film. At a stop near Area 51, they pick up a little alien, Paul (Seth Rogen). Rogen actually acted this part and using a motion-capture technique, he was later animated to the alien character. Obviously different sections of the U.S. government are after them, the lead agent is played by Jason Bateman, and eventually a few characters will be after Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), mostly for picking up a one-eyed trailor park runner (Kristen Wiig), who Paul, cures of both blindness, and of her beliefs in Evolution. There's more than a few references and gags related to other sci-fi films, most notably "E.T.," although, there's an obligatory cameo appearance by Sigourney Weaver. If there's an alien in a film, you can almost bet, Sigourney Weaver, will be there now. Frankly, the biggest complaint I have is that this movie isn't that funny, and frankly I was just surprised. It's seems like they didn't have enough confidence in the story itself, so they just went ahead and made the kind of movie that they were trying to parody, and in the process, they lost the comedy. There's barely any need even to have everybody after him, except for one conversation about, something involving DNA extraction and/or brain surgery, I don't even remember now, but for a comedy with an alien at the center that's a smartass stoner type, this movie made me wish I had some of "Alf," to rewatch. I'm not sure how all this talent can make something so bad, but lets just hope this is an aberration and not the norm.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2011) Director: Ivan Reitman
3 STARS
Over twenty years ago, "When Harry Met Sally..." asked whether or not a man and a woman can be friends or would the sexual tension eventually get in the way. That film said no, although based on, well, my entire life, apparently they can. Now there's seems to be a new question where now the question is whether or not a man and a women can have sex occasionally without ending up in a romantic relationship. Two romantic-comedies that came out literally months apart, actually address this question, one called "No Strings Attached," the other being "Friends with Benefits." I'll review the latter, when I see it. (Oddly enough, these kind of strange Hollywood parallels aren't as unusual as you'd think, btw.) in "NSA", the two friends are Emma and Adam (Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher) who meet first at Camp when their teens, and then they run into each other at a frat party years later. Emma invites Adam to "some stupid thing," (her words which should've probably been more specific), and then they keep running, coincidently and periodically, until finally, Adam, who's a P.A. on a TV show that's obviously based off of "Glee," freaks out after finding out his father is dating his ex-girlfriend, and starts calling every girl in his phone. He wakes, in doing a walk of shame in Emma's apartment, who she shares with a few people. Emma is a very headstrong doctor, who's naturally independent and  typically scares off possible relationships before they start. The film was directed by one of the best comedy directors around, Ivan Reitman, ("Ghostbusters," "Dave," "Stripes") but this movie is surprisingly low-key. In fact, certain notes of this film actually touched on realism. I think a lot of these, "sex buddy," relationships probably kinda begin and proceed the way they do in this film. I couldn't help notice the script has a female writer in Elizabeth Meriweather.  Looking her up, she's now the producer/creator of the TV show "New Girl". Something tells me she's got more interested things to say down the line; I was somewhat caught off guard by this film's casual insight. Portman, just won the Oscar for "Black Swan," and this is not the most difficult part for her, but she's good, and Kutcher, is surprisingly good here as well. I think his natural talents are better behind the camera still, but you can see him, really working on getting the nuances of this characters right and believable. It's a marginal recommendation, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

FOR COLORED GIRLS (2010) Director: Tyler Perry

2 1/2 STARS

Well, I've give Tyler Perry some points here for trying. I'm not a fan of Perry, who recently has named the biggest money-earner in Hollywood, yes, Hollywood, and he's basically created a mini-entertainment Empire in Atlanta in recent years, but I've mostly been baffled by his popularity. His characters are often more like caricatures, and often his stories rely too on faith as a storytelling device, which really is the worst device you could use to tell a story, believably. But apparently he strikes a cord with audiences. Audiences, he doesn't usually screen his films for critics. He did screen this one though, and this isn't his typical film either. In fact he adapted it from the famous  Ntozake Shange play "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf," which is a very ambitious play to even try to adapt. That play, doesn't have a narrative, and it involves multiple African-American women, who are only named after a color, telling many varied and different tales of some of there experiences. Probably, a similar, more familiar example to what he's working with here, would be "The Vagina Monologues," which also has a similar structure. Here, Perry gets about as good a collection of actors you can find, and at times, the movie shines, but Perry's just a little faithful to the poetic monologue structure of the play, inserting many of them in between regular bits of conversation as he tries to bring all these character into some form of a relationship structure between them. I don't know how anybody could've adapted this play onto the screen successfully, so I'm certainly impressed that Tyler Perry gave it a try, but he might have just been a little too faithful to it. I won't stop anybody from watching this though, for the parts that are good, and there are a good number of them, and there's one particular scenes, involving multiple characters witnessing a very inhumane vile act that is just devastating. It might be the best scene Perry's ever directed.

MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010) Director: Nigel Cole

3 1/2 STARS

"Made in Dagenham," recieved 4 BAFTA Awards nominations last years (British Equivalent of Oscars), including a Supporting Actress nomination for Miranda Richardson. Frankly, I'm a little surprised at these nominations, Richardson's role is good but basically amounts to an elevated cameo, but the movie a nice little feel-good, based-on-a-true-story tale. It's about the 1968 strike involving the all-female seat-cushion sewers who worked at the Ford Dagenham, England plant. Ford at this time was having union trouble all throughout the world, and this strike, which consisted of a little over a couple hundred people. They were declassified from skilled laborers to unskilled, and the eventual strike would be the first step in required Equal pay laws in England. The strikers are lead by Rita O'Grady, (Sally Hawkins) who's eventually takes over as the Shop Stewart, and Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) who's their boss. This movie is one of many films from Britian in recent years that takes a very light and flighty approach to some looks at recent minor (or sometimes) historical moments, that I don't quite know what to make. Director Nigel Cole, previously made one of the "Calendar Girls," and there's also been "Kinky Boots," a few years back. They're like Richard Curtis meets "Norma Rae," type stories, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that, but there also isn't a lot particularly interesting about them either. This movie has good performances by Hawkins and Hoskins, as well as Richard Schiff and that's realy what holds the film together, and it does shed some light on a lesser-known part of modern history. We never did pass the ERA, did we?

MEGAMIND (2010) Director: Tom McGrath

2 1/2 STARS

I never thought I'd see an animated feature film that uses so many AC/DC and Guns 'n' Roses songs in it. (Well, at least one that didn't have "Heavy Metal" in the title) Dreamworks' film "Megamind," starts with a parody of the Superman origin story, as it tells the story of how Megamind (Will Ferrell), became the villainous lifelong arch-enemy of Metro Man (Brad Pitt), the protector of Metro City, which Megamind calls Metrocity. Unexpectedly, during one of Megamind's latest ill-fated plans, Megamind accidentally kills Metro Man, leaving him without a nemesis to battle, and his life, surprisingly unfulfilling. You ever wonder what would happen if Lex Luthor or the Joker would've actually succeed in thier plans? Apparently, they'd be so disappointed at the lack of an opponent, that he decides to form a new superhero to battle against. He decides on Hal (Jonah Hill) the lowly cameraman who's in love with the town's Lois Lane, Reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey). After Metro Man's defeat, Roxanne soon begins dating Bernard, the local gallery owner of the Metro Man Musuem, unaware that it's actually Megamind in disguise. "Megamind," does suffer from having come out shortly after the Pixar animated, "Despicable Me," which also involves a story of a master criminal type that eventually changes his worldview, although that film certainly uses different storytelling methods, it is a better movie. But my main problem with "Megamind," was that it kind trounches along very slowly at times. After the initial battle sequence, the movie doesn't get off the ground, for almost an hour, and frankly, this wasn't leaning in the right direction to begin with. I think there's some interesting material to use and satirize here, especially considering the explosion of Superhero films from Hollywood in recent years, but it really just doesn't get off the ground until late, almost like it took it's protagonist's dilemma a little too existensially. While the animation is good, and the final battle sequence is quite exciting, the film is ultimately a very forgettable entry in the Dreamworks canon.

THE SWITCH (2010) Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

1 STAR

This movie begins with an obviously rash decision by one character, (well, if you include a subsequent party, two bad decisions) a drunken act by another, and then an idiot plot for the rest of the film. I would normally start a film review like this off by saying something like "Poor Jennifer Aniston..." and begin talking about her amazing comic abilities in other films, and how underrated she is as an actress, possibly bringing up her amazing Indy film work, but on top of starring in this, she's also a producer, and it's made by her production company, so obviously, she must have thought this pet project was better than it actually was. The movie begins seven years ago, where Kassie (Aniston) decides it's time to have a kid, and chose a sperm donor. She reveals this information to her longtime guyfriend Wally (Jason Bateman, wow! Two bad films with him this week, just as I'm finally coming around on "Arrested Development", too) who's offended that she didn't even bother to ask him if he wanted to donate, but is also still madly in love with her, long after their brief romantic fling subsided. At Kassie's party to celebrate her insemination, (Yeah, you read that right) Wally gets drunk, and does something he would greatly regret if he could remember it. If you can't quite figure out what it is he does by now, think of the film's title, and think of what would be the absolute worse thing somebody could do at that moment, and odds are, you've got it. After losing touch for seven years, Kassie moves back into town with her quirky son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), and Kassie starts to take an interest in her newly-single sperm donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson), just around the time when obvious character similarites begin to show between Wally and Sebastian. Suddenly, Wally's drunken memory slowly returns to him. Wally should probably tell Kassie what happened, but he doesn't, at least, not right away, he waits 'til, right around the most embarrassing and inconvenient time possible. Not only is this film not funny, it's fairly disturbing, and it's completely cliche-ridden. Even Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, playing the main character's friends-they-tell-everything-to, can't save this piece of crap.



THE EDUKATORS (2005) Director: Hans Weingartner
4 STARS
I've seen a few films that are similar to "The Edukators," but this one's pretty good, albeit, slightly long. The movie takes place, where much student anticapitalist protests seem to take place, Berlin, and follow three students, Jan, Jule and Peter (Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, and Stipe Erceq), who've started calling themselves "The Edukators," and have begun protesting the system by peacefully breaking in to rich people's home, and creatively reorganizing their things in such a manner, intending to make some kind of political point. They don't steal anything, they're just aware that they're on the front lines of the upcoming socialist revolution. ([Slight chuckle and smile]Aren't we all? [head shrug]) During one of these break-ins, the house's owner Hardenberg, comes home, (Burghart Klaussner) and without many options, they kidnap him. They finally take him to some out-of-the-way cabin for about a week, where the three kids and Hardenburg, get into some deep philosophical debates and life reflections, while the kid keep him at gunpoint, but with a weeks-worth of food, trying to figure out what to do with him, and whether or not any attempts at Stockholm Syndrome by him is an act or not. This is the first film I've seen by director Hans Weingartner, and I'm still trying out if the sound in my headphones when I watched it on Netflix.com at the library was off, or is it was intentionally kinda coming in and out, and a little jumpy, but either way, it was bothersome. The actors, especially Klaussner, who's on of Germany's premiere actors, as the hippie-turned-industrialist banker they kidnap, is especially good here. If his performance isn't believable, then the film wouldn't work at all. It basically hinges on his supporting performance here. It's not a particularly new story, or the best version of it, but it's still quite a good one.
CAUTIVA (AKA CAPTIVE) (2006) Director: Gaston Biraben

4 STARS

I generally like to think of myself as being very knowledgeable about history, but the unfortunate fact is that I don't know as much as I wish I did, especially about other countries. "Cautiva," or "Captive," is a film from Argentina that shows a very real situation that's occurred down there in recent years, that's a direct result of it's recent dictatorial past. The film is centered around an amazing performance by young Barbara Lombardo, as a 15-year old student named Christina, who lives with her well-to-do, and seemingly innocuous family, until a blood test reveals that she is in fact, not Christina, but Sofia Lombardi, a young daughter of Communist activists, and both of her real parents, suddenly disappeared after her birth. She's forced to move in with a grandmother that she doesn't know. She has no idea how or why this happened, and while her parents have hired the best lawyer they can, she slowly begins to dig deeper into her birth parents' past, trying to find any clues regarding what exactly happened to her, and to them, and it becomes clear that people only seem to know very minor details of the events, and a lot of suspicious coincidences are involved. This is one of those rare times I implore people to watch a movie just to learn something. I didn't know something like this was/could happen in fairly recent time (The movie, creatively parallels some of the events with a famous World Cup Soccer game), and it seems like many of the people who were there, didn't even know what was going on in the room next door. That's seems to be a similar pattern of commands in dictator regimes, where one person would have a specific job, and they're attention to that job is so intense that they don't notice anything, or anyone else happening. The old expressions, where if it's benefits oneself not to something, they will make sure to be the last to know it. This is a very memorable and powerful film, that's apart of recent history, that we're still working on correcting the wrongs on. 

LONELY HEARTS (2007) Director: Todd Robinson
3 STARS
The "Lonely Hearts Killers," were the Bonnie and Clyde of the 1940s. They killed at least a dozen people, using a scam that isn't that uncommon. It involves placing an ad in, what was then called the Lonely Hearts section of the personal ads, bored ladies, mostly older spinster types who are still looking for love and are desperate enough to let into their life a man who's a skilled romantic letter-writer, until he comes in and steals all their money. The conman here is Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto), and his scam works well until he runs into Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), who scams him right into bed, and out of his money. The movie is narrated by Charles (James Gandolfini), a detective along with Elmer (John Travolta), his recently widowed partner, begin searching for the two, after the  suicide of one of their victims. They work through P.O. Boxes across the country, and use fake names, I.D.'s and stolen cars, and are very hard to catch, even after they murder they begin murdering their victims, something Ray isn't immediately comfortable with, but is as much a turn-on for Martha as sex is. This movie is slightly erratic in it's storytelling, and some of the casting is strange here. Salma Hayek, in particular, who I typically love, seems like an odd casting choice here, and there's underused Laura Dern as a fellow-cop that Elmer has an occasional thing with, I'm not quite sure why her character was needed here. The movie's written and directed by Todd Robinson, it's not the most impressive debut, but as you're watching, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the film and the crime spree, and that's why I'm barely recommending it, despite some of it's flaws, and because Jared Leto, is surprisingly good here as a con man. He doesn't act, too often, but here, in "Chapter 27," and a few other films, 'Requiem for a Dream," he seems to always go above and beyond in his work when acting. I should really stop being surprised when he gives a good performance, but he acts so rarely, it's almost a surprise to even see him, must less doing something well.  
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