Monday, August 30, 2010

At the Movies – September 2010

Must See in Theatres:

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek) – Drama/Thriller – Sep 15 [limited]
The film is about three friends – Ruth, Kathy and Tommy. As children, they grew up in an almost utopian environment at an English boarding school. However, as they grow into adulthood they find themselves not only discovering new emerging feelings but also the harrowing truth that awaits them. It is based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. Music video director Mark Romanek finally returns to feature films (his last being 2001’s One Hour Photo) after being attached to many projects that just never happened. This material is seemingly a perfect fit for the style of Romanek; and with a script from Alex Garland (wrote 28 Days Later… and Sunshine), this film is set to be a very good drama-thriller. Romanek has also assembled a good crew, one that augments both Romanek’s style and the tone of the piece, featuring production designer Mark Digby, composer Rachel Portman and cinematographer Adam Kimmel. The film also features a fantastic young cast with academy award nominees Cary Mulligan and Keira Knightley (whose work in this is being touted as worthy of a nod for the 2011 Oscars) and Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man, and 2010 breakout actor). Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins co-star in supporting roles. Never Let Me Go has all the ingredients to be an amazing film – check out the trailer.

Worth Checking Out (if not in theatres then at home):

The American (Anton Corbijn) – Drama – Sep 1
The film is about a seasoned assassin, Jack, who heads to Italy to escape his life and hide in the shadows – but budding relationships in his hideaway may leave him too exposed. Very talented director Anton Corbijn, also from a music video background, looks to have another critical success with this film, coming off of the highly praised Control. Corbijn has a good crew with him on the film with a screenplay based on Martin Booth’s novel by Rowan Joffe, a score from famous German rocker Herbert Gronemeyer, cinematography by Martin Ruhe (who also shot Control), and production design from Mark Digby (who got himself on two of the potential top three films, critically, this month). The main selling point for the film for audience members not familiar with Corbijn or Control is star and producer George Clooney, as the rest of the cast is unknown to US viewers. The American should blend action and drama well and have a thriller feel to it producing what will likely be a very good film – check out the trailer.

The Town (Ben Affleck) – Crime – Sep 17
The film is about a bank robber, Doug MacRay, who on an earlier heist took a hostage, a bank manager named Claire, but something different happened on that job. MacRay fell in love with his hostage, though she never saw his face. Now, he has a problem – he wants to court her despite the misgivings of his partner Jem and the fact that the FBI is after him and questioning this girl, his hostage. He must find a way to plan his next robbery, evade the FBI and address his feelings for Claire. Director Ben Affleck has a new challenge for his second feature – he is directing, producing and starring (and for those who see the name Ban Affleck and immediately think of his less than stellar films he has starred in or did not know he directs, rent Gone Baby Gone, his first directorial effort, and suddenly you will be excited to see this film too), and he co-wrote the screenplay based on Chuck Hogan’s novel with writing partner Aaron Stockard (the two also co-wrote Gone Baby Gone). Affleck has brought back Gone Baby Gone production designer Sharon Seymour and composer Harry Gregson-Williams to work on the film, while adding master cinematographer Robert Elswit to shoot it and composer David Buckley to also contribute to the score. The film boasts an excellent supporting cast with Jeremy Renner (hot off The Hurt Locker), Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Titus Welliver, and Jon Hamm (from the wonderful show Mad Men). The Town is a crime-drama at heart, but mixes in some romance and thriller aspects as well. It will surely be a very entertaining and engaging film – check out the trailer.

Good for Dates:

Heartbreaker (Pascal Chaumeil) – Romantic Comedy – Sep 10 [LA/NY]
The French film is about the talents of Alex Lippi. He and his sister run a business designed to break-up and destroy relationships, and Alex is the best. They are hired by a rich man to stop his daughter from getting married. The problem is that they only have a week, so Alex must work fast and pull out all the stops. TV director Pascal Chaumeil makes his feature debut with this film. He started on TV doing crime dramas but his last two shows were comedies, so he has experience in the genre. Joining him are composer Klaus Badelt (probably best known for scoring the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie), superb cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (a frequent collaborator of Luc Besson, it will be interesting to see his work on this and how it varies from his usual sci-fi or action thriller genre work) and relative newcomer production designer Herve Gallet. Romain Duris stars, making the film much more interesting as he usually does fabulous work (and is the reason this film is getting a US release). Vanessa Paradis and The Walking Dead’s star Andrew Lincoln co-star (among others). Heartbreaker should be a very funny film and Duris is perfect for the role of a man who destroys relationships by inserting himself – check out the trailer.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen) – Romantic Comedy – Sep 22 [LA/NY]
The film is about a pair of married couples – Alfie and Helena and their daughter Sally and her husband Ron. Trouble starts when Alfie leaves Helena to pursue a younger woman under the guise of lost youth. Helena looses all rationality and starts to solely follow the advice of a questionable fortune teller. Sally develops a crush on a gallery owner, as uneasiness brews in her marriage, while her husband has a crush on a mysterious woman he sees through a nearby window. For the film, writer-director Woody Allen returns to England, where he made one of his best films of late – Match Point (and I also really liked Scoop; Cassandra’s Dream was decent too). Allen is working with cinematography legend Vilmos Zsigmond and production designer Jim Clay, both of whom have worked with Allen on previous films. The score, as usual, will be provided by found music selected by Allen. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, and Josh Brolin, while principal supporting characters are played by Antonio BanderasFreida Pinto, Lucy Punch, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is being compared to Vicky Cristina Barcelona by critics, though without quite the same allure –check out the trailer.

Fun Movies:

Machete (Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez) – Action – Sep 3
The film is about an ex-Federale, simply known as Machete, who after being betrayed by the organization that hired him plots brutal revenge against his former boss (and why wouldn’t he – he is Machete). Writer-director Robert Rodriguez caters his film (the non-kids films at least) to his specific audience and this is certainly no different. Co-director Ethan Maniquis worked with Rodriguez as an editor in the past. The film is produced by Rodriguez and often partner in crime Quentin Tarantino. Known for shooting, cutting, directing and doing pretty much everything else himself, Rodriguez decided this time to hire action-movie composer John Debney, cinematographer Jimmy Lindsey (worked with Rodriguez many times in the past as a camera operator) and production designer Christopher Stull (who also worked with Rodriguez in the past in the art department; it is cool to see a director giving an opportunity for more responsibility to many of his frequent collaborators). The film stars Danny Trejo and as a great supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, and Michelle Rodriguez. There are also a bunch of famous stars that pop-up here and there throughout. Machete is not a film for everyone, but fans of Rodriguez are very excited to see Trejo go on a rampage with Rodriguez’s highly stylized violence – check out the trailer.

The film is about Alice and her continuous fight against both the Umbrella Corporation and legions of undead, victims of Umbrella Corp’s virus, as she tries to find a safe-haven for the dwindling number of uninfected survivors. Writer-director and producer Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the director’s chair in the series, having done the first, though he has had a creative say throughout, as he wrote and produced all four. Hopefully, Anderson directing can return the series to the caliber of the first film, as the last two were not very good at all. Composer tomandandy, cinematographer Glen MacPherson and Arvinder Grewal make up a decent action-movie crew (tomandandy in particular has been doing some really good work of late). However, it is the cast that makes this an interesting addition to the action genre. Lead by series star Milla Jovovich, the cast features female action stars Ali Larter, Spencer Locke and Sienna Guillory, as well as Kim Coates, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Boris Kodjoe, and Wentworth Miller. Resident Evil: Afterlife is the next in the ever pointless masquerade of 3-D films; however it was shot with the same cameras as James Cameron’s Avatar, so at least it will not just be terrible tacked-on 3-D. This action-horror film should be fun, but likely and ultimately just as unfulfilling as the last two in the series – check out the trailer.

The Virginity Hit (Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland) – Comedy – Sep 10
The film is about four guys and their experience documenting one of their friend’s journey as he tries to lose his virginity, which leads them places they never expected and tests their friendship. Co-directors Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland shot the film as a pseudo documentary; similar to another film they wrote The Last Exorcism. Backing them up are comedy veterans Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who are producing the film. The film’s cast is made up of relative unknowns keeping with the illusion, be its perceived, that the film is real. The Virginity Hit looks pretty funny and should make for a good Netflix rental, but it probably will struggle to generate too much box office business – check out the trailer.

Easy A (Will Gluck) – Comedy – Sep 17
The film is about Olive, a good student who never did anything wild, who decides that to increase both her social and financial standing she will pretend to sleep with nerdy guys from her school, only the plan does not go quite as well as she thought. Director Will Gluck’s first feature film, Fired Up!, was very funny and worked surprising well for its subject matter and intended audience, thus this should be no different (aka, though it is a teen comedy with no illusions of expected quality, it should be funny and stand out above the rest this year). TV composer Brad Segal, cinematographer Michael Grady and production designer Marcia Hinds make up the principal crew. Gluck is using Grady and Hinds again for his next film Friends with Benefits, so their work must have been good on this. The good young cast features lead Emma Stone, and supporting players Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Cam Gigandet, Alyson Michalka, and Dan Byrd. Gluck was also was able to bring together a great group of experienced actors to supplement the supporting cast, including – Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Stanley Tucci, and Fred Armisen. Easy A will be funny and should make for a good Netflix rental – check out the trailer.

Devil (Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle) – Horror – Sep 17
The film is about a group of people trapped in an elevator that realize that one of them is the devil (but which one!!!). M. Night Shyamalan seems to only direct terrible films (considering the last few), so for his latest story he decided to produce and hire the brothers, Drew and John Erick Dowdle, behind Quarantine to direct.  He also hired cinematographer Tak Fujimoto to shoot the film, having worked with him on a number of past films. The cast, while not made up of the most known actors, is fairly good with Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Geoffrey Arend, Bokeem Woodbine, and Jenny O’Hara starring, and supporting work from Chris Messina, Matt Craven, Jacob Vargas, and Caroline Dhavernas (shameless Wonderfalls plug, but hey it is a great show, oh and she stars in it). Devil is being touted as a return to form for Shyamalan, as it is a good horror film with twists that support the narrative and add to the enjoyment (funny that he is not directing to have an actual good film) – check out the trailer.

The film is about Gordon Gekko, a disgraced financial maestro who is finally getting out of prison, and Jacob Moore, a young trader engaged to Gekko’s daughter. Gekko returns to the financial world to find that things have changed – now it is encouraged to do the types of things that he went to jail for, he must decide if he wants to return to his devious ways or lead a better life. Meanwhile, Moore must decide if the life of a trader is what he really wants. Oliver Stone revisits Wall Street with this film to comment on the recent and on-going financial meltdown. It will be interesting it see how Gekko, a character obsessed by greed and wealth, will act in the environment that led to the huge financial/real estate bubble. Stone needs a hit, as his last really good film was made in the 90’s. He has enlisted composer Craig Armstrong, very good cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and production designer Kristi Zea to aid in his vision for the world and tone of the film. Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen reprise their roles from the first film, while Stone has put together a great new group of actors – Shia LaBeouf (though, I think some of us are somewhat tired of him, Indy 4 was the killer for me), Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach, and Frank Langella. That is one thing about Stone that is true whether the film is good or bad – he is always able to assemble an interesting group of actors. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps should be enjoyable, with some critics calling it even better than the original – check out the trailer.

You Again (Andy Fickman) – Comedy – Sep 24
The film is about a young woman, Marni, who realizes that her brother is about to marry her high school nemesis, Joanna, a girl that used to bully her. Now, Marni is on a mission to expose Joanna’s true colors and break-up the wedding. Director Andy Fickman does not have the best track record with his films – making really broad commercial uninteresting emotionally un-engaging family fair. And this looks to be no different. He has a good, not great principal crew with production designer Craig Stearns, cinematographer David Hennings and composer Nathan Wang. Star Kristen Bell’s involvement is both good and bad – she is awesome, but has an awful leading-role film-credit list (add another to the list with this, she was so good in Veronica Mars and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it is just too bad she cannot get better leading roles in film). The supporting cast does make this a little more interesting though as it features Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Betty White (who seems to be the hottest comic property right now), Kristin Chenoweth, and Jamie Lee Curtis. The cast is good enough to almost make You Again seem like it might be good (sure it will be somewhat funny, the cast is too good for it not to be, but a good movie… no way) – check out the trailer (and you will see why).

The film is about Soren, a young barn owl, who is kidnapped by the evil owls of St. Aggie’s, where they brainwashed their captives to be soldiers. Soren and his friends are able to escape to the island Ga’Hoole. There, they decide to join the wise noble owls would fight to stop the fiendish owls of St. Aggie’s. This seems like an odd film for director Zach Snyder’s next project, as it is nothing like his previous three films, not mention that the format and source material do not lend themselves to Snyder’s style of filmmaking. Australian composer David Hirschfelder will provide the sonic emotional backbone to the film. Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, and David Wenham make up the talented voice cast. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole looks well made, has a good voice cast and Zach Snyder has the capability to tell a good story (if he does not get too wrapped up in his own style) – and yet for some reason is completely uninteresting. Maybe it is having owls as the characters, but it is probably because it is just another of the same. While it is an original property, it seems completely overdone and tired as a film story – check out the trailer.

Buried (Rodrigo Cortes) – Thriller – Sep 24 [limited]
The film is about Paul, a US contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis, he finds himself buried in a coffin with only a cell phone and lighter (the tag line is: 170,000 SQ miles of desert. 90 minutes of Oxygen. No way out.). Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes makes is stateside feature debut with the film featuring work from countrymen composer Victor Reyes and cinematographer Eduard Grau. Ryan Reynolds stars in the film, a challenging role since he is in a coffin almost the whole time. Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis and Erik Palladino co-star (Palladino is really good in Over There, check it out).  The film got a lot of buzz out of the San Diego Comic-Con and Sundance. The film is adored by critics who like thrillers. Buried is the must see thriller of the fall – check out the trailer.

Art-House Watch:

The Winning Season (James C. Strouse) – Comedy/Sports – Sep 3 [LA/NY]
The film is about a has-been coach, Bill, who is given a second chance to right his life when he is offered a chance to coach his local high school’s girls basketball team. Writer-director James C. Strouse’s first two scripts were a little too depressing and slow (he directed the second, Grace Is Gone). Hopefully, he can make a more engaging and entertaining comedy, as his dramas literally drain the viewer. Strouse’s aesthetic style looks really indy (the typical way a lot of independent films look, aka not glossy) and this looks no different as he has indy crew production designer Stephen Beatrice and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco. The cast is really good with the very funny Sam Rockwell and Rob Corddry and young actresses ready to breakout Emma Roberts and Rooney Mara (who with roles in Fincher films The Social Network and a lead in the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has already got her breakout roles). Knowing Strouse, The Winning Season with play more like a Dramady than a comedy, but either way it looks to be quite good – check out the trailer.

I’m Still Here (Casey Affleck) – Documentary – Sep 10 [limited]
The film is about Joaquin Phoenix freaking out, quitting movies and becoming a rapper – is it real or is it all one big performance art piece? First-time director Casey Affleck and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka document the transformation. Interestingly, Phoenix is a producer on the film, but he has no new film roles in the works – so the question remains – is this serious or not? Either way, the film should be very entertaining, if Phoenix’s interview on David Letterman is any indication (video here). The documentary will feature a number of Phoenix’s rap performances. I’m Still Here is going to be funny, maybe sad, maybe innovative, but certainly captivating – check out the trailer.  

Jack Goes Boating (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – Drama – Sep 17 [limited]
The film is about a limo driver, Jack, who goes on a blind date, provoking a tale of love, betrayal, friendship, and charm focusing on two NYC working-class couples. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this film, eliciting the help of indy cinematographer W. Mott Hupfel III. Hoffman has put together a good cast with himself, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Hoffman, as an actor, is known for his very good character work, so it is no surprise that his first feature as a director would be character centric rather than about a happening. The film has been a huge success among critics, but will have a harder time garnering support from average film-goers. Jack Goes Boating should be a good character piece with Oscar potential for its actors – check out the trailer.    

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (Davis Guggenheim) – Documentary – Sep 24
The film is about the crumbling public education system in America – leave no child behind is failing. It was once one of the best in the world, now it is a disgrace. Documentary and fiction filmmaker Davis Guggenheim tries to bring the issue to the masses with his new film, as he did with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Talented composer Christophe Beck scores the film. Waiting for ‘Superman’ addresses an issue that needs to be brought to light for the average American and hopefully the film can help a system that so desperately needs it – check out the trailer.

Movie of the Week - Priceless

This week’s movie is Priceless (2006).

The French film is about a ritzy hotel employee in the south of France, Jean, who is mistaken for one of the hotel’s wealthy guests by a young gold digger, Irene. After a night together Jean falls in love with her, but she is not ready to give up her lifestyle and be poor for love. So, Jean must play her game to win her heart. Stars Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh have wonderful chemistry in the film and play off each other very well. Tautou takes on a much more fake and glamorous role than her usual work on the outside, but she is still sweet on the inside, and Elmaleh is hilarious with his slapstick style comedy (they make a good team and I hope to see them together again). Tautou worked so well with comedy writer-director Pierre Salvadori that they are doing another film together (Full Treatment) set to release this year (at least in France). What makes this film great is its two stars. They help transcend the film from being just another rom-com and give it depth and emotion. And, they both provide funny moments throughout. This is a must for rom-com fans as it is one of the best of the past decade. Check out the trailer.

Blu-ray and DVD available on or watch it on

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010) – Review

The Killer Inside Me is a dark if not frightening film delving into the mind of a disturbed psychotic killer. Throughout the film seems a bit disjointed. The viewer is not always sure of the motivation or the passage of time, or even what is real – but it works. Director Michael Winterbottom structures the film through the mind of his protagonist and being that he is demented and oblivious to wrong-doing the structure is at times hard to follow or even unreliable. Can the audience really trust anything that they are shown? Winterbottom (and protagonist Lou Ford) do not pull any punches as the story is told – it is quite unnerving and specifically graphically violent. Much like American Psycho, the mask of sanity erodes as the story unfolds – the more time the audience spends with Ford, the more uneasy they become. The film emits tension, but subtly – the viewer feels alarmed and uncomfortable with the character they are given to follow, but they cannot place the reason – and then like a striking blow Winterbottom exploits the tension to its emotional peak (and at this point alienating some audience members). However, what makes this film particularly interesting, and Winterbottom’s work astounding, is despite the character being very unlikable and the brash violence, there are still moments in which the audience is behind the character – much in the same way as with the film Downfall. The viewer recognizes the evil in the character yet that same character being the narrative storyteller captivates the audience, and done correctly can even garner support from the audience – and Winterbottom achieves that, but still keeps the character distant as well. Ford is always on guard even from himself. Ford tells the story in a matter-of-fact way, but he does not divulge his emotions, they are there for the viewer to see gradually, just underneath. The film works best as a character study – everything around Ford is just scenery, a nuisance that he sees himself above. The film is impressive in its duality of viewer emotion (we hate Ford utterly from a moral stand, but yet underneath we root for him to overcome the obstacles closing in around him). The two female characters in the film are portrayed to be strong, and yet they both give in to Ford’s violence, not running from it but embracing it with compassion (much like the audience). The film, it would seem, would not play well for a feminist audience, but Winterbottom seems to be using his female characters as a plant in the audience’s mind – to see if he can bring them over to the dark side, and here like Ford’s control over the women, he succeeds in many cases. With The Killer Inside Me Witnerbottom has created both an interesting character study of a psychopath, but an even more penetrating look at the emotional morality and narrative influence on a passive audience. On the technical side of the film: Winterbottom is able to craft a film that is primarily interested in the emotional state of the audience. He is less concerned with a tight narrative that is easy to follow. This is a big risk, but Winterbottom succeeds in engaging the audience with characters rather than plot. The supporting characters are not really developed and are sometimes distracting, but overall Winterbottom and screenwriter John Curran (a fine filmmaker in his own right) are able to capture the tone and performances they need for the film to work. Casey Affleck is calm with sinister misdeeds waiting to erupt behind his eyes (the performance reminds me a lot of his work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Jessica Alba is shot beautifully in the film and plays the role in such a sweet way that the contrast of violence to her allure is quite powerful and jolting. Kate Hudson is also good, in maybe the most unforgiving of all the characters. As with Alba, Hudson portrays her character to be likable, yet dumbfounding at times, that the juxtaposition of emotion is dynamic. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (a frequent Winterbottom collaborator) shoots the film to perfectly capture the core emotion of each scene. Melissa Parmenter’s score is subtle and supports the emotional weight – but it is the lack of score at key moments that provides more of an impact. The minimalist production design by Mark Tildesley helps focus the attention solely on the characters. The film is not for everyone, as much of it is visually intense – but Witnerbottom and cast and crew have made an unhinging film in which the audience partakes in the brutality and culpability. 7/10

Movie of the Week - Goodbye Lenin!

This week’s movie is Goodbye Lenin! (2003).

The German film is about a family that lives in East Germany just before the fall of the wall. The mother of the family is a strong supporter of the ideals of the East. She has a heart attack and is in a coma during the fall of the wall and the westernization of the eastern section of Berlin. Time passes her by – but suddenly she wakes up, but is still very fragile and doctors warn she cannot take another shock, so her son, with the help of his sister and friends, goes to great and creative lengths to keep her ideals and East Germany alive, if only for her eyes and ears. The film is directed by talented German filmmaker Wolfgang Becker who also co-wrote it, and stars Daniel Bruhl (in the first of his three international hits, making him somewhat known to an international audience, aka America – the other films being The Edukators and Joyeux Noel).  The film also features very good performances from Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, and Florian Lukas. Becker also has an excellent crew with him on the film – Yann Tiersen provides wonderful music as always, and Martin Kukula’s cinematography and Lothar Holler’s production design not only bring the world to life but allow Becker to have his film play on a romanticized level of reality. What makes the film great is just that, it takes place in reality, but seems to hover above it in a simpler happier world (a bit like Amelie). The film is a beautiful tale of discovery and love. It is a must for fans of light drama. Check out the trailer.

DVD available on, or try watching it on

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Expendables (2010) – Review

The Expendables is an action movie in the purest sense. It is billed like an 80’s action movie fan’s dream come true – featuring so many stars of the genre (and a few from violet sports like WWE and MMA).  And the film lives up to that of a nostalgic throwback to great action films of the past. The plot is very shallow, but really is not the point, just a means to an end. It is the action set pieces and the players fighting, driving, shooting, and blowing stuff up within them that is the draw of the film and the point. Here, The Expendables does not disappoint. The action is fast, loud and most importantly engaging and very entertaining for genre fans. Director Sylvester Stallone understands this genre (or sub-genre) well and delivers just the right amount of each ingredient to deliver on the high expectations of fans going in. Stallone is also able to get good performances that fit the tone and archetypes of the film and genre – it is clear that Stallone loves and respects this genre and wanted to make a love-letter to the fans type of movie. The only issue that hurts the film is the camera Stallone employs to shoot some of his scenes. It feels as if he has watched and liked the work of Paul Greengrass (and/or its trickle-down flow through action, thriller and even drama films and filmmakers) and decided to use his “shaky-cam” gritty style for his film. The problem is that Greengrass uses it to a specific purpose, to enhance his narrative – bringing the audience into the movie by making it gritty and feel as if they are a part of the action, while also using it to focus attention on specific aspects thereby telling a precise story. Stallone uses this camera style more so as a means to shot a scene, an aesthetic choice rather than a narrative choice – it does not help tell the story nor feel gritty and real (either he or cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball do not quite have the practice or purpose to use this camera style to its full effect), and thus it is a bit distracting during the dialog and plot scenes, but once the action sequences start this is completely forgotten and the action carries the day (so to speak). The script and dialog is also a bit clunky. There are a few scenes and lines that do not really work or are really not needed (aka the scene with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, but I would rather this scene be in the movie than not, even though it hurts the narrative flow slightly, because it is just too awesome seeing them all together and watching and listening to the banter). Going in, the audience should know that this is not really a narrative film. It is a grand spectacle made for a specific fan base, and in this the film is hugely successful. Onto the technical stuff: Stallone still can make fun action films (and I hope he makes a few more as a director), he is able to layer in some dramatic tension and moral dilemma to give his characters some emotional depth, but knows how to deliver action (as the last big action set piece is very entertaining) and knows what the fans expect and want to see (this is about the action, while his film Rocky Balboa is about the character – Stallone proves that he can succeed in both arenas of filmmaking). Cinematographer Kimball and editors Ken Blackwell and Paul Harb shot and cut the movie to be straightforward, fast paced and tight, at least once the action sequences start flowing.  However, and this is typical of most American action films, the fights are cut a bit too quick and choppy not allowing the audience to really see what is going on (but this is a minor complaint). Brian Tyler’s score is a bit heavy-handed at times, as it seems to force-feed the audience the intended emotional response to what is happening on the screen. The production design by Franco-Giacomo Carbone is quite good. His Island sets, especially the castle are impressive. The crew overall does a good job assisting Stallone is creating the right ambiance for the film.  This is not really a film aimed at getting good dramatic performances, although Mickey Rourke delivers good supporting work in the film. Most of the principal cast are larger-than-life action stars in their mediums and each brings their own flare to the film and is given time to show the audience why they are action-stars to begin with – Stallone does not hog the screen at all, each is given their respect and that helps the film overall. The Expendables is not a dramatic film, it is not art – but who cares – it is a heck of a good time for action genre fans. 7/10 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie of the Week - The Beat That My Heart Skipped

This week’s movie of the week is The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005).

The film is about a shady real estate businessman in Paris who is at a crossroads: does he want to continue to make good money in the rough trade that he is currently in or completely change his life and follow his dream of being a concert pianist. The film is directed by the master French auteur Jacques Audiard (who also did the recent critical success: A Prophet), and it stars (my second favorite French actor) Romain Duris – who delivers a fantastic performance. It also features good supporting work from the wonderful Melanie Laurent and Niels Arestrup. The production crew for the film is made up of skilled craftsmen including the very talented cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, whose work with Audiard is phenomenally and artistically interesting, production designer Francois Emmanuelli, who perfectly captures Paris’s underbelly, and (as usually) a great score from Alexandre Desplat (the hardest working man in show business). What makes the film great is Audiard’s directorial skill and the way he uses his camera to focus and guide the viewer through the specific emotional journey that he wants the viewer to embark on, and Duris is again excellent. This is a must see for fans of French cinema and dramas. Check out the trailer.

Available on [DVD]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movie of the Week - The Valet

This week’s movie is The Valet (2006).

The French film is about a porter and a supermodel who must fake a relationship for the media to salvage a CEO’s marriage, at least for the short-term as the supermodel is the CEO’s mistress whom he promises to leave his wife for – all the while the porter’s life is changing as the supermodel’s confidence rubs off on him. Directed by the wonderful comedy mind of writer/director Francis Veber (The Closet and The Dinner Game), the film is a great romantic comedy (a film that overly commercialized and stunted American rom-coms should aspire to be). The cast is also fantastic headlined by the very funny Gad Elmaleh (one of my favorites), whose performance makes the film; he is the perfect everyman-type. It also stars Alice Taglioni, Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Virginie Ledoyen, and comedian Dany Boon. What makes the film great is its fun combination of farce and fantasy but still being anchored in the reality. Most rom-coms have a certain amount of fantasy to them, this film is no different, but it exploits this fantasy for its comedic potential. The film is very funny, well acted and will leave the viewer happy. It is a must see for fans of rom-coms. Check out the trailer.

The Valet [DVD]

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Other Guys (2010) – Review

The Other Guys is funny, at times – and mainly due to Will Ferrell – but not all the time, and not nearly enough. The film does not really have an identity that the audience can get behind and follow. Is it an absurdist comedy, a buddy-cop action comedy, a parody of the buddy-cop action comedy, or just a messy un-cohesive mixture of all these things? The film plays like a buddy-cop action comedy for the majority, but falters when it gets sidetracked by overplayed comedy bits (that often are not even funny) and genre parody that contradicts the themes and tones set in place in other parts of the film. For example, there is a sequence in which the two main characters go for a drink after a tough day. The scene is presented in a series of flowing stills throughout the bar depicting ever escalating events as the night goes on. This scene makes no sense in context to the rest of the film, thus alienating the audience from the characters and the narrative. There are cues that inform the viewers that really this is a parody, but then the next cue tells them no wait this is really a buddy-cop action comedy genre film, no wait this is a parody of the genre – director Adam McKay does not seem to know what film he wants to make. Worse, the main characters are poorly teamed (and this is the primary killer of comedy, things that would otherwise be funny do not play nearly as well when there is a lack of timing and interplay between the actors, which come from chemistry). There is almost no chemistry between any of the actors in the film, but especially between Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg – they just sort of yell at each other in varying degrees of volume and intensity and that is supposed to be funny. This lack of chemistry only compounds the issue with many scenes that do not work causing them to stick out even more.  The lack of identity leaves the viewer on guard, trying to decipher the language of the film rather than enjoying the jokes and the film. With no clear identity every plot point, action beat, line of dialog is questioned, thus the audience cannot fully invest in the film. On top of all the narrative issues, lack of chemistry and many suspect gags, the plot of the film is completely underwhelming. The audience does not even care about whether the plot is resolved or not, especially since they are not invested in the characters. The shooting style of the film is also odd. The film feels alienating like the viewer is an outsider the whole time. The action scenes particularly seem disconnected from what is on the screen and what the audience should feel due to the visuals. Everything is a bit off here. But, Ferrell has quite a few moments of hilarity. He is the only reason this film works at all. Any funny that this film offers is directly due to Ferrell’s work, despite all the problematic components. The film is disappointing given the talent involved (principally the collaboration between Ferrell and McKay, which have, up until this film, all been good). On the technical side, McKay is off completely directing this film. His narrative is an utter mess structurally, thematically and tonally – the audience has no idea what kind of film they are watching – and again it seems as if McKay has no idea what film he is making. He also completely fails to get his cast on the same page – nothing gels, there is no chemistry, and the result is a lot of funny people and good actors not delivering, and more importantly not coming together to provide a cohesive performance for the film. Michael Keaton for instance, alone, his performance is funny, but it is sort of abstract – a deconstruction of the buddy-cop captain character, but since tonally, the viewer does not know for sure if this is that type of movie, Keeton’s performance just seems sort of strange and does not really work or bring anything to the film (which is a shame, because this performance in the right film would be great). Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson give caricature performances of hero cops, but then this is turned on its head in a scene that sets the tone really for the whole film to be confusing (as you literally watch it and think, wait what is happening right now and why is this happening – and not because the plot is complex).  Rob Riggle and Steve Coogan have been funny in other films, but neither works in this (Coogan is almost anti-funny – scene killer). Ray Stevenson, who has been brilliant in other things (um, like Rome) is given nothing to do and is completely wasted. Jon Brion’s score is messy as well (not surprising given McKay’s direction). There are serious themes and then self referential nods to the buddy-cop genre that do not even work in the context of what is on the screen or has happened in the film. Oliver Wood’s cinematography (which is usually good) is awkward and disengaging; the audience never feels like a part of the film emotionally. And Clayton Hartley’s production design is adequate – though some of the locations are interesting. The Other Guys is a clutter-filled film of thematic and tonal chaos and plainly just does not work – however, there are a few bits that are very funny and Ferrell does some strong work. 6/10