Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Rachel Getting Married' is an engaging event

*** out of ****

Anyone who has been to a wedding knows the endless preparation it takes before the bride and groom say their, “I do’s.” While wedding films are hardly original anymore, Rachel Getting Married is a refreshing, and most importantly – an intimate, look at the emotions before, during and after the nuptials. Walking down the aisle with grace, Rachel gets a bit disjointed along its rocky path.

As the title implies, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, but that is hardly the big event. Kym (Anne Hathaway), Rachel’s sister, is back from rehab to attend the wedding and can’t help but put the spotlight on herself.

Ready to see her family, halfheartedly making amends as a part of her 12-step program, Kym seems oblivious to the toll she has made on her relatives after multiple trips to rehab facilities. Temperamental, pessimistic, narcissistic and just plain unpleasant, Kym is not easy to like. Rachel who is sensible and forgiving to Kym is reluctant about her being the Maid-of-Honor and even more nervous what could happen if she isn’t.

Carrying a burden of a dark family secret, Kym, Rachel and their divorced mother Abby (Debra Winger) and father Paul (Bill Irwin) are about to face the harsh reality of their dysfunctional lives together. Arguing, bonding and accepting, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directs a gripping and binding film.

Jonathan Demme provides more intimacy to the event by filming with a handheld camera. Those scared off by this queasy camera technique should find comfort in the fact that Demme has a sturdy hand throughout the process.

The editing is done nicely, but Demme goes overboard with the toasts and wedding band montages. By the fifth toast and second dance you wonder when will they cut the cake.

Rachel Getting Married is Jenny Lumet’s (daughter of Sidney which is also the name of the groom subtlety played by Tunde Adebimpe) first screenplay. Jenny writes powerful conversation scenes that are excellently played out by the cast.

Rachel is one of those films where the performances outpace the movie itself, with outstanding acting by Anne Hathaway (Get Smart, The Devil Wears Prada), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) and Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman.)

Hathaway gives the best performance of her career as Kym. Between being steely and emotional, Anne makes Kym endearing, even though you wouldn’t want to be in the same room as her, much less a wedding.

Overshadowed by Hathaway, but nonetheless brilliant are DeWitt and Winger. Trying to be accommodating, DeWitt is not afraid to be contentious, not willing to sacrifice her big day for Kym. Debra Winger makes a welcome trip back to the big screen as the bickering girls’ passive but loving mother. Winger does have a shinning moment during a confrontation with Kym that could possibly earn both actresses Oscar gold.

Rachel Getting Married’s greatest achievement is breaking the banal dysfunctional family-wedding genre. This marriage will have a long reception with its audience.

Josh Brolin takes office in 'W.'

**1/2 out of ****

President George W. Bush is the controversial subject for Oliver Stone's pretentious, gutsy and middling biopic "W."

This film with a simple title sets out to cover Bush's college years through his first term as president. Filmmaker Stone is no stranger to politics after driving his films "JFK" and "Nixon" all the way to the Oscars.

With "W." Stone makes an energetic and entertaining film, but drops the ball when it comes to giving a full view of the man the nation elected -- twice. Rather, he and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (who previously wrote Stone's Oscar-winner "Wall Street") pick an assortment of vignettes that chronicle the president's highs (the first time he meets his wife Laura) and lows, which in this film are plenty.

Stone spices up the conventional story telling, injecting interesting imaginary sequences that Bush uses as analogies, such as playing baseball to a cheering crowd as one-time owner of the Texas Rangers.

The main draw of "W." isn't the plot or the direction, but the film's first-rate actors and their impersonations of recent historical figures. Much like the excitement of Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," the whole film feels rather SNL-ish with more moments of laughter than one would expect in a historical drama.

Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") goes beyond the call of duty as commander in chief, having everything from Bush's walk to his talk mastered.

Jeffrey Wright ("Casino Royale") does an amiable job as Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, but grows affected during his long monologues. Elizabeth Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") is a standout as Laura Bush in select scenes. Richard Dreyfuss nicely plays a subdued Richard Cheney, unlike the funny-yet-over-the-top Toby Jones ("The Mist") as Bush's right-hand man Carl Rove. James Cromwell ("24") gives a zesty performance as Bush's always expecting Poppy and Ellen Burstyn ("The Wicker Man") is convincing in a hammed-up portrayal of Barbara Bush.

With the cast's fine performances, it is easy to tell that the normally elegant Thandie Newton ("Norbit") gets the lowest approval rating. Newton falls flat on her face in an over-the-top caricature of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that leaves you cringing at her voice and facial impersonations.

It is not hard to read between the lines to figure out director Oliver Stone's less-than-favorable opinion of our 43rd president. "W." is still a moderately fair portrait of the man.

'Eagle Eye' flys high

**1/2 out of ****

What if the government is watching you read this review right now? Listening to your conversations through your phone’s speaker, looking at you from your webcam and following every move you make through your cell phone’s tracking device. This is the essence of the thriller Eagle Eye which lacks the anxiety of the idea that technology is surveying you everywhere.

Everyman star Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Indiana Jones 4) leads; reteaming with director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives, Two for the Money) who put him on the map with the modern-day revamp of Rearview Window, Disturbia. Borrowing and modernizing elements again from Hitchcock (this time North by Northwest) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Caruso makes a thoroughly entertaining thriller that dabbles more into action than smarts.

Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) is a Stanford dropout who works at Copy Cabana, living in the shadow of his identical twin, Air Force Cadet Ethan (LaBeouf, again).

Getting a call from his mother that his twin was killed in a traffic accident, it isn’t long after the funeral that Jerry gets another fateful call. Coming home to find his apartment filled with terrorist weapons, Jerry gets a phone call from a mysterious woman to flee his apartment and if he doesn’t obey, he will die.

Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is an overworked paralegal who sends her son (Cameron Boyce) off by train to perform at the Kennedy Center. Shortly after, she gets a call from the mystery woman. Rachel is told if she disobeys, the train her son is on will be derailed.

Slacker Jerry and divorced mother Rachel get paired together on the mystery adventure by the phone calls. Realizing whoever is pulling their strings somehow sees every move they make. Making traffic lights go from red to green, surveillance cameras going blank and machinery operate robotically (that’s only the tip of the iceberg).

Shia LaBeouf once again gives an outstanding performance, showing that he can carry a movie, going the extra mile to make a fully-developed character. Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) has a motherly element towards Jerry while unselfishly going on with the requests to save her son.

Billy Bob Thorton is an FBI Agent and Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Rent), playing an Air Force Investigator, round out the talented cast, trying to track down Jerry and Rachel. Julianne Moore goes uncredited as the threatening monotone voice that stipulates the instructions over the phone.

D.J. Caruso fills Eagle Eye with edge-of-your-seat car chases and action sequences that have you enthralled. When the action stops, the plots ridiculousness seeps through and the hokey ending is disappointing for the film that started off strongly. Perhaps executive producer Steven Speilberg and the many people (John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott) that wrote the film’s screenplay are to blame for the plot going from engrossing to unnecessarily dense.

Alive with fun, solid performances, adrenaline and intrigue Eagle Eye will certainly have your eyes glued to the screen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

'Nick and Norah' do New York

**1/2 out of ****

Whoever said opposites attract clearly hasn't met Nick and Norah. After a summer of raunchy R-rated, laugh-out-loud comedies such as "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder," "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" turns down the volume a bit with a romantic high school comedy.

Michael Cera ("Superbad," "Juno") stars as Nick. Heartbroken by his girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena), Nick becomes a recluse, but his band members (Aaron Yoo and Rafi Gavron) hope to cheer him up by convincing him to play at their New York City gig.

One girl at the gig is Norah (Kat Dennings), a straight-laced student who has been dragged there by her drunken friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor). After one of Norah's classmates teases her about coming to the club without a date, she grabs the first guy she sees and begs him to pretend to be her boyfriend.

The guy happens to be Nick and the classmate turns out to be Tris. With the rest of the night ahead of them, Nick and Norah hopscotch around the Big Apple trying to find drunken Caroline and their favorite band Fluffy, which is playing at a secret venue. While looking for Fluffy, they find love along the way.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is based on a book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. First-time screenwriter Lorene Scafaria has a knack for dialogue that's sweet and touching, but misses the funny bone. Director Peter Sollett does a hip job that surpasses most of the recent glop in this field. He also has a great ear for independent music, although you wish at points some other genres were explored. Unfortunately, the film falls prey to predictability and sloppy transitions.

Cera and Dennings ("The House Bunny") have a fair amount of chemistry between them, but it seems forced or missing at times. Dennings pulls off a convincing performance as a timid spirit, while Cera stars as a dejected musician.

The supporting cast helps the movie move along, but sometimes a little too bluntly. Yoo stands out as Nick's best friend, but there is not much depth to his character. Graynor steals most of the laughs stumbling around New York City, though she seems out of place, as if she's in a different slapstick movie. The film has a few quirky charms, but mainly remixes the same old tunes.

As far as romantic comedies go, should "Nick and Norah" pop up on your movie playlist, you'll be in for an enjoyable time.

'Burn' a hit for Coen brothers

*** out of ****

What happens when an amateur duo of dim-witted doofuses beats the head honchos of the CIA at their own game? The answer is found in "Burn After Reading," a smart film about not so smart people.

Hot off of their success from four-time Academy Award winner (including Best Picture) "No Country for Old Men," brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, do a 360 with their new absurd spoof comedy. After variable success in the genre with hits ("The Big Lebowski") and misses ("Intolerable Cruelty"), "Burn" is without a doubt a hit.

Part of an all-star cast, John Malkovich stars as the angry, foul-mouthed CIA analyst Osborne Cox. The movie begins with Cox getting fired for having a drinking problem, angrily retorting to his colleague, "You're a Mormon! Next to you, everyone's got a drinking problem."

With his newfound spare time, spent mostly drinking and lounging, he decides to write his memoir, to the indifference of his icy wife (Tilda Swinton).

The plot gains traction when a disk containing parts of Osborne's memoir is somehow left on the locker room floor at a gym named Hardbodies. Mistakenly taken as CIA secret information, gym employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), who is hankering for a plastic surgery makeover and the fitness-obsessed Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), see it as an opportunity for easy money.

As the two carry out their half-baked blackmail scheme, Linda starts to date a married Treasury Department employee, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is having an affair with Mrs. Cox. As all of their lives converge, the Coens create the perfect set up for chaos, murder and hilarity.

Instead of an all-out parody, this film is more of a briskly-paced CIA comedy caper -- Joel and Ethan take the typical craziness out of a spy movie and push it to the max with their imaginative screenplay.

Playing for laughs, not awards, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand are still at the top of their games and give some of the most entertaining performances of the year.

J.K. Simmons deserves a mention as the baffled CIA superior who tries to follow the blackmail-murder-love triangle situation. At the end of the film he asks, "So, what did we learn?" The answer is "nothing."

However, like a good episode of "Seinfeld," learning much about nothing is rewarding even on its own, as long as it keeps us laughing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Comic book flicks to watch out for

Look up at the movie screen! Is it a comedy, is it a horror? No, it’s a comic book adaptation! Since the 70s, comic book adaptations of superheroes and mystical creatures have went from page to screen. However, this fad absolutely erupted in May of 2002 with a little film you might have heard of called, Spider-Man. The juggernaut film broke box office records, along with its sequels, and every studio wanted a page of the comic book action.

Flaunting off flashy special effects, the big-budget flicks attract even bigger audiences, turning the cinema into a comic book lover’s paradise.
Even B list characters have been made into fairly successful films like Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and the upcoming…Ant-Man (ever heard of him)?
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), an outstanding 80 some comic book adaptations are announced to be made, soaring into movie theaters, TV sets or DVD players. America’s obsession to watch their favorite superhero fight off their favorite supervillain better not wear off anytime soon.

Here is a look into this upcoming year’s hottest and most anticipated comic book adaptations that will come alive on screen.

The Incredible Hulk-
It was half a decade ago when art-house director Ang Lee brought this 1962 Marvel comic character turned TV show to life in an underwhelming and underperforming flop. However, the giant green guy who you don’t want to get mad is making a reinvented comeback. The comic is about physicist Dr. Robert Bruce Banner who gets caught in an explosion by a Gamma bomb which he created turning him into “The Hulk”. Edward Norton plays our superhero in the upcoming remake with Liv Tyler as his love interest, Betty Ross.

Wanted-Published in 2003 by Top Cow, this violent miniseries makes its leap to the big screen. Forget superheroes, Wanted is all about the supervillains. The intriguing set-up circles around Wesley Gibson, a white-collar nobody with a boring life. Things hit the ceiling when Wes finds out that his father got assassinated and that he was a supervillain called, The Killer; a part of the villainous Fraternity. Rising star James McAvoy plays Wesley with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman as his mentors that try to bring out the murderer in him.

The Dark Knight-The beloved caped crusader is back in his 6th film under Christopher Nolan who revamped the series with Batman Begins. Bob Kane’s creation published under DC Comics debuted in 1939 and was turned into a TV show in the late 60s. Under the mask is rich playboy philanthropist, Bruce Wayne, who protects New York’s Gotham City after his parents were killed. With no superpowers, he does have a super utility belt. Gliding into theaters this July, Christian Bale reprises the role of the Dark Knight with the belated Heath Ledger (in his last full performance) as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as politician turned villain Two-Face.

The Spirit-From the 1940 Will Eisner newspaper strip, Frank Miller brings the comic to the silver screen this Christmas in vein of the visual styling’s of his other work, Sin City and 300. Denny Colt is a rookie cop returned from the dead as a masked vigilante, the Spirit, protecting his city. Gabriel Macht will play The Spirit. Samuel L. Jackson plays the villain, The Octopus with Scarlett Johansson as his accomplice. Eva Mendes is Sand Saref, the Spirit’s love interest who ends up on the other side of the law.

Barbarella-Originated in France in 1962, the raunchy science-fiction comic finds the busty Barbarella adventuring around the galaxy. It was made into a notorious 1968 flick starring Jane Fonda. Jean-Claude Forest’s comic might find new life as it is to be remade by Robert Rodriguez, starring his girlfriend, Rose McGowan. However, the big-budget is causing delays.

Justice League: Mortal-Super friends: Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman are to finally unite. The relatively unknown very young cast and director George Miller (Happy Feet) is an ominous sign. WB is hoping that this picture will jump-start separate series with the lesser known superheroes in the gang. However, shooting location disputes leave this picture hanging. Marvel Comics is pulling together a similar picture with its own line of superheroes, The Avengers, for 2011.

Watchmen-Alan Moore’s 12-issue series published by DC in 1986 is one of the most anticipated comic book movies coming out. The depiction of Superheroes as real people made it a success. The story follows a mysterious murder of a fellow superhero with shocking dark twists and turns. Zack Snyder (300) directs with the lesser known but talented cast that includes: Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley.

Y: The Last Man- The 2002 Vertigo comic book stars Yorick Brown, the only male left alive after a suspected plague kills every mammal on earth with a Y-chromosome. This critically acclaimed comic shows a post-male world while chronicling Yorick and his friends’ journey. D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) is set to direct with a rumor of Shia LaBeouf to star.

The First Avenger: Captain America-Synonymous with American comics, Captain America will finally get a break and be made into a feature film. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; Marvel Comics has published it since 1941. The alter ego of Steve Rogers, gains his powers by a serum to aid the US in the war effort. Director Nick Cassavetes is the son of John who directed Iron Man.

Also keep an eye out for the forthcoming follow-ups to our favorite comic book adaptations: Iron Man, The Punisher, Superman, Sin City, and X-Men. Other projects announced are: Barbarella, Buck Rogers, The Flash, Nick Fury, Shazam, and Wonder Woman.

These big-budgeted and special effects laden projects finally make our favorite heroes truly fly off the page.

"Indiana Jones" is back

**** out of ****

Everyone’s favorite globe-trotting, artifact-digging, whip-cracking, fedora-wearing professor is back in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford graces the silver screen again as Indiana Jones, exactly 19 years after 1989’s Last Crusade; Crystal Skull is the franchise’s 4th installment.

Not quite the Indiana Jones we know from Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is still plenty of nostalgia from start to finish, appeasing the older generation as well as today’s, bringing out the excitable kid in all of us.
The year is 1957 and Indy is once again in peril, being captured by Russian radical sword-wielding psychic scientist Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Spalko forces Jones to search for a mysterious magnetized artifact in a government warehouse, but just in the knick of time, Indiana escapes…temporarily.

Young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) meets up with Indy for his aid in finding lost colleague, Professor Oxley (John Hurt), who was previously kidnapped by Spalko to find the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. But the gold is not at stake, rather a crystal skull. The crystal skull is a supernatural object that grants its retriever unimaginable powers.

Setting off to South America and the deep, dark dangerous jungles of Peru, Indiana Jones, with Mutt in tow, fight off creepy-crawlers, hoards of ants, ancient tribes and the Soviets with non-stop action and adventure at every turn.

Harrison Ford is back in action as the adventure-seeking, wise-cracking Indiana Jones. Even though he is well into his sixties, Ford still can crack a whip. Also aging well is Karen Allen reenacting her role as Marion Ravenwood. Indiana’s tough-girl love interest in Raiders, Allen is pleasurable in her scenes next to Ford.

For today’s youth, Shia LaBeouf, who seems to be Speilberg’s favorite actor (producing most of his films), joins the crowd as the young spelunker. Cate Blanchett dons a heavy Russian accent as our villain, but probably is one of the weakest dastardly characters in the series with a underdeveloped part.

Steven Speilberg and George Lucas team up again and still have the magic touch. Lucas, who dreamt up Star Wars, also came up with idea for Indiana Jones. However, David Koepp (wrote Speilberg’s War of the Worlds, The Lost Word: Jurassic Park) pens the fun script that at spots gets murky.

Speilberg keeps up his outstanding credentials with stupendous sequences that you must see to believe. In particular, a jungle car chase with plenty of swashbuckling and bullet flying action that will keep anyone on the edge of their seats.

With plenty of familiarity too it, one reason why this Jones feels slightly different from the others is its CGI. Still with plenty of practical special effects (reportedly only 30% of effects were CGI), the graphics in some scenes can’t help but go unnoticed, though they are of course top-notch. Also, the extraterrestrial subject matter doesn’t feel too Jones-ish.

With exactly the perfect amounts of danger, humor, adventure, romance and swashbuckling, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nearly impossible not to enjoy.