Thursday, September 25, 2008

Towelhead

Movie name: Towelhead
Year of release: 2007
Director: Alan Ball
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishil, Chris Messina, Lynn Collins, Eugene Jones III
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Following the success that he had with "American Beauty" and the tv Show "Six Feet Under", Alan Ball adapted Alicia Erian's novel "Towelhead" for his directorial debut, which made it's premiere in the Sundance Film Festival of 2007, to mixed reviews. It's easy to understand why the film is uncomfortable and creates a mixed reaction. The film follows the story of Jasira, a 13 year old girl, currently living with her mom and boyfriend, who gets sent to live her father, following her mom's boyfriend actions who leave something to be desired. Jasira's sexual awakening ends up clashing with a neighbor with his own sexual hangups and with her own father's strict upbringing. The small web of relationships that surround Jasira's life come tumbling down upon the progressively more visible sexual life and conduct she is leading. Alan Ball oscillates between detailing in a touching and affecting way the process of maturing of a young girl, but also goes for some shots of questionable taste in his quest to make a point. As always, he chooses his actors impeccably well, and Aaron Eckhart, Summer Bishil and Peter Macdissi make really strong impressions. An interesting first effort.

The Women

Movie name: The Women
Year of release: 2008
Director: Diane English
Stars: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fischer, Bette Midler, Debi Mazar, India Ennenga
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Diane English is mostly well known for creating "Murphy Brown", the long running sitcom that brought so many awards to Candice Bergen (and helped define a whole new meaning for professional single women in the 90s). When the project to remake the film "The Women" was discussed, a lot of actresses were disputed and considered for the main roles, but ultimately the cast settled on Meg Ryan, no longer the draw name she once was in the 90s, and the always fantastic Annette Bening. Whereas the original "The Women" from 1939, directed by George Cukor, is now considered a classic, when Diane English adapted the screenplay, she apparently forgot to bring the characters to the current reality (or for that matter, add some dimension to them). The film follows Mary Haines, a fashion designer working for her father's company, who learns that her husband is having an affair with a perfume counter girl. All the while her friends also know this and are trying to prevent her from having a meltdown. The problem with this film isn't the fact that it just draws sketches of characters, not people, but that the stereotypes that it presents are just so incredibly dated and without relevance. In the end all it takes for Meg Ryan's character to come around is straighten her hair, have two or three facial expressions and the film is sorted out. Annette Bening does what she can, whereas all the rest of the actors are terribly underused. An opportunity sadly missed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Burn After Reading

Movie name: Burn After Reading
Year of release: 2008
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, JK Simmons, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Jeffrey DeMunn
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:After the huge success of "No Country for Old Men", the Coen brothers have gone back to their subversive comedy territory and have delivered "Burn After Reading". The film follows Osborne Cox, an analyst that works for the Secret Services. When Cox is reassigned, he decides to quit and write his memoirs, much to the chagrin of his wife (who is having an affair with the buffoon Harry Pfarrer). The CD with his writings somehow ends up in the ladies locker room of a gym, where dimwitted Chad Feldheimer and plastic surgery-obsessive Linda Litzke both work. They decide to blackmail Cox for money in order for Linda to get the money she needs to have the plastic surgery. This short summary just serves to show how all these characters come together in this tale that aims to be a criticism of how some institutions work and how diplomacy and ineptitude dominate. Sadly the Coens don't really go deep in their satire, and by the time the film comes to an end, you end up feeling that so much more could and should have been said. The corrosive sense of humor of Billy Wilder is sadly missed. The film ends up being a showcase for a group of talented actors, particularly the wonderful Frances McDormand and the always great John Malkovich.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Movie name: Mamma Mia!
Year of release: 2008
Director: Phillipa Lloyd
Stars: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper
Genre: Musical, Romance, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2

Synopsis:After the fantastic adaptation that Tim Burton did of "Sweeney Todd" I was interested in discovering what "Mamma Mia!" could present. Phillipa Lloyd who directed the stage version of the successful show was put in charge of the film, and like Susan Stroman the director of "The Producers", the film is a terrible and misguided attempt of being an intelligent musical. The film follows Sophie, a 20 year old young woman about to be married in a small greek island, who doesn't know who her father is. Her mother Donna, had affairs with 3 men in a short time span and Sophie decides to invite all three so one of them can take her down the aisle. This is basically the entire concept of the film - there are no characters in this film, only talking and dancing "guys and dolls". It's difficult to believe the film has amassed this huge amount of talent, starting with Meryl Streep that even though can do no wrong, in this case feels totally out of place and frankly, completely lost (but still looks striking). Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are in auto-pilot, just waiting to collect the check, whereas Julie Walters and Christine Baranski go full camp and have fun in the midst of all the mess. This is a big karaoke-film, where the lyrics for the songs appear on screen, where the production values are almost null, the photography is absurdly bad and the level of taste of the whole enterprise is, quite frankly, very doubtful. For people who love Abba, buy the records, for everyone else, just skip this whole thing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Elegy

Movie name: Elegy
Year of release: 2008
Director: Isabel Coixet
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, Dennis Hopper
Genre: Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Following "My Life Without Me" and "The Secret Life of Words", Isabel Coixet continues to examine relationships between men and women, and how both are haunted by their own ghosts and expectations towards each other. "Elegy" adapts a novel from Philip Roth, whose work has already been adapted by Robert Benton in "The Human Stain", with Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris. Both films have a somewhat common thread - an older sophisticated man (in both cases, a university teacher), falls in love with a younger woman, who becomes an obsession and object of sexual desire. Penélope Cruz plays Consuela, a beautiful young woman who enrolls in the class of professor David Kepesh, a divorced man way in his middle age, that never managed to sustain a relationship with a woman ( this is part of the problem for his troublesome relationship with his son ). The relationship he currently holds with Carolyn is one of sex and little else. They don't expect much of each other, something that changes once Consuela becomes part of David's life. David becomes possessive of Consuela, devoting a love unlike he's never experienced and that will change his life. This film is the journey of a man coming to terms with the fact that love comes and seizes you, no matter what point or stage in your life you are. David Kepesh always avoided serious relationships with women, preferring sexual encounters. Consuela on the other hand, sees love and life as the same, devoting herself to both with all that she has and is. The film succeeds in portraying the way age and mortality hovers around the characters. All the actors excel in their performances, especially Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson. The vulnerability they all show makes them more than just figments of someone's narration - it makes them eminently real. Worth watching!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tropic Thunder

Movie name: Tropic Thunder
Year of release: 2008
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon T. Jackson, Danny McBride, Bill Hader
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:Following his previous directing effort, "Zoolander", Ben Stiller returns to the directing chair with the parody "Tropic of Thunder". The film follows a bunch of actors (the fading action star, the chameleon actor from Australia, the chunky comedian) who go to the jungle to act in a Vietnam war movie. The film starts to lose it's control because of the diva antics that each star has, and after a particularly harsh meeting, the director decides to shoot the film in an unconventional way, dropping the actors in the jungle and letting them fend for themselves. What follows is a comedy of mistakes led by the always funny Ben Stiller and the terrific Robert Downey Jr. that again steals the show. The film clearly has a huge budget and spoofs a bit of Apocalypse Now and Platoon - it's filled with on the spot jokes, but somehow some of them feel a bit flat. The film is uneven, sometimes going for really out there humor, other times not really sure of what to make of it's own direction. It's a film about the industry, clearly having fun poking at itself, and with a great cast, including Tom Cruise mocking a studio mogul (much like the one that "fired" him?). Worth watching!

Hamlet 2

Movie name: Hamlet 2
Year of release: 2008
Director: Andrew Fleming
Stars: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Marshall Bell, Amy Poehler, Melonie Diaz, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Joseph Julian Soria
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Andrew Fleming has directed two films that were considerable successes in the 90s, namely "Threesome" and "The Craft". "Hamlet 2" has a great premise: a washed out actor, now a drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona, decides to write a play to save his drama department, and chooses a sequel to "Hamlet", one that involves time traveling and the appearance of religious figures. Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz as an enthusiastic teacher, with drinking problems and a lack of confidence that doesn't deter him of throwing himself at his tasks. He convinces his students to be a part of a play that causes waves of shock around the community - one that includes the song "Rock me sexy Jesus". The film lives from a fantastic premise, however there are times where you feel the film falters and where things could have gone further along and where the satire could've been more incisive. The cast is really wonderful, but Catherine Keener and David Arquette don't have much to do - Elisabeth Shue has fun playing a different version of herself and Amy Poelher is, as always, hilarious. Steve Coogan ends up having the show to himself and he runs with it.

The House Bunny

Movie name: The House Bunny
Year of release: 2008
Director: Fred Wolf
Stars: Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, Emma Stone, Rummer Willis, Beverly D'Angelo, Christopher McDonald, Kat Dennings, Leslie Del Rosario
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:
Anna Faris is a terrific and naturally gifted comedic actress. "Smiley Face" showcased her talents and now "The House Bunny" brings her to the spotlight again, this time based on a screenplay from the authors of "Legally Blonde " and "Ella Enchanted". The film follows Shelley, a Playboy bunny that gets kicked out of the playboy mansion, due to the envy of another "sister". She ends up on the doorway of an unpopular sorority that is experiencing problems getting new attendees (they also face the possibility of losing their house). Shelley decides to use her skills to improve the look of all girls and save their house. The screenplay as described before, is extremely thin - however Anna Faris strikes gold with whatever she has. She embodies the nonsense and the innocence of Shelley with such character that the film literally exists because of her. It's a shame the film hasn't as much of a spark as Anna Faris - as it is, it's an average comedy that lives from her impeccable comic timing.