Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Movie name: Jennifer's Body
Year of release: 2009
Director: Karyn Kusama
Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, JK Simmons, Adam Brody, Amy Sedaris, Chris Pratt, Cynthia Stevenson
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Karyn Kusama's third film following "Girl Fight" and "Aeon Flux" tackles an original screenplay by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, responsible for "Juno". The film follows two high school girls, Jennifer and Needy, best friends since they were little girls. Jennifer is the beautiful girl whom everyone idolizes and has crushes on, whereas Needy is the more discrete and quiet one, with a sweet boyfriend who cherishes her. When Jennifer decides to go to a rock concert with Needy, the band chooses to sacrifice Jennifer mistakenly thinking she is a virgin, in hopes to get the success they are pining for. Somehow Jennifer doesn't die and returns inhabited by a demon, something that makes her insatiable for human bodies, with unpredictable consequences.
This basic premise for the film, has the interesting concept of merging horror film with teen comedies in the lines of "Heathers" or more recently "Mean Girls", however the result is very tame and pale when compared with those previous examples. Diablo Cody has a talent for writing smart lines and quirky humor, but in terms of story development this film definitely has points where it doesn't hold much sense. The director can only do so much with what it has, and Karyn Kusama smartly holds the key to the film in the less showy character, Needy. Thankfully Amanda Seyfried is a good actress, and plays it low key, whereas Megan Fox's Jennifer has no humor or dimension - it is a walking cliche. The film ends up being a wasted opportunity and aside from some smart lines, it's neither scary nor very humorous. For some lessons on how to create something intelligent, please check Sam Raimi's "Drag me To Hell".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant!

Movie name: The Informant!
Year of release: 2009
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey, Tom Papa, Ann Cusack, Clancy Brown, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:The prolific Steven Soderbergh returns with another great film to add to his incredibly rich and diversified filmography. After the huge effort that was "Che" and the digitally shot "The Girlfriend Experience", Soderbergh has decided to take on the true story of Mark Whitacre. Whitacre worked for ADM in the early 90s and collaborated with the FBI in order to unveil the corruption there was behind ADM and therefore expose what became one of the largest price fixing cases in history. The interesting thing about the whole ordeal, was the fact that Whitacre was himself a fraudulent character, embezzling money and lying back and forth to basically everyone. Soderbergh is an artist that always visualizes stories differently, and with "The Informant!" he decides to use the tone of satire to expose a situation that is almost surreal. Whitacre is a character who lies back and forth and all over the place, that at a certain point no one knows exactly where he's coming from - it's simultaneously tragic and very funny. Soderbergh utilizes a tone that is very retro, from the cinematography (for which he is responsible again) to the ironic and great soundtrack from Marvin Hamlisch. Finally he has found in Matt Damon the perfect accomplice to bring the character to life - sporting a gut and a moustache, Damon finally gives a fantastic performance, better than anything he has done before. He composes a flawed man that deep down can't help himself with all the chronic lying and deceiving. He has good support from Scott Bakula, Joel McHale and Melanie Lynskey. A great film worth checking out!

Surrogates

Movie name: Surrogates
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Stars: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Jack Noseworthy
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Jonathan Mostow has forged himself a career as a director of action films that have decidedly a very B-movie approach. Much in the vein of what John Carpenter forged with "They Live!", Jonathan Mostow returns with "Surrogates" which has a great premise: people in their vast majority have ceased to interact socially, and have replaced themselves with perfect robot counterparts that do all their functions and jobs. There is a counter-movement that wants to abolish this way of life, and bring back humans to their every day lives. When one "Surrogate" gets killed, and so does his "user", the FBI is brought in to investigate the case. Heading the case is Tom Greer whose life has been touched by tragedy in past years. His probing into the case unveils a lot more than anyone might expect. The film has some traces that connect it with another recent big budget film, "I Robot" from director Alex Proyas, but "Surrogates" goes in a different direction. The film is an analogy for the alienation of human contact and the need to interact and feel, that is something eminently human. Jonathan Mostow is a director that goes straight to the core of things, very much in the tradition of his previous best films, namely "Terminator 3" and "Breakdown". Bruce Willis manages to create a good character, and his sad and tired gaze suit the character perfectly. The only falter the film has is it's own limited ambitions. As it is, it's a quickly discardable entertainment piece.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Movie name: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Year of release: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Mr. T., Bruce Campbell, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris
Genre: Comedy, Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:The first feature film from Phil Lord and Chris Miller adapts the book from Judi and Ron Barrett, of the same name, with a lot of success. The film follows the story of Flint Lockwood, a young inventor, who since a child always had trouble of making his inventions work and be practical, much to the dismay of his father. Flint lives in a small island that is going nowhere since their main export, sardines, stopped being sold. He decides to invent a machine to convert water to food, but due to a series of events, the machine ends up up in the sky, making it rain food to whatever desire people have. The story of the whiz kid ostracized by everyone, the acceptance of parents towards their children, and the need for friendship and love is all brought forth in the most charming way. Though not as sophisticated in it's approach as Pixar films are, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is nonetheless an interesting and funny film that is worth checking out!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thirst

Movie name: Thirst
Year of release: 2009
Director: Chan-woo Park
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim, Ha-kyun Shin
Genre: Drama, horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:Chan-Woo Park is well known to most audiences for his fantastic and unforgettable "Old Boy", that gave him the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival of 2004. His latest film stars Hang-ho Song, star of "The Host" as a member of the clergy that volunteers to be part of a medical experiment in order to isolate a possible virus that has been killing monks, and possibly develop a vaccine. When the virus kills him, a blood transfusion brings him back to life, with some unexpected consequences. His need for blood is constant, otherwise the virus comes back in full strength with mortal/deadly consequences. Simultaneously he becomes involved with a family he knew from his younger boyhood days, becoming increasingly attached to the young wife of his childhood friend.
"Thirst" is not a conventional vampire film: the same way "28 Days Later" presented a different concept of zombies, this film presents a different concept of vampires. The thirsty ones here don't have fangs, but are mortally sensitive to the virus that eats them away and to sunlight. Chan-Woo Park decides to make the film about the dynamics of a close family, and how the disease slowly eats everyone away, one way or another. Similarly to David Cronenberg's "The Fly" where Jeff Goldblum's character embraces the mutation that is eating him away, one of the characters that is transformed by the virus, embraces the difference and relishes the pleasure and liberty that it provides. This is a definite different take on vampires, that embraces ghost stories, without going the supernatural way similar to many Hollywood treatments of the subject matter. Definitely worth checking out.

Julie and Julia

Movie name: Julie and Julia
Year of release: 2009
Director: Nora Ephron
Stars: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch, Linda Emond, Joan Juliet Buck
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Synopsis:Nora Ephron started her career as a screenwriter, with great acclaim in films as "Silkwood" and "When Harry Met Sally". Her career as a director has also known it's fair share of acclaim, notably with "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail", but most of her films are always met with mixed opinions and reviews. That is due mostly to the fact that beneath it's quirkiness, lies a very formulaic way of approaching the stories she chooses to tackle. Her previous films, "Bewitched" and "Lucky Numbers" were mediocre ones, so "Julie and Julia" is a good effort, even if not a totally accomplished one. The film follows two parallel stories, renowned cook/chef Julia Child's and her husband Paul (in the 60s) and a more contemporary one, the one of Julie Powell and her husband Eric. Julia Child is introduced as a larger than life woman, with an exuberant personality, that contrasts with her more subdued (and smaller in height) husband Paul. Both are living in Paris due to Paul's work in the American embassy. Julia's need to occupy herself takes her to cooking classes and to a project of publishing an herculean book based on french cooking. Julie's story arc, is of a young woman who hasn't accomplished much in her life, and who starts writing a blog, based on the recipes of Julia Child, much as a form of therapy. The problem of this film lies precisely in this division. Julia Child's story is suppose to act as a mentor or tutoring presence over the contemporary one, however it ends up being the most interesting thing of the entire film, making the contemporary side pale by comparison. Julia Child deserves a film for herself, for a life full of interest and populated with fascinating personalities and details, whereas Julie Powell's is one that comes across as petty, whining and ultimately irritating. The unbalance of this lies in the director's hands who does not know how to properly position both story arcs. Meryl Streep is fantastic and excels as usual in her role, enjoying a great chemistry with the also great Stanley Tucci. The usually good Amy Adams does what she can with an underwritten part, whereas Chris Messina as her husband is irritating beyond belief (and playing the same character he has played in the past films he has done). This is a film that is worth for half of the story it presents and for some fantastic acting.