Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cedar Rapids

Movie name: Cedar Rapids
Year of release: 2011
Director: Miguel Arteta
Stars: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, Rob Corddry, Mike O'Malley
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Miguel Arteta's new film following "Youth in Revolt", follows the story of insurance salesman Tim Lippe. Tim is an idealistic man, living in a small town, having an affair with his much older, high school teacher Macy, whom he loves. Following the accidental death of a co-worker, Tim gets sent to a convention in Cedar Rapids, where he has to make a presentation and hopefully get an award for his insurance agency. Tim gets roomed with the extroverted Dean Ziegler and with the hard-working Ronald Wilkes and during his stay, he finally sees life from a different perspective and has fun like never before.
Miguel Arteta creates with "Cedar Rapids" a comedy that lives from the observations of people with simple dreams, who maintain their ideals and a certain naivete. Tim Lippe is a man who always lived a sheltered life, and who gets to experience life beyond his limits and boundaries. Tim gets tainted, but remains true to himself and his ideals. The film has a sweet irony to it's core and manages to feel heartfelt, most of it due to the wonderful cast, from Ed Helms, the always fantastic John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and of course, Sigourney Weaver. This film is a small gem waiting to be found.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Am Number Four

Movie name: I Am Number Four
Year of release: 2010
Director: D.J. Caruso
Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel, Judith Hoag, Garrett M. Brown
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:
The new film from director D.J. Caruso, following the huge hits of "Eagle Eye" and "Disturbia", is again targeted at a young audience. The film follows the story of John Smith, a young man whom we come to find out early on, is an alien possessed of great powers. John and 7 others are a group of selected young men and women, who have been entrusted with those powers to defend their planet of the attack of a hostile species. The first three of this special group are found and killed - John is the next and feeling the menace of exposure, and possibly extermination, he and his protector run off to Ohio. As John enrols in high school and meets the special Sarah, things get increasingly complicated with the appearance of his followers.
D.J. Caruso has made a name for himself as a director, starting with the underrated "The Salton Sea", after which he directed "Taking Lives" with Angelina Jolie. His latest two films were both considerable hits, produced by Dreamworks, who again backed up "I Am Number Four", alongside director/producer Michael Bay. The film is written as part of a serial, which in itself would not be a problem, if the characters existed and not just disappeared or have no consistency. The director tries to build momentum with the good special effects, but there's only so much that can be achieved - creating memorable entertainment requires a solid screenplay which clearly isn't here. There are plenty of cliches throughout the film and the acting for the most part is forgettable. A film not worth visiting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Freeway

Movie name: Freeway
Year of release: 1996
Director: Matthew Bright
Stars:Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Dan Hedaya, Wolfgang Bodison, Brooke Shields, Brittany Murphy, Alanna Ubach, Amanda Plummer, Michael T. Weiss, Tara Subkoff, Conchata Ferrell, Bokeem Woodbine
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Matthew Bright's career has thus far been a short one, with "Freeway" being his debut feature and his best effort. The film executive-produced by Oliver Stone, is a take/variation on the story of the Little Red Riding Hood, but with a contemporary edge to it. The film follows the story of Vanessa Lutz, a teenage girl with a messed family life. Her mom prostitutes herself and her step dad is trying to abuse her. When her mom and step dad get thrown in jail, Vanessa decides to go stay with her grandmother. On her way, her car breaks down and she hitches a ride with a man, who turns out to be a therapist. Or so he says, since Vanessa knows there's a psycho killing young girls on the road.
Matthew Bright's film is one populated with great character actors that really bring the story to life. Bright manages to create the story vivid, engaging and always dynamic. Though nothing particularly new is happening on screen, the sheer energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved makes the film enthralling. The Red Riding Hood story, which has been used in so many different films, gets a more urban scenario, with the wolf being replaced by a serial killer (which is a departure, considering for example Neil Jordan's "The Company of Wolves" which used the werewolf metaphor). The actors are also really vibrant, particularly Reese Witherspoon, who at this point wasn't known for her mediocre comedies, but for her actual acting talent. She creates a character that is hilarious and unforgettable, whereas Kiefer Sutherland, excels as the creepy killer. A hidden film worth discovering.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter's Bone

Movie name: Winter's Bone
Year of release: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Stars:Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Sheryl Lee, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Dale Dickey, Tate Taylor
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Debra Granik's second film, "Winter's Bone" has been collecting accolades since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2010. With 4 Oscar nominations the film has definitely achieved a critical acclaim that is certain to continue propelling her career forward.
The film follows the story of Ree, a teenage girl who lives with her mom and her two young siblings, in the remote area of the Ozarks. Ree's life suddenly changes when she's given notice that her father has placed their house and property as collateral for his bail, and that since he hasn't shown up for his hearing, her family is going to be evicted. Ree sets upon herself to find her father, trying to ask the unfriendly neighbors and family his whereabouts.
Debra Granik has chosen with "Winter's Bone" to track the life in the Ozarks, a remote area, where life is extremely difficult and where everyone is very closed up in terms of their social interactions. Ree, having grown up in that area, knows the difficulties she will have to encounter in order to get the answers she needs. Her mission is a difficult one, since her mother isn't capable of assisting her and her uncle is unwilling to provide much assistance, and is to a certain extend a menacing figure in the community. The young woman's resilience and her despair in not losing her family keep pushing her forward trying to find answers, placing her in danger, something that is emphasized by the people and by the location itself. Debra Granik chose to cast unknown actors and it pays off. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as the stoic Ree, as is John Hawkes as Teardrop. They give the film it's heart and edge. A good film worth watching.

Biutiful

Movie name: Biutiful
Year of release: 2010
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars:Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Cheng Tai Shen, Luo Jin, Ruben Ochandiano, Karra Elejalde, Eduard Fernandez
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Alejandro González Iñárritu's last two films were big critical successes, being nominated for several Oscars - "21 Grams" and "Babel". "Biutiful" comes again in the same vein as the previous ones, having been nominated for the Oscar for best Foreign Picture and best Actor for Javier Bardem. The film follows the story of Uxbal, a Spanish man who lives with his children in a small apartment in Barcelona. Uxbal lives of schemes, namely illegal African immigrants selling on the streets and Chinese immigrants working in construction. His ex-wife is bi-polar and can't control herself about basically anything, while his brother is involved in all sorts of illegal affairs and does drugs/alcohol non stop. Uxbal discovers his health is failing and his life starts to unravel as he tries to find a way to keep his young children safe and protected.
Iñárritu is a director who likes to probe the frailties of life, the apparent disconnections between people. With "Biutiful" he once again, explores a dramatic slice of life in Barcelona, one where corruption, extreme poverty and social decadence exist, as part of every day life (and he shoots it very documentary style). In this film he injects a spiritual/paranormal component that somehow lifts Uxbal from all that gruesome suffering and pain that surrounds him. This is a film where the pain of every day life is only balanced by the joy of small moments with the ones you love, in Uxbal's case, his two young children and the memories of his father. Javier Bardem carries this film with anguish, pain and such sadness, unlike any other role he has played before. He is, as always, excellent. This is a film, that beyond it's bleakness has something not many films these days do: a beating heart.