Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Soloist

Movie name: The Soloist
Year of release: 2008
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Todd Hollander, Stephen Root, Justin Martin, Rachael Harris, Rob Nagle
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Following the success of "Atonement", Joe Wright returns with another prestige film, based on the book by Steve Lopez. "The Soloist" follows the story of two men, both damaged by life, both trying to resume their paths in some way. The film starts by introducing us to Steve Lopez, a divorced journalist, trying to find a good story to report (his newspaper is cutting away on its' staff). When he accidentally meets Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man with a strange aptitude for music, he begins researching his life and how someone that talented ended up on the streets of LA. His findings and his attempts to improve Nathaniel's life end up changing not only Nathaniel but himself. The film has a very interesting assumption, but ends up falling under the fallacy that people who have mental illnesses are somehow more sensitive and in tune with the beauty of life, than everyone else (who are too busy with mundane things). What saves the film from drowning in it's sappiness are the performances of Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr and Catherine Keener. They all create believable people, not stereotypes. Downey Jr. and Catherine Keener in particular create people who have their flaws, but who are trying to go on with their lives retaining some sense of artistic integrity and also make a difference in the world. This is a film that though with it's shortcomings has great production values, in particular the beautiful photography of Seamus McGarvey. Worth checking out.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Observe and Report

Movie name: Observe and Report
Year of release: 2009
Director: Jody Hill
Stars: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena, Ray Liotta, Celia Weston, Patton Oswald, Dan Bakkedahl, Collete Wolfe, Alston Brown, Danny McBride
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Jody Hill is one of the cases where his first independent and small budgeted film got seen by the right people and placed him on the right track. "The Foot Fist Way" was a small film that showcased the talents of Danny McBride, who has since then graced films as diverse as "The Heartbreak Kid" (directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly) and "Tropic of Thunder" (directed by Ben Stiller), but it caught the attention of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, allowing Jody Hill to move to bigger adventures. His second film, "Observe and Report" stars Judd Apatow's regular collaborator Seth Rogen and the fantastic Anna Faris. The film follows a young security guard, Ronnie Barnhardt, who is desperately trying to get the attention of Brandi, a clerk on the makeup counter. Ronnie sees himself as the last stand for all that is decent and straight in law and order - the mall is his domain. When a flasher appears and starts disrupting the mall, Ronnie sees this as an opportunity to get closer to Brandi. The appearance of a relaxed police officer starts a rivalry path for Ronnie, in order to get Brandi's affections. "Observe and Report" has a tone that oscillates between the hilarious (usually when Brandi shows up) and the painful awkward (the attempts of Ronnie to be a police officer). Seth Rogen makes Ronnie a naive and eternally deluded young man, eager to make himself noticed and seen. His mom, the hilarious Celia Weston, is eternally drunk and blames him for his father leaving. The funniest moments of the film belong to Anna Faris, who makes Brandi a white trashy slut, who loves partying and drinking vodka shots. The film has it's dark moments, but somehow they never really get developed enough to resonate. As it is, this is a comedy with some bite, but that feels unbalanced and with the need of a different perspective to really push the buttons.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Monsters vs Aliens

Movie name: Monsters vs Aliens
Year of release: 2009
Director: Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd, Renee Zellweger, Jeffrey Tambor
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

The new animated Dreamworks picture comes in the heels of the hugely successful "Kung Fu Panda", which was released in 2008. And this year, again as last, Pixar will release their yearly film/event, this year that task falling upon "Up". "Monsters vs. Aliens" follows the life of a young woman, about to be married, who is transformed into a giant when a meteor collides with Earth. She is captured by the government and placed in a special unit, alongside other "monsters". When an alien threat appears on the horizon, the government sends this group to thwart their plans. The group eventually finds the true meaning of friendship and of belonging, no matter how different you really are. As is tradition in the Dreamworks Animation releases, the animation is fantastic and the level of detail and eye candy quite impressive. Where Dreamworks falters, when compared to Pixar, is in the narrative behind their visuals. Monsters vs Aliens brings humor (as usual), and again some pop culture references that children may miss, but is nonetheless a good effort to join the impressive library of titles that the studio already has created.


Movie name: Gomorra
Year of release: 2008
Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Salvatore Ruocco, Vincenzo Fabricino
Genre: Drama, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

"Gomorra" was Italy's official Foreign film oscar entry for the 2008 Oscar competition. It's a film that brings forth the story of the crime tentacles that are spreading around that country and throughout Europe (and the world in general). There has been a tradition in detailing the Mafia and Organized Crime stories that have always existed in Italy, something that RAI explored in the 80s with the very successful TV Show "La Piovra". However Matteo Garrone goes in a different path in his approach. He focuses on a particular microcosms of life, people that are connected to directly or are somehow involved with the way organized crime is processed. His film has a documentary look and feel, very close to the lives of people that deal with these realities every day. There is nothing glamorous in this reality, no instant gratification, and the painful deaths are very real. This is a film that haunts you for what it displays and that gives you shudders for the little hope that presents in the future.