“Adrift” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

This is a nice coming-of-age tale from Brazil starring Vincent Cassel, Camilla Belle & Laura Neiva.  “Adrift” (“À Deriva”) tells the story of Filipa — a 14 year old girl whose parents are on the verge of splitting due to infidelities on both sides.  The film follows her as she navigates the inherently difficult emotions attached with the disintegration of her family.

Filipa’s primary conflict lies with her father.  She catches his flirtation with a local beauty — going so far as to spy on them during their liaisons.  Naturally, when combined with her already complicated age, the reaction is an awkward and dangerous rebellion.

“Adrift” is beautifully shot and well acted — Laura Neiva was randomly discovered on Orkut (a social networking site) and is an instant star.  Her performance is the primary reason to see the film.  Cassel is typically powerful — the daring Frenchman never disappoints in his movies.  I wish they had used the talented and beautiful Camilla Belle more.  She is relegated to eye candy for the majority of the movie, but I would have liked to have seen more from that character.

This is a quietly poignant film that probably needed a little more complexity and depth.  As it stands, it is a nice find that deserves a look if you can stumble across it on DVD.

THREE STARS Adrift Review

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“About Schmidt” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Where did my life go?

Warren R. Schmidt is an old man who has always lacked the conviction to follow his youthful dreams. He finds himself enduring an unwanted retirement, sleeping next to a strange woman (his wife) every night, and dreading his daughter’s impending marriage to a white trash loser who sells waterbeds and gets involved with pyramid schemes that aren’t really pyramid schemes. He is tired and bored and disgusted and miserable… and he tells it all to Ndugu, his ‘Childreach foster son’ from Tanzania, to whom he writes letters and sends $22 checks every month. When his wife dies, Warren embarks on a Winnebago trip to visit his daughter’s in-laws-to-be, the week before the wedding. This is the story of Warren’s adventure into the world of ‘oblivious people’ who are simply unaware of the depth of his misery.

A poignant and touching performance by Jack Nicholson highlights this tragic comedy about a man who arrives at the tail end of a mundane and wasted life, only to discover that it’s even sadder than he feared. This is the story of a man who is desperate to start living and making a difference in the world just as he becomes aware that his time is running out.

It sounds more depressing than it actually is… I laughed out loud more times than I could count. The tale of Warren R. Schmidt is a profound one that is masterfully hidden beneath a goofy exterior. I laughed so much that I didn’t realize how much I started to care about the characters. I was quite amazed at how easily I cried as the final scene rolled… and all the credit for that must go to Jack Nicholson who gives yet another Oscar worthy performance.

The older you are (and I don’t mean in terms of literal years), the more you will appreciate this film. Warren’s letters to little Ndugu are like life lessons veiled as comedy. This film will stay with me for a long time.

THREE STARS About Schmidt Review

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“Up In the Air” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Here’s a film that tries desperately to land smack-dab in the middle of the “modern indie drama” genre — complete with valuable life lessons, characters awakening to their wasted lives and a soundtrack that would make Sundance audiences jizz in their pants.  That is not to say that this is a bad film… Far from it.  “Up In the Air” is often smart and marginally poignant.

It is well acted and it keeps the pace brisk enough to preempt glances at the time on your iPhone.  Clooney might be on autopilot, gliding his way through the running time with an abundance of Clooney-ness, but his charm is enough to carry the film safely home.  Vera Farmiga is a very talented actress who doesn’t have a lot to do here.  The one stand-out is Anna Kendrick, who steals the show with a great effort.  She is a star.

However, the entire production is too aloof… too brief… too shallow to be entirely meaningful.  It is a good film without ever even attempting to be anything more.  I felt cold and detached — much like the main character.  I was interested where the story would take me without ever really caring very much.  And as the final credits rolled, “Up In the Air” left me exactly where its title promised.

THREE STARS Up In the Air Review

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“Law Abiding Citizen” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Listen… everything about this film is ludicrous and implausible.  It is also an angry film that seems to promote vigilante justice to the nth degree.  It is often gruesome and hardly has a shred of hope or goodness in any scene.  It is a blueprint for a film that I should hate with every fiber of my being.  I cannot think of a film description that bodes worse for my recommendation.  And yet…

“Law Abiding Citizen” somehow managed to convince me that it had a point… that the anger was justified.  It is a destruction of the American criminal justice system — often touted as the best in the world (mostly by American lawyers and politicians).  It is a hate-filled rant against the corruption, the stupidity, the red tape, the injustice, the legalese and the greed.  And I appreciated the argument.  I may not agree with vigilantism, but I understand the frustration that comes with the lack of true justice.

Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx are both convincing and intense in their roles.  The events that transpire, although absurd in every way, are riveting to watch and had me glued to the screen.  It is definitely a film where you have to turn the brain, not off, but down to level 1.  That is not to say it is a mindless film.  The ideas behind the narrative are profound… But the delivery is totally over the top.

THREE STARS Law Abiding Citizen Review

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“Big Fan” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Patton Oswalt, best known for his comedic role as the consummate loser on “King of Queens”, delivers a truly wonderful performance in this darkly observant drama about a NY Giants fan who is assaulted by his linebacker hero in a strip club.

This film is a fantastic character study that feels absolutely authentic in every way.  It is a sad movie.  After all, this is a character with no discernable life of any kind.  He lives with his mother… He is obsessed with calling in to sports radio shows… He has only one friend… He is dirt poor… He is a parking garage attendant.  All he has is a compulsive love of his favorite team and the wins and losses he agonizes over every Sunday.

“Big Fan” is a small independent film that is definitely worth seeking out on DVD.  It showcases some very good performances and features a brutally honest peek into a sad lonely life.

THREE STARS Big Fan Review

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“The International” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“Sometimes, a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”

There are only a handful of directors active today whose films demand an automatic trip to the theatre on the opening Friday afternoon.  Tom Tykwer is one of them.  His filmography (“Run Lola Run”, “The Princess and the Warrior”, “Heaven”, “Perfume” and a five minute short in “Paris, je T’aime”) is a veritable blueprint for originality, daring, profundity and technical excellence.  He is one of the best directors of the past decade.

Tykwer’s latest film is a prescient drama about the malevolent control of the international banking system — in this particular case, singling out the fictional International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC) as a middle-east arms financier and broker who is vying for the control of billions in multi-national debt.  The film tells us that whoever controls the debt, controls everything.

There could not be a more appropriate time in modern history to cast a bank as a dastardly villain.  They may be vast, cold, faceless villains — but the world is resentful of the current financial climate like never before.  Bankers are the new terrorists in many eyes.

“The International” pits Clive Owen and Naomi Watts as an Interpol agent and a New York District Attorney, respectively, who are desperately trying to prove their suspicions and bring this nefarious group to its knees.  However, the job is repeatedly stalling as witnesses and insiders are constantly dying or disappearing as the investigation gets closer to the truth.

The film is austere and cold.  It does not attempt to be a feel-good movie with heroes, patriotism and morality.  Perhaps this is due to the personality-free villains and the under-developed protagonists.  Perhaps it is due to the staccato hopping from one international locale to another.  Perhaps it is the massive metal buildings we continuously see the characters navigating.  Perhaps it is the scale of the battle.  After all, how does a film personalize such a large problem?

That missing personal touch is both the strength and weakness of “The International”.  It is one of the few movies to touch on the vast conspiratorial nature of the world’s banking system — allowing us to see the futility of trying to fight against its enormous power.  However, it also keeps the viewer at arm’s length as we generally care about individuals rather than ideals.

Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are both perfect here.  Granted, they are not asked to do much more than conjure up some plucky intensity — but they do so with aplomb.  Tykwer restrains his renowned flare for most of the movie, but manages a virtuoso action sequence, set in the Guggenheim museum, that will likely be one of the more memorable ten minutes from any film this year.

The resolution is simultaneously satisfying and hollow.  The battle may have concluded, but the war will rage on long after the credits have rolled.  That is the nature of such vast conspiracies — there will always be someone else to continue the job.

“The International” is only a two hour movie — incapable of wrapping its arms around the huge subject at hand.  I enjoyed the thriller on a surface level without ever having my emotions involved.  I never felt engaged… only curious.  I never felt passionate… only interested.  I never felt moved to action… only observance.

I suppose that is what international conspiracies hope to see in the masses — a remote observational interest without any call to action.  That is the reason they can succeed.  No one has the energy or means to fight them.

THREE STARS The International Review

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“A Single Man” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

This movie is a triumph of many things — aesthetic, performance, style, restraint, tone & pace.  Astonishingly, it is the first feature film directed by Tom Ford, the fashion icon at Gucci over the last decade.  It is an extraordinary debut that promises many great things behind the camera, should he choose to continue.  He clearly has the artistic vision that translates to great filmmaking.

“A Single Man” is a story of lost love and grief set in the early sixties.  Colin Firth plays a university professor who loses his younger lover in a snowy car accident.  The months after the loss are achingly difficult for him, but he goes about his days maintaining the veneer and poise of a perfectly normal man… never openly succumbing to outward emotion.  His only close friend is played by Julianne Moore, with whom he finds a casual comfort.

I loved the attention to detail in this movie.  It is patient enough to show us the minutiae of this man’s routine.  It is confident enough to linger on a conversation from its natural start to its waning conclusion.  But most of all, this film is a showcase of elegance and style and subtlety.  I felt like I was in the hands of a brilliant director, making his way from scene to scene with the sure-footed stride of a veteran storyteller.

Finally, I have to pay tribute to Colin Firth, who delivers one of the very best performances of 2009.  He is so contained and precise here, managing to convey grand emotion in tiny gestures.  The effort is superb in every possible way.

The only thing that holds this film back from greatness, in my opinion, lies in its inability to transfer the emotions from the character to my own.  I observed the emotions, but I didn’t feel them.  I was interested, perhaps fascinated by the story… but somewhat unmoved.  Nevertheless, “A Single Man” is a must-see movie and will end up on the outskirts of my year-end Top 10 List.

THREE AND A HALF STARS A Single Man Review

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“The Informant” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Played straight, “The Informant” would have been a routine and rather dull corporate crime drama.  It probably would have come and gone from public consciousness without much of a trace.  As it stands, however, it reigns as one of the quirkiest and most unique films of 2009.

Based on actual events, Matt Damon plays an average executive employee at a food additive company in the early 1990′s.  He gets involved with the FBI as they investigate the company for price-fixing.  The film travels the entire length of the investigation and its many twists and turns along the way.  I cannot detail too many of the plot threads without giving away important information that may affect the way you view the film.  Suffice it to say that appearances may not be what they seem.

The brilliance that elevates this film from standard courtroom fare is the decision of the screenplay to allow us access to the lead character’s stream of consciousness.  We get to hear his thoughts, mundane, profound, ludicrous, desperate.  It reminded me a lot of Christian Bale’s character in “American Psycho” — only far more lighthearted and random.  Another thing that lightens the mood is the choice of music in the film.  It sounds like a 1970′s British “Carry On” flick.

The writing is superb.  The story is compelling.  The central character is oddly likable.  What’s not to like.  Director, Steven Soderbergh manages to craft something out of nothing here.  In other hands, I believe “The Informant” would have been a blip on the cinematic radar.  Instead, we have one of the most memorable efforts of the year.

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Informant Review

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“The Edge of Love” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“First love’s all right as far as it goes…

Last love, that’s what I’m interested in.”

Here is a grand story of love, friendship, loyalty and betrayal pivoting around the life of the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas.  The filmmakers haven taken the setting and personalities from Thomas’ life and speculated a beautiful, intricate and subtle tale that is reminiscent of recent classics such as “Atonement”, “Cold Mountain” and “The English Patient”.

Those comparisons should clue you into the fact that this is a film for adults who have experienced the joy and heartache of life-long love and friendship.  Those seeking action, cheap thrills or a Keira-Sienna lesbian scene will be sorely disappointed.  Thankfully, “The Edge of Love” is far more cerebral than that.

I will concede that women will likely connect with the story on a more personal level.  However, this man found it to be a fascinating peek into the dynamics of female relationships.  It confirmed my assumption that they are the far more complex sex.

The film is set predominantly in WWII England and Wales.  Keira Knightley plays a lounge singer named Vera Phillips — a long-lost childhood friend to Dylan Thomas.  Clearly, their history hides some unspoken secrets.

Sienna Miller plays Caitlin — Thomas’ wife.  She is a feisty, but fragile woman who simultaneously befriends and distrusts Vera when she re-enters Dylan’s world.

Matthew Rhys portrays Thomas as a cad who blatantly plays the women off each other — reveling in the hints of jealousy.  The sexual tensions on screen suggest at infidelity and menage-a-trois without ever going down that road.  However, it seems clear that this fictional Thomas is desperately angling to have his cake and eat it too.

When Vera agrees to marry a soldier, William Killick (Murphy), a new dynamic enters the fray.  He leaves to fight in the war and the remaining threesome retreat to Wales, living side by side as they await his return.  The trio bounce back forth between friendship and tension, love and betrayal.  It is a most complicated love triangle.

Killick’s return threatens to upset the delicate balance.  His jealousy and war-ravaged personality cause major problems between Vera and her two best friends.  The result is the unraveling of the fine thread holding them all together.

Knightley and Miller are two of the epic beauties of this Silver-Screen generation — a fact that may take away some attention from their extraordinary acting talents.

Keira Knightley has been world class in films such as “Atonement”, “Pride & Prejudice” and “Silk”.  She has also been a consummate movie star in blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Love Actually”.  No one doubts that she is here to stay for decades to come.

Sienna Miller is on the verge of achieving similar status.  She displayed Oscar caliber talent in “Factory Girl” and “Interview”.  And I am not sure that anyone, man or woman, has as diverse a range of characters in movies over the past 5 years.

These two firecrackers are pitch perfect in “The Edge of Love”.  They balance frailty and gentle loyalty with passion and fierce competitiveness.  Each of their roles is immensely tricky — and both handle the tasks with ease.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they are both showered with awards when the trophy season rolls around.

You will know if this is your type of film before you buy the ticket.  I love these intricate dramas when shot as gorgeously and written as intelligently as this.  Throw in some major performances and the two most beautiful women on the planet — What’s not to love?

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Edge of Love Review

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“Nine” Review

January 10, 2013 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

How is it possible not to appreciate this movie?  A Fellini homage filled sprinkled with some of  the most beautiful women in film history singing beautiful songs and wearing couture lingerie.  “Nine” is a delicious film, less concerned with a formulaic narrative than with the worship of aesthetic.  I don’t have a problem with that at all.  It is a sensual extravaganza that celebrates Italy, Women, Film and Music.

I loved Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” — a deserved Oscar winner and a film that isn’t so different from this one.  The only thing missing from “Nine” is the familiarity of the musical material.  These are “new” songs to most in the audience… so the sing-along, toe-tapping factor is gone.  Nevertheless, I really believe that the two films are companion pieces and a special brace of movies for the talented director.

The most outstanding moments belong to Marion Cotillard (my future wife and my choice for the best actress in the world today) and Penelope Cruz (who sizzles with one of the opening numbers).  However, each of the actresses on parade have their musical moment and each delivers beautifully.  “Nine” may not be a truly great film, but it is a decadent indulgence filled with an endless circle of passion and regret, passion and regret.

THREE AND A HALF STARS Nine Review

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