Thursday, September 10, 2009

"9" - Gets About A "7"

I will give this film props for being unusual and interesting in its look and approach to story telling. Basically a post apocalyptic tale of a band of little mechanical puppets trying to survive in a barren oppresive world!

The films director Shane Acker teams up with producer/director Tim Burton to deliver this grim tale of hope. The animation and art direction definitely have the Burton stamp upon it, in his typical gruesome but endearing style.

The storyline is based around a various collection of hand made creatures who are only known by the number on their backs. A dying scientist apparently puts his collective mind and spirit into these puppet like creatures, in an attempt to correct the mistakes he made, which caused the ultimate distruction of civilization.

The characters are charming and entertaining, and not surprising the voices for them are provided by some of Hollywoods best. Elijah Woods provides the voice of the hero and the film's namesake. His ninja-esque partner is voiced by the lovely Jennifer Connelly. John C. Reilly, a veteran comic genius plays "9's " friend "5", in a "Sam Gamgee" sort of way to Wood's " Frodo Baggins". Almost an homage in itself to " Lord of the Rings" !

The rest of the talented voices are provided by cinema legends Christopher Plummer, Martin Landua and Crispin Glover. As interesting of a cast as you could find, but it suits the film well.

It is a fun film, full of action, adventure and laughs, but lacking a bit in compelling story telling. But I suppose you can't have everything! But it works well as film for adults and kids alike. A good all around movie, sort of like the Muppets meet the Terminator! Definitely worth seeing in the movies and possibly owning on DVD. I will be eager to see what sort of extras they throw in with the mix?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Taking Woodstock - On A Strange Ride

Well, all I can say about the film is that is slightly entertaining! I can't blame Ang Lee for this. He has directed some great movies like Broke Back Mountain, and Sense and Sensibility. And the film flows well, just not in any particular direction.

You would think from the title that is some comedic portrayal of historical events. But it isn't. It also is not really about the concert itself, it is not even really about the town of Bethel, NY. ( Which if you weren't aware of this fact, is where the concert actually took place. Woodstock was the original spot chosen, but by the time event promotions were under way, the town backed out. )

The film is basically about a Jewish family who ran a seedy run down motel called the "El Monaco". Supposedly based on the true life story of Elliot Tiber, played by Comedy Central's Demitri Martin, who inadvertently opens the door for the concerts promoters, by putting them in touch with the now infamous Max Yasgur and his farm.

In all fairness the performances were solid, Demitri busts his acting cherry in a very convincing performance as Eli, a young Jewish man who seems torn between old school family values, and yearning to experince the rest of the world for himself.

Imelda Staunton, who by now needs no introduction, delivers a hilarious performance as Eli's paranoid and oppressive Russian mother, who cuts corners to save money anyway she can, while being the iron handed dictator of this run down empire.

Sadly, Eugene Levy who is a comic genius, who generally plays annoying passive aggressive characters is only minorly factored into the story line at the beginning , as Max Yasgur, and then once the concert plans are under way is virtually not heard from again.

The rest of the film's cast pretty much blends into the background as does the plot of the film, with a few exceptions. Liev Schreiber delivers a rather intriguing performance as Vilma an ex- Korean War marine. Vilma who is now a transvestite, is there to give a counter balance of Zen wisdom to Eli's overwhelming plight in the middle of this maelstrom that is the organizing of this cultural extravaganza and trying to deal with his demented parents.

Jonathan Groff who has basically down very little other than a few Soap Opera episodes, plays the legendary producer of Woodstock, Michael Lang, the ultimate hippie Zen master. He delivers a compelling performance, but again , since the film is not about the concert itself, you see very little of him, except to occasionally punctuate the fact the Eli's is a long and fantastic journey.

But I suppose that if you were there or even alive at the time, you might get a little sentimental nostalgia for this trip down memory lane, but otherwise I would suggest the use of psychedelic substances. The film has it's moments, but I would recommend watching the actual movie that was made from the actual concert footage, which is available now in a few anniversary formats.

I would say wait for it on DVD, and even then, just rent it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning - Life Can Be A Messy Business

This is a very daring film that deals with a very sensitive issue of what happens behind the scenes when someone dies. The darker side of life that only a certain group of people ever have to see.

It is never easy to deal with a loved one dying, but even harder still is when they depart in a way where they leave a horrific mess. It is tragic and disturbing, and well.... messy! And it takes a very dedicated type of person to take on the job of cleaning up the after math.

Right off the bat I applaud the director Christine Jeffs, for taking on this daring story about two sisters, who at the ends of their proverbial ropes are trying to find a way to make ends meet. And oddly enough decide to start their own Bio-hazard Removal Business. The comedic aspects that make the story charming, is that two sisters have no clue what is involved in the process and sort of bungle their way through the learning process.

Amy Adams plays the older sister, Rose Lorkowski who is a single mom, and who at an early age was responsible for taking care of the house and her younger sister Norah, played by Emily Blunt, when their mom commits suicide. Amy does a remarkable job with this role. Rose must struggle with her own inadequacies as a single mom and provider, and deal with her dead beat family.

Adams has been known in the past for her roles as portraying a sweet innocent person, who is usually helpless and mousy in demeanor. The perfect helpless heroine. And she does it very well here despite the more edgier and more unseemly landscape to the story. And yet manages to keep every thing together, with a little help here and there.

Emily Blunt is well suited to play emotionally unbalanced characters who you can't help but want to love and care for, and she delivers it here in her usual effortless style. As Norah, she adds a certain comic relief and at the same time a certain raw vulnerability to the relationship between her and Rose.

The relationship between the two sister is strained by Rose's need to be responsible and successful at anything, and Norah's need to be a free spirit who can't face the tedious side to being a functioning responsible adult. Adding to the dysfunctionalness of the family dynamics is their father played by Alan Arkin who is a romantic loser who dabbles in hustling everything from popcorn snacks to van loads of fresh shrimp.

So needless to say the theads that hold them together as a unit are very thread bare. And together they barely make a functioning unit, and yet through the adversity they seem to find strength in one another. And the occasional unexpected hand from Winston played by Clifton Collins Jr. ( Star Trek, Last Castle) , the one armed chemical clean up shop owner, who helps the two sisters learn the ropes in a strictly regulated and competitive field or Bio-hazard Removal.

The under belly to this all is that death sometimes brings out the best and worst of us, and each person reacts to it differently. But inescapably there is a beautiful and ugly side to life and death.

Christine Jeffs did a great job finding the humor in bleak situations, and managed to respectfully walk the line without crossing it! A very poignant look at death and family relationships. Definitely worthy of a look or two!

Funny People - Serious Issues

Well gotta hand it to Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler, for delivering another soon to be middle of the road cult classic. This film is not what you would expect it be judging by the title. It has some great laughs but deals with some pretty heavy duty human issues about life, death, love and the meaning of life.

More so the empty shallow superficial life of a celebrity comic/movie star George Simmons played by Sandler. Adam Sandler has not shied too far from doing his old school humor, but over the years has been diving into more serious roles with marginal success. My favorite role of his to date being Spanglish, which was a very funny and heart breaking movie at the same time. Same goes for Reign Over Me where Adam played a widower of 911. It gave him some room to stretch his dramatic chops, but sort of feel short of being interesting.

Judd Apatow to date is known for three things. First is giving Seth Rogen a career. Second doing relatively light weight comedies. Thirdly giving his wife Leslie Mann, ( a beautiful funny and talented actress ) a consistent roles in all of his movies. Now it seems he is going make movie stars out of his kids as well. And to be honest his daughters add a certain comedic balance and harmony to the films. So well done there.

But it can be assumed that the darker side of this comedy was fueled a bit, or constructed for Adam Sandler, who seems to be taking on the darker roles with an interesting mix of fatalistic humor and childlike innocence and charm.

Seth Rogen also is starting to construct a reoccuring everyday kind of guy who is always at the short end of the stick, and yet manages to soldier on to acceptance of middle ground by the end of the story. He has adeptly managed to develop a likeable character that is not afraid to cry, and still be someone what crude and blunt with his humor. Sort of the next generation of comic.

The film deals with the Life of George Simmons, who must now decide how he wants to face the next few years of his life, in light of the fact that he is afflicted with a potentially life threatening disease. Though he has gained the world through his successes, he has lost his soul, his sense of self, and the illusion that any one cares about him. A hard reality to face alone.

So under the pretense that he is being hired to be his assistant, Ira Wright played by Rogen helps George come to terms with his short comings as a person, and helps him be a better man, albeit quite reluctantly.

The chemistry seems to work very well between the principle characters, despite the fact that the Apatow clan has become a tight fuctioning unit over the years. It only further proves that they are onto something when they can make it work by bringing talented outsiders in like Jason Schwartzman ( who provides some original tunes for the soundtrack) and Eric Bana, who seems able to ease himself more and more into the shoes of a comic actor as well.

The movie is very well scripted, casted and perched perfectly between very funny and very cathartic. May not be the most amazing movie you ever saw, but I am sure you are guaranteed to like it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglorious Basterds - If Dreams Can True

Quentin Tarantino just keeps getting better and better with each film he makes, taking violence and dark comedy to new levels. This project reportedly was ten years in the making, and I guess good things come to those who wait.

This is just a brilliant bit of fiction, based on some true events surrounding the plots to kill Adolph Hitler and bring the down fall of the Third Reich. The film is both hysterically funny, and morbidly compelling! Not to mention extremely violent and graphic.

Brad Pitt delivers a funny performance as Lt. Aldo Raine the leader of the Jewish American Guerilla Squad that goes into German occupied France to kill as many Nazis as possible. But funnier still is the part of the German blood hound sent abroad to sniff out Jews in hiding Colonel Hans Landa played by Christoph Waltz. He is a keen minded detective lacking in scruples but possessing a great deal of perception and cunning. He is the type of person, you can't help but hate and like at the same time.

The cinematography and art direction on this film were fantastic, not to mention the gruesome special effects, true to fashion Mr. Tarantino pulls no punches with the gore and violence. But the sets and filming locations, were epic as they were beautiful to look at, when they weren't exploding or being coverd in blood!

The story was deliverd much like the Kill Bill story line, with the plot broken down into well delineated chapters. The cast was well chosen, including some noteable supporting actors like Diane Kruger ( National Treasure) Daniel Bruhl ( Joyeux Noel, Bourne Ultimatum) Til Sweiger (Replacement Killers, Driven, King Arthur) Eli Roth ( Southland Tales, Deathproof, Grindhouse) and Julie Dreyfus ( Kill Bill). All pooling their craft to make this a great success. Even Mike Meyers makes a brief appearance in the film.

All in all, a very gruesome movie, which is what you expect from Mr. T. I was impressed how he was able to tell several different stories involving WWII from the different perspectives of the characters within, and tie it all together in the same sort of compelling way that Guy Ritchie does in all of his movies. But served up in Tarantino fashion with killer tunes in the soundtrack that accent the mood of the individual scenes, and pull you right into the nitty gritty-ness of moment.

It is disturbing at times, and yet great fun! Highly recommend seeing this at least once, maybe even a second time to make sure you saw what you thought you saw the first time. And I am sure if you are an avid collector like myself this will be in your permanent collection.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bottle Shock- A Harmonious Blend of Life

It is wonderful in my mind when you get to see Alan Rickman in a film where he gets to play a good guy. He is after all more well known for his bad boy performances in such cinematic classics as Robin Hood- Prince of Thieves and Diehard. But over the years Rickman has played a variety of serious and comedic roles, probably my two favorites are his portrayal of Colonel Brandon in Jane Austin's "Sense & Sensibility" and the beloved alien science officer/ actor Alexander Dane in " Galaxy Quest".

Alan delivers another brilliant performance in this true to life tale of two men, Steven Spurrier a British wine critic and sommelier in Paris, who travels to California's Napa Valley in 1976, and Jim Barrett the owner and vintner of the legendary Chateau Montelena vineyards, played by Bill Pullman . Pullman is another underated great actor who can bust a serious dramtic move, just as easily as he can do a comedy role. Together, they make this a charming and funny film.

Balancing out this dynamic duo is Chris Pine of recent "Star Trek" fame. He has a devilish smile and a layed back attitude towards things, that makes it hard not to like him as a person and as an actor. Chris takes on the role of Bo Barrett, Jim's son, who appears as a lazy irresponsible drifter, but turns out to be the impetus and driving force that keeps the vineyard from the brink of destruction. The relationship between father and son is well played out by the well turned in performances of Pike and Pullman, very convincing and very endearing.

The story is based on the true events when in 1976 Steven Spurrier invited 12 American Vineyards to participate in a blind wine tasting challenge against the top wine makers of France. In a shocking upset, the Americans took the top honors in two categories, which opened the doors and changed the world's impression that the French were the sole experts on winemaking.

Rounding out the cast are Freddie Rodriguez ( Six Feet Under) as Gustavo a mexican farm hand who has a wealth of experience and wine flowing in his veins, Rachel Taylor (Transformers) as the gorgeous intern that lends a helping hand to creating a legend, and one of my all time favorite character actors Dennis Farina who plays Maurice, Spurriers neighbor and aide de comp.

It is a definetely a must see, and if you are a wine enthusiast I recommend buying the DVD or at the very least checking out the extras. The offer up some great background about the Montelena Chateau vineyards, and a pretty extensive explanation of what goes into making a great wine.

It's a fun film, with great passion about a little vineyard on the brink of failure, that ended up making history!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9 - A Fine Line

Neill Blomkamp, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa and a reknowned special effects artist, hands us this summer time thriller a little raw and under done.

You can tell his special talents lay in the special effects department, and not so much in the story telling area. The film has a raw and edgy film style both in the cinematography aspects and editing, which fuels the adrenalin pace of the action. But it lacks a higher purpose for being. The basic premise is that an alien ship runs out of gas in our lower atmosphere, and the occupants are slowly dying. For some strange reason , that is not explained, we literally download them into ghetto style prison camps. And apparently the aliens put up with this arrangement for 20 years.

The main character Wikus Van De Merw played by Sharlto Copley is appointed to relocate the aliens further away from civilization to another holding area. Copley gives a really fantastic performance as the naive Inspector Clouseau like official who spear heads the relocation efforts, and is soon thrusted into the role of super hero.

In the beginning Wikus is this gung ho bafoon who ends up getting himself into a world of trouble when he allows an alien compound to come in contact with his face, which as you will soon find out changes not only his life, but his perceptions of the aliens and the race of people he belongs to!

The film does have some strong underlying moral issues permeating the plot, but basically it just a non stop roller coaster ride of special effects and unbelievable action beats. But again, I will say this the effects are well done, and quite gross and disturbing at times.

The real glue that holds the film together is Wikus who must help an alien father and his son, in order to help himself get back to his own wife and family. In the process Wikus finds out how barbaric and exploitive we really are as human beings, and how intolerant we are to those who are not like us. You end up identifying more with the aliens than you do with the humans, by the time the story is over. Which I assume was the point in the first place.

There are some poignant moments to the film, but over all it is more a horror/action thriller. It is sort of a hodge podge mix between Aliens, The Fly and E.T. In some cases it is so silly, that it is hard to take it seriously. Especially towards the end when our hero dons an alien exoskeleton device right out of the Transformers and plays Rambo fighting off an overwhelming army of bad guys, while E.T. and his son try to "Go Home"!

It is not a horrible film, like I said the effects are fantastic, as is the compelling performance by Sharlto Copley, but the plot sort of goes all over the place, and the point gets lost somewhere in between. But since this is an adaptation of a graphic novel/comic book, it fairs as well as other such attempts. Definitely worth a look.