Archive for June, 2009

Life Is Hot In Cracktown
The Title Serves Notice

While this movie may realistically portray “creatures from another Unisphere,” as the crack-addled Benny puts it, its real weakness is that it provides the audience with nary a handle on entry into that world. If you fail to identify with young Willy, and you just don’t know any of these characters in your own world, I imagine you’ll find the film nothing but dismaying and repulsive. If you’re interested in a slice of this life, but one a little more accessible without being sanitized, I recommend The Dead Girl or Alpha Dog… but even then, you may want to keep an air sickness bag handy. This is bold, personal filmmaking, but it requires bold, broad-minded viewer discretion, too.

Beyond Sweet

As the film thoughtfully and gently winds it way through explorations of mistakes and outright failures, Haverstick’s writing and direction manages a stirring and open-ended optimism for those whose lives seem headed onto the shoals, integrating a lush, pastel natural palette with the harsh realities of domestic life. And it’s all beautiful. This is a delightful, nearly-perfect film for a thoughtful evening at home, a cathartic exorcising of domestic demons, a bonding experience for mothers and daughters, and a way for women to process their illnesses. I can’t recommend this film—for its target audience, and somewhat beyond—heartily enough.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Overkill in Overdrive

There were a lot of problems with director Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers movie released in 2007. The comedy was forced, the robot battles were confusing, and the movie was about 30 minutes too long. As this was a live-action Transformers movie, a movie I had been dying to see since I was about six years old, I was willing to forgive these flaws. Now, Bay returns with the inevitable sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I had faint hopes that these issues would be fixed in the sequel, but unfortunately they are only magnified; and now that I’ve gotten over the initial buzz of a live-action Transformers movie, I must admit that I’m much less forgiving.

Year One
Bad Comedy Made Easy

The movie is a full-on farce and makes no effort whatsoever to be authentic. In fact, I’ve seen Marx Brothers movies that felt more authentic. The characters in the film are all decidedly products of the 21st century. It’s almost as if the cast and crew were digging through a church basement where they found a whole bunch of Christ-era costumes, put them on and played make-believe. I couldn’t help but note the similarities to the recently released Will Ferrell comedy Land of the Lost. Both movies had concepts that could have been cleverly developed, but both chose instead just to let their big stars go hog-wild. Ferrell and Black may be funny guys, but a little of each goes a long way.

The Proposal
Formula for Success

Take two attractive, talented stars and put them together in a romantic comedy. Make them hate each other at first, of course, so that when they manage to overcome their differences and fall in love at the end, it makes it all the more effective. It’s a formula that has worked for years—really since 1934’s best picture Oscar winner It Happened One Night—and it works again this year with The Proposal. It also helps that the movie stars Sandra Bullock, an acknowledged master of the genre… one which must be akin to riding a bike for the actress, who fits right back into the genre with ease. She’s believable as both the ice princess and the human being she becomes once the ice begins to melt. The movie is very funny from start to finish, and most of the credit has to go to the two leads.

Morning Light
Way To Play the Game

Just how exciting can a documentary about eleven college kids on a boat sailing across the Pacific to Hawaii be? Roy E. Disney and Leslie DeMeuse, themselves seasoned veterans of the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii, conceived the idea of recruiting a crew of relative greenhorns and letting them man a rather expensive (!) custom-designed racing yacht over 11 days and 2225 miles… all by themselves. Why? As one of the crew tells us, “This is going to be my first story… an epic story.” Or “a big flop.” Well, if you find your attention wandering a little in the early going of this film, stick with it! The film is no flop. It’s a winner.

Gran Torino
Not Who You Expect

Is Eastwood trying to point out the limitations of faith? Is he trying to remind us that people are perfectly capable of living a life of faith without the help of organized religion? Is he rather arguing that one can be just as decent and moral a model without faith altogether? Is he commenting on the jumbled, complicated dilemmas that face us all, regardless of faith or skepticism? Is faith, perhaps, merely incidental to a filmmaker who sees everything as trivial yet nonetheless integral to life? In this case, Gran Torino actually opens in a church and concludes with a Christlike act—so the argument for incidentalism kind of goes out the window. Humph. So much for easy answers.

Imagine That
This Ought To Be A Hit

Thematically, the film strikes solid ground in spite of the fluff. In an opening voiceover behind a montage of Evan at work, Olivia tells us that this is a story about a man who used to be “the King of Somewhere” but lost his crown on “a trip to Nowhere.” On the surface, we associate Somewhere with Success, and we can draw the implication that Dad is on a downward career path. But that’s not the trip that daughter Olivia is talking about. Ultimately, the film asks: If you were handed the keys to the kingdom, what would you do with them? And the answers that director Karey Kirkpatrick and company come up will pleasantly surprise you. No extra charge for the many laughs.

Away We Go
A Delightful Road Movie

Director Sam Mendes’ previous film, Revolutionary Road, featured a married couple unraveling through a storm of shouting matches. The unmarried couple in his next film, Away We Go, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. They hardly argue. In fact, one has to encourage the other to go ahead and raise his voice once in a while. It is certainly a different kind of movie and it is fortunate enough not to be burdened with the weight of being a Titanic reunion. It is also a much better movie.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
A Ride Worth Taking

Like most Tony Scott films, there’s nearly as much visual action in the opening credits of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 as there is physical action in the rest of the movie. Scott’s camera moves quickly and often and the rapid editing is flared by flashes of light. It’s what used to be referred to as the MTV-style and Scott is the master. The result has the audience dizzy by the end of the opening credit sequence; a feeling perhaps shared by the film’s transit worker protagonist when men with guns hijack one of his subway trains.

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