Archive for July, 2010

Charlie St. Cloud
Lifeless Drama

There’s no way around it, Zac Efron is blessed with matinee idol good looks. That works for the title character of Charlie St. Cloud… at least in the beginning. I can certainly buy that a popular high school senior and recipient of a full sailing scholarship to Stanford would be a good looking guy, but after a tragic accident causes him to throw it all away in order for spend the next five years maintaining the cemetery grounds, wouldn’t he at least have some stubble? Wouldn’t his hair be not-so-perfectly stylish? Wouldn’t there be some sadness in those bright blue eyes? It’s just one of the many problems with this wannabe tearjerker.


Dinner for Schmucks
A Meal Worth Skipping

As I sit down twenty-four hours after seeing the new comedy Dinner for Schmucks, I look at the notes I jotted down throughout the screening and find “when is dinner?” It’s the focal point of the film and yet it takes forever to get there. Now, I am a firm believer in the idea that it is the journey, not necessarily the destination, that makes a movie, but when the journey is this lame, unfunny and annoying, it can’t get over soon enough. But all hope is not lost for star Steve Carell; if he plays the adoptive parent of a football player later this year, he may just win an Oscar.


Broken Hill
More Than Teen Romance

What do you get when you cross the best parts of Footloose with your favorite Australian popcorn flick, a slightly startling aural aesthetic, and several engaging performances? Well, I don’t know what you’d get, or what I’d get, but second-generation writer/director Dagen Merrill gets Broken Hill, one of the most engaging teen melodramas I’ve seen in a long, long time. In a wondrous treat for the audience, Merrill’s script brings us into Tommy McAlpine’s conductor-wannabe mind through creative orchestration and unexpected visuals. I won’t say more than that… but sometimes cinematic magic is just about connecting certain familiar dots in ways that are engagingly fresh and off-beat—leveraging and exploiting expectations, rather than defeating them outright.


Salt
Jolie's Bourne Franchise?

Although it seems like she gets more attention for her off-camera life than her movie career, Angelina Jolie has managed to secure her place at the top when it comes to female movie stars. Not even Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock can match her ability to bounce between blockbuster and award-bait. She’s already been called the female Indiana Jones thanks to the Tomb Raider movies, but she has said that she wants to be James Bond and her latest film, Salt, may make her just that.


Rain
Hard, and Refreshing

I enjoyed Rain not so much for its creativity, “freshness,” or daring (of which you may find plenty), but simply because it took me—in a convincing and non-distracting fashion—into a different and interesting world. Better, Govan opts for subtlety in many of the plot details (such as the backstory behind Coach Adams’ rift with her own father, or putting the story in the proper sub-tourist context) rather than a sledgehammer. The information you’re after, in just about every case, is there if you care to pay attention, but Govan isn’t going to lead you by your nose. If Hustle & Flow, as just one example, left you feeling like you’d been conned a little bit—like the “hard life” didn’t seem as hard as it should have—here’s the slice of life you might be looking for… sans the hype.


Inception
An Engaging Puzzle

Upon hearing that Inception was director Christopher Nolan’s first original project since his 2001 breakout hit Memento, I was struck by a feeling of surprise. Even though the four films he made in between—Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight—were adaptations of previously produced works, Nolan managed to make them his own. Reportedly, Nolan actually pitched Inception immediately following the completion of 2002’s Insomnia, but the writing of the script he intended to take “a couple of months,” ultimately took eight years. Having seen the movie, the reason for this is clear. Inception is one of the most complex scripts I’ve ever seen brought to the big screen.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Loving Tribute, Mediocre Movie

For most people, the title “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” surely recalls images of Mickey Mouse in a blue wizard cap naively attempting to magically control an army of brooms to do his chores. It’s the feature sequence in Disney’s 1940 classic Fantasia and arguably the most famous image of the animated mascot. Now, Disney has made a live-action, feature-length version. It may seem like a stretch, but so did the idea of a feature-length movie based on a theme park ride called “Pirates of the Caribbean” and that seemed to work out okay for Disney. The house that Mickey built can’t quite duplicate that success with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but it does provide for a couple hours of fun escapist entertainment.


The Shadow Within
What To Make Of It All?

Thematically, the subject is survivor’s guilt. Both Marie and Maurice really can’t get over the fact that one boy had to die—in much the same way the whole town can’t get over the fact that most of the male populace won’t be coming home from some unspecified war. The moral seems to be: if you can’t find a way to reconcile yourself with your past, and insist on reclaiming it, it’s like living with the dead… and it will kill you. What’s done is done, and trying to answer the question “Why?” is most often futile. Stylistically, The Shadow Within is unlike just about anything else out there that you’re likely to see.


Jack and the Beanstalk
Not A Far Cry From Nearly A Minor Classic

For the most part, the script makes all the right moves, and the direction strikes the proper tone in emulation of The Princess Bride. The visuals are also appealing. But The Princess Bride also succeeded because it was refreshingly original—and because it was directed by Rob Reiner. Instead, clever as it is, Jack and Beanstalk often feels like a retread. Ten minutes in, I was thinking Jack might be turn out to be a minor low-budget classic—and my wife and I enjoyed it well enough. But the film simply doesn’t sustain that level of ingenuity. As Jack and Jillian, however, Colin Ford and Chloe Moretz turn in very solid performances. (The latter will soon be a household name, I expect.)


Cyrus
Low Budget Comedy

If you were to read the back of the eventual DVD case for Cyrus, you might think it was a big-budget comedy product of Judd Apatow or even Will Ferrell. After all, it stars frequent Ferrell collaborator John C. Reilly opposite Apatow regular Jonah Hill, battling comically for the affection of a woman. Instead, it’s a low-budget product of directing brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, makers of festival favorites The Puffy Chair and Baghead. Cyrus has also been a favorite on the film festival circuit and about half of the praise is deserved.


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