Archive for November, 2011

Seven Days in Utopia
Predictable, But Surprisingly Good

This is an oddly pleasing film about an aspiring pro golfer who loses his stroke in a gory and public meltdown… then finds his game again in quasi-Karate Kid style after his car breaks down in a tiny Texas town. With a golf course. After the titular week, Johnny brings Luke to a decision point: will he continue to define himself by the expectations of others, or will he answer a higher calling? Compositions are sumptuous, lighting is divine, the settings feel both right as rain and otherworldly, and he coaxes first-rate performances from an A-list. But the real bright spot of the film for me, as much as I normally cringe at closing narrations, is the way that first-time director Russell chooses to wind up his links-based parable about life.

Infectious Oddball Humor

Right up front, the narrator announces that he’s a dead kid. Merry Christmas! In short, Billy’s a bullied gradeschooler who is double-damned because he’s also being treated for cancer—and, well, kids will be kids: all they know is that Billy’s bald, sick, and dying… and they don’t want to, uh, be caught dead in his company. But this is really a winter film for the small-town boy in all of us, one that would be great to watch anytime between Halloween and, say, Valentine’s Day. It’s offbeat, too, but not in an over-the-top sense. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll like it—but it’s pretty real, it’s pretty funny, and it definitely doesn’t go where you expect it to. In my book, that’s cinematic success.

My Week with Marilyn
Brilliant Performance, Mediocre Movie

Although this film spends a lot of time focusing on its title character, the movie is actually about the young man named Colin Clark who helped Marilyn Monroe overcome her neurosis while filming The Prince and the Showgirl in England. The problem that creates, of course, is that the supporting character is far more fascinating than the main character, which keeps the movie itself from being great. Nevertheless, it features a brilliant performance by Michelle Williams that is worth a the price of admission alone.

The Artist
An Artistic Triumph

The transition from silent movies to talking pictures is one of the most fascinating bits of Hollywood history. Given that, it is somewhat surprising that Hollywood hasn’t revisited it very often as a movie subject. Of course, it has already been done masterfully in the classic Singin’ in the Rain and maybe Hollywood just thinks that it would be impossible to explore the era any better, so why try? Enter French director Michel Hazanavicius and his new movie The Artist, a fresh, entertaining, and very unique movie about that crucial moment in movie history. How is it unique? It’s silent… mostly.

A Glorious Film History Lesson

Director Martin Scorsese is best known for his tough, bloody R-rated movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, so it was something of a shock when it was announced that he would be adapting the kids book The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the silver screen. One thing Scorsese is above all, however, is a movie buff. Speaking as someone who has never met the man, I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself said he was a film buff first, movie director second. Once you realize that, and you know what the book is actually about, Hugo actually seems like a perfect fit for the Oscar-winning director.

The Muppets
Campy, Quirky, and Oh-So-Well-Crafted

This reboot has a universal appeal that entertains any age. It is truly family safe and an outing that is worth spending money on and will not disappoint. The gift of this movie comes at a time in our country and the world when there is great tension and confusion about the future and concern about security. While it would be truly simplistic and ridiculous to say that a movie can make all these troubles go away, what becomes obvious is that Jason Segel (also the writer) and everyone else involved in this production are sending a message: Laughter heals. (Okay, maybe fart shoes, pratfalls, massive plays on words, and sight gags aren’t what get you up in the morning, but judging from the audience’s constant laughter, they hit all of us, no matter what age, in the funny bone.)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
Here We Go Again

One thing you can say for the filmmakers behind the Saga, they certainly know their audience. And they know what that audience wants. That’s clear from the opening of the latest chapter, as the very first thing that happens in the movie is that Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt. Surprisingly, that is about the only time that Lautner takes his shirt off in this movie, which proves to be much more restrained than the previous chapters. Does that mean it’s better than the three movies that preceded it? Well, yes, but that is not necessarily saying much.

West Side Story
Still Clicks

What I have always loved about the filming of West Side Story is the way in which the camera captures the choreography. Most musicals frame a shot, and then keep the choreography in view of the camera; in other words, the dancing is staged for the camera. What happens in most of West Side Story, however (that community dance as a notable exception), is that the choreography is staged not for the camera but for the space available in the streets and sets—and the camera is positioned in such a way that the heart of the choreography, and not all of it, is captured. In other words, the camera is not the primary focus: choreography that makes sense for the story is.

Christmas With a Capital C
Great Characters, Good Heart

Dan Reed, the embattled mayor of a small Alaska town, finds his leadership questioned as another Christmas approaches, when who should come back to town but his old high school nemesis Mitch Bright? And what could be worse than finding out that ol’ Mitch is now an atheist activist angling for Dan’s job as mayor… using the constitutionality of town-sponsored Christmas celebrations as a wedge with voters? For personal reasons alone, Dan would love to knock Mitch’s teeth out, and the added religious and political challenges grate heavily on Dan’s already strained nerves. The story itself—which, I must say, very very responsibly deals with the politics (and faith) of the season—is exceedingly well rendered; but the characters really bring it to life.

The Greening of Whitney Brown
Light and Enjoyable Family Fare

Director Peter Odiorne keeps the pacing brisk and deftly light as Whitney’s world comes crashing down with the economy. She and her parents fall quickly out of Philadelphia’s 1% back to whence they came. Whitney must make her way in a new school (with some oddly snooty would-be friends there, too) as Mom and Dad try to whip the old farm into shape and make a new start. Whitney’s new BFF (Best Furry Friend) becomes Bob, a horse who seems to have an odd free rein in the county. Mom and Dad get some help from… well, you’ll probably guess who. Sammi Hanratty’s downhome appeal works both in the context of a high-society prep middle school… and out in the country.

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