Saturday, May 30, 2009
This is Pixar's flick for 2009 and really that's all I have to say about it to make you wanna go see it. Oh, should I add that it's in ReelD 3D? Oh, and should I also add that it's by one of Pixar's oldest artists/directors, Pete Doctor (who not only did Monsters, Inc but even directed one of Pixar's first shorts back in the 80's)? Up tells the story of an old man, Mr. Fredricksen, who had a wife with whom he shared a happy life, full of adventure. Recently, though, she passed away and his life doesn't seem very full of either happiness or adventure. Well, before he gets shipped off to some retirement community, he decides to just go for it and head off to a remote part of Venezuela that he and his wife always swore they'd see some day. He decides to take the adventurous route and attaches hundreds of helium balloons to his house to float his way south. Of course, he had no idea that a young wilderness scout, Russel, was on his porch and now is along for the ride. Before Mr. Fredricksen can turn around and get Russel home a storm hits and he gets knocked out. Little Russel guides them to Venezuela, which is where Mr. Fredricksen finds them when he wakes up. Let the bonding and the adventurous trip home begin. Along the way they both learn that the trip and all the wilderness badges were not what they were really after, but instead they sought intimacy, happiness and friendship. Up is a very sweet, very simple story. It's inspiring and natural as usual. And of course the visuals are truly amazing. Pixar seems even better in 3D. That said, I didn't love it like I love most of Pixar's movies. In fact, it kind of seemed like alot of other movies that are out there. I'd say Bolt was nearly as good and I can't believe I'm saying that. I'm not sure if that means Pixar's raised the bar so high that other studios are also putting out great cohesive, heartwarming stories just to keep up, or if it means that this may be the first movie by Pixar that I'd classify as 'good' and not 'great.' I suppose, though, that you can't step up to the plate and hit a grand slam everytime. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for a measly home run. Well, this flick may not be a grand slam, but it is certainly a home run. The characters are memorable and the principles sound. It's charming, it's engaging and it's certainly worth a watch if you feel like feeling good.
P.s. A word of caution if you'll be seeing this with young one's, this is the first Pixar movie (I think) where you actually see people die. Not many, but two adults do die in the movie and the couple loses a kid. That's pretty heavy stuff if you're not expecting it. So now you know.
Monday, May 25, 2009
In 2007 writer/director Greg Mottola brought us Superbad, a raunchy 80's style buddy comedy set in the present that surprised everyone with it's unexpected depth. I mean, it wasn't a Robert Bresson flick, but it wasn't just a one-note pee pee and ta ta joke movie either. What he did well there, he did better here. This 2009 flick isn't about high schooler's but it's still about akward virgins lamenting their hometown. This time the main character is a very smart guy, James, played very well by Jesse Eisenberg who I for one have never heard of and didn't recognize despite having seen several of his prior movies. Jesse finished undergrad and planned to spend the summer in Europe before heading to Columbia in the fall for grad school. Suddenly he finds out that his parents aren't planning on helping him pay for Columbia and he didn't get any scholarships. So he scraps his Europe plans and decides to spend the summer making and saving up money for New York. Problem is, he's never worked a day in his life and has a degree in something like medieval philosophy. Basically, he can't find work and ends up accepting the only offer given, to work as a carnie. As the summer wears on the experience goes from being a borderline insult to one of the best of his life. Now that may seem like many movies you've seen before and, it's true, none of the elements here are really all that original. But the movie has a vibe that feels very genuine and natural. I'm not sure what it is, but the movie just seems to exist and you just happen to be seeing what really happened in that summer of '87. Even the in-jokes about 80's style don't come off as easy default jokes. It could come from the fact that this is a semi-autobiographical piece, as Mottola worked at a place called Adventure land in rural New York in the 80's in much the same manner as James. I guess what I mean is, you believe the characters and the story. That's not easy to do and it keeps this flick from being just another story about a guy/girl who works at a crappy job and ends up learning life lessons and 'truly' finding themselves. The movie is almost like someone covering a song we've all heard before but doing it in a way that makes it worth the listen. Plus, watching Kristen Wiig spend the whole movie in 'mom jeans' and a side pony tail is worth the price of admission. It's a simple flick that is an easy watch and will bring you back to your days as a young person in the 80's watching movies like Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
What would you do if your only child went missing? Now, what would it be like if the authorities returned a random child to you and told you that child was your missing issue? And when you object to it all, the police simply tell you you’re crazy. Well, this did happen in 1928 to a woman named Christine Collins and her story serves as the basis of this 2008 Clint Eastwood drama. The LAPD were getting terrible press when suddenly a drifter claimed to have found the missing Collins boy. The police jumped at the opportunity to get some good press as the saviors of this poor mother and happily reunited her with this boy. Problem is, the boy was full of it and only wanted to get out to LA to meet his favorite movie star, but when Ms. Collins tried to convince the police of their mistake they simply dismissed her. This is part of where the movie begins to note the view of women at the time as volatile, emotional child bearers who really shouldn’t be causing a ruckus. This one does, however, and fights back by going to the press about the police’ treatment of her. The LAPD’s response? They locked her up in a mental institution and smeared her in the press as abandoning her ‘son.’ Meanwhile, who knows what is happening to her actual son Walter. This movie does everything it ought to. The entire time you just want to scream at these manipulative, inconsiderate a-holes. The whole time you just want to run onto the screen and help this single mother who lives in a time that could give a crap about single mothers. Eastwood plays this flick like a haunting singular minor chord on a violin. It is tense and maddening. Jolie is totally natural and simply great. The production design of James Murakami is detailed and fantastic. And the cinematography of Tom Stern uses Los Angeles like a paintbrush, framing every shot like an old time Hollywood photo. And of course Eastwood brings it all together very very well. It’s a tough story to hear and it’s not easy to watch, but damn is it worth if you can swallow it. It’s a great story on many levels and the fact that it’s true just makes it all the more amazing. What can I say? Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
This 1985 camp gem came out in the summer, but I first saw it the following summer when I was 7 and my summer camp in Indiana decided to show this and the Twilight Zone Movies as what has to be the most inappropriate double feature ever screened at night on a big screen in a gym at a summer camp for the 10 and under crowd just before sending them back out to their dank cabins in the woods. While I adore this cheesy horror classic now, it scared the ever living crap out of me in that summer of '86. Of course, as a life long horror fan, I loved that it was so scary. This movie soon ranked up there with my other favorites of the time, The Omen and The Shining. Now, of course, I see that it's much lower on the totum pole than those, but I still like to give it a view now and then, because, well, it's fun. Cat's Eye is directed by Lewis Teague who mostly directed TV shows like the Dukes of Hazard and many made for TV movies, the best of which simply must be T-Bone n' Weasel. Well, his obviously upper strata filmmaking skills are on full display here, as he really makes three short films that are united by a common cat, much like Four Rooms is short films united by the bellboy. Cat's Eye is three tales of creepy stories about doctors with weird experiments, sadistic games of jilted lovers and tiny evil trolls. The first one is the one that stuck with me as a kid. If you're in the mood for some ridiculous '80's horror fun, pick this one up, it's an overlooked classic.
Friday, May 8, 2009
What would happen if All the President's Men and The Bourne Identity had a baby? Well, it would be called State of Play and it would be a dang good watch. This 2009 thriller is by Kevin MacDonald (no, not the one from the Kids in the Hall), who has brought us great features like the Last King of Scotland and fantastic documentaries like Touching the Void. This time it's a classic uncover the truth before it's too late, whodunnit suspense movie. It starts with a 'newsworthy' scandal that's really just more DC gossipy smearing. In fact, they only assign it to the 'blog' department and a very young new reporter there, played very well by the beautiful Rachel McAdams. But suddenly, seasoned senior reporter Cal McAffrey, the classic kind of reporter that lives out of his car, never seems to sleep and everyone in town knows by name, begins to suspect there may be much more to this story than meets the eye of the average blog reader. Cal is played by Russel Crowe, who is simply fantastic and has almost never seemed more natural. You see the scandal is that a junior Congressman, played to mediocre heights by Ben Affleck, seems far to distraught over the sudden death of a researcher he's hired for recent Congressional hearings, which leads everyone to believe that they were having an affair. Well, they're right. That's the story, but Cal thinks that someone from Pointcorp (the defense contractor that the Congressman was investigating) may have killed her to cover something up. And off they go, trying desperately to uncover the 'real' story before the papers hit the news stand the next morning. This movie starts out feeling like it's going to be pretty good, but pretty typical, but by the end I can almost guarantee you'll be sucked in and wrapped up in the thick tension. The movie is about this mystery, but it's also about the present state of journalism, about the use of private contractors in military action, the two different worlds of the older guard of reporters and the young new blogger version, and so on. In short, it's a straight story that is riddled with interesting subplots. The pacing is great (remember how I said you'll be sucked in before you even realize it) but the real treat of this flick is that every little performance is top notch. All of the main's are really great (with the exception of Affleck) but these primary performances are met by the secondary players with ease. It's amazing, even the medical examine, who has one scene, is played by an Oscar nominee. It's like everyone wanted to be in this movie. So much so that every single last speaking role is played by a seasoned fantastic actor. I suppose the most notable smaller roles were those of Robin Penn, Jeff Daniels and Helen Mirren. Though I also have to give props to the hilarious performance of Jason Bateman and the super creepy performance by veteran stage actor Michael Berresse, who plays one of the scariest assassins I've seen on screen. All great. If you feel like paying for some well delivered tension, this is your movie. Enjoy.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
2003 documentary by one time documentarians Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana about Troy Duffy's experience of trying to get a movie made in Hollywood. Actually, it was really an accidental documentary. These two guys are just friends of Troy's who decided to film all the going's on when their buddy suddenly was on the cover of USA Today and being pursued by the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Suddenly this bartender from Boston has a script that everyone wants and his friends want to keep a video diary of it. Just like Heart of Darkness, they soon realize that they have a proper doc on their hands and it becomes much more than they'd expected. The reason this is so, is because bit by bit everything starts going wrong for Troy. This doc is fantastic and a great way to get an inside look at the emotional journey that is taking a story to the screen. And boy do you get to see it all. How things can go wrong and how things can go right. How to act and how not to act. The unrealistic expectations, the inflated egos, the unreasonable sense of entitlement, it's all there. Won't you don't see much of at all is any sense of hard work and humility. Troy Duffy is a bartender from Boston who all of a sudden finds the founder of Miramax in his bar in 1997, a year in which Miramax had raked in tons of Oscars and press. He pitches his script to Mr. Weinstein and he offers to buy it and the bar if Duffy will let Miramax do the movie. Sounds perfect, right? But then Duffy doesn't just want the bar, he wants to make the movie himself, to do everything from the casting down to the soundtrack, oh, and he wants a record deal for his band. Since Duffy has never handled a project of this magnitude and has 0 experience making films at any level, Miramax understandably gets cold feet. Duffy's reaction isn't to relax his stance at all, but rather to tell Miramax to go f themselves. Miramax simply reacts by thanking Duffy for his time and showing him the door. Suddenly Duffy finds himself in a situation where he's moved his whole posse out to LA and dropped tons of money on apartments and whatnot, and suddenly not a single studio or distributor in Hollywood is interested in the least. So he decides to simply make the movie on his own and shop it at Cannes, but still, no one wants what he's selling. The movie ends up being bought by Franchise Entertainment (Blockbuster's now defunct straight to video distribution wing). All this takes years and those years are filled with all sorts of drama and peaks and valley's. Everyone involved is, at some point, both the villain and the hero of the story. Duffy has never made another film and the documentary filmmakers haven't either. Take advantage of this wonderful inside look behind the curtain of what it's like for so many in this industry. I thought it was simply fascinating.