Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Movie Review – Sunshine Cleaning

June 15, 2009

sunshine cleaningSunshine Cleaning is the story of Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams), a cash strapped single mother who comes up with a plan to start her own crime scene bio-hazard removal business in order to pay for her troubled son’s private tuition. It’s another tale of modern family dysfunction from Christine Jeffs  (the woman who brought us Little Miss Sunshine) and whilst this movie may not quite have the charm that movie did, it does feature some outstanding performances by a relatable and likeable cast.

Amy Adams is brilliant in the lead role, playing Rose with the right mix of sweetness and positivity, yet always with a hint of melancholy just beneath the surface. The single mum who is having an affair with a married man, and is doing her best to keep faith in herself despite the growing realization that all the hopes and dreams she had as a successful and popular high school cheerleader will never come to fruition. Firmly entrenched in the mundane doldrums of low paid, pride humbling work and yet still with a flicker of hope that things can turn around.

Emily Blunt also turns in a solid effort as Norah, Rose’s depressed, screw up sister – the irresponsible yin to Rose’s duty bound yang, and Alan Arkin adds some much needed comic relief as the family patriarch who is always working on the next big idea to find a way to pay the bills. Each of these characters have their own problems to face. They are filled with flaws, self doubt and loathing – and yet, just like in life, it is those qualities that make them believable and likeable.

I quite liked the understated sub-plot of the growing attraction between Rose and Winston, the one armed cleaning supplies merchant, but I thought the quasi romance between Norah and Lynn was a bit forced and ill-defined. They also never took advantage of a real opportunity to deliver some great insight via the nature of their work – the crime scene clean up angle is a fantastic hook, and whilst they touched on their capacity to interact with people at profound and important times of their lives, it’s not a subject matter they ever really explored (outside of some hand holding of some poor old woman who’s husband had just committed suicide).

The pacing can be a bit slow at times – I know I had to bite back the urge to shout out “hurry the fuck up!!” at the screen at one point (the kind of behavior which would have been frowned upon by the majority of cinema attendees on this particular evening I think), and at other times they seemed to be trying way too hard to come off as quirky (look – now the grandfather is trying to sell shrimp to restaurants! Haha!).

Sunshine Cleaning attempts to blend so many different elements together (this is a kind of character study with elements of comedy, drama and romance) that it ends with the movie lacking a cohesive identity. As a drama it falls a bit short. As a comedy, well, it just isn’t that funny. And whilst the film probably doesn’t quite live up to its intriguing premise, it is redeemed by some great performances from its lead actresses.

Rating – 6/10

Random Quote – (How did she die?) It was a sorta do-it-yourself thing.

Random Actor You’ll Recognise From Somewhere Else; Clifton Collins Jr (Tigerland, Traffic, Capote) plays Winston, the cleaning supplies merchant who guides Amy Adams through her first faltering steps in the industry.

Previous Movie Review – Terminator Salvation

Movie Review – Terminator Salvation

June 9, 2009

Terminator Salvation1By the time I got around to seeing this movie, it had been so reviled by a majority of critics that my expectations were pretty low. Indeed, after reading some of the reviews I was thinking that if I was not pelted with a water balloon full of urine at any point during proceedings, I would probably be coming out ahead.

I’m pleased to say that didn’t happen, and it may just be due to the diminished expectations I had from this flick, but I thought it was solidly average. Not a great Action/Sci-Fi movie in the Aliens mould perhaps, but certainly better than Terminator 3, and for mine, a worthwhile addition to the franchise.

There are some plot holes here that you could drive a semi trailer through, and there is a definite tendency to put action over story in a number of places. Of course, nobody walked into this movie expecting to see Terms of Endearment. McG gives us story telling in the Michael Bay format (indeed, there are a couple of moments in the movie you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching Transformers), and it is fast, cool and eardrum shatteringly loud. It can also be gimmicky, and as a guiding principle, you can be fairly sure that character development will play second fiddle to good old fashioned ass-kickery in any given scene.

Christian Bale does a decent job as John Connor, mankind’s best, last hope in a world where all of Linda Hamilton’s fears from the second movie have become realized. The machines have taken over, and Skynet is in the midst of a crusade to destroy human life as we know it. Pitted against them is a determined yet curiously well armed coalition of resistance fighters, led by the always grim Michael Ironside.

Sam Worthington does a fine job in playing Marcus Wright, a convicted killer with more to him than meets the eye. Plenty of critics have claimed Worthington steals the show here, and whilst I wouldn’t go that far, he is the one driving the story forward for most of the time.  Moon Bloodgood meanwhile brings some sex appeal to the movie, but her character is driven more by the necessities of plot mechanics than any sense of realism.

As you would expect, there are some outstanding special effects here – explosions within explosions, buildings are collapsed, machines are incinerated at white hot temperatures and the gunplay is constant throughout. We also see a new wave of machines, terminators of all different shapes, size, model and make with the capability of hunting their prey over air, land or sea – the result of continuing experiments into what hunts humans the best (experiments that culminate with Big Arnie in the first Terminator movie I suppose).

For all its frenetic action, this movie is let down by some poor writing and whilst the acting is committed and believable, some of the dialogue is pretty suspect. The first two films in the Terminator franchise went a long way toward proving that this genre was capable of delivering solid story and character development amid the cacophony of explosions, and it is a disappointing that they didn’t achieve that this time around.

If you like fast paced action sequences however, and can appreciate a movie that is held together by some solid actors in spite of its obvious flaws, this movie may be for you. A solid effort – but not a home run.

Rating: 6/10

Random Quote: Two day old coyote. It’s better than three day old coyote.

Random Actor You’ll Recognize From Somewhere Else; Anton Yelchin, who was seen most recently as Chekov in the Star Trek reboot, does an outstanding job as Kyle Reese here, filling the enormous shoes of Michael Biehn admirably

Previous Movie Review – What Just Happened

Movie Review – What Just Happened

June 3, 2009

what just happenedThe long tradition of Hollywood poking fun at itself continues with What Just Happened, a movie that deals with a hectic week in the life of movie Producer, Ben (Robert De Niro), in Barry Levinson’s long awaited return to the big screen.

Ben is introduced to us as one of the 30 most powerful men in the business – a mover and shaker in the industry with respect, influence and power. That veneer is then quickly stripped away to reveal a man hopelessly compromised by the conflicting interests he has to juggle – charged with the management of almost impossible situations and yet in reality having little or no control over any of them.

He hides this ineffectiveness with activity. He is constantly in motion – always on the phone, taking meetings, or driving back and forth from one or another of the many disasters that are taking place around him. As a father he is more of a chauffeur – an interested bystander in the lives of his children and ex-wives. As a Producer he plays moderator between the ball breaking studio executives, and the childlike, tantrum throwing talent as they try to defend the artistic purity of their work.

Michael Wincott embodies that side of the business perfectly, playing the precocious, drug addled and temperamental Director Jeremy Blundell. Tip of the hat to Bruce Willis as well, who plays himself but is channeling Joaquin Phoenix as the star of an upcoming film with a determined vision of how his character should appear. Also keep an eye out for Stanley Tucci, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener and John Turturro who help round out a great supporting cast.

I loved the soundtrack – including the work of  Ennio Mariccone  is always a good idea in my opinion, and I thought the melodramatic strains of Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers in Arms’ juxtaposed the absurdity of the scene it was playing in brilliantly.

As a satire, this doesn’t always hit the mark and at times looks a little stale around the edges. I’d be surprised if too many Hollywood types found this particularly biting – we have seen other films take a sharper scalpel to the gelatinous underbelly of the industry before. Having said that, this movie is accessible to folks who may not be thoroughly versed in Hollywood insider culture, and features some genuine comedic highlights.

There’s also a kind of sadness here as well. You feel for De Niro’s character by the time the credits roll. He is a man who is subjected to the whims and inclinations of some pretty unpredictable forces; agents who don’t like breaking bad news to their clients, Directors who refuse to let outsiders sully their work, actors whose creative sensitivity often places them at odds with the real world, and studio bosses who would happily cook and eat their own young if the bottom line could be improved by doing so.

Add to that the liberal use of both recreational and medicinal drugs, the regular therapy sessions and the complexity of his convoluted personal life, and what you get is a man forever torn between the competing pulls of art, finance, love and practicality.

Which is probably as a good a metaphor for Hollywood as any.

Rating – 6/10

Random Quote – “Hunter S. Thompson once said to me, ‘the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. And then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side’.”

Random Actor You’ll Recognize From Somewhere Else – Kristin Stewart from Twilight and Adventureland plays Ben’s daughter Zoe here.

Previous Movie Review – State of Play

Movie Reviews – State of Play

June 1, 2009

State of Play

This story deals with the death of the assistant to a US Congressman on the verge of a major inquiry into the corporate dealings of a private military contractor. Thanks to the efforts of investigative journalist, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), and online blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), it becomes clear that the circumstances surrounding the death are more than mysterious, and pretty soon forces are aligning to ensure that the true story never comes to light.

It’s not easy for the modern journo, and this movie gives us an inside look at the many problems they face bringing a successful story to completion – the age old tensions between journalist and source, the competing interests of journalist and editor, the moral ambiguity of journalists who withhold information from police, the often parasitic symbiosis between the media and politics and the contemptuous divide between old school investigative reporters and the growing legion of their blogging counterparts. Sure, Woodward and Bernstein had it tough bringing the Watergate scandal to light, but how would they handle the pressures from a sales driven media conglomerate ownership team who demand hourly updates of their stories online?

Crowe is great as the inquisitive, veteran journalist – gruff and disordered in his personal and professional life. An aging rock star of the newspaper industry’s once proud investigative circuit. McAdams brings the right mix of intelligence and enthusiasm to her role as the star of an online blog who is on her first foray into “real” journalism, and Ben Affleck more than holds his own as the conflicted Congressman at the heart of the whole affair. After some of the performances he has mailed in over the years, it’s easy to forget that Affleck can actually deliver when given the right opportunity.

Solid performances from an all-star supporting cast as well; Jeff Daniels, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn and Harry Lennix all produce noteworthy efforts, but it’s Jason Bateman who enters the story in the final 30 minutes and absolutely steals the show. Director Kevin McDonald shows the great eye for casting that he did in The Last King Of Scotland here, matching character personality to acting talent like a man who understands every nuance of his screenplay.

The pacing is perfect over the first three quarters of the film, building tension with twist after surprising twist as details behind the incident come to light. But I wonder if they didn’t go for one twist too many – one final, bet you didn’t see this coming effort that seemed a little forced to me.

This story was adapted from a UK TV series that was spread over six hours, so perhaps it was an issue of timing. Streamlining a mini-series into a 2 hour feature film, all whilst refreshing the tale with a modern take on military privatization and corporate skullduggery may have forced their hand slightly. The ending left me feeling like I was just coming to grips with the full implications of the previous plot twist when I was suddenly engaged with a new one. Of course, we can’t rule out that I might just be a little bit slow.

Don’t let that stop you from seeing this film though – because it is smart, often funny, and completely entertaining. A political thriller like they used to do it in the old days, featuring a great script, intriguing subject matter and a cast and crew who genuinely know their business.

Rating – 8/10

Random Quote – She had access to everything we were doing, and I believe they killed her for it.

Random Actor You Will Recognize From Somewhere Else – Michael Jace, who plays Julien in the TV series The Shield, pops up as a police officer again here.

Previous Movie Review – Angels & Demons

Movie Review – Angels & Demons

May 27, 2009

angels%20and%20demonsTom Hanks reprises his role as Professor Robert Langdon here, a sort of grown up Encycolpedia Brown who is doing for symbology today what Indiana Jones did for archaeology during the 80’s (ie; making a generation of film go-ers believe that the profession is much cooler than it actually is).

Professor Langdon caused all kinds of trouble for the Catholic Church in the last film, but they need his help this time around when an ancient enemy called the Illuminati shows up with a plan to kill the leading Cardinals during a papal election. A good thing they called him too, because in addition to his knowledge of symbols and what have you, he has managed to learn many crucial facts about Catholic art, history and architecture that happen to elude the poor suckers who have dedicated their lives to the stuff.

That’s all by way of story mechanics though – there is a lot of exposition that is necessary to the plot and this is how they do it. If this movie was going to be appreciated by anybody outside a small portion of the academic community, somebody was going to have to explain the history and significance of certain artifacts and documents as they appear on screen. Langdon does the job, with a little help from scientist Vittoria Vetra (capably played by Ayelet Zurer, although her character seemed a bit superfluous at times).

Ewan McGregor is convincing as the quiet, seemingly progressive and determined Carmelengo Patrick McKenna, and the cast gets a boost from Armin Mueller-Stahl who represents the aloof, conservative sub-section of the Catholic elite in his portrayal of Cardinal Strauss.

There is a hint of the Science v Religion debate here, but after the furor over the first film Ron Howard steers well clear of the all the tricky areas. The closest we come to a controversial topic would be some crowd fisticuffs in the middle of St Peters Square between dissenting groups of the pro and anti stem-cell research argument. They could have done more with this. At the very least they could have gone for some symbolism of their own and hired Richard Dawkins to play one of the villains. Instead, they took the safe road, and softly ventured the contention that religion and science should be able to happily co-exist.

No wonder the Catholic Church didn’t bother to muster its troops for a boycott campaign this time around. Truth be told, they come out looking pretty good in this one, and the Vatican City will probably enjoy a boost in tourism thanks to the prominent display of their amazing repository of art, and the jaw droppingly impressive architecture of many of their Churches (even though most of it was shot in a studio in LA).

The pacing can be a little uneven at times – one minute Hanks is running for his life with explosions erupting around him, the next he is flicking through an aged document with a pair of tweezers, discussing Michelangelo’s personal history. But the story moves inexorably forward, and there aren’t too many flat moments. The basic premise is a little preposterous, but that’s a common complaint in this kind of film. That aside, it’s entertaining, full of plot twists, and should feature enough mumbo-jumbo about secret societies and institutional cover-ups to keep Dan Brown’s legion of adoring fans happy.

Rating – 7/10

Random Quote – When you write about us, and you will, do so gently.

Random Actor You Will Recognize From Somewhere Else – Stellan Skarsgard, who I last saw as the Vinny Chase hating Werner in Entourage, does a good job as the chief of the Swiss Guard, Commander Richter.

Previous Movie Review – The Boat That Rocked

Movie Reviews – Defiance

May 13, 2009

DefianceBased (pretty loosely from what I understand) on a true story, this film documents the struggles of the Bielski family and the community that gathered around them during the German invasion of Belarussia in WW2. And mightily hard those struggles are – against the better equipped and professional German army, against the unforgiving and brutal elements, against the prejudice of the Russian partisans, against the fear and terror of the nearby farmers, against competing philosophies on community within the group, against family, against each other…say what you will about the Bielski family – they don’t quit when the going gets tough.

Daniel Craig is outstanding as the leader of the impoverished refugees, giving us a powerful and determined Tuvia Bielksi, with just a hint of the emotional fragility that gave the Bond franchise a fresh angle to work with. I’m no linguistics expert, but he also gets points for a fairly solid Belarussian accent throughout and even breaks into the occasional line of Russian to keep everybody on their toes. Liev Schreiber is brooding and ruthless as Tuvia’s younger, rage filled brother Zus, and follows his performance as Sabre-Tooth in the Wolverine: Origins movie with another solid effort here. The scenes featuring the growing divide between the two brothers over the direction their resistance should take are among the best in the film.

Every day of living is an act of defiance, says Craig’s character at one point, and he is right, but there is another kind of defiance as well; the armed kind, and it is on this aspect of the struggle that much of the film is based. If Hollywood has had a tendency in recent years to focus on the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people in the concentration camps, this film views the fight from a different perspective. The defiance this film explores is not just spiritual or emotional, but also of the more traditional militant variety, and for mine, it made for an interesting change of pace.

There’s enough explosions, fighting and other general mayhem to keep the actions fans amused throughout the generous 137 minute length, but don’t confuse this with a typical action flick. There is an air of bleakness that pervades the entire movie; the bleakness of the scenario, of their surroundings, of the constant struggle to feed themselves, and retain their spark of humanity – and a grim realism that adds gravity and depth to the hopelessness of their situation.

The only complaint I had about the movie was with the two middle aged jack-asses who sat in front of me; a woman who asked questions incessantly throughout the entire film, which were in turn answered by a man who seemed to believe that talking loudly in as deep a baritone as he could muster was somehow equivalent to whispering. Can’t blame the movie for that though, and all things considered, it was a flick well worth seeing.

Rating; 7.5/10

Random Quote; Nothing is impossible, what we all have done is impossible!

Random actor you’ll recognize from somewhere else;  Iben Hjelje who played Laura in High Fidelity (2000) plays Bella, one of the leading women in the refugee camp.

Previous Movie Review – Star Trek

Movie Reviews – Star Trek

May 13, 2009

Star TrekJJ Abrams (Lost) breathes new life into the Star Trek franchise with this movie, blending action, suspense and character conflict with a number of time honoured (pardon the pun) Trekkie conventions to satisfy old and new fans alike.

The film chronicles the start of the career of James Tiberius Kirk, along with the now famous crew who boldly went where no-one had gone before in the 1960’s TV cult classic. Chris Pine borrows enough of Shatner’s speech patterns to make the character seem familiar, but makes the role of the legendary Captain his own with a display that balances the characters determination and precociousness with energy and passion.

Early incarnations of the other old favourites are all here too; Uhura gets an increase in screen time, a young Chekov is still struggling with his ‘V’s” and “W’s”, and the role of Scotty is reprised by British Actor Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Run Fatboy Run), who brings his well established comedy chops into a role that always featured a generous slab of comic relief.

The character of Spock probably undergoes the biggest change from the version we saw on the TV series, as Zachary Quinto (Heroes) gives us a performance that is filled with anger and conflict. His character’s life-long quest to view all aspects of his life through the prism of logic is still in its infancy at this stage, and we see occasions when his much vaunted sense of control slips. The result is a Spock who has not yet mastered his emotions, and is plagued by doubt and poor decision making.

The story moves along at a fairly decent pace, although, it seemed to sag in the middle and in my opinion, became needlessly bogged down with the good ol’ time travel bullshit. This is just one guy talking, but time travel is a concept this franchise should have jettisoned when it had the chance. It may get the brains of the worlds leading physicists ticking over, but to me, it just seems like weak story-telling.

Case in point; at one stage in the movie there is an engineering problem that needs to be solved in order for Kirk to re-unite with the Enterprise. Thanks to the miracle of time travel, that problem is easily got around because at some point in the future, one of the characters creates an algorithm which solves it. Now, I don’t know anything about temporal paradoxes and as far as I’m concerned the only way to travel through time is in a Delorean, but I do know what a cop out is, and that sort of convenient problem solving does little to illustrate the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the characters.

That aside, this film starts with a bang and keeps on delivering. There’s some hits, and some misses, but it features plenty of action, some excellent performances and boasts a budget as big as a small country’s total GDP. Whilst they pay their respects to the old timers with a tip of the hat to the previous movies and one welcome cameo from a Star Trek legend, this film is really all about the future. In creating a fresh, exciting look for the franchise, has Abrams achieved for Star Trek what Nolan did with Batman?

Time will tell, but for now, he is off to a cracking good start.

Rating: 7.5/10

Random Quote: Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved 800 lives, including yours. I dare you to do better.

Random actor you’ll recognize from somewhere else; John Cho, who plays Harold in the Harold & Kumar movies, turns up as a young Mr Sulu in this one. Somewhere, George Takei is smiling.

Previous Movie Review – The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Movie Reviews – The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

May 13, 2009

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

This is a haunting film that stays with you long after the credits roll.

The story is set in Germany during WW2, and is seen through the eyes of 8 year old Bruno, who’s family is moving to the countryside because his father, a senior officer in the SS has been given a new assignment. Upon arrival at the new location we discover the nature of his father’s work – he is the new commandant of a Jewish concentration camp, charged with executing the gruesome details of the Nazi final solution.

Against this backdrop sits Bruno’s family life, which is startling in its ordinariness. His mother struggles to find comfort in her new location, his sister is infatuated with an older boy who is posted at the house, and Bruno himself struggles with the loneliness and isolation of any child who finds himself in a new home. It is this ordinariness that sets the tone for the film, as Bruno and his family come to grips with questions of good and evil in the context of relative domestic normality. Sure, Bruno’s father may have been one of the greatest monsters in human history, but to Bruno, he was also just Dad.

As a friendship develops between Bruno and one of the children in the concentration camp, tensions grow within the family as the horrible details of his father’s work comes to light. The untenable veneer of domesticity in the shadow of the gas chambers slips away as the movie progresses, until we reach a shocking, disturbing conclusion. The final scenes were challenging and thought provoking, and from the dropped jaws on the faces of my fellow theatre-goers, I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

There is violence throughout the movie, but it is an implied violence – violence that occurs just around the corner and out of eyeshot for Bruno.  You know that it is taking place on both a personal and systemic level, but you never really witness it directly. It shows the sort of understated subtlety we’ve come to expect from Director Mark Herman (Brassed Off, Little Voice) who has turned in another impressive film here.

Asa Butterfield (Son of Rambow) is cast perfectly as Bruno, showing the right sort of charm and wide eyed innocence that allows this movie to move along at a steady pace, without becoming mired in the details of the atrocities that are occurring around him. David Thewlis (The Harry Potter Series) is outstanding as the German Commandant, terrible and haunting and loving and caring all at the same time.

Without wanting to give up too many of my guy credentials, I can honestly say that this film is heart-breaking. And challenging. And well worth seeing. Some movies hurt like a kick to the groin but leave you all the better for it. This is one of those movies.
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Rating: 8/10

Random Quote: We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that?

Random actor you’ll recognize from somewhere else;  Vera Farmiga, who played Madolyn, the psychiatrist torn between Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio in The Departed is outstanding here as the Mother, torn between love, and loyalty and horror.

The Podium: Top Three Films About The Holocaust