Saturday, March 31, 2007

Less than Engaging: The Namesake

The Namesake
Directed by Mira Nair
Released March 9, 2007

Kal Penn stars as Gogol Ganguli, the son of Indian immigrants finding his cultural and secular lives clashing as he grows up. From its start, the film never quite draws the viewer in, presenting a simplistic enough story that has been told many times before without adding anything new, and more notably, without providing anything to truly capture the viewer's interest.

Penn, an interesting casting choice after his lead role in the stoner comedy "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle," showed some dramatic skill in his recent arc on TV's "24." Unfortunately, he brings little of that to this film. Like the movie itself, his performance is one-note and hard to get into and sympathize with. He seems disinterested in a lot of his dialogue, and only occasionally displays some real emotions. The rest of the cast is uneven at best, and their line delivery, as a friend of mine pointed out, is constantly with poor intonation and a general stiffness, the element which ultimately hurts a film which could have been something much more engaging and inventive.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Inventive and Engaging: The Lookout

The Lookout (Advance Screening)
Directed by Scott Frank
To be released March 30, 2007

"Get Shorty," "Out of Sight," and "Minority Report" scribe Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with this entertaining and clever thriller. The dialogue is quick and believable, and the story feels fresh, despite the fact that its setup, about a character who suffers a head injury which affects his short-term memory, is very similar to Christopher Nolan's "Memento." Frank weaves an exciting story with a small cast and a small budget, and he does a commendable job.

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, from "3rd Rock from the Sun" and recently seen in "Brick," brings a great sort of false cockiness to Chris, a former star athlete who loses everything after a violent car accident. Jeff Daniels provides great comic relief as Chris' roommate and best friend Lewis. Matthew Goode is at the same time friendly and chilling as the leader of a team of bank robbers. The one weak link in the central cast is Isla Fisher, hilarious as the crazy sister in "Wedding Crashers," but her lines lack a dramatic punch and it feels like there is something missing in some of her more intimate scenes with Leavitt and Daniels. The cinematography and editing are sharp, and while there is nothing stunningly breathtaking about the film, it is enjoyable and fresh enough for a good time.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not So Good: The Hoax

The Hoax (Advance Screening)
Directed by Lasse Hallström
To be released April 6, 2007

Richard Gere is Clifford Irving, a journalist on the verge of a career-making book, only to find that his ideas are briefly approved before being ultimately rejected. His brilliant idea for the most stunning non-fiction book “of the century,” as he says, is a completely fabricated, exclusive autobiography of reclusive multi-billionaire Howard Hughes. The real-life Irving wrote a memoir of his great hoax, which serves as the basis for this film.

The concept is fascinating; unfortunately, the payoff is disappointing. From the film’s opening moments, aided by Carter Burwell’s underused, bouncy score, it seems like a comedy, rather than what it should be, an intriguing and compelling drama. Everyone seems too fall far too easily for Irving’s great lie, especially since Irving in the film does minimal research before concocting his grand scheme. Perhaps this is how it really was (I am not familiar with the history), yet it comes off as generic storytelling without appropriate background support.

Gere is more than mildly obnoxious as Irving, a more toned-down and less skilled version of his great Billy Flynn in Chicago. He is not much different from many of the characters Gere portrays, and as such Gere brings nothing new to the table. Marcia Gay Harden is dreadful as Irving’s estranged wife, and the rest of the cast has no memorable part, with one exception. Alfred Molina is the film’s one saving grace, as Irving’s partner-in-crime Dick Susskind, who is used and manipulated by Irving throughout the film. Molina gives him a perpetual nervousness and keeps him serious enough to balance out his role as comic relief.

The film ironically enough takes a similar fall to that taken by Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator: when the protagonist starts to lose it, the film accordingly loses its coherence. I would expect more from Hallström, an Oscar-nominee for directing 1999’s The Cider House Rules. The boom mike bobs down into the top of the frame no less than seven times, and the rest of the film is relatively sloppy and poorly constructed.


Sandler Does Well: Reign Over Me

Reign Over Me
Directed by Mike Binder
Released March 23, 2007

Casting Adam Sandler as a man who lost his family in 9/11 is a certifiably risky decision. The movie that results is an uneven but powerful drama about a renewed friendship between two friends that takes them back to simpler times. It moves from light comedy to intense drama in an instant, and its effect throughout the film trounces the awkwardness of some of the transitions. Some minor characters exist only as distracting comic relief, but their presence does not hamper the generally serious but light nature of the film. I still left feeling satisfied, even though the movie in its specific parts was not assembled altogether seamlessly.

Don Cheadle is great as Alan Johnson, a dentist stuck in a life led without excitement. His character goes beyond the typical “straight man” who the audience isn’t really supposed to care too much about, and Cheadle gets a fun chance to shine (I personally am looking forward to the upcoming Talk to Me, where it looks like Cheadle is having a lot of fun). Sandler’s performance is more difficult to dissect. Many people in the audience were laughing at his dialogue, but not necessarily because of Sandler’s image, but rather because Charlie’s dialogue is simply written very comically. The audience empathizes with Charlie, because he seems so innocent and child-like, and moreso, likeable.

Seeing this film in New York City adds to its impact. During the opening credits, Charlie scooters straight towards the Washington Square Arch, and leads the audience on what is essentially a scooter tour of New York City. Throughout the film, the city plays a large role in the activities and events which surround Charlie and Alan. When Charlie finally describes how he found out his family was dead, I could hear people crying in the audience. Reign Over Me is not a movie just for New Yorkers, but rather it has a special significance and meaning for those whose lives were so closely affected by the 9/11. Maybe that is why the film contains the aforementioned comedic balance – there needs to be something to laugh about in the midst of such a tragic event.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Home Video: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer
Directed by David Wain
Released July 27, 2001

If nothing else, "Wet Hot American Summer" is funny. It starts off as a great send-up of the idea of summer camp, with perfectly representative characters and hilarious storylines. The cast is great, with some surprises like Christopher Meloni, currently starring on "Law & Order: SVU," as a deranged dining hall worker, and David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier") as a nerdy astrophysicist. For anyone who ever went to summer camp, this is a fun mockery, and for those who didn't, it provides an accurate enough picture before taking certain large liberties in exaggerating the behavior and activities of the camp counselors. It has an amusing beginning, and carries on in a similar fashion for maybe an hour or so, before it goes off the deep end and becomes far too crazy and inane to legitimize itself as a story. While its complexity is nowhere near the likes of "Team America: World Police" or "Borat," it definitely has a promising start which unfortunately fails to deliver throughout the film.


Friday, March 23, 2007

See this Movie: First Snow

First Snow
Directed by Mark Fergus
Released March 23, 2007

"First Snow," released today in only three theatres nationwide, is a drama about a salesman whose life takes a turn after he visits a fortune teller. Guy Pearce ("Memento") is excellent as the film's protagonist, Jimmy, and he is supported by an able cast, including J.K. Simmons ("The Closer") and William Fichtner ("Invasion", "Prison Break"). From the first moment, the movie is ominous and engaging, and avoids the usual fate of this type of film, where the premise and beginning are great, and the movie can't hope to live up to its promise.

A blanket of solid white snow often covers the ground in this extremely well-shot film, with dazzling cinematography and sharp editing. The film has a patient yet panicked feel, which is certainly appropriate. The screenplay is surprisingly good, as one might expect the directing and the idea of the story to completely eclipse the dialogue, but the writing here is great. Overall, it is a well-done thriller with just a touch of the supernatural to get it going, but it avoids getting stuck in that genre. It very likely is not coming to a theatre near you anytime soon (it is coming to Boston on April 6th), but check out the website, for details.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nomad: Not So Nice Moviefilm For Make Bored Glorious Filmgoers of U, S, and A

Nomad (The Warrior)
Directed by Sergei Bodrov and Ivan Passer
Released March 16, 2007

I suppose it's only fair since Kazakhstan sent over Borat that the United States in turn should send over two if its actors for them to use in their film, the first one ever submitted for consideration as Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars (it didn't make the cut). The film stars Jay Hernandez and Jason Scott Lee, both native Californians, sporting ridiculous-looking mustaches. They lead a pretty much uniformly terrible cast, which at least for the most part is made up of some non-Americans.

The plot itself is not terrible: the story of a sultan's son whose destiny is to grow up to lead his people and unite them against the tyrannic Jungars. An accompanying friend noted the historical accuracy of the story, as far as how it might have been back then, something about which my knowledge is substantially lacking. The presence of cannons, however, seems heavily anachronistic and unfitting. The film relies on lengthy action sequences which contain very little new or engaging material, save for a sequence where Hernandez's character, Mansur, actually flings himself around a horse for a few minutes while dodging spears.

The version I saw was entirely in English, though the Internet Movie Database lists the language of the film as Kazakh. Some of the character voices were clearly dubbed, so I cannot be certain if the writing is quite as bad as the lines I heard. Overall, the overarching story is nothing too original, and on top of that it is relatively poorly written (even if the dialogue is slightly better in the original Kazakh). The Golden Globe Awards recognized the musical score with a nomination, but it feels repetitive and not too new, and occasionally sounds like something from Sesame Street. The cinematography is generally able enough, but the film fails to really offer anything new.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Where I am at this point...

To start off, I want to recap the year in movies so far. In the future, I'll be posting as I see each movie, but since I'm starting off this far into the year, I'll provide a brief review of what's been good, what's been bad, etc.

300 (D-)
People have said you either love it or hate it, and I definitely hated this terribly written and pointlessly violent movie which lacked any real substance.

Avenue Montaigne (B+)
France's submission for Best Foreign Film at last year's Oscars, which somehow didn't make the cut, is a fabulously entertaining story filled with great characters and a simulataneously amusing and dramatic storyline.

Breach (C-)
A rather unexciting and unfortunately not so thrilling thriller based on a true story that's certainly more interesting than what happens on screen.

Days of Glory (B+)
One of the foreign film Oscar nominees from last year, Algeria's submission about Muslim troops in the French army during World War II is extremely moving and interesting.

Gray Matters (B-)
Heather Graham is rather annoying in a romantic comedy which should have been a lot better (see Puccini for Beginners below). It's not all bad, though, and certainly has some fun moments.

Hannibal Rising (C-)
A terrible misstep for the Hannibal saga, and though no one can be expected to fill Anthony Hopkins' shoes, the screenplay being decent would have been a huge help.

The Italian (B+)
This sure-to-be-little-seen drama is the compelling story of an orphan driven to find his birth mother, and while it is not excellent, it is certainly a compelling drama worth seeing.

The Lives of Others (B+)
The film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film is certainly a deserving winner, and this suspensful, extraordinarily well-done film is a must-see.

Music & Lyrics (B+)
Hugh Grant is excellent in this entertaining, surprisingly good romantic comedy which doesn't necessarily have too much substance but it is a lot of fun.

Puccini for Beginners (A-)
Hardly released in any theatres, this is by far the best film so far this year, a romantic comedy with a fun twist on relationships and one of the amazing casts in recent years. (See it on DVD for sure!)

Seraphim Falls (C+)
The scenery is certainly dazzling, and the cinematography is great, but generally this fairly short film drags and finds itself muddled throughout.

Shooter (B)
Quite simply, it is a thrilling action film with an exciting storyline, directed very well and entertaining throughout.

Smokin' Aces (B)
If nothing else can be said for it, this is a certainly an enjoyable ride. A ridiculous cast of characters come together to make for a great, fun time.

Starter for 10 (B+)
The Last King of Scotland's James McAvoy is great in this entertaining, enjoyable comedy with a fine cast and fun storyline.

Zodiac (C+)
One would expect a much more suspenseful and well-made thriller from David Fincher, director of one of the best serial killer films ever, Se7en. Unfortunately this film gets lost along the way, and provides little satisfaction.

What it's all about

I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts about different movies and TV show episodes that I see. I watch a good 12+ shows every week and see up to five movies each weekend. I plan to post a few words about episodes I have just watched and movies I have just seen every day or so, and hope everyone will enjoy reading this blog.