Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Same Old Story: El Cantante

El Cantante
Directed by Leon Ichaso
Released August 3, 2007

It is bizarre writing this review just after seeing "Becoming Jane" since my problem with the two films is essentially the same. In this case, this is a factual biography of influential Salsa singer Hector Lavoe. While his story is obviously his own and cannot be faulted for its own historical happenings, there is nothing here that goes above and beyond the simple act of storytelling. That story is pretty bare and sparse as it happens, and if a few minor plot details were to be tweaked, this could easily be a lesser version of "Walk the Line" or "Ray". Marc Anthony is missable as the King of Salsa himself, and Jennifer Lopez is pretty much awful. It is certainly easily to be fall into the moment with the music, but this is not "Once", and requires more storytelling specifics and fewer grand plot sweeps. Many developments here are completely skipped over, and make little sense. Hey, at least it has a good beat.


Slow and Plodding: Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Released August 3, 2007

The story of Jane Austen's life is exactly what you might expect: a smartly literary tale about an unlikely and impossible romance in the country. This version of that story, complete with Maggie Smith in the token Judi Dench role, is painfully boring and numbingly unoriginal. Anne Hathaway, for all her good intentions and decent accent, is nowhere near as compelling as Keira Knightley, who had a similar role in 2005's film version of "Pride & Prejudice". Even the wonderful James McAvoy (robbed Oscar winner for "The Last King of Scotland") cannot make this film more interesting. Maybe it is simply meant for the literary, classic-loving crowd. If this is your thing, you should enjoy it more than life itself, otherwise you may want to skip it.


Funny and Fresh: Delirious

Directed by Tom DiCillo
Released August 15, 2007

This dramedy about a friendless member of the paparazzi who takes on a nice homeless kid is an entertaining surprise. The entire film has a very sedated feel, which corresponds perfectly with both the title and the rarely explored idea of unfulfilled lives of the members of the paparazzi. Steve Buscemi is back in form as the said paparazzo, and his antics are well-balanced by Michael Pitt as the calm and courteous Toby. The supporting cast is amusing, including NYU grad and "Wet Hot American Summer"/"The Ten" director David Wain and Kristen Schaal (the obssesive fan on "Flight of the Conchords") as assistants to the celebrities. Additionally, Gina Gershon has a nice supporting role. The true standout of the cast is Alison Lohman as starlet Kharma. In an inspired performance, it becomes clear that she has a bright future in film. In its latter half, this movie acts as a succesful and fanciful parody of the "business", so to speak, just as "The TV Set" did so well just a few months ago. While those who came to see this movie with me despised it, I recommend it as an intriguing and imaginative exploration.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Amusing and Enjoyable: 2 Days in Paris

2 Days in Paris
Directed by Julie Delpy
Released August 10, 2007

Actress Julie Delpy wrote and directed this romantic dramedy about a couple traveling on vacation who have sme trying experiences while in Paris. The story feels familiar enough, and there is nothing terribly original about the playing-out of events, yet it serves as an entertaining and occasionally affecting film. The direction is artistic and the editing is fun. The real reason to see this film is the cast. The supporting players, including a smattering of ex-boyfriends and protagonist Marion's parents, are hilarious. The leads, Adam Goldberg and Julie Delpy, play together extremely well and their chemistry is the best thing this film has to offer.


Extremely Missable: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Released August 24, 2007

This is not necessary one of those films where all the funny parts are in the previews, but rather a film where the entire movie is in the preview. From start to finish, it is a predictable yarn with no spark or surprises. The unusual gimmick here is a Museum of Natural History-style setup of displays for New York City behavior, based off of the title character's interest in anthropology. It is interesting for a bit, but gets a bit tired by film's end. There is nothing really to say about Scarlett Johansson's lead performance other than that it is by no means her best. The same is true of Laura Linney, who never quite seems too evil until the film's latter half, when she suddenly starts becoming truly mean and manipulative, and Paul Giammati, in a bizarre role as an unreliable, unavailable, and unfaithful husband. The kid here, Nicolas Reese Art, is about the only commendable thing about this film. Think of it as a less entertaining version of "The Devil Wears Prada" (which I hated). The most intriguing thing about this film is how anyone convinced Boston area native Chris Evans (the so-called "Harvard Hottie") to wear a Yankees hat.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

This Fall...

After a summer of occasional film viewings, I am excited to be returning to New York City this week. As the school year begins, I plan to see two to three films every week, most on opening day. I will be concentrating my film choices on interesting independent and foreign films with a healthy amount of big-budget entertainment mixed in. Coming up in October or November will be early Oscar predictions as well as the first AFT Film Awards.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lude and Hysterical: Superbad

Directed by Greg Mottola
Released August 17, 2007

This comedy, along the lines of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up", is even more vile but just as hilarious, if not more so. It is a nice relief that the trailer does not contain all the funny parts, and there are plently of laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. Leads Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, previously seen in the background of "Knocked Up" and "Arrested Development", respectively, work together so well and the film works largely as a result of their chemistry. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is stellar in his debut role as Fogell a.k.a. McLovin, a priceless and unforgettable part. The standout of the impressive cast is co-writer Seth Rogen, fresh off his lead role in "Knocked Up", as a goofy cop all too eager to go crazy all the time. The story here is much fresher and more linear than you might expect, and it offers a good plot to go with all the jokes. It honestly contains some of the funniest dialogue I have heard in a long time, but is certainly highly inappropriate and often crude. All in all, a laughfest that seems like it might start to drag on, but lasts just the right amount of time.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not Its Own Film: The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Released August 3, 2007

Let me first stress that I am a big fan of the first two films. I readily enjoyed them for both their plot and action values. I went in with mediocre expectations for this one, my appetite for the non-stop action having been reduced after three years since the second film. The third "Bourne" begins very much in media res, taking no time for exposition and leaving viewers to put the pieces back together for themselves in regards to why Bourne was on the run in the first place. I for one could no longer recall other than to presume that some massive government conspiracy (don't see too many of those these days, huh?) was hunting the good-natured but desperate hero. No effort is taken to compel anyone not already into the series to climb aboard, though the action sequences are occasionally nifty. The most obnoxious thing is that the soundtrack from the second film is reused in its exact form, to the point where I predicted what was going to happen in one scene by remembering the pace and composition of the music (the score for the second film was excellent, so I am quite familiar with it). Moby's "Extreme Ways" even rounds out the credits, just as it did in the previous film, as if to underline the fact that this film is so dependent upon its predecessors for any legitimate development. And unfortunately we have here not one but three Oscar nominees (Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Albert Finney) stuck in unimaginative roles which they do not play all that well. All-too-brief appearances by Scott Glenn and Paddy Considine cannot help the acceptable Damon spearhead a poorly devised film. The action does get pretty intense, but there is hardly anything to back it up.


Trailer note: I was stoked for "The Kingdom" back when it was supposed to come out April 20th, and was dismayed to find out only four days before its supposed release that it had been pushed to September. I am more than ready for a pretty awesome-looking action epic with a stellar cast and a neat plotline.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fantasy A Bit Much: Stardust

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Released August 10, 2007

This fantasy epic stars out as a just plain bizarre old-fashioned fairy tale and becomes an even weirder and often inexplicable journey. The assembled cast contains members who have had some great roles but here end up in generally goofy and strange roles. Michelle Pfeiffer projected evil much better as a manipulative TV executive in "Hairspray" than she does here as a scheming, power-hungry witch. The most unexpected turn in "Stardust" comes from Robert DeNiro as a flamboyant captain who wear dresses while dancing around in front of his mirror. How he ended up taking this role I am not sure I will ever understand. The film as a whole is too light and adventure-y without really having any genuine substance. Too much is comic and the overall mood of the film is corniness. An attempt at a sparkling fantasy adventure becomes a messed-up, unoriginal fairy tale.


Trailer note: I am indescribably excited for "The Golden Compass". I read the books so long ago, but I remember enjoying them a great deal. And I see Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and a couple of armored polar bears. Count me in.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Story of Persistence: Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn
Directed by Werner Herzog
Released July 4, 2007

Director Werner Herzog tells the harrowing story of a US pilot show down and captured in Vietnam in this serious yet hopeful film. The film uses few actors for the bulk of its story, and manages to shape a compelling and sympathetic journey for the main character and his fellow prisoners of war. The film is shot well, and while it seems very long, it is appropriate because the audience really begins to feel that they, like pilot Dieter Dengler, cannot escape the jungle that is Vietnam. Christian Bale, who has to be one of the most dedicated actors working today, gives a fine performance as Dengler, always remaining optimistic and with a smile on his face even in the face of violence and no hope. Bale, a six-foot-tall actor who went down to 120 pounds to play an amnesiac in 2004's "The Machinist" and then gained all the weight back to play the lead role in 2005's "Batman Begins", once again lost a great deal of weight for this film. As the film goes on, it is visibly clear that the characters are steadily losing weight and strength, and the film becomes all the more real for it. While there is nothing groundbreaking or original in this film, it is a well-told and decent exercise in filmmaking.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lost in Space: Sunshine

Directed by Danny Boyle
Released July 20, 2007

I was so excited about this science fiction film about a crew of astronauts and scientists on a mission to re-ignite the dying sun. I was disappointed from the get-go. There is extremely little exposition and background about the characters. This kind of set-up, with the lack of a villain other than nature, could work if the characters were even slightly developed and any kind of compelling relationships between them were formed. Cillian Murphy, an emerging actor usually cast in creepy roles like in "Batman Begins" and "Red Eye", leads a cast that might be able to do a great job creating complex characters but which ultimately fails in that mission. Rose Byrne ("Damages") and Cliff Curtis ("Live Free or Die Hard") do their very best as well, but this is a case of three talented, on-the-rise actors caught in unfortunate roles with meager writing to help them out. The film itself treads along very slowly, and the latter half of the film makes little if any sense. Barring one major "oh, ****!" moment, the film lacks energy and drama.