Posts Tagged ‘review’

Movie Review: Whatever Works (2009)

October 11, 2009

From the beginning of a Woody Allen comedy, right when the opening credits roll and the old marching band plays, you know you’re in for a treat.  This is a weathered filmmaker with 21 Academy Award nominations under his belt, three of them wins.  This year, he picks a guy who probably best resembles him at his current age and disposition in life, and a girl who probably best represents the age and maturity of women that strike his fancy.  This movie, we can expect, depicts in comedic light, the circumstances by which a guy like today’s Woody and a girl like today’s Woody’s type end up together in an interesting love affair or friendship or stalker-stalkee thing.  Or whatever works.

Our main man, Boris Yellnikoff (another Jewish character typical of Woody Allen movies, although all of the Jew in Boris ends at knish), opens up by telling us, “this is not the feel-good movie of the year”.  He says this in a menacingly assured manner, as if saying let’s trust him on this.  Rightfully so, because the story starts out as a romantic comedy, but quickly develops as character studies and eventually a thesis on relationships that people build around their personalities and those of people they choose to love and spend their lives with.

Boris is played by Larry David who shares Woody Allen’s age, obnoxiousness and receding hairline, and acts well as if he also shares his brilliant mind, as the character requires.  But compared to Woody, Larry has better height, handsomer features, a more engaging eye contact, and stronger delivery of acting lines.  What he could use, however, is a good voice and speech coach, because as you will soon learn, you don’t wanna be anywhere within ear-splitting, drool-spewing range when he opens his mouth to speak.

Evan Rachel Wood is not at all your typical blonde, but rather one of the most talented young actresses of her generation.  She acts the part of Melodie Saint Anne Celestine so accurately, that she carries with meticulous precision her New Orleans accent, her tender 21-year old charm, and her comically surprising blonde outbursts.  This is Ms. Wood’s first comedic performance, but she delivers it so resplendently that it would be shame to make this her last.

The story centers around Boris, an aging divorcé who’s decades away from his last brilliant stint as a renowned physicist, and is now just spending his retired years as New York’s crankiest chess tutor.  Boris meets Melodie, a young adventurer fresh out of Mississippi, on his doorstep after she begged for food and later for a place to sleep.  Boris reluctantly obliges by saying, “I’m too tired to prolong this brutal exchange between a bedraggled microbe and a Nobel-level thinker.”  At this point we know that there isn’t much in common about our boy (more like gramps, but you get the idea) and our girl, but that is exactly what the story attempts to explore.  The intellectual disparity between our two characters sets the platform on which comedy and romance are predicated.

As you get introduced to characters other than Boris and Melodie, you are also welcomed into the world of eccentric lovers and their eccentric relationships.  This, in Boris’s typically pessimistic words, illustrates “the search in life for something to give the illusion of meaning, to quell the panic.”  There’s old man-caretaker, man to man, threesome, extramarital.  This movie is a celebration of the many kinds and forms of love relationships, set in the fabulous Manhattan, center of one of the most romantic cities in the world.  Bible-thumping, god-fearing zealots fresh out of Mississippi are thrown in for maximum comedic effect, in Boris’s words “death by culture shock”.  You also get Henry Cavill, god’s curly-haired gift to womankind.  He starts to talk, and in the very moment he moves his pretty lips, you hear words wrapped in a coat of deep, sexy voice, and right then and there, you know what love is.

If you’ve seen the Emmy-nominated TV series The Big Bang Theory, you are perfectly aware how the blonde-genius comedic engine operates.  But this movie offers three times what you get out of The Big Bang Theory.  You get triple the age of most characters, triple the blonde-genius contrasts, triple the cultural diversity and romantic eccentricity, and you get three times the old-fashioned comedy.

“Whatever works, as long as you don’t hurt anybody.  Any way you can filch a little joy in this cruel dog-eat-dog pointless black chaos.”

It’s great to see Woody Allen back in his roots.  Once again, he delivers.

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Movie Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

October 5, 2009

In this movie, there are three fathers, a horde of back-up dancers, a wedding and a half, and a heavenly overdose of Abba. This is one of those movies where production calculatingly managed to get the trifecta of filmmaking essentials (acting, music/sound, cinematography) down pat, without compromising spontaneity and whimsicality.  This is the stuff real romantic comedies are made of.

To say that acting is good would be an understatement.  On the female side, you get Meryl Streep in the middle, singing and dancing her 17-year old heart out (she forms a third of a cougar’s Dancing Queen number).  She is one part of a gigantic singing ensemble, but this movie is all her.  She steals the limelight with her surprising singing and dancing talent to demonstrate how she would’ve conquered the world of theater if she had stumbled there in a past life.  Meryl is supported by a fairly impressive duo composed of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski.  On the male side, the timelessly seductive Pierce Brosnan is front and center, himself belting out an equally surprising (and oh so sexy) voice, and supported by Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård, both known actors and little known singers.  Young talents Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper show vibrant energy and performances that parallel the well-established, older cast.  At this point an important part of the movie is spoilt for you:  actors have converged onstage to sing and dance to the public’s surprise and awe.

The singing and the choreography are themselves something to look out for.  These are no ordinary actors; they stretch melodic limits when they sing, and they move with theatrical grace to the beat.  Props go to the people responsible for putting these immensely talented actors and fantastic choreography together in what would rank among the most notable musical performances of 2008.  All to the tune of timeless Abba songs.

The movie is set in the sun-drenched beaches of Greece, so what’s not to love?  This island is lined with breathtaking landscape, inviting waters, charmingly old Mediterranean architecture, and a calming sense of island life.  This is as fantastic as weddings get.  Better yet, this is as unforgettable as summer romances get.

If you love music, this movie easily captures your heart.  If you love Abba, you will break out in song in at least one point in the movie.  But overall, this is guaranteed entertainment whatever your preference in music or movies.

Ladies and gentlemen, a promise of a future in musical theater from Amanda Seyfried.

Movie Mini-Review: Annie Hall (1977)

March 15, 2009

The best Woody Allen movie I ever saw.  It’s so picture perfect, that if you ever saw it with little information, you might guess that it is a period movie about love in the 70s, filmed and produced this year.  It’s got better quality that half (or more, really) of the movies out in theaters today.

If you’re ever a girl and you’ve touched a man like Woody Allen profoundly well enough to inspire a movie like Annie Hall, you’re one lucky person.  If you’re Diane Keaton and you’ve immortalized yourself in your 30s by playing a lead character like Annie Hall, you’re one lucky person.

That is not to say that the movie is anything above the great misfortune of the 70s that is Woody Allen’s love life, shown in a brighter light because he likes misery served with comedy.  It is nothing more than a celebration of Woody Allen’s cynical take on romance, sure, but to be a part of it, whether as the object of his unrequited affection, or as the actress playing the part, there is nothing in the world that would make a woman prouder.

Here’s one quote that makes the mark of Woody Allen’s sharp tongue, still pretty much true today:

[In California]
Annie Hall: It’s so clean out here.
Alvy Singer: That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.

Movie Blurb: Soul Men (2008)

March 12, 2009

There’s dancing, soul, and all-out laughs.  One great movie to remember him by.

Bernie Mac (1957-2008)

Bernie Mac (1957-2008)

Movie Review: Who’s Watched the Watchmen? (Watchmen, 2009)

March 7, 2009

Moving, engaging, modern, anthemic, tributary.

Such are words I can use to describe Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation of Watchmen.

Zack Snyder’s work on 300 has established him as a director true to the original work he adapts.  In Watchmen, he once again displays a hint of fandom of the visual work on the comics he has rendered on film, in this instance, by illustrator Dave Gibbons and colorist Jack Higgins.  Every frame of the movie is a tribute to the brilliant art that graced the pages of the popular comic series.  Even small details, like the angle by which The Comedian’s blood-splatted Watchmen pin was taken, were created with an unfaltering attention to detail.

The soundtrack is a work of brilliance in itself.  When seeing the old costumed hero days of the Minutemen, we hear songs by artists like Bob Dylan and The Beatles.  When seeing present times, we hear fun, upbeat tracks of the 80’s (the story is set in 1985).  As scenes develop into pensive, retrospective mood, we hear beautifully sentimental music, like All Along the Watchtower, playing in the background as two modern heroes fall in love, and follow their heart’s desire, donning costumes and saving the world despite the law commanding them not to.  We hear this welcome combination of old music from varying generations to set our mood at erratic twists and turns, an indication that music allows effective means by which a movie gets through to its audience.

So many important aspects of the comic book were deleted off the movie.  There were science and literature and poetry and lyrical narratives, and a huge chunk of these were taken out.  Instead, we get a condensed version that focuses on the plot and some dramatic points of the story.  This would make for an easy reason to rant, even the comic book writer himself argued that the plot just really isn’t the most interesting thing about Watchmen, but that’s not exactly telling on the success of the movie as regards its power to entertain.

If we must stay true to the story of one of the greatest comic books of all time, why not pen and helm a trilogy?  Or better yet, produce a mini-series of 12-parts, one for each chapter of the book.  That way, we can cover every detail and even spring in the juicy, more engaging supplemental prose pieces at the end of each chapter.  But all we really have here is a two-and-a-half hour long movie made to sell millions.  That’s what we get given a stringent budget and projections for box office sales.  That is also what we get after decades of planning and what seemed like gazillions of interested film directors who just wouldn’t push through with making it.

Watchmen is a cult classic, not the best/fastest-selling book of all time.  Its fan base is maturing men with old people responsibilities (aka the teenage fanboys of 1985), not kids of all ages.  It is not a superhero story, but rather a story that humanizes heroes and strips them off any god-like superhero qualities, that comic books have given them through the years, to reveal petty, weak creatures who would take each other down if it comes to that, just like the rest of us.  These kinds of stories are written for a few select people with a taste for higher storylines, less flashy action, and more mature drama.  Transforming these kinds of stories into movies means it can only go so far being commercial, without sacrificing art and literature, so it’s wise not to expect for it to become the next Titanic of box office sales.

And Titanic of box office sales it will not become, but it will entertain just the same.  With what little time Zack Snyder has to retell, he has paid tribute to Alan Moore’s classic with a tale of simpler twists, less poetry, a lot of music (Did you wish there was dancing like in 300?  I did.), and overall a platform for a strong comeback of the Watchmen-crazed generation, by making new Watchmen fans in today’s teenage boys and girls.  Sure, it’s not slated to be remembered for all time, but it could be one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations of this year.  Not so bad then, is it?

In the movie, I loved hearing Rorschach say these favorite lines of mine from the comic book:

Is that what happens to us?
A life of conflict with no time for friends
So that when it’s done, only our enemies leave roses

Movie Blurb: The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

February 6, 2009
Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning

She won’t grow up to become the sexiest woman alive, but she’s bound to receive an Oscar at some point in her acting career.

In other news, brand spanking new music from Alicia Keys.

The Secret Life of Bees is a pretty, lighthearted movie for the pretty, lighthearted girl in you.  Go watch it.

Movie Mini-Review: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

January 18, 2009

Four months ago, it opened at the 35th Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.  It has since been on movie awards discussions all over the internet.  All of the hype allowed plenty of room for anticipation, and with it expectations, of the movie.

When I finally watched the movie, I knew the wait was well worth it.  This movie is high-powered entertainment that leaves no room for yawn.  Every scene is compelling, every material well-researched, every character charming.  You would expect no less from Danny Boyle, a director who never makes the same movie twice.

The movie is a testament to the filmmaker’s scholarly knowledge of lighting and camera angles. It also showcases his powerful vision of the entirety of his story, choosing to display chronology of events in a narrative manner, and freezing dramatic moments at precise length and perfect timing. All of these combine to create a movie about the slums of India that is visually captivating and cinematically engaging.

It takes talent to capture beauty where beauty is everywhere.  But to depict beauty where ugliness resides, that’s something else.

Movie Nega-Blurb: August (2008)

January 9, 2009

I absolutely did not understand this movie, and surprisingly, amid the confusion and information overload, I was bored out of my wits watching it.

What is the purpose of depicting an insignificant time in history using nothing but self-indulgent cynicism aimed at poking senseless fun of the core of ordinary people’s existence??  What a waste of camera.

Movie Mini-Review: In Bruges (2008)

December 13, 2008

In Bruges, the brilliant comedy starring Colin Farrell.

It’s one of those carefully plotted stories, where every person, place, and event add up to a dramatic climax.  If you ever want to see a movie for its ending, this is it.

SPOILER WARNING!

The plot, seamless as it may be, bears a loophole.  Towards the ending, the motivation for killing the main character lies in one man’s opinion that you cannot kill a boy and get away with it.  However, in the middle of the story, right after the revelation of the intention to kill our main character, he was told that Bruges was intended to be his last stab at fun, and then he will be done for.  That’s a seeming contradiction right there.

Nevertheless, there’s amazing photography throughout the story. And you can never go wrong with great photography.



Movie Review: The Visitor (2007)

December 13, 2008

The Visitor sounds like a rather bland title, too simple and straightforward to suggest the occurrence of any special event or person celebrated in the movie other than the visitor.

The main character sounds even more boring:  a lonesome 60ish man still in the workforce because he’s got no idea what to do for retirement.

There could be little promise on the plot:  our boring main character visits his seldom-used New York apartment to find that two illegal immigrants have been squatting in it for two months, under false representation by a con artist posing as the apartment’s owner.  This, you may hint, is where it all starts.  But on the outside, neither this sounds like something that would thrill.  Chance encounters, they happen all the time.  And apartment stories about unlikely roommates, they happen in ordinary lives.

This, however, is not your typical old man’s tale.  This is neither an ordinary story revolving around a New York apartment.  And the set of characters, though suggesting a multicultural setup, builds up to nowhere near a largely political theme, though there are microscopic hints of politics in this movie.

Walter Vale,  our main character, is an old man who breezes through remnants of a past life waiting for its end, at peace with the knowledge that all the good things have passed and the only things left are memories.  He is a college professor in Connecticut who recycles syllabi semester after semester.  He tries, painfully and unsuccessfully, to learn piano in the hopes of holding on to the memory of his dead wife, who was a concert pianist.  At night, he drowns himself to sleep with a glass of wine.

This life of apathy and solitude is cut short when he goes to New York for a days-long conference. He goes home to his rarely-used apartment to find two squatters living in it.  Soon they realize that the two boarders have been duped by a con man claiming to be the apartment’s owner.  The two squatters apologize and head off.  As they leave, they are quickly followed by Walter who offers to let them stay out of the kindness of his heart.

What happens afterwards is a beautiful exchange of culture between unlikely people.  Walter is a white American, his two visitors are an interracial couple:  Tarek is the middle eastern boyfriend, Zainab is the black Senegalese girlfriend.  Among the many interesting things culturally diverse people share, the most delightful part we find in this movie is in the music.  Tarek is a conga drummer, who gladly gives lessons to his new benefactor and friend.  In one scene, we find Walter returning the piano he bought for his frustrating piano lesson, with no second thoughts or regrets, because for the first time since a while, we might guess, he’s found something he could really be passionate about.

Which ends the honeymoon stage, as we later progress to the more gripping parts of the story, the one where the real world kicks in.  Both Tarek and Zainab are illegal immigrants, living in post-9/11 New York.  Illustrations of political abuses ensue, and conflicts soon emerge.

Here is an instance where kind, dignified people are put in difficult situations.  Here we watch good people in a delicate balance of waging battles against an unfair system and maintaining kind relationships with one another.  Here we find a lifeless man suddenly emerging from his sleep to try and fight for something that has instilled a deep sense of meaning and importance in his life.  Here we watch in awe as what we would have dismissed as an ordinary story quickly evolves into a gripping tale of love and fighting relentlessly for something you hold dear.

The title is an homage to our main character, a visitor in his own life, who learned a thing or two about himself after meeting people who are at home wherever they go.

My favorite scene in this movie is demonstrated clearly by this photograph: