Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE ROAD (2009)


Written by Joe Penhall


Directed by John Hillcoat


Where & When: Beverly Center 13, Los Angeles, CA. December 29, 2009 2:30PM


I was watching "The Road" today and as the movie went on, I just kept thinking to myself, "Some one actually thought that this story would make a great film and people would actually be entertained."

I know this project is based on the Oprah's book club pick and the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy and although I haven't read it, I'm sure it works very well as a book but does it really as a film?

We begin sometime in the near future when the world has suffered some unexplained catastrophe which has killed off all wildlife, vegetation and most of mankind. There are very few human survivors left and we meet two of them: one man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). No one in this story is referred to by any given names and although I'm sure they have them, they are no longer of any importance anymore.

The man and his boy are traveling, using an old map, on foot in search of possible food and warmer weather. They are cold, dirty, wearing rags and have a gun with two bullets left to use either for protection or to end their lives if the situation ever warrants it. They are also very hungry or to be more accurate: starving. They spend each day moving forward and searching in vain for any possible thing left to eat.

They are also avoiding other survivors who are also searching for food but they are surviving by resorting to cannibalism. These people are "bad guys" as explained by the man to his young son and they are the "good guys". The man assures his son that they will never do that, no matter how hungry they are.

Throughout the journey, the man dreams of life before the apocalypse, when he was happily married to his wife (Charlize Theron). We discover that the wife also survived and was pregnant with their son who was born after the destruction of the Earth. As time goes on, the wife loses her will to live and wishes she hadn't brought their child into this nightmare. The man and his son soon reach their destination but are disappointed to find that the situation is no better or different in what used to be California. The man is now not feeling well and is coughing up blood. Now that they have arrived, what will they do now and how will they survive without losing what's left of their humanity?

"The Road" is dark, bleak and and it is not entertaining in any shape or form. It left me feeling very sad, depressed and exhausted. Since there are hardly any light moments in this film, it make each new obstacle that they have to struggle through just simply unbearable. The performances by Mr. Mortensen and Mr. Smit-McPhee are really good but it's unfortunate that it's all wasted in this misfire of a film. The script by Mr. Penhall is genuinely well written and I don't know how the book ended but knowing how Hollywood operates, I'm sure it was altered. The ending of this film just felt wrong and false. I'm sure I've made it very clear of what I thought of this film, so I know I need to read the book to really see how wrong this film actually went.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A SINGLE MAN (2009)


Written by Tom Ford & David Scearce



Directed by Tom Ford



Where & When: Pasadena Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA. December 24, 2009 8:30PM



"A Single Man", a stylish, masterful work by first-time filmmaker, Tom Ford,  takes place in one day, November 30, 1962. George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British college professor living in Los Angeles, has woken up from another bad dream about his deceased, young lover, Jim (Matthew Goode). He has decided that this would be the right time to end his life so he will no longer feel the excruciating pain he's been suffering since the loss.

George goes through the motions like this was any other day but he's carefully making arrangements before he takes his life. He goes to the university to teach his class but feels inspired to simply just speak on what's actually on his mind. He gives an impassioned speech to his class which seemed to go over their heads. It does leave an impression on one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). Intrigued by his teacher, Kenny would love to spend some time to get to know him better. Flattered but declining his offer, George proceeds to head to his office to clean out his desk.

George methodically continues his errands; going to the bank to empty his safety deposit box that includes a nude photo of Jim, then goes to gun shop to purchase bullets. Once home, he neatly arranges all of his financial paper work, keys and the clothes he should be buried in. Now, George seems ready to proceed with the task at hand.

After several attempts to commit the act, he cannot seem to actually go through with it. George walks over goes to his neighbor's house where a beautiful woman named Charley (Julianne Moore) answers the door. She is another British expatriate who had a brief romantic encounter with him many years ago and now just very good friends. Bruised by life and a little lonely, Charley's goal for this evening is to simply smoke, drink heavily and have a good time with her neighbor. 

George manages to eventually escape from Charley's desperate grasp and decides to head to a local bar. This just happens to be the place he had met Jim years ago. By the time George places his order, Kenny, his student walks into the bar. They spend the evening talking and taking a moonlit swim together before finally going back to George's home for a nightcap. Although very attracted to the young man, will it be enough to keep him from going through with his plan?

I had never given much thought about Mr. Firth before as an actor. I had seen him in quite of few films over the years and I thought he was fine but he never really left much of an impression on me. Perhaps it was the parts he has played or that he is just not one of those actors who feels the need to showboat but this film has certainly given him an opportunity to shine. He gives an absolutely amazing portrayal of a gay man who is stifled by a society that doesn't want to know that he exists and feels he has lost the only reason to keep on living. He just crushed me during the moment that George is informed that his lover has died and he is not invited to the funeral. The look of heartbreak and pain on his face just devastated me. Despite her English accent being slightly wobbly at times, Ms. Moore has never failed to electrify every moment she is on the screen and she once again gives another astonishing performance.

"A Single Man" is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Christopher Isherwood with Tom Ford, best known as a top fashion designer for Gucci before launching his own line, co-writing the screenplay in addition to directing. I'm still quite amazed at what he has accomplished with his very first film. Mr. Ford may have spent most of his career designing clothing but it's quite apparent that he spent quite a bit of time preparing and studying cinema to be able to craft this work of art. You can see the influence of some of the great European film makers and their work during the 60's, most notably the Italian masters like Federico Fellini and Micheangelo Antonioni throughout "A Single Man". I am also impressed by the great work of cinematographer, Eduard Grau. His brilliant compositions, close-ups and use of light, color and black and white film help create the many moods throughout the film. It's really no surprise that the art direction and the costumes are impeccable. I cannot praise "A Single Man" enough. I highly recommend that you see this wonderfully beautiful film.


Monday, December 21, 2009

THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009)


Written by Julian Fellowes


Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee


Where & When: AMC Century City 15, West Los Angeles, CA. December 18, 2009 4:55PM


This is the story of Queen Victoria's (1819-1901) early accession to the throne of England and her romance with Prince Albert. Her reign over the United Kingdom lasted for sixty three years which is the longest of any British monarch in history.

The film begins when she is just a young girl, Princess Victoria (Emily Blunt) who is raised isolated from other people. She was not allowed to even walk down the stairs alone and she had to share a bedroom with her mother, the Dutchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) until she becomes Queen. This was devised by the Dutchess and her lover, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) to keep her away from people they felt were undesirable and to keep her under their control. As she gets older, Victoria resents all of these rules that are forced upon her. Sir Conroy tries to bully Victoria into making him her private secretary but she resists his threats.

Victoria first meets Prince Albert of Belgium (Rupert Friend), who is her first cousin, during a visit arranged by her uncle, King Leopold (Thomas Kretschmann). He wanted to position his son to marry the future queen and have some influence over the throne. Victoria and Albert are attracted to each other but Victoria is not interested in marriage at this time. Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the Prime Minister of the Whig party and an acquaintance of the Dutchess, meets the Princess and develops a friendship with her. He hopes to use this for his party's advantage when Victoria becomes Queen.

In 1837, her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent) passes away and at eighteen, Victoria is now Queen of the United Kingdom. After her coronation, she takes residence at Buckingham Palace and has Sir Conroy banned from her presence and has her mother sent over to a distant corner of the palace since her mother must live with the Queen since she is unmarried.

Since she was isolated for most of her life, Queen Victoria is concerned that she is too young and inexperienced to handle her duties, so she relies on Lord Melbourne for advise. He uses his influence over the Queen to help his party but soon the people are unhappy the way they are being governed. The Whig party becomes unpopular and so does the Queen.

Prince Albert pays Queen Victoria another visit and she now looks at him much differently. Since she is a Queen, she is the one who must propose marriage and Albert accepts. The Prince doesn't approve of her reliance of the counsel of Lord Melbourne and lets the Queen know it. He soon replaces Lord Melbourne as the Queen's political advisor.

Soon after their wedding, The Queen becomes pregnant with their first child. One day while the Royals are riding in a carriage, a man pulls out a gun and attempts to assassinate the Queen but Prince Albert is shot protecting her. There is concern he might not make it but the Prince recovers and they continue to rule together until his death in 1861.

Being an American, I don't really get the whole concept of inbreeding royalty, their strange order of things or their contributions to society but they have existed for centuries and Europeans still seem to embrace the idea of them, so what do I know. Now I like a good period piece just like the next guy, but "The Young Victoria", while beautiful to look at, is deadly dull and static. This film felt like a history lecture conducted by a stuffy teacher and just like I did in school, I nodded off briefly in the middle of it. Just like the film,"Coco Before Chanel", "The Young Victoria" takes the beginning of the Queen's life and builds an entire film around it and the problem is that it's just really not that interesting. It's too bad because Ms Blunt gives a very good performance as Queen Victoria. And also like, "Coco Before Chanel", this is not a bad film but it is something you should either rent or catch on cable television.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UP IN THE AIR (2009)


Written by Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner



Directed by Jason Reitman




Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. December 15, 2009, 8:25PM



George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man whose profession is one of those that are a necessary evil, like a parking meter attendant or a lawyer. Mr. Bingham is a career transition counselor or in a less professional definition, he travels across the country firing people for companies because the supervisors don't have the balls to do it themselves.

In between, Ryan does motivational speaking engagements about relationship free living. He enjoys all of the special perks of his job; being acknowledged when he arrives at the airport, the special treatment at the airport VIP lounges and car rental agencies, the comfort of the luxurious hotel rooms, and the collection of frequent-flyer miles in which he is very close to reaching the ultimate goal of ten million but the real perk according to Ryan is that he has no emotional baggage of a personal life or committed relationships.

He thinks his life is perfect but one day his boss, Craig Gregory, (Jason Bateman) the owner of the company, summons him back to the office in Omaha for an important meeting.

He is introduced to Natalie Keener, (Anna Kendrick) an uptight, career focused, young woman who has joined the company with new and modern ideas of how to do their job. Her plan is to save time by taking every one off the road and to terminate employees by using video camera feeds from their office. This will also save the company a lot of money, so Craig is all for trying this program out. Ryan is not at all happy with this potential disruption to his lifestyle and points out Natalie's inexperience on the job and the many flaws in her plan.

To try and solve this, Craig suggests that Natalie travels with Ryan so she can get some first hand experience of what is really involved in the job of termination. Ryan is against this too but he is convinced that will be a good idea.

It is no surprise that Ryan and Natalie have some difficulty working together but they soon learn some valuable life lessons from each other. Ryan teaches her that firing someone in any capacity is a very difficult and heart-breaking task and you can't remove the human element from it and she actually makes him question why he is more concerned about reaching his airline mileage goal than about his lack of any real human connection in his life.

On his travels, Ryan has met an attractive, frequent-flyer named Alex (Vera Farmiga) who he connects with almost instantly because they are so similar. They coordinate their itineraries so that they can meet up for brief rendezvous in whatever city they are both in. This too seems like an idea arrangement but something unexpected happens to Ryan. . . he finds himself having real feelings for Alex.

Ryan is so convinced that Alex might be someone important that he invites her to accompany him to his sister's wedding. They have a wonderful time together despite all of the drama that occurs at the wedding but at the end of the trip, Alex just waves goodbye and heads off back to her home. In the middle of a motivational speech, Ryan soon realizes he no longer believes in what he is saying and he walks out and heads for Chicago. He is hoping to have an opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with Alex. Will Ryan sweep Alex off her feet and live happily ever after or will he be disappointed and miss his final destination?

"Up In The Air" is smart, clever, touching and actually laugh out loud funny. There are really not a lot of films that I have seen lately that have been able to reach that lofty achievement. Considering what is going on right now in this country, it is hard to believe that they could take a story involving job termination and not make it a distraction for people to be able to enjoy the film is pretty amazing. It is certainly one of my favorites of this year.

First rate performances from Mr. Clooney, Ms Farmiga and Ms Kendrick who each have wonderful moments to show off their comedic and dramatic skills and they really are award worthy. This is the third film from Mr. Reitman, following "Thank You For Smoking" and "Juno", two films that I also really enjoyed. The most notable thing about him is that he is very good about bringing out the very best in all of his performers. He is only 32 years old and he has proven that he is gifted film maker and he is someone who really deserves to have a long career in the future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

BROKEN EMBRACES (2009)


Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA, December 11, 2009 7:35PM



Harry Caine is a blind writer currently living in Madrid but he is also Mateo Blanco who, years ago, was a film director. We find out how this happened in the latest film by Mr. Almodovar, "Broken Embraces" which mixes film noir, high drama, outrageous humor, classic Hollywood and his first major success, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988) to create another one of his beautifully unique cinematic visions.

We meet Harry (Lluis Homar) who has just finished seducing a beautiful young lady, when his long time agent and friend, Judit (Blanca Portillo) comes in to the apartment to check on him. After the girl departs, Judit's son, Diego (Tamar Novas) arrives. Diego assists Harry in writing his movie scripts.

While working, Harry hears from the television that wealthy businessman, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) has died. The name brings back memories to Harry and we are taken back to 1992.
We meet Lena Rivas, (Penelope Cruz) Mr. Martel's secretary. Her father is dying of cancer and she cannot afford the care he needs. She calls a madam that sets up jobs for her as a prostitute when she is in desperate need of cash.

When the client calls Lena to set up an appointment, she realises it is her boss, Mr. Martel. She quickly hangs up on him. The madam informs Lena that he was well aware of her part-time activities and insisted she call him if Lena arranged for any work. Lena decides to use this to her advantage to help her family and becomes Mr. Martel's mistress.

We are back in the present and a strange young man who calls himself, Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) pays Harry a visit. Ray X is a film maker and wants Harry to write a scandalous screenplay for him based on Ernesto Martel to film. Harry turns him down but he recognizes his voice. Harry has Diego go through some old photos and discovers that Ray X is actually Ernesto Martel, Jr. We also see a photo of Lena.

This takes us back to 1994, when Harry is Mateo and he is in the process of making his new film, "Chicas y Maletas" which just happens to be very similar to Mr. Almodovar's classic film. Mateo is searching for a leading lady and Lena, who has always wanted to be an actress, auditions. She takes the nerdy and flamboyant Ernesto Jr. with her to film her audition. Mateo is captivated by Lena and hires her immediately.

Ernesto Sr. is obsessed with Lena and doesn't want to share her with anyone. He is against the idea of her making the film but Lena insists. He wants to make her happy, so he decides to become a producer on the film. This way he can be close and keep a eye of Lena. He also has his son follow her around and videotape everything she does. Mr. Martel watches the footage later with the help of a lip reader (Lena Duenas) to inform him of every word that is spoken to Lena.

Despite Mr. Martel's erratic behavior, this doesn't stop Mateo and Lena from beginning an intense and passionate affair. They manage to distract Ernesto Jr. long enough so they can have brief moments together but soon Mr. Martel catches the love birds. Lena tells Mr. Martel that she is leaving him and he retaliates by pushing her down the stairs. He rushes her to the hospital and begs her for forgiveness.

Lena still wants to leave Mr. Martel but he threatens to pull the plug on the movie if she does. She decides to stay until the film is complete. Once the film is done, Lena and Mateo run off to the Canary Islands to start a new life. Everything is perfect in a perfect, new location until they discover an advertisement announcing the movie premiere of "Chicas y Maletas" They know this is just a way for Mr. Martel to get them to come back to Madrid. They resist until they read that the film has received many bad reviews. Mateo is furious that Mr. Martel has destroyed all of his hard work, so they reluctantly decide to go back to see if they can salvage the film.

On the way back, they are involved in a terrible car accident that has very tragic results which leads to the end of Mateo Blanco and the beginning of Harry Caine. There are more secrets that are revealed before we reach the dramatic conclusion of this film and Mateo Blanco's film.

There is a lot going on in this film (perhaps a little too much) and it also feels a little long, but Mr. Almodvar has the confidence and the talent to make it all work. He is in control the entire way and he makes sure it all pays off in the end.

The director has created another great part for Ms Cruz to showcase her amazing gifts. By having her play an actress, this gives her an opportunity to show all that she is capable of, which doesn't always happen in the films she makes in Hollywood. The film has plenty of great performances, especially from Mr. Homar and from Mr. Almodovar's cast of reliable supporting players including the welcome reappearance of Rossy de Palma although it was way too brief.

I have to admit that "Broken Embraces" may not one of my favorite films by Mr. Almodovar but it is still a very good film and you should find the time to see this.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

VALENTINE'S DAY



I know this is way too early to be even thinking about this holiday especially since we haven't even celebrated Christmas yet but I saw this trailer and this looks interesting.

"Valentine's Day" is the latest film from Garry Marshall and it features an incredible all-star cast that includes Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine, Queen Latifah and Taylor Lautner (I listed my favorite actors from the large cast). This follows this year's hit, all-star, romantic comedy that was released around Valentine's day, "He's Just Not That into You". I guess they are hoping lightning strikes twice. We'll see.

"Valentine's Day" is due to be released in the U.S. on February 12, 2010.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE MAID (LA NANA) (2009)

Written & Directed by Sebastian Silva


Where & When: Fairfax Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA November 29, 2009, 2:30PM


"The Maid" is an fascinating character study of a woman who devotes so much of her life that she ignores her own needs and health in the process. There's not much of a plot in this documentary styled film but there is plenty to enjoy in this wonderful and smart dramedy.

We begin in Santiago, Chile where we meet the maid, Raquel (Catalina Saavedra) who is sitting down to eat after serving the Valdez family their dinner. Today is her 41st birthday and she has worked for this family for over twenty years. While Raquel is in the kitchen, Mundo (Alejandro Goic), his wife, Pilar (Claudia Celedon) and their two children, Lucas (Agustin Silva) and Claudia (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) prepares to surprise her with a cake and gifts. She reluctantly comes out and they wish her a happy birthday.

Pilar is concerned about Raquel because she has been suffering from headaches, she looks fatigued and is always in a foul mood so she decides to hire a second housekeeper to help her out. Raquel is against the idea but Pilar insists. Claudia tells her mother that Raquel hates her and only likes Lucas. Pilar tells her she is imagining that but in the morning, Raquel deliberately vacuums by Claudia's room after she is told by Pilar to wait until later and let her sleep in. Raquel gives sweet treats to Lucas but hides them from Claudia.

The new maid, Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva) starts with the family. She is young and pretty and the children warm to her immediately. This sets Raquel off and she begins to torture Mercedes by berating her and locking her out of the house hoping this will drive her away. Eventually it works and Raquel drives Mercedes out of the house.

Pilar's mother offers to lend her long time maid, Sonia to help out around her daughter's house. Raquel tries her previous little tricks on Sonia but she is not one to mess with. After being locked out, Sonia manages to get back into the house and starts to beat up Raquel and in the process, breaks Mundo's prize model ship he had been working on for years. Luckily for Raquel, Pilar only dismisses Sonia.

One morning, Raquel is serving the parents breakfast in bed when she collapses and is rushed to the hospital. After she is released, she is ordered to bed rest so that means that the family has to hire a new maid to help out. They bring in Lucy, (Mariana Loyola) a good natured but eccentric woman who fits in quite nicely in the house.

When Raquel's health improves and she is able to work again, she begins her attempts to drive Lucy out of the house. Lucy is unfazed by Raquel's bad behavior and she tries even harder to befriend her. Soon, Raquel learns to trust Lucy and a true friendship develops between the two women. They become so close that Lucy invites Raquel to come to her family's farm for Christmas. It is here where Raquel finally discovers what it is like to truly feel to be a part of a family and she discovers her femininity when she has an intimate encounter with Lucy's cousin.

Raquel returns to the Valdez household a much happier woman. She arranges a surprise birthday party for Lucy. At the party, Lucy informs the family that she is going to return to her family on the farm because she realized how much she missed them during the holidays. Raquel is devastated by the news. She is losing her only friend. How will Raquel cope with this?

"The Maid" is really held together by the brilliant performance of Ms Saavedra. She is able to communicate all of Raquel's moodiness and rage with just her expressive face and her internal turmoil through her sad eyes. Her performance should certainly be remembered during the award season.

This film by Mr. Silva is loosely based on his childhood experiences. He has only made a couple of other films which I don't think where widely distributed here, if at all and this is an impressive work. If you enjoy foreign language films, then I highly recommend checking out "The Maid".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NEW YORK I LOVE YOU (2009)


Written by Hall Powell, Israel Horovitz, Shuji Iwai, Hu Hong & Yao Meng, Joshua Marston, Xan Cassavettes & Stephen Winter, Jeff Nathanson, Anthony Minghella, Natalie Portman, Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Olivier Lecot and Suketu Mehta



Directed by Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Shekhar Kapur and Natalie Portman


Where & When: Fairfax Cinemas, Los Angeles, CA. November 12, 2009, 7:25PM


I had said in a previous post that I was very interested in seeing this film, so Dean and I went to go to go see it today.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. This film is really bad. Shockingly bad, considering all of the apparent talent behind the cameras.

This film is a collection of ten short film by ten directors that are tied together to create what is supposed to be a loving tribute to the big apple. None of these films are really any good but some are certainly worse than others.

I don't know whether to list the films that were barely tolerable or the ones that are truly horrific.

So I'll mention a couple of both.

The one short which I thought was the most interesting was Shekhar Kapur's segment that stars the wonderful Julie Christie as an aging performer who returns to a hotel she used to stay at many years ago. Jacob, a crippled bellhop (Shia LaBeouf) helps her to her room and caters to every need but is he real or is he just part of her imagination. It doesn't sound like much and it really isn't but I could have just liked it simply because of Ms Christie's appearance in it.

Joshua Marston's film stars Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as a bickering couple who are trying to get out of the city to go to Coney Island for what turns out to be for an important date. It's kinda sweet but insignificant.

The worst short in the film was by Yvan Attal that stars Ethan Hawke as a smug writer who tries to woo a woman (Maggie Q) he passes on the street. He is trying to convince her to go out with him by describing how he would make love to her. He thinks he's being clever but it just comes across as psychotic and creepy.

Another annoying film is Brett Ratner's short which features Anton Yelchin as Kane, a nice young man who is talked in to taking Mr. Riccoli's (James Caan) pretty daughter (Olivia Thrilby) to her prom. She is not at all what he expected and the evening doesn't go as planned but at least Kane does get lucky at the end of the night. The twist at the end was suppose to be surprising and funny but it just felt silly and pointless.

Scarlett Johansson was supposed to have made her directorial debut in this project but it was cut apparently for "time". I certainly question that reason for it's exclusion considering the films that were actually used in this mess.

Overall, this project just felt lazy and unimaginative and wasted the time of many talented actors. The only good thing I can say about this film is that it made me miss New York City. I need to pay a visit very soon so it will help make me forget the awful memory of this film .


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2012 (2009)


Written by Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser


Directed by Roland Emmerich



Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA, November 17, 2009 5:00PM



The end is near. At least, that what I kept hoping while watching "2012". This end-of-the-world disaster flick runs for an unnecessary 158 minutes and had at least three perfectly good endings long before the credits finally came. "2012" is loud, obnoxious, manipulative, implausible and completely ridiculous. But despite it's efforts to the contrary, there were a few, brief moments of some genuine fun and thrills.

The film begins in 2009 where Adrian Helmsley, (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a US geologist is summoned to India by a fellow geologist (Jimi Mistry). It has been discovered that the earth's core is heating up at an alarming rate which spells imminent disaster for the planet. Adrian rushes back to the US with a report to inform the government of this. He contacts the White House Chief of staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) who in turn informs the President (Danny Glover) and a plan is set in to motion with other high ranking officials of the rest of world.

Three years later in California, we meet Jackson Curtis, a writer played by John Cusack (because I guess Nicolas Cage must have been busy) who is picking up his two kids from ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet) to take on a camping trip at Yellowstone. While there, the family stumble upon a restricted area which of course they jump a fence to investigate. They find a area where there used to be a large lake and is now virtually dried up. The army comes and sweeps them up to interrogate them. Adrian happens to be at the base and recognizes Jackson from his unsuccessful novel. He is a fan of the book and let's the family go. An unbalanced and paranoid radio host, Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson, very busy this year) has observed the whole incident and wants to know what the army told them. Jackson tells him nothing and Charlie proceeds to let him know exactly what is going on.

According to legend, the ancient Mayans predicted an apocalypse on 12 - 21 - 12 and it has begun. Charlie claims that the government is making a massive space ship to fly people off to a new planet and he has a map showing where the ship is. Jackson thinks he's nuts but back in Los Angeles, Kate and her live-in boyfriend, Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) just happen to be grocery shopping when the Earth cracks wide open, splits the store in half and swallows the surrounding land.

After seeing this on the news, Adrian realizes that the end has begun and it is earlier than predicted. He informs the President and he agonises over if they should begin the evacuation plan. Carl insist that must start the process and so they go forward. The President calls his daughter (Thandie Newton) to let her know it it time.

Kate wants Jackson to bring the kids back from their trip early. Later, a wealthy Russian businessman gets a mysterious phone call and he calls Jackson who just happens to be a part time limousine driver. He wants Jackson to rush him and his family to the airport. After he drops them off, one of the businessman's bratty twin sons tells him they are flying off to safety and he was going to die. Jackson realises that something is happening and rushes back to his family.

Just as soon as Jackson gets to the house, a massive earthquake starts. He shuttles every one into the limo and they take off for the airport. While driving, he manages to miss all manner of flying debris, fiery explosions and the earth disappearing beneath them. When they get to the airport, the pilot who was going to fly them to safety is dead. What are they going to do? Gordon just happens to kinda know how to fly a plane and off they go, barely escaping the complete destruction of Los Angeles in time.

They first stop back to Yellowstone to find Charlie Frost to get the map on where they should go. Charlie wants to stay behind to watch and broadcast the destruction. Jackson manages to get it and they once again barely make it off the ground before another earthquake destroys the area around them. They find out that the ship is supposed to be in China, so we follow Jackson and his family as they try to get to get there but there many obstacles that stand in their way. Will they make it in time before the earth as we know it is completely gone?

The best part (and possibly the only real reason to see this film) is for the amazing visual effects throughout the film. The destruction was very realistic and it made me jump a few times. You can see where all of the time and money was spent on this film and what little bit was left over was used to piece together a script. I have a feeling all they did for a script was take all the best elements from many of the classic "disaster" films like "The Poseidon Adventure", "Earthquake", "Airport" and "The Towering Inferno", string them together to try and create the ultimate disaster flick. The film is filled with a talented, all-star cast who didn't have to stretch themselves too much and got a nice paycheck at the end of the day. So as long as you go in to "2012" not expecting much more than great visual effects, you will have a good time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A SINGLE MAN


This is the trailer for "A Single Man", the forthcoming film by former Gucci designer and current film maker, Tom Ford and it is absolutely stunning. I can't wait to see this. No dialogue, just beautiful images in this first look, which really isn't surprising coming from Mr. Ford. The film features Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin (best known from HBO's, "Big Love") and Julianne Moore (one of my favorite actresses) and the film is expected to be released in the US on December 11th.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE BOX (2009)


Written & Directed by Richard Kelly


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 8, 2009, 8:15PM



"The Box",  Richard Kelly's first film since his poorly received 2003 sci-fi, comedy action-thriller, "Southland Tales", proves to be a convoluted and incoherent disaster of a psychological thriller. This is too bad because I am a huge fan of the writer/director's offbeat debut, "Donnie Darko" from 2001. This film starts off fairly interesting but unfortunately deteriorates in to a confusing and muddled mess.

This story is set in 1976 near the Christmas holiday. We meet Norma, (Cameron Diaz) a school teacher and her husband, Arthur Lewis, (James Marsden) who works for NASA. They are a nice suburban couple who are awakened early one morning by a knock at their door. When they get to the door, no one is there but a package is left behind.

They open the package and find a wooden box with a button in the middle inside. There is also a note that informs them that a "Mr. Steward" will pay them a visit later this day.  They find the whole situation odd but continue on with their day and getting their son, Walter ready for school.

Norma is informed that she will be losing her job at the end of school year while Arthur learns that he has been passed over for the astronaut program despite doing well on tests and glowing recommendations. Money has been an on-going problem for the family and now they will really be struggling financially.

Later, Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) arrives at the home. Norma is there alone to greet him and shocked to see that part of his jaw is missing from his face. The disfigured man is there to present the couple with strange offer. He will give them one million dollars if they push the button on the box but in exchange someone that they do not know will have to die. He opens up a suitcase to show her the money and gives her a one hundred dollar bill in good faith. He suggests that she discuss the matter with her husband and he will return the next day for their answer.

Norma and Arthur discuss the proposition and they don't know what to make of it. They don't know if this is a joke and if it's real, they could certainly use the money. They go back and forth on this and in the morning, Norma just decides to push the button. Later that day as promised, the money is delivered to them and also as promised, a person is killed. I guess Norma and Arthur were not familiar with the expression, "If it sounds to be good to be true. . ."

At this point, things start to go downhill quickly for Norma and Arthur, as well as the film. We meet people who are apparent accomplices to Mr. Steward who try to warn the couple about their fate and develop unexplained nose bleeds for their trouble. Norma and Arthur arrive separately at the same time at a library to investigate Mr. Steward's activities and Arthur is followed by an army of strange people. There is also some nonsense involving communicating with aliens, life on Mars and putting the human race to the test. I'm not exactly sure what it all means or suppose to mean but by the end , I completely gave up trying to figure it all out.

I was impressed by Ms Diaz's performance in this film. She has grown as an actress over the years and I think in the right hands and the right part, we could possibly see her one day walking up to accept an Oscar. Mr. Marsden is not given much to do but he does the best he can and Mr. Langella does creepy very well.

I wish someone had been involved in having Mr. Kelly focus on creating an cohesive plot because they are a lot of good ideas floating throughout "The Box" but they just do not work as a whole. A very big disappointment.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MICHAEL JACKSON'S THIS IS IT (2009)


Directed by Kenny Ortega


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. November 1, 2009, 7:00PM


I remember my father taking me and my sister, Cheryl to see the Jackson 5 in concert sometime in the early 70's. This was during the height of their fame as a group. Cheryl was a hardcore fan and I thought they were okay but I was willing to go because I love going to concerts.

All I remember from the show was that from the beginning to the very end were continuous high pitch screams. I could not hear a single song. To make matters worse, The concert was held in a large coliseum and we were sitting way back in the nose bleed section, so all I could see were fast moving flashes of light. This was long before the days of video screens at concerts. Cheryl said she really enjoyed it. I looked at my father and I could tell that he had as much fun as I did.

Years later, I have a much greater appreciation for the talents of the entire Jackson family, particularly Michael. I have to admit I found the idea of "This Is It", a documentary on the making of an upcoming series of concerts that would have been held at London's O2 Arena, a little morbid so soon after Mr. Jackson's death. But I also have to admit I was very interested in seeing this film.

This documentary uses a collection of edited footage of the rehearsals for the comeback concerts and were actually made for Mr. Jackson's personal use which I guess he could use to help evaluate how the show was developing. After seeing this footage, I can say the show looked great and I really would have wanted to see it. The concert, entitled "This Is It", was conceived by Mr. Jackson and Mr. Ortega, who directed this film as well as the concert.

The entire process of creating this concert is revealed from the design of the staging, the choreography and the auditions of the dancers and the final selections. Mr. Jackson, the ultimate perfectionist, would go over and over each number until it meets his high standards; We see how the elaborate video productions were created and how they would have looked during the concerts. Several of the singer's key band members offer nothing but glowing praise of Mr. Jackson and how he inspired them.

The film reveals how much work and man power is involved in creating such a massive stage show but we don't really find out much about who really is Michael Jackson? We see glimpses of a shy, passive-aggressive professional performer who seems like a sweet person but we don't get deep inside of the man.

I found "This Is It" to be sad for two different reasons: One is the most obvious in that we see what we lost in a extremely talented and unique entertainer and the other is more disturbing to me. I really saw how much he had mutilated his face and the extent of the lightening of his skin tone. This wasn't new information to me but I guess watching him on the big screen for almost two hours just emphasized this and this was most notable during a part of the concert rehearsals when he does a medley of his songs with the Jackson 5 . Behind him is a video of him performing as a child with his brothers looking -- well, more human.

I realize that Mr. Jackson had a few of demons and psychological issues that played a big part of his feeling the need to alter himself in such a dramatic way but it still bothered me more than I thought it would. It really was difficult to watch him at times and that really saddens me. You don't necessarily have to be any type of fan of Mr. Jackson's to enjoy "This Is It" but it will certainly have much more meaning to you if you are.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

SKIN (2009)


Written by Helen Crawley, Jessie Keyt & Helena Kriel



Directed by Anthony Fabian



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. October 30, 2009, 5:00PM



I am still in disbelief after seeing "Skin". I know that this film is based on a true story yet it 's still truly an unbelievable story. Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie (Alice Krige) Laing give birth to a healthy baby girl they named Sandra in 1955. The problem is that they are both Caucasian and their daughter appears to be Black. The bigger problem is that Sandra was born in South Africa during apartheid.

Abraham believes with all his heart and soul that his wife has been faithful to him, so that means that their daughter is white and they raise her as a white child. Unfortunately, the rest of the country does not agree with the Laings. As far as the government is concerned, because of her appearance, Sandra (Ella Ramangwane) is labeled "colored".

The Laings are having to battle the schools and go to court over Sandra's racial identity. Abraham uses the media to help and get Sandra's story out all over the newspapers. The family have an older son, Leon and he looks Caucasian. Later, Mrs Laing becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy. He is not as dark as Sandra but he also doesn't look exactly white either.

To say that Sandra, now played by Sophie Okonedo, has some difficulty fitting in with her community is an understatement and things become even more difficult for her when she becomes a teenager. Sandra's parents make her go on dates with some local white boys and they treat her very badly and one boy almost rapes her.

Sandra finds herself attracted to Petrus, (Tony Kgoroge) a Black African who sells vegetables to her father's store. They begin an affair but her father finds out and forbids her to see him anymore or he will kill him. She runs off with Petrus but her father tracks her down and has her arrested. After her father decides to get her out of prison, Sandra informs him that she is pregnant. She refuses to give up Petrus or the baby so her father disowns her. Abraham goes as far as burning all of Sandra's pictures and things. He insists that the family act like she never existed.

Sandra starts a new life with Petrus but she has some difficulty relating to other Africans and how they live. Sandra has another child and Petrus starts his own business selling food which is successful. One day, The government claims the land and force the Africans off. They demolish every one's homes without even giving them an opportunity to collect their belongings. The people move to another area to rebuild and start over.

Sandra writes to her family for years but her letters come back unopened. Her writing causes friction between her and Petrus because he wants her to forget about her past. Petrus drinks more heavily and they fight more often and soon, Sandra has had enough. She takes her children one night and they run off to Johannesburg.

Apartheid ends in 1994 and reporters seek out Sandra to get her reaction. Sandra desperately wants to reconnect with her family and uses the media to help her try and track them down but can she find them? Will they want to see her? All of the performances are top notch with special mention to both of the actresses who played Sandra at different points of her life.

I have to say that after leaving "Skin", I felt such great sadness and anger because of how people's hatred and fears can destroy an innocent person's life. It's not an easy film to watch but it is an important film to see.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

GOOD HAIR (2009)



Directed by Jeff Stilson


Where & When: Beverly Center 13, West Hollywood, CA. October 25, 2009 12:15PM


I remember as a young boy being told by someone, most likely a relative, that I had good hair because it was straight when cut really close. Even then, I thought it was strange that my hair was considered "good" but I also was very proud of being told this. I didn't know why but I was sure this was a good thing to have.

What exactly is "good hair"? It is African-American hair that is straight and flowing and "bad hair" is considered to be hair that is nappy or very curly. The documentary, "Good Hair" has helped expose a subject that is not discussed much in the African-American community but it is just as much of a divisive issue as skin color and interracial dating.

Chris Rock narrates and interviews an assortment of celebrated African-American women (and a few men) who discuss the importance, the extensive choices and the outrageous expense of maintaining their hair. Some of the people who expressed their opinions on hair were Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Raven-Symone, Ice T and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

We follow some colorful contestants of the Bonner Bros. Hair show that is held every year in Atlanta. Hair stylists from all over the world compete against each other to show off their skills in cutting hair in an elaborate production number where there is no such thing as "over the top".

Mr. Rock also takes us on a tour of the factory that makes the chemical that straightens black hair and then proceeds to show us how dangerous this stuff really is. These chemicals can disintegrate a soda can and on a human being, this relaxer can cause scalp irritation, breakage and even hair loss but it appears to be worth it for many as the price of beauty.

I was raised with my mother and three sisters, so I know first hand about all that is involved in making sure that their hair was just "right". I remember the many tears my sisters' cried after being burned by a hot comb. I also remember having to spend hours waiting impatiently in a beauty shop while my family was getting their hair did. I was so glad when I was old enough to stay home while they were out getting their hair straightened.

I really enjoyed "Good Hair" and found it brought to light some disturbing ideas. It is amazing to me how to this day, African-American hair in it's natural state is still considered not right by not only by Caucasians but also by some African-Americans. This was very telling when Mr. Rock was interviewing some recent college graduates. He asked them if someone came to a job interview with dreadlocks or an Afro, would they hire them? They said that they might not because it didn't look "professional".

Mr. Rock was the perfect person to present the subject with the right amount of humor, history as well as some food for thought. "Good Hair" is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009)


Written and Directed by Anne Fontaine


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2009 5:05PM




Audrey Tautou stars as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the French fashion designer who was one of the most influential people of the last century, in "Coco Before Chanel". She was responsible for breaking down the social restraints of what respectable women should wear. Chanel helped get them out of corsets, long skirts and impractical hats and into sailor inspired shirts, shorter shirts and comfortable, loose fitting jackets.

The film begins as her father drops her off at an orphanage after her mother has passed away. Gabrielle waits for her father to return for her but he does not appear. This leaves the little girl hardened and bitterly disappointed.

Gabrielle is now a young woman who is employed as a seamstress but she dreams of becoming a singer. She sings in a local saloon at night with her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain). After a performance, she meets Baron Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) who is smitten by Gabrielle but she is not initially interested in him. He was also the one who was responsible for giving her the nickname "Coco". He called her that after hearing her sing a song and not liking her given name. She later finds out he is a very wealthy man which makes him more appealing to Miss Chanel.

After being fired from her job at the saloon and fed up with life in her small town, Gabrielle visits Baron Balsan's immaculate home intending to stay for only a few days but she ends up extending her visit indefinitely while keeping him company in bed. This is where she learned to appreciate the beautiful objects and the lavish lifestyle of the Baron and to disdain the wealthy, vacuous people that populated his parties. It is also here where Gabrielle begins to create a fictionalized past for herself which she did just as well as she created her clothing.

Miss Chanel begins by taking the Baron's clothing and altering them to create a new wardrobe for herself. She also made created hats that were different from what other women were wearing at the time. People didn't know what to make of this eccentric person but they were also intrigued by her as well. One friend of the Baron's, Emilienne d'Alencon, (Emmanuelle Devos) an actress wants Gabrielle to make a hat for her. People love the hat and want one for themselves.

Later at one of the parties, she meets another friend of the Baron's, Arthur "Boy" Capel, (Alessandro Nivola) an English industrialist. They are attracted to each other and soon they begin an affair. She soon finds herself in love with him. He helps her open a boutique and introduces her to potential new clients but "Boy" is keeping a secret from Gabrielle which puts their relationship in jeopardy.

I'm sure that Ms Chanel lived an exciting and fascinating life but this film chooses to focus only on the very beginning of it and in fact, the film actually ends when Chanel first achieves significant success as a designer. This part of her life, while it was slightly interesting, did not require almost two hours to tell.

While I found the performances good and it is beautifully shot, "Coco Before Chanel" moves sluggishly. It feels very drawn out, filled with too many unnecessary and insignificant details of Ms Chanel's life. I am still waiting to see a definitive film version on the life of Coco Chanel. This film is certainly not it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

ZOMBIELAND (2009)




Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick


Directed by Ruben Fleischer


Where & When: Emigine Cinemas, Canton, MI. October 5, 2009 4:30PM



I have to admit I would not have gone to see this film on my own. I am not a big fan of Woody Harrelson and even less of a fan of graphic horror films but I was back in Michigan visiting my mother and sister for the week. "Zombieland" was the movie they wanted to see. I try to be a team player so off we went.

When we were kids, my mother took us to the movies quite regularly. I think that is why I still believe that movies must be seen properly in a movie theater. I think seeing a film with an audience with a giant screen is part of the whole experience. Like myself, my mother goes to see almost everything. In a movie theater. In fact, she gets upset when certain films she wants to see (mostly independent) do not play in a theater near her. She also luvs movies but she doesn't want to have to travel too far to see them.

The story is being told by an unnamed, nerdy young college student in Texas who ultimately will be known by the nickname, "Columbus" (Jesse Eisenberg). He explains that most people in the world has been transformed into flesh eating zombies and he rattles off his list of rules to survive against being turned into one. Walking in route to Ohio to find his family, Columbus runs into another non-zombie driving an Escalade. He goes by the name, "Tallahassee" (Woody Harrelson) and he is an intense, no nonsense type of fella who is in desperate pursuit of the now rare, sweet treat: the Twinkie.

Tallahassee is on his way to Florida so he reluctantly agrees to let Columbus hitch a ride half way across the country so Columbus can get to Ohio. On the way, they stop at a grocery store where they meet two young girls, "Wichita" (Emma Stone) and "Little Rock" (Abigail Breslin). Little Rock claims to have been bitten by a zombie and wants one of the guys to shoot her and put her out of potential misery. Unfortunately for the guys, the girls have just tricked them so they can steal their car to get to Los Angeles. The guys are stranded but don't worry. . . they manage to find another truck that is fully loaded with a wide assortment of guns.

Tallahassee and Columbus are back on the freeway. Tallahassee is heading west to track down the girls. They soon find their Escalade abandoned at the side of the road and no sign of the girls. While investigating, the guys are ambushed again by the young ladies but this time the guys are able to get the upper hand. They are at a stand off. They decide to stop fighting each other and travel together. The girls want to get to LA because there is an amusement park there that is supposed to be zombie-free.

Once in Los Angeles, they use a star map to get to the house of a surprise guest star. I guess I won't spoil it and say who but I will give a clue: He was one of the original cast members of "Saturday Night Live" and later became a movie star. Later, after a few drinks, Columbus and Wichita find themselves attracted to each other and almost kiss but are interrupted.

The next morning, the girls take off for the amusement park. When they get there, it appears to be deserted, so they decide to turn on the rides and have some fun. The lights and the noise attract surrounding zombies and they head to the park. Columbus wants to go after the girls but Tallahassee wants to forget them and head to Mexico. Will Columbus be able to find the girls on his own and will he make it in time before they become a meal for ravenous zombies?

This film is a part of the current trend of horror-comedy fusions. "Zombieland" doesn't really work in either genre although it's slightly better as a comedy. There were a few funny moments in the film but the whole part with the surprise guest star was awful. It seemed to go on and on and I was actually embarrassed for the actor. He doesn't work too often these days, so either he lost a bet or he was very hard up for the cash. I also didn't find too much humor in splattering blood and gore. I thought the film was dumb and mindless but I have to admit I was entertained and I wasn't bored.

The part of "Zombieland" I really liked was the opening credits, which was actually the perfect blend of humor, horror and visual effects and it set up an ideal tone for the film. Too bad it didn't continue up till the closing credits.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

FAME (2009)


Written by Allison Burnett


Directed by Kevin Tancharoen


Where & When: Emagine Cinemas, Canton, MI, October 6, 2009 4:30PM


Debbie Allen has come full circle. She started off in a supporting role as a dance instructor in the original film, "Fame" (1980), then she advanced to a starring role in the television series and now she is back in a supporting role, this time as the school principal in this current remake of the film. She would have been better off leaving that circle incomplete. I remember going to see "Fame" as a teenager, living a somewhat sheltered existence in the suburbs and I was really impressed. These kids were around my age, doing and saying things I could never have imagined. They were living lives that were edgy, gritty and exciting and I loved it. It made me realize that I needed to leave suburbia behind and get to the big city for some real living.

The 2009 re-imaging of "Fame" is an unnecessary, watered down, sugar-coated, politically correct version of the original film. Who wants to see that? I know I didn't and apparently very few others did as well. Why did the filmmakers feel that it was it necessary to remove the edge and real human beings to make this accessible for today's audiences? Adding hip-hop, slick choreography and modern camera moves has not improved this new version or made it relevant.

Like the original, this film follows a select group of students from the New York High School of Performing Arts from auditions to graduation. This is the only similarity that the two films share. All of the kids are too polished, pretty and perfect to be believable as students. Hardly anyone is seen having to really struggle, let alone sweat, to get through each school year. None of the students are particularly interesting or realistic. One student, Denise ( Naturi Naughton), an African-American, is training to become a classical pianist like her parents wanted but what she secretly wants to be is a hip-hop singer which her father forbids her to do or he will pull her out of the school. I might have bought this and it would have been more interesting if this character was Caucasian but as done in this film, it was just ridiculous.

The film is also littered with cameos from well known television actors, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth and Charles S. Dutton as instructors. What a waste of their time. I still play the soundtrack from "Fame" from time to time and this version wisely used two of the strongest songs, "Fame" and "Out Here On My Own" but the original songs are awful and forgettable. If you are a fan of the original film, this version is an insult. After sitting through another disastrous remake, I just want to scream at Hollywood: "For God's sakes---- STOP ALREADY!!". There is absolutely no need to remake or re-imagine a perfectly good film.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU



"New York, I Love You" is a sequel, of sorts, to the 2006 film "Paris, Je t'aime". This was a love letter to this French city which was a series of short films by world renown film directors featuring an all-star cast. Some of the films were stronger than others but overall a good film. If you didn't see it, please go out and rent it.



"New York, I Love You" follows the same premise as this previous film. New York is one of favorite cities. In fact, when I was planing on leaving Michigan, I knew I was going to move to either New York or Los Angeles. My friend, Robin was going to move to LA to go to USC, so I decided to tag along. I just love the energy of the city. I always have such a great time and I find New York so inspiring. I have been there many times and I still always discover something new.

Enough gushing. The film should be released in the US on October 16, 2009.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (2009)



Directed by R. J. Cutler



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 15, 2009, 4:35PM



Having worked for a high-end, designer retail establishment for over twenty years, I was very interested in finding out what it takes to put together the "bible" of the fashion industry, Vogue magazine and to discover more about the magazine's celebrated Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour.

This documentary, "The September Issue", is on the making of Vogue's 2007 fall issue, which at this time still stands as the biggest issue to date with 840 pages. We follow the editors as they discuss and agonize over what will actually go in to the magazine. They decide on what will be the current trends of the season based on what was seen on the runways. From that they create the photo shoots and which clothes will be featured in them. Then they will finally present their ideas to Ms Wintour who will either accept or most likely advise them to rethink and come up with a fresher concept.

We meet some of the key players of the magazine; the fabulously flamboyant, Andre Leon Talley who is Editor-at-Large. He lives, breathes and is inspired by all things "fashion" which is a valuable asset to Vogue.

Grace Coddington, a former model and the Creative Director of American Vogue for over twenty years who actually joined the magazine at the same time as Ms Wintour. She is the true visionary of the magazine and she makes what she does appear effortless.

As Editor-in-Chief, Ms Wintour is responsible for taking many different ideas from many different sources and paring it down to become the definitive answer on what fashionable women should be wearing each season. On the surface, it can appear to be silly and unimportant but I think it is comforting to some women to have someone guide you through the endless choices that are out there to help create a look of the moment.

There is not one part of the magazine that is not approved of by Ms Wintour before it will make it onto the pages of Vogue. We see quite frequently that Ms Wintour and Ms Coddington do not see eye to eye on creative matters. Although Ms Coddington is a very important force to the magazine and it appears that there is some sort of compromise, the reality is that Ms Wintour has the final word.

It has been well noted that Ms Wintour was the basis of the character in the book and the film, "The Devil Wears Prada" and after seeing her in action in this film, it is even more obvious. She is not an overtly warm individual mainly because I think work consumes so much of her time and she has to remain focused on the job at hand. It may not occur to her to ask how some one's day is going because she is preoccupied with answering many questions and making even more decisions. Now I personally don't think this is the best approach but I guess it works for her.

To be fair, she is not a total ice queen. We do see moments, although brief, throughout the film that shows that she does have a beating heart in her body. Most especially away from the office. We catch Ms Wintour looking lovingly but slightly disappointed at her daughter, Katherine while she discusses how she could never be involved in the fashion business.

I found the film to be fascinating. I really didn't realize how much was involved in putting together the magazine. We are given unprecedented access to all areas in the creation of an issue of Vogue. From the beautiful fashion shows and the after parties, big name designers previewing their latest work who nervously look for Ms Wintour's approval, the mentoring of new designers, the photo shoots and how they are discarded if they do not meet up to Ms Wintour's standards, and the endless discussion of the cover with actress Sienna Miller.

My favorite part was when Ms Coddington was inspired to use the camera man of this documentary in a photo shoot. After Ms Wintour sees the finished pictures, she wanted to have his slight belly air-brushed out while Ms Coddington insisted that the photos remained untouched.

Now if you have zero interest in the fashion industry, will "The September Issue" be worth seeing? Perhaps. As long as you go in with an open mind and are interested in discovering who is responsible for deciding that shoulder pads are fashionable again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

THE OTHER MAN (2009)




Written by Richard Eyre & Charles Wood



Directed by Richard Eyre



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. September 16, 2009, 5:30PM



"The Other Man" has an impressive cast and is directed by the creator of one of my favorite films of 2006, "Notes From A Scandal". Unfortunately, this film is lifeless and tedious.


This is the story of Peter (Liam Neeson), a successful web designer and his wife of 30 years, Lisa (Laura Linney) who is a successful shoe designer who appear to be the perfect couple with the perfect life. At dinner one evening, Lisa asks her husband if two people can stay together for the rest of their lives. He believes that they can if they are truly in love. She then asks him if has ever thought of having an affair. Surprised by the question, he tells her he has not. I found it strange that he didn't think it wasn't at least a little suspicious of what her motivation was in asking him about fidelity. Shortly after the conversation, Lisa seems to have disappeared and Peter is distraught. First he hears a message from a man on Lisa's cell phone saying that he can't wait to see her. This leads him to do some investigating. While going through Lisa's computer, he discovers a locked file. He struggles to figure out the passcode and when he finally cracks the code, he is shocked to discover pictures of his wife romantically involved with another man.

Now, Peter's only focus is to find out who this man is. This finally sends him to Milan, where he arranges to meet his wife's lover. Peter is disgusted to see that the man is a charming and attractive man named Ralph, (Antonio Banderas) who goes by the pronunciation "Rafe". Peter had found out where he lives and follows him to a cafe and they meet through a game of chess. This gives Peter an opportunity to question Ralph and to get answers on his involvement with his wife. This leads to a sort of friendship between the two men but this doesn't change Peter's feelings of revenge against his rival.

There is a twist ending that is supposed to be shocking but is neither shocking nor does it add anything of interest to this plodding film. I was actually annoyed when this was revealed because I felt cheated. I can't believe I sat through all of this pointless nonsense. "The Other Man" was very disappointing, considering all of the talented people involved. Do not waste any of your valuable time sitting through this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF (2009)


Written & Directed by Tyler Perry



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. September 13, 2009, 8:05PM


First, let me say I am very proud and very happy of the success of Tyler Perry. He is a self made man who achieved success on his own terms and without the interference of Hollywood. He is also responsible for giving starring roles to several talented but underused African-American actors as well as introducing new actors to audiences who may not have gotten an opportunity through conventional, narrow minded Hollywood producers.

Now having said that, all I can say about Mr. Perry's latest film, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is that I really enjoyed the musical numbers by Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige and Pastor Winans, the terrific performance of Taraji P. Henson and Madea is always good for a few laughs. Oh, and Adam Rodriguez and his dazzling smile. The rest of the film left me unimpressed and very bored. To be honest, I have felt that way about most of Mr. Perry's films. I find his films to be nothing more than skits loosely tied together to try and create a plot. This is fine for television but it is not a film. Or at least my idea of a film. I like to see some effort to try and create something as fresh as possible and not simply travel down a too familiar and too obvious path.

We begin with Madea (Tyler Perry) sound asleep when she hears someone breaking in to her house. Bad move. Very bad move. She wakes her husband, Joe (also Tyler Perry) and they go downstairs to confront the thieves. The "thieves" turns out to be three young children, Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson) and her younger brothers. Madea wants to know why they are stealing but they aren't talking but Madea has a way of getting answers. She finds out that their grandmother who takes care of them has disappeared for four days and they were only stealing to get money to buy food.

Madea finds their only other relative, April (Taraji P. Henson) who is their aunt. She just got home from her job as a nightclub singer and she can't be bothered with them. All she wants to do is go back to sleep. Madea wants to be reimbursed for the VCR that Jennifer broke during the attempted robbery. April has no intention of paying even if she had some money but Madea agrees to have the kids work off their debt by cleaning her home.

April reluctantly lets the kids stay at her home until she can find her mother. April is certainly not maternal and has zero interest in taking care of some body's children even if they are relatives. She is much too busy drinking heavily and keeping company with a mean and repulsive married man, Randy (Brian J. White).

After April tries to go back to bed, Paster Brian (Marvin Winans) comes to the house. He tells her he has a young man who has just arrived from South America and needs a place to stay. He can do repairs around her house in exchange for a room. April agrees just to get him out and she can go back to sleep.

As soon as her head hits the pillow, there is another knock at the door. There stands the handy man, Manny (Adam Rodriguez) who also happens to be very easy on the eyes. She sets him up in the basement and now her house is full of uninvited guests. Manny bonds with the kids and becomes a kind of surrogate father to them. April also develops an attraction for Manny but fights to resist those feelings.

April soon learns that her mother has passed away and she is racked with guilt over not speaking to her mother in years because of a disagreement. Randy is of no comfort but Manny is there for her with open arms. April's life is a mess and cannot possibly raise children, so she decides to put her niece and nephews in foster care. The kids and Manny beg her not to do it but April is torn and she doesn't know what to do.

I'm not giving anything away by saying that this film ends with a happy conclusion since that was made very clear since the beginning of the film. There is no real suspense and the dramatic moments are all very predictable. "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" might have been better played strictly for laughs.

I really wish I could praise the work of Mr. Perry but I always find myself disappointed after every film I have seen. I realize there is an audience and a definite need for his type of films but I guess it is lost on me. I have heard that he is going to next tackle the 1976 play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf". I am slightly concerned what he will do with the piece but I am also hoping for the best.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MY ONE AND ONLY (2009)



Written by Charlie Peters



Directed by Richard Loncraine



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA September 2, 2009, 4:50PM



As summer is winding down, we are now approaching fall which means we are in for an insane traffic pile up of well intentioned, high brow and Oscar hungry films. "My One and Only" happens to be released in between seasons and it was a wise move because this sweet, little movie would surely had been lost in either the summer or autumn. Although, I don't know how many people are really going to get an opportunity to see this in the theaters, but if you can... go.

Renee Zellweger plays southern belle, Ann Deveraux who has returned home early from her trip from someplace grand. Her husband, Dan (Kevin Bacon) a musician, is caught in the middle of entertaining a young lady in their bedroom. Not one to make a scene, she calmly packs her bags and leaves the philanderer. She retrieves her two sons, George (Logan Lerman) her handsome child with Dan and Robbie (Mark Rendall) her effeminate son from a previous marriage and sets off to start a new life in a new city.

After emptying her safety deposit box and buying a new car, the trio sets off for Boston. Ann is in hot pursuit of a new husband and Robbie dreams of becoming an actor. George just want to go back home and get back to their life in New York.

Boston turns out to be a bust and the next stop is Philadelphia. Once there, Ann meets Dr. Harlan Williams (Chris Noth). He has a habit of wearing a military uniform all the time but despite that, Ann thinks he could be a potential new husband. He turns out to violent psychopath and they quickly depart the city of brotherly love.

With money running low, Ann reluctantly heads to Missouri to stay with her judgmental sister, Hope and her husband. Ann's attempt at working as a waitress fails miserably. She is much more of a person that people serve, not the other way around.

Ann makes the decision to move to California as an opportunity for Robbie's career. George has had it and refuses to move again. He asks to stay with his Aunt Hope and she agrees. An argument ensues and Ann and Robbie head off without George. Will the family be reunited and will George ultimately have fun in the sun?

This film is loosely based on the life of the sun kissed actor, George Hamilton. It seems like the kind of story that could only happen to an actor. "My One and Only" is slight and frothy but it is fun, well made and good performances by all involved. This film is also littered with cameos by actors better known on television including Steven Weber and Eric McCormack.

Ms Zellweger may certainly be an acquired taste and definitely not come to mind when you see the words "MOVIE STAR" but she is very good as the loving but self involved mother. She has always has been a charming and appealing performer and this is one of her better films. This film is a nice way to end the summer before heading in to the serious nature of the fall.

One more thing, I have no idea what this movie's title has to do with this film. There is no reference to it in the film at all. I guess they just thought it was just catchy or they couldn't come up with anything better (my opinion).

BROKEN EMBRACES (LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS)

Here is the trailer for "Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos)",  the upcoming film by one of my all time favorite film makers, Pedro Almodovar and starring last year's Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress and star of Almodovar's last film, "Volver". Penelope Cruz. I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be about but, no matter. The film looks beautiful and I'm very sure I will be thoroughly entertained.

I will always remember going to a movie theater in Toronto at the impressionable age of 24 and being completely blown away by his film, "Law Of Desire" (1987). I just loved the film's style, it's use of color and the unabashed sexuality. It was just so different from the conventional Hollywood films that I was used to seeing. I also think it was one of the first foreign-language films with sub-titles I had seen. I certainly didn't have access to seeing them in Michigan at that time. I have seen and loved (or liked very much) every one of his films since then.

"Broken Embraces" should be released in the US on December 11, 2009.

Friday, August 28, 2009

COLD SOULS (2009)


Written & Directed by Sophie Barthes



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. August 28,2009 6:40PM


"Cold Souls" is the story of an actor named Paul Giamatti who is played by Paul Giamatti. The actor is suffering during the rehearsals for another revival of the play, "Uncle Vanya". He is agitated and can't sleep. He can't seem to separate himself from the character he is playing.

Giamatti reads in the New Yorker magazine about a company that removes a person's soul, deep freezes it and stores it for later use. Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) who runs the company explains that this process helps relieves anxiety and stress. Paul is skeptical but ultimately decides to go through the process. He is horrified to discover that his soul is the size of a chickpea but the doctor assures him that's normal because, like people, souls come in all shapes and sizes.

At first, Paul feels good and ready to get back on stage but since he no longer has an emotional core, his performance is empty and hollow. Paul's wife (Emily Watson) notices something odd about her husband. She says that he smells strange and physically feels different.

Realizing his error, he goes back to Dr. Flintstein to get back his soul but they discover that his soul is gone. The doctor explains that it appears to have been possibly taken by a Russian "mule" who smuggles American souls to Russia which is called "soul-trafficking". Paul doesn't care about all of this; he just wants his soul back.

The doctor leads Paul to the Russian, Nina (Dina Korzun) who has second thoughts of her activities and decides to help Paul. They travel to St. Petersburg to try and retrieve his soul. Nina leads him to a model who aspires to be an actress. Paul's soul is trapped in her body. She was lead to believe by her wealthy boyfriend that she was given the soul of Al Pacino and is not going to be cooperative in giving it back.

This film owes a huge debt to the great mind of Charlie Kaufman and his film, "Being John Malkovich". But while in "Malkovich" you never quite believe anything you are seeing as being anything more than an elaborate fantasy, "Cold Souls" keeps itself firmly planted in reality the entire time despite the outlandish plot. This works in this film's favor and creates a different and fresher atmosphere. The film is so matter of fact that you soon forget that you are not really able to extract a human soul. . . at least, not yet. The comparison to Mr. Kaufman's film may be unavoidable yet "Cold Souls" does manage to be entertaining on it's own merits.

This is Ms Barthes' first feature length film and she does a fine job. The film is an interesting mix of dry humor and existential sci-fi. She is another new film maker I am looking forward in seeing what she will do next. Paul Giamatti gives another great performance of playing a variation of himself or simply a man who just happens to share his name and occupation. Either way, he is very convincing as Paul Giamatti. "Cold Souls" is a thoughtful, quirky and funny little film that you should definitely check out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NINE

I am a big fan of movie musicals and I'm not ashamed to say it. "Grease" is one of my all time favorites. I'm not ashamed to say that either.

The film of the Broadway musical, "Nine" will be coming to theaters on November 25, 2009.
It is a musical adaption of Fellini's "8 1/2" and has an impressive all star cast including Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren and Daniel Day-Lewis. Although I have never seen the play or I'm embarrassed to say, the movie in which it is based (It's terrible I know, but I promise I will get around to it), I am very curious about this and I can't wait to see it.

Last year, I felt the same way about "Mamma Mia" and was very, very disappointed. Poor film making, lousy choreography and bad singing ruining perfectly good ABBA songs spoiled it for me. I hope these actors can carry a tune and I will not have to endure excruciatingly painful non-singing. Did the filmmakers of "Mamma Mia" after hearing Pierce Bronson sing really say to themselves "Oh, wow! That sounds really good"?

After seeing the trailer, I am optimistic but I said that after seeing the trailer for "Mamma Mia" too. . .

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino



Where & When: Arclight Cinema, Hollywood, CA August 24, 2009 8:00PM


I had said in a previous post that I couldn't wait to see "Inglourious Basterds". Well, the wait is over -- and I'm actually not disappointed. The Quentin Tarantino that I have loved since "Pulp Fiction" is back and in great form. His last film"Death Proof" in his half of the film, "Grind House" was just mediocre in my book. It was just too much talk about nothing and repetitive.

Tarantino's latest is a solid redemption with breath taking visuals and brilliant dialogue which is Mr. Tarantino's claim to fame. Now, I had a few problems with the film which I will go in to later but overall, I really enjoyed "Inglourious Basterds".

The film is broken down in to five chapters and we begin in Nazi occupied France where we first are introduced to Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who is also known as "The Jew Hunter". He goes to a farm to further investigate the possibility of jews being hidden there. Col. Landa calmly and coolly questions the farmer until he finally gets the answer he is after. It is a great scene and we are off to a great start.

The next chapter we are introduced to Lt. Aldo Raine played by Brad Pitt. He heads a small group of Jewish-American soldiers who call themselves "the Basterds". Their mission is to wipe out as many Nazis as possible and to collect 100 scalps each in the process. We get to witness the scalping in graphically bloody detail. Another member of the team is Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Director Eli Roth) or "The Bear Jew" who is very handy with a baseball bat.

Next we meet Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) who was the only one of her family who managed to escape from Col. Landa at the farm years ago. She now goes by the name "Emmanuelle Mimieux" and runs a movie theater in Paris. A sniper now turned actor, Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) is attracted to the lovely Shosanna and he is in town for the premiere of his new film, "A Nation's Pride" which is nothing more than Nazi propaganda. These circumstances causes the movie premiere to be held at Shosanna's theater and for her to once again cross the path of Col. Landa. This sets in to motion Shosanna's plan for revenge.

The British have found out that Hitler and his top aides will be attending the movie premiere. They are working with "The Basterds" in coming up a plan to take them down at there. The British send Lt. Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and a couple of Lt. Raine's men to meet with German actress, Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is a secret spy for the British to provide them with more information. They are disguised as Nazi officers and meet Ms von Hammersmark at an out of the way French tavern. Unfortunately, a group of real Nazi soldiers are having a drunken celebration at the same time. A SS Officer is also at the tavern and notices something odd about these other "officers" and starts to question them. A small detail gives them away and sets off a deadly gun fight leaving the actress wounded but alive.

Finally we come to the movie premiere. Ms von Hammersmark has gotten Lt. Raine, Sgt. Donowitz and a couple of their men into the screening. Because of clues left behind at the tavern, Col. Landa is now aware of the deception of the actress. Col. Landa takes care of her and takes away Lt. Raine and an another solider to a secret location. Col. Landa is willing to make a deal with Lt. Raine to allow them to kill Hitler in exchange for money, a new identity and protection. Lt. Raine calls the powers that be and they approve of the plan.

Nobody realizes that Shosanna's has her own plan to finish off the Nazis. Unbeknown to Sgt. Donowitz, who managed to stay at the screening, he assists Shosanna with making sure the film premiere has an explosive, destructive, and history altering ending. As for Col. Landa, Lt. Raine gives him a visual reminder so that the world will always be aware of his involvement with the Nazi party.

Now the history altering ending is one area I have a problem with. On one hand, I think it is clever idea and pure Tarantino but another part of me feels that it was just a cheat. Mr. Tarantino is just being lazy and created a convenient ending instead of using actual facts to come to a creative conclusion.

Like many of his films, I also found the film to be a little excessive in regards to the blood and the very graphic violence. I shouldn't have been surprised. . . I nearly walked out of "Reservoir Dogs" during the ear cutting sequence and you don't even really see it. It was more of the idea and the sadistic nature that was too much for me. I guess there is never too much of anything for Mr. Tarantino.

Despite these minor asides, I think Mr. Tarantino is a brilliant artist who makes interesting and challenging films by taking familiar genres and twisting and mixing them all up to create something that is purely and uniquely "Tarantino". I predict Oscar nominations for Mr. Tarantino's screenplay, Mr. Waltz's performance and even a long shot possibility for Best Picture.