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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DISTRICT 9 (2009)



Written By Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell



Directed By Neill Blomkamp



Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA , August 18, 2009 4:15PM


I don't know really what to make of the sci-fi drama, "District 9". I certainly didn't hate it but I am not sure I can say I would recommend this either. It is set in a not so distant future and twenty years prior, an alien ship is hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa. I can say I love that it is not set in obvious locations like New York or LA. Anyway, the authorities have received no contact from the spacecraft, so they send a crew to investigate. Once inside, they discover millions of aliens inside dying and malnourished. They appeared to be stuck over our planet and unable to leave.

So obviously they bring the aliens to Earth and house them in an area called District 9. The area quickly becomes an alien slum and they are segregated from humans. The aliens are called a derogatory term "prawns" since they slightly look like one. The aliens also have a strange craving for cat food.

The aliens are no longer being cooperative and humans are feeling threatened so it is decided to move the aliens to a new, more secure location. This is where Wilkus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) comes in. He works for the MNU or the Multinational United which handles security and studies the aliens. He has been assigned to get each of the 1.8 million aliens to sign a notification of relocation and get them to move to the new area which will be called District 10. While this sounds a little complicated, Wilkus is up to the task and he and his small party begin the assignment.

Wilkus and his team stops at one shack belonging to an alien with the given name Christopher Johnson and his small "child." He soon discovers an elaborate laboratory inside of the dwelling. While investigating, Wilkus finds a canister and he accidentally sprays himself in the face with a strange black fluid. He takes the can with him as evidence of Christopher's illegal activities. Wilkus soon starts to not feel well. He starts vomiting and oozing a black liquid from his nose. Wilkus doesn't take himself to see a doctor as he's sure these symptoms will pass but he soon loses consciousness and is taken to a hospital. While there, it is discovered that one of his arms has turned into an appendage like the aliens.

He is quickly whisked to a secret location in the MNU where he is studied. The scientist discover that Wilkus's body is slowly morphing into one of the aliens. They also discover that Wilkus can fire one of the powerful alien weapons with the alien half of his body which humans are unable to use. It is decided to dissect Wilkus so they can study him. Wilkus is certainly not agreeable to this plan and manages to escape the laboratory.

The police and the military are searching for Wilkus and the only place he can hide is in District 9. He finds Christopher Johnson and demands to know what was in the canister. It turns out to be fuel and the shack is actually a small space craft they have been working on for the last twenty years. The goal is to get back to their mother ship so they can leave Earth and get help for the rest of the aliens trapped on this planet. Christopher will help Wilkus reverse the alien transformation if he helps him get the fuel back from the MNU. Wilkus agrees but how will the two of them be able to get in to the armed fortress? It will require them to work together to get in, fight off the military and get out in one piece.

I have to say that this has a clever plot and for a low budget movie it is very well made. This film cannot be so simply categorized and uses elements of several genres like science fiction, horror, social commentary, comedy and documentary style film making in creating one interesting mix. This works in part thanks to the first time film maker, Neill Blomkamp who with the help of producer, Peter Jackson and his work in many short films was confident enough to throw everything in to this and he came out with a pretty strong and visually stimulating film. I am looking forward to seeing what he does with his next project.

So I think that I admire the film more than I can say I really enjoyed it but I will say yes. . . go and see it. It is better than average and you won't feel ripped off at the end. One last thing that kinda of bugged me about the film although I understand it would have complicated the story. . . If this film really happened, there is no way the rest of the world and most especially the United States would not have gotten involved in all of this. I just found the idea that South Africa was the only country making decisions in regard to the aliens unbelievable and distracting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

JULIE & JULIA (2009)


Written & Directed by Nora Ephron


Where & When: Century Theaters, Palm Springs, CA August 13, 2009 12:25PM



My partner, Dean & I made a two day escape to Palm Springs for rest and relaxation. Dean is fair skinned so he can only lay out in the sun in the early morning and the late afternoon.

So during the hottest part of the day, we went to the wonderful air conditioned local movie theater and saw "Julie & Julia". My idea of a great way to spend an afternoon. I really liked it. Dean... not so much but we both had a good time.

The film is based on two separate true stories. The first is from the book, "My Life In France" by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme (He's Paul Child's great nephew) and it tells us the story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) who arrive in Paris in the 1950's.

They are there because Paul is starting his new post as a diplomat. Julia feels she should do something while they are in France. She tries millinery and bridge but she soon realizes what she is interested in is eating. The Child's first meal in Paris is what sets her off to discover all about French cuisine. She eventually goes to the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking to learn. Child meets Simone "Simca" Beck and Louisette Bertholle who are in the middle of struggling to write a French cookbook for Americans. This leads to a collaboration with Mrs. Child which in turn leads to the classic cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".

The second book is a memoir, "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell. Amy Adams plays Julie and she works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. She fields calls in her tiny cubicle with people complaining all day and she is frustrated. Her friends are successful and she feels she hasn't fulfilled her promise as a writer because she hasn't finished her book. Discussing this with her husband (Chris Messina) they come up with the idea for her to write a blog. The blog would be about her making all 524 recipes in Julia Child's cook book in one year.

I liked the idea of combining the two books to make one film because it clearly shows how Mrs. Child found herself through cooking and also how her contributions and innovations still inspire people today. Although I found the Julia Child part a little more interesting, it could be simply be because of Ms Streep who you can't wait to see again. She gives another brilliant performance that is in a class by itself and I am sure you will see her name once again during the Oscar nominations. Not to short change Ms Adams and the rest of the cast who are all wonderful but let's face it, when Ms Streep is in a film, most people have to sit in the back seat.

Ms Ephron is back with a great film after a few lackluster works like"Bewitched" and "Hanging Up" but I have always been a fan of hers and I am sure this film really worked because she was inspired and is very passionate about food and cooking. After seeing "Julia & Julia", it will leave you with a very warm feeling and a big craving to eat a really great meal.

Friday, August 7, 2009

THE LOVELY BONES


I read the book, "The Lovely Bones" last year and I really thought it was good. However, when I heard they were making a film of this I thought, "How?" The book is definitely not cinematic in any way but I then heard that Peter Jackson, the creator of those Hobbit films who happens to be a great director was involved with bringing the story to the big screen. So my next thought was still, "How?"

Well, I just saw the trailer for the upcoming film today and although it has not completely reassured me that making this film was a great idea, at least it looks interesting. It has a great cast -- Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci -- so we'll see. "The Lovely Bones" will be released in the US on December 11th.

Check out the trailer:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ADAM (2009)


Written & Directed by Max Mayer



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA, August 3, 2009 7:40PM



When I first saw the trailer for "Adam" a few months ago, I said to myself "There is no way I'm going to go see this.". I thought this would be another bad Hollywood movie about an unlikely romance but after reading some great reviews and all of the film festival accolades, I thought I might give "Adam" a chance. And I am so glad I did. This is a wonderfully unusual and sweet romantic drama. I think that trailer did a great disservice to this film and I hope it doesn't keep other people away because of it. The only good thing about the trailer is that it didn't give too much away about the film and I got to enjoy the surprises that are there.

Now I still think the romance is very unlikely but I thought the film executes it in an atypical and clever way. The film begins in New York city, with Adam (A brilliant Hugh Dancy) whose father has just passed away. He works as an electronics engineer and he seems very sweet and intelligent but there is something about him that is slightly off. Rose Byrne plays Beth, a school teacher who moves in to the building. She has just ended a bad relationship and dating is the last thing on her mind but finds herself attracted to the strange young man. Adam is also attracted to her but has difficulty in expressing that properly.

Beth soon discovers that Adam has Asperger's syndrome which is a type of pervasive development disorder. It most notably affects his ability to socialize with others, to communicate and use his imagination. Relationships are hard to begin with and when you add this to the mix, well...

While Beth is attempting to make sense of her relationship with Adam, she is also dealing with her father (Peter Gallagher) who is on trial for some questionable business dealings. During the trial, Beth and her mother (Amy Irving, looking good and good to see back on the screen) discover an ugly secret. This combined with a little white lie Beth tells to Adam causes some friction in their relationship. Can they really make this romance work? Go check out the film to find out.

Mr. Dancy 's portrayal of Adam is what really holds this film together. He is truly convincing as he struggles to convey his feelings to Beth. One issue I had with the film is that it takes Beth a LONG time to realize that there is something a little "different" about Adam. In fact, she remains clueless until Adam actually tells her he has Asperger's. I guess she must have a really low self esteem because she is thinking that it's something she's doing to make Adam behave strangely towards her. Another issue I had is after Adam's father passes away, nobody including Harlan (Frankie Faison), the family friend steps up to help Adam manage. He's behaviour is literally like a child at times and I don't think he is capable of properly taking care of himself and yet he is pretty much left to his own devices to get through life. Despite these quibbles, I really did enjoy the film. It is worth seeing and Mr. Dancy's performance should be remembered during award season.