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.