Saturday, December 25, 2010

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2010)

Written & Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa


Where & When: Mann's Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. December 12, 2010 7:50PM


"I Love You, Phillip Morris" was actually completed in 2009 and the film had many problems with distribution which caused it's release date to be delayed multiple times. The film has just been finally released in the U.S., although it had screenings throughout most of the rest of the world but after seeing the film, I can see another reason why it might have had difficulty making it in to American theaters.

It's certainly not because it is a bad film, in fact it's energetic and very entertaining but the issue is that it is a same-sex comedic love story that doesn't hold back in regards to what gay men do in the bedroom. I'm sure the big concern was how would middle America respond to this movie and despite the presence of Hollywood comedian, Jim Carrey in the lead role, even he may not help make this material go down easier.

Mr. Carrey plays Steven Russell, who appears to be gravely ill, begins to narrate his life up to this point and how he ended up in this hospital bed. He started off as a happily married, church-going man who worked as a police officer in Virginia Beach. His life seemed idyllic until he finds his biological mother, who had given him up for adoption but to his dismay and disappointment, she acts like she doesn't know who he is and she has kept her other children.

After nearly being killed in a terrible car accident, Steven decides to stop living a lie; he comes out as a gay man, much to the surprise of his confused but understanding wife (Leslie Mann). Steven moves to Miami, gets himself a young, cute boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and begins a new life of fantastic parties, high-end clothing and luxurious furnishings. However, Steven quickly discovers that it's expensive being a fabulous homosexual so he begins credit-card fraud and insurance scams to supplement his income.

It doesn't take long for Steven to get caught and ends up incarcerated but it's in prison that he finds his true love. He meets a genteel and sensitive young man named Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) who is there for auto theft. Steven showers him with small gifts and romantic gestures like arranging to have a man beaten for making too much noise and keeping Phillip awake.

After Steven is released from prison, he poses as a lawyer and successfully manages to get Phillip out of jail. They begin a life together and Phillip believes that his lover has given up a life of crime. That was truly Steven's plan but after conning his way into a job as a financial officer, he can't help himself and starts to embezzle money from the company. Even after Phillip becomes suspicious, Steven swears he not doing anything illegal. The walls inevitably begin to close in on Steven and his schemes but he is willing to do anything to keep Phillip in his life, no matter how extreme, in order to prove his love for him.

Believe it or not, this is based on a true story, with the real Steven Russell currently serving, essentially, a life sentence in a Texas prison for his final crime which the writing partners of the raunchy comedy, "Bad Santa" (2003) have taken this crazy tale and have done a fine job in their directing debut. Although the events in the film are mostly accurate, "I Love You, Phillip Morris" plays much more like a zany farce than a plausible recreation of events but it seems like the best direction for this unbelievable story to go. Despite the subject matter, the film is sweet, charming and delightfully hilarious.

Mr. Carrey and Mr McGregor are very convincing as the convicts in love as you feel a true affection they have for each other. Mr Carrey's manic energy is on full display here but it is muted just enough to not be too distracting. We know he could easily handle the comedy but he is a much better dramatic actor than you would think he would be but I suppose it's because we don't see him do it too often and he should.

"I Love You, Phillip Morris" is a wild and wacky ride that easily breezes through from comedy to drama, sweet to bittersweet and is well worth going on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2010)

Written by Charles Randolph and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz


Directed by Edward Zwick


Where & When: Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles, CA. December 4, 2010  9:45PM


"Love & Other Drugs" is the latest entry of the romantic dramedy that attempts to alter the well-worn path that these films tend to go down. This time we have the unlikely romance of two young people who are both very messed-up  but their biggest problem is that both are either afraid (her) or incapable (him) of being able to say, "I love you".

The year is 1996 and Jake Gyllenhaal  plays Jamie, a smooth-talking  player who makes a sport of bedding as many different women as possible and then discarding them like the used tissue that he used to clean himself afterwards. He just lost his job at an electronic store, after screwing his boss's girlfriend, so he decides to become a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Jamie goes to work for Pfizer and with his partner, Bruce (Oliver Platt) set about trying to get doctors to prescribe the drug, Zoloft to their patients instead of Prozac. They aren't having much luck but Jamie is determined so he decides to become creative. He knows that if he can get Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria) to make the switch, all of the other doctors will follow, so Jamie pays the doctor to allow him to shadow him so he can convince him to try his drug.

Jamie is in the room while Dr. Knight is seeing a patient and he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), an attractive young woman who is in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease. She is concerned about a mark on her breast and since she is told Jamie is an intern, she shows the doctor the lump. It turns out to be nothing more than a spider bite.

While Jamie is leaving the office, he is whacked on the head by a pissed-off Maggie who has just discovered that he nothing more than a sales representative. Jamie apologizes before having the nerve to ask her out. She declines his offer but Jamie is determined, so he manages to gets her phone number and talks her into meeting with him.

During their date, Jamie is trying his best to charm Maggie right out of her pants but despite knowing that's all he wants, she decides to forget about the small talk and just have sex with him, since that is all that they both want anyway.

Jamie now finds her even more appealing but Maggie will only continue to see him as long as it doesn't become serious which, for now, is perfectly fine with him. One evening, when Jamie is having some difficulty "rising to the occasion", Maggie tell him about this new drug that has just come out to help men with this problem called Viagra. Jamie realizes he knows exactly how to sell this drug. He goes to his partner to look in to selling it and after he does, Jamie becomes very rich and successful.

Soon, Jamie realizes that he wants more than just sex in a relationship and tells Maggie that he loves her, which is the first time he has ever done that in his life. Maggie is resistant to the idea but soon gives in because she also knows that she has feelings for him. Their relationship is put to a challenge when Maggie's disease starts to progress. Jamie begins working hard by researching Parkinson's and traveling across the country to talk with specialists to try and help Maggie. After they attend a conference on Parkinson's, Maggie and Jake both realize that their future together may be very difficult and are they really ready to handle what could lie ahead?

You see plenty of skin and actual sexuality in this film, which really shouldn't be so unusual for a romantic comedy but most tend to only just talk about sex and cut away before the clothing comes off. Mr. Zwick has used this approach before with his first feature film, "About Last Night. . ."  back in 1986 which is a much stronger film, in part because it's source material was based on a play by the accomplished David Mamet but also it featured characters who you clearly understood where they were coming from and you wanted them to work out the problems in their relationship. The two lovebirds in "Love" never come across like the perfect match and have so many obstacles working against them that it just seems that they never had plausible chance for any success. I just kept thinking that they probably would be better off just moving on and maybe try and be friends. While there are plenty of entertaining moments, the biggest problem is that the light comedy and the dark drama just are not successfully blending together well enough to make it feel like a cohesive film.

The film is helped by a strong supporting cast that include Josh Gad who plays Josh, Jamie's wealthier but just as messed-up younger brother, Judy Greer as a helpful receptionist and a way too brief appearance by George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh as Jamie's parents.

Ms Hathaway slips easily into the type of role that Julia Roberts would be playing at the beginning of her career, in fact there are times in the film when she physically looks like Ms Roberts plus they both share the same engaging demeanor and sexy charm but she brings her own special moments to the part.

Mr. Gyllenhaal delivers another great performance and is perfect as character who starts off as nothing more than a womanizing jerk but he manages to discover, with the help of a woman who sees right through his nonsense, that he is capable of giving more of himself than he ever thought possible.

While "Love and Other Drugs" is far from a completely satisfying romantic comedy, it is still a nice diversion and much better than most of these comedies that have been dumped in theaters the past few years.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AFI 2010 FILMS OF THE YEAR

The American Film Instittute has announced the ten best American movies of the past year. It is a great selection and many of these are my own personal favorites.

AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR

"BLACK SWAN"

"THE FIGHTER"

"INCEPTION"

"THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT"

"127 HOURS"

"THE SOCIAL NETWORK"

"THE TOWN"

"TOY STORY 3"

"TRUE GRIT"

"WINTER'S BONE"

For more information, please go to:

AFI.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BURLESQUE (2010)

Written & Directed by Steven Antin


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  November 29, 2010 1:45PM

The film, "Hello Dolly" was released in 1969 and was a musical based on the very successful theatrical show but the film turned out to be a very expensive flop and combined with another earlier expensive bust, "Dr. Doolittle" (1967), it pretty much put an end to Hollywood producing filmed musical movies.

There were a few musicals made over the years after this but only a handful would be considered modest successes ("Cabaret", "Tommy") but most were hit stage shows that ended up in the cinematic graveyard ("Annie", "The Wiz", "A Chrous Line", "Hair").

After the surprise success of "Chicago", the film of the Broadway show that grossed over three hundred million dollars worldwide and won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002, the Hollywood musical was reborn.

Now comes "Burlesque", an original musical that is light on substance but heavy on glitter and glamour. The film borrows from several screen musicals from the past but most heavily from "Chicago", from the slick choreography, to the skimpy costumes but mainly by keeping all of musical numbers confined to being performed on a stage because modern audiences don't seem to be comfortable with people just breaking out in song in the middle of the street.

The story begins where we meet Ali (Christina Aguilera), a cute young girl from small town Iowa who decides in the middle of her shift to leave her dead-end waitress job and move to the land of dreams and opportunity, Los Angeles.

Ali arrives in the big city, unsure of what she's going to do, when she stumbles across a club, the Burlesque Lounge where she is mesmerized by these scantily clad young women, not exactly strippers but certainly not much more than dancers, performing musical numbers on stage. Ali knows this is exactly what she was born to do, so she begs the owner of the club for a job but Tess (Cher) is not impressed. Ali befriends Jack (Cam Gigandet), a handsome bartender at the lounge who decides to hire Ali to be a waitress.

The star of the show is Nikki (Kristen Bell), an over confident, bitchy diva with a drinking problem who Ali starts off on the wrong foot with.

Tess has been having financial problems with the club which her ex-husband, Vince (Peter Gallagher) who is part owner, keeps reminding her of but she has Sean (Stanley Tucci), her gay stage manager and confidant to reassure her that everything will work out. Vince's solution is to sell the club to Marcus Gerber (Eric Dane), a real estate investor but Tess refuses.

Ali is finally given an audition but after a rough start, she is able to convince Tess to hire her as a dancer. After Nikki is late again, Tess decides to make Ali the lead performer. Nikki doesn't take the news well, so during Ali's performance, Nikki sabotages the recording that the performers lip-synch to but as Sean begins to lower the curtain, Ali belts out a song and saves the show.

Ali was living in a hotel but after her room is burgled, she finds herself sleeping on Jack's couch. Since Ali thought Jack was gay, she was fine with the arrangement but after she discovers that he is straight and engaged to an actress working in New York, Ali has second thoughts but Jack manages to talk her in to staying.

Ali and Jack are attracted to each other but because of his girlfriend, he doesn't act on it, so Ali begins seeing Marcus, who is also kind of seeing Nikki. Tess needs to come up a lot of money soon or she's going to lose the club, so Ali comes up with a plan to try and save it. Will it work and will Ali and Jack ever get together to dance the night fantastic?

Mr. Antin, an actor, writer and stuntman, has made his first film and while you shouldn't waste any time trying to search for any type of logic but it is good looking and entertaining movie. He has created the perfect fantasy of what Los Angeles would be like if gay men ruled the world.

Cher has returned to the screen after a long absence in which she stars in, surprisingly, her actual first musical. The well-preserved, Oscar-winning actress performs two songs in a part that doesn't really require her to do nothing more than be CHER, but that is perfectly fine with me. She does it very well and I always enjoy watching her.

Ms Aguilera certainly doesn't embarrass herself in her acting debut and it was very wise to make it a musical. Obviously, her strength in the film is when she is singing and dancing but as far as her as an actress, I think I would need to see her performing in a non-musical to be able to form an accurate assessment. I would have completely dismissed Mariah Carey as an actress until she was put in the hands of a director who knew how to draw out a performance from her in her supporting role in "Precious".

Mr. Gigandet, wearing less clothing than all of the girls in the film, is the perfect eye candy, Alan Cumming is completely wasted as the doorman and Mr.Tucci, who I adore, is the saving grace of the movie who adds his charm and comic timing to help elevate "Burlesque" whenever he appears.

"Burlesque" is a fun, breezy, musical romp that requires nothing more from the audience than to put your brain on pause and just sit back and soak up all of the glitzy atmosphere.

Monday, November 29, 2010

RABBIT HOLE (2010)

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire


Directed by John Cameron Mitchell


Where & When: AFI Film Festival, Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, CA. November 7, 2010  8:00PM



"Rabbit Hole", the latest from director John Cameron Mitchell, begins with a couple trying to cope a short time after the unimaginable tragic loss of their young son who is killed by a car.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca, the devastated mother of the child, Danny, struggling on how to handle his loss yet knows exactly what she doesn't want to do; She doesn't want to go to group therapy with her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), listen to people sum up death as "God's plan" nor hear from her mother (Dianne Wiest) comparing her child's passing to her brother's death due to a drug overdose. Becca's way of coping and easing the pain is trying to erase any reminders of her son like getting rid of the dog he was chasing after before the accident, wanting to sell the house and taking down the cute pictures that Danny drew.

Howie is trying to cope with the loss in his own way but his wife's difficult behaviour and her desire to try and wipe the existence of their child's life has put more stress on their already strained marriage. Becca is upset to discover that her younger sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) is pregnant with her musician boyfriend (Giancarlo Esposito) but is the last to know, although she understands the reason why. Becca feels that her wild child sister is reckless and irresponsible and finds it difficult to hold back her feelings on her becoming a mother.

Another unusual way Becca is trying to deal with her child's death is by befriending Jason (Miles Teller), the young man who accidentally killed Danny. They meet secretly to talk which, in a small way, helps them both heal from the tragedy until Howie discovers their communication and he is not at all happy.

Mr. Mitchell's previous films, the tranny-rock musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001) and the hardcore sex dramedy, "Shortbus" (2006) wouldn't necessarily give any indication that he would be the right choice to direct this film based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning play but he more than does justice to this well-done and moving drama. He gets terrific and nuanced performances from all of his actors, most especially from Ms Kidman and Mr. Eckhart.

Ms Kidman, like fellow movie star, George Clooney, prefers to shake-up her film choices by alternating between making the big-budgeted Hollywood movie and then doing a smaller scale independent film and although her last few films may not been big box-office successes, that doesn't mean her work in them was not intriguing and fascinating. She has always given solid performances and "Rabbit Hole" is no exception, in fact I think it's one of her best ever. She digs deep as a woman who is blinded by only one emotion she is capable of feeling: anger as she struggles to find her way back to some sense of normalcy.

Mr. Eckhart, who I think is an underrated actor, delivers another fine performance and Ms Blanchard, an Emmy award winner for her brilliant portrayal of a teenage Judy Garland in the film, "Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows",  is great in her supporting turn.

With sharp direction, a well crafted script and powerful performances, "Rabbit Hole" is a touching, personal drama about people trying to make sense of a very painful situation that can never truly make any sense but they find a way to come to terms with death so that they are able to continue living.

One final thought, I HATE the movie poster for this film. It just seems very lazy and unimaginative plus it certainly isn't going to lure anyone to see this nor give them any idea what the film is about.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

FOR COLORED GIRLS (2010)

Written & Directed by Tyler Perry



Where & When: The Grove 14, Los Angeles, CA.  November 23, 2010  4:40PM



Tyler Perry's latest film is based on the acclaimed play, "For Colored Girls (Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Was Enuf ) by Ntozake Shange which focuses on the lives of seven African-American women and their struggles with love, rape, abortion and abandonment. In the play, each character was only identified by a color which Mr. Perry has used in the film by having each of the women mostly wear their symbolizing color.

Kelly (Kerry Washington) is the lady in blue and she is a social worker who wants to start a family with her husband, Donald (Hill Harper), a police detective but has just discovered that she is unable to have children.

Kelly is sent to investigate on a suspected child abuse case which is the home of Crystal (Kimberly Elise), a woman trying her best to cover up her own pain and bruises. Kelly is questioning the two children when Beau Willie (Michael Ealy), Crystal's unemployed, damaged war veteran boyfriend, enters and scares her out of the apartment. Beau Willie gets mean and abusive when he drinks but Crystal endures his behavior because she has loved him since they were kids.

Before Kelly leaves the apartment, she is stopped by Gilda (Phylicia Rashad), the landlord of the building. She actually called Social Services after overhearing the savage beatings through the thin walls, begging Kelly to do something before it's too late.

Crystal works as the personal assistant to Jo (Janet Jackson), a hard-boiled fashion magazine editor who can't be bothered with finding out why Crystal has been late for work these past few days because she has problems of her own. Her marriage to Carl (Omari Hardwick) is strained due to him coming home late after hanging out with his male friend all night.

Tangie (Thandie Newton), who also is a neighbor of Crystal's, is a bartender with a habit of bringing a different man home every night, offending the landlord. One morning, a woman dressed in white bangs on Tangie's door. It's her mother, Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), a member of a religious cult, that's asking for more money. Refusing to say what it's for, Tangie, who was left as the executor of her father's estate, turns down the request.

The money was for Tangie's younger sister, Nyla (Tessa Thompson). Alice is led to believe that it's needed to enroll for college but it's actually for an abortion. Tessa knows that her mother would never allow her to keep this child so, with directions given to her by her sister, Nyla heads to her local run-down, back alley, drug den where a crazy, drunken woman (Macy Gray) is the abortionist.

Yasmine (Anika Noni Rose) is Nyla's dance instructor who lives and breathes for dance but doesn't allow much time for romance. When Bill (Khalil Kain) keeps pressuring her to go out on a date with him, she finally gives in because he seems like a nice guy. After the date, Bill is a perfect gentlemen and Yasmine decides to invite him over for a home cooked meal. On their next date while Yasmine is preparing the dinner, Bill turns in to an vicious animal and sexually assault her.

Juanita (Loretta Devine) is a nurse and community activist who is turned away by Jo when she comes to her asking for money to start a local charity. Juanita spends a lot of time telling women how they should protect themselves from contacting diseases but she is unable to protect herself from a charming, manipulative man who keeps breaking her heart by repeatedly. After another horrific tragedy, all of these women come together, trying to heal each other and themselves.

"For Colored Girls" was supposed to have been a big departure for Mr. Perry. The writer/director was creating a film based on a respected, prize-winning play yet besides some cursing and brief nudity, we are still very much stuck in a Tyler Perry movie. The worn-out plot is trite and overreaching with almost all of the male characters are one dimensional, abusive monsters as their women, inexplicably, seem to love them unconditionally, no matter what they do to them. There is no sense of cinematic style or subtlety anywhere to be found. To be fair, there are a few well written moments scattered throughout the film but the problem is suffering through everything in between. I'm sure Mr. Perry is of the mindset that, "If it ain't broke. . ." but I think he would benefit by working with another writer to help curb his worst qualities as a film maker.

It's very sad to say that many big-name African-American actresses are not able to get a lot of screen time in feature films but fortunately Mr. Perry has given many of them opportunities to display their talents in leading roles. Despite having these wonderful, respected actresses giving poetic monologues, (that I believe are probably from the play) that worked perfectly well on the stage, these speeches completely pull you out of the film. Mr. Perry manages to get many fine performances from his leading ladies, most especially from Ms Elise, Ms Rashad and a little surprisingly, Ms Jackson but unfortunately the weak script make their efforts feel wasted.

"For Colored Girls" could have been a great opportunity for Mr. Perry to grow as a film maker and to challenge himself as an artist. But ultimately he stuck to the tried and true; doing what he thinks is his best and squandering that great opportunity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

RED (2010)

Written by Jonah & Erich Hoeber



Directed by Robert Schwentke



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 25, 2010  7:45PM



The "Red" in the title of this action-comedy film, that is based on a comic-book series, cleverly stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous".and this is referencing a group of retired, older CIA agents. This film is all about people in their golden years and there is not a young hipster in sight.

We meet Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired, mild-mannered, middle-aged man living a quiet life, in a quiet suburban neighborhood. He doesn't have much going on in his personal life, so he begins a telephone relationship with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a sweet representative with his pension office in Kansas City.

One evening, a squad of armed gunmen surround Frank's home and litter it with hundreds of rounds of gunfire but Frank is able to escape and take them all down without a scratch. The reason is because Frank is a former Black-Op CIA agent.

Frank knows that his house has been tapped, so he rushes off to Missouri to rescue Sarah. When he arrives, she is not exactly welcoming, so Frank has to use a little force to get her to accompany him out of the city.

Frank drags Sarah along with him as they travel across the country rounding up other fellow, retired agents to help him figure out who is trying to kill him. First, he visits New Orleans to see his mentor, Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), who is dying of cancer and living in a nursing home, which the highlight of his day is checking out the ass of a young nurse.

Next, he finds Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who after a bad LSD trip is now paranoid and a conspiracy theorist but is still able to gather his thoughts together long enough when needed. Frank also gets help from Ivan (Brian Cox), a Cold War, Russian agent and Victoria (Helen Mirren), who appears to be a genteel, British lady but who is actually prepared for any trouble by having an assault weapon hidden in her flower arrangement. She also had an affair with Ivan years ago but that ended after she had to put a few bullets in him.

The retired agents all team up to try to unravel this elaborate plot involving a secret mission in Guatemala, a list of people involved in that mission who are now being killed, a wealthy man (Richard Dreyfuss, more hammy than usual) who was also on that mission but, for some mysterious reason, is not on the list, plus the U.S. Vice-President (Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon) somehow mixed-up in all of this, in addition to a CIA Agent (Karl Urban) assigned to track down Frank and take him down.

It's all nonsense but it's entertaining nonsense, none the less. "Red" offers nothing necessarily fresh to the action genre beyond the heroes all being of the age to collect Social Security but that is enough to make it novel and invigorating because every move the agents make come from a well thought-out, seasoned perspective. What I find most interesting about "Red" is that it dares to celebrate maturity which is really unusual for today's Hollywood film since most seem to cater only to people who think the 1985 Sylvester Stallone action flick,"Rambo II" is a really old movie. Perhaps this may be a trend because Stallone rounded up fellow, aging action stars and risked breaking hips to make the summer hit, "The Expendables" and that worked out very well for him.

Audiences do like nostalgia so, with a classy cast of established actors involved, it does make "Red" hip and shakes up the routine of the typical action film, somewhat. Of course, most of these actors are slumming, but who doesn't want to see Oscar-winning, Dame Helen Mirren shooting a gun? The actors all help the film by adding their special brand of style and star quality to these proceedings plus they all seem to be genuinely having a good time, so what's the harm?

"Red" is your basic thrill ride that is spiced up just enough with good humor and top-notch actors to make this a satisfying and fun film for all ages.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NOWHERE BOY (2010)

Written by Matt Greenhalgh


Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood


Where & When: Los Feliz 3,  Los Angeles, CA.  October 17, 2010 1:30PM


The Beatles are considered one of the greatest bands of the rock & roll era. John Lennon was a part of this group, contributing bass guitar and was one half of the core song-writing team for the band. His life was cut tragically short on December 8, 1980 and this year he would have turned seventy. The new film, "Nowhere Boy" explores the story of John Lennon's developing teenage years and his attempt to become a musician and start a band.

Aaron Johnson plays John, a smart but mischievous sixteen year old who is trying to figure out who he is and what he's going to do with his life. We first meet John, who is living with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) in Liverpool, England. He's not much interested in school but Mimi is constantly on him to get to education and wear his glasses. John relates better with his uncle because he is a fun-loving and gregarious guy while his aunt is more distant and strict.

After George passes away suddenly, John is left alone with just his Aunt Mimi. Although his aunt means well, she just doesn't do warm and fuzzy but that is exactly what John needs right now.

John discovers that his mother has been living not far from him all these years and decides to go and pay her a visit. The last time he saw her, he was a small boy but Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who is Mimi's sister, is very happy to see him and welcomes her son with open arms. Julia, who now has a new husband and two young daughters, is a hot-blooded, free spirit who drops everything so they spend the day together. John soon sees how much he is like his mother, most especially in that they both share in the love of rock music. She introduces her son to Screamin' Jay Hawkins's, "I Put A Spell On You" and soon after that moment, he decides to become a musician.

John talks his aunt in to getting him a guitar, although she is highly skeptical of him making a living as a musician, and he forms a band called The Quarrymen made up of a bunch of school friends. After their second concert, John meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster), a talented guitarist who was impressed with the band. John soon asks Paul to join the band and they begin working together writing songs.

John begins to have more trouble at home with his aunt, so he wants to move in with his mother. Julia agrees but it causes problems with her husband as well as her sister, who knows the reason why John has been living with her all these years. These estranged sisters both begin fighting over this boy they both love but neither wants to tell him about the past but John soon begins to wonder himself why his mother did not raise him, pressuring them to tell him. John does gets an explanation, which turns out to be a dark family secret that may be more than he really wanted to know.

Partially based on a biography by Lennon's half sister, Julia Baird, this is photographer and artist, Samantha "Sam" Taylor-Wood's feature film debut and she has shown great promise with her exceptional first film. She employs all of skills to create a vivid visual style in addition to inventive editing and a crackling energy which helps this drama rise well above a typical biopic.

Mr. Greenhalgh, who also wrote a great film I just recently saw, "Control", the 2007 biopic about Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis, has written a warm yet rollicking script that helps flesh out the little known story of these real life people as well a takes us to the time when rock is beginning to cause a major shift in our society with the soundtrack filled with the great music of those early pioneers.

Although he doesn't look much like Lennon and appears much older than sixteen, the handsome Mr. Johnson, who may be best known to American audiences from his appearance in this year's super-hero flick,"Kick Ass", perfectly conveys the spirit of the future Beatle. He believably takes John Lennon from an unfocused and unsure teenager to a confident and charismatic musician with precsion and ease.

Ms Scott-Thomas is always wonderful and she does British chilliness very well but the film's true revelation is the performance of Ms Duff. She is little known here state side but I do hope that changes after this film appearance. Her Julia is one part red-hot mama and the other a giddy child-woman but there is a darkness lurking underneath that can creep up on her unexpectedly. When Ms Duff is on the screen, you can't take your eyes off of her.

"Nowhere Boy" ends right when the band is preparing to head off to Hamburg, Germany where the Quarrymen would soon evolve in to the Beatles and Lennon's life, as well as the rest of the world would be changed forever.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

EASY A (2010)

Written by Bert V. Royal


Directed by Will Gluck


Where & When: AMC Century City 15, West Los Angeles, CA. October 13, 2010  4:40PM


"Easy A" is a teen comedy loosely inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale, "The Scarlet Letter" in which a puritan woman is publicly punished for her adulterous affair by being forced to wear a red "A". This film uses that story and humorously shows how far we have come as a society but also how things have not changed one bit.

The film opens with Olive (Emma Stone), an unpopular high school student, making a confession via web cam, explaining about how her little white lie exploded into this out-of-control, complete disaster.

Olive explains that the whole thing started when she didn't want to go camping with her best friend, Rhiannon (Ally Michalka) and her family over the weekend, so she just tells her that she has a date. On Monday, Rhiannon wants all of the juicy details, so Olive feels compelled to give her some juice. She tells her that she lost her virginity to a college boy but Marianne (Amanda Bynes), a religious zealot, overhears their conversation and quickly spreads the news around the school. Marianne leads a teen church group at school and decides their mission is to save Olive from her sinful ways. During English class with Olive's favorite teacher, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church) has the students reading, "The Scarlet Letter". While discussing the book, one of the girls from the church group makes a catty remark directed at Olive and she in turn lets loose with a few choice words of her own.

Olive is sent to the Principal's office and is given detention. While there, she meets Brandon (Dan Boyd), a fellow student who is harassed because he is gay. She confides to him that she made up the story about her sleeping with a college boy which gives Brandon an idea that could help him. Olive and Brandon arrive at a party where they announce that they want to have sex and head to a bedroom where they pretend to get it on. This changes Brandon's reputation and makes him popular at school but it really doesn't do much for Olive.

Soon, other school misfits approach Olive asking her to say they had sexual relations with her in exchange for gift cards and money. She decides to embrace her bad reputation by wearing sexy clothing and, unlike the character, Hester Prynne, proudly stitching a red letter, "A" to them. Olive becomes quite popular but not for the right reasons. Things go downhill very quickly however and Olive soon realizes the error of her actions but how is she going to clear her name and get the truth out?

"Easy A" lovingly pays warm homage to the teen comedies of the 1980's while keeping it's feet firmly planted in our modern times. The script tends to be filled with more chuckles than laugh-out-loud funny but there are plenty of great lines.This film is full of charm and quite enjoyable, although I highly doubt that a teenage girl simply being accused of having sex in today's society will hardly make her an outcast in high school or even raise any eyebrows for that matter.

Ms. Stone showed great potential in her supporting role in the cute 2008 sex comedy, "The House Bunny" but "Easy A" is her first lead role and it's a perfect showcase to show off her talent. She has all of the attributes of a great screen comedienne: charm, intelligence, timing and fearlessness. I see a possible great future ahead for her if she continues making smart film choices. The film also features nice cameos from Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's wacky liberal-minded parents, Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley as Olive's school crush and Lisa Kudrow as the school's counselor with a dark secret.

"Easy A" may be light-weight but it treats it's target audience with a solid comedy that is refreshingly smart and fun.This film is certainly also good enough to appeal to people who haven't seen the inside of a high school in many years.

Monday, October 18, 2010

HOLIDAY PREVIEW

Here is a collection of a few upcoming films that will be released throughout the rest of the year that look most interesting to me:

"FOR COLORED GIRLS"

Release date: November 5, 2010

Tyler Perry has assembled an impressive group of African-American actresses (Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Janet Jackson and Thandi Newton) in this filmed version of the hit 1975 play. Mr. Perry is not one of my favorite filmmakers but I am intrigued by this trailer.



"FAIR GAME"

Release date; November 5, 2010

Naomi Watts stars, in this unbelievable true story, as Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent who was outed by White House officials during the Bush administration in order to discredit her husband, played by Sean Penn because of a critical article he wrote in the New York Times. This thriller is directed by "The Bourne Identity"'s Doug Liman.



"MORNING GLORY"

Release date: November 12, 2010

This comedy is set in the world of morning television where Rachel McAdams plays a news producer trying to save a struggling show. This features a dazzling cast that includes Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson and Jeff Goldblum.



"BURLESQUE"

Release date: November 24, 2010

In the spirit of "Showgirls" comes another tale of a small-town girl coming to the big city, looking to dance her way in to stardom but this time she can sing too. Cher returns to the screen in this musical, after too long of an absence and Christina Aguliara makes her film debut. I don't really expect this to be any good, but I'm sure it will be a lot of campy fun.



"THE TEMPEST"

Release date: December 10, 2010

Based on one of Shakespeare's last plays, Helen Mirren stars in this re-imagining where the character of Prospero is now a female.This also features Alfred Molina, David Strathaim, Chris Cooper and Djimon Hounsou in this visually stunning film directed by Julie Taymor ("Across The Universe", "Frida").



"HOW DO YOU KNOW?"

Release date: December 17, 2010

The director of such classic films, "Terms of Endearment" (1983) and "Broadcast News" (1987), James L. Brooks returns to the big screen, after his horrible last film, "Spanglish" (2004), with a promising new one. This romantic-comedy stars Reese Witherspoon in a love triangle between a corporate executive (Paul Rudd) and a major league pitcher (Owen Wilson) and it also features Jack Nicholson.



"TRUE GRIT"

Release date: December 25, 2010

The Coen Brothers have returned with a remake of the 1969 western film that starred John Wayne. This version will be more faithful to the novel on which it was based and will star Jeff Bridges as "Rooster" Cogburn along with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Written by Aaron Sorkin


Directed by David Fincher


Where & When: Vista Theater, Los Angeles, CA. October 3, 2010



I have to admit that I am probably one of only a handful of people on the planet who is not on Facebook. I have flirted with the idea of joining over the years but I always just wind up finding something better to do.

When I first heard that they were actually going to make a film about the creators of the friend-collecting, time-wasting site, I thought that watching some techie-geeks sitting around talking about computers and the girls that won't pay them any attention wouldn't be all that exciting.

How very wrong I was.

I was not really all that familiar with the origin of Facebook, but the film, "The Social Network" reveals a very fascinating story, indeed. Most especially in the hands of the brilliant film maker, David Fincher of "Se7en" (1995) and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008) fame and the very talented writer of "The American President" (1995) and the television show, "The West Wing", Aaron Sorkin who together made one of the most interesting and best films of the year.

We first meet Mark Zuckerberg, wonderfully played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is a student at Harvard, in the middle of a conversation with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). This exchange perfectly shows his brilliant mind and anti-social behavior but also clearly explains why Erica is breaking up with him.

Upset about being dumped, Mark storms back to his dorm room and after a few beers, decides to enact a little revenge. After posting a blog that bad mouths Erica, Mark then easily hacks into the school's database and downloads the names and pictures of the students. With the help of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who is probably Mark's only true friend, comes up with a web page called "Facemash" that puts two female students pictures together to vote on which one is more attractive which he sends out throughout the campus. It becomes so popular that it causes the school's network to crash.

Mark is put on academic probation after he is caught and is a pariah with the female students but his work catches the attention of three upperclassmen. The Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (these characters were created with a computer with Arnie Hammer as the face of both twins and Josh Pence as the body used for one of the twins) and Divya Narendra (Max Mingella) approach Mark about creating a program for them that would connect the students at Harvard and call it "The Harvard Connection". Mark agrees to do it.

Later, Mark tells Eduardo about his idea to create a social network where people can share personal information without the worry of an invasion of privacy and he wants Eduardo to put up the seed money. Eduardo agrees and it is called, "Thefacebook". The site becomes very popular, very quickly throughout the school. Divya gets wind of  Mark's deception and tells the Winklevoss twins that they need to sue him for stealing their idea.

Soon Thefacebook expands to other universities and Eduardo and Mark have different ideas on how to have the site grow. Eduardo's girlfriend, Chrissy (Brenda Song) arranges a meeting with Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Sean is a fast-talker and very charismatic but Eduardo is not charmed and doesn't trust him but Mark is captivated. Sean gives his opinion about how the site should be handled which is very similar to what Mark wants to do but no deal between them had been decided. Sean does give some free advice, which is to drop "the" from the name of their website.

While Eduardo seeks advertising support in New York, Mark moves their operation to Palo Alto, California where he rents a house to work out of. Sean Parker happens to run into Mark and in no time, Sean has moved in to the house and helps make business decisions. Later, Eduardo arrives in California and is upset to find that Sean is living in the house but Mark tells him that they now have an informal investor, thanks to Sean.

Eduardo is soon deceived when Mark allows Sean to arrange to reduce his shares in the company from one third to less than one tenth of one percent and have his name removed as a founder. It's not too long after this that during a party for Facebook, Sean is busted with some underage interns for possession of cocaine. Not surprisingly, Mark is sued separately by Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins for what each thinks he stole from them.

The film is based on the book, "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich and although there was no involvement by any of the actual participants on the film, I find it interesting that no one in this story has come forward to claim that anything in "The Social Network" is not fairly accurate. Mr. Sorkin has taken the facts from this story and made a very sharp and clever script by vividly creating a semi-fictional account of the events while objectively showing each person's side of it. This will be the script to beat during award season.

After years as a successful music video director, Mr. Fincher made his first feature film, "Alien 3" in 1992. The film was a complete disaster but it did show his potential and he was fortunately given another opportunity which he has gone on to make some brilliant movies that include some of my favorites like "Fight Club" (1999), "Panic Room" (2002) and "Zodiac" (2007). His eighth, "The Social Network" is another solid film that is fast-paced, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. He is currently working on the English language re-make of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and although I still don't think it's necessary, I am looking forward in seeing what he will do with the material.

A great cast of young actors has been assembled which includes a surprisingly effective job by Mr. Timberlake. I always feel a little resistance to musicians who decide to become actors because normally they tend to be too obviously out of their element but in the right hands, they can sometimes deliver a really great performance. I don't know if this means Mr.Timberlake has a long film career ahead of him but he most certainly can be proud of this moment.

I always saw the potential in Mr. Eisenberg in all the films he has done, most especially "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) but this film has really given him a great opportunity to shine. He skillfully is able to have Mr. Zuckerberg come across as ambitious and complicated but also manipulative and deceitful while still not seeming like such a awful guy. It's a great performance and all the Oscar talk is not just hype.

"The Social Network" is the rare film that speaks to the youth of the digital age in a smart and insightful way. It is a clear reflection of the beginning of the way our society now communicates with each other and because of the anonymous nature of it, people no longer feel the need to consider the moral consequences of what they say or do over the internet. The film shows how technology can be used to add quality to our lives but also how it can be used, if we are not careful, to be very destructive.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010 AFI FILM FESTIVAL PRESENTED BY AUDI

The American Film Institute's annual film festival is being presented this year in Hollywood, CA. on November 4 thru 11 with screenings being held at the magnificent Grauman's Chinese Theater, the historic Egyptian Theater and at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, home of the very first Academy Awards ceremony.

The opening film with be "Love And Other Drugs", directed by Ed Zwick and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. This film should be released theatrically on November 24, 2010.


The closing night film will be "Black Swan", directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. This should be released in U.S. theaters on December 1, 2010.


David Lynch will be the first-ever guest artistic director of this year's film festival and most noteworthy, the festival will once again be offering free tickets to all of the AFI screenings with tickets available online to members on October 27 and to the general public on October 28.

For more information, please go to: AFI 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

BURIED (2010)

Written by Chris Sparling


Directed by Rodrigo Cortes


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 5, 2010  1:45PM



The bleak and disturbing film,"Buried" opens in complete darkness, then we hear a male's voice groaning. Next, we hear a lighter being ignited, then we see Paul Conroy, played by Ryan Reynolds, who is bound and gagged inside of a coffin. He is an American truck driver working in Iraq and this is just the beginning of his harrowing ordeal.

Paul manages to get himself loose, then he, understandably, completely freaks out. After he calms down, he tries to recall how he got in this box and figure out how he's going to get himself out. He takes inventory and discovers that he has in pockets, the previously mentioned lighter, a knife, a small flask of water, anti-anxiety pills and a cell phone that doesn't belong to him.

Paul first tries calling his wife and then his employers but he just gets an answering machine. He calls the FBI next, which he is able to let an operator know his situation before the call is disconnected. The cell phone rings and it is man informing Paul that he has been kidnapped and he wants five million dollars in order for him to be released alive. Paul, of course, doesn't have that kind of money so the man tells him to have the U.S. government pay it. . .or else.

He immediately calls back the FBI where he is transferred to a special agency operative who tells Paul that they are doing all they can to locate him but the United States doesn't pay for hostages. The agent gets as much information as possible from Paul, then he will get back to him.

The kidnapper calls back and lowers the amount to just one million but demands that Paul make a ransom video using the phone. He then has Paul watch a video of a fellow employee held hostage to show him that they mean business. Paul is desperate because he realizes he is running out of time. He knows he will soon run out of air, the cell phone battery is almost out of power, the coffin is slowly filling up with sand because of the bombing going on above him and he has to fight off an unwelcome slithery visitor.

This is not fun stuff and to call this film, tense, is an understatement. When "Buried" comes to it's inevitable conclusion, I just wondered what the hell was the point of all of this? If this was supposed to be a traditional horror film, I wouldn't have had so much of a problem but this is apparently a serious drama. I didn't find any of this entertaining and the idea of sitting for ninety minutes watching this poor man struggle to stay alive was distressing and disgusting actually. I can't imagine any real kidnappers really going through all this trouble for ransom money. This film felt like a slightly more sophisticated version of torture porn.

I can be honest and say that Mr. Cortes has actually made a well-crafted and suspenseful film, which I guess is partially the point and I suppose there is a political statement being made as well, but it's not very clear. "Buried" is in real time and he cleverly uses only the lighter and the cell phone to illuminate the film which helps puts the audience in the coffin with Paul Conroy.

Mr. Reynolds is the only one on the screen and he takes us through a gamut of emotions we would all go through if we were in a similar plight; fear, anger, frustration, desperation and finally, resolve to his situation and he does so exceptionally well. But none of this is enough to say you should rush out and see "Buried". I'm sure there is a message buried under all of this but I have no idea of what it is.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HOWL (2010)

Written & Directed by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. October 2, 2010 4:30PM



It's hard to imagine that a book published today could be labeled obscene and that the author would have to defend his work in a court of law but it wasn't so long ago when that certainly could happen in this country. "Howl", the first narrative feature by noted documentary filmmakers, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, explores the creation of the book of poetry written by Allen Ginsberg, played in the film by James Franco, that was deemed indecent.

The film is fragmented in to three distinct parts: One is of Ginsberg's first public performance of "Howl" in 1955 shot in black & white which is combined with a colorful, animated visualization of the poem during the reading.

The second is an interview Ginsberg is giving to an unseen reporter which he discusses his troubled childhood which included his mother being institutionalized, how fellow writer, Jack Kerouac was the inspiration for the writing of the poem and Ginsberg's philosophy of life, sex and love.

The final is the actual obscenity trial itself which was actually against Lawrence Feringhetti of the City Lights Bookstore who was the first to publish the book. Jon Hamm plays defense attorney, Jake Ehrlich and David Stratharin plays Ralph McIntosh, the prosecution.

It was admitted by many of the prosecution witnesses that they either didn't fully understand the poem or they came to their own interpretation of the ideas behind it but they all agreed that it had to be obscene because of a few choice words used and it had absolutely no literary value. While Mr. Ginsberg and the Beat Generation is a fascinating subject matter, the film, despite good intentions, great style and plenty of talented people involved, lacks a clear focus, significant energy and doesn't dig nearly enough to make this rise above a conventional biopic.

Mr. Franco gives his all in his performance and is quite believable as Ginsberg. Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels make cameo appearances playing the various experts in the field of literature who either defend or are against Mr. Ginsberg's book of poetry but despite their presence, the court room scenes are deadly dull.

I should admit that I am not at all a fan of poetry, since I tend to be more of a literal minded person and the addition of the animation didn't help me understand or explain the intention of Mr. Ginsberg. I think that is the basic problem for me with poetry is that the ideas really would only be clear or obvious to the writer. "Howl" brings long overdue attention to the work of Allen Ginsberg and shows us how far our society has come on our views on what is "art" and what is socially acceptable but unfortunately it doesn't work completely as an entertaining film.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

HIDEAWAY (LE REFUGE) (2010)

Written by Francois Ozon & Mathieu Hippeau



Directed by Francois Ozon



Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. September 18, 2010  7:45 PM



Francois Ozon, the French writer/director, is absolutely one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. He is responsible for such noteworthy films as "Criminal Lovers" (1999), "Under The Sand" (2000), "8 Femmes" (2002) and one of his biggest hits here in the U.S., "Swimming Pool" (2003). Like his Spanish counterpart, Almodovar, he is a gay man who is well known for his sharp wit, macabre sense of humor and sexually-charged features. His latest is, "Hideaway" which like his last few films, (also like Almodovar) continues to be more mature, subdued and reflective than we are used to seeing in his earlier work.

Mousse (Isabelle Carre) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are two young lovers who are also heroin addicts. After their dealer drops off the drugs, the couple shoots up and everything appears to fine. The next day, Louis's mother (Claire Vernet) enters the loft, unaware that the couple have been staying there, to show to a potential renter. She discovers her son, slumped over on the floor from a drug overdose. Later, Mousse awakens in the hospital, strapped to the bed. The doctor tells her that she is lucky to be alive since they were given a bad dose of the heroin but Louis did not survive. He also informs her that she is pregnant.

After Louis's funeral, his mother makes it clear that she does not want Mousse to keep this baby. At first, Mousse agrees with her but later she decides to get on methadone and have the child. She goes off to an acquaintance's deserted country home to have the baby in peace.

Months later, Louis' younger brother, Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) pays Mousse a visit at the house. He is stopping on his way to a trip to Spain and wants to get to know her better. Since Louis was estranged from his family, she doesn't know any thing about them except that they are wealthy so she allows Paul to stay a few days. Since Paul is gay, she doesn't feel threatened by allowing a virtual stranger to stay at the house but she is also curious to find out more about him.

At first, Mousse is suspicious of Paul and his true motivation for this visit but soon she warms up to him. Since they both had Louis in common, through each other they discover things about him that they never knew. Mousse and Paul share meals together, hang out at the beach and Paul even takes her to a gay bar. They grow close and soon their friendship develops into something much deeper and intimate.

And that is pretty much the story and if it doesn't sound like much--well, it isn't. Although "Hideaway" is tastefully made and has nice performances from attractive actors, it never rises above a fairly routine drama. The dialogue is spare but unremarkable and it's not clear in what is trying to be said with this story. I know that as filmmakers get older, the need to be shocking and provocative tends to be curbed somewhat but this is one film that would have benefited greatly by Mr. Ozon going much darker and shoving some kinky sexuality in the faces of the audience. The only surprise twist in the film is an implausible action that occurs between two characters that almost completely ruined the film for me but I'll let it slide. I was looking forward to seeing "Hideaway" because I am such an admirer of  Mr. Ozon's work and although this film is a big disappointment to me, I am still very much a fan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

EAT PRAY LOVE (2010)

Written by Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt


Directed by Ryan Murphy



Where & When: Pacific's The Grove Stadium 14, Los Angeles, CA.  September 14.2010 12:10PM




What do you do when you wake up one day and find yourself depressed, miserable and unhappy?

Well, perhaps you would just abandon your family and travel the world for a year until you find peace, tranquility and happiness.

Now, I don't think that would be the average person's solution but that is the premise of this based on a true story film by Elizabeth Gilbert who decided to do just that.

Julia Roberts plays Ms Gilbert, a well-paid free-lance writer who has been married to Steven (Billy Crudup) for eight years. Although he seems like a nice guy, she has been unhappy for a while and one evening she goes into her bathroom and decides to pray to God for the answer. She returns to bed and informs her husband that she needs to end their marriage.

Later, Elizabeth confides to her best friend and editor, Delia (Viola Davis) that she has just begun seeing a younger man named, David (James Franco) an actor and although she is not looking for anything serious, she is enjoying her time with him.

Soon, Elizabeth grows tired of the affair and informs Delia that she needs to take a year to travel around in order to get back in touch with herself and to be without a man in her life. Her plan is to spend four months in Italy, four months in India and the last four in Indonesia, which makes up the three words in the title.

Eat: Elizabeth arrives in Rome, Italy where she proceeds to eat lots of pasta, learns to speak Italian, eat lots of pizza, makes friends with fun and interesting people and eat lots of gelato. By the end, she can no longer button her jeans but at least she is very happy.

Pray: Elizabeth is now in India trying to awaken herself spiritually as she stays at an Indian ashram. She initially is having difficulty while she is there but she meets Richard (Richard Jenkins), a Texan who helps her with allowing her mind to free up all of the clutter in her head.

Love: Elizabeth has arrived in Bali near the end of her journey. She meets Felipe (Javier Bardem), a handsome and successful Brazilian businessman. He is also divorced and has a grown son. The couple soon grow very close but when things start to get too serious, Elizabeth behaves like a caged animal.

Will she comes to her senses or will she let another man slip through her well-manicured fingers?

I'm not sure what happened here because you are combining a best selling novel, one of the biggest movie-stars in the world and a super-hot writer/director but this film just falls flat and feels very long.

Although I didn't finish reading the memoir (I'm only about a quarter through it) but as I was reading it, I became concerned and after seeing the film, it was confirmed: this book is just too interior to work properly as cinema. In the book, Ms Gilbert is able to go in to great detail in order to justify her reasons for abandoning her husband and how she had to travel for a year in order to find herself. In the film version, she just has a few voice-over narration scattered throughout and because of that, the character comes across as selfish, scattered and misguided.  As I was sitting through this, I certainly didn't find myself rooting for the Ms Gilbert character to have a happy ending.

It was a wise move to cast Julia Roberts in the lead part because her mere presence comes as short hand of a well established charming personality but even this actress is unable to overcome the obstacle of this character's sometime abhorrent behaviour despite all of Ms Roberts' efforts and dazzling smile.

Mr. Murphy, who has found recent success with the hit television show, "Glee", made his feature film debut with another memoir, Augusten Burroughs' "Running With Scissors" (2006), which I had actually read before seeing the cinematic version and thoroughly enjoyed. That film did not do that book any justice at all and it shares the exact same problems that "Eat Pray Love" has in which that all of the things that made these books rich and titillating reads have pretty much been whittled away. This just left the basic skeleton of the each story to be filmed and just led to a dull, easily digested Hollywood movie.

Now, I realize that not everything in a book can possibly be filmed and in fact, altering the story somewhat can actually enhance a film greatly but I just don't think that was accomplished nearly enough to help make this a solidly entertaining film.

I have to say "Eat Prat Love" looks great, thanks to the work of Oscar-winning cinematographer ("The Aviator" (2004), Robert Richardson who beautifully shot this film, most especially the Italian section were he made the already captivating Rome seem even more stunning and made all of the food look so mouth-watering delicious. You can certainly say that he will be the one directly responsible for an increase in tourism to any one of these countries.

If you are looking for a satisfying escapist fantasy, I suggest you go buy and read the book "Eat Pray Love" and skip this filmed version.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"SOMEWHERE" WINS BEST FILM AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

Sofia Coppola's latest film, "Somewhere" won the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice film festival Saturday. Director Quentin Tarantino headed the jury which unanimously chose Coppola's film as the best movie at the 11-day annual festival.

"Somewhere" is the story of a movie star, played by Stephen Dorff, who comes to see the emptiness of his life through the eyes of his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning).

This film should be released in the U. S.on December 22, 2010.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"AT THE MOVIES": REBIRTH



I am very happy to announce that the television program, "At The Movies" is returning after being cancelled earlier this year.

Roger Ebert, one of the hosts of the original show is producing this new version along with his wife, Chaz. They will be returning to the original format, with the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" reviews along with new hosts, Christy Lemire from the Associated Press and Elvis Mitchell of NPR.

Mr Ebert will also contribute with a segment on each episode called, "Roger's Office" which will feature his reviews of classic, overlooked and new films.

Look for the new show to air on your local PBS station this January.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

THE AMERICAN (2010)

Written by Rowan Joffe


Directed by Anton Corbijn


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  September 5, 2010  9:50 PM


George Clooney plays an assassin for hire who for years has lived a solitary life and, by necessity, shut down his emotions but has finally grown tired of his profession and wants out.

We first meet Jack, the American (Clooney) as he is walking with his girlfriend in a remote cabin in Sweden when they notice footprints in the snow. Jack grabs his girl and hides behind a boulder before they are shot at. It's not long, however, before there are three dead bodies and Jack is on the run.

Jack ends up in Rome and calls his associate, Pavel (Johan Leysen).  Pavel insists that Jack cannot stay and makes arrangements for him to go to a small village to hide out until he calls for him.

It's clear that Jack has been very successful at his job by relying on his instincts so, when he gets to the Italian village, he decides that it's not right. Jack moves on to another small town and disposes of the cell phone that Pavel has sent him.

Initially, Jack keeps to himself in his room while he is hiding in this town but soon he meets the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paulo Bonacelli). Jack introduces himself as "Edward" and says that he is a photographer. The priest tries to befriend Jack and senses that he is hiding something but, of course, Jack certainly will not let him in.

Jack soon contacts Pavel and he has an assignment for him. Pavel has the client, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) meet Jack in the town. Mathilde wants Jack to build a sub machine gun that has the accuracy of a rifle. She hand Jack a down payment and will return when the gun is ready. Jack informs Pavel that this will be his last assignment for him.

Jack begins working on the weapon but he does have other needs, so he hires a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido) to help him out. They soon become close and their relationship evolves into an actual romance.

Jack soon becomes aware that there is another assassin in this town trailing him but how did he know he was here? Jack has to try and unravel this while avoiding this eliminator but now he doesn't know who to trust and that includes Pavel, Mathilde and Clara.

While I think "The American" is well made film but it moves at a glacier's speed and just very static overall. Based on the novel, "A Very Private Gentleman" by Martin Booth, the dialogue is very sparse, perhaps a little too much because you don't have enough information to really care or feel for any of these characters, plus it's already a problem feeling much sympathy when the main character is a paid killer. I wouldn't have minded any of these issues so much if there had been a great pay-off at the end but all we got was an ending that I saw coming long before even the other assassin did.

This film was directed by veteran music video director, Anton Corbijn, who also made the 2007 film, "Control" about Joy Divison singer, Ian Curtis so I found it very surprising how lethargic this movie was. Even the few action sequences were uninspiring and something you could see any night on any of those "CSI" television programs.

Mr. Clooney gives an adequate performance as the hit man but it does seem like he is a little out of comfort zone. There are probably other actors, Clive Owen, for one, that would have been a much better fit for this role.

I have to say that I greatly appreciate Mr. Clooney's willingness to produce unconventional and challenging films, like "The American", that probably would never make it to the big screen without his name behind it. I know he grew up in the 1970's, like myself, when Hollywood made films with actual characters that told unusual stories that made you think, didn't spell out everything for the audience and didn't tie everything up in a pretty bow at the end of the film. In between his more commercial films, Mr. Clooney is trying to bring those sort of films back, in his own small way, as he is responsible for such independent minded films such as "Solaris" (2002), "Good Night And Good Luck" (2005), "The Good German" (2006), and "Leatherheads" (2008).

With the exception of "Good Night", the rest of these films were valiant efforts but none of them worked completely as satisfying entertainment which, unfortunately, also includes this current film.

Although "The American" was not entirely successful, I do hope that Mr. Clooney will continue his attempt to bring this type of film, which are not made nearly enough by Hollywood anymore, to the cinema.

Monday, September 6, 2010

2010 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

Today is Labor day, which means that the summer movie season is officially over. Yes, some of the films made a lot of money (thanks, largely in part, to the extra fees added on for the 3-D movies) but there still seemed to be a decline in quality and audience attendance which I'm sure there is some sort of connection.

This was not a good season at all with (as usual) way too many sequels ("Sex And The City 2"), remakes ("The Karate Kid") or movies based on a comic book ("Jonah Hex"), television show ("The A-Team") or video game ("The Prince Of Persia"). Don't let me even get started on all of the 3-D movies ("The Last Airbender") that left me feeling more ripped off than anything else. The few original films ("Grown-Ups", "Salt", "Knight & Day") that came out certainly didn't amount to much because they were lacking in imagination and stayed very predictably inside of the box but I will have to give some credit to "Inception" because although I didn't think it was completely successful, it was certainly nothing like you have ever seen before.

Only a handful of the films released overall were actually any good ("Winter's Bone"; "The Kids Are Alright"), a few were just so-so at best ("Inception";"Iron Man 2"; "Toy Story 3") and the rest just stank up the theaters (too many to mention).

I'm glad that the fall movie season is about to begin. I prefer this time of the year because you certainly get a better quality and more interesting collection of movies. Well. . . I'm optimistic anyway.

Here are a few of the films that I'm looking forward to seeing in the upcoming months (All U.S. release dates are subject to change):

"THE TOWN"

Release date: September 17, 2010

Ben Affleck's second feature film as a director is this action crime thriller in which he also stars along with Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall and Chris Cooper.



"WAITING FOR SUPERMAN"

Release date: September 24, 2010

This is the latest by Davis Guggenheim, director of the Oscar winning 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" in which he follows several students as they are trying to get a decent education in the American public school system.



"WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS"

Release date: September 24, 2010

Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko in this sequel to the 1987 Oliver Stone Film with a new apprentice, Shia LaBeouf. Mr. Stone is also back as director and even Charlie Sheen makes a cameo appearance.



"THE SOCIAL NETWORK"

Release date: October 1, 2010

David Fincher, the director of such films as "Fight Club" (1999) and "Zodiac" (2007) has taken on the story about the founders of Facebook, the networking website and their legal battle for control. Jesse Eisenberg leads an ensemble cast with a script by Aaron Sorkin.



"RED"

Release date: October 15, 2010

I know this film is based on a comic book series but it doesn't seem like your conventional action flick. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren star as retired agents forced back in to combat.

Friday, September 3, 2010

THE SWITCH (2010)

Written by Allan Loeb
                                                                          

Directed by Josh Gordon & Will Speck


Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. September 1, 2010  5:05PM



"The Switch" is a breezy and light-hearted romp about a man, a woman and a failure to properly communicate, which is, of course, the basis of all good romantic comedies.

Our film starts seven years ago, when Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) announces to her long time best friend, Wally (Jason Bateman) that she has decided that her biological clock is about to run out of batteries and she is ready to have a baby. Because Kassie doesn't have a stable man in her life (besides Wally), she wants him to help her find some quality sperm. Of course, Wally is surprised by this news and tries to talk her out of it but her mind is made up.

Wally does offer his semen later, however, as all good friends should do but she declines the offer. Although Kassie does worry that it could effect their friendship but mainly it's because Wally is neurotic, cynical and moody, which are qualities she doesn't necessarily wants for her child, so she continues the search.

What Wally neglected to tell her is that he has romantic feelings for her and she could have feelings for him but we'll get back to all of that. Later, Wally receives an invitation to Kassie's insemination party thrown by her friend, Debbie (Juliette Lewis). While at the party, he meets Kassie's donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson) who is a really nice, attractive and married guy who just wants to help out a damsel in distress.

Upset by the whole situation, Wally takes some pills and booze and proceeds to get really wasted. While in the bathroom, Wally discovers Roland's "donation". Wally accidentally damages the specimen and under pressure to solve this problem (and with a little help from Diane Sawyer), he personally replaces the damaged spunk. Of course, the next day, the previous night's activities are a complete blur to Wally.

Soon, Kassie becomes pregnant but decides New York is no place to raise a child and moves back to her home town. Kassie and Wally try to remain friendly by sending the occasional e-mail but eventually they lose contact with each other.

Cut to the present, Kassie is returning to the city because of a great job offer and she can't wait for Wally to meet her son. After Wally is introduced to the seven year old, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), he's taken aback because of how familiar he seems. It may be because he is looking at a shorter version of himself. With the help of his boss, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), Wally pieces together what occurred the night of the party. Wally wants to tell Kassie what happened and how he feels about her but he is afraid and to complicate things further, Kassie is now dating the now divorced, Roland.

Although this film shares a similar plot as the J-Lo vehicle, "The Back-Up Plan" that was released earlier this year, "The Switch" (based on the short story, "The Baster" by Jeffrey Eugenides) has a much better script and performances. While this film follows the usual formula, it doesn't always stay on the path and occasionally veers outside of the well worn romantic comedy road with plenty of good humor and charm.

This cast is solid and special mention should be made to Mr. Goldblum and Ms Lewis for their always terrific and quirky supporting turns and most especially to the young Mr. Robinson. It always amazes me when a child is capable of delivering such a believable and comic performance and he is very good in this film.

After doing great supporting roles in many films over the years, Mr. Bateman has been given an opportunity for a lead role. He does do a fine job and he has a few good moments throughout the film but it does also prove the sad fact that he is not really leading man material. The actor seems like a really nice guy but he's just not someone that stands out on the screen with a commanding presence which is usually required of the star of a film.

As for Ms Aniston, we are all aware that she is an appealing personality but that's the problem; she's not doing much acting in these films she is choosing to do but more coasting on her charm. I think audiences have already gotten very bored of seeing her play a slight variation of the same role over again, most especially after coming off some really lousy romantic comedies such as "Love Happens" (2009) and this year's "The Bounty Hunter" and while "The Switch" is not nearly as bad, it certainly is not a big leap forward. I liked Ms Aniston's work in the independent films, "The Good Girl" (2002) and "Friends With Money" (2006) and although she didn't necessarily disappear in those parts, she did attempt to shake up the routine. Perhaps she should take a little sabbatical from romantic comedies and hold out until she finds something to help her stretch as an actor.

I have to say I really did enjoy "The Switch". It was cute, harmless fun and this is certainly one of the better romantic comedies released this year.