Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ONE YEAR AGO. . .

. . . I posted my first entry on this blog. I can't believe a year has come and gone.

I thought it would be easy and simple to just write down my opinion about the movies I saw.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's hard, most especially trying to come up with diffrent ways to say something is good. I seem to have no difficulty in finding plenty of words to describe something that is lousy. Go figure.

I don't know if anyone is reading any of my rantings but I'm having fun. I just wish I had more time to write on all of the films I see.

Here's to another year. . .

Sunday, April 25, 2010

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2010)

Written by Dean Craig


Directed by Neil LaBute


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. April 24, 2010 9:20PM


The 2007 British comedy, "Death at a Funeral" has been given an American makeover or more accurately, an African-American makeover.

Like the original, it is the story of a family preparing to bury their patriarch. Chris Rock plays Aaron who is making the arrangements for his father's funeral. In between he is trying to comfort his mother (Loretta Devine) while she is pressing her son and his wife (Regina Hall) on when she's going to get a grandchild.

Aaron's younger brother Ryan, (Martin Lawrence) a successful writer of trashy novels, has arrived from New York. There is some rivalry between the brothers because Aaron wanted to be a writer first and has been working on a novel for years that he won't let anyone read but Ryan beat him to it. Everyone expects Ryan to give the eulogy because he is the writer but Aaron feels he should since he is the oldest. I'm not quite sure why they couldn't have both said a few words but for some reason it is important in this story that only one of them speak.

Elaine (Zoe Saldana), who is Aaron's cousin, is picking up her brother, Jeff (Columbus Short) with her boyfriend, Oscar (James Marsden) to attend the service. Oscar is nervous because he knows that Elaine's father (Ron Glass) doesn't care for him so Elaine finds a bottle marked Valium and decides to give one to him to calm him down. They are both unaware that what is actually in the bottle are hallucinogenic drugs that Jeff has made for a friend. These pills will cause more problems at the funeral.

Norman (Tracy Morgan) and Derek (Luke Wilson) who are family friends, have been asked to pick up Uncle Russell (Danny Glover) at a nursing home. Uncle Russell is rude, cranky and just unpleasant to be around and makes a good case for euthanasia. Uncle Russell makes life hell for Norman.

A mysterious short man named Frank (Peter Dinklage)has shown up at the funeral and will reveal a secret with photographic evidence about their father to Aaron and Ryan's mother if they don't pay him $30, 000. Aaron was going to pay Frank but refuses after he insults his book that he read while he was waiting for them to make a decision on the blackmail. Aaron and Ryan tie up the man to stop him until they can figure out what to do about him and his threats. There are more crazy delays, comic disasters and other possible deaths before Aaron is finally able to deliver the eulogy.

This version of "Death at a Funeral" is mildly entertaining and funny at times but I got to the end of this film thinking to myself, "Why was this made?". There was absolutely nothing new or fresh that was added and they followed the original plot line all the way down to the casting of Mr. Dinklage to replay his part from the original film. This film is completely pointless and changing the race of the characters and making them American doesn't improve on the perfectly good English film.

In fact, since the decision to remain so faithful to the first film, Mr. Rock and Mr. Lawrence seemed confined and uncomfortable in their parts and aren't able to bring much of their comic gifts to this. The rest of the large cast is impressive but are wasted in this misguided venture. The standout in this is Mr. Marsden who gives a great performance and is hilarious while we watch him trip out as he hugs statues, hears imaginary voices and finally stripping down to show off his impressive body.

The other question I was asking myself is why is Mr. LaBute directing this film? He is a prolific playwright and the writer/director of such fascinating and divisive works such as "In The Company of Men" (1997), "Your Friends and Neighbors" (1998) and "Nurse Betty" (2000) where he first worked with Mr. Rock. He now feels the need to be a director for hire and that is not at all where his strengths lie. This film, as well as his last few films like, "Lake view Terrace" (2008), seems like it could had made by anybody and he doesn't add his distinctive voice to the project. It really is a shame and I hope he finds his way back to writing another screenplay and directing that instead and leave the mediocre stuff to the army of lesser talents out there.

While the American "Death at a Funeral" is a slightly amusing but unnecessary remake, you would be better off renting the much superior original to get a better idea on why this new version didn't need to be made.

Friday, April 23, 2010

THE SECRET OF KELLS (2009)


Written by Fabrice Ziokowski



Directed by Tomm Moore



Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA. April 22, 2010 5:05PM



"The Secret of Kells" was a film that seemed to come out of nowhere and managed to receive a surprise nomination for Best Animated Film at last year's Academy Awards and because of that nomination, the film is receiving a theatrical run in the United States. I'm not so sure if that would have happened without it.

The story is set in Ireland at a monastery during the ninth century. Abbott Cellach is focused on completing a wall around the monastery to protect them from the approaching Vikings who threaten to destroy it. Abbott hopes his young nephew, Brendan will take over in the future.

Aidan from Iona, a master illustrator has come to the monastery. He managed to escape from his monastery after the Vikings destroyed it but he was able to save the Book of Kells that he has been working on. It is an illuminated Gospel book in Latin which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament. Brendan has heard about this book and is fascinated. Aidan introduces Brendan to the beauty of art and since his eyes and hands are no longer what they used to be, he has Brendan assist him on working on the book.

Aidan needs gall nuts to make ink and the nuts are in the forest behind the wall. Brendan is not allowed to go outside of the monastery but he knows how important it is to finish the book. Despite being afraid, Brendan decides to go and retrieve the nuts.

Brendan goes out in to the woods with Aidan's cat, Pangerbon but they manage to get lost and the sun is starting to set. They soon find themselves surrounded by wolves but they are saved by a faerie named Aisling. She becomes Brendan's friend and helper and teaches him about life outside of the monastery.

Abbott is against Brendan working on the book and wants him to focus on completing the wall. When he finds out that Brendan disobeyed him and went outside, he locks him in the tower as punishment. Soon the Vikings are at the monastery but will the re-enforced wall be enough to keep them out and if not, what will happen to Brendan and the Book of Kells?

First, this is a warning to parents: despite the cute animated characters, this film is really not made for young children. "The Secret of Kells" is very dark, involves some intense violence and deals with Irish folklore which your average American kid doesn't have much knowledge or interest about.

While I do enjoy computer-generated animated film, I much more prefer traditional hand-drawn animated films. Call me old-fashioned but I do find more warmth and emotion in these films and "The Secret of Kells" has plenty of both. This film's look is absolutely stunning and is beautifully rendered. It is very stylized and there is such a constant, colorful motion that you don't know where to look first.

I really wanted to like this film but unfortunately, I found myself uninterested and bored. I can't put my finger on what exactly was the problem for me but maybe there just wasn't enough of a compelling story to keep me entertained throughout. The beautiful images were just not enough.
This is, by no means, a bad film and I really am glad and appreciate that a film like this was made but I guess it was just not for me.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

BREAKING UPWARDS (2010)

Written by Peter Duchan, Zoe Lister-Jones & Daryl Wein


Directed by Daryl Wein



Where & When: Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. April 9, 2010 10:00PM



What do you do when you've been in a relationship for a few years and you seem happy in it but you are not sure if you are still in it because you are in love or just simply because you have grown dependant on having that person around?

That's the idea behind the new film, "Breaking Upwards" by director, Daryl Wein who acts, edited and co- wrote the film with actress, Zoe Lister-Jones who are a couple off screen as well as on. The film is loosely based on their relationship and the experiment they tried themselves.

Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) are twenty-somethings who have been together for four years. Daryl still lives with his parents and is currently a nanny but dreams of being a writer. Zoe is a struggling actress with body issues. They support each other in their pursuits and although they enjoy each other's company and always have a good time together, the relationship has grown stagnate.

They have recently decided to schedule days off from each other as way of seeing how life would be apart from each other. Things start off easily enough but they soon realize you can't just turn off your emotions. Daryl has his eye on other women and Zoe is attracted to her acting partner in a play but they find themselves very jealous despite the fact that they both agreed they could see other people.
In between, they get plenty of advise from each of their mothers.

Daryl's mother (Julie White), is an overbearing, hysterical woman who has no boundaries while Zoe's mother (Andrea Martin) is an open minded, new-age type who is more interested in being her daughter's friend than her mother. There is a job offer out of state which forces Daryl and Zoe to realize that they must make some difficult and painful decisions about their relationship.

"Breaking Upwards" has a great premise and is full of charm and a few laugh out loud moments. Mr. Wein and Ms Lister-Jones, who both have episodes of one of the "Law & Order" programs on their resumes, are both appealing performers and since they already had an established relationship, give off a natural screen chemistry. Ms Martin adds her wonderful comic flair to the film but Ms White, who I'm sure is doing the best she can with what she has to work with, has her character as very shrill and her every appearance is like nails on a chalkboard.

I know this was very low budget film and Mr. Wein's first feature but I think he would have benefited by having someone with a more objective eye edit the film and although the script has some good moments, it still needed little more work. These are both areas where a lot a money is not required.
I'm not sure whether it was in the editing or the screenplay but there were a few moments, although it was cleared up later, where I was slightly confused in regards to what was happening in the film. Despite this, Mr. Wein shows much promise and I look forward in seeing what he does next. I think that if you interested in a smart, no frills romantic comedy that's just a little rough around the edges, then you should check out, "Breaking Upwards".


Monday, April 5, 2010

CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)

Written by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi



Directed by Louis Leterrier


Where & When: AMC Burbank 16, Burbank, CA. April 4, 2010 1:50PM


I am not a fan of films being remade.

The only thing more ridiculous and misguided is movies based on classic television shows. Most of these films flop at the box office and yet, Hollywood insists to keep on making them.

I understand why films are remade or "re-imagined", as Hollywood likes to refer to these, but the problem is that the film makers tend to think that all they need to do is just fill this new version with great, modern visual effects and that will be enough to convince an audience to come. They fail to realize that these most of these original films were a reflection of a specific time and were made by people who had something to say and not simply about making a fast buck off a previously successful and established idea. Besides, in this day and age with cable television and DVDs, why watch something like Tim Burton's inferior remake of "Planet of the Apes" (2001) when you can still watch the much, much better original?

So, this brings me to the latest recreation, "The Clash of the Titans" which is based on the original 1981 film. Now, I was old enough to have paid adult admission to see the first film but too young to be able to buy an alcoholic beverage in California at the time so I don't hold any childhood nostalgic admiration for this movie. I thought the film was not great but slightly entertaining. This is probably one film that you could easily improve on since the original is not considered a masterpiece.

The story, which is based on Greek mythology, is about a time when people believed in not one God but many Gods. Zeus, (Liam Neeson) was the King of the Gods and ruled the heavens while his brothers, Poseidon (Danny Huston) ruled the oceans and Hades, (Ralph Fiennes) was tricked into ruling the underworld and he has been holding a big grudge every since.

A fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) discovers an elaborate box floating in the ocean. He retrieves it and opens it to find a dead woman and a baby that is still alive. He takes the child home to his family to raise and they call him Perseus.

Years later, the family is out fishing when they see soldiers from the city of Argos destroying a giant statue of Zeus. This act angers the gods and Hades rises up and kills many of the soldiers and sinks the family's boat. Avatar's Sam Worthington plays Perseus, now a young man and he tries in vain to save his family but he is unable to.

Perseus is rescued by the surviving soldiers and taken to Argos where he is brought before the royal family. During a celebration, the King and Queen proclaim that they are as great as the gods and their daughter, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is more beautiful than the goddess, Aphrodite.

This causes Hades to return where he causes more destruction and attacks Perseus. Perseus is unharmed which makes Hades realize that he must be a demigod and the son of Zeus. To punish the people of Argos for their insolence, Hades will send out the Kraken to destroy the city in ten days unless they sacrifice Andromeda.

Desperate to save his daughter's life, the King seeks the help of Perseus to destroy the Kraken. He wants him to travel with a small group of soldiers to seek the advice of the Stygian witches on how to do this. Perseus wants no part of this but Io, (Gemma Arterton) a beautiful demigoddess who has been watching over Perseus since he was an infant, convinces him to agree to the King's plan so he can also avenge the death of his family.

The group begin their journey where they first encounter Acrisius (Jason Flemyng). He is the one who, in a jealous rage, sent his wife and the baby, Perseus to their deaths when he found out that Zeus was the father. Now a servant of Hades, he is given super powers by the god to try and stop them and kill Perseus.

After fending off Acrisius, Perseus continues on where he and the group fight off giant scorpions, team up with the Djinn, who are magical sand-creatures, deal with the uncooperative witches, and battle for the head of the snake-haired, Medusa before Perseus flies back to Argos on the winged horse, Pegasus. Will he get back in time to save the princess and the city?

This "Clash" takes itself much more seriously, has better special effects and is certainly less campy but to say it's a better film is a bit of a stretch. It's like comparing a Fuji apple to a Granny Smith apple: They are slightly different but they both still apples. The film is busy, loud and visually stimulating, mindless fun which is how, I guess, you could describe the original film.

I don't know if Mr. Worthington was necessarily the best choice for the lead in this film but he does do a good job as Perseus. Mr. Fiennes does sinister very well but my favorite character in this was Medusa. I thought it was great how she was actually part reptile, part beautiful woman and I loved, although it was too brief, her entire battle sequence in the film.

This is the latest film to be done in 3D but it was added after the film was completed and it is obvious. The effect adds absolutely nothing to the film and I could barely tell the film was supposed to be in 3D.

While this "Clash of the Titans" is a slight improvement from the original (and owes a big debt to "Gladiator") but I think it is very safe to say that this film will not be revered by anyone twenty six years from now.

Friday, April 2, 2010

CHLOE (2010)

Written by Erin Cressida Wilson



Directed by Atom Egoyan



Where & When: AMC Century City 15, Century City, CA. April 2, 2010 5:05PM



"Chloe" is another foreign-language film that has been remade for American audiences and once again it has been translated very, very poorly. This film, based on the 2004 French film, "Nathalie", follows the same basic plot but loses all of the style and subtlety of the original.

Catherine (Julianne Moore) and David (Liam Neeson), a couple who live in Toronto, Canada and have been married for many years. She is an OB-GYN and he is a college professor and they have a teenage son, Michael (Max Thieriot). They live in a beautiful home and their lives appears to be perfect. David is turning 50 and Catherine decides to throw him a surprise birthday party. David teaches at a college out of town so he needs to fly back home. All of the guests are waiting for David's arrival when he calls Catherine and tells her he missed his flight and won't home until late.

David is home in the morning and apologizes for missing the party. David's cell phone goes off and Catherine decides to check it. She sees a text that says, "Thanks for great evening" and attached is a photo of David with an attractive girl. Catherine is now suspicious and thinks her husband may have missed his flight intentionally to carry on with an affair.

Catherine has seen a young woman that lives near her office and later discovers that she is a prostitute. She runs into her at restaurant and decides to hire her to do a job. Blond, buxom and beautiful, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) seems like the perfect choice to try and seduce Catherine's husband to see what he will do and to test his fidelity. She gives Chloe instructions on where she could meet her husband and to report back to her all of the details.

After she meets with David, Chloe tells Catherine that nothing much happened but he did say that he was very attracted to her. Disturbed by this news, Catherine wants Chloe to meet with her husband again to see if he will act on this desire.

This time when Chloe reports in, she informs Catherine that they had a sexual encounter. Catherine is upset but wants her to tell her about it. Chloe proceeds to go into the event in detail that is in bizarrely tame language for what is supposed to be an erotic thriller.

Catherine finds herself jealous but also somewhat sexually aroused. She still wants Chloe to continue seeing her husband and informing her about their trysts but soon, Catherine discovers that not everything is at all what they appear to be. Catherine gets herself wrapped up in Chloe's desires and things spiral out of control and places her family in danger.

I knew that the American remake of an interesting but very French film was going to get the Hollywood treatment but I had hoped that with a talented director like Mr. Egoyan that it wouldn't get too dumbed down but I was very wrong. "Chloe" is a film that plays like one of those soft-core porn movies shown on late night cable except with better actors and a lot less sex. This version follows the original film fairly closely in the beginning but by the end, out of nowhere, it veers into "Fatal Attraction" territory. This should be a psycholgical, sexual thriller but instead we have an overcooked, soap operatic, cheesy drama. It's a complete mess and it doesn't make any sense.

All of the actors are fine and do their best to try and elevate the material but that really should have been done to this script before they showed up to work.

Do yourself a favor and skip "Chloe" and go rent the original, "Nathalie".