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.