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.