Archive for September, 2008

Review: ‘The Women’ – Return to Lady World

September 26, 2008

With trepidation I saw The Women, Diane English’s remake of the 1939 film that features an all-female cast and a whole lot of squabbling and fussing.  After my last viewing of a film clearly aimed at women (which was more traumatic than I would have ever anticiapted), I was not too enthused about taking another journey to Secret Lady World, that mythical, amorphous place where female wish fulfillment and cinema have a heart-to-heart.

For a dude who’s favorite films this year have been The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk, the thought of watching an all-female cast (there are no men onscreen, not even in the background) talk about friendship sounded like an overlong episode of The Golden Girls.  (I was only half right–the movie overstays its welcome by a good thirty minutes.)

What’s it about? Mary (Meg Ryan) is the seemingly perfect wife and mother whose marriage isn’t what it used to be.  Sylvie (Annette Bening) is Mary’s best friend and the editor-in-chief of a woman’s magazine that’s about to fizzle.  Inexplicably, these two are also friends with Edie (Debra Messing), a very fertile bohemian stay-at-home-mom, and Alex (Jada Pinkett-Smith), a sassy lesbian author.  They live in New York and/or Conneticut in beautiful homes and love to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Sylvie discovers that Mary’s husband is having an affair with Crystal (Eva Mendes), a spritzer girl at Saks, and debates whether or not to tell Mary.

On her own, Mary discovers her husband’s infidelity, which leads both her and Sylvie playing the “why didn’t you tell me you knew?” game, to which there is never a winner.  Mary leaves her husband and Sylvie ends up disclosing the affair to a columnist at the New York Post (Carrie Fisher) in order to save her job.

Will Mary and Sylvie ever be friends again?  (This is as chick flick-ish as one you could possibly get, so the answer, without spoiling anything, is yes.)

What’s good about it? Candace Bergin has a supporting role as Mary’s mother, Catherine.  She is, hands down, the best thing in this film.  One scene in particular allows Bergen to shine, where Catherine reveals to her daughter that her marriage to her father hasn’t exactly been the bed of roses Mary thought it was.

What’s bad about it? As I mentioned previously the film is overlong by at least a half hour.  Prudence in the editing room would have resulted in a tighter, breezier movie, but instead there are completely useless detours (like Bette Midler’s entire performance, which is not only unnecessary but hammy and grating) and needless characters (Messing and Pinkett-Smith’s characters are not the only women this movie could have done without).

The main foci of The Women are the two relationships in Mary’s life: Mary and Sylvie and Mary and her husband.  But by adhering to the concept of a women-only world, Mary might as well be married to a ghost.  We hear Mary–and only Mary–yelling in an offscreen argument with the husband while the maid (Cloris Leachman) and the nanny (Tillie Scott Pederson) discuss what’s going on in the next room.  This relationship that apparently means so much to Mary is sorely underdeveloped, and thus becomes uninteresting because we are denied the whole picture.

Perfect for: fans of any of the cast.

Netflix This: ‘Young@Heart’

September 24, 2008

My father once told me that being old is not for sissies.  Nobody says, “hey, I hope I get arthritis” or “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if my vision increasingly deteriorated?”  I used to hate going to rest homes because everybody was old (and more often than not they smelled like pee).  But then I realized something: as much as I don’t want to be there, I’m pretty sure none of the residents want to be there, either.

The documentary Young@Heart is the story of a choir composed of senior citizens that sings tunes by Sonic Youth, The Clash and Coldplay, among others.  The trailer above kind of makes the film seem like it might be a little tongue-in-cheek in its tone, but Young@Heart is a genuine piece of filmmaking that is a testament to living life to its fullest despite the hardships of getting old.

What’s it about? Director Stephen Walker follows the choir (also called Young@Heart) as they rehearse for their next big show.  The group has toured all over the world, and choir director Bob Cilman (who’s only in his 50’s) has lined up a European tour later in the year.  Cilman started the choir about twenty years ago, and has increasingly anted up the singers’ repertoire, originally starting with Vaudeville and show tunes but now doing rock, soul, folk and punk songs.

During the rehearsals we see the choir figure out Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” both of which seem to cause Cilman more grief than he thought they would.

The film profiles a few members of the choir, and some of their stories are heartwarming (like Eileen Hall, the oldest member of the group who has been with Young@Heart for 20 years), and others are heartbreaking (like Bob Salvini, a member who had to leave the group due to heart problems who has returned for a duet of Coldplay’s “Fix You”).

What’s good about it? Plenty.  Cilman does not treat his choir members like old people.  He expects them to do their best.  He doesn’t pity them and he certainly does not talk down to them.  The film is a celebration of life, and just because you’re closer to death doesn’t mean you have a death sentence.  When on the way to a performance at a local prison, the choir is informed that one of their own passed away the night before.  The show must go on, and their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” turns out to be deeply poignant.

What’s bad about it? Not much, if anything.

Perfect for: music fans, anyone who has grandparents.

Review: ‘Lakeview Terrace’

September 22, 2008

We’ve all had to live with or next door to people we didn’t get along with.  (I once had a roommate that, for reasons unknown, removed his bedroom door, which was next to the kitchen area.  Ironically, this turned into an invasion of my privacy.)  Be they roommates from outer space (did I mention he also ate horse feed?) or neighbors from hell, all pale in comparison when weighed against Samuel Jackson’s disgruntled cop in Lakeview Terrace.

What’s it about? Jackson plays Abel, an LA cop who’s raising his two kids (Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher) on his own since his wife died three years earlier.  He runs a strict household and doesn’t put up with anybody’s crap.  But since Abel’s wife passing, his life has been slowly unraveling.  Questions arise about his aggressive work ethic to the point he’s being investigated by Internal Affairs.

Moving in next door are Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), a young interracial couple who are thrilled with owning their first home.  Something about the Mattsons strikes a nerve in Abel, and instantly he doesn’t like them. Because of his profession and slick know-how of the law, he begins to make Chirs and Lisa’s life a living hell.

This is all set against a backdrop of summer wildfires, which increasingly burn closer and closer to Abel and the Mattson’s homes.

What’s good about it? Jackson is rarely awful in a movie, and here he is no exception.  He plays Abel with a ferocity that makes you thank the good Lord above that he’s not your neighbor and especially not your dad.  Wilson and Washington have good chemistry, and a subplot of Chris and Lisa’s differing opinions on whether or not to have kids feel authentic.

What’s bad about it? For a thriller, it doesn’t really thrill.  Sure, it’s watchable, and there’s a share of tense moments, but not once was I on the edge of my seat.  It’s one of those movies that you’d watch when it airs on TNT.  But for a time killer, you could do much worse.

Perfect for: Samuel L. Jackson fans.

’30 Rock’ Wins. And deservedly so.

September 22, 2008

30 Rock is the best comedy on television right now.  (Sorry, Office.)  Tina Fey has created a zany, loopy and–most of all–funny show about the behind-the-scenes antics at a Saturday Night Live-esque tv show.  Over the last two seasons Fey has become a very funny comedic actress, and she deserved her statuette last night.  I’ve never really been an Alec Baldwin fan, but since watching 30 Rock, I’ve come to appreciate his impeccable comedic timing.

A cross between The Muppet Show and Mary Tyler Moore, 30 Rock is the one show that is gleefully funny and silly.  If you haven’t gotten into 30 Rock, I recommend you do so.  You can watch episodes on NBC.com (in fact, the Season 3 premiere will be online October 23, a full week before it airs on TV), Hulu. com, Netflix and iTunes. If you like Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, The Office or Seinfeld, 30 Rock is right up your alley.

In honor of 30 Rock’s seven Emmy wins–including Best Comedy, Best Actor in a Comedy (Alec Baldwin) and Best Actress in a Comedy (Tina Fey), I’ve posted one of my favorite episodes. Carrie Fisher was nominated for Best Guest Actres for this episode and, if you ask me, was robbed.  Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Hulu – Rosemary’s Baby: 30 Rock“, posted with vodpod

DVD Review: ‘I Could Never Be Your Woman’

September 20, 2008

I was curious to see this movie not because of its subject matter, but because of the arduous journey this movie took from production to bypassing theaters and going straight to DVD.  A movie with a $25 million budget, directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless) and starring Michelle Pfeiffer–Michelle Pfeiffer–went straight to DVD.  (You can read about its sordid history here.)  It’s a shame that I Could Never Be Your Woman got lumped into the same category as Anaconda 3: Offspring

What’s it about?  Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is 40 and the producer/writer of You Go Girl, a 90210-esque dramedy on a struggling network like the CW.  Rosie picks up the latest slang from her precocious 12 year-old daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) and incorporates it into the show.  All the actors are 30-plussers playing teens, the network executives (led by Fred Willard) are constantly breathing down Rosie’s neck, and cancellation is a heartbeat away.  

Enter Adam (Paul Rudd), a 29 year-old actor auditioning for guest role on You Go Girl.  He nails the audition.  Rosie takes a liking to him–and vice versa–and not before too long they’re an item.  But in the back of her mind, Rosie keeps wondering if the relationship will work out.  Will the age difference drive them apart?  Is he just using her to further his acting career?  Can he really be trusted?

If I were cold and calloused, I would say that I Could Never Be Your Woman could have been retitled Welcome to Courgartown, but in the film’s defense, it was shot before the term “cougar” became part of the mainstream vernacular.  So instead I’ll just say that the film is wish fulfillment for women over 40.

What’s good about it?  Writer-director Heckerling has an acerbic wit and has crafted, at times, some crackling dialogue, amplified by a great cast, particularly Rudd.  (I recently watched a little-seen film that I really, really did not care for, except for the all-too brief cameo by him that salvaged the few minutes he was onscreen.)  Meditations on aging, growing up and staying young are at the forefront, and searing observations on the absurdity of Hollywood are very clever.

What’s bad about it?  There’s a quite a bit of frank sexual content–this is a hard PG-13.  Izzie sings some songs to the tunes of “Oops I Did It Again” and “Ironic” that are supposed to be these vicious diatribes on no-talent celebrities.  Instead, they come across as inauthentic (no 12 year-old is witty enough to write songs of that witty) and dated (even though the movie itself is dated–it was shot in 2005).

Perfect for: Fans of Something’s Gotta’ Give.

Review: ‘Traitor’

September 16, 2008

For a movie about terrorism–the scariest thing that could actually happen–Traitor is pretty…well, not scary.  It’s not that there are any glaring “yeah, right!” moments (although there are a few plot holes).  But there’s no sense of impending doom, which you might want if you’re going to tap into the collective fear of the American people.

What’s it about? Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is a devout Muslim who’s also a former US Special Ops officer.  Samir’s gone rogue, and now supplies Muslim extremists with weapons.  While arranging a deal in Yemen he befriends a group of terrorists who have plans to first hit the US embassy in Spain and then an elaborate 9/11-style attack on American soil during the Thanksgiving holiday.

FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pierce) is on Samir’s trail, always one step behind.  But Samir has a secret that not his Jihadist comrades nor the FBI knows: he’s actually deep undercover for the CIA.

What’s good about it? The film, like 2005’s Syriana, gives viewers a better understanding of what motivates Muslims to wage a holy war on America.  In fact, for a good third of the film, I thought I was watching a movie where the good guy was, in fact, the bad guy–it’s quite a while before you find out which side Samir is really on.  It’s also reminiscent of the Bourne movies in that it has that “criss-cross all over the globe” feel.

What’s bad about it? As mentioned before, the story has quite a few  holes.  There also is no real sense of the timeline to the Thanksgiving terrorist plot.  Samir jumps from Yemen to France to Spain to Canada to Chicago to Canada in what seems like a week.  Perhaps the sense of dread and fear of knowing how many days left until the planned attack would have anted up the suspense.

There are also some extranneous characters, particularly Clayton’s FBI partner Max Archer (Neil McDonough, Minority Report) and Samir’s girlfriend, Chandra (Archie Panjabi, Bend it Like Beckham).  Neither has much to do and with some tweaking of the script, both probably could have been more integral to the story or excised completely.

Perfect for: Fans of the Bourne movies.

Netflix this: ‘Son of Rambow’

September 10, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve given my “Netflix This” stamp of approval (Sweet Land came close).  Son of Rambow completely deserves such a distinction.  It’s a sweet little film about many things–movies, friendship, religion and family.  It truly is a feel-good film.

What’s it about? It’s the 1980’s England, and Will (Bill Milner) is a weird kid with not a lot of friends.  His mother (Jessica Hynes) has raised Will in the faith of the Brethren, a super-devout religious sect that shuns worldly influences.  As a tenet of their beliefs, Will is not allowed to watch TV–not even an educational video during school, which means Will spends a lot of time sitting out in the hall while the kids learn about wicked things like science.

Enter Lee (Will Poulter), the hellraiser from the class down the hall.  He gets kicked out often for…well, raising hell.  So much, in fact, that you can hear his classmates cheer every time he’s excused from class.  Lee gets Will into trouble, which leads to Will being bullied into becoming Lee’s friend.

Lee’s a crafty kid–he makes pirated copies of movies playing at the local cinema.  One day, while Lee makes copies of Rambo: First Blood in his family’s garage, Will ends up watching the entire film.  It changes his life.

Soaring on the sensory overload-high, Will let his imagination run wild.  He begins storyboarding his own Rambo-style film, and soon he and Lee are shooting “Son of Rambow.”  Their filmmaking process recalls that special brand of ingenuity that oozes effortlessly out of kids, where nothing seems impossible.  (The scenes of them shooting recalled to me the passion for do-it-yourself filmmaking that my little brother possessed as a child–and still does.)

The making of “Rambow” takes on a life of its own when the popular exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) discovers Will’s book of storyboards.  Pretty soon everybody wants to be in Will and Lee’s movie, which thrills Will but frustrates Lee who, as the film progresses, is dealing with some serious abandonment issues.  Will has trouble keeping everybody happy, and even more trouble trying to keep his movie a secret from his family and from Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), a member of their church.

What’s good about it? Son of Rambow is one of those films that makes you laugh and also tugs at your heartstrings.  Outstanding performances all the way around, particularly from the two leads and Sitruk, whose deadpan delivery of the French androgynous new waver Didier is impeccable.  A scene at Didier’s exclusive party is the most hilarious scene in the whole film.

What’s bad about it? There’s a bit of language, and some kids-in-peril kind of stuff.

Perfect for: Anyone waxing nostalgic for the 80’s; anyone who loves movies about movies; anyone who’s dying for something different but not way out there.