Friday, December 30, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tonight I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

It would be impossible not to compare this film to its Swedish predecessor or to the book where the story originated, so I won't pretend I'm trying not to; that said, I'll do my best to focus less on the differences and more on the core quality of the film.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is a Swedish journalist being brought down in the court of public opinion for a story he wrote that turned out to be less than factual. He was most likely set up by the subject of the story, but that is beside the point now that his and his magazine's reputations are ruined. To remove himself from the public eye, he takes a job with a wealthy family to investigate a murder that happened several decades ago.

Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is the damaged, disturbed, unconventional investigator brought in to act as Blomkvist's research assistant. Because of her past mental health issues, she is forced to report to a guardian who is responsible for dispensing her allowances. Unfortunately, her caring guardian becomes hospitalized and she is assigned to a sadistic, horrible guardian who demands sexual favors in return for her own money. She devises a way to prevent this from happening, but in the meantime is brutally raped by the man.

Christopher Plummer plays Henrik Vanger, the wealthy member of a troubled family with a nazi past, desperate to find his niece's killer. As usual, Plummer gives a superb, believable performance in the role, but unfortunately his screen time is too brief.

I think the same of Robin Wright, who makes a fantastic Erika Berger, Mikael's boss and married lover. She's pitch perfect in the scenes she appears in, but they are few and far between.

Overall, the story stays somewhat close to the novel, though a few ridiculous details make me groan with American shame (the McDonald's product placement is blatant; there is a somewhat predictable mention of Ikea). I also agree with other critics who have mentioned that Mara's version of Lisbeth is far too feminine.

Aside from making Lisbeth 'pretty' in certain intimate scenes, she also appears to register emotion with Mikael, which is something the true character never would have done. They aren't a couple, but here, they behave like one.

Daniel Craig is also too good looking and too physically fit to be playing the smoking, eating Mikael. And far to few cups of coffee were consumed to stay true to the native text.

However, Fincher does work his magic in many ways.

The lighting and the shadows and the mood of the film are always spot on. Whether Liseth is blazing down the street on her motorcycle or watching a night vision camera to see who is prowling about the property, the aura of the story is captured in a more spiritual way than that of the original film.

The more linear script by Steven Zaillian also manages to put the sequence of events in layman's terms for the intended American audience, which is probably a good thing for those who became too frustrated and abandoned the book, or are afraid of films with subtitles. The story deserves to be seen, even if digested in a more obvious way.

The violent scenes are no less horrific (especially a post-rape glimpse of Liseth in the shower); the chases no less tense.

All in all, a satisfying, if not yet as accurate retelling of a classic mystery that will certainly be shared for years to come.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Today I saw Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley.

When I think of Martin Scorsese, the first images that come to mind are those from brilliant-yet-violent Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. Never did I think I'd be attending a 'family film' (in 3D, no less) directed by this legend. But that's what I did today.

Hugo (Butterfield) is a young boy who loses his father in a fire and is taught how to run the Paris train station clock by his uncle. When his uncle disappears, he is left to fend for himself, stealing breakfast pastries to eat and tools to make sure the clock keeps working.

There is a nasty station inspector (played annoyingly by Sacha Baron Cohen) who is anxious to send Hugo (and any other unaccompanied children) to the orphanage; there's also a true friend found in Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moertz), a girl who is being raised by a nearby toy booth owner Georges (Kingsley) and his wife.

In this small cluster of characters, through a museum piece Hugo is working hard to fix (it was his dad's last pet project before his passing), we are taken back to the beginning of film and the importance of not letting go of our passions.

To explain how it happens would be to give too much away, but I will say that though I was never bored, I didn't quite see the need for 3D with this story. The heart of the screenplay was strong enough that the few 'wow' effects that were showcased were merely icing on an already yummy cake.

Hugo is sweet and sincere and great for the whole family, but save yourself the extra dollars and see it sans 3D. You'll surely love it all the same.


Monday, December 26, 2011

We Bought a Zoo

Yesterday I saw We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.

Benjamin (Damon) just wants to make life better for his family. He recently lost his beloved wife and his teenage son is suffering from a horrible depression. He quits his job and decides to move the family to the country—to a zoo—and begin a new chapter of life.

Crazy? Absolutely. But sincere and genuine too, which Damon conveys almost painfully well.

Soon Benjamin is fighting the crush he has on his zookeeper, Kelly (Johansson), and trying to scrape together enough money to re-open the zoo, all the while dealing with his angry son and his sweet little daughter, who seems to be the most balanced of the entire bunch.

The kids who play the children, Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, are wonderful. Sure, they're cute, but they're in no, way, shape or form annoying (which often happens in these family flicks).

And did I mention this is a family flick that was directed by Seattle stud Cameron Crowe?

Were it not for the cool music that accompanied key scenes of the film, I dare say I would not have recognized his style at all. This film is a far cry from Almost Famous, but maintains the same heart and honesty that's at the core of his best films.

Is it predictable? Sure. Does it stray from the real-life story maybe a little too much? I'd say so.

But that doesn't mean it's not a satisfying, sweet departure from some of the heavier films out this season.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Young Adult

Today I saw Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt.

Mavis Gary (Theron) got out of the small town she was raised in, moved to the big city, got married, became a young adult author and got divorced. Convinced she can find happiness with her high school sweetheart, she returns to said small town to break up his marriage and re-claim him as her own.

When she arrives in Mercury, Minn., the first person she sees is Matt (Oswalt), a former classmate who was permanently injured in an attack he endured during high school. True to stereotypical form, Mavis is not exactly kind to Matt, just as she wasn't when they were kids, but soon realizes he makes a good confidant (and drinking buddy). He entertains her perhaps because he enjoys the attention, or the puzzle of trying to figure her out.

Her pursuit of Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) is desperate, sad, devious and unfortunately completely believable. We all know women like this; we all know how it feels to suffer for the one who got away.

While the film's subject matter could be depressing for a variety of reasons, the sharp writing of Diablo Cody, thankfully dialed down from the cuteness of Juno, makes it sarcastic and funny, rather than tragic.

Now, that's not to say the audience isn't given an opportunity to cry near the end (I'll admit I did), but when the emotion arrives we've all earned it because we genuinely care about all of these people.

Theron is wonderful as this multi-dimensional mess; Oswalt delivers his best dramatic performance as the wounded soul who doesn't waste his time being bitter. They're one of the most real pairs, with the most real chemistry, to hit the big screen in a long time.

Reitman does right by his viewers, nailing the authenticity of a small town without making its residents stupid or simple. The Memorex yellow and pink cassettes that Mavis rocks out to are also a nice touch (every musical thirtysomething girl will remember those from childhood).

The only place this film fails is in the marketing—before seeing it, I assumed it would be a romantic comedy-catch-phrasey romp. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with a dramedy full of heart.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Coming Soon - Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

One of the most powerful set of documentaries I've ever watched are Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, about the unfair murder convictions of three teenagers, which the media dubbed the "West Memphis 3."

Earlier this year, the convictions were overturned and the three boys (now men in their 30s) walked free. The filmmakers who told the first two parts of the story continued filming and have completed the conclusion to this real-life trilogy, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.

It debuts on HBO January 12 at 9:00 p.m.

Here's a sneak peek:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I Wrote for Drink Tank 300

Yep, the Hugo-award winning Ezine recently published volume 300 and I wrote a piece for it in the 'My Favorite Movie Theatre' section.

You can check it out here.

My story is on page 172 (entry 240/241) and my bio lands on page 260.

I couldn't be more honored that I was asked to participate!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Descendants

Today I saw The Descendants, starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley.

Matt (Clooney) is a distant dad, married to his work. He has a tough time relating to his daughters, and an even tougher time relating to his wife in the midst of a huge property sale. The land in question has been in his family for several generations and he is tasked with acting as the trustee of that land on behalf of several cousins.

When his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) ends up in a coma following a boating accident, Matt's life is turned upside down. Aside from his grief, his youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), is spiraling out of control, while his eldest daughter, Alexandra, may have a drug (or at least drinking) problem. He does the best he can under the circumstances.

Alexandra soon reveals a family secret that devastates Matt further. This leads to a witch hunt field trip and further distress for all involved.

Oh, and all of this happens in beautiful, paradise-like Hawaii (which they do a very good job of normalizing in this context).

Doesn't sound like fun? Well, no—but the characters are so well-written, and the actors are so great in their roles that it is actually a very pleasurable film to watch. Satisfying if not happy; but witty all the same.

A small but key role is nailed by the oozing-with-charisma Matthew Lillard, who is perfectly cast as an ambitious realtor. Also charming is the fantastic Judy Greer, who plays his wife.

Clooney will certainly be leading the Oscar race for his understated, powerful work in the film, and I for one won't be sorry if he prevails.

Though it may be a tough story to see (especially if you've had to decide whether or not to leave a loved one on life support) it is a genius exploration of family dynamics as they often play out in real life: complicated, loving, painful and revealing all at once.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Week with Marylin

Today I saw My Week with Marylin, starring Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne.

Colin Clark (Redmayne) is a starstruck twentysomething who will do anything to work in the movie business. Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) is beginning production on a new film starring Marylin Monroe (Williams). Colin is in the right place at the right time and scores himself a job as a 3rd director, which (as is repeated ad nauseum in the film) is basically an errand runner.

We are shown the fanfare when Marylin arrives in England as a newlywed (in her third marriage). We are shown how she is babysat around the clock by various handlers with various purposes. We see immediately that Marylin is a very unhappy, high maintenance woman.

But that doesn't stop Colin from developing a debilitating crush on her like many of the men of his time.

Colin's low-on-the-totem-pole role and polite nature make him attractive to the Hollywood starlet, and she soon begins requesting his presence at the home where she's staying for the duration of the film shoot.

If she wants to talk, he talks to her; if she wants to be held, he holds her. All the while we can see she is about to chew him up and spit him out.

But it's hard to hate a woman so desperate to be loved, no matter how much of a pain in the ass she turns out to be. Colin doesn't seem to resent her for using him, so why should we?

The film does a good job of conveying her circumstances, and Williams nails her mannerisms and speaking rhythms. Redmayne is a believable lost-puppy-in-love and all of the supporting cast does fine too. But for a movie so predictable, the story doesn't move very fast.

Also annoying is the padding they have on Williams to create the illusion of Monroe's curves. Williams is anything but voluptuous, and anytime they have her moving seductively, it looks like a teenager who has padded her bra acting out in front of a mirror. Williams face is too thin to be convincingly attached to the allegedly curvy body, and the nude scenes don't come close to showing a 140 lb. woman (that was the real Marylin's last reported weight).

All in all, this true tale plays out for what it is: one man's favorite story to tell, though he doesn't come out looking particularly smart or better for it.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Arthur Christmas

Tonight I saw the animated holiday film Arthur Christmas.

Arthur (James McAvoy) is the youngest of Santa's children. He wears Christmas sweaters we'd only wear as a joke and painstakingly answers Santa's miles and piles of mail.

Steve (Hugh Laurie) is Arthur's older brother, trusted with the operation of getting gifts to kids successfully across the world on the big day.

Santa (Jim Broadbent) is getting old; Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) is already 139. They're both not up to what they used to be.

When it is discovered on Christmas Eve that little Gwen (Ramona Marquez) of Cornwall, England, has accidentally been skipped, Arthur and Grandsanta set out to deliver her pink sparkly bike themselves.

It's a very classic story about doing the right thing that's infused with modern-day humor (there is more than one laugh at the expense of lead toys; they use a GPS to try to locate Gwen's home).

But what's so refreshing about the movie is the lack of 'potty' jokes that seem to permeate 99% of the kids' flicks made today. I was so glad to have chosen to see one that is in the 1%.

The voices are all famous Brits (save for a few of the supporting characters, who are American) and their presence only makes the characters more endearing. Arthur is an inherently sweet soul; Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton) is a classic, comforting mum; Bryony (Ashley Jensen) is an elf charmingly obsessed with package bows.

This is one for the whole family—there are enough clever adult references to keep the grown-ups smiling and plenty of holiday action to delight the children.

Seeing this is a great way to kick off the 2011 holiday season.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Today I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene starring Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes.

Finally, something Oscar-worthy in this dismal year of film.

Martha (Olsen) is a lost soul. Her father abandoned her family; her mother died. In light of these tragedies, she somehow finds her way to a commune, apparently craving a sense of place. At first, the hardworking family of people who make up the community seem nice, but we later learn that rape and violence are acceptable behaviors. The leader, Patrick (Hawkes), thinks it disloyal if members disagree.

We're not sure what pushes Martha over the edge, but our first introduction to her is when she is escaping the tribe. She calls her only sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), for help.

Once in the safe confines of Lucy's summer lake house, Martha attempts to re-acclimate to regular society despite an impatient brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy) and no professional help.

We see the abuse and brainwashing she suffers through flashbacks, woven brilliantly into her present-day experiences. It's somewhat like experiencing PTSD once-removed, and the amazing Elizabeth Olsen does an Oscar-worthy job of conveying it.

Also great, but painful to watch, is John Hawkes as the menacing patriarch of the cult. He appears so gentle at first, it's believable that he could weave new recruits into his web of oppression.

What's clever about the film is that the community isn't blamed on any religious sect, and Martha's wandering spirit is sad, but not completely lost. Every moment of what transpires could happen. In fact, it probably has, many times over.

Though few will relate to brainwashing or communal living, everyone who sees this has certainly searched for belonging at some point in their life, whether it be in a relationship or a friendship or a career.

Watching this tortured soul navigate her way back into a life that she never had isn't easy, but it's so well done, you can't look away.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

J. Edgar

Tonight I saw J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Watts.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #109, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

From The Sky Down

Today I saw From the Sky Down, a documentary about U2.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously worked with The Edge on the spectacular It Might Get Loud, the film centers around the band's time at Hansa Studios in Berlin during the making of their album, Achtung Baby.

I can see why diehards are disappointed in this and the masses are impressed.

Folks like me, in the diehard category, will see a lot of footage they've seen in the past. Some is from The Unforgettable Fire documentary; more is from Classic Albums: The Joshua Tree. Granted, it's weaved well within the context of the exploration Guggenheim needs to setup the 'drama' that was the Berlin sessions, but for those of us who have followed the band for three decades, it's old news.

There are also no 'big reveals' here that tell us anything we didn't already know.

The hats vs. the haircuts; the dance rythms vs. their signature sound; the drum machine vs. Larry. Old news.

That said, the production is beautiful.

Having the band go back (literally) to their old haunt and re-visit the songs and history that were created there is the perfect landscape for good documentary storytelling. You can tell from the present-day interviews that the memories still bring up a dose of pain for the group (for those not in-the-know, the band came close to breaking up during that time), but also a source of pride in the sense that they got through it and emerged stronger.

It will always be a pleasure to hear how "One" (arguably the song that sounds the most like their former selves) cracked the code of despair and allowed them to move forward with writing the rest of the album. And it will always be fun to look back to the time when the band was reinventing themselves (whether or not you think Achtung Baby was their career masterpiece).

But for an honest, raw look at that period of strained, tense creativity, I prefer to re-read the hilarious book, U2 At the End of the World, by Bill Flannigan. It reveals so much more.


Interview: Mary McGuckian, Director, The Man on the Train

I recently interviewed director Mary McGuckian of The Man on the Train.

Read it on

Saturday, October 29, 2011


On Thursday night I saw Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd.

It was one of my favorite films as a kid and it remains so today—I'm so glad I got to experience it on the big screen after all of these years.

When three parapsychology professors lose their funding, they go into business battling ghosts around New York City.

Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) is the serious scientist; Dr. Ray Stantz (Akroyd) is the bumbling idiot and Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray) leads the bunch with his sarcastic wit. It's a match made in heaven (or in Sumer), as the chemistry between the three provides consistent sparks throughout the film.

The damsel in distress is a young, alluring Sigourney Weaver as musician Dana Barrett. Her kitchen is taken over by Gozer, an ancient God worshiped by Sumerians. She reports this disturbance to the Ghostbusters, but when Dr. Venkman investigates, her kitchen doesn't deliver.

Soon she is possessed by the spirit and becomes the "Gate Keeper"; her nerdy neighbor across the hall (Rick Moranis) is her "Key Master." Just as they begin to prepare for the return of Gozer, the EPA shuts down the Ghostbusters' business, which releases countless specters back into New York City.

When the mayor realizes this was done in error, he invites the Ghostbusters to battle this paranormal apocalypse and save the city from certain destruction.

Even after seeing the film at least a dozen times over the years, seeing it again last night in the theater felt like the first time.

The ghost that opens the show in the New York Public Library still startled me, though I knew she would shush the scientists when they approached; the dog jumping out of the closet at the party still made me jump.

Though the film is clearly set in the 80s (as evidenced by the Coke cans that don't yet say 'classic' and Larry King's dark hair), the story and it's wonderfully developed characters remain timeless.

I could probably see this film once a week and never tire of it.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Man on the Train

Last night I screened The Man on the Train, starring Donald Sutherland and Larry Mullen, Jr.

Read my review on

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Ides of March

Last night I saw The Ides of March, starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #108, so tune in later this month for our review.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Last night I saw Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

The story chronicles the rise of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) after he adapted the concept of choosing players based on statistical analysis of their abilities.

Beane was faced with a potential losing team in 2002 and a lack of budget to rectify the situation—he caught wind of an analyst, Peter Brand (Hill), who had a theory about recruiting talent based on mathematical equations and hired him. In real-life, “Peter” is really “Paul” and he went to Harvard, not Yale. But who really cares, right? A good story is a good story and this one happens to be well-told on the big screen.

Aside from the slow beginning, the film’s pace will keep you watching even if you could care less about baseball. The magic of Aaron Sorkin (who co-wrote the screenplay) is evidenced in the clever dialog; the bromance between Pitt and Hill adds a spark to the rest of the story, which is alternately nail-biting tense and satisfying.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great as the understated team manager Art Howe and Robin Wright makes a great cameo as Beane’s ex-wife, Sharon. All of the players are also well-cast, some truly resembling their real-life counterparts, and no one jumps out as unrealistic or cartoonish (except perhaps Sharon’s second husband, but his appearance is so brief it’s not too annoying).

There’s also a healthy balance of on-field (real life and reenacted) footage and locker room chatter. Really, there’s not much wrong with this film.

If you want a somewhat lighthearted, engaging two hours of entertainment, go see it.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Today I saw Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan), with whom he shares an immediate chemistry, but soon learns she is married. Her husband is in prison and will be home in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, the Driver acts as a caretaker for Irene and her young son, not pretending to deny the elephant in the room.

By day the Driver works on Hollywood sets and in a nearby garage; by night he drives getaway cars but somehow manages to keep his hands clean of the crimes ... until Irene's husband comes home.

Standard (Oscar Isaac) owes a debt to some folks from his prison days. He wants to lead a crime-free life, but fears what may happen to his family if he doesn't make good on the promise. He mentions his predicament to the Driver, who agrees to help him purely to keep Irene and her son safe.

When the robbery spirals out of control (featuring an electric cameo from Mad Men's Christina Hendricks), the Driver finds himself guilty of more than driving, and in the worst danger of his life.

Ryan Gosling plays the main character with a controlled chaos that's fastly becoming his trademark. You can see by the look in his eyes he'll do anything for this woman, yet he's a man of few words. Only the Johnny Depps and Leo Dicaprios of the world could've played this part as well.

The directing is also phenomenal—a battle is acted out in shadows; flashes of light build tension after a crash and nothing is as scary as the glimpse we get of a bad guy through the bathroom blinds.

All of this is intensified by a perfect musical score. The sounds that accompany the actions add to instead of subtract from the action, and there's plenty of it.

I could've done without much of the blood and gore, but none of it was gratuitous. In fact, it was probably all the more shocking because it was completely believable.

Easily one of the best films of 2011.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Straw Dogs

This morning I saw Straw Dogs, starring James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgard.

It's a good thing I went into this film with low expectations.

Though I've never seen the 1971 original, I knew the premise and figured it wouldn't be a genius production. Boy was I right.

David (Marsden) needs a quiet place to finish his writing and Hollywood isn't cutting it. So he and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) head to her hometown in the south to stay at her parents' seemingly abandoned house.

Of course, time has stood still in this rural town and her apparent high school sweetheart Charlie (Skarsgard) still carries a torch for her. He is part of a 'construction' crew that her husband hires to replace a roof on the property. The other three bumpkins aren't good looking or 'smart' like Charlie, so he calls all the shots.

Amy isn't so smart either. She jogs barefoot and braless along this country path, then gets upset when the filthy men gawk at her. Even her husband sort of tells her she's asking for it.

The fish-out-of-water situations they put David in grow boring quite rapidly, but thankfully the sweaty, dirty shots of Charlie don't.

Really, that's all that kept me watching.

The couple gets tormented by her ex's posse yet they still stick around. James Woods is a nasty old drunk who targets a mentally challenged man, who we see get berated and beaten repeatedly. The whole town goes to church together because they're all the same religion in the Bible Belt. Need I say more?

All of the actors here are above this, which is why it's such a shame they were all in it.

It's perhaps the worst movie I've seen so far this year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Whale

Last night I saw the documentary, The Whale, by Suzanne Chisolm and Michael Parfit.

In the spring of 2008, I screened a documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival that left me weeping and smiling all the same. It was called Saving Luna, and it captured the story of an orca from Washington's L-pod that became separated from his family and built a life in Canada, making friends with humans instead of returning home.

This film is a re-purposed version of that film, and delivers just as powerful a punch—reminding us to embrace nature and respect all of the treasures that our earth delivers.

My opinion hasn't changed since I wrote this review for Cinebanter, three years ago.

I encourage those of you in Seattle to get to The Whale before it leaves SIFF Cinema at the end of the week (and yes, I encourage you to take the kids). Those of you in other cities and countries should lobby for this beautiful film to come to your area. You won't be disappointed.

To view the trailer, click here.


Yesterday I saw Contagion, starring Matt Damon and Kate Winslet.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #107, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

This morning I saw A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, starring Jason Sudekis and Leslie Bibb.

Eric (Sudekis) has had the same group of friends since high school. They all fit the stereotypes of a movie-centered-around-a-group-of-friends. There's a mental health professional (who happens to be beautiful), a corporate nerd, a struggling musician, a loser that latches on to everyone else, etc. The women are hot; the men are average at best, but that doesn't stop the women from hanging out with them. They all gather for lavish theme parties at their favorite summer home, which belongs to Eric's dad.

Sounds like a good teenage/college premise right? Well, it would have been. Trouble is, these folks are pushing 40.

And that's where they lose me.

When Eric's dad makes a cameo (it is Don Johnson, after all) to announce he's selling off the summer home for no particular reason, Eric and his posse decide they must have the Best Party Ever to say goodbye to it. After a brief brainstorm, Eric decides that they should go full monty (pun intended) and throw an orgy. His suggestion is met by a less than enthusiastic response (who wants to bang their childhood friends in front of each other?) but one by one, the group gets used to the idea and starts doing 'research' to plan the evening.

On a side note, the only not-completely-ridiculous part of the plot involves Eric falling in love with his realtor, Kelly (Bibb). They have a real, authentic chemistry and their scenes together make me wish this had just been a standard rom-com about a guy and a realtor having a meet-cute and living happily ever after.

But I digress.

Of course some of the friends like some of the other friends (who don't know they like them) and other friends have insecurity issues, body image issues, etc. They all have to get past this to get it on (but I would be spoiling things if I told you whether or not they did).

I can't say I exactly had high expectations going into this, but with folks like Sudekis and fellow SNL alum Will Forte on the roster, I did expect to laugh a lot more.

The 80s did raunchy (and comedy) so much better.


Saturday, September 03, 2011


Today I saw Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.

Oliver (McGregor) is pushing 40 when his father, Hal (Plummer), tells him that he's gay, and he's known he was gay since he was 13 despite his marriage to Oliver's mother, which lasted until her passing.

Instead of freaking out or distancing himself from his dad, Oliver embraces this new knowledge and accepts his father's new lifestyle, along with his much younger boyfriend.

Unfortunately, he also has to deal with the news that his father is ill—so the limited time they have together makes his questions rise to the surface probably faster than they would have otherwise.

Depressing? Uh-huh. Stories about loss usually are sad, and this one definitely qualifies despite its attempts at momentary lapses of light.

The film jumps around between present day, flashbacks, voiceover and dog subtitles. Yes, dog subtitles. And instead of finding the high maintenance Jack Russell "Arthur" adorable (like many surely did), I found him to be terribly annoying.

The quirky bits don't really have a place in this melancholy drama, which at the heart of the script is really only about loss. Loss of family, loss of love, loss of innocence.

And despite the actors' phenomenal performances, the slow pace and the tragic topics at every turn made this film a somewhat unpleasant experience to witness.

Just one of the story arcs would've been enough to keep me interested, and I wish the writer (who based this on his own life experience) had chosen to approach it that way instead.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Help

This morning I saw The Help, starring Viola Davis and Emma Stone.

I'll confess, I haven't read the book, but what I saw today certainly impressed me.

It's the early 60s and Skeeter (Stone), a recent Ole Miss grad, returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi to launch her career as a writer. Assigned to write responses for a cleaning column (something she knows nothing about) she turns to 'the help' for help. Her friend's maid Aibileen (Davis) graciously agrees to provide her with correct answers for the column, and once they begin talking, Skeeter realizes she could write a much more interesting story. Her idea is to interview Aibileen and other black maids in town to tell about their lives from their perspective.

After much persuasion, Aibileen begins sharing her history in secret meetings with Skeeter. The talks go well, but Skeeter's editor wants more material to make a complete book. Trouble is, the maids in town are so scared of losing their jobs—or worse, their lives—that they choose to remain silent.

A number of awful, racist things happen in Jackson. Town bitch Hilly, played marvelously by Bryce Dallas Howard, wants all the colored people to have their own toilets. Because she holds so much respect among the Junior League, the other white housewives blindly follow her lead and begin installing their own separate toilets.

Shortly thereafter, civil rights leader Medgar Evars is gunned down in his own front yard, and all of the maids band together to tell their stories. They've reached the end of their tether.

Octavia Spencer as Minny is especially entertaining, her stature and strength reminiscent of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, who is coincidentally referenced in the film. But all of the maids are convincing in their individual degrees of conviction, just as the white-people-who-don't-realize-their-racist also seem authentic.

The film is peppered with various notable supporting performances: Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney and Nelsan Ellis all seamlessly blend in to the landscape and add just enough spark to make us remember them. Also fabulous is Jessica Chastain as Jackson's token outcast, Celia.

Really, there are no bad performances in this film, and with the exception of the length (at least half an hour could've been shaved off), this is a very satisfying, if not somewhat sad, snapshot of life in the South not so long ago.

Oscar season, here we come.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Tonight I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.

It is seldom that a film franchise provides a decent sequel, let alone a respectable eighth film in a series, but this one thankfully did.

Deathly Hallows, Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off with (me sobbing at) Dobby the House Elf's untimely demise.

Harry has a mission to find the final Horcrux, kill the snake and ultimately kill Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who is more menacing and magically awful in this one than any of the previous films.

The pace is slow at first, but that's okay—we've missed these characters and it's nice to warm up to them again. In fact, the scene where Harry first sees his love, Ginny, was especially stomach-jump worthy. Then again, I'm a hopeless romantic so your results may vary.

Anyway—after they get the reunions (somewhat) out of the way, the film goes very Indiana Jones, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's definitely the most physical of the eight and quite possibly the only one that will give me nightmares (specifically the fire with the faces in it and just about any Voldemort scene). But it's exciting—even when you know what happens next.

The main characters are pitch perfect, as usual, and the supporting (three cheers for Neville Longbottom!) are just as charming. Though I wasn't too young when the series started, I do feel like I've "grown up" with this bunch, and their familiarity is a comfort.

I won't reveal the ending, though if you're a breathing human being you probably know how it all turns out.

I'll just say that the finale was incredibly satisfying, I was never bored, and I'm so, so sad that it's over.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Tonight I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love starring Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

Yes, it really is that good.

I'll admit I was skeptical of what some critics are practically calling the second coming of romantic comedies, but it really got me.

Cal (Carell) is a devastated dad who is blindsided by his wife's admission of an affair and her desire for a divorce. He drowns his sorrows in cranberry vodkas at a local club, which is obviously geared toward younger singles.

His moping catches the eye of womanizer Jacob (Gosling) who decides to adopt Cal as a pet project and give him a man-makeover. Soon they are picking up women in the same way, and loving-and-leaving them.

Emily (Julianne Moore), Cal's wife, is remorseful about her cheating, but still seeing the "other man" at work. Jessica, the babysitter, (Analeigh Tipton) has a crush on Cal. Cal's son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has a crush on Jessica. Confused yet?

Really, it's much simpler than it sounds, and undeniably sweet.

Sure, Emily's done something bad and Cal's behavior in the aftermath isn't much better, but the difference between this and a million other rom-coms is that these characters are very likable. We actually kind of want them to reconcile, despite their mistakes, to keep their son's vision of true love alive.

Also a joy to watch is the slimy-yet-redeeming Ryan Gosling and the always-electric Emma Stone. Their chemistry is fantastic, though they're barely on screen more than 15 minutes together.

There's laughter throughout, a borderline-slapstick scene at the end (following a twist that most won't see coming) and a satisfying ending that's both believable and welcome.

Yeah, you should go see it. I might just see it again.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friends with Benefits

This morning I saw Friends with Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.

It's the age-old question: can two friends who are physically attracted to each other have a sex without developing feelings? The characters in this film bargain they can.

Jamie (Kunis) is the headhunter who convinces Dylan (Timberlake) to relocate to New York from L.A. for a great job with GQ. Since he knows no one in his new city, the two become buddies by default and are soon lounging around together on the couch watching movies.

Their attraction to one another is undeniable (and Timberlake and Kunis have enough chemistry to pull off the tension), but both were recently burned in previous relationships so they decide they want nothing from each other except sex.

And the filmmakers should be commended for their first sex scene—if couples would be as honest as these two are (telling one another EXACTLY what to do and how to do it) the world would probably be a happier place. Because they get all of the communication out of the way in their very technical debut encounter, they end up having a truly satisfying physical relationship, which almost achieves exactly what they wanted.

Until they decide to start dating other people.

The film then takes a very formulaic turn, throws in some family members (one with a sad ailment), a trip home and we all know where the rest of the story is headed.

But that's okay.

The clever writing, fun pop culture references (who doesn't fondly remember Kris Kross?) and generally lighthearted vibe make forgiving its flaws easy.

The two leads are a pleasure to watch and the story is something that should appeal to anyone who has thought "what if?" about one of their attractive friends.


Saturday, July 23, 2011


Today I saw the documentary Tabloid, directed by Errol Morris.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #106, so tune in next month for our review.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Tree of Life

On Sunday, I saw The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken.

This is a film to walk into without expectations, and I wish I'd had that luxury.

I'd heard that I would love it; I'd heard that I would hate it. I'd heard that I would know what it feels like to be a baby, then a young boy. I was told my faith would be challenged. None of that turned out to be remotely true.

I didn't love this movie, but I most certainly didn't hate it—there is too much magic present for that to happen. It stirred intense emotions within me, though while it was doing so I was lamenting the fact it was about an hour too long.

I was impressed by Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken, who play father and son. I was annoyed by Jessica Chastain (Mom), who seemed always to be running or floating or crying on her sad little suburban street.

I was disappointed that Sean Penn's appearance was so brief, and wondered why the grown-up version of his character was even there.

I was amazed by the beauty of what I was witnessing on-screen: the stars forming; rivers with dinosaurs jumping about; a beautiful baby giggling and cooing; a gorgeous, old tree our symbol of life throughout.

There are a dozen different ways this film could be interpreted—some feasible, others reaching. So I'll just express how I experienced it and wonder if anyone else felt the same way...

I believe the entire movie was meant to show God's perspective.

I believe we were watching the story of one family because most of us could relate to that in the easiest way (and the director's childhood was apparently similar to that of the film's young hero).

I believe it was meant to be a conversation by humans asking God why life is filled with such pain.

I believe it was meant to show that God's plan is merely a cycle and we're all just in each part of it temporarily.

I believe it was meant to show that God sometimes experiences life with us, which is why we must hurt.

I believe it was meant to show that God sees the world in whatever way He chooses: through his own eyes, through those of a child, or via a guilt-ridden adult.

I believe God is meant to be represented as an entity or simply as another branch of nature.

I believe it is up to us to decide.


Friday, July 01, 2011

Larry Crowne

Today I saw Larry Crowne, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Larry (Hanks) is a content retail worker until his world comes crashing down during company layoffs. He's forced to give up his house, his car—his life as he knows it.

The reason given for him being chosen as someone to lay off is insufficient education, so he decides to go back to school to use up all of this new spare time. There, at the local community college, he takes a class from Mrs. Tainot (Roberts). She's a bitter, jaded, out-of-love-with-her-husband kind of woman who probably shouldn't be teaching anymore.

But of course, her hard-ass approach and wrap dresses make all of the students a captive audience, and soon the kid who was answering his cell phone in class is up giving presentations just like everyone else (even if he cheats by writing them on his hands).

Did I mention that Larry befriends another student in the class who convinces him to join her scooter gang? And that the scooter gang is comprised of people younger and more diverse than Larry?

Sound cliché? Well, it is, but I can't help but still love Hanks, who co-wrote this with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos.

He (as usual) is incredibly likable in this role, and a few cameos from his real-life wife, Rita Wilson, and Vardalos' real-life husband, Ian Gomez are also fun to watch.

But the chemistry between Roberts and Hanks isn't as electric as the script would imply. With the exception of one 'kiss' scene, which tells us of their physical attraction, these two characters appear to have no reason to even like one another.

Bryan Cranston, who plays Roberts' loser of a husband, has more sparks with her in his limited time on screen than she and Hanks do throughout the entire film.

For a formulaic, occasionally funny, PG-day-at-the-movies type of flick, Crowne isn't horrible, but it certainly doesn't live up to its stars' or writers' other works.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Super 8

This morning I saw Super 8, starring Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning.

Joe (Courtney) is the son of the town deputy—an only child who lost his mother earlier in the year to a workplace accident. Alice (Fanning) is a girl from school who has a father who is always in trouble and a mother who has abandoned them. The two kids are, of course, destined to be together.

Their mutual friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) is making a film and they are both helping. As they become each other's certain first loves, they find themselves entangled in the aftermath of a local train crash, which has epic consequences.

You see, a creature of some sort (probably of the alien variety) has emerged from the crash and begun to wreak havoc on the entire town, apparently stealing dogs, people and copper. And let's just say each time "it" arrives, it "makes an entrance."

In the fashion of classic Spielberg hits like E.T. and The Goonies, the kids know more than the adults and are therefore tasked with saving the day.

Really, that was all fine with me.

Predictable as it was (and toward the end I was practically mouthing lines, though I'd never seen Super 8 before today), it was still incredibly enjoyable to watch a film set in the 70s that actually felt like the real 70s.

I loved seeing a dish on the table at one of the family's homes that was in my home as a kid, and I couldn't help but smile at the nod to the "new invention" of the Walkman.

I'm glad to see in our world of 3D, CGI, bigger-is-better film mentality that the studios are still willing to green light the occasional coming-of-age caper.

This one doesn't disappoint.


Hot Coffee

On June 9, I screened Hot Coffee.

To read my review, visit

Revenge of the Electric Car

On June 8, I screened Revenge of the Electric Car.

To read my review, visit

The Off Hours

On June 7, I screened The Off Hours.

To read my review, visit

Killing Bono

On June 2, I screened Killing Bono.

To read my review, visit

These Amazing Shadows

On May 30, I screened These Amazing Shadows.

To read my review, visit

Summer Coda

On May 29, I screened Summer Coda.

To read my review, visit

The Whistleblower

On May 29, I screened The Whistleblower.

To read my review, visit

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Hangover Part II

Last night I saw The Hangover Part II, starring Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms.

When I saw the first one a few years back, I went in with amazingly low expectations. It was a 'guy' movie with potential bathroom humor and I quite frankly wasn't interested. But the universal love for the film got me to the theater and I'll admit, I laughed my head off.

Fast forward to last night—two of my friends have declined seeing the movie with me (though I had free passes and they wouldn't have had to pay for their ticket). I'm told the second will "ruin" the first and asked why I'm even bothering to go.

Why? Because I like spending time with these characters.

Did I think it would be as great as the first? Of course not. But I don't go to a film like The Hangover Part II to have my life changed. I go to lose myself in the humor and enjoy the ride.

And that's just what I did.

After a slow start (the boys have to convince Stu (Helms) to invite Allen (Zach Galifianakis) to his wedding), the film soon picks up once the wedding party reaches Thailand.

Stu's soon-to-be father-in-law hates him, Allen hates Stu's soon-to-be brother-in law, Teddy, because he's compromising the bond of the Wolf Pack, and Stu is unbelievably paranoid about celebrating his last days of bachelorhood because of what happened last time.

Phil (Cooper) finds a solution in beer bottles that are sealed (so Stu can approvingly open them) and the boys settle in for an innocent campfire two nights before the big day.

When they wake up in Bangkok the fun really begins.

Stu has a large tattoo on his face, Allen's head is shaved and all that is left of Teddy is is severed finger, which they ultimately give to a drug-dealing monkey. I'm not kidding.

Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), who kidnapped them in the first movie, is also back.

From here we see guns firing, cars chasing and more full-frontal male nudity than I've seen in any movie in recent years.

There are an abundance of laughs, though none as powerful or unexpected as the first film.

It's clear the actors love playing these characters and that's part of what makes them such a joy to watch.

If you're anticipating something greater or more over-the-top than the first film, you'll undoubtedly walk out disappointed, but if you just go in wanting to have a good time, I'm pretty sure you will.


Hit So Hard

On May 27, I screened the documentary Hit So Hard.

To read my review, visit

Page One: Inside the New York Times

On May 25, I screened the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times.

You can read my capsule review on

Saturday, May 14, 2011


This morning I saw Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne.

Though it's tempting to compare the film to all of its male counterparts, I'll refrain from doing so because while it may have similar scenarios, it's definitely its own comedic beast.

The trouble begins when Lillian (Maya Rudolph) tells her best friend Annie (Wiig) that she is engaged.

The two have been BFFs since childhood, so naturally Annie is chosen to be her Maid of Honor, and naturally Annie represents the typical, pathetic, Single White Female who is incapable of having a successful relationship, etc.

Of course nothing is going Annie's way: the man she's sleeping with treats her terribly, she hates her job, has obnoxious roommates and a crappy car. If I hadn't been a similar version of Annie in real life just a few short years ago (I had everything but the roommates), I wouldn't have believed her. But having been there, I get that life can be that sad.

Enter Helen (Byrne), an equally miserable, yet undeniably gorgeous, wealthy married woman who is threatening to steal Lillian away from Annie amidst the grand plans for the wedding.

It's all highly predictable (women behave like women and back-stab each other until someone's asked to leave), but that doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable.

With the exception of a completely unnecessary food poisoning scene, most of the laughs you'll get from the film are quite original. The presence of Mike and Molly's Melissa McCarthy as Megan, sister of the groom, adds a tremendous spark to the ensemble and the added bonus of Chris O'Dowd as a police officer who keeps running into Annie is also a joy to watch. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a good Jon Hamm sex scene?

I scratched my head at the Wilson Phillips inclusion (didn't these SNL girls see Spring Breakdown, a film starring OTHER SNL girls who used the same song?), but do admit to tearing up just a little in the end.

It really is a fun, hopeful film for all the single ladies. And I bet that guys will laugh too.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

Today I saw Meek's Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams and Paul Dano.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #104, so tune in later in May for our review.

UPDATE: It in fact will not be the topic of Cinebanter, we have decided instead to review the new Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Top Gun

Tonight I saw Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Sometimes the 25th anniversary of a film can spark nostalgia; other times it can reveal to your older self how cheesy a movie really is, and tonight I experienced both.

When Tom Cruise's Maverick struts into flight school, his smirk is so smug he owns the room. Everyone forgets that he's just over 5 feet tall and has crooked teeth because his eyes sparkle and his dimples glow. He even comes with his own sidekick, a when-he-had-hair Anthony Edwards (Goose).

Yet I did then (and I do now) still find Val Kilmer's Iceman a hell of a lot sexier. Never mind that both actors would grow up to be kooks in their own right, but in 1986 they were the stuff naughty dreams were made of.

All the posing and the smart remarks aside, this is an action film. With Bruckheimer's stamp all over it, the flight scenes hold up, and if you follow the camera faithfully enough, you can probably still get dizzy.

It's a romance too—the hot older woman, Charlie (Kelly McGillis) falling for the young pilot after just one public song. The steamy sex and tongue hockey to the famous song by Berlin. It's almost all too much in retrospect.

But I still got teary when Goose had his accident, and I clapped along with everyone else when the "wingman" quotes were exchanged at the end.

So I guess if you're into cheesy 80s movies, this one deserves its spot in heartthrob history.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scream 4

This morning I saw Scream 4, starring Neve Campbell and David Arquette.

There are sequels that forever ruin beloved characters and there are sequels that spark a nostalgic feeling that makes you happy to be in the room with the characters again. Thankfully, Scream 4 falls into the latter category.

The main three survivors of the Woodsboro murders, Sydney Prescott (Campbell), Dewey Riley (Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courteney Cox) have all moved on. Dewey has been promoted to sheriff; Gale has retired from reporting to write books full time; Syd's just completed her memoir and she's ending her book tour in her home town.

Syd's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is a popular teen who wants no part of the fan fare surrounding her famous cousin's return. When copycat murders begin to happen, she and her friends are thrust into high alert thinking their turn to die may be next.

This installment in the series feels most like the first. The quick-wit dialog and younger actors commanding the story works just as it did in the original, with the famous three acting as elder statesmen throughout.

It's admittedly awkward to see David Arquette and Courteney Cox weather troubles in their marriage on-screen as the world now knows they were doing in reality at the time of the filming. But they still bring their A game to their characters and the original chemistry is evident.

It's hard to say more about this one without spoiling it, so I will just say this: if you liked the original film (and maybe even the second), you're bound to be entertained by the sharp dialog and fast pace of the fourth. The ending is good too.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Certified Copy

Today I saw Certified Copy, starring Juliette Binoche and William Schimell.

It will be the topic of Cinebaner #103, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

Tonight I saw The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe.

Mick Haller (McConaughey) is the type of defense lawyer the really, really bad guys call when they've done something really, really bad.

Lewis Roulet (Phillippe) is an attractive rich man whose mother foots the bill for his many toys and indiscretions. He's also been accused of a violent crime, so he hires Haller to ensure he won't serve jail time.

But is he guilty?

The audience is told fairly early on in the film what the answer to that is, and the result sends the maybe-not-so-slimy-after-all lawyer back to the drawing board to make his case, protect his family and mourn the loss of the innocent who get caught in the danger zone.

There are predictable twists and turns leading up to the final courtroom scenes, which seem to last the duration of a real trial.

Marisa Tomei is along for the ride as Maggie, a prosecutor and the most nurturing ex-wife anyone has ever seen. She takes care of drunken Mick nearly more than she does their young daughter and even goes for the occasional roll in the hay with him (even if he has to put up with a harsh, out-of-nowhere scolding the morning after).

All of the actors are well cast (though Tomei is somewhat wasted in low cleavage and excessive giggles) and it is especially pleasurable to watch Phillippe act menacing versus saintly (as most of his roles would dictate).

McConaughey was tailor-made for his part: he's slimy, sexy, beautifully frustrated and able to show off his gorgeous biceps at a moment's notice. This was especially evident as he exits the hospital after an incident in a wife beater, and carries his suit jacket alongside him.

There is an undeniable element of cheese that permeates the film, with its too-perfect dialog and shots that speed up a la Guy Ritchie at the drop of a hat.

The film is enjoyable, but that's really all it is.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Taxi Driver

Last night I screened the 35th anniversary re-release of Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

That line from The Beatles'"Eleanor Rigby"fits this film like a glove, as its main character, Travis Bickle (De Niro), tries to find companionship and contentment in 1970s New York.

He's a veteran of Vietnam (though that detail is not overblown) who has alienated himself intentionally from his family and taken on a job as a cab driver, working extended hours to combat his insomnia.

As he drives the streets of the gritty city, he witnesses horrific acts of violence and deviance. And though he's judgmental of these behaviors, he himself has a porn habit and thinks nothing of taking the woman of his dreams, Betsy (Cybill Shephard), to an adult film on their second date.

When Betsy up-and-leaves near the beginning of the film, Travis is baffled by her reaction and continues to attempt to connect with her, though she rejects him.

He becomes obsessed with righting wrongs in his own way, tries to rescue a not-yet-teenage prostitute, Iris (Foster), and purchases an arsenal of weapons to execute his plan. He is a fully functional, mentally ill mess of a person.

Having watched this film a handful of times on VHS and DVD doesn't compare for a moment to experiencing it on the big screen. Hearing the crowd react to the 'surprises' in the storyline and seeing repeated close-ups of the young De Niro acting primarily through expression truly reveals the genius of director Scorcese's depth.

Iconic lines are delivered with conviction; tension is built through the continuous loop of saxophone; just enough comic relief is introduced to allow the audience to breathe.

A pre-Giuliani New York City is the second most important character to De Niro's Travis, showed as the dangerous, dark place that it once was.

Something must also be said for Jodie Foster's amazing performance as a young hooker who knows no other life. The wisdom of this then-future Oscar winner shines through as she holds her own with De Niro and Harvey Keitel. It's a role all young actors should be forced to watch.

35 years later, Scorcese's masterpiece remains just that—a brilliant character study and master class on portraying mental illness.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

No Woman, No Cry

Last night I attended the Seattle premiere of the documentary No Woman, No Cry.

Most folks know Christy Turlington Burns from her successful career as a supermodel, but few know the serious complications that occurred after the birth of her first child.

Luckily, Mrs. Burns was in a birthing center inside of a respected hospital and was given the necessary medical attention to heal safely, but what she learned following her ordeal is that many women aren't so fortunate. In fact, women without access to similar care could have died in a the same situation.

This inspired her to learn more about women's health (she's currently earning her Master's of Public Health at Columbia University) and travel to different countries to examine maternal health through a closer lens.

She and her film crew visited Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and also a clinic within the United States. In each place they found challenges that no pregnant woman should have to face: proximity to care, access to care, money to pay the hospital, etc.

The film spotlights various expectant mothers in each setting and chronicles the pain and suffering they sometimes endure just to bring a new life into the world. In what was the hardest part for me to watch, she also visits an American widower who lost his wife during a natural childbirth in what he describes as both the best and worst day of his life. Absolutely devastating.

The film is currently 'on tour' with Mrs. Burns presenting after the screenings, and will make its television debut on OWN on Mother's Day.

It's something everyone should see, regardless of gender or economic status.

To learn more about the film, visit

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cedar Rapids

This morning I saw Cedar Rapids, starring Ed Helms and Anne Heche.

Tim Lippe (Helms) is a small-town insurance agent who honestly believes in his work and does his best to do right by his clients. After all, most of them are his friends and family.

Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) is the used-car-salesman of the insurance industry. He offers bribes, tries to spook the competition and lacks respect—for himself and others.

The two meet at an annual conference, where Tim is a classic fish-out-of-water in the "big city" and has trouble acclimating to the group mentality.

Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Heche) is a married mother of two who treats this yearly outing as an excuse to let loose. She immediately targets Tim as a plaything and soon has him loosening up among his new friends.

Though Helms is charming and well-cast in this role, the screenwriters didn't bring much "fresh" to the novelty of him being a rookie conference attendee. The joke of him figuring out a room key card and in the same breath, being startled by the presence of a black man just don't play funny.

Reilly is practically a caricature and even less funny than Helms because he has the added bonus of bathroom humor on his plate.

Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development provides the most refreshing laughs in her turn as a prostitute, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as the token black character also lights up the screen with the best lines in the movie referring to his obsession with The Wire.

I was disappointed that the film never 'picked up' and paid off the two romances it began for its main character, but it's certainly not the fault of the actors.

With a better script, they'd have done just fine.


Monday, March 07, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Yesterday I saw The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #102, so tune in later this month for our review.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Today I saw Unknown, starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger.

An upper-class American couple arrives in Berlin to find some of their luggage didn't make it from the airport, so the husband catches a Taxi to return to the airport and retrieve it. Unfortunately, during that ride, he's in a terrible car accident and ends up in a coma for four days. When he wakes up, he remembers everything about his life, but no one will confirm it—not even his wife of five years.

So here we have the story of Martin Harris (Neeson). A supposed brilliant scientist who is in Germany to give a presentation at an intellectual conference until he is made to believe that his life is not his own after all.

There are folks who swear they don't know who he is. His wife Liz (January Jones) and the alleged real Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn), for starters.

Then, there are those sympathetic like his doctor and nurse, who just want proof before they agree that he is indeed Dr. Harris.

The folks at the hotel and the conference don't know what to believe, but the police are called multiple times just in case he's nuts.

Left without any options, Dr. Harris tracks down the taxi driver (Kruger) who saved him after the accident for additional answers and seeks the help of a former spy who is now a private investigator. As this is happening, at least two people (not those two) die trying to help him.

To say that it's boring would be unfair, to call it "smart" would be equally unfair.

Liam Neeson is his usual good "desperate" character. There are car chases and flashed knives and guns pulled and men in black leather jackets there to let you know they are bad guys.

There is also sexual tension (with the taxi driver) and enough flashback shots of a flirtatious Liz to make you wish you were watching re-runs of Mad Men instead.

As for figuring out the mystery, after a certain point I quit caring about Dr. Harris.

Unfortunately, the box office returns didn't, so more empty action films like this are sure to be made.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Barney's Version

This morning I saw Barney's Version, starring Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike.

I'll swear when I watched the trailer of this it was being marketed as a comedy. Once I was about 30 minutes into the film, I realized I must have been mistaken.

Barney (Giamatti) is a sad sack of a man who has a habit of marrying the wrong women. His first wife is a hippie artist who we never quite understand his connection with; his second wife, played by a spirited Minnie Driver, is a rich brat with beautiful breasts who wins him over with her cleavage.

It's no surprise that by their wedding day, Barney is already looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, it's on his wedding day when he spots "The One."

Miriam (Pike) is a guest on his new bride's side, and catches his attention by simply looking stunning in her bright blue dress. After one conversation with the beauty, Barney knows he's made a huge mistake marrying his second wife. He begins courting Miriam right then and there, never giving up his pursuit for true love.

Of course, like many neurotic Jewish characters, Barney is his own worst enemy. Once he gets what he wants in any given situation, he carelessly discards it in favor of behaving like a bachelor.

And then his kids begin hating him, and we begin hating him, and the story takes an even darker turn with his health problems.

All of the acting in this film is great—no argument there—but the way Barney's character is written, I had trouble feeling any empathy for him.

Why would anyone want to spend time with this unattractive, uninteresting man, let alone build a life with him?

I only wish I hadn't wasted two hours trying to figure that out.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Sixteen Candles

Tonight I saw Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

There is something magical about a John Hughes film, even 27 years later.

Brought back to theaters in honor of Valentine's Day, the simplicity of teenage love shines on in the characters of Samantha (Molly), The Geek (Hall) and Jake (Michael Schoeffling). A love triangle if there ever was one.

When her family forgets her sixteenth birthday, Samantha is devastated. She whines to her friend at school and resents her sister who is getting married the following day. She's also taken an embarrassing written "sex test" that has fallen into the hands of the boy she has a crush on. She's had better weeks.

The Geek is obsessed with Samantha, bugging her on the bus, then hijacking a spot on the dance floor next to her later that same night. His sidekick friends, expecting the most from him, only make things worse.

Jake is a cute, popular boy with a bombshell girlfriend who is unsatisfied with his relationship. He's looking for more than a trophy, and is interested in learning more about Samantha.

And there you have the plot.

The rest of the film is a hilarious standard 80s teen comedy, complete with the obligatory exchange student, two Cusacks and an obnoxious kid brother.

Did I mention that I still loved every minute of it as much as I did when I was 9?

The formula of realistic dialogue, quotable catchphrases, and perfectly cast actors gets me every time.

John Hughes gave us even more than that, though. He gave us films with heart.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars® 2011)

Tonight I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown:

THE CONFESSION (United Kingdom)

What begins as a coming-of-age comedy based on two young boys discovering what it means to be Catholic rapidly turns into a dark, hopeless exploration of bad things happening to good people. Though the ending does provide closure, it's far from satisfying.

WISH 143 United Kingdom

A light look at what decisions we make when faced with our own mortality, this story centers on a 15-year-old boy who asks a charitable organization for one final wish: to have sex with a woman. Soon his virginity becomes the talk of the town and measures are taken to ensure his dream is fulfilled. Very cute, if you can suspend the disbelief long enough to enjoy it.

NA WEWE (Belgium)

The year is 1994. Rwanda is enduring a horrific civil war. When a van full of citizens is stopped by group of armed men, they each have to prove their nationality to stay alive. The tension is unimaginable, as we don't know who is telling the truth or who is lying. Thankfully, a U2 song interrupts the chaos for a moment of peace.

THE CRUSH (Ireland)

The strongest of the five nominees, this delightful short is short and sweet. A young boy falls in love with his second-grade teacher and challenges her fiancé to a duel for her hand in marriage. It's funny, sad, scary and completely charming.


A man is smitten with the drummer in his band, but unfortunately she's hot for his best friend (who is also in the band). He prays for her to return his affections, and as an answer to that prayer, receives in the mail a box of cupid-like arrows that possess supernatural powers. As he goes about casting love spells, he learns a bit more about relationships. It's a clever idea, but the execution was almost too wink-ridden to truly appreciate.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Company Men

This morning I saw The Company Men, starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones.

Bobby Walker (Affleck) is not a corporate asshole. Sure, his wife calls him one during a heated argument, and he does favor golfing and nice cars to the blue collar lifestyle, but at the end of the day he's a good guy. He adores his children, stays faithful to his wife and doesn't willingly try to harm anyone in his life's work.

His boss Gene (Jones) at the GTX Corporation is less of a good guy, but he does genuinely care about his employees and is incensed to learn that Bobby has been let go in his absence. He's even more pissed when it happens to him a few months later.

This is all the fault of the Big Bad CEO, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) who will step on anyone (even his best friend Gene) to "save" the company and his inflated salary.

An almost too-fitting film for our times, watching this felt like seeing Up In the Air turned inside out. Instead of the office side of the layoffs, we see the repercussions.

Each man deals with his loss in a different way: Bobby genuinely tries to land a new gig but the offers just aren't there. Phil (Chris Cooper) dies his hair to look younger (at the recommendation of a placement specialist), Gene goes into a state of denial.

If all of this sounds straightforward and predictable, it is, but I can't overstate how well it all plays out.

The families of the men define how they react, regardless of their pride; the safety net we all want to think is there for us collapses in a very un-movie-like way for several characters. Their pain, though difficult to watch, is refreshingly real.

The performances by Affleck, Jones and Cooper are nothing short of top notch. They aren't "too" Boston to be believable, but still capture the assumed manliness of that slice of America.

There are also great supporting stars here: Maria Bello as the devious downsizer, Rosemarie Dewitt as Bobby's practical wife, and Kevin Costner as the rough brother-in-law who dislikes Bobby, but still reaches out to help him.

I was glued to the screen from start to finish by this satisfying, honest film. Everyone who's ever been in dire straits (and that's all of us, I think) should see it.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Year

Today I saw Another Year, starring Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen.

Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen) are one of those rare couples who have spent their whole lives married and still like each other. In fact, they seem genuinely happier when in the presence of the other.

Mary (Lesley Manville) is the saddest third wheel that has ever been portrayed in film. She is the secretary at the hospital where Gerri works as a counselor, and aside from Gerri and Tom, she doesn't appear to have any friends.

The couple are good to her—perhaps the reason she clings so tightly to them—but even they have their limits when Mary makes passes at their much-younger son, then treats his new girlfriend with disrespect on her first visit to the home.

There is also Tom's troubled friend Ken (Peter Wight), who drinks, eats and smokes too much, and Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley), who says so little that we have to wonder if his bitter son's anger is justified.

Despite all the ranges of personalities, no one in the group is hard to watch (though the girlfriend of their son is borderline annoying). In fact, the group seems so organic you often forget your watching actors on a screen.

I love screenwriters who give such depth to their characters that we ache for their uncomfortable silences. Mike Leigh is such a writer, and Another Year is such a film.

A beautiful look at the unbalance of fairness in life that leaves you pitying the lonely ones and sympathizing with the lucky ones.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Rite

Tonight I saw The Rite, starring Colin O'Donoghue and Anthony Hopkins.

Michael Novak (O'Donoghue) is a seminary student ready to jump ship because he doubts his faith. Father Lucas (Hopkins) is the eccentric priest that the Vatican sends him to for exorcism training when he challenges his instructor. Demon possession arrives.

The story moves a lot slower than typical horror flicks and is significantly less frightening. Sure, there are a fair amount of contorted bodies hissing at the men of cloth, and a notable amount of jumpy moments, but at no point did I ever find myself looking over my shoulder or quivering in fear.

Therein lies the problem.

The topic is not a boring one. Millions of people, including the priests and devout members of the Catholic church, believe in demon possession.

In fact, this specific story is based on truth: the real-life Novak is Father Gary Thomas who currently practices in Saratoga, Calif. and served as a consultant for this film. Exorcisms, though they are rare, really do take place and lives are changed because of them.

Unfortunately, the flat script zaps out all of the the excitement and energy surrounding their rituals.

The acting is fine, though Colin is almost too handsome to be believable, and the character of Angelina (Alice Braga) is completely pointless.

Hopkins will never match his own creepiness as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but his performance is acceptable, nonetheless.

I'd just rather have watched a documentary on the subject.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blue Valentine

On Monday I saw Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #101, airing in February.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Millennium: The Story

Today I screened Millennium: The Story, a documentary about author Stieg Larsson.

A look at the author's life from birth to death, this informative film by Lawrence Lownethal taught me a great deal about this famous man.

Larsson grew up in a modest country home with no hot water, sleeping in the same bed with all of his family members for warmth. They were a happy family and his childhood was good. He traveled to many places as a politically charged adult, but spent most of his time in Stockholm, where his famous novels are set.

His life mirrored that of his books' hero, Mikael Blomkvist, as Larsson was an investigative journalist for a quarterly magazine (Expo) just like his alter ego was with Millennium. His colleagues joked that Mikael was a projection of what Stieg always wanted to be, having lots of women and sex. Unfortunately, the true parallels of the mens' lives were the violent ones. Larsson was always looking over his shoulder as the target of neo-nazi groups he had publicly condemned. For this reason, he never married his partner of over thirty years or listed his address as the same as hers publicly. He thought that tricking the bad guys into believing he was alone would protect her from their wrath, and apparently he succeeded. However, because he never married her, his estate is the source of constant controversy.

When he died at age 50 from a sudden heart attack, his books had not yet become the phenomenon they are today. In fact, he never saw a penny of his own success.

Of course they went on to break sales records and secure multimillion dollar movie deals, so quite a fortune was to be made. But who does it belong to? The family who raised him and will forever be linked by blood, or the woman he chose as his family for three decades? The courts say it's the family.

His surviving relatives (Dad and Brother both speak in this film) claim to not want the large sums of money for themselves. On camera his father says he has no interest in fancy cars and just wants a "quiet life." They also want to put some of the money toward women's charities, which surely would've pleased the author.

Then there's the matter of the unfinished book. Larsson was 3/4 of the way through the fourth book in the series (he planned to write 10) and so there is a debate about completing and publishing that book.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: it's important to create a will that clearly states your wishes, no matter how many years you assume you have left to live.

It feels like there is no right answer. In a perfect world, the common-law wife and the surviving relatives would split everything down the middle, but legally it's not that simple.

The documentary does a very good job of not "taking sides" and truly celebrating the wonder that was the author.

I truly enjoyed learning little trivia facts (he loved to eat pizza, just like his characters and also based part of Lisbeth on Pippi Longstocking). I also enjoyed seeing the movie versions of Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) praising the stories, and learning that there is a Millennium tour that I can take the next time I'm in Stockholm.

After reading the books, seeing the movies and watching this documentary, I'm certain I will!


Monday, January 03, 2011

The Fighter

Tonight I saw The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.

I won't shy away from any film that promises a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, though I must admit I wasn't excited to hear this film was about boxing. Good thing for me that there's very little boxing involved.

The story is a retelling of the true tale of two brothers who took the boxing world by storm.

Dicky Eklund (Bale) famously knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (or, er...he slipped) in the late 70s and has been milking that spotlight ever since. He's a hero in the small Massachusetts town where they live.

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is his only brother (though the two share seven—yes, seven—sisters) and looks up to him for this reason alone. There is not much else about Dicky to look up to. He has developed a crack habit, sleeps with whores and leaves his son with his family to be raised as an afterthought.

The training that he offers his brother would be valuable if he could stay clean long enough to see it through, but he can't, and the results are disastrous.

Lucky for Micky, he soon meets Charlene (Amy Adams) who has dropped out of college and works at the local bar. Yes, she is apparently the classiest broad in town.

Speaking of broads, the boys' mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is a real piece of work. Chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, hairspray-addicted and determined to make some serious cash off her sons, she is the very epitome of white trash. When she's not yelling at her beer-drinking, lounging daughters, she's organizing a fight to try to advance Micky to a Dicky level of spotlight.

It's just not working.

So Charlene convinces Micky to ditch his troubled family and the rest is pretty much as predictable as a Wheel of Fortune puzzle with only one letter missing.

It's not a terrible movie, and I'll admit I was entertained for the duration, but what's really bugging me is all the press that Christian Bale is getting for his performance.

I've always liked Bale, but here he seems to be playing this crack addict as a mentally challenged lunatic instead of a street guy who is high all the time. I grew up in a neighborhood of drug users and never once do I remember the crack users having perpetually popped eyes. They were jittery and nervous and hollow, but not exactly retarded.

On the flip side, Wahlberg's never been more understated and that was a welcome change from his usual too-angry portrayals.

And the women, well, they were fantastic.

Melissa Leo is a bit much as the annoying Alice, but I'm guessing the real woman was probably just as obnoxious; Amy Adams and her boobs aren't anything like the innocent Junebug and Enchanted characters we've seen her inhabit before, and it's hard to take your eyes off the screen when she's there. The seven sisters? Hilarious.

I had more fun with this movie than I expected to, but that's perhaps because my expectations were low.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris

Today I saw I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

Truth will always be stranger than fiction, and that's certainly the case in the story of Steven Russell, the man on which this film is based.

Russell (Carrey) had a normal upbringing (with the exception of finding out he was adopted), which led to a normal adulthood that saw him become a respected husband, father and cop.

His wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) was a Jesus-loving goody-two-shoes who only wanted the best for everyone. She was clueless to the double-life Steven was living as a gay man and shocked when she found out about it after he was in a car accident. His "epiphany" to tell the *cough* truth.

Russell moved to Florida, got a boyfriend and began living the high life. The problem was, he couldn't afford the lifestyle he desired, so he began devising cons to pay his way. Eventually the cons caught up with him and he landed in prison, where he met (maybe) the love-of-his-life, Phillip Morris (McGregor). Steven immediately falls for Phillip and eventually gets them both out of prison to live their dream life together, but can't seem to stop the deception. This, of course, causes problems.

The story itself is completely true and undeniably fascinating; the movie has its moments.

Though warned by one of my show's listeners that it was awful, I forged on determined to give it a chance, but I can't deny I was truly let down.

Jim Carrey's portrayal of Russell has too much In Living Color Jim Carrey and not enough Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey.

Though the real con man is arguably an exaggerated personality, the mannerisms in which Carrey represents him don't for a minute ring true. There's posing and hanging on words and extended glances. There's an ease to the vocal impersonations that can't possibly have been as natural for Russell as they were for Carrey.

I'm not sure it's the actor's fault—perhaps the director encouraged him to go full out—but whomever's decision it was made the wrong one.

Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, was pitch perfect. His naive, sweet Morris is just how the real gentleman is said to behave and not for an instant did I doubt he was in love with Russell. And that's not an easy set of emotions to convey.

Anyone who has fallen for a liar knows that it is the most painful relationship you'll ever endure. First, they convince you better than anyone that you are worthy of being loved in the highest regard, then when you catch on that most of what comes out of their mouth is false, you doubt that any of your previous time together was real. It's excruciating (trust me, I've been there) and often even the liar doesn't realize how much damage their doing to the other person because they only know what the easy way out is, and that's usually not the side of things that confronts devastating pain.

McGregor nails these conflicted feelings with expressions and body language that bear his scars.

Leslie Mann is a delight as the devout Debbie, and each time she would appear on-screen I would wish that her scenes lasted longer.

It's just that the film focused too long on spotlighting the comical side of Carrey and never addressed the weight of what really became of these folks (Russell's sentence is one of the most severe in Texas, though he never physically hurt anyone; Morris and Mrs. Russell's lives will never be the same).

I'd have rather seen a documentary.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Today I saw The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Never has a film so reminded me of the book—but in this case, that's not for the better.

In this third installment of the wildly popular Stieg Larsson series, our heroine Lisbeth (Rapace) is in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained during a fight with her evil father and half-brother. The half-brother has escaped into the wilderness, and the father is in stable condition just down the hall from her.

The police are after her (for the attempted murder of her father), her former psychiatrist is after her (to help the prosecutors have her committed), her lawyer is after her (to sort it all out) and her doctor is thankfully a compassionate man, who listens to the right folks and pardons her from too much harassment while she heals.

Meanwhile, Millennium editor Erica Berger (Lena Endre) has been receiving threats at her home and at work, which leads Mikael (Nyqvist) to need to save not one but two damsels in distress.

If they only would just get on with it.

That's what kept going through my mind as I read the novel and that's what was going through my mind today as I was watching this film (it's about an hour too long).

Sure, we need some exposition, but not two hours of it before we get to the meat of the story.

The performances here are predictably great, but the actors barely had anything to do. Courtroom scenes are known for their tension, and with the exception of one 'reveal' here, they are nothing of the sort.

The film was closure for the trilogy, but a disappointing, lengthy one at that.