Tuesday, September 29, 2009
(extra points awarded for merit and ambition)
The Girlfriend Experience. dir. Steven Soderbergh. starring Sasha Grey, Chris Santos. Rated R. Running Time: 78 minutes.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The film follows good cop Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) as he unravels the mysteries surrounding the deaths of several people murdered while connected to their surrogates; the slightly more robotic looking and more realistic versions of Second Life avatars. Eventually the entire world finds itself in danger as Tom sheds his own avatar to save everyone else.
The content is weighty and brings up important questions we should all be asking ourselves, and inevitably will after the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. What is the future of technology? How does our integration with it affect our humanity? How far will we escape into the cold arms of a computer? How paranoid does this make those that choose not to follow it? The list goes on. But the film deals with each issue with surprising ease where it just as easily could have drifted into preachy “Superman 4” territory, revealing this thread only at its most emotional moments, a fault I can forgive considering the quality of the rest of it.
This balance is achieved mainly in the subtle and skillful performances of the entire cast. Willis expands his character beyond the typical gruff John McClaine stereotype he’s good at, and hits real emotional depth without reeking of pretension or banality. Willis is bolstered by Rosamund Pike as the perfect stepford wife with a conscience while Radha Mitchell’s FBI agent’s subtle transition between operators reminds us why we missed her big screen presence. James Cromwell is a big standout, playing surrogate inventor Dr. Canter with the type of artistic fervor and humanity missing in many mad scientists.
The film does have a few nagging flaws. I would have liked to see a more lush, visceral setting and deeper attention to detail. I often found myself distracted by the outdated technology mixed with the new (Would a hospital still have land line phones in a world advanced enough to have surrogate technology? Would we still have gas powered vehicles if we could power a human avatar that big?); these seem like easy fixes. I also found some key areas such as the “human only” safety zones to be plain and boring, just like the surrogate world.” It is this attention to developing a world that draws the viewer in, and the similarity in concepts often times made me ache for the beauty and depth of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner or even (dare I say it?) Michael Bay’s The Island. That may be an unfair comparison, but with a film exploring the darker technology obsessed voyeurs in us all, it may have done some good to draw us in visually. This would have made this good movie a great one. But all in all, the film balances depth and entertainment to produce a fun, interesting fall flick.
3 out of 5
Read more from M @ Bubbly.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
If you go into The Informant! looking for slapstick and Ocean's style deception, the likelihood is that you'll be disappointed. Forget the wide release, the poppy posters, and the ad campaign. The Informant! is comedic, to be sure, but not in the way you might expect. It's more cerebral giggles than thoughtless guffaws. Inspired by true events and based on the book of the same title, the story follows Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a biochemist who finds himself in the upper crust of lysine development company ADM. Confronted with a megalomaniac need to continue climbing the corporate ladder, Whitacre tells a small fiction that launches an FBI investigation. One lie begets another and another, and soon Whitacre is playing the part of informant and criminal, clumsily setting up and manipulating events in an attempt to cover his initial claim. While the actions themselves suggest a parodical procedural situation, the film is surprisingly invested in making this seem as thoroughly business as usual as possible.
This means that as Mark Whitacre conducts meetings and day to day activities, the gags are few and far between and the humor is subdued. So, if you're not in it for the character, you might be wont to shy away from the mode of storytelling. This is not an exciting movie. It's not high-energy or combustible. It's almost a docudrama. Yet, what it lacks in other departments, it makes up for in Matt Damon. Damon's Whitacre serves as our lens into the world of the film. His constant internal monologue of non-sequitors and thoughts are the only hints we get (through 75% of the movie) at what's really going on. Like a character from a story by Barthelme or George Saunders, Whitacre's corporate consciousness is misleading and underhandedly humorous. It's hard to imagine Whitacre as capable of effectively taking the trash out without distraction, let alone leading an FBI investigation.
I started watching The Company of Wolves at 4 a.m. on Sunday night merely for the comforting 80’s nostalgia I knew I’d receive from it. But within the first ten minutes, this little known film made my list of top horror/fantasy films. Neil Jordan (best known for The Crying Game and Interview With a Vampire) directed this one of few haunting ruminations on fairy tales, reminding the viewer how terrifying and deeply rooted they are in our Freudian psyches.
The film begins with a modern girl (Sarah Patterson) asleep and feverish in bed. As she tosses and turns, we quickly follow her into a deep dream world filled with interesting twists on the classic wolf-centric fairy tales we all know and love, especially focused on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Angela Lansbury acts as the film’s main narrator, playing the role of the girl’s proverbial granny that meets a foul end via a wily wolf.
The film isn’t exactly linear, not far from my other favorite surreal 80’s offerings from the likes of Cronenberg or Lynch, but also contains some of the best man to wolf transformations I’ve seen yet. They are, realistic, disgusting, and horrifying, a far cry from the overly CGIed manwolves we can expect from the upcoming New Moon. Again, Jordan proves why he’s one of our greatest directors, and reminds us just how scary the big bad wolf really is.
5 out of 5
Monday, September 21, 2009
Flint's device is an accidental hit. Through the wonders of satellite technology he can order up food on request. It keeps wannabe weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) on the island, promises to boost tourism, and makes for many a moment of wonder on screen. If handled improperly, the film could easily have lost itself to juvenile sight gags and an overwhelming sense of self-deluded grandiosity and syrupyness. However, the cloying moments are amazingly non-existent. The filmmakers here take on the content with a sparkling wit and imagination that makes the film infectiously fun and, believe it, thoroughly engrossing. This is one of those bright, bubbly movies that's perfectly safe for little ones (it snows ice cream!) but has a whole 'nother level of humor adults can appreciate as well (while not over stuffing it with references and allusions that will render the movie obsolete in a few years, i'm looking at you Dreamworks...). There are puns, well-timed reaction 'shots', and the vocal talent of a who's who of pop cultural cult icons: Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, and Neil Patrick Harris all find places here.
This is Sony's first outing with 3D animation, and it's definitely a success. While it's no Pixar, the characters' expressive capabilities and goofy looks are perfectly suited to the storyline. Meanwhile, the film's humor is underscored by real heart. The 'family film' messages here are several, but the main one is to be who you are, and if that person is a total brainiac nerd...that's cool, there's a place for you. Its delivery, it should be mentioned, takes place in a Jell-O mold palace complete with bouncing replicas of David and the Venus de Milo.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an enjoyable romp that mixes genres (from disaster to romantic comedy) with ease and silly sophistication. While it's certainly a far cry from the 1978 book by Judi and Ron Barrett, it captures many of its memorable moments and delivers a charming explanation to the events illustrated in that classic piece of kiddie lit. If you've got a few ounces of imagination and the ability to suspend your disbelief, this is a great little addition in what is shaping up to be a year of surprisingly superior animation.
My main complaint? Not enough meatballs.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
3.5 out of 5.
Dir. Carlos Cuarón, Stars: Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Guillermo Francella, Dolores Heredia. Rated R, Running Time: 103 min.
1.5 out of 5.
Dir. Gregor Jordan, Stars: Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Jon Foster, Amber Heard, Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Isaak, Rhys Ifans. Rated R, Running Time: 98 min.
The producers of Little Miss Sunshine attempt to duplicate their previous success using what someone must have considered a fail safe formula: Amy Adams + Alan Arkin in a movie with the word Sunshine in the title = certain success. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. In theory, Sunshine Cleaning has all the hallmarks of an interesting story. Amy Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mom who divides her time cleaning other people’s houses and having an affair with her former high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn). When it’s suggested there’s real money to be made in the exciting world of crime scene clean-up, Rose grabs her cynical sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and jumps head first into a blood-stained career. Blunt and Adams turn in solid enough performances as frustrated and emotionally fragile siblings, and as their curmudgeonly father Alan Arkin is (of course) a delight, yet their familial chemistry isn’t enough to save the film from its own lack of focus. Plainly put: none of the characters are strong enough to hold the film up on their own. The real interest here, and the only aspect that makes this standard family drama unique, lies in the business itself. The intricacies of the crime scenes, the ways in which these women enter someone’s life post-mortem, are not mined nearly enough to leave a mark. Instead, we’re given an all-too typical tale without rhyme or reason, acting alone can’t save a bland story.
3 out of 5.
Sunshine Cleaning, dir. Christine Jeffs, stars: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn. Rated R, Running Time: 91 min.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Whether you've seen, are thinking of seeing, or don't know anything about 9, you might want to consider watching its source material: the original Oscar nominated short that the film has been extended from. While I've yet to see the feature length version, i have it on good authority that Shane Acker's animated feature uses many of the same story elements as his theatrical cut. So, check this one out for free and see what all the buzz might be about.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
2007's The Go-Getter is charming and sweet, due mostly to the acting of Lou Taylor Pucci and the comforting voice of Zooey Deschanel. But the film is also visceral and moving, bringing a similar flavor to, but grittier feel than Away We Go.
The story follows 19-year old Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) as he steals a car and goes on his own Huck Finn inspired journey to find his lost half brother. Deschanel is the owner of the stolen car who follows Mercer's journey while they talk via the car’s cell phone about life and his mother’s death.
This is one of few indie gems in which the use of more realistic film stocks and filters feels more warm and truthful, as opposed to cheap and shaky. This does not trap the Hynes the director either, as he slowly slips in the surreal during Kate and Mercer’s talks. Each shot is beautiful in composition and color, a perfect foil for the incredible performances.
For once, Zooey Deschanel's indie girl persona is allowed to soar and gains a depth she is rarely allowed to reach, rendering the viewer just as in love with her as Mercer. Pucci, who is better know for his breakout role in Thumbsucker is an incredible natural actor who disappears into the role. Whether laughing at his mother’s deathbed or upset over the loss of the stolen car, his emotions are haunting and subtle, making you feel as if you’re watching a real life unfolding before you. Look for the amusing supporting work of Jean Malone and Maura Tierney (in a role you’d never expect from her). This is the movie I expected to see when I saw 500 Days of Summer.
5 out of 5
You can read more from M @ Bubbly.