Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Hilarious Way To Get An Easy A

Hollywood has made hundreds of coming-of-age films, mostly told through the eyes of the films male star, on those rare occasions where the film is told through the female stars point of view, the film itself tends to have more depth, heart and is usually more believable. Although that's not to say these films are always very good, because they usually tend to be grueling to watch. This is not the case with "Easy A" a light comedy from director Will Gluck. Easy A is not just a coming of age film it is also a film of empowerment, if, as the film's major character refuses to do, you give your detractors power they will take it and use it to make themselves feel better at your expense.

Olive (Emma Stone) is not your typical high school student, she and her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) who she spends almost all of her free time with, she has what are the best on screen parents ever, Dill (Stanley Tucci) and Rosemary (Patricia Clarkson) and an adopted brother Chip (Bryce Clyde Jenkins). One day after being overheard telling Rhiannon some made up stories about a fictional boyfriend by the schools holy roller student Marianne (Amanda Bynes), Olive becomes the talk of the school. One afternoon in detention Olive befriends another student who is also the brunt of several school bullies. Brandon (Dan Byrd) is gay and everyone taunts him and he thinks that he has the perfect plan. He asks Olive to pretend to be his girlfriend at a party being thrown by one of the schools most popular girls. Thinking that nothing bad could come of this little prank Olive agrees.

When news of the episode gets around school, other boys start to ask Olive to pretend to sleep with them as well, Olive agrees reluctantly and news spreads like wild fire. Olive being the person she is refuses to let the school's gossip bring her down, so she decides to dress the part, wearing a red A on all of her outfits. This of course brings Olive to the attention principle Gibbons (Malcolm McDowell), but also to one of the schools counselors Mrs. Griffith (Lisa Kudrow) who is married to the one teacher Olive thinks is really cool, Mr. Griffith (Thomas Haden Church). Of course Olive and Marianne will come to a sort of truce and become almost the best of friends, until another misunderstanding occurs. Olive agrees to take responsibility for something in order to protect a school employee. The one guy who Olive really has a crush on is Todd, he is the schools mascot and Olive has liked him since they were young kids. Of course these types of movies will bring the two together in the end, after Olive turns the tables on those who have sided against her, even her one time best friend falls victim to Marianne and her friends.

Easy A is a very funny movie, there are several one liners that will make you laugh out loud, Olive's parents are probably the funniest twosome in the film, they make each others lines zing. Emma Stone is quickly becoming Hollywood's it girl. It is Stone's performance that definitely gives the film its best moments. Easy A takes a more honest look at teenage angst, this isn't the female version of Superbad, it is a stand alone film that is almost perfect. The films lone detraction is the cliche Hollywood ending, where every character gets exactly what is coming to them. Life's lessons are learned and everybody gets the chance to become a little bit better as a person.

I give Easy A 3 stars. The film is a joy to watch, Emma Stone is becoming a big star, she is far removed from her character from Superbad, here it is her delivery and physical comedy that really showcases her talent. Stanley Tucci seems to be the coolest father on the planet, his laid back style and his interaction with Patricia Clarkson that contain some of the movies funniest scenes, these free spirited parents help Olive overcome her anger and fears in ways that don't seem preachy, they simply tell her that she is the kind of person who isn't what others see her as but what she herself knows her to be. The film not only will make you laugh but it will make you feel good about yourself as well.

Easy A is rated PG-13 for Mature Thematic Elements Involving Teen Sexuality, Language and Some Drug Material.
Running time is 1 hr. 32 mins.
Distributed by Sony Pictures

Friday, October 1, 2010

A New Social Network That Became Facebook

When it was announced that Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires was being made into a film recounting the creation of Facebook and the legal fallout between its founders, many people (including me) didn't hold out much hope for a movie even worth thinking about. When it was later announced that David Fincher was going to direct and that Aaron Sorkin was writing for the new film, I began to believe in the film's success. Now after having seen "The Social Network" I can only say that this is hands down the best film of 2010.

Sorkin introduces us to Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) by letting us sit in on the creation of what is to become an internet sensation. Using different lawsuit depositions as the film's central theme, Sorkin takes us into the private life of a man who becomes the youngest billionaire in the world. After being jilted by an ex-girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), Mark goes back to his dorm and with the help of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), pulls off an incredible online stunt -- breaking into all of the nearby colleges computer systems and ranking its female students. This stunt lands him in trouble with the Harvard brass, but also gains him the attention of the Winklevoss twins, Cameron (Armie Hammer) and Tyler (Josh Pence). They ask him to help them create a site for the students of Harvard, to share their experiences at school. They later sue Mark, claiming he stole their idea and turned it into a site he calls The Facebook.

Eduardo agrees to help Mark fund his attempt to create what he calls a website for every one -- that is everyone who they allow access to. Mark meets and becomes enthralled with Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who would convince Mark to take his site to several Silicon Valley venture capitalists, a move that essentially pushes Eduardo out of the picture and gets his shares in the company cut to next to nothing. This action causes Eduardo to also file suit against his former friend.

Sorkin and Fincher then cut between the two lawsuits and the testimonies given in the respective cases, we see the eventual start-up of Facebook, to its combative aftermath and Zuckerberg himself told through multiple points-of-view. The movie isn't necessarily about the site Facebook itself, it is ultimately about human behavior. Social Network takes care to show all the rage, vindictiveness, pettiness and pain that can come with taking on a venture with friends and letting that friendship become less important than the venture itself.

Zuckerberg is portrayed with little to no honorable qualities. The fact that no one will feel any remorse or pity for Zuckerberg is testament to the near perfect performance by Eisenberg himself.He brilliantly showcases Zuckerberg's anger, hurt and brilliance, as well as the character's arrogance, impatience and vulnerability.

The film is told through several flashbacks and rolls smoothly to it's inevitable conclusion. It is said that the Winklevoss group got over sixty five million dollars and that Eduardo got an undisclosed sum (one billion dollars) and his name put back on the company letterheads. The smooth way that the film progresses is a sign of how good the director is and Fincher is one of the best working today. Sorkin has a way with sharp dialogue and this only enhances even the smallest characters in the film.

I give The Social Network 4 stars. This is a gripping expertly crafted film, a modern story with all of the classic themes of life. A small jealousy fuels one man's desire to be better than everyone around him. The films co-stars are near perfect and Garfield is the best amongst the lot, he brings a warmth and humanity to the role of the wounded friend seldom seen in films today. Like him or not Zuckerberg had enough business savvy to create a website that everyone in the world has heard of.

The Social Network is rated PG-13 for Sexual Content, Drug and Alcohol Use and Language.
Running time is 2 hrs.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Buried Is Truly A One Of A Kind Masterpiece

No one thought that a movie with one lone actor in one location for over ninety minutes would work out, but this Cynic says that director Rodrigo Cortes has done the impossible with his new film "Buried". Working from a script written by Chris Sparling, Cortes makes the tension both palpable and believable. As the clock ticks down, the movie's motif of fear grows as one man comes to accept his own demise. The story works because Ryan Reynolds does an amazing job of bringing an emotional depth to his character.

Paul Conroy (Reynolds) wakes after his truck convoy is ambushed, where he finds himself buried alive in a small wooden coffin. Left with only a small zippo lighter, a cell phone, and a couple of light bars, he uses the lighter to assess his situation and that is exactly when his panic sets in. Paul has to find an immediate way to come to terms with his predicament. Once his initial panic recedes, Paul calms down and starts phoning anyone that he can think of for help. Paul runs into the typical Government bureaucracy, and his situation becomes increasingly grave as his phone drifts in and out of reception. Ultimately, Paul's fears are confirmed when he answers a mysterious call, to find that his captor Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) wants five million dollars ransom for his release.

As time ticks away, we hear other voices in conversations with Paul: Alan Davenport (Stephen Tobolowsky) who is Paul's Boss; Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) a U.S. hostage team negotiator; and lastly his wife Linda (Samantha Mathis). To say that the impact of these calls hits hard would be an understatement. The urgency in Paul's voice as he fights to cling to any hope is hard to listen to and we hear the exact moment he realizes that he is doomed. To give away any more would take away from the films impact. As Paul frantically tries to figure out a way to escape, the audience is right there feeling the claustrophobia. Cortes does this especially effectively with camera work that zooms in and out of the confined space.

Sound and light are also used efficiently. The noises from outside the coffin help to ratchet the tension, and the differing light sources reflect Paul's fluctuating emotions. Clearly writer Chris Sparling was inspired by the master himself, as he cleverly toys with Paul and manipulates the emotions of the audience in a manner that would have made Hitchcock proud. There are a few moments where you will be shaking your head in disbelief, but for the most part, the story rings true, making the grim proceedings all the more terrifying.

I give Buried 3 and a half stars because of the performance of the lone on screen actor. Films of this type hinge on that actor's ability to take the audience along for the ride. Reynolds does just that with a truly amazing performance. Paul goes through a list of emotions throughout the movie but never allows himself to become overly melodramatic. We can clearly see that Conroy is no angel, with his attitude often exacerbating the situation, but yet he retains your sympathy thanks to the humanity with which he is played.

Buried is rated R for Language and Some Violent Content
Running time is 1 hr. 35 mins.
Distributed by Lionsgate Films

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Weak Wall Street Is Saved By Michael Douglas

Hollywood's tendency to remake or retell semi popular movies is now in full swing, with the opening of another sequel - and possibly the last role for Michael Douglas - in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps". It was in 1987 that Michael Douglas earned his first and only Best Actor Oscar for playing Gordon Gekko in Wall Street . Now we get the privilege to see the man work his magic, and it is his talent that makes Money Never Sleeps worth watching.

The film starts in the year 2001 when Gordon (Douglas) is being released from prison. As he walks out the gates into a world that has all but forgotten him, he is at rock bottom. His only possessions are an outdated cell phone and the manuscript he hopes to sell. We then flash forward to 2008 and meet a young couple, Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) and Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan). Jake is an ambitious Wall Street investment banker. Winnie is a liberal activist writer for an online website. She also happens to be Gordon's daughter and holds him responsible for her brother Rudy's overdose and her mom's nervous breakdown.

The movie's theme turns to one of revenge when KZI, the investment firm that Jake works for, teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Jake's boss and mentor, Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) is forced to sell the firm to a rival investment house for less than a third of it's market worth. Jake takes the tragedy personally and seeks retribution against Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who he believes to be responsible for orchestrating the collapse of KZI. Turning to the one man that Jake believes can help him, he starts up a friendship with Gordon. Gordon, who also harbors an old grudge against Bretton, agrees to help if Jake will agree to reintroduce him into Winnie's life. Luckily for Jake, Bretton learns of him and so admires his audacity and drive that he decides to hire him.

This is the beginning of what should have been a well crafted movie but the pace bogs down with several double-crosses and even some artificially heartfelt moments. The expectation that this would be a film about money, power and greed, as opposed to be a film about human relationships and redemption, may disappoint the many fans of the original film. Douglas captures the elder Gekko's darkness, self-righteousness and vulnerability perfectly. He portrays Gekko with a quiet seething rage even though you can see his role in the many double-crosses coming. Shia is almost useless as the other lead actor; his screen presence is almost taxing to sit through. While Carey Mulligan once again shows that she was worthy of her previous Oscar nomination (her performance is at times dead on), at others she tends to overplay the part and her character feels almost heartless. The inevitable conclusion is like a shot out of left field and feels almost false.

I give Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps 2 and a half stars. It is a movie worth watching because Douglas gives everything to make Gekko a nicer person. There's one scene in particular that Douglas has with Mulligan that's so effective it feels as if we are listening to a personal litany of his real life tragedy. There is also an element of blame being laid on the everyday man with the addition of the character of Jake's mother Sylvia (Susan Sarandon). Her dependency on Jake to bail her out of her own self-inflicted debt showcases our own irresponsibility and participation in causing the fiscal crisis shown in the movie.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is rated PG-13 for Brief Strong Language and Thematic Elements.
Running time is 2 hrs. 10 mins.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Affleck Does The Town

It seems as if Hollywood isn't content to just give us one or two action movies at a time. They hit us with every conceivable idea in the book: Takers and The Expendables were made with dry and direct stereotypes of machoism. Now comes an action packed thriller with more heart and soul than the standard thriller. The second film directed by Ben Affleck, The Town harbors a story that, up until the very end, is not only believable but realistic as well. The Town stars some of today's hot young actors and they seem to give it their all in making this movie more than just a simple shoot-em-up.

The Town starts with what looks like a perfect bank robbery by a group of elite thieves. These thieves are simple men with few options. Ben Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the group's leader as well as it's calming voice. The group's hot head, James Coughlin, is played by Jeremy Renner, and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) and Albert Magloan (Slaine) round out this quarter. Taking a bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and calmly talking her through the opening of the safe Doug shows he can do the job he is forced to do, but also be calm and reassuring. James takes Claire as a hostage when they leave, the men later leave her on the beach and drive off.

The film's other side covers the F.B.I. agents tasked with what appears to be a never ending crusade to bring down MacRay's group of criminals. Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) and Agent Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver) work this case as if it is the only one they have; it consumes them and they find themselves not unwilling to bend a few rules to see that it solved. When they find what appears to be the magic clue, things fall into place a little too pat, but this doesn't detract much from the film.

Doug meanwhile started to date Claire, but he tries to hide this fact from the rest of his crew. The conflict of this film arises mainly from that fact that things never seem to work smoothly for Doug. At one point he had a relationship with Jame's sister, Claire (Rebecca Hall) ,and this will of course implode on Doug as does most every other thing he tries. There is a little side story about the disappearance of Doug's mother when he was six, and the incarceration of his father (Chris Cooper), but by the end of the film, even these side plots are wrapped up a little to neatly. By the time the revelations come, we are waiting for the confrontation between the men who live on both sides of the law.

When James tells Doug that Fergus Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) has a job for them he tries to back out, Fergus who runs the neighborhood rackets knows it is Doug alone who can get his team to do this job, so he lays the facts out for Doug, even going as far as threatening Claire. Even a blind man can see the penultimate confrontation between these two men coming. And giving nothing away Doug will have even more reasons to confront Fergus later. The men think they have an easy inside track to their new job and things seem to be going smoothly until the first bullets fly.

The ending of this movie is of course Hollywood fluff: the good guys win, but the likable bad guy lives to fight another day, or at least one sequel. The action jump starts mid-way through the film as a second Armored car robbery leads to a wild chase through the back streets of bean town. The cities landscape is seen in bright details, its lusterless and its beauty are both seen throughout the film. Ultimately, the climax of course takes place in what is one of the most famous tourist locations in Boston -- Fenway Park.

I give The Town 2 and a half stars. The action is plausible, until the ending, when it gets in over it's head with the way the film is wrapped up. Hollywood's belief that American movie audiences need for the good guy to win takes away the heart of a story like this. In an earlier film I remarked that I was glad that the antagonists didn't all walk away into the sunset. Here Doug does just that and it feels as false as the idea that he does it so effortlessly. It's too bad really, as The Town was one movie that I had looked forward to seeing.

The Town is rated R for Strong Violence, Pervasive Language, Some Sexuality and Drug Use.
Running Time is 2 hrs.
Distributed by Warner Brothers.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Come Along And Join In With These Takers

We all love the gritty crime thriller, there is just something about guns going off that makes everyone's heart pound rapidly in our chests. A few years ago it was Heat that garnered a lot of attention, mainly because it stared two of Hollywood's A-list actors together on screen for the very first time. * Please don't count Godfather 2, they were never on screen together. Today we can count on this adrenaline factor times six with "Takers" a heist film with character. Takers has it all, not only do we get to watch the heist as it unfolds, we also get the expected double crosses, gun fire and the good guys vs. the bad guys. In Takers though the girls also get the eye candy. This movie is tailor made for everyone.

For all intents and purposes the men of Takers are all bad guys. Shamefully we will all root for them to get away. Of course we all know that option isn't feasible with the life style these men choose to live. The protagonists, a group of self - entitled 'Takers' are A.J. (Hayden Christensen), Gordon (Idris Elba), brothers Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) and John (Paul Walker). After another successful robbery the boys go to the club owned by Jake to cool down. They seem to be members of all the swankiest clubs in L.A. and when John gets home he runs into an ex member of their little group, nicknamed "Ghost" (Tip 'T.I'. Harris). Ghost has recently been released from prison and has plans to settle some old scores and get rich in the mean time.

Okay now that the premise has been set up, Ghost convinces the guys to join him on a million dollar armored car heist. Unfortunately for these takers, common sense doesn't win out. Greed is the catalyst that fuels so many movies of this type. The guys agree to undertake the heist. All the while being pursued by two dogged police detectives. One is a loose cannon who doesn't play by anyone's rules but his own, the other is a family man who has a sick child. Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernand), are two men who will get closer and closer to the Takers, while one of the two is pursued by another officer. Lt. Carver (Steve Harris) is an internal affairs officer investigating one of the detectives.

Thrown into the mix is Rachel Jansen (Zoe Saldana), who happened to be dating Ghost before he went to prison in 04 but now seems to be happily engaged to Jake. Another semi strong female performance is that of Naomi (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). Naomi is the drug addicted relative of Gordon's who happens to show up at all the wrong times and causes more headaches then seems plausible. I know cliche ridden scripts usually mean garbage on the screen, and though this movie is riddled with more holes then I can count the script works, the camaraderie between the stars feels real. And at the end of the day that's all we really want.

I give Takers a 3. This is based solely on the fact that the film didn't fall back on its cliche script. That's a statement for how well the actors did coming across as genuine. The scene where one of them falls is heartfelt. In this scene one can feel the emotion and the sense of lose of a friend. Action packed movies usually have the final confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys but takers offers us not one but two confrontations. These spell the doom for many of these men and this Cynic is glad that director John Luessenhop didn't fall for the sappy cheesy ending where the men walk off into the sunset. Men of this type seldom do.

Takers is rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, a Sexual Situation, Partial Nudity and Some Language.
Running time is 1 hr. 47 mins.
Distributed by Sony Pictures

Friday, May 7, 2010

Favreau & Downey Jr. Do It Again....And So Do I

Wow, it's been quite awhile since we've (I) posted anything. I've been a busy beaver as of late. I've been overseas and back numerous times and I haven't had a lot of time for movies, but during my recent trip to Madrid I made it my business to see see Iron Man 2, which just happened to be released 1 week before it was released in the US. Was it enough it bring me out of my semi-retirement? Read on...

Tony Stark is not nearly as mainstream as Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, or Peter Parker, there was no guarantee that the Iron Man movie would strike a chord with general audiences. Well, it did. As a matter of fact, Iron Man presently stands as the fourth highest-grossing Marvel adaptation so far (behind all three of the Spidey flicks), and that explains why we're looking at a sequel precisely two years later. But with screenwriter changes, casting switches, and a more hurried production schedule ... how would Iron Man 2 turn out? Pretty darn solid, this Iron Man fan is happy to say, although not without a few minor-yet-nagging reservations. As pedantic as it sounds, if you dug the first one a lot, you'll enjoy this one too ... just a little bit less, I suspect.

In true comic book form, Iron Man 2 picks up precisely where the last movie left off, and Tony's now-memorable "coming out" speech is being witnessed by a dying man. This guy, it turns out, used to be Tony's dad's research partner, but once that's established -- the old guy dies. (Weird timing.) This inspires his lunatic genius son (Mickey Rourke) to use all his skills to create a suit that will rival the now-famous "iron" one belonging to Tony Stark. Mr. Stark, for his part, is quite enjoying his role as "the man who privatized world peace," and dismisses his detractors (like a pompous senator and a fast-talking competitor) with a wink and a quip. He has recently turned Stark Industries over to his ever-loyal assistant Pepper Potts, he's knee-deep in responsibilities both personal and professional, and (oh yes) he's dying. Rather rapidly, according to the nifty "blood test" timer that Stark keeps handy at all times. Full-bore comic book fodder all the way, and it's a good thing that director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux keep giving their ensemble cast members fun (and funny) things to say -- because the simple truth is that Iron Man 2 is hardly a wall-to-wall action-fest. In fact, aside from a brief (and slightly silly) sequence at a car race and a non-dangerous battle between Stark and his frustrated pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle), ALL of the Iron Man 2 action is saved for Act III. Fortunately Act III is a whole lot of fun and, better yet, Acts I and II are no worse off for being so light on the mayhem.Downey deserves much of the credit for keeping Iron Man 2 so much fun, even when it's mired in its frequent chatty bits. The actor's trademark sardonic charm is, again, in full effect -- and while much of the Iron Man 2 praise will go to the effects and action crews, one feels a large sense of gratitude for the casting directors. Mr. Downey would probably be amusing just talking to himself for two hours, but his frequent and fast-paced bicker sessions with Gwyneth Paltrow (as Ms. Potts) are really quite entertaining. It's tough to get annoyed by a lack of action scenes when the banter frequently reminds you of old-fashioned screwball comedies. Replacing Jeff Bridges in the head baddie department is Mickey Rourke, who certainly strikes an imposing figure and has no problem conveying a comic-book villain, but is given little to work with aside from an intellect and technological know-how that's pretty tough to swallow, all things considered. Faring much better as "boss villain" Justin Hammer is Sam Rockwell, who is asked to play sort of a sleazy mirror image of Tony Stark, and has a whole lot of fun doing it. Don Cheadle takes over the Rhodey role from Terrence Howard, and delivers a character who's both a potential sidekick and an interesting guy in his own right. Sam Jackson pops up in a few scenes, if only to remind Tony (and the audience) that we'll one day see a big, crazy flick in which Iron Man, Nick Fury, Captain America, and a bunch of other costumed crusaders team up! One can only hope that Iron Man 2 newcomer Scarlett Johansson stays with the franchise, because she adds a great little touch of playful sexiness to this flick -- and of course she gets to kick some serious ass in one crazy scene. Hell, even director Favreau (reprising his role as bodyguard Happy Hogan) throws himself a funny little action scene. Also back: Leslie Bibb (in one funny sequence) as a Vanity Fair reporter, Clark Gregg as a mysterious "S.H.I.E.L.D." agent, and Paul Bettany as the voice of Stark's long-suffering computer. Hey, it's the little touches that the fans appreciate.

Simple answer? Nope, it's not better than the first flick. But while I didn't really expect it to be, any film (even one with a "2" in the title) deserves to be judged on its own merits. As such, I have no problem recommending Iron Man 2 to anyone looking for a (mostly) mindless comic book sequel that comes from a team of filmmakers intent on keeping the fans happy -- while not doling out the exact same stuff. So while Iron Man 2 doesn't break any fresh ground (like its predecessor did), it's still impressive enough for a flick to be called "a worthwhile sequel to a superior film," and Iron Man 2 is certainly that. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale.

P.S.: As with most of the past Marvel Comics movies, stick around until after the credits roll for and extra scene!

WTF Moment(s) : 1) When Tony Stark is on stage at the Stark Expo, his dress-shirt is white. Immediately after he walks off stage to check his blood toxicity in the wings, his shirt has turned to a black one. It then changes again when we get a POV shot of him walking through the crowd to his car: you can see his cuffs are white, but when we get a reverse shot of him walking out of the building not only is his shirt black again, but he is not wearing his jacket.

2) (Explain this) Ivan was waiting for Tony disguised as a mechanic in the Monaco F1 track. However, there was no way for him to know Tony would be driving. He had decided to drive his F1 himself on an impulse, mere minutes before the race. He wasn't even attending the race personally.... and... On the first half of the movie, Ivan Vanko's mustache changes in size and lip coverage several times.