Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

AFI Fest 2010 Review: The Fighter

November 18, 2010 1 comment

During AFI Fest last week, Mark Wahlberg spoke before the start of the world premiere of “The Figher” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Walhberg spoke about how much of a passion project this film was for him. The film had gone through a long development phase before finally getting made. At one point, Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct, and Matt Damon and Brad Pitt at one point attached to star alongside Wahlberg. After many false starts, the film has finally been made.

“The Fighter,” directed by David O. Russell, is based on the true story of boxer,”Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Dickie’s once promising boxing career is over due to the serious crack addiction he has developed. His crack addiction interferes with his training of Micky’s boxing career. As a result, Mickey is forced to decide whether to choose between his family or his boxing career.

First off, Christian Bale is terrific as Dickie Eklund. Bale has always been an actor who fully commits to a role. In this film, he is able to convincingly transform himself into a crack addict by losing weight, thinning his hair, and turning his teeth green. It’s a very showy, charismatic performance, but Bale is able convince the audience that his drug problem, and love for his brother, is genuine. There is one moment in the last scene of the film that blew me away. Bale is talking about his brother and he has to stop before he breaks down and cries. In the hands of another actor that moment might have come across as choreographed and phony. That one genuine little moment, says so much about Dicky’s character.

The other actors in the film are also very good. Mark Wahlberg may be a little too old to play Micky, but he’s the best he has been in a long time. Amy Adams makes you forget about her sweet persona as Wahlberg’s tough, bartender girlfriend. She brings a surprising level of authenticity to that role. I also enjoyed Melissa Leo’s turn as Walhberg and Bale’s mother and manager. She loves her sons, but doesn’t always have their best interest in mind.

The scenes outside the ring were more compelling than the fights in the ring. The family dynamic was compelling and entertaining to watch. It was really fun to watch the large pack of Walhberg’s sisters go at it with Adams. Each boxing scene is properly set up so that we fully understand the stakes they carry. However, I was never fully engaged in these moments and this is probably due to Russell and his cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, decision to shoot the boxing scenes like we are watching them on a television. I respect this creative decision to keep the audience at a distance.

The film doesn’t have the ambition to be anything other than a better than average uplifting sports picture. The picture’s rhythm and use of music leads me to believe that Russell might be channeling Scorsese. The film kind of falls in the middle of Scorsese’s great boxing picture, “Raging Bull,” and “Rocky.” The film played really well with the crowd and Bale’s performance should land him the Oscar for best supporting actor.

3 1/2 stars


AFI Fest 2010 Review: Rabbit Hole

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I was really looking forward to this film after it played at the Toronto Film Festival and got great reviews. I was really excited to see the film at AFI Fest and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film does live up to the buzz it earned out of Toronto. It’s a heartfelt, emotionally honest film that features some great performances.

“Rabbit Hole” is adapted by the play’s own Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Lindsay-Abaire, and deals with a married couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), dealing with the death of their only child, Danny. They each have a different way of dealing with the loss. Becca doesn’t know how to grieve. She feels that people criticize her for not grieving properly. Howie is stuck in the past. He gets lost in the memories of his son through watching an old cell phone video of Danny playing.

Their inability to communicate their emotions to one another sends each on a collision course that is driving them apart as a couple. Becca’s inability to grieve develops into a strange relationship with the 17-year-old boy, Jason (Miles Teller), who drove the car that killed her son. Howie flirts with cheating with Gabby (Sandra Oh), who he meets during a weekly meeting of grieving parents who have lost a child.

The performances all around are pretty damn good. Nicole Kidman gives her best performance in years. She completely sells this complicated woman who is struggling with life without her child. She expresses anger at those who feel she isn’t coping properly or to those people who try to comfort her. This puts her directly in conflict with her own mother, Nat (Dianne Wiest) and sister, Izzy (Tammy Blanchard). Kidman’s only level of comfort comes from the relationship she develops with Miles Teller’s character. It’s not a relationship built on anger toward the person who killed her son, but one built on empathy and the regret that both feel.

Aaron Eckhart is also a standout. When he feels that Kidman is trying to erase memories of their son, his rage is full of genuine pain. When the two of them clash, the tension is so real, it feels like we are standing right in the room with them. Dianne Wiest delivers some good humor and warmth as Kidman’s mother. Wiest has a great moment in the basement of the house when she gives her daughter some honest advice on how hard it is to move on after the loss of a child.

The director, John Cameron Mitchell, doesn’t overplay the drama that is inherent in this kind of material. It never dwells into melodrama. I applaud the cast and crew for making the emotions in this story feel real. The film is all about choices and the choice that Kidman and Echkart’s characters make in the end is true to the story.

The film isn’t just filled with heartbreak, but with a lot of humor and warmth. The audience clearly connected with the film and laughed and cried with the picture. It should garner serious award consideration for the cast during awards season.

4 stars

AFI Fest 2010 Review: Putty Hill

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I caught up with this independent film at this year’s AFI Fest, which is presented by Audi, in case you were wondering. It’s always a treat when you walk into a film not knowing anything about it and come out wanting to know all about it.

“Putty Hill,” directed by Matthew Porterfield, focuses on a family in a poor Baltimore community together after the death of one of their own, Cory, due to a drug overdose. The main storyline, if one can be pointed out in the film, follows Sky Ferreira as Jenny. She has come back to stay with her estranged father while they wait for the funeral.

The film is a combination of traditional narrative and has documentary elements thrown in. The film shows us how each family and friend of Cory react after his death. These scenes are like little vignettes in the story. There is not real traditional conflict in any of these scenes. What we do have is an unknown voice coming off-screen and talking to the characters about Cory.

There is a real authenticity that Porterfield brings to the screen. Almost all the actors in the film are non professional. They were so good, I thought that these people must be the real deal, and this must be a documentary. The dialogue is really poignant and more honest than any screenwriter could manufacture. I especially liked the simple wisdom coming from Jenny’s grandmother during one scene where she talks to her daughter about not going to Cory’s funeral.

The only moment in the film that feels out-of-place is when Jenny has a confrontation with her father, a tattoo artist. It’s a traditional conflict between father and daughter that we’ve seen before in other movies. The scene is at least wonderfully shot and composed by the film’s cinematographer, Jeremy Saulnier. Portfield and Saulnier are great at framing the action and letting a lot of the scenes play out in one take.

Poterfield has a great sense of how to a the story visually. By letting the camera simply show us these people’s lives, we get a good sense of who these people are, and the troubles they face in their daily lives.

4 stars

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Hereafter is a Lifeless Film

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Clint Eastwood’s recent films have been hit or miss with me. I consider his last great film to be 2006’s “Letters From Iwo Jima.” I’m afraid that “Hereafter” belongs in the miss column. The disappointment is increased when you consider the film’s screenplay was written by the talented Peter Morgan, the man who wrote “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon.”

The film focuses on three storylines, each dealing with characters whose lives are forever changed by death. One story follows a French TV journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile le France) on vacation in Thailand when a tsunami hits the country. She briefly dies for a moment before being resuscitated back to life. The other storyline focuses on two young twin boys Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) in London. When Jason is killed in an auto accident, Marcus becomes obsessed into trying to contact his dead brother. The film’s main character of focus is George Lonnegan (Matt Damon), a former psychic living in San Francisco. He use to be a successful psychic, but grew tired of exploiting people’s grief.

The film starts off promisingly enough. I love the way that Eastwood introduces us to each individual storyline. The tsunami sequence had pretty terrific visuals. The set up of the twin boy’s terrible family life was expertly handled visually. Damon’s reluctancy to give a psychic reading for one of his brother’s clients, perfectly sets up the loneliness and despair that Damon experiences in his life.

I was really into film and wanted to like it, but after a strong start, there isn’t enough of a dramatic push to keep the narrative moving along in a compelling way. Cecile le France’s character encounters push back from her book publishers when she starts to write a book about the near death experience she had. I did not particularly care about this, or find it interesting in anyway. She definitely is the weakest story in the film.

I found Marcus’s search to contact his brother to be for more interesting than the French TV journalist’s story. There is a really interesting sequence involving a montage of Marcus coming across a number of phony psychics. The twins playing Marcus and Jason are first time actors and it really shows. There is one emotional moment in the beginning of the film that didn’t hit the emotional reach it was aiming for.

Matt Damon was a big disappointment. This is certainly the least interesting performance I have ever seen from him. We understand that he is lonely, but it has to be cinematically interesting to watch on-screen. It isn’t here. I cheered a bit when he briefly encounters a young lady played by Bryce Dallas Howard, because at least she is able to add some much-needed energy into his lagging plot line.

The quality of Eastwood’s films depend on the screenplay. When he gets a good script, he can deliver. The screenplay needed another polish. Peter Morgan has even admitted that he was shocked when Eastwood decided to film essentially a first draft of his screenplay. The ending dives into sentimentality, and we are meant to feel some great satisfaction when these three stories finally connect, but it never happens. It feels cheap and unearned.

2 stars

Like The Social Network

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This film was my most anticipated film of 2010. The expectations I had going into this film were incredibly high. As I sat in the movie theatre, I was wondering how could this film possibly live up to my expectations. I’m happy to say that the film lived up and exceeded my expectations.

The Social Network, based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, chronicles the founding of the popular social networking website Facebook, and the deconstruction of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) friendship with his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The story is told through two court depositions. One deposition follows the Saverin, Zuckerberg lawsuit and the other one tells us the story of how Zuckerberg ended up being sued by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), twins who approached Zuckerberg with a starting a similar social networking website while the three attended Harvard University.

The film moves at a quick, lighting pace, but the audience never gets lost in the story. Director, David Fincher, and his editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, deserve massive credit for creating a compelling, coherent story, by cutting back and forth between these two court depositions. The cutting back and forth among character also does a good job of emphasizing the bite of screenwriter’s Aaron Sorkin’s terrific screenplay.

Fincher has lured some great performances from his cast. Jesse Eisenberg is terrific as Zuckerberg. He is a character who is more comfortable in front a computer screen, than talking face to face with another human being. We see this first hand in the terrific opening scene of the movie where Zuckerberg is out on a date with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara). The date ends horribly when he ends up insulting her, even though it wasn’t his intention to do so. There is something ironic in the fact that the man who creates a website that allows people to communicate, can’t properly communicate with anybody. What makes Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg a fascinating, complex character, is that we’re never quite sure what he is thinking. He’s a jerk, but we do feel sympathy for this tragic, lonely character.

The rest of the cast delivers impressive performances. Justin Timberlake is perfectly douchey and arrogant as Sean Parker, the creator of Napster. He is the force that comes between Zuckerberg and Saverin’s personal and business relationship. Andrew Garfield is really good as Facebook’s chief financial operator and Zuckerberg’s best and only friend. He is too innocent and honest, which is what leads to him getting cut out of the company. Garfield has our sympathy and anger during the great scene when he learns about this betrayal. Armie Hammer does a nice job of giving each Winklevoss twin a unique personality and delivering some good comedic relief through Sorkin’s dialogue.

Let me also point out the terrific score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The music never calls attention to itself. It does a nice, simple job of adding a menacing undertone to the story.

Every couple of years there comes along a few great stories that perfectly convey a generation’s take on the universal themes of friendship, betrayal and loneliness. “The Social Network” is one of those films.

5 stars

Crime is the Norm in The Town

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Ben Affleck has had quite the career comeback. Now when you think of Ben Affleck, you think of him as a respected director. I can remember years ago Affleck starring in many, big budget, crappy films. Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, and the notorious Gigli, all made his name the butt of jokes. But ever since his 2007 directional debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck has been in the middle of a career comeback.

Based on the novel by Prince of Theives, by Chuck Hogan, Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort centers around a group of close-knit bank robbers from Charlestown, Massachusetts. Chief among this group of bank robbers is Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck and his best friend, James “Jem” Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner. On one bank job, the group briefly takes a bank employee, played by Rebecca Hall, hostage. Things only go down hill after this robbery. The FBI, lead by Jon Hamm, are close on their trail and Affleck’s relationship with their former hostage, Hall, could bring him and his friends down.

Affleck has formed a pretty impressive cast of talented actors, all who succeed in varying degrees of doing a Boston accent. Renner is a standout in the film as hard-edged career criminal and Affleck’s best friend. He brings a level of authenticity to the role. Authenticity also applies to the relationship between Affleck and Renner. At the end of the picture, you really believe the friendship between the two.

Rebecca Hall is also very nice in her role as the love interest and Pete Postlewaite has a nice role, but not a very good Boston accent, as the crime boss who Affleck and Renner work for. Speaking of bad Boston accents, Chris Cooper has a small cameo as Affleck’s jailed father. He’s fine, but it seems like he isn’t even trying for the Boston accent. Blake Lively, known from the TV show, Gossip Girl, is authentic as Renner’s junkie sister and estranged ex-girlfriend of Affleck.

Who did disappoint me in the ensemble cast was Jon Hamm, as the FBI Agent. I found the FBI story line the least interesting aspect of the film’s story. Hamm is never as bad ass as he tries to make this character out to be at times. I probably blame this on the script, written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard. Hamm’s a good actor, but he’s not given much to do make this character more than the generic lawman we’ve seen in other crimes films. I didn’t buy that the FBI would be so clueless as to not know about what Affleck and Renner’s crew were up to leading up to the last robbery. It reeks of unbelievability.

There are three robbery sequences in the film and Affleck does a great job of making each one different and unique to watch. A car chase in the middle of the film is exceptionally well done, and the final stand-off between the robbers and the FBI was exhilarating to watch.

Overall, the film never reaches the emotional catharsis at the end, that I think the director is aiming for. But this is still a solid, crime film. I enjoyed this film better than Affleck’s debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” and with this film, Affleck proves that he is not just a one hit wonder.

3 stars

Closing Thoughts on the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival

Weeks have passed since the Newport Beach Film Festival came to a close. It was a fun, new experience for me. It does kind of suck the life out of you trying to catch up with as many films as you can. What follows are my thoughts on some of the films I saw on the last day of the festival.

“The Elephant in the Living Room” is a documentary by Michael Webber that shows us the underground world of exotic animal ownership in the U.S. This documentary is the best thing I saw at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The documentary was informative, interesting and touching as well. The film follows Tim Harrison, a man who makes it his job to protect exotic animals living in the country. The other person the film follows is a man named Terry who keeps a male and female lion in his backyard.

I found the film an incredibly fascinating look at an entire society of people who keep wild, exotic animals as pets. It could have been easy for the filmmakers to condemn these people, but instead it gives people like Terry a fair chance to state their opinion. Even though I think that people like him are nuts, we do learn that he does genuinely care for his animals. There are some really beautiful, touching moments involving the lions in the film. Everyone should definitely catch up with this film. I can’t recommend it enough.

I also caught up with “True Adolescents” from director Craig Johnson. I caught up with this film because of the film’s star, Mark Duplass. Duplass made a splash last year with “Humpday”. I really liked that film and was impressed with his performance. In this film Duplass plays a 30-something wannabe rock star who is not going anywhere in life. When his girlfriend dumps him, he has no choice but to move in with his Aunt, played by Melissa Leo. Duplass ends up getting stuck taking his cousin and his friend on a camping trip, which doesn’t go according to plan.

I wasn’t sure what the film wanted to be at first. Some of the humor in the beginning of the film didn’t work for me or the audience. I think everyone expected the film to be more of a comedy than it was. I wasn’t sure if I could accept Duplass playing a semi-serious role after his great comedic turn in “Humpday”. But by the end of the film I was impressed with the dramatic chops that he was able to deliver. Duplass delivers a great moment where he takes a hard look at himself in the mirror. Issues of belonging, and sexual identity are handled extremely well in the film. This is a coming of age film for both the young kids and the Duplass character.

The last film I saw at the festival was the premiere of a film called “Tug” directed by Abram Makowka. The film is a nice little picture, that is a bit unfocused. Sam Huntington plays the film’s unnamed lead character, who is a wannabe screenwriter living in Michigan. He has a good relationship with his girlfriend, played by Sarah Drew, but his relationship is threatened by an ex-girlfriend who won’t leave him alone. This crazy ex-girlfriend only increases Huntington’s  uncertain life and the film follows him as he tries to gets his life in order.

The best thing about the film is the performance of Sam Huntington. He is a very relatable presence on-screen. You do feel like you could be his character. Zachary King also delivers a good comedic performance as Huntington’s best friend in the film. One problem with the film is that I didn’t feel that there were any life changing stakes involved in the story. Some of the major plot changing scenes in the film are tired out; we have seen these scenes before in other films done better. Towards the end of the film I grew frustrated and just wanted this guy to make a decision and move on with his life. I liked the performances better than the film’s story.

I had a very enjoyable time at the Newport Beach Film Festival. My only regret is that I wish I was able to catch more films that were of better quality.