Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“The Visitor”

“The Visitor” is a quiet, thoughtful drama about the difference between living and “living.” In it, Richard Jenkins from HBO's Six Feet Under gives a beautifully subtle (and Oscar-nominated) performance as Walter Vale, a college professor who's emotionally dead ever since his wife passed away. But Walter is shaken out of this numbness when he’s pretty much ordered by his boss to deliver a paper at a conference in New York City. Walter returns to the apartment he still keeps in the city, and finds an illegal immigrant couple – the victims of a subletting scam – living there. At first, he puts them out on the street, but has second thoughts and asks them to stay until their living situation is sorted out. During their stay, Walter slowly develops a friendship with Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian drummer, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, who sells handmade jewelry at street markets. You can see Walter start to come alive when Tarek starts to give him drumming lessons. And all seems to be going well for the three of them until Tarek is arrested and threatened with deportation. Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), comes to the city and Walter offers her a place to stay. Their mutual concern for Tarek’s well-being and feelings about the injustice of it all serves as the seeds for a growing relationship between them. And even though things don’t go exactly how any of the characters in this film would have wanted, seeing Walter at the end of this film made me smile. So while “The Visitor” isn't a “feel-good” movie per se, I did feel good watching it. My Tweet: The Visitor-Uptight widowed college professor befriends an illegal immigrant couple and gets his world groove on. I give it 8 green cards. 8 (out of 10)

“The Visitor”

Released: 2007

Rating: PG-13

Length: 103 minutes

Cast: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Genre(s): Drama, Comedy

Monday, September 28, 2009

“Blades of Glory”

Will Ferrell adds another character to his Mount Rushmore that already includes such greats as Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby. In “Blades of Glory” Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, the boozing, sex-addicted bad boy at the top of the figure-skating heap. When he and his prissy archrival Jimmy MacElroy played by Jon Heder, are banned from men’s figure skating for fighting on an awards platform, they find a loophole in the rules that allows them to enter the pairs competition as the first all-male team. Despite a bumpy start, they manage to put the bad blood behind them and forge a bond as Chazz, the clueless, self-centered clod, ends of having a heart while Jimmy, a regimented germophobe, learns to loosen up and grow in more Chazz-like ways. Now the only thing that can stop them from getting the gold medal is the Van Waldenbergs, a creepy brother/sister team played by real-life married couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. And, oh yeah, a potentially fatal skating move called the Iron Lotus. My 140-character review on Twitter: Blades of Glory-Will Ferrell & Jon Heder bring their special brand of grace & elegance to the world of competitive figure skating. 7.5 (out of 10)

Blades of Glory

Released: 2007

Rating: PG-13

Length: 93 minutes

Cast: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler

Director: Will Speck, Josh Gordon

Genre(s): Comedy, Sports

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“Revolutionary Road”

Of all the adjectives used to describe “Revolutionary Road,” I’ve probably heard “depressing” more than any other. But “true” is a far more accurate label. And truth is what makes Sam Mendes's portrait of a promising young couple who sell out their dreams for the conventional life so depressing. And it’s not just in the mid-1950s world of this film. How many men toil away today at unfulfilling jobs just to "pay the mortgage?" How many women continue to suppress their ambitions to support their husbands’ careers?

When we first meet Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) at the party where they meet, she's an aspiring actress and he's a young man with more attitude than ambition. In the next scene, they're married and she's just performed in a particularly bad local theatre production. This leads to an argument that stirs up all the disappointment, anger and resentment that are at the core of this film. Eventually, the Wheelers decide to chuck it all and move to Paris, where they hope to recapture that spark. But complications come in the way, one in the form of a huge promotion for Frank. This leads to yet more conflict for the Wheelers with tragic results.

“Revolutionary Road” has a built-in sense of foreboding. The haunting soundtrack sets the mood so that even when things appear to be going well, you know they're not. This is also a great testament to the actors. I've never been a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. But as he's gotten older, he seems to be growing into hls roles. As Frank, his ready smile can’t hide the pain of being resigned to a joyless life. And Kate Winslet is amazing to watch. Even the way she holds her cigarette makes her look like a woman on the verge.

Another character of note is John Givings, the adult son of one of the Wheeler’s friends who’s suffered a nervous breakdown. He seems to be the only person who agrees with the Wheeler’s Paris scheme for happiness and then explodes when he learns they’ve given them up. Not only is Michael Shannon’s portrayal powerful, his character is perhaps the only one who’s being completely honest about his feelings and opinions. Which just may make you wonder which people should be wearing the straight jackets.

My tweet: Revolutionary Road-Leonardo DiCaprlo & Kate Winslet live in quiet desperation in the 50s suburbs. And they seemed so happy on the Titanic. 8 (out of 10)

“Revolutionary Road”

Released: 2008

Rating: R

Length: 119 minutes

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, David Harbour

Director: Sam Mendes

Genre(s): Drama, Adaptation, Period

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bottle Shock: The making of a French whine

"Bottle Shock" is the comedic/dramatic retelling of the biggest upset in wine-tasting history. This fateful "Judgement in Paris" is the brainchild of Parisian sommelier, Steven Spurrier, (Alan Rickman) who decides to stage a blind tasting between the best wines of France and California to help drum up publicity for his wine shop. While wending his way through California's wine country, looking for worthy competitors and sampling wines of various quality, Spurrier happens upon Chateau Montelena whose wines are quite excellent (I speak from experience). At first, Jim Barrett, (Bill Pullman) the struggling vineyard's owner, resists. But though a series of plot twists Chatean Montelena's chardonnay ends up in the competition. The scene at the judging is amusing as the various French judges trip over themselves to compliment what they believe are French wines while insulting the assumed Californians. This isn't much of a spoiler since you pretty much know it'll end even before the opening credits. The enjoyment of this movie lies in is how they get there. Which is why I tweeted: Bottle Shock-Story of how Chateau Montelena, with the help of French wine snobs, put Napa Valley on the map. Predictable yet satisfying. 7.5 (out of 10)

"Bottle Shock"

Released: 2008

Rating: PG-13

Length: 110 minutes

Cast: Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Rachel Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez

Director: Randall M. Miller

Genre(s): Drama, Comedy

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“Who Killed the Electric Car?”

Everything that's wrong with the American automobile industry, and Generals Motors in particular, is on display in Who Killed the Electric Car?, a documentary that chronicles the corporate inertia, greed, short-sightedness, corruption, collusion and just plain stupidity that created, then quashed a revolutionary vehicle. It starts back in the mid-1990s, when GM begins developing the EV1, the first mass-produced plug-in electric car, in response to pending California emissions mandates. While GM's engineers toil away to turn a prototype (which they'd already built) into a practical vehicle, GM's lawyers and lobbyists do everything in their power to defeat the legislation. It seems that GM and their corporate cronies the oil companies, parts manufacturers and dealers don't believe they can make as much money on electric cars as they can on, say, Hummers. Well, the EV1 finally arrives and both the car and company get rave reviews and restore faith that Detroit can "do it." But in the end, the lawyers win and the legislation dies. And once GM isn't compelled to "do it," they pull the proverbial plug on the EV1, dismantle the program and start collecting and crushing the cars. They won't even sell them (EV1s were only available by lease) to drivers who beg to buy them. The coda to this story is that while Detroit concentrated considerable resources to undermine the emissions rules, the Japanese carmakers used the opportunity to develop their hybrid technology. So now Toyota has the best-selling Prius and GM, after a U.S. government-assisted bankruptcy, is playing catch-up once again. My tweet on the day GM entered Chapter 11: Who Killed the Electric Car?-The rise and demise of GM's electric program. In a scrapheap somewhere an EV1 is having the last laugh. 7.5 (out of 10) I only wonder where we'll be after the current crisis is over.

"Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Released: 2006

Rating: PG

Length: 91 minutes

Cast: Martin Sheen, Dave Barthmuss, Jim Boyd, Alec N. Brooks

Director: Chris Paine

Genre(s): Documentary

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Short Take: "Shoot 'Em Up"

What I tweeted: Shoot 'Em Up-Title says it all. Paul Giamatti tries to shoot Clive Owen, who ends up shooting everyone else. Has more ammo than sense. 5.5 (out of 10)

What I thought: Bullets fly in this shoot ‘em up. Somehow Clive Owen saves a pregnant woman, delivers her baby and ends up in Paul Giamatti’s cross hairs. Giamatti’s performance is way over the top. So I guess he enjoyed himself. I really didn’t. If you’re looking for a Clive-Owen-as-midwife movie, I’d go with the much better “Children of Men.”

"Shoot 'Em Up"

Released: 2007

Rating: R

Length: 86 minutes

Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Greg Bryk

Director: Michael Davis

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“Mr. Brooks”

It's no stretch for Kevin Costner to play the perfect man. And in Mr. Brooks, he does. Costner is a wealthy, well-respected businessman with a beautiful wife, Marg Helgenberger, and a happy home life. But in this thriller, the title character, has an alter-ego, Willlam Hurt, as well as the unusual hobby of going out at night and killing couples in the throes of passion. No one has a hint about Costner's double life. And his stoic and meticulous manner, at both work and "play," make him all the more creepy. Demi Moore (who strangely is getting progressively younger looking, ala Benjamin Button, with each performance.) is the cop trying to track him down. But Costner isn’t leaving behind any clues to help her out. Things get complicated for Costner once a voyeur Dane Cook captures him on camera and blackmails him into taking a partner. Now with Moore and Cook in the mix, Costner's days are numbered. But, satisfyingly, not in the way that you think. My revlew from Twitter: Kevin Costner is a successful businessman and a serial killer because it's always good to have a skill you can fall back on. 7.5 (out of 10)

Another thriller you might like: "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"

"Mr. Brooks"

Released: 2007

Rating: R

Length: 120 minutes

Cast: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Demi Moore, Dane Cook

Director: Bruce A. Evans

Genre(s): Drama, Thriller, Crime

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Short Take: 11:14

What I Tweeted: 11:14-Five seemingly unrelated stories intersect at 11:14 one night. A bit of a puzzle. But fun to fit all the pieces together. 7.5 (out of 10)

What I thought: This is a movie where it's almost impossible to give a spoiler-free synopsis. But even if I could, it wouldn't make much sense. The first character's story starts the action going at the end with a car accident at exactly 11:14 and piece by piece, each subsequent story fills in the blanks until you have a complete picture of that evening's events. Which includes such highlights as a self-inflicted gunshot wound and an accidental dis-"member"-ment. Because of its clever plot, I put it in the hybrid category of "thinking man's, or woman's, popcorn movie." With Hilary Swank, Barbara Hershey and Patrick Swayze.


Released: 2003

Rating: R

Length: 86 minutes

Cast: Ben Foster, Hilary Swank, Rachel Leigh Cook, Patrick Swayze

Director: Greg Marcks

Genre(s): Drama, Teen