Monday, November 30, 2009

Other September Releases

I realize I am really late getting to these but I am trying to catch up, especially so I can get to some much better films I've seen lately. Please comment if you've seen any of these films and agree or disagree!

Julie & Julia

This film features two of the best actresses working today. Meryl Streep is fantastic as Julia Child, with her over the top persona and mannerisms, while Amy Adams is extremely under utilized as modern day celebrity blogger, and much less interesting Julia Powell. The film is slightly enjoyable as a whole, but completely overrated, and any Oscar talk for this movie, outside of a possible nomination for Ms. Streep, is utterly ridiculous. Seriously, it's a good date movie, and that's about it.


Mike Judge's latest live action comedy is neither as laugh out loud funny as Office Space, nor as absurd as Idiocracy, but is successful as a smaller, less ambitious comedy. To briefly summarize, Extract stars Jason Bateman as the owner of a company that makes and bottles extract, Mila Kunis as the devious temptress trying to get her hands on the company's money by way of a lawsuit involving a detached testicle, and Ben Affleck as the stoner bartender friend that talks Jason's character into hiring a male gigolo to seduce his wife so he can feel free to pursue Mila's character. High jinks ensue.

The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of this real life story of corporate impropriety and large scale price fixing makes for a humorous and absurd comedy with a great performance from Matt Damon as the whistle blower and FBI informant. What starts off as a corporate spy thriller gradually turns into a dark comedy with themes of mental illness, but the films is able to maintain its light tone due to a brilliant soundtrack and the Soderbergh's brisk filmmaking style. Although it didn't resonate with any real significance, The Informant! is an enjoyable ride, and Damon deserves some recognition.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 Releases I've Seen on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand

This film wins the award for most pleasant surprise of 2009 so far. I had heard essentially nothing but positive things about this movie, but it still didn't catch my attention as a film I'd really enjoy. If you know anything about this film and have had the same feelings, ignore those feelings and see this movie. It's a movie about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic (his nickname is "Sugar," 'cause he's sweet with the ladies...) who's working his way through the minor league system and earns his spot on a double A club in Nebraska. Everything about each environment we find him in feels genuine and real. This is a sports film, but with a concentrated focus on the pressures and dreams of Sugar and a few of his teammates, even covering current issues such as performance enhancing drugs and illegal immigration. If you haven't seen it yet, check out this beautifully shot little film on Blu-ray or DVD.

World's Greatest Dad
Unfortunately I'd read a spoiler filled synopsis for this film in a hotel before I eventually saw it on Cox On Demand. It didn't ruin it for me, but I'd definitely recommend not reading about this movie before you watch it. I'll only say that I highly recommend it if you are a fan of dark comedies filled with awkward situations. Robin Williams is downright brilliant in his role as a high school teacher raising a incredibly obnoxious teenage son on his own. That's all I'm saying. Oh yeah, it also features on of my favorite movie sequences set to a Queen song, ever. There, now go see it.

In the Loop
In the Loop has been billed as the funniest movie of the year by almost every critic that's reviewed it. Now at the time I'd seen this movie I didn't really have much ground to disagree, with it's only competition being The Hangover, but I'm afraid I might have to throw the "over-rated" flag on this one. While it definitely has it's moments, especially from fowl-mouthed British actor Peter Capaldi, I didn't find this obvious allegory to be quite as enlightened as the critical majority. It probably has to do with the fact that I don't agree with the view of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration that most of these liberal media types subscribe to, or maybe I'm just not smart enough to catch all the quick witted remarks and biting satire, who knows. I honestly think that if it had embraced it's screwball roots more instead of trying to make a statement, I think it would have been much funnier. Instead this is a marginally humorous film with a good cast (including James Gandolfini), but a misguided satirical aim that causes the entire film to miss the mark because of it.

This little indie film, starring two of the less famous Culkin brothers and Alec Baldwin, is set in the 1970s and does a pretty good job depicting the visual style of the era, with a complimentary soundtrack. Writer/director Derrick Martini examines the early modern family, economic divide brought upon by the "American dream," workaholics, adultery, and the inevitable dissolution of the family. With about as much hope as a Sam Mendes film, this bleak drama touches on themes of adolescent sexuality, school bullies, and the ever popular widespread fear of diseases (swine flu anyone?). Although I've probably made it sound like an exercises in tedium and depression, Lymelife is actually a pretty good film, with good performances and solid direction, and while I didn't love it as much as some (Ebert), I still readily recommend it.

This latest film from Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of David Lynch, is not quite as nightmare inducing as you'd imagine coming from a member of the Lynch family, but that isn't to say the obvious influences aren't there. This is a crime/suspense thriller with a dash of dark comedy thrown in for good measure. Surveillance kept me on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding through sever intense sequences. This film thrives on mystery and manipulating the audience's loyalties to certain characters and offers a dark twist on the "who-dun-it?" genre, as well as a good performance from Bill Pullman. It's definitely worth a rental.

Easy Virtue
Easy Virtue is a screwball comedy based on the play of the same name set in the early 20th century, on a plantation in England. The title refers to the supposed promiscuous nature of the movie's protagonist, Larita Whittaker, played saucily by the beautiful Jessica Biel. Unfortunately her beauty does no translate to an equivalent amount of acting talent, in fact it is probably more of an inverse relationship. She harps on the same defiant note throughout, always at odds with her husband's (Ben Barnes) belligerent mother, played with much greater skill, but equally monotone by the great Kristin Scott Thomas. Brought home by her newly acquired husband, John, she is simply not given a chance by his family, as by the end of the film almost everyone angry or disappointed with her about something. Well, I gave this movie a chance, and have to say I was equally disenchanted by the end. Not worth your time.

This virtually unseen little drama stars Kevin Spacey as a Hollywood psychiatrist, struggling himself to stay coherent amid his self-medication and alcohol binges, a direct result of a personal tragedy. We follow several characters' narratives, each a patient of Spacey's character, Henry Carter, and each facing a tragedy of their own. There is irony here, and some fairly dark humor as well, but in the end the film simply doesn't stand up under its heavy material. Also, the attempt at the end to try to bring their stories full circle, in a Crash-like manner, was simply evidence of the writers trying too hard to get a pay-off that they simply didn't earn. Besides an interesting performance from the very talented Spacey, there isn't much here to demand your attention.

The Girlfriend Experience
I must admit that I am not a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh, nor have I seen much of his filmography, but I do respect his talent as a filmmaker. The Girlfriend Experience is his most recent experimental work, and the only one that I've seen. It features an understated, almost emotionless performance by porn star Sasha Grey as a high class call girl in New York City. I wouldn't call her performance "good," but it was at least adequate, which I guess shouldn't surprise me considering she's been in approximately 180 films (pornographic) since 1996. She might just be the hardest working actress around... Yes, I jest, but back to the film. It features a lot of topical conversation between her and her "Johns" about politics and economics, as well as a some relationship drama between her and her personal trainer boyfriend towards the end. Overall, I didn't find myself caring about the character at all, and not just because of her occupation, but the film didn't do much to humanize her, other than showing us what is probably a realistic look at the day in the life of a call girl. An interesting concept that doesn't materialize into anything meaningful.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I have always loved animated movies, from the glory days of Disney to the modern classics produced like clockwork by Pixar, however, I had yet to discover the magic that is the animation from Hayao Miyazaki, who is responsible for such critically acclaimed films as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. A few months ago (yes, I am VERY far behind in my reviews) I was able to remedy that glaring deficiency in my movie viewing history.

Ponyo is a literal "fish out of water" story, almost a modern, albeit a different cultural, re-telling of the Little Mermaid, which happens to be the first movie I actually remember seeing in the movie theater when I was about 5. Miyazaki's version is incredibly bright, colorful, and brimming with a childlike innocence that has almost abandoned modern children's films, probably because they feel the need to amuse the parents with hidden innuendos. Ponyo will entertain anyone with it's vivid visual style and impeccable story telling. This story centers around a young goldfish whose father is a scientist that lives under the sea, and whose mother is some sort of goddess of the sea. She rebelliously sneaks away from her father's ship and wanders near shore where a young boy scoops her out of the shallow water. Because she accidentally activated some magical potion back on the ship, she begins to turn into a little human girl upon reaching dry land. The story isn't new, but is told in such a fresh way that it is far from stale.

One major difference I noticed from more traditional American narratives is that there isn't really a true "bad guy" in Ponyo. There are some tense, even frightening moments to be sure, but the lack of an antagonist was strangely new and refreshing. It almost reminds me of the Brave Little Toaster in the way that it centers more around the adventure than a specific conflict, although Ponyo is definitely more light hearted. Another interesting difference is that Ponyo is a Japanese film, and thus originally voiced in Japanese. However, the US release features an expensive dubbing overhaul, bringing in voice talents such as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson. Usually I'm not a fan of dubbing in any form, but they definitely did a good job with Ponyo.

This year has been incredible for animated films, with Coraline, Up, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (I'll write about that one soon hopefully!), but Ponyo stands out as a much different experience, and an experience well worth having.