Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hereafter Review and a "Movies in Theatres" Update

Film: Hereafter

Starring: Matt Damon (Invictus and Goodwill Hunting) and Jay Mohr (Jerry Maguire)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 129 minutes

It sounds like a strange punchline. But what do you get when you cross two academy award winners, a has-been comedian, and a story about the afterlife? Well apparently you get Hereafter, renowned actor-gone-director Clint Eastwood's latest look at the taboo topic of life after death. Throughout his career, Eastwood's been as close to a sure-thing as anyone else in the history of cinema. However, with his outside the box look at life and death, he's sure to draw some harsh criticisms with Hereafter.

Set in present day, Hereafter follows three people who, for different reasons, struggle with their own mortality. First, there's a French Journalist Marie LeLay who survives a near death experience and can't come to terms with what happened. Next, there's George Lonegan (played by Damon), a middle-aged psychic who can actually communicate with those who have passed on to the next life. And finally, there's Marcus, a young boy from London who loses someone close to him and is searching for resolution. The stories surrounding these three lead character's ultimately come together for a thought provoking ending.

There's plenty to discuss about Eastwood's freshest work. Hereafter is a puzzle, as is life. We learn throughout the movie the obvious, no one knows what happens when we die. Even George's character, who has remarkable abilities to communicate with the dead, knows very little about what lies ahead. However, one thing is certain. Becoming consumed by death and all of its mysteries takes away from living. In there lies the beauty of Hereafter. It's poignant, yet simple, message reminds us all to appreciate what we have. There are so many things to be grateful for and so many emotions to experience. Taking them for granted is a tragedy and a waste of the greatest gift we've ever been given, the gift of life.

Despite it's strong message, Hereafter is undoubtedly filled with flaws. It's middle of the pack dialogue, acting, and pacing do it no justice. It feels like an eternity waiting for all three stories to culminate to a nice and sweet, yet unfulfilled, final scene. Eastwood lets us down with a slow, gradual build up to a minimal resolve. I've come to expect more out of Clint Eastwood, and perhaps that is the reason I was so let down by the film. Hereafter is truly mediocre for the typical director, but well below average for an Eastwood picture. If you have to see it, hold off until its DVD release.

Stars: 1.5 out of 4 stars

Here's a gradebook outlook of films currently in theatres:

Movie Grade

Hereafter C-
Nowhere Boy A-
The Social Network A-
Conviction C+
My Soul to Keep D
Secretariat C-
Red C-
The Town A-
It's Kind of a Funny Story C-

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Film: Conviction

Starring: Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby) and Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nixon and Iron Man 2)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Tony Goldwyn

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 107 minutes

The Philadelphia Film Festival doesn't carry the same clout as Tribecca or Sundance, but its impeccable timing allows for countless Oscar buzz-worthy movies to be previewed. The 11 day affair brought many hyped films such as Black Swan, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, and Conviction to the city of Brotherly Love. I had the privilege of catching the Conviction premier on Tuesday night, just a few days before its nationwide release this Friday (October 22nd). Sporting an all star cast including Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, and Melissa Leo, Conviction, and its intriguing trailer, had me eager for the premier.

Based on the real life story of Kenny Waters (played by Rockwell), Conviction follows his sister Betty Anne's (played by Swank) remarkable 18 year struggle to overturn Kenny's murder conviction. In 1980s Massachusetts, Kenny is the town screw up. Plagued by bar fights and a troubled childhood, whenever something goes wrong in his small town, everyone's eyes turn Kenny. Everyone except his loyal sister, Betty Anne. A shocking murder takes place, and the local law enforcement arrests Kenny and charge him with 1st Degree Murder. Betty Anne is so convinced of her brother's innocence that she'll do anything to clear his name, including risking her relationships with her husband and children. She goes back to school and gets her GED, college diploma, and then passes the Bar Exam, all on her way to becoming her sibling's lawyer.

Swank and Rockwell are known for delivering glaring performances, and with Conviction they didn't disappoint. However, there's more to a film then it's cast. The premise is extremely captivating, but the final product is definitely unsatisfying. It seems as though first-time director Tony Goldwyn focuses too much on insignificant aspects of the story. Conviction feels very bland and overly systematic. All of the movie's conflicts and resolutions unfold in a similar fashion, to the point where the film begins to feel redundant. Furthermore, Conviction helps reiterate the notion that great acting doesn't necessarily make a great film.

No one will argue that Conviction isn't an amazing story about determination, faith, family, and sacrifice. However, in the film, for every pro there is a con. And despite it's unbelievable real-life story, you should hold off on venturing to the theatre to see Conviction. The film could have been so much better, and it's a shame that the result is a middle of the line interpretation of a great story.

Watch Conviction if you enjoyed: Pursuit of Happyness. Both tell incredible tales of perseverance, but neither end up captivating you.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nowhere Boy Dazzles!

Film: Nowhere Boy

Starring: Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient and Gosford Park)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 98 minutes

A great movie is a great movie, no matter if it's filmed in the U.K. or the United States. So the fact that Nowhere Boy sat around for a year after its 2009 European release, absolutely baffles me. Actually, it must have baffled The Weinstein Company even more. They worked hard over the past 12 months to put the story of John Lennon's youth on screens all across America. Well The Weinstein Company succeeded, and because they took that chance, they'll reap the benefits.
Nowhere Boy is set in 1950s England, and a youthful John Lennon (played by Johnson) is a bit of a troublemaker. While being raised by his aunt and uncle for over a decade, the mystery behind his mother's abandonment really begins to take a toll on a young Lennon. Soon after the loss of his uncle, John and his aunt Mimi (played by Thomas) really start to clash, thus prompting Lennon to seek out his biological mother, Julia. She introduces John to the world of Rock and Roll, and inevitably changes the course of history. Despite their obvious connection, John still has difficulty accepting the fact that Julia walked out on him many years ago. Nowhere Boy details the struggles Lennon faced balancing the two most important women in his life, his mother and his aunt Mimi.

As a big fan of Rock and Roll, and more specifically, The Beatles, I was very intrigued by Nowhere Boy's theatrical trailer. John Lennon will forever be linked to the origins of Rock and Roll, but the film isn't about his music career. Nowhere Boy is about a troubled teenager who's seen the darker side of life. What makes it such a wonderful film is its ability to demonstrate the common belief that any truly amazing artist has to be somewhat insane. And believe me, John Lennon was far from "normal". Aaron Johnson is phenomenal in the lead role. He does a fantastic job portraying the emotional roller coaster that was Lennon's youth. Furthermore, Johnson brilliantly illustrates how the young artist balanced such emotions with the contemporary art form that was Rock and Roll. Lennon's character and the movie's plot begin to develop side by side. As an audience, you see them both evolve simultaneously, and the result is one of 2010's best films.

You don't have to be a huge Beatles fan to get something out of this movie. Nowhere Boy is a coming of age tale about the harsh realities of life. It just so happened that Lennon used music in order to cope with his struggles. It's hard growing up no matter who you are, but how you make it work, now that defines you. As Nowhere Boy shows us, it certainly defined the life of John Lennon. I strongly suggest making an effort to see this movie. There's a charismatic aura to Lennon that Johnson demonstrates to perfection. You don't want to miss one of 2010's best performances, and moreover, one of its best films.

Watch Nowhere Boy if you enjoyed: Almost Famous. They aren't spitting images of one another, but both revolve around Rock and Roll and a teenager who's figuring life out.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two For One: Easy A and It's Kind of a Funny Story

Film: Easy A

Starring: Emma Stone (Superbad and Zombieland), Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 92 minutes

Where do I begin? The trailer for Will Gluck's charming comedy, Easy A, left me feeling as though I had "been there, done that". However, as I was leaving the theatre, I realized that the film is anything but your typical teen comedy. Emma Stone (Superbad) stars as Olive, a bright and mature high school student, who starts a rumor that spirals out of control. Olive's tale about losing her virginity prompts a fellow homosexual student, Brandon, to ask her for a huge favor. He knows that if he can convince everyone in school that he slept with Olive, the rumors about his homosexuality will subside. But once you open a door like that, you have to be sure of the consequences.

Easy A is clever and witty to say the least. It's large appeal resides in the beauty of its characters. Sure, Emma Stone does a wonderful job portraying the modern day Hester Prynne (from The Scarlet Letter), but the entire cast lends more than a helping hand. The true beauty of Easy A lies in the fact that the collaboration of its characters far exceeds the sum of its parts. Amanda Bynes also gives a noteworthy performance as Marianne, the ultra-conservative religious nut, who tries to impose her beliefs on Olive. However, despite being a teen comedy, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson (playing Olive's parents) truly steal the film. Throughout Easy A, it's evident that every character is lovable, and, more importantly, dependent upon one another. The chemistry of the cast is unmatched by any teen comedy film I've ever seen.

Easy A has been in theatres for almost a month now, and I'm sure that it is on its way out. That being said, if you can't make the effort to see it on the big screen, make note of the movie, and be sure to check it out on DVD. It'll be worth it in the end.

Watch Easy A if you enjoyed: American Pie. Will Gluck's film doesn't quite keep up with the comedic masterpiece, but it's a fun tale of sex and the teenage mind. It also has a good message or two.

Stars: 3 out of 4

Film: It's Kind of a Funny Story

Starring: Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover and Dinner For Schmucks)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: Anna Boden (Sugar) and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 91 minutes

Director's Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden are known for their interpretations of serious, real life matters. It's evident in their prior works such as Sugar and Half Nelson. Both of which follow main characters struggling deeply in their everyday lives. It's Kind of a Funny Story is no exception. Fitting right into Fleck and Boden's template, we are introduced to Craig (played by Gilchrist). Craig's a 16 year old adolescent who can't seem to cope with the stress of finding a girlfriend and getting into the right college. Having been deeply depressed for some time now, the movie begins with Craig's latest dream about jumping off of a bridge ending quite differently then usual. Distressed by his nightmare, the teenager drives to the emergency room and begs his doctor to help him out immediately. Such demands land Craig in an in-patient psych ward, which proves to be more than he bargained for.

It's Kind of a Funny Story blends its own sort of naive elegance with stylistic situational comedy. However, the laughs aren't as memorable as the awkwardness surrounding the main character, Craig. I'm roughly ten years out of high school, and yet I still found it difficult to relate to the severity of Craig's problems. The irony reiterated throughout the film is Craig sees a distinction between himself and most of the other patients at the ward, but as an outsider looking in, we see many similarities. Through his interactions with fellow lunatic Bobby (played by Galifianakis), Craig learns to differentiate between things he can and can't control. Which ultimately turns out to be a great moral for a teenage-depression story.

There are plenty of aspects to appreciate in It's Kind of a Funny Story. It's raw, emotional delivery and positive message are all praiseworthy components of the film. On the other hand, the movie lacked in dialogue and storyline. There are moments during the picture where the scene is meant to evoke a certain feeling from the audience, and you're left unconvinced. As a comedy, it underachieved. As a drama, it was mediocre.

Watch It's Kind of a Funny Story if you enjoyed: Garden State. There are countless similarities in the main characters.

Stars: 1.5 out of 4.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

Film: The Social Network

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland and Zombieland), Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Dr Paranassus), and Justin Timberlake (Alpha Dog and Black Snake Moan)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated PG-13)

Director: David Fincher (Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Fight Club)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 120 minutes

It hits us every year with a vengeance, and Oscar season is always sure to create a public stir. Without missing a beat, David Fincher's latest picture, The Social Network, has raced out of the gates and generated quite the buzz since its weekend release. Fincher, historically known for his darker taste with films like Seven and Fight Club, has tackled an emotional drama for the second consecutive time. Except now, he gives us a dose of reality with his interpretation of the back story behind the biggest social website on the planet, Facebook.

The Social Network is pieced together by the perspective's of the site's creator Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), former CFO Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), and a few of their fellow Harvard students. While engaged in two civil lawsuits, Zuckerberg and company recount all sides of the story. We follow the journey of Facebook from it's origins, and Fincher shows us the transformation of an idea into a billion-dollar company. As you can imagine, behind every billion-dollar company lies a tale of betrayal. The story behind The Social Network is no different.

Director David Fincher's depiction of the aura around Facebook seems somewhat embellished throughout the film. However, the story is so intriguing and current that you can't help but get sucked in. We all have a profile on Facebook (and even if you don't, you certainly know what it is) and understand just how popular of a product we're talking about here. It's arguably the biggest creation of our generation. Couple together a large brand name with a tale of let down and betrayal, and you're sure to have a hit. Which is exactly what Fincher has here.

The Social Network's trio of young actors all have bright futures ahead. Eisenberg did a fantastic job as the brain behind Facebook, even though his character has limited likability. Garfield and Timberlake were also stellar in supporting, but noteworthy, roles. With a tasteful combination of charm and sophisticated wit, the film will keep you hooked. But no movie is perfect, and Fincher's latest work has its fair share of flaws. The Social Network will smother you with sarcasm and fast paced dialogue that can be difficult to keep up with at times. There are moments in the film where countless smug remarks by the lead characters cause feelings of nausea, but they are few and far between. Certainly not enough to deter from the enjoyment of the movie.

As the first buzz-worthy film of this prime time Oscar season, Fincher has set the bar relatively high. The director and some of his cast are sure to earn nominations for their roles in this epic tale of entrepreneurism. So do yourself a favor and listen to all of your "friends" out there. Get to the theatre soon and check out The Social Network.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-