Monday, November 29, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Film: Love and Other Drugs

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko and Brothers) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married and The Princess Diaries)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 113 Minutes

Acclaimed director Edward Zwick seems to be returning to his roots. After spending the past decade depicting epic tales like Blood Diamond and Defiance (see what I had to say about Zwick in my January archived blog about directors in Hollywood), Zwick decided to once again tackle the romantic comedy genre with his latest work Love and Other Drugs. Teaming up for the first time since the Oscar winning film Brokeback Mountain, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are cast together as two young adults who unconventionally fall in love. After receiving glaring reviews from countless critics, Zwick may bring home some more hardware this upcoming awards season.

Set in the late 1990s, Love and Other Drugs centers around the crafty, womanizing Jamie Randall (played by Gyllenhaal). After his sex-crazed escapades land him on unemployment, Jamie turns to the up-and-coming Pharmaceutical industry to find some work. He lands a job at Pfizer as a drug representative and begins a life of sales. While attempting to win over a big time doctor in the Ohio valley, Jamie meets the beautiful and outgoing Maggie Murdock (played by Hathaway). Almost immediately, the two begin an ongoing "friends with benefits" relationship. Ultimately, the two fall for each other, but their "baggage" may be too difficult to overcome.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway show their remarkable chemistry on the big screen. Having previously worked together, their comfort with one another is very evident. However, Zwick spends a larger portion of the film illustrating their sexual connection rather than their emotional one. Another slight downfall to the the film was it's acting. Gyllenhaal was hardly serviceable, and it's supporting cast (Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria), historically speaking, usually give much better performances. On the other hand, Hathaway was convincing as the high strung, emotionally unbalanced Maggie Murdock. Hathaway's character builds walls around herself and takes a leap of faith when she allows Gyllenhaal to enter her sheltered world. Still somewhat unsure of her decision to do so, at the first sign of trouble Hathaway brilliantly portrays Maggie's uncertainty towards Jamie. In fact, she was so convincing that I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her nominated for Best Lead Actress at this year's Oscars.

Despite its flaws as a drama, Love and Other Drugs is a success as a comedy. Josh Gad (playing Gyllenhaal's brother in the film) is a great side character. The dialogue between siblings is laugh out loud funny, but on a few occasion's, Gad's character seems somewhat forced. However, he circumvents his way around these situations by delivering his comedic lines with excellent precision. It's not too far fetched to say that Josh Gad actually steals the film.

Love and Other Drugs is a difficult film to truly grasp. The lead character's have intentional quirks that are meant to drive the audience crazy. However, if you are a fan of Jake Gyllenhall or if you can look past his mediocrity on screen, there are plenty of laughs and heartfelt moments to enjoy.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Next Three Days

Film: The Next Three Days

Starring: Russell Crowe (Gladiator and American Gangster) and Elizabeth Banks (W. and Role Models)

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

Director: Paul Haggis (Crash and In the Valley of Elah)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 2 hours 2 minutes

Writer-Director Paul Haggis may need a bigger room for all of his hardware. Haggis has written the screenplay for back to back Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Crash (2005). And not only did Haggis write the Oscar winning Crash, he also directed the film. With his latest movie, The Next Three Days, having a delayed release date, Haggis and the picture's studio are sure to have their finger's crossed, in hopes of some recognition during this year's award season. If by chance everything falls into place, perhaps stars Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks can make that happen.

Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Next Three Days centers around a college professor, John Brennan (Russell Crowe), and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks). Their lives are turned upside down when Lara is arrested for the murder of her boss. Fully convinced of his wife's innocence, John can't seem to accept this unjust reality as he's left with only one choice. He has to break Lara out of prison.

Never dull, The Next Three Days flows very well. John (Crowe) is a proper, well-educated man who slowly evolves right before your eyes. Desperate to reconnect with his wife, you get to witness the transformation of a neat and structured professor into a meticulous criminal mastermind. Crowe gives a solid performance as a husband driven by faith and love. However, it's hard to fully empathize with his character. As a member of the audience, you find yourself far more objective than John. He undoubtedly proclaims her innocence, but you become more open minded as you learn the facts surrounding Lara's murder case. It's unbelievable, but Elizabeth Banks is hardly recognizable at times. Even so, she still gives a convincing performance as John's wife, Lara, who can't cope with life in prison. All in all, as a whole, the acting was strong.

Despite its great cast, there are a few things unappealing about The Next Three Days. Haggis creates such a precise situation that it becomes difficult to believe it's possible. He does an excellent job developing the characters and story, but as you watch the events unfold, you can't help but feel let down. I have a lot of issues with the ending of the film. Haggis unconvincingly ties together all loose ends of the movie. In doing so, he creates a very polarizing finale. I just happen to lean toward the "dissatisfied" extreme.

If you need to get out and do something one of these weekends, The Next Three Days is one of the best options in theatres. It will keep you entertained, but if you're like me, you could be let down at its conclusion. Be warned.

Watch The Next Three Days if you enjoyed: Inside Man. The Next Three Days has a similar feel to Spike Lee's clever bank robbery tale, but it, unfortunately, outsmarts itself in the end.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Film: Unstoppable

Starring: Denzel Washington (Training Day and Remember the Titans), Chris pine (Star Trek), and Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds)

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

Director: Tony Scott (Crimson Tide and Taking of Pelham 1 2 3)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 98 minutes

It was a packed house at the advanced screening of Unstoppable I attended last week. In fact, due to some traffic, I almost didn't get a seat. All of this reiterated the fact that the general public loves a good Action movie. And if you want a good action movie, Tony Scott seems to be the go-to director these days. Now I'll be the first to admit that special effects and heart-pounding scenes don't usually draw me to a film, but if it's done correctly, I can thoroughly enjoy a solid action movie. So if you're a HUGE action buff, take my review with a grain of salt.

Unstoppable is based on true events that actually occurred in my home state of Pennsylvania. I was pretty shocked that I couldn't remember ever hearing about the story. On a typical week day, a clumsy railroad employee mishandles a situation and the result is an unmanned, heavy duty train traveling around 65 mph. Unstoppable focuses on all of the problems the railroad company experienced while having to somehow stop this moving missile. To fuel the fire, let me also mention that this out of control vessel is carrying tons of hazardous and flammable materials. Frank (played by Washington) drives trains for the railroad company, and when he hears of the situation he convinces rookie conductor Will (played by Pine) to help him do something about it.

There are plenty of memorable scenes in Unstoppable. In fact, it's intensity is a sure fire adrenaline rush for the entire audience. Also, the director does a great job of circumventing the main characters' back story's. The viewers are there for the thrill ride, not the drama surrounding Will or Frank. Furthermore, the dialogue was tasteful and the acting was solid. But, as I must warn you, Unstoppable has its fair share of criticisms too. It's recycled feeling of here's a problem, here's a solution, and here's a new problem ... becomes exhausting. The plot rarely progresses, and we're left facing similar dilemmas over and over again. By the end of the movie you catch yourself wondering "when will they stop this train already"?

Despite its slight overkill, the action sequences are great and there are plenty of enjoyable aspects to Tony Scott's latest film. Unstoppable is a roller coaster ride that ultimately leaves you satisfied at its conclusion. What it lacks in substance and plot it makes up with its humor and visuals. That being said, if you're a sucker for an action film, definitely check it out. If not, wait for dvd.

Watch Unstoppable if you enjoyed: Speed. There's not as much fluff in Unstoppable, and you get an ever larger rush from this film.

Stars: 2 out of 4

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Due Date

Film: Due Date

Starring: Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), and Jamie Foxx (Ray and The Soloist)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Todd Phillips (The Hangover and Road Trip)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 100 Minutes

Over the past decade Todd Phillips has made quite the name for himself. Directing instant comedy classics like Old school and The Hangover will do that to a person. With his latest work, Due Date, Phillips certainly keeps his hot streak going. The film is a hybrid mix of The Hangover meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, therefore once again, the director's sure to have a winner on his hands.

Peter Highman (Downey Jr ... and yes, that is his character's last name) is on the other side of the United States while his pregnant wife patiently awaits his return home. Mrs. Highman has a C Section scheduled in a few days, and Peter must make it back in time to see the birth of his first child. While an unfortunate series of events occur at the hands of Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), Peter's only chance of making it to Los Angeles in time for the procedure is by taking a good old fashion road trip. Ethan and Peter embark on a journey that neither one of them could have ever imagined.

Due Date is filled with countless laugh out loud scenes. The chemistry between Downey Jr and Galifianakis is great and they play their roles well. The film is sure to draw a ton of comparisons to The Hangover, mainly because Galifianakis plays a very similar role. However, in Due Date, there's a lot more of him to see. And Downey Jr, who has a history of being a successful comedic actor, does a great job complementing Galifianakis. In one scene, Downey Jr's character sternly proclaims to officers at the border, "I have never done a drug in my entire life". How could you not see the humor in that?

Despite the constant laughs, Due Date is nowhere near a flawless movie. Occasionally throughout the film, as a viewer you get the feeling that some of these jokes have been recycled. Also, there are numerous instances where what transpires is completely out of the realm of possibility. Due Date may ultimately end up a very polarizing movie. I'd recommend the movie to anyone who fits two criteria. First, are you a fan of Galifianakis (especially his role in last summer's The Hangover)? And second, are you able to suspend your belief and accept the movie for what it is, a screwball comedy? If you answered yes to both, then don't waste any time getting to the theatres this opening weekend to see it. Otherwise, proceed with caution.

Stars: 2.5 out of 4.

Monday, November 1, 2010

127 Hours: Franco Among the Elite

Film: 127 Hours

Starring: James Franco (Milk and Pineapple Express)

U.S. Release: 2010 (rated R)

Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: Approximately 90 minutes

While at the Philadelphia Film Festival in late October, I was able to view an advanced screening of 127 Hours on the event's closing night. The acclaimed director, Danny Boyle, was the overwhelming winner at the 2008 Oscars with his beautiful love story, Slumdog Millionaire. In his first release since 2008, Boyle hopes to strike gold at this year's awards ceremony with his real-life interpretation of Aron Ralston's story. Ralston (played by James Franco) is an outdoor enthusiast who was trapped for nearly 6 days in a canyon in Utah. His arm was lodged between a fallen boulder and the canyon itself. After running out of food and water, Ralston went to outrageous lengths in order to survive the ordeal.

It's difficult to base an entire film around a stationary main character. Boyle recognizes the lack of interest an audience has in seeing the same setting over and over again. In order to keep the film progressing, Boyle does a fantastic job using flashbacks to humanize Ralston's (Franco) character. During the course of the movie, we slowly begin to understand the man behind the predicament. There's countless aspects of irony we see throughout 127 Hours. The adventurous and always on-the-go Ralston finds himself incapable of moving. Also, Aron has spent his entire life independent and distant from his family and other intimate relationships. Yet, he ultimately ends up desperate for the help and aid of others.

Throughout his physical struggles and limitations, what Boyle does so beautifully is introduce the viewer to Aron's emotional turmoil. Has Ralston's actions inevitably led him to this horrific fate? And if so, how can he change for the better? James Franco is unforgettable as Ralston. He's so believable and charismatic, that you can't help but get emotionally invested in the film. Franco has us relive his mistakes and regrets alongside him. Yet more importantly, we get to see his transformation and rebirth. Although the credits role shortly after his escape from the canyon, we are relieved knowing that this time around Aron's going to lead a much more fulfilling life.

Rumors have flooded the Internet about the official 127 Hours premier on Halloween night. Reports have been saying that a few people had to exit the theatre and someone even vomited in the aisle. I won't exaggerate it, the culminating scene where Aron Ralston frees himself from the boulder is extremely graphic, but essential. You can see the insanity in Franco's eyes. The "now or never" realization that he's forced to accept. It's quite prolific.

There are countless guarantees you should expect from a Danny Boyle film. You're sure to experience vivid imagery, colorful scenery, a memorable score, and raw emotion from his characters. Franco certainly delivers, and he's currently my front runner for Best Actor in a Leading Role this year. Such a performance will undoubtedly propel Franco among the elite in Hollywood. Do yourself a favor and get to theatres this
weekend to see a fantastic film and an even greater portrayal of survival.

Watch 127 Hours if you enjoyed: Into The Wild. Both films portray excellent tales of survival, yet 127 Hours is much more memorable.

Stars: 3.5 stars out of 4

Grade: A-