Thursday, March 31, 2011
Starring: Patrick Wilson (Morning Glory and The Switch) and Rose Byrne (Get Him to the Greek and Knowing)
Director: James Wan (Saw and Death Sentence)
U.S. Release: April 1st, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 102 minutes
Hello ... my name is David Traverso and I'm a horror movie-oholic. I've been hooked ever since my childhood when classics like John Carpenter's Halloween and Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street kept me up until all hours of the night. I can't really put my finger on what it is I love about scary movies but one thing's for sure, there's nothing quite like being afraid. Hence, when the Philadelphia Film Society (I urge all to join) announced their advance screening of James Wan's latest scary movie, Insidious, I jumped at the opportunity.
The Lamberts are looking for a fresh start. Josh (Wilson), a local school teacher, is working hard to support his wife Renai (Byrne), a struggling songwriter, and their three children. Once they finally get settled into a new home, their son Dalton suffers an accident and unexpectedly goes into a comatose state. When strange occurrences begin happening throughout the house, Renai suspects their new home may be haunted. Yet, no matter what she thinks, nothing could prepare her for what she's about to experience.
James Wan, the acclaimed director of the 2004 hit Saw, gives a valiant effort, but despite his classic approach, the story behind Insidious is too outrageous to be believable. To Wan's credit, however, he does successfully create a suspenseful movie experience. The film incorporates spine chilling music and sound effects that perfectly complement its intense mood. Insidious has many memorable onscreen moments for true horror fans to enjoy, but at the root of it, it's impossible to get past the movie's dull, regurgitated plot.
It's definitely worth noting that the film's special effects are solid, and the acting is slightly above average for its genre. It's rare to see Patrick Wilson in such a role, but he was adequate as the father of the household. Supporting actress, Barbara Hershey, was also as equally creepy in this picture as she was in her Oscar nominated film Black Swan.
At the end of the day Insidious will be praised by some and laughed off by others. I accept a horror movie for what it is, and this movie was certainly entertaining. If you can look past the far fetched storyline, you will be able to enjoy Insidious for what it is.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Monday, March 28, 2011
Film: The Lincoln Lawyer
Starring: Matthew McConaughey (We Are Marshall and Two For The Money), Ryan Phillippe (Flags of Our Fathers and Crash), and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler and Cyrus)
Director: Brad Furman (The Take)
U.S. Release: March 18th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 119 minutes
Who doesn't like a suspenseful courtroom drama? With successful spin-offs of shows like Law & Order and CSI, it's pretty obvious the general public naturally favors the genre. And after two weekends in the box office, heartthrob Matthew McConaughey's latest cat and mouse picture, The Lincoln Lawyer, has grossed $29 million dollars. With favorable reviews and many recommendations coming to me by word of mouth, I flocked to the theatre this weekend to see what all the fuss was about.
Mickey Haller (McConaughey) is a divorced lawyer who operates out of his Lincoln Town Car. He makes ends meet with a long list of typical clients and typical cases. However, when local rich kid Louis Roulet (Phillippe) asks Haller to defend him in an Assault and Attempted Murder case, the attorney's world spins upside down. As the days progress, Haller starts to doubt his client's innocence and the back and forth between attorney and Roulet begins to tread dangerous waters. Getting more than he bargained for, Haller begins piecing the puzzle together and enters a world he never would have imagined.
Director Brad Furman's first major motion picture release, The Lincoln Lawyer, will certainly help his career. He orchestrates an intense game of chess, beautifully delivered by the entire cast. Lead actor Matthew McConaughey finally reaches the heights we believed imaginable after his role in the 90s drama A Time to Kill. And his co-star, Ryan Phillippe, is as equally brilliant. It's also worth mentioning the always stunning Marisa Tomei and the extremely gifted William H. Macy. Both of whom are excellent in their supporting roles.
Outside of its solid acting, The Lincoln Lawyer offers an even better plot. The story contains a perfectly timed sequence of events that keeps the audience on its toes. The film is adequately paced and its two hour runtime passes effortlessly. Furthermore, there's superb dialogue and enough shocking moments to appeal to anyone.
The only downfall to Furman's major directorial debut is its abrupt ending. The final 10 minutes on screen seem to catch you a little off guard. Since The Lincoln Lawyer moves so well, I would've preferred Furman taking the time to construct a tighter ending. However, it's a tiny flaw in an otherwise very good film.
Matching it up against other courtroom dramas, The Lincoln Lawyer's strong acting, well-crafted script, and fast pace make it a must-see. Such films are naturally cliched and formula driven yet, in the typical sluggish Spring months, The Lincoln Lawyer proves to be a gem.
Stars: 3 out of 4.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Starring: Simon Pegg (Run, Fatboy, Run and Shaun of the Dead), Nick Frost (Pirate Radio and Shaun of the Dead), and the voice of Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express and The 40 Year Old Virgin)
Director: Greg Mottola (Superbad and Adventureland)
U.S. Release: March 18th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director Greg Mottola is on what us gamblers like to call a "hot streak". His previous two films, Superbad and Advenuterland, were both charming and hysterical in their own right. Needless to say, when I heard he'd be directing the E.T. gone vulgar sci-fi comedy Paul, I was shocked. Then, leading up to its theatrical release and through its first week, Mottola's latest picture had over a 70% approval rating on the must-use website http://www.rottentomatoes.com/ . At that point I had to see what was up with Paul.
Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are best friends making their first trip to the states. The European natives are visiting Comicon in San Diego, and then taking their rented RV to famous UFO sighting hot spots. While casually traveling the United States, a completely unexpected sequence of events begin to unfold. The duo cross paths with a blunt-smoking, raunchy alien named Paul (voice of Seth Rogen). The alien has escaped from government captivity and he's desperate to return home to his native planet. With the help of Graeme, Clive, and a few other surprising people, Paul is in for the ride of his life.
With an uncontroversial R rating, Paul is definitely no E.T.. There is no family-film qualities in this movie whatsoever. In fact, keep your children far away from this picture. Paul is an immature, "fart joke" comedy with the occasional laugh out loud scene. However, there's nothing particularly great about the movie, and I have absolutely no idea how other critics have almost unanimously praised Paul.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have collaborated plenty and if you enjoy the pair, you may find some charm in the film. But on its surface, Paul has a scarce number of bright spots. The plot is razor thin, the jokes are overdone, and the acting is barely mediocre. Greg Mottola has officially ended his "hot streak". I've come to expect more out of this director, and you should too. Don't believe what most critics are saying, Paul is not a must-see.
Stars: 1 and a half out of 4
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Starring: Bradley Cooper (The Hangover and Wedding Crashers) and Robert De Niro (Meet the Parents and Goodfellas)
Director: Neil Burger (The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones)
U.S. Release: March 18th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 105 minutes
Bradley Cooper has taken Hollywood by storm. The local (from Abington, PA) heartthrob has seen his stock skyrocket since his 2009 comedic hit, The Hangover, generated millions of laughs across the country. Hence, on a rainy Thursday night, I couldn't miss an advanced screening of Cooper's latest feature, Limitless, and a brief Q & A with the actor afterward. Limitless is Cooper's first giant leap outside of the comedy genre, and something the actor views as a big deal. Refusing to be labeled as a one dimensional actor, the gifted Cooper felt the need to branch out and look for an edgy, new age script. And with the thriller Limitless, he sure found one.
Eddie Morra (played by Cooper) is a despicable, broke author living in the city slums. Don't worry, he even describes himself that way. The fact that he's a novelist under contract by a publishing company, although he hasn't written a word, doesn't even seem to motivate his lifestyle. Both physically and mentally, Eddie feels like a failure. Once divorced and newly single, Eddie happens to run into his ex-brother in law on the streets. When he tells Eddie about a pill he's starting to market that allows an individual to access every square inch of their brain, the struggling writer becomes intrigued. In fact, after he sees the effects of the little pill, he desperately obtains a large quantity of it. Leading to a life beyond his wildest imagination, Eddie must avoid the men hunting his supply and the pill's crippling physical effects.
Limitless may be the most difficult movie I've had to critique. It truly is a tale of two films. The movie's introduction and development of its premise is intriguing and entertaining. However, once Limitless begins to enter the body of the film, it begins to unravel. With countless head scratching scenes and a swiss cheese plot, director Neil Burger's thriller falls well short of its obvious potential. All in all, Limitless is a clever premise gone wrong.
Despite is numerous flaws, the film's acting certainly isn't one of them. Bradley Cooper has officially branched out from the comedy genre, and he's done so effectively. He's commendable illustrating Eddie Morra's metamorphosis from a deadbeat writer to a confident money-making machine. Robert De Niro gives a solid performance as well, and Limitless would have benefited from a larger role from the Hollywood legend. Furthermore, the dialogue is noteworthy and the script is well written. It's a shame that the final product didn't quite live up to the sum of its parts.
On entertainment value alone, Limitless is an adequate film. However, for anyone looking for the next revolutionary hit, the movie falls short of other comparable classics like Fight Club and Snatch. I recommend keeping the Alexander Hamilton in your pocket and waiting a few months for its DVD release.
Stars: 2.5 out of 4.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Film: The Adjustment Bureau
Starring: Matt Damon (Invictus and Good Will Hunting) and Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria and The Devil Wears Prada)
Director: George Nolfi (None)
U.S. Release: 2011 (PG-13)
Genre: Drama (more so a Fantasy/Sci-Fi Romance)
Runtime: 99 minutes
If there's one thing the viewing audience can come to expect from Matt Damon, it's great film selection. Damon has a knack for choosing groundbreaking scripts, and as a result he landed the #3 spot on my 2010 blog featuring the Best Actors of My Generation (under the age of 42). This is exactly the reason why I was baffled by the initial trailer for Damon's latest picture, The Adjustment Bureau. The preview illustrated an overdone, over the top film with very little substance. I was a skeptic.
Another interesting piece of information surrounding The Adjustment Bureau is the connection between first time director George Nolfi and his star, Matt Damon. As it turns out Nolfi is a very creative writer, perhaps best known for another Damon film, Jason Bourne's third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum. The question becomes, can these two create another well-applauded cinematic feature?
The Adjustment Bureau spans multiple years in New York. David Norris (played by Damon) is a young, passionate politician in the midst of a tight senate race. When photos of a prank get leaked to a newspaper, it shatters the election. As a result, Norris loses the close battle and prepares his concession speech. While doing so, he has a random encounter with Elise (played by Blunt), a beautiful, mysterious woman. The evening leaves a serious mark on Norris, therefore when fate allows him to bump into Elise again, he seizes the moment. Despite their strong connection, a stronger force deems it impossible for the pair to be together. In fact, they'll do whatever it takes to ensure David and Elise go on separate life journeys.
Clever and creative, The Adjustment Bureau proves to be a pleasant experience. On the surface, the film is mildly entertaining, yet rehashed. It's a topic that's been done before. However, at its core the movie is deep and philosophical. Fate vs Free Will. Not to get too far off topic, but I've always seen a distinct difference in those two concepts. Either you believe in fate, a pre-determined outcome, or you believe in free will, where your choices dictate the future. If your life is already written, then how can you have the freedom to choose? It's ideas like these that make The Adjustment Bureau so interesting and progressive. It's a film somewhat beyond its time.
On the other hand, Goerge Nolfi's debut feature is certainly lacking in many areas. For such an innovative and original idea, the director creates a very roundabout way of portraying it on screen. The Adjustment Bureau feels as though it could have landed amongst some of cinema's greatest, however its cyclic approach and redundancy keeps it from such heights.
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have fantastic chemistry on screen and their romance certainly feels authentic. Both are wonderful performers who we'll have the luxury of enjoying for years to come. The love story behind The Adjustment Bureau is excellent and convincing. Without it, the film easily fails. Hence, kudos to the gifted pair of actors for making it translate on screen.
There are plenty of more pro's than con's with The Adjustment Bureau. You'll be captivated by its love story, and dazzled by it's brilliant complexity. There are a few shortcomings that are noticeable, however you'll appreciate its deep, philosophical approach, and ultimately leave the theatre feeling satisfied. I suggest seeing Matt Damon's newest hit, The Adjustment Bureau. So far, it's the best 2011 has to offer.
Stars: 2.5 out of 4
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Film: Win Win
Starring: Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man and Barney's Version) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone and Changeling)
Director: Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent and The Visitor)
U.S. Release: March 18th, 2011 (Not Yet Rated)
Runtime: 106 minutes
While growing up a high school wrestler in Pennsylvania, there were very few iconic films pertaining to my main sport. The most notable, thanks to a cameo by a very young pop star on the rise named Madonna, was the cult classic Vision Quest. Despite the nostalgic connection I have with the film, it's inevitable that the 80s movie fails to resonate with today's generation. In comes director Thomas McCarthy's latest release, Win Win. To be fair to the writer/director, Win Win is NOT a movie about wrestling. In fact, at a brief Q & A with McCarthy, he emphatically protested that Win Win is a movie about family. Although the film's back story focuses heavily on the sport, there's something far more real and authentic behind the feature.
Win Win follows Mike (played by Giamatti) and Jackie (played by Ryan) Flaherty, a suburban couple living in northern New Jersey. Mike is a lawyer with his own practice, yet it's on the decline. When a client of his, Leo Poplar (played by Burt Young), is ruled incapacitated by a judge, Mike takes on the responsibility of being his legal guardian. Along with the title, Mike gets a monthly $1,500 check to help keep his family afloat. While taking care of business at Mr. Poplar's house, Mike runs in to Kyle Timmons, a young boy who claims to be Leo's grandson. Ultimately, Mike welcomes the troubled teen into his home and discovers they can both learn a great deal from each other.
Not only did McCarthy do a standout job, but the entire cast was chosen perfectly. Everyone from Golden Globe winner Paul Giamatti down to first time actor Alex Shaffer (who played Kyle Timmons). Each character, no matter how big or small of a role, delivered brilliantly. Bobby Cannavale was especially excellent. As a best friend and assistant coach to Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), Cannavale's superb comedic delivery kept the mood of the film just right.
Despite all of the wonderful aspects of Win Win, the movie does contain a slight drag. But all in all there wasn't much to criticize with the film. It never tried too hard to be something special. The true beauty of the movie lies in its genuine tone. Think The Blind Side without overly animated characters. There's plenty to appreciate here, and I definitely recommend checking out Win Win.
Stars: 3 out of 4