Monday, October 31, 2011
Film: In time
Starring: Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits) and Amanda Seyfried (Red Riding Hood)
Director: Andrew Niccol (Lord of War)
U.S. Release: October 28th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 109 minutes
Justin Timberlake's transition from the music industry to the big screen has been as smooth as possible. He showed excellent ability in early work like Alpha Dog and Black Snake Moan, and then he was a big contributor in the awards season juggernaut The Social Network. Finally, he followed all of his previous supporting roles with a solid leading debut in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. There was nothing Timberlake couldn't do, that is, until now. With director Andrew Niccol and his latest science fiction action/thriller In Time, Timberlake shows us all that he is, in fact, human.
In Time is set in the distant future where time has become the new currency. No one ages past 25 years of age, and on your 25th birthday the clock on your arm begins to start counting. You have one year of time to live unless you earn more time (just like you would money). People are also forced to spend their accumulated time on everyday things like food and other types of bills. So in a world where the poor move quickly and the rich leisurely enjoy their everlasting time, Will Salas (played by Timberlake) is given a century of time by a wealthy man tired of living. While being investigated by law enforcement known as "timekeepers", Will kidnaps the wealthy Sylvia Weis (played by Seyfried) to escape incarceration. Together, Will and Sylvia embark on a quest to overthrow this corrupt division of social classes.
Director Andrew Niccol is by no means a newcomer to the science fiction genre. In his late 90's work Gattaca, Niccol brilliantly creates a futuristic world consumed by a desire for genetic perfection. Similar to Gattaca, In time focuses on a specific idea and elaborates on it for great lengths. Unlike Gattaca, Niccol's latest feature fails at successfully doing so. In Time feels forced and over exaggerated, so much so that the film loses its flare. The core ideas behind the picture are undeniably clever, yet the movie's execution falls well short of its potential. As a result, the blame lies solely on the shoulders of its director.
The film's inability to resonate with the audience is, in large part, due to its ineffective cast. Lead by Justin Timberlake and his forgettable co-star Amanda Seyfried, the movie's acting seems superficial and insincere. The star's performance is spotty and overly inconsistent. Despite a few scenes where you can recognize the actor's uncanny ability, Timberlake spends most of his screen time engaging in poor dialogue which only complements his shortcomings. In addition to Justin Timberlake's lackluster delivery, his co-stars Amanda Seyfriend and Cillian Murphy manage to set the bar even lower. Filled with poor acting and a pedestrian script, In Time is far from the creative sci-fi thriller it should be.
To the film's advantage, however, In Time does flow naturally and entertain the audience to some degree. As a viewer you'll never get bored, instead you will feel unconvinced and unimpressed. It happens in Hollywood all of the time, great ideas fall flat of their potential over and over again. In Time is just another example of this unfortunate reality.
Stars: 1 star out of 4
The winterlike conditions in the Philadelphia region couldn't keep the crowds away from this weekend's festival line-up. Saturday boasted two of the most talked about films at the festival this year, My Week with Marilyn and The Descendants. From the loud cheers heard throughout the theatres, it's obvious that neither film disappointed. And although movies will continue to show through Wednesday evening, I've seen just about everything I could. 13 movies all together, and my festival wrap up (which will include my ratings for each movie, and lots more) will be posted shortly. Here are brief summaries for Saturday's big features:
My Week with Marilyn stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. The remarkable true story follows the third assistant director Colin Clark (brilliantly played by Eddie Redmayne) as he falls in love with Marilyn Monroe during the production of Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl.
The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, a backup parent who's forced to take the reins when his wife ends up comatose after a boating accident. King also discovers that his wife's been unfaithful, and the unfortunate situation turns into a bonding experience between the father and his two daughters.
Even though there were only a handful of movies that I missed out on during the festival, I still had a great time. In the upcoming days I'll be giving my star ratings for each of the films I watched, as well as my own personal awards for the 6 major categories. Stay tuned!
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I'm sitting here staring out the window as the rain pummels the ground and thinking to myself, "What a perfect day for a movie". Before I take a stroll into the city to see two of the most talked about films at the festival, allow me to recap what I've seen over the course of the past two nights. On Thursday evening, what was suppose to be a double feature ended up being a night solely dedicated to the best film I've seen at the festival so far. The Artist managed to capture the hearts of everyone at the Cannes Festival in France this year, and nothing was different at its showing in Philadelphia. The credits rolled to a roaring applause from an extremely satisfied audience. I'd be shocked if The Artist doesn't win the Amtrak Audience Award at tonight's ceremonies.
Last night while many people tuned into Game 7 of the World Series, I spent the evening being immensely entertained by two very surprising films. First, there was the British movie Perfect Sense starring Ewan McGregor. This piece of work proved to be extremely original and beautifully artistic. It was a delightful combination of entertaining and emotional work. Shortly after, I was once again entertained by a hockey comedy called Goon. The film was ridiculously funny and it also managed to be an excellent sports film. Goon displayed tons of heart and reminded us all about the strength of team. All of these movies provided a great start to what should be a spectacular weekend of cinema. Here's a brief synopsis of each picture:
Perfect Sense tells the story of two people who meet and fall in love, all while the world experiences an unknown illness that slowly destroys the human senses. A strange but magnificent blend of romance and apocalytic thriller, Perfect Sense reminds us that Love is the greatest sense of all.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Film: Like Crazy
Starring: Anton Yelchin (The Beaver) and Felicity Jones (The Tempest)
Director: Drake Doremus
U.S. Release: October 28th, 2011 (Limited - Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 90 minutes
Every year, the Sundance Film Festival is the premier spot for independent filmmakers to unleash their final products to the world. If they're lucky, a production company will make an offer for their movie, and perhaps millions of viewers will get to the film. Unfortunately, most of the time these little independent gems become forgotten and spend decades collecting dust somewhere. Director Drake Doremus and his film Like Crazy won't be collecting dust, at least not any time soon. When Sundance speaks, audiences listen. And in January of 2011, Sundance spoke loud and clear for Like Crazy.
Like Crazy tells the story of first love between two young college students named Jacob (played by Yelchin) and Anna (played by Jones). While attending school in California, the couple begin a blossoming relationship that they will unknowingly spend years fighting to save. When Anna is set to return home to London because her visa is expiring, she violates its terms in order to continue spending the Summer months with Jacob. At Summer's end she finds her way back to London for a wedding, but Anna quickly flies back to California to be with her man. However, Anna's violation of her visa prohibits her from reentering the United States, and these two young lovers must overcome some mighty obstacles in order to be together again.
As this year's Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, Like Crazy is an authentic and genuine film. It boasts a lot of heart in its mere 90 minutes of screen time. Carried mostly by the powerful performances of its two leads, Like Crazy is an honest depiction of first love. And in many ways, the film draws a strong parallel to last year's independent film Blue Valentine. In similar fashion, the movie shows their relationship evolve by using specific memories and moments the lovers share. Unlike Blue Valentine, however, Like Crazy offers a more gentle and reserved delivery.
What helps make Doremus' picture so memorable and transcending is the film's ability to allow each audience member to project their own memories onto the main characters. By keeping scenes simple and vague, Doremus perfectly creates an intimate experience with his viewers. On the contrary, Like Crazy loses its effectiveness for anyone who may not have strong recollections of first love.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opening act of the film, because Jones and Yelchin's onscreen chemistry was sincere and convincing. However, as Like Crazy progresses, its appeal surely dwindles. The film's second act is extremely cyclic, and after a while I was bored of watching these two individuals sort through their problems. And finally, I was slightly unsatisfied by the movie's closing scenes. Its ending left a sour taste in my mouth and I felt unfulfilled by what transpires.
Like I previously said, if you're someone with fond memories of young love, then you will be able to get something out of Like Crazy. If not, I'd shy away from this film. It's a poor man's Blue Valentine.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Thursday, October 27, 2011
After taking Tuesday off from the festival, I returned for one feature on Wednesday evening. At the Ritz East I caught a screening of Orlando Bloom in The Good Doctor. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and was quite shocked by what transpired on screen. Bloom was excellent in the leading role. Here's a brief synopsis of the film:
The Good Doctor revolves around Martin (played by Bloom), a young man early in his medical career. When being a doctor turns out to be far from what he had imagined, a young patient named Diane helps to keep Martin motivated. As time progresses, the friendly doctor-patient relationship transforms into an obsession. Martin begins to the the unthinkable, and it results in a shocking 90 minutes of cinema.
On the slate for tonight (Thursday) are The Artist and Snowtown. The Artist is a black and white, silent film which intends to bring the audience back to the early days of cinema. On the other hand, Snowtown is an Australian film centered around a young boy who unknowingly befriends one of Australia's most notorious serial killers.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Over the past two days I've managed to catch three festival films. My Sunday afternoon began with this year's winner at Sundance, Like Crazy. Immediately following that was Butter, a surprise comedy that ended in a loud applause from the entire audience. Then, on Sunday evening I took a break from the festival and headed over to the Ritz Bourse to catch Take Shelter (expect my review shortly). Finally, on Monday evening I ventured down to the city again to catch another festival darling called Martha Marcy May Marlene. The viewing was sold out, but the credits rolled to what appeared to be mixed reviews from the audience. I'm taking off today (Tuesday 10/25), but I'll be returning to action Wednesday through Sunday for plenty of more movies. Here's a brief summary of the last three films I saw at the festival:
Martha Marcy May Marlene follows a young girl who struggles to adjust to a normal life after spending two years living in a cult. Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of twins Mary Kate and Ashley, stars as Martha and further demonstrates her family's natural ability to act. Caught somewhere in between a thriller and a drama, the film has cruised through the festival circuit generating some serious Oscar buzz.
On the slate for Wednesday and Thursday are The Good Doctor starring Orlando Bloom, The Artist (a much raved about silent, black and white film), and Snowtown. So until next time ...
Sunday, October 23, 2011
While in the city on Saturday, I was able to view two big name titles at the Philadelphia Film Festival. First was the depressing drama Melancholia, and the latter was an interesting period piece giving an alternative story to the works of William Shakespeare, called Anonymous. Here's a more in depth synopsis of the two films, followed by my itinerary for today:
Anonymous takes the audience back to 16th century England where William Shakespeare is exposed as a puppet for the Earl of Oxford (wonderfully played by Rhys Ifans), a nobleman who could not have his name attached to his work. Director Roland Emmerich creates an engaging story that will surely entertain you.
Melancholia focuses on Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Claire, a pair of sisters who find their strenuous relationship even further challenged when scientists discover that a planet is on a collision course for Earth. It's elegant music and colorful cinematography overshadow its otherwise pedestrian delivery.
On the slate for today (Sunday 10/23), I'll be checking out this year's Sundance winner Like Crazy, an R rated comedy called Butter, and a non-festival film that I'm very eager to be seeing in the city called Take Shelter.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Shame starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan centers around around Brandon, a sex addict living in present day New York City. When Brandon's sister invites herself to stay with him for an undisclosed amount of time, the addict struggles to balance his normal and secret lives.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms is an Independent comedy by The Duplass Brothers (Cyrus) about a 30 year old slacker who still lives in his mother's home. Whilerunning a routine errand, Jeff hopes to finally piece together random events and discover his real life destiny.
At the conclusion of the festival, I will unveil my ratings for each film and give out my own personal awards. On today's schedule are Melancholia (for which Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at this year's Cannes Festival) and Anonymous.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Film: The Thing (2011)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and Joel Edgerton (Warrior)
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
U.S. Release: October 14th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 103 minutes
It happens every Fall, October just makes me crave horror movies. Whenever I watch classics such as Friday the 13th and John Carpenter's Halloween, it always brings back those nostalgic, childhood memories of experiencing true fear. And whether it's catching yourself locking the door or refusing to sleep with the lights off, horror movies impact us all in a way that other types of cinema can't, and I love it. Although John Carpenter's The Thing has never really resonated much with me, I have seen it and I was also excited for this year's prequel to the 1982 classic. And believe me, there's no better time than October to catch it on the big screen.
Set on the continent of Antarctica, The Thing follows Kate Llyod (played by Winstead) and a team of American and Russian scientists who discover an alien wreckage. When they bring the frozen remains of an alien life form back to the research site, the species escapes and begins to reek havoc on everyone.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr's The Thing does a wonderful job of luring the audience in immediately. Wasting no time, the film quickly unleashes the alien on the team of researchers. Furthermore, the prequel's intriguing plot and suspenseful aura make for a wonderful first and second act. The director manages to keep the middle portion of The Thing properly paced by unfolding new and creative ideas to the plot. Although the film's first hour is really strong, the movie does, however, hit a big wall. While the audience patiently waits for the ending to approach, Heijningen unsuccessfully builds up to The Thing's final scenes. The 25 minute stretch of overdone Tom and Jerry chase scenes begin to feel unbearable at times, but it's imperative to not give up. The film's ending is both solid in delivery, and compatible as a prequel.
Most horror films offer subpar to adequate acting, but The Thing gives you slightly more than that. The cast effectively creates a feeling of tension and fear which truly enables the viewer to buy into the story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton needn't be praised for their work, but the two leads do help the film flourish.
2011's The Thing left a much similar impact on me as its 1982 predecessor. Had the ending been tightened up, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience. Otherwise, the film is ever so slightly above average. If you're like me and craving a horror movie this time of year, you won't regret checking out the thing. It's, at the very least, what you would expect.
Stars: 2 stars out of 4
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Film: Dream House
Starring: Daniel Craig (Defiance), Rachel Weisz (The Lovely Bones), and Naomi Watts (Fair Game)
Director: Jim Sheridan (Brothers)
U.S. Release: September 30th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 92 minutes
Jim Sheridan is a director known for being a great storyteller. With a filmography including some deep, emotional films like The Boxer and Brothers, it would be hard for anyone to argue that notion. Within Sheridan's latest release, Dream House, there too lies a deep rooted story. And with the aid of Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Namoi Watts, Sheridan tries desperately to tell that story.
Dream House opens with its main character Will Atenton (played by Craig) packing up his personal belongings and leaving the office. Will has just retired from his job in order to move to the suburbs with his family, spend time with his children, and work on a novel. While getting acquainted with his new home, Will learns that the family who previously lived there was murdered. And upon hearing about the killer's recent release from a mental institution, Will begins to fear for the safety of his family.
Daniel Craig has propelled himself to stardom as the latest actor to play James Bond in the 007 series. Along the way, he has excelled in countless roles. With Dream House, Craig and his supporting cast fall too far into the realm of mediocrity. Each of their characters lack depth and creative appeal. Perhaps it's a result of misguided direction from Jim Sheridan, or maybe it's just another instance of big time actors and actresses wanting to cash a paycheck. Either way, one of the film's major flaws lies in the inability of its stars to connect with the audience.
In addition to it's unconvincing cast, Dream House also falls apart with its swiss-cheese plot. Within the story, there are enough holes to drive a MACK truck through, and every ounce of the blame falls on the shoulders of its director. As a poster boy for great storytelling, Sheridan can merely offer a yawning attempt at what's intended to be a suspenseful tale. And ultimately, Dream House fails to answer enough of the questions that make it vital for the audience to buy into the film. Thus, resulting in an unbelievable and illogical hour and a half of muck.
With viable options still in the theatre such as 50/50, Drive, and The Help, I'd star as far away from Dream House as humanly possible. Believe me, there's nothing worth seeing there.
Stars: Half a star out of 4
The countdown is under way. It's just a mere 10 days until Opening Night of the 20th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival. As a loyal member of the city's Film Society, I'll be gladly sporting my All-Access Badge throughout the two week affair. The festivities will open Thursday night, October 20th, to a showing of this year's Sundance winner Like Crazy. The Closing Night ceremonies and awards will conclude with the showing of George Clooney's The Descendants on Saturday October 29th. For information on movies and tickets to the festival you can visit www.Filmadelphia.org/
During the festival, I plan on seeing 16 of this year's most buzzed about features, namely Like Crazy, The Descendants, The Artist, Shame, Melancholia, My Week With Marilyn, and many others. I plan on reviewing most of the films listed above and possibly a few more, but I will be updating the blog regularly throughout the ordeal. Stay posted for news about the festival, and I suggest visiting the above link to take part in one of Philadelphia's greatest annual events.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Film: The Ides of March
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Drive), George Clooney (Up in the Air), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Pirate Radio)
Director: George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck)
U.S. Release: October 7th, 2011
Genre: Political Thriller/Drama
Runtime: 101 Minutes
The multi-talented writer, director, and actor George Clooney debuted his latest film, The Ides of March, on the big screen at this year's Venice Film Festival. Finally, the buzzed about political thriller has made its way across the mighty Atlantic ocean and into theatres everywhere in the United States. After continually catching a trailer that leaves much to the imagination, I was very eager to see the story behind the hype.
The Ides of March centers around the waning days of a democratic primary where only two horses remain, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) and Senator Pullman. Morris' campaign team is lead by the veteran Paul Zara (Hoffman) and the up and coming Stephen Myers (Gosling), while Senator Pullman is following the advice of his constituent Tom Duffy (Giamatti). It's crunch time, and both sides are facing difficult moral and ethical decisions that could push their candidate over the top. However, when Stephen makes an impromptu decision to secretly meet with the opposition's top guy, Duffy, his campaign begin to fear his loyalty. The result is a tailspin of deceit and dirty politics that everyone must play in order to secure the election.
George Clooney's The Ides of March is a gripping ride that's over before you know it. The film is strongly backed by numerous aspects. First and foremost, the movie is brilliantly acted on all accounts. Ryan Gosling has been spectacular in films all year like Crazy Stupid Love and Drive, but this performance is undoubtedly his strongest. Furthermore, the remainder of the movie's award winning cast is also spot on. Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei all shine in their two faced roles. Every main character exhibits a great amount of depth, and each actor and actress captures it perfectly.
In addition to its stellar acting, The Ides of March has a taut, well structured plot. The sequence of events flow naturally and there is never a moment for the audience to break away from the story. By all means the film is interesting, suspenseful, and direct. Clooney wastes no time getting his point across, and it makes for an enjoyable ride. But to top it all off, the film's closing scene is sure to send your brain in a tailspin.
The only parts of The Ides of March that I can imagine irking viewers are the occasional remarks about the two real life political parties. If you're a die hard, over the top supporter of your political party, it's important to take the film's banter with a grain of salt. There's no need to get offended here.
The Ides of March proves to be a strong film with a strong cast. It's successful in its attempt to show the dirty inner workings of an obviously corrupt political system. I recommend taking a chance with Clooney's latest feature, it's one of 2011's finest offerings and certainly worth the price of admission.
Stars: 4 stars out of 4