Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Film: Beautiful Boy
Starring: Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Maria Bello (History of Violence and Secret Window)
Director: Shawn Ku
U.S. Release: June 3rd, 2011 (Limited Release - Rated R)
Runtime: 100 minutes
Now that the Cannes Film Festival in France has come and gone, we've gotten an idea of some potential Oscar contenders come Fall. One film that did surprisingly well was a drama starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly called We Need to Talk About Kevin. The film centers around two parents who struggle to cope after the school massacre-suicide committed by their son. This brings us to the movie Beautiful Boy. With a very similar storyline, Beautiful Boy tackles the same vantage point.
Beautiful Boy opens with a college-aged boy reading his poem to his classmates. Quite obscure and somber in its tone, the poem ends and we're introduced to Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello). They're a young couple caught in a struggling marriage that's on the brink of separation. Later that evening the couple receive a phone call from the boy in the opening segment. It's their son Sammy (played by Kyle Gallner) who is away at college. Sammy is obviously a shy and quiet young man who feels very distant from his perfectionist mother and emotionless father. The next day news breaks out about a school shooting at Sammy's college. Unable to contact their son, they receive a knock at their door from local authorities who inform them their son is dead. Not only has Sammy died, they also learn that he's the perpetrator.
Consumed by such a dark and depressing undertone, Beautiful Boy challenges the audience to find a glimmer of hope in the story. Maria Bello and Michael Sheen both give strong performances as flawed parents left searching for a reason why. Bello's character is a book editor who feels guilty for pressuring her son with her "red pen" approach to life, and Sheen likewise feels at fault for passing on his suppressed anger to the young boy. As a viewer you ultimately follow them on their quest for answers. However, director Shawn Ku takes us to a greater place.
In life we experience tragedy and remorse more than we'd ever care to. The same questions always seem to follow suit. Why did this happen? How could I have stopped it? Things that really don't matter. You can't undo the past. Ku recognizes this human flaw and carries us over the hump to a gratifying resolution, which is "where do we go from here?" Leaving the theatre it's troubling letting go of the "why" factor and accepting the realization that this couple will overcome the terrible burden they are forced to carry. And in that regard, Beautiful Boy is a powerful film.
Shawn Ku has done very well for himself with his directorial debut, Beautiful Boy. He crafted a powerful movie and it's sure to affect viewers. As is the case with many other drama pictures it can feel slow at times, but the humbling resolve is worth it. It's not the type of film you need to see on the big screen, but it's an interesting perspective that's sure to hit home with the audience.
Stars: 2 out of 4
Monday, May 9, 2011
Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek and A Perfect Getaway) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan and No Strings Attached)
Director: Kenneth Branagh (Sleuth and Dead Again)
U.S. Release: May 6th, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 114 minutes
2011 expects to have a Summer filled with superhero releases. It just so happened that actor/director Kenneth Branagh's Thor was the first one to take the leap. With other potential blockbusters like Green Lantern, Captain America, and another X-Men film to hit theatres shortly, we should be all superhero-ed out by the Fall. Just to keep things in perspective, let it be known that I forked out the $17.50 a ticket to see Thor in I-Max 3D. And to be perfectly honest, I think it helped out the entire experience.
Thor stays true to the mythological legend. The Norse God of Thunder, Thor, grows up in the fantastic realm of Asgard. His father Odin was a great warrior who has ascended to the thrown of Asgard. Odin raises Thor and his other son Loki with the intentions of naming one his successor. Thor is the impatient, quick to attack warrior, and Loki is the more reserved and non-confrontational type. However, when Thor deliberately disobeys his father's commands, Odin casts him off to live amongst the humans on Earth.
With Thor, Branagh creates an intense and action packed adventure that's very entertaining. To be completely honest, I wasn't too interested in the film and found myself caught off guard by the result. The film is well paced and interesting from start to finish. Furthermore, Thor translated very well to the I-Max experience. It was tasteful and by no means overdone. For a stingy man like myself, the $17.50 seemed well worth it.
In addition to the entertainment value of the film, Thor had some great performances. As always, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman was excellent, but Chris Hemsworth is the one who introduced himself to the world in style. The lead actor was convincing as a clueless Norse God living amongst humans. Hemsworth will be reprising his role of Thor in 2012's The Avengers. I expect him to be just as wonderful in that film too. Furthermore, kudos to Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, and Stellan Skarsgard for adequately rounding out the cast. Each of the previously mentioned were essential to Branagh's big picture. The strong cast helped make Thor an easy watch.
There weren't many noticeable flaws with Thor. I appreciated how the love story was somewhat restrained and how the conflict created in the film was genuine. There's a lot to appreciate with this superhero film, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie, by nature, is limited, but still entertaining and noteworthy nonetheless. I recommend taking the time to give Thor a chance, preferably in I-Max 3D. The costly venture will be worth it, even for you non-fans of superhero films.
Stars: 2.5 out of 4
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Friday, May 6, 2011
Starring: Kristen Wiig (Paul and Adventureland) and Rose Byrne (Insidious and Get Him To The Greek)
Director: Paul Feig (Unaccompanied Minors and I Am David)
U.S. Release: May 13th, 2011 (Rated R)
Runtime: 125 minutes
One trailer claims that Bridesmaids is the Hangover for women. Strong words for sure and a bold comparison nonetheless. Director Paul Feig is by no means the likely director for a comedic masterpiece. In fact, Feig's only directed 2 films over the past decade. First, Unaccompanied Minors. It was a dreadful attempt at pre-teen humor. The other was a widely regarded, yet rarely seen, Communist concentration picture called I Am David. It's a shockingly strange resume for the man behind one of 2011's supposed great comedies. However, Feig seemed up to the challenge.
Bridesmaids centers around childhood best friends Annie (played by Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph). Annie is down on her luck after a failed attempt at opening a bakery and Lillian is about to take the next step in her relationship. When she officially gets engaged, Annie is the obvious choice for Maid of Honor. However, Lillian's new upscale lifestyle proves to be overwhelming for Annie, and she begins feuding with a fellow bridesmaid named Helen (played by Rose Byrne). As Helen systematically bridges the gap between best friends, Annie just continually finds herself unintentionally ruining Lillian's Wedding.
First, Bridesmaids is undoubtedly geared toward a female audience. Yet, any great comedy can transcend labels and entertain everyone. With this film there are plenty of highlights for males and females alike. Kristen Wiig is a wonderful lead character who shines in the spotlight, and her supporting cast, for the most part, is hilarious. Feig does a spectacular job developing the characters and putting them into compromising situations. There are so many laugh out loud scenes in the film, even I was shocked.
Despite Kristen Wiig's excellent job starring in the movie, Melissa McCarthy inevitably steals the film. She plays Megan, the sister of the groom. Almost solely crafted out of Zach Galifianakis's image, McCarthy is the wild card of the bunch. Her character is capable of anything and it brings an outrageous feel to the film. Even more brilliant is how believable Megan becomes. At first you doubt that anyone could be that crazy, yet McCarthy's performance allows the audience to buy into her wild nature.
Obviously nothing is perfect and Bridesmaids is far from it. It's 2 hour and 5 minute runtime begins to push your patience. The sappy ending is rather abrupt (to the film's advantage), but still boring and tacky all at the same time. There are a few moments during the movie where you'll glance at your watch, but don't worry, because Feig has something hilarious right around the corner.
Bridesmaids was a pleasant surprise. It's nothing groundbreaking, but there's so much raunchy humor and insanity to help keep it entertaining. If you're looking for a ton of laughs and nothing more, I recommending taking a shot on Bridesmaids.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Kathryn Bigelow, former wife of renowned director/producer James Cameron, became the first female to ever win an Academy Award for Direction with her 2009 film The Hurt Locker. Despite the movie's lack of box office revenue (a mere $17 million), The Hurt Locker scored big with critics and voters alike. With the news coming late Sunday night about the United States' successful mission to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, Americans all over the country rejoiced.
Almost sure to be the biggest news story of 2011, the death Bin Laden reaches far past the homes of the families of victims lost in the terrible attack on 9/11. Bigelow had been working hard on a picture that depicts a failed attempt to capture and seize Bin Laden shortly after the brutal attacks on 9/11. However, with the latest news about the successful mission, this is sure to put a big spin on Bigelow's film. Whether it hinders or helps her cause, Bigelow is almost guaranteed a much larger box office score than her previous award winning movie. For more information on how this massive news story is affecting Bigelow and other projects, check out the links below (courtesy of Collider.com and and Deadline.com):
Monday, May 2, 2011
Film: Water for Elephants
Starring: Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga), Reese Witherspoon (Sweet Home Alabama), and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Director: Francis Lawrence (I am Legend)
U.S. Release: April 22nd, 2011 (Rated PG-13)
Runtime: 120 minutes
Robert Pattinson has quickly become a box office "sure thing". The actor broke out as the star of the Twilight Saga and became a success overnight. Enter director Francis Lawrence and the bestselling book Water for Elephants. Lawrence has a unique style and the book has a very intriguing story. However, recreating the tone of a novel on the big screen is a challenge inside of itself. 20th Century Fox signed on Pattinson and his co-star Reese Witherspoon and accepted the challenge.
Water For Elephants is a story told in flashback. The film centers around Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) who, just prior to finishing up a Veterinarian degree at Cornell, loses his parents in a car accident. When the bank claims possession of his home, he quickly transforms from a promising young student into a struggling man with no future. Seeing that he's trapped in the midst of the depression, Jacob ends up gladly taking a job on a traveling circus. Everything is going quite well for the young man until he falls for the ruthless owner's wife Marlena (Witherspoon). Desperate to create a better life for himself and the woman he loves, Jacob must pry her from the clutches of her villainous husband.
Make no mistake about it, Water for Elephants is a full blown love story. Filmed with a very nostalgic approach, the cinematography is wonderful. The director does a fantastic job creating the ambiance, however, there are many negatives to the film. Despite being wonderfully shot, Water for Elephants has a very linear plot and the sequence of events makes it difficult to capture the audience's attention. While viewing the film you'll be enthralled by some of the scenes with the animals and the circus, but when it comes to the love story, you will throw in the towel early.
Pattinson and Witherspoon lack the on screen chemistry necessary to convince the audience. Obviously this is quite essential for a film that's predominantly a tale of love. Although, blame cannot be solely placed on the actors. The story develops slowly and it is more than halfway into the film before their romance begins to blossom. By this point the audience is lost.
Even though Water for Elephants has more than a fair share of flaws, one shining star emerges. Christoph Waltz, who won an Academy Award for his work in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, is remarkable as the antagonist in the film. He perfectly portrays August, a devious entrepreneur desperate to once again bring his circus to the forefront of traveling entertainment. Waltz serves up a devilish combination of charm and anger, all of which inevitably elevate his performance.
Water for Elephants is by no means a terrible film. It managed to keep my attention for the full two hours. However, the love story in which the film centers around is mediocre at best. Perhaps two different leads would have done the movie some justice. Ultimately though, the film ends up falling short of expectations. I would avoid seeing Water for Elephants in theatres, and hold out for the DVD if you're really interested.
Stars: 1.5 out of 4