Friday, February 29, 2008


I’m not a huge Will Ferrell fan. I usually prefer my Ferrell in small SNL skits or films which aren’t built entirely around him acting as silly as possible (check out my review for Stranger Than Fiction). There are exceptions to this rule however as I though Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was a very strong comedy. Semi-Pro, to me, isn’t as good a film, but for those who enjoyed Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and/or Blades of Glory this one should be right up your alley (oh wait, that’s bowling).

The movie centers around the Flint, Michigan Tropics, a struggling ABA team and their owner/player/coach Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell). Moon is hit with the news that the ABA is disbanding and only four teams will make the transition to the NBA. Trading the team’s washing machine for a washed-up point guard (Woody Harrelson), Jackie tries to will his team into fourth place, and into the NBA, before the end of the season.

Semi-Pro is your typical Ferrell comedy. Those of you who enjoyed Talladega Nights (read Ian’s review) should feel right at home. Jackie is the typical Ferrell character, outrageous and foolhardy. To drum up attendance he promotes increasingly wild and outrageous giveaways (of live hamsters) and stunts (Jackie Moon vs. a Grizzly Bear).

Although there’s nothing too spectacular about the basketball (aside from the humorous origin of the “Alley-oop”) the filmmakers have fun with era. I also have to applaud them for filming in Flint, Michigan, which aside from giving the struggling town some much needed business, seems a perfect location for film set in the 1970’s.

Not all the stories revolve around Ferrell’s character. Subplots include Monix’s (Harrelson) attempt to reconnect with a former girlfriend (Maura Tierney) whose current beau (Rob Corddry) thinks it’s so cool his hero wants his woman. You will either think this is pretty funny, really creepy, or both. There’s also a fan’s (Jackie Earle Hailey) struggles to collect the money won during a half-time promotion. And Andrew Daly and Will Arnett have small roles as commentators for the league given names like Dick Pepperfield and Lou Redwood.

Most of the humor comes from the absurdity of the situation and there are some memorable moments including an all-out brawl during a television time-out, and Jackie taking exception to a referee’s call which produces the best line of the film. There’s nothing new here which you haven’t seen before in films like Major League, but the film does provide a few laughs and is paced well.

Semi-Pro is just what it appears to be, your average Will Ferrell comedy. Fans of Ferrell’s goofiness should have a good time and everyone else will probably be mildly amused. It’s not the type of comedy which will have you rolling in the aisles, but there are some funny bits and moments throughout that make the film worth watching.

The Other Boleyn Girl

“Our daughters are being traded like cattle for the advancement of men.”

The story centers around the two Boleyn girls. The older, more conniving Anne (Natalie Portman) and the sweeter, though simpler, Mary (Scarlett Johansson), are thrust into a world of societal intrigue and deception for which neither is prepared.

The bond between the sisters is put to the test when their father (Mark Rylance) and uncle (David Morrissey) ask Anne to attempt to seduce King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and become his new mistress, only to discover he prefers the attentions of the other Boleyn girl - Mary.

What follows are schemes upon schemes, plotting, lies and deceptions which will leave England a far different country, and the Boleyn girls far worse for wear.

The story was adapted by Peter Morgan (The Queen) from the historical novel by Philippa Gregory. Although the novel became a best seller, the film always seems to be grasping for what made the story work on the printed page.

The Other Boleyn Girl certainly has style. The art direction and costumes are first rate. And in terms of performance our two leading ladies both do quite well, although the more understated performances of Bana and Kristin Scott Thomas are better suited to fit the tone and atmosphere of what the film should be, but sadly is not.

Given the subject matter the film needs to tread a fine line to not fall into melodrama. Unfortunately director Justin Chadwick isn’t able to prevent this from happening; in fact he seems quite content and happy to turn the film into an elaborate soap opera. In doing so however he distances us from the characters and events by making it impossible for us to feel anything for them or take these circumstances seriously. By the time the story gets around the the consequences of these actions and tries to turn serious I couldn’t make the leap. It’s like watching 50 minutes of Days of Our Lives and splicing in the last ten minutes of Masterpiece Theatre.

Although there’s plenty to look at, the great events happening in the background of this tawdry melodrama are too long ignored until long past the time where we have forgotten to think of these people characters or people and are waiting for twins with eye-patches to show up in the next scene. The film has been marketed on the hotness of the two leading ladies more so than the story, or their characters. In much the same way the film suffers from the same problem of attempting to capture our intention with costumes, settings, gossip, grandeur, and sex, without supplying any meaning beyond the superficial.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I’m 31 and white, so I’m not exactly the target audience for the film. I’m sure there will be people who enjoy Crossover, but I’m not one of them. Although there is a nice message hidden deep, deep, deep, deep down in the film, under bad writing and even worse acting, the film just isn’t worth the time it would take you to stand in a one person line to buy your ticket.

Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) is a good kid. He does his homework, he loves his grandma, he has a good job, he’s polite and kind, and he sticks by his friends. Oh, and he’s the next big thing in basketball, except he doesn’t want to be.

Cruise would rather everyone quit the NBA talk and let him go to UCLA on a basketball scholarship to become a doctor. His life is on track until his longtime friend Tech (Anthony Mackie) asks him for a little favor.

Tech knows about this secret underground basketball league, run by a former NBA agent (Wayne Brady), and wants nothing more than to beat the reigning champs. Tech pulls his friend into the game calling on an old favor and puts Cruise’s future and life in jeopardy.

Once into the world Cruise is tempted by money, a sexy gold-digging girlfriend (Eva Pigford), and is frightened that his scholarship might get revoked due to his playing in the underground league. What will he do?

The main problem is we don’t care what Cruise does. The characters are thinly written and even more poorly acted. The film has a good message about putting off money and fame to explore education and learning. It’s a nice lesson that is almost completely swallowed up by this awful film. The women must have been chosen for their sex appeal because their acting has no appeal whatsoever. Think high school drama class, freshman year, first day.

Even the lone recognizable figure in the film, Wayne Brady, is horribly miscast as the straight man instead of giving him a role to use his comedy and vaudevillian skills. Why would you cast the single talented funny man to play the morose wannabe gangster?

The league itself is ridiculous. It’s the set of an ESPN-2 game show with full stands, cheerleaders, and constant betting; yet it’s somehow a big secret. Yeah, right. I’m sure the only cop in L.A. that patrols that beat is happy with his small bribe and no one else even notices. Sorry, but a tiny bit of realism is called for - you know like you’d find in Commando or Time Bandits (which really make this film look like a fantasy, of a mentally retarded teenager mind you, but still a fantasy).

The Diagnosis
The film looks and feels cheap, is poorly put together, badly acted, and is just a waste of time and money. This is a classic example of what happens when you take a bunch of television actors and a flimsy script and throw money at it. Those involved just can’t handle the demands of a theatrical film. Once you see it projected the flaws are not large to ignore. Just crossover to the next theater and see what’s playing, no matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t star the Duff girls you’re in for a better time

Friday, February 22, 2008

Charlie Bartlett

“My family has a psychiatrist on call, how normal can I be?”

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) has gotten kicked out of his last private school for making fake drivers licenses for the entire student population. Now it’s off to public school and an attempt to fit in.

The problem is the uptight Charlie, complete with tie and blazer, doesn’t exactly fit in. He’s largely ignored and picked on by the resident bully (Tyler Hilton), before finding his niche as the school’s unofficial conselor and drug dealer. Charlie’s motives are pure, most of the time, and he tries his best to help the student body by using the army of psychiatrists his family has on call to get the medication for them. Charlie also raises the ire of the principal (Robert Downey Jr.) by dating his daughter (Kat Dennings), and is forced to face the music when some of his schemes are discovered.

There’s something hopefull about this film. It doesn’t paint a single character as black and white, each has the capacity for change and the yearning for something more. In a teenage comedy that’s quite rare.

For Yelchin this is a star-making role, and although he goes a bid too crazy at times, he exudes a likablitly and earnestness that makes us both like and care what happens to this character. The scenes with his mother (Hope Davis) and the parallels between Principal Gardener are Susan are well handled and even touching at times. The film also contains a, somewhat unbelievable, movie magic moment between Charlie and Susan with a new spin on the drive-in movie.

There are some issues, however. First, it feels as if the outtakes have been allowed to stay in the film with a handful of scenes that just make you shake you head and groan. The film also runs the gamut in tone shift from dramatic to zanny, all of which doesn’t necessarily fit well together, as if director Jon Poll couldn’t quite get the right balance.

The film doesn’t really break any new ground. In many ways it feels like a mash-up of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pump Up the Volume (both of which are better films), and, as I’ve said, it has it’s problems. But Charlie Bartlett does have it’s heart in the right place and does earn a passing grade by providing a sweet film worth seeing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Gangster on DVD

“You know, I don’t think they want this to stop. I think it employs too many people - judges, lawyers, cops, politicians prison guards, probation officers. They stop bringing dope in this country about 100,000 people are going to be out of a job.”

Based on true events the film follows the life of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), one of the most successful drug kingpins in history, and Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) the one honest cop in a den of thieves who brought him down.

This is an interesting tale, although the film seems to stop just as it gets going; even in this new extended edition the epilogue, and point, of the film seems rushed. For more on the plot of the film read my original review.

Out today are the two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD and the three-disc Deluxe Edition DVD. The later, along with all the extras of the first (for about $10 more), also includes a 32-page collector’s book, a featurette on the music of the film with interviews from Common and T.I.P./T.I., music videos, a downloadable digital copy of the film for PC’s, and featurettes on the film from both Black Entertainment Television and Dateline NBC.

The two-disc version includes both the original theatrical version of the film and an unrated extended edition. Aside from the extended ending sequence the unrated version is only marginally different from the original and offers nothing to account for it’s “unrated” hype which seems like it could easily have also earned an R-rating. It’s no better or worse the the version you saw in theaters. The theatrical version also has commentary from director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian. Both were recorded separately and the two commentaries have been spliced together on the same track which means the flow isn’t quite right in places and there is no conversation throughout the commentary. If they wanted to do these separately I’m not sure why they didn’t just include two separate commentary tracks.

The second disc provides one deleted scene and an alternative ending (both of which add up to less than 5 minutes), short featurettes on the production side of the film including a script meeting, instruction on drug testing heroin, and setting up the climactic drug bust. There’s something in each worth looking at, but nothing which would tip the scale and make you buy the DVD.

The best feature, by far, on this collection is the 78-minute documentary which examines several parts of the film from writing to production and includes a look at the real-life figures of Richie and Frank, the filming of the Ali-Frazier fight, the music, the costumes and locations of the film. Although the other features are nice, here’s the one that makes checking out the DVD worth it, even for those who have already seen the movie.

The film alone makes this one worth checking out. The two-disc edition provides a few bells and whistles, some extra footage, and a pretty good documentary. It’s worth checking out, as is the film if you missed it in theaters. I haven’t had a chance to peruse the Deluxe Edition, but, except for those fans who count the film as one of their all-time favorites, I’d say the two-disc version (for $10 less) should be enough for most.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Diary of the Dead

Diary of the Dead

George A. Romero returns to the beginning of his Dead Series with this tale of young filmmakers making a horror movie in the woods as the outbreak occurs and the world finds itself infested with zombies. Much like his early works the film is equal parts horror flick and social commentary. Here the roles and actions of news channels, broadcasting, reality television, the government, and other institutions and individuals all become fuel to the filmmaker to set ablaze in satire.

Although the film doesn’t really add much to the series it does, in the tone of the previous films, present a decidedly somber and fatalistic view of the world absent in most Hollywood films. Much like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield the film uses the handheld shaky cam for most of the action; although unlike these other films it doesn’t rely on the shaky cam solely and spends time on both character and plot as well.

There’s nothing too remarkable about the cast other than Michelle Morgan‘s eerie resemblance, in both look and attitude, to many of the characters played by Eliza Dushku. Everyone else is monster food and only a prop or piece of the background used to tell the tale so I won’t spend much time discussing the acting or characters of the film.

Fans of horror may also get a kick out of some of the voices used throughout the film as various news reporters which include a who’s who of the genre like Wes Craven, Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro and a also the likes of Simon Pegg and Quentin Tarantino.

Diary of the Dead is a pretty good horror film. Personally I could have used a little less shaky cam, but at least the film isn’t entirely shot in this manner with clever uses of other types of footage spliced into Jason’s (Joshua Close) movie. The low-tech look and indie feel of the film do help to add some style. I don’t know that it will scare you, but it least it has something to say which is more than most horror flicks these days.


“In my heart I am more than a child of war.”

The film tells the tales of three children - Nancy, Dominic, and Rose - from the Acholi tribe in the Pantongo region of northern Uganda. These children live in a refugee camp among 60,000 other members of their tribe, displaced by a violent terrorist group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Each has harrowing tales of tragedy to tell.

As the film opens these children, along with many others from the camp, are training and working towards winning the national dance competition in the town of Kampala. This is the first time a primary school from a camp such as this has earned a spot in the final competition and the children hope to do honor to their tribe and bring a trophy home.

The documentary from Sean Fine and Andrea Nix does many things well including capturing the look and feel of the various settings in the film from the camp, to the open bush, to Kampala. Facts and statistics are also inserted throughout the film in way that doesn’t make them seem forced or distracting.

I do however have two complaints about the film. The first is the lack of historical context from the film dealing with the reasons behind the terrorist rebels and the causes for the current situation. Although the film does present compelling individual stories and an overview of startling and saddening statistics it never really pulls all of this together.

My other complaint is the how the film uses the experiences of these young children for entertainment. The horrific accounts they are forced to relive for the camera seemed unseemly to me. These children, who can barely process what has happened to them let alone understand it, are asked to recount their experiences to the camera, and even visit graves of dead relatives for extra footage. Had these been adults and not children I don’t believe I would have had this reaction to the film, but it did feel to me, in places, that the filmmakers took advantage of these children in order to tell this tale.

Even in these bleakest moments the power of music is able to overcome. There’s a hopeful message here and joy mixed in with the overwhelming sadness. This is an important story, and even if I have some qualms about how it is told, it does deserve to be told. It will lead to discussion. The situation in northern Uganda, and in so many other places around the world, deserves attention.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Definitely, Maybe

“I’m going to tell you the story and I’m changing all the names, and I’m not telling you who your Mom is.”
“I like it; it’s like a love story mystery”

On the eve of his divorce Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) tries to explain love and relationships to his precocious daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin).

Will recounts a bedtime story of his relationships with three women (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz), one of which is Maya’s mother. Changing names and small facts Maya analyzes her father’s romantic history and tries to guess the identity of her mother, and try to figure out just what’s wrong with her father.

With a premise like that I thought I might be pulling my hair out by the time the film moved into the second act, but although the story is a tad contrived (and at times just too cute for words) it’s balanced by a darn good cast and Reynolds’ ability to find chemistry with each of his leading ladies.

I won’t tell you which of the women is Maya’s mother or which is the woman he is meant to be with, you should be able to guess that on your own. What I will say is the film, even when it gets too cute (like Will’s slow rise on the Bill Clinton Presidential campaign or his disgust at the Monica Lewinsky situation), the film always returns to the heart of the movie which is about a father trying to explain love and life to his daughter who is obviously having trouble with both.

All the leading ladies do well here. Banks is stuck with the blandest character but adds some joy to the role. Weisz seems to be having a ball as “the promiscuous” one, and Fisher lights up the screen when her character comes around. It’s Breslin however who once again shows a natural ability to provide, and steal, many of the film’s best moments. This kid is pretty darn good (hey, she even made No Reservations watchable! - read that review).

With a lesser cast this would have been a lost cause. Don’t get me wrong, the film has its share of rough edges, contrived situations, and at times is so cute you expect the Care Bears to show up for a group hug, but there’s enough here to enjoy. It’s not a film to stay with you, but for an hour or two it will entertain, without getting sappy enough to send you into insulin shock, and allow you to leave the theater with a smile on your face.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

“It’s a shack.”

The story begins when a mother (Mary-Louise Parker), now separted from her husband (Andrew McCarthy), takes her children Jared (Freddie Highmore), Not-Jared (also Freddie Highmore) and Mallory (Sarah Bolger) to live in the abandoned house of their great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn).

The house comes complete with cobwebs, hidden rooms, a brownie named Thimbletack (Martin Short), and a book of mystical secrets made by Arthur Spiderwick before his disappearance decades ago.

After Jared discovers the book, and learns the secrets within, his family comes under attack from goblins led by a shape-shifting ogre named Mulgarath (Nick Nolte) who wants to use the knowledge in the book to take over the world.

The adventure leads the kids to their lost uncle, new friends including a bird-eating, flem-spitting hobgoblin in a tree (Seth Rogen) and a final battle to save the day.

The film includes a variety of creatures and effects including goblins, trolls, ogres, fairies, and the like. Although the special effects are all well-done there is something missing here, as aside from Hogsqueal (Rogen) none of the creatures make an impression. And when your most interesting character is basically a talking pig in a tree…

I’ve never read the books this film is based on and found the prelude confusing, though it is adequately explained later on, but I’m sure fans of the stories will be able to jump right in from the get-go. Although I’ve been told the books are actually better than those of J.K. Rowlings, the film never gets close to the levels of even the worst of the Harry Potter films. I’d rate it slightly behind the likes of last year’s Bridge to Terabithia (read that review) and although I can’t quite recommend the film I believe youngsters and fans of the books will enjoy themselves more than this critic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pride & Prejudice

Let me start out by saying I’m not a big Jane Austen fan and just the thought of reading a novel of hers makes me drowsy. Joe Wright‘s new version of Pride & Prejudice is anything but dreary. With a wonderful eye, energetic performances, and a droll since of humor and wit this piece of Austen’s work comes alive on screen and not only is fresh, inviting, and enjoyable it just happens to be one of the best movies of the year.

In England during the Georgian era Austen’s tale follows the lives of the Bennet women especially the headstrong Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). The Bennet clan is headed by Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland) and lorded over by his wife (Brenda Blethyn) who spends all her time trying to wed off her five daughters and improve the family’s fortunes. Into the picture arrives Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) a wealthy suitor who takes a fancy in the eldest Bennet daughter Jane (Rosamund Pike) and his rather drab companion Mr. Darcy (Matthew McFadyen) who raises the ire of Elizabeth. What follows is the tale of love found and lost and the consequences of choices made.

The film is filled with terrific performances. Knightly is stunning in a glowing performance as Elizabeth that lights up the screen. Her second great performance of the year though quite different from her role as bounty hunter Domino Harvey in Domino. McFayden finds just the right notes for the somber Mr. Darcy. Donald Sutherland is quite amusing as the stern but loveable Mr. Bennet who holds his daughters so close to his heart and Judi Dench shows up to play the wickedly evil Lady Catherine de Bourg. Fine performances all.

The film is beautifully shot by Roman Osin that finds the right look for the time period of the piece while still keeping the themes in the relevant present. Joe Wright gets my deep respect for making almost all the right decisions here. Except for one small scene that takes place late in the movie that sets up the declaration of love between two characters, which is shot a little too much like a romance novel, the film the film has few flaws.

I enjoyed this version of Pride & Prejudice far more than I thought possible. It’s a quite enjoyable and fun interpretation of the story that balances both the humor and drama. Knightley provides another strong leading role and lights up the screen. I’d recommend this film to any who enjoy the story or even to those, like me, that might need a little cajoling to get into a Jane Austen story.

The Science of Sleep

Writer/director Michel Gondry‘s film is a wild ride through a uique and fascinating world. The film exists in two worlds, reality and the dreams of the main character, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

Promised a creative job by his mother, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) moves back home to the apartment house. Once there he discovers two things. The first is the job is nothing more than mindless office work. The second happens when he meets a young woman who lives across the hall and discovers, to his amazement, he loves her.

Now things are going to get complicated, so stay with me. Stephane meets his neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend Zoe (Emma de Caunes).

For no real reason the relationship begins in lies. Stephane, more attracted to Zoe than Stephanie, says he lives across town, and the girls both lie about thier jobs. Slowly he realizes that it is Stephanie who is the real prize.

At this point Stephane’s dream world starts to take over as he envisions himself the creator and star of his own TV show, master of the calendar making business, and living out elaborate fantasies with Stephanie.

The plot of the film is hard to follow as the line between reality and dream fades. As an audience member you may find this fascinating or maddening, depending on your tastes. The film straddles this increasingly narrow line throughout the course of the film, so be ready for it.

The story struggles in parts, characters make odd and even sometimes unbelievable decisions and actions, but the tone of the film helps hold everything together and keeps the film on track.

The set design for Stephane’s dream world is just damn cool. The cars and cameras are made out of cardboard (and at one point the entire world is transformed into a cardboard creation). I must commend the production team, who in many ways are the real stars of the film - Ann Chakraverty, Pierre Pell, Stephane Rosenbaum, and Lauri Faggioni and Bruno Guillemet who worked on the creations, sculptures, and animals in the fillm. Bravo.

I was only able to view the film once, and I’m unsure if I would like it more or less after multiple viewings. It’s an original effort, that despite some flaws, comes across well on film. You’ll have to hunt the art houses for this one, but I think you’ll find your time well spent (or your head will explode in the first half-hour). Either way, it’s an experience to remember. And isn’t that what we want from our movies?

Imagine Me & You

Imagine Me & You is an interesting film. It’s a love story without almost any heat or sex. Instead it focuses on the romantic and emotional type of love. Can a film like this work? Well, kinda’. Rated R because of the subject of lesbian romance the film probably should have earned a PG rating as it’s good fun for the whole (liberal) family.

On the day of her wedding to Heck (Matthew Goode) Rachel (Piper Perabo) meets Luce (Lena Headey) the florist hired for her wedding. Rachel feels an instant connection to Luce and something more. Finding out later that Luce is gay makes Rachel weigh instant attraction and chemistry against her marriage, friendship and commitment to her husband.

Truthfully we’ve already seen the “you can’t help who you fall in love with” film done many times and just recently with a gay slant (Brokeback Mountain). This film doesn’t really add anything new to the equation and the tone and pace of the movie is uneven as hell. It has an annoyingly cute kid smarter than her years (Sharon Horgan). And the film obnoxiously puts the title in play by playing The Turtles “Happy Together” during the climax of the film. Yet given those problems I’m still recommending it because somehow the film still manages to entertain.

The film is just unapologetically romantic and doesn’t take the easy way out of making its characters stereotypes. It would have been much easier to make Heck a bad guy, but making him loving and understanding makes the decision of Rachel actually mean something. I also like the dynamic of the generational relationships between Luce and her mother (Sue Johnston), and the awkwardness between Heck and his stepfather (Head).

My main reason for wanting to se the film was the performances of two cast members. I’ve love Piper Perabo since I saw her years ago in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. She’s funny, sexy, sweet, and has an expressive face that let’s the audience in on what’s happening to her and she does a surprisingly good job with an English accent in the film. And then there’s Anthony Head who plays the father of Rachel. I love the guy; he’s playing the dimwitted drunken father figure and either Head is actually stoned out of his mind during the entire filming or he’s an even better actor than I thought. This is a performance Buffy fans shouldn’t miss!

It’s not a great film and has more than a couple slow spots in the script but its heart is in the right place and the performances and the charm of the story make it a film worth checking out. Head’s odd performance and Perabo’s sweet one are definitely worth a look along with good supporting performances by Darren Boyd as Heck’s womanizing best friend, Headey’s earthy Luce, and Celia Imrie as Rachel’s ball-busting mother. Not the best romantic comedy you’ll see this year but it might be one of the more memorable ones.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shakespeare in Love

"I don’t know; it’s a mystery."

Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is a struggling playwright banished by his wife and child to London and tired of the constant attention and devotion garnered by renowned playwright Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) which provides one of the films best running jokes. With a little help from Marlowe and a the sight of his new muse the lady Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow who won the Oscar for Best Actress) Will begins to write what will become his great love story “Romeo and Juliet.”

The film is part love story between Will and Viola, part farce and vaudeville, and touches strongly on both comedy and drama. Full of strong performances including Judi Dench in a Academy Award winning role as Queen Elizabeth, Ben Affleck as the leader of the players (actors), Geoffrey Rush in a particularly good performance as theater owner Philip Henslowe, Tom Wilkinson as an Elizabethan gangster Hugh Fennyman, and Colin Firth as Viola’s fiancĂ© Lord Wessex. All are noteworthy in terrific performances.

Though the performances are all outstanding it’s the terrific writing that’s the highlight of the film. I very much enjoyed the recurring jokes and allusions to his later works and how real life events observed on the streets can so easily find their way into the writer’s work.

The DVD gives us two commentary tracks, one with director Mark Madden and a second with Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, producers Donna Gigliotti and David Parfitt, screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, production designer Martin Childs, costume designer Sandy Powell, and cinematographer Richard Greatrex. There’s a nice featurette on the making of the film with clips and discussions of other film versions of Shakespeare’s plays and interviews with the cast and crew. Also included is a featurette on the Academy Award winning costumes, the original TV spots, and deleted scenes.

I don’t really feel I have to do much to praise the film (its seven Academy Awards - including Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay - do nicely on their own). It’s a very clever film but one that has a strong heart; not just intellectually amusing but emotionally engaging as well.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton

“Sometimes Goliath kicks the shit out of David. It’s just nobody bothers to tell that story.”

Yeah, it’s a simple love story. Boy loves girl. Girl falls for more accomplished boy. A more modern take on the Bye, Bye Birdie story is so delightful that I actually prefer it to the original play and its other film versions. In in the hands of director Robert Luketic and screenwriter Victor Levin such a predictable story is given class and charm up the whazoo. And so what we get is a well told and engaging story about great love that changes your life.

Sweet down home Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) works at the Piggy Wiggly with her “Pete friend” (Topher Grace) and her “Cathy friend” (Ginnifer Goodwin). The three musketeers work together and hang out at the local pub where the bartender (Kathryn Hahn) has made her feelings about Pete a little too clear. Pete however has been harboring feelings for Rosalee for years and thinks he is finally ready to admit his love. In a comedy this is where something usually goes amiss.

And so, when Rosalee enters a contest to win a date with her favorite celebrity - she wins. The contest was created by the star’s two agents (Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes) in order to improve their mealticket’s public image. Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) meets Rosalee and is immeadiately drawn to her “goodness.” He travels down to Fraziers Bottom, and to Pete’s increasing distress, the two begin a relationship.Gary Cole has a nice turn Rosalee’s father who becomes so lost in Hollywood after Tad begins wooing his daughter, he ends up wearing Project Greenlight t-shirts and drinking chocolate margaritas. And Hahn gives the what could be a throwaway character of Angelica some life, wit, and sass. Her character, like all those in the film, play an important role. No meaningless or pointlessness here - I wish more romantic comedies would watch and take notes!

Topher Grace and Kate Bosworth carry the film with a nice banter that allows you to accept these characters as best friends who could easily be much more. The choice to make Tad Hamilton a mostly nice guy also adds a different dimension to the film as a weaker film would have made the rich star a jerk, or shallow, or just trying to get Rosie into bed. Because of this Rosie’s choice is much more interesting and actually adds a little tension, and very humorous distress for Pete, to the story.

It’s smart, it’s sweet, and it’s endearing. What more do you want. It’s so hard to watch the film without a smile on your face. Kate Bosworth is so loveable. Topher Grace is funny and vulnerable in a way that makes it impossible not to root for him. I think this movie gets a bad wrap as a chick flick (while I believe it’s so much more). It’s a good comedy, a fun and sometimes painful romance, and in the end a very enchanting film I’d recommend to anyone.

My First Wedding

My First Wedding is a study in contradictions. It’s a story of a shameless guy who pretends to be a priest to get a girl into bed, and it’s a sweet love story. It has a manic comedic energy but delivers some quiet truths about fears, relationships, and love. It’s a look at how we want the people we love to be honest with us, though not all lies are bad, and how all of us just want someone who loves us so completely they would be willing to do anything, no matter how outrageous, to win out hearts.

Vanessa (Rachael Leigh Cook) is about to be married to an extremely nice and wealthy man, (Paul Hopkins), but she has a problem. Unable to deal with the lustful thoughts of other men she ducks into a confessional and confesses to whom she thinks is a priest. The problem is the man she confesses to, Nick (Kenny Doughty), is only a carpenter. Let the farce commence.

Unable to let Vanessa go, Nick decides to pretend to be a priest thinking he might be able to get her into bed before the wedding in three days. Then a strange thing happens, Nick begins to truly fall for Vanessa.

As Nick gets more tangled into her life, he struggles with telling Vanessa who he really is and how to best admit his true feelings.

The movie runs on two things: Doughty’s manic comic timing, and Cook’s beauty. That may not be enough for some, but for me the film kept an awkward and off-beat tone that made it hard not to like. I’d compare it in tone and style to Notting Hill.

Sure there are plenty of groan moments, but the film manages to pull through them surprisingly well. The energy of the piece keeps the humor flowing as the characters continue to find themselves in sticky situations (like “Father” Nick be asked to perform Vanessa and Andre’s wedding).

It’s not a film for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed it. It runs a little long in places, but finds the right comedic touches to pull itself back on course whenever it starts to falter. The flimsy plot is held together by the film’s two stars who carry out some of the most contrived situations with genuine humor and warmth. It’s not a great film, but it’s a pleasant diversion that I think the right audience will enjoy.


The story of Casanova is told through a revolving humorous farce and a typical Hollywood love story. The farce works much better than than the love story and carries the film through most of its rough patches. A likeable little film just in time for the holidays.

Lord Jacomo Casanova (Heath Ledger) is a renowned lover who finds love in a different woman’s bed each night. As his fornications have come to the attention of Rome he is ordered to either marry or leave Venice. A marriage with the town’s pre-eminent beautiful virgin (Natalie Dormer) is arranged, but Casanova also finds himself enthralled with the outspoken Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) who is also hiding a heretical secret of writing philosophy under the name Bernardo Grudi and is engaged to the rotund lord of lard Papprizzio (Oliver Platt). Instigator Pucci (Jeremy Irons) arrives to find both find the heretic Bruni and punish the philanderer Casanova. Here begins the tale of tiny lies and small deceits, mistaken identities, and sticky situations (hey I had to throw one pun in!).

The love story is rather bland and a retread of many Hollywood romantic comedies. The true enjoyment comes from the comedic scenes especially those involving Platt. Along with Platt there are strong comedic performances from Lina Olin and Charlie Cox as Francessca’s mother and brother, Omid Djalili as Casanova’s assistant, and a countless assortment of Venetian beauties.

The director has a good eye as much of the film was shot on location in Venice and he knows how to use the city as a character to help tell the story. Aside from a balloon ride the scenes filmed in studio match those from the city fairly well.

We don’t get much farce these days and this is a pretty good one. Though the love story is rather ho-hum the humor and charm of the story help to make the film better than it deserves to be. Not a must see by any means but a fun little movie for the holiday season that many should enjoy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

“The search for true love begins outside the box.”

Karin (Emily Mortimer) and Gus (Paul Schneider) are expecting a new baby, but the person Karin is most concerned with is Gus’s shy and awkward younger brother Lars (Ryan Gosling) who keeps everyone at arms length and seems to have trouble with intimacy and with social gatherings. And who is terribly lonely, whether he admits it or not.

Out of the blue Lars announces he has met a girl on the Internet who has come to visit. Bianca is a beautiful, smart, and kind paralyzed Danish-Brazilian missionary. She’s also a Real Doll (a lifelike and anatomically correct sex doll made of silicone) who Lars bought online. Now, given the state of gross-out humor popular today, you might think you know where the film is going, but you would be wrong.

The beauty of Nancy Oliver‘s script is the humanity and simplicity of the story. Lars is reaching out to try and connect and learn to have an adult relationship. Far from being lurid or crude as you would expect given recently films like Suprbad and The Heartbreak Kid (among many others), Lars’ love affair with Bianca is a chaste as a 1960’s Disney film. Bianca sleeps in Karin and Gus’s spare bedroom and “her” relationship to Lars, though romantic, is in no way sexual.

As the truth about Lars’s new girlfriend is spread around the small northern town the residents, rather than ostracize or ridicule the confused young man, embrace them both. Bianca becomes a fixture in the town volunteering at the hospital, showing up regularly at the beauty salon, going to church, and even being voted onto the school board! And Lars, with a new found confidence, attends gatherings and parties he could never have ventured to alone.

There are many terrific moments throughout the film, including the amazement and slack-jawed disbelief of people meeting Bianca for the first time. Also Patricia Clarkson puts in a nice supprorting performance as the town’s psychiatrist and doctor who provides “treatment” to Bianca while secretly counseling Lars.

The film is about a young man learning what it means to love and an entire town supporting and helping Lars take the babysteps into adulthood. It’s as sweet and romantic a love story as you are likely to find this year. Original and unconventional it might be, but the emotion of the story is universal and heart-warming.

Although the film is terrific it does have a few flaws. One of the few conventions it relies on is the hot young, but ignored, town girl (Kelli Garner) who has a crush on Lars. I’m not a fan of this contrivance which seems has become a necessity in most romantic films of the past two decades. It’s one of the few places the film relies on a much over-used cliche.

As lurid as a film about a man’s relationship to a sex doll sounds the film is the exact opposite. In an era of over-sexed, gross-out flicks, a film like this is simply delightful. You may have to search for it, for although it is getting a wide release many of the big megaplexes won’t touch this “sex doll” film which is a mistake for them and a big loss for the movie going public who would no doubt enjoy a film that is both funny and poignant, sweet and dramatic, and one of the most original, sweetest, and pleasant surprises of the year.

Wristcutters: A Love Story

The film tells the story of Zia (Patrick Fugit) who committed suicide after losing the love of his life, his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb). He finds himself in an afterlife filled with others who have died at their own hands. It’s a depressing existence, at least until Zia learns that Desiree took her own life a few months after his own suicide and is now living somewhere in this new reality.

With the help of a Russian rocker (Shea Whigham), who made his journey here in one of the most unique ways possible, and a hitchhicker (Shannyn Sossamon) searching for the people in charge, Zia sets off on a road trip trough the desolate landscape to find his true love.

Based on Etger Keret‘s short story “Kneller’s Happy Campers” the film follows this odd group on their unlikely journey in a beat-up car without headlights and a black hole under the passenger’s seat. They meet many strange and interesting people along the way including Kneller (Tom Waits) who runs a miracle camp, a self-proclaimed Messiah (Will Arnett), and a mute Eskimo throat singer (Mikal P. Lazarev).

The off-beat and quirky love story isn’t as good as similar films such as The Science of Sleep (read the review) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it does have its charms. And although the you can see the outcome of the love story playing out its still handled well enough for you to kick back and enjoy the ride.

Okay, so the ending is a little too cute, the film looks like it could have used a slightly larger budget, and there’s really no surprise about where Zia’s heart will lead him. After saying all that I would still recommend the film which tells a much more engaging love story than Hollywood’s standard chick flick fare.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show

Vince Vaughn piles four comedians (Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst, and Sebastian Maniscalco) into a bus and travels across the country for thirty days for a comedy tour.

Starting out in California the troupe hits thirty cities in thirty days and this new film gives us a glimpse of their journey and performances. Like all live comedy there are good moments, and well, you know. It takes a while for the film to really get going (and to get out of California), but once the tour starts to make their way east things begin to pick up.

Along the way friends of Vaughn’s show up for specific performances including Justin Long, Keir O’Donnell, and Jon Favreau. These scattered moments help to add a little more spice to the film, but the comedians themselves provide most of the tour’s memorable moments.

An odd note - although the tour hits many towns it purposely stays out of the Midwest, preferring to travel south through Texas and Oklahoma and only coming northward to make stops in St. Louis and Chicago to end the tour.

So, is it worth your time? Well, maybe. With this much time and material, and variety of comedy, you certainly get quantity, even if not all of it is of a high quality. For me some of the best parts of the film were the behind the scenes moments of the comedians discussing their performances and the audiences at various venues. There are also some touching moments as the tour is forced to make changes do to Hurricane Katrina, and even give a free matinee for many refugees of the storm.

There are some laughs and some groans, and many moments in between. The best moments for me were John Caparulo’s reaction to being informed about the “clean” show, and the personal moments both before and after performances between the comedians. It’s not a must-see and will no doubt find a larger audience on DVD than its initial theatrical run, but there is enough here to make the experience worthwhile and enjoyable.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Over Her Dead Body

“She was crushed by an angel, and, as sad as I am, I do appreciate the irony.”

How bad is it? The plot involves a psychic (Lake Bell) who lies to win the heart of a widower (Paul Rudd). And she’s the nice one!

How bad is it? The story begins with an annoying woman (Eva Longoria Parker) getting killed at her own wedding by a falling ice sculpture. The funny part? The ice sculpture might be an angel? Yeah, didn’t sound funny to me either.

How bad is it? The plot follows the brain-dead formula of your average romcom with forced craziness, cutesy dating, misunderstanding, and a lame resolution. All performed with minimal effort and talent.

How bad is it? Lindsay Sloane stars as Henry’s (Rudd) kleptomaniac pushy little sister whose antics we are supposed to find cute.

How bad is it? The ghost of the dead woman decides to haunt the psychic to make sure her former fiance lives out eternity alone and hopeless because, wait for it, she loves him so much.

How bad is it? Jason Biggs stars as the psychic/caterer’s (yeah, that’s not a strange combination) gay assistant and best friend. He’s a total klutz who gets himself into “hilarious” situations and harbors a dark secret. And I though Anything Else was hard to watch.

How bad is it? The film actually makes Eva Longoria unattractive, Paul Rudd unfunny, and Jason Biggs even more annoying than usual. You managed to hit the trifecta, Kudos to you writer/director Jeff Lowell!

How bad is it? Rudd has no chemistry with either woman, and both are so unlikable we begin to root for him to live a more fulfilling life alone and free of both of them for good.

How bad is it? This film makes 27 Dresses (read that review) look good!

How bad is it? The dialogue contains gems like Henry stating he gets the irony of his wife getting killed by an angel (the quote above), and Ashley (Bell) replying to a compliment of her dress with “It will look even better on the floor.” Wow. You know there’s bad and there’s not even trying.

How bad is it? The movie contains an extended fart joke that lasts for a full minute (though it seems much, much longer). And I thought Norbit was bad (read that review).

How bad is it? I checked my watch so often I think I dislocated my shoulder.

How bad is it? The best jokes of the film involve actors dropping animals (there are at least three of these scenes). I don’t know about you but I like my movies to shoot a bit higher than America’s Funniest Home Videos. And I’m not even going to get into the talking parrot scene (don’t ask). Seriously, I thought this was a joke and was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to show up and tell us we’d just all been Punk’d.

How bad is it? The film is filled with not quite right pop songs chosen and placed throughout the film with all the deftness of a Dawson’s Creek episode.

How bad is it? The credits aren’t as much a list of those who had a hand in making this film as they are a list of criminals who are all equally responsible for a crime against humanity.

This film is just plain bad. It contains no likable characters; Rudd comes the closest by playing the pathetic card for as much as he can, but we don’t really care what happens to any of these people. Well that’s not quite true, mostly we’re hoping they all meet tragic and painful deaths, and the film will end before taking up one more moment of our lives. I honestly don’t understand how someone could hate film to such an extent as to permanently brand this movie on it for all eternity. I hope with all my being this is the worst film I see this year. Honestly I can’t think of how you could make a worse film, but I have faith in Hollywood to try their best.