Tuesday, December 29, 2009


“BROTHERS” (Tobey McGuire, Jake Gyllenhaal & Natalie Portman)

Like the sisters in “Sunshine Cleaning”, I found myself relating to the brothers in this film because they were reminiscent of my own life. But does that make a film better?
I think it helps, but if the story or the acting go astray or hit a sour note somewhere along the line, the likeability can unravel in a moments notice; & I shouldn’t even use the word likeability because at times, not all of these characters are ‘likeable’ - & that’s what makes a human drama great – these people are ‘real’; they have flaws & we get to see what goes on behind the closed doors of their private lives & wonder what we would do in similar circumstances. But they weren't the type of people who were SO annoying that we didn't care about them (as in "Revolutionary Road")
“Brothers” had a lot of positives going for it as the believability of the story held up while we were expected to buy a plot where one brother falls in love with another’s wife & she falls in love with him despite his being an ex-con & the ‘missing’ brother being a great guy & very much loved by ‘everyone’.
Tobey McGuire & Jake Gyllenhaal play the brothers in question – Sam & Tommy Cahill. Natalie Portman plays wife Grace, caught in the middle & encouraged by her two young daughters, Isabel & Maggie.
Sam is a captain in the marines & his father’s pride & joy. Tommy is a loser drunk just released from prison for robbing a bank... If dad hasn’t disowned Tommy at the beginning of this film, he’s one straw away from the proverbial ‘last’ one.
When Tommy shows up at Sam & Grace’s for dinner, daughter Isabel opens the door & instantly reveals that ‘my mommy doesn’t like you’.
When Sam is given orders to go to Afghanistan, the question is asked, ‘how do you tell the bad guys from the good guys?’ Isabel answers that one with ‘the ones with the beards are the bad guys’ & gives a disapproving look at bearded Uncle Tommy.
Sam’s helicopter is shot down & he is presumed dead. Grace tells Tommy this fact when he’s drunk & he gets angry that she didn’t call him sooner.
At the funeral for the fallen soldier, Tommy sits in the second row (not with the immediate family) & is the only one who doesn’t sing along to the religious hymns. But when he sees his father constantly swigging at a flask, Tommy suddenly becomes protective of his nieces & tries to take the old man’s keys away.
Tommy joins 3 friends to start a remodeling business & they start with Grace’s ugly, inconvenient kitchen. I did get a chuckle out of the fact that Tommy’s ‘crew’ never seemed to do any work, just stood around with bottles of beer in their hands.
His nieces warm up to the ‘new’ Uncle Tommy & Grace begins to see him in a new light as well.
In the meantime we are shown that Sam didn’t die in the crash & get to be privy to the tortures he endures at the hands of his Afghani captors. Since it’s in the trailer, I don’t call that fact a ‘spoiler’.
Sam returns to Grace, but an obviously disturbed man with haunting demons that he will never be able to bury – he eyes Tommy’s remodeling job with suspicious eyes.
One of my favorite scenes occurs during Maggie‘s birthday party, when an angry Isabel yells, “You’re just mad because mommy would rather sleep with Uncle Tommy than you!” at her father, that’s when the fireworks begin. Who wins? Who loses? Who lives? Who dies?
That’s what makes this a great film because these characters are so real – with credit being given to both the writer & the actors – that you want them all to ‘live happily ever after’ but there’s no way that’s going to happen . . . or is it?
And the major reason I loved “Brothers” had nothing to do with the adult actors – they are all fine, in fact, I’d say the 3 leads did a fantastic job – but it’s the two young actresses playing Isabel & Maggie (Bailee Madison & Taylor Geare) that elevate this movie to the plateau of a ‘remarkable achievement’. Average kid actors would ruin a film of this sort because the girls (esp. Bailee) are required to ‘become’ their characters & react in a believable way in a make-believe setting instead of just ‘behave like you normally do & just get your lines out’.
The only time I scoffed was at a sign that was shown on a store which read ‘Save Our Fallen Soldiers’ . . . Huh? Then I thought about it & had to nod in approval because that is just the kind of asinine statement some nimrod would display. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sell a ton of bumper stickers with that phrase on them in all the Jerkwater Burgs across the U.S.A....
Loved this movie, it will be in my Top 10 of the year & the actors should all be given high praise & award nominations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


“INVICTUS” (Morgan Freeman & Matt Damon)

Clint Eastwood & Morgan Freeman team up yet again, this time with Clint staying behind the camera & the results aren’t nearly as entertaining as their last outing, “Million Dollar Baby”. It is a good film – Interesting & entertaining; but way too many rugby scenes make it a little boring. Not that rugby is as boring as soccer or baseball, but the way Eastwood filmed the games, it comes across as being dull. The rules are never explained - & they could have & should have been since the black secret service men that were hired to protect Mandela had no idea how the game was played & the white secret service men kept trying to get them interested. Even when the ‘Springbokkes’ play for the Rugby World Cup, one black officer looks at his white partner & asks “What happened?” You’d think by then they would have picked up the basic rules!
The film is the story of Nelson Mandela’s life AFTER he is released from prison. Morgan Freeman plays him as a cross between Shawshank Redemption’s ‘Red’ & Ben Kingsley’s ‘Ghandi’ (& sometimes sounding exactly like a typical Morgan Freeman voiceover instead of the president of South Africa)
I say that because it’s true – I’ve loved Morgan Freeman in almost everything he’s been in (We won’t mention ‘Wanted’, I’m sure he regrets that role as much as I regretted spending money on it) but "Invictus" just didn't have that ‘magic spark’ that I felt from his other collaborations with Eastwood.
Matt Damon has been mentioned as a Supporting Actor possibility & I don’t see that either; He really doesn’t have a lot to offer as S.A. rugby team captain Francois Doppleganger(I really don’t know what his last name was, let’s just go with that)
He grunts as he plays rugby; he gets invited to ‘tea’ with the president; Mandela tells him to inspire greatness in himself & his team; He gets his parents tickets to the big game; He plays rugby & grunts a lot... I’m not saying he isn’t convincing enough, but that’s really not an Oscar caliber ROLE as far as I’m concerned.
Mandela is portrayed as a fairly simple man with an equally simplistic philosophy; ‘just keep smiling’. The problem is he has just taken control of a hornet’s nest of a country divided & even his backers question his ability to lead his countrymen into making their country ‘great’. He chooses to make the Springbokkes, the South African rugby team his pet peeve & invokes the team captain (Damon) to win the world cup & unite the people.
“Invictus” is the title of the poem Mandela would often repeat to himself during his nearly 30 years of imprisonment. He passes this along to Francois, along with the request that his players learn the words to the National Anthem (Since all the blacks can easily tell they’re just moving their lips incoherently)
It’s almost fairy-tale like in its simplicity - & who knows how much of it came from ‘reality’? Maybe that’s why it didn’t strike a grand chord with me; there’s nothing bombastic about this film – the racism is underplayed; the unrest is underplayed & the rugby is underplayed (Too many field goals, not enough touchdowns)
It would have helped to have the rules explained, if just to know why sometimes they could pick the ball up & toss it to a teammate & sometimes they’d have to huddle together & grunt at the opposing team... It’s hard to get excited over a game when you have no idea what’s going on, Clint. As Columbus from ‘Zombieland’ would say, that should be ‘Rule #1’
Yet, in the end, I connected with the story – You’d have to be a racist or a zombie not to – the white & black South Africans coming together to root for the team wearing the apartheid colours. It WAS moving, but the trip to the finale wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I was hoping it would be. Eastwood has been on a nice roll in his latter career of acting & directing, & I wouldn’t say that he stumbles here – It’s much better than “Flags Of Our Fathers” – so if they decide to give him an Academy Award nomination for this to make up for snubbing him last year for both “Gran Torino” & “Changeling” I won’t have a problem with that decision...


“ZOMBIELAND” (Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone & Abigail Breslin)

This is one of those films where you’re better off leaving your brain at home.
Seriously, if there are any zombies in the audience, you really don’t want to tempt them by bringing in their favorite treat.
I am NOT a fan of straight zombie movies – In fact, I hate them. But I am a fan of gay zombie movies & “Zombieland” follows nicely in the footsteps of “Shaun Of The Dead” as a pretty funny spoof of a crappy genre.
Jessie Eisenberg plays ‘Columbus’ (Each character is referred to by their hometown)
It is his adventure thru Zombieland that the film follows. Oh, yes, Zombieland is post apocalyptic America in case you didn’t know. Columbus survives, despite being somewhat of a wimp because he follows his own set of rules on how to exist in Zombieland (i.e. Always check the back seat of a car before entering; Stay out of public restrooms; Remember to double tap – Shoot every zombie a second time in the skull to make sure they stay dead this time)
Staying in shape & limbering up are 2 more of the multiple list of rules because - as the opening sequence points out – the ‘fatties’ were the first to go since they couldn’t outrun the living dead.
As Columbus heads east in hopes of not becoming a human Happy Meal, he meets Tallahassee (AKA Florida) Woody Harrelson in another scene stealing role (He was the only reason to sit thru ‘2012’) Tallahassee is just the opposite of Columbus; he thrives in Zombieland because there is nothing he enjoys more than killing zombies. Tallahassee is also hell bent on finding the last box of Hostess Twinkies – at any cost.
When Columbus & Tallahassee encounter 2 sisters – Wichita & Little Rock (Emma Stone & Abigail Breslin) – Columbus informs the girls not to worry about Tallahassee’s crude demeanor; “He grows on you,” the young man assures before pausing to reconsider the statement... “No, he doesn’t – He actually gets worse.”
But the sisters have their own agenda & heading east isn’t on their battle plan, so they dump the men & leave them stranded. Just like in real-life America, the dumb males fall for this trick more than once.
The film climaxes in Hollywood where they break into the house of a well-known comedic actor, who happens to be Tallahassee’s idol. Supposedly revealing the surprise ‘cameo’ is a spoiler, so I’ll just say – It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this guy do anything this funny – from his ‘secret’ to surviving in a world full of zombies to the revelation that he spends most of his time... pleasuring himself, it is an enjoyable addition, especially since the film started to drag as the writers decided to create a love interest between Columbus & Wichita.
Does it matter that Hollywood is just as full of zombies as the rest of the country? Does it matter whether or not Tallahassee gets his hands on a twinkie? Does it matter that Zombieland doesn’t have an uplifting ending? No, it doesn’t – In fact, this film is just like ‘The Road’ except it’s completely different. Nothing is played for laughs in ‘The Road’ while everything is up for ridicule in ‘Zombieland’ – Yet I thought the same thing about both films when the screen faded to black at the end . . . & they were all killed & eaten the next day...

Sunday, December 6, 2009


“The ROAD” (Viggo Mortenson, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Charlize Theron)

From now on when you look in any dictionary for the word bleak, it should say; See “The Road”. You couldn’t imagine a more pointless existence than the lives Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee lead as father & son in ‘The Road’. I would suggest that they used the Talking Heads’ song “Road To Nowhere” as a theme to this film, but even that tune is more uplifting than the visually drab path ‘Papa’ & his young son travel.
Having said that, you’d think this was going to be a negative review, but it is not – I am merely warning those of you that haven’t seen it what you’re in for. “The Road” plods along from one bleak sequence to the next and yet somehow along the way you become captivated by this obviously doomed pair while fearing for how they will reach their inevitable conclusions. Less than halfway thru the film I surmised that there was no way this story was going to end happily. But is it worth seeing? Undoubtedly –certain scenes will stick with me for a very long time, even if I chose to never view 'The Road' again. As Viggo’s Papa holds the family gun to his son’s forehead & the frightened lad utters “When will I see you again?” It is a gutwretching moment. & the film is full of them, so don’t get ticked off if you feel that I’ve revealed too much by telling you about that scene – What leads up to it & what follows are just as heartbreaking & dismal.
The plot is simple – Due to some catastrophe of nature, the earth has been laid barren & most of mankind ceases to exist. Those that are left alive forage for anything edible to stave off starvation & with most of the plant & wildlife being eradicated as well, that means cannibalism is prevalent.
As Viggo (listed in the credits as ‘The Man’ but called ‘Papa’ by his son) leads his offspring along the barren road southward toward the coast his one & only concern is keeping his boy from being taken by the 'bad' guys that would kill and eat him.
This also means distrusting every human they encounter, even the ones who appear to be ‘good’ guys. ‘Papa’ is so focused upon this goal that he begins to lose his humanity and his son struggles to keep him from losing it completely.
The film isn’t in black & white, but for the post apocalyptic scenes it might as well have been. Charlize Theron plays Viggo’s wife who appears in flashbacks via his dreams – always to return to the gray, colorless world with a jolt. If I have one major complaint about the movie it is how Charlize’s departure is never really explained.
Robert Duvall & Guy Pearce appear in short cameos, but this is Mortenson’s & the young Smit-McPhee’s showcase & they are outstanding in their portrayals of two characters trapped in a complete state of desperation. Normally a film this bleak wouldn’t stand a chance of getting an Oscar nod, but with the expansion to 10 nominees & an exceptionally weak crop of worthy films, I’d be shocked if “The Road” doesn’t get in.
It is harrowing, bleak, depressing, bleak, scary, bleak & above all bleak, but it is a damn good movie... Did I mention that it’s also a little on the bleak side?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


“The BLIND SIDE” (Sandra Bullock)

This will be a dull review because this is one of those films that I can’t say anything smart-assy about – usually a given with a Sandra Bullock vehicle – but this, like ‘The Express’, ‘Glory Road’ & ‘We Are Marshall’, is one of those uplifting sports movies that as long as it doesn’t make too many mis-steps is bound to please its audience.
About the most far-fetched aspect of this ‘true’ story is that a family of religious Republicans actually cared about a large black kid & took him into their home when he didn’t have one of his own. Proving there are exceptions to every rule.
Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, wife of a wealthy restaurateur (Tim McGraw as husband Sean) who lives in Memphis, but hates the Tennessee Vols – being Ole Miss grads. Leigh Anne was a cheerleader, Sean played basketball.
They have a pretty teenaged daughter that they saddled with the odd name of Collins (played ironically enough by a girl named Lily Collins) who also aspires to be a cheerleader at Ole Miss. Their young son, Sean Jr. goes by S. J. (Jae Head) he is the one character that isn’t very believable. Early on he uses the phrase ‘multi-cultural bias’ & his parents don’t even blink when he says it – like it is something all 8 year olds use in their everyday conversation. But, as I was able to overlook the ‘too worldly-wise to be realistic’ teenaged girl in “500 Days Of Summer”, I was able to overlook the obvious plot ploy of making S.J. appear to be a genius despite the fact that he still has crooked baby teeth.
I even forgave it for using a silly opening involving L.T.'s crushing hit that broke Joe Theismann's leg in half - Making it seem as if no other quarterback had ever been blind sided before that incident - But it was a way to introduce non football fans to the importance of the players whose job it is to protect the QB & so I understood the insertion.
But this is Bullock’s film & she’s impressive – the heart of the film centers on her relationship with the large homeless black kid known as ‘Big Mike’ (Quinton Aaron)
& since Big Mike rarely speaks, even after he becomes a ‘member’ of the Tuohy family, Leigh Anne has to carry the load of what makes this film work – for that Sandra is to be given at least a glance at an Oscar nomination; mainly because this is a weak year not only for films but for actors & actresses as well.
The movie doesn’t glamorize Republicans, as Leigh Anne abandons her snobby friends who question her decision to invite a ‘colored’ boy into her home. If they hadn't included that scene, I don't think I would have liked 'The Blind Side' as much as I did.
If the way the film depicts how ‘Michael’ learns how to protect his quarterback is even remotely close to the truth is irrelevant – in the world of filmdom, it just works & puts a smile on your face whether you believe it actually happened or not.
A slew of current & ex-college coaches make cameos (Fulmer, Holtz, Saban, Tuberville, Nutt & Orgeron) & again, the lack of acting skills doesn’t matter, it is the bond between the feisty white blonde Republican & the silent overgrown traumatized black ‘child’ that endears you to this story.
It isn’t all roses & rainbows; this film has a gritty side as well, including a turn that makes you question the Tuohy’s ‘actual’ reason for bringing Mike Oher into their lives.
Even Leigh Anne wonders if she had an ulterior motive for approaching the boy & start
caring for him without any knowledge of his background.
What can I say? It’s a very good movie because it’s a great story – You can’t possibly walk out of the theatre feeling disappointed that you watched it.