Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Movie Trailer - A Dangerous Method

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen
Vincent Cassel
Release: November 23rd, 2011

The pieces all seem good enough to warrant buying this film: Cronenberg and Mortensen together again (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises), a true story based on two extremely interesting men, and three excellent actors, Fassbender, Knightley, and Cassel. Sure, why not.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Movie Review - The Lion King

Director: Roger Allers
Starring: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane
Year: 1994

Animated films have always had a place in the hearts of American moviegoers. Children love them for their beautiful backdrops, their simple stories, and, often, their colorful music. Adults enjoy them as well, and for much the same reason. And no company has produced more beloved animated features than Disney. From Snow White to Aladdin, from Robin Hood to Tarzan, Disney keeps the hits coming. And yet, not until The Lion King did they produce a film that was not only loved as an animated movie but also became a Hollywood blockbuster, grossing more money than any other animated film of the 20th century. It truly is the king of all Disney pictures.

The story of this wonderful animated musical is as classic as the film itself would eventually become; a outcast prince must return home to take his rightful place and protect his people. However, they are not people, but lions. Simba, son of the great lion king Mufasa, knows that someday he will be king. But his evil uncle, Scar, has other plans. Together with his gang of laughing hyenas, Scar plots to take the throne. Simba must accept who he is and join the circle of life if he is to take his rightful place among the great lion kings.

As with most animated films, the plot seems a little silly at first; lions fighting each other to become king. But as the story unfolds, and as the music begins, the film doesn't seem silly at all. Wonderful and hilarious characters are introduced throughout the film, created legendary moments and movie-lines that will be repeated for a hundred years. And the music is beyond great. Songs like "Circle of Life", "Be Prepared", "Hakuna Matata", and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are both catchy and original, leaving audiences humming tunes that they will never forget. An excellent story paired with phenomenal music, Disney strikes cinematic gold.

As good as it was, it was still an animated film. The cast could only do so much with the dialogue, and it's always strange when a character has two different voices, one for lines and one for music. But The Lion King is a spectacle that has no rival, a film that goes beyond animation into the realm of moving art. Give your inner child a gift and watch this film.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trailer - Margaret

Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo
Release: September 30th, 2011

Apparently, we are supposed to pretend that Anna Paquin (X-men, True Blood) is in high school. She's twenty-nine. We are also supposed to pretend that she's a good actress and can carry an entire film, keeping up with two co-stars that are around ninety times more talented that her. I don't think so.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Movie Review - Love and Other Drugs

Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria
Year: 2010

Most people can spot movies that they're not going to like. If you don't like action movies you steer clear of explosions, car chases, and Jason Statham. If you don't like foreign films you avoid subtitles. It seems simple to not watch what you would consider to be a bad movie. And yet, Hollywood is smart. They will trick you. They will advertise cleverly, cast daringly, and deny, deny, deny that their movie is what you do not want it to be. And this is how I watched Love and Other Drugs, a rom-com bomb that I should have seen coming.

In this slightly edgy romantic comedy, love grows is unexpected places and against all odds. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead) is a young pharmaceutical sales rep who is just entering the game. Desired by women and gifted with charm, nothing can stand in his way. That is, however, until he meets a young woman, Anne Hathaway (Brokeback Mountain, Ella Enchanted), who is not so easily convinced. While they both have inner demons that they must battle, love begins to grow and barriers start to crumble as love attempts to conquer all.

Rom-coms are all the same; I'm not sure why I ever tried to tell myself otherwise. I was tricked by the beautiful people and the promise of something different; an edge that would take this film beyond the normal sappy drivel. But it was a lie. The plot seems developed from a formula that may have worked a thousand times but that has never created a film worth watching. And the advertised "edge" was darkly interesting, but it was just a diversion from the crappy lines, the emotional emptiness, and Hathaway's knack for making every scene feel like high school drama class.

While it wasn't all bad, it wasn't good enough. There were a few funny moments and I enjoyed the first half hour. But at some point I realized that the film was getting progressively worse. Attempts to raise it above the normal banality were almost sad. I wanted to give them some credit for trying, but then I remembered how I had been tricked into watching crap, and I didn't feel as forgiving. Don't be fooled; Love and Other Drugs is just a romantic comedy. It's nothing better or worse, but it's also nothing you should watch.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trailer - The Future

Director: Miranda July
Starring: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater
Release: July 29th, 2011 (limited)

How strange. Not only did July write and direct this odd film, but she also starred in it and supplied the voice for Paw-Paw the cat. If you have seen the only other feature length film that she directed, Me and You and Everyone We Know, you'll be prepared for both cute quirkiness and some very disturbing behavior. Strange indeed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Movie Review - Following

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell
Year: 1998

Before he sold out, Christopher Nolan was much stranger. At least, his films were. While Inception, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, and Batman Begins are all dark and interesting, his early films were weird and uninhibited in a way that Hollywood could not allow. You may remember Memento, which was odd yet popular, with it's twisted storyline and editing. But two years earlier, Nolan directed Following, a prototype film in which he experiments with the style that would ultimately gain him fame, fortune, and, ironically, following.

This black-and-white neo-noir film breaks all the rules of storytelling. The plot is cut into three sections which I like to call Scruffy, Shaven, and Shaven/Beaten Up. Then the three sections are scrambled up with one another in a seemingly random order, allowing the audience to often see what happens before we know why it does. Eventually, the story is pieced together and the climax is revealed as we watch a young British man naively enter into the criminal underground and immediately get in above his head. With only one character having an actual name, this whirlwind of a film leaves you both guessing and waving the white flag of surrender.

While Following might be both confusing and darkly odd, it's enjoyable thanks to, not in spite of, those things. The plot does not make any sense until the end of the film, but at only one hour long, it doesn't take forever to figure out. Once the twists are figured out and the points are revealed I was left thinking, "Oh ...cool," but not much else. This film won't blow anyone away, but it deserves credit for being an original creation and for being a stepping stone toward a much better film, Memento.

Some films feel like good shorts but drag on too long, making them bad features. This film was a fleshed out short that stayed crisp while developing an intricate plot. It may not fit into any category, but it was still a clean and well-made picture. Nolan is much more than exploding bat-mobiles, and he proves it with his early works; check them out.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trailer - Fireflies in the Garden

Director: Dennis Lee
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Julia Roberts
Release: October 14, 2011

I feel like this film is trying to trick me. It looks emotional and interesting, but having Ryan Reynolds grow a beard won't make me forget that he was Van Wilder, and having Julia Roberts die won't make me forget that I hate her.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie Review - The Stand

Director: Mick Garris
Starring: Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Adam Storke,
Rob Lowe, Jamey Sheridan, Ruby Dee
Year: 1994

Stephen King is my favorite author. I have a large collection of his books, I've read almost everything he has written, I pore over the details of his stories looking for 'Dark Tower' connections, and I think that he is, in general, awesome. Films based on his works, however, cannot always be described as such. Some are quite excellent: The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Green Mile. But some are downright awful: Hearts in Atlantis, Thinner, The Dark Half. It doesn't seem to matter how good the book is, the movie version takes on a life of its own. For this reason, I was nervous to watch The Stand, one of the greatest King books of all-time.

This TV miniseries, based very closely on the epic novel, was originally aired in four 90 minute episodes: The Plague, The Dreams, The Betrayal, and The Stand. Taking place throughout the United States, the story is broad, yet simple; a government developed 'Super Flu' is unleashed on the population, leading to the near annihilation of the human race. The few survivors must come together if they hope to survive, but a choice is given to them: join an ancient grandmother in Nebraska or a dark man in the west. Their decisions will set the scene for an epic battle between good and evil, one that will decide the future of mankind.

Six hours in a long time to devote to any film, but, thankfully, The Stand was worth it. The plot stuck to the novel as much as was possible, which, given the success of the book, was very wise. The story flowed, it was interesting, and it never felt as long as it was. The special effects might have been very TV and, therefore bad, but they didn't detract too much. The acting, as a whole, was surprisingly good, with a few interesting cameos from Ed Harris, Kathy Bates, and even Stephen King himself. Molly Ringwald (Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles) might have been utterly horrible, but even she couldn't mess up the chemistry that the rest of the cast had. All in all, for a made-for-TV miniseries, it was a well-made film.

That's not to say there weren't problems. The side characters were poorly acted, the dialogue got a little preachy towards the end, and most of the adult themes were removed to pacify TV audiences. But the story could not be denied, nor could King's natural talent for forcing you to enter his world and beg to stay. 'The Stand' is a phenomenal novel, but also a strong film, one worth the time.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, August 29, 2011

Trailer - Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Release: November 2011

I might hate Kirsten Dunst (Bring It On, Spider-Man) and I might be scared of Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist), but this film still intrigues me. Other than dramatic, I have no idea what it will be like, and I like that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movie Review - Cracks

Director: Jordan Scott 
Starring: Eva Green, Juno Temple, Maria Valverde 
Year: 2009

The problem with amateur directors is that they create amateur films. The problem with directors' children who become directors themselves is that they don't consider themselves to be amateurs. They create beautiful films that seem wonderfully rich and deep, but then fail to deliver, puttering out and losing steam. Such is the case with Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation), daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and also Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley Scott. Cracks may not seem like an amateur film at first, but give it half a chance and it will prove to you that it is.

Set in an English all-girl boarding school in the 1930s, this dramatic period piece is one part thrilling, one part creepy. Eva Green (Casino Royale, Camelot) is an extremely involved teacher who creates a diving club for a select group of girls. As these girl form a tight clique, they begin to love their teacher in an almost god-like fashion. When a foreign beauty joins their group and begins to steal attention away from the leader of the club, jealousy and greed begin to infiltrate the team, creating divisions that could shatter the serene life the girls once knew.

As far as the scenery, lighting, music, and mood went, the film was excellent. Taking it a step further, however, it lacked a driving force, a depth, a climax; something intangible that it's hard to pin down. Yes, the film was beautiful, and yes, it was suspenseful, but there was a touch of finesse missing that kept it from being great. Perhaps a little too similar to the first half of Atonement, the plot began strong but failed to finish the same way. The acting by Green was mesmerizing, but seemed almost too good when compared to her costars, leaving the film, again, feeling a little empty.

For an amateur film, Cracks was fairly excellent. But for a film that promised so much more and didn't deliver, it was just alright. Most films are either good or bad, but this one may be neither, as is failed to leave much of an impression one way or the other. I wouldn't call it a waste of time, because there were positives, just not enough of them.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trailer - 50/50

Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen
Release: September 30th, 2011

I'm always up for a humorous take on a serious subject. It adds levity to a depressing topic and it gives comedians a chance to show their dramatic abilities. And also, it will be nice to see Seth Rogen (Superbad, Knocked Up) back in the supporting role, which he is definitely more suited for.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review - The Little Mermaid

Director: Ron Clements
Starring: Jodi Benson, Christopher Barnes, Buddy Hackett
Year: 1989

Reviewing an animated movie is difficult. There is no pure acting, only voice-overs, the script, in this case, is half musical number, and most of the jokes are aimed at 7-year-olds. Add in the fact that The Little Mermaid was one of my childhood favorites, and a favorite of millions of American kids in the 80s, and you've got one tricky situation. However, it's much easier if the movie is either obviously wonderful or painfully bad. And so, as I sat down to watch this blast from the past, I hoped that it would at least be one or the other.

Based on the much more gruesome fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, this nautical romp follows Ariel, a young mermaid who longs for something more than her pampered undersea life. Fascinated by humans, but forbidden by her domineering father to go near them, she studies them in secret, and, by chance, meets a young human prince. When the evil sea witch Ursula promises to aid Ariel in meeting the prince again, she accepts the dangerous deal, no matter what the cost. With the help of her fishy friends, Ariel begins a journey to discover the human world, and, ultimately, to discover herself.

Thankfully, and despite a mildly silly storyline, The Little Mermaid is delightfully magnificent. The characters are believable, deep, and well-formed, making Ariel's quest for love one we can all relate to. The humor might be a touch more juvenile than the modern animated features from Pixar, but that didn't stop me from laughing at the prat falls and silly sight gags that are still funny after all these years. What shifts the film from good to great, however, is the music. Classic songs like 'Kiss the Girl', 'Under the Sea', and, of course, 'Part of Your World' are both touching and fun, creating a movie experience that cannot be paralleled.

It takes a great film to withstand the transition between childhood and adulthood, but Disney seems to have mastered the art, showing again and again that their films are truly timeless. The Little Mermaid is definitely one of these; a wonderful story that never gets old, and yet somehow has a depth to it that is only revealed through time. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trailer - I Don't Know How She Does It

Director: Douglas McGrath
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan
Year: 2011

Yes, Sarah Jessica Parker is relatable and normal-looking. And yes, women work hard to take care of their families. But are these two facts enough to base an entire movie on? I don't think so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Movie Review - The Forgotten

Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise
Year: 2004

The X-Files was a relatively popular television show. Combining interesting plots, good acting, and cool effects, it was able to sustain nine seasons and keep audiences hooked. The X-Files movies, however, failed miserably in all categories. Perhaps it was the time length; we are willing to accept flaws more easily when we are only watching them for fourty-five minutes, as opposed to over two hours; a lesson apparently lost on the producers of The Forgotten.

In this psychological thriller, a mother, Moore (Far from Heaven, Hannibal) attempts to come to terms with the death of her 8-year-old son. When her husband and her therapist, Sinise (Apollo 13, Forrest Gump) both begin to tell her that the memories of her son are just delusions, she starts a quest to discover the truth. With the help of a father who lost his daughter in the same tragic accident, the lies that surround these forgotten children come to light, and the pair begin to understand that there is more to this mystery than can be explained.

With more plot holes than any X-Files episode ever dreamed of, this "thriller" leaves much to be desired; a cohesive story, for one. Audiences are thrust into the plot, yanked back and forth between reality and doubt, and left thinking, "Well, that didn't make any sense." Even the smallest bit of believable acting might have helped this porous plot, but there was none to be found. Moore may be one of the worse actresses on screen, but she was never even given a chance, what with all the running she had to do; it's quite difficult to be dramatic when you're being chased by husbands, feds, and creepy, silent men. Although, had she been able to slow down and speak, I doubt we would have been grateful.

In a film that was all idea and no punch, it's difficult to find any bright spots. The plot was interesting, and it might have made for a good TV episode, but not a feature length production. They obviously filled time by having the characters run around in circles, fleeing different agencies, but making a bad thing longer doesn't make it good; it makes it awful.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Monday, August 22, 2011

Trailer - Swinging with the Finkels

Director: Jonathan Newman
Starring: Martin Freeman, Mandy Moore, Jonathan Silverman
Year: 2011

I'm not sure if I actually want to see this movie or if I just want to think of Mandy Moore in this way. It seems quite an odd cast really: a Hobbit, a pop star, and that guy from Weekend at Bernie's. Strange.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review - Blue Valentine

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Year: 2010

Computer animation technology in movies is becoming too good, making characters look too real. A recent study showed that there is a point at which an animation becomes so lifelike that it makes the audience uncomfortable. The same could be said about dramas as well; Blue Valentine is a film that is almost too realistic, so familiar that it's painful. And yet, this is not make-believe, this is real life, and the line between comfort and realism has just been crossed.

The story is no more and no less than the classic boy-meets-girl. Shown throughout different stages of their relationship, Gosling (The Notebook, Half Nelson) and Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island) follow the usual path: meet, fall in love, start a family. But, of course, it's not as simple as it sounds. Their pasts, their problems, and their insecurities shape their lives together, as they attempt to hold on to the pieces of what they had once created.

Married, single, young, or old, everyone can relate to some part of the characters in this film. They are so real that it's frightening, forcing us to see ourselves for what we really are, the good and the bad. The story may be simple, but it is true, undecorated, and all too common. Gosling and Williams do an amazing job, draining themselves and giving us raw performances that transforms us into voyeurs, seeing something we should not be seeing. This film was a look into the lives of two people that we can all relate to in some way, which is why it is so wonderful and so disturbing at the same time.

Although a special film, it is definitely not for everyone. It is a pure character piece; two actors having conversations with each other without much else to rely on. Also, the themes are incredibly adult: sex, death, marriage, hope, and not much time for a breath. But if you can stand to face a few fears, see things that make you wince, and allow some walls to be torn down, then Blue Valentine can be an unparalleled work of art that is, truly, too real to deny. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, August 19, 2011

Trailer - The Woman in Black

Director: James Watkins
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer
Year: 2012

I don't think I've ever half-covered my eyes during a trailer before, but I did for this one. Lonely houses are intrinsically scary, Daniel Radcliffe is a good actor, and this movie would give me nightmares. Now I just have to decide if I'm brave enough to see it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review - Nell

Director: Michael Apted
Starring: Liam Neeson, Jodie Foster, Natasha Richardson
Year: 1994

Friday night movie nights were a childhood family tradition. We would make popcorn, walk to the store, buy Skittles and M&Ms, and rent a random movie that seemed interesting. In this way I was introduced to different directors, actors, genres, and the world of film in general. And yet, as an adult, I have learned that my taste is very unlike that of my parents. Films such as Rob Roy and A River Runs Through It were seen as flops by my family, and I thought the same until I watched them again. Then I realized that I was just too young to understand that those films were my style, even if they were not my parents'. Nell, apparently, fits into that category; a film that my parents didn't like, and so neither did I, at least until I grew up.

Set in the backwoods of North Carolina, this emotionally draining drama revolves around the title character, Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs), who lives such a secluded life that she has never seen a human being other than her deceased family, and who speaks her own distinct language. When local doctor Neeson (Schindler's List, Love Actually) discovers the young woman, she becomes exposed to a world that she never knew existed; one that is both frightening and yet full of beauty.

Regardless of having seen this film before, I was able to watch it with an open mind, as I didn't really remember anything about it other than the fact that my parents didn't like it. Well, this time, I did. After about the first half an hour of story building and cheesy 90s lines, I began to be sucked in. The story was both beautiful and mesmerizing, revealing layer after to layer of meaning and introspection. The acting, as well, was excellent, allowing the made-up language, which at first came off as a little silly, to become believable and comfortable. By the end, I felt as if I understood Nell, and, cliche or not, as if she weren't that different after all.

Although the story may seem a little outrageous, the point of the film was relatively simple, and any oddities became commonplace rather quickly. Strip away the 'wild child' and you're left with a film that is basically telling a story that has been told before, and yet is continually ignored. Nell is often described as a 'tearjerker', and, although I didn't cry, I was moved by this film. It meant something; something clear and universal and true. Perhaps not everyone hears it, but the message is there if you can just listen.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trailer - Coriolanus

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox
Year: 2011

Any film that takes Shakespeare and gives him a modern spin is worth noticing. And perhaps this is a sign that Fiennes and Butler are prepared to start working on good movies again. Ive had enough of noseless demons and talentless female co-stars.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Movie Review - City of Ember

Director: Gil Kenan
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray
Year: 2008

As proven by Public Enemies, sometimes a film can have all the right pieces and yet can turn out to be quite awful. The opposite is true as well; a film that just shouldn't work can somehow come together despite its many flaws. Surprisingly, City of Ember is the latter; a pleasantly poignant misfit of a movie that works for no concrete reason.

Based on the book by the same name, this sci-fi/fantasy adventure story is set in a dark and lonely city, Ember, created by the ancient Builders after an apocalyptic event . Residents of the city believe themselves to be the only living people in the world, kept that way by their sacred generator, which gives light to their otherwise unlit environment. As the generator begins to fail and the food begins to run out, a young girl, Ronan (Atonement, The Way Back), finds a mysterious box which may reveal a way to leave the city. As time runs out, she must find an exit from Ember before the chance it lost forever.

Nothing should have worked in this film. Kenan is a complete amateur, Treadaway (24) and Ronan (14) are supposed to be the same age, the book was written for teenage girls, and the dialogue is poor bordering on terrible. But somehow, for no apparent reason, it works. Perhaps it's the underlying topics of nuclear war, an aging planet, and religious mania that the film brings up. Perhaps its the strong beginning that hooks you and keep you holding on for the whole ride. Or perhaps its simply that Bill Murray is amazing and makes everything better just by standing there. But whatever it is, it works, and that's all that matters.

Admittedly, City of Ember is not a great film. It's intentionally juvenile, poorly written, and oddly cast. And yet, it is a great movie. It's exciting, entertaining, and surprisingly revealing. Although the pieces may not be individually excellent, the final product is a movie that is both interesting and fun. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trailer - Abduction

Director: John Singleton
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina
Year: 2011

In the spirit of Chandler Bing, "Could this movie BE any worse?" Although, what can we expect from the director of 2 Fast 2 Furious and the star of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D? Please, do not go see this movie.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Movie Review - What Dreams May Come

Director: Vincent Ward
Starring: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra
Year: 1998

Largely known for his comedic acting, Robin Williams took a turn for the dramatic in the late 90s. He took on three very complex and sensitive roles in three very heavy films: Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, and What Dreams May Come. In the first two, he was able to infuse humor into the characters, making them believable and realistic. However, in a film about a dead man's journey to hell, there's not quite as much room for that.

Williams plays a devoted husband and father who's love for art is only surpassed by his love for his family. When he dies suddenly, Williams finds himself in his own version of heaven, surrounded by the beautiful paintings that were so important to him in life. Guided by kind soul Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, As Good as It Gets), he soon learns that pain can still reach him, even in this perfect place. As the pair begin a perilous journey into the depths of hell itself, they will learn the truths that are hidden from them, both in life and in death.

'Beautiful' is as good a word as any to describe this film. It truly is a work of art, enchanting to both the eye and the mind. Imagine stepping inside a painting and manipulating the world around you, or closing your eyes and building your most pleasant dream; this film makes these fantasies a reality. The visual aspects of this film are extraordinary, but the rest could not quite keep pace. The dialogue was too obvious and the drama was overstated. The acting was just ok, as Sciorra was quite bad and Williams seemed always on the point of tears. I found myself wishing that the lines were as good as the scenery, or, at the very least, that there were less of them.

In such a serious film, a little break from the intensity would have been welcome, and an actor like Williams can give that. Instead, the sadness was near constant and any attempts at humor were through tears, making it feel even sadder. As beautiful as it was, the film as a whole was disappointing, made with a heavy hand where a light touch was needed. It just wasn't as wonderful as I wanted it to be, making What Dreams May Come a slightly depressing piece of art.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, August 12, 2011

Trailer - The Odd Life of Timothy Green

Director: Peter Hedges
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, Cameron Adams
Year: 2012

After watching this trailer, two questions came to mind: why did Peter Hedges sell out and when will Jennifer Garner stop making movies? Seriously, wasn't Elektra torture enough?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Movie Review - Appaloosa

Director: Ed Harris 
Starring: Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons 
Year: 2008

Westerns aren't for everyone. With their antiquated dialogue, noisy gunfights, and set pieces that appear likely to fall down, they can be difficult to love. Yet Americans, for some reason, continue to give them a chance. Perhaps we see them as a part of our history, a look back into our wild past. Or perhaps we fall for the classic stories, tortured heroes and beautiful damsels. Whatever the reason, Westerns remain a part of American movie culture, despite countless flops. We are rewarded for our perseverance, however, when a film like Appaloosa comes along, renewing our faith in this fickle genre.

Set in a typical Western one-horse town, the story begins with the killing of the town's resident marshal by the town's resident villain, Irons (Stealing Beauty, Lolita). The town hires traveling gunmen Harris (Gone Baby Gone, The Way Back) and Mortensen (Eastern Promises, The Road) to restore order and bring the murderer to justice. Of course, it's not as simple as it sounds, as the mercenaries must contend with an outlaw gang, the terrified townspeople, and a piano-playing siren who might complicate matters beyond all control.

If it sounds like a classic Western plot, it is. The story is typical, the dialogue is archaic, and the sage brush is purple. Yet, it is never boring, never outdated, and always captivating. The film, somehow, seems both perfectly vintage and wonderfully modern at the same time. It is neither too cheesy nor too depressing, but a comfortable blend of old and new. And the acting, by both main and side characters, is superb. Harris and Mortensen play off each other very well, creating a believable partnership. Irons and surprise star Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain, Cinderella Man) are both solid, switching between likable and despicable with ease. In large part, terrific acting set the tone for a terrific film.

Although Mortensen's monologues at both the beginning and end of the film were somewhat off-putting, the rest flowed smoothly and well. Harris, in his second attempt at directing himself, created a clean, smart, and surprising touching story. Appaloosa is a cut above the standard Western menu, reassuring movie-goers that they can still have faith in this essential American tradition. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Trailer - Drive

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks
Year: 2011

Action movies aren't my thing. I understand that they're produced to sell tickets, not create art, but I'm not buying. Bad plots, worse scripts, actors that aren't good enough to make it in dramas; no thank you. However, this film may have none of those things. It may just be that perfect blend between art and adrenaline that both critics and audiences will love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review - Annie

Director: John Huston
Starring: Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett
Year: 1982

Once in a very great while a movie comes along and knocks you off your feet. Maybe you didn't know what it would be like and it totally surprised you. Or maybe you were ready to hate it and it just blew you away. Or maybe you had watched it as a child and had forgotten all about it. Annie, for me, did all these things, staggering me with a brilliance that I was in no way prepared for.

Based on the hit Broadway play that was itself based on the comic strip 'Little Orphan Annie', this spunky musical takes audiences on a wild ride through Depression-era New York City. Aileen Quinn plays the title character, who, stuck in a horrible orphanage run by Carol Burnett (Mama's Family, Noises Off), still believes that someday her parents will come for her. When eccentric billionaire Albert Finney (Big Fish, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) asks for an orphan to stay with him as a publicity stunt, everyone's lives are turned upside down. Complete with lavish costumes, musical numbers, FDR, and bomb-throwing Bolsheviks, Annie is a high-flying theatrical extravaganza.

It would be an understatement to say that this movie surprised me; I was floored. After seeing it when I was young and then completely forgetting about it, I was not at all prepared for how wonderful it would be or how much it would impress me. The comic acting by Burnett and Finney was outstanding. The representation of the 1930s in the costumes, the set, and the dialogue was spot-on. And the music; wow. Most people can hum a few bars of 'Tomorrow' but they don't realize how amazing and near-perfect a song it is. Other numbers, like 'Maybe', 'Hard-Knock Life', and 'Little Girls' are nearly as excellent; full of feeling, hope, and humor.

If I was forced to find a flaw I might point to the main character. At eleven years old, Quinn was a complete unknown. With her giant red wig and her homely face, she was asked to melt the hearts of America. Well, perhaps she didn't do that exactly, but what she did was give audiences a ragamuffin hero to root for and the film a reliable hub to work around. She added a little something to what would become an amazing, exciting, larger-than-life spectacle that will be loved forever. From top to bottom, Annie is nothing short of a musical masterpiece.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, August 8, 2011

Trailer - The Sitter

Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jonah Hill, Max Records, Sam Rockwell
Year: 2011

I think Jonah Hill (Superbad, Cyrus) is funny, don't get me wrong. But I've seen Adventures In Babysitting and it was just alright. If I really wanted to see it again I'd rent it. So far, I haven't.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movie Review - The Pistol

Director: Frank C. Schroder
Starring: Adam Guier, Nick Benedict, Murrell Garland
Year: 1991

As a kid, I was taught to love basketball. My dad had coached high school teams, he had coached my sister, and he coached me. I was small and not very confident, but I had a nice jump shot and I understood the fundamentals of the game. My family watched The Pistol together and I was inspired by it. Although I never became a great player, I always remembered 'Pistol' Pete and I was excited to rewatch the movie twenty years later. For the sake of the kid in me, it might have been better if I hadn't.

This biopic follows the early life of basketball legend Pete 'The Pistol' Maravich. A record holder at both the collegiate and professional levels, he got his start in basketball at an early age. He made the high school varsity team while in the 8th grade, impressing coaches with his stunt passing, precision shooting, and untiring determination. Although considered a hot dog by his older teammates, 'Pistol' Pete continued to shine, revolutionizing the game of basketball with his unparalleled skill and heart.

You may notice that I didn't mention any of the actors in this film. That's because I'm not sure that there were any. Bad acting would have been a step up for most of the performers, as each line seemed to be specifically delivered to be horrible. From the lighting to the voice-overs, from the music to the cheerleaders, each aspect of the film was awful. It felt like a made-for-TV Christmas special, but without any of the joy, hope, or gingerbread. I have very rarely seen a serious movie come across this poorly.

In its defense, The Pistol was created to tell a story, and it did that. It may be a sad excuse for a film, but it did capture my eight-year-old heart, and for that I will always remember it fondly. Some movies are, apparently, only meant to be watched once when you don't know any better, but that doesn't mean that they don't have their place. That place just happens to be very, very far away.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Friday, August 5, 2011

Trailer - Tower Heist

Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck,
Alan Alda
Year: 2011

I'm not sure why I want to see this movie, but I do. Maybe it's because so many comedies are so horrible that I'll get excited about one that's even remotely funny. Or maybe it's because Ben Stiller has been doing far too many Focker movies and I'm excited to see him back. But, regardless, well-made dumb comedies don't come along very often, so I'll be seeing this one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Movie Review - The Way Back

Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Ferrell
Year: 2010

Peter Weir is one of the best directors you've never heard of. His films include Witness, Dead Poet's Society, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander, yet his name is fairly unrecognized. The reason may simply be that he is doing his job. Weir is a master of environment, transporting his audiences away from the theatre and into a place where we forget ourselves, forget that we're watching a movie. He allows us to become barn-raisers, prep students, actors, and sailors, not just to watch them on screen. Weir works his magic yet again in The Way Back, and this might be our toughest role yet.

Based on a supposed autobiography entitled 'The Long Walk', this epic film tells the story of a group of Polish prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag during WWII and must travel 4,000 miles on foot in order to reach freedom. Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21) leads this group in hopeless exodus, accompanied by an American engineer, Harris (Enemy at the Gates, Appaloosa), and a Russian criminal, Ferrell (Alexander, The New World). As the fugitives travel across Asia, they must survive extreme conditions, starvation and capture in order to realize their dreams of freedom.

As expected, I was immersed in the environment of this film. I felt the journey every step of the way; I was a fugitive right alongside my comrades. It may sound cheesy, but I really did lose myself in this adventure. However, stepping back, there were a few imperfections. The dialogue could have been smarter. The accents could have been crisper. The female character should have been completely cut and the ending should have been completely different. But while these issues may have kept it from being a phenomenal film, they did not keep me from thoroughly enjoying the two hours that I spent watching it and being completely transported away from my world.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the authenticity of this journey and it's historical accuracy. Weir has even said that he considers The Way Back to be a fictional film. Yet, I don't see that it matters. Either way he delivered, directing a film that was both beautiful and captivating, and I, for one, will be glad to forget him once again.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trailer - Margin Call

Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons,
Simon Baker
Year: 2011

It's difficult enough to create a dramatic film based on dramatic events. But it's harder still to create a dramatic film about something that puts most people to sleep. There was nothing either exciting or thrilling about the recent American financial crisis, and to compare it to the Great Depression is just plain foolish.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Movie Review - Public Enemies

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Year: 2009

In a classic Friends episode, Rachel attempts to make a traditional English trifle for dessert. It starts out great, with jam, custard, and ladyfingers, but an accident leads her to add beef, peas, and onions as well. While the gang tries to hide the fact that it's inedible in order to protect her feelings, Joey proclaims that he loves it; "What's not to like? Peas? Good. Beef? Good. Jam? Good." I use this to illustrate a point: contrary to what Joey's stomach says, great ingredients do not always combine to make a great dish.

Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Heat) directs this action-packed gangster film based on the career of notorious criminal John Dillinger. Played by Johnny Depp (Blow, Secret Window), this larger-than-life outlaw leads bank robberies, organizes jail-breaks, and stays one step ahead of the law, all while falling in love with the beautiful Marion Cotillard (Inception, Midnight in Paris). Meanwhile, g-men Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Prestige) and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Big Fish) attempt to capture Depp, naming him America's #1 public enemy.

This jagged summary is sadly identical to the film itself; full of credentials, but lacking in substance. Yes, the star power was quite impressive, but it was also very overwhelming. The pieces did not fit together to make a cohesive picture, and the actors themselves seemed to be phoning in their lines. Although, in their defense, they were some of the worst lines I have ever heard spoken on screen. Every bit of dialogue was forced, clipped, uncomfortable, and just plain awful. It was obvious that the script was the last part of the film that was worked on. However, the film as a whole was so bad that if the script was the last, I have no idea what was the first.

Beyond the casting, there were not many positive aspects to this film. The action was intense, yet unrealistic. The set was beautiful and the time was well represented, but the actors didn't seem as if they fit there. There was a strong Mann sense at the end of the film, but by then it was too late. The ingredients were all good, but the finished product was not, leaving Public Enemy a film best not tasted.

My rating:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Trailer - The Guard

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham
Year: 2011

I almost wrote this film off before seeing the trailer. I thought it would just be the typical black/white buddy cop movie that we've seen a thousand times, only set in Ireland. But I was surprised at how funny some of the old jokes were coming from Gleeson (Braveheart, Troy), and how original the film looked as a whole. Might be worth the watch.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Movie Review - Catfish

Director: Ariel Schulman
Starring: Yaniv Schulman, Angela Wesselman 
Year: 2010

Here's a riddle; when is a documentary not a documentary? The answer may be too simple to explain Catfish, a twisted documentary that follows none of the standard rules. There is an ongoing debate as to the authenticity of this unique film, but no evidence exists to disprove the creators' claim that everything we see is reality, even when it's too unreal to accept.

Two young filmmakers, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, created this documentary in order to comment on the growing world of social networks, online dating, and identity dysmorphia. They followed Ariel's brother, Yaniv, a talented photographer, as he began a relationship with a family of talented women who were fans of his work. With most of their communication via Facebook, Yaniv grows close to eight-year-old Abby and her older sister Megan. But when he attempts to learn more about this family, oddities begin to appear and doubts begin to surface.

It might not matter whether or not Catfish is real. A definite answer to that question wouldn't change its content, only its genre. It it still a gripping, interesting, and well-made film no matter how it is labeled. 'Nev' Schulman is an excellence actor and/or subject. He is believable, attractive, and easy to relate to. The film itself keeps the audience guessing while keeping it captivated as well. At the very least, it is one of the least boring documentaries that I have ever seen, even if it is not actually a documentary.

Perhaps these young movie buffs are on to something. Amateur film-making always comes off as so amateur. But this film, with its unique style, avoids this trap and somehow seems modern, edgy, and professional. So, when is a documentary not a documentary? When it is Catfish.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trailer - New Year's Eve

Director: Garry Marshall
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Zac Efron,
Jessica Biel, Hilary Swank, Josh Duhamel, Lea Michele,
Robert De Niro, Abigail Breslin, Alyssa Milano,
Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Halle Berry

Year: 2011

Adding eighty-seven B-list celebrities to your crappy movie will not make it better. Throwing in one or two washed-up A-listers in order to add a little credit to your crappy movie will, also, not make it better. Nothing could possibly make this hour and a half of cinematic vomit even remotely watchable.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Movie Review - Midnight in Paris

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Year: 2011

Woody Allen is the ultimate one-man-band; his films work best when he directs himself. As shown in Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hollywood Ending, he has the ability to make any scene brilliant, even when working alongside someone like Tea Leoni, one of the worst actresses in movie history. Unfortunately, Owen Wilson does not have that same ability. In Wedding Crashers, it was Vince Vaughn who made the movie funny. In Marley & Me, it was the golden retriever who made the movie touching. In Midnight in Paris, Wilson was left to his own devices, and, subsequently, was in over his head.

In modern day Paris, a wealthy, young couple, Wilson and McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) are planning their upcoming marriage and enjoying the beautiful city. Fed up with his wife's stuffy parents, her pedantic friends, and his own writer's block, Wilson begins nightly forays through the streets of Paris, searching for inspiration for his first novel. What he finds there will both surprise and change him; as a writer, as a fiancee, and as a man.

Out of necessity, any summary of this movie must be both short and empty. Woody Allen has incorporated a surprise within the plot that, I for one, never saw coming. Not that there was an M. Night Shyamalan twist, but a surprise nonetheless. After adjusting to the change, I was finally able to critique what I was seeing, and I found it lacking. Allen lacked a directable star; Wilson just wasn't good enough to carry a fairly heavy emotional load. Wilson lacked a co-star; McAdams is a horrible actress and was never really called upon to do anything but look good and act bitchy. And the film itself lacked any believability; plot twist or no, there needed to be something real to relate to or to grasp onto to, and it just wasn't there.

There were a few positives. The beginning of the film was both beautiful and very funny. The music made the audience feel as if they were actually there in Paris. And Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody, in a show-stealing cameo, were both quite good. However, the film as a whole felt incomplete. Woody Allen might be too old to star in his own movies anymore, but Owen Wilson was a very poor choice for a role that was obviously written for either Allen himself or a near clone. Casting Wilson and McAdams together had the sour taste of a Hollywood sell-out, and that's not what Woody Allen fans want. After Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and now Midnight in Paris, we just want a good movie. But, hey, at least it was an improvement in one area; Scarlett Johansson wasn't in it.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trailer - Crazy, Stupid, Love

Director: Glenn Ficarra
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore,
Emma Stone

Year: 2011

I know, I know. It's overly romantic, it's been done before, and we all know how it's going to end. But that doesn't stop there from being something real about this movie that might just hit you where it hurts. Take your SO and claim that you're being dragged to the theatre, but go see this movie.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie Review - Fantastic Mr. Fox

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray
Year: 2009

As you might have guessed from the name of my blog, I'm a big Wes Anderson fan. 111 Archer Avenue is the address of the Tenenbaum family in my favorite film of all time The Royal Tenenbaums, directed by, of course, Anderson (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited). I have seen all of the films he has directed and am very excited for Moonrise Kingdom, coming in 2012, starring Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, and Frances McDormand. Yet, when I heard he had directed an animated feature, I was skeptical. Guardedly excited, but skeptical.

Based on the children's book of the same name by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of the Fox family and their war with a group of local farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Clooney (ER, Ocean's Eleven) is the voice of Mr. Fox, who cannot resist his wild animal urges. His constant raiding of the triumvirate farmers forces them into action, and a war is declared against all animals in the territory. As the animals fight to survive, Mr. Fox must choose between following his trouble making instincts and his responsibility to his family: his wife, Streep (Death Becomes Her, The River Wild) and his son, Schwartzman (Rushmore, I Heart Huckabees). The fate of the fauna lies in the hands of the self-proclaimed fantastic Mr. Fox.

For those who have read any stories by Roald Dahl, you know just how dark they can be. This film was no different. It was a clever blend between childish fancy and devilish humor. Anderson always does a masterful job of making light of serious moments and revealing the depth of everyday ones, and he did so skillfully is this film. Because it was animated, Anderson was able to let loose his wild imagination, yet the restraints of the book kept him from going too far, as he did to disaster in The Life Aquatic in 2004. Still, it was quite a strange film, with no warning or build-up to the weirdness. Less than an hour and a half in length, the movie felt more like a short than a feature film. And yet, had it been any longer, I believe it would have started to drag and to become a little tedious.

Fantastic Mr. Fox did not quite live up to its name. It was wonderfully odd and darkly funny in spots, but overall it wasn't spectacular. One wonders who this film was made for; it would not be appreciated by young audiences, and most adults moviegoers would find it too strange to enjoy. Anderson can be guilty of this sort of egocentricity, and this film did indeed seem to have been made for himself and his friends, not for the public or even for the devoted Wes Anderson fan. As a quick break from reality, it was an enjoyable movie. But as a film, it was nothing special.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trailer - The Amazing Spider-Man

Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen
Production year: 2012

I feel very confused. Columbia pictures couldn't get things rolling for a Spider-Man 4; director Sam Raimi refused to work on the project, citing a lack of artistic integrity. So, instead, they have decided to start over. Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) will play Peter Parker, and audiences will see a new approach at portraying this comic book legend. The trailer looks good and I'm interested, but isn't there some rule about remaking your own movie just ten years after the original?