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!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Movie Review - Cyrus

Director: Jay & Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Katherine Keener
Year: 2010

When you hear the names Reilly (Walk Hard, Step Brothers) and Hill (Knocked Up, Super Bad) together, you think comedy. And in particular, stupid comedy. Even the trailer for this movie prepares the viewer for a lot of laughs with a little love story thrown in for substance. What the movie delivers, however, is something else entirely.

Reilly plays, simply enough, John, a divorced editor who has never risen out of the depression of his failed marriage seven years earlier. Coerced into going to a party by his ex-wife, Keener (Being John Malkovich, Death to Smoochy), he strikes out with multiple women before making a connection with Tomei (Alfie, The Wrestler). The only problem is, her strange son, Hill, still lives at home, and he may be unwilling to share his mother with another man.

Given the actors and the plot, Cyrus would appear to be a simple comedy. It is anything but. Although crowded with laughs early on, it soon becomes a deep, honest, and heart-breaking film that has more relative things to say than most modern dramas. The acting from Reilly was amazing; I believed him in every moment and in every scene. The direction was interesting and original, but still very simple. Except for a few cliches that helped it fit into mainstream cinema, the film was clean, smart, and extremely honest.

If you were expecting slapstick, you may be disappointed. But if you passed on this film because of its actors, plot or trailer, than you ought to give it another chance. Cyrus will surprise you, and you'll be glad that it did.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trailer - War Horse

Director: Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, David Thewlis, Emily Watson
Production year: 2011

I'm not sure what to think about this movie. On one hand, Spielberg will once again team up with composer John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan), and this one has got to be better than Spielberg's last movie, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But on the other hand, two hours might be too long for me to pretend that a horse can have near human intelligence and emotional depth. I did love Homeward Bound, but then again I was ten.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie Review - The Basketball Diaries

Director: Scott Kalvert
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Lorraine Bracco, Bruno Kirby
Year: 1995

There seems to be a fairly standard recipe for the American biopic: start with a tragic childhood incident or early drug addiction, develop an unbelievable talent in either music or sports, and finish by overcoming great odds to become rich and famous. This formula worked on audiences in Ray and Walk the Line, both filmed in the mid 2000's, but The Basketball Diaries follows a slightly moderated blueprint, leading to a fairly unexpected experience.

DiCaprio (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Growing Pains) plays Jim Carroll, the real-life author of the autobiographical book that the film is based on. As a promising young basketball player at a New York Catholic high school, DiCaprio spends his time shooting hoops and ditching school with his friend, Wahlberg (Renaissance Man, Fear). When the young athletes begin to dabble in drugs, they quickly fall into an alternate lifestyle, and their plans for the future begin to crumble.

This film somehow followed the biopic recipe without falling into the biopic cliches. It was about addiction, it was about talent, and it was about redemption. But it wasn't about a wealthy savant who, once they stopped doing drugs, starting making millions of dollars. It was more real than the average biography, sometimes disturbingly so. DiCaprio was amazing, at a very young age, and Wahlberg was equally excellent in a smaller role. The cast fit well into the setting and the movie was smooth throughout.

The ending falls a little flat, and I've seen addiction movies done a little better (Requiem for a Dream), but overall, The Basketball Diaries is a solid film with excellent acting that helped launch the careers of two brilliant actors.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, June 27, 2011

Trailer - Take Shelter

Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain
Production year: 2011

This trailer is both immensely creepy and highly intriguing. Shannon (The Woodsmen, Revolutionary Road) is a very striking actor and always creates an original mood. Nichols, who wrote the screenplay as well, has worked with Shannon before (Shotgun Stories). I look forward to a very deep, dark, and disturbing film.

Trailer - Terri

Director: Azazel Jacobs
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jacob Wysocki
Production year: 2011

Reilly (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) is one of my favorite actors. He teams up here with relatively unknown director Jacobs and young co-star Wysocki. The movie looks darkly funny and a little off-kilter. As long as it doesn't turn sappy it ought to be a good film.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Movie Review - Texas Rangers

Director: Steve Miner
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Dylan McDermott, Ashton Kutcher, Alfred Molina
Year: 2001

Although not a highly recognizable name, most movie-watchers have seen a Steve Miner film. Some of his cinematic gems include House, Halloween: H20, and Lake Placid. After filming Texas Rangers, Miner took a seven year break from film directing. His return to the screen was with 2008's Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous, starring Jessica Simpson. In hind sight, I'm not sure why I willingly watched one of his movies.

In Texas Rangers, McDermott (The Practice) stars as Leander McNelly, a real-life Ranger, who attempts to revive the Rangers in south Texas and wipe out a gang of Mexican bandits led by Molina (Frida, Spider-Man 2). Among his young recruits are Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) and Kutcher (That '70s Show). The untrained boys learn quickly what it means to be the law in a lawless west, as they travel down the Rio Grande is search of adventure.

As it turns out, the combination of Steve Miner and Ashton Kutcher is as bad as it sounds. Leaving no western cliche unused, Miner subjected the audience to an hour and a half of mindless lines like, "Right is on our side!", and, "I don't deserve to wear this star!" Even more horrific than the dialogue were the cameos: Tom Skerritt as the grizzled ranch owner, Randy Travis as the gun-slinging sergeant, and, strangely enough, Usher as the scout who knows he can be so much more.

This movie could not have been much worse. Cheesy dialogue, clip after clip of men loading pistols, terrible acting by all involved, and gun fights in which every participant runs around aimlessly shooting guns over their heads. There were, literally, no redeeming qualities to latch onto. Not only is it a poor attempt at a western, Texas Rangers is a poor attempt at a movie.

My rating:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Review - Super 8

Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning 

Year: 2011

I first saw a trailer for Super 8 during the Super Bowl in February, and I was immediately hooked. Although not a huge fan of Abrams (Alias, Lost), I was excited that Stephen Spielberg was producing and that the film would pay homage to his Sci-Fi classics Close Encounters and E.T. The stage was set for an excellent action thriller.

The film takes place in a small Ohio town where a group of kids, including Courtney and Fanning, are filming a homemade zombie movie with a Super 8 camera. When their camera accidentally captures a horrific train crash, the kids find themselves way in over their heads, as the U.S. military enters town to cover up a frightening secret. Local police deputy Chandler (Early Edition) finds himself in the middle of it all, torn between his duty to the town and his fragile relationship with his son. The kids fight to uncover the truth, young love blossoms, and the film races toward what is sure to be action-packed ending.

If this all sounds a bit cliche, that's because it is. From the cop dad to the government conspiracies, from a first crush to the moral lesson at the end, it's all a bit over done. Instead of paying homage to Spielberg, Abrams ripped him off. The only difference is he had permission. One can only assume that the duo thought what worked in the '80s should work again. And it did, to some extent. The story was compelling, the kids were funny, and the effects were great. But somewhere toward the end I realized that the movie was not going to get any better, that it was not going to rise above the typical, forced, over-dramatic climax that seems to be Abrams forte.

In the end, this film turned out to be everything I didn't want it to be. Apparently a Spielberg movie remade in Abrams' style loses something in the translation. Perhaps its heart, perhaps its depth. But whatever it is, Super 8 lost it, and fell short as a result.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Movie Review - Avatar

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Year: 2009

Reduce, reuse, and recycle; the environmentalist motto. Director James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) proved his critics right when they called his newest movie overtly environmental by following this motto to a tee. Instead of creating an original work, Avatar was constructed by recycling old props from old projects, reusing plots from mediocre movies, and reducing the level of acting talent and writing imagination needed to create a Hollywood film.

The story centers around Worthington, a wheelchair-bound Marine who travels to Pandora, a planet rich in natural resources but peopled by a savage race, the Na'vi. Transferring their minds into avatar Na'vi bodies, the humans mingle with the natives in order to convince them to let them harvest the natural resources of the planet (unobtanium), warning the natives that resistance will only give the human army a reason to destroy them. When Worthington falls for the Na'vi princess, Saldana (Crossroads, Star Trek), and begins to enjoy his life as a native, the situation reaches a boiling point.

If you think that you have heard this storyline before, you have. It was called FernGully. Complete with an ancient tree that the natives will die to protect, Avatar takes it's plot almost scene for scene from this 1992 animated film. In order to cover this theft up, Cameron adds in a dash of a few other movies as well, including the emotions of Dancing With Wolves, the soundtracks of Glory and Enemy at the Gates, and the set pieces of Aliens. Sigourney Weaver herself is no more than a glorified set piece, while Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez take their characters directly from Paul Reiser and Jenette Goldstein in Aliens. Cameron shows no originality in this film. From the characters to the music, the spacecrafts to the plot, everything is recycled.

The only positive that can be said about Avatar is that it is a great 3-D experience. Very special care has been given to making every scene beautiful, every moment epic, every shot visually stunning. If only the acting, plot, music, basically the film, could have been half as good as the movie, then perhaps Avatar could have been great. However, as much as I enjoyed the visual effects and the experience, the more I think about this movie the more I don't like it.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Movie Review - Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams
Year: 2010

From the beginning, it was clear that this movie would be one thing if nothing else: creepy. Intense, driving music, an approaching storm, a suspicious assignment on a rocky coastal island; tools used to build suspense and create an eerie feeling. Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed) sets the scene well for an intriguing story.

DiCaprio (Titanic, Inception) & Ruffalo (Zodiac, Blindness) play federal Marshalls who take a case at an island asylum for the criminally insane. Kingsley (Gandhi, Sneakers), the head of psychiatry at Ashcliffe, has requested their help in finding an escaped patient, who's room was found empty, yet locked. DiCaprio, who's character has mysteries of his own to solve, struggles against a furious storm, an uncooperative staff, and his own demons to crack the case and uncover the secrets of Shutter Island.

The first hour and a half of this film is spent building the suspense and the story, which is done well. The acting and dialogue, however, are both often questionable, at best. This is especially true in DiCaprio's dream sequences, in which Williams (Dawson's Creek) makes her appearances. Her acting is sub-par, over-dramatic, and these scenes seem out of place with the gritty reality of the asylum and its inhabitants. The last half hour of the film, however, is spent making the viewer feel sheepish for their critiques, as it reveals all and exposes the hidden truths that should have been quite visible, but were definitely not.  Shutter Island is a good film with a great twist. The trap is set wonderfully and the viewer falls right into it. It is the type of film that warrants a second watch.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Movie Review - Leaves of Grass

Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Starring: Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon

Year: 2009

Essentially, this film was comprised of 'buts'. The title refers to W.W. (Uncle Walt), but also to M.J. (pot). Norton is a great actor, but he plays two characters. Sarandon is a great actress, but Russell is not. Nelson is a veteran actor, but an amateur director. Every positive sign is followed by a negative one, and we're left wondering which side will win out.

Edward Norton (Fight Club, Rounders) plays both a cultured college professor and his hippie pot-dealing twin brother. Tricked into returning to his home state of Oklahoma, he becomes involved in his brother's drug war against local Jewish magnate Richard Dreyfuss, in a very comical, very short, cameo. Meanwhile, Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, Bull Durham) plays the boys' mother and Russell (Felicity) plays the love interest, as the brothers become involved in what will, of course, become more than they bargained for.

As may be apparent from the description, this was an odd movie. Norton is a strong enough actor to carry two roles, but his performances both fall a little short. Nelson's attempt to mix lessons in hydroponics with lectures in philosophy come off as muddled and affected. A scene in which Russell quotes Whitman while gutting a trout exemplifies the awkward and cliche feeling that most of the movie had. It became quickly obvious that Nelson, who directed, co-starred, produced, and wrote the film, was in way over his head, and quickly turned to Movie 101 to get out of this jam.

Leaves of Grass was a dark comedy that was dark sometimes, funny sometimes, but mostly just uncomfortable and strange throughout. The plot was somewhat interesting, but the acting and writing just didn't support it. In essence, this movie could have been good, but it was not.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Movie Review - Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey

Year: 2010

Going in to see this film I knew I would either love it or hate it; I've always had strong reactions to movies directed by Aronofsky. I couldn't stand Pi or The Fountain, but I thought Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler were both excellent. His movies are either bizarre and unattainably selfish or gripping and frighteningly realistic. All that was left for me to do was decide which category Black Swan fit into best.

The plot is fairly simple. Portman (Garden State, Closer) plays a beautiful and precise dancer who is part of a company that will be performing Swan Lake. When his prima ballerina retires, company director Cassel auditions Portman for the role of the Swan Queen. The difficulty is that the dancer must play two parts: the virginal White Swan and the alluring Black Swan. As Portman attempts to embody both parts of the character in order to win the role, she is influenced by a free spirit dancer, Kunis (That '70s Show), her controlling mother, Hershey (Hoosiers, Last of the Dogmen), and her own inner demons.

Ultimately I was proven wrong, as Black Swan fit into both Aronofsky film categories and somehow came out original, clean, bizarre, frightening, sensitive, beautiful. Portman was excellent in every scene, seamlessly transforming into her character. Kunis was surprisingly good; sexy and relaxed. The writing and dialogue were simple, but smart. The tension in the film was non-stop, even nerve-wracking. I left the theatre, as did everyone, slowly; sitting for a long while after the credits, reflecting on what I had just seen and wondering what had just been done to me.

It seems an exaggeration, but this film is near perfect. It is a great thriller that didn't become cheesy and an artsy film that didn't become pretentious. Appealing to both critics and audiences alike, it has a legitimate shot at winning the Best Picture Academy Award.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰