Monthly Archives: December 2007

JUNO

Jason Reitman’s film invites the audience to have one of two reactions in strict polar opposition to one another. Sure, you could resist its almost cloyingly independent/pseudo-edgy vibe from the first frame through the end credits, which ranges from a too-clever by half adolescent narration (by stripper turned screenwriter Diablo Cody), to the hand-drawn rhotoscoping title sequence, to the cutesy, catchy and childish songs of Kimya Dawson. You can steel yourself against the heart-warming story of an unplanned pregnancy and the softening of the sardonically witted 16 year old heroine (Ellen Page from “Hard Candy”) at the film’s center. You could even argue that the film is flatly directed, with no style or color to its mise-en-scene. But that would make you a cold and bitter person. Ultimately, mine is the latter reaction – one of complete and utter adoration. This is my favorite film of 2007 and everything I mentioned above, which should be an irritatingly self-conscious, collective shot in the foot, is in actuality a ginormous credit to why this film has been given so many kudos from so many critics and audiences. From first-time writer Cody’s brilliant screenplay, to the more than game cast: Page, former “Arrested Development” alums Michael Cera and Jason Bateman, “Alias”‘ Jennifer Garner, “The West Wing”‘s Allison Janney and “Spider-Man”‘s own J.K. Simmons, Reitman’s follow-up to his inspired anti-tobacco satire “Thank You For Smoking” (2005) is, in reality, a complete and utter gem.

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<br/>NOTE: Nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture and Actress, it (deservedly) won for Best Original Screenplay!

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PERSEPOLIS

Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” is the autobiographical story of an intelligent but impressionable youth living in Iran during the revolution who grows up with an ever-changing and enlightened perspective thanks to open-minded Communist parents and a thoughtful, guiding force of a grandmother. Her black-and-white animated odyssey from young girl to full blown womanhood is enchanting from start to finish. A gorgeous film.

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WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story Movie Review

R, 96 min, 2007

Director: Jake Kasdan
Writers: Judd Apatow, Jake Kasdan
Stars: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, David Krumholtz

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, an outrageous parody of musical biopics, is a tasteless, profane, over-the-top affair that somehow manages to be fairly believable as it follows the contours of such prestige pictures as Ray (2004) and Walk the Line (2005). Continue reading

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CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

Aaron Sorkin adapted the true events (from a book) that shape this story of a Texas Senator in the 70s and 80s whose involvement with the CIA in Afghanistan had a lasting effect on the way that part of the world is now, and our relations to it. Julia Roberts is a Southern belle, a socialite who claws her way into Wilson’s world. And Philip Seymour Hoffman gives one of three terrific performances this year as a Greek-American CIA operative working with Wilson to bring a sense of geopolitical law and order to an unstable middle Eastern region (still unstable even now!). History and entertainment blend well in this short, bitter and cutting political comedy from Mike Nichols (PRIMARY COLORS, CLOSER).

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NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS

Preposterous is the word for this one. No other word for it. The sequel to the original 2004 hit is roughly as insultingly stupid, mind-numbingly dull, and embarassingly generic as its predecessor, with almost as much to groan about. If you recall “National Treasure” (2004), that was the one where, let’s see if memory serves, the “hero” had to squirt lemon juice on the back of the Declaration of Independence in order to uncover an invisible coded message; this is scarcely less insane. The film opens “5 days after the end of the Civil War” in Washington, D.C. with John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Lincoln, coming to Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch), our hero’s great-grandfather, to decode a hidden message written in his diary. This hidden message will involve an extinct Native American language and a secret book passed down between U.S. Presidents that reveals the skinny on, let’s see here, the Kennedy Assassination, the 18-1/2 minute gap on the Watergate tapes, the truth behind the moon landings and, oh yeah, the real truth behind what goes on at Area 51. This code could be the key to opening a pandora’s box of a conspiracy theorist’s wet dreams. Do you really wanna know what that entails? Neither do I. The film picks up with history geek and treasure hunter extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), still famous after the last film’s adventure, and involves the sudden public revelation of his great-grandfather’s involvement in a conspiracy to kill Lincoln – who, we learn, is Benjamin’s “favorite President.” Benjamin and his father Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voight) must then contend with a nefarious fellow treasure hunter (Ed Harris), kidnap the current President (Bruce Greenwood) in order to get a key lucky bit of information, and employ the unique skills of Benjamin’s girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger); the goofy tech nerd and author of the book about their previous adventure, Riley (Justin Bartha); and Benjamin’s university professor mother (Helen Mirren). Also attempting to cover for Benjamin is his FBI agent pal from the first film (Harvey Keitel). With a cast like this, you’d almost be willing to forgive any goofiness the filmmakers can throw at you. Almost. Indeed, there is a scene early in the film where Cage, Voight, Harris and Albert Hall of “Apocalypse Now” fame are standing around discussing the beginnings of the plot, and I just rolled my eyes and felt myself cringing at the sight of such great actors on such a fool’s errand. Another scene at Buckingham Palace is particularly painful, with Cage in an over-the-top rant designed to distract the guards long enough so he and his girlfriend can get out without being detained, or something. Cage seems to be having fun here, I guess, but I pity him. I really, truly do. Occasionally, the film sparks to life thanks to Helen Mirren’s saucy portrayal of Cage’s mother, and (despite its preposterousness) I also kinda liked the scene between Cage and Bruce Greenwood; you’ll know the one to which I refer. The film has again been directed by Jon Turteltaub (“Cool Runnings,” “3 Ninjas”) and written by, among others, the Wibberlys and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy and “Shrek”); they need to find a real day job. The film has unconvincing if fairly servicable special effects and no brain to match. This film is like Indiana Jones for people whose suspension of disbelief has snapped. You would have to be at least half as insane as these characters to even roll with this, let alone enjoy it. I hope you aren’t.

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THE KITE RUNNER

“You should come home. There is a way to be good again.” This is what Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is told by an old family friend (Shaun Toub of “Crash”) in an urgent phone call to his home in San Francisco in the year 2000. The now adult Amir then flashes backward, and so begins Marc Forster’s affecting, thoughtful story of long-held regrets, shameful secrets, and the power of redemption. Growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1978, Amir (played as a kid by Zekiria Ebrahimi) is the son of Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), a kind-eyed intellectual with no use for the radicals taking over the country. Amir’s best friend is Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of Baba’s servant Ali who has been with the family for a long time. Amir and Hassan are partners in local kite flying competitions, and are bullied by Assef, the local thug who interprets their friendship as being “payed for” because of their parents’ relationship. Amir’s friendship with Hassan is forever tarnished when he secretly witnesses Hassan’s assault and rape at the hands of Assef without intervening or even revealing his knowledge of it. Soon, the Soviets are invading and Amir and his father must emmigrate to America. By 1988, Amir is a college graduate and aspiring writer, living with his father in California and trying to make ends meet. There he meets his future bride Soraya (Atossa Leoni), the daughter of a once great Afghan General. Forster and screenwriter David Benioff (Spike Lee’s “25th Hour”) have adapted their story from the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, and the transition is smooth as silk. This is a wonderfully involving and moving tale of innocence lost, friendships torn asunder, and the adult need to atone for one’s past. “I’m through forgetting,” adult Amir says late in the film. The film takes on many tones as it goes on, ranging from childhood fancy to an almost thriller-like dread, to light and fragile romance. Marc Forster has formed a pretty amazing little filmography in a very short amount of time: he began in 2000 with “Everything Put Together,” starring Radha Mitchell, and followed it with Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance in “Monster’s Ball” (2001). He’s since gone on to direct Oscar-nominee “Finding Neverland” (2004), the psychological thriller “Stay” (2005), the whimsical metaphysical comedy “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006) and now this; if you can spot a pattern here, by all means let me know! The performances are all strong (the actor who played young Hassan was relocated after his government threatened his life for appearing in the PG-13 appropriate rape scene), but I responded in particular to the kind eyes, soft voice, and good intentions of Amir’s father, played here with amazing grace by Homayoun Ershadi (he reminded me of my Iranian uncle Ali). This film is physically beautiful, with CGI-augmented kite-flying scenes of great beauty and exhilirating effect. Above all else, this is a film about standing up for what is right when you aren’t helpless, and making up for mistakes of the past; a lesson we all need reminding of once in a while. NOTE: Forster’s filmography continues to follow an unclear path with the latest 007 film “Quantum of Solace” (2008). Huh?!? Also: Homayoun Ershadi starred in one of the WORST films I’ve ever seen – Abbas Kiarostami’s “A Taste of Cherry” (1997).

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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS

Alvin and the Chipmunks Movie Review

PG, 92 min, 2007

Director: Tim Hill
Writers: Jon Vitti (screenplay) and Will McRobb (screenplay) & Chris Viscardi (screenplay), Jon Vitti (story), Ross Bagdasarian (characters Alvin and the Chipmunks)

Stars: Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson

Tim Hill’s Alvin and the Chipmunks is a lively musical biopic which utilizes the oft-tread rise and fall format as a framing device for what becomes a powerful, poignant, ultimately scathing indictment of the music industry as a tool for the quick success and hard demise of young up-and-coming talent. Continue reading

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THE WALKER

The Walker Movie Review

R, 108 min, 2007

Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Paul Schrader
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall

Paul Schrader’s The Walker, his latest, is a neo-noir-ish thriller, yet another of his seedy character studies about professional men who go out into the night and apply their unique qualities to a particular vocation. Continue reading

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