Monthly Archives: December 2009

Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

green lantern first flight one sheet

[Guest film review by Steve Oatney]
DC Comic’s Green Lantern character may not be as well known as Mickey Mouse, but then again, how many people who never read comic books had ever heard of Iron Man? Truthfully, I have friends who were as jazzed about Ozzy Osbourne’s song being part of the original Iron Man trailer, as they were about it being a superhero film. No joke. The Green Lantern Corps falls into the lesser known heroes category, but the history is there, with all of the makings for a great animated, or live-action, film.
The original Green Lantern character was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell in 1940, and published by DC. For those unfamiliar, Green Lanterns are heroes who wear power rings which utilize green element energy to physically create most anything the wearer can imagine. A power that rivals even the greatest superhero abilities, even those of Superman.
DC Comics may seem a bit overshadowed by Marvel Comics these days, with Marvel pumping out big-screen blockbusters like Iron Man and Spider Man (and their respective sequels) but DC has a niche and a fan base that cannot be ignored.

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Review: Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes one sheetI’ve been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detail-oriented detective Sherlock Holmes for as long as I can remember. As a young child I devoured the stories and as recently as last week was watching a classic 1944 Holmes movie, The Scarlet Claw, starring Basil Rathbone as the eponymous detective and Nigel Bruce as his bumbling medical sidekick John Watson. I also greatly enjoyed the BBC series of Holmes stories that starred Jeremy Brett as the detective and David Burke as Dr. Watson.

The Holmes canon is extraordinarily rich and directors as talented as Billy Wilder and Barry Levinson have tackled it with varying levels of success. There are more than 200 Holmes films and TV shows spanning more than a century (the first Holmes film was the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, released in 1905). It’s also quite rich in detail, as any Holmsian will tell you, including when and how Holmes met and interacted with his one true love, Irene Adler. 
And so it was quite a challenge for director Guy Ritchie to reinvent Sherlock Holmes on the big screen, transforming him from the fastidious Jeremy Brett and overbearing Basil Rathbone to the scroungy, intense Robert Downey Jr. who plays Holmes as a sarcastic ruffian who earns supplemental income as a warehouse pugilist, and Jude Law as a sophisticated and alarmingly violent Watson.
The result is a highly entertaining, visually stunning movie that doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders and reduces one of the best and most memorable fictional detectives in history to just another member of CSI:Victorian London or one of the Usual Suspects or any number of similar gritty, tough, unorthodox detectives.

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Review: Nine

nine one sheetFilms are dreams, whether the director is aiming for hyper-realism or whether we’re allowed to fly through the odd, the dreamy, the troubling of their imagination. Director Rob Marshall recognizes this and his Nine is a sexy, engaging, stylish and enlightening journey through the imaginative life of Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his many loves.

At the beginning of the film, Guido, a famous Italian film director clearly modeled after the brilliant but eccentric Federico Fellini, explains why he doesn’t want to talk about his upcoming movie project: “You kill your film, mostly by talking about it. A film is a dream.”
The very first frames of Nine open with Guido sitting on the vacant set of his upcoming movie Italia, then seamlessly shifts into a dance number that introduces us to his major loves, his mother (Sophia Loren), his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his lover Carla (Penélope Cruz), the blonde star of his new film Claudia (Nicole Kidman) and his muse Lilli (Judi Dench).
Set in Italy in the mid 1960′s, Guido is struggling with his next film project, it’s ten days before shooting begins at Cine Cettá and he has no script, not even a real idea of the storyline, because he spends so much of his time in his head, in his fantasy sequences within which women fawn over “Maestro Contini” and do steamy, sexy burlesque dance numbers in the skimpiest of costumes.
I love the self-conscious style of the 1960′s Italian cinema, where style and appearance was often more important than storyline, where making sense was less important than being cool, and where everyone brooded and had a perpetual wisp of cigarette smoke partially obscuring their face. Much of this is lovingly caught in Nine and when you add in lots of sexy, beautiful women and great dance numbers, it’s on my short list for best films of 2009.

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Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

alvin and the chipmunks the squeakquel one sheetThose three mischievous CG chipmunks are back in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel though their “parent” and guardian Dave (Jason Lee) is surprisingly absent from this sequel, getting a total of about ten minutes of screen time. The boys guardian is supposed to be Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten) but she has even less screen time, just enough to have a pratfall and then remain offscreen (and out of mind) in the hospital recovering for the rest of the film. Instead, her slacker video-game-addict grandson Toby (Zachary Levi) moves into Dave’s house to theoretically take care of the chipmunks, Alvin (voice of Justin Long), Theodore (voice of Jesse McCartney) and Simon (voice of Matthew Gray Gubler) while actually ignoring them completely.

While Dave is laid up in a Parisian hospital after a zany sequence of chipmunk-induced events rockets him across the stage at a charity concert, he arranges for the chipmunks to go to school “like real boys”, though when they’re 8-inches tall going to high school seems a bit odd. Nonetheless, they dutifully show up for their first day at the amusingly named West Eastman High.
The big twist in this Alvin and the Chipmunks installment is that they boys fall in love. With human girls? Perish the thought!  With three girl chipmunk singing and dancing sensations called the Chipettes: Brittany (voice of Christina Applegate), Eleanor (voice of Amy Poehler) and Jeanette (voice of Anna Faris). 
This is not great filmmaking. Even for a children’s film, it’s shallow and rather goofy, with storylines that are never resolved and sporadic potentially inappropriate innuendo, but my test audience (my children and their friend) gave it the thumbs up, so this might well be one case where good enough is, well, good enough to be entertaining for its brief 80 minutes or so.

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Review: Avatar

avatar one sheetAvatar is a movie about manifest destiny and second thoughts, a sweeping epic retelling of a classic theme about a soldier “going native” as he learns that the enemy isn’t a faceless monster, but an intelligent race. The most obvious parallel is Dances with Wolves, but director James Cameron has taken the basic storyline and created a visual masterpiece that’s almost a perfect sci-fi film.

Avatar takes place 150 years in the future, on the far distant planet of Pandora, where everything on the planet and all its inhabitants are connected through energy fields. The local inhabitants, the Na’vi, are a race of ten-foot tall hunter/gatherers modeled after Native American tribes. The Na’vi commune with nature, honor the spirit of animals they kill and worship the great Home Tree.
The film follows Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington), a Marine with a disabling spinal injury that’s left him wheelchair-bound. He is shanghied into replacing his recently killed scientist brother on a mission to Pandora: he’s a perfect genetic match, though he’s clearly not any sort of scientist. Pandora is of great interest to humans not because it’s a lush, gorgeous planet but because it’s the primary source of the fantastically valuable Unobtanium: if the planet has to be destroyed to successfully mine this substance, well, so be it. Human need is more important than the rights of the natives.
Jake is given an avatar, a Na’vi body that is a mix of Na’vi and his own DNA, a ten foot tall creature within which his consciousness resides, a new, alien, but thrillingly functional body. His mission: to get the Na’vi to relocate their home before the company destroys it to access the richest vein of Unobtanium on the planet. Problem is, he meets Na’vi princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and falls in love…
Avatar is not a masterpiece of cinema, the story is entirely too predictable. But it’s still well worth seeing because visually, Cameron has created an entirely new type of film, a completely immersive alien world that is both magical and frightening, along with an alien race that’s sufficiently humanoid that we can empathize with their passions while being repelled by their primitive instincts. It’s one of the few films where I’ll strongly recommend you see it in the movie theater, in 3D. You’ll be amazed.

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The Ten Best Films of the Decade?

Alright, readers, before I publish my own list, let’s get some conversation going. Think back on the last ten years of cinema and come up with your top few films from that era!

Here’s a useful starter, the Academy Awards for each year, with the winner highlighted in all caps:
2000
Picture: 
“GLADIATOR,” “Chocolat,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Traffic” 
Actor:
RUSSELL CROWE in “Gladiator,” Javier Bardem in “Before Night Falls,” Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” Ed Harris in “Pollock,” Geoffrey Rush in “Quills” 
Actress: 
JULIA ROBERTS in “Erin Brockovich,” Joan Allen in “The Contender,” Juliette Binoche in “Chocolat,” Ellen Burstyn in “Requiem for a Dream,” Laura Linney in “You Can Count On Me” 
Supporting Actor:
BENICIO DEL TORO in “Traffic,” Jeff Bridges in “The Contender,” Willem Dafoe in “Shadow of the Vampire,” Albert Finney in “Erin Brockovich,” Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator”
Supporting Actress:
MARCIA GAY HARDEN in “Pollock,” Judi Dench in “Chocolat,” ” Kate Hudson in “Almost Famous,” Frances McDormand in “Almost Famous,” Julie Walters in “Billy Elliot”
Director:
STEVEN SODERBERGH for “Traffic,” Stephen Daldry for “Billy Elliot,” Ang Lee for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Steven Soderbergh for “Erin Brockovich,” Ridley Scott for “Gladiator”

2001

Picture: 
“A BEAUTIFUL MIND,” “Gosford Park,” “In the Bedroom,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “Moulin Rouge” 
Animated Feature Film:
“SHREK,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”, “Monsters, Inc.” 
Actor:
DENZEL WASHINGTON in “Training Day,” Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind,” Sean Penn in “I Am Sam,” Will Smith in “Ali,” Tom Wilkinson in “In the Bedroom” 
Actress: 
HALLE BERRY in “Monster’s Ball,” Judi Dench in “Iris,” Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge,” Sissy Spacek in “In the Bedroom,” Renee Zellwegger in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” 
Supporting Actor:
JIM BROADBENT in “Iris,” Ethan Hawke in “Training Day,” Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast,” Ian McKellen in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” Jon Voight in “Ali” 
Supporting Actress:
JENNIFER CONNELLY in “A Beautiful Mind,” Helen Mirren in “Gosford Park,” Maggie Smith in “Gosford Park,” Marisa Tomei in “In the Bedroom,” Kate Winslet in “Iris”
Director:
RON HOWARD for “A Beautiful Mind,” Ridley Scott for “Black Hawk Down,” Robert Altman for “Gosford Park,” Peter Jackson for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive”

2002

Picture: 
“CHICAGO,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Hours,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “The Pianist”
Animated Feature Film:
“SPIRITED AWAY,” “Ice Age,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” “Treasure Planet”
Actor:
ADRIEN BRODY in “The Pianist,” Nicolas Cage in “Adaptation,” Michael Caine in “The Quiet American,” Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York,” Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt”
Actress: 
NICOLE KIDMAN in “The Hours,” Salma Hayek in “Frida,” Diane Lane in “Unfaithful,” Julianne Moore in “Far from Heaven,” Renee Zellweger in “Chicago”
Supporting Actor:
CHRIS COOPER in “Adaptation,” Ed Harris in “The Hours,” Paul Newman in “Road to Perdition,” John C. Reilly in “Chicago,” Christopher Walken in “Catch Me If You Can”
Supporting Actress:
CATHERINE ZETA-JONES in “Chicago,” “Kathy Bates in “About Schmidt,” Julianne Moore in “The Hours,” Queen Latifah for “Chicago,” Meryl Streep in “Adaptation”
Director:
ROMAN POLANSKI for “The Pianist,” Rob Marshall for “Chicago,” Martin Scorsese for “Gangs of New York,” Stephen Daldry for “The Hours,” Pedro Almodovar for “Talk to Her”

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    Review: Up In The Air

    up in the air one sheetWhen I was a kid, I used to think that business travel must be fabulous, a life of glamor punctuated by new cities, fancy hotels and anything you’d like to eat, each and every meal. Then I started to travel and realized just how exhausting and disheartening it is, how it can suck the life out of you and leave you restless both on the road and at home.

    Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has just this kind of job in Up In The Air, he’s a corporate downsizer brought in to fire excess employees. It’s a tough job and Bingham has made a career out of detaching, disassociating from anything that could tie him down, including his long-estranged siblings and their families.
    Perpetually on the go, he meets up with fellow frequent flier Alex Goran (Vera Fermiga) and they flirt as they empty their wallets onto the hotel bar table, comparing rewards programs and avoiding anything personal. They end up in bed, and next morning coolly try to find an overlap in their travel schedules so they can meet up again. Soon they’re sending each other suggestive text messages and getting involved romantically.
    Meanwhile, Bingham’s boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) has been bowled over by the young, fresh scrubbed efficiency expert Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who is convinced that they can just as easily fire people via video conferences and save millions by not having the senior staff in the air.
    I’ve become quite a fan of Clooney in the last few years and expected to like Up In The Air, but it was still much better than I expected. It’s a delightful, unpretentious, perfectly assembled romance for our times. Better yet, it unfolds in surprising and unexpected ways and left me satisfied with its distinctly non-Hollywood ending. Strongly recommended.

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