Flip for Film…

…skeletons in the closet…
May 7, 2009, 2:08 pm
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Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past


Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or, in this case, a flock of women scorned.  

Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a love ’em and leave ’em type of guy.  Models throw themselves at him like flies on poo. Learning his example from his late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), the heartbreaker extraordinaire loves his high-life of fast cars and fast women.  Little does Connor suspect that a visit from the grave could bury him completely.  

Traveling to an undisclosed location for his brother’s wedding, Connor wastes no time telling Paul (Breckin Meyer) and an entire room of wedding guests that marriage will ruin his life.  “Love is a myth,” he drunkenly announces, “When did casual sex become a crime?” 

Taking a page out of the Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol,” Connor must relive his past, get a second look at his present and stare into his future.  We learn that Connor wasn’t always such a cad.  Following the untimely death of his parents, his Uncle Wayne took custody and taught the young lad his womanizer ways.  Aw, the type of role model any impressionable kid should have.

Watching McConaughey in this role is like watching a hamster play fetch.  Physically, the poor fellow looks like an orange beacon standing next to porcelain-skinned beauty Jennifer Garner.”The New York Times” reviewer, Manohla Dargis, remarked about the actor’s trademark smile, “Matthew McConaughey, flashing choppers so blindingly white that he could light his own premiere.” His over-the-top cocky attitude leaves no room for audience sympathy.  

I cannot help but remember Michael Caine’s superb performance in 1992’s “Muppet Christmas Carol.”  His portrayal of Scrooge was relatable and heartfelt.  By the end of the story, Scrooge’s redemption was a welcome relief.  For “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” relief came when the credits rolled.

Connor is a playboy through and through.  He relies upon good looks and underhanded pick-up lines to score with the ladies.  McConaughey cannot muster enough courage to take some risks instead of playing the same note for a majority of the film.  The scenes meant for poignant nostalgia were so painful that by the end of the film, my reaction was what every filmmaker dreads.

I didn’t want him to get the girl. 

The film didn’t achieve what it set out to do.  I choose to jeer, instead of cheer, in Connor’s general direction.  The script was shoddy, the cinematography lackluster, and sound unimpressive.  Even if the film had an appearance by Tiny Tim, it would have flatlined.

“The Rolling Stone” critic, Peter Travers, was appalled by “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.”  He said of the lead, “McConaughey sold out his ‘Dazed and Confused’ promise years ago,” and added, “Seeing the bewitching Jennifer Garner stuck in the role of the good girl who will change Connor’s ways, well, that’s just sad.” 

Jan Stuart at “The Washington Post” added her thoughts with this kicker, “Nothing is more dispiriting than a would-be sight gag that has McConaughey trying to balance a teetering wedding cake with his leg. It’s a misbegotten effort: How do you rescue a pastry that hasn’t risen to begin with?”


…deadly attraction…
May 5, 2009, 11:46 pm
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What begins as a fairytale quickly turns into a horror story.

Derek (Idris Elba) has the perfect life.  He is part of a Kodak photographer’s dream family consisting of gorgeous wife Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles) and cherub-cheeked baby Kyle (Nathan and Nicholas Myers).  After finally moving into their dream home and accepting a job as investment banker, the family could live the American Dream, at last.  Right?

Cue the attractive intern named Lisa (Ali Larter) who wears six-inch heels and a devilish grin.  This woman has an insatiable desire to take Derek as her own and will stop at nothing to get him.

Take one homewrecker and an unsuspecting husband, throw in some mental insanity and you’ve got the basic gist of the plot.  Sound familiar?  Imagine Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in an elevator for “Fatal Attraction,” a 1987 thriller that ranked as the second highest grossing film that year.

“Obsessed” rides on the coattails of this Oscar-nominated hit.  However, it fails to deliver the thrills and chills that made the original so effective.

“The Quad-City Times” Linda Cook says, “‘Obsessed’ is one of the sleaziest, most laughable screenplays to hit the screen this year.”  The reviewer describes Larter’s performance as unconvincing.

Steven Holden at “The New York Times” was left unimpressed by the film as well.  He believed it was “a clanking, low-rent imitation of ‘Fatal Attraction’ that lacks the imagination to come up with such a novelty.”  The reviewer even pursued a startling observation.  The film’s lead two actors have an uncanny resemblance to OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson.  “It lends ‘Obsessed’ a distasteful taint of exploitation,” says Holden.

Unlike the original, “Obsessed” has a stronger characterization of the wronged wife.  Taking the place of Anne Archer’s timid performance, Knowles creates a wildwoman in her character of Sharon.  Her persona is one of fiercity that resembles a momma bear savagely protecting her family.  Sharon is more than a match for Lisa.

The film’s fight sequences are impressive.  Clearly, Knowles and Larter practiced for hours with a choreographer to match the blow-for-blow perfection.  The appeal for “Obsessed,” number one contender at this week’s box office, could hinge upon the film’s ten-minute cat fight.  “Film Junk” reviewer Wintle said, “The last time I can remember seeing something similar was the fight between Elle and The Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 2.”

“Obsessed” is no “Kill Bill” cinematic masterpiece.  However, the result is a hair-pulling film, minus a mud pit.

…age is only a number…
April 21, 2009, 11:17 am
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17 Again

17 Again

A gaggle of giggling girls file into the theater, carrying lip gloss and bedazzled cell phones. Their chatter is littered with, “OMG! Zac Efron! He’s so hot!” Mothers and fathers trail behind with popcorn and Milk Duds. If the sugar overload won’t alleviate the headache, then perhaps the candy could double as earplugs. Zac Efron started breaking tweenage girls’ hearts with the instant hit “High School Musical.” Armed with an adorable smile and twinkle in his eye many predicted that Efron could become the next Mr. Lindsay Lohan, overtaking multiple spheres: singing, dancing and acting.

Manohla Dargis of “The New York Times” said, “He is pale, pliable and very pretty (picture-perfect for bedroom walls), with a curtain of hair that sweeps across his forehead and well-manicured dark brows as if gently stirred by the collective exhalation of a thousand virgins.”

The film begins on a high note, literally, with a shirtless Mike O’Donnell (Efron) sinking free throws on the basketball court. Ear-splitting squeals erupt from the harem near the back of the theater, setting off car alarms within a 10-mile radius. Riding on the waves of the sing-and-dance franchise, an added delight included Efron performing a dance number before the game. The poor guy looked like a dancer masquerading as an athlete as he ripped off his outer sweats and shook his hips in front of teachers, parents, and a college recruiter.

Time jumps forward as we see a much different Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry). For the last twenty years, his family has sat on the bench and watched Mike live in self-pity. Now an unsuccessful businessman in his mid-thirties, Mike wallows in his unhappiness and is intent on spreading the wealth to his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Leslie Mann) and their two teenage children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg). When offered the chance to relive his golden days, Mike jumps at the chance and falls into a younger reality.

Roger Ebert said, “Instead of wishing to be 17 again, he should have wished to go back 20 years in time.  Yes, he becomes himself trapped inside his own 17-year-old body. Same wife, same kids, same problems.”

Efron has some big shoes to fill, no pun intended. Perry’s specific hand gestures and signature panicked cluelessness are key to the role’s believability. However, Efron convincingly played the part by capturing the key mannerisms and characteristics that Perry set forth. The young actor gives a voice to Mike’s inner struggle: he’s a man that still addresses others with the naivety of a teenager and has lived the past twenty years blinded by his youthfulness. Ironically, Mike finally grows up when he’s stuck in the body of a 17 year-old.

Although the film has its shameless moments (a spontaneous dance routine) and storyline gaps (no one really questions where the older version of Mike O’Donnell disappeared to), “17 Again” had its entertaining moments. However, the film failed to provide any new elements, choosing to recycle slightly different versions of “Back to the Future,” “13 Going on 30” and “Click.” Secondary characters such as Principal Masterson (Melora Hardin) and Uncle Ned (Thomas Lennon) stole many of the film’s moments with their hilarious attempt at an elvish courtship, eclipsing Viggo Mortenson and Liv Tyler’s performance in “Lord of the Rings.”

Teenage audiences will love this film, but the parents that double as chauffeurs might want to buy a different ticket, or they will be forced to make good use of those Milk Duds.

…it is written…
April 16, 2009, 11:28 am
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Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

“Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees.

How did he do it?

A. He cheated

B. He’s lucky

C. He’s a genius

D. It is written”

Cigarette smoke and bright lights assault Jamal (Dev Patel) as he is interrogated for correctly answering questions on India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”  How could an uneducated boy from the slums have more knowledge than a computer genius or doctor?  The questions range from “Who was the star of “Zanjeer”?” to “Cambridge Circus is in which U.K. city?”  As the show’s security try to beat the information out of Jamal, flashbacks are weaved through the film.  For 20 years, Jamal has lived as an orphan, forced to steal in order to survive.  He has not been told the answers to the questions, he has lived them.

Roger Ebert said, “A petty thief, impostor and survivor, mired in dire poverty, he improvises his way up through the world and remembers everything he has learned.”  Jamal’s journey is intertwined with his morally wayward brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), and a captivating beauty named Latika (Freida Pinto).

The film explores Mumbai’s two worlds:  the impoverished and the wealthy.  Indian citizens have always been separated by economic status.  After Bombay turned into Mumbai, the country changed in many ways.  But the city’s growing poverty levels were never given much attention.  “Slumdog Millionaire” shows how the old India and new India overlap.  Never has a film bridged the two with success.

Directed by Danny Boyal, “Slumdog Millionaire” was an immediate success with critics.  Ebert said, “The film uses dazzling cinematography, breathless editing, driving music and headlong momentum to explode with narrative force, stirring in a romance at the same time.”  He predicted that the film could very well win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

On February 22, 2009, the cast, writers, and director walked the red carpet and rubbed elbows with the elite.  Film greats like Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, and Sean Penn expressed their congratulations to the cast and crew, who were nominated for 9 statuettes.  History was made that night when “the little engine” steamed ahead of fellow nominees with 8 Oscar Awards.

  • Achievement in Cinematography
  • Achievement in Directing
  • Achievement in Film Editing
  • Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
  • Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
  • Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Adapted Screenplay

The success of “Slumdog Millionaire” will open doors for films set in India, but more importantly, will bridge the economic gap between Mumbai’s wealth and poverty cultures.  BBC News said, “The makers of Slumdog Millionaire have announced they are to donate £500,000 to a charity which will help children living in the slums of Mumbai.” The charity will address the people that have invented alternative means of survival.  The goal is to bring children like Jamal, Salim, and Latika a desperate attempt at hope.

Danny Boyle said, “Having benefited so much from the hospitality of the people of Mumbai it is only right that some of the success of the movie be ploughed back into the city in areas where it is needed most and where it can make a real difference to some lives.”

…what goes bump in the night…
April 9, 2009, 10:33 pm
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Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens

As a small child, the protective coverings of my blankets provided an impenetrable shield against creatures of the night. Growing up was tough with two older brothers who were Hell bent on scaring me with stories of furnace monsters and tales of Bigfoot. Films like “Little Monsters” caused me nightmares for months. Thankfully, my parents were never far from the scene and valiantly defended me from any potential attacks.

If “Monsters vs. Aliens” had been released in 1994, parents would have gotten more sleep. Guaranteed.

Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is ready to walk down the isle, intent on marrying her weatherman fiance named Derek (Paul Rudd).  However, a close encounter with a crashing meteorite has some gigantic side effects. Susan grows to colossal proportions and transforms into a female version of Gulliver with the wedding party scrambling around like Lilliputians. Once snatched by the government, the newly acquired “Ginormica” is exiled to a prison with fellow monsters.  All hope is lost until an alien robot, controlled by Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), invades the earth and threatens mankind.  Roger Ebert says, “[The] robot, which has one big eyeball in the middle of its head, [is] like a giant Leggs pantyhose container bred with an iSight camera.” This guy is the opitome of evil.  Time to call in the monsters for help because, unfortunately, the Ghostbusters are busy.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” works tirelessly to establish a theme of identity.  Susan relies on Derek and a dream that their relationship can survive, height difference and all.  She voluntarily allows Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) to experiment (and electrocute) all in the name of love. When the government offers her freedom in exchange for battling against the alien robot, Susan, eager to reunite with her fiance, accepts the offer.  About halfway through her eightieth passionate diatribe, I could feel my compassion for this character crumble under thin ice.

Jumping on the newest trend in animation that “Coraline” popularized, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is available in 3D format. However, unlike the critically acclaimed “Coraline,” this Dreamworks production was not nearly as technologically impressive.  Very few moments were specifically designed for the 3D film goers. The jokes were funny but not witty and held water like a colander.  The storyline was campy at best and uninteresting. “Monsters vs. Aliens” relied heavily on the starpower:  America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon, “The Office’s” funnyman Rainn Wilson, “Arrested Development’s” underdog Will Arnett, “Superbad’s” Seth Rogan, “House’s” unflinching Hugh Laurie, and politically incorrect “The Colbert Report’s” Stephen Colbert.  Too bad that the actors wasted their voices on such poor scripting.

Ann Hornaday from “The Washington Post” believes that the film shows a promising beginning with its bright colors and interesting storyline.  She says, “But within minutes, the movie gets mired in long, talky stretches, many of them about Susan’s relationship problems with her tiresome fiance Derek.”  Much of the animated films Dreamworks produces lacks a certain energy that the leading competitor, Pixar, captures with such ease.

Rob Rector of “Blogcritics Magazine” has identified the major reason why competing studios can’t replicate Pixar’s success.  He says, “DreamWorks Animation, always the bridesmaid at the box office, certainly has the technical chops to rival Pixar – there are moments in 3-D that are frighteningly realistic. Their problem repeatedly rests in the writing.”  The characters were more 2D than 3D in depth.

Hornaday says, “That’s because, unlike the instant classics Pixar Animation Studios has become known for, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is about things, not characters.”

…can’t have your cake and eat it too…
March 26, 2009, 11:03 am
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The Cake Eaters

The Cake Eaters

Kristen Stewart, the multi-talented star of “The Cake Eaters,” packs quite a punch with her compelling undertones and honest portrayal of life’s ultimate challenge.  The role for Stewart is a drastic change from her work on “Twilight” (also released on DVD this week) as her character battles with a degenerative muscle disease called Friedreich’s ataxia.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said, “Friedreich’s ataxia is an inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system resulting in symptoms ranging from gait disturbance and speech problems to heart disease.”  Although the disease is rare, it affects “about 1 in every 50,000 people in the United States.”  There is no cure and those that suffer with Friedreich’s are usually confined to a wheelchair within 10-20 years after being diagnosed.  Carriers eventually die from heart disease and are not expected to live past early adulthood.

In today’s societ, many teenage girls are preoccupied with clothes, makeup, and body image.  Georgia (Stewart) is faced with a degenerative muscle disease that will eventually take her life.  To make things worse, her mother (played by the Oscar-nominated Melissa Leo) uses Georgia’s illness to further her art and create awareness for Friedreich’s ataxia.  But don’t go giving her any sympathy, because all Georgia wants is sex.  She is determined to lose her virginity before the disease limits her physical mobility.

Beagle (played by Aaron Stanford) catches Georgia’s eye with his unassuming nature and innocence.  He is a small town guy whose mother recently died after a long battle with cancer.  Beagle’s home life consists with conversations with his father about the pros and cons of shredded wheat.  Both sit at opposite ends of screen, with much more than the table stretching out between them.

With Beagle at home as caretaker, Guy (played by Jayce Bartok, author of the screenplay), could chase after his dream of becoming a musician in New York.  Upon discovering his mother’s tragic death, Guy returns home but is too late to the funeral.  Beagle is irritated by his brother’s absence and angered by the hearty welcome the prodigal son receives.

Various relationships transform between father and sons, mother and daughter and an oddball boy in love with a spirited girl.  Whether laughing or crying, these characters maintain genuine truthfulness.  The subject of death is present in every scene.  Paired with the reality of no escape outlined in the emotion-infused dialogue, “The Cake Eaters” is an eye-opening and emotional ride.  Bartok’s inspiration for this script was extremely personal for the writer/actor.  In an interview with MoviesOnline, he said, “My mom was confined in a wheel chair for the last couple years of her life and when I was looking to write a script, I wanted to focus on a character that was sort of incapacitated physically but emotionally had this extremely rich life and love and desire to want to live.”

The film is directed by veteran actress Mary Stuart (actress from “Fried Green Tomatoes”), who brilliantly shot the film and keyed in on the vulnerability of each character.  Stuart described the appeal of the project to MoviesOnline and said, “I felt like what [Bartok] had at its heart was this really unique and very specific sense of place and the characters, especially Beagle and Georgia, were so well drawn and so unique that it had a beating heart at the center of it.”

“The Cake Eaters” honors mature themes and leading actors shine in each role.  Georgia is aware of her physical limitations but chooses to be remain undefeated.

Twilight Marks the Dawning of a New Era…
March 13, 2009, 4:58 am
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Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart play the two star-crossed lovers

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart play the two star-crossed lovers

With “worldwide sales of the four books in the series now top 25 million,” reporters at “Reuters” believe that the series is “the holy grail of publishing.”  The saga’s unique premise was conceptualized by author Stephenie Meyer in a dream.  After securing a contract with Little Brown Publishers, Meyer fleshed out the ideal man – er, vampire, and jump started the hearts of adolescent teens all around the world.  With the saga translated in 37 languages, it’s no surprise that the film “Twilight” would be received with as much, if not more, enthusiasm.  The studios knew to strike while the iron was hot and cash in on a generation that was dying to see the saga brought to life.

“Twilight” goes against many perceptions of the supernatural world.  The main characters include your typical run-of-the-mill characters types:  human, vampire, and werewolf.  Bella Swan, newbie to Forks, Wash., turns the heads of many men, including the illusive Edward Cullen, resident vampire.  The Cullen family is feared by all of the students because of their frightening persona (an act to avoid questioning and suspicion) and disposition.  Well, everyone except Bella.  She is dazzled by his luminescent skin, piercing topaz eyes, and fierce protectiveness.  Edward continuously fights the urge to kill his love, for the attraction to her blood often times drives him mad.  And you thought Romeo and Juliet had it bad.

Lovingly referred to as “Twihards,” fans of the saga flipped over the idea of the film and lobbied for their favorite actors to be cast as the characters.  “Entertainment Weekly” even polled the fanbase for who they thought should be recast in the film series.  Although the crowd originally hated the idea of Rob Pattinson playing Edward, they adamantly approved of the match when he said, “What if I’m not the hero.  What if I’m… The bad guy?”

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, “Twilight” handles the hype well and includes some pivotal scenes.  The book is always better than the film (when is it not?).  Filming started this week for the second in the saga named “New Moon,” being released in November of this year.  Legions of fans will flock to the newest installment and (hopefully) rake in an additional $371 million worldwide.

Already, records show that the DVD has sold 3 million on its first day alone. Millions of tweenage girls gathered in hoards to buy the first copy.  Sold at midnight, many stores such as Wal-Mart, Borders, and Barnes & Noble kept their doors open past normal business hours.  Hopefully, this marks the dawn of a new era that jumpstarts the lagging film industry.