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Marley & Me (2008)
Touchingly old-fashioned movie about the good and sad of marriage and family
Marley and Me is one of the best all-around movies I've seen in a long time. Owen Wilson poured himself into his character for the first time I've seen on film and was superb as author/main character John Grogan. The title dog was magnificent and the training that must have gone into the filming is difficult to imagine giving all that the dog did. Jennifer Aniston's support was professional. She provided a perfect and realistic compliment to the perpetually restless Grogan. Alan Arkin was excellent as Grogan's cynical but supportive editor. Kathleen Turner was a hoot as a Germanic dog trainer and I was thrilled to see Joyce Van Patten as the prudish proprietor of an Irish Bed and Breakfast. The dog-sitter was also a hoot. She reminded me of Emily Blunt but since I didn't see her in the cast, I must be mistaken. Whoever she was, she was brilliant. I was not familiar with Eric Dane from the TV show mentioned, but I thought he was quite fitting for the Sebastian character, Grogan's boyfriend who gets to do all the things Grogan wishes to do. He certainly is handsome. The actors playing the children all played their parts in a realistic yet sentimental fashion consistent with the movie.
The movie was also very well paced. I didn't look at my watch once which for me is a major feat. I warn that Marley and Me is not a lightweight comedy. It will make you cry, and if you do take children, you should probably prepare them in advance for the issues involved when a pet can no longer continue.
One Perfect Day (2004)
Warning Label Required - Not for Old Fogeys
From the other comments I just read, I found out that this was about trance music and the rave scene. Or is that rave music and the trance scene. Being 52 and American, I didn't know about any of this. I did catch that it was about drugs and young people's susceptibility to drugs and the tragedies that can cause, but even that was obtuse and inaccessible to someone like me.
Someone mentioned Pieces of A Dream, and I did think of that one as I watched this. I did not care for that experience as I felt that an artistic and misanthropic director threw all nasty imagery he could think of at his audience and regarded his audience as mere guinea pigs on which to vent his venom. But, at least I understood what was going on. The director, like many reviewers, clearly subscribe to the new mantra of film-making that mandates that the best directors maximize obtuse imagery and minimize words. A lot of guesswork was required.
I guess I'm old-fashioned but I still find plot essential and wish to follow one when I see a movie. I needed a prerequisite course in trance and the rave scene in order to understand this one.
A friend asked me if I liked Australian movies, and I've loved many of them, about 20 of the 23 I've seen. He lent me this one. Make that, 20 out of 24.
Asha can do anything!
Todd says that halfway through the movie. By the end of the movie, I believed it too.
Ayesha Dharker gives a charismatic and spellbinding performer as Asha who believes inside that she is special but needs just a jolt of external validation to really take things to the next level.
One reviewer called this a ripoff of local hero. Ripoff is the wrong word. It does bring the Ugly American fish-out-of-water aspect to the table and also revels in the manner in which the locals are able to accept what is useful about the foreigner and let the rest slide. Many stories are variation on a prior story's theme. As has been said, there are no more original stories, just original variations. This is certainly one of the latter. But, only because it is Ayesha Darkher who transforms things. Just when the Ugly American thing is getting tired and the Colors sequence fails to imbue Josh Hamilton with the transforming chemistry that his character is supposed to feel, Asha steps to the fore and the entire movie turns magical.
Love Stinks (1999)
Sporadically amusingly absurd babe-bashing
French Stuart does not act. He announces, shouts, derides, and pleas, but never actually talks. But, this is really a 90-minute series of skits on the wars between women and man from the point of view of a self-righteous, successful, white, Anglo-Saxon, spoiled brat. Consequently, some of the skits are highly amusing, others merely stupid, and still others insipid.
There are a few brilliant sequences that had me chuckling and one that had me laughing out loud despite myself. And, I do believe that other guys who have been through messy divorces, who have been dumped, or spent most of their lives being derided by women for being children, will enjoy a number of these sequences amusing. Will such guys be entertained? I think so.
Is there an iota of artistic merit or redeeming social value in this movie? Absolutely not. If you are looking for that, look elsewhere.
Then She Found Me (2007)
Enough offbeat choices by fledgling director Hunt work to make this absorbing
Despite the Hallmark ending, this is not what I would consider a romantic comedy. It is a biological-clock-ticking-at-the-worst-possible-moment movie. It is a life-turned-inside-out-and-upside-down-and-then-she-found-me movie. From the settings and the lack of make-up to the dowdy clothes and the spartan folk-rock music, Helen Hunt's life is devoid of an ounce of glamor - until Bette Midler shows up - and then it doesn't do hunt any good anyway. I found all the performances exceptionally good. Unlike others, I thought Broderick's supporting turn was perfect as the man-child with an appealing grin who will never be a mensch. In fact the actress playing his mother conveyed everything we needed to know about their relationship in two lines and 30 minutes on camera. That is the hallmark of superb cooperation between actor and director.
I must disclose that I have not been a particular Helen Hunt fan as a motion picture actress. I thought she was still playing Jamie Buckman, only not as convincingly, when she won bast actress for As Good As It Gets. I did not care fora her in Cast Away, Hurricane, Dr. T and the Women, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and at least one or two others that I can't think of offhand. I thought the best film performance I had seen her give was in Pay It Forward -- until now. Acting in your directorial debut is not generally a good idea. However, Director Hunt gets the best and most realistic performance I'd ever seen from actor Hunt. As for the rest of the cast, there was only one flaw: John Benjamin Hickey was all schtick as Midler's assistant and seem to miss the movie's tone entirely, giving no context for his character's betrayal of Midler. Everyone else was between very good and superb, especially Lynn Cohen in her brief-but-poignant role as April's mother, the actor playing April's brother, the "natural-chid" doctor (I forgot his name), and the always dependable Colin Firth as April's peripatetic love interest. Salman Rushdie as the doctor was fine. Midler, of course, was charged with providing the absurdly larger-than-life counterpoint to Hunt's otherwise submergence in relentless hard knocks. She does so with an amazingly successful combination of gusto and restraint, conveying marvelously the awkward steamrolling she is giving her birth daughter as the second-tier celebrity trying to make up for lost time.
As for the script, it mixed some great poignantly ironic dialog with some out-of-left-field dialog, and mostly real-life dialog in sequences sometimes slowed by three-too-many montage sequences. It had a few things that one needed a leap of faith to follow but never so dense that it couldn't be followed. Overall, a pretty good first effort for screenwriter Hunt if not up to the standards of actor Hunt and director Hunt in this film.
Bottom line: this isn't a perfect film, but it is a very good one and well worth watching.
My Best Friend's Girl (2008)
Definite guilty pleasure for me, headlined by Jesus Crust - where pizza is a religious experience!
I went to this only because I couldn't get into the movie I came to the theater for. I don't know Dane Cook's stand-up and hated him in the overrated Dan In Real Life. But, we figured we could pass time for two hours so we went in.
It started routinely enough. Okay, the guy gets paid to be the date from heck so the girls goes crying back into her guy's arms. Okay concept, if executed well. Then we get Jason Biggs trying to clean up his act to impress Kate Hudson who likes him but is not wowed by him. Since Jason is Dane's roommate, he hires Dane to do his specialty. By this point, we're 20+ minutes into the movie and it made me laugh twice and is otherwise pretty lame. I looked at my watch. Then, Kate's roommate preps her for the date to sow some wild oats and the real fun begins.
The humor in My Best Friend's Girl is rude, crude, inappropriate, socially irredeemable -- and made me laugh out loud - a lot! Cook's chemistry with Hudson was electric. The twist is she can give as good as she gets and vice versa. She gets under his skin, but he stays in denial, leading to his next assignment which to me was the high point of the movie. The girl is religious and he takes her to a restaurant in an old church called Jesus Crust - where pizza is a religious experience. i don't want to spoil the inspired gags in this sequence, but I was nearly rolling in the aisles. This victim actually winds up setting the stage for a few plot twists I didn't expect. The movie is raucous fun from then on until the end.
I thought Alec Baldwin was absurdly funny as the Women's Studies professor who is Cook's father. His chemistry with Cook is also terrific. Cook's former client who is about to marry Kate's sister is also hilarious as is she and the woman playing Kate's mother. Then, the movie goes a bit soft,conventional, and derivative -- but is still witty at the end, and the last two scenes play out nicely.
This is not a piece of art, but if you ever went to frat parties and can remember having fun at them and want to spend some time laughing out loud, give My Best Friend's Girl a look. I work in Manhattan so I have to be careful to whom I say I liked this movie -- that's why I call it a guilty pleasure!
Bee Season (2005)
A Stranger Among Us Kidnaps Akeelah and Holds Her Hostage
Another IMDb user who rated this just as low as I did called this an infomercial for Kaballah. On that, I must disagree. Infomercials generally have strong narrative voices, attempt to explain their products in easy-to-understand and easy-to-appreciate terms, and try to keep you interested, informed, and engaged. As a true independent film from the 1990 - 2010 period, Bee Season does none of these things.
I know no more about Kaballah now than I did before I watched the movie. I care no more about it than I did then either. So as an infomercial, it fails miserably. The filmmakers do follow today's independent film mantra of using as few words as humanly possible. It has been decided by this generation that words are a crutch best left to Hollywood hacks. All great movies are visual only. This "Truth" alone often leaves me clueless on independent movies as to why we are seeing what we are seeing, in what order things are happening, and whether something is actually happening or imagined.
Most of today's intelligentsia calls this stretching one's mind and challenging one's audience. I call it pretentious obfuscation and self-aggrandizement. Bee Season, to me, is the poster child for this independent film phenomenon.
The trailers led me to believe that this would be another Akeelah and the Bee -- a film I loved. Instead, it is even worse than the only other movie I know that had Kabbalah as part of its plot - A Stranger Among Us -- and that was putrid.
I try to consider a movie on its own terms. Viewed that way, Juliet Binoche was remaking Woman Under The Influence without Gena Rowlands' talent or John Cassavettes' direction. If Kate Bosworth was a real Hare Krishna, on any terms, then I'm a giraffe! The movie was so ponderously directed and withholding of information about the movie's most innocuous events. Therefore, it was difficult to know when something was important or just unbearably routine.
I actually did think that the girl playing Eliza and Richard Gere gave excellent performances that made their characters somewhat interesting at times even though they both made many actions inconsistent with the characters they carefully built up. It is for these two performances that I give this film 2 out of ten instead of zero.
Juno Flows with the Universe
Juno is, unapologetically, who she is. Life is a journey, not a destination, and Juno seems to appreciate that more than most of us. Hers is a journey of self-discovery, marked by choices she never expected to make. Along the way, she learns something that many of us never seem to learn -- most especially the many reviews I read condemning this movie on "moral grounds" -- not to take ourselves or life too seriously. In many ways, Juno is innately very "zen" in that she instinctively realizes that she cannot control the feelings or actions of those around her any more than they can truly control her. If you can, without preconceptions, enjoy watching this type of teenager grow with her experiences on an understated human scale, you will enjoy this movie.
Alternatively, you can insist on criticizing the movie for the hype, its lack of "moral values", its "cliched" dialog (only if you don't live there - clichés become clichés because they start out as truths), or its lack of misanthropy, then you can feel good about how superior you are to idiots like me who thoroughly enjoyed Juno.
Righteous Kill (2008)
Fast moving buddy film delivers what it promises - nothing more, nothing less
I am amazed by the prevalence of critics who watch a movie like Righteous Kill and criticize it for not being more "realistic", "original", or "less Hollywood." This IS a buddy-cop movie, created to showcase the two leads as aging cops and, in the course of doing its thing, use all the "magic" that Hollywood has to offer. This includes Carla Gugino as a M.E. who is DeNiro's loyal girlfriend. Hey, it reinforces MY male fantasies! The acting is uniformly excellent although it seems a waste to use Brian Dennehy so sparingly. More importantly, it runs only 97 minutes and i never looked once at my watch.
That said, the movie isn't nearly as dumbed-down or clichéd as many in this genre. It develops characters as interestingly as the proceeding permit. Leguziamo and Donnie Wahlberg get a fair amount of screen time as the second set of cop partners and perform quite well. Barry Primus and Alan Rosenberg also do well in their supporting roles. The final denouement stretches our credibility a bit, but much less so than many others in the genre, and certainly not so much that it lessens our enjoyment.
If you watch this expecting to see "Prince of The City" or "The French Connection", you will be sorely disappointed. If you thought those two classics were well acted but overlong and a bit bloated, have fun watching Righteous Kill. It's a good way to spend 97 minutes!
Snow Angels (2007)
**SPOILERS** Terrific acting and interesting dialog drowned in overwhelming minimalism
Director Green, an Indie favorite, is known for minimizing dialog. He tries to make his characters "bone real." He wishes to make known his utter disdain for crowd-pleasing Hollywood endings, feel-good clichés, and conventional sequencing of scenes and events. Indeed, Snow Angels accomplishes all of the above. So, if you are an "indie-holic" cynic who loves to deride Hollywood, euphemisms, and optimism, and thrives on the misanthropic and pretentious, Snow Angels, is indeed, for you. If so, Mapplethorpe is probably one of your favorite artists.
Me, I work in New York City. Unlike others in my office I know who purported to love this, I get enough dreary reality shoved in my face every day that I like a movie, even a serious independent film, to provide me with some entertainment value. Snow Angels, unapologetically, delivers none.
It's a shame because the performances (with the minor exception of Nicky Katt as a philandering husband who has an affair with Beckinsale) are first-rate. The boy in what should have been the lead, Arthur, is a real eye-opener and the young actress playing his high-school girlfriend also is magnetic.
The real purpose in making this movie, I suspect, is to take the most glamorous supermodel-actress on the planet, Kate Beckinsale, de-glamorize her, change her accent, and show how convincingly she can play a depressed single mom in a dead-end town with a dead-end job having a dead-end affair with her best friend's husband (Solaris excellent as the friend). Beckinsale delivers all the film asks of her and more. She has some good dialog and makes the most of it. She has some pedestrian dialog and makes it palatable.
Unfortunately, neither Arthur nor Beckinsale gets the most camera time. Green's camera, for whatever reason, has fallen in love with the most clichéd character of the movie - the small-town, redneck, ex-alcoholic, irresponsible but earnest, born-again, insecure, depressed, and delusional estranged husband played by Sam Rockwell. The performance is dead solid perfect. But, we know everything there is to know about this character from his first scene onward. And, we've seen and read about him so many times before. Dwelling without sound on him dancing with an old lady in a bar or looking up at the Lord adds nothing but time poorly spent for the viewer.
Instead, almost no time is spent on why Beckinsale has such dysfunctional and oblique relationships with her mother and her daughter as if Green expected us to have read the book to find out. The actress playing Arthur's mother is excellent in the few snippets she has. I longed to learn more about her, but alas, to no avail. Griffin Dunne understands the format and does an excellent job with his eyes and body language of conveying what needs to be known about Arthur's estranged father in the minimal time he is given. As another reviewer said, Green has one of the characters states that people do things for no reason and that's supposed to be enough for us. Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes there's lots of reasons. Movies like this that are short on action normally compensate by being long on character development. Except for Rockwell, not so here. And his character needed the least development. On the plus side, Tom Noonan is given precisely the correct amount of time for his two hilarious vignettes as the self-important bandleader.
Altogether, if you watch a movie for art or to prove that all Indie movies are better than Hollywood movies, Snow Angels may be your cup of tea. If you are looking for entertainment value or character development or for a way inside the characters, look elsewhere.