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What Just Happened (2008)
entertaining but missed the mark
I just got back from an AFI screening of Barry Levinson's satirical comedy, "What Just Happened?", an inside look into the movie business and big studio politics. Robert De Niro was in attendance along with director Barry Levinson and screenwriter Art Linson. Although I tried to get a photo of De Niro, sadly, I was never close enough to get a good shot.
Based on producer Art Linson's book, "What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line", the film version tells the story of a successful Hollywood producer, Ben, played by Robert Deniro, as he juggles his personal and professional crises. This film has an impressive cast including Robin Wright Penn as Ben's second wife, Kelly; John Turturro as Dick, the stereotypical shifty agent; Stanley Tucci as Scott, the blocked screenplay writer; Michael Wincott as Jeremy, the temperamental director; Catherine Keener, as Lou, the hardcore studio exec; Bruce Willis as the demanding movie star; and Sean Penn as himself.
This mildly funny expose of modern-day Hollywood, was entertaining, but a little disappointing. The message is supposed to shock and outrage the viewer about how the film industry ruins art by turning it into pure commerce. But there have been plenty of Hollywood satires like "The Player" that have done this genre better. Although the source of the material is authentic and despite an outstanding cast (who all give great performances), "What Just Happened?" ultimately has nothing new to say besides the fact that Hollywood is a devious place to work. As a gimmicky farce, it works, but as a satire it was a limp and familiar insider's movie that lacked sharp irony, humor and novel characters.
This film won't appeal to everyone, but it does have some good one liners and funny moments. However, the combination of these actors working together in a comedy may be worth the cost of admission alone.
a tragic waste of time and talent
"Bonneville" stars Oscar winners Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and three-time nominee Joan Allen. After losing her husband, Arvilla (Lange) returns home to cremate his body and spread his ashes. These plans are spoiled by his vindictive daughter, Francine (played by Christine Baranski), who has a prior will ordering that her father's ashes be returned home and leaving his house to her. Arvilla's best friends, the wild Margene (Bates) and uptight Carol (Allen) suggest trading his ashes to Francine in order to keep her home. The friends embark on a cross-country road trip in the deceased's '66 Pontiac Bonneville to bring the ashes to Francine.
I had high hopes for this film, expecting nothing less than perfection from a phenomenal cast like this. But sadly, "Bonneville" felt like a post-menopausal "Thelma and Loiuse" rip off to me. I guess it speaks to the fact that Hollywood just isn't producing good roles for female actresses in this age range. This movie was an insult to these legendary ladies by casting them in parts they could have done in their sleep. They deserve better! Despite the best efforts of these veteran actresses, this feature struggled to be entertaining.
The only positive thing I can say about "Bonneville" is that the cinematography was enjoyable as the friends travel through scenic Utah, California, Nevada and Idaho. The score desperately tried to keep the tempo flowing, but this was a long 90 minutes. The gratingly monotonous story and dialogue were predictable, filled with clichés and droll humor. First-time director, Christopher Rowley, and writer, Daniel Davis, disappoint with this failed attempt at a middle-aged female buddy movie.
Bonneville debuted at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, but hasn't been released until now
after all the Oscar hopefuls. That says all you need to know about its commercial viability. If you watch the trailer, you'll already know what to expect from this aggravatingly ridiculous film. Simply put, this was a tragic waste of time and talent.
August Rush (2007)
Wonderfully Moving Film!
"August Rush" is sort of a feel good, modern day fairy tale involving a parent/child separation and a boy's unrelenting search to be reunited with his parents. But the primary theme is Music as a healing force in the Universe that draws us all together. The film stars Freddie Highmore, as the orphaned musical prodigy; Keri Russell, as the sheltered cellist from Juliard; Jonathan Rhys Meyers, as the Irish singer/songwriter/guitarist; Robin Williams as Wizard, the street performer who takes August under his wing; and Terrence Howard as the social worker who works with the orphan boy and his mother.
The acting was superb. There's not much dialogue in this movie. So the majority of the story is told through the emotional expressions of the actors and via the music. Although, Robin Williams does have a great monologue where he talks about Music being the tie that binds all of us together. Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is the cream of the crop as far as child actors go. He amazed me in this film. I can't wait to see more from him.
"August Rush" was perfectly directed and co-written by Kristen Sheridan (In Amercia). It is so wonderful to see a work like this from a female film maker for a change. Beautiful cinematography! The opening scene in the wheat field is just breathtaking. The score is fabulous. Let's face it, in a movie like this, you've got to have great music to pull it off.
There are some exceptional musical performances, especially from relative newcomers, Jamia Simone Nash who sings up a storm and Leon Thomas who croons and plays guitar. But the most impressive thing about this movie is that all of the actors really played these instruments themselves. Meyers did his own singing as well. Highmore plays the guitar in an unusual slap-harmonics style that reminded me of Michael Hedges.
I enjoyed "August Rush" so much. I haven't been moved to tears like this by a film in a long time. The story was very inspiring and the boy's unyielding faith and will to never give up on his dream to find his family really hit me. Kudos to the writers and director for ending the film the way they did. Instead of a sappy reunion scene that would've ruined the tone of the movie, they ended it beautifully with the crescendo of the music and just the close-up on August as he sees his parents standing there for the first time. Add August Rush to your must see list for the holidays. It is well worth the price of a ticket on to see it on the big screen.