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127 Hours (2010)
127 HOURS - Danny Boyle right on the money
I came into this movie with high expectations. Danny Boyle, who brought us 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE had a lot to live up to with the quality of prior movies, and he did not disappoint. He brought the challenge of creating an interesting movie based on our main character being immobile to life, and captivating it was. Being stuck with our main character the entire duration of the film was anything but tedious, as we follow the thoughts of canyoneer Aron Ralston (James Franco) as he gets trapped under a rock while exploring the beautiful sights of Utah. The camera does a fabulous job taking us everywhere a wandering mind might migrate in a situation such as this.
The human connection element was most fascinating, as we wonder what we would do if placed in a similar situation. We are really "with" Ralston on his journey, as we see him discover a reason to live and how his life perspective changes, not just how to get free from his predicament. The film manages to stay optimistic and warming, despite the frustration and angst felt by Ralston and viewers. And we certainly thank Boyle for some of the lighter moments that temper the severity of the situation.
The film does not shy away from tough choices and certainly keeps it "real" during the entire run, especially during the critical climax scene. Despite being stuck in place the movie is fascinating at the pace with which it moves and keeps the audience's attention from start to finish. So while Ralston loves living on the edge, we see Boyle create this movie in a similar fashion, metaphorically speaking, as the intensity and gripping nature of Ralston's circumstances comes alive and sucks us in.
In the movie Aron Ralston sets off on a typical weekend excursion being outdoors and with nature. During his journey he befriends a couple of female hikers who are somewhat lost and looking to get back on their way. He shows them the ropes of the canyons and they set off home. Little do they know that their friend will need their help just moments later. Becoming trapped under a rock, Ralston now is faced with the challenge of keeping himself alive while trying to break loose from the rock's firm grasp. As Aron works on a solution, we see him wonder about the party he's been invited to just hours earlier, think about how his has ignored his family, wonder about where he left his Gatorade, which would keep him hydrated longer, do a live interview featuring himself on camera, and drink his own urine.
I think the part of the movie that moved me the most actually occurred after the climax, where we see Ralston, broken, desperate, and willing to end his lone-wolf mentality for good. The emotions felt during the last 5 minutes signify human triumph, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit. Incredible movie, a definite must-see 9/10 stars
Unstoppable - thank you Hollywood for putting out an action movie that works
Unstoppable plays out like a basic action thriller that keeps us engaged the entire time. With the train as the center of the story, in a way we get transported back to the days of great entertainment, where the storyline is simple, characters pure, and the dialogue isn't overdone. Here is an action film that stays on track and keeps you glued to the edge of your seat until the high-intensity climax is over. It operates at gut-level mode, as we get to follow all the twists and turns of the main character, runaway train #777. Unstoppable is a summer movie action blockbuster released in a winter spot that doesn't pause for a breath as it picks up steam, and most likely you won't either. It's one of those mindless thrillers that was made so well you probably will miss a lot of the detail as the movie literally sweeps you away, which is what a great action movie will do.
Unstoppable is based on a true story that comes out of Ohio where we have a low-level employee who fails to set the air brakes on a train while changing tracks and the issues that ensue as a result. The director Tony Scott, no newcomer to the action genre, sets the stage for the high-octane second half by letting us get to know the 2 main characters: Rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) and veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). The two both have their share of family issues, which adds to the difficulty of being able to work together initially. Another dynamic we discover is that the company is forcing employees to be laid off, as evidenced by the fact that Barnes is being replaced by younger engineers such as Colson. The 2 characters provide solid low-key performances and we see the tension that initially exists turn into mutual cooperation to work together for a solution, and then at the end, respect.
Solid performance also given by Rosario Dawson, who is both the eye-candy and sounding board for our heroes, planted where she can see all train activity.
As the movie progresses, we come to find out that this runaway train laden with toxic chemicals is headed towards heavily populated areas, and our stomach starts to sink about the devastating possibilities that may occur should everything go wrong. The plan? to link up to the phantom engine from the back and pull it the other way, coming to a full stop.
It is fascinating to watch the failed attempts to stop the train, which seems to add to the power, giving the audience a realistic idea of how "unstoppable" this train truly is with it's 10M pounds of force going full-steam ahead.
In the end what we are left with is ordinary men putting on extraordinary acts of courage. Where there might be chest-pounding there are a couple of family guys doing what they felt should have been done by anyone in that situation, and a humbleness that brings a more realistic quality to the movie.
I'm glad that the sensationalism was toned down so that the thrills that the movie had to offer truly thrilled me. As others have stated already, Unstoppable is truly a "Speed" on tracks and definitely one of the year's finer action movies.
Fair Game (2010)
Fair Game is an accurate portrayal of the government's self-interest
Fair Game is supposedly the next up-and-coming JFK type of movie, where we get to take a hard look at controversy and conspiracy. As expected, the movie deals in some very complex jargon and can be difficult to follow. As we get further and further into the movie I began to accept the fact that I was not going to be entertained, and that I was going to learn something about how our government operates, which I did. This happened rather quickly, and I adjusted to the movie playing out more like a doucmentary with highly-skilled actors rather than something like Air Force One.
The 2 main characters become exposed and branded as traitors by their own US Government and find out what it is like to be all by themselves in the fight against a large impersonal entity. White House officials discredit Joe Wilson's (Sean Penn's) account of the government falsifying information to justify invading Iraq. The abuse of power discovered by these characters is pretty incredible, when you have a government that will say practically anything to protect its public image. Lots of drama and fact-finding ensues, and the movie is both compelling and infuriating at the same time. The dialogue is mature and smart, and we draw close into the lives of the married couple, who like diamonds, seem to be able to strengthen their marriage through the trials of pressure.
Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) are the married couple, Plame a CIA agent who's identity is exposed, and Wilson who wrote the controversial but truthful piece which lead to the government's destruction of their lives, or at least the attempt. The validity in Wilson's story is apparent by how much uproar and backlash is caused when the government goes public with their side of the story.
Morning Glory (2010)
Thank you bright morning for your splendor!
Morning Glory is a splendid work of film making, comprised of a winning storyline and characters we come to care about. Hats off to the writers, as the script really gives the movie a shot of adrenaline and reels you in. I consider it one of the year's finer comedies in an environment where abrasive humor seems to draw people in droves. What Morning Glory isn't is a romantic comedy or a "chick flick", as what we are tending to see on the previews. Rather, a story of an executive producer determined to turn around a dying TV show in comic fashion.
Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a laid-off executive producer scratching and clawing for a new job in the industry. She comes across a network station at the bottom of the totem pole and sees her chance. Working with Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) and Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) as her 2 co-hosts, the challenge just begins when she starts her plan to increase the show's viewer count.
McAdams' character Becky Fuller is inspired, the hard charging workaholic personality, on the laptop late at night searching for that next breaking news story. Of course, by working all the time, her social life is nonexistent. Her energy and optimism is infectious, as she impresses us with on her first day taking many drastic measures needed to make the station better. We come to root for her as she faces complacency and apathy all around her, she rises above it and we watch with bated breath to see what she'll do next. She is very diplomatic and manages to deal with all sorts of personalities for the betterment of the show.
Harrison Ford redeems himself from his role as a scientist in the year's earlier flop "Extraordinary Measures". He portrays Mike Pomeroy, the seasoned news anchor who only does the big stories. His comments about famous people he's interviewed in the past and now has to do a silly morning TV show arouse laughs. Pomeroy is the gruff seasoned veteran of the show, stiff and stern, and brings a prima donna attitude in with him -that he has standards and much of what is requested by Fuller is simply beneath him. Pomeroy comes to change his character to someone more likable by the time the film ends. Pomeroy's best moments are no doubt when he is putting down his co-host. The adversarial relationship between he and Peck is all too fun to watch. One of the finer moments with Pomeroy we discover that his workaholic mentality voided him of any close family relationships, and we feel for him, hoping that Fuller will take his wisdom and adjust her approach.
Diane Keaton plays Colleen Peck, the primary face of the show, who has been through all the changes over the years, including 15 different executive producers. She is skeptical of Fuller because of how terrible the show is and beyond help, and believes there is no hope. Peck is lively and shoots back at Pomeroy's comments with her own zingers. She is willing and receptive to Fuller's ideas to improve the show, and shows us her zeal by stepping out on faith with the new changes. Definitely one of the gems in the movie and a true pleasure to watch.
There is no doubt magic and chemistry in the air with the strength of the cast. It is fun to watch Pomeroy drive Peck and Fuller nuts, and the sparring co-hosts bring a lively and light mood to the film. We come to care about what Fuller is trying to do, and root her on as she encounters what seems to be insurmountable odds. This is a feel-good inspirational story that builds from the very beginning, never back-pedalling, with a minor romantic element added in.
Due Date (2010)
Are there comedies that don't use shock humor anymore?
How far is too far? Due Date provides a great deal of laughs, but lacks the sustaining enjoyment because the undertone of the movie is paved with a road of discomfort and queasy humor to get there. The scripting was key in this one and the characters did amazingly well with many lines that no doubt made the audience cringe and laugh at the same time. It was as if we were laughing but deep down maybe we felt we shouldn't be. Lots of lines that used shock value for laughs. What brought this about was primarily Zach Galifianakis' crazy antics with his most unusual character.
The plot is as follows: Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr), successful businessman is on his way to witness the birth of his baby across the country. He becomes entangled with Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an "actor" on his way to Hollywood for his shot in the limelight. Through Tremblay's actions, the 2 end up having to carpool across the country together, and of course they are on a timeline (we have the successful duplication of the plot line from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles).
The relationship between the 2 main characters works. On one hand we have Ethan, who says whatever he wants at any time. This guy doesn't have a censor button anywhere on him, and his dialogue consists of things that most people wish they could probably share aloud. Downey is confrontational, direct, frustrated, and out of patience. We see the mean-spirited relationship even out when Peter puts Ethan in his place, responding to every idiotic notion that his counterpart has.
There wasn't really a dull moment in the movie, and there were a few heartfelt moments as the audience becomes won over and slightly sentimental by the quirkiness and over the top antics covering the deeply buried emotions of Ethan. A large part of the movie is him saying the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate and inopportune times.
So I had to ask myself: does me laughing throughout the movie make it a "good" movie? And I had to answer, that yes for the most part that was true. After all it is a comedy, but the comic moments didn't keep my eye from the main storyline, which I felt was weak. What I am trying to say is that although I laughed, the level of enjoyment I experienced from the movie was not in correlation.
One of my favorite scenes had to be Galifianakis' impersonation of Don Corleone from The Godfather
Unique piece of work for Eastwood
Audiences going to this movie expecting another Sixth Sense need to be prepared for what they are about to see: a quiet, thoughtful, contemplative, melancholy drama about life and death. The movie offers no answers, does not suggest spiritual messages, yet deals heavily with the subject of grief while giving broad strokes rather than concrete details. There is a soft emotional undertone throughout the movie as we see the slow development of the plot, in Eastwood-like fashion.
The movie inches along at a deliberate and meditative-like pace as we see the incremental development of the 3 main characters: George Lonegan (Matt Damon), cursed with the ability to communicate with the dead, a boy in England who encounters death in his own family, and a French woman who dies and comes back to life, with occasional glimpses into her death experience, which is an all-knowing all-sensing state.
The highlights lie in the depth of the characters and not the special effects of the movie, although the visions/connections we see and the tsunami are certainly well done. Some nice comic relief moments are interspersed as well. We see Damon tormented and perplexed by his gift but all he desires is to lead a normal life, thus the catch-22 he faces. His character is guarded and protective, and we feel the pain of his desire to want to shed his Superman-like powers.
On the other hand the finale seems contrived, perhaps leaving the audience wanting more development. The script is weak and matter-of-fact and played a little too close to the line. During a good portion of the movie I sat in contemplative silence not really caring what happened to the characters, as the slowly-building plot line seemed to almost lead to nowhere, almost wondering "is this it?" I was not overly impressed with the London boy's acting, or the French gal's for that matter - a few of the supporting characters seemed much more believable, take for instance Damon's love interest in his cooking class.
Overall the tone of the film was somber and contemplative, thoughtful, and seemed to offer hope that we aren't alone and things always have a way of working out in the end. It's clear that all the main characters in the movie were looking for answers, and migrated in the direction their gut lead them. Some of the scenes couldn't end soon enough, and others had me at the edge of my seat reeling over what would happen next. A fairly predictable ending was lead up to by events that seemed to make sense in the context of the film.
I commend Eastwood for the variety of films he has been working on, and, while I don't believe this to be his finest work, it is certainly one of his (and the year's) most unique.
Easy A (2010)
Clueless for the 2000s
Easy A - a modern-day teen movie that actually works! A John Hughes-esqe flick for the 2000. Fresh content, witty and clever dialogue, charming characters make this movie a winner. Gives us a closer look at the kind of gossip that travels a high school, set up in a storyteling fashion, with the main character talking to the audience on a webcast intended for her classmates (and the movie's target audience) Our main character Olive, portrayed by new "it" girl (and Phx area native) Emma Stone, aims to grab the attention of the school. Through a simple white lie, Olive quickly, almost inadvertently circulates self-perpetuated rumors that she is the school slut, granting sexual favors to various boys upon request. We see various characters intertwine with Olive, including her hilarious parents (one of which is Stanley Tucci) who use brilliant humor effectively, her best friend who leaves her side, the judgmental oober-Christian, a few faculty members including her tough principal, and the boy in the wings.
This quasi-romance/comedy tends to move pretty quickly - styling the humor to what we see in such shows as 30 Rock or Arrested Development, where if you wait too long to try and get a line the film moves on to the next line.
The bedroom scene where Olive pretends to "get it on" with the gay character is quite the riot, I couldn't stop laughing. Her quick wit is displayed throughout by snappy comebacks with both her high school tormentors as well as her "clientele".
The diverse mix of character personalities kept me continually entertained, especially when I couldn't guess what they were going to say or do next. I really appreciated the authenticity of Olive's character - she was clearly an atypical high schooler, yet you could identify with her and want to root for her, all while she stayed believable.
Grade in my book: 8/10 stars
Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)
Could our educational system be any more disturbing?
Resume editingOccasionally a movie comes along that makes you really think. In this case, about systems set up in our society, and we ask ourselves "does this work?". We are forced to look at hard truths and evaluate the effectiveness of systems put in place long ago - "Waiting for Superman" is such a movie. In this movie we plainly see how our antiquated educational system, while well-intentioned in it's inception, is not getting students where they are supposed to or need to go.
The film takes us through the lives of many kids in the public elementary school system and points out many staggering statistics all along the way to show the present harsh realities for both teachers and students. We are shown that over the years nothing much has changed in the way of test scores and we are actually one of the poorest-performing nations in terms of academics compared against other nations considered world powers.
The movie does a nice job of picking apart the "No Child Left Behind" campaign enacted by President George W. Bush. While created to keep everyone on grade level, enforcing the concept of testing and testing again has become a detriment to learning new material or any emphasis on athletics or the arts, for example. The act also prevents the best students from doing their best as all children must have the same baseline for testing and must stay together in scores. The teacher's focus seems to be on working with the slow learners, leaving little room for growth with average and high performing students.
As 68% of prison inmates are shown to be high school dropouts, we then come to learn that it costs the state (and its people) $32,000 a year to "house" a prisoner. Over 4 years that's almost $130,000. Rewind the clock and send that same person to private school ($8,300 per year) over 13 years is $108,000, leaving over $20,000 left over. Amazing.
Enter Michelle Rhee, who is literally turning around the Washington D.C. school system with her modern methods for a system riddled with apathy and entitlement. It was encouraging to see how she is bringing dramatic changes that are long overdue. We are also introduced to the Teachers Unions, put in place to protect the teachers well-being. The movie suggests these unions impede the interests of the children, and what is even more interesting is they insist upon no special designations given to any of the members-good nor bad- allowing bad teachers the same privileges (ie. tenure) as great teachers, who can not be formally recognized. Everyone is equal. Isn't that like communism? Again, entities that were formed with the purpose of helping the schools are now hindering its progress.
The worst of the worst teachers, and by that I mean these teachers have purposefully acted in a way that is harmful to themselves and their students, while waiting for disciplinary actions (which typically amount to 3 years), wait in the "rubber room" while receiving full pay and benefits. If that doesn't outrage all of us, I don't know what will.
Charter schools are presented as the protagonist to this story. The major caveat is that in most cases, you have to be selected from a lottery, and the numbers don't look good. Poorly performing children are placed in this system and do unbelievably well, as a rising tide lifts all boats, or, kids live up to the expectation levels of the teacher.
Extremely compelling, those with children, thinking about having children, or in the education field owe it to themselves to watch this movie.
Wished it was better
What do you get when you cross an overly-used plot line, a few cool action sequences, big name actors, and a lot of shoot-em-up scenes? A so-so movie called Red, that's what.
Saw this screening last night in Scottsdale and to its credit, will have to say that pulling off an action-comedy is certainly tough. After all, how many quality movies like Lethal Weapon, Ghostbusters, or even more recently Kiss Kiss Bang Bang can be made? So Frank Moses' (Bruce Willis) life is in jeopardy, and to protect himself and get to the bottom of it he assembles his old team- former black-ops CIA type agents who were the best at what they do- including Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malcovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren). His would-be girlfriend, who he's never met, also gets dragged into the action. For some reason her life is now threatened as well since she and Moses have communicated so much on the phone (Sarah Ross/Mary-Louise Parker). That is quite a stretch, but you don't see this movie expecting a stirring, or even plausible, storyline! Mary-Louise Parker is pretty fun to watch throughout the film, doing one of the best jobs with the comic relief timing, along with John Malcovich, who never fails to please. Willis, Freeman, and Mirren just didn't do much for me and I can't help but blame the director for what he was trying to pull out of the actors. They had to do the best they could with what they were given. Surprising performance by Karl Urban who plays the primary law figure chasing Willis. Enjoyed watching the intensity of his character whilst rooting against in character in the hopes the Retired Extremely Dangerous (RED) clan would prevail.
One of the other guys on the "hit" list is Richard Dreyfuss, who also provided an enjoyable, but still average performance.
A few notable scenes that won't give away the plot - the bullet of a 357 magnum going up against an RPG "bazooka" type weapon, fight scene between Willis and Urban, a guy who we see get blown to bits literally, Willis step gracefully out of a car doing a 360, Willis putting Parker's contact lens in his eye, Malcovich running after the police with a bomb strapped to him, Willis breaking into a highly secure room by kicking in the flabby wall next to the entrance door, etc Overall I felt the movie just tried too hard to be funny and several of the scenes are just plain uninteresting, but I had a good time as 12 of my friends joined me to watch it.
Facing the Giants (2006)
Enjoyable to watch in spite of common theme
Watched this sleeper at the recommendation of a handful of friends, oh boy was I ever glad I did. This is one of those movies that you either shrug off as being "another inspirational sports movie" or let have an impact on you and change the way you live your life. I chose the latter. The movie was well-acted and the characters believable, but the message was better than the movie itself.
We've heard the plot line before: losing high school football coach (Georgia in this instance) turns his team around. I could count dozens of sports movies that use this, most of which are fairly enjoyable to watch, but also cliché, not to mention I am not that big of a sports guy (yes, I know, I'm in American male, what's wrong with me...haha).
How Facing the Giants is different is when the coach feels there is no where else to turn as he is about to be terminated after 6 losing seasons, finances are tough, and he and his wife can't have a baby, instead of digging down and finding the winner in him and "working harder", he turns to his faith. Spurred on by an unexpected visitor with a profound message, the coach starts to think about his own life and how it is unfolding. I know a lot of critics and audiences are immediately turned off by this, but I have seen evidence of faith at work in others lives many times, similar to fashion and examples offered up in the movie. It definitely made me take a look at the way I live my own life and yes, tears were shed.
As the coach puts more faith and trust into God his life slowly starts turning around. His players evaluate their own relationships with each other, one mends a relationship with his estranged father, and his fellow coaches start incorporating faith into the football practices. As the movie progresses we see students using the coach's football field to meet for prayer and repair & heal broken relationships, a car anonymously donated to him (his previous car being on its last leg), his wife finally becomes pregnant, one of the teams they lose to in their journey becoming disqualified for cheating, and his team moving to the state championship level.
One of the most memorable scenes in the move was the "death crawl" scene where the coach pushes one of his key players to give his all and ends up doing something totally unheard of to all the other players. At this point the belief starts to snowball for the team.
The final scenes of the movie revolve around the teams rivalry against the champion state team, who has taken the title for the last 3 years running - a team that is clearly faster, stronger, and 3 times the number of players available. You can probably guess what happens, but some divine intervention provides some influence for a team poised for greatness. Makes me think "Am I preparing my fields for harvest, or just waiting for blessings to happen?" Perhaps you may ask the same question when you watch the movie.
Life as We Know It (2010)
Moview Review: Life As We Know It - A Pleasant Romantic Comedy
Humorous, contemplative, heart-felt, enjoyable, and tugs a little at your heart strings. These are the words I would use to describe Life As We Know It, a new romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. The story is about 2 friends of a married couple that inherit their baby girl when they die in a tragic car accident shortly after the baby's first birthday.
Although the movie storyline and ending are predictable, I felt myself getting caught up in the characters and story in spite of the predictability. I was thoroughly entertained during the movie, from the beginning set up of the main characters mutual disdain for each other through the end where we witness the completed circle of their roller coaster year at the little girl's second birthday.
Of course we have the typical very attractive lead characters, chef/cafe owner Holly Berenson (Heigl) and sports TV technician Eric Messer (Duhamel). They had great chemistry together, and were able to pull off their scenes well. Holly's love interest Dr. Sam (Josh Lucas) brings the typical complication to the romantic comedy genre, and of course the audience thinks he is a great guy, but we're always rooting for the unlikely outcome that perhaps doesn't have much basis in reality.
Minor characters of the nosy friendly neighbor, a gay couple raising a child, the Child Protective Services worker and a couple of others bring some fresh humor to the mix, keeping the lead characters, as well as the audience on their toes.
A truly memorable moment at this Tempe screening, was when I and the entire audience couldn't help but laugh when they put up a picture of Phoenix that was obviously a cut and paste job of several notable parts of the area, next to a sign saying "Phoenix, Downtown" just to make sure we knew where it was supposed to be! There are plenty of memorable moments including the new guardians trying to get the baby to eat the homemade organic food of the professional chef, the toddler's first steps, and the realistic arguments. And a couple great quotes like, "She's making the poop face", "Yes honey, I'm your mommy", and my personal favorite, "Having somebody help you doesn't mean you failed, it just means you're not in it alone." Movie was about 2 hours, which seemed a bit long for a comedy, but I was entertained enough to not notice the time.
I give it 7/10 stars