Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Movie #30 - Little Miss Sunshine

"Where's Olive?"

Simple tag-line for a witty film. To be honest, I actually didn't enjoy this movie in its entirety. This may come as a surprise, but like other Hollywood band-wagon films such as Brokeback Mountain or Philadelphia, I just didn't get on the wagon.

I liked many scenes of this movie and the casting of Steve Carell as a suicidal brother-in-law / slash crazy uncle alongside Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin was great. However, unlike most Hollywood critics and pundits alike, I actually did not care much for the acting achieved by little Abigail Breslin.

This comes back to an old theory of mine about child actors. There is a point for a child actor where a bridge is crossed between cuteness to annoyance. Let's just say, throughout this film, Breslin not only crosses that bridge, she helps build it. I do not find her role very appealing and find her acting quite annoying... tough to put that wrap on a young actress, but give me a young Sarah Polley, Drew Barrymore, Dakota Fanning, or even Lindsey Lohan and you got a more appealing young actress to cast in a role like this.

Beyond that, I enjoyed many aspects of this film. The character of Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) is desperate, something that Kinnear captures well. As an audience, you truly believe that Carell is suicidal, however, you see a little bit of Michael Scott (television - The Office) in every word of this character... maybe its just his poignant, dead-pan delivery of all lines that gets the comparison.

Either way, the premise of this movie is enjoyable - having to get to a beauty pageant across country and dealing with the various ups and downs associated with this trip. I loved the concept because it reminds movie goers about their dreaded family road-trips and how dis-functional they can be... however, in this case, this trip would win out in every retrospective comparison.

If you like Carell despite his recent case of over-exposure (or how I'd like to call it the Tommy Lee Jones syndrome) or if you dig witty Kinnear roles or if you are an avid fan of the side roles of Alan Arkin, then I suggest watching this movie. If you bought into the Hollywood propaganda of the wonderful acting of Ms. Abigail Breslin, then I hope you aren't too disappointed by the end of the movie.

In the end, enjoy the dis-functionality, its what makes movies fun to watch!

Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com.

Movie #29 - The Holiday

"Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other's countries, where they each meet a guy and fall in love."

Nancy Meyers wrote and directed this nice little romantic comedy that follows two characters: Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) as both characters decide to switch homes to get away from their troubled love lives.

The premise: Diaz is a Hollywood movie trailer writer and Winslet is a British magazine columnist. Both women are having troubles with the men in their lives and find each other on the Internet on a home exchange website. On a whim, both women decide to spend Christmas vacation in each other's homes.

Yes. The wonders of the Internet are expressed here. Although I would never recommend doing this in real life, its fun to see how Hollywood would first portray this little exchange.

Little do Diaz and Winslet know is that love is around the corner... compliments of writer and director Meyers. Known in Hollywood for her wonderful scripts and funny movies on the whole such as the Father of the Bride franchise, Something's Gotta Give, and What Women Want, Meyers really knows how to write, direct, or produce a movie. She gets the best out of her actors and actresses and knows how to weave a love story together ala Nora Ephron.

What is questionable in this film is the casting of Jack Black. Jude Law is cast as the potential love interest for Cameron Diaz while on the flip side, Kate Winslet gets Jack Black. No offense to the comedic side of Black, but in my opinion, a better casting could've been done on that side of things. Black seems out of place in this role and the romantic comedy thing does not work at all for his typical Nacho Libre-esque roles.

Overall, I enjoyed this film for its witty script and fun entertainment value. I liked seeing Eli Wallach as a main character again - despite the fact it was in a romantic comedy and not in something more masculine like the Godfather III or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Ah well... beggars can't be choosers.

Either way, you will enjoy this movie and what Meyers has put on screen to offer. Its definitely not her best film on her extensive resume, but it sure is a great deal better than the other romantic comedies out there.

Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com.

Movie #28 - Firewall

"They will make him steal... but he will make them pay."

That is the clever tag-line to this poorly done film. Its actually a little sad seeing Harrison Ford's illustrious career continue to spiral down into oblivion. If this film had been done a few years ago, I would think it would draw more fans and more support in Hollywood, however, Ford's been swinging at air when it comes to blockbusters and he hasn't had one in quite some time.
I don't remember when it first started to happen. My wife and I have debated this topic a couple of times... she claims it started with Hollywood Homicide, I claimed it started with What Lies Beneath.

Here's the theory. Harrison Ford has always played the quintessential good guy. He's always the protagonist and the one we root for as our heroic character. Even when the chips are down and he's down and out, Ford's long list of successful characters win out in the end. With What Lies Beneath - (*spoiler for those who haven't seen it*) Ford is revealed as the antagonist and a murderer. This is a complete 180 degree spin on what we are used to seeing... although a welcome change in my opinion from his stereotypical roles, it destroys a wonderful streak of strong roles as the good guy.

This is where the demise of Ford's career first started to appear. Follow that up with such poorly done films such as K-19 The Widowmaker or Hollywood Homicide... and you got exactly what your film's title proclaims... the death of your career.

Back to Firewall. The movie is a complete flop from beginning to end. It has some strong character actors cast in a movie with little to no script or plot. Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, and Robert Patrick provide support in this film, but it just seems very unrealistic.
Shedding his typical Indiana Jones / President of the U.S. / CIA agent / lawyer / doctor persona (please take your pick), Ford is poorly cast as a firewall expert for a major banking institution.

This seems to be quite a stretch at first because most IT experts don't look like Ford - no offense to those that do. Also, when Bettany does steal the money holding Ford and family hostage... Harrison's character suddenly drinks some Jack Ryan juice and kicks some ass. I'd like to see our IT specialists do that at my work.

Either way... I do not recommend seeing this film for it taints the success of previous Ford films. I hope that his current production of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will breathe some life in this actor's career.
Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Movie #27 - Click

"What if you had a universal remote... that controlled your universe?"

A clever concept in this modern day "It's a Wonderful Life" movie. This movie combines the concept of reviewing life's important moments with the comedic twists and turns of an Adam Sandler movie. Surprisingly, the movie works and actually becomes quite tragic and dark by the end of the film.

Sandler's character (Michael Newman) purchases a universal remote from Morty, who is portrayed by the ever popular cult actor, Christopher Walken. Although only a brief side character to the film, the presence of the intense actor helps move this plot forward and keeps the audience entertained.

Throughout the film, there are some funny scenes shot with co-stars David Hasselhoff and Sean Astin and Henry Winkler is cast in yet another Sandler movie - which was somewhat predictable. What I did not enjoy seeing was the make up / bot-ox effects of the younger versions of Winkler and Julie Kavner's characters portraying Sandler's parents. I understand the intent, but whatever happened to just casting younger versions of these people instead of using plastic, horrid looking make-up versions of the real actors. This was also done in X-Men 3 in which Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan looked quite scary in their rubber faces.

Overall, what makes this movie work in the end was the fact that it tells a compelling story. I never thought I would use the word "compelling" in describing an Adam Sandler movie, but in this case I did. Although the concept has been used in many Hollywood films in the past, this movie seems to get it right without being to silly (as per most Sandler films) or too dramatic - which is also not his strong suit. It just lets you enjoy the trials and tribulations of the life of Michael Newman while allowing the audience to reflect that life is too short just to let it go idly by or speed through it with a "fast forward" button.

The life lessons are there... albeit in a Sandler film. Either way, if you want a movie that you won't sleep through, then I suggest watching Click... at the very least, watch the movie for the upside - Kate Beckinsale for you teenage boys out there or Christopher Walken for the avid movie watchers.

I guarantee you won't use your remote to fast forward through this film.
Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Movie #26 - Notting Hill

"Can the most famous film star in the world fall for just an ordinary guy?"

Wait a second... isn't this a biopic film about Julia Roberts' life and marriage with Lyle Lovett? No. Oh, sorry, just seems like a fitting tagline - apart from the "ordinary" part.

Back in 1999, I was in high school, a young man with the world at his feet and his heart on his sleeve. Not much has changed between that man and now, outside of the facts that I am now 27 and am married.

However, to this day, I still remain a fan of the romantic comedy. I am not a fan of the manufactured romantic comedies of the current day or the casting of annoying actresses such as Jennifer Lopez. I am a fan of films made in the mold of the classic romantic comedies and films that make you laugh and sometimes cry. Although being a macho man myself... I didn't cry during the viewing of this film, nor will I ever.

This film is uniquely set in Notting Hill. A quaint little place in England similar to the suburbs of North America. The plot follows a regular guy named William Thacker portrayed by Hugh Grant, who lives and works in Notting Hill as a travel books store owner. The plot thickens when Grant is visited by the world famous Anna Scott, an American superstar actress depicted by Julia Roberts.

In retrospect, this movie probably wasn't that difficult to shoot for Roberts as the Scott character is at ends with life in the spotlight. Throughout the film's progression, Scott deals with issues related to the tabloid press and scandals... not to mention, issues related to the heart.

There are some comedic scenes that are achieved by the side cast - especially from efforts done by Rhys Ifans in his role as Spike. This character is the classic comic relief in an otherwise melodramatic movie about the complications of love and fame.

Other bonuses related to this film include a wonderful soundtrack with some fitting love songs and melodies combined with some clever art direction. The script is witty and romantic and the cast achieves its purpose - to tell a love story, but being entertaining in the process.

Enjoy Notting Hill for what its worth... despite the romantic comedy monicker, its a good movie to watch with that special someone.

Movie #25 - Night at the Museum

The main backdrop of this movie is the Museum of Natural History. Although I have not been there myself, I have taken virtual tours through books, on-line, and from the various television shows and movies that have been filmed there over the years. I hope to one day visit this museum to see its wonderful historical sites and view its popular exhibits.

But that's another story for another day.

When this movie first came out, I didn't know what to expect. Ben Stiller has done some tremendously funny films, but he has come out with some stinkers in the past. Before watching this film, I had peg it into the second category, strictly based on his recent track record.

However, after seeing the box office results and knowing that the masses sometimes get it right, I knew that I wanted to see this film and anticipated my chance at doing so.

Previous to viewing, I did some research and discovered that this film was directed by Shawn Levy. Unfortunately, Levy has made some recent bombs, all of which I have seen bits and pieces of - including Steve Martin's horrible remake of the Pink Panther genre and yet another Steve Martin crap fest in the Cheaper by the Dozen franchise.

What intrigued me about the research was the discovery that Mickey Rooney was cast in this film, along with Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, and Owen Wilson. In terms of cast, on paper, this would seem to be a little much in terms of comedic brain trusts. It actually was coming off as a money grab ala the forgettable Rat Race. Movie definition of the "money grab" - cast a bunch of famous actors together in a really bad movie with no script or concept just to pay the bills. If you want an example, seek out Kiss of Death (1995) starring David Caruso, Nicholas Cage, Helen Hunt, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Either way, back to the "Museum." What made this movie special was the magic being portrayed in this film. Kids nowadays see everything in black and white... they have the Internet, they have access to an abundance of information, and they seem to be smarter than when I was a kid - which wasn't that long ago in fact.

The magic of this film is what makes this work. The movie is filled with imagination and creativity, something that is lost in many children's films that are not cartoons. This movie is par with underrated films such as The Indian in the Cupboard (1995) or more recently The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) - both of which are book adaptations.

Having the museum attractions, exhibits, and wax figures come to life is just the beginning. If you are an 8-year old child or a child at heart, watching this film will definitely make you smile. Hope you enjoy your night at the museum.

Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com.

Movie #24 - Forrest Gump

"The world will never be the same once you've seen it through the eyes of Forrest Gump."

That certainly is quite a true statement. This 1994 film is one of the superb films of the decade. Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), and Best Actor (Tom Hanks), the story of Forrest Gump is definitely one for the ages.
Back when promotions began for this film, no one knew what this movie was all about. The trailers being shown on television were quite vague and although Hanks was coming off of his 1993 Best Actor nod for Philadelphia, there was nothing really compelling about this film at the time.
However, through word of mouth and the contagious popularity of Tom Hanks as a dramatic actor, fans everywhere came to see history through the eyes of this simple character.
What makes this film entertaining is the unique use of historical scenes and references from many of the major influential moments of U.S. history from the 1960's to the 1980's. Either Gump is a part of the action through the wonderful magic of computer generated imaging (CGI) or Gump is narrating the story about events taking place to strangers he's sitting with while waiting for the bus.

Overall, this film is well cast from top to bottom. There is Sally Field who portrays Gump's mother, Gary Sinise who convincingly depicts the war-grizzled Lt. Dan Taylor, Mykelti Williamson who cleverly acts as Bubba Blue, and of course there's the driving force of this film - the love interest Jenny Curran played by Robin Wright Penn.

This film is wonderfully shot with a talented mix of CGI technology and cinematographic skills. The script is filled with heartfelt story-lines and interwoven historical references and is a tribute to the adaptation of the novel by Winston Groom.

If you had to pick a film from the 90's to watch, this is definitely one to own in your collection and to enjoy whenever you feel like living someone else's life for 2.5 hours. By the end of the film, you not only feel better for watching it, but you'll be entertained as well.

And don't forget the famous words - "Life is like a box of chocolates... you never know what you're gonna get." Thankfully, chocolate boxes come with diagrams and descriptions now, but that would wreck the line, wouldn't it?
Reference: I originally published this article on Helium.com