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Movie Review: Away We Go

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Away We Go Movie Poster Print - Style A

Who would have thought that the director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road would make a film with an optimistic attitude about the power and strength of love? But that’s exactly what Sam Mendes has done with Away We Go, a story about two people searching for their place in this world, and finding it in each other. After the cynicism and “hopeless emptiness” of his previous projects, Mendes’ latest effort offers a refreshingly realistic and supportive couple who take on the world together as a unified team. The result is a sweet little film that doesn’t attempt to confront any grand, philosophical issues, but approaches life-sized dilemmas thoughtfully, without manufactured conflict or forced sentimentality.

Co-written by married novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the story follows expectant parents Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) as they travel around the country looking for a place to settle after Burt’s self-involved parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels, the first wave in a steady tide of terrific supporting players) announce they’re moving to Belgium a month before the baby’s due. Determined to live near someone they know, Burt and Verona set out to visit friends, relatives and acquaintances in different cities, from Phoenix to Madison to Montreal. The road trip that follows becomes a sort of Dante’s Inferno-esque tour through successively awful circles of nightmare parenting scenarios.

The first stop introduces us to Verona’s mouthy former boss Lily (Allison Janney) and her willfully pessimistic husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan) , who turn a day-long outing at the dog track into a sort of white-trash version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That’s followed by a visit with Verona’s sister (Carmen Ejogo) in Tucson, where we get a little of her closely guarded backstory. Then it’s on to Madison and a disastrous dinner with Burt’s childhood friend LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her partner Roderick (Josh Hamilton), who flaunt their trust-fund-supported neo-bohemian lifestyle and embrace a very specific method of child rearing – “no sugar, no separation, no strollers.” Just as Janney does in her scenes, Gyllenhaal dives right into her contemptible character, and the scene escalates into one of the laugh-out-loud funniest sequences of the entire film.

Vastly different situations are explored in Montreal – where Burt and Verona’s college friends Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey) have built a loving home for a multiracial brood of adopted kids – and Miami – where Burt’s brother (Paul Schneider) is dealing with the departure of his wife and his sudden status as a single dad. There are no big revelations or showy fireworks at the climax of the film, just a simple understanding as Burt and Verona come to terms with their past, present and future through the lessons they’ve learned on their journey.

Mendes takes a naturalistic, low-key approach to the material, making good use of the different locations to set the chapters apart from one another. Along with cinematographer Ellen Kuras, he gives each destination a distinctive feel, from the overly bright, sunburned desert hues of Phoenix to the rich, smoky dive bars of Montreal to the soft pastels of Miami. Thankfully, he resists the road-movie cliche of long tracking shots showing nothing but scenery, often transitioning between segments in more interesting ways, such as a view of a plane reflected in the mirrored glass of a building.

What keeps all these strands connected in a single through line is the performances of Krasinski and Rudolph. Here is the best example of the old adage that comic actors often do the best dramatic work, and their palpable chemistry makes for a believable, if unconventional, couple. Verona steadfastly refuses to marry Burt, but her true reasons are oddly romantic when they’re finally revealed. As many successful couples do, they seem to instinctively correspond to each other’s peaks and valleys, taking turns being the one to freak out and the one to provide reassurance.

Of the two, Verona is the more reserved, maintaining a quiet strength that belies a depth of emotion. Fans who only know Rudolph from her work on SNL may be surprised at her range here and how well she functions as the straight woman in the film. When we first meet Verona, she’s a bit of a mystery, closed off and unwilling to talk about her past. But as the film goes on and she slowly opens up, it’s like watching a flower bloom in time-lapse. When she’s ultimately called upon to deliver a long, riveting monologue near the end of the film, she makes it look effortless.

Similarly, with the help of glasses, a shaggy mop of hair and a bristly beard, Krasinski sinks into the role of Burt like a comfy pair of shoes. His slightly rumpled, rough-around-the edges style is miles away from The Office’s Jim Halpert. Though the two characters may be compared in their affability and their unfaltering love and support of their significant others, that’s where the similarities end. Burt is filled with a childlike, almost naive, enthusiasm that’s nicely complemented by Rudolph’s motherly qualities. And though he has some of the funniest bits in the film, when situations arise that strip away that genial veneer, it is something to behold. This is Krasinski’s best feature-film role date, and with more projects like this under his belt, he’s assured of a long, steady career beyond The Office.

The other element that holds the film together is the soundtrack, provided for the most part by singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch. Having a single artist predominate the score ends up working nicely as a connective device. His wistful guitar refrains give the journey a forward momentum, seamlessly carrying us from one chapter to the next, and his deep, honeyed voice sets a contemplative tone that underscores some of the film’s best and most emotional moments.

Some audiences may avoid this film because it reeks of an indie sensibility, while others may have soured on Mendes as a director after Revolutionary Road. While both of those predispositions are valid, there’s a lot more to Away We Go than meets the eye. Like a typical independent film, it eschews glossy imagery and extravagant production values for a more ordinary, grounded point of view, but it doesn’t have any lofty aspirations or take itself too seriously. It’s just a basic, well-acted road movie that will break your heart and put it back together again.

Movie Review: The Hangover

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Hangover DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

According to Christopher Monfette of, this is one Hangover that you won’t want to go away.

Almost more than any other genre, comedy is virtually critic-proof, completely and utterly subjective in the face of your own sense of humor. Nine times out of ten, a black cat leaping out of an alley will scare most people. More often than not, a weepy scene between loved ones parted by either distance or death will elicit an audience’s sympathy. But when it comes to comedy, unless there’s simply nothing of good, old-fashioned, laugh-out-loud value, anything beyond a guy slipping on a banana peel or taking a shot to the nuts – which are universally funny – is ultimately at the mercy of taste. And so, it turns out, the absence of funny can be measured; the presence of funny is entirely up to you.

With that in mind, if it were up to this critic, The Hangover would easily be praised as potentially the funniest comedy to hit theatres in the last few years. It’s been awhile since I remember having laughed this hard or having been so effortlessly amused by a movie, and where so many Bachelor Party-inspired comedies grab too quickly for the low-hanging fruit of nudity and vulgarity – neither of which are necessarily bad, mind you — The Hangover manages to create a clever mystery and real, honest-to-goodness characters in the midst of its many of shenanigans. And that’s a surprise, quite frankly, given what this Las Vegas-set comedy could easily have become, but despite a few pacing issues in the middle of the film, The Hangover rises above the trappings into which other, similar comedies have so often stumbled.

It’s the eve of Doug’s wedding, and so his two best friends, Phil and Stu (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms), as well as his fiancé’s slightly off-balance brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), take Doug for a wild night in Vegas prior to the big day. And before you can say “What could possibly happen!?” the s**t gets real. Cut to twelve hours later when Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in a luxury suite, sans Doug, with a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a stolen police car downstairs at the valet, and absolutely no memory of the previous evening. The big question is, “Where’s Doug?” but to answer that the gang has to retrace their steps from the night before, making The Hangover a kind of comedic mystery involving a hooker, an imprisoned Chinese mobster, a pissed-off Mike Tyson and an assortment of progressively stranger encounters. Also praiseworthy are the subtle, completely logical clues that the film provides the audience as to where Doug may have vanished, leaving the sharper-eyed viewers with a sense of accomplishment that they might have put things together before our main characters.

It’d be easy to simply set up an insane scenario, populating a room with animals and objects, and let the audience’s imaginations fuel the laughs – which, indeed, they do for the first portion of the film – but where The Hangover succeeds is in making the truth of what actually happened live up to the promise of the aftermath. That said, the film is admittedly funniest in its first half, but that director Todd Phillips and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore were able keep the back half as amusing as they did is as much a tribute to the film’s comedic chops as to the absolutely hysterical performances from Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis.

You’d be hard-pressed to name a better-matched comedy trio since Phillips’ own Old School back in 2003, but where Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn seemed like separate elements competing for the comedy crown, these hungover friends work seamlessly together to earn and support almost every single laugh. Cooper is the likable but smarmy, self-obsessed pack-leader who, despite his ego, undoubtedly loves his buddies, while Helms plays the brow-beaten straight man with the domineering girlfriend. Galifianakis, however, completely steals the movie as the eccentric Alan, who may or may not be developmentally challenged…Make no mistake, this is the movie that will pull Galifianakis from the realm of the cult comedian into the mainstream, but one wonders if playing awkward, quasi-simpletons isn’t simply his trademark shtick. If so, it’ll certainly limit how far Galifianakis can go as an actor and calls into question whether he could ever carry a movie as a lead, but he’s just so damn funny that we can’t help but hope that he has a long, successful career in cinematic comedy ahead of him.

The only real failing of the film is its second act, which suffers from some minor pacing issues, and a 15-minute lull where the laughs simply aren’t as abundant. And that the determination regarding just where Doug disappeared to ultimately comes from a play on words during a seemingly random dialogue exchange – rather than from a legitimate clue – seems a bit too easy, like the writers were looking for a quick way to shift gears into the third act. Thankfully, however, the third act stuff – which could have felt as if the film had given up or lost its steam – actually regains some of the comedic punch of the opening moments, culminating in a series of photographs that’ll have audiences howling riotously in their seats throughout the credits.

The Hangover could easily have been a cheap, crass, throwaway comedy, but with a great cast and a solid director, audiences are about to get one of the most bankable, legitimately hilarious films we’ve seen in quite some time. With a possible sequel already given the greenlight, we’re hoping that this same group can capture lightning in a bottle one more time.

Cannes Movie Review: Up

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Up DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style B

Depending on what you think of “Cars,” Pixar makes it either 9½ out of 10 or 10 for 10 with “Up,” a captivating odd-couple adventure that becomes funnier and more exciting as it flies along. Tale of an unlikely journey to uncharted geographic and emotional territory by an old codger and a young explorer could easily have been cloying, but instead proves disarming in its deep reserves of narrative imagination and surprise, as well as its poignant thematic balance of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled. Lack of overtly fantastical elements might endow “Up” with a somewhat lower initial must-see factor than some summer releases. But like all of Pixar’s features, this one will enjoy a rewardingly long ride in all venues and formats. Pete Docter’s picture has the privilege of being the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival, on May 13.

The two leading men are 78 and 8 years old, and the age range of those who will appreciate the picture is even a bit wider than that. Like previous classic films about escape from the mundane, from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Wall-E” and many in between, “Up” is universal in its appeal. At the same time, it may be the most subtle Pixar production to date in its use of color schemes, shapes, proportions, scale, contrast and balance, factors highlighted by the application of 3-D, which will be available at many initial engagements.

The ghost of Chaplin hovered over “Wall-E,” and although “Up” is a more talkative film, it also delves back into earlier eras for inspiration. The first thing on view is a mock ’30s-style black-and-white Movietone newsreel documenting the exploits of maverick explorer Charles Muntz, who heads back to South America to redeem himself after a giant bird skeleton he presents in the U.S. is denounced as a fraud.

Not long after comes an exquisite interlude that, in less than five minutes, encapsulates the life-long love affair between Carl Fredericksen and his wife Ellie in a manner worthy of even the most poetic of silent-film directors. The two were brought together by their mutual enthusiasm for Muntz, and it remained Ellie’s lifelong dream to emulate the adventurer and travel to Paradise Falls in South America.

But life has other plans, and Ellie must settle for a happy life with balloon-seller Carl (voiced by Ed Asner). When she dies, she leaves behind a scrapbook as well as a very grumpy widower, who retreats into self-enforced exile. With heavy-rimmed black glasses, thick white hair and eyebrows, bulbous nose, square jaw and a scrunched body that looks like it’s been through a compactor, old Carl resembles a cross between Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau at the ends of their careers. He wants no company, content to live out his days in the house he shared with Ellie, which becomes surrounded by giant construction projects.

Finally faced with eviction, Carl concocts a plan. In a surprising and brilliantly visual sequence, thousands of colored balloons hatch from behind the house, prying it from its foundation and carrying it skyward; Carl intends to fly it to South America, fulfilling Ellie’s dream.

However, he’s got an unplanned passenger in the form of Russell (Jordan Nagai), a roly-poly, eager-beaver Junior Wilderness Explorer who’s previously tried to enlist the old goat’s help to win him a badge. The trip goes uneventfully — no time wasted on navigational challenges — the better to quickly achieve the destination. The arrival is stunningly portrayed, with thick fog clearing to reveal bizarre rock formations atop a mesa adjacent to the falls (designs were inspired by Angel Falls, the world’s highest, and the actual tepui mountains around the juncture of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana — the location of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”). Carl and Russell quickly come upon the very sort of rare bird Muntz went back to find decades before, a brilliantly plumed, gawky 13-footer they name Kevin.

Kevin’s antics throughout are so humorous and beautifully animated they would be at home in a “Looney Tunes” highlights reel, as would a breed of attack dogs commanded by Muntz himself (Christopher Plummer), who sends the canines in search of the elusive bird.

At just 89 minutes, “Up” is unusually short for a Pixar film, and the action climax comes on rapidly. One setpiece features the two old-timers, Carl and the swashbuckling Muntz, going mano a mano aboard the latter’s spectacular, zeppelin-like flying ship, and numerous vertigo-producing shots show characters clinging for dear life.

Although the cliffhanger effects are augmented by 3-D projection, never do Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) and co-director Bob Peterson shove anything in the viewer’s face just because of its 3-D potential. In fact, the film’s overall loveliness presents a conceivable argument in favor of seeing it in 2-D: Even with the strongest possible projector bulbs, the 3-D glasses reduce the image’s brightness by 20%. At the very least, the incentive for seeing “Up” in 3-D would seem less powerful than it is for other films.

Despite the sheer volume of incident and action required of any film that includes young kids as a major portion of its target audience, “Up” is an exceptionally refined picture; unlike so many animated films, it’s not all about sensory bombardment and volume. As Pixar’s process is increasingly analyzed, the more one appreciates the care that goes into the writing. The underlying carpentry here is so strong, it seems it would be hard to go too far wrong in the execution.

Unsurprisingly, no one puts a foot wrong here. Vocal performances, most importantly from Asner, Plummer and nonpro Nagai, exude a warm enthusiasm, and tech specifications could not be better. Michael Giacchino’s full-bodied, traditional score is superlative, developing beautiful themes as it sweeps the action along on emotional waves.

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Movie Review: Star Trek

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Star Trek XI DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - International Style B

Read the Star Trek review courtesy of Jay Stone of

J.J. Abrams’ re-invention of the venerable sci-fi saga presents the origins of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of a familiar cast. It’s a nice, unpretentious adventure that will delight the fans. Even those who know nothing about the franchise except the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” may find themselves turning into late-stage Trekkies.

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg

Rating: four stars out of five

People who enjoy science fiction say that it helps illuminate the human condition, to which I reply: If you want to illuminate the human condition, turn on the light in the bedroom.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to have learned, for instance, from all the “I’m your father, Luke” business in Star Wars. Except that if you go into dad’s line of work, you’re going to want to kill him sometimes, and if you wanted to know that, you could just have asked anyone in a family business.

Which is another reason to enjoy Star Trek, a movie version of the venerable sci-fi saga that touches on several universal themes — fathers and sons, sons and mothers, Romulans and Vulcans — without getting all illuminate-the-human-condition about it.

I’m not sure how faithful it is to the many Star Trek movies and TV shows that preceded it, because I’ve never seen one: everything I know about Star Trek (“Live long and prosper,” and “Phasers on stun”) I picked up vicariously from the cultural ozone.

When the engineer named Scotty (Simon Pegg) says, “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain,” the resulting audience laughter lets you know that this is another Trekkie phrase, cheered for its familiarity.

Star Trek is very much like that, but even for us newcomers — people who have been living under rocks, as opposed to those who have been living in their parents’ basements — it’s nevertheless an adventure with lots of high technology, high spirits and a low sense of self-importance. There are no papier-mache rocks falling on Captain Kirk, but there’s enough papier-mache dialogue to ensure he’s in constant, if cartoonish, peril.

The movie begins with a Superman-like origins story: a father on a dying planet (or in this case, a crashing vessel) sends his only son to Earth to become the hellraising Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, winner of the Christian Slater sound-alike contest), who is on his way to becoming the Capt. Kirk we know and love. Pine is no William Shatner, but give him 40 years and a few good meals, and he might make it.

We also learn about the origins of Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes), a half-Vulcan, half-human whom we meet reciting things like “four-thirds pi times radius cubed,” an early sign of his logic-based genius. Spock, who does things with his eyebrows that we haven’t seen since Theda Bara went into retirement, will grow up to be Leonard Nimoy, who makes a featured appearance in the film — much cheering and laughter — as his future self.

This is the sort of thing that could drive more ambitious space movies to a doctoral thesis on the time-space continuum, but in Star Trek, it’s just another wacky bit of interstellar life: phasers on fun!

The plot has Kirk stowing away on the USS Enterprise, captained by Bruce Greenwood, as it speeds into space and a confrontation with a long, stringy spaceship under the control of Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with facial tattoos and a murderous disposition: he looks like someone who got lost on the way to Mad Max.

Nero is out to get Spock because of something he did to Romulus, or maybe it was Remus. In any event, he’s set on blowing up planets by pouring “the red matter” into their cores, creating a black hole.

There are several large explosions and lots of fights on narrow platforms that have no railings — the cosmos is not a friendly place for older people — and a nice turn by Pegg, who brings a comic sensibility that pulls Trek a degree or two toward self-parody, although not too far (the formula, I believe, is four-thirds pi times radius cubed.)

Every time I see one of these space epics, I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks plan to do a satire that would be called Intergalactic Mishigas. There’s a bit of that in Star Trek, but not too much: director J.J. Abrams has found a balance between excitement and knowingness. Beam me up, Scotty, and give it all she’s got.

Movie Review: I Love You, Man

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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Paul Rudd is hilariously in the this bromance comedy about a dork that just wants to fit in, but try as he may – he always gets it wrong.

In I Love You, Man, which is by far the best Judd Apatow comedy that Judd Apatow had nothing at all to do with, Paul Rudd gives a startlingly funny and original performance as a nice guy with serious dweebish tendencies, and the delight of what Rudd does here comes down to how exquisitely embarrassing he is to watch. He makes you wince in hilarity. Rudd, in films like Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, has been a wiseass par excellence, and maybe it took a wiseass to play a dork with this much merciless understanding. His Peter Klaven is an L.A. real estate agent (he’s selling Lou Ferrigno’s mansion) who has just gotten engaged, an event that forces him to confront the fact that he has no male friends. Who will be his groomsmen? His best man?

That sounds like a fairly mild predicament to hang a movie on, but the resonant joke of 
I Love You, Man is that the reason Peter has no pals is that he’s too sweetly sincere, too in touch with his sensitive side, to indulge in 
the gloriously insensitive modes of male bonding: the reckless sex chatter and sports talk, the need to be a guy, a dude. Peter meets 
 Sydney (Jason Segel), who seems like natural buddy material, and the two begin to hang out. But the more Peter tries to get down with his masculine self, the more our jaws drop at how bad he is at it. He does agonizingly out-of-date SNL routines as if they signified he was ”in the know,” he says things like ”me slappa da bass” in a ”reggae” accent, and when his new friend nicknames him Pistol, he names him back — and sounds like a complete idiot jackass.

Click Here to read the entire review.

Movie Review: The Haunting in Connecticut

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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The filmmakers of the latest haunted house flick, The Haunting in Connecticut actually finds a way to make the sound effects sound and feel scary and the actors do a good job as well.

The latest horror film “based on a true story” — the facts of which are documented here — The Haunting in Connecticut follows the Campbell family, who move into a Victorian house in upstate Connecticut in order to be closer to where their teenage son receives his cancer treatments.

Matt (played by Kyle Gallner, known to fanboys as Bart “Flash” Allen in Smallville) is slowly dying from the disease. His mom Sara (Virginia Madsen) and recovering alcoholic dad Peter (Martin Donovan) can barely accept this grim reality as they struggle to make ends meet amidst mounting medical bills. Trouble begins almost as soon as the Campbells move into their new home.

Matt is plagued by disturbing visions of a boy not much younger than himself, but he’s reluctant to admit it because he fears the disease has progressed to his brain or that the drugs he’s on aren’t working and he’ll be removed from his clinical trial. Meanwhile, the family discovers an embalming chamber in their home and a collection of creepy photos of corpses, and realize that their new home was a funeral parlor back in the 1920s. Noises, disturbances and other assorted scary incidents mount and the family realize they’re under attack from beyond the grave. The ghostly boy Matt has been seeing is that of Jonah, the clairvoyant son of the former funeral home owner, who acts as a gateway for the dead to cross over into the realm of the living.

I’ve been watching a slew of ghost movies and supernatural films lately, and even the best of them aren’t really all that terrifying so much as they are creepy and disturbing or a collection of amusement park “scares.” The haunted house movie, in particular, has been done to death; if there’s one thing they’ve taught us, it’s the bigger the house and the more remote its location then the worse your haunting will be. (How come no one is haunted by ghosts when they move into a studio apartment in Van Nuys?) Nowadays, the scariest thing about these big old houses is how much their value has plummeted.

That said, The Haunting in Connecticut is a relatively effective scary movie despite its overall formulaic nature. The actors, sound effects, and ghoulish makeup compensate when the story takes turns into more familiar territory. Sure, we’ve heard creaks and thumps and wooshes and wails in plenty of other ghost movies, but the filmmakers actually find a way here to make them sound scary again. Director Peter Cornwell ratchets up the tension, maintaining a consistent level of chills for the duration of the movie before it ultimately buckles under the weight of its effects-heavy finale.

The film has very human and relatable characters at its core — a family that was already in peril due to the terminal illness of a family member — that keeps the viewer engaged in the story even as things grow more fantastical.

Click here to read the entire review on IGN.

Movie Review: Duplicity

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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Julia Roberts and Clive Own shine in Duplicity, which debut in theaters this weekend.

If you’re going to see one Julia Roberts movie this year…

Well, it should be this one. Not that Roberts necessarily has a bunch of other pictures on her slate for 2009, but let’s face it: The actress, once the darling of Hollywood who burst onto the scene with the charmer Mystic Pizza some 21 years ago, has gotten a little long in the tooth in recent times. Maybe it was that grueling Oscar acceptance speech for Erin Brockovich, or perhaps it was just a case of audiences getting too much of a good thing, but for some of us the once and future Pretty Woman hasn’t been as welcome a sight lately as she once was.

Now she’s jumping back into the spotlight after a bit of a hiatus, but fortunately for us — and for the superstar actress too perhaps — she’s doing it in style by teaming with writer-director Tony Gilroy on the espionage comedy Duplicity, which opens this weekend. Coming off the success of 2007’s Oscar nominated Michael Clayton as he is, Gilroy was poised with this follow-up to perhaps suffer from the classic sophomore slump syndrome. But he’s dodged that bullet as deftly as one of his Duplicity characters might outsmart a fellow corporate spy, and Roberts and her costar Clive Owen both come out looking like champs as a result.

Owen plays Ray Koval and Roberts is Claire Stenwick, MI6 and CIA agents respectively who first bump into one another — and bump uglies — in 2003 in Dubai, upon which Claire promptly outsmarts, drugs, and steals some precious documents from her counterpart. It’s spy-love at first sight, and through a series of interweaving flashbacks (and occasional flash-forwards) Gilroy slowly pieces together for the audience how Ray and Claire got from there to here.

Here being present-day Manhattan, where they’ve both entered the private sector of the espionage business, working for opposing cosmetics manufacturers who guard their lotion and cream secrets as vigorously as a government does its nuclear launch codes. Ray works for Paul Giamatti’s angry upstart exec and Claire is on the team of Tom Wilkinson’s old-guard boss across town, though as the film proceeds and the weaving plot reveals more and more about what has happened since that fateful time in Dubai in 2003, the question of who is working for who becomes increasingly confusing. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that Giamatti and Wilkinson hate each other fiercely, a fact which is illustrated in a loving slow-motion ballet during the opening credits.

Ultimately the labyrinthine plot is only secondary anyway to the movie-star turns by the, as it happens, movie stars in residence, Owen and Roberts. The real star, which gives the two their power of course, is Gilroy’s snappy, screwball-comedy-esque dialogue and scripting. It has its leads sparring with one another as much as — if not more than — they’re speaking sweet nothings to each other. As a matter of fact, it may be that the closest they get to sweet nothings is the duo’s constant threats to walk out on one another. Either that or Roberts’ propensity for taking her underwear off. .

Click Here to read the entire article on IGN.

Movie Review: The Watchmen

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

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“The Watchmen” gets rave reviews from Catharine Monk at

Despite a double pretzel of a plot, a heavy running time and a sprawling cast of characters who each get their moment in the spotlight, this Zack Snyder adaptation of the Hugo Award-winning Watchmen graphic novel series is entirely entertaining – as well as intellectually stimulating.

They said it was unfilmable – and whoever “they” were, “they” were right.

A thickly layered graphic novel that moves back and forth through time to challenge our current assumptions about everything from the laws of physics to the moral boundaries separating right from wrong, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s landmark Watchmen series has so many backstories, characters, conflicts and intricate emotional dilemmas, a cogent screen adaptation seemed highly unlikely, if not outside the realm of the possible.

But there it is. Undeniably, skilfully and wholeheartedly realized by Zack Snyder, the impossible now exists: Watchmen isn’t just a movie, it’s a great movie.

Though a hair on the long side at 161 minutes, Snyder’s film pulls you in from the moment the opening credits seize the screen to the rasping strains of Bob Dylan.

Snyder establishes an alternate universe through a carefully constructed montage that introduces us to The Minutemen, a ragtag group of costumed humans who came together in the 1940s to combat crime, and stay on top of the nascent nuclear threat.

By the 1980s, when this movie takes place, The Minutemen have morphed into The Watchmen – a group that includes Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and the only “superhuman” of the bunch, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear scientist who was transformed into a walking illustration of quantum mechanics in an unfortunate accident.

In this understanding of reality, the Cold War continues, Nixon is entering his third term in office and Dr. Manhattan is considered the world’s primary nuclear deterrent because, as pure energy, he can move through time and space and presumably change the outcome of human actions.

The only problem is: What happens when your nuclear deterrent and central superhero undergoes a profound existential crisis?

Dr. Manhattan once loved Laurie Jupiter/ Silk Spectre, but now that he can see strands of energy and unlock the secrets of the universe, corporeal love with a human feels entirely inconsequential. To think things through, he heads off for some serious alone-time on Mars, but while he takes leave of the planet, another potent force threatens to unleash nuclear Armageddon – and without Dr. Manhattan speaking to the cameras affirming his loyalty to God and Country, he’s immediately suspected as a traitor.

As far as typical superhero plots go, Watchmen does offer up villains and heroes, as well as a dramatic thread concerning the ultimate struggle for world domination.

But that’s where Watchmen’s genre markers end, because this Hugo Award-winning piece of graphic literature isn’t really all that concerned with the surface elements of plot, and how the alleged good guys stop the supposed bad guys.

Watchmen is obsessed with inner conflict and the base face of human nature.

Using the comic book form and its convenient concept of masks and costumes to manifest different sides of the human character, the movie explores the essence of 20th century literary angst.

Offering a nod to everything from modern psychoanalysis in the ambiguous character of Rorschach, to the Nietzschean concept of Superman via Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen has all the intellectual sophistication of a graduate thesis, but it also has a killer sense of fun.

Thanks to Snyder’s near-hallucinogenic visuals that revel in smart details and pay homage to everything from Dr. Strangelove to Apocalypse Now, Watchmen is a lot of fun to take in – even when it’s almost impossible to follow.

The frames are laced with inviting textures, the plot bristles with prickly satire and the actors find a way to sell the whole ball of latex by gravitating to the ambient pathos in every scene.

The brief encounters with sex and full-frontal male nudity don’t hurt the entertainment factor, either. Better yet, they don’t destroy the feel of the film or come off as gratuitously oily, or gratuitously sexist.

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Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday, February 13th, 2009

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This Friday the 13th reboot is definitely a hit. Read the review:

When news of a Friday the 13th remake hit the Internet, there was a massive outcry from genre fans. One contingent wanted to preserve the integrity of the old series, while the other asked, “Why does the world need another Jason movie?” The truth of the matter is, Friday the 13th needed a remake more than any other existing horror franchise. Although Jason Voorhees is an iconic horror figure, the previous 11 films never settled on one specific identity for the character. Rather, each new creative team that tackled the character handled him differently, resulting in a dude with a serious identity crisis.

Fear not, however, as this “reboot” solidifies once and for all just who Jason is: a motivated killer with speed, strength, vision and a revenge streak that runs blackheart-deep. By firming up the details of his origin, establishing some supernatural elements (Hint: Jason is always really, really hard to kill.), and lending purpose to his body-mangling rampages, the film establishes firm ground for the character’s mythos and makes him much scarier as a result.

The team of producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and director Marcus Nispel, who combined to make the excellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, know what it takes to modernize and distill an iconic series down to its key elements. Here, they hone the character but keep the dark, playful spirit of the originals. Fans will instantly recognize and settle into the tone — a wild, horrific ride that’s meant to entertain.

The film does a good job of compressing Jason’s mythology from the original four Friday the 13th films into a short time frame. Recapping/retelling the events of the original film takes no more than five minutes, and immediately audiences are clued into why Jason grows into a bloodthirsty creature of legend. He grows up quick and by the time the opening credits roll, he has already decimated one group of campers with his trademark machete. As the film progresses, we get a much deeper sense of the Jason character. He has created a lair of sorts and lives off the land. This is a much craftier Jason and much more human, which helps to ground the story.

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Movie Review: Taken

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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Taken is awesome revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson. Read the review:

Taken, a revenge action-thriller from Transporter producer Luc Besson and District B13 director Pierre Morel, follows Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former special ops agent who is out to rescue his kidnapped daughter in France.

Describing his former line of work overseas as that of a “preventer,” Bryan now resides in L.A. in order to re-connect with his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives in a mansion with Bryan’s shrewish ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her wealthy new husband (Xander Berkeley). Kim wants to be a singer when she grows up, so Bryan uses his side job protecting a Christina Aguilera-like pop diva (Holly Valance) to make connections. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Kim — except allow his underage daughter to take a European trip with her girlfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

The ever security-minded Bryan fears the trip is too dangerous for two young American girls to take, but he finally relents in order to win Kim’s approval. Quicker than you can say “father knows best,” Kim and Amanda are set-up and kidnapped by a group of Albanian sex traffickers operating in Paris. Calling upon his former skill set, Bryan travels overseas to find and rescue Kim. He knows that if she’s not located within four days then odds are she’ll never be found at all.

What follows is a bone-crunching, bullet-riddled journey where Bryan uses his martial arts prowess, intelligence gathering skills, and outright torture to find his daughter, leaving a wake of destruction behind him as he runs afoul of both old allies in French intelligence and the Parisian underworld.

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