Blog Archives

Into the Wild (2007)

I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.

— Christopher McCandless

I was always wanted to see the #145 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Into the Wild where people in the movie blogger community was saying that this movie got shafted at the Oscars when it was only nominated in two categories for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Hal Holbrook. People were showering this movie with endless amounts of praise. When I saw the movie was on the shelf at my local library, I jumped at the chance to rent it. After watching the movie, I was thinking to myself what is the big deal.

Bad boy actor, Sean Penn wrote the screenplay and directed the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) based on the book by Jon Krakauer. McCandless came from a privileged life in the early 90s. He graduated from Emory University, but he feels that his parents, Billie and Walt (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) are living in a superficial world of wealth and affluence. Chris wanted to live in a world where money doesn’t matter.

He decides to sell his possessions, cut up his credit cards, cash out his life saving and abandon his car to hitchhike across the country to find his authentic self. He doesn’t tell his parents or his younger sister, Carine (Jena Malone) about his whereabouts.

The audience gets to see Chris having chance encounters with a hippie couple, Rainey and Jan (Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) in Arizona, working for a farmer, Wayne (Vince Vaughn) in Iowa, meeting  a  girly that crushes on him, Tracy (Kristin Stewart) and a broken war vet, Ron Franz (Holbrook).

I understand that this movie was supposed to talk about living an authentic life, finding yourself in the world and all that. The whole spiel about quoting Thoreau, having the holier-than-thou attitude about other people left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a sad story. If I don’t care about the lead character, why should I care about this movie?

Judgment: The movie was gorgeous to look at, but it felt empty to me.

Rating: 6/10

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I know how to do it now. There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.

— Caden Cotard

Charlie Kaufman’s indecipherable directional debut, Synecdoche, New York has been discussed, examined and picked apart since it came out in 2008. I knew the bare essentials about the plot before watching one frame of the movie. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to like the movie. I wanted to movie to end.

Kaufman made a pessimistic view of life in general. It’s like that old adage, we die a little bit everyday. Caden Olstad (Philip Seymour Hoffman) exemplifies that perfectly as he obsesses over his own mortality read papers about Harold Pinter dying and bird flu. Certain moments of his life are spent worrying that he has a new disease.

His self-fulfilling prophecy comes true when he was shaving, the sink explodes with a piece hits him on the forehand. Caden goes to get stitches where he learns that he has a “condition” that none of the doctors who say any further. It was never explained what condition he had. Caden thinks he’s dying.

He is dealing with the crumbling marriage to Adele (Catherine Keener). Their marriage counselor, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis) is not making things any better with his cold disposition. Caden tries to put all of himself in his production of Death of a Salesman casting younger actors, Tom and Claire as Willy and Linda Loman (Daniel London, Michelle Williams). It gets great reviews, but Adele couldn’t care less.

Adele has an opportunity to show her macroscopic work in Berlin. She goes with her friend, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Before leaving, Adele asks Caden what will be his contribution to the world would be when he dies. Caden becomes obsessed to find his masterpiece when he gets a MacArthur grant. Did I mention there are huge gaps in time here? From 2005 to 2009 when he gets the grant.

Caden spends all of his time with his play about death doing a Mike Leigh style where the actors interact and Caden takes whatever their reactions into the script. People come in and out of his life like his assistant, Hazel (Samantha Morton) or striking up a relationship with his lead actress, Claire. People die all around him and he is wondering why they have to go before he does. He is too busy preparing to die already. As the year go on, Caden becomes trapped in creating his own world that he can’t see what’s in front of him.

I believe that Kaufman over shot his debut a little bit. He does some far out concepts that somehow if it’s a doorway going into the mind of John Malkovich, a woman finding a savage man raised by apes, retelling the double life of a game show host who allegedly moonlighted as a hitman, actually creating a fictional twin brother, and a machine that would erase your bad memories away. What’s up with the burning house? Caden watching Olive dance? That woman that mistakes him for Ellen? The ending was a head scratcher.

I didn’t hate this movie. I thought it was too ambitious for its own good.

Rating: ***

The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!

— Andy Stitzer

It has been a while since I have seen Judd Apatow’s breakout movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin. I owned the unrated edition before I had to sell it. Boo. No matter how many times I watched this movie, I still get a kick out of it.

If you don’t know the premise of the movie, you should be ashamed of yourself. Stop reading this review now and watch this movie. For the rest of you, I will give you a refresher. Steve Carell plays Andy, an introverted that leads a solitary life with his gaming chair, painting small figurines and endless toys that have never been taken out of the box. He doesn’t have a car. He rides his bike to work at Smart Tech, which is like Radio Shack.

Andy doesn’t fit in with his co-workers, particularly with the womanizing Jay (Romany Malco), wound up Cal (Seth Rogen) and romantically forlorn David (Paul Rudd). As by some miracle, they invite Andy to a poker game after store hours that night. Andy playing online for hours at time gave the wherewithal to wipe the floor with them.

The conversation turns to sex when they relay horror stories about when Jay talks about the freaky shit he has done with his jump-off behind his girlfriend, Jill’s (Erica Vittina Phillips) back, a dog giving Cal anal-lingus during sex or David rambles on about making love to his ex-girlfriend, Amy (Mindy Kaling). When it comes to Andy, he tries to bullshit he way with a story and the guys call him out on it. It turns out that Andy is virgin. Their mission to get Andy laid. With Andy’s secret out, he is afraid that the whole store will know.

The next day, everything seems to be normal, but it’s normal. Everybody knows including the store manager, Paula (Jane Lynch). Andy wants to escape from the embarrassment. David tries to calm Andy down. Andy tells David about his failed attempts of getting laid. David wants to make it up to Andy by inviting him to be with the guys again with no pressure about having sex.

Jay doesn’t wanna hear that. He wants Andy to scam a sloppy drunk that is on the verge of passing out and Nicky (Leslie Mann) enters from a bachelorette party. Andy and Nicky seem to hit it off and leave together in her car. Things spin out of control real fast when she bobs and weaves out of traffic, crashing her car with another and blew chucks at him. The fellas have a chuckle afterward when Andy tells them.

Things were about to change when a customer, Trish (Catherine Keener) comes into the store looking for help for a VCR. They quickly disappear leaving Andy to deal with her. Andy convinces her to get a DVD/VCR combo; in turn Trish is a shop owner at a place called “We Sell Your Stuff on eBay Store”. She invites Andy to check out the store and gives Andy her number. The fellas go out a celebrate Andy’s first step in order to have sex. They try to loosen up his clean cut exterior. Will it impress Trish?

I thought the climatic scene between Trish and Andy was silly. How the hell did she get into his apartment? When Andy tried to call Trish a couple of times how come she didn’t know it was his number. She doesn’t have caller ID. The dance sequence at the end? Maybe that is nitpicking.

Judgment: There is a poignant story of love inside a raunchy comedy.

Rating: ****1/2

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

First rule of battle strategy. Don’t ever let your opponent distract you.

— Annabeth Chase

I was mildly interested in the movie, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, because it an obvious Harry Potter ripoff that was based on the book series by Rick Riordan. On the /Filmcast, one of the hosts railed on how bad the movie was, so I had to check out how awful the movie is. The movie is not horrendous, but it’s not that great.

Mixing ancient Greek mythology into modern times, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) is summoned to Olympus, which is situated on top of the Empire State Building to his brother, Zeus (Sean Bean). Zeus is angry that his lightning bolt has been stolen from him. Somehow, he only blames the offspring of Poseidon for the theft. Zeus warns Poseidon that if the bolt is not returned to him within two weeks before the summer solstice then a full scale war will ensue.

Poseidon’s offspring turns out to be a troubled teenager named Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) suffering from ADHD and dyslexia. He is living a shabby apartment with her mother, Sally (Catherine Keener) and dickhead stepfather, Gabe Ugliano (Joe Pantoliano). He dreams that his life was be better than it is.

On a field trip to look at the exhibit of Greek and Roman art, he attacked by his substitute teacher, Mrs. Dodds (Maria Olson) who turned out to be a butt ugly fury who seeks the lightning bolt from Percy. A wheelchair bound curator, Mr. Brewer (Pierce Brosnan) and Percy’s best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) think that Percy is in danger. He has to leave town with Grover being his protector with a pen that was given to him that turns out to be a sword. Huh?

On the drive to Camp Half Blood, his mother explains to Percy about his birth father and why he wasn’t in his life. The car they are in is attacked by a Minotaur. It turns out that Grover is a satyr, a half-person/half-goat creature that is the protector of Percy. During the fight, the Minotaur kidnaps his mother. Percy passes out. Three days later, he wakes in the infirmary with Grover telling him about his father, Poseidon, him being a demigod, and that he has to train for battle.

Mr. Brewer turns out to be a Centaur, Chiron, whose sworn duty to train the heroes for anything that the Gods could throw at them. While Percy is getting situated, the whole camp is involved in a spirited game of “capture the flag”, where he gets into battle with Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who is the daughter of Athena. He is wounded. He regenerates from the water by the voice of his father in his head.

At a bonfire, Hades (Steve Coogan) appears in his menacing transformation to tell Percy that his mother is in the underworld with him. If he ever sees the mother, he has to return the bolt. Percy wants to go to Olympus to tell Zeus the truth, but Chiron thinks that is not a good idea. Outside the protective shield of the camp, he is vulnerable.

Not heeding his warning, Percy, Grover and Annabeth decide to try to find a way to get to Underworld to get his mother back. To do that, they need to find three pearls to open the portal to Hell told by the son of Hermes, Luke (Jake Abel).  They have to go on a cross country journey to vaguely Grecian places to find them.

I don’t have the same hate for Chris Columbus and his films like everyone else. I think that Chris take a source and translate it to the screen without any imagination or pizzazz behind it. That is why this movie is laughable at times and not in a good way. Is this movie serious? Sometime I can’t tell if it was supposed to be campy or been taken seriously. That bit with the iPhone? The satyr dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”? You have fantastic cast of good actors, but it feels like a B movie you find on the Syfy Channel. An utter disappointment.

Judgment: I would suggest waiting for the Clash of the Titans movie. Don’t watch this.

Rating: **

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)


Now you are king and you will be a truly great king.

— Carol

Based on the beloved children’s book of the same name, Where the Wild Things Are, director Spike Jonze and co-screenwriter, David Eggers expanded a ten sentence book into the feature length narrative. This was one of my most anticipated movies of the fall season ever since it was announced. This was one of my favorite books growing up. This movie tapped into the eternal youth inside of everyone watching this.

Max (Max Records) is a introverted boy that is dealing with death of his father, his older sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) ignoring him and his mother (Catherine Keener) dating a new guy (Mark Ruffalo).

One night when the boyfriend comes over, Max goes into one of his tantrums and he bites his mother. Max runs away. He reaches a small boat and sails into the treacherous waters to an island.

Max explores it and sees a campground where he sees some strange creatures running around when one of the creatures, Carol (James Gandolfini) destroys the huts the others have. Max wants to join in the fun and the creatures at first want to eat him, but Carol proclaims him as king.

During the time there, Carol and Max have an instant friendship, because they have very similar personalities. Carol introduces King Max to the other inhabitants of island. There is the older married couple, Ira and Judith (Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara), ignored Alexander (Paul Dano), Douglas (Chris Cooper) and silent The Bull (Michael Berry, Jr.)

Max’s job is to make the Wild Things happy, but Carol is not happy when a former flame, KW (Lauren Ambrose) abandoned the group to strike out of there own.

Max wants to make the society work with building a communal nest for everybody, but things are not happening the way that it’s supposed to be.

Jonze’s captures the imagination of a little child. It was his intention to have the creature captures eaxactly the way that were in Maurice Sendak’s book. The seamless transition for the suit to the CGI is something to behold.

That being said, this is not a perfect movie. The plot is paper thin. There wasn’t that much depth into the characters and the situation. There was no peril. There was a sequence with Max and KW towards the end of the movie that didn’t make sense.

Judgment: If you want to recapture a moment in your youth, see this movie in the theater.

Rating: ****

The Soloist (2009)


I’ve never loved anything the way he loves music.

— Steve Lopez

Based on the book of the same name, The Soloist tells the true story of Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a columnist for the Los Angeles Times that has a bicycle accident in the beginning of the movie. While he recovers from his head injuries, he befriends a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers (Jaime Foxx), who plays the violin with only two strings. Steve is taken with Nathaniel’s musical prowess. He wants to make Nathaniel the subject for his column, “Points West”.

In subsequent encounters, Steve learns that Nathaniel was student at Julliard in the early 70s when he dropped out because he began to suffer from bouts of paranoid schizophrenia. Steve tries to help Nathaniel to overcome the illness that crippled his musical genius, but instead he kinda takes advantage of him.

This picture comes from director Joe Wright who brought us the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, which I enjoyed immensely and a film I loathed, Atonement. This movie would be in the middle of those two. There is nothing spectacular about this film. It’s just another one of those inspirational cookie cutter type movies that was supposed to pull at your heartstrings. It fails on so many different levels.

The story was not compelling to hook me. Being a sucker for classic music, the score by Dario Marianelli swelled so much that you want to press the mute button. Some sequences rambled on to no end, including Jaime’s performance. There was acid trip type scene that irritated the hell out of me. The sequences that Nathaniel was hearing the voices at Julliard were unnecessary.

This movie was supposed to come out November 2008, but it was bumped to April of this year, because it wasn’t ready to be released. Everyone knows that is code for a dud. That’s what this movie was.

Judgment: Buy the soundtrack to movie, not the movie itself.

Rating: **1/2

What Just Happened (2008)

In Hollywood, everyone can hear you scream.

Based on his book of the same name, famous Hollywood producer, Art Linson brings the fictionalized version of what happened to him in Tinseltown to the big screen. What Just Happened recounts two weeks in the life of Ben (Robert De Niro), a frazzled producer dealing with multiple crises at once.

One crisis deals with a renegade British director, Jeremy Burnell (Michael Wincott) unwilling to change a controversial ending tohis movie, “Firecely.” Will he change the ending to please studio boss, Lou (Catherine Kenner) so it could be shown in Cannes? Should he maintain his integrity and cost the studio $25 million in loss profits?

There is a crisis with Bruce Willis playing a version of himself refusing to shave off his beard before the start of a new picture that Ben wants to start production. His producer life hangs in the balance to the direction Bruce has to make. Will the production shut down, because of facial hair? He tries to get Willis’ agent, Dick Bell (John Turturro) to change his mind.

Lastly, there is a crisis on the personal front with his relationship with his ex-wife Kelly (Robin Wright Penn). Is she having an affair with a struggling writer, Scott Solomon (Stanley Tucci)? What is the nature of the relationship between his teenaged daughter, Zoe (Kirstin Stewart) and a dead agent, Jack McDonaugh? Will he find some stability in his life?

This Barry Levinson directed movie gaves a satricial jab to the Hollywood types. The movie is witty. Good dialogue. The pacing is frantic and choatic when Ben is in the car going from appoitment to appoinemnt. It slows down on some of the tender scenes of the film.

The best part of the movie is at the burial of Jack McDoanugh. I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say, Ben, Bruce, Dick and a shovel.

My judgment: If you want to be a producer in Hollywood, this movie would steer you from attempting such a feat.

My rating: ***1/2

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