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Saturday, August 15, 2009

PETER AND VANDY

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jay DiPietro
Writer: Jay DiPietro
Producers: Peter Sterling, Austin Stark, Benji Kohn, Bingo Gubelmann and Jay DiPietro
Executive Producers: Amanda Gruss and Lawrence Levine
Co-producers: Carly Hugo and Matthew Parker
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Jesse L. Martins, Tracie Thoms, Noah Bean, et al.
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance Comedy

This film is actually a character piece about the complexities of love. Running only 78 minutes with a non-linear story line which is at times confusing, the film doesn't make any big statements but rather is reminiscent to all of us of people and events in our own lives.

Ritter and Weixler have strong chemistry between them and this film has some sharp writing. As with any romantic relationship, there is not only passion (which appears jumbled into the middle of the film), but arguments (which appear at the film's beginning).

Ritter, as Peter, is charming in a self-deprecating way. But his actions are frequently so infantile that viewers wonder why Vandy still cares about him. Weixler, as Vandy, is the more sympathetic of the two lead chracters, and she shines throughout the film.

Writer/director DiPietro wrote the original script as a theatre piece with just two characters. For the film he has added some additional characters who never diminish the focus from the main characters of Peter and Vandy, although all of the supporting actors contribute excellent portrayals.

Throughout the film there is a melancholy tone, but towards the end there's a surprising turn that is both moving and satisfying.

Both lead actors should find that their roles in this film act as a catalyst to their careers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

JULIE & JULIA

By D.E.Levine

Director: Nora Ephron
Writers: Julie Powell (book "Julie & Julia"), Julia Child (book "My Life In France") and Alex Prudhomme (book "My Life In France)
Producers: Nora Ephron, Laurence Mark, Amy Robinson and Eric Steel
Executive Producers: Donald J. Lee, Jr., Scott Rudin and Dana Stevens
Co-producer: Dianne Dreyer
Associate Producer: J.J.Sacha
Line Producer (Paris): John Bernard
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Helen Carey, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch, Frances Sternhagen, Joan Juliet Buck, Crystal Noelle, George Bartenieff et al.
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English and French
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Biography

Five years after Julia Child died, a movie about a portion of her life and teachings and its effect on a young writer, has been turned into a charming film.

Starring Meryl Streep as the incomparable Julia, whose spontaneous charm could, according to her husband Paul, turn even the grumpiest person in a room docile, the film is a charming biopic and contemporary dramedy.

Both Julia and Julie, a writer who blogs about her plan to chop, whip, stir and bake her way through Child's 1961 cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" found fulfillment through cooking. Julie finally published a book about her year in 2005.

Director Nora Ephron also draws from the 2006 posthumously completed memoir "My Life In France" which Child and her nephew wrote together and he completed.

Starting with their arrival in Paris in 1948 to take up residence with her husband who has accepted a job at the American embassy, Julia was a loud, unserious, 6 foot 2 inch Californian who set out to master French cooking.

Implied because of their love of cooking, their mastery of French cooking and their adoring husbands who encouraged them, is a kinship between the two women, who never meet.

The performances are masterful on all parts and very enjoyable. But, although the 5 foot 6 inch Streep tackles convincingly the 6 foot 2 inch Child and does an amazing job on both the voice and mannerisms, something is lacking.

The film is enjoyable but lacks French dialogue and French culinary visuals, which would have made it more effective.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

ST.TRINIAN'S

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson
Writers: Piers Ashworth, James Minoprio, Nick Moorcroft, Jonathan M. Stern and Ronald Searle (original cartoons)
Producers: Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson
Executive Producers: Rupert Everett, Nigel Green and James Spring
Co-producer: Mark Hubbard
Associate Producer: Sophie Meyer
Cast: Talulah Riley, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Jodie Whittaker, Gemma Artherton, Kathryn Drysdale, Juno Temple, Antonio Bernath, Amara Karan, Tamsin Egerton, Lily Cole, Paloma Faith, Holly Mackie, Chloe Mackie et al.
Music: Charlie Mole
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Comedy

English satirist Ronald Searle originally created St. Trinian's in a series of cartoons during the 1940s. Twenty years after that the concept became a series of films, with the last sequel in 1980.

This newest film is a modern remake that transports the school into present day and attempts to update the girl characters by placing them in cliques.

Since St. Trinian's has financial woes, the girls must use their cunning and their criminal minds to raise enough money to save the school and keep it open.

What do the girls decide to do? They plan to steal Vermeer's "Girl With A Pearl Earring," sell it on the black market and raise the money that way.

Rupert Everett plays a double role as the father of the newest pupil, and brother to the headmistress (which he does in drag).

Everett is extremely funny as an upper-class lady, gin-soaked and fallen on hard times. Scenes between him and the education minister (a former lover played by Colin Firth) are extremely funny.

Unfortunately, the other performances focusing on the pupils' problems don't measure up. The film as a whole isn't that funny. Instead of being a celebration of English eccentricity, non-conformity and decadence of the posh, this update offers a series of social cliches.

There are several instances where adult humor is right next to jokes and scenes meant for the tween audience, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Younger girls probably won't notice the juxtaposition but on the whole, the film misses its mark.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

G.I.JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA

By D.E.Levine

Director: Stephen Sommers
Writers (screenplay): Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett
Writers (story): Michael Gordon, Stuart Beattie and Stephen Sommers
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Brian Goldner and Bob Ducsay
Executive Producers: David Womark, Stephen Sommers, Erik Howsam Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum
Co-producers: David Minkowski (Czech Republic), Matthew Stillman (Czech Republic) and Jo-Ann Perritano
Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christopher Eccleston, Gregory Fitoussi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leo Howard, Karolina Kurkova, Byung-hun Lee, Sienna Miller, David Murray, Rachel Nichols, Kevin O'Conner, Gerald Okamura, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Dennis Quaid, Brandon Soo Hoo, Said Taghmaoui, Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Marion Wayans et al.
Music: Alex Silvestri
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Based on Hasbro's G.I.Joe characters, this film is a combination of live action and animation. The cast is very long but the special effects, visual effects, and animators list is much longer. The film itself is a futuristic, military-themed picture that is appealing to all age groups. Basically, it's fast-paced, action-filled and a lot of fun, if somewhat unbelievable.

The original characters were launched in 1964 as a group of plastic military figures and reworked into a series of comics. This film should make another merchandising bonanza for Hasbro, which also has the Transformers franchise. Currently, the G.I.Joe force is multi-national, elite strike force that provides Paramount with the opportunity to use actors from all nationalities.

Basically the story centers around two army buddies, Duke and Ripcord) who are transporting a deadly weapon called "nanonites" capable of eating people and entire buildings, which was developed by a Scottish arms magnate, McCullen.

Intending to steal his own weapon and conquer the world by holding it for ransom, McCullen, a member of the evil organization COBRA, dispatches the Baroness (in tight-fitting black jumpsuits) and Storm Shadow (an Asian dressed all in white) leading a private army of superfighters.

Duke and Ripcord are rescued by strangers who take them to a hidden base in the Sahara desert where they are put through some rigorous training and then accepted into the ranks of G.I.Joe or "Joes" as they are known, under the command of General Hawk (badly played by Dennis Quaid).

The characters are poorly developed via flashbacks and the plot never gets a chance to develop into more than what is basically an outline. However, there are plenty of explosions and eye-popping special effects and lots of gadgets and gizmos that are exciting. Both the COBRA organization and the Joes have elite Ninja fighters that will appeal to the huge Japanese fan base of CGI animation and video games.

Additionally, Stan Winston Studio did some amazing work and it's accelerator suit allows the G.I.Joe crew to get around Paris at 40 miles an hour in breathtaking reality, although they manage to destroy a good part of the city. The film is chock full of special effects that are mind boggling.

In the end though neither the characters nor the plot development matter because it's good clean exciting fun, perfect for the summer and with an ending that leaves the identity of the President of the United States in question and room for a sequel.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

FUNNY PEOPLE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow
Producers: Judd Apatow, Clayton Townsend and Barry Mendel
Executive Producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jack Giarraputo
Co-producers: Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien
Cast: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plazxa, RZA, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Torsten Voges, Allan Wasserman
Music: Jason Schwartzman and Michael Andrews
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Funny People is a look at the professional culture of comedians, focusing on the world of Los Angeles standup comics and showing a series of narrow, warped and stunted lives. It focuses on how comedians think, work, act and talk and the language is pretty offensive, centering basically on genitalia.

This is not your usual Adam Sandler movie of madcap humor. Instead of the usual raunchy antics seen in Apatow's previous two films, "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," in this film Apatow goes half-serious and takes big risks, concentrating on the characters and their lives instead of telling a tightly structured story. The movie, though rated as a comedy, is at heart, serious.

Opening with some home made videos that Apatow made of his former roommate, Sandler, when they were both aspiring unknowns, the videos honor and poke fun at the star's achievements.

Centering around Sandler's performance as George Simmons, a fictional comic superstar who learns he has a rare and possibly fatal blood disease, Simmons reveals callowness and ambivalent self-regard. He's arrogant and self-absorbed and Apatow handles the questions of the disease beautifully, underplaying it unsentimentally.

Living in a luxurious mansion above the Pacific Ocean, enjoying the perks of stardom like limousines, private jets and his pick of women but also confessing that the excitement has gone out of his career and the fame is isolating - while he has loads of hanger-ons and people with whom he can hang out, he has no real friends. Sandler captures the ugliness and the contradictions of celebrity beautifully. He understands the empty camaraderie existing between fellow celebrities and the demands of public life, as well as the isolation celebrity brings.

Focusing on the competitiveness of three roommates, each a comic at a different point in his career, the film focuses on mostly young, Jewish, physically differing guys who are trying to make a living as comics. Of the three roommates, Mark is a star of a bad but popular TV comedy, Leo is a belligerent standup comic and writer and Ira is an aspiring standup comic.

When Simmons asks Ira to write some material for him, and invites Ira into his life to share his perks, Ira's life and career take some major turns. Besides its behind the scenes look at comedy club culture, the sensitivities and jealousies of comics, their interactions with each other and how they test each other, the language is offensive. There are so many references to genitalia that it's difficult to believe people speak this way during normal conversations or intense bull sessions when seeking to produce new material.

Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman, Ray Romano and Eminen are among some of the famous celebrities that make unexpected surprise cameos when Simmons celebrates at the Palms in Las Vegas after receiving some unexpected positive medical news.

However, the film digresses from the comedy club scene after about 80 minutes and moves to Marin Country where Simmons, in San Francisco for a shared gig with Ira, picks up with his old girlfriend Laura, a former starlet who's now married to an Australian and has two daughters. Although Laura seems shallow and superficial, Simmons loves her if for no other reason than she loved him before he became famous and was an unknown nobody.

The film loses focus here as it switches from the comedy scene to Laura's annoying marital problems. Laura isn't believable with her whining and disappointment over a thwarted career although she has a gorgeous husband, two adorable daughters and lives in a palatial home. She seems superficial and one has to wonder why Simmons idolizes her as he does.

In the end, while some people will be disappointed that the film does not play as a usual Sandler or Apatow comedy, Sandler achieves a fine depiction of both arrogance and self-derision, combining his gruff, offhand manner with comic alertness. Rogen is a subtle but effective foil as a frustrated performer who never knows whether his boss is going to praise or punish him.

Apatow allows his characters to develop like real people and allows his stories to find their way to their own truths.