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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IT'S COMPLICATED

By D.E.Levine

Director: Nancy Meyers
Writers: Nancy Meyers
Producers: Nancy Meyers and Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Suzanne McNeill Farwell and Iione Herzberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Emjay Anthony, Nora Dunn, Bruce Altman, Robert Curtis Brown et al.
Original Music: Heitor Pereira and Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Languge: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance

A feel good film that probably won't take awards, this is a charming look at actors portraying characters who appear to be real people leading real (upper class) lives. Since it's primary cast is over 45 it's sure to attract a following in that age group.

The story of a divorced Santa Barbara couple Jake and Jane Adler(divorced 10 years) with three children who found a way to be friendly because of the kids, they share a dinner while attending their son's college graduation and wind up in bed together.

Once back in Santa Barbara Jake pursues Jane relentlessly, although she's attracted to and trying to develop a relationship with an uptight architect who's remodeling her home.

Since Jake had strayed during the original marriage and wound up marrying his younger girlfriend (with whom he's now trying to have a baby), Jane finds herself in the role of the other woman and she's thoroughly enjoying it.

Suddenly, after being involuntarily celibate for a long period of time, Jane has two men in her life. While she confines all to her girlfriends, she doesn't tell her son, two daughters and one daughter's fiancee.

When the fiancee finds out by seeing both Jake and Jane at a hotel while lunching with his intended, he keeps silent and does it best to cover for the couple.

While Streep and Baldwin have tremendous onscreen chemistry the film is cute but not great, amusing but not really funny, and falls short in the end.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE LOVELY BONES

By D.E.Levine

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson (screenplay); Alice Sebold (novel)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Aimee Peyronnet and Fran Walsh
Executive Producers: Ken Kamins, Tessa Ross, Steven Spielberg and James Wilson
Co-producers: Marc Ashton and Philippa Boyens
Line Producer: Anne Bruning
Cast: Saoirse Ronan. Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Amand Michalka, Jake Abel, Roser McIver, Michael Imperioli, Nikki SooHoo, Reece Ritchie et al.
Original Music: Brian Eno
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States and New Zealand
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Drama, Crime

The original book of "The Lovely Bones" was haunting and memorable. It focused on the aftermath of a terrible murder as told through the words and eyes of the murder victim, a young, pretty 14-year old girl. Besides the unspeakable tragedy, the book focused on the hard-earned healing that takes place.

To turn it into a film, even with a director like Peter Jackson, is difficult. Unfortunately,it's exactly Jackson's infatuation with visual effects that and celestial evocations that severely undermine the film. Additionally, his film is the story of a crime and punishment.

Artistically, the film is a disappointment. The story is still told by a 14-year old girl (Susie Salmon) who was raped and murdered in December 6, 1973 by a serial killer neighbor who has escaped attention and capture for many years.

But, instead of allowing Susie Salmon to inhabit an isolated perch in heaven from which she can view her family, Jackson has chosen to produce shifting and distracting backdrops depicting the afterlife surrounding Susie as she attempts to adjust to Heaven.

Set in a mid-sized Pennsylvania town where life is ordinary and unremarkable and as Susie intones the fact that her family weren't people to whom bad things happen, the viewer is introduced to her young, attractive parents, younger brother, sporty and competitive sister Lindsey, glamorous Grandma and a handsome first crush.

Stanley Tucci, adorned with a blond wig, glasses and a raspy voice that changes under pressure, is the creepy neighbor George Harvey who commits the crimes.

His character is developed as being totally ordinary and we know he kills Susie before the act takes place. It's his sheer ordinary persona that makes him even creepier, plus the shots used by Jackson to shoot his scenes.

Local cop Len Fenerman is repeatedly frustrated as his efforts to solve Susie's murder are thwarted. Susie's father Jack suspects the neighbor and is consumed by rage over his inability and lack of evidence to pin the crime on him.

While Susie was lively, vivacious and beautiful, her sister Lindsey is more solidly built. Lindsey was always in Susie's shadow until she grows to the point where her new-found maturity and resourcefulness lead her to spy on the neighbor and solve the mystery.

Throughout the film, Susie, from Heaven sees how slowly and painfully healing is achieved and what it costs. Some characters still sense her presence and even believe that she appears to them.

Since the film attempts to be a thriller, there is a focus on how the killer will be caught and punished. Indeed there is suspense, drama and thrills when Lindsey breaks into George's house to get evidence of his involvement in Susie's murder and George returns home.

But in the end, while the film is interesting and the performances strong, the joy and heartbreak of the book does not translate to the film.

Friday, December 18, 2009

THE YOUNG VICTORIA

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writer: Julian Fellowes
Producers: Sarah Ferguson, Tim Headington, Graham King and Martin Scorsese
Executive Producers: Colin Vaines
Co-producers: Denis O'Sullivan and Anita Overland
Line Producer: Elizabeth-Ann Gimber
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong, Jasper Christensen, Harriet Walter, Jeanette Hain, Julian Glover, Michael Maloney, Michiel Huisman, Genevieve O'Reilly, Rachel Stirling, Morven Christie, Josef Altin et al.
Original Music: Iian Eshken
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English and German
Genre: Romance, Drama, Biographical

Queen Victoria survives through photographs that basically show her as a dour, elderly monarch. When looking at those photographs most people do not think about Victoria's life as a young girl.

That's what makes this film's idea so interesting. Victoria, played by Emily Blunt is initially introduced as an under aged, only heir to the throne of England. With the king's brothers all dead (including her father), no surviving children of his own, and a need to pass the crown on to a blood relation, it's a given that Victoria will one day ascend to the throne.

Unfortunately, her mother wants to be Queen and control the kingdom while under the influence of a trusted adviser. The two of them try to browbeat a very ill Victoria into signing the regency papers so she can be Queen until Victoria comes of age. As sick as she is, Victoria refuses to sign the papers.

Victoria is portrayed as a well educated but not politically savvy young girl who sets out to learn the rules of politics so she can play the game.

When her uncle, King William III dies, Victoria is indeed crowned Queen and then becomes the subject of gossip regarding whom she'll marry.

Prince Albert of Belgium is deliberately sent to England by King Leopald (her maternal uncle) to report on the politics of the court and make himself indispensable to Victoria.

Over a period of time Victoria and Albert develop feelings for each other which continue via mail when Albert returns to Belgium.

According to the film, Victoria is under the influence of her unpopular prime minister. In general, the political turmoil and which we know had to exist during her reign, is portrayed rather as rather lackluster.

Her choice of Albert as a spouse seems to stem out of the feeling that he's the only person who listens to her, and after their marriage he stops supplying King Leopald with information and becomes a true partner in the marriage. According to the story, Albert shared Victoria's concerned for the common people and together they changed many of the regulations governing treatment and benefits for such.

Victoria and Albert had nine children (who survived) together, each of whom became a leading monarch of a European nation. This explains why all the major royal families are related.

They were married for 20 years before he died of typhoid and her devotion to his memory is well known. Victoria ruled longer than any other British monarch, even Elizabeth I so she must have learned how to protect herself in the political arena and survive all the mudslinging and underlying plots.

Despite her long reign, Victoria's life seems much more mundane than the colorful Elizabeth's. She and Albert appear faithful and devoted to one another, without the scandals that were associated with Elizabeth. As a result, Victoria's life doesn't really seem exciting.

However, what the film lacks in character development and scandal it makes up for in the visual beauty of the real palaces where it was filmed. Since Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York is one of the producers, we assume that access to many of these previously unfilmed locations were achieve through her influence.

"The Young Victoria" is an interesting and beautifully made film which may well raise interest in its subjects and induce audience members to do some research and reading on the real people.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CORALINE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Henry Selick (screenplay) and Neil Gaiman (book)
Producers: Claire Jennings and Mary Sandell
Executive Producers: Bill Mechanic, Henry Selick and Michael Zoumas
Line Producer: Harry Linden
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Terri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Ribert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane, Aankha Neal, George Selick, Hannah Kaiser, Henry Selick, Marina Budovsky, Emerson Hatcher, Jerome Ranft, Christopher Murrie, Jeremy Ryder, Carolyn Crawford and Yona Prost
Original Music: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation

Coraline is already making history as the first stop-motion feature ever made in 3D, but additionally, it is delightful.

Based on a popular children's book, the story is based on the age old concept of "the grass is always greener." Moving into the "Pink Palace", a dilapidated old mansion with her busy parents, Coraline finds that no one seems to have time for her.

Although the other tenants are somewhat eccentric, none succeeds in elevating Coraline's spirits and she remains in the doldrums.

After discovering a secret door and climbing through a long passage, Coraline discovers an alternate reality Pink Palace with a warm and loving Mother and Father. The eccentric neighbors perform amazing vaudeville acts in this reality and Coraline feels accepted and loved.

Unsettling though is the idea that the Mother and Father's eyes have been replaced by black buttons, like dolls.

After making several visits to the alternate reality, Coraline becomes convinced that it's better than the life she's living. To remain, however, she must have her eyes removed and replaced by black buttons.

Before she can make her choice, the Other Mother shows herself to be evil and Coraline's real parents disappear.

At this point Coraline is faced with the task of saving herself and her family.

While intriguing and entertaining, for very young children the lost parents and three ghost children will prove disturbing and unsettling.

Except for that, for older children and adults, the film taps into dreams and nightmares involving Mothers, monsters and heroic children.

The sets and puppets are imaginative and the 3D effects make the world come brilliantly to life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

CRAZY HEART

By D.E.Levine

Director: Scott Cooper
Writer: Scott Cooper (screenplay); Thomas Cobo (novel)
Producers: T-Bone Burnett, Judy Cairo, Rob Carliner, Scott Cooper and Robert Duvall
Executive Producers: Eric Brenner, Jeff Bridges and Michael A. Simpson
Line Producer: Alton Walpole
Cast: Jeff Bridges, James Keane, Anna Felix, Paul Herman, Tom Bower, Ryan Bingham, Beth Grant, Rick Dial, Maggier Gyllenhaal, Debrianna Mansini, Jerry Handy, Jack Nation, Ryll Adamson, J.Michael Oliva, David Manzanares, Chad Brummett, Jose Marquez, LeAnne Lynch, William Marquez, Robert Duvall, Richard W. Gallegos, Brian Gleason, Harry Zinn, Josh Berry, William Sterchi, Colin Farrell, Chris Bentley, Chad DeGroot
Original Music: Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Pickett
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Musical

Not originally scheduled for release until March 2010, Fox Searchlight's decision to release "Crazy Heart" in December 2009 makes it and its cast contenders in the awards race.

The tale of an aging alcoholic country musician (Bad Blake) on a downward spiral who manages to turn his life and career around after numerous failed attempts, the film gives Jeff Bridges the opportunity to turn in a stellar performance which stands out because the film is so unremarkable.

The cinematography of stunning New Mexico vistas is breathtaking. As a background setting for the film, it enhances the performance turned in by Bridges. As a musician he delivers a real performance of playing and singing himself and in duets with Colin Farrell.

His performance is sensitive and sincere, as is the chemistry in the relationship between his character and that of Maggie Gyllenhaal, a much younger love interest playing a wannabee reporter with a 4-year old child.

"Crazy Heart" is a story of redemption - redemption of both a man and a career. Already the trade papers are saying that Bridges deserves an Oscar. There were a lot of good performances this year, so we'll have to wait to see whether he'll get one.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

By D.E.Levine

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards (screenplay); Ron Clements and Greg Erb, John Musker and Jason Oremland (original story); Don Hall (story supervisor)
Producer: Peter Del Vecho
Executive Producer: John Lasseter
Associate Producers: Paul D. Nanum and Craig Sost
Cast: voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth M. Dampier, Breanna Brooks, Ritchie Montgomery, Don Hall, Paul Briggs, Jerry Kernion, Corey Burton, Michael Colyar, Emeril Lagasse, Kevin Michael Richardson, Randy Newman, Terence Bianchard, Danielle Mone Truitt et al.
Original Music: Randy Newman
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country if Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Musical, Romance

Disney is hyping this film as having the first black princess as a lead character, but the story is really a charming original tale about New Orleans and some memorable characters who live and work there.

Competing with high-tech CGI animation, Disney goes back to its roots and for the first time in five years produces a hand drawn animated film.

Tiana is Disney's first African-American heroine and her best friend, since childhood, is the wealthy, white Charlotte, spoiled daughter of Big Daddy and debutante once she hits her teens.

To the contrary, Tiana is a waitress with both day and evening jobs, who dreams of opening her own New Orleans luxury restaurant where she can introduce society to her late father's authentic recipes.

Randy Newman has written an upbeat, musical score to go with the brightly colored visuals. The music easily helps to develop the characters of both human and animal characters. The animation is inventive and pleasing to watch.

As Charlotte and her father dream of her marrying a prince, news comes that Charlotte will be presented to Naveen, a visiting prince. However, the local voodoo practitioner (the Shadow Man) turns Naveen into a frog, Naveen, mistaking Tiana for a princess, coaxes her into kissing him and then she too turns into a from.

In an effort to regain human form, the two frogs plunge into the Louisiana swamp, racing against time to find some means of accomplishing their task.

In the swamp they team up with a jazz-playing alligator, a Cajun lightening bug and a famed ju-ju woman.

A sub-plot involves the Shadow Man turning Naveen's servant Lawrence into a double for Naveen so that he can marry Charlotte and get access to her fortune. But the most interesting action takes part in the swamp where the two frogs have to avoid becoming food for other animals long enough to regain their juman form.

Throughout the film Newman's score, a blend of jazz, blues, ragtime, gospel, Dixieland and country, tells stories and jokes and moves the story along.

All the performances are strong, the characters delightful and certainly this film will be a hit with kids.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SHERLOCK HOLMES

By D.E.Levine

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Steven Kinberg (screenplay); Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson (screen story); Arthur Conan Doyle (characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson)
Producers: Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Joel Silver and Lionel Wigram
Executive Producers: Bruce Berman, Dana Goldberg and Michael Tadross
Co-producer: Steve Clark-Hall
Associate Producer: Peter Eskelsen
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Robert Maillet, Kelly Reilly, William Houston, Hans Matheson, James Fox, William Hope, Clive Russell et al.
Original Music: Hans Zimmer
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Action, Adventure, Romance

Guy Ritchie has created a different Sherlocke Holmes from the beloved sleuth of Conan Doyle's books and previous movies.

Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is flamboyant, glib, smart and good looking. Partnered with a Dr. Watson who has the same characteristics, the two solve crimes in an outrageously attention-getting manner rather than in the quiet, cerebral, deductive manner audiences have grown accustomed to in the past.

While the plot is a bit confusing, the film should be a box office winner since it involves Holmes and Watson in black magic, ritual murders, an evil magician, a resurrection from the grave and a plot to annihilate British Parliament that bears a striking resemblance to The Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Director Ritchie's signature style sets a fast pace for the movie and as it flys by it's difficult to assess and compile all of the information presented.

The wonders of CGI are abundant as a grimy, grey post-Industrial Revolution London and waterfront with a Tower Bridge still under construction. Superb cinematography combines the CGI and cinematic scenes into a brilliantly visual film.

Thoroughly enjoyable and undoubtedly the first in a series, the film unfortunately has not back story regarding how these new Holmes and Watson characters met and came to be partners. Character development is sparse because of the fast pace but may yet be accomplished in future films.

Downey plays Holmes as if he's under the influence of any number of substances. Readers know from the books that this is how Holmes was described by Doyle and enhances the attitude of Holmes that the reality of others is not his.

Jude Law as Watson is seeking a wife and domicile of his own - something Watson did indeed enjoy in other stories.

It will be interesting to see where the new Holmes and Watson go and whether Ritchie devotes himself to doing a series with his newly created characters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 44 INCH CHEST

By D.E.Levine

Director: Malcolm Venville
Writers: Louis Mellis and David Scinto
Producers: Richard Brown and Steve Golin
Executive Producers: Paul Green, Dave Morrison and Tim Smith
Co-producer: Peter Heslop
Cast: John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, JoAnne Whalley, Dave Legeno, Steven Dillane, Steven Beerkoff, Melvil Poupaud, Andy de la Tour, Edna Dore, Ramon Christian
Original Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English (Cockney)
Genre: Drama

When five British men kidnapping a French waiter from a restaurant where he's working, they're doing it for a friend.

Used car salesman Colin Diamond is distraught over his wife Liz's announcement that she's leaving him for a French waiter. He beats the name and location of her lover out of her.

Assembling a group of five callous friends who have tempers to match his, they kidnap the waiter and lock him in a closet of a disused flat. The friends want to kill the waiter, but Colin, downing more alcohol, thinks that the only way to get Liz back might be to spare the waiter's life.

While Colin is stalling, the five men chat about a variety of subjects that includes underworld associates, what they did the night before, and their joint hatred and fear of women.

The language makes frequent and blatant use of the C word, the dialogue is strong and delivered expertly in a Cockney dialect by the cast. Any viewer who doesn't understand the Cockney dialect will find it difficult to understand.

Unfortunately, the ending is weak instead of strong and diminishes the overall effect of the picture as does the numerous flashbacks with voice overs used by director Venville.

9

By D.E.Levine

Director: Shane Acker
Writers: Pamela Pettler (screenplay), Shane Acker (story)
Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Dana Ginsburg, Jink Gotosh and Jim Lemley
Consulting Producer: Mary Clayton
Co-producer: Marci Levine
Associate Producer: Graham Moloy
Cast: the voices of Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Cripin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, Fred Tatasciore, Elijah Wood, Alan Oppenheimer and Tom Kane
Original Music: Deborah Lurie
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi, Action

First created as a short subject by UCLA student Shane Acker, and nominated for a 2006 Oscar, this expanded full feature film shows us a roughly humanoid rag doll with binocular eyes who meets eight of his predecessors. Together, the nine dolls battle a Transformer-like red-eyed monster they call The Beast.

The doll characters look similar but can be easily distinguished by the identifiable numbers on their backs. They have different visual characteristics and are voiced by well-known actors with distinctive voices.

There is a token female (#7) voiced by Jennifer Connolly and a fearful, dominating leader (#1) voiced by Christopher Plummer. The youngest and boldest (#9)voiced by Elijah Wood, leads the others to explore ruins left from the past.

In addition to finding a Library filled with books, they find a newsreel type film showing a Hitler-like leader who leads the human race into a global conflict that ends with the annihilation of mankind.

Only the dolls and the Beast are left and one has to wonder if the Beast's job is to erase any survivors or evidence of mankind's existence even without the presence of any victors.

While this film may not rival other action films like Transformers and Star Trek, the characters are entrancing, the Beast is scary, and the film's visuals are extremely creative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

DAYBREAKERS

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Writers: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Producers: Chris Brown, Byran Furst and Sean Furst
Co-producer: Todd Fellman
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Isabel Lucas, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Jay Laga'aia, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo, Christopher Kirby, Emma Randall, Michelle Atkinson, Robyn Moore, Mungo McKay, Mark Finden, Selina Kadell, Renai Caruso, Joel Amos Byrnes, David Knijnenburg, Jack Bradford, Paul Sonikkila, Gavin Coleman, Joel Spreadborough, Peter Welman, Eddie L. Fauria, Matthew Wollaston
Original Music: Christopher Gordon
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States-Australia
Language: English
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Daybreakers has a novel premise. A Sci-Fi thriller set in 2019 of the future, nearly all of humanity has turned vampire and the mortal population is nearing extinction, along with their valuable blood.

Ten years before a blood infection started turning most of the world into vampire bloodsuckers while those remaining mortal became fugitives.

The shortage of fresh blood is causing worldwide panic and those vampires who are suffering starvation from lack of blood mutate into batlike creatures, beginning with Spock-like ears.

Edward, chief hematologist at a firm headed by CEO Charles Bromsley, is working long hours on an artificial blood substitute.

Edward was turned vampire by his brother, but refuses to drink human blood and sympathizes with the mortals. Helping a small group of mortals avoid capture, Edward is introduced to Elvis, who has discovered a method to make vampires mortal again.

Most of the film shows Edward and his mortal friends trying to avoid capture by the Vampire Army to which Edward's brother Frankie is a member and loyalist. While avoiding capture they experiment with the method to turn vampires back into healthy mortals.

The corporate types that are becoming both rich and dictatorial, don't want Edward and his mortal friends to succeed. They stand to lose a fortune and their dominance if it happens.

I liked the film, although violence abounds. Besides, vampires are in vogue right now and Daybreakers will probably do quite well. However, since the vampires are so ordinary and lead such ordinary lives they've lost the mystique and magical powers that normally accompany their vampireness.

Will ordinary vampires be as fascinating to the viewer as mystical, superhuman vampires?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

THIS IS IT

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kenny Ortega
Producers: Paul Gongaware, Kenny Ortega and Randy Phillips
Producer (film and video content): Robin Wagner
Co-producer: Chantal Feghali
Associate Producer: Michael Beaarden
Cast: Michael Jackson, Alex Al, Nick Bass, Michael Bearden, Daniel Celebre, Mekia Cox, Misha Gabriel, Chris Grant, Judith Hill, Dorian Holley, Shannon Holtzapffel, Devin Jamieson, Bashiri Johnson, Charles Klapow, Jonathan Moffett, Tommy Organ, Orianthi, Darryl Phinnessee, Mo Pleasure, Dres Reid, Ken Stacey, Tyne Stecklein, Timor Steffens, Joe Giles and Grady Holder
Original Music: Michael Bearden
Editors: Don Brochu, Brandon Key, Tim Patterson and Kevin Stitt
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Musical, Autobiographical

One has to wonder if this film, pieced together from rehearsal footage made during preparation for Michael Jackson's last planned tour, is so good, how good would the the actual show have been?

From this film, which follows Jackson and his team from the initial selection of backup dancers through rehearsals, until his death at the age of 50 in June 2009, it's possible to see that his planned London show would have been one of the greatest comebacks in pop music history.voc

There's some very excellent editing as seamlessly, pieces from the same numbers performed on different days and in different attire, are spliced together.

According to Director Kenny Ortega, Jackson wasn't performing at 100% during rehearsals, holding back to save his voice and energy. If that's so, since the rehearsals convey such energy, precision and professionalism, his actual performances would have been superb.

There's little documentation of Jackson's working procedures so this film provides an intense look at the breathtaking perfectionism that he applied to his work. Jackson is seen reviewing video footage, correcting his backup dancers while posing himself, giving his band instructions and working with a vocal coach.

There are fascinating verbal exchanges with musicians, dancers, and stagers which show how deeply aware Jackson was of everything that was happening and impacting his show and performance.

However, because of his obsession with perfection, we have to wonder if Jackson would have wanted his fans and audiences to see a rough, unfinished performance.

Regardless, his talent shines as he sings and dances. The fact that the editing of different days performances could have been combined so flawlessly speaks to this ability to repeat endlessly the same movements, dance steps, poses and vocals, without alteration.

Viewers are also given the treat of seeing the special video and CG effects (i.e. multiplying his 11 backup dancers into thousands performing) that were planned and incorporated into the show and which without the film would never be seen. The film runs almost two hours and still feels short.

Much credit has to be given to the excellent editors whose work made a coherent and entertaining film out of unedited rehearsal footage.

Friday, December 4, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Mark Boal
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro
Executive Producers: Tony Mark
Co-Producer: Donall McCusker
Associate Producer: Jenn Lee and Jack Schuster
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline James, Christian Camargo et al.
Original Music: Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: War, Action, Drama

While "The Hurt Locker" is mesmerizing to watch, the audience already knows the message that war is hell.

Although this is a drama film the drama isn't solely in the fact that it centers on an elite U.S. bomb squad centered in Bagdad.

The members of this squad survive by instinct as well as knowledge. It's not a thriller although there are thrilling moments in it.

They take reckless risks to get the job done when their robotics break down and suffer the loss of their Sargent, as a result.

When he's replaced by staff Sargent to take charge of the three-man unit, he proves to be as reckless, if not more so, than his predecessor. Immediately there's conflict between him and his deputy who is a strictly "do-it-by-the-book" kind of guy. The third member of the team is taking voluntary counseling from a Bravo Company psychiatrist who he accuses of not having field experience.

What is apparent from the start of the film is that unlike other war movies, this one concentrates on a small number of characters from the start. It's a tight film until about 45 minutes into it when it starts to develop other characters by focusing on the friendship between the staff Sargent and an English speaking Arab kid.

There is a feeling of ever-present menace although there is no commentary or questioning regarding the U.S. presence in Iraq. The men come across as real and believable. The camera work is halfway between documentary and regular drama and the there is continual tension giving the film a "real feel."

The film has proved popular after viewings but has had a problem gaining distribution. It's possible that it's so realistic viewers find it disturbing and very similar to the war broadcasts and videos being streamed into their homes.

AN EDUCATION

By D.E.Levine

Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Nick Hornby (screenplay) and Lynn Barber (memoir)
Producers: Finola Dwyer and Armanda Posey
Executive Producers: Douglas Hansen, Nick Hornby, Wendy Japhet, Jamie Laurenson, James D. Stern and David M. Thompson
Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Carey Mulligan, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Sally Hawkins et al.
Original Music: Paul Englishby
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Romance, Autobiographical

Set in 1961, An Education centers around Jenny, a top English student who loves everything French. A schoolgirl who lives with her rather stuffy parents, Jenny meets and becomes involved with 35-year old David, a Jewish well-to-do man twice her age who drives into her life in a beautiful maroon Bristol.

A graduate of the "University of Life", David suavely wins Jenny's parents over with a false Oxbridge pedigree and convinces them to let David take the young Jenny away overnight by offering to introduce her to his old professor and personal friend C.S.Lewis.

What David really does is introduce Jenny to his glamorous partner and best friend Danny and Danny's girlfriend Helen The foursome then proceed to visit smart nightclubs, art auctions and classical music concerts.

Jenny's out of her league but neither she nor her parents recognize David for a con artist. Jenny is anxious for adulthood and the sophisticated lifestyle David offers, especially after he takes her to Paris for her 17th birthday. She's so eager that she leaves school and her dreams of Oxford because she sees in David a shortcut to what she envisioned the Oxford degree would allow her to obtain.

Her life is an education as Jenny finds out the truth about self-identity, glamor and how adults really think and live. An Education is a celebration of intellectual curiosity and personal adventure as seen through the eyes of an intelligent 16-year old. But Jenny's naivitie and blindness to what is really going on in the relationship falls heavily upon her.

However, as she reflects on the truth about her time with David, the good that comes out of the experience, the knowledge and maturity she obtains, far outweighs the bad.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TIM BURTON AT MOMA

By D.E.Levine

We're breaking with tradition here at Cinefilms and covering an art show because it's such a rich and unusual show and ties in directly to film.

Most people identify Tim Burton with cinema where he has been an extremely creative and successful writer and director.

It's ironic that Burton himself didn't realize the wealth of ideas and materials that he created and accumulated until the Museum of Modern Art's assistant curator Ron Magliozzi, and the department of film's curatorial assistant Jenny He, searched through thousands of pieces of original work and chose the 700 pieces now on display in the museum's show.

There has never been a museum show on the art of Tim Burton before. This is a must see event if you're in New York City and well worth a special trip to the city if you're not already there. Many of these pieces have never been displayed anywhere before and remain in Burton's private collection.

It's safe to say there's never been a museum show quite like this and it's already so popular that getting tickets is extremely difficult.

Your admittance to the museum does not guarantee admittance to the Tim Burton exhibition. After entering the museum you must get a separate ticket for the show, and that should be the first task on your "To Do" list.

MOMA is also screening a retrospective of Burton's 14 films throughout the show which runs through April 26, 2010. Additionally, MOMA will present a series of films that influenced and/or inspired Burton.

The show displays an amazing range of creative output. Displaying a selection of poems, sketches. drawings, storyboards, paintings, puppets, maquettes, photographs, amateur films, film artifacts and other work including a topiary, the show takes us through Burton's childhood, adolescent, art school days, years as an animator at the Walt Disney Company, and years as a film writer and director.

It's obvious that Burton was a gifted if alienated and lonely child. His sense of despair is apparent in his cartoons and drawings from a young age.

Raised in Burbank, California, Burton began channeling his grief into visual art, which his family has kept and preserved all of these years.

Burton's output is prolific and somewhat astounding. His family's acknowledgment that is was important enough to retain for 40+ years is amazing.

Running through his work is the motif of the gifted but wounded child and pathetic juveniles who just "don't fit" within the mores of society (autobiographical?).

There's also the recurring theme, mixing humor with scariness, of Burton created misfits either triumphing over or succumbing to their world - a world of mediocrity. The misfits are the underdogs of society and the viewer loves to cheer for and support the underdog.

Burton himself admits to thinking things through visually from an early age, so instead of keeping a handwritten diary, he kept an art account. This is the visual, autobiographical account of his life.

In his comments to the press Burton stated that to the present day, he still keeps a running visual account which he stores, resulting in a continually growing and expanding treasure trove of original art.

He claims that until MOMA people came to his homes in the US and the UK, he himself didn't realize the enormity and richness of his collection. He also lived with much of his art on a daily basis.

In fact, he kept the original topiary from Edward Scissorhands in his garden, exposed to the elements, for years before putting it in storage.

When MOMA curators found it is was so discolored and worse for wear that they had an identical copy made from the exact materials that were used on the original.

The copy looks identical to the original and now stands proudly in MOMA's beautiful sculpture garden.

Overall, this show is an amazing first taste and representation of Burton's broad talent. We can only hope that it is the beginning of a long pop art career for Tim Burton and that he will continue to create and display his art in all disciplines.

For more information see www.moma.org or call 212-708-9400.