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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

EVERYBODY'S FINE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Kirk Jones
Writers: Kirk Jones; Massimo De Rita, Tonino Guerra and Giuseppe Tornatore (original screenplay)
Producers: Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Ted Field, Glynis Murray and Gianni Nunnari
Executive Producers: Craig J. Fiores and Callum Greene
Co-executive producer: Vitaly Versace
Co-producer: Nathalie Peter-Contesse
Cast: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, :uxian Maisel, Damian Young, James Frain, Melissa Leo, Katherine Moening et al.
Original Music: Dario Marianelli
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Dtama

A remake of the 1990 original Italian by Giuseppe Tornatores, this is a sentimental and comedic look at an aging widowed father trying to reconnect with his children.

Robert De Niro is cast here as a good and sentimental character instead of his usual tough guy image. He manages to pull this off for a charming, if not memorable film.

Initially, the audience watches Frank Goode prepare for the reunion of his four adult children at their first get together after their mother's death eight months before. Frank is alone except for a soundtrack playing Perry Como.

After getting the house in ship shape order, Frank receives a number of phone calls in which each of the children cancel their homecoming.

Despite his doctor's admonishment "not to travel", Frank sets off to surprise his kids by traveling to visit each in their own homes.

Carrying a sealed envelope for each of the kids, Frank waits outside the apartment of his youngest son, a painter, all night, before finally slipping the envelope under the door.

Moving on to daughter Amy, a successful ad agency executive in Chicago, who seemingly lives the perfect life in a palatial home with husband and kids, Frank learns things aren't as perfect as they seem.

His conductor son in Denver turns out to be a slacker musician and his dancer daughter Roxie in Las Vegas, who also turns out to be living a different life than told to Dad.

During his travels, director /writer Jones lets us hear the three older kids talk to each other via telephone and we grasp that all of them have withheld information about their lives from their father and are now withholding information on the whereabouts of the youngest, David.

As the kids conspire to keep things secret from their father, Frank begins to realize for the first time, that the kids have left a lot out of the idealized version of their lives they told to him.

Monday, January 18, 2010

THE MESSENGER

By D.E.Levine

Director: Oren Moverman
Writers: Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
Producers: Benjamin Goldhirsh, Mark Gordon and Lawrence Inglee
Executive Producers: Steffen Aumuelier, Nathaniel Bolotin, Christopher Mapo, Shaun Redick, Glenn M. Stewart, Matthew Street, David Whealy and Bryan Zuriff
Co-producer: Gwen Bialic
Cast: Ben Foster, Jena Malone, Eamonn Walker, Woody Harrelson, Yaya DaCosta, Portia, Lisa Joyce, Steve Buscemi, Peter Francis James, Samantha Morton, Paul Diomede, Jahmir Duran-Abreau et al.
Original Music: Nathan Larson
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Tragedy

This is an extremely moving film which is somewhat surprising since the lead actor, Ben Foster, is generally cast as an angry character.

As an Iraqui War hero who is assigned to the Casualty Notification Office (CNO) during the final months of his tour, Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery is charged with notifying the next of kin about a soldier's death.

Initially finding it distasteful, Montgomery is rebellious and deliberately breaks some of the rules set by his seasoned commanding officer Capt. Tony Stone.

Stone has developed the nerves for the job while Montgomery identifies strongly with the grieving families.

Montgomery also is trying to deal with issues of his own. Shot in the face and leg with shrapnel in Iraq, Montgomery returned home to find his ex-girlfriend engaged to another man. Dealing with the loss of his love while suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome creates a complex Montgomery.

The job ironically helps Montgomery face with and deal with his own demons. We also see that the compassion and sensitivity Montgomery shows, may well equip him better than anyone else to deliver the heartbreaking news of loss to soldiers' families.

While a deep confessional between Montgomery and Strong towards the end helps to refocus the film, the ending is disappointing and leaves the viewer wondering why some of the relationships haven't been developed further.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

KINAMAND CHINAMAN)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Henrik Ruben Genz
Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson
Producers: Thomas Gammeltoft
Executive Producers: Dag Alveberg and Johan Mardell
Co-producers: Oscar L. Costo (China) and Vivian Wu (China)
Cast: Bjarne Hernriksen, Vivian Wu, Lin Kun Wu, Paw Henriksen, Charlotte Fich, Chapper Kim, Laura Bro, Peder Pedersen, Thomas Gammeltoft,Matthias Sparre-Ulrich, Jeppe Kaas, Johan Rabaeus, Morgene Rex, Winding Refn and Buppa WittayaNicholas
Original Music: Gisle Kverndokk
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Country of Origin: Denmark
Language: Danish
Genre: Drama, Romance

A 2005 film by director Henrik Ruben Genz, Chinaman centers areound a Danish plumber grief stricken by his wife's abandonment after 25 years of marriage, and subsequent divorce. He agrees to wed a Chinese woman in exchange for the money he needs to pay the divorce settlement.

Keld, the plumber, speaks no Chinese. Ling (the Chinese woman) speaks no Danish. They meet when Keld starts eating at a Chinese restaurant every evening and the proprietor proposes Keld marry his sister so she can remain in Denmark.

Despite the fact that they cannot speak to each other, and the marriage is never consummated, these two fall deeply in love.

But there are no happy endings for this story. One of the major characters dies before the end of the film, adding incredible sadness to the film as well as a great deal of sentimentality over lost love.

Friday, January 15, 2010

AVATAR

By D.E.Levine

Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Producers: James Cameron and Jon Landau
Executive Producer: Colin Wilson
Co-producers: Brooke Breton and Josh McLaglen
Associate Producer: Janace Tashjian
Line Producer: Peter M. Tobyansen
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, CCH Pounder, Dileep Rao, Matt Gerald et al.
Original Music: James Horner
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Sci-Fi, Animation, Fantasy, Drama

The world has waited 12 years since Titanic, and it's been a story idea written at least partially by James Cameron for 15 years, but until now the technology wasn't developed sufficiently to create the world of Pandora and the Na'vi clan.

Now however, with modern technology and 3D animation, Cameron has created a spectacular world that is home to a forest-dwelling alien race which is blue in color and tall in stature.

Both the world and the Na'vi's are breathtaking. With the back-to-nature clan living in a fantasy world of unimaginable beauty, the theme pits the Na'vi's against human, Earthly despoilers.

The Na'vi's, who are tall and blue, with yellow eyes, are unusually slender and graceful. Towering over their human foes, they soon appear totally acceptable to the viewers, moving with superb dexterity and grace.

Viewers accept them quickly, and in a society that is environmentally conscious, the back-to-nature theme should prove extremely popular.

Although viewing in 3D isn't mandatory, the 3D view definitely adds to the visual effect, drawing the audience into the story without being overbearing.

Cameron proves once again that he has an imagination and vision that transcends the average and is well worth the wait.

The film takes place in 2154 when U.S. military forces travel to Pandora to mine a precious mineral capable of saving Earth from ecological disaster.

A wheel-chair bound former Marine, Jake Sully replaces his recently deceased identical twin brother to become an Avatar, a being that combines the human DNA with Na'vi DNA. Subjects experience Avatar status as though in a dream and Sully has complete use of his legs, as an Avatar.

The US wants to further explore the island, and further exploit the natives. Hopes are that the Avatars the US introduce into the native population will be able to negotiate terms where the natives move aside to permit this to take place.

A hawkish military commander, Col. Miles Quaritch actually wants to annihilate the natives by military force and enlists Sully's aide as his military spy.

The film is based on a three-act structure, with the viewer being gently introduced into the fantastical Pandorian world.

Stranded at night and separated from his companion Avatar Grace, Sully struggles to survive against Pandorian elements and is rescued by Na'vi warrior Neytiri.

As Neytiri shows Sully around, the viewer sees jungles that are reminiscent of the deepest regions of the South American Rainforest.

With a special Na'vi language, which Cameron had developed especially for the Na'vi, the viewer is transported to Pandora both visually and emotionally.

After learning their customs, overcoming the resentment of the young males, and being accepted by the Na'vi chief, Sully is about to be sent back to Earth as a reward by Quaritch for three months of spying on the natives, Sully, convinced that he can rescue the natives from the US invaders, crosses over and becomes a rebel leader.

There are fantastic battles as the native Na'vis with their bows and arrows battle the sophisticated US military experts and machines.

There are many who will say the story is too simplistic and appealing simply because of the current eco-green societal trend. But in reality Cameron proves once again that his years of research and development in both the digital technology and film arenas have equipped him to provide a superior visual-effects experience.

Instead of assigning all of the creative elements to a single firm, Cameron has spread them around using a variety of animation and special-effect firms throughout the world. The result is the film sets the bar high in visual creativity and technology and challenges other directors to step up to that bar.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

DISTRICT 13 - ULTIMATUM (BANLIEUE 13 - ULTIMATUM)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Writer: Luc Besson
Producer: Luc Besson
Executive Producer: Didier Hoarau
Supervising Producer: Franck Lebreton
Line Supervisor (Serbia): Andjelija Vlaisavljevic
Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Phillippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab't, James Deano, Laouni Mouhid, Fabrice Feltzinger, Pierre-Marie Mosconi, Johnny Amaro et al.
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Action

Although a sequel to an earlier film, this film is fun and fast paced. Taking place in 2013 we see that nothing has changed in District 13, a slum where conditions have gotten worse despite the promises of the French government to make things better.

The action packed physical scenes, which have humor incorporated, remind viewers of early Jackie Chan action films with the lead, Cyril Raffaelli, choreographing and performing the fight sequences.

Capt. Damien Thomas and Leito perform outrageous and creative physical feats as they battle the bad guys, who are corrupt police. When an elite squad of killer police who stage a police assassination inside District 13, their corrupt boss attempts to convince the President to raze the entire district.

There are fight scenes, gang scenes and chase scenes galore. And the sets are unusual and modern whether interior businesses or outside markets. Ethnic lines are visibly drawn, splitting the district into areas controlled by black, white, Arab and Asian warlords.

While U.S. audiences may not recognize the cast, it includes French rappers and TV stars. Writer Besson, who developed the series throws in references to the French 2005 riots and adds enough social messaging to make many significant points.

This should be more than an art house film with the right exposure, since it's fun, delivers a social message and is visually stimulating. Besson already has a following and since the messages delivered are universal and the action is fast and fun, it's not necessary to understand French.

TERRIBLY HAPPY (FRYGTELIG LYKKELIG)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Henrik Ruben Gertz
Writers: Henrik Ruben Gertzmand Dunja Gry-Jensen (screenplay); Erling Jepsen (novel)
Producers: Tina Dalhoff and Thomas Gammeltoft
Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Anders Hove, Jens Jorn Spottag, Henrik Lykkegaard, Brodil Jorgensen, Peter Hesse Overgaard, Neils Skousen, Lars Lunoe, Sune Q. Geertsen, Mathilde Maack, Ahn Le, Taina Anneli R. Berg, Puk ScharbSau, Kenn Bruun, Mads Ole Langelund Larsen, Joakim Schierning, Bent Larsen and Thorkild Demuth
Original Music: Kaafe Bjerke
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Country of Origin: Denmark
Language: Danish
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

A Copenhagen policeman, assigned to punishment duty as a Marshall in a southern Jutland village, discovers the village is full of secrets.

Transferred to the border town of Skarrild after a mental breakdown brought on by his wife's cheating and his own response, Robert discovers that the local population scorns the "by-the-book" law enforcement techniques and prefer their own clannish and secretive brand of frontier justice.

Robert soon learns that outsiders can either adapt or they will disappear. This becomes apparent when another outsider, a beaten wife, Ingelise, turns to him to escape her abusive husband, Jorgen.

At this point the plot takes surprising twists and turns that defy typical genre conventions. A brilliant scene is the confrontation between Robert and Jorgen that takes the form of a drinking contest instead of a typical shootout.

The casting is perfect and the performances memorable. One has to give credit to the director, Genz for the performances and the cinematography. He knows how to shoot scenes that are effective. The film, under Genz's direction becomes a mixture of thriller, Western, noir and horror with comic tinges.

Although definitely an art house film that will have limited distribution in the U.S., this film will have a following.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

LEAP YEAR

By D.E.Levine

Director: Anand Tucker
Writers: Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont
Producers: Gary Barber, Chris Bender, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman and Jake Weiner
Executive Producers: Su Armstrong and J.C.Spink
Co-producers: James Flynn, Cassidy Lange, Morgan O'Sullivan and Rebekah Rudd
Creative Executive: Erin Stam
Cast: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott, John Lithgow, Noel O'Donovan, Tony Rohr, Pat Laffan, Alan Devlin, Ian McEihinney et al.
Original Music: Randy Edelman
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States and Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Romance, Comedy

This is a cute film but it has an expected story and an expected ending. For a comedy it isn't very funny and as far as romance, that's luke warm.

The very talented Amy Adams is wasted in her role as Anna, a Bostonian control freak who is devastated when her brilliant doctor boyfriend fails to propose. Even after they interview for an exclusive condominium apartment, he doesn't pick up on the cues.

Following advice from her father to propose in Ireland on Leap Year's Day, she attempts to fly to Dublin to do so at a medical conference he's attending.

A severe storm forces a landing Wales and cancels ferry service to Ireland. Renting a fishing boat she gets dropped at a remote village on the opposite side of Ireland from Dublin.

Going into the only pub in the village she hires the cute proprietor to drive her to Dublin.

Naturally, the two of them encounter a variety of problems (supposedly comic) in their attempts to reach Dublin. Eventually, in true story book (or Hollywood) fashion they reach their destination.

After getting her wish and a huge engagement wish, once back in Boston, Anna discovers she's not really happy with getting what she wanted. The film then takes us to a happy ending in the future.

Definitely a chick flick, if this film gains any type of audience it will be basically women who drag their men with them.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

THE SPY NEXT DOOR

By D.E.Levine

Director: Brian Levant
Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer and Gregory Poitier (screenplay); Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer (story)
Producer: Robert Simonds
Excutive Producers: Ryan Kavanaugh, George Parta, Ira Shuman, Solon So and Tucker Tooley
Cast: Jackie Chan,Ambrer Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley, Magnus Scheving, Katherine Boecher, Lucas Till, Billy Ray Cyrus, George Lopez et al.
Original Music: David Newman
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Action

Although this is a Jackie Chan movie, it's obviously aimed at children. Chan, as Bob Hi, isn't really convincing in the part of a romantic suitor/boyfriend for his next door neighbor Gillian but he's very good in his attempts to bond with his girlfriend's three children.

As a high tech undercover CIA agent Bob is exemplary. However, as his cover, a nerdy mild-mannered pen salesman, Bob is totally boring to the three kids. When Gillian has to leave town because of a sick parent, Bob convinces her to let him babysit for the three kids so that he can build a better relationship with them.

Needless to say, all sorts of things go wrong when Bob moves in to babysit. The mini-crises are all aimed at showing Bob's incompetence on the domestic front. However, when Ian, the little boy, intercepts and downloads a top-secret formula for bacteria-eating goop, Bob is forced to pull out his spy gear and implement evasive measures to keep the kids safe from a Russian villain.

It's at this point that the kids develop some respect and affection for Bob. Although the story borrows from Vin Diesel's previous film "The Pacifier", Chan, as a comic character attempting to bond with the children, is effective. While Chan still performs some of his own stunts, now nearing 60, he is obviously less flexible and needs to rely on some stunt people.

The director Brian Levant, is known for previous successes with children's' films. The music also has an upbeat, child like feel.

Altogether, while the film is cute and will definitely be appealing to younger children, Jackie Chan fans will be somewhat disappointed by it's childish story.

Friday, January 1, 2010

NINE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella (screenplay; Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston (Broadway Musical "Nine"; Mario Fratti (Italian version, Broadway Musical "Nine")
Producers: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt and Harvey Weinstein
Executive Producers: Michael Dreyer, Gina Gardini (Italy), Ryan Kavanaugh, Arthur L. Kopit, Tucker Tooley and Maury Yeston
Production Excutive: Michael Cole
Supervising Producer: Steven Squillante
Associate Producers: Jodi Hurwitz and Michael Zimmer
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Stacey Ferguson, Ricky Tognazzi, Giuseppe Cederna, Elio Germano, Andrea Di Stefano, Roberto Nobile et al.
Original Music: Andrea Guerra
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English and Italian
Genre: Musical, Drama, Romance

Another mega-musical directed by Rob Marshall, Nine focuses on womanizer and director Guido Contini. Having been deserted by his muse, Guido is haunted by memories of the past and present women in his life.

All of his female relationships, the women who have served as his inspiration, appear to be draining Guido without realizing it. His women are constantly pawing at him, demanding his time and attention and requesting favors.

Faced with a movie shoot starting the following week and no script to shoot from, Guido has a meltdown.

The film focuses on Guido's imagination and memory, the songs delineate character instead of serving the plot.

While there is some beautiful cinematography in Italy as Guido changes locations, most of the musical numbers take place on the faux Coliseum set at his studio. The set is backed by scenery erected for his new, still unwritten film.

The female characters all sing on the set (they are actually singing in Guido's mind). While his wife is given two songs, each of the other women perform one song.

When Marshall put together this adaptation he eliminated large chunks of the original score. Instead, and Marshall admits this during interviews, he used the original 1963 Fellini "8 1/2" autobiographical story about film-making on which to base the current film.

While the adventure is happening in Guido's life, Marshall's story let's us see it's also happening in his mind.

Visually stunning cinematography that combines color with black and white, studio production level shots with handheld moments.

Once again Daniel Day-Lewis astounds us with a performance of a charming man who doesn't know his own mind and is unable to make choices. While he loves his wife he constantly betrays her with his mistress. He also is haunted by and may or may not be in love with his muse.

He's haunted by his late mother and memories of a local prostitute he knew as a boy. He dallies with a reporter and seeks continual consul from his wardrobe designer (a former Folie Begeres performer).

While he visits with each of these women or their memories in the hope they will inspire the creativity needed for his new movie, instead each drain him a bit more. Guido is unable to see his own flaws and make any changes in himself and his behavior.

The rest of the cast gives strong performances but something is definitely lacking in this film. Nine is as much a of nightmare as it is a musical. The music just isn't that good. While the musical numbers are staged elaborately, they seem as artificial as the scenery.

Obviously, due to the cast and the production staff, this film will draw large audiences and probably garner many nominations. Overall though, it is "8 1/2" with music added rather than a real musical celebration or a remake of either the original or revival productions of the original theater musical.