Monday, May 30, 2011

A Movie Review: Everything Must Go (2011)

Everything Must Go (2011)
Director - Dan Rush
97 Min; R
Will Farrell - Nick Halsey
Rebecca Hall - Samantha
Christopher Jordan Wallace - Kenny

Everything Must Go is a 97 minute film based on a short story by Raymond Carver (Why Must We Dance?) that is less than 10 pages in length, so it is only fair for us to assume that there will not be a lot of action sequences, or sequences with a lot happening for that matter, in the movie.  What we do end up seeing is Will Ferrell showing off his serious side, a la Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love (It's the first example that pops into my mind.) In each film the goofball scene stealer actor turns to a darker, emotional side of themselves in order to give us a performance we didn't ask for, but are fortunate we received. 

There isn't much I could spoil in this review, since the film is basically told in 3 simple acts over the span of about a week and we really only come to know 3 characters in depth and 2 others as some back story.  Nick has lost his job of many years after another incident involving his drinking problems.  We learn that his wife wants a divorce and Nick learns the hard way that his time is up.  He arrives at home to find everything he owns on the front lawn.  The ensuing partial mental breakdown can be summed up by saying that Nick spends many nights in his chair on the lawn drinking many beers and not doing much of anything else.  Nick doesn't want to face his situation, he simply wants things to be like they used to be.

A subplot develops with Kenny, a young neighborhood black kid who needs some guidance.  Nick figures he can pay Kenny to watch his stuff when he needs to run to get more beer, and eventually the two of them prepare for the inevitable yard sale that will clear everything from Nick's life.  The kid is played by Christopher Jordan Wallace (The son of Biggie Smalls for those of you paying attention) and he fits into the movie pretty well.  Samantha (Rebecca Hall from Vicki Cristina Barcelona and The Town) is the other subplot as a young, pregnant woman who moves next door and is awaiting news from her husband across country about when he will be coming.  She and Nick form a strained bond in the film as only movie bonds can be made.  I'm not so sure the two of them would ever say more than a congenial hello in passing in real life.

One problem for audiences who don't do their homework will be with Ferrell himself, since he does have a few humorous moments, but this is not a typical comedy for him.  If you don't know going in that this is a dark comedy of sorts you may find yourself put off within the first 10 minutes.  As long as you are able to separate Ferrell the screwball comedian from Ferrell the actor playing Nick Halsey in a Raymond Carver performance, you should do just fine to enjoy the ride for the most part.  Unfortunately the entire ride isn't always to enjoy.  The pacing of the film, brought on by the fact that the source material is so limited, leads to some long and drawn out sequences in which we ask ourselves if this really needed to be made into a feature length film.  This Carver story has been done before in the form of short films less than 20 minutes in length and I can see why.  Carver is a minimalist writer who never really liked to leave a reader with a sense that his characters redeemed themselves, instead we witness short bursts about people's lives, who they are and what they are in that moment - not always a good formula for movies.

I applaud the effort of first time film maker Dan Rush to make us feel compassion for Nick, but that isn't really the point of the story if you ask me, and as you move throughout the film you will undoubtedly find yourself wavering over your like or dislike of this person for various reasons.  In the end a lo of what this film is about is soul searching.  It isn't a feel good movie but it isn't a total downer either.  This is a film that walks the line of tugging our emotional thoughts in two directions and I don''t think it always works too well.  I'm not sold on recommending this film completely, but I will say that the type of person who will enjoy this film probably already knows they are the type of person who will enjoy this film.

*** and 1/2 out of 5

Monday, May 23, 2011

2 Very Brief Movie Reviews from 2011: Thor; No Strings Attached

Thor (2011) - in 3D
Director - Kenneth Branagh
PG-13; 115 min
Thor - Chris Hemsworth
Jane - Natalie Portman
Loki - Tom Hiddelston
Odin - Anthny Hopkins
Erik - Stellan Skarsgard

The movie begins with a scene that involves Natlie Portman on earth, in the desert, chasing strange weather patterns.  Then there is about 30 minutes of back story explaining who Thor is and what planet/solar system/bridged space place he is from and why we should care.  Then it goes back to Natalie Portman.  Then we get more back story about the Ice beings and their issues with Thor and his father the king Odin.  Somewhere in between we learn about Thor's brother Loki and what his role is, and back on earth we learn more about Erik (Stellan Skarsgard - a great actor, normally) and why he is there.  In between all of this we have the story of Thor being banished from his neck of the woods and into ours and why there is a crossover battle in the desert that involves a large machine thing and a small western-like town.  The 3D adds nothing and detracts fully.  The movie rides the razor's edge of being a children's cartoon with all the corny CGI and terrible dialogue.

Anyone who has read even a few of my movie reviews knows that this is not the type of film I normally care for (so yeah, take it for what it is), but putting that aside, this is still a terrible movie.  I tried to be 'entertained' for 2 hours and just enjoy my popcorn, but nothing about this film added up to anything good.

* out of 5

No Strings Attached (2011)
Director - Ivan Reitman
R; 108 Min
Natalie Portman - Emma
Ashton Kutcher - Adam
Kevin Kline - Alvin

Director Ivan Reitman's name is attached to a whole lot of decent and very good films from long ago (Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins) but nothing much to note in recent years, unless you really loved the tv pilot for Cooking Lessons in 2004.  Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman are both bonified movie stars sure to bring in money, and true to form the film has more than tripled its 25,000,000 budget.  In this film the two stars have enough chemistry to make it enjoyable enough for two people to sit through on a Saturday evening at home and maybe laugh once or twice and not exactly want to light themselves on fire.  Nothing new is done here - a boy and a girl want to have sex but no relationship beyond that except one of them falls for the other and of course the other does too, and the in between is a bunch of friends telling them they are crazy for different reasons.  It's not a terrible movie, but it's really not very good either.  It is the exact definition of an average romantic comedy.

** and 1/2 out of 5

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Documentary Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)
90 Min
Director and Narrator - Werner Herzog
Filmed in 3D

More than 30,000 years ago, our human ancestors entered the Chauvet Cave in southern France and, for reasons unknown but pondered about for millennia, they created cave paintings.  These are the oldest known paintings to exist.  The pictures depict magnificent animals, including lions, horses, rhinos, and extinct cave bears and panthers.  The soft cave floor is littered with bones (100% of them are from animals) including many well preserved skulls of the extinct cave bear which would have spent much time in such caves.  Beautiful patterns have emerged after thousands of years of slow dripping water and the ambiance is only enhanced by the drastic shift from large chambers with high ceilings to tight spaces with almost no room to move.  The cave was first explored in 1994 and due to the fact that it had been sealed by a long ago rock collapse, it was most likely the first time in over 20,000 years anyone had entered the cave.

Werner Herzog has a distinct style, and anyone who has seen some of his films will recognize immediately that this is a Herzog film.  As in a favorite film of mine, Grizzly Man, he uses wonderful shots of his subject spliced with entertaining interviews by key figures.  He expounds upon the bigger questions such as 'why' did people draw these and what could it have meant in a broader scheme of humanity.  Experts are interviewed in various fields of science and the humanities who all bring unique perspectives to the subject matter.  There are wonderful asides that touch on similar cave findings, such as bone fragments turned into flute-like instruments, signaling the importance of not just art but music to people throughout time.  Anecdotes about the history of the region including the large glaciers which covered the area before melting add a nice touch.

Herzog and his team were hindered greatly by the French government (justifiably) who would only allow filming under the most strict guidelines. Just a crew of 4, shooting for 4 hours per day, for just one week and they were only allowed a few small, battery run lights, all the while confined 100% of the time to a small, 2 foot wide walkway built throughout the cave which no one is allowed to leave for fear of tampering with the well preserved cave.  Herzog filmed in 3D which, for the first time in my life, I can say was absolutely the perfect solution to portraying the amazing cave in its entirety.  The paintings are made throughout the cave on contoured walls which, it would seem, were purposely put there so as to add to the dimensions and the storytelling of the paintings.  Herzog draws a wonderful parallel to what it must have looked like by torchlight 30,000 years ago.  There is even evidence that some of the paintings have etchings around them to create depth.  Several paintings are drawn with multiple legs and horns, clearly attempting to depict movement among the animals.  There is a unique piece of wall covered in red hand prints.  Interestingly, there is a distinct defect in the print of the little finger on one of the hands, and this hand can be traced to multiple red hand prints throughout the cave, meaning the team is able to trace the path of a single individual from so many thousands of years ago.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film comes from an area of the cave which cannot be fully seen from the walkway.  A partial view of one of only 2 paintings in the cave which depict some form of the human body.  It appears to be the lower body of a woman with the head of a bullish creature. Herzog is eventually allowed to place a camera on a long crane to get a better view.  It is not so much the shot of the painting that is astounding as is the questions that are raised by such figures.  What were our ancestors thinking when they drew these paintings of animals, and more specifically, when they drew this painting of half woman half beast?  What did they believe about the world and why were they so interested in recording visually what they saw around them?  This is a beautiful film and one enhanced largely via 3D technology.

***** out of 5

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2 Brief and Lazy 2011 Movie Reviews: Source Code and Jane Eyre

Source Code (2011)
Director - Duncan Jones
PG-13; 93 Min
Jake Gyllenhaal - Colter Stevens
Michelle Monaghan - Christina Warren
Vera Farmiga - Colleen Goodwin

I liked this movie because it was 93 minutes long and understood it didn't have enough substance to go a minute longer.  Maybe I've seen way too many movies (I have) but I knew within a few minutes of the opening scenes pretty much everything that was going on and pretty much where it was headed, but none of that mattered because the film is fun and shot well and you never find yourself looking at the time.  That's all good enough for me with this one.  Gyllenhaal, Monaghan and Farmiga all work well together.  Not going to give away much of anything since you will figure it all out quickly, but the movie is basically a sci fi/real life hybrid that explores ideas of what the brain may be capable of accomplishing. I almost passed on this one but, like The Adjustment Bureau, I am glad that nothing else was out when I wanted to see a movie. I say see it and enjoy it.

*** and 1/2 out of 5

Jane Eyre (2011)
Director - Cary Fukunaga
PG-13; 120 Min
Mia-Wasikowska - Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender - Rochester
Judie Dench - Mrs. Fairfax

There have been multiple film adaptations of Charlotte Bronte's novel depicting a young woman exposed to a harsh childhood who becomes a governess to a wealthy man with a dark secret.  I have seen none of them.  I did read the novel many years ago - forced by some teacher or professor -and I remember liking parts of it but not enough to recall the entire thing all these years later.  So, if you haven't read the novel, no worries, this movie works very well if you go in with no knowledge at all.  Mia Wasikowska is the glue of the film and she is wonderful, depicting plain Jane who is probably as close to a feminist as you can find hundreds of years ago.  Her acting is superb in this film and it needs to be for us to stay interested.  Michael Fassbender as the wealthy Rochester is also excellent.  You may not know his name but he has an incredible role in one of my favorite films of recent years, Fish Tank, and was also in Inglourius Basterds.  As Mrs. Fairfax, the caretaker of the mansion which Jane comes to live and work at, Judy Dench is very capable and reliable.  This is a period piece shot with great cinematography and costume design and, though it may not appeal to a large population of younger males, was a very rewarding viewing experience.

**** out of 5