Tuesday, August 31, 2010

City Island - I have not had this much fun watching people yell at each other since an unfortunate 1989 family Christmas

Just a quick note to let you in on a recent release that rescued my movie watching options this weekend. After a dismal experience with J Lo's "The Back-Up Plan", I saw "City Island" at Red Box and remembered taking note of the trailer. The story here is of the middle class Rizzo family living in the working class neighborhood of City Island in the Bronx. It stars Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies ( oh how I miss ER) along with a wonderfully played side character courtesy of Emily Mortimer. The conflict that drives this small dysfunctional family comedy is that each member of the Rizzos is hiding a  secret. The secrets are from the mundane to the silly and not always to the character's credit.  The reason this movie works is that even though we may not like everybody, the characters are all endearing even in the midst of their faults; so check out "City Island" if it's not already on your movie radar.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Me and Orson Wells Review

I've been waiting for "Me and Orson Welles" to have a U.S. DVD release ever since seeing some clips during the 2010 BAFTA(s) and I can say it did not disappoint. The story is that of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) a bored high schooler who in the course of a week, meets Orson Welles, is cast in the now famous 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar and just as quickly fired. It's a fantastic period piece with a backdrop of the sophisticated New York artistic set. Actually maybe that's not completely accurate. The real backdrop may be the over the top ego and personality of Orson Welles(which appears to rival NYC in size). Christian McKay (who has not one credit on IMDB I recognize) is incredible as Welles. The viewer should dislike him but perhaps like the real life person, he is too charming and funny to truly resent. Claire Danes equally impresses at doing well with a role that could be described as a bit flat. She is the older love (and sex) interest who introduces Richard to the unfortunate landscape of adult relationships. I love Claire Danes mostly because I can still hold onto the sixteen year old iconic mopey Angela Chase  and still appreciate her as a fully evolved adult actress.
The only stumbling point in this movie may be the "me". Zac Efron is a bit of a mystery to me. If he had given himself completely over the dark side of Disney, I am sure I would see him as "that kid" from "those annoying High-School Musical movies". However I genuinely enjoyed him in "17 Again"; so I had to get over that. Here he does the comedy of someone out of their element well but fails to fully convince when he is called upon to do drama. It's a minor complaint though that doesn't detract from the whole...and who knows maybe I will have to eat those  words when I see "Charlie St. Cloud" which is getting some good reviews for Efron.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love all you want but a little less whining please..

It may have been a mistake to write about one of my favorite movie types previously - travel porn - because I think by trying to define it, I may have somehow ruined it.  I assumed the story of a woman seeking a new lease on life by spending a year of travel and exploration in Italy, India and Bali would have ample scenery and local color to ignite my natural wonder lust. However the movie conventions I usually adore, were just short of grating in "Eat, Pray, Love". Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, a writer who goes through a vague and hazy sort of mid life crisis, ends her marriage, jumps into another ill advised and doomed relationship and finally sets off on a year long journey to find her zest for life. This beginning set up is a little too long for my tastes and full of modern "Oprah" speak about "lost passion".  I did enjoy Liz's best friend played by the very hard working actress Viola Davis. She delivers some great lines like, "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You need to be committed". I never did completely understand the source or the nature of Liz's problems but soon she is off to three destinations that are defined by the movie's title.

Italy - This is all about eating and probably my favorite part of the movie. Liz moves into an aptly rundown but beautiful apartment and meets and assortment of funny, sweet international friends. The settings and the food are filmed in a way that really captures the romanticism of travel. My only nitpick with this part of the movie is the conceit that Liz and her new Swedish friend are gaining weight because of the sheer amount of drop dead gorgeous carbs they are eating. To pull this off may have taken some Bridget Jones action but instead we are served the silliness of a still sleek Julia Roberts trading in her really skinny jeans for the next size up of really skinny jeans.

India - Liz sets off to India to meditate and pray away her troubles. The first scenes in India are very well done and capture the overwhelming experience it must be for a first time visitor from the west. The rest of her stay in India is bit of bore in my opinion. We are treated again to a litany of Liz's woes but I still did not understand what she wanted. Again a side character at least supplies some interest. Richard Jenkins, who excels in everything from the deepest drama ("The Visitor")  to the silliest of comedies ("Step Brothers"), serves as the voice of the viewer (maybe?) and brashly tells Liz to get over it.

Bali - Liz's last destination answers the core question of the movie, will Liz find true love again? Bali is beautiful and nothing negative about the movie can take away from that. Roberts too is beautiful in a dress up Barbie sort of way as she wears lots of local outfits. You can probably guess that Liz does find love in the end after meeting a teary eyed, feminist wet dream sort of guy played by Javier Bardem.  I'll give him credit. He plays his part so well that this was the first time in three years that he did not scare the crap out of me due to flashbacks of the casual violence and menace in "No Country for Old Men".

Why so harsh on this movie? I don't know. Maybe it was sitting through the trailer for Katherine Heigl's new romcom train wreck that put me in a foul mood. To be fair, I'll give it another viewing when it's out on DVD.