Tag Archives: Entertainment

Movie Review: THE LOVELY BONES

© DreamWorks Studios

Just came out of a screening of Peter Jackson’s of The Lovely Bones (opening Dec. 11) and I’m about as confused as the movie is. So, my movie partner, Eric Edwards, and I had the following discussion to help process our thoughts. [Possible mild spoilers.]

PCN: Oh, man, what happened? The trailer was intense but the movie felt like one long yoga/meditation video.

EE: I think my biggest struggle was I kept thinking I should like it more than I do.

PCN: Why do you feel you have to like it?

EE: Because the message they’re trying to put out is very deep and Zen. It was all about the big picture and trusting that the universe will take care of things in its own time. But it took soooo long for payback to happen.

PCN: And when it did, I felt no real closure, which begs the question: Are we impatient, bloodthirsty people? In real life, sometimes comeuppance doesn’t happen at all and you have to find a way to move past the grief.

EE: But this is a movie and I think most moviegoers want to see some kind of reckoning for a bad deed.

PCN: There was reckoning, just not in a way we expected. I feel the same ambivalence toward the movie as I did toward Alice Sebold’s book. It’s internal and meditative and more about a process than a story. I get it—Susie’s family is grieving; it’s not going to be action-packed. So Peter Jackson fills up the in-between with eye candy to amuse us. Look, there’s a waterfall! And Susie frolicking among flowers! A random giant beach ball! And that music sounded like something from a sleep machine. I thought maybe Enya would show up to sing.

EE: That score was pretentious. I did enjoy the book, though. I think this was just bad handling of source material.

PCN: Do you think this has a chance at any awards? The cinematography is gorgeous–

EE: It’s beautiful.

PCN:–but I don’t think the movie deserves anything else. Even Stanley Tucci’s performance is off. He’s really creepy but I was distracted by the blond rug, blue contacts, prosthetic teeth and slightly slurred speech. It’s a little too much. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a perfectly normal-looking guy turn out to be the creepiest one of all?

EE: I don’t think Jackson allowed Tucci to let the full creepiness out.

PCN: What?! He’s super creepy! During the scene where Mr. Harvey lures Susie down into the hatch, you were cringing like a girl, you were so scared.

EE: I wasn’t cringing, I was merely showing disapproval. Tucci kept shaking and acting nervous. Jackson should’ve just let Tucci stare at Susie and let the suspense build before making his move. Would’ve been a lot more explosive.

PCN: Oh, it was plenty explosive enough for me. I was sick inside, knowing what would happen to her. I was grateful most of it happened off camera.

EE: But you were projecting your feelings due to prior knowledge. Would it be as creepy for viewers who haven’t read the book?

© DreamWorks Studios

PCN: A grown man preparing to murder a 14-year-old girl? Yeah, I’d say that’s creepy for anyone. What’d you think of Saoirse Ronan’s performance?

EE: The biggest problem for me was her narration, which made the movie so melodramatic, especially when accompanied by Brian Eno’s overwrought score.

PCN: I had no problem with her! I actually liked her as Susie much more than I liked her as that little brat in Atonement. Here, she’s vibrant and shows more range. She also handled the American accent quite well.

EE: I’m not talking about her acting, strictly the narration. Otherwise, she was fine. I liked Rose McIver, who plays Susie’s sister. She made an impression on me.

PCN: Same here. She had spunk. She’s a New Zealander who also nailed the American accent.

© DreamWorks Studios

EE: What’d you think of Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz?

PCN: They’re okay but their best work is elsewhere. Susan Sarandon looks like she had fun as the boozy, chain-smoking grandma, but the role isn’t significant enough to register come awards time.

Nerd verdicts—PCN: Weak Bones. EE: Bones is lifeless.

Movie Review: UP IN THE AIR, with Notes from Q & A with Jason Reitman and Cast

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve been reviewing a string of movies that, though well-crafted, are so depressing you need to down a fistful of Xanax after watching. Imagine my relief, then, when I got to see Jason Reitman’s wonderful Up in the Air (opening Dec. 4), which is moving and thought-provoking but also entertaining in the purest sense of the word.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who flies all over the country to fire people when in-house managers don’t have the stones to do it themselves. Theoretically, this third-party method also protects company personnel from retaliation by pink-slipped employees. (Be sure and read my notes below from the Q & A; Reitman told amazing stories about using non-actors who’d really lost their jobs.)

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

It’s a tough line of work but Bingham loves it. He’s got his firing technique honed to a science, has no problem staying disconnected from people’s emotional reactions, and is more comfortable on the road than in his apartment, which looks less homey than his hotel rooms. He also has Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent flyer and bed partner whenever they’re in the same city. No strings, no responsibilities— just the way Bingham likes it.

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

His existence is threatened when his boss (Jason Bateman) hires a precocious upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who suggests that firings can be done via teleconference to save travel costs. When Bingham protests, his boss tells him to take her on the road to see which method is better. Though high-strung and ambitious, Natalie helps Bingham realize that being grounded, literally and emotionally, might be a good thing.

Clooney’s performance here is his most vulnerable yet. There are times when Bingham is looking at Alex and Clooney just strips his face naked—eyes softened, completely defenseless—making you think, if you didn’t know better, that you’re watching him fall in love with Farmiga right there on screen. Sometimes his gaze is so intimate, I felt like a perv stealing his private moments.

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

Farmiga matches Clooney note for note and the heat between them is potent. She’s been consistently strong in little-seen films like Down to the Bone and Breaking and Entering; here’s hoping Air will take her career higher.

Kendrick is having a moment right now with this movie and New Moon, in which she plays Bella’s friend Jessica. She deserves the attention; her work here is infused with maturity and smarts. (Can’t comment on her Moon performance since I probably won’t see it.)

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

As for director, producer and co-writer Reitman (the movie is based on a novel by Walter Kirn), he’s proven beyond a doubt he’s no Tori Spelling. I’ll go further to say this movie is better than anything his father, Ivan, ever directed. Jason includes social commentary and emotional resonance with the humor; I can’t say the same for Meatballs, Twins or Kindergarten Cop. (OK, Ghostbusters was good but not Oscar material.) When Air is up for Best Picture—I think it has an excellent chance of winning —you’ll root for it, not roll your eyes like you do at elitist films that leave you wondering, “What the hell?”

After the Variety screening I attended, Reitman, Farmiga and Kendrick participated in a Q & A. Interesting tidbits revealed:

  • The film’s St. Louis casting director, Joni Tackette, placed an ad looking for people who had recently lost their jobs and were willing to share their experiences on camera. Though actors (J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis among them) play some of the laid-off workers, twenty-two respondents ended up in the firing sequences, using their own words. Reitman said they talked about things he’d never think to write, in a way he’d never think to direct them. [This made for incredibly affecting scenes. When I was watching them, I kept thinking, "Who are all these actors? They're so real."]
  • After a speaking engagement in St. Louis, Reitman was approached by a 50-year-old man named Kevin with a cassette tape. On it, Kevin explained he’d just lost his job and had written a song about what it means to try and find purpose in the world. Reitman said “what follows isn’t the most beautiful song but [it's] incredibly authentic.” He put it over the end credits, complete with Kevin’s intro about his situation.
  • The movie was mostly shot in St. Louis and Detroit, which were among the cities hardest hit by the recession. Cast and crew filmed in office buildings that were cleared out and abandoned like they were supposed to be in the movie.
  • Alex and Natalie aren’t in the book. Reitman wrote those roles specifically for Farmiga and Kendrick.
  • Farmiga said she confided in Clooney that if she could cuddle up to any cinematic character, she’d choose Karl from Sling Blade. This made Clooney repeatedly do Karl imitations between takes.
  • Clooney never goes to his trailer and never wears any makeup. Ever.

Nerd verdict: Up in the Air is first-class

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Movie Review: Colin Firth as A SINGLE MAN

I wanted to see this movie because of Colin Firth, though I wasn’t crazy about the notion of a sad, mopey Firth when I like him awkward and silly as in Love Actually and the Bridget Jones movies. But his performance in A Single Man (limited release, Dec. 11) proves he’s a first-rate actor who can make grief not only watchable but compelling.

Set in 1961 and based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Man deals with college professor George Falconer’s (Firth) struggle to cope with the death of his long-time partner Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The whole movie takes place on the day George decides to commit suicide. We see him putting his affairs in order and internally saying goodbye to his students and best friend Charly (Julianne Moore). Ironically, as he prepares to die, he becomes more alive, taking in details about his surroundings he hadn’t bothered to absorb during his grief-stricken stupor.

And that’s about it as far as plot goes. Being a fan of plot-driven stories, I was greatly surprised I wasn’t bored by some tedious navel-gazing. Most of the credit goes to Firth, who’s in every scene and holds my attention in all of them. He pulls off the difficult act of covering up feelings you suspect are roiling inside George, but he doesn’t bury them so deeply that the character becomes inaccessible. You can see his thoughts as they flit behind his eyes, the mental screams he’d like to release. For all his graceful suffering, George should bring Firth his first Oscar nomination.

Moore is also impressive; is that news to anyone? She plays a woman in mid-life crisis, feeling worthless because her husband and son have left her and her looks are fading (she’s still gorgeous to me). As strong as her performance is, though, I’ve seen better from Moore—in The Hours, for example. If she does get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, she has no chance (no one does) of beating Mo’Nique for Precious.

Hoult in SINGLE MAN

The biggest surprise here is Nicholas Hoult as a conflicted student of George’s who slowly awakens the older man to feelings he thought he no longer had. Hoult is so impossibly pretty with his golden hair, flirty baby blues, and pink pout, I was shocked to realize he’s the same actor who played Marcus,

Hoult in ABOUT A BOY

the plump, awkward kid who pestered Hugh Grant in Almost a Boy. Well, he’s all grown up and ungainly no more.

First-time director and co-screenwriter, Tom Ford, known primarily for his work as a fashion designer for Gucci, knows a thing or two about beauty. All his actors are ridiculously good-looking and he made sure you know it. It got to be a bit much after a while; I actually chuckled when the camera zoomed in for the umpteenth time on Hoult’s and Firth’s naked bodies floating in slo-mo in the ocean, or lingered on a starlet’s bee-stung lips exhaling cigarette smoke seductively.

Ford said during the post-Variety-screening Q & A (more on that below) he wanted a Bernard Herrmann-esque score as homage to the composer known for his work in Hitchcock movies, but the plaintive strings are too overpowering for such an introspective film. Ford needn’t try so hard; he has potential as a filmmaker and was smart enough to cast superb actors who added class to a project that could’ve been dismissible.

When Ford showed up for the Q & A, he was soft-spoken, articulate and unexpectedly vulnerable. He told a lot of personal stories which he said informed the movie. Some details:

  • He first read the book 25 years ago when he was living in West Hollywood and working as an actor.
  • George didn’t want to kill himself in the novel but Ford added that plot point because of a suicide in his family.
  • Firth originally turned down the film so Ford cast another actor. When that actor dropped out 3 weeks before production, Ford flew to London, pitched Firth personally instead of going through his rep and this time Firth said yes.
  • The film was shot in 21 days, with only 3 of rehearsal. Ford simply had Firth watch a clip of Bill Clinton denying he’d done certain things to Monica Lewinsky, then told Firth to have George cover up his emotions like that.
  • In a scene where George is supposed to chastely kiss Charly, Firth wouldn’t stop kissing Moore, resulting in several unusable takes. Ford had to keep reminding Firth he was playing a gay man.

Nerd verdict: Man is imperfect but Firth is impeccable

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Hear Kate Hudson & Marion Cotillard Sing in NINE Numbers!

Wow. In the first video, check out Kate Hudson singing the stuffing out of “Cinema Italiano,” one of the numbers from Rob Marshall’s Nine. Had no idea she had such a robust singing voice.

In this next one, there’s no video but you can hear Marion Cotillard perform “Take It All,” starting out sultry and breathy then climaxing in full-belt mode.

Are you as excited for this movie as I am?

CD Review: Kris Allen’s KRIS ALLEN

krisWhen Kris Allen was on American Idol, it took him a while to make an impression on me. He didn’t stand out at first but then he started making bold choices like acousticizing Kanye West’s “Heartless.” By the end, I was voting for him over the louder Adam Lambert.

His album, titled Kris Allen (dropping Tuesday), is a mixture of low-key and rousing numbers, resulting in a package that’s pleasant enough even if none of the tunes really stuck with me. His voice is in good form, aching and cracking on ballads like “I Need to Know,” rocking on the energetic “Alright with Me” (the disc’s most catchy tune) and “Can’t Stay Away from You,” and a bit smoky on “Heartless.”

Allen co-wrote nine out of the thirteen tracks, alternates between playing the guitar and piano so he’s certainly talented. But even after multiple listens, I had a hard time telling one track from the next (except for the aforementioned ones) and identifying which cuts would make good singles. It’s more like a collection of songs that blend well together and would make nice background music at a party. Though well-crafted, the album is as modest as its namesake.

Nerd verdict: Pleasant enough tour through Allentown if nothing to write home about

Movie Review Plus Q & A: THE ROAD

v & k walking macall polay

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

I was really hesitant about going to a Variety screening of The Road (opening Nov. 25), the long-delayed movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, because the story is so depressing. It’s about a nameless man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse by any means short of cannibalism (though other survivors engage in that). But star Viggo Mortensen was doing Q & A afterwards along with director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall so I was curious enough to attend. (I learned loads of interesting info; see notes below.)

v & k embrace

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Well, depressing doesn’t begin to describe the movie. There’s an ongoing reference to how The Man has a gun but only two bullets, which he’s saving for his son and himself in case things get too hopeless for them to go on. Mid-movie, I was screaming in my head, “Give me one of those bullets! Or build a fire and throw me on it!” The story is soul-breaking and gives you only a tiny glimmer of hope at the end.

Stomach-turning plot points aside, however, Road is very well done. Mortensen goes deeply inside a character who’s heart-piercingly tender towards his son but fierce towards all else. He also looks like he ages and becomes more emaciated right before our eyes. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as The Boy, does brave and mature work while maintaining the innocence of a child who’s never known a world where there were living things and enough food to eat. He does look a bit well-fed for the character—his cheeks have baby fat and his lips are plump—but I don’t think I could’ve handled watching a gaunt, sickly child on top of everything else.

charlize

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Charlize Theron is believably weary as The Woman who just can’t take it anymore, though I suspect her golden hair helped a little in getting her the role. In The Man’s dreams about the life he used to have with her, the world is full of color and The Woman’s bright, shiny hair is the most striking thing in it. It’s a sharp reminder of the lightness he’s lost.

The story asks tough questions: How do you hang on to your humanity when you’re competing with savages to survive in a lawless world? What are you willing to do to keep your child from suffering? How do you know when the last ounce of hope has left your soul? While I hope I won’t ever be tested like this, I appreciate McCarthy’s and the filmmakers’ examination of human nature in a non-sentimental way which still manages to be quite moving.

As mentioned, Mortensen, Hillcoat and Penhall did Q & A after the screening. The session was almost as fascinating as the movie. Some things I learned:

  • Director Hillcoat’s favorite disaster movie is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He was also inspired by The Bicycle Thief for its minimalism and The Grapes of Wrath.
  • landscape

    courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

    Though the landscape is stark with a gray and brown palette throughout, Hillcoat used real locations instead of green screens. Locations included Pennsylvania because of the strip mining and Louisiana because Katrina clean-up was far from complete. There were about 50 locations total.

  • Mortensen said he was cold for real during much of the shoot. Hillcoat told him it’s better to be cold than to pretend to be cold.
  • Mortensen is humble, smart, dry-witted and so frakkin’ cool in person. He’s got the easy confidence of someone who’s got nothing to prove to anyone, and brought a copy of the book and a bottle of wine to give out to random audience members who correctly answered trivia questions about the movie.
  • Penhall said he loves Sam Shepard as a screenwriter and it’s easy to see why. Both men cover complex and gritty subject matter in minimalistic ways.
  • McCarthy told Hillcoat he didn’t miss anything from the book except four lines of dialogue which he asked to be re-inserted. It involved The Boy asking The Man, “What would you do if I died?” The ensuing conversation is verbatim from one the author had with his own son.
  • Hillcoat said McCarthy’s favorite film is Fellini’s La Strada, which means The Road.

Nerd verdict: Rough Road but one worth taking