Monday, April 27, 2009

Eschew the Monday Blues with a Slew of Movie Reviews

Here's a sextet of reviews recapping my cinematic adventures of the past couple of weeks. Ready? GO!

TWO LOVERS -- Excellent character-driven romance starring Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled soul who moves back in with his parents following a suicide attempt. As he tries to put his life back together, he gets caught in a love triangle with a pretty, shy friend of the family (cutie Vinessa Shaw) and a gorgeous but volatile neighbor (surprisingly impressive Gwyneth Paltrow). Centering around the age-old life question of whether to take a chance or take the safe route, it's heartfelt and very well-acted -- if this is indeed Phoenix's last film now that he has supposedly gone off the deep end in real life, it's a hell of a way to go out! (Also stars Isabella Rossellini, with whom you can never go wrong, as Joaquim's mother -- but it's hard to watch her these days and NOT picture her dressing up like animals and teaching us about their reproductive habits, as per her bizarre Green Porno series... aaaahhh!)

OBSERVE AND REPORT -- Seems like bipolar disorder is a running theme lately: First Joaquin in TWO LOVERS, then Silver on the new 90210 (wait... who hacked into my blog and wrote that?), and now Seth Rogen in this hilarious but strangely poignant dark comedy. Mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt rules his territory with an iron fist, but is desperately lonely in life -- he lives with a disorder that prevents him from becoming a real cop, cleans up after an alcoholic mother, endures an unrequited crush on an obnoxious makeup counter clerk (Anna Faris in yet another scene-stealing performance). Rogen expertly portrays Ronnie's Travis Bickle-esque simmering rage, which comes to a head when real cops usurp his attempt to track down a flasher that has been terrorizing his mall. This movie is raw and unflinching, reveling in its filth but tempered by an underlying twinge of sadness. Further proof of Rogen's genius, which clearly goes far beyond the goofball we've come to know and love -- I wouldn't quite go as far as to say that this is his PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, but it's not far off!

STATE OF PLAY -- Great film about an old school reporter (Russell Crowe in a great performance) who investigates the connection between the seemingly-unrelated murders of a petty thief and a U.S. Congressman's assistant, and systematically unravels a vast government conspiracy. The plot is intriguing, with lots of twists and turns, and the acting is top-notch -- but what makes this film even more interesting is that it is a veritable eulogy to old school, pen & paper, blood-and-sweat-stained journalism, the likes of which is already on its way out and may someday disappear entirely as technology expands and attention spans shrink. In the film, Crowe teams up with a blogger (Rachel McAdams), to whom he teaches the ins and outs of being a "real" reporter, while also fending off his editors who have succumbed to corporate pressure to make the paper more sales-friendly, and the message is all too clear. Thought-provoking stuff... though it didn't stop me from Twittering about it as soon as I left the theatre. Oh, sweet irony!

EARTH -- Basically a condensed version of the Discovery Channel's PLANET EARTH series, but WAY cooler on the big screen. Produced by Disney's new "Disneynature" division, it's a throwback to Walt Disney's old "True Life Adventures" that revolutionized nature films decades ago. Loosely centered around the stories of a family of polar bears in the arctic, elephants crossing the desert and whales spanning the oceans, the film is filled with awesome visuals (my favorites: the dancing Bird of Paradise and the super slow-mo shot of a giant shark leaping out of the water), gripping stories of survival, and the voice of James Earl Jones (natch). The film is kid-friendly, but it doesn't shy from the harsh realities of nature, which is a good thing. There is definitely some sad/brutal stuff... not quite as emotionally-scarring as Bambi's mom getting killed... but then again, what is?

SUGAR -- Not your average baseball film, but one of the better ones I've seen in some time. It's the story of a Dominican ballplayer with a live arm and bravado to match who gets signed by an MLB team and invited to the U.S. for spring training to show his stuff. Nicknamed "Sugar" because of his sweet curve, he eventually earns a spot with a minor league team in Kansas, and attempts to make a name for himself while also dealing with the culture shock of moving from the D.R. to the Midwest. Seeing as how Hispanic players make up a great percentage of baseball (and, indeed, some of its greatest players) these days, the film is a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations they have to go through to get to the big stage -- the language barrier, the isolation, the uncertainty, the pressure that one bad outing could open the door for more competition. Superb film that is worth seeing whether you're a baseball fan or not.

THE INFORMERS -- My girlfriend Rachel has a theory that being a Bret Easton Ellis fan these days is kind of like being in an intense, abusive relationship. You know it's wrong, but you just keep going back for more. Sure, there have been some fun times (read: AMERICAN PSYCHO and THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, both the books and the films), but overall the bad has outweighed the good. Ellis himself penned the screenplay for THE INFORMERS, based on one of his earlier books, and... well... it's bad. Tonally, the film manages to capture the blase, drug-addled '80s materialism that is Ellis' forte, but the movie is a failure in pretty much every other way. It seriously features some of the most poorly-written and executed dialogue in recent memory. The only two plusses are (1) Mickey Rourke as a creepy old child abductor, and (2) Amber Heard spending most of the movie naked. This film is another nail in Ellis' coffin -- I feel like the only thing that could redeem him now would be the release of the long-awaited and super-controversial GLAMORAMA and GLITTERATI films... but that, friends, is a pipe dream.

The jam-packed summer movie season kicks off this Friday with the new X-Men/Wolverine flick. But before that happens, stay tuned for my annual Summer Movie Preview! Huzzah!

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