Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Once again, the Apatow crew have made a winner. This time it's Jason Segel who fronts the movie as the writer and star. Many of you will remember him from Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but my first experience of Segel was as Seth Rogen's sleazy roommate in Knocked Up. This certainly shows him in a different light as the heartbroken Peter, although I gather that it was really Knocked Up that was the departure for him. Anyway, I thought he was really quite good in this film, managing to come off as pathetic, likeable, and funny all at the same time. The rest of the cast did a good job as well, including Mila Kunis, who I'd never really cared for in That 70's Show, but seemed to be well cast in this film. (She's also become quite beautiful since I last saw her, which certainly helps for being the love interest in this kind of movie.) Of course, what was really great about Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like all the rest of the recent films that this group has put out, was the writing. Not only was it uproariously funny, but it had a sense of honesty to it that I've come to expect from this team's films. If you're in the mood for a great comedy, definitely check this one out.
Viewed: 4/17/2008 | Released: 4/17/2008 | Score: A-
As I am now apparently making a habit of lateness, you will probably have to wait until this comes out on video to see it. If you like quirky dramedies, though, it might be worth checking out when it does become available. Smart People is the story of Lawrence Wetherhold (played by Dennis Quaid), who is an intelligent but extremely arrogant and self-absorbed literature professor. His relatively dysfunctional family consists of a daughter (played by Ellen Page), a son (Ashton Holmes), and a "loser" brother (Thomas Haden Church). After Lawrence throws his back out, his brother moves in, ostensibly to serve as Lawrence's chauffeur (since he has lost his license), but more obviously to mooch. There's also a romantic element as Lawrence, a widower, tries to start dating again. It's not particularly new ground as indie films go but it's pretty well done. Dennis Quaid is usually good and this is no exception, and Thomas Haden Church managed to come off as a little pathetic while still endearing and down-to-earth. Church was also the main comic relief and he was effective in that capacity--I laughed out loud quite a few times. As for Ellen Page, well, it was interesting to see her after her Juno fame (though it bears pointing out that Smart People was filmed before Juno) but I think that her acting is a little one-note. She didn't come off as exactly the same character as Juno, but given that the character as written was completely different, it's telling that there were any similarities at all. Still, even though this one probably won't win her any awards, her performance was decent and fit the movie fairly well. All in all, I quite enjoyed this movie, so if your taste is anything like mine, keep your eye out for it at the video store.
Viewed: 4/10/2008 | Released: 4/10/2008 | Score: B+
Entertainment Weekly put Rachel McAdams' performance in this film in their "Must List," so I had high hopes that Married Life would be the movie that made me change my mind about her. Unfortunately, it wasn't--I still think she's just mediocre. It's a real shame, too, because the rest of the cast was pretty good. It's not the best I've seen out of any of them, but then, that bar is pretty high--Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, and Chris Cooper have all done really great work in the past. Still, with such a strong cast (McAdams excepted) and from the trailers, I was really hoping for a great movie. And throughout the film I kept feeling like it was right on the verge of brilliance, but it never quite got there. I ended up feeling a little disappointed. Still, it's not bad, and there was something vaguely comforting about the fuzzy colors and grainy feel to the film--I'd definitely recommend it as a rental.
Viewed: 3/22/2008 | Released: 3/6/2008 | Score: B-
It's been almost two months since I saw this one, so my memory of it is a little spotty. I think that it was a pretty good movie with some good performances, but nothing about it really blew me away. Keira Knightley was still pretty lackluster, unfortunately, although I guess I disliked her less in this role than I usually do. On the other hand, James McAvoy has become someone I'm keeping my eye on, and although I'm not sure that Saoirse Ronan deserved an Oscar nomination I did think she was just right for her role. The direction was kind of hit or miss for me--I liked the way the soundtrack incorporated typewriter sounds and generally liked the way the film came together, but I found the long tracking shot in the middle to be pretty distracting. I think what I liked best was the writing, but even at that there was something vaguely dissatisfying about the story. That may just be due to what the story is about, though, because I can't really identify anything I would have liked to see happen differently.
Viewed: 2/15/2008 | Released: 12/6/2007 | Score: B+
No Country for Old Men
I wish I could tell you that the reason I waited forty days to write this review was because I wanted to take time to really think it over and give you an honest review, untainted by initial glow. I'd be lying if I did, of course. Still, having had the time to reflect on it was useful. What I've determined is that this was a very good movie that, nevertheless, didn't have that great a story. The film is amazingly well put-together. Those people whose only experience with the Coen Brothers has been goofier movies like The Big Lebowski or The Hudsucker Proxy may be surprised at the lack of obvious Coen eccentricity, as well as the darker tone. Indeed, the stars of the film, Tommy Lee Jones as the weary sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, and Javier Bardem as the cold-blooded assassin, Anton Chigurh, seem positively restrained compared to the likes of George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill. Bardem, of course, has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and it's no surprise--he creates such an intense, inscrutable character that it couldn't help but get noticed. For me, though, Jones was even better. He gave such a tight, unpretentious performance, it was just a joy to watch him. The rest of the cast was also quite good--Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald, in particular. Still, despite the fact that I loved the performances and the cinematography--as you may know, I'm a sucker for landscapes--the film as a whole left me feeling a little unfulfilled, particularly the way it ended. Actually, I think the closing scene may have been genius from a thematic standpoint, but in terms of providing a resolution to the story, the film just didn't deliver. Despite my objections, though, I have no qualms about giving No Country for Old Men top marks.
Viewed: 1/3/2008 | Released: 11/20/2007 | Score: A
I Am Legend
I had been really excited about I Am Legend ever since I saw the first teaser trailer several months ago. It just looked awesome. As it turned out, it was awesome but, even so, I don't know if I enjoyed it a whole lot. The whole thing was just so intense. I don't usually find myself highly affected by movie tension, so it should tell you something that I was on edge nearly the entire time we were watching this one. I was completely drawn in by the movie's portrayal of an empty New York City, and Will Smith's performance had all of the desperation, loneliness, terror, and near-insanity that you would expect the last man on Earth to be feeling. It was a little more than I could handle. Unfortunately, I can't really tell you too much more about my reactions without giving away some major plot points. I'll just repeat, it was intense. Anyway, if you're up to it, I do recommend this one pretty highly--it featured an amazing performance, good use of environment for exposition, and great production design. The only flaws, in my opinion, were a few moments of shaky, hand-held camera work and possibly the decision to use computer-generated characters for the infected. Those were pretty minor flaws in my book, though, so I feel comfortable giving this movie top marks.
Viewed: 12/31/2007 | Released: 12/13/2007 | Score: A
Juno has been quite the critical darling, so I had pretty high expectations for it. I'm glad to report that it didn't disappoint. The movie follows the title character through an unplanned pregnancy, which she decides to give up for adoption rather than keep or abort. It sounds like kind of a heavy premise but the movie is actually both adorable and funny. The entire cast was just great. The big star, of course, is Ellen Page as Juno, whose offbeat teenage sarcasm and sass was just about perfect. Michael Cera, who plays the unborn baby's biological father, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite young comedic actors, and Jason Bateman, the adoptive father, actually dialed down his normal sarcasm for a much more layered performance. But the real surprise to me was Jennifer Garner. I'm not usually much of a Garner fan, but I can tell you right now that her performance as the adoptive mother will easily make this year's SMAs. She plays a character who desperately wants a child but has been unable to have one, but where a lesser actress might have gone for a lot of hand-wringing and over-emoting, Garner manages to convey some amazingly potent emotion with a few looks that she then tucks away so fast that if you weren't watching, you'd miss them. This is by far the best work I've seen her do. If you're in the market for the kind of movie that will make you chuckle and leave you feeling nice, check this one out.
Viewed: 12/28/2007 | Released: 12/24/2007 | Score: A-
By Patrick O'Brian
I am coming to like this series pretty well. I think I still do prefer the Hornblower novels, but these books do have a lot to offer. For one thing, the characters seem a bit more three-dimensional than Forester's. In Post Captain, for example, a fair amount of the beginning of the book has to do with events on shore while Jack Aubrey is waiting for a new command. It seems like that might detract from the story, being primarily a naval adventure, but watching Jack and Stephen as they meet the women they fall in love with, for example, or following Jack's attempts to avoid debtor's prison really serves to round out the characters. And, like the previous episode, there is plenty of action to go around, both at sea and ashore. My only complaint is that there wasn't much in the way of denouement. It's a minor flaw, though, given the structure of the book, and really all it did was make me jump right into the next one.
Started: 11/6/2007 | Finished: 11/18/2007
One of the things I like about this time of year is that the studios bring out all of their heaviest hitters in anticipation of the Oscars, and with the combination of Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Ridley Scott, this one is about as heavy-hitting as it gets. As you might expect with two Oscar winners in the lead roles, the acting is outstanding. In addition to the leads, I also particularly liked Cuba Gooding's performance as Nicky Barnes, a friend and rival of Washington's Frank Lucas. Gooding's swagger contrasted perfectly with Washington's more business-like mien. In many ways this is a film about contrasts. There's the obvious one between Frank Lucas--a criminal who, on the other hand, appears to uphold traditional values by providing for his family--and Crowe's Ritchie Roberts--an honest detective whose personal life is in shambles. But there's also, as I mentioned, the comparison between Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, as well as between Lucas and his former mentor, not to mention between Roberts and his police counterparts. The film's only real problem is its length--if you see it in the theaters with the trailers it'll come out over three hours. Personally, I didn't think it was too long for its content, but in discussions with some other people I have heard some complaints about the pacing, so your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, I do recommend this one, and I'll be pretty surprised if it doesn't get multiple Oscar nominations.
Viewed: 11/9/2007 | Released: 11/1/2007 | Score: A
Love in the Time of Cholera
By Gabriel García Márquez
Having previously read García Márquez's most recent novel, Memories of my Melancholy Whores, it was interesting to go back in his career with this one and see the similarities. Both novels explore old age, but where Memories is more concerned with nostalgia, this one is about love. We follow two characters from youth to old age: Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza. The latter declares his eternal love for Fermina Daza at a young age and eventually waits most of his life to pursue it after she marries another man. Sort of--in the intervening years he goes on to have 622 affairs. It's this kind of dichotomy that makes the novel--such is García Márquez's skill that we are lured into sympathizing with Florentino Ariza despite all of his flaws. The novel expertly blends the comic and the profound, commenting on the progression of age, the struggle between progress and tradition, the relationships between men and women. And, as always, García Márquez delivers a strong sense of place, managing to be both critical and reverent of the city and country in which the story takes place. An excellent read that I highly recommend.
Started: 9/4/2007 | Finished: 11/5/2007