Movie Review: Lo

LoLo

2009
NR
83 min
Director: Travis Betz
Cast: Ward Roberts, Jeremiah Birkett, Sarah Lassez

Rating:

One of my favorite things about the horror genre is that it’s so unrestrictive. Like Sci-Fi and Fantasy, there are so many themes to explore that it’s really difficult to pigeon-hole it into one type of film. Yes, most of the mainstream releases tend to fall into the “teenagers in peril” or “killer on the loose” motif but every once in a while a film comes along that stands everything we typically think of as horror right on its head.

Few and far between are these moments, but finding talented young filmmakers that seek to put a unique twist on the genre is what keeps me interested. That’s where a film like Lo comes in. Written and directed by Travis Betz, this film is a couple of years old, but it slipped under the radar and it is most certainly different.

In the safety of his pentagram, Justin summons the demon.

Justin (Ward Roberts) is having a tough time. He’s a geeky guy that has finally met the girl of his dreams in April (Sarah Lassez). Unfortunately, before their romance can truly blossom, Justin and April are attacked in their bedroom by a demon and in an act of self-sacrifice April allows the demon to take her to hell in exchange for Justin’s life. The only item she has left behind is a strange book which seems to be bound in flesh, has an ominous looking eye peering out of it and contains spells that summon demons from the underworld. Although Justin was instructed by April to never open the book and to in fact burn it, what’s a lovelorn guy to do? Draw a pentagram in his apartment, light up some candles and follow the instructions to summon the demon Lo (Jeremiah Birkett) to help him find April in the recesses of hell, of course!

Lo is a scary looking demon, but he’s a crack up. Spouting out insults and taunts and taking great pleasure watching Justin tremble in fear. Lo tells Justin that hell is a big place and it would be impossible to find April and bring her back. But demons are liars and Justin soon discovers that nothing Lo says can be trusted.

Do demons smoke? They do WHATEVER they want.

It’s here the movie shifts to some bizarre flashback scenes presented like a stage play with representations of Justin and April “acting” out their relationship in short vignettes. Justin is then introduced to the demon who took April, the flamboyant Jeez (Devin Barry). Jeez, with his lizard-shaped head and swastika attire is more personable than Lo, but just as shady. It’s through him that Justin discovers the horrifying truth about April and who (or what) she really is.

Lo is a hard movie to classify. This film is very quirky. And by quirky I mean characters spontaneously break into musical numbers, the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks show up as women with gold painted faces who react to the action, and our hero has multiple arguments with his inner thoughts through a knife wound in his hand. This wackiness will turn a lot of people off and truth be told, Lo isn’t for everyone. The entire film takes place in one room. In fact, Lo would make an excellent stage play.

Jeez offers Justin some sound advice.

The dialogue is at times clever and quite comical as when Lo chooses to call Justin “Dinner” throughout the film referencing what Lo plans to do to him should he make the mistake of stepping outside his protective pentagram.

Or when Justin is tricked into drinking poison and asks Jeez if there is anything that can be done to save him; Jeez’ response: “Get to a hospital….  Pump it out.”  The obviousness and absurdity of that line is an example of what makes the film shine. That Justin assumes supernatural intervention is the only thing that can save him and somehow, even in the demon world, poison can be extracted by a stomach pump.

If there is one flaw, I wish Betz did a better job of developing the relationship between Justin and April. In the few flashback sequences, the viewer never really gets a true sense of why Justin feels so strongly for April that he would risk his own soul for her. In that respect, the characters are somewhat under developed and one-dimensional.

Lo is not scary or action-packed, there aren’t any spectacular effects, the make-up is adequate at best and some of the performances are woefully cornball. What sets Lo apart is the unique style it exhibits, up to and including its surprisingly touching ending.

If you’re still curious about this oddity, check out the trailer, (which is cut slicker than the actual film), below:

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Jack Goes Boating”

For such an over-populous and forever busy city, New York can be a pretty lonely place to live for any single person. Whether you are attractive and reaping in the dough or a bit homely and hold a tedious, low-paying job that not many aspire to, if you don’t have that special someone wrapped around your arms, the City That Never Sleeps can go to bed pretty damn early. Enter Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight, unkempt, pot-smoking, socially awkward limo driver who leads a pretty quiet, meek existence amidst the millions that inhabit the Big Apple. He likes reggae music for its upbeat vibes, dons knotted dreads under his unappealing winter hat and isn’t much of a talker, even to the social elite that he chauffeurs around the city. But he has a good-natured and devoted best friend in Clyde (John Ortiz) who looks out for his best interests and sets his timid friend up on a blind date with a gal who works in his wife’s office at Dr. Bob’s Funeral Home.

Such is the premise of Jack Goes Boating, the new indie film that marks the directorial debut of Hoffman and based on the 2007 off-Broadway play by Bob Glaudini. Hoffman originated the role of Jack in the staged production that was mounted at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre and he brings back Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega (who plays Clyde’s wife, Lucy) to reprise their stage roles for the film. Hoffman obviously feels a close kinship to the material and to its emotionally delicate characters and this much is clear in the film adaptation. Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan, not part of the staged play, slips in to play Connie, Jack’s love interest. When Jack firsts meets the equally shy Connie at a low-key dinner set up at Clyde & Lucy’s apartment, he immediately takes a liking to her and is inspired to alter his lifestyle just a bit…for the better, I might add. Connie mentions wanting to go on a romantic boat ride when the weather gets warm; she brings up the fact that no man has ever bothered to cook a meal for her before. Of course, Jack wants to be the man to give her that boat ride and cook her a feast to remember. The only problem is…he can’t cook and he can’t swim. Jack must really like her though because in no time, Clyde is teaching him how to swim at the public pool and he hires someone to teach him how to cook. Ahh, those first stages of love can be oh-so-inspiring. As the film shows the blossoming relationship between Jack and Connie though, we see the slow disintegration of Clyde and Lucy’s marriage, which makes for an interesting combination.

The performances here are all solid, with Hoffman at the center as the lovable eccentric with so much love to offer. Amy Ryan fits the role of Connie nicely and the two work quite well off one another, especially in their more intimate scenes together. The relationship here constantly reminded me of the one between Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer in The Fisher King, and the juxtaposition of the two couples and the directions they are going in reminded me of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives — two pretty damn good films to be reminded of, if you ask me. The focus on these four characters and all of their emotional hang-ups and oddities is handled with subtlety and care. Hoffman also takes advantage of using the magical backdrop of Manhattan in wintertime, with some very charming scenery. But in the end, some plays are meant to stay plays.

I could never quite put my finger on what makes a successful adaptation from the stage to the silver screen. Some (like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Night We Never Met) make the transition quite seamlessly and make for some wonderful movies. Others (Hurlyburly and American Buffalo), well…not so much, despite top-notch performances. Some stories are just better suited for the stage. Sometimes the magic that the confines of the theatre brings is lost when brought to the big screen. Such is the case with Jack Goes Boating. Now, I never saw the staged production, but it is such an intimate little piece that I would imagine it made for an enchanting and charming night of theatre. As a feature film, this simple story with its complex characters gets lost in the translation. A big part of this problem is Glaudini’s screenplay, based on his own play. The dialogue throughout feels stilted and very “stagey” — a heightened sense of awareness that works well on a small stage, but doesn’t make for good movie-speak. I know that Hoffman fell in love with the play and its script, but perhaps someone else could have adapted it with greater success and more realism because many times I felt that this is not the way these characters would speak in real life. Yes, we do get to see what’s going on inside of Jack’s mind — something you can’t really get with the theatre — and Hoffman shows us what his character is visualizing in his mind’s eye, whether it be under water in the pool or on top of a bridge with traffic streaming below him. It works to an extent.

Another problem I had was with the soundtrack. Hoffman floods the film with an over-abundance of music which sometimes takes away from what is going on in the scene or just makes for an awkward fit. The reggae song, “Rivers of Babylon” though is central to the film and the essence of what makes Jack tick — and this is used very well, except for the when it is used to lure Jack out of the bathroom after throwing a violent tantrum that comes pretty much out of left field.

I very much wanted to love this film going in. After seeing the trailer a couple of months ago, I was very excited for its release — and the trailer does make it look like a quirky and charming love story. And, at times, it is. However, for me, as a whole, it just wasn’t enough and falls disappointingly short. There are too many uncomfortable moments to sit through that take away from enjoying the experience of watching Jack’s ride. Lucy is also a difficult character to like and I feel that in more capable hands, the audience would be able to empathize with her at least a little bit. Here, she gets none of our sympathy and we are left feeling very sorry for poor Clyde. I would think that fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman would appreciate and enjoy this film — and this character is right up his alley — and yes, it is at least more original than most of the romantic comedies being released nowadays, but in the end, I am not sure that is enough to give it my recommendation.

Rating:     
Director:  Philip Seymour Hoffman
Year:         2010

Peter Eramo Reviews: The Girl Who Played With Fire (** ½)

Sequels are a tough breed — and a bit of a bitch to get right. Recent history has shown that it is the rare film indeed that can stand up to its predecessor, let alone best it. Let me start by saying that I thought that Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (released earlier this year) was a marvelous film — powerful, gripping, haunting, and vastly entertaining (see my review here). As of this posting, it remains the best movie of the year in my opinion – it really isn’t even close. That was the first film of the trilogy based on the bestselling novels by the late Stieg Larsson. I have not read the books and didn’t know much about them at all, so the first film caught me completely off guard in the very best of ways. Then The Girl Who Played With Fire came out recently to lukewarm reviews, but I loved the first film so much and was so thoroughly impressed with its towering achievement that I most certainly had to check it for for myself.

Sadly, I must agree with the general consensus that this 2nd installment — directed by Daniel Alfredson (and not Oplev, which may have been a detriment) — doesn’t come close to touching the first. I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who says otherwise. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but there is so much wrong with it that it doesn’t make up for its intriguing storyline, frequent plot twists, and overall mystery. This film, by contrast, seems scattered and disjointed. The character development that was done so brilliantly in the first film is altogether lost here. The pacing is also somewhat slower, with the action taking the viewer to numerous locations throughout Sweden rather than keeping it centered and focused.

Part of what made the original so compelling was its two lead characters: the ever-resourceful Lisbeth Salander and disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist respectively), working together throughout the film to solve the fascinating mystery. Rapace gave the grittiest, most multi-layered performance of the year and if she is denied an Oscar nomination for doing so, then something is most terribly rotten in the state of Denmark (or Sweden, if you prefer). Here, her computer whiz Salander has become the prime suspect in the double murder of two journalists right before an expose of the Swedish sex trade is launched in Blomqvist’s Millennium magazine. Refusing to meet with Blomqvist, she tries her best to avoid being detected and find the murderer(s) herself. In doing so, Rapace is given very little to do — and knowing her range and scope, it just seems to be a terrible waste. She is a loner, an outcast, autonomous, disconnected — too much so. For his part, Blomqvist is absolutely sure of Salander’s innocence and does everything in his power to prove this to everyone, including the police. His faith in and love for her is clear throughout and NyQvist does a good job of conveying this without going overboard.

There are some terrible bad guys here, which make for great villains — and some fascinating discoveries made along the way, some believable and some, unfortunately, too far-fetched. Peter Andersson makes another appearance as the “sadistic pig” Nils Bjurman and he is so effective in this role, truly creating one of cinema’s most vile characters. Yasmine Garbi does admirably as Lisbeth’s lover and woman who unwittingly puts herself in grave danger by taking over her friend’s apartment — and as Alexander Zalachenko, Georgi Staykov under all the heavy make-up is loathsome and harrowing. There is a line in the film that describes Lisbeth as being indestructible — and boy does the story really take that theory to its most extreme — to the point where it is almost too implausible.

However, for all of its faults and setbacks, The Girl Who Played With Fire does deliver in terms of suspense and intrigue. Alfredson manages to keep you on your toes and wonder what the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle will be. At its core, the film is a mystery/thriller and it does provide in that respect. But the ending — what were they thinking with this ending?! I can understand leaving viewers hanging a bit, but this was far too abrupt and left you more frustrated than anything else.

Now it may be unfair to compare a sequel to its original, but that’s part of the bargain — and the studios and  filmmakers are well aware of this. It is almost impossible to critique a sequel without some comparison to its original, especially when its the second film of an immensely popular trilogy with all three films released in the span of under a year (and I should mention that those who have not seen the first chapter, will be at a complete loss if they go into this second film blind). The upside here is that it provides a more modest level of expectation for the third film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (also directed by Alfredson). Where the first film tidied things up rather soundly (though it sacrificed an utterly brilliant climax to do so), this second film leaves a few strings left untied, setting up the third and final installment quite nicely. Let’s hope it delivers in mighty fashion.

Rating:      
Director:    Daniel Alfredson
Year:          2010

To view the trailer for The Girl Who Played With Fire, click here.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Inception” (** ½)

Christopher Nolan’s Inception was perhaps the most widely anticipated movie of the summer; a summer besieged with lackluster remakes and sequels; a summer filled with mediocrity. Acknowledging the depth of Nolan’s past work (in particular, Insomnia and Memento), I too was looking forward to seeing this new sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, though I remained cautiously optimistic. Now, the film has had an impressive opening weekend at the box-office and has received a tremendous amount of critical and public acclaim. And though it is at times an engaging and entertaining film, it falls well short of its pre-perceived hype that had already declared it a “masterpiece” before it was even released. In fact, there is no reason to even be thinking of throwing around the overused “m” word in this case – the word is so recklessly thrown about too much as it is. But, I digress…

Inception is an easy enough movie to explain, however hopelessly wearing and nearly impossible to follow. That is because this is a film about dreams and nearly everything that we see here is a dream, or a dream within a dream — or as arduous as it sounds, a dream within a dream within another one. It’s an easy out for Nolan and he takes full advantage of it, believing that he is giving the public something to mull over and analyze, when really, he has a full-proof “out clause” for any perceived hole in the story, of which there are a few. Nothing needs to be logically explained here — it’s all surrounded by dreams…the writer’s ever-tempting “fall back.”

Set in the near-future, technology has now advanced to the point where people can enter into and access the dreams of others. Enter Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), a thief who specializes in entering people’s subconscious minds and extracting their ideas and thoughts. Cobb is fighting his own personal demons which build in the various dream sequences throughout the course of the film. Living from job to job, he wants nothing more than to be able to enter his home country once again and be reunited with his two small children, who he hasn’t seen in years. Enter the mysterious business tycoon, Saito (Ken Watanabe) who presents Cobb with a very intriguing proposition and the chance to return to his children for good: rather than extracting an idea from someone’s mind, Saito wants to hire Cobb to implant the seed of an idea into the mind of the wealthy heir of a gigantic business conglomerate (a wooden Cillian Murphy). This process — called “inception” — has seemingly never been done before, though Cobb insists it can be done and takes this one last risky job for a chance at redemption. “Assemble your team!” Saito shouts out from his private helicopter and with that, we are introduced to Cobb’s team of professionals.

Let’s start with that team, shall we? A fine collection of actors who are given very little to do. Nolan is not interested in giving these characters any depth whatsoever and we learn almost nothing about the entire lot. The result is that we are left with uninteresting, 2-dimensional characters who we have no emotional connection or investment in. His right-hand man and trusted associate Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), meticulously plans out all the intricacies of the mission, his forger (Tom Hardy) takes on various identities within the dreams, and Yusef (Dileep Rao) is their chemist who makes sure that everyone is properly in a deep sleep. But Nolan needs someone to explain all of his rules about the dream state to the audience, so he has Cobb hire a new architect (Ellen Page), someone who creates the structural design of the dream world. The dialogue in these parts, is a bit stiff as it really only exists to explain and narrate to the audience what is actually going on. Rao and Gordon-Levitt are fine, though kind of just “there.” Hardy actually brings a charm and certain suavity to Eames, the forger. Watanabe, though very fitting, is very hard to understand throughout because of his thick accent and a lot of dialogue is lost. Clarity is always a good thing. Ellen Page is simply a complete misfire here and brings almost nothing to the role of Ariadne. She plods along throughout the movie with little emotion and I just never bought into the silly idea that Cobb’s associates, who have worked with him for years, aren’t aware of his volatile mental state as it concerns his wife (who haunts him in each and every dream) — but the girl who has been on the job for a few days knows all about it and continues to pester Cobb to let the others in on his little secret. Marion Cotillard plays Cobb’s wife, and as we come to expect, she is quite captivating here and keeps our attention on her whenever she appears. The scenes between husband and wife are very well done and it’s the only time DiCaprio really gets to work his acting chops. Cotillard’s presence is pervasive, even in those scenes which she is not in. Michael Caine is wasted in his two scenes and it is a wonder why he even needed to play such a thankless role other than having worked with Nolan before.

Of course the special effects here are remarkably impressive, but at this point, isn’t that to be expected? I don’t really count that as such a major plus at this point, knowing how far technology in film has come. We watch DiCaprio and Page calmly sit outside a Parisian bistro as the city is blowing up all around them. Very cool to look at indeed, but when you know the two actors are sipping cappuccino in front of a green screen, it takes something away from the experience. The art direction truly stands out as does Hans Zimmer’s score. Lee Smith has the very tiring and impossible task of making sense of all of this and does a commendable job.

I must say that I was very much engrossed in this movie for the first hour. I loved the dynamic of Cobb and his wife and the idea of inception struck me as original and compelling. Everything is set up pretty well and I’m waiting to see how this mission will take shape. It’s when the team puts their “mark” (Murphy) under sedation that the film slowly begins to go south…and boy do I mean slowly. I have never minded a long film in my life, so long as it’s engaging and worth the time. The last hour of this movie just lumbers along at a painstaking pace you can’t wait for it to end – and that is never a good sign. What takes 40 minutes here can easily have taken 20 minutes, but I fear that Nolan falls so in love with his own vision that it comes back to bite him. Memento is the much tighter, smarter film; not to mention, the more entertaining of the two.

I have read a number of glowing reviews over the past couple of days and I wonder to myself if they were watching the same muddled mess I was watching. There is the idea that people were going to fall in love with this film no matter what they saw (which certainly happens). Perhaps compared to nearly every summer movie out there, this simply looks more impressive than it is based on comparison alone (which happens as well). I know that Nolan has a devout following and this is yet a third hypothesis. Look, I don’t think this a bad movie by any stretch — and I will certainly give it another viewing, which I feel it deserves. But I like to remain truthful and honest in my criticism and as much as I wanted to love it too, I cannot get past the many flaws that are quite clear in this work. In many ways, this is a cold movie — in mood, narration and approach to its audience. In areas it has remnants of The Matrix and Dreamscape, two films that I would give much higher recommendations to. In the end, I know this film will wind up on nearly every critic’s Top 10 list of the year, and I know when I see that, I will still be shaking my head wondering why….hoping that this too will be a dream that I am suddenly waken out of.

Rating:      
Year:          2010
Director:   Christopher Nolan

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Cyrus” and “Despicable Me”

While every film nut is desperately awaiting the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, I was able to take in a couple of movies this weekend to try and fill in the void. Now, I am not nearly as confident as everyone else seems to be about Nolan’s latest work (I remain cautiously optimistic), but I was expecting to see two good films in Cyrus and the new animated feature Despicable Me. It’s odd because I would rate each film 2 ½ stars, but would recommend the “strong” 2 ½ star film, while suggesting you wait to catch the other on DVD or if it’s playing on cable. I’ll start with Jay and Mark Duplass’ dark comedy, Cyrus.

Cyrus has a lot going for it, starting with its impressive cast of John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener and the gorgeous Marisa Tomei. Reilly plays John, who has been divorced for seven years and is still not quite over the hurt of it all. His life has been in a tailspin since, as he lives in a shoddy little apartment and doesn’t ever get out and socialize much. He meets the girl of his dreams in Molly (Tomei) and they hit it off quite well. That is, until he meets her 21-year old son, Cyrus (Hill) who has a lot of twisted Oedipal issues going on inside that little eccentric brain of his. A battle of wits begins between John who is trying to get closer to this wonderful woman he has just met and Cyrus, who will do anything within his power to see that he is out of their lives forever.

I must say that Hill is pretty convincing here in a darker role that we are not accustomed to seeing him in. The way he looks at his nemesis throughout is pretty freaky, with eyes that just seem to pierce through the screen. Reilly is perfect for playing the lovable, awkward loser and his chemistry with Tomei is convincing enough, though I not sure if I ever really bought into them hooking up in the first place. You see, they meet at a party and watching him try to speak to a few of the women there is pretty painful to watch. I know it’s supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it very humorous as I just sat and squirmed in my seat watching his failed attempts at finding his soul mate. The idea that Molly would be turned on by this was far-fetched to me. I also felt that the Duplass brothers could have taken this premise so much further (as they wrote and directed the film together), but settled for a fairly predictable 2nd and 3rd act. You could surely see how this was all going to play out.

I guess in the end I didn’t find the film to be all that funny. Sure, there were some funny moments between Reilly and his counterpart and I thought his first scene with Tomei was charming and witty, but it felt much more like a drama to me, which is absolutely fine. Also, I didn’t find the abnormally close relationship between mother-and-son here to be all that realistic. I give the Duplass brothers credit for not going over-the-top here, as they could have easily done. Instead, they go for real, genuine moments and the motives of the characters are believable throughout. This is not a bad film by any means – I just felt there could have been so much more and even with all the crap that is permeating theatres at the moment, I would recommend that you see this one at home rather than pay the $10 in the theatre.

Rating:
Director: Mark and Jay Duplass
Year: 2010

To view the trailer for Cyrus, click here.

Universal Pictures’ new animated feature Despicable Me (which grossed an astounding $60m in its opening weekend) is a very different kind of comedy, of course. I must first say that I enjoyed this film very much and laughed quite a bit. Steve Carell is the voice of Gru, a super villain who takes great delight in all things wicked. At the moment, he is facing stiff competition from an up-and-coming, younger villain in Vector (voiced by Jason Segal) who has just stolen a world-famous Egyptian pyramid. So Gru is now in the midst of planning the world’s greatest heist of all – with the help of his army of little minions, he plans on stealing the moon! Vector steals the almighty shrink ray from Gru, so now Gru must find a way into the very secure home of his worthy archenemy. To do so, Gru adopts three little girls from an orphanage who want nothing in life but a loving parent. Gru seems to have faced many great trials in his life, but nothing compares to the challenge of these three sweeties who see something in Gru that no one else ever has.

Carell’s voice for Gru is terrific and made me laugh throughout. He’s got a lot of great lines here and is the source of most of the film’s comedy. The actions of his many little yellow minions also made for some great comedy. The three little girls are adorable, especially the voice of Elsie Fisher’s Agnes, the youngest of the lot. Seeing the relationship between the devilish Gru and the girls grow is also rather sweet.

Compared to other animated films though, Despicable Me sadly falls a bit short and that lies with the prescribed storyline. The character of Gru was funny, but not much else really is. I enjoyed it, but could not help feeling that so much more could have happened here. I think kids will certainly love the film and have a great experience with it. However, I’m not so sure about most adults. Most of the new animated features work on both levels, engaging an adult audience just as much as the kids they appear to be catered to. Despicable Me doesn’t offer much more than a very funny front man and the crazy little minions (who I loved) — but no other characters really stand out. I don’t know if I am nit-picking on an animated film, but I also felt the way in which Gru learns to love the three girls was far too easy and not fully developed. All in all though, it is a sweet film with a big heart and I would highly recommend taking kids to see it. Looking at it a bit more critically, it just misses measuring up to some of the “better” animated films such as Happy Feet, Over the Hedge, or Monsters, Inc.

Rating:
Director: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Year: 2010

To view the trailer for Despicable Me, click here.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “The Greatest”

The Greatest” is the directorial debut of Shana Feste (based on her own screenplay) and revolves around a married couple trying to get over the tragic loss of their oldest son Bennett, who was about to set off to college. Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon play Allen and Grace Brewer, the couple who handle the grieving process in completely different ways. This is not breaking new ground as we have seen this on film many times before. Allen is a math professor who finds comfort in numbers and equations and cannot understand the unpredictability of the real world, let alone cope with this loss in a healthy way…he bottles everything inside, though gives off the impression that he is playing the sturdy rock so the family doesn’t crumble apart. Grace needs to talk about her dead son and find out every tiny bit about the way he died or she’ll just lose it. Bennett was the one victim of a terrible car crash and the truck driver who hit him (Michael Shannon) has been in a coma ever since. Grace visits him constantly, reading to him as she waits for him to wake up so that she can have all of her questions about her son’s last 17 minutes of life answered. She will not rest until she gets this closure.

An unexpected visitor comes to the house in the name of Rose (Carey Mulligan), who is pregnant with Bennett’s child. Though she must be extremely bright as she was accepted to go to the prestigious Barnard College, she seemingly has nowhere else to go because her mother has serious issues. The Brewers take her in and that brings more difficulties to the already troubled household. Johnny Simmons plays their younger son, Ryan, who always played second fiddle his brother, the golden child.

There are some very tender moments throughout the film and fine performances are given by this impressive cast. However, it is handled with a very heavy hand at times and falls victim to being a bit too melodramatic in spots. I never really bought into Rose’s dilemma of having nowhere else to live. Also, her relationship with Bennett was a bit uneven. We are led to believe that the two met (from afar) as freshmen in high school, exchanged intense glances towards one another — and never spoke until the very last day of school during their senior year. On top of this, when they do speak, they sleep together right away for one time and she is pregnant with his child. I found this to be a bit far-fetched, although the way Carey Mulligan explains the courtship is very romantic and quite sweet.

It is nice to see Brosnan in this role and watching it is a bit unsettling knowing of the similar tragedy in his own life. His demeanor is kind and understanding and we can immediately empathize with him. Each character seems to have their own moment of catharsis, but I felt Brosnan’s was a bit forced and could have been handled with more subtlety. His chemistry with Sarandon is very good. We have two veteran actors here in very demanding roles and they play well off one another. Sarandon’s Grace sees everyone as a threat, including Rose. It is tough to feel sorry for her because in her grief, she doesn’t show much love for those around her and is brutally honest about her feelings towards her son’s lover. Mulligan is a terrific choice for Rose and does a great job with her. She is a breath of fresh air and we immediately like her. Simmons gives a terrific performance as the younger son who has also been going through severe pain in losing his older brother, though his parents don’t really seem to be helping him cope very well at all. They just want to make sure he’s not taking drugs anymore.

So though there are some nice moments and the very last scene is a very sweet way to end it, I felt the movie was uneven. There are some terrific films that deal with families getting over the loss of their child, but I don’t think I would include this one – though I have no reason to think it is not authentic or true to life. Feste has surely done her research regarding the complex subject matter and the characterization all rings quite true. Perhaps the film would have fared better in the hands of a more experienced, adept director.

Rating:   
Year:       2010
Director: Shana Feste

Peter Eramo reviews: “Tales from the Script” (**)

Peter Hanson’s documentary Tales from the Script features dozens of successful Hollywood screenwriters speaking about their triumphs and failures in the dog-eat-dog world that is the motion picture industry. It has always amazed me that the finished product of a film that we all see on the screen started with a blank page — and it is the job of the writer to fill those blank pages with an entertaining and fully structured 3-Act story complete with interesting characters, unique plot twists, and clever dialogue. Yet once the screenplay is written, sold and re-written, it seems that it is the writer — the man or woman who gave birth to this project — that has little to no say over the making of the movie. The writers showcased here speak to this oddity as well as provide some humorous anecdotes about their own careers – how they started in the business, deals that fell through, success stories, clashes with stars or directors, etc.

Hanson has collected an impressive range of writers here to speak about their work and their dealings with the industry: Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), William Goldman (All the President’s Men), Shane Black (The Lethal Weapon series), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Ron Shelton (Bull Durham), Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost), among others speak quite openly and with great introspection about their work and experiences.

This is a very good film for anyone who is a budding screenwriter or for any movie buff with an interest in Hollywood, screenwriting, or the industry itself. For anyone else, I think the film will be a terrible bore after a few minutes. Little is done to mix it up as we are really only given talking heads for a full 105 minutes. The documentary is broken up into segments and before each segment we are shown a very brief scene from a movie that has to do with writing, but other than that, it’s just watching and listening to the screenwriters. True, some of the stories being told are quite fascinating, but I don’t think it is enough to sustain the entire picture. You do get a great sense of the hard work put into the writing of a script and the even more difficult task of getting that script sold to Hollywood execs, but unless one has a great interest in this particular field, I am afraid that person would be more than weary with listening to these now wealthy (and yes, lucky) writers. I have a great interest in writing and the movies (of course) and even I was getting fidgety after about an hour, so I can only imagine those with little to no interest in the art of screenwriting.

Director: Peter Hanson
Year:       2010
Rating:   

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Robin Hood” (***)

I must admit that the initial reviews for this film made me somewhat wary of going to see it. And looking at the somewhat disappointing box-office returns through two weeks of the $200+ million blockbuster film, I think it has made many of the movie-going public wary of going, which is too bad because Ridley Scott’sRobin Hood” is a beautifully made and exciting new take on the legend we all know. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential“) take a step back and have chosen not re-hash the same “robs from the rich” legend we’re all familiar with. Rather, they give us the story of how Robin Hood actually became an outlaw in the first place; a tale maybe we’re all not so very familiar with. At the end of the film, the titles read: “And So The Legend Begins,” setting the audience up for the proverbial Robin Hood myth that follows (and a sure-to-be-made sequel as well).

An archer fighting in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), Robin Hood and his companions decide to return home to England, and along the way, come upon Robert of Loxley who is fatally wounded by Godfrey (a diabolical, intense Mark Strong). Godfrey is in the process of assisting a French invasion of England and manages to trick the newly crowned King John into making him think he’s working on England’s behalf. Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) promises the dying Robert of Loxley that he will return his most cherished sword back to his father, Walter Loxley in Nottingham (played with tremendous humor and pathos by the brilliant Max von Sydow). The sword has an enigmatic inscription on it that pre-occupies Robin throughout. We learn that Robin Hood never knew much about his own father past the age of 6 and he struggles with himself to come to grips with his abrupt disappearance. Upon his return to Nottingham, the elderly Walter adopts him as his own and encourages Robin Longstride to impersonate his dead son and marry Marion (Cate Blanchett) or else the King will seize the land. Marion Loxley has just learned (after 10 long years) that her husband is not coming back, so this is a bit of a transition for her and she takes this new situation somewhat begrudgingly.

Meanwhile, we watch as Godfrey brutally pillages towns across the country under the pretext of collecting taxes for King John (Oscar Isaac). We can clearly see what kind of man King John is and what type of leader he will make right from the beginning and this continues throughout in his confrontational scenes with his mother (Eileen Atkins), to his treatment of the wise and loyal William Marshal (William Hurt) to how he treats his people. Robin Hood and Marion adapt to one another and Walter’s mirth is re-energized. He tells Robin that yes, he did know his father, who helped try to build a stronger, more liberalized society. A raid is made on Nottingham and there is a final battle between Godfrey and his men pitted against Robin Hood, King John and the English. After fighting bravely and faithfully for his land, Robin Hood is now seen as a threat to his people when King John ruthlessly declares him an outlaw. Thus, a legend is born.

Overall, this is a very entertaining, visually stunning film with an epic feel to it. I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. The costumes are exquisite, the locations and production design, authentic, and Marc Streitenfeld’s score, majestic. The film has its share of action and battle scenes, romance and some nicely incorporated humor in it as well. The performances too are excellent. Russell Crowe makes a fine Robin Hood; he is strong and has a regal presence to him. He shows strength or vulnerability, whatever is needed. Max von Sydow is a breath of fresh air, William Hurt  (as always) is terrific as William Marshal and we understand and feel for his trial throughout. Mark Addy plays Friar Tuck and he adds a nice touch of humor to the well-known character. Mark Strong plays a great villain – his overall look and demeanor fit quite well as the foil to Robin Hood. And like Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” (another Scott film), Oscar Isaac’s King John is a spoiled, frightened little man who happens to wear the crown. Isaac does a wonderful job with it and we laugh at and detest him throughout. As for Cate Blanchett, I have mixed feelings. An extraordinary actress, to be sure, but I feel either she was simply miscast here or that Scott’s take on Marion may have been a bit rough around the edges. She seems too tough, too macho and her chemistry with Crowe seems a bit forced.

Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow and in the final battle, it does get a bit hokey for its own good (“For the love of God, Marion!” Robin Hood screams out when he sees his true love). Robin Hood’s slow-motion rise from the depths of the water and Marion exclaiming, “This is for you, Walter” were all a bit too much for me and surely could have been done without. And at times, the film falls into temporary lulls here and there. However, it is a grand and stately film. I remember enjoying Kevin Reynolds’Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991) very much. It has been a long while since I’ve seen it so I don’t think it fair at all to compare the two. In any case, they are two completely different stories. This one stands on its own just fine. A pleasurable, summer blockbuster movie experience to be sure. If you are one of the many who wanted to see it, but the reviews have kept you away, I would suggest that you go and see it while it’s still on the big screen.

Director:    Ridley Scott
Year:          2010
Rating:      

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Date Night” (* ½)

Well, they are the king and queen of sitcom television (so I hear), so you knew it wouldn’t be long before Hollywood decided to cast Steve Carell and Tiny Fey opposite one another for the big screen. The result is Shawn Levy’sDate Night,” and sadly, the movie offers very few laughs, some very poor dialogue, and almost no originality.

Carell and Fey play the Fosters – a middle-class, suburban New Jersey couple who discover that their close friends are getting a divorce, sending them a much needed wake-up call.  Between taking care of the kids and managing their respective careers, they are worried that their lives have fallen into one gigantic, wearisome rut. Phil Foster (Carell) wants to do something about that gosh darn-it, and does so by shaking up their weekly humdrum ‘Date Night’ and bringing it to the bright lights of Manhattan. After he “steals” another couple’s reservation at a very trendy, chic restaurant, the mayhem ensues. Or perhaps I should say, wish it had ensued.

The exhilarating and dangerous night that the Fosters face is filled with mistaken identities, a corrupt D.A., cops on the take, car chases, a few cameos to try and keep us entertained, and for some odd reason, an almost empty New York City, where no one can be seen in the world’s most famous park and very few cars and pedestrians take up the normally crowded busy streets.

Tina Fey may be the darling of primetime, but she cannot carry a movie (see the disastrous “Baby Mama”). At best, she makes for a solid supporting role (see “The Invention of Lying”). Carell has already proven he can tackle film and do so convincingly in a wide variety of roles that showcase an impressive range. Here, he is just given a poor script and not given very much to do. William Fichtner, a very strong character actor, is wasted here and his caricature of a district attorney is embarrassing. And the scenes with Detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson) were all terribly, terribly written. I will say that the scenes with Mark Wahlberg were quite amusing. Wahlberg plays the always shirtless Holbrooke, who helps the Fosters out throughout the course of this whacky, crazy evening. The funniest scene of the film is when the Fosters finally meet up with the young couple (two fun cameos) who has the computer chip they have been looking for all night.

I don’t really consider myself much of a movie snob – I like a goofy comedy every now and then like anybody else.  Here, I went in to this film thinking that it would at least be funny and good for a few laughs. But instead, all I got was predictability all the way through: the emasculated man must prove to his wife that he can take care of her and save the day, the marriage that once seem to be tedious is now revived, etc., etc., etc.  It’s really too bad because Carell and Fey, with all of their comedic talents, are much better than this shlock and deserve more.

Director:    Shawn Levy
Year:          2010
Rating:     

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Hot Tub Time Machine”

Three middle-aged guys, all of whom are frustrated with their own lives — and a young nephew — travel back in time (via a magical hot tub) to their heyday year of 1986, a time when the three had their whole lives ahead of them. The premise of Steve Pink’s comedy says it all here and you know what you’re going to get going in. If you are looking for just laughs alone, this film should do it as there are some funny moments here. I would also say that those over the age of 35 and/or those who experienced the 1980’s as a teen would appreciate this film a lot more. On that note, there is a great sense of nostalgia here and plenty of 80’s references sprinkled throughout that will take you back, if just for a little while.

The four men go to a ski resort for some male bonding (and to cheer up one of them up who has been severely depressed). The resort is nothing like they remember it back in their prime — antiquated, filled with old people, near-deserted, with nothing going on. That is, until they all decide to, you know, do the manly thing — and all get in the hot tub together, sans clothing.

Our trio here is John Cusack (the ringleader experiencing a mid-life crisis), Craig Robinson (the married one who still dreams of a life he once gave up on), and Rob Corddry (the vulgar, crude, party animal). It seems with the advent of Apatow comedies (perhaps dating back to the Farrelly Brothers as well) and with the tremendous success of “The Hangover,” most comedies being released need to be over-the-top when it comes to the level of  raunchiness, perversity and sex-themed humor. That’s fine. I’m no prude. But it does sometimes get a bit predictable and really, at this point, what curse word or sight gag is really going to shock us at this point?

Corddry does his best at playing that one friend you see in all of these comedies — the one who will say and do anything, the one with no inner editing device…the asshole who, as Robinson and Cusack refer to as, “their asshole.” Robinson, by the way, is funny, as always. He’s got terrific comedic timing and a wonderful, unique delivery. And John Cusack looks like he’s having a great time, which is fun to see. He’s always a pleasure to watch, despite some of the poor choices he has made in recent years. Clark Duke plays the young, sarcastic, glued-to-my video games nephew and he is fine here in the familiar role.

Overall, though I thought it was funny and I had a good time watching it, I felt it could have gone much further with the time-travel and 1980’s themes. It seemed to touch the surface, but didn’t dig deep enough. The Chevy Chase scenes were somewhat odd and his ominous character felt out of place (though it’s nice to see him getting some work). The subplot between Cusack and Lizzy Caplan was also thrown away. It was great to see Crispin Glover here in a supporting role, but the pay-off on that subplot was not as grand as it could have been. Finally, the ending seemed to be too neatly tied together and yes, rather conventional. Again, I am aware that this was not supposed to enlighten or move me in any profound way. It is a raunchy comedy, and for that, I enjoyed myself. And, as I am in my late thirties, I can honestly say that walking out of the film, it did move me in certain ways; taking me back to 24 years ago and realizing just how quickly it all went by. So there…

Director:  Steve Pink
Year:        2010
Rating:    

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Iron Man 2″ (** 1/2)

I’d like to preface this review by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the first “Iron Man” film released in 2008. It was, in my opinion, one of the better action films I had seen and certainly one of the better films of the ‘superhero’ genre. Having said that, I feel that I can say with great confidence that anyone who truly enjoyed the first film will be severely disappointed in its sequel, “Iron Man 2.”

It is almost standard fare in Hollywood and we hear it almost every time a sequel is released — “It was good. Not better than the original at all, but it was good.” Very seldom does a sequel live up to all of the hype and it is even a rarer feat for the sequel to best its predecessor. Perhaps “Superman 2,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Aliens” and most certainly “The Godfather Part II” are members of that elite group, but that is always up for healthy debate. More times than not, before watching a sequel, my expectations are not very high. “Iron Man 2” was an exception though. I was in fact expecting more from this franchise, from director Jon Favreau, and from screenwriter Justin Theroux. I was disillusioned. And if you are one who sees this film and is not as disappointed as I was, then I will go out on a limb and almost guarantee that you will at least grant me the service of at least admitting that it comes nowhere near the original.

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has a lot on his plate in this one.  Now that the entire world knows that he is in fact the Iron Man hero, he is facing tremendous pressure from the government (most notably from Senator Stern, played by comedian Garry Shandling) to hand over the powerful technology to the U.S. military. He has also discovered that the palladium in the arc reactor that is responsible for keeping him alive, is in fact, slowly killing him (ah, the irony) and all of his attempts to find a substitute element have failed. On top of this, Stark must deal with the opening of the grand Stark Expo (you never saw Flushing, NY look saw strikingly impressive), in the name of his deceased father — and most of all, he is confronted with his new arch enemy, the Russian physicist-turned-evil genius, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke).

It seems that Ivan’s father worked alongside Stark’s father and the two of them were responsible for creating technology far ahead of its time. The two should have shared in the wealth and fame, but instead, Ivan’s father was pushed aside and was forced to live a life of misery, poverty and failure. Ivan wants revenge — he wants Tony Stark.

Rourke is great here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work. Here, his Russian accent is near perfect and his tattooed body and appearance fit the villain caricature very well. He is well cast here and creates a mysterious foil to Stark with his gold teeth and great affinity for birds. What is terribly anti-climatic is that the whole film is building up to this grand face-off between the two and when it happens, it is just a shameful let-down. The confrontation is there, we’re awaiting this amazing finale, and it lasts perhaps a minute long and just like that, it is over…leaving the viewer let down…again.

Robert Downey, Jr. created a delightful, charming, charismatic Tony Stark in the first film. Here, he gets to do pretty much the same. Nothing new here – he makes his playful and witty remarks as often as he can. But we don’t see or feel any of the desperation that Stark had in the first one…not even when his life is on the line. In addition, his relationship with his former personal assistant Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is a huge letdown. The two had such great chemistry in the first one. Here, he appoints Ms. Potts to be the CEO of his empire and they seem to be at odds throughout the entire film. The only time the two have a meaningful, endearing exchange is when they are on a video-conference-call and she finds out about his illness…it’s a sad commentary when the only time two actors have a true exchange is when they aren’t even on the same screen together.

In other subplots (of which there are far too many), Stark must also deal with his industry rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who enlists Ivan to work for him and ruin Stark for good. Rockwell is fun to watch. His Hammer is conniving and cowardly, the epitome of envy to the great Tony Stark.  Oh yeah, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Stark with a treasure-trove of old film and artifacts of the elder Stark. Fury also wants to see if he is S.H.I.E.L.D. material. Jackson is Jackson, except here, he wears an eye patch for good measure. Scarlett Johansson plays Natalie, who plays a newly employed Stark receptionist with a great deal to hide. Johansson doesn’t get to do much as far as honing her acting chops, but fits the role of sexy vixen who can kick the asses of 20 men quite admirably. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard in the role of Lt. Colonel James Rhodes. We don’t miss Howard for a second, but, with the exception of the big paycheck, he should be grateful not to be a part of the mess.

Listen, it is what it is. It’s a Hollywood summer blockbuster film. I get that. And if you are looking to sit back, have some popcorn and enjoy some action, some funny lines (though not nearly as humorous as the original) and take out the brain for two hours, then you will perhaps enjoy it. Again, I was expecting more from this particular franchise – and from Favreau who fell victim to the ‘Too Many Villains in A Single Movie’ catastrophe that has struck many directors before him. In the end, to me, it felt like: “OK, we have a title for the movie, we have our director…we have our star-studded cast….hmmm, we just need some kind of a story. Anything’ll do…the public will come.” And I am sure they will. I’m sure it’ll make $250-$350 million domestic….But you still can’t say it comes close to the original.

Film:           Iron Man 2

Year:           2010

Director:     Jon Favreau

Rating:        an extra 1/2-star for those who love summer blockbusters

Peter Eramo Reviews: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (****)

This film is certainly not for the faint-of-heart, but I am convinced that this grisly, fascinating Swedish thriller will be near the very top of the year’s best when 2010 draws to an end. Based on the popular novel by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is nothing short of a superb, well-crafted film, with outstanding performances and taut, stylish direction by Niels Arden Oplev. I am surprised to see it playing in a number of select “art-house” theatres around me – so if you see it around and you are not one of those ignorant Americans who are averse to reading subtitles, check out the trailer and see this wonderful movie.

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who is charged with defamation and is found guilty. The news is spread all over papers and television. Before serving his brief sentence, he is hired by the patriarch of the Vanger Concern (a wealthy & powerful family) to find his niece’s murderer. Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger mysteriously disappeared on the island owned by the Vanger’s and her body was never found. The uncle is convinced that the killer is a member of his own dark and troubled family, even though every year he receives a gift of nicely framed pressed flowers, which he thinks is sent by the murderer to taunt him.

Blomkvist pairs up with professional computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (a remarkable Noomi Rapace) to investigate. She is tattooed, tough-as-nails, and a ward of the state who needs a legal guardian for a crime (though from flashbacks, it sure looked warranted) she committed years ago. The two begin to peel off layer after layer in trying to break this unsolved 40-year old case and in doing so, discover a link to a number of grotesque murders. They also begin to uncover a dark and twisted family history of this secretive clan.

Noomi Rapace is magnificent here playing the very complex and challenging role of Lisbeth and though it is only May should get some serious Oscar consideration here as I doubt there will be many performances that match this display right here. She exhibits a merciless, cutthroat behavior in one scene and easily transforms to that of a helpless and frightened little girl in the next. She has some gruesome, nearly unwatchable scenes to film here too. Two scenes in particular are opposite the older gentleman who has become her new legal guardian, though brilliantly executed are graphic and haunting. Rapace creates a fascinating character out of Lisbeth – a constant enigma living in a world filled with filthy and brutal men…and we certainly empathize with her throughout.

Michael Nyqvist is also excellent here as the disgraced journalist who falls into much more than he bargained for. The supporting cast is stellar, Peter Haber in particular. These are all actors I’m sure none of us have heard of – but so what…they’re amazing. One scene that I was blown away by takes place near the end in a basement…I don’t want to give anything away here, but I will say that the exchange between these two men is completely flawless…absolutely riveting.

At its core, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a mystery – and we go along on the journey set off by Blomkvist and Salander. The plot is filled with great twists and turns. The unforgiving, cold Swedish winter terrain adds to the tone and mood of the film. I have not read the books (it is part of a trilogy, I believe), but have read that this is very faithful to the novel. The film doesn’t stop and you are glued to the screen for over two hours. However, it does slow up in the final 15 minutes or so after the film’s climax which kills all of the momentum – but you understand why it continues after seeing the very last scene of the film. A great surprise of a film – and I am now eagerly awaiting the second installment (of the trilogy) due to be released this summer. It did win Sweden’s equivalent of the Oscar in the “Best Picture” and “Best Actress” categories already — so I am hoping that the A.M.P.A.S. takes equal note of this grand achievement.

Rating: 
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Year:       2010

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