Captain Phillips (2013)

captainphillipsbanner

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Billy Ray (screenplay) and Richard Phillips (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman

Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) knows how to build suspense.  His latest action/adventure Captain Phillips, based on the true 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship for ransom by four armed Somali pirates, is no exception.  The movie creeps, crawls, rises and falls throughout its 2h15min running time.  Tom Hanks delivers but the Somali pirates are the real stars of the film.

What I liked:  Greengrass goes from 0-100 in a matter of seconds.  The movie has a brief and awkward start but with one flicker on the radar and a hand-held camera we are engulfed in foreboding.  The action gives the movie a frenetic pace but the performances win the day.  Hanks is the everyman we can all relate to and be terrified for but it’s the Somali pirates who offer us more than stock villains, even with stock dialogue.  Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman are smart, devious, famished, suffering and wilful.  They tug at our heartstrings even as we root for them to fail.  They are the driving force behind a film whose conclusion made headlines.

What I didn’t like:  Why did they cast the wonderful Catherine Keener if she was going to end up on the cutting room floor? This frustrated me to no end when the movie was over.  I can also understand why the Navy hasn’t exactly applauded the film because despite their oppressive presence they don’t actually seem to do or accomplish anything.  I understand the need to draw out action in order to build a climax but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the sequences were just add-in plot points to embellish the drama rather than actual events.

My rating:  Requires big screen viewing.

My IMDb rating: 7/10      tomato:  94%

Advertisements

Trailers I’m Obsessed With: The Grand Budapest Hotel

From my favourite storyteller.

I was so caught up watching the trailer, admiring the poster and reading everything I could get my hands on about Wes Anderson’s new film that I forgot to post the trailer here.

If I was a cartoon you would see hearts in my eyes.

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Léa Seydoux, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and many, many more.

Release Date: March 7th, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

donjonmovie

Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlet Johansson, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an interesting one.  To its credit it is new, interesting and entertaining.  Gordon-Levitt clearly has a message as he plays the eponymous Jon who escapes into his obsession with porn rather than connect with another person or learn about himself.  I give credit to Gordon-Levitt for making me think during a film that could have been reduced to a romantic comedy with a twist.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a self-indulgent project or a meditation on isolation and the misrepresentation of relationships in a sex obsessed culture.  Where Gordon-Levitt falters is in his character portrayal but, overall, I was impressed with his writing, direction and wit.

What I liked: Gordon-Levitt’s use of repetition works.  His narrative framework is based around a series of mundane events – home, porn, sex, clubbing, the gym, cleaning, church and family dinner – that convey his character’s disconnectedness and masked despair.  Gordon-Levitt also conveys his ideas with an artistic flare that is thought-provoking, witty and fearlessly uncomfortable.

What I didn’t like:  His characters, while at times endearing and relate-able, are no more than caricatures, which is probably why he is being taken to task for what the Italian American One Voice Coalition believes are “racist stereotypes” rather than developed characters.   I think Gordon-Levitt pulls off his Jersey Shore-type character with flare, because it is so outside our perception of him as an actor that beneath his empty façade we recognize the scrawny do-gooder of 50/50, (500) Days of Summer or even Batman.  The rest of the characters offer no such recognizable depth other than Julianne Moore who escapes the stereotype and offers the real soul of the film.  To be fair, Scarlett Johansson has fun with her role and is both convincing and comical as the romance obsessed love interest.  While I imagine creating such extreme characters was the point, I still can’t quite figure out why since many of us ‘real folk’ often feel the same way or limit ourselves to routine so I can see how the message was lost.

My rating:  An admirable first effort and worth watching, because it is new.

My IMDb rating:  7/10      tomato: 83%

The Way, Way Back (2013)

THE WAY, WAY BACK

Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Written by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James.

The Oscar-winning duo that brought us The Descendants make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back a coming-of-age story set in a summer beach town about a 14 year old boy’s quest to build confidence and find a sense of belonging and trust.  The movie is funny, sweet and brimming with nostalgia. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: “Its situations and feelings seem drawn more from available, sentimental ideas about adolescence than from the perceptions of any particular adolescent,” which, while true, doesn’t account for the endearing performances that give the movie a sense of uniqueness.

What I liked:  Strong direction and heartfelt performances are what make this film work.  Each character, no matter their screen time, offers a sense of depth that carries the emotion of the film, starting with Liam James whose awkward and introverted performance is spot on and a testament to the 17 year old’s acting chops.  Seasoned vets, Alison Janney and Sam Rockwell provide all the rich humour of the film from their first seconds on screen.  In fact, Janney’s introduction is one of the funniest and most effective I’ve seen in a while, not to mention her off-colour relationship with her son; and Rockwell, flighty and flawed, provides the film’s best dialogue.  Maya Rudolf, Steve Carrell, Amanda Peet and Toni Collette round out a stellar cast that works in harmony, even when they are at odds with each other.

What I didn’t like:  This movie has been on my watch list since it was released this past summer.  Happily, the movie didn’t disappoint despite a routine premise and narrative that has been done many times before.  The good news is that the writing is strong enough to make an oft-told framework successful and entertaining despite a predictable finish.

My rating:  I want Allison Janney to be my neighbour and Sam Rockwell to be my boss.

My IMDb  Rating:  8/10     tomato: 85%

Fall TV 2013: New Sitcoms

After a raucous wedding weekend all I wanted to do on Monday night was to curl up on the couch and watch something light.  It turns out I don’t have a Monday watch list and there wasn’t anything that caught my attention.  Instead, I decided to surf the net for some new comedies I’d heard about but had yet to watch and see if there was a hidden gem in the mix – which is rarely the case.

Package-Deal-fall-preview

First, I found Package Deal, a new sitcom about a girl who has to accept her boyfriend’s oddball brothers for the sake of their relationship.  Sadly, it was so bad I turned it off after the first few lead-in jokes that were so hammered by a laugh track that I was cringing before the opening credits.  I say sadly, because it’s a Canadian show and we, as a country, can do much, much better. Canadians are funny. Shame on us.

My rating: I hope it doesn’t last.

My IMDB rating: 1/10.

This also led me to wonder why comedies are still using a laugh track.  Doesn’t everyone find stock laughter annoying by now? Sure, there are a lot of successful sitcoms that used (and I use the past tense purposely because I don’t find The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men funny. At all.) the laugh track to their advantage: Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Friends – but is it still relevant or even necessary as tv enters a new Golden Age of creativity? I think not.  Case and point was the next show I found:

mom

Mom is also a new sitcom with a laugh track about dysfunctional moms played by two actresses that I really like: Alison Janney and Anna Faris.  Faris is a talented comedian who, I feel, is forever dragged down by bad material.  This happens to be more of the same.  Faris’ performance is decent but completely ill-timed with the laugh track.  Only Alison Janney, a consummate professional, is so natural in front of the multiple camera format and laugh track that she provides the only humourous moments of the show.  I lasted into the second episode because I wanted so much to like it but seriously, the laugh track is  doing the show no favours and I feel it would work better without it.

My rating: I wouldn’t be surprised if this show came into its own but so far I’m not interested.

My IMDB rating: 4/10

DADS

Finally, in typical Seth McFarlane fashion, the laugh track in his new sitcom Dads is used ironically, or at least I hope it is.  The jokes are so Republican (read offensive) or so not funny that the canned bubbles of laughter that burst at the predictable punchlines is almost funny in itself. Almost.  Again, a talented cast, including one of my favourites Giovanni Ribisi, is completely wasted and I couldn’t make it through the episode despite one or two moments that were genuinely funny.

My rating: I expect more MacFarlane.

My IMDB rating: 3.5/10

There are only two new comedies that I have been able to stomach this Fall season and neither of them have laugh tracks.

the crazy ones

The first, The Crazy Ones, from super comedy creator David E. Kelley, stars Robin Williams as an ad agency exec who might be losing his mind or his touch.  The show is funny because Robin Williams is funny and watching James Wolk’s character Zach Cooper try to keep up with him and roll with his frenetic improv is magic.  I have never been a fan of Sarah Michelle Geller’s acting and this show has not changed my opinion.  While I understand that she is meant to be the voice of reason, either it’s her performance that is lacking or the writing because her ‘I can’t believe he just did that’ facial expression was so overused to pass an incorrect judgement on Williams’ brilliance – a trite cliché for storytelling in general – that I hoped for scenes without her.  That said, the show itself and overall cast (that includes an alumni from the Mindy Project and the New Adventures of Old Christine) has the potential to become very funny.

My rating: Wolk and Williams are worth the 30 minutes.

My IMDB rating: 6.5 but I guarantee it will be up to a 7 before Christmas.

brooklyn nine nine

Finally, Andy Samberg’s departure from SNL has led to Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  For me the premise, a sitcom, cop show, is funny.  Andy Samberg is funny.  Some of the characters do a good job of getting some laughs but generally without Samberg the show would falter.  His timing is impeccable and it seems that this is another show that could grow into its skin as the cast becomes better at feeding off each other or as the writing grows stronger so it doesn’t rely so heavily on delivery.

My rating: I’m looking forward to this show getting good.

My IMDB rating: 6.5

Thanks Fall Season of New Pilots but until The Crazy Ones or Brooklyn Nine-Nine have a few episodes under their belt, I think I’ll stick with what I know and love:

newgirlmindyprojectbanner

Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Eminem to Perform at First YouTube Music Awards

Image

This is one award show I’ll be sure to watch.  Actually, I watch them all but I’m especially looking forward to the first YouTube Music Awards, mainly because Spike Jonze has been named Creative Director and because Eminem, Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire are scheduled to perform and they never disappoint.  The show will present winners in six categories all voted on by viewers.

Jonze told Billboard he was intrigued by the challenge of producing an “unconventional” awards show.  “I want to find out if we can make a whole night just about making things,” Jonze said. “Instead of just doing performances, can we do live collaborations?”

Did I mention that Jason Schwartzman is hosting.  Seriously.  I think I’ve already hyped this too much. I bet I’ll be disappointed.

Here’s the official Billbaord announcement:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/5740694/lady-gaga-arcade-fire-eminem-to-perform-at-first-youtube-music-awards

Airdate: The 90 minute live event is slated for November 3rd.