Blog Archives

Movie Review: Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love

First published at blogcritics.org on August 14, 2010 (editor’s pick)

Location, location, location is everything in real estate decisions but also includes huge, highly anticipated summer films that straddle the cusp of fall. You gotta have a gimmick and a sumptuous Bali location certainly qualifies. You can almost smell sequel to Eat Pray Love in the mounds of spaghetti sauce served on the silver screen. I found the calendar location of Eat Pray Love also interesting in that it’s not a spring fling AKA Oscar-hopeful killer; not an early but ugly summer offering, instead a stylish butter-laden film floating like ghee into theaters as a summer smorgasbord of shameless play-on-heartstrings. What did you expect?

Elizabeth Gilbert whose book is the basis for the screenplay did not see Julia Roberts coming to fill the sandals of Liz, and ride the bike in Bali. But there she is along with Viola Davis (Delia Shiraz), Richard Jenkins (Richard from Texas—I think he portrays himself), Billy Crudup (Steven Gilbert), James Franco (David Picollo), Javier Bardem (Felipe the Brazilian), and Balinese medicine man Ketut toothless yet brilliant.  

This drama opens with writer Liz Gilbert in Bali where she bids adieu to her spiritual mentor Ketut. I can’t call him her guru because he purposely leaves her in the dark and gifts her with a cryptic graphic that she keeps. She returns to New York City, her husband Steven, and her best friend  Delia (the talented Viola Davis). Delia listens while Gilbert talks out loud about the need “to marvel at something.” Gilbert lacks credibility, and who wouldn’t. How can you sell annual “marvel” which can happen only while learning Italian in Italy, visiting an ashram in India and rounding it off with a repeat trip to Bali? Delia is not buying it but listens anyway.

How does one prepare for such armchair adventure on a really hot Texas afternoon? Women filled every seat in the first matinee which bodes well for the feminine fixation with Eat Pray Love. I wore my Bali best and took notes. My take: Eat Italy, Pray India and Love Bali make up the bones of this film. And a pleasing score including Mozart in the mix supplement the missing link—connection of Liz with the men of this film and the audience.

New York, Rome, Naples, India and Bali (first film shot there) locales are not the only good things about Eat Pray Love they are actually the best things about it. However, a solid cast buoys an out-of-her element Julia Roberts. Honestly, she needs a lot of help in the connect-to-the-audience department. I expected that but it was not a given if you’ve marveled over her Anna of Notting Hill.  As expected, she smiles too often and must stifle the big laugh—it happens anyway.

Gilbert’s goal in Italy is to speak beautiful Italian while walking the road to ruins. She grapples with the meaning of life in a word. In India its all about seva (service to others) and sin–pride. I know that ashramic life in India where Gilbert works out her spiritual fantasy, it’s full of people who are strangers for mere seconds before the karmic sparks fly.

The final word in this trilogy of “truth”: love. Gilbert is off to beautiful Bali but absolutely not to find love. She seeks “balance” not “balls” but in real life Felipe, fame and fortune find her. And the skeptic may wonder is that what she was really after?

I have to admit when I first heard that Javier was to play Felipe I couldn’t see it. But he is full of warm believable embraces. And Javier knows how to connect with the audience even in a small role that closes out the film. In fact he steals the show. Liz melts in their embrace with the scent of sequel overpowering the end. That’s shameless enough because we know that Elizabeth Gilbert has penned and sold the sequel as the now-married skeptic! We know that she and Felipe did cross over to the land of matrimony. That may be a good thing because actually I wanted more Bali, more Bardem and more naked butts. I can recommend this film with a straight face I liked it as much as the book. But you’ve been warned it’s a solid chick flick and women will eat it up.

Finally, kudos to director Ryan Murphy (Glee), he co-wrote screenplay with Jennifer Scott. They remained true to the spirit of the memoir. It helps when the source material is rich and the heroine richer. The screenplay sprinkles Gilbert’s story with sex, ties, and heaps of gourmet food served with genuine emotion.

“Salt” Saves the World

Jolie is a double agent’s double agent. How in the hell can a size 0 get the jump, knock down, drag out, kill up a whole bunch of men in under two hours? Just ask Jolie. She is salty as Evelyn Salt a Russian double agent, double agent.

This is non stop action folks. From first cut to the last Salt is full of size 0 swagger that only she could pull off. I think Jolie is at her best in this type of film.

I liked it a lot and I am not crazy about Jolie. But it’s good. Not as good as Inception but for the action and the thrills and stunts like you’ve never seen see it.

Movie Review: “Valentine’s Day”

I can sum this flick up easily in two words “It sucks!” But you can use it to fall asleep by. Bad movies IMHO make excellent sleeping pills.

My take is that they could not afford to pay Demsey to play a larger role in this film. What it should have been about is Patrick being unfaithful to his wife and build the story around him. He plays a surgeon in VD who is unfaithful.

This film should be called “VD” as in venereal disease–avoid at all costs LOL. So glad I did not see this stinker in the theatres.  Marshall directed this sucker and he should be shot for doing so.

Movie Review: Inception (get it while it’s hot)

Article first published as Movie Review: Inception on Blogcritics.

Inception is an intense, high-octane, high-powered sci-fi thriller from the mind and pen of Christopher Nolan, director of Dark Knight and other blockbusters.

Everything about Inception works and it works on every level and with every sequence. It’s an ambitious, dreamy film where illusion becomes reality. It’s all about the dreams and nail-biting adventure lurking within shared dreams. No doubt, in the hands of an amateur a dream film would be a nightmare, but with good research, great acting, good writing, and a solid storyline, Nolan has given the audience a clear alternative to 3-D, making his film the first important one of a new decade and the summer of 2010.

Inception opens and ends with a spinning talisman indicative of the dream state, with Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) explaining his mission in clear terms: “inception” is the planting of an idea into another person’s unsuspecting mind so effectively that they must believe the idea their own. Shared dreaming is the vehicle of choice and the thrill goes to the bone. Inception runs 148 minutes but I can sum it up nicely in six words: “birds on a tether dream together.”

Inception is an education within an education. It is a teaching, talking tool that does not preach or overreach. On the other hand, it is boring. Boring like a crochet needle poking a tiny wormhole into the psyche that pulls and traps the watcher into its labyrinth. Inception uses physics inherent in the meditative and dream states. The characters discuss and teach each other and the audience simultaneously, seamlessly the inner workings of dreams. On the physical level no one can escape a law discovered and discussed by Buddhists and meditation practitioners for centuries — a previously little understood phenomenon Einstein dubbed “time dilation.” The film explains the concept and to its credit maintains that aspect during all the dream sequences.

Time dilation and “the kick” are both key events in the second half of the film. They must be understood by the audience for full effect. This requires good writing. We must buy the explanations on faith. The trailer for Inception describes an event that is integral to dreams — the “kick.” In my journals, I use a simpler term, the “wake-up dream,” dreams designed by the brain to wake the dreamer up, warn of danger, or prevent him from moving into a dream too deeply. Time dilation and kicks are used by director Nolan to decided effect. With dialogue he avoids undue confusion and thereby overcomes two common pitfalls of many films: lack of background information and story development.

Inception is about the science fiction and the detailed story. However, the cast ensemble is exceptional. Ellen Page and Marian Cotillard are the only women in the film and their interaction occurs only through Cobb. DiCaprio is Cobb, a product of a self-imposed exile, a man without a country he needs to get back home. He is a mentalist who practices what I call “dream control.” He is master of the dream.

Inception takes the audience into the real world of dreams where dreams within dreams are carefully built in the first half of the film, sequences which scaffold the second half of the film. In the movie Cobb is married to Mal, the star and Oscar winner from La Vie en Rose, Marian Cotillard. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the son of a billionaire who becomes the target of Cobb’s gambit to return home. His partner in crime co-star Ellen Page (Ariadne). She delivers a solid, stellar performance and holds her own next to megastar DiCaprio. DiCaprio has grown as an actor and rocks the thriller genre. Bravo, well done. I was ready to watch it again.

5/5 STARS

short spoiler alert below

 

 

*****************************

SPOILER ALERT:

Cobb’s wife Mal is actually dead.  Mal left a letter accusing him of murder so he fled and wants to get back home. He wants to see his two kids again. He takes Ellen to where she lives. He messed up her mind and she jumped out of a window.  I’ve studied dreams for 30 years and this is how they work according to therapists and physicists. Loved it. Good film, really good.

Movie Review: Sex and The City 2

It’s so easy to review a book or film that offers inspiration. Director Michael Patrick King took my breath away with Sex and the City 2, but in a bad way. I also thought it would be more fun to review something you hate. I was wrong. I mean you can try pounding out frustrations with invectives about a film or book that is too churlish or girlish but it’s no fun. Yes, over-the-top vulgarity is woven into Sex but found in all the wrong places — the costumes. Did this costume designer pitch a low-ball bid?

There was much ado about the outfits from early reviews. As I recall, “criminal” is how one reviewer described them. And I concur. The movie is a veritable nightmare with four women running around in flannel nighties fit for a blind harem master. Beside the distraction of multiple outfit changes there is the non-sex.

Really, Sex and The City 2 would not satisfy even a minimalist appetite with its pseudo-sexual responses wherein the climax is an interrupted beach tryst by the sex police. When the highpoint is a run through Abu Dhabi in clothes fit for a rag vendor, sex appeal is a problem. There is no story here. It is a weak attempt at armchair international travel. I should have stayed home.

The movie-goers are taken — nay, kidnapped — to the United Arab Emirates for flimsy reasons on the wings of a tony airline. Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) acts as tour guide through the perils of being a woman in Dubai. We hear the call to prayers and go on a shopping jaunt with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) where she finds, what else, shoes.

The opulence is obvious but on the other hand, the raison d’etre for this film is not so obvious. There is no passport or visa required, just suspension of reason because unbeknownst to the audience traveling first class to the sands of Arabia, they will find veritable camel manure that amounts to, well, stupid stuff. Miranda is the brains of the outfit and a lawyer at a New York firm. She offers streaming cultural narrative. But her help seems more patronizing than the culture she describes.

Carrie Bradshaws’s Mr. Big (Chris Noth) has a small role. So we get the big short-change because there is no angst or romantic lines spoken between them as they arrive at the end of the official newlywed timeline of two years. She seeks adventure in Arabian culture because Carrie hates the flat-screen TV and the flat marriage vows. But before the Islamic junket the girls attend the fairy-tale wedding of two gay men who started out hating each other. In sum, Carrie and friends are bored with life when a “wow” factor comes knocking.

Male eye candy doesn’t save this film either and the only thing worse than Sex and the City 2 would be Sex and The City 3, perish the thought. It’s your money — save it. Buy the DVD, watch the series or the first movie, Sex and the City.

Finally, with everyone looking for a breath of fresh air and clean sandy beaches preceding the dog days of summer, we are handed staleness at the door instead, served up with a shameless spreading of ignorance by the producers of this film. Running nearly two and a half hours you have to wonder if we saw a Sex and the City sequel or Hex and the Sand — only a classic cliché comes to mind: sequels suck!

Movie Review: Nine

Daniel Day-Lewis is Guido. And Guido has a problem with too many women and too much writer’s block. I did not see in the theatres and I think that’s about right.

The first half of the film concerns itself with Guido and his girl magnet self. The many women but no muse. He looks for his muse in everyone, even his wife played by Marion Cotillard. She’s the best thing in the film.  Penelope Cruz is also good as the sex pot married mistress of Guido. But she’s no muse rather a steady diet of whining for his attention.

Finally, Guido comes clean with the press that there is no movie.

The second half of the film Guido must restore his lust for life and writing and making a movie, any damn movie. But who will a-muse him best? That is the question. The same women re-enter the film’s second half. They will play the roles running around in his childhood-reliving head. There is much music and “Be Italian” is a good number.  Sophia Loren is mom to Guido and she just kinda appears on set here and there.

My take: who wants to be stuck in writer’s block with a writer? No one, and the crux of the problem why this film did not go over well. It would have been better as biopic of Fellini’s life with some real Italians in it next time.

I must have slept more than I thought because the credits are running LOL.

It’s rentable, watchable (with a catnap here and there) but not memorable. 3/5 stars.

Artsy Loves Company (movie reviews)

A Single Man and The Last Station reviews My two movie reviews at BC.

Movie Review: Loose Change: 9/11 An American Coup

Loose Change went straight to DVD. I went straight to Netflix and watched it yesterday. It has changed my life. A black man who heard the blasts in the small government building that went down in freefall some blocks away from Twin Towers , it was never hit by anything, said that he heard blasts. He told the cameras and before the report could be published he was mysteriously killed the day before.

That’s what we are dealing with. I even hesitate to write this on my Web site. They are all in it together: right, left, center and conservatives. The dupes are only the American people. We vote them in they fuck us up.

 My aunt told me from the getgo that it was an inside job. That NYC Jews owned the twin towers and a Jew now, Feingold on Sunday Morning  this very morning is talking about how the negotiations went with the families. He was in charge of the settlements to victim families

Those who want Bush, Cheney and his ilk back, good luck stupid. As I said many times and my research reveals this about human nature:  that holocausts and genocides will always be with us. We cannot fix that ever. Now many believe that Haiti was destroyed along its fault through HARP or other weapons that created the near total destruction. Don’t know about that one or about the levees in NOLA.

All I can say is see this film. Then go online and search for yourselves how this coup was carried off and who actually carried it off.  Loose Change does not talk about the Mossad or how Jews masterminded the whole thing but it is implied. I mean who OWNS Florida as well as NYC? I rest my case. But don’t rest…see Loose Change for yourself.

I used to be  a 9/11 denier in that I only believed what I was told. That some Muslim students (the “dirty whites” that are now genocided in holocaust in their own country) pulled this off. It totally smacks of Hilter tactics: fuck up something and blame the people you want to exterminate for it! Sounds right to me. In this case it is Muslims.

Bin Laden NEVER took responsiblity for 9/11 and we never went after him but after Iraq OIL. The public said it right all along: BUSH WANTS OIL and Cheney wants to take over the world. Honestly, I may never vote again. Kenneth Feinburg (total Jew) put in charge of dispensing the 7 billion dollars to the victim families. What else is news?

Chapter closed on Bin laden and good riddance!

Movie Review: Edge of Darkness (spoiler alert at end)

New Zealander Martin Campbell, who directed Casino Royale and a long list of other films, directs Mel Gibson in the action-packed Edge of Darkness, based on a 1985 BBC series by the same name.

Set in modern-day Boston, Mel Gibson is detective Thomas Craven whose activist daughter eviscerated by a sniper’s bullet before his eyes. He believes that he’s the real target of the hit and demands to be put in charge of the investigation of her death despite this going against protocol. Automatically, the incident is under investigation by the department because it involves an officer. Craven presents the argument you know he will win. So with a green light, Mel Gibson, in top form, hits the accelerator as the director puts his detective character through paces and chases on the byways and highways of Boston.

Gibson maintains a weak Bostonian accent to reflect his working class roots and blue-collar career as a suspicious cop. Their house in Boston is the scene of the first crime, when his daughter comes home for a visit and while on the porch, winds up murdered. Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic), a nuclear physicist, works at a high profile nuclear facility called Northmoor that overlooks Boston. She becomes her dad’s conscience and creates welcome memories as he continually “sees” her once again as his little girl. But his real job is to track down her adult associates and piece together the puzzle of her professional life in nuclear research.

Detective Craven and a mysterious Englishman, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) meet, greet, and kill some unlikely players in a cat-and-mouse game where everything is classified. The loose ends that consume Emma’s life are slowly revealed and we get a glimpse of what she knew. When the mystery is revealed, her dad is left shaken and even more determined to find her killers.

Campbell directs a modern-day Wild West meets Placid East Coast tale with enough murder, suicide, car chases, and sudden death to earn a strong R rating and to satisfy its mostly male audience. This is a real crowd pleaser that may not make the best romantic date outing. Campbell is a veteran director who either gets lost in the complexity of this tale or simply does not care. His audacity is evident in that he takes his audience along for the ride anyway. It’s a somewhat implausible Mel Gibson who plays James Bond for a day, if you will, no doubt making Gibson the real draw for this movie. The cast is unremarkable except for the mysterious Brit Jedburgh, played by British actor Ray Winstone. He alone lends an air of authenticity to the film. The rest of the cast is busied with the job to either kill or be killed.

Critically, one gets the sense that there is a lot of story that goes untold in the two hours this film runs, i.e., loose ends that we are never privy to. That sense of loss is validated when we know that it is based on an entire BBC series! While Edge of Darkness keeps you on the edge of your seat, the story keeps you searching your mind for an answer: what’s this film really about? We are never quite sure.

If bullets were stars I would have to give this film three out of five bullets for fast-paced action and intrigue potential.

*************************

SPOILER ALERT:

Every frickin body including Mel Gibson dies at the end of the movie. No kidding! He walks off arm in arm with his daughter who dies at the beginning. I guess that’s the edge of darkness?  They even  kill a John Kerry Senator character too. The Brit is badass. Mel’s daughter is a whistleblower and left a CD with the whole truth on it. That the US was making nuclear material that would not be traceable back to the US.

Movie Review: Crazy Heart by Heloise

Looking for a respite from the cold, snow, wind, and winter? Then walk, run or ski to your local theater. Because you need a ticket to ride along with Bad Blake and his guitar in Crazy Heart where you can quietly bask in the country and western glow of its old-fashioned log fire as it rolls from Santa Fe to Houston Phoenix in only 112 minutes.

Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake is badass to the bone. He is a beat up, washed up, traveling country crooner. He takes his act on the road because he has no choice. He is his own worse enemy along with the bottle. Blake has never met a bottle he didn’t like.

Blake is crazy like a fox in his jealousy of the one man who can help lift him out of his monetary and career doldrums — Tommy Sweet. Bad has some choice expletives for him when he comes a-callin’. Bad is caught between a rock and a country singer. Only Bad must sing for his supper. He must also put aside his deep disdain for humanity in general and Tommy Sweet in particular, who happens to be a former protegé turned country and western star, in order to stay alive. Colin Farrell as Sweet must fight his cliché character. Farrell is nether good, bad nor indifferent as the country star. His role is a minor one that neither damages nor lifts the film.

Sweet makes Bad an offer he can’t refuse. Bad news for Bad who has just fallen for Jean Craddock. He needs to work and and he needs some solitude for success. Maggie Gyllenhall’s Jean is a real woman who did not see love coming. Maggie’s Jean is a work of art. And no wonder that she has been nominated for best supporting actress as Bad’s love interest.

Gyllenhall portrays a sweet, passive, young journalist, a local reporter who seeks Bad out for an interview — he happily obliges.The May-December affair that ensues is would-be fodder for the tabloids if only it weren’t between an unknown journalist and a long-forgotten entertainer. So, they mix it up with plenty of privacy. Things seem to be going Bad’s way but that illusion is soon shattered because nothing ever pans out for an alcoholic in denial with four failed marriages on his resume.

Crazy Heart is based on a novel and directed by nova director Scott Cooper. He has a long filmography but Crazy Heart represents his directorial début. This film is not just beginner’s luck, no such thing in filmmaking really, but pure craft. Cooper has taken a good script and made a great film. He takes his time and warms up the audience with a steady hand, weaving a wonderful tale of a broken man with a broken life who gets a second wind when he meets a single woman with a four-year-old son.

The director moves his film from point A to point B in pure linear fashion and it works. No tricks, no gimmicks, no flashbacks, just great filmmaking. I don’t mean that in a bad way. No, he has not made a “safe” film — a label usually reserved for vintage directors who know how to U-turn and negotiate curves in a complex or fast-paced movie but don’t attempt them. This is not that kind of film and deserves only praise from its critics. Cooper was not nominated as director nor was his film among the ten nominees, but clearly he has directed Gyllenhall and Bridges to great reviews and Oscar nominations. One song, “The Weary Kind,” from this film has also been nominated for best original song. Three Academy Award nominations in a first film is an auspicious start for any filmmaker.

There is everything to like about Crazy Heart including the nominated performances of Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhall. He is nearly a shoo-in for best actor this year, I think. I’ve seen all the performances nominated except Colin Firth in A Single Man. And that’s exactly why I see only Jeff opening the car door for Oscar to occupy a front seat.