Saturday, January 23, 2010

Movie Review: Extraordinary Measures

We all like feel good movies. We love watching the under dog overcome struggles making it through, not only enduring, but prevailing to reach that goal. We loved Revenge of the Nerds as the nerds rocked out to their synthesized 80's pop music to overcome the high and mighty Alpha Betas and Pi Delta Pis. OK, I'm dating myself.

But we love it even more when the story isn't made up but "inspired by actual events" such as the case of The Blind Side, Invictus or the new Harrison Ford and Brandon Fraser movie Extraordinary Measures, based on the book The Cure.

Fraser plays husband John Crowley with Keri Russell playing his wife Aileen. They have three children, two of which have a form of muscular dystrophy called Pompe. The older of the two sick siblings, Megan is eight and her younger brother Patrick is six. John is climbing the corporate ladder at his company. After a close brush with the death of Megan he decides to go to Dr Robert Stonehill (Ford) who is approaching treatment for Pompe differently that anyone else in a theoretical manner. The problem is it's still theoretical and in order to save his children from the fatal disease, it has to be practical. This trip puts John's job and insurance at risk.

Stonehill is hampered by being in a college that controls the purse strings for his funding. He complains that the salary of the football coach is more than his entire department. Rings true in real life as the football coach at the University of Hawaii is the highest paid public employee in the State of Hawaii. Stonehill suggests to John that they start their own company with Stonehill focusing on the science and John focusing on the funding since he has an MBA from Harvard. John leaves his company to entice venture capitalist to gain funding for the new company. The two fuss and feud as they have different goals and go through different machinations in order to get from theory to reality.

This role was a stretch for Fraser. Remember he was Encino Man and George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right as well as Dr Rick O'Connell. Fraser is usually cast as a caricature of a character caught in imaginary worlds with lots of action and special effects surrounding him. This time there was none of that. He had to play in the real world. He can't play comic relief to a CGI figure or background. He has to play a father desperate to do what ever it takes in order to save his children. Could he pull it off, for the most part yes without being over the top.

On the other hand you have Ford. I found myself at times thinking of him playing his dad from the Indiana Jones series. Eccentric and consumed. Just as Henry Jones was focused on the Holy Grail, Robert Stonehill was focused on his theories. Here's the white board and the phone is ringing and ringing....ignore the phone while you work. The door buzzer is blaring and you keep working. Give the guy who's trying to get you funding smarty pants answers when you can't pull in the bucks yourself due to interpersonal issues. Cantankerous older scientist who likes to blare his music on a Bose Wave sound system, that was Stonehill.

I'm sure for the movie besides the role of Stonehill being synthesized for scripting purposes there were a number of other situations that were fictionalized to show the struggle to get a drug from concept to clinical trials. The battles to be waged between investment and profitability outcomes, what are acceptable losses, how large a market, what sort of trials. I don't know if I'll read the book to find out what actually happened, maybe I should. How do I know this? At the end of the credits there was a paragraph stating that although the Crowleys were real, that a lot of artistic license was used (my paraphrase). With health care being debated in America, I hope that people who see this movie keep this in mind and don't think this is a literal case to use as many of the situations were idealized and romanticized.

While not as gripping as The Blind Side, it was an enjoyable movie worthy of the matinee price that I paid to see it. The emotions displayed didn't totally suck me in, but there were moments both on the sad and funny that did engage me, but it wasn't ratcheted up enough where you really were pulled in completely to the struggle. This 105 minute movie is rated PG for thematic elements, a ~barely~ suggestive moment, and language. As a side note, Harrison Ford while one of the executive producers for this film allowed Fraser to have his name first in the credits. Look closely at the picture to see this.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Movie Review: Legion

The end of the world as we know it movies seem to be running rampant. From Zombieland to 2012, The Book of Eli, Day Breakers, Twilight (well, maybe not Twilight, but by watching Bella, you would think it was the end of the world) and now Legion. Don't know why the preoccupation with the end of the world. These movies were put into production before we had the big melt down in 2009 so why so many "downer" movie? But they are coming out and we get to observe all sorts of why that the world will end between diseases, vampires, man made disasters, cosmic alignment and now it appears that god himself is mad with man and wants to destroy him using his angels.

Opening scene, in LA the sky opens up and with a bit of a flash a man appears out of nowhere. Hmmmm...kinda reminiscent of the start of Terminator. In shadow against a stone wall we see wings and then a knife, pain, blood. Hmmmm....didn't I see that in X-Men 2? Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) has come to Earth to help save it. God is mad at man and wants to wipe him off the face of the planet. Gee, the story of Noah's ark and the flood comes to mind. So in 2006 Bettany plays an albino trying to save the Catholic Church from people. Now he's trying to save the people from god. Oh, and the date is December 23.

In a corner of the Mohave desert is a po dunk diner where a rag tag group of people are together when there are problems with radio and tv reception. The diner is owned by Bob (Dennis Quaid) with his son Jeep (Lucas Black), a pregnant woman who goes by the name of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), cook Percy (Charlie Dutton) and a family dad Howard (Jon Tenney), Mom Sandra (Kate Walsh) and wayward daughter Audrey (Willa Holland). They are joined by lost father trying to get to LA Kyle (Tyrese Gibson). They realize somethings wrong when old lady with walker comes in and tells Charlie that her baby is going to burn in hell in a weird voice and then starts to crawl along the ceiling. One skillet throw and a couple shots later ceiling walking grandma now with lots of small pointy sharp teeth is laying on the ground in a pool of blood.

Later that day Michael arrives dum da dum to save the day! He could care less about the rest of the people, only the baby within eight month pregnant Charlie. The baby is going to be able to save humanity he tells them along with all hell is about to break loose, but it isn't hell, it's the angels from heaven that are causing the problems by using the shells of people who have weak minds to try to get to Charlie's unborn baby. People inside the diner, aptly called Paradise Falls are trying to make it to the next day as the angels attack. Miraculously, on Christmas Day Charlie gives birth during the blowing of the trumpets signaling Gabriel's (Kevin Durand) coming. Funny, Durand played Keamy on LOST who killed Ben's daughter and here he is playing an angel trying to kill Charlie's baby where on LOST Charlie was trying to save Clarie's baby. Weird I know.

Michael and Gabriel battle it out. Lots of bodies get wasted along the way. Questions of anger, wrath, love and faith get put out there. Some get answered, some don't. Does the baby make it to be able to save the world ala John Connor in Terminator or does god's wrath and the angels instructions to smite man by killing Charlie's baby win out?

As a christian, the were SOOOOO much wrong with this movie it isn't even funny. If you believe anything in the Bible you know that God did wipe out mankind because they were so wicked with only Noah and his family being saved with a 40 plus day open ocean cruise. The first part of the trip was ruined by rain, but afterward the sun shone bright. Once the flood waters disappeared He created the rainbow to seal a covenant that He would never destroy man again. Scott Stewart as co-writer and director, not sure what he was going for here. It was such a hodge podge going back and forth between fate, free will, hopelessness and faith. If God already saved mankind one time with his own Son, why would it need to be saved a second time? There are just too many questions that aren't answered to make the story somewhat believable with it's own weird logic. Wouldn't it just have been easier to flood the world again and not tell anyone to build an ark? I guess if they did that it would have looked too much like 2012.

While Stewart is credited with visual effects on some other movies, he wasn't credited on this one. He is credited with a company The Orphanage which did work on this movie. Some of the visuals were pretty good. The looks of Michael and Gabriel were something that was believable if you take to the notion that angels are part of God's army. They accomplished the overall look of doom and gloom and pestilence needed for an end of the world movie.

Was it a great way. It was meh for overall entertainment unless you like end of the world stuff and then it was OK. The movie runs one hour and 40 minutes and is rated R for foul language and lots of blood. If you stay to the end of the credits there is a slight easter egg but nothing huge if you decided not to stay.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Movie Review: A Serious....oops Single Man

Had a little surprise today. Heading to the movie theater, I bought my ticket expecting to see the Coen Brother's movie. I had seen previews a couple of times for A Serious Man. I made it just in time missing some of the upcoming previews when the feature movie starts. As a side note, Consolidated Theaters in Hawaii changed their trailer for the chain during their 75th anniversary. It was a big deal at the time getting all sorts of press. This year, they have been running the chain trailer for 18 years. Hard to believe....Anyway, back to the movie review.

Eyes adjusting for the sudden darkness I located a seat and the starting credits start to roll and on the screen is a man struggling in water. It's obvious that he's not wearing anything. I scratch my head and then see the title. It took me a moment to realize that I was in the wrong movie. It's not that I went into the wrong theater, I just got my wires crossed with the titles as they are very close and I didn't pay attention. I was watching A Single Man. Single...serious...six letters vs seven letters both beginning with the letter s, an easy mistake to understand.

The man is no longer in the water but in a snowy field where next to an overturned car is the body of a dead man. The man walks through the snow and kisses the dead man on the lips. He then wakes up from the dream. He gets up and starts a narration. It sounds bleak and the colors are muted. He starts to get ready for the day and that it's going to be a chore for him to make it through the day. In a series of flash backs, we find out that it was his partner for 16 years Jim has died in a car crash eight months earlier. It's November 1962 with the Cuba Missile crisis in full motion. Being a homosexual male is something that society is not willing to confront. The man, George (Collin Firth) is a professor of English at a college in the Los Angeles area.

When the phone rings as he's dressing George flashes back to the call when he learns that Jim (Matthew Goode) has been killed. The caller says that he shouldn't have called George but thought he had a right to know that Jim had died. When George suggested catching a plane he's told that the service is for family only. The grief is obvious. As he packs his satchel for the day he puts in a gun that has no bullets.

As George goes through the day the look on his face is that of a lost man. Before he leaves his house he has an anxiety attack. When his house keeper arrives she says he doesn't look good. He says he's fine. At work one of his male students Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) talks to him after class and says that he doesn't look good. George says he's fine. He has dinner with his best friend Charley (Julianne Moore) and she say he doesn't look good. George says he's fine. As we follow George through the day it's apparent that he knows that he's not fine.

That night when he's having dinner with his best female friend Charley, the colors become bright. She talks about her situation with her ex-husband and wonders what could have been between the two of them had George not met Jim after the end of the second world war. What could have been but would not be between them.

Over the course of the day as George interacts with people they are concerned for him but he neither seems to want to or need to talk to them. He really doesn't have an outlet for his emotions. Even though they ask, would they really be able to comprehend what he is going through? Would they really want him using their shoulder to cry on with the circumstances of his life?

Tom Ford directed this as his first movie. He's a clothing designer who showcases his designs via George's wardrobe. Just as the use of color and texture is important in fashion, he used the textures and colors to help tell this story. The colors through the day are dull, drab and not in sharp focus. When George is having his flash backs, images are in focus and colorful just as he has a few moments in his day where he is enjoying life images are bright and colorful, but they fade back into a textured drab blur when those moments pass.

There is talk of Colin Firth receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of George. The nomination would be fully justified for Best Male Actor. Seeing the emotions when George receives the call or watching his zombie like emotions as he tries to make it through the day you feel for him. While watching such raw emotions and some actions are tough to take, I was glad I got the titles mixed up and ended up watching A Single Man.

The movie is rated R for disturbing images and sexual/nudity content and runs 101 minutes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

When it comes to the youth having awkwardness and angst, Michael Cera is the goto guy when you want to make your film. If he's not available, then you goto Jessie Eisenberg. For Youth in Revolt, this might have been a case where Jessie would have been a better selection.

Nick Twisp (Cera) is caught in a bad situation. He hates his name. His parents are divorced. His mom (Jean Smart) is hooked up with a looser truck driver Jerry (Zack Galifianakis). His dad (Steve Buschemi) is hanging with a trophy girlfriend (Ari Graynor). After Jerry does a bad transaction with some sailors, Nick, his mom and Jerry have to high tail it to a trailer park to avoid a confrontation with the sailors. It's here at the trailer park that Nick meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) who lives in a two story trailer and falls head over heals for a girl who lives with ultra conservative parents. Boy finds girl.

As typically portrayed, when the reins are held too tight, the youth rebels. In this case, it's not Nick. It's Sheeni. But she wants a bad boy and Nick is not all that and a bag of chips. She speaks her mind and knows what she wants as she's already seeing someone. She likes Nick but plays with him. She wants more of a bad boy she plays Nick against her current boy friend Trent. Nick and Sheeni are separated. In order to get the girl he takes on a second persona, Francios Dillinger. Boy looses girl, boy attempts to regain girl.

The rest of the movie is spent showing the events, plans and schemings that Nick will go through in order to get the girl back. I sat there watching the screen as Nick was having conversations with Francios. I was confused as to why he wasn't under psychiatric supervision and medications. The conversations at times were funny, often sad. Cera seems to make a living playing the guy in the awkward sexual situations like Juno or Superbad. Some of the situations were so over the top they were funny. Some just plain sad.

Most of the talent in this movie wasn't used very well. Galifianakis didn't get to do much. He was so funny in The Hangover, but here he didn't get to be funny. Ray Liotta came in playing his usual tough guy although I felt I saw this character before from Wild Hogs. Fred Willard and Justin Long has small roles as well.

Does the boy get the girl because ultimately isn't that what all romantic comedies are about? We'll you'll need to watch the film. Paying for a matinee would seem a little extravagant for this movie. I might suggest it on a rental. The movie runs 90 minutes and has an R rating for sexual content, language, and drug use.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Movie Review: Nine

Just as Rob Marshall took Chicago from the Broadway stage and directed the big screen adaptation, this Christmas he's taken Nine from Broadway which was based on Federico Fellini's film 8 1/2 to give us the big screen adaptation of Nine. Don't confuse this with the movie 9 that both sound the same when you say them but one is written as the numeral and the other is the word. On a scale of one to ten with ten being the bad side, the title fits about what I would rate this movie.

It's the story of fictional director Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. He's had some good films and the last ones stinkers. It's 1965 and he's about to start a new film in ten days without a plot or script. He's looking back at the women who have been his muses in the past, and there's lots of them. There is his Mom (Sophia Loren), a prostitute Saraghina (Fergie), his wife/actress Luisa (Marion Cotillard), the mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), the reporter Stephanie (Kate Hudson), the starlet Claudia (Nicole Kidman) and the costume designer/confidant Lilli (Judi Dench). Guido wants to be inspired once again for his new movie. Which one will do it for him? All of the women look hot. But then again, he's a successful Italian director, what other sort of women would you expect to be in his life?

He looks to the women one at a time for the development of the new movie named Italia. Some connections are in real time and some are visualized or remembered. For those women they tell their story on a set that sort of looks like architecture in the Coliseum that is supposed to be used in his new movie. Through flash backs and dreams each of the muses has played a part in his past directorial directions. Each told through a song and dance so there are seven in the movie.

Penelope Cruz looks like she got instruction from those new popular stripper pole community dance classes, or maybe it was Miley Cyrus, not sure. In any case, she does her best and her movements keep your attention. She kept mine for her story. Did I mention the women look Hot in this film? The best line in the film belongs to Carla as she sincerely wants Guido and to help him and will be waiting for him with....well, I won't spoil that here.

A young Guido gets taught about love with his young male classmates on the beach by Fergi told in flashback form. They pay her and she sings to him and the boys to "Be Italian". He's taught was is good and what is bad but ultimately, they'll know what to do "it is in your blood" because he's Italian. Fergie and a chorus of singers and dancers demonstrate on the Coliseum stage with sand and tambourines. She and the dancers looks Hot.

This goes on and on for each of the women. Several times during the movie I ended up closing my eyes. The use of color and at times black and white were used to help along the story line, but not enough to keep my attention. The music for the most part was forgettable but the women really looked good. Did I mention they looked Hot with a capital H? Sophia still looks smokin' hot at 75!

Speaking of smoking, there is more cigarette smoking in this movie than I have seen in a long time. Between that and some of the sexual content the movie is rated PG-13. Clocking in at one hour and fifty minutes, it seemed a lot longer. While I didn't look at the time, I did wonder when it would end.

One positive aspect of the movie for me was that it was filmed in Italy in several locations. I always like to see real locations and not just recreations or CGI mock ups. So if you want to see Hot women and beautiful Italian locations, this is the movie for you. If you want an engaging movie, well, maybe the other movie 9 with the numeral would be better suited for you.