Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona

The latest offering from Woody Allen is a prime example of lazy film making. (And my selection to review it is lazy as well since it was a request from all of my reader, she really demanded more than requested).

Vicky Christina Barcelona takes some of the more talented actors in the business today and a solid, unique storyline but somehow manages to make the whole thing boring and a chore to watch.

The movie begins with a narrator whose voice is just mildly annoying. As it carries on, listening to the narrator becomes arduous and starts to really grate. It seems that Allen decides that instead of giving us information through developed dialogue and plot, he just has the narrator do it for him.

Dialogue is consistently the strong point of any Woody Allen film, and this one should be no exception, but the character dialogue becomes secondary to the narrator beating the audience over the head with inane details as if the viewer were unable to understand what is happening on the screen.

The plot is interesting enough to keep you there through all of this. Christina (Scarlett Johanssen) runs off and falls in love with an artist (Javier Bardem) who has a sordid history with a wild ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) who just happens to pop back in to his life again. After this cliched plot line emerges, Allen actually takes it to a less predictable place (which will not be spoilered here) and rescues the story.

The performances are exactly what should be expected from Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johanssen, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz. All good actors. All delivering excellent performances. The supporting cast also pull through to round out the film with overall near perfect acting. This might be attributed to Allen's directing or to the casting director, but each actor seems perfect for the character they are playing. One of the most effective is Chris Messina as Doug, Vicky (Hall)'s fiancee who is the most dull, annoying person ever, which gives a fantastic look at Vicky's complex situation as she yearns for stability but also wonders about her best friend Christina's vivacious love life.

The story is intriguing and would have made a solid movie if the narrator had just shut up ten minutes into the movie. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, Allen could have spent a good amount more screen time on telling his narrative without the obnoxious voiceover.

Overall Vicky Christina Barcelona gets a C, but if they had put in the effort to show off those fantastic actors and decent dialogue it would have scored higher.
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Monday, September 29, 2008


Chuck Palahniuk's modern classic is brought to life on the silver screen in the Fox Searchlight indie production of Choke.

For the most part, director and screenplay writer Clark Gregg stays true to the original text. A few little strays here and there throughout the first two thirds of the film get you by in this low-budget offering. The casting is strong on the majors, but a little weak on the minors. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as the charming-but-flawed Victor Mancini who trolls sex addiction support groups for willing partners in his own addictive behaviors. Anjelica Huston is his career troublemaker mother, Ida, who is dying in a hospital. Brad Henke is surprisingly well cast as Victor's always-losing best friend Denny who is carrying his own share of sexual deviance.

Knowing it's not fair to compare a movie to the book that it is based on, it has to be said that there was a LOT of material that was glossed over in the movie that should probably been expounded upon or left out entirely because they feel like they are just kind of thrown in for fun. Denny's rock collection, Victor's Jesus comparisons, Ida's social experiments in the flashbacks to Victor's childhood and even the mundane existence at Colonial Dunsboro are all major parts of the book that felt rushed in the movie.

Gregg clearly has a reverance for the book that shows through, but he seems to assume a familiarity with these side themes in the story that a viewer who has not read the book will probably not understand. Even the choking in resaurants part of the story gets less attention than it deserves, especially since the story is called Choke.

If you have not read the book, the movie will be enjoyable. If you are able to separate the source material from the end product (like watching the new Star Wars movies without thinking of the original Holy Trilogy), the movie will be enjoyable. If you cannot separate movies from the books they were based on, you will probably be disappointed, especially in the ending. Similarly, if you watch this trying to compare it to Fight Club (also a Palahniuk novel of sheer genius), you will also be let down.

This movie has a less serious tone than either Fight Club or the writings of Palahniuk in general, but seems to hit its mark as a twisted, dark comedy that tries to showcase acting and characters more than dialogue and story. In that regard, it holds the feel of the book because the insane and insanely interesting characters are the strongest part of the novel, where the story is just kind of the background of the book.

The book version is an A+, but the Choke film really only deserves a B+ for glossing over too much of the book when the film would have been served better to leave out parts of the book entirely to give more attention to others.
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Burn After Reading

The Coens drop their latest this weekend with a star-studded display called Burn After Reading.

It's the story of infidelity and stupidity in the the D.C. intelligence community. While in the scale of genius that is the history of the Coen brothers, this movie is not on the same level as some of their usual fare, it is a fun ride and and a witty satire of the spy movie genre.

Cinematic geniuses tend to aim higher and higher with each successive offering, but following up No Country For Old Men with something better would have been next to impossible. So the Coen brothers did the smart thing and made no attempt to top it and went in an entirely different direction.

A weak movie from Joel and Ethan Coen is still better than usual Hollywood standards. Burn has moments of sheer genius that are hallmarks of the Coens. Unfortunately, this one has fewer than most of the duo's previous endeavors.

Many of the jokes fall a little flat, but that is offset by the brilliant storyline and the always stellar performances of Clooney, McDormand, Pitt, Swinton, Jenkins and the great and mighty Malkovich. There are even a couple of grand minor roles including David Rasche (yes, Sledge Hammer is still around) and J.K. Simmons (one of the most underrated actors of modern cinema).

The real strong point is the story. Unique is the key to every Coen movie so far, and this plotline is no exception. It's hard to describe the story without giving too many details away, so just know that there are interesting twists and turns all along the way that make for an enjoyable ride that doesn't fail to disappoint in the end.

Burn After Reading might be on the lower end of the Coen movie scale, but it still gets a B+ in the real world.

--John Berry, Online Editor--

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reaching into the DVD collection.

Just decided to watch something this afternoon that I have loved for a while. Partly because I am a creature of habit and watch lots of movies multiple times. Partly because I have watched some mediocre science fiction movies lately and wanted to watch a really good one again.

The director is the great Danny Boyle and the movie is his sci-fi offering to the world: Sunshine.

With the sun dying out, a crew of scientists are on their way to our source of light and heat in this part of the universe in order to jump-start it with a massive nuclear explosion.

Sounds like a typical sci-fi plot, but with Danny Boyle at the helm, it is anything but typical. He is known for experimenting with various genres and coming out with fantastic results. Sunshine fits his m.o. perfectly. A seemingly normal plot that he takes to a whole new level of filmmaking, as he did with 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and pretty much everything else he's had his hands on.

With a solid cast including Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne, the drama is gripping the whole way through the film. The story is truly an original take on the sci-fi genre as well. Penned by Alex Garland, with whom Boyle has worked several times, it is a story that is simultaneously an homage to psychological sci-fi and a departure from it.

This modern classic gets an A (as if there was any doubt from my glowing praise).
--John Berry, online editor--