Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Soloist

Jamie Foxx has come a long way from his days of playing Crazy George on Roc. The last several years for him have been nothing short of epic in scope.
The Soloist continues that stretch of top notch performances in prime roles (with the possible exception of Tubbs in Miami Vice from 2006, but everyone needs a big shallow paycheck once in a while) that have run the full gamut from hard-nosed staff sergeant to Motown legend.
Foxx is a musical genius named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers who has had "a few setbacks" and is living on the streets of L.A.
He is stumbled upon by Steve Lopez, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Lopez is played by Robert Downey Jr., who is on a similar hot streak to Foxx's, but with less serious, but equally outstanding performances.
There is a dynamic chemistry between Foxx and Downey that fuels the whole film from the moment that Mr. Lopez starts to question Mr. Ayers near a Beethoven statue where Ayers is playing a violin with two strings. This mildly bizarre beginning takes Lopez into a world he hadn't imagined before this chance encounter.
Apparently, the film is a loose retelling of the real-life Lopez's experience writing a series of columns about Ayers, homelessness and mental illness.
The ending is not exactly a typical Hollywood wrap-up and may leave some audiences feeling incomplete, but this lack of neat-and-tidy is exactly what makes the ending so strong.
The strength of The Soloist is really in the performances, but the story itself should not be overlooked: a writer's fascination with his subject and an interesting study in what makes each of them tick.
Supporting roles by Catherine Keener, Nelsan Ellis, Stephen Root and an assortment of actual homeless citizens of L.A. round out the experience to make a solid movie into an outstanding movie.
In spite of some slow patches and a strange string of coyote urine references, this film is living up to the hype, and hopefully will not be forgotten by awards season.
The Soloist gets an A-.
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Observe and Report

Seth Rogen is back. For some that is not the best news ever, but I happen to have a soft spot in my heart for the lovable stoner. This time out he is a mall security guard in Observe and Report.
The first time seeing the preview, all that came to mind was the recent Kevin James debacle and I immediately cringed to see Rogen going down that road.
This one is definitely not a family friendly romp like Paul Blart was. Extremely not family friendly.
Eastbound and Down creator Jody Hill was at the helm of Observe and Report, which shows through in the awkward cockiness of the main character in each project.
Observe and Report serves to creep out the audience as much as it amuses. The bizarre lead character is surrounded by equally bizarre family and co-workers. Possibly it feels so creepy because it's disturbingly accurate how out of touch with reality Rogen's Ronnie Bernhardt is. Having worked in malls, I know how some (definitely not all, to be fair) security guards really have that over-inflated sense of self-importance. Many want to be cops but fell short for a variety of reasons and now see their "wet floor" cones and their walkie-talkies as substitutes for a badge and gun.
This movie is not as amusing as the usual Seth Rogen fare, but has it's own shining moments. The dynamic of Ronnie and his perpetually drunk mother is kind of charming and serves up more than a few laughs.
Overall, the creepy side of the movie outweighs the fun and leaves you feeling a little uncomfortable when leaving the theater.
Let's hope Rogen's upcoming Funny People will be better (and it really seems to have more going for it) and allow him to put Ronnie behind him.
Observe and Report gets a C.
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Training Rules

The Philadelphia Cinefest is rolling to a conclusion, but this weekend is full of good stuff for movie lovers. A choice event was tonight's world premiere of a documentary about prejudice in the world of women's basketball.
Training Rules focuses on specific practices at Penn State but touches on the the broader topic in general as well. The core of this story is a young woman, Jen Harris, who was dismissed from the basketball team for being perceived to be a lesbian. From there, the filmmakers looked into other cases that showed a history of homophobia in the women's basketball program at Penn State revolving around coach Rene Portland's stated policies of not allowing lesbians on her team.
It's hard to take a story like this and not make a compelling film. Where many filmmakers would allow the intense story carry the documentary, Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker decide not to take the lazy route. Weaving together the tails of several different student athletes that faced hardship in the PSU basketball program is done with finesse and compassion. Compelling subjects are complemented by adept storytelling by the director.
Harris's story is enough to keep an audience's interest. A stellar athlete who is also an outstanding student and seems to have all the promise and potential that any kid coming out of high school could have. Her dreams of playing in the WNBA seemed not just realistic, but certain. After being forced out of the team by Portland's policies, Harris and her family decided to stand up and, as is said in the movie, make sure this doesn't happen to another player.
That story alone is enough to draw an audience in and keep them in, but Mosbacher and Yacker found several other former players and coaches who faced similar treatment in the PSU basketball program.
Sadly, many of the former players did not live in a society that saw the injustice of these policies and were not afforded the opportunity to stand up for themselves at the time. Many of them, and probably countless others there and at other schools, were forced to just accept the injustice and walk away hurt and defeated.
The only real downside of Training Rules is the decidedly narrow scope of its potential audience and therefore its budget constraints, sadly the fate of far too many excellent documentaries.
Training Rules gets an A-
--John Berry, Online Editor--

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Love You, Man


In a very good way.

I Love You, Man is from director John Hamburg, who was one of the writers of Zoolander, Meet the Parents and Along Came Polly (it's surprising that Ben Stiller didn't show up in this one). This one is along similar lines to these uncomfortable comedic romps, but has some more of the off-color humor that would be expected from Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

The preposterous storyline of a guy searching desperately for a best friend to make his best man at his upcoming wedding seems like it might be destined for failure. But the half-baked story idea is brought to life by amusing, well-written dialogue and a palpable chemistry of the two leading men.

While straddling the line between rom-com and a genre that can really only be described as Apatow-edy, I Love You, Man finds it's own voice through Paul Rudd's always amusing performance.

Some points of the movie hearken back to the awkwardness of Meet the Fockers at times, but those moments are counter-balanced with actual comedy.

There are plenty of weak points in the story, but overall it is steady amusement with periods of raucous laughter.

I Love You, Man gets a B-.
--John Berry, Online Editor--