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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Love and Other Drugs

Director(s)Edward Zwick
Writer(s)Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
MusicJames Newton Howard
StarsJake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad
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Love and Other Drugs is about holding on to love. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a promiscuous Pfizer sales rep who experiences something that changes his course in life: he falls in love. Anne Hathaway plays the Parkinson's disease oppressed girlfriend, Hank Azaria is her doctor, Josh Gad plays Randall's sleeps-on-the-couch brother, and Oliver Platt is his supervisor at Pfizer.

The story is loosely inspired by Jamie Reidy's book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman (the book has no love story or dynamic characters, it's simply an account of the somewhat shocking and humorous career of its author). Jamie Randall seems to be on a fast-paced, sex-ridden road to success. He meets Maggie (Hathaway) at a doctor's office (where he's trying to sell Zoloft), and decides he just has to get in her pants. And he does, several times. At first it's just sex, but then they begin to fall in love. The story is deeper than that though. Maggie has Parkinson's disease, and as the plot progresses Jamie begins to wonder if he really wants to be burdened.

I think (and Roger Ebert agrees) that this movie is an example of good direction with a mediocre script. I felt that the first half-hour or so of the film was typical romantic comedy. However, I'm conflicted. While I found Jamie's insatiable lust to be cookie-cutter love story stuff (you know, the whole catch a man that can't be caught thing), it proved essential when he had to decide which life he wanted for himself. I can confidently tell you that the brother was an entirely unnecessary character, though I thought Josh Gad gave an excellent performance. To the writers' credit, the heavier aspects of this story are very well written, and not superficial (like some of their work has been).

James Newton Howard wrote the original score. He's definitely not a genre shaker, but he does his job well. You wouldn't even know you were hearing music if you weren't listening for it, because it fits the scene that well. The soundtrack is speckled with some exciting names: The Kinks, Beck, Liz Phair, and Bob Dylan.

My rating for this film: Loverelevant.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hereafter


Director(s)Clint Eastwood
Writer(s)Peter Morgan
MusicClint Eastwood
StarsCecile de France, Matt Damon, Frankie and George McLaren
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Hereafter is about three unacquainted people, each of whom is more familiar with death than they'd like to be. Cecile de France plays a woman who dies and is brought back, then finds herself contemplating life after death. Matt Damon's character experienced the same thing as a child, but then found himself able to connect with the dead. And Frankie and George McLaren (twins) play a young boy whose twin brother dies, and he is searching for closure.

The plot format is one of those "unacquainted people become acquainted through a circumstantial connection" ideas. At first this worried me, because so often these plots focus more on the connection between the characters rather than the characters themselves. I should've known better with director Clint Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan. I found myself completely immersed in all three stories. And at the end, when the three characters end up in the same place at the same time, it felt natural. They were each there because of some simple detail, and were drawn to each other by virtue of whatever each one sought in life. Best of all, none of the characters had dynamic revelations. Each one simply found what they had been seeking, and were now at peace to go on with life. It's a beautiful story filled with unanswerable uncertainty and unquestionable relatability.

The cinematography is top-notch, but the visual effects often leave something to be desired. Gladly, the movie doesn't lean on the effects. In fact they probably comprise less than ten minutes of the entire film.

Clint Eastwood again writes the music for his film. I am always impressed and inspired by his talent, though I must say there were a couple spots where I didn't think the music was quite fitting. If I made a humble suggestion, it would be that sometimes the lack of music has a more dramatic effect. And I also know that it's difficult to be completely objective when it comes to your own creation. Overall, I felt the music had a great melancholy tone, and was a wonderful match to the film. Clint Eastwood is awesome!

My rating for this film: Sophisticool.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Get Low


Director(s)Aaron Schneider
Writer(s)Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell
MusicJan A.P. Kaczmarek
StarsRobert Duvall, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray
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Get Low is about closure. A man feels his death coming on, but can't forgive himself for an event that happened forty years ago; a remorse for which he has isolated himself from the public for all that time. So he decides to throw a funeral party for himself, where he plans to find his peace. Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, the old hermit, and Lucas Black and Bill Murray are the party-throwing undertakers.

The story is in simple chronological form, but character development comes to us in story-form through other characters. So in a sense we get two stories: one in retrospect about a man's tragedy, and one at present about who he is because of it. The story deals with friendship, love, death, forgiveness, and even a little religion. It is a deep, rich tale that unsettles the heart and makes it grow.

The dialogue is all very true to character. Nothing feels out of place. The cinematography is simple and sound. My applause to director Schneider and writers Provenzano and Mitchell, none of whom have done much on the big screen. Bravo!

My rating for this film: Sophisticool.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Devil


Director(s)John Erick Dowdle
Writer(s)Brian Nelson, M. Night Shyamalan
MusicFernando Velásquez
StarsChris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O'Hara
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Devil is a cookie-cutter, cliché horror movie. The premise is based around a myth that sometimes the devil takes on human form and collects the souls of the wicked.

SPOILER ALERT -- do not read the next paragraph if you actually want to watch this crap

The story is shallow and littered with unquenched oppurtunities for a real story to emerge. Several of the characters could have had an entire movie based on them. But like all other M. Night Shyamalan stories it wasn't written about people, it was written to make audiences gasp at the wretched concluding twist. In this story, we follow a detective as he attempts to investigate why five people stuck in an elevator are mysteriously dying. There's a murderous ex-con, a wallet-snatching old lady, a perverted matress salesman, a blackmailing gold-digger, and a mysterious young man. The detective is a few years past losing his wife and child in a hit-and-run, in which the guilty driver was never identified. Ready for the gag-worthy plot twists? The mysterious young man is the last living elevator rider. Then the old woman, who has been dead for some time, stands up. It appears that she is the devil and we have been fooled. Then, the young man admits to her and to the detective in the security room that he was the driver in a hit-and-run. GASP!! As if it wasn't bad enough already, now the devil can't take his soul because he has shown remorse. And she gets really mad. That's it. Really mad.

The dialogue was less than interesting, and at times wordy. The music was too foreshadowing. The cinematography was the only aspect of this film that was worth anything, but unfortunately not worth watching the rest of the movie for.

My rating for this film: Stupid.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's Kind Of A Funny Story


Director(s)Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writer(s)Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Ned Vizzini(novel)
MusicBroken Social Scene
StarsKier Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts
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It's Kind Of A Funny Story is about sixteen-year-old Craig (Kier Gilchrist), who is suffering from a sort of existential depression and thinks he's suicidal and that there's something wrong with him. So he checks himself into a hospital's psychiatric ward where he meets a stereotypical host of psychiatric patients. He also meets Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and Noelle (Emma Roberts), two patients with whom he will strongly connect.

The story, though perhaps not overly original, is uniquely played out. Although Craig never really tells the psychiatrist or his parents what's depressing him, the viewer finds out that he's just too stressed, and he needs a companion. Two things make this story unique. First, Zach Galifiankis adds his signature awkward humor to an otherwise cookie-cutter psych ward character. Second, the viewer gets an unusually intimate closeness with the main character: we get to see what goes on in his imagination.

Which leads me to cinematography. This movie doesn't have flashy or even breathtaking visuals. It doesn't need them. Even the "imagination" segments aren't anything new. They're just done tastefully. Kudos to directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for keeping it simple and beautiful.

The dialogue is of course part script, part improvisation. Can you have any other setup with Galifianakis in front of the camera? (Well actually you can: he doesn't have any lines in Gigantic.) The script part is natural, existential, and relatable. The improv is Zach Galifianakis and friends. The narrative really gives depth to the main character, while the humor keeps the viewers from getting depressed about their own lives.

Broken Social Scene provides a third of the music for this film, not to mention credits for Queen and David Bowie, and Method Man. No original scoring is sometimes the best way to go. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

My rating for this film: Sophisticool.