A Single Man = A
Written by Tom Ford & David Scearce, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, Directed by Tom Ford
Talk about a beautiful film. Cold and stark in one sense, but brimming with life and intensity beneath the surface. The story of a man (Colin Firth) who loses his male lover (of 16 years) (the handsome Matthew Goode) and spends a day carefully preparing for his suicide (and spending time with his best friend, a luminous Julianne Moore), the movie is shot with the fashion eye of designer-cum-filmmaker Tom Ford.
It's also arguably Colin Firth's best performance. Usually Firth plays Firth, in some varying degree, but here he immerses himself into a 1960's professor who must remain in the closet and grieve quietly while he lives within a glass house. A young student (Nicholas Hoult, all grown up from About A Boy) seems intrigued and is intriguing.
Every shot is carefully choreographed and framed, and even the tones and intensity of the colours match the mood of Firth's man. Ford has taken some direction from some great filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar (there's even one shot that seems like an Almodovar signature), and if Almodovar films tend to be odes to the beauty of women (like Talk To Her, All About My Mother, Volver), Ford's A Single Man is an ode to the beauty of men.
Even the small roles are cast perfectly including neighbours Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) and Teddy Sears (Raising the Bar) and the school's receptionist Keri Lynn Pratt (Jack & Bobby).
Up in the Air = A
Written by Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, Directed by Jason Reitman
Up in the Air may be seem like a timely response to our failing economy and our disposability of humankind in the current corporate world, but it's also about the timeless pursuit of our purpose in life and Reitman has fashioned a quiet and contemplative journey investigating those themes.
George Clooney's Ryan Bingham is a single man who flies around America firing people for other people, and enjoys his lifestyle of airline points and hotel rooms. He meets with a fellow frequent flyer, a beautiful Vera Farmiga (OOOOH, I get her now!!! I'm in!) and gets straddled with showing the ropes to a young up-and-commer Anna Kendrick. All three actors give simple and precise performances that blend perfectly into the realism in the film (aided by some real life firings and documentary like scenes, as well as performances by Amy Morton (August: Osage County), Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men) and Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down)).
While there was one scene that felt doubtful (an argument, that while valid, seemed to start out of nowhere), the rest of the film feels true to life and wonderfully understated (and this is a movie that already casts caricature experts and Juno holdovers JK Simmons and Jason Batemen).
It's Complicated = C+
Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers
Opens Christmas Day 2009
It's too bad this movie wasn't written and directed by Nora Ephron, the "other" female director that tends to make female centric films for adults, because it would have turned out far better than what Nancy Meyers has made. Granted, I've never been a fan of Meyers latest stuff (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give) and I find she tends to have a great concept, but then never really knows what to do with it, and her endings are always complete crap (if there's an ending at all).
It's Complicated is no exception. A poorly written, poorly directed, poorly paced film, that happens to be cast with Pros Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Jon Krasinski who mine what they can for every cheap laugh and chuckle to make the movie somewhat entertaining. Meryl and Alec are terrific together and it's just fun watching them banter on screen. Steve Martin is in a glorified cameo role and Jon Krasinski's character is completely there for the sole reason of reacting to Alec and Meryl (and if we know anything from The Office, he knows how to make those facial reactions pure comic gold).
Sadly, having Alec and Jon only reinforces the fact that this movie is not even sitcom good. Nowadays, with The Office and 30 Rock, sitcom good actually means GOOD. This movie has its moments, but it's more like a mediocre episode of Two and A Half Men with an Oscar calibre cast.
But the adults are gonna eat this shit up! They laughed and laughed at my screening, but much of that credit goes to the cast. I will give Meyers the credit for casting Zoe Kazan and Hunter Parrish (Weeds) as Meryl's kids. It makes me happy to know that Hunter is now Meryl's son in the movie universe!
Nine = C+
Written by Michael Tolkin & Michael Minghella, based on the musical by Arthur Kopit, Maury Yetson and Mario Fratti, Directed by Rob Marshall
Opens Christmas Day 2009
The opening sequence, when all the leading ladies slowly step out of the shadows onto the glorious soundstage set, gave me the chills. Oscar winner Sophia Loren, Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench, Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, Oscar winner Penélope Cruz, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, Osc... oh wait, and Kate Hudson and Fergie. All the women surround Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis. It's too great of a set up!
They should have just left it at that. While DDL isn't a terrible singer, and as great of an actor as he is, he lacks the sort of lusty intensity needed at the centre of a film about a movie director Guido (who can't figure out what to do for his ninth film) and all the women surrounding his life. DDL is sort of miscast here, and I only wish they had the original casting of Javier Bardem or have kept Antonio Banderas from the recent Broadway revival.
On the other hand, I don't know if the musical itself that the movie is based on is that good anyways (And as much as I follow Broadway, I've heard little about the musical except for its revival cast of Banderas, Jane Krakowski and Chita Rivera). The songs aren't that memorable and the musical lets each women come into the directors life, sings a song, then exits. Okay, the surrealism works in a Federico Fellini film (in which the musical is based on) but you would think a musical could do surrealism well. It doesn't. Not here at least. The fantasy sequences are abrupt against moments of Guido's real life.
Of all the women, Marion Cotillard gives a breakthrough performance with the little she has as Guido's ignored wife. Fergie gives the best musical performance (probably because it's the best song as well) with the strongest voice (being that she IS the singer in the cast here, that should be expected) in a small role. It's fun watching Judi Dench and Penélope Cruz sing, but they aren't at their strongest here. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman just has to show up, exude her movie star glow, and then leave.
All the elements are there, but Rob Marshall fails to tie the cast, the songs, and the story together and exotic sets aren't enough to make it a unified movie. Sadly, Nine is more like a 6.
Fantastic Mr. Fox = B+
Written by Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, based on the novel by Roald Dahl, Directed by Wes Anderson
Love the feel of the film.
Love the music.
Actually got used to the animation stop-motion style again and loved it.
Loved the expressions on the animals faces.
Loved the voices including George Clooney and Meryl Streep (as well as other Wes Anderson standby's Jason Schwartman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray).
Loved the quirky nature of the whole film.
But then it kept going and going and felt about 20 min. too long.
It almost had me at Fantastic but it's only almost fantastic. A little snipping would have helped (and not just in the tail).
Where The Wild Things Are = B
Written by Dave Eggers & Spike Jonze, based on the book by Maurice Sedlak, Directed by Spike Jonze
If Fantastic Mr. Fox was 20 min. too long, Where the Wild Things Are is about 30-40 min. too long.
Again, I loved the look, the music, the feel, the direction, loved the new script and expanded dialogue.
But in the end, a 16 page book can only sustain a story for so long and parts of it seemed REALLY streeeeetched for the sake of padding it into a full length feature.
In fact, parts of the movie were absolutely brilliant, and then there were moments where it was absolutely boring. And it intertwined throughout.
An Education = B+
Written by Nick Hornby, based on the memoir of Lynn Barber, Directed by Lone Scherfig
I've tried writing this review several times but it's difficult to reveal my true feelings without spoiling the movie, but I'll go on to say that I started loving this movie, but it lost me at some point along the way. Partly because my own hope for the movie didn't actually turn out (an education in itself), but to its credit, wonderful newcomer Carey Mulligan managed to charm her way and capture my attention right from the start. Much like Peter Sarsgaard was charmed by Mulligan's Jenny.
Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike all give delicious performances full of intelligence and mystery, but the story just left me waning a bit, disappointed by its cliched turn.
Still, it starts off well enough and the performances are fantastic (including a cameo from Emma Thompson) but the film doesn't get a perfect grade from me.
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com