Sunday, August 26, 2012


Sparkle (2012)

Directed by Salim Akil

Screenplay by Mara Brock Akil

Story by Howard Rosenman

Stars: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Carmen Ejogo, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick and Curtis Armstrong

The 1976 version of Sparkle is a cult classic in the African American community. I have heard of that film was a rip-off of Dreamgirls, but without Sparkle there would be no Dreamgirls, no Sheryl Lee Ralph, no Loretta Devine nor Jennifer Holliday. I saw this film with my family. The last time that I saw a movie with my family was The Princess and the Frog. Besides I wanted to see the final performance of the late Whitney Houston. The movie felt like a bad after school special.

Making her big screen debut Jordin Sparks plays the titular Sparkle, a shy girl living in 1960s Detroit with her sisters, wild child Sister (Ejogo) and sassy Dee (Sumpter). They live with their strict mother, Emma (Houston) who was a failed singer back in the day. What Emma doesn't know is that the girls have been sneaking out of the house to perform in various clubs where Sparkle write the songs and Sister sings them. They might an ambitious manager named Stix (Luke) who wants to encourage Sparkle to share gifts and not fade into the background.

Being that I had a big meal before seeing this movie did not help matters. I was yawning a bit through it.. The movie felt like it lacked that pizazz. There were some moments that felt very contrived and forced. I love Jordin Sparks as a singer. She could sang, but being an actress is not her forte. It was like she didn't have any emotion to her character. Carmen Ejogo looked like Beyoncé from that Countdown video. I was very distracting.

The movie felt up and down with the movie. The good parts were the actual songs sung in the movie. That got my attention. Being that it was the very last performance of Whitney Houston, I thought she did a good job as the strict God-fearing mother here. There was a scene at the dinner table that got me. Another than that, I would suggest just getting the soundtrack.

My Rating

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Screenplay by Dan Fogelman

Stars: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Jonah Bobo, Analeigh Tipton, John Carol Lynch, Beth Littleford, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon

I was feeling down in the dumps. Getting out of the funk I wanted to see, a romantic comedy. Any romantic comedy will do. Something to pick up my spirits, I decided to watch this movie OnDemand. I'm glad I did. It's like Prozac for cinephiles.

Basic premise of the movie is a series of interconnecting stories of people falling in and out of love. We are introduced to Cal and Emily Weaver (Carell, Moore) that are coming home from a boring dinner where Emily reveals that she wants a divorce and admits to having an affair with her co-worker David Lindhagen (Bacon). Drowning in his watered down vodka cranberries, a handsome womanizer named Barney Stintson -- I mean, Jacob Palmer (Gosling) teaches Cal his ways of picking up women and boning them.  Jacob doesn't tell Cal is that he is constantly thinking about a woman that rebuffed his advances, Hanna (Stone). There is also a subplot about Cal's 13-year-old, Robbie (Bobo) is becoming stalkerish with his love for the 17-year-old babysitter, Jessica (Tipton) who is also in love with Cal. Hilarity ensues.

I wanted to be entertained with a movie that would pick my spirits up and it did. I was surprised at how much heart the movie had. Sure the movie had the obvious tropes that a romantic comedy has to go through, but I liked that they made of the clichés as they were happening. The movie was very meta that way. I thought that the movie was fine then, I paused it and I still had forty minutes to go. I thought it was wrapping up. I'm glad that I kept watching. The ending of the movie was unexpected, heartfelt and a bit silly. I wanted that.

Ryan Gosling was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. I thought he was very good with his scenes with Emma Stone. The other performances were fine for the most part. I thought the son's storyline was a bit bothersome to me. It was very creepy in his attempts to win his soul mate over. I have to give a special shout out to Marisa Tomei who plays Kate. She was hilarious in the limited time that she had on screen.

My Rating

Monday, August 20, 2012

Killer Joe

Killer Joe (2012)

Directed by William Friedkin

Screenplay by Tracy Letts

Based on her play of the same name

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon

I have been hearing nothing but good things about this movie. Everybody was talking about McConaughey's performance that it was Oscar worthy. I was waiting for this film to come out until I saw on the local paper here in Houston. It was playing at the Landmark River Oaks Theater. Might I mention that this is the first NC-17 movie that I saw in theater. I had a ball with this film.

Taking place in the outskirts of Dallas, the Smith family is dealing with a serious cash flow problem. Loser son, Chris (Hirsch) has a huge drug debt when his old lady sold his drugs to pay for her shitty car. Desperate to make a quick buck, Chris talks to his father, Ansel (Church) about the possibility of hiring a hitman to kill his mother for her $50,000 insurance policy. Chris suggests hiring Dallas detective Joe Cooper (McConaughey) who moonlights as a contract killer. Killer Joe as he is called has a fee of $25,000 that they could not pay. Killer Joe suggests having Chris' sixteen year old sister, Dottie as a retainer until the job is done.

I have to say that movie is the darkest of dark comedies that I have ever seen. There was some moments that will be ingrained in my memory for a long time. McConaughey is giving a sinister performance as the smooth professional who could have a mean street. I think this year, Matthew has turned a corner in his career that he is choosing more roles that are not fluffy romantics comedies. I hearken this performance to his in A Time to Kill that he is playing to his strengths, his charisma. He is doing things in this movie that I never thought I would see him doing.

I have to give a special shout out to Thomas Haden Church who delivers some zingers that had me busting my gut. Not that much happens in the movie, it is very static, but I thought the characters elevate that movie overall movie. I have to say that I was taken by Juno Temple as the spacey, clairvoyant sister. She is an innocent that gets corrupted by Joe, but their relationship is not strange. If that makes any sense.

My Rating

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy

Story by Tony Gilroy

Based on the Bourne series by Robert Ludlum

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Michael Chernus, Corey Stoll and Zeljko Ivanek

A fellow LAMB Dan reviewed The Bourne Ultimatum recently, I remarked on his post that I loved the trilogy, but I thought that the movie I am reviewing would be meh. Slap a turban on my head and call me Miss Cleo.

The storyline coincides with the events of the second half of what happened in The Bourne Ultimatum. If you haven't seen that movie, I might spoil that movie for you. Don't read any further. Jason Bourne has exposed Operation Blackbriar and the Treadstone Project where Bourne was trying to see what happened to his identity. An Outcome agent named Aaron Cross (Renner) is holed up in the Alaskan wilderness, survive the elements and popping pills provided from his superiors.

Meanwhile, when the shit is about hit the fan, the FBI and CIA want to destroy the program and eliminate all of the participants of the projects which include the agents the doctors that supplied the drugs. Somehow, they got Dr. Donald Foite (Ivanek) to shoot up the people in the lab except for Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz) who manages to survive. Cross needs to find Shearing to keep him alive and out of the hands of the people that are trying to kill them.

I was doing research on the movie that the title did come from a 2004 Bourne book called "The Bourne Legacy" after original author Robert Ludlum died in 2001 from Eric Van Lustbader. The book was a complete story about Jason Bourne. Since Matt Damon didn't want to do the movie without Paul Greengrass, we get this movie.

The trouble with this movie is that movie feels unnecessary. There is a character that knows his true identity from the get go and we are supposed to be on this journey with him. I felt like it is one of those "message movies" that Hollywood crams down our throats like Traffic, The Constant Gardner, Syriana or Blood Diamond. We get it! Big business = bad, everything else is good. I don't want to hear Renner or Weisz talk about making drugs that change your DNA. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I don't give two shits about it.

There were less car chases in movie with more phone tag with everybody being one phone. Let's get that onscreen. Track them down. Here is some surveillance photos. Who cares? I want to see action not long polemics about drug dependency and all that. The original trilogy were solid because they were based on Ledlum's books. Deviating from the books to tell a side story about a rogue agent with the Bourne is insulting to me.

My Rating:

Total Recall

Total Recall (2012)

Directed by Len Wiseman

Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback

Story by Ronald Shusett & Dan O'Bannon and Jon Povill and Kurt Wimmer

Inspired by the short story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick

Stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho and Bill Nighy

As you know like everyone on the planet, remakes are usually a cash grab for studios to cater to a younger audience. Seeing that Total Recall was being remade was not a shock. It is Hollywood. They would remake anything to get butts in seats. I have seen the original Total Recall  and I enjoyed it way better. It was a bit dated like the "futuristic" cars that looked like DeLoreans. The ambiguity of the first film was completely lost in the remake.

The film takes place at the end of the 21st century where a chemical world war has decimated the planet into to inhabitable places, the United Federation of Britain and the Colony. Douglas Quaid (Farrell) is waking up to a similar dream about him rescuing a young woman and being captured. His wife, Lori (Beckinsale) is trying to get Douglas to tell her about the dream.

Douglas travels to his job at a factory through a big elevator ship called The Fall that goes through the center of the Earth. (Don't bring logic into it.) He puts together robots to be cops for the UFB and the Colony. A co-worker tells him about Rekall, which is a company that implants memories. Douglas goes to the company where McClane (John Cho) straps him into the machine, but McClane wants to abort the transplantation. A SWAT teams tries to apprehended Douglas but kills them. At home, he tries to tell his wife what happened, but she tries to kill him.

As I stated before, I thought the ambiguity of the original was completely lost here. It was blown in the first minutes of the film. It makes your wonder why did the events happen in the first place. I'm not saying that I hated the film. I thought that the film treated the material poorly. The movie tried so hard to deliver fan service for the original movie that doesn't make sense in the context of this version.

The actors were fine in their roles, but I did not feel anything sense of danger with them. Douglas Quaid was made an everyman with Colin Farrell in the role as opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger with his hulking presence. Jessica Biel as Douglas' companion, Melina faded into the background. She was very flat. Kate Beckinsale proved her badassery in Lori, the agent trying to kill Douglas. The supporting characters had nothing to do. Bill Nighy was wasted in this movie.

The action sequences were a bit of a mixed bag to me. I thought the hand to hand combat bits were quite good. I think some of the other set pieces were head scratching like the scene with the hovercars and the elevator chase scene. It was fine, but it didn't excite me.

I have to say one thing. Does every single movie have to have fucking lens flares? Well, this happen in the future, where lens flares are happening in darkened rooms or enclosed spaces where lights come into your eyes from nowhere. Enough already.

My Rating

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by David Fincher

Written by Steven Zaillian

Based on the novel "Män som hatar kvinnor" by Stieg Larsson

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright,Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter and Ulf Friberg

This movie was my most anticipated ones that I wanted to see last year, but I had lockout on watching movies last year. I was listening to a podcast and I was compelled with the movie. I did watch the original Swedish movie and reviewed it. The biggest problem I had with that movie was that I thought the pacing in the first half of the movie made it almost unwatchable. This has the opposite reaction.

The film is split between parallel narratives. There is one with Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), a journalist was convicted on libel for publishing a false story about Hans-Erik Wennerström (Friberg). He has to take a leave of absence from his post at Millennium Magazine leaving his sometimes lover, Erika Berger (Wright) in charge. He is summoned by Henrik Vanger (Plummer) to find out who killed his beloved niece, Harriet forty years earlier.

Little does Mikael know, that he was investigated himself by world class hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) who was summoned by Henrik's lawyer, Dirch Frode (Berkoff). Lisbeth is a ward of the state since she was twelve because of a incident that happened when she was twelve. Eventually, the story lines intersect as the two delve into the Vanger mystery.

I have read the English translation of the book and I know that screenwriter Steven Zailian had to cut subplots that were not integral to the main story. I found that like the pacing of this movie better than the original. I was engaged in the mystery even though I knew what was going to happen. A big part of that was the fitting score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The cinematography was truly extraordinary by Jeff Cronenweth. I'm glad that Fincher did not shy away from the brutality that happened in the book.

The film was nominated for five Oscars including Rooney Mara for Best Actress. I thought that Lisbeth was a meaty part of any woman. There is so much for Mara to do here. I was rooting for her when Lisbeth's case worker, Nils Bjurman (van Wageningen) gets his comeuppance. The only thing I did like was the ending shot of the movie. If you have seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. I mean, really?

I was not bored with the movie. The movie is almost two and half hours long. I was not checking my watch. I was engaged with the narrative.

My Rating

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Directed by Benh Zeitlin

Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin

Based on the one act play, "Juicy and Delicious" by Lucy Alibar

Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper and Levy Easterly

This movie has flown completely under the radar for me. I never heard of the film until Michael from the Cinebanter praised this movie on a recent episode. I heard all of this positive feedback on different podcasts. The film has a Metacritic score of 86. I didn't want to go into this movie with high expectations, because I was disappointed with the summer slate lately. I wanted to shout this movie's name to the rooftops and not the the annoying people behind me.

Six year old Hushpuppy (Wallis) is living in "The Bathtub" neighborhood, which resembles the marshes of southern Louisiana with her father, Wink (Henry). Her mother is out of the pictures and she desperately tries to find out where she disappeared to. The neighborhood is like a shanty town filled with garbage, dead animals and no clean water. One day, her father disappeared only to appear in a hospital gown. Wink wants to teach Hushpuppy about the ways of survival in order live after he is gone.

I didn't know what to expect from this film, because I went into it without seeing a trailer. I heard people were making comparisons to Where the Wild Things Are to Slumbog Shit-in-there. Those are only surface observations. The actors have never acted before. It made the experience very raw and emotional.

The performances were truly extraordinary  Quvenzhané Wallis gave so much of herself in this. Hushpuppy is trying to survive in a world where you have to conform to what a normal home life is. She trying to find this material energy when her drunk of a father tries to toughen her up. Dwight Henry's character, Wink, is not suppose to be likable, but he is trying all he can to help Hushpuppy survive. It may not be the best way, it's the only way he knows.

I want to touch on something that I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I saw this film at a matinée screening where there were less than ten people in the theater, including myself. I found myself being constantly annoyed by an old couple behind talking in normal voice behind me during the movie. Another person kept kicking the back of chair until I had to move away from them. Lastly, there was thumping dance music comes from an auditorium that was showing  Kyaa Super Kool Hain Hum. I was getting really pissed off, but images that I saw hooked me in. By the end of the movie, I was floored, galvanized to my seat, emotional, verge of tears. I was on an euphoric high. If this is in your city, see it immediately.

My Rating

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (2011)

Written and directed by Terrence Malick

Stars: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan and Fiona Shaw

I don't know what to say. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was eagerly anticipated that it was delayed a couple of times. When it came out, the movie was met with little fanfare. It didn't come back tot he radar until it was nominated for Best Picture, Director and Cinematography at last years Oscar. I watched the film last night and I had to marinate on it.

The movie is a serious of flashbacks when Jack O'Brien (Penn) is haunted about what happened in his childhood back in the late 1950s. Most of the film dealing with the strained relationship between his strict religious father (Pitt) and his free spirited earth mother (Chastain), younger Jack's (McCracken) relationship to his father and a tragedy that changes the family dynamic forever.

I heard a little bit about the movie that it was metaphysical take about life, love and connection. I understand  that it what Malick wanted to do on screen, but I felt like it was no executed well in my opinion. I don't know if was Penn's distancing himself from movie, but I never understood why he was in the movie. He looked so lost and confused. I had the same trouble with the film like with 2001: A Space Odyssey -- which there were many comparisons of . I understand that you wanted to make this grand statement about the human condition, but do we need to go back to the beginning. We get it.

I went through a range of emotions when I saw this film, I was confused, bored, angry, in awe, back to anger, boredom and relief that it was finally over. As I said before, I understood that Malick wanted to make a movie about the human condition, the relationship between a father and son, the difference in people's beliefs about God, the Devil, Heaven and Hell. That's all well and good. I was not invested in the movie that much. If the movie has the relationship between Mr. O'Brien and Jack without seeing closeups of nebulas, seaweed and light posts, I would have enjoyed it more.

I will say that the strongest aspect of the movie was the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. It was some gorgeous visuals.

My Rating