Monday, April 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Book Thief (2013)

"The Book Thief" is a film-adaptation of a novel by the same name that focuses on young Lisel (Sophie Nelisse), and her adopted family (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) in Nazi-era Germany. Lisel learns to read and write, finding enjoyment in much books. She reads to the Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), the family hides in their home and even steals books from the mayor's home.

This film has a lot to like.  The story is good though it feels a little sanitized perhaps because we're seeing a lot of the story through Lisel's eyes.  It's PG-13 and probably appropriate for most.  There is a strong theme of showing and recognizing humanity even in the midst of Nazi Germany.  I also loved Lisel's love of books and the power of the written word.  The acting here is good by Rush, Watson, and Nelisse.  

Cute film with some strong themes - A-

Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie Review: Drinking Buddies

"Drinking Buddies" follows a male/female pair of best friends, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work together at a brewery and often drink together during their off-time. Seemingly the perfect pair, they both have significant others, Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Chris (Ron Livingston). The situation gets complicated when the two couples go on a weekend trip to Chris' cottage and then more awkward with the fall-out from the trip.

There's a certain awkwardness and raw feeling from the dialogue in this film. It feels very real and sometimes that's a bit uncomfortable. Apparently the "script" was largely an outline and the actors improved a good bit of the film. I think this was really an interesting directing choice by director/writer Joe Swanberg. Overall the film is a take on the age-old question can men and women really be friends without taking it to the romantic level. I think there's an interesting take on that question here in that the question for Kate and Luke isn't as clear-cut throughout the film as one thinks - are they really the best fit for each other.  I don't want to give anything away but I found the ending a satisfying answer that at first I didn't think I liked but the more I think about it the more it makes sense.  Good chemistry among the cast complements the story.

Feels a little awkward but give this a try - B+

Movie Review: Girl Most Likely (2012)

"Girl Most Likely" stars Kristen Wiig as Imogene, who was an aspiring playwright with much potential but after a failed relationship, failed career, and failed suicide attempt is forced to move back home to New Jersey with her eccentric mother (Annette Bening) and brother (Christopher Fitzgerald). To add to the confusion, Imogene finds her mother has rented out her childhood bedroom to a casino show singer (Darren Criss) and a new boyfriend for her mother (Matt Dillon).

A quirky film with a good ensemble cast, I feel like "Girl Most Likely" has likely gone overlooked. Bening really sparkles as Zelda, the decidedly offbeat mother and Wiig is enjoyable as well in a role that's different than her "Bridesmaids" and Saturday Night Live fare. A lot of the laughs are from Dillon's character, the mysterious George Bousch. This one is definitely different but there's a nice message and some touching moments too. Nice seeing Natasha Lyonne in a small part.  

Quirky yet touching - Solid B

Friday, March 14, 2014

Movie Review: Last Vegas (2013)

Last Vegas (2013) is a comedy starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline as a group of childhood friends in their senior years reuniting in Las Vegas for a bachelor party for Billy (Douglas), who is set to marry a much younger woman. It's not all a celebration, however, because old tensions still exist between Billy and Paddy (De Niro). Meanwhile, Sam (Kline) has a "weekend pass" from his wife and Archie (Freeman) is avoiding his over-protective adult son. The group befriends a lovely lounge singer, Diana (Mary Steenburgen), who seems to create more tension between Billy and Archie.

The jokes and story here are a bit stale - expect every old man joke possible. What saves this film is the chemistry among the main actors, who appear to really enjoy each other. That's what makes this watchable and a bit of a fun romp senior-style through Las Vegas. Steenburgen adds to the boys' fun and she is a joy to watch. Look for a cameo by rapper 50 Cent.

Overall, this is fun and they are a fun group but there's nothing new here - C+

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Movie Review: In a World (2013)

"In a World" focuses on Carol (Lake Bell), who lives in the shadow of her father, Sam (Fred Melamed). Sam is the king of voice-overs and is promoting Gustev (Ken Marino) as his heir apparent in the male-dominated field. Sam kicks Carol out of his home so he can focus on his much younger wife, Jaime (Alexandra Holden). Carol ends up crashing with sister Dani (Michela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry), who have their own problems when Dani is flattered by someone at work. Meanwhile Carol’s career heats up in the voice-over business when she starts getting gigs meant for Gustev and is suddenly the front-runner for a highly coveted job that will bring back the classic voice-over phrase “In a World.” Carol soon finds she is competing with both her father and Gustev, a short-term love interest, for the job.

This movie is particularly interesting because Bell wrote, directed, and starred so it's a real female-driven film and beneath the comic surface is a real tale of female empowerment.  Though the theme of a woman breaking through barriers is there, there's also an interesting look at the power struggles between daughter and father and the bond between sisters there too.  I liked the multiple layers within the story and had plenty of laughs too.  Don't miss small appearances by Eva Longoria, Cameron Diaz, and Geena Davis.  

Don't overlook this gem - A-

Monday, March 10, 2014

Movie Review: The Spectacular Now (2013)

"The Spectacular Now" (2013) follows high school senior Sutter (Miles Teller), who is drifts from party to party drinking heavily and is upset when his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) dumps him for someone with more of a "future." A drunken Sutter wakes up on the lawn of a quiet classmate, Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Sutter strikes up a friendship with Aimee and asks her to help him study geometry. The relationship deepens into romance and the two promise to stand up to their respective mothers - Aimee wants to move to Philadelphia for college, Sutter wants his mother to tell the truth about his absentee father. Both do as planned but for Sutter the truth about his father (Kyle Chandler) is more than expected or than he can handle.

This isn't the easiest teen coming-of-age drama to watch but it's one worth seeing.  "Sutter" isn't the perfect hero, but rather Teller plays him as both likeable and not so likeable at times.  He's just a kid trying to have fun and distract himself from dealing with issues he can't process.  When boozin' and seemingly fun-loving Sutter meets and starts to woo shy and sweet Aimee (Woodley) I couldn't help but be worried because this seems like such an ill-fated match but the script really works and gives a more thoughtful treatment than I thought I'd get.   The chemistry between Woodley and Teller really helps too.  Don't miss the small part Chandler plays in what turns out to be a pivotal turn as Sutter's absent father.  Bonus points for the beautiful setting of a lot of the film, which is Athens, GA (a city that holds a piece of my heart).  

For a thoughtful coming-of-age with a flawed hero, check this one out - solid B+

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Movie Review: Passion (2012)

"Passion" is a suspense/thriller focusing on the relationship between two women working together at an advertising agency in Germany.  Christine (Rachel McAdams) is an executive and enjoys toying with her mousy underling, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace).  While Christine is devious and manipulative, Isabelle proves to be learning much from her boss as the two women engage in a power struggle that results in murder over credit for Isabelle's ad campaign and men.

The only thing I really liked about this film was that we finally see Rachel McAdams breaking out of her good-girl-rom-com role and take on a bad girl like Christine.  It's too bad that this film is such a mess because it could have really helped McAdams get more complex roles.  The writing and directing really did this movie in.  Unfortunately the film sets up an interesting struggle between boss and subordinate but then all the twists and reveals get a bit messy and the result is more of a train wreck than a well-designed thriller. It's almost a film with two distinct halves - one okay and one really bad. The directing was also poor with  Rapace looking stiff and cold rather than the actress I've seen her to be in other films and a lot of just awkward choices.

If you're looking for a good thriller, keep looking - D+