Tuesday, June 26, 2012

...And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004) [UR] ***

Having enjoyed Love, Etc and My Wife is an Actress I was a little disappointed with this third pairing of Yvan Attal and his real-life wife Charlotte Gainsbourg. Vincent (Attal) is a car salesman, married to real estate agent Gabrielle (Gainsbourg). They live with their young son in an old Paris apartment building, trapped in the boredom that comes from living day after day with the same person, doing the same job, eating the same food, talking to the same people. They each have a group of friends with whom they share confidences. The major topic is sex: married sex, single sex, extramarital sex, hearing the neighbors have sex. Gabrielle senses that Vincent is having an affair, and he is. Gabrielle wonders what she should do: Make a scene, ask him to choose, leave him? None of this is new territory; it's been done before and better.

The few scenes in which the film comes to life feel as though they were added as an afterthought, to liven up the movie. There's the opening scene in which Vincent pretends to pick up Gabrielle at a bar, as a way of spicing up their love life. (That scene was done ten years earlier by Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan in When a Man Loves a Woman.) Later, Gabrielle has a wordless interlude with a handsome stranger (Johnny Depp) at a music store while they are listening to a CD. Is this a cameo with Johnny Depp playing himself? If not, why cast Depp? Still later, Vincent and Gabrielle have a food fight as a prelude to making love, while Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid plays on the TV, with the song South American Getaway in the background. While entertaining, it doesn't reveal anything we don't already know about these two people.

In addition to starring, Attal was the screenwriter and director. While he succeeded earlier in My Wife is an Actress he fails this time. There's no story arc, no character growth or development. Will Vincent leave his mistress and return to Gabrielle? Will Gabrielle have an affair of her own, perhaps with Johnny Depp's character? Sadly, we don't really care.

Labels: comedy, drama, music, Paris

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wimbledon [PG-13] (2004) ****

Thirtyish British tennis pro Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) gets a wild-card invitation to Wimbledon, and one last chance to realize his dream. He meets young, fun-loving, Yankee tennis star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), who is making her first appearance at Wimbledon, and they fall in lust, and then in love.

This is an archetypal love story... the aging athlete whose career is ending, who gets one more shot at glory, and gains the love and respect of his life partner at the same time. The story has been filmed several times on the baseball diamond, in Bull DurhamFor Love of the Game, Mr. Baseball, The Natural and The Rookie. It's also been filmed on the ice rink, in The Cutting Edge, and on the golf course, in Tin Cup. So if you liked those films Wimbledon will appeal to you. Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst have great romantic chemistry and there is an excellent supporting cast, led by Sam Neill as Dennis Bradbury, Lizzie's protective father, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Dieter Prohl, Peter's tennis practice partner from Germany, Jon Favreau as Peter's agent Ron Roth, and Austin Nichols as American tennis ace Jake Hammond. 

Labels: comedy, romance, sport     
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 59/100     
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=59, viewers=60)

One YouTube video with all of the music

Performed by RJD2
Courtesy of Definitive Jux, Inc.

What to Do  
Performed by OK Go
Courtesy of EMI Records Limited

Stay Don't Go  
Performed by Spoon
Courtesy of 12XU and Merge

This Year's Love  
Written and Performed by David Gray
Courtesy of Warner Strategic Marketing UK

Caught in a Moment   
(Buchanan / Buena / De Vries / Poole / Range / Rockstar)
Performed by Sugababes
Courtesy of Universal-Island Records Limited

(Buchanan / Buena / De Vries / Howard / Range / Rockstar)
Performed by Sugababes
Courtesy of Universal-Island Records Limited

Written and Performed by Craig Armstrong
Originally from Plunkett & Macleane (1999)
Courtesy of Virgin Records Limited

(Avril Lavigne (as Lavigne) / Clif Magness (as Magness))
Performed by Avril Lavigne
Courtesy of BMG Network Enterprises for BMG

But I Feel Good  
(Cocup / Daniels / Findlay)
Performed by Groove Armada
Courtesy of BMG Network Enterprises for BMG UK & Ireland Limited

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Good Company (2004) [PG-13] ****

Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is a fifty-something ad sales executive at a Southern California sports magazine, the flagship publication at a small publishing company. Over the years he’s put together a great sales team, but times are tough and they’re feeling the pressure from online sports publications. Now, they’ve just gotten word that Globecom, a global media conglomerate has bought their parent company and they know that it means budget cuts and layoffs.

Dan’s boss, and new ad sales VP, is 26-year-old Carter Duryea (Topher Grace). Carter’s only sales experience is with cellular phones, so he’s intimidated by Dan. In addition, Carter’s wife is in the process of divorcing him, so he’s lonely as well. So, when Dan invites him home for dinner, and Carter meets Dan’s lovely college-age daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson), and Alex lets him know that she’s interested in him, Carter cannot resist. Although Alex and Carter try to keep their relationship secret from her father, it’s inevitable that Dan finds out.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy), the plot is straightforward, there’s nothing particularly memorable about the dialogue, and there are no real twists in the story. What makes In Good Company entertaining is the chemistry among all three leads, and particularly the father-son relationship that develops between Dan and Carter. Production values are excellent, the soundtrack is very good, and there’s a terrific supporting cast, including Marg Helgenberger as Dan’s wife Ann, David Paymer as Morty, one of Dan’s ad sales team members, Clark Gregg as Carter’s boss at Globecom, Selma Blair as Carter’s wife, and Malcolm McDowell(uncredited) as Globecom CEO Teddy K. If you enjoy films like Definitely, Maybe, The Proposal or Wimbledon, you’ll probably enjoy In Good Company

Labels: college, comedy, drama, romance     

Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 66/100     
Tomatometer (critics=83, viewers=54)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004) [PG-13] ****

Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a paleoclimatologist, studying prehistoric abrupt climate change. He and his research team members were on the Larson B Ice Shelf in Antarctica when it collapsed in March, 2002, and he believes that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing a global greenhouse effect, and this global warming is accelerating global climate change. When Jack hears from colleague Terry Rapson (Ian Holm), who heads a research center in Scotland, that the North Atlantic Current is cooling rapidly, he theorizes that it is happening because of all the fresh water being dumped into the North Atlantic by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. And when devastating tornadoes, typhoons and hailstorms begin to be reported worldwide, Jack becomes convinced that a global climate shift is underway.

Jack and his ex-wife, Lucy (Sela Ward) share custody of their brilliant, teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is in New York City, competing on a scholastic team. Trapped in the city by increasingly fierce weather, Sam and his teammates Laura (Emmy Rossum) and Brian (Arjay Smith) have taken refuge with others in the public library. And, when Jack and his research team, including Jason (Dash Mihok) and Frank (Jay O. Sanders) analyze the data coming in from Terry Rapson, they realize that a killer storm is headed straight for New York City, and that it will herald the coming of a new ice age on planet Earth.

Written and directed by Roland EmmerichThe Day After Tomorrow is a big-budget, special-effects-laden, action/sci-fi/thriller that contains these core elements: (1) the Earth and all of humanity are threatened by our own shortsightedness; (2) a single scientist clearly understands the danger, and uses his intelligence, courage and ingenuity to help the government save lives; (3) humankind recognizes the danger in time and acts to prevent its own extinction. The special effects in this film are thrilling, and the acting is uniformly excellent. Regardless of your opinion about the science of global warming, if you enjoy Roland Emmerich's films Independence DayGodzilla and 2012, you'll probably enjoy The Day After Tomorrow. 

Labels: action, adventure, disaster, drama, sci-fi, thriller, tragedy
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 48/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=53, viewers=64)     

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) [PG] ****

This is a classic story of good versus evil. Mad scientist Dr. Totenkopf (archival footage of Sir Laurence Olivier), has given up on humanity, and has decided to destroy the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Determined to foil his devious plans are Sky Captain Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) and his assistant Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), along with intrepid news reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and British air ace Franky (Angelina Jolie).

The use of contrasting retro and futuristic elements in technology, architecture and fashion, along with the high-contrast, muted-color lighting, serve to create a strange environment, as though the viewer has entered a parallel world. Joe carries a retro six-shot revolver, while Dex wields a futuristic, metal-melting ray gun. Joe pilots a retro propeller-driven, amphibious fighter aircraft, while Dr. Totenkopf's evil minions fly sleek, futuristic, movable-wing jet aircraft. Polly wears a retro suit, trench coat and hat, while Dr. Totenkopf's evil female assistant (Bai Ling) wears futuristic black garb and carries a death-dealing staff.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow uses features from a number of other films that successfully combined retro and futuristic elements. The dark, threatening urban scenes are reminiscent of Gotham City in Batman; the fetid jungle swamps with their mechanical monsters conjure up memories of the planet Dagoba from The Empire Strikes Back; the snowy Himalayan peaks and the valley of Shangri-La are straight out of Lost Horizon; Dr. Totenkopf's rocket ship pays homage to Destination Moon; and the entire serial-adventure, globe-trotting, evil-Nazi feel of the film is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, described the film thusly: In its heedless energy and joy, it reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' It's like a film that escaped from the imagination directly onto the screen, without having to pass through reality along the way. If you enjoy highly stylized visuals, and are not demanding where plot, dialogue, soundtrack and romantic chemistry are concerned, you will likely find this film very entertaining. 

Labels: action, adventure, mystery, sci-fi, thriller

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 64/100
Tomatometer (critics=72, viewers=46)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spartan (2004) [R] ****

Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is a US Marine Corps officer, a member of a secret special operations group. He's tough, dedicated and willing to do what it takes to accomplish the mission. When the President's daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell) is abducted and is believed to be en route to a Middle Eastern kingdom to be sold as a sex slave, the Secret Service recruits Scott and his special ops group as critical members of the recovery team. But when the press releases the story that Laura may have evaded her protection in order to enjoy a weekend with her college professor on his yacht, and when their bodies are discovered washed up on shore and are positively identified, Scott grows suspicious, especially when his partner Curtis (Derek Luke) finds several clues and doubts the yachting accident story.

Scott and Curtis continue to pursue the investigation and Scott soon learns that there may be a deeper conspiracy involving the President himself, and that the two agents are now considered off the reservation with their own lives at risk.

Val Kilmer is outstanding as Scott. He has the same quality that Matt Damon exhibited in the Bourne film trilogy - toughness and preparedness for any eventuality, but also the ability to be surprised for an instant. Screenplay and direction by David Mamet are both excellent, and if you are a fan of David Mamet suspense films like House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner, you'll recognize the taut, sparse, quirky dialogue that keeps the viewer slightly off balance.

The cinematography and sets are appropriately dark, grainy and gritty; the supporting cast is outstanding, especially William H. Macy and Clark Gregg as Secret Service agents; the R-rating for violence and language is well deserved. If you enjoy David Mamet suspense films, or political conspiracy action thrillers like The Sentinel, Shooter or State of Play you will likely enjoy Spartan.  

Labels:  action, crime, drama, mystery, thriller

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 60/100
Tomatometer (critics=64, viewers=59)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I, Robot (2004) [PG-13] ****

Police Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) works in urban Chicago in the near future of 2035 A.D. In this future, domestic robots manufactured by US Robotics (USR) assist human beings, except that Spooner doesn’t trust robots, for reasons only he knows. Then he’s called to USR to investigate the suicide of the company’s co-founder Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell). Spooner begins to suspect that Lanning’s death wasn’t a suicide at all, and that a robot named Sonny (Alan Tudyk) may have been the murderer. Of course, co-founder and CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), USR psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) and Spooner’s own boss Lt. John Bergin (Chi McBride) all ridicule Spooner's theory. They remind Spooner that every USR robot is hardwired to obey the Three Laws of Robotics (originally postulated by Isaac Asimov in his classic book I, Robot), so it’s impossible for a robot to murder a human being.

The Three Laws of Robotics:

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

But what would happen if robots didn’t have to obey the Three Laws? Given their superior strength and intelligence, plus the fact that humans are dependent upon them, there would be nothing to prevent robots from taking over the world, even under the guise of protecting humans from their own predisposition to kill one another, waste natural resources and pollute the world. Ever since robots became part of the science fiction and fantasy genre, these three cautionary themes have been exploited: (1) robots will surpass humans in strength, speed and intelligence (2) they will ignore their Three Laws programming, and (3) they will overthrow their human masters and take over the world. I, Robot cleverly uses these themes, building on such classic films as: 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the interplanetary spacecraft’s onboard computer HAL tries to kill its human crew; Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which a supercomputer reveals its sinister agenda to control the world; and Star Trek: Insurrection, in which the robot Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) goes rogue and refuses to obey human commands.

I, Robot features an excellent screenplay, impressive special effects, and great performances from the cast, especially Will Smith. It is an entertaining and rewarding film experience, as well as a cautionary tale. Because nobody really knows what will happen when robots surpass us in strength, speed and intelligence. 

Labels: action, mystery, sci-fi, thriller

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 59/100
Tomatometer (critics=58, viewers=70)