Another Year

FILM RATING:  2.5 stars

Let me start by saying that Another Year (2010) is not a bad movie, as you might assume from my rating. Even though I didn’t connect with it, it’s a well made film that will connect with certain audiences who appreciate the subtle nuances of the story. Many film critics seem to love the movie, but I’m not one of them. It was just average for me…hence the 2.5 star rating.  I just couldn’t get into the story and characters emotionally as much as I wanted to. The plot felt dragged out and a bit too boring.

Writer/Director Mike Leigh, whose probably best known for Secrets & Lies (1996), continues his small character-driven indie films with Another Year. I haven’t seen Secrets & Lies yet, but I’m definitely interested to see if its better than Another Year since I’ve heard such good things about it. Another Year was my first Mike Leigh film, and while I wasn’t impressed with it, I could appreciate the artistic and technical craft that went into producing it. The production design and cinematography supported the story perfectly. The photography didn’t stand out for me, but it wasn’t bad either. I tend to favor more stylistic photography in my movies, but Director of Photography Dick Pope gave the film a realistic look and feel with lots of natural lighting that made it feel like the 4 different seasons in the UK.

The lead actors all gave good solid performances within the story and writing they had to work with. Leslie Manville is probably the best performance, but her character also began to annoy me and get on my nerves by the end. She was just so clingy and immature. So kudos to Manville if that is what she and director Mike Leigh wanted to accomplish. But it didn’t make for a character I could ultimately root for and want to watch again. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen were definitely believable as an older couple in the twilight years of their marriage.

I watched Another Year on DVD, where it looked ok. I’m sure there is a color and picture quality difference that you see on blu-ray. So if you’re going to check this film out, I would watch it in the high definition format and see if that helps you appreciate the film more. I’ll be curious to see what Mike Leigh cooks up next.

 

Unstoppable

FILM RATING:  2.5 stars

Unstoppable (2010) is director Tony Scott’s latest attempt at creating another engaging, smart, techie, action/thriller/drama movie like Top Gun (1986), Days Of Thunder (1990), Crimson Tide (1995), Enemy of the State (1998), and Deja Vu (2006). Unfortunately, Scott doesn’t quite get there with this one. While Unstoppable isn’t quite unwatchable, it’s probably not all that re-watchable. Once you’ve seen it, there’s little to go back for. Even at 98 minutes, the movie dragged on for me. Scott has all of the technical cinematic ingredients, as he always seems to have in his movies. But once again, after failed attempts with The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3 (2009) and Spy Game (2001), Scott just didn’t have a really good story and script to work from. At least that’s my excuse for him. I know he can put together incredible movies like the five I listed above, all of which are favorites of mine. But like every great movie, it all starts with the script, and screenwriter Mark Bomback just didn’t come through here. It’s not a bad story. It’s even written well in terms of dialogue. But there’s just no emotional core to the characters. They’re very one-dimensional…and even the great Denzel Washington can’t get his character Frank into my psyche or my heart like so many of his other great characters.

Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson give solid performances and round out a solid cast. But they seem to have nothing really to act for. A runaway train with no one at the helm just doesn’t make for much of an engaging plot here. I kept wishing Dennis Hopper would show up and give this Speed (1994) wannabe a bad guy that I could hate. I kept thinking that Unstoppable was basically a remake of Speed with a train instead of a bus. And haven’t we had enough Speed remakes already? And to be honest, didn’t Scott just work with Denzel Washington and trains in The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3…the year before? Hopefully Scott finds his way back to a good script soon because I definitely love his style of filmmaking when paired with good material.

On the positive side, Unstoppable looks and sounds absolutely spectacular on blu-ray, which is the format I saw it in this week. As always, Scott brings on board a great director of photography (Ben Seresin) who provides simply awesome cinematography. When it comes to shooting planes, trains, and automobiles…and submarines, motorcycles, helicopters and any other possible moving piece of machinery, director Tony Scott is about as good as it gets. I’m sure the coordination necessary to bring all of these various moving metal objects together into one camera frame requires a whole team of assistant directors, producers, and various crew. But it’s those scenes, when all of these various moving metal objects are actually moving around with each other, that kept me involved in the movie. The multiple helicopters, trains, and automobiles are just incredible to see together.

No one seems to bring all of the technical action and stunts together in the editing room like Scott. Of course credit should be given to film editors Robert Duffy and Chris Lebenzon, who did a good job keeping the film moving along with their final cut. But Scott’s filmmaking style is definitely stamped on the cut as well.  Reinforcing the incredible action in this film is top notch sound design and editing by sound supervisor Mark P. Stoeckinger, with his accompanying 28 other sound department crew members. Unstoppable was nominated for the Best Sound Editing Oscar last year, and you can definitely hear why when watching this film! Rounding out the technical praise for Unstoppable, is good production design by Chris Seagers and his enormous team. Every little detail shines through in the sets, locations and with all of the trains, cars, and helicopters. The textures, colors, and materials used throughout the film give it a modern feel that works nicely on film.

I was a bit torn between giving Unstoppable 3 stars or 2.5 stars, but I settled on 2.5 because I think the likelihood of me watching this movie again anytime soon is really slim. There’s just nothing in the story to go back to. No emotion to feel again. No thoughts to think again. No riddles to unravel. And no character tension to try and release. Unstoppable is a first class production, as director Tony Scott is well known for. But in the annals of filmdom, Unstoppable didn’t make much of a mark. It just rolled on through at 70 mph, leaving the tracks empty for the next film to come along and replace it.

 

Check out details on the film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.

An Education

FILM RATING:  2.5 stars

I recently watched the film An Education (2009) on the Starz Channel in HD. I wish I could say I connected with it, because its a very well made film, but unfortunately the story just didn’t appeal to me. It’s basically a coming-of-age story about a 16-year old British girl in the 1960s. It just wasn’t an interesting enough story for me. I give the film 2.5 out of 5 stars, because it has beautiful cinematography, good acting, great production design, and solid music. For those that connect with the story, you’ll probably rate this film higher. I heard about An Education through the end-of-year awards pipeline back in 2009. It was nominated for 3 Oscars, including Best Picture. Actor Carey Mulligan leads the strong supporting cast and her role in this film led to her roles in Never Let Me Go (2010) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), where she shines even more so than here in my opinion. A similar but better recent coming-of-age story from a similar time period is Nowhere Boy (2010), starring Aaron Johnson as the young John Lennon before The Beatles. I highly suggest you “guys” watch that one instead of An Education. For you “ladies”, An Education may just be your cup of tea.

Push

FILM RATING: 2.5 stars

I really wanted to like Push (2009) more than I did. The concept sounded cool and I thought it might be in the vain of Jumper (2008), a movie I really love and have come to appreciate even more with subsequent viewings. But the “movie magic” just didn’t come together on Push like it did on Jumper. I give Push 2.5 stars out of 5. And one of those stars is purely for the incredible visuals this film has, making it worth at least a single viewing. I’m not going to try and summarize the plot of this film, because it’s a little too jumbled and complicated…and honestly, the film just isn’t worth it to me. One of the key problems with this film is the real lack of a story and plot. It’s got all the cool elements needed for a great story, but it doesn’t put them to effective use. Just read Roger Ebert’s review to see what I’m saying. There’s no real character development that helps us understand and relate to the characters emotionally. I think Chris Evans is probably miscast in the leading role of this film. He just doesn’t have the depth yet to really be a leading man in a film with this kind of complex concept. And he doesn’t gel with the supporting characters in this film, played by Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, and Djimon Hounsou.

The reasons to watch this film at least once are simple: production design and photography. This film looks incredible. It was shot entirely in Hong Kong, and the interesting mix of architecture and Asian culture is fascinating and colorful to see. I was just blown away at times by some of the sets and locations. Production Designer Francois Seguin really showcased his talents on this film, finding quirky and challenging things for Director of Photography Peter Sova to light and photograph. The cinematography is incredible, both in its use of interesting camera angles and positions, and for it’s incredibly colorful palette. I can’t remember seeing primary colors like red and yellow in such startling use on a film. It definitely showcases the Asian culture in which the film takes place. I felt like I was transported out of America for 2 hours and dropped right into the hustle-and-bustle of Hong Kong, China.

I wish could offer something more about this film, but it just didn’t have anything more to offer in my opinion. Push is worth watching once, just to see what it might bring to the production design of your dreams. I certainly will never forget the look and feel of this film.

A Serious Man

FILM RATING: 2.5 stars

A Serious Man (2009) is the third movie I’ve seen this year to have the word “Man” in the title proceeded by a descriptive “S” word. The other 2 films being A Single Man (2009) and Solitary Man (2010). Are the studios trying to make it hard for us to distinguish these movies from each other? Unfortunately, the quality of the movies has dropped each time for me. I absolutely loved A Single Man (4.5 stars), enjoyed Solitary Man (3.5 stars), but was bored with A Serious Man (2.5 stars). It’s not that A Serious Man is a bad movie. It’s the typical finely-written, finely-crafted, finely-acted, and finely-photographed film that we’ve all come to expect from Joel & Ethan Coen. But the story just didn’t engage me emotionally or cinematically…it was too quirky and distant from my own life. But the movie did look good!

I think you either like the Coen Brothers’ films or you don’t. This one I didn’t. I love Fargo (1996) and No Country For Old Men (2007). I haven’t seen any of their other films yet. And we’ll see what happens with True Grit (2010). I’m hopeful! I love Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

Because I didn’t really care for the film, I’m not going to post any still images like normal. But there was some great photography in this flick, as you can see in the trailer. And you gotta love the design of that movie poster above!

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

FILM RATING: 2.5 stars

Director Tony Scott’s latest movie, a remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009), was one of my latest DVD rentals from Redbox.  The movie had two things going for it in my mind to get me to watch it: Tony Scott and Denzel Washington…both of whom I typically love.  But the magic just wasn’t there for either of them on this flick.  The movie was great looking as always for Tony Scott movies and very “techie” as Tony Scott movies tend to always be.  And Denzel Washington’s acting was good as always.  I think it was purely the story and the script that just didn’t grab me.  Now I admit that I am not much of John Travolta fan either.  About the only movie of his I like is Phenomenon (1996)…it’s the exception to an otherwise slate of movies that he has starred in that just don’t do it for me…including Pulp Fiction (sorry to those I offend!).  I feel the same way about Nicholas Cage…very few of his movies I like.  I don’t know what it is about the two of them, but I just don’t connect with them.  It might be their egos or personalities.  Or the characters they typically choose to play.

But back to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3…the first act of the movie was good.  It built-up my interest and kept me involved in the picture.  But somewhere in the middle act I got bored and found the story to be predictable.  And funny enough, I’ve never seen or studied the original 1974 movie, so it wasn’t that.  Or maybe it was that.  Maybe the problem was that essentially this was a 35 year old story that was updated in terms of look and feel, but lacked the upgrade in character development and story.  The thing about great movies I think is that they are both timeless and of their time.  It’s a paradox really…like everything in life.  Sometimes I like the remake better and sometimes I like the original better.  And sometimes both.  For me its almost always the same criteria for a movie:  Do I like it?  Do I like the characters?  Do I like the actors and director’s vision/style? Do I like the look/production design or music? Can I personally relate to the story or any of the charcters?   There’s got to be something that I really grab on to.  And The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 just didn’t have that for me.

I know that a lot of my movie reviews don’t really say much about the actually movie but say more about how I feel about the movie.  That’s my approach to movies.  It’s an experience for me that I share with you and then you decide if you want to have the experience based on my experience.  Isn’t that how we all approach movies?  To me, a movie is like eating something.  You can talk in great detail about it and describe it to someone and that may entice them to try it out…but at the end of the day, you have to actually EAT something in order to truly experience it and make a decision on whether or not you like it or not.

If you want a better Tony Scott/Denzel Washington movie to watch, I suggest Deja Vu (2006).  And I also love Enemy of the State (1998), Crimson Tide (1995), Days of Thunder (1990), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) and of course his classic movie, Top Gun (1986).  I look forward to whatever Tony has in store next.  And same with his brother Ridley Scott, who has made some of my favorite movies of all time.

The Upside of Anger

FILM RATING: 2.5 stars

This movie has been on my radar for a few years now, and I finally watched it last night.  Collins College has a library of a few thousand movies on DVD that we can check out for free and this one caught my eye last week.  The Upside of Anger (2005) stars Joan Allen and Kevin Costner along with 4 young actresses I’ve followed in other movies and TV shows.  I had heard from several critics that Kevin Costner was quite good in this movie, but I found the story and Costner’s acting to be flat for me.  Joan Allen was definately great as she almost always is, but even Allen couldn’t lift this script beyond “average”.  It wasn’t a bad movie, but it just didn’t capture me.  Maybe it was just so much of a “female” driven comedy/drama that being a man I couldn’t relate…although that’s usually not a problem for me.  But if you’ve seen it or want to check it out, give it a shot and see what you think.  What I love the most about movies is talking and thinking about them.  It’s always fun to have conversation with someone about movies.  We all have our own tastes for movies, but I can usually find at least one movie I like in common with anyone.