Monday, March 29, 2010

A Serious Man

Release Date: October 2nd, 2009

Click here for A Serious Man Trailer.

Larry Gopnik(Michael Stuhlbarg) is an ordinary, Jewish physics professor living with his family in Minneapolis-Saint Louis Park in Minnesota. As far as Larry is concerned, everything in his life is going fine. Larry is happy with how things are going until one day it all starts to go down hill. Larry's wife Judith(Sari Lennick) wants to divorce Larry so she can be with recent widower and family friend Sy Ableman(Fred Melamed), his son, Danny(Aaron Wolff), is a habitual marijuana user, his daughter Sarah(Jessica McManus) is stealing money out of his wallet to pay for a nose job, his unemployed brother Arthur(Richard King) won't get off of the couch and a disgruntled Korean student, Clive(David Dang), is attempting to bribe Larry with for a passing grade.

As time passes, Larry's life gets more and more crazy. Danny's bar mitzvah is coming up, Clive's father is threatening to sue Larry for bribery if he takes the money or with defamation of character if he doesn't, Sy and Judith make Larry and Arthur move into a nearby motel and Larry's attractive neighbor Vivienne Samsky(Amy Landecker) is tormenting Larry by sunbathing nude. As his life spirals out of control, Larry decides that he needs to see the three Rabbis that oversee his community. The first is Rabbi Ginzler(Simon Helberg), a very young Rabbi whose advice doesn't quite set well with Larry. The second is Larry's regular Rabbi, Rabbi Nachtner(George Wyner) who tells Larry of a story he heard of a Jewish dentist finding a message in Hebrew on the teeth of a Gentile man. However, Larry is ultimately disappointed when the story reveals to have no motive or purpose. But Larry seems to arrive at his wits end when he is denied a meeting with the Rabbi Marshak, an elderly rabbi who has restricted his meetings to congratulating boys completing their bar mitsvahs.

As Larry's life gets worse, he tries to balance keeping his family together, keeping his brother out of jail, hosting his son's bar mitzvah and getting a tenure at his university. Larry tries everything he can to become what he thinks will solve all of his problems, a serious man.

Coming from the hilarious minds of the Coen brothers, A Serious Man is a story that explores questions about faith, family responsibilities, delinquent behavior, academia, mortality and Judaism and everything in between. A Serious Man is showcased as a comedy though the comedic aspects of the film are ones that may only attract a certain audience but for those of you who will like this movie, you will love it.

Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen do not deliver the type of laughs you would expect to see in a film dubbed a comedy. The brothers deliver a rich, dark humor that has the potential to punch straight through to the core of many people. The film blends the profound dark humor with deeply personal themes creating a more mature film than typically seen from the duo that brought you such great movies as The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and Fargo. The great thing about this film is that it manages to be funny without resorting to crude humor or bathroom jokes. It connects with a sense of reality that many people can relate to and it also provides genuine laughs.

What makes A Serious Man stand out from other movies is that it manages to capture what it was like to be an average, working class person with real issues. Trouble with the family and trouble at work are something practically every single person in the world can relate too and those themes in this film are what makes it personal and fantastic. The humor, being as dark as it is, is also (in my opinion) very dry. Anybody can get up and say a lot of shocking and offensive things to get a laugh out of people but this film gets its laughs by making people think and empathize with the main character. This film makes allows people to enjoy it on an intellectual, moral and situational level that many movies these days fail to do, which is why this film works.

I thought that this film did an incredible job capturing life in a Jewish, suburban setting in 1967. The visual aspect of the film was great. The use of colors really brought out the overall feel of the film. It had a sort of gray and gloomy feel. All the clothes of the characters were bland and ordinary and all the environments seemed to complement the overall feel of helplessness and distress quite well. The Coen brothers have always done a fantastic job at complementing the theme of their films with the background colors and appearance of the characters which I think adds so much more to a film.

In his first major lead role, I thought actor Michael Stuhlbarg was fantastic. I thought that he did a great job promoting just how out of whack things were getting for his character. Stuhlbarg was very believable and his performance made the audience empathize with him and really feel the pain and befuddlement his character was feeling. It really hits with the audience when you see a character's life falling down around them and knowing that they did not deserve any of it. Stuhlbarg and the Coen brothers really made characters that the audience can relate to.

Aside from the strange and confusing prologue to the film and the ending that will require you to think and ponder on the what is assumed to happen, A Serious Man is definitely a film to pick up. The dark, dry humor is something entertaining and hard to come by in comedy films of today and the rich, profound personal themes tug at your hearts and captivate you as an audience. People who see this film will either love it or hate it and for those of you who love it you will truly enjoy what the Coen brothers have delivered.

I give A Serious Man 8 Goys out of 10.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alice In Wonderland

Alice in WonderlandRelease Date: March 5th, 2010

Click here for the Alice in Wonderland Trailer.

Nineteen-year-old Alice Kingsley(Mia Wasikowska) is an odd young lady who doesn't quite fit into Victorian society. Her eccentricities were mirrored only by her beloved father Charles(Marton Csokas) and when he died, Alice seemed to almost die with him. Since his death, Alice has been troubled by a recurring dream in which she encounters strange creatures in a very peculiar world.

One day while attending a party at the estate of Lord Ascot(Tim Pigott-Smith), the man who now owns the trading firm previously owned by her father, Alice learns that Hamish(Leo Bill), Lord Ascot's son, intends to propose to Alice. As Hamish proposes, a white rabbit appears to Alice holding a pocket watch. Alice follows the White Rabbit, named Nivens McTwisp(Michael Sheen), and falls into a rabbit hole.

When she awakens, Alice finds herself in a bizarre world called Underland. Alice had visited Underland 13 years ago but had lost almost all of her memory about the experience. What little memory she had left of Underland had been thought to be a dream. While in Underland, Alice meets an assortment of characters including McTwisp, Uilleam the Dodo(Michael Gough) and the brothers Tweedledee and Tweedledum(Matt Lucas). The group takes Alic to meet Absolem the Caterpillar(Alan Rickman) who, through a misunderstanding of words, makes the group believe that this Alice is not the same one that arrived in Underland 13 years ago.

While talking with Absolem, the Knave of Hearts Ilosvic Stayne(Crispin Glover) arrives with soldiers from Iracebeth of Crims, otherwise known as The Red Queen(Helena Bonham Carter). Stayne attacks the group capturing the white Rabbit, the Dodo, Tweedledee and Tweedledum while Alice escapes. Alice is then found by the Chessur Cat(Stephen Fry) who takes her to the march Hare(Paul Whitehouse), Mallymkun the Dormouse(Barbara Windsor) and the Hatter(Johnny Depp). The Hatter explains to Alice that she has returned to dethrone the Red Queen by killing her dragon known as the Jabberwocky(Christopher Lee) with the Vorpal Sword on the Frabjous Day. In doing so she can save Underland and return power to the Red Queen's sister Mirana of Marmoreal known as The White Queen(Anne Hathaway). However, Alice is unsure if she could ever perform such a feat, but the balance of Underland lies in the courage that she must gather and the belief in herself she must obtain.

Lewis Carroll's original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is probably one of the best known and most beloved stories in all of literature not just by children, but by people of all ages. Being how iconic and popular it is, making it into a feature film is no simple task. Walt Disney's animated feature, released in 1951, brought the novel to life in a truly magical way and launched a film that has swept the hearts of people of all ages to this very day. So, needless to say that taking on this story with live people was risky.

Director Tim Burton is known for making stylishly dark and highly creative films that are both extremely off-the-wall and also extremely entertaining. When audiences see Burton's name behind a film, they know to expect something completely unique and entertaining. Seeing how already colorful, absurd and imaginative the original Alice story was, the only natural fit for the director's chair (in my mind at least) was Burton and he did a fantastic job.

Burton used a mix of CGI effects, drastic makeup and live people to comprise his vision of Wonderland. Every character aside from Alice was enhanced wither by CGI or extravagant makeup and costumes. The world itself was, for the most part, completely computer generated but the look of it made you feel like it was an actual world that any one of us could fall into. I absolutely loved the whole visual image of the film. The different enhancements in characters like the Red Queen, whose head was three sizes too big, and the Knave of Hearts, who was enhanced to be over 7 feet tall, made the film different from anything you typically see today in a film industry that is riddled with movies grounded in reality. For me, this is one of the most visually stunning films released ranking up there with James Cameron's Avatar. The world created by Burton was filled with so much color, life and creative ingenuity that it was simply a joy to just look at, whether you like the movie or not.

If you are a fan of Tim Burton then you aren't surprised when you see the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. Both Depp and Carter are regulars in Burton's films, even appearing along side each other in such Burton classics as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride. Depp did a fantastic job as The Mad Hatter. Most adaptations of the character present him as a single-note character whereas Depp tried to bring out a more human note in the character. What I loved most about Depp's performance is how he changed his motions so rapidly during the film and how each emotion was like a different incarnation of the character. Depp would frequently change facial expressions and even accents, providing a Scottish accent when his character entered a darker, more dangerous personality.

Helena Bonham Carter was also extremely good. Her character was s mixture of original story's characters of the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts. My favorite thing about Carter's performance was how she made the character act like a toddler. Her character would constantly yell and complain and throw temper tantrums when things wouldn't go her way which added a great sense of humor to the woman obsessed with cutting off people's heads. The over sized head of Carter's character added a nice bit to the interactions between the characters with their little comments about its size. This was another feature that added a great deal of humor to the film.

Other supporting characters that added there actual likenesses to the film were also very good. Crispin Glover was great as the Knave of Hearts Stayne and Anne Hathaway brought a great performance to the White Queen. I really loved how Hathaway's character tried to act so sweet and innocent yet occasionally let slip some downright insane dialogue. Other actors like Matt Lucas(Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry(Chessur Cat), Michael Sheen(White Rabbit), Alan Rickman(Absolem) and Christopher Lee(Jabberwocky), who only contributed their voices, all added special qualities to their characters. Sometimes it can be hard to only do a voice in a film but all the voice actors really did an amazing job bringing their respective characters to life making the movie feel truly real and enriching.

Even though Burton loaded his film down with big name celebrities and such, the real gem here was Mia Wasikowska and her portrayal of Alice. The young actress isn't one of the biggest names out there in the film industry but after her performance in this movie you can bet she soon will be. While all of the other characters in the film were outlandish, bizarre, insane, and colorful, Alice was the opposite. Very pale, very calm, Wasikowska was the weight that kept everything in balance. Wasikowska kept the film grounded and gave the audience a truly inspiring heroine that most people will have absolutely no problem connecting to. While most of the actors in the film performed flawlessly with their outrageous characters, it was the calm collected attitude that Wasikowska presented that was such a stark contrast to the rest of the film which truly captivated me. Wasikowska made the audience feel like they really were in Wonderland.

Overall this film was fantastic. I think the success of it is in no small way related to the fact that Burton didn't make a sequel or a re-imagining of the original story. Instead, Burton's film is an extension of Lewis Carroll's classic stories. By coming up with a pretty unique story, Burton has given us something more than we could have ever expected. He didn't try to cash in on the already wonderful story but instead made a film and story that can be added to the legacy of the iconic Wonderland. Hardcore fans of Tim Burton will absolutely love this film and I believe that die hard fans of the original stories as well as the Disney animated film will find something to love around every colorfully enigmatic corner.

I give Alice in Wonderland 10 Futterwackens out of 10.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Crazies

Release Date: February 24th, 2010

Click here for The Crazies Trailer.

In the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Kansas, things remain fairly quiet for the most part. That is until one day when Rory, the former town drunk, strolls out onto the high school baseball field in the middle of a game armed with a shotgun. David Dutton(Timothy Olyphant), the town's Sheriff, evacuates the field and goes out to reason with him but when Rory raises his gun, David has no choice but to shoot him. When it turns out that Rory was not drunk like suspected, David can not determine why he did it.

Later on, another citizen of Ogden Marsh burns down his home with his wife and son still inside, seemingly unaware of what he had done. As the citizens of Ogden Marsh begin to act stranger by the hour, David struggles to come up with a logical explanation until a plane is found crashed in a river that connects directly to the town's water supply. Believing this to be the cause of the strange behavior, David requests that the mayor shut off the town's water until it can be figured out. But when the mayor refuses, David takes matters into his own hands.

While David is trying to convince his wife, Judy(Radha Mitchell), to leave, military forces arrive and place the entire town under containment, seperating David from Judy. David escapes and rescues Judy as well as her assistant Becca(Danielle Panabaker) from containment with the help of his Deputy Sheriff Russell Clank(Joe Anderson). The citizens of Ogden Marsh are becoming more hostile and crazy with each passing moment and David and the others must avoid both the military and infection in order to escape with their lives.

Loosely based on the classic tale of the same name by George A. Romero, The Crazies is one of the edge-of-your-seat thrillers that has scares around every corner and a fairly smart plot. Upon seeing the trailer for this movie you may be expecting something about zombies or a similar threat. However, it is something entirely different all together.

The story focuses around a crashed government plane that has somehow affected the water supply of a small farming community turning its citizens into insane shells of their former selves, attacking anything that moves. The plot made you think a little bit before that true cause was revealed and the cause itself was still a little unexpected. However, the story itself does not focus on how or why the incident happened. The main focus of the story is the attempt of four people to escape both "the crazies" and the military with their lives and make it to safety.

Most thriller movies need intense scenes to back them up and The Crazies delivered just that. While there wasn't full on big-budget action in this film, the scenes of suspense were just that, suspenseful. They really gave the audience the same sense of desperation as the characters in the film were experiencing. Around every turn there was a growing tension that makes your heart start racing. This is where the film really shines. It keeps you focused the whole time and really gets you involved.

The movie was a gore-fest but not to the point of absurdity or sickness. It struck the right balance between making you feel creeped out but not to the point where the movie was unenjoyable to watch. The amount of gore in this film also added a sense of reality to the story. The character designs and amount of gore applied to each individual made the crazies seem like a viable threat, one that could actually happen to any of us.

I thought Timothy Olyphant did a fantastic job in the lead role. He had a certain presence about him that let you know he was the lead but at the same time didn't throw out a sense of arrogance that some celebrities display. Olyphant delivered a very real character, one that many people out there may be able to relate to. But he wasn't alone. Solid performances from both Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson helped propel the story as well as the individual characters and each of the three stars seemed to feed of the others.

Fans of George A. Romero's original can't really compare the two films. The classic depended a lot on dialogue to work the plot through but director Breck Eisner allows the tension to push you along. Eisner put in enough feasibility into the film to make you believe that this could really happen. And, as I'm sure many of you know, watching a scary movie that could actually happen is way more terrifying than watching one that is grounded in mythology, nightmares or ancient curses.

Overall I really enjoyed The Crazies. I thought the plot was good and even slightly unexpected and I also thought that the actors did a great job in making believable characters as well as one's you can relate to. The gore level was set to the perfect setting and the scares were placed in just the right places to make you scream. Definitely a movie for horror fans.

I give The Crazies 8 "Did Peter Call?" Grandmas out of 10.