Monday, October 19, 2009

The Killing of John Lennon (2006)

This dark movie  tries to get inside the eerie mind of Mark David Chapman and dramatize the three months leading up to his assassination of John Lennon. Chapman (Jonas Ball), a mentally unstable 25-year-old married cab driver in Honolulu, Hawaii, doesn't connect well with people. He reads A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. He becomes obsessed with the book, relating so much to Holden Caulfield, the book's protagonist, due to his own feelings of isolation.

Then, Chapman develops a hatred for John Lennon, citing Lennon's request for people to live free of their possessions while himself owning several homes, farms and a yacht. His hatred simmers as he purchases a .38 revolver and flies New York City to carry out the shooting. He goes to the Dakota (where Lennon lived at the time) and asked around about Lennon, but Lennon appears to be out of town. After seeing a screening of Ordinary People, Chapman is affected by the film; so much so, he has a change of heart about his plan to kill Lennon. He calls his wife, Gloria (Mie Omori), in Hawaii and tells her he is coming home.

Once back in Honolulu, his bliss is short-lived. Fifteen days later, he's on a plane back to NYC to carry out his original plan to murder Lennon. This time, Lennon is in town and Chapman is ready. He buys the Double Fantasy LP and returns to the Dakota to wait outside for Lennon, under the guise of getting his autograph. When Lennon shows up, he signs Chapman's record. Chapman doesn't strike and Lennon takes off in his limo. Chapman sticks around several hours until Lennon and Yoko return. Chapman shoots him five times. He stands outside the Dakota, reading A Catcher in the Rye, waiting for police to arrive. The movie continues until Chapman is convicted and sentenced. While running a bit long, you feel like you are inside Chapman's head ruminating along with his thoughts.

Chapman has been imprisoned since 1981. He's kept in solitary confinement as it is believed he would be killed if kept in the general prison population. He's been denied parole several times. Chapman's goal was to be renowned. He is quoted as saying, "I was nobody until I killed the biggest somebody on earth." This movie is a bittersweet victory because it's obvious tons of research and work went into it, yet Chapman still gets the notoriety he sought.

Director: Andrew Piddington

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 113 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost in Austen (2008)

For fans of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this clever mini-series (packaged on DVD as movie) is a must-see. Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) loves the novel Pride and Prejudice. She often re-reads it as solace from her own life which suffers in the romance department with a boyfriend who doesn't value her and has troubles staying loyal.

One day Amanda is surprised to come face-to-face with her hero Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton). She appears in Amanda's bathroom, entering 21th century London from the 1800s English countryside through a portal in the wall of the Bennet home and Amanda's bathroom. Amanda eyes the open portal, and unable to resist, enters. The portal closes and modern-day Amanda finds herself in the Bennet home. She tells the perplexed Bennet family that Elizabeth is staying at Amanda's place in Hammersmith (which is true minus the diff in centuries).

As Amanda meets the cast of characters she knows so well, her presence skews the novel events. First, Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) seems to be falling in love with her and not Jane. She mitigates that fallout only to be vexed that Mr. Collins (Guy Henry) proposes to Jane (Morven Christie), instead of Charlotte (Michelle Duncan). ARGH. She voraciously attacks Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) for his intrusion--for getting between the obvious attraction between Bingley and Jane (on par with the novel). Amanda prognosticates constantly, irritating the family, predicting what is about to happen and why things are going from bad to much worse. She is often scolded for being vocal, instead of humble, quiet and knowing a woman's place.

Time is running out. If she cannot get the portal to open and bring Jane back, Pride and Prejudice as we know it will be a huge mess. As she's plotting and trying to straighten things, she falls in love with Darcy and he with her, but with Amanda going on and on about how he must end up with Elizabeth (whom he hasn't met), he is puzzled. The recreation of the wet puffy shirt scene is priceless. Even if this movie had sucked (it didn't, even a bit), that scene may have been enough. Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley), a good guy and a framed innocent? Ms. Bingley (Christina Cole) a lesbian who fancies Amanda? WTF?

When Amanda is finally able to get back through the portal into modern-day London, Darcy follows. She introduces him to the now modern Elizabeth, who is a nanny, adept at using the Internet and has read Pride and Prejudice. Will the ladies trade back? Will Darcy and Elizabeth end up together?

See Lost in Austen. This one probably won't appeal to most men or anyone who has not read/loved/watched Pride and Prejudice.

Director: Dan Zeff

Country: England

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Run time: 180 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Away We Go (2009)

Decision made... Written by husband-wife novelists Vendela Vida and Dave Eggers as they expected their first child, Away We Go revolves around a couple awaiting the birth of their first child. Verona, (Maya Rudolph) is a medical illustrator (a past job for Eggers). Burt (John Krasinski) is an insurance salesman. When they learn that his parents (played by Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) are moving to Antwerp for two years just before Verona gives birth, the incensed pregnant couple decides should move. They embark on a road trip to visit friends and family to figure out where they should raise their kid.

They visit Phoenix, Tucson, Madison, WI, Montreal and Miami. The cast of characters they visit include wacky Lily (Allison Janney) and Lowell (Allison Janney)--about whom you wonder how they ended up together--and old college friends, Munch (Melanie Lynskey) and Tom (Chris Messina), nursing their own wounds. Verona and Burt share authentic chemistry of a couple who is close and still very much in love. The first third of the movie was brutally slow. I almost didn't continue (I'd gotten a bad review from someone already), but once LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) enters, the movie livens up. The soft, yet raw sounds of Alexi Murdoch (in the Nick Drake vein) fuel the soundtrack, providing contemplative road trip music.

Mostly comedy with a few dramatic scenes, I enjoyed it. You get lovely panoramic shots. The camera filters mute the colors, creating a 1970s feel. Away We Go is sprinkled with odd, inappropriate and humorous details that culminate in a decent movie dealing with the fears that crop up for couples expecting their first child and how they refine who they will be as parents.

Director: Sam Mendes

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 99 minutes

Scale: 3.75

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

In this neo-noir thriller, Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) is caught in a bad case of mistaken identity. He arrives at old pal, Nick Fisher's (Sam Jaeger) apartment. He showers and soon after, two thugs take him away in a bath towel and slippers to see The Boss (Morgan Freeman) who is looking for his $96K payback. Slevin informs him he isn't Nick Fisher, but The Boss just wants his money...or a big favor in lieu of the money. Not long after returning to Nick's place and dressing two other thugs take him away to see The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley) who wants the $33K Nick owes him. Turns out The Boss and The Rabbi are nemeses. Slevin gets involved with Nick's neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu), who has a bit of Magnum, PI in her. And, to complicate an already messy sitch, Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) has been conducting surveillance on The Boss and The Rabbi--who live opposite one another in facing buildings--and is determined to figure out how Slevin fits in with both. Slevin hashes his own plot. Not so fast...seems hitman Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), is setting up Slevin at each step.

Told in present, flashbacks and some repetition of scenes with perspective twists, this movie has comic moments. Kingsley steps into character and performs. Freeman acts in mostly same character as always, yet is still likeable, as always (must have been my formative exposure to him in Electric Company). Hartnett carries the show with his comedic timing and conning turn at naïveté. The mad, vibrant set design serves as a chaotic character of its own.

Director: Paul McGuigan

Country: US

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 3.5

White Oleander (2002)

This plot journeys through a battle between two women--main character, Astrid (Jennifer Lohman), and her mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer). Artist Ingrid is narcissistic, controlling and icy. They share a mother-daughter relationship with few boundaries; mother treating daughter as an equal and a confidante. Ingrid lectures Astrid about how to treat men and how not to let men and the world treat you.

Protégée and mentor

When Barry enters Ingrid's life, he doesn't play by her rules. When Ingrid commits a crime of passion and goes to jail for murder, teen Astrid enters foster care. Her first placement is with born-again Starr (Robin Wright Penn). Former addict Starr clashes with her own teenage daughter who has grown up fast and doesn't listen to or respect her. Starr begins suspecting an attraction between her boyfriend Ray (Cole Hauser) and Astrid. As Ray and Astrid spend time together, their attraction flourishes. Soon, Starr unhinges and Astrid is placed in another home. This time, Claire (Renée Zellweger), a former actress, and Astrid forge a close relationship, but Claire's troubles with her husband, Mark (Noah Wyle), threaten to undo the decent home in which she's landed. Astrid lands in the juvenile system with other older kids. In that institution, she befriends Paul (Patrick Fugit) with whom she gets close. Through her placements, Astrid continues to visit Ingrid in prison. Their relationship becomes more adversarial as time passes and Astrid begins to break free of her mother's spell. Screen goddesses Pfeiffer and Wright Penn lose themselves in their characters and excel. They add a special touch to this little movie adapted from the eponymous novel by Janet Finch.

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, October 5, 2009

Zombieland (2009)

If you're looking for a getting-from-point-A-to-B zombie romp,  this is for you. Plot is basic, gore factor is HIGH and white knuckling is constant. If you are lucky to have an unruly crowd in the theater all 'round, tension ratchets up and it's an even more entertaining 80 minutes through the land of the undead.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Young, neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg who practices in the same acting style as Michael Cera) is on a mission to get to Columbus, OH, to see if his parents might have survived the zombie virus. He's got rules he the lives by and to which he attributes the reason he's still alive well into the zombie crisis (rules provide hilarious overlays during action scenes). When urban cowboy Tallahassee (a first-rate Woody Harrelson) picks up Columbus wandering on the deserted highway, he gives him a lift. Tallahassee has excellent lines. His character is the most fun to watch. He and Columbus make a great duo, that is until they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The sister team gets big points for kicking ass. When the duos merge to form a fearsome foursome, they get more accomplished, including finding the elusive Twinkie. For a moment, they are the family that Columbus covets, and then, the movie abruptly ends--the foursome driving off into the night onto their next misadventure. Not much more could've happened in this offering (you can bet there will be a sequel), yet you want to see more at risk. The Bill Murray cameo is strangely priceless. When you see this, stay for the end credits and you will get a bit more (unusually, I left before they were done and missed it).

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Country: US

Genre: Action/Comedy

Run time: 80 minutes

Scale: 3

Indian Runner (1991)

Eighteen years old and The Indian Runner still packs a punch. The story is simple, yet the emotions that pour from the characters are deeply complex. It revolves around two very different brothers. The opening scene screeches at you, literally, but this isn't an action flick. In fact, you spend a lot of time waiting. In my case, I pined for more scenes with Frank (Viggo Mortensen). See, part of the plot involves Frank running from his family, from responsibility, from love. But, when he's on-screen, especially with his brother, Joe (David Morse), he embodies the troubled bad-boy. Joe is also compelling, just in a tranquil manner. Former farmer-turned-cop Joe is struggling after killing a man. Shortly after, Frank rolls into town. Joe can't wait to see Frank, whose been away in the service. He's soon disappointed. He deals with Frank's distance again, and then, with Frank's violence. Joe doesn't give up. He asks Frank and his girlfriend, Dorothy (Patricia Arquette) to move in with him and his wife, Maria (Valeria Golino), until he can get on his feet. Frank does and, for a time, his life unfolds peacefully and productively.A troubled dish

Maria has firecracker energy and strength as Joe's wife. They share genuine affection and respect. You get the same chemistry in scenes with Joe and Frank, though you feel the imbalance between them--the crux of their struggle. Joe wants more but Frank can't give any more.

I couldn't relate to Dorothy. She's too ditzy and I don't buy it. I get that she's supposed to be young and naive in love, but it goes too far. Frank is a fuck-up but would he really be interested in Dorothy? It makes sense since he has little to offer and fears intimacy, and when she starts demanding more, Frank pulls a Frank. (I'm a fan of Patricia Arquette, but I would have preferred one similar to Alabama, her True Romance character.) Caesar (Dennis Hopper) rubbed me wrong. Each time he's on-screen, it was like nails on blackboard. He's a catalyst but he was flat. The movie has stretches of slow periods; it seemed symbolic of Joe's waiting.

Say what you want about the Sean Penn you hear about in the tabloids, but he's a true artist. This was his freshman effort at writing and directing and he does a smashing job.

Writer/Director: Sean Penn

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 125 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Puyallup Fair (September)

Even if you aren't interested in fairs, you know when it's Puyallup time--the commercials, the ads, the jingle that no doubt you are reciting right now. This year, I got a free ticket (thanks, Corinn).

Ze-donk 101The animals are the best part. The enclosures and hoards of people gathered 'round aren't great for the animals, but as a bystander, I experience the guilty pleasure of learning about and seeing animals I wouldn't have a chance to know existed, such as the Ze-donk, the zebra meets donkey.

Nice legs!

Camel and Corinn

The camel was gorgeous, towering over the most of the animals. The Icelandic horses were striking with their contrasting blonde manes. Smaller than traditional horses, they still possess the serene grace.

Lovely mane

Many sheep...all types, colors and levels of softness appeal.

Dreads, mon

A la Bo Peep










Curls and wisps

The Swine


The favorite

The fowl

More fowl

Cheeky fowl

Polish-variety fowl

The most exciting fair activity was the chance to hold a human brain...all three pounds of it. It was surprisingly heavier than expected.

Have you held a brain today?

This event was also a successful experiment on taking the bus from Seattle to Puyallup. On the ride from downtown Seattle to Federal Way, I saw a woman transporting a piece of art. I was sitting too far away to tell what it was. It looked like a large ceramic owl decorated with vivid colors. When we disembarked the bus at the Federal Way Park and Ride, I approached. Her name is Tammie. She sells Real Change in downtown Seattle (her artwork is for sale). Here she is with the fantastic owl clock she made. She was on her way to gift it to her mother. Tammie also makes ceramic chess sets.

Tammie and her owls

Bart Got a Room (2008)

Danny wants prom to be memorable, but finding a date is challenging.

Camille (Alia Shawkat)--his best friend of nine years--is the obvious choice, but Danny desires someone more like Alice (Ashley Benson), the sophomore cheerleader he drives to school. He asks her after his father, Ernie (played beautifully by a curly topped William H. Macy) urges him after observing the signals he's certain Alice if giving Danny. She continues her flirtation but when Danny asks her to be his prom date, she says, no way. When friends try setting him up on a blind date, Danny bungles that too.

As if Danny isn't dealing with enough, he's also got his parents' divorce and their dating lives to contend with. My favorite scenes are when Danny and Ernie share the screen. Ernie is trying to be a cool dad--Danny's pal--but in doing so possesses no boundaries and overshares. The standout scene is when Ernie moves into a new apartment and Danny is helping him set up. Ernie encourages Danny to bring over ladies if he desires but Ernie is actively dating and worries, what if they both have a gal over? He has Danny stand in his bedroom and Ernie stands in the main room/living room and they try to gauge how loud they can be before it's too loud. It's both horrifying and hilarious.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Danny captures the awkwardness of the teen years. After all the hoopla of trying to find a date, deciding on getting a limo, getting a hotel room and a prom uniform, Danny and Camille end up at a great party...not the prom but great nonetheless.

Writer/Director: Brian Hecker

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 78 minutes

Scale: 3