Monday, January 31, 2011

Venkovský ucitel (The Country Teacher) (2008)

The Country Teacher himselfIf I’d read the concept for The Country Teacher, I’d have canned it on grounds that the story could not have been pulled off without demonizing the protagonist for his lack of judgment and the teen boy’s mother her choices. Instead, the viewer is presented with an emotionally tangled, confusing and uncomfortable situation that winds out of control.

Peter (Pavel Liska) leaves Prague to teach science in a countryside school. He wants to spread his wings away from his mother, a fellow teacher at the school. Soon, he builds a life in the country village. He befriends Marie (Zuzana Bydzovská), a dairy cow farmer with a young teenage son, Lada (Ladislav Sedivý).

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

The Country Teacher works slowly. Peter is anguished—he’s in the present but not exactly in the moment. Marie is similar. She’s a strong but sad person in search of love and connection. Early on, Peter declares that “Chance is the mother of change.” The statement foreshadows and sets the tone. When Peter’s his former lover unexpectedly shows up to win him back, Peter tells him the truth—he never loved him. He sets out to ruin Peter’s new existence and this leads up to an entertaining catalytic scene. There’s an outdoor party. The town is there dancing to a terrific band (who I’m still trying to identify). As the band plays the chords to the punk rhythms and the townies are dancing, I wanted be at the party dancing with them despite the brimming conflict and tension.

The movies highlights unrequited love, loneliness and forgiveness. Almost all the characters are in love with someone who doesn’t/can’t love them in return. Lada’s girlfriend Bara is the exception: she gets what she wants and doesn’t seem to long; she’s a symbol of hope. The ending doesn’t quite deliver. Peter has metamorphasized but it happens too quickly. Are people are capable of forgiving themselves and others and learning from it, especially in these circumstances?

Writer-Director: Bohdan Sláma

Country: Czech Republic

Genre: Drama

Run time: 112 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Law & Order: UK (TV 2009)

The UK adaptation of the longest running prime-time American TV show is refreshingly different yet still familiar.

The two cop leads are formulaically paired: Matt (Jamie Bamber), the handsome young cop, idealistic and impulsive, partnered with the older even-keeled Ronnie (Bradley Walsh). As they interview witnesses, question suspects and collect information to solve crimes, their camaraderie develops their friendship in far-from-trite ways. They are delightful and Law&Order_UKdeliver entertaining quips at well timed moments. I’m disappointed when the case is ready to be handed off to the prosecution, but it’s not bad. The mood changes. You are privy to the chemistry between James (Ben Steele), the veteran prosecutor who puts in serious hours to put away the guilty, and junior prosecutor Aleysha (Freema Agyeman) the talented, not yet jaded protégée. Steele’s demeanor is uncannily close to that of original Law & Order attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterson).The courtroom scenes are compelling but  lack the excitement of the investigative portion of each show.

The series is faithful to the original, but the differences keep you coming back.The stories are compelling with a touch of Prime Suspect to make them more intellectually stimulating that the American versions of Law & Order and Law & Order Special Victims Unit (or it is just the accents?) The scenes of the streets of London are frenzied and bustling. There’s rich character development so that when they choose to delve into a hinted-at storyline, they already have a ripe environment upon which to play. In its fourth season, check out Law & Order: UK on BBC America.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Matando Cabos (Killing Cabos) (2004)

This uneven caper film borrows heavily from Quentin Tarantino with some Seinfeldian moments but doesn’t quite pull it off. Feels and plays like an early-in-movie-making-career effort.

matando-cabosJaque’s (Tony Dalton) boss Oscar Cabos (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) is also his girlfriend’s father. He recently beat up Jaque after finding him in bed with his daughter, Paulina (Ana Claudia Talancón). Today, Jaque has been called to Cabos’s office. He finds himself locked in as Cabos comes at him with a nine iron ready to pummel him, when an unexpected twist saves him…for the moment.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Jaque enlists the help of his bosom buddy Mudo (Kristoff—the Spanish speaking Ethan Hawke) to help him deal with Cabos’s body. Mudo calls Ruben, aka “Mascarita” (the mask) (Joaquín Cosio), a has-been wrestler with a short fuse when called by his wrestling name. Ruben is accompanied by his side-kick, Tony, aka “El Canibal” (the cannibal) (Silverio Palacios). Tony is the small guy (who might be a cannibal) to Ruben’s giant.

Jaque/Mudo/Ruben/Tony are trying to get rid of Cabos’s body before he wakes up in the trunk of Jaque’s car but they continue being sidetracked. On the same side of town, Botcha (Raúl Méndez) and Nico (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) are taking care of an old debt with the help of Lula (Rocío Verdejo), Paulina’s best friend. Botcha/Nico/Lula end up with the wrong body. When forced to take desperate measures, their path crosses with Jaque/Mudo/Ruben/Tony and the situations become more complicated for everyone. For good measure, you also get a cross-eyed bus driver with emotional scars, an obnoxious parrot who alerts the building when the neighbors are home and a unwitting maid dealing with harassing phone calls.

Some gags, dark humor, extreme beatings. Matando Cabos goes too far in trying to shock and be funny. The acting is bland with a few of them barely showing up. There’s too little known about most of the characters—especially Mudo and Jaque. Connections between characters are left hanging in an unsatisfying manner. For example, how are Mudo and Mascarita acquainted? The subtitles refer to Oscar Cabos as Jaque’s father-in-law despite the fact Jaque and Paulina are dating/not married (this may be culturally common, but it causes logistical confusion, as you will see if you watch). How did Botcha manage to find Nico? What is the deal w/ Paulina and Lula?

All that said, the dialogue contains quick-wit, the sets are colorful and festive and I didn’t once think about turning off Matando Cabos.

Director: Alejandro Lozano

Country: Mexico

Genre: Dark comedy

Run time:  93 minutes

Scale: 3

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris, at the Seattle Art Museum

We, the people of Seattle, had the pleasure of hosting a collection of Pablo Picasso works usually housed at the Musée National Picasso in Paris. The exhibit at the SAM ran October 8, 2010, through January 17, 2011. I regretted not visiting prior to closing weekend. My partner in crime and I had to talk our way in without our printed e-mails, past the massive lines, past security and past the second checkpoint to arrive daunted to the collection of 150 pieces and move through the galleries as if maneuvering on a giant Twister mat.

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”

picasso_casagemas1901The show began with early works including La mort de Casagemas (The Death of Casagemas), inspired by the suicide of a close friend, Carles Casagemas. His early style betrays the influence of Vincent Van Gogh on the young Picasso. Casagemas’s death had such a profound effect on the artist, it set him onto his Blue Period (1901-04) where he painted in melancholy hues of cool greys and muted blues. Pieces from the Rose Period saw a shift into rose, pink and orange tones. His favorite subjects remained those on the edge of society, clowns, performers and acrobats.

“It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Guitar & Bottle of BassFollowing the Rose Period, Picasso turned a corner, influenced by African art, as evidenced in his piece Three Figures Under a Tree.

“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.”

The Cubist years transitioned into realism and figurative works. And, then, the art influenced by  the women, his children and the wars. One of the points repeatedly stated was that Picasso never worked in a straight line from one style or period to the next. He liked to be ambiguous in his art and symbolism. The beauty of this collection is that it contains a remarkable array of media – paintings, etchings, collages (some made of wood and metal), pencil drawings, colored pencil drawings, sculptures and even photographs. You are struck by his prolific nature and dedication. It’s neat to view the collection as it flows and morphs from one period into the next.

“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

Portrait of Dora MaarPerhaps my favorite piece, Portrait of Dora Maar, speaks with the bold colors, the rigidness of the figure and the red pointy nails. A photographer, she endured nine years with Picasso before he moved on to his next mistress.

“Art is never chaste.”

I could write much more but it sounds like I’m rubbing it in, especially since the show has closed. If you’re willing to travel, there’s hope. After Seattle (the first US stop), the exhibit moves to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, Virginia) from February 19 – May 15. After that it will be on display June 11 – September 18 at the de Young Museum of San Francisco. If you don’t make the US stops, there’s always the Musée National Picasso in Paris, where the art pieces will end up again when the museum reopens after renovations in 2012 (which is why the pieces were on travelling exhibit). À bientôt!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

wpid-black-swan-movie-1The Black Swan delves into the cutthroat world of ballet—exposing its dark underbelly while showing the demise of a ballerina's mind.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballet dancer who lands the ‘role of a lifetime’ as the Swan Queen in her New York City dance company’s production of Swan Lake.

Now that she’s got the coveted role, the pressure has only just begun for the fragile Nina. The production director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), is driving her. He’s sure she can perform the White Swan, but pushes her to become a seductress as the Black Swan. As she’s struggling and working hard to gain his approval, he’s degrading her while also putting on the moves. The pressure to be perfect nags at her. Then, Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the company. Now, Nina has a competitor trying to befriend her in an environment where everyone is ready for the chance to replace her.

This movie attempts to overthrow you mentally. Always intense and shot in first person perspective to put you into Nina’s head, be ready for jostling camera angles (a la Blair Witch Project). As you acclimate, you become Nina on the path to mental breakdown, absorbing her illness, schizophrenia or whatever ails her. You accompany her to the toilet to puke, to her weigh-ins (where the already thin dancer is pleased to have slimmed down), on her grueling rehearsals to witness Thomas humiliate her in front of her peers. Portman is exceptional in her depiction of the emotionally brittle Nina. Hershey delivers as her smothering mother, herself a former ballerina living her failed dreams through her “sweet girl.” Winona Ryder’s Beth, the replaced “old” ballerina is well played, but unintentionally funny. I couldn’t shake the Heathers melodrama flashbacks in a few of Ryder’s scenes. Her acting is so over the top, it’s darkly comedic (be warned though, she has one scene that while over-the-top is extremely disturbing). I like Kunis but is she worthy of best supporting actress nominations? She acts the same as she did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and toned down from her role in That ‘70s Show but she doesn’t possess range. Compared to Nina, her character isn’t believable—an accomplished ballerina who desires the starring role but eats burgers, stays out clubbing and pops Ecstasy the night before a day of arduous rehearsal. (Admittedly, it’s difficult to know what is happening versus what is imagined, but it left me dubious.) And, for a movie about ballet, there’s little dancing.

You must see this psychological thriller because like it or not, it will rattle you. If you feel nothing, you will simply add this to a string of events that don’t impact you and people will silently pity you.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Country: USA

Genre: Thriller

Run time:  106 minutes

Scale: 4.25

Sunday, January 16, 2011

68th Annual Golden Globe Awards (2011)

From the star-filled international ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel with boozy host Ricky Gervais, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented their annual Golden Globe Awards.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Christian Bale -- The Fighter
Michael Douglas -- Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield -- "The Social Network"
Jeremy Renner -- "The Town"
Geoffrey Rush -- "The King's Speech"

  • Winner: Christian Bale

Best Actress in a TV Drama

Julianna Margulies -- The Good Wife
Kyra Sedgwick -- The Closer
Elisabeth Moss -- Mad Men
Katey Sagal -- Sons of Anarchy
Piper Perabo -- Covert Affairs

  • Winner: Katey Sagal (She looks fantastic and excellent red dress!)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV

Carlos (Sundance Channel)
The Pacific (HBO)
Temple Grandin (HBO)
You Don't Know Jack (HBO)
Pillars of the Earth (Starz)

  • Winner: Carlos

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television

Chris Colfer -- Glee
Chris Noth -- The Good Wife
Scott Caan -- Hawaii Five-0
David Strathairn -- Temple Grandin
Eric Stonestreet -- Modern Family

  • Winner: Chris Colfer

Best Actor in a TV Drama

Steve Buscemi -- Boardwalk Empire
Bryan Cranston -- Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall -- Dexter
Jon Hamm -- Mad Men
Hugh Laurie – House

  • Winner: Steve Buscemi

Best TV Series, Drama

Mad Men
Boardwalk Empire
The Good Wife
The Walking Dead

  • Winner: Boardwalk Empire

Best Original Song

"You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," by Diane Warren, Burlesque
"Bound to You," Burlesque
"Coming Home", Country Strong
"I See the Light," by Alan Menken, Tangled
"There's a Place for Us," Voyage of the Dawn Treader

  • Winner: There’s a Place for Us

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplot – The King’s Speech
Danny Elfman – Alice in Wonderland
AR Rahmin – 127 Hours
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network
Hans Zimmer – Inception

  • Winner: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Best Animated Film

Toy Story 3
How To Train Your Dragon
Despicable Me
The Illusionist

  • Winner: Toy Story 3

Best Actress, Comedy

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Emma Stone, Easy A
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

  • Winner: Annette Bening

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Idris Elba – Luther (BBC)
Ian McShane – Pillars of the Earth (Starz)
Al Pacino – You Don’t Know Jack (HBO)
Dennis Quaid – The Special Relationship (HBO)
Edgar Ramirez – Carlos (Sundance Channel)

  • Winner: Al Pacino

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV

Hayley Atwell – Pillars of the Earth (Starz)
Claire Danes – Temple Grandin (HBO)
Judi Dench – Return to Cranford (BBC)
Romola Garai – Emma (BBC)In a Better World
Jennifer Love Hewitt – The Client List

  • Winner: Claire Danes – Temple Grandin (HBO)

Best Supporting Actress, TV

Hope Davis, The Special Relationship
Jane Lynch, Glee
Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Julia Stiles, Dexter
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family

  • Winner: Jane Lynch

Best Foreign-Language Film

I Am Love (Italy)
Biutiful (Mexico, Spain)
The Concert (France)
The Edge (Russia)
In a Better World (Denmark)

  • Winner: In a Better World

Best Actress, TV Comedy

Toni Collette, The United States of Tara
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Laura Linney, The Big C
Lea Michele, Glee

  • Winner: Laura Linney

Best Actor, TV Comedy

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Thomas Jane, Hung
Matthew Morrison, Glee
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

  • Winner: Jim Parsons

Best Screenplay Motion Picture

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King's Speech
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours

  • Winner: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

  • Winner: Melissa Leo

Best Director

David Fincher, The Social Network
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter

  • Winner: David Fincher

Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical

30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
The Big C
Modern Family
Nurse Jackie

  • Winner: Glee

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney's Version

  • Winner: Paul Giamatti

Best Actress, Drama

Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

  • Winner: La Natalie

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist

  • Winner: The Kids Are Alright

Best Actor, Drama

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

  • Winner: Colin Firth

Best Picture, Drama

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network

  • Winner: The Social Network

Christian Bale delivered a funny and humble acceptance speech. Julianne Moore donned a terrible red dress—looked like a red bag bunched across her left shoulder. Jennifer Lopez wore a hideous blinding-white dress; it was an LL-Cool-J-inspired-one-leg-bare number. The sheath up top was festive but couldn’t rectify the bottom trouble. Helen Mirren is still a beauty; she makes aging look easy. Robert DeNiro received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures (the annual award given by the HFPA). Matt Damon delivered a monologue to introduce the award. He did DeNiro impersonations (getting the characters all wrong—Damon has excellent comedic delivery) which was followed by a montage of DeNiro films. DeNiro’s speech was brief but jolly. It’s always surprising to see the man smile. January Jones’s dress—sexy and fabulous. She and Jimmy Fallon’s exchanged quips in their “fake” skit. When Glee won for Best TV Series acceptance speech gave a shout-out to teachers. Halle Berry rocked her stylish black number. Paul Giamatti gave his acceptance speech with soft-spoken humor and modesty. Natalie Portman is the essence of sophistication and grace. America’s sweetheart “Sandy” Bullock sported her terrific Cleopatra shag cut (“not sure about the dress, though” Carrie Rohling). Colin Firth displayed in his acceptance speech shows that he’s one of the smart ones in Hollywood. Johnny Depp didn’t win despite being doubly nominated in one category (“Depp is probably thinking I’m banking on Rango for next year,” Andy Nystrom). Michael Douglas received a standing ovation when he walked out to present for Best Picture (“there’s gotta be a better way to get a standing ovation”). I say, you’re alive, the world is happy. Ricky Gervais was fantastically irreverent as host. Was he mean-spirited? At times, perhaps, but it’s refreshing to not have a lick for a change (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen intro—classic example). Some of the folks dished it back but Gervais was always the winner…especially when he thanked God for making him an atheist.

Vozvrashchenie (The Return) (2003)

An appropriate subtitle for this cheerless film would be ‘road trip to nowhere with a militant father you haven’t seen in 12 years.The Return

Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and younger brother Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) are surprised by the sudden reappearance of their father (Konstantin Lavronenko). He says little, and has no affect. The boys’ mother (Natalya Vdovina) and grandmother (Galina Petrova) pay him quiet deference but look worried. Just as suddenly, he announces the boys will accompany him on a road trip. They are elated at the prospect to create memories with a father they don’t know and for Ivan, a chance to go fishing. The boys have a picture of him. They use it to compare and determine if this stranger is indeed their dad. As they set off, it’s clear: The Father expects certain behavior from them; when they don’t satisfy his expectation, he reacts with force. Their ages aren’t stated—Andrei looks in his early teens. He’s under the spell of The Father and the idea of having him back. Young Ivan (12 or 13) is not so easily swayed and becomes his father’s antagonist. The Father is a dark version of McGuyver—rugged and able to take on the land and the elements with an eerie calm, ripe for an explosion.

The pessimistic landscape coupled with frequent downpours match the tension inside the car. When daddy’s sadism begins to escalate, so does Ivan’s anger. As the days press on, they camp, fish and drive deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Soon, a canoe replaces the car and they are on their way to a remote island. Their mental and physical stamina is taxed. Contempt has replaced Ivan’s trust.

The rain, the woods, the beaches and the expansive water become character. If the boys can survive their father, they still have the elements to challenge. There are unusual cinematic moments when Ivan looks directly at camera. It’s as if he’s connecting with the viewer, anyone who can provide him a reality check.

Some questions are never answered. Why was The Father gone for so long? Why does he take them on this voyage? You can formulate your own answers with clues provided. The foreshadowing tells you what’s coming but it’s a long disturbing road to the tragic end.

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Country: Russia

Genre: Drama

Run time:  101 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

Running to LALow-rung record executive Aaron (Jonah Hill) is charged with getting his rock idol and infamous drug addict Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from London to New York City for a performance (on the Today Show) and then to Los Angeles within 72 hours for Snow’s 10-year anniversary performance. Aaron is an uber-fan of Snow’s, but has no idea the challenges he will face fulfilling his task. As Aaron is set to depart on his mission, his girlfriend, Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), drops a bomb that puts their relationship on hold.

Once Aaron meets the eccentric Snow in London, he realizes he has no control. Can they survive the celebrity antics, paparazzi, groupies, sycophants, hateful respect and still make the big show? Can Aaron keep a lid on his scorn toward Snow’s last album, African Child? Add to this that Snow is still trying to win back model/actress/mother of his child Jackie Q (Rose Byrne).

This movie is fun with some great party shots. Are there lame scenes? Yes. But, they are overshadowed by Brand and Hill’s chemistry, their bromantic appeal and the furious banter. Brand’s expressions, his delivery and his movements mesh with Hill’s awkward deer-in-the-headlights’ reactions. Kristen Schaal has a tiny role as a Today Show producer. Ellie Kemper (Erin from The Office) has an unspoken cameo—a wasted opportunity. While Moss is fine as Aaron’s girlfriend, Kemper would have rocked it. P.Diddy isn’t going to win an Oscar but he delivers some humdingers. Colm Meaney as Snow’s father is excellent. You even get Lars Ulrich as Jackie Q’s lover and muse. If you saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you know that Brand is reprising his role (there’s a Sarah Marshall/Kristen Bell cameo). If that’s not enough (talking to you, John Kennedy), perhaps you might be swayed by the ridiculous songs, such as The Clap, Ring ‘Round (My Dirty Posy), Beans and Mash, Going Down and Furry Walls. Apologies to those who will watch and hate; I loved it.

Writer-Director: Nicholas Stoller

Country: USA

Genre: Bromantic comedy

Run time:  109 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, January 10, 2011

Politist, adjectiv (Police, Adjective) (2009)

Slow and monotonous, Politist, adjectiv is also a revealing snapshot of what’s involved in police surveillance work on a suspected delinquent. Undercover cop Cristi (Dragos Bucur) has been keeping a week-long surveillance of Victor (Radu Costina), a teenager suspected of drug dealing. His investigation yields little more than the suspect and his friends are guilty of smoking hashish. Cristi wants more time to trace the dealer, while his superiors want him to organize a sting and bust the kid.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

police_adjectiveCristi pushes for more time because, as he states, “nowhere in Europe are you arrested for smoking a joint.” Soon, he says, the local law will change and he doesn’t want to ruin the kid’s life for smoking. Cristi is the opposite of a corrupt cop. He dislikes squealers, questioning why you would snitch on a friend.

Several very long scenes simulate Cristi’s experience. We are on surveillance with him and absorb his boredom, hunger and curiosity. Surveillance is lonely work and the ease with which you can tail someone and learn about her/him is eerily evident. The cinematography includes busy shots that bringing to mind Caché (2005). During an early surveillance scene, there’s a visual set-up of foreground versus background. The  group of three friends talk and smoke in the background; you cannot hear them. In the foreground, you see and hear three young boys playing futbol. They’re running, kicking the ball, making noise—providing an adornment to the silent background story. The colors pop—the greens, yellows, reds give the movie the feel of a 1970s indie film.

The story pokes at the bureaucracy of the legal system. He makes detailed notes on his progress but no one reads them. They don’t want him spending too long on this “simple” matter—just send the kid to jail; he’ll be out in 3.5 years. The characters engage in conversations that divert to make statements about unrelated topics. Some are social commentary, others offer comic relief in the form of cultural inside jokes and some are so random, it’s unclear why they’re included. The ending has Cristi in a philosophical debate against The Boss. He’s forced to make a choice and the movie ends abruptly (after all that). Cristi’s integrity and belief in his ethics keeps you interested even when little else is cooking.

Writer-Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

Country: Romania

Genre: Drama

Run time: 114 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Valentine’s Day (2010)

VDCatching Valentine’s Day was an accident of proximity, but I was curious about the ensemble cast, reminiscent of He’s Just Not That Into You (20009). However, this celebrity gathering topped HJNTIY and it’s many storylines flanked you. If you don’t like all the storylines, you’ll have to wade through the dull ones. In short, it’s an LA movie about cheaters. Not all are, but it’s a running theme. There’s also a Short Cuts (1993) element where characters are connected by a degree of two of separation, giving you a few perspectives.

Reed (Ashton Kutcher) owns a busy pink-themed flower shop. His best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner) is a teacher and both are dating others. They end up telling each other what they think of their partners. Liz (Anne Hathaway), assistant to Hollywood agent Paula (Queen Latifah), moonlights as a phone sex operator. She meets Jason (Topher Grace) and has difficulties juggling her work lives and dating. Kate (Julia Roberts) is an active-duty soldier on her way home for a less-than-24-hours leave. On the plane, she’s next to  Holden (Bradley Cooper) and as they banter, he learns about her while he reveals little. The Taylor2 (Taylor Swift + Taylor Lautner) storyline was unconventionally funny. Neither is a great actor but Swift, as Felicia, lets herself be so silly, you cannot help but be amused. It seemed that even werewolf-boy Lautner. as Willy, had to fight laughter. Virgin couple Alex (Carter Jenkins) and Grace’s (Emma Roberts) plan to meet and de-flower each other so that they can part and go to their different coasted Ivy-league schools gets complicated. Cameo by Kristen Schaal (better known as Mel from Flight of the Conchords) as Ms. Gilroy was a tease; she deserved much more screen time.

Jennifer Garner has excellent comedic timing. This saved Kutcher’s limited-beyond-his-delicious-good-looks acting. Jessica Alba as Morley, Reed’s girlfriend is boring. Jessica Biel as Kara gives a flat and lame performance. Her interactions with Kelvin (Jamie Foxx) are devoid of any chemistry. Eric Dane as Sean is uninspired. Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Harrison Copeland is decent but the same as in Grey’s Anatomy. Some transitions between characters lack smoothness and credibility. A light romp with too many characters (but fun to see all the actors) and a flimsy plot, but despite these issues, I didn’t regret it.

Director: Garry Marshall

Country: USA

Genre: Rom-com

Run time: 125 minutes

Scale: 2.5