Tag Archives: Little Miss Sunshine

[Review] – Jesus Henry Christ

17 May

Title: Jesus Henry Christ
Year: 2012
Director: Dennis Lee
Writer: Dennis Lee, based on his own short film
Starring: Jason Spevack, Toni Collette, Michael Sheen, Cameron Kennedy, Samantha Weinstein
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violent images, language and smoking
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Metacritic: 42

Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom opened the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, and while I’m drooling for that film to be released already as I’m a huge fanboy of the director, I’m now getting to watch a film that seemed to be trying too hard to be something as quirky and charming and meticulously made as a Wes Anderson film. And while there are some parts of Dennis Lee‘s Jesus Henry Christ that are good enough, more often than not I found myself thinking that this film was always trying to be something premeditated instead of just growing organically, and it was hurt quite a bit by that. Lots of thing, for better or worse, get stamped with the label Anderson-esque, but the truth is there’s only one Wes Anderson; sorry, Mr. Lee.

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[Trailer] – Ruby Sparks

19 Apr

You can go ahead and file this one under “Incredibly Excited About”. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are finally going to give us a follow-up to their 2006 breakout hit Little Miss Sunshine (which I’m a big fan of), and from the looks of it this one’s going to be another winner. You can watch the trailer for Ruby Sparks after the cut.

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[Review] – A Thousand Words

7 Apr

Title: A Thousand Words
Year: 2012
Director: Brian Robbins
Writer: Steve Koren
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Kerry Washington, Clark Duke, Cliff Curtis, Allison Janney, Ruby Dee, John Witherspoon, Steve Little, Ariel Winter, Jack McBrayer
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sexual situations including dialogue, language and some drug-related humor
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 4.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Metacritic: 26

Eddie Murphy‘s been angling at a comeback for quite some time now, and the fact is that it just seems like it won’t happen for him. This man was once one of the most unique and freshest voices in comedy; a vital part of the SNL cast in the early eighties, the star of 48 Hrs. and Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop, and a truly undeniable force as a stand-up comedian. And yet, I think it’s safe to say that, with the exception of the first couple of Shrek movies in which he voices Donkey, Eddie Murphy hasn’t been funny since Bowfinger. And that was in 1999.

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Everything Must Go

11 Jun

Title: Everything Must Go
Dan Rush
Writer: Dan Rush, based on the short story by Raymond Carver
Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Michael Peña
MPAA Rating: 
R, language and some sexual content
97 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 

I like seeing actors known best for their comedic work stretching out of their comfort zones to tackle more serious fare. And I like it because some truly stunning performances have resulted from that. Just take a look at Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (my sixth favorite film of 2002), or Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (my favorite film of all-time), even Steve Carell has also done his bit of dramatic acting in Little Miss Sunshine (my fourth favorite of 2004) and, most impressively, there’s Jim Carrey a man that has given three pretty much perfect performances in dramatic roles in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon and The Truman Show. So yeah, when comedians decide to go serious, great things sometimes happen, and that has also extended to the work of Will Ferrell. We were witnesses of that in 2006 when he did Stranger than Fiction (my eleventh favorite film of that year), and we are witnesses of that all over again now, when he takes the leading role in Everything Must Go, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story that, while it doesn’t do all that much to improve over its source material, does find a role that it seems Mr. Ferrell was just born to play.

I just thought there was honestly a lot of stuff to like about Everything Must Go. Not only is the performance given by Mr. Ferrell a fantastic one, but there are a trio of sincerely wonderful supporting turns by Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace and Laura Dern. But first, a bit of the story, Mr. Ferrell plays Nick, an Arizona-based salesman who’s about to hit rock bottom as he gets fired from his job and his wife leaves him, freezes his bank account and throws all of his possessions in their front lawn. All of that in one day. Oh, and he’s also battling a case of alcoholism, not in the sense that we’ll get a scene of a misery-stricken Nick in bar shouting and being loud, but in the sense that he just likes to drink, in a sense that he’s just a regular guy but one that has drinking as his number one priority, and that’s the worst kind of alcoholic because that’s the one you actually feel very sorry for, the guy that means well, the guy that doesn’t go on violent fits, the guy that quietly and calmly just drinks his life away.

The short story on which the film is based is a pretty damn good one, and even though I ultimately don’t necessarily think this film did all it could have done to make this a truly successful adaptation, I still think it maintained the essence of that Raymond Carver short story, it’s obviously a much more viewer-friendly approach to the narrative than in the story, but the good stuff is all still very much there, it’s all still very personal and feels like a tough and intimate look at a man’s life crumbling down. And you know Mr. Ferrell is going to rock out a role that requires said stuff from him, because he has that big frame and still manages to look and act like a child at the same time, and because he has the charm to make us connect with the character and care for him, and because, much like he did in Step Brothers (though obviously in a much more serious tone) the guy rocks at playing this sort of child in a man’s body who just failed at living in a man’s world.

So we see Nick, just sitting in a chair in his lawn, with a lamp next to him, trying to act as though everything is normal, trying to hide the fact that he’s in full crisis mode from his neighbors who can now see him do everything as there are no more walls between them. And it’s all pretty good, the problems he faces trying to live in his lawn, getting a rude awakening by the sprinklers bright and early in the morning, showering, and just plain trying to figure out what to do next with his life. But I loved this film the most not because of the situations it put Nick in, but because of the characters it put him with.

One of these characters is Frank, a cop who was also Nick’s sponsor in one of his failed attempts to go through A.A. and who comes to his lawn after the neighbors start complaining about the man living there in plain sight, and who tells him the law allows five days for a yard sale and that’s how much time he has. There’s also Laura Dern delivering a gem of a performance in a small role that has her as Nick’s high school crush who he decides to look up. And then there’s Samantha, a pregnant woman who’s just moving in to the street from a whole other city and who’s husband she is waiting for as he’s to arrive later on. Samantha’s played by Rebecca Hall, who I think is just insanely talented and absolutely beautiful, and Ms. Hall just does her thing with Samantha as she does with all of her roles, making her likable and a soul companion to Nick, it’s just truly fantastic to see the relationship between these two develop.

And then there’s Christopher Jordan Wallace as Kenny. And this is the character I just fell in love with, and the relationship between him and Nick, more than the one between Nick and Samantha, is the best part of this film. And Christopher Jordan Wallace, the fourteen year-old son of the late hip-hop great Notorious B.I.G., is pretty much as perfect for this this role as Mr. Ferrell is as Nick. Kenny is just your typical curious kid, he rides up on his bike in front of Nick’s lawn and asks him the questions everyone wants to ask but only a kid will, and instantly becomes Nick’s business partner in his venture to sell all of his stuff in a yard sale because, as Frank and the movie title told us, everything must go. The movie as whole is pretty laid back really, there is heavy stuff going on but there’s never an urge to really tackle that head-on, and even though some further greatness might have come out of doing that, I’m more than fine with this film not going there, because there are still tremendous performances to watch on display here even without the more emotional load, and Will Ferrell proves once again that funnymen doing serious things can often give us something very special.

Grade: B+

The Extra Man

11 Aug

Title: The Extra Man
Year: 2010
Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Writers: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, based on the novel by Jonathan Ames
Starring: Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Marian Seldes
MPAA Rating: R, some sexual content
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%

Kevin Kline’s performance in The Extra Man should be enough for one to like, or at the very least enjoy, this film, the rest of the film may be uneven, and not come close to matching the awesomeness of the novel the great Jonathan Ames released a bit over a decade ago which serves as the source material for this film, but Mr. Kline’s performance is damn fine. This really is a charming little film, whimsical though uneven, but charming nevertheless.

The directors of this film, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are the same team that made a seriously impressive debut with American Splendor adapted from Harvey Pekar’s graphic novels, then did the rather crappy adaptation of the chick-lit novel The Nanny Diaries, and they are now tackling this one, so they have adapted moody autobiographical comics, really light chick-lit and now this sort of modern urban tale, all to different degrees of success, of course, The Extra Man would rank somewhere in between their two other efforts, it’s good enough, but it’s no American Splendor.

In this one we have Louis Ives, played by Paul Dano, a guy who after being fired from his teaching job moves to New York with aspirations of becoming a novelist, and rents a room from a man who says is a playwright named Henry Harrison, Mr. Kline’s character, a man four decades his senior who has this sort of grandiose air about him. Henry however, really isn’t wealthy or whatever (otherwise he wouldn’t need the rent, after all), but he is good-looking and charming enough for actual wealthy older women to get him to accompany them to social events, he’s an escort for rich single/divorced/widowed old ladies, and he loves that.

Mr. Kline is a tremendous actor, that he only has one Academy Award nomination to his name is shocking to realize (even though he did win that one), a look at his work of the last decade or so will reveal he has had a couple of misteps, namely Wild Wild West and The Pink Panther, but otherwise you’ll see that he has produced really solid performances, even though sometimes the film in which he gave it wasn’t as great. In 2002 he did The Emperor’s Club, an otherwise mediocre film but with a solid performance by him, in 2004 he took the lead role in De-Lovely in which he, again, gave a marvelous performance even if the end-result was horribly sub-par, and a couple years ago he had a short but scene-stealing role in the rom-com Definitely, Maybe. Add that to the two great performances in great films he gave in the last decade, the first one being in 2001’s Life as House which is a film I personally loved, and the last one being in A Prairie Home Companion, the last film of the legendary Robert Altman, and you’ll see that this is a man who, even if the material isn’t astonishing, will find a way to give a winning performance.

His character in The Extra Man is quite fun to watch on-screen, he is just gossipy and well-cultured and a total life-lover who’s sort-of asexual in many ways and who truly does live for the social events he is invited to, even though the ladies that he escorts want nothing more than company in front of the high society from him, not even sexually. And how Henry interacts with Louis is also quite endearing to watch because, let’s not forget, Paul Dano is a pretty good actor himself.

Louis is a guy who meddles with S&M at one point in the film, so you know he’s not entirely ‘normal’ either, it’s actually really sweet to see how he starts going after Katie Holmes’ character, Mary, a girl who works with him at his new job writing for an environmental magazine and who’s obsessively eco-friendly, and that’s because Mr. Dano is good at attributing these sort of more nuanced emotions to his performances, the one he gave in Little Miss Sunshine being the prime case-in-point. And while Henry may be the one who steals the spotlight because of his loud eccentricities and wonderful portrayal from Mr. Kline this really is Louis’ story, a story of him dealing with this strong personality he is posed to live with and finally finding himself an identity.

And as such I enjoyed The Extra Man, I didn’t love the film as much as I did Mr. Kline’s performance, but I definitely enjoyed it, it was just too rough around the edges for me to fully fall in love with it. But still, this is a nice little film, one that I would indeed suggest for people to go check out, and one that boasts a masterful performance from Mr. Kline and a pretty solid one from Mr. Dano. Now, the surprising thing I have to say is about the supporting performances, the main two of these being the one’s given by Ms. Holmes in the aforementioned role and John C. Reilly as the downstairs neighbor, I was fully expecting to hate Ms. Holmes’ performance, who hasn’t really been good in a while, and like the one by Mr. Reilly, who has to be one of the most reliable actors we have around nowadays, and instead I found myself loving the performance by Ms. Holmes and thinking the one by Mr. Reilly was decidedly unflattering, and, much like this realization, I found The Extra Man as a film itself to be a nice little surprise, far from perfect and not what one expected, but one I welcomed.

Grade: B

The Kids Are All Right

1 Aug

Title: The Kids Are All Right
Year: 2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writers: Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
MPAA Rating: R, strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
Runtime: 106 min
Major Awards: 2 Golden Globes
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

When I first saw The Kids Are All Right it was the best film I had seen all year by a mile, now I’ve seen Inception so that’s changed, but still, this one will go down as one of the year’s best for sure, and it’s exactly the sort of film I enjoy, a small indie dealing with real human complexities, and this one has five lead performances that are, to me, as perfect as they could have come, as is the film as a whole, and I sincerely hope it gets a nice bit of attention when the award season arrives.

This film is witty and just full-on engaging, and I truly cannot say enough about how amazing the performances, because really, the five actors are absolutely perfect at presenting the imperfections of their characters, and the multidimensionality of their performances, which of course starts with the beautifully crafted script, is just a true joy to watch and, whatever your own family life is like, you’re bound to find something of it in this one in one way or another, which just makes the connection one makes with this film that much deeper.

The film has a lesbian couple as its center, they are Jules, played by Julianne Moore, who I’m a bit in love with, and Nic, who’s played by Annette Bening in a performance which, I would imagine, will grant her, at the very least, an Oscar nomination. How this film tackles marriage is fantastic, mostly because it doesn’t focus on the fact that it’s a lesbian marriage, the lesbian part is just there to move the other plotline along, it focusses on marriage as an institution, and it delves into the difficulties it has in tremendous ways. They have two kids, Joni, played by a great Mia Wasikowska, and Laser, played by Josh Hutcherson. Jules delivered one and Nic delivered the other, but the same sperm donor was used, and, as their family life is illustrated for a bit, we see it’s a normal upper middle-class one, with many problems that you wouldn’t be that surprised to find in your own life.

Lisa Cholodenko, who is the director and one of the co-writers of this gorgeous film, crafts this one perfectly, a very smartly written dramedy about an imperfect, but still stable, family life. She has done this equally well in the past, but she hasn’t had performances as perfect as the ones she has now, Ms. Moore, Ms. Bening, Ms. Wasikowska and Mr. Hutcherson are tremendous, and so is the fifth cast member, Mark Ruffalo, who enters the film after the kids decide to look for their biological father. This is the event that shakes up the stability of their lives, Jules and Nic try and act as though they are okay with this decision, but you know that deep down inside they’re scared about it, that they don’t necessarily understand it.

Mark Ruffalo is an actor I really like, you look at him in films like You Can Count on Me, and Zodiac, and Shutter Island, and you know this is a guy who can seriously act, and look at his roles in stuff like 13 Going on 30 or Just Like Heaven, and you know that he’s a pretty charming dude, look at him in this one, and  you can see him acting the shit out of a role while still being really charming, because that’s what the role of Paul needed him to be, kind of like the lighter, better version of the character he played in You Can Count on Me. Paul is, you see, a guy who was definitely a sort of hippie when he first donated his sperm, and still has that same sort of air around him, he’s a pretty chill guy, not married, no kids, he grows organic food and sells it at his organic restaurant, and he’s totally okay with meeting his kids.

So okay, in fact, that when he learns that Jules is thinking about going into landscape design he hires her to do his backyard, and then things happen and they end up having sex (see how I avoided saying “and then he does hers”?), and what stems from that shakes the family even more, but fortunately we have a writer-director like Cholodenko, who is always in control of the stuff she has coming up, she never lets this turn into an unbearable melodrama, but instead this always remains a lighter sort of film, a truly spectacular one at that, and how she copes with the feelings of the people involved is amazing, Nic feeling betrayed and being really serious all of the time, Jules and Paul being confused, a different sort of confusion from the kids, both of whom really like Paul, this is all handled tremendously.

This is, quite simply put, the best comedy film about an American family in a while, maybe ever, I don’t know, I guess Little Miss Sunshine is the only other amazing comedy about an American family I can think of right now, but The Kids Are All Right is even better, I would say, not by much, but it is better to me, it is better because it’s more nuanced, it’s a really funny film without ever being a comedy, and a really heart-wrenching film without ever, as I said above, going into melodramatic tones, it’s just a well-crafted and exceedingly well-acted film.

I loved how Ms. Cholodenko never ever made this film about lesbian marriage, she just made it about marriage and made them lesbians to introduce Paul, it was necessary for that, but not to illustrate something different about the marriage, Nic and Jules have a perfectly normal marriage, they love each other and their kids and they are a bit of a mess in between and they have some problems of communication with their two teenage children, that’s normalcy in every single way, shape or form. Paul communicates better with Laser and Joni, he’s an outsider, he has a fresh sort of insight and personality that enables him to do this, he’s the foreign agent that changes the lives of everyone in that family, and that’s just a treat to watch.

Ms. Cholodenko has crafted a very human film, a film with emotions and complex situations full of domestic awkwardness we can all, to one level or another, relate to, and it’s a perfect film, or at least it was to me, and it’s the sort of film I’ll be able to watch time and time again years into the future and revel with the same level of joy at the performances shown and the emotions evoked. Plus, this is a film with good taste in music, and an even better taste in wine.

Grade: A+

Toy Story 3

22 Jul

Title: Toy Story 3
Year: 2010
Director: Lee Unkrich
Writer: Michael Arndt, from a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Jodi Benson, Laurie Metcalf, Blake Clark, Whoopi Goldberg
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 103 min
Major Awards: 1 Golden Globe, 1 NBR Award, 1 BAFTA
IMDb Rating: 9.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%

This was one of five or so most highly anticipated films of all year to pretty much everyone I talked to, and the expectations were seriously high, the second sequel to a legendary franchise that started the biggest animation studio there is, which on top of that hasn’t made a single bad film yet, and trust me when I say they didn’t break that streak with this one, Pixar is still batting a perfect 1.000, all of their films have been commercial and critical hits and Toy Story 3 is the latest of them all, yet another masterpiece that blends comedy and adventure and a helluva lot of deep emotions, especially during the end that left me spilling a few tears, and it mixes them seemingly effortlessly.

Toy Story has been of special impact in my life, I was four years old when the first one came out, eight when the sequel came out and now eighteen with this one, by this I mean that I am of the same generation as the film’s toy owner, Andy, and I still have all my action figures from the first films in my room, with my name scribbled in black sharpie in their feet, just like Andy did in the films, I have grown up with these toys at the same time as Andy, and this was a film I wouldn’t have been okay with if it ended up being anything less than perfect, thankfully Pixar didn’t disappoint me, but then again, it’s not like they ever have.

Toy Story as a franchise is one that spans fifteen years, three films, over a billion and a half dollars in worldwide grosses and counting, an Academy Award and pretty much another guaranteed this year, and was arguably the one responsible for starting the whole animation film business that has been dominating the box office since, it’s a franchise that has marked the lives of many, one that has made us laugh a lot and cry a lot in the process, and one franchise that was made with a lot of love from the best people in the industry, and one that exudes just as much love to us the audience. And I could go on and on for thousands of words about the impact Toy Story and Pixar has had on my life, but that’s for another day, here I have to review Toy Story 3 and I’ll take just as much joy out of doing that.

In this third and closing act of the franchise Andy is, as I said, at the age when you have to leave home and go to college, and like so many guys his age at the point of their lives, his mother tells him to sort out his stuff, especially the toys we all know and love, which have been kept away in his room for some years now. But Andy loves his toys, especially Woody whom he initially wants to take to college with him, but the other toys however are scrambled up and accidentally sent to a daycare as donations. Woody obviously ends up going with them, but unlike the other toys he knows Andy wanted to keep them in the attic until he returned and would later give them to his kids, the other toys, thinking Andy actually wanted to get rid of them aren’t feeling that much love towards him in the daycare and just want to be played with by the kids there.

And that’s when we meet the other toys at the daycare, who are led by a fluffy huggable pink bear named Lotso, who at first appears to be super friendly but is actually an evil and sad dictator of the daycare, with most of the toys under his spell and command. And that’s the main plot, our beloved toys fighting to get out of the daycare and rule of Lotso, all of this is told with the typical care and humor of Pixar, with a great script by Michael Arndt who’s only other screenplay was the one for Little Miss Sunshine, which earned him an Oscar. The new characters in Toy Story 3 are as endearing as the original ones, I missed Bo Peep quite a bit but there are a lot of great new characters to keep us just as entertained, because that’s what this film does throughout, entertain, the hour and forty minutes pass you by really quickly, not to mention the customary short shown before the film, Day & Night, is a great as every other short Pixar has put out.

After the toys break out of the daycare center they suffer through a scary event, and you know that will turn out having a happy ending but it really is frightening to watch, and the ending of the movie is a happy affair, but it’s one filled with a lot of nostalgia and emotions that you can relate to and that really struck a nerve to every single audience member in the theatre I went to, and yes, tears were shed, but at least you have those 3D glasses to hide them under, finally those served a purpose, because the 3D in this one is as unnecessary as it always is, but still, this is a masterpiece, appreciate it as such.

Grade: A+