On the Silver Screen

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "NOWHERE BOY" COMES TOGETHER IN PORTRAYAL OF TEENAGE JOHN LENNON

By Brian Lafferty

 

October 17, 2010 (San Diego)--Nowhere Boy doesn’t offer anything revelatory about John Lennon but that doesn’t matter. It is easy to go into this movie expecting something extraordinary. But if the film were to take such an approach, it would have been wrong. We know Lennon is a legend but that began as a member of The Beatles. The filmmakers could have made a film about his time with the Fab Four or his relationship with Yoko Ono. But writer Matt Greenhalgh and director Sam Taylor-Wood elect to explore a time in this man’s life that hasn’t really been touched on: his teenage years.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THREE CHEERS FOR "RED"

By Brian Lafferty

 

October 17, 2010 (San Diego)--There isn’t a lot in Red that is original. We get the usual shootouts, chases, and other typical action movie staples. But director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber take what could have been a standard action movie and make it both refreshing and funny. They take scenes that could have been clichés and reinvigorate them by filming and editing them in ways that are both refreshing and surprising.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "GERRYMANDERING" DRAWS UP AN INFORMATIVE, COMPELLING ARGUMENT AGAINST REDISTRICTING

 

By Brian Lafferty

October 15, 2010 (San Diego)--I didn’t do great in my Introduction to Political Science class but there was one thing that stuck with me: gerrymandering. In the three and a half years since I’ve taken that class I’ve been surprised that the issue has never come up significantly. This documentary of the same name thoroughly and effectively explores this overlooked but very important subject. As Bill Mundell of Californians for Fair Redistricting put it, “Gerrymandering is America’s best kept secret.”

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: YOU WON'T MEET INTERESTING CHARACTERS IN AVERAGE WOODY ALLEN FARE "YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER"

By Brian Lafferty

 

October 3, 2010 (San Diego)--You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger features a lot of great actors. Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Freida Pinto and Antonio Banderas make up most of the ensemble cast. It is also written and directed by Woody Allen. But despite all the talent here, the movie did nothing for me because they are all involved in a nonessential movie.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: CRITIC LIKES "THE SOCIAL NETWORK"

By Brian Lafferty

 



October 5, 2010 (San Diego)--The Social Network is one of the year’s best films. That is not a label I apply to just any good film. What makes this movie special is how everything in it took me in. Very few movies this year engaged me as much as The Social Network. The writing, directing, acting, and every other aspect left me feeling genuinely spellbound. Every person involved gave one-hundred percent effort and it shows.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: COFFIN LEAVES PLENTY OF ROOM FOR CHILLS IN CLAUSTROPHOBIC THRILLER "BURIED"

By Brian Lafferty

 

October 3, 2010 (San Diego)--Claustrophobia seems to be a popular theme in the last two months. Lebanon took place entirely within a tank populated by four Israeli soldiers during the First Lebanon War. Whatever was seen outside the tank was limited to what was viewed through the periscope. Devil had several people stuck in an elevator with someone eventually revealed to be the Devil himself. Now we have Buried, a film featuring Ryan Reynolds in Iraq buried several feet underground in a coffin. This is a movie that must be seen in the theater to fully appreciate it. Not even the best home theater system can faithfully replicate the claustrophobic effects experienced at the cinema.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: PROPAGANDA FILM MAY HAVE BEEN "UNFINISHED" BUT THE IMAGES STILL TELL OF HORRIFIC DETAIL BEHIND WARSAW GHETTO

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 28, 2010 (San Diego)--Playing until Friday at the Ken Cinema is A Film Unfinished. The title refers to an uncompleted Nazi propaganda film shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in the early 1940s. The majority of the movie consists of footage from the propaganda film. Director Yael Hersonski isn’t content to just show the film. Behind each shot is a story and the narrator goes into deep, articulative, and informative detail into each of them. Diaries from the overseer of the Ghetto and letters from one of the filmmakers are read.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "BRAN NUE DAE" SINGS AND DANCES TO A GRATING BEAT

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 25, 2010 (San Diego)--Bran Nue Dae is a film so dreadful I felt embarrassed just watching it. Everything about it literally made me cringe. Only the completionist in me got me staying until the end. Once the end credits began to roll, I didn’t just walk out of the theater. I ran to the nearest exit. No, I’m not making this up.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS" ON THE MONEY WITH FRESH SCRIPT

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 25, 2010 (San Diego)--Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens with Gordon Gekko being released from a federal penitentiary in the year 2001. Among the personal items given back to him is his mobile phone, one of those ugly giant cell phones that are an eyesore today but were trendy in the late 1980s. Gekko exits the penitentiary and sees everybody else being picked up, including one ex-convict in a limousine. But nobody comes for him. His face exudes loneliness. Here was a man who was big and rich twenty-five years ago but now nobody cares about him.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: MOVIE MAY BE CALLED "HEARTBREAKER" BUT IT MAY LEAVE YOU FEELING GOOD

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 24, 2010 (San Diego)--My favorite scene in the French film Heartbreaker comes towards the end. Alex (Romain Duris), who is tasked with breaking up a heiress’s relationship with her fiance, puts on I’ve Had the Time of My Life from her favorite movie Dirty Dancing. He starts dancing, having memorized all the steps. I cracked a really wide smile when Bill Medley began singing. I wasn’t laughing a lot during Heartbreaker but I sure was smiling.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: GREAT ANIMATION BUT UNWISE APPROACH TO OWL STORY "LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS"

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 24, 2010 (San Diego)--I watched Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole in a packed theater. Much of the audience consisted of parents and kids, many of them ranging between three to seven years old. There was an air of excitement in the theater during the half hour before the screening. But within the first fifteen minutes all the fun was sucked out. By the end, the atmosphere was cold and joyless. I left the screening depressed, manipulated, angry and appalled. This movie is based on a series of children’s novels but it is definitely not for kids. I will feel sorry for parents who will be understandably misled and take their kids to see a movie that will leave their young ones with tears and nightmares.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: CLICHES, UNORIGINALITY HOLD UP ROMANCE IN "THE TOWN"

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 17, 2010 (San Diego)--The Town opens with Ben Affleck and his crew robbing a bank. The action here is standard but one shot stands out. Rebecca Hall, playing a Bank Manager, is forced to open the safe. She shakes as she tries several times to get the correct combination. She’s under pressure because the cops are on their way and because she has a gun to her head. She finally manages to get it open. This looked promising; Affleck, who also directed and co-wrote, shows a knack for directing suspense despite the otherwise ordinary robbery.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: TOO MUCH PLOT OVERCOOKS "SOUL KITCHEN"

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 17, 2010 (San Diego)--A lot happens in Soul Kitchen. Too much, actually. Just as a film can rarely survive on the flimsiest of plots, a movie can have just as much a hard time sustaining itself trying to balance a smorgasbord of story lines. This newest film by German director Fatih Akin suffers from a major case of plot overload. In my notes I made a list and counted six distinct story threads. For this movie that was too many.

 


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OFF THE SILVER SCREEN: CANCER IN THE FAMILY NO MATCH FOR CRITIC'S LOVE FOR FILM

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 13, 2010 (San Diego) -- Today I will venture out into the Realm of the Off Topic. What follows is not exactly movie-related but I feel compelled to talk about the last few weeks and how they have affected me. I’m sure some of you may feel the same way I do after reading this post.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "I'M STILL HERE" GOES WAY OUT THERE IN JOLTING, COMPELLING PORTRAIT OF JOAQUIN PHOENIX

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 13, 2010 (San Diego)--“I don’t want to play the character of Joaquin Phoenix anymore,” says Phoenix, the subject of this documentary. “I want to be whatever I am.” That is his explanation for why he chose to give up acting in favor of a rap music career. I’m Still Here, helmed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law Casey Affleck, is a film that you simply cannot prepare for. There are many images you will never unthink. These are not criticisms; as hard as it was to watch, I liked it. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it as I normally would. The documentary sets out and accomplishes what it wants to do and conveys what it wants to communicate. It doesn’t work as entertainment but then maybe that wasn’t the point.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SHADOW OF COENS' "BLOOD SIMPLE" LEAVES "A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP" IN THE SOUP

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 12, 2010 (San Diego)--A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop is not a bad movie per se but an unnecessary one. I could easily apply that label to a lot of bad movies but usually every movie, even the real stinkers, starts out conceptually with the best of intentions. This newest film by Yimou Zhang, a remake of the Coen Brothers’ film Blood Simple had no reason to be made.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "CENTURION" A BLOODY GOOD TIME AT THE MOVIES

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 6, 2010 (San Diego)--Neil Marshall is a British writer/director renowned for the amount of blood and gore he includes in his films. Sometimes he’s visceral as in Dog Soldiers. He can be gleeful and cartoonish about it like he was in Doomsday. In The Descent, the violence was unpleasant. In the case of Centurion, he is gritty and realistic. Even if it appeared gratuitous, I didn’t mind because I had a lot of fun watching it.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1" A SATISFYING CONCLUSION TO THE MESRINE SAGA

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 A SATISFYING CONCLUSION TO MESRINE SAGA

 

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 6, 2010 (San Diego)--Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, released last Friday, is the second of a two-part series. Killer Instinct emphasized action while this one focuses more on character exploration. Vince Cassel showed us in the first movie how he could rob banks. The movie contains action but not as much as the first. Instead, Cassel is given the opportunity to flex his acting muscles this time around, giving us a glimpse of one of France’s most notorious outlaws when he’s not on his latest crime spree. It is here that we get a portrait of the criminal artist as an older man.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "GOING THE DISTANCE" GOES A LONG WAY

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 3, 2010 (San Diego)--I normally try to give every movie I see the benefit of the doubt but I will admit, based on such experiences as When in Rome and The Bounty Hunter, that it was hard for me to not be leery. Fortunately, whatever doubts I had immediately dissipated once Going the Distance began and the result was a very good time and lots of laughs. I urge you not to dismiss it.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT" BRINGS OUT THE BIG GUNS

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 27, 2010 (San Diego)--Jean-Luc Godard, that great French filmmaker, once said, “The best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.” When I first saw Mesrine: Killer Instinct, which is the first in a two part series (Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 will be released next week) I wasn’t very impressed. I felt like I had seen it all before and that the movie wasn’t anything special. That was until I saw Takers a while later.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "TAKERS" TAKES THE AUDIENCE FOR A RIDE

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 27, 2010 (San Diego)--The movie may be called Takers but “Sharp Dressed Men” would be a more apt title. The Takers in this movie are a group of men who get their kicks robbing banks but there is very little of it. Instead, we see only a group of men dressed in expensive suits strutting around, acting cool, and emitting a subtext that says, “Look how much money we have to afford these coats and ties!” At some point I wished ZZ Top’s hit song, “Sharp Dressed Man” would blare to lighten things up a little.

 


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A CONVERSATION WITH LOCAL FILMMAKER VERNON MORTENSEN


The Kid: Chamaco, which he produced, opens Friday for a one-week engagement

 

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 26, 2010 (El Cajon)--“The quality of writing will get you through the door,” says East County film producer Vernon Mortensen. His newest film, The Kid: Chamaco, opens Friday for a one-week showing at the Reading Gaslamp.  “To get to the door, half the time you need to know somebody," he told me over lunch in El Cajon.


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "PATRIK, AGE 1.5" OVERCOMES FORMULAIC SCRIPT WITH ROMANCE, HUMOR, AND FINE ACTING

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 22, 2010 (San Diego)--Patrik, Age 1.5 is formulaic, super-sweet, and very sentimental but I liked it. The movie opened on Friday and is playing at the Ken Cinema until Thursday. I found the structure to be overly predictable and some of the song choices questionable and gag-inducing but it was to me a worthwhile cinematic experience.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "CAIRO TIME" A ROMANTIC AND VISUAL WONDER

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 22, 2010 (San Diego)--Cairo Time is a film best appreciated as art. Forget the simplistic, nearly nonexistent plot involving a budding affair between an American woman and her husband’s Egyptian friend. I admired this film for it’s cinematography and it’s visual style which included such lyrical imagery as the Pyramids, the mosques, the streets, the desert, and the Nile. The script, not unlike the characters, wanders almost aimlessly but I liked where it took the characters and I enjoyed where it took me.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "AGORA" IS A SUCCESSFUL THINKING PERSON'S EPIC

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 8, 2010 (San Diego)—Don’t go into Agora, which was released to theaters on July 30, expecting something along the lines of 300. It is more intellectual and philosophical than that. I like to think of it as a smart person’s epic. There is bloodshed but not as soaked and certainly not as fake. There is love and lust but there is no sex. Alejandro Amenabar has shied away from the obligatory scenes associated with these movies and replaced them with scenes that contain intelligence, relying on the solid writing and great performances.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "GET LOW" IS HIGH ON ACTING

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 8, 2010 (San Diego)--Felix Booth (Robert DuVall) is an older, grouchier Boo Radley. It’s fitting, given that DuVall’s first movie role was the enigmatic recluse in the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. He is always the subject of gossip, which may or may not be true. Kids often trespass on his isolated property deep in the woods to see if the old man is there, only to be chased away with a shotgun.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DON'T OVERLOOK "THE OTHER GUYS"

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 7, 2010 (San Diego)--The Other Guys works best when it focuses on Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. I found their scenes droll because of the way the two played off each other. The Other Guys could have benefitted tremendously from a slight trim job and a comprehensible, less-than-convoluted plot but it in the end, it really doesn’t matter. The movie has enough laughs for me to recommend it, although it is not without its flaws.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS" SERVES A FINE COMEDIC MEAL

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 30, 2010 (San Diego)--Intelligently dumb may sound like an oxymoron but it is the best phrase I could use to accurately describe Dinner for Schmucks. It is at times goofy and stupid but there is always a certain astuteness that permeates throughout the material without coming off as pretentious. The “dinner” doesn’t arrive until the second to last reel and it is a little bit of a letdown but that doesn’t mean the lead-up isn’t hilarious at times.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "CHARLIE ST. CLOUD" GIVES UP THE GHOST

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 30, 2010 (San Diego)--Charlie St. Cloud is one of those movies that made me wonder if it should have even been made. The two major themes in this picture are death and letting go. These by no means rank the highest on the controversy meter when it comes to sensitive subjects. Charlie St. Cloud doesn’t handle these themes in a competent manner but that’s only one symptom of an even larger problem: the plot, the characters, and their actions are built on such a shaky foundation that the movie is doomed to begin with.

 


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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "RAMONA AND BEEZUS" SWEETENED BY SUNNY DISPOSITION, HONEST CHARACTERS

By Brian Lafferty

 

I will admit going into Ramona and Beezus fearing the filmmakers would somehow screw it up. I remember reading all the Beverly Cleary books in third grade and loving every one of them. Fortunately, the director and screenwriters not only have crafted a good, sweet and entertaining movie but as an added bonus they have captured the spirit of the books.

 


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