movie review

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.”

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "SALT" CONTAINS NO SPICE

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 23, 2010 (San Diego)--The scenario of Salt is gleefully implausible, with twist after twist and sequences of events that go way beyond the valley of the absurd. The film knows this. These would not be criticisms if the movie was any good, but Salt is a surprisingly boring action movie, completely devoid of suspense as if the filmmakers made a conscious effort to avoid it.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "INCEPTION" DREAMS UP A RICH SCRIPT

By Brian Lafferty

 

"This is one of the best movies of the year." -- Brian Lafferty

July 22, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--Dreams have always been part of  cinema. A common film use is the “it was only a dream” stunt applied to generate cheap thrills and groans (Jaws: The Revenge) or to foment laughter (A Serious Man, An American Werewolf in London).  Dreams have also acted as visually expressive tools to reveal character or relay exposition (Salvador Dali’s dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound). Sometimes, dreams have been used to shock the audience (the movies of Luis Bunuel, particularly Un Chien Andalou, which opens with an eyeball being slashed).

 

Dreams may be old subjects in motion pictures, but with Inception Christopher Nolan has delivered one of--if not the most--original movie of the year, taking the concept in many new directions I never thought possible.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "SORCERER'S APPRENTICE" CASTS A CHARMING SPELL

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 14, 2010 (San Diego’s East County)--The Sorcerer's Apprentice takes a ten-minute animated segment and stretches it out to a nearly two hour live-action film but it works. It is visually dark yet lit up by the energetic performance of Dave by Jay Baruchel and Nicolas Cage’s dry, deadpan, and humorous portrayal of Balthazar. Some of the humor is predictable but I still laughed throughout. The film teems with special effects but they have a decent story to put them to use.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "CYRUS" HITS THE MOTHER LODE

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 2, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--There is a scene at the beginning of Cyrus in which John (John C. Reilly) tries to pick up a woman at a party. The problem is he can’t get the words out and gives up. Later, he meets another woman, Molly, (Marisa Tomei) who describes the conversation he had as raw and honest. Those two words are not just true about the failed pick-up: they accurately describe this movie.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "THE LAST AIRBENDER" RUNS OUT OF AIR

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 1, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--The Last Airbender is a movie that begs to be remade by a different director. It had the potential for an entertaining cinematic experience but it ends up as a vigorously underwhelming film. I didn’t hate this picture as much as I felt really disappointed.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "KNIGHT AND DAY" SUFFERS FROM DAY AND NIGHT TONE

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 24, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- Knight and Day was a movie that gave me fits. That’s something I did not expect from a movie starring either Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz. These two stars are reunited for the first time since Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky in 2001. That movie, while not their best, was at least interesting, thought-provoking, well-acted, and most of all, not the least bit boring. The same cannot be said for Knight and Day, which tries to be like James Cameron’s 1994 action flick True Lies but winds up only paling in comparison.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "JONAH HEX" A WESTERN THAT SHOOTS BLANKS

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 19, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- Jonah Hex is one of those movies that had me sitting in the dark both literally and figuratively. I had barely any idea what was going on except Jonah Hex’s (Josh Brolin) family being torched by Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), Jonah seeking revenge, and Turnbull’s attempted terrorist plot on Washington D.C.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "THE A-TEAM" BRINGS ITS A-GAME

 

By Brian Lafferty

June 11, 2010 (San Diego) -- I strongly believe in approaching every movie I review with as neutral an attitude as possible, with no preconceived notions as to whether or not I will like it. The A-Team made it simultaneously difficult and easy. It was difficult in the sense that I’m a huge fan of the original series and easy in that the show was not a work of art. The episodes followed a strict formula and contained mindless action, yet it worked because it was entertaining, energetic, and fun. This movie works because it follows in that same spirit that made the show fun to watch.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "GET HIM TO THE GREEK" WORTH GETTING TO THE THEATER TO SEE

By Brian Lafferty

June 4, 2010 (San Diego) -- Maybe Hollywood should focus on making comedies instead of romantic comedies. After enduring such sludge as When in Rome and The Bounty Hunter earlier this year, it has, in the past few months, been a welcome relief to see laugh out loud films like Death at a Funeral and Get Him to the Greek, which opens today.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "SHREK FOREVER AFTER" AN UNHAPPY ENDING TO ILLUSTRIOUS FRANCHISE

 

By Brian Lafferty

May 22, 2010 (San Diego)--In 2001 Dreamworks released Shrek. Based on a children’s book, the movie was an inventive, clever, and witty satire of fairy tales. It was a huge hit and spawned three sequels, the last of which being Shrek Forever After.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "ROBIN HOOD" LESS THAN MERRY

 

By Brian Lafferty

May 14, 2010 (San Diego) -- Robin Hood is the year’s first big disappointment, considering the people involved in making it. Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe as the title character and fine actress Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian. As always, Scott demonstrates his ability as one of the most visual directors out there today, teeming with expertly crafted shots that nearly give the film an epic feel. Crowe and Blanchett do not disappoint in the acting department. It is not a bad movie by any means but rather aggressively unsatisfying; to paraphrase Sean Connery from the 1976 film Robin and Marian, (a better film than this incarnation) instead of getting red meat I wound up settling for only bread and cheese.

 

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