Archive for tina fey

A Long Wait for Eight

Posted in Action, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Mystery, Oscar-nominated with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by ericstraus

Oh, my poor neglected movie blog.  It’s so sad.  But I decided to give it some holiday cheer with this condensed review of the last films I’ve seen.  Enjoy.

Invictus – The true story of the South African national rugby team, and the events that transpired following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and his becoming South Africa’s president.  Morgan Freeman is terrific as Mandela, and Matt Damon is equally good as the captain of the rugby team.  With South Africa hosting the 1995 rugby World Cup, Mandela believes that if the team can win, it will help unify the nation.  It’s a good story, and the performances are the highlights of the film.  The rugby match at the end is too drawn out, and extends the movie longer than necessary.  But overall it’s an inspiring story.                                                                                                                                                                           Final Grade for Invictus:  B


The Ghost Writer – A tale of suspense from director Roman Polanski, the film follows the adventures of an up and coming writer, played by Ewan McGregor, as he is tasked to ghost write the autobiography of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) with a shady background.  As McGregor uncovers more information about Brosnan’s past, the more dangerous things become.  It’s a well-made film – suspenseful, great acting, and a nice twist at the end.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Final Grade for The Ghost Writer:  B+


Date Night – Steve Carell and Tina Fey play a married couple with kids, who decide to infuse some excitement in their dull lives by stealing another couple’s dinner reservations.  Wacky hi-jinx ensue, as the mistaken identity premise runs its course via gangland shootouts, car chases, etc.  With two comic geniuses like Fey and Carell, this film should have been way funnier.  There are humorous moments throughout, but not enough to sustain 100 minutes of film.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Final Grade for Date Night:  C+


Prince of Persia: Sands of Time – Based on the seemingly ancient video game Prince of Persia, this digitally dominated film tells the tale of Prince Jake Gyllenhaal, who does nothing but leap, jump, tumble, climb and fight all over Arabia, attempting to save the world from villain Ben Kingsley.  The film stays true to the game in that the character really does jump everywhere.  I think Gyllenhaal spends 90% of his screen time in the air.  Overall it’s not a great movie – but the action is actually quite good, the story moves along quickly, and for a mindless popcorn film, it’s pretty good.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Final Grade for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time:  B-


The Last Station – This performance-driven drama tells the story of the last days of Leo Tolstoy, celebrated and revered Russian author.  Christopher Plummer is really good as Tolstoy, and the fabulous Helen Mirren is, of course, a real treat as his wife Sofya.  We get a glimpse at how truly revered Tolstoy was, and the story plays out with great intrigue.  Paul Giamatti is great as a Tolstoy devotee trying to manage his affairs, butting heads with Sofya over Tolstoy’s finances and his estate.  The acting is superb, the drama holds your interest, and if nothing else, the film provides a great education on Russian culture and politics shortly before the Communist Revolution.                                                                                                 Final Grade for The Last Station:  B+


Iron Man 2 – Usually sequels (especially superhero action sequels) fail to live up to the original.  Iron Man 2 is unique in that it is more entertaining and has a better story than its predecessor.  Robert Downey Jr. is back as Tony Stark, the eccentric billionaire who created the Iron Man suit to fight crime worldwide.  Since the first film, Iron Man has basically brought peace to the world, as criminals cannot compete with Iron Man’s technology, a technology that the U.S. government is constantly trying to get its hands on.  Mickey Rourke plays a Russian prisoner whose father was spurned by Stark’s father, and now seeks revenge by recreating the Iron Man technology that his father helped develop for Stark’s father.  Sam Rockwell is marvelous as the slimy, egomaniacal defense contractor that enlists Rourke to help him get the technology into the government’s hands.  The action is fantastic, the story well written, and Downey’s performance is great.  With all the bad superhero movies that Hollywood produces, it’s nice to see a good one.                                                                                                                                          Final Grade for Iron Man 2:  B+


Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage – Obviously if you do not like the music of Rush, you would have no interest in this film.  But even if you just have the slightest bit of interest, this documentary will blow you away.  Incredibly honest, revealing and even touching, the film explores the band’s beginning, middle and end with no lack of detail, interviewing a slew of current artists, showing footage of the band members’ home movies, and numerous concert performances.  I thought I knew just about everything about Rush, and this film showed me how much I was missing.  It was just humbling to hear musicians like Billy Corgan, Gene Simmons, and Les Claypool describe what they love about Rush, and realize that it’s all the same reasons I love them so much.  But this was not a “fluff” film at all – the negative aspects were not shunned, such as how Rush turned off a chunk of their fan base in the mid-80’s by experimenting with new synthesizer-driven sounds.  I can’t emphasize enough how complete and telling this film is.  Again, if you have even the slightest tingling of an interest in this band, you must see this film.                                                                                                                                                                                                   Final Grade for Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage:  A+


Robin Hood – This re-imagining of the classic Robin Hood, a prequel of sorts, stars Russell Crowe as Robin Longstride, an expert archer in King Richard’s army returning from the Crusades.  When King Richard is killed in France and Robert Loxley is murdered trying to return the crown to England, Longstride uncovers a plot by one of Prince John’s henchmen to allow England to be invaded by King Philip of France.  Longstride takes Loxleys’ identity and returns to Nottingham, meets Marion and helps defend England against conflict from within and from the outside.  The story is pretty good, as is the action.  Ridley Scott directed the film, and there are many similarities to the last Scott/Crowe film Gladiator.  But it’s entertaining enough, and the end creates the premise for how Robin Hood became an outlaw and lived in Sherwood Forest.  Cate Blanchett is very good as Marion, and it was nice to see Max von Sydow still alive as Marion’s father…who knew?                                                                                                                                                                                           Final Grade for Robin Hood:  B


“Ponyo” Doesn’t Swim Deep Enough

Posted in Family/Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2010 by ericstraus

Hayao Miyazaki has directed some marvelous Japanese animation films of late – “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Princess Mononoke” are all epic masterpieces of imagination and beauty, defined by their creative plots and Shakespearean characters.  Miyazaki’s latest release, “Ponyo,” maintains some of the beauty and whimsy of its predecessors, but is a much shorter, linear tale that fails to really suck you into any kind of fantasy world; perhaps Miyazaki intended to make a film more grounded in reality, but in doing so, the sense of magic and fantasy are severely lessened.

“Ponyo” is roughly based on the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Mermaid,” in that it tells the story of a fish born with a human face who desires to become completely human.  Ponyo (voiced by Noah Cyrus, Miley’s younger sister) gets her name when a young boy named Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas, younger brother of the Jonas Brothers) finds her sleeping in a tidepool.  Sosuke becomes fascinated with the strange creature, and Ponyo becomes enamored with Sosuke.  But Ponyo’s father Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson), who is a strange human/sea creature hybrid himself, tracks Ponyo down and brings her back home beneath the sea.  Ponyo discovers that she has magical powers and transforms herself into a human, determined to reunite with Sosuke. 

The story doesn’t get much deeper than that, and a lot of the plot seems incomplete.  Eventually Ponyo’s mother shows up (voiced by Cate Blanchett), a goddess of the sea of sorts, and decides that if Sosuke truly loves Ponyo and she him, then Ponyo can remain human.   Sosuke’s father Koichi (Matt Damon) works on a cargo ship and is not home often, causing strife between him and Sosuke’s mother Lisa (Tina Fey), which is resolved by the end of the film.  Fujimoto is bent on keeping Ponyo with him below the waves because he has a strong dislike for the human race, and talks of an apocalypse where the earth will be covered by water, making the universe balanced once again.  But so much is unexplained:  why is Fujimoto the hybrid creature he is?  Why does he hate the human race so?  Why does Ponyo yearn to be human?  Maybe the original Japanese release went into greater depth with the characters – but the film just feels like it flies by without regard to explaining things.

The movie is not without its merits.  Miyazaki does present some stunning visuals, such as Ponyo’s mother taking on a huge shape as she is one with the ocean, or Fujimoto creating magical colors beneath the sea’s surface while encased in a bubble.  As a very short fable, the film does its job.  But the expectation of a Miyazaki film, at least for me, is to really be transported into a fairy tale, to see things unlike anything ever seen, and to simply be entranced.  “Ponyo” does very little of this; perhaps with tempered expectations I would have enjoyed the film more. 

Final Grade for Ponyo: C+