Sunday, December 25, 2011

Quick Review: The Dark Knight Rises - Prologue

Before I saw Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in IMAX yesterday, I was treated to 6 minutes of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.  The entire sequence was shot in IMAX and depicted a spectacular mid-air heist orchestrated by Batman's main nemesis in the film, Bane (played by Inception's Tom Hardy).  We get a close look at Bane and his menacing mask as he meticulously assaults his captors.  I was worried that the departure of Heath Ledger's excellent Joker would leave a major void in Nolan's third Batman film, but after seeing this sneak peek it looks like Hardy is going all out to try to match Ledger's intensity.  Maybe Bane will be a memorable villain after all.  All throughout we get a taste of the amazing musical score put together by Hanz Zimmer.  It's only 6 minutes but it has Nolan's signature style and pacing written all over it.

I am totally geeked out for this movie and am a full believer in Christopher Nolan as the most talented director in Hollywood right now.  I just hope that the influx of Inception repeat actors (Gordon-Levit, Hardy, Michael Caine, Marian Cotillard, etc...) don't distract from an already legendary movie trilogy.  If you have the means to get to an IMAX screen over the holidays I fully recommend taking a closer look at this satisfying taste of The Dark Knight Rises.  June can't come soon enough.

Review: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise is nearly 50 years old and doesn't let age stop him from being the most batshit crazy actor working today.  In a 10-15 minute thrilling sequence at the Burj Khalifa (The world's tallest building), Cruise throws caution to the wind and does his own stunts climbing and running across the outside of the building.  The sequence which looked unbelievably awesome in true IMAX projection is the highlight of the latest Mission: Impossible film.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the fourth film in the series that follows agent Ethan Hunt and his IMF team of technically saavy espionage experts.  The movie plays out very much like a sooped up James Bond film with Cruise and new partners Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton teaming up to take on a complex terrorist plot that spans the globe.  In some stunning on-location settings including The Kremlin in Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai, India, Director Brad Bird (who had previously only directed animated movies like The Incredibles for Pixar) shows that he has a keen eye for action.

The movie is well written and we get a nice mix of new technology and elaborate missions.  The main actors seem to have good chemistry but Cruise is definitely the engine that powers the plot.  Bird does a really good job of making the most of thrilling action scenes that contain large set pieces.  He keeps the camera far enough away to let the audience experience the epic scope of the action.  Put it all together and you have the best Mission: Impossible film of the series.

This film is a must-see in theaters, especially in IMAX and .  It's a tad too long and some of the sequences are entirely too unbelievable.  You will definitley get your money's worth though and I'm sure we'll see Cruise globe-trotting once again as Ethan Hunt in a follow up film.  I imagine Renner and Pegg will be back as well.  A solid 4 out of 5 JRs for Ghost Protocol.

NOTE:  I saw this film out at the UDVAR HAZY Air and Space Museum in Chantilly.  It's a fantastic place to watch a true IMAX film (most of the theaters in this area that claim to be IMAX are actually much smaller in screen size).  The only downside is that you have to pay $15 to park there in addition to the $15 ticket price.  The $15 does give you access to the impressive collection of airplanes and space travel vehicles on display in the museum.  Lesson learned this time around.  Next time I'll either go with a group to split the parking cost or plan on visiting the museum before or after the show.  I did make an impromptu visit after the film and saw the highlight of the exhibit, an actual Space Shuttle (pictured below).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my loyal readers who have stuck with me for Two-plus years.  Thanks for reading my reviews and letting me vent my entertainment aspirations.  Stay tuned for my Mission Impossible review tomorrow and my upcoming Best of 2011 post.  Cheers to a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

A little more than a year after gaining critical acclaim for The Social Network, David Fincher is at it again, adapting another well loved story for the big screen and putting his own personal spin on it.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the second movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's popular novel.  The first film (a production from Denmark) was released in 2009.  Now before I review Fincher's version I must state that I've never read the book nor seen the 2009 movie.  All that being said, this adaptation staring Daniel Craig (as journalist Mikael Blomkvist) and Rooney Mara (as cyberpunk / social outcast Lisbeth Salander) is griping Hollywood drama at its finest and a must-see film for the holidays.

The movie tells the story of Blomkvist and his experiences in Sweeden during the investigation of a 40-year-old murder.  Hired by the wealthy Vanger family to uncover clues to the murder, Blomkvist ends up using the assistance of an accomplished but socially awkward investigator Salander.  Without giving too much away, we see Salander's struggle to fit in and the sexual abuse she suffers in the process.  Beneath all her awkward and quiet manerisms is an accomplished set of technical and investigative skills.  The bulk of the 2.5 hour film (which FLIES by, by the way) consists of following Blomkvist and Salander as they uncover a string of clues and evidence.  By building both characters up front, we as the audience are completely on board and feel like we're part of the investigation ourselves.

Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander.  Both physically and emotionally she goes all-in with her portrayal. From the multiple piercings to the detailed tattoos and the punk/emo wardrobe and hairstyles, it's hard to believe that the same sweet girl who opened The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg's girlfriend is the same actress we see in this film.  As the stoic Salander, Mara is able to convey so much emotion without changing the expression on her face.  It's an incredible transformation she pulls off as an actress and yet keeps so much of her performance minimal.

Craig is a great balance to Mara's bold performance.  Thankfully the Bond movies were on hiatus over the past few years to give Craig an opportunity to play this role.  In addition to the two stellar lead performances, Fincher gets great acting out of Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard and Joley Richardson.

Fincher doesn't hold back in portraying the very adult material in Larsson's book.  This is as hard an R rated movie as you'll see these days and as a result there are some really uncomfortable scenes to sit through.  These scenes are totally necessary though as the audience ends up feeling for these characters which helps ramp up the tension later in the film.  Fincher's direction is fantastic in this film and everything is shot with such perfect pacing.  He clearly makes Salander out to be an Apple fangirl and an expert in navigating technology with ease.  There's a funny little scene in the middle of the film where Salander is blazing through a MacBook, pulling up pictures with ease and switching between several applications on the fly.  Everything is brisk and almost poetic about the way she uses a computer.  Once Blomkvist tries to use the machine we see him fumble around and Mara plays the scene as if she's totally annoyed by his lack of computer skills.  There are a ton of small notes of humor throughout that add to Mara's amazing performance.  She SERIOUSLY better be up for Best Actress by the way.

Most people will compare the movie to Larsson's novel I assume.  I cannot make that comparison as I haven't read it.  Let's be honest.. I don't like to read much.  I'd much rather watch a movie or TV series than sit down and try to read a book.  Maybe it's because I have a little ADD in me but mostly it's because the movie-going experience is much more engaging.  I'm sure Larsson's book is incredible but I don't feel like I've missed anything by not reading it.  Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zallian have created a brilliant movie that can stand on its own as far as I'm concerned.  I also have to mention the great score put together by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch (the same duo that took home the Oscar last year for Social Network).  Once again, the two have created a supporting soundtrack that is minimal in tone but completely balances the action on screen.  In a nod to Reznor's day job, one of Salander's cyber-hacking buddies in the movie is shown wearing a NIN t shirt.

Fincher has created another masterpiece here in line with my personal favorites The Game, Se7en and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  The Social Network was just so-so in my book but Fincher is back on top with this effort.  I find myself eagerly awaiting the next film in Larsson's Millennium Series of books which will also be directed by Fincher and presumably star Craig and Mara.  Heck, I may even read the book beforehand.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo succeeds in all aspects of film-making and narrowly slides in at the top of my list of best movies of 2011.  There's still a few more Oscar contenders I need to see over the holidays but this movie will be hard to top.  5 out of 5 JRs for a supremely acted and wonderfully paced tense thriller. It's very rare that I'll see two 5 JR movies in a row, but this movie and The Descendants were really THAT good. Go see both while they're still in theaters.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Descendants

George Clooney has strung together a long and impressive resume in Hollywood, gaining fame early on for his looks primarily but gaining recent accolades for his acting and directing skills.  In Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Clooney takes his acting game to a whole new level as he embodies the character of Matt King, a father of two dynamic daughters who goes through an ordeal of having his wife on life support after a freak accident while finding out she has recently cheated on him.  For once I watched a George Clooney movie and actually forgot that I was watching Clooney.  In what I consider his best performance yet, Clooney plays an everyman character that is vulnerable and extremely interesting to watch.  The pairing of this veteran's acting talents with the writing and direction of the elusive Payne (who hasn't directed a film since the 2004 classic Sideways) is a perfect formula that plays out in the lush visuals of Hawaii.

Warning... there are very SLIGHT spoilers in the plot recap below.  I don't give away key elements but a lot of details are mentioned.  If you don't want to know much about the plot, skip the next two paragraphs. 

Payne's excellent story chronicles the actions of King, his daughters Scotty and Alexandra (played brilliantly by the talented and beautiful Shailine Woodley) and Alex's friend Sid as they roam around the Hawaiian Islands attempting to find the truth surrounding King's wife's affair.   We get the back story of King early on and learn that he is one of the descendants of the Hawaiian royal family that dates back several generations.  He and his large extended family on the islands are congregating to decide what to do with a large plot of prime real estate that has been bestowed upon them.  It is up to King himself (appointed as the sole trustee) to make the final decision on which bidder to sell the land to.  This decision ends up being balanced with breaking the news of King's wife's terminally ill situation.  King has to go and tell family and friends about the imminent passing of a woman who he hates for realizing that she cheated on him.

King's oldest daughter Alex who is in typical 17-year-old full on rebellion mode, hates what her mother did to her dad as well but must battle with conflicting emotions surrounding her imminent death.  Woodley is remarkable in this role and helps give the entire movie an authentic family element.  Her underwater reaction to the news of her mom's death in the house pool is incredibly realistic.

The supporting cast of Scottie (Amara Miller), Sid (Nick Krause) and King's father-in-law (the always excellent Robert Forster) help glue the family tension and interaction together.  Payne has become a master of letting characters' faces help tell a story.  Just as he did in Sideways with Paul Giamatti and About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, he allows Clooney to convey a wealth of emotion just by holding the camera on his face for an extra frame or two.  Having been to Hawaii myself, this is without a doubt the most realistic depiction of our 50th state.  Payne almost creates the islands as a separate character that weaves its way through the arc of the story.

I expect Woodley and Clooney to be up for acting nominations next year.  They both give some of the best performances I've seen this year.  Payne's story and knack for balancing solid writing with simple and effortless visuals that highlight the scenery of life.  Again, this is one of the more realistic portrayals of family dynamics that i've ever seen.  You need to go see this movie (I would recommend going on the big screen to take in all of the great Hawaii landscape scenes) right away.  Right now this is my 2nd favorite movie of the year and my 2nd 5 out of 5 JR rating for 2011.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo

Martin Scorsese has had one of the most prolific directing careers in cinematic history.  With a body of work that spans decades and generations he continues to crank out hit after hit and remains the master of the mob movie.  Despite all the accolades (including the recent Best Direction and Best Picture Oscars for The Departed in 2006) Scorsese has never made a film that resonates with children.  With Hugo (a re-telling of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a 2007 novel), Scorsese tries to not only make a family movie but also grasp the mastery of 3D filmmaking.  While he seems to have accomplished the latter, I cannot say that this movie is really a family-oriented masterpiece in any regard.

Scorsese employs a hodge-podge cast consisting of veteran talents like Sir Ben Kinglsey and Sacha Baron Cohen (who really is becoming more of a dramatic force in Hollywood) mixed-in with young up-and-coming stars like Chloe Grace Moretz and newcomer Asa Butterfield (Hugo Cabret) whipped up in a lush brilliant vivid landscape of a Paris train station.  We follow young Hugo as he attempts to connect with his deceased father through a sequence of clues that were left behind after his death.  As Hugo works with his new-found friend Isabelle (Moretz) to follow the clues and avoid the pursuit of the nosey station captain (Cohen) we are treated to a fantastic display of 3D mastery as Scorsese weaves the camera effortlessly in and out of the various pathways and passages of the train station.

Despite the precise execution of the three dimensional medium, the overall subject matter and the pace of the plot is extremely slow and not very appealing to kids (in my mind).  The second half of the film focuses more on Kingley's character of Georges Melies, a pioneer in the film industry who directed the famous A Trip to the Moon silent movie during the advent of modern cinema.  While the story of Hugo does a great job in chronicling film history and movie preservation efforts, it loses touch with the core of the film (Hugo himself) and completely switches gears in overall tone.

If Hugo was marketed as a historical lesson in cinematic history then I wouldn't have much of a problem with this film.  Unfortunately all the ads and reviews skew it as a perfect family film, not mentioning the underlying context.  Back in sophomore year of college, I took a film history class and learned all about the Lumiere Brothers and Melies.  We even watched the 15-minute Trip to the Moon in class.  Sitting in the theater watching Hugo with my son, I felt as if the lesson was forced upon me again.  While it surely is interesting to know about the beginnings of filmmaking, I wasn't expecting to have it thrust into my son's mind at such a young age.  Hugo is PG and I shouldn't expect it to be geared towards 7-year-olds but I'm sure that Josh was lost through much of the film.  He claims to have liked it once it was over, but I wish I know more about Scorsese's plan going in.  Anyone under 10 really won't be able to fully grasp the message of this movie.

Regardless of the sub-par story, the visuals are very good and almost worth the price of a 3D ticket.  Overall though I have to give Hugo a disappointing 3 out of 5 JRs.  Hopefully Scorsese has gotten this "family" bug out of his system and can return to making violent and engaging movies for the rest of us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Review: 50/50

Director Jonathan Levine's 50/50 is the feel good cancer movie of the year based on a true story of screenwriter Will Reiser and his battle with a rare type of cancer.  The film takes a grim topic and dissects it using both humorous and touching sequences that ultimately culminate in one of the best movie-going experiences of the year and a showcase for the rising talent that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Reiser and Seth Rogan are real-life friends and have collaborated on several screenwriting ventures and Rogan reprises his supporting-friend role in this film.  The movie focuses on Gordon-Levitt's character of Adam Lerner (loosely based on Reiser's life), a researcher for a Seattle-based public radio station who receives unfortunate news that he has developed a serious tumor in his back at a very young age.

Levine does an excellent job of showing both the serious side of cancer and the hope and joy that comes from having a solid support system.  Gordon-Levitt owns this movie and bears the weight of the serious complications that come with a cancer diagnosis.  We see him sulk around for most of the film in a believable state of denial and hopelessness.  Rogan provides the comic relief that plays well against Gordon-Levitt's sorrow while the super-cute Anna Kendrick (essentially playing the same role she did in Up in the Air) is serviceable as Lerner's therapist / love interest.  Rogan seems to keep playing the same slightly-high, frat boy character in every movie.  I realize that he has little range as an actor but for once I'd like to see him try something different.  While his performance is slightly frustrating, Gordon-Levitt is a revelation and it's hard to believe how far he's come as an actor since moping around on the baseball field in Angels in the Outfield. After three solid performances (including 500 Days of Summer and Inception), he's definitely one of the best young actors in Hollywood right now.

50/50 gets well earned bonus points for a powerhouse final 15 minutes that feature an awesome Total Recall reference, a hilarious line about urination and Pearl Jam's epic Yellow Ledbetter that sounds as the credits roll.  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and really did buy the emotional weight that Gordon-Levitt's character carried throughout.  The scene where Adam Lerner is about to go into surgery is particularly moving with a solid supporting performance by Angelica Houston as Lerner's mother.  This film makes you cherish your own life and does so with some well timed laughs throughout.  I definitely recommend seeing this movie and give 50/50 4.5 out of 5 JRs.  One of the best movies of 2011 for sure.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Movie Review: Moneyball

Of all sports movies over time, Baseball movies have held a special sense of tradition and lore in Hollywood.  From The Natural to Field of Dreams to even comedic classics like Major League and The Naked Gun, the general American audience has fondly embraced the portrayal of the National Pastime on the big screen.  With the screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' best seller Moneyball, we get yet another classic baseball film, this time a movie that is finally geared towards more of a specific audience, the Baseball Geek.

Moneyball is a mostly non-fictional recount of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, a failed baseball player who gained notoriety for forming a team of low-budget players that ended up breaking Major League records in 2002, competing against major market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox with a fraction of the same payroll.  Beane used the concept of Bill James' Sabermetrics (a statistical look at the game of baseball that puts more of an emphasis on getting on base) to put together a talented team of unknown and unheralded players.  In the age of big-money free agent signing, Beane went against the grain of other free wheeling general managers and looked to uncover a wealth of hidden talent, spreading money across several players instead of spending a large percentage on one or two all-stars.

Brad Pitt stars in the role of Beane and ends up giving an excellent performance by playing an everyday guy who's passionate about baseball.  He tries to achieve post-career greatness after failing as a touted prospect during his playing days.  We get to see his personal side as he tries to keep a strong relationship with his daughter from a previous marriage.  The father-daughter bond ends up impacting his decision at the end of the movie on whether to allows his success to propel him to a position with the Boston Red Sox.  This is one of Pitt's most memorable performances as he doesn't let the star power of "Brad Pitt" supersede the character of Beane.

Joining Pitt as assistant GM is Jonah Hill who plays Peter Brand, a fictional character that is a makeup of several individuals that influenced Billy Beane in his managerial career.  Hill's character is a young baseball stat geek who helps Beane realize that there is a more effective way to run an organization and compete with the large market teams.  This is definitely Jonah Hill's most serious role to-date.  He mixes in a bit of humor with his deadpan delivery but overall he plays a serious baseball seam-head that ends up contributing to the A's organization in a more effective way than a series of established team scouts that are frustrated with Brand's approach to evaluating talent.

I've seen a lot of baseball movies and without a doubt, Moneyball features the most realistic portrayal of modern day baseball.  We don't end up watching fictional over-produced climactic scenes where a struggling star hits a home run and wins the championship.  In fact, the story doesn't have a happy closed-end conclusion and the highlight of the plot is a simple winning streak for the A's.  While most people will find this film enjoyable (even women who know little about baseball - call it the Brad Pitt Factor), the real appeal of Moneyball will be felt by true Baseball diehards.  As a lifelong fan myself, I felt like I was in baseball geek heaven throughout the movie.

The realism factor of this movie cannot be underestimated.  On screen were players I had followed through my many years of managing a fantasy baseball team.  Instead of watching yet another motion picture portrayal of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or another baseball legend, the audience is treated to the more obscure stars of the 2000's including Tim Hudson, David Justice, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon.  These were/are players whose statistics I actually followed and remember.  I really enjoyed how Moneyball showcase the behind-the-scenes inner workings of a Major League Baseball team.  Nothing is over embellished or glorified and the pure essence of baseball comes through.  The actual baseball sequences are filmed close-up in the proper stadiums with the proper MLB uniforms.  Everything just seems overly authentic which is great.

This is a movie that a baseball purist will thoroughly enjoy.  Since I am I lifelong baseball fan it's hard for me to assess this from a non-baseball perspective.  I can imagine that the overall story and great performances would appeal to more of a mass audience as well.  This is a must-see movie for all sports fans and is definitely one of the best movies of 2011.  4.5 well earned JRs for Moneyball which falls in line with some of the great sports movies ever made.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Movie Review: Drive

This seems to be the year of Ryan Gosling.  The ex-Mouseketeer has turned into one of the best actors working in Hollywood today and gives his second great performance of 2011 in Drive.  With Crazy Stupid Love in his rear-view mirror and The Ides of March (George Clooney's political drama) on the way next month, Gosling is sure to be considered for multiple films come Oscar time.  (By the way, I'm not sure how I feel about Eddie Murphy hosting the Oscars.  I guess it depends on if the old Raw/Delirious Eddie Murphy shows up or if the more family-friendly Norbit / Shrek Eddie Murphy decides to host. .... anyways...) It'll be hard for him to top what he's accomplished in this film.

Gosling plays a stunt driver in LA that ends up moonlighting as a wheel-man for small heist jobs.  He ends up meeting a love interest in his building (played by Carry Mulligan) and through a series of circumstances winds up involved in a heist job gone wrong where a cast of mob thugs (including great performances by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) puts him and his associates in trouble.  I won't spoil the plot for you but needless to say Director Nicolas Winding Refn puts a lot of effort into Pulp Fiction style scenes of extreme violence once the action gets going in the second half of the movie.  The first half of the film is particularly slow as Refn builds the characters using very minimal dialogue.  Some scenes were a bit awkward and puzzling as Gosling and Mulligan would just stare at each other, saying a few words every minute.  It was odd but helped build up Gosling's "driver" (yes, he has no name in the movie) as a quiet loner.  Throughout the film, Gosling is able to convey a great deal of emotion without actually saying a word.  He has a commanding presence on-screen and I believe he is a shoe-in to win an Oscar within the next five years.  Without him, this movie could not be made.

The music in this movie is very effective in setting the tone.  Cliff Martinez (who scored recent movies I've seen like Lincoln Lawyer and Contagion) is one of my new favorite composers and features synthysizer-heavy 80's style music that drives the action.  Every time Gosling is at the wheel of his car, we get a muted techno beat that thumps along as the tires grip the road.  The gritty atmosphere of LA is portrayed perfectly in the collection of songs put together in this soundtrack.  Refn features a lot of night shots that help build tension throughout the film.

I have to admit, as soon as I left the theater after seeing this film, I was very lukewarm in my reaction.  I enjoyed it but I was a bit let down after hearing all the rave reviews from other critics.  I was all prepared to give this 3 JRs due to the quirky dialogue and slowness at times.  But after I let the whole experience sink in for a day or so, I kept thinking back to the movie and how much of an effect it had on me (it helped that I've already downloaded the amazing soundtrack and am playing it constantly on my phone).  This is definitely an unconventional movie and one that love-it-or-hate-it you'll be thinking about for days.  Drive is a very tense and beautifully directed movie that ends in an edgy and bold nod to tough crime dramas like Scarface and Collateral (particularly since Michael Mann also shot that movie mostly at night).  Make sure you see this in the theater as the sound alone is worth the amplification (I'm hoping Martinez is given an Oscar nod for his work here).  4 (teetering on 4.5) JRs for Drive, a unique slice of independent cinema.

PS:  If anyone wants to get me an early Christmas present, I'd love to get a replica of the totally cool scorpion jacket that Gosling wears in the movie.  It would make a pretty smooth Halloween costume.

Movie Review: Contagion

After hinting at his retirement from directing, Stephen Soderbergh returns to major multiplexes with a movie more fit for the small screen in Contagion, a hodgepodge of A-list Hollywood talent, assembled to warn us of the potential for a serious pandemic.  Many people have dismissed this account of a fictional global disease as simply an Outbreak clone but in actuality this is really more of a study on human paranoia on a much larger scale than what Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman dealt with.  As the audience, we are left to witness mass hysteria over a rapidly spreading disease and the governmental efforts to contain and eradicate it.

The plot of this film focuses on the outbreak of a contagious virus that possibly originated somewhere in Hong Kong.  The respiratory illness kills the infected in a matter of days.  Once the virus starts spreading cities around the world start following quarantine procedures.  Both the CDC and World Health Organization are determined to find the source of the virus and develop an effective antidote.  All of this action is shot by Soderbergh with excellent precicion that makes the disease and the media coverage seem very authentic.

Similar to Soderbergh's Traffic, Contagion is played out in separate pockets of stories set around the world.  Each area of interest is lead by a capable lead actor.  Matt Damon, who loses his wife (Gwenyth Paltrow - shown above giving her best creepy death stare) and stepson early on, is stuck in Chicago trying to deal with his biological daughter who has a case of cabin fever during the quarantine process.  Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslett are big wigs at the CDC and attempt to contain the outbreak as much as possible.  Jude Law is an aspiring blogger in the UK and tries to expose a conspiracy about the production of the antidote.  Marion Cotillard is a WHO worker who gets stuck in a situation in Asia.  All of the leads give great performances as you would expect and veteran supporting actors like Elliot Gould and Bryan Cranston provide solid assistance. Soderbergh proves that while he may be near the end of his directing career, he still commands a ton of respect from the best actors working today.  Contagion would probably be just another TV movie of the week without this stellar cast.

Overall this is tense storytelling from a well accomplished director.  Soderbergh beats us over the head with the notion that we should be more careful in public places to avoid contracting diseases.  I developed a slight case of OCD on the way out of the theater and washed my hands as soon as I got home.  This movie doesn't do anything particularly new though and it drags on slightly towards the end.  I would recommend waiting for a rental with Contagion as there really is nothing that lends itself to be viewed on the big screen.  3.5 out of 5 JRs for this one.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses

While most of the core 6 actors and actresses that made up the cast of Friends have faded away into virtual obscurity since the show ended (Leblanc, Schwimmer? Where are you?), Jennifer Aniston has seemed to stay relevant and continues to deliver good performances on the big screen. Aniston's most raunchy and bold role is that of Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S. in Horrible Bosses, a black comedy that delivers some good laughs despite an all-over-the-place plot.

The aforementioned plot in a nutshell is that three average joes (played by Jason Sudekis, Jason Bateman and Charlie Day) find themselves in no-win situations with their supervisors at three different places of employment. The bosses (Aniston, Kevin Spacey and a throwaway waste of Colin Farrell) needles their employees until said employees actually decide to put a plan together in an effort to have the bosses killed. Of course things don't go as planned and a wild and usually impractical series of events ensues. I found myself not really buying into anything that went on but the acting from the major players was spot on and fueled a lot of the jokes that worked.

In particular, Aniston steals the show as she practically tries to rape Charlie Day's character on several occasions. Using language that is the polar opposite of what you would hear come out of Rachel Green's mouth on Friends, she owns every scene she's in. Bateman plays the same role he's been playing since Arrested Development (thanks Omar) and Sudeikis still muddles along thinking he's a leading comic actor when in reality he's best at dancing in the background of the "What's up with That!?" SNL sketches. Day is pretty good overall (keep in mind I've never seen him in Sunny in Philadelphia) but Spacey is a bit too intense and way over-the-top at times. Colin Farrell sports a weird comb-over faux balding look and he just seems to be completely miscast in this movie. With the exception of In Brugges he should just stick to action films. We get a welcome guest appearance by Jaime Foxx as a hired hitman named Motherfucker Jones. His name alone is good for some of the best laughs in the film.

So this movie is really a mixed bag from start to finish. Not nearly as funny as Bridesmaids or The Hangover II. I just couldn't believe that a straight male character in a movie would be disgusted by having Jennifer Aniston attempt to sexually harass them. I'd advise for you to wait for rental on this one. A mixed 3 out of 5 JR's for Horrible Bosses.