Aloft

July 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”)
Written by: Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”)

Despite an emotionally-charged performance by Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) as a mother whose life takes a tragic turn and prompts her to abandon her child, “Aloft” is a film drowning in vagueness and self-importance. Directed by Peruvian Oscar-nominated filmmaker Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”), “Aloft” is shot with passion from behind the camera, but Llosa’s script is such a thematic mess, it’s impossible for anything to overshadow its pretentious nature.

The film jumps back and forth between the past and present, which would be an embraced storytelling technique if the time frames didn’t feel so detached. Connelly stars as Nana, the mother of two boys, one of which is living with a terminal illness, who puts her faith in a healer known as the Architect (William Shimmel) to cure her son.

Fast forward to the present where one of Nana’s young boys Ivan (Cillian Murphy), now an adult and a falconer, has been hoodwinked by Jannia (Melanie Laurent), a French filmmaker with ulterior motives about why she has come to interview Ivan for a documentary she is making. After a series of untruths between each other, the two set out on a journey to find Nana who has since become somewhat of a healer herself.

With a frustratingly constructed screenplay that never reaches the emotional high notes Llosa is trying to hit, “Aloft” is rich in atmosphere and poetry, but never find a way to bring it all together narratively. It’s fairly evident that Llosa has some deep-seated sentiment she wants to make soar, but the way she confronts her material as a screenwriter is not very welcoming. The pace moves to the sound of a death knell, which wouldn’t be a problem in itself if Llosa was able to inject a little life into these depressing characters. Nevertheless, “Aloft” stays mostly stagnant until Connelly turns a switch and gives a depth to her character that is accessible to the audience. It’s not enough, however, as Llosa’s heavy-handedness ultimately comes out on top.

The Dilemma

January 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder
Directed by: Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”)
Written by: Allan Loeb (“The Switch”)
 
Academy award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) has given us some exceptional films over the course of his nearly 25-year career as a director. Despite making a couple of memorable comedies during that time (“Splash” and “Parenthood”), the genre isn’t one you’d consider his forte. With “The Dilemma,” it’s safe to say he still doesn’t have it quite figured out.
 
In “The Dilemma,” Vince Vaughn and Kevin James deliver their usual buffoonery as best friends and business partners Ronny Valentine and Nick Brannen. When Ronny (Vaughn) discovers Nick’s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is cheating on Nick, he can’t decide whether or not to break the news to him while he is under a critical deadline for work.
 
Without much chemistry between Vaughn and James, “The Dilemma” allows its two stars to take turns in the spotlight. Vaughn does his usual nonsensical rambling (sometimes it works, here it doesn’t) while James grumps it up and even finds time to have a conniption fit on the dance floor (when will James learn he’s not Chris Farley?).
 
Where “The Dilemma” truly fails, however, is in its awkward tone. Howard has no idea what type of film he wants to create. While there is definitely a darker side to the comedy, it never feels like a true dark comedy. When it goes for the lowbrow humor, “The Dilemma” proves it has a major identity crisis that is impossible to remedy with such a weak and misguided script.

9

September 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Shane Acker (debut)
Written by: Pamela Pettler (“Monster House”)

Contrary to popular belief “9” is not a movie directed by Tim Burton. It seems like anything these days that is stylish, dark, and animated is mistaken for Burton’s work. No, “Coraline” wasn’t his either.

That still doesn’t mean, however, that someone as creative as Burton hasn’t visually influenced a director like Henry Selick or Shane Acker. In “9,” Acker, who turns his 2006 Academy Award-nominated animated short into a feature film, provides a picturesque setting through impressive computer-generated images but leaves some of the storytelling behind in the process.

In the film, which at times can be much more disturbing than anything Burton (a producer on this project) has conjured up, Acker sets his story in a post-apocalyptic world where all humans have disappeared and the only things that remain are a group of small ragdoll-like beings who spend most of their time fending off the frightening mechanical beasts that hunt them down.

The last of the characters to come alive in the wasteland is called 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood). He and the others that have come before him, all of which seem constructed out of burlap sacks and spare parts, are also named in the order they were hand-stitched. It’s only natural that the character with the No. 1 sewn on its back is the leader of the “stitchpunks.” So, when 9 attempts to disturb the hierarchy by questioning why they hide away and wait to be destroyed instead of fight back, a pint-sized revolt takes place and each numbered character must decide what they should do if they want to survive.

While the narrative starts off intriguing, it’s when Acker and screenwriter Pamela Pettler (“Monster House”) fall back into the familiar storyline that things get murky. The second half of “9” becomes a simple rescue mission with an underlying tale about how the machines have come to take over the world.

Still, the visual stimulation “9” offers up is too much to ignore even if most of it comes in heavy doses of drawn-out action sequences. Each character Acker has fashioned has its own unique personality and comes with some fine voice work by actors like John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly. Even the two mute stitchpunks are mesmerizing to watch as they blink incessantly to communicate with their counterparts.

At the end, Acker makes rookie mistakes, but it’s not enough to spur disinterest in something so imaginative. Give him a few more years and he’s bound to make a masterpiece even without Burton in his corner.

He’s Just Not That Into You

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”)
Written by: Abbie Kohn (“Never Been Kissed”) and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”)

Just when you thought women couldn’t be portrayed more desperate and neurotic than Sarah Jessica Parker at the end of “Sex and the City: The Movie” (if you think Carrie Bradshaw taking back Mr. Big was romantic, then I really don’t understand the opposite sex), meet the ladies of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

While Bradshaw showed at least some signs of independence in “SATC” (she is a single woman living in New York City after all), the unapologetically weak women of “HJNTIY,” led by the likeable Ginnifer Goodwin (“Walk the Line”), are so unbelievably hopeless, you can’t help to not feel one ounce of sympathy for any of them who might end up alone for the rest of their lives.

The relationship troubles in this cliché romantic comedy start with Gigi (Goodwin), a twenty-something young woman from Baltimore who is searching for Mr. Right and always coming up short. Along with running into relationship dead-ends, Gigi, like Charlotte York from “SATC,” is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a man blowing her off after an amicable date.

There to soften the fall after her last taste of rejection is Alex (Justin Long), a bar manager who plays the all-knowing love guru and attempts to explain the rules of dating to a wide-eyed and heartbroken Gigi. She, of course, isn’t the only one with relationship woes in “HJNTIY.” Spread thinly across a forgettable script penned by “Never Been Kissed” screenwriters Abbie Kohn and March Silverstein, other characters include Beth (Jennifer Aniston), whose long-time boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) doesn’t believe in marriage; Ben (Bradley Cooper), who’s in a sexless marriage with Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and gets involved with aspiring singer Anna (Scarlett Johansson); and Mary (Drew Barrymore) who complains about how technology is ruining her love life.

Between these stories, director Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”) decides to add filler with mock testimonials from men and women about their personal experiences in the dating scene. While it worked in a film like “When Harry Met Sally,” in “HJNTIY” it’s phony and unimaginative.

“HJNTIY” feels like a therapy session with friends you haven’t talked to in a long time. They mean well when they give you advice, but what do they know about what you’ve been going through in the last few years? Who needs advice anyway, when you’ve got Justin Long teaching the dos and don’ts of dating anyway? Lesson No. 1: girls are clingy, psychotic, mentally unbalanced morons whose happiness is determined by the men they are dating. It may not be a great morale for those who chose to soak it up like scripture, but, hey, at least its got a cute cast, right?