Jackie

December 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Directed by: Pablo Larraín (“No”)
Written by: Noah Oppenheim (“The Maze Runner”)

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) is going for gold again as she portrays First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, the drama is shot beautifully by cinematographer Stephanes Fontaine, and the haunting score by composer Mica Levi drives home the grief felt through the entire picture. The film, however, begins and ends with Portman’s powerful performance, as she masks her pain with poise and attempts to uphold the legacy of her husband even during the darkest of days.

Blue Jasmine

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

If director/writer Woody Allen has proven anything during his screenwriting career, it’s that he knows how to write extraordinarily neurotic characters. From Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” to Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (and countless more), Allen’s ability to show off the ugly emotional scars of both men and women and give them an almost grating personality is an art form incomparable to any director over the last four decades. Despite the numerous disturbed protagonists he’s created in all that time, it could be argued that the title character in “Blue Jasmine,” played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), is the most complex one he has ever written. It’s Blanchett’s obsessive performance that takes on a life of its own and reveals some of the same despair as a Tennessee Williams novel.

In “Blue Jasmine,” Jasmine (Blanchett, who just might end up getting her fifth Academy Award nomination here) is a well-to-do New York City socialite who has fallen from grace because of the shady business practices of her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). With nowhere to go, Jasmine makes a move to San Francisco where she turns to her estranged, working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) doesn’t like the fact that Jasmine has come around only when she needs something. It might be a reason Jasmine starts planting seeds in her sister’s head that Chili is as big of a loser as her last boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, in a scene-stealing role).

As things get testy in the household, Allen uses flashbacks to explain just what went wrong in everyone’s lives to get them to where they are now. It’s a storytelling devices that is tricky to do well, but Allen pieces the narrative together with such creativity and ease, jumping back and forth from the past and present doesn’t feel like work for the audience. This is a tragic tale only Allen could write. His characters are pathetic when they need to be, and enlightening at the perfect moments. At the end, they’ll all break your heart.

Besides Allen’s talent with the pen, it’s Blanchett’s total commitment to the role that gives “Blue Jasmine” its gravitas. Yes, she goes a bit overboard (think Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” without the meds), but there’s no denying the powerhouse performance still resonates, even when Blanchett is chewing up scenes like a starved Brahma bull.

Lovelace

August 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone
Directed by: Rob Epstein (“Howl”) and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl”)
Written by: Andy Bellin (“Trust”)

“Lovelace,” the biopic featuring actress Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”) as 1970s porn icon Linda Lovelace, could be a very minor companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 porn epic “Boogie Nights.” While the film doesn’t come close to the depth or emotional resonance of Anderson’s masterpiece, Lovelace herself would have been an interesting secondary character to follow in “Nights” like audiences did with Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope or Heather Graham’s Rollergirl. Instead, “Lovelace” is a solo show that has grand aspirations but isn’t playing in the same league as the big boys. Still, the screenplay by Andy Bellin (“Trust”) is distinctively framed and some inspired casting decisions were made giving “Lovelace” just enough stamina to see it through.

While Seyfried is playing the title role, actor Peter Sarsgaard really has control of the film just like his character Chuck Traynor does with Linda’s life and career. Once Linda meets Chuck, who is just about as sleazy a character as James Woods’ Lester Diamond in “Casino,” there’s no turning back for the innocent Catholic schoolgirl from the Bronx. When Chuck tells Linda they need more money, it’s never a question about how they’re going to get it. Chuck’s plan is definitive when he begins pimping out Linda and then introduces her to the world of pornography.

From here, the fantasy of a perfect marriage and home life is destroyed as Linda finds herself trapped in an industry that praises her for nothing more than a nonexistent gag reflex. As she continues to perform and live with her physically abusive husband, we watch as Linda transforms from a human being into a belittled brand name simply to line Chuck’s pockets. Her claim to fame is the infamous 1972 adult film “Deep Throat,” which is considered one of the most successful ever made.

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who teamed up in 2010 for the inadequate Allen Ginsberg biopic “Howl” starring James Franco, the duo do a better job making us believe Seyfried is more than a big-name star playing pretend during an era she wasn’t even alive for. For the most part, Seyfried loses herself in the role as does Sarsgaard and other well cast actors like Chris Noth (“Sex and the City”), Bobby Cannavale (“Win Win”) and Hank Azaria (“Along Came Polly”). As Linda’s overbearing and seemingly uncaring mother, Sharon Stone (“Casino”) gets her biggest opportunity to shine since her role in 2006’s “Bobby” and does a commendable job. As Linda’s father, Robert Patrick (“Gangster Squad”) is given the most emotional scene in the film when he asks his daughter what he did wrong that pushed her into an immoral lifestyle.

Linda might have transcended the porn industry in the 70s, but “Lovelace” doesn’t do the same for biopics in general. Her life was a complex one, but Epstein and Friedman only skim the surface. With Linda Lovelace, you have to go a lot deeper than that.

Green Lantern

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by: Martin Campbell (“Edge of Darkness”)
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), Greg Berlanti (debut), Michael Green (debut), Marc Guggenheim (debut)
 
How Warner Bros. Pictures thought it would somehow be advantageous to spend $300 million on something as botched up as “Green Lantern” will forever be a comic-book movie mystery. While it might make a considerable amount of dough and reach that summer blockbuster echelon, it would be a surprise if the superhero flick broke even at the box office. Sure, it’s not as terrible as, say, DC Comics’ “Jonah Hex” of last year, but it does give competitor Marvel something to grin about at least until “Captain America” comes calling for justice in a few weeks.
 
In “Green Lantern,” Ryan Reynolds (“Buried”) plays Hal Jordan, a hotshot Air Force test pilot chosen by an intergalactic squadron known as the Green Lantern Corp. to protect the galaxy with a powerful ring that could’ve easily come from a Crackerjack box if only it didn’t possess supernatural capabilities.

In his way is a fallen guardian of the Green Lantern Corp. who has used the power of fear to transform into some kind of menacing storm cloud known as Parallax set to destroy anything in its path. Peter Sarsgaard (“Orphan”) plays xenobiologist (a scientist who studies the biology of extraterrestrial life) Hector Hammond who has been infected by an alien after it crash lands on earth. Blake Lively (“The Town”) pretties up the picture as token love interest Carol Ferris, who isn’t given much to do besides stare deep into Green Lantern’s dreamy eyes and act like a love-struck teenager waiting to be asked to the prom.

Short on excitement and originality, “Green Lantern” is a lackluster way to set up a franchise that might not even get off the ground depending on how audiences react to this unfortunate entry into the superhero genre. Reynolds does his best to give Green Lantern some personality, but the room-full of screenwriters put in charge of the story only created a hollow narrative with $300-million worth of computer-generated effects and little proof of anything enlightening.

An Education

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”)

More mature than any coming-of-age story in recent years, director Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” is a beautifully-written character study about a teenage girl blinded by the idea of love in 1960s London.

Adapted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) from a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film follows Jenny Miller (newcomer Carey Mulligan who has often been compared to Audrey Hepburn), an intelligent 16-year old girl whose aspirations for her future surpass anything her boring little schoolgirl life is giving her at the moment.

Set to go to Oxford University to study English – partly because she wants to and partly because her father (Alfred Molina) has always hovered over her shoulder to make sure she doesn’t get off track – Jenny is prim and proper, independent, and never lets her inexperience direct her next step in life.

Things change, however, when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older, well-to-do man who quickly takes a liking to Jenny’s youthfulness. Jenny, too, is immediately charmed by David who isn’t anything like the fresh-faced boys smitten with her at school. None of them drive around in sleek sports cars like David does nor can any of them afford to take her to Paris, treat her to fine meals at posh night clubs, or outwit her doting father who allows the courting to continue despite some initial hesitancy.

As their relationship blossoms, the idea to attend Oxford becomes less and less important to Jenny. What woman really needs an education when there is a man in her life who will marry and provide for her? It’s the same type of traditional idealism encountered in 2003’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

There is, however, a deeper sophistication to “An Education” brought in by screenwriter Hornby and director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) that magnifies these themes more than any films may have attempted before. Beneath David’s charismatic exterior, Hornby gives just enough of his menacing quality that you can’t be sure whether or not you saw it yourself. The always reliable Sarsgaard plays the part to perfection.

As the film slowly reveals itself, Mulligan continues to dominate the screen. As Jenny, she conveys everything a love-struck teenage girl would under the same circumstances of that era. From her vulnerability to her naivety, the layered role Mulligan has embarked on is career-defining and one that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination.

As Jenny struggles through an emotionally-charged journey to womanhood, “An Education” allows us to feel the same exhilarating liberation and heartbreaking disappointment she is experiencing. While the film wraps up in a peculiarly ordinary fashion, the overly-cautious third act doesn’t hurt the movie much. By then, we’re devoted to Mulligan and the nearly flawless production Scherfig has created right before our eyes.

Orphan

July 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”)
Written by: David Leslie Johnson (debut)
 
Make some room Damien. There’s a new evil kid on the block and she doesn’t care that you’re the spawn of Satan. In fact, Esther, the demented adopted daughter in the thriller “Orphan,” doesn’t care for much else other than bludgeoning people to death and looking oh so sweet doing it.

Call it my one guilty pleasure of the year. It’s really surprising how entertaining “Orphan” is in all its preposterousness.

Directed by Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s first film was an inadequate remake of 1953’s “House of Wax” with Paris Hilton, “Orphan” follows the Coleman family (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga play the parents, John and Kate) as they come to terms with the death their a child and eventually open their home to a young girl they adopt from an orphanage.

Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) impresses John and Kate from the start with her sparkling personality, winning smile, mature nature, and artistic talent. She almost seems too good to be true, so the Colemans sign the paperwork and take Esther home to live with them and their two children Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer, one of the cutest little girls you’re bound to see in any movie this year).

It takes a good hour for Collet-Serra to set up the tension before unleashing Esther, which is bold of him to do since most thrillers usually jump right into the action. The waiting, however, pays off as we get a sense of who the Colemans are as a family. As they begin to suffer later, you can actually feel for them as real human characters instead of as victims of Esther’s lunacy.

In other similarly themed movies, shocking scenes are usually censored especially when the wrongdoing is at the hands of a child. In “Orphan,” however, there is nothing Collet-Serra decides to pull away from. There are extremely upsetting scenes in the film that are excessively violent. With Fuhrman behind it all, it’s more disturbing and effective.

“Orphan” is not just a kiddie slasher film. There are some genuine scares despite Collet-Serra overusing some substandard camera tricks and baiting the audience like children in a funhouse. Sure, it may slink back into clichés at times, but you could do a lot worse in the genre.