La La Land

December 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Rosemarie Dewitt
Directed by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”)
Written by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”)

Taking his love for jazz music, director/writer Chazelle breathes new life into the old Hollywood musical genre much like 2011’s The Artist did for silent cinema. At the center of this charmer are an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a frustrated jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), both of whom would like to find more success in their respected creative fields. Together, Stone and Gosling light up every scene they share and director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Damien Chazelle give the duo such a vibrant atmosphere to play on. We’re not talking Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers-level dance sequences, but the overall appeal is delightful. Driven by an exhilarating score and a handful of magical moments, “La La Land” is an adorable, choreographed-to-a-fault work of art.

Poltergeist

May 29, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris
Directed by: Gil Kenan (“Monster House”)
Written by:  David Lindsay-Abaire (“Oz the Great and Powerful”)

The original “Poltergeist” film from 1982 boasts none other than Steven Spielberg as its co-writer, and the king of 1980s suburbia on film has his fingerprints all over the classic horror movie.  Spielberg’s influence is so heavy that rumors persist that he was the real director of the film, taking charge when credited director Tobe Hooper was indecisive or slow to react. With height-of-his-powers Spielberg behind the camera, the influence of the film reverberated through the horror genre for years, so much so that the remake hitting theaters in 2015 feels less like a retread of the first “Poltergeist” and more like a cheap copy of the dozens of films that followed it, borrowing and re-arranging the formula along the way.

After financial hardships necessitate move to a smaller house, the Bowen family (led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie Dewitt) start to notice strange things happening in their new home. Strange noises come from the walls, comic books stack themselves in intricate house of cards formations, and a box of creepy clowns falls from the rafters. Soon, youngest daughter Maddy (Kenndi Clements) begins talking to some unseen voices in the TV, and is later sucked through a portal that appears in her closet. In an effort to get their daughter back, the Bowens enlist the help of a university paranormal research team and a TV ghost hunter (Jared Harris) to rid the house of the evil spirts.

Dull and uneventful, this remake seems to be going through the motions more than anything else. Plot details are changed from the original film for no reason other than to be different, and the setting is changed to the present day, a difference that renders the strange alien static of old analog TVs moot. Director Gil Kenan and producer Sam Raimi were chosen by the studio to create a “revisionist” take on the story, but all they’ve managed to do is further cement the original movie as a horror classic.

Kill the Messenger

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta
Directed by: Michael Cuesta (“Roadie”)
Written by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)

As print media continues its slow decline into becoming increasingly more obsolete, it is always fun to see a film tackle the seemingly lost art of the tenacious newspaper reporter out to break a story wide open. In “Kill the Messenger,” it just so happens that the target of this exposé is the United States government.

Based on a true story, “Kill the Messenger” follows San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) and the huge story he uncovers in the mid-90s. After following trails led by the girlfriend of a drug dealer, Webb discovers that the CIA knowingly allowed cocaine into the U.S. and allowed it to be sold in order arm rebels in Nicaragua. Once Webb releases his story, praise is soon met with scrutiny and danger as his career, family and life hang in the balance.

In the lead role, Renner gives his best performance since 2010’s “The Town.” It’s a role that is equal parts aggressive and vulnerable, both of which Renner excels at, elevating the material in the process. While there are good supporting performances from actors like Oliver Platt and Rosemarie DeWitt, “Kill the Messenger” unfortunately doesn’t make much use of his sprawling cast of great actors. Actors like Andy Garcia and Michael Sheen briefly appear and are gone in an instant, failing to make a lasting impact.

For the most part, the true-to-life story in “Kill the Messenger” is very intriguing, though it does tend to ebb and flow more than one might like. Scenes at the beginning of the film where Gary is putting together the initial pieces of the puzzle allow for the tenacious character traits to reveal themselves, setting the table for the rest of the film. These scenes also establish the tone as the film becomes very sharp and even a bit witty, especially in the scenes with a lawyer character played fantastically by Tim Blake Nelson.

As Gary begins to dig deeper into the conspiracy, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth, which is where the film begins to lose a bit of its luster. These segments feel tenuous and while Renner carries them and character actors shuffle in and out, the scenes and story feel a little slight overall. The momentum is regained, however, and the strongest points of the film happen when Gary is under a smear campaign from competing newspapers. It is here where Renner is able to show his emotional range, from the fear for his life to the frustration of having people question his journalistic integrity. It’s an interesting study of and asks important questions like, “How much power does the government really have?” It’s an issue that is still extremely timely today.

Towards the end of the film and sprinkled throughout, director Michael Cuesta flirts with the larger implications that the CIA and the government heavily contributed to the crack epidemic that began in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. It’s a worthwhile connection of a social issue that ultimately has its impact blunted by a lack of exploration. Though the film may not connect on every level it sets out to, a mostly well-driven narrative and a great performance from Renner make “Kill the Messenger” a story worth telling.

Rachel Getting Married

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger
Directed by: Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”)
Written by: Jenny Lumet (debut)

“Rachel Getting Married” is unlike any wedding I’ve ever been to and it’s an enjoyable event.

As the wedding videographer, er, director, Jonathan Demme (“The Manchurian Candidate”) decides to shoot the film as if we are part of his on-camera dysfunctional family. It’s an intimate and compelling way to tell a story especially when led with a strong and Oscar-worthy performance by Anne Hathaway.

In the film, Hathaway plays Kym, a young woman who takes a short break from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt). It’s been a couple of months since Kym has been home, but it doesn’t take her long to clash with the rest of the bridal party and members of her family, many of which still hold strong feelings against Kym for causing a tragic event to happen because of her drug use.

Kym feels she is a “visiting sociopath” and her behavior proves her correct. Although the weekend is supposed to be all about the wedding, Kym lets her poisonous feelings take center stage and slowly cripples the rest of her family during her visit. As you start to see how much her family cares for and despises her all at the same time it is truly heartbreaking. Kym may be recovering from her addiction to drugs, but it’s not enough when her mental state is the same as when she first left. Her stubbornness simply makes her hard to love.

Her selfishness is evident during an incredibly long dinner scene where Rachel and her fiancé are receiving heartfelt best wishes from all their friends and family. You slowly start to see how everyone’s good-natured sentiments are going to lead to something disastrous: a toast from Kmy. It’s an uncomfortable thing to watch as she sucks the life out of the room with talk about drug dependency and what level she is at on her 12-step program.

With “Rachel Getting Married,” Demme has created a small wonder through a diverse family dynamic. As the film pulls you in psychologically, it almost seems voyeuristic watching everything unfold. Like last year’s “Margot at the Wedding,” characters seethe. Unlike the film, there is an underlying hope that family ties will prevail. It’s not nearly as depressing as “Margot,” and finds many other emotional avenues to burrow into your head.