American Teen Review

February 28, 2009

Jake Tusing, Mitch Reinholt, director Nanette Burstein, Megan Krizmanich, Colin Clemens, Geoff Haase and Hannah Bailey at the Sky360 by Delta Lounge WireImage Portrait Studio on January 20, 2008 in Park City, Utah.

Reviewed By: Average Joe

Synopsis: This movie, which was apparently a hit at Sundance, follows the life of four high school seniors (from various cliques) from a small town in Indiana. The documentary shows their struggles, triumphs and the way they negotiate the trial and tribulations of being a teen and trying to transition to adulthood.

Review: There were truly some compelling aspects of this film, and most of us can probably relate to one of the characters, are at least some of the things they’re going through. It’s endearing at times, but it’s also a bit shallow and stereotypical for my tastes. I mean yeah, there’s a geek, a princess, a rebel and a jock, and I think Burstein lets each of these kids slide smoothly into those categories without getting to their core.

I did enjoy the imaginative animation that added a little depth (or at least a change of pace) to the story. I thought that these were intuitive looks into the lives of these kids, but again, the entirety of the movie isn’t that intuitive.

There were aspects of the film, that in the back of my head I wondered if they were staged, and other times when I think I was supposed to feel sympathy, but I didn’t.

Just because your parents are pushing you to get into Notre Dame doesn’t mean you have to be a complete bitch to everyone around you. I found the “geek” and the “rebel” to be the most interesting characters and would’ve loved to learn more about what makes them tick, why the “heart throb,” doesn’t want to endure his new, intriguing relationship anymore aside from peer pressure.

What this movie really is, at the end of the day, is sad. And I guess that’s okay, because as I understand it a lot of people have similar high school experiences. Everyone is trying to find themselves, but unfortunately Burstein doesn’t find the depths of what these kids and that’s why the film fell a little short for me.

Review: 6.4

Recommendation: I want you to watch this film and decide for yourself because if you’re like me, you’ll be feeling like you got sold a little short, but you will have turned the lens on your own life and thought real events significant to you. I think you’ll find something to cling to that resonates here, and if nothing else, that Hannah chick is pretty interesting, and that Megan girl needs a good slap in the face.

P.S. I also wanted to know more about Hannah’s best guy friend, and Megan’s guy-friend who kind of dates her best friend. They seemed like pretty interesting people that didn’t necessarily fall into a “category.”


Frozen River Review

February 18, 2009

frozenriverReviewed by: The Film Snob

Synopsis: Ray (Melissa Leo) tries to provide for her family by smuggling illegal aliens across the Canadian border. She teams with a member of the Mohawk tribe, Lila (Misty Upham), as they put themselves in danger to earn some cash.

Review: This is a good movie and I’ll tell you why–in real life I would HATE these people, yet within the context of this movie I care what happens to them. The main character, Ray (a mother of two), decides that she is going to start smuggling illegal immigrants into the country in the trunk of her car–and why does she do this? So she can buy her family a double wide trailer. She is currently living with her two sons in a trailer as it is–and she is trying to upgrade to a bigger trailer with better insulation–so she’s working for something, but is moving to a better trailer really worth committing a felony? Risking your life? One of the movie’s most climatic is when Ray smuggles some illegals across the border, then gets home just in time to stop the repo men from taking her tv. This tv she purchased was on a rent-to-own plan and the set is about half the width of her entire trailer. This woman can’t afford dinner for her family (they eat popcorn and drink orange soda), yet she wants to commit to prolonged payments for a large, flat screen television?  In real life this woman is too dumb to live, in the cinema I am rooting for her all the way. Why is this? I have no idea. I can’t put my finger on it–it’s not just that she is the main character–there is something more that intrigues me. Maybe it’s just that she’s so repulsive and so white trash that I sympathize with her? Nobody should have to be that ugly, that trashy, and that poor–and when I mean ugly, I mean don’t watch this on Blue-Ray, watch it with the worst quality imaginable, you’ll thank me later.

Or maybe the reason I rooted for Ray and her family was the performance of Melissa Leo. She came out of nowhere to be nominated for an Oscar along with Marryl Streep, Ann Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, and Kate Winslet–that’s some fine company. Just being nominated in a class like that is phenomenal–being nominated is equivalent to winning for someone like Kate Winslet I would think–the Academy rarely seems to just pluck a lead actress nominee out of relatively nowhere–the nominees usually come from bigger, better publicized movies–so this is really an honor.

Rating: 7.3

Recommendation: Frozen River gained a lot of momentum at the Independent Spirit Awards, where it was nominated for best picture. If you usually go for that sort of thing then this movie will not disappoint. If you like hardy laughs or big explosions from your movie then stay away at all cost–and please don’t talk to me–I won’t like you. It’s the sort of story that is not typically told, it’s not a sexy story–but it is a story–and it’s told in a nice fashion–plus it’s only 90 minutes–gotta love that they didn’t drag it out. I recommend.


Frost/Nixon Review

January 23, 2009

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Reviewed By: Average Joe

Synopsis: After three years of silence President Richard Nixon agrees to a one-on-one, all-inclusive interview with British television personality David Frost.

Review: Yeah. I know I thought the same thing. I anticipated good acting from Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost), but a very wordy, slow and boring movie. To my surprise (and maybe it shouldn’t have been with Ron Howard at the helm), I was enthralled by the suspense throughout.

The movie uses 1st person interviews from supporting characters to advance the spots where it could potentially lag. Speaking of supporting characters, both Kevin Bacon and Toby Jones were solid, but I was especially impressed by Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of crack researcher James Reston Jr.

The analogy is completely overdone, but since I’m just an Average Joe I will tell you upfront, this movie is like watching a brilliant boxing match, but not necessarily of two heavyweights, as most people would have you think.

No, Nixon was a once esteemed prizefighter grasping to his legacy and yearning for one last battle that will enable him to avenge the end of his career (i.e. Watergate). Frost was a journeyman, having achieved solid success, but certainly never held the crown. But like most fighters, he had one astounding performance in him, and needed the right competitor to bring it out.

It’s easy to see why Nixon wanted this battle. Tricky Dick would easily out manipulate the aloof television personality and restore his place atop the elite. What some people won’t understand is why Nixon fueled the fire to ensure an epic battle. (Side Note: This was a brilliant rant that Mr. Film Snob will probably appreciate). The short answer is that competitors want competition; it’s more gratifying if you had to let it all hang out to prevail.

The best part about the movie for me wasn’t even the carefully crafted dialogue (I’m telling you Film Snob – you’ll appreciate it), but the subtleties and nuances that drive the suspense. I loved the stare down between the two camps, the reference to getting punched in the face, and the significance of the shoes (you’ll see what I mean).

Nixon’s incapable of being ‘human’ until he’s free from his burden, and Langella conveys this struggle to the point that even those that thought Nixon was a monster might empathize (or at least come to understand) why he was the way he was. Credit Langella for a brilliant performance, one worthy of his Oscar nomination.

If I have one nit-pick it might be that it was actually a little anti-climatic after being built up well; so strategically.

Rating: 8.9

Verdict: Go in like I did with expectations of a wordy, boring, slow movie, and come out feeling impressed and energized by one of the top 5 films of the year. Witness a solid story, great acting, and make sure you aim to catch all the subtleties of this surprisingly suspenseful tale of Tricky Dick’s prizefight fight with Frost.


Defiance Review

January 20, 2009

defianceReviewed by: The Film Snob

Synopsis: The Bielski brothers avoid German capture, and lead by Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the brothers form a band of resistance fighters. As more individuals are looking for an escape from the Jewish Ghetto, the band’s numbers increase. With mouths to feed and German soldiers to avoid, the gang works to defy death during the second world war.

Review: Here it is folks, we have it–ladies and gentleman–Defiance is the best film of 2008. That’s right, my best film of the year has achieved a whopping 53% on the Tomatorater. Even one of my favorite critics, A.O. Scott, says that “the film unfairly implied that ‘if only more of the Jews living in Nazi-occupied Europe had been as tough as the Bielskis, more would have survived.'” Hey A.O.–if that’s the perception that you were left with than you missed the whole point! This movie was as much about toughness and defiance as it was about choices. These hunted Jews didn’t know what to do, who would? They were being hunted, their families were being hunted, their way of life–their religion was being hunted. The movie does not attempt to portray Tuvia Bielski as a know-it all hero who used his wisdom and muscle to lead his people to safety. Rather it emphasizes the dubious decisions these people were forced to make. In fact, there is one exchange among the Bielski brothers where they wonder aloud why they survived while so many of their loved ones had died. There’s also one moment where a group of Jews are deciding whether to remain in the Jewish Ghetto or flea to the forest. How do you know what to do? They obviously didn’t know their end fate. The film does not EVER question the toughness of the Jewish people–instead it tells what a coin flip these decisions were. There were 4 or 5 life-altering decisions that come about–decisions that no human should have to make. So no, it is not about muscle, it is about chance. These decisions were a coin flip. This particular group was lucky enough to have happened to choose the right path, many others were not afforded such an opportunity.

The film also has a bit of a biblical flare, as it relates this story to Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt and away from its tyranny. While Tuvia is no Moses, certain parallelisms do exist. I suppose you can either see this as a story of chance or a story of personal faith. Either way, it’s a great tale to tell.

Rating: 9.6

Recommendation: Go to your local cinema and check this one out. It’s apparently not for everyone (53% Tomatorater), but  I thought it was the best of the year. Don’t expect it to be 100% historically accurate–yet it is a great story–I mean just an absolutely wonderful story. Some critics are also discouraged by the way the film was shot, I am not one of them. The story is too good to care too much about such trivial details.


The Edge of Heaven Review

January 19, 2009

edge-of-heavenReviewed by: The Film Snob

Synopsis: A few people have sad stories.

Review: I know I know–this the review you’ve all been waiting for. This foreign film had a quite release in the U.S., but has earned solid reviews from film critics. I just don’t get the appeal. The movie tells the stories of six individuals—each of their stories has a sad twist to it. The only problem is–who cares? I found these characters to be without substance–I could not care less about their fates.

I really don’t know what this movie was trying to accomplish. Again, the critics like this movie–Robert Ebert said he found the characters to be fascinating. Let me say this–having a sad story does not make a person interesting! You want to know what happens in this movie–let me tell you–a few people die and a few more mourn their death. That’s it. And I would be fine with that–if only they had anything interesting to say! Some of my favorite movies consist of nothing more than people talking for 90 minutes, but you see here’s the difference–they actually talk about something! This was two hours of talking, yet nothing at all was said. You know what I felt at the end of this film–mercy–that’s what I felt–mercy that it was finally done with. I am mystified about what the attraction is for these critics. I think they confuse a sad story with a good story–just because a character has suffered in their life, this doesn’t make their story worth telling.

You know what the upside to this movie is? One of the characters looks like Topher Grace, that’s it! baki_davrak_11And what sticks me is that I like foreign movies and I like movies that tell the human story–and that is exactly what this film is–the problem is that they did a terrible job of telling the story–because the plot goes nowhere–at the end of this thing you are aware of this sequence of events that happened, but you have nothing to do with it–I watched it, thought “ok”, and turned the tv off–having been no better off for the experience. I could just outline the plot for you right here and you will have the exact same experience that I had–except you would have yourself the two hours.

Rating: 2.9

Recommendation: Please don’t waste your time with this thinking it’s a story about the human element, what it’s about is wasting two hours, nothing more.


Bee Movie Review

January 13, 2009

beeReviewed by: The Film Snob

Synopsis: Barry B. Benson (Jerry Sienfeld) is graduating and contemplating his limited career options. Barry wants to explore a life outside of the hive, yet in doing so he almost destroys the world as we know it. However, with a little help from his human friend (Renee Zellweger), he attempts to put everything back in order.

Review: I am all sorts of backwards on these animated movies. I bashed the critically acclaimed Wall-E, yet I enjoyed Bee Movie–which was not all that well received. I actually found myself laughing out loud at some parts–and that’s a credit to Jerry Seinfeld–he’s just funny–nothing you can do about it. Plus, there’s an homage to The Graduate, how do you not love that?

The plot is a familiar one–Barry is facing a life that is all too routine in his beehive. Rahter than become a worker bee, Barry decides he wants to see what life has to offer on the outside. This theme of dissatisfaction with the normal, only to discover that greatness lies even in the most routine–well, that’s a pretty common theme in animated movies, but I did enjoy this one more than other such movies, such as Antz–that did have Woody Allen though—hmmm…now I don’t know what to do.

The film does deal with the disappearance of bees–leading to flowers, plants, fruits not being properly pollinated. This is something that’s actually happening in the real world–bees are suddenly disappearing–it’s a problem. I don’t really think this is intentional, but nonetheless–we’re talking about real issues here people!

John Goodman did a good job with the voice of the Layton T. Montgomery, a stereotypical souther lawyer. It’s tough to get credit for providing a superb voice, but I really liked how Goodman portrayed this character. He and Seinfeld had a few good lines between them.

Rating: 7.2

Recommendation: If you’re a fan of Jerry Seinfled than you should probably see it–there’s some Sienfeld-esque humor in there that you will enjoy. It’s not anything great, but you’ll get a chuckle or two. No reason not to show this to the kids either–I’m sure there’s life lessons and what not.


Grand Torino Review II

January 13, 2009

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Reviewed by: The Film Snob
Also Reviewed by: Average Joe

Review: First of all, I went to see this movie on a  weekday afternoon–being that it’s a Clint Eastwood movie, the theatre was packed with elderly folks. Clint Eastwood to these people is like Kurt Russell to Generation X–they just can’t get enough.

As Average Joe alluded to, Walt Kolwalsaki (Eastwood) rattles off Asian insults for most of the film. His neighborhood has become increasingly populated with Asian tenants, and as someone who fought in the Koran war, Walt has a particular disdain for the culture. If you’re sensitive to these comments you may want to skip this one, but the remarks do help the viewer to understand Walt’s character better–so they do serve a purpose–and I must admit, there were a few good laughs mixed into those remarks.

Walt has just lost his wife–this development dims whatever happiness he did have and makes him into a grumpy, racist old man–in fact, grumpy is an understatement, Walter Matthau played a grumpy old man–Eastwood’s character is downright truculent–that’s right, I went there. Despite his crudeness, he does fall ass backwards into a friendship with the next door neighbors. With their help he finds some peace at the end of his life–which is a great sentiment. There is a portion of this movie where Eastwood goes all Diry Harry on everybody–I can’t say that I minded that at all.

The ending of this movie is phenominal–I brag on the endings of films a lot–but this one is exceptional. Eastwood, who directed the picture, sets the audience up perfectly–it’s just beautiful. And when I say he set them up, I don’t mean for an M. Night Shyamalan type twist–it’s not a twist–the story is just unfolded with great vision. It views more like a poem than like a typical movie.

Gran Torino is not my favorite of the year, but I would advise Oscar voters to take a hard look at it. It doesn’t seem to have the buzz of a Slumdog Millionaire or The Wrestler, but I think it’s right there with the best of them. Clint Eastwood is my hands-down pick for best director. Working with this simple story, he works absolute magic. Can we just hope that Eastwood never stops making films? For my money he’s the best director in the business right now–he could make a movie about my life and it would be golden–that’s how good he is.

Rating: First half-7.0, Second half-9.6, Total-8.6 (yeah, I know that doesn’t average right, second half always weighs more)

Recommendation: Watch it now-thank me later