The Reader Review

February 1, 2009

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Reviewed By: Average Joe

Synopsis: The movie takes place in post WWII Germany. A teenager has an affair with an older woman. Approximately 10 years after the affair mysteriously ended, the boy, now a law student, re-encounters the woman as she stands trial for a war crime offense.

Review: Let me start by saying that The Reader was a good film and that Kate Winslett (in spite of my disdain for her) was great, as was 18-year old David Kross.

[Note: I don’t like Winslett because from what I hear she was a real bitch to all the locals, cast, and crew while working on The Life of David Gale in my hometown. Apparently Russell Crowe is notoriously hard to work with as well. I still like him. End tirade.]

The movie dragged a bit at first, but Winslett and Kross immediately brought their characters to life. Winslett played the older woman, Hanna Schmitz, and Kross really impressed me playing the younger version of Michael Berg, the boy who has the affair with Schmitz.

I thought their chemistry was solid and even more authentic because of the fact that it was awkward at times, the way I envision affairs with older women to be (I wouldn’t know). The Reader is accurately named because the young Michael Berg often reads to Hanna, and it comes back into play later near the end of the film.

The film contains graphic nudity (I wonder if Kross was scared to be naked with Winslett?), and some intense post WWII issues, but that isn’t what makes this film (thought it may be what got it nominated for an Oscar). It is the films ability to manipulate you into becoming enraptured by the affair, and then surprised by Hanna’s secret when she stands trial. It makes you question the way you feel, and I love films that have the ability to do this.

Where this film fell short for me was primarily the core of the elder Michael. Why is he still so haunted by Hanna when he was only 15 at the time of their encounter? Why was Ralph Fiennes relatively mediocre in his portrayal of the character? I would’ve liked to know more motive and rationale behind the Michael character (and maybe Winslett’s amazing performance just overshadowed those issues.) And as I mentioned, the pace was a bit pedestrian at times. I’m an Average Joe, it’s tough to hold my attention.

Rating: 7.8

Recommendation: I do not think this movie deserved a nomination for the best movie of the year, but it’s a good film. Don’t get caught up in the WWII surroundings and think it is better than it is, but watch it for Winslett’s performance, and appreciate both Kross’s surprising performance and the film’s ability to manipulate your emotions.


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.


Seven Pounds Review

January 17, 2009

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Reviewed By: Average Joe

Synopsis: The jist of the story is that Will Smith’s character, Tim Thomas, has a dark secret, and he sets out on a quest for redemption by changing the lives of seven people.

Review: Here’s a movie that the critics hated, and the regular viewers seemed to love. Well this Average Joe falls somewhere in the middle.

First of all let me preface this review by saying that I usually love Will Smith’s work, and have always been a fan. Not in the sense of an acclaimed actor, but as a talented actor who is always entertaining and solid in the sense that you know what to expect and it won’t be bad. Well, I got news for fans of Will Smith, he wasn’t very good in this film.

Why does this matter? Because I think a great performance from Smith could’ve made this a good film, but what I got was disconnected garble. Though I had some inclination, I wasn’t really sure what Smith was up to until halfway into the film, and by that time I didn’t really care. There were a lot of holes in this film, and that really disappointed me because I was so intrigued by the trailer.

As Smith’s character works towards his goal, he begins to fall in love with Rosario Dawson’s character, Emily Posa, a woman with a severe heart condition. There are people that will say the romance took away from this intriguing jigsaw puzzle of a plot, but the romance and the genuine, authentic way it came about was one of my favorite parts of the film. Dawson’s performance wasn’t bad at all.

I’m not going to give away the nuances of the plot or the ending, but I will say that for me the jigsaw was one that’s pieces weren’t really going to fit together from the start. The ending itself didn’t bother me as bad as the way we’re left with no explanation for why Barry Pepper’s character, Dan (Thomas’ best friend) would take part in all of it (best friend or not).

The movie aims high with its message, but it doesn’t make me care enough throughout to give the ending the umph it set out to achieve.

There are a lot of ifs here. If there were a few less holes in the plot, if Smith turned in a stronger performance, if it didn’t try so damn hard to be mysterious and puzzling. Those ifs are what separates it from being a really solid film.

Rating: 6.1

Recommendation: Had the potential to be a really good film, but fell short. If you’re a Will Smith fan, you might be disappointed, but this one is worth a casual rent if you have already seen everything you really want to see.


The Lookout Review II

December 31, 2008

Also Reviewed By: Mr. Film Snob

Review: I have been reviewing some very recent releases of late, but I wanted to take a second to shine a light on this underrated gem from late 2007/early 2008.

The film has some very familiar noir elements, but I didn’t know what that meant until today, so I’d rather focus on the fact that this was an excellent cast film that will surprise most audiences.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been very smart about the roles he has chosen since his sting on 30 Rock and he delivers here as Chris Pratt. It would have been easy to over-act the character, but he remained subtle and nuanced, and I enjoyed throughout.

Just because he has memory issues, don’t try to compare this to Memento. Levitt isn’t really a man on a single mission, rather a troubled, flawed character just trying to return his life to some level of normalcy.

Jeff Bridges, Isla Fischer and Matthew Goode are all very solid in their respective roles, and therein lies the strength of this film. I really enjoy stories that are character-driven as opposed to plot driven, and this is one of those stories.

There are a couple of holes in the plot; the most notable one for me is the way Fischer’s character, Luvlee, is just phased out without the viewer knowing what happens.

As the Film Snob mentioned, the opening scene is beautifully shot, the ending is relatively clever (even if it’s a bit too clean), and I will add that I really thought the Thanksgiving dinner scene at Chris’ parents house was excellent.

Rating: 7.9

Recommendation: Rent this movie and appreciate some great performances from this solid cast. Enjoy the ride, and keep an eye on Levitt (his career path and ability to pick movies might lead him down a Ryan Gosling path, though I’m not sure he’s as strong as Gosling).


The Wrestler Review

December 29, 2008
Rourke Delivers a Truly Iconic Performance as The Ram

Rourke Delivers a Truly Iconic Performance as The Ram

Reviewed By: Average Joe

Synopsis: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is a wrestler twenty years past his prime. Struggling to find his place, Randy tries to start a relationship with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and rekindle a relationship with the daughter he abandoned (Evan Rachel Wood).

Review: You cannot help but invest in Robinson as he navigates his life like a prizefighter years removed from being a master of his craft. Rourke turns in the second best acting performance I have seen this year (aside from Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight), and Tomei isn’t too bad herself.

The movie is shot in a very documentary like fashion that lends itself well to the inner workings of these small-time professional wrestling circuits. The movie provides a very authentic look into the camaraderie of the wrestlers in the locker room, as well as, the actual matches. This is a sport that chews up athletes and spits them out; google dead wrestlers if you don’t believe me.

This movie shows how the upkeep of the sport can drain your bank account when a wrestler is no longer a top draw. It shows how lonely life on the road can be, and you can’t help but empathize with The Ram (whether he deserves it or not) as he clings to hope of a relationship with the stripper, Cassidy. Like a wrestler, Tomei plays an older stripper, in an industry that seeks youth.

For the Film Snob, there’s even a solid mini-speech or two, and I love when The Ram, referring to the ring, says, “Out there is the only place I don’t get hurt.” I also loved the ambiance as The Ram walks down long corridors to go to work in the grocery deli, and the charisma he shows even in this role. You will see what I mean.

It’s no secret that the life of The Ram somewhat parallels Rourke, the actor. Perhaps this is why Rourke is capable of delivering a truly iconic performance.

Despite an amazing performance from Rourke, and exceptional authenticity and direction from Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), the movie’s rating suffers just a bit because it lags just a bit in the first half, and though it may have been necessary I thought the father-daughter subplot could’ve been orchestrated a little better.

Rating: 8.6

Recommendation: It’s not as good as The Dark Knight or Slumdog Millionaire, but this is a great film that you should go to the theatres to see, if for nothing else than Rourke’s Oscar (mention at least) worthy performance. This is definitely a film that I consider one of the top 5 I’ve seen in 2008, and one I will be proud to own.