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4 posts from February 2010

February 24, 2010

"The Last Station"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'The Last Station' In the new biopic, “The Last Station, Christopher Plummer plays Leo Tolstoy – the legendary Russian novelist and father of a nonviolent philosophy that begat the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. – and makes one point very clear: not every movie out there is an Avatar.
     Vladimir Cherkov (Paul Giamatti) is Tolstoy’s biggest fan and manages his affairs, but as the great master nears the end of his life, the goings-on at the Tolstoy estate concern him. When it becomes dangerously clear that Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren) doesn’t share her husband’s altruism, Cherkov hires Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) as Tolstoy’s new personal secretary and Cherkov’s eyes and ears inside.
     At the home, Bulgakov finds a cadre of Tolstoyan groupies who follow the author as if he were a prophet; and he finds Sofya to be every bit as paranoid as rumored, though understandably so. She’s especially worried a plot is afoot to persuade Tolstoy to change his will to gift his copyrights to humanity. Therein lies the rub. Hard as he tries, his wealth, and the conflict it presents, is unavoidable so the author runs-off and in a small train station in Astapovo, with his health failing and a hoard of newspapermen standing-by, Tolstoy’s mortality catches up with him.
     From the film, we gather that Leo Tolstoy was idolized in a way that only someone hawking a sports drink could be today. He was a congenial man who reconciled all of the religions as sharing one truth: love. And though this year mark’s the 100th anniversary of the his death, his words have not grown irrelevant: “I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means, except by getting off his back.” That might just as easily be an admonition of Washington today as it was of the Tsarist regime a century ago.
     Plummer and Mirren (both are Oscar-nominated performances) are brilliant as the aged couple and in this film, they have no parallels though Paul Giamatti, a perennial favorite, doesn’t disappoint.
     As an homage to the greatest novelist of all time (for those keeping score, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are #1319 and 2887, respectively), The Last Station is a treat; but like Tolstoy’s great works – “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” for instance – this film requires great patience to get through and will likely not appeal to everyone. That’s too bad.

2 1/2 Honks
MPAA Rating: R for scene of sexuality/nudity

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February 18, 2010

"Shutter Island"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Shutter Island' starring Leonardo DiCaprio In Shutter Island, the new thriller from director Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a U.S. Marshal who travels to a small island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a hospital for the criminally insane.

     Though locked in her cell, and under constant guard, Rachel Solando seemingly vanished into thin air. Now Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) must navigate the storm-wrenched island with little help from the asylum’s uncooperative administrators Drs. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow).
     The doctors aren’t the only thing in Daniels’ way. Against a backdrop of the mysterious Ward C -- where the worst prisoners are housed and, it is rumored, experimented upon --  flashbacks of his tour of duty liberating the Dachau death camp remind Daniels of the horrors that men are capable of inflicting upon one another. But Ward C represents more than abstract evil. The sinister fortress also claims as a resident Andrew Laeddis, the arsonist responsible for the death of Daniels’ young wife, Dolores; and that’s no coincidence. Now, to solve the Solando case, Daniels must move past his hatred for Laeddis. But does he know too much to ever leave the island?
     Total Recall meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in this massively engaging film that has more twists than a chiropractor’s waiting room and is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane whose Mystic River garnered Oscar attention. This one might have, too, were it released in time. 
     Shutter Island is the fourth DiCaprio/Scorsese collaboration and arguably the best (with fans of The Departed doing most of the arguing). In this #1 Box Office thriller, the actor has no parallel. Not the bow-tied “Sir Ben,” the intrinsically sinister von Sydow or even the stand-out “partner,” Mark Ruffalo. This is DiCaprio’s film. And it’s Teddy Daniels’ world. Everyone else is just a supporting actor. Everyone. And every twist, every turn, every false lead, builds towards a remarkable closure.
     But that amazing payoff is also the film’s most significant weakness. Once you learn the twist, it’s not the same story and the journey is that much less enjoyable. The 67th patient, von Sydow’s past, Kingsley’s motive – your initial instinct on these matter very much as you walk in Leo’s gumshoes. Thus, moviegoers who have not read the book and are disciplined-enough to cup their hands over their ears in the elevator will find Shutter Island especially entertaining.
     They’d be crazy not to.  

3 Honks
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.

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February 10, 2010

"The Wolfman"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'The Wolfman' starring Benicio Del Toro Heads roll in The Wolfman, the new remake of the 1941 Universal classic starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, though it will take more than sophisticated transformation effects and a higher (much higher, actually) body count to fill the big paws left by Lon Chaney, Jr.

     Renowned Shakespearean actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) is called home to England when his brother disappears. Talbot promptly travels back to the family manor, uncomfortably reuniting with his estranged father, Sir John (Hopkins), but he is too late. His brother’s body has already been found and on the savaged corpse is the only clue: a gypsy medallion (not a good luck charm, obviously). 
     By the light of a full moon, young Talbot travels to the gypsy village to investigate and finds the locals there understandably skittish. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a werewolf attacks, ravaging their peaceful gathering. Lawrence is bitten and strange things begin happening to him and to unfortunate townsfolk. He’s suspected of new killings and is committed to an insane asylum with “treatments” tantamount to torture. Sir John is unsympathetic, matter-of-factly filling-in all of the blanks for his son. Lawrence must now reconcile his fate and the burgeoning romance with his brother’s fiancée, Gwen.
     This Wolfman’s biggest problem is not a Steyr AUG and a full clip of silver bullets. It’s problem is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the original black and white film.
     Movie fans have a soft spot for the “Universal Monsters” -- Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains ... an ensemble I like to call “The Bat Pack” -- so comparisons are unavoidable. Of course, all remakes have a yardstick against which they’re measured, but when the film is one that moviegoers grew-up with, a revered original, that yardstick is going to be 4-feet long. Johnny Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ’nuff said.
     It doesn’t help that Jumanji director Joe Johnston takes only a few liberties with the story. Sir John is more integral. Lawrence is introspective and conflicted. Love-interest Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) mixes a little When ‘hairy’ met Sally with “when Winona Ryder’s stake met Gary Oldman.” Yes there’s more gore and the gypsies are prettier (still, Geraldine Chaplin is unworthy to tie Maria Ouspenskaya’s babushka). None of that make this a better film because it’s still so much like the original we wonder why they bothered.
     Why did they bother?
     Lawrence Talbot was cursed.
     The remake didn’t have to be.

MPAA Rating: R for bloody horror, violence and gore

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February 03, 2010

"Crazy Heart"

Chris Miksanek - The Med City Movie Guy -- 'Crazy Heart' starring Jeff BridgesIn the new film, Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges turns-in the performance of a lifetime as a hard-living, hard-loving, hard-drinking county singer who’s fallen on hard times. If only his dog had died, he’d have something to write about.

     "I used to be somebody" is a lyric from one of country legend Bad Blake’s biggest hits. Now, as he drives his rusted Chevy Silverado from ignoble gig to gig (in the opening scene, he’s playing at a bowling alley) it’s become his mantra.
     Fifty-seven years old, broke, and en route to one such engagement, his manager encourages him to open for his former protégé, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, I kid you not) who, having gone “new country” is a crossover phenom. The money and exposure would put Blake back on top, where he belongs, but the gruff has-been is obstinate and somewhat accepting of the purgatorial small venues to which he’s relegated.
     He meets an aspiring writer and falls for her and her boy. It could be a second chance at life, love, and parenthood or it could be fodder for a comeback county hit. But it can’t be both and Blake has to choose.
Crazy Heart has been called Urban Cowboy meets The Wrestler. That’s an oversimplification. It’s actually one of the most genuine biopics of Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, or any of the “real” country artists that Bocephus refers to when he sings “why must you live out the songs that you wrote?” That said, this’ll clearly resonate with fans of the aforementioned, though its appeal is much more broad. At its core, Crazy Heart is a story of love lost, destiny bucked, and redemption squandered.
     The Oscar-buzz for Jeff Bridges has been deafening -- the four-time-nominated Big Lebowski star has already rightly claimed the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards for his performance. Indeed, no one – not the curiously-cast Farrell or Robert Duvall, who won an Academy Award playing a similar character in the 1983 film Tender Mercies – shines in this film like Bridges though co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal as Blake’s love interest Jean Craddock comes close.
     A few charming moments notwithstanding (Blake’s babysitting report: “We had fun, nobody died!”) this gritty drama may not be for everyone. That a county singer is addicted to the bottle and is his own worst enemy might sound cliché (or worse, uninteresting), but Bridges’ performance is marvelous and definitely worth the price of admission.

3 Honks
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality.

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