Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review: I Am Legend

A friend and I had a few hours to kill early in the day while vacationing in Denver and decided to spend it in a theatre. The week before Christmas, I Am Legend seemed like the best choice, so off we went. The movie is directed by Francis Lawrence, a first-time feature director whose previous work included several popular music videos for Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. Had I known that fact ahead of time, I might have chosen to skip the film just on principle. But I didn't.

The movie loosely follows the plot of a 1950's sci-fi/horror book by the same name authored by Richard Matheson. It was previously performed for the screen under the title The Omega Man, starring Charlton "Cold Dead Hands" Heston. Judging from the ratings, I'd say the public likes this version a little bit better, possibly only because we Americans just can't get enough of cool special effects.

This version stars Will Smith. I don't know if the Academy has rules for qualifying for a supporting role, but if they do, no one in this movie qualifies. There is a brief, ominous and uncredited appearance by Emma Thompson at the beginning of the film. And, I'm willing to bet there were a few paid product placements, but I doubt those were credited, nor eligible for any Oscars.

The book's plot revolves around a plague that turns everyone but Robert Neville into vampire-like creatures. The film version modernizes the original, feeding on a fear I'm sure many people have regarding modern science. The film also adds a pet dog, Sam, who I suppose has enough screen time to qualify for a Doggie Oscar.

Robert is just your basic kick-ass good guy; He's smart as a whip, funny, strong, quick, etc. He's also hell bent on finding a cure for the mystery disease through good ol' medical research at his in-home lab. In between clinical trials, he "rents" DVD's, hunts wild game, goes for joy rides in a souped-up Mustang and chats up mannequins. Hey, everybody needs a little companionship now and then.

Smith does a respectable job for someone previously known as The Fresh Prince. I was somewhat amazed that I didn't get tired of him by the end of the film, seeing as how he was pretty much in every minute of every scene of the movie. It's pretty entertaining for the most part, and if you're willing to let go of a couple plot holes, you'll probably enjoy it. Just don't expect it to change your life. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Review: Bella

I've attended the Toronto International Film Festival nine times and I've never seen the winner of the audience award. Now while I would like to believe that this has something to do with the fact that I rarely vote, the more likely truth is that I just don't pick films all that well. Okay, to cut myself a little slack, I don't even see ten percent of the movies and with only a few hours to sort through 350, the chances of picking the winner are slim.

For some reason, I thought Bella was the audience award winner at this year's film festival. But, my fact checker (imdb) tells me that it was actually the winner in 2006 as well as the first feature film from director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. He also co-wrote the screenplay, which centers on Jose (Eduardo Verástegui), an ex-soccer player and the head chef at his brother Manny's restaurant. Jose has tragedy in his past, which gives him a different outlook on life than his business owner brother. He's plagued by a not-so-underlying sadness, which he apparently tries to hide by growing a Grizzly Adams-like beard.

One day, Jose abandons the restaurant during a busy lunch rush in favor of talking with a recently "emancipated" waitress, Nina (Tammy Blanchard). They go to lunch together at another restaurant, as I doubt Manny would have given them a table. Afterward, Jose takes Nina to his parents' house for dinner with the family. Nina's got her own problems and I'm not sure who ends up helping whom more, but let's just say that both their lives improve by their chance encounter. And no, you male readers out there, I'm not implying anything by that.

The story is nice, much more uplifting than, say, No Country For Old Men, which was our other choice on that afternoon. The script could have used a little touch up here and there, but I give Monteverde credit for not falling into the predictable romance category. He has a good nose for subtle comedy. And for you weepers out there, you might even get a little sniffly by the time the credits roll. My imdb rating: 7/10.

Review: Dan in Real Life

Steve Carrell sandwiches a smaller comedy between the likes of Evan Almighty and Get Smart (which I will see and I hope it doesn't suck I hope it doesn't suck I hope it doesn't suck). Peter Hedges directs his second film, after his decent freshman effort Pieces of April starring Mrs. Tom Cruise. Hedges has a great cast to work with in addition to Carrell, including Juliette Binoche ("French or English, Juliette, pick a side -- we're at war!" I can hear Stephen Colbert saying), Diane Wiest (see Parenthood, Bright Lights, Big City, and 40+ other films), and John Mahoney (of Frazier fame).

Carrell plays Dan, if you hadn't already guessed. Dan is a widower, father of three girls, and writer of a local advice column with aspirations for syndication. The oldest daughter is bookish, responsible and judgmental; the middle wears slingshots about five years before she legally should be able to and has a boyfriend named Marty; while the youngest is just predictably cute. Steve hasn't dated since his wife's tragic death, and everyone in his extended family thinks maybe it's time he starts trying.

Dan drives the girls to his parents' house for a weekend with family. While there, he runs into Marie (Binoche) at a book store, with whom he flirts in somewhat corny fashion. He tries to pursue things further, but alas, Marie is seeing someone. But fate brings Marie, and her date, into the picture. Comedy ensues.

I thought this movie worked a little better than Hedges' first. Some of the scenes are a little trite, the script occasionally falls into schmaltz, but in general the story is enjoyable and the acting is solid. And, if schmaltz is your thing, then you'll like it all the better. My imdb rating: 7/10.