Archive for January, 2009

27 Jan 2009

Revolutionary Road

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Powered by the best lead acting performances of the year, “Revolutionary Road”goes beyond the typical relationship drama with an unflinching display of the most heartbreaking destruction of a marriage ever shown on screen.

Based on the novel by Richard Yates, “Revolutionary Road”takes an in-depth look at a young couple trying to make a life in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Body of Lies”), who once had dreams of traveling the globe, is stuck working an office job that he hates. April (Kate Winslet, “The Reader”), a former aspiring actress, is now a stay-at-home housewife who dreads living the same day over and over again.

Determined to break free from their average life, the couple decides to move to Paris in the fall.  It isn’t long though until doubts of making their trip form and Frank and April struggle to find meaning in their marriage and lives.

Ten years ago, director Sam Mendes (“Jarhead”) created one of the most disturbing films about middle-class American family life in “American Beauty.”  This beautiful tragedy went on to win Best Picture and to this day stands as Mendes’ best work.

Returning to form, Mendes takes Yates’ chilling story and creates a movie so vivid and haunting, it makes “American Beauty”look like a dramatic spinoff of “Meet the Fockers.”  Wasting no time, Mendes gives audiences a brief yet fervent introduction of the clashing couple even before the film’s title appears.  While it seems like an unfitting way to start a film, it actually sets up the tension for the rest of the movie perfectly.

In similar fashion to “There Will Be Blood,”"Revolutionary Road”relies on its leads to transform the film’s simple story into an unforgettable emotional experience.  With nine Oscar nominations between Winslet and DiCaprio, the two more than prove their abilities as actors by giving the performances of their careers.  Showing more emotion in two hours than most stage actors are able to display over their entire careers, the once star-crossed lovers create a brutally realistic idea of a couple on the edge.

Showing more range than ever before, DiCaprio creates Frank as a layered and conflicted character that is just as extraordinary as Sean Penn’s depiction of Harvey Milk in “Milk”or Frank Langella’s portrayal of Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.”   Trying to do what society tells him is right, Frank’s struggle to do what is best for his family is ultimately what tears the fragile marriage apart.

In her Golden Globe winning role as April, Winslet elevates the movie to its staggering level of intensity.  At the start of the film, April is a lively and gullible young girl who falls for Frank and his dreams of living a lavish life.  As Frank slowly begins to come to reality, April continually pushes him and their relationship to the brink by wanting what he once wanted.  Winslet’s final few minutes on screen are undoubtedly the most powerful of any film this year.

“Revolutionary Road”excels in showing the travesty of becoming the typical clichéd suburban couple.  Academy Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (“The Reader”) elegantly exhibits the commonality of the time through Frank’s lifeless trips to and from work.  In a movie about standing out and truly living, Deakins’ vision of the ‘50s lifestyle only adds more sorrow to the couple’s depressing tale.

As one of the most bitingly harsh films of this decade, “Revolutionary Road”is the rare movie that accomplishes what its characters are unable to:  It stands out in a sea of mediocrity by becoming an enthralling example of the best of Hollywood filmmaking.

‘Revolutionary Road’
Release Date: Jan. 23
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Grade: A

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

20 Jan 2009

My Bloody Valentine 3-D

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Over the past century of horror movies, there have been thousands of ridiculous chase sequences. But “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”may claim its own spot in that history by featuring a naked girl being chased, with all the right bits bouncing, by a pickax-wielding giant – and all in 3-D!

Don’t you just love the movies?

"My Bloody Valentine 3-D" actor Jensen Ackles fears for his life as he tries to escape from the Valentine murderer.

"My Bloody Valentine 3-D" actor Jensen Ackles fears for his life as he tries to escape from the Valentine murderer.

Sticking with the generic horror formula, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”is about a horrifying madman in a mask who goes around a small town murdering dozens of unsuspecting citizens.

More specifically, it is set around the return of Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles, TV’s “Supernatural”) to his hometown 10 years after the famous Valentine’s night massacre.  Allegedly, the killer, Harry Warden, was shot to death and then buried, but with Hanniger’s return also comes the rise of Warden.  But is it really Warden?

Put simply, “Valentine 3-D”is the best of the worst.  It is “The Young and the Restless”meets “Friday the 13th”. It is hot teenagers and drunken old geezers getting their chests ripped open.  It is a glorified B-rate slasher film and, again, it is all in 3-D!

With how much better the almost-gimmick makes “Valentine 3-D,”it’s a surprise 3-D is only now making a comeback. Almost 50 years ago the original “House of Wax,”not the pathetic Paris Hilton remake, was the first horror film ever shown in 3-D.

Sadly, the format and flimsy special glasses didn’t fly with audiences and 3-D faded away only to be reborn a few years ago.

It is hard to understand why the format died because 3-D is the only good way to see a man get stabbed in the back of the head, with his eyeball seeming to pop into your lap.

Director Patrick Lussier (“White Noise 2: The Light”) must have had blast trying to figure out what body parts to fling at the audience.  Considering the killer and his pickax seemed to be the most efficient killing team since the graboids in “Tremors,”Lussier had plenty of intestines, jaws, brains and hearts to work with.

With soap-opera quality acting from the entire cast, it only made the murders more enjoyable. Even after the kills, the fun continues with the most melodramatic one-liners possible such as when deputy nobody says, “Happy fucking Valentine’s Day”to a nurse with a ripped-open ribcage.

The only time “Valentine 3-D”isn’t entertaining is when the filmmakers try to be smart by throwing in predictable plot twists and unnecessary relationship drama into all the chaos.  It also doesn’t help having every person running away from the murderer conveniently trip and fall, and then lie there screaming their heads off.

All in all, for an unscary horror film, “My Bloody Valentine 3-D”is probably the best form of entertainment that we can look forward to in theaters until “Watchmen”arrives in early March.

‘My Bloody Valentine 3-D’
Release Date: January 16
Director: Patrick Lussier
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Starring: Jensen Ackles, Jamie King, and Kerr Smith
Rating: R for graphic brutal horror violence and grisly images throughout, some strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.
Grade: C+

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.

20 Jan 2009

Defiance

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Image courtesy of Movieweb.com

As the last film of the year to enter the race for the Oscars, “Defiance“doesn’t look to earn any gold statues, but it definitely delivers a solid war drama that all can appreciate.

Set during the height of the Holocaust during World War II, “Defiance”tells the story of the Bielski brothers and their attempt to save as many Jews as possible from certain death.

Having just lost their parents and home to German invasion, Tuvia (Daniel Craig, “Quantum of Solace”), Zus (Liev Schreiber, “Love in the Time of Cholera”), Asael (Jamie Bell, “Jumper”) and Aron (George MacKay, “Peter Pan”)  flee to the Belarussian forest outside of Poland.

Tales of their escape spread quickly through the Jewish ghetto and many follow the four brothers.  The Bielski camp soon grows to more than 1,000 Jews, and Tuvia, Zus and Asael are forced to join forces with a Russian military operation as well as protect all that depend on them.
For the past two decades, director Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond”) has masterfully brought to the big screen many tragic and epic tales dealing with or based on different cultures’ historical events.

With “Defiance,”Zwick is once again able to cinematically translate the tragedy of the story, but with limited plot events is unable to create a truly epic and memorable film.
Unlike his past pictures, “Defiance”works best as the passion of the story grows, not through character growth.  In fact, through rigid acting and a meandering plot, the first half hour is actually quite dreadful.

Craig was possibly the worst choice for the leading role in this movie.  First, it is still beyond me how miserably the makeup department failed in making him look more Jewish and less British. Not only did he have a ridiculous hair dye job, but they completely forgot to color his Barbie-blonde eyebrows.
Second, Craig has gotten so comfortable as James Bond that his strong British accent ruined the authenticity of his character’s Polish background.

It is only when the community and tension of being discovered take center stage does the film transform into a thrilling action flick through a layered score and exquisite camera work.
Using subtle and ominous tones during the camp scenes and then electrifying and booming music during fight sequences, composer James Newton Howard adds emotions to the film that the actors only wish they could.

If any part of the film were to be nominated for an Oscar though, it would be Eduardo Serra’s stunning cinematography.

Serra is able to capture not only the harsh realities of war, but also the beauty and elegance of the Belarussian forest through three changing seasons.

While this is no “Schindler’s List,”"Defiance”is a fitting tribute crafted by a caring director about one of the darkest times in modern history.

‘Defiance
Release Date: Jan. 16
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell and Alexa Davalos
Genre: Drama, War
Rating: R for violence and language
Grade: B+

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.