It’s catch-up time again. I don’t always have time to write full movie reviews, so here are seven mini-reviews for recent films that I’ve seen.
“Poetry” is a superb drama from South Korean writer/director Chang-dong Lee (“Secret Sunshine,” “Oasis”). The film stars Jeong-hie Yun as Mija, a woman in her sixties in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Mija is raising her grandson alone and soon discovers a tragic family crime. She finds a purpose when she enrolls in a local poetry class and struggles to write her first poem. There are supporting actors in “Poetry” who are all fine, but the film belongs to Jeong-hie Yun who gives a modest, beautiful, pitch-perfect performance. She has been acting in films for more than 50 years and won an Asia Pacific Screen Award for this role. “Poetry” is quiet, lengthy but incredible. The movie explores themes of ethics, mortality, aging and justice. One specific scene near the end of the movie, with virtually no dialogue, took my breath away.
Rating 3.5 out of 4 stars
2010/11, Not Rated, 139 minutes, Drama
“Paul” is a road trip comedy about two blokes visiting the U.S. on a sci-fi holiday. Driving an RV through the desert, they happen upon a gutter-mouthed alien named Paul. Paul, who has recently escaped from a top-secret military facility, hitches a ride. The trio discovers they are being chased by federal agents and the father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap. “Paul” was written by (and stars) Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, both from “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” fame, and was directed by Greg Mottola (“Adventureland,” “Superbad”). Seth Rogan is the voice of Paul. Funny supporting performances were provided by Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader. The movie pays homage to a variety of sci-fi films and provides plenty of laughs. Light but good fun.
Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated R, 104 minutes, Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
“Limitless” is the thriller starring Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”) as Eddie, a writer with writer’s block. Eddie experiments with a new drug called NZT which helps him use “100 percent of his mind.” The drug allows him not only to write incredibly, but gives him a variety of other nifty mental capabilities. Soon he’s making lots of money, which draws the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). But the drug’s nasty side effects, plus mysterious hit men, begin to wreak havoc in his life. The film also stars Abbie Cornish (“Bright Star,” “Sucker Punch”) as Lindy, Eddie’s girlfriend. “Limitless” was directed by Neil Burger who previously directed 2006’s well-done “The Illusionist” and is based on a novel by Alan Glynn. Although the movie isn’t as intelligent and mind-bending as it purports, there are enough twists, turns and rousing chase scenes to make “Limitless” worth it. It’s also nice to see De Niro showing off his acting chops. He turns a simply written character into an on-screen persona to be reckoned with.
Rating 2.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 105 minutes, Mystery, Thriller
Of Gods and Men
The film “Of Gods and Men” is about a group of monks who lived in an impoverished Algerian community in the mid-1990’s. The film, inspired by a true story, does an excellent job of providing us with a sense of the daily lives of the monks. They pray, perform their rituals, cook, garden and provide medical care for the locals. Their co-existence with their Muslim neighbors, for a lack of a better word, is a blessed one. But this peace does not last. An Islamic extremist guerilla group begins to encroach upon the monk’s compound. The men of God must decide whether to leave or stay–testing their faith in God, and in men. The film was directed by Xavier Beauvois (“Ponette,” 1996) and co-written by him and Etienne Comar. The very good ensemble cast includes Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. The film won the National Board of Review’s Best Foreign Film of 2010. My primary criticism of “Of Gods and Men” is that it may wear a bit long and slow on most viewers; however, it’s an important movie, powerful, touching and sublime.
Rating 3 out of 4 stars
2010/11, Rated R, 122 minutes, Drama, History
“Insidious” was directed by James Wan who co-wrote and directed 2004’s “Saw” and was produced by Oren Peli who wrote and directed 2007’s “Paranormal Activity.” (The movie was written by Leigh Whannell, an actor who also co-wrote and starred in “Saw.”) Together, this team has made a haunting movie, which I am pleased to report is rated PG-13. This means the film has to depend on good old-fashioned scares rather than sensational gore. The story concerns a couple whose son has slipped into a coma. Doctors can make no sense of it. After exhausting their options, the family brings in a group of paranormal experts. They soon discover that evil spirits may be involved. The movie stars Patrick Wilson (“Little Children,” “Watchmen”) and Rose Byrne (“Knowing,” “28 Weeks Later”). Supporting performances are provided by Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye. “Insidious” is low-budget, but looks better than the money spent. Much of the movie is derivative of other films. As a result, I wouldn’t put the film in the same category as the best haunting movies. (I’ll save that list for another post.) But I would still rate “Insidious” as good. You can almost sense that the makers of the movie were having a ball when they filmed it. Their enthusiasm shows. I liken the movie just a little to 2009’s “Drag Me to Hell” by Sam Raimi, though “Hell” had a larger budget and was a better film in my opinion. “Insidious” is a bit creepier and takes things much more seriously, while”Hell” was more of a jokester’s version of horror. So, if you’re looking for goose bumps and fun, see “Insidious”. Cool opening/closing credits too.
Rating 2 out of 4 stars
2010/11, Rated PG-13, 103 minutes, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller
In “Your Highness” the bumbling prince Thadeous has a problem: his brother Fabious. Prince Fabious (James Franco) is a brave knight, while Thadeous . . . um, not so much. Thadeous , played by Danny McBride (“Land of the Lost”), prefers to spend his time drinking, goofing off and poking fun at his sidekick Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker). When Fabious’ new bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the lecherous wizard Leezar, played by Justin Theroux (“Mulholland Dr.,”) Thadeous is forced to accompany his brother on a quest to save her. Along the way, they meet up with several dangers, including Isabel, a warrior girl played by Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”.) The film was written by McBride and Ben Best and directed by David Gordon Green of “Pineapple Express” fame. There are several funny moments in the film, as well as a few exciting action sequences. However, essentially, “Your Highness” ends up being only a modest diversion.
Rating 1.5 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated R, 102 minutes, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
“Jane Eyre” is a beautiful love story directed by Cary Fukunaga; the movie’s screenplay was written by Moira Buffini based on the classic English novel by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve never read the book Jane Eyre, nor have I seen another movie version of it, which means that my impression of the story is based solely on seeing the film. I will say though, that I enjoyed the similarities between “Jane Eyre” and the classic 1939 film “Wuthering Heights.” This is no coincidence, since the novel Wuthering Heights was written by Charlotte’s sister, Emily. The movie’s main character, Jane Eyre, had a rough childhood. She eventually goes out on her own into the world and ends up as a governess at the home of a brooding Mr. Rochester. At first Rochester is cold to Jane, but they become friends. Then they begin to fall in love. Tragically, Mr. Rochester has a secret which may keep the pair from ever marrying. The film stars Mia Wasikowska (“The Kids Are All Right,” “Alice In Wonderland”) as Jane and Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds,” “300”) as Rochester. Dame Judi Dench portrays Mrs. Fairfax, and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot,” “The Eagle”) is St. John Rivers. “Jane Eyre” is beautifully executed. The acting is excellent, as are the dialogue and direction. The film is almost like a Merchant and Ivory production.
Rating 3 our of 4 stars
2011, Rated PG-13, 120 minutes, Drama, Romance