Sunday, May 10, 2009


Director: Isabel Coixet
Starring: Penélope Cruz & Ben Kingsley
Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Tag line: Love has no boundaries.
Amazon rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
My rating: 5 stars

Plot: Professor David Kepesh, lecturer and culture critic, finds that his life for bachelorhood (just sex) has been thrown in disarray when he falls in love for his student, Consuela Castillo.

Review: I read The Dying Animal by Philip Roth, which this movie is based on, a few years ago. Roth is an excellent writer, one of the best and one of my favorites. He is relentless, doesn't apologize for getting the truth out. His words are poetry and vulgarity in one. When I learned it was being adapted into a screenplay, I had my doubts. While I love Roth's work, I feared that something wold be lost in the process. Like all books that are adapted, Roth gives you insight into the mind of his characters - you understand them, whether you choose to love them or not. He isn't asking you to forgive them for the trespasses, he's just letting you know. And the David Kepesh stories were the first ones I've encountered - The Breast, a Kafkaesque novel where our "hero" transforms into a giant breast; The Dying Animal, where Kepesh is faced with the dilemma of actual affection for another person, rather than just wanting her around for the sex; and The Professor of Desire, which ventures into his life's journey, from the start.

But Elegy is one of those films that take your breath away. Ben Kingsley, a brilliant actor, one I've never imagined to take the role of Kepesh, but nonetheless, does an excellent job performing, takes the lead. He is the most convincing man for the part. Not because he looks like a tom cat, but because he can get into the emotions of a man stricken by Cupid's arrow. Teamed up with the ever enchanting Penélope Cruz, and you see nothing but chemistry on screen.

Dennis Hopper, who plays poet George O'Hearn, Kepesh's married tom cat friend, delivers an extraordinary performance - as if anything less is expected from such a great actor. Also convincingly is Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Kenny Kepesh - the grudge-holding son of our main character who too finds himself in the lap of adultery even though he'd held that against his father.

With such a wonderful cast of actors placed up in front of us and excellent writing and directing, it's not wonder that Elegy is one of the few films that can stand alone - no need for comparison - to their novel originals. It's a love story, it's a story of lust. It's erotic and charming, sensual and caring. It's a movie you will not regret watching.

Establishing the "21st Century Breakdown"

21st Century Breakdown
Artist: Green Day
Label: Reprise Records
Tracks: 18
Amazon's rating:
My rating: 4 Stars

Lyric quote:When you’re at the end of the road/And you lost all sense of control/And your thoughts have taken their toll/When your mind breaks the spirit of your soul/Your faith walks on broken glass/And the hangover doesn’t pass/Nothing’s ever built to last/You’re in ruins

Thoughts: Back like an American revelation, Green Day does not disappoint. After having lost points with some long term fans, while picking up others with their 2004 release, American Idiot, Green Day has grown up, set down some serious roots and if you don't like it, then too damn bad.

Nevertheless, 21st Century Breakdown isn't American Idiot, nor does it attempt to be. Instead, the punk trio have taken their more mature stance - still mixing it with a little bit of that wit and humor we all fell in love with them for - and created this beautiful masterpiece of hardcore lyrics, fast rifts and acoustic sounds. Don't call it a sell out, call it a growing up: The trio has done something very few bands have managed to do - evolve from their former roots as all their original fans are no longer teeny boppers, popping pimples and feeling rejected. They're not adults with children of their own, trying to manage a life in these hard times. Green Day delivers the much needed break from the real world.

The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams & Michael Peña
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated: R
Tag line: Three strangers with nothing to lose. And everything to find. & Sometimes losing your way home means finding yourself.
Amazon rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
My rating: 5 stars

Plot: After returning to the country to see all their flights have been canceled, three US soldiers journey on a cross country road trip where they not see the country they're fighting for, but also finding themselves.

Review: Being stranded is the metaphor. It means we are stuck in our situations, with no way out. It means that we are lost in this world, watching the daily grind pass us by without any real hope that we will one day belong again. It's very much what many of our service men and women face the moment their tour is over, or when on leave. It's the question of what now. It's the honest to god fear that we do not know which move to make next, or what we can do with our lives. I can only imagine it is much worse for those who have been gone for months only to be in a country that does not want them, and will do anything to remove them from their midst. So what happens after the war? What happens when they come home? What happens when these brave men and women find themselves in a strange land they once called home?

Finding himself with a Jacob Barnes wound, T.K. Poole (Michael Peña) lies in a hospital room in Germany wondering what next. His tour - his third tour - is far from over and being sent home is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he'll have time off from the havoc that has become the Iraqi war, but a curse because he finds himself less of a man. Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams), shot in the leg, has experienced a near death experience during the war which cost the life of her friend, whose guitar she totes around. Having had a falling out with her own family, Colee hopes that the guitar she now possesses will somehow connect her with them. Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins) is a through with his tour, heading home for good. Suffering with a back injury by a fluke accident that saved his life, his only wish is to see his family again, be in the arms of his loving wife. The three believe to only have one thing in common, survival of a war that is both loved and hated by the country they've vowed to protect.

But T.K.'s injury mentally cripples him. Rather than seeing his 30-day leave as something of a blessing that he can spend his off time with his girlfriend, he heads for Vegas in the hopes that the women who handle "special cases" such as his can revive his manhood, sealing the deal that he has with his non soul mate. Fred is stricken by the reality that nothing is as he left it. His wife wants a divorce; his son has a chance at Stanford, but cannot foot the rest of the bill, choosing instead of enlisting in the army. And Colee is constantly being reminded by her male compatriots that her illusion of a perfect reuniting with a family she's never met before is just a fabrication of a little girl's dream and a pathological liar's tall tales. So that scene in the airport, where they find themselves stranded in New York stands for more than just being stranded in an airport, obviously.

The only logical solution for their strandedness is to escape - to ride off into the night, heading for St. Louis where the slew of bad news beings. There is no hope in this story. There are no true happy endings. All we have is one misfortune after another, allowing for each of the three major characters of this heartfelt, American movie, to change - to see themselves for the first time, not as soldiers, not has husband, father, son, daughter, lover or any other social clique we are placed in, but as themselves.

The actors are realistic in the roles. Rachel McAdams delivers a lovable Colee Dunn; Michael Peña creates the mean-spirited, bitter, yet caring T.K. Poole; and Tim Robbins, the man who has the hardest part, in my opinion, brings the hopeful and heartbroken Fred Cheaver to life. It's a movie for anyone who has ever served, or has family serving to enjoy. And the rest of us to grow with.

The Go Getter

The Go-Getter
Director: Martin Hynes
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel & Jena Malone
Genre: Drama, comedy
Rated: R
Tag line: Life doesn't come with a road map.
Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My rating: 5 stars

Plot: Deciding to steal a car, Mercer goes on a journey to find his half brother Arlen. During the trip, Kate, the owner of the car he has stolen, stays in touch with him via her cell phone, which was also in the car.

Review: " I always had a problem with Huckleberry Finn. I mean, I liked the story, I read it, but the river... it made me feel stuck," Mercer starts the film with words that may reflect our young adult lives. We are born. We go to school. We have small responsibilities, but inevitably we are stuck.

So what makes this film so special? Clearly, we have been down this path in the past with several other movies that deal with adolescent and post adolescent "stuckness." What separates The Go Getter from other films of the same trade? The answer's quite clears: Mercer's journey doesn't involve the typical teen film fodder - he isn't on a quest to get laid, nor does he intend to do drugs. He's on the quest to find, not just his older half-brother Arlen to tell him that their mother has died about nine months prior, but to eventually find himself and his place in this god-ridden world.

Attempting to mold the past into the present, Mercer questions what would have happened if he stayed near Reno where Joely was. What would happen if he returned to the place and find her - would she fall in love with him? Would he fall in love with her? And what of his brother? And the mysterious Kate whose car he has stolen? It's just a journey of self realization, but a journey - the passage - the rite into manhood, sans sex (even though, sex is involved).

What gives the movie its icing is the incredible cast. Jena Malone as the slutty, drug user Joely who seduces Mercer in every which way in order to gain his trust and eventually use him for her own purposes. Zooey Deschanel as the beautiful nice girl next door persona of Kate; those innocent wide eyes, caring and alluring in the same moment. Her voice as she echoes through Mercer's long conversations at night, his remembering his journey to her. And not to mention Lou Taylor Pucci as the ever lost, ever wandering and disappointed Mercer, whose original reason to leave his prison of Eugene, Oregon to seek out his older half brother is lost the moment he begins to fall in love with Kate and in lust with Joely.

It's Almost Famous without the rock stars, the cheesy one liners and Jimmy Fallon. It's White Oleander without the screwed up mother, the sexual history and the drug addictions. American Pie with a greater purpose and a better rite of passage. What separates The Go Getter from its brethren is the honesty, its charm and its universality of finding ourselves by getting lost in the world we thought we knew.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Don't Look Back" indeed.

Rest Stop - Don't Look Back
Director: Shawn Papazian
Starring: Richard Tillman, Jessie Ward, Graham Norris, Joey Mendicino, Julie Mond & Brionne Davis
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rated: R (Unrated DVD)
Amazon rating: 3 out of 5 stars
My rating: 1 star

Plot: A year after Jesse and Nicole vanish, US Corporal Tom Hilts ventures off with girlfriend, Marilyn, and best friend, Jared, to find the missing couple. But things turn sour when the man in the yellow truck begins to hunt them down.

Review: Jaimie Alexander didn't return to fill in the shoes of Nicole Carrow for this movie, but Joey Mendicino does returned as tortured soul, Jesse Hilts. At least that's a plus, right?

Maybe it's because some sequels don't work. Or maybe it's because when introducing the origins of the man in the yellow truck and the family in the Winnebago, it sort of creates an air of confusion. No matter how much the first movie was worth a viewer's while, this one completely bombed.

Julie Mond, who takes the place of Alexander in the film, recreates Nicole with horrible acting, expressionless remarks and fails to keep the three-dimensional character that was created in the first part. Richard Tillman, as older brother Tom, does his best, but in the end Tom is unbelievable, unloveable and downright a shell of what could've been done.

Sequels to movies like Rest Stop don't work, never have and never will. Because sadistic killers who kill for the pleasure of killing, shouldn't be given a deeper reasoning. One should leave it to the Hollywood elitists and take pleasure in the fact that your movies don't suck as much as theirs. Got it, John Shiban?

Monday, April 27, 2009

How long until ABC Family evicts its "Roommates?"

Eviction notice please be served!

I hoped that the show might be good because the classic sit-com has become an endangered species - you know the sort, the one that's filmed in front of a live studio audience or at least leads us to believe that it is by using a laugh track - but rather than aiding the decaying idea, Roommates is digging the grave.

The situation comedy starring Sister Sister's Tamera Mowry - what happened to the other twin, and for that matter the little brother? - revolves around the lives of four roommates and their love lives and a not-so-secret crush. However, the show is riddled with 1990's sit-com cliches and hemorrhaging crappy plot lines and premises. Is there hope for the classic sit-com set up? With Roommates sticking around, I'm sure that it's as good as dead.

The show also stars Tyler Francavilla, as Mark who is "secretly" in love with Katie (Dorian Brown); Tommy Dewey as wise cracking, sex-crazed, typical man's man, James; and David Weidoff as Thom, Mark's odd-ball former roommate that adds nothing to the "comedy" except witty one liners and cliched situations.

It's like Friends only no one's watching and it sucks completely. If the show makes it to a second season, I'm going to start judging this country's funny bone.

Lacuna Coil introduces us to the "Shallow Life"

Shallow Life
Artist: Lacuna Coil
Genre: Hard Rock, Metal
Label: Century Media
Tracks: 12
Amazon's rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
My rating: 3 stars

Lyric quote: "The struggle within/Now I understand/Freedom begins/When you get out of the cage/You've built." from "Wide Awake."

Thoughts: Where has all the good music gone? Down into the trenches of this ongoing battle for radio time, that's where. Lacuna Coil returns to the scene with an explosion so loud that it'll leave pussies like Gerard Way clenching onto their mother's teat while emo fans run in fear. Shallow Life reminds me that there is hope out there for the real music.

As always, Cristina Scabbia's vocals wail over heavy riffs, evoking pain, hate, anger and love in a single lump. Along with Andrea Ferro's male vocals, the music comes alive with edgy glory.This twelve-track album is worth cash dished out, if only to celebrate the return something as powerful and meaningful.

While Scabbia has announced on Rock Sound that "It's different, but it's our style. We haven't done anything absolutely different from our style, because that wouldn't be natural, that would be weird - it wouldn't be us. The songs are definitely more powerful, more complete, more intense, more straight-to-the-point," one will notice that they have taken it up a notch.