Reviews

Theatrical and DVD reviews.

DVD Review: Goliath

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GoliathThe first feature from Austin's filmmaking team of David and Nathan Zellner, Goliath, hit the DVD shelves (and Netflix) on Tuesday. David Zellner wrote and directed the locally shot comedy, and plays the main character; Nathan produced and edited the film, and has a small but quite memorable role. I interviewed the Zellners before their film played SXSW 2008.

The movie is about a nameless everyschlub (David Zellner) who is dealing with a divorce and some nastiness at work, and at the same time can't find his beloved cat Goliath. Every move he makes is strange and unworkable: shouting a message onto his ex-wife's voicemail, firing a coworker (Wiley Wiggins) at exactly the wrong time, trying to use a balloon to sail a Missing Cat poster through the air. A quick look at his Web browser history seems to tell it all.

Goliath is not a plot-heavy movie. Here's this poor guy who just wants one thing in life and because it's withheld, it makes him crazy. He's not quite sympathetic -- at times I would almost want to give the guy a hug except for that horrible mustache. And then he says or does something really horrible or unforgivable, like the conversation he has with his wife after they sign the divorce papers.

DVD Review: Amreeka

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AmreekaLike many films about immigrants, in many ways Amreeka tells a standard coming-to-America story of survival in an unfamiliar and often unwelcoming new land. But its great script and subtle, natural performances make Amreeka anything but a standard film about the immigrant experience. The feature film is now available on DVD and Amazon VOD.

The feature film debut of Jordanian-American writer/director Cherien Dabis, Amreeka is the story of a divorced mother, Muna, and her teenage son, Fadi, who emigrate from the Palestinian territory to a small town in Illinois.  After years of suffering the daily indignities of life in the West Bank (including ID checks and body searches at Israeli border checkpoints), Muna unexpectedly receives her green card. She and Fadi quickly leave for greener pastures in the American heartland, moving in with Muna's sister, Raghda, and her prosperous family.

The expected difficulties ensue: Despite her years of banking experience, Muna must settle for a job flipping burgers at White Castle, and Fadi has trouble fitting in at his new high school. Further complicating matters are the strained relationships in Raghda's family, as she, her husband, and their three young daughters try to find a cultural balance between the family's Palestinian past and its American present.  All of this happens against a backdrop of all-American xenophobia, as the family deals with anti-Arab bigotry during the early days of the Iraq war. The story is set in 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Review: Broken Embraces

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A famous director known by his alias. A strange stranger. A mystery from the past. An Almodóvar film. Things are going to get complicated.

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos) is Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar's latest romantic thriller, starring his muse Penelope Cruz as the beauty cast in a film and a victim of circumstance. A famous director going by the name Harry Caine, now blind and in seclusion, is approached by an unnerving stranger shortly after a man of some importance passes away. When Harry realizes who the stranger is, secrets start to unravel.

Review: Crazy Heart

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Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Writer/director Scott Cooper brings Thomas Cobb's minimalistic novel about an alcoholic country singer to the screen in Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges unabashedly takes on the role of Bad Blake, a washed-up, hard-living country musician who's had more wives than he can remember ... plus even more one-night stands and an endless amount of whiskey and cigarettes to punish his body.

To make matters worse, his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) is at the top of his career, playing tunes written for him by Blake. It isn't until Bad meets journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he begins to turn his life around. Unfortunately it's too little too late, after his hard boozin' wreaks havoc on his relationship with Jean and her four-year-old son. Is there redemption for Bad?

Review: Daybreakers

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Daybreakers

If the last mainstream vampire film in the theaters seemed to lack much bite, then perhaps vampire sci-fi film Daybreakers might fulfill horror fans' appetites. It is the year 2019 and a plague has transformed most every human into vampires. Many humans were "turned" against their will by others, and feed off  pig blood. Vampires have regular jobs, but they work reverse hours, live in protected homes and drive UV-protected vehicles. The remaining humans are hunted down so that a constant supply of fresh blood is available for the ruling population of vampires. However, the blood supply is dwindling, as humans are becoming extinct, and so the dominant vampire species are concerned with their survival.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a hemotologist vampire who is working on a synthetic blood that will substitute for human blood. Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) is the bloodthirsty capitalist vampire who plans to sell the synthetic juice at a premium price to wealthy vampire connoisseurs. Only trouble is that the synthetic blood doesn't work out too well in clinical trials, with some gory effects. Meanwhile, resistance groups of humans are attempting to find and gather survivors. Edward encounters a covert group of human resistance fighters that will bring him closer to the real solution of the vampires' dilemma -- finding a cure for the immortality that relies on human blood.

Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I'm starting to realize that I probably need to see The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus a second time. The problem with my first viewing was that my expectations were still set very high for Terry Gilliam movies. Yes, my expectations stayed high even after Brothers Grimm and Tideland, although Tideland was one of those odd movies that I thought was very good and yet didn't like.

Imaginarium is not at all bad, and it's certainly more fun to watch than the two previously mentioned Gilliam films, but it's not Brazil. It's not even 12 Monkeys or Time Bandits. Now that I know what I'm getting from this slight but lovely fantasy film, I think I'd enjoy it more if I saw it again.

The title character, Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), runs what looks like an anachronistic worn-down traveling sideshow, along with his friend Percy (Verne Troyer), his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), and young Anton (Andrew Garfield). And yet when passersby enter the Imaginarium, they fall into a world of wonder and horror and lots of CGI. Okay, okay.

Review: The Young Victoria

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The Young Victoria

The historical biopic The Young Victoria focuses on the political struggles surrounding the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain as well as the romance of one of the most influential monarchs in history. Written by award-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), this film is a visually stunning and engaging portrayal of Victoria's ascent to the throne at a time when the monarch held few political powers. 

The title character in The Young Victoria (Emily Blunt) is the object of a royal power struggle. Her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), is dying and Victoria is next in line for the throne. Everyone is vying for her favor, but Victoria is kept from the court by her overbearing mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), who in turn is controlled by her own ambitious advisor, Lord Conroy (Mark Strong). Imposing the Kensingston system, the manipulative pair keep Victoria isolated in an attempt to keep her weak and therefore dependent on them.

Review: It's Complicated

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It's Complicated

Writer/director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, The Holiday) brings another romantic comedy to the screen with It's Complicated featuring veteran actors Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. This film about love and divorce puts a spin on the Other Woman story, and will leave most older women either shaking their head in disbelief or hopeful for re-kindled love. 

Jane (Streep) is the mother of three grown kids, and ten years after their divorce is on amicable terms with her ex-husband, attorney Jake (Baldwin). He is remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman who had been Jake's mistress. Jane has hit her stride as owner of a bakery/cafe, and looking to expand the house she'd moved into after the divorce.

Review: Sherlock Holmes

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What do you get when Guy Ritchie directs a film about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters? Something that doesn't much resemble the work of either artist, in the case of the new movie Sherlock Holmes.

After solving a shocking mystery, the self-indulgent and manipulative Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is sulking for lack of a case and the impending move of his best friend and roommate with Dr. John Watson (Jude Law). Their bromance is threatened not only by the resurgence of the case, but a future fiancée and a returning lover/nemesis. 

Sherlock Holmes is gritty, pretty and devoid of much substance, focusing instead on the flash and deception the villain in the film uses to pass as magic as tattered as Holmes's smoking jacket. Much the same can be said about the original script from Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg. 

Review: Nine

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If you need a dose of Federico Fellini, you might get just that in Nine, the adaptation of the Broadway musical that re-interprets Fellini's film 8 1/2. The story is a slight shift from the original film, filling in backstory and turning it into a love poem to objectified women and their rebellion against a self-centered, childish and charming egotist.

(In)famous Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is about to start filming his latest production, but he doesn't have a script, and can't escape his own celebrity status or his relationships long enough to concentrate on it.  His creative crises is exacerbated by his personal ones as he fails to balance his relationships with his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his married mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his reluctant muse Claudia (Nicole Kidman), and brash fashionista journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson) who makes it clear she wants to be one of his women, too.  

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