Movie Review: “Easy A”

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Elysse Carpenter
elcarpente@smu.edu

What might seem like another chick-flick about a sad teenage girl going through the rigors of high school is actually an enlightening movie that deals with issues from literature and sexuality.

Easy A plays out like a book you can’t think about putting down, and it’s better than Twilight because most people can relate more to high school drama than they can to vampires. Entering the box office at a time in which there aren’t too many romantic comedies or chick flicks, Easy A provides comic relief to the end of the summer movie season.

Like Mean Girls, Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast who is not the most popular girl in her large, public California high school. But, when her crazy best friend Rhiannon (played by Aly Michalka) assumes that she hooked up with a guy, the whole school finds out thanks to the Christian leader of the school, Marianne, played by Amanda Bynes. When she should be humiliated that her false sexual exploits are known by the whole school, Olive hams it up and goes along with the rumor, giving out favors and tarnishing her reputation along the way.

With the star-studded cast lineup including Lisa Kudrow, Penn Badgley, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, Easy A kept me laughing through the whole movie. It hits theaters tomorrow and I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Arts Beat: The Inspiring “Soloist”

April 27, 2009 by · Comments Off 

It seems like in every journalism class, subject of the industry’s future never fails to come up. I couldn’t escape it even when I went to the movies this weekend. In “The Soloist” Los Angeles Times Reporter Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t escape it either. One of the first opening scenes is a conversation between Lopez and his ex-wife/editor about the budget cuts and staff firings.

While this theme is prevalent throughout the rest of this movie, what really becomes clear is why writing and reporting will forever be apart of our culture. This amazing story follows an incredibly talented musician, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Jamie Foxx), whose mental state has left him homeless on the streets of LA. Ayers’ story and people like him is what will keep the journalism industry alive.

The movie highlights several social issues, mental illnesses, homelessness, drug abuse and the government’s responsibility in keeping the streets safe. Foxx and Downey pull off great performances and play off each other well. Foxx is brilliant in his interpretation of Ayers and is really able to help the audience feel his beautiful music.

Perhaps the only critique is when Ayers and Lopez visit the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Instead of images of what is going on director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) shows somewhat of a light show. The concept is understandable. We are supposed to be seeing what is playing in Ayers’ mind as he listens, but it just came off as unrealistic in a movie that should pride itself on its realism.

People constantly want to learn about other people. We crave stories of the underdog. For me, stories like Ayers’ is what got me into journalism in the first place. Lopez’s own work is something to definitely read through. In his column entitled Points West, Lopez has tackled several issues, but most notably the state of homelessness in Los Angeles.

This movie is inspiring. Not only do Downey and Foxx create some remarkable performances, but the social issues it tackles in such a gripping and real way make the film.? The movie? takes great journalism to a new level by exposing it to a wider audience.

With the industry at this incredibly difficult crossroad, it is stories like this? we should all take the time to read. They help us remember great journalism truly comes from finding inspiring people.

–Posted by Erin Ramaker

Arts Beat: ‘Adventureland’

April 14, 2009 by · Comments Off 

It seems like the biggest? blockbusters? these days are all formulaic comedies staring the same group of comedians in different? ridiculous? scenarios. Well I like those movies just as much as the next person, I must admit I am getting a little tired of them all.

“Adventureland” is from director Greg Mottola, who also directed “Superbad,” and I expected it to be a relatively similar format. Surprisingly the movie had a lot more depth to it with themes like religion and dating,? adultery? and relationships.

Set in 1987 the movie follows James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) as he searches for a summer job after college. Realizing that his English major has left him no real world skills he is forced to work at the local amusement park, Adventureland. The park’s staff has several memorable characters all of which fit one stereotype or another. His crazy boss, Bobby, who lives for the park season is played by SNL‘s Bill Hader. Hader has some of the funnier scenes when paired with his wife, Paulette, played by Kristen Wiig, who is a fellow SNL cast mate.

Brennan finds relief from the day to day park? routines? when things start heating up with Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart, Twilight.) The writing of the movie is superb, Em and Brennan’s relationship goes through the many ups and downs like the roller? coasters? they operate. It really is a great coming of age story. Possibly, I liked it more since as a soon to be college graduate I understand the pressures of finding a job and finding yourself all at the same time.

The only downside, Stewart plays Em similarly to her character in “Twilight.” She is just a moody, teenager who sometimes looks bored in her scenes. Get past that and the other characters make up for her lack of acting diversity.

This movie is a great dramedy and one that really stands out among other films currently in theaters. I definitely suggest it and for those of you with significant others it is a great date movie as well.

–Posted by Erin Ramaker

Arts Beat: “Knowing” Isn’t a Good Thing

April 6, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Apocalyptic movies have always been some of my favorites. Even though the endings are completely unrealistic, it’s always interesting to see how the world will be saved. So with that in mind, I went to go see the movie “Knowing.” The beginning of this movie started okay. Some little girl named Lucinda stats to hear voices and covers a sheet of paper with numbers. These numbers are dates of catastrophic events that are going to happen in the future. Then John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) finds the sheet and figures out the numbers mean the end of mankind.
The idea sounded good, but the twist in the middle of the movie ruined it for me. Now I won’t ruin the film, but the thought of aliens who selectively talk to children was pretty lame. The only cool thing about the movie was the world actually ending. That kind of thing doesn’t really happen in these movies so that was kind of cool. All in all, the movie was different but it could have been better.

– Posted by Josh Webb

Arts Beat: Grab a Movie and your Grill

March 6, 2009 by · Comments Off 

A safe first date is usually dinner and a movie. This cliché meet and greet can be fool proof, but also has it’s difficult planning points. The hardest part is figuring out A.) where to eat dinner and B.) what movie to see—all while trying to estimate if dinner will flow perfectly in to the set movie time without having too much awkward conversation between the two. Well there’s the perfect solution for the not-so conversation savvy. Studio Movie Grill off of 75 and Royal offers a happy combination of dinner AND a movie. What a concept. You can also go for a matinee and grab lunch in a nearly empty theater.
Yes this seems like an ingenious plan…but there are a few drawbacks. The servers walking in and out of the theater are distracting from the movie, but no one can complain about them doing their job. The lack of stadium seating makes it harder to see, but are you really paying that much attention while you’re chowing down on quesadillas or a burger?

–Posted by Brooke Morin

Movie Review: “Ghost Town” Worth Your Money – Plus, Tons of Laughs

September 30, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Matt Carter
mscarter@smu.edu

“Ghost Town”
Grade: A-

The best way for me to describe “Ghost Town” is that it is what a romantic comedy should be. So many times we have seen the formula for these movies:

-Boy meets girl

-Boy falls for girl

-Boy and girl get together

-Something causes boy and girl great anguish, and it looks like all hope is lost

-Boy and girl get back together and kiss as the camera pans out

Thankfully, this project breaks just about every one of these traditions. It has a little bit of “A Christmas Carol” in it (minus the part about Christmas, of course), but as a final product, it is one of the most original and entertaining romantic comedies in years.

Ricky Gervais (TV’s “Extras”) stars as Bertram Pincus, an incredibly irritable man working as a dentist in New York City. Unlike most doctors, he didn’t enter the medical field to help others—he wanted a profession where he could shove things in people’s mouths so they would be forced to shut up. One day, however, things change for Pincus when he goes into the hospital for a routine operation and something goes terribly wrong: he dies while on the operating table, and upon his resuscitation starts to see the dead walking around the city. One of them, a man in a tuxedo named Frank (Greg Kinnear) desperately seeks his help in hopes of allowing his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) the best chance possible to move on with the rest of her life. In the process, Bertram’s amicable feelings for Gwen transform into something else.

In order for a film like “Ghost Town” to succeed, it needs a knockout performance from its leading man. The good news is that Ricky Gervais more than delivers. Gervais, known to most Americans from the British version of “The Office,” is absolutely hysterical as Pincus, a man we love to hate who eventually transforms into someone we can’t help but adore. He mixes in a great bit of his trademark sarcasm, but even more importantly, there’s enough emotionality to his work that we really feel for him during the film’s more depressing moments. This isn’t like a Jim Carrey flick where we’re waiting for the sappy portions to end—the sadder portion of the plot is good enough here to bring audience to tears. The supporting cast also makes the story move along wonderfully thanks to Leoni, Billy Campbell and Greg Kinnear, who really is spot-on as a dead guy with his own bizarre motivations for haunting the earth. The picture is directed with class by David Koepp, an exceptionally popular screenwriter taking one of his few turns in the director’s chair.

If there is any flaw to the film at all, it’s that the editing isn’t always spot-on and the music is occasionally repetitive. However, this isn’t a low-budget film and that is one of the reasons I love it. “Ghost Town” is a joy to watch, and while it may not be the most popular ticket at the local theater, I’m betting it to be one of the best.

“Ghost Town” opened Sept. 19. Starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni. Directed by David Koepp. Runs 102 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.

Movie Review: “Ghost Town” Should Stay Dead

September 30, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Christy Vutam
cvutam@smu.edu

“Ghost Town”
C+

There are several interesting nuances in “Ghost Town” that keep the movie afloat, but there aren’t enough of them to justify spending the going rate of a movie ticket price on it. In fact, there are enough stupid moments in the movie that almost made me give up on the movie completely, and only the talent of Ricky Gervais saved the movie from being a complete bust.

“Ghost Town” has a terrific premise: Bertram Pinus (Gervais), a most unpleasant man, sees ghosts after dying for a few minutes during an operation. Ghosts, it turns out, stay on earth because they have unfinished business to take care of. Ghosts all over New York start following Bertram around, asking him to help them get to their real designated afterlife.

Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) is more persistent than the others, and he ropes Bertram into stopping his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni), from remarrying a man he doesn’t think is right for her. This movie being a romantic comedy, Bertram suddenly and naturally decides that he needs to get in on this (probably) one last stab at love and companionship. Of course, he casts himself as the man to break up Gwen’s engagement.

My biggest problem with this romantic comedy is the romantic part. Bertram is such an unlikable man – he won’t hold elevators; he steals cabs from other people; and he’s a dentist to avoid human interaction (because most of the time, his patients can’t speak to him) – at the beginning of the film that I don’t buy how anyone who was the victim of his unpleasantness would fall for him over the course of the movie, which seems to only span a few days.

In fact, now that I’m working the movie out on paper, I’ve come to realize this movie follows the “women like men who treat them badly” methodology of men/women relationships. Gwen, a beautiful, smart, well-to-do woman, is only attracted to men who don’t treat her right or are wrong for her. Of course, she is!

Great, now I really don’t like “Ghost Town.” If only the film had stuck to its comedy parts…oh, wait. The humor in the film is dumb and unworthy of anyone’s time, especially not of an actor with as much comedic prestigious as Gervais. The Indian/torture “joke” was a torture in and of itself.

What co-writers John Kamps and David Koepp, who also directed the movie, should have concentrated on was the seeing ghost aspect. What they’ve seem to deem as throwaway jokes and as a means to an arc for Pincus should have been the main focus of the movie. Some of the film’s best moments come from the two’s enchanting ideas on ghosts and Bertram’s interactions with the apparitions.

I’d recommend “Ghost Town” as a future rental and to save your money on something better. The movie and all of its tricks (and aside from its misogynist tones) are worthy of at least a rental but nothing more expensive than that.

“Ghost Town” opened Sept. 19. Starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni. Directed by David Koepp. Runs 102 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.

Movie Review: “The Duchess” Rules

September 30, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Christy Vutam
cvutam@smu.edu

“The Duchess”
A-

“The Duchess” is a beautiful movie to look at, which is good, because it has a hard story to tell.

Based on Amanda Foreman’s best-selling biography, the movie depicts the brilliant but unhappy life of the 18th century English aristocrat Georgiana Spencer (Keira Knightley). In 1774, she married the older, distant William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.

A century removed from women’s suffrage, Georgiana was a woman ahead of her time. She was an active political campaigner, a celebrated beauty and a socialite.

Part of the intended experience comes from watching the movie in the 21st century. In fact, the movie’s dialogue is keen to point out the injustice that people today would certainly call injustice, which begs the question: were people aware of such injustice, or did they accept it as a part of their lot in life?

At any rate, it’s hard to fathom how a woman who was obviously influential be dominated and abused, and it’s even harder to imagine men and women all standing idly by while a woman is screaming out for help in her own house.

For all of her celebrity and charisma, Georgiana was a prisoner in her own home. The juxtaposition of her power and helplessness amid director Saul Dibb’s splendidly lavish settings makes for great cinema.

Interestingly, the movie puts forth observations as to why women were limited for so long, all playing on the aspect of women as the weaker gender. There’s the general physicality difference, which becomes a plot point in the movie. There’s also the idea that women can be manipulated by men because of their attachment to their children.

Is Georgiana a weaker human being because she chooses her children over a chance at real love and general happiness? Are men, in turn, stronger because they’re more heartless than women are?

Well, one man is heartless, anyway – the ultra-powerful 5th Duke of Devonshire. The man appears to have only one thing on his mind – producing a son. However, Ralph Fiennes plays the Duke as a smart, calculated man who doesn’t need to appease anyone to get what he wants and knows it. There’s a level of evilness lurking in such a person; the Duke knows what’s right and wrong, but none of it matters to him since he makes the rules.

Knightley does a fine job as the strong-willed, celebrated Georgina, but was there ever any question? She has more presence in her pinkie than most of the current crop of female starlets have in their entire bodies.

Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey doesn’t have much to do other than be the good-looking symbol of happiness for Georgiana. Those moved to google “The Duchess’s” subject matter will quickly find out Grey wasn’t the obvious angel he’s made out to be in the movie.

But one has to keep coming back to the movie’s technical excellence. Dibb in his direction, Rachel Portman in her choices of music, Gyula Pados in his cinematography and Masahiro Hirakubo in his film editing all come together to put on a master class in how to make an exquisite epic. Thank goodness, they have a story worthy of their talents.

“The Duchess” opened Sept. 26. Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling and Dominic Cooper. Directed by Saul Dibb. Runs 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material.

Movie Reviews: “Choke” Strangles its own Audience

September 29, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Matt Carter
mscarter@smu.edu

“Choke”
Grade: C+

Clark Gregg’s “Choke” is one of the few movies I’ve seen that manages to confuse me even after I’ve watched and read about it. What exactly happens over the course of this film? I can’t exactly say precisely. It is relatively funny, and those willing to look past all of its flaws may find something to like here. It’s a spot-on adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk book of the same name, but this is really a film that most people will love or hate. I guess I’m not most people since I find it rather average as a whole.

The movie itself is about Victor (Sam Rockwell), a sex addict who regularly attends meetings and works on the side at a ridiculous 18th-century-themed park for children. The man’s life is based on a number of complicated relationships, from that of his dying mom (Anjelica Huston) to his sex-addicted best friend Denny (Brad Henke) to even that of the doctors and patients at the local nursing home. One of them, Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), soon becomes the target of Victor’s affections, and his life starts to take a turn towards morality. However, all the while you have to remember this story was written by the same guy as “Fight Club,” so if you think you know where the plot is going you’re liable to be surprised.

One thing I will say to “Choke’s” credit is that it never ceases to provide some funny moments. Rockwell is great at playing up his character’s manic tendencies, and the scenes involving sex intervention alongside working as a peasant during the American Revolution are some of the most creative pieces of film I’ve seen in a long time. The problem is just that there’s three different movies wedged into one here—a coming-of-age tale, a slapstick comedy, and a family drama—and they don’t mesh as well as you’d like them to. The frequent flashbacks to Victor’s childhood are ineffective and rather useless at times for progressing the plot, and the same could be said for some of the scenes involving the senior citizens at the hospital. It’s almost as if the director tried to throw as much in as possible in hopes viewers would grasp hold of something.

Then there’s of course the element of choking, which Victor initially starts to do at restaurants in hopes of conning the poor suckers willing to save them. I understand why he does it (as a plot for attention), but the repetition of the act doesn’t make it gel any better into the film. The misuse of time early in the film ruins the end in a sense, as well. The twists are in fact rather unpredictable, but there’s nothing that really ever makes us as viewers want to root for Victor. Maybe that’s the point, that not all characters are going to change over the course of a 90-minute film. I just wish some of the story’s loose ends were tied together better.

It should also be noted that “Choke” is incredibly liberated in terms of its allusions to sexual practices and is a very strong R. People who are easily offended should just not even bother. I’m not easily offended and some of the sexual portions of the movie even made me uncomfortable. “Choke” is a new idea and I fully respect it for that, but this movie was just a little too much of a mess for me to give it a strong recommendation. It has a ton of great, memorable scenes, but without the glue to tie it together I can’t see this working for many audiences.

“Choke” opened Sept. 26. Starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, and Brad Henke. Directed by Clark Gregg. Rated R (language, graphic sex, nudity). 92 minutes.

Movie Review: “America the Beautiful”

September 23, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Read more

Next Page »