Somewhere review

As the dust settled after the Fargo Film Festival that took place at the Fargo Theatre, I went to take a look at one of the independent films screening at the historic theater downtown.

The film I experienced was “Somewhere,” written and directed by Sofia Coppola who also helmed the 2003 film “Lost in Translation.” “Somewhere” seemed to be technically sound, but unfortunately, is flawed underneath.

“Somewhere” follows the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a B-list actor who seems to be living day to day without any real direction. When he’s not at work he’s driving around in his sports car or partying. The only real escape Johnny has from this life is his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), who he gets to see now and then. However, when Cleo’s mother has to leave for an unknown amount of time, Johnny is forced to take Cleo for longer than usual.

Unfortunately, Coppola was not able to create a very interesting story like she was able to in “Lost in Translation.” The problem with “Somewhere” is that its story never has any real conflict going on. In most films where a parent has to take more responsibilities with a child, the conflict is usually the parent having to build or rebuild trust with that child.

However in this film that doesn’t really exist; Cleo and Johnny have a good relationship. Meanwhile, even the plot about how Johnny parties too much is a bit underplayed.

This really leads to the film being rather dull. It seemed like throughout the entire film I was waiting for the story to begin but it doesn’t. It’s just one scene after another that doesn’t really build to anything.

It is still like this when Johnny takes over watching over Cleo; nothing major happens to get the audience invested in these characters. Now the purpose of the film was mainly just to show how empty one’s life can be, but even that point just took too long to develop.

The one thing that really works for this movie though is the father-daughter relationship between Johnny and Cleo. It is very believable and it seemed that Dorff and Fanning had good onscreen chemistry while filming. There are many charming moments between the two, especially in the second half of the film. This does help to make the movie go by better.

Steven Dorff, did all right in the role he was given. He didn’t have much dialogue but his subtle performance was fairly likable. I didn’t really feel that the film fully gave us a good look into what goes through his character’s mind, though, despite the whole story revolving around mostly him.

Elle Fanning did do an amazing job, having already been in a big budget Academy Award film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” she felt really natural in the role. I felt that she really has a future like her older sister, Dakota Fanning, and I look forward to seeing her in this year’s upcoming film, “Super 8.”

Technically, the movie is solid. Coppola is knowledgeable behind the camera and does have some good moments. However, there are many times when she holds a shot way too long. The opening shot of the film holds for nearly three minutes; it overstayed its welcome in a way. Not that these shots are bad, they just go on more than they needed to. The score is also OK. It wasn’t perfect, but it had its moments.

“Somewhere” fairly average, especially since the story isn’t really that compelling. These moments between the two lead character could have worked as a short film, though. The two character certainly are charming enough. Overall, though, the movie is a bit forgettable. 2 out of 5.

This review was first published in Minnesota State University’s student blog Doing it Downtown, covering the downtown areas of Moorhead, Minn. and Fargo, N.D.


The Company Men review

With public anger over the financial meltdown of 2008 directed at corporate executives, it may seem unfeasible to create a movie that makes an audience feel sorry for them.

However, “The Company Men” manages to pull it off

The film follows the story of three men working for a large company. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a man waiting on a promotion and raising a family, Gene McCarly (Tommy Lee Jones), a supervisor trying to keep his workers employed in the middle of the recession and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who’s working under Gene and is worried about the economic turmoil.

When the company begins downsizing, Bobby is immediately let go and has to begin his search for a new job. Meanwhile Gene tries to have integrity and defend the workingman in a business that is becoming more and more about the stockholders and Phil is kept on edge as more and more people around him are fired.

“The Company Men” is engaging and emotional right from the start. The film balances what it’s like to be in a competitive job market whether you’re young or old and how people of integrity are becoming the old guard at many companies that are only concerned with how to make a bigger profit.

The pacing is fantastic. The film wonderfully takes its time exploring the story yet also captures the fast moving world of finances. It also balances the story of the three men very well. The audience has time to become attached to all of the characters that deal with their individual trials.

Audience members can relate to these characters, too. Bobby represents what it’s like to be a person looking for a job with little success while knowing that people are depending on him, Phil shows how scary it can be for older people to enter an evolving job market and Gene shows what it’s like to be an executive who is at odds with his peers.

It was great to see these plot threads each get their own time while also intersecting. The recent film “Hereafter,” directed by Clint Eastwood, shows how following three characters in a film can go wrong. “The Company Men” shows how it can get it right.

I didn’t have a quarrel with any single performance in this film. Ben Affleck has been building a great streak lately with his other recent film “The Town” and now this.

Watching the film an audience can really see how far Affleck has come. In the ‘90s, Affleck was an actor who you would see in a role, but would still see Affleck instead of the character. That has completely disappeared with Affleck really getting into the character and showing a lot of emotion.

The one who really steals the show, though, is Tommy Lee Jones who was absolutely brilliant in the picture. This is probably one of Jones’ best performances and can be held up with his work in “No Country for Old Men” and “The Fugitive.”

Chris Cooper is strong as well; playing a very sad role. The emotion comes through heavily and he made the character very easy to get invested in. Kevin Costner was also in the film as Affleck’s brother-in-law, however the role is not that large. Despite this, the performance is well done and he lends some emotional weight.

One of the only flaws that make it difficult for people to enjoy is the luxurious lifestyle that these people were living before the recession hit. All the characters in this film own nice cars, beautiful homes upwards of $800,000, and memberships at fancy golf courses.

This at times does make it difficult to feel sorry for the characters when you think of some of the irresponsible spending that these characters were doing. Fortunately, this is largely avenged when we get deeper into the minds of these characters and they begin to show their true colors.

Overall, “The Company Men” is a very good film. The ensemble is incredibly powerful and can keep the audience invested throughout the entire picture. Despite my small flaws with the characters at times, I still believe that they were well done. 4 out of 5.

This review was first published in Minnesota State University’s student blog Doing it Downtown, covering the downtown areas of Moorhead, Minn. and Fargo, N.D.

Babylon A.D. review

Vin Diesel
Michelle Yeoh
Mélanie Thierry

Vin Diesel is back, it’s just a shame his latest picture doesn’t make much sense.

In this sci-fi flick, Diesel plays Toorop, a battle-hardened mercenary who is hired to protect a young woman who’s traveling across the world from Russia to the United States.

What makes this incredibly difficult for the heroes, though, is that the world is in a poor state. The planet appears to be mostly slums because of overpopulation and constant wars.

The premise of “Babylon” could have worked just fine had it been more streamlined. Diesel playing an experienced warrior helping somebody get from point A to point B safely in a not-quite post apocalyptic world could be an exciting sci-fi action picture.

However, the issue is that the movie both takes itself way too seriously and also provides a convoluted plot. Story points about a cult and a messiah along with poorly explained powers and a sloppy ending make for a movie that’s extremely hard to follow without any sort of heart.

Another issue is how it handles Diesel’s character. In other films, such as “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx,” Diesel doesn’t provide great performances, per se, but he does have a great bit of charm and those films played with that by having his characters have some wit and cleverness along with his toughness.

In “Babylon,” Diesel’s character is terribly bland and overly serious. The writing for his character feels so constrictive and Diesel is unable to deliver some charisma. Another problem was the woman he protects, played by Mélanie Thierry, seems under developed and the two performers have little chemistry.

Also rather dull here was the action. Despite being a sci-fi, the film doesn’t offer anything really innovative, settling instead for fairly typical combat sequences. The nicest part of the picture is that it includes some well designed city settings.

Sadly, “Babylon A.D.” is a largely forgettable picture. The characters are poor, the acting is bland, the action is lame and the story lacks sense. 1 out of 5.

Death Race review

Jason Statham
Joan Allen
Ian McShane
Tyrese Gibson
Natalie Martinez

Cars that shoot other cars. How could you go wrong?

“Death Race” is mainly centered on the character Jensen Ames, a blue collar factory worker trying to support his family in a depression after getting famous as a NASCAR racer. He is framed for murdering his wife, though, and sent to a prison to compete in Death Race.

The event is a wild tournament where prisoners are sanctioned to use weaponized cars in a race. If the prisoners win enough times, they get to go free. Jensen is hesitant at first but decides to take the opportunity to get out.

“Death Race” is classic exploitation cinema. Similar to last year’s “Grindhouse” double feature which included “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror,” “Death Race” opts to sell itself on extreme violence, over the top action and some campy acting. Fortunately for audiences, the filmmakers nailed their attempt.

The movie simply delivers a barrel of fun, with the car chases being fast, furious, gritty and exciting. The movie manages to up the stakes in the races, too, for example adding a weaponized semi truck later in the picture.

The acting in “Death Race” is also serviceable. It’s nothing masterful, but there’s a hammyness in the delivery that actually works here. Statham, for example is the grizzled wrongly accused prisoner who’s tough but still has a good heart, and he gets the role right.

Joan Allen, meanwhile, has a lot of fun with her role as the civil but nefarious warden who helped frame Statham’s character. Who really helps the movie out, though, is Ian McShane, who is perfect as the movie’s experienced mentor to Statham’s character.

A bit forgettable, though, was Tyrese Gibson. His character ranged from loud and brash to quiet and cold and Gibson couldn’t seem to find a balance.

Additionally, the plot is paper thin, providing nothing but a string to connect each race. The rest of the cast is below average, too.

The film isn’t by technical terms, a good movie, but it is a fun picture that one can enjoy for its action sequences. Very high 3 out of 5.

Righteous Kill review

Righteous Kill
Al Pacino
Robert De Niro
50 Cent

Two of Hollywood’s best star in a movie that’s unfortunately quite mediocre.

Both Pacino and De Niro play New York City Police Detectives who’ve gained plenty of experience in their jobs.

A new case comes up that challenges the officers, though, in a serial killer who’s murdering other criminals in the Big Apple. After some research, the two conclude that the suspect must be a cop, and the result is some friction with the force.

“Righteous Kill” is an average at best cop drama held up only by its two leading stars. The movie delivers hardly any substance or style, with both the story and visuals lacking in any sort of depth. It’s just the prototypical murder mystery in a city setting that offers no flare.

Along with rather weak writing, the picture features a mystery that’s all to easy to solve. By the end of the first act, the picture produces enough easy to spot clues that can lead a person to figure out who the culprit is.

With all that said, though, it’s still great to see De Niro and Pacino on screen together. As previously stated, these two are the glue holding this together and they show that they still have some solid acting talent. The chemistry between the two makes for a believable cop partnership, too.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t particularly deliver. The rapper 50 Cent for example, is horribly miscast.

“Kill” is your average crime drama and offers nothing particularly new to the genre. If not for its two lead stars, this would have been bargain bin material. 2 out of 5.

Eagle Eye review

Shia LaBeouf
Michelle Monaghan
Rosario Dawson
Billy Bob Thornton

“Eagle Eye,” also known as Big Brother is watching you.

This spy-like thriller follows the character Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf), an everyman whose brother happens to work in the military.

Because of his connection, Jerry ends up getting sucked into a violent, dangerous mission by a government operative to stop some type of attack.

“Eagle Eye” starts off well enough. It has a good set up, the pace is quick and there’s some exciting moments. However, as the film tries to intensify the dangers, it starts to become more and more implausible.

Now, there’s always the option of suspension disbelief, but it has to make sense in the movie’s world. Here, the movie sets itself up as a realistic thriller, but breaks these rules with unreal events, especially the absurd twist that happens in the third act.

The movie’s action is also a bit generic here and there, resulting in the film running out of steam. It’s a real big problem, too, when this action picture runs a full two hours. There’s also the issue of the picture trying to have a satire on today’s surveillance, but this aspect really crashes because of the plot twist.

It’s a shame, too, since the movie features some solid performances from both LaBeouf and Billy Bob Thorton. The supporting cast is pretty good in the movie, too, making for a well rounded film in terms of its acting.

Had the plot twist later in the film not been so ridiculous and with a better script, “Eagle Eye” could have been a more watchable thriller. However, its problems drag it down to a rental level flick. 2 out of 5.

The Express review

Rob Brown
Dennis Quaid
Darrin Dewitt Henson
Omar Benson Miller
Nelsan Ellis
Charles S. Dutton

As a major college football fan, I was hoping for a little more to this picture.

“The Express” tells the story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), a star running back for Syracuse University who went on to be the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

The film follows his youth, recruitment and eventual exploits on the gridiron, in which he also has to deal with racism in some parts of the country.

The unfortunate thing about “The Express” is just how downright formulaic it is. The film is simply cliche ridden from start to finish, for example, the classic harsh coach and the starry eyed dreamer of an athlete are both featured here.

That’s not to say there’s no inspiration or excitement portrayed here. The movie does include some emotional scenes here and there, but there are large portions of this picture that don’t feel as genuine.

The movie also criminally under-develops a major event in the third act that had dire consequences for the story’s protagonist.

At the very least, the movie did feature some OK performances. Dennis Quaid made a natural fit as the grizzled coach and Brown played the optimistic football player well. It just felt like their characters could have been given the depth they had in real life.

Sadly, this great story made into a mediocre film will likely be forgotten rather quickly. 2 out of 5.