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.

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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.

Daybreakers review

Director:
Michael Spierig
Peter Spierig
Cast:
Ethan Hawke
Sam Neill
Willem Dafoe
Rated: R

Vampire fans should certainly be pleased with this new film.

In this alternate reality, the majority of Earth’s population have become vampires and because of the subsequent immortality, the world seems to be at a state of peace.

However, as the events of the film pick up, it’s revealed that the human population has dwindled so much that vampires are running out of blood. For this reason, a government employee named Edward Dalton, played by Ethan Hawke, is curious for a solution, but his search leads him to more unexpected discoveries.

Anytime a movie comes along with a new take on an old idea and does so with solid execution, it deserves credit. “Daybreakers” is one of those cases. Unlike other vampire films, even ones where the creatures have a society, they rarely appear like this where the majority of the planet are vampires and try to be as civilized as possible.

By going with this idea, the filmmakers are able to create an interesting scenario, where humans are now able to be immortal and live safe lives, but are also left with a frightening reality that they still have to survive on blood.

Another aspect aiding “Daybreakers” is the social commentary in the film, as the weakening blood supply is a metaphor for the world’s finite oil resources.

These ideas, tied in with an interesting story of governmental/corporate conspiracies and search for the truth by the lead character make for very compelling sci-fi/horror cinema.

Helping to deliver these aspects on screen were some nice performances. First and foremost, Ethan Hawke’s character is one of the more reluctant vampires out there who doesn’t believe what he’s doing is right. Hawke nails this element to his character, making him much easier to empathize with.

The one stealing much of the show, though, was Willem Dafoe, who brings all sorts of energy and charisma to the screen. Dafoe portrays his character’s desperation, frustration and want for the world to change very well, making the film all the more engaging.

Action and gore fans should be able to enjoy this flick, too, as there is plenty of excitement, thrills and chills to go around.

Overall, “Daybreakers” is a memorable film that takes chances and has some payoffs for doing so. While the movie did have a couple slow moments here and there, this was mostly good flick. 4 out of 5.

The Book of Eli review

Director:
Albert Hughes
Allen Hughes
Cast:
Denzel Washington
Gary Oldman
Mila Kunis
Ray Stevenson
Rated: R

January isn’t usually a month with the best theatrical releases, so it’s always great seeing one that bucks the trend.

“The Book of Eli” follows the titular character played by Washington. Taking place in a post apocalyptic world, Eli is a wandering warrior trying to go out west and deliver a book. Along the way, he has to avoid and fight off groups of other survivors.

As the film goes on, Eli gets into a small town run by a man named Carnegie (Oldman). Carnegie seems to want to partner with Eli at first, but the two eventually enter a conflict as Eli is unwilling to relinquish a prized possession.

“The Book of Eli” fantastically brings western and samurai story aspects into a sci-fi setting, ultimately making an exciting and fresh action picture. There’s the ‘man with no name’ type character, a wandering fighter just passing through a small town with a corrupt leader, it’s simply classic.

The movie also brings up the topic of religion and how different people view it and interperat its use in society. This is mainly seen through the characters Eli and Carnegie and their opposing sides on how to use religion and it adds another layer to the film overall. This isn’t to say the movie is an overbearing religious picture, though, because it’s far from it. The aspect of religion here is used as point to push the plot forward, rather than to convince an audience of something.

This film likely wouldn’t have worked as well as it did, though, if it wasn’t for the performances. Fortunately, the film features Washington who gives a solid performance. While it’s not up there with some of his award worthy material, Washington still has a ton of screen presence, offering charisma, charm and a sense of righteousness to his character.

Oldman was also fantastic as the villain Carnegie, providing a perfect opponent to Eli. In this future, Eli and Carnegie are two of the older survivors and they both have a higher intellect than those around them, but they disagree on a number of matters. Oldman really sells this character, who on the surface seems like a civilized business man but is far more deadly and corrupt.

Another fantastic aspect to the movie is the action. As previously stated, the movie takes elements from western and samurai films, and this includes the combat. Eli both fights with a big machete that’s practically a sword and he also has some exciting shootouts.

“The Book of Eli” is a really strong, exciting action film that pays homage to multiple genres and is raised up more by its veteran actors. 4 out of 5.

From Paris with Love review

Director:
Pierre Morel
Cast:
John Travolta
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Kasia Smutniak
Richard Durden
Rated: R

John Travolta characters sure love to swear these days, first “Taking of Pelham 123” and now this.

“With Love” follows the character James Reese (Meyers), an intelligence agent who’s about to step up with a promotion as he works in France. As this is happening, Reese is partnered with another agent named Charlie Wax.

Despite Reese having reservations about Wax for his peculiar methods, the two partner their way through their mission to stop a terrorist attack.

The movie starts off a bit slowly, but that ends real quick the second Travolta shows up. When he comes on screen, the film becomes an over the top collection of total schlock, and it’s a lot of fun. From start to finish, the film features in-your-face action and also delivers a sufficient amount of humor. Additionally, the movie even throws in some twists and turns.

Much of what makes the film work is Travolta, who completely steals the show just by how much he chews the scenery. In a more serious picture, this would be a detriment, but Travolta’s wild performance fits well in this b-movie grade buddy picture.

Credit does have to go to Meyers, though, who plays the more by the books character, but doesn’t do so in a way that’s annoying or condescending to Travolta’s character.

The action was really spectacular, with much of it being intense and well shot. From the hand to hand combat to a great chase scene, “From Paris with Love” puts a lot of exciting stuff on screen.

This is a film that a person doesn’t need to take too seriously and just have fun with. The action is solid and Travolta’s performance gives the picture so much energy. For being one of the most fun movies so far this year, it gets a 4 out of 5.

Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief review

Director:
Chris Columbus
Cast:
Logan Lerman
Brandon T. Jackson
Alexandra Daddario
Jake Abel
Sean Bean
Rated: PG

We have another Harry Potter copy cat here.

This picture follows the title character who’s played by Logan Lerman. At the start, Percy seems to jut be an average kid who’s living day to day life. However, this soon changes when he’s thrust into a world of gods and monsters.

While this partially happens because of his heritage as Poseidon’s son, it also is caused because he’s wrongly accused of stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt.

The pacing in this film was just way too fast, especially regarding the world building. Things that should take more time to develop or rushed over a matter of minutes. This applies to both introducing audiences to a new fantasy setting as well as developing the characters.

Because of that, it’s not a surprise that the characters featured are quite dull. Percy, for example, is a generic fish out of water type protagonist offering no real personality to the screen. Because of the quick pacing, Percy also goes from just a regular kid to fairly skilled warrior way too quickly.

What’s worse, though, is Percy’s proverbial sidekick, Grover. The character is completely useless, with his only traits being to whine, complain and run away. His friendship with Percy seems very forced, too, in comparison to Ron and Harry’s from the Potter series for example.

The only character who offered much excitement was Hades, who was played by Steve Coogan. What worked about this was Coogan bringing a lot of life and charisma to the screen and having a lot of fun with the role. The character’s screentime was limited, though.

The special effects were a bit hit and miss. Zeus’ lightning bolt, for example, looked great, but some of the creatures were rather fake.

Maybe the books were better, but the film versions of “Percy Jackson” have very little charm or wit. Overall, it’s a 1 out of 5.

Cop Out review

Director:
Kevin Smith
Cast:
Bruce Willis
Tracy Morgan
Juan Carlos Hernández
Cory Fernandez
Rated: R

It’s early, but this will likely end up on the worst of the year list.

The movie follow’s two New York City police officers named Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan). Toward the beginning of the movie we find that Jimmy is trying to sell a prized baseball card to pay for his daughter’s wedding but it ends up getting stolen.

To get it back, he makes a deal with a rising drug lord which leads him and his partner into an even bigger case that neither expected.

The story featured in “Cop Out” lacks any sense of cohesiveness to the point where it seemed like the film was made up as it went along. The film just kept running on random encounters without a solid direction. When it gets to the half way point, a lot of people will probably be asking ‘where is this movie going?’

In terms of comedy, the film has nothing but references to other action-comedies that are actually explained to the audience. This is a major step down to, say, “Hot Fuzz,” which actually made satire toward the genre in a subtle, but way more humorous manner.

So right form the get go I knew this film was going to be painful since the first scene the movie not only had bad impressions done by Morgan that were so over the top that they weren’t even funny, but it also decided to act like we were to stupid to know where they were from since Willis seemed to have to explain all the impressions to us. And the rest of the movie is pretty much like that.

It also didn’t help that the two lead characters had zero chemistry on screen. The film tries to make us believe that these two have been partners for nine years, but they come off as like they can’t stand each other, which is likely due to the actors not having any presentable camaraderie through there performance.

Speaking of performance, all Morgan does for humor is talk loudly and Willis is just brooding through more lighthearted situations. There’s very little substance.

“Cop Out” fails on both action and comedy and it’s a surprising turn away from more fresh material that Director Kevin Smith usually delivers. This is a 1 out of 5.