Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Greensberg" Movie Review

Greenberg (R ) is writer/ director Noah Baumbach's lasted indie drama. Ben Stiller stars as the title character who is just coming off of a mid-life crisis mental breakdown. With a change of scenery in mind, Stiller's Greenberg moves from New York City to LA to house-sit his brother's house and consequently starts to establish a relationship with his brother's personal assistant (Greta Gerwig).

Ryan: With a less than stellar slate of spring films, Greenberg is the diamond in the rough. For those looking for a substantive alternative to most of the mindless films jamming up the local cineplexes, Greenberg is definitely worth checking out. It's a solid movie. With noteworthy performances by the two leads and a relevant screenplay, Greenberg is the type of indie drama that's not only entertaining to watch but that also leaves a lasting impression.

Andy: Most people have not heard of the movie Greenberg, and it is not playing on very many screens, but in many ways it is the ideal spring film. Very soon the studios are going to start rolling out their big-budget shots at the title of summer hit (it starts in April now!), but the springtime is reserved for smaller, usually much lower quality films. Writer / director Noah Baumbach takes all the key elements of indie cinema and reminds us why the formula works, creating a movie that is funny, sad, awkward, and charming all at once.

Ryan: It should be pointed out, as a lot has been made of this fact, that this isn't the typical Ben Stiller part. Make no mistake about it, this is a dramatic role. But contrary to popular thought, Stiller has been effective in some non-comedic roles. From Reality Bits to Zero Effect and Permanent Midnight, Stiller has demonstrated that he can handle more “serious” work. But with all that said, there's no question that Stiller's performance in Greenberg is hands down his best dramatic work (he makes an unlikable character likable) and enhances his repertoire as an actor.

Andy: Stiller is simply outstanding in this film. He takes a character who is defined by his selfishness and inability to think of others and somehow makes him likable enough to support a love story. This is a difficult role to play, and Stiller pulls it off without a single misstep. His characters is only funny when he’s trying not to be, a departure for what most people expect of Stiller, but he shows that he has the chops to pursue serious rolls if he wants them. Of course, he’s unlikely to see a big payday from doing work like this, but it’s still good to know he can do it.

Ryan: Not to be outdone by Stiller's performance is that of Greta Gerwig's. Gerwig is a relative newcomer so I would classify her part as a breakthrough performance. What's remarkable about her performance is how unconventional it is. I don't use that term unconventional to mean quirky and weird. More to the point her performance is unconventional in how good she is in the film. Compared to other standard dramatic leads by more seasoned actresses, Gerwig's performance in the film shows an authenticity that is lacking from standard Hollywood fare produced by her contemporaries. I hope this performance is not forgotten when award season comes around.

Andy: I would agree with that assessment completely. Gerwig never seems like a character in a movie; she seems real. When she makes decisions that make her life more complicated, we feel bad for her because of how valid it is for her character to make those decisions. A performance this accurate and nuanced will surly gain her enough notice that we will see her showing up in more and more films over the next couple of years.

Greenberg is a charming indie drama that works well from start to finish. Final grade: B+.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Philadelphia Story" Move Review

In this column we almost exclusively concentrate on new releases in the theater. But the cinematic experience does not have to be limited to new releases.

The Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, IN on a bi-monthly basis, shows classic films on the weekend. This past Saturday they showed one of the greatest films of all time, The Philadelphia Story (1940). We thought this would be a good time to highlight a film that modern audiences might not be completely familiar with.

In The Philadelphia Story, Katherine Hepburn stars as a rich socialite on the eve of her second marriage. Her ex (Cary Grant) shows up unannounced with a magazine writer (James Stewart) and photographer (Ruth Hussey). Needless-to-say the weekend does not go as planned.

Ryan: The mantra, they don't make' em like they used to, gets thrown around a lot. I even use it myself even though I don't totally agree with it all the time. But when it comes to romantic comedies it's completely justified. The romantic comedy genre is a breeding ground of mediocrity in today’s Hollywood so it's completely refreshing to watch a film that best capitulates how good a romantic comedy can be. The Philadelphia Story has a lot going for it (obviously) but one of the most remarkable things about the film is its timelessness. The movie is seventy years old but resonates in a more believable manner than most contemporary love stories.

Andy: It’s hard not to talk about the cast when thinking of The Philadelphia Story. A few years back, the American Film Institute counted down the top stars of all time. Grant and Steward were both placed in the top 3 on the male side, while Katherine Hepburn was in the top spot on the female list. So this movie boasts three of the biggest stars ever, and they are all in top form. Add to the mix Academy Award nominee Ruth Hussey and a recognizable and talented supporting cast, and the movie is worth watching just to see the actors work. But there is so much more going on than just those amazing performances that makes The Philadelphia Story one of the best movies ever made.

Ryan: From the impeccable screenplay to the polished direction, The Philadelphia Story is the very definition of a classic golden age Hollywood production. But there's no doubt that the definitive highlight of the film are performances by the three leads. Here's a film with three of the greatest film stars of all time delivering arguable their best most well-rounded performances. It's not each one's most famous performance. But the interaction and interplay between Hepburn, Grant and Stewart is iconic and that's what makes the movie so memorable and completely watchable to this day.

Andy: The Philadelphia Story is based on a play by the same name, and is generally credited with reviving Katherine Hepburn’s floundering career. The script is expertly written, with the complexity of the relationships building and building until the deadline of the impending wedding finally arrives. The Philadelphia Story is instantly likeable, but it somehow gets better and better over the course of its 112 minutes.

The Philadelphia Story is probably as close to perfect as a romantic comedy can get, earning it an A+.

For those that want a break from current new releases or for those that just want to enjoy a classic movie on the big screen, the Artcraft's schedule can be viewed at their website,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Alice in Wonderland" Movie Review

Tim Burton's latest cinematic endeavor is Alice in Wonderland (PG-13). Inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic tales, Burton's Alice centers on a teenage Alice (Mia Wasikowska) that falls down the rabbit hole. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover costar in the film.

Andy: Time Burton has the distinction of being one of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood who rare makes a great movie. I really enjoyed Big Fish, but that was all the way back in 2003. And before that I’d have to go back to 1996’s Mars Attacks to find something truly interesting in his catalogue. Alice in Wonderland continues with the trend of Burton’s underperforming. It’s okay, but there is nothing particularly exciting about this movie.

Ryan: Tim Burton adapting Alice in Wonderland, in theory, seems like a good idea. The fantastical elements of the story would seem to fit the quirky imagination of Burton's cinematic sensibility. For the first twenty or so minutes Burton did a solid job of sitting up the situation of a more adult Alice rebelling against her Victorian environment. But once in Wonderland the movie becomes one giant bore. I realize that calling the movie boring is not cutting edge criticism but the bottom line is that the movie fails to generate any thrills whatsoever.

Andy: Considering the fact that it is taking place in “Wonderland,” and things are supposed to be getting curiouser and curiouser, I think I it is fair to call this movie boring. Even in 3D it lacked the edge that you would expect the Tim Burton adaptation of an already surreal piece of literature to be. I’ve claimed in the past that Burton’s movies have started to feel like what someone would expect a Tim Burton movie to be, and there is certainly something stale and lacking that lingers over much of this film.

Ryan: In a lot of ways—through no fault of its own—Alice in Wonderland is a victim of its own historical significance. In the past several years the cinematic landscape has been dominated by fantasy films involving a child (or young adult) who discovers a world within a world and in some capacity ends up saving it. While I respect Burton for wanting to take the movie in a different direction the result bares out that he was unable to produce a film that's any different from the handful of movies that have been released in the past couple of years. Alice in Wonderland should not be presented in a generic fashion but that's what happened.

Andy: The performances were merely adequate for the talent involved. The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood, and they all seem to be doing an uninspired archetype of characters they’ve played in the past. Johnny Depp is pretty good, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen from him before. The relative newcomer in the group, Mia Wasikowska, does a pretty nice job in the title role, and the Cheshire cat was very entertaining. Beyond that, the execution of this movie falls short.

Ryan: The only noteworthy highlight of the film is Mia Wasikowska's performance of Alice. I'll concede that it's not a complete shout-out breakthrough performance but it was definitely strong enough to confidently say that she does have a bright future in Hollywood. In a film with very little personality Wasikowska delivers a performance worthy of the “Alice” character.

Alice in Wonderland fails to live up to expectations, earning a mediocre C.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"An Education" movie review

Nominated for three Academy Awards (including Best Picture), An Education (PG-13) tells the coming of age story of a teenage girl (Carey Mulligan) in early 1960’s England. The movie, based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, is directed by Lone Scherfig with a screenplay brought to life by British author, Nick Hornby. Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike costar in the film.

Andy: Writer Nick Hornby has never put his name on a movie that wasn’t good (High Fidelity, About a Boy), and while this isn’t the best movie he’s been associated with, it is easy to understand why it’s the first to earn him an Oscar nomination. An Education is a consistently engaging period piece, filled with characters that are realistic, entertaining, and flawed. Most impressive is that he’s taken a story line that should be entirely creepy (a man in his 30s courting a 16-year-old girl) and made it seem both plausible and almost acceptable.

Ryan: An Education is a solid film. With strong performances by the cast, including a breakthrough one by Mulligan and an insightful screenplay by Hornby, An Education soars above most movies of this variety. Although set around the suburbs of 1960’s London, the movie feels fresh with its strong characters that feel modern along with its examination of the timeless theme of young love.

Andy: The bottom line is that this movie doesn’t work without an authentic and charming performance from Carey Mulligan in the lead role. Aside from playing a teenager completely convincingly (Mulligan is 24), she carries the movie along, setting the tone of almost every scene. Her performance is well worth her Oscar nomination. She plays the character as an ordinary person, with subtlety and nuance and emotional depth. Unfortunately, the Academy doesn’t often go for subtlety and nuance, so she has little chance of winning the Oscar in spite of giving the most complete performance I saw from 2009.

Ryan: In a year of very few breakout performances it’s refreshing to see relative newcomer Carey Mulligan deliver a magnificent performance. Unfortunately her odds of winning are not good (actually 27-4) due to the Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep forces but in my book she should be the favorite. For whatever reason The Academy shies away from rewarding performances that they might deem “light.” But make no mistake, Mulligan excels in creating an authentic character that is beautiful, smart and impressionable that moviegoers can also relate to.

Andy: An Education is a very good movie, but it has a couple of noticeable flaws. As amazingly slick as Peter Sarsgaard’s performance is, Hornby sends him out of the picture with haste, and the entire ending feels a bit rushed. In many ways the hasty conclusion belittles the gravity of what has happened to Mulligan’s character, and makes it a little harder to take some of the repercussions of what transpires in the movie seriously. Perhaps director Lone Scherfig’s goal wasn’t to seem “important,” but it was an odd tone to strike at the end of an otherwise well executed movie.

Ryan: An Education didn’t garner any other acting nominations but it’s difficult to understand how Peter Sarsgaard was ignored. Sarsgaard is one of the best character actors of his generation and his performance in this film ranks as one of his best efforts. Sarsgaard's worldly portrayal is the perfect foil to the innocence of Mulligan's character and the success of the movie hinges on their interaction. Needless to say both of them rise to the occasion.

An Education is a very good movie with some worthy performances. Final grade: B+.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Movie Review "Crazy Heart"

Still catching up on the award bait from last year, this week we’re taking a look at the Jeff Bridges vehicle, Crazy Heart (R). In the film Bridges plays a washed-up country and western music star (Bad Blake) who’s trying to recapture the fame of his past. Maggie Gyllenhaal costars as an aspiring journalist who falls in love with the troubled balladeer. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall also costar in the film. Scott Cooper directs.

Ryan: Maybe it’s not completely fair but in some circles Crazy Heart is being sold as this year’s The Wrestler. Ultimately that’s a smart (The Wrestler was one of the best films of 2008) and accurate depiction (as it follows the template of that film of a “has-been” star trying to recapture fame while putting his life back together). But to me that’s where the similarities end. The Wrestler was a great film whereas Crazy Heart is simply a pretty good movie.

Andy: While certainly not as good as The Wrestler, Crazy Heart does work artistically in the same way that film did. It very convincingly shows Bridges’s Bad Blake as a decaying star on the verge of either an unlikely comeback or a predictable breakdown. There are two major differences here, with the first being that Blake is indeed bad. His character is much more despicable than The Wrestler, even if he does carry around a convincing amount of country charm. The second is that the focus on country music allows for some pretty solid old-style Nashville tunes, a significant advantage that makes up for some of the movie’s shortcomings.

Ryan: The biggest strength of the movie is the actual music used in the movie and the presentation of that music. There’s clearly an authenticity with regard to the music that enhances Crazy Heart. Not only do the actors (Bridges and Farrell) perform most of the music in the movie but the original songs in the film are smoothly integrated into the (fictional) story of Bad Blake. When it comes down to it, the theme song to Crazy Heart (written and performed by Ryan Bingham) will get nominated and probably (should) win an Oscar for Best Song.

Andy: Having solid original music is a must for a movie like this, and Crazy Heart does a great job. There are some country classics mixed in with the flawlessly executed originals, which were used with surprising restraint by director Scott Cooper. Ryan’s right about “Crazy Heart” being the obvious choice for the Oscar, but for my money “Fallin’ & Flyin’” is the essential track.

Ryan: Speaking of the Oscars, Jeff Bridges is a lock for an Oscar nod for Best Actor. He’s already won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award so consequently there’s no question that he’s the odds on favorite to win his first Oscar. While it’s hard to believe that Bridges has never won an Oscar, I found his performance good but not transcendent (although much of that could be attributed to the made-for-TV-esque material that he's working with). No question, Bridges looks, acts and sounds like a genuine country music singer and he delivers a noteworthy performance. I’m just not sold on him being the front-runner when looking at his competition (Clooney, Firth and Renner). Ultimately, it was a good performance that lifted the movie to above average. Final grade: C+.

Andy: I found Bridges performance to be the most convincing I’ve seen this year. He makes your root for a character that should be unlikable, and carries a bunch of great songs around with him for good measure. The film itself may not be a revelation, but it is well executed on just about every level. If this is made-for-TV movie material, then I should start watching more made-for-TV movies. Bridges, Gyllenhaal, the music, and the directing are all top notch, earning Crazy Heart a B+.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

MLB Lineup of the '90's

Last night on the MLB Network I was watching Prime 9. It’s a countdown show of various topics like—the best managers of all-time or the top clutch hitters of all-time. Needless to say I love watching this show.

Last night’s show was selecting the all ‘80’s team. It was as followed. . .

1B: Don Mattingly
2B: Ryne Sandburg
3B: Mike Schmdit
SS: Cal Ripken
LF: Rickey Henderson
CF: Dale Murphy
RF: Dwight Evans
C: Gary Carter
P: Jack Morris

Definitely not a bad team with 5 hall of famers (Sandburg, Schmidt, Carter, Ripken and Henderson). It’s hard to argue with Mattingly and Murphy as well. They had fantastic season in the ‘80’s (three MVP’s between them). Evans was a bit of surprise but when one looks at his production during that time frame than it becomes apparent that he was consistently a good player during the ‘80’s. Jack Morris gets this nod I think simply because he won the most games during the decade but he never won a Cy Young so I’m not convinced that he was the best choice. There was just no other obvious choice. The great pitchers of the ‘70’s (Ryan, Palmer, Seaver, Carlton) couldn’t carry their success throughout the whole decade and the next generation of pitchers (Gooden, Hershiser and then Clemens and Maddux) didn’t pitch enough in the decade to trump Morris’s production throughout the decade.

But anyway it got me thinking on what the team of the ‘90’s would be. Granted it’s an arbitrary timeframe and that does pose some questions that I’ll get into.
After some thought it’s as follows. . .

First Baseman

Frank Thomas
Average Season: .319 (BA)/ .440 (OBP)/ .575 (SLG)/ 103 (runs)/ 33 (HR)/ 112 (RBI) 169 OPS+
This was close-- with Jeff Bagwell involved in the discussion but Thomas gets the nod because his number are (slightly) better than Bagwell’s and he did win one more MVP award.

Second Baseman

Roberto Alomar
Average season: .308/ .382/ .400. . .95 (runs)/ 14 (HR)/ 73 (RBI)/ 31 (SB). 125 OPS+
This was a toss up with Biggio but I went with Alomar simply because he was better defensively.

Third Baseman

Chipper Jones
Average season: .301/ .394/ .529. . .108 (runs)/ 31 (HR)/ 105 (RBI)/ 17 (SB) 137 OPS+
Jones only played five seasons in the ‘90’s (he did win the ’99 MVP) but there really wasn’t much competition. Like I said earlier this is an arbitrary time frame and there just wasn’t anyone else to look at. So consequently playing five years is my cut off for a player’s qualifications to be considered.


Barry Larkin
Average Season: .303/ .388/ .466. . .83 (runs)/ 14 (HR)/ 64 (RBI)/ 27 (SB) 126 OPS+

Not much debate here. Larkin was hands down the best SS of any league throughout the duration of the ‘90’s.

Left Field

Barry Bonds
Average Season: .302/ .434/ .602. . .109 (runs)/ 36 (HR)/ 108 (RBI)/ 34 (SB) 179 OPS+
If you buy Game of Shadows than you know that Bonds didn’t start juicing until after the ’98 season so we have 90% of the decade in which Bonds was clean. And that’s the great tragedy of Bonds. . .he was already an elite player before he crossed the line.

Center Field

Ken Griffey Jr.
Average Season: .302/ .384/ .581. . .100 (runs)/ 38 (HR)/ 109 (RBI)/ 15 (SB) 152 OPS+
Not much of a debate here.

Right Field:

Larry Walker
Average Season: .313/ .390/ .571. . .88 (runs)/ 26 (HR)/ 85 (RBI)/ 18 (SB)/ 142 OPS+
Injuries affected his season averages but it’s still solid enough across the board (did win MVP in ’97). His power and defense bumps him over Tony Gwynn, who garnered strong consideration with a .344 batting average for the decade.


Mike Piazza
Average Season: .330/ .393/ .580. . .87 (runs)/ 24 (HR)/ 109 (RBI) 157 OPS+.
Pudge was better defensively but Piazza’s offensive numbers dwarf him and the rest of the competition.


Greg Maddux
Average Season: 18-9/ 176 (K)/ 1.06 (WHIP)/ 2.54 (ERA)/ 162 ERA+

Pedro had an argument but Maddux threw 1,000+ more innings than Pedro and still had a lower ERA. Plus, winning 4 Cy Youngs in a row surely doesn’t hurt.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"A Single Man" movie review

With award season in full swing, we continue to look at the top performances of 2009. This week, we watched A Single Man (R). Colin Firth stars as a mourning English professor in 1950s California who is contemplating his life after the untimely death of his lover. Julianne Moore costars and American fashion designer Tom Ford makes is directorial debut.

Ryan: A Single Man is one of Hollywood's more fruitful offerings of the year. It's a complex character study involving a day in the life of one man's existential dilemma in trying to still find meaning in a world where his lover has unexpectedly died. Further complicating the situation is the character's sexuality and more specifically how he's unable to fully be himself in a society that is unwilling (or not ready) to accept an openly gay man. All-in-all A Single Man would be a worthy film to garner a Best Picture nomination and I think it's definitely a real possibility that it will.

Andy: A Single Man has flown under the radar, mostly (and deservedly) receiving credit for Colin Firth’s intricate and emotive performance. The film itself is also very well crafted, but it is hard not to shine the focus on Firth. Simply put, there is no film with out his tortured characterization of George. One of the most memorable aspects of Firth’s turn here is that for most of the film he is a man trying to hold it together in public, and we see him subtly losing for much of the film. Watching an actor walk that thin line over the course of the movie is truly a treat when it is done well, as it is here.

Ryan: Saying this film is a Colin Firth vehicle is slightly disingenuous to a movie of this ilk. Normally that term is used for more genre-specific films and not indie dramas. But if one thinks of that term in meaning a movie that best showcases the talent of a specific actor then by all mean this is a vehicle for Firth. Unquestionable he rises to the challenge. This is one of the best performances of the year and I will be shocked if he isn't rewarded with an Oscar nomination (which would be his first). He completely sells his performance of a desperate, conflicted man trying to overcome the tragic loss of his companion.

Andy: A Single Man is not the easiest film to watch, as it is very dramatic and intense. Julianne Moore’s character is able to provide a little light-hearted empathy, but for the most part, this is a movie about a cheerless time in one man’s life, and the film acts accordingly. As we see Firth’s character become more and more unraveled, the emotional depth becomes greater and greater. The very end of the film may strike an odd tone for some, but watching this character play out is fairly fascinating no matter how you feel about the conclusion.

Ryan: Although he's a successful fashion designer, Tom Ford is a rookie in the world of cinema. But make no mistake about it his debut is one of the year's more interesting films and he definitely demonstrates that he has a lot of promise as a filmmaker. Yes he's overly concerned with the look of the film (the furniture, the clothes, etc.) and there's no doubt that the style of the movie is very important to Ford. But this isn't a film that's all style. If anything the movie's style creates a thriving environment for the actors—especially Firth—to give all-around authentic performances.

Andy: There is no question that this movie establishes Ford was a very promising new director. At times his visual affect becomes a little too obvious. But the fact that a director is playing with lighting and composition is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not something I want to be noticing when I should be paying attention to the story. If Ford continues to make films and hones is craft, he could make some truly brilliant films.

A Single Man is a good movie highlighted by a great performance. Final grade: B+.