L.A. DINE-N-CLUB FAVORITE MOVIE PICKS
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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
(Oscilloscope Laboratories… Rated R…112 min)
Is it possible to hate your own child? That’s the question I couldn’t help but wonder when I saw the film We Need To Talk About Kevin. A suspenseful and gripping psychological thriller, We Need To Talk About Kevin by filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, explores the contentious relationship between a mother and her son.
Actress Tilda Swinton, who looked more like a male rockabilly musician than a leading lady at the recent Golden Globes, delivers a solid performance as a mother who contends for 15 years with the increasing malevolence of her first-born child, Kevin (played by Ezra Miller).
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, We Need To Talk About Kevin explores nature vs. nurture on a whole new eerie level, as a mother’s own culpability is measured against Kevin's innate evilness.
Personally, I would have just ditched the evil bastard and the clueless father/husband who seemed oblivious to his ‘bad seed’ of a son. Kudos to director Ramsay for her solid storytelling ability of combining a provocative moral ambiguity with a satisfying and compelling narrative that builds to a chilling and unforgettable climax.
Neighbors and co-workers often say of someone who goes on a mass murder spree, he was “quiet” and a “loner.” But you would think the parents of troubled teens would be able to pick up on some clues, however, that’s often not the case. While Kevin’s mom knows there’s something wrong with her son, maybe even she doesn’t know the depths of his depravity. Still, either abandon ship or do your best to right the course, but anywhere in the middle ground does nothing for anybody. We Need To Talk About Kevin paints a grim picture of the modern day family but the powerful drama makes it impossible to look away. Hardly a feel good movie, watch it for its strong performances and harrowing storyline.
Click here to watch the We Need To Talk About Kevin trailer.
We Need To Talk About Kevin opens Friday, January 20 in Hollywood at the Arclight Cinema; Laemmle Monica in Santa Monica; Laemmle Town Center in Encino; and Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena.
Roadside Attractions • Rated PG-13 • 93 min
As an animal lover, and a “crazy person” when it comes to dogs, I found Project Nim fascinating and yet, disturbing and hard to watch at times. Winner for Best Directing Award for World Documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Project Nim is from the Oscar-winning team behind Man On Wire and follows a remarkable chimpanzee who in the ‘70s became the focus of a landmark experiment that aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child.
Filmmaker James Marsh, who also directed the brilliant Red Riding trilogy, delivers an unflinching and unsentimental examination at a lofty experiment that never seemed to ever take in account its lone subject. “The paradox and heartbreak for the humans around Nim is that he can scratch and bite people whom he seems genuinely to like,” said Marsh. “The heartbreak for Nim is that he cannot be any other way and, as he gets stronger, this will guarantee his virtual imprisonment…In the film, we get to know an individual chimpanzee whose baffled reaction to his increasing confinement can stand for many, many thousands of chimpanzees, equally individual and distinct in character, who find themselves under our control in the same or worse situations.”
Indeed, Nim proved to be quite remarkable. He learned many signs and had a vocabulary of roughly 120 words, in addition to learning table manners and was even potty trained. Yet, sadly, he was often moved around and many years later was taken to live in a primate research center to live with other chimps, which he had never interacted with, and was forced to live in a cage. Then, it was off to a medical research facility, and finally to an animal sanctuary where he had to live alone for years.
Poor Nim had it rough. And it’s rough watching as you can’t help but feel for him. One must wonder if the language experiment was worth all that this poor creature had to endure. A riveting film, Project Nim is one of the year’s standout documentaries.
Click here to watch the Project Nim trailer.
Project Nim is playing at ArcLight Hollywood, Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Laemmle's Monica Fourplex in Santa Monica, and Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino.
(Warner Bros. – 125 min) Rated R
NOW PLAYING EVERYWHERE
Actor Ben Affleck is often thought of as second banana to his good chum Matt Damon, a fellow Massachusetts’ native and Good Will Hunting co-screenwriter. Starring, writing and directing the thriller The Town may be Affleck’s attempt to be taken more serious. And do give him props for crafting a tight and entertaining film, even in spite of his flat acting.
According to the filmmakers, there are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year, and a one-square-mile neighborhood known as Charlestown, has produced more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere in the country. Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, the film tells the story of a bank robber that ends up falling in love with a hostage he and his crew taking with them during a robbery.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the brains of the operation, and when hothead Jem (Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker) takes lovely bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage, it’s up to Doug to find out what, if anything, she knows after they’ve released her. In love and ready to fly right, Doug, as usual in Hollywood movies, has to pull off one last job before he can turn his life around, and of course that’s where things go haywire.
Thanks in part to solid directing from Affleck and strong performances from Renner and TV’s “Mad Man” star Jon Hamm as an FBI agent looking to bring down Affleck’s bank robbing bunch, The Town is a good popcorn movie with great action sequences. And even though Affleck comes off as the weak link among the rest of the cast, this is definitely a gritty film worth catching.
Click here to watch The Town trailer.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
(Universal – 112 min) Rated PG-13
IN THEATERS NOW
A movie for the Wii / smartphone generation, this will be the film of choice for anyone without an attention span who prefers flash over substance.
At its core Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a romantic comedy with a twist…nerdy boy in band falls for cool, mysterious chick and then learns he must defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her. Shot in video game/comic book fashion (a vehicle that never really seems to work) it is gimmicks galore as director Edgar Wright, the man behind the brilliant Shaun of the Dead as well as Hot Fuzz, tries to be creative by stylizing his film as a music video which only really helps to highlight the story’s shortcomings.
Sure, there’s a cool, indie soundtrack but when it comes down to it, without the tricks we’d have a pretty flat film. Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) stars as Scott Pilgrim but doesn’t really possess the charisma or charm to carry the film, although he does hold his own in the film’s numerous, elaborate fight scenes.
Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the writer says of his characters, “[Their] life experiences are completely governed by the enormous amount of time they’ve spent with their Nintendo consoles… In the world of Scott Pilgrim, minor disagreements are resolved in mortal combat. Our hero is thrown into a world of pain when he dates the girl of his dreams. The mysterious Ramona Flowers has something of a hex on her where her seven evil exes challenge her new boyfriend to a series of duels to the death. Many people have jumped through many hoops to pursue someone unobtainable. Scot must literally fight for his relationship if he wants to survive.”
Set in the world of first apartments, garage bands, thrift stores and coffee shops, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is about young love, loud music and extra-large emotions where people explode into coins once they’ve lost a duel to the death. I say wait for video, or better yet, watch it on your smartphone.
WHY AM I DOING THIS?
AVAILABLE ON DVD NOW
(Seminal Films – 120min) Unrated
A low-budget indie film about what it’s like trying to make it in Hollywood, Why Am I Doing This? has its heart in the right place.
Written, directed and starring Tom Huang, this is also a fine example of a struggling talent deciding to do things himself. Hailed as a “raucous look at life in Los Angeles for an actor” by the Boston Herald, it’s more like what someone from Beantown would assume life in L.A. is all about.
At winner at several low-key film festivals, the flick finds Lester (Anthony Montgomery) trying to be the next Jerry Seinfeld, while everyone suggests he become the next Martin Lawrence, and Tony (Tom Huang) trying to make it as the next Tom Cruise while everyone else wants him to be the next outrageous wacky suchi chef character.
The film points out how difficult it is for minorities to make it in showbiz, especially starting out from Jump Street where no one knows who you are and everyone that looks like you is up for the same stereotyped role. The film’s quirky style, which includes pausing of the action while the two main characters talk directly to the camera is one of my least favorite techniques although it does happen to work a couple of times, does show that there is room for small, well-intentioned films. Why Am I Doing This? is more of a rental than a purchase item as it’s not really DVD library material.
Click here to watch the Why Am I Doing This? trailer.
(Focus Features – 107 min) Rated R
Greenberg is a comedy that’s not really about anything funny. New Yorker Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), recently released from treatment for depression, finds himself in Los Angeles house sitting at his brother’s swanky Westside pad. Wanting to take a break and just do nothing with his life, Greenberg is a 40-something looking to find himself.
Attracted to his brother’s personal assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig), he doesn’t really want the attachment of a relationship as that would take away from him doing nothing. Instead, the sour fellow spends his time penning complaint letter to Starbucks and American Airlines. He’s helpless and his rants are one of the few things he can control in his life.
Stiller offers a solid performance as Greenberg, really making a not-so-likable character come to life. The film is funny and dramatic and definitely relatable as who hasn’t questioned where they find themselves in their life? Whereas most people might stop and think about that for a moment, Greenberg has set up shop and is residing in that grey area of ‘what am I going to do with my life?’
Director Noah Baumbach and Stiller has crafted a poignant movie that while not the most cheery thing in theaters, it’s definitely worth seeing for some laughs and some honest reflection about who we are and where we find ourselves or where we’re headed.
Click here to view the Greenberg trailer.
— Jose Martinez
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
(Lionsgate – 92 minutes)
With a nod to James Bond and From Russia With Love, 007 was never as over-the-top or a loose cannon as CIA special agent Charlie Wax in From Paris With Love, a kinetic, action-packed spy film.
A story by Luc Besson, whose directing credits include La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, the French filmmaker also wrote the Transporter series, The Professional and Unleashed, so he does know action. And with director Pierre Morel who helmed last year’s no hold barred Taken onboard, a good team was in place for a blow ‘em up cinematic romp.
The story is simple enough, a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an cushy life. He lives in Paris and has a beautiful French girlfriend, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. All James wants is to become a bona fide agent and see some real action. So when he's offered his first senior-level assignment, he can't believe his good luck until he meets his new partner, special agent Charlie Wax(John Travolta).
Travolta’s Wax is a trigger-happy, wisecracking agent sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack. Leading poor, unassuming James on a white-knuckle shooting spree throughout the city, it is one crazy scenario after another.
Edgy, entertaining and explosive, Travolta is in fine form. Loaded with great action sequences and exciting fights and gun play, From Paris With Love isn’t a heady film, but it’s a perfect popcorn movie for a night out of fun without having to think too much.
— Jose Martinez
See the From Paris With Love trailer here.