“Welcome to the neighborhood”

Alright, so that’s not exactly the welcome the Mattsons received when moving into Lakeview Terrace, but with Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) as a bigoted next door neighbor who has an interracial yuppie couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, it’s easy to see where it’s headed even before the movie really gets going.  From the first time Abel mistakes Chris for a member of the moving crew to the shady look he gives him as he kisses his wife, to reminding the rap-loving Chris that he’ll always be white to… well, you get the idea.  Abel, to put it mildly, doesn’t like Chris or the thought of his interracial marriage, nor does the fact that he is a cigarette-smoking, liberal, college educated, Prius-driving, white collar worker really help his case with the blue collar, traditional and strict-as hell-Abel.  It is this racial/cultural conflict that drives Abel to start harassing Chris and his wife before they even have a chance to unpack.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that subtlety is director Neil LaBute’s strong suit and for about the first half of the movie, we’re reminded over… and over… and over again that this is a movie conflicting black and white, conservative and liberal (almost uncomfortably so at points) and most memorably during a house-warming party that was anything but.  What might’ve been a subtle but powerful theme of  racial/cultural differences and the ongoing challenge of interracial marriage is instead vastly overblown to the brink of absurdity and past, losing any point it was trying to make in the process.  By the time Lakeview Terrace started picking up steam, it actually caught me by surprise, as I had resigned myself to the latter issues for some time.

Truth be told, once it got going, it became a pretty entertaining movie.  Samuel L. has proven quite capable of carrying mediocre material into the decent category, and this was no exception.  As the narrow-minded, twisted, and utterly out-of-control Abel, Jackson easily convinces you of the instability that makes him such an intriguing villain, as I was never sure where his limits lied (if anywhere).  It was clear throughout that no aspect of his life was under control, be it was work, family or community.  The same was eventually made true of the Mattsons; what started off as a peaceful new beginning for them quickly spiraled out of control along the same lines, much thanks to Abel’s meddling in their lives.  While it created the chaos necessary to build to a climax, it also made the entire movie feel bleak, as though even if everything resolved in the end, only the utter wreckage of once-happy lives would remain.

While Jackson is strong, and Wilson and Washington both play their parts well enough to convince, the tension that was built throughout the entire movie doesn’t boil over as successfully as was intended, even if they blatantly tried to put an incoming wildfire climax to convince us otherwise.  Oftentimes during the concluding scenes, I found the suspense and anxiety less than convincing and despite my best efforts to be on the edge of my seat, it just wasn’t happening this time.  Lakeview Terrace certainly had its moments but the true great thrillers maintain the same edge throughout; here, it was found only in spurts.  Entertaining, to be sure, but what seemed like a promising premise and cast just wasn’t executed at anywhere above an average level for the drama.

For some racially charged moments, entertainment and some mild thrills, Lakeview Terrace delivers, but don’t expect anything incredible from the latest in a long line of B movie thrillers.

3 / 5 stars

“Rock me, Rock me Jesus!”

That is the catchy hook to the new indie comedy hit of the summer, Hamlet 2, starring the brilliant Steve Coogan as a down-and-out actor who puts on the best high school musical theatre play of all time (also titled Hamlet 2) It wasn’t all by choice though, as the school tries first to close down the drama department and then shut down the play itself. The film does a great job of tying all those elements and variables together to create a very relatable film with characters that seem real enough to hang out with, even if some are parodies of stereotypes of characters in high school “redemption films” (like Dangerous Minds, for example).

The writers are even nice enough to point which inspiration was where to the audience.  It gives lots of “Aha!” moments that really give some humanity to Coogan’s slightly demented and neurotic character, Dana Marschz. Catherine Keener plays his wife Brie almost as well as her role in An American Crime; she brings comedy and high drama to a role that could have been easily gotten lost in the fluff. David Arquette also stars in this film as Gary, the BORE-der in the Marshz home, and his performance (or lack thereof) really keeps the film going through some of the uncomfortable dramatic scenery.

The comedic stylings are very much in the same vein of Tropic Thunder, which also,  ironically, starred Steve Coogan. The similarities come into play as the jokes are centered on the craft of the performance rather than the performance itself. Sure, there is slapstick, but there are also complex jokes that audiences of all ages can enjoy again and again.

However, in terms of context of the content, Juno would be more in line of the where this film is going with its controversy. It is an interesting dynamic that actually gets pulled off very well in the film, but you’ll have to see it but since to truly appreciate how it gets to the crux of the matter.  Just be happy to know most of the jokes are not in the trailer, which is a very common complaint with some comedies.

All in all, this was a very entertaining film that celebrates the art of art. Steve Coogan’s slightly over-the-top performance is balanced by Catherine Keener’s calm demeanor and David Arquette’s supremely understated performance. The actual musical itself was pretty fun even if there is more than a little a bit of weirdness in the plot. I give this film a high recommendation if you are looking for some quirky comedy before school starts up again!

5 / 5 stars

Ludivine Sagnier entered the American public consciousness with Swimming Pool. Then she took us through a musical threesome in Love Songs.  Now she plays an innocent weather-girl caught in the middle of love and money in A Girl Cut in Two. This is a story about a naïve girl that falls for an older man, an author named Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand).  However, after the man that she believes to be the love of her life breaks down her innocence, their relationship ends very badly.  Lost in a fog of confusion, she goes back to a young and demented heir to a pharmaceutical company, Paul Gaudens, (Benoît Magimel) she had been courting earlier, little knowing the descent into madness that step will take.

A Girl has been advertised as a dark comedy, and there are some comedic moments, but on a whole this movie is more powerful in the insanity of it all, rather than the dry wit contained in some of the zingers the characters throw at each other.  One thing that I really liked was the performances by the lead actors in this film. The pacing might have been slightly off, and the jokes occasionally missed, but the actors were on top of their game. Magimel’s portrayal as Gaudens, a young millionaire (who was also a mentally disturbed mama’s boy), was spectacular.  There were little tics he had, like covering his mouth, that really brought his character to life. So when he spoke of his jealousy, I could really feel it. Sagnier also did remarkably well, from her early wide-eyed performance in the scene when she met Saint-Denis, to her calculated decision to take on her previously rebuffed young man; her character arc is the biggest in the film.  The director does a good job making her the focus since it is pretty hard to like any of the other male leads. But in order to regain the viewer’s trust, she loses her naiveté and starts to fight for her own rights, which begins the climax of the story.

If there was one big thing wrong with A Girl, it was that the film’s pacing was a bit too meandering at times. In fact, it was pretty slow, even for a dialogue-driven film. And the film also used a technique where the viewer would know what’s happening, but one of the characters didn’t.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it brought interaction between the film and the audience, but it was a little frustrating because it took some of the edge off the film’s few comedic moments.

A Girl Cut In Two is a good flick. I’d give it a pretty strong recommendation for some change-of-pace viewing or if you are in the mood for a slightly comedic thriller.

3 / 5 stars

Adding to the often hollow words exchanged by the two main characters, were the bad ensemble cast. This is very heavily an ensemble film, and the sequels will be even more so, so I was devastated to see the Cullens (Rosalie, Emmett, Alice, Jasper, Carlisle, and Esme) exceed my expectations as individuals, but never quite mesh as a group.

At best the interactions between them were wooden, not something you expect from a family who have been together for decades. To make matters worse, their pale face makeup looked fairly ridiculous (when the film introduces Carlisle, at many angles he actually appears GREEN!), Jasper as a wide-eyed newly turned vampire winds up looking more like a zombie for the majority of the film.

Along with the makeup the special effects were downright atrocious; again they did what they could with the budget they had I expect. Most times when Edward is running or climbing, you can practically see the wires and harness, there is little fluidity of movement – with the exception of one scene in which Bella drops an apple and Edward pops it up with his foot.  The action sequences are far overdone; I suspect this was an attempt to fill in what they couldn’t afford to do with high end effects, with overacted movements, which left me thinking B-movie.  Finally, the numerous instances where speech was dubbed in over unmoving lips or lips were moving but no sound, was extremely unsettling – I don’t know much about film or sound editing, so it has to be bad if I caught it.

Overall, I was pleased to watch an on screen adaptation of a story I’ve come to love, but my greatest hope is that this will simply act as the stepping stone to a big budget production on the next installment.

3 ½ / 5 stars

The actors playing Mike and Jessica are definitely standouts that I expect to see in the future; they both played up their teen characters realistically and age appropriately, as is so rarely done. Though she doesn’t directly meet the Cullens her first day, everyone has something to say about them in whispers when she asks who they are.

After an extremely confusing scene in Biology class, she becomes more intrigued with the elegant Edward Cullen, and begins stealing glances and asking questions. Finally their paths collide, literally, when Edward jumps in front of Bella to stop a reckless van in the school parking lot, raising even more questions about him. Amazingly, Bella still takes awhile (painfully long, in fact) to piece together what Edward’s pale skin, unbelievable speed, and inhuman strength all mean… he’s a vampire. This instant of interaction sets them on an immediate course to falling head-over-heels for each other, despite both of their better judgments.

As someone with my heart wrapped up in the story, I thoroughly enjoyed it; however I would probably not recommend it to someone not interested in the books. The fault lies in many places, primarily with the tiny budget and screenwriting. Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward) did an excellent job of giving us an on screen portrayal of the palpable tension between to two characters; the build-up to the single on screen kiss between the two is practically explosive. That said, the conflicted nature of their love in which Edward is perpetually protecting Bella from himself, was so badly written, it pretty much consisted of him repeatedly and awkwardly saying they couldn’t be friends, unlike the anguished restraint portrayed in the book.  The quivering and stuttering between the two got a little excessive, as did Bella’s open-mouthed stare, but ultimately it got the point across (albeit a bit crudely).

As a fully invested fangirl, I couldn’t help but have mixed emotions when I heard they were making a Twilight movie. The unique quality of these books is that they draw you in so completely that as I have read them, I’ve gone through the motions of love and heartbreak emotionally, and that is an effect no movie can truly give no matter the quality.

Setting aside my caution, I finally dragged myself to the theatre on a bitterly cold weekend, in order to (hopefully) warm up with to this “chick flick”.  Being somewhat biased in favor of the story I desperately want to give this film high marks, but the best I can give is – they did exceptionally well on such a tight budget.

From the start, the character of Bella Swan is self-sacrificing, packing up and moving herself from Phoenix, AZ to the small town of  Forks, Washington to live with her dad, Charlie, so that her mother can start fresh with her new husband.  Bella and her father prove to be essentially strangers living in the same house; their relationship is consistently well-acted and dead-on with the portrayal in the book. Charlie is the endearingly awkward backwoods dad, unsure of how to handle a teenage daughter, and often feigning gruffness when he cares deeply for her.

As someone uniquely qualified (I grew up near Forks in Port Angeles – the town where they go prom-dress-shopping in the movie) to assess the environment, they did an unbelievable job of capturing the area right down to the wooden carved bears and log trucks, and the endless long shots of northwestern beauty is one of the highest points of the film. Bella’s first day at the High School had me doing a double take, wondering if that was the actual Forks High School. From her first day in school, Bella meets the usual characters – the popular kids Mike and Jessica, the overachieving, slightly geeky Eric and Angela, and finally the mysterious Cullen family.