Sunday, November 15, 2009

Men Who Stare At Goats

Review by Rob McKinnon

Opening Date: 11/6/09
Running Time: 96 min
Rated: R for language, some drug content, and brief nudity
Directed by: Grant Heslov
Written by: Peter Straughan (screenplay); Jon Ronson (book)

If the title of this film doesn't bring at least a smile to your face you may be one of the few people who may not find this film the delightfully crazy experience it was meant to be and is. The writing is definitely superior to much of what passes for film comedy today. The performances and directing raise it to even greater pleasure with a cast of our best actors (George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor) giving their all to squeeze-out every delicious drop of satirical wit and outright crazy fun from the script.

Though original and not in any way a replication of that great satirical film Altman's M.A.S.H., it is in the same vein and boasts an equally fabulous collection of lunatic characters. This last fact is a bit scary considering that the story is (broadly) based in fact. Many of the elements of the secret research presented in the film are indeed at least inspired by military and CIA research conducted by our country (and the Soviet Union) during the cold war. Such things as "remote viewing," "matter control," "invisibility," and the like.

If the film has a weakness, it's one shared by many film comedies. It is in the last minutes of the story where it goes somewhat over-the-top and seems to be trying too hard. (Lots of people acting crazy, completely blitzed on LSD.) Maybe this reflects more of my personal taste than it is a flaw. I'm just giving my reaction. Don't let this bit of analysis steer you away from seeing this film. Even if my impression of these very few minutes of the film is fully correct, it doesn't change the fact that this is one of the best comedies I've seen in quite some time. Jolene and I, as well as our guests, and the rest of the audience spent the entire time laughing out loud. If you're feeling at all like I believe most of us are right now, I suggest two things. Stop watching the TV news, and get yourself out to see MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. I promise you'll feel a whole lot better. - Rob McKinnon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Education

Review by Rob McKinnon

Opening Date: 10/30/09
Running Time: 95 min
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Screenplay by Nick Hornby
Adapted from a memoir by Lynn Barber

As I started to write this review, I found myself about to write that I'm not usually a fan of "coming of age" films. It suddenly occurred to me that I too often begin a review with the idea: "I'm not usually a fan of...." This is really not quite correct. What I'm not a fan of are ill-conceived, badly done films no matter the genre or subject matter. So for this review let me begin by saying there are and have been way too many really dumb or derivative coming-of-age movies made. This film, AN EDUCATION, is, however a brilliant exception to that assessment for a vast number of reasons.

Firstly, it has a fully realized story that is much more than about the onset of teenage sexual awareness. AN EDUCATION is the story of a teenage girl's coming-of-age, i.e., not another visiting of the horny teenage boy coming-of-age formula film. It is set in 1961 London. (Though I don't like to admit it, this probably makes it a period film to the younger audience. Geez, this is my period, it really doesn't seem that long ago.) Anyway, London was at that time a city passing through the change from the drab-gray, postwar 1950's to the glamorous and liberated decade ahead. The setting and atmosphere are wonderfully and authentically captured by the film. The young girl whose story is told, "Jenny," is played with absolute believability and conviction by Carey Mulligan. Sixteen-year-old Jenny is a truly brilliant, extremely witty, and winningly attractive private school girl. Her father, played by the always interesting Alfred Molina, is absolutely focused on her being accepted to Oxford University. Both of her parents are extremely conservative, a condition with which Jenny seems comfortable or, at least, accepting. The only boy in her life is a bicycle-riding, immature, and somewhat "geeky" kid she's known forever. Her life, however, is about to change as she receives a very different and very real life education.

Her life teacher is the utterly unsuitable, urbane, and witty 30-something, "David," played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard. David, with the skill of a practiced con man, charms her parents and introduces Jenny to a glittering new world of classical concerts and late-night suppers with his attractive friend and business partner "Danny" (Dominic Cooper) and Danny's girlfriend, a vacuous but beautiful "Helen" (Rosamund Pike). Ms. Pike plays clueless and empty-headedness as only a truly intelligent actress can. There is much going on with all of them which I will leave for you to discover when you see this exceptional film for yourself. Will Jenny realize the value of her previous life and goals or will she be seduced away by the temporal and shallow pleasures offered by her new friends? Will David turn out to be her true and lasting love? What about her current school life? Her attaining entrance into Oxford? See for yourself, and please don't miss this absolutely delightful film.
It opens Friday, October 30, in Houston, at Landmark's River Oaks Theater.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coco Before Chanel

Women In Film & Television Houston invites you to a prerelease screening.

Support Women Filmmakers! This is a great chance to see the film before it opens in theaters. Then help spread the word if you like it.

COCO BEFORE CHANEL is directed by Anne Fontaine, and she co-wrote the screenplay with Camille Fontaine. BAFTA nominee Audrey Tautou (AMELIE, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) stars as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel in this adaptation of the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux. Two-time Cesar nominee Anne Fontaine (THE GIRL FROM MONACCO, HOW I KILLED MY FATHER) traces Chanel's rise from humble beginnings to the height of the fashion world. Critics are calling Tautou's performance her "finest yet." in the gorgeous, glossy, period piece.

See you at the movies!

Opens Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Invention of Lying

Review by Rob McKinnon

Opening Date: 10/2/09
Running Time: 100 min.
Rated: PG-13
Written & Directed by: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson

If "Capitalism: A Love Story" leaves you a little down, I've got just the remedy: Ricky Gervais' new release, "The Invention of Lying." Gervais, if somehow you don't already know it, is the creator and star of the original British version of "The Office." He is truly a comic genius and shouldn't be confused with the boorish character he created for "The Office." There is a great deal of humanity in his seemingly outrageous and, to some, offensively politically incorrect humor. But look a little more deeply and you'll find very human observations which are actually quite sympathetic or at least empathetic in his work. This is certainly true of this film.

Without giving too much away, the film is about a world and time almost exactly like ours except for the fact that absolutely nobody lies. No one is even aware of the concept of lying. Everyone, no matter what, speaks the truth. They don't even think about it, they just can't do anything else. This leads to a great deal of situational humor in the kinds of social and business circumstances in which most of us, frankly, filter, at least, or even lie. Of course, only to avoid hurting others, like, your friend who has an ugly baby; or, when you call in to work because you're feeling ill and in truth just didn't want to go in. Dating. I'll leave it there, because I don't want to take one hilarious enjoyment away from you.

I will tell you that eventually, one character discovers (invents) lying. And, being the only person in the world to know what it is, and be able to do it, creates even more outrageously funny happenings. Gervais is terrific as the main character. The script, which he co-wrote, is intelligent and often satirical and rises high above what could have remained a one-trick piece of extended sketch comedy in lesser hands. You are bound to enjoy every bit of the LOL film. It's a comedy which will stay with you and actually cause you to give some thought to some very interesting philosophical questions. Don't let this last observation scare you, however. Just go for the pure fun and entertainment. In other words, don't miss it. - Rob McKinnon

Capitalism: A Love Story

Review by Rob McKinnon

Opening Day: 10/2/09
Running Time: 127 minutes
Written & Directed by Michael Moore

I have recently viewed a screening of Michael Moore's latest politcal documentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story." Moore has definitely found his "laughing place," and comfort zone in the creating of this type of documentary hybred; a mixture of serious political documentary reportage and humorous to outright funny, satirically political vignettes. No exception here in what I personally consider to be his most entertaining work yet.

The film skewers the investment houses and banks that have, under the guise of free-market capitalism, given in to the basest instincts of what I call the MFA-ification of American capitalism. I truly believe that the founders of this incredible nation, arguably naively, created both our political and economic systems which gave great freedom while expecting ethical and responsible participation by citizens. We all know how corruption upon corruption has left us with a chaotic, unproductive, inefficient, bloated, and possibly collapsing political system. The MGA-ification of the economic shpere has led to a complete lack of ethical behavior, with only the monthly dividend, grotesquely inflated executive salaries and bonuses, profit over quality or concern for consumer safety as the primary considerations.

Rather than create products or services of value, the business and finance corporations would rather create arcane instruments and methods for creating huge profits through what amounts simply to gambling. Derivatives anyone?

Moore's film will show you some of the ways the current band of unethical financial bandits, who have and are running much of our broken economy, brought us to this point. Moore also acts as our ombudsman, confronting the perpetrators and challenging them to explain and justify what they have done, (they can't) and demanding restitution for the American people.

It's all done with humor and some exageration, and it's all very entertaining. Depressing, but entertaining. It brings to mind the old movie trailer line, "You'll laugh, you'll cry." But don't miss it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cook County

Review by Rob McKinnon

Running Time: 93 minutes
Not Rated
Written & Directed by David Pomes

As a writer/director myself I watch many, many movies, and will often review some of the best films that I see, and I’m happy to be able to advise here that COOK COUNTY is one of the best “low budget” indie films I’ve seen in a very long time.

Adroitly written and directed by David Pomes, COOK COUNTY is an unflinching look at the Great American Tragedy of meth addiction; but it is unlike any of the drug culture films you may have seen. This film is not the usual urban story. COOK COUNTY delivers showing us a predominantly white, rural America, that is being consumed and destroyed by the scourge of crystal meth addiction. Here you’ll see a story that though fiction is completely grounded in an ugly reality. It is currently perhaps the biggest problem with which American law enforcement is confronted.

This film is set around a country family made up of a father Sonny (Xander Burkeley), returning home from prison and having been off meth, who wishes to reconnect with his teen-aged son (Ryan Donowho), who is just beginning to experiment with drugs but is devotedly protective of his little niece, who with her father (Anson Mount) , the boy’s uncle, and his grandfather all share a small house in the East Texas countryside. The home is constantly visited by a variety of disreputable meth addicts. The uncle, Bump, (Anson Mount) is not only an irredeemable addict who cares about nothing more than meth, but has a meth “lab” in the house where he cooks it to use and to sell, unmindful of the danger to his young daughter.

The suspense, conflict, drama, tension, and violence which Pomes’ intelligent script and spot-on directing creates, makes for a film which is compelling, insightful, real and thoroughly entertaining. And yes, I said “film.” In the days where low budget is generally digitally shot, this one was shot on film, and because of it, it’s all the more powerfully engaging. We do what we have to do when shooting low budget, but don’t ever forget the power of the film image to thoroughly engage the audience in the story, particularly in drama, terror, and horror.

This is strong stuff, but definitely a “must see” film. The major players are all outstanding in terms of the credibility, power, and skill of their respective performances. Anson Mount is phenomenal and brings such incredible depth to his portrayal of Uncle Bump.

The audience (a full house) with which we viewed this movie, was mesmerized and clearly, completely drawn into the story.

This film has not yet been picked up for theatrical distribution (though I’m sure it will be). You can help in the process. You have an advance opportunity to see it, and tell others…everybody. It will be screening in Houston again at Studio Movie Grill CityCentre from September 4th through 10th. David will be taking his film to Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to give people a chance to see it on the big screen before it goes to DVD. Locally for tickets, go to

Besides Studio Movie Grill CityCentre, from 9/4 through 9/10, COOK COUNTY will screen Tuesday, Sept. 1 in New Orleans, 7:30 PM at Canal Place Cinema; Thursday, Sept. 3 in Baton Rouge, 8PM at Magnolia Performing Arts Pavilion; Thursday, Sept. 10 in Fayetteville, AR, 8PM at University of Arkansas Global Campus Theater; and Friday, Sept. 11 it will have a one-week run in Little Rock. Spread the word about this movie!

Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9

Review by Matt Piccirillo

Rated R
Running time: 112 minutes
Matt’s Mark: 9.5 out of 10

If you are a fan of Sci-Fi aliens with a documentary film style, then I recommend DISTRICT 9, the latest from Oscar winner Peter Jackson who produced this film. This is not your typical sci-fi flick because of its film style (which is a good thing). DISTRICT 9 also combines the elements of drama and action with documentary captions and social commentary.

For this being his motion picture directing debut, Neill Blomkamp has created something special. He not only directed DISTRICT 9, but he wrote the screenplay with Terri Tatchell. Blomkamp is best known for his advertising work, short films, and contribution to visual effects. He was the creator of the short "Alive in Joburg" (which is the impressive original to DISTRICT 9).

DISTRICT 9 is worth every cent of the movie ticket price. Blomkamp isn’t afraid to show blood. The film can be brutal at times, but it’s done in a way where it doesn’t fall into the gore genre.

The story takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa and follows Wikus Van De Merwe played by Sharlto Copley. Copley is a South African filmmaker turned actor and he's delivered a memorable performance. Copley portrays a man who gets framed and becomes part of an experiment by Multi-National United (MNU). MNU was set up to quarantine the aliens whose ship landed above the African city nearly 30 years ago. DISTRICT 9 includes Man vs. Aliens and Man vs. Man combat.

This is the best Sci-Fi film I have seen this year. It is solid. Strong writing and directing, believable characters and good acting, impressive visual effects and sound editing all add up to an entertaining time at the movies. Isn’t that why we go to the movies? It sure is. So go on and enter DISTRICT 9.