Movie reviews

What Just Happened

Not even De Niro makes this film worth watching

Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, What Just Happened tells the story of one of Hollywood’s most powerful fictional producers, played by Robert De Niro. It begins with him describing in a voiceover how we’re about to see how he lost his power and credibility in the industry over a few weeks.

The job of a movie producer is very interesting. Most of us only see movies without knowing the mass amounts of planning, scheduling and work that goes into making them. A film based on this idea could be very interesting and informative, only this one is not.

Instead of taking an Entourage point of view and showing us the strenuous work of Hollywood, it toots its own horn and says, “See how hard our million dollar work is? Do you see how much we sacrifice to bring you good films that you don’t appreciate?” And it tries making us feel bad for people who earn millions of dollars each year.

The final product of What Just Happened is boring. There are a few great scenes, most of them showing the relationship between De Niro and his ex-wife played by Robin Wright Penn. I’d rather see a full length film based on their failed marriage than his dealings in the movie business.

Bottom line, What Just Happened tries to be humorous by placing you in the shoes of a movie producer, but instead just comes across as pretentious. It’s a movie made for people within the industry, not for us outsiders.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

The most charming dirty movie you’ll ever see
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

Kevin Smith is the king of indie cult comedy. He’s pushing the limits in every way with his latest flick, Zack and Miri Make a Porno (here in Utah, you may have seen it advertised on some television channels as simply Zack and Miri).

Apatow regular Seth Rogen plays Zack, a broke barista who’d rather spend his paychecks on novelty toys than pay his half of the rent or bills. The gorgeous Elizabeth Banks (40-Year-Old Virgin, Definitely, Maybe) plays his roommate and childhood buddy, Miri.

When their utilities are turned off, Zack and Miri make a drastic decision to jump on the get-rich-quick wagon by borrowing money, producing, casting and starring in their very own porno Star Whores. What happens next originally earned Zack and Miri an NC-17 rating.

As you might imagine from the title, Zack and Miri is a very adult film. Even with that said, it turns out to be quite a charming little movie. When the two childhood friends have to film their own scene, you don’t know where they stand. Smith’s directing in this scene and a few scenes that follow might be his strongest directing yet.

The problem with Zack and Miri is that it strays from the typical Kevin Smith mold. His strong points are in his writing and dialogue, but it’s hardly done justice with Rogen in the lead improvising good chunks of his role.

If you’re a Kevin Smith or Seth Rogen fan, then you’ll enjoy Zack and Miri. It’s not the funniest movie of the year, but it’s entertaining. And with Elizabeth Banks being as charming as ever, you’ve got a pretty well wrapped package.

Rachel Getting Married
Hathaway proves she’s got more than just good looks

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Every year there is the obligatory dysfunctional family movie. Rachel Getting Married is this year’s, except it’s actually worth watching.

Anne Hathaway plays the lead character Kym, an attention-seeking young woman released from her rehab facility to attend her sister’s wedding. When she first arrives home, there is an awkward tension so thick between Kym and her family that you know it’s there without having one piece of dialogue telling you about it.

Throughout the course of the film, we find out why this unique tension exists between each one of them and what the one event is that triggered it all. It is in these expositional scenes that Hathaway really shines. She puts on a character that we’ve never seen her in before and she’s perfect for it.

Rachel Getting Married is filmed much like last year’s Oscar-winning indie hit Once; it is shot in a sort of style that makes you feel like it might be a documentary and not a feature film. This up-close and personal camerawork makes you feel like you’re a guest at a wedding rehearsal or a member of the family in the room as the discussions and arguments unfold.

There are certain scenes in Rachel Getting Married that make you feel so uncomfortable that you don’t want to watch it anymore. But if you make it through all of the tough moments, you’ll be glad you did. The acting, writing and directing turn this hard-to-watch “I hate my family” film into an indie treasure.


A sure Best Picture and Best Actress Nominee

Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Don’t be confused. Clint Eastwood’s new film Changeling is not a remake of the 1980 ghost child movie THE Changeling. Changeling is based on the true story of the mysterious 1928 missing child case that uncovered a large, public Los Angeles police corruption scandal.

Angelina Jolie gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Christine Collins, the single mother of an abducted nine-year-old boy who works just as hard at finding her kid as the corrupt L.A.P.D. investigators.

Five months after the boy’s disappearance, the police tell Christine that they’ve found her son. But when he returns home, Christine’s hope is shattered when she realizes it’s not her son. And because the L.A.P.D. doesn’t want to admit their mistake, they use their power to silence her by placing her in a mental institution.

That’s only the beginning of the film. The rest of the movie takes you through the scandal as well as a grizzly child murder case in the hopes that the fate of the Collins boy might be revealed there.

Because of the disturbing and intensely graphic nature of the subject matter, Changeling is not for everyone. In some scenes, I had to tell myself, “I’m watching actors, not the real thing,” in order to not be affected by the subject matter. Unfortunately, other people in the theater could not separate themselves from it.

Other than being a little longer than necessary and Clint Eastwood’s self-written, boring and monotonous score, Changeling is an amazing film. Once again, it’s made for those with the ability to separate themselves emotionally from what they’re seeing. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be up for a few Oscars.


Guy Ritchie redeems himself
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Guy Ritchie exploded into American film when MTV gave his British gangster film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels a special award in 1999. When his 2000 film Snatch opened, Ritchie won even more fans by giving this similar film a mainstream feel and by casting Brad Pitt as a gibberish-speaking, boxing gypsy.

But when he directed his former wife (Madonna) in the remake of the classic romantic film Swept Away, he lost his fan base. Three years later, he tried to earn their respect back with a psychological British gangster flick (Revolver), but it lost its audience as it fell apart in the end. With his new film Rocknrolla, Ritchie is returning to the same roots that got him noticed in the beginning. And this time, nobody is being let down.

The first time I saw the trailer for Rocknrolla, I asked myself the same question you’ve probably asked yourself – “What’s a rocknrolla?” The opening scene’s voice-over defines it better than my own words can. Just know it’s a person along the lines of being badass for all the right reasons.

Rocknrolla has a cast full of them. By the end of the movie, you find out who’s a real rocknrolla and who’s not.

Just like Lock, Stock and Snatch, Rocknrolla is very complicated, far too complicated to explain here. It involves lots of characters in different situations and coincidental mix-ups that further complicate each one of their stories. But if you just sit back, bear with it and try to follow it as best you can, then you’ll understand it perfectly by the end.

If you’ve never seen a Guy Ritchie film, Rocknrolla is a great place to start. It’s filled with his punch line-less humor, brutal violence, lovable characters (played brilliantly by such actors as Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Wilkinson) and a perfect denouement. It’s the Guy Ritchie film that every Guy Ritchie fan has wanted to see since Snatch.

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