Apr 262009
 

Movie Poster for The SoloistJournalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers , a former classical music prodigy, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.

Genres: Drama, Musical/Performing Arts, Adaptation and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.; Release Date: April 24th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language.

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Nelsan Ellis, Michael Bunin, Robert Downey Jr., Rachael Harris

Directed by: Joe Wright

While we’d both been anxious to see this movie, Lay was especially looking forward to it. We decided to take it in at an afternoon showing yesterday, to avoid a packed theater. We did avoid the crowds, but unfortunately at least two groups (at least was two older ladies) did manage to talk quite a bit throughout the movie (where have manners gone).

That was hardly enough to spoil a great movie though, and I was completely sucked into the story. This is a powerful, heartfelt, emotionally moving, human drama with two very talented actors who pour themselves into the story. It lives up to it’s promises, and is definitely one of the best films of the year. If you’re looking for an inspiring story, then look no further. This is Director Joe Wright’s best film. I’ve always known Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are two great actors respectively but the mix of two is like combining two different formulas that compliment each other and create an atomic chemistry only described as something that no one else will ever manage to replicate.

Downey and Foxx play a newspaper columnist and homeless man who come together in a most unusual way. Downey is a newspaper columnist looking for something original and interesting to write about it. He finds it when he sees Foxx beautifully playing a battered two-stringed violin along 3rd street in downtown L.A. Foxx has been there for years but on this day grabs the eye of the columnist because the columnist himself is experiencing hardship and doubt related to his own position. He begins to write about this talented but troubled man who fills the thick air around him with harmony. They become friends but keep in mind this is not fiction. The friendship hits many bumps that continue to this day. Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx’s character) may be a brilliant, educated musician, but he suffers from bouts of schizophrenia that manifest at any time. Downey’s character accepts this as it adds more intrigue to his columns. Then he accepts it on a personal level. Their friendship ultimately becomes real and meaningful. You sense that Downey’s character needs the friendship even more than Foxx’s homeless man does. In the end, Downey’s Lopez can see the positive effect his work has brought to the plight of the homeless, yet he wonders personally how much better he has made Nathaniel. His reflections make us think also.

As someone who’s volunteered at a homeless shelter, I’ve seen much of this story play out. I even remember one of the clients as a young man who could sit down at the piano they had in the shelter, and play nearly any song you could name, and play it beautifully. There is no great final climax to this film, as is usually the case in life, and as with many people who find themselves in Ayers’ situation, the story is complex and difficult, and rarely resolves itself to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s important to remember that “normal” is something relative.

It’s also important to remember that these are real people, still alive today, and still friends. So the story continues to play out.

This is Jamie Foxx’s best performance since Ray, and I’d vouch for a second nomination on the horizon. Robert Downey Jr. proves that he’s versatile, that he’s more than just Tony Stark, Superhero. Wright’s directing is superb. He understands the plot and how the actors should respond to whatever conflict that may surface. The locations chosen or how a scene would play out, his vision of it all is borderline perfect. The portrayal of the skid row and how the camera moves from one homeless guy to another and take us on this view of the forgotten little kingdom is quite humbling. Those of us who’ve seen the real LA would not find this to be an exaggeration.

It is an extremely well told story, and worth every minute you spend in the theater.

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Atonement

 Culture, Movies  Comments Off on Atonement
Mar 292008
 

Atonement, Click to view the trailerIn 1935, 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) and her family live a life of wealth and privilege in their enormous mansion. On the warmest day of the year, the country estate takes on an unsettling hothouse atmosphere, stoking Briony’s vivid imagination. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the educated son of the family’s housekeeper, carries a torch for Briony’s headstrong older sister Cecilia (Kiera Knightley). Cecilia, he hopes, has comparable feelings; all it will take is one spark for this relationship to combust. When it does, Briony – who has a crush on Robbie – is compelled to interfere, going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. Cecilia and Robbie declare their love for each other, but he is arrested – and with Briony bearing false witness, the course of three lives is changed forever. Briony continues to seek forgiveness for her childhood misdeed. Through a terrible and courageous act of imagination, she finds the path to her uncertain atonement, and to an understanding of the power of enduring love.

Genres: Drama, Romance, Adaptation and War

Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality.

Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Vanessa Redgrave

Directed by: Joe Wright

Atonement starts promisingly, dramatically, and with some humor, as the imagination and moral immaturity of young Briony Tallis lead at first to some standard British drawing room drama, and then to the brink of tragedy. Some very fine acting, cinematography, and great scenery help get us involved.

Then the movie abruptly shifts locations, actors, and pace. Although the plot switches to the historically dramatic circumstances of the second world war, our characters now seem only to be marking time.

And then, near the end of the movie, we are subjected to a writerly device, which forces us to re-evaluate the second half of the movie. There’s a great tradition of these tricks in film and we react differently to each one, but at the end of Atonement, when the device was played, my reaction was simply disappointment, and simply confirmed my decreased engagement in the second half of the movie. Whatever was the intended impact, the drama had long before seeped away.

It’s worth seeing for the acting, cinematography, and that dramatic first hour.

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