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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Tropic Thunder – A Movie Review

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Dec 272008
 

A group of self-absorbed actors set out to make the most expensive war film. But after ballooning costs force the studio to cancel the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast into the jungles of Southeast Asia, where they encounter real bad guys.

Genres: Comedy; Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.; Release Date: August 13th, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Jay Baruchel, Nick Nolte

Directed by: Ben Stiller

We watched this on DVD. the “R” rating was well deserved for the pervasive language. We let Lay’s nephews watch, but half way through, I had wished we hadn’t. But they got laughs out of it, and I guess they hear a lot of the same in real life.

It was a lot like Ben Stiller’s career in general. This appeared to a great potential vehicle for Stiller to what he can do well (spoofs of a genre and the Hollywood film industry), and as noted, there are some very funny moments. Jack Black was, as is often the case, pretty good in his part, as was Robert Downey, Jr. The rest of the cast played their parts well also.

Overall though, I’d have to say it was merely a mediocre effort. It started strong, but by the end it was all wearing a little thin and became fairly predictable.

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Zodiac

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Aug 022007
 

ZodiacA serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. We follow the investigators and reporters in this lightly fictionalized account of the true 1970’s case as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. Based on Robert Graysmith’s book, the movie’s focus is the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people.

Director
David Fincher

Genre
Crime / Drama / Thriller

Cast
Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas

Usually when a film gets made about a media grabbing unsolved crime, the resulting movie tends to be overtly sensational and at only remotely connected to what really happened. But the director has given us a well argued thesis on the possible identity of the Zodiac. While there are some very intense scenes, Fincher takes a somewhat unexpected approach on the subject. All of the killings take place pretty early on in the movie, with the bulk of the story centering on the actual investigation into the killer by both the cops and a cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case. In fact, the depictions of the murders are done in a manner that is fairly reverent towards the victims while still conveying the cruelty of them.

Some people may find themselves disappointed by this two and a half hour epic if they go in expecting the usual serial killer fare. But it’s a must see for anybody who likes a good detective story.

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Good Night, and Good Luck.

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Nov 112005
 

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Broadcast journalist Edward Murrow looks to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Directed by
George Clooney

Genres
Drama, History

Cast
David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels, George Clooney, Tate Donovan, Thomas McCarthy, Matt Ross, Reed Diamond, Robert John Burke, Grant Heslov, Alex Borstein, Rose Abdoo

I was a little disappointed with this film, but that might be the result of having extremely high hopes. “Good Night, and Good Luck,” tells the story of CBS Newsman Edward R. Murrow’s courageous fight against Senator Joseph McCarthy. As a student of both history and journalism, I have viewed Murrow as a hero and was very excited to see this film. Overall, David Strathairn’s performance is impeccable, capturing Murrow’s nuances, genius, and even the cigarette addiction that eventually killed him.

George Clooney directed this film and plays Fred Friendly, who produced Murrow’s broadcasts. Clooney also is credited with co-writing the screenplay, and that’s where the problem arises. Aside for the lengthy film footage of actual Senate sub-committee testimony, and the genuine, on-screen words of Murrow and others, the screenplay is sparse. There just wasn’t much tension in the film, and it showed little of the struggles taking place around the stories.

This story was clearly as a warning that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it…unfortunately, I think it might have come out too late.

We get very little insight into the characters of Murrow, Friendly, and CBS President William Paley (played by Frank Langella). In addition, Clooney wastes a superb supporting cast including Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., and Jeff Daniels.

Clearly, George Clooney has made a noble film that captures the spirit of the time and the words of those involved, and if there was ever any doubt that McCarthy was a self-serving hypocrite, it is erased by this film. But the director failed to develop characters that were interesting in their own right. As such, the film is only slightly more involving than a documentary on the subject might have been.

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