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Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Easily one of the best movies of the year so far — and quite possibly the best — this comedy-drama about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) in California whose high school-age kids (ALICE IN WONDERLAND's Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide they want to seek out their birth father (they were both fathered by the same sperm donor, one with each mom). Finding dad (Mark Ruffalo) isn't that tough, but once he is injected into this family's lives, it upsets the emotional balance of what appears to be a healthy existence. The greatness of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is layered, and it goes without saying that director and co-writer Lisa Chokodenko (HIGH ART, LAUREL CANYON) has gone out of her way to put together this exceptional cast led by Bening, who plays the most complex character in a film loaded with such people. As each member of her family starts to fall under the spell of the charming, earthy and ridiculously handsome Ruffalo, she begins to feel left out of her own life. She attempts to make an effort to include him in her life and discovers he has infiltrated her world far more than she originally believed. It's a hard-crushed scene, and Bening floored me as she maneuvered through it. It was also strange seeing Ruffalo play someone so overtly sexual and sexy. He tends to play slightly off-beat roles, and while there's no denying that he's a good-looking dude, he rarely taps into that as blatantly as he does here. I was as impressed by the younger actors here as I was the more mature ones. Wasikowska has been on my radar since her unbelievably heartbreaking run on HBO's "In Treatment," and she commands every scene she's in as the daughter preparing to go to college and struggling with her identity. She personifies someone her age going through the pain of mentally severing the ties of her parents, while only beginning to get to know this father figure as she's heading off to school. I realize I'm making this movie sound like it's overpoweringly heavy, and that's certainly not the case. More than any other of Cholodenko's work, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is packed with humor, some of it quite dark, but most of it pretty mainstream. In fact, that's the most surprising thing about what would appear to be an unconventional film--this thing is extremely accessible and comes across like a real crowd pleaser, and I mean that in the best possible way. Without sacrificing depth or resorting to pandering, this movie appeals to all. And while I certainly wouldn't call it a "feel-good" movie, seeing a film this satisfying did definitely make me feel a whole lot better about the state of movies today--this summer, especially. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is a film of substance that doesn't preach or treat its subject matter with a heavy handedness. This movie is more than alright; it's damn near perfect.
THE GIRL WHO PLAYEDS WITH FIRE I'll admit, when I saw the THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO the first installment in what is being called the Millennium Trilogy, I had no idea how popular the books by the late Stieg Larsson actually were worldwide. Nor did I know that the there was a third book (or movie) arriving. But the filmmakers of the trilogy wisely filmed all three books back to back, making it much easier to keep the stories' incredible cast together, in particular the striking and ferocious Noomi Rapace, playing the "girl" in the titles of all three books, Lisbeth Salander. In this new story, Lisbeth comes out of her self-imposed, money-infused exile when her abusive guardian is found dead, and her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. She is also suspected of killing two investigators looking into a sex trafficking ring, one of whom is writing an article for Millennium magazine, edited by Lisbeth's sometime soulmate Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist). Blomkvist doesn't believe Lisbeth is guilty, and the two of them set out on different paths to prove her innocence. In truth, the pair share almost no screen time together, but that somehow makes their relationship all the more fascinating. Director Daniel Alfredson (who did not direct the first film, but did direct the third, due in October) wisely does not inject too much in-your-face visual style to this punk-rock procedural. He's smart enough to know that Rapace is her own visual effect, who somehow manages to make her go-to snarl face intriguing and appealing. Much like the first film, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE doesn't skimp on the sleaze either. A lengthy, fairly graphic lesbian love scene between Lisbeth and her girlfriend will certainly open a few eyes. I liked some of the new villains thrown into the mix, including a massive blonde button man (Micke Spreitz) who apparently doesn't experience pain. Much of the film features the two leads searching for clues while helping Lisbeth avoid capture from the police and the bad guys. An added disturbing bonus is that we get to learn a little more about Lisbeth's troubled past at the hands of her parents, the medical community, and the legal system. As strange as it might sound, the more of these films I see, the less interested I am in watching the American version, which begin getting released next year, directed by David Fincher, who will either stray from what makes these stories great or be so faithful to them that their production will seem unnecessary in the face of the Swedish productions. If you want to see the filmed version of this wildly popular series, these are the ones to see.
LA MISSION I will admit, there were certain story elements to writer-director Peter Bratt's feature LA MISSION that took me by surprise. Starring Peter's brother Benjamin Bratt as Che Rivera, a well-respected man in the Mission barrio of San Francisco, the film begins as more of a straight profile of the community, in particular, the lowrider culture. Rivera is an ex-con and still goes to AA meetings regularly, so we know he's had a hard life, especially since his wife died. His only son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), is a good kid who has a substantial secret he keeps from his extremely masculine father: he's gay and has a boyfriend. When Che finds accidentally finds out, the household is thrown into a chaotic mess, ending with Che beating his son in the street and calling him every hateful thing he knows, ensuring the entire neighborhood knows his shame. Considering Bratt typically plays fairly likable guys in movies and TV shows, he can play a scary sonofabitch when he wants to. As nicely as the filmmakers handle the rift between father and son, I was far more interested in just hanging out with Che and his older friends, and watching a relationship between Che and his upstairs neighbor Regina (Melvina Jones) get off to a rocky start. That said, the scenes between Che and Jesse spotlight some of the best acting of Bratt's career, as Che struggles to accept or not accept his son's life. And that's a good enough reason to check out the film. At times, LA MISSION feels a bit Movie of the Week, but at other times its a penetrating family drama with a message worth reinforcing.
[REC] 2 The 2007 original Spanish-made film [REC] was a nightmarish, first-person account of a TV crew that was trapped in an apartment complex with most of its residents when a mysterious, saliva-transmitted virus turns those infected into raging lunatics. Over the course of the very short running time, each resident--along with the rescue teams sent in initially to help them before the building was sealed off by the health minister--is either slaughtered or turned into one of these extremely dangerous creatures. The American remake Quarantine captured some of the fun of [REC], but it chickened out a bit when it came to some of the supernatural elements and possible connection between this incident and The Vatican. Today, directors Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza pick things up just minutes after the first film ends to take us back into the infested building, this time through the cameras of a small military team sent into the building with a man claiming to be with the health department (although that white colar around his neck tells a different story) to clean up the mess the first team could not. [REC] 2 basically never lets up, never stops scaring the holy hell out of us, and ramps up the batshit crazy more than I would have imagined possible. Do we find out what happened to that cute female reporter who got dragged off into the darkness? You really do need to find out for yourself. In my estimation, this is one of the rare and wonderful examples of the sequel surpassing the original in every way. The scares are ramped up, the story is more in depth and interesting, and the performances are more focused and slightly nutzo. True horror fans have already embraced the first film, and I'm guessing full bear hugs will be the order of the day when the catch a glimpse of [REC] 2. It's that good.
-- Capone Follow Me On Twitter

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