Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Fair Game' Movie Review

'Fair Game' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

When scandals and corruption hit American politicians, the public feels it knows everything just by reading articles and watching news broadcasts. However, people often tend to forget there are numerous sides to every story, which is exactly the case with the new political drama ‘Fair Game,’ starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. The two portray real life couple Valerie Plame, a former CIA Operations Officer whose identity was publicly revealed, and her husband Joseph C. Wilson, who once worked as an American Ambassador.

English screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth combined details from Plame’s book Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House with Wilson’s memoir The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity. The movie follows several of the CIA operations Plame was involved in immediately after 9-11. It also chronicles her life leading up to the U.S.’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. As part of the CIA’s Counter-Proliferation Division, Plame was gathering evidence that Iraqi leaders were building weapons of mass destruction.

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Faster Movie Review

'Faster' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

As Americans reflect on all of the good in their lives during the Thanksgiving weekend, some people don’t have the luxury of appreciating the good in life. This is the case for the characters in the new revenge movie ‘Faster,’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thorton and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. The Castle Rock Entertainment film, however, gives Johnson’s fans something to be thankful for, however, as he gets back in touch with his action roots.

The movie’s straightforward plot follows main character James Cullen (played by Johnson), who spent the past 10 years in prison for his part in a botched bank robbery with his brother. James, who is simply referred to as Driver, as he drove the getaway car, is determined to get revenge on the group of men who attacked him and killed his brother after the heist for their cut of the money. After learning how to protect himself against violent attacks in prison, Driver complies a list of the men’s addresses and goes after them one-by-one to seek his revenge.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Actor Norman Reedus Interview

Here's the link to an exclusive interview with actor Norman Reedus (my questions were the first two about 'The Boondock Saints'):

Saturday, November 13, 2010

'Morning Glory' Movie Review

Title: Morning Glory

Directed by: Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus)

Starring: Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, The Lucky Ones), Noah Bean (Nikita), Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford (Cowboys & Aliens)

While the on-air talents on many shows receive most of the public’s attention, as seen with Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, who portray morning news co-hosts in the new comedy ‘Morning Glory,’ Rachel McAdams proves that behind-the-camera talent is just as important. Turning away from garnering attention in both her new role and in real life, McAdams proves in the new Roger Michell-directed film that anyone can achieve what they want by working hard and not going against their morals.

The comedy-drama follows Becky Fuller (played by McAdams), as she is fired from her job as a producer at an early local morning news program in New Jersey. Already 28, Becky is depressed that she hasn’t already achieved her life-long goal of becoming a producer for the ‘Today’ show, especially since her main focus in life is work. Despite not knowing anyone in New York City, Becky decides to accept a lower-paying position as a producer at ‘Daybreak,’ the lowest-ranking national morning news show.

Becky wants to prove to Jerry Barnes (portrayed by Jeff Goldblum) that he made the right decision in hiring her. In an effort to raise ‘Daybreak’s ratings, Becky hires legendary, award-winning broadcast journalist Mike Pomeroy (played by Ford) to co-anchor the show with Colleen Peak (portrayed by Keaton). While Adam Bennett (portrayed by Patrick Wilson), a fellow producer who previously worked with Mike at an evening news show and is romantically interested in Becky, warns her about Mike’s attitude, she has faith he can help revitalize the struggling program.

‘Morning Glory’ definitely seemed as though it would feature an equal mix of Becky’s professional and personal struggles, and would leave viewers rooting for her to overcome her obstacles. The script was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who previously wrote such hits as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘27 Dresses.’ The movie was also produced by J.J. Abrams and his released by his production company, Bad Robot. McKenna lived up to her previous works to some degree by giving Becky numerous work challenges. However, the movie as a whole leaves audiences unsatisfied, as they don’t see her balance her personal issues with her work obligations. While Becky’s lack of social life in part motivates her to do well at ‘Daybreak,’ McKenna should have included more scenes between her and Adam. A major theme in the movie was Becky discovering her inner strengths, so her finding a way to balance her work and her new-found private life would have definitely added to her character development.

While it was never fully revealed why Becky aimed to become a producer all her life, and McAdams didn’t have much character development to work with, the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ actress was the true star of the film. Advertisements for ‘Morning Glory’ emphasized that Ford and Keaton were the supporting stars in the movie, but McAdams easily grabbed the attention for herself. While she garnered praise in other genres besides comedy, including action in ‘Red Eye’ and suspense in ‘State of Play,’ McAdams masterfully connects to her characters emotionally in romance comedies. She understood Becky’s need to reach the top of her chosen profession, and would do anything to succeed.

While none of the characters were fully developed in ‘Morning Glory,’ and it was just another one of McKenna’s exposes of the life of the working woman, it still deserves attention by McAdams’ fans. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, language and brief drug references, the movie is appropriate for her younger fans who want to see what it’s like to work in broadcast journalism. While it won’t receive glory for being McAdams’ best work, the film further solidifies her place in Hollywood.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, November 5, 2010

Due Date Movie Review

Title: Due Date

Directed by: Todd Phillips (The Hangover, The Hangover 2)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man 2, Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder), Zach Galifianakis (Puss in Boots, Dinner for Schmucks), Juliette Lewis (Different Kind of Love, The Darwin Awards, Whip It), Michelle Monaghan (Machine Gun Preacher), Danny McBride (Land of the Lost) and Jamie Foxx (Kane & Lync, The Soloist)

Movies that don’t make their audiences think often times fall short on plot, premise, laughs and chemistry. While ‘Due Date’s simplistic plot-line was basically revealed in its theatrical trailers, it stands out from many other comedies released today, as it still delivers its promised light-hearted laughs. Plus, it has the added benefit of featuring well-liked and respected actors, including Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Jamie Foxx and Juliette Lewis, who get along so well on-screen that they can easily pass as friends in real life.

‘Due Date’ stands out from other comedies as it follows architect Peter Highman (played by Downey), who is in Atlanta on business. He’s trying to get home to Los Angeles on time for the birth of his first child. However, he gets kicked off his plane after accidentally switching bags with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (portrayed by comedic road-trip movie king Galifianakis) at the curb-side check in counter. Drug paraphernalia is found in Ethan’s bag, causing Peter to be put on the no-fly list.

While all of Peter’s luggage is still on the plane, he is still unwillingly forced to drive cross-country with Ethan. The new acquaints have multiple crazy encounters together, including being questioned by border patrol for allegedly smoking marijuana and flipping their rental car over a bridge after Ethan falls asleep at the wheel. While Peter despises Ethan at first for getting him into their crazy situation, he eventually grows to tolerate, and even somewhat like, his goof-ball but well-meaning travel companion.

While screenwriters lan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel focus ‘Due Date’s story more on the multiple adventures that Peter and Ethan get into than on one cohesive conflict, or on developing the characters themselves, Downey and Galifianakis still had great chemistry together. Downey, who was once one of the bad boys of Hollywood, perfected Peter’s desire to get home to his wife Sarah (played by Michelle Monaghan in a minor role) in time for her scheduled C-section.

While Peter didn’t want to put up with Ethan’s free spirited ways, as he was just delaying his trip back to Sarah, he still had enough of a conscience not to just leave him behind. Downey didn’t portray Peter as being arrogant or feeling superior to Ethan, even though he was the one who got them on the no fly list in the first place.

Galifianakis also relived his glory days of last year’s hit comedy ‘The Hangover,’ the movie that made him famous. While Ethan is like Galifianakis’ ‘Hangover’ character Alan Garner, as they are both the goofy characters that cause several mishaps on road trips, the actor didn’t just recycle his break-out role. While Alan was just the guy that audiences felt bad for, Ethan was the character that really created most of the laughs in ‘Due Date.’ Ethan just wanted a friend in Peter, but his actions, while well-intentioned, often provided more mischief. Galifianakis definitely made Ethan likeable and relatable, as he didn’t always realize his actions bothered the people around him.

In ‘Due Date,’ Galifianakis definitely made up for his role as Bobby in his previous movie, last month’s dramedy ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story.’ That movie flopped at the box office, not even making it’s entire budget back during its limited theatrical release, in part because the actor’s fans aren’t accustomed to seeing him taking on such serious subjects. Galifianakis should definitely stick to comedy, as he rightfully first garnered mainstream attention for being a stand-up comedian.

‘Due Date’s director Todd Phillips, who also helmed the hits ‘Old School’ and ‘Road Trip,’ and directed Galifianakis in ‘The Hangover,’ surely has another hit on his hands. While most directors don’t like being typed-cast, he definitely made the right decision to take on another comedy about free-spirited, care-free guy friends who decide to take a journey together. While Downey probably won’t win another Golden Globe next year for ‘Due Date,’ like he did this year for ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ Phillips made the right decision to cast the respected actor alongside the popular up-and-coming Galifianakis.

Written by: Karen Benardello

The Romantics Movie Review

'The Romantics' Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

The romantics is a nickname adopted by the group of college friends and main characters in the new romantic comedy ‘The Romantics,’ as many of them have dated or have gotten engaged or married to each other. The term can also be used to describe the multiple big-name actors in the small, independent Paramount Famous Productions movie, including Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel, Adam Brody and Elijah Wood, as America has had a long love affair with all of them. As the movie lacks special effects and blockbuster status, Paramount seemed to bank on the profitably of the actors to carry the tumultuous day-in-the-life tale that many people can relate to.

Based on the book ‘The Romantics,’ the second novel by author Galt Niederhoffer, the movie follows Laura Rosen (played by Holmes, who also served as an executive producer), as she travels to the home of her college roommate, Lila Hayes (portrayed by Paquin), six years after graduation. Lila is set to marry Tom, who dated Laura all throughout college. Laura agreed to be Lila’s maid of honor, even though she still has romantic feelings for Tom, and suspects he still has feelings for her. As their friends speculate over whom Tom will choose to be with, Laura struggles between standing up for Lila at the wedding or running off with her old love.

Holmes, Duhalmel and the other actors definitely deserve credit for trying to branch out into a different genre. Having previously done movies known more for their stunts than their story-lines, the actors definitely faced a challenge taking on roles the American audience can actually relate to. But having been in Hollywood since they were kids or teens, many of the main stars lacked the real-life experiences that Americans are facing today, including been romantically torn between two friends.

Niederhoffer, who has also worked as a Hollywood producer on such films as ‘Prozac Nation’ and ‘The Baxter,’ also deserves credit for taking the leap into writing the screenplay for, and directing, ‘The Romantics.’ As a first-time screenwriter and film director, she was able to capture the essence of independent movies, including having the characters strive to better themselves through talking about their life goals and differences. But Niederhoffer introduced so many characters throughout the 95-minute movie that not many are developed, and it’s hard for the audience to even keep track of some of their names. Laura, Lila and Tom’s true personalities aren’t even fully exposed until the end of the movie, and they’re the main characters.

‘The Romantics’ tried to prove that the multiple well-known actors could carry a character-driven story, and that Niederhoffer could compete with other directors of smaller, independent movies. However, the movie starts off with a whimper instead of a bang, and never builds up the necessary momentum needed to truly set itself apart.

Ke$ha 11th Female Solo Singer to Have Four Top 10 Singles from Debut Album

Will Ke$ha’s New Feat Keep Her On Top of the Music World?
The Singer-Songwriter 11th Female Solo Singer to Have Four Top 10 Singles from Debut Album

Written by: Karen Benardello

With the release of her new song ‘Take It Off,’ Ke$ha has become the 11th solo female artist to garner at least four Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 singles from a debut album, the chart’s website reported on September 13. During the chart’s 52-year history, other singers who have claimed that achievement include Cyndi Lauper, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce.

The 23-year-old Ke$ha burst into the music scene in the beginning of 2010, when her debut single, ‘TiK ToK’ spent nine weeks at the top of the Hot 100, starting on January 2. The singer-songwriter’s second single, ‘Blah Blah Blah,’ featuring 3OH!3, debuted at number seven three weeks after ‘TiK ToK’s premiere. Ke$ha’s debut album, ‘Animal,’ debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 at the same time.

‘Your Love Is My Drug’ followed next, rising to the number four spot in June. While all of Ke$ha’s songs are catchy, they pale in comparison to her main rival, Lady Gaga. While Ke$ha is trying to emulate Gaga’s bizarre outfits and release similarly-themed songs, and definitely deserves credit for achieving such a unique feat, she doesn’t have as much staying power. Where Gaga is creative in both of her songs and style, Ke$ha just seems to be riding on the coattails of her crazy outfits.

Bo Burnham Interview

Here's the link to my interview with comedian/singer/actor Bo Burnham at the Conflict of Interest Party at Rebel NYC:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ryan Kwanten Red Hill Interview

Here's the link to my interview with 'True Blood's Ryan Kwanten, on his new movie, 'Red Hill':

Red Hill Movie Review

Title: Red Hill

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Claire van der Boom and Tommy Lewis

Red Hill: not only is it a place aimed to showcase a largely uninhabited area of Australia that many people don’t know about, but it’s also the place that highlights the talents of a cast and crew that many people aren’t familiar with. The new independent drama, which was directed and written by newcomer Patrick Hughes, and features actors Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis and ‘True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, is the latest testament proving that Hollywood isn’t the only place that creates great western-thrillers.

The movie follows a young city police officer, Shane Cooper (played by Kwanten), as he moves to the small town of Red Hill from the big city. He wants to provide his wife Alice (portrayed by Claire van der Boom) with a safe, quiet environment during her pregnancy. However, things don’t go as Shane planned on the first day of his new job, when a convicted murderer, Jimmy Conway (played by Lewis), escapes from prison.

Jimmy, who once lived in Red Hill, returns to take his revenge out on the town, especially the head of the police department, Old Bill (portrayed by Bisley). While Jimmy is hunting down Old Bill and the rest of the locals who helped send him to prison, Shane is left to protect himself and struggle to survive for his wife and unborn child.

At first, ‘Red Hill’ didn’t seem as though it would be extremely original or well-shot. The low-budget western-thriller is Hughes’ first full-length movie. The production only lasted four weeks, so it seemed likely that it would just feature under-developed roles and scenic shots of the Australian countryside and cheap effects.

But the ten-year commercial director veteran proved that his years of struggling to break into the film industry served him well, as he was able to inject his life experiences into the script. Much like Shane had to work to provide for Alice and their child, Hughes worked hard to get the film made, saying “We made the film independently, raising the money privately; the production went ahead with neither a distributor attached nor any government funding beyond a location grant.” He has also said that he even had to use “second-hand film stock from…’Entourage’ and ‘Fast and Furious.’”

As the movie’s writer, Hughes expertly formed the relationship between Shane and Bill. He knew to make the young officer ready to please his superiors, while secretly questioning their motives and actions.

Kwanten and Bisley further expanded the tension between the two officers. Not being afforded the opportunity to discuss how to approach their on-screen relationship, the two actors brought their unfamiliarity with each other to the screen. “What was different about this film was that there wasn’t a whole abundance of talk beforehand, because we didn’t have the luxury of that time. But what that afforded us was a different kind of freedom,” Kwanten has said of ‘Red Hill.’

Playing an Australian again for the first time in eight years, Kwanten also showed his diversified acting skills. While primarily known in America for playing womanizer slacker Jason Stackhouse on ‘True Blood,’ Kwanten was also expertly able to play the committed, responsible Shane. He proved what a great actor he is by caring for Alice and being determined to keep his family safe. Kwanten has also said that he is able to bring an authenticity to every role by bringing his real-life experiences to the set.

Bisley was also a great presence on the screen, as he brought a believability to the role of Bill. The town’s head of police thinks he’s more important than he really is, and wants to control everything that goes on in Red Hill. Bisley played his role completely different from Kwanten, which helped drive the plot’s conflict. When Jimmy returns to the town, ready to kill all the locals, the viewer will be so caught up in Bisley’s acting that they’ll want to know what exactly Bill did to Jimmy. As Kwantan has said of his co-star, Bisley has a huge legacy in Australia, which really played well in his portrayal of Bill.

As Hughes has rightfully said of ‘Red Hill,’ the plot is all about revenge, redemption and sacrifice, and is a perfect tribute to the American western. Anyone who enjoyed ‘No Country For Old Men’ and ‘Deliverance,’ movies Hughes has said inspired him, will definitely enjoy his take on the western-thriller genre.

Written by: Karen Benardello