Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beauty Driven to Madness

There will be varying interpretations of the film "Black Swan" but my feelings are that it's about where the road to perfection can take you.  And in this case, it took Nina Sayers (beautifully portrayed by Natalie Portman) to a breakdown of magnificent proportions.  "Black Swan" directed by Darren Aronofsy ("The Wrestler" "Pi" "Requiem for a Dream"), written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, and starring Natalie Portman ("The Professional" "V for Vendetta" "Garden State"), Mila Kunis ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall" "That 70's Show") and Vincent Cassel ("Elizabeth" "Ocean's Twelve") begins with a beautiful sequence of Nina dancing but it quite quickly becomes clear that she is dreaming and that dream also quite quickly becomes sinister.  From there we are introduced to her life with her mother, Erica, played with great subtlety by Barbara Hershey ("Hannah and Her Sisters" "Beaches.")  Nina is a prima ballerina who is hoping to be cast as the lead in a new production of Swan Lake.  Nina's mother, we find out later, was also a ballerina but gave up her career when she became pregnant.  There are layers of guilt and resentment coming from both women as Nina, who is clearly in her mid to late 20's, still lives with her mother in her childhood room and continues to let her mother put her to bed.  Nina also begins a friendship with another dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), and Lily gives Nina a taste of a normal, balanced life but you're never quite sure if Lily's motives are pure.  There are many scenes that degrade into what seem to be Nina's fantasies or hallucinations.  The film is shot with a slightly hazy and sepia colored tone that adds to the disjointed sense that what you're seeing is not real.  The music, of course, is glorious and it builds as the film progresses and leaves you slightly breathless at the end.  Please go see this film for yourself - it is beautiful, haunting and unlike anything I've ever seen before. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Story of Courage and Fortitude.

I saw this film in an independent theatre in Palo Alto, which was packed with what looked like the entire baby boomer population of Northern California.  But next to me sat a young teenage girl with her parents who was one of the first people to start clapping when the film ended.  And I was right behind her.  Has there ever been a more likable and honest looking actor than Colin Firth?  Who better to play a monarch who has been placed in a position of power he never dreamed would befall him.  "The King's Speech" directed by Tom Hooper ("John Adams" "Red Dust" and a long list of very good British television shows and mini-series) and starring Colin Firth (magnificent last year in "A Single Man," "Bridget Jones Diary," and of course, the original Mr. Darcy in "Pride & Prejudice"), Geoffrey Rush ("Shine", "Quills" and was Barbossa in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise) and Helena Bonham Carter ("Sweeney Todd", "Howards End" and the deliciously evil Bellatrix in the Harry Potter films.)  This film is the story of King George VI, who came to the throne just as the Nazi threat was escalating in Europe, when his brother, King Edward VIII (wonderfully portrayed by Guy Pearce), abdicated in order to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best.)  King George, or Bertie as he was known to his family, had always been afflicted with stuttering.  As a prince, he was called upon to give public speeches and they always were always excruciating, but when he came to power as the King, his duty as a public speaker became paramount.  Bertie had been treated by all the best doctors and therapists in England but saw little improvement.  Thus Bertie's wife, Elizabeth, turned to Lionel Logue as a last resort.  The two men had a rough beginning but eventually developed a fast friendship and Lionel spent the rest of his life helping Bertie at every speech and public appearance.  The story of the two men and how they came to understand each other is very funny and touching at the same time.  The techniques that Lionel used (he was not a doctor nor was he trained in speech pathology - he had honed his skill while helping wounded soldiers who had severe shell shock and would speak to no one but him) slowly bring out the story of Bertie's childhood - his overbearing father, wicked nannies and doted-on older brother.  These factors all played a part in Bertie's affliction.  Colin Firth is magnificent as Bertie.  His stuttering never feels forced and the interplay between Bertie and Logue feels like you are truly watching two old friends.

This is a fascinating story of what it means to be a monarch.  The screenplay is smart, funny, caustic and engaging.  Many historical figures are seen throughout the film, such as Winston Churchill (an amazing Timothy Spall, who was last seen as Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter), Neville Chamberlain (Roger Parrott) and the Princess Elizabeth (Freya Wilson) whom we all know grows up to be Elizabeth II.  This is a wonderful film for the whole family.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

"127 Hours" - If Only All Films Could Have Such Heart.

We all know this is an incredible story of fortitude and survival, but for it to be presented in such an inspiring, thoughtful and insightful way is truly a thing of beauty.  Danny Boyle, who brought us "Slumdog Millionaire," "28 Days Later" and "Trainspotting," takes on a completely different genre and does it the right way.  "127 Hours" is based on the true-life adventure gone wrong of Aron Ralston (played by James Franco, with the perfect combination of grace, heart and spontaneity - he is an actor of the highest caliber and will surely garner an Oscar nomination.)  Aron is a 28 year old hiker/mountaineer who goes for a day hike in Canyonlands, Utah, and becomes trapped in a ravine with his arm pinned by a boulder.  Aron is a free spirit who is reckless, looking for excitement in the outdoors and seems convinced that he is invincible.  He therefore ignores the warnings to always tell someone where he is going and ignores the questions from his family who are always wondering where he is.  On his way into the canyon, he encounters two women who are somewhat lost.  He helps them find their way (off the main path, of course) and then sends them on their way.  Not long after he leaves them, he falls into the ravine.  For the next 127 hours, Aron does everything he can to free himself, using the only sharp instrument he had - a free "survival tool" his mother had given him.  The beauty of this film is the depiction of his slow realization that he will surely die where he is.  His thirst becomes overwhelming and when the hallucinations start, we learn more about who Aron is and what his life had been like up to this point.  He is sure that his recklessness has led him to this spot and that he deserves it after the heartache he must have caused his family by his frequent disappearing and his inability to commit to those who love him most.  He realizes his selfishness as he records his thoughts and feelings on his video camera.  He has one last hallucination that sets in motion his determination to get out of that ravine at any cost.  The scenes of his self-mutilation are hard to watch but they are mercifully short and by the time they happen, you are so invested in seeing him live that you cannot turn away.  You will cheer and cry as he walks out of the ravine and stumbles upon a family who happen to be hiking nearby.  His shouts of "help" will ring in your ears long after it's over.  It's a story of the power of the human spirit and a story of familial love.  I dare you to see it and not be deeply and profoundly touched. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Love the Beatles?

Well, who doesn't.  Yet, even if the dulcet tones of the harmonies on "If I Fell," "Ticket to Ride," or "Norwegian Wood" don't move you, this film, that opened in the US the day before what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, will. 

"Nowhere Boy", directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and co-written by Julia Baird, who is John's half-sister, and Matt Greenhalgh, is the story of John Lennon's life before the Beatles, as a young man growing up in Liverpool.  It is largely based upon Julia Baird's book, Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon. As I sat in the theatre anxiously waiting for the film to start, I was transported back to that day as a very young fan (I was 7 when they first appeared on Ed Sullivan and I had already stolen all of my sister's albums and knew every word) sitting on my parent's bed staring at the black and white TV in anticipation of seeing them perform for the first time, and crying when they came on.  My mom had to comfort me and hold me through the whole show.  So, as this film started, it was like going home for me, especially when the first sound I heard was the opening chord for "Hard Day's Night."  From there, the film moves into setting up what his life was like as a teenager in Liverpool during the late 50's and early 60's, as well as the beginnings of rock and roll and where and when John (played by Aaron Johnson, who just catapulted his career) first heard Elvis and many other rockers of that era.  We meet John's Aunt Mimi (played by the perfectly cast Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (played by David Threlfall), with whom he is living, and we find out how his Uncle George died and what an impact that had upon him.  We are then introduced to his mother, Julia (played by Anne-Marie Duff.)  The story behind why he is living with his aunt and uncle and not his mother is explained later in the film but when we first see John reunited with his mother, we get a glimpse into the tragedies of his life that shaped him.  Julia is the first person to introduce John to the bango and Mimi is the first person to buy John a guitar.  John is in and out of school and eventually starts his own band, the Quarrymen.  At one of their first gigs, he is introduced to a skinny kid named Paul, who plays the guitar backwards.  John and Paul bond over Paul's admission that his mother died a year before but there is always a slight bit of jealousy coming from John when it becomes apparent that Paul is as talented and sought after as John.  The real story of John's birth, where his father is and what caused his mother to let her sister, Mimi, have custody of him comes out towards the end of the film and it provides some really tender and agonizing scenes that will leave you with a much clearer idea of the man who was John Lennon.  The acting in this film is superb, as well as the ambiance of the time.  John's wit is showcased at times, especially near the end, as well as his deep-seeded anguish and longing for approval and love.  Also throughout the film, there are references thrown in to future songs that John will write, as when he bicycles past Strawberry Fields, or is doodling in his school book and the poem above it is something about a walrus.  The film ends with John telling Mimi that he has a new gig in Hamburg and will be gone for several months.  She asks him, "Is it with that new band of yours, oh, what's the name?  I can never remember." 

We will never forget.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Almost Makes You Want to Give Up Facebook

Just kidding.  I could never do that. 

"The Social Network" is the story of how the most popular social networking site in the world came to be, and it's not pretty.  It was co-written by Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men" "West Wing") and Ben Mezrich (who wrote the book "The Accidental Billionaires" upon which the movie is based) and was directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club" "Seven" "Zodiac" "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".)  

The film begins with a date gone wrong, where we see Mark Zuckerberg (played with aplomb by Jesse Eisenberg "Solitary Man" "Adventureland" ) saying and doing all the wrong things and losing the girl.  From there he goes on an intellectual rampage creating a website called "FaceMash" where pictures of actual girls on campus are used and compared as to who is the hottest.  This site crashes the Harvard network in about two hours, getting the attention of two Harvard brothers (who just happen to be wealthy, very good looking, very popular and very athletic) who are looking for someone to help them write the code for a networking site on the Harvard campus. Mark and his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (a very good Andrew Garfield "Red Riding" series, "Never Let Me Go") have already begun work on a similar site so Mark agrees to help the brothers and builds his site, called The Facebook, using their connections and Eduardo's money.  Mark is someone who is so intellectually superior to everyone around him that he has trouble controlling his actions and he continues on a path of making a mockery of those cooler, hipper and more popular than he is without stopping to weigh the consequences. "The Facebook" morphs into just "Facebook" and becomes an international sensation, while Mark shuts out the Harvard brothers and eventually shuts out Eduardo as well, mostly due to the influence of Sean Parker, the founder of Napster.  Sean Parker (played by an underrated Justin Timberlake.  This guy can act, people!) is the ultimate salesperson, slimy, charming, name-dropping, lying, whatever it takes to get people to do what he wants.  He finagles some investors for Mark and Facebook, with the end result of Eduardo being forced out because Mark no longer feels he needs him.  Lawsuits reign all around and in the end....well, everyone knows who got rich.  Everybody.  

The film goes back and forth between depositions being held for the various lawsuits and what actually happened (with some creative license, I'm sure) and the tension built using this device is marvelous.  For a story that happened mostly on paper and in cyberspace, it's a darn good edge of your seat kind of film.  I highly recommend it.  

I'm Glad I Don't Live in This Town

Well, as the critics have said, Ben Affleck has flexed his movie muscles and lifted up a winner.  "The Town" is a gritty, well-paced, thought-provoking, well-acted and very well written film.  Not only does Ben star in it, he also directed and co-wrote the film with Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard and Chuck Hogan.  

It is set in Boston (where Ben grew up) and takes place mostly in the neighborhood of Charlestown, the bank robbery capital of the world. The story revolves around Doug (Ben Affleck), James (Jeremy Renner "The Hurt Locker") and Claire (Rebecca Hall "Vicky Cristina Barcelona".) Doug and James are career criminals who come from a long line of Boston gangsters.  However, Doug is looking to get out.  During the heist that Doug hopes is his last, they end up taking Claire as a hostage.  They let her go but not before they take her driver's license and Doug discovers that Claire lives nearby.  He begins a relationship with her (she never saw her captors) and Doug's struggle to end his life of crime truly begins.  There are moments in this film that are truly stunning to watch and the actors bring such a gritty realism to the film.  Ben Affleck shows a maturity I haven't seen before, and Jeremy Renner is as tense and tortured as he was in the "Hurt Locker", only with a more evil and sinister core.  Rebecca Hall gives us the average girl thrown into a horrible situation with such life and courage, you will feel as if you've always known her.  And then there's Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") as James' sister, Krista, a drug addict who is in love with Doug.  Her chameleon performance should make producers and casting directors take notice.  This woman can act.  

The ending sequence of the film takes place at Fenway Park, which is a total bonus to an otherwise great crime film.  Go see it! 

Friday, September 17, 2010

And so begins the Fall openings of Oscar contenders.  Ben Affleck has apparently scored big time with "The Town," in which he stars, along with Jeremy Renner  (the most sought after actor in Hollywood after his turn in "The Hurt Locker"), Blake Lively (who I hear is almost unrecognizable as a drug addict), Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") and Rebecca Hall (who was so good as Vicky in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and in "Frost/Nixon" as well.)  I will let you know my impression after I see it this weekend.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

 Are we ready for this????  Brought to you by the Dowdle Brothers (“Quarantine” and “30 Days of Night” - both very scary films) and starring Chris Messina (“Away We Go” and “Julie & Julia”)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So looking forward to this film - it has already been nominated 12 times and won several coveted British Film awards and is nominated for 4 2010 BAFTA’s.  It opens in the US on October 8, 2010, the day before what would have been John Lennon’s 70th  birthday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Reception of Inception

Pretty clever, huh?  This is a very hard movie to review.  I went to see this film the day after my 53rd birthday with my entire family and as we were walking out, the reactions couldn't have been more different.  My husband said, "That gave me a headache," and my daughters each had a slightly different take on what they just saw.  We discussed the ending for a long time (as I'm sure everyone does) and we still can't agree.  But that is the point.  If it had been cut and dried, it just wouldn't have had the same impact and lasting vision. 

Christopher Nolan is pure genius.  Only he can take a completely confusing story line (the incomparable "Memento") or the story of a superhero ("The Dark Knight") or a story about dream invasion and the extraction of secrets from deep within the mind (which is the basis for "Inception") and make them accessible, entertaining and mind-blowing.  Plus he not only directed these films, he also wrote them.  This may be partially why they work so well, to have the writer also direct, but it certainly doesn't always work that way.  "Inception" stars Leonardo DiCaprio (in another excellent performance), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Brick" "500 Days of Summer" - an actor who has come a long way since his days on "3rd Rock from the Sun" and is on his way to being brilliant), the beautiful Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose"), the always slightly creepy Cillian Murphy ("Red Eye" "28 Days Later"), an English actor named Tom Hardy who almost stole the show and Ellen Page ("Juno"), who I felt was miscast.  Either she didn't quite get what was happening in the film (she wouldn't be alone if that was the case) or she just doesn't quite have the acting chops yet to tackle a film like this. 

I would try to explain the story but I honestly don't think I can.  Let's just say it starts with a dream, comes out of the dream with a powerful sequence of events involving a bathtub and electroshock, then continues with many other dreams and a fight scene that has Joseph Gordon-Levitt pounding from wall to ceiling to floor to wall and back to the ceiling.  The visuals alone are worth the price of admission.  It is also a story of the power of love and loss.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard play a married couple who fall victim to the destructiveness of using inception and the guilt that Leonardo feels over Marion's reaction to it.  There are layers to their relationship that unfold slowly through the film, mostly through Leonardo and Marion's superb and subtle acting.  There is also a wonderful scene very near the end between Cillian Murphy and Leonardo.  Cillian's memory has been compromised by the Inception team for reasons that will make sense when you see it, but as Leonardo passes Cillian in an airport there is a brief moment when you can see that Cillian almost recognizes Leonardo but it passes.  This is acting at it's best. 

I'm dying to see it again now that I know the story so I can savor the visuals and find the clues to the ending that I know must be there. 

It may be a trippy ride but it's one of the best movie rides of 2010. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Couldn't be any better.....

That about sums up this next film: 

 "Toy Story 3" 

If you haven't seen it yet - GO!  Even if you didn't see the first two films, this one will delight you, both visually and emotionally.  Of course, if you have seen the first two then it is imperative that you finish the series and GO SEE THIS BEFORE IT LEAVES THE THEATRE! 

From the first opening sequence, this film does what so many mainstream adult films do not - it captures you with a cohesive story with action scenes that make sense and move the story along.  The plot builds on itself until the final moments of the film when it comes to a satisfying conclusion.  The story is that Andy is now 17 and is about to leave for college.  While Andy is cleaning out his room (for some reason his mom is giving his room to his little sister - not nice) he divides his toys up into those he wants to give away and those he wants to keep.  Lucky Woody is elected to be the one toy that goes to college with him.  But the bags get confused and all the toys end up being donated to a preschool.  Mayhem develops as the toys realize they've been discarded and the preschool is not the wonderful place they thought it might be.  There are some wonderful new characters, and the heart of this movie franchise is never lost, especially when Woody manages to escape from Andy's car when he realizes that his pals are in jeopardy. 

The visuals are stunning and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it in 3d, although I think it would be just as good in high quality HD.  This film made me laugh, cry, cheer, and it had me on the edge of my seat.  Not bad for a cartoon.  I'm continually amazed at how sophisticated and well-done these "kids" movies are.  I've said it before but I'm gonna say it again - mainstream Hollywood, please take note.  

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Dear me, Watson...."

Yes, I finally had the chance to watch one of the most anticipated films to come out at Christmas time last year:

 "Sherlock Holmes"

Starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, with Jude Law (Dr. Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), and directed by Guy Ritchie.  Now, maybe it's just me but this film was a huge disappointment.  I knew going into it that it was more of an action film than the Sherlock Holmes stories should ever be considering it was directed by Mr. Ritchie ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", "Snatch" and the horrible "Swept Away") but it also turned out to be a mess of a story as well.  To tell you the truth, I can't really remember what the story was.  I got lost in the action scenes and the slow motion and the fact that Sherlock Holmes was being depicted as an emotional cripple who relied upon his intellect (said intellect being represented as a strange kind of mind-warp.)  Now, I do realize that Sherlock Holmes was an emotional cripple who relied upon his intellect, but he was not shallow or crass or simple as he was depicted here.  Robert Downey Jr. is always a kick to watch and he is very likable, but he did not give off the air of someone who was a genius.  Jude Law did a better job as the side-kick, but Rachel McAdams was totally miscast as the bad girl.  I didn't believe for a minute that she was conniving or devious.  She just seemed lost and a little bit of a brat.  

Why someone thought this screenplay would work is beyond me (and the fact that it took five people to write it ought to have given them a clue.)  It didn't work as a story, it didn't work as a film, the actors were all wrong and it was almost as if they were trying to make a comedy.  Maybe they should have gone all the way with that idea - it might have had a chance. 

A New Look and a New Start

I'm back!  With a new fresh look to the blog and a new resolve to write more about this thing that I love - movies!  So let's get going.

First up is a small film that I kept seeing wonderful reviews about called:
"Winter's Bone" 

This indie film is based on the novel of the same name written by Daniel Woodrell, and directed by Debra Granik, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini.  It is set in the Ozark Mountains in a time period that I assume is the present but it gives me great pause about the state of our society if it is.  Ree Dolly (the heart-breaking and tough Jennifer Lawrence) is the oldest of three children whose father has disappeared, leaving Ree, her siblings, and her mother who won't speak, to fend for themselves.  Ree does everything for the family until she receives the news from the local Sheriff that her father put their home up for collateral for his bail and if he doesn't show for his court hearing, they will lose the house.  Ree goes on a quest to find her father to bring him to the hearing herself.  She must face some of the most vile people you can imagine on this quest as her father was involved in the making of meth in the backwoods of the Ozarks and these people do not offer up information lightly.  Her uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes, who was so good in "Deadwood"), comes to tell her that he thinks her father has been murdered, which would negate the bail, letting Ree and her family keep their home.  The sheer force of this young girl as she encounters drug dealers and the women who support and defend them, is nothing short of astonishing.  The depiction of the society in these woods is reminiscent of "Deliverance" and it will haunt you, just as "Deliverance" did me as a young girl of 15.  Jennifer Lawrence is an actor of great depth and she presents Ree's predicament and turmoil over wanting to find her father, but also hoping he is dead at the same time, with a subtle nuance and she does most of her acting with just her expressions and the tone of her voice.  John Hawkes is always good in his roles and he does not disappoint here.  He is also playing a character who is torn between two things - his allegiance to the drug lords and his duty to his family.  It's not a happy story but it is one that will touch your heart, and you will want to take Ree and her family out of those woods to a safer place.  That is what a good movie does - takes you places you wouldn't ordinarily go and it makes you love the characters in those places.  This small film does just that.

Next up:  A blockbuster that was just a mess and another kid's film that surprised and delighted me.  Mainstream Hollywood should be listening!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Three Very Different Films

This Spring has turned out to be very busy but I wanted to take some time and share my thoughts on three films that I managed to see in the past month. They couldn't be more different and yet I was moved by each one for varying reasons. I'll start with the most recent one:

"The Ghost Writer"

I suppose that many people would be put off by seeing a film by Roman Polanski given his many troubles but never let it be said that this man is not one of cinema's greatest directors ("Repulsion" "Rosemary's Baby" "Chinatown" "The Pianist".) It's so unfortunate that this film came out about the time that he was arrested because it is a tour de force. It is an adaptation of the novel "The Ghost" by Robert Harris and stars Ewan MacGregor and Pierce Brosnan, both of whom give wonderfully subtle performances that add so much to the mystery. The film opens with The Ghost (Ewan MacGregor) being interviewed to take over the ghost writing of a memoir of the ex-English Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan.) The previous ghost writer is thought to have committed suicide but we soon learn that this may not be the whole story. The Ghost takes the job and is flown to an island somewhere on the East Coast of the United States and sets to work on the memoir. The house is a gorgeous almost all glass beach house that I personally would give anything to own. But the weather is constantly gray and misty and the sea is always rough which gives a feeling of foreboding throughout the entire film. It becomes clear that Adam Lang's wife, Ruth (the wonderful Olivia Williams) knows more than she's telling and his personal assistant, Amelia (Kim Cattrall, who I hardly recognized) is hiding something as well. I don't want to give away any more of the story but suffice it to say that the mystery of what happened to the original Ghost (who becomes one of the central characters of the story without ever being seen, a brilliant bit of storytelling by Polanski) and just how much danger this Ghost is in if he discovers the truth, is told in such a way that you will be on the edge of your seat at every turn. The ending is one of the most affecting endings I've seen in a long time. It leaves you breathless. I sat with my hands over my mouth, gaping, for the longest time. It is an amazing film in every way - from the subtle acting, the use of weather to create a mood, the intricate story line and unveiling of the story layer by layer right up to the shocking ending. There's never a wrong turn. If only all of our directors today could present their stories in such an intelligent and masterful way. Only Hitchcock could have done better.

The next film is a small independent film that I watched at home and am very glad I did. It's called "Adam", written and directed by Max Mayer. It is the story of Adam (Hugh Dancy), a man with Asperger's Syndrome, who's father has just passed away and is dealing with living alone for the first time. He strikes up a friendship with his upstairs neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne) and an unlikely romance develops between them. What I really loved about this film is that it doesn't make Adam into a cartoon like Forrest Gump. He seems real, not unlike someone you might actually know. Hugh Dancy did his research well for this character and it shows. Rose Byrne also does a wonderful job in creating Beth. Beth comes across as someone who has been around and has been hurt, but is open to trying something new with someone who is obviously unlike anyone she's ever dated before. She appreciates his innocence and naivete, without making fun of it. I also really appreciated that the story doesn't quite end the way you think it will. It's not an unhappy ending but it's not all hearts and flowers, either. It's always refreshing to see a film that relies on acting and not special effects and/or blood and guts. If you agree with that, then I highly recommend you add this one to your list of must sees.

Last but certainly not least we have one of my favorite films so far this year. When you look up "Feel Good Movies" in the dictionary, this one should be at the top of the list. It is "How To Train Your Dragon" directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, based on the novel by Cressida Cowell. Don't be put off by the fact that it was a children's book and that it's animated, you won't even notice. The screenplay (written by the directors and William Davies) is very clever and very adult, and the voices as done by Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, the hilarious Kristin Wig and best of all, the voice of the main character, Hiccup, by Jay Baruchel, will delight you. Their deliveries are priceless and the humor is very dry - my favorite kind. Then there's the animation. It's nothing short of miraculous. Please see it in 3d if you can. The scene where Hiccup is flying with Toothless, the dragon, actually made me grip the arms of my seat so I didn't fall into the ocean. It was that real. This is a coming of age story about family, love, discrimination, prejudice, and everything else that young people face as they grow up. Especially if you are a Viking. Please see this movie, no matter what age or gender you are. Even the most cynical movie goers will not be able to be anything but entertained, filled with laughter, and cheering by the end.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ripley is a beast!

I promised you I'd continue my SciFi fest with the next chapter of the Alien saga and, so, here it is. It was a dark and stormy night...oh, wait, that's not right. Well, actually it was a stormy night as we sat down on the couch to watch the James Cameron film, "Aliens." I had even talked my daughter who is terrified of scary movies into watching it with us. We huddled on the couch as the opening music came on and we see Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Jonesy (the cat) sleeping peacefully as their escape pod is picked up by a salvage ship. They are awakened and Ripley learns that she has been drifting out in space for 57 years. She tells her story of what happened to her ship and the crew but they don't fully believe her and she is horrified to learn that the planet (LV-426) where she and her crew encountered the Alien has been colonized by the "Company." Contact is eventually lost with the colonists on LV-426 and a rescue party is put together that includes Ripley, a representative of the "Company" (Paul Reiser with very '80's hair) and a tough bunch of Marines. From the minute they set foot on the planet, the suspense is palpable and grows with each passing scene. We are trapped in the buildings on the planet right along with the characters, in darkness, not knowing what is around each corner. The Aliens don't show up at first but once they do, they do with stealth and horror. The Marines are sent out to discover what has happened to the people stationed at the colony and are forced to use a tracking device that only shows heat signatures. It's a little bit like "hot, hotter, colder..." only with your life on the line. When the life forms do show up on the device and the Marine holding it tries to steer the other Marines away from it, the tension is unbelievable. You feel as if you are stuck in that hallway or air shaft with "something" baring down on you. You can't see it or hear it until suddenly it's right on top of you. The camera work is brilliant and so evocative of being trapped in darkness and close spaces. The battles between the Marines and the Aliens are horrific and the Aliens seem to just keep coming and coming.

They discover a very young girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), who seems to be the lone survivor at the colony and take her in. Ripley and Newt become very close and eventually it's Ripley's desire to save Newt at all costs that brings about the destruction of the Aliens (until they get resurrected in Alien 3, of course, but we won't talk about that.) Newt knows the station inside and out so she is a very valuable asset for the Marines as they attempt to fight their way out. However, all the Marines gradually give up their lives, except one, Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn, in his first of many rolls like this.) He seems to be the only one who really believes Ripley and when they discover that the "Company" has actually been capturing and studying the Aliens for use as weapons, he bands with her to do whatever they can to make sure that doesn't happen.

The most famous scene is, of course, the last battle between Ripley and the mother "Alien." Both females are furious at the prospect of their young being harmed and they fight it out in an epic confrontation that has Ripley driving a full-body forklift and some how managing to fling the Alien into an airlock. Ripley gets pulled down with it but good trumps evil once more as Ripley pushes the button to open the airlock and out goes Mama Alien. I make it sound a heck of a lot easier than it really is and I highly recommend that you view this film for yourself and watch one of the greatest female heroes of our time. I guarantee you will be screaming "Get away from her, you b*&^%/!" right along with Ripley and cheering as that Alien goes squealing into space.

And then you'll turn on every light in your house and not sleep for a week....

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Alice in Weirdoland

Now, don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, as I have always been a fan of Tim Burton, but really, I don't think Lewis Carroll had this in mind when he penned this story. It's dark, even creepy at times, with lots of humor and goofiness thrown in, as only Mr. Burton can do. The story begins with Alice attending a party in the English countryside (the scenery is gorgeous but I felt that the 3d actually made it look flat.) Her friends are introduced to us through conversations and then you start to notice that many of her friends look familiar, such as the two sisters who have on striped dresses like two little characters who show up later in the film. Alice then discovers that the party was actually thrown in her honor and that her suitor, a very stiff and stuffy young redhead named Hamish, was going to propose to her in front of the 100's of guests. When he does, Alice runs off following the White Rabbit she had seen earlier in the garden and falls down the same hole that she had fallen down as a child. That's when the 3d really takes hold and the mayhem begins. The scenes in the house as she's trying to get out are wonderful as she first becomes small, then large and then small again. She finally gets out the little door and continues on her adventure. She meets the Tweedles, who are very odd little people very similar to the very scary (at least to me) Ooompa Loompas, the White Rabbit again, and many other very strange creatures in her new world. We all know this story so I won't go into further detail but I do want to mention the stand out performances. I am very glad that Mr. Burton choose to use a relatively unknown actress (Mia Wasikowska) as Alice. She was delightful, strong, willful, and very funny at times. A perfect casting choice. Johnny Depp was very good as the Mad Hatter and the relationship that develops between he and Alice is very touching and believable. But the show stopper is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Go see this film just to see her and the very funny Crispin Glover (remember Back to the Future's George McFly?) as her knight, Stayne. Crispin and Helena steal the movie. There are many other famous voices (Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry) and Anne Hathaway does a fine job as the White Queen, despite her bushy black eyebrows that I couldn't stop staring at. So, I guess I'm recommending this film but if you don't get to see it at the theatre, it's okay. Even without 3d, Weirdoland is still Weirdoland - I sure wish I could hear what Mr. Carroll thought about it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox??

This is hard for me to write because this movie, "Fantastic Mr. Fox", was recommended to me by some very dear friends. I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks, especially since it was nominated along with "Up" as one of the best Animated Films of the year. When it finally arrived in the mail, I sat my whole family down for a movie night. Now, animated films have come a long way in the past 20 years. The stories are better, funnier, they have a new appeal that reaches across all ages, and the advancements made to the actual animation are astounding. So I was expecting something pretty special. I didn't get it.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a fox who has a wild past but has now settled down to domestic life and is trying his best to be good. However, when he becomes dissatisfied with living in a hole, his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep) drolly points out that they are foxes, foxes live in holes, that's what they do. This does nothing to alleviate his dissatisfaction and he decides to move the family to a tree house. One of the funniest scenes in the movie actually happens right at the beginning when Mr. Fox is discussing his dissatisfaction with their hole with Mrs. Fox and their son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) keeps appearing in the kitchen. The dialogue between the teenager and his parents is spot on (obviously the writers have teenagers at home.)

Mr. Fox takes the family to look at tree houses and another quite funny scene unfolds with the real estate agent and the buying of the house. This house happens to be right across from three of the meanest farmers in town, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Mr. Fox can't help himself and he decides to pull a raid on the three farmers as his last escapade. From there the film disintegrates into a madcap, ridiculous adventure that, for me, lost all of it's humor and appeal. It was full of cliches, and while some of the dialogue and portrayals were clever, most of it was just silly. Another problem with this film was the style of the animation. It's a stop-action film that reminded me of the old Gumby cartoon at times and had an almost claustrophobic feel to it. I realize that most of the film was acted out underground, but even the scenes set on the farms or around the tree seemed dark and heavy. By the end of the film, I felt relieved to get out. I also felt relieved to stop listening to George Clooney. I admire George as an actor, but he does tend to do roles where he has to talk a lot ("Michael Clayton" "Up in the Air") and this was no exception. I kept drifting off during Mr. Fox's rants and getting confused as to what was happening in the film. His voice just became irritating.

I wish I had read the original story of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" before I saw this film. Maybe it would have helped, or maybe not. Animated films today are held to a higher standard than ever before so it may be that this just didn't live up to those standards for me. I expect a beautiful film, both in the way it looks and in the story, and this fell short in both regards. It's still fun at times and has a good message, but for me, I'm with Mr. Fox - I don't want to be in that hole again either.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Post-Oscar Doldrums

I'm afraid that since the Oscars I haven't been able to get back into my movie-watching. I've been searching for a theme of movies to follow and, well, I may have found my theme after sitting down to watch a classic. I've wanted to share this film with my daughter for months (Netflix must have been wondering what happened to it) and we finally found the time to view it tonight. The classic I'm referring to is:


This Ridley Scott masterpiece was still edge of your seat scary even 30 years later. Although it starts quietly with beautiful shots of space and the cargo ship where the body of the film takes place, as well as glimpses of each character, it then builds to the moment when they discover what seems to be an SOS signal from a nearby planet. The scenes of the planet and the ship in space look rudimentary compared to today's movies but the eerie feeling of foreboding certainly is not. The movie is filmed in darkness and shadows that bring so much tension and suspense that you don't miss or need the fancy special effects of today.

The crew of the Nostromo land on the planet where the SOS originated, send out a search team to explore, and the search team discovers an abandoned space vehicle that has apparently crashed on the planet. The team explores the vehicle and one of the members, Kane (John Hurt) discovers a pod of egg-like things one of which ruptures open and some kind of creature attaches itself to Kane's face. The team rushes Kane back to the Nostromo, whereupon all heck breaks loose. Kane actually seems to recover for a brief period, the creature falls off, and they sit down to dinner. What follows is one of the most horrific and memorable scenes ever filmed in the realm of Sci fi. As Kane is having his dinner, he becomes distressed, starts to convulse and ripping out of his stomach comes the "alien." It screams and scurries away leaving the rest of the crew staring in utter disbelief and horror. From there the film moves into a film about survival. Ultimately, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left alone (with the ship's cat, Jonesy) to deal with the alien and figure out a way to kill it and live. Her calm determination, skill, intelligence and yes, a little bit of luck, make her one of the most powerful women characters in the history of the cinema. "Alien" is truly a wonderful piece of story-telling and is science fiction at it's best.

Next up: "Aliens" - which I saw in 1986 and couldn't sleep for a week after seeing. It was directed by someone we all know now - James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar fame. I'll let you know if I can sleep after seeing it the second time!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Films and Two Men

There are two men this year who have been nominated for Best Actor who happen to be two of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. Jeff won my heart back in the 80's when he starred in Starman. I so wanted an extraterrestrial for my own after seeing him in that. Colin is probably best known for his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Pride & Prejudice but for me I fell in love with him in Bridget Jones' Diary, where strangely enough he was again a Darcy. Both men have the feel of being real men. While they are both handsome and charming, they also seem like people you'd like to know, or maybe have known, in almost all of their roles.

This past year both men gave virtuoso performances in two very different types of films. Let's start with Colin Firth and his performance in A Single Man. This film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, written for the screen by the author, Christopher Isherwood, and the clothing designer, Tom Ford, who also directed. It is a period film set in the 1960's and tells the story of George, a man who suddenly loses his longtime companion, Tom (played by Matthew Goode), and how he deals with the aftermath of his very lonely new life. The film is beautifully shot in ever changing colors depending on George's mood and thoughts. At times it's in black and white, then a kind of sepia tone to full color, or sometimes it's black and white with only one significant thing in color. The influence of Tom Ford's design esthetic comes through during the whole film and it plays a large part in the telling of the story and the feel of the film. Colin Firth takes this role and finds a whole new dimension in his acting. He is subtle, using just his face in many scenes to tell us viewers what George is feeling. He moves from a kind of euphoria and rapture as he's thinking about his lost lover to a quiet despair when he realizes it wasn't a dream, Tom really is gone. And he tells us all this using just his expressions. His dealings with his students and his dearest friend and past lover, Charley (played by Julianna Moore) bring some light-hearted moments, especially with Kenny (played by Nicholas Hoult) who almost seems to be in love with George. His relationship with Charley is a very disturbing and ultimately destructive one especially for Charley. She doesn't really know who she is and she is so lonely that she tries to reign George in to wallow in sorrow with her. The ending is one of the most affecting endings I've seen in a film in years. Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime and was perfectly cast as a very complex man lost and then almost found.

Now on to Jeff Bridges and his role in the film Crazy Heart. This film is also an adaptation of a novel, this time written for the screen by the author, Thomas Cobb, and Scott Cooper, who also directed. Crazy Heart is the story of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a down and almost out country singer. It starts with Bad Blake singing at one of the small town lounges that he has been reduced to playing and we gradually learn just how big Bad Blake once was by the reactions of the few patrons who come to hear him. He drinks too much, smokes too much, and is very low on cash but he keeps playing and singing hoping that his time isn't up quite yet. He meets Jean (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a small town reporter, when she requests an interview. A connection is immediate, despite their age difference, and they develop a very loving relationship that includes her son, until a disastrous event precipitated by Bad's drinking ends Jane's trust in him. This scene is absolutely heart-breaking and very scary for anyone with kids and Jeff Bridges plays it brilliantly and with the absolute right tone of an alcoholic who knows he's done wrong but still needs that drink. Bad eventually straightens himself out and gives up the habit, but what he loses along the way will haunt you.

These are obviously two very different films with a very different feeling but they both convey the same basic thing - the heart of a man. And while I love both of these actors and it's very hard for me to choose between them, I'm going to have to give Colin Firth my vote for Best Actor this year. His turn as George was inspired, delicate, and affecting. Jeff will always be my Starman, and I think he will win, but Colin did something so remarkable as George. I'll never forget it.

As always, I'd love to hear your views!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top Ten

Well, they've done it. Nominated 10 pictures for Best Picture. I'm not sure I really understand the reasoning behind it but it's what we have so let's look at the list:

(Unfortunately I wasn't able to see "Precious" or "A Serious Man" although I sure wanted to. If you have seen them, I'd love to know what you thought.)

Avatar: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and was not in the least bit put off by the length. It sure didn't seem like almost 3 hours while I was in that theatre. The visuals were lovely and captivating, even if the story was one we've seen before. As with Titanic, James Cameron is a master at jumping from one time frame to another (Titanic hunters/humans trying to take over Pandora to Titanic passengers/Pandorans dealing with the Avatars.) This storytelling device works for me and he is adept at weaving stories together to make a cohesive film. This film has also spawned much debate and controversy over the ending of the story (I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.) But in the end, I'm still left with an almost empty feeling when I think of Avatar. There was nothing really original about the story - the originality of this film lies in the special effects. Therefore, Avatar would not get my vote for the Best Picture of 2009.

Up in the Air: As I've already stated in my previous post, this film definitely deserves the nomination as it is original, timely, funny, touching - everything that a movie experience is supposed to be - but it wouldn't get my vote for Best Picture either. It would probably be second on my list though.

District 9: Wow, talk about original. I've never seen anything like this film. I actually had a moment in the beginning when I thought "Is this a documentary??" It seemed so real. It was probably one of the most disturbing films to sit through this year but that isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes to tell a story and to make a point that is as important as this one (Apartheid, extreme prejudice), you have to bombard people with raw images that they can't forget. It's not for the squeamish, that's for sure. But to make a film that seems so real (and half of the actors are dressed as "prawns") is quite an accomplishment. It definitely deserves this nomination and I would argue that everyone should see this film just for the message it conveys. But it would not get my vote for Best Picture of the year either.

The Hurt Locker: This is a film that haunted me long after it was over and one that I had to talk about to try to get the images out of my mind. Finally we have a film that depicts the emptiness and banality of the Iraq war. What those men are doing seems so pointless - find the bombs, disarm and remove them, only to have more bombs put down almost right behind them. There is also a very poignant moment when Jeremy Brenner as William James is finally sent home at the end of his tour and is trying to grocery shop. He is completely unable to decide what cereal to buy. Yet in Iraq, he was able to make the most dangerous life and death decisions in the blink of an eye. And he seemed to be enjoying it. The movie starts with a quote about how War is a drug, an addiction. This film brought that message home with clarity, respect and with lasting images of the horrors of war on so many levels. This film would probably be my second or third choice for Best Picture of 2009.

An Education: In a totally different way, this film was actually very disturbing to me as well. It is the story of a young school girl who becomes romantically involved with an older man who picks her up as she's waiting on a street corner in the rain in England in the 1960's. I had a very hard time watching as her parents were also taken in by the charm of this man (played brilliantly by Peter Sarsgaard who was robbed of a nomination) and as they encouraged her to actively pursue her relationship with him. Even though they had always told Jenny (Carey Mulligan) to study, work hard, go to Cambridge and make something of herself, when this man, who seemed to have money, entered her life, they dropped those plans for her and seemed relieved that she would be taken care of. The fallout for Jenny when she learns the truth about this man is devastating. As the parent of three daughters, this was a very difficult film for me. But it is a beautiful film and it portrays the time very well. It is a wonderful adaptation of a true story but it still would probably be my fourth or fifth choice for Best Picture of the year.

The Blind Side: Now this nomination is puzzling to me. While the story is very touching and Sandra Bullock is dynamite as Leigh Anne Touhy, it is a movie filled with cliches: the funny little brother, the cheerleader sister, the understanding husband, the mean kids at school. I realize it's a true story and it's always refreshing to see a story about courage and fortitude, but in all honesty, the film just isn't that remarkable. If there were only five nominees this year, this would not be one of them. Still, go see it. It will do your heart good.

Up: Now this was a masterpiece. And it's animated! I can still see the looks on Carl's face when he's talking to Russell, and I can still feel how I felt when Carl finally made it to the falls. Oh, and the first 10 minutes of the film when they tell the story of Carl and Ellie - this is a romance for the ages. And it was so funny! Never before have I felt that I knew animated characters as well as I did Carl and Russell. And yet...should it be in this category? It was also nominated as the Best Animated film of the year which it richly deserves. I'm just not sure it should be up against films made with real people - even if Carl and Russell seem so, so real. But please, please let this win Best Animated Film!

Inglorious Basterds: Now we come to my favorite movie of the year. It was like seeing three or four movies all at the same time. From the moment that first scene starts at the farmhouse and Hans Landa comes up the drive, you can't take your eyes off of the screen. The first 20 minutes of this film is a masterpiece on its own. The tension that builds as Hans Landa (the amazing Christoph Waltz) interrogates the farmer is some of the most brilliant acting I've ever seen. And as the farmer realizes that he has to tell this Nazi what he wants to know, the look on his face is truly heartbreaking. Then we jump to the group of men the movie is named for, lead by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, who is hilarious.) As we're told who they are and what their mission is, we realize that this is not your average war movie. Then we jump to a movie house in France that is run by the girl, Shosanna, who escaped the farmhouse and Hans Landa in the beginning. It goes on and on, interweaving the stories until the final showdown between Hans and Shosanna, and the other most incredible scene I've ever seen in a movie - the burning of the theatre, filled with Nazis, while David Bowie (of all people) sings in the background. You'll never forget it once you see it. This is movie-making at it's best and Quentin Tarantino is a genius. I consider this the Best Picture of 2009.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Let's start with something current...

Let's start with something current: "Up in the Air"

This movie caused quite a lively discussion in my house the other day. I saw it first with my daughter, who's 20, and then I saw it again with a group of women who are all close to my age. I loved this movie and laughed out loud many times. My daughter, on the other hand, sat very quietly and barely cracked a smile. When I asked her about it she said that it was one of the most depressing movies she's ever seen. She thought it was good but way too cynical. I thought it was very funny, very poignant and had some of the best dialogue I'd heard all year. My second viewing with my lady friends brought a much different experience. We all laughed out loud (it was even funnier the second time for me) and everyone came out smiling and talking and doing what people do when they really enjoy an experience. The relevance of the material (loyalty, job security, marital issues, life choices) is exactly what we all face and the interplay between the 40-something man, 30-something woman and the 20-something young girl straight out of college was priceless. The acting is terrific and it has some subtle gags that are hilarious. So why the disparity in the reactions? Because this film speaks volumes about life and some young adults won't able to or want to hear what it has to say. All of this leads me to several conclusions:

1. This film WORKS. It set out to make a statement and it did, whether you find it poignant and humorous, or cynical and depressing.
2. It deserves a Best Picture nomination, several acting nominations and a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Go see it and judge for yourself and report back! Happy film going!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome to MotionPictureMama!

Updates soon!