Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's Complicated

Finally, a great romantic comedy about 60 year olds played by 60 year olds! Meryl Streep, Alex Baldwin and Steve Martin, and a great supporting cast of very likeable people, enter into this film with great believability and great enthusiasm. It is laugh out loud funny in a lot of places. And it is very sweet and poignant in spots. The best part of it is that it portrays people who are NOT freakish or crazy . The kids are not screaming at their parents- but they are normal, happy and emotionally stable. The parents aren't drug addicts or alcoholics (though they come close on that one). Every one of the people is likeable. After so many movies where the teenagers are obnoxious, where the parents are shrewish or abusive, and where women are weak and ineffective, this movie is a pleasant relief. Even better- the men in the audience laughed out loud at the truths in this. I can see it being something we will watch on cable over and over just to make sure we didn't miss anything. And, the cinematography is beautiful. Some of the scenes start with almost a postcard feel- they are framed so beautifully. It's a little gem of its genre. It isn't a chick flick at all. Despite it's family story, it is NOT a family film. Leave the kiddos with the sitter or park them at the Squeakquel.

The Blind Side

Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw and Quinton Aaron are the stars in this movie about a black kid who is homeless and is adopted by the Tuohy family - and he grows up to be the real Michael Oher of pro football fame. This could have been schmaltzy beyond words. But Bullock and McGraw positively radiate southern hospitality and spirit- and yes, love- for Oher. This is a true story. The film doesn't follow the book and/or real life too closely, but it gets the gist of it right. Bullock is amazing in this role- it is as if she was born to play Leigh Anne, the former sorority girl from Ole Miss. Leigh Anne does it her way. And she does it without asking for compliments or praise. She does it because she could and because it was right. Her husband obviously adores her independence and conviction. This is a heartwarming and wonderful movie- even more so because it is true. If everyone took just one homeless child, it would be a different world. It must be a priviledge to know Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Let's get this out of the way first- it is a visually stunning film- maybe the most visually stunning film you will ever see. Every detail of a strange planet and its biological diversity seems to be taken care of. So, if you want to spend over two hours marveling at that, go for it. I am not sorry I saw it- at least on that level. But I promise, I could have written it myself- the dialogue and plot were so stock that anyone over 13 could have finished the lines. Leave it to the Canadian James Cameron to make the enemy the US army. In an imaginary universe, Cameron could have chosen any random imaginary enemy, but he makes it the United States military. There is all sorts of preachy stuff that implies that humans are horrible and have ruined their "mother" (earth). Cameron is so full of self indulgent crap that the movie feels not only cliche ridden but ridiculous. Cameron COULD have made a brilliant film. But he didn't. And anyone who isn't blinded by the action and effects will know that. It is beyond predictable. But you should see it anyway because it is simply beautiful to watch.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Education

It is 1962 in a London suburb and a very bright, fresh faced Jenny(Carey Mulligan) is the great hope of her girl's school to be the one to go Oxford. She has what would be called "spirit" in 1962. She is bright, pretty and intensely curious about the adult world she hasn't yet entered. So when a handsome and winsomely charming, and well off, older man (Peter Sarsgaard) begins his seduction, she is a willing follower. The rest of the movie is "an education" for Jenny and her parents, and perhaps her teachers. If I say more, it will ruin the story, so I won't. But if you miss this wonderful film and go to see some crappy movie instead, you've made a mistake. "An Education" is a movie you can talk about at dinner. Jenny is only one person's fool in all of this- and we feel she knows it but doesn't want to end the illusion. You can discuss what would have happened to her had she done various things instead. You can discuss what her parents did or didn't do (keeping in mind that it IS 1962, not 2009.) Because you will leave the theater having cared about her. I loved this movie. And so will you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Everybody's Fine

How strange to make a film so sad as this at Christmas time. The film ads and posters show a smiling, happy crew headed by Robert DeNiro. Take a long, hard look because that is about the last time you'll see them happy. DeNiro is a newly widowed father who kept in touch with his adult kids via his wife (the usual). Now that she is gone, he invites them but they don't come. They planned to, but since one of them is in prison in Mexico, they all cancel. So he goes to find them. Yet, he has a lung disease from working with PVC wire that insulates phone lines- so we are supposed to get the irony that he made all that communication possible, but no one calls him. Anyhoo- he does visit them and they are each hiding something so they don't disappoint him. You get the drift. Parts are absolutely wonderful- but the story becomes oppressive. The children all love their father but they won't tell him the truth?? It is very 1950s in that respect. DeNiro plays a very wise and caring father. It seems odd they wouldn't tell him his kid was in Mexico in prison. The end of this movie is a miserable failure- was it an homage to Christmas spirit that they tied it up tightly with a bow? Should you see it?- no, you should wait and rent it. It's too down for this time of year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


An ensemble film depends on every single actor doing a wonderful job. The danger is when there is even a slightly weak link- that actor will be somewhat ignored while the viewer pays attention to the better actor. In this movie, the best actor is the child actor Bailee Madison. It is up to the adults to keep pace. Tobey McGuire and Jake Gyllenhaal hold their own as the brothers who switch places as the good/bad child in the family. Natalie Portman, who is a very boring actress to watch and listen to, limps her way through as the wife who believes her husband (McGuire) is dead and picks up with his brother (Gyllenhaal). There is plenty of tension. It's a good movie, and it is interesting to watch. There is a problem however, and that is that it just isn't enough. A complex story becomes a simple story. McGuire tries to save it by using his eyes to express his craziness. But truly- the kids tell the story better than anyone. I'd recommend it. Yet, everyone in this film really seems like they are working too hard to make it a film. It feels far more like a play.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Fantastic Mr Fox

Bearing an odd resemblance to Wladyslaw Starewicz's The Tale of the Fox (1930s), Anderson uses stop animation to tell an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's story of the same name. I must confess, I never read the book. Not even to my kiddos. So the story was new to me. The stop animation is very similar to Starewicz- especially when compared to more modern animation. But it works. The story is clever and the dialogue is funny. I liked the touch of having a driver hop into a car on the right hand side, since Dahl would have done that. Some of the things are obvious references to Anderson's previous works. It is never over done, and it would be easily identified as a Wes Anderson film in style. I think this film would suit almost anyone over the age of 7- but it has quirks and could be scary for little kids. (The usual Dahl problem). I had one complaint- and it is a common one for me. I cannot stand having famous voices in animated film. It is highly distracting. This one SCREAMED George Clooney. And Meryl Streep. Clooney was great, but his highly recognizable voice keeps you from getting into the character. You are completely aware that Clooney has a mike in front of him and is reciting this dialogue. Anderson needs to stop using his friends in any future animations- it just distracts. Otherwise, it was fun and easy.


I start out this review by saying the usual- it is what it is. Lots of explosions. Lots of implausible science. Lots of overacting. Lots of predictable situations. The world is going to end in 2012. Everything is falling apart. There is some vague Noah's Ark ideology. And that's it. But what there is of it is indeed spectacular. In fact, if you are going for a plot or story, you will be very disappointed. It is a special effects film- no more, no less. And for some of us, that is enough.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Serious Man

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that you will probably find the humor in this movie if you are Jewish. And not the kind of Jewish that never goes to synagogue- or even the kind of Jewish that you became to please your husband's family. I'm talking Saturday school, Bat/bar mitzvah, glass stomping Jewish. Because there are obviously inside jokes here that merely going to synagogue with your junior high friends on Friday night will not explain. It baffled me in spots- about 20 people roared with delight while I, on the other hand, felt like I was watching a movie about Jewish stereotypes. They were all in here- the wise but obtuse rabbi, the shrewish wife, the nebbishy husband and his sycophantic brother, the smart but bored Jewish kids, the sister who saves up for a nose job- and that is just part of it. In a Coen movie, you always wait for the other shoe to drop. So this one leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next and when will someone be killed. The plot summary can easily be found on any website, but suffice it to say, it is Job without a happy ending. I feel it was worth seeing, but it may be too much of an inside joke for any non-Jewish theater goers. But if you are Jewish, you'll probably be one of the people who really can get the humor and who will say it is the best Jewish movie of all time. As an aside- the movie was made in the Minneapolis neighborhood that the Coen's grew up in around the same time as they did. Notice the set decoration. If you were alive in 1967, it will look very familiar.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Whip It

At first, I feared this would be another Ellen Page as 'cooler than hip' teenage angst movie. But within a few moments, it becomes a great, energetic, fun, girl power kind of movie. Drew Barrymore directed it and infused it with the happy kind of stuff she seems to project herself. If you have never understood the phrase "unself-conscious" regarding a movie, then you need to see this one. Not a second of it seem contrived to move the action forward. There is a sort of physical joy to these women who are in the roller derby. It's a gentler roller derby than the kind you'd see in a real professional venue-minimal blood and everyone has most of their teeth. These are the women who do it as a part time job. Of course, it seems trite in the retelling here, and it could be said you'd seen it all before. But it feels fresh and fun. Daniel Stern was my favorite as the father who is proud of his daughter who rejects beauty pageants and would rather roller skate and feel empowered by her agility and strength and not her looks. By the end of the movie, I was in love with its lightness and happiness and girliness. Everyone in Hollywood seems to be in this- in some sort of SNL guest star sort of way. Go see it.

Bright Star

Well, this is one slow, beautifully staged and costumed, theatrical film. I cannot imagine it being described as a date movie- I think it would bore a man to death. It is slower than it needs to be and longer than it needs to be. It is about the romance between the poet Keats and his young love, Fanny Brawne. The costumes are beautiful and very authentic. The acting is lovely. There are longing gazes, silly games, parental anguish, etc. It's not that much of a story, but it's a lot of acting. I can't say I'd see it twice, but it was lovely to see once.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

This is a 3D (Imax added in some spots) animated movie based on the children's book of the same name. CWACOM was one of my kids favorite books. The illustrations were fun and it was a simple story. But if you are looking for a retelling, you are going to be disappointed in a good way. An entirely new story with a few elements of the book is how this unfolds. The adults loved it, the kids loved it and it was fun for everyone. It's mostly about food falling from the sky. Half of Saturday Night Live provide the voices, and Anna Faris and Bill Heder with James Caan are in the lead. You'll recognize Mr T also. The animation is fantastic- and 3D really is a refined art now. I think it was a little long, but no children got restless, so it must be the right length for them. As an adult, you have to be quick because the adult references are thrown right in there with the kid stuff. But you should see it because it is nice not to have to watch blood or gore or adultery for just a little while. Alex particularly enjoyed the monkey played by Neil Patrick Harris. Bring along a kid if you've got one!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie and Julia

This is a movie about people- the fact that they love to cook and eat is really secondary. The women are the leads and the men are the supporters in this film. Unless you live on another planet, you probably all ready know it is about Julie, who starts a blog to follow her goal of cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook in one year's time. Amy Adams plays Julie with her usual wide eyed sincerity. Streep takes the cake with her portrayal of the very tall, very driven, and optimistic Julia Child. One can only hope Julia Child was a woman of such enthusiasm and heart. This movie (though 15 minutes too long for the matter at hand) is charming. It is a tribute to the men who love to watch their determined wives complete a goal, even if that goal is, on the one hand lofty (Child's book) and the other, not so much (Adams determination to cook). The food is not the star just because it looks great on the table. It is the heart and hand of the cook that makes it so. I did love this movie. Alex loved it also- because it does show another couple in this world that loves to cook and eat like we do. Of course we made the bouef bourgignon when we got home!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

This is a thoroughly enjoyable R rated (for violence and sexual references) scifi/action movie- if you like to see exploding humans, a little torture, a lot of gore, and creepy aliens. Unlike most "alien arrival" films, this one is presented as a documentary- and the aliens are not necessarily armed and dangerous, or brilliant or conniving. They seem more like a slave life form for some higher intelligence. There is pathos, humor, irony and more than a little confusion as to whose side you'd be on. Of course, some reviewers will try to make this into a socially conscious film about racism- I personally think that's a load of bull. I liked watching it for my "it is what it is" philosophy of movie going. The aliens were not especially likeable, but the humans are made out to be worse. I think the aliens were not that great and the humans were being human. You can make of that what you will. Or you can just enjoy it for the inventive premise and well written script. It's up to you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), using an unidentified narrator, recounts the 500 days of his relationship with the woman he thinks is the girl of his dreams , Summer (Zooey Deschanel). What could have been a banal story turns out to be gently comic, sweetly romantic in spots and a whole lot of sad. What makes it work is the inventive film work and the way the story is scripted. Tom has an adorable little sister who is wiser than Tom and she serves as the sensible advisor. Zooey dresses and accessorizes like she buys everything at Tom has his own Greek chorus of close friends. Zooey seems to be an island with a reality she very much believes in. I couldn't decide if Zooey was selfish, or was trying to love Tom because she LIKED him so much, or if she was a just a superficial person. Maybe all of it. Tom is a little sappy in his adoration and he misses the signs that all is not well and that is because it can't be well -because only one of them is in love. Alex loved this movie. And anyone who tends to love with all their heart, even against the odds, will identify with this movie. It is a charmer though. There is a little problem in that Zooey Deschanel is really not so beautiful that she would be a head turner. But I guess, as in most movies, a little suspension of belief is a good thing. The sound track is great and not intrusive. I am usually NOT a fan of narration in films because usually it's Morgan Freeman. And how often can you listen to that without wondering what Morgan Freeman is doing there? Once I was sure it wasn't him, I could relax. The narration is not necessary at all, and if I had one complaint, that would be it. And DO NOT get to the theater late. Because the very first seconds of the opening credits are some of the best.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

What can I say? This franchise is brilliant. In the first film, Daniel Radcliffe was such a bad actor that only the wonder of the 'book brought to life' saved the film. But that was enough. Now that Radcliffe has progressed and become a better actor, and his fellow (more talented) actors have become even more accomplished, the films are consistently imaginative and filmed with respect for the world of J K Rowling. Harry is now on his way to the showdown with Voldemort (though it is not going to happen in this book). He is facing the realization that this will end with only one victor. The residents of the wizardry world are now teen agers - and they are in the world of magic and all the trouble that can bring. Though this film is "darker" in its subject matter, and could be very frightening for small children, it is also lighter in a way. We feel that Harry will be safe. In this episode, the scenery is not the star any more. Neither is the magic. It is the trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione and their nemesis, Draco, that are center stage. Of course it gets 4 stars. And J K Rowling deserves every penny she makes for the incredible attention to detail and classical tradition she uses.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public Enemies

This movie was too damn long. I am sure that at the final screening, Johnny Depp hung his head and said, 'This movie is too damn long". Even if he loves himself, he had to get bored. Dillinger's actual crime spree was only 10 months long- about the length of this movie. It means to be as good as The Untouchables was. But it isn't. It puts a sentimental touch on Dillinger- almost making him heroic. It does nothing to humanize the actual 10 deaths left by Dillinger and his gang. It presented Marion Cotillard (an excellent actress) as his girlfriend, and she really does steal the scenes. Depp almost seems to sleepwalk through parts. Probably because he couldn't believe he had to be in every scene. It's stylized, melodramatic and sometimes bizarre. Christian Bale weirdly loses his annoying lisp while using his best southern accent. How come Batman lisps but not the (F)BI agent Purvis? Well, if you go, pack a lunch and an extra seat cushion. It was long enough that people FELT the length of it. At the end, everyone popped up like they were on call to the White House and opened their phones to see if Obama had called while they were away. DO people really think they are that important that they can't exit the theater without checking their messages? See- the movie made me crabby, too.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Hangover

The best part of this movie is any scene with Bradley Cooper in it. He has the easy charm that makes this movie work. It's like a Judd Apatow movie for adults- but because Apatow has nothing to do with this film, it is a better paced film with less frantic joke making. It is NOT for kids- there is nothing in it a child would like. So don't bring a kid. Especially because the sex scenes (at the end) are beyond explicit. Beyond. Even Alex gasped. And that takes some doin'.
Basically the movie unfolds after the bachelor parties guys wake up with the groom missing, a tiger in the bathroom, a chicken on the piano, one groomsman without a tooth and a BABY in the room. An adorable baby, too. It's not a great movie. But it is a funny movie. Funny enough.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

UP (3D)

Do not be misled- this isn't really much of a children's film. Midway through there are some brightly colored birds and some dogs, but it is really a very poignant love story. It is a film that shows us the beginning, middle and end of a love story and then reminds us that life is what happens every day. It is not the big trips or the big dreams- it is the grateful happiness that comes from being a loving partner who is loved in return. And when that life well lived is near an end, we will all lose a partner. It will either be them or you- but someone will go first. And it is the life that is left that can bring joy to someone who needs it. We don't feel sorry for the widower- he had a marriage so blessed that he doesn't need our pity. But he gets it anyway- I am pretty sure most of the adults in this show had more than one tear. The adventure part is fun and the 3D is amazing, but it is the love story that has the spotlight. Bring the kleenex.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This documentary uses Mike Tyson himself to review the life and career of a man whose brilliant boxing was lost when he was charged with rape. And of course, when he bit off part of Holyfield's ear. It's easy to see Tyson as a fighting animal- ready to kill. He describes his rage at Holyfield at one point- and wanting to kill him in the ring. Yet, when he talks about his childhood and the bullies he had to fight, when he talks about not wanting to ever fight or hurt anyone, a little part of the viewer believes him. I think Tyson believes himself. But he is probably wrong. His early career bond to his trainer, Cus D'Amato, is that of a child to a parent. Tyson is fatherless and when he gets the guidance and training of D'Amato, he becomes a fighter of unbelievable speed and strength. Perhaps Tyson's future would have been different had Cus lived. In the archival footage, it is almost impossible to see some of his punches- they are that fast. But then, on a rape conviction Tyson denies, he goes to prison for 3 years. Prison is a horrible experience for Tyson. There is still fear and sadness in his eyes when he speaks of his prison experience. He is afraid he will die- because prisoners have nothing to lose and to take down Mike Tyson would be the ultimate status. He knows he is vulnerable there. But he makes it out. The most interesting thing about this documentary is how Tyson varies from a childlike view of the world to becoming a menacing and brutal machine. He sheds tears. But he is always on the lookout for the next bully. This is a very strong film. You cannot walk away from it without an opinion. But you will walk away sure of the incredible talent of the boxing skills Tyson possessed. And maybe pity for the man that circumstance shaped.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek

When you take on an iconic series, then you better do a great job. And the writers and director and actors have done just that. The viewers (most of them) KNOW these characters. I doubt there are more well known characters on TV than Captain Kirk, Spock, etc. We know their quirks and their mannerisms. Fortunately, there is enough of a nod to their personalities that the audience feels at home. The plot requires a bit of attention. But what is fun is feeling like you are finally watching a home movie that explains HOW these people got to the 1966 television series. Even Captain Pike is in it. You never doubt that this IS James T Kirk. Just younger. Star Trek lost me when it moved on past Shatner and Nimoy. It no longer had the sass, for lack of a better word. Initially, in 1966, it was just silly with bad makeup, shoddy sets and sometimes, even worse acting. But it grew up. And this movie will make old viewers happily nostalgic. I can't wait for Star Trek II and I hope this cast goes on for a long time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

State of Play

It seems other reviewers either found this a great film or didn't like it at all. I fall into the latter category. First, the music was intrusive. The score was frantic when there was no need to be, and foreboding when it didn't need to be. And once you heard it, it wouldn't go away. Thr film is ridiculously dated- everyone acts like their cell phone is an inconvenience. Reporters hide evidence. And worse, it feels like the logic was edited out. Something feels missing. It is dark and in spots, the action feels inexplicable. Russell Crowe is the usual scruffy Russell Crowe. Rachel McAdam plays a really stupid cub reporter. Ben Affleck has no more than two facial expressions. It was a solid disappointment.

Friday, April 24, 2009

17 Again

Aside from the very adult themes and occasional sex references (the movie is a PG 13 stretch, but not quite an R), this is a warm and delightful movie. You'd think that Hollywood has "been there done that" so many other times that they couldn't do a decent movie with the 'adult goes back to teen ager' theme. But it is well done and it works. Zac Efron is charming. Talented and charming. In fact, if he doesn't screw it up, he could be a movie star for decades. He carries the film in every scene with a maturity and ability far beyond his age. He doesn't overact (Miley Cyrus, anyone?)- he just DOES it. In fact, I think that critics who dislike Efron are probably angry and jealous. He doesn't pretend to be deNiro (who isn't that great now). The movie is well cast and that projects the right amount of fairy tale dust to keep the suspension of reality going. I think it was funny and touching in parts, and always well written. Yah, you know what's coming. Yah , you know it isn't real. But don't let that stop you from enjoying it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Well, color me confused. This film got 88% on the tomatometer for rotten tomatoes. I'm stumped. We went thinking it was going to be a comedy. It's called Adventureland, isn't it? It is like a teen comedy- except it isn't. The people are either slackers, losers, or post-college graduates who still live at home and seemingly never got a real summer job and had to settle for working at a theme park while getting stoned and drunk. The lead characters are boring and unlikeable. They have no chemistry, have no purpose in life and in general, are annoying as hell. We didn't see them smile or really laugh. And neither did the audience. There is a reason why a film with high ratings gets no audience- and our showing had 5 people in it. That is because word of mouth spreads and people won't go despite the so called good reviews. I wish someone had told us- we could have saved 15.50. I hope to save you the time and money also.

Let the Right One In

This is a dreamlike take on the normally overdone vampire theme. It begins with a 12 year old boy- a child so alone that we seldom see his parents and never see his friends (if any)- and he is bullied by a group of boys who also never seem to be observed. The cruelty of the bullies stands in fair comparison to the cruelty of the vampire. The backdrop is the white snow and ice of Sweden- a great setting for the fair amount of blood seen. The boy befriends a weird 12 year old neighbor, and it is obvious to all who are viewing that she is a vampire. The mystery of the man who lives with her as caretaker does not resolve until the final scene, when the viewer realized that she has befriended a boy before, and for the same reasons. She needs a human. At first, the film is slow and spends a good deal of time setting the mood and style. But once it gets going, it is fascinating and one of the best vampire films ever made. It left us talking about it for hours, including the meaning of the translated title. And the motivations of the girl. She is not heroic- she is setting up the boy for life. But you'll have to see it for yourself. For its genre, it is unique and chilling. It is on netflix.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Love You, Man

Ummm, well, hmmmm, it IS funny. In a guy way. It is raunchy and silly and unlikely. But what makes this movie actually work is that the lead couple in the film- Paul Rudd and Rashida Jones- are actually a GOOD couple. You are rooting for them from the moment you meet them. Though the film is supposedly a bromance, but in many ways, it is a true romance in that this couple shows real respect and tolerance for one another. It isn't that there is no conflict, it is just that they really act like they love one another. The relationship between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel is pretty lame. In fact, it is ludicrous. But funny. And Segel's character is insecure and childish. But that works. Not well, but it works. Unfortunately, there were two 11 year old girls with their dad next to me- it was incredible that father did not have the good common sense to get up and LEAVE when the men were talking about masturbation. I was flabbergasted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

Crime scene clean up is indeed very lucrative. And to my knowledge, no one has ever made a movie about it until now. Briefly, two sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) lost their mother to suicide when they were kids- leaving Adams to hold her flighty dad (alan arkin) and angry sister together as a family. It's obvious that she took care of things for them. But it leaves her as a former cheerleader still clinging to her now-married-to-someone-else boyfriend and working as a maid. She starts a business, with her sister, as a crime scene cleaner. And it goes from there. Adams has mastered the skill of acting with her eyes. You don't have to watch the rest of her face- just her eyes. Other actresses have to work with everything they have. Because Adams projects a basic goodness and sweetness, the film has you rooting for her. It is not a brilliant movie, but it is unique. And there is somehow a kindness to this film- a feeling that most of the people in it are truly decent and are just trying to keep it all together. I would recommend it for that alone.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coraline (3D)

Alex summed this experience up in two words - spectacular and enthralling. And he is right. He can't understand why people who see it aren't raving about it. It is a wonderfully detailed stop motion picture with such brilliant color and 3 D effects that paying attention to storyline becomes secondary. The story is sort of overdone- Coraline feels ignored and bored by her parents and finds an alternate second set of parents through a door in the house. Never mind that part. It is sufficient to know that small children will have the beejeebers scared out of them and any kid under 9 or so might be scared by the imagery. Any movie that involves symbolic eye removal and bizarre burlesque scenes is not one kids might recover from if they scare easily. This is enjoyed much more by adults- especially if they are chemically altered. But even without that, it is a trip. It is a visual stunner, and it costs more to see it in 3D and is very much worth it. If you see it in the regular theater without the funny glasses, it might not be so great. So do yourself a favor and catch it before the 3D is gone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Revolutionary Road

If movies about bad marriages with people who are unhappy with themselves are your cup of tea, then grab your mug. This is essentially an indictment of suburban marriage in the 50s- which was just fine for most people, or as fine as it is for anyone in general. It is a story of a couple who (as Alex says) love one another but hate themselves. Winslet finds out the hard way that her dreams of being an actress were all in vain- that she really had no talent for it. DiCaprio discovers that he actually has a talent for the job he took because he has a wife and children. This movie felt like a weird version of American Beauty. The style, the music, the pacing. Alex thought it was great. I have to say that because I thought it was contrived and had way more anger than normal people would suddenly start spewing that I am still trying to decide. The acting is overwrought. The best person in this film is Michael Shannon- who plays realtor Kathy Bates's mentally ill son. Like a demented cousin of David Letterman (and I cannot stand letterman but there was a resemblance), Shannon had lines that made us laugh out loud. Repeatedly. He was awesome and brought humor to this solidly depressing film. I don't know what I expected, but extensive marital screaming, 6 million cigarettes, 40 martinis and a few affairs do not a movie make.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Wrestler

This movie answers the questions a)what happens to middle aged wrestlers b) what happens to middle aged pole dancers and C)who britney spears sells her ratty hair extensions to when she is moving on to a weave. Mickey Rourke (extension recipient) is the wrestler- the Ram- who is now on the B level circuit with the other older, worn down pro wrestlers. His life is wrestling- and we learn that for that, he has given up his health, his pension, his home and his child. Rourke does a really masterful job of being the man who tries to conform in order to win back his child and regain his life, but he cannot escape the love of the beating he gets and gives in the ring. Some fake, some not. The only female he has any relationship with is a pole dancer played in the buff by Marisa Tomei. She has a face so real and so honest that the fatigue of such a damaged life shows in every scene. Rourke's daughter is played by everyone's favorite crazy, real life chain smoker and Dita Von Teese wannabe, Rachel Evan Wood-and she doesn't disappoint. Rourke, who hasn't been able to claim the title everyone's favorite crazy, pulls off the wrestler with an oddly sweet disposition. The rage is in the ring. He is the friend of the kids in the trailer park, the tentative suitor, the penitent but flawed father. He is so sure he deserves it, that he allows himself to be stapled with an industrial staple gun in the ring. It is as if the ring itself is the punishment he feels he deserves for being so unconnected to the average world. The tragic mask of Rourke's miserable real life plastic surgery adds more poignancy to the character he plays. I am sure there are critics who will give this movie 4 stars. But I'm going to deduct just half a star. But certainly it was very close. If you are wondering what happened to Rourke- here is a good article.

Friday, January 2, 2009


This is an absolutely fantastic movie. In a season of very good films, this is the superstar. What could have been a boring, bombastic, screeching indictment turns out to be a tightly written, incredibly acted, portrait of both David Frost and Richard Nixon. Michael Sheen, a Welsh actor who played Tony Blair so well in The Queen, does a beautiful interpretation of a Frost who radiates personality and optimism. But it is Frank Langella who does a Richard Nixon of such depth that it is totally possible to feel empathy for the predicament he finds himself in. Both Langella and Sheen are reprising these roles from the play. Director, and everyone's fav learjet liberal, Ron Howard, adds a scene with a drunken phonecall, which is really an egregious sort of character assasination (as if Nixon needed any more) on Howard's part. But the film, if you excuse the inaccuracies, is seamlessly done. Howard holds back his tendency to make a statement and tells an exciting story. I have to say, Nixon did end the VietNam war. He did it. No one else did. The Vietnam war did convince the Russians and Chinese that we would fight again. The cost to the Russians may have led to the eventual dismantling of the Russian empire. It cost over 50,000 lives, but could have cost so many more. Nixon didn't PUT us into Viet Nam, and it took a lot to get us back out. So he will never be that much of a villain to me. If you don't see this film, you will have missed quite an experience.

The Reader

Kate Winslet plays Hannah, a German woman of very Germanic temperament who finds a sick boy throwing up in the entrance to her building. She assists him home. He returns to find her to thank her and an affair results. He reads to her as she insists. From there, it develops into an odd holocaust themed moved that tends to confuse in more than one way. I find a lot of holocaust films to be contrived and forced into plots where it does not belong. This movie was great with just the story of the impact of the older woman. Ralph Fiennes plays the adult that the youth becomes- and he has had a life of great sadness because of his grief for his first lover-Hannah. This is a very well done, very deep movie. If all you take away is the surface story, then you have missed the real story. Winslet plays a very unlikeable character- a very self- absorbed, manipulative woman who uses a teen aged boy to get what she wants. His life is of little interest to her- not then and not ever. He, on the other hand, does not have normal relationships again. Does he punish her by not saving her when he has the chance to? Only the viewer can decide his motives. And Winslet has lost a solid 30 pounds. At least. So much for not caring what people thought of her weight. It is an intriguing film- but not for the nazi part- but for the emotional part. It would be wise to fire the makeup artist- at times, Winslet looks like they put paste on her face and shoved it in flour. And the story makes little sense chronologically. The dates and ages are ALL over the place. If you go by dates given, she is only a few years older, but the film implies she is 16 years older. He is 16 in 1943, but in law school as a very young man in 1966? I couldn't figure that out unless I just totally screwed it up. They say they meet in post war Germany in the plot summary, but she quits her job and leaves and goes to work in a concentration camp- how can that be post war? Ugh. The first part of the movie didn't cost a thing for wardrobe- Winslet and Kross are naked. So, there is no excuse for such confusion in a film. Dates can be kept straight by counting on your fingers if you have to.


"Doubt" stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as nuns teaching in a Catholic school in Boston and has Philip Seymour Hoffman as the parish priest who Streep suspects of grooming the new scholarship student, who happens to be black, to be his victim. The story is not so far fetched, and having been a play, it is cohesive and well written. Streep does a great job as a stern head mistress of the school, while Adams, with her fetchingly large and innocent blue eyes, does a good job of playing the naive young teacher who doesn't believe what she doesn't know to be fact, yet passive aggressively reports the priest to Streep for suspicious activity. You will get to decide - I said yes, Alex said no.