Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Kid Could Paint That

Yesterday I saw the documentary My Kid Could Paint That.

The story follows that of alleged child prodigy Marla Olmstead and her family as they try to prove that the beautiful paintings they sold by the dozen were in fact done by her (a then 4-year-old).

This was a tough one to watch.

Of course, as a human being, you want the parents to be telling the truth and the girl to be supernaturally gifted, but watching this film, which includes the 60 Minutes footage that got everyone so worked up, you can't help but doubt the validity of the art.

To say much more would be to give too much of the movie away, but after you watch it, see if you agree with this theory:

• Mom was telling the truth (out of ignorance to the process)
• Dad was lying (but remorseful, as he probably didn't think "coaching" or "polishing" would be any big deal in the long run)
• Marla was innocent, and will probably be able to shed light on the controversy when she gets older
• Her little brother is adorable, and should have his own show
• Her manager is slimy and probably encouraged the "polishing"
• The art buyer in the end summed it up "the paintings look like they were done by two different artists"

Provocative and somewhat sad, this was not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lust, Caution

Tonight I saw Lust, Caution, starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Wei Tang.

It was 2 hours, 28 minutes long, and it felt like 4.

I typically love Lee's mesmerizing films (Brokeback I even counted as my favorite of 2005), but this one nearly put me to sleep.

It's a basic story: girl wants to be an actress, gets caught up in resistance, earns assignment she is both physically and emotionally not ready for - powerful, mean leader sees young eye candy and takes full advantage of it, being at once cruel and gentle. They both betray themselves and alternately fall in love and lust, which of course leads to tragic consequences.

The buzz surrounding this movie because of its graphic, NC17-earning sex has unfortunately clouded the story, which in itself isn't boring, but when drawn out for an unimaginable length of time sure turns out to be.

The acting by the two leads is phenomenal (Leung Chiu Wai is especially captivating) and their chemistry is completely feasible, but I could have done with a lot less of the glances across the room, the poised staring with cigarette in hand and the closeups of jewels and sweat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Tonight I screened Gone Baby Gone, starring Casey Affleck and Ed Harris.

I love it when movies make me think.

There are those that say they simply go to the movies to be entertained, and while that's important, if a movie forces me to calculate decisions as I'm watching, or question my morals when I've left the theater, I have to rank it a little higher on the list than the fluff. And this one did.

The story tells of two young 'private investigator' types (Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) who get caught up in a missing children case with the Boston PD only to arrive at disastrous results. But that's merely the beginning.

What unfolds is a story of deceit, vigilante justice, moral integrity, betrayal and heartbreak. And I'm still making up my mind about the characters.

Affleck gives a terrific performance as the quintessential good guy and Harris is equally good as the tried-and-true tough cop.

But the twists in the writing and the exciting camera work are really what make this a thrilling Departed-like ride.

Proof positive that the other Affleck (who directed and co-wrote this) is at his best behind the scenes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club

Tonight I saw Jane Austen Book Club, starring Maria Bello and Kathy Baker.

This is one of those I don't want to like, but I sort of can't help myself.

There are all the typical components of a shameless chick flick:

• Cheating husband
• Scorned wife
• Token lesbian
• Convenient free spirit
• Bitter spinster
• Obligatory nice guy

All of that, plus Starbucks, wine and literature, and I still lasted through the credits.

The buried delight of this film is that they are taking feasible situations and treating them in a more charming than realistic way, which actually makes it more digestible. Sort of like cough syrup chased with Coca-Cola or a caramel macchiato.

And what's more, the cute guy is truly very cute.

My main problems with the film were that men (with the exception of Mr. Very Cute) were portrayed as clueless oafs and women were only a superior emotionally unstable improvement.

And metaphorically, all of the characters' lives mirrored those of the books they were reading, but the interpretation was so literal, it was much less clever than it could have been.

But in the spirit of Austen, who really did tie everything up in a nice pretty bow at the end, the movie makes a decent attempt.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In the Shadow of the Moon

Today I saw the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.

I'll admit—I've never been a space fanatic. I had no aspirations as a child to be an astronaut, and up until now the only reason seeing footage of a shuttle launch would give me goosebumps is because it serves as a reminder of good old fashioned MTV (who used the clip to introduce videos in its early years).

But on my Cinebanter partner's recommendation, I decided that I would give this documentary a try and I'm so glad I did.

This may be the most endearing talking-head documentary I've ever seen.

Basically, it traces the steps of America's arrival on the moon from the point of Kennedy's challenge to the present day using the actual men who've walked upon it as narrators (save for Neil Armstrong, who is only seen in archival footage).

The split-screen clips of them at the time and them now only adds to the brilliant nostalgia that permeates this incredibly patriotic glance at what America used to be capable of. A president says we need to do something: a team of brave men get together and do it—within a decade.

We catch a glimpse of how the international community viewed Americans in the 60s (they trusted us), we learn that some of the astronauts felt guilt for not fighting in Vietnam (as if their mission was any less dangerous), we begin to understand the overwhelming peace that these men gained from realizing just how beautiful the earth we live upon is—only after traveling so far from it.

It's a simple film about an almost supernatural accomplishment, led by men of dignity and honor.

I hope it will be shown to future generations in the years to come.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Today I saw Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen.

When I saw the first Elizabeth during Oscar® season of 1998, I remember being blown away by its intensity and glory. This time, I remained impressed by the acting and the cinematography, but the pace left me bored throughout.

The story of how the famous virgin Queen, played pitch-perfectly yet again by Blanchett, comes to form an attraction to Sir Walter Raleigh (Owen, who is equally fantastic) is the core of the narrative and undoubtedly spawns the most exciting scenes in the film. The two lead actors couldn't be more electric in one another's presence and watching their cat-and-mouse game is nothing short of tension-filled—in a good way.

The problem is, there's a whole lot of traditional 'period piece' yammering that happens in between all of the juice that has you begging for them to get on with it.

Sure, there are bright spots found in the wicked Mary Stuart, played convincingly by Samantha Morton, and also the delicate affair between Raleigh and the other Elizabeth, portrayed by an especially voluptuous Abbie Cornish. But overall it felt like we were jumping from bit to bit with only hints of excitement at each pit stop.

The singular saving grace (aside from the excellent performances) would be the scenery. The film is shot beautifully, from the long elegant hallways and candle-filled rooms inside the castle to the stormy golden-age sea, boasting magnificent ships on the majestic waters.

What was missing was the emotional presence of the first, which truly showed us how this leader was ruled by and ruled with her fragile heart.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Into the Wild

This morning I saw Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #41, which is available for download here.