Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

Tonight I saw Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer.

How often do devastation and hilarity find themselves in the same movie? Seldom. But here, we have a glowing example.

Lars Lindstrom (Gosling) is a lonely, single man living in the garage of his family home, next door to his brother and sister-in-law, who reside in the same house. He makes his way through life devoid of affection, by choice, which his doting sister-in-law Karin (Mortimer) finds troubling.

He works in a generic office, with somewhat generic people, and despite the attempts of a co-worker, he doesn't date. In fact, he rarely leaves his home, save for work and church.

One day, his cubicle mate shows him a Web site that sells custom-made 'real' dolls. He promptly orders one and is soon introducing everyone to his new girlfriend, Bianca.

His brother is so immediately horrified by this development, he tricks Lars into a therapy appointment by alleging Bianca needs a check-up. The doctor, Dagmar (played expertly by Patricia Clarkson) concludes that the best way to handle this delusion is to play along with the relationship and treat Bianca as an actual girlfriend. They schedule regular appointments for the doll, claiming she needs 'treatments' and she uses the time to counsel Lars discreetly.

What results is a hilarious journey the whole town soon embarks on, complete with invented jobs (the mall needs mannequins; the hospital needs volunteers), social engagements (Bianca doesn't drink, but attends parties) and marital-like disputes.

The entire plot and execution is positively absurd, but for some reason, it works. Instead of the situation appearing creepy, it's endearing, and once we learn why Lars needs to soften his pain with the help of this fictional friend, we're compelled to root for him.

Anyone who has felt hollow or lacked companionship for any length of time with empathize with the sentiment; those who have never been alone will weep for those who are.

And aside from his appearance strangely resembling David Arquette, Ryan Gosling does an incredible job manipulating his mannerisms and his speech to pull off this character.

It's just amazing that the only Oscar this film is nominated for is the screenplay.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Today I saw Atonement, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy.

This film has all the hallmarks of a Best Picture candidate: attractive stars, solid acting, sweeping landscapes, love, war, betrayal and dueling sisters. But what it lacked, was the 'it' factor that takes the characters to another (necessary) level.

In the story we briefly see Cecilia (Knightley) fall in love/lust with Robbie (McAvoy). Their chemistry isn't electric enough for the audience to feel the jolt of their passion, but their intentions are explained in a letter intercepted by Cecilia's mischievous younger sister Briony (played by three different actresses, to demonstrate each age).

Briony, also a budding writer, uses the letter and a glimpse of consensual intercourse that she interrupts, as her basis for pinning a rape on Robbie, though she knows he's not guilty. It seems she was jealous of his affection for her sister and would've liked him for herself.

This selfish action costs Robbie his freedom and Cecilia years of misery as she pines for him. It also eats away at the older Briony, who wrestles with coming forward to right her catastrophic wrong.

In the middle, we see Robbie go to war and both sisters become nurses. This is the part of the film that nearly put me to sleep. Maybe I'm an unabashed romantic, but couldn't there have been some steamy scenes of them fantasizing about one another? Couldn't we witness more correspondence between the two, or at least see more of the agonizing ways they passed time during their separation?

I believed that the younger sister really did want to atone for her sins, but I wasn't entirely convinced that a soldier and a nurse, a great distance apart from each other, were going to stay so true to their hearts. And I certainly wanted to.

At the core of the story is a beautiful message: true love is worth waiting for no matter what the cost in time.

This ending leaves pessimists satisfied that the lies added up to ultimate heartbreak; the romantics will believe their characters passed in succession so they could find harmony on the other side.

A great love story this is not, but at least it leaves us pondering.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Tonight I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke.

In this unconventional story of brotherhood, Andy (Hoffman) is a successful real estate mogul who is married to Gina (Tomei), the very definition of a dumb broad.

His brother Hank (Hawke) is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but is somewhat redeemed by his genuine love for his daughter. Unfortunately he also loves Gina, who he is having an affair with, unbeknownst to anyone but them.

For some reason, everyone is in need of cash. Andy for drugs and an escape to Brazil, Hank for child support, and Gina for...well...we assume shopping. And maybe upkeep of her most valuable asset (her body, which we see revealed throughout the film).

There isn't too much background on why neither son has a great relationship with their parents, but for what it's worth, they must not feel comfortable approaching them for a loan since they decide to rob their jewelry store instead.

It sounds ridiculous, but because I've read a lot of Dominick Dunne in my time, I know this sort of thing actually happens. That knowledge affords a special suspension of disbelief while witnessing the smart brother hatch the plan and impose it on the dumb brother (you'd think he'd just employ someone smarter to do it, to be sure they wouldn't screw it up).

What transpires at the robbery triggers a sequence of Babel-like events that basically all lead back to the moral of the story: don't lie, steal, cheat or shoot people.

The film is well-acted and the pace is comfortably fast, but I am a little mystified why this received such universal praise. The plot twists aren't surprising and there aren't a lot of characters to root for. What we learn is that people are basically rotten and the actions of smart people and dumb people are interchangeable when their intent is dishonorable.

What results is entertainment that resembles the nightly news: while compelling to watch, it can also turn your stomach.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

There Will Be Blood

This morning I saw There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano.

It is the topic of Cinebanter #46, which is available here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Here Is What Is

A few nights ago I screened the new Daniel Lanois documentary Here Is What Is.

My review can be found here at @U2.

To purchase Danny's new album and documentary, visit Red Floor Records.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Today I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, starring Mathieu Amalric and Marie Josée Croze.

It's a tale told mostly through the eyes of the subject, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), the real-life former editor of Elle magazine in France. On the way to the theater with his son one day, he has a massive stroke that leaves him paralyzed save for his left eye. This "locked-in" syndrome is so rare the physicians at first seem as if they don't know what to do with him. But, with the help of speech and physical therapists, Bauby learns to communicate by blinking.

Marie Josée Croze plays therapist Henriette, who develops a revised alphabet arranged in order of use frequency to make conversation with the patient easier. This results in Bauby requesting that his publisher honor his existing contract to write a book and the company sending a representative to take his dictation. What transpires is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the book in which this film is based upon.

This memoir detailed the feelings of a formerly vibrant man who has been reduced to nothing more than a hostage in his own body. Thankfully (or perhaps tragically) he retains his wit, sadness, sexual desires and memory, which he examines throughout.

The film shows us crushes on his therapists, discontent with his ex-partner (he purposely never married the mother of this children), longing for his mistress and love for his father.

It spotlights an imperfect man in impossible circumstances with a necessity to express himself creatively by any means available.

It forces us to see how lazy we are by not accomplishing all we hope to in the here and now, and reminds us to treasure the time and people we have in our lives.

There is one scene where a well-placed U2 song illustrates the type of man Bauby once was and how he chose to live his life before the stroke. This scene in particular hit me hard because the normalcy of his world was so previously carefree. You got the sense that his status and charisma afforded him more leeway than regular men would be granted by their women, children, etc.

But he overcame the depression of his situation long enough to write the novel describing it and lived barely long enough to see it published.

We should all be so productive.