Monday, September 28, 2009

Bright Star

Yesterday I saw Bright Star, starring Abbey Cornish and Ben Whishaw.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #80, so tune in October 12 for our review.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant!

On Monday I saw The Informant!, starring Matt Damon and Scott Bakula.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #78, which is available here.

Friday, September 25, 2009


On Sunday I saw Extract, starring Jason Bateman and Ben Affleck.

Writer/director Mike Judge has made me laugh in the past with the cult classic Office Space, and the doomsday comedy Idiocracy. As a fan of his, and just about everyone in the cast, I was greatly anticipating this new flick. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to anticipate.

Bateman plays Joel, a self-made business owner who runs an extract (as in "vanilla") factory. He's in a marriage that no longer sexually satisfies him, and desires an affair with a new temporary employee Cindy (Mila Kunis). However, he loves his wife, so he doesn't want to cheat without having leverage.

In a drunken, horse-tranquilized conversation with his friend/bartender Dean (Affleck), he decides it would be a good idea to hire a jigolo to seduce her so he wouldn't feel guilty consummating with Cindy. She takes the bait and immediately embarks on a passionate affair that lingers long past the "one time" that Joel hired him.

And to make matters worse, there's been an accident at the extract factory that causes their financial future to come into question. There is a con artist in the midst and a snake of a lawyer (played almost too well by Gene Simmons) to take advantage of the situation.

Add to that an annoying neighbor and you have pieces of about ten different movies; some of which are funny, some of which are not.

The standout performance here is undoubtedly Ben Affleck who comfortably resumes his Dazed and Confused stoner-stupor and delivers laughs each time he opens his mouth.

But sadly, despite the other star power, the story falls flat and feels false in too many ways (con artist unbelievable, Joel's marriage not authentic, etc.)

In an effort to prove how rare we intelligent entities are in suburban America, Judge forgot to make the story smart enough.


Monday, September 21, 2009


On Saturday night, I saw Séraphine, starring Yolande Moreau and Ulrich Tukur.

Séraphine de Senlis was a famous French painter who died in a mental institution in 1942. This film gives us a glimpse into her life from the time of her discovery until the time of her death, which proves to be a detriment because the subject is so fascinating.

Séraphine (played by the magnificent Yolande Moreau) when we meet her is a poverty-stricken housekeeper who bows her head in compliance with every order that is barked in her direction. She worked in a convent before serving private families, so she maintains a strong religious faith and ethic. She also hears from angels.

After her grueling hours of scrubbing and cleaning each day, she retreats to her small quarters to paint as the angels instruct her to. She creates lush portraits of scenery—flowers and fruits in vibrant hues that rival those of any fine artist.

A guest who comes to stay in the home where she works, Wilhelm Uhde (Tukur), stumbles upon a piece of her artwork and begins questioning its origins. The affluent homeowner tells the truth: her housekeeper painted it and she can't wait to get rid of it. Uhde is an art dealer who has made many notable discoveries in the art world and believes her work could sell.

He encourages Séraphine to keep developing her gift, then must flee the area because of the looming war. She does continue painting—using ingredients of her own creation mixed in with traditional paints—and hones her craft to impressive new levels.

How did she learn to do this? What was her childhood like? Did anyone else in her family have the gift? All of these questions go unanswered in the film, but crave to be asked.

By the time Uhde returns in the late 1920s, Séraphine has an arsenal of works available for his purchase and promotion. He gladly obliges and sends the always-poor artist into financial freedom.

Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending. Séraphine spends her riches very rapidly despite the approaching Depression and continues to hear the angels sending her messages. Her behavior grows more erratic until finally the townspeople have her committed.

Moreau's interpretation of this possibly schizophrenic artist was stunning, even if the film's pace was almost painfully slow. Because you can't help but care for this fragile soul, you stick with the story and continue to hope she will be rescued.

Of course, once Séraphine entered the hospital, she was never again aware that her talent was celebrated. She lived out her years in a lonely, confused state of medicated isolation.

Her work survived her and continues to thrive today in museums around France and exhibitions around the world. Also, one of the ingredients in her paintings has apparently served as an incredible preservative so the colors continue to appear as they were when she mixed them.

If only the angels she heard could show her how much joy her work brought to the world.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Fan

Last night I screened Big Fan, starring Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan.

Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) is a sad soul. He works a dead-end job as a parking booth attendant, lives with his mother and has no relationships to speak of except with that of his best friend Sal (Corrigan). Did I mention, he's in his mid 30s?

Everyone around Paul pities him, but Paul himself. Despite all of the obvious negatives in his life, he has one thing that keeps him going: his love for the New York Giants. He attends home games, calls in regularly to a sports radio show with scripted rants for their opponents and meticulously keeps track of scores and players.

But when one of his obsessive actions takes fandom too far, he single-handedly jeopardizes the future of the team. To prevent giving it all away, I won't say what that action was, but it was completely believable. And the way folks around him react to it is also authentic.

How he handles it will have you cringing, and the surprise twist ending will shock you almost as much as the ghost in The Sixth Sense did. I have to admit, I didn't see it coming.

So is the film worth watching? Sure. It's well-written and its characters are realistic (if not a bit exaggerated in a few cases). It has some laughs along the way and has a quiet pace, but that's okay—it just gives viewers a sense of what it must be like to live a lonely existence.

Anyone who has ever had an obsession will see parts of themselves in Paul, whether they want to or not. And how far they've taken their obsession will most likely determine the intensity of their reaction.

It also reminds us not to judge too harshly—sometimes lives aren't depressing until their critics make them so.