Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

On Sunday I saw the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Love her or hate her, no one can dispute the trails Ms. Rivers blazed for female comics. This film does a dynamic job of tracing her path to success and showcasing her present fight to stay relevant.

Always self-deprecating and unafraid to push the envelope, Joan burst on to the scene with great support from legend Johnny Carson. Her frequent appearances on The Tonight Show led to her reign as Carson's permanent guest host; her decision to depart and do her own talk show on Fox ended their friendship. It also put a stop to all of her appearances on NBC until her recent stint on The Celebrity Apprentice, a reality contest, which by the way, she won.

Part of the charm of Joan Rivers is that she has no shame. At age 75, she will take any endorsement deal or commercial offered to her because she knows at the end of the day she needs a paycheck. She lives an extravagant life, but there will be no doubt in anyone's mind by the end of watching this that she hasn't earned it.

Though the overall essence of the film aims to spotlight her toughness, there are moments where you catch her sensitivity and heart: speaking of the business associate she may have to fire; delivering a meal on Thanksgiving to a sufferer of MS; commenting on a heckler after a show who was angry about a deaf joke she made. She's a thick-skinned lady, but that doesn't negate her enormous heart.

She talked openly of her husband's selfish suicide after the demise of her talk show, but it's clear she doesn't dwell on it. She picked up her life after the tragedy and kept going--both for herself and for daughter Melissa, who has become a celebrity in her own right.

Of course the film also provides us many glimpses of Rivers' hilarious stand-up routines, but to me the funniest moments were her impromptu bits of commentary behind the scenes.

This film is simply an inspiring pleasure to watch.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

Last night I saw The Secret of Kells, starring the voices of Evan McGuire and Brendan Gleeson.

When this film was nominated for an Oscar last year, you could almost hear a collective "What?!" from the mouths of American moviegoers. The movie had not yet seen even a limited release in North America, and compared to its fellow nominees, displayed a very old-fashioned form of animation.

There were no fancy CGI shots; no 3D or IMAX options for viewing it—and for me, that's what made it all the more compelling.

Instead of focusing on moving pictures jumping out at me during action scenes, or pondering how something looked so life-like, I spent the film immersing myself in what felt like a 75-minute painting, featuring my favorite colors (blue and green).

The story is simple: little Brendan is an Irish orphan who lives at the Abbey of Kells with his paranoid uncle, who spends all of his time constructing walls to keep the danger out. Forbidden to leave the compound, Brendan, like any other child hero would, sneaks out to explore the surroundings, on a mission to get berries that produce ink for an "unfinished book" Brother Aidan (a wise elder) is working on.

On his journey he meets Ashley, a faerie-like guardian of the forest who he can't help but find enchanting. They encounter many varieties of peril as they travel together, and ultimately it's understood that Brendan will probably get caught.

The book Aidan is working on is undoubtedly the famous Book of Kells, which in reality has lived at Trinity College in Dublin for centuries. In the film, the significance of this breathtaking document isn't paid tribute to in the story, but more by way of the visuals (some were inspired by the actual book).

The hues that dominate the screen from start to finish come across like brilliant watercolors muted to soften the edges of the drawings, which, though imaginative, are somewhat basic.

The line drawings that make up the people, places and animals in the film are charmingly whimsical, with eyes that show their emotion and blink-or-you'll-miss-them details. The pages of each scene, if frozen, would be framable works of art.

As someone who has a special fondness for Ireland, and has seen the actual Book of Kells in person, I may have enjoyed this more than the average viewer. However, I would still recommend it for little ones not yet biased by recent animation technology, or adult fans of historical Ireland.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Tonight I saw Greenberg, starring Ben Stiller and Greta Garwig.

"Of course I know what it's like to live a life I didn't plan on.

Really, it could be the defining sentence of Generation X, and it's used well in this film to help us sympathize with Roger Greenberg (Stiller), who is in town from New York to babysit the L.A. mansion and dog of his brother's family, while they enjoy a vacation in Vietnam.

Roger is a 40-something who proudly proclaims to be content living an empty life of nothing. He tries to fill his days with whiskey, ice cream novelties and meaningless sex, but like everything, that doesn't seem to work for him.

He meets Florence (Garwig), his brother's pleasant personal assistant who resembles a cross between Kate Winslet and Elisabeth Shue. He immediately registers an attraction to her, but she's young, she works for his brother and she seems to understand him, so he most certainly doesn't want to begin a relationship with her. He makes this clear to her.

As the film progresses, we begin to form our love/hate relationship with Roger. Learning more about his past, we realize his issues are more severe than simple OCD—heck, he's even done time in a mental institution—but he's so nasty to everyone he comes in contact with, it's hard for us to like or excuse him.

Florence, however, is vulnerable and underutilized and so genuine in her fondness of Roger, we want to scoop her up and hide her from the inevitable pain she's about to experience.

In one respect, Roger is not unlike many men that choose to chase or settle with the woman that is "easy" for them to be with, instead of the girl that really "gets" them and loves them for their faults as much as in spite of them. Of course, it's the girl who understands Roger that receives the heartfelt mix CD.

In another respect, you don't want Florence to love Roger for who he is, because a lot of self-improvement needs to be achieved before he'll be worthy of her affections.

The writing here is excellent. The acting here is superb, but Greenberg isn't an easy pill to swallow. It's not fun to spend two hours with a man who spends most of his days writing hate letters to various corporations, then treats a sweet girl abusively. But, it's an incredibly interesting way to get to know characters.

"You like me more than you think you do." Florence says this to Roger at one of their most fragile moments.

I think she was right about him, and right about what I think of this film.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

Today I saw The Secret in Their Eyes, starring Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil.

What do you get when you cross a murder mystery with unrequited love that's simmered for 25 years? A hell of a great movie.

When the film opens we see Benjamin (Darin) struggling at his writing desk, trying to purge the haunting remnants of a brutal rape and murder from his mind. We soon learn this was a real case that he worked on 25 years ago as an investigator, and he's never been able to shake it. So, he's making a book based on his memories of it.

Next, we meet the woman he's adored for all these years—Irene (Villamil), who worked with him on the case and is now an accomplished judge. She is acting as a casual editor/admirer, sharing in his violent trip down memory lane.

Before I give the impression that this is a "flashback" movie, let me be clear in saying that it doesn't feel like it. Though it takes place both in 1974 and 2000, the audience is never tossed between the two unexpectedly.

The crime itself is ghastly, and we see just enough of it to register horror and want justice for the victim. The suspects are clear in their innocence and guilt, which is one of the genius elements of the script: we already know whodunnit. Unlike most stories, what we crave to learn is how the characters arrived in their present—seemingly peaceful—situations.

There are also supporting characters who are far more compelling than the main two. Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) is Benjamin's drunken sidekick we root for; a grieving widow of the victim is so calm, we figure there must be more to his story.

Of course the romance between our writer and his former colleague is what drives the tension throughout the film. Like perfectly written star-crossed lovers, they're attraction is undeniable, but their circumstances common: one of the two feels that they can never be together, so both spend agonizing years wondering what would happen if they could.

The movie teaches us that denying what our heart desires can sometimes lead to a life of purgatory, and our eyes hold the secrets of our truth.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toy Story 3

On Saturday I saw Toy Story 3, starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #92, so tune in July 5 for our review.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


On June 13, I saw Ondine, starring Colin Farrell.

It was the topic of Cinebanter #91, which can be found here.

Grease Sing-A-Long

On June 12, I saw the Grease Sing-A-Long, a spirited version of the 1978 hit musical.

For my highlights of that screening, click here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This Way of Life

On June 11, I screened the documentary This Way of Life.

Click here to read my review on Cinebanter.com.


On June 9, I screened Monogamy, starring Rashida Jones and Chris Messina.

Click here to read my review on Cinebanter.com.


On June 7, I screened Upperdog, starring Hermann Sabado and Agnieszka Grochowska.

Click here to read my review on Cinebanter.com.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Goonies

On Saturday, June 5, I saw The Goonies, starring Jeff Cohen and Josh Brolin.

As I nestled into a small Astoria, Oregon theater for this 25th anniversary screening, it had been only days since I last saw the film on DVD, but over 24 years since I'd seen it in a theater. I'm pleased to say it was just as magical for me at age 34 as it was for me at 10.

The story appeared strangely timely as our hero, Mikey (Sean Astin) and his brother Brand (Brolin) face the loss of their family home to foreclosure. The looming threat of papers being signed causes the kids to act fast in search of a treasure that could save them from moving. They achieve this by following an ancient map found in their attic with a host of their friends, who call themselves "The Goonies."

The iconic monoliths of Cannon Beach serve as their guides into the unknown, where they uncover a vicious crime family who is committing murders, and reveal clues from the treasure map one-by-one, putting them in a series of dangerous situations.

What sets the film apart from other kids-finding-treasures stories is the fact that the kids really talk like kids. It's a great credit to screenwriter Chris Columbus that they swear, discuss unimportant (yet vital at that age) topics, and form genuine bonds over old-fashioned pacts and crushes.

The movie is also heavy on comedy, provided mostly by Chunk (Cohen), a character known for exaggerating and eating. One scene where the bad guys are trying to torture him into talking is still one of the funniest, most believable 'kid' scenes in existence.

For those who have yet to see the film, I won't spoil it by discussing the ending, but will say the final beach scene still brings delightful chills to my spine.

What a pleasure it was to see that after all these years The Goonies remain timeless despite their 80s roots.

For more on The Goonies 25th Anniversary, visit Cinebanter.com.


The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

On June 1, I saw the documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.

Click here to read my review on Cinebanter.com.