Tuesday, December 31, 2013

American Hustle

Tonight I saw American Hustle, starring Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams.

The Abscam scandal of the 1970s was the inspiration for this David O. Russell film about the FBI's use of a real con man to take down members of the U.S. government. In this dramatized version, we see two clever con artists: Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Adams). They have a passionate personal relationship in addition to their professional collaboration, though Irving is overweight and married.

Enter Riche DiMaso (Cooper), an FBI agent hungry for a big sting, who after catching them in the act, recruits the pair for a bigger operation. They don't have much choice to accept the challenge and do their best to make the most of it. And the audience are the lucky recipients of their sparks.

Sydney flirts with Richie, Richie abuses his boss (played by the always-hilarious Louis C.K.), Irving fights with his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and the mayor (Jeremy Renner) acts like... well... a politician.

All of this is wildly entertaining, but nothing is as perfect as every scene-stealing moment that Jennifer Lawrence takes the screen. The whole cast is terrific, but Lawrence lights up the room with her impeccable comedic timing and charisma. Let's just say I wouldn't be too surprised (or disappointed) if she took home another Oscar this year.

Also of note is the director's brilliant use of music. Taking cues from Tarantino and Scorsese, the music is of-the-era (the deliciously gritty '70s) and just as much a part of the script as the dialogue.

The twists and turns, though not complex, are clever and the ending is undeniably satisfying.

Believe the hype about this one—it's all true.

~~~


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Today I saw Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

The life of South African leader Nelson Mandela is inspiring under any lens, but actor Idris Elba brings a special spirit in his portrayal of the peacemaker in this film.

From the early scenes of him as a womanizer during his first marriage, to the angry scenes as his activism took flight in his 30s and on to the duration of his imprisonment, Elba nails it. His passion, his patience, his love, his grace.

Alongside him throughout the film was Naomie Harris, playing his second wife Winnie. Harris shows the fire within Winnie that fuels her ability to change the world. She did too, after all, though her tactics weren't always as kind.

The details we see here show more of the personal side of Madibe (as he is more often called); the father who didn't know his kids as they grew; the husband who never stopped loving his wife, though he couldn't physically touch her for 21 of his 27 years in prison. The time he lost will always be heartbreaking, no matter how many times we remind ourselves he had a happy ending (and speaking of happy endings: don't miss the end credits featuring a U2 song over real photos of his life).

In our modern, selfish world it's difficult to contemplate the integrity of someone so morally focused. Inconceivable to imagine the sacrifice of one's prime years in life, though it's painfully refreshing to watch.

As some of the scenes during his imprisonment lingered on quietly, I began fidgeting in my seat, mentally preparing to make a note of the slow pace for this review. And then it dawned on me: the filmmakers are trying to convey a 27-year imprisonment of an innocent man in less than three hours.

Shame on me for even considering a criticism of wasted time.

~~~

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Her

Today I saw Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.

If you've ever panicked, thinking you've lost all the data on your smartphone, remember how fast your heart beat in those moments, and then think how much faster your heart would beat if you thought you were losing a relationship in there too. That's what's at stake for the virtual lovers in Her.

Theodore (Phoenix) writes letters for a living. Heartfelt, beautiful letters that get sent the old-fashioned way since our society has given up doing so. He is sadly separating from his wife (Rooney Mara), who we at first only see in brief flashbacks that make us wonder why their love died.

Though his profession clings to the nostalgia of the past, his life revolves around the technology of the future. Though he's barely social with humans anymore, he does sign up for an Operating System (OS) personal assistant and soon develops feelings for Her (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). She goes by the name Samantha. Amy (Amy Adams) is Theodore's closest human friend and she is just glad he's got a thirst for life again.

Soon the feelings between Theodore and Samantha are "mutual" and they become a fashionable couple. They have steamy phone sex, go on double dates with fully human couples—hell, she even shops for him. Though as I write this, it sounds absurd, the dynamic is not so unbelievable when presented on screen.

Aside from Joaquin's overacting (which happens throughout in his exaggerated facial expressions), the story borders on sweet. Theodore is a nice enough guy, and what harm is it doing for him to keep company with his computer, right?

Well, the Big Looming Lesson here is that our world is becoming too disconnected as we try to perpetually stay connected. Nothing can replace human love or interaction; not even an entity programmed to our specifications.

Director Spike Jonze also makes a point of showing countless wide open spaces (both in nature and indoors), which illustrate how hollow our landscape is; certainly meant to be a metaphor for our hearts in this modern world.

Johansson did a fine job with the voice of Samantha, but I have to wonder if the effect might have been greater if an unknown actress (who we couldn't picture so easily) had played the part.

It's an interesting (and timely) concept to explore the obsession we have with technology; I only wish this had been more multidimensional and less preachy.

~~~

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

Yesterday I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) wasn't born rich, but he was obsessed with becoming rich. He used his smarts to get an entry level position on Wall Street and a few years later started his own brokerage firm, where he sold penny stocks and performed countless acts of fraud against his investors.

In this lively retelling of his life (so far), Martin Scorsese returns to his Goodfellas pacing and explodes the story across the screen. For three hours. No joke.

It's alternately exhilarating and nauseating, and the DiCaprio really couldn't be better, but I wonder: does it glamorize the excess too much?

Belfort was (maybe is?) not a nice guy. He swindled money out of people who were of the same class or lower than the honest parents who raised him in the Bronx. The only "victim" of his nonsense we see in the film is his first wife, who catches him cheating. But we do believe he loved his mistress (he did marry her, after all) so even that doesn't sting as much as it should.

The drug scenes happen almost constantly (as does the sex) and I can't help but think if I was young and impressionable, some of this stuff would be undeniably enticing.

Donnie Azoff a.k.a. the real Daniel Porush (Hill) was Belfort's right hand man, and committed as many sins as his boss. His character is hilarious and there are moments where Hill clearly steals the show. Also fantastic are cameos by Matthew McConaughey and Jon Favreau.

I can't imagine what Thelma "cut" to get this from an NC-17 to an R; it's plenty filthy, but oddly not gratuitous because it's necessary to convey how insanely out of control Belfort's world became.

There isn't anything wrong with this film, save for the common consequence of Scorsese's hallmark: he makes people who commit reprehensible acts appear invincible and heroic.

If only he also gave us a glimpse of those on the other side of the fence.

~~~

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

Tonight I saw Dallas Buyers Club, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner.

Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) was a cowboy in the 80s in denial about his HIV diagnosis. After doing independent research, and realizing straight men could indeed contract the virus through unprotected sex, he came to terms with his situation and decided to take action.

Since the experimental AZT treatments were causing more harm than cure in their first stages, Woodroof sought alternative solutions, traveling abroad to obtain drugs that hadn't yet been approved by the FDA in the U.S.

When he returns, drugs in hand, he starts a "buyers' club" and sells memberships to fellow HIV patients. With their membership, they get a supply of the drugs.

Soon the authorities are on his tail and his operation is in danger of folding.

A painfully thin McConaughey is the perfect fit for this role—he plays an asshole really well and nails the transformative nature of the character. Jennifer Garner is also strong as a doctor wrestling with the hospital treatments she's supposed to administer and the scientific evidence Woodroof provides that proves his club is helping people.

Jared Leto stands out, even above these two, for his turn as Rayon, a transgender woman who helps Woodroof manage the club.

Overall, the film was effective if not blatantly shaking its fist at bureaucracy and the evils that accompany it.

~~~


Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Golden Globe Picks

Though the Golden Globes aren't as prestigious as the Oscars, and they don't really serve as a great predictor for those award wins, I do stand by my statement that they're Hollywood's best party, and most often the most entertaining of all the award shows to watch.

I'm thrilled that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are returning to host again this January (and next). I'm elated that Netflix shows and stars are getting some love in the television categories. I still think it's ridiculous they split the comedies and dramas.

But enough of that.

Here is who I would vote for if I had an official ballot:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television

JOSH CHARLES
THE GOOD WIFE


Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television

SOFIA VERGARA
MODERN FAMILY


Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television 
 
MICHAEL DOUGLAS    
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA


Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television

ELISABETH MOSS             
TOP OF THE LAKE 

 
Best Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical 


ZOOEY DESCHANEL    
NEW GIRL

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical 


JASON BATEMAN  
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

Best Television Series - Comedy or Musical

GIRLS

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama

BRYAN CRANSTON
BREAKING BAD

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama

 
ROBIN WRIGHT
HOUSE OF CARDS

Best Television Series - Drama

BREAKING BAD

Best Original Song - Motion Picture

“ORDINARY LOVE” — MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
Music by: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., Brian Burton
Lyrics by: Bono

Best Original Score - Motion Picture

HANS ZIMMER
12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

BARKHAD ABDI
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

LUPITA NYONG'O       
12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Foreign Language Film

THE HUNT (DENMARK)

Best Animated Feature Film

DESPICABLE ME 2

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical

LEONARDO DICAPRIO
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical

JULIE DELPY
BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

JEFF POPE
PHILOMENA

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

TOM HANKS
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

CATE BLANCHETT
BLUE JASMINE

Best Motion Picture - Drama
PHILOMENA

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Tonight I screened The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig.

As a child, I read the James Thurber short story of the same name and remember being captivated by its ability to transport me to wherever Walter's brain was going. In this film adaptation? Not so much.

Stiller plays Mitty in an almost stoic way, making him into a character who is not only sad, but perhaps mentally ill. He's bullied by colleagues, financially responsible for his mother and sister, and hopelessly trying to navigate eHarmony.com, which along with Papa John's and Cinnabon, enjoys some fantastic product placement here.

This version of Mitty is a negative assets specialist for the soon-to-fold Life magazine. He is responsible for the final issue's cover image, which he has misplaced. Sheryl (Wiig) works in a related department, but is new to the magazine. Walter has a crush on her. Soon he's off to Greenland to track down Sean (Sean Penn), the photographer of the final image.

It goes from being sort of sad to wild-and-crazy fantasy-like to a soul-searching mission with a love story sprinkled in for good measure. There's some comedy too.

But mostly it's a Forrest Gump-ish jumble of unbelievable events (without the endearing nature of a character like Gump) peppered with fantastic cameos from stars like Shirley MacLaine and Patton Oswalt.

I wish I could have enjoyed it more. All of these actors are likeable.

~~~

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Philomena

This morning I saw Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

In the 1950s, it was shameful to be a pregnant teenager in Ireland. For a girl who was brought up by Catholic nuns, it was unspeakable.

When it happened to Philomena Lee (Dench) in 1952, the nuns punished her by working seven days a week, allowing only one-hour visitations with her son Anthony (Tadhg Bowen). She loved him dearly and lived for the special—if not limited—moments she had with him.

At age 3, Anthony was adopted by an American couple from St. Louis, Mo. Philomena was never given the chance to say goodbye. She kept his existence a secret for over 40 years, though she kept in regular touch with the convent in case Anthony ever came looking for her.

Once her daughter found out about her missing brother, she enlisted the help of Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), an out-of-work journalist with the investigative skills to track him down.

The film covers this true journey from start to finish, adding in unnecessary Hollywood embellishments, but thankfully that doesn't hurt its effectiveness. As depressing as the subject matter may be, it's a pleasure to watch.

Dench is simultaneously tragic and charming as Lee, showing the the pain of what she had lost with every glance. Coogan is also perfectly cast as the journalist who is at first in it for himself, but soon develops a genuine compassion for the mother.

As with all true stories, this one is being told too late, but there is hope that the conversations it will spark my soon make a difference in the practices of the church and the perception of sin in Ireland.

~~~



Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks

Tonight I screened Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.

PL Travers (Thompson) was an Australian author who had suffered a difficult childhood at the hands of her drunken father and depressed mother. It was her imagination that got her through it and led her to eventually write Mary Poppins, which achieved great success.

Walt Disney (Hanks), a legendary Missouri-born entrepreneur, of course created the Happiest Place on Earth™. After his daughter, Diane, fell in love with the book Mary Poppins, he promised her someday he would turn it into a movie. It took him 20 years, but he kept that promise.

This film tells that story in flashbacks to Travers' childhood (which can be quite disturbing) and throughout the process of convincing her to sell the rights to Disney. The two leads couldn't be better in their roles, Hanks capturing every mannerism Disney was known for; Thompson a hard shell of a woman with a heartbreaking past bubbling underneath. Sweet moments of humor, like a spoonful of sugar, help this "medicine" go down.

Travers really defined the Hollywood term "development hell" and took issue with just about every song, design and element proposed to her by the "Americans." It can't have been easy for the writer and songwriters to navigate, but obviously, in the end everyone got a classic.

The film is much more dark than I expected it to be, and I found myself crying at least four times.

That said, the writing is not emotionally manipulative or too far from the truth at any time. In fact, reading through this article, it comes pretty close. The real footage of the film and also the final credits (which hold real surprises) were a nice touch.

I enjoyed the story, and would recommend it for adults, but not for children due to the disturbing flashback sequences.

~~~

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nebraska

Tonight I saw Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #128, so please tune in a few weeks from now for our review.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Today I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.

The film begins where the book also started, as Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) are gearing up for their victory tour of the districts, as the winners of the most recent Hunger Games.

Spying on the wildly popular couple, the president (Donald Sutherland) calls their bluff and fears their love story act will not sustain, so therefore Katniss must be eliminated. His new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (a perfectly cast Philip Seymour Hoffman) soon constructs a plot to bring the victors back into the games and seal her fate.

Though all of the excitement and horrors of the games is well executed, it's the performance that Lawrence gives that truly makes the film worth seeing. Every note of emotion is pitch perfect; every complexity captured in her eyes.

I also confess to eating up the love triangle between her, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As with any well done triangle, I change my mind every few minutes about who I want for Katniss. My brain says Peeta will do everything in his power to make her happy from now to eternity; my heart sees the way she looks at Gale.

Only one more year until the first installment of Mockingjay hits theaters, right?

~~~

Friday, November 22, 2013

Delivery Man

Today I saw Delivery Man, starring Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt.

David (Vaughn) is an unreliable "meat chauffeur" for the family business. He's in love with Emma (Cobie Smulders), who is carrying his child, but unsure of whether or not she wants him to be a part of said child's life.

He wants to do better—he really does—and gets the chance to prove it when his world is unexpectedly turned upside down. It seems that as a sperm donor years ago, he fathered 533 children, over a hundred of which have filed a lawsuit to try to learn his identity.

His lawyer/BFF (Pratt) works tirelessly to preserve his anonymity, but David's impulsive actions don't help. He begins reading through profiles of his children (all of whom magically live in the vicinity) and finds them, following them throughout their daily lives.

Vaughn is fantastic as someone in awe of what the creation of a child truly means (there are some tear-inducing, tender scenes with one of the children, which I won't spoil) and at the same time frustratingly irresponsible.

Aside from that, and the side-story of the lawyer's four kids driving him nuts, this is a very slow-paced, often sad-in-tone film.

I really wanted to like it more than I did, and I wanted to laugh as much as the trailer implied I would. But I didn't.

~~~

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

This morning I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Cecil Gains (Whitaker) was a real-life man named Eugene Allen, who was employed by The White House from the Truman administration all the way up through the Reagan administration. He began as a pantry worker and was soon promoted to butler, utilizing the skills he'd learned working in exclusive places around Virginia and Washington, D.C. And, he was black.

The film shows how he was trained as a child as a "house negro" to serve and dazzle the higher class, and takes great pride in doing good work for his superiors.

His wife Gloria (Winfrey)—who was named Helene in actuality—has a drinking problem and turns to another man for intimacy as her husband works long hours. Winfrey gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman who clearly adores her husband, but has so much brimming just beneath her emotional surface, she has to find other ways to cope.

The film has fairly been compared to Forrest Gump for its predictable trip down memory lane, but just as I didn't mind it in Forrest Gump, I didn't mind it here either. Though the big-name stars (Robin Williams, John Cusack, etc.) who play the various presidents are distracting, the overall message is clear: it really hasn't been that long since America was a terribly unbalanced country, devoid of human rights for all. In fact, it reminds us that though things are better, we still have a long way to go.

For all its unfaithfulness to the true story, it was still an engaging, well-paced movie that made me wish I was more like its main character: content in hard work, patient in times of injustice and lacking in envy of the riches that surround him.

~~~

Saturday, November 02, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Today I saw 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender.

It will be the topic of our November Cinebanter episode, so tune in later this month for our review.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Captain Philips

Tonight I saw Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.

Captain Rich Phillips (Hanks) is an east coast merchant marine leading a new crew through the dangerous waters of Africa to deliver cargo. Muse (Abdi) is a Somali pirate that leads a handful of fellow pirates to take over the Captain's ship. Despite the elaborate security measures, Muse succeeds.

After a nerve-wracking chain of events (all happening while the U.S. Navy Seals are getting their ducks in a row to initiate a rescue), the pirates leave the ship and escape on one of its lifeboats with Captain Phillips as their hostage.

What happened over the course of five days in real life is chronicled in just over two hours here, but it's no less harrowing. The Captain talks to them, negotiates the extension of his life and feels compassion for the youngest pirate, who is just a kid. Tempers flare, weapons are drawn and physical fights are commonplace.

What makes Paul Greengrass such a phenomenal director is how real it all feels, though it's not something everyday people will ever truly know. His gift for capturing the sound of desperate breaths, the temperature in a space and the discombobulation of chaos is unique.

All of the performances in this film are first-rate; most notably those of the pirates who weren't even actors before they took on these roles.

I can't imagine this won't get a ripple of well-deserved Oscar nominations.

~~~


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Prisoners

Today I saw Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Keller (Jackman) and Grace (Maria Bello), have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with their neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis).

Each couple has a young daughter and the girls leave together after the meal to go play. The adults don't realize they are missing until much later. They report a suspected abduction and soon are on the trail of the owner of an RV who was parked on their street.

Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) has solved every case to which he's been assigned, so the families are grateful when he takes on the challenge of finding their girls.

That same night he apprehends the RV owner, a mentally slow man named Alex (Paul Dano) who doesn't have any trace of the girls on his belongings. They hold him for 48 hours and release him to his aunt's custody.

Because Keller is convinced that Alex is guilty, he kidnaps him at gunpoint and takes him as a prisoner at an empty property he owns. He begins torturing him to get information from him, but gets no results.

Soon, he involves Franklin and Nancy, who don't feel right about what he's doing, but also choose not to stop him.

Meanwhile, at a candlelight vigil for the girls, a man's odd behavior catches the eye of Detective Loki and he gives chase. This is where, of course, the plot thickens.

From Hugh Jackman's desperation to the numbness of Maria Bello, each actor lives their role with frightful realism. The pain of the families is tangible, as is the frustration of the detective who is unable to decode the puzzle that may lead them all to the girls.

I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of this lengthy film, and with every twist and turn I held my breath, hoping for resolution.

Aside from a few key gruesome scenes, I never looked away.

I'm glad I didn't—a solid thriller is always a great way to get the adrenaline going.

~~~

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Enough Said

Tonight I saw Enough Said, starring James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced masseuse ready to send her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) off to college. She accompanies her best friends—a married couple—to a party and meets two people.

The first, Marianne (Catherine Keener), is a poet with a shoulder that is in desperate need of massage therapy; the second, Albert (Gandolfini) is Marianne's ex-husband.

When Eva meets them, she has no idea they were once married to each other. She begins dating Albert and immediately feels a chemistry with him. Alternately, Marianne becomes her client and they develop a genuine friendship.

It's only when Eva sees their daughter Tessa (Eve Hewson) at Marianne's house that she makes the connection.

Unfortunately, instead of coming clean then and there, she keeps her knowledge of their past a secret and mines Marianne for information about Albert. Because Marianne is so bitter toward her ex, the the things she describes that once bothered her begin to bother Eva.

This scenario is refreshing because it could (and probably does) happen in real life. Furthermore, both leads are so endearing, it's hard not to root for them to end up together, even with Albert's sloppy faults and Eva's bad judgment.

It's a relief to see Louis-Dreyfus not playing a silly or snarky woman and borderline heartbreaking to watch Gandolfini at his most gentle, the way most who knew him personally describe his real-life personality.

The supporting cast is fantastic too—Toni Colette effortlessly plays Eva's flawed best friend, who just happens to be a shrink, and Eve Hewson nails the self-absorbed teenage daughter part.

I've always been a fan of writer/director Nicole Holofcener's gift for painting such real characters and this movie may be her best of all.

Go see it as soon as possible. And then go see it again.

~~~

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Wizard of Oz - 3D

Today I saw The Wizard of Oz in 3D, starring Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton.

It always feels odd reviewing a classic, especially one of this magnitude, because everyone already knows the story and has made their mind up about its merit.

But I'll give it a go anyhow.

Dorothy Gale (Garland) has dog, Toto, that can't seem to stay out of trouble. He's bitten Miss Gulch (Hamilton), eats hot dogs in mid-barbecue (before being asked) and jumps out of any basket he's confined to; really, he's a pain in the ass.

When Miss Gulch attempts to confiscate little Toto, he escapes back to his owner and fearing the authorities will return for him, Dorothy runs away from home.

While she's out the storm picks up and a twister forms near the small Kansas farm where she lives.

Not making it to the storm cellar in time, Dorothy runs into the house for cover and is soon transported to a magical place where she's greeted by a good witch and about a hundred little people.

Soon, she embarks on a journey to find her way home, following the path of a trusted yellow brick road, meeting friends along the way, all the while dodging the Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton) who seeks revenge for the death of her sister, which she believes Dorothy caused.

The flying monkeys that help the witch never bothered me as a child, and they still don't now, but the dark forest is unsettling as are the voices and hairdos of the Munchkins.

The songs are fantastic (especially Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which makes her sound years older than she was at the time) and the colors pop (even more so in glorious 3D), and Hamilton sets the bar unimaginably high for any woman who dares to be a witch thereafter.

When I was a child, watching this film was an annual event. It would come on the television on some random Friday night and we would put sleeping bags on the floor and eat popcorn out of a huge bowl. I don't remember ever paying attention to the beginning before the tornado hits or noticing that the Cowardly Lion had a Jersey accent.

It's still magic though, 75 years on.

~~~

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Don Jon

Today I saw Don Jon, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson.

Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is an east-coast bartender who likes his family, his church, his ladies and his porn. Barbara (Johansson) is a sexy girl who knows exactly what she wants in a man. When the two meet, sparks fly and Jon respects her in a way he doesn't respect other women.

They wait over a month to sleep together—a true testament to how much Jon likes Barbara—and he promises to quit watching porn at her request.

By all accounts, she makes him a better man: she has him enroll in night school to hopefully advance his career, she teaches him the virtue of patience, he remains faithful to her.

However, his porn addiction doesn't go away; he merely hides it.

The desire to watch porn consumes him so much that he watches on his cell phone as he's driving, attending class, etc. and absolves himself of the guilt by admitting his problem each week during confession.

It's not until a classmate, Esther (Julianne Moore), befriends him that he realizes his addiction to porn stems from his inability to truly connect to his partner. And there are reasons that come clear as to why that connection isn't happening.

In the midst of a lot (and I do mean a lot) of boobs and thrusts, this film reveals a sweet, honest message about a character who's slimy enough to be annoying, but decent enough to be endearing.

All of the actors are first-rate and cast to perfection. An absolute pleasure to watch.

If the topic of sex doesn't offend you, you'll enjoy spending 90 minutes in this true-to-life world.

~~~

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Gravity

Tonight I saw Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

It will be the topic of our October Cinebanter episode, so tune in a few weeks from now for our review.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Airplane!

Tonight I saw Airplane! starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty.

Ted (Hays) is heartbroken because Elaine (Hagerty) is leaving him. She's a stewardess (that's what they called flight attendants in 1980) and he's a former soldier turned cab driver. Distraught at the thought of losing her, he spontaneously purchases a ticket on one of her flights and soon exhausts his fellow passengers retelling their love story.

Meanwhile, everyone on board (including the captain and co-pilot) who had fish for dinner is getting violently ill, and they need medical attention, fast. In a matter of minutes, when the crew passes out, they also need someone to land the plane. Ted is the only one on board qualified to do it.

If you've never seen this 80s classic, you may think all of the above sounds like an intense thriller, but really it's one of the most ridiculously wonderful, hilariously quotable films in existence.

Growing up watching this, I understood about 1/3 of the jokes; as an adult I realized how filthy it really is and that makes it 75 times more genius.

I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to write this screenplay, but my hat is off to the clever trio who did.

33 years later the jokes are still funny, the characters still fresh and the ending still satisfying.

I'm so glad I finally got to experience it in the theater.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

Tonight I saw the 9/11 documentary, Out of the Clear Blue Sky.

In the twelve years since the tragic terrorist attacks there have been countless news magazines, documentaries and even a few feature films about that horrific day. And just when you think there couldn't possibly be a new story to tell about it, one emerges. That was the case with this film.

There were over 900 Canton Fitzgerald employees who reported to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; 658 didn't survive.

But CEO Howard Lutnick did, and after a tearful interview with Connie Chung, became a sympathetic figurehead in the midst of the chaos.

But so quickly they turn.

Because most of their departments were completely wiped out that day (except for I.T.; they were on a fishing trip), Canton Fitzgerald couldn't turn out the amount of work needed to pay the salaries of the missing. Lutnick pledged to donate 25% of the company profits to the victims' families, as well as 10 years of covered healthcare instead. But that message—which was considerably generous considering what the company was facing—got lost in the shuffle and Lutnick (who lost his own brother in the tragedy) was vilified, soon getting death threats.

This film chronicles the rise and fall (and rise again) of Lutnick's image in the years up to now through survivor interviews, commentary from victims' families and news footage.

It's understood that he had a ruthless reputation on Wall Street before the terrorist attack and one wonders if some just held a grudge after the fact, as if it were some sort of karmic payback. In another sense, his raw grief in the weeks and months following the attacks seemed painfully real. And how can you be angry with someone who has to save an international company while mourning two thirds of his employees and his own sibling?

Though those wounds will never heal, the film does imply that a sense of community has emerged in the Canton Fitzgerald family as a result of Lutnick's efforts to help victims' families, and maybe, just maybe, the ordeal made him a better man.

~~~

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Drinking Buddies

Today I saw Drinking Buddies, starring Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde.

Kate (Wilde) works at a brewery with Luke (Johnson). They're both in seemingly long-term relationships with Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), respectively.

When a double-date camping trip leaves them wondering if they're with the right partner, Chris and Kate decide to take a break, while Luke and Jill remain together.

As with any mumblecore flick, all of the dialogue feels like improv, and the actors feel like people we know.

Johnson especially, known for his endearing character on New Girl, fits the bill as a brewmaster who lacks ambition. A reference Jill makes to their "marriage" discussion hints at his procrastination to propose; the older, wiser Chris would probably not cause such a delay.

When Jill takes a trip for work, Luke is left behind to help Kate move residences. A "will they or won't they" tension ensues, and the film turns from a lighthearted rom com to a more serious indie drama.

But that's okay, because this group is refreshingly real without being pretentious. Their struggles are familiar and their behaviors are typical, if not ideal.

Each character, though flawed, also has redeeming qualities that cause us to root for them, which makes this a good bunch to watch.

If only mumblecore had sequels.

~~~


Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Spectacular Now

Today I saw The Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.

Sutter (Teller) is a popular guy at his high school. He makes everyone laugh, wins over his teachers with charm and has a hot blonde girlfriend named Cassidy (Brie Larson).

He also has a drinking problem.

To every party, in every class, on every car ride, he carries a flask full of whiskey. It's with him at all times like a sad security blanket.

After Cassidy has enough of his nonsense and breaks up with him, he begins hanging out with Aimee (Woodley). She's a classmate he's ignored for years, but she agrees to tutor him since he's struggling through his math course.

They have a genuinely sweet chemistry, and soon develop feelings for one another. At first, it appears that they make each other better, but later in the story we have to wonder if she's too good for him.

As we're watching this all unfold, we do feel like we're falling in love right along with them. Their scenes are tender and realistic; their magnetism completely believable though neither of them is conventionally attractive.

Teller and Woodley do a beautiful job of conveying young love and the ease of trusting the wrong people. Jennifer Jason Leigh's brief scenes as Sutter's mother are also powerful.

Though the story doesn't say much, it speaks volumes about the painful reality of addiction. If you're in the mood for something simple, but smart, with a satisfying ending, you should make a point of getting to this spectacular indie.

~~~


Monday, September 02, 2013

Austenland

Today I saw Austenland, starring Keri Russell and Bret McKenzie.

Jane (Russell) is a single American girl, obsessed with the world of Jane Austen books. She has a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy next to her couch, boasts an Austen-themed bedroom and "takes tea" a lot more than normal Americans would.

Her boyfriends scoff at her distraction; her friends just want it to come to an end. She can't get enough of the culture, so she spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, a theme park dedicated to immersing oneself into the world the author so famously created.

Upon arrival, Jane isn't as dazzled as she thought she'd be—because she only booked the basic experience, she sleeps in the servants quarters and wears gowns that aren't as extravagant as those of higher paying guests.

Becoming claustrophobic to the clutches of the dominant owner of the place, she soon seeks solace in her moments away with Martin (McKenzie), the "hired help" that becomes as enamored with her as she does with him. Or does he?

Because the actors on the land are supposed to offer a romantic experience to each attendee, Jane soon becomes confused about what is real and what isn't. The glamour of behaving like someone in a novel becomes less and less appealing as true feelings fight their way to the surface.

Sure, there are several cheesy moments throughout the film with flamboyant supporting characters and cleavage jokes, but at the end of it all, we're all there to see an Austen-esque ending, and that's exactly what we get.

Russell's charms carry the film without effort and if you're willing to hang on for the whole ride, you'll probably leave smiling.

~~~

The World's End

Earlier this week I saw The World's End, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #125, so tune in later this month for our review.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sharknado

On Saturday night, I saw Sharnado, starring Ian Ziering and Cassie Scerbo.

Fin (Ziering) runs a bar on the Santa Monica pier and surfs in his spare time. Nova (Scerbo) serves drinks at his bar and becomes nervous when he heads out to the waves during a horrific storm.

Soon, the storm—California's first hurricane—takes over the whole city and Fin must race to save his family.

His estranged wife April (Tara Reid) resists his help until a shark makes its way into her home (yes, you read that right). Then, it's off to save their son who is across town at flight school. With their high maintenance teenage daughter in tow, as well.

If this sounds absurd, that's because it is. And shamelessly so. In fact, it's so camp-tastic that the crowd we were with in the theater hollered throughout the entire film and it didn't even bother me. In fact, I found that it added to the festive atmosphere.

Of course, the most exciting part of the film comes when the tornadoes form and of course, they form with sharks inside of them. If I wasn't laughing so hard, I may have been slightly scared.

Even more hilarious is the way they combat the tornadoes, but I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't be specific. Just know that I was in hysterics at their scientific solution.

Really folks, it doesn't get any cheesier or any funnier than Sharknado. I can hardly wait for the sequel.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jobs

Yesterday I saw Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher and Dermot Mulroney.

Steve Jobs (Kutcher) reigns as the most celebrated innovator in modern technology. As the man behind the Apple computer empire, Jobs wasn't known for being nice, but he was often referred to as a genius.

The film begins in his college years, as he experimented with drugs at a college in Oregon famous for its hippie culture. We see the visionary he became start to blossom at this time.

As he builds Apple with a couple of buddies in his parents' garage, the spark of something "great" is evident.

Investor Mike Markkula (Mulroney) recognizes this spark and foots the bill for getting the company off the ground. Once it's up and running, Jobs begins acting like a tyrant and develops a reputation for driving his teams too hard.

As someone with a background in marketing, I can appreciate Jobs' misunderstood passion and the frustration he must have encountered in people who didn't care about more than getting a paycheck. I found some of the scenes almost physically painful to watch because situations like his play out all the time in our industry.

Anyway, Ashton captures Jobs incredibly well—from the explosive temper to the distinctive walk, he nails him. All of the supporting characters do just fine as well. In fact, I'm not quite sure why so many critics are spewing such hatred for this film. Perhaps a buried resentment for the real guy? Who knows.

The only thing about the movie that truly disappointed me was that with few exceptions, Jobs' family life was totally ignored (including everything regarding his adoption), and we only got as far as him taking back the company.

For a man who gave so much to this world (including the MacBook Pro upon which I am now typing),  it seems like his entire life should have been covered.

But maybe that's what the rival Steve Jobs movie will deliver, with Aaron Sorkin's writing to boot.

~~~

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Yesterday I saw Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins.

Jeanette (Blanchette) changed her name to Jasmine years ago because her given name wasn't elegant enough. It seems everything in her life needs to be coated in luxury for her to feel normal.

She meets Hal (Alec Baldwin), a wealthy businessman, marries him and lives a charmed life in Manhattan until her world falls out from under her when he's arrested for a white collar crime.

Broke and directionless, she attempts to start over in San Francisco where her sister Ginger (Hawkins) lives a much more middle class life.

A black comedy with the darkest of undertones, the absurdity of Jasmine's grief often gets the biggest laughs, as her mourning focuses more on the material things she lost than the husband she loved.

Blanchett gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a woman on the brink of cracking, popping pills and offering a healthy amount of product placement for Stoli vodka. She's both funny and tragic; ridiculous in most scenes, but still genuine enough to garner sympathy from the audience.

The supporting cast is nothing short of brilliant as well—Hawkins is a down-to-earth sister with more patience for her sibling than most would have; Bobby Cannavale and Louis C.K. prove appropriately comical as her suitors. As usual, Baldwin is perfectly cast as the slimy former husband.

Allen is on a roll—Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love and now this. Satisfying, delightful stories with colorful characters coming to life.

~~~

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Blackfish

Today I saw the documentary Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
A visit to SeaWorld is something millions of Americans enjoy each year. But every so often, a story will make the news about one of the trainers getting injured—or worse killed—and the question comes back: Should we be holding these whales and dolphins in captivity for our own entertainment?
After watching this film, the answer is a resounding "no."
The piece traces the life of one orca, Tilikum, who has killed three humans since humans took him hostage as a two-year-old in 1983. Unlike domesticated dogs who are put down when they kill, Tilikum sees no such punishment, as his sperm is valuable for the breeding plans of the corporation.
What's more nauseating is that the most recent murder was blamed on the victim. I won't get into specifics (in case you haven't heard the story, I fear I'd spoil it), but the whole situation is nothing short of infuriating.
Several former SeaWorld trainers are interviewed here, expressing their horror at the deaths and the lack of real instruction they had going into their jobs (apparently, it was more important that they be physically fit than know anything concrete about the whales). It really is astonishing that more employees haven't been killed, as the accident list is incredibly lengthy.
There are several arguments for why humans shouldn't imprison whales, but the most compelling evidence presented in this film is the testing that was conducted on their brains and the emotional component that was discovered. Put simply: they're like us. They stay with their families. They feel things. They don't want to be kidnapped or trapped or starved just so they'll perform tricks.
Even if you're not an orca lover, you'll feel moved to take action when you see this film, and see it you should.
~~~

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fruitvale Station

Tonight I saw Fruitvale Station, starring Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #124, so tune in next month for our review.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Way Way Back

This morning I saw The Way Way Back, starring Liam James and Toni Collette.

Duncan (James) is a socially awkward teenager on summer break with his mother Pam (Collette) and her jerk-of-a-boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). They land in a sleepy beach town where Trent has a community of colorful friends.

Not wanting to have any part of 'family time,' Duncan escapes to the nearby water park where Owen (Sam Rockwell) gives him a job, and more importantly, a sense of place. Owen is a misfit in his own right, annoying his colleague/girlfriend Caitlin with his immature behavior. Owen and Duncan make each other better.

Rockwell is especially good, portraying a fun-on-the-outside, yet broken-on-the-inside man. As an actor, Rockwell is criminally underutilized, but here at least, he gets to support the leads with some depth.

James is also great as the nerdy boy, loved by his mother who is too preoccupied with her own relationship to show it. Collette and Carell, who played a very different couple in Little Miss Sunshine, have a familiar chemistry that allows them to convince us of both their infatuation and discomfort.

There's not much more to this film than the standard coming-of-age argument scenes, awkward family moments and kinda-sorta first loves, but that's okay, because it's so easy to watch.

~~~




Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Conjuring

Today I saw The Conjuring, starring Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) are a real-life married couple, famous for their paranormal investigations. Ed passed in 2006, but Lorraine is still going strong at 86 at corroborates the true story, which this film tells.

In the early 70s, the Perron family moved to a remote farmhouse in the Rhode Island countryside in hopes of beginning an idyllic life. Instead, their beds began levitating and a rancid smell filled their rooms at the same time each morning.

Not affiliated with any church, and fearing for the safety of their five young daughters, they sought the help of the Warrens who lived nearby in Connecticut. Lorraine, who is clairvoyant, immediately detected the presence of spirits during her first visit and after studying historical records of the property, identified them. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say they weren't the nicest entities to have around.

Carolyn (Taylor), who was the mother of the family, seemed to be the target of the spirit's angst, and briefly became possessed, causing all kinds of chaos. Taylor is perfect for this role, because she evokes such a nurturing "mom" presence anyway. Here she gets to show that off and go buck wild crazy under the spell of this demon. I enjoyed her performance most of all.

Farmiga plays the legendary Warren very understated, which is true to the real woman's behavior. Wilson is also convincingly "ordinary" as Ed, demonstrating both deep love for his wife and a sincere quest to rid this poor family of the energies that torment them.

As a standard horror film, the story here works on many levels: the narrative is packed with enough logic to pull you in and the surprises are jumpy enough to bolt you out of your seat.

This is a good one folks; and not just for paranormal geeks like me.

~~~


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: THE REENACTMENTS

This morning I finished reading The Reenactments, a memoir by Nick Flynn.

There are memories from our lives that we're desperate to re-live every day; then there are those we'd love to bury forever.

Flynn's memoir bravely chronicles the latter, as he recounts the filming of Being Flynn, a movie based on his earlier memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.

His life was not ordinary: raised by a single mother in a Massachusetts beach town, his taxi-driving, alcoholic father was not around to see him grow up. Once he had grown up, his mother had committed suicide and his father was without a permanent address.

A lost soul in many ways, Flynn ended up with an addiction problem of his own, and was reunited with his father only when he began working in the shelter where his father sometimes slept.

He struggled with the loss of his mother as he tried to navigate his way through his 20s and maintained a complicated relationship with his dad; all the while becoming the brilliant writer that he is today.

This book shares in great detail what he felt like when each part of his existence was played out for the big screen, with Robert De Niro in the role of his father; Julianne Moore acting as his mother and Paul Dano representing him.

What's magical in the way he tells it is how capable he is of communicating surreality.

One can only imagine what it must feel like to watch real people behaving the way that people within your reality once behaved, right down to specific conversations—let alone the most traumatic stages of said life. Flynn somehow captures that, with his unique style of writing that reads more like short bits of poetry than prose, yet remains completely accessible.

Though much of it is painful to read, my hope for the writer is that by putting those words to paper, some therapeutic healing occurred that will allow him to move past those memories.

Flynn's courage in this raw retelling is nothing short of admirable.

~~~

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The East

Last night I saw The East, starring Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard.

Sarah (Marling) is an undercover operative, working to learn the identities of a dangerous anarchist cell targeting large corporations. Benji (Skarsgard) is the magnetic leader of the group. They have all of the necessary talents for such a production (a doctor, a hacker, a beautiful girl, etc,) and live off the grid as they plot their next assault. They call themselves The East.

Moving in with the group, Sarah quickly adapts to their hippie existence and learns about the reasons behind their violent crimes. Though she doesn't condone their methods, she starts to see the group members as human beings and begins to develop true friendships with them.

All the while, she's doing her job and reporting back to home base every time the bunch plans a "jam" (their word for "attack").

The tension builds well here. Sarah's flirtations with Benji could get her closer to him (and possibly change the course of the plans) or they could backfire and blow her cover. The audience is in the dark.

Skarsgard and Marling command the camera with their natural ease and Ellen Page is all too convincing as the annoying righteous member of the tribe that can't see both sides of the issues.

I enjoyed the pace and intent of the film, if not the somewhat predictable ending and formulaic story arcs.

~~~

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More Than Honey

Today I saw the documentary More Than Honey, about the rapid decline of the world's bee population.

A frightening statistic—that 1.5 million bees have disappeared in 27 U.S. states in the past 15 years—serves as a catalyst for the extensive research that makes up this film.

Director Marcus Imhoof journeys to several faraway places to try and solve the mystery of why this species is dying out so quickly. He follows expert beekeepers John Miller and Fred Jaggi as they investigate their own work and try to make sense of the unknown, but their guesses are as good as ours.

Really, it could be anything (or a number of things), which may or may not include pesticides, global warming, invasive mites or even stress. Yes, there is such a thing as "bee stress."

Whatever is causing it needs to be figured out as soon as possible, though, because without bees to pollinate everything under the sun, we as humans will be without a food supply.

Scary, eh?

Though the film does a good job of showing us how it all works (from the mid-air mating of the bees to the glorious pollination of the flowers to the beekeepers transporting the bees to their locations for "work" and ultimately draining their honey), there really is no concrete theory put upon the viewer as to why the bees are disappearing, or how we could work together to stop it.

Not a lot of buzz for a message that really stings.

~~~

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Yesterday I saw The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.

Not a big fan of Westerns, I'll admit I went primarily because my visiting mother loves Johnny Depp and I knew this was something she'd want to see. Luckily, there was enough of him to keep us both engaged.

To set the stage..

John Reid (Hammer) is an anti-violence attorney in the old west, where his brother is a successful captain in law enforcement.

He gets into a series of sticky situations alongside Tonto (Depp), an Indian (as they called them in those days). Eventually, Reid is the last man standing in a terrible ambush with the bad guys, led by Butch (William Fichtner), making him by default: The Lone Ranger.

The scenes are painfully long, but the acting is presumably great, and Hammer is endearing as the naive accidental hero. They made him more bumbling than I remember the Lone Ranger from my childhood (re-runs of the old black-and-white series were common in our house), but he pulls it off well, all things considered. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't smile the first time the iconic theme music ramps up during one of the chases.

Of course Depp nails his role too, as a sarcastic, smart native of the land—the brains behind the operation—and in many ways outshines everyone else (as he typically does).

The film, however, is much bloodier than it needs to be, and the action scenes have almost as much breaking glass as Man of Steel. It's unnecessary, and it wastes a lot of time.

Did I mention this film is just shy of 2.5 hours long? Well, it is, and it doesn't need to be.

That pretty much says it all.

~~~

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Man of Steel

This afternoon I saw Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill and Amy Adams.

Nothing can top Christopher Reeve as the iconic Superman, but kudos to Henry Cavill for trying. He's not bad, after all, but the screenplay sure is a mess.

We start with Superman's birth on a planet that isn't earth, with Russell Crowe dressed something like his Gladiator character and a woman screaming in maternal pain. I'm still with it at this point, but rapidly fading.

Superman grows up (with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as adoptive parents) and suppresses his gift, with a few impulsive exceptions (like lifting a school bus out of a river following an accident). Pulitzer Prize-winner Lois Lane (Adams) later catches on to his powers and his secret is out (in modern-day fashion, she leaked the story herself).

This doesn't bode well for her when the bad guys from his planet come to collect on his DNA, etc. and she's dragged along for whatever reason. 

At this point, I was craving the simplicity of the Superman movies I loved throughout childhood and making a game of counting how many times broken glass crashed during the action scenes (when I got bored of counting, I think I was up to 14).

Though the screen is coated with top-list talent (the guy from House of Cards; the guy from West Wing; the guy from Take Shelter)—and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy when Stabler from Law and Order: SVU showed up—their presence does not a good movie make.

The last (lengthy) half is all action and very little of it is exciting. There isn't a lot of fun or humor and only a trace of romance is to be found between the two leads.

This was a big, showy, loud, action-packed disappointment, which happened to be full of some of the best players in Hollywood.

~~~

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Heat

This morning I saw The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #123, so tune in late July for our review.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Love is in the Air

This morning I saw Love is in the Air, starring Nicolas Bedos and Ludivine Sagnier.

To read my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Prey

Tonight I saw The Prey, starring Albert Dupontel and Claire Linné.

To ready my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

The Hangover Part III

Today I saw The Hangover Part III, starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis.
The Wolf Pack is back—this time to save Doug (Justin Bartha) from Marshall (John Goodman), a drug kingpin that has a score to settle with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).
The group is en route to get help for Alan (Galifianakis), who has gone off his meds in recent months, when they get kidnapped by Marshall's goons. Their task? To bring Mr. Chow (and the gold he stole) back to Marshall.
Through Alan's lasting friendship with Chow, they're able to locate him and the adventure begins.
Along the way, they're forced to return to the scene of the (first) crime, Las Vegas (oh, darn) where Alan falls for his soul mate, Cassie (Melissa McCarthy). There's also a visit to Jade (Heather Graham) and a heart-stopping cliffhanger that will never allow me to view Caesar's Palace the same way again.
It's all good fun—even if not as raunchy or laugh-out-loud as the first two—and great to see these actors, who have such a fun chemistry with one another, back for another ride.
~~~

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Hunt

Last night I saw The Hunt, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Annika Wedderkopp.

To read my capsule review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Children of Sarajevo

On Sunday I saw Children of Sarajevo.

To read my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Before Midnight

On Saturday, I saw Before Midnight, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

It will be the topic of our June Cinebanter episode, so tune in later this month for our review.

The Girl with 9 Wigs

On Wednesday, I saw The Girl with 9 Wigs.

Visit Cinebanter.com for my review.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Two Mothers

Today I saw Two Mothers, starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright.

To read my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Out of Print

Tonight I screened Out of Print, a documentary playing at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

To read my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mussels in Love

Tonight I screened Mussels in Love, a documentary that will play at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

To read my review, visit Cinebanter.com.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It's a Disaster

Tonight I saw It's a Disaster, starring Julia Stiles and David Cross.

Tracy (Stiles) and Glen (Cross) are on their third date, attending a "couples' brunch" at the home of Tracy's friends.

Because there are couples there is naturally drama and soon the group learns that one of the pairs are enduring a breakup. This causes an obvious tension among the guests until something more important interrupts them: a neighbor in a Hazmat suit. He's come to ask for spare batteries because the city is apparently under a chemical warfare attack. Everyone is instructed to stay inside and duct tape the airways as they face their own demise. Phones, electricity and Internet are all gone.

And just as in real life, when a crises occurs, everyone reacts in their own way. One friend is obsessed with learning who is doing this to them; another goes catatonic; some drink heavily; others have sex.

The calmest of the bunch is the outcast, Glen, who everyone likes, but no one really knows. The most out of control is Hedy (America Ferrera) who teaches high school chemistry, and realizes the dismal fate they're all facing.

Sounds gloomy, huh?

Not so much—it's more silly than depressing, and if they didn't bring up the "terrorist attack" in every other sentence, we probably would forget that they're all sure to die by nightfall.

The banter is enjoyable, but it does unfortunately feel like dozens of other indie films with unfaithful spouses and betrayals of friendship. The odd thing about this one is that it's a comedy, and the jokes are stronger than the characters.

~~~



The Great Gatsby

On Thursday I saw The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

It will be the topic of our May Cinebanter show, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jurassic Park

Today I saw Jurassic Park in 3D, a 20th anniversary presentation of the Spielberg classic.

When the movie originally came out, I was a senior in high school and went to see it with my friend Laurie. My most distinct memory of the film is her bolting out of her chair during the T-rex attack and retreating to the lobby. I'm not 100% sure she ever came back in, but I made it through to the end.

Now, 20 years later, the magic has returned in a special 3D presentation, which makes the dinosaurs even more real (and horrific).

For those too young to remember, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) are scientists in love when they are plucked away from their dig to visit a yet-to-open theme park featuring resurrected dinosaurs.

Yes, it sounded ridiculous at the time, but now with all of the progress in genetics, the reality of the possibility makes it all the more frightening.

Anyway, wealthy John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who "spares no expense" for anything has created this paleontology nerds' utopia without regard for what could happen if the security of the property is compromised. So of course, the climax of the movie is the security of the property being compromised. People get eaten; our heroes each experience a maximum state of peril.

I had no idea it would still get to me, knowing of course how it ends, but it did. It was almost just as thrilling as seeing it for the first time (and the only thing that looks dated are the hairstyles).

If you enjoyed it back in 1993, you'll enjoy it even more now as the dinosaurs leap off of the screen and lunge for your lap. If you've never seen it, brace yourself.

It may give you nightmares.

~~~


Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Room 237

Tonight I saw the documentary Room 237, about Kubrick's legendary film, The Shining.

Although I've seen The Shining a few times, and I realize its significance in the history of film, I'll confess that it's never been a favorite of mine. I hoped that this documentary would perhaps convince me to love it as much as the passionate horror fans do, but alas, instead I found myself chuckling for nearly two hours—finding no additional meaning in any of it.

Basically, Room 237 gives the microphone to a handful of obsessed fans who give film geeks a bad reputation. These individuals believe The Shining symbolizes everything from a faked landing-on-the-moon film to a metaphorical holocaust.

Their evidence? Well, they "see" paper-tray hard-ons and sexual intercourse in the pattern of the rugs, so it must be true, right?

Of course not, but as I laughed along with the rest of the audience hearing from these theorists, I started to cringe. Not only at how ridiculous these fans sound; but at the sound of our collective laughter in response.

Who among us hasn't held a belief or a passion that no one else shared? Who among us hasn't at some point been made fun of for something (or someone) that we sincerely love?

Though I enjoyed some of their far-fetched interpretations, and appreciated the comical visuals that accompanied their narrations, I felt bad when I thought about how they must have thought they'd be perceived (as film scholars) vs. how they're being portrayed (as nut cases).

If only the purpose of the film was really to hear from critics who approach this from a historical, academic perspective, I wouldn't have been left with such a bad taste in my mouth.

~~~

Saturday, March 30, 2013

West of Memphis

This afternoon I saw West of Memphis, a documentary about the West Memphis Three.

I've been obsessed with this story since I first saw Paradise Lost and its sequel a few years ago. For those not in-the-know, the case went something like this in 1993: Three boys dead; three other boys wrongly accused of their murders; (presumably) one killer still roaming free. Thanks, Arkansas.

With support from stars like Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, and the relentless persistence of Damien Nichols' (the only accused on death row) wife Lorri, the three were finally released in the summer of 2011.

I'll confess that I didn't know what an Alford Plea was until the three wrongly accused entered theirs to gain freedom. I cried tears of joy upon seeing footage of their release, and cried some more today as I watched this chapter play out.

What's new in this film? The compelling evidence against one of the stepfathers who was never even interviewed at the time of the murders.

Also new? Footage of the WM3 outside of prison walls, carrying on with their lives as they should have been allowed to in 1993.

I'm still digesting all that I saw (many of the graphic crime scene photos were almost too much for me to handle), but I can safely say that anyone interested in the case or curious about the holes of our justice system that can let something like this happen should watch it.

It's nothing short of riveting.

~~~

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Croods

Today I saw The Croods, starring the voices of Emma Stone and Nicholas Cage.

Grug (Cage) Crood is just like any other father—he loves his family, acts as the breadwinner and is fiercely protective of his children.

Eep (Stone) Crood is just like any other teenage daughter—she hates being cooped up, is curious about the unknown and enjoys the company of cute guys.

The unique thing about this bunch is that they're prehistoric. They're cave-people who don't know how to advance past their hunter-gatherer stages because they refuse to explore the unknown.

There's an old saying that goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and the same could be said for Daddy Crood's philosophy. He means well, but doesn't let his family outside the cave once the sun goes down because "new is bad."

Eep challenges that rule by sneaking out as often as she can, and one night encounters Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a boy her age with a pet Sloth named Belt (who functions as one too). Because of her rebellious actions, her family must follow her, and the places they go are frightening and wonderful all the same.

Basically, the feature is a parable about the importance of keeping an open mind and taking risks (just in case they're worth it). The story—like the main family—is simple, but that's okay because of the audience it's targeting.

I had the pleasure of seeing the film with a 6 year-old boy and a 3 year-old girl. Both were absolutely silent and engrossed as the action played out.

If they weren't bored, I can't imagine many of the adults were either (I know I wasn't), and at the end of the day, the storyline preaching was minimal. This is a character-driven jaunt, starring fun, familiar voices, set in a time our evolution often causes us to forget.

It will remind you not to be afraid of the new—and not to forget how far you've come, either.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Last night I saw Oz the Great and Powerful, starring James Franco and Michelle Williams.

The story serves as a prequel to the legendary Wizard of Oz; both are based on the classic children's books by L. Frank Baum.

Oscar Diggs (Franco) is a common con man in turn-of-the-century Kansas. We see moments of compassion/conscience hit him (a young girl asking for the power to walk again, etc.), but they're only moments. He's clearly someone who has survived on his looks and clever charms, and shows no signs of stopping.

When a tornado (of course) lifts him up and out of his circus life, and catapults him into the perimeters of the Emerald City, things begin to feel familiar—in a good way.

He first encounters Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), along with Finley the monkey (Zach Braff), who becomes his personal assistant. There is the usual talk of wicked witches and a horrible sequence where an entire village has been wiped out by their evil. It is at this time he helps China Girl (a creepy, large-eyed CGI porcelain figure) to walk again by gluing her legs back together. He will pretend to be The Wizard of Oz to gain all of the riches of Emerald City.

But it's not until he encounters Glinda (Williams), the luminescent good witch,  that things actually begin to happen.

Not to say the lead up to this moment isn't entertaining (because it is), but for what is assumed to be a kids' movie, it does run a bit long.

Anyway, the battle between good and evil ramps up, as does the chemistry between Oz and Glinda, and the culmination is a satisfying sequence of events featuring classic elements of the beloved 1939 film (which sort of make you want to run home and watch that one again).

I enjoyed Oz a great deal more than I thought I would. It stays faithful both to the original source text and the more famous film in the same series. And it does so using the appeals of James Franco and Michelle Williams, who are always a pleasure to watch.

~~~

Sunday, February 10, 2013

56 Up

Last night I saw the documentary 56 Up.

Since 1963, director Michael Apted has followed the lives of a group of British school children every seven years.

It was considered a ground-breaking feat in its first few incarnations; now it's nothing short of a miracle that most of the players are still around and willing to participate, and the director (now in his 70s) is as sharp as ever with his questioning.

It's difficult to review this film without spoiling it, but I will say some of the marriages remain in tact; one of the characters who previously dropped out returns to promote his band; many of the subjects are experiencing the sorrows that come with being older (loss of family, etc.) and some are still completely nutters.

I enjoyed this version immensely, just as I've enjoyed all the rest.

I can only hope that 63 Up includes as many updates and insights into this fascinating group of people.

~~~

Live Action Short Film Nominees (Oscars 2013)

Yesterday I saw all five of the nominated films in the Live Action Short category. I'll present my reviews in the order they were shown.

DEATH OF A SHADOW (Belgium/France)

This sci/fi head scratcher centers around a purgatory-dwelling soul who died in the war and is now tasked with photographing the shadows of death. These 'moments' he captures are then collected for a ghoulish gallery managed by a more dominant presence, who may or may not be evil. It's all very confusing, but the haunting elements and beautiful cinematography hold the audience attention well.

HENRY (Canada)

Another sad look at the progression of dementia in the elderly—this film focuses on Henry, a man who desperately misses his beloved wife Maria and can't face the fact that she is gone. The character is treated with dignity and the story is bittersweet as we see Henry's memories brought to life through his own confusion.

CURFEW (USA)

The strongest of the five, this short brings us into the life of a troubled brother and sister. They're trying to navigate their adult lives, which are littered with drugs and abuse, and find a common purpose in the sister's young daughter Sophia. This is sad, funny, poignant and unfortunately relevant in today's tumultous times.

BUZKASHI BOYS (Afghanistan/USA)

Two boys maintain a friendship and a sense of normalcy in one of the most dangerous areas of the world. What's remarkable about the film is not the plot (as we've seen this coming-of-age message time and time again), but the fact that the filmmakers shot on location in Kabul with the blessing of an international film alliance.

ASAD (South Africa/USA)

A young Somali boy has the weight of the world on his shoulders, collecting food and saving friends from armed soldiers who will kill them in the blink of an eye. It's a tender story that is made lighter by the clever screenwriting and somewhat unexpected ending.

~~~

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Django Unchained

Yesterday I saw Django Unchained, starring Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx.

Django (Foxx) is a freed slave helping bounty hunter King (Waltz) search for a few select fugitives, who coincidentally are the same jerks who ripped Django and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) apart. Django is hungry to reunite with his lost love.

In typical Tarantino fashion, the conversations (and speeches) are lengthy (yet clever); characters have catchy, memorable names; good guys and bad guys engage in ridiculous amounts of violence; and black culture plays a big part.

In this case, the main bad guy is the always-brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie), who is slimy and charismatic all the same (without chewing scenery). Sparks practically fly off the screen as he and Waltz exchange their tension-filled pleasantries and negotiate business.

In fact, everyone here is good—Waltz definitely deserves his Oscar nod (though I probably would've placed him in the Best Actor category); DiCaprio an Foxx should've received them as well.

That said, what everyone is saying is true: this is far too bloody and far too long. I like seeing where QT will take us next, but I like seeing it without losing an entire day doing so.

When I think back to the first Tarantino film I enjoyed, Reservoir Dogs, which comes in at a trim 99 minutes, I remember wanting more, not shifting in my seat or looking at my phone for the time.

That's how all films should be.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amour

Last night I saw Amour, starring Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

If this wasn't a Best Picture nominee, I would never have made it through the whole film.

Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) are a happy old couple. Their adult daughter has made a life of her own abroad and they seem content in their retirement.

One morning during breakfast, Anne zones out. Not for a moment, not for a second, but for a terrifying few minutes while her husband scrambles to decide what to do next. Anne has suffered a stroke and soon she will be paralyzed on one side of her body.

In a matter of days, this vibrant couple who still attended concerts and playfully flirted with one another will become a frustrated, pained duo who survives only for the other's benefit.

Emmanuelle Riva, who is still stunning in her mid 80s, is shown deteriorating piece by piece, while every last morsel of her dignity is stripped from her being. Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges wears each heartbreaking revelation in his expressions, as he witnesses the love of his life leaving.

There is no greater devastation, and none of us want to think of our loved ones ever reaching these stages of their lives, but sometimes it happens. And there is always someone who carries the burden of dealing with it more than any other.

The film does a phenomenal job of communicating the quiet that comes with perpetual depression. Water left running is suddenly more noticeable, as is a window left open during a rain storm. The quiet is no longer peaceful; a home once filled with music is now stale with decay.

Every part of the movie (the acting, the script, the direction) is good, but I enjoyed none of it.

Life is hard enough as it is.

~~~

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life of Pi

Yesterday I saw Life of Pi, starring Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan.

Full disclosure: when an enthusiastic colleague loaned me the book, Life of Pi, several years ago, I wrestled with the fact that I couldn't see what all of the fuss was about. Matter of fact, I couldn't even bring myself to finish the novel—I was that bored by it.

Fast forward to now: there is an Oscar nominated film, crafted by Ang Lee (whom I have great respect for), based on the work, gaining heaps of praise for its visual beauty and thrill. So, since it's up for Best Picture, I took a chance on it.

What a pleasant surprise.

The entire story centers around Pi Patel, who is played by Suraj Sharma in the younger sequences, and the marvelous Irrfan Khan as an adult. Pi's family owns a zoo in India and during a move via cargo ship, they encounter a violent storm that causes them to sink. Pi, and a few of the animals, are the only survivors.

After a few days, only Pi and the family's tiger, Richard Parker, are left. They remain adrift at sea, and the film chronicles their terrifying experiences.

Seeing the story play out in this way was much more engaging for me. I welcomed the metaphors for life that were obviously being communicated; I appreciated the bits of fantasy, which could be interpreted as scientific hallucinations or the epitome of spiritual greatness.

And visually? Yeah, Lee nails it.

Though I could have done without some of the gross animal scenes, Suraj Sharma gave a delightful performance as the frightened, yet brave young boy, and Irrfan Khan continues to be one of my favorite actors.

I wasn't bored for a moment.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Today I saw Zero Dark Thirty, starring Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke.

Most Americans remember the evening that President Obama announced we had killed Osama bin Laden, but few of us know how it happened.

This film aims to explain it.

Beginning with the attack on 9/11, we see a step-by-step progression of how 12-year CIA veteran "Maya" (Chastain) and a small team of her peers, learned where the terrorist was hiding and executed a ridiculously risky mission to find and kill him.

There's not a lot to spoil here, and if you're a fan of the NBC Nightly News, many of the clips will look familiar. In fact, the film—running time 2 hours, 37 min.—almost felt as if it was shot in real time because the pacing (until the big scene) was very slow.

Perhaps my expectations were too high because Director Kathryn Bigelow's last film, The Hurt Locker, had me riveted from start to finish, but this was far too long.

A few of the torture sequences could have been cut, as could the countless times we see Maya not getting the respect she deserves despite the fact we know she'll have the last word.

And it was fun to see cameos from folks like James Gandolfini and Mark Duplass, but if the movie was going to be that long, couldn't we have seen more of them?

The performances were all first rate, and Chastain will certainly be nominated for several awards; the writing is also strong with the dialog never veering away from realistic, even if many of the classified conversations had to be reinvented.

It just could have used a bit more editing.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Impossible

This morning I saw The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Tom Holland.

Maria (Watts) and her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a happy couple on holiday with their three young sons, Lucas (Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) in Thailand. The year is 2004.

After celebrating a joyful Christmas the day before, the family is relaxing by the pool when they hear a horrible noise. Without warning a 30-foot wall of water comes crashing into them, obliterating everything in sight.

Maria gasps her way to the surface and realizes that her son Lucas is alive and nearby. She swims to reach him and they spend the next several hours fighting for their lives; he only has minor injuries, but she has internal and external bleeding. To top it off, she's a doctor so she knows what bad shape she's in. Despite that, she tries to stay strong for Lucas, assuming she's all he has left.

Meanwhile, Henry, Thomas and Simon have all survived and are in better shape. Henry trusts kind strangers to watch the boys as he desperately searches for Lucas and Maria.

This true story of the Belon family, is one of the most intense, emotional films I've ever experienced.

Though I knew what ultimately happened going in, every last moment of this roller coaster was draining. If the characters were happy, my eyes glistened with tears of joy; if they felt pain, I absorbed their grief ten-fold. And the reenactment of the tsunami itself was better than any horror film I've seen. Simply harrowing.

Watts is so incredible as the drifting Maria, that you can almost feel the life leaving her as she lies weak in the hospital. The young Holland gives an Oscar-caliber performance, simultaneously exhibiting fear, sadness and strength.

Really, each and every cast member was phenomenal.

The Impossible will make you think about what you take for granted, how precious life is, and how kind the human spirit can be.

A wonderful, wonderful film.