Sunday, August 8, 2010

Amelie (2001)

The expectation: French and flirty. I cant really remember when I had not seen this film- my first encounter with it. French and flirty was what I probably thought- and not much else.

The result: It is French and flirty. But it is also really smart. A romantic film at heart, this film handles itself with minute details. A narrator explains and explores- gives details into each character and explains plot external to plot movement. At moments, Amelie speaks directly to the camera, as if the narrator is really her, but not. Camera movements are glorious, and the colors, oh, the colors. I believe that this is one of my favorite films of all time- of all time.

What to look out for: The cinematography is so wonderful, I have no words.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cyrus (2010)

The expectation: Quirky independent film with both Marissa Tomei and John C. Reilly plus that kid from the recent Apatow comedy troupe. I did not even know that Catherine Keener was going to be in it- which was a great treat. I hoped for good music and a good story, for an abnormal pace and great acting. For something different.

The result: I think that I was the only person in the theater that liked this film. It was the first time in a long while that someone in the seat next to me answered their phone- not just shut it off when it was ringing but said "hello". The people in front of me talked the whole time as if they could not help commenting. At first I was angry and confused, but then I realized that this movie made people really uncomfortable and I started to really love it for that sole reason. It does have a very strange pace. The filming is often unconventional, and the story is odd. The acting, of course, was superb, but this is not a film you see everyday at the theater. What I really liked about it was that it dealt with a subject rarely broached- the codependent nature of humanity. While that word often has a negative stigma, it can be very healthy for us. We rely on others for support, for comfort, for companionship, etc. We trust others with our secrets and our dreams. Most of us even depend on each other for our own happiness. There is, quite naturally, a range of co-dependencies. This film shows us that range with the relationships between John and Jamie, John and Molly, and Molly and Cyrus. Although it dragged on towards the end, and it ended quite terribly, I got to see this film make people very uncomfortable- to the point where, ironically, they had to rely on others to help them through it. ha.

What to look out for: the crowd, just watch them...
The disconnect between dialogue and visual shots- at these moments, I was really, well, in the moment, not just watching.
John's raw honesty- not very believable, but refreshing.
And the very subtle humor of this crazy story.

Flickr photo by dimnikolov

Monday, March 1, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

The expectation: I read the first three books in Rick Riordan's series (there are more) and I plan to read the rest of them because they were very interesting and I enjoyed them. Riordan takes the characters and themes in Greek Mythology and uses them in a fictional tale written for young adults. As a Humanities scholar for a short period of time, I was impressed with his mix of themes from Greek culture and action sequences that resonate with contemporary children. So, I was not necessarily expecting Harry Potter, but with director Christopher Columbus at the helm of this one (he made the first two Potter films), I was ready for a smart film that both children and adults could appreciate and enjoy.

The result: This movie is terrible! It is rare that I feel that my money is wasted on a film, that my intelligence is insulted, and that my heart pours out to this author, whose story has been butchered in the worst possible way. Sometimes, I do not understand the choices that directors make when they translate a novel into a film. I realize that they are different mediums with new audiences and this involves making hard choices, but this film blatantly changed all major plot points- essentially rewriting the initial story. This is my major issue with the film because the new story not only deviates from the novel, it changes the way Greek culture is interpreted and presented to the audience. Greek gods are supposed to mess with humans- they are devious, they create havoc, and they use humanity in order to attack each other. They are petty. In no way does this resonate in the film. All important plot points which speak to this are removed or changed. Also, the film comes off as hokey and silly. I think the casting of many of the main characters feeds into this and should have been rethought. The actors make horrible comic stabs- I think for the children in the audience- but they are not smart enough to actually be funny- only silly and stupid. My last issue is that the film did not take into account the rest of the series. Plot points that set up sequels were avoided and ignored. This is another issue that I just do not understand because the subsequent books are there. The audience has read them. The umbrella story is more than the initial book. And only a few small moments inserted into this film could have set up this larger story. I am just talking about a few minutes in the film. Overall, I obviously did not like this film- and I am so disappointed I feel that I need to finish reading the series as soon as possible in order to make up for it.

What to watch out for: Don't go. please. read the books.

Flickr photo by deansouglass

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)

The expectation: I was raised country, so this film did not immediately call out to me. I almost cringed actually. But, I knew I had to give it a chance because of the rave reviews I had heard not only from 'those critics out there' but also by the people I know. So, a country singer who has hit rock bottom and is looking for career redemption- and gets a taste of character, a chance to learn , love and live- for real this time. Sound like a movie you have seen before?

The result: Before going to see this film, a friend of mine said to me- this is a story you have seen many times before, it is the performances that make this one stand out. And he was right. Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake (aka Kris Kristofferson) is crude, sloppy, drunk, smelly, sweaty, and alone. He is riding the wave of previous fame- living in the shadow of his former opening act, traveling the country to play dive bars to an older crowd who enjoy his performances out of nostalgia. Blake just wants to stay drunk, make lots of money on previous fame, and not really work at it. He is contrasted by Colin Firth's Tommy Sweet, the younger, more pop- international country heartthrob (what those discerning audiences want today), and Maggie Gyllenhaal makes an appearance as Blake's love interest, a single mom who has 'hope' in Blake. Through interactions with these characters, Blake is given chances at redemption- but of course he doesn't really succeed until it is too late to cash in on the opportunities that really matter. And that is the sacrifice of a country music star. When you can't really attain the happiness you seek, that you hunger for, and that you deserve, you can always turn all that pain into a song (one that will make lots of money!)
But really, Bridges is excellent. You fall in love with his sweaty, drunk performance, and you want him to succeed. The film is shot with superb grace and all supporting characters do what they should- adequately support. It is a story you have seen before but it almost feels like maybe you haven't- and that is an accomplishment.

What to look out for:
Oh, the soundtrack. Classic country music. It works.
A surprise appearance by Robert Duvall who fits in almost perfectly as Blake's good friend.
And of course, the only time we laughed out loud-and were reminded that this film was set in Texas- Jean's (Gyllenhaal) little boy's name is 'Buddy'. That is classic country.

Flickr photo by egorick

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Single Man (2009)

The expectation: I did not really know a lot about this film before I saw it. It was at the independent theater I frequent and it happened to be starting when I passed by. Colin Firth is a gem so I just went with it!

The result: This is the most beautifully tragic film I have seen in a long time- the kind that make me want to go home and cry for these fictitious characters. Alas! This film is all Colin Firth and the director Tom Ford. This is Ford's first film and it is absolutely brilliant. Apparently, Ford is a fashion designer who ran Gucci to astounding success and then decided to make a film? Anyway, this film is a real challenge. Firth plays George, a gay man who recently lost his partner of 16 years to a tragic accident. Set in the 60s in California, George grieves throughout the entire film and Ford's hauntingly slow pace and use of color makes you feel every single second of George's pain. Moments slow down and fade when they are difficult, while the film literally shines during small moments of content, of happiness, of life. On top of the crippling weight of grief itself, George is also positioned in a place of deep silence; he cannot share his grief with the public- there is no communal outlet for support, no social space for healing. Ford's style makes the viewer feel this deep, raw grief in a way in which I have not done so before. Although I have never experienced this specific pain, I now feel that I have a very tiny, tiny grasp of it. Well done!

What to look for:
The pace of personal grief, the slow moments and the use of memory.
The brilliance of color- it corresponds to emotional states.
California in the 60s. Oh, those gorgeous cars.
George's house is an architectural and historical marvel.
For some reason, I still cannot stand Julianne Moore.

Flickr photo by MissTurner

Daybreakers (2009)

The expectation: I am a sucker for vampire tales but I was not sure if I could handle the horror of this one. I braved it if only to see what happens when vampires meet capitalism. And I miss William Defoe as if he were my estranged brother (uncle?).

The result: A little background: Vampires took over Humanity through sheer force. Not violent, end of the world, revenge, evil force; but more through practicality. Vampireness was considered to be a virus that spread through blood contact and eventually enough people had it that the vampires forced humans to choose between turning or being farmed (Matrix style) for blood. Most people turned. Ten years later the film starts. Humans are now a shortage and vampires are running out of blood. Otherwise, civilization is similiar. There are subways and cars and houses. Vampires have jobs in corporations and the military. There are obvious class hierarchies, family issues, and personal guilt. This is a portrait of Vampire society mimicking human society- with a capitalist structure. The premise is very smart and I enjoyed this reflection of vampire society; a premise that is rare in the grander scheme of vampire mythology. The joke is on them though, because their society cannot sustain itself without humans who are both precious commodities and discarded as lowly sub-human? (can I use that term here and still make sense?). You get it. It is a familiar tale, no? There are some gory parts that go a little too towards the end but the film retains its creative plot. It is so smart it even gets comedic towards the end. Overall, not the best vampire movie- I am more keen on the hauntingly horror/baroque Anne Rice version instead of this guilt stricken kind-, but it borders on an originality that is often missed. If only it did not end with a blatant sequel setup- so tacky!

What to look out for:
William Defoe is always great. I love his ruggedness.
The cinematography is brilliant (not literally). Check out the sheen of the film.
A comment on sustainability? Will we ever learn to plan for the future?

Flickr photo by Abhishek Jacob

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Young Victoria (2009)

The Expectation: The tale of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, early-mid 1800's. Which means the focus of this film is on romance, although some politics probably surface. So really, I expected not a whole lot of depth- hoping it would turn out more like the smart ferocity of Elizabeth (1998) and less like the fluff of The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). And of course, the costumes and the sets, the customs of royalty, and all of that frivolity mixed in. Which I love.

The Result: Initially there was not really any depth to Emily Blunt's Victoria. She is pushed and pulled, and the story floats along waiting...waiting for the first scene to appear in the narrative (the coronation). But it does, and between the before and after, Blunt allows Victoria to grow up, and the audience can get a sense of Queen Victoria's weight of responsibility, frustration at her inexperience, and strive to succeed at her new post. It is a tale that is heavily dependent on the romance between her and Prince Albert, and although his character seems quite shallow to Blunt's performance, I realized that this film is not just about them and their romance- it is about our title character. It is her striving to find her way through this subtly brutal world, disguised behind grand balls, vast dinner parties, and garden walks. And part of her journey is finding strength with Albert, just part. There is some political strife thrown in- mainly from others in a quest to gain favor (and power) from the new Queen. And the film does not rely too heavily on costumes, sets, etc.- frivolity like Sophia Coppola's heavily draped Marie Antoinette (2006) - although, it is there and important, in context. The film does side with Victoria though- as it should- but it might be a bit too much- to the point that we almost don't believe her and we want to know the real dark secrets she is hiding from us from this time period.

Overall, Jim Broadbent (as King William) is awkward, Miranda Richardson (as Victoria's mom) looks horrible, Rupert Friend (as Prince Albert) is way too nice to be real, and Emily Blunt is magical in showing us the vulnerability of Queen Victoria's early reign- a vulnerability that eventually finds strength and give her a unique perspective on power. The rest of the film is just for fun. Don't take it too seriously.

What to watch out for:
The landscapes- great shots of Buckingham palace and the gardens
The supporting roles are a bit lousy except for Harriet Walter as Queen Adelaide who gives the royal court a bit of humanity and compassion.
Those wonderful costumes and hair styles.... I am a fan of period pieces.
Many interesting rack focus shots- playing with the focus in order to draw attention to the wealth of the surroundings- without lingering.
And Emily Blunt. I think she deserves the Golden Globe nomination. Her performance is smart, revealing, and carries the movie from drab to flirty. It could have easily gone the other way.

Flickr photo by boo!berry