Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball are dueling dancers in this film directed by one of the few female directors of the time, Dorothy Arzner.

Times are tough for the Judy O'Brian (O'Hara), she's a dedicated ballerina and is having a hard time landing jobs in the world that is more interested in sex appeal. Her fellow dance troupe partner is Bubbles (Ball), a brassy girl who can swing her hips in ways Judy could only dream. This sort of sisterly rivalry between the two is the main focus of the film, with a romantic triangle of sorts occurring (but the guy is a grade-A prick so it's hard to really care).

What's interesting about this story is that it's really a story of a young woman's journey into adulthood, but wrapped in the trappings of a musical-ish romance. We get to see various dance numbers which use dance to great affect. Judy is very classic ballet, but Bubbles is pure burlesque, perfectly establishing what kind of girls they are. But it's a very Hollywood type of film, given a touch of a modern edge with its main focus being on a female character's journey, especially considering how the end plays out.

Maureen O'Hara is good as a sort of insecure good girl, but Lucille Ball steals the film away from her. Bubbles may be a bitchy character, but she's given depth and Ball pulls it off perfectly. She's strong, smart and caring, but she presents this fun and slightly mean persona to the world almost as armor. It's a great performance to see especially if you've only associated her with her legendary sitcom.

The film itself is actually pretty good. As I said, the romance plot does hurt the film, because the male character is not worth the sort of girlhood swooning the Judy does (but that could be entirely the point), but it's a very entertaining film about the relationship between two very different women.

Friday, October 15, 2010

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

I'm not even going to try to make an excuse, kids.

So here we have the classic soap in its purest form. The kind where middle class suburban women walk around in fabulous coats and live in fear of being gossiped about. If you've seen Peyton Place, it's a lot like it.

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama about an older, middle-class widow Cary (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with her younger gardener (Rock Hudson). And of course, societal pressures fight to keep them apart.

That's it folks, it's one of those movies where the plot is established in the first few minutes (or at least hinted at) and the rest of the film is spent waiting for these two crazy kids to finally get together, with the likes of the neighborhood bitch and Cary's horribly obnoxious kids complaining and sniping enough to make Cary second guess her love.

It's in this sense that the movie is a bit of a sly social satire, using the film (much like Peyton Place) to condemn the sort of gossipy, country club set who place reputation and image over happiness and truth.

The two leads are serviceable, given the material. As I said, it's a straight up soap, so they aren't given much to do besides embrace, kiss, and look longingly at each other. Jane Wyman effectively portrays the conflicted woman, but her character is written as being so weak and malleable that it can be a bit hard to watch at times.

But this is also a movie where you're either going to love it or hate it. It's an absolutely gorgeous film, but it's such a soap opera that it's not going to appeal to those who are maybe more cynical or having acquired a taste of the good old fashioned Hollywood melodrama.

So, if you're into the DRAMA of the suburban middle class, I highly recommend this movie. It's exactly what you'd expect.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Aliens (1986)

Ok, I'm aware that it's been a while since my last post and that my previous post was on the oh-so-stupid, but oh-so-fun Salt, and I appear to be following up with another action movie. But luckily for you, I have two recently watched old-school Hollywood movies to post on, so hold your horses.

Aliens stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the lone survivor of the original film (Which I haven't seen, my cousins were visiting and this film was on Netflix Watch Now and they insisted we watch it). After 50+ years in hypersleep, Ripley awakens to discover that the planet where her ship first encountered the alien from the first film is now a colony, and she is asked to join a group of Space Marines to investigate the loss of contact with the colony. Of course, it takes no genius to figure out that aliens have overrun the colony and have taken every colonist except for a young girl named Newt, whom Ripley bonds with and will stop at nothing to ensure that the young girl survives.

The film is a brilliant action movie on its own, but features a lot of great suspense and tension as the group tries to survive on an overrun colony. But ti also serves as an examination of the maternal instinct, matching two "mothers" in a life or death battle to protect their "child" by having Ripley do battle with an Alien queen. It's in this context that Sigourney Weaver blows you away, justifying her Oscar nomination for her performance. Ripley isn't a badass, per se, she doesn't know how to use guns and she isn't a one-women army, but instead she's resourceful, intelligent, tough, and fiercely maternal. It's an important role for the portrayal of women in film, because she's not just a woman, she's a fully realized character and her gender really has nothing to do with it, she has no romantic leads, she isn't ostracized because she's a woman. She happens to be a great character who just happens to be female. And by the end of the movie, you will feel as exhausted and drained as Ripley, and I have no idea how Sigourney Weaver could do it, to walk on set and film a scene and appear as if she's been put through the ringer and about to drop in a heap, but she does and it's to the film's benefit.

Even though it's a sci-fi/action movie, it's one of the best movies I've seen. It's massively entertaining and insanely well-made.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Salt (2010)

Indeed, I actually left my cave and went to the theaters. And before you frown on my for choosing something like Salt (I already saw Inception, so don't start on me), but I had my expectations reasonably lowered.

Going in, I knew the film was going to be ridiculous. I even wanted a plot so insanely stupid that the denouement would include a Scooby Doo reveal of a mask being ripped off someone's head and revealing the mastermind behind the whole plot.

And while this didn't happen, Salt was still ridiculous enough to keep me entertained for the entirety of its running time.

Here's all the plot you need to know, CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is accused of being a Russian Spy, causing her to go on the run in an effort to find her husband who has gone missing.

What follows are chase and action sequences that feature Angelina Jolie being a complete and total badass, which is really what I only wanted from the film. I wanted to see Angelina Jolie kicking ass and being cool. And she actually does deliver a good performance, to her credit.

I know this review is essentially scatterbrained and not terribly well-written, but if you're bored and wanting an enjoyable 2 hours, lower your expectations and see Salt. It's ridiculous, a bit confusing, but it's entertaining as hell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Take Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and slap some period costumes on it and you would have The Lion in Winter.

King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is 50 years old (That's Golden Girls old in those days), and he needs to name his heir to the throne. He favors his youngest, favorite sog John who is essentially a spoiled idiot teenager. His wife Eleanor favors the oldest, the more bloodthirsty Richard (Anthony Hopkins in his first movie role). Unfortunately for Eleanor, she's been imprisoned for the last ten years and Henry will only take her out for special occasions. But fortunately for Eleanor, it's Christmas, so she's brought to the castle and begins to plot to get her favored son on the throne. In the middle of this is the middle son, Geoffey, a schemer just like his mother, Alais, Richard's betrothed, Henry's mistress, and half-sister of King Phillip, as well as the newly crowned King Phillip of France (Tomothy Dalton) who is there to discuss the dowry of his half-sister. The presence of Phillip creates an opportunity for the sons, whoever can get Phillip's favor could gain his military aid and take the crown from their father by force.

Anyone familiar with history (Or in my case, Disney's animated version of Robin Hood), knows who will eventually become king, but that's not really the point. The film is less about the plotting and scheming and more about the dynamics of this truly messed up family, the love and hate that ties everyone together in a tangled web spun by Eleanor.

Of course, the two leads are fantastic with Peter O'Toole conveying the world-weariness of a man who is beginning to outgrow his reign as well as the fire that helped him become king in the first place. And Katherine Hepburn (in her Oscar-winning performance) is astounding. The verbal barbs that she trades with Henry are soaked in acid and bitterness, but we never get that she is truly committed to this role of the vengeful shrew, instead using it to mask the hurt and pain at having been locked away from the family she both loves and despises.

The problem that some people will have with this film is how little comes of the plot, that we get to see all this scheming, conniving and backstabbing but nothing really comes of it. Instead it's more of a window into this family, seeing how they treat eachother and the bitterness and resentment that ties them all together. In that sense, it truly is like Virginia Woolf, it's a study of a relationship as opposed to a tightly plodded tale of castle intrigue, and the script is witty and often funny.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Laura (1944)

Several twists and turns make this classic mystery unforgettable and for some, frustrating.

Successful ad executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierny) is dead, shot at point blank range by a shotgun. Detective Mark MacPherson (Dana Andrews) has been assigned to investigate and soon finds himself faced with 4 suspects, including a venomous writer who was Laura's mentor/lover (Clifton Webb), Laura's cad of a fiance (Vincent Price), her aunt who is madly in love with her fiance (Judith Anderson) and Laura's loyal maid (Dorothy Adams). He soon finds that all of them loved Laura, and he too begins to fall in love with the memories of a dead woman through her letters and journals.

The film's cast is uniformly excellent, each one playing their character well enough to where we are always guessing as to what secrets they may have and the screenplay is witty and entertaining. The only real problem with the film is that the number is suspects is so limited, and they don't receive the same amount of screen time, so we don't really feel as if this is a full blown whodunit. Plus, there's one major twist that may turn people off to the film, it's not necessarily a bad twist, but it could possibly make some people throw up their hands in frustration.

Those two issues aside, Laura is a classic film mystery that features a great cast and a great script, which seems to be a common thread is famous film noirs. So I heartily recommend it. It's on Netflix Watch Now, so watch it while you can.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jackie Brown (1997)

During Oscar Watch '10, one of the films I ended up watching was Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. Well, watching it sent my brother on a Tarantino kick and within a few weeks I had seen every single one of his movies, and I have to say that Jackie Brown may be my favorite.

Pam Grier stars as the titular character, a middle aged stewardess with a second rate airline that flies exclusively to Mexico, which makes her an ideal money runner for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), an arms dealer. When Jackie is caught by the police, she is given an opportunity to sell Ordell out to avoid jail but instead Jackie decides to play both sides in a bid to avoid prison and to make off with Ordell's $500,000 stored in Mexico. Also involved are Ordell's old partner-in-crime Louis (Robert DeNiro) who is fresh out of prison and generally disconnected with the world and his pot smoking "girlfriend" Melanie (Bridget Fonda), and lonely bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster).

The film's cast of character is so strong that every single character could have easily been the focus of their own movie, with the level of acting so strong that it's hard to pick one as a stand-out. If anything, this is Pam Grier's movie. She has to take a character and make her strong, sexy, vulnerable, intelligent and cunning and she does it perfectly, creating one of the screen's most clever characters ever. Samuel L. Jackson is great as well, creating a criminal that can be frightening, charming, and endearing in a single scene.

The reason Jackie Brown is so great can be generalized to all of Tarantino's films. He's the master at casting his movies and he can blend comedy and drama better than anyone. It's rare for a film to feature such an in-depth plot and still be able to make you laugh more than most comedies. And the best part is that it never feels false, it never feels as if he is going for a laugh, instead it's humor the derives itself from the characters and their own unique quirks and personalities.

At 2 1/2 hours, this film is way too short, and an entire hour could have been added and I would be happy. One of my all-time favorites.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Maggie Smith wows in this film that is incredibly different from what you may expect.

It's easy to look at the description of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and assume it is another entry into the "Offbeat teacher inspires students to live life to the fullest" type of film, but this film almost serves as a counter point to such films.

Maggie Smith stars as Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher in 1930's Scotland who encourages her students to live and to love, teaching them about art and creativity, even though she's a history teacher. She also has a group of 4 students who follows her around outside of class, the "Brodie Girls" who are noted for being unusual and odd.

But the film veers into unexpected territory as it becomes obvious that Jean Brodie is really a spinster who wraps herself up in the mystery and mystique of being a woman in her "prime" and creating this mythology about herself. If you've seen the film Cabaret, it's very similar to Sally Bowles. She exerts this onto her students, defining their traits and trying to give them ideas about who they are, even trying to steer one girl into an affair with a married teacher with whom she has recently finished an affair of her own.

Eventually, one "Brodie Girl" named Sandy (Pamela Franklin) catches on to the falsehood surrounding the beloved teacher and a conflict develops between the two and the film ultimately forced you with a situation with neither character is inherently good or bad.

The film wonderfully exhibits a grey morality about the characters, is Jean Brodie a well meaning teacher or a psychotic spinster with a God complex? Or Sandy a maturing girl looking to bring down a potentially dangerous teacher or a jealous child? The film would work in every angle, and it's to the credit of the two main female actresses, Maggie Smith and Pamela Franklin that it works so well as both gives so much nuance and layers to their characters.

Maggie Smith actually won the Oscar for the film, and it's deservedly so. It's not easy to play a character and do so in a way that supports so many interpretations as to the nature of the character, but she pulls it off wonderfully, playing Jean Brodie as dramatic, inspiring, and witty, but also giving healthy doses of insecurity and arrogance.

It's sad that Pamela Franklin didn't receive an Oscar nomination, because it would have been deserved, having to carry a character through woman hood and effectively portraying the developing cynicism that causes her to see through Jean Brodie's facade.

It's a wonderful movie that could spawn hours of discussion as to the nature of the characters and it features two astounding performances, so watch it if you can.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Julia (2008)

Tilda Swinton gives one of the greatest performances I've ever seen in a thrilling film that may try the patience of some.

Ok, so I did one old movie, I feel this balances out in the grand cosmic scheme of the universe.

Julia (Tilda Swinton) is not a good person, she's an alcoholic, a smartass, and she'll essentially go to bed with anyone who happens to be around when she's passing from sobriety to full blown drunken sluttiness.

One day, she is approached by a fellow AA member about her son, who was taken from her by her dead husband's wealthy father. She wants to enlist Julia's help in abducting her son and holding him for ransom, so that she can begin a new life with him in Mexico. But Julia takes things into her own hands and begins a frantic descent.

Tilda Swinton is THE MAIN reason to see this film. And that's not an insult to the film, it's simply that she creates a character so lived-in, so fascinating to watch that is is incredible. It's almost as if she is possessed by some sort of spirit as we see her frantically try to pull of a scheme, getting in way over her head. It's so raw and so captivating that it's hard to look away.

The film itself is a bit of a toss up. I found myself enjoying it, because I can bear almost anything if there's a strong performance in the forefront, but some people could understandably get annoyed with its long length and for some of the twists and turns that the film takes.

But for those who take the plunge, I doubt anyone could walk away without being wowed by Swinton's amazing performance, it's a shame that she didn't walk away from this with an Oscar, because it's so easily deserved.

This is another film on Watch Now, so watch it while you can.

Green for Danger (1946)

This is a bit of return to form for the blog, since it's actually an older film, and a good old fashioned whodunnit on top of it, which has pretty much become a dead genre.

Green for Danger is a great little British mystery that tells the story of a group of doctors and nurses who become the suspects when an elderly postman dies on the operating table during a routing surgery for a minor injury. The film does a brilliant job of setting up the relationships between the hospital staff before the murder occurs and is even investigated. There's a love triangle between a nurse, a surgeon, and the anesthesiologist, the operating theater sister (whatever the hell that means) who is in love with the surgeon, a nurse suffering from nerves after her mother died in a bomb raid. It's obvious I didn't remember any of the characters' names, isn't it?

About halfway through the movie, we get Inspector Cockrill played by Alistair Sim who has been sent to investigate the situation. The sort of eccentric, comic-relief-ishness of the character is a bit jarring from the melodrama that so permeated the first half, but it's not so much as to make the character the general quirky detective, and Sim gives the character enough brutal honesty to keep things in check.

The film is pretty short, at only 91 minutes, but that's what makes it such an easy watch. It's always entertaining and never becomes to bogged down, we get the set up, the investigation, and the denouement which insists of recreating the surgery to try and catch the killer in the act. I know it's become to cliche to say that a film will "have you guessing until the end", but that's really the case with this one. I didn't have it figured out until the very end of the movie.

The film is available on Netflix Watch Now, for those who have, along with a lot of other movies I've recommended, so give it a watch if you have the time. It's a great underrated little film.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Peggy Sue Got Married

Yes, I have returned from the dead. I wish I had a valid excuse for not posting in so long, but I will simply blame Sandra Bullock's win for Best Actress, because it works for me.

So for my triumphant return, I will be reviewing the film Peggy Sue Got Married. It stars Kathleen Turner Peggy Sue, a middle aged woman attending her 25th high school anniversary. She's a bundle of nerves, concerned with her appearance and her recent separation from her cheating husband and high school sweetheart Charlie (Nicolas Cage). When declared Queen of the Reunion, she faints and wakes up decades later as an 18 year old in the last few months of high school, effectively giving her a second chance at possibly preventing her pregnancy that led to her marrying Charlie.

The film features a tour-de-force performance from Turner, who effectively begins the film as a beaten-down woman who slowly begins to lose the hardened skin that life has given her until she becomes an 18 year old school girl again. It's brilliant to watch and she is easily the main reason to see this film.

The film itself is light fun, seeing how Peggy Sue navigates her senior year, fully aware of what will happen later on, and how she deals with the odd situation she finds herself in. There are also wonderfully touching moments such as when Peggy Sue answers the phone to hear her long-dead grandmother on the other end.

Really, only real detriment to the film is Nic Cage, who gives an overly mannered performance as the clumsy, bumbling teen who pines after Peggy Sue. He uses a voice that was said to be modeled after Pokey from the Gumby shorts, and that decision turns out to be a bad one as he grates on your nerves for the entire film with the nasally groan that makes Fran Drescher sound like Sigourney Weaver. He's not a bad actor (Just see Adaptation), but this performance is horrible, it's too self-aware, too much forced awkwardness, and is really hard to watch.

Luckily, the brilliance of Kathleen Turner's performance far outweighs the horribleness of Cage's, and she deservedly received an Oscar nomination for it and the film's fun tone and touching scenes makes it easily watchable and very enjoyable. It's a fun little movie.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Up in the Air (2009)

Again, another Oscar nominated film that I've actually seen (My past history with viewing Oscar nominated movies is quite shoddy, since they never come to my town). And this one seems to channel the spirit of Billy Wilder, which is a good, good thing.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional downsizer. He works for a company that his hired when companies want to lay off employees, but are too afraid to do so. So Ryan spends the majority of the year traveling from city to city and firing people. He also occasionally gives motivational speeches focused upon letting go of what he deems to be baggage (family, friends, anything that may tie you down in one place). During one trip, he meets a fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they strike up a casual romance, planning future rendezvous based on their travel schedules. Soon, Ryan begins to question his life choices, is a life untethered a life he really wants?

Along the way, he must travel with the company's newest and most ambitious employee, Natalie (Anna Kendrick). She's a young upstart, fresh from college and full of ideas about how firings can be conducted via webcam in order to spare traveling expenses.

The three leads in the film, Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga are all excellent and deserving of their Oscar nominations. George Clooney creates a charming character who only feels comfortable when he is on the road, he revels in going from airport to hotel to airport to hotel and feels burdened only when he has to spend time at his home. Anna Kendrick's able to take a character that could have been completely annoying and make her human. We empathize with the young girl being exposed to the world and the harsh career of firing people. Vera Farmiga conveys perfect confidence and naturalness as the witty match to Ryan Bingham. She makes the character feel lived in and we sense a history within her, it's not overbearing, just a slight touch of sadness.

The film itself is wonderfully written, with director/writer Jason Reitman (his third film, with the others being Juno and Thank You for Smoking) As I said, this almost feels like a Billy Wilder film, like a modern day The Apartment. It's a somewhat funny film tinged with a sense of sadness that follows a man's journey of realizing what he truly wants in life. The writing is sharp, interesting and the performances are mesmerizing. And to be honest, if I had my choice, Anna Kendrick would be getting the Oscar come Oscar night.

Watch it. Of all the films on my "Oscar List", this is easily near the top.

Oh, and on a different note, I've been thinking of starting another blog. Since I have trouble finding time to sit down and watch a movie without school work or dog drama acting up, I've been thinking of creating a blog more about me (because I am fascinating individual) since that would be much easier to update regularly. I wouldn't be abandoning this blog, so it's just something I've been considering. What say you, readers? Of course, I'm assuming I have any readers at this point.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep delights in this merging of two real-life stories. Amy Adams however....

Julie Powell is not happy. She works for a development center where she has to answer phone calls from people affected by 9/11, unable to work towards her goal of being a writer. At her husband's suggestion she begins a blog that chronicles her journey through Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Julia Child's landmark cookbook. The challenge is that she must cook every recipe within one year. Meanwhile, we get to see how Julia Child discovered French cooking and slowly but surely became the Julia Child so beloved by America.

The parts with Julia Child are easily the best parts of the film, with Meryl Streep fully embodying the warbly-voiced cooking maven. She doesn't try to add any sort of darkness to Julia Child, instead playing her as America remembers her, witty and full of life and a love for food (And according to Meryl Streep, she injects her mother into the performance as well). Stanley Tucci is great as Julia's supportive and adoring husband, and their relationship is beautiful to watch.

The parts about Julie Powell, however, aren't as successful. And before I go on, I must tell you that I love Amy Adams. Really, I adore her, and this movie actually made me find her slightly irritating. Something that in my book, is unforgivable. She just comes across as so selfish and treats her husband so poorly whenever a mistake occurs when she's cooking. Granted, a point of the film is that this whole blog process changes her, but with her being so grating, it's hard to really care if she changes or not.

Luckily for us, the film is greater than the sum of its parts, with the verve and zest for life injected into the film by Meryl Streep causing the film to ultimately leave a good taste in our mouths.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Education (2009)

Since I said that Mrs. Bullock doesn't deserve to win the Oscar, I should probably share that if I had my way, Carey Mulligan would be winning big on Oscar night (granted, I haven't seen Julie and Julia or The Last Station, which are expected to receive Best Actress noms).

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a young girl in Pre-Beatles Suburban London. She comes from a hard-working family who longs to see her enroll at Oxford university. Her slightly-naive but well-meaning father Jack (Alfred Molina) has her entire high school life planned out to make her the perfect potential pupil for the school. These plans are thrown for a loop when Jenny attracts the attention of the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard) who has the funds to take Jenny to art auctions and real concerts. Her parents don't seem to mind, they seem to think it's wonderful that a wealthy mn is taking it upon himself to offer culture to their young daughter, naively believing that David's older relative is acting as a chaperon for their young daughter. Jenny must then choose what she values more, her education or a chance at pursuing a life of fun.

Carey Mulligan acts as the second coming of Audrey Hepburn with her star turn in this film. She has to balance the tightrope of being smart enough to excel in school, but innocent enough to fall prey to David's initial advances and she pulls the act of splendidly, especially in the second half of the film, where things take a heavier turn and we get the feeling that Jenny is playing David as much as he is playing her.

The supporting case is great as well. Alfred Molina is wonderful as the loving, yet naive father who only wants the best for his daughter, and Peter Sarsgaard is able to make David charming, but almost creepily so, to where we can't tell what his true intentions are with Jenny.

Also, for any fan of the TV show Mad Men, this film is for you, besides the plot and acting, the film is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, filled with period costumes and beautiful locales.

In addition, the writing is sharp, and occasionally funny and offers a brief glimpse into the real life "education" that can occur in a young woman's life when she is confronted with the temptations of sex and a lif eof carefree luxury.

I heartily recommend this film, and I hope that you'll join me in a collective finger-cross for Carey Mulligan on Oscar night.

Precious (2009)

Strong performances elevate would would have otherwise been a Lifetime movie of the week.

Clarice Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is 16 years old, illiterate, poor, and pregnant for the second time with her father's baby. Not exactly the ideal life for anyone. She spends her days struggling in school and being teased and she spends her nights taking care of her verbally, physically, and sexually abuse mother Mary (Mo'Nique). After getting expelled for being pregnant, Precious is sent to an alternative school, headed by Mrs. Blu Rain (Paula Patton) who encourages writing and sharing. The class eventually begins to open Precious' world and give her a chance as escaping her current situation.

Sounds familiar? The plot isn't exactly blazing new territory, but luckily we have a wonderful cast of truly talented women to elevate the film above what could have been a predictable mess. The performance that grounds the film is Gabourey Sidibe's, who deserves the eventual Oscar nomination that she'll receive. It would be far too easy to make Precious a victim and make her seem so downtrodden by her situation, but instead Sidibe keeps the pain below the surface, as if Precious is determined not to show the anger and hurt. She is allowed about 1 breakdown in this movie, and it's absolutely heart shattering to watch as everything we've seen Precious endure through the film is allowed to finally be released.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Mo'Nique, who before this was doing films like Phat Girlz and Soul Plane is now the Oscar frontrunner, and deservedly so. Throughout the film, we see the monster that is Mary Jones as she strikes her daughter and insults her, but luckily we are given one scene in which a social worker (Mariah Carey, who is actually really good as someone who has seen it all) confronts Mary about the abuse and we are allowed to see the human being inside Mary, and how she is a victim as well. That one scene takes what could have been an easy character to play, the absolute troll of a human being and adds so many layers and nuances and Mo'Nique does it brilliantly.

And while we have Mo'Nique to be the villain, the film needs it's hero, someone to save Precious and we have it in the character of Mrs. Rain. It's actually sad that Paula Patton isn't receiving as much acclaim as Sibibe or Mo'Nique, because I happen to think that she's brilliant. She makes a character with an infinite amount of warmth and compassion without being schmaltzy, who also has some fire and fight within her and is able to inspire her students to do more.

And lastly, we have Mariah Carey as Mrs. Weiss, the social worker. While she only has 2 scenes in the film, Carey is instantly able to give us her character's history, with the "I've seen too much" eyes, the lax posture, and the tired voice, she creates a woman that has seen so much hardship that she's both weary and hardened because of it. When she hears that Precious is pregnant by her own father, what would make others drop their jaws, she only meets with mild surprise.

One issue I found with the film is the inconsistent directorial choices made by Lee Daniels. It seems like he wanted to simply do too much, so we have some scenes that are shot almost documentary style, then we have scenes with overly dramatic flourish like when Precious is walking down the hallway to her new class, she fades out, appears further down the hall, fades out, and is near the end and when she opens the door we see shining gold light. It's very odd and jolts us from a film that is supposed to be so based in reality.

Another issue I have are with the dream sequences in which Precious envisions herself as a famous celebrity or dancing in a music video. I understand that this is where we see the "Ideal Precious", the happy Precious who is no longer burdened by the live she leads, but the sequences are so jarring and come across as so cheap that it doesn't feel all that glamorous.

But overall, this is a strong film that can be VERY hard to watch, but it's not so much doom and gloom that you walk away feeling depressed. It also has some of the best performances of the year, which makes it worth watching alone.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Blind SIde (2009)

Sorry for such a delay kids, I've been busy trying to catch up on my potential Oscar nominees, so I should be posting entries on several of them within the coming days. For now, I'm going to do The Blind Side, which is probably the weakest film on the list.

For anyone interested in awards season, it's pretty much a fact that Sandra Bullock has pulled in front in the Oscar race for this film. It's sad, really, since I've seen 3 of the expected nominees, and Bullock's work is easily the weakest, but mor eon that later.

The Blind Side is the true story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a professional football player. But when the film begins, Michael is homeless, doing poorly in school and struggling to fit in. That is until the Tuohy family led by matriarch Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) take Michael in. Now as part of their clan, he flourishes, his grades improve and his protective instincts are put to use on the school football team.

The story is very run of the mill, anyone with a brain cell can see where the film is going, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing in some cases, the film isn't strong enough for you to simply enjoy the journey of the film. The weakest aspect of the film is how is tries way too hard to be meaningful and tug at your heart strings. Every single moment that could possibly elicit emotion is accompanied with uplifting music and/or slow motion. The film is like a kid at an orphanage, trying desperately to make you desire to take it home. It has all the subtlety of a drag queen. By the time Michael and the Tuohy's son are rapping to "Bust-A-Move" in the car, I had almost checked out.

Luckily, the best part of the film is that Sandra Bullock is able to play the character in a way that doesn't totally dissolve into saccharine sweetness. Leigh Anne is strong willed and willing to fight for her family, and Bullock gives the character an adequate amount of strength, humor and charm. But does she deserve the Oscar? Not really. The character is a strong-willed Southern woman, and there's not much there in the way of true character depth (though, I suspect the blame lies with the writer as opposed to Bullock). The rest of the cast flounders in parts that are way too one note. The biggest offender is the character of S.J., the Tuohy family's young son who only acts as the overly cutesy and sassy kid and offers nothing more to the film except mind-searing irritation.

In general, the film is simply too easy, in a sense. Michael is accepted with little to no argument from any of the family members, and over half of the film is "Look what the family is doing for Michael now!", getting him a car, taking him clothes shopping, it feels very condescending with the whole "The white family saves the poor black man" angle. And while they try to assert that Michael is changing the family just as much as they're changing him, that claim ultimately fails as the family is essentially perfect in the beginning of the film and perfect in the end.

And the end of the film presents a truly bizarre dilemma as Michael's admission to Ole Miss (the alma matter of both Tuohy parents and Michael's tutor played by Kathy Bates) is questioned as a sort of plot by the Tuohy's to trick Michael into going to the school and playing football for them. While this itself isn't that bad, it's suggested that now wealthy white families will be taking in poor black people an an attempt to bolster their football teams. It's ridiculous, and it's also handled so quickly that it feels almost like an afterthought to the film.

I'm not trying to say that the film is offensively bad. It's really just too generic of a film to suggest that people run out and see it. But as I said, Sandra Bullock gives a strong performance that saves the film from complete and total mediocrity. And if you're the sort who cries at the drop of a hat to films and you're look for something moderately uplifting, this should fit the bill. But for everyone else, you've been warned.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I know that I've strayed a bit from the "Classic Hollywood" mold as of late, but with a New PS3 brings Netflix Watch Now, which brings to me and my brother staying up late and watching movies, and since he's not a classic film fan....

Anyway, this should be my 100th entry, and luckily it's about a film that I loved.

Joel (Jim Carrey) has recently broken up with Clementine (Kate Winslet) and in a spur of the moment decision, she decides to undergo a radical new procedure and have her mind wiped of any memories of her past love. Joel, feeling slighted, undergoes the same process but becomes self-aware and decides that he still loves Clementine and he fights to preserve his memories.

The film can be a bit hard to follow, because once Joel undergoes the procedure, all of his scenes are taking place in his memories, which are rapidly being erased, which causes the world around him to break apart as the memories is being deleted. In addition, he cannot see anything beyond his memories. For example, he is recalling a fight he had with Clementine where she stormed off down the road, Joel didn't follow her so any attempts he makes to go after her fail because his memory doesn't contain that information.

Outside this cerebral spectacle, we have Stan (Mark Ruffalo), the technician assigned to erase Joel's memories, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the receptionist for the Mind-Wiping company, and Patrick (Elijah Wood), another worker who has stolen Joel's identity and is using Joel's erased memories to try and woo a recently mind-wiped Clementine. Their stories are just as funny and as interesting as the main plot, thankfully.

But at the center of the film, we have two outstanding performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Jim Carrey almost seems to become Jack Lemmon-y as he evokes a puppy-dog sense of sadness and loneliness, someone who is neurotic and tightly wound which is probably what causes him to fall for Clementine who is wild and impulsive. Kate Winslet creates a fully formed character, we see the humor, the quirkiness and the spontaneity that draw people to her, but we also get to see her pettiness, her restlessness with life, and her insecurities. It's a beautiful performance, especially during the scenes where a Self-Aware memory of Clementine travels with Joel from buried memory to buried memory in an attempt to "hide" from the brain-wiping machine. Everytime a memory of Clementine is erased and we see her suddenly disappear, out heartstrings are tugged as we will for the two to end up together.

For such a surreal movie (thankfully, it's not so bizarre that we are totally lost on what is going on), it needed a strong emotional core to ground it, and luckily we have Carrey and Winslet who are astounding as the mis-matched couple. Also, the supporting acting is very strong, with Kirsten Dunst showing a great range from comedy to drama as her character begins to show unexpected depth.

It's a wonderful, wonderful film that deservedly won the Oscar for best Original Screenplay and it creates a couple that I actually rooted for, which if you've read this blog, then you know that it's a big deal.

Hopefully I'll have 100 more posts (and hopefully 100 more followers). Thank you for reading and I'll see you again.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Sally Hawkins is a revelation in an incredibly cheerful, happy British film.

Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a bright and cheery primary school teacher who loves to bring sunshine and happiness to those around her. One day, her beloved bike is stolen, so she decides to finally get her license and begins taking driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan), a depressing, angry, conspiracy theorist who is pretty much the opposite of Poppy's cotton-candy whimsy.

The film doesn't have a plot, so much as it has a premise, which I've just told you. It's various episodes in Poppy's life and we see how she deals with them, sometimes with cheery optimism and humor and other times with quiet kindness and gentleness. It's up to Sally Hawkins to make it work, and she does. Despite being so strangely happy, Hawkins keeps Poppy grounded and allows for the character to feel more like a realized person than just a character that is defined by the word "Happy". The film lives or dies by her performances and luckily for us, it soars.

The film itself is very funny, and a lot of the humor comes from Poppy's interactions with other people, like her sarcastic and dead-pan best friend Zoe or with the tightly wound Scott. The director was smart enough to not make Poppy the only cheerful person in the film. It could have been too easy to create a film about a optimist stuck in a depressing world filled with depressing people, but instead we are treated the the school principle who enjoys Flamenco lessons and with a school counselor who enjoys helping as much as Poppy does.

The result is a sweet film about someone who never allows life to get them down and finds joy in every single situation that she can, making it hard to keep from smiling during the film and after the credits have stopped rolling. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

La Vie En Rose (2007)

Marion Cotillard delivers a stunning performance in this biopic of French singer Edith Piaf.

Edith Piaf didn't have the best life. She was a small sickly child who grew up in her grandmother's bordello before living at the circus with her father, eventually having to become a street performer, where her lovely voice is discovered. As expected, she eventually becomes famous, and has to deal with drug addiction, love, and her failing health.

The film tells the life of the singer in a non-linear way, which may be confusing to some to see the young Edith, then cut to an older arthritic Edith, but it eventually works out to the film's wonderful conclusion, which is much more of an emotional payoff than simply following her life until her eventual death.

The sets and costumes used in this film are rich and beautiful, perfectly capturing the wealthy lifestyle Edith finds for herself through her music. The make-up is insanely good, making Marion Cotillard's life spanning performance seem totally believable as we see her grow older and older.

The film ultimately works because of Cotillard's beautiful (and Oscar winning) performance as the singer. She fully embodies every stage of life she must portray. Her 20 ear old Edith is bubbly and full of life while her older Edith is hunched over and weak, wise from the hardknock life she is lived. Some have said her performance is melodramatic, which is true, but the character is portrayed so that it works. She's been a performer since the age of 9, she lives through emotions and feelings, so it makes sense for there to be a lack of emotional subtlety in someone who spends their life tapping into their feelings for the sake of performing. It's a haunting performance that is emotionally affecting. When we see her happy, we cannot help but smile and when we see her sad, our hearts break with her as Marion Cottilard delivers an astonishing performance that paints Edith Piaf as a fully realized, multi-faceted individual. We see her pettiness, her selfishness, her kindness, her humor, her warmth, and her charm. We see all of it while Marion Cotillard guides us through the life of the French singer.

It's a wonderful film, and the lead performance is something that must be seen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Meet John Doe (1941)

Frank Capra directs Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in this comedy-drama about the plight of the everyday man.

Barbara Stanwyck is Ann Mitchell, a feisty journalist whoi is fired from her job at the newspaper, saying her writing lacks "fireworks". So for her last article, she prints a fake letter she claims to have received from a "John Doe" an everyday man frustrated with society who is going to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve at midnight in protest. The article sparks outrage as people are angered that a man is driven to such actions by society, but when the governor claims that the letter is a fake, Ann convinces the newspaper editor to hire someone to play John Doe and offer a articles in which John Doe argues for the plight of the common man. They find their John Doe in Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a former Bush League pitcher who injured his arm and was forced to drop out.

What starts out as a scheme to sell newspaper begins to have a widespread effect, especially after a radio speech which Anne writes based on the ideals of her dead father, that men should know their neighbors and help eachother out. This causes the creation of John Doe clubs across the nation, where communities gather together to help one another. While Ann and John begin to fall in love, they're forced to deal with the situation of whether or not a movement based on honesty, generosity and integrity can survive if based on a lie.

The film itself is pretty good, never getting bogged down in one plotline and instead moving along several until the films ultimate conclusion. But it does have one issue that bugged me. Ann and John simply fall in love too fast. They have a working relationship, then we get a montage of John Doe clubs spreading across the country and suddenly John is head over heels in love with Ann. It hinted that Ann had feelings for John Doe, since he seemed to embody the ideals held by her father and John begins to take those on as he becomes passionate about the movement, but for John to fall in love with Ann so much, it feels a bit rushed. And since the latter parts of the film NEED to have the two in love, it seems like they just needed to have it happen without adding to the film's running time (which is over 2 hours).

Luckily, the two leads are more than capable. Barbara Stanwyck is wonderful as someone in love with money, falling in love with ideals, and then the man who represents these ideals. And much like Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper has to play someone not really invested in the whole John Doe movement, instead he's simply looking to make some money, but he too begins to fall in love with the movement and begins to truly feel as if he really is John Doe.

The film is a feel-good film that leaves you feeling happy, which is always nice, giving a message of hope in a world that is plagued with poverty, prejudice and hate. Plus, as I said, the two leads are great (But, Barbara Stanwyck is always great) and despite one issue, it's still a great little film.