Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

MUST-SEE: (Henckel von Donnersmarck) Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Berlin suffocated its citizens with a life void of secret. The secret police trained its members to spy on and interrogate society members believed to support the West. They ran wires through the house walls, listened to the most intimate of moments, and never hesitated at the suggestion of misbehavior. The indulgence was so extreme, that even the secret police's own employees began to question the integrity of the government, manifesting doubt in the mind of those held in highest East Berlin regard. Such is the storyline of HvonD's The Lives of Others. This film is the story behind one case the GDR held in high classification. A popular playwright of the time, George Dreyman (played flawlessly by Sebastian Koch) called into question by a jealous prime minister is secretly tapped for months in hopes of catching his plans for rebellion before they began. Ulrich Muhe plays the cold-hearted agent in charge of Dreyman's case, gisting all dialogue, reporting each suspicion, and helping himself to play a part in Dreyman's life 24 hours a day. The storyline makes its punch with the theme that art will outlast government control. The audience witnesses a dramatic change, not only in the government, but also in the men who work for the GDR. Realizing they've gone too far, the men find they are trapped in the horror that is communism. And as the officials promote communist socialism, more and more people are interrogated, tortured, and even killed along the way to eradication of Western tendency. A powerful performance by Martina Gedeck, playing East Berlin's "it" girl evokes the inner battle many people faced when they were forced to choose their art or their life. The Lives of Others beautifully illustrates the emotions of both sides, contrasting love and obsession with good and evil. Von Donnersmarck excels with The Lives of Others, making great acting, frank storytelling, and phenomenal heart the standard for Best Foreign Films. See this movie, despite the subtitles, and allow yourself the education of both history and the human spirit through the tragedy of East Berlin.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

27 Dresses

WORTH-IT: For anyone needing a dose of that stereotypical feel-good, light-hearted, predictable romance, 27 Dresses will meet your demands. Kathrine Heigl's latest proves to meet every chick-flick standard, making it successful among that genre's critics and appeasing to women everywhere. Sure you would expect notable films to contain off the chart variation from the usual routine of girl finds boy and goes through heartbreak before realizing it is her true love. But Dresses finds peace in being the satisfying piece of predictability that will make women happy and peaceful, swooning at the closest thing to romance around. Heigl proves she is out to be the next America's sweetheart, as her role finds empathy in the lives of most women, but practices ignorant cynicism despite her willingness to participate in hundreds of weddings all year long. To speak for the film's humor, every ounce of a wedding's planning is shed in a new ridiculous light, letting past bridesmaids relieve their stress in laughter and wedding cynics to laugh along too. The entire movie's success is built to the hands-down best scene where crossed match, James Marsden and Heigl sing Benny and the Jets from atop a nowhere bar so well they're recognized at breakfast. It'll draw laughter and a relaxing breath for the appreciation of absolute ridiculousness in life's toughest situations. Clearly, this movie won't be for everyone. Yes, it is a happy and predictable story, but for those wanting something deeper, something that makes you think, don't search for it here. If you do go see it, settle in for a feel-good made to keep you believing in happy endings.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Maria Full of Grace

WORTH-IT: (Joshua Marston) Maria is the story of a gentle hearted 17-year-old trying to make it on her own to escape a pitiful job and an unfair domesticity. After years of de-throning roses proved too much to handle, she quits, only to realize jobs run scarce in her small town in Colombia. After the job is lost, she finds herself buried in despair as she is pregnant, alone, and poor. She decides to take a job as a drug mule, as which she will earn millions in pesos simply for swallowing drugs and carrying them across the border. Pain, both physical and emotional ride Maria for the duration of the film. She knows better, but she can't find better. Catalina Moreno plays this confused young woman. The emotion she drains into the character is refreshing and powerful. The audience sees a woman in peril of her own decisions, empathizing that the way up is too dark to find. Overall, the movie is a little disjointed, as dialogue is slim and the storyline never reaching deeper into anyone except maria. We are never sure who really cares about her or who she really cares for. This was never distracting though, just prevented me from ever truly giving in to the heart of the film. What carries the film is the suspense of the drug transport. How many will she have to swallow, how long can she stand the pain building in her gut, and will she survive, unlike so many before her? Kudos to Moreno's performance and to the spectacular devotion to a story rarely told from such a point of view. Maria Full of Grace is worth it, but as the Oscar ballot proved, don't expect a winner.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


MUST-SEE: What makes Juno a must-see isn’t one of your stereotypical categories like great acting, good story, etc. etc. Juno is a masterpiece because it is a story that has been told a million times (the story being a teenage girl gets pregnant and endures nine months of self-discovery), but carries with it a tender truthfulness that allows audiences to empathize in realistic ways, pregnant or not. As it is with most indie films, the authenticity of day-to-day bland routine is the carrier of this story. Boring people from the outside become fascinating characters by the end. The director gives us real people with real problems, who live in a (semi) real place in the world. Added with the funky acoustic tunes musically narrating each scene’s emotion, the story creates a world we want to follow, and even believe in. I will say that the acting is great and the story is fabulous, but keep in mind that this isn’t a stereotypical film. It does something different because it plays on actual reality. Basically, you’ll want to believe you could find an answer if you asked what the characters were doing nowadays. The film is that good. It’s funny and it’s touching. Most of all, it’s entertaining. Don’t miss out, no matter what age or taste. It’ll please any who grew up once, fell in love ever, or had to raise a kid.