Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Across the Universe

WORTH-IT: (Julie Taymor) I admit, I went into this film expecting to find fault (and I loathe expectations going into movies), but what I ended up with was a great experience of a what can best be described as a Beatles-infused Rent. That said, the music was inevitably fantastic. The rich and melancholy sounds of the Beatles tell a story on screen of our world wrapped up in war and changes, seeking out love for each other and for themselves. The characters represent popular personalities of the time. The immigrant who feels estranged by the culture he isn't really a part of, the sheltered young girl who finds passion in making a difference, the dropout who gets drafted into a war he doesn't support and a band of hippie musicians looking to make their break in a society needing an escape. The music illustrates a storyline of universal struggle, and ends with "all you need is love" as the motto to get through the hard times. I wouldn't call this film phenomenal, simply because I felt like I had seen it before in the form of a psychedelic Rent. But standing alone, it is good. You will enjoy the colorful unfolding of history, find yourself singing along to well-known oldies, and allowing your heart to enter into the characters, your spirit will find its place in Universe's message. You might even experience the threshold of tenderness that surfaces only after lessons learned. Before you go renting this one though, understand it is a musical, and look for the story within the lyrics rather than the dialogue. Let yourself appreciate the aesthetics of color and emotion that back up the music. You'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

There Will Be Blood

PHENOMENAL: (Paul Thomas Anderson) WHAT a movie this one is. There Will Be Blood is the first movie in a long long time to stimulate audience intelligence while doing its novel justice. Based on the book, Oil! by Upton Sinclair, Blood is the story of the oil strike, beginning at its roots in the late 1800s and following it through its boom in the mid 1900s and all from the viewpoint of Daniel Day Lewis's Daniel Plainview. A self-made oil man, Plainview knew business and knew how to make it successful, and set to do just that through swindle and sale in land believed to be rich with "an ocean of oil" underneath its dry surface. Like the style Sinclair is so well known for, the best way to describe this story is grotesque. (Not gross). Plainview is revealed for the immoral, dirty and cunning man that it took to take him to the top of the oil business. Anderson's directing illustrates Plainview's bout with competitors, his pursuasion of farmers to let him buy their land, and the overall dirty trail he followed to take his grasp at success. From abandoning the son he used as a marketing tool, to tormenting the town's pastor for an unpaid promise, Blood sheds (no pun there) light on the sticky situation oil drilling became. Anderson brings out the filth of the people involved, and shows the corruption that came out of the fumes of oil drilling. Blood covers a lot of time, allowing us to dig deep into the mind of Plainview and witness the rise of a man from lonely and unsuccessful mining to the most powerful oilman under the Standard Oil Company. But from this vantage point, we must watch the opposing fall that happens within. It's tragic and dark, and the darker it gets, the more we can see and the more he denies. Don't expect a happy ending here, but expect a phenomenal story of a man stricken with a disease of the mind. Prepare yourself for sadness, hard falls and ridiculous corruption. But amidst all of the despair, let yourself experience the masterpiece that is this story. There Will Be Blood slowly and painfully reveals a story, just as the raw experience was lived. Daniel Day Lewis performs a flawless portrait of Plainview. He proves his short absence was well deserved as his acting here is supreme. He captures not only the character of Sinclair's oilman, but envelops his own persona into the heart of this man, evoking raw emotion of a torn spirit and candid personality of a ragged man. I have seen rare an actor represent in such an impressive taste. Sinclair was done well here. Let yourself be awed.

Boondock Saints

WORTH-IT: (Troy Duffy) Taking another trip back in film, I saw Boondock Saints this past weekend. Again, I stress I have missed many great films before I decided to pay attention to what value they were, Saints being one of them. This movie is the tragically optimistic story of a band of brothers raised in the church and who believe they are called to rid the world of its evil. Together, they set out to kill every last form of evil existing as they know it in Boston. Hunted by outspoken homosexual FBI detective, Willem DaFoe, the two offer no remorse and begin to actually earn good repuations as the do-gooders of a dark society, all the while inspiring the detective to re-evaluate who the bad guys really are. The entire film is colored with spewed blood, Russian accents, and flying bullets, but the underlying morale of good versus evil leaves you indifferent towards the violence, the language, or even the absurdity; instead, leaving you questioning whose side you're on. Is it ok to kill if it's evil you're killing? Isn't the world a better, safer place for it? This is the question that lingers above all of the smoke and the waste, constantly answered by the brothers, the thankful citizens, and even the law enforcement. Saints is never dull, never quiet and filled with incredible wit. Expect to stay interested, but prepare to shrug off superb amounts of fancy language. Enjoy some incredible acting and a unique storyline that makes you ask why it was this director's one bout with movie-making.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2 Days in Paris

WORTH-IT: (Julie Delpy) 2 Days in Paris, also starring Delpy, is the predictable and endearing tale of two lovers meant for each other but who can't commit to a future together. Jack, played by the hairy Adam Goldberg, a paranoid, jealous and hypochondriac man is thrown into the French culture of his half-blind but not half as naive girlfriend, Marion. The couple spends two days with Delpy's family as an ending to their trip in Italy. Marion's family's raw acceptance of sexuality and love puts Jack on his toes and in suspicion of his girlfriend's questionable past. The film is a snapshot of the couple's most precious moments throughout the uneasy setting of culture clash and awkward encounters with Marion's numerous exes. Expect to laugh at the absurdity of these characters, how they poke fun to draw laughter out of discomfort, and how romance is easily forgotten with concerns for hygeine and politics. The anti-glamour that Delpy reveals in the relationship of these two not only serves as a wake-up for those brainwashed by typical love stories, but places them in a realistic state, refreshing the stereotype of true love. It isn't always a happy ending, even in Paris for these two, but it is always a test to stand the hard times when you realize missing another moment with this person would break you forever. This film surpirsed me with its ability to draw the audience into the characters almost immeidately. The secret is the dialogue. It watches like a good book reads: quick and natural, never skipping a beat of reality or personality. 2 Days in Paris places you in the action and in the emotion from the beginning, so expect it to fly by, expect to laugh more than anything, but mostly brace yourself for the heartfelt moral of learning to love for good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


MUST-SEE: (Barry Levinson) I saw this 1996 film for the first time recently and can only express regret for having waited so long to see it. Director Levinson brings the tragic story of four boys growing up in Hell's Kitchen, NY, conditioned to a life much older than their years, but living each day knowing nothing better. Growing up with the neighborhood priest as their best friend and mentor (Robert DeNiro), the boys are good kids deep down, some wishing to be priests themselves, but as the mood and tone of the narration implies, they are inevitably destined for short lives of tragedy and hard luck. Sleepers does a phenomenal job of setting up the audience with a deep understanding of the boys as adolescent kids and easily transitions into the mature minds of the boys as young men. Still troubled by a past of abuse and humiliation as teens, the young men have settled into the lives that were waiting for them. This film illustrates Hell's Kitchen in an extremly believable fashion, tugging at your gut for pity watching the boys accept violence as a way of life and forcing you to see a world in the shadows, a world overlooked by many and forgotten by even more. Through the boys, Levinson plays on stagnation in a downhill town and reveals the deep scarring capable of cursing teen boys with lasting effects on their spirits. Brad Pitt and Billy Crudup play powerful roles as two of the boys grown up. DeNiro, as always, is raw and convincing and a short performance by Dustin Hoffman provides this film with the credibility it needed to showcase its mastermind. Take a strong stomach and forgiving heart to see this film, but don't miss it. Sleepers changes your own spirit and creates its own lasting impression.

3:10 to Yuma

MUST-SEE: (James Mangold) There is not anything negative to say about this film. It is nothing short of incredible. Keeping you on the edge of your seat, 3:10 to Yuma showcases brilliant acting, illustrates flawless story telling and shows off cinematography set upon the dry and red backdrop of the wild west that dares you to overlook it. In 3:10 to Yuma, the infmaous Ben Wade (played by Russell Crowe) is captured and dragged from city to city along the way to Yuma, where he will board the 3:10 train to prison, granting his captor (played by a lisp-free Christian Bale) the $200 reward he needs to keep his family alive on a dried out homefront. Traditional emotions of despair and hard times appear in this seemingly common good guy-bad guy story, but 3:10 adds deep motifs of respect and regret, blurring the lines right down to the end, capturing your heart and your mind between gunshots. Crowe and Bale find perfect chemistry as a hate-respect relationship blossoms across the desert, prodded with Indians, outlaws and stereotypical tumbleweeds. Director Mangold meshes surafce elements with raw emotion so well that the film ends up a successful portrait of merciless Western life as educational entertainment. Whether the story takes a turn to be sad or happy, whether the good guy or the bad guy wins, the end of the line in 3:10 is that the different walks of life are what make living interesting. He teaches us that lessons learned don't just come from the good guys, and that respect isn't just for a job well done. 3:10 is about conditioned lives, love lost, and old wounds revisited. Don't be deterred by the violence in this film. It never distracts from the overarching emotional pull throughout, and simply serves as a prop to convince audiences of the Western landscape. As a bonus, look forward to incredible performances beyond our co-stars. Ben Foster, again proving he can play the creepiest villians known on screen. He is phenomenal. Bravo.


ALMOST: (Joe Wright) From the director who brought us the breath-taking Pride and Prejudice, I can't help but be disappointed with after his latest, Atonement, a film that left me empty and yawning. A powerful trailor led one to believe the film would be edge of your seat suspense, fueled by unrelenting passion between two impossible lovers, and all due to the tragic naivety of an imaginative young writer. The emotion seems raw, the story seems daunting, and it makes the movie seem a must-see, especially adapted from such an increbile novel. Unfortunately, Atonement falls into a category in which the trailor captures all (and the only) great moments in the film, giving them coessence that can only be achieved in the one minute sprawl. What went wrong with Atonement was the writing. As you read a novel, the emotions can be described for the reader to the nth degree. Tones, moods, setting, etc. add together to imply what isn't written, making it easy and inevitable to become a part of each character. In the film, I was at a loss for connection with any character. I didn't believe the love between Knightley and McAvoy (playing Cecelia and Robbie), because we never got to know either one. Without connecting to any character from the beginning, the rest of the movie seemed simply a prologue. We are taken through war, through tragedy and through history, but it seems like a blink of an eye or only a snapshot. Once the movie ends (with the only emotional scene in the film), I was left completely indifferent towards anything that had happened. I didn't feel like I got the whole story or understood the extent of the emotion. The bottom-line seems to be that if you haven't read the novel, you're going to be in the dark and disappointed. For those who have read it, you'll be disappointed. You'll be impressed with the acting, blown away by cinematography, but as a film, it fails.