Monday, April 27, 2009

The Visitor

ALMOST: (Thomas McCarthy) This film sums up the essence of my "Almost" categorization. It literally almost gets the mark for being a great film, but instead, carried out a monotonous solemnity for almost two hours, offering plenty of rising action but zero ending. The film starts off with whimsical intrigue, giving us quiet and dorky Professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins). He arrives to his Manhattan apartment to find its been lent out to two illegal aliens. They're nice people, interesting even, so Walter decides it's okay if they stay there. (Um, can we say, not on your life!!) Sure enough, (aka, predictably) Walter and his new roommate, Tarek share an interest in music, so Walter takes lessons on the djembe and before you know it they're on the streets playing for change together. Walter, the professor, who since widowed, has slothed his way through a meaningless life, is now a street drummer playing 4/4 beats like his dred-locked amis. It's the beginning of a life turned around--so much so that he even meets another woman, who he subtly affects with tickets to plays and again, offering room and board. Unfortunately, a chain of American events happen, taking both Tarek and his wife away from Walter, and ultimately his new girlfriend, leaving us, where? No conclusions are drawn. Will he go back to school? Will he keep drumming? Lots of questions in the end of a potentially fantastic story. Unfortunately, the melancholy is the overarching factor here, leaving me both fidgety and bored. Plus, Jenkins one-face role in this film seems a far-fetched nod over some other notables in this year's awards. DiCaprio nudged out of the running for this guy?

Frozen River

MUST-SEE: (Courtney Hunt) Now here is a film of true originality. Indians shipping aliens over the Canadian border with the help of a single mom looking for easy money to buy her boys a double-wide for Christmas. (??) Well, the bottom-line is that this movie is fantastic. So rarely is a truly raw light shed on American families that this story is almost painful to watch, harder to accept and leaves a deep tread on the heart for the struggles many people don't even have a clue about. (Me, one of them). Melissa Leo plays a single-mom, whose husband ran off with her money, three days before Christmas. She can't catch a break at work, and toys for her youngest are the last chance she has to avoid disappointment from her oldest. He (Charlie McDermott) questions her backbone, but out of empathy takes matters into his own hands, giving Leo's character stress and regret for a son having to grow up too fast. As "fate" (we'll call it) would have it, Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham) steals her car. So, at her wits end, a (although illegal) subtle way to earn money arrives. Although at first, her morals stand strong, Hunt reveals that even the strongest person has their breaking point. She makes the money and can't avoid the simplicity thereafter. From your chair, you watch the inevitable downfall take place, holding your breath she makes it across the icy border, finding yourself completely on her side of the law, in 100% sympathy. It is an intense ride into the other side of right and wrong, taking motivation as justification instead of black and white legality. Leo rocks. I didn't even feel like I was watching a film--it was like real people showing you what their real life is all about. And then she was nominated for an Oscar. Enough said.

Vicky Christina Barcelona

MUST-SEE: (Woody Allen) Bravo to this stupendous film! Penelope Cruz, who never disappoints me, enters this film and 100% steals the show--much to my satisfaction (and her own, Congrats on the statue). Her rapido Spanish eloquently fills in the lines of a love story much unlike anything in the eyes and/or experience of a traditional sap. Take two American grads, on the summer vacation of a lifetime, living free (literally) in Spain before their real lives begin. One is a sane, rational and engaged practical played by Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) and her best friend (and counter personality) is Scarlett Johanssen, playing her God-given roll as the seductress--this time paired with qualities such as "dreamer" and "muse." She and Hall's girlfriends both find themselves in the middle of a whacked-out love triangle, or in this case, maybe more like a rhombus, as the lines often sway. Penelope is wildly appealing as a mentally disturbed ex-wife. Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) juggles multiple women with such aire and nonchalance that his bowl-cut killer is long forgotten. His voice has a dark chocolate milk quality to it that both soothes and intrigues, easily placing him as the master of the fiery trio in this story. The film is fun, quirky and a little abstract, but proves life is lived at its utmost when you can forget yourself for a minute. Vicky Christina opens new doors and illustrates a fascinating liberation that our brilliant Woody Allen executes in uniquely romanticized ways.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Wrestler

ALMOST: (Darren Aronofsky) In a word--disappoint. In more words--I hate that this movie gave Mickey Rourke the platform to come back into film as none other than himself, glorified. The Wrestler is the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a wrestler who reigned in his day, but has since lost it all , living in a trailer park, fighting for peanuts and working the deli at the local grocer. No one knows him anymore, and he can't find his niche outside of the ropes. When a heart attack threatens his comeback indefinitely, he finds himself on a downward spiral, through which he grasps at a last minute relationship with his daughter and desperately strikes up romance with a loyal stripper. The story is well-told, a perfect mirror to the dazed and confused existence Ram is forced to live out. The story is disconnected, hopeless and a perverted glimpse into the world of wrestling. The story (bravo, Robert D. Siegel) is certainly not wherein the problem lies with this film--it is with Rourke. Sure, he was good in Sin City, but who really had to act in Sin City. Casted perfectly to play up his brusque personality, the film needed nothing but brawn and an ugly face. In Wrestler, he plays the same character--out to mend the things in his ragged world, but getting the shit kicked out of him along the way. Rourke holds onto this role as his comeback, but in my opinion (and certainly just an opinion) he hasn't come anywhere. He plays out his sad, real-life story in the form of a wrestler. Bottom line, to make Aronofsky's work shine as it should, someone credible should have been picked. Evan Rachel Wood plays her five minutes in the spotlight well, but I do wish we had seen more from her. (Blast that parallel of disconnect). Marisa Tomei literally puts herself out there here, showing us she still has a rockin' bod at age 45 (ding ding, another great casting). The Wrestler was a well-told story, directed flawlessly, and packed with pristine, unique shots. Unfortunately, Rourke does nothing but drag it down (along with its audience), making it a grotesque illustration, rather than illustrating the grotesque.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

WORTH-IT: (Christine Jeffs) Amy Adams and Emily Blunt star in a pathetically sad story about helplessly sad people trying to make it in a cruel cruel world. As a cleaning lady, Adams' Rose is unhappy, unfulfilled and ultimately convinced it is the only way to climb the social and professional ladder (Yet, into what world exactly, we are left unconvinced as this community is overridden with high school has-beens and primadona Betties). Unfortunately, as life has its way with the unfortunate, Rose finds herself in need of something bigger, something delivering a larger buck which apparently is none other than crime-scene clean up. (Big jump, I guess?) She recruits her screw-up sister, pawns off her kid (who was kicked our fo school) on grandpa, and hits up the bloody mess left in various spots of town. It's gross, but its funny, and because its desperate, its heartening. Plus, listening to Rose convinve herself in front of her old cheerleading buddies that she actually enjoys it is all the more reason to fall in love with this group of hillbillies. All in all, this film makes sad people a little more entertaining, one, by perking up the eccentric factor, and two, giving us characters played by lovable quirks themselves. Blunt is at her best, playing troubled sister Norah, tormented for the last 20+ years at never knowing her mother. She is vibrant in a quiet character and carries emotion all over her body, so much so that just seeing her face makes up endless words (that thankfully, this script doesn't compensate for). Alan Arkin pops up again (this time alive for his character's scenes) as the weirdo grandpa. A remix to Little Miss Sunshine, Cleaning delves once again into familial motif, and this time spares no unfriendly details. From the guts the sisters disinfect to the tragedy behind this family's lonely uprising, we discover a group of people who aren't happy with who they are become post-adolescence, or post-grown-up for that matter. It's a constant struggle between emotion, self confidence and self worth, all while trying to survive and raise a family. It'll wear you out; but in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way, you can't take your eyes off of them, and your heart leaks sympathy. All in all, a refresher for the sadness in the world and the eclectic peace that some find within it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tinker Bell

WORTH-IT: (Bradley Raymond) For anyone that enjoys Disney classics (and this director has done 4 of them), you might as well keep the fairytale alive and see all of the sequels . Most are a fine justification to the original and actually exactly what the doctor ordered for a story that you just can't let go of. For me, that is Peter Pan (and it was also Aladdin). Tinker Bell is the story of Tink--how she came to be and what her fairyness really means. For instance, did you know she was born out of a dew drop? And that once she was born she was intrinsically meant to be one particular kind of fairy (including five played by Angelica Houston, Raven Symone, Lucy Liu, America Ferrera and-wah!-Jesse McCartney). I won't ruin J.M. Barrie's continuation for all of you about to put it on your queue, but she is good at tinkering! Watch her add her special talent to a world of fairy magic, all who claim responsibility for our changing of seasons. Clearly this film won't satisfy the lot. But if you enjoy Tinkerbell and have always wondered more about our silent glittery friend alongside Peter Pan, then catch this one. It's magical and warm and honestly, it's hard to say anything bad about a perfectly made for 5-8 year olds cartoon :) Enjoy!