Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Precious (Based on the novel Push by Sapphire)

WORTH-IT: (Lee Daniels) Every so often, I watch a movie that literally shuts me up. It throws tragedy, sadness and unbelievable stories so hard at me that I have trouble reacting in a timely manner. It takes a long time for the ugly bits and pieces to sink all the way in (if I can bear to let them at all). Precious is one of those movies for me. 16-year-old Clarice Precious Jones has 2 children by way of her father. She can't stay in public school, can barely read or write, and is constantly abused, both physically and verbally by her mother. Gabourey Sidibe plays this tragic young woman with gusto, raw emotion and utter ingenuity. She captures the true innocence of a 16-year-old personality, abused and torn down, but eager for acceptance and lots of love to give. We watch her grow intellectually and emotionally and see her hopeful adaptation to constant bad news. Her story is dotted with fascinating characters that build a community of hopeless-on-the-outside teenagers learning from each other and growing as a result. It's a reality check and a punch in the stomach, but after you catch your breath, its an unbelievable story of perseverance and faith.

Unfortunately, the film itself wasn't something incredible for me. The American Beauty-like existentialism felt disconnected and unnecessary. In fact, looking back, I don't think the movie would change at all if those snippets were left out. The real-time in the film was too real, too raw to interject such fantasy, despite its efforts to illustrate Precious's coping methods. It didn't work for me. I also saw red flags of over-emphasized liberalism when the sexual orientation of the teacher was brought up at all. She was a flat character, despite her large presence in the film, meaning there was no real point to delving into her personal life. Especially when the topic led to the line saying "homos weren't the ones raping me, or selling crack" it seemed surface, and a strained effort to pronounce homosexual acceptance. Not relevant!

Overall, whether you see this film or not is a personal decision. You won't miss out on anything but a fabulous illustration of hope and an Oscar-winning performance by Mo'Nique. It's still sitting with me. I am still processing a lot. And, finally, its hard to say you liked a story abut rape, teen pregnancy, AIDS and illiteracy... but I will say that I am glad I watched it. It adds a little more depth to my perspective and a re-vamps my sense of faith.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

WORTH-IT: (Wes Anderson) Another take from this year's Oscar Animation Category, the stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the novel by Roald Dahl, is a worthy watch for Anderson-lovers. It's the story of a quirky fox family, on the run after Mr. Fox steals from the local farmers-3 of the biggest in the industry. All is well, and Fox's night of adventure seems harmless upon initial steal, that is until the farmers take revenge, threatening rodents of all species in the process of killing Fox. The film is fast-paced, heavy on Anderson-style dialogue and thought-provoking in very subtle ways. It's any Anderson movie. And as with all of those, for me, it was a bit disconnected, but in the end, left me with a strong suggestion of newly learned life lesson and a new perspective on survival. With the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and more this film has added personality and credibility, picking up what could have been vanilla animation with unknown actors. Each voice carried the quirks of its owner, helping add depth to the roles and chemistry between characters. It's opposite end of the spectrum from Dahl's earlier adapted novel, James and the Giant Peach - and even less for kids. In fact, I think most kids wouldn't notice if all the dialogue was left out. Bottom-line on this one, I love Wes Anderson, and saw this film for that reason only. If you're not a fan, and didn't like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Limited, etc... you won't be on board with this either. On the other hand, if you do enjoy his eclectic story-telling, Fox is another great addition, right on par with what you'd come to expect from Anderson's films. I won't say its my favorite, but its worth seeing.


MUST-SEE: (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson) I hope that by the time I am finally getting this post up, most--if not all--of you will have seen it. If not, stop everything and give yourself over to this feel-good flick. Up is the story of 78-year old Carl Fredricksen and his journey via balloons to Paradise Falls, South America. A life-long dream to visit, in his old-age it seems easiest to pick up his entire house and literally relocate. Unfortunately, plans don't stay easy. Russell, a young and curious boy scout (A Wilderness Explorer on the search for his "assisting the elderly" badge) was on his door step when the house took air, bringing unwanted company along for the ride. From here, its a hopeful tale of love, life lessons and self-discovery. It reminds us to stay in the moment, grabbing life by the horns when it lets us, making the most of every day. It also reiterates that love comes in many forms. It's not always about your favorite hobby, or your soul mate, but everything else as well--from friendships to accomplices to general company and unconditional loyalty. It's an escape from reality that brings your ego back down to earth. Anyone will appreciate the humor and everyone can relate to the life-love motif. And you don't have to take my word for it (quote borrowed from LeVar Burton), Up was nominated for several Oscars--not just the animation category. It lives up to its nods and is deserving of its win. Make sure to add this one to your list immediately!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Blind Side

MUST-SEE: (John Lee Hancock) Despite love for Sandra Bullock and love for sports movies - The Blind Side was nowhere near the top of my list to see in theaters. Especially when Oscar season was quickly approaching (this time being back during the holidays), I didn't want to waste time spending my money on universal sappy sports movies that wouldn't even be mentioned come Academy night. Well, as most all of you know, this didn't really pan out. Even as I rolled my eyes at the suggested Oscar nods for Sandra's performance, I had no idea that not only would Sandra be nominated for Best Actress, but the film would be up for Best Picture too!

So, reluctantly, I dragged my sister (who represents the opposite end of the fan spectrum, as she was bouncing off the walls to see it) to dollar popcorn night at the Regal Cinema and I settled in to see if Sandra could impress me.

Well, my foot went really well with that popcorn.

The story of the Touhy family was powerfully endearing. Bullock was like I have never seen her before - taking a real woman of deep and intricate layers and making us see the real story behind Michael Oher. You easily forget that its advertised as a movie about sports, instead watching a story of character building and the love that bonds a family together. It takes the spirit of Remember the Titans and adds touching depth that left me teared up and feeling like I knew them. My advice is to not make the mistake that I did. Don't discredit The Blind Side, calling it a cheesy football story or whatever else. It's real stuff, and Bullock is doing some serious performing to make it so. It leaves you humbled, yet hopeful and inspired. My apologies writers - this one is good to go. Link

District 9

WORTH-IT: (Neill Blomkamp) Unlike most movies today, District 9 never attempts to follow the rules of reality. Million of aliens are living in a fenced in neighborhood outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The interact with the locals, the locals can understand their click-gurgle language, and their broke-down UFO is just chillin' over the skyscrapers. Nothing new. Never once does the film place itself deep into the future or use some overlooked history page to make its script believable. Its truly outside the realm of realism... and I love it. We're back to Independence Day.

The story (relating Apartheid to the rest of the world) is that the MNU of Johannesburg need to relocate the aliens from their current slums to a man-made campground, far from the human population and strictly quarantined by militia. To keep things legal and "fair," the MNU must get a signature from the aliens being evicted. Using this walk-through to arrest and detain law-breakers (you know, aliens with guns, suspicious garbage, general things they don't have permission to collect). Its rash, of course, and violence ensues as the aliens fight back for their right to habitate. What's weird though, is that director of the eviction, Wikus Van De Merwe gets sprayed by one of these suspicious collectables and can't seem to shake the side effects. Before you know it, he's vomiting an oil spill, losing fingernails and growing scales. Gross to the general public, but to MNU, he's valuable--and hours after he was promoted to lead this expedition, he is now being hunted for alien-human DNA and infected body parts.

The rest of the movie is jam packed with science fiction gore and political impression, but the chase and the fight is worth watching. It's a unique film-style, shot as though a documentary, that makes the movie go by fast and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I won't say its effects can even compare to the old days of Men In Black, but it is a good view, and even with those vanilla special effects, it works for me. You won't be into it if you're not a gore tolerater or if you can't dig science fiction, but whether you see it or not, know that Apartheid was a huge piece of South African heritage, and they're succeeding in getting the message out - aliens or not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Last Station

MUST-SEE: (Michael Hoffman) What a surprise this film is! If you're a loyal reader, you know period pieces are my passion. But I assure you, that bias plays no part in my love of this story. My only regret is I failed to read the book first. The Last Station is the tale of Leo Tolstoy and his family and following at the end of his life. Amidst the Tolstoyian Movement, it was an era of love relating all people, religions and beliefs. It was about ridding your spirit (and life) of excess, going back to the basics and living happily without material distraction or influence. It preaches numerous things, but the success of this piece is that it humbles itself. To the very end, its unclear what parts of his doctrine Tolstoy himself actually takes literally.... in the end suggesting that the way the greater population understood them was in fact, incorrect. As a man of simplicity, but filled with love, he acted, thought and persevered with only that as motivation. And, it was contagious. Modest and warm, he earned a friend with each meeting. Christopher Plummer translates this warmth easily. And don't expect to watch this movie without a smile. The chemistry between him and Helen Mirren is electric, believable. Second to that, James McAvoy and Kerry Condon are an instant romance - innocent and undeniable, their relationship the future of what Leo meant his Tolstoyian love to teach. Love story lovers, period piece fanatics and literary minds--don't miss this one!

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

WORTH-IT: (Terry Gilliam) For anyone who doesn't know, Gilliam's twisted, fantastical, devilish Imaginarium was the late Heath Ledger's last acting gig. He passed before filming was complete, leaving Gilliam with his tall tale unfinished--and no lead. He and co-writer Charles McKeown sat back down to re-work round 2, bringing in Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to split Ledger's character. Although hard to imagine how one could simply substitute faces and expect it to work was questionable in my mind, but the duo did it, and flawlessly no less. Depp's appearance even gave me goosebumps (yes, this might be a little based in bias)- he does a fantastic job and leaves shoes too big for either of the other Ledgers to fill. And though I won't spoil how he does it, their creativity amazed me. No one would know an actor died halfway through the story.

To give you a little background, the imaginarium is a magical world completely fabricated from literally, your wildest dreams. One simply steps through the mirror and basks in every one of their fantasies come true. Its a journey of rediscovery and liberation, helping save souls and clean up bad eggs. Yes, the lines are fuzzy and not a lot makes sense, but we've come to expect that with Mr. Gilliam, haven't we? So, we're going with it.

The selling point for this film is the candy land carnival brought to life on screen. Bright colors, cartoon people and chocolate rivers making it a big top of entertainment wrapped up in two hours. The nonsense matters little, really... at least not to the general public. In my opinion, it doesn't have to. Life is nonsense often, dreams certainly don't make sense, and ultimately it's the what-ifs and the fantasies that make the journey so interesting. See this film to laugh out loud and exercise your imagination, while challenging your youth and spirit. We will surely miss Heath Ledger, as this script added to a short set of films just beginning to explore the depth of talent the young man had.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


WORTH-IT: (Clint Eastwood) There were several movies out early this year that were not at the top of my list. I know that may be hard to believe for some of you who know me well, and know that I am usually "dying to see" every movie that comes out (and usually think they're all fabulous!). But, maybe I am maturing, or my film-buds are, or I don't know what, but this year came a slew of films unable to draw a sense of anticipation from me. Invictus was very high on that list. First, because I am not a huge Matt Damon fan... great movies - he just doesn't do it for me. Secondly, I know nothing of rugby. The only reason I was slightly curious was my love for movies illustrating history. Invictus is the story of Neslon Mandela's first year in office. And, rather than recount the story of his rise to power, it tells the story of his rise to popularity and colors in the lines of why so many respect him. The story does this through a country's passion for its national pastime--rugby.

Now, its no phenomenal film. I didn't leave with any lasting impacts, and I wouldn't have been disappointed if no one had been nominated for an award. But, what I can say, is that I was immediately surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was fast-paced, easy to follow and as genuine as a story that's already based on truth can get. Damon and Morgan Freeman were instantly believable. The complex story was simple and easy to grasp. The mix of high energy sport with politics and relationships made it easily entertaining and absolutely fun to watch. By the end, I regretted my original intent to avoid seeing the film and was lobbying for increased attendance.

I've heard the argument that the intensity of rugby was lacking, or that the movie overall was too vanilla, and I can't offer any hard evidence against those statements. I don't know rugby from dominoes, other than it is brutal and fast, so I don't feel like I missed anything. I was also ignorant to a lot of the South African political movement under Mandela, making this film simply an easy to learn history lesson. Watch it with that simplistic expectation and I believe it can do the same for you as it did for me--entertain and educate.


ALMOST: (Rob Marshall) Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren... just a handful of reasons not to ignore this musical. Unfortunately, I can't say much for it's credibility as a great movie, because it lacks the fluidity to be an impacting story. But, the performances are good enough to enjoy it simply as a musical mosaic and not worry with whether or not the story actually makes sense. That last part may be unfair - I do understand that its the story of a famous Italian director (Day-Lewis) who has fallen victim to the film making industry. He gave his all to his work and his leading women, (ignoring what his mother taught him) and left nothing for himself or his wife... in the end losing everything. Simple enough. But, I stress, this motif falls flat. It's not at all about "Guido's" struggle to make a film. For me, it was the tremendous effort on the part of this film's stars that made it something worth seeing. Kate Hudson (looking more and more like Goldie) is unlike you've ever seen her before. She rocks. And she sings, dances, seduces... Fergie does what she does best. She is the sexy, elusive man-eater, singing and dancing in what is my personal favorite scene ("Be Italian"). Penelope (what made her earn the only nomination?) strips down and spreads her legs rolling around in the curtains. She's slammin' (and from what I hear, now bruised) in this role, adding another hold-your-breath scene to the flick. Cotillard is most-memorable, showing us fire and ice in her acting repertoire--first as the innocent and overlooked wife, and second as the star her husband never let her become (a passionate striptease with high notes). Dench surprises us with a powerful voice and vamp personality. And, Kidman makes a short, but glamorous appearance as the industry's "it" gal. I'm starting to ramble, so I hope you're getting the picture. I was overly impressed with the abilities of these ladies, especially in a cinematic era almost completely depressed of raw, theatre talent (No, Jennifer Hudson - I haven't forgotten you!). They're phenomenal--memorable and deserving of ample recognition. Bravo to the composer and choreographer. The song and dance truly is magic on screen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

82 Years of Oscars...

It's hard to describe the feelings I have after watching this year's Academy Awards show... I had high expectations (that, by reputation of the show, are rarely met) from the dynamic duo Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, or the new increased Best Picture category, and as always, I had seen a good chunk of the nominees this year, so I couldn't help but have my (strong) opinion on who should take home the gold. Steve and Alec did pull out some good lines here and there, and the pre-recorded clips had me laughing out loud. The wins were deserved, speeches were honest and humble (unless you design costumes and you "already have two" of them, or Mo'Nique's bitter stab at past winners), and some new names were added to history. The bottom line is that The Oscars are ridiculously bland, too long and extremely predictable.

Despite that, I still love them and am still obsessed, so although I won't go category by category, here's a quick recap of my feelings. Look for individual reviews in the next few days!

I love that Up won several awards. For such a happy and hopeful film, it really broke the animation boundaries, earning itself recognition outside of the drawing room. The Cove was a surprise win to me - as it was the only documentary nominated that I actually saw. I loved it, though. It moved me and was riveting to watch. Jeff Bridges is a gem - his speech made me smile, and he was certainly the best choice from that group. Mo'Nique's speech on the other hand started off spiteful towards the Academy - or was it to the past winners? Hard to say. Christoph Waltz was a shoo-in... I could watch his performance over and over. I still encourage those who love Quentin or who can handle a little violence to see Inglorious Basterds. Sandra Bullock's win was a HUGE moment. I admit, I voted for Meryl's Julia portrayal, but secretly starred Sandra. Her performance was unexpected and left me with my foot in my mouth over the shrugs I gave The Blind Side before seeing it.

On the technical side of things, I was surprised to see Avatar lose out. As I've said in my review, it's made history in film. James Cameron literally invented stuff to make this movie, which in my opinion, gives it the technicality clause to win all of these categories. With Hurt Locker winning out in the sound sections, I justified that sound wasn't actually something new in Avatar... and that surely all else would fall into place. It did, shortly, with Avatar winning for everything visual, but the surprises came when HL won out for Directing and Best Picture. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely loved The Hurt Locker. You'll read my thoughts and feelings once I can get a review out, but in short defense, I just don't see how you can ignore Cameron's genius for the sake of a good film. No matter what, in my opinion, Avatar (this millenium's Wizard of Oz) should take the cake.

On a non-film note (because, I'll admit, I love the fashion part almost as much as the awards part), Maggie G was rockin'. Sarah JP had on a potato sack and a head full of cinnamon rolls. Can we even begin to ignore the obvious "boob-cakes" on Charlize's dress? And how did Elizabeth Banks' dress keep changing colors? Cameron Diaz NEVER looks good, even here, when she decided to try the 90s on for style and sport a wasit-line meant for someone under 5'5". Demi Moore really is getting younger. And why is George Clooney growing a mullet?

So, what were your thoughts? Who did you celebrate with? Were you disappointed over anything? Looking forward to hearing it!

A Single Man

WORTH-IT: (Tom Ford) Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man is the story of (shocker) a single man, mourning the loss of his 16-year partner. All alone now, living in the L.A. suburbs, the professor of English, George Falconer, finds waking up every morning unbearable, and on a particular morning, sets out to make it his last. The film illustrates those plans, him putting things in order and leaving behind a lonely world with little to clean up. Unfortunately, as he checks off his list, an unexpected magnitude finds itself attached to several things he had originally thought easy to leave forgotten. It surprises him by proving his intentions wrong, and we see a conflicted man start to find happiness again. Colin Firth plays the troubled Falconer--poised and polished, yet humbled by sadness but dressed to kill--a true reflection of screenwriter/director/producer Tom Ford. In fact, the film's success lies within that style. No character goes unnoticed via their wardrobe. Even with the muted color palette to mimic old film, the textures and the tailoring stand out, speaking to the trendy reputation Mr. Ford maintains. If you've read the story, don't expect everything to mirror Isherwood's original story, but be reassured that his motifs carry on, making this film one of melancholy hopefulness - a subtle tragedy of heart and mind amidst a greater realization of existence. It struggles initially, yet succumbs to fate almost simultaneously, inspiring freewill and spontaneity (in the name of style).