Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Erin Brockovich

MUST-SEE: (Steven Soderbergh) Well, this is an oldie - yes... but if you know me at all, you know I have a long list of stuff I should have seen years ago. In my defense, this movie came out when I was too young to see Rated R movies, this one apparently too provocative (i.e. the way EB dresses).

But, alas, many years later... It came on television one rainy afternoon (and, let's be real - this one is always on television), and I settled in for what turned out to be a riveting and unforgettable story. That story is of the real-life Erin Brockovich - a single mom working for a local lawyer to pay off her legal fees from an accident case. Wearing mini skirts and low-cut tops, Brockovich struts through the corporate world, raising highbrows higher than her heels, but somehow making a reputation for herself that stretched beyond those hemlines. Given a menial task by her boss, she uncovers a multi-million dollar case against P&G. Apparently, their plants leaked fatal chemicals into the city's water system, exposing hundreds of families to life threatening diseases that would be carried through generations.

A true David versus Goliath fight, Brockovich claims a right-hand seat to steer the case for the benefit of the people, inspiring her own colleagues to fight for humanity. Its a story of love and loss and keeping your head up... as well as sacrifice and compromise. Brockovich puts it all on the line (family, love, reputation, her job) to reach a hand out to the people of this unfortunate town, proving that you can mix love and business.

I know most of the world has seen this flick, but for the minority out there - I encourage you to put it on your list. It's inspiring and fascinating, both a tremendous performance from Julia Roberts and a well-adapted screenplay. I wish movies were still this unique!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

ALMOST WORTH IT: (Spike Jonze) It's the children's book come to life, but this go-round also aged and matured, almost cynical and sadly jaded. Yes, the imagination and wonderment that made the picture book is deeply explored in the film, but to a stronger point of melancholy nostalgia, rather than mystical escapism. If you're not familiar, the story is about Max, a little boy with few friends and lots of creative imagination. Always striving for attention from his family, he's used to finding ways to entertain himself despite the neglect - sending him on a journey to a land far, far away from everything. He washes up on the shore of a shattered forest, inhabited by a group of giant creatures of all shapes and personalities, who we can tell are suffering from emotional and physical unhappiness within their circle. Claiming to be king, the creatures rejoice in a leader who can bring light back into their community and as a result, vow to do whatever the new king says. Max delights in the new responsibility, which grants him acceptance, friendship and respect all at the same time. It's during his stay on the wild island that Max realizes what life is all about, particularly when your imagination can no longer solve all your problems. Sure, you can find joy by letting go and just having fun, but the reality is that there is more to life. It's about building and growing relationships with the people you love. It's about compromise and sacrificing things for the betterment of society. It's also a reminder that not everyone is happy all the time, and keeping your own spirit in perspective helps you help others.

The film tells that story well. The morale is candid and clear and the chemistry between a slew of phenomenal voices (Keener, Gandolfini, O'Hare, Whitaker and Paul Dano) and an intelligent script was entertaining, and in my opinion, the life force behind its success. The film is definitely not for children. It's filled with dark humor and sardonic thematics. It also covers heavy topics, leaving your heart and mind slightly downtrodden and oddly unsettled. I can't say that I am glad I saw it, or that you're missing out if you don't. It didn't leave an impression, other than a slight frown and lost hope. The storybook created a fantastic sense of imagination, both supporting flagrant make-believe and inspiring individuals to hold onto their innocence. The film, however, borders on belittling that theme - reminding us grown-ups that life is happening and that it mostly sucks, no matter where you "go" to escape it. Bottom line, this film was a literal bummer!

Friday, April 9, 2010

In the Loop

WORTH-IT: (Armando Iannucci) As the US President and UK Prime Minister toy with thoughts of war, a few others do everything they can to avoid it. A truly tongue in cheek comedy, this British gem is a fast-paced, witty insight into politics underneath the politics. Much more emphasized than the benefit of war or not, is who sleeps with who, who is more important, who believes what, who is on who's team, etc. etc. It's bordering so close to idiocy that you can't help but be fascinated. It's like watching a train wreck. Personalities and wit converge into something spectacular and hilarious. Peter Capaldi plays the boiling blood pressure Malcom Tucker, adviser to the vulnerable and flighty Prime Minister, perfectly casted in Tom Hollander. James Gandolfini joins the cast as the pacifist general and My Girl's Anna Chlumski makes a return to the screen as Liza, an eager and anti-war understudy in the White House. There are many more that hold hands and swap profanity to make this story an entertaining and laughable one. If you're into British comedy, this will strike the right chord with you. Prepare yourself for overused colorful language and high tempers, but look forward to outrageous dialogue and funny circumstances. This film was an unexpected treat!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Moon

WORTH-IT for Twilighters: (Chris Weitz) Well, it's the second installment of the infamous Twilight saga, this time with a new director, a beefed up cast and overseas cinematography all working to try and overshadow that the truth of the matter - nothing is really going on. I mean, stuff happens, yes. The Cullens say goodbye to Forks, Jacob turns into a werewolf, and Bella leads him on romantically while living adventurously to get Edward back. Its teen angst at its peak... unfortunately all the little things going on lead nowhere (and just wait, there are till 2 more movies until the ending!). It's the curse of a saga. You're doomed with the rising action only. There's no climax, so in essence, no excitement or closure. Be reassured though, our young teens are learning to act, and with the director change, a missing spark was definitely found. It was a huge improvement over the excessive awkwardness encompassing Twilight #1, feeling more like a movie, and less like an audible illustration. Special effects were nicely done and Dakota Fanning was a good surprise. All in all, I enjoyed this one much more than Twilight, but can't recommend it to anyone who wasn't a fan of the novel. It holds no clout as a stand-alone movie and watching these actors learn to do their jobs is not something to waste your time doing when the movie offers no enjoyment on its own. So, bottom-line: Twilight fans - this is a much improved second installment... you should see it, and I am willing to bet you'll be much more satisfied with this one...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The White Ribbon

WORTH-IT: (Michael Haneke) Nominated for best Foreign Film and Cinematography this year at the Oscars and winner of The Palm D'Or at Cannes, The White Ribbon is clearly something to see. It's the story of a small German town, a community seemingly simple and serene, filled with homely and vanilla people. No one has more than they need. Everyone knows each other. For the most part, life is a routine. From our perspective, it seems like the routine has been the same for hundreds of years, until an ill-intended practical joke sets off a series of horrific and unexplained acts violence. The unexplained hatred hints at its origins throughout the movie (a vengeful farmer, a jealous father, joking children, etc.) revealing that even in the simplest of societies, human nature remains the same and, above all, emotions rule. Haneke marks his forte with the unexplained crimes and pointing fingers, persuading the audience to believe one thing over another before showing them that they're wrong. As he does in all his film, he piles up pounds of evidence, all pointing in different directions, leaving you to solve the mystery for yourself. Or, not to solve it at all. Haneke's unique stories never seem to have an clear ending, or even a clear morale. He simply illustrates humanity, bringing unspoken circumstances to the surface. Haneke's work isn't for everyone. His black-hole endings will surely frustrate some viewers, and in this particular film, the simplistic characters and monochromatic canvas will leave some feeling slighted. But, I encourage those who appreciate a spooky and timeless tale of unsolved mystery and murder to settle into this black and white and have fun trying to put his pieces together.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Crazy Heart

WORTH-IT: (Scott Cooper) I keep talking about movies that have really surprised me. I'd made a bad habit of forming opinions too early based on predictable trailers and was limiting my cinematic exposure in doing so. But, with all the flicks thus far that I keep saying that about, I've really got to kick that. Crazy Heart was one I was anything but excited to see. The preview made it look like The Wrestler (which I loathed) and it was all about country music (another thing I hate). Throwing Jeff Bridges into the mix did even more of nothing for me... Sorry guys, he's just way before my time. So, with all my low expectations, sure enough, the reviews came in, and it was the movie to see. Critics claimed Bridges was "unbelievable" and Maggie Gyllenhaal had a sure-fire nom come Oscar time. The more I heard, the more curious I became, and actually will admit that when I did make it to the theater, I really was feeling pretty apt anticipation.

Well, it fulfilled the media-ensued expectations. Bridges was incredible, making a sad, hopeless man into an endearing protagonist. Despite that I have never seen him in a movie (I know, I know, I have work to do) he immediately won me over an had my vote for his Oscar nom. Maggie G. (my #1 girl) tagged along perfectly, bringing an otherwise minor role to life as a bright-eyed yet weathered, young reporter. An unlikely match on-screen, the duo make this relationship believable and genuine--one you root for knowing full-well what's actually good for them.

Even the music was pretty noteworthy. Despite a questionable choice in casting Colin Farrell as the up and coming music star (I mean, really. Colin Farrell will never pass as a country music star. Never. It was painful and hilarious all at the same time.), the music they wrote for this film sticks with you. It's universally just good music, something that I can imagine myself listening to with all the windows down, blah blah and all that stereotypical shit. But, it's not shit - it was impressive, unique, enjoyable and something I'll definitely download to keep enjoying it.

I urge everyone to put this on your list to see. Music-lovers, it's a no-brainer. Everyone else, it's actually a well-told story and a damn good movie so don't pass it up.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Hurt Locker

MUST-SEE: (Kathryn Bigelow) So, its taken me awhile to get up a review on this one, but don't think it's because I didn't like it. This film actually fascinated me to the point that I've been troubled with how best to relay my thoughts and be able to adequately emphasize how well I think it was done. It's the story of a gutsy branch of the armed forces in charge of seeking out bomb threats, diffusing them and collecting the evidence. Not to pun the profession, but each job is literally a ticking bomb. Potential danger exists with every second. Lives are at stake and the conditions are never controlled. It's a huge job carrying a lot of weight, and seriously overlooked. The Hurt Locker follows one particular group, led by its newest member, a cowboy diffuser played by Jeremy Renner. It's appeal for me is that it plays like a documentary, making the danger all too real and ultimately hard to ignore (or forget). The documentary film-style, one similar to District 9, or TV's The Office, offers something that is actually real somewhere. It's happening right now, and the tragedy we see on screen is a real person's heartbreak. Bigelow does a phenomenal job of keeping the line blurred between raw and entertaining. Can you really say you liked watching it, knowing that it's not just a movie? Be prepared for unbearable suspense, teeth-gritting anticipation, and some tears you won't know were coming. I'm not convinced it should have beat out Avatar's cinematic history-making for some of its Oscars, but I can't deny that it was a fantastic story, and uniquely told to the point its impact leaves a lasting bruise.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Julie & Julia

MUST-SEE: (Nora Ephron) It's interesting that we never grow tired of seeing Meryl Streep run the cards in her films. Give her script, and she transforms lines to magic - always letting timeless personalities into our hearts. It's no different with her portrayal of Julia Child. Streep conquers Julia with a gusto that leaves herself nowhere to be found. And fortunately, it leaves the viewer with nothing by seriously giddy delight in watching. Julie and Julia is based on the novel by the same name. It's the story of blogger Julie Powell who decides to cook her way through Julia's first cookbook (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) in an effort to prove her own sense of self accomplishment. Her sideline to Julia's portrait is endearing and inspiring. Amy Adams plays a downtrodden spirit, desperate to feel important and yearning for something more out of her life. Unfortunately, this personality is extremely overshadowed by Julia's story - so much so that I almost hated having to transition back when the story lines exchanged turns. Any actress could have played Julie Powell. Not to belittle Adams - she did a fabulous job... But I am surprised she took this role, as it didn't give her a lot of room to show anything off, or grow a character into more than it was. In contrast, Meryl's role as Julia was astounding. She married herself to that character more than I have ever seen, allowing the audience to forget it was Meryl at all. She made me laugh. She made me cry. And overall, I have never been more delighted watching a film. It's one of the happiest, feel-good movies I have seen in awhile. I laughed throughout its entirety and was entertained well beyond my expectations. You really shouldn't miss this opportunity to enjoy yourself! Bravo Meryl - one of your best, ever.

An Education

MUST-SEE: (Lone Scherfig) This has to be one of my top picks from the list of Oscar noms this year. An Education is a superb story about a mature young woman intellectually polished and preparing for Harvard, yet unsatisfied with what the world at present has to offer. But Jenny's vanilla perspective of the world all begins to shift when she is charmed by the dapper (and much older) David, who opens up doors for her to experience the world's culture of fun music, rare arts and constant travel. To Jenny, this is what she's been waiting for, and inevitably, this is what tempts her to teeter from what Harvard studies could yield her versus how life experience would entertain her. She dives head first into this new, "officially mature" life, surprisingly blessed by her parents (although shunned by her educators), to get the most out of every day. The film is funny and real, innocent, yet wise, and touching to the point of teary eyes. Carey Mulligan creates Jenny to grab at your spirit, forcing you in and out of the story and convicted along with her decisions. She is convincing and ravishing, blowing your mind as she transforms easily from drab and conservative 16-year old to poised and elegant woman-of-the-world. The story hits ups and downs, but is never dull. In the end, you'll leave uplifted, reassured and entertained. Don't miss this quirky piece - a raw life lesson and educational romance.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Coco avant Chanel

MUST-SEE: (Anne Fontaine) I'm a sucker for a period piece. I also adore vintage fashion and French films. In Coco Before Chanel, all my favorite things are rolled into one romantic fashion-forward fairytale. The story begins in a nightclub where Coco and her sister perform cheesy song and dance for pocket change, living in cramped quarters and dreaming of stardom amidst sweaty suitors and dirty dresses. But plans change when her sister meets a gentleman and moves away, halting the dynamic duo's dreams and forcing Coco to pursue her a future on her own. She ends up as a hidden muse on the estate of the wealthy Etienne Balsan - an infamous host of wild parties, tremendous imbibing and fabulous (in his opinion) material things. Coco, ridden to the shadows, spends her time perfecting her hat-making hobby and sewing new clothes, grabbing attention despite Balsan's attempts to keep her a secret. With her androgynous outfits and trendy chapeaus, she lights a fire under the staple trends, building a reputation for herself with each stitch. Squeeze in a long journey of love and heartbreak and you end up with Coco Chanel - the only woman ever to own a professional powerhouse in her own name.

Audrey Tautou plays Coco as a spunky, independent and sardonic woman. Serious about her own interests and eager to impress, but unwilling to compromise, Tautou rounds out Coco as a woman to envy - both professionally and spiritually. The film plays through lightly and genuinely - remaining entertaining and visually stimulating. You'll enjoy it if you're into the aforementioned things I love. It's whimsy and stylish, and a story woven together as easily as Chanel's hats. It'll inspire you to stick to your dreams and polish your talents, proving that you can never underestimate what you are capable of accomplishing. Enjoy this one!! Link