Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Kids are All Right

The Kids Are All Right

I really was looking forward to this movie b/c I kept hearing great things about it, especially the performances.  While I thought the performances were really good, Annette Bening was really fabulous in this- I've really not seen any of her other movies besides American Beauty but I didn't like her much in that, while I absolutely loved her in this.  Julianne Moore was also great- Bening and Moore play a lesbian couple, Nic (rule and order oriented) and Jules (flightier), respectively, parents to two teenagers.  When their children, Joni and Laser, contact their sperm donor Paul, everyone becomes a bit enchanted with him (Nic less so than everyone else though).

I was disappointed that in the first half of the movie, Paul is really put front and center, perhaps b/c most of the characters are enamored with him.  It reminded me of why Knocked Up didn't really sit well with me b/c somehow the women can't ever "win;" sure they have a right to be mad at their significant others for being irresponsible, but don't the guys just seem funnier and don't they seem to have more fun?  It reminds me of how with TAs, for example, if you're a male TA and you're not a very strict grader, then you're considered "laid back" and that is totally cool, whereas if you're a female TA, it's hard to be anything but nit picky or a pushover (when you're less strict.)  And I seriously am not much of a feminist by any means.

The Kids Are All Right didn't quite go as far as that but it made me really uneasy when Jules, thankful for just being around someone who really appreciates her, starts an affair with Paul.  Later scenes in the movie made me feel for Jules's situation a bit more (For example a scene at the restaurant bar when she asks Nic if she sees her, if she's still attracted to her is heart breaking.  And I do understand where Jules is coming from- her spouse, Nic, is a successful doctor, while she's mostly been at home raising the kids or doing odd jobs), but still, it doesn't really make sense to have a LESBIAN character suddenly go straight for a guy.  And in that sense, the movie disappoints me b/c I was expecting a movie about lesbian parents to be more progressive.  The movie becomes much stronger when it brings the focus back on the family.  

Saturday, December 25, 2010


When some people get frustrated, they bake/cook.  Those people are, consequently, really awesome to have as house-mates or roommates.  When I get frustrated, I write and after a while of scribbling or furiously typing, I start feeling better.  (even though it is xmas).  I don't currently have a terrible amount of backlog since I got back into reading books (sort of) so if anyone has any book recommendations, especially something dark and Gothic, I would really appreciate hearing them.  I'll start off with the most recent and work backwards.       

Blood Diamond 
Danny Archer: T.I.A. This is Africa. 
Notables: About blood diamonds and child soldiers in war-torn Sierra Leone.  Features Leonardo Di Caprio with a Rhodesian accent (interesting huh?).  

Blood Diamond is a solid movie.  I like that it was about issues we don't usually see movies about: child soldiers and blood diamonds.  I like that it doesn't ever really get too preachy and that Danny Archer, our anti-hero remains an anti-hero, the devious smuggler that he is throughout it.  The skinned baboon, just when we thought that Danny was an okay guy who will eventually *do the right thing*, was a chilling reminder of what type of person he really was.  The cinematography, the relatively frequent shots of the African backdrop was also stunningly beautiful.  Dijmon Hounsou was fantastic as distressed father Solomon Vandy and really, the moral center and heart of the movie.  While I generally liked Jennifer Connelly's character journalist Maddy Brown, I'm still not sure if I see the character as anything more than a very cool and very kick ass Robin Scherbatsky had Robin decided to become a journalist, instead of a news anchor.  Ultimately, though, I don't think Blood Diamond will come off as being too memorable b/c while it is a good movie, I think it could have really benefited by having a less polished, big-budget- movie feel.  It doesn't spare us details in the violence but had it been gritter, in this case, it really could have made the movie more resonant and memorable.                    

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
And then too there was the matter of the blog.  Old Sam could write whatever he wanted because no one was ever going to read it.  But I had an audience, disembodied and tiny though it might be.  I wasn't much afraid of writing something that would make me look pathetic or incompetent, nor of getting myself sued.  But I didn't want to look, you know conceited.  Because under the sheer terror, I was pretty damned proud of myself.   - Julia Powell
Julia Powell's memoir is entertaining and chronicles when Powell pursued the Julie/Julia project: to make all 586 dishes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 1 and keep a blog about it.  Powell has a really great writing voice that's entertaining, sometimes profane ("Bitch rice" in reference to this very particular way Julia Child makes rice has got to be one of my favorite terms ever), funny, self-deprecating, and very relatable.  Even towards the end when she's getting all these interviews about her project and she's finally become satisfied and happy, more or less, with her life, it really comes as a natural progression- she addresses her successes in a very approachable way and you think, that yes, if you were in her situation you'd feel and act similarly.  You actually feel happy for her and I think that's a very hard feat to accomplish b/c usually when I read books where the protagonist somehow pulls their lives together over the course of the book, it feels sudden and like "okay, perhaps for this particular protagonist, it works out well that way, but there's no way it'll work like that in real/my life."             

My Cousin Rachel
He swing between earth and sky upon his gibbet, or, as my cousin Ambrose told me, betwixt heaven and hell.  Heaven, he would never achieve, and the hell that he had known was lost to him.  Ambrose prodded at the body with his stick.  I can see it now, moving with the wind like a weather-vane on a rusty pivot, a poor scarecrow of what had been a man. - Daphne du Marier
Damn.  What a beginning.  What a fabulous, moody, dark tone My Cousin Rachel had and maintained for at least the first 10 chapters or so.  I ordered this book off since it got 4.5 stars and I'd read Daphne du Marier's other novel, Rebecca, a long time ago and remembered really liking it-especially how gorgeous the writing was and also just how tautly constructed the story was.  The first 10 chapters of My Cousin Rachel are fantastic.  Philip Ashley narrates the past, when he was more innocent and naive, and It's a dark world the characters inhabit.  Ambrose Ashley never really comes across as harsh a character as he does in the first chapter and proves himself to be a likable, quirky sort of uncle.  The book really is at its best when Ambrose first leaves for his yearly vacation and he, a sworn bachelor, suddenly gets married to his cousin Rachel.  There's something that never seems quite right although it's hard to put in words.  It's unfortunate that the novel loses its momentum, the eeriness when  Rachel arrives and Philip starts getting charmed by her.  I spent a good amount of time being utterly frustrated by how idiotic Philip's decisions and reasoning became as time progressed and while the novel does pick up again towards the last few chapters (post birthday), I remain frustrated by all the ambiguity.  

Speaking of ambiguity...
Eyes Wide Shut is extremely ambiguous, and I'm still not quite sure what to think of it.  It has some incredibly sexy scenes- the opening- wow! (and I'm a straight girl lol) and the infamous orgy scene just drips with sensuality but is disturbing- really worth seeing though.  The pacing feels off sometimes, the long conversation near the end really kills the mood of the movie.  Eyes Wide Shut is at its very best near the beginning of the middle, when Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), haunted by his wife Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman)'s declaration that she would have cheated on him, risked and given up their whole marriage and family just to be with this sailor they saw once at a hotel on vacation, starts on his infamous trek across town.  On the trek, he encounters various women who all show an interest in him until finally, culminating in a visit to the infamous mansion.  Regardless of the ambiguity though, I applaud this movie for having a Xmasy backdrop.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all and to all-            

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Tangled *Some Spoilers* 

Flynn Rider: Alright blondie.  
Rapunzel: Rapunzel. 
Flynn Rider: Gesundheit
 On paper, Tangled sounds ridiculous.  It's the retelling of the Rapunzel story except that this time around Rapunzel's hair glows and  has magical healing powers.  But somehow, despite all the odds, Disney makes it work.  Really well.  It's a pity that Disney wants to back away from its princess and fantastical image b/c Disney does epic, ideal fairy tales so remarkably well.  Tangled is funny, has likable characters, and a smart, complex villain, Mother Gothel.  (When Gothel finally says, "Fine, I'll be the villain", I'm almost reluctant to see it end that way.)  

I know that a lot of reviews have said that Tangled reminded them of Beauty and the Beast, but Tangled reminded me most of A Hunchback of Notre Dame, a happy fairy tale version of it.  One of the most fascinating parts of the movie is Rapunzel's relationship with her mother.  Gothel is in many ways like Frollo, except she's seemingly much kinder to Rapunzel, showers her with love and teaches her that the outside world is a wicked place and won't tolerate, in Rapunzel's case, how special she is.  Rapunzel's relationship with Gothel almost up to the end, is complicated and I'm glad that they depicted it as such.  Rapunzel herself is beautiful, naive, and at her very core, a dreamer as all Disney princesses should be.  I do really appreciate the fact that they played up her naiveness since she really hasn't seen the world at all.  Mandy Moore and Zachery Levi both do a fabulous job voicing Rapunzel and Flynn.  My main qualms with the movie were the music.  Moore, while she's a fine singer, somehow lacked that signature Disney singing voice.  I may be biased though b/c I've heard quite a lot of her other music (when she was a pop singer).  Donna Murphy (Gothel) and Levi both have it though.  It's also such a pity they didn't have Levi sing more b/c he's really got a fabulous singing voice.  Rapunzel is magical, delightful and goes to show that Disney hasn't lost it at all.    

October and November Movies

Shutter Island *Spoilers* 

Shutter island is about US marshal Teddy Daniels who is sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient who's gone missing on Shutter Island, the location of an asylum for the criminally insane but he finds more than he bargained for.  
Teddy Daniels: Which would be worse, to live as a monster, or to die as a good man? 
The central question at the heart of Shutter Island although it's not quite apparent until the very end is the quote from Teddy Daniels above.  It's a very sympathetic look at why people choose to indulge in their delusions and fantasies.  It's also certainly a fascinating question, and to an extent, I wish Shutter Island somehow focused on this question, this conflict rather than the mystery of what was going on in the asylum.  It's a bit sudden really when everything is revealed- we get hints certainly that something is really off w/ the whole situation but not really enough information so that we could have conceivably realized that Teddy was really just deluding himself about everything.  I could see how he could have deluded himself into thinking conjuring up an escaped patient who killed her children (as his wife did in his real life), but it's a stretch to add Andrew (his real self) as the arsonist who killed his wife (when it was his wife who set the apartment on fire).  Memento utilized a similar technique but somehow, the pieces fit together better in the end.

  Shutter Island is a fine, solid movie, although it doesn't quite have any distinguishing features that make it memorable like other movies in its genre: Memento had its reverse chronological story telling, Inception draws you into a new world and makes its ambiguity work wonders, and Fight Club has that whole other theme of rebellion.  Perhaps if Scorsese had employed more of his trademark touch to the would have been more memorable.  Shutter Island has some eerie scenes like Daniels's flashbacks to his war days, his nightmares, and his visit to Ward C and some really truly beautiful scenes like his dream of his wife evaporating into ash.  I'm not sure what to make of the music.  While I loved "On the Nature of Daylight," I disliked the main theme and how it blared through the beginning- the introduction to the island wasn't too creepy and the obviously menacing music didn't really help it.

Where the Wild Things Are 

Based on the beloved children's book, Max, an angry, rebellious boy, travels to an island with monsters- the wild things, where he's made their king.  
Max: There were some buildings... There were these really tall buildings, and they could walk. Then there were some vampires. And one of the vampires bit the tallest building, and his fangs broke off. Then all his other teeth fell out. Then he started crying. And then, all the other vampires said, "Why are you crying? Weren't those just your baby teeth?" And he said, "No. Those were my grown-up teeth." And the vampires knew he couldn't be a vampire anymore, so they left him. The end. 
Where the Wild Things Are has a very unique feel to it.  Its trailer really depicts the feel of the movie well-not super plot driven but a series of scenes paired with music; I personally really liked the trailer, one of the best ones I've seen in a while.

As for the movie, I like how from the beginning we see just how *wild* Max truly is.  He wears his wolf costume at the beginning and engages in a savage biting fight with his dog.  I was really surprised by how emo everyone was in this movie.  Each of the Wild Things has a personality and they fall just short of being likable or sympathetic because each of them are just too down on themselves and life; they're like stuffed animals that have been neglected and beaten up too many times.  Carol, KW, and Judith, in particular stand out.  Carol for his temper and his special friendship with Max, KW for her gentleness, hopelessness, and resignation, and Judith for her direct bitterness.  I did like how the wild things on the island talk about issues that people avoid  like favoritism.  Overall, Where the Wild Things Are is fascinating visually but character-wise and mood-wise feels very constrained because everyone is so damn emo.  

Chungking Express

He Zhiwu, Cop 223: We split up on April Fool's Day. So I decided to let the joke run for a month. Every day I buy a can of pineapple with a sell-by date of May 1. May loves pineapple, and May 1 is my birthday. If May hasn't changed her mind by the time I've bought thirty cans, then our love will also expire. 

I really liked this movie, especially it's light hearted tone and how in spite of its somewhat dark themes of two policemen getting over breakups and officer two being especially sad about his breakup to the point that he hilariously goes around his apartment comforting his objects, the movie maintains a humorous tone.  It's not for everyone, it's a bit on the quirky side, but it has memorable, likable characters, that you end up really caring and rooting for.

Date Night

Phil Foster: He turned the gun sideways! That's a kill shot! 

When I was taking a short story writing class in undergrad, I remember my professor told me that the narrator of one of my stories was the most reasonable, level headed character he'd read in a while.  I wasn't quite sure what he meant at the time because aren't there a lot of reasonable narrators out there?  But after watching Date Night, I think I know what he meant.

On the surface, Date Night isn't really that unique of a movie.  A couple, the Fosters (Claire and Phil), masterfully played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell, go out on a date night in the city, take another couple's restaurant reservation when they can't get one, and then are chased by the mafia or some crime organization who think they're the other couple.  What makes this movie special are Fey and Carell's performances because they do such a good job of making the Fosters seem really reasonable- the most reasonable, down to earth characters I've seen in a movie in a long while, and it's refreshing.  When they're out eating, they make up conversations for other couples and they get star struck like we would if we saw a celebrity dining in the same restaurant.  I especially like Fey in the movie.  There's one scene when the Fosters are talking in the car and she says what she fantasizes about is sometimes drive somewhere to be alone and quiet and Fey injects a sort of shyness into Claire that makes that believable for her character.  Go watch Date Night for the performances- it's funny and down to earth.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I *SPOILERS*


     Just came back from the midnight showing of HP7 part 1 and I wanted to jot down some quick thoughts about it.  More movie reviews to come shortly since I've watched quite a few movies in the last few weeks but just haven't had time to write up things about it.  Overall, HP7 was all right.  It was a faithful adaptation of the book-I could find myself retracing the book chapter by chapter, but it didn't blow me away and it didn't add anything new to what was already in the books.  HP7 seemed to lack heart, unlike the first part of the book which was actually so full of feeling and emotion that it's a pity the movie didn't take advantage of that.  It's not critical to the plot but I just remember how heartbreaking it was to read that letter Lily wrote to Sirius, thanking him for Harry giving him his very first broom and Kreacher's story of how RAB stayed in the cave and commanded Kreacher to go home with the locket.  I'd also hoped that they'd given us more glimpses of hope like the people writing notes to Harry along Godric's Hallow and since they had Ron listening to the radio that we'd at least get a few glimpses of the radio broadcast that the Weasley twins made to give hope to the Resistance.  I keep thinking back to the 6th movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which was such a strong adaptation, where not only did it make the plot more coherent intersplicing Draco's story with Harry's, but it took out weaker parts of the book and made them more stronger somehow.  The raising of the wands to clear out the dark mark (such a beautiful scene) instead of an elaborate funeral for Dumbledore and Hermione and Harry talking about what it's like to have the person they love like someone else come to mind.
     I was excited to see that at the beginning they show Hermione casting the oblivation charm on her parents but was mildly disappointed that we didn't get to see Harry's last good bye to the Dursleys, which in the book was flawless.  I couldn't imagine really how Rowling could have handled their last good bye b/c although they've never liked each other, they're still family at the end of the day and she captures that sentiment well.    The gathering of the 7 potters was funny, one of the few lighter moments in the film and it's interesting which characters are well cast and which characters I pictured vastly differently in my head.  Hagrid, McGonagall, Luna, Fred and George, and Snape - I don't really question b/c they fit the roles so well.  On the other hand, Mad Eye and Voldemort...they were vastly different in my head but the actors do such a good job of portraying them that I don't question their interpretations of the characters.  In particular, I always had a hard time picturing how someone with a soft-spoken, high-pitched voice could be terrifying and Ralph Fiennes does a fantastic job with that role.  Weaker characters include Shacklebolt (who I had hoped would be more Mace Windu-like), Lupin, and Tonks.
     Finally, some quick thoughts on the movie:
-The director does such a good job with ghostly images.  I liked the ghost of Dumbledore and the dementors but I was disappointed with the Bathilda Bagshot scene- her whole house and how it smelled like death and when she melts into Nagini is one of the creepiest images in the HP series and it wasn't very creepy at all in the movie.
-I still can't decide if I liked how they used animation to do the Tale of the Three Brothers.  It's a fine tale and I liked the haunting illustrations but I wonder if it should have been at the beginning of the movie before they cut to Harry to really establish this tone that the end of the series is about death.
-I was not ever a big fan of Harry and Ginny's romance in the books, since Ginny, as a character really wasn't well developed so I enjoyed how brief and to the point their moment was in the movie...but again, I feel like the movie missed it's opportunity to really make the movie more emotional.  As much as I wasn't a big fan of Ginny/Harry, I did like how he'd stay up and look at her dot on the Maruder's map.  
-The Harry and Hermione dance scene was painfully awkward.  And while I appreciated the movie trying to give a lighter edge to some pretty dark moments camping, it didn't really come across that way.  But I do appreciate how Daniel Radcliffe does such a good job of portraying Harry's overall awkwardness.

     Overall, I'm looking forward to the last movie and hoping that they make that last battle absolutely epic.  I'm hoping that they fill in areas of the book that we didn't get to see like getting more glimpses of what Hogwarts was like during Harry's 7th year.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Never Let Me Go (book) and The Town

Never Let Me Go (book) 
"Once I'm able to have a quieter life, in whichever centre they send me to, I'll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that'll be something no one can take away." 
      I actually hadn't heard of the book until I saw the movie trailer for "Never Let Me Go" and the premise just looked so fascinating that I decided to pick up the book.  I wish that I had tried reading the book without spoilers b/c the first part of the book does such a good job slowly drawing you into their world and the whole mystery surrounding their childhoods at Hailsham, which at first just seems like an isolated boarding school, but the more you learn the less normal it seems with its odd traditions like the Gallery, Sales, and collections.  Paraphrasing Kathy, the protagonist, when they finally find out what they're meant to do, they aren't surprised b/c they've been told and haven't been told all their lives.

     "Never Let Me Go" is well written and it really captures what it means to grow up, especially that process of learning more things and realization.  It makes me think about mortality too and priorities and ethics and the age old question of whether ignorance is bliss or if it's better to know.  And it really puts a new spin on memories.  Arguably, by the time Kathy is narrating her story, the best years of her life have already happened.  It's sad and tragic but at the same time, these memories, these precious memories- no one can take that away ever and that in itself is a very comforting, optimistic thought.    

The Town 

Doug MacRay: I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people. 
James Coughlin: ...Whose car we takin'? 
I saw this in theaters and generally liked it.  It's a solid movie.  You enjoy it while you're watching, cringe at a few of the more manufactured/deus ex machina moments, and then don't think too much of it after you leave.

The Town is about a small group of skilled bank robbers from Charlestown, Boston led by Ben Affleck's character Doug, the architect/master mind of the group.  The Town starts off strongly with a well coordinated, intense robbery.  You're at the edge of your seat until she reaches water and the main titles appear- it's a fantastic beginning and it's unfortunate that the movie never quite reaches the heights of the beginning sequence sans the other bank robberies which are all very well done.  The movie's really at its best (neat, intense, and taut) in the robbery sequences.      


Sunday, July 11, 2010

June and July

Notes on a Scandal

Barbara Covett: People like Sheba think they know what it is to be lonely. But of the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. What it's like to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. Of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

Notes on a Scandal is about a spinster Barbara, in her early 60s or so, who's a high school teacher.  Barbara is very lonely; she doesn't really have any friends and seeks to have a female companion.  When Sheba, a new teacher joins her high school staff, Barbara singles out Sheba to be her companion and finds a way to worm into Sheba's life when she finds out Sheba has been having an affair with one of her students.  

The acting in the movie is fantastic.  The characters all feel very real and are portrayed believably.  I think Judi Dench's performance as Barbara is the one I really related to the most b/c I think everyone's felt that lonely before (to a less degree of intensity, certainly) and everyone is afraid that they'll be that lonely someday.  And although I really do feel for Barbara's loneliness and her inability to connect with others (it just ends up being a vicious cycle of her being aloof and unkind), I only end up pitying her in an intellectual sense and not really an emotional sense b/c Barbara is just so disgusting as a human being.  She is manipulative, domineering, and intensely needy and she's so emotionally stunted that even though she does some terribly manipulative things to Sheba in the movie, she just doesn't understand that she's done anything wrong, which is both sad and scary.  Cate Blanchett is also great in this movie, although it certainly is different seeing her playing someone who's less outspoken, weaker even, than many of the strong, independent characters. Loved the scene at the end when Sheba finds the diary and when Barbara realizes that her perception of herself is grossly different from how everyone else sees her. 

The Last Kind of Scotland 

Idi Amin: Look at you. Is there one thing you have done that is good? Did you think this was all a game? 'I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.' Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real.

There are few movies that disturb me, and The Last King of Scotland does, especially towards the end when we learn what happens to Kay and what subsequently happens to Nicholas.  The images sit around in my head, and it's immensely disturbing.  The Last King of Scotland follows Nicholas, a young doctor working in Uganda, who becomes personal physician to the president of Uganda, Idi Amin.  Though Nicholas knows that all isn't well with the country, he takes Amin's explanations as to what's happened as the truth, and is a passive observer to many terrible atrocities.  He's not a good or moral man by any means (in his personal life as well, he has no problem with getting into affairs with married women), but when you see Amin's punishment for's-he- no one deserves that kind of punishment...  Forrest Whitaker as Amin is amazing.  Amin is so charismatic, so charming that it's easy to see how Nicholas and all his other associates get drawn in b/c we, as the audience, are so drawn in as well.

Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution takes place when the Japanese have essentially taken over the Chinese government.  A group of students try to assassinate Mr. Yee, a Chinese traitor (in their eyes) who's a high ranking official helping the Japanese.  Lust, Caution was, back when it was first released, first famous for it's NC-17 rating and explicit sex scenes.  I'm a bit late in watching this but I liked it as a whole- liked how understated it is.  It's been a while since I've watched a movie that's made me sit down and think about it for a while- not b/c I'm confused about plot points or what's going on but b/c it raises questions about the characters.  For example, why does she do it and why doesn't she just walk away when she could have- gone to England where her father was.
 I loved the mood of this movie and how it maintains this very subtle, melancholy tone throughout it b/c there is very little hope for any of the characters- it's all a very dire time.  It's also surprisingly hard to watch the movie at times- the characters are brutal to each other, as is the stabbing scene (which I'm surprised so few people have commented on). 

I like Ang Lee's pieces as a director, though maybe his earlier stuff more so than his more recent stuff, and I do greatly admire how truly diverse a lot of his films have been (from a martial arts movie to period dramas).  My personal favorite is still (but I consider that in a category of its own b/c it seemed to lack certain bits of Ang Lee-ishness to it) Sense and Sensibility- it's hilarious and moving, and has fantastic performances, but I've also always really enjoyed "The Wedding Banquet."  I don't think Lust, Caution will be in my top list of Ang Lee movies but it's still a fine movie, worth watching. 

Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me 

Despicable Me 
(possibly my favorite moment from the film)  
Dr. Nefario: Here's the new weapon you ordered.
[Shoots minion with the fart gun]
Gru: No, no, no. I said DART gun.
Dr. Nefario: Oh yes. Cause I was wondering... under what circumstances would we use this? 

I have to say that in terms of recent movies in theaters, (granted I haven't gone to too many movies this year in theaters yet, maybe 4 or 5), but I have been really impressed with animated films.  (As for non-animated films, there haven't been too many movies that have felt original and unique.)  I saw How to Train Your Dragon and liked it a lot.  And recently, I watched Toy Story 3 and Despicable MeDespicable Me is a great summer movie.  It's entertaining and funny and loaded with plenty of more grown up jokes so that it isn't just for kids.  My favorite one of these is probably the movie's jab at the Lehman Brothers.  While Toy Story 3, on the other hand, goes beyond that.  I love how they delved into really dark territory- the day care center and how it's essentially under military rule.  And at the end of the day, I really like how animated films can still be considered serious, good films despite being humorous.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another Set of Good Ones

Man I've not updated for a while again. 

How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup:[voice-over] This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village. In a word? Sturdy, and it's been here for seven generations, but every single building is new. We have fishing, hunting, and a charming view of the sunset. The only problems are the pests. You see, most places have mice or mosquitoes. We have...Dragons!

How to Train Your Dragon is delightful.  It has well developed, unique characters and really does a good job of being understated with its themes and doesn't try to shove them in your face.  I also really liked all the different kinds of dragons; I can imagine it was a very fun movie to animate.  A well deserved 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Hiccup: Astrid, if something goes wrong, just make sure they don't find Toothless.
Astrid: I will. Just, promise me it won't go wrong!


David Frost: Are you really saying the President can do something illegal?
Richard Nixon: I'm saying that when the President does it, it's *not* illegal!

While I do have my doubts about Ron Howard sometimes (eg. "A Beautiful Mind" was a fine movie.  I enjoyed watching it but at times, that movie really felt like it was pushing the whole "triumph of love and the human spirit" angle too excessively), I like that Frost/Nixon was more understated.  An inebriated Nixon calling Frost was a bit over the top, but otherwise, it's a generally solid political movie.  It's not as memorable or brilliant as "All the President's Men," but it's smart and terse. 

 On an unrelated note, perhaps an actor's acting abilities should be judged by the range that they have.  I find it amazing that Michael Sheen can go from David Frost to Wesley Snipes of 30 Rock. 

In the Mood for Love

Chow Mo-wan: In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn't want to share... you know what they did?
Ah Ping: Have no idea.
Chow Mo-wan: They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever.

I watched this movie (once and then again) twice a while ago and wish I'd written a review of it sooner.  "In the Mood for Love" is a great movie.  It's artistic, beautifully filmed, and deeply romantic-Maggie Cheung looks gorgeous throughout the movie in her many qi paos.   

The Hurt Locker

Sergeant JT Sanborn: I'm ready to die, James.
Staff Sergeant William James: Well, you're not gonna die out here, bro.
Sergeant JT Sanborn: Another two inches, shrapnel zings by; slices my throat- I bleed out like a pig in the sand. Nobody'll give a shit. I mean my parents- they care- but they don't count, man. Who else? I don't even have a son.
Staff Sergeant William James: Well, you're gonna have plenty of time for that, amigo.
Sergeant JT Sanborn: Naw, man. I'm done. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will. I mean, how do you do it, you know? Take the risk?
Staff Sergeant William James: I don't know. I guess I don't think about it.
Sergeant JT Sanborn: But you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it. You recognize that don't you?
Staff Sergeant William James: Yea... Yea, I do. But I don't know why.
Staff Sergeant William James: I don't know, JT. You know why I'm that way?
Sergeant JT Sanborn: No, I don't.

I can't say if it really did deserve an Oscar for best picture, but I think it's a well-made film (although some people would say it's cliched and like a lot of other war films out there). 

Michael Clayton


I have to guiltily admit that it actually took a few tries to get all the way through Michael Clayton, which isn't really commentary on the quality movie but more commentary on our attention spans and on how busy and how overworked us grad students are.  The problem was that it takes a bit of time to get into the movie and it doesn't start to become compelling until ~30 minutes in.  While there are some elements of Michael Clayton that seem contrived, George Clooney as a jaded company man who has family issues (he's distant from his family and he's also short on money b/c of a failed business venture) and previous gambling problems, the movie, on a whole works very well as a taut, neatly plotted and well acted thriller.  And while most thrillers are loud and action packed, this one distinguishes itself by being generally quiet.  (*mild spoiler*  even early on, when Michael Clayton's car explodes, there's an explosion and just that- Clayton doesn't escape his car at the very last minute; he's already out of his car, looking at these horses on the side of the road.)  There are few over the top dramatic outbursts (granted Arthur Edens has a few outbursts but he is mentally unstable) but even the fantastic concluding scene, is quiet and restrained.  With solid performances from George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, it's a very good, solid movie- an intellectual thriller so to speak.    

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs isn't really on the same level as a lot of the really great animated films like the Pixar movies, but it doesn't try to be.  It's funny and borderline ridiculous at times, but overall, it's generally a fun movie to watch.   

Children and scaredy cats be warned: contains ratbirds! (possibly one of the worst hybrid animal combinations ever right behind mouse-a-roaches) and scary implications regarding the American diet 

There Will be Blood


The infamous milkshake scene lives up to its hype; it's ferocious and everything you expect it to be, but given the sparseness of the film...I think given the back of the DVD summaries, I was expecting more plot?  More events?  DVD summaries seem to place a huge emphasis on the rivalry between Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).  And while that was indeed a critical piece of the movie, it certainly wasn't the main thread of was more of Daniel Plainview's degeneration as a human being as he became more and more successful.  The movie's oftentimes too quiet, too empty when it's just Daniel Plainview.  I found Paul Dano's performance as Eli Sunday particularly don't like the priest very much at all and there's something slithery, something that disturbs you, makes you uneasy about him that you just can't quite describe.  While the milkshake scene is one of the crowning points of the film, I really liked the baptism scene more (second part of the clip) which really tilt the Plainview-Sunday rivalry (b/c you know that Sunday, honestly, doesn't really have much of a chance in the end).

I recall listening to a podcast or something where the three main Washington Post movie critics were saying that the movies (the year that There Will be Blood was contending for Best Picture at the Oscars) nominated were all really strong and having finally seen them all I'd have to agree (maybe not Juno though...personally just wasn't a big fan of that). The movies for 2008 (fyi) were: No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, and There Will be Blood. 


Norm Gunderson: They announced it.
Marge Gunderson: They announced it?
Norm Gunderson: Yeah.
Marge Gunderson: So?
Norm Gunderson: Three-cent stamp.
Marge Gunderson: Your mallard?
Norm Gunderson: Yeah.
Marge Gunderson: Oh, that's terrific.
Norm Gunderson: It's just a three-cent stamp.
Marge Gunderson: It's terrific.
Norm Gunderson: Hautman's blue-winged teal got the 29-cent. People don't much use the three-cent.
Marge Gunderson: Oh, for Pete's sake. Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.

While a lot of people talk about how much they like the dark humor mixed with really gruesome, horrific images and of course, the "Minnesotian" accents, I'm surprised by how little people talk about the soundtrack b/c it's a really great soundtrack.  Generally, I liked the movie, especially how cold and remote the scenery is. 

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: You've never complained about my methods before.
Dr. John Watson: I'm not complaining. How am I complaining? When have do I ever complain about you practicing the violin at three in the morning, or your mess, your general lack of hygiene, or the fact that you steal my clothes?
Sherlock Holmes: We have a barter system.

Sherlock Holmes is a less actiony movie than I expected.  Well it is as actiony as it probably gets for Sherlock Holmes and perhaps too actiony if we're considering Sherlock Holmes from the books, but it's a fun movie.  I'm a big fan of character-driven action movies as opposed to the usual non-character driven action movies and I was expecting it to be more of the later. I think my favorite part of the movie has to be the Holmes/Watson relationship and even though I do like Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes a lot (he's insanely brilliant but flawed and needy), I liked Jude Law's Watson a lot more b/c he's the stable, sane tolerant one in the relationship and I wish that they'd focused more on the Holmes/Watson relationship rather than other ones.  I was pleasantly surprised by how they handled Watson's engagement with Mary and how they resolved how she fits in with the duo.  I also really liked the soundtrack and thought it went well with the movie.  (although initially listening to the soundtrack, having not heard it while watching the movie, I found it quite odd.)

Holmes isn't a very good movie for you to watch, though, if you are looking for a good mystery that you can solve alongside- I think the movie did a fine job of establishing a mystery and I'm so glad there wasn't anything supernatural involved, but the general clues are probably just shown briefly in a few scenes, mainly the laboratory scenes and all very chemistry based- that it would probably be quite difficult to try to solve the case alongside Holmes.  And I wasn't a big fan of the Holmes/Alder interactions...while I liked Alder's introduction, her plot line was rather cliched and I would have liked that time to have been dedicated to more entertaining purposes like more Holmes and Watson moments.  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Catch Up Post

So I'm a bit behind (3 months or so) on updating this thing...though I doubt many people read this at all. Re-watched a lot of great old movies and saw a few new ones too.


"I'm a scientist, remember? I don't believe in the fairytales." - Grace

I think that everyone's pretty much said what's been needed to be said about this movie. Amazing visuals, decent soundtrack, and cliche storyline. It probably didn't deserve all the critical acclaim that it received like its predecessor Titanic (and maybe even less so than Titanic b/c despite all the corniness associated with Titanic, Titanic did have its moments, more so than Avatar), but I do give James Cameron props for his attempt at creating a world (complete with a new world and fascinating animals and I have to add, given my neural inklings, I did think it was very cool how the Navi could telepathically link with their animals) b/c that's never easy to do. It's a certainly decent attempt, and I do always appreciate movies that try creating a new world b/c I don't think enough movies try to do it.

This also makes me think back to Pirates of the Carribbean...although it's certainly not the most innovative movie ever, I do give it mad props for its ability to create a world from essentially scratch. I can't think of any other fandoms (large fandoms with a decent sized following) that's done the same thing off the top of my head that's done the same thing in which the starting source was a movie. (lord of the rings, harry potter, etc etc don't really count b/c they of course, started from the books).

A Christmas Carol

I think that this movie could have been great had it been able to decide whether or not it wanted to be dark and dramatic or comedic. And since it did both, it remains a toss up and not really that memorable save for how generally creepy it was...the two feral children coming out from underneath Present's robes and the ghost of Christmas Present, bones blowing away in the wind.

Casino Royale

Vesper Lynd: Am I going to have a problem with you, Mr. Bond?
James Bond: No, don't worry, you're not my type.
Vesper Lynd: Smart?
James Bond: Single.

I'm not too pleased with how they handled the ending b/c it was just mostly such an unsatisfactory ending nor am I too pleased with where they took Bond in the next movie (I'm glad it didn't go back to typical Bond which I find mostly unwatchable) but generally, I really liked the re-vamp, the story, Bond's wit, the banter, etc. There are actors whom I causally put on my "yes, I'm fans of them now, and even if they're terrible in X movie, I will always still remember how awesome they were in this one particular movie" and b/c of their performances in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig and Eva Greene have spots on this little list of mine.


Jack: Listen, Rose. You're gonna get out of here, you're gonna go on and make lots of babies, and you're gonna watch them grow. You're gonna die an old... an old lady warm in her bed, but not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me?
Cue Celion Dion's massively overplayed song. Of course Titanic has its corny moments and cliche story and possibly worst subplot ever ("this ship is really really unsinkable"), but the later half of the movie when the ship starts sinking is still a fantastic action sequence (especially Rose struggling to rush through the flooding hallways, ax in hand) and filled with genuinely touching moments (the musicians, the old couple who decide to stay on the ship, the mother putting the kids to bed, etc).
The Rose/Jack storyline, while cliche (class clashes, rebellious, independent thinking rich girl) does have its moments and it's a very touching sentiment that he expresses as he's freezing to death in the ocean. It seems like a wasted avenue that who Rose became wasn't explored further, especially at the end, when you see all those framed pictures at her bedside, they're all pictures of her- where's her family?

The Hangover

Black Doug: I always wondered why they were called roofies, 'cause you're more likely to end up on the floor than the roof. They should call 'em floories.
While it was entertaining and funny in some parts, I didn't find it particularly memorable and I still don't really see what the *big* deal was. Perhaps b/c it was a quintessential guy movie.

Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham: I don't spend a nickel, if I can help it, unless it somehow profits my mileage account.
Natalie Keener: So, what are you saving up for? Hawaii? South of France?
Ryan Bingham: It's not like that. The miles are the goal.
Natalie Keener: That's it? You're saving just to save?
Ryan Bingham: Let's just say that I have a number in mind and I haven't hit it yet.
Natalie Keener: That's a little abstract. What's the target?
Ryan Bingham: I'd rather not...
Natalie Keener: Is it a secret target?
Ryan Bingham: It's ten million miles.
Natalie Keener: Okay. Isn't ten million just a number?
Ryan Bingham: Pi's just a number.
Natalie Keener: Well, we all need a hobby. No, I- I- I don't mean to belittle your collection. I get it. It sounds cool.
What I really appreciate about this movie is that it's not really a preachy, message movie...instead, it's very Indie-esque and feels small and personal. It's a fine movie but I don't think I personally am able to fully appreciate what it depicts yet...the loneliness that you feel as you get older and how painful it is to get laid off.


It's still a really good movie/very creepy on a re-watch. There is just something off putting about the whole atmosphere- the neighborhood enshrouded in mist and fog, the quirky neighbors, the other world, the other mother at the end not wanting to be alone, but it's creepy in a good way. Coraline, also, although she's very prickly and hard to like in the beginning, you can't help but to like her by the end b/c she's grown up a bit.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
I think I need to rewatch this movie to fully appreciate it. I've been meaning to see this movie for ages- I've seen numerous pop culture renditions of that scene at the end where the Chief throws the water fountain out the window and escapes and numerous allusions to Nurse Ratched's sinister nature, but I have to say, that as usual, the movie (its tone, what happens) really turns out to be very different from what I'd imagine it would be like.

There is always something very alluring about placing a story in a closed area (a ward, a stay away camp, a hospital with terminal patients, etc)- something about cutting them off from the rest of the world. Nurse Ratched is not as overtly sinister/evil (if even that) as I would have expected- it's ambiguous as to what her actual intentions are and I do admire how she is able to very understatedly maintain order in the ward w/o ever really shouting just calmly saying the rules that are listed.

I think that my two favorite scenes in the movie have to be the world series scene and the scene where McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) ends up breaking the window at the nurse's station to get cigarettes for his fellow wardmate. It's...there's something very magical about those two scenes. It's mostly in the momentum of the characters. The energy that McMurphy exudes is infectious and inspiring in the World Series scene, and you watch those two scenes and recognize why this movie's become a classic.


While I'm not a big fan of the documentary style footage/camera work, Milk was a generally good movie with strong performances. I know that this isn't what main point of the story was supposed to be about but I've always wondered what it was that drove Milk and his first partner away from each other. They seemed happy at first about the idea of Milk running for public office but then there's a threat, a dinner scene in which his partner chases everyone out, and then suddenly they're at odds with each other over Milk's political aspirations.


Fabulous movie...there's rivalry, beautiful music, fantastic performances, but at the heart of it all, this great love and appreciation for classical music. Two clips: