Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Reader (2008)

Kate Winslet won big at 2009’s Golden Globes and Academy Awards  for The Reader. She was on fire, but Winslet and DiCaprio’s mutual admiration ass-kissing club got to me with the: “he’s the best actor of his generation/she’s the best actress of her generation.” I opted *not* to see The Reader, despite all the hubbub.

I’d read the book years agoSexy time and recalled feeling lackluster. When Michelle brought the movie to Brian’s, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see it. Once we started watching it, however, I was there (fast and furious-like) in pre-WWII Germany.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

German Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) works as an attendant on the trolley transportation. Teenager Michael Berg (David Kross) meets much older woman Hanna and they begin a clandestine sexual relationship lasting all summer. Part of their trysts involve Michael reading to her. He reads The Odyssey, The Lady with the Little Dog and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As Michael falls deeper and deeper for Hanna, he finds that Hanna can’t let her walls down; this leads to several rows. Michael is dismayed when he stops by to see her after school one day and finds she has absconded without a trace. Fast-forward nearly 10 years, Michael is in law school. His class is attending Nazi war crimes trial, when he is amazed to discover that his former lover, Hanna, is among the defendants. This re-opens the never-quite-healed wound of Hanna Schmitz. This time, Michael will learn devastating facts about his enigmatic first love.

Winslet is an acting goddess. She is Hanna Schmitz and wholly deserving of her awards. I do agree with DiCaprio’s assessment of her as one of the best actresses of her generation…I just wish he’d let us make that determination. The Reader is stellar and I will re-read the book and hope I get something different out of it this time.

Director: Stephen Daldry

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 123 minutes

Scale: 5

Art Institute of Chicago

Miniature dioramas:

Mini roomMini roomMini room Mini room Ancient Asian art:

Don't screw with him Six arms Oil print from wood block Monica Bonvicini exhibit: Light Me Black

Light Me Black Light Me Black Light Me Black Architecture and Design:

interactive projection by Stefan Sagmeister and Ralph Ammer Corallo Bench by Campana Brothers Chairs Chairs Chairs Light play Light play Light play Modern wing:

100_5136Sunny Morning–Eight Legs by Lucian Freud 100_5138 100_5140 100_5141 East River by Ellsworth Kelly Woman Descending the Stairs by Gerhard Richter Brushstroke with Spatter by Roy Lichtenstein 100_5148 100_5149 View of Millennium Park against Chicago skyline:

100_5150 Views of Modern wing:

100_5151 100_5152

Man on Wire (2008)

This one got one good review after another but I wasn’t convinced. I misunderstood that it was mostly clips from the event; a movie sounded blasé. Once I started watching, I was captivated. The documentary’s success is based on the large personalities involved, the vast planning and the incredible feat that couldn’t  occur in our post-9/11 world.

Baby steps Parisian Philippe Petit grows up with a passion for tightrope/high wire walking. He starts young and takes his act to the streets, setting up small-scale tightropes, performing for Parisians. The movie does contain clips of Petit in his youth (late teens and early 20s practicing) and his co-conspirators during their planning sessions, but it’s exciting to see the footage and see how they aged.

Petit’s first coup was setting up and executing a high wire walk between the Gargoyle-protected towers of Notre Dame in Paris. After this success, he and his posse take to Sydney, Australia, where he walks a tightrope between the two north pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Neither wire walk would’ve been possible without Petit’s fiercely loyal friends, as you see in the doc. Remarkably, no cops or security got wind of it until Petit was mid-walk. Petit gets hungry for much more…he set his eyes on New York City’s World Trade Center towers. The year is 1974, but the dream begins years prior, even before construction of the towers has finished. The planning part is full of suspense and drama and just days before Petit starts his most famous walk, they almost cannot get everything done.

I could go on and on and on about Man on Wire, but I encourage you to see it. If you have reservations about this 2009 Oscar-winner for Best Documentary, see it anyway. You will be in awe…I promise.

Director: James Marsh

Country: US

Genre: Documentary

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 5

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Alphabet Killer (2008)

Whenever the viewer is teased with the ‘based on a true story’ hook, it raises curiosity and expectations. Unfortunately, taking license with these stories often leads to cinematic implosions.

Megan Paige (Eliza Dushku in a tranquilized, lame deer-in-headlights acting performance) is a cop hot on the trail of a serial killing pedophile. This person victimizes young girls with first and last names always matching in their first initials. Megan gets so into her crime fighting that she starts hearing the voices of and seeing the dead girls. They appear to her in beginning stages of decomposition. The girls seem to antagonize and plead for Megan to hurry up and solve the case.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

The stress continues getting to her until she has a nervous breakdown. Her cop boyfriend, Kenneth Shine (a heavily make-up laden Cary Elwes), is given the news—Megan is diagnosed with adult-onset schizophrenia. She is treated with medication and goes into a support program. There, she meets Richard Ledge (Tim Hutton) a man confined to a wheelchair who leads the support group. It’s now two years later—her relationship with Kenneth is over and she’s been demoted. The Alphabet Killer is killing young girls. Megan begs Kenneth to let her get involved with the case again, but on a detective-light scale. Kenneth allows it and partners her up with Officer Steven Harper (Tom Malloy). They begin making connections. Megan stops taking her meds. She starts hearing the voices and seeing the apparitions again. She hides this and continues on the case. After a few false leads, they are finally getting somewhere. Until the next breakdown involving a priest and Megan flailing and shooting a gun in a church. She’s hospitalized again but in an unlikely scenario, she breaks out to keep following up on the case. We are then presented with the bizarre, improbable and confusing climactic ending, which leaves you as confused as Megan.

I liked that the movie took on mental illness in an atypical fashion and in a unique setting but what the hell? It was peculiar, the actors are stiff and their situations are extremely difficult to believe.

Director: Rob Schmidt

Country: US

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 97 minutes

Scale: 2

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

My only question…WHY? In fairness, I watched the first hour. It was painful and I turned it off. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the miniscule moments of humor on which the trailer desperately focuses. It’s not funny. There are tiny moments where you chuckle, but that’s it!

Paul Blart (Kevin James) is a down-on-his-luck-with-the-ladies mall cop who has a crush on the woman who sells wigs in a mall kiosk. He wheels around on a Segway maintaining the ridiculous mall rules, such as wheelchairs not travelling at too fast a speed. He lives with his daughter and mother who frequently urge him to forge into the online dating world. (His daughter, by the way, is the product of his relationship with a Latina who “tricked” him until she could get citizenship and then take off).

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

When the mall cop trainee and his coterie execute their plan of taking the mall hostage and stealing profits from the stores, I had my last straw at the ridiculousness. Give me another scenario of hostage taking in the mall but please not a seizing mall store profits. James is funny and has excellent comedic timing; unfortunately, it cannot carry this carnage to your humor sensibilities. I discourage this viewing, but if you must, please report back with your results. I would love to hear that it turns about and ends up being a double-thumbs-up. I’d be dumbfounded if that happened.

Director: Steve Carr

Country: US

Genre: Comedy disappointment

Run time: 91 minutes

Scale: 2

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elling (2001)

Second time around, the delightful Elling holds up.

After two plus years in the nuthouse in Norway, Kjell (Sven Nordin) and Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) are ready to start over on their own in an apartment in Oslo. Elling, having been sheltered for most of his adult life by his mother in their messy house (reminiscent of Hoarders), is scared but does all he can to avoid admitting it. Kjell is an oversized moose of a man hyper-interested in sex (he’s still a virgin) and food. Their social worker, Frank (Jørgen Langhelle), loads them up with aBaby steps large helping of tough love, instructing them to become familiar with living, that that’s what they must do. Elling isn’t convinced. After Frank leaves, they move the second bedroom bed into the first bedroom, separated by a night table. Now, they are roommates again, just like in the institution. When Kjell attracts the attention of the kooky pregnant neighbor, Elling is fearful. He’s going to have to break out on his own. Soon, he discovers his calling in poetry.

This excellent movie is simple and gets to the heart of what’s important in life. While we fuss and sweat most things, there are folks truly struggling and battling their demons. Kjell and Elling are never very far from theirs and to watch them make their way in this new world and overcome life’s obstacles and their insecurities is a good kick in the pants to get up, get lost and forge your way again.

Director: Petter Næss

Country: Norway

Genre: Dram-Com

Run time: 89 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, December 14, 2009


American Airlines, I’m singing your praises. My flight to Chicago boarded as scheduled and departed on time. No hint of turbulence and we landed 45 minutes early.

On the way out of Seattle, the pilot alerted us to the lovely view of Mt. Rainier:

Mt. Rainier Mt. Rainier Cascade mountains

Here’s a view of Chicago as we prepared to land:

Snowy Chicago

With Brian at O’Hare:

With baby bro

West side art:


Westlake Center Tree Lighting

Merry-go-round Buy More Stuff

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yogen (Premonition) (2004)

Japanese filmmakers know how to spin horror. The cinematography here employs shots that focus, then close-in on characters having them looking directly into the camera. Angles draw you into the action. Slow at turns, you don’t get the extreme sense of urgency and heightened tension until near the end, where you are morphed from one plane to another.

Hideki (Hiroshi Mikami) is a workaholic who cannot take time to sing along with his wife, Ayaka (Noriko Sakai), and adorably cute daughter, Nana (Hana Inoue), on a road-trip. Instead, Hideki insists Ayaka drive back to a roadside pay phone. He must send his urgent e-mail when the Internet connection in the car isn’t allowing him to complete the transmission from the backseat where he types furiously while the gals sing away.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Agreeable Ayaka turns back. While he is in the phone booth sending his file over the extremely slow connection, he finds a newspaper with a printed story of the death of a young girl trapped inside a car when a truck collides killing her. The picture of the dead girl in the story is his daughter. He turns to look at the car in time to see the truck hit the car and the car start on fire. He runs over but he and Ayaka can only helplessly watch at the car explodes into a massive ball of fire.

Since the accident, Ayaka and Hideki divorce. But soon, due to a psychic, their paths cross again. Turns out Hideki continues to receive the newspaper clippings foretelling disaster and death. When he and Ayaka re-join forces, they not only rekindle their love but they start getting to the bottom of the fate that has gripped them.

This one is creepy enough to keep you entertained but not enough to grip you entirely. Plus, the newspaper clippings appear out of nowhere and only to some but you never really understand why to some and not to others and how in some instances fate is interfered with while in other instances, it cannot be stopped.

Director: Norio Tsuruta

Country: Japan

Genre: Horror

Run time: 92 minutes

Scale: 3

Tyson (2008)

Boxer, animal, convicted rapist, lost, bamboozled, womanizer, soft-spoken, egotistical, wounded. Regardless of whether you admire or dislike Mike Tyson, he’s a provocative figure. This gripping documentary is the man himself reflecting on his life. He’s worked hard, coming from his humble beginnings in Brooklyn as a thug and not knowing his father (or even being sure who his real father is) to finding his way out of juvenile delinquency through boxing. He found a father figure in Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, who trained Tyson but died before seeing him crowned the youngest heavyweight champion. As Tyson details his life’s highs and lows, he displays vulnerability, seething rage, disappointment and joy. His delivery is monotone, whether it’s rich with underlying anger or whether he is holding back tears. He doesn’t censor and his monologue is vibrant and authentic. It’s like you are watching a domesticated animal describe his taming process but you get snippets of the parts that cannot be kept down. Several times, I verged on tears. Tyson covers  describes meeting and marrying his first wife, Robin Givens; the rape accusation by Desiree Washington; his prison experience; finding Islam; his relationship with Don King, and the ear-biting incident with Evander Holyfield. You get archive footage ands clips of Tyson and and those who played key roles in his life. Prime conditionTyson mumbles fast and softly. You don’t miss much but a few times, what he says isn’t immediately clear.

My dad is a boxing fan. Growing up in our household, big matches were anticipated and prepared for. The beat-downs were difficult to watch and I mourned for the losers. This movie is Tyson cracking open his insides and offering the world a compelling view of the winner and the loser. Not to be missed.

Writer/Director: James Toback

Country: US

Genre: Documentary

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 4