Thursday, September 30, 2010

La Ventana (The Window) (2008)

As bedridden Antonio (Antonio Larreta) awaits a visit from his estranged son, Pablo (Jorge Díez), his bedroom window is his portal to the world . The yellow fields beckon him. On this most important day, Antonio instructs live-in help María del Carmen (María del Carmen Jiménez) of how the day is to play out. He has a 40-year-old bottle of champagne and he’d like to make a toast when his sonLa ventana a la libertad arrives. A fleet of hired help arrive to the house. The most important task is the tune-up of the old piano. Pablo is a world-class pianist and everything must be right. As everyone is busy making sure every detail is cared for, Antonio defies his doctor and caretakers by making a slow get-away into the fields for a walk. He takes in the serenity of the scene for what could be the last time time.
When Pablo and his girlfriend arrive, you get the sense it’s been an extremely long time away from the San Juan mansion. He’s regarding the old home like Antonio took in the yellow fields. You don’t get many clues nor explanations, but the suggestions are sufficient. This coming of death film has no action and it crawls, but it has a sensitivity that equates to that soothing feeling of someone brushing your hair.

Director: Carlos Sorin

Country: Argentina

Genre: Drama

Run time: 84 minutes

Scale: 3

The Switch (2010)

I don’t describe myself as a Jennifer Aniston fan. She needs a new agent, but the cast led by Jason Bateman tempted. Hearing that The Switch is an adaptation of a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides clinched the decision.
¿Que idioma? It rolls as single Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) announces her fertility is declining and without any tangible possibilities, she opts for a sperm donor. She shares the news with her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) hoping for some vicarious excitement but that isn’t his forte.
She searches for a handsome and athletic sperm donor and finds Roland (Patrick Wilson)—a married teacher in need of cash. She throws a hippy harvest party, inviting pals, and Roland and his wife, Jessica (Kelli Barrett). There, Roland makes his donation. Also attending the party, Wally has a migraine. Debbie (Juliette Lewis) offers him an unidentified pill he readily swallows. In his unpleasantly intoxicated state, he finds the vulnerable sperm sample and fumbles it. The next day, he cannot even recall Diane Sawyer. His confidante, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum, who only gets deliciously better with age) tries talking him back. Kassie gets preggers and for Minnesota.
Fast forward seven years. Kassie’s back in NYC (Believability: Do you believe she’s been offered this “great job with the network” after nearly seven years in Minnesota?) with son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). Sebastian is precocious and anxiety-ridden, much like Wally. As the three spend time together, Wally and Sebastian forge a relationship. Kassie pursues a newly divorced Roland, who has absolutely nothing in common with Sebastian. As Wally sees more and more similarities between himself and Sebastian, he realizes he may need to come clean about a few things, but will it sacrifice his friendship with Kassie?
I laughed a lot and cried a little. Bateman’s dryness juxtaposed with Aniston’s comedic timing create enjoyable chemistry, but it’s Sebastian that steals the show amid a strong cast. Aniston redeems herself from her long string of lame movies to deliver a refreshing rom-com. And, may Juliette Lewis and her brand of whack stick around.

Co-directors: Josh Gordon & Will Speck

Country: US

Genre: Rom-com

Run time: 101 minutes

Scale: 4

Se7enta (Seventy)

This short film begins in a humble fashion. A few seconds pass before you realize that the man sitting before his birthday cake topped with two large pink candles (70) is alone and about to start eating. A boom box and a cake. An audio recording plays. Family members wish him birthday greetings. They offer positive words. Do they know he’s lonely? They promise next year things will be different. Are they worried about him? His daughter will try to raise the money to make the trip to see him. Melancholy visualized.

You never see his eyes, only the bottom half of his face. You watch him eat. He chews fast. His face reddens. He drops his fork. Hands move to his own neck. Is he choking?

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

He’s definitely choking. The boom box continues talking. His grandson hopes he enjoys the little surprise baked into the cake. His head drops face down, slamming against the table. He’s dead.

Three minutes, one scene, dark ending.

Director: Paco Torres

Country: Spain

Genre: Shorts

Run time: 3 minutes

Scale: 5

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

If you’re considering a double feature, this is a perfect companion piece to Precious. Adapted from Cameron Crowe’s 1981 book written during the time he spent, faking it, imbedded in a high school. In reality, he was a Rolling Stone correspondent gathering information on the lives of teenagers. Crowe went on to become an accomplished director.Let's party

His coming-of-age story centers around a group of California teenagers and their social and sexual escapades. Main character Stacey Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a high school sophomore, is urged by her older and more experienced best friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) to hurry up and lose her virginity. Stacey gets brazen and goes on her quest, which introduces her to a rocky path to sexual satisfaction. Innocent Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) takes a liking to Stacey but when he gets scared off, his best friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) makes his move. Meanwhile, her brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold), star employee at a hamburger joint, has a crush on Linda. He’s considering breaking up with his long-term girlfriend when he gets blindsided on two frontiers. Nicolas Cage (billed as Nicolas Coppola) makes a quick cameo as a burger flipper. Forest Whitaker is a football star with a reputation for kicking ass. The standout character is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn in his second acting role), surfer, stoner, slacker. His history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) has it out for him as Spicoli pursues his dream--making it as a professional surfer. I regret these two don’t have more scenes together. Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards have minor roles as Spicoli’s pals. Not only is it fun to see so many big brand names in acting sharing the screen, but, nearly 30 years later, this movie is still as entertaining as it is relevant.

Director: Amy Heckerling

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 4

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) (2009)

She's back After seeing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and then, reading the book, I felt like I’d seen two versions of the same movie. The book  filled in many details and rounded out the first movie. Details from the first book spill into the second movie and these details filled in many gaps. I don’t think the book is written particularly well (though it’s hard to tell whether it’s a subpar translation or poor writing) but the story grabs you with it’s fast pace and suspense. I’m certain I will read all three books.

This installation is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) story (as compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was clearly Mikael Blomkvist’s (Michael Nyqvist) story. We got background information about her childhood, her mother and father and what led to her guardianship. She has a temper and you wouldn’t want to see her when she’s angry.

Her hair is still fantastic, just longer now. She’s distanced herself from Blomkvist. He has continued trying to reach her but she’s ignored him, until she’s accused of MURDER and needs his help this time. This is where we get started. The movie moves at a quick clip and she is still an ass-kicker, but she meets a match that might bring her down. I won’t even do a spoiler alert here because I don’t want you to know what happens (except that it has a cliffhanger ending). To say that I cannot wait for the 3rd and final installation of this one is an understatement.

Director: Daniel Alfredson

Country: Sweden

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 129 minutes

Scale: 4

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Clarice "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an obese teen living in Harlem with her sadistic mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Mary rarely leaves the apartment. She treats Precious like cook, cleaner, errand runner and whipping girl. Although Precious is 16, she’s still in middle school due to illiteracy, but she scores high in math and other subjects. When the truth comes out about Precious’s second pregnancy, life gets complicated at school and at the welfare office. After beingThree generations of dysfunction suspended, she enters an alternative program to earn her GED. Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) at the welfare office starts asking questions about her baby daddy. Meanwhile, Mary spends her time berating Precious about being dumb and a waste of space. Her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), is determined to reset Precious’s self-hate odometer so she can see her own worth. Will Precious be able to overcome the odds?

As you watch Mary’s constant physical and verbal attacks on Precious, you want to escape this attempt at your own escape from reality. Mo’Nique is damn good at evil. Lenny Kravitz as sexy Nurse John is delightful (I didn’t know it was him until final credits.) Precious’s peers at her new school add a great angle and good humor to an otherwise, humorless movie. The scenes depicting Precious dissociating from her abuse are particularly stunning—it’s a cinematic feat the way her mental process is depicted as her body is being accosted. The acting is superb all around. The movie is based on a true story, but even if only a quarter of what happened in the movie was the truth, Sapphire, I salute you. See this but be prepared to feel like road kill afterwards.

Director: Lee Daniels

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 108 minutes

Scale: 4.5