Thursday, February 24, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

What makes 127 Hours a grand experience? Danny Boyle, James Franco, an incredible true story, tremendous music. You voyage through survival in the remote Blue John Canyon, Utah.

127 HoursAron Ralston (Franco)—arrogant outdoorsman and happy-go-lucky hiker—heads out for a solo weekend hike in the expansive Utah canyons. He has informed no one about his plans. He camps, hikes, frolics with other hikers.

As he’s making his way through a narrow canyon, a boulder tumbles and lands on his hand, trapping Ralston. He’s now trapped, alone with a limited supply of water, no cell reception and not a soul in the vicinity. You, the viewer, is with him during the next 127 Hours he spends flipping through memories—recent, older and regrettable—and figuring out how to stay alive and extricate himself. The beauty is in the details: the raven flying overhead daily at same time. The regular 15 minutes of sunshine on his foot. The dream sequences. The ants that regularly crawl over him. The video within the movie.

For a movie with one character carrying it, it’s remarkable and compelling. Nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (2011 Academy Awards), Franco doesn’t disappoint.

Director: Danny Boyle

Country: USA/UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 94 minutes

Scale: 4

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chihuahua Meet Up

Lola wanted to meet new friends. This is their story:

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)

I expected more from this Academy- and Golden-Globe-Awards-nominated movie. Not even Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, Das Experiment) could save it.

The Baader Meinhof Complex tells the story of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a terrorist group who in the 1960s and ‘70s wreaked havoc in Germany in response to the country’s anti-Palestinian stance and pro-Israeli backing and the support of America in the Vietnam War. Post-WWII-German yBaader Meinhof Complexouth were determined to end what they saw as the new evolution of Fascism. They used force and violence and, ultimately, became that which they opposed. The RAF was able to gain support and strength across continents.

The problems I had began with Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), left-wing journalist, mother and spouse. As an anti-establishment writer, she meets politically radical couple Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu) and Gundrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) and soon, the three form the RAF.

I never felt Meinhof’s passion. One day she declares she could “never leave her children,” then, she’s on the run with the group. Her transition isn’t visible; instead you are fed what you are to believe. Next, you have the frequent additions/changes in faction members. Many resemble one another and it’s confusing keeping square who’s who. And, few of them reflect on the situation and what they want to see idealogically. They rob banks and bomb buildings. Explosions escalate into shootings, kidnappings and assassinations. Once they are incarcerated, they hunger strike, crumble in solitary confinement and, as their demands are met, you begin seeing what they are like as individuals, while the group on the outside start losing the fight. The trial is a circus (and drags out the plot). In the end, the RAF crumbles under in-fighting and a weakening core. The topic is thought-provoking, but the movie is a drawn out disappointment.

Director: Uli Edel

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama

Run time: 150 minutes

Scale: 2

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Up (2009)

UpThe ‘cone of shame’ got me to see Up. When Shorty L got spayed last year, she wore a cone so she wouldn’t disturb her stitches. Many strangers commented on her ‘cone of shame.’ So many, in fact, that one day, I finally asked if there was some sort of reference. “You didn’t see Up, did you?”

A Pixar animated film, Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner), a man with a dream he is determined to make good on. As a boy, Carl idolized a celebrated explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). After Muntz is disgraced, he goes on a mission to remote South America to prove his detractors wrong. He never returns.

Meanwhile, Carl grows up, gets married and still possesses the childhood goal to voyage to Paradise Falls, like his hero Muntz. Economic issues get in the way until one day, Carl is an elderly widower living in a house surrounded by a construction site.

Enter Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young boy and wilderness-explorer-in-training trying to earn a badge for helping an elderly person. Curmudgeonly Carl would rather be left alone and tricks Russell to make him get lost. After an altercation with a construction-site employee, Carl is mandated to move into a retirement facility. On the day he is to be escorted there, he surprises everyone with his bid for freedom, but he’s in store for an even bigger surprise.

Among other nominations and awards, Up received a 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. It’s success in part is due to addressing real issues of seniorizing alone, absent fathers and the nature of dogs while presenting you with stunning graphics. The dogs in Up get their own sub-plot (woof woof). The visuals are crisp and realistic. The colors pop. The writing is clever. Up is funny. You want to be in that house with Carl and Russell. If you haven’t seen it, get on board. You will appreciate the ‘cone of shame’ references.

Directors: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson

Country: US

Genre: Animated comedy

Run time: 96 minutes

Scale: 5

Monday, February 7, 2011

Whip It (2009)

Whip It is about tradition versus choice and plays like a romantic comedy until you figure out that, at heart, it’s a coming-of-age mother-daughter story. Adapted from the 2007 novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, Whip It is a Hollywood film veiled as an independent.

The Whip ItTeamSmall-town (Bodeen, Texas) teen Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) veers off the Blue Bonnet Southern Belle path to find her roller derby alter ego in neighboring Austin. She reveals her electric blue hair at a pageant, upsetting her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) who’s got her heart set on her daughter joining the “club” she so badly coveted for herself.

Bliss becomes intrigued by derby. She talks her best friend Pash (awesome awesome Alia Shawkat) into going to a derby event. Once there, Bliss is smitten. Because mama won’t approve, Bliss lies to attend try-outs. She makes the Hurl Scouts team and becomes Babe Ruthless. She starts lying about attending an SAT class but instead attends practice, goes to parties and meets a boy.

Whip It isn’t focused on the girl getting the guy, but instead on the girl discovering her core self and what drives her. The camera angles place you in the middle of the action with singular details, like the glittering skate disco ball, the Oink Joint aprons and the Squealer. The hits, the racing, the uniforms are exciting. You get a crash course in derby rules and even a food fight. The movie with its Portland, Oregon feel has its slow moments but they don’t linger.

Alia Shawkat as Pash, Bliss’s best friend, is excellent. Kristin Wiig as Maggie Mayhem is underused but delivers a few good lines. Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven is clich├ęd but she’s peculiar enough to be noticed. Jimmy Fallon plays the sleazy announcer with relish. Andrew Wilson, as Razor the Hurl Scouts' coach, is superb (and my favorite Wilson brother). Daniel Stern as Bliss’s dad is bumbling. They connect keeping each other in line while quietly united against mama’s dictatorship. The relationship between Bliss and her mother is believable and difficult. Harden makes the postal carrier uniform fashionable. Bliss’s love interest Oliver (Landon Pigg) is FLAT. He’s adorable, sweet and way too good to be true especially for a lead singer. The music…first-rate sounds weave through the scenes and into that part of you that can’t resist sense impression.

This one is for the ladies. It’s Drew Barrymore’s feature film directorial debut (in 2004, she directed Choose or Lose Presents: The Best Place to Start about American youth and why they tend not to vote) and worth seeing.

Director: Drew Barrymore

Country: US

Genre: Drama, comedy

Run time: 106 minutes

Scale: 4