Friday, September 30, 2011

Blue Car (2002)

Meg (Agnes Bruckner) discovers her blossoming talent as a poet in AP English. It gives her respite from her duties as stand-in mom at home to her mentally ill younger sister as her single mom works to make ends meet since Meg’s father abandoned them.

The pressure gets to neglected Meg as her sister Lily (Regan Arnold) cuts herself, won’t eat and obsesses about morbidity. Blue CarMeg finds solace in the attention of her English teacher, Mr. Auster (David Strathairn). She wins a contest and a chance to go to the regionals. As he mentors her writing, she develops feelings for him. I hoped that Blue Car wouldn’t go “there” to the realm of the student-teacher affair. You see it coming but for a long time, it looks as though it will be averted until it comes crashing.

The distance between the two girls and their mother grows. Meg hides more as tragedy strikes the family. She is determined to get to the regionals which leads to the movie’s crescendo. Meg’s brooding and sadness saturate the screen. I loved the process where how she writes her poem Blue Car. The way we are there with Meg’s emotions and reality is the strongest aspect of Blue Car. In need of attention and love, Meg she puts all her hopes and dreams in her teacher’s basket. He takes advantage of this, but she is metamorphosing. She has become a writer but Auster isn’t who she believed him to be. The ending brings her to a new understanding of how she fits in the world and what she needs to stand on her own.

Writer/Director: Karen Moncrieff

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 96 minutes

Scale: 3

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Californication (Season 3) (2009)

CALIFORNICATION (Season 3)This season kicks off horrifyingly bad. Hank’s immaturity and obnoxiousness are off the charts. Yet the ladies continue to swoon. The lack of storyline is disappointing. What makes it different than soft porn? The show hasn’t changed, you say, but the storylines have lame-ified and it’s just a lot of screwing. Hank’s idiocy is eye rolling. He’s a joke as a professor and no one gives a crap. It isn’t until Karen returns from New York that Hank shapes up one percentage point. Question is, will this man-boy ever get sorted? Will the edge this show used to possess return?

What about Charlie and Marcy? That situation has digressed (I didn’t think it possible). Rick Springfield plays a dirtbag. How did he think this role was a good move? Why would he want to sully his image by portraying himself as a cokehead narcissist? Kathleen Turner as Charlie’s new boss is repulsive. Like a testosterone-fueled humper, she won’t lay off Charlie. She is so unlikeable that when she has her few moments of redemption, the deficit of likability is stacked against her. Becca is the only sane one. She finally hits her rebellion while running the Moody fraternity house.

This season jumped the shark. I felt dirty after watching it. What’s in store in Season 4? The last few episodes with Mia were the best because now, Hank has something to lose: the world may get proof of the depths of his depravity. How is Karen so calm about his parade of sex parters? How is she comfortable bare-backing with him? She’s aware of several of them and knows these are only a fraction of the whole. It’s this point that keeps me wondering why she would flip over Mia. She was underage, she was nearly her step-daughter, but I’m not convinced. Even with the bevy of guest appearances (Peter Gallagher, Ed Westwick, Eva Amurri), I was underwhelmed.

My Night with the Script (September 21)

The ScriptI’m not a music snob. I’ve my favorites but I love the experience of a new band. Sometimes you score, other times you lose; occasionally you learn a band may not be your cup of Irish tea but you are struck by their passion, their following, the experience.

I was introduced to the Script one year ago. According to my Irish colleague Jeff Harvey, the Dublin band are huge in some sectors of music fandom previously unknown to me. Mr. Harvey was a schoolmate of drummer Glen Power. He promised that when The Script played Seattle next, he’d get me tickets. My day came last Wednesday. Originally slated for the Paramount, the show was moved to the Neptune at the last minute. (As a side note, The Neptune is a great venue. It’s like the Showbox light and it’s got great potential to grow into an excellent personality.

The Script is reminiscent of an R&B-styled boy band with a bit of rap. A few songs dip into the realm of U2 sounds. Most are on the slow side. There was a standout song (unfortunately as a novice, I don’t know the name)—fast, ska-ish, fun. They mused about their “dark” songs but their affect was upbeat and happy. This band appreciates their fans, love performing and enjoy their job. As an audience member, you can’t fight the jolly with this set-up. The fan demographic: young adoring-to-near-tears females; couples entwined in each others’ arms and a sprinkling of oldies. Despite only two albums, I was nonetheless surprised when the show, including encore, ended after one hour (it was a school night so no harm, no foul). Thanks for hooking me up with VIP status, Mr. H.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Winters BoneThe first time I watched Winter’s Bone, I didn’t go gaga, despite its many nominations and awards. Upon second viewing, I recognized much more of its artistic achievements.

Seventeen-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) cares for her two young siblings, Sonny and Ashlee, and her mentally absent mother in their Missouri Ozarks backwoods home. She is constantly teaching the kids self-sufficiency—spelling, hunting, cooking. Then, Jessup, her meth-cook/drug-dealer father, turns up missing. As an absentee father, his disappearance isn’t atypical, but no one has seen him and he’s put up their house as bond. When the bailsman announces that Ree has one week to find Jessup before the house is seized, she refuses to accept they will be left homeless. Tenacious, she faces off with extended family where the code of honor revolves around silence. The women fiercely guard their men, similar to how castles are protected and visitors are vetted to prove they are worthy to face the king. In Winter’s Bone, the king is Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall).

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

The set design, social commentary on poverty and glimpses at the backwoods world create suspense. The story isn’t without flaws. Jessup misstep was not his daughter’s fault. Why do they take so long to come around to helping her? Also, in this community where snitching is the ultimate betrayal, would Jessup commit this wrong? I don’t buy it. To face 10 years in the slammer is nothing to shrug at, but to go against the explicit norms upon which this clan is built would seal his fate. Desperate situations beget desperate choices, but this detail is believable as presented. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, it would be worthwhile to see if there is more to support this plot point in the book. As an aside, I greatly enjoyed the banjos and guitar that provide a respite from the gloom.

Lawrence and John Hawkes as her uncle Teardrop are excellent. Her Ree is tough and resilient among the folks who could kill her in an instant based on her challenging their pride alone. His Teardrop is torn between his divided loyalties. By the end, Ree has covered miles of backwoods on food, been beaten and bloodied and made to participate in acts she will never forget.

Co-writer/Director: Debra Granik

Country: USA

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 3.5

A Rant on How the Mobile Food Rodeo Did Not Deliver (September 17)

I didn’t set out to review the first Mobile Food Truck Festival Rodeo in Seattle held one week ago, but the more I contemplated, the more I decided I had something to say.

This disorganized mess produced a ton of waiting around at its lackluster location in Interbay. The truck representation included The Box, El Camión, Maximus/Minimus, Street Donuts, Parfait, Kaosamai Thai, Lumpia World, Molly Moon, Skillet, BUNS, Street Treats, Charlie’s Buns N’ Stuff, Fusion on the Run, Bistro Box, Curry Now, Dante’s Inferno Dogs, Veraci Pizza, The Snout & Co. and Bigfood. The festival advertised like mad through Groupon and The Stranger. The lines to get in were massive. If you were lucky enough to get free parking, you saved $10. Once inside, the band stage was empty more than it had bands performing. The cupcake-eating contest was the highlight during my tenure, where the lucky winner walked away with a years’ supply of Trophy cupcakes.

The food lines were so long you had to wade through them to get to the trucks to view their menus (many didn’t offer sampler/small items as advertised), so unless you did a cursory walk through and examined the menus (which required a lot crisscrossing lines and excuse-me’s) you didn’t know which food to choose. Ideally, each truck should post signs with their offerings so you can decide while in line—those with smart phones were clearly the winners.

I took my chances with Bigfood and was delighted at their flat bread offerings. My choice did not come without a price (I don’t mean the charge)—I waited 25 minutes to order. Then, I waited another 20 to receive my food. If you were disappointed with your food, then you were looking at another huge wait. I’d expected to wait some, but this was ridiculous.

The worst offence was the lack of sufficient recycling and food waste containers. Garbage bins were teeming with glass and plastic. Aren’t Seattleites supposed to be leaders in green? What an enormous oversight! When I asked a Food Rodeo Cowboy why the situation was so dire, he pinned the onus on the food carts; that they had failed to deliver. He then pointed out one recycling bin next to a food cart. Now that the lines had thinned, it was visible. He said he’d seen a food waste bin “somewhere” but couldn’t point me in its direction.

The event needed more hay bales, picnic tables for festive family-style seating and, perhaps, Christmas lights. More music may have helped. More food trucks may have diminished some of the waits. The trucks needed to have been dispersed better so that some lines didn’t hinder people from getting to the carts in the corners.

The positives: The food. Dog friendly. Family friendly. Philanthropic—raising $3,126 for Seattle’s Solid Ground (formerly the Fremont Public Association).The Snout and its Cuban flair was voted the crowd favorite but their line was, you guessed it—long and SLOW.

I hope the organizers learn from this year’s fiasco; they’ve 365 to tailor an improvement. Good luck.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

To verdener (Worlds Apart) (2008)

Worlds Apart is a based on a true story about a devout 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and the choice that will define her future.

Worlds ApartSara (Rosalind Spanning) and her family are zealous in their faith. When her parents separate, they ask Sara and her young siblings, Elisabeth (Sarah Juel Werner) and August (Jacob Ottensten), to decide which parent will leave the family home. Around the same time, Sara meets older Teis (Pilou Asbæk). While they clash over her religious beliefs, they spar intelligently. His counterpoints ring some truth within her. They start dating. When her father and the church elders get wind of it, they urge Sara to get rid of him; Teis asks her to rethink it. Her older brother Jonas (Thomas Knuth-Winterfeldt) has already been shunned and it has destroyed him; Sara wants to avoid that fate. She hatches a plan to appease everyone, but it won’t be easy.

Worlds Apart is about painful decisions. Because it takes its time unfolding, you behold Sara’s sorrow and suffering. Her agony is palpable. In the end, everyone loses here. Worlds Apart injects you into this fractured family, torn apart by the very thing around which they’ve centered themselves. The Danish make beautifully deep movies and this is no exception.

Co-writer/Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Country: Denmark

Genre: Drama

Run time: 115 minutes

Scale: 4.5

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speaking of Banksy…

Is it or isn’t it?




Found deep in Greenwood.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Exit Through Gift ShopIs it a documentary about street art? A mockumentary about an eccentric Frenchman who takes up street art at Banksy’s suggestion? An intelligent put-on buzzing with social commentary on celebrity and what it considered good art? Yes, yes and yes.

You meet Thierry Guetta, a vintage resale shop owner who’s never not video-documenting his life. When he begins filming his cousin—French street artist Invader, his life takes a turn. He meets other street artists. He starts filming them and getting into his role so much so that soon he's assisting them, climbing buildings and filming from high above. He documents the Who’s Who of street artists including Shepard Fairey (creator of the Obama Hope poster), Borf, Swoon (female representation), Sweet Toof. When he starts sniffing around for Banksy, the elusive English street artist, he’s told “never, it won’t happen, he doesn’t even own a phone.” But, a coup d'état occurs—they meet and it’s chemistry.

Clever and funny, Exit Through the Gift Shop is wickedly entertaining. The narration guides it like a fairy tale. Guetta is genius. Can a character like him be made up? Would these artists agree to be filmed? Who knows for sure? Many things don’t make sense—Guetta’s copyright infringement, the Disney incident, the over-the-top show (which means Brad, Angie, Christina and Jude were complicit or themselves duped)—but that adds it because you’re still unable to know what is really happening.

If you like street art, you may like this. If you like Banksy, you’ll love it. Don’t miss the what-are-they-doing-now bit at the end about Debora (Guetta’s wife). It’s a great touch.

Director: Banksy

Country: UK

Genre: Documentary with a heavy hand of comedy

Run time: 87 minutes

Scale: 5

Saturday, September 10, 2011

28 Days (2000)

28 DaysI’m guilty of saying bad things about Sandy. Things like, makes lame movies, bad actress, annoying. I liked Speed but didn’t love what seemed like the same shtick (a la Aniston) over and over. It took The Proposal for me to come around. Once this happened, I watched (at PIC’s urging) and enjoyed Practical Magic, rewatched Speed and saw 28 Days.

Before I nitpick, Sandy cannot help but be funny but she also has dramatic range.

28 Days is a drama that cannot make up its mind whether or not it’s a comedy. Drunk party girl Gwen (Sandra Bullock) ruins her sister’s Lily’s (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding. She must enter rehab or be imprisoned. She reluctantly goes to rehab and of course acts out, insistent she doesn’t have an addiction.

This rehab isn’t portrayed particularly well—it’s lax, naïve, no hold barred—drunks come and go for visits, drugs enter, no one is searched after leaving the grounds, people fall out of windows. Yet, there are some good parts. The flashback scenes showing Gwen and Lily’s childhood are hard to watch as is the wedding scene fiasco. I recoiled many times. Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk) another rehab client is hilarious. He brings comedic lightness as does Gwen’s roommate Andrea (Azura Skye) and her love of the Santa Cruz soap opera.

This isn’t a great movie, but I enjoyed it for Gwen’s turn as she starts to come out of her haze, reassess her relationship with alcoholic boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West) and begins rebuilding her relationship with Lily. It’s also got a fantastic cast: Viggo Mortenson, Steve Buscemi, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Reni Santoni (Poppie from Seinfeld), Diane Ladd and Margo Martindale.

Director: Betty Thomas

Country: USA

Genre: Dramedy

Run time: 102 minutes

Scale: 3

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)

13 ConvosDo you believe in fate? Thirteen Conversations About One Thing shows you why you should. Similar to (but not as compelling as) Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or PT Anderson’s Magnolia, the plot weaves four vignettes into one overall story.

Troy (Matthew McConaughey) has just prosecuted and won a big case. He’s headed for bigger and better. As he celebrates with his peers at a bar, he meets curmudgeon Gene (Alan Arkin) who’s irked by Troy’s glibness. He warns him: It won’t last. Troy is riding high and Gene’s negativity cannot touch him; that is, not until later that same night when a moment of distraction topsy-turvies his world.

Divorcee Gene works in insurance claims. His son is a drug addict. He strikes out at his jolly glass-half-full employee to prove that his happiness is fake. Only, it doesn’t work out as Gene expected.

Idealistic cleaning woman, Bea (Clea DuVall) is crushing on a client. After waking up in the hospital on the verge of death, her optimism wanes, but not as much as when she learns that her client believes she lacks integrity—a true moment of loss of innocence.

Physics professor Walker (John Turturro) and wife Patricia (Amy Irving) have an empty marriage. He’s carrying on with another professor. He seems to be on mute, barely alive. When he finds a victim, a students—a med-school hopeful—he unleashes his ire on him, much like Gene did on Troy. Walker will suffer a triple whammy. His robotic wife suffers one of her own.

The characters (many familiar faces) tussle with tragedy. They must react, suffer and rethink their modus operandi before the story is over. Some characters are hard to connect with and the cleaning woman and professor’s storylines are the weakest but it’s a thoughtful study of human behavior.

Co-writer/Director: Jill Sprecher

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 104 minutes

Scale: 3

Hanyo (The Housemaid) (2010)

Hanyo grips and doesn’t let you turn away. Immediately, you know that new housemaid Eun-yi Li (Do-yeon Jeon) is in a strange home with peculiar people when Hanyoshe starts alongside the seasoned older maid Byung-sik (Yeo-Jong Yun) who’s worked in the home for years.

Eun-yi Li is seduced by her new employer Hoon (Jung-Jae Lee) and the two begin an affair. By day, she tends to his pregnant wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo), and daughter, Nami (Seo-Hyeon Ahn). By night, Hoon pays Eun-yi clandestine visits (always with wine bottle in hand). While the young maid is enjoying her double-duty, the older maid is not keen on her apprentice’s extracurricular activities. She plays both sides—loyal to her employers but knowing them, what they are capable of and telling Eun-yi to be careful. When Eun-yi gets pregnant, Byung-sik betrays her. Eun-yi faces the wrath of Hae-ra and her mother, who proves to be shockingly vengeful in her efforts to get Eun-yi to terminate her pregnancy.

The commentary on socio-economic differences is at the forefront in this horror thriller, reminding Eun-yi she is worth little, if anything, but never giving us much to understand what her life was like previous to this job, except that she shared a tiny place and bed with an equally fiscally strapped pal. The set design is brilliant—the stately home as a cold prison. In a scene eerily similar to the balcony fall in The Omen, you are foreshadowed for the climax. The characters are disturbed and you will be too. The final scene is a neo-Adams family mishmash.

(One seemingly unresolved detail: Hoon and his mother-in-law congratulate Byung-sik on her son’s new post as prosecutor. Her reaction to Hoon Goh is anger. Why? Was her son Hoon Goh’s brother? That would bring this story full circle.)

Writer/Director: Sang-soo Im

Country: South Korea

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 105 minutes

Scale: 3

The History Boys (2006)

History BoysSet in the 1980s with a soundtrack featuring New Order, The Smiths, The Clash, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure, The History Boys follows a group of boisterous young men preparing to present their A-levels in history for admittance into Oxford and Cambridge. What are A-levels, you ask? Wikipedia defines them as follows:

A-levels (Advanced Levels) are courses which are taken by British 16-18 year-olds who hold 'advanced' levels of intelligence. The courses are the way to get to university and thus set their proud owner up for a life of unimaginable riches, unimaginable luxury and unimaginable sex. All because you have A-levels.

In this character-driven drama, you get to know the gifted students in their hunger to achieve and learning about themselves. Main character Dakin (Dominic Cooper) believes his smarts and good looks will get him anything. Posner (Samuel Barnett) who has a crush on Dom and his verve. Teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths) loves drama and poetry and has the boys recite poetry or break into song, but this is no time for singing. The headmaster is worried that if they don’t get it, he won’t be able to clock any victories for his school. He brings in Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) to fine-tune them to impress with new perspectives on history. As the young men work harder to excel, you start seeing a parallel: Just as in history with wars and battles, they want to win and conquer.

The History Boys plays like a live theater production (makes sense as screenplay was written by Alan Bennett and based on his award-winning play). Most of the film happens in the classroom. The banter is well timed. There are several short musical numbers and movie scenes providing meta drama. There’s also an element of pedophilia in the form of fondling. It’s happening isn’t betrayed but everyone knows about it. Is this another historical parallel? The ending is a shock and then reminiscent of the series finale of Six Feet Under. The History Boys is worth a view. The original Broadway production opened in New York in 2006 and won the 2006 Tony Award for the Best Play. Eleven of the actors recreated their Broadway roles in the movie. Barnett was nominated for the 2006 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 109 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our Idiot Brother (2011)

our-idiot-brotherThe problem with Our Idiot Brother is its title. It gives a false impression that what you are in store for is a 1-D farcical romp. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—in the right mood, we can benefit from a frolic in that type of comedy. Ned (Paul Rudd) has hippy sensibilities and poor logical reasoning. This unfortunate marriage lands him in the pokey. Fast forward eight months. He’s released and learns that his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) has taken up with Billy (TJ Miller, also the concierge/drug dealer from Get Him to the Greek). This means Ned is homeless and has lost custody of his adored dog, Willie Nelson. He moves in with his mother and, consequently, with each of his three sisters toNeddisastrous results—one by one, they blame him for ruining their lives. Steve Coogan as Dylan, Liz’s pretentious and arrogant husband, will make you cringe (in genuine Coogan style). Rashida Jones as Cindy takes a turn with a quirky turn. Adam Scott as Jeremy is underused and not that different from his Parks and Recreation shtick.

The character development and clever writing explore the sisters’ festering relationship issues. You may not like all of the characters but Ned brings you around. We come full circle for a satisfying conclusion. You may even leave the theater smiling as I did. Stay put for the extras during the final credits.

Director: Jesse Peretz

Country: USA

Genre: Comedy with bits of drama

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 4

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oktapodi (2007)

OktapodiIn this animated short set on a lovely Greek Island, you are presented with a frenzied tale depicting the lengths an octopus reaches for the one he loves. When yanked from her tank and beloved partner, the remaining octopus is relentless in his quest to get her back while battling the culprit as he drives through a Greek island town to delivery his catch. The animation is lush and crisp with excellent fluidity, crispness and a brilliant ending. While the short is wordless, the musical soundtrack’s tempo keeps up with the action. Get more information and watch it here.

The short received many awards, including a nomination for Best Animated Short in 2009’s Academy Awards.

Directors: Julien Bocabeille, François-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier, Emud Mokhberi

Country: France

Genre: Animated short

Run time: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Scale: 5

The 27 Club (2008)

The 27 Club is a study in sadness told in flashbacks during a cross-country road trip. Elliot (Joe Anderson) is reeling from the death of best friend and bandmate Tom (James Forgey) just 27 Clubafter Tom’s 27th birthday. The two grew up like brothers in a dysfunctional home before finding success as the band Finn.

As Elliot starts on his road trip from LA to Joplin, Missouri, to take care of his dead friend’s last request, the alcohol, drugs and shock of losing his best friend prove too much. Hungover, he stumbles into a grocery store; following an altercation, the cashier calms a flustered Elliot. In turn, Elliot offers the cashier $10,000 to drive him “east.”

Elliot is strikingly reminiscent of a young, sleep-deprived Kurt Cobain while the straight-laced, nameless driver looks like a young Leonard Nimoy. For the late-bloomer driver, this journey becomes his coming-of-age experience. The two merely co-exist as Elliot wrestles his demons. Anderson’s Elliot emotes with his haunting expression—mirroring the pain and turmoil from within. It isn't until they pick-up hitchhiker Stella (Eve Hewson, daughter of U2’s Bono) that the two begin to bond. Although she recognizes Elliot from Finn, she doesn’t immediately acknowledge nor share the information.

The 27 Club contains little crescendo and ends quietly. While soulful, it feels like a freshman film effort, which doesn’t harm the story. The emotional journey through Elliot’s mourning is symbolically interlaced with scenic American landscapes to nibble on.

Writer/Director: Erica Dunton

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 84 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Extasis (Ecstacy) (1996)

ExtasisThree scamps hatch an ill thought-out plan to rob their families and open a beachside bar. Rober (Javier Bardem), Ona (Leire Berrocal) and Max (Daniel Guzmán) rob and empty the till at Ona’s father’s store, but when the theft of Rober’s uncle doesn’t go as planned, Max ends up in jail.

Rober impersonates Max and tracks down Max’s estranged father, Daniel (Federico Luppi), a renown theater director. Rober is confident this plan will work as Max hasn’t seen his father since he was nine and he will get the money to liberate Max. When Rober introduces himself as Max to Max’s father, it’s as if another movie starts. Ona and Max become secondary as mastermind Rober begins the guise as Max. Daniel and Max interact as if engaged in a chess match. Rober falls under the allure of Max’s father, even landing a role in Daniel’s new play and being seduced by Daniel’s girlfriend.

The plot has some holes but it’s got clever twists and escalation of tension. Barden’s talent shines in one of his earlier film roles, especially opposite the shrewd character of Daniel. The ending is anti-climactic, unsatisfying but worthwhile to see Rober’s metamorphosis.

Co-Writer/Director: Mariano Barroso

Country: Spain

Genre: Drama

Run time: 93 minutes

Scale: 3