Monday, December 3, 2012

Pariah (2011)

Pariah is a young adult coming-out tale. The moving story is told withPariah movie documentary-like realism. It takes an unflinching look at the difficulties faced by teenagers coming out as gay to reluctant-to-accept parents.

Alike (Adepero Oduye) isn't confused about her sexuality. However, she has been dressing in pink and semi-fluffy to appease her church-going mother Audrey (Kim Wayans). She leaves the house with a hidden change of oversized clothes, her doo-rag and baseball cap with which she becomes her true self she can be once away from home. Audrey wages her low-simmer battle to keep Alike girlie and away from bad influences, like her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), a lesbian and Alike’s main support. Audrey doesn’t accept the unspoken truth about Alike. As she puts it, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Wayans is terrific as the overbearing, pushy mother. There were moments when I expected her to launch into the comedic Wayans territory. She’d make a certain face and, I’d waited for her trademark berserk expression.

Meanwhile, Audrey and Alike’s father, Arthur (Charles Parnell) are in marital discord, which makes Audrey focus on Alike to avoid the bigger issue she’s dodging. Alike's close relationship with her father saves her from complete parental alienation; that is, until she tries to come out to him.

Writer/director Dee Rees creates a confident teen character in Alike, who tries to be true to herself and keep her parents. Her solid network of lesbian pals and an influential teacher keep her moving forward. It’s heartbreaking to see her parents deny her in her efforts to be honest. Pariah depicts the harsh realities that occur after some teens come out to their families. I’ve read about teens being kicked out of the house and shunned after coming out.

In Pariah, Alike's biggest ally is herself. With her excellent grades and good friends, she creates options for herself. Sadly, life doesn’t always present bankable options like those that open up to Alike.

Great indie film. Check it.

Writer/Director: Dee Rees

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 86 minutes

Scale: 4

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Dangerous Method (2011)

A Dangerous MethodA Dangerous Method analyses the friendship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the start of psychoanalysis and the disagreement that ended their friendship.

I didn’t like it. I nearly didn’t make it past the first scene. Jung is conducting his initial intake with extremely agitated Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). She’s emotionally unstable but Knightley’s extreme facial contortions and sputtering are distracting and exaggerated. Her accent goes from Eastern European to American to Latina at random. Her cray cray is ferocious but not believable.

How would they introduce the “talking cure?” How did these two men engage upon their first meeting? How would they detail their collaboration? What caused their schism? I was excited to see it all.

Initially, we are teased into believing that there exists an intellectual connection binding Jung and his wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon). He’s not passionate about becoming a father. Soon, with Sabina’s help, he’s performing psychological tests on Emma that reveal she is ambivalent about their relationship and having a child. After that, she is just his child bearer, obsessed with giving him a son.

Jung starts connecting with the psychologically improving Sabina, who reveals she wants to be a doctor. We learn that as a result of the violence inflicted upon her by her father, she is a masochist.

There’s a lot very wrong here. The acting is lacking. The characters are unlikeable. The relationship between Freud and Jung is tepid. The usually fiery Mortensen is half a step above catatonic. His accent is English and not Austrian. We get few insights into Freud. His scenes with Fassbender aren’t dynamic. Fassbender turns around the best acting but still cannot help this movie. The writing is terrible. Take for instance, this whopper delivered by Sabina:

“I felt it against my back. Something…slimy like a, like a…like some kind of a mollusk moving against my back.”

There’s too much going on here. Jung’s attraction to Sabina, Sabina’s attraction to him, Jung trying to keep their affair from Freud and Emma, Freud interpreting dreams, Jung’s wife trying to keep him, yet the missing link is audience interest.

Director: David Cronenberg

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 99 very long minutes

Scale: 2

The Help (2011)

The HelpThe Help introduces us to three spritely ladies in 1960s civil-rights-era Mississippi: recent college graduate and wanna-be writer Skeeter (Emma Stone), Aibileen (Viola Davis), an African-American maid who’s been documenting her life since the death of her son and Abilene’s best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), a feisty maid who pushes the segregation boundaries. The rumblings of change are about to disrupt all three of their lives.

Skeeter lands a job as a household tips columnist but is thirsting to write something meaningful. Maintaining her friendship with her best friend, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), is becoming more challenging, as Hilly is increasingly cruel and pushy. Charlotte (Allison Janney), Skeeter’s mother, is worried about Skeeter’s single status. Skeeter quietly begins a writing project from the perspective of “the help.” Her clandestine meetings with Aibileen yield disturbing tales about what really happens in Elizabeth Leefolt’s (Ahna O'Reilly) house while Aibileen is raising Elizabeth’s girl, Mae Mobley.

Skeeter’s writing yields interest from a New York editor but she’s pushing Skeeter for content sooner than she can get the help (besides Aibileen) to open up. They’re reluctant for fear of retribution and losing their jobs. Can Skeeter get the information needed to bring to light the ugly tales of segregation?

Minny is fired after using the “whites-only” toilet at Hilly’s house. She goes to work for the black sheep of the community, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who has been trying to break into the Southern belle bridge clique after getting knocked up by and marrying Johnny (Mike Vogel), Hilly’s ex-boyfriend. Minny gets her revenge on Hilly for firing her. It will have you rethinking pie. Minny and Celia make a funny duo. They do a lot of cooking and talking. As an aside, corn pone is mentioned a lot. I had never heard of it and had to look it up (it’s an eggless cornbread typically fried).

The Help is enjoyable. Stone, Davis and Spencer are standouts. The rest of the actors are excellent. If you like it, you might consider reading “The Help,” the 2009 novel the movie is based upon by Kathryn Stockett.

Screenplay writer/Director: Tate Taylor

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 145 minutes

Scale: 4

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Sessions (2012)

Helen-Hunt-John-Hawkes-The-SessionsDon’t read this review. Look up movie times for The Sessions and go. As you watch the screen (popcorn in one hand, soda in the other, empty wallet on your person), you lose yourself in the room with the naked Helen Hunt and John Hawkes.

Based on the true story of Mark O’ Brien (Hawkes) who after recovering from polio as a boy is confined to an iron lung. He could leave the metal box for only three hours at a time. He’s a poet and journalist. In his late 30s, he’s approached to write a piece on the disabled and sex surrogates. Around the same time, he decides he’s done being a virgin. He meets with a sex surrogate, Cheryl (Hunt). His “research” yields an essay called "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate".

iron lung diagramAn iron lung (above) is no laughing matter, yet my companion and I, and especially a guy behind us in the small theater laughed a lot.

Strong plot. Great acting. The secondary characters deserve their own movies. Mark’s first caregiver Amanda (Annika Marks) is an emotional seesaw. Rod (W. Earl Brown) is the tough caregiver who pushes Mark. Vera (Moon Bloodgood) is calm and supportive. William H. Macy’s Father Brendan backs Mark’s goal once, he gets past the sex-before-marriage part. Carmen (Jennifer Kumiyama) is the sexually empowered gal in a wheelchair who tells Mark what she likes in bed. Even Rhea Perlman has a bit part. But, it’s the hotel clerk (Ming Lo) who won me over. Even the ‘80s are accurately portrayed with shoulder pads, paisley shirts, clunky boots, cargo pants.

The Sessions spotlights sex surrogacy and gives a peek into the job and its difficulties. Hawkes and Hunt are spectacular. Hunt’s body is amazing (she’s 49) but nonetheless, she’s brave because most of her scenes require full frontal nudity. Both leads deserve acting awards. Hawkes is filmed horizontally for most of the film. It’s distracting but the cinematic discomfort provides the angle with which the world saw him and how it may have been hard to connect.

I teared up. I laughed. I loved it. For a serious topic, this one is hilarious and lighthearted, not the standard for one about disability. Don’t miss it.

Screenplay writer/Director: Ben Lewin

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 95 minutes

Scale: 5

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation) (2011)

The 2011 Oscar winner for best foreign film, A Separation opens with a couple requesting a divorce. Simin (Leila Hatami) is leaving Iran as planned. Nader’s (Payman Maadi) father has Alzheimer's and he won’t leave him behind. We don’t get details about their lives before they could look at one another without contempt and communicate without screaming, but we get idea it was a decent marriage. Now, their issue is what to do about Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), their eleven-year-old daughter? Does she go with her mother or stay in Iran with her father? The judge orders Termeh to decide.

A SeparationOnce Simin moves out, Nader hires stranger Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for his father while he’s at work. Razieh brings her young daughter to work. Giant problems begin immediately.

Each character has his/her quandaries. Nader’s father doesn’t speak, but the drama surrounds him. Razieh is conflicted, burdened and trying to do the right thing but knowing what that is becomes extremely hard. Termeh is often the adult, holding her parents to the moral code with which she’s been raised.

A Separation takes on perspective, desperation and tradition. The cultural differences, especially around legal matters and customs, are fascinating. Judges are in the vein of Judge Judy, prisoners are handcuffed to easygoing guards and the legal system operates with loose norms related to evidence collection and witness testimony.

This movie is not filmed in the omniscient point of view where we know what all the characters feel/do/expect. It pits perspective against honesty and asks tough questions. You will interpret the situation and nothing that happens is predictable. In the end, I re-watched nearly the whole movie again to try and get those missing bits. You are left contemplating a lot. Impressive. See it.

Writer/Director: Asghar Farhadi

Country: Iran

Genre: Drama

Run time: 123 minutes

Scale: 5

Portlandia (Season 1) (2011)

PortlandiaFred Armisen. Carrie Brownstein. Skits satirizing Portland. Quirky guests. Filmed in Portland. All terrific reasons to watch season 1 of Portlandia. I was a latecomer, expecting that like SNL, it would be unfunny skits that relentlessly beat you with empty gags.

Portlandia works because Brownstein and Armisen have chemistry. They’re having fun making mediocre skits memorable. Their love letter to Portland comes through soaked in sarcasm. The short musical numbers are pleasant surprises. Brownstein combines ripping guitar with her distinctive vocals. Armisen brings his musical flair.

Kyle MacLachlan is Portland’s bike-riding mayor. Amy Mann is a cleaning lady to Brownstein and Armisen, who cannot believe she is cleaning houses. Sarah McLachlan makes a related guest appearance. Jason Sudeikis is a cult leader on an organic farm. Brownstein and Armisen’s hippy bookstore clerks make Steve Buscemi buy something after using the bathroom. Aubrey Plaza and Heather Graham visit the bookstore. Gus Van Sant interviews film makers (Armisen and Brownstein) about their movie starring Selma Blair. Even the real Portland mayor, Sam Adams, appears. Cacao.

I watched season 1 in a marathon viewing over a weekend. It has been suggested that to watch it in this condensed fashion gives more cohesion, especially with recurring characters. That when watched one at a time each week as they air doesn’t build momentum. I will watch seasons 2 as I did season 1, clustered episodes and laughing out loud.


We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About KevinWe Need to Talk About Kevin confronts taboo topics: a mother’s inability to bond with her child and a mother dealing with the aftermath of her child carrying out a school massacre. Told in flashbacks, you are tipped off early that something awful has happened. The clues come together for the disturbing conclusion.

Kevin (Ezra Miller) isn’t an easy child. He enters the world crying and doesn’t stop. As he ages, he resists her relentless efforts to play, engage and be her son. He refuses to potty train, so at a late age, Eva is still changing his diapers. He creates a schism between Eva and Kevin’s father, Franklin (John C. Reilly). She looks to him for support; Franklin doesn’t see the gravity developing: Kevin is a sociopath. He victimizes his mother and when little sister Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) is born, Eva is unable to protect her from Kevin’s wrath. You think Franklin is spared in Kevin’s manipulative system but Kevin has cast him for a different part.

We Need to Talk About Kevin elicits discomfort and helplessness. It seems to ask, what would you do? Eva’s frustration is palpable, but I wondered if anyone else was noticing that Kevin was off. Would Kevin get away with his behaviors at school? We never hear how he’s doing at school or about friends. Does he have any friends? These details are too important to ignore. We know little about Kevin’s life outside his relationship with Eva. Is it realistic that Eva would be the only one to feel his wrath? What about Franklin’s zeal in getting Kevin more powerful bows, even after he’s hurt his sister? Would he be this clueless? Seems implausible that Franklin shows little concern. This is where it feels more like a horror flick.

This is Eva’s story. It gives insight into how parents of perpetrators of mass killings might get treated in the community afterwards. The acts against her are extreme and cruel, considering what you learn at the end. The movie is based on the eponymously named 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver. The book likely delves into and mitigates my aforementioned beefs. There’s a lot about this one that kept me rapt until the credits, but the story has its holes.

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 112 minutes

Scale: 3

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Blogger: Michelle Fredette: Looper (2012)

I loved Looper.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in LooperThe basic premise is this: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe. In 2044, he’s a looper. This means he stands in a cane field at a designated time. There’s a tarp. A guy appears on the tarp, sent from the future, his head covered, his hands tied behind his back. The moment he appears, Joe blows him away. Then he takes his payment, a handful of silver bars strapped to the guy’s back, wraps the guy up and disposes of his body. Every couple of days a new guy. In the future, time travel has become possible but is illegal. A bunch of young men like Joe, who don’t have much to look forward to and don’t take a lot of persuading, have been recruited by a menacing Jeff Daniels and his crime syndicate to dispose of troublesome rivals. The loopers have a pretty good time when they’re not blowing guys away, relative to the poverty and general degradation they would otherwise face.

There’s a catch though. To tie up loose ends loopers have to kill their future selves. Because the guys sent back to be offed always arrive hooded and in the same orange jacket, they don’t know it’s their future self until they flip the guy over and find gold instead of silver bars. That’s the signal that they’re done looping. They can go live it up for the next 30 years, until it’s time for them to be sent back to pay the piper. Who is themselves.

Bruce Willis is future Joe. He has found something to live for, and he doesn’t want to be offed. Plus, there’s a wrinkle, a future super criminal called the Rain Maker has it in for the loopers. He’s sending them back with a vengeance. Bruce Willis Joe escapes before he’s blown away. He’s on a quest to find the boy who will grow up to be the Rain Maker and kill him off, and by so doing, reset his future. Young Joe has to find old Joe and kill him because what happens if he doesn’t is quite quite gruesome.

At one point, present and future Joe sit across from each other at a diner. This prolonged profile shot gives us a chance to admire the resemblance between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis created by a prosthetic nose worn by Joseph Gorden-Levitt. Also they did something with his eyebrows. I’m not sure it was necessary. There’s no love lost between these two versions of the same guy. To young Joe, old Joe is an impediment. He feels no connection to him and certainly no empathy. He’s all about the now, and that now demands that old Joe go. Old Joe knows all too well who he’s dealing with in Young Joe –- a callow, insensitive guy who (we see through shots of the 30 years between them) never cares about anyone or anything until well into middle age.

There are some artful aspects to Looper. You would expect no less from Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed Looper as well as the fantastically stylish if somewhat overdone Brick. The world of 2044, when Joe is young, is a desperate place. Things are run down. People are impoverished and slightly feral. Buses just sit across the middle of roads, abandoned. The loopers party. They take drugs through eye drops. We learn this through loops of their experiences, which are pretty much the same from day-to-day, giving another meaning to the title.

Much of the second half of the movie takes place on a farm where young Joe lies in wait for old Joe. I heard some grumbles that things slowed down too much at this point. For me, this is where things got interesting because they got personal. Emily Blunt is there.

My biggest rave about Looper is the ending, which is emotionally satisfying and complete. It’s got an elegance that movies dealing with time travel rarely manage because they are too busy trying to be clever. Looper isn’t just clever, it’s smart, breaking a few time travel tropes, particularly the one where time travelers strive not to alter the future, with great confidence. After all, the future has little to recommend it – what’s to protect?

Michelle Fredette

Michelle Fredette is not a hired killer. She does not perform on a tightrope, or get shot from a cannon. She rarely engages in extramarital affairs with CIA chiefs. She wrote this review.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

It’s 1956. Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) has just married playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). She’s deep into her drug use and her demons are winning. Sir Laurence Olivier (the always amazing Kenneth Branagh) hires Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a recent Oxford graduate, as third assistant on production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

My Week with Marilyn

The set is a flitter with expectation of meeting the iconic and attractive Monroe. She shows up late, flubs her lines, disagrees with Olivier on whether her character would actually utter those lines and then, stops showing up. Olivier’s frustration yields to anger and impatience. His wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) is jealous of Monroe’s youth and the way her husband looks at her.

Monroe’s instability and depression call the shots. Some days she’s unable to leave her bed and lacks the psychological stamina to act. Her acting coach Paula (Zoë Wanamaker) is usually able to keep her together. Miller leaves and Monroe is inconsolable. Now, no one can help her.

Enter Colin Clark. Clark like the rest of the crew is smitten with her. She is having difficulty dealing with the public’s expectations. She’s surrounded by yes people. Colin is guileless. He answers her questions honestly yet diplomatically. Monroe is no dummy no matter her drug haze. She detects his ability to be honest, despite the disdain he receives from the others. He soon learns firsthand everything he has been warned about.

I was surprised by the humor in My Week with Marilyn. You get witty banter and well-timed quips. This is much needed, especially with the portrayal of Monroe as an emotional vampire. She’s able to make anyone feel special, yet also able to drain energy in an attempt to heal her deep sorrows and emotional voids. Her pain is palpable, as are the frustration and sorrow she creates for those who fall under her spell. She lives in a fish bowl where she needs to be loved, yet the constant attention and desire does nothing to fill her voids. She continues in her cycle of moving on—from one man to the next—still seeking the love that will end her pain. Oy, Marilyn.

This movie is based on two journal-style books Clark wrote documenting his time on the set and with Marilyn: The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn.

Director: Simon Curtis

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 4

Albert Nobbs (2011)

Going in, I knew the Glenn Close played a man in Ireland in the 1800s to eek out a living when jobs for women were scarce. As it rolled, I stared at Glenn Close, assessing whether or not I’d be able to decipher that her character was a woman had I not known her already. Soon though, I got lost in the story and forgot about Close.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

McTeer & Close_Albert NobbsAlbert Nobbs (Close) is a quiet professional working as a waiter in a Dublin hotel. One day, a housepainter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer)comes round to do work at the hotel. Mr. Page is forced to bunk with Mr. Nobbs for the night; Nobbs isn’t happy about this arrangement. He’s really a lady who has lived as a man for the past 30 years. Due to an errant flea in a corset, Mr. Page finds out. Mr. Nobbs has a meltdown, scared that Mr. Page will reveal his secret. Nobbs is close to meeting his dreams of opening a tobacco shop, gaining a bride and running the shop together.

Mr. Page goes on to reveal his own secrets. Suddenly, Mr. Nobbs has an ally, someone with whom to share his reality and dreams. Mr. Page and his wife encourage Mr. Nobbs to go for it. He fancies Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a maid at the hotel, but young Helen has fallen for a new hotel employee, bad seed Joe Mackins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)—an alcoholic who encourages Helen to lead on Mr. Nobbs in hopes that Nobbs will give Helen money which they can use to flee to America. Helen turns up pregnant. A devastating ending follows.

Based on "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Close played the role on Broadway in the 1980s and worked since then to get the movie made.

This is the first period piece I’ve seen about transvestites (or were they lesbians?). That point is never overtly stated. I wondered how Mr. Page figured out his arrangement with his wife. How would Nobbs plan to do that with Helen?

McTeer needed more screen time. With Mr. Page’s gait and confidence next to introverted Nobbs, the acting is strong. It’s hard to believe that Mr. Nobbs is played by the same actress who boiled the bunny in Fatal Attraction—that’s range! Brendan Gleeson is hardly recognizable as the hotel doctor; Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays himself as a hard-drinking hotel guest.

Director: Rodrigo García

Country: UK

Genre: Drama

Run time: 113 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Monday, June 4, 2012

Last Night (2010)

Married couple Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) attend a Last Nightparty where Joanna notices he and his colleague, Laura (Eva Mendes), share an attraction. Learning that they are off on a business trip the next day leads to a quarrel. They sleep separately. They put a band-aid on it. Joanna is stung but decides to trust Michael.

That same morning, Joanna takes a break from writing to pick up coffee. She runs into former flame Alex (dishy Guillaume Canet). He’s in town one more night before he returns to Paris. They dine with Alex’s friends, reminisce, walk a dog, flirt, attend a party. Their chemistry is palpable. They discuss what went wrong; they share unresolved feelings.

The movie cuts between Joanna and Alex & Laura and Michael. In Philadelphia, Laura makes clear her attraction. Michael says little but stares like a starving dog. The Michael/Laura storyline isn’t as compelling as Joanna/Alex. Worthington’s Michael and Mendes’s Laura are boring, 1-D characters. She wants him. He wants her but he’s lamely trying to resist his urges (until he no longer does).

Issues: Alex running into Joanna is too convenient, especially on the heels of Joanna and Michael’s fight. Joanna offers to mind Michael’s co-worker’s dog the night before the business trip. He takes her up on it but by that time, wouldn’t he have had something lined up? How do Joanna and Michael afford this loft space on one salary? They’re wee details but they beg the questions.

Last Night is talky. It delves into a relationship that didn’t make it and another that might not survive. The Joanna/Alex storyline has depth and their activities are better than Laura and Michael’s silly pool scene. The party Joanna and Alex attend looks like great fun. In the end, we know little about Joanna and Michael. What brought them together? Do they have the wherewithal to work through this?

Despite not knowing what happens, I liked the ending. Does she come clean to Michael about Alex? Does she leave Michael to work through her feelings about Alex? Does she complete her novel in Paris? Do they pretend nothing happened? Go toward the light, Jo.

Writer/Director: Massy Tadjedin

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 93 minutes

Scale: 3

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 timer til Paradis (Teddy Bear) (2012)

It was sheer coincidence that I noticed this Danish offering in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival listings. It caught my eye because it sounded reminiscent of Dennis, the short film about a shy Danish bodybuilder with mother issues. Turns out the short is the basis for this feature-length film.

Teddy BearDennis (Kim Kold) is 38, lonely and unable to get a second date, much less a girlfriend. He takes his recently-married uncle’s advice to go to Thailand and find a lady. He sneaks off telling his pint-sized yet overbearing and controlling mother, Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft) that he’s heading to Germany for a bodybuilding contest.

In Thailand, Dennis’s efforts result in call-girl types. When he meets Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), they struggle with Dennis’s feelings of being objectified. This, however, is nothing compared to the tumult that erupts when he returns home (with a tan) and fesses up to his mother that he met a girl. She proceeds to tell him he must end it immediately. Dennis defies her. When she eventually learns the truth in a mall lingerie shop, it’s his chance to claim his freedom but is he strong enough to finally stand up to Ingrid?

Teddy Bear suffers from an unfortunately translated title but it’s an excellent character study about a tortured man. Kold embodies Dennis so well, you forget you are watching fiction.

The Hulk has nothing on this behemoth.

Co-writer/Director: Mads Matthiesen

Country: Denmark

Genre: Drama

Run time: 91 minutes

Scale: 3

Kærlighed på film (Just Another Love Story) (2007)


Meet Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen)—married father of two, crime scene photographer, suburbanite, owner of a beater car that works one minute and stalls the next. His wife Mette (Charlotte Fich) rallies for a new car. Jonas knows they cannot afford it. Following a car accident, Jonas takes a mistaken identity moment and runs with it, discovering a passionate new life for which he’s pined.

Jonas goes to visit the stranger Julia (Rebecka Hemse) at the hospital. She is near death following the wreck. When Jonas is mistaken for her boyfriend, Sebastian, he is unable to tell the truth. As her family begs him not to give up on her, they rally around her and become acquainted with “Sebastian,” the boyfriend they have only heard about. Julia comes to. She is blind and has amnesia. She gets to know Jonas’s version of Sebastian and falls in love, not remembering right away that she may have killed the real Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).

Backstory is told via flashbacks. There are odd secondary characters. Jonas’s friends, Frank (Dejan Cukic) and Poul (Karsten Jansfort) are idiots. Poul laughs all the time, mostly at inappropriate moments. Frank has the same expression regardless of what is happening. Then, there’s Doctor Dichmann (Flemming Enevold), over the top in all his reactions. He deserves his own film but seems badly cast here.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

The real Sebastian returns and the movie comes to life. Hemse’s Julia isn’t compelling enough to carry the story. By the end, her pained expressions and convulsions are tiresome. The supermarket scene where Jonas breaks up with his wife feels genuinely pained. Overall, the movie is slow. It has its noir elements, but the proportions don’t fit gracefully together.

Writer/Director: Ole Bornedal

Country: Denmark

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 100

Scale: 2.5

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

The Unfortunate Five of Cabin in the WoodsCabin in the Woods teases you as it begins like the Bruce-Campbell-helmed Evil Dead trilogy. You still move down a singular path of gore and destruction but the path presents different obstacles. Five college kids—the dumb jock, the smart jock, the slut, the good girl (sort of), the stoner nerd. One cabin in the woods.

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

You soon learn that you are watching a reality show. Unknown to the hapless five, they are at the mercy of two producers in a control room who are working the events for maximum effect. To the producers’ chagrin, the kids aren’t succumbing as quickly as hoped to the overreaching plot they have hatched in an effort to save the world from eminent destruction.

Filled with a typhoon of unexpected events, The Cabin in the Woods throws plenty at you: a bevy of frightening and disturbingly armed fast-moving zombies and unexpected roadblocks. With homage to many horror flicks of the past, there’s creativity in the plotting including a visually non-stop sequence where creatures from the depths of your worst nightmares are unleashed. (The ding of an elevator is forever altered.)

The ending is unsatisfying. After the chaotic ride, the theatrics and the resilience of the final two, it left me feeling incomplete.

Co-writer/Director: Drew Goddard

Country: USA

Genre: Horror

Run time: 95

Scale: 4

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Serbuan maut (The Raid: Redemption) (2011)

theraidredemptionThe Raid begins as  SWAT team members sit geared up in their van, discussing the plan: how they will maneuver through the dark building before them. Many of them won’t make it through the mission: To bring down the drug-lord-run-historically-impenetrable 15-floor building and break up the crime syndicate.

The armed and uniformed men are tense. You get the hothead, a wanna-be hero, the calm & goal-oriented one. The music is fast and frenzied to match the mood. As they enter, the plot plays out like a video game—the team has 15 floors to climb and dethrone their man. He won’t go easily. In fact, once the team is discovered, the cunning slumlord unleashes his wrath.

What makes The Raid a stand out is the visually stunning martial arts. The actors perform their own stunts. Additionally, The Raid contains a delicious plot with a surprising kick delivered mid-way. (Another lovely result when you get same writer & director.)

The Raid has close-ups of stabbings, vicious beatings and a high level of blood that won’t let up. You might occasionally close your eyes and look away. The desensitized will indulge in its gore. Either way, you won’t be bored. What’s unclear is the name, The Raid: Redemption. The satisfying ending is left ripe for a sequel. What will that one be called now that Redemption has been used?

Writer/Director: Gareth Evans

Country: Indonesia

Genre: Thriller/Action

Run time: 101

Scale: 5

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Akmareul boatda (I Saw the Devil) (2010)

I Saw the DevilThe movie rolls after nightfall. A lone woman stranded in a remote area in her defective auto. A helpful stranger appears. He offers assistance. Her father is a retired cop & her husband is a covert agent; she knows better than to take an offer from a stranger. In her most polite fashion, she thanks him and waits for the tow truck. That tow will never arrive.

Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee) goes on a quest to avenge his wife’s murder. He stalks Kyung-chul (Old Boy’s Min-sik Choi), the serial killer responsible. Kyung-chul has eluding police for a long time. Soo-hyeon’s is obsessed with revenge. He operates above the law. The two brutalize one another in this human hunt to see if “good” will triumph. I Saw the Devil contains many graphic & violent scenes. Often hard to watch but equally compelling to wait for the outcome.

The only missing aspect are background details. The killer has been at it a long time but how did this start? What motivates him? At one point, you meet one of his co-conspirators, another serial killer. They engage in a conversation about the savoriness of human flesh. Serial killers don’t have social clubs. They don’t go to the bar and admit to the bartender the issues s/he is having with a compulsion to kill. It’s a solitary, lonely habit, yet here, colleagues? It’s a peculiar, yet fascinating, exchange. The only way to describe the ending is artistic savagery. If you’ve finished reading this review, you must see I Saw The Devil.

Director: Jee-woon Kim

Country: South Korea

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Run time: 141

Scale: 4

Friends with Benefits (2011)

Mila Kunis as "Jamie" and Justin Timberlake as "Dylan" in Screen Gems' FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS.We were flanked with the trailers, interviews and dates with the military folk. Did this saturation make me expect more?

Justin Timberlake was okay in The Social Network. After watching Friends with Benefits, I realized that Justin Timberlake is like George Clooney—he doesn’t act as much as play himself.

Head-hunter/recruiter Jamie (Mila Kunis) scores big when she convinces Dylan (Timberlake) to relocated to NYC from LA to take a job at GQ. The two hang out and become BFFs. They have a discussion about having sex sans strings and voila, it’s a friends-with-benefits arrangement. They seem to pull this off for a good long while. During this love fest, we also learn why both Jamie and Dylan are a mess in the relationship department.

Here’s the real mess—Friends with Benefits is lackluster. Even with some the quirky and heavy-hitters like Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Emma Stone, Richard Jenkins, Andy Samberg and Shaun White (the snowboarder), this movie still manages to fall short. Even Kunis, who is enjoyable in comedic roles has a hard time. Her lines are read with knee-jerk speed and without authenticity. It takes on too much. Some of the sub-plots were interesting but there are too many doors opened, not enough time (despite being long for a rom-com) and the ending wraps too conveniently.

Director: Will Gluck

Country: USA

Genre: Romantic comedy

Run time: 109

Scale: 3

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Outsider Art at the 5-Point Cafe

Scribbings found on stall door at the 5 Point:

Love for Adam Schlesinger

You're Welcome

The Heart Sucks...

Margaret (2011)

I wanted to love it. Had no doubts that I would. Then, I saw it and everything changed.

Margaret--After the Bad Thing happensThe first hour wasn’t bad. Then, Margaret led me into perplexing tangents that dead-ended and left me disappointed and cold (the theater was freezing). It was a meandering mess that held me hostage for 2.5 hours.

New York teen Lisa (Anna Paquin, you know she will have at least one topless scene) is on a quest for a cowboy hat. While out and about, she witnesses a traffic fatality. Feeling complicit, she sets out to do right by the victim. As she gets more vested, the situation creates emotional turbulence. Her mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), a stage actress. is having problems relating to Lisa’s increasingly explosive reactions. Joan starts dating Ramon (Jean Reno). Their budding relationship is boring and painful to watch; I didn’t understand the point of it. Even Joan seems uninterested. Lisa becomes increasingly desperate as she loses more control in her quest to do The Right Thing. Lisa’s father, Karl (director Kenneth Lonergan) is selfish and unsupportive. He’s just one more unlikeable character in this parade of many.

What happened? Margaret needed focus and editing. The story took on more than it could resolve, resulting in an unsatisfactory experience.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 150 very long minutes

Scale: 2

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Young Adult, Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol & One for the Money

Young AdultYoung Adult (2011): This was not a comedy; it’s more of a kick in the stomach (that’s meant in a good way). Mavis (Charlize Theron) is ghost writer for a wildly successful young adult novel series living in Minneapolis. On a lark, she returns to the small Minnesota town of her youth to win back her high school boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). She won’t be deterred by minor details such as his wife and newborn. Richly nuanced, Young Adult offers an unusual yet powerful paining of Mavis and Matt (Oswalt Patton) a high-school classmate of Mavis’s wrongly pegged as gay and nearly beaten to death. Chock-full of tension, cringe-worthy situations, damaged characters and facial expressions that make the character of Mavis. See it.

Dubai   Mission-impossible-ghost-protocolMission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011): Visually delightful stunts but a convoluted story I cared little about. Failed chemistry between Ethan (Tom Cruise) and Jane (Paula Patton). Maybe if you are fan of the franchise, you will be happy—I applaud you. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner are highlights. Overall, not impressed.

One for the MoneyOne for the Money (2012): Led astray by trailers that made it look funny, suspenseful and quirky. Unemployed Stephanie (Katherine Heigl) takes a job as a bailbond's woman. Soon, she is on the trail of a corrupt cop, Joe Morelli (Jason O'Mara) who turns out to be an old high-crush (of course!). The laughs lack originality and there is no real conflict. Despite an impressive cast, it was empty entertainment. Heigl is charismatic and a the bright spot in this ridiculous farce but it’s not enough (I hope the book offers more). It’s a bad sign when Groupon pushes the movie and pre-movie reviews aren’t released.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Lincoln Lawyer, Insomnia & Hesher

Life got in the way and I put down the pen. I didn’t stop seeing movies. Nor did I stop contemplating juicy scenes, indulging in witty dialogue or mulling over details that didn’t make sense.

To catch up, I’m doing shorter reviews and grouping entries.

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011): Much better than expected with several Hollywood heavy-hitters. Criminal defense lawyer Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) conducts business from his Lincoln Continental (with his own driver) to faster navigate the highways and roads connecting the Los Angeles courthouses. He lands a high-profile case that could prove his chops, but causes trouble in his personal life. The chemistry between his ex Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and Mickey sizzles. Frank (William H. Macy), Mickey’s investigator, is snatched from the movie too soon. McConaughey continues to excel in his dramatic roles—see Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.


Insomnia (1997): During a serial killing investigation, detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) lies and covers up an error that may sabotage the investigation. Set against Sweden’s 24 hours of sun and Engström’s lack of sleep, Insomnia still lacks more complexity in some of its characters. None is very engaging; they are distant and unlikeable. The elder Skarsgård and his son, Alexander (Eric Northman on True Blood), possess the same sinister smile.

Hesher (2010): TJ (Devin Brochu) is Hesherdealing with a huge loss. His mother has just died; his father (Rainn Wilson) is debilitatingly depressed as a result, and grandma (Piper Laurie) is on a mental decline. TJ is left to fend for himself, when Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) appears and creates further complications. Taken at face value, Hesher is  crap; watching it with other angles in mind (such as the possibility that the Hesher is TJ’s rage about his mother’s death personified) is more compelling. Despite being a one-dimensional, mostly unlikeable character, Gordon-Leavitt’s Hesher steals every scene.