Category Archives: Movies

The Women (2008)

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The Women

The Women

A wealthy New Yorker leaves her cheating husband and bonds with other society women at a resort.*

 
This was another movie I never intended to see. But, it was on …

First, the glaring issue running throughout the film – it is a cautionary tale about bad plastic surgery. Several of the women in this cast were, at one time, considered attractive to some degree. Unable or unwilling to age gracefully, they have undergone procedures that have turned them into caricatures. Scary, rubber-faced caricatures.

Now, to the film itself – also a scary caricature…of the far superior movie it claims to update.

  • Meg Ryan plays Mary Haines as a ditsy, uninvolved, overwhelmed mother. It’s hard to feel any empathy for her, which makes the story arc a tough sell, indeed.
  • Annette Bening is a grating Sylvie Fowler, a poor echo of the positively caustic Sylvia from the other versions.
  • Eva Mendes‘s Crystal Allen seems barely appealing enough for a one-night stand, let alone worth leaving your family for (except that Meg Ryan plays the wife as ridiculously unappealing, too)
  • Debra Messing is Edie Cohen, playing her as a schlumpy, goofy earth-mother. Hard to believe how Messing could become even less appealing than she has been in other projects, but she managed it here.
  • Jada Pinkett Smith, always grating, is cast as butch-Lesbian Alex Fisher. Oddly, hers is one of the least irritating characters in the film (which isn’t really saying much with this script)
  • Bette Midler is cast as Leah Miller, an apparent fill-in for Countess De Lave who, in the original, was both amusing and pivotal. Midler’s character has no purpose in this film. Her inclusion, in fact, was so odd I’d have thought it was spliced in from a different movie if she hadn’t dropped the name “Buck Winston” (the cowhand who wooed Countess De Lave). If they weren’t including the rest of her story-line, there was no reason to have her at all.

The list goes on – and on – and on. I could go through the entire awful cast, the awful butchered script, the bland direction, the ridiculous ending.

Unless you are in the mood for a glaring example of how not to remake a classic, avoid this one.

* This description is from IMDB for this remake, but it describes the original. The divorce resort is not a part of the 2008 version.


The Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 13%; Audience 41%

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

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Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl

Lars (Ryan Gosling) and Gus (Paul Schneider) are the grown children of a father who died recently and a mother who died giving birth to Lars. But as brothers, they couldn’t be more different. While Gus lives in the family home and has a loving wife (Emily Mortimer) and a child on the way, Lars leads a more reclusive existence in the family’s garage, hiding in plain sight of his small, wintry hometown. Painfully shy and eccentric, Lars fails to recognize that his co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner) has a major crush on him, and he picks up on a casual reference made by his cubicle mate, who mentions a website where you can order life-sized, anatomically correct sex dolls. But instead of seeing a sex object, Lars sees in this doll a potential life partner and the only kind of social “peer” he can relate to. So Lars orders a doll, whom he names Bianca, and begins treating her with utmost gentlemanly respect — and as though she’s his real-life, flesh-and-blood girlfriend. As he begins bringing Bianca with him everywhere he goes, the townspeople have to find just the right balance between supporting Lars’ unusual romance and trying to introduce him to a more conventional partner. Lars and the Real Girl was written by Six Feet Under scribe Nancy Oliver and directed by Mr. Woodcock’s Craig Gillespie.

~ Derek Armstrong

 

I’ve been wanting to see this one for a while, but had a hard time ‘selling’ it to D. After all, “guy falls in love with a sex doll” doesn’t exactly scream quality entertainment. In this case, however, quality entertainment is exactly what we get.

The part of Lars seems written specifically for Ryan Gosling’s delivery; his quiet, quirky, charmingly unsure delivery brings Lars to life for viewers (much as Lars’ affection brings Bianca to life for the townspeople). His pain and growth really come through.

Kelli GarnerAlso particularly well cast is Margo (Kelli Garner, right), whose shy infatuation with Lars has you wishing for his recovery. The lengths to which sister-in-law Karin is willing to go in her attempts to reach Lars in his self-imposed bubble may have been less believably sweet if not for the deft portrayal of Emily Mortimer

The stand out in this very strong cast though was, for me, Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar. She is the doctor who treats “Bianca” in her physical ailments, and Lars in his emotional ones. The role is small and quiet … and absolutely vital. Through her we learn who Lars is and why he is in such pain. Through her (and the other ladies), Lars learns who he is and how to deal with his pain.

So, we have a movie about death, and pain, and sex-dolls…and I am going to recommend it to most of my friends. It is lovely and sweet and explores what relationships mean to us – with family, with friends, and with that special someone (or something?) to whom we give our heart.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 83%

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Skyfall (2012)

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Skyfall

Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

I will preface this with a disclaimer: I am a fan of Daniel Craig. I am a fan of Bond movies. I am not a fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond.

I enjoyed Casino Royale as an action movie, but not as a Bond film – it just didn’t have the right elements. Because of that, I never even bothered with Quantum of Solace.

Skyfall starts with a bang, literally, killing James Bond on a failed mission. Then the opening credits start. The theme music, performed by Adele, didn’t impress me on its own, but works quite well to set the mood. You get a sense from the slightly psychedelic 70s vibe that the movie will give a nod or two to the classic Bond movies of old.

The ‘theme’ of this caper is meant to be “old ways” versus “new ways”, I know this because several characters actually tell us so. The script makes several forays into the Bond canon*, perhaps in an attempt to ensure we fully accept Craig as Bond, once and for all. Unfortunately, though I enjoyed the “see, we remember where Bond came from” parts, what comes after the opening credits pales in comparison to those opening scenes.

For one, Javier Bardem, so juicily evil in No Country For Old Men, is sadly flat in Skyfall. Though Bond villains are historically cheesy and one-dimensional, Silva (Bardem) is just…blah. He has the requisite isolated lair, the army of loyal minions, the frightened beauty who betrays him to Bond – and delivers Bond to him. He just has no real menace.

Naomie Harris is a bright spot as Eve, and likely to be around for a few more installments of the franchise. Albert Finney is a happy moment as Kincade. Ralph Fiennes, always reliable, certainly doesn’t disappoint as Gareth Mallory, the new boss intent on securing the resignation of M (Judi Dench). A good cast, overall.

Like Casino Royale, this movie works as an action movie, but not as a Bond movie – unless you are new to Bond. An old fogey like me, still be hung up on the previous winning formula, would easily accept Daniel Craig as any other MI6 officer . . . just not 007.

It was an enjoyable film, full of gunfights and espionage, so it will do well with my friends. I’ll give it a 3.5, and it has inspired me to add Quantum of Solace to my queue so I can give it a whirl.

* They also end this movie having put a decisive end to some iconic Bond bits, which seems a winking way of saying, “Get over it, Sean Connery isn’t coming back”


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 89%

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Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

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Safety Not Guaranteed

Darius is a young intern at a Seattle-based magazine and jumps at the chance to investigate the author of a classified ad seeking someone to travel back in time with. Along with Jeff, the staff writer, and Arnau, a fellow intern, the three go on a road trip to a coastal town. While Jeff just wants to chase after his high school crush and Arnau wants some kind of life experience, Darius spends her time with Kenneth, a man who believes that he has built a time machine. The closer they become and the more they understand about each other, the less clear it becomes if Kenneth is just crazy or if he actually is going to successfully travel back in time.

A quirky romp that occasionally seems unsure of its direction, which actually adds to its charm.

Don’t get your hopes up for a time-travelogue in a sci-fi, Dr Whovian tradition. There is more can-he-or-can’t-he than been-there-done-that, with an undercurrent of “why would you want to, what would you change?” It is fantastical without being flighty.

I don’t want to write any more of the story in this review, because you should meet these characters and learn their secrets as the writer intended. Every little detail I started to write risks revealing too much. Below, I have linked a couple of reviews that reveal more – so you can get your spoilers there if you choose.

I will simply say, it is a fun, fresh, amusing yarn. Worth your time if you enjoy independent films, quirky romantic comedies, or off-the-wall fantasies. My review would be in the 85% range, but I am limited by the rules I set when I created the Word of Mouth scale. Since I will only tell about 60% of my circle to watch this (there is some coarse language and sexual situations) it ends up as a 3 of 5 here. See the Rotten Tomatoes numbers for a more general idea.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 94%; Audience 84%

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The Way (2010)

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The Way

A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

I’ve been a fan of Martin Sheen‘s smaller, quieter work since I saw him decades ago in Sweet Hostage. He is best when he is acting least, and playing a father mourning the loss of his son fit him like a glove.

As Tom (Sheen) makes his physical journey, he is making an emotional journey, as well. Along the way he meets fellow “pilgrims”, each with their own story. Some he meets for only a moment, some join him on his travels; Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), the sweet, sad-sack from Holland; Jack (James Nesbitt), the bold and brash travel writer from Ireland; Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), obnoxious, judgmental Canadian.

The film treads gently through the poignant moments, giving us some laughs to lighten the mood. The location shots are beautiful and Emilio Estevez‘s direction is reverent. This movie also did more to inspire me to travel than anything I’ve seen since Shirley Valentine planted the “must see Greece” seed decades ago.

The story won’t be for everyone, I think a certain maturity will be necessary to appreciate it. Most of those in my circle are out of their teen years, though ;-), so I will be recommending it to most of them.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 82%; Audience 83%

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Despicable Me (2010)

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Despicable Me

When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds their love is profoundly changing him for the better.

This is a movie I have heard a lot about, but (not having kidlings) I had never really planned to watch it. I had expected, though, that on viewing I would find some hidden nods to adults – for instance, as they did in Enchanted – but, other than a slam of Lehman Brothers and a Saturday Night Fever reference, I don’t recall any.*

So, my thoughts…eh. Didn’t do much for me, doesn’t seem like the kind of movie the nephews & nieces would have wanted to watch repeatedly. Yes, I did spend unbearable weeks suffering through Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on a loop. D got his fill of The Lion King

I’m glad it was a free viewing (and I am glad it exposed the fact we were sold a floor model), doubt I’d watch it again. If you have kidlings, though, it would kill a few hours without destroying brain cells – theirs or yours.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood – but I thought it was just OK.

*We bought a new Blu-ray player at Fry’s Electronics Saturday. When we set it up, we found a disc in the drive. It was Despicable Me, clearly marked as “non-inventory demo”, so I’m guessing they sold us a floor model. Not sure whether it was the disc or the player, but the movie froze, jumped, and glitched repeatedly, making viewing less than optimal.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 81%

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First Position (2011)

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First Position

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, where lifelong dreams are at stake. In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Bess Kargman’s award-winning documentary, First Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. — (C) IFC

D picked this documentary for me knowing how much I love ballet. Though the dancing here is, of course, paramount, there is so much more to these stories. If any of you doubt the athleticism of ballet dancers, this movie will make you a believer.

I found myself laughing, cringing, crying, and cheering as we meet the dancers; young phenom Aran Bell, survivor Michaela Deprince, siblings JJ & Miko Fogarty, high school “princess” Rebecca Houseknecht, struggling for a better life Joan Sebastian Zamora, and Aran’s young Isreali friend Gaya Bommer Yemini.

At just 11 years-old, Aran is a powerhouse, spinning and leaping like a mini Baryshnikov. As a military brat, the sacrifices his family members are willing to make differ from the others, but you can see he is not about to let those sacrifices go to waste. I would love to see how he grows and matures in the dance.

Michaela, adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, combines her fierce determination with explosive strength in a graceful package. She is the embodiment of a childhood fantasy brought to life – through incredible hard work and commitment.

JJ & Miko‘s pursuit of balletic perfection is encouraged by their tiger mother, and financed by their entrepreneur father. You will be wondering if both of these children are as jazzed about a future in the arts as their mother is.

Of all the dancers, Joan Sebastian seemed the least inspired by dance. His motivation tips strongly to the financial. For him, a good showing at the Grand Prix means the opportunity for “nice things, his own apartment” (as his mother back home in Colombia reminds him).

Least interesting was Rebecca. She is, to me, the stereotypical privileged, suburban, high-school dancer. She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s spoiled, she’s a bit grating…I couldn’t really get invested in her story. She is a lovely dancer, though.

As our main dancers make their way to the competition, we meet Gaya, a young friend of Aran’s. She is introduced as almost an afterthought, but quickly earns her place in the spotlight. Though her classical ballet is beautiful, she truly shines when performing modern works. I am generally not a fan of the disjointed, dissident contemporary dances, but Gaya’s performances are mesmerizing.

If you are a dance fan, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; the full-length performances of our competitors, and some additional dances including Gaya’s Cartoon Girl, Aran’s Mad Hatter.

A dance-centric film would generally suffer on my Word of Mouth scale, not everyone appreciates the arts, after all ;-). This documentary, however, is about dreams and the dedication and hard work that goes into achieving them. I think anyone in my circle will find this movie interesting – and perhaps inspiring. I’m giving it the full 5 of 5.


First Position Official Trailer


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Audience 87%

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