I've got to stop watching so many downer movies. It's getting to me. Plus, it's difficult to be witty, hilarious, and charming when you're reviewing something that deserves some serious discussion and a solemn tone. Boo. "The Visitor" takes a look at immigration in the US from the perspective of a young couple from Syria and Senegal respectively. Yup, bummer. I told ya.
In all seriousness, it's fascinating and very important work that filmmakers like Thomas McCarthy (you might better know him as an actor from the series "The Wire") are shedding light on. What is the American experience like for those people who aren't legally American? Most importantly, these films humanize a very political and hotly contested issue. If we expect to ever come to a consensus it's vitally necessary to look beyond the numbers and instead through the eyes of others in order to gain some clarity. Recently, audiences have had the opportunity to dive deeper into the experiences of many from Mexico in a mainstream jewel like "Spanglish" and a critical darling like "Under the Same Moon". It's refreshing though to take a peek at life for those from across the oceans and "The Visitor" does just that.
The film's pacing is a little slow and it's dreary on many levels sometimes to its detriment but beyond its sadness and frustration there is hope. What begins as an interest in music evolves into a quest and a mission culminating in a man's life suddenly being given meaning at a time and place where it seemed impossible.
At the very least "The Visitor" can help provide a jumping off point to discuss and understand further the challenges we face as a growing nation. Dialogue can only help us in the years ahead and we should support filmmakers who are giving voice to those without one.
Posted by D at Thursday, February 26, 2009
Maybe it's the feminist in me but I am so thrilled that Clint Eastwood has finally had the epiphany that women can be powerful storytellers as well as complex, interesting, and strong characters. What's more, the character he has chosen to personify these qualities is a mother. I have seen many of Eastwood's directorial pursuits over the years and while they are all artfully crafted I repeatedly feel frustrated by the unyielding machismo he laces his projects with - even in a more recent film actually about a woman, such as "Million Dollar Baby". "Changeling" is remarkable. And as much as it pains me to say it because she usually drives me crazy, Angelina Jolie's performance as Mrs. Collins is beautiful.
"Changeling" tells the true story of a woman in Los Angeles in the 1930s and her quest for justice in a missing child case. Like many of the best tales from LA, corruption is at its heart. Eastwood exposes the heinous atrocities of the LAPD in a way that parallels the pacing and style of Frank Darabont's "Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile". Although very little of the film takes place within caged walls the overall claustrophobia and hopelessness is ever-present.
The film is a downer to be sure. It took a quiet day home sick for me to get in the right mood to watch it. If you can bear it, give it a shot. The story is shocking - the fact that it's based on historical facts will unnerve you.
Posted by D at Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Mmm. When I think of milk I imagine a tall frosty chilled glass full of whole milk poured to the brim. Perhaps a little chocolate syrup? Oreo cookies? That's what I'm talking about. Needless to say I was shocked and appalled when I went to see a movie entitled "Milk" and there was nothing frosty or chocolately about it. Thankfully, the film redeemed itself in other ways by frankly being outstanding. No, I mean really good - out of the best picture noms at the Oscars this year I think it was a close second to "Slumdog Millionaire". For me, "Milk" succeeds in all the ways "Frost/Nixon" fails. When telling a story based on an actual historical figure - you have to set up your audience. They need backstory. Director Gus Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black clearly understand this. As solid stoytellers they take us on an entire character arc that pays off just when it should and I loved them for it.
Sean Penn is superb and his performance is bolstered by an absolutely brilliant below-the-radar-all-star cast (Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, and James Franco). All these gents are leading men...put them all together and it's a no-brainer. They pulled off an incredibly moving and thought-provoking coup. These straight men were believable as gay activists & lovers in a very mainstream Hollywood movie. Honestly, I'm not sure I have seen anything quite like it (and yes, I saw "Brokeback Mountain").
The greatest strength of this story is that it focuses on humanity and the bonds that tie us together. By doing so, we can all relate to Harvey on some level. He's just a guy fighting for what he believes in. He's fighting for his rights as a human, living in America. In some way, that story resonates in all of our histories. It's powerful and artfully crafted. The look was also very beautifully executed. The early scenes in particular get a wonderful photographic treatment as we skip gleefully through stills and historical footage melded with the "present" footage.
Grab some milk duds, your nearest cow, and a hunk of cheese and go see "Milk". It does a body good.
Posted by D at Saturday, February 14, 2009
Wow. This film was so beautiful. Neil Gaiman's trippy storytelling meshes so well with director Selick's quirky style...it's a match made in heaven (or some other place full of mythic creatures). Throw in some kick ass 3D technology and you have a festivus for the eyes (yeah, I just said festivus). First off, let's give massive props to Laika, the Oregon-based animation company who put this little treat together for us. It looks phenomenal. Honestly, the storytelling almost gets trumped by the richness of the production. It's eye-popping (literally) and fun for all ages. It would appear we're having somewhat of a renaissance with more and more 3D on the way. It has come a long way since the 50s and 60s and you can't deny the appeal. Hollywood is trying to find more ways to compete with other technology like never before...amped up HD & Dolby Surround Sound home entertainment systems...TiVo...video games that virtually put you in the game & your friends across the world can play against you? It's tough to get a piece of the entertainment pie these days. We're bound to see an increase in tricks and gadgets to get our butts in the theater seats. Coraline hits the mark for sure. I paid more than regular price for the ticket, and it was worth it. I'm pretty sure moviegoers in the packed theater I saw it in would agree.
With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button I'm finding myself in a bit of a conundrum. As I watched I found myself simultaneously hating and loving the movie so in the end I'm feeling luke warm. Let's dig a little deeper and see if anything of interest can be revealed by such extreme reactions.
Firstly, maybe I'm not as much of a hopeless romantic sap as I thought. Why? Apparently there are some love stories out there that even I can't seem to get on board with. That's a tall order because I was raised watching MGM musicals and Disney princesses I know true love when I see it! Suspension of disbelief comes rather easily for me...dragons...tap numbers on the street...singing crows...I get it! But umm call me old-fashioned but when an 80-something year old man (Pitt) who by some freakshow of nature is aging backwards falls for a young 8 year old girl (Blanchett) I'm creeped out! Yes. Very very creeped out in the worst sort of way where I feel like the only safe place is in bed at home with Mom checking in on me. That's not romantic. That's not sweet. That's not anything but creepy and if you aren't feeling that way when you watch this movie - you should be!
1) The story overall
2) The production value - what a glorious glorious looking film! Each era of the story is revealed with a different lens -the camera movements, the color treatments, all of it very very specific and authentic to each time. It was visually breathtaking constructed by countless artists in their field.
3) Brad and Cate. They're awesome. No denying that.
4) The overlying message about using your time on this earth to its fullest and that it's never too late to do anything
1) The story overall
2)Daisy's hospital scenes that pepper the film with her daughter. It was painfully reminiscent of something that bothered me in "Big Fish"...back and forth in time all the time...I hate this type of storytelling device. Get me into the story and for the love of God stop taking me out of it the whole way through!
3)Daisy-as-kid voice. Woah! This was the creepiest part. Maybe they did it so that she'd seem more "adult" and that wouldn't be as creepy to viewers...it was!
4) Seems weird that the first major things Benjamin tried out in life were sex & drinking...what does that say?
Sigh. I'm confused. I HATE it when that happens. Okay, okay, I guess I liked it. I didn't love it and I was far from hating it. I did wish it could have been about 45 min shorter.
Yes all you doubters, I too can appreciate lowbrow comedy. Much to my chagrin, I recently checked out Tropic Thunder. Um Robert Downey Jr, you are hilarious and I positively love that The Academy felt your work in this bizarre picture warranted a Best Supporting Actor nom. You have come a long way (remember "Heart and Souls" or "Only You"?).
Briefly, some comments about the film. It's almost as though someone came up with these awesome characters but had no idea how to construct a good story with them. There were some incredible one-liners and a few choice oddities from Tom Cruise but all in all, there was nothing to report, it was all a little bit boring (what's that Simon Cowell?). I didn't really care about anyone. I wasn't rooting for anyone. I did have a good laugh or two though!
Posted by D at Sunday, February 01, 2009