syriana.JPGIMDb link

As always, the reviews of others pre-colored my thoughts of this movie.  I had heard that it was difficult to understand the plot switches.  This little piece of forewarning was very helpful, because I was sure to concentrate.  Even so, some of the plot was too tangled in badly constructed dialogue.

This movie was full of quotes.  Someone would say a line, and I would want to jot notes so I could use it later, gems such as “it’s not racist if it’s positive” and “corruption is why we win.”  I think the writer may have been so busy filling the movie with profundity that he forgot plot movement and clarity is vital in the American market.

Some of the lack of clarity may have been intentional.  Three plotlines interweave and the theme that binds them is often the confusion of the characters or oil ruining their lives because the culture of oil is a tangled web.  There is no absolute good or evil in the film and each person makes decisions based upon their reality at the moment.

My problem with the movie is that there are two audiences of viewers: those that believe the film is more of a documentary than fiction and those that think none of the film’s concepts are plausible.  Both insulate themselves from the fact that we do not know that truth and cannot suppose to understand the climate of oil culture.

Whether truth or fiction, I started thinking more about how much I dislike our oil gluttony.  I think E85 is only a crutch used by automakers who don’t want to really leap into alternative fuels; however, it is quickly renewable and its source can be grown almost anywhere in the world.  Then again, it takes energy to make it, and it only delivers 66% of gasoline’s energy per gallon, and the facts are so politically charged that who knows where the truth lies.

Hey…wait…I’m talking about energy in the middle of a movie review.  Maybe the director accomplished his purpose.

If you want to feel like you’re seeing something that is “high art,” good for you, you should rent this.  If you just want to watch a superhero save us from ourselves, there are better choices.

[rate 3]

V for Vendetta directed by James McTeigue

v.JPGIMDb Link 

Remember, remember

The fifth of November…

Let's start this shindig by reviewing the fact that I love melodrama.  My first stage crush was going to the Indiana Repertory Theatre at the tender age of 13 to see Dracula.  The actor had such presence; the story, such mystique.  To this day that type of confident, swashbuckling performance completely captivates me.  So it took about 10 seconds for me to fall for the man in the mask.  The sound is great too- the subwoofer and bass shakers had a workout!

My knee-jerk reaction to the costuming and central man-in-mask-meets-girl plot was to think of Phantom of the Opera.  However, this is visual only; I see more linkage between V and the Spawn  comic of the 1990s.  Both fight with a curse of immense proportions; both know their death is imminent and necessary; both struggle between beauty and their self-forced obligations toward a goal.  The Faust mask of V also provides more linkage: Spawn's deal with the devil mirrors some aspects of Faust.

v-action.JPGThe grinning mask could have totally ruined the movie.  Hugo Weaving took this role knowing he was going to be acting and fighting with not one inch of his face or body showing.  His incredible voice drives the character.  During the soliloquy in the alley upon meeting Evey, he flourishes, tilts his head, and articulates perfectly.  I'm sure it's voiceover work, but it is done very well.  While it would never happen, I think he deserves an Academy nod for bringing just the right emotion and panache to this role without ever raising an eyebrow.  It could have been a campy remake of the original graphic novel (Starsky and Hutch-style), but this film instead seeks- and succeeds- to tear at viewers as they watch.  Instead of ruining the film, the mask with cheerily rosy cheeks brought a calm refinement to the choreography of the fight scenes.  The fighting style is unique and downright beautiful.  V's acts never seem desparate.  His calculation toward his goal is frighteningly logical.

V, the victim of a horrible crime against humanity, is a psychopath.  Utterly mad but still seemingly so lucid.  To him, the ends justify any means at all.  Evey reacts with the horror that any of us would and then with the acceptance that many of us would.  He makes his terrorism strangely beautiful and elegant.  As the movie unwinds and V commits more monstrous acts, he somehow becomes more endearing and human. I was ready to defend his actions when I saw what he'd done; I could feel him work his way into my consciousness without effort.

v-leader.JPGI had heard that there was controversy about this film and its parallels to our current US Administration; however, I didn't see it.  Among the four of us watching together, this lively debate carried on well after the film ended.  Sure, V is a terrorist and the government seeks to abolish him by any means necessary. The parallel I saw was not between the current administration and the British government of the film: I saw linkage in the fact that in the movie, the US was no longer united and was ravaged by war.  I think our country has suffered from too many wars on too many fronts for over 30 years.  I wouldn't limit it to any single administration, but hand the guilt to all our recent leadership.  Also, the government images and characters were more Lenin-colored and Third Reich-reminiscent.  There was one scene in particular the brought a cold chill upon me remembering WWII films I'd seen about concentration camp graves.

I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago but its magnificant poetry still resonates in my head.  This review could be four more pages; you'll note I haven't even touched on Natalie Portman's or other actors' fantastic performances.  I want to see this again to fully absorb the themes.  This is a deeply engaging film that doesn't sacrifice plot for action- or vice versa. 

[rate 4]

Four Brothers directed by John Singleton

fourbrothers1.JPGIMDb link

I need to start blogging more.  I can barely remember this movie though I saw it only a month or two ago.

What I can remember is a gritty (wow that word is overused), funny story about four men brought together by a foster home.  It has an Unforgiven  feel to it: each brother tries to deny his past.  In the end, the past helps define each one.

The acting is absolutely superb.  Mark Wahlberg had proved his range in Rock Star, but he works the screen very well here also.  Tyrese Gibson delivers a funny but poignant performance.

*editor’s note: sorry about all the clichés!*

The movie’s setting is in a poor neighborhood.  I grew up with the good fortune of not living in a place where I might be shot on any given day.  Seeing a neighborhood like that- even a fictional one- makes me not only realize my good fortune, but also makes me feel that I need to do more for kids like that.

There are several gun fights that feel very real.  My compliments to the director.

[rate 3.5]

A History of Violence directed by David Cronenburg

IMDb link


This movie is based upon a graphic novel, so the director chose to keep some of the dark, shocking imagery that is de rigueur for comics.  So obsessive was he about the fun of gore that he shot differing levels of goriness for a few scenes released in the international version.  They deleted a funny but unnecessary dream sequence where the hero blows a hole through his foe’s chest, only to have the foe shoot him anyway.  I was glad it was not included; it lowered the highbrow tone of the film.

There was also an attempt to create an intriguing narrative of the mix between sex and violence.  The two scenes showed two different sides of sexuality, but could have been deleted completely with no ill effect on the plot.  Indeed, deleting them may have helped focus the movie on the core values.

Sin City wins my bid for best adaptation of a graphic novel in the classic graphic novel sense.  The melodrama presented in A History of Violence simply detracts from an otherwise excellent piece.  William Hurt delivers a somewhat flat performance.  Why does he keep landing these juicy roles, then falling on his face in the delivery? 

Don’t miss the special features.  Viggo Mortenson is wearing the most ridiculous tuxedo I’ve ever seen, perhaps to compete with his ridiculous handlebar mustache.

All considered, I would recommend this movie for its superior acting and interesting plot.

[rate 3.5]

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

IMDb Link

This is supposed to be a review of a movie, but life creeps into it. My husband already deserves sainthood because he rented this movie because I like Alexis Bledel’s other work.

The only problem was that my medical condition is messing with my hormones. The side effect listed is “mood swings.??? It should say “warning: the stupidest little thing will cause one to burst into a crying fit for 60-90 seconds. Spouses should be warned.??? So not only were we watching a completely girly, teenage Steel Magnolias, I was bursting into tears every 10-15 minutes for no reason, then abruptly stopping.

The movie was actually a very good “coming of age??? film. Four friends share a pair of pants with each other for their first summer apart. They attribute the changes in their lives to the magic of the pants, then come to the realization that their lives changed because they had to change.

The best acting in the film comes from Bradley Woodford during a scene in which he is on the phone receiving difficult news. His face is covered with his hand, and he is frozen in place. I can remember that pose while having difficult conversations. It would have been easy to act facing forward, but the impact of seeing his shrinking into himself was much greater.

Don’t expect a big epic. It’s a nice, clean movie about being a 16-year-old girl; a fun Ephron take on real life. There are a few overly convenient coincidences but I think a movie about magic pants deserves a little leeway.

So erratic crying aside, I’d recommend the film to parents and young teenagers.

[rate 3]

40-Year-Old Virgin directed by Judd Apatow

IMDb link

Steve Carell has a Will Farrell type of stranglehold on American comedy. I don’t watch “The Office,??? so I’m missing part of it.

This movie had me laughing out loud in certain sections. I identified with a lot of Andy’s (Steve Carell) angst; with his habits; with his hobbies. I have a Barbie doll collection. I love to play RPGs and board games. I have tremendous respect for the opposite sex.

A few of the scenes were a little too close to home. Unlike Fear of Girls, I felt that the director was poking fun at a group he didn’t understand, not engaging in amusing self-flagellation. Most difficult for me were the scenes depicting miniature painting, a hobby I’ve really started to enjoy in the past 18 months. He’s talking to the mini like it’s a real person. It infantilized something that takes skill and lots of patience. Portrayed correctly, it could have shown his immersion in a geeky hobby and highlighted his ability to be patient.

I was QUITE amused by the big box electronics store jokes, because one of my friends works for such a retailer. I wonder how much of it hurts him to watch because it’s too true.

Anyway, I did like that they portrayed the complex nature of sexuality. First, Andy (the virgin) is not just a person who’s been unlucky in love. He also feels truly respectful of women and dislikes how his coworkers talk about women. He tries to fit with them but is extremely uncomfortable- both with lying and with the disrespect. He does have some serious anxiety about sex, but lots of people do!

And Andy isn’t the only person with sexual hang-ups. His coworker David (Paul Rudd) is unable to cope with a breakup, mostly because he misses the sex. Another coworker, Jay (Romany Malco), nearly loses the love of his life because of his dalliances. Jay realizes he put sex in front of true love and regrets it; David refuses to see that he is wasting away over the past. In contrast, Andy is relatively healthy! It underscores the fact that our culture spends so much time and money on sexuality that we lose sight of everything else. This singlemindedness leads to people who lack true substance beyond sex, a gift that has lost its importance through cultural oversaturation.

I won’t ruin the ending, but I liked it.
It wasn’t intentional, and maybe Carlton was in a comedic mood when he put movies in our Netflix queue, but I keep seeing comedies. I’m growing bored of the Farrelly brothers-style comedy. Here was a movie with some really good content that is ruined by some overly juvenile sight gags. There were a few scenes that could have been cut with no ill effect to the movie, either comedically or plotwise.

Here’s a thought: if the sight gag requires a prosthetic, I’m not going to find it funny. That said, I liked the movie’s themes and thought it was very well acted.

[rate 2.5]

Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott

IMDB link

I admit it. I’m a sucker for a period piece, especially historical fiction. I knew very little about the Crusades when I began the movie. I became intrigued to learn more afterward.

As with any historical fiction, it’s best to understand the real story before taking the book or movie too literally. While the writers did take some liberties, most of them were taken with the romantic storyline, not the battle. Even those liberties manipulate timelines more than telling outright falsifications.

I have always loved Liam Neeson, but I would argue that he was the weakest link in this movie, playing Godfrey. He acts too much like himself; I had this same gripe in his voice acting in CON. Despite my griping, he’s still in a role in his comfort zone and thus didn’t detract too much.

Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a character with a great deal of history. The problem for me is that Bloom didn’t sell his performance. I’m only sad about his wife dying because they showed her dead body. I didn’t get the whole Mourning on the Mount thing. Maybe it was direction, maybe acting, but it didn’t work.

Despite these shortcomings, I was thoroughly engrossed by the movie. The costuming/set design was beautiful and made me want to buy some exotically colored fabrics just to hang around the house. Scenes in the country had a whole different gloomy look and feel from that of the desert. It may be a bit incongruous to have such different lighting and filtering in one movie, but it helped keep me in the right mood for the locale shown.

The plot suffers a bit in the scenes in the royal court, with King Baldwin, Guy, and the templars. I was totally confused by what outfit signified what rank/tribe/army; I was also stymied by some of the conversations. It seemed that the scenes were there to move along the plot to the next idea, but it reminded me of a poorly done Shakespearean-style chorus: “here’s what we just did! Here’s why we’re arguing! Here’s what’s next!??? *cue roar from crowd in royal court*

Sibylla (Eva Green) is (allow me use some clichés) luminous and exotic. She portrays complexity, hesitation, and seductive power in nearly every scene. Her entrances were almost always dramatic (thank you Mr. Scott) and I longed to see her again when she was not onscreen. Partially because the role’s costume requires it, she acts with her eyes very powerfully. She is thoughtful, bold, timid, and a general dervish of emotional crescendo.

The leper King Baldwin IV is a great performance. I recognized the actor’s voice throughout the movie but couldn’t place it. (If it had been Liam Neeson, it would have been overly easy. See my point?) Acting in a costume that only shows the actor’s eyes, he must rely on other means. His gestures and voice timber indicate everything. While sometimes it falls short of the mark, I thought that overall the actor did an excellent job. Because of the way the credits were displayed, I didn’t know who it was until the end of the movie (Edward Norton). Again, the plot suffers when Balian meets the King and they play chess. It’s obviously supposed to be a truning point for Balian, but the conversation appears to have been left on the cutting room floor.

Even though there are some writing issues, the movie yields some outstanding quotes with respect to the fighting in Jerusalem. Balian claims he will burn all of Jerusalem to the ground, and Saladin (his enemy) says, “I wonder if it would be better if you did.??? I’m amazed at how the world’s major religions all have blood on their hands because of the Holy City. What would God think of all of this killing? It seems quite senseless to me. One of the minor characters echoes my sentiment with: “By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness.???

The real history behind the movie is fascinating. Even if you don’t care about that, this is an epic worth seeing.

[rate 3.5]

Spanglish directed by James L. Brooks

IMDb link

Part of the problem with the way I view movies is that I almost never see them when everyone else does. So, I fall victim to hearing the hype and developing preconceived notions before every film. Spanglish was one of these films. I had heard it was fantastic. I spent the first half-hour thinking the movie was not that great after all. It was good, but not amazing.

My compliments go to the costumer and hair designer. While the eighteenth-century epic may win the Academy Award, the modern film is very difficult to wardrobe correctly. Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni) wears the quasi casual clothing of a housewife with means: pressed linen shirts that hang from a thin frame of a woman struggling with her image, living inside her Pottery-Barn home. She is a runner who is incredibly competitive, to the point of exercise-driven bulimia. Flor Moreno (Paz Vega) is a softer woman with more curves, and while her clothing follows her curves, it is not overly tight to leave nothing left to guess. This softness carries into her mild manner and feminine sensual nature. The costumes perfectly match the characters.

While the two women dominate the movie, the other characters play vital roles. Both of the daughters in the film display great range and depth. I’m always sucked into a story of being an unattractive child like Bernice (Sarah Steele). While my mother was always wonderful to me (in contrast to Bernice’s), I still have very painful scars from being mocked. I had a “boyfriend??? when I was five, and when he saw me again at age 11, he ran away. In high school, he described to me how he felt when he saw me: I had been a cute little girl and had grown into a monster. He actually used the word “monster…???

But I digress. Seeing the insecure mother prefer the attractive child over her own daughter, it was personally painful. This behavior isn’t just about attractiveness: parents do this more subtly with sports, academics, and a whole myriad of behaviors. John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is wonderfully supportive of his daughter, reminding me of my own parents as he not only loves her but respects her.

Which brings me to Adam Sandler. Looking at him without singing “Red-Hooded Sweatshirt??? is hard, but his role here pulls him into completely serious territory. His introverted style was an incredible counterpart to his usually goofy, over-the-top caricatures. I loved it. Under good direction, Sandler allows quiet moments on screen: acting with subtle expression and soft reflection.

On a personal note, watching a chef in a movie is fun. I actually preferred seeing what he cooked at home. At one point, he sits down with a beautiful toasted sandwich and a perfectly poured pilsner and I wanted to have that meal! It was a very nice touch.

And Evelyn, Deborah’s mom, delivers one of my favorite movie quotes. Her daughter’s insecurity has led to miserable choices such as treating her daughter poorly and ignoring her marriage vows. Deborah is whining about her feelings, and Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) says: “lately, my dear, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.???

Well done.

[rate 4]

The Terminal Directed by Steven Spielberg

IMDb link

I had very high expectations for The Terminal, as I have loved Tom Hanks since Bosom Buddies. I still think guys in drag are awesome. But I digress…

The film opens with classic Hollywood entrance. The bustling airport, cutesy music, opening credits scroll: all were lighthearted and unoriginal, but not poorly done. It seems every time I watch a movie these days I’m so busy dragging my expectations into it that the film can’t stand on its own. This was no different: I hold Spielberg to an unfairly high standard.

I was disconcerted at first by the Rus accent on Mr. Hanks, but quickly warmed to the character. His fictional country has begun civil war, and he is stuck in limbo. He can’t leave the airport to reach his final destination (hence the double meaning of the film’s title). He starts making the best of what he has, and I groaned inwardly. Was this movie going to be Cast Away on Dry Land? Hanks certainly shone in that role, but I wasn’t interested in a reprise. Luckily, this portion of the movie is not very long, though it’s obvious through the film that Spielberg is in love with Hanks’ ability to steal the screen.

While Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to almost always be stuck in the same role as a self-assured, sexually dominant woman, this role is not like that at all. I had thought that she couldn’t really act because the roles were all delivered in the same way. Zeta-Jones gives such a wonderful performance here. To me, this is the stuff the Academy should consider for acting awards. Amelia (her character) is so perfectly acted that I barely recognized the actor. Even the way she walks, tilts her head, and subtle accent changes are all so totally different from the normal performance. I was absorbed by the character, not the actor.

This could have been simply a cute little film about being stuck in an airport. Instead, it was a richly interwoven group of stories of those people whose lives had overlapped at the airport. The rules-mongering government agent who lets his compassion slip away in favor of his job; the food service man, love sick over the customs officer; the flight attendant who looks for love and acceptance where there is none. My favorite performance was the hilarious Gupta (Kumar Pallana), whose performance is charming, uplifting, humorous, and touching. Each character brings a bit of their outside lives into the terminal. Lesser movies cannot focus on so many characters without losing the audience.

This type of movie, without epic battles, sex, or death, is rarely the focus of the public’s attention for long. We crave the visceral so much that we lose the simple. It was fun and good-hearted but had so much more to offer as well. These actors and this director gave us a great movie when all it had to be was good.
[rate 4]

Shallow Hal Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

IMDb link

I didn’t want to see this film.

Western society has a real disdain for the overweight. Most of these individuals develop real emotional scarring from the overt statements to the covert looks. The trailers showed this same lack of heart: lame jokes where a chair breaks or a boat that’s weighted toward the front…I had no desire to spend two hours poking fun at a group who has enough issues.

As the story unfolds, Hal (Jack Black) is portrayed as the classic, overly stereotypical commitment-phobe who only concentrates on appearance. He is then granted the ability to see women for their true inner beauty and meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow). She’s gorgeous in his eyes but afflicted with seriously low self esteem.

I felt a lump in my throat even during the non-funny, non-dramatic moments. Just seeing the daily difficulties and constant self-doubt of Rosemary made me want to cry. There were indeed many slapstick moments, but this is the Farrelly brothers, so I expected no different.

The film is cut awkwardly in several places, such as a car scene with Rosemary and one of her coworkers. The dialogue didn’t fit the character (a supposedly ugly-on-the-inside pretty girl), and the scene didn’t cause any laughs and/or plot progression. I think something must have been cut for time. Suspension of disbelief is also a must, so if you’re irritated when characters seem dumber than they should be, this flick is not for you. However, Gwyneth’s shy performance is wonderful and understated amid silly situations. Tony Robbin’s cameo is great; I admire people who know themselves well enough to be comfortable with charicature.

I will try not to go into a diatribe here, but the film really did show how our society treats the overweight. The astounding part that I didn’t realize is that the overweight put themselves down too. None of them can take Hal’s compliments, even though their souls are truly wonderful.

I’m seeing a pattern: most of these films I see are not what I want. Sometimes it works in my favor, sometimes not. This time, I’m glad I was dragged.

[rate 3.0]