Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I got myself to a theater a few weeks ago to see "Avatar". In one word, it was awesome. Everyone should see this film. That includes all of you "nay-sayers"- so at least you can actually have an educated opinion on the matter. Most interestingly, the film not only has made its money back (however much that actually is) but almost hit a billion dollars in box office sales world wide! But this isn't about money anymore-it's about witnessing a new kind of film making and being a part of a a new kind of sci-fi adventure.

Avatar blew my expectations away. I admit that I was very skeptical about this movie, setting my expectations low, but knowing that I would make it to a theater. But let's discuss what a visual spectacle this really is. The colors are so vibrant and the depths of field are unlike anything you have ever seen. It really takes about 30 minutes for your eyes/mind/body to settle into watching the film.

Now I have heard many critiques of the film that say the storyline is too predictable. But as a viewer, do you really want to have to work that hard? It is almost selfishly pleasing how predictable the plot follows basic story lines. James Cameron isn't trying to make us think differently, look at "Titanic"- we all knew exactly what would happen there. This is no "Star Wars" trilogy (and yes, there are two more films that might be put into production, making "Avatar" a trilogy), so don't be mad when it does not perform to these standards. Instead enjoy the blue creatures on screen, let yourself believe as much as the characters do.

See it because it is simply beautiful (in 3D, please-it's a must). And see it because it brings back classical storytelling to fantasy epics. This is the first film in ten years from Cameron and he still has the ability to get masses of people to the theater. Whether we like it or not, it is making film history as we speak. See it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A recap...quickly

With no post in a month, I realize that I am simply swamped at the film festival...but that does not mean that I am not watching films! I have decided to simply list off and quickly review the past few films that I have seen, no synopsis, maybe a spoiler and just my thoughts. I hope you find them helpful when deciding what to go see in the next few chilly weekends. Happy movie watching and Happy Holidays!

This film is touching and surpassed all expectations that I had for it. It is good entertainment all around. I just love inspirational sports stories! If you are looking for a film that you will simply enjoy, see this.

This is a great simple story. The script weaves the characters together nicely, giving Sarsgaard a platform to be a charming "bad guy"- not often seen - and Mulligan is perfect. Directed by a female, it is a very effective film for both male and female audiences.

This movie is all about the acting. Yes, the subject matter is difficult. Yes, you will probably cry. Yes, you should see this movie. It will be all over the award shows this season, racking up many nominations. And there is a reason...Monique "brings down the house" with this one.

For those that have read the book, you won't be disappointed. For those of you that have not read the book I think you will enjoy it as well. This movie is bleak, but somehow holds onto the touching relationship between father and son. Viggo Mortensen carries the entire film and he does it so well.

For lack of a better word, this film is fantastic. Not only is it magical, but Wes Anderson has added his own distinctive tone to a beloved story by Roald Dahl. It is a perfect adaptation to film. The animation is beautiful and I bet that you will want to see this film multiple times, if only to be brought back into this tangible, charming world again and again.

Yes, I admit that I had to see this film. And no, I am not ashamed of it- for I am not above being entertained by good-looking people on screen. It did not fail completely, but simply average at best. I am more astonished that so many women banded together to fantasize about a 17 year-old werewolf. Hot. But if I may say something...I hate the Bella character for everything that she stands for and believe me, she is not giving young women a good rep. But she likes vampires and werewolves, so I guess fans will continue to forgive her until the next film.

This movie is about failure. A time and place where people tried to do something and failed, however crazy they were. I think the public wanted this movie to be something great, to really send a message and were disappointed. The film created a world that reflected the craziness of a certain time and people. Don't take it too seriously, because they did and it didn't work out the way they wanted.

This is a solid film, but far too depressing. I think that I would like to see the original Danish version because the tone might have been handled differently. I'll let you know when that happens. The cast is wonderful, they capture a middle-class life perfectly. Nothing in it seems fake, but the film never lets you breathe, leaving you unsure of what they were really trying to do with it.

ANTICHRIST (A...could almost be an F for how offended I was- I DO NOT recommend for the average viewer) *spoiler alert: do not read on if you do not want to know what happens

Ugh. I think that is all I can really say about Lars Von Trier's new film. It is simply beautiful, dark, inhumane and challenging to sit through. Both actors give the best performances that I have seen all year and yet I am torn on liking the film for one reason. The genital mutilation that occurs is shot is such a grotesque way, that NO female could have watched it. In fact, I challenge any woman to go see this movie and try not to turn away when "She" takes scissors to her clitoris. Snip. I simply do not see the point in why it was shot in such a way. It really is a beautiful film that captures basic gender roles, but is majorly flawed in its presentation.

Nicolas Cage has returned as a bad-ass and Werner Herzog proves yet again that he knows what he is doing, even if this is a remake. The film never tries to be anything that it isn't- to better explain myself- it remains dingy, unglamorous and flawed in some of its development but that is the kind of story it is trying to tell. You will also really enjoy Cage as an emotionally and physically crippled drug addicted cop. Somehow, you still like him.


There are many more films that I have seen that are old news now (A SERIOUS MAN, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, etc.) but I will not get into titles from October. Sigh.

But for films that I am excited to see...there are so many!

NINE (Daniel sings and dances!)
UP IN THE AIR (yes, I know it is out already but I have not been able to get to a theater yet)
AVATAR (I really do want to see what 500 million dollars looks like)
IT'S COMPLICATED (I love the writer/director of this film...and Meryl, Steve AND Alec-you can't go wrong)

Not so stoked on...SHERLOCK HOLMES

My top films of 2009 is coming soon!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Too emotional for you?

The other day, I was telling a friend of mine that I was going to watch the movie "Precious: Based on the novel PUSH by Sapphire" and how I was very excited, being that it has been getting a lot of great publicity. She only responded with "I don't want to see that movie, it will just make me too sad."

Once this was said, I noticed that in one version or another this sentence has been flying around in conversation whenever "Precious" comes up. Since when were people afraid to feel anything in a movie? Granted the subject matter is difficult, but it is not something that people should shy away from; they should see it and form an opinion of their own, perhaps they might even feel something.

I understand the audiences that will not attend horror films. That is a genre unto itself that deliberately provokes fear in the viewer. Sometimes that fear causes a little too much stress on its audience and it no longer becomes entertaining. Like a roller coaster ride, you either like them or you don't.

But "Precious" isn't a roller coaster, just a tough drama. What is the fear of? Being caught with puffy eyes in public ... Not having a tissue on hand...No significant other's shoulder to cry on...
Were people also afraid to see "Schindler's List" , I saw it although the subject matter is horrifying. "Hotel Rwanda" was a tough film to sit through and what about "Boys Don't Cry"? Did people shy away from these films too?

I love being moved in a film. The dark theater and fellow patrons cocoon me and my thoughts with the images on screen. For two hours you can connect, remember and even laugh or cry because of characters that you have just met. Since when are people afraid to become too sad? Cinema's gift is release.

"Precious" deals with tough subject matter, but this film looks like it will take one of the ten nominated slots for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, perhaps even take home Oscar. Ask yourself, would you go see it now, if it were nominated?

I admit that I cried during one of the final scenes of "Precious", the acting is so powerful, it grabs the audience in such a profound way that I was moved to tears. Everyone around me was sniffling throughout the entire film as well; together as an audience we connected with the film. No one I know regretted seeing "Precious", so ask yourself if you are too scared to feel something or are you willing to get on the ride?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Halloween anyone?

This one is for the monster in all of us.

I was just wondering what scary movies you will be watching? I love to hear about what people will screen this time of year.

The theaters seem to be pretty weak. I think there are two titles to choose from if you are in for a scare. Although I have heard that "Paranormal Activity" is pretty scary (very "Blaire Witch"), I think the most frightening part of it is how much money Paramount is making off of this film. I think it was a win-win for everybody and I am hoping to get to the theater to see it soon. It is pretty interesting that Halloween has become synonymous with the "Saw" movies at the box office. How do you think the 6th film will turn out? Without shame, I will admit to seeing four of the five films so far. Not in order and I skipped the fourth "Saw" and went straight to the fifth installment-I don't think it affected the plot at all. Really though, I cannot wait until they have made all nine "Saw" films (yes, 9!) and I get to go to a movie marathon of ALL of the films. That might be the ultimate torture, the final game that Jigsaw will play-we will all walk out of the theater red-eyed and crazy.

Personally, I have been feeling pretty nostalgic lately. I think I'll see "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and then "The Thing" to get me ready for Halloween. To me these two compliment each other nicely with a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, horror that is splashed with holiday cheer. Also you really can't go wrong with Kurt Russel in a jump suit. What will you be watching?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

It was over forty years ago that Maurice Sendak’s story of a rambunctious child named Max visited the land of the Wild Things. Over four decades, this story has been brought to the bedrooms of children everywhere and now director Spike Jonze has brought it to the silver screen. Staying true to the book “Where the Wild Things Are” beautifully captures what it means to be a child, but it may not be as universally fulfilling as the children’s book.

This is the first time that director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers have partnered together. Eggers is an interesting choice, being that he is new to screenwriting but is a famous novelist and the founder of the publishing house McSweeney’s. Together they took on the difficult task of making a feature length film from a loved simple story. Credit must be given to Eggers for staying true to the book, only expanding on the ideas that were given. But herein lies the problem; the book does not give much text to work with. Within the world of the children’s story it is simple and compelling for both children and parents but the film takes on the larger theme leaving it only for the adults to understand.

Max is introduced as a creative and emotional child. He can make up stories on the spot but cries when things do not go his way. It is when his mother, played by the lovely Katherine Keener, scolds him that he lashes out by biting her and then running away. After running through a forest, he comes to a boat that he boards and sets sail to anywhere. He arrives at the land of the Wild Things and watches as Carol, one of the beasts, breaks houses in rage. To avoid being eaten, Max tells them that he is a king and they make him king of the Wild Things. The fun begins as they sleep in piles together and throw dirt clods at one another. But when Max is unable to fix all the problems of the Wild Things, it is discovered that he is not a king and he needs to return to his mother.

There are six Wild Things, all with their own personality that grow on you slowly, like a good friend. Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, takes Max under his wing because he believes that Max can keep away the sadness and loneliness that has settled on the Wild Things. Carol has the idea of building a place where everyone is happy and Max decides that they should build it. But the different personalities of the Wild Things create friction within the group. Judith, voiced by Catherine O’Hara, is always negative and KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, does not want to be a part of the arguing any longer. The imperfections of the group start to chip away at their idea of happiness.

But this is a film about being a child and so often children do not know how to handle or even describe the emotions that they are feeling. In the beginning of the film, Max experiences such an emotional rage that he storms in his sisters’ room and destroys a piece of artwork he made for her, then sadly reflects on what he had just done. Much like Carol, who in rage tears down houses and destroys his handmade city. He is often so overwhelmed by these feelings that he cries, unable to understand why he cannot get what he wants.

Visually, "Where the Wild Things Are" captures the awesomeness that is a child's imagination.
Everything that they play with and the spaces that they inhabit are all very natural and tactile, always handling sticks, dirt and stones. The island itself has different mediums of nature including forest, desert and mountains that make it seem so large, but never threatening. The Wild Things provide the contrast. They stand out on the island so much, always filmed within a large landscape, making the natural seem unnatural and special.

There is nothing to resolve in "Where the Wild Things Are" because the conflict is simply growing up. You cannot always get what you want, or more importantly, do we really want that? As a child there is always a sense of adventure and new experiences bring up new emotions that one must
react to. Unfortunately, it is not always as playful and lighthearted as we would like it to be.

“Where the Wild Things Are” reminisces on growing up and where the fine line of playful childhood blurs with harsh reactionary emotions. When the beasts don’t know how to describe something, or they cannot put it into words they howl. Perhaps we should take a cue from them and not reflect too much on the film, but simply enjoy it and howl because we can.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mini Munch: Zombieland

I shouldn't really have to say that to get in the mood for Halloween you should see "Zombieland"- it is not a scary movie and you should see it anyway. I guess it is fitting for the holiday though, there are zombie and lots of blood.

The story is simple. The infectious crazed apocalypse has already happened. Zombies are everywhere and humans are just fighting to survive to not become one of them. Columbus is our narrator- the characters are given names by the cities they are from- and he has found an interesting way to get by, based on his own set of rules. When he meets Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrleson, they decide to travel together by default. They are overtaken by two females, Wichita and Little Rock on their way to a theme park that is considered "safe". Along the way, they learn to stick together for their own safety and share how they each get by. For example, when Tallahassee gets really angry he takes anything he can find and tears it up. This makes for a fun scene when they all take out their frustration in a gift shop.

Without ever getting too emotional the film hints at how afraid and alone they all are, realizing that they only have each other in this crazy world. Characters fall in love and a new family is born, all while they each kill zombies to avoid getting bitten. The film starts off where most zombie films end and it makes for a different twist on the genre. A warning- the gore is intense in this film, but it is never frightening, just uncomfortable to look at sometimes. Also, "Zombieland" has one of the best cameos I have seen in a while, but no, I will not give it away. This film is so delightful because it never takes itself too seriously-it knows exactly what it needs to do to keep your attention, getting the audience to gasp and laugh at the same time. In the vain of films like "Shaun of the Dead" this film makes fun of itself, but brings fresh ideas to the living dead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

DVD Munch: The Proposal

Here comes a romantic comedy about marriage with a twist. Instead of marriage being what are two main characters are striving for, it is a bond that they are desperately trying to get out of. “The Proposal” humorously presents a new way of looking at what it means to be attached to somebody, without ever getting too serious.

We are immediately introduced to our two leads and how different they are. Sandra Bullock is Margaret Tate, a pushy and demanding book editor who runs on her treadmill every morning and reads scripts while eating breakfast. Her assistant, Andrew Paxton (played by Ryan Reynolds) can’t get up on time and while running into the office spills coffee all over himself. Margaret finds out that she will be deported to Canada so in order to keep her in the US she blackmails Andrew into marrying her to keep her Visa status. To make it look real and announce their engagement, they fly to Alaska to tell Andrew’s parents. To add to the pressure of the relationship, they are threatened with jail time if this proves to be a plot to keep Margaret in the states.

Once Andrew’s family finds out about their engagement, they want them to be married by the end of the weekend at their home. The wedding festivities begin—complete with

Bridal shower lap dances and hand-me-down dress fittings. As they are both bombarded with family members, Andrew and Margaret desperately try to stand one another all while faking a loving, lasting relationship.

To no surprise, Reynolds and Bullock have wonderful chemistry. Bullock plays a tight-lipped and tightly dressed boss perfectly, never letting her guard down for one moment. Even until the very end of the film, she stubbornly protects her feelings. Reynolds plays Andrew so confidently that you don’t really know why he continues to be bossed around; almost always slightly sarcastic, he brings a youthful and witty charm to the screen.

They don’t end up getting married, but after spending a weekend together forcing emotions, they actually develop feelings for one another. The last scene in the film has the predictable kiss that is part of every romantic comedy. Andrew tells Margaret that they must get married so that they can date-or else she will be deported. Those are some interesting terms, perhaps a new way to look at the bond of marriage? Not only does “The Proposal” endorse divorce, because that is their easy way out, but it makes it seem that it isn’t the kind of bond that is supposed to be “forever” anyway.

I enjoy that the film never tries to be something that it isn’t. It is simple and has fun making fun of itself, all while slowly opening the characters up. Unfortunately, the characters never really expose much of themselves so the final connection seems a bit far-fetched. But then again, so is forcing someone into marriage. If people can fall in love in three days and proposals can be the new way to date, I’m interested—and apparently there is always an easy way out.

There are many fun DVD extras that are worth taking a look at for “The Proposal”. The Alternate ending is definitely worth taking a look at. It is interesting to see how and why the film ended the way that it did. It is also comes with director and writer commentary which is perfect for understanding the choices made. For anyone that likes Deleted Scenes there are a couple of fun ones to take and look at and the “Set Antics” is great to watch because Reynolds and Bullock are so funny. There is also a feature for audio commentary by the director and writer for the entire film. Accompanied with this DVD comes the Digital Copy, therefore easily uploaded for on-the-go viewing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Box Office. Office Box.

I had many opportunities to get myself to a theater this weekend and yet every time I thought about it, I was not inspired to see anything. Perhaps it was the poor marketing decision of distribution companies to put out TWO sci-fi flicks- "Pandorum" and "Surrogates"- at the same time. Not only am I presented with two science fiction choices, I am left confused by their advertising campaigns because I have no idea what these films are actually about. This got me thinking about all of the times that this happens at theaters- the double booking. I really do not like this because I only want one option, I do not want to have to decide. In most recent memory this happened when studios released "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige" at the same time. Two films about magicians, both with stellar casts, both hard to tell apart. They were each good in their own respects, but why confuse the public? There is only a certain amount of information that can be given away in a trailer and it's not enough to tell films like this apart. What about when "Antz" and "A Bug's Life" went head to head? I know that it has happened more than this. As for the recent sci-fi releases I was just left confused by poor marketing. I know that they are very much different stories, but to make me decide between the two makes me have to pull favorites. Honestly, Bruce Willis is usually the immediate choice (star of "Surrogates"), but I wanted to give Ben Foster a chance in "Pandorum", but those were my only choices this weekend. This dilemma along with lack of excitement for either of the titles left me skipping the theater to catch up on the pile of DVDs that I have at home.

This week, I get "Zombieland", the Cohen brother's new film "A Serious Man" and Drew Barrymore's directorial debut "Whip It". If I get to the theater on Thursday night for zombies, I think I can squeeze in a quirky drama, a cute rollerskating film or maybe one of the sci-fi titles by the latter end of the weekend. Now that is a stellar weekend at the movies. Different films for different moods and different people. What film will you go to?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

DVD Munch. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

I like hybrid stories. When you take a classic and give it a little twist, perhaps what some might call a “make-over”. I like them because they give you a new perspective or sometimes even make the old, new again. “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” took the skeleton of the popular tale “A Christmas Carol” and applied it to a romantic comedy. In theory this was a good idea, unfortunately for the end product it was far from a fabulous outcome.

We are first introduced to Connor Mead, played by Matthew McConaughey, as a famous photographer that is notorious for all of the women he beds. Even with this kind of reputation, women still throw themselves at him and he loves it. His younger brother is getting married and when he arrives at the rehearsal he is reunited with his old flame, Jenny (played by Jennifer Garner). Immediately they snidely argue back and forth, revealing their touchy past. That night, when Connor is about to sleep with one of the bridesmaids, he is visited by the ghost of his uncle (Michael Douglas) and told that for his own good three ghosts will visit him. To no surprise, we are shown what happened between Jenny and him and ultimately what could happen to him if he continues with his lifestyle. When he finished with the ghosts, he realizes that he must get Jenny back.

“Ghosts” tries to sell itself on its star cast. Combining McConaughey and Garner is supposedly a formula for success. I am not denying that they don’t look good together, but they bring as much depth to their characters as a stale puddle. The best characters in this film include the entire supporting cast. I am so happy for great B-roles. Upcoming star Emma Stone, who made her debut in “Superbad” and to star in the upcoming film “Zombieland” is absolutely charming in this movie. She plays the ghost from the past, the one that shows Connor his entire dating history and where he started to change into what he is now. I don’t think I have seen anyone play an awkward teenager from the 80s so well—she is commanding, purposefully clumsy and hilarious.

We find out that it was Connor’s uncle that trained him to treat women the way that he does after he gets hurt, on his own account. He is taught that he should never let himself feel for women again. I can’t say that I am very fond of the message that women can be manipulated and used only for sex and that it is ultimately the females’ fault that make men so unhappy. Perhaps I am the only one that feels this way, but it portrays Jenny as a hurt and uptight control freak that has never gotten over her first love. Some might think it’s romantic, but it is just pathetic.

The film loses its charm with its message. Connor is happy with his life—unlike Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol”—so why does it matter if he changes? There is no redeeming quality to Connor and he seems to be pretty okay with that, therefore his epiphany is unbelievable and forced. This film should have worked; it had the opportunity to mix fantasy and reality in a very light-hearted way. But much like being visited by one of the ghosts, it is like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from.

The DVD which was released Tuesday, September 22, 2009 contains an option for Widescreen and Full-Screen viewing, Scene selection and Language choices.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guilty Pleasure: Legends of the Fall

This gem of a film was dropped into my DVD player for the first time last week. I have heard the title frequently before, but I had not been able to see it until a few days ago. The one word that formed and escaped from my open mouth when it finished, was "wow." "Legends of the Fall" blends beautiful landscapes and a marvelous cast into an epic melodramatic tale that will leave you searching for words when the credits roll.

Directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) with a cast including Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, the film took home an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Cinematography.

"Legends of the Fall" is a story told from a third person point of view, Old Stab, an Indian friend of the family. He says in the beginning "some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends..." Great, right?

The story begins in the early 1900s and chronicles the story of a family and one great member of that family, Tristan (Pitt). It begins when Tristan's father, Col. Ludlow (Hopkins), has removed himself from the military and tries to raise his three boys on his ranch in Montana. It is understood that Ludlow has a deep respect for Tristan, one that his other boys don't carry. When his youngest son returns to the ranch with his fiance, Susannah, all of the brothers form a close attraction to her, which lays the foundation for later problems in the film. All the boys head off to war, to fight in WWI and here is where the youngest, Samuel, is killed. Tristan believes that it is his fault and after he is buried in Montana, the rest of the film follows the family in the coming years, keeping a close eye on Tristan and how they deal with Samuel's death.

The music and pacing of the film creates something that we are not used to seeing very much of anymore. What may come off as cheesy looks, some might see as important breaths in the film where characters are without words and only left with silence. There is an understood code to this family. "Legends of the Fall" includes family feuds, love affairs, long trips at sea, marriages, bear fights and death; it truly is an epic tale that keeps you captivated until the very end.

If you have not yet seen this film and are ready to yell at the characters from your seat and cry at the sheer amount of tragedy one family can endure, this film is for you. And even if this does not apply or you have already seen it-it's about time you revisited this one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Life sure has a sick sense of humor, doesn't it?"- Point Break

It has been greatly publicized, as it should, that Patrick Swayze passed away yesterday at 57 due to pancreatic cancer. Sadly in his battle with cancer over the last few years, the disease won. In times like this I like to remember their art, what they did that had such a lasting affect on me. For Swayze it would have to be his amazing performances in both "Point Break" and "Ghost". Both are different roles, both are timeless. Perhaps I will watch both tonight, but either way he will be remembered.

"Vaya con dios"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mini Munch: It Might Get Loud

Disclaimer: This film might not be for everyone. If you do not like the guitar, if you do not like music and if you do not enjoy influential musical artists, you will not enjoy this film. That being said- I think almost anyone can appreciate the documentary "It Might Get Loud", musician or not.

The film simply looks at three influential guitar players, from different generations that are still playing in the music community. "It Might Get Loud" brings together Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) to talk about their music and play together.

The film mostly focuses on each player individually; there are only a couple of moments where the three of them sit down to play and converse. They each discuss their type of playing, what guitars they enjoy playing and really what playing the guitar means to them. The cuts between them are seamless as the stories bleed together. By looking at these guitarists, you can see why these three were specifically chosen. Staying very focused on their careers with the guitar (sounds strange, but there is not a lot of focus on fame of the bands) each of them bring a different attitude, one that reflects on the time their music was being made. Page plays the guitar with such fluidity that the instrument is truly an extension of his body-he was a child prodigy and continued with his passion. Edge comes from a more engineered side. His fascination and mastering of all the equipment that he can use to create different sounds is incredible. White struggles to make the guitar hard to play, reflecting a generation that has to redefine what this instrument means to them.

Separately they differ in personality, in playing and philosophy but together they are some of the greatest musicians to date and by bringing them together, it shows very simply what the power of music can do.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DVD Munch: 17 Again

*After recently watching "Peggy Sue Got Married" I thought I would enjoy a revamped version of the idea with this one. Unfortunately, it just didn't cut it...read on to see what I mean...

I don’t fully understand the want to return to high school. I actually enjoyed high school, but that doesn’t mean that I want to re-live being a teenager, it’s just so awkward. But films will continue to be made, all with the premise of returning to the past to change something. “17 Again” is no different, although the modern twist on an old story doesn’t make it as enjoyable as I remember.

We begin in 1989 with Mike O’Donnell (the young version played by Zac Efron) shooting hoops, getting ready for the big game that could get him a scholarship to college. When he finds out that his high school girlfriend is pregnant, he walks out of the game and we are flash-forwarded to the present day Mike (played by Matthew Perry). Now his life is a mess—no job promotion, on the verge of a divorce and no relationship with his kids. Paying homage to “It’s a Wonderful Life” Mike runs into an old janitor that magically transforms him into his 17 year-old self. It is then up to Mike to figure out what he needs to do to transform back.

The modern high school is shown as a breeding ground for disrespectful, over sexually active teenagers. Not to say that this is not what all high schools are like, but “17 Again” chooses not to show anything about going back to high school. Mike doesn’t want to relive high school to change his future; instead he realizes that this is the time to reconnect with his kids and to somehow win his wife back.

It is most humorous when young Mike interacts with his wife (played by Leslie Mann). She swears that he looks like her husband and the flirtation that plays out is almost uncomfortable but it works. Also, for those Zac Efron fans out there, he even dances and plays basketball in the film. I don’t know if he will ever grow out of this “High School Musical” role.

The fun of movies like this is to see our character react or interact with his new surroundings. The film fails to capture the heart of being a teenager, only making jokes to how fast their metabolism is and how they can exercise easily. Although young Mike does have an inside view into his kid’s lives, their interaction is very sterile and unbelievable. He coaches his youngest son at basketball, while he still gets to take the glory of being a better player and he preaches to his daughter about making bad choices. If he gets to be 17 again to connect with his kids, the relationships seem forced.

When Mike finds himself back where he started, he realizes that he had made the right choices, he was just absent from most of his life. Now he gets the chance to pay attention. Mike’s inside look into the lives of his kid’s and wife is an interesting twist on an old idea. But the fun of watching films like this is missing because our lead actor isn’t enjoying himself. There is no use in re-living high school for that.

The DVD includes Widescreen and Full-Screen options, along with language choices. Bonus features are not included.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Small Munch...or perhaps a rant: The Ugly Truth

First of all, let me say that I love a good romantic comedy. There is something so pleasing about watching good looking people on screen argue or have something between them that can't be fixed immediately and then have them kiss at the end of a film, making the perfect couple. The predictability is so satisfying.

That being said, this was an awful romantic comedy.

This does not mean that I can skimp on writing something about it- because something needs to be said about this film.

We are introduced to the lovely Katherine Hiegl as Abby, a successful, attractive perfectionist that produces a morning news show. Of course her life is not complete because she does not have a handsome man in it. When ratings start to fall on the show, her boss decides to bring on a new segment, "The Ugly Truth", and its commentator, Mike (played by Gerard Butler). Apparently Mike knows everything about men and women and their relationships, and rants about their problems on his own show, all while not having a relationship of his own, of course. And Mike and Abby hate each other until...

The challenge: Mike will prove that he knows what he is talking about by setting up Abby with the guy of her dreams. I'm sorry to give away the ending, but as you could probably guess, Mike and Abby end up falling in love. This doens't annoy me so much, I like the good looking people falling for each other, remember? It's just that Abby begins as this character that stands for something, I don't really know what she stands for, but she at least has an opinion about Mike's sexist view of women. That is until Mike tells her to wear tight clothing "because men are visual creatures," to get extensions in her hair because no man likes short hair, to masturbate and to lie. To top it all off, she does all this and gets slapped in the ass by Mike multiple times just for fun. She will do anything to get her man.

Great, this is just great.

The realization is supposed to hit her when she removes her extensions before she is about to sleep with the guy that she thought that she wanted. But it's not that she realized that she doesn't need to change herself to get a guy, she does this because she loves someone else. I'm so glad she came to her senses (that's sarcasm, if you want a relationship I don't think you are supposed to do that either).

So Mike and Abby end up in love and you are not really sure why. In fact, you are never sure if they really know each other at all. I like romantic comedies, I always will, but it's films like this that make me wonder about how far the romantic comedy has really come. True to form, there was a predictable kiss at the end of the film but the reassuring satisfaction never followed.

Small munch: Funny People

It saddens me that the advertising campaign behind this movie is pushing it as a "funny, new comedy-drama from Judd Apatow"...this movie is so far from funny.

"Funny People" is a serious look into what makes people happy and it is not always pretty. Adam Sandler plays washed up comedian, George Simmons, who is diagnosed with a deadly form of leukemia. He brings on the young comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) to write jokes for him and be his personal assistant. Together they both realize that money and fame cannot bring you happiness, especially if you cannot forgive yourself for your past mistakes.

The films is definitely worth seeing, although it seems a little drawn out and long at some parts. Perhaps the length and the pace of the film allow it's message to settle over the audience: even funny people have problems.

Julie & Julia...only semi-delicious

“Julie & Julia” is a film about two women and their joy of cooking, unfortunately one of the woman’s story is more interesting than the other, making it only entertaining for part of it, or maybe it’s better to say that you are left only half full.

The screenplay is adapted from two books, which gives the feeling of even more separation. First the autobiography of Julia Child, entitled My Life in France and the book based on a popular blog by Julie Powell called Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (this is the paperback title given). Director and writer Nora Ephron has taken on an ambitious project by taking on two different stories while trying to connect and condense them into only one feature film.

We are introduced to Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, amidst all her problems, which include her job, her living situation and her loving and supportive husband. None of this seems really that bad but she needs to put herself to some sort of task. She turns to cooking and proposes to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking while blogging about the experience. The parallel story follows the lovely Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, as she discovers her love of cooking and follows her journey that brings her to writing and publishing one of the most famous cookbooks to date.

Streep is perfectly cast as Mrs. Child. She brings a buoyant fearlessness and joy to all of her passions within the film, whether it be food or her husband. Streep never holds back with the character, making you feel like you are given a glimpse into the world of Julia Child. Her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, compliments her nicely; physically Julia towers over him, but there is no sense of intimidation within their relationship, only love.

Adams is not given much of a character to develop. Powell is mousey and trying to find her own voice through Julia Child. You can tell that Powell truly loves food and cooking, but it is overshadowed by her need to figure out her own sense of identity. She doesn’t take pride or joy in what she has accomplished along the way, as she only looks towards a deadline.

But even the way the film is shot, Ephron seems to favor Julia’s story. The colors and costumes give a real sense of what France was to Julia. Her story takes her out of the kitchen, to the streets, to parties, to walks on the bank-to her everyday life. For Julie Powell, the contrast is so claustrophobic; she is stuck in a small apartment, with no real friends, slaving away in a kitchen.

This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful moments that happen for Powell. The audience can connect nicely with her, being that she is cooking in the modern kitchen. We get to laugh and watch as she tries out all of these different recipes. We all can relate to a fear of cooking live lobster and the scene about it will make you jump in your seat. But in contrast Child shows love for every recipe, it’s almost as if you can taste how good her food really is when she brings a spoon to her lips and smiles.

Perhaps the end title card sums it up the best. The film fades up and text comes to the screen explaining how influential Julia Child’s cookbook became and when she passed away. It then says that Julie’s blog was turned into movie…yes, I think we all realize that, we had just watched it. What a strange taste to be left with.

The contrast of the two stories seem like they could pair nicely, like a great wine and cheese-they could be delicious on their own, but when paired together, they bring new flavors to the palate. Unfortunately, one of the stories carries more weight in “Julie & Julia”, leaving you wanting one more than the other.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Treat yourself. Going to the movies alone.

The other day I found myself in a conversation about movies (typical, right?). I was simply talking to an acquaintance about what movie she had seen when she admitted that she held off on seeing it sooner because she "would never go to the movies by herself" therefore she had to wait for a friend to go with.

This got me thinking...I go to movies by myself all the time.

There are two kinds of movie-goers. There are the ones that will never go to a film alone and then the ones that brave the theater solo. I am in the latter category and I find it necessary to try to remove the stigma that comes with attending a theater by yourself.

There is this fear of going to a theater alone. It is often considered "sad" or even "pathetic" to go to the theater by yourself. Like the girl I talked to, there was a tone of resentful pity in her voice. A theater isn't actually scary, nothing will happen to you and fingers will not be pointed in your direction, as if you are something to scoff at. Really it is this projected fear of what people might think of you. Maybe it's just me, but I don't pity the person sitting alone in a theater, they want to see the same movie that I want to.

I understand that conventionally, going to the movies is supposed to be an event. It used to be the premiere thing to do on a Friday night, the perfect date. But with so many films, ranging from the latest chick flick, to the indie drama to the post-apocalyptic war film there are just too many films to see-how do you come to decision with so many different tastes?

This is not to say that when I want to go see a film that I don't ask anybody. No, I don't only go to movies by myself. There are some movies that call for an audience of friends- "My Bloody Valentine 3D" would be a perfect example, it is something to laugh about and when you get uncomfortable you can grab onto a friendly arm. But if I really want to see a movie and no one can go with me, I gather myself and get to a local theater. There is also something about viewing a movie with no one around you that you are connected to, it becomes personal between you and the film. It is not something that can necessarily be explained, you just have to experience it for yourself.

All I can really say is don't knock it until you have tried it. Believe me, it's not as painful or "sad" as you may think. Really, how often do you watch movies by yourself at home? Do you consider that embarrassing? So why not break with convention? Do something crazy. Do something for yourself, by yourself. I now challenge the first group of movie goers- go sit in a theater and become a different kind of viewer. You might just enjoy yourself.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I can't tell you exactly why I decided to pick up this film again. Thinking back, maybe I was in the mood for Nicolas Cage with a goofy voice, maybe to see a little Sofia Coppola, or the fact that an old friend of mine once told me that they can relate to this film. Whatever the reason, I suggest going back in time to see this classic.

"Peggy Sue" was released in 1986 and has an amazing cast. Besides the luminous Kathleen Turner as Peggy Sue, the cast includes Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, Nicolas Cage and a young Helen Hunt. It was also made by a famous director, credited as Francis Coppola (no middle name credit on this one).

The story goes that Peggy Sue is attending her 25 year high school reunion when she ends up fainting and returning to high school, as if she had never left. Armed with the knowledge of her future, she goes about high school with a new attitude- doing things that she always wanted to do and trying to separate herself from her relationship with her high school sweetheart whom she ultimately marries and is so unhappy with, Charlie (played by Cage). You never know if Peggy's actions will actually change her future, perhaps it never really happened when she wakes in the hospital at the end of the film, but a book dedication makes you re-think this scenario.

However far-fetched the story may seem, it is so enjoyable. I simply love how classically it is shot; it is simple and clean. It is always nice to watch a strong female lead and Turner is perfect. She plays Peggy with such gusto that it is hard to see how she ever let herself fall into a bad marriage. She is the one with the power to change her future and she goes about getting exactly what she wants.

This movie is perfect at any time of day, with friends or without. Simply let its power of nostalgia wash over you as you are completely entertained.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflection: "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it"

At 59 Writer/Director/Producer John Hughes passed today from a heart attack. He is the mastermind behind such films as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "Sixteen Candles", "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club".

Go ahead and try to say something bad about these films, I don't think you can. Hughes tapped into the 80s market with a fresh spin on the coming-of-age, high-school story. Of course, being a girl I just wanted to be Molly Ringwald, in every film that she starred in-like most girls my age.

When you think back to movies from the 80s, one or all four of the titles above will come up. Hughes let us fall in love with the girl next door again and made mischief cool. From having a best friend named Duckie to having a blast in detention, Hughes took familiar high-school territory and made it classic, cool.

The only thing I can suggest to do tonight is take a look at all of the great movies he has been a part of, then get to your local Blockbuster to rent one of the films he wrote or directed. The best thing to do in times like this, is remember. Hughes has left a mark in film history, writing some of the most quotable lines and recognizable scenes in the cinema of the 80s. Go ahead, enjoy- that's what movies are for.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DVD Munch: The Soloist

It is sometimes a difficult task to bring true stories to the silver screen; the drama that must translate falls short of cinematic expectations. Simply put, real life is different than the movies. “The Soloist” based off the book and real life experiences of L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and his friendship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr., touches on inspiring connections that are relatable but also falls slightly flat of pure satisfaction.

I must preface this by saying that I am a classical musician myself. Having this understanding and training did not necessarily enhance my experience with the film anymore than someone that simply loves music and the power that it has to move people. That being said, “The Soloist” brilliantly uses music as more than just a soundtrack, but as part of the film’s experience.

The story goes that while Lopez was looking for a new column idea, he stumbled across Ayers playing a violin with two strings in Los Angeles. After watching him play for a while, he introduced himself, interested in forming a relationship and a story idea. After doing more research, Lopez found out that Ayers had attended Julliard School of Music for cello and after he dropped out because of a mental breakdown, he has been living on the streets. His column on Ayers became a critical piece on the homeless situation in Los Angeles and brought Ayers a certain amount of fame and opportunity, including a cello from an inspired reader of the column.

The film is well cast with powerhouse stars Robert Downy Jr. as Steve Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Mr. Ayers. Both act wonderfully together, really complementing their idiosyncrasies; the quirkiness of Lopez and the unpredictability of Ayers make a great duo.

The third character in the film is Los Angeles, herself. The classical music plays over sweeping shots of her freeways, of the buildings that make up downtown and the people that inhabit her streets, this being her homeless citizens. In Lopez’s struggle to help Ayers he sees a larger problem—all the homeless in Los Angeles. But here it falls short, we are exposed to the problem but never really dig any deeper; not giving the problem any attention, leaving the city feeling hallow.

Although the film is about two men and the relationship that forms, it would have been nice to see more of Nathaniel and his situation. Of course, this is difficult when the perspective comes from Lopez, but it is Ayers’ story that is so inspiring.

One of the most powerful and daring scenes in the film is when Lopez and Ayers are sitting in the practice hall of the L.A. Philharmonic. Director Joe Wright tries to bring weight and understanding to the music when he cuts from the two men sitting, to a black screen with colored light flashing to the music. Much like a moment from “Fantasia” it is a beautiful way to draw attention to the music and really force the audience into listening.

“The Soloist” is about the power of music and even the beauty that comes from passionately doing what you love. In the struggle to help one another, Lopez learns how to truly build a relationship that brings joy to himself and others and Ayers learns to let others into his world. The narration at the end of the film has Lopez saying that he doesn’t really know if what he has done has really helped Ayers at all. But if he helped him find music again, Aryes has found some sense of peace and that is all he needs.

There are some great DVD extras that should not be missed. Along with director commentary and a “Making of” segment, one of the most interesting is a live interview with the real Steve Lopez and Nathanial Ayers called “Kindness, Courtesy and Respect: Mr. Ayers + Mr. Lopez”. It is truly remarkable to see them interact together. There are deleted scenes and another interesting extra is entitled “Beth” which is a short animated PSA film, narrated by a child, about a girl that becomes homeless. This ties nicely with the extra “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in America”.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

GUILTY PLEASURES...introduction

I've decided that I simply must have a section of this blog devoted to all the cheesy cinema that I decide to watch when I'm in the mood to be entertained. I don't really feel "guilty" about watching these films, being that they can or cannot be critically acclaimed, they are really just movies that I was in the mood to see. You certainly do not have to agree with my choices in "guilty pleasure" films, but there will be small reviews on why I enjoy the film so much and why you might want to revisit it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter is back...finally.

The greatest thing about seeing something you love is that it is reliable, familiar; nothing too out of the ordinary, but comfortable. The latest installment in the films about our favorite wizard, Harry Potter, is everything that you could expect. The sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, delivers with a sense of familiarity that is surprisingly refreshing and leaves you craving more.

It has been two years since the last film, and director David Yates is back on board for Prince. He also directed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and both parts I and II of the Deathly Hallows- scheduled to be released in 2010 and 2011. The true fans that watched closely, would have remembered that this film’s release date was pushed back to this July. It was originally scheduled for release in November of last year, but thought that it would generate more money as part of the summer blockbuster push—and did it ever! In one weekend, worldwide it has grossed over 300 million. This alone should attest that true fans everywhere were ready for the familiar; they were ready for more Harry Potter.

We return to the streets of London where Death eaters begin terrorizing the city. Both in the Muggle world and the Wizard world, things are in disarray—Voldemort is alive and we are not to forget it. This is a much scarier year for our favorite students at Hogwarts. Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) all discuss their fear of returning to the halls before they even arrive.

Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) who for so long has protected and given guidance to Harry as the headmaster of Hogwarts, is no longer coy with the young scholar, arming him with information and allowing him to accompany him on special trips that he must take. In one of his visits to Dumbledore’s office, Harry is allowed to see the memories of Tom Riddle, (Voldemort, before he became Voldemort). It is a tampered memory that Dumbledore has asked Harry to fix—he needs to get into the mind of the newest Potions teacher to find out the truth. With it, they have priceless information about the dark lord.

The “Half Blood Prince” refers to the owner of the potions book that Harry has been given for class. In it, all the potions that they are taught have been reworked and perfected. Later in the film, the Half Blood Prince is revealed and it is someone that you would never expect.

The familiar friendships are still there, but they have recently developed into something different, perhaps even awkward. Not only have they gotten older but now they have feelings for one another. But not to worry, within the magic world even love is not simple—it is clouded by love potions and infatuation spells.

Yates brings a comfortable understanding to the films. It is classically shot, but he still brings in light and youthful feelings with the direction of the camera. It moves at a comfortable pace, although there is clearly a lack of development with certain characters and situations, but this comes with adapting books to film. Dark tones are emphasized throughout the movie, where the halls seem a little bit gloomier, even down to the costumes with more hints of black.

The Half Blood Prince is more about things not really being what they seem. In the magic world, the world of Harry Potter, this seems to be a common theme, but here the truth is so important—from fake love to revised potions, the truth becomes vital to their survival. Although the end of the film is without any form of resolution, it is the same for Harry and his peers. We are left in disarray, unsure of what is to become of our hero.

As Harry grows up, his challenges are more difficult, and as his audience we have forgiven him for the shortcomings and lovingly watched him transform--this is no different. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince kindly reminds us of how far Harry has come and leaves us ready and willing to sit through his final adventures.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The midnight screening

What is it about going to at 12:01am screening? Have you ever thought to ask yourself this question, ask yourself why you need to see a new film at midnight (or later)?

Has the marketing for films really worked to train us to think that you MUST see the first screening? There are always advance screenings, previews with cocktail parties, special advance tickets available. You can always see it after opening day. The 12:01am screening gets pushed to the 12:30am screening, to the 1am screening. Movie theaters have the film print ready- there really is no need. Or is this the greatest promotion for the blockbuster film?

For me, there is no place I would rather be. The movie theater is about the experience- and what better way to be shoved in line in between tweens dressed up as Hogwarts students and the middle-aged couple that is on the "perfect" date.

In movie theaters around the country we get to stand in line for two hours (at the minimum) before being let into a theater where we sit for another hour. Here is where the true fans get to show their devotion to the story or cast or comic book-because when else is it socially acceptable to dress-up as Spiderman and crawl around on the floor (except at Comic-Con, of course). This is an event- something that brings audiences together for one sharred experience.

An interesting thing to note, besides the mass number of people with wands that pretend to cast spells on one another, is that these screenings keep getting pushed earlier in the week. Think back to the days when Friday night was the opening night of the film. Then came the midnight screenings on Thursday night...which made sense when you think about it- it is "technically" Friday. And what a brilliant idea this is! The weekend box office is now open for an extra twelve hours. Only a few films get this kind of love-the blockbuster. It is as if the public demand has created these screening advances, but don't you worry, there is a lot of money being made because of it.

Now I'm in line on a Tuesday night at 9pm, getting out of a theater at 3am on Wednesday morning, with my wake-up time looming in the near future, having to get up to go to work. This isn't a complaint, simply an observation. "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" set a new record for the midnight box office, making $22.2 million in one night! The statistics for it's opening day have not been completely totaled, but you can bet that its weekend box office gross will be huge.

I guess this is just something to think about. What happens when we are waiting in theaters on Monday nights for a film opening on Tuesday or even Sunday nights for a Monday film? I don't think it could ever bend more into the weekend, but it does not seem very far fetched. It's thoughts like this that pass through my head while I sit in packed theaters at twelve thirty at night, cheering for Harry Potter. It really makes me realize how much I love film's ability to bring people together. This does not mean that we should overlook the repercussions of our own demands. If we didn't go to these screenings, they would cease to be booked- but then we might have to see Harry Potter clones in daylight and where is the magic in that?

*Review of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince coming soon

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sitting in my glass house...

Easy to swallow preface:

Weekly posts on films I have seen.
(No particular order, no particular genre.
Some films will be old, some will be new).
Updates on film industry happenings.
Insights on working for a film festival.