A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Archive for the ‘romance’ Category


In Actors, drama, romance on December 14, 2010 at 1:23 am

I recently watched Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, a movie meant to scar not only it’s characters but the audience too. With a voyage into madness, disguised as grief and in a way, couples therapy; it’s graphic depictions of sex, violence, and just plain surreal imagery, still haunt me. Similarly, but in a much less accosting way, BLUE VALENTINE takes us through the steps of a relationship from beginning to end. (Well, a good portion of the middle is cut out, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

I joked that it was kind of like (500) DAYS OF SUMMER without the hipsters. Read the rest of this entry »


Nothing John Hughes-ish Here | EASY A and NEVER LET ME GO Talked About Here

In comedy, drama, romance on September 10, 2010 at 1:31 am

So, I’m kind of at a loss for words. My initial plan was to talk about two movies that revolved around kids; learning lessons about growing up and dealing with relationships and possibly even being clever. Well, one movie did that and the other one delivered but in way that I don’t know I was prepared for, nor capable of fully discussing at the moment. One is an amazingly, light and breezy comedy with nary a shred of cynicism to be found. The other is a heavy, lumbering study in life and death, with barely a shred of action taking place. (And I don’t mean that as in, punches thrown or items exploded; but just in that nothing of import, really seems to happen. Which, I don’t mean as a criticism.)

What the movies have in common is that they both focus on kids facing choices that come with adulthood. Dealing with the unhappy truths and the unrealistic ideas that others set for us. I’m also breaking my “post a trailer after the review” thing, as both of these movies might be better served going in cold. Neither for any twists or turns, but it felt good walking in knowing, literally, nothing about a movie for once. So I’m recommending that. Read the rest of this entry »

Die Hipster Die | Scott Pilgrim VS. The World

In action, comedy, comic books, romance on August 9, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Wow, so I don’t even know where to start. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD starts with an 8-bit bang and doesn’t really stop for it’s entire running time. I don’t know if the comic book material is this good, or if it was just tailor made for Edgar Wright (HOT FUZZ, SHAUN OF THE DEAD), but he kicked lots of ass with this movie; and we got to see a number of hipsters explode into Canadian money.

I feel like saying, “I love this movie” and have that be all for this. But, I won’t. The story here is about Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a normal, slacker hipster that is now dating a seventeen year old. He’s taunted by his friends, roommate, sister and everyone else. The seventeen year old, named Knives  Chau (Ellen Wong), is curiously and innocently in love with Scott and his band, The Sex Bob-Ombs. Soon, Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – DEATH PROOF), and he falls madly in love with her. Or as in love as a semi-regular guy who looks like Michael Cera, that manages to get all kinds of girls, can fall in love with a woman. Soon, we find out that Scott Pilgrim will have to defeat seven of Ramona’s (evil) exes. (I’m not sure if she has other exes that weren’t evil…but we’re only focusing on those seven for this movie.) Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

In comedy, romance on February 9, 2010 at 2:33 am

The new movie from Garry Marshall – the director of such classics as PRETTY WOMAN and THE PRINCESS DIARIES (?) – features just about any name in Hollywood at the moment. VALENTINE’S DAY, boasting a cast of Jessica Abel and Biel, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher….Wait, come back. It’s not as bad as it sounds. There’s also Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Hector Elizondo, Anne Hathaway and Jamie Foxx. Still not convinced?

Well, if you’re not in the market from a light, funny, and completely harmless romantic comedy, then there’s not much I can do for you. If you want to see a number of awkward situations of Anne Hathaway doing ridiculous accents as a phone sex-worker; a precocious 8 year old trying to woo an older woman; and a wonderful scene of both young and old Shirley MacLaine on-screen and expressing their love, then VALENTINE’S DAY might be for you. Read the rest of this entry »

2009, we barely knew you…

In action, Animation, comedy, comic books, drama, romance, sci-fi on December 30, 2009 at 1:33 am

District 9; Starring Sharlto Copley and aliens

So, concludes the year that this blog was born in. 2009, as the lists of others far more prolific than I have noted, was an up and down year. That’s not to say there haven’t been some great movies – there have – but from my perspective, the best of’s are just as equaled by the “still unseen’s”. For every STAR TREK and THE HANGOVER, that I saw and loved (or really liked), there was a THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, that I missed. So, here is a rundown on the movies that I saw, and didn’t see. Reasons that I enjoy the movies, and comments on why I still want to see others. I guess the movies listed could be considered my “favorites” or picks for the best that 2009 had to offer; but in the end they’re the movies that I want to see, and in a number of cases see again and again.

The way I’ve broken up the list, is through I guess the kind of ideas or principles that I enjoy in movies. There’s the romance, the battles, the fighting for what’s right, and the sacrifice for the ones we hold closest, and of course as the song goes; the end of the world as we know it. Enjoy.


The Brothers Bloom; Starring Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, and Mark Ruffalo

THE BROTHERS BLOOM, the second feature from Rian Johnson, writer-director of 2005’s BRICK, starred Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, as the epoymous brothers; who have been labeled as one of the greatest con-artist teams, ever. The movie gives us great visual tricks (the sugar pourer), a true mystery (was it real?) and of course a fantastic love story between Bloom and Penelope (Rachel Weisz, always watchable).

UP IN THE AIR is one, that I haven’t seen – and won’t before the end of the year, which sadly puts it after this will be posted – but am looking forward to seeing. Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, this story of a man who is happy with his simple, and very mobile, life; is thrown for a loop, when a young upstart (Kendrick) is trying to make his job obsolete. Ironic, in that that essentially is what his job is; to get rid of the chaff when a company no longer needs those employees. Brought to us by Jason Reitman (JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING), this looks like a touching and what I’m assuming will be a personally important movie.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is not a love story. The audience is told that at the beginning of the movie, and at the end; we find out that it actually is. Just not the kind of love story we’re used to seeing. It’s the story of infatuation, expectation, loss, and ultimately the realization that “true love” is just something you find in other movies.

UP might just possibly be one of the most touching, and heart-felt love stories I’ve ever seen. And then there’s the final 88 minutes. If this were a list of “best of’s” this movie would be on it (and as of now, the only movie in this post I own on DVD). The story of Carl Frederickson, from a young boy to him being a grumpy old man who sets off on an adventure in the name of his wife, Ellie; and ultimately the message that it isn’t what we plan to do that makes our life special and fulfilled; it’s the things we have done – is why PIXAR Doesn’t just make the best animated movies, but just makes the best movies.

FUNNY PEOPLE is the epitome of the “bro-mance” that has been the label attached to just about everything that Judd Apatow puts his name on – or even looks like it might be related. The story of George Simmons and Ira Weiner (whiner), two comedians that come together over illness and miraculous recovery oozes with the personal association between Apatow and the comedians he grew up working around. This peek behind the curtain at stand-up comedy, is strong enough to support the left turn to the plot that so many people complained about. But, the best thing about this, and a number of these movies – and why I love them – is that by the end no one has really changed. The people that were jerks at the beginning, are still jerks at the end; just now they’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Much like in real life.


The Hurt Locker; Starring Jeremy Renner

THE HURT LOCKER, is probably the best, most-thrill inducing action movie of the year – other than possibly AVATAR – with it’s heart-pounding moments of bomb-disarmament. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and a flurry of great star-studded cameo roles, make this movie a must-see and a testament – along with a couple others I’ll discuss – that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make a great movie.

IN THE LOOP is sadly another one of the movies I haven’t seen. From Armando Iannucci, comes a satire poking fun at, or shredding apart, the western-world’s political and military enterprises. Starring James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky (the MY GIRL movies), and Steve Coogan; this is one I sadly missed in the theater and am looking forward to watching as soon as possible.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, Quentin Tarantino’s, as one of the characters says at the end of the movie, “masterpiece”, is as stunning in it’s proof that Tarantino isn’t just a hip-movie “homagist”, as it is in it’s complete historical re-writing. Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa, might just be the most evil character this side of Darth Vader, and we love him all the more for it.

AVATAR, James Cameron’s magnum opus that looks like it might just wind up being as big as his last feature (TITANIC, in case you forgot), has gained notoriety for it’s racial and cultural missteps; it’s revolutionizing of technology both in front of and behind the silly 3D glasses; and then there’s the matter of it being an amazing feat of taking the audience to an alien world, where the people are 12 feet tall, blue and have a deep – and literal – connection to their planet. The movie presents moments that are photo-realistic even when I knew they weren’t, and moments almost as traumatic as seeing the actual footage of 9/11. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it touched me.

DISTRICT 9 is the movie that I called this past Summer as the movie AVATAR had to beat. And in some ways, I’d say it failed. The movie by Neill Blompkamp and starring Sharlto Copley, while featuring a number of parallel ideas and visuals, rings more personal because we see that unlike Jake Sully who can go back and forth from his transformation; Wikus – as painfully shown in one particular scene – is unhappily and involuntarily being turned into an alien. There’s also the fact that the main alien, we spend most of the movie with comes across as more human in it’s insect-like facade; than the far-more human looking, and English speaking Na’vi.


Knowing; Starring Nicolas Cage

While AVATAR (seriously, I’ll probably stop mentioning it soon), has a back-story about Earth being devastated; it’s movies more like KNOWING, that really present us with a world that will…well, not be around much longer. Admittedly, it’s the ideas behind this movie that make it notable, than the actual execution. The acting isn’t exactly stunning, but it’s the fact that the characters accept that there’s nothing to be done, and the bravery in the ending, that lifts the movie up.

MOON is another, where we don’t actually get to see Earth, but we know that there’s been changes in that now we not only are mining the moon for it’s minerals; but the questionable immoral and unethical ways that it’s done – and I’m not talking about off-shore drilling. Sam Rockwell turns in a stunning performance as Sam Bell, and his only companion – beside himself – is Gerty, the robot voiced by Kevin Spacey. Duncan Jones, who wrote and directed the movie, will be one of the directors; much like Rian Johnson and Blomkamp, that I believe I’ll be a fan of for a long time.

WATCHMEN as flawed as it was – and of the number of different versions that have been released on DVD – has redeemed itself (as much as it can) with the Ultimate Cut, now available. If the movie were rereleased in theaters with this version I would go see it in a heart beat. Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic book series, managed to be, as Terry Gilliam recently said on the Creative Screenwriting Podcast, “both too long and too short”.

ZOMBIELAND, is the kind of zombie movie that Judd Apatow might make – if he made zombie movies. Instead, it falls to the creative team of Ruben Fleischer, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, to bring us this hilarious and touching story of the post-apocalypse. With it’s rules for survival; the scenery-chewing of Woody Harrelson, and his polar opposite in the guise of Jesse Eisenberg, this is a romantic comedy with zombies and amusement parks, that I didn’t even know I’d been waiting for all my life. And Emma Stone.


State of Play; Starring Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Russell Crowe

STATE OF PLAY starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams, as two sides of the current news media, is as potent in it’s thriller roots as it is a love letter to the printed word. Both actors are great, and their supporting cast from Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren and Jason Bateman; help to elevate this Kevin McDonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) directed movie to the top of my imaginary list.

THE INTERNATIONAL was an amazing twist on the kind of thriller that maybe STATE OF PLAY is conventionally portrayed as. Perhaps that’s why with the two of these movies together, they might just about equal the importance of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN – a movie I’ve dubbed the “most important movie ever made”. At the end of THE INTERNATIONAL, the bad guys aren’t vanquished, hell, we might not even really know who the bad guy really was. As it wasn’t just one man in a secret lair twirling a mustache; but instead a corporation that is looking to take over the world not through force, but through debt. Take a look around, and see if it’s not prescient.

THE COVE, a documentary I’m sorry to have not seen yet, has the benefit of being one thing none of these other movies does. And that it’s all documented fact. The story of a small cove in Japan, where dolphins are led to slaughter. It sounds harrowing, and yet like the uplifting story of last year’s MAN ON WIRE, a must-see.

THE INFORMANT, another mix of fact and fiction – and in this case, an even bigger mystery just in that to this day no one is completely sure of the facts. Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, a man who works at a large corn-byproduct company. Soon, he contacts the FBI in relation to a possible saboteur in the company, then reports that there’s even more dastardly goings-on happening. All of which lead us through a story of a man who might not be completely trust-worthy, either in life or as the narrator of the movie. Steven Soderbergh gives us a stylish movie that floats between being the fun stylish farce of the OCEANS movies, and the more realistic ERIN BROCKOVITCH.


World's Greatest Dad; Director Bobcat Goldthwait, Star Robin Williams

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, the second really good movie by Bobcat Goldthwait (not that I’m stating he’s made not good movies), is about a father and the depths that he goes to, to help make people like his son; and through that, make them like him. Some great performances by Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara, set this movie up as another highlight on the reel of William’s great performances. And of course, there’s the fact that the movie is just completely messed up.

THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, the stop-motion animated movie by Wes Anderson; featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and a number of others, is based off the story by Roald Dahl. About a fox who gives up his wild ways to raise a family, until he reaches a sort of “mid-life crisis”, and decided to pull just one more job – in three parts. The resulting battle that rages between the animals and the farmers that Fox has been stealing from, is touching and the moment that Mrs. Fox tells him that she loves him but shouldn’t have married him, is a perfect statement on most relationships.

THE ROAD, another adaptation brought to the screen, this time by John Hillcoat (THE PROPOSITION) and featuring Viggo Mortensen as a man making his way through a ravaged world after some catastrophic event leaves the world covered in never-ending ash, earthquakes and fires. But, the story beyond all that is of a man and the love he has for his son. Protecting him, teaching him not only how to survive, but how to kill (others and himself). This is a true representation of what it means to care for another and give everything you have, and are – even in the face of losing your humanity – for someone else.

TETRO, the second movie from the new career that Francis Ford Coppola has created for himself is another of the few that I have not been able to see yet. The story of a man that goes to South America in search for his brother, and the rivalries that endure in a family. This movie starring Vincent Gallo, as the titular character; is shot in a beautiful black and white, and after the bewilderingly, beautiful YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH in 2007, I cannot wait to see this.

Finally, there’s A SERIOUS MAN – one of two movies with “man” in the title that I’ve yet to see (the other being A SINGLE MAN, by fashion-designer and first-time writer/director Tom Ford), given to the world by The Coen Bros., the story of a Jewish man who is dealing with a flurry of life issues, not least of which is his brother who has over-stayed his welcome on the couch. Searching out a series of rabbi’s looking for some kind of counsel, Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) is put through test after test – and well, since I haven’t seen the darn thing, I’m not sure what else there is. But, considering the word-of-mouth, and the Coen’s past work; this is a movie that will not only test Larry, but the audience as well.

So, those are the movies that I saw, liked enough to talk about, and felt best conveyed the sum of all the movies (nearly 50) that I could have bored you with. Earlier this year, I was accused – or was it complimentary – of liking everything. While that’s not completely true, I do have to admit that it’s the joy of going to the movies; the environment, the popcorn, the speakers and even the trailers, that I love almost as much as the movies themselves. Even the movies that I didn’t particularly like this year (TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, THE PROPOSAL – fine, I liked it, but it’s not “good” – or, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), I had fun because I saw them at the movie theater.

Avatar; starring Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington...sorta

Let me know what you think, or what you liked – or if you even made to the end of this thing, in the comments.

A story about love, that isn’t a love story

In romance on August 1, 2009 at 10:42 pm

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER starts with a disclaimer, along the lines of “all characters in this story are fictional and aren’t meant to represent any real person….Especially, Jenny Beckman….Bitch.” And from there we’re given an opening narration that takes us right into the movie, with the final warning, “This is not a love story”.

All of that build up for a romantic comedy? Well, not exactly, I’d say this is right in line with anti-romantic comedies like HIGH FIDELITY…and, well, that’s the only example I have. This movie really captured, I hesitate to say heart, so we’ll go with “perspective on all things ‘love’ related”. You have a character who falls madly – insanely, maybe  even – in love with a woman upon first seeing her. Then we have a woman who has long ago turned off the idea that love is something real and relationships are nothing more than, basically “friends with benefits” types of situations.

The schtick of the movie is that it’s non-linear. I think that if we had 500 DAYS OF SUMMER from beginning to end, it wouldn’t really be that special of a movie. It is in fact the way that the movie can jump between Day 30 and Day 301, just in a cut from a happy-go-lucky character getting into an elevator and a miserable, disheveled one getting out. There’s a wonderful scene at the beginning of the movie, where Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are in IKEA, and he’s doing this thing where he turns a faucet on, and says, “Our sink is broken.” Then continues to try every faucet in the display, saying, “all of our faucets are broken,” to which Summer kind of just walks away. So, we think, “ok, old joke that she doesn’t find funny anymore”, but later in the movie we see the scene from earlier in the relationship, where it’s her that starts this little game… Along with the other humorous shenanigans you do on a first time “couples” trip to IKEA.

There are also some fun stylistic flourishes that director, Marc Webb, pulls out; like, a musical number (besides the number of karaoke scenes), where Tom is walking through the streets of LA and people get behind him and they all dance and everyone is high-fiving him. Or, more impressively, and also heart-breakingly, is the scene that plays out in split-frame; one being Tom’s expectations and one being reality. Naturally, they don’t meet, too often, and never to the same degree. And it’s these types of things that really drew me in and made me empathize – I have to say – with both characters. To be honest, I’ve been through a number of experiences that have left me pretty jaded on the reality of love. There’s broken marriages (not mine), there’s broken hearts and people not being who they seemed (mine) and of course, that eventual feeling of when the “magic” is gone, and there’s no more “happily ever after”, just this other person you have to deal with and see every day. But, then there’s the side of me that meets – or sometimes even sees – an interesting person, and I can imagine being with them for a long time (I can’t say forever), and all the fun, happy things we could do together (not just sex). So, it’s having this cynically, romantic heart that really sucked me in, and I can’t imagine being the only one that feels this way.

The movie is pretty smart and funny as well as being emotional; Tom works at a greeting card company – which is funny in itself, along with being kind of sad. And he has this great line of, “I didn’t want to do something as disposable as make a building; so I wrote greeting cards, which last forever.” And then there’s the lower brow stuff, like repeatedly and incrementally getting louder yelling “Penis” in a park. We are also treated to one of those teenagers who are wiser than their years, and are introduced to the eleven year old sister of Tom’s, Rachel (played by Chloe Moretz), in a scene sort of reminiscent to Harvey Keitel’s introduction in PULP FICTION.

Going from Chloe, we have a number of great performances in this movie. Starting with Tom’s pals, McKenzie and Paul – played by Geoffrey Arend and Matthew Gray Gubler, respectively – who guide and try to help Tom cope with his various forms of infatuation, love and despair. McKenzie works with Tom and has some great moments at work related functions – like aforementioned karaoke. Paul, seems to just be another friend, who in one scene pops in to question whether tom “banged” Summer yet, then has an interesting back and forth about a number of “jobs”. At the end, they’re both questioned – as are a couple of the other supporting characters – about love, and Paul gives a very nice speech about his girlfriend.

Then there’s Tom’s boss, Mr. Vance – who actually employs Summer as his assistant, hence leading to said meeting – played by Clark Gregg, who recently wrote and directed the Chuck Palanhiuk adaptation, CHOKE – and he gets a couple of great moments, like suggesting that Tom use his broken heart and miserable existence to write bereavement greeting cards.

Then there are the two leads. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really a rising star, who so far has managed to mainly stay in lower-profile, indy movies; and the random occurrence in a mainstream role, like as a reporter in MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA and in the upcoming GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, as none other than Cobra Commander, himself. But, it’s been his roles in movies like BRICK and THE LOOKOUT, that have really gotten my attention. Of course in both of those movies he has a stylistic attribute that keeps him from being a “conventional” character; speaking in a clipped, noirish dialogue in BRICK, and having a physical/mental handicap in THE LOOKOUT. So, it is kind of odd to see him playing a normalish person, but he manages it and is able to fully flesh out and allow us to see inside his mind – even if it’s not all realistic – and the anguish that he goes through.

Zooey Deschanel, as Summer, is I have to say, kind of staying within the mold of characters that I’ve come to expect from her – and was such a strange departure from in THE HAPPENING, which is the only time that movie will ever be mentioned on this blog. A head-strong, independent woman who seems just as content to be on her own, and to only take up with someone in the way that a cat does. And of course, this is what drives most normal men, crazy about her (in a good way). It’s wonderful how this movie is both a love letter to Zooey, as much as a diatribe on why she sucks. We see the same scene replayed twice, once describing how wonderful her laugh is, and how Tom loves her knees and the way she licks her lips before talking; and then later he says he hates her laugh, her knobby knees and the way she smacks her gums together. But, I think that in a way, Summer is the more normal of the two main characters. From a certain perspective, she can be seen as a villain, or a bitch; but in reality – and as mentioned by a character at one point – she was upfront with this guy from the beginning, and there were enough things about him that made her not “fall in love with him” and I think everyone’s gone through that.

This being Marc Webb’s first feature, is pretty astonishing. It’s put together very well – and part of that probably has to do with what seems like was a pretty strong screenplay – by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber – and none of the extreme, or exaggerated moments seem false. In fact, just about the only thing that I have to complain about is that I’m almost positive that we did in fact not get to see a peek into all 500 days! But, then the ending of the movie gives us the whimsical cap that we needed – and pretty much have to expect coming – with Tom at a job interview for an architectural firm.

Great movie, and one of the few romantic, something-or-other’s, that will be on my DVD shelf.

Cinema, je t’aime…

In Directors, drama, romance on July 4, 2009 at 5:00 am

I’ve not tried to discuss 18 movies in one blog post before; so luckily there was a single movie made that contained 18 smaller ones and they’re all even about the same subject matter. The place is Paris, and  the movie is PARIS, JE T’AIME. The concept behind having a groups of writers/directors come together to tell stories – in what was originally supposed be each district (or, in francais, arrondissement) – was conceived by Tristan Carne and Emmanuel Benbihy. From there we get some fantastic, international filmmakers from The Coen Brothers to Alfonso Cuaron, Gurinder Chadha to Gerard Depardieu and of course, Wes Craven to Walter Salles.

The first part is titles “Montrmartre” by writer/director Bruno Podalydes (who also acts as the lead actor in this part), and the story features a man driving around trying to find a parking spot. When he does, he questions himself in the mirror on why he’s not with someone. He’s funny and can laugh at himself. Then he notices a woman walking past the car, but when he sees that she doesn’t continue past the car – him looking through the side-view mirror. He gets out and sees that she has passed out on the sidewalk beside his car. From there, it seems to be a love connection and off we go to the next segment.

“Montmartre” is pretty funny and is a great kick-off to the movie in its entirety. There’s a little bit of the universal real life in this movie – the search for a parking spot – and the fantastical – where the girl that catches your eye, almost literally falls into your lap. Of course, as this movie goes to length in showing, this is not a promise of a happy ending; but at least a happy and sweet beginning to a relationship.

The second section is “Quais de Seine” by writer/director team (and married couple) Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha, and involves a trio of boys who each take their turn trying to score with the mademoiselles. The only one that kind of has a clue is the one who gets up to help a muslim girl that trips in front of them. The boy, Francois, helps the girl put the hair cover back on, with silly results and then later meets her – and her grandfather – outside of their mosque.

The segment is funny, for the many and varied ways that the young boys keep addressing the girls that walk by. There’s never any sign that they have a chance, and Francois sees the muslim girl smirking at their hijinks. It’s sweet and unlike the previous – or other segments – doesn’t offer up the promise of a “true love” moment, as much as just two people meeting and striking up a friendship. With, ok, the possibility of other things.

Next is “Le Marais”, by Gus Van Sant. It takes place in a print shop, where one boy sees another and instantly feels a kindred spirit. He goes on and on about how he just feels like he has to keep talking to this guy, only problem is, the other – American – kid doesn’t really speak french. It’s only after the printshop owner tells him that he ought to call the other guy, that the American kid takes off down the street trying to find the other.

You almost know the twist to this story, before it’s revealed – although, I initially thought that it was going to that the non-speaking kid was going to be deaf, but then he was responding a little. The only part that kind of seemed off – was the ending where it seemed like all of sudden the American kid felt like he so desperately he needed to find the other.

“Tuileries” takes place in a subway station, and features Steve Buscemi – written and directed by The Coen Brothers – and it’s our first straight-up slapstick segment of the movie. Granted it features the Coen’s trademark dark-humor, and Buscemi’s character doesn’t say a word in the entire segment. Even when he’s being attacked by a guy who he caught Buscemi’s tourist looking at his girlfriend.

The next segment is titled, “Loin du 16e” and features a young spanish woman dropping off her infant at a daycare so she can head to work. Before leaving and to soothe her child, she sings a lovely lullaby and then we get a fairly long segment showing the commute the girl has to go through to get to her job. Where we learn, is to take care of another infant – by a rich white woman – and this time when she tries to soothe the infant with the same song, it doesn’t seem to really work. So, she seems to spend her day looking out the window.

This segment is by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, and they do a good job of showing us the variety of denizens of Paris. If I did read the story correctly – with the differing responses of the two babies, then it’s an interesting story of love over your own family over “strangers”. But, the young Spanish girl is well played by Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Next we have “Port de Choisy” by Christopher Doyle, where we are introduced to a man who is trying to get directions to a salon. Whereupon once he arrives, he is attacked through a glass door and then the whole story kind of gets confusing in an array of sort of a music number and surrealistic hair-styling with a group of Asian women who take on the hairstyles of famous actresses – like Audrey Tautou in AMELIE.

I found this one to be one of my least favorite segments. It’s well made and I like the beginning part with the man trying to find his way to the salon, but then I guess I didn’t really “get” what it was trying to do.

“Bastille” is the next part and is made by Isabel Coixet and features a man who is meeting his wife at the same cafe where he first realized that he no longer loves her, to call off their marriage. The wife is played by Miranda Richardson, and she drops in with some news of her own. Which leads to him staying with her after all, and still winding up alone at the end; whereas he had had a mistress initially that he was looking forward to being with after his divorce.

The story, like many of these, is done without much dialogue and is narrated by revealing things about the wife, which he started off thinking were wonderful traits, but now drive him crazy. Like her red trenchcoat, or the song she sings when she makes dumplings. I liked this segment a lot, and it brought the movie back up to the level of the first few segments.

“Place des Victoires” is by Japanese writer-director Nobuhiro Suwa, and stars Juliette Binoche as a mother mourning the loss of her son. She then dreams that she can get him back, via following an American cowboy, played by Willem Dafoe. It’s a sad and yet kind of fun segment.

Next we get the story of young Jean-Claude, and how his parents met. The segment “Tour Eiffel” is by Sylvain Chomet. The boys parents, of course wind up being mimes, and we get a day in the life of the father and he eventually winds up in jail, only to be placed next to another mime – a female one – and they fall in love.

I know that there’s the stigma against mimes, but I found this segment endearing and pretty funny. Especially the male mime, who we see the most of. The most hilarious part is the fact that he uses his feet as his car – as all good mimes would – but he is able to still move at incredible speed and moves his feet almost like the Road Runner. And the giant book that young Jean-Claude wears on his back is pretty funny too.

“Parc Monceau” by Alfonso Cuaron, is done all in one long, continuous take and features Ludivine Sagnier and Nick Nolte walking and talking. We see Nolte’s character meet up with the young woman and we think that the conversation is heading one direction – and by the end, the story reveals itself to be about something else entirely. It’s all very well done – and carrying on the long takes Cuaron used in (one of my favorite movies) CHILDREN OF MEN – and it was good to Nick Nolte acting.

The next section called “Quartier des Enfants Rouges” by Olivier Assayas, features a guy riding up to a building on his scooter, only to reveal that he’s a drug dealer, and he’s there to sell his wares to an American actress – played by Maggie Gyllenhaal – who seems to develop a crush on the guy and calls him up for another hit, but is really just wanting to see the guy again.

There are some good bits in this segment, mostly having to do with the movie set that Maggie’s character is shooting on. And then there’s the unfortunate ending, that sends us into the next segment. But, for the most part, I wasn’t too thrilled with this one either. The beginning is cute, where Maggie has to go to an ATM to get cash, and then to a bar to break her bills into something smaller. This is where she possibly makes the mistake/misinterpretation of the drug dealer asking for her number.

“Place de Fetes” by Oliver Schmitz is about a man who is face to face with a woman he’s seemingly remembered her from a chance encounter where he was cleaning a parking garage. She’s currently attending to him, after he says he must have gotten stung by a bee and asks her to have a cup of coffee with him. It’s revealed that she’s actually a paramedic and he’s wounded. We then see some flashbacks to what this man’s life has been. Getting fired from a number of jobs, taking up playing a guitar and singing. We then see how the man wound up in the position that he’s in.

It’s a heart-breaking segment and the final shot of the woman holding two cups of coffee, is especially profound.

“Pigalle” starts with us seeing Bob Hoskins going into a bar, and getting a drink. He looks at and is spoken to by a woman who asks for a song to be played that was played the first and only time she fell in love. Then Hoskins walks back into a what is essentially a peepshow booth, where the woman from the bar then bursts in and tries to seduce Hoskin’s character.

It’s then revealed that they’re doing some kind of role-playing and actually are a couple. They leave the bar argue as they seem to be heading home. The writer/director Richard LaGrevanese, gives us a short view into a long relationship that has seemed to have gone through their ups and downs, and by the end we know that they’re used to performing.

“Quartier de la Madeleine” by Vincenzo Natali is about a young backpacker (Elijah Wood) who encounters a vampiress who is chewing on her latest victim – both a lucky and unfortunate Wes Craven. She then jumps at Wood, but sniffs him and then decides to leave him alive. It’s only when Wood’s character cuts himself, and then slips and falls down a flight of stairs that the vampire (played by Olga Kurylengo), with her white eyes and flowing hair and clothes, decides to save him by turning him into a vampire.

This was another segment that I didn’t really care for. I understand the history involved with things like vampires and grand guignol. But, this segment is kind of ridiculous with how Olga’s character’s hair and clothes seems to be running in reverse. The stylization of the blood and how the vampire looks is great though.

Continuing on with the macabre, sort of, we move on to “Pere-Lachaise” which has us following an engaged, British couple who are walking through the cemetery, and come upon Oscar Wilde’s tombstone. The story is really about the couple still kind of getting to know each other, while on their pre-marriage honeymoon (it’s the only time they could fit it into their schedules) and realizing that one’s too serious and doesn’t enjoy the fun things in life (as portrayed by the always fun Rufus Sewell) and well, the other joins the multitudes who have visited Wilde’s grave and left their mark by covering it with kisses (Emily Mortimer).

The fun part of this segment, which despite Sewell’s repeating saying that he’s never made anyone laugh, is when he falls down; bumps his head and sees a vision of Oscar Wilde, himself (as portrayed by Alexander Payne), who tells him to go after that girl. The fact that this segment is by previous vampire victim, Wes Craven, is a fresh outing from a director whose last real good movie was probably SCREAM and this is probably one of my favorite parts of the movie.

“Faubourg Saint-Denis” is about a young blind kid who while out walking one day hears a girl screaming that she’s locked in someplace and needs help. Of course, this is revealed that she’s just an actress practicing for a part. The girl played by Natalie Portman, is then shown a shortcut to the place of her audition, by the blind kid running through the streets. (amazingly he seemed to know a shortcut, that made the hall where she needed to go, right around the corner. This segment by Tom Tykwer, then follows these two as they seem to go through the motions of an entire relationship – which might actually have mostly all occurred through one phone call.

It’s a fun segment, that harkens back to Tykwer’s movie RUN LOLA RUN. And the revelation at the end could have a few meanings.

“Quartier Latin” was a magical portion of this movie, written and directed by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin and features the onscreen reteaming of Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara. The couple used to work on movies with Rowlands’ husband – John Cassavetes – and was great to see them together playing a couple who are both in the twilight years of their lives, but starting over with younger partners, so they need to finalize their divorce.

There’s some wonderful and witty banter between the two, and really the saddest part to me was seeing these two aged so. Gazzarra apparently had a stroke a couple of years ago, and therefore his characteristic strong growl of a voice is muffled and weaker here. Also, Depardieu as Maitre’d was a nice touch.

The final part of the movie, is called “14e Arrondissement” and is by Alexander Payne – or Oscar Wilde – is about a mail-carrier from Denver who is in Paris alone and seeing the sights on her own. The story is told seemingly from a report that Carol (Margo Martidale) has written for some kind of (I’d assume French speaking) class. The narration is told in a choppy, not well, mannered french (as opposed to the other American performers in the movie, who all do pretty well with their speech) and winds up ruminating on her own life. How miserable she is being alone, how she thinks that her last boyfriend would enjoy this trip – except they last talked 11 years ago.

It’s a great and touching segment and Margo does a fantastic job in playing this part, and in her final moments, while looking around the park and finally falling in love with Paris, and knowing that it loves her.

The movie’s finale are short bursts of seeing how some of these characters have mild interactions. But, it’s not forced or anything. The whole package comes together to form a uniform vision of this city, that outsiders to the city might not see. There’s an idealized version of what Paris is, and none of that is really shown in this movie, other than as transitions between segments.

The interesting thing to me is that this is a concept that is seemingly going to be expanded to other cities, including Tokyo, New York and Rio.

Teenage vampires, don’t mess with ’em!

In drama, Horror, romance on April 1, 2009 at 3:47 am

Teenagers and monsters go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Teens have been stalked by psychopaths, undead beings from the dream-world or the old campgrounds and even more classical monsters, like werewolves and vampires. The first movie of teenage vampires I remember seeing – and obviously setting the standard for this  sort of thing – was THE LOST BOYS. Stylized, dark and violent and creating vampires that seemed like they could be real and how they could totally fit in with other teens, this movie became a classic and while the fashion and music (some) is very dated, Kiefer Sutherland is still scary and I’m still drawn in by Jason Patric and Jamie Gertz’s roles. 

Following that – actually within the same year – was MONSTER SQUAD, which was more of a comedy and placed all of the classical movie monsters let loose into the real world. I don’t really remember much of the movie, but I recall there being moments of frightening stuff – including the Wolf Man attacking a kid, only to then be undone by being kicked into the “nards”. 

And my favorite movie, involving both vampires and teenagers – when I was a kid – was one of the first starring roles for Jim Carrey, titled ONCE BITTEN. Jim Carrey falls in with a woman vampire, played by Lauren Hutton, and is basically about being turned into a vampire and was just good cheesy fun – from what I remember; I don’t know that I’d recommend seeing it now.

But, in 2008 there were two movies that had lots of word of mouth – either through the mainstream or the more indie-cinema veins – one is a pop-culture event, the other is a small movie from Sweden. Both are based on books, and since I’ve read neither one I can’t comment on the detail of adaptation. 

First, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is a Swedish movie about young Oskar – in the 1980’s – who is sort of an outcast and is bullied by a group of boys. And in the opening moments of the movie, before we’ve seen any images we hear (who we do not yet know is the star) him making threatening comments. Then we see this pale, almost malnourished, looking kid in his underwear talking into a mirror in his room. 

Soon, he meets a young girl outside his apartment building. They talk a couple of times, and she mentions a few times how she can’t be his friend. Then one night when she goes back into her apartment, where her (seeming) father is getting ready to go out for the night, we discover that something is just not quite right about her – and him. 

When we then discover that what her father, named Hakan, is doing when he goes out; chloroforming and tying up people and draining their blood, we discover that there’s not only something wrong with them, but it’s something sinister. After a failed attempt to do this, Hakan returns home to apologize to Eli, she then gets this ill-looking face and soon has to venture out on her own, to the detriment of a man passing by her under a small bridge. And thus, we know that Eli is a vampire. Which explains why she only goes outside at night, and how she doesn’t need to wear shoes in the snow of  the Stockholm suburb. 

The rest of the movie, directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by the author of the (2004) novel John Ajvide Lindqvist, is about Oskar and Eli forming a bond and the troubles of being a kid, and dealing with those issues as well as being a monster and what happens when people come hunting for you. The finale is amazing and before that, there are a number of great, horrific moments throughout. And part of the…I hesitate to say “charm”, but appeal of this movie is that it’s low-budget and fully uses its (around) $4 million dollar budget. This movie is scary, without being gory and it’s effects – when it needs them – are all really great, with one major – but forgivable – exception and it involves cats. (You’ll know when you see it.) 

The crux of the movie is all on the laps of the two young performers portraying Oskar and Eli – Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, respectively – and they really succeed. Oskar, pale and sickly looking has a sorrowfulness in his eyes and there’s a stewing rage beneath his skin that we wait to see boil up and in a few instances that he does let go, he is not happy with perpetrating violence, whereas Eli as a vampire forever stuck around 12-ish years old. And she seems to have learned to survive, whether it’s exploiting the kindness of people in wanting to take care of children; or in the case of the man who is her care-giver – someone who might have a lesser-acceptable relationship with children. But, when she must become a hunter, she is deadly. And then, of course there is the twist about Eli’s history, which I wouldn’t even think about spoiling. The other major character in the movie is Hakan, played by Per Ragnar, who seems like he’s reached an age where he’s no longer really of any use to Eli, and perhaps that is a reason why Eli has started befriending Oskar.

There are definitely a number of things in this movie that are left to interpretation, which are more definite and explored in the actual novel. So, below I’m going to do a first for the blog, and attempt a Spoiler section – where the text will be whited out, and you’ll have to highlight the space to see what is written. I’m not sure that I’ll do this often, but this movie’s spoilers are so amazing that I wouldn’t want to reveal that to people that don’t want to see. So, without further ado: 

First, Hakan – in the book – is meant to be a pedophile that apparently was fired from his job as a teacher and chosen by Eli as her caretaker and someone that can go out in daylight and do things easier like rent an apartment. In the movie, it’s left more open for us to decide what their relationship is, and I personally thought – and have seen a number of responses that read that came to the same conclusion – that Hakan actually had been someone like Oskar, who has been with Eli for years, since he was a kid and has now grown to old to continue being of use to her. So, he sees Oskar being sort of brought in to replace him and he continually blunders attempts to get the blood for Eli. With his last attempt leading to him attempting suicide – and failing at that too. I can see the different interpretations, and I understand what the original story was, but I think that the conclusion that I came to works and is kind of reinforced at the end, when Oskar is on a train with Eli, now being in the position as caretaker. 

The other major revelation is about Eli, and her gender. Continuously through the movie she says to Oskar that she isn’t a girl – which is lead to make us think that she’s referring to being a vampire. But, in one moment, after Eli has taken a bath and is putting on a dress, Oskar sees her nude and sees a large scar on her pubic area, instead of any actual sort of genitalia. In the novel, apparently there is a scene – before Eli is seemingly made into a vampire – where a young boy is castrated with all of his genitalia being cut off, and this is Eli. So, with him being a pre-pubescent boy, and with no genitalia, it is pretty easy to then portray himself as a girl. The revelation – which in the movie, is never really clarified, but again drawing from her continual saying that she isn’t a girl, it is pretty obvious what is being implied – is one of those gender twists which really is almost as interesting, and misleading, as in THE CRYING GAME, and in the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP – a 1980’s horror movie, which I wouldn’t expect anyone to have seen, and I believe there is a contemporary remake, but I haven’t seen it.  

The only other thing, I wanted to mention with this, is that currently apparently, the DVD release of this movie has had it’s subtitles altered from the theatrical version, but ought to soon have a newer version (although it might be unmarked which version it is). Also, there is a rumored remake in the works with Matthew Reeves, who directed CLOVERFIELD. 

The other movie, starring teenage vampires – although, really they’re not teenagers any more having lived for a long time – is TWILIGHT. This movie, based on the books by Stephanie Meyer, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and a screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg is about a young girl named Bella, who moves to Forks, Washington, to live with her father after he mom has remarried and is going on the road with her minor-league baseball husband. 

Once in Forks, Bella meets a small group of kids that befriend her and introduce her to the town. She’s also introduced to the Cullen family, a group of five kids, who are the foster children of a local doctor and his wife. They are all pale – possibly more so than Bella – and stick only to themselves. When Bella comes into her Biology class, she is seated next to the seeming outcast from the Cullen group, named Edward – who acts very odd like he’s about to be sick and runs out of the classroom. And we next see him in the school office trying to change his class schedule, apparently to get away from Bella. Then he’s gone from class for a number of days, only to return and act pretty normal and even a little friendly – if still distant – to Bella.

Soon, Edward is revealed to be something special to Bella when he saves her from being crushed by an out of control van. And soon, it is revealed that Edward along with his “siblings” and “parents” are all vampires. Although, this family all feed only on animals, trying to remain being a part of humanity. Of course, soon a group of bad vampires show up and the action is set off concluding in a face-off between these two factions. 

The story of this series (referring to the book as well as the movie, and it’s soon to come sequels) is Bella and Edward falling in love with each other, and yet not being able to ever fully commit to one another. Obviously, the reaction from people – not in love with the series – has been one of derision and flippantly disregarding it as crap and adolescent, “romance-novel” type plots. I have to admit though, that I wasn’t as put off on the movie as I thought I would be, and I thought that the cheesiness and eye-rolling scenes really weren’t much worse – even though it’s a lot more “family-friendly” – than the HBO series TRUE BLOOD. Both are about a girl that falls in love with a vampire; both are special and “unreadable” to the vampire that is the object of their obsession. 

The vampires in this movie, other than seeming to still need blood, differ a lot from conventional vampires. First, and most interestingly, is that in this series the vampires can indeed survive being in sunlight – but if exposed they twinkle, bright like diamonds, as Bella says in the movie. Also, in the Cullen house there seems to be a giant crucifix – it wasn’t fully visible, so I’m not sure, but it seemed to hint that was also a myth that isn’t effective. The other thing, and how it differs from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, is that these vampires don’t need to be invited in order to enter your house. In fact, we’re only given one explanation on how a vampire can be killed – and in a climatic moment, are given a great visual peek on how this is done. 

The performances in this movie are hard to gauge, because the story is very stilted and cheesy. The leads, Bella as played by Kristen Stewart and Edward played by Robert Pattison, do well for what they’re given, I think. Stewart, whose character is meant to sort of be self-conscious and clumsy, but also strong and independent does a moderately good job. Pattison is given a harder task in trying to present a character that is both drawn to this girl, but also has to restrain himself from following his instincts. For instance, at the beginning in the scene in Biology class, it really seems silly how he seems like he’s about to be sick by the presence of Bella could have been done better. I also kind of think that maybe this movie might have benefited from a voice-over – although with how the dialogue is presented, I kind of am hesitant to say that it would make the movie better. Some of the other actors are Peter Facinelli, who plays Dr. Cullen, the “foster father” to the Cullen kids. I have to admit that it was odd to see him in this movie – other than Stewart and moderately Pattison (who had a role in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE), no one else in this movie is really a recognizable actor, so it was then odd to see someone that I recognize. The other two actors, both playing Bella’s parents are played by Sarah Clarke – who was in a couple of seasons of 24 – as her mother; and Billy Burke, who was in UNTRACEABLE and an episode of FRINGE – and although, I don’t remember him, apparently he was in 24 as well – as her father. 

I thought that Hardwicke’s direction was actually pretty good. There’s an airiness and wonder to the camera movement, that I think works for the story and I found that it worked really well. The special effects, for the most part are a little hokey and not the best – particularly with showing how fast the vampires move. I do think that the final confrontation, and disposal of the “bad” vampires is very dark and gritty – and gave a couple of the vampires that don’t get much to do another level to their character. Also, fun was a scene where we get to see the family getting to go out and have fun. Set to a Muse song, this scene is pretty well done, is cute and works really well; even if it’s comparable to the Quidditch scenes in the Harry Potter movies. The music in general works. 

There are sequels already in the works for this series, and apparently we’re set for three more, to correlate with the four books. Also, there was a controversial departure of director Catherine Hardwicke, to be replaced by a series of different directors. I don’t really know whether this bodes well for or to the detriment of this movie franchise. I don’t know who the other people are being considered, but Hardwicke really seemed to have a perspective on the series, and did as well a job with this movie as was possible. So, we’ll see, and like with this movie – I’ll not see them unless my friend who wanted to see this movie rents them on DVD. 

So, while I can’t say that TWILIGHT is good; I do think that people should see it and take from it whatever they will. It’s not the worst movie ever made and it’s not as bad as I was really expecting it to be. The movie is definitely not meant to be made for me – or my general demographic. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, though is right up my alley and I recommend it to any and everyone. It’s definitely an R rated, mature-audience movie, but it is very well done and portrays young vampires in a refreshing – if not altogether new – way. 

Also Recommended:

Lessons and knowledge learned from Cartoons

In Animation, comic books, cult film, drama, romance on March 24, 2009 at 5:50 am

Cartoons, like fairy tales and nursery rhymes have gone through many iterations in the time since their creation. They’ve contained subversive (for their time) material – such as Betty Boop and Fritz the Cat – as well as taught us (as kids and those that have stuck around, adults too) lessons on life, friendship and the value of not mail-ordering things from ACME. Over the past decade or so, animation has moved beyond the near century of 2-d, or flat, animation that has dominated this field; and the best example of 3-d animation – or Computer generated, is actually a better and more acurate way of putting it – would be PIXAR. A company that was founded after being the defunct and sold off animation department of Lucasfilms (yeah, that guy that did some Star Wars movie). With their release of a number of animated shorts and then their feature debut, TOY STORY – PIXAR revolutionized (American made) animation. 

Their movies have been sold as “for kids” but have contained as much material – albeit still sanitized and clean – for adults as for younger people. In recent years, especially after having brought in a filmmaker who has specialized in creating animation that was geared a little more towards adults – Brad Bird, who had done the THE FAMILY DOG section of the Spielberg-produced AMAZING TALES series as well as the still-underrated classic THE IRON GIANT – with their movies THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE; and then in 2008 releasing Andrew (FINDING NEMO) Stanton’s WALL-E. But, this post isn’t about PIXAR – as much as it could be, really. It’s about two movies that have recently (within the past two years) that are independently created – and not only that, created by two women – and not distributed widely (and in one’s case, not at all, so far) and carry very grown up tones. 

PERSEPOLIS is based on a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, and it’s about her life growing up in Iran during the 1980’s and moving around Europe to get away from the over-bearing government of the Shah and fundamentalist Muslims that took over the country. The movie is created using a stark black and white palette, with interspersed bouts of color. There are fantastic elements, such as God appearing to Marjane to explain, or extricate “his” responsibility in the terror and horrors that happen to man. The animation also works back and forth between being a cartoony-realistic, sort of roto-scoped effect – where the characters seem to move too smoothly and humanly to have been done from imagination – to the down-right exaggerated cartoony style of Bugs Bunny. 

We see Marjane as a little girl, who is often told by grown-ups, or overheard when she’s not meant to be listening, about the things that are happening in the government and how people are being taken away and jailed for long periods of time. Like her grandfather and Uncle Anouche, who comes home after being gone for years and he explains to her what is happening and what he went through. And he tells Marjane that she has to carry on these stories. Then there’s her grandmother, who seems free-spirited and non-political. She enjoys putting fragrent flowers in her bra and smoking and tells Marjane that she’ll meet a lot of jerks in life and that her first marriage is just practice for her second one. The movie is full of interesting characters, or people that we’re lead to believe will be in Marjane’s life for a long time, only to have them leave either on their own; be taken away by authorities or chase Marjane away. We see her as a young precocious child, as a quiet and out of her element (in Germany) teenager who gets into punk rock and then as a hippy, only to realize that what they’re standing for is totally the opposite of what the people she knows are fighting for their lives for in Iran.

The animation throughout is top notch. The stark black and white, adds a somber tone to the whole movie, which is deserved because even in the high notes, we know that this is not a fairy tale and stories like this don’t have “and they lived happily ever after” at the end. The acting of the characters is also really good, with the grandmother as the most memorable and the interesting portrayal of God or whoever, is also a nice take. The voice-acting, and performances are hard to gauge, because the movie is in French – with the exception being when Marjane sings Eye of the Tiger – but just the tone of the person that provides Marjane’s voice as a teenager and adult has moments of being very grating and even not knowing much french, seemed incomprehensible. 

I have to admit that I’m pretty ignorant of the whole Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s, and the Shah and other troubles that have occurred in that country – and what I do know comes with the American slant, which interestingly the US is pretty much non-existent in this movie – but the one thing that kind of bothered me was still the polemic speeches delivered to Marjane, particularly as a kid, and seeing how even in one scene she goes from vehemently defending the Shah to denouncing him. Because of what the grown-ups around her say. This isn’t meant as a defense for anyone, but it just stuck out to me on how adults form their kids to follow the principles and doctrine that they follow. 

Overall, I really liked the movie though. I think that the message of staying true to who you are – and as a child/teenager/young adult figuring that out is the most difficult thing some people go through – and standing up for what’s right, is a good one to teach, to kids and adults.

**Edit: I didn’t see the dubbed version of PERSEPOLIS, but apparently it has an all star cast in the English language, including: Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands and Iggy Pop. So, if you’re not into subtitles, that might be another plus in seeing the movie. Very interesting, and unusual casting there.

The other movie, SITA SINGS THE BLUES, which is a one-woman show animated movie that retells the story of the Hindu gods and their own sort of telling of THE ODYSSEY, called the RAMAYANA; along with a story of contemporary woman Nina – the artist behind the movie. The movie is created using a variety of animation techniques. There’s the “squiggle-vision” look that has been used in things like the TV Show DR. KATZ, there’s a shadow-puppet look using still images with animated mouths and eyes and different single images with the characters in different poses and also a stylized geometric look that is a couple steps up from the sort of animation used on SOUTH PARK. 

The writer, director, producer, editor and “everything else unless otherwise noted” creator of the movie is Nina Paley, an Illinois born artist who currently teaches at The Parsons School of Design. Her real life story of living in San Francisco with her husband, who is offered a job in India and then after her moving there with him he dumps her via email while she’s in New York on a business trip; is the inspiration and a sub-story in the movie SITA SINGS THE BLUES. Nina is a sort of contemporary stand-in for Sita, who is the wife of demi-god, son of a king, Rama. On the day that Rama is to be crowned king by his father, he is instead banished for 14 years and his faithful and devoted wife says she’ll come along with him. So, they go into the forest outside of his kingdom, where the king of Sri Lanka (or just Lanka, as it was apparently called then) kidnaps Sita to have as his own. 

Rama comes to her rescue, only to then question her loyalty and purity. Eventually he takes her back, knocks her up and then casts her away again, because he’s still not really sure whether she’s been honest with him; plus, his subjects also are disparaging towards her, and Rama wants to get along with his people. So, off she goes back into the forest, pregnant. All along, Sita during moments in these trials will break into song – provided by the singing voice of 1920’s artist Annette Hanshaw. The subject of the songs, having nothing to do with the actual plot of the Ramayana, but still dealing with the ideals of a scorned lover and being betrayed by them, is shown that this is a universal subject. 

All through the movie we are told the story, and given side comments by a greek chorus – although I guess it’d be a Hindi chorus – of three shadow puppets, that argue over the details and seeming plotholes of the story involving Rama and Sita. (“Why didn’t she just ride the flying monkey back to Rama, and save all those lives and not cause a war?”) These three characters, apparently taped from a discussion of three actual people discussing the story, is very funny and really helps to take the movie to another level.  

The animation works really well, the story flows -with the exception of an obviously created Intermission, designed to pad the running time and a strange psychadelic scene where we get an actual roto-scoped dancer zooming in and out of strange flames – really well. The modern day story, though, while I’m sure has profound personal meaning to the artist, doesn’t really go anywhere or clearly define what’s going on. I didn’t get that the couple was married until I looked around on the internet and was reading about the movie. It’s shown to us that the woman in the movie, is indeed the person that is creating the movie and we’re given a slight nod to the moment of inspiration that lead to the creation of what we’re watching. But, I was left a little under-whelmed with that, along with the “Squiggle-vision” which just gets a little grating after a while. (Although, for the most part those segments of the movie are short enough, that it’s not really bothersome; with the exception of wondering why smoother animation wasn’t just used!?)

Of course the fascinating thing about this movie, not only is it because of the essentially one woman show, but also in some of the setbacks that the movie has encountered. Largely, to do with the licensing of the songs sung by Hanshaw, whose music is not fully in the public-domain and the people in charge of her estate have held the movie up in being widely distributed, as well as asking for a large sum of money to allow the movie to be released on DVD. So, to this purpose, Nina Paley has released the movie, for free on the internet. The website – http://www.sitasingstheblues.com – contains links to watch the movie, to purchase merchandise and support her cause in fighting restrictive copyright law. 

Hopefully, she becomes the originator in a movement to show that by releasing art to the public for use and as a basis to create from, everyone will be able to profit and not just certain people – and usually larger corporations or persons looking only for profit and not caring about the art. So, again, I urge you – whoever might be reading this – to go to the website ( http://www.sitasingstheblues.com ), watch the movie; spread the link again to whoever you know that might enjoy the movie, or the message and show support for things like this. 

I have to admit that other than PIXAR’s latest batch of movies, I’ve really grown away from animation. I think that these coupld of examples of independent cinema, presenting mature content – while also not being vulgar or unsafe for children to watch – is a great way to reawaken cartoons and get it back into the mainstream and not just be a bastard format or relinquished as a “for kids only” artform, like the other serious artform of comic books have been, wrongly, in for so long (again, in America). These are not only good cartoons, they’re great movies in any format.

Brings a Tear to my Eye

In awards, drama, romance on February 24, 2009 at 3:04 am

Depending on my mood, I like depressing movies. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll want to watch a movie about people being killed and dismembered and what a friend of mine calls “wrist-slashingly good”. I don’t want to go too far into talking about any other movies than – well, than the ones I want to talk about right now. But, I’m sure in the future posts will appear for these movies, including BLINDNESS, CHILDREN OF MEN, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. 

And while, all of these movies are fantastic, and mostly are capable of bringing me to the verge or tears – I watched a couple today that really hit me where I needed hit. In the heart. The two movies I’m going to go over today were funny, poignant, a little schmaltzy and sad. They made my eyes water (just a little bit) and made my heart ache, like the real, lonely loser, I am. They both focus on characters that, even though surrounded by people (in the vastness of New York City) are alone at the beginning. Both main characters have suffered a loss in their lives – one through an unknown set of circumstances and the other as a victim of September 11. Both movies end on a high note, with the characters having grown, or learned a lesson or just have kind of stopped being jerks. 

The first movie to talk about – which is timely with it’s lead performer having just lost his nomination for Leading Actor at the Academy Awards – is THE VISITOR, starring Richard Jenkins and written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. The movie also stars a number of Middle-Eastern and African actors, including Haaz Sleiman as Tarek; Danai Jeskesai Gurira as Zainab and Hiam Abbass as Mouna. 

The movie starts with Jenkins’ character, Walter, going through the motions at his job as a Professor in Connecticut – attending meetings, denying student’s papers that come with lame excuses and sitting at home alone sipping his wine. He’s assigned to travel to New York City to read a paper that he co-authored – although he admits that he really just added his name for the other person’s benefit – and hesitantly goes, late one night coming into the apartment he has seemingly also kept in the city, although not actually habitated in for some time. 

He realizes something is amiss when there are fresh flowers in the vases, and lights on in the bedroom, albeit they’re empty. The story really gets started when he opens the bathroom door to find a woman bathing and is then grabbed by the woman’s boyfriend. It is soon worked out that the people currently living in the apartment are actually the intruders and they pack their things to leave. 

The fact that Walter invites these people, who are obviously immigrants to the United States – and soon we learn, illegally here from Syria and Senegal – back to his apartment; and they accept, is the beginning of where this voyage is going to take us. And while my experiences with NYC are mostly confined to a short actual trip and endless days/months spent viewing the city on the big and small screen, this gesture is one of genuine kindness and kind of naivety. But, we know that Walter is lonely, and he also sees that these people have no place to go. So, Tarek and Zainab come back to stay in the apartment, only initially for a few days to try and find a new, more permanent place. 

Moving on, we see that Walter is still the odd man out, Zainab always acts cold towards him and Tarek is always nice and inviting. The fact that Tarek invites Walter to come see him perform at a jazz club, playing his African drum, sets off a friendship and an awakening in the spirit for Walter. So, when this is taken away, when Tarek is falsely arrested in a subway station – for jumping the stile, even though he’d paid but had gotten his bag stuck – Walter refocuses his attention on trying to help this man. Then the heart of the movie shows up in the guise of Tarek’s mother, Mouna – played wonderfully by Hiam Abbass – who is worried for her son, but as she’s illegal too, she can’t visit him in the detention center. So, everyone in Tarek’s life is dependent on Walter to communicate between them. 

Mouna is a beautiful woman, who has age in her eyes and is accepting of the kindness of Walter and accepts Tarek’s girlfriend, who is much blacker than she thought. She’s long ago lost her husband, and Tarek’s father to a prison/detention center and is now worried about her son. The relationship that develops between Mouna and Walter is wonderful and heartfelt and really just struck me as how “falling in love” really is. It’s slow and elusive. You feel unsure about the other person and in a delicate situation as these characters find themselves, it’s too difficult to try and think that there’s anything going on. 

There are no sex scenes, or nudity or even steamy kisses in this movie. Mouna and Walter’s love, as far as we know is never consummated. And the only real romantic moment is Mouna’s whispering of an Arabic phrase of endearment and a look back as one of them walks away. But, I have to say that this relationship made my heart aflutter. It’s so real and it’s so pitch-perfect to how I’ve felt a million times while getting to know someone, even for just a brief moment. This movie could easily fall into the trap of the “forbidden/doomed love”, or even the slight romantic comedy, but it doesn’t. It’s chastity and restraint are what makes this romance the more powerful. 

The performances are all strong in this, and – not to get into the topic of what was worthy for Oscars this year – I can certainly agree that Jenkins’ performance was note-worthy. He might be familiar to people as the Father from the HBO series, SIX FEET UNDER; or a number of other roles such as a detective in the movie WOLF, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson; or as the gym manager in The Coen Bros. BURN AFTER READING. He has the face for comedy, with those droopy, puppy dog eyes, the bad complexion and the nasally, monotone voice, but he has depth and it makes him relatable. And he’s good at physically showing, how I think a lot of us feel in our normal, everyday lives. 

THE VISITOR is worth seeing, for it’s fantastic acting, from an international cast; covering a topic that is very much of it’s time (now) but what will make you keep watching are the relationships between these characters. The love they show for each other and the love we see but aren’t force fed to believe, because it seems real. I leave a lot of “romantic comedies” thinking, ‘yeah, and in six months they’re divorced, or cheating on each other with Meg Ryan or Matthew Perry’. With THE VISITOR, I was praying that the characters would soon fall into each other’s arms and forever stay there.

The other movie isn’t so much a love story, as it is a sympathy story. REIGN OVER ME, starring Adam Sandler as Charlie Fineman, Don Cheadle and Alan Johnson; written and directed (and supporting acted) by Mike Binder, is the story of a dentist (Cheadle’s Alan Johnson), who – much like Richard Jenkins’ character – is kind of going through the motions in life. He has a successful practice, where sometimes he feels like he’s the subordinate, when he’s actually the one that started it. He seemingly, because of the buzz it gives him, takes on patients who are only there because of the attractive doctor – as is the case with Saffron Burrows’ character, Donna. He’s feeling suffocated by his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and two daughters, and then one day sees a man walking out of a hardware store. The man is his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Sandler).

We learn that after college they went their own separate ways in life, but Alan knows that Charlie lost his wife, three daughters and even his dog in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Alan tries to get Charlie’s attention, but with his headphones on, Charlie is in his own little world. Later, Alan does catch up to Charlie, only for Charlie not to remember who (Alan)Johnson is. Cheadle goes over details of their living together in college – remember the sleeping nude, sleep-walking (which don’t mix well), and the endless Springsteen jam sessions! – and Charlie gives a hint that he remembers. Taking Cheadle back to his place, we see that Charlie is remodeling his kitchen, has the barest of furniture – besides a couch to sit on as he plays video games with this big screen TV/projector – and bedrooms with everything covered up and abandoned, along with his thousands of vinyl albums. Obviously, Cheadle’s character soon feels the need to try and help (save) his old college buddy, but the barest hint of asking questions about his past, or bringing up anything that isn’t chinese food, movies or the hot girl that is bothering Cheadle, induces a violent rage from Charlie. 

It’s burrow’s character, towards the end of the movie – as she’s made the voyage of crazy stalker (a la FATAL ATTRACTION), strange tag-along (like Natalie Portman’s character in GARDEN STATE) and eventual… hmm, I don’t really want to say “love interest”, but yeah kind of – when she cuts through all the psychiatric crap and gives us the common parlance of what’s wrong with Charlie. During this journey, with our main characters, Alan is forced to deal with his wife and his business partners and even himself. Sandler gets to be the sort of RAIN MAN of this movie, giving us a powerful performance – much like his characters in SPANGLISH and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. The range of emotion that we get to see, him go through really allows him to keep pace with an actor like Cheadle who we know can act – y’know, in that respectable way, and not just as the silly boy-man who never grows up. 

The waterworks here flow, because of that performance, and because of how we see Cheadle and the other actor’s playing off that. This movie is totally Sandler’s show, and to say he had me on the brink of tears – and not from laughter – is an off position to be in. But, I can’t imagine too many dry eyes when he finally confronts his past by telling his story. This also, isn’t to say that there aren’t laughs in this. Because he’s playing a character who has regressed – not quite to a child-like state, but one that can’t really cope with adult situations – Sandler gets to cut loose a little and give us some crude, non-PC humor, like telling Liv Tyler how perfect and round her breasts are. 

The movie also leads you down a couple of roads that in other movies might suggest how things will turn out, like the down-ward spiral and the eventual “committed” situations, but the movie doesn’t completely go into standard situations, although it does end with the possible budding romance, but even there we’re not given a conventional closing to that plotline.

The only other thing to really talk about with this movie is it’s pretty powerful use of music – which almost all comes from either Sandler’s iPod, or he mentions the band and we then get to hear a song from them. The best usage of this is from the song that the movie takes it’s name from, The Who’s Love, Reign O’er Me, which is played twice in the film and then again over the end credits, recreated by Pearl Jam.  This song captures this movie perfectly, not only in the scenes that it is part of, but the raw emotion and how powerful love is and sums this movie up better than I could. So, go see it for Sandler’s performance – a sad to not see him get nominated for this in 2008, for anything other than a Teen Choice Award (according to IMDB) which is kind of odd. 

Today, I felt like being alone. And when I feel that way, I watch movies. These were the ones I watched and I loved them.

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