Monthly Archives: January 2011

Review: The Kids are All Right (2010)

I am sometimes slack about getting out and seeing movies. I’m also weirdly picky about what I see in the theater, a lot of the time. As a result, almost everything I saw in the theater last year was sort of silly and blockbuster-y. Additionally, I tend to gain interest in movies once they receive a lot of award buzz. I’m planning on seeing The Social Network (aka The Facebook Movie) sometime soon, not because I have that much interest in it, but because it’s likely to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

I admit these things, but for the record, I really have wanted to see The Kids are All Right since before it came out. Since it played in limited release and I had a lot of other stuff going on, I just now got around to seeing it, thanks to Netflix. Better late than never. It was worth the wait!

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are very nearly a typical suburban couple: Nic’s a doctor, and Jules is more of a free spirit, still looking for a path in life. They have two lovely teenagers, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The main sources of tension in life for the family are the fact that Nic works too hard and drinks too much, Jules is embarking upon yet another business venture, Joni’s about to head off to college, and Laser is hanging out with a total loser of a friend. All pretty straightforward stuff, right? Normal, family stuff. Until Joni (at Laser’s insistence) contacts their sperm donor. Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is sort of an aging hipster: he runs an organic farm, co-op, and restaurant, he says things like “Right on,” and he sleeps with his restaurant’s attractive hostess. Business as usual for him, too, until he receives a phone call from the sperm bank.
Joni and Laser meet up with Paul, and soon Laser spills the beans to the moms, and they meet him too. For the kids, they warm up to having a dad. Nic feels threatened. And Jules, finding the encouragement from Paul that she lacks at home, begins having an affair with him. (Yeah, she’s gay, but he’s Mark Ruffalo … I guess?) Naturally, at some point, all this comes crashing down on the family’s heads, and everyone has to find their way back to some sort of “normal” equilibrium.

Sorry for that summary; sometimes it’s difficult to neatly encapsulate a movie. It’s hard in this instance because this movie seems so … normal. That might actually be its main strength, is its normalcy. I can’t think of the last time I watched a movie and just felt like the characters were regular people. They don’t have any sort of weird, movie-character schticks at all, no contrived careers, no quirks or tics that open the story up or allow for comedy … they’re just people. Because of this, the movie defies categorization: it is by turns funny, dramatic, and poignant. It is, throughout, very intimate. All of this speaks to a strong story, good directing, and outstanding performances.

I am not going to sit around and talk about Oscar snubs, but I do feel that in ranting about how Christopher Nolan didn’t get a directing nomination (I agree that it would have been deserved), people are really overlooking Lisa Cholodenko. She didn’t even get a Golden Globe nomination. It seems sad to me that a year after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director prize, we have another film directed by a woman included in all the major categories, but no director nominations. One step forward, two back, I guess. Cholodenko does a lovely job with this film, and deserves recognition. She will have to make do with the accolades for her movie as a whole, and for her outstanding cast.

People are also upset that Julianne Moore was not recognized by the Academy, while Bening was. I have to say that I think that is appropriate. It’s not to say that Moore is not excellent, because she is, but somebody’s got to be the weak link, and in this movie, she’s it. All actors should be so lucky, though, to be the “weak link” in a movie where everyone does a phenomenal job. Annette Bening is fabulous, Mark Ruffalo is truly impressive (he received a Best Supporting nomination), but I think it’s the kids that make this one. Mia Wasikowska is really touching and realistic as the smart, sensitive Joni, and Josh Hutcherson just absolutely nails teen-aged boy sullenness. Perhaps not a stretch, since he is, in fact, a teen-aged boy, but still. I think it must be a hard thing to translate well onto screen, but he manages it with such subtlety. He moves back and forth between rebelliousness and humor and an obvious love for his crazy moms with amazing ease. I thought he was awesome, although the only thing I will question is the idea that two teenagers would get along so well as siblings. Oh well, guess we have to deal with some Hollywood magic, right?

All in all, this is a great film. It’s so small and contained and so enlightened in its depictions. The relationship between a long-married couple, regardless of gender, the relationship between parents and children … all here rendered in a much more realistic light than any other movie I can think of. Of course, everyone is still twice as attractive as the average person, but it doesn’t matter. Because the movie overall and the script aren’t bogged down with extra stuff, the actors are able to truly give you their emotion, their connection with each other, and the story just stands alone and sparkles. Tremendous acting makes this movie absolutely worth watching.

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Catwoman rehash

First of all, let me just say that since I like cats, and awesome chick villains, I do, of course, love Catwoman. However, we’ve already done Catwoman, and Michelle Pfeiffer was pretty excellent, I thought. Don’t even get me started on the divine Julie Newmar. However, Christopher Nolan has decided to stick with the multiple villain formula and solve the love interest problem at the same time. Yawn.

And playing the Cat? Anne Hathaway. Really?? I just don’t see it. She’s too … fresh-faced, or something. Hard to imagine her pulling off sultry at all. So color me not particularly excited, yet again.

At least I’ve never heard of Tom Hardy’s villain, who is called Bane. Basically, he’s got super strength thanks to weird experimental drugs which he needs to take every twelve hours via tubes in his brain, or something. So says the Wikipedia, anyway.

What do you think? Are you stoked for Anne Hathaway as Catwoman? (It just sounds wrong to me.) For Tom Hardy as a new and potentially interesting villain? For yet another Batman movie in general? I swear, I’m starting to feel like the supporting cast makes these movies … how can you go too terribly wrong with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman involved? Ok, so I did hate The Dark Knight, but still. Michael Caine, people.

Review: The Ugly Truth (2010)


Let’s be blunt: The Ugly Truth got some pretty bad reviews. That was disappointing, as I am a big fan (as you know) of Gerard Butler, and I was hoping to see him succeed. Plus, hey, I like a good rom-com. However, the general reception of the movie kept me from seeing it until this weekend, when we wanted something brainless available via Netflix Instant View, and we opted to see just how bad The Ugly Truth was.

The truth? It’s not really that bad. Its biggest problem, it seems to me, is that it’s trying too hard. My theory about what transpired is that somebody said “Hey, let’s make a rom-com,” and someone else said “Oh, but rom-coms are so played out,” and then the first person said “Ok, ok, so we’ll come up with a gimmick to make this one different!” and the second person said “Oh, good idea. I know! Let’s make it … raunchy.” And so, in trying to make it something more than just a run-of-the-mill rom-com, the writers went overboard on the raunch, so that what they ended up with was something which seems desperate to be dirty, and somehow draws more attention than usual to the standard plot points of the romantic comedy.

It’s your usual boy and girl meet, hate each other, eventually fall in love story line. (Sorry if anyone considers that a spoiler – you shouldn’t.) Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is the control freak producer of a crappy morning television show. Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) is the Neanderthal host of a public-access show called “The Ugly Truth,” in which he dispenses advice centering around the fact that men and women largely want different things out of a relationship. Men are shallow, women want commitment, men operate on lust, women on “love”, etc. Abby’s boss hires Mike to up their ratings. Abby and Mike immediately dislike one another, but strike up a deal that involves Mike helping Abby nab the handsome doctor next door. Once she does, of course, she realizes that her idea of “Mr. Right” isn’t really what she wants.

There are no surprises here. Rom-coms are all about stereotypes, and most often deal with the notion that one part of the equation is uptight, and the other must teach them to open up a little. Katherine Heigl is quite good at playing a controlling bitch. Gerard Butler is good at being a disgusting chauvinist who still comes off as charming (of course there is more to him than meets the eye, or something.) The chemistry between the two is serviceable, if not revelatory. There are some funny scenes, some awkward scenes that are meant to be funny, and the inevitable “romantic” ending. The supporting cast (Bree Turner as Abby’s associate producer and friend; Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins as the unhappily married co-anchors of the show), though fairly enjoyable, are mostly underutilized and relegated to one-liners and innuendos.

The problem, as previously stated, lies in trying to make the thing a “dirty rom-com”. Mostly, it just feels very forced. I’m not sure the world necessarily needs another straight romantic comedy, but the movie suffers for trying to think outside the box. In order to make it naughtier, the stereotypes have to be drawn a bit broader than usual, and where this mostly causes problems is with Heigl’s character. Her uptight ice queen is almost completely unlikeable. There’s no moment where you realize that she’s actually ok and you start rooting for her. In the end, when she asks Mike why he’s in love with her, his answer is “Beats the s*** out of me.” And it beats it out of the viewer, too.

Butler (who is actually a good actor) does a decent job of being the silently suffering jerk, which brings up another big problem. We catch glimpses of Mike’s true feelings throughout. Even as he is proving his point and succeeding in helping Abby get her man, he’s progressively sorrier about it. However, at no point do we really see that Abby’s feeling are transferring from one man to the other. She certainly warms to Mike, but there’s never any real indication that she has any kind of feelings for him. Whether that’s Heigl’s fault or not is unclear. But it brings me to my biggest issue with the movie: the romance is one-sided. Mike falls in love with Abby, but does Abby really fall in love with Mike? It’s cool that he’s accepting of all her neuroses and Type-A tendencies, but ultimately, the thing she likes best about him is the fact that he loves her. That hardly seems fair.

Yep. I’m undoubtedly over-thinking things, and the movie doesn’t deserve that much analysis, but there you have it. At its core, it’s a flawed movie. Not because of the R-rated language, but because I guess I’m just not really sure it’s all that romantic. Who wants a rom-com without the rom? Even if the leading guy is Gerard Butler.

How’d I do?

The Golden Globes are almost over. Shall we take a look at my predictions? Let’s!

Best Motion Picture – Drama
My prediction: The Social Network
Winner: The Social Network

Best Actress – Drama
My prediction: Natalie Portman
Winner: Natalie Portman

Best Actor – Drama
My prediction: Colin Firth
Winner: Colin Firth

Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
My prediction: The Kids are All Right
Winner: The Kids are All Right

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical
My prediction: Annette Bening
Winner: Annette Bening

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical
My prediction: Johnny Depp
Winner: Paul Giamatti (Woot.)

Best Animated Feature Film
My prediction: Toy Story 3
Winner: Toy Story 3

Best Foreign Language Film
My prediction: Biutiful
Winner: In a Better World

Best Actress – Supporting
My prediction: Melissa Leo
Winner: Melissa Leo

Best Actor – Supporting
My prediction: Christian Bale
Winner: Christian Bale

Best Director
My prediction: David Fincher
Winner: David Fincher

Best Screenplay
My prediction: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
Winner: Aaron Sorkin

So nine out of twelve categories. Not bad, eh? Now I guess I need to see some of these movies. The Kids are All Right is at the top of my Netflix queue, and I just added The Social Network … might need to find a babysitter so we can go see The King’s Speech.

Stay tuned for Oscar predictions! (Hint: they probably won’t look too different.)

Golden Globe Predictions

I love awards season. Yes, people like to complain about how there’s too many award shows, how it’s all just Hollywood patting itself on the back, how some of the awards are out of touch with “the people,” never mind who/what should have won … I really don’t care. I love the spectacle and the speeches and seeing all the pretty people in pretty clothes, and just the whole big thing. So much fun.

So, I thought maybe I’d throw out some predictions for you. I’m just going to do the movies, because I don’t pay much attention to what goes on in the world of television. Also, as a caveat, I have seen hardly any of these movies. Just one of those years. Anyway. We’ll just have to see how I do, won’t we?

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

I’d love to see Inception win, but I doubt it. It’s possible The King’s Speech could pull this out, but the Globes are typically pretty populist, and I think while Colin Firth has a lot of buzz, the movie isn’t quite on the same level. The Social Network ought to take it.

Best Actress – Drama
Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Please. This is the year of la Portman. I think she’s gonna go all the way.

Best Actor – Drama
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)
Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter)

Mr. Firth is due, and his performance is getting raves. I think he’s a lock.

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
Alice in Wonderland
Burlesque
The Kids are Alright
Red
The Tourist

Ugh. What a ridiculous group of nominees. The only good thing about them is that they pretty much guarantee a win for The Kids are Alright. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical
Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)
Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs)
Angelina Jolie (The Tourist)
Julianne Moore (The Kids are All Right)
Emma Stone (Easy A)

Two points to the Hollywood Foreign Press for nominating Emma Stone. Still, the hardware is going home with Ms. Bening.

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical
Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland)
Johnny Depp (The Tourist)
Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Love and Other Drugs)
Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack)

Ugh. Can we just pretend this isn’t happening? Unfortunately, there are no good nominees here. Thus, we’ll go with the most notable. Depp for Alice. But it makes my heart hurt, and I will have my fingers crossed for the extreme unlikelihood of Paul Giamatti.

Best Animated Feature Film
Despicable Me
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Tangled
Toy Story 3

Now this is a strong category. I have only seen Tangled, which is awesome, but I really want to see almost all of the rest of these … except for Toy Story 3, which will likely win. I didn’t even like the first one that much. Sue me. Runner-up? Despicable Me. I’d be excited if HTTYD or Tangled pulled off an upset. The Illusionist will have to be happy with just the nod.

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful (Mexico/Spain)
The Concert (France)
The Edge (Russia)
I am Love (Italy)
In a Better World (Denmark)

Ok. So the only one of these I have even heard of is Biutiful, and it’s gotten really good buzz, so I’m going with it. Plus, Javier Bardem! Seriously, though, I admit my ignorance, and I will say that my foreign language picks almost never win. So I kind of expect to be wrong about this one, too.

Best Actress – Supporting
Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham-Carter (The King’s Speech)
Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

I’m going to go out on a limb, here. I really want to say that HBC will win, but Melissa Leo always has some strong support, and maybe this’ll be her year, so let’s gamble a little, shall we? Ok!

Best Actor – Supporting
Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Michael Douglas (Wall Street: The City Never Sleeps)
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

I think they’re going to give it to Bale. I hope they give it to Rush. Michael Douglas could win it with the sympathy vote? Nah …

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
Christopher Nolan (Inception)
David O. Russell (The Fighter)

Again, I think that The Social Network is going to take some big prizes this season, although not in the acting categories. I would love to see Nolan win this, but I think he’s a dark horse; if it’s not Fincher, then it’s Aronofsky.

Best Screenplay
Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours)
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg (The Kids are All Right)
Christopher Nolan (Inception)
David Seidler (The King’s Speech)
Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

I think this will go to Cholodenko, who was snubbed in the Directing category. If not, then Sorkin for The Social Network. (Go, go, Nolan!)

…I’m skipping the music categories. Those are always a big guess for me anyway. The rest are choices based on buzz, previous awards won, and just my general sense of how such things work. I’ll get some right, I’ll get some wrong. Will you be watching the awards ceremony on Sunday? Yaaay, awards season!

Musical moment


In case you missed it, there’s a new baby in our house. She’s our first, and she’ll be a month old tomorrow. In honor of her, I present the following Musical Moment.

The musical: Mary Poppins (1964)
The song: Stay Awake

I did warn you there’d be lots of Julie Andrews, didn’t I? I really love this one, and I actually sing it to my daughter sometimes. I apologize for this clip being a “singalong” version, but it was the only one that turned up on Youtube, and anyway, the scene’s still there. I love Michael, sitting there being all stubborn. Enjoy!

Review: Jaws (1975)

Jaws is number 48 on the AFI list. Otherwise, I have to say that it’s a movie I never intended to watch. I don’t like horror, I don’t deal well with suspense, and I think the ocean (as opposed to the beach) is scary/creepy. Having said that, I thought it was a really good movie. It’s said to be the first “summer blockbuster” and it’s pretty much Spielberg’s first major directing credit; obviously, it’s a big deal, so I’m sort of glad that it lives up to the hype.

Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is adjusting to life as the police chief of Amity, a quiet little beach community, after having left New York City. The idyllic setting is thrown into turmoil by the discovery of the scant remains of a young swimmer who has apparently been the victim of a shark attack. Brody must contend with the mayor and the townspeople, all of whom refuse to admit the seriousness of the situation because their livelihood depends on summer tourists. When a second victim, a little boy, is claimed by the shark in the midst of crowds at the beach, everyone is forced to pay attention. Brody brings in shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to back him up and help him determine exactly what they’re dealing with, and a mad, local fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw) is contracted to hunt down the beast. Ultimately, the three men go out in Quint’s boat to try and kill the Great White Shark, and the hunt becomes a duel to the death.

The first, and main thing I’d like to say about this movie is that it is suspenseful as all get out. I mean, think about it. We all know what happens. We all know “whodunnit.” We all know that the movie is about a gigantic shark that eats people. The questions, then, are when will it happen, and to whom? Armed with these two uncertainties, Spielberg ratchets up the suspense and tension until they are nearly intolerable. Particularly notable is the scene on the beach, where we are focused on four or five different individuals while Brody scans the beach anxiously. We have no idea who is going to meet their fate. As events take place on land, we are worried about when tragedy will strike again. We fear for Brody’s family (his two small sons are often in harm’s way). The clock is ticking! Later, when the men are in the boat, even when the mood is light, we are anxious, wondering when the shark will reappear, and what is going to happen next.

Instrumental (haha) in the tautness of the film is John Williams’ iconic score. Ordinarily I don’t really like it when the music gives away what’s happening, but in this case, it somehow doesn’t matter. The tension is so high that the music only adds to it, instead of letting the viewer (and listener) off the hook. Oh dear. Get it? Off the hook? Erm, sorry. I am generally not a fan of John Williams, but in this case, I am forced to acknowledge a job well done. Surely you won’t begrudge me a couple of bad puns?

The acting is also first-rate, as everyone involved must contribute to the mood and feel of the film. Scheider and Dreyfuss have a great rapport, and Shaw is really impressive as the mad Quint. It seems as though it would be difficult to switch between light moments and more serious scenes, and all three men manage it admirably. In particular, a scene in which Quint is relating his experience during World War II is riveting – an even darker hour than the one in which the men currently find themselves.

It’s interesting how Spielberg (and writer Peter Benchley) manages to remind his viewer of the atrocity of man even while we are watching nature give him a bit of a beating, and in what is essentially a “horror” movie. I was struck by the lack of concern, early on, of the people of Amity. They are so focused on their livelihoods, and the summer tourism of their town, that they choose to be completely blind to what is happening until it is too late. A cautionary tale that is possibly even more relevant today than it was 35 years ago, I’d say.

All in all, I was actually pretty impressed. We’ve been dragging our feet on this one for a while. I was expecting something gory and over-the-top and ridiculous, even though it’s Spielberg. Instead, what I saw was tight, well-acted, not too graphic, and even a little thought-provoking at times. I can’t really say I would recommend it, just because I think you’re either inclined to see something like Jaws, or not; but I will say that I was surprised and impressed, and I’m not sorry that we finally got around to watching it.