*Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame in Fair Game.
Given my general ignorance (apathy?) of box office numbers and film marketing, I’ll never really understand what gets people to the theater. Sometimes it’s a particular weekend, or the weather, or a franchise—but most often you hear that a mainstream audience wants to escape. They want Julia Roberts in gladiator sandals conquering failed relationships and discovering herself. They want Christopher Nolan because he’s trendy and knows how to make a great action film. They want Michael Bay because he knows how to blow stuff up and put hot actresses up on the big screen.
But what else is on the menu?
*Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer interviewed in Inside Job.
In the past week, I have seen two films that in no way offer the aforementioned feel good, just have fun experience. Fair Game and Inside Job both take on the tough stuff—the former delving into the 2006 CIA leak that exposes the Bush administration’s desperation to justify the war in Iraq; the latter investigating the 2008 financial crisis, a documentary that shatters any trust I had in Wall Street or in Obama’s economic team.
Both are as moving as any drama I’ve seen this year, as engrossing an experience as any summer blockbuster thriller. Neither will help you escape the day to day struggles we experience as Americans in a tough economic climate. Both will make you angry; but like any art, there’s a time for that.
Note: The idea for this post came from a suggestion made in the Awards Daily podcast “Oscar Poker,” which I recommend checking out at some point.
Review: The Social Network
With as much hype and high praise riding on David Fincher’s The Social Network, it’s hard to leave the theater without feeling a little bit underwhelmed, but there is still so much about the film that may have even surpassed my expectations (which were very high; critics compared it to Citizen Kane for God’s sake).
To put this in simplest terms, the film just comes together beautifully. When you have a director who meticulously works to capture the human nature in his subjects, a writer who produces snappy dialogue and a subtle yet powerful character study, and an acting ensemble that delivers phenomenal performances to the screen, chances are you have a solid film. The Social Network is a solid film, but it’s also engaging, fast-paced, and an intriguing watch (Note: you may spend several hours googling for more information on this story after leaving the theater, as I did).Continue Reading »
It’s been two weeks since I saw The Kids are All Right, and I’ve already thought of seeing it again on several occasions. Smart, funny, provocative, and fully engaging, the film definitely has that return factor—I could have walked back into the theater and watched it again right after the credits rolled.
The Kids are All Right is about a lesbian couple whose carefree Californian life together is thwarted when their two children seek out (and worse, form a relationship with) their biological father. Annette Bening plays Nic, a hardworking surgeon but also a controlling, at times neurotic wife and mother. Her wife Jules (played by Julianne Moore) is a whimsical free spirit who likes to talk about feelings. She apparently has numerous failed business ventures under her belt, and at the beginning of Kids, she’s started another in landscape design.
Though they appear to have daily difficulties, the family of four has lived relatively quiet and comfortable lives for the past two decades—that is, until Nic and Jules’ children, Joni and Laser, start to feel curious about who their biological father is. As Joni has just turned 18, she contacts the sperm bank from which Nic and Jules underwent artificial insemination, and a week or so later, Joni and Laser are at a restaurant sitting across from Paul, a local farmer and organic restaurateur (played by Mark Ruffalo).
The Kids are All Right rests on a rather conventional set of conflicts—a marriage going stale, children growing up, and a child’s desire to learn where she comes from. In that sense, I disagree with those saying that this is a “fresh take” on a family dramedy. What makes the story different is the fact that this is an alternative family that never intended to have a relationship with the man who made it possible for them to have children. Their lives are thrown when Paul walks in the door, and the impact is fascinating to watch.
The film is undoubtedly energetic and funny, but I’m almost positive that this never would have worked without its pitch-perfect cast. It’s true that Moore and Bening are Oscar worthy, but I might argue that Ruffalo is perhaps better. Paul is a complicated man who never planned to have attachments; but when Joni and Laser reach out to him, he finds himself making room in his life for this family. While Bening and Moore have the baity, showier roles, Ruffalo quietly knocks this one out of the park.Continue Reading »
Now that August is here, I’m starting to feel like I’ll want to be in the theater again soon. Fall denotes change, and DEAR GOD we are in need of some change in what’s being offered at the box office.
Outside of Toy Story 3 and Inception (and, some say, The Kids are All Right, which I’ll be seeing this weekend), this summer has left something to be desired–originality, storytelling, and various other attributes that can’t be glossed over by slapping on some 3D glasses. Needless to say, I’m ready for the good ones to start trickling in; and in my restless state, I’ve compiled a list of to-be-released films that are on my radar.
See the list after the cut. If you notice any glaring omissions (and I’m sure there are a few), please let me know in the comments section. When we get the list to the point where it seems somewhat solid, I’ll add it to a sidebar.Continue Reading »
With Wall-E and last year’s Best Picture nominee, Up, Pixar has to usher in a “miss,” one of these days, right? —Not this year. Pixar has proven over the past decade that they offer the best of both worlds in family animation: stunning, cutting edge visuals and a story that satisfies movie-goers of all generations. With that in mind, Toy Story 3 encompasses both and then some. Although I admit that I hardly remember the first two installments, the third undoubtedly will leave a lasting impression as one of those great animated films that beautifully executes the difficult balance of story and technology.
Woody, Buzz, and the gang have been packed away (presumably, for several years) in the toy-box as their owner, Andy, is now preparing to depart for college. As Andy packs away his things, he must decide to A) put the toys in the attic, B) donate the toys to a nearby day care center, C) take them to college with him, or D) throw them out in the garbage. Thus ensues a captivating journey of classic mistaken identity, as the boy’s intention for the toys to remain close to him (with Woody in the “college” box and the rest in the “attic” box for safe keeping) goes awry. But true to character, Woody goes to great lengths to keep the gang together, fighting off unruly toddlers at the local daycare, the perils of waste control, and a malicious tyrant bear intent on sabotaging the team’s entire mission to return to Andy.
As expected given Pixar’s dream team of artists attached to the project, the entire film is as visually beguiling as anything in recent memory. To see the level of detail and emotion in each character’s face is an incredible experience; perhaps it’s more incredible when you consider how the animators are able to bring inanimate objects to life so elegantly.
I did, also, see the film in 3D, and I’m not sure whether or not that was the right way to go. Throughout the film, I forgot that I was indeed watching the film in 3D—and I’m not sure if that’s a strength or a weakness. I know that you don’t want to feel like the 3D elements were tacked on for shock value, thus intruding upon the story and masking flaws within; but I can’t help but feel that the experience would have been just as enjoyable had I seen it in 2D, especially when the animation and vivid coloring seemed to do the heavy lifting on their own.
Somewhat underwhelming, alas, is the score for the film. A friend of mine said to me the other day when I expressed that I’d be going to see the film this weekend that she finds Randy Newman to be altogether annoying and obtuse. Having now seen the film, I can’t help but echo this sentiment. Haven’t we had enough of his throaty, 3-packs-a-day warbling? Michael Giacchino composed something truly enchanting for Pixar’s Up, and it would be my suggestion that they continue to enlist his talent for all their future endeavors.
Many (self included) have expressed a sense of apathy and ennui towards this year’s offerings at the box office this summer. In my opinion, that’s because Hollywood has served up almost nothing that is original and/or smart. While I can’t say that Toy Story 3 is entirely original, as it is a sequel, I can say that it is a fantastic animated film that delivers a smart and emotive story. It’s a nice little package that will allay your box office blues for the time being.Continue Reading »
For the first time in 33 years, Roman Polanski has released a statement (a 908-word one, at that) regarding his unresolved child sex case.
In the document, Polanski essentially begs Swiss officials not to extradite him back to the US, where he would finally face the charges brought against him in 1977 for raping then-13 year old Samantha Geimer. He argues that he has done his time already (42 days in a Chino state prison), that the victim does not want the case reopened (which is true), and that the request for extradition is “founded upon a lie.” He also blames the HBO documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, for drawing attention to his dormant case.
Polanski fled the US in 1977 and has been living in France for the past three decades. His quiet life away from US law enforcement was disrupted when he was taken into custody at the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland (where he was to receive a lifetime achievement award) in September of last year.Continue Reading »
The AFI Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually to an individual who has contributed to American film culture over the course of his or her lifetime. The recipient is chosen by the AFI’s Board of Trustees, which is made up of various film executives and industry authorities.
The award is often referred to as the greatest honor of the American film industry. But like any other competitive award, there is politics involved, and the AFI is sometimes criticized for neglecting some of the greats (Katherine Hepburn, Lawrence Olivier, and Marlon Brando are notable omissions).
This year, the recipient is director Mike Nichols, who is not only known as a film talent but also for his work in theater and television (he is one of the only artists to have an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy).
Strangely enough, my introduction to Nichols’ work was the 2004 drama Closer starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman. Although my opinion is not a popular one, I found Nichols’ direction to be a compelling portrayal of human behavior that raises questions about the limits of morality. I wasn’t surprised in the least to learn that he is also a stage director, given his command of the material (Closer is adapted from a play of the same name).
Nichols brought another play to the screen (the small one, this time) in 2003 with Angels in America, a 6-part miniseries that aired on HBO. Again, Nichols managed to elevate a story intended for the stage to greater heights on the screen.
Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep will tribute and present Nichols as the next AFI Lifetime Achievement Award recipient on June 10th in Los Angeles.Continue Reading »
There’s a very interesting study out explored in the New Scientist and in the New York Times that a few acute friends have pointed out. The research questions why film goers are less inclined to watch older movies, especially those in black and white.Continue Reading »
This semester, I’m taking a literature course that studies the work of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Admittedly, I was initially drawn to the course because of my deep appreciation for Bishop’s work. But as the semester has gone by, I’ve really warmed to Lowell’s poetry as well (many find him to be a bit inaccessible).
Last week, I gave Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road a re-watch. Now, I can’t get this thought out of my mind—Michael Shannon looks a lot like a 1950s Robert Lowell.
I brought this up in my class last week, and I’m not sure my professor (who knew Lowell personally) was pleased. But for now, the resemblance is almost a distraction for me.Continue Reading »