Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A movie review: Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Director - Kelly Reichardt
Writer - Jonathan Raymond

Michelle Williams – Wendy
Will Patton – Mechanic
Wally Dalton – Security Guard

In a small, run-down town, somewhere in Oregon in some form of present day, is where we witness a few days in the life of Wendy (Michelle Williams). Travelling from Indiana, and most likely somewhere before that, and somewhere before that, she is making her way to Alaska. Her car has been running on life-support for some time, ever since a mechanic in another town told her it was only a matter of time, and it is at this point in time that it decides to make its final stand. Low on cash and in desperate need for a shower, Wendy finds herself being fingerprinted for shoplifting some dog food for Lucy, her travelling companion.

The film is a look into the life of Wendy as she waits out her car problems and searches for Lucy, who was no longer where she had been tied when Wendy was taken away in the back of a patrol car. It is also a look into the life of a girl who represents an often overlooked sect of our society – the young vagabond. Not conforming to the norms of society, she wants something else in life. For Wendy, something else is Alaska. For a few of the other travelers she meets briefly, it is leaving Alaska. There is no end to the journey of the Wendy’s of the world, only the journey itself.

An outdoor security guard (Wally Dalton) offers the only form of companionship and compassion to the distraught girl as she waits day after day for news of her lost friend. He offers her his cell phone and words of encouragement. Every day from 8-8 he stands there, one of the few jobs in the town to be had. He represents the inherent good in people, that something that you don’t always see in people, but you secretly hope it is there. His final gesture of good will is touching and sad, and it sums up the entire situation in which all the characters in this film find themselves.

Only one other character plays a role in this film, a mechanic (Will Patton) who is the bearer of bad news for Wendy as he gives her broken car the once-over. He represents much of what the security guard is not, but we find it hard to be angry with him. He seems to be a product of his environment.

Touching at times, Wendy and Lucy is the story of a girl searching for more than just her dog. Williams puts on a fantastic portrayal of a competent, yet struggling young American just trying to find some meaning in life, whether it be through her dog or thousands of miles away in Alaska, and her lonely countenance in many scenes and voice of despair in a brief call home really will stick with me for some time. With slow movement and little action, the film will not be for all tastes, but for those who enjoy a character piece with social implications (though hardly preachy) this film might just be an overlooked gem in the rough.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

A movie review: Doubt

Doubt (2008)

Director - John Patrick Shanley
Writer - John Patrick Shanley (screenplay)
Meryl Streep - Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams - Sister James
Viola Davis - Mrs. Miller

Going to St. Nicholas Catholic school in the Bronx in the 1960s was never easy. Speaking out of line in class would earn you a one-way ticket to Hell (not literally of course). The Hell I refer to is that of the office of Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the nastiest nun you’ve ever met. Ruling with her own version of an iron fist, Sister Beauvier was the last person you wanted to see after breaking one of a thousand rules.

This was not uncommon, so I’ve been told. Catholic school is place of discipline. It is also a place that puts people in positions of power, a hierarchy, and perhaps, just maybe, it lends itself to a bit more secrecy than other institutions of learning.

And so we are thrust into this community of the church in the middle of a changing wind. A new Priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has started his time at the school and is immediately brought under the scrutiny of Sister Beauvier. Father Flynn is likeable, amicable, and smiles at all the children. She of course is the exact opposite. This changing of the times is not something she wants to accept.

But Father Flynn is not the only change. Sister James (Amy Adams) is fresh-faced and eager to please. She loves teaching History and takes pity on students with bloody-noses. As Sister Beauvier points out directly to her, Sister James is very naïve.

The story of Doubt centers on the premise that what we think we know may not always be true, and what we want to be true may not always be so. Father Flynn becomes the center of a scandal (though central only to the 3 main characters) involving the potentially improper abuses of a young boy. The boy happens to be the only black child at the school and comes from an abusive home. Father Flynn seems to take a special liking to him, at least that is what the Sisters believe they have witnessed.

It would seem that the film revolves around the classic case of he said/she said, and that would be a good way to start to think about the implications of the movie. But it goes deeper than that. Amy Adams gives an amazing supporting role performance as the nun who must decide if she is strong enough to believe in what she feels to be right. Is she just a naïve new teacher who cannot see that sometimes people are bad? Is she able to decide for herself what the truth is?

At the center of this film is the power struggle between Sister Beauvier and Father Flynn, each unwilling to back down from their own assertions, each unable to produce clear and practical evidence to support his or her claims. Viola Davis plays Mrs. Miller, the mother of the young boy caught in the middle of this struggle. Her role has been applauded by award nominations, though a minor role, and perhaps rightfully so. I felt like she added a great deal to the movie in her limited time on screen with Streep, and by the conclusion I feel that her role was much more important that I originally gave it credit.

What does it mean to spread opinions based on nothing more than conjecture? How far does one go to find out the truth, and at what costs? This film comes out at a time when many question the central themes in their own daily lives. Priest abuse on children has been in the world news for years now, so it comes as no surprise a major movie would be made to discuss the topic. But this film is not simply a movie about whether a Priest abused a child, it is in fact a great study in character development and why people think and act the ways that they do. I found the ending to be a great moment in cinema.

And who would have thought the same person who directed this (John Patrick Shanley) is credited with just one other film, 1990s Joe Versus the Volcano?


Thursday, January 22, 2009

2009 Oscar nominations and thoughts

Here is the complete list of nominations for the Oscars. Here are my thoughts:

1. LOL at Benjamin Button being nominated for Best Picture. Seriously? Seriously? BEST picture? The Wrestler and Revolutionary Road and In Bruges and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are left off, but Benjamin Button? LOL

2. No Bruce Springsteen song nod for The Wrestler? Seriously?

3. No Revolutionary Road love at all????

4. The Dark Knight is left out of major categories other than Supporting Actor - I am not surprised - good movie, but not the same category as the others.

5. I am still supporting Frost/Nixon as the best but feel like Slumdog will be the one to beat.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


Performance by an actor in a leading role

Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor" (Overture Films)
Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Sean Penn in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Josh Brolin in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Angelina Jolie in "Changeling" (Universal)
Melissa Leo in "Frozen River" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Meryl Streep in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Kate Winslet in "The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Penélope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (The Weinstein Company)
Viola Davis in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Taraji P. Henson in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Best animated feature film of the year

"Bolt" (Walt Disney)
Chris Williams and Byron Howard
"Kung Fu Panda" (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount)
John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Andrew Stanton

Achievement in art direction

"Changeling" (Universal)
Art Direction: James J. MurakamiSet Decoration: Gary Fettis
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Art Direction: Donald Graham BurtSet Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Art Direction: Nathan CrowleySet Decoration: Peter Lando
"The Duchess" (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films)
Art Direction: Michael CarlinSet Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
"Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)
Art Direction: Kristi ZeaSet Decoration: Debra Schutt

Achievement in cinematography

"Changeling" (Universal)
Tom Stern
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Claudio Miranda
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Wally Pfister
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)
Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Anthony Dod Mantle

Achievement in costume design

"Australia" (20th Century Fox)
Catherine Martin
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Jacqueline West
"The Duchess" (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films)
Michael O'Connor
"Milk" (Focus Features)
Danny Glicker
"Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)
Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
David Fincher
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Ron Howard
"Milk" (Focus Features)
Gus Van Sant
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)
Stephen Daldry
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Danny Boyle

Best documentary feature

"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" (Cinema Guild)A Pandinlao Films Production
Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
"Encounters at the End of the World" (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment)A Creative Differences Production
Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
"The Garden"A Black Valley Films Production
Scott Hamilton Kennedy
"Man on Wire" (Magnolia Pictures)A Wall to Wall Production
James Marsh and Simon Chinn
"Trouble the Water" (Zeitgeist Films)An Elsewhere Films Production
Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Best documentary short subject

"The Conscience of Nhem En"A Farallon Films Production
Steven Okazaki
"The Final Inch"A Vermilion Films Production
Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
"Smile Pinki"A Principe Production
Megan Mylan
"The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306"A Rock Paper Scissors Production
Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Achievement in film editing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Lee Smith
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
"Milk" (Focus Features)
Elliot Graham
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Chris Dickens

Best foreign language film of the year

"The Baader Meinhof Complex" A Constantin Film Production - Germany
"The Class" (Sony Pictures Classics) A Haut et Court Production - France
"Departures" (Regent Releasing) A Departures Film Partners Production - Japan
"Revanche" (Janus Films) A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production - Austria
"Waltz with Bashir" (Sony Pictures Classics) A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production - Israel

Achievement in makeup

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Greg Cannom
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (Universal)
Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Alexandre Desplat
"Defiance" (Paramount Vantage)
James Newton Howard
"Milk" (Focus Features)
Danny Elfman
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
A.R. Rahman
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Thomas Newman

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas NewmanLyric by Peter Gabriel
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Music by A.R. RahmanLyric by Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Best motion picture of the year

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)A Kennedy/Marshall Production
Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal)A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production
Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
"Milk" (Focus Features)A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production
Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production
Nominees to be determined
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)A Celador Films Production
Christian Colson, Producer

Best animated short film

"La Maison en Petits Cubes"A Robot Communications Production
Kunio Kato
"Lavatory - Lovestory"A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production
Konstantin Bronzit
"Oktapodi" (Talantis Films)A Gobelins, L'école de l'image Production
Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
"Presto" (Walt Disney)A Pixar Animation Studios Production
Doug Sweetland
"This Way Up"A Nexus Production
Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Best live action short film

"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)" (Hamburg Shortfilmagency)An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production
Reto Caffi
"Manon on the Asphalt" (La Luna Productions)A La Luna Production
Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
"New Boy" (Network Ireland Television)A Zanzibar Films Production
Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
"The Pig"An M & M Production
Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)"A Mephisto Film Production
Jochen Alexander Freydank

Achievement in sound editing

"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Richard King
"Iron Man" (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment)
Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Tom Sayers
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
"Wanted" (Universal)
Wylie Stateman

Achievement in sound mixing

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
"Wanted" (Universal)
Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Achievement in visual effects

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
"The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
"Iron Man" (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment)
John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted screenplay

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Screenplay by Eric RothScreen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
"Doubt" (Miramax)
Written by John Patrick Shanley
"Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Screenplay by Peter Morgan
"The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)
Screenplay by David Hare
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight)
Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original screenplay

"Frozen River" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Written by Courtney Hunt
"Happy-Go-Lucky" (Miramax)
Written by Mike Leigh
"In Bruges" (Focus Features)
Written by Martin McDonagh
"Milk" (Focus Features)
Written by Dustin Lance Black
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim ReardonOriginal story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A movie review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Director - Woody Allen
Writer - Woody Allen
Tagline - Life is the ultimate work of art

Rebecca Hall – Vicky
Scarlett Johansson – Cristina
Javier Bardem – Juan Antonio
Penélope Cruz – Maria Elena
Christopher Evan Welch – Narrator

There is something magical about being young and optimistic. The world is there for the taking and all you have to do is reach out and grab it – that is, as long as you can figure out what exactly it is that you want. And what if you do know what you want? Or, at least you think you do, but come to find that you don’t, and maybe, just maybe, the things you do want are not what are best for you, but how do you really know, because you’ve thought you knew what you wanted for so long?

And so we dance.

Director/Writer Woody Allen presents to us the timeless story of young people going off to a foreign land in search of something. Of course it is much more complicated than that. Through the use of a narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) we are told the story of Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), two young American friends with very different views on life, who travel to Barcelona to spend the Summer with Vicki’s relatives. Vicky is the safe one. She is engaged to a safe man and she spends a lot of time studying everything. Cristina is impulsive and romantic, and were she to find herself in a stable relationship for just a bit too long she would figure out what she didn’t like and move on.

The story moves forward very quickly once the two women meet a mysterious painter, Juan Antonio played by Javier Bardem, a rather interesting change from his previous role as the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh in 2007s No Country for Old Men. Through his charm and Cristina’s need to explore, the three of them find themselves on a whirl-wind romance of mind and body, in which you the viewer is lead down a fairly certain path only to find yourself coming to a fork in the road.

I admit I am not well-versed in Woody Allen films, and what I have seen did not really blow me away. In a vacuum this movie blew me away. When I first saw this film I proclaimed that it would be in my top 5 of the year, and that is where it has stayed, although it had some very strong late competition.

Perhaps what I liked most about this film, and why I praise it so much, is that even though the story is a little far-fetched, it is totally plausible. I’m sure there are some very charming Spanish men out there meeting American girls every day, seducing them. Just as I am sure there are friends travelling together with different types of lives. I won’t give out spoilers on the Penélope Cruz character Maria Elena, but just know she is my pick for the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. She brings such a fire to this role and you find yourself thinking of people you know who act like this, and saying wow, what an impressive job she does.

The narrator’s voice over can be a bit much, for this film I did not really mind him telling us a lot of the background. Some movies need to show and not tell, but I thought this one got by just fine. I laughed a lot at this film, but I also took it to heart and viewed it as a serious piece of commentary.

Note: This is a re-write from my previous version, which was not a full review.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Movie Review: Revolutionary Road

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay) Richard Yates (novel)
Tagline: How do you break free without breaking apart?

Kate Winslet - April Wheeler
Leonardo DiCaprio - Frank Wheeler
Michael Shannon - John Givings
Kathy Bates - Mrs. Helen Givings

I think most people can recall a time in their lives when everything was there for the taking. All you had to do was put up your sail, let the wind take you, and enjoy the ride. Inevitably that wind began to die down, though, and at some point your boat was grounded again.

Such is the way of life for many people who have failed to recognize a dream, perhaps due to lack of initiative, or, more likely, just due to life’s circumstances. Ultimately, the vast majority of people go on to achieve varying degrees of fulfillment from life – some realize their dreams, others do not.

And so we come to Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), the seemingly poster couple for the American Dream in 1950s suburbia living on Revolutionary Road. Frank is “in office machines” and commutes to the city every day along with throngs of body doubles all wearing nicely pressed suits and matching hats, blissfully aware that the hours they will spend at their desks have little or no relevance to anything important. April tends to the house chores and the children, taking out the garbage and dreaming of a time when she was passionate about anything, in her case, acting.

Anyone who has seen director Sam Mendes’ fabulous film American Beauty (1999) should have no trouble grasping what sort of dark material is going to be covered from the time we meet the starry eyed lovers to the moment we realize that not all is as it seems in this cut-out cross-section of life to which we play witness. The difference with that earlier work and this, however, is the depth of deep-seeded angst and, dare I say, hatred that these two characters are asked to exude to one another and to the audience, and who better than Winslet and DiCaprio, rekindling their on-screen chemistry of a decade ago on another boat that was heading to disaster?

I prefer not to get into too many specifics as this movie unwinds so wonderfully I wouldn’t want to ruin the slow progression of despair you are made to feel as you live the lives of these characters. Rather, I’d like to simply point out that this film is most likely, sadly, not too far from the truth for many people, if not to this drastic degree of solemnity. And in that regard it will hit home with a crushing blow to some who will undoubtedly seek to search out their own secrets and opportunities lost. This movie is not for the weak of stomach, nor for the weak of mind.

We get a very solid supporting role out of Kathy Bates as realtor and family friend Mrs. Helen Givings, who one day asks if the Wheeler’s wouldn’t mind having lunch with her husband and their son, John, who has been hospitalized as a mental patient. Michael Shannon delivers the role of the man who has been shocked so many times in his brain that he has all but forgotten how to do the complex math work he so used to love. It is his performance over the course of a few luncheons that drives home much of the central theme of the movie and ultimately leads to the Wheeler’s full self-understandings of themselves. Or, perhaps, simply their non-understanding.

What do people want out of life? Does an idyllic existence exist? And if so, can it be shared with someone else?

The answers may not be given in Revolutionary Road, but the journey to seeing what happens when things go wrong is an experience in itself.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

A movie review: The Fall (2008)

The Fall (2008)

Director: Tarsem Singh
Tagline: A Little Blessing In Disguise.
30 May 2008 (USA)
Runtime: 117 min

Catinca Untaru - Alexandria
Lee Pace - Roy Walker / Blue Bandit

It is very rare when one can proclaim something – anything! – To be “The Best.” What’s the best car ever made? Who was the best President? Do you think it will be anytime soon that the best baseball player of all time will be determined?

And so it is that much sweeter that I am able to announce here that The Best visually appealing and graphically mesmerizing film of all time has been declared, by me, to be The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell).

With a blitz-like array of colors and patterns, we are taken on a fantastical journey mixed with truths and lies and fairy-tale rhymes in a world both real and un-real, natural and un-natural.

The setting for this concoction of whimsy brilliance begins in a sad, dark hospital in Los Angeles around the second decade of the 1900s. A stunt man, Roy Walker (Lee Pace) has had his legs paralyzed from a fall and now lies in a bed awaiting care. A little girl, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm looks to make friends with the man, and so approaches and begins a conversation.

What transpires next and throughout the film is the tale of a man telling a child a story, something that has happened and will happen many many times. Only this time it is magical.

Alexandria, who is played wonderfully by a Romanian actress, listens to Roy’s story and begins to take it all in, and suddenly we are aware that we are viewing the story from the mind of the child, and a child’s mind is a mysterious and grasping place.

We come to learn the story of a band of 5 misfits, each intent on revenge towards the evil Governor Odious. The group consist of: An ex-African slave, an Italian bomb expert, an Indian (told to us that he is from India), Charles Darwin and his pet monkey, Wallace, and lastly the Black Bandit, who we come to realize is Roy having inserted himself into the story.
As these men begin their journey from a deserted island with the help of swimming elephants we begin to see that we cannot believe what we are seeing. Themes of suicide and anger permeate the underlying depths of the story, but it is the chemistry between the sorrowful, paralyzed actor and the immensely sweet and endearing Alexandria that holds the tale together. So wonderfully natural is the child’s acting that you feel like you are invading on a nighttime story session being told in her bedroom.

From here the story takes on a life of its own, with Roy speaking the words and Alexandria creating the fantastical pictures and story in her head. To try and do justice to the images with words is absurd, and I can only say that, maybe if you took an artist’s pallet and threw it against a Jackson Pollack, you might, just might, understand the explosion of color that will come at you from all angles.

In researching the back story to this film some incredible feats come to light. Tarsem, who created the similar world of 2000s The Cell, created this film as his passion project, his need to give something to his craft. And so, finding himself alone, sold everything and financed the three-million dollar project personally, as he shot on location in some 18 countries over many years. According to those involved, no computer-generated effects were used, which is absolutely mind-blowing considering the vast array of unfathomable scenic beauty. Were some tricks employed? I am certain, but the how and why are not important. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, distribution became a problem. Eventually it was picked up by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, and it made its US debut in the Summer of 2008.

Along with a wonderful score and a compelling story line, this film must be viewed if for nothing more than the reason we view great pieces of art hundreds and thousands of years after they are created.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Movie Review: Milk

Milk (2008)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Tagline: His life changed history. His courage changed lives.
Runtime: 128 minutes


Sean Penn - Harvey Milk
James Franco - Scott Smith
Emile Hirsch - Cleve Jones
Josh Brolin - Dan White

Sean Penn is Harvey Milk. At least that's what I will always remember him as, after seeing his wonderful portrayal of the gay/activist/politician who was gunned down, along with Mayor George Moscone, in 1978 by San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Dan White (Josh Brolin) at City Hall.

Like another very good film this year, Frost/Nixon, the overall story is based in fact, and the outcome is readily known. It is what the director and the actors bring to the script that makes us feel something, and is the reason we ultimately end up caring about what happens to characters such as Harvey Milk.

The film opens and closes with a 48 year old Milk speaking into a tape recorder, leaving instructions and thoughts in the (likely?) case that he is ever assassinated. In between we are taken along the previous 8 years of Milk's life, as he goes from a 40 year old gay man living in New York who tells one of his partners in bed that he has done nothing much with his life, to the 48 year old who became the first openly-gay elected politician in the United States, and the leader of a major gay rights movement in San Francisco and across the nation.

Along with his partner Scott Smith (James Franco), Milk opens up a photography store near Castro Theater in a very gay neighborhood of San Francisco. Witnessing that even there they would be subject to hate, Milk begins to organize and share his views with other gay members of the community, eventually running for, losing, then winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors. During this time we see Milk's power to bring people together, to project unity and fairness, and it is during these scenes that Penn shines the brightest.

The process of getting there is the story of Milk, and with a decent supporting role by Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild; The Girl Next Door) as lost but found young gay activist Cleve Jones, Penn gives us the good, the not so good, and the very real life of a man fighting for human rights while striving to live his own life in peace - it is told to us that no less than 3 of Milk's partners have killed themselves over the years, a topic, percentage wise skewed in the gay community, not covered too much in mainstream media.

Not to be overlooked is the strong performance by Josh Brolin (W.; No Country for Old Men) as Board of Supervisors member Dan White. It is heavily implied that White's "all-American" lifestyle of family values is a cover for his actual homosexuality, and ultimately this is to be reasoned as the driving force towards his eventual murders of the Mayor and of Milk. Brolin does a very nice job as a man conflicted, a political man, and his relationship with Milk, though friendly on the surface, is wrought with tension and, most likely, anger.

In the end I found myself thinking of the film, of the performances, and more importantly of our society and how much it takes great men doing great things at the right time in history to make great changes. I'm not convinced Harvey Milk had any great aspirations, but when the chance was there he seized it and he changed countless lives for the better. I have very little to complain about with this film, but I also don't have too much over-the-top praise. It is a very good film and one worth seeing.


Movie Review: The Wrestler

The Wrestler (2008)

Director - Darren Aronofsky
Writer - Robert D. Siegel
Runtime - 109 min

Mickey Rourke - Randy 'The Ram' Robinson
Marisa Tomei - Cassidy/Pam
Evan Rachel Wood - Stephanie Robinson

Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is long past his prime as a top professional wrestler. Living in a trailer he can barely afford, and driving a van that will barely start, his body is beaten, he is old, and he is alone. To earn money he works at a local store on weekdays taking orders from a frail, snibbly boss in a tie. Occasionally he signs autographs at local gyms, inking his once famous name to portraits of a former life, then stuffing dollar bills into a fanny pack. To kill time and spend the money he doesn't have, he hangs out at the local strip club drinking beer and fantasizing about Cassidy (Marisa Tomei ), and thinking of ways to take her away from it all. His estranged daughter hates him and tells him so.

But on weekends, The Ram still wrestles.

Director Darren Aronofsky presents to us the story of a washed up superstar who has burned many bridges and now, in the twilight of his career and life, is faced not only with his own mortality, but the prospect of a life alone.

Mickey Rourke plays "The Ram" with an entirely too real understanding of what daily life must be like for an aging star. Rourke himself has gone through tough times in his personal life, spanning a long career that started with critical success but slowly faded out, only to be brought back to mainstream culture as Marv in 2005s Sin City. He must have drawn greatly on his own life when making The Wrestler, and it comes across brilliantly.

This film is very low on the action side of things, and other than a few stunt-doubled parts and possible CGI effects, you would never know that what you are watching is a movie, and not simply a sad real life. And that is what ultimately makes this movie work so well for me, that I completely forgot I was watching actors, and sort of just drifted away into the 'real' world of these people.

Amongst the wonderful behind-the scenes shots of what it is like to wrestle in local gymnasiums and to constantly need to inject oneself with everything under the sun, the film has the ultimate reality feel at the end, bringing this sad life to the only possible conclusion.

With a strong supporting role from Evan Rachel Wood as The Ram's daughter Stephanie, and a decent performance by Tomei (and graphically sexual), Rourke is able to deliver to us a glimpse into the life of lonely person seeking something even he can no longer understand. In the end, will there be anybody left to care about The Ram, other than the small crowd of cheering and jeering fans?