Sunday, June 12, 2011

2 movie reviews: Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life

I haven't been in much of a movie review writing feeling the past few months and I know I haven't put a lot of effort into recent work and I don't particularly feel like writing anything right now, but I do want to put down some brief thoughts on 2 recently seen films because I think they are both important and wonderful in different ways and I think both of these will be talked about for a long time.  It is also awesome to find 2 great films out in June, usually a month reserved for 100% CGI films.

Midnight in Paris (2011)
Director - Woody Allen
PG-13; 100 Min
Owen Wilson - Gil
Rachel McAdams - Inez
Michael Sheen - Paul
Marion Cotillard - Adriana
(Many more)

I went into this one with almost zero knowledge other than one quick trailer I saw a while ago and I hope that is how you go into it as well.  With that in mind I've decided to not write anything specific so as not to spoil anything for those of you who choose not to read or watch things ahead of time.  What I will say is that this film has a whimsical and magical feel you don't get too often with films, especially the big-box money machine films of Hollywood.  And yet it accomplishes so much not with a smaller, less known cast and crew, but with Woody Allen directing a fleet of stars who all bring wonderful moments. 

At the heart of the film is Gil (Owen Wilson) who is a successful Hollywood writer but only does it for the money and is a bit disgusted with himself for never giving a real effort at writing a novel.  He fondly remembers his student days in Paris and wishes he had just stayed and let life take course.  He is on a trip to Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams - the most beautiful, charming, perfect woman in the world) where he is finally working on his novel and starting to see that his life is in a rut and he begins to long for a different age - Paris in the 1920s - where all was right with the world and the giants of literature and art would congregate and lead the way with thoughts and ideas.

So Gil goes walking alone one evening just to clear his head and from there the story really takes form in a way that nothing recent has done.  I am not a very knowledgable Woody Allen person, but I have liked most of what I have seen, including Annie Hall, Manhattan and, more recently, Vicki Cristina Barcelona. I think Allen is amazing at capturing the ambiance of his locations and of his characters' state of mind and in this film everything is perfect.  I'm going to give it a few months but I can't wait to go back and re-watch this one with a clear mind.  It was a really fun ride and Michael Sheen turns out one of the best supporting roles in a long time as Paul, an arrogant know-it-all who has something to say about everything - hie scenes turn out to be some of the most memorable of the entire film.

***** out of 5

The Tree of Life (2011)
Director - Terrence Malick
PG-13; 138 Min
Brad Pitt - Mr. O'Brien
Sean Penn - Jack
Jessica Chastain - Mrs. O'Brien
Hunter McCracken - Young Jack

To say I don't quite know how to write about this film is a major understatement.  How do I even attempt to describe what can only be seen as an attempt to visually represent what it is to be human?  I'm not trying to transcend director Terrence Malick or this movie to some throne or say nothing like it has ever been done, but it truly is an amazing achievement that should leave you with a lot of thinking and a lot of questions you can't possibly answer.  I like movies that challenge me to think.

This film is clearly not going to be liked by a large population of people - it just isn't a 'normal' film and for people who don't enjoy non-tradtional movies it will probably be unwatchable.  There is a loose plot but when you get down to it there really isn't a plot at all.  The plot is existence itself. The focus is mainly on children yet there is a grown up world with prominence.  Part of this existence is the O'Brien family in 1950s America and part of this existence is a grown up O'Brien boy in present day and the other parts encompass everything that has ever happened throughout all of time.  How's that for ambitous?

This movie is all about emotions.  How we think about ourselves and our own being and how we interpret watching a movie about these emotions and how we process and revel in the enjoyment of the process.  Sitting back and throwing down popcorn isn't going to get you through the 20+ minute stretch with almost no dialogue as we view the entire history of time in a way that really makes us ponder, well, everything.  This is one of those magical movies that only grows better with perspective.  Leaving the theater I'm not sure how I felt, but I know that a day later I feel exactly what I just wrote.

***** out of 5

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The American President #10: John Tyler

Please feel free to add anything you want about John Tyler!
- Born March 29, 1790 at Greenway Plantation in Virginia; Died January 18, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia

- One term President April 4, 1841- March 4, 1845 (took office upon death of William Henry Harrison)
-Whig Party
-Vice-President: None

-Nickname: Accidental President
-Religion: Episcopalian
-Profession: Lawyer
- Governor of Virginia: 1825-1827; US Senator: 1827-1836; Vice-President: March-April 1841

According to article 2, Section 6 of the Constitution the wording leaves the potential for some doubt as to whether the VP should automatically be sworn in to office upon the death of the President.  Tyler believed it was clear cut and that he would assume all duties and perks of the office, while others viewed him as just a rubber stamp until a new President was elected.  It was eventually accepted that the VP would in fact become President upon removal of the current President.

Leader of the Whig Party - Henry Clay - would soon cause problems.  Clay pushed to reinstate the Bank of the United States and Tyler vetoed.  This caused a public break and Tyler would leave the Whig party.  He was now a President without a party, which left him open to congressional action. Tyler narrowly escaped a vote to impeach him in 1843.

Tyler worked hard for the annexation of Texas and had to fight hard to make sure it was his legacy and not that of James Polk - entire books have been written on the subject. Using the slogan "Tyler and Texas" he was able to get the law passed just 3 days before he left office, though Texas did not accept nor become a state until several months later during th Polk presidency.

Tyler was the first to marry while in office, to a woman 30 years younger than him, and it was not received well by the public nor his family. 

Tyler joined the Confederacy during the Civil War and became the only President who later became sworn enemy of the US

- Tyler was father to 15 children, the most by any President in history
- Tyler did not give an inaugural address
- Tyler's wife began the practice of playing Hail to the Chief to signal arrival at state functions
-9/11/1841: Tyler's entire cabinet (except Daniel Webster) resigns in protest
- 3/3/1842: MA passes chiuld labor law of 10 hours per day maximum
- 5/24/1844: Samuel F.B. Morse sends the first telegraphic message "What hath God wrought" between Washington DC and Baltimore