The rants and raves of a teenage cinephile who is just a little bit obsessed with Catherine O'Hara and Hayao Miyazaki.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Official Story (1985)

Politically charged films are often fascinating, especially if you live or lived during the time period in which the film takes place. However, if you have absolutely no knowledge of the event(s) that serve as the basis of the story, you're more than a little bit at a loss. Such was the way I felt while watching the Argentinian Oscar-winner "The Official Story", which takes place in the 1980's in Argentina.

So, a brief history lesson! After Juan Peron's widow (not Eva, but Isabel Martinez) was ousted from Argentina, a military rule led by Jorge Rafael Videla took over in about 1976 or so. When he and his junta took control, their goal was to eliminate any dissenters to their rule, thus marking the beginning of what was called the "Dirty War".

Videla himself. He's so creepy looking.

The following years were full of "forced disappearances" of people who the government thought were activists. Really, anyone who even looked like a government dissenter was kidnapped discreetly and taken away, many of whom were never seen again. Most of these victims were tortured, many often being killed in concentration camps. Babies born by mothers who were kidnapped during this time were abducted and given to government families.

And that, my dear readers, is where "The Official Story" begins! The film starts 5 years after the protagonist Alicia (Norma Aleandro) and her government-official husband adopted a baby girl named Gaby. Alicia is visited by an old activist friend, Ana, who was one of the disappeared and reveals the terrible injustices suffered at the camps, including the kidnapping of the newborns. Alicia begins to wonder if Gaby's mother could have been tortured at the hands of the government, and sets off to find out the truth about her daughter.

The film is very human, but the political context serves as the foundation of the plot. It's just extremely important to know the background information, because when I watched the film I had absolutely no knowledge of the Dirty War and knowing about it completely changed my outlook on it.

"The Official Story" is a very slow moving film, but not to the point of being boring. In fact, the slow pace allows each character and performer to thrive, making the viewer question everyone's true motives. And, the buildup to the last scene is just superb, even if that final scene, while fiery, is a tad bit over the top. Only a little bit though.

Norma Aleandro's performance is absolutely marvelous. She portrays the political and ethical awakening of her character brilliantly, and she dominates the screen. Alicia's character arc is basically the entire plot of the movie, so it's extremely important for Aleandro to make it work, and she does it brilliantly.

Even with all the movie does right, I didn't fall in love with it, in large part due to my ignorance of the historical context. After watching the movie and doing research, it makes me appreciate the film much more and I really thank the film for giving me the motive to discover this fascinating and disturbing chapter in history. I do apologize for doing more history teaching than reviewing, but Alicia was a history teacher. She would have wanted it this way. :)

8/10

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

People seem to love movies in which characters mentally unravel throughout the course of the plot. Movies like "Rebecca" and "Gaslight" and countless others, which revolve around paranoia and secrecy, thrive and are often called classics...and I agree! The human mind is a crazy place and films that deal with it are often quite brilliant, especially giving its actors a chance to shine. However, if not done perfectly, these films often come off as manipulative."Notes on a Scandal" works on both the best and worst levels of its genre.

"Scandal" revolves mainly around Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), an old and traditional teacher who keeps a diary that chronicles her lonely existence. She befriends a new, young art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) and sees their friendship lasting forever. When Barbara finds Sheba is having an affair with a young student, she takes the opportunity to manipulate Sheba for her own gain. Things begin to grow tense and uncomfortable for Sheba and her family, as the secret between them becomes more and more lethal.

From the very beginning of the movie, we are drawn into Barbara Covett's psyche. She is a lonely woman, an extremely disturbed one, who seems to care nothing about people. It's implied that she is a lesbian, but it's never really clear if it's an emotional or physical lust that she has for Sheba. Either way, Dench wraps us in from the beginning and never lets us go, relentlessly toying with us. We hate her one minute, pity her the next - it's vicious, in the best of ways.

Cate Blanchett, in one of her most polarizing performances, I find absolutely brilliant. She displays the declining life of Sheba Hart so perfectly. Even when Sheba is making terrible decisions that we know are wrong we cannot help but root for her. The last scene between her and Dench, which many call too over the top, I find absolutely perfect. It's heart wrenching, terrifying, and ultimately saddening. Blanchett has been criticized for her histrionics but I find them justified...I really cannot imagine any better way to have done those scenes

Philip Glass's music just seals the deal on the tense atmosphere this film creates. It's frightening, scary, and just overbearing enough to make us feel uncomfortable. The writer and the director seem to know exactly what they want, and it's rewarding for the audience. The film is working as a thriller, a character study, and an acting showcase (for at least Dench and Blanchett) all at once, so well.

However, the movie is far from perfect. It's not a happy film but even so it sometimes feels overly manipulative. Also, some of the supporting cast was kind of weak. I just did not like the kid who played Sheba's young lover at all. I felt he was a bit boring and I cannot see why he was desirable to Sheba whatsoever. Also, you want over the top? The guy who played the principal in that scene with Dench. He was obviously having a lot of fun yelling all of his lines.

Nonetheless, though the movie isn't perfect, it's still quite fantastic and works so well on so many levels. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett both give performances that I believe are possibly the best in their careers, the writing and music are tense, and it's all crafted quite marvelously. It's a horrifying movie that ultimately ends up being extremely sad.

8/10

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Open Glee Thread

Yeah. So right here, this post, I'm opening to all your thoughts about last night's episode of Glee. If anyone has any.

I just don't even know where to start, it just gets more and more convoluted every week! I'm almost going past the point of forgiving its ridiculosity. And Emma didn't even show up last night :(((

Jane Lynch did have some really good moments, and Kristen Chenoweth was also nice. But it's really that there's no driving storyline, subplots are ignored for episodes at a time...Eeeek! I'm so conflicted. I love it but I hate it. And this second season or whatever it is, it's just even more outlandish than the first.

I mean, how many times can they fit teary eyed confessions into one 45 minute period???

So share your thoughts below...maybe I should be more forgiving but things are just getting crazy. Pardon my rantyness!!! :P

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Test?

Test test. Test test test.


Sorry everyone...nothing to see here...

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Hidden Gem: The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio

I don't really need to say much about Julianne Moore. We all know how amazing she is, right? Anyway, Ms. Moore has sort of made a career of playing the "wife who has to deal with a lot of crap", as evidenced by her marvelous performances in "Far From Heaven" and "The Hours". But there's one performance of hers that is almost never mentioned, in a film that is almost completely overlooked. That film is "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio".



The film tells the true story of Evelyn Ryan, a woman who supported her ten children by winning jingle-writing contests in the 1950's. Her husband, played quite well by Woody Harrelson, is an alcoholic who abuses her and keeps secrets, and she has to keep it all together.

However, though the film sounds like a depressing and conventional biopic, it is far from it. It uses sequences of fantasy to lighten the mood and the tone of the film works perfectly, keeping it form falling into the cliche biopic traps that so many films fall into.

Plus, JULIANNE MOORE, people! This is actually the first film I ever saw with her (brief pause for sentiments) and it began my love for her. She's absolutely wonderful (as usual) and is probably the main reason this film succeeds as well as it does.

Woody Harrelson is also quite fantastic as the alcholic husband. He portrays him with sensitivity, making us feel as conflicted as Evelyn does. There's also a lovely supporting turn by Laura Dern, which is always amazing.

It's really too sad that Julianne was all but ignored in the awards season for this movie, but she truly is wonderful, as is the entire film. I kind of don't want to embed the trailer because it makes it look like a cheesey Hallmark movie, but it really isn't. It is instead, a lovely little gem with a heart of gold that tells the true story of a remarkable woman.



So...comment below! Have you seen "Prize Winner"? Do you think it's really just a glorified Hallmark Channel Original? Was Julianne robbed of an Oscar nomination???

Paprika (2006)

As a huge fan of anime and Japanese cinema in general, Satoshi Kon is a director that really intrigues me. "Paprika" is Kon's most recent feature film, and in it he has perfected the non-linear narrative and lush visual design that he showed in earlier films such as the masterpiece "Millenium Actress".

It's useless to try to describe the plot of "Paprika". There is one, a rather obvious one, that revolves around the theft of a machine that allows the user to enter people's dreams. The titular Paprika is the alter ego of a researcher who is working on the device. However, this movie is not about plot. Really, the storyline is simply a device used to procure the visual mastery that the film exhibits.

And what a spectacle it is! The film is constantly spinning in and out of dream sequences (half the time you don't know whether it's dream or reality) and from the very opening sequence where Paprika is running through the city shifting in and out of images, Kon exhibits a virtuosic command of the visuals. Color and symbolism are used to create excitement and suspense, and often times the visuals are extremely frightening, as though the viewer is experiencing the nightmares of the characters.

The music is also pretty perfect - the technological score by Susumu Hirosawa is perfectly fitted for this futuristic thriller. All of the technical aspects of the film are weaved together brilliantly to create the dreamlike tone of the film.

Perhaps the film ends a bit too soon, and the pacing is not always perfect, but despite being confused I was never alienated from the action and always felt like I knew what was going on. It was basically like a dream: nothing is normal but it all feels so right.

I don't necessarily love "Paprika" as much as Kon's other works (especially "Millenium Actress") but with this film he has created an exciting and nearly perfect study of dreams and of the human mind, accented by visual spectacles and ridiculously awesome music.

9/10

Friday, April 23, 2010

All the President's Men (1976)

It's rare when a movie comes along with the perfect combination of having an amazing cast, a fascinating source material, and impeccable direction. Needless to say, "All the President's Men", which has all three of those things, is a nearly perfect film.

The story of the film, which is based on a true story, is extremely interesting. It follows two Washington Post journalists (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) as they fight the odds to reveal the truth behind the Watergate Coverup.

Their investigation leads them into a world of secrets, nobody wants them to publish their story, nobody wants to go on record, and they have to deal with all of this in order to get the truth to the world before it's too late.

Perhaps the best thing about this film is how natural it all feels. The lines are delivered (or written?) with just enough pauses and "ums" that it feels perfect, like you're watching the events actually unfold. Every actor completely inhabits their roles and the editing make the actions quick, exciting and sharp. I especially liked Dustin Hoffman. He really, really stole the show in my opinion.

The only performance I wasn't completely convinced by was Jane Alexander...she wasn't bad, I think she just underwhelmed me because of her Oscar-Nominated status. Plus, her character wasn't given a lot to do.

"SIX. MILLION. DOLLARS."

But I haven't even mentioned the intense art direction...that Washington Post Office has got to be one of the most well designed sets in movie history!

The issue...if there is one, with this movie, is that everything happens so fast that it's often hard to follow. Thus, it sort of alienated me. Its emotional content isn't really deep either, so on an emotional level I had a hard time connecting.

However, the story is just so fascinating. The fact that all of this stuff actually happened, that these two reporters basically single handedly brought the truth about Watergate to the public, is just amazing. It really makes me want to read the book.

So, by taking an absolutely engrossing story, making it completely natural and turning what could have been a boring office drama into an exciting political thriller, "All the President's Men" is certainly a must see film, despite its low emotional content.

9/10

Shoot!

I just remembered that Party Down starts back tonight! What a great way to start the morning. Yea! I cannot wait.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Christopher Guest...From Best to Worst

I'm a huge fan of Christopher Guest's hilarious ensemble comedies. I'm including "Spinal Tap" on this list even though it wasn't directed by Guest, because... it still counts!!! Sort of. And I'm excluding "Almost Heroes" because...well, if you've seen it, then you'd understand.

Here's my list...
  1. Waiting for Guffman
  2. This is Spinal Tap
  3. Best in Show
  4. A Mighty Wind
  5. For Your Consideration
The top two are really close, and the middle two are really close...For Your Consideration was kind of weak, minus Catherine O'Hara's brilliant performance. I love you Catherine!!!

So what are your favorite Christopher Guest mockumentaries and performances?

Happy Earth Day!



Make the most of it, ya'll.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Frost/Nixon (2008)

I had no idea this was going to be a mockumentary! That totally caught me by surprise...and despite my affectation for mocks, I felt like it was not the right decision for this movie. Unlike something like "District 9", this film didn't quite transition the documentary parts to the non-documentary parts too well. However, it's still impeccably written, so sharp and exciting. Nixon was portrayed so humanely that it was hard not to feel sorry for him. And the acting is phenomenal. I swear sparks were flying when Michael Sheen and Frank Langella were onscreen together! Yikes! And the supporting cast was fantastic as well...Rebecca Hall is always lovely and Sam Rockwell was stellar. So all in all, it's a thrilling and exciting movie that is brought down by its bizarre structure.

8/10

Vegetarian/Vegan Movie Characters


It's oddly rare to find vegetarian movie characters onscreen, and as a vegetarian myself whenever one shows up it's an OMG moment. There are plenty of vegetarian/vegan actors and actresses, but their roles are less so! So, I'm dedicating this post to all the vegetarian movie characters out there. To be updated as I think of more or you guys help me with some suggestions. :P

Ricky Fitts in American Beauty

April Burns in Pieces of April

Ian Miller in My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Bella Swan in Twilight

Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons Movie

Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

Lex Murphy in Jurassic Park

Little Foot in The Land Before Time (and all of its innumerable sequels)

Cassie Munro in RV

Evil Ex-Boyfriend Todd in Scott Pilgrim VS. The World

Shania Twain in I Heart Huckabees

Peggy in Year of the Dog

There you have it. Help me out, have I missed anyone? Haha!

Literary Movies.

Is it just me, or does it seem like every major piece of literature has been turned into a movie? Really, you can look up almost any book and chances are, it's been adapted. That being said, there are still plenty of books that haven't been adapted and the ones that have aren't all necessarily successful.

I'm currently reading "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston - it would be an interesting movie but I think it's almost unfilmable.

So, that brings me to today's topic, for discussion in the comments...is there a novel/memoir/play that you would like to see on the big screen? Or, is there a book that has already been made into a movie that you'd like to see remade at a higher quality? Go!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Best Score Ranking: 2008

This was a ridiculously strong year. Really, any of these could have won and I would have been happy, but the top three are especially wonderful. On any other given day their order could be completely switched around. :)

5. Defiance - James Newton Howard


The problem with this score is that it feels like it's trying too hard to be "Schindler's List". But, I mean, it works because it is still very beautiful.


4. Milk - Danny Elfman



I would have thought Danny Elfman a strange choice for this movie but he's actually perfect. The score was probably one of my favorite things about this movie - it's subtle, unique and lovely. Perhaps not the most memorable score ever, but still quite effective.


3. Slumdog Millionaire - A.R. Rahman



It's sad putting this as number 3 because I LOVE, love, love love this score. So exciting, so unique, and so perfect for the movie which I also love. Latika's Theme is the best. I just don't really think it deserved to win the Oscar - a lot of it is a "song" score, which is against their rules right? And some of the best moments use themes from classical music as well. Plus, I can't imagine this was much of a challenge for A.R. Rahman... Still, it's amazing.


2. Wall-E - Thomas Newman



Perfect, absolutely perfect in every single way. It's futuristic, the sweeping strings are gorgeous and I just melt when I hear the music for the scene where Eve and Wall-E are dancing in space.


1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Alexandre Desplat



Oh, so wonderful. Magical, beautiful and enchanting just like the film. Alexandre Desplat is probably one of my favorite composers working today and this is just an absolutely amazing score.


Should Have Been Nominated...

Maybe The Dark Knight (Hans Zimmer) or Departures (Joe Hisaishi) would probably have been better fits for Defiance's spot, but really this is such a strong lineup that I think the music branch might have been almost perfect with this one.

What was your favorite score of 2008? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Review Archive

Here's a list of all the movies I've reviewed so far. Obviously it's a bit lacking right now but it will be constantly updated. I'm going to link to it over on the side so that you can always come back for quick and dirty reference purposes. :)

#
Inception (2010)


Q

R

Z

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

As usual, Amy Adams steals the show. But seriously, this movie was pretty okay...it had a lot of strong moments and the benefit of having a really interesting subject. Actually, I really want to read the book by Frank Abagnale himself now because it's such a fascinating story. However, the movie does drag and it's your conventional biopic. Out of sequence stuff! Troubled childhood! Etcetera. Even if it is based on a true story, you've got to be a little bit more original than that. Christopher Walken and Leo were both quite great but Tom Hanks was really underwhelming and his parts were the worst. It is bolstered by a pretty cool score by John Williams that is a nice departure from his usual stuff. Really, this should have been a documentary.

6/10

Saturday, April 17, 2010

10 Little Known Facts

Thanks to Simon at Four of Them for forcing me to do this. ;) You write 10 movie facts about yourself, then tag some others to do the same...enjoy!

1. The first movie I saw in the theater was "Hunchback of Notre Dame". I can barely remember anything about that day. Haha.

2. The first movie I owned was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". My grandmother got it on VHS for me. Or so I am told.

3. I am such a leaky faucet when it comes to crying during movies. Really, I'll start tearing up at the tiniest things...be it a sad moment, a really beautiful scene, or what have you. I cried at the end of "Night at the Museum 2", when *spoiler alert* Amy Adams flies away from Ben Stiller in the airplane!!! It's that bad!

4. Conversely, I also am the loudest laugher in the movie theater. I've gotten a bit better about that but my almost Amadeus-like laugh really resonates.

5. In case you haven't already figured it out, I'm an addict to animation. I drove an hour (and forced my friends to come along) just to see "Persepolis".

6. I am in love with Vera Farmiga right now. I've only seen one movie with her in it, and though I quite liked her performance, I can't explain my love for her. Perhaps it was how absolutely charismatic and gorgeous she was at the Oscars.
7. I pray every day that Catherine O'Hara starts getting the roles she deserves...and that Christopher Guest would make a couple more movies so that he could give one to her.

8. My favorite movie villain of all time: Mrs. Danvers.

9. I often feel as though the fantastic performance of a female actor affects me more than a fantastic performance from a male actor. Perhaps I haven't seen enough good male performances? (someone give me some help on this one)

10. I feel bad rewatching a movie when I know there are thousands that I haven't seen yet!

So there you have it. I'm supposed to tag some of you guys and make you do it as well, but...I'm not going to. I'm being nice! HOWEVER if you are so inspired, please do it and I'll link to it below.

Peace!

Friday, April 16, 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

This post is for the 1001 Movies Club. Go over there and check out more reviews of this and other movies!
"2001: A Space Odyssey" is a film whose reputation precedes itself. It's on countless Best of All Time lists, it's endlessly parodied, and the title itself seems to be a household name. Movies like this are sort of unlucky - they have to live up to their glorious reputations, which is difficult. Many fail under the weight of their expectations. However, "2001" lives up to its impressive reputation, and then some.

"2001" is an epic science fiction tale that is separated into 4 parts. In part 1, we have "The Dawn of Man", in Part 2, we have an interesting chapter about interspace politics, in Part 3, we have the really famous bulk of the movie, in which two astronauts are on a mission to Jupiter and their computer goes awry, and then Part 4...cannot even really be described.

I personally find every single moment of this film to be brilliant. It's remarkably imaginative and the symbolism is very intriguing. Stanley Kubrick is obviously a genius. He allows scenes to drag on, but it's completely necessary and absolutely not too long. One of my favorite things about the movie was the use of music - the classical soundtrack of Ligeti and Strauss just enhance every single scene and add an overwhelming sense of majesty to the entire film.

One thing I did not expect (but was pleasantly surprised with) was how frightening and emotional the film was. Hal is just so creepy, and his "Daisy, Daisy" scene was just heartwrenching. Also, the fact that everything has a sense of malaise to it - the monkeys, the monolith, the "epidemic" in space...everything builds up to create this tension that really drives the entire movie.

And, finally, the visual effects were brilliant. I feel that even in today's world of CGI and 3D, I was still completely convinced by them.

Gosh, words cannot really describe my love for this film. It has been so long since I've seen a movie that is as mind-bending, entertaining, thought-provoking and intelligent as this one. I don't think I was half as awestruck during "Avatar"! So, if you haven't seen it yet, GO DO SO, RIGHT AWAY. Not only is it a classic, but it's freaking amazing.

10/10

(the first perfect score!)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Contest Results!!!

Sorry everyone, I totally neglected to post this yesterday! Anyway, the results of the first annual HEWWM Banner Contest are in, and the winner is...

Luke, from Journalistic Skepticism! Congratulations, Luke! And the "prize" you get for winning this is still TBD so if you have any ideas please let me know. :P

There were two pairs of eyes up above that absolutely nobody identified.

There were these...
Which belong to the lovely Marpessa Dawn in the Brazilian film "Black Orpheus", which is one of my favorites.
It makes sense that nobody got it, because the picture wasn't even the really "famous" one from the movie and it's obscure. I probably wouldn't have gotten it myself.

Then there was this animated pair:
Which I'm disappointed nobody got! It's Ashitaka in "Princess Mononoke". Some of you came close but nobody quite nailed it.

Here's a full listing of the banner in case you're interested, from left to right:

Coraline, Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Janet Leigh (Psycho), Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Jack Black (School of Rock), Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Catherine O'Hara (Mighty Wind), Princess Mononoke
Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds), Marpessa Dawn (Black Orpheus), Tom Hulce (Amadeus), The Pale Man (Pan's Labyrinth)

Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Persepolis, Amy Adams (Junebug), Audrey Hepburn (Charade), Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada)

***

Anyway, congratulations again to Luke, and thanks to all of you who participated!!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Kids Are All Right" Trailer

Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know everyone and their grandmothers have seen this trailer already, but I'm posting it anyway! Simply because...it looks awesome. And I cannot WAIT for it to come out!!!



Moore and Bening...eeeeee!!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bright Star (2009)

I finally watched it!!! "Bright Star" was such a hit on the blogosphere I felt like I was the only one who hadn't seen it. But thankfully, enough people recommended that I watch it and I had a major incentive to go ahead and finally do it.

So in case you didn't already know, "Bright Star" is the rather quiet story of a love affair that developed between the doomed poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and a fashionable young woman, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish).

Really, one of the most surprising things about this movie was how quiet and subtle it was. I'm so used to period dramas where the guys are all prideful and proper all the time and all the girls are constantly screaming or crying about stuff. But no, this one was different - Keats is a frail hero, and Abbie is a strong girl. Their love is never gratuitous, the emotions never over the top, and instead, it's all presented so realistically and beautifully.

Obviously the biggest credit goes to Jane Campion's direction, and the absolutely wonderful performance by Abbie Cornish. She definitely deserved at least a nomination last year at the Oscars. And the little girl who played Toots...she was perfect. The cinematography is also gorgeous, and the costumes...oh my goodness! The costumes!!! They were phenomenal. At least Oscar had the eyeballs to nominate those.

Oh and the score was very, very pretty.

However, I will say that the story was not super compelling. It was highly wordy (though, the words were lovely) but not a lot happened between each sentence. Though...I was never really bored. I didn't mind the wordiness; those whispered conversations. Then again, I do feel the movie ended too abruptly.

I did not fall head over heels in love with the movie, but it was still an absolutely breathtaking film visually, and a refreshingly subtle diversion from the usual period film that I have grown accustomed to seeing. Great recommendation everyone! And now I don't feel like the only blogger who hasn't seen it.

8/10

Now just a bit more eye candy...



What did you think of Bright Star? I know you've all seen it! ;)