January 2012 posts
THE IRON LADY (2011/IN THEATERS) The general take on this film is that Meryl Streep is fabulous and the movie is not. I think this verdict is more or less spot-on. Meryl Streep is truly impressive in her performance as Margaret Thatcher, showing us the up-and-coming grocer’s daughter, the tough prime minister, and the dementia-ridden older version of herself. It’s a sad story at heart, which has chosen to focus on the memories and hallucinations of this older woman, and utilizes a series of flashbacks to give us just a brief glimpse of the rise of Mrs. Thatcher and a taste of her tough-minded politics. Thatcher is surely one of Britain’s most remarkable individuals (whether you love or hate her politics) and movie viewers were disappointed not to learn more about her in the film. You might be reminded of this year’s J. Edgar, which also chose to focus on the person, not the history, and likewise aged its character over many years. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd of Mama Mia fame, this film is based on a screenplay by Abi Morgan (who is also credited with the screenplay for Shame). Jim Broadbent is cast as Margaret’s husband Denis, who was her partner in life and appears in the film as her companion/tormenter in his death. Audiences and critics have been largely disappointed by the movie, giving it a tepid 55% Rotten Tomatoes rating. For my part, I thought the film did a wonderful job of showing us what dementia looks like and feels like, even for very powerful and famous people. And I’ll say it again—I was blown away by Meryl Streep’s performance. She will have earned her Oscar. Catch this movie just for her performance, but don’t expect to walk away as satisfied as you were with “The Queen” or “The King’s Speech.”
Grade: A+ for Streep; B- for the film itself
P.S. One User Reviewer at IMDB perhaps said it best: “…one must surely agree that Mrs. Thatcher deserves to be remembered as a major political figure, not as a half-mad old lady pottering about her flat.”
P.P.S. The role of Denis Thatcher reminded me of that lovely British film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply” which features Alan Rickman as the dead husband who lovingly haunts his wife. Check that one out when you get a minute!
The movie that seem to garner the most attention at the Golden Globes was The Artist. This then leads to some interesting movie going news to follow. Apparently in the United Kingdom, moviegoers, upon finding out that the movie is largely a silent movie, walked out. Now, this action surprised us here, mostly due to the fact that the Golden Globes pointed out that it was a silent movie about a thousand times during the broadcast. So our response is to begin an on going list of rules for watching movies. Please feel free to add here on our Facebook page, and then we can finally avoid morons from going to a theater.
Rule #5: Research the movie you are going to go see. There are thousands of websites devoted to critiquing movies. These range from local newspapers to Internet blogs. Use these sources to get a synopsis of the movie you want to see, by doing so then you know you will not be going to see movies that you will not enjoy. For future reference: IMdB, Rotten Tomatoes, Dark Horizons, Google, etc.
Rule #4: Have an open mind. Not every movie is made for those that are stuck in comas and don’t care about what is on the screen. What this means is that once or twice a year, a movie is made that challenges the audience to focus on other parts of the movie making process than how many robots blow up. This is wear we refer you to Turner Classic Movies and the delightfully calming Robert Osborn to educate you in classic movie techniques and backstories. After a few weeks, you will realize that not all movies with booby shots are instant classics.
Rule #3: Shut Up! This is not directed to the sassy woman loudly talking on your phone during the credits, nor to the gentleman making funny wise cracks during horribly awesome movies. This is directed to the person that goes to a movie and has to ask questions although out the movie. Questions like: Who is that? What is he doing? What is going on? What happened while I was in the bathroom? Or statements such as: This does not look good. Ooooooh, I wouldn’t do that. That would never happen in real life. All we can say is shut up. If you cannot go two hours without making a sound then you need to stay at home, just be quiet and let the movie explain it to you. 90% of the time, your question is answered within five seconds.
Rule #2: Stay for the Credits. I know this one is kind of out of place for this article, but is a cardinal rule by our standards. We get it, you just spent the last hour and a half plus sitting in one place (quietly), and you got places to go and people to see. All we ask is that you take the extra five minutes to stay through the credits. There are other people that work on the movies that you see that are not on the screen or get to walk red carpets. All that these people get is their name lumped in a large group of people that goes by rather quickly, and you sometimes get rewards like an extra scene or bloopers. So before you leave your next movie ask this question, “Who was the Best Boy and the Key Grip?” Answer those questions and you may leave.
Rule #1: Just because you love movies doesn’t mean that you should see just any movie. We here at Serious Movie Lover obviously love movies, but we disagree on many films. That doesn’t mean that the movie is bad or not worth watching. What this means is some people have different tastes. For instance with two best picture contenders, as mentioned before, The Artist is mostly a silent movie, so if you sit watching a Charlie Chaplin movie and think to yourself, “This would be better if he only would talk instead of acting out his emotions.” then the Artist is not for you. Another example would be Tree of Life; if watching Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey makes your brain hurt, you don’t get the connection between the bone and technology, or you wish HAL would have a more cheerful tone; then Tree of Life is not for you. If you cannot wrap your mind around ideas like these then stick with what works, the newest Shia La Beouf movie.
MARGIN CALL (2010/DVD/STREAMING) Early this morning first-time director/screenwriter J. C. Chandor was nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay for this film —talk about a big day! Chandor and his impressive ensemble cast for the film have also already won the Robert Altman Award from the Independent Spirits and the film is up for “Best First Feature” and “Best Screenplay” from the Spirits as well. As you may know, this movie was first shown at last year’s Sundance (2011) and is presently serving as an excellent example of how releasing to VOD (Video on Demand) can not only work, but end up creating extra buzz and box-office returns for small films. This is all good. But does the film work as a film?? I guess I was expecting more when I finally watched it last night. True, the movie really does feature a remarkable cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and more. The storyline is loosely based on Lehman Brothers and takes place over two days and one very long night. As the film opens, an unnamed trading company has just laid off 80% of its workers. One of those laid off is Eric Dale (Tucci) in the Risk Dept. who has been working on “something big” which he hands to his young turk Peter Sullivan (Quinto) as he exits the building. Sullivan—a true rocket scientist who has moved to trading because the money is better—plugs a few numbers and discovers armageddon arriving in the form of over-leveraged deals coming back to roost. Sullivan calls his boss Will Emerson (Bettany) who calls old-line ace trading manager Sam Rogers (Spacey) and together they call in next level up pretty boy Jared Cohen (Baker) along with BIG Risk Manager Sarah Robertson (Moore) and CEO John Tuld (Irons). Around a somber meeting table at 5:00 a.m., the word comes down—unload these deals in the morning, before noon and before all the poor suckers who purchase them have time to back away. In other words, cheat all your customers as fast as possible, and then get ready to run away. Not a pretty picture. How about the film? It’s been advertised as a “financial thriller”—whatever that is! I would say it’s slow but interesting, an interior piece that will remind you of Glengarry Glen Ross. Watch it for the performances. But don’t get your hopes up. And as to that Oscar? Let’s hope it goes to someone more deserving.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (2011/IN THEATERS) At the center of this film is 11-year old Oskar Schell, whose father was in one of the twin towers on the morning of 9/11 and is presumed to have jumped to his death. Oskar (played by first timer Tom Horn) is a precocious and very bright child (he has been tested for Asperger’s) whose loving and warm father had devoted much time and energy to his upbringing. Through many flashbacks, we see the father (a very solid Tom Hanks) interacting with his son, posing word challenges and creating giant puzzles needing to be solved, including the ultimate challenge for young Oskar—discovering proof of the 6th borough of New York City. This is the puzzle the two were working on when 9/11 hit. So it feels only natural that Oskar, grieving for his father, creates the ultimate challenge for himself when he discovers a secret key in his father’s closet—with the only clue being the word “Black” hand-written on the little envelope which holds it. Oskar sets off on to find out what that key unlocks, determined to meet everyone named “Black” in all of NYC. This description makes the movie sound somewhat straightforward, but as readers of the book by Jonathan Safran Foer know, it is a very complicated and interwoven tale, full of emotion, memory and endless searching. Among the other characters important to the story are Oskar’s grieving mother (Sandra Bullock, also very good), his indulgent and loving grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), and her mysterious renter who never speaks (a marvelous 80-year-old Max Von Sydow). You’ll recognize Viola Davis, John Goodman and Jeffrey Wright in other small but key roles. There are lots of faces and tons of story to go around. Some critics (and viewers) have found the film too manipulative—as in, trying to pull 9/11 tears from us yet again. But I think director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth have done a good job with a very difficult book and topic. And they cast well when they found young Tom Horn on a kid’s Jeopardy show—he has just the right balance between fascinating, endearing and totally irritating—all called for in the part. The movie is a bit long at 2 hours and 9 minutes, but I think, if you are a fan of Daldry’s “The Hours,” you will enjoy this one as well.
BTW: Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel, “Everything is Illuminated,” was also made into a movie by Liev Schreiber. It’s one of my personal favorites—be sure to check it out!
A DANGEROUS METHOD (2011/IN THEATERS) Canadian Director David Cronenberg’s new film featuring a top-notch cast (Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley) appears to be much more popular with critics than with viewers—too much “talking” many say in their comments. The reason for this perhaps lies in the film’s source since the movie is an adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s 2002 stage play “The Talking Cure” (which itself is based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr entitled “A Most Dangerous Method: the Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein”). Hampton—an Oscar winner for his 1988 screen adaptation of his play Dangerous Liaisons–is credited with the screenplay for this film. Of note, he was nominated again in 2007 for adapting Ian McEwan‘s novel Atonement. This time around, we have Fassbender playing a young Carl Jung, living in Zurich with his wealthy wife and just getting connected with Vienna-based Mortensen as his eventual father figure Sigmund Freud. The opening shots introduce us to the third party in this triangle—a Russian patient heading to Jung for treatment.
She is Sabina Spielrein who suffers from numerous afflictions and for whom Jung recommends the new “talking cure.” Critics (and viewers) are split on Knightly’s performance, which is certainly intense, and some have criticized her Russian accent. But I found her portrayal to be edge-y and excellent—she is a bundle of nerves with a quick brain. As you’ll know if you’ve seen any previews, she’s also a fan of the combination of spanking and sex. Aha! You knew it was a Cronenberg movie after all, right? Jung falls for young Sabina and is also influenced by another mad patient—Otto Gross (an excellent Vincent Cassell)—who encourages him to taste all that the world has to offer. The film moves across a number of years as Freud and Jung come together, and then apart, in their ideas of just how their new science should progress. Mortensen has received good reviews for his performance as Freud and you can see why in the film. He gives a nuanced and quiet, but very detailed, version of the elder statesman of psychoanalysis. I for one really enjoyed this film and would love to see it again. I recommend it for fans of psychology and history—the costumes and sets are very well done. It’s unfortunate that audiences have decided to diss almost anything Keira Knightley does these days. She gives a very strong performance here IMHO. And frankly any chance to watch Mr. Fassbender at work is more than worth it. Recommended for a future DVD rental.
SHAME (2011/IN THEATERS) Let’s just begin by saying that this film is not for everyone. In case you haven’t read about it yet, the subject matter is sex addiction and according to at least one reader comment in the IMDB message boards, the movie nails it. The film centers on Michael Fassbender who stars as Brandon–a good-looking, young, seemingly successful 2nd or 3rdtier marketing type in the Big Apple. Brandon appears to be doing well—he has a nice apartment, spends time in good-looking bars with his boss and other colleagues from work, easily picks up women in these bars, and generally is not lacking for feminine companionship. Early in the film, we see him rising from bed to take a shower while his latest encounter is heading out the door. On the subway, he makes eye contact with a flirtatious woman (wearing an obvious wedding ring) and even follows her a bit, but nothing looks sinister. It’s only as the movie progresses that we see that Brandon is more than just your average young man getting it on. He’s really hooked on sex—his work computer has become completely junked with it; his home computer is ready with live-sex options at all times; and he’s happy to screw anyone, anywhere, including quite a few hookers who appear throughout the movie. But that’s his life–he’s living it and seems content. Until, that is, his younger sister Sissy (a terrific Carey Mulligan) appears and asks to crash at his place. Sissy is a nightclub singer (of sorts) who is the definition of “needy.” Her presence interrupts
Brandon’s patterns and begins to drive him crazy. We don’t learn much about these two siblings, but it’s easy to see that they are obviously totally screwed up and have been for a while. Unfortunately for both, the more Sissy leans into Brandon, the more he runs away. There are several really compelling scenes in this film: Sissy’s rendition of “New York, New York” as a club singer is spell-binding and Brandon’s brief effort to have a normal relationship with a lovely woman from work is sweet and poignant. The nighttime NYC depicted in this movie will remind you of Taxi Driver—it’s wet, dirty and harsh. And maybe that’s the best way to describe this film overall. Nonetheless, it will keep you watching and thinking for days after you have left the theater. Catch it if you’re in the mood for something serious.
ALSO: Mr. Fassbender already won Best Actor at Cannes last May for his performance in Shame and is up for a Golden Globe for it this coming Sunday. This is his second film in collaboration with Director Steve McQueen (No, not that one! He’s dead!). Their first effort was “Hunger,” which I confess was too much for me to see.
A few months ago, we saw an article about the remaking of the classic movie Point Break. This led us to think, why? Why mess with one of the best horribly awesome action movies in the last thirty years. This one gets better with age, and if younger audiences cannot appreciate Keanu Reeves‘ horrendous acting, then they do not deserve a reboot. So we have broken these down into ones that you should look out for, and those you might want to avoid and wait until you can get them with Netflix.
To See: Man of Steel – This is the Superman reboot with Zach Snyder at the helm with Henry Cavill (of Immortals and the Tudors) as Superman. Along with Cavill the cast is rounded out with Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Michael Shannon as General Zod. Seeing as Superman was nearly killed by Bryan Singer and Kate Bosworth with the previous attempt, Snyder and an all star cast have no where to go but up, and I am sure it will be in 3D. This is due out in 2013
Dark Shadows – Yes the beloved campy tv series (both incarnations) is coming to the big screen, however this is looking to be one to mark on your calendar. Headed by the hit or miss trio of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter; Dark Shadows looks to be one movie that even if awful could be highly entertaining. The rest of the cast contains Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Lee Miller, Christopher Lee, and Alice Cooper as himself (awesome). Summer 2012.
Snow White and the Huntsman – Of the two live action Snow White movies due out, this one looks to be the better of the two. Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron; this adaptation is more of a dark realistic (for a fantasy movie) version of the fairy tale. Deviating a slight bit from the original story to offer a bit more action than singing dwarves, this version looks to have a shot at being a summer blockbuster. Summer 2012
To Miss: Mirror/Mirror – The flip side of that Snow White coin is this movie geared towards 8 year old girls. Starring Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, and teen heart-throbs from various other movies; this is the one with singing, dancing, and all the little people jokes that your heart desires (if that is your thing). Even with all that wholesome family fun, this is one that we do not recommend seeing. If you want to see a nice sweet happy version of the story then wait till Disney re-releases the original animated movie from its vaults next time they need a boat load of money. Spring 2012
Maybe: The Bourne Legacy - This one that is tough to gauge. The fourth installment of the Bourne franchise sees the spy role go to the rising Jeremy Renner. This time he is not Jason Bourne but associated with the same organizations. Along with a good cast, the film is helmed but the original screenplay writer for the franchise Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton). This is his first hand at directing in the Bourne series, and he has big shoes to fill following Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass. However, this one could prove to be a new starting point for the franchise and launch it into possible early James Bond status. Summer 2012
Total Recall - This one is the toughest. This remake is directed by Len Wisemen (of Underworld fame) and the cast includes Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy (as Kuato), Ethan Hawke, and John Cho. Have to say for myself, this looks pretty awesome. However, this cannot touch the original by Paul Verhoven with Schwarzenegger, which was campy with modest special effects (by today’s standard) and Arnold murdering the English language every line. We cannot cheat on the original, but then again… Summer 2012
A BETTER LIFE (2011/DVD) Here’s a small movie that delivers big. It’s the story of Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir), a hard-working illegal immigrant and single father living in LA with his 15-year-old son Luis (José Julián). Carlos works as a gardener/landscaper for a fellow Mexican—and he works hard. He sleeps on the couch in his small house so that his son can have a bed and bedroom. He gets home late, rises early and even maintains a garden in his own backyard to give clients starter plants. Luis is a classic teenager—he skips school often, hangs with gang-related kids, picks a fight over his girlfriend and gets expelled. Carlos worries about Luis and well he should, since Luis is being lured into the LA gang life. Meanwhile Carlos’ boss Blasco (Joaquin Cosio) is offering him the opportunity to buy his truck, tools and clients, since Blasco is heading back to Mexico and his small farm. But the cost is not cheap ($12,000) and Carlos has no driver’s license, naturally. Initially he says “no, I’ll just keep my head down,” but after a day with no luck at finding work and with an offer from his sister of a loan of the money (from her savings), Carlos decides to take a chance and buy the truck. He is more than thrilled and tells Luis that this is the start of a “better life” — a better school, better chances, better everything. Bad luck strikes fast, though, when Carlos’ truck and all his equipment is stolen by the immigrant worker he himself chose to help him with his new business. Argh! Determined to get the truck back and unable to seek help from the police, Carlos takes Luis with him and gives us a tour of the under-belly of immigrant LA. I won’t spoil the plot by saying anymore, but I will say that the ending is beyond poignant. A terrific view of the reality of immigrant life today in the U.S. and well worth watching.
FINALLY: Roger Ebert gives the film 3 ½ stars and notes that it brings to mind
WAR HORSE (2011/IN THEATERS) Steven Spielberg opened two family movies this Christmas: Tintin, a motion-capture effort based on the popular Belgian boy-adventurer of comic book fame, and War Horse, an old fashioned sweeping story of war, heroism and the bond between a boy and his horse, based on a bestselling 1982 children’s book by Michael Morpurgo. War Horse tells the story of young Albert Narracott (played convincingly by newcomer Jeremy Irvine) whose father Ted (Peter Mullan) spends the rent money to buy a beautiful colt who must be transformed into a workhorse to save the family farm. Albert raises and trains this beloved horse Joey and teaches him to pull the plough — only to see the animal sold by his father to the British Army and sent to the front lines in France during WWI. Albert swears to be reunited with Joey and this sets up the rest of the movie. We witness the war from Joey’s point of view overseas where he first serves as an officer’s cavalry mount and then becomes a working draught horse for the Germans. In between, he is cared for by a young French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup) in a sweet interlude. Joey is paired with another British stallion and much of the pathos of events involves the two horses. Meanwhile Albert enlists and we see the war from a young soldier’s point of view as well. Spielberg, who has given us at least two realistic WWII epics (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List) is said to have wanted to show U.S. audiences more about WWI, the “forgotten” war. He accomplishes this goal very successfully with realistic scenes of the true horror of hand-to-hand combat and the claustrophobia of the trenches. Using the horse’s point of view works well in the movie and certainly allows any children in the audience to identify more closely with something as disturbing as war. According to Wikipedia, over one million horses were sent from the UK to Europe during WWI to serve as mounts and as work animals pulling the heavy guns, equipment and ambulances, just as depicted in the movie. Only 65,000 returned—the rest died or were slaughtered by the French for meat. The author wrote the book based on listening to WWI veterans who lived in his quaint English village and told him of the horrors of that war. Spielberg shot the movie on actual film stock to give it a richer texture and it is lush. There are several big scenes that deliver visually—most notably the advance of the British cavalry through the wheat fields (130 horses in that shot alone!) and the horrific scenes of Joey running desperately through the barbed-wire trench fields toward the end of the film. There are also loads of gorgeous British pastoral scenes at the start and end of the picture—with the final shots looking more like “Gone With the Wind” than anything else. Personally I found the establishing story at the start to be somewhat tedious but the build-up of the story is necessary to wring out maximum pathos in the rest of the film. Catch this one on the big screen and don’t be afraid to bring the kids, but be ready to explain what war is all about.
Grade: B +
BTW: Churchill himself took an active role in bringing British horses home from WWI. Read more about it by following this link.
ALSO: Emily Watson does a fine job in the film as Albert’s mother Rosie.
FINALLY: There’s lots of debate already about John Williams’ score–as in, does it beat you over the head or is it terrific. He has already been nominated for several awards…and certainly will be on the Oscar nominations list. Let us know what you think!