November 2012 posts
LIFE OF PI (2012/IN THEATERS) Wow! That’s what you’ll be saying as you leave the theater after viewing this fabulous movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to catch it on the big screen and do pony up for 3D. It’s a mind-blowing masterwork from director Ang Lee, whose track record includes such wildly differing films as Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon. Based on the best selling novel by Canadian Yann Martel (which was published in 2001 and won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2002), Life of Pi centers on Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel who lives with his family in India where they run a zoo which is part of the city garden in Pondicherry. True to the book, we are introduced to Pi first as an adult in Canada (played by the always wonderful Irrfan Khan) as he is being interviewed by a writer (Rafe Spall) who has been told that Pi’s story “will make you believe in God.” We next meet school-age Pi, a curious young man who is fascinated by faith and religion—he believes in all the Hindu gods and is also a practicing Buddhist, Christian and Muslin—even while his father and mother teach him a scientific approach to life. When the family sets out for Canada on a Japanese transport ship with many of their zoo animals below deck, Pi’s faith will indeed find the ultimate test. The ship sinks in a spectacular storm (and believe me, you will feel the horror of it on screen) and Pi is left in a lifeboat as the sole human survivor along with an injured Zebra, an Orangutan named Orange Juice, an aggressive Hyena and—scariest of all— Richard Parker, a Bengal Tiger. Here the film really kicks into gear, charting the day-to-day life of Pi as he sustains himself and his ultimate companion Richard Parker against the odds. The young man–Suraj Sharma–who plays Pi in all these scenes is a total newcomer to the screen; in fact, he was not an actor at all and now says he would like to direct. He delivers an extraordinary performance. And the cinematography of these ocean shots is beyond description—beautiful, fantastical and completely absorbing. Since Pi is being interviewed as an adult, we know the story will end well but stay tuned for a fascinating twist that presents itself at the end. The final credits roll for what seems like a good 15 minutes and ultimately say that 14,000 individuals contributed to the work, logging over 600,000 hours. The effort shows—the visuals are amazing and the CG realizations of the various animals as well as the shipwreck will leave you stunned. Here’s hoping this movie gives The Hobbit a run for its money for all the technical awards at this year’s Oscars. And finally, a big thank you to Ang Lee—as someone who read and loved the book, I confess I was nervous about the movie. But it is brilliant in every way and true to Yann Martel’s work.
LINCOLN (2012/IN THEATERS) It appears that Steven Spielberg is working to give us a new history lesson every few years. He started with Schindler’s List, educating us about the true-to-life effort of Oscar Schindler to save Jewish lives during WWII. After that, it was Munich (my favorite) that brought to life the shadowy efforts of Israel to avenge the deaths of their Olympic athletes after their murder in Germany. Last year, he showed us what WWI looked like in “War Horse” and stated in many interviews that he felt American audiences knew nothing about that war—it just wasn’t being taught. This year, he has chosen to focus on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency, just after his re-election to a second term, and specifically to illustrate to us the efforts which were required to gain passage of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery–a very important part of our history and one which resonates with the audience following this year’s tough re-election for our first black president. The screenplay for the movie was written by Tony Kushner and is based on a short section of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” the heralded biography of Mr. Lincoln. The film is long—2 and ½ hours—and is certainly “talky,” with a bit of the stage play about it. This makes sense, since Tony Kushner, while brilliant, is first and foremost a writer for the stage. Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln really carries the entire movie IMHO, although Sally Fields is strong as Mary Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones is wonderful also as Thaddeus Stevens, the famous abolitionist. Plenty of familiar and wonderful faces show up in the supporting cast, among them David Strathaim as William Seward, Jared Harris (of Mad Men fame) as Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Gordon Levitt as Abe and Mary’s son Robert Lincoln. And don’t forget about James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Tim Blake Nelson and all the rest who help bring the story to life. Perfect timing for this film’s release and I definitely recommend seeing it. Stage-y or not, you will leave the theater with more appreciation than ever for Lincoln’s accomplishments—and of course, you’ll have seen Daniel Day Lewis’ sure to win Oscar performance.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012/IN THEATERS) Directed by Stephen Chobsky and based on his best-selling 1999 book of the same title, this coming of age film is set in the early 1990s and centers on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman who is painfully shy….and as we learn by the end of the film, for good reasons. As the movie opens, Charlie is just out of some kind of residential counseling and has spent his summer mostly holed up with his parents (played lovingly by Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh), writing the occasional letter to an unnamed sympathetic friend. He’s extremely bright, but nervously holds back. High School, then and now, is brutal and even Charlie’s sister won’t sit with him in the cafeteria. Luckily his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) takes an interest in Charlie and loans him classic works to read. Also lucky for him, Charlie is befriended by a flamboyant (i.e. gay) classmate from his shop class named Patrick (a show-stealing Ezra Miller). Patrick is quick to take Charlie under his wing and introduces him to his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson, in a “breakout” post-Harry Potter role) who is an insecure but fascinating young woman. Charlie falls for her almost immediately. But, of course, Patrick and Sam are seniors and will soon be heading to college. They welcome Charlie into their circle, introducing him to the “wallflowers” and their active partying scene that includes Alice B Toklas brownies, booze, and even stints on stage as part of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But high school life is complicated, as we all know, and eventually Charlie has a falling out with the group—not his fault really, but painful to watch. As the film progresses, we learn more about Charlie’s past through a series of flashbacks, primarily concerned with his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) and her unfortunate death in a car accident, while the movie builds to a meaningful conclusion. Viewers and critics alike have given this film high ratings: 96% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, 86% from critics. It is already up for two People’s Choice Awards: one for Favorite Dramatic Movie and another for Emma Watson as Favorite Dramatic Movie Actress. (Cast your vote now at PeoplesChoic.com.) I would expect to see Ezra Miller getting some nods during the upcoming awards season along with Logan Lerman—maybe from the Independent Spirits? Golden Globes? Who knows. All of these young actors really deliver and bring their roles alive. As you watch the movie, parts of it will surely remind you of your favorite John Hughes classics—mine is always Sixteen Candles. Perks has some of that same lightness and of course, all high schools do look the same, but I think there’s a more serious tone to this one ultimately—so be prepared.
THE SESSIONS (2012/IN THEATERS) Written and directed by Ben Lewin, this indie film tells the “life is stranger than fiction” story of Mark O’Brien, a charming and funny man whose childhood polio has left him immobile—breathing through an iron-lung at night with only the ability to turn his head slightly. Nonetheless, he has learned to type using a pencil held in his mouth and he writes articles and poetry. Mark is introduced to us while crossing the graduation stage at UC Berkeley, lying completely flat on his battery-powered rolling bed and wearing a cap and gown–clearly a guy with determination. In a pivotal moment, O’Brien (played beautifully by John Hawkes) takes up a writing assignment on the topic of “sex and people with disabilities” which opens his eyes to the idea that he might experience real consensual sex before he reaches what he calls his “sell-by date.” Enter sex therapist Cheryl (Helen Hunt) who offers him—in a wonderfully matter of fact way—a maximum of six sessions in which to lose his virginity. Being a good Catholic, Mark first consults Father Brendan (William H. Macy) for advice on having sex outside of wedlock—he’s told to “go for it.” And so the film does, weaving the story primarily between the sessions themselves and Mark’s various confessions to Father Brendan. It’s an unusual story for sure and one that packed a surprisingly emotional punch by the film’s end, IMHO. The movie is well done and there’s already early Oscar buzz for Hawkes, who is certainly a long way from his menacing performances in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene and Winter’s Bone. Here, he’s down right loveable. And that fact, indeed, is what makes the movie really work. Even if you feel a bit squeamish about watching nudity combined with serious disability, I predict this one will win you over. It certainly succeeded for the folks at this year’s Sundance where it won the Audience Award as well as a Special Jury Award. Worth catching, either in the theater or later on DVD.
WRECK IT RALPH (2012/IN THEATERS) Disney’s latest offering works hard to be the Toy Story of video games—introducing us to the secret life of all those characters in the arcade with clever backstories based on electrical outlets, computer code and even glitches. True confessions: I am NOT a video game person so about half way through this 93 minute romp, I wondered if I should have skipped it. But by the end, I found I was a convert–having a great time and rooting for the hero of the piece: Wreck It Ralph. The story is pretty simple: Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) has been wrecking the same building for 30 years so that Fix It Felix (Jack McBrayer) can bounce around with his magic gold hammer and fix it. EVery day, Felix receives a medal for his success and Ralph is thrown into the mud. Once the arcade closes, Ralph retreats to his “home” in the brick dump while Felix goes to the penthouse where he is celebrated by the video residents of the building. Ralph is jealous and more than that, he is tired of being the bad guy. Seeing his chance, he leaves his own game and ventures into a more modern video game featuring war heroes and medals and a tough lady Sergeant (Jane Lynch), and by sheer force, he gets his own medal. Unfortunately, he is thrown next into a game called “Sugar Rush” where he encounters a trouble-making young girl called Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who steals his medal and uses it to enter the big race run each day in that game. Soon we also meet the king of Sugar Rush who is determined to keep young Vanellope out of the race…..and so it goes. Meanwhile Felix leaves “Fix It Felix” to find Ralph before his entire game is determined to be “out of order” and ready for the dump heap. And the tough Sergeant is also in Sugar Rush, trying to fend off the “bugs” which will end all the electronic fun for everyone. The entire movie definitely has a Toy Story feeling—complete with a fabulous 20 minute spirited ending chock full of clever shout-outs to various video games, and a good guy vs. bad guy classic set-up. Good fun altogether–and say, the noise and color certainly will leaving you feeling like you just spent an hour and a half in a video arcade!! There were lots of kids at the showing I attended, and while they didn’t shout at the screen (or even laugh) they seemed to be having a good time. The one guy who was laughing (in the row behind me), I figured to be a real video guy who got all the in-jokes. A great anecdote to the negativity of our current election. If you go, have fun!! And BTW: there’s a gorgeous B&W short animation prior to the show, which alone is worth the price of admission for us oldies