Everyone should see Beasts of the Southern Wild!

It is a triumph!  Once in a while, a film comes out of nowhere and takes you on an amazing journey–Beasts of the Southern Wild is that film this year.  It heralds a first time director, a cast of untrained actors and an honest portrait of a remarkable American community.  It is powerful and unforgettable.

Writer/Director Benh Zeitlin has created an allegorical story with many themes. Survival. Friendship. Culture. Society. Parenting. Independence. The universe and strength. Written with Lucy Alibar and adapted from Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious, BOTSW is a raw, unapologetic look at life in a desolated bayous of the Delta. You discover that even in what we would call poverty–there is pride and a connectivity to the earth that allows for love and joy.

The reason this film works on so many levels is because of the incredible performance of its 6-year-old star. Quvenzhané Wallis is an American original. A child who is shaped by her environment. Hushpuppy (yes, that is her name) is courageous, stubborn, imaginative and unbelievably strong. Wallis is a revelation. I think she can win an Oscar–it is that much of a tour de force performance. WOW! I can not wait to see what the future holds for this young lady.

The rest of the cast is perfect. Dwight Henry as Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, is the only other major player and is heartrending and believable as a man trying to educate his child how to survive in their world without him.  The rest of colorful characters are never fully developed and that is a minor let down for me. Although it did not ruin the story, I would have liked to have known them better (especially the group of little girls that join Hushpuppy in her journey–I wanted more on their relationship).

The only aspect that did not work for me was the imaginary subplot of the giant, mythical creatures that were being used symbolically for various things. I got it. I understood what the purpose was, but I felt like it never truly connected to the narrative. If Hushpuppy had been interacting with them throughout I would have found more meaning in their eventual confrontation. I felt that it was an unnecessary thread. But, still it did ruin it as a whole.

If you are able to find this film by you, I recommend you check it out.  You will come out with much to discuss and think about. I was a little sad, a little happy and very impressed. I feel like this film is important. It addresses big themes and forces you to feel and think about our existence on this planet. That is the power of cinema. And Beasts of the Southern Wild uses that power beautifully.

 

Want a lovely film experience? Go Salmon Fishing in the Yemen!

Charming. We do not get to use that word often in film. Yet, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is just that–charming. An original, fresh approach to the romantic comedy formula. The narrative relies on an impossible dream that brings these characters together with a common goal–faith and fish (and science).  😀

Adapted from the novel, of the same name, by Paul Torday–the premise is far-fetched.  A wealthy Yemeni sheikh wants to bring salmon fishing to the desert of his country by creating flowing rivers. It sounds crazy because it is, but the journey taken is memorable and lovely. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy does a fine job with the material. The dialogue is crisp, witty and sharp (and very British). I laughed out loud at very clever moments and was impressed by how intelligent it was. Addressing themes from politics–animal nature–and our own natures, the story is rich. Now, I have to place the novel on my to-read list to see if it is just as good.

Director Lasse Hallstrom tells a beautiful story–simply and honestly, with a touch of the mystical. (That is what he does–Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape –two of my favorites–are some of his classics.)  He allows the characters to evolve naturally and paces the story perfectly. It also helps that there is gorgeous cinematography by Terry Stacey, that enhances the experience.

Another plus is the perfect cast. Ewan McGregor is awesome, again. I always comment on his natural, easy talent because he never seems to be acting. I love him here. His character’s arch is gradual, subtle and poignant. Emily Blunt is wonderful, too–again. I enjoy her in every film she is a part of. I appreciated their chemistry–it felt real and you found yourself cheering for them.

Amr Waked is great as the Sheikh, but the scene-stealer is Kristin Scott Thomas‘ turn as the brash press director of the British Prime Minister. Thomas delivers her lines with confidence and sting. She is a power house, but is also having fun with this role. Loved it!

My only complaint is an awkward, adversarial militant sub-plot. It just felt out-of-place and unnecessary. I understand that it leads to certain major events, but it was not explored or focused on enough for it to have impact. So, it ends up feeling forced. Obviously, it does not ruin the picture and can be easily overlooked, but still is not needed. I also would have liked to see more time given to the country of Yemen and its people. It could have enriched the plot.

Bottom line? Ignore the odd title (although appropriate) and take a chance on Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. You will end up being charmed and enjoy the time you’ve spent in this universe.

 

The Dark Knight Rises does NOT disappoint. Thank you, Mr. Nolan!

I am solidly in the LOVE camp here. I have read a few mixed reactions, but my experience was pure enjoyment and satisfaction. Christopher Nolan has created a realistic, thought-provoking, epic trilogy, that will forever be a classic. The Dark Knight Rises meets expectations and delivers entertainment in a grand scale.

I was fortunate to be able to take part in The Dark Knight Marathon and revisited the first two installments, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, on the big screen before the midnight screening and it was awesome. It had been at least a year since I’ve seen either and watching them back to back did add depth and increased my emotional investment in the story.

Side note:  Honestly, I will have to declare that as much as I was satisfied with TDKR, the second film (TDK) is still my favorite. How could it not be? It has one of the BEST villains of all time with (the greatly missed) Heath Ledger‘s iconic Joker and with a structure and narrative that are near perfect. It is truly brilliant.

Maybe watching them together allowed me to be able to appreciate Nolan’s intricate storytelling even more. He tied all loose ends and revealed threads that connected to the first film. I am impressed by his ability to weave such a complicated, intimate narrative while still keeping the scale broad and big. What is amazing is that he created an intelligent, action movie–that plays out like a character study. He takes his time and in the process allows the greater themes to be addressed and examined.

Nolan explores what would really happen to the Batman if he were in our real world and Christian Bale delivers beautifully. Bale knows Bruce Wayne and Batman. He has grown into this character and this is his finest performance in the series. (I was excited from the first announcement that Bale would be Batman–it’s validating that he has done so well. Go, Christian!)

 

The series regulars, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, are all stellar (as usual).  Oldman, who I love to a fault, is fantastic and gets the chance to give Commissioner Gordon more depth. But, I have to give a special shout out to Caine for his Alfred, who had some wonderfully emotional scenes. Yes, I did spill over a few times. 😀

How about the new players? Tom Hardy continues his awesome streak as Bane. Hardy is able to portray more with just his eyes and body language than most actors can. His Bane is imposing and scary.

 

 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the man! I love this kid! He is one of the best young actors out there–period. His body of work, to date, is already impressive and this is one more notch in his career. His Detective Blake is the heart of the story–the average every-man–who wants to believe in heroes.

 

The shout out though has to be Ms. Anne Hathaway‘s Selena Kyle (Catwoman–although she is NEVER called that–I love the realistic twist they gave her). She nails this character. Sexy, smart, slick, capable yet vulnerable and complicated. Hathaway steals the show. She has some of the best scenes and the biggest laughs. All I can say is WOW!  The only character I felt was underdeveloped was Marion Cotillard‘s Miranda Tate–Cotillard is lovely, but I did not ever get to know her until the end.

You all know that I will not delve into plot or details–I went in blind except for the first trailer and loved all the little surprises that were waiting for me. I want you to have that too. What I will say it that I loved how it ended. It felt…right. I applauded and cheered. I walked out with a smile on my face. I can sit here and find plot holes and character inconsistencies but the bottom line, is that this is Nolan’s vision and at the end–I was happy. I will always revisit this universe and feel happy. And isn’t that all the really matters? Yes. It is.

 

Jeff, Who Lives at Home reminds us to look for signs! Awesome.

I think I am in love with the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark. This is their second movie that has charmed me so completely.  I loved Cyrus and now Jeff, Who Lives at Home joins the love-fest. Is it geeky to say I am ecstatic that I have years of films to look forward to from these guys? As writers and directors I can’t wait to see what other sorts of loveliness they have waiting for me!

It helps that Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon are all excellent and perfectly suited for their roles. I have a crush on Mr.Segel–he is cool, funny and warm in all his roles. (Plus, I will always have a place in my heart for him bringing back The Muppets.) He is great as Jeff, the seemingly loser 30-year-old that still lives in his mom’s basement.  He is a mixture of innocent and sad yet has surprising depth and maturity. Helms go against type here by playing the not so likable brother, Pat, and it is refreshing to see him outside of his box.  Greer is an underrated actress–usually playing the sidekick–but she gets a chance to shine here and it’s great.  And Sarandon is always lovely to watch and I think this role is tailored for her. All perfect.

I also have to give a nod to the soundtrack too–it is memorable and the score composed by Michael Andrews is beautiful. I did not realize this is not Andrews’ first good score–I will remember his name now.

What really makes this film is the narrative. Seemingly simple, straightforward and predictable it draws you in. You are caught up in these series of events and find yourself laughing and then crying (sometimes without even realizing). There are some truly magical moments.  Moments that I found my chest tighten and my heart swell. Sounds so cheesy and cliché, but it is the truth.  And isn’t life that way? There a moments that take your breath away. There are times that are magical.  This story reflects that. It reminds us that we can find those moments in everyday situations, if we are not afraid to see the signs.

Thanks Brothers Duplass!  I look forward to what you plan to show me next.  (Actually, it’s The Do-Deca-Pentathlon–can’t wait!)

The year I made contact–1970

When fellow blogger and movie guy, The Movie Waffler , asked me to take part in a “year you were born” blogathon I thought…hmmm…cool–1970, I will have to investigate. I was pleasantly surprised that my birth year was full of thought-provoking films–mostly about war and its affect on humanity.  It is interesting to see what the world of cinema was putting out when I was just a wee babe.

Okay, here we go…1970.  If you read my blog, you know I am bit eccentric and my taste varies in different genres so my picks may not be the standard or expected.  I’ve chosen my 5 favorites (that I honestly did not realize were released in 1970):

5. Kelly’s Heroes

A comedy about war, that is a heist as well? Yes!  Clint Eastwood and the entire cast is awesome.  I love how it is not what you expect–it will make you laugh and yet, it will make you think about how war affects people.

4.  Little Big Man

One of Dustin Hoffman‘s great roles.  This one is a bundle–a satire that addresses some very serious issues.  It was the first western that labeled the “white men” as the villains instead of the Native Americans–and it does it with a wink and smile.  Clever.

3. The Aristocats

The Aristocats

Oh yeah…swinging cats and some cool jazz music.  My daughter LOVED this film–would go around the house singing…”Everybody–everybody! Everybody wants to be a cat!”  Indeed.

2.  Five Easy Pieces

I love this performance by Jack Nicholson!  He is in his prime here.  The diner scene alone is worth the watch.  This is a fine example of a narrative that reveals itself slowly and is a true character study.  Classic.

1.  M.A.S.H.

This was close with Five Easy Pieces–but this film is BRILLIANT!  A true dark comedy–will make you laugh, cry and cringe.  This is Robert Altman‘s masterpiece (in my opinion).

There you go!  Five films created and released into the world the same year I was.  Not too shabby…the films and myself.  We have all stood the test of time.  Nice.

If you like Family Guy, you’ll like Ted. If not, you may want to think about it…

Ted is not for everyone. For me? I laughed at about 50% of the jokes and shook my head at remaining 50%. I do the same with Family Guy, so it was not a surprise. What I really did like, was the fact that Seth MacFarlane created a narrative that had some heart. Ted is actually a romantic comedy with a side of bromance thrown in.

Be warned. MacFarlane is rude, crude and offensive and an equal opportunity offender. That does not mean you will not find yourself laughing. Despite yourself at times. The jokes range from juvenile to hilarious and cover plenty of pop culture–à la Family Guy style.  This is pretty much an uncensored, bigger version of a FG episode.  (Even the music seemed to be similar to the TV show–weird.)

What is different is the narrative. I am going to give MacFarlane some credit here. He has created an original story and I appreciated how he made a universe where a walking–talking teddy bear was normal. It is claimed as a “miracle” but the world accepts this concept and it helps to ground the story, so you can just go with it.

The best part though is the unexpected tenderness, depth and heart that goes with all the raunchy shenanigans.  Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and MacFarlane, all have great chemistry and you believe that they have a history together. They keep this film from turning into a mess. I found myself cheering for them and hoping they can work things out. There are also a bunch of cool cameos, the best being a truly creepy villain by Giovanni Ribisi.

That’s it. If you know what to expect and go in willingly, you will enjoy yourself. If you are unsure–don’t do it. Ted is not everyone’s wish come true, but I think that is exactly the way Seth MacFarlane wanted it to be.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man almost wins me over completely…

Spider-Man, fatally wounded, swings through New York City. Text at the bottom of the reveals the title, release date, release formats, official site of the film, rating and studio credits.

Almost. It was so close. I did like it and although there are many positive points, The Amazing Spider-Man also has a few negative aspects that doesn’t allow it to reach “amazing” status. So close and it could have been the little reboot that could.

First of all, I should start with the fact that I was one of the many that did not understand the need to reboot this franchise. (It really boils down to Marvel rights and money, but…) I loved Raimi‘s vision of Spider-Man (minus 3 which we all know failed miserably–I was brokenhearted 😦 ).  And I was a fan of Tobey Maguire‘s Peter Parker.  Right before I watched the new version, I was still skeptical. If not for the lure of the cast and director Marc Webb (love-love 500 Days of Summer) I would have stayed away.

Then surprisingly I did not hate it! I enjoyed most of it, but overall it failed to totally impress me. The best way, for me, to break this down is comparing them side by side (like the picture below :)).  It may seem unfair, but I can not help comparing the two.  Here are my 10 items of interest.

TASM                                      SM1

1. The origin story is more organic in TASM.  Andrew Garfield‘s Peter Parker is more awkward (kind of Asperger-like), than Maguire’s nerd-dorky version.  And because of that, there is more of a stark contrast between Peter and his alter ego in TASM. Starting as a kid and incorporating his parents’ mysterious death is also a good move.

2. Uncle Ben and Aunt May get an upgrade in TASM.  Sorry, Robertson and Harris, but Martin Sheen and Sally Field are awesome.

3. TASM has given Parker more realistic motivations to pursue super skills. SM1 Parker just wanted a sports car to impress Mary Jane, while in TASM he is pursuing justice/revenge that he eventually never achieves (nice touch). I also like that TASM returns to the comic book version of created mechanical web spinners–it adds more obstacles for our web-slinger.

4. SM1 had unrequited love with popular girl, Mary Jane–who then falls for Spider-Man first.  TASM has a real, mutual attraction between two kind of geeky kids and Gwen Stacy notices and falls for Peter Parker first. **One of my favorite things about reboot!**  It helps that my female crush, Emma Stone, is wonderful and the chemistry between her and Garfield is electric.  (No wonder they’re a real couple now.)

5. Director Webb succeeds in creating an intimate, character based narrative that is richer than Raimi’s version.  But where Webb falters, in action and scope, Raimi out shines him.

6. SM1 does not forget that New York City is an integral part of the Spider-Man lore.  NYC is a character in Raimi’s version, as it should be.  I never felt like NYC was a part of TASM–it all felt too generic.  There was only one part that showed New Yorker’s love for Spidey, but it was too little of a gesture.  (Shout out to Denis Leary for bringing some authentic NY to the screen.)

7. When it come to action sequences, Raimi wins–hands down.  Webb is able to create some realistic fight scenes, with some creative moves, but overall it feels small (again, intimate).  Raimi was able to reach grand heights–bold, incredible sequences. Sorry, but in a superhero movie that is essential.  You want to be impressed!  Unfortunately, TASM never reaches that level.

8. The villain.  A villain can make or break a film.  An awesome villain can save a mediocre film and a weak villain can destroy a strong film.  For TASM, the Lizard fails to add the needed awesomeness.  I like Rhys Ifans and his performance is okay–but not great.  But, the real problem is the plausibility of his character’s arch.  I have major issues with how and mostly, why, his story takes the path it does. It must also be mentioned that the CGI effects on the Lizard were a bit cheesy. **Sigh.**  At least in SM1, the Green Goblin’s evolution feels real and Willem Dafoe is amazing.

9.  What is up with the backpack?  Sorry, just had to ask because it was a bit distracting. 🙂 And other major plot holes–what happen to the evil Oscorp dude? Left on the bridge? And WTF with the after credit scene? Pointless.

(PS I did like the new look of the Spidey suit.)

10. Sequels.  Well, let us be honest.  SM2 is one of the best superhero movies ever–with one of the best villains ever.  Whether TASM 2 can top SM2 is yet to be seen. But maybe…with all the positive aspects it does have and… if they can score a director with a wider scope for action and…they introduce a strong villain–maybe…just maybe they can truly impress me–completely.  And this time I will be looking forward to it.

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Safety Not Guaranteed is a guaranteed awesome film!

I love it when a film gets it right. You walk out feeling happy and satisfied. Safety Not Guaranteed is that kind of movie. Absolutely wonderful!  It is a creative, funny, tender, and romantic sci-fi story. It is also proof that ingenuity and wit still exists and those qualities can be made into a smart film.  Thank goodness! 

Much of the credit has to go to writer Derek Connolly and his unique twist of familiar concepts.  We may have seen some of the themes before, but Connolly presents everything in a fresh new way.  The dialogue is natural, funny and believable.  While director Colin Trevorrow does a fine job, his style is pretty straight forward and uncomplicated.  The awesomeness here is all because of the screenplay (it won the Sundance 2012 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award) and the actors.

The cast is pitch perfect.  There are no weak links.  Aubrey Plaza, at first seems to be channeling her Parks and Rec character April, but she proceeds to blossom before your eyes and her Darius becomes a unique strong woman.  Mark Duplass is the stand out as the mysterious, possibly crazy time-traveler Kenneth.  I know Duplass from one of my favorite TV shows, The League, and was blown away by the depth and humor he infused into his character. (A quick side note is that  I was unaware that Mark is the other brother in the Duplass Brothers Productions company that wrote and directed one of my favorite films of 2011 Cyrus! Super talented. Nice.)  Jake M. Johnson as the magazine writer, Jeff,  is also memorable. Johnson actually makes you care for, what normally would be, an unlikable guy. And lastly, Karan Soni as the geeky intern Arnau is great, especially since he plays it low-key and quiet and it works.  

The narrative may be simple, but the layers added are brilliant.  This is a story about time travel, yet it is also about living in the present.  There are multiple facets of the same theme being explored–can you change the past? Relive it? Learn from it? It was clever and never forced.  Mostly, it was hilarious!  Very, very funny lines were thrown around and some aimed towards geeky sci-fi nerds, so it was right up my alley.  

As an independent film, Safety Not Guaranteed may not be easy to find in your town, but if it is showing–travel whatever distance and make this a must see.  I hope you will love the honest, funny and refreshing approach and walk out just as happy and satisfied as I did.  

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is lovely!

Yes. It is truly about the destruction of the Earth. And yet, it is funny, touching and romantic. I loved that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has a unique and creative premise and did not take the easy way out.  It stuck to its guns. And by doing so, it allowed the characters to evolve naturally and the result is heartbreaking and sweet.

The credit has to go to writer/director Lorene Scafaria who, for her directorial début, chose to create a dark, bleak setting for a romance to bloom.  This gave her the freedom to explore the various aspects of human nature, the desperation of many, as well as some hilarious coping mechanisms. What would you do if you only had 3 weeks left on the planet? Trust me.  Scafaria covers an array of reactions to this scenario.  She guides you through a series of emotions along with her characters and it is very effective.  

It helps that we have the awesome Steve Carrell as Dodge, a soft-spoken everyman, and the wonderful Keira Knightley as Penny, a younger free spirit, who are destined to cross paths.  All I will say is that the development of their relationship is one of the most real and heartwarming I’ve seen on-screen in a long time.  Truly lovely.  The play off each other perfectly and despite their glaring differences they find something special.  

I felt that the message of this film was about life and how we choose to live it, except that this notion is intensified in the story because they know the deadline.  Would we live differently if we knew when it would end?  Would love and friendship be all that really matters? In truth, everyday could be our last and maybe we need seize any opportunity to love and to be happy–even if it turns out to be for short time–because at the end of the world, that is all that will really count.

Thank you, Nora Ephron. You voice will be missed…

1941 –  June 26, 2012

I am not a romantic. Not in the purest sense of the word. But underneath my cynicism there was a bit of hope.  That hope was given to me by Nora Ephron.

The first time I watched When Harry Met SallyI was 18 years old and already a “realist” when it came to romantic love.  This film spoke to many of my forming ideas and made me think, laugh and cry. Maybe love was real.  Not only real, but plausible.  Why? Because Harry and Sally were flawed and neurotic and they found each other. Therefore, I may have a chance and she was right–I did find love.

To this day, it is one of my favorite movies of all time.  I quote it regularly and find comfort watching it.  For me, it set the standard for what romantic comedies should be–smart, witty and based on some sort of reality and I still enjoy the ones that follow the pattern more than the others.

(I also blame her for my intense crush on Tom Hanks.  Sleepless in Seattle made me want to marry him. 😀  And most recently, Julie and Julia made me want to learn how to cook french food–à la Julia Child.)

Ms. Ephron had a unique voice.  She created characters that felt like real people–people we could relate to–people we knew–or people we would like to know.  Her wit and strength were clear in every word she wrote, whether it was for a novel, essay, blog or a film.

Better than my words, check out this wonderful tribute reel at The Huffington Post.  They collected some great videos celebrating Ephron’s life and spirit.  If you are not familiar with her work now is the time to check out the legacy she has left for generations to enjoy.

Rest in peace and again, thank you.  Thank you for all the laughs and the forever memories.