One of the Best Films of 2012? Sleepwalk with Me.

Yeah…I know.  What?  Sleepwalk with Me?  Never heard of it–right? Honestly, I did know about it either until Joss Whedon made a hilarious video “boycotting” (wink,wink) this film.  And now I am (again) grateful to Mr. Whedon, because Mike Birbiglia’s true and hilarious story has easily become one of my favorites of the year.

JOSS WHEDON-Boycott Mike Birbiglia’s Film “Sleepwalk With Me” – YouTube

First, I will tell you other stuff I did not know.  Birbiglia wrote this and performed it as a one-man show that mixed stand-up and theater, back in 2009, at the Bleecker Street Theatre in New York City.  With that success he then wrote a book Sleepwalk With Me & Other Painfully True Stories, that went on to become a bestseller, which lead to his directorial début.  Wow!

Well, watching this small, independent film was a pure pleasure.  Birbiglia uses his real life and his real REM Sleep Behavior Disorder to tell a very raw, sometimes painful, honest tale.  It is hilarious and poignant.  The unique way that it is presented and structured helps to enhance your connection to the story.  It is a narrative, yet it is cut with Birbiglia making direct camera commentary (that adds a sense of intimacy) and parts of his stand up routines and strangely, it works .

I can go on and on.  I loved everything! Sometimes life is stranger than fiction and worth telling.  Bravo, Bribiglia!  Thanks for being a creative, new voice in cinema.  We need more of these kind of maverick endeavors.

So go find this and check it out!  I would love to hear what you all think.

Sleepwalk With Me Trailer (2012) HD – YouTube

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower is wonderful.

A lime green wall with the words 'we are infinite', a boy stands beside a girl, she leans her head on the shoulder of another boy

It is refreshing to see a film about teenagers that has REAL teenagers in it.  That does not happen all the time.  It is a rare find, indeed.  And how awesome that a novelist, Stephen Chbosky in this case, gets the opportunity to not only adapt his own novel to the screen, but also direct it!  I think because Chbosky was given the task, Perks of Being a Wallflower ends up being an intimate, personal film that rings true.

I have not read Chbosky’s semi-autobiographical novel yet, so I can not compare the two.  I know that typically ALL novels are better than the screen adaptations (side note: they’re two wholly different mediums–and very seldom are the two ever equally awesome)–but I love how Chbosky decided present his story.  He does not rush the narrative and allows you to quietly connect with his characters.  It is a delicate approach and it works beautifully.

His casting choices are also excellent.  Logan Lerman has revealed his potential–having seen him in 3:10 Yuma (impressive) and then Percy Jackson, I liked him but here he shows that he is capable of becoming a star.  He plays Charlie with a natural charm and ease, that only helped to intensify his more serious issues.  Of course, Emma Watson is lovely.  I’ve always believed she grew the most as an actress during the Harry Potter saga and with this role she is able to shed her “Hermione” skin.  The most strange and great experience of watching a performance though, was Ezra Miller.  Why strange?  Because the only other role I saw him in was We Need to Talk about Kevin as the titular Kevin and whoa! that kid was CREEPY!  But here Miller is wonderfully fantastic–what an actor, indeed.

Again, I will not delve deeper into the film, so that it can be a discovery for you too.  Just know that the music is perfect–the cast is perfect–the story is truthful and you will end up feeling…well, infinite.

Trailer – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Official Trailer – 1 HD (2012) – YouTube

Silver Linings Playbook is surprisingly one of the year’s best!

Why surprising?  Because it looks like a typical romantic comedy, yet with a sharp, intelligent script written by director David O. Russell and fine, award-worthy performances you end up with a beautifully funny, honest look at the human condition.

Russell has become a master of subtlety and realism.  Like in The Fighter, he puts very non-Hollywood characters on the screen.  These are real people.  Broken, vulnerable, strong, generous, manipulating, etc-etc.  This is what life looks like–messy.

And although some may argue that his direction is little more than “point and shoot”, they’re missing his careful craft.  The decisions Russell makes are the reason this does not fall into the typical rom-com formula.  He is not afraid to linger on the ugly stuff and he knows how to build characters.  As someone who has first hand knowledge of mental illness, I appreciated how Russell handled the subject–he never turns it into melodrama or theatrics.  Well done.  Silver Linings Playbook is perfectly written and directed–Russell deserves any and all accolades heading his way and he may have, again, guided actors to award glory.

Let’s start with Bradley Cooper.  He is a revelation.  I’ve liked him since Alias (Will Tippin  shout out!) and have enjoyed following his career, but this is the fulfillment of his potential.  I knew he had it in him! Cooper plays a man, who is NOT a catch–he is tormented and scarred and you still want to cheer for him.  That is largely due to Cooper’s charm.  This guy is a star.

And now for the lovely Jennifer Lawrence.  WOW!  She is incredible.  She blew me away in Winter’s Bone and I knew then, that she was a force to be reckoned with–boy, I was right.  There are several scenes that she had me spellbound.  It’s amazing that someone who is so young can emote such strength and confidence that is also laced with pain and longing.  This girl is a star.

Add an amazing supporting cast–Robert De Niro (best performance in a while), Jackie Weaver (not evil this time, but still awesome), Chris Tucker (he can act!?) and two great character actors that get some well deserved screen time–Anupam Kher and John Ortiz–and you have a strong assemble that only enhances the story.

I can go on and on–but you know what I am going to say–I want to enjoy this all on your own.  You are in for a wonderful slice of life–you will laugh and cry and hopefully learn something from the experience.

Silver Linings Playbook Official Movie Trailer [HD] – YouTube

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Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s Best!

Damn!  Django Unchained is awesome.  I will preface this with a clear disclaimer–if you do not care for or do not like Quentin Tarantino‘s body of work–this is NOT the film for you.  It is bloody, ultra violent, truthfully disturbing, and brutally honest about slavery–all the while, being funny and extremely entertaining.

That is Tarantino’s secret–he creates entertainment, while also making you think, feel and respond to his art.  And it is art.  He is a master storyteller and is getting better with age.  I thought Inglorious Basterds was brilliant and quite possibly his masterpiece, but now I am leaning on giving that title to Django.   Quentin’s style is unique and on full display here–clever, witty dialogue, zoom close-ups, slow motion moves and exaggerated violence (trust me–when he gets truly violent, you know it–it gets quiet and personal).  He also continues in allowing his characters to become bigger than life–never quite caricatures but they are all LARGE.  And Django is that–a new iconic figure.  He also makes the pre-civil war age come to life.  The imagery is vivid.  You can almost taste the dust and feel the bitter cold–very nice.

Jaime Foxx is Django.  Perfect, in every way.  A defining role, for sure.  He carries Django with pride and bravado, but also as a man who knows fear and loss.  Christoph Waltz has given me one of my favorite characters on-screen!  This reminds me how incredible he is as actor–as much as I hated Col. Hans Landa, I loved Dr. King Schultz! Loved everything about his performance–subtle and nuanced.  Of course, Samuel L. Jackson delivers and again, creates a memorable character.  Then there is Leonardo DiCaprio–why did it take so long for him to work with Tarantino?  Because…wow!  Leo is truly despicable–a horrible human being–and he sells it!  Brilliant.

That leaves the story.  Tarantino has created an homage (or as he would say, “he stole it”) to spaghetti westerns and black exploitation films.  Mixing them up to together into a new genre on its own.  The soundtrack is full of modern music and the style is unique, it is hard to define–except as AWESOME! 😀   Yet, I have to praise Tarantino’s bravery when addressing slavery.  It may be getting some negative comments due to his extensive use of a certain ugly “n” word–yet, it was the truth of that time.  I have not seen such an honest depiction in years.  It makes you uncomfortable and sick–as it should!  And then it plays out a fantastic revenge scenario that you only wish, was what could have happened.  So, kudos Quentin.  Clever way to truthfully use a time of our history (ugly as it was) as the background and motivation of an original American hero–Django.  Thanks.

So, I am going to call it–This MAY be Tarantino’s Masterpiece–may be, because who knows what he will do next!  But, I am pretty sure it’s going to be good.

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Hooper’s Les Miserables left me underwhelmed. Shame.

The poster shows a young girl in the background of a dark night. Text above reveals the cast listing and text below reveals the film's title.

So sad.  How could this go wrong?  I was giddy with excitement, especially after the lovely trailer.  The seminal musical Les Miserables, finally being made into a film by a good director with a stellar cast.  C’mon…that’s an easy formula for success–right?  Well, for most people it has worked (and I am in the minority here)–but, for me it failed to capture the magic and beauty of the music–and of  even the narrative, for that matter.

Okay, let me state that I love this musical!  Actually, it is in truth, an English language opera.  There are no spoken words and I have only seen it performed by opera-level singers.  Although, I have yet to see it on stage live, I have watched a recording of a stage performance and enjoyed both the 10th and 25th Anniversary concerts (PBS rocks!).   That history could be why I had issues with Tom Hooper‘s interpretation.

Let’s begin with the voices–because, honestly, this should be all about the voices.  There are three stand-outs,  Anne Hathaway (who gives a heart-breaking rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream“, but it was still more “acted” than sang), Eddie Redmayne, who has a strong presence and voice, and Samantha Barks, who actually performed on stage as Eponine–so it is no big surprise that she delivered (to me) the best performance of , what happens to be my favorite song,  “On My Own”.

Now, I love Hugh Jackman and respect that he is a song and dance man–he won a Tony for goodness sake!  But, Mr. Jackman does NOT have the chops or range to pull off Jean Valjean‘s  resounding tenor.  Unfortunately, his acting performance (which is wonderful) does not match his singing voice.  Most of the time, it sounded shrill and like, well…he was stretching his vocal chords.  And then of course, there is Russell Crowe.  Oh, Russell Crowe.  He CAN NOT sing.  Nope.  It was painful.  Especially, when Inspector Javert is supposed to have an intimidating, strong baritone or bass-baritone.  His power and presence is diminished when Crowe’s tiny voice is barely able to do what is expected from the songs.  I was looking forward to “The Confrontation” scene and was left deflated.  What a let down.

If you are interested in why I have problems–check out these videos with the differences.

Les Miserables 10th Anniversary (HD) – The Confrontation (11/41) – YouTube

Les Misérables – 25th Anniversary – “the confrontation” – YouTube

The Confrontation – Russell Crowe & Hugh Jackman – YouTube

This leads to my other issue–Hooper’s direction.  Due to a plethora of close up images and shaky cam action, you lose the grand scope of the period.  This is France!  This is the Revolution! I got none of that.  It looked like a sound stage.  I never once felt like I was in France.  Oh, well.  And yes, it is awesome that he recorded the songs live on set–but, next time he should pick better suited singers–wait, actually…let’s not have a next time, Mr. Hooper.  Thanks.

Finally, I felt the 2.5 hour run time.  It was over-long and had lost much of its impact by the end.  I was just happy to be out and thankful for being able to listen to the original cast recording in my car!  Whew!

Liberal Arts is a lovely story about growing up…

Life can be unexpected and ordinarily uneventful.  Yes, lofty dreams and goals can sometimes be replaced by the mundane routine of normal existence.   Sounds sad?  Not really.   In Josh Radnor‘s Liberal Arts these themes are beautifully explored and offer a unique character study of a man searching for a connection and finding out what being a grown up really means.

Recently, I finally caught up with the television show, How I Met Your Mother and have become a bigger fan of all the leads, but I was still very impressed with Radnor’s writing and directing talent.  Who knew?  Filmed at his Alma Mater, Kenyon College, he is able to capture the hope and struggle of being a college student and, for that matter, a graduate.

This is a small, quiet film and Radnor is smart enough to surround himself with a talented cast.  Elizabeth Olsen continues to shine and solidifies her “on the rise” status.  She is natural and lovely.  Olsen easily embodies an old soul trapped in a young, inexperienced body.  Add Richard Jenkins, always awesome, and Allison Janney, in a funny small role, and the story stays engaging and thought-provoking.

It was refreshing to see a narrative that avoids the typical clichés and provides a new angle to a familiar situation.  The connection between an older man and a younger woman, has been done before but Radnor uses it as a spring-board for a larger conversation about expectations and the search for a human connection.  (My favorite scenes are the ones that show his character discovering classical music for the first time–just wonderful!)

I made my daughter watch this and it started conversations about her university experiences and her goals for stepping outside of her box and taking on new challenges.  For  that alone, Liberal Arts scores high in my book!