Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Back-up Plan

After noticing that this movie got a 4/10 on IMDB, I was reluctant to see it and especially didn't want to drag Fabio into a romantic comedy disaster.  However, with not much out these days, we watched it together last night and were both pleasantly surprised (low expectations can do wonders!).

It is the story of Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a pet store owner, who being single and afraid that she will pass the age of having children, decides to get artificially inseminated.  The problem is that it works on the first try and that she meets a very attractive, charming man (Alex O'Loughlin) right outside her doctor's office the day of her procedure.

Trying to pass it off as nothing and ignoring the dreamy man doesn't do much good.  They bump into each other repeatedly and he goes out of his way to romance her and capture her affections.  But when the truth of her situation is revealed, things turn sour, if only for a little bit.  After their first make-out scene she blurts out to him that she is pregnant.  He is obviously quite surprised stating it cannot happen so quickly. 

Despite being clearly very smitten by Zoe he is not sure of being ready for children in the first place, let alone somebody else's child, or worst of all, as they will soon find out, twins.  However, as I'm sure you can imagine, he decides to stick by her and lives out her pregnancy with her, promising to stay with her forever.

There are many cute, heartfelt and humorous scenes but also some very over the top and outrageous ones (a live exorcism style birth, filled with screaming and chanting, in the living room of her support group being one of them). 

Overall this movie was light, enjoyable and made me feel good.  I laughed quite a lot and was touched at times.  Being pregnant, I could relate to some of the emotions - although luckily for Fabio I am not nearly as hormonal and do not sleep with a gigantic pillow in between us.  Not every night at least! 

My rating: 6
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 12/20

A Single Man

A Single Man is an elegant and enticing film by fashion designer and first time director Tom Ford. The cinematography is simply stunning - exquisite images and sequences of movement, beautiful contrasts of monochromatic and vibrant colors, coupled with excellent acting and enchanting music make this movie a pleasure to watch.

Colin Firth's performance is extremely powerful and convincing.  He is an English professor named George who after losing his partner of 16 years in an accident and having tried to go on with his life, chooses this day to be his last.  What we see is this particular day, beginning with George getting dressed in the morning, putting on his impeccable suit and dark-rimmed glasses, and escalating to his meticulous preparations for his suicide. 

His pain is palpable without ever being overly dramatic.  Colin Firth's seriousness and intensity are incredible.  Ford manages to capture just the right amount of melodrama and bleakness and we not only understand but feel George's tremendous grief, without being overwhelmed by it.  There are other things going on in the world around and we watch, wondering if George will or will not commit suicide.

George is a man who was deeply in love but who at the same time is in love with life.  His sorrow and hollowness juxtaposed with the beauty that he sees in front of him are truly alluring and magnificent.  They give the movie a haunting quality, a certain glow which draws the viewer in like a magnet.

Julianne Moore interprets George's dear friend and portrays her character superbly, capturing the 1960's mood to perfection with her charcoal lined eyes, smoky gaze, pouty lips and cigarette always near.  She spends most of her day applying make-up, smoking and drinking, but is the friend George turns to when he feels at his worst.  She seems to have a way of picking him up with friendship, memories of a past fling and a bit of gin.  Her perfect English accent made me forget whether she was American or British.

There are also some sexually charged and ambiguous scenes with a student, played notably by Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy).  It is unclear until the very end what the young man's intentions are, as he is quite clearly stalking his professor, but his presence in the story is important.  Like an angel, he guides George through memories of his former lover and shows him hope for the future. 

This film is artistic, stylish, and classy - not surprisingly.  However, it relies very much on the visual and perhaps the novel by Christopher Isherwood was able to convey more depth to the story.  It is definitely worth seeing for its cinematic qualities and will hopefully leave you wondering, as I am now, what Tom Ford's next project will be. I, for one, hope that a movie is in the making; Fabio believes Mr. Ford should return to making sunglasses.  

My rating: 7.5
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 13.5

Monday, April 26, 2010

CHLOE

After a few weeks of absence, Paulina's blog is back!  I have since gotten married and we are preparing to move into a new house so things have been very, very busy!  After not having watched a single movie for nearly two months, I finally saw Atom Egoyan's Chloe last night. 

I was drawn to this film due to two things - first, its title is the name of my sweet Labrador, Chloe.  Second, the cast seemed strong and the premise quite intriguing - a married woman, believing her husband is cheating on her, hires a call girl to seduce and trap him.

Julianne Moore plays the role of a successful but slightly self-conscious woman to perfection.  Her husband, Liam Neeson, a handsome professor, is aging gracefully and continuously flirts with his students.  Julianne is having a hard time connecting with him and is also out of touch with her son, Michael, who is going through a rebellious teenage phase.  Seeking reassurance on her marriage and perhaps some comfort, she sets up a meeting with Amanda Seyfried's character and plots her fateful scheme. 

The movie is fairly interesting to watch at first but very quickly there are moments that are preposterous and just impossible- chance encounters and text messages, eerie, overly ominous music playing constantly in the background, an out of the blue lesbian scene, a "shoe orgasm" (I'm serious), a reappearing hairpin far too reminiscent of a certain famous ice pick, an ultra modern house with lots of windows... 

There are many scenes of a sexual nature but without much eroticism- the whole time one senses that there is something brewing underneath that is not quite right.  I didn't feel much passion or tension and thought that everything was a bit too fake and trying so hard to stand out that in the end it was just plain bizarre. Amanda plays her character's psychotic side very well however, with her big, blue eyes and pale, innocent looking exterior. 

But despite good performances the script falls tremendously short.  Viewers who expect too much will get very little in return.  This film lacks the intelligence of Fatal Attraction or the thrill of Basic Instinct.  Sadly, Chloe gets worse and worse as it goes on, ending in a literal and figurative free fall.

My rating: 5
Fabio's: 5
Total score: 10/20

Friday, March 12, 2010

Crazy Heart

My apologies for not having posted anything during the past week or so... I was away in Greece visiting my sister and her two little children - no time for movies!  I'm back in freezing cold Switzerland now and after having watched the Oscars, its many surprises (Hurt Locker!!!!), and funny banter between Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, decided to see Crazy Heart to find out if Jeff Bridges really was so outstanding.

He plays the role of Bad Blake, a very talented country musician who has struggled his entire life with alcoholism and therefore finds himself broke and aimlessly touring the country, playing in dodgy venues, at around 60 years of age.  During one such stop over he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal, also nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress), a pretty, young journalist who wants to interview him.

Jean comes across as slightly needy and lonely, the type who is drawn to the wrong kind of guys.  She surrenders quickly to Bad's charisma and they end up falling heavily for each other. Their chemistry is extremely believable and almost palpable at times.  I very much enjoyed their on-screen time together.

But Jean is also the mother of a four year old boy and problems arise as Bad's alcoholism severely gets in the way of the development of a healthy relationship between them.  She is infatuated by him and admires him, trying to see past his weaknesses and addiction, but must protect what she loves most, her son.  Bad wants to turn his life around, unmasking his softer side as he desperately searches for some joy and comfort, but as one line in the film goes, "it's too little, too late". 

Colin Farrell does a surprising and commendable representation of Tommy, a famous and thriving country singer who learned what he knows from Bad and tries to help him in his career.  They both sing quite remarkably and most of all make it look very, very natural.  I'm not a lover of country music but I found the tracks enjoyable, particularly "The Weary Kind" which won an Oscar for best original song.

Jeff Bridges sings and performs with ease and seems to have been made for this role.  His Oscar is very well deserved and the movie satisfying without being a masterpiece.  Bridges' strong and impressive performance is what really carries this film.

My rating: 7
Fabio's: 7
Total score: 14

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Greatest

The Greatest, starring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and Carey Mulligan (An Education), is a relatively unknown movie by a first time director (Shana Feste) that is nevertheless quite good.  It is so little known that I have been unable to track down the movie poster (I think it may not even have come out yet in the States).

Brosnan and Sarandon are married and play the grief stricken parents of two teenage boys, one of whom dies suddenly in a horrific traffic accident at the very beginning of the film.  Sarandon is excellent and demonstrates she is a superior actress in her portrayal of a mother grieving I would almost say to the extreme.  She is haunted by what happened to her son, by the fact that he stayed alive for 17 minutes and that she was not there to help him.  She simply cannot get over the loss and resents her husband for moving on so quickly.  A very poignant scene occurs when he offers her a bell, a sort of tool to help her with her grief, and tells her to ring it each time she thinks of their deceased son.  She takes the bell from him and starts ringing it- non-stop.  This and many other moments were extremely sad, showing how people cope with loss in very different ways.

Things get even more complicated with the early appearance of Carey Mulligan's character, the girlfriend of the late young man, and her surprise announcement.  This leads to even more sadness and hurtful reminders for the mother, but also a certain easing of the pain for the father, which inevitably results in great tension between the couple.  Sarandon gets especially furious, distressed and jealous when, trying to reach her husband during a break down, she finds his phone turned off and learns subsequently that he had gone to the movies with the young girl.  The scene escalates so much with an almost silent force that Brosnan picks her up and throws her fully clothed into the ocean, to awaken her and make her see that her anguish is unreasonable and causing pain to the rest of the living members of their family. 

The younger brother, appearing almost indifferent at first, succumbs to his emotions in the second half of the movie.  The father, who keeps a cool demeanor and tries to hold the family together through his strength also finally collapses and interestingly, Sarandon picks up where he left off and comforts him, telling him that their son did not suffer.  The whole family and their links are very credible and Brosnan astonished me by being particularly realistic. 

Even if this movie is almost painful to watch due to the difficult subject matter, it is very well acted and written, making it extremely emotional and powerful.   It ends well so do not be too afraid, but if you are a crier, a tear or two will definitely be shed. 

My rating: 8
Fabio's: 7.5
Total score: 15.5

Valentine's Day


Valentine's Day, Garry Marshall's (Pretty Woman) latest movie packs in an all star cast.  In alphabetical order: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane and Patrick Dempsey from Grey's Anatomy, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner (Twilight), Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift and more, all share the spotlight in this messy romantic comedy.  Unfortunately, an ensemble as strong as this one does not suffice to make Valentine's Day a film worth seeing.

If you are expecting a light, airy, fun romantic comedy like I was you will be disappointed because this was neither very romantic nor very funny. Everywhere you look you will see a beautiful, famous, smiling actor but the film is extremely shallow with a terrible plot and very little character development.  We follow the intertwining lives and love tribulations of many different couples and singles as they handle the joys, and mostly the burdens, of Valentine's Day. Lots of people are saying it and it is true, the film is a knock-off of Love Actually, except much worse. 

Ashton Kutcher, a heartbroken florist, and Jennifer Garner who plays his best friend, have the most screen time.  Their acting is typical and what is happening to them remotely interesting compared to the dozen or so other subplots.  But the scene where Garner pretends to be a waitress to confront her lying boyfriend (who proceeds to choke on his drink, what else...) while he is having a meal with his wife was just too much.  Anne Hathaway as an undercover phone sex entertainer was absurd, as was Queen Latifah, her boss who overhears a raunchy conversation but lets her carry on and even takes a call herself.  Bradley Cooper's character, though charming, was absolutely not credible- from his sweet, flirtatious interactions with Julia Roberts on the plane, to the final surprise revelation. The teenage high school couples were dreadful to watch, especially the part where one of the boys gets caught naked with only a guitar for cover by his girlfriend's mother.  Like the rest of the cast, even the cute, little boy had a ridiculously predictable role and it was clear from the start who he was in love with.  It's a pity to see so much talent go to waste, particularly Julia Roberts who really does not belong in this chaos.

The second half of the movie was even worse than the first and started veering towards the outrageous during a male bashing dinner party that single and disgruntled Jessica Biel hosts yearly (who organizes an "I hate Valentine's Day" dinner in the same room as a wedding is taking place???).  Things really started to go downhill for me at that point and the last 30 minutes or so I was literally rolling my eyes to myself.

There were too many actors, too many side plots, none of which were engaging or developed enough.  Of course, everything ties together nicely and neatly at the end, like a Valentine's Day gift with a bow.  But don't be fooled, this movie is no present.  If you have nothing better to do, go ahead and watch it.  Otherwise, treat yourself to a nice romantic evening with your loved one or by yourself.  It will be time much better spent. 


My rating: 5

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story, is Michael Moore's latest exposing documentary.  After taking on General Motors, the Bush Administration, and the health care industry in some of his previous films, he this time tackles the issues of greed, capitalism and corporate dominance.  He shows us real life examples of people losing their homes, jobs, savings and hope, powerless in front of the great, evil, out of control machine that capitalism has become. 

As is his habit, Moore narrates and conducts his own interviews.  There are funny bits, like when he asks a few bankers to define derivatives and credit default swaps and no one seems able to give an explanation that makes any sense.  Other parts were more repetitive such as when he visits the headquarters of big banks with yellow "Crime Scene" tape and tries coming into the buildings to make "citizen's arrests".  This was mildly funny for a few moments but it came up too many times throughout the film.  Also I found that the footage of what happened to some hard working Americans- though very sad- was not edited enough and too long.

The rest of the movie highlights what led the United States to the grim financial situation it is in now- going back to FDR and his proposal for a Second Bill of Rights guaranteeing certain basic economic freedoms, through a more comfortable time for the middle class in the 1950's, followed by immense deregulation during the Reagan years which resulted in gambling by financial institutions, enormous inequalities between the rich and the poor (the part about low pilot salaries was particularly frightening) and finishing with the icing on the cake, the huge tax payer funded bailouts.  

Overall this film is a very important one to have made and to be watched but I did not think it was one of Moore's finest.  I am not in love with it nor am I sufficiently outraged by what I learned.  The movie felt flat.  In my opinion it went to too much length to prove a point we already know- greed is not good.  

My rating: 6
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 12

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jaffa

Jaffa, an Israeli film whose title refers to a part of Tel Aviv, is an excellent and moving drama.  I wish movies like this got more press and had more fame.  The story is sad, realistic and compelling.

The movie begins in the family owned garage of an Israeli family, where father, son Meir, and daughter Mali, work alongside a young Palestinian named Toufik.  Meir is not the model son- rebellious, angry, ungrateful and disrespectful towards his parents and everybody else, he steals the attention from his quiet younger sister.  No one suspects that she is having a love affair with Toufik and that they are secretly planning on getting married.

Religious and other tensions start building between the two young men, Meir and Toufik, and the outcome is shocking and devastating. Mali makes an extremely difficult sacrifice, depriving herself of a normal life by keeping hidden a truth which only she knows.

All of the actors are magnificent.  The father is particularly memorable, always kind, trying at times to be a little bit stern, understanding of everyone throughout the film until his final, harsh condemnation.  The ending is extremely powerful- completely unexpected and expected at the same time.  Mali finally makes a choice for herself and we are left hoping that her life will be a happy one.  

This film brought me to tears on several occasions.  I watched it without Fabio as I wasn't sure what to expect and now highly recommend it to him and all my readers.

My rating: 9/10

Shutter Island

I hated this movie!!!!!  It was dark, gloomy, repetitive and uninteresting.  I thought I would probably not love it based on the trailer but still expected more from a Martin Scorsese film.  I am not sure why it is getting such rave reviews; it really surpasses me what people saw in it.

The thriller is set in the 1950's, with Leonardo DiCaprio interpreting a U.S. Marshal, and Mark Ruffalo as his partner.  Together they are investigating the disappearance of a dangerous inmate from an insane asylum on the very isolated Shutter Island.

The atmosphere and music are ominous from the start, much like the opening scenes of Scorsese's 1991 Cape Fear.  It rains constantly on Shutter Island and the decor is conveniently populated with cliffs and a towering lighthouse where a dramatic (if somewhat disappointing) plot twist later takes place. 

There are lots of twists and turns and psychological unraveling on the part of DiCaprio's character.  He is haunted by flashbacks of scenes he witnessed of concentration camps during WW2, and visions of his murdered wife played by Michelle Williams.  DiCaprio's performance was skillful and talented, as was Ruffalo's.  Ben Kingsley was appropriately dramatic in his portrayal of the chief psychiatrist at the institution.

The movie carried on for quite long and its ambiguous ending was not enough to redeem its exasperating, overly paranoid quality which veered too much towards the horror genre for my taste.  More boring than horrifying, I give it a 3.

My rating: 3/10
Fabio's: 4/10
Total score: 7/20

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Arranged

A fellow blog reader suggested that I watch "Arranged" (2007).  It is a very nice film that I definitely recommend as well.

Arranged is about the friendship between two women- Rochel, an Orthodox Jewish school teacher and Nosira, a Muslim one.  The acting was very strong and credible and the story absorbing as the womens' relationship develops against all odds.  They find similarities in their situations despite great cultural and religious divides and solace in the fact that their parents are trying to arrange marriages for both of them with candidates who as the name implies, they cannot choose.

The actresses who portray Rochel and Nosira are beautiful inside and out and made this film a true pleasure to watch.  The ending was uplifting and charming; the movie all around very enjoyable.

My rating: 8

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nine

Since I am sitting here wondering how this movie could even have been made (by Rob Marshall) and how its actors could have agreed to be in it (details below), it boggles my mind even more how anybody could have liked it.

Not knowing where to begin with my long list of complaints, let me start with the plot or lack of it.  Daniel Day Lewis interprets Maestro Contini, a film director slightly past his prime who is trying within the movie we are watching to direct a movie called Italia.  The rest of the crew includes Marion Cotillard as his wife, Penelope Cruz as his mistress, Judi Dench as his costume designer, Nicole Kidman as his muse, Kate Hudson as an American fashion editor, Fergie as a prostitute from his childhood, and Sophia Loren as his mother.  If you don't have a headache already you can read on.

It is beyond me why DDL was chosen as the lead actor as his Italian accent sounded phony to me throughout and I could noticeably hear the Irish in it on many occasions.  Why couldn't they choose somebody who spoke Italian?  He is a great actor, no doubt, but not the right one for this role.  All of the other accents were terrible too, and worst of all were the songs and their lyrics.  The dances were pointless, laughable, fake, and overdone to the point that the women didn't even look remotely sexy.  The singing parts were long and painful to listen to, the dancing painful to watch.

DDL struggles throughout the film with lack of inspiration and script and it seems Nine has the exact same problem.  What was this movie even about?  Marion Cotillard's performances were the only redeeming bits of this movie.  She played quite well, as did Penelope Cruz as DDL's rejected mistress.  All the others were just stereotypical disasters. 

I am not a big fan of musicals to begin with but this was a serious waste of two hours.  I watched it without Fabio because I knew it would be bad but it was actually worse than I thought.  Certainly not a NINE!  

My rating: 2.5/10

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fish Tank

Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, a Cannes Jury Prize winner, is a powerful and moving independent British film.  It paints a harsh, bleak picture of lower class life in England while at the same time managing to fill viewers with hope and beauty.

The acting by the main female lead, Katie Jarvis, is astonishing and incredible (this is the first time she has ever acted).  She plays Mia, a combative, lonely, often angry but mainly misunderstood teenager.  This is not difficult to surmise given the environment that she is being raised in.  Her mother, a physical cross between Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson, is totally self-absorbed, insults her children, drinks heavily, smokes all the time, loves to party and has boyfriends stay over.

Mia has been kicked out of school and has a hard time getting along with others, constantly fighting either physically or verbally with somebody.  A compassionate, softer side to this tough talking fifteen year old comes through when we see her visiting a chained horse daily and trying in vain to free it.  Mia's own escape is through dancing.  She is not a particularly great dancer but practices her routines with passion.

The story begins to unfold as Mia develops a bond with her mom's latest conquest, the attractive, easy-going, sexy Connor, excellently portrayed by Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds).  She is very drawn to this new man who treats her like an adult and pays attention to her.  A fine, eerie line between friendship or fatherly attention and sexual attraction is thus drawn.  This ambiguity and its subsequent developments and final revelation make for an intense, original, interesting and rich drama. 

The dancing sequences interspersed throughout the movie are captivating in their strangeness and appeal.  It is a poignant, bizarrely beautiful and exotic sight when Mia dances to "California Dreamin'" for Connor with enchanting outdoor light swirling in the background.  Or my favorite, at the end, a magical scene where she, her mom and sister dance to a hip-hop song together.  No words are spoken but the meaning is clear - they are a family no matter what.

I liked this film a lot although I didn't expect to.  It is strong and realistic and its protagonists will stay with you long after the movie ends.  I read that the actors were only given the script one week beforehand and did not know what would happen to their characters.  The director wanted their acting to be as natural and as real as possible.  Mission accomplie! 


My rating: 8.5
Fabio's: 8
Total score: 16.5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brothers

Brothers, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire, is an interesting and profound drama about family values, war, and relationships.  The acting is fantastic.  I had hardly heard of this movie despite its all star cast so it was a pleasant surprise for me.

As the title implies, it centers on two brothers, portrayed by Gyllenhaal and Maguire, whose lives have taken them to different sides of the tracks- Jake's character has recently been released from jail and Tobey is a devoted family and army man.  Natalie Portman plays his lovely wife.  When Tobey is sent away to Afghanistan and rapidly presumed dead, the plot thickens.

Back at home, with everybody trying to cope and go on with their lives, nothing will ever be the same.  I will not write any more on the subject because although we found what happens next very predictable, you should still guess for yourselves!

The entire cast plays superbly.  Tobey undergoes a massive physical transformation and looks completely emaciated as he depicts the decline of someone who has lived through too much horror.  He shows us the mental destruction caused by war and his metamorphosis is truly scary at times.  Jake is really excellent as his sincere brother, torn between passion and brotherly love, guilt and devotion.  The two young girls who play Tobey and Natalie's daughters were very impressive and are earning lots of praise.

The supporting characters are less developed and the father seems to have just two states of emotion- praise and admiration for his army son and disdain for the ex-convict.  This is the downside that I saw in Brothers- that it tended to oversimplify many issues and too often contented itself with merely scratching the surface. For instance, though I have never been in a war so I cannot say for sure, the Taliban scenes seemed fake to me.  

Loyalty, love, faithfulness, duty, pain, grief, sorrow, joy.  All of these are present in this well above average but nevertheless not outstanding film.

My rating: 7.5
Fabio's: 7.5
Total score: 15



Monday, February 8, 2010

The Informant!

The Informant!, directed by Steven Soderbergh, sounded like it would be good; a kind of funnier, lighter version of The Insider.  It is about Mark Whitacre, the VP of an agribusiness giant, who turns into an informant working with the FBI to expose a price fixing scheme within his firm.

The film is a true story but that does not make it more interesting to watch.  Unfortunately I fell asleep - deeply- so this review will be short.  Fabio fell asleep too so asking him what he thought won't help either.

Matt Damon played very well, having once again eaten lots of burgers and pizzas to put on the necessary weight for his role. He sports a terrible hair do, mustache, and wears much too large suits, but makes them all work. 

There is a voice-over background narration during which Damon, as Whitacre, continuously spews out random, absurd, supposed to be funny facts, such as - do polar bears know that their noses are black, and his mispronunciation of centimeters (those are the only ones I remember).  These are meant to be comical but I only laughed once or twice as these phrases had absolutely nothing to do with what was going on on the screen. 

The movie was long; the first hour felt like two.  It was much too detailed and its bizarre quirkiness was not funny enough to hold my attention.  It was boring, dull, and although I missed more than half of it I think there was good reason.

The Informant!  Don't waste your time! 

My rating: 4.5
Fabio's: 5
Total score: 9.5

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Did You Hear About The Morgans?

Did You Hear About The Morgans stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, two actors I take joy in watching so I was looking forward to this movie, while fearing the worst after not exactly hearing good things.

Of course the premise is preposterous- an estranged couple witnesses a murder after an attempt at a reconciliatory dinner in New York City, and is shipped off to a remote part of Wyoming as part of a witness protection program. 

Hugh Grant is predictably funny in this film, with his usual self-deprecating British humor, and desperate, wretched faces.  He has a lot of funny one-liners, one of which is that he could hear "his own cells dividing" after their first night in Ray, Wyoming.  He is desperately trying to win back the affection of Meryl, his wife who he cheated on, and to get himself pardoned for his mistake.  She is less able to forgive and forget but evidently, being in this new setting will be a huge help for both of them, a way of bonding in the harsh countryside.  

There were funny dialogues and even true ones, shedding light on the problems of couples- cheating, fighting, infertility etc.  It was also a window- though very much exaggerated- into the soul of two hard working New Yorkers, something I could relate to.  Cliches abound, however, and are too many to name but here are a few- Meryl is a neurotic, overstressed and controlling New Yorker, a vegetarian and member of PETA (I have nothing against that, I am as well!).  People who do not live in big cities are gun toting, bargain shopping, meat eating Republicans.  Assistants are blackberry crazed peons, and so on.  

I very much liked the scene where they tell each other their wedding vows again, particularly Hugh Grant's to Meryl, an original, sweet, self-written testament of his love and promise of devotion to her.  There was lots of wit written into the dialogues of this film which made it pleasant to watch, at times.  

Fabio liked this more than Invictus but I have to say the great amounts of rodeo scenes, cow milking and bear attacks were too much for me.  The end bordered on the ridiculous but the very last scene of the movie was touching and slightly made up for it, at least leaving me with a nice final impression.  

If this movie is taken as a simple, light, romantic comedy it can be enjoyed, but do not expect too much from the Morgans.

My rating: 6
Fabio's: 7.5
Total score: 13.5

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Invictus

Invictus, Clint Eastwood's latest movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, is yet another success for the prolific 79 year old director.  It is the true story of Nelson Mandela's struggle to unite South Africa after decades of apartheid, shortly after his release from prison and during his first term as President.

The mission that he sets upon himself and upon Matt Damon's character- Francois Pienaar- is unconventional to say the least.  To win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela realizes that this will be the only way to unify such a divided nation.  Francois is the captain of the Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team.  He tells him "If I got elected President, you can win the Cup."  However, not only is South Africa a huge underdog, the country is racially torn and greatly split between the blacks and the Afrikaners, or white South Africans.  The rugby team being made up almost solely of whites, the blacks traditionally cheer for the opposing team. 

Mandela's vision of bringing his country together through sport and national pride is both a political and human triumph.  Morgan Freeman plays him brilliantly and brings in front of our eyes the man whose charisma, inner strength, courage and intelligence make him a hero to so many around the world.  He is an outstanding Mandela and it is true that in many scenes it is hard to differentiate the two.  His physique, mannerisms, voice, accent are all a perfect match.  He is a replica of Nelson Mandela and in fact when asked who could interpret him in a film the former President answered: "Morgan Freeman", quite an endorsement for the actor.  Matt Damon gives a very realistic portrayal as well, having gained weight and muscle for the role, and completely altering his accent.

We see the human, real side of Mandela- or "Madiba" as he was called- a man with his own struggles and doubts, and strained family relationships.  When asked about his children he replies that he has forty two million of them and one senses his enormous sense of purpose and love.  There are heartwarming moments when both his frailty and determination are exposed.  For instance, when having memorized the names of each member of the team, he slowly steps onto the field and shakes their hands one by one, wearing the green Springbok jersey.  Or when Francois and his team visit the miniscule jail cell where he was imprisoned for 27 years of his life, with a poem as his motivation to "stand when all he wanted to do was lie down", only to come out even stronger and ready to exceed his own expectations.  

Fabio, who loves soccer and I know will watch the World Cup this summer almost as obsessively as Madiba was following the performance of the Springboks, thought the rugby scenes were too long.  I found them to be really interesting, well done and fun to watch even though I was not familiar with the sport. 

This is a powerful, solid movie with excellent performances.  Lessons of forgiveness, team work, unity and perseverance make this film very inspirational.  I very much enjoyed it as I have all of Mr. Eastwood's latest.  His films are always of an extremely high caliber- in acting, script, cinematography and directing.  This one is no exception.

My rating: 8.5
Fabio's: 7
Total score: 15.5

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Creation

Real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly star in Creation, which recounts the period of Charles Darwin's life prior to the publication of "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, his infamous, world changing tome on evolution and natural selection.  Darwin's research created an enormous rift, a schism between the believers of his day and scientists. He was said at the time to be going to war against God, and even to have "killed God".

The film revolves around Darwin's life with his wife and four children.  Jennifer Connelly is excellent as his extremely devout and loving wife.  A revealing scene at the beginning when she leads the dinner table in prayer and Charles fails to say "Amen" is foreshadowing of what will follow and of the stark differences between the two.  She is convinced that he will be eternally damned and bring misfortune to their family by rejecting God.

Darwin is torn between his strong love for his wife, her faith and his even stronger reason.  There are beautiful moments of him observing animals, dissecting their behaviors and the sequences that make up their lives, explaining phenomenons of selection to his children, the first born, Annie, having a very morbid curiosity.  We see him interacting with England's first orangutan, Jenny, playing with it as if it were a child, deciphering her every look and action. 

Annie, the eldest child, later dies and Charles becomes haunted by her death, having been closest to her.  In my opinion this part was too long, bizarre and drawn out.  I did not like the trippy scenes where he seems to be losing his mind and is pursued by the ghost of his daughter, shouting and ranting.  Although Charles thinks that his wife blames him for her fatal sickness, she very poetically says: "The truth is, if I knew then what I know now, I would marry you tomorrow".  Their bond is solid and unbreakable despite tremendous differences of belief. 

When Charles finishes his manuscript he hands his wife the final copy, telling her she can burn it if she does not agree.  She stays up reading it nights on end and finally presents him with a package, the book ready to be sent to its publisher.  In the end, reason and perhaps love as well, triumph, as he makes an accomplice out of his staunchest adversary.

It is fascinating that Darwin received a full Christian burial at Westminster Abbey, proof that his ground-breaking ideas were seen as controversial of course, but were already then recognized as vital knowledge for the advancement of the human race. 

The movie definitely draws heavily on Darwin's family life, its joys and its troubles.  I happened to like this aspect but Fabio said it was like watching a documentary on, I quote, "Hitler's passion for ping-pong".  This is true in some respects and I cannot disagree with his desire to have learned more about Charles Darwin's theories from this film than we do.  It remains nevertheless a well executed and flawlessy acted period drama. 

My rating: 7
Fabio's: 7
Total score: 14

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones famously tells the story of Susie Salmon, a girl who is brutally murdered (and in the novel of the same name, also raped) at age 14, by a serial killer living across the street from her in suburban America in the 1970's. She goes on to watch her family, friends, and killer, from "her heaven" in the sky.

I was riveted by the beginning of the best selling book by Alice Sebold, to the point that when my fiance Fabio came to bed later than me one night he nearly gave me a heart attack as I seriously mistook him for a murderer.  Similarly, the movie's beginning enthralled me, but later I was bored by the lack of plot and became severely disinterested.  

What started as a faithful adaptation with the penguin in the snow globe trapped in a perfect world, then turned into lots of liberties taken by director Peter Jackson, many for better, some for worse.  For instance, huge, uninteresting chunks of interactions in school between Susie's friends are removed.  Also, an unbelievable and difficult to comprehend affair between Susie's mom and the detective on the case is omitted.  A scene in the book where Susie returns to Earth to have sex with Ray, her first love, is also taken out, thankfully, since during this encounter he doesn't even ask her who killed her (!!!), and is replaced by a much shorter but only slightly more logical kiss.  Some incongruities remain (the murderer kept her body in a safe for about 10 years???) but overall Jackson does a good job weaving this story together and making a somewhat coherent movie out of a book which I found too long and dull after the first 50 pages.

Jackson definitely adds his touch to the elaborately imaginative heaven, focusing on it a lot more than in the novel, giving the landscapes vivid colors and sweeping views.  This is overdone in my opinion but to his credit it must be difficult to depict what heaven should look like without making it look fake.  His love of special effects is obvious but one part reminded me too much of a scene from Gladiator, where Russell Crowe sees his deceased wife and son walking in fields of yellow, with an almost identical song playing.

Back at home, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play Susie's parents but neither performance blew me away as we don't really feel their pain or what they are going through, or why Susie's mom leaves to California for many years.  Susan Sarandon as the crazed grandmother was not bad although her drinking, smoking, setting the house on fire character was very exaggerated.  The girl interpreting Susie, Saoirse Ronan, was good, with her large, light blue eyes giving her an ethereal quality that matched how I imagined her.

Stanley Tucci was creepy and almost unrecognizable as George Harvey, Susie's killer, but not deep enough to be truly scary.  Without wanting to give away the end, I thought he was too easily dispensed with although this matches what happens in the book.  It seems everybody wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. 

Having only just finished the novel which disappointed me after all of the hype, I wasn't enthralled with its movie adaptation either.  However, despite many flaws, in some cases it actually improved the story presented in the book.

My rating: 6
Fabio's: 7
Total score: 13

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Complicated

I liked this movie more than I thought I would.  Perhaps because my parents are divorced, perhaps because I watched it with my mother and was trying to see it through her eyes.  I thought it flowed well and was entertaining, touching and both light and of substance.  Nancy Meyers, who also directed and wrote "The Holiday" and "Something's Gotta Give", is very good at this genre and with Meryl Streep as the lead, can hardly go wrong.

Playing Jane, a beautiful, professionally fulfilled, divorcee in her fifties, Meryl brings such an intensity and realism to her character that she truly makes and carries the film. One can not only understand but feel her loneliness as her kids all slowly leave her, go to college, graduate etc. Alec Baldwin is excellent too as her post mid-life crisis ex-husband, Jake, who after marrying a much younger, usually only half dressed, woman named Agness, is clearly unhappy and cannot tolerate for much longer her snapping her fingers at him when she needs him to clean something or make love to her at ovulation time.

An affair begins between the two as Jake tries to find refuge in Jane, with whom he feels back at home, both physically and emotionally.  She makes him good home-made ice cream, they have pleasant conversations and most of all- besides the great sex- he enjoys the peace and quiet.  Their chemistry is great and believable but unfortunately for him, Meryl has another admirer, her "nerdy" architect, Steve Martin.  He is also well cast, though purposely in a more minor, background role.  He takes her out on nice dates, has recently gone through a divorce, and is very much smitten.  Jane needs to choose between the two.  She is definitely happy, glowing and re-living, but feels very torn between the familiar with her now very needy ex-husband and the appeal of something fresh and new.

The themes of divorce, love, family and relationships in general are very well treated in this film.  I thought a comment made by Meryl's character about why she thought her marriage with Baldwin ended was particularly poignant- she said it wasn't all his fault and that she had given up on the relationship long before he cheated, using it as an excuse to end things. I am sure many couples find themselves in similar situations, where cheating is often a product not just a cause of trouble.  

One touch that bothered me was that I felt the children were too nice and too forgiving to a father who left their mother for a woman half her age.  Whenever they saw him pulling up in his Porsche they screamed "Daddy! Daddy!" and were overjoyed.  I thought that was fake and simplified and there could have been at least one sibling, perhaps the eldest, who would have a bit of lingering hurt and resentment.  A special mention for both the performance and character of John Krasinski who plays the role of Harley, a perfect boyfriend to the eldest daughter, but also a confidant who sees many things he shouldn't and reacts very comically and naturally.

There are tons of funny, lots of real and even some sad scenes, but there is also quite a bit of predictability.  I nevertheless very much enjoyed this romantic comedy and thought it was one of the best of its kind that I have seen recently.  

My rating: 7.5
Fabio's: 7
My mom's: 7
Total score out of 30: 21.5

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ashes and Snow

I had the privilege of visiting Gregory Colbert's Parisian studio this weekend and fell in love with his magnificent, oversize, sepia images of people and children interacting, sitting, dancing, or swimming with Asian elephants, eagles, manatees, cheetahs, whales and more.  I had seen his 2005 exhibit, "Ashes and Snow", in New York City and still have one of its posters hanging above my bed.  I wanted to watch the film of the same name in its entirety and was spellbound.

For those who are not familiar with Gregory Colbert, he is a Canadian born photographer and film-maker, who traveled on expeditions to India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and many more to document the incredible interactions between humans and animals.  He exposes his work only in immense "nomadic" structures.  Ashes and Snow attracted over 10 million visitors in NYC, Santa Monica, Tokyo and Mexico City, making it the most attended exhibition by a living artist in history. Colbert's Nomadic Museum continues its global journey indefinitely and has no final destination. 

The movie, narrated by Laurence Fishburne, is stunning to say the very least.  It is angelic, gentle and mesmerizing.  Mostly silent, a simple, enchanting music plays in the background.  From time to time a poem is read, telling the fictional tale of a husband writing 365 letters to his wife.  The poems themselves are wonderful and divine, perfectly fitting into this symphony of sights and sounds and of absolute harmony between living beings.  There are scenes of utmost beauty and precision that sent me into a dream-like state.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in art, photography or cinematography or simply to anybody who loves animals and wants to see something truly beautiful and unique.  It can also be left on in the background and be watched over and over again for the striking, almost sacred allure of its images.

Gregory's next appointment is with the penguins and icebergs of Antarctica and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for us.

My rating: 8.5
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 14.5

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Zombieland


Must I state that this was a Fabio request or is it obvious? ;)

A movie with the word zombie in its title is not something I would normally watch, but in a relationship one must make compromises and after Bright Star, I owed him one. I must admit that Zombieland was quite funny at times and although not in my usual genre, I did laugh more than once.

A brief plot summary: The world has been devastated and is inhabited only by blood-loving zombies. There are few "normal" people left. Woody Harrelson plays a tough, streetwise cowboy who drives a huge 4x4 and enjoys killing zombies and eating Twinkies. He picks up Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg (who I confused with the actor from Juno thus losing a costly bet for a sushi dinner) and the two form an awkward friendship or rather coexistence. In order not to get too friendly Woody says that he doesn't want to exchange names, only where they're from- therefore Columbus and Tallahassee.

They decide to journey together, Columbus trying to survive- in fact he has a rather funny list of survival tips that are interspersed throughout the film with immediate examples of what happens if you don't follow the rules- and Tallahassee searching for Twinkies. Along the way they encounter and are repeatedly conned by two sisters, one of whom is played by Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine and more recently, My Sister's Keeper. They go by the names Wichita and Little Rock.

The ultimate funniest scene is towards the middle and takes place in a Beverly Hills mansion with a surprise appearance from an actor who apparently isn't supposed to be named. I will not spoil the fun but just say that these 15 minutes or so are very funny and were by far my favorite part of the movie. That and a scene where Columbus' hot neighbor comes over and he thinks she likes him only to discover she is a zombie too and is there to savagely murder him. I realize it sounds quite juvenile but the scene was very amusing.

The rest of the killing zombie and action parts were a bit too obvious and disgusting for my taste but as Fabio said, this horror comedy cannot be taken literally. If done so, Zombieland can be an enjoyable, albeit peculiar, adventure.

My rating: 4.5
Fabio's: 8.5
Total score: 13

To my followers and readers: I am leaving to Paris for a long weekend so there will be no more movie watching or reviews for the next couple of days. Thank you for your continued or new loyalty!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bright Star


Bright Star, written and directed by Jane Campion, was unfortunately a bit of a let down for me. I was expecting a slow moving, historical movie about an English poet and his untimely death but I hoped that the story would be more riveting, more moving. I thought The Piano by Campion was a much stronger film and am slightly disappointed by her latest drama.

The film is based on the romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats' death from tuberculosis at age 25. Abbie Cornish is excellent as Fanny, making us feel her profound love and terrible ensuing sadness which know no bounds. Ben Whishaw, a relatively unknown actor, is also superb, perfectly embodying the physically frail, emotionally fragile, wondrous poet that was John Keats, so full of tender emotion.

There is much witty humor between Fanny and John's friend and fellow poet, Charles Brown, another excellent portrayal. He derides her constantly, making fun of her penchant for fashion and sewing and of her feigned interest (according to him) in poetry. He considers her a flirt and nothing more and tries to keep her as far away from John as possible, telling her they need time for their "musing" and must not be disturbed. To which she replies "Is that what us common people call thinking?".

Their love story is tragic- Fanny and John cannot marry because John does not have any income but they fall madly in love nonetheless. Fanny is his life, his inspiration and his hope during his illness. It is very sad that Keats dies almost unrecognized, poor and indebted, knowing that he then went on to become one of the most beloved and celebrated of Romantic poets.

Fanny lives with her family at home and since it is impossible for her to get more involved with John I found it hard to grasp the depth of their passion to the extent that Campion wants us to feel it. The first love they are exploring is beautiful and pure, but also immature at times.

There are undeniably beautiful excerpts in the exchanges between Fanny and John, such as this one, my favorite: "I almost wish we were butterflies, and lived but three summer days. Three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain." Fanny goes on to collect live butterflies in her room, which flutter about but end up littering the floor with their dead corpses, perhaps a symbol of this impossible love. Or "A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Its loveliness increases. It will never pass into nothingness." During the ending credits, "Ode to a Nightingale" is read and makes one watch till the very last one scrolls by.

The costumes are lovely; the film is definitely beautiful, well directed and wonderfully acted. However, how to put this in the most mild, most polite, English way possible: Fabio and I were both, at times, slightly, just a little bit, only a touch, bored and were expecting a teeny, weeny bit more.

My rating: 6
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 12

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sherlock Holmes


Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is a fast-paced, edgy adaptation (to put it mildly) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's late 19th century creation. I have learned that Detective Holmes was apparently not too dissimilar to the way he is portrayed here and that previous films actually passed over this side of him.

Sherlock was in fact an avid boxer and a martial artist, had little personal hygiene, did sleep on the floor, drugged himself and his dog constantly, insulted Watson, played practical jokes on his housekeeper, and was generally quite an offensive character. He was also however a master of disguise; a genius of logic and deduction with an incredible memory and case solving ability. It is during his relationship and close friendship with Dr. Watson that he became a more "respectable" member of society.

Jude Law plays Dr. Watson wonderfully, with understated charm and ease, and most importantly lets the light shine on Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock, giving him the true spotlight. Every pore of Downey's permeates this role and it's obvious he's loving every second of it. His brooding, tough, superior, energetic and cunning Sherlock is what makes the movie entertaining in my opinion. He is one of few actors who has gotten better looking with time and age and in many scenes is reminiscent of a younger Al Pacino in Scarface. The Golden Globe that was just awarded to him is richly deserved. On the other hand, Rachel McAdams was a bit disappointing and doesn't add much to the film.

I liked the well written interplay and complicity between Sherlock and Watson. However, the plot of trying to find Lord Blackwood who has risen from the dead and operates a secret society was way too far fetched for my taste. I thought the action scenes were too long and although I liked the dark, moody, filthy London that was conveyed, the special effects looked fake. I felt like I was watching an awful Dan Brown movie at times with all the symbols, secret rituals and black magic of the sect.

Guy Ritchie has delivered a unique movie by sticking to his genre of a testosterone driven, male charged environment where one wouldn't necessarily expect it and for that he should be applauded. There is a great fight scene in which Sherlock envisions and dissects the violent play by play of what will happen to his unsuspecting opponent in slow motion in his head, then Ritchie shows it to us unfolding in real speed. The movie is unconventional but I felt that a lot of the scenes dragged on, especially towards the end. RDJ's performance was enthralling but I strongly preferred the fast repartees to the fast chases.

My rating: 4
Fabio's: 4
Total score: 8

Avatar


Avatar. This is a title that will remain recognized and remembered for a long time to come. Tens of millions of people have already seen the movie and it is on track to become the highest grossing of all time. Congratulations to James Cameron for following his dream. After years of work (Cameron didn't write or direct anything meaningful since Titanic in 1997) and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, audiences- thankfully- are spellbound.

The movie, set in 2154, begins with a narration by Sam Worthington and shows his character, Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine, taking his deceased twin brother's place in the Avatar program, a secret mission designed to infiltrate the world of the Na'vi, a colony of blue creatures who live on the distant moon Pandora. The exploration and exploitation of Pandora is crucial to the humans as the Na'vi tribe is living on top of an enormous amount of extremely precious, and expensive, ore.

Jake is not trained for this mission but since he is a genetic match to his brother, is sent anyway. His wayward actions get him into trouble relatively fast, especially since on Pandora, with his new Avatar body, he is able to run and use his legs which on Earth are paralyzed. As he is experimenting with his newfound freedom he meets the beautiful Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, a Na'vi huntress who shows him around and introduces him to the rest of the tribe as well as their culture, language and habits. As I'm sure you can imagine, a love story ensues and Jake's loyalty shifts rather quickly from his own race to that of the blue Na'vi's.

Pandora is magical. The jungle is lush and rich, teeming with life. Sights, sounds, and smells abound. There is an understanding between the people and the land, a harmony, a balance which is not exploited for profit as it is on Earth. Trees, plants, animals and the Na'vi coexist in peace and utmost respect. Trees are considered to have souls and nothing can be harmed, touched or disturbed. Each and every life, be it human, animal or plant is valued equally. This is no doubt alluring to us all, as we watch our own planet suffer from the ravages of our growth and absorb the great damages of our years of neglect.

Sigourney Weaver plays a tough talking scientist, unlikeable at first (she is even shown smoking cigarettes which has caused great controversy) but her true character unfolds and is revealed throughout the movie. She has a purpose and a mission, fighting against the capitalist exploiters from Earth who are trying to ruin Pandora and expel or kill the Na'vi peoples. Stunningly beautiful moments (some of my favorites were the spectacular scenes with the flying dragons) are mixed in with scenes of utmost destruction and devastation that leave you extremely saddened and horrified at what we are capable of. I have read that some theatergoers are leaving the movie with serious depression issues, wanting to leave our world to live on a planet like Pandora.

The story is simple, perhaps too simple, and themes like these have already been seen, but the movie is enchanting and the technical achievements and cinematography outstanding. The special effects are hard to put in words, they must be seen and experienced in 3D. This movie deserves a lot of the praise it is getting and is therefore a must-see. Personally I'm happy I saw it and although I wouldn't see it twice, can recognize its triumph. If it is seen as such it will be an enjoyable experience and it will be understandable why Cameron waited so long to come up with his next billion dollar blockbuster.

My rating: 7
Fabio's: 6.5
Total Score: 13.5

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Serious Man


A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers' latest film- not to be confused with A Single Man or with Solitary Man, also coming out this season- is a dark comedy set in the 1960's centering on Larry Gopnik, a mathematics and physics professor trying to cope with his rapidly deteriorating life. To say that things are falling apart is an understatement.

His wife decides to leave him and during an intervention with Larry and her new lover (the "serious man" from the title no less), explains to him that it would be best if he moved into a motel although she admits he has done nothing wrong. In addition, he has trouble at work with a Korean student who is trying to bribe him, looming financial woes, a brother who has moved in with the family and gets into major legal trouble, a son who seems like all he enjoys is smoking pot and only calls him to fix the TV or radio, and a daughter who just wants to go to clubs and wash her hair.

Larry is plagued by existential issues of wondering why all of this is happening to him and seeks help from three different rabbis. Why is "Hashem" (God) doing this to him? He is a good man. Why does Hashem think he deserves this? Larry is tormented. He is a smart man but clearly nothing is working out for him in life. He turns to Judaism for solutions and answers but finds no solace.

Larry's troubles are morbidly humorous and definitely bizarre as one would expect from the Coens. The opening scene of the movie is probably the weirdest of all- a prologue entirely in Yiddish shows a husband and wife arguing over whether their evening visitor is a man or an evil spirit, or "Dybbuk!!!" (you have to see it to understand). Throughout the film there are many scenes showing Jewish traditions and rituals, most are portrayed with irony and showcase a lot of neuroticism. One can imagine that the Coens lived through some of these moments themselves and that this is in more ways than one autobiographical, a return to the roots.

Although the movie raises some interesting philosophical and theological issues, I enjoyed it a lot less than Burn After Reading which I thought was laugh out loud funny, or No Country for Old Men whose extremely impressive acting, haunting score and uniqueness are no match to Serious Man. This movie has its fair share of absurd, amusing, off beat and tragic moments but it failed to captivate me. There is also no closure at the end which bothered Fabio more than it did me. I think it meant that life simply goes on but unfortunately I wasn't interested enough to really dwell on it.

My rating: 7
Fabio's: 6
Total score: 13

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Road


You have to know if you are preparing to see The Road to expect a very, very, very (did I already say very?) dark and bleak film. If you have read Cormac McCarthy's book of the same name you will already know to expect this but I prefer to warn nevertheless.

The Road (the book) was actually the first present Fabio ever gave me. I invited him over for dinner and he brought me a copy of it. Strange gift but let's try not to analyze it too much... I of course read it, eager to find some clues as to why he gave it to me. I did not find any, but instead read a stirring, eloquent, and magnificent tale of a father and a son, alone in the world after an untold apocalyptic event wipes out all of civilization as we know it.

Viggo Mortensen stars in this film and as usual gives himself 100% in his deep, rapt and physical portrayal of a desperately in love father who will do anything to protect his boy. The new world is littered with "bad guys" who will pillage, rape, torture and kill anything and anybody they find. There is no more light in this world, no more color, no more animals, no more normal people. Nobody can be trusted and one must keep moving on to survive. Viggo and his son are trying to reach the shore where they hope to find what they are looking for- life.

The art direction of the film is superb, portraying this desolate and grim world as I had imagined it from the book- gray, harsh, burned, austere and cold. Charlize Theron makes a few appearances as the boy's mother but only brief, as she gave up on this so called "life" and on a survival which she deemed futile.

There are scenes of great sadness, fear, and tragedy, but also of love and of hope. That is an outstanding feat to accomplish and this film does it in a very understated way. I would recommend to anyone to read the book (it's not very long) before seeing the movie in order to better understand it and gain more depth from the experience. While not as strong and gripping as the book, this is an excellent attempt at putting it on the screen and it will nonetheless terrify, overcome and impress you.

And why did Fabio give me a copy of The Road? Perhaps he could see into the future and wanted to tell me that he will be a really good dad to our yet to be born, and at the time yet to be conceived, son. I already know that he is right about that, but hopefully neither us nor him will ever know a world as sad as this one.

My rating: 6.5
Fabio's: 5.5
Total score: 12

Amreeka


Didn't post anything for a few days as we went to the Dr and found out we are having a boy!!!!! Very unexpected so we spent the last few days trying to find boys names! Coincidentally, the next two movies deal with the relationships first between a mother and her son, next between father and son.

First, I will review Amreeka, a movie I had read about a few months ago and was eager to see. I was pleasantly surprised as was Fabio at the realism of this film, the depth of the characters and the relevance and importance of the themes that are explored.

The movie tells the tale of a single mother named Muna and her teenage son Fadi, who, tired of the oppression in occupied Palestine (road blocks, constant checks), seize an opportunity to move in with Muna's sister and her husband in the United States.

Dreaming of a better life, they are however bitterly disappointed. Muna, who previously worked in a bank, can only obtain a job flipping burgers at White Castle, a fact that she hides from her entire family. Her sister drops her off every day in front of a bank where Muna pretends to work. Her shame in her job is great yet her pride is too high to borrow money from somebody. She lives to provide a good life and education for her son and her extreme care and gentleness are very touching and endearing.

The film follows Muna and Fadi's hardships and difficulties and one wonders if they will be able to happily assimilate. Some anti-Arab sentiment is revealed throughout the film and this is a struggle for Muna as she fled her homeland in order to escape persecution only to find it again. Without trying to give too much away, the movie does end on a positive note.

The acting is really superb. The entire cast does very well but Muna shines, and her sister stands out particularly as well. You really feel for what is happening and for the lives of the members of this family. This is a beautiful film that will stay with you. As the poster says, it's a journey with a lot of heart.

My rating: 7.5
Fabio: 7
Total: 14.5

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Moon

I don't even know where to begin for this review as I was so extremely disappointed by New Moon, the latest Twilight chapter. I saw the first episode of the Saga recently because everywhere I turned there was an article or pictures of Robert Pattinson and I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I enjoyed it, thought it was original and saw how it could appeal to a younger generation. I wasn't hooked and didn't necessarily feel the "twilight mania" but nevertheless wanted to see what would happen next and decided to watch the second installment. I even had some slight anticipation, and Fabio had lots (but shhhh that's a secret).

What an enormous letdown for both of us. Instead of building off of some of the tension and interesting elements of the first film, the sequel's plot is quasi non existent and the acting has managed to get worse. You hardly see Edward (Robert Pattinson), Bella's vampire love, as he leaves her early on in the film. He decides it is best for Bella if he and his family move out of Forks to spare her the danger of their presence. Bella is heartbroken and goes through a major teenage lovesick depression. The film then focuses on her childhood Indian friend Jacob Black in whom she tries to find comfort while still longing for Edward. But without wanting to give too much away, Jacob has some pretty bizarre secrets of his own...

The special effects are decent, the wolves quite cool, but the action sequences seem fake, there are no explanations for anything, no character development. The movie jumps from one scene to the next, particularly at the end, and I don't have other words and will not sugarcoat it- this movie is stupid. I was hoping to feel some love and passion between Bella and Edward and the result was zero.

This movie is a big, huge flop. Let's hope the next one is better and that people will still want to see it after this vampire and wolf wreck.

My rating: 2/10
Fabio's: 2/10
Total score: 4/20

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Boys Are Back


Ok, yes, I admit it and anyone who knows me can guess that what first attracted me to this movie was........ Clive Owen. However, I was impressed to see that this was a serious film and actually sounded very good from initial feedback. Clive Owen departs from more banal roles in recent thrillers such as The International or Duplicity to play a grieving widow and father of two. His intensity and naturalness are earning him lots of praise and talk of a first Oscar nomination.

Owen's character loses his wife to cancer very early on in the film and is faced with the task of raising their particularly rambunctious child on his own. To add to this, another son from his previous marriage comes from the UK to Australia to live with him and the boy.

Clive inhabits his role with ease, playing an understanding and tolerant father who lets his boys engage in unconventional activities (presumably to make up for their lack of a mother) but who can also become suddenly impatient and irritable under stress, taking some questionable decisions.

There are lots of sympathetic father/son scenes as well as endearing moments between the two half brothers. However it pains me to write that the movie failed to truly grip me or Fabio and merely coasts along, like a beautiful Australian landscape. An enjoyable film- touching but not moving, nice but not memorable.

My rating: 7/10
Fabio: 6/10
Total Score: 13/20

Friday, January 8, 2010

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?


Watched this film last night at Fabio's request, he had heard of it and I have to say I hadn't and know why. Although the title makes it sound like it will be interesting and it is directed and written by Morgan Spurlock from Super Size Me which was a very engaging, original film, Where in the World is neither of those.

It follows Morgan as he travels to the Middle East in search of- you guessed it- Osama Bin Laden. The movie takes you through many interviews with locals in Egypt, Israel, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and more. He asks them about their feelings towards America, and of course whether they know where OBL (as he calls him) is. None of these interviews yield any substantial, insightful or noteworthy remarks. The movie simply drags on and Morgan's mock quest seems pointless even for us to watch.

The movie is overly gimmicky and my impression was that it tried much too hard to do something that had already been done before. Certain parts reminded me of Bill Maher's Religulous which I thorougly enjoyed and actually saw 3 times. Similarly, Spurlock inserts some comedic elements into his scenes, a few of which I have to admit are funny. For instance he shows a page in Osama's diary which reads: 1. Clean Cave (this one is crossed out and done), 2. Kill all Infidels etc.; and on another page "I hate America", "I am bored today". This was the only moment where I actually laughed.

The big difference is that Religulous posed real questions and was much more historical, analytical and instructive. If you're looking for a film where the director already has his answers before he sets upon his search, Fahrenheit 9/11 or Capitalism: A Love Story (which I will be reviewing soon) are much stronger candidates. Fabio said "it is like a bad Michael Moore" and that pretty much sums it up.

My rating: 3/10
Fabio's: 5/10
Total: 8/20

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Hurt Locker


The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is getting fantastic critical reviews, some even calling it the best movie of last year. It has no famous actors (except for a very brief apparition by Ralph Fiennes) which is not to say that the acting is not strong.

The theme is the war in Iraq and it is a very realistic portrayal of the interactions between three soldiers stationed there as part of an elite bomb squad unit. There is lots of tension when they are dismantling bombs, especially during the opening scene which is by far the most dramatic. The remaining time disappointed me.

Unfortunately I was hoping for more from this film and instead found it tedious, slow and repetitive. I was dozing off and had a hard time getting involved and caring much about what was going to happen. The movie lacked plot and did not draw me in sufficiently.

It was very well directed from a technical standpoint and was a unique film in this regard, filmed in documentary style. But it is definitely a slow moving, war film and I hate to stereotype but probably more of a guy's movie. In fact you do not see a woman for 2 hours. I would not recommend this to any of my female friends; men might appreciate it more.

However, although Hurt Locker reminded Fabio of his time in the army, and he happens to be reading a book about the war in Iraq, he was also bored and said that in the same genre he much preferred Jarhead.
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My rating: 3/10
Fabio: 6/10
Total: 9/20

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Up in the Air


We watched Up in the Air yesterday, by director Jason Reitman (of Thank You for Smoking and Juno fame) with George Clooney and two great female actresses- Vera Farmiga playing George's love interest and Anna Kendrick as his overly zealous co-worker. It was nice to get to know these two new faces. I had not seen Vera in a film before though she looked familiar and you might recognize Anna from the Twilight Saga where she plays Jessica, Bella's friend.

The movie is a very fast paced, excellently written, quite dark comedy centering around Clooney's character and his job which is firing people whose bosses "don't have the balls to sack their own employees". The actors playing the "firees" are real life people who have been terminated, adding a certain poignancy to their candid interviews. There are some excellent one-liners that come of these which George delivers perfectly "try not to take this personally", "review this packet, I am sure you will find a lot of helpful information in it" etc. These scenes make for some extremely memorable moments and George excels in the cynical but casual portrayal of his character, delivering each line with a super size heaping of charm.

Vera is fantastic as his female counterpart and quasi clone of him, but I was most impressed with Anna and thought she did a terrific job maintaining her seriousness and composure during many of the firing scenes and hilarious interactions with George. One favorite of mine was when he forces her to change suitcases at the airport and to carry on instead of checking in- something he learned saves him about a week of time each year. While his luggage is always extremely neatly packed, each type of clothing having its own compartment, hers is overflowing with loose items and even a pillow. George proceeds to throw out half of her belongings as he tries to initiate her to his road warrior ways. He imparts some more wisdom when he tells her to always stand in line behind Asians, as they are quick and efficient. A pleasant relationship grows between them and it is nice to watch his character melt just a little bit.

Some of the banter between him and Vera is very funny but at times feels over scripted and not quite real, such as when they are comparing their elite status cards at their first meeting. I thought this was a bit overdone but entertaining nonetheless.

There is a lot of American Airlines and Hilton promotion but in counterpart Reitman got to shoot a lot of airport, airplane and hotel scenery for free. That's a pretty smart decision in these economic times so once you know that, the blatant placement doesn't get too much in the way.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable film, speaking very much to today's mood and spirit, easy to watch, with many laugh out loud moments. What could me more fun and humourous than to watch a company thriving on the misfortune of others. Things don't end so well for George's character Ryan Bingham however, as the holes and lack of performance in his own life are exposed throughout his journeys- no significant other, no children, weak ties with his family and worst of all, no place to call home.

Fabio and I both definitely recommend this film and give it a whopping 9/10!

First blog- introduction

Hi, my name is Paulina and I hope that you will enjoy reading my movie reviews! Here is a little bit about who I am and why I started this blog.

I recently moved to Switzerland where I live in a tiny village inhabited by more cows than people... Considering I lived my whole life between Paris and New York City you can see how that could be a bit problematic. On the flip side, I have a great fiance, the best dog in the world (a yellow lab named Chloe) and I am pregnant. I couldn't ask for anything more- well, besides less cows and cow smells.

To fill up some free time I have been watching A LOT of movies- at least one a day. I keep track of them and of those that I want to see so I figured it wouldn't hurt to post some reviews to spare people the pain of watching some really bad ones and to encourage you to see the great ones!
I will try to post one review daily. I watch most of the movies with my husband to be, Fabio, so sometimes I will give his opinion too although we are usually quite in sync with our taste. If not, it will make for some fun discussions!

We will use a 1-10 ranking system, 1 being very, very bad, 5 being mediocre and 10 being the absolute best movie in the world. Hopefully we will have a lot of those!

I wish you all fun reading this, lots of pleasure viewing the films and a very happy new year!

Paulina, reporting from snowy but sunny Switzerland