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, 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


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


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, 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, 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


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