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After the mad rush surrounding the Oscar Nominations from late last year and a bushel of great movies like “No Country for Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Into the Wild,” “Away from Her,” “Juno,” “La Vie En Rose” “The Kite Runner,” “Once,” “Lars and the Real Girl, “Atonement,” and others, there was a dry spell that lasted too long. Sometimes the selection of interesting movies is like a banquet table. There’s so many choices, it’s hard to decide. Other times, I can’t find even one movie of interest at my largest local multiplex, the AMC Oakview Plaza 24 (with stadium seating and popcorn that has become far too expensive). And that coming from a guy that has fairly eclectic taste in movies.
These capsules should be looked at, not as reviews, but as one guy’s brief summary from which you should feel free to comment:
Smart People – Just released, it’s fair and could have been better. It features characters that are depressed for nearly the entire movie. I don’t mind characters that are depressed, especially if they have some redeeming qualities and somehow learn something or grow, but this movie showed the characters rather one-dimensionally. Further, they were one dimensional stereotypes, which makes for predictable movie watching. Ellen Page, the young pistol from the the movie Juno, played a similar character in Smart People–smart, cranky, witty, but slightly toned down from the Juno character.
Things We Lost in the Fire – Excellent. Highly recommended. Performances by Halle Berry and especially Benicio Del Toro were exceptional. That guy can act. In a role that could have easily produced a performance that was over the top, Del Toro’s character was restrained and throttled. There were some slow moments, but overall it was a realistic, honest picture. In contrast to the characters in Smart People, this movie featured characters with nuance and shades of gray. Because they reveal themselves, I hoped good things for them. The movie follows the journey of two main characters and their responses to life altering events. It’s directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who uses interesting close-ups to punctuate deeply felt emotion. I was so impressed by her direction that I ordered Brothers, another Bier directed film and the winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Audience Prize.
Martian Child – Better than I expected. As learned later, the reviews weren’t flattering, but I really enjoyed it. John Cusack rarely disappoints. His characters are usually so darn likable. His real life sister Joan Cusack plays his on-screen sister. As a father that raised a son with a disability, the movie resonated deeply with me. It has a lot to say about loyalty and finding the value in people, even when it isn’t immediately apparent, or even when it takes a lot of digging, encouraging, or a lot of whatever. My experience has been that the deeper one digs, the more good one finds. Love removes obstacles that prevent people from thriving. Cusack’s character adopts a little boy who believes he’s from Mars, but ironically, it’s a movie that is remarkably human.
Namesake – I really enjoyed it. I’m giving it an 8, on a 1 to 10 scale. Even through it was an Indian produced, directed, and acted film, there were a lot of universal themes. Ethnic cultural protocol is often more global than might initially be thought. With grace and dignity, the movie tracks the life of one family. There’s beauty in the scenery, and beauty in the love and caring of family members, though it’s not always demonstrative. Like Things We Lost in the Fire, issues of regret are one of the major themes found in this movie.
Stranger Than Fiction – It’s one I totally blew off when it was in the theaters. Will Ferrell benefits from a first rate script and good supporting performances from the other cast members and turns in a great performance himself which is far afield from his comedic tendencies. It’s a new twist on the often tried “writer becomes part of the narrative” conceit. It’s an amalgam of genres, containing elements of comedy, romance, drama, and fantasy. It’s sweet, intelligent, and weighty; by weighty, I mean that there are important moral questions that the respective characters confront. And they aren’t wrapped up in resolution with pretty paper and bows.
Stardust – I didn’t enjoy Stardust as much as I expected. I thought it came off of the rails a few times. There were too many special effects and too many characters that were too poorly developed. In short, it was hard to follow. It was a decent idea that could have been done better. I thought the young Cox actor was very good, as was Michelle Pheiffer. On the ol’ 1 to 10 scale, Im giving it a 5 or 6.
Gone, Baby Gone – It’s the Ben Affleck directed movie. Casey Affleck starred and it was, by a wide margin, the best performance I’ve seen from him–ever. It is a very good movie, which could have exploited parents’ fears more than it did. It was a tad too long, but still good. Ben Affleck might be a better director than he is an actor, which is both a compliment and a little jab.
The Bucket List – Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It was better than I expected but not as good as it could have been. Both actors pretty much played to type in this life and death flick.
Shane – It’s a classic western starring Alan Ladd. For a western, it was surprisingly nuanced and ambiguous. Like many Westerns, there’s the obvious question of right and wrong, yet with Shane, there are many questions bubbling underneath. It’s far more sophisticated than most Westerns. Ladd’s character is subdued and a man of few words, so we are forced to judge him by his actions, which are often noble. Yet we also learn that he has a notorious past. He’s a man of mystery, but also great good. Where does he come from? Where is he going? What motivates his actions? It’s questions like these that separate it from standard western fare and place it on Top 100 lists.
Left Field Documentaries, Otherwise Known as Netflix Specials That I’ve Seen Recently:
49 Up – The latest installment of an English sociological documentary in which a group of British people are interviewed every seven years, beginning at age seven, for a fascinating take on life, love, and human nature. The idea is incredibly fascinating. The work tracks the ups and downs of these people’s lives and puts them on display every seven years. In 1964, Michael Apted interviewed a group of 7-year-old kids in England, all from different backgrounds and with big dreams, and has tracked their lives every seven years since. I don’t think riveting is too strong a word to use. Whether you are a trained sociologist or just intrigued by the way in which human dreams play out, you will find this film engrossing.
Mr. Death: Fred A. Leuchter Jr. – Bizarre. Bizarre. Bizarre. It’s about an engineer that designed electric chairs and other capital punishment methods–ultimately losing his career when he researches the Holocaust gas chambers claiming the Holocaust did not happen. This is one of the most off-beat films I’ve ever seen. I watched it with my son because my wife–well, there’s no way she would have been able to watch it all. We alternately laughed until we quite literally couldn’t breath and watched our jaws drop to the floor in sync with the sheer absurdity of it all.
Unknown White Male – Filmmaker Rupert Murray tells the true story of Doug Bruce, a man who woke up on a New York subway with no clues as to who he was, other than a random phone number and a British accent. It’s the worst kind of amnesia called retrograde amnesia. For the person that has it, it’s as if their entire past has been erased. They literally don’t remember who they are. Friends and family are strangers. If one is a believer, are they still a believer if they do not recollect why or how they believe? This provocative documentary explores the nature of identity with a real life subject that you won’t soon forget.
Have I missed anything? Which of these have you seen? Whether your take is different or similar to mine, post away. What have you seen and do you recommend that isn’t on my list? Your interaction is valued and appreciated. Without it, these posts don’t mean much, so please jump right in.
In The Rabbit Room, we toss around words like beauty and truth like chicken feed on the farm but ultimately, that’s the structure by which most of us hope to frame the art that we view. It’s what moves us. It’s at the very heart of why we invest $18.00 each month in a Netflix membership, or join a book club, visit an art gallery, or stare at the moon like a lover. It’s the very heart of who we are and how we were created.