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The Wrestler

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 1 April 2009 04:34 (A review of The Wrestler)

I never thought that I would type these words: I wanted Mickey Rourke to win the Oscar. After years of slumming his quirky and strange talent in B-movies and straight-to-DVD trash, he has returned in a big way. He looks like hell, he sounds like hell, and he's lovable for being so simplistic. Yet he is handicapped emotionally, and, should he continue to wrestle, physically. It is not quite the autobiographical film that everyone claims it is, although that is there, but a complicated, moving and depressing portrait of someone who time passed by. It is not entirely a one-man show since Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood have big emotional impacts, despite very limited screen time. Wood only has two scenes, but they are both emotionally devastating for very different reasons. The first is during Randy's hopeless bid to reconnect with his daughter, she seems receptive to it. They talk about the past, her general uneasiness about his latest promise, his tears to show that he is genuine. They agree to meet for dinner and begin to rebuild. He fails to show up after partying too hard. She is let down once more and casts him out of her house, and life forever. Tomei, bravely bearing all in her mid-forties and looking damn fine still, plays the stripper, who functions as the female equivalent to Randy. Time has passed her by, she is in a career that is more artifice then reality, and, at times, she seems to forget which is which. Their scenes are humorous, sad, touching and complicated.

Darren Aronofsky is very easily the next contender for auteur director of his generation. His aesthetic shows the pain in life. Violence is in escapable in this film, for obvious reasons. But it's the emotionally damaging scenes which hit harder. But Aronofsky is also adapt at showcasing the quieter moments. The horrifying reunion of former wrestlers, an assemblage of Frankenstein's monsters rejects complete with medical devices and steroid caused misshapen bodies, shows the eventually horrors to come. But it is not played for shock or for laughs. Randy is looking around and begins to notice that his fate will be theirs if he doesn't stop soon. Or the scenes where the wrestlers gather backstage, listen to the roster, go over what is plausible in the fight and what is not, and practice certain moves. There's a strange balletic movement to all of this, and it is endlessly fascinating.

This was easily one of the greatest films of the past year, and it's a shame it didn't get as much recognition as it deserved. But it is not the underdog-conquers-all storyline that some think it is. I have a feeling that while Randy wins the rematch, he won't be basking in glory for much longer. Rocky this is not.

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 1 April 2009 04:15 (A review of Doubt)

To watch Doubt is to engage in a mental game of "Who do you believe? And why?" and to watch some of the greatest actors currently working playing off of each other. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep do, at times, resort to Acting! but it comes from a very natural place. Their characters are distrustful of each other, and are quick to engage in banter, fights and explosive arguments before this movie even begins. The history of the characters, the way the actors imbue the characters with a sense of a fully lived life is remarkable. The most obvious showcase of this being Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller. She has two scenes, and is the most crucial character in the movie. She comes in from the outside world, and shows that sometimes things appear one way, but are infinitely more complex then what we think they really are. And Amy Adams holds her own, finding the perfect balance between the naive, sweet Sister James and the more complicated, sad, disturbed emotions she feels beneath the nun clothing. Did Father Flynn do it? I don't think so. What is Sister Aloysius doubting at the end? I think it could be several things. I love that this movie engages you and makes you think from the very beginning of the first frame to the last. How rare is that these days? Now that is a question worth discussion.

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 1 April 2009 03:45 (A review of Milk)

For me, Milk was easily the best film of last year's Academy Awards run. Slumdog was an overrated Indian version of a Charles Dickens story, and Frost/Nixon and The Reader were inexplicably nominated, in my opinion. Only Benjamin Button and Milk touched me out of the top five, but Button didn't touch me as much as Milk did. Sean Penn smiles! That alone should have gotten him the Oscar nomination. And while he did win, and I have no problem with his win, a part of me did want to see Mickey Rourke take it home. But that is getting away from the main point. Penn delivers not an impression, which would have been too easy for an actor his depth and talents, but an immersion into Harvey Milk. Emerging close enough to the real person to make us believe that he is him, but creating enough of a character to make us understand why he was so beloved. The rest of the cast follows his lead, and every person involved looks like their real-life counterpart and captures enough of their charm, intelligence, bravery, etc. and uses that to form their own character. How did this lose the Best Ensemble SAG?

But a cast is only as good as the direction and writing of the film. And a good director can make them rise above even a below average script. Luckily, Gus Van Sant is a fantastic director. Gus Van Sant proves himself, once more, to be a modern day master. An auteur, if you will. He is a virtuoso. Yes, for a few years his wunderkind indie-kid cred was dented by a string of mainstream lackluster fair, but after going back to his roots he has come out swinging and delivers one of his greatest films. The integration of real-life footage (Anita Bryant's vitriol speaks for itself) and the filmed footage is seamless.

And, luckily, they also have a wonderful screenplay to work with. Human Rights are still an issue. It will be a timeless issue. Harvey Milk is but one of the numerous players in the movement of change and hope. Obama consciously, or unconsciously, evokes much of this film's message. Audacity of hope, indeed. The emotional uplift at the end, a combination of tears and a yearning for a better tomorrow, could have been given to these actors and this director from a great screenplay. It's a shame that everyone drank the Slumdog kool-aid.

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 1 April 2009 03:31 (A review of Vicky Cristina Barcelona)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or Woody Allen’s loving tribute to Spain. And neurotic and screwed up artists. If the movie had focused on Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) and Juan Diego (Javier Bardem), we might have had a neo-Woody classic, but instead he chose to focus on his latest masturbatory nubile young obsession. It’s not that Scarlett Johansson isn’t talented, she is, the same goes for Rebecca Hall, but the characters they’re stuck with just aren’t as engaging as the two artists (they're like two female versions of Woody). Or perhaps a film about the two of them would have been too sexual and dangerous? I don’t know. Penelope Cruz did justly win her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her committed take on Sophia Loren-as-Frida Kahlo, I mean, Maria Elena. She comes into the film towards the very end, but she packs a crazed, delicious energy which the rest of the breezy, but too light film could have used.

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 1 April 2009 03:17 (A review of Lolita)

Let’s get the big elephant in the room out of the way first: no film adaptation will ever be as good as the novel Lolita. The first half hour, give or take, does come close to matching the seductive, sumptuous, comic and doomed narrative of the novel. And shortly thereafter, Adrian Lyne decides he wants to stop making a luscious and vivid adaptation and make an overly stylized intriguing mess of a film instead. It’s not Jeremy Irons’ fault, he seems expertly cast as Humbert. Something about his posh, clipped tones and deep rumbles in his voice suite the character. His hollow eyed gloom also works wonders. And he’s made a career out of playing sexual creeps. And Dominique Swain is decent enough as Dolores Haze, a.k.a. Lolita. She’s precocious and tomboyish enough to fit the bratty contours of the character, and was a pretty enough child actress yet something is still wrong about her. Perhaps it’s that she was closer to fifteen when the film was made, and dangerously close to being out of nymphet range. Something about her seems too old and world-weary. Their relationship is a good symbol for what is wrong with the movie. Irons representing the surface perfection involved and Swain how everything is slightly off despite being so expertly realized, or maybe Lolita is one of those books that is just not filmable. Heaven forbid anyone should pick up the novel.

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Posted : 9 years ago on 15 March 2009 07:03 (A review of Dreamgirls)

Perfunctory. There's something I thought I'd never type about a musical. But, chances are, if Beyonce is your lead actress, you should know that you're in trouble. On a technical level, everything is top notch. The director is fine, the musical numbers are appealing, the score is decent (only one truly memorable song, but decent none-the-less), costumes are flashy, production design looks accurate enough. Perhaps it is the uneven nature of the film that keeps it from being greatness. Jamie Foxx looks like he's sleepwalking throughout, Beyonce is wooden and has no ability to emote when not singing, Anika Noni Rose and Sharon Leal are both good but underused, and Eddie Murphy is overrated as he recycles his James Brown impression from his days on SNL. Yes, it truly is Jennifer Hudson's show, and, yes, she deserved every accolade and piece of hype she got. When she is on-screen, there is a fire, pep and energy that is sorely lacking from the rest of the film. However, her placement as a supporting character is an obvious result of studio politics. Her role is more of a lead. Which leads me back to Beyonce (and her inability to form a facial expression) in the musical sequences. When she has to sing, she soars. The back-and-forth with Hudson, when sung, is wonderful. When they have to go back-and-forth doing just dialogue, Hudson chews her up, spits her out, and walks away with all of the praise that Beyonce was obviously aiming for. Face it, it's Hudson's show, and when she's not around, it sinks. Which is a little like the musical numbers -- either set them in real life (like most musicals), or set them in the recording studios/stages (like Cabaret or A Star Is Born!), but don't do both. You can't have it both ways. Never before has a movie seemed so eager to please yet failed. Perfunctory.

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Paris When It Sizzles

Posted : 9 years ago on 15 March 2009 06:34 (A review of Paris When It Sizzles)

The problem with a title like Paris When It Sizzles is that the movie has to sizzle. Sadly, this one doesn't. Fluffy, watchable and inconsequential in equal doses, it never takes full use of the immense talents from both of the leads. Hepburn is positively lovely -- she never could be anything less, even if she tried to be (it's still not one of her great performances). Holden, in contrast, was never meant to do the "screwball comedy" or "zany leading man" types. He was always better in darker, more psychological roles. Here he looks like he's sleepwalking throughout much of the film, too busy boozing it up and leering at Hepburn. The premise is interesting, and, at times, the setups are very amusing, but they never properly come together to make a coherent film. Amusing, but confused. Skip this and go for greater films and performances from both performers. Roman Holiday would do nicely if you're looking for another romantic comedy from Hepburn (less zany, more elegant romance and travelogue), or Sabrina for a mature romantic comedy starring Hepburn and Holden, or Born Yesterday for another romantic comedy from Holden (this one with a political context).

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Jagged Little Pill Acoustic

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 14 February 2009 08:20 (A review of Jagged Little Pill Acoustic)

Jagged Little Pill Acoustic might not reveal anything new about the songs, but it does showcase that these were songs of tremendous pain, sorrow, regret, remorse and unanswered questions. They are much more complicated than the “angry woman” label that was placed onto them. That was always there to begin with, and, as such, this won't reveal that. But maybe a few of the non-die-hards will hear it and understand that finally. “You Oughta Know” has always been a song more of hurt, pain and betrayal then complete and utter aggression and rage. In a stripped down arrangement, that can finally be understood by the masses. “Hand In My Pocket” might actually be an improvement upon the original. The song always seemed to belong in a coffee house setting being performed by some earnest folk-pop ingénue. And Alanis isn’t above performing a little retroactive rewriting; “Ironic” now has her dream-loving introducing her to his beautiful husband. This is why we gays love her, always out there supporting the cause. There are lots of Eastern-influenced strings, shocking, I know! And it is really just the original album in a mellower, more Eastern-influence folk-pop arrangement (a modern day Joni Mitchell record?). It won’t have much to offer the general public, but die-hards will now have the option of playing Jagged Little Pill in the original more aggressive version, or the more mellow and contemplative remake. Both have something unique to offer, and they work as nice complements to each other. Odd final note, “Your House” is entirely a cappella on the original, and now it has an acoustic arrangement. Weird. DOWNLOAD: “Hand in My Pocket”

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Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 4 February 2009 10:23 (A review of Congo)

Normally, pulp fiction, no matter how trashy or classy, entertains me. However, as with anything in life, there are numerous exceptions. Congo is one. Crichton, the populist pseudo-realistic science-fiction writer, can normally weave an entertaining storyline throughout his junk-food yearns. Something has gone amiss with this book though. I remember reading it, so I know that I did read it, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember a damn thing about numerous aspects of it. Besides it being terrible, that is. Pulp fiction, no matter how dressed-up and well-polished, should never be boring or forgettable. I remember that there was a signing chimp who spoke with a computer gizmo that acted like a high-tech speak-and-spell, something or other about blood diamonds, and mutant gorillas who got really pissy if anyone went near their diamonds. It all sounds well and good, but in putting the parts together Crichton never made it congeal. Crichton’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink traps for our intrepid heroes don’t disguise his inability to create plausible, interesting, or believable characters(perils which Amazon.com told me included the following: cannibals, angry hippos, guided missles, and a rival German-Japanese team. Nice to see the WWII propaganda still going strong). And I remember there being unique and provocative questions at the beginning of the book that got jettisoned halfway through and never brought back. For shame Michael, for shame. By this time you should have known better, and you have committed one of the greater literary sins: failure to develop genuine storytelling. Set pieces do not a novel make. Especially if the set pieces aren't particularly interesting.

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The B-52's

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 29 January 2009 06:09 (A review of The B-52's)

The B-52’s self-titled debut is one strange and colorful record, which should be fairly obvious by the Warhol-ish early-60s cover design and color palette. I imagine at the time songs about made-up dances and boogie dancing undersea life were very confusing, especially since exceedingly long, extremely pretentious rockers were hogging all of the airwaves. In fact, even given a New Wave context…these songs are still weird. Yes, the New Wave was all about merging dance, punk, and making a fashionable statement all at the same time, but none of them came out swinging with 50s sci-fi obsessions, b-movie story lines, and kewpie doll vocals. And a lot of the New Wavers were ironists. Blondie, ever the ironists, wanted to combine a punk aesthetic with 60s pop. But they could also perform a straight-up rocker when they wanted to. The B-52’s, closely related to Blondie but still vastly different, couldn’t keep their tongues out of their cheeks if their lives depended on it. But, let’s be honest, these songs are just fun. There isn’t a dull one in the bunch, and while, yes, they are exceedingly strange, it’s kitsch. Don’t over think it. Just play it loud and dance around. Even if it premiered in today’s context, of which we are ironic kitsch lovers, The B-52’s would still be one weird little dance album. And isn’t that why we love them? DOWNLOAD: “Dance This Mess Around”

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