Monday, September 30, 2013

Two Movies About Venice: One Good, One Bad

While most of my reviews tend to be about movies currently in theaters, I frequently retreat to the back alleys of Netflix in attempts to watch things that I've never seen before. This past week, in a strange twist of events I ended up watching two different movies both set in the Italian waterscape of Venice. Since they both had this in common, but had completely different subject matter, I'd thought I'd take the opportunity to contrast them.

Bread and Tulips

The plot of this movie reminded me a lot of Shirley Valentine (which I would also highly recommend). I'm not exaggerating when I say that I found this little gem on Netflix two years ago and it's been waiting patiently in my queue ever since. Well last week I finally got bored enough with cable to check it out and it was really cute.

Kind and somewhat meek housewife Rosalba is on a bus tour of Italy with her family (they are all Italian, btw; this is an Italian film). After dropping her wedding ring in a rest stop toilet and having to fish it out, she takes so long in the restroom that the bus leaves without her--and her family doesn't even notice! Deciding to show them she then decides to hitch-hike home and have a staycation while she waits for her family to return home. But after one of the drivers spills that he's heading to Vince (where she's never been), she decides to tag along and see the city for herself. After finding (platonic) residence with a sad older man named Fernando, getting a job with a local florist, and connecting with neighbor Grazia, Rosalba gets back in touch with a side of herself that she hasn't seen in a while. As she drifts further into finding herself, however, an angry husband gets suspicious of what exactly it is that keeps her in Venice and away from her family.

So he hires this would-be detective to bring her back.
With mixed results.

This movie was really sweet. Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) is kind of a klutz and a bit of a dreamer when with her family in the beginning. But seeing her interact, almost like a child, with the crotchety/sad/manic residents of Venice is just very sweet. And her impact on the people that she encounters seems to do them all extreme good. Almost seems like a reversed coming-of-age movie, instead of the usual dreary sense of accepting adult duties, Rosalba needs to remember what it is from her childhood that made her happy and return to those things. The mystical realism in this, as well, is really quirky. Rosalba's frequented by nightly visitors that suggest her subconscious and picking apart what these interactions mean is fun.


Bread and Tulips offers a beautiful image of Venice as a magical city that enables you to discover yourself. The magic in this movie is tangible and sweet and it comes full circle at the end in such a gratifying way it almost feels like a kid's movie. 7 outa 10.

Don't Look Now

Woof. Okay. So after I watched this entire movie and still found myself saying "whaaaaat...just happened..." I wikipedia'ed it and it looks like we've got a classic case of Ulysses Syndrome. But I'll get into that later. First, plot:

They really should've discussed who got sole 
custody of this haircut...

Mr. and Mrs. John Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, respectively) have been rocked by the sudden accidental death of their daughter, Christine. So, just like any normal couple would do, they move to Venice. Duh. One day, while having lunch at some cafe, Mrs. Baxter bumps into two elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be clairvoyant. As Mr. Baxter waits for Mrs., unalarmed, for what seems like an hour to come out of the bathroom (maybe men had no idea what girls did in the bathroom in the 70s?), the clairvoyant lady tells her that her daughter was standing behind them while they were eating and she was laughing. Not creepy at all, right? So this apparently gives Mrs. Baxter a whole big sense of closure and clarity that her daughter's alright and then the movie ended.

I wish.

Then strange things happen, including them seeing a child running around in a raincoat similar to Christine's, John Baxter almost falling twenty feet from some scaffolding, him imagining that he saw his wife when she'd just taken off that morning to go see their son (who apparently exists 45 min in) and a bunch of random stuff that doesn't seem to have any correlation to one central plot. Also weird (and somewhat harrowing) were a graphic sex scene to the tune of 60s jazz flute, a drowned girl randomly being pulled out of the canal, and REPEATED OFFENSES OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE WITHOUT SUBTITLES.


If there's one thing I don't like to feel during a movie, it's confusion.

I have seen art films before and I find them interesting, knowing that they're art films. But this...thing doesn't seem to sway one way or the other. With classic 60s flute jazz and sweeping soundtrack contrasting a very bleak and cold-looking Venice, there isn't hardly any clarity or emotional investment to this movie.

Oh man. Hope you don't fall. I feel so connected to your
curly-coifed character that--ohh look, I found a quarter...

But apparently I'm missing all of the humongous themes in it like (according to Wikipedia's article):
"its primary focus is on the psychology of grief, and the effect the death of a child can have on a relationship. Its emotionally convincing depiction of grief is often singled out as a trait not usually present in films featuring supernatural plot elements" [Which is totally bullshit to mine eyes because what thriller revolving around the loss of a child DOESN'T feature a depiction of grief? Hellooooo? Pet Sematary, Dark Water, The Others, The Changeling, I could go on. Maybe this is the first example? But come on...]

Classic case of what I would like to call The Ulysses Syndrome. English nerds everywhere should already know what I'm talking about.
Ulysses, a book by James Joyce, is split down the middle between people that absolutely abhor its bewildering unexplained narrator/style/content changes and people that claim it as the smartest and most fascinating thing that they've ever seen. Seems like I'm part of the former half of people on this movie. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I did not like this one.

Don't Look Now. More like Don't Watch Ever. 4 outa 10 (an added point only because I feel stupid for not realizing it had a higher agenda).

Also, Donald Sutherland, I'm sorry but no one wants to see you naked. Not even 40 years ago. 

Even the trailer doesn't make any freakin' sense....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Prisoners: In More Ways Than One

So upon the request of one of my friends, I went and saw Prisoners last night. I'll be surprised if it doesn't win some kind of an award.

Especially the prestigious "Sports Trophy"
(thank you, Google Images)

The plot, if you haven't seen any of the previews, revolves around two sets of parents whose respective daughters disappear, the cop who is trying to find the two little girls, two murder suspects, and a few other characters that supplement the story. What essentially happens is that on Thanksgiving Day, the two little girls run from the one's house to the other's looking for a whistle that has gone missing. They're supposed to bring their siblings so that they can be chaperoned, but they neglect to tell their siblings where they're going. When their parents notice that they're missing, they call the police. The police give the case to Detective Loki, who then goes after and arrests the only suspect, a man with the IQ of a ten-year-old. But when there isn't any evidence to support his being kept there, they have to let him go.  Furious at the freedom of the man who he's sure has taken his daughter, the one father, Keller (played by Hugh Jackman), decides to take matters into his own hands to get the location of the two girls from this man's mouth.  The ensuing movie is a complex and intricate thriller that is utterly fascinating.

These guys man...

First off, the casting in this is fantastic, as is the acting. Keller's passionate presence as a man of faith who takes it upon himself to rescue his little girl resonates. When he kidnaps the guy on the basis of a few pieces of circumstantial evidence, you're as sure as he is that the guy took his little girls. But as the plot unfolds, other suspects enter the picture, and things change, you begin to wonder if the guy Keller is torturing really IS the killer. 

Are you a kidnapper or not!?

Jake Gyllenhaal is MESMERIZING as Detective Loki (teehee, Loki...) trying to solve this case and find these two girls, representing a total foil (or contrast, non-English nerds) to the character of Keller. Where Keller is emotional and impulsive, Loki is slow and tactical. Even though he has is own emotions that crack through at times (especially towards the end), the film gives you a firsthand look at how difficult it is to be a cop during this kind of case. Additionally, it's so refreshing to see Gyllenhaal as a serious character that has to be stoic and not just his typical dreamer persona. If he had reservations about doing this movie because of its similarity to his character in Zodiac he needn't have worried, because even though they're both cops, there's no hint of that daydreamery good guy in this. Loki is a cop doing his job damnit, and he'll be damned if he doesn't find these girls.

I ain't no pansy daydreamery guy

Not only the performances, but also the overall story in this is incredible. Even though the one thing that bugged me about it was the fact that it's 3 hours long, it's pretty damn watchable for being so long. It reminded me a lot of the kinds of plot twists and intrigue that you see in Silence of the Lambs. While there is a physical search going on for these girls, the lens is also turned onto the the psychological anguish of the two main characters. So not only does the title Prisoners refer to the two girls and the captive man, but also to the fact that these guys are prisoners of their own actions and minds, trapped within their own thought processes.

So wow, that was a very deep post, but then again, it was also a very serious and deep movie. Y'all should go see it (if you can handle it, that is, because honestly, parts of it were really sad and upsetting). Lots of fun plot twists!!

9 outa 10. I only wish it hadn't been so long.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Congratulations to Amanda Plagge, who has won the esteemed $25 Fandango gift card! Good job and thanks for entering!!

Preview of the real thing ^

Monday, September 16, 2013

Happy: Where Does It Come From and How Can We Get It?

Just watched a fantastic documentary that I found on Netflix called Happy. The film explores what it is that makes human beings happy, exploring international cultures and taking a look at scientific research,  as well as turning the lens back on the USA.

Here are some fascinating things that I learned from this movie, in no particular order:

-Only 10% of happiness depends on things like money, material comfortability and the like. By contrast, about 50% (FIFTY PERCENT) of happiness relies on genetics. The remaining 40% is up to you.

-Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, which could possibly have something to do with nationalized education and healthcare, but they also look into examining something call house-sharing, which is a bit like living in a commune or hostel. Everyone has their own small house but they share meals and grow up under one roof.

Looks like this.

-Japan is one of the most hardworking countries in the world, which can sometimes lead to fatalities. After WWII and having to rebuild their economy from scratch, they were pushed to optimum efficiency. But that has taken an ugly turn, as in recent years they've even developed a new word ("karoshi") to mean literal death by stress.

-Interestingly enough, Japan's island Okanawa is home to more centurions than any other one place in the world. Studies show that it may have something to do with the fact that most are farmers, that they are surrounded constantly by family and friends, and that they have strong heritage roots.

-Bhutan is a country that is looking to boost its economy not by producing a massive GDP but by promoting national cultural identity.

Yep, I had no idea where Bhutan was either. Here it is!

-Materialism works as a treadmill. Once you gain more money, you quickly become accustomed to a new level of wealth, you raise the bar on your personal status quo, and you will forever be dissatisfied with how much you have because you can always have more.

-People do really good when really bad things happen. Adversity can help us to reach our full potential and helps us to count our blessings and realize what we have, thus making us more happy.

People are amazing.

-Counting the things that you are grateful for each week can make you happier.

-Throughout the movie, they talk about different things that human beings can do to boost happiness. Suggestions, backed by research that I don't have time or energy to rewind to, include doing community service (as helping other people helps us feel good about ourselves), having strong ties to friends and family, changing routine (anything as little as going a different route home to something as big as moving to Thailand), optimizing "flow" (what some refer to as "being in the zone" or concentrating really hard on a task that needs to be done), and doing things that you enjoy.

Really really fascinating movie that helps remind you that the economy isn't everything.

8 outa 10.

If you want to get more happiness in your life, the film has a website (here) that proposes a list of activities that you can integrate into your daily life to boost your own happiness. Good luck :)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Insidious Chapter 2: Because Apparently the First One was Chapter 1

In preparation for the newest Insidious movie, Nick and I turned on the first one as a refresher before our 10:40 screening of the sequel. Now, the first time I saw Insidious, I had been warned that it was some really freakin' scary stuff. And I got really scared. And it may have colored the movie for me. Maybe a little bit. But the thing that I like about this franchise (as, let's be honest, it will probably become after breaking the box office this weekend) is the element of the unknown. That being said, I think that the newest one is a little more conventionally scary than the last one was. But we'll get to that later.


First off, plot:

The second film starts off right where the first one left off. That is, right after Elyse has been murdered. They even give you a convenient little recap of all of the events that happen in the last scene of the first one. So you see, once again, the wife looking, horrified, at the camera and finding Elyse dead. But after being questioned by the police, things seem to go pretty much back to normal for the family. For, like, a day. After both Renai and Lorraine start seeing entities in the house again, questions start to arise about Josh's personality. Is he being dismissive because he wants to move on? Or is there something in him that has a more INSIDIOUS agenda? (See what I did there?) After her suspicions are enforced by her worried son, Dalton, who can also sense that something is wrong with his father, they join forces with Lorraine, Elyse's team from the original film, and a new character named  to get to the bottom of what is haunting Josh and, more importantly, how they can stop it.

You ain't my daddy!

This movie was pretty scary. I was afraid to open doors when I got home because of all the freakin' jumps and random spirits that keep popping up everywhere. The cool thing about Insidious 2, is that you're already a little primed for the action that you're going to get because of the first movie. But don't get me wrong, there are a lot of twists and turns in this one that the original doesn't have. For instance, instead of "it's not your house that's haunted, it's your son," as the big shocker, there are a dozen little things that are going on in this one that almost make it seem more "thriller" than the first film felt. While there is undeniably something wrong with Josh, it takes almost the entire film to sort out the fine details and try to solve the problem.

"Are you really Josh? You can tell me. I promise I won't say anything."

Insidious 2 was, on the whole, pretty good. The only complaint that I would have is the ghosts. With the slight genre change, there also seems to be a different way that these ghosts interact with the living than in the first one. While we see agression and yelling from the creepy things in the first movie, the ghosts in this second installment seem to be a bit more articulate, and with more meaningful plot lines. I can't decide whether this helps or hurts the movie. It's almost more terrifying to have to deal with spirits that can't remember how to reason than with ones that are mercilessly messing with you on purpose. At the same time, it makes the mystery all that much more personal once they finally figure it out.

PS it has to do something with this person.

Bottom line: the way the plot unfolds is an improvement over the first one, but the main haunters in this movie are not as scary as the ones in the original.

7 outa 10. Pretty good horror movie, especially for a sequel.



As blogger of the blog, I'd like to say thanks to everybody that has ever skimmed a page to look at the hilariously witty captions I put under my pictures, to any nerd who has ever gone the extra mile to check out hyperlinks that I've embedded, to anyone who scrolled to the bottom to just get the star values already because there are too many words on this damn post, and basically anyone that has ever clicked the URL to read these entries. Even if you ever clicked it by accident, I want to let you know that I'll always think of you as a person that actually read the whole post. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

So to all of you, let me just say:

Now, then. More importantly: PRIZES.

To enter the giveaway for a $25 Fandango Gift Card, simply enter below. If you'd like to earn an extra point in your favor, feel free to take the provided survey too (if it's actually in there, because it didn't show up in the preview and I've never used this site before!)!

The Giveaway that Could Lead to a Free Date Night. Think about it.

And tune in (does that phrase apply here...?) for the review of Insidious: Chapter 2 which I will be (hopefully) posting tonight!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Les Miserables: Damnit I Tried Not To...

I turned this movie on at 6:30. "Oh it's only fifteen minutes in," I thought, "I want to see if the singing is as cool as I heard it was." Enter the ballad by Anne Hathaway's Fantine and I'm blubbering all over myself. "Not bad," I thought. I reached for my remote. And then "Who Am I?" started. And then I cried again. And then I wanted to see who played Marius. And then....I ended up watching the entire movie.

So powerless....

A fierce advocate for seeing Les Miserables in a theater not of the movie variety, I put this movie on the back burner for a while. Like even after it won the Oscar. Admittedly, I was being a little hipster about it. Also while I was intrigued by the fact that all of the actors sang live (more information on that here) I was a little turned off by...well...actors trying to be amazing at singing.


I'm not going to explain the entire plot because it's literally the most complicated story line I've ever seen. But the main plot is that it's set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and that one guy, an escaped convict named Jean Valjean, is constantly bumping into/running away from his old parole officer Javert. Also is the story of Jean Valjean's adopted daughter, Cosette; her mother, Fantine; Cosette's soulmate/Resistance soldier, Marius; Cosette's old guardians, the awful Thenardiers; and their daughter, Marius's would-be flame, Eponine.  If you're confused now, try reading the book.  Also I'm pretty sure someone got left out of that character list somewhere...

Hmm..maybe a couple...

Anyway, to get to the point, this movie was pretty incredible in a lot of ways. The sets are amazing, the costumes are tremendous, the songs are tear-inducing, and everything is put together pretty well considering how much of the show they shaved away.

However, I can't help but get a little hung up on the songs. Half the fun of musicals is singing along to them (seriously, how many of you have heard of the cult audience behind interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings?) and that's so hard to do with the now-unpredictable versions of the performed music. If you're someone who likes musicals you might be a little sad at the syncopated rhythms that greet you instead of the predictable CD that you have of this show.

"Whooo ammm IIIIII...whoamI? IIIIII'mmmmmJeanValjean...."

And also, not to split hairs, but these actors aren't terrific singers. Russell Crowe's shout-singing made me cringe a little and even Hugh Jackman, who I will admittedly commend for hitting all of the notes, seemed to have a problem with a few in the higher register.

Very beautiful movie, but if I could've willed myself away from the screen/had something better to do with my time I probably would've kept putting this one off. Also a little lengthy. I would've ended it half an hour earlier. (But, really, that's sort of my stance with the musical version as well so maybe that's not fair.)

7.5 outa 10.

Also, for God's sake, Anne Hathaway only has 15 minutes of screen time in this movie. Let the other actors have their turn. Sheesh.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I'm Going to be Famous! Also You Can Win Free Movie Tickets Soon!

Hi again everyone!

So I have two big announcements that I felt deserved their own post.

1. I have been approved for a press pass to cover the last week of the New York Film Festival!!! While I obviously would've loved to cover the whole thing, I can only take off a week because of my job. I will be in NYC for October 7th through the 12th (at least!). The films that I will be covering (assuming that the house isn't filled by the time I get there, which it hopefully won't be!!) will include:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Possibly! If I can make it by 10AM on Oct 5th!)
12 Years a Slave
All is Lost
The Invisible Woman
Only Lovers Left Alive
Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adele)

Really looking forward to a great week of nerding out! Big big thanks to my lady Bronwyn for helping me get this far!

2. Okay, so not as big of an announcement, but I wanted to also publicize that I am two posts away from having written 100 posts! I began this blog in 2010 because I missed my film classes and, thanks to you guys, I'm getting almost 1,000 pageviews every month! As a way to thank you all for reading, I'm going to be giving away a $30 Fandango gift card to a lucky reader. Directions for entry will be included in the 100th post. Thanks so much to you guys for staying interested in my movie rants!

And, for good measure, it wouldn't be a Large Popcorn post without a picture:

This old thing...

Safety Not Guaranteed: A Sneaky Romance

Once again, I will reiterate that I am not one for movies that are full of sappy feelings. What does that entail? Any movie that involves a vampire romance, anything based on a Nicholas Sparks book, and usually anything with a kissing scene that takes place in the rain (Except for Garden State. That movie is sacred.). I do not like being assaulted by gushy unrealistic feelings.

I don't like to ugly cry, okay...

That being said, I had no idea that I was about to watch a romance when I turned on Safety Not Included. I didn't know it until about an hour through. And it was really nice.

The plot first follows Darius (as played by, my personal favorite, Aubrey Plaza). Darius is a lonely girl who has a somewhat pessimistic view on life. She works at a magazine in Seattle as an intern, where she is stepped on by her boss and largely ignored by her coworkers. But when an opportunity arises for her to get out of town and investigate a story lead with a lead reporter, she seizes it. The story, proposed by a head reporter named Jeff (played by Jake Johnson, my other favorite), is to follow a personal ad that has been placed regarding a man looking for a partner to travel through time with. They hope to get an ironic take on the story and hopefully talk to the guy who assumedly put up the post as a joke.

But the guy, a man named Kenneth (played by Mark Duplass), is no jokester. As Darius poses as the potential partner, they train for the upcoming time travel together. And what initially begins as a totally posed relationship morphs almost imperceptibly as the two of them share their innermost desires for going back in time.

So freakin' cute.

This movie was fantastic. And the things that I loved most about it were its tongue-in-cheek humor and its low-key approach to the over-sapped romance genre. It takes you through a romance almost the way that they seriously happen. Not with a girl that spends $1000 to show up in an airplane on the off-chance that her potential soulmate is leaving at the exact same time. Not with intense conversation followed by mouthy kisses in the rain. And not with a wordy speech about how that person was "right in front of them the whole time only they were too stupid to see it" (seriously, how many movies have used that line??).

Ugh. Enough, please.

This movie takes a very cautious approach to their romance. Actually, you know, I wouldn't even really call it romance, I would call it attraction. You get to see interactions between Darius and Kenneth get more and more personal as they share feelings, spend time together and do really dumb stuff. (In all seriousness, I feel like 75% of a relationship is enjoying dumb things together. Just sayin'.) And yet through that whole time they end up forging a really strong bond, ensuring one another that the other is never being made fun of, is always taken seriously, and is never alone. And that is the core reason why this movie was amazing.

Love them.

Also interesting was Jeff's little side story. While Darius is off doing the grunt work for the story, Jeff is off trying to reconnect with his old high school sweetheart. While in his life he gets a lot of "action," as it were, he unexpectedly falls in love when he discovers who his high school sweetheart has become. Instead of looking for a one-night stand, Jeff ends up getting a glimpse of what he could've had if he had taken life more seriously when he was young.

It involves a better life. And some really amazing-sounding food.

This movie makes a great commentary on the importance of time in relationships; all relationships, really. While Darius and Kenneth want to go back in time to fix the things that rocked their foundations and Jeff wants to relive his youth, both story lines urge the audience not to waste time. That you should take advantage of youth while you have it but also that you should look forward because it won't last forever. That actions and nonactions have effects. And that relationships (and specifically a lack thereof) build who you are.

A really really wonderful movie. A great romance without being over-the-top, and an ending that just might've convinced me that I need to actually buy this movie and watch it several more times.

9 outa 10. Really really spectacular.