Tuesday, October 29, 2013

11 Netflix Gems for Halloween

Year after year I become more and more disappointed with the movie selection on TV the night of Halloween. As almost everyone my age would opt for streaming options off of Netflix anyway, I figured I'd highlight some of my faves that are up right now (as well as some tamer fodder for all of you Halloween-loving babies):


A satire on the horror genre, this movie was the first to point out typical trends in scary movies. When a killer is on the loose targeting young teenagers, local news crews and the police get involved trying to solve the mystery of who the killer is. Pretty graphic, even for a slasher movie, this one still packs a punch.

Cabin in the Woods:

An even larger satire on the horror genre, this movie puts a pretty clever spin on the regular isolated-in-the-woods teenager tale. A group of teenagers go on a vacation to a cabin in the woods and start to experience some strange circumstances that might bring some former horror movies to mind. This movie takes the genre and turns it on its head. A great movie for conspiracy theorists and horror fans alike.

The Innkeepers:

A little quirkier than your average ghost story, The Innkeepers keeps you on your toes throughout. A guy and a girl working at an old hotel struggle through their last night shift. Is the hotel's gruesome history getting to their heads or is there something unnatural lurking within the structure's walls? Some super scary bits that break up the normality.

The Possession:

Refreshingly different take on possession movies, this one involves a Jewish twist. When a young girl unwittingly opens a box that's housed by a demon, she becomes possessed by it. Interesting to see how they try to get the demon out of her without the power of Christ compelling anyone.

The Awakening:

Another ghost movie that doesn't quite follow all of the rules. A ghost-debunker sets out to a haunted school to try and figure out what the real root of their paranormal phenomena is. But as things keep happening you start to wonder if she's going crazy or if there's some other explanation to the things that keep affecting her personally.

Rosemary's Baby:

Pregnant people beware: you may want to skip this one. A young, happy couple move into an old apartment building and are almost immediately assaulted by their new neighbors. An old New York couple, they are constantly giving Rosemary and her husband, Guy, advice on how to live their lives - especially when Rosemary becomes pregnant with their first child. As Rosemary's pregnancy gets stranger and stranger, it takes a while before she figures out why. A serious horror classic.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark:

Who can resist wild card Guillermo del Toro? At it again with his mystical realism, this movie follows a man, his young new wife, and his 10-year-old daughter moving into a historical house that houses little monsters. Only coming out at night, these tiny creatures befriend the young child, and end up having a penchant for children's teeth. Imaginative and different, you'll think twice about turning off your lights.

The Fourth Kind:

I was never afraid of alien movies until this one. If you think that the "truth is out there" you might want to think twice before watching The Fourth Kind. Scarier than possession movies, this one combines "found footage" with professional reenactments in a way that is disturbingly real. If you wanted to see what one person imagined alien abduction would look like, this is it. You're not going to look at owls the same way ever again.

Children of the Corn:

A little dated but I still love this one. Any movie that involves murderous children or occult phenomena is classic horror gold - and this movie has both! Yay! When a couple accidentally wonders into a ghost town, they are discovered by a group of children that murders adults and worships what seems to be fields of corn. Not allowing adults in their town, they try to murder the couple every chance they get. Again, campy and horribly acted, but I still get a kick out of this one.


If I were you I would skip the remake of this one and watch the original for free. Spacek's creepy character is easily better than Moretz's hard-to-believe one. A fragile girl raised by a religious lunatic of a mother, and bullied by mean girls at school, sets into motion a sequence of events that leave her senior prom more bloody than beautiful. I can't emphasize enough how much I prefer Spacek to Moretz! If you haven't seen the original, catch it on Netflix!

Silent House:

A thriller-horror hybrid, this film follows a young girl as she helps her dad clean out the old house where she grew up. But after her dad disappears and she discovers an intruder in the house, it's up to her to figure out how to get out and how to find help. The ending was really good!

For the wimps:
Not everyone can handle a full-fledged horror movie, so here are a few creepy ones that'll give you some Halloween flavor without giving you nightmares:

Paranorman - A young kid who can talk to ghosts discovers that he is responsible for keeping his town safe from the curse of an evil witch. But sometimes zombies and witches have roots that we all forget about, as we find out in this stop-motion masterpiece. (You can also find a full review of this one here.)

The Nightmare Before Christmas - For those of you caught in between Halloween costumes and Christmas music, here's one that fuses the two holidays together. Some more creepy stop-motion and killer tunes that'll be stuck in your head for daaaays.

The Twilight Zone - Okay, not a movie, but the creepy factor of this TV show paired with its age give you a little of that spooky mystery without all of the gore and the nightmares.

Honorable mentions:
Evil Dead -  Bunch of kids go to a cabin and a girl gets possessed by a seriously sadistic demon.
Hellraiser - A tortured soul from hell does something with a puzzle box. Still haven't seen this one, but review up when I do.
Maniac - This serial killer story is sure to give you the creeps. Especially if you hate Elijah Wood. Which I do.
6 Souls - My mom saw this and said it was good, but very dark. Psychologist looks to cure man of multiple personality disorder but get more than she bargained for.
Darkness Falls - Oh man, haven't seen this one in years. But, long story short, it's about an evil tooth fairy.
The Skeleton Key - Laugh at me if you will but that voodoo/hoodoo stuff is some creepy shiz, yo. Points off for horrible casting of Kate Hudson who has emotional integrity of wet mop.
VHS - Bizarrely scary, this movie is a collection of tapes that a group of teenagers find in some random guy's house.
Lovely Molly - Full review here, this movie is about a girl who moves into her old house and becomes tortured by the ghost of her dead father. 
They - Again, creatures that only come out at night. Not a bad one, but not very memorable either.
Devil - Oh M. Night. Another brave attempt at repeating your The 6th Sense success. This one doesn't quite hit its mark, but is pretty suspenseful nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color: A Heartfelt Look at Love

Winner of the Palme d'Or in Cannes earlier this year, Blue is the Warmest Color is a surprising look at the life of a young lesbian woman in France. But the thing that is so gripping about this movie is its honesty and its eye-opening look at what these young people go through in their search for love.

The movie opens with the introduction of a character named Adele. A high school student, her favorite subjects are languages and she reads a lot. When she goes out with a boy from her class, she finds herself becoming increasingly unhappy and eventually ends it with him. By contrast, she becomes increasingly attracted to a girl that she passes one day in the street, and happens to bump into one night while out. Blue-haired art student Emma (Lea Seydoux) is a far cry from anyone her other friends have dated. But their attraction is instantaneous. Striking up an awkward conversation at a lesbian bar, Adele finds herself even more intrigued by Emma, and they end up hanging out together several times. The movie then follows the dynamics of their relationship as they both graduate from their respective schools and have to live their relationship in the open.

And sometimes that's hard.

The edited version of this film, which is the one that I saw, lasted three hours. I was a little nervous going into the theater that I would get bored (I don't care if you have won a Palme d'Or, three hours is rough). But I was surprised at how, despite the film's meandering pace, you are utterly captivated by this story. Adele and Emma have such chemistry that it's fascinating to see their relationship as it blossoms and then, later, as they encounter more and more problems.

The movie also does a lot with the contrasts between these two characters. Emma is by no means wild, but she is older, open-minded and artistic, coming from a family that supports her art. Adele, by contrast, is young and pretty conventional from what we see of her, but a content person nonetheless. In fact, Emma seems to bring out the more adventurous side of Adele, painting her nude for a gallery exhibit. These differences work for them in the beginning but seem to make their relationship more and more complicated towards the end.

It's also fascinating to see a take on the homosexual experience from a high school aged girl. At first, when experimenting, Adele is attacked by her girl friends and threatened. This experience seems to make her nervous throughout the rest of the film about being openly gay, hiding it from her teacher colleagues and a little uncomfortable in front of Emma's artsy fartsy friends. She even hides it from her parents at one point, when they ask Emma during an invite to dinner, whether she has a boyfriend or not.

The fully developed characters and the honest, tell-all, meandering look at a relationship make this movie really wonderful. If you can sit through three hours (and a 12-minute lesbian sex scene which made the theater I was in very uncomfortable), I would highly recommend it.

8 outa 10.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Carrie: Just Like the Old Carrie. Except Now.

Lots of Hollywood classics are getting reboots these days. But when you see a movie like Carrie, you're going to start asking yourself, "Why?" I went and saw Carrie the other night with my mom and found myself asking that very question.

Carrie, as most of you well know, is a story about a young girl bullied in high school. But this ain't your average nerd. Carrie (played in this version by Chloe Grace Moretz) has psychic powers and can make things move with her mind. She is raised by a single mother (played by Julianne Moore) who is insanely (pun intended) religious and mentally abusive. After a bullying incident turns into a revenge-fest for one evil-minded girl, Carrie absolutely snaps. But this isn't a girl who is about to cry over spilled pig's blood. Carrie then seeks revenge on the entire school's prom.

And it's scary.
Scary Carrie.

With this remake, I'm not quite sure what they were trying to accomplish. Maybe they thought that the 2002 remake was totally awful (which it was) and that the 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2 was really stupid (again accurate), so they took it upon themselves to make a better remake. But though the movie wasn't bad, it wasn't as good as the original. I will never understand why some studios think "Hey! Let's revamp this one! Cuz I'm out of ideas!" 

"Heck I dunno!"

While this remake of the original Carrie is interesting in that it's modernized, it doesn't really bring much new to the table. They amp up the effects and hone in a little more on Carrie's relationship with her mother (as well as making some strange commentary on pregnancy and babies), but the movie stays a little stagnant. It seems to get so caught up in paying homage to the original that it forgets to build on it. Chris is turned from a regular bully into an entitled rich bitch, Carrie from a weakling into a girl testing her powers, and the mother from a bit of a joke to a woman with serious mental problems. But though these characters are magnified, the general reaction just boils down to, "Huh. That's interesting."

So uh...guess you're gonna go kill everyone at
prom now, huh?

Another thing I wasn't thrilled about was their choice of Chloe Grace Moretz for the role of Carrie. As someone in my office put it earlier, "She's not Carrie, she's Hit Girl!" Moretz is hard to see as the wallflower Carrie, though I honestly tried to give her the benefit of the doubt in the beginning. Although she plays the role with less passivity than the original Carrie (using and practicing her powers in her own home and against her mother), she lacks the believability of someone that's really been kicked around. And really, if I may be completely honest, her looks harken more to the popular girl that we see in Kick-Ass 2 than Sissy Spacek's original Carrie.

Doesn't exactly scream loser.

The one thing that I did find interesting about Moretz's Carrie is that she's totally conscious of everything that she's doing throughout the entire movie. While Spacek's Carrie massacres her prom unconsciously, almost like she's in a trance, Moretz's Carrie takes visible joy in manipulating those that have before hurt her. Could be a comment on the way current bullies handle being pushed over the edge...

Long story short, it's too same to be different and it's too different to be same. Carrie doesn't bring much to the table that you can't get from the first one, but the effects are neat and it'll probably appeal to a younger audience.

5 outa 10. Eh. Not bad. Not awesome.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gravity: Is Wooorkiiin' Against Meee--Wait, Wrong Gravity...

Just for the record, the John Mayer song was stuck in my head for days after seeing this one. But, long story short, this was pretty deserving of all the hype it's been getting, especially for a Hollywood movie.

Remember the good ole days of disaster flicks in the late 90s? Volcano, Titanic, Deep Impact, Dante's Peak. So many choices! But they've kind of gone out of style in the past couple of years.

(God, doesn't this poster give you acute anxiety?)

Gravity is the perfect opportunity to bring them back. Instead of natural disaster (which may be a little bit too close to home after the extreme environmental crises of the past couple of years), this one takes place in space. Instead of volcanos and super storms, the initial accident that spurs the action of the movie is a missile launch gone awry. Hitting a huge satellite, the lack of GRAVITY (heh) sends a chain reaction through the world's many satellites, creating a technological tidal wave of sorts. The unfortunate victims of this chain of events are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).  Dr. Stone goes careening into space after the satellite shards hit their ship and the rest of the film follows her (and Kowalski) trying to find a way back to a safe spaceship/station.

And if you let go, you're doomed. No pressure.

The cool thing about this movie is how well it's set up. I know some people may be turned off from watching this film because of the small cast (I mean, you really only are exposed to Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski). But that is what makes the movie so incredibly captivating. Instead of watching Houston trying to bring them back down or intercuts between space and Earth, they fix the camera on the two main characters and don't leave the realm of space for nearly the entire movie. And because of their interactions and isolation, you end up really bonding with their characters in a way that wouldn't work if the cast was bigger.


This movie also had some intense suspense. Watching this after seeing All Is Lost was really interesting because, despite their being a similar plot, Gravity really pumps up the drama. The relationships are stronger, there is a more dynamic denouement, and (to put it bluntly) the accidents are bigger. The vast openness of space creates a terrifying landscape in which all of these accidents happen. And the need for them to be as resourceful as ever is absolutely paramount.

Very, very well done, Hollywood. My hopes were not high but you proved me wrong. Good job.

8.5 outa 10. I liked that Dr. Ryan Stone talks to herself (and to Houston, who is offline) when she's alone as well. Keeps the movie from getting too boring.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nebraska: A Midwestern Tale

There are plenty of movies (and plays and books and real-life examples) out there to constantly remind us that dysfunctional families aren't exactly uncommon. But Nebraska takes a close look at one of these such families and makes the statement that although some families definitely have their problems they can still all love each other regardless.

Nebraska opens with an old man walking down a busy interstate at a slow and steady pace. He's then picked up by a police officer and taken in where he is picked up by his son, David. Apparently the old man, named Woody (played by Bruce Dern), was trying to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash in a winning million dollar prize that he received in the mail. Only the letter is spam. But even after listening to his son and his wife trying to tell him that he's crazy, they keep finding him wandering off towards the highway. David then decides, what the hey, why not just drive his dad to Lincoln and get the whole thing over with. The rest of the movie follows them as they slowly make their way to Lincoln, stopping in Woody's old hometown, where they learn about the value of money, old grudges, and family ties.

Ole buddies

Movies like this take me a while to chew on. I know it's a little childish, but I usually have an aversion to anything that takes place in the Midwest. While the bleakness of the landscape and the rough, introverted nature of the people is perfectly executed through the black and white film (and really, it's made pretty stunning through this stark contrast), there's something scary to me about miles and miles of nothing but plains. I really just can't imagine living in a place like that.

I mean woof.

That being said, the landscape almost defines all of the characters. In a land where nothing happens, what could be more exciting than someone you know winning $1,000,000? This proves reason enough for family members and old friends to try and strong-arm the silent old ex-drunk into lending them money (that he doesn't have!).

Good thing his kid's there to try and set them straight!
(Even though it largely doesn't work...)

Despite the movie's bleak themes and emptiness, the incredible actors really pull it together. A family dynamic that makes you cringe (and chuckle) in the beginning, makes you smile towards the end. Director Payne and the three main leads all commented during the press conference the comfortability that they had with each other during filming, and it definitely show's in their on-screen relationships. The son, David (played by Will Forte) is so sweet and patient, balancing his gruff of a father, and the mother (played by June Squibb) is the hilarious shrew that ends up giving the movie a dynamic that it wouldn't have without her.

Pretty lively for her age

7 outa 10. Really ends up being a gorgeous movie in its own way, and full of tongue-in-cheek laughs about the Midwest.

(Also see if you can spot Buzz from Home Alone in this trailer.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Only Lovers Left Alive: Not Your Average Vampires

I didn't really know anything about this screening going in. I knew it was about vampires and it looked like a moody sort of drama from the pictures I had seen of it. But I wasn't expecting this film to be such a treat! Very interesting look at human nature through the eyes of people that have lived for hundreds of years.

The film is a romance about two vampires, one named Adam, one named Eve (haha), whose relationship has spanned centuries. Taking place in two completely different cities (Tangiers and Detroit), the story follows their relationship with each other as well as the things that happen while Eve visits Adam in Detroit.

As some of you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of the supernatural and horror genres at the moment and I see a lot of scary movies that deal with vampires and similar monsters. But this was a total breath of fresh air. Instead of them being typecast as monsters, like we so often see in popular culture, their characters get to become fully formed through the lens of Adam and Eve's relationship. The whole movie has such a different vibe than any other vampire movie that I can really think of. They aren't battling werewolves for the love of a human being (the worst) and they aren't scary beasts that hunt people in the night either. The movie takes a very practical look at how a vampire romance would work. And in doing so, gives us a look at two vampires who are in fact very human. In the end, the movie really isn't at its essence a supernatural or horror film at all, but a romance.


Adam and Eve's chemistry is fantastic. Tilda Swinton and director Jim Jarmusch mentioned that they didn't so much want to focus on the vampire element so much as the fact that that was the vehicle for portraying a centuries-long romance. Their focus was to try and portray what exactly a romance that long would look like, and it very definitely succeeds. Many times in romance movies (especially the supernatural ones, amiright?) there are major passions and dips, but this one achieves authenticity in the comfortability between Adam and Eve. Despite having loved each other for ages (or maybe because of this), they take enjoyment in doing mundane things together like playing chess, going for drives, and talking about old times.

Another thing that I loved about this movie was the humor it takes with its approach to vampirism. Avoiding cheesy jokes about how delicious people are (campy much?), they have intellectual conversations about the many famous and brilliant people that they've known throughout their lives with an off-the-cuff frankness that takes you by surprise. And things that are so often portrayed in horror movies as gruesome are put in laughably commonplace context. Filled with more giggles than I would've expected.

Including John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe

Only Lovers Left Alive also gives an observation of what humans look like from the points of view of two people that have been (consciously or subconsciously) monitoring their actions since the 1500s. At the beginning of the film, Adam expresses frustration with the "zombies" (as they call humans) and their inability to learn from the past. He then rattles off a list of human geniuses that have been either ridiculed or completely misunderstood and destroyed. It's fascinating to get a glimpse of what people of the past would think of us today.

Jarmusch's mise-en-scene* in this is also refreshingly different from the common vampire flick. Adding in his own elements of superstition (they constantly wear gloves and sunglasses when out), he also creates an open set that keeps them from getting bogged down in the gothic elements that so often make vampires seem menacing. On the contrary, the sets in this are very open, if cluttered, and as soon as night falls they roam around freely. Additionally the costumes are designed to look timeless, and the characters frequently add in garments that don't belong to this century at all simply because they're nostalgic. (One character constantly wears a waistcoat that he's had for five hundred years--because he likes it!)

Also, the soundtrack is incredible. A hodgepodge of original music that Adam makes (he's a very accomplished musician), rock, country, Motown, classical, and everything. This soundtrack is going to blow up.

Featured track.

All in all a fascinating and brilliantly made movie. I'd highly recommend to anyone.

9.5 outa 10.

(Also, the trailer's not out yet so this is the only clip I could find of the film. Gonna have to wait a while, guys!)


*So! You wanted to learn what mise-en-scene was! Mise-en-scene (meez-awn-senn) is essentially all that makes up the visual of the movie. The sets, the costumes, the music, everything that takes place in the frame. Arguably, it can also include sounds and music choices as well, but that depends on who you're asking. Here's more info on mise-en-scene:




Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Invisible Woman: No, This Is Not a Superhero Movie

Last night, preceding this film, there was a tribute for Ralph Fiennes (Rafe Fines) as both an actor and as a director. After learning some about his various projects, it was interesting to watch The Invisible Woman with the things he said in perspective. He seems like a very organic actor, who really throws himself into his characters.

(audio from the interview pending)

Following the tribute and interview, we got to see a brand new screening of his movie The Invisible Woman. The film follows Ellen "Nelly" Ternan (Felicity Jones), a married woman who once has a 13-year-long hidden romance with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). Meeting Dickens as a young actress, she is immediately taken with him, and is already a huge fan of his writing. Dickens seems immediately attracted to her and pursues her after hearing how much she understands of his writing, despite his already being married. The story then focuses in on the politics of having an affair in the mid-1800s and the consequences that this relationship with Dickens has on the rest of Nelly's life.

I'm a little on the fence about this movie. Sometimes hearing the actors' perspective on the work can make it harder to look at it objectively, and in the case of such a great actor as Fiennes, it was really difficult. The tricky thing about this movie doesn't seem to be in the acting but in the script. Both Fiennes and Jones do a fantastic job of being their respective roles, but the problem seems to be in capturing the essence of what their relationship is. While in the beginning of the movie their flirtations are tangible and interesting, as they begin their actual affair, they seem to cool off and get caught up in the ethics of what it is (as will happen, I'm sure). Dickens seems to be so taken by her that his actions towards the public seem a little brash sometimes, but Nelly doesn't seem to approach him with the same love that he shows for her. In fact, whether its her morals with the situation or something else, she seems reluctant to begin the affair at all and only ends up doing so after her mother voices concern that she's not a good enough actress to support herself on the stage.

Welp, when you can't act, guess the only 
option is to enter an affair

Fiennes as Dickens is impossible not to like, and I hope this speaks with accuracy to the man that Dickens really was (certainly more jovial than I ever imagined him). Nelly herself seems well portrayed, a young girl with stars in her eyes and a deep understanding of the humanity that is in Dickens's writing. But as the story moves on, nelly seems to morph from the girl that idolizes Dickens into a woman that has an affair on her hands that she never wanted. There's such a disconnect with his passionate character to this more rigid Nelly that their chemistry seems to suffer as the story goes on. Maybe they were trying to more accurately portray an affair that would happen in this time period, but as a whole the relationship doesn't quite make sense.

"Haha, do you like me, check yes or no."

Additionally, the movie claims to be all about Nelly, but the dutiful mistress that she is during some of the flashbacks seems a far cry from the dreamy young girl she was before and the heartbroken married woman that she becomes. Her heartbreak seems to suggest a could-have-been-soulmates sort of love affair, but the meat of the film seems to offer the contrary. You only really even see them kiss twice. Which could be suggesting the intent of the romance to start off as "proper," but becomes a bit boring.

While the movie as a whole is absolutely gorgeous with beautiful sets and camerawork, and the acting is great, the script just didn't quite carry this one through.

6.5 outa 10.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All Is Lost: Like, Literally. All Everything. Is Lost.

Got to see a press screening of All Is Lost yesterday and frankly I was unimpressed. Not that the movie isn't cinematically pretty or thematically well executed, but...well, let's talk.

Not that this champion among men didn't try. Bless him.

The first scene of the movie we hear a narrator saying something along the lines of "I just wanted to let you know that I tried. I think you know I tried. I'm sorry. All is lost now." We then backtrack to several days beforehand and the shot starts with a crash. Our man (played by Robert Redford) is sailing in the middle of the ocean when his yacht crashes into an abandoned storage container floating in the middle of the sea (we're talking like the size and weight of a dumpster). As the boat begins to take on large amounts of water, we see him do his best to save the ship. He repairs the hole, empties the water from the boat, and continues on. Because of where the water damage occured, though, he is left without a navigation system and without a functioning computer. A day or two later, he gets caught in a super storm that ravages his boat and wrecks his sail. As things get increasingly worse and the movie continues on, the audience is left to wonder whether all is truly lost or whether he will be able to be resourceful enough to get himself out of this horror of a situation.

Okay, flat out, I did not like this one. It is well made, but it doesn't accomplish its goal. The movie is supposed to be a suspense-fest. We watch a seasoned sailor try to survive a wreck happening in what is essentially the middle of nowhere. But, quite honestly, seeing this poor man jump from horrible situation to horrible situation stops becoming incredible about 45 minutes in, and starts becoming fodder for a Wile E. Coyote cartoon complete with everything but an Acme anvil falling from the sky onto his head.

In the same vein as horrific tales of accidents in completely isolated places (like Open Water and Castaway) this movie relies on the horror of the circumstances to carry you through to the end. But there is no character development in this. Redford literally only speaks three words throughout the entire film, which hardly allows us to learn who he really is. And while we're obviously rooting for him to live through the wreck of his ship, it becomes harder and harder to care about what he's going through because there's no dynamic in the situations he's presented with. A regular Bad Luck Brian, he has to go through the original hole in his ship, a storm, going without vital equipment, getting hit with another storm, eventually having to make a decision about whether to leave his boat for his lifeboat or not, and then (you guessed it) another storm.

Perhaps our man is the unfortunate victim of one of Acme's other kits.

The steady stream of unfortunate events becomes less tragic and more (I hate to say this, and I'm horrible) funny. At one point there are sharks and I actually giggled. Like, come on. How much more awful can you get? Even if this is an honest look at what the ocean is really like, at least give me another character and some dialogue, instead of watching these scenes unfold and seeing Redford's face just look like "Shit. Another obstacle on the path to staying alive."

Well shot and (obviously) good acting from Redford, but All Is Lost leaves little suspense in what is supposed to be a nail-biter.

4 outa 10. Comes out on 10/18.

Although, mad props to Redford for doing almost all of his own stunts. What a salty old dog.

Alan Partridge: Under Siege and Lovin' It

Saw Alan Partridge last-minute on Monday and I have to say it's pretty damn funny. The only reason I wanted to see it was because A) I love Steve Coogan (everyone please see Hamlet 2, it's hilarious) and B) I had heard a lot about this character Alan Partridge but had never seen the show so I decided to check it out. Please keep in mind that this review comes from the point of view of someone unfamiliar with the show (which, after talking to a couple other people, may skew my opinion of this film).

Alan Partridge is a radio DJ based in North Norfolk who is as hammy and awkward as they come. When North Norfolk Digital, the radio station for which he works, is conglomerated into Shape (and XM sort of station), they decide that they have to cut back on some of the staff members. After Partridge's meeting with the new superiors goes horribly wrong, he gets to keep his job while his colleague, Pat Farrell is "sacked" (means "fired," ya bunch of dirty Yankees). Going off the deep end, Pat ends up holding the entire studio hostage following the reception party for Shape's new takeover. But while Alan is appointed by the police to be a point of contact, can he stop this "siege" (means "hostage situation," which maybe you knew, but took me a couple minutes to figure out) and will he want to stop it if it means his chance in the national limelight?


So, first off, Steve Coogan is just a gem in the land of English humor. Alan Partridge is such a perfect mix of endearingly awkward and trying to take charge of conflict when he really is not very good at it. Like, at all.

I mean, look at this guy, haha

This movie was full of the kind of humor that we see in the US from shows like The Office (which, in fact, was originally a British show). The situational humor takes advantage of the awkward, the absurd, and the random, which keeps the surprises coming as you try and figure out how and if Alan will end up trying to end the seige and save everyone in their studio.

7.5 outa 10. Pretty damn funny.

(Not sure when or if this is coming to US theaters across the country, but it looks like it will also be showing at the Chicago International Film Festival in a couple weeks)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Le Week-End: Or Is It Just The End?

When older married couple Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) go on a trip to Paris for the weekend, they do so intending to try and save (or maybe end) their 30-years-long marriage.  Meg sees Nick as a needy man that is overly dependent on her, and Nick seems terrified of Meg, who seems nearly bipolar at most times. As each scene unfolds, it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out whether they will stay together or decide to split up.

But hey, at least they're in Paris

Relationships can be so messy. Meg seems tired of her marriage to Nick, but she still loves him and 30 years of marriage gives them a bond that can't be broken without at least trying to fix it. When we first meet her, she comes off as a bit of an ice queen. Unsatisfied with the hotel that her husband has picked, she leads them to a ritzy looking one far about their budget and wastes a big chunk of their money taking a tour of the city from a random cab driver. Throughout the movie, she goes back and forth between moments where she's almost coy with him and moments where she's horrible to him, testing how much he'll take. She also seems as though she's trying to grasp a vitality that she's lost, but in trying to regain it, she thinks she has to separate herself from Nick.

During a sweet moment where she offers to buy his books

And poor Nick. So in love with his wife, he seems terrified of her ever-changing moods. When she voices unhappiness, he just seems like he's in despair but has no idea how to fix it. Nick seems, in a word, lost. His whole life seems to be unraveling and he doesn't know what to do about it.

"I have no idea what I'm doing."

This film was cool in showing the contrasting emotions between the two of them. At times they seem like teenagers in love, throwing themselves at each other and goofing off like old pals. And other times their animosity towards each other is frightening, like they're out for blood. This dichotomy in their relationship keeps the movie interesting, as they try to figure out what it is they truly want to do about their marriage. And really you have no clue how it's going to end until most of the movie is over with.

Supporting actor Jeff Goldblum makes a fine and absurd addition to the conflict in this, providing levity at moments where it is desperately needed.

What a card.

Interesting perspective on the way relationships grow and deteriorate with age, especially in relation to Baby Boomers. The movie makes a very purposeful nod to people educated during that time, and questions whether their lives have lived up to the lofty expectations they had when they were young.

7 outa 10. It really pulls through with a strong, solid ending that I loved.

12 Years a Slave: Hard to Watch for New Reasons

Imagine the worst thing that has ever happened to you, happening every day for twelve years. Then subtract your house, your clothes, all of your creature comforts, and all of your free will.  This is what 12 Years a Slave is.

Solomon Northup is a musician who lives in Saratoga, NY with his wife and two kids. When his wife and kids go away to cook for a big event for a few weeks, Solomon is approached by two men who convince him to come on tour with their "circus" troupe in Washington DC as a musician, assuring him that he'll be handsomely compensated for his work. But after Solomon eats a meal with them and gets sick (from drugged wine), the next day he wakes up shackled to a wall. Trying to reason with his captors, he tells them he's free and threatens to press charges. But his papers have been stolen and, being in the South, the chances of anyone believing his story are nonexistent. The next twelve years he works as a slave, first on a property with a kind (ish) master, and then next with a raving lunatic. The movie serves as a brutal reminder of the horrors of slavery.

I mean, even when you read the title of this movie, you know it's going to be rough. Personally, I'm very happy I had the foresight to bring tissues this morning. But the subject matter is made infinitely more infuriating when your coming from a somewhat sympathetic view of the main character. I have never been a slave, and (well, who knows with the government the way it is at this point in time) I will never be a slave. However, as someone with a decent social standing and a job that pays the bills, I cannot imagine waking up chained to a wall, sold to another human being, and not being allowed to have an opinion about anything anymore.  This is where 12 Years a Slave really messes you up.

Poor guy probably never trusted anyone ever again

It's absolutely horrifying to think that we live in a country where this used to be commonplace, and the movie is very faithful with it all. On an errand, Solomon veers off the beaten path in a moment of hope that he'll be able to run away, only to be met by a lynch mob that only leaves him alone because they see that he's owned by someone. How. Did. People. Get. So. Awful.

But they delve into this issue too. As one character mentions, white men who own slaves either have to put the moral element somewhere in their mind tucked away and not think about it, or else they have to drive it away with whatever means necessary. Solomon's first master is an example of the former. Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a kind man. Solomon is at first candid with him, sharing ideas of how to maximize the transportation of their timber. And he is even admired for being a smart man.

And gets a free violin.

But when a jealous and ignorant assistant to the overseer tries to mess with him, Solomon has no idea how to be passive and then has to move to his next master, Master Crazy (Epps). Epps (played by Michael Fassbender) gives people lashes when they don't pick as much cotton as they did the day before. He wakes up the slaves in the middle of the night and orders them to dance around his living room (on more than one occasion). He appears once or twice without pants on. And his temperament is absolutely poisonous.

Including him almost murdering Solomon at a few different times.

Perhaps the thing that makes this movie so extremely hard to watch is the fact that no one, not even nice people, will help him. Placing his trust in others, Solomon is frequently burned, and in increasingly extreme ways. At times you see that he feels totally helpless, but never is he completely resigned to his fate as a slave. Throughout, he tries to find ways to remind himself of who is truly is underneath the guise of "Platt," his slave name.

Another incredibly well-acted element is the transition that he has to make between being the educated man that he is and saving his own life by feigning ignorance. While in the beginning he uses an elevated vocabulary, by the end of the film you can hear a Southern drawl come to him naturally, and he chooses his words to be careful and simple. Very, very heartbreakingly well-acted by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Well done, sir.

8 outa 10. Cried myself dry.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Immigrant: Fresh Take on an Old Subject

Screening #2 yesterday was James Gray's The Immigrant. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster day. But this movie really had some wonderful elements to it.

I mean any movie with this dynamic duo, how can
you go wrong?

The movie is set in 1921 and begins with a character named Ewa (No, not Ay-wa. she's Polish, so it's Ay-VA. Philistines...I definitely did not make that mistake when I was reading the write-up of the plot...probably...). Ewa and her sister Magda have just arrived on Ellis Island from Poland, going through customs when Magda is apprehended by the medical examiners and taken to the hospital to recover before she can go through. Ewa carries on alone, but after giving the address of the family member with whom she'd planned on staying, she's informed that their address is invalid and that since she'll have nowhere to stay she'll likely become the state's problem. With this in mind, she's sent to be deported. But then! As luck would have it, a gentleman named Bruno takes pity on her and tells her that he can help her get through customs. Illegally sneaking her away, he then takes her to his place of residence, where it begins to come clear that his plans for her may be questionable. A strong Catholic with a decent upbringing, Ewa tries to leave, but becomes trapped by her lack of papers and money. She begins to earn money at Bruno's "theater" and he ends up pimping her out so that she can pay for her sister's care and also for her safe delivery to New York City. The story is a fascinating perspective on what life was like for an attractive immigrant woman at the time.

Seriously, every man in this movie loses his mind over this girl.

So, the plot is a bit complicated, but there is so much complexity to these characters that it becomes a little difficult to sort out the larger details. The driving forces in this movie are Ewa (played by Marion Cotillard) and Bruno (played by Joaquin Phoenix). But interestingly, their characters are atypical of this sort of film. In most movies, women put in the position of becoming prostitutes against their will will end up drunks with broken spirits resigned to their fates. But Ewa is a fortress of a character. Instead of becoming weakened by her situation, she is powerfully driven by the thought of getting her sister out. As a result, she makes it clear that she hates herself for doing what she's doing, but she keeps her head high, makes sure she's getting paid her cut, and perseveres. By contrast, the character of Bruno is not the gangster that we so often see in movies about this era. Driven by his love and admiration for Ewa, Bruno more than once makes a fool of himself to guarantee that she stays with him. And his temper is a spectacle. But because of this, it's hard to polarize him against her as a bad guy. Especially towards the end, when their characters become so starkly contrasted with the people we meet at the beginning. Great acting!

So good.

James Gray, during the Q&A following the film, made a comment that the movie is supposed to be somewhat operatic. And it is. The focus on the woman's point of view makes it so. Most movies set in the 1920s that I've seen have been centered around a gangster, tommy guns and booze galore. But that isn't this movie's agenda. Ewa's point of view becomes so powerful that it really gives you an interesting look at how awful it must've been to be a woman back then. And an immigrant in general.

This one is a little rough to watch in some ways, but the character complexity in it is incredible. A fascinating look at archaic gender stereotypes, skewed morality used as a weapon to treat people cruelly, and the general problems of being an immigrant in 1921. Well done, James Gray! A total "direct shot to the heart."

8 outa 10.

Trailer's not out yet, but I found this clip:

Exclusive trailer has gone live on Yahoo Movies today!

About Time (and Also About Love)

So first up on yesterday's schedule was a noon screening of About Love, Richard Curtis's latest. As a fan of Love Actually (like most other humans with souls), I was excited by the premise of this movie, which cleverly blends lessons about human love with the exceptional addition of time travel.

The movie is about the life of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, who you might recognize from Harry Potter). When he turns 21, his father calls him down for a chat and reveals to him that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time. The plot then follows Tim as he uses this extraordinary ability to try and make the most of his life, perfecting interactions with those around him and making the most out of the relationships he has with the various people in his life.

God I love you people.

It really must be said that Richard Curtis is a scholar on the cinematic realism of love. Tim's journey goes effortlessly from a young man who uses this talent (rather hilariously) to try and nab a girlfriend to a grown man trying to make sure that the lives of the people he loves are reaching their full potential. It gives commentary on the hardest things there are to do for the people we love (which is so often just simply having faith that they'll be able to know what's best for themselves) while simply and poetically celebrating how much FUN real love can be as well. Romantic love between Tim and Mary (Rachel McAdams), a son's love for his father (played by Bill Nighy, who I LOVE IN EVERYTHING), a brother's love for his sister (Lydia Wilson), a person's love for his friends, a father's love for his daughter, and every other kind of relationship I can think of.

Aaaand the tears were free-flowing at this point.

While Tim uses time travel to try to make his life perfect, they don't really dabble with the technicalities of it (which can get really messy if you think about it too much). The film focuses more on Tim's conscious decisions rather than the "he stepped half an inch to the left and it changed his life!" variety of consequences. The time travel element is more a way to reflect on the consequences of the everyday decisions that we make, not so much material from the sci-fi genre.

Soooo, you gotta get outa here, Tardis. No sci-fi elements in this one.
(Anyone? No? Okay...)

The sharp sense of humor that works so brilliantly with Love Actually is in this as well, keeping the emotion from getting too heavy and bogging down the film. Tim as a character is also just so damn likeable. Actually, everyone in this movie was. Especially the members of Tim's immediate family. Tim outlines them all within the first ten minutes of the movie and his descriptions of them all hold perfectly throughout. His father is scholarly and bookish and always reading. His mother is "rectangular" and "bases her fashion choices on the queen." His sister, Kit Kat, is (and I loved this) a "nature thing," so-called because of her childlike emotions and actions. And the romantic love of his life, Mary, is absolutely adorable.

You got a real family of winners, Tim.

His relationships with these people change as he becomes older and his own life changes, but the love they have for each other is so tangible that it makes this quick view of his life a real treat. The cinematography only serves to enhance this, too. Very romantically filmed with lots of warm lighting, beach scenes, and quirky characters. Keeps the whole thing feeling very timeless.

Give me your life right now.

Many a sentimental, humorous moment and extremely enjoyable. If you need a lesson on how to live your life, watch this movie.

9.5 outa 10. .5 due to Bill Nighy's performance.

Comes out November 1st!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: A Daydreamer's Dream

Well I somehow made it to the press screening and worldwide premiere (!) of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty despite missing my 6:05 a.m. bus, making my boyfriend drive me 40 minutes to Hamilton, taking the train in, cabbing my way up to the Lincoln Film Center, lugging an overstuffed backpack and a canvas bag holding a laptop and copious amounts of writing materials, and waiting in line for two hours for a good seat.

Yes, we rather got off to a bumpy start.

BUT! Despite this somewhat hectic morning and having only gotten 4 and a half hours of sleep, I'm happy to report that nothing could keep me from staying awake and totally captivated throughout this movie. (The free Diet Coke also helped.) Also got to enjoy a press conference after the movie with some of the cast, including Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Steve Conrad (the writer, also responsible for movies such as The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness).

(Also at one point they were all ten feet away from me as they
were waiting to be announced!)

So the plot of the movie revolves around Walter Mitty, an ordinary guy that sometimes lets his imagination run away with him. Desperately failing to connect to those around him, he retreats to his imagination looking for a more exciting way in which various situations could play out. When the story begins, he is working for Time Magazine (with borrowed logo from the actual company), who is making the transition from print to online (sadly mirroring the actual company's real-life decision in 2009). But on the day he receives news of this looming transition, he also receives a gift from amazing mythical photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), who gifts him with a last roll of film and a hand-picked image for Time's last cover.

The only problem is, Walter can't find it.

The story then blossoms into Walter Mitty breaking out of the office and the city that he's rarely left in an adventure to find the lost negative. Along the way, he gets help from office colleague Cheryl, reconnects with his family and his past, and finally gets to do the exciting things he's always dreamed about.

Caught mid-daydream. 

I was SO EXCITED to have the opportunity to see this movie. An avid fan of the original story upon which the movie is based, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber, and also the 1950s movie starring Danny Kaye, I was interested to see what direction it would take. (Additionally, the trailer showcases the one most beautiful sequences in the film, which just makes you want to quit real life and travel the world.)

I mean come on, who doesn't want to longboard in Greenland?

The first half of the movie fully delivered what I wanted to get from it. We get to see all of the impossibly amazing things that Mitty gets to do in his mind, which so sharply contrast his humdrum existence, that they're simultaneously captivating and hilarious. With short mind-wanderings into things like a Matrix-esque fight with his boss, to jumping into a third-floor apartment building that's on fire, to (my personal favorite) a scene in which he imagines he and Cheryl growing old together despite him having "Benjamin Button Disease" (hilarious). These scenes really keep the movie funny, and carry a tongue in cheek look at, really, what a lot of blockbuster movies look like.

But this is not your grandfather's Walter Mitty. Unlike Danny Kaye's hilarious romp from the 50s, this movie really has Mitty searching for his own identity, and reaching out for a part of his personality that he's kept muffled for decades. As my BFF Ben Stiller said (yes, I can say that now), they really wanted to step away from Danny Kaye's version of the character, and embrace a Mitty whose vivid imagination was more a yearning for things that he wanted to do and less of a retreat from the real world.

The only problem I have with this new take, however, is that it takes away from what makes the material so entertaining. By adding depth to the character of Walter Mitty, you give him purpose yes, but you subtract some of the entertainment value, which is a shame because that's where Stiller and Wiig both really shine. In fact, their interactions in his fantasies were what really stood out to me and gave them believable chemistry. In general, the best parts of this movie were the imagination scenes in the beginning, but about halfway through they're kind of done with that and begin putting Mitty in real-life adventure situations. Which is cool, but then the movie ends with his character being so different that it creates a bit of a disconnect from the original story.

I feel like we're growing apart...

I did love the cinematography and the soundtrack, though. There are a lot of folksy indie bands on there that give you some really inspirational tunes. Additionally, the locations where they chose to shoot were absolutely breathtaking. Scenes shot in Greenland and Iceland are especially stunning. When asked why they chose these two locations (because they seem a bit...less traveled), Stiller remarked that they wanted the landscape to seem like something people had never really seen before. Which is a good point because who goes to Greenland?

Kind of takes "small town" to a new level, no?

7.5 outa 10. I very much enjoyed it but I'm a little disappointed we couldn't see more of Mitty's imagination.

Comes out on Christmas!

And just for good measure (clearly we have two completely different movies here...)

I'm Alive and I Made It Here

Just a post to clarify that I am indeed alive and in New York City covering the NY Film Festival.

Since I'm seeing SO MANY movies this week, I'm thinking it may be best to just write a post for each of the movies that I see instead of doing it day by day because those posts would be entirely too long and probably include way too much info about how you shouldn't wear heeled boots while trekking across the city with your 20 lb backpack and 15 lb canvas bag.

Just sayin'. That is how we are going to proceed with this situation.

Friday, October 4, 2013

New York Film Festival Coverage Begins Tomorrow!

Hey y'all. Revving up for the NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL tomorrow! Wish I could've been there this past week but hey, I'm an adult, I got bills to pay, I got my own mouth to feed and I ain't got time to go gallavantin' off to every film festival that comes knocking at my door!

Ya whippersnappers!

But there are indeed exceptions to this rule. Like the ones that involve the town of New York City. And press passes. And those are things worth taking off work for.

So starting tomorrow, get ready to have your faces blown off by reviews of movies that you probably haven't even heard of yet! (Depending on if you're as pokey as I am with tracking down YouTube trailers...)

In the meantime, may the corn be with you.

Yep. This corn.