Monday, August 31, 2009

DVD Round-up

Over the weekend, I saw two new DVDs from Netflix. As it's a bit of lull in the DVD season for movies I missed, but wanted to see so there were a few older ones that popped up at the top. The first was Bonneville, a lesser known movie starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen as friends from Idaho who decide to travel to California. Lange's husband has died and his daughter from a previous marriage is threatening to take away her house if Lange doesn't return the dad's ashes to Santa Barbara. They decide to drive in a 1966 Bonneville convertible. Lange had promised to spread her husband's ashes around the world they'd traveled together, but doesn't want to lose her house to her step-daughter. She does find a way around her problem, but her friends help her get to Santa Barbara on time. There are fun adventures like any road trip movie, but given their age, the adventures are a bit less disgusting and more fun than a college version. The acting is impressive, the writing decent and the story compelling. A solid film to like, 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

The second movie I saw is one of the best sports movie I've ever seen. The Express stars Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) as Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy (the award for best collegiate football player). He grows up in Pennsylvania in the late 1950s and attends Syracuse University (Go Orangemen!) at the urging of former player Jim Brown. He tries to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, but ultimately can't escape the influence his star playing has on the African-American community and the civil rights movement. The year he leads his team to the Cotten Bowl game in Dallas he (and the other two black players) are not allowed to enter the hotel where the team is staying as it's a segregated hotel. His coach, Ben Schwartzwalder (played really well by Dennis Quaid), often runs into Davis' drive to further both his own career and the cause of civil rights. While the movie could step into broad statements and make a hero out of a small person, but even after researching some of the interviews done about the historical accuracy of the movie it seems that Ernie Davis was as amazing as the movie slowly explains that he was. The acting is good, and the games are shot in a way that's easy to follow both the course of the game and the deeper meanings when certain tackles occur (some of the Texas players find more pleasure beating on the successful black players rather than winning the game). It's a terrific film, and I highly recommend it. 4.5 stars/lambs

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Man (and Woman's) best friend

I've been waiting to review Marley and Me for a while now, and then I saw Wendy and Lucy and felt the need to make comparisons. Both movies follow someone who bases most of their life around a dog, though the differences between the dogs makes actual comparisons between the movies futile. Marley and Me is a memoir by a journalist played by Owen Wilson, newly married to fellow journalist Jennifer Aniston living in Miami. They adopt a golden retriever puppy and name it Marley. The basic plot of the movie follows the unimaginable behavior of Marley as he grows up. Wilson starts writing a column about his misadventures with Marley, and ultimately, with a growing family, he finds a career based on his dog. We watch the horribly awful things Marley does, tearing up the couch, escaping, knocking down the kids, pulling down the blinds during thunderstorms, etc. and personally, I couldn't imagine living with a dog like that. However, and I'm sure this is true for nearly all pet owners, they settle into a rhythm with the dog trying to outsmart him and keep him from destroying their lives. It's a wonderful family film, perfect for kids, but funny enough to keep adults entertained. 3.5 of 5 Lambs/Stars.

Now, Wendy and Lucy follows a terrific dog as his owner, Wendy tries to make a better life for the two of them. Michelle Williams, in a remarkably captivating performance, is trying to get to Alaska to find a job, and likely escape something from her past. When she takes a pit stop in Oregon, she's picked up for shoplifting (possibly inadvertently) and her dog is gone when she returns. She also finds her car has given up the ghost and she doesn't have the money to fix it or get a new one. She befriends a security guard who tries to help her out. We watch as she struggles to do what's best for Lucy while trying to keep herself alive. This movie was made in the true spirit of independent film (she was nominated and won lots of awards for her performance). They follow a single character through a poignant moment in her life. It's well shot, and Williams is terrific, though the movie does move fairly slowly. I liked it, but it's definitely not for everyone. 3 stars/lambs (currently available on Netflix watch instantly).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife: Review (minor spoilers)

Obviously, if you've already read the novel upon which the movie is based, this review won't contain any spoilers. However, if you've not read or heard anything about it, this might reveal a bit more than you'd like. Here's the summary of what I thought first, then I'll add specifics. I really liked it. The Time Traveler's Wife is a wonderful love story with a bit of a fantasy (or futuristic) spin. 4.5 of 5 stars/lambs, not quite perfect, but there were elements of the book I similarly thought weren't great and the movie was wonderfully faithful to the book.

Now, the specifics of what I liked and why. Eric Bana stars as Henry DeTamble, a research librarian who has one small anomaly, he un-willfully travels through time. He can't control where or to when he goes or even when he'll return to normal time. When he's in his 30s and 40s he travels back in time and meets a little girl named Claire. Claire spends her life growing up and becoming friends and ultimately falling in love with Henry, even though he only visits as an older man and infrequently. However, they meet when they're both in their 20s. Claire has known him her whole life, but in his 20s, Henry has not yet met Claire. That's sort of where the movie starts, and then follows Claire's life in real time, with flash backs and forwards following Henry. As I'd hoped, the movie is much easier to follow than the book, which just gives you dates and the characters ages to keep you oriented, while the movie gives you actual images of each person at a given age to compare (they grey Henry's hair, cut Claire's hair, etc.). We follow Claire and Henry through falling in love, marriage, and children, all the while struggling with how to understand and deal with Henry's "condition". While I never picked up on the underlying messages in the book, the time travel and the love story is too strong, the movie does a terrific job, mostly with the acting, of introducing greater themes the material is exploring. The idea that the person you love could have a disease, disability or "condition" is one that many if not all couples will someday deal with, and we get to watch as Claire (a wonderful Rachel McAdams) struggles with trying to hate the "condition" and not the man. I think she reaches an equilibrium and questions whether it's fair have to love someone with this condition and how you can get through it. Okay, that was the weightier theme that I really liked. The other issue they do a terrific job of demonstrating is the concept of fate and choice. If Henry will eventually always go back in time and meet Claire, does she really have any choice but to fall in love with him when she meets him again as an adult? If he knows the house they will eventually live in, does he have to search until he finds that house, or can he choose whatever he wants? They do a good job of explaining their paradigm of time travel in the film. It's a great love story too, Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana have great chemistry. Also, the supporting characters of Ron Livingston (currently in "Defying Gravity" on ABC which is a great series so far) and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Kendrick who helps the couple figure out how to keep their fetus from time traveling before it's born. I cried very hard at the end, and that's all I'll say. Terrific movie for anyone who likes love stories, sci-fi, fantasy or great acting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The UGLY truth: review

Yesterday after a difficult task was completed, I treated myself to a matinee of The Ugly Truth, and as it was a Tuesday and a movie that's been open a while, I was the ONLY person in the theater! I loved it. Watched the movie like it was my living room - disobeyed all the rules of movie watching. I checked my phone, texted, listened to voicemail. It was totally fun, and worth it even if the movie wasn't great. The Ugly Truth is the name of a cable-access TV call-in show hosted by Gerard Butler's character, Mike, that tells the truth about what attracts guys - T&A mostly. He oversimplifies things, but I doubt he's wrong. The conflict begins (because what's a romantic comedy without conflict) when Katherine Heigl's character, Abby, a producer for a local news show, confronts him about the assumptions he's making. However, he proves he's right by helping her get a date with her neighbor (a perfectly hot doctor who fits all of Abby's control-freak criteria). They continue to work together and you can see from a long way off that their opposites will attract. The movie is every cliche in the book, with a lot of really vulgar jokes thrown in too. There's no way some of the things he says would pass muster on a morning news show. It's funny in some parts, but doesn't actually show us anything new, and pretty much drags the genre back 10 years with the recurring theme that women are lead by their heads, and men by their crotch. Butler and Heigl do have really good chemistry and Butler is incredibly charismatic (though he talks out of one side of his mouth trying to hide his accent). A decent movie, but nothing great. 3 of 5 Lambs/stars

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie and Julia, parallel adventures that are nothing alike

The best chick flick offering this year finally opened. No, I'm not talking about The Ugly Truth (though I still want to see that), but rather a grown up movie that has nothing about trying to get a guy to notice you, but rather about two women trying to do something to make their lives feel fulfilled. Julie and Julia stars Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, respectively, learning to cook, and figuring out how to make cooking a part of their lives and selves. Julie lives in present day New York City working in a cubicle for a post-9/11 government division going nowhere. She has lunch with her college friends and finds her life inadequate and unlike the one she imagined when leaving college and reaching 30. To challenge herself she chooses to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year. We watch her attempts and misadventures and she discovers what I think most people do when jumping deep into cooking - many things are very hard, and some things won't taste good, even if they are in a cookbook. Meanwhile, the movie also follows the real Julia Child (portrayed with wonderful whimsy and panache by Meryl Streep) as she attends cooking school and ultimately attempts to get her cookbook published. It's a wonderfully funny movie, with heartfelt performances and witty dialogue. There were no slow or boring moments and remarkably few cooking montages. I remembered liking the book, and feeling Julie's anxiety when she had to cook aspic or live lobsters after racing home from the other side of Manhattan to a tiny Queens apartment. The movie finds that anxiety in both Julie AND Julia's lives and we get to ride through it with them. The chemistry in both marriages, with Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina, was both believable and enviable (neither traits easy to master in on-screen love) Excellent movie! 4.5 stars/Lambs

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland: Review

If you think of film as working at revealing the human experience and as there are several billion people on earth, there should be several billion different experiences. Yet, the genius of film is that every film will reach more people because of shared experiences. So, when I see a film that brings to life a new experience and in a new way, I feel the need to applaud the film (even if I didn't like it, which I did very much in this case) and when I can relate to that new experience, though it's one I've never had myself, I have to praise the film to whomever will listen. Phoebe in Wonderland stars Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman as academic parents raising two daughters, the elder played remarkably well (and refreshingly unlike her sister) by Elle Fanning (Phoebe). When Phoebe auditions for the school play, "Alice in Wonderland" it seems like the best opportunity to escape many of her bullying classmates. The theater teacher, Patricia Clarkson, inhabits the story and wants the children acting in it to do the same. When each child arrives for his audition she says, "no room, no room, move down, move down" to see what the child will respond with. Most of them don't get it, but a brilliant little boy who arrives to audition for the White Queen asks for some tea, and she's transformed. This sort of look at life embodies each of the characters - how do they relate to the world, how do they fit into it, and what do they bring to it. Our main character Phoebe suffers from all kinds of behavioral problems that baffle her parents, particularly her mom, Felicity Huffman, who blames herself for her daughter's problems and by doing so lengthens the time until she's properly understood. It's a magical story without actually being a fairy tale, or having a particularly happy ending. I really liked it and won't reveal all the twist the movie goes through. 4 of 5 lambs/stars. PS - It's available on Roku or Netflix streaming right now!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dreams do come true!

A few weeks ago, there was a meme circulating about the time and place in TV or film you'd most like to live. One of my choices was the world of Jane Austen. Now, it actually was made into a British TV series last year on BBC called "Lost in Austen". It's 4 episodes, but on DVD now it just runs as a single event, with no obvious breaks. The idea of stepping into the world of Austen is brought to life when Amanda Price's (Jemima Rooper, from "Hex") favorite literary character, Elizabeth Bennett, has stepped through the wall of her attic, into Amanda's 21st Century bathroom in Hammersmith, London. Amanda steps through to see if it's true and becomes stuck on the other side, in Longborn, from Pride and Prejudice. She's wearing a leather jacket and jeans, but manages to explain her ensemble as "otter hunting garb". She follows the story of P&P, trying to make things come out the way the book she loves has foretold, but her presence in the story (and Elizabeth's absence) starts changing things. It's a wonderfully funny and heartfelt retelling of P&P from the perspective of one who loves the novel. The actors are familiar with Alex Kingston (Dr. Elizabeth Corday from "ER") and Hugh Bonneville (Bernie from Notting Hill) as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. The other standout was the infamously wonderfully Mr. Darcy played by Elliot Cowan, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the late Heath Ledger. His brooding, lovelost portrayal of Mr. Darcy is constantly compared to Colin Firth's performance, and it does hold up well. Overall, a terrific rental for any who like British comedy or Jane Austen. 5 stars/lambs

Monday, August 3, 2009

Movies I want to see

Okay, it's been a while since I've been to the movies. Just a random lull, with visitors and weddings preventing weekend viewing. But I still want to try to see The Ugly Truth, Funny People, (500) Days of Summer, Julie and Julia, and I can't wait to see The Time Traveler's Wife. I've been catching up on The Wire while I work at home. Up to season 4!! It's a really amazing show. It's so dark that I have trouble calling it wonderful or the best ever, as those words don't feel right, but it ranks with some of the greatest shows ever. Also, I spent the weekend catching up on the wonderful performances by the USA swim teams at the World Championships in Rome. 2012 is going to be another amazing Olympics. Oh, and of course, I love my summer TV, not that there's very much. "Royal Pains" has become a good show. I still like "In Plain Sight" (Mary McCormack is really good, and Fred Weller as her partner is perfect). The final season of "Monk" starts Friday along with a new season of "Pysch". "Burn Notice" hasn't been great so far, but I think they're setting it up for a future season, I hope. Kathy Griffin is hilarious and Kyra Sedgwick is still doing a terrific job.