The Pianist (2002)

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? It you tickle us, we we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” 

Roman Polanski’s Academy Award winning film, The Pianist

Interestingly enough, this brief recitation of Shakespeare was not nearly the most poetic moment in Roman Polanski’s portrayal of the life of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. This film, one that has received much critical acclaim, tells the tale of an artist living through the bottomless chasm of human suffering that was the Holocaust. What Polanski delivers is remarkable.

The film is based on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s book Death of a City. It is an auto-biographical account of Szpilman’s experience during WWII. The film is exceptional in that it manages to capture a Nazi occupied Poland, and the nature of the hardships experienced there while also preserving a separate spatial plane for understandings of incongruous things, like  family, souls, and music. In times of keen suffering life seems to be reduced to the baser things, such as hunger or shelter. The director and the actors do a wonderful job of communicating this.

The film begins with Szpilman playing the piano, and it ends similarly. However, all that is between is a cacophony of loss and grief. There is a certain rhythmic quality to the progression of the film, not unlike that of the piece Szpilman performs (Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Chopin) for Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who upon discovering Szpilman beseeches him to play. The loss of music was a theme that I think, while subdued, was almost as strong as the calamity surrounding it. There is a scene wherein Szpilman is in hiding, and his lodging has a piano that he cannot play for fear of being discovered. So he sits at the piano and pantomimes playing a glorious song. The passion and warmth is Brody’s jaundiced, bearded, hollow face were magnificent. The dutiful conviction Brody brings to this scene and countless others is in large part what makes this film seem real. His beginnings as a famous pianist were cool and deferential. Those qualities carried throughout the film, unhampered by tragedy and echoes of unrepentant diaspora.

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman: It’s a funny time to say this, but… 
Halina: What? 
Wladyslaw Szpilman: I wish I knew you better. 

Polanski’s decisive focus on peripheral characters was something of value. There is a scene where a woman is killed during a Jewish uprising. A Nazi shoots her in the back and she falls to the ground, dead and prostrating in front of a hospital. There’s another scene wherein a troupe of Nazis intimidate a small group of Jews, of varying ages, into dancing and singing. In another scene, or rather a string of scenes, a woman is wailing the words ‘why did I do it?’ and we come to find out that she smothered her own child while hiding from Nazis. Another scene shows a woman asking around for her husband; this woman appears several times, each time asking is anyone has seen her husband. It is these scenes that allow us to remain in the first person without losing the impact of the collective trauma. This is done quite gracefully by Polanski.

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld: Thank God, not me. He wants us to survive. Well, that’s what we have to believe. 

Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld

The ray of light in this film is awarded to Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who ensured Szpilman’s survival by feeding and concealing him. Whose very existence is a defense against cynicism and the inclination human beings have to parse the world into black or white, good or bad. Of all the things Polanski achieved in this film, just choosing to tell the story is the greatest achievement.

I haven’t tallied up the numbers, but the Holocaust has got to be the most common piece of subject matter where the art of film is concerned. I think it captivates us so in that it challenges everything we presume to know about life, and humankind. The gravity of shared horror is great enough to award the Holocaust a permanent spot in the archive of humanity. Polanski’s masterful representation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s story was one worth watching, and one that will touch you.

Rating: 9/10

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Candy (2006)

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Stopping and starting and changing and losing and gaining and finding and being lost. All things that director Neil Armfield attempts to translate onto film with Candy, a film adaptation of author Luke Davies Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film stars late actor, and man of legend, Heath Ledger.

Directed by Neil Armfield

Alongside Ledger is another couple of beloved Aussies, Abbie Cornish and our favorite old queen, Geoffrey Rush. Spoilers are drawing nigh.

Candy is the story of a young drug addicted poet named Dan (Heath Ledger) who falls in love with a young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). His drunk, vagrant charm draws her into a vortex of romance and heroine addiction. They’re relationship goes the way of destruction from then on.

Seeing as this film is based on a novel, I want to make it clear that I have not read said novel and can only judge the quality of the film alone. That being said, I thought that there was a cog missing. It may have been the dialouge, overwrought in places. Or maybe the pacing of the film, which seemed a bit rocky (which perhaps could have been a way to illustrate the nature of the main characters’ relationship). I enjoyed the story. I think it could have benefited from some added ingredients, such as a prelude (however brief) to the madness that was Dan and Candy’s relationship. An explanation, or even an ambiguous reference to Dan’s parentage and childhood. For a movie driven by characters there seemed to be too many missed opportunities to develop them. That, however, did not stop the cast from knocking it the fuck out of the park. So let’s begin with those brilliant bastards.

DanThere’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is. 

This film has a certain allure, for me at least, because it features a prematurely deceased, brilliant, actor whose skillfully crafted performances have been made more haunting since his departure. This particular film is resonant because Ledger died of a drug overdose, a fate that both Dan and Candy constantly face. Ledger’s performance was another great addition to the impressive, albeit incomplete, resume he left behind. Ledger has the skill of completely embedding himself into a character. He is the smallest doll in a matryoshka doll set, and his containers are all character. He makes the viewer feel as though they are witnessing a string of private moments. With posture like an old scarecrow and a smile faithfully crooked, Ledger was a clean white bed sheet strung up on a wall with the character of Dan swirling on a film reel nearby, projected plainly onto it.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger

Elaine Wyatt: What happened to that beautiful little girl? 
Candy: What happened? What happened? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I have been clenching my fucking fists since I was six years old!

Having not seen Abbie Cornish in any other leading role I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe my complete lack of expectations contributed to this, but she was brilliant. In terms of the script she was responsible for delivering some of the heavier dialogue, and she did so magnificently. She can do much more with a down-turned eye and cotton white panties than most actresses can do with full a make-up crew and a million dollar style budget.

Dan: Casper was like the dad you always wanted – the one who lets you have lollies and fizzy drink, who lets you stay up and watch the late night movies. 

Geoffrey Rush (Casper) as a homosexual heroine cook. It was brilliant, I must say. There’s something in all of us that needs to see Geoffrey Rush be a homosexual on screen, and the satisfaction from having finally seen it is my own personal “yellow jesus.” His character hints at something not entirely approached in the story, but the mystery adds to the impact of his fate, and to its affect on Dan.

Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger as Dan

There were shining scenes. The scenes when they were most intimate, which were enhanced by the fantastic connection between Ledger and Cornish. The withdrawal scenes. The scene when Dan is reading Candy’s story on the wall was a particularly powerful moment in the story. The film had some very precious moments.

But the film suffered at the hands of a director who did not properly judge which plot points to emphasize and which to let creep in slowly. Maybe even experimentation with chronology would have improved it; Armfield had all the pieces, he just didn’t know where to put them. Where Armfield did succeed was in terms of atmosphere. The film felt clenched, which is often a bi-product of first person narration, but Armfield made it as though the life Dan and Candy lead was the only life, save brief encounters with Candy’s parents when the couple looked sick and rattled by comparison. This spoke to the nature of addiction. The thrill and the hunt. The high and the low.

This film was best in it’s quietest scenes. Unfortunately Armfield didn’t always know when to be quiet.

Rating: 4/10

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Filed under Drama, Film Adaptation, Indie

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

“If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it you shall kill the woman and the beast. Their blood will be upon them.”

Directed by David Fincher

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a film adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium Series, directed by The Social Network’s David Fincher. The film is unique in that it is not only adapted from a book, but also from the Swedish version of the film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev. I will try not to spoil too much, as I am a huge fan of the books and wouldn’t want to ruin them for anyone. (But I’ll totally ruin movies for you!)

Henrik Vanger: You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet – my family.

The story is one of great intrigue and mystery. Lisbeth Salander is a young woman who works for a security company. She is an insanely skilled hacker, which lends itself to her job, and she is also a ward of the state. The story starts with her report of a investigation of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is being charged with libel for making unsubstantiated claims against one wealthy and corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström. Eventually Lisbeth’s and Mikael’s paths cross and Mikael recruits Lisbeth to work on a murder investigation with him. Spoilers lie ahead.

Dragan Armansky: She’s different in every way. 

In this film newb actress Rooney Mara not only steps into the big shoes of Lisbeth Salander the character, but into the shoes of her predecessor, the powerhouse acting phenomena that is Noomi Rapace. Oplev’s films feature Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who was a mirror image of Salander’s on-paper character. Younger, less Swedish, actress Rooney Mara ended up doing what all smart actresses must do when cast in the role after someone great: make the character their own (it even got her an Oscar nom). Mara’s deadpan portrayal of Salander is spot on. It takes a subtle touch to successfully pull off the calculating, errant, apathetic, genius, pure laine survivor that is Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Mara comes very close and does it all with bleach blonde eyebrows.

Since Larsson’s story relies very heavily on plot, he provided film makers with a clear line of story progression. The pacing of the story is what makes it so exhilarating. I’ll start by saying that I feel that Oplev botched the pacing of the story. Fincher (along with Steven Zaillian) made some  disconcerting  alterations to the story line. But in terms of pacing, Fincher managed; at least enough to build the mystery a bit.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and Erika Berger (Wright)

Daniel Craig is perfection in the role of Mikael Blomkvist. He and his beautiful smoldering blue eyes stayed very true to the character. The rest of the main cast, including the wonderful Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer all contributed greatly to the story, and honored the characters they were playing.

Martin Vanger: The fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain. 

As for the story’s presentation, Fincher has a way of getting a littler bit too gimmicky and showy. The opening bit with Mara and Craig sort of gesticulating in what looks like liquid titanium was a little garish. The styling of Salander was a bit overplayed, considering she doesn’t really give a shit what she looks like I doubt she would go to the trouble of bleaching her eyebrows. Fincher leaned too much into the ‘psychopath goth chick’ thing. There’s a scene in the movie wherein Slander approaches her guardian Nils Bjurman (who violently raped her) and informs him not to fuck with her because she is crazy (“No, it’s okay. You can nod because it’s true. I am insane.”). Now, the character Lisbeth Salander would never say something simply to make an impression.

Academy Award Nominee Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

She says what she means, and she didn’t think she was crazy, so she would have never said that. Other than my nit-pick criticisms that stem from my love of the book I’d say that Fincher did a good job of capturing the mood. Through a collection of panoramic landscapes, a stream of seamless editing and deliberate and skilled performances on the part of all the film’s actors and actresses I’d say Fincher was a part of a worthy collection of talented people who were able to make a solid movie out of a great book.

The story retains its mystique in the American telling. The scenes most focused on the murder investigation being carried out by Salander and Blomkvist  are chilling and well-executed. Unfortunately, the journalistic logistics are half of this story and Fincher, in all his Lisbeth-enthusiasm, allowed the story

Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Craig)

to rely to heavily on her plotline (or rather the plotline she shared with Mikael), making Mikael’s secondary. The juxtaposition of the the orderly (albeit corrupt), vast, world of politics and journalism and the secluded town of Henrik Vanger, a cesspool of broken personal relationships, deceit, and unsolved mysteries is what balances the story and makes it work. So the imbalance of Fincher’s focus disturbed the story’s equilibrium.

My initial reaction to this film was a positive one. Mostly because I was overjoyed that it wasn’t as bad as the Swedish version. But after time to consider it, it wasn’t the movie it could have been, given the talent involved. That being said, it stands as something separate from the book and Oplev’s interpretation and it’s a good watch.

Rating: 6.9/10

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!”

Directed by Christopher Nolan

This piece of dialogue encapsulates the very nature of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan’s ability to compose a plot, a simple sequence of events, outclasses that of any other action movie of TDKR’s kind. This film was the culmination of everything great about Nolan as a director, and everything great about the Batman movies thus far. All things considered, it could not be any better.  Spoilers ahead. And don’t even think about reading this before you see it, because I will haunt your dreams if you do. Good then. I should also mention that Nolan is one of my favorite directors, so.

For me, going to see a Marvel/DC Comics movies is always an event. Actually watching the movie is only one part of the process. It begins when I prepare myself to see the movie, and in this case that included adjusting my expectations. What was I expecting to see? What did I want to see? This proved essential. As I shake my head gratifyingly at the flurry of Facebook posts by my friends, whose reviews betray every bit of their disappointment in the film, I think to myself ‘they’ve gone and ruined it for themselves’. This is important to state before I truly review this movie, if you go see The Dark Knight Rises with the hope that it will top The Dark Knight you will be disappointed. Now, if you go in looking for the end of a trilogy (what the movie is actually supposed to be, instead of a desperate Nolan trying to convince everyone that he can top his masterpiece) you will be pleased, and pleasantly surprised. You’ll see the light and you’ll make the leap, but we’ll get to that.

The Dark Knight Rises sports one hot and spicy cast. It’s like the cast of Inception but Leo and Ellen are on sick leave. Christian Bale returns, crippled, but in better shape acting-wise than ever (and his body). The gentleman’s club that is comprised of Michael Cane, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (with brief hints of Liam Neeson) is back, and more distinguished and intense than ever. Then we’ve got newcomers to the story, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy. Sometimes when there are too many famous and beloved actors in one film it becomes sort of a dying star. But Nolan allocates time and focus to these characters so well that their talents are completely optimized, making for a stupendously acted film.

Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane. I mean The Joker is not to be followed. He has to be at least in the top 3 most beloved comic book villains of all time; that along with the fact

Tom Hardy as Bane

that Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances of all time. So in a way Tom Hardy had the toughest job of all: being the villain to follow The Joker. His swollen muscles and menacingly croaky voice instilled a bit of fear in me, I must say. I was impressed. Anne Hathaway was also quite delicious as Catwoman. Some, who no doubt remember her doe eyed roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, thought she couldn’t pull off the role of a sexy sleuth. I daresay she proved them wrong.

Catwoman (Selina Kyle): There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

Nolan was faced with one of the greatest struggles a film maker can come up against. Supplying a follow-up to a smash hit. It was enough to stress me out for years, so I can’t imagine his ordeal. The thing is, if he’d tried to create another Dark Knight, in other words give us the same things but amplify them, this movie would have been a failure. But clever as he is, instead of trying to one up himself he actually told the damn story. On a larger scale, with bigger stakes and a greater, more pertinent integration of character development in our protagonist: Batman.

The crisis of Bruce Wayne has been a common theme in this character from its inception (pun intended). In this film Bruce is presented to us as a recluse, having been stunted by the loss of Rachael, his childhood friend, great love, and his key to escaping the trap that is his life as Batman. He only ‘rises’ from his seclusion when it becomes clear that Bane is a serious threat to Gotham, at which point Nolan introduces the first step in his dismantling of Wayne’s world (geddit?): the departure of Alfred Pennyworth. In Alfred’s departure we lose, along with

Christian Bale and Michael Caine

Wayne, a constant comfort. Along with Alfred goes the bit of happiness Wayne was holding on to: the plan of another life with Rachael. Quickly following was Nolan’s second step in developing the Wayne crisis: the shooting and hospitalization of Tinker Tailor Soldier Commissioner Gordon. These losses are followed by the loss of Wayne’s fortune, at the hands of Bane. So at this particular juncture in the story, Batman has lost his one unyieldingly dedicated servant, lost the bit of Rachael he was holding on to, faces the loss of his trusted ally in the police force, and lost an essential part of what even makes him a superhero: his money. The theme of loss continues from the previous film, into this one. What Nolan is doing is genius. When it starts to look like Wayne has nothing, when her enters the action film’s sweet sweet ‘protagonist with nothing to lose’ spot, whose lack of fear of death and consequences will win him victory, just when Nolan gets Wayne into that spot he takes a sharp left and revisits the glory that was Batman Begins.

Bane: I am Gotham’s reckoning.

I’ve always felt that with all the hype around The Dark Knight (well deserved hype), Batman Begins has become terribly underrated. I’m an avid book reader before a film watcher, and I’ve noticed in my travels that people tend to favor the middle of a story. The beginning is slow and deliberate. It supplies a lot of information, but not a lot of excitement. The middle is pure excitement, rising action, and mystique. But the middle can only be that if the beginning is just right, and if the end ties everything together. The Dark Knight is the quarterback of the trilogy. People will always love it the most and even if they understand the importance of the other two, they won’t car because ‘Hey! Look! The Joker!’. I personally have a great fondness for Batman Begins. For that reason, I appreciate Nolan revisiting the beginning in order to tell the end. I appreciate seeing Wayne get stripped down to the bare bones of his past, til’ it literally comes back and stabs him between the ribs. TDKR was an allusion to the intrigue of Batman Begins. Any good story must grapple with its beginning in order to come to an end.

As usual, the movie offered plenty to follow. Nolan knows how to keep the minds of his audience busy. You’ve got Catwoman (played by a saucy Anne Hathaway) in one corner trying to settle the score with the ‘wrong people’. You’ve got Commissioner Gordon Jr., John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who becomes Batman’s partner in crime (wink wink wink wink…..nudge). You’ve got Bane running around inciting angry mobs, and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) trying to pick up the pieces. You’ve got Bruce struggling to escape exile and eventual execution. There’s the usual power grabby nonsense and general discord in the police force (even on a national scale this time). All the while here I am picturing poor Alfred hopelessly tilling a garden in Florence, hoping Bruce will come by wearing a tweed jacket, carrying a basket of fresh fruits and sporting a smile as wide as the lawn of Wayne Manor.

Batman: A hero can be anyone.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake

The heart of this movie lies in its classic moments of realization, character development and atonement.When Catwoman saves the kid with the apple. When Deputy Commissioner Foley races to the streets in his dress blues. When a story of love and heroism is unraveled through the story’s villains, Bane and Miranda Al Ghul. When Bruce realizes his lack of fear of death is an obstacle rather than a weapon; when he finally escaped his exile by making the leap across that chasm. The jarring moment when Commissioner Gordon finally realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. These are all what the story is all about. The confused nature of good and evil. The dilemma of allegiance to ideals. The realization that comes with total loss. The products of desperation. All human stories told within a superhero action movie.

The story seemed as if it was going to end on a very low note. Then this one cool thing happened* (*a series of cool things). The set-up nearly made me piss myself. Suddenly the inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt made sense. That part I won’t spoil. But just know, it is pretty exciting.

The Dark Knight Rises is the end of, possibly, the best superhero story yet. Not even a Superman preview before the film could distract from the last of the greatest action film trilogy ever.

Rating: 10/10

I’d like to close this review by taking a moment to address the shooting that happened at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. When I awoke this morning and turned on CNN the first thing I saw was the news of the murder of what at that time was believe to be 14 people. The coverage on this story is through the roof, so I imagine most people have heard what happened. For those who haven’t, feel free to read a version of the story here.

My heart aches for the victims and all pe0ple present for this sickening, nonsensical, violent act. There isn’t much to say that seems worth saying in response to so grizzly an attack, but I hope those people feel the love all around this country for them. I hope the gunman faces repercussions and ultimately finds balance within himself.

REST IN PEACE

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens)

July 20th, 2012

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Midnight in Paris (2011)

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

And so went one of Woody Allen’s most recent reveries, Midnight in Paris, which follows Gil Pender, played by the charmingly befuddled Owen Wilson. There’s something

Directed and Written by Woody Allen

that Woody Allen understands about longing that no one else has the capability of articulating. So like many of his stories, this one is one of a search for fulfillment. Gil Pender is a successful Hollywood screenplay writer who winds up in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. The trip forces Gil to confront the failings of his relationship with Inez and the lack of fulfillment he is getting from his life and his career. At midnight, he travels back in time to a place that he imagines to be ‘the golden age’: Paris in the 1920’s.

The film, like most of Allen’s film, has a wonderful cast. It stars the adorable Owen Wilson. Alongside him is Regina George (a.k.a Rachel McAdams) who gets more evil as she gets blonder. The ‘pedantic gentleman’ Michael Sheen, who impresses in a smaller role, as per usual. Then we get a barrage of psychotically amazing performances from royalty like Kathy

Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as the Fitzgeralds

Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, and Tom Hiddleston. Sometimes films can get bogged down with too dense a cast, but this orchestration of talents made for a enchanting story.

‘Portrait of a Woman’ by Amedeo Modigliani

The magic starts in when the first time skip sequence starts. When Gil first meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the Fitzgeralds, there’s a feeling of being profoundly star stricken. I may have even blushed (all due to the incomparably handsome Tom Hiddleston, I’m sure). There were also many peripheral appearances and mentions of sentimental historical characters like Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Matisse and Edgar Degas.  The appearance of those fixtures in our culture, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Picasso, Dali, summons the pure mass of artistry they brought. It calls forth those valuable cultural magics that were followed by a recess in love and true art that has extended into ours lives and into the life of Gil Pender. The feeling is truly wonderful, and it is where Allen makes a connection with the intellectual.

Gil: That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.

I would say that the true magic of the film lies not with the time travel, and the beautiful shadows of legends bouncing around the walls of Gil Pender’s mind. No, it lies in the truth that Allen is attempting to communicate through this journey. That dissatisfaction with the present is not an ailment that can be cured by any supernatural escapism. That escape in any form, while romantic and quite wonderful, is not the answer. That the answer to fulfillment and happiness isn’t confined to any particular bracket in time. It’s a worthy message, one communicated beautifully, charmingly and romantically.

Where the film could have improved is in the personal relationships in the present. Gil’s fiancee, Inez, was an altogether one dimensional character with absolutely no

Michael Sheen being pedantic

redeeming qualities. As were her parents. The movie was mostly great but a truly great film cannot ignore the opportunity to develop characters, even if the message ultimately has nothing to do with them. The romantic dilemma Gil experiences between Adrianna (Marion Cotillard) and Inez is one that could have been strengthened by a more developed character in Inez.

Allen finds a way to do a million important things in one film. It was stupendously humorous. Michael Sheen’s character Paul provided many good laughs, seeing as he played an insufferable “pseudo-intellectual.” Allen managed to inject humor into the story in every context without losing the heart of the drama. Also, there was an overarching theme of Parisian worship. The romance of the place was really at the crux of this very human story. All of that along with the inclusion of the famous artworks and authentic costuming, this movie achieved authenticity though messaging and atmosphere.

Gertrude Stein: The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.

Woody Allen has a way of taking what appears to be a generic idea, nostalgia, and making it into something very true, and real. Even with the fantastical ‘going back in time’ plot point, somehow the experiences of Gil Pender with the great artists of the 20th century feels close to home. So how does he do it? I think he knows how to tap into some of the most fundamental human dilemmas. Nostalgia for a time you never knew. The feeling that you do not belong. The feeling that you’ve wasted your life. All of which are a part of the internal monologue of our collective psyche as human beings. It’s powerful because it knows you, and it talks to you, and tells you you’re not alone.

Rating: 8.9/10

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Young Adult (2011)

“And I noticed you got a KenTacoHut. You know, one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell.”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Young Adult is yet another female driven dark comedy written by the magnificent Diablo Cody. Since her movies always feel like an extended vagina monologue gone meta, it’s hard for me not to love them. Her written work paired with the human smirk that is the film’s Director Jason Reitman make for a bangin’ film.

“This is a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world, and while she looked so sad in photographs I absolutely love her” prophesied  Nine Days’ John Hampson 12 years ago. No, Absolutely (Story of a Girl) is not a song about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), Young Adult’s protagonist, but god damn do those lyrics run deep. Anyway, Mavis is the author of a young adult series, not a fucking kid’s series, a young adult series. She comes from a small town called Mercury where no one makes anything of themselves, so after her divorce she returns to try and rekindle things with her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). In the interim, she connects with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a crippled man-child who also went to her high school. They befriend each other and then shit hits the fan. And by shit, I mean Mavis.

There’s something about how Cody writes women that is so alluring. Maybe I, like everyone else who consumes primarily male written, directed, and produced films, am starved for authentic female characters. In any case, the essence of a woman as told by another woman added immensely to this film’s appeal.

This film flourished in intermediate scenes. When Mavis is covering her face in concealer. When she goes from a grease stained crumpled up napkin, to a cardigan-ed, powdered, primped mannequin/Rolling Stones groupie. When she eats trash, and watched trash television and walks down the street. When she listens to music in her car. Cody has a way of giving the atmosphere of reality. As kitschy as her films are, I always felt like I was watching real events, and real people. Albeit, pretty fucked up people.

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary

Charlize Theron herself is massively versatile. She is one of those rare actresses who can travel seamlessly from one genre to the next. I still haven’t been able to wash her haunting performance from Monster out of my brain. She was such a shit stain in this film that it made you kind of hate her,  but it was so superbly acted that at the end of the film you felt you’d been through the taxing emotional experience that she had been through. You understood the mundane terror of feeling like your life has gone all wrong, and that it is too late to fix it.

The stand out performance for me was given by Patton Oswalt, a comedic actor in a comparatively dramatic role. His performance was real, and convincing and funny all at once. For me he really nailed the dark comedy. He’s one of those unexpected gems.

As for how the movie was written, Cody is just a genius comic. If you can find a way to get down in the mud with her, you can’t not enjoy yourself. The film is filled to the brim with quirky little characteristic quips. Her style is so culty. I just see her with a wide brimmed hat sitting on the edge of some roof, smoking cigarettes thinking ‘how can I get Charlize Theron to say the phrase ‘theater fag”?

The whole premise of the film. ‘Pyschotic prom queen bitch’ going back home to relive her glory days only to have a huge mirror shoved in her face, in the form of everyone she used to know. Seeing what became of all the youth from her past. Fucking used tampons and crushed soda cans of people

The Ultimate Showdown

scattered across the school yard, wishing they were somewhere else. Someone else. Finally it all culminates in an epic meltdown where we learn all the unsettling details of Mavis’ haunted past, that settles the score once and for all. The popular girl is just as miserable and unfulfilled as anyone else. Probably more miserable.  It’s all very familiar, but Cody manages to make it…..well, Cody. I’ll need to see it a few more times, but for me the movie did exactly what it was meant to do. A good dark comedy cuts deeper than a good drama. I think this one came quite close.

Mavis Gary: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra Freehauf: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die. Fuck Mercury.

Rating: 8/10

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Filed under Dark Comedy, Indie

The Ides of March (2011)

“Nothing bad happens when you’re doing the right thing.”

Directed by George Clooney

Part-time actor, full-time handsome, George Clooney brings to us a new aspect for which to praise him in the form of film adaptation The Ides of March: a foray into the world of politics. But before we start in on the praise we have to all first set aside our lust for him so that we can comfortably discuss the merits of his work with dry panties. We good to go? Cool, cause I’m issuing a nationwide spoiler alert and if you don’t like it, don’t vote for me.

Governor of Pennsylvania Mike Morris (Clooney) is a presidential democratic candidate. I buy that; Clooney has the jawline to be President, I’m into it, what’s next? Well, Stephen Meyers ( Ryan Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Morris, to Paul Zara’s (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) Senior Campaign Manager. You get slapped in the face with the dynamic between these men right out of the gate.

The film features all of your political hallmarks. A sassy brunette journalist, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), who won’t stop until the story is in her pocket. She’s got the in with the politicians, and her character represents how the media interacts with politics, or rather how the media is an integral part of politics. The facilitation and control of the flow of information to the public determines not only the way people think, but the way people vote, the way politicians act, and the way shit gets done. Check.

You’ve got your run of the mill political banter. The character sum up the state of the modern political landscape in charming one-liners. They’ve got the classic juxtaposition of an exceptionally noble candidate against a world of compromised, unprincipled, corrupted little politicians. Alongside that exceptionally principled candidate is a loyal hive of worker bees. Zara being the queen bee. Meyer being the most photogenic and charismatic bee. Check.

George Clooney as PA Governor Mike Morris

Then the most central themes: corruption. We all walk into a movie like this knowing that it is going to end up being about corruption. In that way this is a predictable story. But predictability doesn’t determine the quality of a film, at least not all on it’s own. So we saw it coming, but it still hits hard. Along with Meyer we all start out admitting a series of truths to ourselves while watching this film:

  1. Politics are corrupt
  2. Politicians lie
  3. The standard for public servants has dropped
  4. The electorate is wildly uninformed
  5. The media, large corporations, and special interests have too much influence

But like Meyer, we buy into the idea that even in a sea of seemingly incurable diseases in our political system there only need be one person with the integrity to stand up against it all and demand better. To be better. The Ides of March isn’t a story of the political world, of election year, of a Presidential candidate’s shot at being elected. The film is ultimately about Meyer traveling from the periphery of politics, right into the storm’s eye. But this isn’t the story of a kid who just learned Santa Claus isn’t real. It’s too simple to describe Meyer as naive. Goslings expert portrayal of Stephen Meyer illustrates a down spiral sparked by the last hallmark: sex.

Stephen Meyers: You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t fuck the interns. They get you for that.

Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns

The bombshell that was Molly Stearns’ (Evan Rachel Wood) brief affair and subsequent pregnancy was the game changer. This is when Meyer breaks, and launches a chain of events that tells the story louder and clearer than anything else in the entire movie. The shining beacon of light that was Mike Morris was A) a cheater B) a liar and C) a soon to be father to the child of an intern working on his own campaign. Not only does this failing in Morris’ character change everything for Meyer, it highlights an proven truth in politics: when it comes to holding office, the personal stuff matters. Sex matters. (Ahem, Clinton anyone?)

The cast was a collection of competent actors in undemanding roles. So in terms of acting, veterans like Hoffman, Clooney, Tomei and Giamatti gave solid, convincing performances. Up and comer, and solid 9, Ryan Gosling stunned in the main role, further demonstrating his versatility and ability to be well-received by varying audiences. Evan Rachel Wood played a convincing intern. Which isn’t very high praise, but maybe I’m just bitter about the fact that she appeared in at least 10 scenes in the movie and no one thought ‘hey, maybe we should dye this girl’s roots’. Tacky bastards.

The value of the film is in it’s clean and digestible approach to discussing politics. However, this film doesn’t do much to add to the conversation about the current state of politics. It doesn’t provide any new revelations. It simply serves to tell a story of characters through commonly understood political themes. Where the film goes wrong is that is pretends to be a a revelation. Instead of putting more weight on the characters (charming as they are) Clooney allowed the film to be driven primarily by the plot, which itself was very predictable.

For what it was, it was a solid movie and it was well orchestrated. I enjoyed it very much, myself. But then, I don’t know how much of that is due to ovary overload with Clooney and Gosling. Anyway, if you’re into politics, watch it. If you’re not into politics, watch it, learn something, then make damn sure to do your homework afterward.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Filed under Drama, Politics