Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

MOVIE: Arbitrage (2012)

January 12, 2013

I actually saw this movie months and months ago — while it was out in theaters, it was also available for streaming via Amazon, and my husband and I rented it one night when we suddenly found ourselves — wonder of wonders! — home together AT  THE SAME TIME!  (An election season MIRACLE that all spouses of political reporters can surely relate to.)

It’s about a billionaire named Robert Miller (Richard Gere) who manages a hedge fund along with his eldest daughter Brooke.  On the surface, he seems to have the perfect life — heck, he’s even married to Susan Motherfrakkin’ Sarandon, for pity’s sake (Note: that’s not her real middle name, BUT IT SHOULD BE).  Underneath that idyllic exterior, though — well, not so much with the idyll.

As it turns out, you see, Miller’s been desperately trying to sell off that hedge fund, not so he can retire, as he keeps telling his family, but so he can get as far away from it as possible before anybody figures out he committed fraud a few years back to cover a loss he thought would be temporary (like that ever works out, you hedge fund knuckleheads).

Things go from bad to worse, though, the night Miller and his young mistress Julie decide to go for a drive and end up in a terrible car crash that leaves Miller all bruised up and Julie dead in the seat next to him.  Rather than calling the cops to report the accident, Miller moves Julie to the driver’s seat (it’s her car) and flees the scene, afraid the scandal will cost him the sale of the hedge fund he so desperately needs.

Tim Roth plays the detective called out to the accident scene, and can quickly tell the body’s placement in the car doesn’t add up (because he’s an expert on body language, dead or alive, ever since starring on that show Lie to Me, duh).  As with most movie detectives, he hates rich people, so when he hears a rumor Miller had a connection to the victim, he immediately goes after him like my kitten Otis with a ball of yarn.  No surface left unstringed, and no stopping until there is no string left to strung.  Or something more grammatically correct than that.

This movie doesn’t have a lot of originality in terms of storyline, but it’s still very compelling, and what drives that the most, in my opinion, is the complexity of Miller’s character.  Described here, he sounds like a total bastard, right?  He’s ripped people off to make a profit for himself, committed fraud, and left his dead girlfriend behind in a car in the middle of a freezing cold night, simply to avoid putting a crimp in his business style.  What an asshole!

The thing is, though, the more the movie progressed, the more I felt terrible for Miller instead of angry at him.  The scene in which Brooke confronts him about the fraud, after prepping the books for the sale of the fund and finding evidence of her father’s cookery, was an intensely powerful and painful one, and Gere’s performance was spot-on flawless.  He’s sort of playing a bad guy who doesn’t know he’s a bad guy, really.  He’s a man taken down by hubris, rather than simply by greed or conscious evil-doing, which makes him a much more interesting character than, say, Bernie Madoff.  He’s conflicted and complicated — and so is our reaction to him.

Arbitrage isn’t a movie that stands out all that much, I wouldn’t say.   It’s not one I’m likely to take the time to watch again, for example.  But it was a nice little surprise, well-written and strongly acted, and it’s one definitely worth a rental now that it’s out on DVD.  Recommended!

[Prequeue it at Netflix | Watch it now via Amazon]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Tim Roth, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, William Friedkin, Brit Marling, Monica Raymund

MOVIES: We Bought a Zoo (2012) and Zookeeper (2012)

January 12, 2013

Still playing 2012 catch-up — here are two movies about zoos I saw last year, neither of which really needs a full-length review, so both of which I’m going to haikiew (haiku-review) for you instead.  I enjoyed both of these films, and I think they’d be excellent picks for parents looking for funny, good-natured movies to watch with their kids, but they aren’t, like, brilliant or anything.

weboughtWe Bought a Zoo

Widower buys zoo
To save family from grief.
It’s cheesy but sweet.

Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus Macfadyen, Peter Riegert
[Netflix it | Buy it]

zookeeperThe Zookeeper

Talking animals
Counsel lovelorn zookeeper.
Also cheesy but sweet!

(Hmm, notice a theme?)

Cast: Kevin James (kinda have a dorky crush on Kevin James, by the way, which is why I rented this one) Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow
[Netflix it | Buy it]

MOVIE: Argo (2012)

January 10, 2013

argo [Another catch-up review from 2012!]

I feel like it’s fairly safe to assume everybody knows what this movie was about, but on the off chance you live under a rock, let me briefly synoposis-ize it for you.  (Holy crap, is that ever not a word.)

The story begins with the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, during the height of the Iranian Revolution.  When Iranians rioting outside the embassy finally bust through the doors, taking the entire staff hostage, a group of 6  Americans manage to sneak out the back, racing across the street to take refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador.

As the hostages are tortured and terrified, it becomes clear to the Iranians in charge that they’re missing a few people.  They immediately launch a door-to-door search for any information about the Americans who escaped, with the threat of death upon anybody found guilty of harboring them.  Realizing it’s only a matter of time before the Americans are found, and the Canadian ambassador along with them, a CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), comes up with a radical idea to get them out.  He’s going to pose as a Canadian filmmaker, go into the country under the guise of scouting for film locations for a new sci-fi movie, and then leave a few days later with the Americans in tow, posing as fellow filmmakers.

Now, here’s the thing.  This movie is based on a true story, and even if you didn’t know this specific story before you saw the movie, you surely knew the outcome of the 1979 Iranian hostage situation in general (heck, I was only six in 1979, and even I knew everybody got out of that one alive — of the hostages, anyway).  In other words, I knew exactly how this movie was going to end.  AND IT DIDN’T MATTER ONE BIT.

I spent the last half hour of this film so friggin’ tense, I practically had a panic attack right there in the theater.  The scene in the airport — my god!  I kept saying to myself, “They’ll get out!  They get out!!” and it kept not mattering a smidge.  That Affleck, who directed Argo as well as starring in it, is able to create that much suspense where no suspense should rightly be, proves him, in my mind, to be an absolutely masterful filmmaker.

Now, it’s possible Argo was a fluke, and Affleck’s next movie is going to be a dud (I wasn’t that impressed by The Town, his previous directorial outing, for example).  But man, this movie totally kicked my ass — it’s absolutely perfect from start to finish.  I loved every minute of it.  Great acting, great writing (complete with great humor (“Argo f*ck yourself!”)), great HAIR.  Just greatness, all ’round.  I have no doubt Affleck will be nominated for Best Director this year, and even though I think the Oscars are stupid and meaningless, for his sake, I’d love to see him win.

Good job, Benny.  Keep this up, and the world might finally forgive you for Gigli (in theory, anyway, if not in practice).

Highly, highly recommended!

[Prequeue it at Netflix]

Genre:  Drama
Cast: Ben Affleck, Taylor Schilling, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, Alan Arkin, Titus Welliver, Adrienne Barbeau, Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Chris Messina

MOVIE: The Master (2012)

October 22, 2012

Look, I’ve been trying to write a review of this movie for almost a month now, and I just can’t do it.   I sit down, think about what to say, and all I can come up with is, “Good goddamn.”

So, good goddamn, is all.  I thought it was brilliant (and, boy, is it ever a Paul Thomas Anderson film — he has a very distinctive style).  But it also hit kind of close to home for me in several spots, and that made it incredibly hard to watch and even harder to write about.   Go see it yourself and see what you think.  I’ll be over here trying to think about something else for a while.

[Prequeue at Netflix]

Genre: Drama
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Rami Malek.

MOVIE: disFIGURED (2007)

September 22, 2012

I really liked the premise of this “women and weight” film, and it has a few truly powerful concepts in it.  But overall, the caliber of both the writing and the acting end up destroying all the elements that could’ve stuck with me for a while and provoked additional thought.  Argh, is there anything worse than a wasted brilliant idea?  I say there isn’t.  And repeat to you: Argh.

The story opens with a fat-acceptance group, where an obese young lady, Lydia, is struggling with the desire to accept her body as it is, while also fighting to make it something else — Cartesian Dualism at its finest and most relatable.  During the meeting, she tells the others she wants to start a “fat people” walking group, and the room rebels against her, arguing that exercise is about weight loss and is therefore counter-productive to the group’s goals.  Lydia tries to explain she merely wants to feel healthy and strong, not lose weight, but the group becomes more and more agitated the more she attempts to explain her motivations.   Frustrated, Lydia gives up and merely announces she’ll be starting that Saturday, if anyone decides they want to come.

Just then, a tall, rail-thin woman named Darcy walks in and sits down.  Suddenly, all eyes are on her and after a few beats of puzzled silence, someone finally asks her what the hell she’s doing there.  Darcy tells the group she’s a recovering anorexic and that she, too, is wrestling with the issue of body acceptance.  She still sees herself as “fat,” which fuels her anorexia, she tells them, and she’s desperate to get better.  Once again, the group flips out, ultimately telling Darcy she simply isn’t welcome there.

Nice group, this gang.

After the meeting is over, Lydia finds Darcy sitting outside and strikes up a conversation.  As time goes on and they continue to meet up and talk, the two become sort of uncomfortable friends — one opening up about her body image issues and resultant behaviors, while the other one tries (and usually fails) to understand them.

Doesn’t that sound really intriguing?  I thought so too.  Only, the thing is, it’s also just plain awful.  (See above, re: Argh!)

To begin with, the dialogue sounds like a string of well-practiced, badly delivered speeches about body acceptance and weight.  Instead of sounding like two friends trying to understand each other, it’s way too prepped and comes out sounding preachy and unnatural instead.  Even worse, though, is actress Staci Lawrence (Darcy), who monotones her way through every discussion and reveals no character chemistry whatsoever with Lydia.  I liked Lydia a lot, but by the end of the film, I didn’t believe for a second she’d be friends with someone as incredibly dull — not to mention outright cruel at times (Darcy openly tells Lydia at one point that she finds Lydia’s body “disgusting”) — as Darcy.

I think part of the problem is that the screenwriter clearly had a soft spot and deep understanding of what Lydia was struggling with, but no clue whatsoever as to what drives someone like Darcy — an anorexic.  Darcy is portrayed as being practically psychotically mentally ill, when in reality, Lydia, it could be argued, is pretty much exactly like her.  In our country, anorexia is generally considered to be a psychiatric disorder, and being overweight is considered either an issue of genetics practically out of anyone’s control or a moral failing (or both).  Though the film sympathizes with Lydia, it keeps the line between these two things firmly etched — Lydia is struggling with normal issues, but Darcy is SICK.

The thing is, having experienced both overeating and undereating in my life (and both to unhealthy extremes, I should add), I feel like the two problems stem from the same kinds issues.  Is there really a difference between being obese and being anorexic?  In terms of the things that drive those behaviors?  Wouldn’t it have been interesting if this film had tried to highlight more of the women’s similarities than their differences?  Is undereating somehow worse than overeating?  Or vice versa?  The lack of exploration of the parallels between the two characters, which were striking to me yet mostly ignored by the film, was one of the most disappointing elements of this picture.

I think this is a movie a lot of women would enjoy watching, despite it’s many, many weaknesses.  I also wanted to give the filmmakers a huge, gigantic THUMBS UP for featuring an incredibly steamy love scene between two overweight characters, and for exploring the issues surrounding gastric bypass surgery (Lydia’s reaction to her boyfriend’s announcement he’s having the surgery was a truly solid scene).  But when the credits rolled, I mostly felt let-down rather than inspired to give new thought to the issues brought to bear in the story.  There’s really nothing worse than a stellar idea fumbled by someone too clumsy to handle its complexities, and that was the problem with disFIGURED from start to finish.  Rats.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama
Cast: Deidra Edwards, Staci Lawrence, Ryan C. Benson, Elizabeth Sampson, Sonya Eddy

MOVIE: 50/50 (2011)

March 3, 2012

I was expecting this “dramedy,” about a 27 year-old radio writer, Adam (JG-L), who is diagnosed with a rare cancer of the spine, to be both funny and emotional.  Surprisingly, it ended up being mostly neither for me.

Adam is a quiet, serious sort of fellow, who, as the film opens, has just moved in with his incredibly lame girlfriend Rachel, and is about to go see a doctor about some back pain he’s had for a while.  The doctor’s visit goes badly — after a quick look at his MRI, the doc tells him he’s got a rare tumor in his back and that his odds of survival are 50/50 (hence: title).  Almost instantly, Adam’s life falls apart: his girlfriend dumps him after realizing she’s not cut out for standing by her man, his overbearing mother (the always-great Anjelica Houston) threatens to move in so she can smother him with mothering, and his best friend Kyle — well, his best friend Kyle mostly thinks this is the greatest news ever, as it means Adam can now play the “C-card,” and use his cancer to score chicks.

In theory, the movie then moves into a thoughtful combination of sadness and pain lightened up by goofy “bromance” comedy, as Kyle steps up to help his pal and the two begin bonding even more tightly via shared fear of loss.  The only problem is that it doesn’t really get either dynamic quite right.  The story goes too simply and predictably — Adam’s diagnosed, he goes through the usual five stages of grief, he shaves his head proactively in the obligatory cancer-movie head-shaving scene, and eventually, he accepts his disease and begins to fight it back.

Yet, for all the weight a story like this should have, it never really gets there.  It’s impossible not to feel anything for Adam — Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the master of looking pained, exhausted, and sympathetic — yet his character seemed underconceived to me.  Aside from one spectacular flash of anger, Adam is pretty much just. . . mopey.  His demeanor stays very even-keeled, which doesn’t make much sense given his diagnosis.  He never engages in any authentic emotional swoopage, and I don’t know a single person who’s had cancer who hasn’t had some spectacular emotional swoops from time to time. There’s a lot of power in emotional swings like that — and therefore, a lot of chances to really engage the audience in some shared gut-wrenching agony.  But to be honest, I felt like JG-L mostly just phoned this one in.

As for the “funny” parts, there are a few genuine laughs in there — maybe more if you’re a big fan of Seth Rogan’s schtick (meh) — but, if anything, the constant jarring yank from tender moment to goofy gag just made it impossible for either element to take hold.  It sort of reminded me of how a friend of mine reacts whenever I start crying about something — she immediately makes a joke to try to make me laugh, which I usually do, and then changes the subject to quash my emotional reaction before it gets too uncomfortable for either of us.  Which is great for me, because I hate crying and I don’t want to cry in front of anyone and thank god someone changed the subject before I made a fool out of myself, but it’s not terribly useful in terms of emotional connection and growth.

Overall, this is a very watchable film — I watched it, I didn’t hate it — but nothing special.  Which is kind of surprising, since the guy who wrote it, Will Reiser, based it on his own experience with cancer and his relationship with his best friend, coincidentally also played by Seth Rogan.  Was Reiser too afraid to go all-out with the heavy parts, for fear of making it too much of a downer?  And then too afraid to go all-out with the comedy, for fear of insulting those who have suffered greatly from cancer?  Whatever the cause, this movie just doesn’t seem fully developed somehow.


[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Cast:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston

MOVIE: The Help (2011)

February 7, 2012

While I enjoyed the novel this film was based on, I wasn’t as impressed by it as a lot of people around me seemed to be.  Rather than go into why, or describe the overall plot again, you can head on over to my book review to catch up or refresh your memory.

Because of the issues I’d had with the book, I hadn’t been all that eager to see the film.  But several trusted amigos had told me it was much better than the source material, so I rented it last weekend while down hanging out with Mom — figuring if it was going to be terrible, at least we could joyfully mock it together (our favorite past-time, as many of you are aware, is making fun of bad movies).

Instead, though, I was surprised to find I really enjoyed this one, and so did Mom (who hasn’t read the novel).  I think that enjoyment was made possible by a couple of significant, yet subtle, presto-changos in the movie that helped undo some of the stickiest issues I’d had with the book.

One of the biggest of those problems was the way the author seemed to want us to think of Skeeter as a hero, a white woman there to save “the help” from their lives of misery by launching a project to collect and publish the true tales of a dozen or so black housekeepers working for wealthy white families in Jackson,  Mississippi in the 1960s.  To me, though, Skeeter was just as exploitative as the rest — though she wasn’t openly disdainful like her friends, she didn’t initiate her project out of a long-burning desire to help the help.  Instead, she only developed the idea when a New York publishing agent told her she’d never make it as a writer unless she came up with a topic that was juicier and more controversial than the first few she’d proposed.

When she was done and the book was a success, she shared the proceeds with the maids who had helped her, then promptly took off for a new life in the Big Apple.  It seemed to me all those hours of listening to the maids of Mississippi hadn’t really impacted her terribly much — which brings me to my second issue with the book:  a general lack of change in any of the characters by the end of the story.  Skeeter left to begin her career, the black maids remained second-class citizens (and still do in places like Mississippi), and the racist white women in Jackson remained just as disdainful of their housekeepers as ever (while at the same time wholly seeming to believe their housekeepers loved them and therefore wanted to serve them).

I get that that’s the most authentic and least cheesy ending — it’s not exactly that I wanted an ending in which the maids united to fight discrimination and the white women suddenly realized the wrongness of their ways and began to change.  That would’ve been trite.  But still, a book in which none of the characters seem to grow at all is just, quite frankly, not a book that holds much emotional power.  And that was the primary thing I felt was lacking in the novel:  emotional power.

These elements were quite different in the film, however, thanks in large part to the incredible acting chops of the cast, including Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, and the ever-delightful Sissy Spacek (both Davis and Spencer have been nominated for the Academy Award this year, by the way, and rightly so).  The actors brought their characters to an emotional level the book was never able to achieve (for me, anyway).  The movie is also paced well and made smart choices when it came to which parts of the book’s story to include or exclude.

I left the film feeling moved and even a little inspired — but I’d left the book feeling more annoyed and confused by its hype than anything else.  That sentence alone ought to be enough to get this flick into your pile.  Both lovers and loathers of the book will probably find much to enjoy here.  Kid-tested, mother-approved!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Anna Camp, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Sissy Spacek

MOVIE: Moneyball (2011)

January 26, 2012

Any fan of baseball will find plenty to like about this film, which is based on a non-fiction book of the same title by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the book the film The Blind Side was based on.  It’s about ex-ballplayer Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland As, and how he, along with a kid named Paul DePodesta (fresh out of Harvard with a degree in economics), completely revolutionized the way baseball teams pick players.

Unless you love the game, though (or are a serious math nerd, I suppose), I’m afraid you won’t get much out of Moneyball, despite the fact the writer and director tried extremely hard to give it a broader appeal.  The sad news is, it was that very thing — the addition of a hammy subplot about Beane’s ex-wife and daughter — that took what might’ve been a great movie and turned it into a flick too long by at least 30 tedious minutes (all of which were absolutely insufferable dreck).

Though ultimately, this film really only succeeded for me as a teaser for the book, it’s an entertaining teaser, for the most part.  Beane (Brad Pitt) was General Manager of the Oakland As in the late 1990s when the team’s budget, already low, was slashed dramatically by its owners.  The As had long struggled to be able to afford star players, and with this latest round of payroll cuts, Beane was convinced they were doomed — unless he could figure out a way to think differently about what truly makes a winning team win.

It was right about this time Billy met Paul (Jonah Hill), a young Harvard grad working as a statistician for another team in the majors.  When that team wouldn’t trade him the players he wanted, Beane “bought” Paul instead, and as he began talking to the economist, he realized the kid had some incredible ideas about how to make a ball team successful on the cheap.  Using sabermetrics, Billy and Paul began analyzing the sport’s least valued players, and, after juggling the numbers, realized they could build a team virtually guaranteed to be a success and still stay under budget.

Naturally, the rest of the A’s scouts, owners, and managers were horrified by Beane’s proposed line-up — to them, it just looked like a team of misfits and losers.  But he pushed his ideas through, got the team he wanted, and then sat back to watch them . . . lose.  Manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) refused to follow Beane’s advice on the order in which to bat each player, which Paul had calculated would promote the most base hits, and the result was exactly what everybody had expected:  a miserable flop.  But as the team continued to get creamed left and right, Howe finally caved and began to do what Billy and Paul were telling him.  And, of course, the As then immediately launched themselves into a record-breaking series of wins, making it to the playoffs that same year.

The parts of this film that focus on the statistical work behind the scenes are the best parts of the picture.  Watching the ballgames was fun, of course, too.  But the addition of way too many scenes featuring Beane’s ex-wife and daughter, and the other personal struggles he was experiencing off the field, were absolutely awful.  They were trite, badly acted, and felt clumsily inserted — an afterthought clearly intended to alter the demographics for the movie’s audience and bring in more chicks.

Newsflash, filmmakers:  chicks dig baseball too.  And what’s more, we hate being pandered to.  Y’all should knock that shit off.

Nevertheless, despite this movie’s numerous weaknesses (to be honest, this is not Pitt’s best work either), I was definitely entertained and, what’s more, the film really piqued my interest in the book.  Watch for a review of that coming in the next few months.

And in the meantime, only 24 days until ball players report for Spring Training — hurrah!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond

MOVIE: The Artist (2011)

January 9, 2012

Have you ever seen a movie so absolutely wonderful from start to finish that at the end you stood up and cheered?  Damn the people around you and their funny looks?

I have.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended.  I’ve never seen anything like this film (a silent movie about the end of the silent movie era) — I have never smiled so long and so hard during a film that my cheeks hurt (Dujardin’s grin is so infectious, you won’t be able to keep your own face still), I have never made such an enormous fool out of myself as the final credits rolled, and I have never left a theater dancing.  I did all those things with The Artist.  And I cannot WAIT to do them all again soon.

DO NOT MISS!  Now this is how you start a new year of movie-watching right.  Good goddamn, it’s a delight.  An utter delight.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Comedy, Drama
Cast:  Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell

MOVIE: Shame (2011)

December 13, 2011



And that’s about all I can really say about this film.  Anything else would be too much.  For me, I mean.  To say.  To think.  To feel.  To write.  To share.  It is hard and heart-breaking, and also in desperate need of tighter editing.  Fassbender is brilliant.  Mulligan is me at 19, possibly for similar (though not identical) reasons.  And I hope I never, ever see this movie again.

That’s all I’ve got.

Oh, except for this:  this film is rated NC-17 and we were carded THREE TIMES going in (ticket counter, ticket taker, bouncer at entrance to theater itself).  Why?  The sex is not explicit, and the full-frontal nudity is not gratuitous.  Grow up, MPAA.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Agony
Cast:  Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Hannah Ware


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