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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

It’s not often you find yourself empathizing with someone who walks around with his fly open.  But I did just that while watching Jeff Bridges portray Bad Blake, a down on his luck country singer at the end of his run.  Like many alcoholics,  most of the time all Bad can think about is how to get his next drink.  We see him roaming from town to town in his beatup truck, playing in run-down bars and the occasional bowling alley.  This is a man who was once a star, who would fill arenas full of fans and who apparently wrote some of the best country music out there (the good stuff, not pop-country).  But by the time we meet him, he can barely keep his pants on, let alone make it through a whole performance without puking or passing out.  Yet he still gets the ladies or at least the ones who are as haggard and broken down as he is.

There are however glimmers of hope for Bad and he does have a certain charm about him.  He occasionally reminds you of those pictures of the cowboys from the seventies (like a scruffy Steve McQueen), all sunburned and rugged.  You spend much of the movie thinking if he could just get his act together, he could make a come back or at the VERY least keep his pants buttoned up.  A few characters in the film feel the same way that we do about Bad, such as his friend Wayne the bartender (Robert Duvall) and of course the  love interest Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhall). We see a different side of Bad through the relationships of the people that care about him.  Some of my favorite scenes are between Bad Blake and Jean’s four year old son.  They are so truthful that the film is worth seeing for these short gems alone.  4 out of 5 monkeys

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Up in the Air (2009)

I challenge any adult American to watch Up in the Air and not find at least one character that they relate too.  This is so timely, it’s as if the filmmakers could sense the economic crisis on the horizon.  The story is set around the life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who travels for a living to companies that are “downsizing” and does the dirty work for them.  Ryan loves the life of living out of a suitcase, it fact he revels in it.  He likes being able to go to the front of the line at the airport, to have his rental car in a matter of minutes, to have relationships with people who will have a definite end.  That is until his company decides to ground him in favor of conference firing.  Only then does Ryan examine his life and question some, if not all of his choices. As an audience member you find yourself engaged into the life of Ryan, inspired by the fact that he can indeed talk people out of stupid decisions, yet still chooses to keep them at arm’s length.  He wants his backpack nice and empty so that he can sprint out of the room if need be (see the film, it will make sense).  The movie doesn’t hit you over the head with what it is trying to say, it just let’s the characters speak for themselves.  As with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), the young employee bringing on the technology that is wrecking Ryan’s world, is a brilliant touch to the film.  She could have so easily been a caricature of herself, but the actress playing her instead allows her to be vulnerable and even likeable at times.  See this film if for no other reason than it will make you think about your own decisions, good or bad.  5 out of 5 monkeys.

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Twilight: New Moon (2009)

I am not ashamed to say that I have read all of the Twilight books and believe to this day that they are a great summer read that will in no way change your life.  So, I was eager to see how they were going to handle the second book on-screen, New Moon, given that it was the most angst ridden of the series.  Boy, was I disappointed.  My main quibble revolved around the way that the heartbreak of both Edward and especially Bella was handled in the film, with so . . . . many . . . . dramatic . . . . pauses . . . . I . . . . thought for a moment . . . . . that I was watching . . . . . an episode of . . . . . Star Trek.  It was such a dramatic moment in the book, that played so horribly on-screen.  Maybe you had to see inside Bella’s head to really appreciate what she was going through.  I wanted to feel so bad for her when she was left all alone in the woods, but it fell flat.  And don’t even get me started on the floating Edward.  I know that’s kind of how it was in the book, but it didn’t translate well on at all.  It just made me uncomfortable and once I was over that I just wanted to laugh.

The greatest thing that I learned from watching New Moon is that the ONLY way to watch it is on opening night (not the midnight showing, but the day of) with streams of pre-teen and teenage girls.  They are SO into it that you can’t help but enjoy yourself.  Every time a guy took his shirt off (which happened quite a bit in this movie), there was a great response involving screaming and laughter.  It was infectious and helped to make up for the lack of good acting.  And not as annoying as one would think.

The second half was much more bearable, especially the part with the Volturi.  I would love to know how many of you would have liked to see more of those creepy vampires?  Hopefully, they will incorporate them more in the next installments.  The last thing I will say is poor Jacob.  Myself and my band of brothers are tempted to put together a wesbite called Jacob is Duckie!  If you don’t get the reference, go rent Pretty in Pink.  2 and a half out of 5 monkeys.

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godsandmonstersThose who know me well know that I have a new obsession with The Bride of Frankenstein.  It all started back when I was teaching film to high school students and I was reflecting on what movies I should show in the horror unit.  That is when I truly reflected on the greatness of classic monster movies.  Sure, they are cheesy by modern-day standards, but there is a campiness too them that can be quite charming should you choose to embrace it.  Even though the Bride is only on-screen for about ten minutes, it is a glorious performance.  An icon that in my opinion that will stand the test of time.  This then led me to the desire to gain more knowledge about the director of the film, James Whale.

Like many creative personalities, James Whale was a conflicted individual, mainly due to his experiences during World War I.  The film Gods and Monsters, based on the book by Christopher Braum (originally titled Father of Frankenstein) uses fact and fiction to focus on the final days of James Whale. The fictional aspects of both the book and the film are used to philosophize on many of the mysteries surrounding the director, including his death.  For example, the character of the gardener ( Clayton Boone played by Brendan Fraser in the film) is created as an outlet for Whale (Ian McKellen) to deal with his demons.  James was openly gay during his career, a very unusual thing, especially during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The film is rich with conflict and imagery, almost too much at times.  But what else could you do with such a complicated man, a war veteran, horror film director and gay man?  The film also comments on the humor that was purposely placed in the film by Whale, as a way of dealing with the morbidness of death.  Watch the Bride and you will see how true this really was.  Lastly, the highlight of the film for me was when they recreated the filming of Bride of Frankenstein, you felt like you were there on the set with Whale.  If you are at all interested in classic horror films and their history, I highly recommend that you check out both films.

The Bride of Frankenstein – 4 1/2 out of 5 monkeys; Gods and Monsters – 4 out of 5 monkeys.

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Cold Souls (2009)

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Thought provoking and reminiscent of one of my favorite films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cold Souls is the fictional story of Paul Giamatii doing a parody of himself as an actor who is overwhelmed by the day-to-day emotions that he carries (brilliantly put forth in the first scene in which he is doing a monologue of angst ridden goodness) that he decides reluctantly to have his soul removed. What we get once the extraction is complete is a bad actor and a man who is only aroused by images and thoughts related to the opposite sex (they do tests right after the extraction to insure that sexual feelings are not hindered in any way, but bunny rabbit cuteness is taken away).  Paul realizes (with the help of his director) that his career will be ruined without a soul and so begins his journey of new souls, old souls and Russian Mules.  If nothing else, I believe that you as an audience member will go away from this film glad that your soul is intact and maybe appreciating your emotional side a bit more.  This is something that I enjoyed experiencing, but then again the idea of becoming an emotionless robot makes me think of Wall Street scoundrels and I just can’t go there.  3 and a 1/2 out of 5 monkeys.

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inglourious-basterds

A fairytale as only Quentin Tarantino could tell it, Inglourious Basterds expresses what he wishes would have happened during WWII – a whole lot of violence, but much of it directed at the Nazis.  This film revolves around a group of ragtag Jewish-American soldiers who have one mission and one mission only, to retrieve some Nazi scalps.  They are brutal and not necessarily the American ideal of a soldier, but man do they ever get the job done.  I felt myself laughing numerous times at what could be considered inappropriate moments, but that is kind of what happens to an audience member who is truly enjoying a Tarantino film.  You go into his films knowing that there is going to be plenty of gore, but it is often presented in such a (for lack of a better word) jovial way that you can’t help but enjoy the ride.  Just don’t think too deeply about the violence; that isn’t what these kinds of films are about.  They are a type of catharsis for the modern age; in an industry full of “shoot ’em up, bang, bang” action films, these films have all the violence, but still manage to allow you to, gasp, think at the same time.  And not every good guy gets his or her revenge, either that or not every revenge is ever complete.  That is one of the elements that I think make his films truly special.

Stellar acting in this film, the standouts being in my opinion, Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus and Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa.  Aldo is a bit of a caricature of a southern hick, but that is what makes his character so much fun; that and his Italian accent.  The character of Shosanna is so hearbreakingly awesome that you can’t help but be drawn into the film when she is on screen.  And Christoph’s portrayal of Col. Landa is so multi-layered that it makes the character even more frightening; I am never looking at a glass of milk the same way.  4 out of 5 monkeys

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the_time_travelers_wife_I know, I know, the book is ALWAYS better than the movie and with a book as long as The Time Traveler’s Wife, it is hard to fit in all of the content.  But I was a bit disappointed with at least three things that they left out from the book, two of which could be easily remedied with a few extra scenes.  Maybe they shot them and they just didn’t work, but I would like to express my frustration in this post none-the-less.  First, for those who have not read the book, here’s a little bit about the story itself.

The Time Traveler’s Wife tells the love story of Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) and Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), two people seemingly destined for each other, who have one very big obstacle to overcome in their relationship.  Due to a genetic anomaly (much better described in the book of course), Henry is forced to travel through time.  He has no control over when and where and often ends up in dangerous situations where he has to steal to survive (he travels naked and in the city of Chicago, you put the rest together).  The twist is that Henry firsts meets Clare when she is a little girl, after he already knows her as a grown women.  One could go cross-eyed thinking too in-depthly about that one, so just go with it.  The thing that made the book so interesting is that you got to see Clare and Henry struggle through all of the normal issues that couples deal with (insecurities, wants of a career vs. spending time with your loved one, etc.), while throwing the whole time traveling scenario in their to make it all that much more complicated.

SPOILER ALERT:  One of my objections to the film involves the ending of the book, so if you haven’t read the book, you may not want to read any further.  First off, the character of Gomez (the best friend) is given so much more to do in the book, not to mention the fact that he is in love with Clare.  They don’t address this at all in the film, which is a shame because I believe that it would have added some nice tension.  One scene of Gomez making the moves on Clare would have been all we needed.  Secondly, Clare deals with a lot of angst regarding Henry in her teen years (she has been in love with this guy since she was kid) and some of the ways that she goes about trying to seduce him would have been wonderful to see in the film. This however would have required more than one scene, so I understand to some extent the omission.  The plot point I am the most frustrated with though is the ending of the book.  In the book, Clare sees Henry one last time when she is very old and it’s beautiful.  I don’t know why they chose to have their last meeting be when they were both still young.  The book ending had so much more power to it, it encompassed the theme much more fully and would have been a GREAT ending to the movie.  The way the movie was shot, the ending felt very lack-luster, like one was shrugging their shoulders at the end, “Oh well.”

On a positive note, I thought the whole wedding sequence was both entertaining and endearing, probably the best sequence in the film. I also thought Rachel McAdams was perfectly cast as Clare (how could you not fall in love with her?), so I give them points for that.  Eric Bana went back and forth in his ability to convey the complexities of Henry, but it wasn’t painful.  I realize that I am being a stickler since I enjoyed the book so much, but I can only give this film 3 out of 5 monkeys.  Not painful, but not great either.

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