Saturday, April 25, 2009


NPR's Filmweek said Sugar was the best baseball film ever. I am not sure I can agree with that since I haven't seen too many baseball films. But I do agree that this is a great film. This is the story of Miguel "Sugar" Santos being invited to the spring training of a major league team from his baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Raised nearly from birth to play baseball, by the end of the film, Sugar has developed his own mind on who he is. And along the way, we see the difficulty and reality of the minor league baseball system and the lonliness of immigration. We see Sugar realize that the dreams he holds as his own are really the dreams of every kid in the D.R. and maybe weren't his own dreams after all. And the struggle to mesh all of these thoughts together makes Sugar real.

A great bonus here is that since Sugar spends a significant amount of time at a single-A team in Iowa, we also get to see life in the middle states. The filmmakers did a good job of presenting this life in a value-neutral way. Good ol' middle America, with its meatloaf, baseball, corn fields and church youth groups. Lots of stereotypes presented, but not presented as positive or negative, just "this is life in the middle", and this is how strange it all seems from an outside perspective.

Irina Palm

Maggie is an stereotypical English mother, grandmother, and widow. She lives by herself, dotes on her son and sick grandson, doesn't get along with the daughter-in-law, plays bridge with the other single women her age and generally lives a dull life. The fact that this becomes a "coming of age" film is a bit surprising in that it is Maggie who realizes how to live life, how to love, and what is important. And it is surprising in that she must enter the sex trade to find this all out. As Maggie leads a double life, hiding her new job from her friends and family, she is nothing but nerves. And when they find out, she finally is confident and sure of who she is, perhaps for the first time in her life. This is an unconventional little drama and I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dans Paris

It seems like the last few international films I've seen have all been French. Dans Paris is another in the line of fine French films with a distinct French feel. In this case, we get the story of two brothers and their father who live in Paris. Older brother has returned home from "the provinces" as a recently dumped depressed guy and younger brother is probably a stereotypical millennial (no ambition, serious entitlement, a bit of an ass). Father is just not sure how to deal with Mr. Depressed and the Ass. We get plenty of vistas of the Eiffel Tower and Paris the city. And we get plenty of efforts to get Mr. Depressed to "just snap out of it". While the fact that none of the characters quite know how to interact with him is more realisitic that we like to admit, in the end "just snap out of it" is offered as a realistic cure, and it just doesn't ring true. I understand the need to wrap things up nicely in 90 minutes, but in this case, it was a bit too easy. But this doesn't ruin the film. The brothers have some chemistry on screen and I found myself laughing on several occassions. No awards here, but pleasant enough.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

When I first saw this preview (last year), I was looking forward to one of the most hilarious movies of the year. "Very similar to Little Miss Sunshine" was all anyone could say. Well, it took me this long to actually see it because some of the glimmer wore off that preview. And I think that in the end, the film hit the (newly lowered) expectations directly. It wasn't really meant to be the most hilarious movie of the year. Instead, it is a drama that explores family relationships. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play sisters, each struggling with life in their own way. They fall into a business together (crime scene cleanup) and each begins to learn a bit about themselves and about each other. They also begin to explore their family history (although this piece is more inferred than explicit), resulting in a better understanding of why they have become who they are. Throw Alan Arkin into the mix as wacky dad, add in mal-adjusted boy and one-armed love interest, bake for 91 minutes and quirky relationship comedy is ready to serve. Overall, this gives a pretty entertaining look at the difficulties of family systems, and if one wanted to discuss the methodologies that families use to relate, I am sure that this film would provide a great jumping off point for that discussion. But as pure entertainment, it was good, not great.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fast and Furious

I guess I am the target audience. NPR film reviewers panned this movie, with the final caveat [read with snobbish voice] "If you liked the other The Fast and the Furious movies, you will probably like this one". I did.

First of all, the opening scene is everything you would want from a summer action movie. Hijacking a 5-trailer (yes, five) semi, one trailer at a time, while at speed on a long straightaway. Improbable technique, fancy driving, requisite bad physics (no, a 10 second shot of cold air does not make hardened steel shatter when hit with a hammer), near death experience and crazy/gutsy aggressive escape. And for those who are looking for the tone of the film in the first few minutes, you get it with Vin Diesel seeing the need to talk into a walkie-talkie as an opportunity to show off his guns. Brilliant. Now don't get me wrong, this is no The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which is still one of the best displays of car choreography ever. But a simple plot, clearly defined bad guys, good guys who have a bad element to them, fast cars, steady cam filming and avoiding the excessive sex and violence that often finds its way into these films makes this a good afternoon. It's not going on my "Best films of the year" list, but still worthwhile.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tell No One

This is a great thriller/suspense film. Sort of like a French version of The Fugitive but actually much better. Less chase, more sorting out the details. Alexandre and Margot are the happiest couple in the world. One evening, after a romantic lakeside experience, Margot is accosted and "killed". Flash forward to 8 years later. Alexandre is still trying to get over her death and move on when he begins to get messages from Margot, or someone impersonating her. At the same time, new details about her death begin to emerge which point to Alexandre as the killer. The remainder of the film is the unwinding of the details, searching for truth, learning who to trust, and holding on to that sick knot in your gut that says there-may-be-hope-but-I-better-not-be-living-this-all-over-again-for-nothing. Well acted and well directed. I have heard that there is interest in an American remake of this film, and I see the appeal. Unfortunately, I don't think an American take would work out so well as it would require more chase, and not have the patience to let things unfold. See this version instead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bart Got a Room

I am always nervous when the previews for a film are seemingly aimed at a target audience that is not me. Generally, my broad tolerance for cinema shows at least one film I am interested in. Not so here. But fortunately, Bart Got a Room far exceeded the billing. Another in a line of recent awkward adolescent drama/romantic comedy offerings, this film builds on the likes of Napolean Dynamite and Superbad. In Bart, the awkward high school boy needs to "keep up with the Joneses" and in that effort enlists the separated parents as he (and they) proceed to focus on all the wrong things. While the story is cute, it is unremarkable. Two things make this film worth seeing: First, William H. Macy as the helpful, clueless, ever supportive dad is excellent. Second, the imagery of south Florida sets a great stage. The colors, the backgrounds, the extras, the settings all make this a fun (if quirky) little comedy to see.


I wasn't sure I wanted to see Gandhi as a dirty old man, but it turned out to be alright. Ben Kingsley is quite good in this coming of age drama disguised as a "melancholy poem". He successfully transitions from a creeper to a sympathetic old guy, realizing at the age of sixty something what it means to finally be a twenty something, and to grow into the maturity that is required for real emotion, relationship and responsibility. As Kingsley's character David becomes involved with the young Penelope Cruz, he recognizes for perhaps the first time in his life that there are emotions bigger than he can control and that they may actually mean something (and be worth something). Cruz is old beyond her years and is able to bring Kingsley along eventually into a new appreciation for life. This is a better version of the 2007 Starting Out in the Evening with Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose.