Saturday, September 26, 2009

The September Issue

The actual story on which The Devil Wears Prada is based. In documentary form, we follow Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine (along with her team of editors) as they develop the September 2007 issue. As stated in the film, "September is the January of fashion". So this is THE issue of the year... big, glamorous, new. While Wintour is the final word on everything and the owner of the creative vision, the supporting cast provides the personality. We see artists in the never ending struggle to be creative and find a way to express what needs to be expressed in a particular section. And while the film does not dwell, we at least see hints of the "dark cave" part of the creative process. Regardless of what you think about fashion, this is an interesting look into artistry, relationship, salesmanship, and power.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Twelve Monkeys

Let me just start by saying that this has long been one of my favorite movies of all time. I realized when a friend mentioned they had it at home to watch that I needed to see it again. Occasionally this leads to the "What did I ever see in that?" syndrome. Not so here. Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt work together within the script by David Peoples (of Blade Runner and Unforgiven fame) to provide a truly fascinating time travel film. Some time in the future, nearly 5 billion people on earth have been killed by some mysterious virus, with the survivors relegated to living underground. The future scientists are sending volunteers back in time to gather information about the source of that virus. The goal is not necessarily to prevent the release, avoiding all kinds of time travel problems with changing the future so that those who catalyze the change would not exist in the changed future. Instead, they just want to get information about the virus so that they can create a vaccine for their time. Willis is a volunteer, Stowe his present day psychiatrist (because clearly anyone thinking they are from the future needs one) and Pitt the present day leader of The Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Enough to pique your interest? I hope so because this one holds up well, has lots of great time travel nuances, and resolves without requiring the viewer to roll their eyes in pain.
5 stars (out of 5)

Broken English

A Parker Posey vehicle from 2007 explores relationships from the point of view of a thirty-something single woman. Posey plays Nora Wilder, a successful young manager working at an upscale hotel in New York who can't seem to settle into a lasting relationship. A series of one night stands, mother initiated blind dates and evenings home alone put her into a funk she is slowly beginning to accept as her reality. Until she meets Julien. The two hit it off and seem to finally have some chemistry, when Julien returns to France leaving Nora unable to drop her increasingly pathetic life to follow him. While this is a bit old school in the expectation that Nora will drop everything for love (clearly Julien can't change his plans to stay in New York), Posey does an excellent job of navigating the post-perfect-man waters, including both the crisis-of-confidence and change-your-life-priorities decisions that follow. A sweet movie that takes the viewer along on a well trodden journey that, while not exactly feeling like a new approach, never actually feels well trodden.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Right Stuff

This is the story of the Mercury 7, the first seven astronauts in this country. The story centers on the development of the space program and the inside, behind-the-scenes story of the test pilots and aviation hot shots who gave life to the endeavor. It is a very insular view, ignoring most of what was happening in the world at the time, focusing only on the occasional Soviet success in space as a motivational factor. Weather it was true or not is unknown, but Chuck Yeager comes off as the hero for pilots, a combination of humility and massive ego that hold together in one person remarkably well. Overall, interesting, but not outstanding.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top 5 Summer Films

Labor Day has arrived and the summer is officially gone. Someone asked me the other day what the best films of the summer were and I realized that a running "Top 5" category would be fun. So here they are, with out any genre restrictions. Memorial Day to Labor Day 2009 (in no particular order):
Lorna's Silence
Hurt Locker
District 9
I Love You, Man
Also good films, but not able to break into the Top 5
Julie & Julia
My Son the Fanatic
Rudo y Cursi
Run Lola Run
And I just have to highlight a couple of smaller films that I saw before Memorial Day
Irina Palm

So I guess this is really a Summer Top 10 list. Enjoy.


Did I ever mention that I like Daniel Craig? While he is good as James Bond, this role fits his rugged persona better. No need to be dashing here. Craig plays Tuvia Bielski, one of four brothers leading a collection of Jewish survivors on a 4 year hide and seek game with the Nazi's. While surviving in the forests of Belarus, they fight the weather, the Nazi's, Russian resistance fighters and each other. The disagreements between Craig and his brother Zus (played by Liev Schreiber) add an internal tension to match all the external tension that plagues the group. This is not a nice movie (it is WWII after all) and the bloody and personal killing is pretty graphic (more emotionally graphic than visually). While the brothers and the story do an adequate job of showing the effects of killing and hardship on the psyche, the most telling moment came during a prayer. As the hiding community was gathered and listening to the prayer of a Rabbi, the petition to God was effectively "God, we wish you had not chosen us Jews to be your people. Please go choose someone else now. We are done being Chosen". Even though this is a bold demand of God, every member of the group nodded in agreement. It was not a shocking request for this group. At that point, the burden of being Jewish was so great that they were willing (demanding) that their entire identity be shed. Perhaps this is a traditional Jewish prayer of lament, but it points to the depth of suffering experienced and pulled me out of my desensitized, war movie viewing state to recognize something new about identity, community and despair.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Run Lola Run

It is interesting how a film can remind you of parts of other films, and yet be totally unique. In this instance, Run Lola Run can be described as a cross between Sliding Doors and Crank. But its presentation is remarkably unique (and since it is contemporary with Sliding Doors and 5 years before Crank we can only speculate about influences). We open with Lola receiving a call from her boyfriend that he is in a big pinch, having lost 100,000 marks of his gangster boss's money. He has 20 minutes until the meet and no options. Lola jumps into action. As the story progressed, I realized that it was moving altogether too fast toward resolution to sustain an 80 minute run time. In a mediocre movie, this is where a plot device is introduced and causes the viewer to roll their eyes and start thinking about dinner. Here, we get a plot device that works and is engaging. Part of the success comes from the glimpses of story that we see of minor characters that Lola interacts with. She bumps into a woman pushing a stroller and we see a 10 second series of still photos showing the woman's life over the next 6 months. Not really essential for the story arc, but interesting and well placed none-the-less. And in the end, we are satisfied with both timing and resolution, as is expected in a quality film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It Might Get Loud

The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White get together for a little jam session. At least, that is what was advertised. Instead, we primarily follow each individual into their past to see how they became the guitar player they are. Interspersed is the jam session, the conversation and interaction of the three in a room together. Throughout the film, anytime we cut to an individual profile, my first thought is "Wait, go back, I want more of them together".

What makes this a strong film is that the individual personalities of each player is evident. The Edge is clearly a technophile, embracing any tool he can find to help the sound coming out of the speaker match the sound in his head. He doesn't really care what he plays. He only cares about what he hears. Jack White, on the other hand, is a bit more of a purist. His roots are blues. I think if he could make money singing/playing old style blues, he would. But putting the blues into his rock/punk style is way of elevating the musicality of thrash (whether the listener can hear it or knows it is irrelevant). He always wants to be a musician and never just a show. There must have been tension between these two, each thinking the other a bit pretentious with their musical decisions. And while it was not a featured part of the film (it really couldn't be, could it?), I could feel the necessity of it based on each individual. Then there is Jimmy Page... just a guy who likes to play guitar. He is the "elder statesman" of the group and seems to truly enjoy watching and listening to the others play. He is genuinely happy when White plays a 45 with a particular sound, appreciating the music and the fact that he can share enjoyment with a colleague. He is genuinely interested in the choice of chords that The Edge chooses on one particular riff, suggesting he would never have played that progression. And in the end, when music trumps personality, these three go unplugged and send us off with a little more music than when we came.
4-stars (out of 5)