Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Home at the End of the World

Collin Farrell stars in this story which starts with a young kid Bobby experiencing a series of family tragedies. The resulting relationship that Bobby develops with his best friend Jonathan and again with his girlfriend Clare all show how trauma can affect personality in quirky ways. The three friends are all in love and form a family that is not really complete with any two of the three. At the same time, three means that at any one time, there is a relationship between two with one left out. As the family learns how to live and love together, their lives become more rich and full. This was a good film, but in the end largely dissatisfying. There was something missing (dramatic story arc? conflict and resolution?) that left me feeling flat. Perhaps that was the intention, to show that life is pretty regular in even an irregular family. But I don't think so. So we leave disappointed, not that the protagonist life didn't end up happy, but that the protagonist leaves ordinary.
3 stars (out of 5)

After the Wedding

This Danish film focuses on Jacob, a relief worker in India who has championed a local orphanage. He is soliciting money from corporations back in Denmark and when he has the opportunity to land a big donation that will save the orphanage, he travels "home" to seal the deal. What he discovers is that Jorgen, the wealthy potential benefactor, has an alterior motive in setting up this donation. Jacob is faced with answering for himself many of the questions that his orphan family asks on a regular basis. Along the way, we also ask ourselves about the value of family and the role of relationship in a meaningful life. Very well done.
3 stars (out of 5)

Top 5 L.A. films

After watching The Kids are All Right, I began to think about my favorite films starring L.A. By starring, I mean that L.A. has to be a significant part of the film and not just a backdrop. And I will restrict my picks to films that are worth seeing (4 or 5 rating, out of 5 stars). Here are my top five right now, in no particular order...

Blade Runner

10 Items or Less
What's Cooking

The first three utilize the physical space of L.A. while the last two expose the cultural space. If you haven't seen either of these later two, I highly recommend them.

Didn't quite make the cut, but deserve some mention...

Father of the Bride
Dogtown and Z-Boys

I have definitely left out many great L.A. films, but since these are in my long term memory I will trust that they are my Top 5 (for today).


It is amazing how even a good concept paired with poor production values identifies a film as obviously made-for-TV. It is kind of like when you are scanning through the radio stations and find a "Christian Rock" station. You know what it is after hearing two or three notes. In Riverworld, I really liked the concept. After death, people are transported to a strange world that is... well, lots of rivers. What I like is the investigation of what happens after death and how different people end up in different physical locations of the afterlife, with different ideas of purpose. Based on this treatment, I can see storylines following things like -what factors cause you to end up in one place over another, -what personalities in life lead some to be questioners in the afterlife and others to live like sheep, -how does one get out of the afterlife, etc. Instead, we get a pedestrian (or should I say riparian) conflict between those who want to destroy Riverworld and those that want to protect it. Enter the caretakers (also on both sides of the conflict) as supreme alien species resembling blue man group that know more than they are letting on (but never reveal anything) and the story gets pretty lame, pretty fast. I guess what do you expect for TV, but the premise has promise. Any big time Hollywood or small time independent writers out there want to pick up the treatment and give it a good story? I would watch a better version again...
2 stars (out of 5)

The Runaways

The story of Joan Jett and her development as a rock star. This film got great reviews when it was in the theaters. I suppose that it is an accurate portrayal of what an all-girl hard rock band had to battle to be considered a serious band in the 70's. If so, it is an excellent expose of the sexist and misogynist world that women lived in. Unfortunately, the result is that we have to watch two hours of sexist and misogynist behavior by men and we have to watch young musicians putting up with that crap just to be a band. So while it may be accurate and enlightening, it is not easy to watch. If you need to be reminded of how not to act as a culture, you may enjoy this.
2 stars (out of 5)

Waltz with Bashir

An animated documentary written and directed by Ari Folman. Folman delivers this autobiographical look at the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in the early 80's from the perspective of a young Israeli soldier. Some 30 years after the events of that war, Folman is discovering that he has no memory of certain portions of the war, namely anything containing violence. A strange recurring dream pushes him to investigate his memory and therefore his participation in the war. Folman seeks to piece together his own memory by talking with friends and colleagues, mining their often reluctant memories for triggers that will spark his own recollection. The choice to animate the story is brilliant since we as viewers are able to see the action of dreams and memories instead of only listen to talking heads being interviewed (see Persepolis for an equally good - but totally different - use of animated documentary). The result is a story of self discovery and an investigation into the trauma of war. We are not pummeled with a point of view about the right or wrong of the Israeli forces entering Lebanon. Instead, we are given a first person look at how our brains work to protect our psyche from traumatic events that would crush us emotionally and spiritually. Perhaps one of the most profound statements comes when Folman is questioning whether any good can come from his opening up of this emotional Pandora's box. A friend/therapist states "We only ask the questions that need to be asked", implying ... "that we are ready to have answered". In the end, there is nothing settling about the memories that return and nothing pretty about war.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Red Cliff

A classic Chinese kingdom epic. Set in the time of emperor Han, the northern warlords have all been subdued by the warrior Cao Cao. With domination on his mind, Cao Cao convinces the emperor to endorse his attack on the southern tribes. The southern tribes ally (under the encouragement of war strategiest Kongming) and put together a plan for defense of their lands while a sub-plot surrounding Zhou Yu's wife and Cao Cao becomes integral to the battle development. This is all pretty standard, with sweeping views of majestic landscapes and formations of tens of thousands of warriors in choreographed battle. What I like about this film is consistent with most Chinese war films (of which Hero is my favorite). The war is not about domination and destruction, although that is a by-product of any war. Instead, life is about balance (planning for war by listening to music or the wind in the trees) and it is clear that integrity of person will result in the desired outcome. The development of the "action" takes a long time (150 minutes here) and along the way, we see some of the characteristics of that personal integrity in play. In the end, we always get recognition of the crap that war is. Here it comes in the form of a parting line "There is no victor here". If only warriors could have that recognition before the war.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ultimate Heist

A French heist film that uses the heist as an excuse to explore a father-son relationship. Milo is the father of an Armenian crime family in France. He was involved in a shootout several years prior to the film where both his son and the partner of a local policeman are killed. We pick up with a well developed grudge between cop and crime family. Add to this the fact that Anton (the second son and in line to take over the family) doesn't have his heart in crime. Anton and Milo have to work it out and both have to decide how to react to the police. I liked the overall feel and pace of this film, even though in hindsight it was pretty traditional. No real surprise in the relationship development (i.e. no real depth of character so everything is pretty straight forward superficial) and no fancy heist tricks. But still enjoyable in that dark, dramatic french sort of way.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Going the Distance

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long meet up by chance in a New York bar and hit it off immediately. Fortunately for them, Barrymore is leaving town in 6 weeks and Long is on a rebound, so they can have a good time without the pressure of dating. Six weeks later, Barrymore is leaving and of course, they have fallen in love and proceed to make the long distance relationship work. The two things working for this movie are that both Barrymore and Long are cute and work well together and the soundtrack is a great mix of 80's nostalgia and The Boxer Rebellion. Unfortunately, those two things are not enough make a good film. Predictable and flat, the screenplay seems to have been generated by typing a few keywords into a screenplay writing software. Long's friends and Barrymore's family provide some comic relief, but again, it feels as if it is the {insert joke here} part of the screenplay. If you are in need of a romantic comedy for a date night, it is probably the best we have seen this summer. Low praise indeed.
2 stars (out of 5)

Roman Holiday

In one of my all time favorite films, Audrey Hepburn plays a royal princess on an official state tour of European countries. Gregory Peck is an American journalist stationed in Rome, and he seems to be the class clown - can't quite get it right - kind of journalist. Finally he has his big break. Hepburn sneaks out from under the control of her handlers one night and runs into Peck on the street. He takes her in, recognizes a scoop, and for the next day, they do whatever they want in Rome (as Peck's friend tags along taking photos). Of course, this is a simpler time in film, so no one takes advantage of anyone and everyone is quite respectful. Not exactly the Hollywood ending that you would expect of any romantic comedy produced today, and satisfying in its honesty. Probably worth seeing this every couple of years just to enjoy a great film chemistry that is hard to find in this genre today.
5 stars (out of 5)

The Burning Plain

Here we have a bit different take on a film that weaves together seemingly unrelated stories into a whole. Charlize Theron plays Sylvia, a depressed, self destructive business owner trying to come to terms with her family history, Kim Bassinger (Gina) struggles with finding love and acceptance after a life tragedy, Santiago and Mariana piece together their lives after the death of their respective parents and Maria travels to the U.S. in search of her mother. Each of these stories slowly weave together to form a picture of family struggle and the power of love, even over time. While it is not exactly a cheery, comedic film, I would not categorize it as depressing. In fact, the ultimate message of hope is probably stronger because of the dark path taken to get there. This film is good, and it is sticking with me longer than I expected it might.
4 stars (out of 5)