Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Wrestler

5 out of 5 Stars
I love Darren Aronofsky. Every single one of his films has made me cringe, gasp, appreciate beauty, empathize with the characters' struggles and always, always cry (and I'm not one to cry in movies). I love his story telling, his images, the dialogue, the sharp editing -- and once again the Wrestler completely consumed me and my emotions. I was glad that Mickey Rourke received an oscar nod, and hopefully someday Aronofsky will also be recognized for his personal, in your face, honest, metaphorical and ultimately heart wrenching directing. It is Aronofsky who has the ability to help his actors achieve such strong and wonderful performances.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


3 out of 5 Stars
I was actually sort of disappointed by 'Milk'. Sean Penn gave a great performance but he always does, and I thought he didn't so much 'create' a character but instead emulated Harvey Milk's mannerisms and tone. It's sad to see how little has changed since 1978 -- prop 6 and now prop 8 -- obviously, I was already 'Team Harvey' going into the film. It's too bad that people in the red states aren't seeing this film, but even if they did I doubt it would change their minds. I was more moved by Matthew Shepard's story and the documentary about hate crimes in Wyoming. I also thought the PBS documentary on the Castro did a better job of depicting Milk's struggle.

Friday, February 13, 2009


4.5 out of 5 Stars
I am so close to giving 'Coraline' 5 stars. A few small details hold me back. I was pleasantly surprised that Henry Selick not only kept my favorite images from the book (the never ending theater with the dog audience, the carnivale-esque mouse circus, and the walking through fog and mist into a space where everything disappears - only to walk back to the house), but created such stunning, scary, haunting and beautiful images of these scenes. The entire movie was so visually appetizing that I am eager to see it again in the theater. Selick managed to stay mostly true to Neil Gaiman's beautiful story. With two major exceptions. 1) I wish he would have set the story in England. Dakota Fanning gave an excellent voice to an 'American' Coraline -- a bossy and petulant 11 year old transplant from Michigan (yes, the young Southern Ms. Fanning even has the midwestern accent absolutely perfect!). It's scary just how realistic of an 'American' 11 year old Coraline actually is. But had Selick decided to stay true to Gaiman's original English setting, I have no doubt Dakota Fanning would have done an equally wonderful job. 2) I was extremely perturbed by the addition of the character 'Wybourne'. I thought this was extremely unnecessary -- in the book Coraline manages just fine on her own and does not need a boy to 'help' her out. But other than those two minor qualms, I thought this was a perfect film. Keith David as the voice of the Cat exceeded my highest of expectations. And even Terri Hatcher held her own as 'The Other Mother'. But even without such great casting, Henry Selick has trumped Tim Burton in every way imaginable, and reminded his loyal audience just how pivotal a role he was in the brilliance of Burton's earlier films (before they had the fallout after Nightmare and before James and the Giant Peach). Burton is a strong storyteller -- I do think that there was an emotional content to the character of Jack in Nightmare Before Christmas that Coraline lacked. But image wise? It's all about Henry Selick. It's no coincidence that the house in Coraline is a direct homage to the house in Beetlejuice. The ghost children, the garden, Coraline's bedroom, the highlights in Coraline's hair, the subtle gleam of the buttons in 'The Other Mother's' eyes -- Selick is an animation genius. I'm eager for him to find another dark childrens' tale to adapt into a film.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Man On Wire

3.5 out of 5 Stars
I recognize that this was a well done, well made, and well shot documentary (nominated for an Oscar this year). And it did, indeed, hold my full attention up to a certain point. I've always appreciated extreme stunts and I was swept away by Philippe Petit's adoration, awe, and absolute need to experience his stunt at the World Trade Center -- especially since he was obsessed with the idea before the towers were even built. I even enjoyed the reenactment sequences -- I enjoyed it enough to give the documentary 3.5 stars. Still, something about the 'heist film' nature of the documentary made me feel as though I was watching something scripted. I've never been of a fan of the 'we've got a heist scheduled and we're gonna pull it off' genre (such as Oceans Eleven). Still, I'm glad I saw this documentary. But overall, it didn't really appeal to *me* personally.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

3 out of 5 Stars
First of all, I find it peculiar that this film was named after one of my all time favorite short stories -- I had high expectations and nobody warned me in advance that the film had no relation whatsoever to Fitzgerald's short story (except for the backwards aging and the name of the protagonist). I was quite shocked by this fact, particularly in the opening sequence which involved literal buttons and later when we learn that Benjamin's father owns a button factory. So basically 5 minutes into the film I had to throw my illusions out the window. Clearly, this film was not going to have any Fitzgerald-ian elements. That aside, there was much I liked about this film. At least 2.5 hours (out of the 3 hour running time) are so beautifully shot and photographed. I could have watched the film without volume and been dramatically drawn in by the stunning juxtaposition of a picture of a young redheaded child amongst wrinkled seniors, followed by an older red haired woman tending to the needs of a two year old baby. The images alone moved me. The changing images of Benjamin and Daisy. The sunset on the pier, the sail boat, NYC in the 50s, Daisy dancing in a lush park with a reflection of water, etc. The story...not so much. The romance between Benjamin and Daisy is completely unbelievable (and not even because of the aging). I never once believed that they were destined to be each others' 'great loves' (unlike Slumdog Millionaire where I was completely swept away by the love story). Cate Blanchett gives a good performance, but I can't help thinking that she is always playing a variation of the same character (either 'Meredith Logue - of the Textile Logues' from Ripley or Queen Elizabeth). While I've never been a complete fan of Tilda Swinton, I was way more drawn to her character as a female protagonist. And Julia Ormand and the hurricane Katrina thing? That was kind of an unnecessary plot device. But I adored Brad Pitt as Benjamin -- his innocence, his maturing and ultimately his petulance when he becomes a child. But my favorite performance in the film? Taraji P. Henson as Queenie. The way her eyes lit up when her 'son' returned home, the way she subtly glances at Benjamin when she announces she is pregnant, and her stern yet protective glare at Daisy. She took my breath away at times. This film had enough beauty to it for me to give it 3 stars. But should it win best picture? I'm rooting for Slumdog!
(note : I have not yet seen Milk or Frost/Nixon)

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Strangers

2 out of 5 Stars
I was intrigued by the trailer enough to add this to my netflix cue. The images of 'Strangers' in creepy masks was enough to peak my curiosity. However, this film turned out to be highly disappointing. I know I should analyze a film like this so literally but I just couldn't get over the implausible idea that three people would have the intelligence, stamina and coordination to pull off such a well choreographed and well planned 'night of terror'. It was not all all realistic.