Tag: cinema

Life Itself: A Movie Review

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

Roger Ebert

I bet if the great film critic Roger Ebert and I met we would have about 2 things in common.  We disagreed on religion, morality, philosophy and definitely politics.  Why then do I admire him so much? I love Roger because of the way he got me to think. My parents are big on thinking and not just doing, but they don’t watch movies or television.

Let’s face it- being a kid in the post Star Wars world, means movies are a huge part of most of our lives.  So, when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were teaching me how to think about  movies, they were kind of teaching me how to think about life.  It was a building block to add on to what my parents demonstrated at home.

From 1975 to Siskel’s death in 1998 Gene and Roger reviewed movies on their PBS and then syndicated show under various titles, the longest being At the Movies.  They of course were famous for their thumbs up and thumbs down and their constant on air debates over the movies. Here’s one of their best

I have never seen Full Metal Jacket but I still find the review fascinating (and entertaining). In fact, I probably didn’t see 90% of the movies reviewed on Siskel and Ebert and yet I still loved watching the show.

Anyway, with that preface a new movie has come out about the life of Roger Ebert who died in 2013 after a long and painful battle with cancer. It is amazing to think one of the most verbose men in media became someone who could no longer speak. For the last 5 years of his life he communicated through a keyboard and laptop.  His blogging and twitter posts became his new voice and he taught many of us how to use the medium to enrich the world not simply criticize.

The film Life Itself is directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame and it is a lovely film about a man that lived a unique, fascinating life.  He started filming as he was going into a final surgery several years before his death.  They are unflinching (at one point insistently so by Roger) in showing the damage which had been done to Roger’s face and neck.  Even his famous Esquire magazine shoot did not really show what had happened to his face.

They show him writing and then go through his life starting as a young journalism student who insisted on a page edit on his local paper the day Kennedy was shot.  Then it moves on to his first job at the Chicago Sun Times, his alcoholism, his Pulitzer prize winning writing, his time on the show, relationship with Gene Siskel, his marriage and then his illness and last chapter.

I learned a lot about Roger Ebert from the movie but it also reminded me of all of the lessons I’d learned from Roger over the years.  He taught me about movies but also subtely how to live.   Roger and Gene were a reminder to all of us that to share your opinion is not something to be fearful of and to avoid but it is a gift of knowledge and discussion to the world.  Through sharing we hopefully become better people.  I suspect Siskel and Ebert did that for a lot of people.  They made us better by sharing their perspective.

Life Itself is a loving piece but not a complete lovefest.  It makes it clear Siskel and Ebert really did not care for each other for most of their careers.  Roger was also an egotist and a perfectionist to a fault, but we all have our flaws don’t we?

I love learning about people’s lives and how they became who they are.  If you enjoy those types of documentaries than you will like Life Itself- even if you disagreed with Roger Ebert most of the time.  He had quite the life.

Getting back to the quote from above.  Roger Ebert says the movies create ‘shared empathy’.  I propose they do such a thing because he and Gene Siskel taught us to see that empathy.  To look beyond the moment and think about the art whether it was a blockbuster, a silly comedy or a war movie:

Siskel and Ebert showed all of us how to watch the movies.

I’m grateful.  Thumbs up!

Overall Grade A              Content Grade C   (There are a few photos briefly shown of naked women, and a few swears but not too bad)

roger ebert

This is perhaps their best reviews because they both hated it so much.  Love it.

 

 

Advertisements

Austenland: A Review

austenlandI know I am about a year and half late on this review but I put off seeing Austenland because I hated the book so the movie didn’t hold much promise for me.  However, enough of my friends and family encouraged me to see it, and claimed it was better than the book, I finally decided to watch it on my Netflix.

And the verdict is….

Basically the same as the book but I didn’t have to live in the movie for days so I suppose the movie is more tolerable.

So some things to mention before the review- I am a huge Austen fan.  I read her 4 most popular books in the winter break of 1998 and was hooked.  Since then I have read all 4 and even all 6 every year usually in the summer.  They are witty and the heroines are bold and yet weak.  Of course, I love the romance but it is the characters journey as told through romance that works.  The romance itself is fairly predictable.

That’s where this book and movie are misguided.  Austen’s stories are not great because they are romantic.  They are great because they involve choices, judgements, forgiveness, foolishness and of course love.  In the story of Austenland we lose all but the love and it makes for a very unsatisfying story.

The story of Austenland starts out with an interesting lead character.  Jane, played by Kerri Russell, is a die hard Austen fan.  This could be the female version of the many ‘manchild’ movies we’ve seen with men who can’t grow up (usually with Will Farrell or Seth Rogan).  I would be interested to see more movies with these type of women.

Austenland was also directed, written, and produced almost entirely by women, which I think is great.  In the words of Cate Blanchett ‘the world has curves’ and movies should reflect this.  The fact that so many movies fail something as basic as the Bechtel test is very sad indeed. We should do better.

That said, I am not going to give it a pass merely because of it’s female pedigree. That would be unfair.  I have to judge it like any other movie.

So, back to the story… Jane gets an inheritance and decides to fulfill her life dream and go to a living play experience called Austenland.  It is similar to the murder mystery parties that were popular about 10 years ago but over a few weeks.  All of the staff are actors playing parts down to the servants.

Jennifer Coolidge gets some of the funniest bits as a ditzy American guest (she has played this role many times before with funnier dialogue. See the Christopher Guest movies).  But even her lines feel so strained and molded into this ridiculous premise.  Whether in the book or movie I couldn’t buy this place existing and appealing to anyone, even the most die hard of Austen fans.

However, even if you accept the premise, so many of the jokes fall flat. For example, there is an extended scene with a play that I didn’t think was funny.  There are pratfalls and falls on horses that weren’t funny.  And a horse giving birth scene, which would have you believe a foal comes out in the time it takes a woman to grab a handful of hay or at least that Jane believes such a thing. Really, Jane?

Then things became awkward when a member of the ‘cast’ assaults Jane and yet she continues on with her stay.  Did she just think that was part of the play?  A little regency era attempted rape to complete your stay….Like I said it went from unfunny, to uncomfortable, to even a little creepy.

You also see the behind the scenes of the actors which makes the scenes in costume feel even weirder.   And yet with all that they tag on the most unbelievable ending.  Like I said earlier, Austen’s romances worked because of choices the characters make, tough choices.  They are often brave and loyal to a fault.  The characters that are impetuous, romantic and silly, are all either taught to be more sensible or are unhappy in their choices (Lydia, Marianne, Mary Musgrove, Catherine and even Emma).

Aside from coming to the park and then leaving, Jane in Austenland, doesn’t really make any tough choices.  Everything happens to her not by her, making the story less gripping. There is not the sense of a character growing and the viewer isn’t left wondering ‘will Jane’s foibles spoil her chance at real love?’.

Austen’s heroines do not need rescue, and they would not have had dramatic romcom scenes at airports.  Maybe a letter perhaps (or lengthy email). but I can’t think of any bold romantic gestures in any Austen book.  Perhaps Darcy fixing Lydia’s problem but even that expected no fanfare. and he didn’t even want Lizzy to know of his involvement.  Such soft and subtle characters build tension and makes the endings so satisfying.  They are not simply wild passionate love but the careful consideration of two hearts meant to be together, that almost weren’t.

The couple in Austenland don’t spend much time together, and they have even less actual conversations (and a lot of that is staged for a long time or we don’t know how much is staged by either one).  The ending would have been a lot more satisfying if she had sued the place and changed her life (actually learned something…).

In the end, it just didn’t make me laugh.  A big problem in a comedy.  I think I’ll go watch Mr Collins propose.  Now that is funny…

Overall Grade D

Content Grade B+ (It’s pretty innocent.  Even the assault is tame, birth tame, some heaving bosoms, no bad language)

I’m always open for others opinions.  Don’t worry I have thick skin, so please comment.

If you want a more satisfying, if still imperfect, modern version of women confronting Jane Austen try The Jane Austen Book Club.

Clean Reviews

Hi guys!

I’m really excited about a new feature I am adding to my youtube channel.  It kind of goes with the personal standard I mentioned in my recent post  How to be Mormon and Like Movies.

My goal is to share with all of you not only movies I like but also what type of content a movie has.  That way you can easily know if something is worth your time or not.

This is the rating system I came up with for offensive content

content

The rating will not be a quality of movie grade, just the amount of adult content in the movie.  Some of my favorite movies may get a D on content, but hopefully I will explain what type it is and what you should consider before viewing. This will make your movie going experience more pleasant and even inspiring.

What do you think of the idea? What movies would you like me to review?  Anything you’ve been wondering about and would like more detail?  As long it is possible I will give it a watch through and review. Here is a video of me explaining more about the feature.

A Summer with No Movies

summer-movies-2013-01

For some reason my readers love what I have to say about movies.  I love the movies.  I love the feeling of being swept away in another world and seeing a new perspective in a confined period of time.  Learning something, laughing for a few hours or shedding a collective tear with your fellow movie-goers.

Movies give all of us a common language that perhaps only television rivals.  Even with communicating with children I have been amazed at how equalizing a discussion of their favorite movies becomes.  At a recent family reunion I was talking to my nieces/cousins about their favorite movies and the conversation lasted for 15-20 minutes and at the end my cousin’s son Tait said ‘wow, you know about everything…’.  I wish that were true but I try to stay well informed and culturally relevant about a variety of topics including movies.

Having said that it will perhaps surprise you that I have not been to a single movie this summer.  Even more than that there have only been 4 that sparked my interest, 3 of which did not come to a theater nearby for more than a few days.  The four movies I might have seen given the chance were Before Midnight, Much Ado About Nothing, Blue Jasmine and Monsters University.  The Heat looked kind of funny but I like to wait for the R rated comedies to make sure they aren’t out of my comfort level and from what I hear that one was a pretty strong R.

This is not the first time I’ve felt this way about summer movies.  See post Thumbs Down to Summer Movies but still there are usually a few movies I make it out to.  Have any of you found this?  My parents never go to movies and that always seemed kind of sad to me.  Am I turning into my parents? (a fact I’ve seen coming for some time).

Part of the reason why I haven’t been to the movies is because I have used up almost every ounce of my free time swimming.  That’s where my friends are and that’s where I want to be.  While I will go to the movies alone, they are often a social experience and none of my friends have invited me to go to the movies.  Instead we’ve gone to concerts, the theater, dinners and of course swimming all over Utah and Salt Lake County.

That’s where I have to blame the movies.  Why when I can go to a lake and swim for free or go to a good restaurant would I want to go to a sequel, prequel, remakes or super hero movie especially when I can see it at home in a few months?  It’s just becoming increasingly less appealing as a social activity.  Even if the movies are not technically offshoots of previous movies they are so derivative of those films then why wouldn’t I just go see the original better version?

I’m so tired of the big explosions, special effects and repeats.  This year we got 2 movies where the white house was under attack, 5 end of the world/zombie movies, 3 super hero movies (4 with Thor to come in the fall, 5 if you count Kiss @#$# 2), 3 out of the 5 animated movies were sequels/prequels, I could go on.  And did anyone else notice that there hasn’t been a single romantic comedy or period piece this year.  I know they can be terrible but usually there are at least a couple a year?

I’m sick of movies made in committees.  Someone in some corporate board meeting decided that Walking Dead was a big hit so 2013 was going to be the year of the zombie/end of the world movie.  Just like someone last year decided that the newly envisioned fairy tale was the big hit (2 Snow Whites, Red Riding Hood).

Maybe I was just spoiled because last year was one of my favorite movie years in recent memories.  With Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Pitch Perfect, Lincoln and The Perks of Being a Wallflower were all excellent.  These were great movie experiences.  Experiences that could only be had at the movies. Only on the screen could I get up close to Jean Valjean and feel his pain. Its something the stage could never provide.  Same with Wallflower where the music provides a dimension to the story the novel missed.

I’ve missed that experience this year.  What amazes me is that Hollywood will put millions of dollars on a film and not take any time on characters or a solid script.  I mean The Lone Ranger costs 220 million dollars to make.  220 million. What were investors thinking?  That just because it had Johnny Depp it would make more money than any western ever (Dances with Wolves holds that record at 184 million)?  That kind of waste is almost unconscionable and were not even including the marketing for it.  That said, the big budget would be forgivable (think Avatar) if it was a good movie but from everything I hear it isn’t.

Has anyone else had a similar experience this summer?  I’ve asked on my facebook/twitter wall but what am I missing?

Here’s what I say to movie-makers out there- Get some guts.  Every year there are thousands of graduates dreaming of screenwriting glory.  Why not find the best of the best?  Get some budgeting, show some restraint and then actually promote your movies outside of Oscar season.  How annoying is it when I want to see a movie but can’t because it isn’t playing anywhere within 50 miles of my house.  When Before Midnight came out I got an email from fandango announcing I could see the movie in Hollywood California or Austin, Texas.  Only 12 hours in the car and I can see a movie…Sigh

Also, my next rant. I’m so tired of movies throwing in the f word just to appear edgy and independent. I admit that certain characters such language is natural but a movie like Ruby Sparks would be so much better without all the unnecessary language.  Broadway is having the same problem with each new show trying to out-edge the next one.  Didn’t Hugo and The Artist show that sometimes the most edgy thing we can do is old fashioned and simple?  Double sigh…

So that’s my feelings on summer movies 2013.  Hollywood you may have gotten some people to see your films but not this blogger.  Got to try harder to get me in the door.

PS.  Want a great idea for a movie- why doesn’t someone make Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South into a movie?  We haven’t had a Jane Austenish movie in a while and the miniseries was great and popular.  With the popularity of Downton Abbey I think North and South would do very well. I also would love to see any of the Sophie Kinsella books made into a movie as long as it isn’t ruined like Confessions of a Shopaholic or Edenbrooke.  That’d be great!!

Here’s Matt Atchity from What the Flick giving a good portrait of this summer in movies:

Underrated Movies

movie-clip-art11-287x300So a few weeks ago I wrote a story on movies I felt were overrated.  Now those were not necessarily bad movies I just didn’t think they were the amazing 5 stars everyone else seems to. The follow up naturally becomes what are underrated movies that deserve more playing time?

I actually struggled in coming up with a list because some of them seemed difficult to defend but I enjoyed them nonetheless.  Some might think how could I not be into the Godfather and like Sweet Home Alabama or The Blind Side? I can’t explain it.  I just do. So here are some underrated gems to check out by category:

Rom Coms that do the genre right- anyone knows I love a good romantic movie but they have been the scene of some truly horrific flops in the last 10 years.  Some that were unjustly ignored are:

IQ- a funny movie starring Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins and Walter Manthau about Einstein’s niece falling in love.  The banter between Einstein and his buddies is hilarious, the chemistry is right on.  Its available on netflix so check it out (many on this list are on netflix).

Sweet Home Alabama-  Predictable? yes.  do some of the jokes fall flat? yes, but I really enjoy this movie.  I LOVE Josh  Lucas.  He is super sexy and Patrick Demsey plays the other man with a lot of class.  They do not take the easy way out and make him a jerk.

Just Wright- A movie nobody saw with Queen Latifah and Common. The Queen is divine as a physical therapist tasked with helping an NBA player come back from an injury.  Yes, its predicable but you need some of that in this genre.  Its really a fairy tale with the prince charming a basketball player and Paula Patton as the somewhat evil stepsister (god-sister in this story . She’s a gold digger with a heart and boy is she pretty)

Return to Me- Similar to IQ this sweet love story of a girl who gets a heart transplant but then falls for the widower of the heart donor. Its sweet and how great to have a Hollywood romance where the character falls in love without the girl revealing a scar on her chest. A very clean simple movie with a great group of older actors playing the Irish/Italian family of the Minnie Driver character.

Better Off Dead- I can’t really defend this movie except to say that it makes me laugh every time.  A boy is infatuated with his girlfriend and then is dumped for the captain of the high school ski team. To get back he decides to ski the K-12.

Hijinks erupt with everything from Howard Cossell Japanese taxi drivers, animated burgers, a paper boy who wants his $2, a mother who boils bacon and makes goo for dinner and a brother who cuts out coupons from boxes before the cereal is eaten.  What can I say?  It just makes me laugh.

Drama’s that deserve  to be seen-

Marvin’s Room-  A gut wrenching drama with Meryl Streep, Dianne Keaton, Robert Deniro and Leonardo Dicaprio.  It reads like a good play. Two estranged sisters get back together when  one is diagnosed with cancer.  Dicaprio plays a teen with severe behavior and mental illness issues but it is done in a realistic way.   Every performance is good.  It felt like watching a real family.

Warrior- Not enough people saw this great sports/family movie.  The conceit is predictable.  We know the brothers will end up fighting against each other but the journey is so well done.  All the performances are great.  Tom Hardy is super hot and Nick Nolte is totally believable as the alcoholic father everyone has discounted.  The fight scenes are not overly long and the tension is built perfectly.  Great example of its genre.

Secret Life of Bees- Another movie with a strong ensemble cast that nobody saw.  Based on the bestselling novel by Su Monk Kidd tells the story of a little girl who runs away from home in 1964 South Carolina. She finds a new home with a family of black women that knew her mother and are beekeepers.  I loved the book and the movie.

Jane Eyre 1996- I have yet to dislike a version of this story (including the 2011 filming) but this one may be my favorite big screen adaptation.  Charlotte Ginsberg is the most plain Jane but that totally works for the character.  William Hurt is brooding and fun as Rochester even without a British accent.

The Blind Side- Obviously this film has its fans as it won an oscar for Sandra Bullock but amongst critics it is frequently chided as sentimental and even manipulative.  My answer to that is so what?  Hasn’t sentimentality always been an essential aspect to the movies? Even going back to Gone with the Wind or Mrs Minver.  If it is done well I enjoy a good hearted fable that helps encourage me to be a better person.

This story is of course about future super bowl winner Michael Oher and how he is adopted by the Tuohy family of Mississippi.  Its the kind of movie I want to watch when I’m having a bad day or feeling discouraged and I don’t think that is a bad thing.  Our society could use a little more hope and little less cynicism.

Children Movies You Might Have Missed

Winnie the Pooh Movie- Finally a movie designed for little, little kids.  Its short enough for them with a simple sweet story that I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for.  I LOVE the music.  No winking humor for adults just an unabashed little kids movie (5 and under)

Holes- The first time I saw this movie I was blown away.  I called my family and said ‘you have to see it’.  They weren’t as impressed but I thought it was so creative.  Weaving a story of a kid sent to a desert camp to dig holes and an cowboy love story that ended badly leaving a curse on the entire family.  I still think it is brilliant.

Where the Wild Things Are- This movie has its fans and I admit it is one you either go with or don’t. I did.  When I saw it in the theater half of us thought it was amazing and half a big bore.  I loved its realistic depiction of a child, without any of the cloying sweetness of most Hollywood movies.  This is a real kid with tantrums and stubbornness.

Then he is given the chance to actually lead creatures, creatures that feature all of his good and bad traits and he realizes how hard it is. He gets a new empathy for his mother.  I loved the music, voice acting, the kid is a great actor (plus looks like my step-nephew).  Its different but I totally bought it.

Ponyo-  A weird but delightful animated movie from Hayao Miyazaki who made Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.  Both of those are better movies but this one is more like My Friend Totoro and is designed for little kids. The story is simple but the images are so creative and the basic idea so dazzling that the kids have room to write some of their own story.  It is about a little boy that adopts a gold fish that is the daughter of the great sea wizard.  The ocean begins to search for the adorable Ponyo and everything begins.

Classics You Should See-

Talk of the Town- At its release this movie was nominated for Oscars but I doubt many have seen it.  Certainly Cary Grant’s other comedies such as Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday (both wonderful) are more popular but I love Talk of the Town . It has Jean Arthur who plays the high school crush of town good-for-nothing Grant who has been framed by a union for a fire that killed a man.

Knowing the jury is rigged Grant escapes from prison and seeks refuge at Arthur’s summer home which is soon to be occupied by a potential supreme court nominee played by Ronald Coleman.  Justice vs mercy is amazingly mixed in with some great slapstick.  I laugh my head off at this movie and think about philosophy at the same time.  A rare combination.

Brigadoon- The Gene Kelly musical most people haven’t seen.  Lerner and Loewe’s broadway musical comes to life about a town that ages only one day every hundred years.  Kelly and his friend stumble upon the town on a hunting trip and meet the lovely Cyd Charisse.   Some great songs such as Almost Like Being in Love, There but for you go I, Waitin for my Dearie and other great music and dancing.

Lili- A movie most people probably haven’t seen but a sweet fairy tale with amazing dancing.  Its the story of a girl named Lili played by Leslie Caron who stumbles upon a circus in a small town who agree to give her a job as a magicians assistant.  Young, she botches the first night and runs away in distress.  To her surprise she stumbles upon a puppet show and the puppets start to speak to her.

She agrees to be the MC for the puppet show but gets so lost in the illusion that she doesn’t remember who is behind the scenes. Could it be jaded carnival operator who is bitter about his career in dance going down the tubes because of an injury? You will have to see! The dancing is magnificent and like I said it is a gem.