Archive for the Drama Category

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE :: FANTASY :: 042

Posted in Drama, Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 03/12/2010 by joycereview

Spike Jonzes’ cinematic version of the popular book, Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, walks a fine line but holds a tightrope walker’s focus throughout.

Where The Wild Things Are (besides Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax) was my favorite book growing up.

Max, like myself as a youngster (and millions of kids the world over) uses his imagination to lift himself far away from his struggles.

Young Max is played by Max Records (The Brothers Bloom) and assumes the role with great depth and vulnerability.  Each expression on his face perfectly depicts the confusion, disappointment, jubilation, or whathaveyou, of a kid trying to find his place in the world, beit reality or amongst the creatures of his imagination.

The Wild Things are: Carrol (James Gandolfini), Alexander (Paul Dano), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Douglas (Chris Cooper) and Ira (Forest Whitaker).

For those that know and love the book (as I, a child of the late 70s did), Where The Wild Things Are (the cinematic version) produces its own, leisurely paced addaptation of the 300-some-word children’s classic.  Jonze and Eggers give, in cinematic terms, exactly what Sendak was able to do in words and illustrations… and although the film may feel too “drawn out” for a full-length feature film (and you may be right), the situations, all from the point-of-view of 9-year old Max allows you to relive, (for me, drawing from my own childhood) and relate to the child within.

What did you think about the picture?

Give your thoughts below and…

Let the wild rumpus begin!

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WHIP IT :: DRAMA :: 040

Posted in Crime, Drama, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 03/09/2010 by joycereview

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut met my heart with shrills of “more Ellen Page,” with mounting excitement (after viewing Netflix’s “Very Long Wait” status), with an 8-year old’s jubilant bounce when I saw it at Best Buy for 50% off (only $9.99) and finally with saddening disappointment as it attempted to reach various highpoints, only to fall victim to cliches and poor acting.

Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a character as hip and independent as Juno, but without the tongue-savvy eloquence.  She’s somewhat a slave to her beauty pagent-loving mother (played by Macia Gay Harden).  One day she sees some tattoo-wielding roller derby girls and attempts to prove her best friend Pash (played by Alia Shawkat) wrong by auditioning for the preeminently underdog team, the Hurl Scouts.

There’s Smashly Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor) and Babe Ruthless (Ellen Page).  The names are fun, the energy is high (at times), and there is something sexy,… very sexy about girls being tough and headstrong.

Bliss Cavendar finds her passion in roller derby, and instead of giving non-derby-watching audiences a better understanding of the rules and competitive progression of the Hurl Scouts, screenwriter Shauna Cross (and director Barrymore) give us, even though some chemistry is present, an awkward courtship between Bliss and indie-rocker Oliver (played by Landon Pigg).

Let me explain myself a bit – –

  • Climbing through a window to have a very PG-13 sexual first in a lit-up pool.  Not your normal kanoodling; we’re talking about overly romantic, fully submersed aquatic relations with Page’s skinny bod desperately trying to stay submerged (let’s not forget that we are aware that her character wears contacts and couldn’t possibly keep her eyes open for that amount of time).
  • Also, when the very intimidating Iron Maven instigates what would realistically be a full-fledged cat fight, playfully becomes a benign food fight, despite the gutsy and “Ruthless” tackling by Bliss on Maven.
  • Band frontman Oliver and derby “Jammer” Bliss are laying on Oliver’s car hood.  When it’s time for Bliss to get to practice, he checks his pockets to find that his keys are lost, somewhere in the large wheat field.  Miraculously, through a game of Marco Polo, Oliver finds them… and then (obviously because he wants to keep Bliss longer) he throws his keys back into the field, creating a moment that (to me) would have meant something along the lines of an immediate castration.  But later on in the film, Bliss draws the “line in the sand” over him not returning her call.  Go figure.

Most of this film, we’ve seen before, but it’s a more-than-decent flick that continues to display the wonderful talents of Ellen Page.  Kristen Wiig is also sensational.  More of a drama than a comedy, Whip It entertained, but did not impress. 

Ellen Page should not have turned down Drag Me To Hell to play this movie, but then again Whip It, without Page, would have been something very frustrating.  It would probably be like when you come home from school and you press power on your old-school Nintendo and you get nothing.  You blow inside the gate, you blow the game inputs, and it leaves you with nothing; empty and depressed…all day long.

Glad that wasn’t the case. 

What were your thoughts on Whip It?

JUNEBUG :: DRAMA :: 038

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Indie with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/21/2010 by joycereview

I’ve been lucky the past few weeks.

I say “lucky”, because as a film buff,… as someone who loves to dive into the gigantic pool of cinema (often daily), I watch many films that lack substance.

Away We Go wasn’t like that, and Junebug certainly isn’t either.

JuneBug was absolutely a joy to watch from the moment George Johnsten uttered his character’s first words, “I’m from Pfafftown, North Carolina.”

As many of my readers know, I’ve lived and grown up in the city of Winston-Salem, not fifteen minutes away from where this story takes place.  And although North Carolina is the host state for many movies (primarily Wilmington, NC), very few have had stories so closely affixed to our “Southern ways,” not-to-mention the universal complications within families, Life, and our place in them.

BEAR BONES

Meet George Johnsten (Alessandro Nivola) a charming, near-perfect Southern gentleman.

It’s been three years since he’s been home to visit his family, and it just so happens that his wife, a passionate and career-driven Chicago art dealer, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), must visit a reclusive artist in Pinnacle, North Carolina (not far from where George grew up).  Seeming like the perfect opportunity to meet her hubby’s family for the first time, her visit creates a windstorm of emotion and uncovers more than could ever have been perceived, about her in-laws, her relationship with George and herself.

Strangely enough, my celebrity crush of Amy Adams, who plays George’s doe-eyed, child-like and very pregnant sister-in-law didn’t  officially begin until I saw this film.  Nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actress (2005)” for her role as Junebug’s “Ray of Southern light,” is an inquisitive and perpetually “sunny” character that says (virtually all in one breath):

[Ashley; about Madeleine] I wonder what she looks like.  I bet she’s skinny.  She probably is.  She’s skinnier’n me and prettier too.  Now I’ll hate her.  I can’t wait!

But obviously she never does (hate her)… as Ashley doesn’t seem to hate anyone.

Ashley’s clearly the “creme-filled center” of Junebug (if you find the “creme” to be the yummiest part of the doughnut), however this film’s sugary-goodness comes from the remaining cast.  Peg (played by Celia Weston), the matriarchal mother-in-law to Madeleine, does two things: voices her opinions and looks after her young’ns.  Her husband, Eugene (Scott Wilson) plays the role of the tight-lipped father… a common trait among spouses of brazen, out-spoken, women.  Even though through most of George and Madeleine’s visit Eugene’s looking for a lost screwdriver (a “Phillips head”), his character shines with the reality of what many good ol’ Southern boys become (especially with a wife such as Peg).  Sometimes what Eugene says is for his benefit only, mostly he keeps quiet, and (like many of us) conveys a Buddhistic wisdom.  Consider for a moment a tense moment in the film when Madeleine walks in on a private conversation between Eugene and Peg.  Maybe she heard what Peg had said about her; maybe not.  Peg gets up from the table and leaves the room.

[Madeleine] She’s a very strong personality.

[Eugene]  That’s just her way.  She hides herself.  She’s not like that inside.  (pause) Like most.

Where the story comes up short is through the character of Johnny (Ben Mckenzie), Ashley’s frustrated and tantrum-giving husband.  He’s a torrent of anger and self-loathing; second-rate when it comes to his successful brother, and emotionally handicapped when it comes to showing affection (this is, perhaps, because he feels that he is undeserving of it).  This is evident in the scene where Johnny desperately scrambles to tape a television show on meerkats.  He knows Ashley loves them.  But like everything in his life thus far, he fails.  Either the acting of Ben Mckenzie was over-done, or it was poor directing on  Morrison’s part,… but it was very hard to believe that Ashley; adorable and pregnant – quite plumply of a bump with his child, could ever arouse such anger and internal discord.

The only other sour point, comes by way of the mentally-challenged, heavily accent, “sought after” genius artist, David Walk.  He lives in Pinnacle, NC (which gives us sentimental Carolinians a beautiful shot of Pilot Mountain) but paints lurid, allegorical pictures of American history.  Madeleine, intent on signing and representing him in the art world, comments over a particular piece –

I like all the dog heads and computers,… and scrotums.

I know very little of art, but the art that I do have an appreciation for… makes sense.  People look like the people they are drawn after.  Picasso, someone whose work I wouldn’t pay for (if I never knew the value) seems more like art than the shallow and jejune “art” described as “breath-taking.”

Junebug, written by Angus MacLachlan and directed by Phil Morrison, is…above all else… a story that shows that the problems of Life can seldom be solved within the scope of a single film.  The evolution of the character’s relationships with one another, the deep undercurrent of emotion and pain, and any sort of resolution or understanding cannot be deciphered in 106 minutes (nor could it be solved in 300).  I can’t wait to personally own this film, not only to watch again, but to pass amongst my fellow North Carolinians as a relatable, highly-authentic story about real people… living, loving… and dealing.

THE COVE :: DOC :: 037

Posted in Documentary, Drama, Special Interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/13/2010 by joycereview

The Cove, winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is a film that everyone should view (at least once… and soon).

World renown dolphin expert, trainer and activist Ric O’Barry (Flipper, television series; 1960s), along with a crack squad of specialists, attempts to expose the horrific animal abuse and potential health threat in Taiji, Japan.

Not for the faint-of-heart, The Cove shows us brutal reality, in hopes that we may become more aware, emotionally invested and sympathetic to the plight of the dolphins (and other whales).  I’ll never look at a captive dolphin the same way, nor will I return to the person I was before I saw this film.

Nature’s cruelest joke is that a dolphin’s smile makes him/her appear to always be happy.  …Captive dolphins are constantly stressed and must be given medicines with their food to prevent ulcers.

After watching, The Cove, something else that O’Barry said struck me to my very core.  He said, “If you aren’t an activist, you’re an inactivist.”

From day-to-day, there is much that we can do.  Living in the “information age” should not only be the mighty catalyst for the exchange of information but for the creation of real change.  If there is one thing that this film shows you, (besides the abuse of animals and the destructive nature of man) is that one person can make a difference, and a group of people can change the world.

Watch this for yourself.  The Cove is just as good as any espionage film, will (very likely) move you to tears …and it is, every bit, real.

For more information on the film, visit: TakePart.Com

[While your there, Sign the petition, and spread the word!]

* * *

THIS FILM IS RATED PG-13 FOR DISTURBING CONTENT

THE HURT LOCKER :: ACTION :: 036

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller, War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/09/2010 by joycereview

What looks like a sandbox and smells like poop?

Give up?  Answer: The Hurt Locker.

But like sandboxes and pooping… The Hurt Locker can be a little bit of fun.

If you think about it, sand is fun to build stuff with, but in essence, there’s nothing grand about it; it’s just tiny rocks.  And pooping…let’s face it, is sometimes an inconvenience, but at the very least, gives you a well-deserved break from your job, day-to-day stessors, and like all us typical Americans, overeating.  The Hurt Locker is fun at points, but there’s nothing too deep about it.

And in comparison to pooping – a  break from your daily “duties” , but might be a bit of “a waste” [look at that! A double pun!].  Watcher beware.

THE BEAR ESSENTIALS

US Army Sergeant First Class Will James (Jeremy Renner) joins Bravo Company in Iraq, having only a month or so left till they are relieved.  Sgt. James is a bomb disposal expert sent to replace former Bravo leader Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce).  Sgt. James’ “cowboy approach” to bomb disposal clashes poorly with squad members Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty ); whose main objective it to return home in one piece.

Don’t be fooled by my ‘poop’ simile, The Hurt Locker, is brilliant in several ways.  One particular example of brilliance lies within the character of SFC Will James, who (somehow) operates the battlefield with a searing focus.  He resembles Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down*; someone not overly concern with death, but of getting the job done, by whatever means possible.  The role of “The Bomb Specialist,” in his huge, protective suit resembles an astronaut exploring a foreign planet.  This image is one that cinematically paints an atmosphere of isolation and danger, and portrays Sgt. James as a heroic figure on a perilous mission.  From this, one can easily tell that the director has a flair for the artistic [she actually spent 2 years at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painter].

The second dose of “the spectacular” comes in the overall “vibe” of the film.  Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break) gives us a glimpse of Iraq without the politics; a battle on simple terms – Man vs. his fear of death.  The bombs that they are there to defuse are the very similar the the bombs they carry with themselves day-to-day through the war… either you adapt/disconnect the wiring, or you eventually detonate.

Where this movie fails (in this reviewer’s opinion) is mainly in Bigelow’s artistic styling, lack of supporting details and character traits.

Bigelow (the ex-wife of “Action film great” James Cameron) is fair, not great, as an action director.  Artistic action, such as Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, masterfully conveys depth and is clearly, poetry in motion.  Ridley Scott (Gladiator, G.I. Jane), on the other hand, is a veteran director whose directorial wizardry gives the eyes the full extent of light and motion, without overload.  Bigelow performs nicely with scenes involving tention, but nothing beyond what one might catch in an episode of 24.

At one point in the film, while under enemy fire, the camera fixates – in slow motion – on a bullet shell as it discharges from the sniper rifle, spins in the air and bounces on the desert sand.  The next shot, showed both the sniper and spotter, as the spotter looks through his binoculars and utters, “You got him [the bad-guy].”  With the consistently mounting tension of the scene, most viewers would be clamoring  for the result… for the bloody aftermath of that final shot… Bigelow just handed us a heaping handful of failure.   Word verification of a kill?  Only?  (Sheesh!)

Finally, (and there are certainly more concerns that reduced this film to a 6) I don’t understand the point of many of these bomb defusings.  I wouldn’t think a deserted road of sand and rubble merits a soldier’s life.  Certainly the main character wants to MacGyverishly defuse a record number of bombs in his extraordinary career, but don’t they have “bomb containment boxes/chambers”?  Why risk life and limb over such a small thing?  Why not walk up to the bomb, plant some c4 explosives on top of “the threat” and detonate (after clearing the area of bystanders/civilians of course)?  Never any explanation from the film.  Also, why the cumbersome and stuffy protective suit?  Either way, suit or naked, you’re as good as dead if you cut the wrong wire.   At least if you’re naked you would have a better chance of running to safety.

In conclusion… not a total dud, wonderful at parts, but not “explosive” enough for me.  Only 2 hrs. and 7 minutes, but felt like 3.

Let us hear what you thought!

* * *

*Kathryn Bigelow is noted for casting Tom Sizemore (i.e. Point Break, Strange Days).  I didn’t know this when I made the comparison to Sgt. Will James and Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down.  This connection was made after noticing this little bit of trivia at IMDB.com.  Must have been used as character model (at least in some capacity).

AWAY WE GO :: COMEDY :: 035

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Indie, romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/02/2010 by joycereview

I like funny movies about 30-something couples, partly because I’m 30-something, and partly because I’m finding it hard to relate to anything else.

After a jaw-dropping revelation of what America finds “entertaining & hilarious” (see The Hangover), I felt what most suicidal people might describe as “the great sadness.”

As I picked myself off the floor and the pulled the 9mm revolver from between my teeth, a sense of hope came when I saw that Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) directed an independent film with our much-loved, “Jim Halpert” (from The Office) and  Saterday Night Live vertern, Maya Rudolph.

BEAR BONES

Romantic and charismatic Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and pessimistic, nuptially-reluctant and 6-months-pregnant Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are a loving couple.  While visiting Burt’s parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), Burt and Verona discover that they’ve made other plans.  Realizing that there isn’t much to stay around for, they embark on a road trip to visit family and old friends in a quest to find the place they will call “Home.”

Seeing this movie makes me realize, “Hey. I like movies about nice people.”

Burt and Verona are intelligent, corky and “nice” people and I will say here – their relationship and chemistry binds this movie together (like so much maple syrup).  Their odyssey takes them to places like Phoenix and Montreal where they meet old acquaintances and family, and on each meeting discover just what they don’t want to become as lovers and as parents.

The physical and charming style of Krasinski compliments the expressive and uniquely-beautiful* Rudolph superbly.  Their characters, Burt and Verona, give us movie-goes a glimpse at the life of a real couple.  Some people may argue that when they rent a movie they want to be swept away by the unreal.  To this, there is always a time and place.  The best stories… the ones that truly make an impact come not from the Hollywood standard, but from the creation of “real” people.

For one, there is this “real” scene in which Burt and Verona are lying in bed:

[Verona]  Burt, are we F#$@-ups?.  [Burt] No! What do you mean?  [V] I mean, we’re 34… [B] I’m 33. [V] …and we don’t even have the basic stuff figured out. [B] Basic, like how? [V] Basic, like how to live.  [B] We’re not f&$%-ups.  [V] We have a cardboard window.  [B] (looks at window) We’re not f@#%-ups.  [V] (whispers) I think we might be f#$%-ups.

Lots of couples wonder this.  Lots of couples talk about this.  Their life feels flat… that they don’t match up to everyone else and/or their life doesn’t match up to everyone elses.

Watching a film like Away We Go makes me feel a great and powerful connection to Burt and Verona, not just because I feel like “we’re in the same boat” but because the alternative of where we think we are is seldom where we’d like to be [and that is something I’ve always felt strongly about].  Especially if we knew what we’d become or have to give up in order to get it.

I felt “pure and clean” again after watching this film.

The Hangover taste is gone.

Away we go was the dose of Listerine I need so very badly.

CHE :: FOREIGN :: 032

Posted in Action, Documentary, Drama, Foreign, Special Interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/05/2010 by joycereview

After seeing the film, The Motorcycle Dairies, I knew I had to learn more about the man, the humanitarian, the revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Steven Soderbergh’s Che (initially split into Che: The Argentine and Che: Guerrilla) is a beautiful, yet somewhat laboring look (pt 1= 134 minutes; pt. 2= 135 minutes) at the asthmatic doctor who fought so hard for the “miserable and alienated” and who becomes not only Latin America’s most legendary revolutionary leader but also one of the most iconic faces for freedom and liberty the world over.

Che is played by Benicio Del Toro with a searing elegance and believability that won him the Best Actor Award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  Fidel Castro, played by Demian Bichir, was a revelation to watch, and (I felt) the Chilean sensation, Santiago Cabrera fit the role of loyal Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos most perfecto!

The entire movie was filmed like a window into the past.  The action was gritty, emotional and in-your-face.  The dialogue throughout the entire will was approximately 98% Spanish and besides a few notables (Franka Potente and Matt Damion), nearly the entire cast of the film was hispanic.

A BEAR OF A QUOTE

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.  It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.

If I am to be as honest as my nature compels me to be, I’d have to say that Che is on my list as one of the Top 5 films of 2008-2009.  The only noticeable flaw (if you know history) is that Che was of average height 5’9 (quite perfect for a guerilla soldier) and no where near the 6 foot 3 inch-sasquatch-ness of Del Toro.  So although Benicio could channel the spirit and essence of the ‘Che’, somehow, and quite disappointingly, he couldn’t make himself smaller.

The next blunder comes when Soderbergh gives us over 4 hours of action, history, and brilliant acting.  I mean, who wants to attach their phat fannies to the sofas for that length of time?  Well… I did.  And I’m sure there are lots of history buffs and Leftists out there that would too.  Not-to-mention the godless communist scum* that I’m sure still need someone to look up to (even though all of this took place half a century ago).

Okay, if I had to pick one truly sour point in the film… which was no big deal really… it was that each part (remember, the movie was split into Che’s time in Cuba [part uno] and in Bolivia [part dos]) began with a map of the country – slowly highlighting the different regions and names of the cities and towns.  If they had used a more photographic and stylish image, perhaps overlaying it with old photos each city/town/village/region, your attention might not go towards how heavy your eyelids are (especially at the very onset of such a terrific film).  I was surprised to see there were no opening credits during this time!  I don’t know why that was… but even a flash or brief flicker of an actor’s name might have woken me from the dreary and drab geography lesson.

Had Benicio not taken the role, Che might have been handed to Val Kilmer.  And had we a gringo playing such a legendary figure, we might just have had… I don’t know… Ben Affleck playing Camilo and even though he kinda looks like him if he grew a big, mangy beard, I would have had half a mind to start a revolution of my very own.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

*eventhough ‘Che’ was Marxist-Communist and was in fact ‘godless’ (when asked, Do you believe in God? Che answered, “I believe in mankind”) I don’t mean all godless communists in a bad way.  The whole “scum” at the end was meant to imply “the frothy goodness.”  Wait a minute, that’s “skim.”  Whatever.