ONE DAY

August 21, 2011

I’ve already confessed in previous posts my crush on Jim Sturgess (dating to Across the Universe) and darned if I’m not liking Anne Hathaway more and more (she was really good in Becoming Jane and Love and Other Drugs).

Then, there’s director Lone Sherfig.  I have admired her work since Italian for Beginners – an exceptional film that’s part of the Dogma ’95 movement – and also loved An Education.

One Day is a romantic drama rather than the formulaic romantic comedy some viewers may expect.  In a way, it’s a bit experimental.

Instead of following a conventional narrative structure, the film unfolds in snippets, vignettes, and some fleshed out sequences featuring characters played by Sturgess and Hathaway, scenes captured each July 15th over the course of 20 years or so.

Maybe this is not the best way to tell a story, certainly is it not the most efficient, but I find the film lovely.

Some moments are so true and the sense of time so authentic that there are parts of the film where I felt Sherfig and writer David Nicholls (screenplay adapted from his book) had looked inside my head and stolen some of my thoughts then revealed them on the screen.

One Day is uneven and messy and joyful and hard and affirming and all the other things we feel in life.  Nobody ever said living would be easy…or that it could be artfully encapsulated into a linear narrative of three acts.


THE HELP

August 20, 2011

For a couple of years, I resisted reading Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help.

I was afraid of yet another story in which the experiences of black women are marginalized by focusing on a white woman’s perspective.  (That’s how I felt about The Secret Life of Bees in print, though the film was an improvement in this regard.)

When my book club added The Help as a selection, I couldn’t put it off any longer, and after the first few pages, I was surprised by how much I ended up liking the book.

The Help is a pageturner, and there is some complexity in the novel regarding race, gender, and social class that I found surprising.

Along those lines, I believe the film adaptation of The Help is a good one.

The film is very much a product of Hollywood with emotional tones ranging from laughter to tears, but it also captures some emotional truths along the way.  And, sometimes a well-crafted, mainstream movie can be richly satisfying.

The story is ultimately affirming as a young white woman connects with black maids to help them share their life stories with a wider audience, but the stakes are high because of the very real danger they face for crossing the color line and speaking up about a system of oppression.

The production values are high, the story engaging, and the performances are strong.

Emma Stone, who plays Skeeter, is always enjoyable to watch, but it’s Viola Davis as Aibileen who is the heart and soul of the movie.  I’ll be surprised if she isn’t nominated for an Oscar for this role.

It’s fun to see Sissy Spacek, and Allison Janney, and Cicely Tyson and others, too, but it’s hard to watch anyone but Viola Davis when she’s on the screen.

The relationships these women have with one another are both complex and nuanced and speak volumes about the cultural context of Mississippi in the Jim Crow era.  Sometimes the best way to get inside a viewer’s head is through the heart, and The Help succeeds on that level.

 


RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

August 19, 2011

Uh…this will not replace the original Planet of the Apes film as a movie classic.  Spoiler alert – I loved the moment when Caesar roars “NO!”  But, I checked my watch a lot.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes needs better pacing and much better characterization.  It’s mainly a writing problem for me with this film.


TABLOID

August 19, 2011

I recommend that doc lovers see every Errol Morris film that is released, and Tabloid is no exception.

While I think this film lacks some of the larger context of Morris films like The Fog of War and some of the character insights of his films like Mr. Death and A Brief History of Time, his films are always worth watching.

This documentary examines a lurid story about an obsessive love affair, a kidnapping, a possible rape, and the tabloid coverage of these events in the 1970s.  If that’s not enough to spark your interest, the subject of Tabloid, Joyce McKinney, has a North Carolina connection.

While I would like the film to possess a little more context about tabloid culture (the way The Fog of War provides new insights into the American war in Vietnam), it’s an interesting narrative and, of course, Morris’ films are always engaging visually.

Morris has been important historically in the documentary world for bringing a formalistic aesthetic into the genre full-force.  He uses all the tools in the filmmaking toolkit and employs them with expertise.

 


CRAZY, STUPID LOVE

August 13, 2011

If it weren’t for a little bit of sharp writing and some solid performances, Crazy, Stupid Love would be just another routine romantic comedy. The movie turns out to be a little more fun than that.

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, are terrific in larger roles (when are they not?), Marisa Tomei is featured (she’s consistently good, too), and new to me actors Analeigh Tipton and Jonah Bobo are strong in roles that would be easy to botch.

The storyline is not so different from what you’ve seen in the preview trailers.  Steve Carell’s character is dumped by his wife, a role played by Julianne Moore, at the beginning of the film.  A smooth-talking womanizer, Ryan Gosling, meets up with the depressed husband in a bar and shows him how to reinvent himself and meet women.

But, despite this conventional set-up, there are a few surprises and some surprisingly poignant moments.

 


PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES

August 12, 2011

If I didn’t regularly read and revere The New York Times, I doubt that I would have had so much patience for this documentary. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi has great access inside the paper, which is fascinating to see, but structurally the film is challenged.

Papers are in trouble? We know that. Technology is changing the way journalism works? We know that. It would be terrible if The New York Times folded? We know that, too.

Still, despite the fact that I’d like a stronger narrative focus in this documentary and some deeper insights into the life of the newspaper, I was engaged simply because I have an inordinate interest in journalism and am passionately devoted to The Gray Lady.

If you feel the same way, by all means make it a point to see Page One: Inside The New York Times. You won’t regret it.


CAPTAIN AMERICA and COWBOYS & ALIENS

August 3, 2011

So, what do these two movies have in common? Both are engaging, summer popcorn flicks.

But, there is more than that. The two films each paint portraits of an American can do attitude that triumphs over monolithic evil with multicultural connections and a healthy dose of redemption.

Captain America vanquishes a Nazi bad guy (who reminds me of Darth Maul) with an integrated team of backup troops, and cowboys conquer aliens by teaming up with Indians…and outlaws…and a surprise hero.

The progressive tendency is clear in these tales, and redemption for a little guy with a big chip on his shoulder and for a wanted man who cannot remember all of his crimes is part of the package.

(Spoiler alert.) Is it too much to ask that redemption be followed by loving? I thought the hero was supposed to get the girl…at least sometimes.