Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Serious Man

Jane here- I just watched A Serious Man this evening, the Coen Brothers offering this year that has been nominated for Best Picture. Just to recap, ten pictures have been nominated for Best Pictures and it's quite a field. I am pleasantly surprised by this movie and disagree with Geri's opinion of the film. But then, I am a fan of the Coen boys. The only movie to date that I've seen that I thought they've wasted our time on is Burn After Reading. The script was horrible. But, I digress. A Serious Man is based on the Old Testament Book of Job. Job was a serious man who was religious and believed in God, very seriously. He was righteous man. Read the Bible, you'll see. Or, you will try to see. My Bible is a bit dry and I didn't get as far as I meant to. The Coens' version is set in the '60's complete with Jefferson Airplane, '60's decor, the cars and the beginning of the new mores. A bit less dry than mine. And, they have Adam Arkin and a few other names. Noticeably, there are a lot of new faces in the film. Not the usual regulars one finds in their movies. But the acting was fine, the script was great and kept my interest. The story was told. I think the problem some might have with this movie is the ending. If you don't know that this is a parable, and it's based on the Book of Job, it leaves you hanging. One must have faith that all will turn out in one's favor if you are a righteous man, or in this case a serious man. I believe the movie didn't get this point across as clear as it should have. But I did like it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jane again, folks. Just back from seeing "An Education". Excellent film. Well worth the $4. Turns out if you go to a movie on a Sunday morning on the New Hampshire border before noon, you can get a bargain. Actually, it's well worth full price. Carey Mulligan does a wonderful job as the young student yearning to be exposed to more in life than studies. Alfred Molina is great as always and Peter Saarsgard turns in a wonderful performance as well. A couple of cameos from Emma Thompson and voici! The movie is set in 1961-1962 suburban London. Nothing in the movie felt forced, out of place or just plain wrong. Except maybe wondering what the heck the parents were thinking but when you see it you'll understand what I mean. Overall, I'd put it in my favorites for the year with The Hurt Locker and District 9. The story and overall arc were much better than Avatar and the movie kept me rapt. Carey Mulligan is nominated for Best Actress but I'm not ready to discuss that category yet. Meanwhile, enjoy the popcorn, I'll be back.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Race to see Oscar-nominated movies continues...

This is my first ever blog post. Special thanks to my friend, Jane, for suggesting we dish on the movies. Jane and I went to high school together and re-kindled our friendship through Facebook, discovering we both love watching movies. I have been a moviephile forever, and thankfully I have a husband who shares my passion for the cinema.

Ray and I double-dipped at the movies today. We saw "The Last Station" and "A Single Man". A Single Man was by far the better movie. Colin Firth's performance was highly deserving of an Oscar nomination. Surprisingly, Helen Mirren over-acted in her role as Countess Tolstoy in The Last Station, which makes me question the direction she was given. The only performance worth watching was that of James McAvoy, who sported a haircut and facial hair reminiscent of Russell Crowe in Gladiator (one of my favorite movies).

We watched "A Serious Man" tonight. I am not a huge Coen Brothers fan, and this movie did nothing to change my opinion. While I don't want to give away anything, let's just say the movie's ending was extremely frustrating...

As of tonight, we have seen 7 of the 10 Best Picture nominees - we haven't seen The Blind Side, Precious, or An Education, which we hope to rectify next weekend. We have seen all 5 Best Actor nominees, 3 of the 5 Best Actress nominees and 4 of the 5 Best Director nominees.

As of right now, here are my Oscar should/will win predictions:

Best Movie: The Hurt Locker should win best picture, but $2 billion in worldwide revenue is hard to ignore in these trying economic times, so I think Hollywood will reward the highly inventive Avatar with the gold statue.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges should and will win the Oscar for his performance in Crazy Heart. As a washed up, alcoholic country singer, no one gave a more multi-layered performance than he did. I also think Hollywood will recognize his long career with the prize that has thus far eluded him.

Best Actress: I think Meryl Streep was outstanding as Julia Child, but Sandra Bullock will win for her performance in The Blind Side. Again, money talks and Ms. Bullock raked in over $500 million this year with her performances in The Proposal and The Blind Side.

Best Director: I would award Kathryn Bigelow the statue for her thought-provoking and sensitive direction of The Hurt Locker, but James Cameron will probably win the best director award for Avatar. I think anyone who takes 10 years to make a 3-hour movie deserves the award, for sheer tenacity if nothing else. Besides which, Avatar is an excellent movie.

I will defer on Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories to a later post.

All in all, I think the 2009 movies were quite good and reached a very broad audience, offering something for the kiddies (Up) all the way to the senior citizens (Julie and Julia). Bravo to Hollywood for getting us to continue to go to the movies!


Oscar Nominations are Announced!

Hi, this is Jane. The Oscar Nominations were announced on Tuesday morning. (Geri and I haven't worked out how this whole thing will work quite yet, so I figure I'll identify myself.) This was, of course, the highlight of my week. I spent the rest of the week trying to figure out which movies I needed to see between now and March 7, 2010. With the ten nominees for Best Picture, I was glad to find I had already seen six, along with two best actors, a couple of best actresses and four, count 'em, four best directors.

And the nominations for Best Motion Picture of the Year:
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
The Blind Side
Up in the Air
An Education
A Serious Man

I have ranked the first six movies in the order I like them. I saw the Hurt Locker when it came out. My original post was very succinct. On purpose. It is one of those films that one doesn't want to say too much as it is a personal film. I think Kathryn Bigelow did a fantastic job on a difficult subject. She made me think and more importantly, after all these months, after all the films I have seen, both in theatres, dvds and streaming, this is the one. The one that has stayed with me. Truly rocked my boat. I want to recommend it without saying more.

District 9: I loved this film. If you review the other posts (originally posted on my facebook notes), I think you'll find I loved this film. It came out of nowhere (actually South Africa, I found out later) and Peter Jackson produced it. It was different, it was sci-fi with a political message and I think it worked quite well. The story hung together well from start to finish. I know there are some who don't agree. But I left the theatre very happy.

Inglorious Basterds: What can I say? Thanks QT! What a film! I look forward to Christoph Waltz picking up a third award for best supporting actor. He was fabulous. I have read that for Quentin Tarantino, the music comes first. By the time the particular David Bowie song starts playing in the movie, one finally understands how one little tune can inspire a man to write a whole movie around it. It deserves all the nominations it gets! Let me watch all the other nominees and maybe I'll rearrange my list. But I think Hurt Locker has you beat this year. But I love you, QT.

Avatar: Here's the deal with Avatar. Phenomenal special effects. Absolutely mind-boggling in 3-D. The whole story line was done better in District 9 as far as politics was concerned and it was much shorter if you compare sci-fi politics. As far as I'm concerned, the only reason it is nominated is the blockbuster office receipts and phenomenal technology. All the other nominees have better story lines and I'm sure I won't get distracted and my rear end won't be sore half-way through the movie.

The Blind Side: Feel good movie of the year. Who knew Sandra looked so good as a blonde? And Tim McGraw can learn lines. The Academy needed 10. 'nough said.

Up in the Air: I love George Clooney. I really do. He's almost as good looking as one of my brothers. (I'll let them fight it out.) It's a nice movie. It's relevant to the current economy and the lack of connection we have to each other in society. But as I said, they needed 10. This movie is not top 5.

I have not seen the last four. Here's my problem. The closest A Serious Man is playing to my house is approximately 175 miles away as of yesterday. I truly want to see this. I wanted to see it when it came out and I don't know why I didn't. I'm seeing An Education tomorrow. I'll add comments and tell you about Best Directors (since I've already covered their movies here!).

Happy movies and popcorn!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Movies 2010

I think it's time to start a new note despite that fact that I'm still seeing 2009 movies. Also, I've been checking out the awards shows: Golden Globes and SAG awards so far. They are the big run-up to the Oscars, at least in my mind. I know they serve their own purpose and the awards do mean something to those that win the awards, after all, it is something to point to, something to put in the movie ad, something to have on the resume. So, I've been digressing.

I'd like to start with a little film called Sunshine Cleaning. Not to be confused with Little Miss Sunshine, though Alan Arkin is in both and he's great in both. I've decided that if there is a movie with Sunshine in the title and Alan Arkin is in it, then I will definitely see it. Heck, from now on, I'll see anything Alan Arkin is in. That said, this is a gem of a little movie with a central character trying to make a life for herself (Amy Adams) and her son (born out of wedlock). Alan Arkin is her father. She also has a slacker sister (Emily Blunt, who can do no wrong as far as I know). Amy is cleaning houses and finds out there is more, much more, money in cleaning up crime scenes. Hence, a new business. However, there are a few hiccups. Watch the film. It's fun, not gory, though not as hilarious as Little Miss Sunshine.

And now onto Inglourious Basterds. I have decided that Quentin Tarantino is a genius. Which means that I now have to see Reservoir Dogs, the only QT film unwatched by me. My son Paul tells me that since I sat through the woodchipper scene in Fargo (oops, I almost gave something away if you haven't seen Fargo, though if you are squeamish, don't even think about Fargo, there's this woodchipper scene that doesn't involve wood...) anyway, Reservoir Dogs I should be able to handle since I handled not only Fargo but Kill Bill I and II. By the way, I loved them both. Again, I have wandered off the path.

Inglourious Basterds is a rollicking good film that I think QT wrote after listening to a particular David Bowie song. I could be wrong. But it would make so much sense, especially as he is so inspired by music and has said on interviews that the music comes first. But the film itself is so well done and well casted. Christoph Waltz has been cleaning up at the awards shows for Best Supporting Actor and he should! He looks like he's having a blast playing such an evil psychopathic Nazi having so much fun fulfilling his job description. And Brad Pitt and his Basterds..... they are quite serious about their endeavours as well. And also trophy taking. And then there is Shosannah. Mix it all up and you are starting........ I don't want to ruin this for everyone but you have to see it! Just think of a Bowie song. You can now get the movie on Netflix.

It's been a busy weekend, this last weekend in January! First, Kathryn Bigelow won the Director's Guild Award- Congratulations to Kathryn for a job extremely well done! The Hurt Locker is the movie that has stayed with me the most of of all the ones I've seen. It's a gripping, personal tale on the war in Iraq. I highly recommend it. Now on to more movies:

Identity: This is a thriller that came out in 2003. Stars include John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Ray Liotta. Also Jake Busey. It's a short film, 1 and 1/2 hours long. At first it seemed like a bad horror film to tell the truth but if you hang in there, it gets a bit better. It has a few twists and turns and you may figure out what is happening. But I didn't see the end coming. Nor did Alfred Molina.

Pan's Labyrinth: The way this movie was advertised one got the impression that it was gory and violent. I didn't find it this way at all, or perhaps the battle scenes were but because it was appropriate in the scenes it didn't bother me. But then I've been catching up on the Coen Brothers and QT lately so maybe I'm finally becoming a bit less squeamish. I found the film charming in a growing up fairy tale kind of way. Not sure if anyone will understand that. I love fairy tales, which I "inherited" from my mother and this movie incorporates real life and fairy tales.

Up in the Air: What can I say? George Clooney is almost as good looking as my brother. (I leave it you to decide which brother.) So, I'm partial to George. I saw it this afternoon and I have been especially interested in seeing it as the movie has been nominated for several awards (Golden Globes and SAG awards). Vera Farmiga is wonderful with George, Jason Bateman as the boss and Anna Kendrick as the newby are great. But I'm struggling with how to categorize the movie. It was good, enjoyable, slightly better than most, but I'm having trouble coming up with great. I would be interested to hear/read what others think.

Of the three movies I watched this weekend, Pan's Labyrinth was by far and away the best. Identity came in second and Up in the Air third. I'm still mulling that movie over. I'm wondering if the headache I had made me miss a vital point. If I did, enlighten me.

Jane's 2009 Oscar Picks

As some of you know, I go to the movies with certain friends on a regular basis. Once a month or so, we meet for brunch, then see a movie. This has been happening for about 14 or 15 years (my, how time flies and we have managed to stay looking so young and vibrant!). For several months, from September 2007 to March 2008, I was unable to do so because of my husband's ill health and eventual passing. It has been a difficult year for me (but please don't cry for me Argentina) so this year I have immersed myself in the movies and it has helped. I have managed to see many of the nominated films, or films with major nominations. I've missed a couple and/or have one or two to watch. I'm watching The Visitor tonight on DVD and will see Milk tomorrow. I will not be able to see Frozen River to gauge Melissa Leo's performance though my very knowledgeable sister Kate has said it is wonderful and no one I know has seen Penelope Cruz's performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (last we checked a few weeks ago, the closest it was playing to Boston was Providence). With those disclaimers (and I will update my opinions after I see the last two movies) herewith are my picks if anyone cares to read this:

Cinematography: Saw all nominees already, all were good, Slumdog might take it because of a landslide, Ben Buttons could take it because it was three hours long so lots of stuff to look at but I like The Dark Knight for this. Especially that really chase scene with tractor trailers. I love that stuff! What I really need now is a Die Hard V. Where's Bruce Willis when I need him?

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog, hands down. Didn't seem forced, felt like an original story, melded seamlessly. I came out of the theatre with no qualms. The Reader made me want to know the backstory. Ben Buttons I had problems with- if he was born an infant, he should have died an adult-sized person. Doubt was too stagy or something, not totally comfortable. Frost/Nixon was very good but not quite as comfortable as Slumdog.

Film Editing: I'm a Slumdog girl all the way. This has by far been my picture all along. The Reader is my number two.

Actor Supporting: This is tough, I didn't see Robert Downey Jr's performance or Michael Shannon. I'm seeing Milk tomorrow. We all know the smart money is on Heath. But I have to say, I watched TDK twice and both times I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Heath to come back on screen. My opinion? He should have been nominated for Best Actor. It was his movie. He's my pick. He was so good in 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew set in a high school) and every other thing). Hey, I'm a fan.

Actress Supporting: The only one I didn't see is Penelope and she probably blew everyone else away. That said, if someone else wins, I bet it would be Taraji Henson. She was great in Ben Buttons. Marisa was great and the two from Doubt were good but Taraji was better.

Best Actor: With reservations as I haven't seen Richard Jenkins or Sean Penn yet. Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress: As I said, I haven't seen Melissa Leo. My pick is Kate Winslet. She got naked and had sex. Meryl had no makeup and wore the silliest nun's habit I have ever seen in my life. And that accent? It was okay and finally settled on the Bronx. It's Kate's to lose.

Best Director: Danny Boyle. (with reservations until I see Milk, but.....)

Best Picture: Slumdog. (With reservations until I see Milk, but......)

Geri said: I too am a movie buff and agree with you on most of your picks. I am picking Sean Penn as Best Actor - he had to go so much deeper to portray his character than Mickey Rourke (who was also exceptional). I like Ben Buttons for cinematography. But I know the real reason I'm watching the Oscars tomorrow night - Hugh Jackman!!! Too bad Australia wasn't nominated for anything - Hugh could have re-created his shower scene - best cinematography I saw all year :)

My cousin said: Excellent post Jane. A few comments: I thought Penelope Cruz was overrated for her role. Amy Adams did I better job in my opinion. I remember Melissa Leo when she was on "All My Children"- many years ago. I haven't seen Slumdog or Milk or Button yet. I thought Meryl had the Bronx accent down to a science. Also the silly nun's habit was the actual ... See More habit that the Sisters of Charity wore. It wasn't a made up costume. Michael Shannon did a good job as the ex-mental patient in Revolutionary Road. I didn't see The Reader but love Kate Winslet - ever since I saw her in " Heavenly Creatures" one of the best movies ever made. For the best World War 2 movie I recommend " Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" based on the real life story of Jimmy Doolittle's Raids. Watched it today for the first time. Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy were great!
Back to Jane AGAIN: Having seen The Visitor and Milk now, I will say I did like both movies. A lot. The best actor category will be a fight between Sean and Mickey and both deserve it. The Best Picture/Director will be between Slumdog and Milk. I'm siding with Slumdog because it's been my fave all along but I will not be disappointed if Milk wins. My only disappointment will be if Ben Buttons wins or Brad Pitt wins. But we'll know in just a few hours!

I could continue to add everyone's comments but from now on, we'll let everyone post there own....

2009 Movies

I was having dinner with friends this past weekend and they mentioned that I hadn't written any movie reviews lately. Well, I thought, though I have been in a deep funk lately, that is no reason to deprive my friends of my opinion. Then I had to remember the movies I've seen since the Academy Awards in February. Since the mad dash in February (see my previous note detailing that weekend in which I saw four movies in record time), I took a little time off. I will also mention that I am trying to tie the movies and books together. The Reader (movie) made me want to read the book. I do try to read the book first. So, this topic will come up a bit later and I will do a post about books in the near future. By the way, all this is to encourage all my friends to comment and share their thoughts and provide additional recommendations of what to see and read. Please, I beg you to do that.

And now: The Movies!
Seen in the theatre in no particular order other than this is how I remember it:

The Soloist: It's okay. I was disappointed. I would like to read the book. I don't think it translated well to the screen though I think under different hands it would have. The acting was fine. It was how certain elements and thoughts were interpreted.

Burn After Reading: What is there to say? Brad was hilarious. Other than that, I think Ethan and Joel forgot how to write and every other work was F**K. They also lost their sense of plot. The casting was wonderful and therefore the screenplay was even more disappointing. There is an interesting invention care of George Clooney. But the movie's a bust.

The Hurt Locker: Excellent. A look at the Iraqi War experience through the personal eyes of three American soldiers. A must see. It took me a while to digest.

The Taking of Pelham 1.2.3. I was fortunate to catch the original on TV right before I saw this. I had read the book when it first came out (I was a precocious toddler.) This second remake (yes, the first remake no one talks about, apparently), is very good- Denzel and Travolta. How can anyone go wrong with Travolta?

The Julie/Julia Project: I read the Julie Powers book on vacation before seeing the movie. I didn't get a chance to read My Life in France by Julia Child but I had seen some biographical shows on TV. And visited the Smithsonian and drooled over her kitchen, not once but twice. I loved the movie. I recommend reading both books if you have the time, if not, at least Julie Powell's. But if you don't, go ahead and enjoy anyway. Meryl and Stanley Tucci as the Childs are absolutely wonderful. And as far as trying to cook through MtAoFC in 365 days, God Bless Julie Powell. She actually did it, in a rented apartment in New York, while working full time. I bow before her culinary greatness, especially since I am a wimp and there are foods I would never, ever attempt.

District 9: Wonderful political sci-fi set in South Africa written and directed Neill Blomkampf and produced by the inimitable Peter Jackson. I want to explain it in full and I don't want to tell you anything so you will experience it all. It's fantastic, complicated, the CGI is phenomenal! It's a great plot, it's relevant and there's no actor you will recognize. Can you tell I liked it?

Hancock- came out in spring, it's the bad-guy superhero story with Will Smith. It's okay. The first half of the movie was one story and then it switched into another story, basically. It was strange. It's like a two-parter. It's fun in a way, but it's not going to win any awards.

Angels and Demons- the movie related to DaVinci Code. The only thing I can remember about this movie is that I loved the wonderful travelogue of Rome. I cannot remember anything else at all. I have no friggin' idea of the plot. I think Tom Hanks was in it.

My sister-in-law lent me the book The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger last year. I read most of it and got almost to the end. When I realized what was about to happen, I stopped reading (most people will understand). Then I realized the movie was coming out and I'd have to finish the book. So I did. And saw the movie with my good friend Joanne. The movie was beyond my expectations (which were low, to tell the truth), and the movie was enjoyable despite the story. So overall, a good movie, but it's a chick flick.

And now a word for some DVD's you must watch:
First and foremost, a list of my favorite movies of all time:
Local Hero
Waking Ned Devine
Blues Brothers
Billie Elliott

And now, the recently viewed:

Little Miss Sunshine: I watched this on vacation. Three times, with three different people. It's one of the most hilarious movies I've ever seen. I'll apologize ahead of time if you watch it and you don't like it, but really, if you can't care for this dysfunctional family, I despair for humanity.

Once: A busker on the streets of Dublin meets a young lady who needs her vacuum cleaner repaired and she just happens to play piano beautifully, and sings. It's less than two hours of your life. Waste it. (It's not really a waste, I promise.)

Love, Actually: Some might call this a chick flick. It's my favorite Christmas movie that I want to watch all year long. Others, like my friend Bruce, would call this one of those films great for playing 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Everyone (mostly British) is in it. Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Firth, Keira Knightly, Rowan Atkinson, Elisha Cuthbert, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards.... the movie takes place in London (mostly) and concerns eight couples (mostly) over five weeks before Christmas (mostly). But the main premise is that love is actually all around. It is an upbeat movie as it doesn't concentrate on one type of love. This movie has been added to the list of my all time favorite movies and one of my favorite people in my life has graciously and kindly given me my own copy! Thanks MD! Love YA!

The last two movies are both by the Coen Brothers: Barton Fink and Oh Brothers Where Art Though? I have truly loved Oh Brother (what a soundtrack) for a long time but just finally watched BF recently. They are both great movies. I hadn't realized that BF pre-dated so many of the other Coen Bros. films (I had to look that up.)

November 11th: Just watched Kill Bill Volumes I and II: Quentin Tarantino's movies. Both are a must see together. Vol. I is more violent than II but the violence is minimized and usually filmed in black and white. The story is interesting and well-told. I found it held my interest in compelling way. QT likes to do homage to older movies and I am not well-schooled in this so I probably missed a lot of references. The music is great, as in any QT movie. The most important fact is that these movies make a whole, they don't stand alone. My opinion is a two thumbs up.

November 15: Men Who Stare At Goats: I found this hilarious in a gentle way. It wasn't like the slapstick of Mel Brooks, but more of a thoughtful Charles Grodin comedy. Funny throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, was exceedingly entertained and certainly got my money's worth. George Clooney was at the top of his game and Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey were great.

November 22: The Blind Side: True story of now rookie Michael Oher playing for the Baltimore Ravens. Very enjoyable, humorous in parts, no sappiness. Not a chick flick. Two thumbs up.

December 29: Avatar. James Cameron's epic in 3D (you must see it in 3D!). To quote everyone else: "Visually stunning." Absolutely. I agree wholeheartedly. But I found the movie a bit long. It didn't hold my interest as much as it should have. This is determined when one gets uncomfortable in the movie seat. The arc of the main character was predictable and that's okay. No one else had any arc, the plot was ruthlessly mundane. I think that District 9 told this story much better if one thinks it is about one species against another. Avatar also brings in environmentalism. Overall, I think it's neck and neck for cinematography between Avatar and District 9. I haven't seen The Lovely Bones by Peter Jackson yet and that promises some very interesting CGI work. It will be an interesting Oscar season this year!

Okay, for some reason I thought I had written about Where The Wild Things Are. I saw it with my brother Joe and his daughter who is 8. The movie was, in turns, very engaging, a little frightening and vvvveeeerrrrryyyyyyy slow. I could tell this by watching my niece. It is any interesting interpretation of the book. I have loved this book from the first time I saw it as a young child. One of the most engaging things about it is the ability for a child to "read" this book at one's own pace. It can take hours. Just look at each picture and create the dialog in one's head and create the story. It can be different each time. The movie does this now- it has a definite story, a definite point. My take is that the film is appropriate for ages 8 and up.

And last but not least: Another Coen Brothers film. Miller's Crossing. I am slowly working my way through their work. The cast is great and includes a very young, uncredited Frances McDormand. The movie was great. Lots of dialog, the usual amount of gunplay/violence, and the period details are wonderful. I may have to have a separate note for the Coen Brothers.

There are other 2009 films to see and comment on as the Oscar nominations loom ahead. It looks like it will be a great year!