Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Monster 

The Girl and I had a double date on Sunday afternoon to see Monster before the Golden Globes. I'm glad we did, as by the time Charlize Theron won her Best Actress, Drama award The Girl and I were both firmly in her camp. This is one of those movies that you'll never gush "I loved this movie," as it was so incredibly disturbing. I think it's a great movie, I would recommend it to each and every person out there, and I think Charlize Theron deserves to win the Academy Award for which she's been nominated.

Monster is based on the now-executed Florida serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and her transformation from a downtrodden, suicidal prostitute with no human connections to a serial killer who feels entirely justified in her actions, who is clinging desperately to apparently the only person (played by Christina Ricci) who has ever shown her honest affection, her lover Selby Wall. Speaking of transformations, nothing could have prepared me for the complete transformation Charlize Theron makes in this role. The physical changes are significant - she has the appearance of being streetworn, with highly sundamaged skin, more weight, and lifeless hair. But beyond that, she takes on the bearing and carriage appropriate to the part. Theron's Wuornos alternates between entitled and arrogant posturing to terrified and humiliated trembling. She presents someone who is able to present what the character would feel to be a socially appropriate front, and in an instant change it to someone furiously lashing out at the occupants of a world to which she is denied entry. Through it all, Theron allows us into the workings of the character's mind as she navigates Wuornos' self-made minefield.

Theron and Ricci take us through the story of two people in tough circumstances (Ricci's character has recently come out to her religious family, with very bad results), who in an ongoing series of small and large choices find themselves further and further on the outside of a world they each desperately wish to be part of.

The scene that has stuck with me the most strongly is after the second killing. Wuornos is standing in a clearing, smoking a cigarette, and the moonlight illuminates the smoke as it swirls around and obscures her face. It's the exact moment when you realize that she has taken the irreversible step over the line.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/27/2004 07:12:00 PM

Oscar 2004 Nominations 

The nominations are posted on Oscar.com. I thought I had a good jump on the films likely to be nominated, but now I see I have my work cut out for me over the next 4.5 weeks! At least I can say that I've already seen all five of the Best Picture nominees:

-LOTR: The Return of the King
-Lost In Translation
-Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
-Mystic River
-Seabiscuit

The Guyfriend is quite perturbed that Master and Commander was nominated for Visual Effects, but Matrix Revolutions was not. Of course he hasn't seen M&C, and I haven't seen Matrix Revolutions, so I really can't debate it with him.

Quite a blow to Nicole Kidman, though. Both her Cold Mountain co-stars are nominated, but nothing for her. With the exception of Diane Keating for Something's Gotta Give, the rest of the Leading Actress nominees are from quieter release films:

-Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider
-Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give
-Samantha Morton in In America"
-Charlize Theron in Monster
-Naomi Watts in 21 Grams

I've yet to see In America, but of the remaing four I'd have to say that I enjoyed all their performances. Diane Keaton is always fabulous, but I don't think she stands a chance against the others this year. Keisha Castle-Hughes did a great job, and I hope to see more of her as she moves from child actor to actor (she'll be in the next Star Wars pic), but (again, without having seen In America as of yet), my vote is between Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron. They were both spectacular, but I think Charlize Theron's complete transformation in all aspects of her character (mannerisms, appearance, attitude, speech patterns, etc.) puts her over the edge and into the Winner's Circle.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/27/2004 10:12:00 AM
Sunday, January 25, 2004

21 Grams 

Continuing on the Naomi Watts theme, after watching The Ring on DVD on Friday, we went to 21 Grams at the theater on Saturday. This film stars three of the best actors today, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts, in the interwoven story of three individuals and their families, linked together through a tragic event. All the many awards and nominations that 21 Grams is racking up are surely well-deserved.

The official website posits the question, "How much does life weigh?" 21 Grams leaves you pondering many more questions than that. What would you do or overlook for your family? When does grief become despair? Despair become vengeance? What happens when that to which you have attributed your salvation vanishes? When does a belief become blind faith? Where is the line between accepting your fate or destiny and abandoning all personal responsibility for your actions? Tragedy strikes the victims, survivors, families, those responsible and their families, and countless others. This is the story of how all these people deal with the blows life brings. The timeframe jumps around quite a bit, but in a way that draws you into the story and forces you to analyze the characters' motivations and what has changed between one time and another.

21 Grams also prompts questions about punishment. What is appropriate punishment, and who is the appropriate person to make this determination? What roles do remorse, forgiveness, retribution, and amends play in the grand scheme?

Lesbian trivia: Naomi Watts played a lesbian (again, in a variety of settings and characterizations) in Mulholland Drive, and Clea Duvall, who plays her sister in 21 Grams, was Natasha Lyonne's girlfriend in But I'm A Cheerleader. Natasha Lyonne was one of the '70's lesbians in HBO's If These Walls Could Talk 2, with Chloe Sevigny, who in turn was the love interest for Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry.

For you Buffy fans, Clea Duvall was also Invisible Girl in season one.

Reality Check: The Girl was at first a little thrown by the time cuts, which is something that will usually turn her right off a movie. But not this one - she agrees that it was intense but excellent.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/25/2004 12:55:00 PM

The Ring 

Wow, The Ring is one well-done, scary-ass movie. The premise, which is revealed in the trailers and in the opening minutes of the film, is that watching a particular VCR tape condemns the viewer to death exactly 7 days later. This is one of those thrillers that could have been just another run of the mill cheese-fests, but it absolutely was not. It's also one that could have become very bizarre in the hands of David Lynch, but instead was simply breathtaking.

The brief intercuts, both in the video of death and in the movie itself, are subtle and intriguing. The overall texture is rather grainy and washed out, which makes the occasional use of bright colors and sharp images stand out. The various symbols and themes which present themselves early on aren't hammered on or explained in a lengthy monologue. A statement here or there, or even just a changed facial expression, in a moment of understanding, and the story moves on.

The Girl and I knew that Amber Tamblyn was in this, but neither of us knew that a larger role was played by David Dorfman, who played Rocky on the recent heartbreaking episode of Joan of Arcadia. Their character dynamics in The Ring are similar, yet rather reversed.

Naomi Watts was, as always, outstanding.

Reality Check: While The Girl generally doesn't go for artsy stuff, which is aplenty in The Ring, she loved it, and feels that it's one of the scariest movies she's ever seen. She keeps repeating, "She never sleeps..." around the house.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/25/2004 10:09:00 AM
Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Movie Quote To Live By 

American Rhetoric has posted one of my favorite movie speeches of all time. It's from The American President, with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning, written by Aaron Sorkin. This speech comes toward the end of the film, after Michael Douglas' character Andrew Sheperd (the American President of the title) has resisted character debate baiting from Richard Dreyfus' character Senator Bob Rumson.

In these times of presidential elections and patriot-baiting, this monologue still rings true.

I recommend reading it through, but this excerpt is a good example:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.


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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/21/2004 05:18:00 PM
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Gigli 

I have to give the creators of Gigli credit. This isn't just a bad movie, it's a memorably bad movie. A standard bad film is one which you watch, perhaps checking the clock at some point, and then its over. It leaves no lasting residue in your brain. Soon you can recall only that you saw a bad picture recently -"What was it called..."

Gigli transcends this fleetingly recalled category. Some of the dialogue and plot holes are so dreadful that you find them permanently etched in your memory, from where you will frequently pull them in order to inform the world how bad it is. Unfortunately, its the kind of movie that you really have to see.

So during my vacation, we put Gigli at the top of the Netflix list and it arrived two days later.

Ben Affleck plays Larry Gigli, a low level mob thug who is assigned to kidnap the mentally disabled brother of a federal prosecutor. After the acquisition of said brother, Gigli is upset to discover that another contractor, Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), has been assigned to make sure he doesn't screw up. Although his pride is wounded at first and he lashes out angrily, he then decides that the situation isn't so bad, since he now has a hot chick seemingly at his disposal 24/7. On the occasion of their first bedtime, he flexes, preens and practices his lines in a dreadfully long mirror scene. He then puts the moves on Ricki, who deflates his balloon by informing Gigli that she is a lesbian. Hijinks ensue.

The unfortunate hijinks include bizarre dialogue, a cameo by Christopher Walken which leads nowhere, occasions where the characters' motivations eluded me entirely, an amusing but implausible cameo by Lainie Kazan, a couple of entirely predictable plot "twists" involving Baywatch and the entirely forced sexual tension between Ricki and Gigli, a moderately plausible (and of course well-acted on his part) cameo by Al Pacino (how they managed to sign him on I'll never know) and an ending that almost partially redeemed the preceeding film but which was followed by what appeared to be another scene tacked on after focus groups didn't like how it would have been left without it. Some of the dialogue and plot points are incredibly bad, but the badness doesn't really shine in print - live impersonations do the job much more nicely. Ask a friend who has seen it to recount the "pearls of wisdom" monologue. Leave the turkey time lines alone.

I have to admit that Ricki's monologue while she is quietly intimidating a group of teenage thugs was quite effective. Of course why they thought taking their much sought hostage out to breakfast in such a public place was a good idea... well, there you go.

I recall hearing that the ending was redone several times, and that some focus groups expressed a desire to see the two main characters suffer gruesome and painful deaths at the end. I think it would have been a better service to the world if the entire collection of raw footage had met a disfiguring and permanent shredding in the editing room. Since that didn't happen and the final product was unleashed on the world, you might want to check it out just to see how bad a wide-release movie can be.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/13/2004 11:46:00 AM

Scooby Doo 2 Ditches Lesbian Subtext 

While Linda Cardellini's character Velma in Scooby Doo, The Movie was played as perhaps being in love with Sarah Michelle Gellar's Daphne (particularly in the deleted scenes and the original crooning in the nightclub scene), it would appear that such hopes will be dashed in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Sci Fi Wire reports that she will have a male love interest, who of course will also be a suspect.

The good news is that said love interest will be played by Seth Green, Buffy's very own laconic hero Oz. Huh.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/13/2004 10:35:00 AM
Monday, January 12, 2004

Lost In Translation 

I almost walked out of the theater in the middle of Lost In Translation, an act which for me has not occurred since 1982, when my high school friends and I decided to spend an evening of our first holiday break from college seeing Caligula.

What kept me in the theater (aside from my reluctance to concede defeat to The Girl's pre-viewing predictions) was that when I wasn't bored out of my skull to the point of saying "Oh, move it along" out loud, I was enjoying the movie. It was as if a very talented group of writers produced a set of hysterical sketches, then handed them over to a group of stoners to come up with a vehicle in which to showcase the sketches.

Lost In Translation follows Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) as they muddle their way through the downtime on their respective business trips to Japan. A large part of the tale is spent demonstrating how bored, alone and unable to sleep they each are. Their boredom was most definitely not lost in translation. It reached out from the screen and dragged me into its web.

The film comes to life when Bob and Charlotte interact, either with each other or on their own with the people they meet. The scene in which the highly animated and extensive instructions given by the director in Japanese for the commercial Bob is shooting are conveyed as "More energy" by the staffer assigned to translate as well as Bob's appearance on a local Japanese youth-oriented talk show are fabulous, and Bob's solo venture into the hotel's gym had my laughing uncontrollably. And I really mean uncontrollably - I tried to stop and couldn't, to the point I thought I would pass out from lack of oxygen. On the more introspective side, the quiet scene with Charlotte wandering in to a flower arranging class, and the day trip to Kyoto were entrancing.

But these wonderful moments were linked together with overly long scenes, such as Bob clicking through the TV channels in his hotel room at 3 am. I was reminded of About Schmidt, another movie which I would have enjoyed if the silent scenes in which we watched Jack Nicholson driving or staring at a clock had been edited down a bit.

I'd highly recommend this movie once it comes out on DVD, or if you can Tivo it off of cable. That way you can rapid-fire through the slow scenes once you've gotten the idea (you'll know it's time when you shout, "I GET IT" at the screen), and replay the good scenes over and over.

Reality Check: The Girl didn't want to see it, would have run from the theater if I had suggested it, and responds with, "Uck - it was AWFUL" when asked.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/12/2004 09:19:00 AM
Sunday, January 11, 2004

Mona Lisa Smile 

I saw Mona Lisa Smile when it first opened, and have been putting off writing up my comments. I was having difficulty wording my thoughts so as not to reveal too much about the story. But I got a little prompting from jeanneatsundance, so here goes.

I really liked this movie. It was an enjoyable couple of hours which gave me a lot to ponder, and which was interesting in that it didn't take the predictable path in most of the storylines. I recommend it to everyone who likes chick flicks, and especially to anyone who attended a women's college (as I did). I'd definitely see it again.

Rather than being the story of a larger than life heroic teacher/professor who sweeps in and changes everyone's lives (think Dead Poet's Society), Mona Lisa Smile tells the story of Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), an art history professor from Oakland, CA who finds herself teaching at Wellesley College. Rather than being larger than life, Katherine is simply determined that life can be larger than what is expected in 1950's mainstream America. She meets great resistance from the administration, the alumnae and most shocking to Katherine, the students.

The four students who feature in the story are played by Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhall and Ginnifer Goodwin. At first they seem like rather thinly written stock characters, but as the story progresses they each reveal that there's more there than you would have thought at first. You'll have mixed emotions about each one of them, but they pull you along for a great ride.

What particularly endears me to this film is that the characters have profound, but in some cases quietly understated, influences on each other. It's about working through the conflicts everyone faces between the desire to be true to themselves and their fear of the consequences if they do. Is self-determation worth the possible loss of social status, employment and comfort of fitting in? Are your personal goals of less value if they actually do mesh with mainstream expectations, or are you selling out without admitting it? These were questions my classmates and I were still wrestling with in the mid-80's.

There's one acknowledged lesbian character, who serves two purposes: provide Katherine with amusing but cynical insights into Wellesley politics, and demonstrate what can result when you live by sticking to your principle, consequences be damned. Jaded lesbian as cautionary tale...

I've heard and read disparaging remarks on the "You can bake your cake and eat it too!" line, as a weak embodiment of the "you can have it all" mindset. I found this line to be more an expression of Katherine's desperation to find a way for one of her students to achieve her academic and professional potential while still pursuing the expected paths. The scene marked for me the beginning of Katherine's own growth in realizing that everyone does have to take their own path, even if that path doesn't venture as far from Main Street as Katherine herself would prefer.

Reality Check: The Girl loved this one at first, but as time has passed she has modified her opinion to it was okay.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/11/2004 01:57:00 PM
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Mulholland Drive 

The Girl was telling me about a bizarre dream she had the other night (the details of which I won't reveal here), and she speculated that it would be wild if you could have your dreams turned into a film. They'd make sense, but then get strange and illogical, then make a little sense, and on and on. I immediately replied that I think that's exactly what David Lynch does.

Back when Mulholland Drive was garnering all sorts of awards, The Girl agreed to go see it at a local art house cinema (they have the BEST popcorn), even though she adamantly clung to her opinion that she didn't care what awards it was getting, it's David Lynch and he's psychotic. Nevertheless, off we went.

So the story is moving along, and while it did have some Lynchian oddness, it was actually shaping up nicely into both a suspenseful mystery and a nice lesbian love story. I was speculating about how it would turn out, I was rooting for the characters, when BAM!!! It went into full Lynch mode. Not only did it go off into all different directions, with a cast of bizarre characters and flashbacks, but it managed totally to take all the enjoyment I had been reaping from the film to that point out to the back of the theater, beat it to a pulp, turn it inside out and upside down, and throw it back into the theatre, slowly to stew into a bitter resentment.

My theory is that David Lynch's dreams make sense, and that the first part of the movie was a big-screen depiction of one of those dreams, but then the end was what he created after he woke up. Of course he had to impose the responsibility for the dream onto one of his characters, just to tie it all together.

If you see a little wooden box on your nightstand, just let it be. Silencio.

Reality Check: As I think you could guess, The Girl not only hated the movie, but loves to remind me that she warned me. The Guyfriend is adding it to his Netflix list, just to see what he thinks of it.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/08/2004 01:25:00 PM
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 

I saw the trailer for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow before Return of The King. Oh. My. God. I cannot wait until August when it's scheduled to be released. It's retro yet futuristic, alternates between black/white and color, has amazing effects yet a very old-fashioned gritty feel. The Girl is steadfastly refusing to attend, despite my insistent sleeve-pulling throughout the trailer. The Guyfriend is floored and counting the days to the premier.

You can see the trailer at the official website (linked above). It takes a bit of time to load, but is worth it. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Geekroar has some nice screen captures posted if you don't have time for the trailer. What can I say about Angelina's character? Flying Ace with an abundance of confidence, snug uniform and an eye patch. This description has swayed more than one person onto the "can't wait to see it" side of the fence. Her one line in the trailer ("I always wanted to meet the competition"), plus the descent of the dirigible and the sea of hands pointing as one to the darkening sky combine to have me swooning.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/07/2004 08:18:00 PM

The Last Samurai 

The Last Samurai was also excellent, although I'd rate Cold Mountain (see below) higher overall. The Last Samurai stars Tom Cruise as former Union Army Captain Nathan Algren, who was in the 7th Cavalry under Custer during the horrific campaigns against Native Americans. Just after having an alcohol assisted meltdown while demonstrating the Winchester rifle to a crowd eager to see a "genuine hero," Algren is approached by his former commanding officer to travel to Japan in order to train the Japanese army.

While in Japan, Algren continues to clash with his commanding officer, and is captured during battle against the remaining Samurai warriors. During his stay in their remote village (he must remain until the spring), he learns of their culture, attempts to deal with his own past rather than numbing the memories, and develops an internal value system that functions beyond the next payday.

While at times Algren is portrayed a little too much as the troubled but still heroic soldier seeking honor, fortunately the film doesn't fall into the trap of holding up the "other" culture as perfectly noble and enlightened while vilifying the West as the sole haven for greedy capitalist exploiters... Okay, so maybe it goes there a little bit, but overall the two cultures are portrayed as being only as good or bad as the individuals within it. Those individuals are a mixed lot, as is any society.

Reality Check: The Girl enjoyed this movie, even though it's both a period piece and involves samurai-fu action sequences. She wouldn't rush out to see it again, but she went willingly and didn't regret it.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/07/2004 03:28:00 PM

Cold Mountain 

Caught several movies during my holiday time off.

Cold Mountain was excellent!! It explores the lives of several individuals from a small South Carolina town during the Civil War, working through alternating timeframes. Some characters struggle to hold on to their hopes and moral center, others exploit an opportunity to wield their newly found power over those around them, and others find themselves shedding their ethics for survival in the uncertainty of the times. It's an interesting companion film to The Last Samurai, which takes place after the Civil War but also deals with moral and ethical struggles in the face of life-threatening situations. Cold Mountain should be an Oscar nominee in any number of categories, but especially for Renee Zellwegger in her supporting role of Ruby - she brings life and humor to the screen to keep the film and the audience from falling into despair.

Reality Check: The Girl loved this movie as much as I did. The story, the acting, the cinematography and soundtrack overruled any qualms she might have with it being a period piece which goes back and forth in time.
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Posted by Beth Henderson at 1/07/2004 03:13:00 PM