Tag: reviews

Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyDirector Julian Schnabel is also an artist; in fact, he prefers to be known as a painter rather than as a filmmaker. That visual background serves The Diving Bell and the Butterfly perfectly in its story of a 42-year-old fashion editor who undergoes a sudden stroke, leaving him completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He can still hear, but his world is largely rendered through what he can see and eventually, what he can remember seeing. Jean-Do, the playboy senior editor of the French Elle magazine, struggles with his condition, which is termed “locked-in syndrome”–a perfectly healthy mind trapped in a husk of a body, a condition he likens to being trapped underwater in a diving bell. One of his first full sentences (once his speech therapist Henriette has worked out a system of communication using winks) indicates his wish to die; it takes time for him to learn to appreciate what he still has and to rely on his imagination and memory.

The film as a whole is one of great beauty and sensitivity, with Schnabel and two-time Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski bringing an impressionistic touch to the scenes of Jean-Do’s imagination and memory, as well as to the first third of the film, which is almost completely filmed from Jean-Do’s point of view. As Jean-Do moves outside of himself, accepting the emotional investment that Henriette and his dictation-taker Claude (and also his ex-girlfriend Celine) have given him, the camera does as well, taking a third-person view. The danger in a film like this would be to list toward sentimentality, but Schnabel never does that. We care about Jean-Do, but his wry voice-over (taken mostly from the book written by the real-life inspiration for the story) and the caring but never maudlin camera allows a dark humor that keeps the film from becoming yet another heroism-in-the-face-of-adversity stories.

As to Schnabel’s claim to be a painter first and a filmmaker second, he may have a hard time defending his preference after having made such a wonderful film.

Review – Enchanted

EnchantedEnchanted was the number one box office hit of the holiday weekend, with something like the fifth highest Thanksgiving opening ever. So, chances are you and your family have already seen it.

However, if you haven’t, GO NOW. I’ve been nervously excited for it since I heard about it, but feared that the story of an animated princess being thrust into the real-life world of New York City would end up being either hopelessly silly or nauseatingly saccharine. But Enchanted is neither of those things. I’ll admit there are moments when it started to slip toward one or the other, but it always came back to being heartwarmingly adorable before much damage was done.

Amy Adams is absolutely perfect as would-be princess Giselle, pushed into a portal-well by her wicked stepmother-in-law-to-be on the eve of her wedding to Prince Edward (James Marsden). Her performance starts out with every action overdone, as befitting her animated past, but gradually becomes more nuanced as Giselle learns to navigate the real world, where princes don’t always catch you when you fall, where suddenly bursting out into song doesn’t guarantee that that special someone will love you back, where not everyone appreciates woodland animals in their homes and restaurants, and where marriages don’t last happily ever after (Robert, who helps her in New York, is a divorce lawyer). Yet coming to terms with the real world doesn’t mean the loss of Giselle’s innocence; rather, her openness and belief in love transforms everyone she comes into contact with, as well. The musical numbers help, too.

Okay, see, now I’m starting to make it sound like one of those family films with a super obvious message that I always rail against. But it isn’t like that. I hardly ever like family films (except Pixar and Aardman), and I haven’t liked a non-Pixar Disney film for quite some time, so that should tell you something. Enchanted is refreshing; a film that both kids and their parents can (probably) enjoy. I put “probably” in there because you should probably check any latent cynicism at the door. But you should do that anyway. Cynicism is overrated. ;)

Speaking of Disney, any fans of Disney’s animated history will be in for a treat, since nearly all of Disney’s classics are referenced. Giselle is quite obviously a mix of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, with a pinch of Belle and a smidgen of Cinderella. The evil stepmother is half Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent and half Snow White’s wicked queen. Lump up all the various Prince Charmings and you’ve got Edward. And there are sight references to Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, and I’m sure many others that I didn’t catch the first time around. The film is tender towards Disney’s history and conventions, but also gently parodic and willing to laugh at itself, which goes a long way toward guarding against the maudlin tendency.

All in all, if you have kids, especially girls, and haven’t taken them to see Enchanted, I highly recommend you do so. Or go yourself. Because I and my three grad student friends enjoyed it greatly. And did I mention how good Amy Adams is? I know, every review has pointed that out. But it’s worth saying over and over. In fact, I have decided that pretty much every movie would at least 72% better if Amy Adams were in it.

edit: I forgot the one bad thing. Idina Menzel is in it, and she didn’t sing! I mean, COME ON! That’s like having Kristin Chenoweth in the cast of Pushing Daisies and not having her sing every week. Wait… But seriously, as soon as I recognized her, I started waiting for her musical number, and there wasn’t one. So don’t hold your breath for that. But Amy Adams does her own singing, too, and very, very well I might add. This is why we need more musicals, folks! Actors have hidden musical talent that I want to know about.

Casino Royale

I have been highly anticipating Casino Royale since I heard about Daniel Craig’s casting. I loved him in Layer Cake and Munich (ooh, and he was in Road to Perdition as well) and just knew he’d make a great James Bond, especially since the intention was for this film to return to the more rugged Bond of the early Connery days and the Ian Fleming novels. And I was not one whit disappointed, in either Craig or the film.

After a long run of Bond films getting progressively more reliant on gadgets, elaborate chase scenes, and a suave and debonair 007, it was extremely refreshing to have a brawling Bond who’d rather beat up his adversary with his fists than shoot him. Casino Royale posits a Bond who has just been given 00 status–and celebrates by shooting up an African embassy. He’s raw and unpredictable (Bond is always somewhat unpredictable, but Craig gives him an edge that he hasn’t had for at least the last few films…intriguingly, GoldenEye was the last really good one, and it was also directed by Casino Royale director Martin Campbell).

The interplay between Bond and Vesper Lynd, the main Bond girl of the film, was also nice…people have worried about Eva Green playing a Bond girl, a role which is often the kiss of death to an actress’s career, but they needn’t. Her Lynd is every bit a match for Bond, and they play off each other well. The intertext between Casino Royale and the previous Bond films was fun to see, as well. He returns to an Aston Martin after several films in BMWs (and has the shortest car chase ever in it, which is a nice reversal of expectations), he receives a vodka martini (the bartender asks “shaken, not stirred?” and he responds “Do I look like I give a damn?”), and ends the film with his trademark “Bond–James Bond,” which is particularly appropriate because it is only then, in the final few minutes, that he truly becomes the Bond that the other movies portray. There are no fancy gadgets beyond your basic spy cellphone and laptop; Q (or R) is not even a character. Some Bond fans may cry foul, but remember, Q did not appear in Dr. No, either. Casino Royale is about returning to the roots and revitalizing a franchise that has become bloated and unwieldy. It has done that.

Granted, it’s not without its faults. It is a bit too long, for one thing, and becomes a bit “and then this happened” in the last half. The opening scene was very effective–black and white, in Prague, showing Bond’s first real mission after being secretly made a 007 by M–yet, rather misleading. Its intent, I believe, was to underscore the fact that we’re returning to the beginning of Bond here…there’s a Cold War film atmosphere to it, and it would fit right in alongside the 1965 film of John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Yet, the film isn’t set during the Cold War, it’s set today, and takes full advantage of innovations in wireless technology over the past few years. So in a sense, we’re returning to the beginning of Bond’s career only because the film says we are…keeping Judi Dench as M continues to muddle the time-sense. I mean, of course it’s a nitpick you can brush off and enjoy the film anyway, since we’re used to having the actor playing Bond change every few films anyway–but explicitly changing the point in Bond’s career without changing his temporal surroundings struck me as a little off. I wish they’d actually set it back in the Cold War period…that would have been more interesting to me.

But really, that’s all I got. I really enjoyed it, even the half-hour of it that should’ve been cut for length. It both acknowledged and modified all of the stereotypical Bond elements, and Daniel Craig can stay around in the role as long as he pleases, and I hope it’s for at least a few more films. But Daniel? Do other stuff in between. You’re too good an actor to be typecast as Bond, as much as I enjoyed you in the role.

The Last Kiss (spoilers)

I saw a movie opening weekend! And I feel like writing about it! I’ve been looking forward to The Last Kiss since I first read about it on Zach Braff’s blog. He stars in it, but doesn’t direct it, which makes it slightly less squee-worthy than Garden State, but still. Braff was largely responsible for the soundtrack, which is excellent. In honor of it, I have updated the music player to play Braff picks–from The Last Kiss, Garden State, and Scrubs. Okay, I cheated and also threw in some from Grey’s Anatomy, because they’re similar-sounding. And also very good.

Back to the film. Braff plays Michael, a twenty-nine-year-old guy with a good job, a great girlfriend (Jenna), and a baby on the way. Everything’s perfect in his life, but that scares him–he’s afraid that everything in his life is planned out, and there won’t ever be any more surprises, and he’s afraid to be an adult and have his life settled. In addition to that, of his three best friends, one is single and happy, one just went through a nasty breakup with his long-time girlfriend, and one is constantly fighting with his wife about caring for their infant son, not to mention that Jenna’s parents’ thirty-year marriage seems to be coming apart at the seams as well. It’s really not surprising that he’s wary of marriage and commitment with these sorts of examples around him. He winds up making eye contact with Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student, at yet another friend’s wedding, and is rather vague with her about the existence of his girlfriend and even more vague about the existence of his unborn child, and Kim goes after him. I was so terribly concerned that Michael would end up throwing Jenna over for the new experience of Kim (he does, briefly)…I came so close to screaming at him in the theatre more than once. The actress playing Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) was excellent, and really made it hard to believe that Michael would even consider leaving her. It also stretched belief a bit that Kim would go after Michael so quickly–I mean, I love Zach Braff, but it’s his whole persona…certainly not his looks, which is all Kim had to go on when she first started pursuing him.

But overall, the end turned me toward it. Kim’s philosophy when Michael told her he couldn’t leave Jenna was “Relationships either work or they don’t; the fact that you’re here with me now proves yours isn’t working, so give it up…I could be your last chance at happiness.” And I was concerned that the film would end up endorsing that. It certainly could have. But instead, Jenna’s father came through with: “Love isn’t about what you feel. It’s what you do to the people you love, that’s what counts.” In the final analysis, the film came through strongly that you’ve got to work at relationships…they don’t just happen.

There were some sexual scenes I wish they’d left out–as I’ve said before, I tend to ignore such things, but in this case it really seemed unnecessary to show as much as they did. So I’ll give that as a definite caveat this time. But there’s plenty of good here, especially in the good acting turns from Braff, Barrett, Bilson (who seems a little flip for most of this, but is actually just being her character…wait for the moment when Michael tells her about the baby), and Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner as Jenna’s parents. Although Danner’s hair is seriously scary. And also, we need to set these people up with some marriage counselors, stat. It blows my mind that people jump straight from frustration to leaving without even trying to talk with each other…well, I get it a little bit, given my own avoidy tendencies. But when you’ve been with someone for years, and you both clearly love each other (or the little betrayals wouldn’t matter so much) how could you just give up without trying all available avenues first?

Did I mention the music is awesome?

(I post this with trepidation, as I’ve already discussed procrastination-via-blogging with my parents, and now I’m adding procrastination-via-moviegoing to the mix. But I swear, everything is done now, except reading for Tuesday and Wednesday! I’m golden.)

Sophie Scholl

Movie recommendation:

Sophie Scholl: The Last Days

My parents and I went to see this last Saturday, and we all came away very impressed. Sophie Scholl was a 21-year-old student in Munich in the early 1940s, and she and her brother were arrested in 1943 for distributing leaflets that detailed the failure of the Nazi army on the Russian front and the inability of Germany to win the war due to Hitler’s poor leadership. A large portion of the movie is taken up with Sophie’s interrogation by a Nazi police investigator, and even though it’s basically the two of them talking, it’s absolutely riveting. Sophie’s strength of character and steadfastness in her beliefs stymie the otherwise formidable investigator, and by the end it’s clear that although they will always be on opposite sides of the Nazi question, he has gained a grudging respect for her.

Julia Jentsch is incredible as Sophie, imbuing her with a quiet intensity that carries the movie along. The film itself is full of this quiet intensity…it hits all the necessary points, but doesn’t belabour any of them. There are no anvils here. It’s made clear that Sophie is a Christian, and she prays several times throughout the film. She knows the Nazis are perpetuating heinous acts against humanity, against the Jews in particular, and she doesn’t shy away from telling the investigator exactly what she thinks about that. But it’s also clear that her problems with Hitler are not only humanitarian, but also political…this girl is no bleeding heart, but clear-headed and able to see that Hitler is bad not only for Jews and other “undesirables”, but for Germany itself and the German people in general. This is a point of view that I don’t think has been terribly well-represented, certainly not in film.

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