In the Storm: The More Serious-er Sharknado

Guest Post from our Loyal Reader, Mary reviewing the summer action flick Into The Storm which opened last weekend:

Yes. I spent money on this movie.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened and pulled Cammy and a local friend into the funnel cloud of summer blockbuster cheese Read the rest of this entry »

The Book Thief Stole My Time

I am not going to say the recent film adaptation of The Book Thief was a bad movie.  I’m just saying that in my expectations that it would be as good as the book, I walked out feeling like my time had been vampire’d because I could have waited to let it come out on video and been just as well off.

First off, I do recommend The Book Thief as a book.  I had originally shied away from it because coming of age stories in Nazi Germany with the obligatory hidden Jew element are, frankly, almost a cliché.  Been there, read that.  When I finally picked up the book and read it, I ate a bit of crow because while this may have some of the necessary ingredients for the same old same old, it is put together in a way that made it a fabulous read.

What I should have realized before I saw the film was that what I love about the book are the little details, and the awesome narrator.  If anything is sacrificed in a film, it is the details, and narrators are usually under-utilized.  So, clearly, I was doomed.

Of course, being doomed in this way won’t stop me from complaining.  For the narrator, I will only say that the narrator of the book was one of my favorite narrators in any book I’ve ever read.  Full of insight and dark humor.  I can more or less forgive the drastically reduced role the narrator plays as I know that it can be tricky handling narration on film without the whole thing sucking.  I’ll grudgingly give the film a pass on this.

I’m not giving on the details, though.  Not completely.  There are some that, okay, fine, so the house didn’t fit the description completely.  And the random German words were minimized.  I can live with that.

But I  maintain that other details do matter.  When an author specifically calls out the main character’s eye color, and does so in terms connected to the time and setting (the author specified that Liesel had “dangerous” brown eyes.  Kinda mattered in Germany at the time), maybe the filmmakers ought not to go dead opposite (we’re talking full on Elijah-Wood-hobbit-ass big baby blues).  Really, there’s a detail that’s not too much to ask, in my opinion.  Also, if you are going to insert a death scene in the film that was not shown in the book?  Do not give it to a person who, while all right enough on screen otherwise, cannot actually act a decent death scene (if you watch, you will know this one when you see it.  It screams out for a whole new award category for Most Terrible Death Scene That Should Not Even Be In The Film). But the real kicker was a seemingly tiny change that I am sure the film makers thought nothing of, but which changes a fundamental element.  In the book, Liesel has an innate gift with words.  She struggles with reading and writing, but actually forming sentences and choosing how to describe something she does without any help or assistance, and does remarkably well.  She does not necessarily realize it is a gift until it is pointed out to her by another character, but it already exists in her.  In the film, rather than having her produce the description on her own, they chose to have that other character coach her to better describe something.  Totally killed a fundamental for me.  There is a difference between doing something naturally and having someone coach you to do it.

I hated that moment.

All that said, the costumes were great, and I appreciated that they did retain a modest amount of the little German words and phrases thrown throughout the book (which I totally ate up).  And there were some fantastic performances from the cast (bad, unnecessary death scene notwithstanding).  It’s the first time that I’ve watched a movie with Geoffrey Rush where he didn’t creep  me out (not saying he’s been bad in other things, just that I’ve found him creepy–on that list of people I don’t want to meet in a dark alley, like Christopher Lee).

Since it was in such a limited theater release in my area before the holidays, I assume that by now, I probably don’t need to warn anyone not to pop for theater prices, but if you see it screening, go see something like The Hobbit instead and wait for this one to come out on Netflix.

Or, just read the book.

Downton Days are Here Again…

Cammy:  Please raise your hands if you held out this teeny-weeny-miniscule-scrap of hope (carefully nurtured by a studious avoidance of all things spoiler) that Sunday’s Downton return would wipe away the tragedy that last season ended with in a completely cheeze-tastic and deus ex machina “Surprise!  It was all a dream!”

Anybody?  No one?  Really?  I’m all alone here?

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The Sound of My Childhood Being Destroyed

Since “better late than never” is how I roll, I will belatedly jump into the fray of discussion on the recent NBC Live version of The Sound of Music. Not that my two cents is worth more than any of the other hundreds of dollars worth of opinion already out there, but…

First, the background: I love this musical. It is definitely a love based off of the movie, but I did not stop there. There was a copy of the stage musical with photos in my junior high school library. It was clearly a volume that predated the film. I checked it out three times in my junior high tenure. The last time it had been checked out was in 1972. And then there was the slightly less old, but still well before my time copy of the book on the actual, real life Von Trapp Family Singers. That one I very nearly stole from the library—and the only other person to have checked it out was my sixth grade English teacher—when she was in junior high. Add to this that I stopped counting the number of times I have watched the movie at 84. That was well over fifteen years ago. I assure you, we are talking well over 100 times I have seen this film. Possibly close to 200.

So was I going to watch Carrie Underwood take on the role of Maria in what was almost certain to be a car wreck? Hell, yes. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review: Hum Tum

Title: Hum Tum (2004)
Director:  Kunal Kohli
Starring: Rani Mukerji and Saif Ali Khan

Hum Tum was one of my favorite films out of the 10-film run in my previously-mentioned period of being Netflix-stalked by Rani Mukerji.  If you are a romantic comedy fan and looking to give Bollywood a try, this is a great starter film (probably better than the usual intro-to-Bollywood film most of us get, Bride and Prejudice…because that movie wasn’t great over all).  It’s got enough Bollywood to wet your whistle without overwhelming those who may not be used to that style, and the final package is as well, or better polished and delivered than many U.S. mainstream romantic comedies.

Immature cartoonist Karan tries to impress serious Rhea on their flights from India to Amsterdam to New York…and fails.  While on layover in Amsterdam,  they seem to be calling a truce, until Karan crosses the line and plants a kiss on her.  Over the years that follow, Karan and Rhea meet and part several times.  They develop a friendship based predominantly on mutual harassment and Rhea ordering him to “Shut up, Karan!”  Since I’ve already told you it’s a romantic comedy, it should be no surprise that the conflict comes in these two trying to transition from friends to lovers.  The plot is heavily inspired by When Harry Met Sally, a fact openly admitted by the director. Since I only know the one scene from When Harry Met Sally (we all know the one), and that’s not in this version, I can’t really speak to how similar they really are.
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Movie Review: Please Vote For Me

Title:  Please Vote For Me (2007)

Director:  Weijun Chen

I was all set to plug a Bollywood movie until I turned on a short (58 minute) documentary while I fixed supper.  Please Vote for Me follows a class of elementary school children in China as they experiment with a democratic election for the coveted position of Class Monitor.

It was a completely appropriate choice given that it’s election season around here right now.  The difference is, I found this election far more compelling.

This is a not an overly-slick, Hollywood-ized documentary.  A lot of it is 8 year old kids being 8 year old kids.  Yelling, pouting, fighting, arguing…it’s as real as it gets (and one of these boys is totally going to regret this when he’s a teenager and it gets shown around school with him all up in his undies all the time).   It’s only when you stop to realize that this is China that it gets truly amazing.

Watching the three kids at the center of the election jump into the typical games of politics (back-room negotiations, pushy behavior, gifts to gain favor, empty promises, mud-slinging and general sabotage) you start to wonder if what you’re seeing is the rise of a new way of thinking in China, or if competitive election behavior is just rooted in human DNA.  And it’s not just the kids, the push-to-achieve Chinese parenting style is apparently way more powerful than any loyalty to communist equality as all the parents push their little darlings to practice for each round of the election cycle–some pulling out more stops than others.

It was interesting to watch the way these kids approached the process, and though less heavily featured, it was even more amazing to see the teacher walk them through it.  About the last thing I ever expected was to see a Chinese teacher explaining democracy, and emphasizing the importance of each kid’s vote as their way to control their own destiny.  It would be a throw-away speech for a teacher here, but in a country where the internet is fire-walled by your government and there’s only one party, it becomes a heavy-hitter.

There’s a plain old slice-of-life attraction to it as well.  You follow these kids home and get a little peek at the life of the new “middle class” Chinese family.  And the classroom shots were an eye-opener.  I was surprised that you didn’t see the kids doing all that much school work.  And the way they were wandering around at lunch, in and out of the halls,  doing as they pleased?  That’s not what I expected, especially since the public school classroom where I volunteered in Dallas was a WAY more uniformed, regimented, all-in-a-line kind of place where there was no way a kid set so much as a toe in the hall without being in classroom line, or escorted by a teacher.

Sadly, these kiddos didn’t get much better choices for their leader than you find in most Western elections, so there’s a depressing universality going on here.

It’s an interesting look at both election behavior and at what China is becoming.  The film is not life-changer, but it does inspire a moderate amount of thought.

I give it 3 and a half jars of peanut-butter.

Movie Review: Gloomy Sunday

Title:  Gloomy Sunday (German title: Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) – 1999

Director: Rolf Schübel

Writers: Rolf Schübel (screenplay); Nick Barkow (novel)

This movie has a lot going for it just from the start where I’m concerned: (a) it’s based on an urban legend, and who doesn’t like those, right?  (b) it’s set in Budapest, a city I fell in love with on my short business trip visit and which I plan to visit again someday (c) it’s in German, which I love because it’s not easy to find German language media to bolster mein Deutsch.  All this makes me pre-disposed to like this film (certainly more than if it were not based on a urban legend, set in Cleveland and in French).

The film is adapted from a novel that I think I need to get my hands on.  The story is loosely based on the urban legend surrounding “Gloomy Sunday” a song by a Hungarian composer that allegedly drove multiple people in Europe and America to commit suicide in the 1930s.  It focuses in particular on the love triangle between the composer, a restaurant owner and a beautiful hostess.  And because this is a 1930s period piece in Europe, you can bet your ass that it involves Nazis.

The love triangle is, well, odd.  Not really ménage à trois, but definitely not conventional.  I can’t say the relationship gives me warm and fuzzies, but it’s well done enough that I also don’t feel like bleaching my brain (a common problem when European film romances get weird).  It’s well done for what it is.  And, because this isn’t your typical mainstream Hollywood BS, one of the two male leads is, well, not much to look at.  I appreciate that about a lot of foreign cinema, but in this case, being a German film, you see Mr. Mediocre-Looks’s bare ass which I, personally, could have done without (not so much because of my prudish American tendencies as because, well, it’s not a hot ass, so what’s the point?).  For male viewers, you also get plenty of bare-breasted shots of the female lead (who is good looking).  I was neither offended (meh, I have my own.  Whatever) nor impressed (meh, I have my own. Whatever).

The scenery, is, of course, fantastic.  I really do love Budapest.  Seeing the movie meant I got to spend a lot of time squeeing and going “The Széchenyi  bridge!” and “OMG, I WALKED THERE!”  And it’s not unfounded squeeing because the city is beautiful (except in those places where the hideous Cold War construction crept in….thankfully the eye-sore of a Marriot I stayed in was skillfully avoided by the cameras).  There are plenty of good establishing shots to feast your eyes upon.  On a more interior note, Lazlo’s restaurant in which much of the action takes place is VERY similar to two of the restaurant’s I dined in while there.  And the focus on the Hungarian rouladen, was nice because I had some of that….and a lot of other really friggin’ delicious dishes in that city (it’s entirely possible to gain weight just thinking about the food in Budapest).

Of course, since the movie is named after music, the music in the film is wonderful.  Very classical.  The theme is a truly beautiful piece.  Piano is the primary mode of transmission, but there are some excellent incidences of violin as well (which actually fits more with the music I heard in Budapest).  I’m strongly considering picking up the soundtrack to this one.

One of the downsides to the film is, well, inevitable.  As I mentioned, it’s set in 1930s Europe.  This means you will NOT avoid Nazis and Jews.  It’s that damn elephant in the room you can’t avoid.  But….at this point in time, even though it’s real and it’s true, it’s almost become cliche.  Particularly because the German officer featured in this film is completely stereotypical in terms of his appearance: blonde, fair, etc.  I can’t help rolling my eyes at that visual because the most-recently-off-the-boat Germans in my family are NOT blonde, blue eyed or fair.  In fact, they literally “pass” for Mexicans (the Hungarians and Jews in the film look way more like many of my family than the German characters).  I’m not saying I like the idea of my homies being associated with Nazis, but if we’re going to embrace the reality of Nazis being in every film about that era, we may as well embrace that not all Germans are fair and blue eyed.

Of course, the war and the Nazis are integral to the plot and you see that part coming a mile out.  The relationship complexity adds the real flavor, though the plot still seems to drag a bit at times while you’re watching.  I know this because I make notes.  And because it’s a European film.  I also know that the ending to this one makes me forget the drag every time I watch.  It’s a more awesome ending that you get in a lot of European films, so double bonus on that one.

All told, I’ll give it 3 and ¾ jars of peanut butter.  Deductions for the buttshots, the occasional plot drag and for the cliche German.

 

Movie Review: Zapata – El sueño del héroe

Title: Zapata – El sueño del héroe (2004)

Writer/Director: Alfonso Arau

Cammy: In my procurement of media to assist in my Spanish practice, I wound up with a copy of the relatively-recent Mexican feature film,  Zapata – El sueño del héroe.  When I bought the DVD a few months ago I watched the first, maybe 5 minutes and was completely lost.  The thing had NO English subtitles and my Spanish clearly wasn’t up to par to tackle this one.  I mean, there were Spanish subtitles in those first minutes, but I was connecting none of what I was hearing to what I was reading.

Months later, after a LOT of telenovela viewing, I felt a little better, but I still thought it would be smart to bring it with me on my visit to Kristy and watch it with her.  For one, her Spanish is vastly better than mine after years of classes, a degree in Latin American studies and two summers in Latin American countries.  For another, that same degree in Latin American studies meant that her over-all knowledge of the history of Emiliano Zapata was likely to be way better than mine.  Just like she helped prop me up through University Spanish, I was going to depend on her again!

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Movie Review: Enchanted

Director: Kevin Lima

Writer: Bill Kelly

Things I liked: It’s a musical. I love musicals. And the songs were fun. Also, pretty costumes. As someone who’s worn a hoopskirt on more than one occasion I loved that they showed the absurd difficulties of getting around in on. Speaking of absurdities, I also enjoyed the way the film points out how irritating charming little moments in fiction would be in real life; making dresses out of curtains, for example. Also, Angela Montenegro sighting at the end!

Things I didn’t like: You cast Idina Menzel in a musical and don’t have her sing? Let me ask that again, you cast Idina Menzel in a musical and don’t have her sing? Tell me there was a song that was cut from this. I actually rather liked her character, and so I guess I’m glad she got a happy ending, but I would have liked to see more of her. Over all, I felt like the film was saying that even modern, independent women are waiting for a prince to come sweep us off our feet. I’m not saying that doesn’t have more truth to it than I’d care to admit, but I’m not sure I cared for it.

Over all: A fun little bit of fluff to watch while cleaning my room, but I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it. Two and a half out of five jars of peanut butter.

Movie Review: The Girl

Title: The Girl (Original Swedish Title: Flickan) (2009)

Director: Fredrik Edfeldt

Writer: Karin Apphenius

Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytrma

I stumbled across this one at my local library.  Having not watched a foreign film in a while, I decided to give it a whirl.  I didn’t really expect much more than a little variety to shake up the string of BBC offerings I’ve been checking out from the library’s DVD section lately.  What I got was a visually beautiful, moving film.

You might notice that I noted the cinematographer above.  That’s because the way this film was beautiful visually.  That’s not to say it was full of sweeping vistas or shiny dance numbers or incredible costumes.  It was the composition of the shots, the way light was captured.  If had a greater experience with visual art, I’d be better at describing it, but the long and short of it is that reading the English subtitles is not the only reason I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen.

The story follows The Girl (never named), whose parents and brother leave for an African aid mission.  She was supposed to travel with them, but a last minute notification of restrictions due to age (she is 9 and a half) results in The Girl being left at home in the care of a somewhat unstable Aunt Anna.  Singularly unimpressed with this woman-child that she barely knows, The Girl is more than happy when Aunt Anna leaves her alone to go off sailing with a boyfriend.  The Girl begins a summer of freedom.

But, before you start to think this is a summery, Swedish version of Home Alone, be assured, it’s not.  The Girl’s freedom devolves into a loneliness and isolation that comes right up to the borders of madness before a meeting with a stranger pulls her back into society and reality.

And The Girl herself is remarkable.  Little Blanca Engström does a very impressive job of conveying the complex emotions involved in The Girl’s isolation.  She has a unique look with her red hair and skinny form–she stands out in every shot she appears in.  And for such a little girl, she can be intense with just one glance, almost to the point of creepiness.  You really don’t need the subtitles to pick up on the emotions and follow the path of this story.  If this young actress doesn’t do any more movies, we are all losing out, I’m telling you.

By the end of this movie, I had the same kind of feeling I have after reading a really excellent book that I know I’ll never forget even if I never manage to read it again.  Usually I withdraw from foreign films that are too “arty” but in this case, it struck the right chord–stable plot, deep emotion and beautiful shots.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 jars of peanut-butter.