Saturday, September 24, 2011

I don't know how she does it

I saw this with a friend last night. gave it a rotten 17% average score, so my expectations were low. I didn'd read any of the reviews intentionally, because when I do, that's all I can think about--I can't form my own opinions.

Overall, this was a nice, relaxing 90 minutes. There wasn't anything earth shattering. Carrie, I mean, Sarah Jessica Parker as ... um ... Kate Reddy, an ambitious employee, wife, and mother of two, was a decently fair representation of what it's like to accomplish all these activities at once, though I found myself wishing she'd stop rolling her shoulders in her trademark Carrie way whenever she turned over in bed. I also saw no reason for the voice over by SJP that carried all the way through the movie, telling everything we were already seeing--nothing new or outside the clear lines drawn on screen. Leaving it out wouldn't have changed the story, and I feel like it would have been a stronger departure from the Sex in the City branding, thus giving SJP a newer identity as in 2005's The Family Stone.

Pierce Brosnan, as SJP's new colleague, was a fun character study on a successful businessman who no longer knows what he wants. As my friend said, "He is aging nicely." Agreed. He could have been the clear antagonist--a danger to SJP's career and marriage--but the writer as well as Brosnan's acting did a decent job of making him nicely sympathetic and a bit of a surprise.

I would have liked to see more of Greg Kinnear as SJP's husband. His dialogue felt heavyhanded and awkward at times, which disappointed me as I tend to be a fan.

As often happens, a minor character stole much of the show. SJP's highly motivated assistant, "Momo", played by Olivia Munn, provided many moments of comic relief in what could have been an overall heavy story. The director used "breakout" moments, for lack of a better term, when the action froze around certain characters while they voiced their thoughts about Kate or life in general. Momo's were the best, and evolved into a surprisingly poignant arc of her own. There were similar moments, mostly comic, from Busy Phillips, playing the over-exercising, cookie-baking PTA mom those of us who are domestically challenged love to hate, and Christina Hendricks as SJP's rebel friend.

The story itself was mostly predictable, though a few minor turns kept my interest mostly intact. I found myself thinking about other things a few times when the action dragged a little--never a great sign while watching a movie in a theater--but overall, I stayed engaged.

My basic reaction to this film was, "Nice. Pleasant. I won't remember a thing besides Momo tomorrow." Seventeen percent? I dunno. Maybe. But for a quiet girls' night out with a friend, I didn't mind. I've seen movies with higher ratings I couldn't wait to exit.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: Higher Ground

I saw Higher Ground Saturday at the Magnolia at the Modern in Ft. Worth, always an interesting place to see a movie. It’s a theater, but not exactly a theater. You’d have to go to understand.

Here's the trailer:

Caroline S. Briggs, author of the memoir the film was based on (originally 2002’s This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost, re-released along with the film as Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost) was present Sunday for a signing before the showing. I would have gone again if I hadn’t stayed up so late thinking about it the night before.

This is a movie I suspect you’re going to love or hate, depending on your worldview, thinking style, and viewing preferences. It’s a fairly slow, meandering movie, so don’t expect action scenes—well, maybe a few seconds here and there—or anything to hit you over the head in a black and white “aha” moment. It’s a movie that addresses a touchy subject—faith and doubt and fundamental Christianity. Does the thought of a slow movie or those words alone make you squeamish? Don’t see it. If you’re looking for a movie that lays everything out in black and white, ties it up in a bow, supports any one agenda, and entertains at a mile per minute, check the schedule again.

For me, I’m still pondering it three days later—one reason I haven’t already posted a review. So much of this movie reflects on things I can relate to from my childhood and young adult years, yet much of it is extreme opposition to those years, too. This made it a very personal experience for me, and I was mesmerized by all 114 minutes.

Each actor in this film turned a stereotype into something more. In Vera Farmiga’s first directing experience, she treats a touchy subject and even the most unlikeable characters with gentleness and respect. No one character is all good or all bad—a challenge in film or literature.

Vera Farmiga, also in the lead role as Corinne, is an expressive actress--capable of expressing herself with one twitch of a facial muscle.

Farmiga’s real-life younger sister, Taissa Farmiga, plays the part of Corinne as a young adult in a pretty stunning debut for a 16-year-old with no previous film experience. I can’t wait to see her in something more—she’s in a pilot of American Horror Story, which premiers October 5 on FX. (I am THRILLED to see Connie Britton in another series with the demise of Friday Night Lights.)

Oscar nominee John Hawkes of Winter’s Bone plays CW, Corinne’s alcoholic father.

The music, well, perhaps only lapsed Baptists might appreciate it as much as I did. In a world where church so often now means upbeat music with repetitive lyrics week after week, the soaring arrangements of traditional hymns with lyrics pulled deep from my subconscious were … ironically refreshing. I found myself with a lump in my throat more than a few times.

The laugh-out-loud moments are there, too, mostly when you don't expect them.

Highter Ground isn't for everyone, but it might be for you. If the trailer or the possibility that you might have to think turns you off, skip it. If the trailer draws you in and you’re not scared of a little honest exploration of faith and doubt, find the nearest theater (unfortunately, probably not many, as it’s fairly limited release), and get there.

The movie is rated R for language, sexual content, adult situations. I wouldn't take a child. A teenager, sure, if you're willing to talk about it with them later.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

My very smart husband and I saw Our Idiot Brother this evening. It was a warm, fuzzy film, nothing to write home about—mostly chuckles and smiles and one or two random belly laughs. It wasn’t exactly the kind of movie that lets you suspend your disbelief, but rather invites you to wallow in the completely ridiculous concept.

Paul Rudd plays Ned, a bumbling modern-day hippie who gets himself and just about everyone around him into absurd messes at every opportunity, though it never seems to dawn on him (and perhaps that’s the point) that he is anything but happy and living the life he’s meant to live. His sisters are so busy believing he’s putting them out and that they have to clean up after him, it doesn’t occur to them that they, really, are the ones whose lives are in shambles.

Of course, no film would be complete without a dog named Willie Nelson. As part of the fore-mentioned ridiculous concept, this cute setter is Ned’s highest source of conflict as he attempts over and over to regain custody of the dog after his ex-girlfriend dumps him following his stint in jail for selling pot to a cop. (Perhaps one of the most believable moments—Bob Stephenson as the cop was pretty convincing! I might have sold the pot to him, too, if I were in such a business, which I am not, thank you very much.) Our Idiot Brother is certainly not a breakout film for Rudd, but he pulls off the charming Ned better than most actors might have.

Zoey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer are a couple of my favorite actresses, so I’m usually up for anything they’re in. In an ironic switchback after my last entry (regarding One Day’s Anne Hathaway), Mortimer’s British accent was a little too apparent in this movie in comparison with her past films, such as the delightful Lars and the Real Girl. Though she was fairly convincing as Liz, a tired young mother whose philandering husband (Steve Koogan, as Dylan, one of the real idiots in the movie) forces her to bring their son up in a way that goes completely against the adorable little fellow’s grain, Mortimer’s accent sets her apart from her three siblings in a “one of these things is not like the other” kind of way. Deschanel, as Natalie, delivers her classic awkward/cute/emo shtick, much like she played in Failure to Launch, Elf, and 500 Days of Summer. I’d love to see her in something with a little more depth just to see what she can do. (Am I forgetting anything? Has she already?)

The somewhat-unknown-to-me (even though she has a pretty long resume) Elizabeth Banks might have been my favorite sister in this film, though. Miranda is the one sister who tries to make things happen instead of letting things happen to her, and Banks’s facial expressions as she allows her idiot brother to take over an interview she’s been coveting forever are spot-on hilarious. You feel sorry for her even as you enjoy her brother’s accidental coup. She plays Effie Trinket in the upcoming book-to-film, The Hunger Games, and I can't wait to see her portrayal of this interesting and quirky character.

All in all, Our Idiot Brother isn’t the kind of movie you MUST see before it leaves theaters—you’ll be quite safe waiting for the DVD release, and pretty safe even if you miss it—but if you’re looking for a bit of last minute summer fun, a happy ending, and everything tied up in a bow, and can manage to keep your expectations somewhat low, you might enjoy this pleasant bit of mindless entertainment. It makes a nice movie for a date night, and that’s exactly what it was for me and my hubby.

Our Idiot Brother is appropriately rated R for some nudity, adult situations, and lots of language.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Day

A few weeks ago, my friend Gail and I attended a press screening for One Day, a film adaptation of David Nicholls’ novel by the same name which opens in theaters Friday, August 19. Our thoughts follow what the movie site says about the film.

Twenty years. Two people…

Directed by Lone Scherfig (director of An Education, Academy Award-nominated for Best Picture), the motion picture One Day is adapted for the screen by David Nicholls from his beloved bestselling novel One Day.

After one day together – July 15th, 1988, their college graduation – Emma Morley (Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe) begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground.

For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several July 15ths in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realize that what they are searching and hoping for has been there for them all along. As the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself.

I liked this movie a lot. I didn’t LOVE this movie. And I’m not really certain why. Maybe a little too predictable, a little too formulaic, in spite of the unique set up of jumping ahead a year at a time for quite a long number of years. There was change in each of the characters, but it was not particularly surprising change. Anne Hathaway changes from a frumpy plain girl to the beautiful woman she is, and Jim Sturgess matures into a more responsible caring man after hitting a low point (more than once).

Julie: I actually loved this movie more than I expected to. Every time I saw previews, I decided I wasn’t going to see it based on Anne Hathaway’s dreadful British accent. But the fates intervened and I did see it and I was able to mostly ignore the random accent slips. I think they put the worst ones in the previews! I agree that the character arcs were a little formulaic, but I was surprised to find myself rooting hard for their change. Sometimes when it’s predictable, I just don’t care. But here, I managed to not only care, but summon up a lot more emotion for these two than I expected.

Gail: I really like Anne Hathaway, I think she’s a wonderful actress who is charming and beautiful even in frumpy dresses and ugly glasses and no makeup but lipstick for those beautiful full lips. You just can’t make her plain, though they came close. Her accent was passable, though she occasionally pronounced a word in what I would consider an Irish-sounding accent. This was a bit distracting to me at first. I had to force myself to stop paying attention to it, being aware that she was “acting,” and fall into the story. I finally succeeded. I did find myself wondering, as much a fan as I am, why they didn’t cast a British actress. I assume since Jim Sturgess is lesser known, they needed a name in the movie.

Julie: I was blown away by Jim Sturgess in Across the Universe—wondered where they’d been hiding this guy—so I was excited to see him in this part, and yes, if it took a big name actress like Anne Hathaway to get him back in the spotlight, I’m on board. His character was frustrating at many points, but he’s a pretty mesmerizing guy!

Gail: I hope to see him in more films in the future. He’s a compelling actor with a lot of screen charisma. His character was charming, but really a bit of a shallow jerk through most of the movie. In the hands of a less talented actor, his character, Dexter, would have been pretty unlikeable, but Sturgess brought a sad, melancholy undercurrent to Dex that let you know he knew what a jerk he was, and really wished he could be a better man, but just didn’t know how. There is a line late in the film where another character says to him that Emma made him decent, and that is for me the crux of the film. We can be made a better (or worse) person by people we love, sometimes in spite of ourselves.

Julie: So true. And I just cringed for Anne Hathaway’s character, Emma, from the first—when she stops mid-kiss so she can go brush her teeth and change into something prettier than her awful 1980s mom bra. Haven’t we all had that huge crush on someone who was terrible for us? Who seemed to have no idea we existed, and yet we couldn’t see reason in spite of our best friends hemming and hawing whenever we spent another hour talking about the possibilities? Who made us almost grovel in our attempts to get attention, when that’s obviously the worst route from point A to point B?

Gail: Emma is, at the start of the film, so clearly more enamored of Dexter than he is of her, and Hathaway conveys that with very subtly pained expressions, sometimes only in the eyes. We want so much for him to see what an obviously beautiful smart woman is hiding under the granny dresses and the ever-present combat boots. But every time she thinks maybe he’s seeing her the way she sees him, something happens to muck things up.

Julie: I’m so impressed with the variety of characters Hathaway has played with finesse since her gawky teenage girl role in The Princess Diaries, that I’ll forgive the accent, once again. She isn’t afraid to get real with her looks and her characters. I still remember the raw scene in Brokeback Mountain where she was on the telephone and you could almost smell the icky scent of her lipstick as she spoke to the husband she knew was cheating on her. Don’t even get me started on her role in Rachel Getting Married. Other than the accent, this probably wasn’t her most challenging role, but she played it with ease.

Gail: I was more moved by Sturgess’ character because I felt he did more with it, showed more depth and growth and change. There is an event about three quarters through the film that I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, but I was surprised even though it was telegraphed fairly clearly, and I had a genuinely emotional response.

Julie: Wow, this from the woman who doesn’t cry in movies or while reading novels, ever! What about the secondary characters? Sometimes they’re just wallpaper, but other times they really bring an extra layer to the story. Emma’s coworker at the sad Mexican restaurant … Dex’s mother …

Gail: Emma’s involvement with her coworker—a goofy comedian wannabe—is awkward and sad. He is clearly more enthralled with her than she ever was or will be of him. I found it interesting that she was, in a sense, treating this guy in a similar caddish way that Dexter tended to treat her. And the brief scenes with Patricia Clarkson as his ailing mother were full of tenderness and heartbreak. Dexter is a young man of privilege who really has no reason for being such a screw up other than the fact that he pretty much has always gotten by on his looks and charm and it’s just not working for him anymore. The scene where she has to say some very hard things to him was full of the quiet dignity and kindness she brings to most roles I’ve seen her in.

Julie: Ha, you need to see Patricia Clarkson in Friends with Benefits—a little departure! She’s anything but quiet or dignified. But you’re right. And I love her in almost any movie.

Gail: A bit of a spoiler here. There is a coda at the end that reaches back to the beginning of the film when Dex and Emma first meet, and we see more to their first meeting than is shown at the beginning. I was a bit puzzled at the reason for this, but on further thought I decided that it showed a different side of Dex than we saw at the beginning of the movie and that their story could have taken a very different path if not for an interruption to their plans.

Julie: I liked that. Lots of times, we make assumptions about people we know in real life, not having any clue what led them to that place. I think this was a good technique for illustrating that. After a trip to England a few years ago, I really enjoyed the UK setting. It’s fun to see locations and poke your companion and whisper, “Hey, I’ve been there!” I liked the score, too. For me, the soundtrack is a huge part of my movie-going experience. (Yes, I’m that girl who watches all the credits so I can view the music notes.) One Day’s score reminded me of Stephen Trask’s quiet, but slightly techno-sounding score for In Good Company. His trademark sounds for dramas seem to be melodic percussion—marimbas or vibraphones—or sweeping, emotional symphonic pieces, as Rachel Portman used here, and I was surprised to see it wasn’t him. Portman (who also did Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and wow, so many more!) and Trask may share a musical brain. I like them both! I wonder if they’ve met …

Gail: The settings in London and Paris were beautiful of course, and the musical score was haunting and lovely and added to the overall melancholy feel of the film.

Julie: That about sums it up. I'd say our general consensus was that though One Day probably won’t be winning any Academy Awards, it was a thoughtful and genuinely entertaining film.

Disclaimer: Gail and I attended a free press screening, but opinions expressed here are our own.

What women watch

If you're an average moviegoing woman who wants to know what other women think about the movies you might take in while living your busy life, you've come to the right place.

I'll be reviewing films in a completely randomized method; that is, the ones I want to see. I might invite a friend to have a conversation with me about the film, or I might simply tell you what I think. Occasionally, I may even turn the reins over to someone else altogether.

We'll make no claims to being educated film critics here. Educated, yes, but not in the fields the standard film critic might be.

I'm just a woman, and I know what I like. And I know what I don't like. Can you relate?

Professionally, I'm a writer represented by Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary. My website is here. I'm also a member of a group blog called What Women Write, which you may visit here.

And yes, that's me over there on the left. I look like a big nerd, but how often does anyone take a picture of you in a movie theater? Exactly. I had to use it.