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.