Sunday, January 30, 2011

The King's Speech and Oscar Best Pic Check

Despite being a bit slow in parts, I really liked The King’s Speech. I’ve been listening to some talk about how some critics don’t think it’s worthy of being nominated for best picture – some find it a bland biopic and not edgy enough to be cool. It is probably one of the safer choices for best picture, but I think it’s a worthy choice. The King’s Speech portrays King George VI (Colin Firth) whose brother abdicated to marry his love, the divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King, or Bertie, as he is called, suffers from a stuttering problem and his wife (known as the Queen Mum or Queen Elizabeth’s mother) searches for a new answer to his speech problems encountering Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist, who challenges the king by not only making him recite tongue twisters but by forcing him to face some of his past childhood indignities. I liked Geoffrey Rush’s Logue, but I though Colin Firth is so moving in this story. The scene where he breaks down in front of his wife is heartbreaking.

Oscar season is upon on us and while the Oscars is very imperfect awards show, I, dork that I am, assiduously follow all the buzz surrounding it. I think it’s dumb that there are now TEN nominated Oscar Best Pictures, but that doesn’t make me want to see ALL or most of them any less. The winner is usually a Best a serious film with big emotions and big stories. – we do big things – I must be channeling Obama. Anyway . . . Here’s my quick look at the other nominated pictures:

Black Swan – saw it, thought it was trying too hard
The Fighter – hope to see
Inception – action flick – so don’t want to see but maybe should get over it
The King’s Speech (see above)
The Kids Are All Right – saw it, loved it, don’t think it will win best picture, a little too snappy and cutsey (in parts)
127 Hours – want to see it, but yikes, do I really want to watch a guy getting his arm severed for two hours?
The Social Network – saw it, liked it a lot, best picture material? Not sure- I think it’s too snappy like Kids Are All Right but more serious
Toy Story 3 – won’t see it, heard it’s great, but animation is not my thing
True Grit – want to see it
Winter’s Bone – saw it, liked it for the great acting by the young new star Jennifer Lawrence and a spooky John Hawkes

Cairo Time and Howl

Cairo Time
A story about a woman (Patricia Clarkson) who travels to Cairo to visit her husband who works for the UN. When she gets there, he is in the Gaza Strip, so she tries to visit this ancient city on her own and then with the help of her husband's friend (Alexander Siddig) an Egyptian. I liked visiting the city by watching this movie, and I liked the portrayal of the woman alone in a foreign, challenging, city. But the movie moved so slowly that it took some effort to pay attention to.

James Franco is so interesting to watch that he makes this documentary-like film watchable. And this topic is interesting: the case against Lawrence Ferlinghetti's publishing of Allen Ginsberg's controversial poem "Howl". All of the dialogue, trial transcripts, letters, etc. from the film come from real life. In addition, the whole of "Howl" is read throughout the film. So if you want a literary dip into history, you might enjoy Howl.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three movies: the good, the really bad, and the so-so

The Special Relationship

The Special Relationship is about the relationship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton from when Blair started his campaign to when after Clinton left office. The two leaders interact through phone calls, dinners with the wives, and cabinet meetings. Dennis Quaid plays Clinton and not for the first time Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair. (He also played Blair in The Queen). These two 90s power brokers have a brotherly relationship where Clinton acts as big brother who feels free to hang on up on his little bro mid-sentence after offering some sage advice. When Blair rebels in the media and takes Clinton to task about the US’s involvement in Kosovo, the relationship becomes less trusting but does not seem to completely sever. The portrayal of the wives is also interesting --Hope Davis as Hilary gives a thoughtful performance. This political movie examines a key moment in history. It's interesting and well acted.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood has an original start with a realistic take on the Robin Hood myth. It even has a cute romantic relationship with Cate Blanchet as Maid Marian and Russell Crowe who have to marry for convenience—the two of them making a very smart and good looking couple. But somehow it went awry about half way through the movie. It seemed like the second half of the movie was one big extended vicious battle. Robin Hood should be more about clever comrades who are amazing marksmen having jovial fun in the woods, but this Robin Hood seemed like it was trying too hard to be different by showing the “real” Robin Hood. I think it just got too big for its britches.

Sex and the City II

As a fan of the TV show and since I kinda liked Sex and the City I, I wanted to see this movie but knew it was going to be dumb – but, believe me it was dumber than I could have imagined. Dumb dialogue with bad puns (esp. from Samantha – she actually said, “Laurence of my labia” ehhh. Ridiculous outfits. Cliched Arabs. Just dumb. It makes you wonder how some smart people ended up making a movie that dreadful.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fair Game and Black Swan

Fair Game

Fair Game tells the story of Valarie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) – she, a CIA agent and he a former ambassador and expert about the country of Niger where the Bush administration is claiming Iraq is getting uranium from. After Wilson writes a letter to the New York Times’ claiming that the Bush administration is beefing up the facts surrounding the weapons of mass destruction claim in Iraq, his wife is then outed as a CIA agent – a fact that some of her family members had no idea about and, according to the movie, put some Iraqis working for her at risk of not being able to safely escape Iraq. Of course, one can question the veracity of the events in this movie which, of course, is always a problem when movies are based on real events. But judged solely as a movie, I found Fair Game to be very compelling. I came away from the movie feeling indignant about the way the presidency used its power to ruin reputations and distort reality – I guess, Duh, but it is a reminder of what can happen when one, “speaks truth to power.” If you like political movies, like I do, I think you would enjoy Fair Game.

Black Swan

Another cringe worthy movie for 2010. Luckily I had a friend who could fill me in on what was happening when I blocked the screen with my hand. Black Swan tells about a mentally disturbed ballerina Nina played by Natalie Portman who prepares to dance the lead in Swan Lake. Her director Thomas (a dance dictator and the most “fun” of the movie) wants Nina to get in touch with her bad side, the black swan side. Nina needs no help with this since she’s nutty already, as is her mother, by the way. This movie had some interesting plot twists and some cool scenes (especially some of the ending’s dance sequences), but its downfall for me was the movie’s pure humorlessness. Portman’s character is mousy and dour in the beginning of the movie all the way through to the end. She’s just not a very complex or interesting character – other than being just plain balmy.