Category Archives: Movie Review

For My Father (2008)

 


I showed this film to my confirmation class last night. We are on the topic of god, but this movie probably fits more squarely in the neighborhood of parent-child relationships and obligations. Tarek is Palestinian. He was a largely apolitical Arab who played soccer in Nazareth but lived in the West Bank. So in order to practice and play, he and his father needed to cross the armed border on a regular basis. As suicide bombings increased, this became increasingly difficult to do, and so paradoxically, in the Arab community, terrorists had a bigger and better hold on Palestinians than ever beofre. It was their way or the highway. And Tarek’s father became a persona non grata for not bowing to that way of thinking. The movie opens with Tarek en route to Tel Aviv to become a suicide bomber and redeem his father.

But there is a catch–his detonator misfires and he needs to replace it. On Friday afternoon. Katz, the owner of a small repair shop, does not have the exact replacement, and since it is almost Shabbat, it will be Sunday before he can get it. So Tarek is forced to spend time within the community and gets to know them–which makes it increasingly difficult for him to contemplate killing them. But the thing that he really misses that the Katz’ teach him is that parents do not recover from the death of their children. This act, which he does in the name of his father, will end his father’s life as he knows it. Tarek is caught in the middle of two worlds and doesn’t have time to find a good way out.
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District 9 (2009)

One is immediately immersed in the film’s world. Beginning in medias res with stark images of a massive spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, the audience quickly discovers it’s been there for over thirty years by the time our story picks up. For months after the craft appeared the Earth waited for a response. When none came, the decision was made to send special teams to board the vessel and finally get some answers. What they got, instead, were more questions.
The aliens inside were malnourished, unhealthy and their intelligence appeared to be below that of most humans. Labeled “prawns” due to their appearance, the aliens were removed from the ship and placed into a temporary encampment known as District 9, which has rapidly deteriorated into an outright slum. Enter Wikus van der Merwe, a seemingly naive yet (mostly) likeable fellow employed with Multinational United (M.N.U.), the pseudo-U.N. organization tasked with handling the prawns. He’s just received a promotion and is ordered to relocate the prawns to a newer camp set up in an area more isolated from humanity.
While the scope of “District 9” seems initially epic, the film  follows a very focused tale centered on Wikus and an alien known as Christopher. As the story unfolds, the development of these characters is outstanding – particularly for an action-oriented film. A lesser film would’ve transformed Wikus into a more compassionate person as the events transpired, perhaps even culiminating into some sort of freedom fighter for the prawns. With this film, however, we’re finally presented with a very real, very flawed character.
Wikus is a largely  self-serving individual, whereas Christopher is a more  humane character.
The documentary format in which the film is shot is a phenomenal aspect and one which is original and innovative, and combines nicely with the action movie style.                                                                                The polarizing opinions and wildly diverse interpretations of this film are precisely what makes it brilliant. It’s been labeled as both a compelling allegory of apartheid and of the Iraqi war, it’s been accused of somehow being a ‘racist’ film, while somesee it as violently offensive rubbish. The film does not provide answers and solutions, but rather allows the viewer to see that there are no viable solutions.

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Pretty Devils (2000)

This is a story that should focus on the traumatic events of youth and the effects they have down the road–which it presents, but doesn’t fully explore.  Naughty Lea (Olivia Bonamy) and sly Aurelie (Axelle Ade-Pasdeloup) are a pair of teenage girls with a taste for mayhem–they chat up men and rob them, they steal from locker rooms, and generally use a near abandoned gym as their larceny playground.  Why?  They are living a middle class existence with their mother, so it is not that they are destitute.  We later learn that their father has died in a diving accident, and that their mother was unable to show any sort of affection or interest in them for a long time afterwards.  So maybe it is attention seeking.  They are beginning to worry that Mom’s new boyfriend, a local gendarme, may be on to them.

Enter Anne-Sophie (Audrey Tatou), who has been dumped by a lover.  She is interested in revenge, and Lea and Aurelie have lots of ideas about how to foil his relationship with his latest love interest–which they successfully accomplish.  Anne-Sophie is eager to be their friend, and gets immediately wrapped up in their antics, but quickly there are two consecutive and unrelated disasters that lead to an end to the acting out, and provide a way for the policeman to gain an entrance to their stone cold hearts as well.  Well acted, and gives one the ability to connect the dots on why these girls are acting as they do, but not much else.  I recommend, with a 7/10 rating.

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Whip It (2009)

Whip It is a movie about a girl who who sneaks away from her coming out party debutante existence to find her heart in Roller Derby.  What makes the film really stand out from other rebellious teenager coming of age movies is the relationship with Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). This is one of the main themes of the movie and is nicely developed.
Bliss grows up in a small town (Bodine) in Texas, which is on the outskirts of Austin.   One day while shopping in Austin she picks up a flyer for the local Roller Derby team, the Hurl Scouts. Bliss talks her best friend  (played by Alia Shswkat) into driving her into Austin to watch an actual game. She is invited after the game by Maggie Mayhem to attend a tryout to make the team.
Drew said she was attracted to the sport of Roller Derby by the crowd. When she attended an event, she looked around and saw yuppies, blue collar workers, teenagers, families, and just a wide range of people, all drawn to the sport of Roller Derby–a class leveler.
The book was written by Shauna Cross, who based her experience on her career with the LA Derby Dolls. Shauna skated with them as Maggie Mayhem (played by Kristen Wiig). Shauna was looking for a tennis partner and searched Craigslist for one, and found an ad for Roller Derby, which started her career.  Basrrymore made some additions to the script– she came up with the Manson Sisters for Whip It. They play silent but deadly teammates on the Hurl Scouts. A little hard of hearing or not caring to, they walk by the white board with a play diagrammed, look, and just keep walking. They are played by LA Derby Dolls skaters Kristen “Krissy Krash” Adolfi and Rachel “Iron Maiven”. Adolfi and Piplica are teammates on LADD’s Tough Cookies, on whom the film’s fictionalized Hurl Scouts are based.   Most of the actors did their own skating and had their share of mishaps. Bliss (Ellen Page) was trained by LA Derby Doll’s Axle of Evil. Drew suffered a huge bruise on her thigh while wrestling with one of the trainers. During the training, some of the actors would yell out “I am hurting” and the trainers would yell back “Keep Skating”.
Landon Pigg goes from musician to his first acting role, as Bliss’ love interest.  I think this is the only scene of making out under water I have ever seen.
The movie scenes of Roller Derby action look extremely real as Drew used hand held cameras for a lot of the action. A huge crane in the middle of the track took shots from high above and also went down close to the action.
The moral of the movie (per Drew) is finding yourself, to get out there and do things, to improve yourself, and to pick yourself up and keep trying.  I give this a 7/10.

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Damned United (2009)

Peter Morgan (Writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon) reunites for the third time with Michael Sheen (lead actor of The Queen and Frost/Nixon).   Michael Sheen can tick off another box on his list of his portrayals of iconic Englishmen as his witty performance is a key reason for what makes The Damned United a joy to watch–the versatility with which he plays this role, having watched him be David Frost and Tony Blair is a tribute to his acting–he may have a generic look, but his attention to the details of voice inflections and mannerisms is stellar.

The film follows two different stories, switching frequently from Brian Clough’s miraculous time at Derby County and his disappointing and shambolic time at Derby’s then rivals Leeds United. It is important to pay attnetion to the titles that announce a variance in the year, so as to see where we are in time.  The film doesn’t get involved in Clough’s personal life (which may well have been in a shambles–while he has a wife in Derby, she seems pretty preoccupied with the seperation of work an dhome life, which seemed unrealistic at best–when Clough takes off for Leeds, he has two boys in tow but no wife in sight).  

The story focuses on his career with both clubs, starting off with Clough viewed firstly as a small-time 2nd Division manager to a arrogant manager on top of the Division 1, another key issue is his close friendship with his assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and hatred of the man who preceded him as Leeds boss, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). While at Leeds the key points of focus is Clough’s determination to replace Don Revie as a hero in Leeds and ‘father figure’ as well his poor relationship with the players and the end to his arrogance.  The flaw of arrogance is fleshed out and then exhonerated in the film.  Clough spends 44 days as the coach of Leeds United (the film doesn’t show why he has such intense hatred for the club, which would have gone a long way to explaining why he wanted the job, and how he approached it).  When that fails, he goes crawling back to Brighton and Peter Taylor, who takes him back after a bit of a tongue lashing, and the two go on to do brilliantly.  Not so for the hated Don Revie.

The film is wonderful–not just appealin got soccer fans, but to those who like a story with nuance.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

Maybe the book is better.  The Time Traveler’s Wife is a romantic drama directed by Robert Schwentke, adapted from Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller of the same name, and I had heard so many great things about the book, and I am a big fan of the romantic drama genre, but all that was for naught.  This is a good movie which requires a certain amount of suspense of belief to enjoy even at the moderate level.  Eric Bana plays Henry DeTamble, a man who involuntarily time travels.  Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams). Henry is a librarian afflicted with a genetic disease that causes him to travel through time more or less randomly. Henry’s unpredictable escapades are often dangerous, terrifying and sometimes life-threatening ordeals because he ends up buck-naked and starving in unknown places and times. For those reasons, Henry keeps himself in top physical shape and taught “himself” all type of survival skills such as pick-pocketing, street fighting, or picking locks. After a random while, he always goes back to his “present” but is largely unable to affect his future. At age 28, he meets 20-yr old Clare Abshire. He doesn’t know her but she has known him since she was 6 and has been waiting for him all her life and will do so the rest of her life.  This is the part that I find kind of creepy.  He meets his wife as a time traveler when she is a kid–she gets a crush on him, which is largely not his fault–but once she is his wife, he goes back and visits her on a more or less regular basis…which affects her trajectory in life.  One of the inconsistencies in the story is that he cannot affect the outcome of life’s events–he tries to stop his mother’s death over and over again but he cannot–but on the other hand, the chance meeting with Claire as a 6 year old does affect her life.  So when does it happen and when doesn’t it?  Hard to say.  Anyway, the whole manipulation of the woman who becomes your wife was unsettling enough that I couldn’t get over it.  Otherwise, Rachel McAdams does a good job portraying the wife of a man who she adores but can;t really count on.  Eric Bana seems a bit wooden, and I am starting to think that might be a pattern for him–Romulus, My Father, and The Other Boleyn Girl being two recent examples.  The cinematography has a beautiful stark and cold quality to it which reinforce the tragic nature of the movie. The movie was beautifully shot by Florian Ballhaus and is the strongest attribute of the movie. The crafty camera-work using motion and placement selection gave a particular tone to his scenes and Schwentke used that to his advantage in the film, giving the movie a light touch of fantasy. He created a nice immersing atmosphere that really highlighted Clare and Henry’s impending fate. The CGI effects of Henry’s time traveling are unspectacular but first rate while the overused musical score was melancholic, adding to the tragic tone of the movie.  If you are a lover of the tragic love story or wither of the two leads, this one might be a good one for you–otherwise I would recommend another choice.

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Coco Before Chanel (2009)


Directed by Anne Fontaine and based upon the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux, Coco Before Chanel is a biographical tale of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel set a timeline which is just that, before she founded her empire. So for those who are more intrigued about the fashion world and the impact Chanel has on it, then this is not the movie you’re looking for, as it firmly dwells on Coco as a person, and her romantic dalliances with two men who played significant roles in her life, be it in support of her daily sustenance, or inspiring her love, beleiving in her, and providing the means for her desire to make a name for herself.
The film dedicated plenty of time in Coco’s awakening to the French high life of the time, since she became a voluntary insinuated herself as the mistress of rich playboy Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), who rescued her from poverty, and whose riches afforded to her access to the slacker lifestyles of the rich and famous. The audience gets reminded time and again of how stifling a woman’s place in high society was at the turn of the century, made worse by the restrictive clothing like corsets, frills, and lace from the neck right down to sweeping the floors. Coco’s disdain for constraint, combined with her penchant for freedom from social norms led to bold designs that did not conform, starting from her hats, which provided her some attention and notoriety.
As Coco Chanel, Audrey Tautou epitomizes that level of elegance, vulnerability with a rebellious streak to do things differently. Her petiteness and somewhat boyish cut figure probably suited the role really well as the initial designs by Coco were those inspired by menswear, though you only get glimpses of her design genius from short montages scattered throughout, and from some scenes which show her working at a tailor shop, but other than that you will gain very little from this bio-pic about the evolution of the fashion designer she was to become.

Coco is a woman who did, finally, fall in love, but again with a man to whom she was a mistress, not a wife–though he carried her about on his arm, and who saw her vast talent and her iron fist as the keys to being a great success. Sadly, he dies (but not before he has financed her beginning), and Chanel never really recovers.
Though it is not a movie about fashion but rather the making of a designer, the clothes here are the star of the show, from the fashions of societal norms in both directions of the rich-poor spectrum, to Coco Chanel’s designs with her menswear inspired pieces, and the glamour-chic pieces only making it through in a parting shot at the finale. The opulently designed clothes of that era stand in stark contrast to the Chanel pieces, which celebrates sheer beauty and elegance in their simplicity, and probably from there, stamping its mark on the fashion industry.

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