The not so curious case of Benjamin Button: A Review

January 18, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

I am a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Great Gatsby is one of the best half dozen books yet published in this world, so I walked into Benjamin Button kinda curious of what would happen. I am well aware that millions of dollars were thrown at this film (a ton at the headliners salaries alone). Think Pitt, Blanchett, Ormond, Swinton. Pitt’s face is across the front cover of the poster so you do not forget you’re going to see his film, although in the actual film he didn’t do much for me. It’s difficult to be such a big budget film and not be enjoyable, and I don’t see many places where they could’ve trimmed the 160 minute film but I think I wanted to think more. I didn’t have to think, which made more time to listen to the squeaky theatre seat near me and never forget I was watching Blanchett and Pitt romp around the middle of the twentieth century.

Pitt & Blanchett

Pitt & Blanchett

Don’t get me wrong. The screen play adaption was done well, the original is on my shelf, and I am curious enough to pick it up, but, as I said, Pitt just plays Pitt for me. Blanchett does wonderfully well, but not Oscar-worthy well (think Aviator’s Kate Hepburn toned way way way down). I did appreciate the juxtaposition of Pitt’s remarks about her blue of Blanchett’s eyes and then his foray with Swinton (who scares the hell outta me with those coal black eyes, pale pale demeanor and skin, and those androgynous features) albeit I hated the banality of the hummingbird who appears twice in the film (this is NO Zemeckis feather motif!!).

If you appreciated the special effects of Forrest Gump or the makeup of other period pieces, then this will be ok for you, too. Since I didn’t even realize Caroline (one of our narrators) was played by Julia Ormond, she must’ve been ok since, for me, she disappeared into character. The characters who age (or some who fail to) are relatively convincingly painted to look their ages, although some ages effects annoyed me when it came to Pitt. Another key player (to a degree) was Captain Mike (Jared Harris) who I appreciated for who and what he represented: an askew father figure in some ways as whimsically absent as Mr. Button (Jason Flemyng) is painstakingly present.

There are no real spoilers here. He dies. She dies. That’s it. But do we care? Some audience members cried, but my question was why? We know the end. I suppose for the same reason people still cry and gasp when Juliet stabs herself in the gut, but for me this film was Forrest Gump meets The Notebook, and it’s one notebook that’s fun for a night and quite forgettable in the long haul.

Gran Torino: The Best of 2008

January 17, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Been seeing previews for Gran Torino and it looked like a cross between Million Dollar Baby andDirty Harry. The early trailers weren’t doing much for me, but then the secondary trailers had some nice plot development and intrigue. I was more interested in catching MILK or The Reader today, but something drew me to this movie. And you know what that was? It was the BEST MOVIE OF 2008.

Yes, I declared this now. The nominees aren’t out yet even, and I am usually more reserved in my reviews. I just can’t be that reserved here. I literally walked out of the film and wanted to sit in the car and sob. Sob like a little baby.

We know Eastwood is good. He’s always been good, although his gravely voice was off putting (much like Bale’s in another much hyped film). In this film Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean war veteran, who’s stuck in back a 1/2 century. His wife recently died, his self-absorbed sons and grand children just suck, and the catholic priest is played by a boy (Christopher Carley) who looks like he just got his driver’s license, although through his tenacity the audience can’t help but want to pinch his cheeks by the second hour in. Eastwood’s gravely snarl is punctuated by the Hmong people who’ve overtaken most of his Detroit suburb. Ever Asian racial slur you could imagine is used by Eastwood in this film and the man sitting next to me scoffing at everyone one were both quite bothersome. It felt overdone to a fault (no I do not hear people actually talk like this anywhere.)

Eastwood saves the life of Thao (Bee Vang) from a local gang and begins to teach the boy to be a man. Thao bugs the hell out of me, not because he’s a “wimp” so much than his mannerisms, haircut (which he could’ve easily changed in a hilarious barber shop scene!), and fact that his true transformation never really comes to fruition except at the very end of the film (and that’s even a week show of it).

I understand this is an Eastwood vehicle all around (included his real life sons), but , for me, Thao’s sister, Sue, stole the show! Introduced as the youngest in a house of women and the older, bossy (well meaning) sister of Thao, Sue is the vehicle who brings the racist and reluctant Walt into the Hmong culture, her home and her people. Ahney Her playing Sue has never acted before, but I was surprised at how refreshingly she holds her own through her seamless banter with one of the most talented actors of his generation. Typically, I am writing these reviews after nominations have been released, and I have no idea if Her will even receive a nod, but here I assert she deserves the nod. Now, for some, being nominated (especially in a first role), is the reward itself, and we both know that Her’ll be up against some talented and experienced actresses. If nominated, I fear she will not win.

Gran Torino

Spoilers….Now earlier I mentioned that I sobbed in the end. True. Totally true. This hardass who beats a Hmong gang member, shoves his fists through glass windows, and pokes guns at asians and blacks alike, would be expected to seek out retribution in the same manner as he lived his life through the film. This wasn’t true. This isn’t how it ended. He made a decision for his new family and friends, made good with his dead wife and her priest, and found peace in salvation through his sacrifice of himself for Thao & Sue.

The ’72 Gran Torino that Eastwood never drives in the film weaves itself through the narrative as a harken back to a time when Walt worked for Ford (and put the drive shaft in on the line himself), an american car company, when his wife was alive and his sons weren’t as self-absorbed as they’ve become. Back to a time before when American was “American”. As Walt progressed, developed, and opened himself to Thao, Sue, and his neighbors, the Gran Torino became a symbols of manhood of Thao (who was given permission to take it for his first date) ad a rite of passage for him, as he is given this car, by Walt, in his will at the resolution of the film.

Sue’s simple survival of the rape and beating, Thao’s slow progression to manhood and succession, the priest’s realization of what living and dying really means, brings together a neighborhood, a people, and everything that Walt once felt stratified his neighborhood and his contemporary and disgusting life. A life that he finally lived for those around him, who he came to love.

Here comes the Oscars: Review: Seven Pounds

January 10, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Reviews

I think it’s been a decade now since we began our annual Oscar party. The first one was Donna, Dana, me and a pizza, and by last year, it was catered. How fun. Beginning a year or two ago, I began seeing as many of the Oscar films as I could that were nominated. With a kid at home, it wasn’t like the wife and I could just run out whenever we wanted. We had to be creative. Most I saw alone. I am more obsessive with the whole concept. Back in the day we had over two months to catch the ones we wanted to see after nominations were announced, and now we have one more exactly. Ugh. So begins my yearly sojourn.

Today was the first film. I know nominations don’t actually come out until January 22nd, but there are certain movies that fit the Oscar mold. For example, if Kate Winslet is in it and it’s not a comedy, it’s nominated. If Streep, Dench, Washington, Smith, Eastwood, etc… is in it, it’s nominated. If it cost a shitload to make, it’s probably nominated. So today’s movie was a toss up between Gran Torino or Seven Pounds. Gran Torino was more recently released, and I heard great things (and one bad review that I intrigued me) about Seven Pounds, so here I went.

I will say right here and now, that these will pretty much all have SPOILERS. If that kinda stuff pisses you off, STOP READING NOW.

Rosario Dawson & Will Smith
From Flickr via Cine Fanatico

The student who didn’t like (read: understand) Seven Pounds decided to tell me right away that Smith died by jellyfish in the end. Not cool. Not cool at all. Why would you do that to me? So I knew that much, but Joey said there was way more to it, but everytime i saw the damn jellyfish in the film, it sucked a little for me.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film awhile back, and I knew it was the kind of play where you’re just suppose to HAVE TO SEE IT because YOU NEED TO KNOW! And I can see why some people would be disappointed, if they can’t appreciate what the “it” really is.

Smith plays “Ben Thomas” an alleged IRS agent who seems much more (more much less) than that. For most of the first 80-90 minutes the audience isn’t really sure, albeit some people said they knew right away. What did I know? What did I learn? I knew that the jellyfish would kill him and that Emily’s pager would buzz. Pretty much it. And of course we all knew (from the trailer) that he’d give away the house.

I enjoyed the mystique of the film and didn’t mind the sections that were slower, and I understood relatively quickly that seven people had died and it was his fault. His fiancee being played by Smith’s real life with didn’t bother me at all, and I really enjoyed his relationship with Rosario Dawson’s Emily.

Many of my friends said they cried at the end, and yes, tears were forming for me, too, but I understood why and how. When his brother finally sits down with Emily and lays everything out for her (which was subtle enough) I felt like the payout was definitely there in the end. The one thing that did bother me though was that Will Smith, in this film, is looking like death warmed over. I don’t know if the Fresh Prince is getting stale (in appearance) or if he was suppose to look that bad, but it wasn’t something I could really get over in this film. Overall, great flick and would recommend to most intellectually minded people.

Quantum of Solace: A brief review

November 15, 2008 By: nooccar Category: Reviews

A while back Shelley invited us all out to Bond Night, and I was only half committed and mostly that was because Donna and I really don’t go out much anymore. Then I got an email from my wife (yes, probably sent from 30 feet away!) that I should get a sitter and go have fun, just make sure the sitter watches Claire at her house not ours so Donna could write.

I grew up in a Bond house. My dad’s obsessed and my father-in-law watches the Spike TV marathons. My favorite is still Never Say Never Again, and Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill still holds a special place in my heart. Pierce Brosnan as Bond was scary and didn’t work at all for me, which is maybe why I never gave Craig a chance in Casino Royale. I will admit I never saw it.

So tonight we hit On the Border with Biray and others (even Donna came to dinner!), and then we headed to the movie. I immediately realized they were referencing some things from Casino Royale, but I had a pretty good idea.

I was struck in the film by the filters and cinematography. They had things set up that made the film look “old.” More like early Connery Bond than anything since. I also really loved the jump shots and shaky camera angles. I flinched several times throughout. This was also a younger, darker Bond which alot of people are complaining about. Another comparison is to the Bourne movies (Side note: An acquaintance said that complaining that QoS is too much like Jason Bourne is like bitching that Adam West wasn’t in Dark Knight!).

After the film, I was talking to Shelley and mentioned my comments, and she explained that this Bond and Casino Royale before it were harkening back to a time before Dr. No. This is suppose to be pre-Connery, which I think it awesome! It’s like what Lucas tried to do with the second trilogy and failed. QoS is setting up what will later become campy mid-1980s Roger Moore Bond. Great movie. Now I need to see Casino Royale.

Ah yes, and for Bond girls. Camille (Olga Kurylenko) was pretty good, but Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) is truly forever!

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High School Musical

November 08, 2008 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews, School

Ok ok I’ve posted about this before, and here I am again. There’s been a new wave of garbage here. Several of my students showed up recently to my 6:30AM zero hour class and they were tired. Very tired. Two of the girls then bounced into my room with these white and pink ball caps. They were giddy and hurried up to me to show me their new hats.

“Mr Adams, do you like our new hats we got last night?”

The girls looked shocked, and asked why. Immediately, I went into a whole class diatribe since obviously half the class had been out the night before catching the midnight showing of High School Musical 3. They were all so excited about this film, and I just couldn’t believe this. I asked them what they think about girls like Vanessa Hudgens (who stars in these movies as an innocent high school girl) who has naked pictures of herself posted on the Internet. Their response was pretty much “So what?”.

So what? I can’t believe our teens today are so desensitized to the objectification of women that this is ok with them. Would these kids want their own naked photos posted? Would they even consider posing? Probably not. When I put it this way, there’s pose. But seriously. These are Disney movies! The Mouse House is suppose to put out these innocent, family products (and I know they don’t!), and then we have people like Hudgens (and Jamie Lynn Spears).

These students just shrugged and several have seen it 2, 3, and 4 times since! I just don’t get it. If you do, come on, please comment below. Explain this to me.

This is the world in which my three year old daughter will grow up, and it’s freaking me out.

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