Saturday, August 31, 2013

Amour (Love) - 9 stars out of 10

Amour (Love) - 9 stars out of 10
950th review


"Amour" taps into an emotional area that is not often explored for fear of failure.  But this film, in all of its darkness, tells a story of loving devotion unlike any other.  This French film highlighted awards ceremonies in 2013, most notably winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, several C├ęsar Awards, and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film with a nomination for Emmanuelle Riva as Best Actress.  There is no denying the impact of this film through its raw, realistic acting.  The film takes place as a long string of vignettes tied together by the rapid deterioration of Anne's health.  Sometimes the vignette lasts a minute longer than we think that it should, driving home the exhausting monotony of Georges' life as he must keep his promise and be his wife's caregiver.  It is only a matter of minutes before Anne's health begins to fail but it is just enough time for us to fall in love with this elderly couple and for our emotions to be engaged when things start to go wrong.  By the time that they begin explaining to the husband how to change her diapers, it becomes incredibly upsetting and yet somehow magical.  There is not much to the script of this film.  There are no flashy sets or special effects; instead, it is the pure talent of Riva that drives the entire film.  She is Robert DeNiro in "Awakenings" and Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man," transforming herself into an invalid with sounds and mannerisms that force us to believe that she is actually suffering throughout this entire production.  Jean-Louis Trintignant has not been celebrated nearly enough as he transforms just as much as Riva does, only in a subtle emotional way.  By the time the film reaches its climax, your jaw will drop and the only thing left to do is cry, as this husband devotes his life to his wife's final wishes.  "Amour" is more than a movie.  It moves slow at points, but so does life.  And that's precisely what this film is.  Life.

Friday, August 30, 2013

American Beauty - 8 stars out of 10

American Beauty - 8 stars out of 10

"American Beauty" is one of a kind.  Is it drama?  Comedy?  Creepy?  Sentimental?  All that I know is that it is good.  This dark portrayal of the average American family explores the midlife crisis of a man who fights to take control of his life.  The thing that makes "American Beauty" so special is the extremity of its characters.  There is no such thing as subtle as Sam Mendes coaxes strong emotions and reactions from his actors.  Kevin Spacey earned his Oscar as Lester Burnham, tapping into an apathy that explodes into catastrophe.  He is an incredibly underrated actor and I'm glad that this (along with his Oscar for "The Usual Suspects") can serve as a remind that he is a master at manipulating the screen.  Annette Bening steps out of her typical roles to become this amazing control freak and Wes Bentley is someone that we can all root for (a little weird but a nice guy).  Mena Suvari is the perfect choice for Lester's obsession, glamorous enough to catch our eyes but typical enough to make the character realistic in the end.  The Oscar-winning script creates several iconic moments, like the beauty of the plastic bag blowing around in the wind (ever wonder where the opening lyrics to Katy Perry's "Firework" come from?) and of course the bathtub filled with roses.  Some of the content is uncomfortable to watch at points, but this content is what resonates to make the film so memorable.  This film goes beyond normal and enters the realm of things that people don't like to talk about out loud.  The story also creates a perfect mysterious setup to keep us wondering who will eventually kill Lester (that is not a spoiler, we know from the onset of the film that Lester will die).  It took me weeks to write this review and I still can't put this film into words - you just have to see it, but not until you are mature enough to handle and understand the strong content.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bullied (2010) - 2 stars out of 10

Bullied (2010) - 2 stars out of 10

School bullying is an important topic that needs to be addressed but it seems as if "Bullied" has a secondary agenda that shines through a bit too strong.  This documentary is the story of Jamie Nabozny, a homosexual high school student who was bullied and abused by several of his peers.  Using flashbacks, it recreates his suffering throughout middle and high school and tells the story of his suicide attempt, psychological breakdown, and running away from home.  While effectively strikes a nerve with anybody who has ever been bullied or witnessed this cruelty, it just comes off as an attack on the public education system.  First of all, it sends the wrong message to kids by mistaking Jamie's perseverance for success.  We should not be teaching our children that running away from home and suing your school district is a measure of success; rather, this film should stress that Jamie persevered and anybody can.  The antagonists of the film are not the bullies.  Instead, the fault is placed on a few school teachers who handled the situation incorrectly (if we can trust the witnesses that testified and the information shared by the film editors).  These "bad guys" are turned into a representation of the public school system.  This subject matter strikes close to home since I am an educator, but I was offended at the inference that this story is representative of all public schools.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Aristocats - 9 stars out of 10

The Aristocats - 9 stars out of 10

"The Aristocats" is a hidden gem amidst the Disney Canon.  I never expected to love this film as much as I did but I anticipate going back to it many times over the years.  It has that classic Disney look with the 1970's animation that defines a great era in Disney's history.  The high quality of this film is a direct reflection of the four years that it took to produce and the classic look is the workmanship of five of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" (the famed group of animators who drew all of the early Disney films).  It is the style that we see in "Robin Hood" and "Jungle Book," focused on creating  realistic character movements instead of being flashy.  It is fun to see Paris brought to life, but not nearly as fun as it is to see the cats moving exactly like, well, cats!  The characters are not iconic like Simba or Sebastian but they are incredibly lovable.  The innocence of Duchess combines with the smooth operation of Thomas O'Malley for great chemistry while the kittens are just so adorable that you can't help smiling.  Even Edgar, the villain, is lovable in a bumbling sort of way!  One might say that the lack of a sinister villain like Jafar or Ursula is a shortfall of the film, but I think that it allows the film to focus on the love story while Edgar creates conflict but does not dominate the storyline.  Regardless, the greatest part of "The Aristocats" is its line-up of voice actors.  Many of the greatest voices in Disney animation appear in this film, perhaps as a tribute to Walt since this was the first Disney film made after his death.  When you get together Phil Harris (Baloo) as Thomas, Sterling Holloway (Pooh) as Roquefort, Eva Gabor (Miss Bianca in The Rescuers) as Duchess, Pat Buttram (Chief in Fox and the Hound) as Napoleon, George Lindsey (Trigger in Robin Hood) as Lafayette, Monica Evans (Maid Marian) as Abigail, Carole Shelley (Lady Cluck from Robin Hood) as Amelia), Bill Thompson (Mr. Smee/White Rabbit) as Uncle Waldo, and cameos by Thurl Ravenscroft (too many roles to list) as Russian Cat and Paul Winchell (Tigger) as Chinese Cat, you will be jumping out of your seat as you hear all of these beloved Disney voices reunited.  And these are all mixed in with other incredible actors of the time.  This film is a joy to listen to.  The music is not the most memorable but it all perfectly fits the film, highlighted by Scatman Crothers in "Everybody Want to Be a Cat"!  I expected a cheesy, kid-focused cartoon but instead, I found a sophisticated work of art.  While we each have our favorite Disney film from our childhood, "The Aristocats" is unfamiliar enough that it will catch you by surprise and make you fall in love with Disney all over again.