Friday, January 23, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Wait, haven't I already reviewed this movie? No, not this one, this one is the most excellent 1959 version directed by the incomparable Henry Levin (go see The Lonely Man) and starring an oddly attractive Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl and the always fantastic James Mason. In the spirit of full disclosure I should start off by saying that I love this movie and have since I was a kid and enjoy every movie I've ever seen with James Mason in it. Also, my daughter and I love this story and are sort of geeks about it. We've seen numerous versions and even own some rare versions of it (like a badly dubbed Dutch animated version from the 60's). In other words, it's hardly going to be an impartial review. Journey is about a scientist whose successful but whose wanderlust is never satisfied. His nephew discovers that it's not satisfied largely because his uncle is getting older and has never gone after his most true obsession, determining whether or not there is life at the center of the earth. So, they decide to head off to the center of the earth and answer the question once and for all. And so the action and adventure ensues. For any kid who loves adventure movies, this must be a classic. Dangerous rock climbing, fights, weird underground people, giant bugs and lizards, dinosaurs, underground oceans, diamonds, it has it all. It's like the 1950's version of The Goonies. Plus with a G rating, this movie plays more like live-action Disney movie than other Levin pics and, as a parent, I appreciate it. The dialogue is dated and the special effects are pretty campy, but it's all good fun and adventure. If you or your kids like movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways, you're gonna like this one. There are many film versions of this Jules Verne story, but this one is the grandaddy of them all and if you haven't seen it, you should.


Nina's Heavenly Delights

2006 Scottish comedy/drama about Nina, a Scotch-Indian woman whose come back to her hometown of Glasgow for her father's funeral, only to find out that her father's life had hit hard times after she left and that he'd lost the family restaurant to pay off a gambling debt. She also learns, just as the deeds about to be transfered, that her father had entered the restaurant into a curry contest. To salvage her father's dignity, bolster her families spirits and to potentially save the restaurant, Nina makes a deal with the buyer to make his purchase contingent upon her winning or losing this contest. She makes a good go of it, rediscovers her love of her family and of cooking and falls in love along the way. It's not a terribly original movie and it's pretty sappy at times, but it's a very positive and enjoyable movie to watch. It's fun, it's sweet, it's lighthearted and it'll certainly make you hungry. It's not a great movie, but it's one of those small, fun movies on par with something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Long story short, if you're looking for a fun, goodhearted, easy flick, this is worth your time. If you're after dramatic catharsis, try something else.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Duchess

2008 period drama about the inimitable Georgina Duchess of Devonshire. It's the story of her life but more importantly the story of her marriage and motherhood and the story of the difficult choices a strong, independent woman had to make in 18th century English aristocracy. Towards the beginning of the flick she says, "you can't be partially free, you're either free or you're not." This basically sums up the conflict for Georgina, which of the various aspects of her life that are competing with her freedom does she value more than her freedom? Does she value any of them more? Factually, the Duchess is about a aristocratic young girl that is married into a royal, but loveless marriage with an older, powerful man. She is vastly beloved by the populace and called the Empress of Fashion. She uses her celebrity to promote the arts and various social causes and is fraught with scandal when she decides to follow her heart, which leads her away from her heartless marriage, when her husband has a scandalous affair with another member of aristocracy. Does this sound familiar? Replace Empress of Fashion with Princess of our Hearts and now who does it sound like? Well the similarities to the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, had to have been on the minds of the filmmakers as Diana is an actual descendant of Georgina. The two historical tales are eerily similar. And they both make for some good drama. This movie was great and very enjoyable to watch, but there's not much I can tell you to persuade toward or away from this sort of flick. After hearing the description alone either you aren't and never will be interested or you don't need to hear another word and are already in the car on the way to the movie rental store. As well you should be, this movie is one of the better flicks from this genre I've seen. The story and the themes are pretty typical for the genre, but everything else is above average. The visuals are truly amazing from the production design to the costumes and make-up and most especially the cinematography. The shots have a texture, layout and flow that is rivaled by few. It's really worth the price of admission. The performances are great as well. All of the supporting cast characters are nuanced and interesting. Keira Knightly starts off as a little cheeky and shallow, but by the end you can't take your eyes off her. The standout for me, though, is Ralph Fiennes, who plays Georgina's vile, idiot of a husband. His performance made this character less of the caricature that it could so easily have been and more of a subtle, effective character that felt 100% natural and fully realistic. For example, after an awful moment in Georgina's life, the cause of which was largely the Duke (Feinnes character) he enters the room where she's sitting alone. It takes him a good 20 seconds to decide where and how to sit. These little details don't seem like much, but think about it. If he was just some archetype villain he'd just stroll in with a sneer like a Disney villain but instead Fiennes has him walking in all awkward, however proud, and struggling not only with what to say after the terrible thing he's done, but where to even sit. There is a moment where his character says "you'll find that everything I do is for a specific purpose," and this line truly sums up Fiennes approach to his portrayal as well. In short, I've almost nothing bad to say about this flick but if you're not into a big costumey British period dramas, this isn't going to be your cup of tea.

Worth Watching

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clip o' the Week

Flags of Our Fathers

2007 drama, directed by Clint Eastwood, about the real story behind the taking of and the men in that famous photo of marines erecting a flag on Iwo Jima island during WWII. That's what it's factually about, but it's really an examination of the complexities and realities of war, even those, like WWII, that the vast majority believes was necessary and justified. In other words, in war, nothing is simple. This is likely why Eastwood decided to follow it up with the Japanese side of the same story in Letters from Iwo Jima (which I've heard is actually even better). Now this lesson of the realities of war has been told and delivered by countless films since films were first shown and, really, there's not much new here. What makes this movie great is not the message, but how it's delivered. Eastwood crafted this tale with a richness and tone that makes for a fantastic package as a whole. The visuals are truly fantastic and the performances were great (with some truly noteworthy portrayals by Ryan Phillippe and Adam Beach), but it's the tone and over all feel of the movie I liked the most. This movie takes it's time without being slow. It has action without being just another seat shaking action flick. It addresses the families and personal relationships of the soldiers without either becoming too scattered thin or too focused on those relationships. Somehow Eastwood is able to cover all the bases he needs to without losing a clear sense of message, story or drama. It's almost like playing a song by the book and then hearing the exact same song done by a musical master. They're playing the same notes, but there's just something different about the way that they accent certain bars and space out certain notes. It's the same thing here, something about Flags "feels" right. There are better war movies out there but not many. If you want a compelling story that's also an in depth look at an actual, historical event, this is the flick for you. I look forward to Letters.

Worth Watching

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Clip o' the Week

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Glengarry Glen Ross

Alright film lovers, what if I were to tell you that out there is a movie written by David Mamet and starring Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey and Jonathan Pryce? Now, what if I were to also say that this film involves very little scenery and is mostly built on these actors exhibiting their immense dramatic gifts in little more than conversations, arguments and telephone calls? Would I have to say more to get you to see this flick? In other words, either you’re already hooked or you’re not interested and likely aren’t going to be. Well, this movie does exist and it came out over a decade ago and the fact that it’s not viewed as a classic is a profound mystery. Kevin Spacey plays the manager of a sales firm branch whose four lowly employees (think Gil from The Simpsons) aren’t selling little and griping much. So, he calls in one of the top dogs from the main New York branch to do something about it. Well this top dog (played like Gordon Gecko’s ruder brother by Alec Baldwin) is also a heartless jerk who proposes that the four have one week to make as many sales as possible, the top two get prizes, the bottom two get fired. In other words, the dogs that were starving are thrown into a pit with very little food and expected to fight it out to the death. This movie is immensely enjoyable to watch and it’s a bit like getting the chance to watch some of the best in the business do what they do at peak performance. Fantastic. It’s also a great Mamet story, one about the nastiness of this side of capitalism and one about who ugly we can all get towards each other in the name of money. It’s not light fair, but if you’re a fiend for great acting and great drama, then it simply doesn’t get better than this.