Never Let Me Go:: Just See It

I know I said that’d I’d write about the Big Bear Film Festival Documentaries, but I just have to say a little something about this new movie I saw called Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go was recommended to me by a friend and fellow movie buff.  She told me to avoid reading anything about it and just go see it.  So I did.  Wow.  If you can keep from hearing anything about the plot before you see it, do, it makes a powerful story so much more powerful.  I intentionally didn’t post the preview that is on IMdb because I feel it gives too much away.  I know that “avoid hearing anything about this movie” seems to include reading this review, but I will be ever so careful to avoid all the important land mines.

What I can tell you is that it stars Carey Mulligan, (An Education and I am completely in love with her ever since her episode of Doctor Who a couple of years back called Blink), Kiera Knightly (Pride and Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Andrew Garfield (the upcoming Spiderman 3, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).  I can also say that it’s based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Japanese man raised in England.  Ishiguro also wrote The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go is nothing like it in story, only in gentleness.

The casting of the younger versions of the above mentioned stars was impressive, even certain mannerisms and rhythms of speech were subtly present.  I know this is a minor detail but it always takes me out of a movie when I am meant to believe that people who look nothing alike are related and that younger versions of people on screen are really that person.  And I hate being taken out of the story.  I want to believe and I think it’s lazy when the filmmakers don’t go to enough effort to help me out.  Having said that, what are the odds of finding a younger actor that seems like the older actor and can act?  Seems mighty high to me, so maybe I’m being unreasonable.  Having said that Never Let Me Go‘s filmmakers did manage and that I find commendable.

The story is a little slow moving, but that lends itself well to the material.  There is an aspect of the film that is rarely seen in movies these days, more often in novels, that makes you constantly wonder about a lot of things and that seems to keep the audience engaged in the story despite its pacing.  I can’t reveal what it is, but I do hope that I’ve been clear enough here that when you see it, you’ll know what I am referring to.

One last thing I can say is that the concept of this film will stay with you.  I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read the book.  I am curious about any major differences because the story is seamless.  I also think that Carey Mulligan needs to get her dress for the Oscars because I do think she’ll be going yet again.


The Big Bearl Lake International Film Festival

I just got back from my first film festival and it was a blast.  I was more than just an audience member, I was a screener (meaning I watched submissions to help decide if they belonged in the festival), I worked on the data base with the programming coordinator and I worked the festival as a Q & A moderator.  I think the most rewarding part of all of this was being able to meet the film makers of the films I liked and tell them how much I loved their movie.  I promise you, I only did this when it was true and I didn’t get to do it for all of the ones I liked either. 

Independent film is such an interesting gray area.  The big wigs in Hollywood always want to be the ones who discover the next Diablo Cody, or whoever, but often don’t take risks on good independants without named stars.  Which is odd, because the very definition of an idependant film usually means that it was made without big named stars.  There seems to be an every diminishing middle ground between big budget Hollywood pictures and undistributed independent films. 

The motto of the organization Film Independent is “Story Matters”, because it does.  That is what independent films without people you recognize are all about, the story.  This is one of the reasons going to a film festival can be so fun, you get to see wonderful films that you otherwise may never have the chance to see.  The short movies can be the most fun at a festival because there really are very few places to see them otherwise.  Film Festival movies are not of a lower quality than what you might see in a regular theater, as you might fear.  Many of the films you see in the theater started out at a film festival.  If you like to be entertained by good stories, both long and short, a film festival is something you should attend because they need audiences just as much as they need film makers. 

I would like to mention some of my favorites if I may.

Limbo Lounge directed and written by Tom Pankratz
Stuck in Limbo after a fatal acciendent, a charming conman attempts to earn his horns, by corrupting an innocent soul on Earth.

An original idea well executed, what more could a movie ask for?  Distribution.  This is a fun and poinient story with the tag line: “How Low Will You Go?”  Such a fun double meaning.  All of the elements came together in this movie, nothing felt forced.  This was Pankratz first feature film, although you would never guess that watching it.  If you can catch a screening of Limbo Lounge anywhere, do and if you know any distributors, this film deserves a shot.  Only drawback? The Limbo Rock song will be stuck in your head for days.

Solitary written by Greg Derochie and Charles Scalfani, directed by Greg Derochie
An agoraphobic woman is trapped inside her house and thinks that her husband and psychiatrist are trying to drive her insane.

Billed as a thriller/mystery that has you hooked from the beginning trying to figure out what is really going on.  Nothing is what it seems, an illusion that is sometimes hard to create without losing your audience, but is done elegantly by Derochie and company.  Well paced and just the right length, another movie that needs to be seen.

Cast Me If You Can written by Atshushi Ogata and Akane Shiratori, directed by Atsushi Ogata
trailer: (in Japanese without subtitles, but you can get the idea of the tone and look of the film)
Hiroshi, an actor who always plays supporting roles and lives in the shadow of his famous playwright father, struggles daily to climb out of his marginalized existence.  One day Hiroshi’s luck changes.  He meets his muse Aya, falls in love and learns to play the lead in his own life.

Although my trailer above doesn’t have subtitltes, the movie does.  This is a fun, lighthearted story that keeps you smiling.  In the Q&A after the film festival viewing, Atshushi Ogata, the director, told us of a little casting joke that those of us not familiar with Japanese cinema wouldn’t have gotten without his explaining.  The actor playing the lead Hiroshi, the eternal supporting actor, really is famous as a supporting actor in Japan.  His supporting cast in this movie are mostly actors known for playing leads in Japan.  Ogata’s playful spirit comes through on the screen and it is a really fun movie.

Earthwork written and directed by Chris Ordal
Earthwork is the true story of real life crop artist Stan Herd who plants his unique, rural art in New York City with the help of a group of homeless characters on a plot of land owned by Donald Trump.

This was one of the first features that I screened and I was really blown away by how visually uplifting it was from the opening credits to the end.  It stars John Hawkes, one of the most genuine indepentent movie actors around.  Though this film does have some recognizable actors in it, (Hawkes and James McDaniel of NYPD Blue) it is still an independent film.  Earthwork is a good uplifting story and a very well made film.

Next blog entry: documentaries.

Going the Distance::Sweet, Real and Kinda Dirty.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised at how crude some of the conversations were in Going the Distance.  I sat in a theater on a Wednesday afternoon with one other person in that gigantic room with me and she and I were laughing our butts off at some of the dialogue.  It had a sense of reality in those conversations that is often lacking in other movies and I think that is why it was so funny.  I think that men who get dragged to this movie will still have something to enjoy.

Justin Long is too adorable for words and at one point Drew Barrymore actually looked like her five-year-old self in E.T.  Drew did none of her cutesy acting – she even told a guy in a bar to suck her dick!  There was a scene where Drew is asking Justin different questions about his life and it felt improved because his answers were so witty and her laugh was so genuine.  Both characters had an obsession with the video game Centipede, my favorite video game of all time, so the movie won me over pretty early on.  I liked that she was really into the video game because  to me  THAT is realism.  I hate romantic comedies when the woman is so girly and uptight that she has no grit or resemblence to any women I know. 

I don’t know if Drew and Justin are still dating or not (she refuses to talk about it and I think that is a good idea) but if they are, I’d like to congratulate them on maintaining chemistry on screen too.  So many real life couples try to work together and the movie is a dud because of the lack of sexual tension on screen.  They had plenty of chemistry and these two are characters that you are genuinely rooting for by the end of the movie.  The script (First timer Geoff LaTulippe) and direction (Nanette Burstein, On The Ropes) were both right on the money, it was well paced and witty.  My only complaint was the phone sex scene.  Their forced difficulty reminded me of one of those infomercials trying to get you to by the special pasta strainer pot with lid because pooring the water out of the pot is just so hard.  They could have floated the idea that phone sex still isn’t real sex, but it’s honeslty not that complicated. 

They didn’t skirt the issues of the long distance thing, as it’s often called.  There is always an added pressure to the relationship of which one of us is going to give up our life that we build in our city to come and resent you in yours?  It’s practically a no win situation.  The bottom line is that if you move to your mate to make the relationship work, it will most certainly die.   Unless you have no life where you are and that was not true of either character.  The rumor on IMdb is that Geoff LaTulippe is a friend of the producer David Neustadter and based his script on a long distance relationship David had with a girlfriend.  If that is true, it explains why it seemed so realistic, except for the fake tan scene.  Nothing about that seemed realistic to me.  Few people in San Francisco have a tan or care about a tan and Justin Long is not that pale.

All of the supporting roles were just perfect; Christina Appelgate as Drew’s uptight sister was very believable, Jim Gaffigan as Christina Appelgate’s husband was good, although I love me some Gaffigan and would have liked to see him more.  I also love Jason Sudeikis and he and his mustache did not disappoint.  Several comedians and comedic actors made cameos: Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords), Mike Birbiglia (if you don’t know his standup, YouTube him, you won’t be disappointed), Rob Riggle (The Daily Show), and Ron Livingston (Office Space).  I think you have to like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or at least have seen it, to enjoy Charlie Day – he is very crude and an acquired taste.  Oh yeah and he’s really funny,  I think it’s his scratchy voice that does it.

The music was good, although it really had to be because Justin Long’s character worked at a record label.  They featured a real band called The Boxer Rebellion who I really liked.  I recommend checking them out.  Their album “Union” was recently voted Best Alternative Album of 2009 by the editors of iTunes and  awarded Best Men In Black by SPIN (according to Wikipeida).

Another movie that will not change your life, but is a very enjoyable 2 hours.

You Have The Right To Remain Entertained

Crime dramas are some of the highest rated and most popular shows.  Some of the most enduring shows of all time are about crime and the catching of criminals.  Murder She Wrote re-launched Angela Lansbury’s career.  Hill Street Blues made Stephen Bochco a household name (until he did Cop Rock).  LA Law put actors like Jimmy Smits, Corbin Bernsen and Harry Hamlin on the map.  Law and Order, one of the most bare bones looks at the legal system in action, is the longest running show ever.  Not just the longest running crime show, it’s the longest running show of any kind.  After 23 seasons Law and Order decided to lay down its gavel and gun much to the chagrin of the fans who would have gladly sat through another 23 seasons.  It was a respectable show with stories “ripped from the headlines” making each episode riveting and adding a “you can’t make this stuff up” kind of reality.  It had the unique distinction of being both a cop show and a courtroom drama filled with cameos from our favorite actors over the years. 

So why is our culture so obsessed with crime?  More importantly what about crime do we as a society seem to find so interesting and ultimately entertaining?  There doesn’t even seem to be a solid trend as to which side of the law we like our entertainment to be on.  We are both interested in criminals and the institutions that catch them.  Audiences love seeing characters in television shows getting away with things (House, The Sopranos, Lie to Me, Burn Notice, White Collar, Heroes, Lost, Weeds, Rescue Me, Supernatural, Breaking Bad) and also love likable characters serving justice to the wrong doers (Law and Order, The Wire, NCIS, CSI: all of them, NYPD Blue, Boston Legal, Psych, White Collar, The X-Files-sort of, Ghost Whisperer, Medium).  This isn’t even a recent trend.  Westerns, which were all the rage when tv dramas first started, are all about the law and justice. 

The one of the answers is really simple.  Crime stories lend themselves to story writing perfectly.  They involve a mystery to be solved (a problem) and an organization that focuses on nothing else (a solution).  It has a perfect arc built in.  All that is needed is some characterization and a clever crime.  A lot of these shows have a sub-plot that involves the characters’ personal lives that give an arc to the entire season.

The other answer is that it is satisfying to identify with both criminal and law enforcement.  It seems a common motivation to get away with whatever you can even if only on a small level (speeding, lying, and goofing off at work) by a large portion of our country’s residents.  We also love the satisfaction we feel knowing the “bad guy” is behind bars.  That’s why Lifetime movies are so popular; they are full of vindication for the victims.  Either side of this coin gives us something to cheer for.  And although real life is full of unsolved crimes (we even have shows dedicated to them – reality shows) you will rarely see this in your weekly drama.  Fiction needs to have an ending even if it is trying to emulate life as realistically as it can.  We want realism, just not that much.

When in Rome:: Could Have Been Great

When I saw Twilight: New Moon with my neice, we saw a preview for When in Rome.  We both thought it looked really funny.  She saw it before I did and I asked her what she thought.  “It was okay, not as good as I expected,” was her reply.  I still decided to give it a chance as a rental.  At first I thought, “what’s she talking about, this is really funny.”  And then I started to see what she was talking about. 

The premise is really a good one: what would happen if you took wishing coins OUT of the famous “Foutain of Love” in Rome, instead of tossing them in?  It starts out good, Kristen Bell is adorable and believable as a type A, workaholic with incredibly bad luck.  She seems to be the new it comedy girl and I loved her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  I’m not usually a Josh Duhamel fan because I think he tends to be a little too cool for school, if you know what I mean.  However, he was a charming clutz in this and I really loved him doing slapstick.

Now I know this kind of movie isn’t meant to be realistic in any fashion, but there still needs to be a semblance of realism to make it watchable.  If we don’t have a little bit of reality sprinkled over the top of romantic comedies then they are hard to follow.  My first complaint wasn’t a movie ruiner, but was a complaint of missed opportunity.  She pulls four coins from the fountain and they all belonged to men.  Really?  Are so many men throwing coins into the Fountain of Love in Rome that all four random coins she would grab are from men?  I think it would have made for an interesting scene or two if one of them was a straight woman who was very confused by her feelings.  They still could have kept it very “G” rated. 

I thought that the over the top men she did fall in love with were pretty funny, (Will Arnett – Arrested Development, Dax Shepard – Let’s Go to Prison, Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite and Danny DiVito – who doesn’t know Danny DiVito?) for the most part, but some of their antics were a little dumb and some were so unrealistic that it takes you right out of the movie.  Will Arnett’s character paints a giant nude of her on the side of a building.  Did he get a permit for that?  Not to mention that all he would get through was about five brush strokes before the cops would arrest him.  He later claims that he isn’t really an artist, really?  All of his drawings of Ms. Bell look amazingly like her, is he really that unaware of what art is like?

Jon Heder’s magician character was so funny as were his tricks.  I do believe he was making fun of Criss Angel and was dead on.  There is even an homage to Napoleon Dynamite, but I don’t want to ruin it for anybody.  If have seen Napole0n Dynamite, you’ll know what it is.

There is also a date that Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell go on that almost is a good premise.  It’s a restaurant where you eat entirely in the dark.  I couldn’t help but wonder why this New York restaurant (that, I know, doesn’t really exist) didn’t take more precautions to keep people from touching other people and breaking things.  How did it stay in business more than a night after being so poorly planned out?  Kristen Schaal from Flight of the Conchords was very funny as their hostess with nightvision goggles, but this scene was short and it’s location seemed pointless other than to have a lot of akward moments.

Okay, so up to this point in the movie I can forgive the lack of realism, but now comes the bad writing and I can’t forgive that.  It had three climaxes.  Kristen Bell is convinced three times that she pulled Josh Duhamel’s coin out of the fountain and tries to run away from him three times (one of the times is because she misunderstands a kiss).  It’s excessive and annoying.  If her realization about taking a chance on love came a little more organically then maybe the writers wouldn’t have resorted to false endings.  I can think of several things that could have saved this movie, I just wish that the writers had also thought of them.  It really could have been a cute and funny romantic comedy, but it wasn’t.

The Big C:: Another Twisted Showtime Woman

Don’t get me wrong, I love the twisted women of Showtime: Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) of Weeds, Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) of Nurse Jackie and Tara Gregson (Toni Colette) of The United States of Tara.  Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) is in very good and very well written company.  They all have their reasons for throwing sanity to the wind, Nancy has had a hard time of it since her husband died, Jackie is a New York City ER nurse and drug addict and Tara has dissociative identity disorder and teenagers.

In The Big C, Cathy Jamison, a school teacher, has skin cancer (cancer being “the big C”).  As of the second episode (third one airs tonight), she has yet to tell anyone in her life about her diagnosis.  Instead she’s kicked her husband, (Oliver Platt), out of the house for being a big kid (and not in a good way), banned her bratty teenage son, (Gabriel Basso), from soccer camp so she can spend more time with him, tried to give her crazy, homeless brother, (John Benjamin Hickey), money and taken a fat and sassy summer school student, (Gabourey Sidibe) under her wing in an effort to get her to stop smoking and lose some weight by paying her $100 for every pound she loses.  She even tries to befriend a cranky elderly neighbor, (Phyllis Somerville), after calling her the C word for calling code enforcement on the construction of her pool.

Although I like Laura Linney, I have found something a little weird in her performance.  It’s not quite smugness, although there seems a little bit of that too.  It’s this air of effort that seems unnecessary, like she’s pretending to act.  It’s this gently superior smile that is ever so condescending.  She laughs in a slightly unnatural way sometimes and other times she is raw and real.  This weird element in her acting comes and goes and when it’s gone she’s light as air.  However when it’s there, my stomach churns and I start to feel an eye roll coming on. She is alternately bemused by having cancer and devastated by it (although precious little of the latter).  She is alternately loving toward her family and then strangely cruel.  I feel the writers are getting away with her erratic mood swings by saying, “she has cancer, all normal behavior is off the table.”  I’m not in disagreement with that, but I am in disagreement with the fact that they never showed us what she was like before so all of her rebel actions just seem like what she’s really like.  We needed to see uptight Cathy before crazy Cathy came out to play.  She seems far too at home in the let loose world that she claims to have missed out on.  Even the opening credits of her swimming fully clothed while her husband and son watch her with shrugged shoulder looks on their faces are designed to make you think she’s “gone off the deep end”.

I will keep watching though, I like the premise.  I just hope that these snags are just products of the show trying to find it’s feet, although the other shows in the twisted women brigade had no such trouble and were aces from the start.

The Switch:: Very Sweet and Funny

At the Arclight Pasadena an usher introduces the movie.  At all Arclight theaters they do this, but I saw The Swith at the Arclight in Pasadena because I live in Pasadena.  Our usher told us that she’d seen The Swith and liked it much more than she thought she would.  I thought, “Really?  Because the ads look pretty straight forward.”  I was right.  Fortunately, I expected to like it and I did, very much (but not more than I expected to).  It was charming and funny and realistic despite a fairly unrealistic premis: guy and girl best friends for six years, she wants a baby and hires a donor, guy gets really drunk at the incemination party and accientally dumps sperm of said donor and has to improvise.  It was well written and Jason Bateman walked that thin line of bieng a loveable pesimistic weirdo.  He wasn’t really that weird, but a lot of characters in the moive seemed to think he was.  Which I find odd because Jeff Goldblum was in it.  A lot of the time Mr. Goldblum is wonderfully crazy and other times he’s just plain crazy.  There were a couple of times I felt he was just doing a Jeff Goldblum impression, it was so over the top.  But still I only rolled my eyes once.  Jason Bateman’s character was cynical, pesimistic, uptight, repressed and a hypocondriac.  I think he only smiled like three times in the whole movie.  I loved him.  I related to him more than her in the movie, but I kinda think you are meant to.  A lot of quirky characters don’t actually act quirky, the other characters in the movie just keep calling them that.  But Bateman was complicated and you get why he’s not been snatched up by a woman yet.

Jennifer Anniston was adorable and has aquired this lovely saddness and maturity.  She is no bubble head, she has depth and I really like her for it.  A suprising realization I had was in a scene with Jennifer and Juliet Lewis.  Know what it was?  Juliet was once engaged to Brad Pitt.  In fact he was her date to the Oscars the year she was nominated for Cape Fear and wore those hideous corn rows.  I wondered what it was like on set.  Did they ever talk about it?  I can’t imagine why they would, but still I found myself wondering.

I can’t stand overly cute kids in films but this little guy just breaks your heart with that serious tone that he talks with and those HUGE brown eyes.  He’s also really tiny, adding to the comedy of his seriousness.  At one point Jason Bateman very solemnly tells him what hypochondria is and the child looks shocked and upset, “(gasp) I have that.”  As cliche as that line could have been the child delivers it unlike an excitable child, but like an adult realizing that there is a name for how he feels.

The music was predictable, but still liked it very much.  Most of the movie was predictable, even the end, but I still liked all of it very much.  I even laughed out loud a few times, despite the fact that I rarely do that at this type of movie.  This isn’t the kind of movie you go for if you want a surpise ending, it’s one you go for to see these characters, hear the funny lines, and to have your heart warmed, so to speak.  I think that’s why romantic comedies, aka chick flicks, get so little respect.  They aren’t about surprising you or at least not plotwise, which might make them seem pointless.  Maybe they surprise the heart, you feel things watching them.  My husband always gets on my case for imagining that songs are relating to me, or my current situation when we listen to music together.  I think that is how a lot of us women experience art, by imagining ourselves in the places of people in the art we are experiencing. I usually identify with the woman, but I think I was Jason Bateman in this movie.

There was a little trick I have always enjoyed where they pan across the city and we watch the sun rise and set really fast, seasons go by and suddenly it’s years later.  I’m not being sarcastic here, I really do love that.  The movie was set in New York and they filmed for the most part in the big apple, but there was one scene that had to be LA, because I recognized an extra from back in my background acting days.  A sweet older gentleman named Bob who has been on Scrubs for years, known affectionately as “Colonel Dr.” for looking like Colonel Sanders.  Had to give a shout out to one of my uncredited peeps, what up Bob?!

I do recommend this movie, but only if you don’t care about knowing the ending from the previews or enjoy incredibly funny dialogue or find Jennifer Anniston or Jason Bateman charming, because they are that in spades in this movie.

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