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Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Oft told tale made soulful, young
I saw an advanced screening of this film in Boston and was very pleased, it is intelligent in its handle of the material and its fluency in cinematic crafting. Goodbye to dusty, "precious" interpretations of Jane Austen. This cheeky, poetic, even dark new film makes the story youthful with down-to-earth vibrancy and worship of emotion. Here are young people making the mistakes and dreaming the dreams of the young (when it was written it wasn't antiquity, it was life). Lizzie is not a smirking omniscient but a quick witted independent; hotheaded and fiercely loyal to her sister. She is wary of an unfair world and uses her wits to survive. Darcy is not an impenetrable stoic but a shy sensitive soul with high unwieldy social pretensions fending off the outside world. And they are both lonely and have big yearning hearts, so the filmmakers made one great decision -- they let them fall in love the first moment they lock eyes. In a shot we see hearts behind fortified personalities and an instant chemistry that takes a movie's worth of battling with each other and themselves to right itself. It's an earthy move that sets the tone for a film about the people and world behind the antiquated manners, a world not so different from ours.
Now set in 1797, when Austen wrote the first draft of the book, the filmmakers committed to main plot points and themes, and astutely represent the Romantic Age and Austen's characters. The love between Jane and Lizzie is supreme and fuels a desire in Lizzie to tear at Darcy when he separates Jane from Mr. Bingley. She's hurt, she reciprocates the pain, and it is bitter. Pride and prejudices are drawn clearly: Lizzie searches hard to find fault with Darcy, and Darcy cannot bring himself to let down his guard. Both have their reasons justified, but they foil their own chances at love constantly until they see how wrong they are and are too heartsick to keep going. Class conflict is suddenly personally injurious and vicious. When Charlotte Lucas marries for security, it's a grave matter and she must bitingly sober up a disdainful Lizzie on the realities of their world. The Bennets are too eccentric and improper for their own good. Lady Catherine (Dame Judi Dench, who is downright fearsome) is not just a cold figure for Lizzie to spar with, but someone capable of deeply hurting others. The filmmakers are savvy in their understanding of history. Setting it back 20 years is a remarkable move, because we accept more diversions and variation with the 18th century than the 19th and it presents Austen as a Romantic, which automatically requires the story to be interpreted from a different, very legitimate, perspective. The ideals of the Romantic Age are ingeniously, subtly played here: human equality, gritty realism married with beauty for the sake of beauty, but a beauty which is never elitist or decadent, always grounded, simple, and universal: nature, the human being, emotion.
The ensemble and mis-en-scene are electric. The camera spryly edges in and out of rooms and conversations instead of sitting arthritically in a corner. The dance scenes are less about ballet, now rollicking and spirited as characters send signals, flirt, deflect and analyze one another. In true Romantic form (worthy of filling Wordsworth with pride) the aesthetic unabashedly revels in beauty, but always the simple joys of our world: sunrises, dewy landscapes in wide shots, colors everywhere. It has a lovely score, period inspired and without any pomp and circumstance. Simple blocking is caffeinated and given substance, something is always going on in the background. Lively, layered interactions between characters make rich scenes, neither wasting space nor time. Consider a scene with Mr. Collins, played by the magnificent Tom Hollander (a standout here, so delightfully weird. When he jaggedly squirms his way up to someone you want to shriek). He wants to speak to Lizzie, alone, and a bolt of fear strikes through her as she pleads in vain not to be abandoned. The sisters are merciless, Mrs. Bennet delighted, Mr. Bennet at a loss, and Collins prepares. It's all silent and it's hysterical.
Suggesting variation to revered characters is a frightful task, but here it's a revelation. The entire cast is brilliant, but the two leads are transcendent in their roles. Keira Knightley is charismatic, random, wonderfully young, intuitive to the bone -- she inhabits Lizzie. Matt MacFadyen is deep, remarkably subtle, but mostly he is soulful. I've long held him as a sympathetic actor, but he shines in this. The two instill an unexpected exuberance of feeling in their performances. Neither ever acknowledge the camera exists and make the most of every second they have on screen to project their characters. When you throw them together you get a love story full of emotional subtext, double meaning, and gloriously heavy moments.
Because so much dialogue was cut, simple lines have impact and much of the exposition is visual. Epic little moments linger and rain, revealing souls. The thoughts and intentions behind the actors' eyes and words are visible at all times. This movie understands the power of a shot or glance. Lizzie comes to understand Darcy in how he embraces his sister or smiles (a momentous occasion, indeed). When she talks about love it's stirring because it's finally spilled into the open after we've seen it near the edge many times with half said sentiments and stifled tears. Usually "I love you" comes with extra explanatory prose, but here sincerity kills cliché: parties are fun, a misty field is breathtaking, the dawning of love a revelation, the heartbreak is throbbing.
It's a brilliant film. There is something breathless and luminous about it, from its youth and the break from propriety, to the beauty and spontaneity of life and romance, pain and joy, which provide the color.
The Great Raid (2005)
Very well done and educated snapshot of a country at war
This was a great film, and a nice escape to reality from all the superhero, fantastical, and over-hyped movie star fare we've gotten this summer.
The biggest accolade I can offer this flick is that it sticks to history in ways rarely seen in Hollywood films, and even then it's not dry or boring, not inaccessible to those not particularly versed in history. It shows beautifully how exciting and thrilling real history can be. The liberties it takes aren't too offensive (I can't say much without spoiling the story, but although the "romance" in this film didn't exist, it's not particularly gratuitous or hard to believe, and there were many wartime romances between people who met in the occupied Philippines), but on a whole they valiantly stuck to the stories. It doesn't revel in clichés or surrender to the cheap thrill of pyrotechnics, which so many war films do. Since it looks to true events for inspiration, there's a happy lack of predictibility and "been there, done that". Not to say that there are any talk-of-the-summer plot twists, but it keeps you on your toes because you're dealing with life, and is often surprising. The film brings you down to the level of its characters, and it doesn't treat you like an outsider.
As a Filipino American and history buff, I was thrilled and proud to see so many Filipino actors in the film (particularly the wonderful -- and gorgeous -- Cesar Montano) and to finally see this little known but mammoth part of WWII recalled on such a public scale. The film takes place over 5 days in January, as the Rangers prepare to take the camp. Its three interconnected story lines -- the prisoners in Cabanatuan, the Rangers, and the underground movement in Manila (including a nurse played by Nielsen who smuggles in Quinine to prisoners) -- give a fairly accurate and well rounded portrait of the landscape of war in the Philippines, although by the end of the film you do feel as if you've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
The acting is lovely. There aren't any "Oscar" scenes or the like, just solid ensemble acting, and the leads, Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Cesar Montano, and Connie Nielsen, are excellent for what they're given. The writing doesn't try to over-dramatise or "soapify" anything, it stays level headed and just plays. It felt a lot like a less ridiculous "Gettysburg" or a much tamer "Black Hawk Down" or a much MUCH shorter "The Longest Day". Surprisingly, for a war film, there are relatively few "what I'm here for" speeches, which is refreshing. The ones it does have aren't particularly irksome or obnoxious. It's not particularly violent (except for the unnerving opening scene -- a recreation of the Palawan massacre -- and one scene in the camp, I'd have given it a PG-13 rating), but it IS disturbing. And although they hardly began to show the full extent of the atrocities committed, the point is made clear, heartrendingly I might add. Two scenes, involving Filipino underground workers and another at the camp, had me in tears.
Honestly, this is NOT for people looking for a testosterone fueled action flick. The action is strictly historical (except for a hand to hand fight at the end which I doubt happened). At times it feels like a documentary, and other times it's like watching a memoir. Neither is this film the "rah rah" flag waving fest the advertising makes it out to be (thank goodness). In fact it pays great homage to the work of the Philippine people, underground resistance (a portion of the film which seemed a bit out of place in the film but which had me enamored and on edge), and guerilla fighters, all of which touched me deeply. As a Hollywood studio film goes, it's an academic, nearly blow by blow accounting of the events surrounding the raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp, but because of the nature of the story and not because of empty manipulation, it is intense, inspiring, and exciting. Don't expect the next "Paths of Glory" or "Bridge on the River Kwai" or that calibre of film-making, but I hope that this does well because in its own way it's different from so much of the mindnumbing junk that is out there, it attempts to portray a war story smartly, chose to tell a story that doesn't spell out big money, and without being overbearingly in-your-face patriotic, it pays homage to and shares the experiences of the American and Filipino men and women who endured the hell that was World War II in the Philippines.
Back to Bataan (1945)
Gutsy but intimate and intelligent film-making
War movies can be a tricky recipe to pull off because they've been done so often and fall into clichés sooo easily. This film was saved by bravura and sincerity. It's a good film. What at first may seem like a generic Duke vehicle quickly exposes itself as a small ensemble drama on an epic stage.
Part of the appeal of this film is to watch it with history in mind. It tackles a lesser known part of WWII history, the war and guerilla movements in the Philippines. This film is totally unselfconscious in how it deals with the war, in one scene it features real Bataan POWs marching in a parade and introduces them documentary style with a narrator, and it hired Filipino extras and actors for important roles. This is what really touched and surprised me, how it elevated and glorified Filipino nationalism, culture, and history (Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifácio are frequently quoted and reverently referred to throughout the film); and, in an age where African American actors still were unfairly stereotyped and Asian actors almost nowhere to be found in Hollywood films, this treated Pinoy characters as equals and as heroes. This openmindedness on the part of the filmmakers was refreshing, but very reflective of the US fighting men's appreciation of the contributions of the Filipino people.
The film is passionate about the people it portrays. It's common for wartime films to be full of propaganda and overly zealous, but this film is more touching and intimate in its approach. Patriotic speeches actually have meaning and tears behind them, swelling music doesn't feel manipulative, no doubt because it was filmed with so many soldiers and civilians involved and in 1945, these people had just gone through all this and everything is done with a real and raw memory. It feels like it's built on real stories and people, and the actors seem to know they're not dealing with run of the mill cutout characters. There's a sincerity inherent in all of their performances because of the immediateness of the subject matter. John Wayne is less gruff than usual (and even downright dashing). Anthony Quinn's confused young man: brooding heartbrokenly when he's away from his informant fiancée, tender when he's around her, not sure how to fulfill what many feel is his destiny, and his own personal journey is lovely. Beulah Bondi (as a teacher evacuee who helps the men out) teary eyed when she thinks of her students; the motley crew mix of American GIs and Pinoy volunteers who surrounds the two officers, casual and down to earth. It's a tight cast in a friendly fight to upstage the others, and you'd better believe they milk every scene for what it's worth.
The film moves along quickly and realistically. Instead of complicated plot movements and intricate bloated twists, the story seems like it was taken from any number of jungle war experiences which makes it fascinating and unpredictable, like real history. Director Edward Dmytryk, later blacklisted, paid no heed to Production Code regulations for violence, and filmed scenes that were fairly explicit (for the time) in their portrayal of cruelty and violence inflicted on soldiers and civilians in an attempt to realistically dramatize some of the atrocities that occurred during the war which lends the film an air of impending danger and gravitas.
From before the era of ambiguous and complex war stories (which is how I usually prefer my war flicks to be served), this one of the best "classic" war films I've ever seen. (If you like this, check out "An American Guerilla in the Philippines" which was shot on location by the great Fritz Lang in 1949/50 and very similar in many regards.)
"Crash" is a complex movie with a simple premise: set in Los Angeles it follows 8 main characters (and many, many more supporting) from all walks of life and races whose lives intersect at some point during one 24 hour period. These people are all different yet all alienated, to the point of breaking, so much so that when they come together, things explode.
The complexity of the film comes from the encounters between characters and their tangled lives and worlds. Haggis' screenplay is so intricate and delicately written I couldn't begin to try to summarize the actual plot line (which destines this article to be kind of vague), but everyone meets everyone else at some point in the film (and there are a whole lot of characters). Sufficed to say these meetings are variably intense, casual, fleeting, dangerous, but they all effect the participants in profound and provocative ways, causing lives to find enlightenment or swerve violently, and watching it all unfold is mesmerizing because Paul Haggis (Oscar Nominated writer of Million Dollar Baby) made the film meaty with messy characters and topics and stories to chew and hurtle along with.
The all-encompassing theme of the film is racism, and it is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every single character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycle but also suffers because of it. Where racism makes for an interesting enough subject for an already provoking and fairly experimental film (I was surprised to see this get wide release), it's only the catalyst for a deeper, resounding story of redemption and the universality of our lonely situation which the movie becomes during its second hour (what you could call Act II). It switches from a somewhat depressing contemplative amalgamation of moments about racism in everyday life and how destructive it is, to a throbbing, intense web of choices and consequences -- life and death, vivifying or soul killing -- and the chance at redemption.
Following their actions in Act I, everyone meets a fork in the road or is given a second chance of some sort. Some take it, some don't, but regardless, by the end of the movie everyone has changed. This is what gives the movie wings during its second hour, makes it interesting, keeps you guessing and on knife's-edge. It also gives the characters depth and souls and shows that despite perceived and upheld differences, when it comes down to it we aren't different (which we see in a shattering scene between Ryan Philippe and Larenz Tate after Tate notices that he and Philippe have the same St. Christopher statue), in fact we desperately need each other. It's one of the few films I've seen where everyone is at fault somehow and yet there are no villains. It makes it hopeful, particularly with something as ugly as racism: everyone's fallible, but everyone has the capacity for good and nobility. That said, each of these character's inner struggles makes for all the conflict and resolution you need.
A talented ensemble drives the film, sharing almost equal amounts of screen time, but the folks who really stood out and had my full attention each time were Terrence Howard (plays a TV director), Matt Dillon (as a patrol cop), Sandra Bullock (a rich housewife), , Don Cheadle (a detective), and Michael Peña (a locksmith). These five gave deeply, deeply felt performances portraying a wide range of emotions and personal situations, giving souls -- alone, yearning, and searching in a world that doesn't seem to care -- to shells of imperfect people. But the actors triumph in little moments of human contact: a glance, an embrace, a pause, a smile, a wince, things that breath the film to life and with simple visuals give it profundity. This is beautifully illustrated in a small scene between the downward spiraling Jean (Sandra Bullock) and her maid after she's begun to realize all her problems may not be about the two black guys who car jacked her, but her own life.
Some closing notes: it's obvious it's a debut. At times the dialogue and acting can be stilted and unnatural; some of the initial "racial" situations seem forced; certain scenes could have used some editing or fine tuning, but by the end I didn't care. It also may be helpful to know that the first hour spends its time setting everything up for Act II, although it will seem more like a photo essay on racism than a setup. But by the time Act I ends you're ready for something substantial to happen, and at the perfect moment, stuff happens. I was entirely satisfied with this movie, I couldn't have asked for anything more. Still it's impressive, with his debut Haggis made a film that magically maintains a storytelling balancing act about people's lives that almost seamlessly flows, takes an honest look at racism with an understanding of mankind, a belief in redemption, and even hope. As I walked out of the theater into the rainy night it resonated with me and colored my thoughts as I made my way through the crowds of unknown fellow people filling the cinema. That's about all I can ask for in a film.
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Chaos of a life turned on its head
I've often thought that if Vivien Leigh hadn't had such a rocky and depressing life (manic depression, lost love in Lawrence Olivier, miscarriages, tuberculosis) she would have found a place among Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and the like. She only made 19 films during her 30 year career, although that includes making legend as Scarlett O'Hara, and helping usher in a new era of acting by providing a pitch perfect classical foil as Blanche DuBois to Brando's smoldering and revolutionary Stanley Kowalski. But her favorite performance was that of Myra Lester in the tragic film Waterloo Bridge. Watching it it's no surprise: the film is subtly directed with a powerful story and well built characters that are an actor's dream to inhabit.
The story revolves around Myra, a ballerina turned prostitute during WWI when she believes her fiancée has died and she is plunged into poverty. The film was perfect fodder for melodrama, but rather it's a taut and realistic and uncompromising film. Direction is not overbearing and lets the film play out delicately except for several bold shots here and there which deeply accent it. Although the melodramas of the 40s are wonderful creatures, this film gained a lot by taking a rare path and going realistic.
Misfortune rules the day and is invited in after a series of near misses and miscalculations, and yet the plot doesn't feel technical or forced. Thanks to the script and performances, it all feels like the ebb and flow of the lives of these characters, pride and honesty and a slightly naive fiancée are the cause of Myra's downfall. And Leigh gives a performance on par with anything she's ever done, if not as epic as Gone With the Wind or wild as Blanche.
Leigh had a special way of handling the screen, of inhabiting her character with a certain distracted quality that made you feel as if she didn't realize there was a camera in the room or that she wasn't in fact the character she was playing. There are few actresses who could make it look as easy as she did, it seems like breathing. She was fierce and fearless, versatile; she could lose all her dignity on screen or be the living embodiment of it, and she possessed the rare quality of immediately communcating any emotion that was as tangible as anything with her face. That said, this is probably her most realistic character and her most tragic, and Leigh makes it profound and gut wrenching by being sophisticated and dignifed, and then at the right moments she takes the fall and gets ugly.
There's a brazen brilliant tracking shot where Myra, the former innocent ballerina, walks through Waterloo station in full slinky getup looking for johns, wearing a stone cold face that would intimidate O'Hara herself. It's seductive and we know she hates herself. Still, Leigh doesn't play an ounce of self pity or tragedy, she's determined to survive and get a client. In that way its very much a modern acting performance. It could be sexy, nowadays they'd try to make it sexy, but in the delicately built context of the story it's both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. And when she meets up with her not-dead-at-all love, played with sweet nobility by Robert Taylor, she tries to wipe off her lipstick when he goes to make a phone call, and the shame spills out from the screen.
The writing is very graceful (partly out of necessity to appease the almighty Production Code), at times remarkably candid and light (particularly with the earlier love scenes), and not very sentimental or stylized at all (not to say those are bad things, it's just that this film isn't). A lot of the dialogue sounds like conversation. It's romantic, but it doesn't resort to cliché or the easy way out: its tragedy is harsh and entirely unnecessary, the way it usually is in life. And Leigh's performance single handedly keeps you from forgetting Myra's story once the credits roll and you return to life in 2005. Not many actresses have that power. I only wish I could have seen what she would have done with less sorrow in her own life.
Things just keep getting better...
...Should be the theme for the show. Well, it is. But it's true. The show warms the heart while updating the clothes, and is one of the most entertaining things on television.
Makeover shows are a popular necessity to TV these days. We love em. From house and garden makeovers, to "The Swan" (I love CSI, but that one, I must admit, grosses me out), "What Not to Wear", even Oprah or, my other favorite, "Second Chance". Queer Eye For the Straight Guy offers an ingenious combo, gay men making over often very slobby straight men. Make it hip, cool, fun. Presto, mega hit. But the show goes further than other makeover shows because it really offers something to the viewer. It tells you HOW to look better the way Bob Vila shows you how to build a house, as opposed to whisking someone backstage and back out a different person. And above all, it gives you a real sense that you can change your life by throwing out the old and bringing in the new, having a positive outlook. Life detox, and all with a real human connection.
The show, which has 5 gay mavens driving all over uber cool parts of New York City and each being oracles of stylistic expertise, turning the often dowdy everyman into a Adonis of personal style. The makeovers are extensive and delightfully enjoyable to watch. We see a big transformation, blueprints and details, all laced through the roof with spontaneity and hilarity from 5 very, very, very funny and warmhearted men, aka the Fab Five - Carson Kressley for clothes, Kyan Douglas for grooming, Ted Allen for food, Thom Filicia for house and home, and Jai Rodriguez for culture. They're all experts and they all milk amazing end results. Every new guy has a new recipe that had thought and attention put into it, unlike some shows which just do the same thing to everyone, and we're brought through the whole process. Each of the gurus walk the participant through the makeover, usually with fairly easy instructions and give them tasks they have to do themselves. The majority of the time it looks like a bona fide style miracle took place. Darned fun stuff.
But I think the magic of QEftSG is that 90% of the time, the main thing the straight guys get out of the experience is a life makeover with the belief that anything can happen in their future. The outward change manifests an inner spring cleaning. Over and over these guys, by the end of the show, have a renewed self esteem and vitality for life instead of wallowing in the doldrums of everyday existence...which is something a lot of us can relate to and hope we can take initiative from. The Fab Five are sort of like a group of superheroes, running around to help those in need of couture and general rejuvenation.
Other than our collective addiction to "the makeover", the fact that this show does makeovers much the better than the rest with flourish and warmth and style up the wazoo, and the often hilarious nature of the show -- the joy and emotion often beaming off the participants faces and the genuine compassion and dedication the Fab Five shows to each of the straight guys is, I think, what keeps people coming back every week.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
An emotional, visceral, cinematic masterpiece
I think this is the most powerful film I've ever seen, and it makes me respect film, the cinematic medium, more than I ever have before. I think it's a film of
immense emotional magnitude and I would undeniably consider it to be a
masterpiece. This is an intensely personal film that strikes you in the heart, and flanks you with images of brutality and beauty, evil and good, cruelty and
complete, absolute, love. It's a cinematic masterpiece.
First of all, I loved the sound of the Aramaic language. I loved the Latin spoken with hints of Italian accents and without the academic dryness that has haunted it for so long. Who knew dead languages were so poetic? These languages
added a great deal to the whole experience of the film. We experience this film, instead of watching it. We break through and take part in it, similar to how we can take part in theater.
Maia Morgenstern broke my heart over and over again in this film, the mother
and child connection was so strong, loving, and beautiful, and yet so sad and heartrending. Mary's strength in the face of overpowering sorrow in this film was incredible, her warmth and love emanate from the screen. I fervently hope she receives Oscar attention, because she is amazing and an inspired choice for
this role. And James Caviezel did something incredible, he portrayed Jesus as a man of joy (not goofiness), solemnity, strength, and dignity (not austerity, detachment, or stoicism) but most of all, an all encompassing love, even in the face of immense suffering. And yet despite being God, this Jesus is not a
superman; Jim made The Christ very human, and as a human, very vulnerable,
which makes His, human, strength all the more incredible. Caviezel was perfect, and I hope he is well rewarded next year.
Morgenstern and Caviezel's chemistry is a genius stroke of filmmaking. Jesus
needs His mother desperately, and she must find the strength to support Him
even though it is her greatest suffering to watch, and yet she is strong. It is beautiful, and it touched me deeply. It is a most human and universal of feelings, the parent-child bond, and here we see it put to it's greatest test. Through the connection we see on film, we are given a vehicle of understanding, of empathy, and it makes Mary and Jesus identifiable and familiar on a whole new level.
I think the pace was very swift, it was over before I knew it, and although it was very violent, I do not think it was tedious or gratuitous. I found the mechanism of violence to be a necessary part in the story being told, and yet I felt it all, which is kind of new for me. I've watched a lot of violence and gore, and I guess am desensitized to it. But I found this to be more painful than standard "action" violence. I think it was the closest to feeling pain without feeling it. I find "Gladiator", "Saving Private Ryan", "Kill Bill", and "Black Hawk Down" much
more violent, in a certain way: with the detached limbs, broken bones, guts, and brains etc. Everything here is a prolonged beating with blood, but nothing is decapitated except for a guy's ear, and we hardly even see that. In fact it's the implication of pain (the sound effects, yikes) which makes this so effective. Most of us don't know what it's like to get a foot blown off, but it's easier to imagine getting whipped by something, or getting gravel in a bleeding gash, or hitting a bruise really hard. Pain is the key here, and I think through the violence we are shown the evil of violence, which gets lost in a lot of films, because here we are made to empathize in a very visceral way, in addition to emotional: we have to see what He went through for us, and do we see it. I don't think I'll ever forget. And I think there was more pain Gibson could have added that would still have been authentic.
I did not feel, as many critics said, that it was an "angry" film. I think it was the complete opposite. It is brutal and intense, but I found the message of Love in this film to be incredibly powerful and the crux of the whole thing: that through all this, Jesus never had hatred in His eyes. It doesn't need to be explained, mere glimpses in this speak more than pages of dialogue; that has always been a
device I've loved - the power of the human face. I felt that the numerous acts of kindness and love from strangers, be they looks or gestures or even more, in
this film drove it further and lifted the audience from the savagery, which they are meant to do.
And I didn't find it anti-semitic at all, in fact if you pay attention there are quiet a few details and elements of scenes in the film to point out the fact that the Jews as a people were not liable for Christ's death. I would explain, but space does not permit. But as I pointed out above, this film doesn't try explain many things to you, because it expects it's audience to pay attention. So pay attention,
everything you need to know is there: you don't need to know the names of the people who are kind, but just to see that they are kind. There are films, that aren't "2Kool 2", that expect you to pay attention anyway, and details, subtle as they are, are suitable, wonderful, devices for a complex, meaningful narrative. I shudder to think of the day that everything needs to be exposed and explained 15 times apiece.
It's beautiful and profound. I think it's a work of true art. It is a brave, brave piece of filmmaking on many levels, and it will stand the test of time.
Washington's new 'do.
America should be like this, with a French manicure, a big ol honest heart, and matching heels. Fry the critics and purists, wherever they may shout, Elle is back and as good as ever.
Legally Blonde 2 has an admittedly ridiculous premise: Elle's getting married, wants her beloved pup Bruiser's mama to show at the wedding, and when she finds the matriarchal canine as a test animal for a cosmetics company, she's outraged, at first because they won't let the dog out in time for her wedding, but she soon sees the crime in it. She then goes to DC to turn it all around (a fine revelation she has while picking out a wedding dress). And she doesn't turn Washington around with shrewd arguments and hard edged research, she takes it by storm, Bel Air style. But the film doesn't take itself seriously at all, in fact the realism of the film is about as present as it is in "Moulin Rouge", and it doesn't pretend to be realistic either, as several scenes attest. In fact the setup is simply a vehicle for the larger underlying theme: this Washington, if anything, is an alternate reality, and the movie plays out as something of a symbolic satire.
In this simple yet complicated Washington D.C., getting a congressman to side with you is as easy as finding a similar personality trait (in this case dogs and Delta Nu) or to put on a good performance in any number of strange places (use style!), but politicians still double cross, compromise their own visions and conscience for appeasment and success, and they still seem to have the good of everything but the people in mind. Elle, on the other hand, represents all that isn't snobby and cynical. She's the Valley girl with a big heart, great clothes, a Harvard law degree, and a quirky sense of getting things done. The political action may be comically simplistic and idealistic, with a good number of average comedy-sequel jokes, but it's satire at it's heart. I was surprised by this. I was expecting the typical sequel fare, but this had a lot to say about politics and government, and cynicism and selfishness vs idealism, masked in big budget comedy. Where the original was an ode to blonde fun and anti-snobbery, this takes the risk of being critical and satirical. In many ways it's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (which actually makes a cameo appearance in the film) with a goofy streak and a bite.
The film is fun, it squires broad and situational comedy, and a good deal of charm and glamour, plus a load of cleverness. The film had clever touches left and right, and I think I'll attribute that to the inspired choice of getting the talented indie director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein), who gave the film a one-two punch, a wink, giggle, and a grin to go along with it.
The writing is funny, but it isn't as sharply witty as the first film, and it can be predictable, but it flows quite well, and the charisma of the piece gives it a shimmer and shine. Reese Witherspoon is quite cute. Though this isn't finely tuned acting (she's capable, it's just the way it was written), it's a great comedic performance, and it is a performance, because she milks it for all she's got. Interestingly, she also makes Elle inspiring. I know it's not cool to say a blockbuster chick flick comedy sequel's character is inspiring, but Elle is so sure of herself, so proud of being pretty and stylish, so non-judgemental of people and wanting to help others, and unabashedly careless about the low opinions people have of her, she's a character who's nice to be around for 2 hours and made me want to rummage through my InStyle magazine collection. But next to Reese the real star of the film is the costume design. These are great costumes that help to tell the story, and contrast characters; it's films with wardrobes like this that raise my ever increasing respect and admiration for costume designers.
Luke Wilson overacts in this one, I like him, but he's a bit too "aw-shucks", though his lack of screentime and chracter developement isn't his fault, so still it's nice to see him. Sally Field is wonderfully conniving; Bob Newhart is wonderfully endearing, and Elle's trio of friends thankfully get some more screentime than the first film. Actress Mary Lynn Rajskub gives a great performance as the downtrodden preppy-lawyer wanna be, who gets an attitude and style makeover.
I'm a chick flick fan, partly because I'm a chick. I'm also a displaced San Diegan which makes me partial to California laced films. But as a film buff, and I try to be as honest about movies as possible, I'll say that this film is a satire and it is funny, but don't look for Dr. Strangelove or Some Like it Hot. It is cute, and refreshing. It's a big sequel with a heart and was thoughtful enough to be thoughtful. It knows it's entertainment, but it doesn't pull any cheap manipulative tricks, and I think it has some legitimate things to say about the nature of politics, idealism, common courtesy, and how style is a very, very good thing.
In a way it's funny, you'd never think Elle Woods would represent a higher themed film, but then know one ever really expects much of her.
One Man's Hero (1999)
Fine, interesting film
I was surprised by this movie. Not only is it incredibly interesting, but it has fine production values, good acting, and is alternately stirring and touching, yet ultimately tragic.
Apparently the film received little or no press and release because of it's subject matter: The San Patricios or St. Patrick's Brigade for the Mexican Army who
deserted the American Army because they were being discriminated against
during the Mexican American War. It's a captivating story which I'm surprised I'd never heard before, though I don't understand why some people took so poorly
to it, it's just history.
All in all the filmmakers and cast did a fine job presenting this story very nicely.
Little Women (1994)
I hear it's really hard to turn a book into a movie, and even as a viewer, I notice this. You can keep the book and lose a movie, or you make a movie and lose a book. But this balances and keeps the essence of the book and creates a miraculous movie that works on every single level.
It's depth, it's warmth, it's beauty (from aesthetics to costumes to storyline), it all works. I saw this movie before I read the book, and my mom, a big fan of the book loved it, so did my dad who had never read it.
Unlike a lot of period classics that are turned into films, this one has no rigidity or boring spots, and it doesn't feel like the dime a dozen period films out there that re-use the same costumes and replay the same stories. It flows and invites you into the world of these girls, making the 1860s and the March family intensely real.
Fabulous acting by an ensemble cast completes this film. Winona Ryder was inspired casting, and in my opinion makes the best screen Jo ever. She's feisty, strong, tomboyish, but has a warmth and grace about her that I feel Katharine Hepburn and June Allyson (the most famous Jo's) didn't have and suits the character wonderfully. the best thing about these characters is that they endear themselves to you, something many movies lack. Great ensemble as well: Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Claire Danes (at 14, believe it or not), Eric Stoltz, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Susan Wickes, Gabriel Byrne all of them are incredible, and fit perfectly.
And if you can get through Beth's death scene without crying, you're pretty tough. It's a scene that doesn't pull sentimental melodrama, but plays honestly and goes to that heartbreaking sadness of losing someone. And the geranium petals and dolls and Thomas Newman's brilliant score finish off the scene, and I think makes it one of the greatest scenes in any film of the last 10 years (and they didn't even include it in the 75th Oscars montage, tsk tsk). The ending is incredibly lovely, and as James Lipton of the Actors Studio says, only needs those "three words" to coney everything that needs to be said.
This is a beautiful film. It's inviting, but not overly sweet, and though nothing too exciting happens, still very fulfilling and entertaining; it can be very bittersweet, but it is a joyful film, and says a lot about people and our emotions and our lives and yet is not confrontational in the least. It pulled out themes and messages which are often looked over out of one of the world's most famous books and made a lasting work of art that touches your heart.