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Stellar writing, character development and acting
It was so refreshing to find out about the web series, "Blue." I first became aware of Julia Stiles' work years ago at the Seattle Film Fest in 1998's "Wicked," a somewhat campy film. Nonetheless, Stiles' acting is part of what saves it from being a camp throwaway film. After that, I had the opportunity to see her in many other movies and have always admired her work as an actor.
"Blue" is the type of series that makes viewers care about the characters, where they have been and where they are headed. The struggles of a single mom are a fact of life in today's society, so many people can relate to them. Stiles' characterization is complex enough to find watching her in her day to day life interesting and provocative.
Julia Stiles has an amazing chemistry with Uriah Shelton, who plays her teen son. This is an essential aspect of the series, as her role as mother is one of the main driving forces for the tough decisions that she makes. While those choices involve illicit and illegal activities, she does not become a cliché - which would be very easy to do in this type of situation. Instead, she adds a frankness that is both troubling but at the same time, sympathetic.
Robert De Niro's Love Letter to His Artist Father
Robert De Niro Jr. hosts a documentary about his artist father, who died in 1993. It is essentially a love letter detailing his father's life and work. During the 1940s-50s, Robert De Niro Sr. was somewhat famous on his own, as a new American painter. Clearly, De Niro Sr.'s work was influenced by artists such as Van Gogh, but without attempting to imitating them. However, his figurative abstract expressionism became overshadowed by even newer abstract art such as by the celebrated Jackson Pollack and later, Andy Warhol.
Nonetheless, De Niro Sr. continued to paint for the rest of his life. The documentary features certain journal entries during those years, providing insight into his artistic and personal struggles. His son, De Niro Jr. discusses these struggles, as several of his father's personal friends describe their take on his life and work.
Given that the actor, Robert De Niro has always been known as rather reclusive, rarely giving interviews or providing insight into his life - this documentary serves as a peak into his upbringing and relationship with one of his most cherished family members - his father. Also revealed is that De Niro Sr. separated from his wife, artist Virginia Admiral when De Niro Jr. was quite young. However, father and son remained close through the years. De Niro Sr. was also homosexual, but because of the times, never came out.
Another issue that is clear in this documentary is what is true for every artist - regardless of the branch: talent is never enough. In fact, what usually separates those who flourish on a notable level and those who do not is success at promotion.
De Niro Jr. maintained his father's studio and continued to promote his father's work to not only preserve his memory for the art world, but for his family. De Niro's aim in doing this documentary was to give his father his due - something he feels he could have done more about in prior years. Because of this documentary, perhaps the newer generation may become more aware of De Niro's father so that when the name Robert De Niro is heard, they may wonder if it refers to father or son.
Enough Said (2013)
Brilliant writing, directing, acting
I am a big fan of director Nicole Holofcener's work, as well as actors James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Collette - but I put off seeing this film as it came out right on the heels of James Gandolfini's death. I did not know him, but know people who did - so it felt "too soon" to see it. I knew I would see it one day - and that day finally came last night. "Enough Said" is one of those films I knew I would like; after seeing so many movies - you kind of know when something is going to be worth watching. In this case, the body of work of the director and players really speaks for itself, so I was confident that I would enjoy this film. What I didn't know, however, was just how much.
While billed as a "romantic comedy," this film is far more than that. It is an exploration into middle aged life; the maturity that goes along with having "been there, done that," but it also contains a great deal of wry humor that only can come from that experience. Thus, the film richly details the lives of two people who clearly have their own personal priorities - though the film doesn't concentrate much on them. Instead, the story focuses upon how these two interact with both those around them, as well as themselves.
This film is also written sans the obnoxious, in your face humor that seems so prevalent in today's American film comedies - which is one of the reasons it is so charming and smart. However, Ms. Holofcener demonstrates how acutely aware of the (often lack of ) manners and morals of the self-involved middle class of the West Coast. For instance, the attention paid to the various vanities and hypocritical antics of the characters exemplifies how their privileged existence defines their apathetic complacency, as well as passive aggression. And yet, it is easy to still care about all of them, because they are not so ridiculously written as to be entirely mean spirited.
The brilliant Julie Louis-Dreyfus approaches the Eva character as a real woman, who is a caring mother on a journey of self-discovery and a new life that is to begin as her daughter goes off to college - something that she has in common with James Gandolfini's Albert - also a parent on the brink of empty next syndrome. Eva faces various emotional challenges throughout the film, many of which are pure comic genius, without being over the top.
Unlike most other movies I see, I did not want this movie to end. I wanted to see how these characters continued on with their lives - ever hopeful that love would develop and prevail.
Part of the irony of this film is that it is James Gandolfini's last and that one gets the feeling that this role - unlike the many others he has played to perfection - is more like him than any other. In this film, he was able to show the softest side of himself that few would have otherwise ever seen. Acquaintances I have who know him has described him as very caring and playful, delving into intensity when necessary to "get to where he needed to go" (as he himself said on "Inside the Actors Studio"). Of course, this all speaks to his innate, natural acting ability - a remarkable gift that was never lost on him - though his friends and family, as well as the public will surely feel the loss.
Fascinating Look Into Foreign Asian-American Relationships
Having seen a number of documentaries concerning American men who seek to find women in other countries, I had expected a much different documentary than this one. This story concerns only one middle aged man who had been pursuing Asian women for around 5 years.
I first wondered why Steven didn't consider Asian-Americans, but as I watched, it became more than apparent why he stuck to looking outside of the U.S. As a man of meager means, American women - regardless of their heritage usually have standards that exceed those of what he had to offer, particularly given the fact that he was 60 years old. For instance, while Steven managed to keep an apartment in San Francisco, it was cramped, crowded and very cluttered. He also had a working class job that probably paid little more than minimum wage - as a toll booth cashier - with little to no hope for advancement.
Before the Internet, Steven began his search for the perfect Asian mate using snail mail services. Having met a few women, he was still on the hunt in the digital age. However, he had since decided to focus solely upon Chinese women. The reason for this did not seem to have been made clear.
He'd met a few promising subjects - however, "Sandy" had now become the focus of Steven's affections. He'd made a few trips to China to visit with her and they seemed to have hit it off (but we don't get so see those visits). Not only was there a pronounced language barrier (in fact, so much so that director Debbie Lum functioned as their interpreter), but they were also facing a 30 year age difference.
Since the filmmaker herself is Chinese - this added another interesting element to the documentary in a number of ways. In addition to being the couple's interpreter, director Lum found herself in the midst of relationship discord as she interpreted communication when the couple hit stumbling blocks. In fact, they had both come to rely upon her, calling at off times when the documentary was not being filmed. Lum was generally uncomfortable with this; however, she took it all in stride and gently told them that she would not be able to continue to function in that way once the documentary was finished.
For instance, Sandy finds some photos of Molly - Steven's last serious Chinese "girlfriend" and becomes enraged enough that she considers going back to China. And yet, she decides to tough it out -- vowing to leave him after she gets educated and has a job. Unbeknownst to Steven, she brings this up on several occasions - each time she becomes frustrated with him.
Despite the many troubling aspects of this relationship - there does appear to be a mutuality in terms of their feelings for one another. At the end of the film, it is revealed whether or not the couple actually makes it, which makes the story well worth watching.
Mad Men (2007)
This TV series may just well be one of the best and most thoughtfully written, acted and produced of all time. The magnificent attention to detail of the era contributes greatly to its affect. Character arcs of Don Draper and Peggy Olson are masterfully portrayed by Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. The rest of the cast beautifully blends into each story line such that it almost feels like watching a docudrama at times.
Early on, the way that Peggy handles her pregnancy by the married cad, Pete Campbell (played brilliantly by Vincent Kartheiser) seems well beyond that time period, and yet, as driven as she is - she will stop at nothing to succeed in her career - so it all makes sense. And yet, the delicacy of her personality is a sharp contrast to the decisions that she makes. Her mentor, Don, becomes her nemesis and later works for her -- an endlessly intriguing plot twist to watch.
It's hard not to feel empathy for the icy Betty Draper -- after all, how is a woman supposed to act with a blatantly philandering husband? It's not like she has no romantic interest in him; in fact, quite the contrary. It is heartbreaking to watch her pine away for her own husband. And yet, during those times, infidelity was not only rampant, it seemed to be accepted - along with all of the other indignities that women suffered during that era.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair not to mention how office manager Joan's strengths become increasingly accentuated. Not only does she have a respected place in the firm - to the point of being included as more than just a stenographer during executive meetings. However, watching her be sent up like a sacrificial lamb to screw a prospective client is not only distasteful, but in many ways makes no sense. However, as stated before, this was how women were ultimately treated then -- like objects who were created for the pleasure and service of men. So, in a way, her stature at the firm is just another way to exploit her talents, as opposed to actually respecting what she brings to the table.
While I am sorry to see the end of this magnificent TV series - it's very interesting to see how the story line plays out as the 1960s unfold - and businesses such as these progress into the future -- discarding the old guard -- or, do they really?
In any event, as Don Draper's demise continues, it is great to see how perhaps the female characters in this series not only struggle to receive their equal due, but may go down in the historical cultural record book as American role models, despite whether or not it was intended. But then, with a brilliant writer, creator and producer such as Matt Weiner (whose credits include The Sopranos) - it's all probably "on purpose."
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
Much like "It's Complicated," this film utilizes the stellar acting chops of actors with a great deal of both comedic and dramatic experience. That is probably one of the factors that makes it so great.
The pairing of Keaton and Nicholson is brilliant. Their chemistry is undeniable - and their ability to make their uncomfortable situation palatable speaks to their acting chops.
While the story may seem unfathomable, life can be stranger than fiction so it isn't hard to suspend disbelief on this one. Especially keeping in mind that this is a romantic comedy, after all. This film is not meant to be taken too seriously. But it IS seriously hilarious!
It's Complicated (2009)
It was so refreshing to see a comedy that was geared toward the forgotten audience -- that is, people past their 30s. This film is so great that any age audience could enjoy it. Granted, they may not get all the jokes, because some of the irony is something you get over time - but it has enough to keep just about anyone's interest.
It is important to keep in mind that this film is meant to be lighthearted and funny. Thus, it should be enjoyed that way, rather than trying to make it something it was never meant to be. Nor should it be compared against other dramatic work of the actors.
The pairing of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin is brilliant. All of these actors possess a pedigree such that their names speak for themselves. Therefore, watching them in this movie is a pure joy.
Alec Baldwin's teen-aged antics are positively hilarious. Just about everyone can find themselves in a situation where the are reunited with an ex for some reason - so even this story is fathomable, making it all the more funny. More, please! Hollywood -- are you listening? We don't need more stupid movies with Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston -- we need movies that celebrate all ages of life. People over 40, after all, are not dead yet!
Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams (2013)
Must-See for Stevie Nicks Fans!
Having been a fan of Stevie's for over 40 years, I was thrilled to find that this documentary provides an intimate view into her creative process, which few artists ever offer in such an open and honest way. Also, having a bird's eye view into her first time writing a song with a collaborator in the same room was very interesting and could prove helpful and instructive for those interested in writing songs with other people.
Watching her write songs and interact with band members and musicians was a real treat. It was more than evident that her passion and skill as a singer-songwriter has only become stronger over time.
Delivers More Than Expected
I'll admit that I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to the teen horror flick genre, which I assumed this was. I was wrong. It became available for me to watch - so I thought "Why not?" I've grown to like Jennifer Lawrence's work - so I figured I just may like it.
What I thought would be predictable actually had enough substance to keep me interested, which is rare in this type of film. But then, I already admitted that this was not, in reality the type of film I thought it would be. That is, a film directed mostly at teens. I'm sure they were going for the teen audience and got it, but as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised by the writing and acting.
The story line starts with a mother and daughter, retreating to the woods in a gorgeous home with low rent, due to a tragedy that took place at the house next door. Mother and daughter have their own crosses to bear and relationship to heal after somewhat of an estrangement, which provides the tension necessary for rebellion (not that a teen ever needed that to rebel).
While mother thought the house was empty, she is soon alarmed to learn that the sole survivor of the tragedy, a brooding young man, now lives alone in the creepy house. A little factoid that apparently she was not told by her slimy realtor (who has an equally slimy son). Buyers and renters beware: It just goes to show you, "if it is too good to be true, it probably is."
And, you guessed it, her daughter becomes enamored with him the next door brooder. It would at first seem, simply because her mother doesn't want her to. It makes sense though, because recovering wounded birds such as her daughter often seek to help others as part of their own therapy.
As usual, Lawrence has a naturally disarming screen presence that serves to add credibility to an otherwise, what may seem to be a questionable situation. But life is stranger than fiction, so I never felt entirely comfortable dismissing story lines the same way that so many others do. For those people, I say go watch some documentaries; movies for entertainment, by their very nature - were meant to be less than plausible.
The creepy boy next door does have shades of Norman Bates, but that similarity is limited. But instead of his mother, his fixation turns out to be on his long-dead sister. Or is she really dead? Truth is, I found this film entertaining and was not bored for one minute. I don't know what that says about me, but I don't mind admitting that I really enjoyed watching this film and found the final twist very well written, presented and quite satisfying. And it wasn't painful to watch the entire movie to get to the truth.
Insightful view of a tortured artist
It is no easy task to do a film about a writer, given that what occurs inside a writer's head is so intimate and often misunderstood. Everything is open to interpretation and each reader can tend to translate an author's words differently.
Gwyneth Paltrow's portrayal of the author is compelling; she deftly neither over or under plays Plath. Daniel Craig as Ted Hughes displays a chemistry with Paltrow that is very believable. As a result of their renderings, the story has much more power and significance than it would if the actors were more obvious and dramatic in their portrayals.
For all of its gloom and doom, "Sylvia" provides an introspective look into the life and world of a woman struggling to find her own identity both as an individual and as a woman. Long before the cultural feminist awakening, Plath wrote astounding poetry that detailed the victimization, rebellion and resultant rage of so many women. As such, she essentially paved the way and gave "permission" for women to write in the most honest, raw and soulful way possible. It is important to know this before seeing the movie; otherwise, much of its true meaning may go lost.
The story begins with Plath as an American studying at Cambridge. Her writing appears to be less than well received. However, this is to be expected during this particularly male dominated time. She meets the dashing poet, Ted Hughes, at a party she is attending after becoming aware that those responsible for her latest less than favorable review will be there. Ted insists that it was the editor who ripped her piece apart into shreds but it is clear that Sylvia knows differently.
Still, Plath recognized the brilliance of his work and winds up kissing him by the end of the evening, whereupon she bit his cheek, which drew blood. Thus began their passionate love affair. They move in 1956 to her Massachusetts hometown, where they marry and she sets about teaching at Smith. Four years later, upon struggling to write there, Ted insists that they go back to England. In a lonely country cottage, Sylvia develops the same writer's block problem, favoring baking over writing. Ted notices this, encouraging her to "find a subject" and write. Could be her life was too idyllic to find a subject; Ted would provide plenty of material in the future.
They have two children. Plath struggles to separate herself from wife and motherhood in order to express something relevant. Sylvia confirms her suspicions that Ted is having an affair, whereupon they separate but not before she burns some of his belongings. One could say that this behavior is outrageous however, so is having an affair while married.
However, as a student of psychoanalysis, Plath comes to the realization that she, in fact, had a hand in Ted's adultery; insisting that she "conjured" it essentially willing it into existence. It is an interesting point that is rarely explored in this type of film. That Plath would take the entire blame for her husband's adultery suggests that at the base of suffering from depression and mental illness is a low level of self esteem and self worth, coupled with the inability to differentiate fantasy from reality.
This could be why the heartbroken, 29 year old Sylvia embarked upon her extraordinary journey of self-expression, also perhaps prompting her to arrange for a brief coupling with her estranged husband. However, this last ditch attempt at reconciliation is dashed when Ted informs her that the woman he has been having an affair with is pregnant. While he could have decided to reunite with his wife, it is clear that he had no intention to do so. For the already emotionally fragile Plath, this had to be a major devastation.
During her marital estrangement, Plath wrote some of her most compelling masterpieces. Unable to reconcile her life, Ted's betrayal and the end of her marriage, Plath gassed herself at 31 years old in the kitchen after setting out food and taping her children's door to protect them. After her death, her final collection, Ariel was published, as were the books Crossing the Water and Winter Trees in 1971. As is the case with many artists, her work became ever more notable, garnering the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for a book of her Collected Poems.