JUNO

PosterAs you can probably guess, I loved this movie. Not surprisingly though, I love the director, Jason Reitman, who I was lucky enough to see in 2006 at MIFF when he was touring with his first feature Thank You for Smoking.

As of yesterday, I’ve seen it twice.

So I’ll stop with the prelim ranting and dive straight in.

THE SET UP? Sixteen year-old student, Juno, gets pregnant after her first sexual experience with friend, (Paulie) Bleeker. After sharing the information with her family Juno decides what to do. The film witnesses Juno’s pregnancy and her decisions over her “spawn”.

THE CAST?
Ellen Page is Juno. The only other film I have seen this fine young actress in is X-Men 3 but she is magnificent as the young girl who finds herself pregnant. She plays Juno so entirely you can just tell she’s really into the character. -Although Diablo Cody did write Juno to be excessively alternative-cool.
Michael Cera is Bleeker. I happen to absolutely love Cera, but that goes right back to his days as George Michael on Arrested Development (the smartest American sitcom I have ever seen). Cera seems to play the same slightly awkward character in all his screen outings so far – however in Juno it is clear to me, as a keen Michael Cera watcher, that he has extended himself considerably for this role. He and Page are adorable as Bleeker and Juno and act together sublimely.
Bleeker
The draw-card cast is filled out with:
Jennifer Garner – who is rather great in this. She makes the most of her small role and is really funny in this one scene regarding wall paint colours.
Jason Bateman – is good too. As the protagonist on the above mentioned US sitcom I seem to have an attraction for any film Bateman is in. However (SPOILER ALERT) I didn’t like him playing the bad guy (although that’s personal preference only).
Allison Janney – one word: brilliant.
J.K. Simmons – plays Juno’s dad to perfection. The moments that could be taken as sentimental are handled brilliantly by this funny man. This is the second time Simmons has acted for Reitman.
Olivia Thirlby – never heard of her. But she’s fantastic in Juno as the supportive best friend.
I have to give a mention to Rainn Wilson, who is used so sparingly in Juno but is just too good! – But he’s just basically being Dwight behind a convenience store counter.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? Its just a great movie. Well written, although a bit Gilmore Girls at times – in that the dialogue can seem too…perfect. But at other times its blissfully fresh and seemingly improvisational. Great directing by Reitman – who has a knack for making films I like, Thank You For Smoking was, yeah, awesome. Ellen Page brings out the big-little guns as one of the greatest film heroines – Juno. She totally earns her Oscar nom!

And one of the things that made the film just sterling was that its not until right at the end do you know the ending! With some films the ending becomes shiningly obvious before the title sequence has finished, and most movies advertise the ending on the movie poster or the trailer. Not Juno. Its way too clever for that. So I must reluctantly give points to Diablo Cody, the exotic dancer turned A-List screenwriter via a blog – why can’t it be that easy for the rest of us budding film makers!

Another thing that was great about Juno is that it seemed crafted to distract the audience from passing harsh judgment on Juno and Bleeker, nor does it glamorize teenage pregnancy. Its like: ‘Well, we’re in this situation, what’s the best outcome, how can we make that happen?’
ultrasound

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? People who enjoy quirky cinema.
(Rant) The first time I saw Juno was the day after it came out. The cinema was packed with a never ending swabble of young adolescents , all revved up for this great-new-comedy after seeing the ads Fox Searchlight’s been shoving down their throats during primetime tv. Mistake. The swabble became bored with the seemingly unfunniness of the movie they paid $11.50 for and began to talk through the entire second half of the film. Grr.
So, yeah, people who actually enjoy quirky cinema. But other than that I can’t see why you can’t take your parents to this one.

ANY BITS YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT? Not really. “The sex” that caused Juno’s pregnancy is visually hinted at through creative cinematography, but not explicit. I’m not heaps prudish about sex scenes in films – especially if you’re watching them on dvd (fast forward hello!) but it was great to see a director being creative about the way they handle it. You get the message without all the awkwardness – for the audience and the actors (when shooting), especially as its regarding teenage sexuality.

I might regret it later but THIS FILM GETS 4.5 GOLD STARS

P.S. I LOVE YOU

PosterPlease forgive me for even posting a review about this movie, but I saw P.S. I Love You tonight with a friend, we were both just up for something light, fluffy and most definitely corny.
Off we skipped to my work – where, if you haven’t guessed already, I see all the new movies I wanna see for free – and sat through two hours of mush.

It wasn’t that bad, or, no it was.

THE SET UP? Oddball couple – one American woman (Holly) and one Irishman (Gerry) – are happily yet “foolhardily” married. Then Gerry dies. In the weeks following the death of her husband Holly learns that Gerry left messages for her. She explores these messages over the next year with her friends. Oh! And new love interests abound…

THE CAST?
Hilary Swank is Holly. Not for want of trying, but Swank is totally unsuited as a leading lady for romantic comedy fair. Beat me with a wooden stick if you feel like it but Swank’s physical features seem too … masculine/boyish for this type of character. But you can’t blame the girl for trying to break free from the character driven roles in alternate cinema she has been fashioned with Oscars for. Actually, let’s blame her! Hilary Swank return from whence you came, (million dollar) baby!
Gerard Butler is Gerry. Similarly to Swank, Butler falls short but gives it a red hot go. He seemed a round shape for a square hole. It was almost embarrassing watching King Leonidas sleazily strutting around half naked for his wife.
The ensemble cast is rounded out with Holly’s friends played by Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon and James Marsters. These three are good. Kudrow, in her best film role in a long time – possibly ever, is genuinely funny.
The film also offers up two possible love interests to the audience for Holly in Harry Connick Jr. (ew) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (much better).

The chemistry between Swank and Butler leaves much to be desired, much. It seems that for such a film that relies so heavily on the satisfaction of its female audience, the producers would try and cast a Holly and Gerry who are believable as an in love married couple.

The boys
WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? Most probably I would say give this one a miss. Or suggest it for your mother and her friends. The acting is well, you know. The script pretty shocking and while I would like to award it top marks for technical continuity the ending was too corny for further comment.

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? Anyone! For this one it really doesn’t matter. Girl friends, boy friends, parents. … its all good.

ANY BITS YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT? Some medium level making out, Gerard Butler dancing topless in braces and shorts. Hilary Swank’s acting and singing.

THIS FILM GETS 2 GOLD STARS

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY

poster INITIAL RANTING: After many plees from my brother I finally went and saw this film with him. A film he had already seen once before but told me it was “awesome” and “soooooo funny”.

That should have been my first clue.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story comes from the same people as Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Talledaga Nights. But unlike these films, Walk Hard – a would-be parody of Walk the Line – seems to fall exceedingly short.

This review should be short and sweet – the movie was already a waste of time.

THE SET UP? Young Dewey Cox, growing up in a provincial family in the country somewhere, accidently causes the death of his brother (he cuts him in half with a machete) and therefore goes through childhood trauma, but out of his despair he discovers a love and a gift of music. Will Dewey make it? Will Dewey go on drugs? Will Dewey leave his first wife for the far more attractive and supportive back up singer? If you’ve seen Walk the Line you’ll know the answers to these questions, and therefore the (very) rough plot of this film written by upcoming comic heavy weight Judd Apatow.

band
THE CAST?
John C. Reilly is Dewey Cox. Up until fairly recently Reilly had successfully proven his ability to act well in film, however with some of his recent outings, namely this “film” and Talladega Nights I feel somewhat reminded of Andy Millman in When the Whistle Blows, an actor who is embarrassing himself for the purposes of fame. “Are you ‘aving a laugh?”
Jenna Fischer plays Darlene Madison, the Reese Witherspoon equivalent and second wife of Dewey Cox. As much as I love Fischer as Pam in the US Office it is becoming clear she is incapable of acting in anything else with any conviction. Harsh but true.
The only delight of Walk Hard comes from the endless stream of cameos throughout the film, the most memorable scene in the film is set in India with Cox and his band talking to the Beatles, played to parodic perfection by Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Jason Schwartsman and Justin Long. Now that was a good rip-off – easily the best written part of the film as well. These guys, all uncredited, knew how to embody their characters to actually be oddly and brilliantly convincing as Lennon, MacCartney, Ringo and Harrison (resp.) – unlike Reilly and Fischer who were just pretending to be these other people, as if knowing what they were doing was pointless.
A bit harsh I know. Moving on.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? Beats me. Maybe if you want a reasonably light hearted comedy, that doesn’t involve too much thinking, this is a film for you. It can be entertaining at times, but I left the theatre wondering “Now, why did I see that?”

Rudd as Lennon WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH/ANY BITS? I’ll deal with these two questions together. If you go see it, see it with people who aren’t embarrassed by male and female nudity. On the plus side, equality, right? Swearing is minimal, could have done with more 😛

THIS FILM GETS 1.5 GOLD STARS (Paul Rudd took it from 1.0 – 1.5)

Good Vs. Evil Versus Good Vs. Bad

Good vs evil
With the kind of study I’ve been doing at uni over the last few years I have had to confront things that run contrary to my beliefs. Mostly this has stretched me and challenged me, sometimes it has felt like some kind of mental violation, but most of that I have brought on myself. It was through an elective subject I studied last year that my eyes were further opened to more dialogue on art and what is and is not acceptable.
It was a great subject, well taught, the tutorials were great and made me think about things in a way I had never done previously.

In our first class we learnt about Oscar Wilde. He had some great ideas about art – its place and its functions. I can’t remember all that was said about Wilde, but I do remember the tutor talking about Oscar Wilde’s views on good and bad art. In this instance Wilde was talking about literature, but I reckon the theory can be extrapolated to refer to all art, including film. And that was, a book is good or bad, based not on the reader’s view or opinion of it, but whether it is well written. While the reader’s opinion may well be that they did not like the book, it may have even dealt with issues that the reader felt were immoral, this does not determine the book’s value as art. The art (book) should be valued if it is good, not if it was “morally good” or suited the reader, but “Was it GOOD: well written, a well conceived narrative, developed and animated characters, did the way it was written make you have empathy with the characters?” These things make a book good or bad. NOT whether or not you liked it or thought it was evil.
I feel the same way about film, there are some films that are good but I don’t like, Little Children is a prime example. In the same way, there are films that I love but I know deep down inside they are just bad. Though I must say this is rare, I have pretty good taste in film.

How often do you hear people say “That film was really bad” and its one of those films that have been critically acclaimed and received heaps of awards?
What that person means is “I didn’t like that movie, according to my tastes, its bad”.
Its a bit nit-picky of me I know, but its the truth.

All art should first be judged, not by our preferences, but how well was it put together. In the case of film, was it well acted, were there continuity issues, did the mise-en-scene feel claustrophobic, was the story cleverly devised, the screenplay well written, the scenes masterfully shot, the set design true to the style and scope of the film.
These things should be the main things under consideration when reviewing a film. The reviewers personal tastes and views should be given far less room.

This is primarily where my problem with the movie “reviews” over at the Focus on the Family media site lie. A review is not a summary of the film, a detailed list of “inappropriate” elements and the writer’s opinion on the morality of the film. A GOOD movie should never be reduced to this – a GOOD movie is not entertainment, it is art.

Another thing we learnt in art class was that if we see any immorailty in art it is because we are bringing that to the art, from our own experiences and beliefs, it is not inherent in the work itself.

I’ll leave that final thought hanging…

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

PosterHaving high expectations for this movie, after watching the entrapping trailer, I set off to see Tom Hanks‘ newest film, Charlie Wilson’s War.

INITIAL RANTING: I should really say Mike Nichols‘ newest film shouldn’t I? But I figure people are going to see Forrest Gump’s aging face and decide whether or not to see the film based on the actors. I myself sometimes fall victim to the trappings of basing my decision to see a film based on the actors in it. Thankfully I got over my Tom Hanks’ phobia, focussing my attention on the fact that the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Mike Nichols’ newest film. However, the promise the trailer offered of war-related controversy was what drove me to the theatre last night.

I was somewhat apprehensive, though, about seeing something from Nichols’, who I admired for Regarding Henry and Primary Colors but held in uncertain regard for Angels in America. That being said, I haven’t seen all of Angels in America, or even most of it. The one bit I saw when channel surfing was enough to turn me off, although my film senses were much underdeveloped then.

THE PLOT? The film is set during the 80’s, beginning in 1980. Charles Wilson is introduced a Texan congressman of limited importance with a taste for sexy administrative assistants and liquor. However through an old flame, Joanne Herring, he hears of a troubling situation in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the erratic CIA operative Gust Avrakotos is trying to work on a strategy to push the Communist Russians out of Afghanistan. The dialogue driven film begins to roll (and fast) when Wilson doubles the CIA allowance to deal with Avrakotos’ issue from $5 million to $10 million. And so it was that from such humble beginnings Wilson was eventually awarded with the honour of Esteemed Colleague (not a spoiler, its at the start of the film).

THE CAST?
Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson in a reasonable performance, though Hanks does convince the audience through the ownership of this likable character he is acted off the screen by his male co-star.
Julia Roberts is Joanne Herring, the conservative southern baptist philanthropist who has no scruples with sleeping with whoever enables her to further the greater good. Not judgement, just an interesting key to the character’s psyche. Roberts is a notch above average in this role. While I believe the woman can act, on odd occasion, the thing I liked most about her performance was the accent. It was funny!
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gust Avrakotos, the agitated secret agent. Man, I just love watching this guy on screen! He is fantastic, and gives his much better known (and paid I would gather) co-actors a serious run around. The fact that this is a reasonably light hearted comedy doesn’t seem to faze this great actor, he embodies the character entirely.
Amy Adams, though not first billed, would be the next most central character. She plays Wilson’s chief admin assistant, and I had to give her a mention because my dad thought “she was lovely” and she did play “hot girl” in the Office.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? Besides Seymour Hoffman? Just kidding, there are other reasons. While the political and war controversy is in Hollywood doses (read: minimal) it still has some strong statements to say about the current political climate in Iraq, perhaps Nichols’, who tends to go for political material in his films, wanted to show the American public and the world what they did 20-30 years ago when war was occuring the middle east.
Also the internal journey of Hanks’ character, from a selfish and irresponsible congressman to an awakened and giving political figure is a compelling one. This journey is thanks to his would-be soul mate Joanne Herring who encourages him to go to Afghanistan and see the situation and the people for himself.

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? With this one, it doesn’t really matter, however because of some of the film’s content it may be good to go with someone you’re pretty comfortable and mature with.

ANY BITS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT? Some naked female parts at the start. Swearing is moderate, and pretty well placed in this one.

THIS FILM GETS 3.5 GOLD STARS

CITIZEN KANE

Welles at Citizen KaneFor my first review I’m going to have a look at what many believe to be the greatest film of the 20th Century. Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane(1941). The first and last film a director was given completer creative control over a project. And the director in question was only 24 years old.

INITIAL RANTING: I first heard of this movie in my first ever film tutorial at Deakin Uni. The tutor and some learned students were chatting away about this amazing something, from what I could gather, it sounded like Awesome Wells. A few hours later we were sitting hushed in our first lecture for the same class awaiting our eccentric and passionate lecturer who would introduce me to one of the most amazing film experiences of my life.

The lights in the large lecture theatre went down and silence enveloped the space as a black and white frame emerged on the screen. The strange beginning of this film adds to its genius, the unrecognizable figure subtly writhing on a bed in a castle is covered with strange angles as the character utters a single word, “Rosebud”.
Next there is the booming voice of Orson Welles, one of the most brilliant creative minds of the early twentieth century, in my meager opinion.

Two hours later we were released from the trance Welles had put us under and vacated the theatre in such a hurried manner the lecturer appeared rather distressed, no real reason for this mass exodus other than that the lecture had gone over by five minutes.

I may be putting a rather glamourous spin on Citizen Kane but countless reviewers and surveys have placed this film, Orson Welles first ever film, as one of, if not the greatest of all time.

THE PLOT? Citizen Kane is the story of the rise and fall of a (somewhat) fictional media mogul. It outlines the drama of Charles Foster Kane’s life from adoption as a young boy, through media acquirements, marriages, and scandals. However Welles decided to make the film as a retrospect. Beginning with Kane dying and uttering that single word and then the media scramble to find out the meaning behind this word for Kane. Leading one reporter to interview people who knew Kane and then dissolving to flash backs from the man’s troubled life.

Poster
THE CAST? Who else would play Kane in Orson Welles’ directoral debut but Welles himself, fresh off a stellar career in theatre radio in New York where he orchestrated the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.
The rest of the cast is made up with Welles’ theatre radio troupe, people who remained largely unknown after the film was exhibited.

THE BUZZ? This retrospective critical success was almost killed before anyone ever saw it because of its obvious references to the Rupert Murdoch of the day, William Randolph Hearst. Controversy had served the 24 year old Welles well up to this point, and had been the reason for his contract with Hollywood the overt criticism of Hearst within Citizen Kane ensured it flopped at the box office and did not receive the critical acclaim it deserved at the time. Citizen Kane also ensured that no director would ever have complete creative control over a studio production. Ever.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? If you consider yourself a serious film watcher it is compulsory viewing. It just is. The acting, the screenplay, the cinematography, the before its time editing skill and just to say you have seen one of the most profound films ever made. Reporters

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? Anyone really, preferably not people who don’t appreciate a good film though. (Please refer to my definition of a good film.)

ANY BITS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT? None at all. But its probably boring for kids.

THIS FILM GETS 4.5 GOLD STARS.

LITTLE CHILDREN

PosterIgnoring my internal pleas I hired out Little Children the other day. Why? Kate Winslet hello!? She’s suppossed to be great in it, another oscar nom for this role, and its supposed to be a brilliant film and as a film student these are the kinds of films I should be watchings – one’s of critical acclaim despite …..naughty bits. You can see my internal rumblings.
However through films like this I have learned that sometimes its better to just remain ignorant of what may be a brilliant film and phenomenal acting.

INITIAL RANTING: This is a film I would probably recommend to secular fellow film students at Deakin but perhaps not to my mates at YVV. Double standard I know but the content is rather full on and I do kind of wish I didn’t see it.

I consider myself reasonably liberal when it comes to films, indeed I pride myself on my ability to compartmentalize and deconstruct films with “high level” this or that in order to see the good in the film. And mostly I have absolutely no problem doing this as a Christian. However it was a little different with this one.

THE SET UP? Sarah Pierce and Brad Adamson are both stay at home parents, whose partners work and therefore wear the pants in the relationship. Through a series of “unfortunate” events the two begin an affair. In the same neighbourhood a registered sex offender has just been released from jail and has returned home to live with his mother. What happens when Brad’s wife gets suspicious? What happens when the would-be paedophile continually gets harrassed by neighbours at his mother’s house?

If you’ve seen the brilliantly edited trailer you’ll know, a big crash, that’s what!

Sarah and the Moms
THE CAST?
Kate Winslet is Sarah Pierce, as always Winslet is her character, however her transformation into Pierce isn’t as strong as some of her other oscar nominated performances (just give her a little gold statue already!).
Patrick Wilson is Brad Adamson, I haven’t really seen enough of Wilson’s movies to gage his acting, however in this role I thought he was quite strong and very convincing as the “house wife” who feels he is slowly being castrated by his wife.
Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy Adamson, Brad’s wife. Now, Connelly already has her little gold statue and she proves her worth in this minimal role through stares and her well delivered dialogue.
Jackie Earle Haley plays Ronnie, the sex offender. The fact that this character still creeps me out and I won’t be able to see this undervalued actor the same in anything ever again is a testament to his brilliance in what would have been a very difficult role.

WHY SHOULD YOU SEE IT? OR NOT? Well as I said, I would probably recommend this one to my film school buddies but not the folks at church. It is a fantastically acted, shot, edited and just a very well made film. Top marks there. But while I feel I was treated to some top shelf film making I kind of wish I hadn’t experienced what I did with this film. To speak frankly, the sex scenes between Winslet and Wilson’s characters isn’t all that bad, I’ve seen worse, but because it is such a well made film, what is shown through this is so much more powerful. But the main reason I wish I hadn’t seen it is because of Earle Haley’s brilliant portrayal of Ronnie and in turn how this is dealt with so famously in the structure and form of the film.

WHO SHOULD YOU SEE IT WITH? If you really wanna put yourself through it, straight shooting film fanatics who know what they’re looking at or your closest friend.

ANY BITS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT? Enough said.

PURELY BECAUSE OF ITS BRILLIANCE AS A FILM I HAVE TO GIVE THIS FILM 4.5 GOLD STARS.
Just because I didn’t like this film so much, it doesn’t mean the film wasn’t good.