Archive for the ‘Movie review’ Category

Pictures of Lili (MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Danish Girl’)

December 28, 2015
Danish Girl 1

Eddie Redmayne, taking his formidable transformative powers to another level.

“I have known very few people in my life, and you’re two of them.”

That’s what Parisian art dealer Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts) tells Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) — formerly his childhood friend Einar Wegener — in The Danish Girl, a film that’s at once beautiful in cinematography, stunning in its performances (most especially Redmayne, coming off his Best Actor Oscar as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything) … and problematic in other ways.

I’m allergic to films “based on a true story” and often avoid them, because the director and writer almost always have the hubris to take liberties with the story, as if real life can’t be better than fiction, as if the true story isn’t good enough to stand on its own. Even more so when the film is based on a novel based on the true story (David Ebershoff’s 2000 book of the same name). But I was drawn to this film in part because of the subject matter — Elbe is one of the first known people, if not the first, to undergo what was once known as sex-change surgery, gender reassignment surgery and, these days, gender affirmation surgery; partially because the first photos released of Redmayne in the role over the summer were astounding, and the trailer even more so.

As a moviegoer and transperson (non-op/pre-op female), I can tell you that the latest from director Tom Hooper (the Oscar-winner for The King’s Speech) is a strong film on first blush, at times difficult to sit through — but, with some time to let it soak in, too self-consciously artistic, striving too hard to be high art rather than focus on the subject matter, and ultimately not powerful enough. It could have been a whole lot more. The real-life story of Wegener/Elbe and wife Gerda, with its triumphs and tragedies, packs even more of a punch than what we see on the screen.


MOVIE REVIEW: A ‘Conspirator’ to commit murder by boredom

April 18, 2011

No, despite appearances, this is NOT a love story. Robin Wright plays Mary Surratt and James McAvoy is the attorney defending her.

Despite my long aversion to films “based on true events,” I so wanted “The Conspirator,” Robert Redford’s latest direction job, to be a great and powerful one.

On the surface, the story — the trial of Mary Surratt, one of the people tried and hanged for plotting to kill Abraham Lincoln and his top Cabinet members — appealed to my fondness for American history. And the marketing was clever enough, too: opening the film on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death (April 15), and just past the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War (April 12).

So I plunked down my 10-and-a-quarter at Sierra Vista in Clovis and waited for the greatness.

I’m still waiting. Not that anyone would expect a thriller, but I walked away underwhelmed, at times supremely bored and feeling that this member of the choir had been beaten over the head for two hours. It’s a relentlessly bleak film, and besides, you know the end result going in. Sure, it’s essentially a film about a trial (albeit a milestone one; a law was passed banning civilians being tried by military tribunals after this). But what happens between points A and B doesn’t have to drag on and on. Perhaps this film, despite its striking big-screen visuals, would play much better on a small screen.


MOVIE REVIEW: Smoking a little ‘Wild Grass’

October 10, 2010

Andre Dussollier and Sabine Azema make you want to think twice before returning a stolen wallet.

I walked into Fresno Filmworks’ screening Friday night (Oct. 8 ) of “Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles)” at the Tower Theatre with a totally blank slate — no preconceptions whatsoever. I left with an overwhelming sense of “Whaaaaaa?”

The latest film by 88-year-old director Alain Resnais (still best known for his ’50s masterpieces, “Night and Fog” and “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”) is about shoes, stealing, stalking, obsession, double obsession and airplanes — and a whole lot of confusion.

The film was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes last year and four Cesars (the French Oscars) this year. (Resnais also won a Special Jury Prize and a Special Award at Cannes last year for his body of work.)  I would’ve thought one of the nominations was for Weirdest French Film.


MOVIE REVIEW: A well-connected ‘Network’

October 2, 2010

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg: The dump that launched 500 million profiles.

As of this point, I do not have a Facebook account. Nor, despite way too many prods from way too many people, do I really care to.

Not that I live a TMI life, but I don’t want people knowing more about me than I care to let them know (although if you read this blog, you know that a good chunk of my life, to some extent, is a pretty open book). Much worse, I’ve heard and read way too much about the site’s Byzantine privacy settings structure — and, worse, Mark Zuckerberg’s seeming disdain for others’ privacy matters.

Besides, the same people who are noodging me now and saying “You’ve gotta get on Facebook!” are the very same ones who said “You’ve gotta get on MySpace!” three years ago. And in a year or two it’ll be or something else some other socially dysfunctional genius concocts to facilitate social interaction in the name of generating hits and satisfying advertisers.

Of course, there was one time a friend posted a link to one of my music posts from here on Facebook, and I amassed what is still my all-time one-day record for page views. So, if at least to build a readership for the blog, I still might one day put up a profile. But I’m certainly not in a rush.

But the founding of the social phenomenon of our times is, indeed, a fascinating story — the inspiration, the formation, the ego-tripping, the wildfire speed at which it eventually spread from Harvard to the world, the friendships left crushed in its wake, the money and the power — and I’m interested in reading Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires,” which formed the basis for the most talked-about film of the year so far: “The Social Network.”

As someone who’s always leery of movies based on true events — after all, you never know what and how much the creators are embellishing — I left with a feeling of not knowing whether I have a feel for the real Zuckerberg after seeing writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher’s film version, as translated on screen by Jesse Eisenberg.

But I do know that whatever the real story, the one on the screen was very well presented. To keep one’s interest in a two-hour film that’s essentially about a socially inept guy, a lot of keyboard tapping and a hearing in a law office, it had better be. It’s pretty much as good as the massive buildup.


MOVIE REVIEW: Much to ‘Howl’ about, some to bitch about

September 19, 2010

“I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix …”

James Franco owns Allen Ginsberg in "Howl," coming soon to a theater near you. Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories

And thus, at a reading at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on Oct. 7, 1955, began the skyrocket ascension of an unpublished 29-year-old poet, a New Yorker, an openly gay Jewish man then living in San Francisco. Allen Ginsberg unleashed his word-shattering “Howl” on the world and influenced subsequent generations of poets for better and worse.

And, with his liberal use of sexual and drug imagery, he created a major test case; Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, who first published “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956, was brought to trial on obscenity charges in San Francisco the following year.

With a general lack of intellectual curiosity in this cowtown of a half-million, plus one small organization (Fresno Filmworks) that only has the wherewithal to show one film for two screenings one night a month, it’s rare that we get any first-run art-house fare here. But not only did we get that, we were fortunate to see “Howl” a week ahead of its widespread release, thanks to a screening Friday (Sept. 17) at Reel Pride, the city’s 21st annual LGBT film festival.

What the rest of you will get to see in the coming weeks is a fantastic, perhaps career-defining performance by James Franco, who’s not only excelling in showing his versatility, but reveling in it. Also, we see some excellent editing and pacing. But at the same time, we also get a pedestrian story and some annoying and wrongheaded animation.


MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Piranha 3D’ bites, and I mean that in the best way possible

August 21, 2010

Jerry O'Connell in "Piranha 3D": Let's just say the fish bit off a little more than they could chew.

I can’t believe I actually went to this movie.

But these are the things that people do for friends, and as it turns out, it was my friend Nate’s birthday, so a bunch of us of went out for a bite and “Piranha 3D” on opening night.

Sometimes you know going in that a film is gonna be so incredibly, unashamedly bad that it’s gonna be great on a certain level. This is one of those times. You could tell by the “quality” of the trailers on TV that this would be oozing, dripping cheese like a late-’70s fondue gone wild, and on that level, it’s a hell of a fun experience. Provided, of course, you can put up with dozens of horribly mutilated bodies.


MOVIE REVIEW: Much more than ‘All Right’

August 8, 2010

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo: We're a happy family. Then again, maybe not.

Fast-forward to five, six years from now — provided, of course, the radical right doesn’t take over the country and we all manage to get past the end of the Mayan calendar. Gay marriage will be a long-settled issue in America, and we’ll have seen enough films and TV shows with gay relationships that we’ll all yawn or just glance without a second thought.

And given that scenario, we’ll still look back and talk about how excellent a movie “The Kids Are All Right” was.

Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s twist on the nuclear family dynamics is a perfect harmonic convergence of disharmony: two Oscar-nominated actresses at artistic peaks and two promising teenage actors brilliantly playing out a scenario in which a major monkey wrench is thrown into a lengthy relationship, causing upheaval to everyone involved. It’s not just acting at its best, but writing at its most brilliant and directing at its most nuanced.


MOVIE REVIEW: Alone at the movies with ‘Crazy Heart’

February 12, 2010

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal earned Oscar nominations for "Crazy Heart," as a down-on-his luck country singer and a music journalist who gets more than an interview.

I had my own private screening of an Oscar-nominated film this week. Well, it wasn’t planned this way, but I was the only customer Monday night at Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 in Clovis for the late showing of “Crazy Heart.” Such is life in an area where there are 80 screens and almost all of them are showing the same blockbuster fare (five of them tied up with “Avatar”) and somehow have very little room for anything else.

That’s OK. This is a movie that deserves one’s total attention — if not for the story, then for the role of a veteran actor’s lifetime. That this film made it to multiplexland is a surprise; that Bridges may very well walk away with a statuette certainly isn’t. This won’t be a cult-following film, a la “The Big Lebowski,” so chances are Bridges won’t become synonymous with Bad Blake the way he’s become with The Dude, but in a perfect world, he would.