Thursday, February 24, 2011

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

,Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 9 out of 10
Director: Jared Hess
Starring: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries
Rated: PG
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 82 minutes

Napoleon Dynamite is one of those films that’s destined to be a cult classic for this generation…and it’s going to leave a lot of people scratching their heads, saying “What the heck is this??”  Napoleon Dynamite is a story without a really discernable plot.  Stuff happens, but a lot of nothing happens, too.  Sounds boring?  No, really; it’s actually amazingly funny.  Trust me on this.

Napoleon (Heder) is a socially awkward high school student living with his grandmother and older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) in a small-town community where nothing really happens.  Then, things start to get interesting.  First, Grandma breaks her coccyx and Napoleon’s Uncle Rico (Gries) comes to stay with him and Kip.  A new student, Pedro (Ramirez) comes to the high school and decides to run for class president.  Kip, who spends his entire day “chatting online with babes” meets a girl in a chat room and things start getting “pretty serious”.  And Napoleon?  Well, he’s just caught up in it all.

This is one of those movies you have to see at least once in your life...And, then you have to see it again.  And again.  And again.  Because there is no way that you can do this movie justice on the first viewing.  Every time I see it, I find something new that I missed.  One thing to keep in mind is that this movie is incredibly dumb.  And that’s on purpose.  It’s supposed to be pointless.  But, even though it’s pointless, it’s still funny.  There’s something inherently amusing about Napoleon calling his grandma to pick him up from school because his lips are chapped, or the classic episode with the “tots,” or Napoleon’s favorite animal: the liger “It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed... bred for its skills in magic.”  This is an incredibly quotable movie, and one filled with such stupid situations and interesting characters.

I have to say that the characters are by far the best part of this film (perhaps because there is minimal plot, but most likely because they’re just so darn fascinating.  First, you have Napoleon, the freakishly awkward teenager.  There is so much that can be said about him, but I’d say “strange” about sums him up.  What makes him funny is that he is completely oblivious to just how weird he really is.  He seems himself as this awesome ninja warrior or something of the sort, when in reality, he’s an incredibly unusual breed of nerd.  Older brother Kip has no social life, and spends all his time on the computer talking to women.  Uncle Rico is living in the past, convinced that he would be the most awesome football player the world has ever know.  Pedro, the quiet transfer student decides to run for class president against the most popular girl in school.  Painfully shy Deb (Tina Majorino) is selling key chains to pay for college.  Grandma lives a double life as a crazy extreme sports woman on the dunes. 

Sadly, writing about this in a blog post does not do it justice; this is just one of those movies that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Batman Begins (2005)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 9 out of 10
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Action, Drama, Crime
Runtime: 140 minutes
Sequel: The Dark Knight (2008)

There is nothing like a good superhero action movie!  And as a Marvel girl, I would normally satisfy my superhero fascinations with Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four.  DC Comics and Batman?  Not really my cup of tea.  Well, that’s what I thought until the Esteemed Film Critic loaned me his copy of Batman Begins and suggested I check it out.  Would it betray my Marvel sympathies to say that I absolutely loved it?  Batman Begins is a wonderful introduction into the world of Bruce Wayne, the dark avenger who cleans up the street by turning criminals’ fear against them.

After witnessing the death of his parents and seeing their killer released from prison, Bruce Wayne (Bale) travels to Asia and falls in with the lowest of the low in an attempt to figure out what it takes to drive a man to crime.  While there, he becomes the pupil of Henri Ducard (Neeson) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), members of a dark organization bent on wiping out evil and corruption by any means necessary; and their next target is Gotham.  As his image of his mentors is shattered, Bruce finds himself in direct conflict with those who once trained him.  While trying to overcome his own demons, Bruce Wayne takes on the identity of the Batman, and sets out to turn the fear that criminals inflict on others back on themselves; fighting fear with fear.  Meanwhile, in Gotham, a new villain is on the rise: the Scarecrow, who uses a panic-inducing neurotoxin and a burlap scarecrow mask to strike terror into the hearts of his victims.  Will Batman be able to stop him?

As I said before, I’m normally not a DC Comics fan.  More often than not, I find the plots and characters to be too dark for my tastes.  While it is true that Batman Begins is a very dark film, I would have to say that I had no real qualms about it.  In fact, I enjoyed it tremendously.  Christian Bale brought so many dimensions to the role!  Bruce Wayne was a wonderful character; dark, troubled, and although rich, influential, handsome, and strong, also so very, very human. 

Not going to lie: I was surprised to hear Batman speak.  I had been expecting the guttural, almost animalistic grunting that has come to be associated with Christian Bale’s interpretation of the character from The Dark Knight.  Not to say that I was disappointed, of course, just surprised.

A couple other things caught my attention.  First, I was thrilled with the cast!  Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman are three actors I have loved in every movie I’ve seen them in; and while I’ve not seen enough of their movies to say that they are my favorite actors, I’ve always loved them.  So, of course, having all three in one movie was awesome!  Gary Oldman surprised me the most, though.  My usual image of him is the innocent and adorable Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  Seeing Oldman as an American Officer Gordon was a surprise to be sure!  But, I believe this just goes to show his versatility as an actor.

This is a film I would recommend very strongly, but only if you were interested in the action/drama/superhero genres.  If you are opposed to violence and intense action scenes, than this is not the film for you.  However, if you enjoy a good superhero film or are a Batman fan, then you must check this out!  This has most definitely propelled me to look more into the Batman series, although, not going to lie: at heart, I’ll always be a Spider-Man fan-girl :P

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Actors (2003)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 10 out of 10
Director: Conor McPherson
Starring: Michael Caine, Dylan Moran, Michael Gambon
Rated: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Crime
Runtime: 91 minutes
Foreign Film: Irish (DVDs are Region 2 only)

Anthony O'Malley (Caine) and Thomas Quirk (Moran) are two Shakespearian actors about to put on the show of their lives.  To help himself really get a grip on the villainous side of his character in Richard III, Anthony starts frequenting a bar full of gangsters and low-lives, and while there, comes across a very interesting situation: in Ireland's criminal underworld, a certain party owes money to another certain party, but neither of them have ever met.  Eager to get the money for himself, Anthony decides to enlist the help of Tom, a bit actor with no talent, convincing him that acting in a real life situation where there is something at stake would make him a better actor.  Tom, pretending to be his sister's English boyfriend Clive (Ben Miller), is able to not only get the money from the gangster Barreller (Michael Gambon), but also catch the eye of Barreller’s daughter Dolores (Lena Headey).  Things seem to be going perfectly, until the second party, to whom the money is owed, demands payment, and Tom and Tony find themselves scrambling to fix things before things get worse for them.

I absolutely love this movie!  The ridiculous plot, the spot-on casting, the wonderful disguises…The Actors has it all!  First of all: the plot.  This movie is totally improbable.  Even if Tony and Tom were able to pull off the heist, there is no way that they would be able to keep up the ruse for as long as they did.  Still, it’s one of those films where it’s more comedic because it could never really happen.  You have to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it!  Second, the casting was perfect for this film!  I loved the many faces of Dylan Moran, especially his impersonation of the Scottish hit man Jacques.  Even when he was just simply Thomas Quirk, he was a loveable and sympathetic character.  However, the big dispute arises with Michael Caine fans, who say that this is one of his worst performances, and a disappointment.  I have to argue this last point.  Michael Caine’s performance is perfect; it’s his character that is despicable.

The only warning I have for this film is language.  There is minimal violence, no sex, and nothing particularly disturbing happens.  However, the film is liberally littered with f-bombs, and would not be appropriate for younger viewing audiences.  If you don’t like excessive language, you might want to avoid this film, although, I think that the movie as a whole more than makes up for the swearing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 9 out of 10
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Suzuka Ohgo, Ziyi Zhang, Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Romance,
Runtime: 145 minutes

Young Chiyo's (Ohgo) life has not been easy.  When she is just a child, her father sells her and her sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman) into the sex trade to buy medicine for their terminally ill mother.  The girls are separated, with Chiyo being taken to a geisha house, and Satsu disappearing from her life.  Chiyo is abused by her caretaker Mother Nitta (Kaoiri Momoi), and by the house's head geisha Hatsumomo (Li Gong) who is jealous of Chiyo's unusual beauty.  Just when all seems lost, she is taken under the wing of Hatsumomo's bitter rival Mameha  (Yeoh), the greatest geisha in the district.  Together, they work to make Chiyo (now called Sayuri) the greatest geisha in Japan, with the hopes of winning Mother Nitta's inheritance from Hatsumomo.

Oftentimes, people will tell you that movie adaptations are never as good as the books they come from.  However, Memoirs of a Geisha is one of those films that defies all the rules.  Having both read the book and seen the movie, I can testify that the movie is better by far!  This is a very visual story; the glorious kimonos, the elaborate geisha makeup, and the glory that is pre-WWII Japan is something that just has to be seen!  The cinematography is brilliant!

The casting was absolutely perfect for this film, as well!  First, Li Gong was amazing as the bitter Hatsumomo.  Her character was devious, jealous, and yet still very human; at many points in the film, I found myself actually feeling bad for her, only to have her flash her darker, uglier side and completely lose my sympathies again.  Hatsumomo is the perfect antagonist; you pity her and yet you hate her.

Even though he was not a main character, I was completly enthralled with the character of Nobu (Kôji Yakusho), the dark, brooding friend of the Chairman (Ken Watanabe); Chiyo's main love interest.  Nobu has been scarred in an attempt to save the Chairman's life during the war.  Because of this deformity, he's incredibly distant emotionally, to the point where he becomes brusque and almost unapproachable.  However, under the tough exterior lies a much gentler man, and Nobu's shy attempts to show affection simply melted my heart!

Over all, a good movie, one full of interesting characters, beautiful scenes, and shocking plot twists.  Even during the slowest scenes, I was not bored, and I could feel myself being drawn into the story from the very first scene!  A must see for fans of Arthur Golden's book, those with an interest in Japan, or anyone who enjoys a good drama.

My Apologies

Dear Film Fanatics,

I appreicate you all being so patient with me during this extreme lull in movie reviews.  I've been very busy with school and a new movie-loving friend has entered my life.  With all the time we spend watching movies and talking about movies, I haven't had the time to actually review any movies!  So, as you can see, the list is backing up and becoming quite large.  Don't worry; I'm going to stop being lazy and start updating as soon as possible!  The review for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is in the works, as are reviews for Batman Begins (2005) and The Actors (2003).  At least one, if not all three of these should be up by the end of the week, depending on my schedule.

Thanks again!

Cinema Sweetheart :)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Blog Theme

Happy February, everyone!  Just wanted to update all of you and let you know that I've changed the blog theme from The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) to Ace of Hearts (1921).  This means updated pictures at the head of the blog, at the bottom, and in the sidebar.  And a reminder that March is going to be Juno (2007) and April is going to be Hello Dolly (1969) based off the results of our poll last month.

Thanks, y'all :)

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 9 out of 10
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 113 minutes

Harold Crick (Ferrell) lives a normal, almost mundane existence, where every day is exactly the same as the last.  However, things get very weird very quickly, when Harold realizes that there is a woman narrating his life, but only he can hear her.  Desperate to find out what's wrong with him, and terrified by a new revelation of the voice, saying that his death is imminent, Harold seeks the consul of literary expert Jules Hilbert (Hoffman).  Meanwhile, famous, reclusive, and eccentric author Karen Eiffel (Thompson) is having troubles of her own.  She's almost done with her first book in ten years, but she can't figure out how to kill of the main character....Harold.

When I first started this movie I was totally expecting a straight comedy (maybe a romantic comedy....maybe).  I mean, the starring role is Will Ferrell!  He always stars in comedies!  I wasn't expecting a drama to unfold, and I never realized how powerful it would be.  When a man knows that he is going to die, what will he do to make sure that he can truly live?  And how far will he go to change his fate?

Will Ferrell completely surprised me in this role.  Up until now, I had always seen him in comedies (Elf, Blades of Glory, etc.).  And although Stranger than Fiction is a comedy, its also a drama, and Ferrell tackles these parts with surprising (for me at least) passion, and emotion.  His character was awkward, shy, and totally adorable :)

As a writer, it was fascinating to see a movie about a book about a man's life.  It was a fascinating look into how a book is written, and what would happen if the characters became aware of what the writer was doing.  I thought that Harold's "book" was very well-written, and if it were ever published, I would run over to the library/bookstore and read it right now!  It kept my interest with all its little details, without going overboard and gagging the storyline.

The ending was very interesting, to say the least.  I can't say much without spoiling it, but I will say that it was powerful and thought-provoking, although, as a writer, I'm not sure if totally agree with how Harold's story closed.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it over all.  A very good movie, and must-see.

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