A BITTERSWEET DRAMA — A REVIEW

Watching The Last Picture Show: The Definitive Director’s Cut (Special Edition) again after all these years felt almost like reexperiencing those times in my life.

It was released in 1971, at the beginning of a decade charged with revolutionary emotions and challenges. Depicting a time in small-town Texas (the 1950s), this movie leads us through a few months in the lives of several characters in coming-of-age moments. A frank, bittersweet drama of social and sexual mores that are shifting, it is also most notable for the talent-laden cast of characters: Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, and Ben Johnson, to name a few.

Filmed in black and white, the movie is set against a dreary tumbleweed-cast backdrop, with an almost ghost-town appearance. It called to mind for me where I was when it was released. I had just moved to what could almost be a twin of the dreary town of Anarene, Texas. The counterpart was a small former oil town to the west of the Central Valley city where I now live. The desolation in the film mirrored the emotions I felt when “dropped into” this town; I was young, with three small children, and cast rudderless onto what felt like a barren landscape. Uprooted from the urban life I loved (in Northern California), I could completely identify with the feelings of desolation experienced by the characters.

As I watched the film today, those same emotions swept over me, and I almost felt as though I were back there.

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the movie can best be described as a timeless coming-of-age tale that spotlights a season in the lives of a disenchanted group of young people.

Five stars.

ATYPICAL SUSPENSE THRILLER

“In the erotic thriller Chloe, Dr. Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore, A Single Man) suspects that her husband David (Liam Neeson, Taken) is cheating on her. So she hires an escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) to offer herself to him, to see how he responds—but Catherine has a surprising response to what unfolds, and Chloe becomes drawn deeply into the doctor’s life. Chloe is an atypical “Hollywood” film from Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), as it features big stars, a script Egoyan didn’t write himself (it’s by Erin Cressida Wilson, the screenwriter of Secretary), an editing rhythm notably less idiosyncratic than Egoyan films of old, and an ending that feels forced and unsatisfying. But Chloe explores classic Egoyan obsessions: voyeurism, jealousy, and betrayal. As the movie unfolds, the performances are full of rich details, capturing jagged emotional edges that make the somewhat-implausible plot compelling. Chloe doesn’t have the uncanny psychological acuity of Egoyan’s best films, but anyone who’s enjoyed this unique director’s earlier work will find much to enjoy.” –Bret Fetzer

My Thoughts:  Reading this review, I thought about the aspects of this film that appealed to me the most.  I noticed that Julianne Moore’s characterization of the wife suspecting her husband was somewhat unusual.  She was detached, unemotional, and almost as if she were totally unaffected by the outcome, whatever it might be.

But as we drew further into her psyche and her connections, I began to realize that this somewhat “scientific” approach was in character for Catherine, the doctor; the woman, the betrayed wife, would appear later.  At that time, we would see her feelings, her insecurities, and how much she mourned the connection she once had with her husband.

What we do learn, too, is that Chloe’s version of events, as she describes them to Catherine, are not necessarily the truth.  Perhaps it is the truth as she sees it.  We come to understand her motivations more as we near the end of the story.

Psychological suspense keeps this film moving, taking us to some unexpected places.

What will Chloe do in the end to ratchet up the thrills for the viewers?  And how far will Catherine go to protect what is hers?

This is not a movie for the faint of heart or those who like pretty Hollywood endings.  But I was not bored during any part of this one, and as the thrills unfolded, I was excited and rooting for more.

I loved the settings, too, and could tell right away that this was not an American city.  At the end, I learned that it was filmed in Toronto.

I would give this one four stars.

WALK AWHILE IN HIS SHOES….

After all these years, I finally read the book To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition, soon to be followed up with this classic film.

Over the years, I had seen tidbits of this movie on TV, so it was a real treat to finally view it in its entirety.

Narrated in voice-over by “Scout,” we first glimpse the Southern lifestyle of the thirties as three children explore their neighborhood. They are obsessed with catching a glimpse of Boo Radley, about whom much has been whispered amongst the neighbors. Like many rumors, there is much more to the story, which will become apparent toward the end of the movie.

The stark black and white images perfectly depicted the settings and the deprivation of this small town world. Yet despite their lack of material trappings, the children found plenty to amuse themselves, utilizing their minds and their imaginations.

The themes of the film are fear, racism, and integrity—and the latter trait was depicted most notably by Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch.

The lessons in understanding and empathy came specifically from Atticus, as spoken to his children: You never really know a person until you walk for awhile in his shoes.

This film To Kill a Mockingbird (Collector’s Edition) is still very relevant, despite the fact that some race relations have been improved. The messages of acceptance and tolerance, as well as integrity, are still important today.

Five stars.

A ROMANTIC QUEST

Sometimes in life we really need a movie like this one…something that uplifts us from the mundane and “realistic” aspects of our lives.

It’s a story about romance and longings. About unrequited or interrupted love. And about a romantic tradition in which lovers all over come to one site to leave letters for Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet).

Amanda Seyfried’s character Sophie has come to Italy with her fiance, but they end up going their separate ways to separate events. On her own, she becomes fascinated with watching women place their letters at a monument, and then seeing that one woman collects them all at the end of the day. She follows that woman and learns of how she writes back to everyone (as Juliet). Shortly afterwards, while helping to collect the letters, Sophie discovers a letter behind a brick that was left there 50 years ago. She writes to that woman, and a short time later, the woman and her grandson appear. And thus begins the real romantic quest as Sophie helps Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) search for her long lost love.

Vanessa Redgrave made the movie worthwhile, as did the quest itself. We got to see a lot of Italian landscapes on this journey, and could vicariously enjoy the moments along the way.

At one point, I wished that Amanda Seyfried’s character would burst into song…I loved her singing voice in Mama Mia. But, of course, that was not part of this character.

The ending of Letters to Juliet was predictable, but glorious nonetheless. A great light movie…just the perfect antidote for the end of a rather exhausting week.

I gave this one four stars because of the predictability, but I still loved and would recommend it.

LIKE FINE WINE, MERYL STREEP IMPROVES WITH AGE

Like a fine wine, Meryl Streep improves with age. I’ve been watching her movies for years, and when I study her and her characterizations, what I see is that she steps into the characters’ lives and becomes one with them.

In It’s Complicated, she portrays a divorced woman, living on her own for ten years; she has created her own business and is doing just fine, thank you very much!

But on the occasion of her son’s college graduation, with the concomitant family reunion, she and her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) find themselves at the same bar beforehand and decide to share a meal.

One thing leads to another and they connect again. Their lively and passionate “affair” lasts the weekend, and when she goes home again, she thinks that’s it. But he pursues her. Showing up and sidling into her life all over again. There’s only one problem. He’s married to someone else.

Throughout this movie, we are treated to humor, nostalgia, and a mix of poignant moments that almost leave us wanting these two to reconnect.

But then there’s the appealing architect (Steve Martin), with whom she starts to connect as well.

The dilemma carries us through the film, and in the end, we are left considering the possibilities.

I will enjoy watching this one over and over, just as I have loved every movie in which this wonderful actress has starred.

Five stars alone do not do this movie justice.

THE ICONIC JONESES

Meet the Joneses. They are the perfect family living in an upscale neighborhood, and they have everything that you might want. From the first moment they descend into their new environment, envy rears its head. Everyone wants what they have.

But underneath the stunning surface, secrets and hidden agendas are just waiting to reveal themselves. Is this family too good to be true?

When a neighborhood tragedy jolts one of them into the real world, what will happen to the perfect life they’ve created?

I was riveted to the screen throughout this film. My expectations were not high for this movie, but I was pleasantly surprised. Demi Moore was perfect as the “plastic” superwoman; David Duchovny was great at revealing glimpses of a real person underneath that perfect exterior; and Lauren Hutton, as super icon, was masterful. And Gary Cole and Glenne Headley reeled me in as the vulnerable wannabes.

You might be surprised at the ending…but then again, anything is possible in this unreal universe.

Four stars for The Joneses…the ending, albeit satisfying, seemed like an unlikely departure from the main theme.

UNIQUE FAMILY CONNECTIONS

Some of my explorations here include the movies I’ve seen and enjoyed.  Recently I saw The Kids Are All Right, starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.

I was actually surprised when the movie came to my neighborhood mall, much less my city.  Here in the Central Valley, we are often left out of the mix when it comes to quirky movies (or anything even remotely unconventional).

I had expected to enjoy it, but didn’t have my hopes up too high, as sometimes I am disappointed. So imagine my relief to find that, not only did it surpass my expectations, but I was so into it that I wasn’t bored for even a moment.  Sometimes movies that are about particular themes or topics will be predictable.  But not this one.  Even though there was the inevitable adolescent angst, followed by the search for the absent father, this one had the unique twist of a family headed by two “moms,” who had used a sperm donor.

In fact, each mom had one of the kids and they both used the same donor.  Makes the search easier.

Mark Ruffalo starred as the “sperm donor,” who incidentally was quite interested in forming a bond with the kids.

The kids invite him to their house with the moms and they all start to form a friendship of sorts.   Jules, the character played by Julianne Moore, has just started a landscape business, and  Paul (dad) conveniently hires her to landscape his yard.

Okay, I saw the next bit coming…sort of.  But I won’t describe what happens.

Suffice it to say that a lot of chaos ensues.

Throughout the movie, I most enjoyed the interactions between the family members and absolutely loved seeing the homey backdrop to the family moments. It doesn’t hurt that the other mom, Nick, played by Annette Bening, is a doctor, so the digs are very nice indeed.

I’m definitely preordering this DVD.

A Cozy Family Moment

THE HIGH COST OF ART

When three people in a farm family are killed in Holcomb, Kansas, Truman Capote (Toby Jones) and (Nelle) Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) embark upon a journey to delve into the impact of this crime on the people of the village. It is 1959 and Truman has already displayed an extraordinary literary talent; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) is about to bring her success as well.

Thus begins this movie, which, like the previous one, Capote, focuses on Truman’s attempts to ingratiate himself enough with the townspeople to earn admittance into their thoughts and feelings.

In the process, Truman Capote becomes so involved with one of the killers, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), that he almost becomes part of the story.

At the end, after the hangings and after the book has exceeded every expectation, it’s almost as though all of their lives are but an epilogue to the main event.

Narrating at the conclusion, the character Harper Lee comments that, in America, there is no attention paid to the “small” moments in your artistic life; instead, after the success, everyone asks, as only Americans can: “What’s next?”

This comment seemed so poignant, considering that, despite the success that still surrounds To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), this book was the main event for Harper Lee as well.

The actors left their intriguing marks on the characters, adding a depth and humanity—even on the criminals—and also gave us a peek into the thoughts and feelings of the writers who turned the human moments into art.

While I enjoyed this movie, I was disappointed that Harper Lee was portrayed as a footnote to Truman (or a sidekick), with only the occasional moments that revealed that she might be his moral compass as well. I feel compelled to learn more about her, which is why I am currently reading Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, a portrait written by Charles J. Shields.

The high cost of the writing process was very evident throughout this film. If more of this angst had been portrayed, I would gladly have seen this movie as a five star creation. Instead, I could only grant four stars to Infamous.

MARITAL TWISTS OF FATE — A MOVIE REVIEW

In this story of a marriage on the skids between Louise (Meg Ryan), a high-powered Manhattan attorney, and her husband of thirteen years, Ian (Timothy Hutton), a strange and dark episode unfolds and halts Ian’s plans to run away with his girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell).

It all takes a turn when Ian announces his plans to leave her, and Louise reacts by deciding to hold him captive until they can work on their marriage.

Then she goes out to run some errands, and when she returns, she finds that a gardener has stolen most of their belongings, and when he sees Louise, he also ties her up. Soon they are joined by the girlfriend, who is wondering why Ian didn’t meet her at the airport—and you guessed it, she ends up with duct tape as well.

What happens next turns this very dark comedy on its ear. Do you think that the warring spouses will make up? Will we find out that something quite unexpected has been going on?

I know I was stunned by the ending to Serious Moonlight (Widescreen)…and that’s all I’m saying about it.

WATCH OUT FOR THE SWEET GIRL!

Orphan was a movie that I’d heard about and was hesitant to watch. I’m usually a sucker for the movies about orphans or abused children, and usually these things go hand-in-hand.

From the hype, I knew that this child would be one of those with mental health issues. From the descriptions on the sites, I suspected some kind of psychosis or deep antisocial disorder. But what was revealed as the film leads us down this path of suspense was something I hadn’t suspected. Not once.

The ending was so chilling that I literally couldn’t sleep afterwards. Warning! Do not watch if you want to sleep.

Vera Farmiga is compelling as Kate, the mother, who has suffered depression and a bout with alcoholism after their third child is stillborn. Peter Sarsgaard portrays John, the husband, whom we soon learn has some fidelity issues, thus creating tension between the spouses.

Isabelle Fuhrman, as Esther, steals the spotlight as the disturbed adopted daughter. The other children are very compelling as well, and the movie creates the typical conspiracy of silence between them all, as Esther inspires fear and obedience from them.

When Kate begins to suspect something is very wrong with Esther, she can’t get her husband to even give credence to her concerns. He brushes her off as if she’s nothing. I began to despise him early on for his cluelessness and his inability to see what was staring him in the face.

In the end, though, everyone is a believer. And not to give away the surprises, just be sure to watch closely as the layers of this secret begin to unfold.

I probably would have given this one 4.5 stars, if I could. I deducted a star because, despite the compelling nature of this film, it isn’t one I’ll ever watch again.

Okay, now this is an appropriate Blogoversary moment, don’t you think?  I’m not actually celebrating this blogoversary, since I have too many blogs.

But a few balloons won’t hurt!