Archive for December, 2014

Big Eyes PosterBe sure to catch “Big Eyes,” starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz while it’s playing in theaters.  For anyone over the age of 40, you’ll remember those iconic art pieces that hung in everyone’s home—the little girl with the enormous eyes.  I remember I had one of these prints hanging in my room.  It was of a little blonde girl in a red dress and to be honest, the eyes always scared me.  Now, Tim Burton is directing the true story of the female artist whose husband fraudulently claimed the work as his own.  Margaret Keane (Adams) and her husband Walter (Waltz) lead a false life after pioneering the mass production of this type of cheap art, making it in to an empire.  But, as the story will tell, there’s a cost to every lie told.
The movie begins in 1958 where Margaret and her daughter are hurriedly gathering their meagBig Eyes Chriser belongings from a modest northern California home, tossing them all into a trunk, and driving to start a new life in San Francisco.  This is 1958, as the narrator abruptly interjects, and it’s an era when women didn’t do these sorts of things.
bigeyes  Margaret soon meets Walter who is charismatic, charming, and beguiling.  With blinders on and in a situation that may cause her to lose custody of her daughter, Margaret accepts Walter’s marriage proposal.  As Margaret creates art and with Walter’s superior salesmanship and business savvy, the two become quite profitable, but this is through a series of misunderstandings.  In this era, a woman doesn’t have the knowledge, education, and esteem needed to step up and fight for what is hers.  And due to this perception, she decides to follow her husband’s steps as they pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
Amy Adams’ portrayal of Margaret Keane’s character during the late 50’s and 60’s superbly paints the picture of a woman of that time period.  The subtle glances, eye contact avoidance, and pain in her face as she has given up not only her identity, but her relationships with others in order to continue the ruse her husband has masterminded.  MBig Eyes 2ost importantly, she has isolated herself from the one person that matters most: her daughter.  The reluctance and attempt at acceptance of her own decision is heartbreaking, but understandable.  Remember, 1960 is a time when “the man is the head of the household” and should be trusted to guide the woman.  
Christoph Waltz can play any part with deft skill and this part is no different.  He’s cunning, charming, conniving, and most importantly, convincing.  He embodies the heart and soul of a shyster; looking out for number one, but convincing others that he’s so much more.  His frenetic behavior and demeaning attitude slowly unfolds with a little help of a bit of alcohol, hazed by the smoke of delusion in order to show his true colors.  Both Adams and Waltz have performances considered to be masterpieces.big eyes 1
The story on the surface doesn’t seem important, but it is.  The writers take the time to develop each of the characters to help the viewer truly understand them.  You are connected to everyone either through sympathy,  empathy, or hatred.  But nothing is truly black and white.  There’s an entire palate of colors, richly painting each and every word spoken to create a full and captivating cast of characters within this rich story.  Even the ancillary characters are vibrant and important.  The only negative in the film is the strange intermittent voiceovers by the narrator.  The film does not begin with this and when this voice is heard, you have no one to whom to attribute it.  There are only a few other times this “voice” is heard and it is rather jarring to the fluidity of the film.  However, “Big Eyes” is one of the few stories based on a real life that can interestingly and entertainingly take you through the years to a conclusion with no boredom.  This film also shows us where women were 50-60 years ago and where we have come.  It’s a story of sacrifice, determination, self-worth, and empowerment.
“Big Eyes” is a haunting look inside a woman’s lost voice; her ability to express herself through art and claim it as her own.  With superb writing, direction, and acting, this film successfully tells a rather important story that is a part of many viewers’ history.  It also resonates with mothers and women and the sacrifices we make, always trying to protect our children.  No matter how equal women become, we are still mothers and that role will always outweigh any other.
“Big Eyes” is a film for many age groups—couples, mothers with their daughters, and families with older children will all enjoy this film.  It’s a story of life and living.  You can’t miss with this.
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Angelina Jolie has traded in her acting career in order to direct and “Unbroken” is her third attempt in this arena.  The film is based on the book by the same name, a biography about the Olympic winner and WWII hero, Louis Zamperini.  The screenplay is by the famous Coen brothers who are responsible for films such as “True Grit,” “Fargo,” and “No Country for Old Men”— all award winning films.  UNBROKEN TRAILER
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“Unbroken” portrays the life of Louis Zamperini, focusing primarily on the atrocities of being a prisoner of war during WWII in Japan.  The film quite interestingly begins to tell the story in a non-linear format, allowing the audience to truly get to know this remarkable man.  The film cuts back and forth from the current situation of WWII and the past, showing Louis as a youngster which allows you to not only understand Louis, but truly care for him.  His immigrant parents and family aren’t accepted in their town because they are just that, immigrants.  As a young boy, Louis seems to be quite mischievous, and that’s putting it politely.  Louis finds that his ability to run from the police turns out to be an asset as he refocuses that skill and begins to run for the high school track team.  With a dedicated big brother to encourage him, Louis finds a more positive path to follow and trains for the Olympic tryouts.  The rest, as they say is history.  Unfortunately, WWII breaks out  and Louis is just one of the many soldiers fighting for our freedom.
This non-linear story-telling technique breaks away from the continuous harrowing conditions that these brave young men endured.  Louis is a part of the Army Air Corp, as it was called back then, as one of the crew flying over enemy territory.  The cinematography truly captured what it must have been like on a mission as the ball turret gunner swiveled to fight off enemy air attacks and the pilot attempted to maintain focus and composure tunbroken1-300x220o complete a mission and get his crew back safely.  As I recall my father telling stories as a ball turret gunner in WWII, all of this ringUnbroken6s true.  It feels real and in the moment.  The hundreds of bullet holes in the skeleton of the plane were counted after each mission, thanking God that the were still alive to count them.
The level of intensity and balance between horrific situations and better times unfortunately does not continue throughout the film.  Mid-way through the 2 hour and 17 minute film, “Unbroken” takes a nose dive.  One situation becomes bad, then the next is even worse.  When you didn’t think it could get any worse, it does.  And so on…  Within each of these situations, Louis shows his true character; one of strength and virtue, but each of these situations leaves the viewer hanging.  It is as if the scene isn’t complete.
“Unbroken” is more of a series Unbroken4of brutal events in an extraordinary man’s life than it is a  story.  This film had the potential to be so much more, but it lost its direction half-way through the film.  In the film’s defense, it does depict Louis Zamperini to be the man that cannot be broken.  The film just doesn’t give a complete story, allowing us to see more than the beatings and the torture that he and others endured.  The repetitive nature of this aspect of the film is exhausting for the viewer and did nothing to let us inside the mind and emotion of Louis. The film becomes completely unbalanced.  
Jack O’Connell has a stellar performance as the physically focused emotional anchor for his squadron and those in his POW camp.  He leads the rest of the cast into believable and tense situations that are palpable.  Domhnall Gleeson who you will recognize from the “Harry Potter” sUnbroken7eries, finds yet another role that breaks his type-casting.
It saddens me that this film, depicting this extraordinary man who was a part of “the greatest generation,” did not do him justice.  “Unbroken” as a film is a disappointment.  It had the potential to be so much more and had a wonderful and promising beginning.  It just fizzled out and did notUnbroken11 satisfy.  These brave men’s stories are slowly disappearing as they pass away.  Any attempt to recount their lives is appreciated, but let’s do them justice.  Jolie and the Coen brothers missed the opportunity to use Louis Zamperini’s voice in this film and bring his experience to life for the rest of us to know and understand.
Reading reviews of the book Unbroken, I find words such as “inspiring,” and “powerful.”  These are not the words that I would use for the film.  Once again, I assume that for those that have read the book, you will be disappointed in the film.  For those that have not read the book, go buy it.  It’s most assuredly going to be better than the film.
annieposter“The sun will come out tomorrow,” but from my window, living in the Chicago area, I’m not going bet my bottom dollar that that will be  true.  I will, however, bet my bottom dollar (lyrically and metaphorically speaking) that you will enjoy this light-hearted holiday film complete with the adorable and talented Quvenzhane Wallis and a mutt from the Humane Society.  Toss in this familiar story, some recognizable mugs and a little song and dance and you have an entertaining movie for kids.
“Annie” is a familiar musical that most adults over the age of 30 have either seen at a local production company stage or perhaps viewing one of the two previously made films back in 1982 starring Carol Burnett and Albert Finney or the 1999 version starring Kathy Bates and Victor Garber.  But remember, this Broadway musical wannieoneas originally based on the comic strip by Harold Gray calleannie2d “Little Orphan Annie” back in 1924.  Rewind a bit further and we find that this comic strip was actually based on a poem from 1885 by the same name.  Now let’s fast forward to 2014 and the poem turned comic strip lives on in this newly revised and updated film version called “Annie.” The movie now stars the precocious young actress you will recognize from the award winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Quvenzhane Wallis as well as Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, and Jamie Foxx.  Names and occupations have changed to give this timeless story a facelift.  Technology, gadgets, and lifestyles of the rich and famous may now be different, but what lies at the heart of this story is hope, love, and a sense of family: all timeless treasures.
Our stereotypical “Annie” opens the film with her red and wild mane of hair, and then the new “Annie” B., with wild darker hair, takes center stage in the form of giving an oral report to her class.  The music begins in a hip hop, “Rent-type” of performance which will immediately hook you and allow the film to become a more believable musical.  Our new “Annie” has the same background history as before.  She is orphaned, living with several other orphaned girls under the roof of the less than desirable foster mother Ms. Hannigan (Diaz).  Through politics and the media, Annie finds her way into a political scheme at the hands of the uncaring yet spectacularly wealthy Will Stacks (Foxx).  As their relationship blossoms, the melody becomes quite harmonious as the two find out what it means to have a family.  But alas, as with the original “Annie,” there are “bad guys” lurking, trying to profit from their own schemes.
The music, for the most part, stays true to the originalannie, allowing adults to sing along in their heads.  (Alas, my friends won’t allow me to sing along aloud.)  The dance and rhythm paired with the music is fun and actually makes fun of itself and acknowledges that a little song and dance is truly a bit odd to occur as they speak!  That, in and of itself, makes this musical more palatable.  The acting is across the board overdone, but as with the nature of the screenplay, it is intended to be.  The actors are mere caricatures of the people they portray.  Quvenzhane (Annie) is lovable from the moment she finds herself in front of the camera.  Jamie Foxx plays the handsome and wealthy business man with a heart of gold just waiting to be found.  (If you just saw him in “Horrible Bosses 2” this is quite the antithesis of that character!)  Diaz paired with Cannavale are quite the evil duo and fun to watch in action–waltzing, that is!anniefoxx
It’s true.  “Annie” is the third version of the classic musical and it’s hitting theaters just in time for parents to entertain their children during the holiday season.  Although this film is really nothing new, it does bring home the message of love of family, hope, and kindness to a generation that perhaps knew nothing of Annie.  And during the holidays when everyone gets so caught up in shoppinanniecameraong and “the hard-knock life,” it’s ok to have a sweet little reminder like “Annie” pull us back into what life should be about.  What’s wrong if that reminder has a familiar song or two paired with a little bit of soft shoe?  Why, not a thing!
This is definitely a kid movie with a positive message.  Parents and adults will be entertained with their kids, but may not enjoy it just as a night out for adults.  Save this one to see with the munchkins.
Enjoy your holiday season and thanks to everyone for reading the reviews here each week!  Your kind comments have been truly appreciated.  Happy Holidays!

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“The Theory of Everything”  starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones takes on a wide release this weekend.  The film attempts to encapsulate the life of world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking from his youth as a PhD student to the present day.  The screenplay is based on Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”
 We meet Stephen as a young, rather cocky Ph.D. student in England.  At a typical college party, the bespectacled young man immediately is captivated by Jane, another student.   The two begin to date and Stephen soon finds out that he has a rare degenerative neurological disorder called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerotheorysis; aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS.  With two years to live, Stephen is pulled by science in one direction and love in the other.  The film follows Stephen and his wife, Jane through the many years along with the trials and tribulations that any marriage has complicated by the difficulties of this harsh debilitating disease.
The story is a very typical one as it enlightens the audience about the horrific reality of ALS.  With all the ice bucket challenges to raise money for ALS, the timing of this film couldn’t be any better.  Unfortunately, the film really doesn’t tell a very interesting story.  We have an extraordinary man in many ways: Stephen is brilliant, innovative, and creative scientifically; he is also defying what is known about ALS by living 50+ years beyond his diagnosis.  Fathering several children, traveling and sharing his thoughts, theories, and discoveries, this man has lived a life never predicted and science is eons ahead because of him.  If you’ve read (or maybe you’ve just purchased) “A Brief History of Time” you are already one step ahead of the film.  The movie brushes over some of the important concepts to give the viewer a glimpse into the universe as Hawking perceives it.
The years go on with Sttheory2ephen aging and his disease progressing.  It is a lackluster story and a tad bit dull at times with a few mildly interesting events occurring intermittently.    It’s a love story being viewed from the outside, never really establishing any true commitment or attachment to the characters before you.  If you are one of those (like me) who purchased Mr. Hawking’s book, but didn’t get past the first chapter (ok, the first 3 pages), then you might enjoy learning a more cursory version
theorybaby of Hawking’s thoughts and theories by seeing the film.
Eddie Redmayne who you might recognize from “Les Miserables” or “My Week with Marilyn” or one of my favorites “The Yellow Handkerchief” pulls off this motorically complex character with deft skill.  Subtle nuances in his gait, speech, facial expressions, and overall ability to move are completely accurate.  These subtleties grow into a pronounced disability, again with spot-on perfection.  You truly feel as if you are watching ALS take over his motor and speech skills.  Daily activities become a mountain to climb.  The frustration and determination that truly had to have occurred are portrayed and relayed through Mr. Redmayne’s skills as an actor.  Felicity Jones from “Breathe In” and “Like Crazy” establishes herself as a confident, articulate, and flexible young actress.  Although the chemistry isn’t overtly evident between the two, she believably shows the feelings of frustration, loneliness, and love that this character must truly have in real life.  
“The Theory of Everything” is an averagely entertaining story about an extraordinary man and his wife.  Surprisingly, this true tale as it is portrayed in the film isn’t earth shattering as I hoped it would be.  While it touches upon some of the brilliant scientific theories and the process of discovery, it focuses more upon the relationship between a man and a woman.  At the heart of this film is a love story and how love grows and changes, sometimes beyond the scope of our control.  The acting will captivate you and educate you about ALS, but the writing may leave you less than satisfied.  To have such an amazingly defiant fight against ALS and to have won by living, I would have expected a more touching film—something with heart and soul.  It’s really just a flat, cardboard story.  “The Theory of Everything” adds up to a simple equation.  Love + Problems = Complexity x 2  But there’s something missing in this equation.  The writers didn’t seem to find it, but maybe you can.

 

 

WILD

Written by: Nick Hornby

Based on the book: “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed

Starring:  Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern

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I made the inherent mistake of being intrigued by the premise of the story of ‘Wild’ leading me to read the book before seeing the movie.  I am an avid hiker; not an experienced 1,100 mile hiker, but I love making hiking a focal point of all my vacations.  I also enjoy hiking alone and as a woman, many people question my common sense in doing so.  Learning that “Wild” is all about a female hiking an 1,100 mile journey alone along the Pacific Crest Trail, I knew I had to read this book.  It didn’t matter that I already knew Reese Witherspoon was going to be cast as the lead role in the film.  I went along with her image in my head as well as Laura Dern’s face as Cheryl’s mother as I read this captivating book.  Unfortunately, as is the case in most films, the book was far superior to the film.

WILD MOVIE TRAILER

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Based on the true story about Cheryl Strayed, the book version of “Wild” allows you not only to peek into the disturbing childhood of Cheryl, but actually allows you to feel and in some ways share her pain and sorrow in her upbringing.  We feel the connection she has with her loving and giving mother.  We understand her decisions even when we don’t agree with them.  The reader connects with her on many levels as she pours her heart and soul out to you.  It’s a raw and honest story with no rose colored glasses with which to view Cheryl’s sordid life.  Not many could truly look at their past objectively and share it with millions.  The book captures her struggle to survive, make sense out of pain, and to grow into the person she has the potential to be.  The film, again unfortunately, misses the target on all of the powerful points.

The film does capture the very beginning  of the book as Cheryl is hurling her unmated hiking boot over the mountain to rejoin the other pain-inducing boot at the

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bottom.  There is a major detour in the accuracy of portrayal after this point, however.  The story then quickly backtracks to the beginning of her hike.  We slowly watch her struggle with her immense back-pack, almost outweighing Cheryl, as she signs in at the trailhead of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  Much further into the film after almost losing interest, we begin to see flashbacks into her life, allowing us to try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together as to why Cheryl is taking this hike.  She is troubled, but the depth of her troubles is only portrayed in a cursory style.  They are just broad brushstrokes, but what is needed is pointillism.  As she hikes further along the trail, she encounters a few bumps in the road, but these bumps appeared gentle in the film in contrast to the life-threatening and emotionally harrowing ones portrayed in the book.  The characters she encounters are one-dimensional and uninteresting.  The relationships and interactions she has along the trail allow Cheryl to develop, but the film completely misses this aspect.  Her time alone is just as important as her interactions with those wonderfully giving and positive souls you meet whi

le hiking.  Many attributes and actual characters are completely omitted which leaves the audience missing the main message.  

It is obvious that Witherspoon has read the book.  Her subtle looks and expressions captured what Cheryl had written. Unfortunately, unless you had read the book, you couldn’t possibly understand the depth of her expression.  There just wasn’t enough back-story for the viewer to completely grasp the intensity of Cheryl’s story.  In addition, the PCT is an amazing trail which explores its way through many topographical zones.  From the desert to an arid forest and 

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Photo Credit: Kristen Powell

everything in between, the film has the potential to capture nature’s beauty.  It does not.  Unless you are carefully watching for the spectacularly beautiful and awe-inspiring Crater Lake, you will miss it.  Another missing element is the connection between nature and humanity .

I have learned my lesson:  Do not read the book before the movie.  It is nearly impossible to assess a film’s merits if the book is substantially better than the film, which in most cases it is.  This film misses the mark.  The screenwriters had the screenplay right in front of them in book form.  Why didn’t they use it?  Witherspoon is a talented actor who appears as if she grasps the character she is portraying, but the direction and writing didn’t allow her to utilize this talent and knowledge.

“Wild” is a complete disappointment.  It left me empty.  I felt that it didn’t begin to convey the beautiful life lessons and messages the book so wonderfully gave us.  So go buy the book, read it,  then pick out a trail to hike.  I’ll be hitting Crater Lake this summer.  Where will you be inspired to go?