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Have you ever wondered why some critics review films? They don't even seem to like movies that much from what they write. I LOVE movies, and think about them long after the last credits roll across the screen. My reviews are meant to inform, entertain and never have a spoiler.
Enjoy my reviews and please comment and come back frequently! Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Frances Ha

Frances Ha is a black and white indie film from 2012. I had heard about it when Greta Gerwig, who plays the main character of Frances, was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes. Although she lost to Amy Adams for American Hustle that year, I remembered how intrigued I was by the trailer about a young woman looking to make it as a dancer in New York City. I enjoy all things dance, so when it came to streaming Netflix, I decided that now was the time to watch.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives with her BFF Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in New York City. Frances is struggling. With finances, relationships, with her dance career. Not quite as talented as, for example, Rachel (Grace Gummer), another dancer in her company, Frances is passed over and not given the roles in significant productions that she used to dance. She is, however, a great teacher to little kids learning how to plie and pirouette in ballet class. She seems to have a knack for choreography as well.

Impulsive to a fault, she charges a very short trip to Paris, and finds herself without many resources available to her when she returns. She spends time with her family in Sacramento, a brief interlude I enjoyed. The scenes of her family celebrating at a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church were especially fun to watch as they are my chosen spiritual community, and I have never seen a UU church depicted on screen. I found it refreshing and a good fit with the character and her passions. (Greta was raised Unitarian Universalist, so that explains the inclusion of the affirming and uplifting scenes in church with her spiritual community.)

Adam Driver appears as Lev, one of Frances’ roommates, but other than Adam, I didn’t recognize anyone else in the ensemble cast. The story is all about Frances coming to terms with her strengths and weaknesses, making some choices, and ultimately coming through to a better place than she was when we met her at her first address.

The screenplay was written by director Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, whom I read are a couple. Noah and Greta developed a really engaging film in Frances Ha.
The film has a Woody Allen-ish feel to it due to the black and white cinematography, and the quickly fired dialogue, reminding me of Woody’s Manhattan. The dialogue was great, very witty, and natural at the same time. The story feels real, almost like it could be a documentary following the moves and travels of Frances as she attempts to navigate her life. 

I like indie films; they don’t subscribe to the Hollywood formulas as much, have more of a real feel to them, and often use up and coming talent. An indie film is simply original and creative story-telling by independent filmmakers. For a closer look at indie films, read this article: What exactly is an independent film? And then go spend 90 minutes or so with Frances Ha.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Nanny Diaries

In search of some light entertainment, I hit upon The Nanny Diaries from back in 2007. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a smart young woman taking some time off from her life post college to work as a nanny for a family in Manhattan.

I was intrigued by the opening, which featured scenes ostensibly taken from the American Museum of Natural History. Various life size dioramas show families throughout history. This sets the scene for a comedy right off the bat. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) majored in anthropology, and sees this stint as a nanny as research, or at least that is how the movie progresses, her reflections as an anthropologist peppering the story line.

Mrs. X (Laura Linney) and Mr. X (Paul Giamatti) are a couple clearly not suited to each other. They have one son, Grayer (Nicholas Art), whom Annie quickly becomes attached to as she works day in and day out as his nanny. There is a little romance for Annie in the person of a young man referred to as Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans), who is a tenant in the building where Annie works.

Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, both former nannies, wrote the novel The Nanny Diaries that I have not read. It must be a scathing tale on the escapades of the very rich who farm out their kids to other people to raise.

I never could understand why a woman would choose to have a baby and then just turn it over to someone else to raise. Lots of cultures apparently do this, some out of necessity, as the mother needs to work outside the home for income, but others because they apparently have “better” things to do with their time than mind their own children.

Mrs. X is the latter, and it is not flattering. Paul Giamatti as her husband has nothing redeeming about him physically, or as husband material. The only one who seems to have it together is Annie. A caring, smart woman, who becomes so attached to Grayer that she cannot quit even when she finds that her life is no longer her own.

The Nanny Diaries reminded me of The Help in some ways. They are both peeks into two different cultures that give their children to others to be cared for. The Help was excellent in portraying the culture of African-American nannies caring for white children in the Deep South, who were probably even more taken for granted and underpaid than Annie appears to be.

I wonder about the book the screenplay was based on, and may look it up. I hope it is in the same format, kind of like a thesis on the phenomenon of child rearing among the upper class.

The film is rated PG-13 for language. And goes along with lots of comedy in between some really touching moments between Annie and Grayer. It’s a good film for some evening when you just want to relax, laugh, and not think about anything too serious.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Yes Man

Recently I watched Yes Man, a 2008 comedy starring Jim Carrey. I am a fan of Jim’s; I love the way he can screw up his face in so many truly bizarre ways. His antics always make me laugh. This film was no exception. Yes Man is rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity. Sometimes I don’t agree with the ratings, but I do for this one. It has adult content in it, but not enough to warrant an R rating.

Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is a depressed divorced guy who works as a loan officer in a bank. His friends, including Peter (Bradley Cooper), try to get him out of being in a funk, to no avail. Carl turns himself around though when he goes with a friend to a motivational lecture by a guru like teacher, Terrence (Terrence Stamp). Terrence publicly confronts Carl during his talk, and challenges him to say yes to everything presented to him. Carl begins to follow this directive. It got me thinking about another film of Jim’s, Liar Liar, where the main character cannot tell a lie. Both involve rigid ways of relating in the world, seemingly impossible to carry out.

But Carl keeps saying yes, and the results are surprising, kind of crazy (watch out for his neighbor lady), and ultimately results in his meeting the breath of springtime air he longs for in the free spirit of Allison (Zooey Deschanel). Their age difference is a bit much, 18 years to be exact (they share the same birthday), but somehow the love interest between them works. Allison is a singer in a funky band and has her own quirky way of approaching the world that Carl finds attractive.

Eventually, as might be expected, saying yes to everything without weighing the consequences can bring trouble, and it does. I really applaud the creativity of the screenwriters for their inventiveness in the situations that Carl finds himself in. I recommend this film. It kept me laughing all the way through.

I enjoyed seeing Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man, having seen her previously in Elf and in (500) Days of Summer. She is lovely, good at playing offbeat characters, and has a very nice singing voice.

Jim won two Best Actor Golden Globes for his performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. I recall his acceptance speech for the second one where he commented that now he’s the Tom Hanks of the Golden Globes (Tom won two Oscars for best actor for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump).

My favorite Jim Carrey film, however, is The Majestic. If you haven’t seen it, you may be amazed at how good he is at playing it straight. His career is known for his physical comedy and outrageous faces, but in The Majestic, he shines as a fictional screenwriter in Hollywood during the McCarthy era. An inspiring, and touching film, I highly recommend it, along with the other films I mentioned in this review.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Brie Larson was the best actress winner in the 2016 Academy Award race for her performance in Room.  She also won a Golden Globe, among other awards, for her greatly nuanced performance. Room was based on the best selling novel by Emma Donoghue. She also penned the screenplay.

I was a bit worried about what I’d have to endure in watching this film. It was rated R (turns out just for language), and I knew it was about a teen that was abducted, raped and gave birth to a son while in captivity. I also knew they had escaped. Other than that, I didn’t know much.

Thankfully, the gruesome details of what Joy (Brie Larson) endured when first kidnapped were not in the film. The perpetrator, referred to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), shows up briefly to give us hints about what Joy’s life was like during the seven or so years she was locked up in his shed, but the film focuses much more on Joy and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Jack, now five years old, is old enough now that Joy believes they can successfully execute an escape. She sets into motion occurrences that ultimately lead to their release from captivity.

Once back in her childhood home, it’s not just mother and child that must adjust to the world, it’s also Joy’s parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) who have to come to terms with what happened to their little girl stolen from them at the age of 17. Joy and Jack get the therapy they need to recover, and her parents do better, and worse, with the sudden return of not just their daughter, but a grandson too. Not just any grandson, but one conceived by rape.

The chemistry between Brie and Jacob is great. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the inquisitive and brave Jack. The nuances of their relationship were believable, as was Joy’s meltdown after her escape. The strangeness of the world for Jack is artfully filmed, and their existence in a tin shed, how they interact and what they do daily, just serves to lay the groundwork for their eventual escape.

The media descended upon the two like the vultures they are, and I was reminded of the notorious instance of abduction and captivity of three young girls in Cleveland not that long ago. I wondered if the author got the idea for her fictional book from that incident. If so, she did a good job keeping the story focused on just enough details to let us see snippets of their life together in room, and then with Joy’s mother. Not too much detail, just enough to show us how they healed.

I recommend this film to anyone interested in the resiliency of the human spirit. Don’t worry about having to watch horrible scenes of abuse. This film instead focuses on the relationship between mother and child, the love that sustained them, and that sees them through to the other side of Room.