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February 2009 Movie Reviews
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Confessions of a Shopaholic
Starring: Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy
Directed By: P.J. Hogan
Run Time: 1 hr 42 mins

Confessions of a Shopaholic is about Rebecca Bloomwood's (played by Fisher) obsession with shopping, even though she can't afford it. When the magazine she works for suddenly folds, Rebecca finds herself without a job. She, in a drunken stupor, writes two articles - one to the financial magazine who turned her down and the other to her dream job at a fashion magazine. When the letters get switched, her plucky spirit lands her the job at the financial magazine. Her assignment is to write financial pieces in a way so that everyone can understand them, which is really good for Rebecca because she knows nothing about finances (as witnessed by her mounting debt).

That's all there is to this movie. Rebecca stumbles into situations and somehow manages to stumble her way out of them, all the while looking fabulous and making a wonderful impression. Um, yeah, cuz that happens in real life. There's a manic struggle in her life to get rid of her debt and her debt collectors all the while trying to write articles on a subject she doesn't understand. And she somehow manages to pull it all off. You can feel the struggle, the tension throughout the whole movie. Poor Rebecca with all that debt! What will she do? Who hasn't bitten off more than they can chew, whether it be with your job or buying something when you know you shouldn't have, only to have it come and bite them back in the butt - and yet the solutions all come too easily to Rebecca.

I read a critique of this movie that says that this movie is irresponsible, particularly given the current economic condition of the world. Before I saw this movie, I rebuked that critique. I mean, this movie is about recovering from debt and learning the error of frivolous spending. Well, that's what this movie is supposed to be about. When her financial woes seem to go away so easily (how did she afford the purple dress?) and everything she touches seems to turn to gold, this movie doesn't have a strong "be responsible - debt is bad" message. She never loses anything (really); nothing is repossessed. She's not forced to move out of her apartment and nothing she really loves is taken away from her. Whenever her credit card is declined, there's always someone there to pay for her purchase and it never seems to come at a really awkward/inopportune moment. And the final damning scene where her creditor faces her down, really isn't that embarrassing (or so I thought). She really could have explained it all away or put a good spin on it... and yet she didn't, which was rather disappointing and a real let down.

I expected a couple of montages - one in the beginning where she's buying all these wonderful things (I think there was a scene kind of like this but it didn't have any impact) - and another towards the end where she realizes how to control her money and buys things at flea markets or second hand stores - or, imagine the horror - learns to sew! But there was neither. So much potential. So much fizzle.

Don't get me wrong. I thought this movie was cute... but it could have been so much more. It could have been smarter, funnier, better. It could have more impact. Things didn't have to get resolved in a Brady-Bunch way. But I like Isla Fisher. She's so gosh-darned cute and likable. And Hugh Dancy wasn't bad, either (the British accent helps). I didn't care for the parents (they saved all their lives for $13,000???) and felt bad that Joan Cusack and John Goodman have been reduced to schmaltzy eccentric characters... minus the eccentric. I totally hated the roommate (she really didn't lend anything to the story). I did like the green scarf thing - all of it, from the hotdog to the auction and at the end. Yes, I fell for the cheesiness of it. Aw. I do have a heart.

So.... an okay movie. A good movie to watch on a trans-Atlantic flight. It will distract you for a bit. Other than that, it missed the mark.

Starring: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou
Directed By: Paul McGuigan
Run Time: 1 hr 51 mins

Push is about a bunch psychic kids with supernatural abilities fighting a government agency that is trying to exploit their talents by injecting them with a drug that could either kill them (as it does most) or double their powers (as it did one). Nick (played by Evans) has the ability to move things with his mind, Cassie (played by Fanning) has the ability to see the future, Kate (played by Belle) has the ability to change people's thoughts/memories.

Confusing. That's a lot of this movie in a nutshell. Sometimes good confusing, sometimes not so good confusing. Never really bad confusing, which is good, right? Part of the confusion stems from my gnat-like attention span. Wave something shiny and I forget to follow crucial plot points. When the movie actually begins moving, it is a bit difficult to follow. But that's the point. Or maybe not. I'm the type of person who had to watch The Matrix and Stargate a couple of times to figure out what was even happening... I'm not that smart. I don't think this movie plays on intelligence too much. I think it's supposed to be confusing (gosh, I hope so). Nick doesn't want you to be able to figure out what he his next move is because if you, the audience can jump to conclusions before it happens, then the watcher (a person who sees the future) can, too. Of course, you do have to wonder why she couldn't gleam this information as soon as he wrote it down initially. There's a long time between when he makes the final card and when he gets that memory removed (sorry, spoiler).

I think the thing that's most confusing about this movie is the unknown background into their world. You have no idea what powers these people possess because you don't know what the possibilities are. True, the movie is narrated with a list of different types of people but their powers aren't fully explained nor are you given any time (or reason) to commit these to memory. You can figure out what some people do - sniffers, for example, but what the heck does the crazy mom's friend do? She does say, "I have the power to giveth and taketh away" but give what, take what? I'm assuming pain but it's not fully explained. And some of these powers would have more ramifications than what is depicted - the screaming people, for example. Hong Kong is very populous, particularly the market. Wouldn't more people die because they yelled really loud and lots of people would have heard that...

But despite the confusion, I found myself sucked into this movie. It was cool. I couldn't always follow it, but that didn't stop me from trying to solve the ending. I wanted to figure it out. Of course (spoiler alert), the ending is unattainable. You won't be able to figure out how it's going to end. They cheat a little to get the ending to work, but I was actually okay with that.

One thing I didn't buy was Nick's ability - or inability - to use his power. He's had it since he was young, at least known about it. He didn't seem too concerned about trying to limit his power to go undetected so I'm not sure why he hadn't practiced it more until when the movie begins. He should have mastered small moves by then. I could understand not knowing the full scope (being able to bounce bullets) or having complete strength but he should have been able to flip a die, right?

This is my second Dakota Fanning movie in a row! Wow. She is quite the little actress. She amazes me how much she transforms into different roles. There are very few young actresses that could have portrayed the savvy, smart, and tough Cassie. She did it well. She's going to win an Oscar one of these years. So impressive. She makes it seems so easy. I wasn't that impressed with Camilla Belle until close to the end, when her character transforms. It was also nice to see Djimon Hounsou play evil... although I wanted him to be more evil.

Good movie. Keeps you guessing. Keeps you thinking, trying to figure out what's going to happen and if they can pull off their plan.

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane
Directed By: Henry Selick
Run Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Coraline is about a young girl who moves to a new house in a new state and finds herself incredibly lonely. Her neighbors are eccentric, the only other child close to her age annoys her, and her parents ignore her while they work from home as writers for a gardening catalog. One day, Coraline finds an odd door and discovers to leads to a parallel universe, where her parents are nice to her and her eccentric neighbors are entertaining.

I saw this movie in 3D. There's no need to see it in 3D other than to see the 3D previews for Up and Aliens vs. Monsters. There's nothing that pops out at you to scare you, amuse you, or intrigue you. The 3D is wasteful because there's nothing charming about this movie that 1D couldn't satisfy.

I didn't realize this was a horror movie. If it had been non-animated, it would have definitely been billed as a horror flick. I was scared! Definitely disturbed. It is not a kids movie and I was pretty happy that there were none in the theater. The buttons for eyes! Just even the moment when Coraline's "Other Mother" turns for the first time so that you can see her face with the button eyes was terrifying. Very scary stuff.

There were a lot of oddities in this movie that I think were trying to make a point. Hmmm.. I feel there was some commentary trying to be made with Coraline's "real" parents not liking dirt and yet wrote gardening catalogs for a living. Maybe the writer was trying to make a point about other walks of life - vets who don't like animals, pediatricians who don't like kids. Since it was such an odd career (garden catalog writers), ya gotta think there was something behind that we just weren't seeing. Perhaps it was that these were incredibly odd people. Parents who have no time or interest in their kid.

Whybie. His name meant "Why were you born?" Wow. A look into the writer's life, perhaps? That had to come from somewhere. The name alone made it not a kids movie. That's just a horrible thing to say to a kid, let alone name it. Very disturbing... and sad. Poor Whybie.

There were two parts to this movie. First there's demonstration of the two complete opposite worlds - unhappy and ignored in the real world and the attention and beauty of the other world with the other parents. The other world represents Coraline's desire to fix the aspects of her life she doesn't like - parents who don't pay attention to her, let alone make her feel loved and special, need to be entertained by what seems to be odd neighbors (if they're going to be odd, they should at least be entertaining, right?), and better food (her father is in charge of cooking in her real life and he isn't very good). Interesting how her mother rules the roost in both worlds, albeit a little nicer in the real world (less evil).

I didn't care for the other world bits with the neighbors and in fact found the elderly Vaudeville neighbors' performance to be over the line with risqueness. Wow. In fact, I couldn't believe it. If watching that scene with the pasties didn't make you realize this wasn't a kids movie, nothing would.

The second part of the movie is the struggle between the two worlds and Coraline's fight to return to one of them. I did not like care for this part of the movie. The tasks were not clearly defined in the beginning and Coraline seems to solve them way too fast and conveniently. There's no skill involved in solving these tasks - most of them are solved with dumb luck/good timing. There's no cleverness, no intelligence, no problem solving, no logic involved with accomplishing the tasks. I found that incredibly disappointing. And the worst part (sorry, spoiler here) is that her parents don't change when she gets back to the real world. They don't thank her or even act like she did anything heroic at all. She risked her life for them and there's no reward. I also don't get fully why she chose her real life over her other life. Yes, her other mother was creepy and there's a hint of evilness lurking, but her real family is just beastly. They ignore her. They're almost blatantly mean to her. They definitely don't understand her. Did she choose her real life over her other life because she didn't want to sew buttons over her eyes (which, incidentally, was a very disturbing scene when her other mother hands her the box with the buttons displayed as eyes and the spool of thread as a nose). To me, the colored buttons weren't so horrible. The black buttons just had an ominous, evil feeling to them, but colored seemed to be cheerful. They lightened the mood and took the horror out of the whole idea.

I liked this move and yet I didn't. I found it very creative.... but almost too creative, trying too hard. It didn't tie together. I found Whybie's whole existence to be sad. As a girl not understood by her parents, you'd think she'd be more accepting of the unusual (Whybie). I am glad his head bob/sideways tilt was explained at the end. That made me laugh. And I'm glad the kitty found a home.

This move has a Tim Burton feel to it without the full charm. It fell a bit short. Was the filmmaker from another country where they think it's okay to animate dark subjects, this fooling and luring in people who think animation should be light and kind hearted and fun?

Dakota Fanning did a good job but I didn't like her blaize tone in the beginning. She's such a good little actress that it worked in the end. I liked Teri Hatcher's disenfranchised real mother voice and then her super sappy evil other mother voice.

Good movie. Not great. Would have been much better if the message was different (why did Coraline choose the world she did, particularly since it really didn't change after she picked it?). Things needed to be tied together better. The creativity was high. The outcome was not.

Waltz with Bashir
Starring: Ari Folman, Ori Sivan
Directed By: Ari Folman
Run Time: 1 hr 27 mins

Waltz with Bashir is an Israeli movie up for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. It's about a man named Ari who can't remember his part in the Lebanon War. He has no recollection of fighting in the war. He seeks out his friends and those who also fought in the war to help him jog his memory.

Why is it that movies up for best foreign film feel the need to animate such dark subjects? Persepolis from last year was an animated tale about an outspoken Iranian girl who is sent away to school in France to protect her from herself as her country falls under an Islamic dictatorship. This year, Waltz with Bashir is an animated tale about the massacre of Palestinians in the Lebanon War. Such cozy subjects hidden behind cutesy drawings. The children in these countries must be a bit gun shy when it comes to cartoons.

The animation in this movie bothered me. There were some visuals that were wonderful - the pack of dogs running towards the "camera" leave drool on the "lens." The scenery also seemed to be real - it had a genuine feel to it. But the characters, the stilted drawings of people, the stop-animation movements were all so drama school production quality. It distracted me from the story. But since the movie was in Hebrew and I had to read the subtitles, the animation issues weren't as annoying as they could have been. I was too busy reading to look at too much of the action.

The background subject - the Lebanon War - is very disturbing. War is always horrible, I know, but this particular war, told from these points of view, seemed even worse. It seemed as though most of the killings were unjust - scared little boys firing unnecessarily. As they clamored out of the water, the troops fired and fired and fired. There was no cause, no reason to be shooting. And they kill a family without knowing who they were shooting. And as they drove along in their tanks, their guns never ceased firing. At what? Did they know? They didn't seem to care. Shoot first or be shot seemed to be their motto, rather than be alert and cautious. So many senseless killings. It all seemed so disorganized. No one knew what to do, what they were doing. Just kill. I'm not surprised Ari's friend had the nightmare about the dogs. Senseless killings - he was instructed to kill the dogs as they walked into villages to keep the dogs from alerting the town of their arrival (um, so the gunshots killing the dogs wouldn't do the same?). He was haunted by the trivialness of it. And he should be.

The main part of this movie - Ari's memory lapse over the events, his part of the Lebanon War, seemed to be illogical. I could understand blocking out the massacre - one day - but the fact that he couldn't remember anything about what he did in the war seemed far fetched. And he wasn't the only one who couldn't remember the war. He encountered several friends and fellow soldiers who also didn't have a memory for the events. Huh. Amnesia runs rampant through the Israeli army. I suppose what he was trying to say was that it wasn't their war to fight, a war they (the soldiers) didn't believe in. And it's also about how the mind plays tricks on you - things you remember, things you swear happened, didn't really happen. The mind has a way of shutting down in order to protect you.

There's a lot of violence in this movie. I was shocked at it, at the senselessness of it, at the innocent civilians who died because the people doing the shooting weren't very good shots. But I suppose that was the point of it. I really didn't like the ending where it suddenly went from animation to real life footage of the aftermath of the massacre - bodies piled up everywhere. Women, children, old men. And the people left behind crying hysterically. I think the transition was to point out - don't forget. Don't forget this massacre happened.

I'll be glad when Oscar season is over.

Revolutionary Road
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Michael Shannon
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Run Time: 1 hr 59 mins

Revolutionary Road is about a young couple in the 50s who fancy themselves different from everyone else, despite the fact that they live in suburbia, he works at a job he can't stand in the city, and she stays home to raise the kids she didn't want. They decide to pack it up and move to France, just to be different. However, life doesn't always work out the way it's planned...

Wow. I will be so glad when Oscar season is over. I know I've said that before. I really mean it. Basically, this movie says that everyone is unhappy, almost as if they live to make themselves unhappy. Just when they're given everything to make themselves happy, they somehow find a way to be unhappy. It's a rather depressing movie. I suppose that's my fault. I made myself unhappy by going to this movie. I'm actually wondering if Kate Winslet is a happy person in real life because the last two movies I've seen her in, she's been a cranky gus.

First, let me talk about all the things I liked about this movie. They're not necessarily the movie itself, just visuals and points. I loved all of the smoking. Everyone smoked. Everyone. At all times - during work in cubicles, at lunch in the cafeteria, while pregnant. And I loved all the drinking, too. Everyone drank. During lunch (while working), while pregnant. Always drinking, always smoking. Wow. And I loved how Frank's boss let his employees know he wanted to talk to them - the little light at the end of their cubicle lit up. Funny. I loved the visual of the sea of men getting off the train, walking down the stairs of the train station. A sea of men in suits with ties and hats. Everyone had a hat. They were all identical, indistinguishable from the next. So homogenized.

Was it me or was the Titanic undertone a little creepy? First, you have Kate and Leo together again in a movie and then they throw in Kathy Bates (the unsinkable Molly Brown). When April (played by Winslet) gets her boat tickets to Paris, was I the only one thinking that those two should not get on a boat together because we all know how the last sea excursion turned out for them... I found it funny. "Stay away from the boat!"

I'm not sure what to make about this movie. So many messages. So many chances to be happy and yet so many blockades. No one was happy. Everyone wanted something else, and when they got that something else, they still weren't happy. I'll say one thing about this movie: it made me think about my life.

I loved Michael Shannon's performance as John, who is up for Best Supporting Actor. Wow. He was crazy. And yet not. He was the only one who had a personality, who thought, who was against being like everyone else and for that, he ended up in shock therapy. The scene where he meets Frank and April for the first time and asks what a lawyer would think about hitting his mother with a coffee table is hilarious. Of course, it's only hilarious in theory. If it actually happened, that wouldn't be funny, but his question is so wonderfully delightful. You can tell he's a man pushed to the end of his rope by his mother. Kate Winslet plays cranky girl #2. And her eyebrows bothered me (the things I think about). Blonde hair, brown eyebrows. Too distracting. I didn't buy Leo as a father or a businessman. The acting, for the most part, was fine. The dialog, on the other hand, felt like a college experimental play - trying too hard and coming across as trite and unreal. I hated the fact that every sentence Frank uttered to his wife included her name. By the way, her name is April. April, April, April. I can't remember the last time Jeff called me by name. When it's just the two of us in a room together, I'm pretty sure it's me he's talking to. He doesn't need to say my name a hundred times (no exaggeration) in one conversation. Who does that? The concept of the movie was great - trying to be true to who you think you are, who you envision yourself to be, to do what you set out to do, to not be ordinary - but the dialog stunted what the movie was trying to do.

Again, I'm not sure what to make about this movie. It was... okay. Okay. It should have been better. Perhaps it was frustrating because I identified with it a bit - trying to make someone happy but being thwarted by their actions (and then getting blamed for making them unhappy). I think it just fell flat. I saw what it was trying to do. I just don't think it got there.