Movie Valley
February 2010 Movie Reviews
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Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films

Ugh! While the animated shorts are funny and fun, the live-action shorts are dark and depressing. The nominees this year are The Door, Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish, and The New Tenants. Three were depressing, one was a bit funny and uplifting, and one was just loathsome. It reminded me of a film-school production, full of bullshit dialog that no one outside of college would ever say ("deep" philosophical conversations that really aren't deep but pithy but yet the people think they're deep because they're "that" kind of person). The premise of that one was good; the execution was horrible.

If I had to pick a winner, I'd pick Kavi. That was the entry from India. It was tough. It was about an incredibly poor family forced into back-breaking slave labor so that the father could pay his debts. Everyone, including eight year old Kavi, had to make bricks all day long (and if you've ever had to do that - I actually have - it hurts). There is a bright point to the movie but even that bright point is bittersweet. Poor Kavi. The New Tenants sucked. That was the college bullshit one. It was Danish... and yet all of the actors and even the setting was American. Not sure how that qualifies as Danish... The Door, although Irish, was about Chernobyl (and no movie about Chernobyl could be fun). Miracle Fish was Australian and it made my jaw drop. It was sweet and yet ho-hum until the ending. Instead of Abracadabra was an entry from Sweden and was the funny-ish one. It was different... but I still didn't like it.

The nice thing about the shorts is that they're all short - 30 minutes or less. Gotta like that. Interesting how 20 minutes can sometimes seem like an eternity.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

Ah, Oscar season. Gotta love it. The animated films were French Roast, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, The Lady and the Reaper, Logorama, and A Matter of Loaf and Death (Wallace and Gromit). With the exception of Logorama, they were all excellent and incredibly funny. They were all well done (including Logorama). It will be hard to pick a winner, although I am so partial to Wallace and Gromit.

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez
Directed By: James Cameron
Run Time: 2 hrs 40 mins

Avatar takes place in the future where a new planet, which has a mineral that's incredibly valuable, is embroiled in a takeover. The "aliens" don't want to give up their land; the Americans want to mine the mineral at whatever cost. A group of scientists have come up with a way to infiltrate the alien world and the military is hoping that they can use this program to their advantage. They put a man on the inside (played by Worthington) to convince the aliens to move.

When I first saw the previews for this movie, I was absolutely, one hundred percent not interested in seeing. No interest whatsoever. Not even an inkling. It didn't look enticing in any way, shape, or form. When it got nominated for nine Oscars, I sighed heavily. Darnit. I'd have to see it. Not happily, but I'd see it.

Sigh. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I heard it was all visual effects and no story. The high level story has been done soooo many times - military/business takeover of a land where no one understands the natives - and refers to them as savages - and no one listens to the scientists/activists about ways to peacefully coexist with the natives. Shoot first or shove them off their land rather than negotiate or realize that what you want isn't worth killing for (is anything?). I did like the underlying story where Jake (played by Worthington) has to assimilate to the native culture (as an Avatar).

I read that James Cameron was asked to tone down the "tree hugger" vibe. As a vegetarian/sorta tree hugger, I did not get a sense of the the strong tree hugger vibe at all (and I know what to watch for). In fact, the natives had the right philosophy (and if anyone thinks otherwise, I'm not sure they have the right philosophy) - be good to the land because we're all connected to it.

This movie did annoy me because it was so formulaic. The military as bad guys, natives seen as savages, their values ridiculed and not believed. Can't we all just get along? I should think that if the humans found the mineral they wanted to mine, they would have had to do it with the help of the natives (because that was one treacherous planet!)...

If you see this movie, you must see it in 3D, because the movie is all about the visual effects. Of course, I didn't really see the point of 3D. Nothing comes at you and when the humans are on screen, I found the 3D annoying because I didn't need to see their limbs in more dimensions coming at me. I also found the 3D invasive as it made it hard to see what was really going on. The "avatar" world is comprised of blues, purples, and greens - all of which are phosphorescent. Since the Avatars themselves are blue, the 3D made it hard to see who was what and what was who. It was a pretty world. I just would have liked to see more of it. The 3D obstructed it. It was difficult to see everything because there were so many digitally enhanced colors. I did like the luminescent stuff. It was pretty.

While I liked that the assimilation scenes weren't rushed, you suddenly realize that this movie is in its second hour and we still haven't gotten to the battle scene yet (and the battle scene is incredibly lengthy, too). This is a VERY long movie and you feel it towards the end.

Was it just me or did the gas masks just seem to come and go, whenever the drama called for it. I swear there were times when they weren't wearing them in the middle when they should have been... Oh, and you can't talk and not breathe at the same time! And why do all military leaders have to be such macho jerks? I can't imagine they all are in real life.

I didn't hate this movie but I do have a hard time letting myself like it. It's long (almost three hours!). It's predictable. It's formulaic. A lot of the sci-fi stuff isn't imaginative but trying too hard to be different. I sorta liked this movie. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, and that's saying a lot. It wasn't as good as nine Oscar nominations would have you believe... but it wasn't horrible. 3D was wasted. Story wasn't too bad.

Hurt Locker
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Run Time: 2 hrs 10 mins

Hurt Locker is about a team of bomb defusers in Iraq.

The movie starts off in your face. These are bomb defusers in the middle of war. Bombs detonate. Decisions must be made quickly or people die. People die. Boom. And very quickly you get introduced to two very different bomb defusers. One works with caution and with the aid of him team. The other throws caution to the wind and works by himself, afterall, he's the one who dies if the bomb goes off. He knows this very well. And he likes it. His team does not know this. They feel it, though. And his actions put his team in danger. He comes to realize this, the hard way.

I've found that all the movie sites that I've looked at all feature the "name" actors prominently instead of the actual meat of the cast, who is comprised of relative unknowns. While first-billing the well-known actors seems logical, it doesn't after you see this movie. Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes (yes, that is the extent of the "names") are only in it for a few minutes (if that)... not that they die; they just have VERY minor characters. It's interesting. I don't know how many people would go see a movie because Ralph Fiennes is in it (he ain't no Stanley Tucci) so please just feature the actors who play the leads, particularly in such a low-visibility movie. And now that one of the meat actors is up for a Lead Actor award, it would be nice if Jeremy Renner could get some proper attention. In fact, this movie is tied with Avatar for the most Oscar nominations - nine.

War movies are always tough because it gives you a glimpse - however Hollywood-ized it is - into the carnality, into the fear, into the gruesomeness, into the constant alert, never knowing whom to trust, and the threat of death always, always looming. That also goes for the natives, who are not trusted, despite the fact that it's their homeland that's being invaded, torn apart, destroyed.

This is a good movie. Good character development. Scary and grisly and tough movie. Well done (and I don't like war movies). I don't think I would have watched it if it weren't Oscar nominated but I am glad I saw it.

Crazy Heart
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall
Directed By: Scott Cooper
Run Time: 1 hr 51 mins

Crazy Heart is about an aging country-western musician waiting for his big break. He's struggling with alcoholism, living life on the road, traveling by himself playing in small bars and bowling alleys. He's struggling with a career that's not going anywhere (while those who once played with him pass him by).

Jeff summed up this movie in four words (and was quite proud of himself for doing so - and then challenged himself to sum it up in three) - "The Wrestler with guitar" (which he later changed to "Country The Wrestler"). He's right. Just like Randy (in The Wrestler) was a kind-hearted but down on his luck washed-up wrestler, Bad Blake (played by Bridges) is a kind-hearted but down on his luck washed-up country-western musician. Both had children who hated them and despite knowing this, you couldn't help but think, "But he's not a bad guy!" Both were fueled by the love of their careers. Both were trying so desperately to be noticed. And both were so unbelievably kind and humble that you couldn't help but root for them.

This is a sweet movie. It has likeable characters. It's well told. Although it's about redemption (or the chance of redemption), it doesn't Hollywood-ize it (like overnight the person is 180-degrees different). Change happens slowly and not drastically. And the ending isn't Hollywood-ized, either (which did bother me a bit because I'm a sucker for them).

I do find it amazing that Colin Farrell is never mentioned in so many credit blips but he is in it. He plays a pretty important role, too. He plays the antagonist and the catalyst for Bad Blake. He may not have a lot of screen time but his character certainly is influential. Jeff loved his performance, particularly the scene where he walks out on stage to sing with Blake. He felt it was spot-on natural.

Good movie. Sweet movie. Not as powerful as The Wrestler but still good.

Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd
Directed By: Lee Daniels
Run Time: 1 hr 49 mins

Precious is about a 16 year old girl named Clareece "Precious" Jones (played by Sidibe) in the 80s living in Harlem about to have her second child (by her own father). As a result of her pregnancy, she is kicked out of school and enrolled in an alternative school for troubled kids. Her mother is verbally and physically abusive and refuses to leave the house or lift a finger. Her mother insists (when she's not yelling or throwing things at her) that she drop out of school entirely and enroll in Welfare. At her new school, Precious makes friends and learns how to survive.

I absolutely refuse to call this movie it's full title (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire). I don't care that it's based on a book nor do I know or care who Sapphire is. The title irks me. It's presumptuous. What other movie that's based on a novel has the writer's name in the title? And of those writers whose name is in the title (like Stephen King's Misery) how many of those writers are relative unknowns? I understand how Stephen King gets his name in the title. I don't understand how Sapphire gets her name in the title. Did it make me want to see the movie more? No. Did it make me want to see the movie less? Absolutely. But I digress (as always).

As the summary suggests, this is not a happy movie. It is an incredibly tough movie. If you ever feel as though you have problems, watch this movie. Your problems are nothing compared to this poor girl's. She is a 16 year old girl who is morbidly obese living in Harlem, having her second child - and both of whom are fathered by her own father - and lives with a lazy and abusive mother who is constantly telling her own daughter that she's stupid and will never amount to anything. To deal with her situation, Precious escapes to a fantasy world, where people are nice to her (but, oddly enough, even in her fantasy world, her own mother isn't as nice as she could be).

The opening credits bothered me deeply. Everything was misspelled - spelled like someone with no education would spell something (almost phonetically but not really). I thought that if this is how the book was written - or even had a paragraph here or there for emphasis - I would be annoyed that something like that got publish. Story is the majority of a novel but spelling does count, too.

One of the reasons I went to this movie is because it has a few Oscar nominations. I can emphatically say that Mo'Nique should not win for Supporting Actress, nor should she really have been nominated. While she does do a good job being absolutely awful to Precious, I have a feeling it wasn't an acting stretch (I don't think she's a nice person in real life). The scenes where she's supposed to be nice to Precious (the fantasy scenes) were absolutely horrible acting - and I don't think that was supposed to be like that (yes, in one of the fantasy scenes she wasn't supposed to be nice as she was saying nice things but the others were supposed to be nice). Didn't like her acting. I'll be sad if she wins.

Despite all the horrible things that happen to Precious, this is an uplifting movie. She makes friends. She tries to have some semblance of a normal life. She tries to be a better person than her mother without throwing her mother under a bus (which is not to say that she lies to protect her mother, either. She just doesn't say anything incriminating). You know, at the end, that she will make it - and she will be a good mother, a good person. It's amazing.

I think part of what makes this story so compelling is that there's nothing in my mind that can fully grasp Precious' life. I cannot comprehend how poor she is (and how she stole a bucket of chicken, which was ingenious). I cannot imagine anyone saying so many hurtful things in one breath to their own child. I also could not even begin to imagine how uneducated Precious was. When she was asked to take the alternative school exam and was told she needed a certain score to pass (something like an 18), I figured she'd at least get half of the minimum (like 9... maybe even an 8). I could see not knowing everything on the test or even a quarter of the questions but I figured she'd get some of them right, a few. I think she got a 1. They really just pushed her through school to get her out. It was sad. I was also off-put at how large she was (which is my issue with my own weight projecting here). How does someone who is only 16 get to be that big? Again, so sad. It wasn't that she was compensating for her abuses by turning to food for comfort or eating out of boredom (she didn't have the money to do that). It was that she was so uneducated as to what to eat (and how much) - and that was disturbing. She didn't know any better.

This movie did make me wonder how many other children like Precious are growing up in a house where they're told they're stupid and won't amount to anything. How many are unloved. How many are hated, not by anything they themselves did, but because of situations they can't control, that are beyond their control (as was Precious with her mother-father dynamics. Her mother hated her, was jealous of her, due to her father's indiscretions).

Not a rainy day movie. Not one you'd probably give up a good afternoon to see, but it is a good movie. It will definitely make you realize in a hurry that the sum of your problems don't even compare to hers.