Life of Pi

Those who believe in God will find a warmth in this film that may strengthen their beliefs. At the same time, despite the amazing cinematography, atheists and shades in between will enjoy only that: a big screen version of Nat Geo HDTV. All will be entertained but no philosophies will be turned either way.

Life of Pi is a fantasy film that is dramatic and also philosophical in nature. The film covers a lot of ground. It begins as a chronicle of one boy’s life and how he grows into a man that decides to believe in God. The God part of this film makes it somewhat predictable. It certainly wasn’t written by Ernest Hemingway who seemed to hint at an atheist reality. Instead, this film, which began as a bestseller book, takes us through the fantasy story of a man who survives a shipwreck and over 200 days at sea with a Bengal tiger. We are given two stories and offered the choice which to believe. In that way, minus Pi’s God theme, it reminded me a lot of K-Pax, which wasn’t a “God” themed film but also a fantasy film with 2 options to believe. K-Pax led you closer to the truth of the dual story In my opinion. In K-Pax, the fantasy option is a lot more easily swallowed (pardon the tiger pun). We are actually told by Pi in the end that if the fantasy story is preferable to the real story by a listener, then that listener is choosing to believe in God. Hmmm.

There is a touching and romantic scene where “Pi” asks a girl what her dance symbol meant. She tells him it was meant to show a Lotus flower in the jungle. When there is an allusion that God will enter the story, that would have been a perfect chance to include a Lotus flower. Sadly, we get an explanation more suited to Tim Burton’s Big Fish: Nonsensical albeit human. Believing in God is such a personal activity I certainly don’t think a fantasy film can help me perform it. If one is looking for emotion and fantasy to believe in, church and the Life of Pi will fill that desire well. On the other hand, if one wishes to look at things as they are, neither church nor the Life of Pi will open any heavens.

While it started out intriguing and the middle scenes were nothing short of cinematic beauty, Life of Pi failed to address the real question which is: “How can a man have faith when he is alone against nature?” I would have liked to see that study continue throughout the film. As it is, it stops half-way through. Those who believe in God will find a warmth in this film that may strengthen their beliefs. At the same time, despite the amazing cinematography, atheists and shades in between will enjoy only that: a big screen version of Nat Geo HDTV. All will be entertained but no philosophies will be turned.

Silver Linings Playbook

A romantic comedy about a form of bipolar that doesn’t exist telling an offbeat story that could never really happen with characters that are not realistic. Despite all that, it’s still an entertaining 2 hours.

In Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper plays a manic bipolar who is fixated on getting back with his wife who has cheated on him and secured a restraining order. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence plays an admirer with issues of her own. There is some trouble here, the movie starts off clearly being about bipolar and metal illness and later waters all that psychology study down making it like a low grade Hangover or other romantic film Bradley Cooper has starred in. I was hoping for a more realistic portrayal of mental illness. I don’t know why, Hollywood is never good at that. Maybe it shouldn’t be expected to be. It was still highly entertaining as a romantic comedy.

The film was Directed by David O. Russell known for The Fighter. I liked this film because it portrayed people in an unflattering state, as they are. Many times movies try to sugar coat families and individuals to make them seem superhuman. I don’t think this really helps humanity. This movie starts out portraying bipolar disorder in a believable and textbook way but later veers from the realistic path. I think if they would have made this a movie about bipolar disorder it would have not had been as interesting. Still, it would have been educational which might have made it better. As it stands, Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy about a form of bipolar that doesn’t exist telling an offbeat story that could never really happen with characters that are not realistic. Despite all that, it’s still an entertaining 2 hours.

The Impossible

The Impossible is about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother in a family that struggles to survive.

The Impossible is a film about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and a family that fought to survive in its aftermath. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother that struggles to survive and to reunite with her family.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (known for Orphanage and a host of movies made in Spain). It stars Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts who are widely known for many things. Both do an amazing job in this film portraying the mother and father of a family that goes through adventures that are often bordering macabre to attempt to survive.

The Impossible is a true story of a family separated by a natural disaster. When a middle-to-upper class family of 5 gets in the way of a Tsunami wave, they are separated and forced to find inner strength and survive. The disaster puts them in the company of hundreds of thousands of strangers with death at every turn. Still, they keep hope alive in the film and we see them fight for survival in many inspiring ways.

I didn’t think this movie would be very good after seeing the preview. It looked like another sappy “I love my kids so much I’ll kill for them” type of survival movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movies’ portrayal of this family’s struggle to survive and “find each other” is so realistic and gritty. At the same time, it has some truly touching scenes of human love both within the family as well as with strangers it comes across. This movie seeks to show us we are stronger as humans than we think and it achieves that through portraying this incredible true story. For that reason, I gave it 5/5 stars.

My Top 10 Favorite Films I Reviewed in 2012

Ruby Sparks is amazing and just one of my 10 favorite films I reviewed in 2012. My top ten list is here.

2012 was an awesome year for movies. From a magical typewriter that created a sexy girl to an orphaned chimp, there was much in the theaters of 2012 to make one feel and think. It was also the year I made my blog a prominent platform for movie reviews. Of course I didn’t review everything I saw, but mostly I did. Below is the list of my top ten movie reviews of 2012, linked to the reviews themselves.

  • Rise of the Guardians 11/24/12 Rise of the Guardians is a CGI animated film for children based on a book by William Joyce. It is built around the invaluable moral of believing in yourself.
  • Ruby Sparks 11/18/12 Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy written by Zoe Kazan. Ruby is a fictional character thought up in the movie by a successful writer in his early twenties played by Paul Dano. Much to his surprise, one day Ruby comes to life and takes on the role of his real life girlfriend. After that a roller coaster of emotions and love lessons ensues.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower 11/11/12 Emma Watson and Ezra Miller steal the show in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miller often reminded me of a Jack Nicholson for a new generation. This book-turned-film pleases at every turn.
  • Argo 10/29/12 The film Argo is the story of how a CIA team rescued hostages from Iran. It is based on true events. In this film, the horrors of 1979 Iran contrast with the humor of making a fake movie making it both serious and comic.
  • Here Comes the Boom 10/13/12 There is now another “root for the underdog” fighting film to add to the movie archives. It’s also another try at a “feel good education” film.
  • Frankenweenie 10/09/12 You’d think death and grieving were topics best left for grown up movies like Ordinary People et. al., but these topics work surprisingly well in Tim Burton’s animated movie Frankenweenie. It is a highly enjoyable ride for families to the “other side” and back again.
  • Moonrise Kingdom 07/13/12 Moonrise Kingdom is a refuge amidst so many predictable and non-inventive movies out now. It tells a creative story line of lovers who thrive despite their antagonistic surroundings.
  • Prometheus 06/12/12 Prometheus takes us back to the time before Ridley Scott’s Alien. It fills in a few gaps for us as fans of the franchise and opens all sorts of curious new doors. It stars a relative newcomer who really packs a punch in her role. The actress who plays the tough and sexy Elizabeth Shaw, Noomi Rapace, is well known for playing Lisbeth Salandeteen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series (Swedish version).
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Documentary Review) 06/02/12 Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog in 2010. Many recognize Herzog as a gifted filmmaker who has made many documentary genre and other style films since the late 1960’s. The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in the Ardèche department of southern France is a cave that contains some of the earliest known cave paintings.
  • Chimpanzee 04/27/12 Chimpanzee is a documentary film released by Disney. It was directed by renowned BBC nature film creators Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield. Only true specialists in this genre could have created such a sad yet inspiring and touching movie. This film features Oscar, a helplessly cute chimpanzee who has all sorts of adventures as an infant and small child chimp.

If you were looking for great movies from 2012, I hope my post has helped you out. I welcome and appreciate your comments here on my blog.

Les Miserables 2012 3/5 Stars

The film is quite successful in portraying a monstrously powerful musical on screen. Unfortunately it takes a back seat to the stage version.

Les Misérables (2012) is a film adaptation of a highly acclaimed stage musical that has been part of American culture for decades. So why make a musical cinema adaptation? After making more money as a motivation that is … It was likely meant to appeal to the growing number of younger people who never saw the stage version or all ages who would not have access to a stage. The movie makers took on a lot in this respect.

There are mammoth challenges when recreating musical theater on screen. This film was unsuccessful in meeting some of those those challenges. For one thing, stage musicals are seen from just one seat in a theater. They don’t provide close-ups and the bodies on stage of all the performers figure into the grand illusion known as stage performance. In a movie, there are close-ups. Furthermore, the focus is on whoever the director chooses to embrace. This leaves us with a flat image of a musical that never lets us turn our eyes away or have our own visual interpretation. In short, the cinematic musical adaptation rarely matches the power of the stage. As a person who has seen Les Mis (as it has been commonly referred to) on the stage when he was much younger, I can tell you the movie fails to measure up to that experience. Still, for what it tries to do, portray Les Mis in a new genre to a new audience, it is quite successful. It also may be safe to say it’s nearly impossible to portray a stage musical with justice on the screen. If that is the case, they get a huge handicap (if this were a golf game) and I would say it represents a gargantuan effort to get the Les Mis art piece to newer viewers by means of theater. For that, this film gets higher marks.

I think younger people (20’s and below) who have never seen the musical will like the movie because the music is so amazing. Still, the two lead actors, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, are not captivating singers. One has an annoying vibrato he must have cherished in Catholic school and the other is forced sounding. Most lines in the cinematic are sung. There are some excellent moments in the film make no mistake. The Ebony character was my favorite. I will be watching for what she does in future movies. Last but not least, Anne Hathaway does an incredible job with her 1 song. People her give her too much praise however should remember that she had only that performance to focus on. I wonder if her voice and presence would have grown old as a lead role? Just something to throw out there and suggest we think about. The movie is far too long, approaching 3 hours. I think this is a very tough genre to embrace on the screen. They tried it and unfortunately, in my view, failed.

The Snow Walker

The Snow Walker (2003) shows a more primitive side of love, a side that casts away material comforts in favor of simply the closeness of another. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and recommend it as a romance and adventure movie. It makes one wonder if the Eskimos knew more about love centuries ago than modern American culture does now.

It was directed and written by Charles Martin Smith known for being the actor who plays accountant that gets Al Capone in the Untouchables. He has been in a long list of other films through the years and is instantly recognizable in films. He doesn’t appear in this one but as I said, he wrote and directed it. The two main characters in this freezing love story are Charlie Halliday played by Barry Pepper, known for Saving Private Ryan. and Kanaalaq played by Annabella Piugattuk, known for Into the West.

This is the storyline from IMDB:

1953. Charlie Halliday, a former WWII fighter pilot, is a Yellowknife-based bush pilot. Like many of the white in the area, he does not associate with the Inuit except for what he can get out of them in bartering. On a personal plane trip, he runs across a small family of nomadic Inuit. The female of the group, named Kanaalaq, has what Charlie suspects is tuberculosis. In exchange for some ivory, Charlie agrees to fly her to a hospital in Yellowknife. En route back to the city, Charlie is forced to make a crash landing when the plane develops mechanical problems. Although both Charlie and Kanaalaq are unharmed by the crash, the plane is totaled, they are in the middle of nowhere, the radio doesn’t seem to be working, they have a meager amount of supplies, and Charlie’s whereabouts are probably unknown to others since he made a detour from his original route. Furthermore, they can’t communicate with each other as Kanaalaq only knows a few words of English.

The Snow Walker is a tough film to get through in the same way Dances With Wolves is. Both present  ironically touching love stories. Unlike Wolves, however, the emphasis in Snow is completely on the love story. Whether it is the romance we all dream of will vary person to person. Still, it shows a selfish man who comes to appreciate true and primal love in a way I hadn’t thought of before. I gave it 5/5 for a romance. It brings up valuable questions for a relationship. How far would you hike in the snow for the one you love? is one of those questions.

Rise of the Guardians

Believing in yourself is a moral we never outgrow. That and some truly astounding CGI made the Legend of the Guardians a winner with my kids and I.

Rise of the Guardians is a CGI animated film for children based on a book by William Joyce. It is built around the invaluable moral of believing in yourself. Like other great movies I’ve seen recently, it was effectively directed by the book’s author. The film also had a second director: Guillermo del Toro. I was surprised to see del Toro’s name since he was the director of violent horror style movies like Blade and Pan’s Labyrinth. Still, his art shines through in a way that really works for children. The characters reminded me of the video game Legend of Zelda and the Disney cartoon Peter Pan.”

The story centers around Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine. He falls in with “The Guardians,” make believe legends including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. In the beginning, Jack Frost is not convinced he is one of the chosen few but through time and testing, he comes to understand his place as a Guardian. Pitch is the villain. He represents fear. He is voiced by Jude Law and the character is quite scary. He reminded me a little of Hades from Disney’s Hercules. The elves are hilarious in the same spirit as Despicable Me‘s Minions. In the end, everything is set right as is customary in children’s movies. The theater was filled with applause at the end. It was an enjoyable ride watching this morality tale play out.

I must admit I was skeptical about this film at first but to my surprise I was very entertained by it. I greatly enjoyed this movie for my kids, who accompanied me there, but also for myself. Just like the Tortoise and the Hare, we get a bedside tale that teaches up something. In this case it is the power of believing in yourself and others. I’d say this film perfectly achieves what it sets out to do. Believing in yourself is a moral we never outgrow. That and some truly astounding CGI made the Legend of the Guardians a winner with my kids and I.

Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy written by Zoe Kazan. Ruby is a fictional character thought up in the movie by a successful writer in his early twenties played by Paul Dano. Much to his surprise, one day Ruby comes to life and takes on the role of his real life girlfriend. After that a roller coaster of emotions and love lessons ensues. For me, the strongest message in the movie is about the power we try to exert over each other in relationships. It has a truly all-star cast including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould, and many more. Though the film started slow for me, it picked up in the middle and became a very fun and emotion-filled ride. I read online while watching the movie that the actress playing Ruby, Zoe Kazan, is the actual writer of the movie. For this reason, the audience gets the perspective of a woman being invented and controlled by an actual woman writer. I was impressed by Miss Kazan and will look for more from her in the future.

Final Thought: Relationships are often funny but more often perplexing. This movie uses metaphor and satire in the form of this invented woman to address some of those difficult issues. Paul Dano does a very nice job as a young writer trying to figure out life and love. He has definite ideas about what Ruby should be and he writes them clearly. I felt a real-life connection to what he was doing when he “wrote Ruby.” I thought at one point, “How would I ‘write’ my wife if I had the magic typewriter?” Through most of the movie I knew I would not rewrite her one iota. I think that is the message of the movie. We want “the perfect spouse” but in reality, we don’t know what that is for us. Better to let our spouse have her/his imperfections than try to craft them into something “perfect.” If those themes sound interesting, you’ll love this romantic comedy. I give it 5/5 stars. In some ways for me it was a perfect film experience.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Emma Watson and Ezra Miller steal the show in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miller often reminded me of a Jack Nicholson for a new generation. This book-turned-film pleases at every turn.

Emma Watson and Ezra Miller steal the show in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miller often reminded me of a Jack Nicholson for a new generation. This book-turned-film pleases at every turn. It was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky known for the TV series Jericho. Lead actors include: Emma Watson as Sam, Logan Lerman as Charlie, and Ezra Miller as Patrick.

This movie is an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s novel. Charlie is 15 years old and has trouble finding his place in High School. He learns to make friends in the context of a group of misfits. He learns about love, friendship, and his own mental illness in the same context. Lucky for him, it’s a warm, supportive context. It is in some ways the typical coming-of-age film but there is some originality here as well. There are a LOT of “mix tapes” changing hands, almost to annoyance. My wife reminded me the movie is set in 1990 so that might explain it.

I was able to shed my grown-up reason and enjoy this film as my inner-high-school self. Emma Watson is the perfect choice for Charlie’s first love because her face is so familiar and calming. When Charlie has some of his darker moments, she is there as a comforting force. Ezra Miller, who was terrifying in We Need to Talk About Kevin, moves into a new phase of his acting career. He is a delight to watch often showing humor akin to Jack Nicholson (in his own budding way). Logan Lerman does a fine job as Charlie. His piercing eyes really speak more than his lines but I found him to be engaging for the role. People are comparing this film to the Breakfast Club, I think that a hollow comparison. Both are about kids in High School but I don’t see Wallflower hanging around in the American mind as much. It’s a lot of fun with some great acting but fails to mirror the storms of adolescence as clearly as the Breakfast Club.

Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect draws from three modern entertainment genres: 1) Crude humor like American Pie, 2) Teen and twenty-something TV like Dawson’s Creek, and the Broadway musical-made-into-a-movie genre like Rock of Ages. While the musical genre works well, the other two genres are only grasped at. I wanted to laugh at the jokes but I usually didn’t. Contrived as it was, I did enjoy the A’capella music and some of the humor.

I surmise Pitch Perfect was written for 3 genres: 1) Crude College Humor like American Pie, 2) Teen and Twenty-Something TV like Dawson’s Creek, and Broadway Musical-Made-Into-Movie like Rock of Ages. While the A’Capella music and some of the humor in Pitch Perfect works well, the other writing falls short of any genre. It was directed by Jason Moore, known for Dawson’s Creek. There are many known actors including Anna Kendrick as Beca, known for Twilight, Brittany Snow as Chloe, known for Prom Night, and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, known for the movie Bachelorette. There are a lot of other familiar faces in this film. My synopsis: Beca, starting out as a freshman at Barden University, is stifled in her dream of being a DJ and instead joins The Bellas, an A’Capella all-girl singing group. While the seeming band of misfits has some enjoyable talent, Beca brings some new talents out of her DJ bag that shake things up.

Most of the audience will appreciate the Chris-Farley-like humor of Rebel Wilson as Amy. I always applaud overweight actors that seek to promote healthy weights from the silver screen. It’s a better message to girls growing up today than the usual one of the need to be thin to be love able. Onto the relationships: there are no love stories here to “get into.” There is the obligatory one where the girl breaks up with the guy and the guy moves on and the girl runs back to the guy … yadda yadda. It is all written in such a shallow way. And then there is the music … I have no complaints there. As I close I must mention the projectile vomiting. The song leader does that when she’s nervous. It happens 3 times I think and the 2nd time one singer lays down and does a snow angel in it. It’s probably pudding but it made me nauseous. It seems like one genre mentioned above always has to have that good old projectile vomiting. Pitch Perfect some ways does everything it’s supposed to according to its market. In my analysis, Pitch Perfect is a good movie for its music but not great in any way.