Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty (2016) by David Frankel

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This is an unusual pick for me. I’m not what you would call a Will Smith fan, neither do I like to watch sad movies about grief, but I’ve been in love with Kate Winslet for almost 20 years, so… I guess it actually is not that unusual after all.

A short synopsis:

collateralbeauty5Howard (Will Smith) lost his little girl 2 years ago and he can’t get over her death. His friends and colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) are worried and hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to find out what he’s up to. She finds out that Howard writes letters to Death, Time, and Love.

Whit has the idea to hire actors to play Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore), and Love (Keira Knightley) to confront Howard. But Howard has already begun his way toward healing by joining a support group for grieving parents (Naomie Harris among others).

Considering the subject matter, one already knows that this is not a light-hearted film. Even the title seems to point to that fact. We have a man suffering severe depression and his friends can’t help him because he shuts them out and also off. And I, for one, felt shut off from him as well. I don’t get to know Howard, not in the beginning anyway. And that’s really strange for one to not get to know the protagonist of the film. Instead, I get to know Howard’s friends and their problems.

And this is, I feel, one of the problems of the film. While it seems to center around Howard CB09078.dngand his grief, this storyline is pushed to the sidelines in the beginning. While we know that Howard is hurting, we don’t really get to feel with him. We get to know Whit and the problems the advertising company he owns together with Howard has. We get to know Claire and Simon who have, of course, problems of their own. Then we meet the actors who’re supposed to stand in as these conceptual things Howard once cherished and now despises.

There’s a lot going on. Given, it is all very well acted, because… look at that cast! I got a total kick out of that scene at the theater with Kate and Helen and Keira and the three dudes (sorry, but that’s how I experienced it, having three great actresses I admire talk to each other in one scene… heaven!). But it’s still part of the reason the movie could barely reach me: too many cooks, too many stories, too little time.

Howard’s story almost completely plays out between him and Naomie Harris’ character Madeleine. And those are beautiful, well-acted scenes as well, but it’s hard to focus on their grief. It seems like the film’s makers run circles around their subject matter to not make the film about grief, while one of their characters is dying, while one’s afraid of losing love and another might never find it. I think they mean to make it a generational piece, something profound about life and how it goes on, how death is part of it as much as time and love… but the movie wants too much and becomes an indecipherable adding of brilliantly acted scenes that fall short of actually telling a story.

collateralbeauty7Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes which touch you, which amuse you, which tell you something about life, but then you’re taken from it into another scene that doesn’t add up. The big reveals of the film are none because you see them coming a mile away. Nothing suprised me because the film only flirts with big life issues, but doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get old Hollywood clichés.

The film wasn’t abysmal, not with that kind of cast. But I found watching it a very unsatisfactory experience. Whether it was the writing, the directing, or maybe even the editing (all three?) – the film just doesn’t add up to an emotional challenging story. Disappointing.

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Rented: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) by Joss Whedon

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I’m not sure if I told you how I came to love Shakespeare. I had tried to read Macbeth at some point and labored through three pages of it before throwing it into the corner not to pick it or him up again for years. And then I watched Much Ado About Nothing – Branagh’s version – and fell in love.

muchado2It’s still my favorite movie version, it’s still one of my favorite plays, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. And I would probably not have endeavored to watch a different version if it hadn’t been for this addition to the title: A film by Joss Whedon.

And then, of course, there was the casting of Amy Acker as Beatrice. One of my favorite actresses playing one of my favorite Shakespearean characters? Count me in.

And now I’ve watched it. In fact, I’m at this moment watching it a second time in one day. Oh, my goodness, what a ball, a blast, a festival of wit and comedy and noir elements that make this movie not better than Branagh’s, but different and wonderful.

I must confess that I couldn’t imagine anyone playing Much Ado differently, in each and every scene I had a flashback to the ’92-version. But slowly the actors of the Whedon-verse acted themselves into my conscious and I couldn’t resist their charm. I’m fascinated, I’m stumped, I can’t stop watching. And how do you even begin to resist Amy Acker?

Let me tell you something about Acker – she’s genius. In every part I’ve ever seen her, she not only amyacker2convinced me, she awed me with her talent. I loved her as Doctor Saunders/Whiskey in Dollhouse, and I’m madly in love with Root in Person of Interest. She’s just so special in every role, she’s amazing.

But she’s not the only one in this brilliantly cast Whedon-family adaptation of Shakespeare. I never liked Alexis Denisof better than when he played Benedick, he’s earnest and smart and comical when he’s told that Beatrice loves him. Such an honest performance. I loved Fran Kranz in Dollhouse and I love him as Claudio. And then there’re Nathan Fillion as Dogberry and Tom Lenk as Verges and, hell, they’re the funniest thing – yes, funnier than Michael Keaton and Ben Elton even.

muchado4I guess, I have one thing to criticize, though. While I first thought it refreshing to see Riki Lindhome cast as Conrade, I feel that casting Conrade with a male actor in this version would have been even better. Making Don John (Sean Maher) a gay villain – not a caricatured man who is evil because he’s limited to his gayness, but just a villain who happens to be gay… That would have been even more interesting than having a Shakespeare character emasculated.

Apart from this, I simply love Whedon doing Shakespeare. But then, has there ever been a thing Joss Whedon has done that I didn’t love?

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 by Francis Lawrence (2014)

mockingjay1.1The beginning of the end – but we’re already very familiar with this kind of thing, aren’t we? I mean the splitting of the last volume of a book series into two films. Potter had it, Twilight had it, and I don’t even want to know if Fifty Shades of Bad Entertainment will have it as well. But for Mockingjay, I feel it was the right decision, because part 1 is already amazing.

What happens?

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescued from the arena of her second hunger mockingjay1.2games and brought to District 13 where the rebels have gathered to wage war against the capitol. Katniss’ home District 12 has been destroyed but Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) has saved some people, including Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Prim (Willow Shields).

District 13 is a military district that works from underground since it had almost been completely destroyed during the war. People there live on essentials. Katniss agrees to be the symbol of the rebellion – the Mockingjay – if the captured tributes, including Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are rescued at the earliest opportunity and given immunity.

After a sucessful rescue, Peeta tries to kill Katniss – he’s been brainwashed.

mockingjay1.3What fascinated me most with this part of the series is the barren look. While I would have wished for a more plush trainee center in the first film, the sparse set in this film fits District 13 perfectly. And it’s not just the set, the clothes and make-up of the characters reflect the military status of the district. To see Jennifer Lawrence basically without make-up… it makes her acting that much more intense. And not just hers. Once again, Julianne Moore just takes my breath away with her acting. She’s perfect as Alma Coin, the leader of District 13. Her posture shows miliatry stiffness and strength but she’s also sympathetic.

I think my favorite scene – probably everybody’s favorite scene – is the one with the group of young people (among them Natalie Dormer as Cressida) at the lake. It’s a stark difference to the scenes in the underground facility, it’s more relaxed and peaceful than the setting of the forest in the hunger games, and then there’s the song that Katniss sings – and it’s perfect. Jennifer Lawrence has a throaty, raw voice and it fits the situation and the song perfectly.

If there was something in this movie I didn’t like, I don’t remember it anymore because there were so many good things to remember, most of all the great acting by everyone involved. Effie Trinket mockingjay1.4(Elizabeth Banks) without her make-up, stripped bare of her capitol attitude and desperate and vulnarable is such a beautiful thing. Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role as Plutarch Heavensbee… The casting is just amazing in this series and it makes this movie in particular sparkle more from within, because the setting doesn’t.

This movie series is getting better with each movie, while with the books, I will always think that the first one is the best. It makes for a nice contrast – and I’m so gonna own these wonderful movies on dvd.

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Maleficent

Maleficent (2014) by Robert Stromberg

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Let’s talk about Angelina Jolie for a moment. I have my problems with reviewing any of her movies, to be honest, even though I’ve watched most of them at the movies. It’s just incredibly difficult for me to look beyond her iconic status and see her work outside of it. I’ve been a fan since February 2001 when I first saw the Tomb Raider-trailer and that’s probably also around the time she became this iconic figure so I’ve rarely seen her without it. But we all know that she is a talented, incredibly able and dedicated actress. And I want to stress this point because Maleficent is probably her most iconic role to date – and it could have been a disaster if anyone but Jolie had played it.maleficent1

What happens:

An old tale with a new twist – Maleficent is a fairy living in a kingdom with other fairies and magical creatures just next to a kingdom where envious men dream of conquering that neigboring world they don’t understand. When a king (Kenneth Cranham) finally tries, he and his army are defeated and it is Maleficent as protector of her kingdom who is responsible for the defeat and the humiliation the king suffers. As he lies dying, he promises the kingdom to the man that kills Maleficent.

Stefan (Michael Higgins, Sharlto Copley)  who has been Maleficent’s childhood friend and first love reconnects with her but then betrays her. But since he is unable to kill her he cuts off her wings and takes them to the king – and becomes king in return. Maleficent swears revenge and makes herself queen of the beforehand leaderless fairy kingdom – a dark queen. She curses Stefan’s first (and only) child, Aurora (Elle Fanning), to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday from which she shall not awake unless it’s by true love’s kiss (since Maleficent does not believe in true love anymore because it’s what Stefan had vowed to her it’s a mute point that Aurora will never wake).

maleficent4Aurora is send away by her father to live with three fairies (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville) who show such negligent care of the child that Maleficent feels the need to intervene just so that Aurora will live to see her sixteenth birthday. She unwillingly befriends the girl who thinks that Maleficent is her fairy godmother and as she grows attached to the girl she tries to take back the curse. She fails and has to watch as Aurora falls victim to it. She brings Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) to the castle – a young man who has met Aurora once and was enchanted by her – but his kiss does not wake Aurora. Only when Maleficent kisses the unconscious girl – grief-stricken over the fact that she couldn’t save her – Aurora wakes.

There’s loads of battle and awesomeness and Maleficent finally gets her wings back. In the end, Maleficent and Aurora unite the kingdom in what can best be described as a gay marriage ceremony (that’s open for interpretation and discussion). The Happy Ending.

Now, there have been a number of fairy tales lately who tried and failed at maleficent-poster2giving the old tales a feminist spin – Maleficent is not one of those. It’s also not a lighthearted, musical color-explosion that’s been ejaculated onto the screen. It’s not flashy, it’s not distastefully pointing fingers at mythical creatures in a ‘look how different they are’-kind of metaphorical way. It is what it is:

A tale about people. People who are flawed, who are cruel, who are obsessed, who are kind, who are trying so hard at being better. There is a wide range of human frailties at work here and most of them are displayed in Maleficent – the ‘villain’ of the tale – but they’re all displayed on the remarkable body of Angelina Jolie’s talent. She’s a playful fairy, a scary avenger, a violated woman, an action-hero, and a tender lover.

I don’t even have words for how magnificent Angelina Jolie is in this role. It’s the kind of role meets actor that you would wish for all of your favorite movies, the kind of combination of talents that comes along far too rarely. This is an epic movie, a movie that sets standards, a movie you will want to watch again and again because its pieces fit perfectly into a well-told story, a powerful drama, an exciting action movie, a love story that is rarely told in such a way (and yes, I’m talking about the love between Maleficent and Aurora and I’m not going to put a label on it). This is the movie you should watch if you were only going to watch one movie this year – you won’t regret it.

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Divergent

 

Divergent (2014) by Neil Burger

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Let me start by saying: I haven’t read the books (yet). They’re somewhere on that long list of want-to-read books I hope to get to in the future and watching the movie certainly pushed them up quite a bit.

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I’m intrigued by the concept of the story. But I’m also a little confused. Let’s look at the plot:

In a not too distant future in post-war Chicago, society is being sorted into five factions. When Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is tested for the special virtue that will decide which faction she might best fit in, she finds out that she’s divergent – she possesses multiple virtues which means she might not fit in anywhere.

Divergents are considered dangerous in the society she lives in and changes within the government lead to the systematic prosecution of divergents. Beatrice must learn to hide in her chosen faction to avoid detection. But hiding ceases to be an option when her parents’ faction becomes the target of a vicious attack.

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I guess it’s a little like getting into Hogwarts and being sorted into houses by virtue but then, of course, it’s not like the Harry Potter-series at all. There’s no magic, there’s technology. Nobody has a super power and having multiple virtues can actually paralyze the bearer.

As I said, the concept is certainly intriguing, but having only watched the movie, I feel that it was not able to convey the layers of the complex social system that lies beneath the story – at least I hope that something like this exists in the books.  Thus the movie left me a little restless to find out more – which is not bad in itself, it just makes the movie a bit dissatisfying.

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Something that cannot be said about the acting. To be sure, I watched the movie because of Kate Winslet. She is a singular reason that never fails to attract me and she’s amazing, and amazingly evil. I love her character, I love how she protrays her – and I love that I can usually trust Kate to star in watchable movies that rarely disappoint. The star of the movie, Shailene Woodley, doesn’t either. She’s vibrant, she’s a good actress, and it’s actually a little disconcerting how much she reminds me of a younger Kate Winslet. It was good to see Ashley Judd again – even in a rather small role, she certainly made an impression. The same goes for Zoe Kravitz and Mekhi Phifer.

I liked this movie, and not just because of the great casting choices. It’s interesting, smart, has great pacing. Beside the fact that I felt a little left out of the loop where background was concerned (I’m aware that the medium does not allow for delving into it too much or the pace would suffer), I feel that I could have done with less of the love story between Tris (Beatrice changes her name to Tris after chosing a new faction) and Four (Theo James). Some of the dialogue in these scenes was also rather corny. But apart from that it’s certainy watchable and I’m looking forward to reading the books and then (maybe) come back for the second film of the series.

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Back to tv: The Closer

The Closer (2005-2012) created by James Duff

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As you can see, I’m only just starting on the show and have now watched the first two season. I have watched a couple of episodes on German tv (that’s how I came across it, after all) but watching stuff on German tv is tricky because it is all dubbed. For a show that relies so much on its main character and characterization in general this means: no accents. Yeah, you see where I’m going with this: watching The Closer without Brenda Leigh Johnson’s distinctive accent is kind of missing the point.

thecloser1It took me a while to even find out that Brenda had an accent and why everyone was acting the way they did around her – but I got there and decided it was time to watch the show in the original. And I’m not sorry I did. For once, I have always liked Kyra Sedgwick. I’m not sure where I saw her first (could have been Singles) but the moment I saw her I liked her and that hasn’t changed. For another, I’m partial to Jeffrey Deaver’s books and I recognized in Brenda Leigh Johnson what I like about his Kathryn Dance-series: the shrewd intelligence of a person who is good at reading people and using this to her advantage. I like people – if I’m not hating them with a passion. I like the complexity of us, the diversity and the sameness – and I like watching people concerning themselves with people. And this is what The Closer is about.

That isn’t to say that it’s all good. As you can easily see in the pictures, the show has a gender-challenge. The challenge being that of a woman in a man’s world and a lot of what is going on in the first season made me angry. The feeling of Brenda Leigh Johnson having to fight old boys club-windmills was prevalent and it irked me. Fortunately, they eased up on this in the second season. I’m thecloser3not saying that this isn’t a real issue, it is, but sometimes real issues make me so mad in real life that I don’t want to deal with them in an imaginary world, or at least not too much. The glass ceiling exists, Brenda Leigh likes to ignore it but she doesn’t have to do this in every episode for women to feel empowered, or for everyone to acknowledge that it exists.

It is difficult for me to watch a show with so many male characters, I’m not going to lie to you about this. Fortunately, most of them are if not likable then at least characterized convincingly which is due in great part to having good actors play them. I really hate Will Pope, for example, the way he strings Brenda along, the way he sometimes hangs her out to dry and always demands that she’d do her job by yesterday and then criticizes her for how she does it. And J.K Simmons is just the actor who can still make Pope annoyingly sweet. You can see why she fell for him but also why he’s bad for her and her career. And the other male characters are portrayed and cast just as well as he is.

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The show has very strong assets to convey police work. the acting, the writing, the characterization. It’s a good show, a clever cop-show while also not being a typical cop-show. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m a sucker for a Southern accent – and beautiful women. And although most of the characters are male, there is Kyra Sedgwick and there is also (at least so far) Gina Ravera and seeing those two walk onto a crime scene… definately worth watching.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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Sneak Preview: Hitchcock

Hitchcock (2012) by Sacha Gervasi

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Last Thursday I went to another scneak preview, embarrassed myself by shouting that Daniel Day-Lewis had won only two Academy Awards (I didn’t even know that he won for There Will Be Blood), and ended the 98-minute-film rather inebriated. But it was all in good fun.

The movie is about movie-maker icon Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship to his wife Alma Reville, herself an accomplished assistant-director, editor and screenwriter, and the production of Psycho.

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It is not surprising that the movie lives from its stars. Anthony Hopkin’s subtle style of acting seems to inspire his co-stars and the result is an example of underlined witicism and tongue-in-cheek references. Yes, the film shows Alfred Hitchcock’s overbearing nature, his sexual deviancy, if you will, in peeping into the actresses’ dressing rooms. But this film is not a psychological look at Hitchcock’s egotism, it’s more of a love story and a comedy.

If Hopkins inspires his co-stars, Helen Mirren inspires the audience. She is by far the best thing about a movie that is good to begin with. She makes Alma Reville into a believable conspirator of Hitchcock’s thrillers but also his harshest critic. Alma is the loveable part of the Hitchcock-marriage and the movie never ceases to remind us that she is very talent in her own fields, taking over directing when her husband is ill, revising the script, etc. Here’s a woman who knows her movies.

Toni Collette’s is another note-worthy performance. She plays Hitchcock’s hitchcock6assistant, Peggy Robertson. It may not be a big role but Collette stands out, not by overacting or pushing herself forward but by standing in the background, waiting for her cue and then being spot-on. It is really amazing to me how the Academy could overlook her as well as Helen Mirren’s performances in this movie, they were both great.

It was certainly interesting to see Hitchcock’s struggle with Psycho, from both a productive as well as a creative point of  view. The fact that he wanted to do it but didn’t really seem to be sure of how to do it, is fascinating. Seeing a director of his ability struggle with his vision is both reassuring and scary. And if it hadn’t been for his wife, Psycho might have been a big flop. Fascinating.

hitchcock5The film has a pro-feminist feel to it that I appreciate, certainly, it was the late 1950s and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannsson) talked a lot about her husband Tony and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) had given up a great career in favor of being happily married but the movie tells us that all these women, Alma and Peggy included, were strong women, they made no excuses for who they were, they decided for themselves. And that is not only remarkable for a movie playing in the late 1950s but also for one who has been done in 2012 – sadly remarkable.

It is a really good film, very entertaining. One thing, and I don’t even remember what it was, really, had me laughing so loud that it amused the whole audience… might have been the beer, but I think it was actually really funny. Be that as it may, light-hearted entertainment, especially for movie geeks. You should have watched Psycho, though, it helps (and don’t even think of watching the remake!).

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As part of an obsession: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) by Kirk Jones

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I remember watching the trailer and thinking: no way I’m going to watch that. I’m not sure if it was the way it was presented in said trailer or whether I didn’t pay enough attention to it but I was convinced that this was a movie about becoming a dad… somehow the ‘dude group’ got stuck in my mind as the main focal point and that was certainly no movie I wanted to watch.

Another problematic expectation for this movie was certainly that it was going whattoexpect2to be heteronormative to a fault – and at least on that account it delivered. But let’s look at what’s happening:

People are having babies. In this movie, there are five different couples in Atlanta who are expecting something small. Some rather unexpectedly, others after having tried for awhile, one couple is adopting. The different ways to deal with this are shown sometimes comically, sometimes tragically, even satirically.

Of course, most people know that there’s a book of same title out there, trying to prepare future parents for the big step of having off-spring. And I guess, it’s a helpful book – not having children or wanting children, I’m no expert on self-help books for expectant couples.

The storylines interweave in this movie, the couples are at different points in their lives, it’s all more about the comical element than representation of truth. It also tries to convey that pregnancies are diverse just as the women who are pregnant are diverse.

whattoexpect1It’s a little hard to talk about the different storylines of the film because there are several and all cast quite brilliantly. Of course, my focus was on Anna Kendrick as the young woman who got pregnant from a one-night-stand but miscarries. She probably has the most dramatic story-line and really builds a relatable character in a short amount of time. The ending to the relationship to Marco (Chace Crawford) is a little forced it seems. The movie is so adamant in creating a happy ending for all the stories that reasoning flies out the window in this one and we don’t really understand why Kendrick’s character Rose has a change of heart when she told him before that seeing him was too painful.

Maybe it is because the movie tries to tell too many stories and to do them all justice. But it is not the only problem this movie has. While the acting is excellent all around and the funny parts are really funny, some of Hollywood’s biggest problematic chlicées are reinforced. For once, people of color are rare. Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play a latino couple and while all the white people in the movie are capable of having children of their own, these two are the couple who adopt. I guess that’s the heteronormative equivalent of having the only woman of color in a movie play the gay/bisexual character. Another one: Chris Rock plays one of the dads in the ‘dude group,’ the wisest, most whattoexpect5informed, cool dad – but also the one with the most kids, planning on more. African-Americans having a lot of children while his white buddies all stop at 1.9? Seriously? Of course, one can talk of satire in his case, as most of his role seems to build on it. Still, when you look at the set-up of the film you can’t help but feel that the people of color are pushed to the sidelines, especially with the multiple birthing-scenes all intertwining while the adoption scene is set apart. It would have been nicer if the adoption had been interwoven as well, showing that adoption isn’t something ‘less’ or something ‘other’ than having a baby in the ‘traditional’ way if you want.

Which also brings us back to the problem of heteronormativity. No queer characters, not even lesbian moms. I’m not sure where the book stands on that but the movie lacks on that aspect. Straight couples having babies – or not, or unwillingly, or predictably. Because there is realy something predictable how it is set up for just the right audience – white, straight folks.

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I already said that the acting was excellent but let’s elaborate a little. I was probably most impressed with Elizabeth Banks. And I don’t know where I know her from or why I haven’t paid much attention to her before but she is a really good actress. Someone who delivers lines in the best comical way. Anna Kendrick, of course, is amazing. In a movie that is funny and droll, she’s the one who has to pull out the big dramatic guns and she’s amazing at it. Jennifer Lopez – I think she is underestimated in whatever she does. She’s a brilliant performer and has grown as an actress. As a woman who is that successful, she’s criticized left and right but is always giving her best and you can see it in this movie where she shows a lot of depth and inside. And then, there’s Rebel Wilson and her role is really small but she’s just great. I loved the interaction between her and Elizabeth Banks’ character, the only real sense of – if not friendship then – camaderie between women that you get throughout the movie. And maybe that is its biggest mistake – it puts too much emphases on men connecting through fatherhood but isolates the pregnant woman… just a thought.

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As part of an obsession: Up in the Air

Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman

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I just scrolled through the list of nominations for this film – and Anna Kendrick sure made an impression with the critics and the audience with this movie.

I didn’t watch it at the movies but on DVD. Movies about the oh-so-important crisis of men usually take a backseat on my to-watch list and, yeah, I’m aware that there’s a slim chance that I might miss a good movie that way – it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Up in the Air http://teaser-trailer.comRyan Bingham (George Clooney) earns his money with firing people – that’s the service his employer provides. He travels to different locations throughout the U.S. and informs employees that they are let go because the employers are too chicken to do it themselves. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who wants to help cut costs for the company Bingham works for by grounding everyone and having the work done via computer.

Ryan isn’t happy about this because he likes to be on the road – or rather: in the upintheair3air. He has the aim to reach 10 million miles of flying, and then there’s the lovely Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and whom he can only meet and connect with in the realm of life without boundaries.

I like this one – I don’t love it, though. The three leads, as presented on the poster, are the real appeal of it. They work so well together. The writing is good, the conversations feel real, close to heart. Just look at the scene with the three of them talking in the entrance hall of the hotel. It’s probably one of the most captivating scenes in any movie in which the protagonists just talk.

The reason I don’t love the movie are the conventions that are being upheld. Natalie is 23 and has her life planned – and this life includes moving to Omaha for a boyfriend, wanting to be married with kids as fast as possible and having a career. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, she breaks apart. I am aware that this is a critique of a system that tells women to be exactly like that – but is it recognized as a critique? When Natalie lectures Ryan about his relationship to Alex and later turns out to be right – that he’s lonely and secretely in love with Alex – doesn’t that validate her convictions about love rather than criticize them?

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And did Ryan really have to turn out to be sappy and secretely unhappy, instead of the cool guy he’s on the surface? Hollywood is the greatest promoter of LOVE. The undying, the one true, the happily ever after LOVE. It is not possible for Ryan to just be casual about Alex – the way she is casual with him – he has to be in love. I’m not saying that Alex isn’t a worthy object of admiration – she’s a captivating character, I found myself falling for her – but Ryan’s love for her becomes too much of a convention. Because we expect it – the movie makers would argue, because we want it to happen. But really, is it so bad for a upintheair6main character to be alone and happy? Hollywood makes single people, people who rather live alone, feel bad about themselves. And it makes me sound like a total loser because I promote this way of life. I may not agree with Ryan’t whole philosophy of the empty backpack but I do believe there are people who like to live that way, want to live that way. But Hollywood tells us in a million ways each year that this is wrong, that everybody needs somebody to love (not just Hollywood, the music industry is probably second in line).

Up in the Air promotes this point a little too vehemently, too. And the only consolation is that Ryan doesn’t get what he wants. Alex is unavailable. And he’s back in the air where he suddenly doesn’t want to be anymore. He ends up the victim of society’s expectations. But it doesn’t feel like a critique of the system, it points at Ryan and tells us: look at this poor sob, he waited too long, he wasted his life frivolously, and now he will never find love.

And that is just wrong.

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