Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: The Shine of Rainbows

Film: A Shine of Rainbows

Starring: Connie Nielsen, Aidan Quinn, John Bell, Jack Gleeson, Tara Alice Scully, Niamh Shaw

Director: Vic Sarin

Screenwriters: Vic Sarin, Catherine Spear, Dennis Foon
 
Adapted from the novel by Lillian Beckwith.
 
I've always liked Aiden Quinn.  He brings a lot of depth to his characters and always makes them interesting to watch.  This film is no exception.  He plays a gruff, hard working man who doesn't openly show his emotions, except to his wife, played by Connie Nielsen, who charms us with her "colorful" view of life.  There are layers to this man, but it seems only she is able to bring out the best in him.
 
It is she who brings life to those around her, and happiness to an orphan boy she rescues from the city and brings home to an island off the Irish coast.  The boy, Tomas, who is portrayed by John Bell, is adorable as the shy, stammering ten year-old, struggling to be accepted by his adoptive family.  The new mother is the easy part.  She knew she wanted him the moment she saw him.  The father (referred to as "Himself") is a struggle, and this film is about that relationship and how it evolves, and the trials that bring them together.
 
What helps Tomas come out of his shell is his sense of responsibility.  He takes to his chores with a sense of pride of place.  He is happy on that island, and he wants to prove it by doing his share.  He hopes that the more he shows his eagerness to do the tasks, the more his new father will accept him.
 
But there is one role he takes on with fervor, and that's of caring for a beached young seal.  The seal in some ways represents Tomas' sense of isolation and desire to survive any challenge.  Tomas, understanding this, insists he will come to feed the seal every day to keep it alive long enough to return to its family.  He nicknames the animal "Smudge", perhaps as an analogy of how he felt in the big city orphanage while he was there, being put down by his classmates and wishing to disappear.
 
Color plays a big role in this movie.  Tomas' new mother thrives in it and loves to decorate her home and herself with vibrant colors.  Even the first scene in the orphanage plays with color.  The environment is all gray or black-and-white, but take note of the drawing that Tomas is making.  There is color, while the games the other kids play with are dark and monotone.  When Tomas meets his new mother, color brightens his life from then on, while gray is used for those insecure moments when Tomas is uncertain of himself or what he should do.
 
The film is entertaining and great family viewing. The acting is superb all around, and newcomer John Bell is fantastic as Tomas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Belated-Review: Up in the Air

Film: Up in the Air
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, and Jason Bateman.

Director: Jason Reitman

Screenwriter: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
 
An Oscar nominated film sparks so many thoughts in my mind, including the key one:  "Well, it must be good!"
 
Was it?
 
I'm not sure.  When first asked what I thought about the film, I said tentatively that I liked it.  The theme had taken me by surprise a bit,  and I wasn't sure what kind of message it was sending.  But after I thought about it for a few hours I came to realize that while the film was entertaining, the contradictions within it were too perplexing for me to give it a whole-hearted positive response.
 
Let's take Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young woman, fresh out of Harvard, who creates a computer program that promises to save her company money by delivering bad news via the internet rather than in person.  You see, Natalie works for a firm that's hired by corporations that don't have the backbone to face their employees and fire them in person.  So this firm is hired, and people are flown all over the United States to do the unenviable job.
 
But Natalie wants to go one step further, and have the firm itself use a less interactive method of doing the job by telling them via computer screen. 
 
You've been fired.  Have a nice day!
 
The irony in all this is Natalie herself.  She too seems distant and emotionless, seeing life as a collection of organized, planned events rather than anything emotional.  So far she fits the profile of someone who would come up with this electronic firing device.  However,when she is "fired" from her relationship by her suddenly ex-boyfriend via text, she's stunned.  How could he be so cold?  I don't know, Natalie.  Why don't you ask your computer?
 
Suddenly, Natalie starts to dissect her colleague, Ryan Bingham's (George Clooney) life.  Ryan is someone who loves jetting around the country, racking up frequent flyer miles in order to hit the platinum status.  He doesn't mind meeting people face to face and telling them the bad news, mainly because he always has a way of dealing with it:  He has no attachments to anything.  He barely stays in one place and does not have a real home to go to.  However, Natalie intervenes, not only by changing his job role, but also questioning his motivations and aspirations.
 
Normally I wouldn't have a problem with someone questioning another's life, but in this instance I really didn't think Natalie had the authority, nor the emotional experience to criticize as she did.  She's the one who provided an insensitive means of breaking bad news to people, and has a very unrealistic way of living life.  And yet she's questioning his?
 
Could it be that she had an epiphany when her boyfriend broke up with her?  If so, I didn't see it.
 
One could argue that Natalie is an emotional being, given the fact that she gave up her job aspirations to follow her fiance to wherever his career took him.  But we soon learn that she did it because it was what was planned in her life.  It was the thing to do.  At least that's how she matter-of-factly put it in her almost monotone, robotic voice.
 
Now, I can understand the way this film is presented, showing us Ryan's lifestyle and how he interacts with people, especially in regards to the questions that are raised to him and how he evaluates them and his own life, but I cannot accept Natalie. Why does he listen to her at all? What wisdom does she provide?
 
The rest of the cast were much better and fit the theme of the film quite nicely.  I always enjoy Vera Farmiga's films, and she does a great job here as Alex.  Some people had a problem with Alex, but I didn't.  She wanted the life Ryan had.
 
I also liked Jason Bateman as Craig Gregory, Ryan's boss.  I almost didn't recognize him.  I had no problem with this character whatsoever.
 
Then there's Ryan's family, who seem to be falling apart at the seams, despite the fact that his sister is getting married.  I liked them, although - again - Ryan finds his life being questioned, this time by the eldest of his two sisters.  She asks him why he isn't married or settled down, while she's recently separated and living in a hotel.
 
They do seem happy, however, especially because they believe in the family unit and that families should stick together while things seem to be falling apart around them.  But are they truly, deeply happy?  No.  No one is happy when their marriage is crumbling.  Is she finding reassurance in her sister's upcoming nuptuals?  Perhaps. Either that, or she's hopeful for her sister to have a better life and is using the wedding as an excuse to get her mind off her own problems.
 
So what are we learning from this film?  What I can tell is that this film is not about the usual belief that one needs a home or a family to make them happy.  This time around it's more about the definition of happiness and the ideal vs the reality.   The sad part is that Ryan's version of happiness, while in doubt, is so radically different than the definition, and it paints the rest of the world as miserably unhappy.  And while I agree that we should do what makes us happy and not be influenced by others' definitions of happiness, I did find this film a bit depressing in the end.
 
One thought this film raised with me was the saying, "Consider the source."  So many times we encounter unsolicited advice or criticism from people.  Sometimes we take it to heart, especially if we hear it so many times from different sources.  Sometimes the advice is worthwhile an meaningful.  Other times it's perplexing that people feel they must question something that makes you happy.  And when you look at those people posing the question and see their lives as somewhat unfulfilled, you have to ask yourself if you should really ponder their criticisms and possibly change your life to meet the ideal?  Or do you take into account that despite their questions, they aren't as happy as you and you should rejoice in your unique choice of what makes you happy?
 
Obviously it's the latter, but we don't always respond like that right away, at least not all of us.  And I think that's what this film is showing us.  It's showing us what happens when enough people question your motivation.  Should you change it?  Ryan ponders this question.
 
So consider the source... good advice, especially in this film.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Handsome Harry

Film:  Handsome Harry 

Starring: Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Mariann Mayberry, Aidan Quinn, John Savage, Campbell Scott, Titus Welliver, Karen Young 

Director: Bette Gordon 

Screenwriter: Nicholas T. Proferes

Handsome Harry is in fact very attractive.  So much so that he's managed to become somewhat of an iconic figure in the town where he lives.  The locals at his favorite cafe seem to live vicariously through him.  And women can't seem to get enough of him.

But a violent act from his past haunts him and his ex-Navy friends, as he honors the deathbed request of one of them to ask forgiveness from the unfortunate victim of their actions from thirty years ago.

And so it begins, and very well, I might add.  I really liked Harry from the beginning and was very interested in his story.  In fact all the characters in this film are played with such depth, I couldn't help but want to know more about all of them.

But it is Harry's journey we are following, and the whys and wherefores, not only behind the incident in his past, but behind the facade of Handsome Harry, and Jamey Sheridan as Harry does a fantastic job with this complex role.

I highly recommend this film.  The acting is superb by all, and the story is really compelling.  The music is fantastic too.

Director Bette Gordon appeared at the screening and talked about the process of making the film.  She told us how a friend had asked her for her opinion on his script, and she was so excited about it, that she asked him if she could film it. 

Jamey Sheridan worked with her before and she knew he was the ideal person to play Harry.  The rest of the cast fell in love with the script and were eager to take part.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review: The City of Your Final Destination

Film:  The City of Your Final Destination

Starring:  Anthony Hopkins, Omar Metwally, Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Hiroyuki Sanada, Norma Aleandro, Alexandra Maria Lara

Director: James Ivory

Screenwriter: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Novelist: Peter Cameron

Produced and Distributed by: Merchant Ivory Films

I watched this film the other night at a preview screening, and I felt like I was watching something I had seen before.  The opening credits looked so familiar to me.  However, once the action started I realized it wasn’t something I had seen, and yet the familiarity remained.

The plot is one that’s been played out before.  A stranger intrudes into the lives of a family who in this case have shut themselves away from the outside world.  Other films may depict these people as being trapped only in their own minds, while this one shows them locked away – either by choice or by circumstance – in a remote mansion in Uruguay.  Granted, these people are wrapped up with their own issues, hiding away from the world, and at times seemingly hiding some deep dark secret.  However, as with other films of this ilk, they soon learn from the stranger, and the stranger in this case learns from the family.

And so that’s it in a nutshell without giving you any details or spoiling the plot for you.

The familiarity of this premise, the similarity in plot disappointed me a little.  It made the film too predictable for me.  Anyone who has seen these kinds of movies knows what will eventually happen in a broad sense:  Someone will change, lives will alter.  And In some ways you can tell from the beginning whether it’ll end happily or not.

When I hear the name Merchant Ivory, I think of grandiose, costume dramas.  And while they have done some modern films, and do them quite effectively, this one felt very low budget.  However, given the the locale, I'm trying to accept the possibility that the quality of the cinematography was intentional to make us feel like we’re there in that countryside with these people.

The acting is very well done, however, although while I like Laura Linney, I find her playing one of two character types in most of her films:  the neurotic or the bitchy.  Sometimes she plays both.  I won’t tell you which one she is here, in case you want to see this movie.  I will say that her character is the only American living full-time in the house having married the late writer Jules Gund, a German who fled Nazism with his parents and older brother in WWII.

Jules was a novelist, although he had only written one book, The Gondola.  Still, his life and his death interest Omar (Omar Metwally) who travels to Uruguay from Coloroado with the goal of obtaining the family’s authorization for him to write a biography of the reclusive author.

Omar is a nice young man, who is very polite and considerate, and perhaps a bit in need of a backbone.  He often struggles with assertiveness, somewhat stubborn and proud trying to show he can handle himself, but he doesn’t always succeed.

Omar is the exact opposite of his bossy girlfriend, Diedre (Alexandra Maria Lara), who orders hm around like a strict parent.

We soon meet the residents of the Gund household in Uruguay (anyone remember the popular stuffed animal in the 1980’s?  “Gotta get a Gund!”  Imagine that ringing in Omar’s head for the entire trip to the country).

In addition to Caroline (Linney), there’s Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a British waif with a romantic spirit.  She has a smart, pretty young daughter named Portia.  There’s also Adam (Antony Hopkins), Jules’s older brother, a gay man who worries that his lover of 25 years, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), is throwing his life away by staying with him.

This film had some really nice moments, like the scene between Adam and Pete where they discuss their relationship.  In fact all the scenes with Antony Hopkins were my favorites.   Hiroyuki Sanada is great, too, and very nice on the eyes.

All the characters, but one, are likeable.  I won’t say whom in case you decide to go see this film.

There were times when I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a comedy or not.  There were a few funny scenes, and others seemed like a weak attempt at comedy, but no one in the theatre laughed, including me.  Omar occasionally comes across as a misfit, but a loveable one, but his fumbles seemed like an attempt at humor.  And some of the witty dialog is more amusing than funny.  Other scenes seemed forced.

Based on a novel by Peter Cameron, this film seemed filled with holes.  I know that most adadptations leave out things that are elaborated in the original novels, but this film seemed to gloss over things too much, or hint at subjects that were either skipped or edited out for length.

For example, the explanation behind Jules’s death seemed weak to me.  It didn’t make sense, and in some ways it almost sounded like a joke.  At one point after the revelation there’s a mental image flashed on the screen for a moment, depicting what apparently was the cause of Jules's demise.  Sadly, it looked comical, but no one laughed.  Also, there was no real climactic scene in this film.  Everything seemed to be played down.

I found it ironic that Diedre was either German or Austrian, given the accent she had, and yet that wasn’t even touched upon.  Given the fact that the Gunds were German, I thought it would make for an interesting analysis, but perhaps this was left for the audience to ponder.   Instead Diedre seemed like a deer in headlights, despite her dogged and unwavering determination.  Either way, I felt like so much more could have been explored in this film that just wasn’t.

Speaking of which, the ending seemed forced and rushed.  Nothing seemed to make sense.  Why did he wait so long?  Did he feel guilty?  An English Lit professor who can’t write a letter, and yet wanted to write a biography?  And what did this have to do with a dog in a swamp?

Don’t get me wrong.  If you don’t think too much it’s an entertaining film to just sit through and observe, but  it’s a two hour movie and it did start to drag at some point, especially when I had an idea of how it would end.  It was just getting there that didn’t quite work totally for me.

After the film the costume designer (Carol Ramsey) answered questions about her work on the project.  She had worked on six Merchant Ivory films, each one having a different feel and mood in the wardrobe.  One thing she said that puzzled me was that they went to Argentina to research wardrobe and culture, rather than Uruguay, where the filming took place.  Argentina was where they filmed the movie.


Carol was a very interesting speaker, and I often enjoy the guests at this series, whether they're actors (Woody Harrelson visited last year promoting The Messenger), or crew.

Carol talked about how she usually has ten weeks prior to filming to do the costumes.  The wardrobe in this film consisted of designer pieces, local Argentinian fashions, and items made by Carol herself.  One dress she designed had so much material in the skirt that it weighed down the dress and stretched the material on the hanger, making it too long for Charlotte to wear.  It took Carol over an hour to trim the length of the skirt.  She showed us the spool of the fabric which was roughly 50 yards long.  Incredible!

~Monica

Introducing....

Hello and welcome to Rice Paper's Film Reviews.  I developed this place because my friends told me I should start a blog to share my reviews with others after reading them in e-mails and message boards.

So here I am.

I'm not a professional critic, so I don't get any preview screeners.  That said in addition to going to movies like everyone else I attend some screenings at events in my area.  These screenings focus mainly on independent, foreign and/or art films or major studio films that are in limited release.

From time to time I might post some reviews on films that have already been out for a while, both major studio releases, as well as independent films.  I might also toss out one that's out on DVD.  This is purely to spark some discussion.  For example, I'm eager to chat with you and get your feedback on Up in the Air, which I saw a few weeks ago.

Lurkers and readers who prefer not to comment are welcome as well.  Everyone is invited to read or read and comment.

I'll start off with a new film that's being released this coming weekend, called The City of Your Final Destination.  So stand by for the review in my next post.

For more about me and my industry experience check out my website:

http://ricepaper.tripod.com/index.html

It's a work in progress.  I opened this site in the late 90's, then transferred everything to MySpace.  I decided to move things off from there and back onto this site.  So I'm still adding to it.  I hope to get it all up to date very soon.

Thanks for visiting!
Monica