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Basketball Diaries (1995)

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Basketball Diaries is basically about basketball star Jim (Leonardo DiCapprio) and his going off the deep end getting high a lot.  He loses his best friend to leukemia, but loses himself to drugs.  He also writes.  He’s definitely a charmer.  Especially when screaming his guts out in pain for a fix.  That’s a turn on if I ever saw one.  I still can’t decide if I found that painfully obnoxious, or painfully painful (yes i did use that redundancy thank you very much).  But basically if I didn’t know anything about drugs before I certainly do now.  On the whole, this true story based on the life of Jim Carroll is very harrowing, and agonizing.

It’s also, you know, overdone?  Not to bag on people with terrible drug addictions who think their story is just as awful and heart-wrenching as any other (and it probably is…) but we’ve seen this before.  Drugs are bad, don’t drop out of school, the end.  Plus I am not a drug addict.  It looks pretty awful, no lies, but I couldn’t relate.

On another note, it’s ugly.  Yeah, it paints a picture and in some ways it contributes to what’s going on but hey.  It’s still ugly.

I didn’t totally hate it though.  I’m a Leo fan, and this is one of his earliest (he looks like he’s nine…).  Though even with his age he’s far from untalented.  I like the guy, and he’s basically why I saw this in the first place.  He’s showin’ through some realistic teenage angst.  Believable is the word I’m looking for, I think.  Some argue that he was over the top, but I didn’t think that for the most part.  The other acting is pretty good too (Mark Wahlberg, Bruno Kerby, and Lorraine Brocco).  The soundtrack is awesome, the title is fitting.  And yeah, it’s memorable.  I won’t be forgetting all that drugness anytime soon.  Its outline is also effective with a very poetic feel.  Oh, and my favorite scene is when they play basketball in the rain.  Gotta love it.

Basically if you want to teach how awful life with drugs can be, here’s your movie.  Though I probably wouldn’t show it to your kids unless, you know, they’re already overboard. 4/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

January 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Quiz Show (1994)

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It’s the late ’50s and geeky Herb Stempel (John Turturro) is on a winning streak with popular quiz show Twenty One.  Quick rundown of the show:  There are two contestants, one returning champ and one unlucky opponent.  They meet briefly with host Jack Barry (Christopher McDonald) at the start of the show before being separated and sent to their own hot ‘n’ sweaty isolation booths.  During play neither contestant can hear the opposition nor see their total points.  Barry presents the category for the round and each player takes turns answering questions from that category.  They may choose any point value from 1-11 and the first to twenty-one wins.  It should also be noted that the questions, when not in play, are kept in a secure bank vault.

But when ol’ Herbie stops bringing in the ratings, producers Dan Enright (David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria) search for a new champ.  New contestant: earnest lookin’ college professor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) son of Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) a renowned poet.  To ensure the smooth departure of Herbert and the big arrival of Charles, they ask Herbert to take a dive.  Not just take a dive, but fail miserably and embarrassingly.  Q: Academy Award winner for Best Picture 1955? A: On the Waterfront, Herb must reply – even though Marty is one of his favorite movies.  Why would asking Herbert to lose of his own accord even be applicable?  Oh wait, turns out those questions aren’t quite so sacred as the public thought and turns out that Stempel has been fed the answers all along.  He reluctantly agrees to bow out, but only if Enright will extend further television opportunities outside of the quiz show.

They try to offer the same gig to Charles… but this too-good-to-be-true hero has a conscience, darn it.  However, regardless to Charles’ initial aversion to cheating, they plant a question that Charles already knew the answer to.  And he knew that they knew that he knew the answer.  It’s a lot harder to exercise integrity on National TV, eh?  He answers correctly.  The new champ has been named and Charlie reaches stardom in the blink of an eye.  The public adore this squeaky clean, ideal, all-American man.  Herb disappears into the void of obscurity.  Somewhere between wishing for a new car, wanting to getting his teeth capped (he probably should have taken care of that one), and hoping that Enright would hold tight on his end of the deal he should have realized it wasn’t the greatest idea to bet his money away.  Complaining to your former boss will only get you so far.  No one cares about Herb Stempel anyway, he’s old news.

Then Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young but talented lawyer, comes along.  After hearing rumors of rigged game shows, he opens an investigation of Twenty One.  He meets with Stempel, he meets with NBC producers, he develops a friendship with Van Doren.  Turns out he’s stumbled on dynamite.

I totally dig this kind of stuff.  I feel about this the same way that I feel about Shattered Glass. It doesn’t just document an interesting scandal, it captures a time in history.  “It’s television.”  The controversy was certainly enough to keep our attention but director Robert Redford took it a step further and showed us a life.  It delves into Van Doren’s relationship with his father (ahh, Paul Scofield!) as well as interesting points on Jew/Gentile winners and losers.

Quiz Show was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.  Here are what make it the bee’s knees: The acting is spectacular.  Hank Azaria and David Paymer are my two particular favorite performances but the selling ticket is Paul Scofield, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  Ralph Fiennes should also be credited who managed to embody this character with style, likeability, and emotional depth.  Also, have you ever seen so many cameos?  Martin Scorcese?  Barry Levinson?  Douglas McGrath?  Even if the acting wasn’t solid, this sharp script could make Megan Fox seem almost credible.  Lastly, you can almost feel Robert Redford walking through the set.  He leaves his mark in the most positive light.  It’s a film that wouldn’t be the same without his magical touch.  The only negative thing I have to say is perhaps geared towards its long running time.

It’s thought provoking and intelligent – a must see. 9/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

August 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Shattered Glass (2003)

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Warning: Your viewing experience can be absolutely exceptional if you watch knowing nothing about this film’s plot or the real events it depicts.  That, in my opinion, is the best kind of movie watching and this film deserves that sort of attention.  Suffice it to say that this is a rewarding two hours and if you have not already seen it you should stop reading immediately and go rent this.  Right now.

At the dawn of the internet there’s The New Republic – referred to as the in-flight magazine of Air Force One.  Its youngest reporter, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), is the man.  He always knows just what cards to play, what compliment to throw and what joke to tell to be loved, admired, and respected by everyone.  He’s charming, he’s witty, he’s unfallingly polite, and he’s on every other magazine’s hot list.

Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) is the new editor of the acclaimed magazine and he’s got it rough after replacing the beloved Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria).  When the news team of the online newspaper Forbes Digital brings to light potential discrepancies in Glass’s recent article “Hack Heaven”, Lane is faced with the gruelling challenge of getting to the bottom of it.  Sarsgaard received a Golden Globe nom for best supporting actor in this role and he is, indeed, phenomenal.  Scene after scene he hits it without a single misstep, though I am partial to a rather stirring moment near the end in which he coolly storms into the building wearing his black leather jacket, perfectly timed to Mychael Danna’s magnificent score.

The story is nothing short of fascinating.  Layer upon layer it sucks you into its web of possible lies and deceit.  It raises some important questions about journalistic ethics, though it may not answer the ultimate question of “what is driving this kid?”  It’s a complex character study with no real rhyme or reason to his actions because pathological liars don’t always have reasons.  It gets even better after it’s over and you can find out for yourself just how accurate the film’s events were, and more importantly how accurate Christensen’s performance was.  Say what you want about this kid and Star Wars, but he is excellent in Shattered Glass.  You may argue that he’s just as whiny as ever but this time it fits his character.  Or perhaps you think he’s finally found his niche.  Either way, he’s great – so I wouldn’t give up on him just yet.  Featured on our DVD copy is the “60 Minutes” interview with the real Stephen Glass and after watching that I can safely say that Darth Vader hit it right on the mark.

Other notable performances go to Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Steve Zahn in his small role (I could watch that guy in anything).  The acting isn’t the film’s only strength, though.  First time director Billy Ray creates a riveting drama that captivates its audience better than any other movie I’ve seen in years.  It deserves a place right next to All the President’s Men as the greatest journalism movies ever made with a perfect, witty script and a satisfying end to boot.

I could watch this movie a thousand times, it’s that sharp. 10/10

“If it was sunny outside and Steve and I were both standing outside in the sun and Steve came to me and said, ‘It’s a sunny day,’ I would immediately go check with two other people to make sure it was a sunny day.” ~Chuck Lane on Stephen Glass

Written by laurenthejukebox17

July 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm

84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

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Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft star in a quiet and charming movie about the letters corresponded between single New York gal Helen Hanff (Bancroft) and the employees of a London bookstore found at 84 Charing Cross Road.  The film is not long, nor is it exciting.  The plot ventures no further than small character insights and the letters we are privileged to listen in on.  It feels like we are glimpsing in on some real life, as if the director’s goal was not to entertain us with some fantastic story, but more to give us a taste of people you see everyday.

As a book lover and adoring all things London – this was my cup of tea.  Even without my endorsement, though, it’s a movie without fault.  The script is excellent – insightful, moving, delicate, and clever.  The pace may be slower than your average flick, but its scenery and style interestingly highlight the passing time between the late forties to late sixties.  The cast is perfect: Anne Bancroft plays a no-nonsense, confident, energetic, and intelligent woman who loves books and cigarettes.  Anthony Hopkins is superb as the bookstore owner Frank Doel giving a reserved yet complex performance.  Also featured in this film is the ever-so-wonderful Judi Dench as Frank’s wife – she’s young, and she’s different but she’s great. (surprised, aren’t you…)

This film is not for everyone but is a gem nonetheless. 9/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Bright Star (2009)

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What to say, what to say…  Acclaimed English poet John Keats falls in love with Fanny Brawne, and then he dies.  The end.

Okay, okay.  There was something of a story there in the middle.  Recognizing my minority status, I hesitate to criticize this film at the risk of sounding immature and one-sided.  But frankly, I didn’t like it.  I didn’t really get into it, and once I did it was difficult to see where the story was headed.  I understand this film’s beauty and love its scenery and poetic themes.  Keats (Ben Whishaw), I must admit, was excellent – if only he were in it more.  The supporting performances were, for the most part, solid – particularly Fanny’s younger sister, Toots.

In my humble opinion, the greatest weakness was Abbie Cornish (Fanny).  It’s like Twilight for adults.  Call me crazy, but I have this firm belief in a woman’s independence and stability to never ruin their lives over a man.  Just as I can’t stand Bella – I’m not such a fan of Fanny either.  She was annoying and overdramatic.  I found nothing to really like about her, even her looks.  Afterall, Keats is the one everybody knows… I learned nothing much of his work, nor much about the man himself other than his strange obsession for Fanny.

The screenplay was far from exceptional – written and directed by Jane Campion (The Piano), it never really explores outside of its Fanny/Keats bubble.

I give it a 4/10 for its beauty and Ben Whishaw, though I still wish I knew more about Keats.  Give me Sense and Sensibility over this any day.

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

Australia (2008)

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All righty so as mentioned in my previous post, I watched Australia over ten times in these last few days.  Not all at once, and I’m still not sure I got all of the scenes in the middle, but enough to feel like I know that movie pretty well now! (*Side note, I have watched the entire thing prior to this.  So I am quite qualified to write a review about it, have no fear).

When I watch Baz Luhrmann’s (Moulin Rouge!) ambitious epic Australia I feel like I’m watching two different movies.  This is partly because it’s long enough to be two movies, but also because the beginning is so different from the end.  I’m glad I stuck with it because it significantly improves (WWII tends to do that) but man it starts off bizarre.  It’s so stylized, you feel like you’re watching a crazy cartoon.  I mean – take the scene in the car.  Nicole Kidman likes cute kangaroo.  Cute kangaroo gets shot.  Her overly large head, gaping mouth and wild eyes fill the screen.  Wow.

Then there’s Nullah, the aboriginal child played by Brandon Walters in his only film to date.  It’s like the magic he talks of has swept over you as soon as he comes on screen.  And crikey he’s cute.

Nicole Kidman plays Lady Sarah Ashley – a proper, obnoxious English woman – wife of the owner of Far Away Downs in Australia.  Upon arriving in Australia, she is awkwardly placed in the care of The Drover, Hugh Jackman.  When she finds her husband dead and one of her employers Mr. Fletcher (David Wenham) illegaly working for their major competition King Carney (Bryan Brown), Lady Ashley (affectionately referred to as “Mrs. Boss” by Nullah) is stuck with some nasty business.  She must enlist the help of Drover to herd over 1500 cattle before Carney to fulfill a contract with the Australian Army.

The first hour feels like three.  Then it takes an LOTR turn during the epic cow herding-ness.  Then we have several Gone With the Wind moments during the third hour, lots of almost-deaths, some crying opportunities, explosions, etc.  Its strengths lie with Nullah, and the film’s use of our beloved Oz song “Over the Rainbow.”  “I sing you to me, Mrs. Boss” he sweetly tells her.  The scenery and camerawork are also commendable.  Nicole Kidman seems to grow up over night (thank heaven) and when she does she gives a solid performance.  Russell Crowe was initially signed to play Drover but in the end Hugh Jackman was a perfect fit for the attractively rugged down-under man.  His performance (and looks!) is/are excellent.  I must also say that David Wenham makes a great villain (much like his LOTR fictional brother Sean Bean).

I don’t mind long movies – Lord of the Rings, Ben-Hur, Gone With the Wind – so long as it is well paced.  (Harry potter 4 & 5 SHOULD have been longer…)  It’s basically one of two things: either you happen to notice the time and think, “Wow!  I’ve been watching for a while!”  or you habitually glance at the clock every five minutes muttering “Goll, isn’t it over yet?”  As I said, I didn’t feel this way the entire time with Australia.  It lies somewhere in the middle.  Some aspects were fantastic (Hugh Jackman) and others were simply too big.

I just wasn’t blown away with this movie.  But then again, I watched it ten or so times and I didn’t turn it off.  That must count for something.  🙂 6/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Invictus (2009)

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I think the key to my experience with this film was entering the film with the right expectations.  I’d heard many complaints that it wasn’t “as good as Remember the Titans” but I also heard “Gee, I thought this was gonna be a Nelson Mandela biography – what’s all this rugby doing in there?”  Knowing that it was a mixture of the two helped me a lot.

As for myself, I thought it was great.  Not without flaws to be sure but I found it very inspiring.  Morgan Freeman stars as Nelson Mandela, recently elected president of South Africa.  As the country struggles with racial division, Mandela rallies the national flop of a rugby team the Springboks to go against all odds and win the 1995 World Cup and unite their country through their victory.  Impossible much?  Especially when you consider their opponents: the New Zealand All Blacks.  I’ve been to New Zealand.  They’re crazy.  Rugby’s their national sport.  It’s, like, you hear rugby and you think New Zealand.  Ironically, the film failed to mention that 3/4 of the acclaimed team were extremely ill during the match…  Although this would have been worth the mention, what the heck.  It’s cinema.

Consider this film to be yet another success for director Clint Eastwood.  Ultimately, this is not your ideal tough-guy rugby movie, it’s much more than that.  Mandela was a real person, and if this movie does nothing but make people think “Is this Mandela guy for real?” then it has succeeded.  This is where films do so much more than just entertain, but they provoke thought and further interest in a real-life event.  It’s excellent.  Morgan Freeman’s flawless portrayal of Mandela was, without doubt, worthy of an Oscar nom.  He was the heart of the show, portraying an authoritative but empathetic man.  As the Springboks’ captain Francois Pienaar, Matt Damon contributes surprisingly little, and I mean this based on quantity, not quality. Matt Damon is universally popular, that’s certain, but he has proved himself as one of today’s most versatile actors.  He deserves an acting Oscar one of these days.

Consensus: the acting was superb, the cinematography commendable, and the direction top notch.  What makes it special is its uplifting and inspiring message.  “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Invictus is a triumph in my book. 7/10

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June 16, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The Young Victoria (2009)

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Two of my favorite “fun” movies are Dan in Real Life and Devil Wears Prada.  This is greatly due to actress Emily Blunt.  She has just a small part in Dan yet still manages to steal the show as Pig-faced Ruthie Draper. Her one scene takes the audience for an hilarious fifteen minute ride (plus, her American accent is pretty fantastic). Prada, too, would not be the same without Anne Hathaway’s carb-hating, Miranda-worshipping nemesis, Emily, with too many one-liners to count. I am anxious for movies such as The Adjustment Bureau, coming in September, and basically anything else featuring her.

Young Victoria brings out a more serious and deeper side of Blunt as she portrays the young Queen of England.  I was not disappointed, she has proved her versitality.  She is the show. The life of a princess is not always a fairy tale, and the role of a queen is no walk in the park.  She allows us to feel her struggle, we see her goodness and her naïveté, her fear of being controlled and her desire to serve her people.

The romance and marriage between Albert and Victoria was believable, thanks again to the acting of Blunt as well as Rupert Friend, who was as good as the former. The supporting cast is also quite solid: Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent… The other highlight is, without question, the costume design which won an Oscar. Magnifique.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by the overall editing of the film, particularly towards the end.  It had a choppy feel that simply wasn’t my style.  However, disregarding a few nit-picky things, I was swept by the film. I enjoyed it and count me in for anything Emily Blunt. 7/10

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May 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm