Friday, April 29, 2011

Quacking BetaMax: La Vie En Rose

The winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Actress went to Marion Cotillard for her role in the film "La Vie En Rose". The film also received the award for Makeup and nominated for Costume Design. The film is a bio-pic of Edith Piaf following the World War II era French singer from her childhood in the 1920s to her early death in 1963. The title of the film changed from "La Mome" at the debut to "La Vie En Rose" to reflect the signature song that she was first known for in 1946.

Lost in the biography films of musicians such as "Beyond the Sea" (2004) about Bobby Darin, “Ray” (2004) about Ray Charles, “Walk the Line” (2005) about Johnny Cash was “La Vie en Rose”. I knew nothing about Edith Piaf, and the lack of familiarity reduced the level of interest for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A common complaint I have about biography films is that the center of the film is not someone that you can connect with. This is because they often focus on a period of their life and never provide the basis for why we should care about them (e.g. "Beyond the Sea"). The director solves this by not trying to reference any singular source in developing the screenplay for the life of Edith Piaf. Additionally, Marion Cotillard provides a brilliant performance without the common missteps of mimicking the character, which was so evident in "Ray" and "Walk the Line". "La Vie en Rose" is more of a character study of how a young girl that has been abandoned by both parents, raised in a brothel and the streets of Belleville, Paris can overcome the struggles that have been presented her and through the power of her art and her voice can be the strong person that she needs to be.

The nomination for the make-up is mostly because through the use of intense close-up camera work you cannot tell that there is the make-up. Those technical aspects of the movie are important, but not something I usually focus on. What really stands out is how Marion Cotillard performed through a woman in her 20s to the last years of her life in her 40s. The fragileness of The Sparrow is evident not through make-up, but through Marion Cotillard. With liver failure, a dependence on self-medication, and a temper that makes any modern female artist that thinks they are a diva look like a child it is absolutely beautiful. Marion Cotillard deserved the nomination and clearly stood out in the year from the other nominees for Best Actress. Easily a 4 Quack film and I wish I had seen this in the theater with an audience.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Something Borrowed

I knew nothing about the book prior to going to the screening of "Something Borrowed". A little research and I find that not only is "Something Borrowed" a super popular book, but it also has a sequel that is being considered for the big screen called "Something Blue". With a cast that includes Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, and John Krasinski my interest was slightly higher than it probably would have been normally.

The movie is about Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) who is struggling with her best friend, Darcy (Kate Hudson), who is engaged to the guy she had a crush on in law school (Dex played by Colin Egglesfield). Inserted for comedy relief throughout the movie is the office friend Ethan (John Krasinski) who possibly steals the movie. "Something Borrowed" is a quality story that unlike some of the other overly pretentious romantic comedies actually has something that most everyone can connect with.

The message throughout the movie is that we shouldn't do something because it is what others want us to do, but rather do something because it is what you want do. We all make choices, and when we look at ourselves in the mirror we have to be accountable to just one person. This is the conflict that Rachel deals with throughout the movie. Her lack of self confidence allows her to give up on Dex and allow Darcy to dominate the friendship. We often walk in and out of the lives of others, but we impact them in ways that may not be obvious. If given a second chance would things be different, is the silver lining that we can take away from the film.

I don't hate the rom-com, but it is rather annoying when constantly the audience is giving the emotional sigh as if they somehow are trying to communicate to the rest of the theater that they are having an emotional connection with the character in the film. It was almost as if people were doing it to mock the movie. Another critique would be the excessive use of flashbacks, which to me is a sign of a weak screenplay. As if the screenplay couldn't be any more conflicted, the ending was a bit rushed, including a pet-peeve of mine with the use of the "two months later" written across the screen to show the passing of time.

For the fans of the aforementioned books, you will want to stick around during the credits to find a bonus scene.

(screening date 4/27/11, release date 5/6/11, location Landmark E Street)

3 Quacks... To Be Continued...


One of the bigger mystery films of 2010 finally found a theater near me. "Hesher" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and various other festivals including SXSW in March 2011. It wasn't until "Inception" and "Black Swan" were big hits for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, respectively, that this movie started to receive any attention. This is the debut feature from Spencer Susser who did double duty as the writer/director.

This is a film about a snake that is given a mouse to feed on, but the mouse gets up on its back legs and punches the snake in the face. The snake is left coiled up in the corner of the film where Hesher, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "mind fucks" it over and over again until it attacks the mouse. Other mice are put into the snake cage, but are protected behind the stronger mouse. "Hesher" is also a movie about how through life we may lose a loved one and that person may be such a big part of us that we forget how to move on. You want to hate Hesher, but you are oddly attracted to him.

The story is focused around TJ, a young boy played by Devin Brochu, who is coping with the recent loss of his mother. His family life has been shattered by the polarizing coping methods used by his father, Rainn Wilson, who has checked out by taking strong anti-depressant drugs. TJ is bullied at school and comes across Hesher, a loner that hates the world but with a never-say-die and carefree approach to life. At times I wondered if Hesher was real or just an imaginary friend that TJ created to cope with his loss, which would be a rip-off of "Fight Club".

The other mouse that hides behind Hesher is Nicole (Natalie Portman) who doesn't really shine in this role as a loser with no self esteem. She is almost a throw away character. The shining star of the movie is the grandmother (Piper Laurie) who isn't entirely there mentally, but is pure and honest and gains the respect of Hesher right away. The connection between the two of them is one that cannot be manufactured and is a testament to the acting and emotion that Piper Laurie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt deliver on the screen. Hesher asks the question... "what is green, slimy and smells like bacon?"... find out at the bottom of the posting.

This film is amazingly original and while I don't think it will ever see a large audience, I hope that everyone will hunt this down in a theater or on DVD and check it out. Give "Hesher" a chance to say what is on its mind and you will learn something from it. We should never go through life accepting the status quo or ignoring our emotions, instead we should embrace life and live; and if you make a promise to someone you better follow through with it. 3 Quacks and a solid rock anthem.

(screaning date 4/27/11, release date 5/13/11, location Landmark E Street)

ANSWER: Kermit the Frog's finger

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fast Five

The Fast and the Furious franchise delivers "Fast Five" which is pretty much exactly what you thought it would be. Watch the trailer below and you will get a lot of the key elements of the film. I joked with a friend prior to the screening that I was expecting it to be like "Ocean's Eleven", which is close. A more accurate description is "Ocean's Twelve" meets "the Italian Job". With rumors already hitting the streets that the filming of a sixth and final volume in the series will be starting summer it is not a surprise that this film will get a large audience.

"Fast Five" delivers in the ways you expect it to with fast cars, explosions, fist fights, and of course attractive women. The script borrows heavily from the "Ocean's" franchise and the acting is not why you would go to see this film. Vin Diesel still has the muscles, Paul Walker has the dreamy blue eyes, and Jordana Brewster gets the teenage boys excited. This time around they are joined by Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson who knows how to sell a fight scene, Tyrese Gibson who has the muscles and the winning smile, Chris 'ludacris' Bridges who gives some street credibility, and several others that made appearances in the previous four volumes. With an ensemble cast like this you can see why the comparison to any of the "Ocean's" movies could be made.

Along with the larger cast and the apparent plans for a sixth and final volume comes a longer run time that reaches over 2 hours where the previous volumes stuck around the more reasonable 100 minute area. There are clearly some scenes that could have been edited without taking away from the overall story, and there are a couple times where it seemed as if they did just that by taking away racing scenes. Overall, not a very technically sound film, but again you aren't going to see this movie for that reason.

I wanted to find something that is a little film geek for everyone and what I noticed was several shots that reminded me of the film "Elite Squad" (2007). Both are based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and involve the corruption of the police and drug lords who run the slums. You could almost use that as the background for the Officer Elena character played by Elsa Pataky.

3 Quacks are more than appropriate for this movie and I could even argue with myself enough to give it 4 Quacks. I feel comfortable recommending folks that like a bucket of popcorn and 32 ounces of cola to go see "Fast Five" this weekend.

PS - do you believe in ghosts? stay during the credits to find out...

(screening date 4/26/11, release date 4/29/11, location AMC Mazza Gallerie)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quacking BetaMax: Moon

I have been a fan of Sam Rockwell for a long time, so when he did the movie "Moon" (2009) I wasn't sure what to think. Was it going to be an updated version of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) or some weird version of "Blade Runner" (1982). It took me longer than it probably should have to finally see this film. "Moon" sat in my Netflix queue for a couple years and it wasn't until "The Source Code" (2011) did the genius of Duncan Jones finally hit me.

The SciFi genre has taken amazing strides in the last couple years as the Star Wars generation has grown-up to challenge the status quo of what SciFi in Hollywood can be. When Star Wars hit the theaters in 1977 Duncan Jones was 6 years old, and without asking the question it is safe to say that it impacted him in ways that we are able to benefit from.

In this film there is really only two characters, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) and the robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Sam is in the finally days of his contract to work on the moon to mine for a fuel source. There is no direct communication with Earth and the only interaction for him is with the clever emoticons of the robot GERTY. As the pending arrival of a relief crew is on the mind of Sam he begins to hallucinate resulting in an accident that is the catalyst to the events of the story. It does take a bit of time to get to this point, but once you are there your head will be spinning trying to guess what will happen next.

"Moon" isn't like other one-man movies "Buried", "Phonebooth", or "Cast Away". After watching this movie I realize that "Moon" stands on its own away from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Blade Runner". The only thing it has in common is that it is a brilliant movie. I stand by the 4 Quacks that I will give this film and encourage everyone to give SciFi a further consideration.

Quacking BetaMax: The Station Agent

Another of my favorites in the up-and-coming, but already there, and everyone doesn't quite know who they are writer/director category is Thomas McCarthy. His latest film "Win Win" was a big favorite of mine, so I decided to revisit some of his previous films. He wrote the animated feature "Up" (2009), "The Visitor" (2007), and "The Station Agent" (2003). All of which received nominations from the Oscars or Sundance for either the writing or the acting. A common theme for Thomas McCarthy is the battled outsider that is looking for solace, but is challenged by the innocence of humanity to befriend someone and work with them for the greater good.

For the "Station Agent" we follow Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) who has recently inherited an old railroad station from a friend and fellow railfan. The station is in a small New Jersey town, which is exactly what Finbar is seeking as compared to the big city life of New York City. The life of solitude that Finbar is attracted to is a result of the social acceptance of individuals with dwarfism. Too often people are caught gawking at Finbar and even at the Station he cannot escape the attention of others. However, the problem is that for so much of his life he has been on the defense that when someone genuinely wants to befriend him that he pushes them away. I applaud Peter Dinklage for taking on this role. I have seen him in other films and the guy can act. Who can forget him in "Elf" jumping on the table and attacking Will Ferrell.

But this movie is about so much more than just the height of a man. This is a movie about the genuine friendship from the emotionally scarred Patricia Clarkson (Olivia), loveable Bobby Cannavale (Joe), and youthful Michelle Williams (Emily). Each of these characters are missing something in their lives and Finbar brings them all together. For Olivia it is the lost family member that she has not forgiven herself for. For Joe it is the connection of someone his own age as he deals with the responsibilities of looking after his elderly father. Finally, there is Emily who has been taken advantage of for her beauty and mistreated by her boyfriend that just wants to be respected.

One of the more powerful scenes is when Finbar has opened himself up to the idea that maybe he can be accepted as normal only to get hurt again, which leads him to following in the stereotypes of excessive drinking and stands on the bar and tells everyone to look at him. He is so emotionally broken down at this moment that your heart aches for him.

Many may know Thomas McCarthy for his acting, but I for one enjoy his writing just a bit more. "The Station Agent" is easily a 4 Quack movie and I cannot wait to see what Thomas McCarthy can offer up next.

Quacking BetaMax: Greenberg

I was looking through my HBO On-Demand and found that "Greenberg" (2010) was available. What a perfect compliment as I had just finished watching "The Squid and the Whale". It is unclear as to if this is meant to be a true life experience of Noah Baumbach as his previous films have borrowed from. However, if it is then damn this guy is messed up and I like him for it. Along with Noah Baumbach is his (now former) wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, which assisted in writing this indie drama.

The title character is delivered by Ben Stiller (Roger), who is staying at his brother's house in L.A. while he and his family are on vacation. Left behind are the family dog and the personal assistant Florence, played by Greta Gerwig. The story focuses on these three individuals (well the dog is considered an individual too). The back story on Roger is that he recently left a mental health facility in New York. His main activity is writing complaint letters to various companies based on experiences that he is not able to let go of. My favorite of his complaints has to be his letter to Starbucks... "In your attempts to manufacture culture out of fast food coffee, you have been surprisingly successful for the most part. The part that isn't covered by the most part sucks.". Seriously, how many of us have thought this exact thing, but never put the words together. Brilliant...

But back to the review... Florence the personal assistant is messed up in that she has spent the same number of years out of college as she was in college and doesn't really have any direction in her life. She is jumping from relationship and doesn't want to go from "just have sex, to just having sex, to just having sex". The glue of all the relationships is the dog that gets sick and brings everyone together. In the end you realize that as messed-up as Florence is and Roger that they deserve each other. This movie ends like real life does, it just goes on. We are left with the possibility that together they might be able to figure it out.

Overall, the movie is cleverly written and I look forward to the next project that Ben Stiller and Noah Baumbach are working together on (While We're Young - 2012). I give Greenberg another 4 Quacks and encourage everyone to update their netflix accounts and hit up RedBox this weekend.

Quacking BetaMax: The Squid and the Whale

After talking with a couple friends, I decided that I will start doing video reviews in addition to the new movie reviews. To keep them seperate I am going to call them Quacking BetaMax because there is a part of me that wishes the betamax never went away.

This week, compliments of Netflix for delivering "The Squid and the Whale" (2005) is first of two reviews for Noah Baumbach with the other being "Greenberg" (2010). I first learned about Noah Baumbach when I was in college and picked up the movie "Kicking and Screaming" (1995) which is far from a comedy with Will Ferrell. Noah Baumbach does a terrific job writing characters that are believable and engaging the audience in the battles that the protagonist goes through during the film. "The Squid and the Whale" may be his most complex as he delivers deeply powerful characters from diverse perspectives.

The film focuses on the true childhood experiences that he and his brother dealt with when their parents divorced. The acting is superb with Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as the parents that have decided to seperate. Unlike many other films of this topic the focus isn't solely on the parents or the children, but balances both ends to let the audience understand just how messed up the family dynamics are. Jeff Daniels is a University professor that is struggling to be an accomplished writer as a he once was. His narrow minded opinions fail to accept others and puts distance between his wife, Laura Linney, who is an upcoming writer. Even though the wife is made to be the victim of the marriage, she isn't innocent either as she has had past affairs. The redeeming aspect for her is that she is a wonderful and caring mother.

There isn't one person involved in this family that has it all figured out, least of all the children played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline. It is Owen Kline that truly steals this film as the younger brother that decidedly starts drinking and exploring his sexuality as many 12 year-old boys have. His older brother, played by Jesse Eisenberg is painful to watch. I cannot decide if Jesse Eisenberg is just a flat actor or the characters he attaches himself with are all the same. Here we have a teen that admires his father so much that he becomes delusional about his relationships with others. To impress his parents he tells everyone that he wrote an original song for a school talent contest when it is clearly "Hey You" written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. He has lost sight of what affection really is and struggles to find it throughout the film.

I believe that Noah Baumbach uses his personal life as a model for his films. With "The Squid and the Whale" you can see how he could become the characters in "Kicking and Screaming" and/or "Greenberg". I just hope that he doesn't run out of material. I give Noah Baumbach 4 Quacks for his honest telling of his childhood.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Everything I had read about "Circumstance", the Audience Winner at Sundance, was absolutely true. First time writer/director Maryam Keshavarz provides a look at the everyday life of an Iranian family struggeling with the human rights issues that few of us in America will ever see. The political, sexual, and religious issues that the people of Iran deal with on a daily basis are foreign to the lifestyles of the American people. However, Maryam Keshavarz along with a young cast that is mature beyond their years deliver a compelling performance.

The film focuses on a wealthy family lead by Firouz (Soheil Parsa) and Azar (Nasrin Pakkho) who welcome the favored son home Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) over their rebelious daughter Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and her friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy). Even though Mehran is a recovering crack addict. The political and religious boundaries cross with the society that does not value women when the son, Mehran, becomes a Muslim fanatic and joins the Morality Police and places his family under survellance. What Mehran discovers is that his rebelious sister and her friend are engaging in sexual activities that are not acceptable by society standards. The political pressures that Mehran is able to force upon his father and family provide the compelling edge to the story.

The American influences on Atafeh and Shireen are very evident and likely echo the experiences that Maryan Keshavarz had growing up in America and Iran. Whether it is the music, television (American Idol), or Hollywood (the film "Milk") the impact on the young girls is obvious. These elements are important to the story, but provide humor to the American audience.

This film was an excellent entry to Filmfest DC and I hope that it receives additional attention and reaches more theaters. Circumstance should receive the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film and without a doubt should walk away with the award. It is a shame that foreign language films do not receive more attention to the American audience because this film deserves Best Picture consideration and Best Actress nominations. I could even see this film getting a nomination for Cinematography as the seaside and hiking shots are visually amazing.

If you do get a chance to see this movie, please Quack back and let me know what you think. I have a feeling that this film will provide for a considerable amount of conversation on the topics above. Easily a 5 Quack movie.

(screening date 4/15/11, release date UNKNOWN, location Regal Gallery Place 14)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greatest Movie Ever Sold

The Docu-Buster (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) from director Morgan Spurlock takes a look at branding, advertising, and product placement. Fans and proponents of Morgan Spurlock and the documentary genre will ask what the angle is and try to decipher a motive for making such a film. However, after taking in the screening and listening to the Q&A that followed it really doesn't seem to have any angle or motive. Anyone that wants to take the "Super Size Me" (2004) slant to this film is doing the film an injustice.

The film is smart, clever, and very much tongue-in-cheek. Whether it is POM, Ban deodorant, Mini Cooper, Hyatt, JetBlue, Sheetz, Merrell, or Mane n Tail Shampoo none will get me to purchase their product/service because of their involvement in the film. However, they did just get me to include them in my blog and for the couple dozen readers of my blog maybe their brands got what they paid for. The only brand that comes out on-top in this film is Morgan Spurlock who after the much debated "Super Size Me" and the failed "Where in the World is Osama" probably needed a branding boost.

One aspect of marketing that I wish this film would have touched on is the Super Bowl and how you can have an advertisement run for 30 seconds and you still don't even know if it is an advertisement for a car, movie, or jeans. Those usually receive the worst post Super Bowl ratings and the next day viewers realize what they were being advertised and then quickly forget about it.

During the screening a couple films came to mind "Rollerball" (1975) which is about a corporate controlled future in sports, and the animated short film "Logorama" (2009), which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. "Rollerball" dealt with the business side of advertising by forcing a retirement of the most celebrated star of the fictional sport. This would be like telling LeBron or Kobe that they need to retire from the NBA because they are "too good". With "Logorama" the world is inhabited by forms of commercial branding. The brands are used to represent characters, props, locations, vehicles, etc.

With any documentary if you don't learn something, or give you pause to reflect on the topic, than it didn't deliver on its goal. Something that I took away from the film was that in Sao Paulo, Brazil there is a ban on public advertising. I have never been, however my parents were there in February 2011 and in looking at photos it is very much an accurate portrayal of the city. My parents didn't even realize it at the time, which says something about whether the in your face advertising even works. During the Q&A it was asked if a city in the US could take such a strong stance and Morgan Spurlock doesn't think a "major" city could accomplish this, but a smaller city like Portland, OR and Seattle, WA could challenge this. Growing up in the northwest I am not sure what it would be like to drive and not see the "Made in Oregon" or the "Public Market" signs.

But even though this extreme is presented, I am not sure that is what Morgan Spurlock is suggesting we should do. Rather, the question is how much is too much and where do you draw the line on advertising. I have always thought that less is more and hope that everyone goes to see this film. It will most likely be nominated for a documentary award and receives 5 Quacks from this Duck.

(screening date 4/11/11, release date 4/22/11, location Landmark E Street Cinema)

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