Sunday, May 26, 2013

Paper Man (2009)

Abby:  "Remember the moment when you realized your soup didn't have to come out of a can? You know, all manufactured? That your chicken noodle can kick Cambell's Chicken Noodle's ass any day?"
Richard Dunn: "I think I'm having that moment right now."
  What a gem of a movie I just watched and I didn’t even see it on Sundance or IFC – which is where one would expect to find a quirky little film like this.

Jeff Daniels gives a great performance as unsettled writer, Richard Dunn, who is trying to start a new book but has lost his mojo. He is also in a troubled marriage. His wife, Claire, played by Lisa Kudrow, is a surgeon with a demanding schedule who leaves Richard at home alone as he flounders aimlessly. Well, he isn’t exactly alone. His alter-ego keeps him company in the form of an imaginary Super Hero friend named Captain Excellent (played by Ryan Reynolds). Reynolds does a good job of inserting comic relief when Richard seems to be heading down a dark path.

As we have seen in many films about authors with writer’s block, Richard rents a house out in Montauk, LI during the off-season, in search of some isolation to concentrate on his writing.  But he is dealing with more than just writer's block.  We soon find out that he is searching for much more than a new story for his book. 

He soon meets Abby, a lonely teenage girl – played superbly by Emma Stone – one of the best actors on the planet, in my opinion. I can’t say enough about Emma Stone – she has the ability, in every character she portrays, to reach in and grab hold of one’s heart through the entire film. Richard and Abby’s unusual relationship gives us a glimpse of how powerful it is to have a true-blue friend. The young (but wise beyond her years) Abby shows this much older, troubled, and confused man some simple but real human kindness and companionship and at the same time, she finds a way to surface and face her own pain. There are very deep and poignant moments woven within and throughout this entire story and there is even a surprise in the end - which is always a bonus for me.  Daniels and Stone are a delightfully unexpected duo and give extremely moving performances.

Husband and wife writers and directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney gave this film a strong and steady heartbeat by bringing the vulnerabilities, failures and triumphs of these characters to life. This was a low-budget film and was a sleeper at the box-office (as many independent films sadly are) but I highly recommend giving it a look. Rent it or download it and enjoy it.

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Friday, April 13, 2012

Appropriate Adult - 2011

Appropriate Adult" is a defined term in the United Kingdom legal system for a parent or guardian or social worker who must be present if a young person or a vulnerable adult is to be searched or questioned in police custody.  If these are not available, a volunteer from the local community may fill the role instead.   Appropriate adults are also often used when vulnerable adults are detained in custody.  Vulnerable adults are classed as people who suffer from mental illness, learning difficulties or literacy problems.  In these cases, it is the Appropriate Adult’s role to ensure that the detainee understands the custody process, legal advice and any questions put to them by the police.  These Appropriate Adults usually have specialized mental health training or practical experience of dealing with vulnerable adults. – Source: Wikipedia

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Scene from the movie "Appropriate Adult"
Wonderfully talented and unusual Emily Watson plays the title role in this fascinating film.  Actually, it was a two-part mini-series on British television and later became a two and a half hour feature film on HBO.

The movie is based on a true story of infamous Gloucester serial killers Fred and Rose West who were arrested in 1994 for the brutal sex murders of at least 12 women.  This story focuses on the bizarre relationship that develops between Fred West and his "appropriate adult."  Following his arrest, it is discovered that Fred West is illiterate and so it is decided that he should have a social worker to assist him throughout the legal process.  The Gloucester police call upon volunteer Janet Leach, to take on the role of being Fred West's appropriate adult.  Janet is a rather sad and lonely housewife, whose life at home with a bi-polar spouse is difficult and far from stimulating; and so she readily accepts the assignment.  We can tell by her reaction to the assignment she feels a sense of importance and is overcome by both excitement and trepidation.

Little do we know that throughout the course of her role as "Appropriate Adult" to Fred West, she will end up spending over 400 hours in the clutches of a monster.

Oh, yes, sociopathic Fred West sees Janet Leach coming from a mile away.  Quickly recognizing her vulnerabilities, he wastes no time completely sucking her into his twisted world.  He skillfully flatters her, making her feel needed and trusted.  Even though Janet is sickened by what Fred represents, she seems to feel a sense of duty as he confides in her the dark secrets he won't share with anyone else.   Fred opens up to Janet with the sordid details of his killings.  Even after her services are no longer needed by the police, Janet still feels a responsibility for Fred West and is compelled to carry on with their meetings.

Fred West is chillingly portrayed by actor Dominic West (of The Wire and no relation to Fred).  According to the media and even the real-life Janet Leach , Dominic's striking resemblance to the actual serial killer was downright eerie.  I thought his performance was captivating.

Why does this ordinary woman go to such extraordinary depths to connect with a cold blooded killer?  Does she actually feel sorry for this torturer and murderer of women?   Find out what makes Janet Leach tick via a very impressive performance by Ms. Watson.

Okay, so this is not a film for the faint of heart.   But if you are brave enough to endure this kind of material, it is an interesting drama with an unusual premise and some damn good acting!    

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Descendants - 2011

“The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.” ~ C.C. Scott

The weather in the Bay Area has been rainy and windy and cold which makes it miserable to spend any amount of time outdoors.   So, why not make the best of it and watch movies?   Brian and I don’t visit the theaters very often but since so many films make it to Pay-Per-View so quickly now, we get to watch them in the comfort of our home on our big, flat screen TV.  Popcorn and pots of tea abound as we find entertainment in our living room.

We rented The Descendants this weekend, starring handsome (and somewhat serious) George Clooney.  I don’t think I have seen Clooney in a film lately where he actually smiles or laughs.  He seems to take very intense and serious roles after his comedy stints with the Cohen Brothers and The Ocean Eleven films.  It’s too bad, as he has such a wonderful smile.  Debonair George – a modern day Cary Grant, in my opinion!

The Descendants has an intriguing plot.  Clooney plays Matt King, a real-estate attorney living on the island of Oahu, Hawaii and a descendent of an extended Hawaiian family.  He is now the sole trustee of a big chunk of very valuable land on the island of Kauai and the whole family of cousins is depending on him to agree to sell off the land to make them all rich.  But Matt has more pressing things on his mind.  His wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastle) lay in coma on life-support in a hospital bed as the result of a devastating boating accident.  Matt is now trying to deal with the possibility of losing Elizabeth and being a single parent to two challenging daughters, with whom he has no true relationship.  He was the father who was always working – away on business – and doesn’t have a clue as how to deal with 10-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year old Alex (Shailene Woodley).  Woodley gives a flawless performance as the troubled and rebellious teenager who pretends to hate everything about her parents.  We get to watch her flourish and mature as she realizes and understands where she fits into the whole family dynamic.  Both girls have their own issues and dad has to figure out how to keep them on the right track while working full-time, arranging the big land deal and preparing himself for the worst with his wife’s deteriorating condition. 

Then there is another complication.  Matt discovers that his now brain-dead wife was cheating on him with some real estate dude on Kauai and he sets out to find the guy and confront him or just satisfy his curiosity?  There is some humor thrown in here when Matt starts to bond with the snarky and challenging older daughter, Alex, as they join forces in search of the “other man”.   Matt always seems to be pretty composed on the outside but we do get glimpses of the torment inside and Clooney’s performance is incredibly believable as a man just teetering on the edge.

One of the highlights of this movie is Alex’s friend, Sid, played to a tee by Nick Krause, as the laid- back dude-of-a-boyfriend who accompanies them on their visits to the grandparents’ house, the hospital and their trips to Kauai to stalk Elizabeth’s secret lover.  At first you might think Sid is just a wise-ass kind of kid but it turns out that he is a sympathetic and likable character who loyally sticks with Matt and the girls throughout all their trials and tribulations and manages to hold his own while helping to keep the peace between the King family members.

The movie has some slow spots and isn’t perfect, but pretty darn close to perfect. Through Alexander Payne’s (Sideways) insightful direction, we get to see these ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances in a very realistic manner.  He manages to establish the disposition of his characters very early on and unfolds their fragile, complex layers of vulnerability and sorrow as the story progresses.  It makes us feel as if we, too, are going along on their emotional ride.

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Door in the Floor - 2004

“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis

This is a great little movie based on a snippet of John Irving's quirky and provocative novel "A Widow for One Year".  Starring Jeff Bridges as Ted Cole, an eccentric children's book writer and Kim Basinger as his despondent wife, Marion, this story portrays the disintegration of family relationships following an ineffable tragedy.  Talented, little Elle Fanning plays Ruth Cole, Ted and Marion's young daughter, who is sadly caught in the middle of her parents’ inability to cope with their heartbreak and their lives.

I don’t remember this film being marketed in the theaters nor do I remember it receiving any acclaim at the Oscars.  It should have.  It is a moving story (as all John Irving stories are) and the acting is stellar.  

Jeff Bridges is a phenomenal actor.  He takes this role to the highest level and then some.  John Foster, who plays Eddie O’Hare, a teenage student, who spends a summer in the Hamptons as Ted’s personal assistant, does a stunning portrayal of a boy, coming of age, trying to figure out his destiny while in the midst of the unexpected influence of the Cole family.

I can’t write too much about the plot without giving it all away.  You have to see this film.  If you have read “A Widow for One Year”, you will recognize that this movie is just the first part of the novel.  But it doesn’t matter.  It stands strong on its own.  John Irving’s novels are usually so complicated and full of intertwining stories and characters, that extricating a piece of this novel and making it into its own story actually works.

There is so much human emotion and fragility in this story; it is hard not to be moved by it.  It’s raw and real and has enough comic relief to ease the pain of the tragic circumstances that are tenderly woven throughout the story.

This is a really good film with some really great acting.  It's definitely worth your time to watch!

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Monday, March 12, 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love. - 2011

"If you love her, then go get her back." - Robbie, Crazy, Stupid, Love.

This sweet and amusing romantic comedy was a joy to watch.  It's not an academy award winning film but I found it to be funny, silly and altogether heartwarming.

Funny man Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, an ordinary, laid back and nondescript  family man who finds himself in the throes of the modern dating world after his wife, Emily (played by Julianne Moore) of 25 years suddenly drops the divorce bomb on him.  Cal is a fish out of water, to say the least - as it turns out that Emily was his high-school sweetheart and the only woman he has ever been romantic with in his adult life.  At first, he just feels sorry for himself, drowning his sorrows by hanging out alone in a bar. Of course, Carell manages to make Cal's sad predicament extremely funny.  He wears a suit, tie and old sneakers and drinks pink drinks through a straw while mumbling about his wife's affair with David Lindhagen (played by none other then Kevin Bacon who manages to show up in almost every film on the planet!) to anyone who will listen.  No one really does listen until Jacob Palmer, a playboy and a "regular" at the bar scene, takes pity on Cal and decides to step in give him some tips on cruising chicks.  Ryan Gosling portrays Ladies-Man Jacob and does a pretty good job in a role which I wouldn't normally place Gosling.

There are a bunch of intertwining stories going on here at the same time:  You've got the Weaver's 13-year old babysitter, Jessica, who thinks she is in love with Cal.  Then you have Cal's young son, Robbie, who believes he is madly in love with Jessica.  Cal's oldest daughter, Hannah, thinks she is in love with her boring, lawyer boyfriend, (played by Josh Grobin) but he doesn't seem to feel the same way about her.  Meanwhile, Jacob (Cal's love doctor) ends up pursuing Hannah without Cal's knowledge, of course. And David Lindhagen still thinks he has a chance with Cal's wife Emily but truth is...everyone is confused.  Crazy.  Stupid.  Love.

Emma Stone is adorable and delightful, as usual, as Hannah (aka Nanna) Weaver.  Keep an eye on this young actress - she is one to watch.  I think she will go far in her career.  Julianne Moore's role is benign and not really that noteworthy in my opinion - it's not her - it's just that her role was not that interesting.   Marissa Tomei shows up in a few scenes as one of Cal's rather manic one-night stands and she also happens to be young Robbie's frantic grade school teacher.  She in typical Tomei form  - reminiscent of some of her other "girlfriend" roles in movies like Only You, What Women Want, Cyrus and My Cousin Vinny.  Funny Marisa!

Crazy.  Stupid.  Love.  Ain't it the truth?

Take the time to watch this funny and frenzied romantic comedy.  It is a hoot and makes for an enjoyable and delightful movie experience.

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hereafter - 2010

"A life that's all about death, is no life at all." ~ Billy, Hereafter

Does anyone like movies written and directed by Clint Eastwood?  I do.  This one, however, is not a typical Eastwood film, although he has directed some other sensitive films (Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino - both marvelous stories).

The movie received some negative reviews but I don’t care; I was intrigued.  I love movies that have intersecting stories where somehow, everyone is connected in the end.   This one revolves around three people who have unusual experiences with death.  I thought it was fascinating -  despite the somber and slow pace at times.

Matt Damon plays one of the main characters and I will watch any movie with Matt Damon in it.  He is one of my favorite actors.  I just love his face – his expressions and the effortless delivery of his performances.  The others in the film are not American A-list actors but gave marvelous performances nonetheless.

Damon plays George Lonegan, an American man who has psychic abilities and is able to communicate with the dead.  He considers his “gift’ a curse and tries very hard to reject it; yet people constantly coerce him to help them connect with their loved ones in the afterlife.  He is the real deal.  George is a lonely man and there is a sweet sadness to his character.  He seems to be searching for some meaning and purpose to his life.

Cecile De France is beautiful in her role as French journalist, Marie Lelay, who has a near-death experience after being swept away by a tsunami.   She is searching for validation of her ethereal experience and becomes obsessed with researching its implications.  The tsunami scene in this movie was powerful.  I was awestruck.

The third character in this trilogy of hereafter stories is a little English boy named Marcus, who is unable to accept and cope with the death of the person closest to him.  He is also searching for answers.  This character is played by Frankie and George McLaren (twins, of course) and the performance is outstanding.  This little boy tugged at my heart so much that I actually cried out loud in one scene – he was so convincing.
As you may probably guess, these three lost souls eventually have a meaningful connection that may not give them all the answers they are looking for, but it seems to finally bring them some peace and serenity.

As I wrote earlier, this movie received many bad reviews.  Many found it slow-paced and lacked the answers they may have been looking for in a story of this type.  I found it to be beautifully directed and acted and I was glued to the characters and the flow of the story.  Perhaps I welcomed it because I watched it in my quiet bedroom, lying in my big, comfy bed.  I enjoyed it tremendously.

By the way, Clint Eastwood also composed and performed the music score in this film.  Who knew that Dirty Harry was such a sensitive guy? 

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Complicated - 2009

"The worst reconciliation is better than the best divorce." ~ Miguel de Servantes Saavedra
"She has a really scary tattoo" - Adam
Funny line in this scene!

How funny is this movie?  From my point of view - it is way up there funny!  I have now seen it about 20 times and still laugh until the point of tears every time I watch it!  I have it permanently stored in my DVR  recorded favorites so I can turn it on at any time.  The cast is as good as it gets:  Meryl Streep (as Jane) - the best actress in the world; Alec Baldwin (as Jake) and Steve Martin (as Adam) - two of the funniest guys ever to hit the world of comedy!  John Krasinski (of The Office) is in top form as Harley, the fianc√© of Jane and Jake's eldest daughter, Lauren. Even among these veteran actors, Krasinski  manages to really steal some scenes and he is absolutely darling in this role.  Writer and Director Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give and The Holiday - two more great romantic comedies, in my humble opinion) does a superb job with this intelligent and hilarious script and directing this outstanding ensemble of actors.

Meryl Streep impeccably plays the role of Jane:  ex-wife, loving mother of three, good friend and chef extraordinaire.  This is no surprise since Meryl does not do anything badly.  Can you tell I am a big fan?   To me, she is perfection!  I simply adore her. 

Jane is a 50-something, independent woman who has learned how to successfully get on with her life post-divorce.  She was married to Jake for 20 years (played so deliciously by Alec Baldwin, I think it is his best role!)  The couple had three great kids together - all grown up now.  Jake cheated on Jane 10 years ago with Agness - a much younger woman with whom he is now married.  Agness is played by an actress by the name of Lake Bell and she gives an extremely convincing performance as the young, self-centered and demanding wife who is trying to conceive a baby with the 50-something Jake - who is not exactly thrilled to be having a new baby at his age.  Now an empty-nester, Jane decides to remodel her lovely house in Santa Barbara and meets architect Adam, played by Steve Martin.  Steve Martin does not play a crazy kind of guy in this movie but rather, a sensitive and likable divorce√© who now finds himself attracted to Jane.  We immediately see the beginnings of a potential romance between Jane and Adam and we are happy.  

This is when it starts to get complicated.  

While attending her son's college graduation in New York, Jane runs into Jake, who is staying at the same hotel and is flying solo because Agness stayed at home.   While the kids are out partying on their own, Jane and Jake decide to forget their differences and have dinner together in the hotel bar.  Simple enough, right?  

Uh-oh!  Maybe not!

What ensues after this very memorable encounter between Jane and Jake is so fun fun fun and so funny funny funny you won't want it to end.  The marijuana scene in this movie is so authentic and laugh-out-loud hysterical, it makes you want to light up a joint just so you can have as much fun as these characters are having!  Steve Martin does end up giving us a glimpse of wild and crazy guy moves during this scene. It's such classic comedy that if you don't laugh at this, you must not have a pulse!

So, go ahead - watch this film a few times and laugh your heart out!

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Joanie Berry-Caton's Top Ten

My cousin Joanie likes a lot of the same movies I do. Here's a list of some of her favorites - new and old:

Newer Films
1.  You've Got Mail - 1998
2.  Pride and Prejudice - 2005
3.  It's Complicated - 2009
4.  Dan in Real Life - 2007
5.  Something's Gotta Give - 2003

Older films
1.  The Sound of Music - 1965
2.  March of the Wooden Soldiers - 1934
3.  North by Alaska tied with The Quiet Man - 1960 and 1952
4.  The Ten Commandments - 1956
5.  Some Like it Hot - 1959

Wow!  From romantic comedies to musicals to westerns!  Wonderful!  I like  to see movie-lovers with diversity in their repertoire!

Thanks for sharing, Joan!

Happy New Year!

“Every great film should seem new every time you see it.” ~ Roger Ebert

As we embark upon another New Year,  we will no doubt enjoy some new movie releases and come across some of our old favorites.

What are your favorite movies? 

One of our readers, Nutsy Fagan, writes:

“Sooooo many favorites – list follows - not really in order:”

  1. Hannah and Her Sisters
  2. Broadcast News
  3. As Good as it Gets
  4. Out of Africa
  5. Jerry Maguire (although me does NOT like Mr. Cruise any longer!)
  6. Lost in Translation
  7. All The Lord of the Rings
  8. Defending Your Life
  9. Accidental Tourist
  10. Cinderella
Tell us what films made your top ten favorite movie list and what makes them so memorable to you!

Gaslight - 1944

“I am mad.  I am always losing things and hiding things and I can never find them; I don’t know where I’ve put them.”  ~ Paula Alquist

I recently watched the 1944 black and white suspense thriller, Gaslight.  This is a pretty good film, directed by George Cukor (of lighter fare fame for films such as My Fair Lady and The Philadelphia Story).  It has the essence of a Hitchcock thriller with its dim lighting, mysterious characters and spooky storyline.  Beautiful Ingrid Bergman plays Paula Alquist, the niece of a famous 19th century entertainer who was slain in her stately London home by an unknown assailant, when Paula was a little girl.  Following the horrific event, Paula leaves London and goes off to school to study music in Italy where she grows up and eventually meets the handsome Gregory Anton, played by Charles Boyer.  From the very beginning, Gregory seems to have a mysterious air about him and we can’t help to feel he is up to something sinister.  Gregory seems to talk Paula into moving back to London to live in the very same house where Paula witnessed her Aunt Alice’s death.  Paula, anxious to overcome her fearful memories and get on with her life, agrees to move into the house with her new husband.  Pay attention to Angela Lansbury, in her first motion picture role.  She plays the cheeky maid, Nancy, and is marvelous in this part.  Her performance paved the way for her future stardom and it was well-derserved.  

The newlyweds begin to remove the old memories by storing Aunt Alice’s belongings in the attic as they attempt to make the house their own.  Very early on, we see strange behavior in Gregory who seems to have a secret.  It doesn’t take us long to realize he is not a very nice person.  Although he appears to be supportive of Paula’s fragility, it seems way too evident that he has a dark side.  He leaves Paula alone in the house every evening and goes out into the foggy London night to do God knows what.  We do know he is up to no good.  This is where the movie falls short as the really great mystery-thriller it could have been.

Paula’s marital bliss is very quickly shattered when Gregory begins to convince her that she is becoming forgetful and absent-minded, eventually forcing her to become reclusive and detached from the outside world.  While alone in her room, Paula begins to hear strange noises in the attic and starts to notice the gaslights dimming with no apparent explanation.  It becomes clear to us that she is gradually descending into madness.

Unlike Hitchcock’s fabulous suspense thriller, Rebecca, Gaslight reveals a little too much too early on and you may feel a little cheated.  Despite this flaw, the film has an eerie atmosphere, great photography and some darn good acting by Bergman and Lansbury.  Charles Boyer’s performance is a little overacted, in my opinion, but there is a redeeming element of surprise in the end.  I must enjoy watching this film as I have seen it several times over and it still entertains me.  Give it a try.

Movie Review by Liz Berry Wagner