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   Movies


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Departures  |   District 9  |   Drive  |   Horseman on the Roof  |   House of Flying Daggers  |   Incendies  |   The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou  |   Vanilla Sky  |   The Village  |   Waste Land  |   Wonder Boys







DEPARTURES

Departures I’ve never seen a movie about what ‘Departures,’ (Okuribito) a Japanese film, centers around. The main character, Daigo, a concert cellist, feels lost when his orchestra is disbanded. He decides to move, with his wife, back to his hometown. Once there, he is offered a mysterious job- no experience necessary, with excellent pay. The problem is, the job turns out to be preparing the dead for their caskets and funerals. Apparently, in Japan, the washing and clothing of the body, and applying of funeral make-up, is performed as a ceremony in front of the family of the deceased.

At first, Daigo is horrified, and doesn’t know if he can continue. Then, he comes to see that this ceremony, when done properly and in a caring manner, can be a great kindness to the grieving family and friends.

The movie starts on uncertain footing. I found the Japanese style of acting to be just different enough to throw me a little bit. Also, the way the characters interact with each other is slightly odd. There’s also the worry that the film will be really morbid or disturbing, considering what it’s about, Soon, however, you fall right into the story, which is very fascinating and intensely emotional. The movie is neither disturbing or morbid, but tastefully done. In fact, the ceremony, the production, of how the dead are prepared is actually very soothing, and almost lovely. The kindness and gentleness Daigo displays, the ritual he performs, presents an opportunity for the family of the dead to mourn or even begin to feel slightly better. The casketers, as they’re called, work to set as much to right as possible, in order to ease the passing.

Departures The movie is not all introspection. There are some very funny parts- I don’t know if they were actually supposed to be funny, but they made me laugh. There’s also some great storylines, between Daigo, his family, his wife, his friends, and his co-workers.

Most of all, though, I enjoyed how death was looked at here. It can be a scary, sometimes even disgusting thing, but Daigo and his co-workers treat each body with respect, honoring the dead and the family. ‘Departures’ is a movie that really makes you think about things. It asks you to see things in a different, more positive, light.      -SEL

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DISTRICT 9

District 9 is a science fiction movie, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. At its simplest, this movie is about aliens, called ‘Prawns,’ that end up over South Africa. The aliens are relegated to slums by the government of South Africa, and mostly kept apart from people. While working in those slums, the main character, Wicus (played by Sharlto Copley), accidentally comes in contact with a substance that begins to turn him into one of the aliens. At its most complex, the movie is a detailed look at racism, segregation, trust, love and the human condition.

District 9 is filmed so that half of it is your regular storytelling, action-y bits, and the other half is a pseudo-documentary, featuring ‘footage’ of the aliens and Wicus, as well as interviews. This style works surprisingly well- it illustrates what Wicus is going through, showing his side of the story, while also giving a feel for what people on the outside are seeing, feeling, and guessing at. It also lends an air of reality to everything.

District 9 One of the things I love most about this movie is how realistic the special effects are (most of these are done by Weta, one of the finer digital workshops). While watching the movie, there was never a doubt in my mind that there were actually aliens in Johannesburg. The aliens, the action, the alien ship- all of it is really pretty flawless. We now have the technology to create effects that look this fantastic, and District 9 takes full advantage of them.

Aside from the interesting narrative style and the amazing makeup and CG, the acting is excellent. The story line is clean and believable. The characters are excellently developed. The emotional impact is deep. This is a movie that makes you think. It has both action and drama, as well as an intense and fascinating plot.

Has this story been told before, in some form or another? Yes, but never like this. This new perspective, blending SciFi with everyday realities, lends a fresh voice to those who are segregated, demeaned, or misunderstood. Are there flaws? Yes, some. (The visuals of the violence were a bit much for me at times- not in an overly violent way, just in an overly bizarre way.) But whatever flaws might be found are not enough to lower my opinion of this movie.      -SEL

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DRIVE

Ryan Gosling in Drive


Ryan Gosling plays a man with no name in ‘Drive.’ By day, he performs as a stunt driver for movies and also works as a mechanic. By night, he acts as the getaway driver, helping any convict who can pay make an escape through the streets of Los Angeles.

Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in Drive The driver lives a simple life until the woman and little boy who live in the apartment next to him come into his shop to get their car fixed. A tentative relationship blooms, and the driver immediately wants to do whatever he can to protect these people.



When I first saw this movie, I was stunned by every single part of it. Ryan Gosling is amazing in this role. The driver is shy and awkward, in that he rarely speaks. Despite this, he must also come across as strong and scary. Ryan Gosling manages to do this so well. I truly believed in his character, even though the character was really bizarre. Carey Mulligan, who plays his neighbor, and Bryan Cranston (you know, Walt from ‘Breaking Bad’?) who plays his boss, are also spectacular.

Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston in Drive

Each facet of this movie is so different, and the thing as a whole is so strange that it shouldn’t work, but it does. It works beautifully. The first scene of the movie is breathtaking. Then, the opening credits roll, and they’re written in a weird purple script that makes you a bit nostalgic for 80s movies. The music is kind of pop, kind of techno-y, but always fits. And the plot of the movie is shocking and totally unexpected.

I almost didn’t want to watch this movie at first because the synopsis sounded like every other movie I’ve ever seen. But really, that’s just the beginning of the story. You just can’t say more because it would give too much away. So all I can say is, definitely give this movie a shot. It has so many different elements that it will probably appeal to almost everyone who likes a movie with great acting, filming, music and a lot of edge.      -SEL

Ryan Gosling in Drive **Note that Drive has a couple of snippets of disturbing, horrific violence. Like everything else in the movie, it is presented in an effective manner.      -AEL

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HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS

House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers House of Flying Daggers

When a blind dancer, Xiao Mei, is discovered to be the daughter of the leader of a rebel group, the police form a plan that will lead them to the group’s hideout. Xiao Mei is captured and taken into custody.

House of Flying Daggers


The captain of police, Jin, then breaks her out, making her believe he is trying to help her. All the while, he is allowing her to lead him into the heart of the rebel group, so the police can find them. However, Jin begins to fall in love with Mei. Several twists and turns of the plot show that no one’s motives are what they seem.

Ziyi Zhang, as Mei and Takeshi Koneshiro, as Jin in House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers


‘House of Flying Daggers,’ directed by Yimou Zhang, and starring Takeshi Koneshiro, as Jin, and Ziyi Zhang, as Mei, is one of the most beautifully filmed movies I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is breathtaking. The landscapes are unbelievably gorgeous. Each new scene is a delight to the eyes.

Takeshi Koneshiro, as Jin, and Ziyi Zhang, as Mei, in House of Flying Daggers


Not only is this movie, which is in Mandarin Chinese, beautiful to see, but the story is also amazing and lovely. There is an intense emotional story, behind the adventure of the chase, that is made all the more touching and important by the beautiful scenery. The acting is also superb. There’s definitely a reason that Ziyi Zhang is one of China’s most popular actresses. This movie is very, very different from English-language films. It’s shot differently, the dialogue is unusual, the setting is certainly different. However, it speaks to universal themes, and the foreign aspect only serves to make it feel fresh and exciting. Even though there are some aspects, such as the fight scenes, that some small-minded viewers might scoff at, this movie should be seen,

House of Flying Daggers simply for its dramatic beauty and the depth of the story.     -SEL

House of Flying Daggers

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THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF

‘The Horseman On the Roof’ (Le Hussard sur le Toit) is a French film, set in the 1830s. Angelo, an Italian revolutionary, is hiding in France from the Austrians. A group of men is after him and his fellow revolutionaries, whom he is trying to find and warn. In his travels, he meets Pauline, who is trying to find her husband and make her way home. Angelo decides to travel with Pauline, in order to protect her. In the midst of their own personal problems, a cholera epidemic has broken out, and many people are dangerously on edge. Horseman on the Roof

That’s the plot. What the story’s really about is the developing friendship and relationship between Angelo and Pauline, the hardships they face, and how people react to crisis. All of this makes for a very exciting, intense, and interesting plot.

The movie’s made even better by the characters. Angelo, played by Olivier Martinez, is not only absolutely gorgeous, but he also rides a beautiful horse and has a way with cats. He’s young, but trying very hard to do good and make a difference. He has to become very mature very quickly. Although he can be arrogant as he tries to do what he thinks is right, he’s very endearing, and the way his character develops is fascinating and very enjoyable. Pauline, played by Juliette Binoche, is strong and independent, in a time when women were not really supposed to be either of these things. However, she is also frightened and unsure. She and Angelo need each other to lean on, even if neither wants to admit it.

Horseman on the Roof



Horseman on the Roof The filming is beautiful. The cinematography really makes the towns and fields of France come vividly alive. The characters are deep and feel very real. More and more layers are revealed about them as the movie progresses. These characters are, of course, supported by superb acting. Most people have probably seen Juliette Binoche in ‘Chocolat,’ but it was in ‘Horseman On the Roof’ that she became one of my favorite actresses.

The plot is simple, but there’s a lot of adventure, hardship, and rich sentiment, and the story ends up really resonating with you. The bond between the pair grows gradually, and never feels false or tacky, because it’s so well developed, through both actions and dialogue.

Without giving anything away, I also really loved the ending. It remains true to the story, fitting perfectly. Each time I see this movie, it seems I like it more.      -SEL

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INCENDIES

Incendies

‘Incendies’ is a French Canadian film. I think we originally wanted to see it simply because it had been nominated for Best Foreign Film. I didn’t really have any expectations as far as what it was about, but whatever I was thinking, it wasn’t this. This was probably one of the most surprising movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.

In the movie, twins Simon and Jeanne must complete the final wishes of their deceased mother. Their mother asks them to return to the Middle East (an actual country is never given, and when I looked up some of the towns named later, I found that many of them were fictional) and find their father, who they thought was dead. Nawal, their mother, also asks the twins to find their brother, who they did not know existed. Incendies

Jeanne starts the journey, and discovers that her mother had a violent past that she never knew about. Simon later joins her to find the rest of the hidden history of their family. The movie rotates between the past and present, sometimes following Jeanne or Simon, sometimes following Nawal.

The violence and tender love in this movie are discovered and portrayed well, in equal manner. The story is shocking but believable, and leaves you absolutely stunned. The character development is amazing. Although very little is said about the lives the characters usually live, when they’re not running for their lives or searching for their past, you feel as if you know their inner thoughts and emotions. The filming is stark and haunting. I was never bored, always kept on the edge of my seat. However, the movie isn’t an action film- it delves into the complex relationships and stories of these people.

The music was also very interesting. Traditional music and a well-written score blend with some really bizarre Radiohead songs. Usually, I’m not a big Radiohead fan, but the songs here worked very well, evoking a feeling of a great well of emotion, confusion, beauty, and disillusionment.      -SEL

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU

I’ve seen a lot of strange movies, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like ‘The Life Aquatic.’ The movie starts with Steve Zissou, an oceanographer played by Bill Murray, who is set on getting revenge against the shark that ate his friend and film partner. Steve, his wife (Angelica Huston), and his crew begin preparing for a new voyage out to sea to see if they can find the shark.

Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Before they set sail, several new people join the crew. One is a reporter named Jane, played by Cate Blanchett. Another new face is Ned, played by Owen Wilson, who is a pilot for Kentucky Airlines and claims to be Steve’s son. Steve starts paying a lot of attention to Ned which makes the first mate, Klaus, played by Willen Dafoe, very jealous. Aside from these people, Steve’s crew also contains several clueless college students, various filmmakers, a guy who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese, and a hapless insurance agent.

As they search for the shark, Ned and Jane become closer, Steve pits himself against his wife’s old boyfriend (Jeff Goldblum) and the ship gets attacked by pirates. Meanwhile, all kinds of weird animals that totally don’t exist keep appearing, tinkly techno music plays, and you’re never sure if what you’re watching is a documentary, or a parody, or serious, or hilarious. Ultimately, you don’t care because it’s funny and sad and touching and exciting and totally whacked.

As far as I’m concerned, Wes Anderson, who wrote, produced and directed this movie, is a genius. How he manages to cram so many elements and emotions and plot lines and weird little asides into one movie, and have it come out feeling both simple and elegant and completely entertaining, is beyond me.

Bill Murray and Owen Wilson in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou This movie also has some of the best acting in it. Bill Murray is very dry and a little cold. Cate Blanchett fits perfectly into all the strange things going on. Owen Wilson is just… Owen Wilson. And Willem Dafoe is like another person. The filming is also great. It’s kind of simple and raw, but it makes the movie feel very real.

‘The Life Aquatic’ also has one of the best soundtracks ever. Aside from the techno, which is pretty catchy, the David Bowie songs are great and the other songs fit so well in the scenes it’s outrageous. This is one of those movies like ‘Vanilla Sky’ where I would never have thought to put a particular song in a particular scene, but when you hear it and see it, it’s perfect.

Willem Dafoe in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou This movie isn’t for anyone without an open mind. If you’re not ready for Willem Dafoe wearing a beanie and speaking in a ridiculous German accent, this movie will probably bowl you over. But if you let yourself walk that fine line between serious and crazy, you’ll find that this movie is sheer genius.      -SEL



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VANILLA SKY

‘Vanilla Sky’ is a movie that offers a unique and in-depth view of how we see and treat life, told through the perspective of amazing acting, cinematography, and music. There’s really nothing I don’t like about this movie.

Vanilla Sky

The main character, David, played by Tom Cruise, is a wealthy publisher. Although he often sleeps with his friend Julie (Cameron Diaz), he doesn’t want to be romantically involved with her. Instead, at a party, he meets, Sofia (Penelope Cruz), a girl who immediately captures his interest and affections. However, after a terrible accident occurs, David must learn how to function as a normal human in the wake of tragedy, and how to blend his new relationship into his new life.

Vanilla Sky Vanilla Sky



And then things take a turn for the surreal and the movie goes in a totally new direction, and it’s just mind-blowing.

I guess you could say there’s a story within a story here, but each part of this movie is so wonderfully written that nothing ever feels disjointed. The acting is superb, the directing is fantastic, and the music, done by Nancy Wilson, is outrageous. I don’t know how she decides what song to put where, but this movie has one of the most eclectic soundtracks ever, and each song fits absolutely perfectly into each scene. ‘Vanilla Sky’ is entertaining, beautiful to watch, and leaves you with deep thoughts about how people interact and live their lives.      -SEL



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THE VILLAGE

The Village

Whenever I review a movie or a book, I try to ask myself, ‘What made this so fantastic?’ I can almost never come up with an answer. In a movie, it’s not just the acting, the plot, the filming, the music, and the other tiny things that go into making a movie. For me, it’s when everything comes together as a perfect whole. At that point, something else, something extra, something unnamable, is exuded, that makes the movie amazing. This perfection of parts, plus a little something intangible, is what ‘The Village,’ directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is for me.

The Village ‘The Village’ is about just that, a rural village. Although a date and place are never given, the people living in the village act and dress as if they were in the 16- or 1700s (my grasp of period clothing isn’t great-excuse me if I’m off by centuries.) Their way of life is simple and lovely, but they are haunted by a dark shadow. In the woods surrounding them are ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of,’ terrible monsters. The village performs rituals and maintains a border, but still the monsters threaten them.

Living in the village are Ivy Walker (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a blind girl, and Lucius Hunt, (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a shy, quiet boy. The plot of the movie follows a chaotic period in their lives and in the lives of the others in the village. The Village

The acting in this movie is incredible. Aside from the stunning character portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard, secondary characters are deftly played by Adrien Brody (who steals the show), William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver. The plot and the cinematography go together flawlessly, progressing the story in a striking and smooth manner. Perhaps this is because M. Night Shyamalan had the entire thing in his head the whole time- he wrote, produced, and directed here. The movie is filled with almost antique colors- golds, soft browns, and yellows- and the shots are not your text book movie sequences. They’re odd and interesting, and add a lot to the way the story is told. And the music is absolutely unbelievable. It’s classical-type stuff, mostly violin. It’s complex but not overly flowery and fits the movie perfectly. It’s so good that I listen to the soundtrack, and I don’t like classical music.

All these things come together to create an incredible, gorgeous film. It’s scary, but much deeper than that. The thrills played out here only serve to further the emotional story of the characters. One of the most frightening scenes is also one of the most beautiful. It’s one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever, and sends chills up my spine (good chills) every time I see it.      -SEL The Village



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WASTE LAND

Waste Land



It wasn’t as though I’d set out to entertain myself with a movie with too-small subtitles about the largest trash dump in the world. Or that I wanted to see a documentary about the plight of the people who live in poverty in Brazil. I think I chose it because I knew it was about an artist who sees things differently; who was instrumental in changing people’s lives.

Waste Land

Vik Muniz is a resident of Brooklyn, New York who spent his childhood in the poor section of San Paulo, Brazil. Early in his career, financially bereft, he would make a sculpture, take a picture of it and then destroy the sculpture to reuse the material to sculpt into something else. This method evolved into photography of 3-D art using any material that was available - from cotton or sugar to dust - to create what he called ‘the lowest threshold of visual illusion.’



Waste Land Waste Land



The movie Waste Land encompasses a three-year span of time when Vik and a small crew interacted with people who pick through trash to gather recyclable materials. Vik set out to photograph portraits that were made from dump debris to sell for the benefit of the workers and their situations. Along the way the people who worked at the dump told heartfelt stories and spirits were lifted as new hope and respect emerged. Waste Land

I highly recommend Waste Land. It was an hour and a half that was hardly wasted.     -AEL



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WONDER BOYS

Robert Downey, JR and Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys The movie starts with writer and professor Grady Tripp, played by Michael Douglas, on his way to pick up his editor, Terry Crabtree, played by Robert Downey Jr., from the airport. From there, the two friends, plus the transvestite Crabtree met at the airport, travel to the house of the chancellor of the college where Grady works. A party is in the works there, and the group meets up with two of Grady’s students, including James Leer, played by Tobey Maguire, a highly imaginative but also somewhat disturbed young writer, as well as the chancellor’s wife, Sarah, played by Frances McDormand, with whom Grady is having an affair.

The night dissolves into chaos when secrets are revealed, and the chancellor’s dog tries to take a chunk out of Grady’s leg. The events of the evening follow Grady and his friends through the next few days, becoming a tangled mess that’s highly entertaining and hilarious to watch. Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys

‘Wonder Boys’ has a little something for everyone: comedy, drama, romance, and more comedy. It’s that somewhat dry, realistic kind of comedy that’s funny because it takes you by surprise, but also because it could actually happen in an everyday situation. The plot is absolutely fantastic as well, with no dull moments anywhere. I also found the acting to be really enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Douglas are always excellent, but I felt that this movie really brought out the best in the other actors. Katie Holmes plays one of Grady’s students. I’m not usually her biggest fan, but I liked her in this movie. In addition, Tobey Maguire is always enjoyable to watch, but in this movie he’s a totally different character.

All in all, ‘Wonder Boys’ is a movie you can watch over and over again without ever becoming bored. I’ve seen it probably ten times, and I’d watch it again right now. It’s that good.      -SEL

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