A History of Violence: A Review

A History of Violence

Tom Stall/Joey Cusack: Viggo Mortensen
Edie Stall: Maria Bello
Richie Cusack: William Hurt
Carl Fogarty: Ed Harris
Jack Stall: Ashton Holmes
Sarah Stall: Heidi Hayes
Sheriff Sam Carney: Peter MacNeill
Leland Jones: Stephen McHattie
Billy Orser: Greg Bryk

Directed by David Cronenberg

Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

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There is a relatively new show on the Discovery Channel called Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?  As you might have guessed from the title, it’s about spouses who learn years into their marriage that the men or women they have married are hiding secret lives.  Some are serial killers, others drug dealers, rapists, etc.

Now one would think that this kind of scenario is pretty rare, but estimates say that there are several thousand married couples in the country who are hiding secret lives like this.  The reason I bring this up is because the plot summary for David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence sounds like it could be the next episode in the t.v. series.

Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie Stall (Maria Bello) are living the good life.  No, they are not sitting on the beach drinking Margaritas.  Theirs is the small town kind where people say hello, and everyone knows one another.  Edie is a lawyer and Tom owns a small neighborhood diner.  They  have two children Jack (Ashton Holmes) and Sarah (Heidi Hayes), are respected by everyone they know, and are as passionately in love with one another now as they were nearly twenty years ago.  So essentially, life is good for the Stall clan.  All of that is about to change for good.

Late one night at his diner, two men attempt to rob Tom and assault his co-workers.  From the opening scene of the movie, we see these two men as cold blooded killers with no remorse, so we know what they are capable of.  Tom seemingly goes from a nice, unassuming man to hero by killing both men in a violent and spectacular fashion.  Suddenly Tom is a local hero and gains national press attention.

Before long however, the men that turn up outside his house and at his diner are worse than those he killed.  Led by Carl Fogerty ( Ed Harris), these men act as though they know Tom, but for some reason keep calling him Joey Cusack.  Carl has only one eye and appears to intimate that it is Tom who is responsible for it.  Could they be mistaken?  Could Tom really be this Joey from Philadelphia?

Due to the fact that this movie has a fairly straightforward plot, yes Tom is in fact this Joey from Philadelphia, but he does everything in his power to deny it to his wife, his children, the local cop and probably even to himself.  As the title suggests, Tom has a past that he has been running from his entire life but if finally caught up to him.

There is a subplot involving Tom’s son Jack and a school bully.  Far from being needlessly tacked on, these evolving scenes show Jack as a kid who is a bit of an outsider.  He’s nice and unassuming like his father, but finds himself the target of a few classmates.  Spurred on by his father’s heroic act, Jack finally stands up to these boys in a way that is frightening.

All of the events lead up to a return to home for Tom who must confront a past pushed deep down for the last 20 years.  Along the way he sees a part of himself that he shunted long ago.  Both terrified and thrilled, the repercussions of that night in the diner and the events that follow bring up many questions about the nature of violence and how we are all capable of utilizing that darker side we all have.

It must be said that director David Cronenberg’s vision of this taut, thrilling, and thought-provoking film film is pure genius.  Viewers expecting big plot twists will be disappointed because Cronenberg is interested in substance rather than flash here.

Things like the nature of violence in all of us, our use of violence to end disputes, the effect of violence thrust into a good family, and suddenly realizing your spouse, lover, husband and father may not be who you thought he was are all themes and ideas of high impact here.

There are two scenes of high contrast in the movie.  Early on we get a scene of  Tom and Edie in what appears to be a rare night alone together.  She dresses up as a cheerleader and attacks Tom.  There is a real sense of enduring love and a passion for one another that has lasted for two decades here.  Despite the sex scene, there tenderness and love.

Later as things begin to unravel, and Edie discovers a side of Tom she never knew, we get a much different sex scene.  It starts out as Edie trying to get away from Tom, but turns into a scene of hot, aggressive lovemaking on the stairs that feels animalistic.  More than any other, these two scenes illustrate the two sides of Tom.

For Edie in particular it brings up questions about how Tom has really felt these last 2o years.  Did he really love her?  Was the lie to protect you or himself?  Find out your last name is probably stolen and how that effects your identity as a wife, and simply as a person.  These are all ideas and questions brought up and then left mostly unanswered for the audience to ponder for themselves.

A History of Violence sees Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello in top form along with an excellent Ed Harris and a William Hurt in a role that gave him Oscar talk upon release of the film.  In what could have easily been a throwaway role, Ashton Holmes really shines as Jack who’s effect by the events of the film are as seismic as anything else.

Cronenberg reigns in his love of weird effects and horror style gore for a much cleaner (yet always violently powerful) vision.  The film should be shown at film schools to show lean, taut storytelling at it’s best.  There are no “padded” scenes to bloat the film.  Everything in it needs to be there.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Anyone looking for an amazingly powerful film that will stay in their memories long after viewing it should watch this movie as soon as possible.  I can’t implore enough to anyone how good it really is.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: A Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger Emma Watson
Bellatrix Lestrange Helena Bonham Carter
Hagrid Robbie Coltrane
Lord Voldemort Ralph Fiennes
Dumbledore Michael Gambon
Minerva McGonagall Maggie Smith
Sirius Black Gary Oldman
Snape Alan Rickman
Remus Lupin David Thewlis

Directed by David Yates.  Running time: 131 minutes.  Rated PG-13

In my time I have seen things that were truly horrific… now, I know that you will see worse.  – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince(2009)

It all ends.  This is the tagline for the final part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  It’s also a message that will elicit more than a few tears from a dedicated global fanbase that rivals virtually any in history.   With this end to the Harry Potter franchise, what is at stake is the punctuation at the end of it all.  Will it be a period, or an exclamation point?  I’m happy to report that it’s not only an exclamation point, but an emphatic one.

Our titular hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), along with friends Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson)  have done quite a bit over the over the last seven films.  They have fought dementors and arachnids, stood up to a pink dictator in Dolores Umbridge, and watched as he-who-must-not-be-named returned.  Each has had to make sacrifices.  Hermione wiped her parents memory of her to keep them safe, and Ron’s brother was mauled by a werewolf, but Harry has suffered far more.

Always at the center of the conflicts of each movie, Harry has lost family, friends and mentors along the way.   First it was his parents, then fellow student Cedric Diggory, his godfather Sirius Black,  and worst of all, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore who’s death/murder has finally stripped Harry of the last remaining parental figure he had left.  But it only gets worse from here.

At the outset of the movie we get a heavy dose of moody silence as newly appointed Hogwarts headmaster Severus Snape watches as the new regime begins.  It’s clear that Hogwarts is not the warm, fun-filled, magical place of learning it once was.  From just a few shots we see that this place has the appearance of a prison, rather than a school, which shows just how far Lord Voldemort’s influence has spread.

Harry meanwhile, pays his last respects to Dobby before seeking a meeting with the goblin Griphook, who leverages his services in getting to Belatrix Lestrange’s vault in Gringotts in exchange for the sword of Godric Gryffindor.

The search for Voldemort’s last remaining horcruxes ( an object into which a wizard infuses a piece of their soul) which keep him tethered to life even when killed, are still at the top of Harry’s to-do list.  This vault Harry figures, holds one of the few horcruxes left.

The break-in finds Hermione transformed into Belatrix with the help of polyjuice potion.  After a tense scene getting past security, Harry and Co.  descend into the labyrinthian depths of Gringotts where they encounter a full grown dragon guarding the vault.

After getting past the dragon, they encounter a curse within the vault that multiplies every object they touch.  As you can imagine, this complicates matters greatly in attempting to find the hidden horcrux.

Getting in was tough, but getting out is worse with Griphook turning traitor and attacking with his fellow goblins along with the giant white dragon.  Taking  Hermione’s lead, the trio unshackle the dragon and ride on it’s back out of Gringotts as it feels freedom for the first time in centuries.

The only place left to find the last horcrux is Hogwarts.  After getting some unexpected help from Dumbledore’s brother, the trio face the impossible task of not only finding it, but facing the onslaught of Voldemort and his army of death eaters.

Intertwined with the search for the last remaining stationary horcrux (Voldemort’s pet snake is the last we know of) is the battle itself which is magnificently translated from page to screen.  David Yates does an excellent job at showing the brutality of war, and while I wish there were a few more on screen deaths to punch home that point, it’s done well.

Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) has been both a mystery and a thorn in Harry’s side for a long time.  In a character arc that has spanned seven books and eight movies, his motivations are finally revealed after a brutal death scene at the hands of Voldemort.

Harry uses strands of memory from Snape’s tears along with the pensieve to see who Snape really was.  It’s a masterful flashback that gives context to everything that Snape has done over the years and why.  It remains the most poignant scene in the entire movie, and possibly in the franchise as well.

Realizing his destiny, Harry walks to confront Voldemort and death, speaks with Dumbledore once again, and helps to bring Voldemort down finally in the ruins of Hogwarts.  Along the way we see once cherished characters die, while others become the heroes they were always meant to be.

The final movie in the Harry Potter series is an amazing creation.  It’s a piece of majestic cinema that hurtles with a breakneck pace from beginning to end.  Amazingly however, things don’t feel rushed.  Scenes are given time to breath, and while there were specific scenes I wished had made the cut, I cannot truly complain that the movie didn’t accomplish what it needed to.

As actors, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have grown so much in the last ten  years that they barely resemble the kids who’s acting was wooden.  There is plenty of nuance in every actor now which is good because there are many scenes that require it.

But no actor in this movie can compete with Alan Rickman.  His portrayal of Severus Snape over the years has been masterful, and yet often cut down to the bare minimum of scenes.  In this one however, he gets his due.  There is even talk of Rickman getting nominated for an oscar.  It’s just that good.

In addition to Rickman, many of the great British actors make an impact.  Ralph Fiennes does a wonderfully evil job of portraying Voldemort, but adds an added dimension of vulnerability that we don’t see in the books.

All in all, this was an amazing final movie and a great one in general.   The level of craft and care used is stunning and finished off one of the highest quality series of all-time.

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The Legacy of Harry Potter: Charting his global rise and what it all means

What is the legacy of Harry Potter?

by Michael Lanich

In a few days Harry Potter will officially come to a close, almost exactly 4 years after the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released.  The second half of its digital adaptation which is premiering on July 15, is gearing up to possibly be the biggest movie of the year.  When the lights finally go out on the series, people will move on with their lives.  There will be no more books or movies to look forward to, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing left to talk about.  In fact you could say that the discussion about Harry Potter has just begun.

While chatting with a few friends recently, the subject of what exactly Harry Potter’s legacy will be was brought up.  Long after the peak of its phenomenal decade plus run as the biggest thing in books and movies, will kids recognize words like quidditch, muggle, and even Harry Potter himself?  How relevant will Harry Potter be when our grandchildren are old enough to read the series?

But in order to hypothesize what its impact on pop culture will be in twenty years, first we must assess its legacy right now when its popularity and relevance are still undeniably high.  To understand, lets take a look back at the beginning of this incredible phenomenon and chart its global rise to power.

In 1999 it was Chicken Soup for  the Soul books, Tom Clancy thrillers and other adult fare which dominated the New York Times best seller lists; not children and teen-oriented books.   While the rise of Harry Potter began in 1996 with the publication of the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it wasn’t until 1999 that the full impact of the series was truly being felt in the United States.  At one point in late 1999, all three currently published Harry Potter books dominated the top three spots simultaneously, with sales of just one of the books beating out the combined sales of the rest of the top ten easily.

Such was the total domination of Harry Potter on the New York Times best seller list, that in 2000 a seperate children’s book list was created so that room could be made for other worthy books.  It was a controversial move often criticized for not giving future Harry Potter books the ability to gain official recognition as a New York Times best seller.  Nevertheless sales continued to skyrocket.

In 2001, the digital adaptation of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opened late in the year.  Buzz was higher than any movie in recent memory, including the new Stars Wars movie a couple of years earlier.  Fans young and old lined up around the block, with some even dressed for the occasion as witches and wizards.  The movie was a financial success and while there were some qualms about the movie’s length and the script adhering too closely to the book, most critics gave the movie favorable reviews.

In the 90’s the internet was in its infancy.  Most sites were pretty basic in both content and design, but by the early 21st century, it was apparent that it was maturing.  Fan sites and their respective fandoms have always been a major force behind movies, books and television and the internet was a way for these fans to connect.  Harry Potter was no different.  Much like the television show Lost (ABC) whose fan base debated and theorized the show endlessly online, Harry Potter’s fans did the same.  Each book brought on a fresh wave of theories as to what the plot to the series was, who was going to die, and whether it was Harry or Ron who would ultimately attain the affections of their friend, Hermione Granger.

Thus the overall explosion of Pottermania began to dominate the world.  Terms like global phenomenon were especially apt descriptions  by the time the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released.  Also the fourth movie was released that year to great critical acclaim and nearly a billion dollars in box office revenue.

Overall, each film and book has been well received critically, which has only enhanced Harry Potter’s sterling reputation.  The books are not vapid, and the movies while filled with special effects, have real substance and merit.  Though there are things missing from the films that some fans may gripe about, overall they are lovingly crafted in the spirit of their respective word-filled tomes.

While the films may be very good, the books of course are better.  They are the standard by which every child or teen-oriented book is viewed.  Passed on by dozens of publishers, who all have lost billions of dollars in doing so, Harry Potter radically changed the landscape in the publishing industry.  Before Harry Potter, children and teen books were considered a worthy area to publish, but it wasn’t a very lucrative one.  After Harry’s rise to dominance over the entire publishing world, suddenly every firm began accepting similar book proposals in the hopes that another diamond in the rough could be found.  It’s been harder than previously thought.  There have been some promising books, but none that have captured the hearts and minds of millions.

But is there anything that can really compare to the trifecta of J.K. Rowlings amazing imagination, vivid characters, and engrossing plot structure?  Furthermore, what exactly has caused the world to fall in love and admire her series so much?

First off, in my opinion the greatest thing J.K. Rowling has ever done in creating Harry Potter’s world, is taking those cliched images of wizards and witches we all have seen growing up, and using them as the base of her mythology.  For instance,  as children we see wizards clad in robes while casting spells with wands.  Witches wear black robes with pointy hats, ride broomsticks and make potions in cauldrons.  They cut up herbs, use eye balls and other unsavory items to make their brew.  These are things most of us seem to know by ages 10 or 11, which is probably when most kids began reading the first book. This bedrock of familiarity in my opinion has always been the key to Harry Potter’s success.  Our ability to instantly understand part of Harry’s world on some level, makes the transition easier than in other fantasy novels.  This particular aspect seems to have been ignored by most people I talk to.  It’s a subtle move on her part and a clever one as well.

Magic of course plays a big role in the books.  At times cute and fantastical, at others dark and foreboding, this area of her world opens the imagination of readers.  There are hundreds of examples to choose from, but for my money it would be a three-way-tie between Harry blowing up his Aunt Marge, Harry creating his patronus to ward off a multitude of dementors, and Dumbledore’s battle with Lord Voldemort.

But magic in terms of spells are only a part of this world.  Talking hats and paintings, flying broomsticks, and magical creatures like unicorns, centaurs, Basilisks (giant snakes), mermaids, Trolls, and Hippogryphs are just a few of the many amazing things that populate Rowling’s work.  While she borrows liberally from mythology, she uses it in the most charming and sometimes supremely clever ways in her books.

Her characters are the gateway to this wonderful world.  Even to those who have never watched a movie or read a book, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Voldemort are all names they will recognise.  Written with depth, wit, and at times real words of wisdom, her characters, big and small are all vivid creations that come off of the page better than most.

The series opens with the double murder of Harry’s parents which is why the theme of death hangs over the series like a funeral. J.K. Rowling used the death of her mother and its effect on her as the catalyst for the series; something that was originally not planned early on.  Other important themes threaded throughout the series include free choice, prejudice, the corruption of power, and the apathy of those in power.

Dumbledore served as Harry’s benevolent and wise mentor.  Along with his quirks and power was his penchant for delivering some real words of wisdom.  Perhaps the most important line in the series was uttered in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Dumbledore in which he said “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy”.

That J.K. Rowling is an intelligent writer who knows the subtle and yet gaping canyon between these two choices is admirable.  That she could find a way to make it as integral a part of the series as anything else is something most authors could not have done nearly as well.  Part of her legacy and that of Harry Potter’s is in the attempt to get across some big ideas that are smart, challenging and not commonly seen in books of this type.

It cannot be overstated just how much of a cultural touchstone Harry Potter has truly become.  Not to simply regurgitate facts here, but over 450 million copies of the novels (second only to the bible) which have been translated into 67 different languages, have made their way around the world.  One estimate has it that anywhere between 750 million to 1 billion people have read the novels.  That at least roughly one-tenth of the world’s population has read Harry Potter is something that is almost too amazing to comprehend.

Quidditch has been a fan favorite since the first novel.  These days however Quidditch is being played all across the United States as well as some other countries.  There are currently hundreds of teams at college campuses across the country.  Such is the popularity among both fans of the novels and those who don’t read them, that there has been some legitimate talk of it possibly becoming an actual collegiate sport.

Yes, I said that . . . an actual sport governed by the NCAA that was created in the mind of an author of these books.  It’s such an unbelievable achievement that is nearly beyond words.  High school teams are also lobbying for the game to be adopted as a sport played across the country in high schools.  At first this notion was laughed at, but each year brings hundreds of new teams wanting to play.  There is even a Quidditch World Cup being played in New York City each year.

As the internet, video games, and television have  grown and spread over the  years, it was noted that children were reading less.  Harry Potter helped to change that by getting kids of all ages who might not normally read books to pick up the first book and give it a try.  J.K. Rowling found a way to tap into a combination of magic, a Dickensian hero, and an imaginative world that kept  you enthralled from start to finish.

Now these millions upon millions of children, teens and adults are moving on to different books.  Harry Potter for many will be the books that served as the series that made them bookworms.  This suddenly ravenous appetite for more children and young adult books has made reading relevant again.  When your young child would rather read his way through an 800 page novel than spend that time on the internet, and then go outside and get some exercise playing Quidditch.  I don’t think you cannot applaud any book series responsible for that enough.

Maybe that is the greatest aspect to the legacy of Harry Potter.  It’s a legacy any author would trade all of their earnings for at the end of the day.

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My-So-Called-Life Series Review

 

Today, shows about teenage life seem to be a dime a dozen.  A few are good, but most are mediocre or worse.  In 1994 however such shows were a rarity.  Besides the excellent Wonder Years, there was the so-bad-its-good Saved By the Bell and the super soapy Beverly Hills 90210. Then in 1993, Winnie Holzman, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz came up with something truly original: A show that delved much deeper into what it means to grow up in the most turbulent years of your life. Instead of corny dialogue, pretty faces and window-dressing locales, the show would focus on the day to day big and small problems that we all deal with at that age.

My-So-Called-Life follows the exploits of 15 year old Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and right from the beginning, we are introduced to a character we can all relate to.  Angela isn’t perfect and the show never makes her out to be.  She has her faults, but they are ones we can all identify with. As it happens, there have been some major changes in Angela’s life.  In an attempt to start redefining herself, she’s dyed her hair  “Crimson Glow”, pushed aside her best friend Sharon (Devon Odessa), and has started hanging out with perpetual outsiders Rayanne (A.J. Langer) and Rickie (Wilson Cruz)

Transition is probably the word that best describes Angela’s life.   Along with branching out on the kind of friends she has, she’s also trying to figure out who she is and what her stance is on things in her life.  Her relationship with her parents have dramatically changed.   In her fathers eyes she has changed.  He no longer recognizes the young woman who’s breasts have come between them.  The young girl is gone,  replaced instead with someone beginning to test the limits of her independence.

Standing against the grain of this burgeoning independence is her mother Patty.  Though wonderfully played by Bess Armstrong, Patty comes across as a shrill mother and wife.  She’s her husband’s boss which has been causing a fair amount of problems in their marriage, to the extent that Graham is contemplating an affair.  As a mother, she’s constantly fixated on how Angela’s behavior is primarily meant to “provoke her”, whilst simultaneously hating that she is treating her daughter the same way her own mother treated her.  Daughters becoming their mothers is something brought up on more than one occasion in the series.

Of course there has to be a boy in Angela’s life.  His name is Jordan Catalano and Angela spends a fair amount of time just spying . . . errr I mean looking at him from a distance.  In Jordan, Angela has poured all of her romanticism and idealism which of course could never be lived up to by anyone.  It’s wonderful to see Jordan changes in her eyes as the series progresses.  He’s a mythical object for her affections that takes on real form, substance and faults.

Tinged with a sense of naïveté and whistfulness, Angela’s narration/internal monologue is at times funny, thoughtful, profound and best of all, her thoughts sounded like the those of a real teenager.  For many teenagers who watched the show, it felt like the writers were in their head.  It didn’t end with Angela’s narration either.  The dialogue was often intelligent and sharp but thankfully lacked the hyper-articulate verbal exchanges that would come to dominate Dawson’s Creek only a few  years later.

One of the best things about the show, and something that still is  not done well enough to this day, is showing parents as real people as opposed to caricatures.  Angela’s parents Patty and Graham were shown in a fair light, and due to Claire Danes work restrictions due to her age, the writers had to create bigger roles for the adults.  It became an an unexpected benefit.

We got a chance to see a real marriage on screen.  It wasn’t something from a Norman Rockwell painting.  It was messy, strained and full of pain.  Patty and Graham were probably happy once, but time, children and circumstances have dulled that happiness considerably.

For the most part there were no “after school special” episodes that dealt with hot button issues.  These issues were simply weaved into the everyday life of the characters which made for a much more satisfying and realistic experience.  For instance, Rickie was the first full time character who was bisexual, thought the series took great pains to make sure his depiction was realistically portrayed.

Whether it was Rayanne’s long-running battle with alcohol and drugs, Graham’s infidelity, or Angela’s newfound sexual awakening, the series kept everything grounded in realism.  More often than not these things were not the overt issues that other shows would have brought attention to.

My So-Called Life won four Emmy’s, but sadly lasted only one season.  The show went up against 4 top ten shows that year in it’s time slot and never got the backing from ABC it so richly deserved despite widespread critical acclaim.  In short, it was cut down way before it’s prime.  However, on the upside the show never jumped the shark.  It never stayed on the air too long.

My So-Called Life is by far the most realistic portrayal of teenage life I have ever seen whether were talking about the big screen or silver screen.  More shows would do well to examine the show and find a way to emulate or even blatantly rip off the show.  Although the “big issues” don’t hit as hard now because things like sex and homosexuality are far more common and accepted, they haven’t lost their overall impact and deft touch.

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Beautiful Girls Review

They appear like fireworks in the sky, glittering brightly for a few seconds before fading away into the darkness.  Every decade is littered with those little seen gems, those movies whose quality is high but for some reason, fail to attract the necessary audience that would make it a legitimate hit.

Beautiful Girls fits this description perfectly.  It appeared quickly in theaters in 1996, was well received by critics and faded away like so many others of it’s kind.  When I was a teenager I would see the cover to this movie at my local movie rental store.  I was interested, but didn’t really take the plunge until college and realized I had missed out on a good movie for years.

Willie, a New York piano player returns to his home town of Knight’s Ridge, Mass.  He’s back for his high school reunion, and to sort out some women problems.

Back in town, Willie reconnects with his old friends – Tommy (Matt Dillon), Mo (Noah Emmerich), Paul (Michael Rapaport) and Kev (Max Perlich) while downing beers at another friends new bar.  Time it seems has not changed much in Knight’s Ridge in the last ten years or so and it shows.  Like young adults who still act like immature teens, despite being well past the age where it’s ok to do so, Willie and his friends (except Mo) all seem to be frozen by the prospect of growing up and transitioning into the next phase of their lives.  Part of this phase would be commitment in a relationship which with the exception of Mo(who married his high school sweetheart),  looks like it’s failing to gain any real traction with his friends.

Long past his days as king of the school, Tommy strings along his longtime girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino)  while yearning for, and sleeping with his married high school flame Darian (Lauren Holly).  Willie meanwhile is having second thoughts about his live-in lawyer girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) and their future together.  Paul on the other hand is probably the worst off of the bunch.  He’s recently lost his girlfriend due to years of withholding any real commitment, and why?  Because Paul is obsessed with supermodels; his bedroom walls are covered in posters.  Rather than commit to the beautiful and wonderous women around them, these men constantly have one foot out the door in case “something better” comes knocking.

That is really the big message in this movie.  These men while good looking, are not male models (well, maybe Dillon could be) and yet they expect that the women in their lives should be.  They would rather hold out for that perfect woman, than realize that they have perfectly fine women already who they are lucky to have.

Two particular characters help resolve the problems affecting some of these men.  The first is 13 year old Marty (Natalie Portman) who has recently moved next door to Willie’s father and brother.  She pretty, smart, insightful and precocious and seems well on her way to attaining that “heart-breaker-in-training” status.

They meet-cute in the driveway and Willie is charmed by her intelligence and how she sees right through him.  From the start there is a connection, and it’s apparent throughout the movie that both Willie and Marty have a crush on one another.  However it’s an idealistic crush as opposed to a sexual one which is good.  The latter would obviously be in bad taste.

Willie sees her as someone who will become this lovely woman not too far into the future.  She’s full of the promise that he see’s vanishing from his own life and becomes slightly heady and intoxicated by it.

Marty however is really a symbol.  She is Willie’s last link to his youth, but also his last obstacle in moving forward with his life.  Her allure is that of someone who any man would want a few years down the road

These scenes in the movie really shine as does Natalie Portman who gives a truly stunning performance early in her career.  She’s alternately a kid, and yet Marty is also more mature than kids her age.  There is a streak of loneliness in her character that she brings out beautifully onscreen.

The other female who makes an impact is Andera (Uma Thurman).  She’s just flown in from Chicago, is in her mid-twenties, is strikingly beautiful, down to earth, and seems wise.  Though the movie never comes out and says it, in a way, she’s Marty in ten years or so.  Her job is to give these so-called-men some real advice.

Like Marty, she makes a connection with Willie.  In her last scene of the movie, they have a conversation while ice fishing that is helpful to Willie.  Then she leaves before she can make a mistake.

Willie: I look at you and I think its amazing that theres a
guy out there gets to do all kinds of things with you. He gets to
make you happy and spend evenings with you…
Andera: …make me martinis, listen to Van Morrison…
Willie: …smell your skin…
Andera: …after a day at the beach.
Willie: Yeah, and read the papers…
Andera: …on a Sunday morning…
Willie: …a rainy Sunday morning, and pepper your belly with
baby kisses… Sorry.
Andera: The thing is, theres a guy out there that thinks the same thing
about Tracy and hes jealous of you because you get to do all that with her.                  Willie: Let me ask you something; can you think of
anything better than making love to an attractive stranger… with
just an oil light to guide your way? Can you think of anything
better?
Andera: Going back to Chicago. Ice cold martini. Van Morrison.
Willie: Sunday papers. Got ya.

It’s an excellent scene and Andera imparts something that maybe Willie never thought about.  There is a guy out there who wishes he could do with Tracy, what Willie gets to do with her every day.  Translation?  Be happy you have this wonderful woman because there are plenty of takers lining up if you move aside.

One of the things facing every one of these guys is the reality of how your life has turned out as opposed to how you thought it would be.  Tommy’s best days WERE in high school.  Willie was more hopeful of his piano career back then.  Instead of successful careers, Tommy, Paul and Kev work construction in the summer and plow snow in the winter.  Far from where they thought they would be at one time.

One of the wonderful things about this movie is that not everyone has a pat and dry ending.  Some end up better at the end, while others still have the problems they had before Willie came home.  However, each character has perspective if nothing else and might just be taking the first baby steps toward actual adulthood.  Overall there is a melancholic sense of hope at the end.

The screenplay was written by Scott Rosenberg who based the town, people and events on his own real life experiences.   The locations, characters and people all feel genuine which is helped by the excellent script.

Admittedly, there isn’t much material that is covered that hasn’t been done before and maybe even better in some cases, but the great ensemble cast and script elevates the movie to a different level. Beautiful Girls is funny at times, truthful and honest at others.  It pays attention to it’s characters first and foremost.  The plot is just a way of bringing everyone together.

The acting is excellent here.  Though she has only about 15 minutes or so of actual screen time, Uma Thurman gives one of her best performances.  From Matt Dillon, to Lauren Holly, to Rosie O’Donnell and Michael  Rapaport, each actor get’s at least one scene to show what they’ve got and each brings their best work.

Ted Demme’s direction is unobtrusive.  More often than not we feel more like a voyeur.  It’s subtle work which can often be the hardest to pull off and make look good.

Overall, I consider Beautiful Girls to be one of my favorite films.  One that’s great to watch on a cool, rainy day when all you have to do is wrap a blanket around you and curl up on the couch for a few hours.

Like I said above, it’s not a film that astounds with originality, but everything is done and done well.  It’s one of those movies where the whole is better than the sum of it’s parts.

I have this weird thing where I compare movies to food.  Some movies are like a great piece of steak, or a bowl of soup, etc.

For Beautiful girls, I would have to say that it’s like a rich piece of chocolate cream pie.  It’s sweet, heavy and thoroughly enjoyable.  It may not always be the best for you, but sometimes the best comfort food isn’t.   But you know what?  I’ll take a slice of that pie anyday.

Here is a video of that scene scripted above.

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My Love For Calvin & Hobbes #3

This isn’t quite Calvin & Hobbes as you can see, but Calvin is Lex.  Anyone who has read a couple of C&H strips can tell immediately.  The real joy is the fusing of C&H with both the Superman universe and Batman’s universe.

 

Want to get your kid to never smoke?  Let them do it once as a little kid and see what happens.  Calvin thinks he’s so smart.  His plan backfires when his mom says yes to a cigarette, only to find out just what it feels like to do it.  Lesson learned!

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Congratulations Rafael Nadal on Winning the 2011 Roland Garros(French Open) Title

Rafael Nadal wins his sixth French Open title and 10th slam overall.

For those who know me, I may just be a teensy weensy bit obsessed with tennis.   A large part of that has to do with my all-time favorite player: Rafael Nadal.

Although I realize that this is primarily a movie/tv show news and review site, I may from time to time toss in a post on Nadal if he wins something big.

For those of you who may not follow tennis, but still feel like they want to continue reading this post, there are four major tournaments(slams) in a calendar year.  First is The Australian Open in February, then Roland Garros in late May-early June, Wimbledon a few weeks later and The U.S. Open in late August-early September.

At just 25 years old, which is still quite young for a tennis player, Nadal has already managed to win 10 majors for his career with his win Sunday.  It’s only fitting that he defeated his great friend and fiercest rival in Roger Federer who at almost 30 years old has the record for most majors in a career at 16.  Nadal however is nearly 5 years younger, and with plenty of tennis left in him, can make a run at Federer’s record.

With 6 title as Roland Garros, 2 at Wimbledon, and one apiece at both The Australian Open and The U.S. Open, Nadal has already completed the rare and vaunted Career Slam by winning all four major titles.  It’s quite an accomplishment.

Now with 6 at Roland Garros, Nadal has tied the Angelic Assassin Bjorn Bjorg who played in the 70’s and early 80’s for the most titles there.  Given his young age and pure dominance on that clay court(45-1) it’s almost insane to believe that Nadal will never win another title there.

There will be those who continue to doubt his ability to stay injury free and win enough to catch up to Federer and that may in the end be true.  However he’s still one of the greatest players to ever walk on a court.

Here is a video of some of his best shots from last year’s U.S. Open final which he won.

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