Tag Archives: movie reviews

Added book and movie review page

It can be found here and on the top of my home page.

It has a list of all the books I’ve read in the last three years and reviews to many of them, plus a link to all the movies I’ve watched in the last three years.

Posted via email from An unfinished person II

The inauguration of Movie Monday

Even though I’m backdating this, this is the first part of a new themed day: Movie Monday.

As you might guess by the title, I’m going to talk about movies on this day.

For this first one, I’m going to be a little lazy and give a link to a list I’m keeping of movies watched this year, and then briefly comment on each of the movies I’ve seen so far this year.

The list can be found at my Listography account, for which I’ll be putting a link on my sidebar shortly for y’all.

So movies seen so far this year:

  1. The Amateurs
  2. La Vie en Rose
  3. Ed Wood
  4. The Squid and the Whale

The first movie starred Jeff Bridges as a man looking to make an adult movie in his small town. Surprisingly, it was a winner, especially with a supporting cast of Ted Danson, Patrick Fugit (of Almost Famous fame), Joe Pantiolano and Tim Blake Nelson. Not as risque as you might think and light comedy. Worth getting from Netflix.

Out of the movies we’ve seen this year so far, La Vie En Rose was clearly the best movie, even though when my wife got it in her Netflix queue, I thought, “No thank you.” The performance by Marion Cotillard, for which she won an Oscar, as Parisian singer Edith Piaf, is worth the price of admission, as they say. By no means, a happy movie, but extremely engaging performance as Cotillard plays a woman twice (although she looks three times) her age. If you don’t know Piaf’s story, or even if you do, this is a must-see.

Ed Wood: I’ve seen it previously, but my wife had never seen it, so I put it in the queue after we borrowed Wood’s cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space from a friend. Wood has been voted as Hollywood’s worst director several times since his death, but this movie, starring Johnny Depp, tells the story beautifully. Stealing the show, though, is Martin Landau, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi. Late in his career, Lugosi, a heroin addict, starred in many of Woods’ films.

Finally, The Squid and the Whale: One word, skip. Jeff Daniels, not Jeff Bridges, is in this one along with Laura Linney, but is as I put in my brief Listography review “depressing as hell,” and it is. Nothing redeeming about this movie about a couple divorcing, with two kids thrown in the middle. It’s like watching a train wreck, which is the point of the me, but still…

The Freedom Writers Diary (book and then movie)

freedom writers diary cover Title: The Freedom Writers Diary: How A Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing To Change Themselves and the World Around Them
Author: Erin Gruwell with The Freedom Writers
Publication Year: 1999
Pages: 292
Genre: Nonfiction
Count for Year: 63

Title: Freedom Writers
Director: Richard LeGravenese
Release Date: January 5 2007
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey and Scott Glenn (the latter two, barely)

How I discovered

I believe I had heard of the movie that came out last year and was semi-intrigued. I’m really not sure if I knew there was a book at that time. However, while choosing books for my Personal Banned Books Weeks Challenge, I happened across the book on a list of books banned last year and ordered it through interlibrary loan at my local library. It didn’t arrive until after Banned Books Week was over, but I thought since I had ordered it, I might as well read it. In the meantime, I also had put the movie starring Hilary Swank in my queue. When it arrived earlier this week, I waited until I read the book to watch the movie– which I did this afternoon.

The setup

As an idealistic first-year English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at risk” students. One day she intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of things that led to the Holocaust– only to be met by uncomprehending looks. So she and her students, using the treasured books Anna Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as their guides, undertook a life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. They learned to see the parallels in homage to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders.”

With funds raised by a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance,” they arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California, where she declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes.” Their efforts have paid off spectacularly, both in terms of recognition– appearances on Primetime Live, The View and All Things Considered, coverage in People magazine and major newspapers, a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley– and educationally. Through the application of the innovative Freedom Writers Method, Erin’s students graduated from high school in 1998.

— from the back cover of the paperback edition

Before even reading the book, I was skimming through the book while talking to a friend on the phone and came across this passage from one of the students’ diary entries:

My drinking never really bothered me before we started reading all these books about people changing and wanting to make a difference. It makes me feel like such a hypocrite. The story that sticks with me is how the the Nazis deliberately hurt innocent people like Anne Frank, and in my case, I’m the one who’s hurting myself. I’m the one choosing to hide. Unfortunately, Anne Frank was never free. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever be.

Obviously, where the book excelled was with the students actually telling the stories of their own lives. That also was where the movie excelled, in their stories and in the performances of the young actors portraying them. However, the stories they tell after about 100 pages became monothematic in their telling. Unfortunately, once you’ve heard one tragic story about how bad it is “growing up in the ‘hood”, you’ve heard them all– at least, that’s how it felt.

Besides gang violence, domestic violence, or spousal abuse, is common. So common, in fact, that people ignore it, turn the other cheek, or go back to bed. I have watched men pistol-whip their girlfriends or smash their heads through car windows. Damn! I have seen a lot of crazy stuff. Stuff that makes me thankful it’s not me.

It’s easier for me to pretend I don’t live where I live or see what I see. That’s why I go to school so far away from home so I can escape my reality. Like Anne Frank, I live through the pain of being stuck in my house because I don’t want to become a casualty of war, gang warfare that is going on outside of my bedroom walls. I sit in my room wishing I could fly away from all of the madness. Writing about my own pain will make it worse.

Stories like this and the previous one, though poignant, blended together after awhile– and once the students made it to their senior year, you more than got the point.

Personally, I felt the story could have been told in about 200 pages or less. However, maybe because Gruwell wanted to get in as many of the teens’ diaries, she felt like she needed to do that. After reading the blurb above, I also felt like the story could have ended after the first sentence of the second paragraph and not continued into all the recognition they received. Thankfully, the movie didn’t go that far and ended at the end of their sophomore year.

All this said, I give the book a 3 out of 5, because it is worth picking up at the library, just to hear the perspective of teenagers for a change. As for the movie, I also give it a 3 out of 5, because it’s worth putting in the queue at Netflix, even though you don’t need to move it to the top and can skip the parts with the unnecessary subplot with Patrick Dempsey.

This book also counts for the Lit Flicks Challenge sponsored by Jessica at The Bluestocking Society and the same-named challenge sponsored by Jessica’s brother, Blake, at Bitchin’ Film Reviews. For reviews of other books I’ve read for this challenge, click here.

Starting with this post, I’m defining my rating system, which I will add soon to my sidebar:

5- Classic, must read
4- Worth owning a copy
3- Worth picking up at library
2- Worth skimming at the bookstore
1- Worth being a doorstop

Of revenge, love and gangsters: What more could you ask for?

For this week’s Movie Monday, I highlight three movies that I’ve watched within the last week: Munich, Lars and The Real Girl and American Gangster.

Title: Munich
Year: 2005
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds
Time: 164 minutes

I put this in my Netflix queue some months ago and finally I got to it, after a little rearranging. My wife thought it focused on the events of the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, but what this movie was really about was what happened afterwards. The story focuses on a group of Mossad agents hunting down the 11 terrorists responsible for the murders; specifically, the movie follows the story of a character played by Eric Bana.

I will not dwell on this movie long, even though, or maybe because, it is a long movie. I also will not dwell on it long, because of the three movies mentioned here, this was my least favorite. At the beginning of the DVD is an introduction by Spielberg, where he makes sure that everybody knows that the movie is not against Israel — as if he didn’t already prove his Jewishness with Schindler’s List? But anyway, the first half of the movie was good, in keeping the suspense as they track down the killers; the second half of the movie, though, gets bogged down in too much dialogue. It’s not that the dialogue isn’t good. With a screenplay written by Tony Kushner, famous for Angels in America (which I have yet to see), it is very good. It is just that you begin to see where this one is heading, and it ends in a strange place that makes you go, “Huh?”

Final analysis: 7/10, because while not as great as many of Spielberg’s movies, it still is decent and more decent than many other movies out there. Just of the three I highlight this week, it is the one you probably can miss.

Title: Lars and the Real Girl
Year: 2007
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson
Time: 107 minutes

A video store clerk recommended this to me when I mentioned that I was interested in seeing Juno. He said he liked this movie better than Juno, because it was a little quirkier than that one, so I thought I’d give it a try, because my wife and I like the “quirky” movies that others might go, “WTF?” We were not disappointed: It was one of those “quirky” movies that others might go, “WTF?” and we liked it.

Ryan Gosling is Lars (Lindstrom). The Real Girl is not a real girl, but a life-sized doll that he purchases from the Internet. One might think with this kind of a premise, it would be Rated R or at least NC-17, but thankfully, it is not either, and is only rated PG-13, for some sex-related content, but thankfully, again, not of that kind. The story actually focuses on how society treats those who are different than “the norm,” and, in this case, how a community shows not only its tolerance for someone different than them, but also its love for them despite those differences. At one point, in the movie, when Lars’ brother and sister-in-law enlist a group of townsfolk to not be judgmental about Lars’ new girlfriend, one of them asks the town pastor something along the lines of “Well, you’re not going to let her into the church?” He answers: “What would Jesus do?”

However, the movie isn’t heavy-handed in its message and has some very funny moments, not laugh-out-loud moments, but sweet funny moments. At times, Gosling’s portrayal of Lars makes you want to laugh, but then other times you want to cry because in another way, it’s very sad how deluded he is. But Gosling’s portrayal isn’t the only stand-out performance in this movie, with Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider as Lars’ sister-in-law and brother, and Patricia Clarkson as the town doctor, shining as well in their roles.

Final analysis: 9/10, because may be a bit too quirky for most people out there and can be a little on the sad side when you think it should be funny.

Addendum: I Googled this movie on Blogs and found it mentioned in several blogs from pastors all around the country. Many referred to the film being on the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2007 from Christianity Today. I think it definitely deserves that honor.

Title: American Gangster
Year: 2007
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe
Time: 157 minutes

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see this movie or not. I mean, I love Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe (I mean, Gladiatoris one of my all-time favorite movies) but I thought it’s just another Mafia movie. I’ve seen The Godfather movies, Goodfellas and so on and so forth. What more can be done with the genre?

I was wrong. This movie is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and it was not just another Mafia movie or, as I thought it might be when I first saw the previews “a black Mafia movie.” No, this is not just an African-American epic, but an American epic. The movie is based on the true story of Frank Lucas, a Harlem-grown gangster who built a heroin empire and Richie Roberts, an honest cop whose job is to “bring him down.” Washington portrays Lucas; Crowe, Roberts, and both as always are superb. (Surprisingly, only Ruby Dee, who portrayed Lucas’ mother, was the only actor in the movie nominated for an Academy Award, Best Supporting Actress. While she was good, both Washington and Crowe are in top form.)

On the second disc of the special edition on DVD is an excellent “making of” the movie, which shows Lucas and Roberts in the present day. For many, it may be hard to believe that a black man could be “above the Mafia,” but after seeing Lucas today, you don’t doubt it.

Final analysis: 10/10, especially for the two-disc special edition on DVD, which rounds out the story.