Friday, April 16, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Week of April 9-15

Broken Embraces (2009) ***
Director/Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Lluís Homar, Penélope Cruz, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Tamar Novas, Rubén Ochandiano

Pedro Almodóvar makes beautiful movies. Penélope Cruz makes a beautiful muse for him. While their latest collaboration is an expertly made movie and looks just as good as all their other films, it seems to be a lesser work from them. It involves a love affair outside of a loveless marriage of circumstance for Cruz’s character. There are mysteries and there is passion, but it all seems to lack something. The story of the affair is interesting enough, but the framing story of the writer who lost her doesn’t seem to go anywhere emotionally. There are details of the writer’s life that seem to exist simply for the mystery of them, when as usual for Almodóvar, it’s Cruz who has the truly interesting character. I would’ve liked to explore more of her life. Despite these complaints, “Broken Embraces” is still another moving and beautiful drama from one of Spain’s best.

Star Trek (2009) ***½
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy

And so I end my trip through the Star Trek movie universe at the beginning again. I’m torn by my rating system on these Trek films, because this one is by far the best-made film of the bunch. I’m still a little disappointed they sort of abandoned the primary sci-fi premise of the series of examining our human existence through the exploration of an alien adventure in favor of summer blockbuster action. I cannot, however, argue against how effective that action is or how well written the film is, utilizing a pantheon of Star Trek mythology to essentially erase all that has come before. It really is quite a brilliant feat of mythology manipulation.

Read my original review here.

An Education (2009) ***½
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Nick Hornby, Lynn Barber (memoir)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson

When you watch as many films as I do, you get to a point when it’s rare for a plot to surprise you. “An Education” isn’t exactly the type of plot you expect to surprise you, and it doesn’t. It’s the basic coming of age story that follows a British girl in finishing school, preparing to apply to Oxford when she meets an older man who changes the way she sees the world. It isn’t surprising that this man (who might be guilty of statutory rape today) isn’t everything he appears at first. But what is surprising is the wonderful presence of the story’s lead, Carey Mulligan. Her original beauty and clever demeanor brings to mind two other recent female discoveries, Amy Adams as the perpetually happy pregnant sister-in-law in “Junebug” and Ellen Page as the ultimately plucky “Juno”. I guess the only thing Mulligan is missing is a bun in the oven. But she doesn’t need it. A star is born.

Brothers (2009) ***½
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writers: David Benioff, Susanne Beir (motion picture “Brødre”), Anders Thomas Jensen (motion picture “Brødre”)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham

A few points about this picture. Its advertizing campaign presents it as a family love triangle between Maguire, who appears to be killed in Afghanistan, his wife (Portman), and his ex-con brother (Gyllenhaal); but this is not what the movie is about. It’s about the scars of war. The potential infidelity is a symptom, but not to the degree the studio wants audiences to believe. Secondly, the scene between Gyllenhaal and Shepard, when the brothers’ father has his one emotional slip in the kitchen, is devastating. Finally, this is the first film I’ve seen in a long time involving adults with children that understands how ever-present children are in their parents’ lives. Usually the children are merely props, but here everything that the adults are going through affects the children and every emotional experience the adults are feeling is affected by the presence of the children. The two actresses who play the girls are every bit as good in their performances as the adults.

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