Sunday, December 29, 2013

Julie Grades the Movies

Hi guys -

I should probably post some holiday pics, but I haven't gotten my act together enough to upload them into the computer.

Instead, since I've been to the movies quite a lot in the last month, I thought I post a few brief reviews.


If you like The Hunger Games books and/or the first Hunger Games movie, this one is a no brainer.   I think the writers have done a fabulous job bringing these books to screen, the special effects are fabulous (at one point I had to remind myself that the characters weren't really riding through a giant colosseum in clothes bursting in cool, wearable fire.) and the cast is great.  Jennifer Lawrence - come on!   (I kind of particularly like how much Effie Trinket grows in this one.)  You kinda know what you're getting here, but it's still a dish well served.

My grade: A-


I really liked the Dallas Buyers Club.  Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto play transformative rolls where you barely knows it's them at all.  I mean - WHO KNEW Matthew McConaughey who I first saw as a sleazy stoner in Daze and Confused was going to be such a strong actor?  (Mud, Bernie, he was even great in Magic Mike.)  Anyhoo...  The year is 1985 and Matthew McConaughey plays a rodeo rider names Ron Woodruff.  Ron lives a kind of wild lifestyle between riding bulls, gambling, drinking, and having lots of good-time company - until he winds up in the hospital, given a diagnosis of HIV positive and an estimate of 30-days to live.  Ron does not take this at all.  When he can't get in on the hospital's drug trial, he bribes an orderly to get him the drugs.  When that falls through, he goes to the library and learns about drugs in Mexico that haven't been approved by the FDA. Then, of course, he goes to Mexico.  Basically, the dude won't quit and because he proves himself to be smart and a fighter not only for his own life but for the lives of others, he's a very likable and worthy hero.

I will say that the story started to falter towards the end.  It's a true story and you can't just rewrite the ending because it's not Hollywood enough.  (Well, I suppose you can, but they didn't. And I'm not saying they should have.) What happened happened.  But I will say that it was only the last fourth of the movie that lost it's momentum, up until that point it was one hell of a rodeo ride.

My grade:  B+.


Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how the author P.T. Travers was lured to Disney to make her book Mary Poppins in to a movie.  Walt has been trying to get the movie rights for twenty years, but Mrs. Travers did not want the movie to be made into a fluffy Disney la-la film and it's only after she had hit financial hard times and risks losing her house that she agrees to go to Hollywood and "try" to work on the movie.  (Throughout the process Mrs. Travers retains the rights and all decisions must be approved by her.  Basically, she makes the creative team's life a living hell.)  In my opinion this movie works because Emma Thompson is an exquisite actress.  It would be SO EASY for Mrs. Travers to come off as unreasonable, uptight, and sour for the sake of being sour.   But Emma Thompson's portrayal convinces the audience that Mrs. Traver's stubbornness is born out of a deep love she has for her family, because so much of Mary Poppins is based on her own childhood and the intense love she had for her flawed father.  (Much of the past is shown with Colin Farrell as the young author's father.)

There is plenty of heart in this story, lots of great actors, and it's fun to see the story behind Mary Poppins.

My grade:  B+

(Note to my mother: You will probably like this movie.)


Before I begin, I must admit I knew nothing about this movie going in.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I knew it was about a struggling folk musician in the early 1960's.  And I knew that the critics were going nuts for it!   Then I saw it.   When it was over, I looked at my friend Heather and she looked at me.  We mirrored expressions of utter confusion.  What the ... huh?

Inside Llewyn Davis is, indeed, about a struggling folk musician in the 1961 New York folk music scene.  Llewyn is depressed because his former singing partner killed himself and his solo album has not done well at all.  He feels misunderstood and unappreciated.   He loses cats, gets girls pregnant, and fights with his family.  He shows signs of momentary gratitude when someone lets him crash on their sofa, but then quickly picks a fight because he thinks no can possibly understand his art and/or his pain.

So okay.  Llewyn's not a great guy.  So I'm thinking this movie will be a journey of him finding himself.

Nope, not really.

Okay.  Then I thought, maybe he'll struggle then get a break and it will be a rags to riches story.  Nu-huh.

What I figured out after coming home confused and reading articles about the film online is that it's really more of a symbolic journey.  Different people represent different choices.  There's a great article all about the cat.  (The cat was a highlight for me.)  But Llweyn's journey is not linear.  He does not grow or learn.  He is doomed to repeat most of his mistakes because he may be talented as hell with a guitar, but he only cares about himself and can't navigate a life outside his most immediate need.

For me, it was a story without hope or satisfaction.  

No, had I known a bit more about it, had I read a synopsis that said, "Here's what you're getting into..." I might have been able to make more sense of it at the time and that might have changed my perspective.

All that said, here's what I liked: 

Oscar Isaac is great in the title role.  
The music is beautiful.  
The shots are gorgeous.  (There's a great scene where Llewyn is toting his neighbor's cat on the subway and we see the cat's POV as it looks out the window, fascinated by the platforms whipping by.)  
Like I said above, enjoyed the cat scenes very much.  It was high quality cat acting!

But the story - as a whole - did not work for me.

My grade: C-

(Note to my mother - you will not like this movie.)

In other news:

I don't think there will be a Picture Book Workshop or Picture Book Life entry this week.  I am plugging away on my wordless picture book but I have no blog-worthy insights.

I WILL get some holiday photos up for those who like to peek into my life.

We have a few more lazy days before we get back into the school schedule, so I intend to enjoy sleeping in and wearing my pajama pants 80% of the time.

Hope you all had a lovely holiday season and that it continues on!

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