Mar 22, 2010

We've Moved!

After a bit of a hiatus, The Red Head Reviews has been moved to a brand new home on the web. Please be sure to check us out at Just Float, where you will find movie & book reviews, viewing lists, and more!

Dec 28, 2008

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
This is what going to the movies is about (or, at least, it should be, but is so often not the case). Grand in scale and execution, what this movie does best is that it so completely creates a new world-- even within our familiar one.

Clocking in at over 2.5 hours, it is almost impossible not to disappear into it, and isn't that what truly makes watching movies so great? To be able to escape into another world, but then come out the other end with key messages for our own, is really what makes movie-going such a wonderful experience.

Benjamin Button is not the best film of the year in the traditional, overly-critical sense: it is overlong, and a bit too cold with its title character (even after watching his whole life, I still felt like I needed to know more about him).

But where it succeeds so brilliantly is its truly epic feel. I only wish that more movies provided such a complete, all-encompassing sense of escapism. You literally disappear into this film. So, no matter its nit-picky shortcomings (it still is quite brilliant in performances, direction, and certainly special effects), it would be hard not to come out full of emotion. Not many dry eyes after such a superb ending.

It says so much about themes literally everyone can relate to: family, discrimination, age, time, and love. It will make you want to hold on to your loved ones and never let go.

This movie is not so much a film as an experience, and too few movies have been able to accomplish that these days.

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Nov 23, 2008

Review: Twilight

This post is a guest review from my sister Sarah, age 13, who is a fan of the Twilight book series.
Twilight (2008)
"As a fan of all the Twilight books (except for Breaking Dawn for its disappointing end to the series) this movie resulted in just the same disappointment. The whole point of the Twilight books was to tell of a powerful love story that you'd get so caught up in you would miss the writing quality of an amateur, Stephanie Meyers, but in the movie, it's the exact opposite. All you notice from the opening scene of Bella Swan driving to the airport to the ending credits, is the cheesy lines and terrible casting. At one point Edward even says 'Hold on tight, my little Spider-Monkey.' There is even a 'car chase' in a Ford Focus.

The crowd for opening night laughed regularly throughout the movie at its absurdity. If you have not read the books, you will not understand a majority of it. For example, you would not understand why for about an hour of the movie Edward plugs his nose whenever around Bella, as well as many other parts of the movie.

For those that have read it, it also feels off. In the book, Edward was the perfect representation of the perfect guy (if he was a vampire I guess...). In the movie, he just came off creepy and pedophile-like. The parts that may be your favorite in the book, like the meadow scene, were slaughtered with forced lines. In the book, Edward is supposed to be beautiful, graceful, and mysterious. In the movie, however, his makeup was caked on so much you wondered why they did not just cast Marilyn Manson.

= ?

Whenever Jasper came onto the screen, the crowd burst out laughing at his constant look of confusion that resembled a pale Raggedy Ann Doll on drugs. And for those of you that read the books, as far as I know, Edward's talents were strength, speed, and reading minds-- when was he ever able to crawl up the side of a tree?

If you'd like a laugh, buy a ticket. If not, don't waste your money.

This pretty much sums it up." - Sarah, my sister, age 13

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Review: Role Models

Role Models (2008)
Despite its entirely misleading advertising campaign, Role Models is definitely not a kid's movie. Full of crude humor, vulgar sex references, and other usual antics of the modern male comedy, this is certainly not something you want to take your kids to see.

However, it is not fully an adult comedy, either. The film spends a lot of time showing strange kids being, well, kids. In a lot of ways, much of the movie is a study of the strange dramatics behind Live Action Role-playing. It also makes sure to teach us "valuable lessons." Because of this, it can often feel like a kid's movie, even though I would never want a child of mine to see a movie where the adult mentor teaches the ten-year-old kid how best to evaluate "boobies" and takes him to a raging party to spend some valuable time together.

Of course, I would be taking it too seriously if I actually took offense to these events. It is, after all, a silly comedy and in a lot of ways it succeeds that way. However, the movie overall is embodied in one of the young boys (played by the oft-obnoxious Bobb'e J. Thompson): it looks like a kid, it has the emotional depth of a kid, but it has the mouth of a teenage boy.

Role Models suffers from not taking one genre and sticking to it. But, overall, it was much funnier than the trailers would lead you (or, at least me) to believe. Also, Rudd and William Scott (usually a part of the support cast), hold the film delightfully well as its leads. Definitely a surprising film (even if only because I had low expectations to begin with) and worth seeing for any Rudd-enthusiast.

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Nov 16, 2008

What to Watch This Week

In Theaters: Changeling (2008)
"A mother prays for the return of her kidnapped son. When her prayers are answered, however, she begins to suspect the boy who comes back is not her child. Inspired by true events that took place in Los Angeles in the 1920s."

The performance is definitely what drives this movie. The story, one of continuously-piled drama, disappointments and frustrations, is full of surprises (so long as you do not read anything about the true story behind it beforehand). A great story in a good film. It could have benefited from better pacing and tighter editing (it is a bit too long, but there is also just not enough John Malkovich, so...). Also, I could have used more heart-wrenching, soul-shaking, out-right-emotional-devastation scenes for Jolie (there is less of the violent "I want my son!" that you see in the trailers and more consistent, even tears), but I'm a masochist for that kind of drama.

It is definitely worth the watch if you like period pieces, true crime tales, Angelina Jolie, or if you want to be prepared for Oscar season. Jolie is crying for probably 85% of this film, so definitely look out for her come February 22, 2009. Fans of The Office or her performance in Gone, Baby, Gone should keep an eye out for Amy Ryan, who gives a fantastic performance in the short time she appears onscreen.

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On DVD - This Week's Theme: "Marriages that Work"
The Thin Man (1934)
"In New York, a detective, his wife and his dog solve the murder case of an eccentric inventor."

So few marriages that work in cinema these days, right? In fact, I would be hard-pressed to name a single couple in film from the last few years that has been truly "solid." My boyfriend often jokes that movies and television have led him to believe that marriage is inevitably terrible and married people are boring or unhappy (thanks, Hollywood).

He needs to watch The Thin Man, and so do you. It is a great, funny, and thoroughly modern film from 1934 that I would recommend to anyone. It fits this week's theme far better than any I could think of.

But, it is sad that I had to go back so far to find such a good example of a great, natural marriage. It's about time we have another film that defies the studios' penchant for unstable (or, if not unstable, then unrealistic) relationships. As Monika Bartyzel over at Cinematical so accurately pointed out,

"Nick and Nora are a couple that put today's Hollywood pairs to shame. Their communication is laced with quick-witted banter, which thrives not just because of its cleverness, but because of their relationship. Nick and Nora are at peace with each other. They know where they stand. They know how to communicate honestly. They don't take trivial matters too seriously. They are, for lack of a better word, solid."

How can you not love a couple where, when one gets drunk, the other orders enough drinks at once to catch up? Or, when Nora walks in on Nick hugging another woman to comfort her, she simply makes a face at him (and he makes one back)? William Powell and Myrna Loy play the couple to absolute perfection. They not only have a romantic chemistry, but also an easy friendship.

Forget the lofty romantic couplings like Jack and Rose, Christian and Satine, Inman and Ada (...okay, not entirely, of course). I would kill to have a relationship like Nick and Nora's.

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Review: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (2008)
This movie is exactly as you should expect it to be. However, it probably won't be what you actually expect it to be. Casino Royale raised everyone's expectations for the Bond flicks as a most successful reboot of the previously-stale franchise.

Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace is not quite as good. It falls noticeably short of its predecessor. However, to be fair, for a Bond film it is still highly enjoyable. It does everything it is supposed to. Big explosions, great locations, hot women, easily-defeated enemies, high-tech gadgets, and a slimy bad guy. There are fight scenes on every mode of transport but a train and a pedal bike.

And, the great thing about the Daniel Craig Bond is that you actually feel his every cut, scrape, and bruise, because he's actually feeling them, too. He is truly the best Bond, the most highly-nuanced Bond, and yet still the Bond with the most mass appeal. In a time of the antihero (e.g. The Dark Knight), Craig adds his historic character to the mass of new additions and modern revamps. He's the hero, but is he always doing right? Is he truly a good guy? Or is he a bad guy working for the good guys? Whatever the case, you're rooting for him, because you know that at least in the end all will be right and he will help us get there.

That said, Quantum is not the most intelligent spy thriller out there today. It does not have a very compelling conflict. The badie is not much worse than a lot of corporate bigwigs today. Maybe this makes it all more "realistic," but not more entertaining. And, while the lead bad guy is more "realistic" and physically noncompetitive, Bond is still unmatched in physical and sexual dominance. The film tries to be more realistic without taking its lead along with it. You can tell that it is trying to match the "gritty realism" of contemporary action films because the camera is shaking violently, and you can hardly see any of the cool stunts that they set up (thanks, Bourne). In the first fight scene I could not for the life of me tell which running suit was which. I got it-- it is supposed to be "real." So then why is Bond still positively unmatchable?

I think Quantum loses its focus. Is it supposed to be an over-the-top escapist film, where someone fitter and better looking than us kicks everyone's ass and saves the girl? One where we never actually worry about whether or not he will win in the end because he always wins? Or, is it supposed to be an intelligent commentary on contemporary culture? A gritty look at the moral contradictions of an antihero? Can it really be all of these things at once, as it tries to be? I don't know if it can.

So, as far as intelligent revamps go, Quantum is not really one of them. But, it is a damn good action film. If my expectations were not so high after Casino, I might not have much to pick apart with this movie. It is a highly successful action film, with very entertaining and elaborate fight sequences. The pacing is much, much improved from Casino, and it is perhaps one of the most succinct action flicks in the past year. It does not dwell on the sappy sideplots, like its predecessor (a very welcome change for this reviewer). If there is one thing Quantum does not try to be, it is romantic, and this works well for developing Craig's Bond. He focuses on being brutal, cold, and ironic-- as James Bond was originally written. And this, ultimately, is a much more entertaining Bond-- even if it is not deeper.

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Nov 2, 2008

Link: If Celebs Moved to Oklahoma

If Celebs Moved to Oklahoma
Strange how perfectly normal these celebrities can look with a little photoshop skills.

Two Reasons Why Kate Winslet Should Win the Oscar

The Reader trailer has finally been released.

And, in case you've missed it, the Revolutionary Road trailer.

By the trailers alone, looks like she could/should win for either. Though, I would guess Revolutionary Road has a slightly better chance for her since in the book that character just screams Oscar-potential performance. I just hope it doesn't split the vote for her, and end in her defeat. Maybe The Reader will be put in for Supporting?

Kate needs to win already. What more does the Academy need from her?

Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
Kevin Smith will likely be compared to Judd Apatow with this film, considering it contains the same raunchy humor, identical casting, and surprisingly endearing romantic side plot. And, it would be completely appropriate: Zack and Miri was a laugh-out-loud hilarious, superbly acted film with some of the most relateable characters in film today. Seriously, who wouldn't want Zack and Miri as friends?

In Zack and Miri, two best friends, down on their financial luck, gather up a team of unlikely heroes to make a porno. That plot, however, is only a device to bring together an unconventional romantic comedy between two refreshingly normal people.

Even though Smith has been doing this brand of movie for years before the Apatow gang, hopefully this one will finally bring him mainstream success.

The only critique I have of this extremely funny film is that the long-term friendship between Zack and Miri was not developed quite enough. I would have appreciated a little more character development. With a little more backstory, or a few more illustrative scenes of their special bond, it would have been all the easier to root for the two of them, or to understand how they went from giving each other a hard time about going to the bathroom with the door cracked to being in love.

However, Zack and Miri are still quite sympathetic and, most importantly, hilarious. It has all the makings of a modern comedy hit. Fans of both Smith and Apatow will love it.

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Oct 29, 2008

Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
It is so rare to watch a movie that motivates you to look at your life in a different way. Even rarer still is a movie that makes you want to take a more positive outlook on life, instead of the other way around (seriously, how dark and dreary are our "serious" films these days? not that I'm really complaining, since I'm a glutton for a good tragedy).

"Happy-Go-Lucky" is about the different ways that people live their lives: some, like an abused boy in Poppy's class, have psychological choices made for them. But, if we're lucky, we have a choice. Everyone's worldview is different-- heavily influenced by their environment, but also individually-crafted. When someone's bike gets stolen, they might shout or curse, or call the police. What does Poppy do? She shrugs her shoulders and says with a smile, "I didn't even get to say goodbye!"

Poppy (played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins) has chosen to be happy; others choose to be angry, or to be sad, or to be something in between, but Poppy wants to be happy, and wants others to be happy, too.

In the beginning she is someone that annoys most of us. With her effortless optimistic and constant energy, she was obnoxious enough to make me roll my eyes more than once. Doesn't everyone just hate people like that? Why are they so happy?

But stick it out, because by the end you might understand why Poppy is happy. In other films, you might expect there to be this "hidden side"-- this dark and painful interior that is masked by a bubbly expression and charming wit. What is radical about this film is that that simply isn't the case. You have to see just how complex this character truly is, but it is not in the way you might expect.

Mike Leigh has made a character study for a film, peeling back the layers of this optimistic schoolteacher until we see that, more than just being peppy, she is a truly good person and genuinely cares. Honestly, how many people can we say that about, both in real life and in Hollywood? In one scene she approaches a homeless man who is sitting alone outside, shouting incoherently to himself. He repeats the same things over and over, then pauses only long enough to say, "You know?" Poppy listens intently and replies sincerely, "I know." She was probably the first person to talk to him in days-- weeks, even-- and she not only talks; she listens. Poppy wants to be happy, so others will be happy.

If only it were that simple.

At exactly the same moment that we (the viewers) are all thinking it, Poppy's roommate Zoe suggests, "You can't make everyone happy." Poppy's response? "But there's no harm in trying, is there?"

And really, is there?

See this movie immediately-- not because it is a particularly funny comedy, or even all that warm and fuzzy, but because it is a brilliant, inspiring portrait of a genuinely good person. When was the last time you saw a movie like that?

And afterward, when you are feeling short-tempered or put-upon (which I know I feel daily on my commute), you will be asking yourself, "What would Poppy do?" That lasting impression is the mark of a great movie. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Oct 28, 2008

Review: The Visitor

The Visitor (2007)
It has been a rare few weeks without a single movie watched. The start of a job will do that to you. My first return to my blissful comfort zone was The Visitor, by the director of The Station Agent. I am sure that does not register with a lot of you, but having seen his previous work I knew what to expect from this one.

The Visitor lived up to all my expectations. Like Thomas McCarthy's previous film, this Sundance hit is a wonderful little indie gem, full of surprising acting chops and highly relatable characters. In the end, that is really the strength of this film: the characters are wholly authentic. Every blink, every frown, every smile is as real as you can find in the movies today.

The plot follows an emotionally-detatched intellectual (Richard Jenkins) continously mourning the death of his wife. When he goes to his NYC apartment for a conference, he finds two illegal immigrants living there. Instead of freaking out, he invites them to stay.

I am sure you can guess the rest (emotional awakening! the value of connecting with people! the issue of immigration in post-9/11 USA! etc). The story is a bit clunky at times, and maybe a bit heavy-handed, but the individual characterizations are so refreshingly realistic that the heavy-hand is lightened by their easy nature.

The highlight of this film for me was when the two older characters found a companionship they had long stopped seeking out. This type of storyline is rarely played out right. Sometimes, as in Something's Gotta Give, it is just awkward. Oftentimes, it is cheesy, or ignored altogether. In The Visitor, the subtle connection is explored with the appropriate amount of reserve, respect, and care.

This movie is about the happy and sad surprises in our lives, and how inextricable they are from each other. Ultimately, life becomes just one long string of them. But, the moral of the story is that each of them shapes us. Hopefully, in the end, we can find a way to adapt to being happy.

And, it is so nice to watch a movie that is not populated exclusively by the Beautiful People Club™. Even indie films have gotten too beautiful lately.

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Oct 15, 2008

Amy Adams & the Rom Com Genre

I think it's pretty safe to say that anyone who has seen Amy Adams in a film has fallen in love with her. Or, at least, it is very hard to dislike her infectious optimism and lighthearted innocence. She is one of the (very) few actors that are always an absolute pleasure to watch. Not to say that she is the best actress out there (though she's certainly one of them), but that she is downright enjoyable to watch.

If you do not know what I mean, watch the mellow, slightly dreary look at a North Carolinian family in Junebug. Adams' earnest take on her lonely character earned her a well-deserved Oscar nod.

Recently, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Amy Adams is likely to star in a rom com by the writers of Made of Honor called Leap Year. Reactions have been largely negative and incredulous as to why Adams, a well-respected up-and-coming Hollywood star with obvious talent, would sign on to the "lesser" form. Cinema Blend bemoaned the fact that she's morphing into the new Meg Ryan.

I have many problems with these reactions. First of all, though I'm not generally a fan of the genre, rom coms really get a bad rap. Full disclosure: I thought P.S. I Love You was one of the silliest, most contrived movies I have ever seen. But, the action-movie genre is just as beguiled as the rom coms by what will bang in the box office-- not in the Academy. In terms of quality scripts and performances, the action genre is at least as lacking. And Lord knows they both stretch the truth (A guy who can accurately predict the future feelings of his soon-to-be widowed wife? A car that can speed up a hill and fly through the air into a hellicopter?).

But the action genre does not get as bad of a rap as the rom coms. Why is that? The gender stereotypes of the two genres? The fact that the majority of film critics are males? Both genres have surprisingly high highs and very low lows. And yet, action films are not typically lambasted-- especially not in pre-production.

There is a vicious rom com stereotype out there. I guess I'm not wholly convinced that it is unwarranted, but at least it is a little unfair vis-a-vis the other box-office-driven genres. I mean, hello, the horror film genre?

And Re: Cinema Blend's woes over Adams becoming the next Meg Ryan: I unabashedly love the glory days of Meg Ryan rom coms (think Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and the best of the genre, When Harry Met Sally). Even a movie snob like me can admit the superior craft of a movie like When Harry Met Sally.

Not only were they well-made, they were entertaining, and really-- what's so wrong about that? Every now and then, I like living vicariously through emotions in the way that others love living vicariously through high-speed car chases down crowded highways in reverse. Sometimes I love rooting for the good-guy even though I know he'll win, or for a couple even though I know they will end up together.

Throw in a superb actress like Amy Adams, and I cannot help but have hope that Leap Year will defy the genre's stereotypes in the way that My Best Friend's Wedding did so well all those years ago. If you rent Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, you will see the beginnings of an actress who should have a great (and rare) career in both the dramatic and comedic genres. I am going to take a page from her own book and remain adorably optimistic about the rom com pick.

Oct 7, 2008

Best Actress Watch

Surely, you have already heard buzz about this year's Best Actress category. The race should be one of the closest in history. I may be biased, because all of my top favorite actresses are represented, but this should be something to behold. I can hardly wait for Febuary!

Here are my (very) early predictions. I know, I know-- they have not even been released yet. However, with such talent as what we will see in the women of the fall, it is not hard to guess who might come out in the top five.

Angelina Jolie: Changeling (Oct. 24)
It is disappointing to hear such lackluster reviews of Changeling from the New York Film Festival. I had high hopes for this one. I appreciate Clint Eastwood's work-- namely, Million Dollar Baby (Flags of our Fathers felt surprisingly uninspired to me). MDB is one of my all-time favorites, though. When it comes to individual actress performances, he certainly knows how to bring out the emotional powerhouse in them. As a mother whose child is kidnapped, Angelina will no doubt cry and scream her way into a nomination. No matter what people say, I am still really looking forward to this movie, if only to see what Angelina has done with it. It's far too infrequently that she chooses to remind us she's one of the best actresses of our time-- not just the sexiest (and, lately: fertile).

Nicole Kidman: Australia (Nov. 26)
Lately Nicole has gotten a bad rap after being called the "Most Overpaid Celebrity" by Forbes magazine. What this says to me, however, is that she has focused on some different flicks that have stretched her abilities (Margot at the Wedding) without necessarily stretching the box office. While they may not have appealed to popular audiences (I was one of the few who loved Margot), they reminded the few who watched what great skill Nicole really has. Ignore Bewitched and recall Moulin Rouge! After all, it was the latter, helmed by the same director as Australia (Baz Luhrmann), that earned her her first nomination. She was the sleeper favorite then in 2002. Expect the same from a stellar Luhrmann-Kidman teaming and an Oscar-friendly epic war-romance.

Kate Winslet: Revolutionary Road (Dec. 26 - limited)
Husband and director, Sam Mendes (American Beauty), has some experience with the Academy. He's already done a film about suburban disillusionment, and it won him an Oscar. Revolutionary Road is another take on this idea, only it is set post-WWII. Based on an incredibly powerful novel (and a personal favorite of mine) by the highly underrated Richard Yates, this film will get tons of buzz around the Best Drama category. However, the story revolves almost solely around the emotions of the two lead characters (Winslet and DiCaprio), so it should also propel them into nominations. In this dramatic, tragic tearjerker, Winslet could have read the novel out loud and she might have gotten a nomination. Throwing her whole body into the spectacular character? You can count on her sixth nod.

Kate Winslet: The Reader (Dec. 12)
Yes, I listed Kate twice on purpose. The studio made absolutely certain to rush this film out in time to make the cut-off for Oscar nominations. That should pay off for Kate, who is the youngest actress to receive five nominations (no wins, which is unjust). This Holocaust film is likely to give Winslet a second nomination for this year, which is ironic for anyone who has seen Ricky Gervais's show Extras. She made an appearance on the first episode as a nun in the Holocaust and mocked herself, saying,
"I mean I don't the we even really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like how many have there been? We get it, it was grim. Move on. I'm doing it because I've noticed if you do a film about the Holocaust-- guaranteed an Oscar. I've been nominated [five] times, never won. The whole world is going, 'Why hasn't Winslet won one?' That's it, that's why I'm doing it. Schindler's bloody List, The Pianist-- Oscars coming out their bloody ass!" (click here for the clip, start around 5:10)
Meryl Streep: Doubt (Dec. 12 - limited)
Did you know Meryl has not won Best Actress in 26 years? For anyone who has seen Sophie's Choice, there is no doubt that she is one of the best actresses of our time, and certainly even of all time. (For anyone who has not seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it now!) Doubt is an incredibly heavy film based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The lead actress of the play won a Tony for Meryl's role. There is no doubt in my mind that she will get her fifteenth nomination. I would give her a nomination for the trailer alone.

Honorable Mentions:
Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married
Cate Blanchett: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Kristin Scott Thomas: I've Loved You So Long

What I love about this race is that the top 5 women receiving buzz for the Best Actress Oscars are all heavy favorites of mine. However, I am so torn! I want all to win! They all deserve it. But, I have my inkling (yes, before I've seen any of the films, so obviously highly speculative) that the winner will be:

Kate Winslet: Revolutionary Road - Having read the novel and seen just about every Winslet project, I could not imagine a character better poised for award recognition than April Wheeler, and I could not imagine a better actress to bring her to life. Not to mention, teaming up with Mendes, who is incredibly talented in directing his lead stars (let alone his wife), should give her the advantage in a very, very tight race.

Oct 5, 2008

Completely Gratuitous

This is a completely gratuitous first post to welcome you to my happy home on the interweb. Real thought-provoking, life-changing posts to follow. For now, enjoy the superficial brilliance of Brangelina at the Changeling premiere the other night at the NYC Film Festival.