The Pianist

This 2002 Roman Polanski film is an adaptation of the autobiography of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish Jewish pianist who survived the holocaust.  Because the subject matter is intense, I will not post pictures of any of the action scenes. They are easily available on the Internet if you wish to find them.

Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is forcibly relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto along with his family. While they are being transported to the Treblinka extermination camp, he is unexpectedly saved by one of the Jewish police. What follows is a significant insight into humanity’s will to survive. Szpilman fights starvation, jaundice and depression, not to mention the constant threat of being discovered by the Nazis. He hides in abandoned buildings and secret apartments, eating scraps of whatever he could find. After Warsaw has finally been evacuated, he takes shelter in an abandoned house. There he is discovered by a German officer (Thomas Kretschmann), who takes pity on him and helps Szpilman to survive. At the end credits, we are told that Szpilmann remained in Warsaw and lived until 2000, while the officer who helped him died in a Soviet concentration camp in 1952.

This film was probably one of the most moving ones I’ve ever seen. Most Holocaust films try to temper the violence and brutality that marked the period, out of fear that it might alienate some viewers. This one didn’t even blink. Atrocities committed by German soldiers were shown in graphic (and often bloody) detail. Nothing was held back as an accurate depiction of the horrors perpetrated on Poles and Jews was shown I give director Polanski (himself a Holocaust survivor) enormous credit for that.

Brody also did an amazing job in this one, a film which will forever define his career. Since he was almost never off-screen, any mistakes he made would be noticed instantly by viewers. There were none. The audience also didn’t become bored with seeing his face, or during the times when dialogue was minimal because there was nobody else to talk to. Brody’s eyes expressed everything they needed to at any given moment. This rare talent served him extremely well. Sadness, horror, confusion, fear, anger and even happiness on very rare occasions. Adrien Brody could express the full range of human emotion without needing to say a word. At 29, he became the youngest actor ever to receive the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and he deserved every bit of it. I really can’t say enough about how great his performance was.

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Easy A (2010)

Here’s another recent one. I saw it not too long ago, but didn’t get a chance to write up a review. Now that classes are ending, I have time to catch up on my reviewing.

Easy A theatrical poster

On the surface, this teen comedy was entertaining, but nowhere near appropriate for young children. It spins the story of high school girl Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) who lies to her best friend (played by Alyson Michalka) that she had lost her virginity. This is overheard by a classmate (Amanda Bynes), and spreads around the school with physics-defying speed. Soon, the school’s Christian group, led by Bynes’s character, start a movement against her for being a slut. Gay student Brandon (the very cute Dan Byrd) asks her for help “blending in”, i.e. trying to pass as a heterosexual. Olive has pretend-sex with him at a party, which only fuels the rumors.

Brandon and Olive, immediately before their pretend-sex

When other “losers” find out what she did for Brandon, they ask her to do the same for them. Fat kids, geeks and assorted dweebs pay her to say she had sex with them. It completely ruins her image, and she begins to identify with Hester Prynne from Hawthorne novel The Scarlet Letter, who was shunned by society for adultery and forced to wear a red letter A on her chest. Taking a page out of that book, Olive sews a scarlet letter onto her own (increasingly provocative) outfits in defiance of those who think poorly of her.

However, her resolve wears thin. Soon, the mocking and protests take a toll on her self esteem until she begins to believe the rumors herself. Distraught, she eventually tricks the entire school into viewing her webcam, thinking she’s going to strip. Instead they find her sitting at her desk, fully clothed, telling the story of her fall from grace.

In here there’s also a love story. In a flashback, she is shown as a child playing “seven minutes in heaven” with Todd (Penn Badgley), who isn’t ready for his first kiss. She lies for him, telling everybody that they did kiss. He never forgot that, and so he refuses to believe what people say about her. As everyone else hates her more and more, he finds himself falling in love. After she tells her story to the entire school, he whisks her away just like they did in 1980s coming-of-age movies.

Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80′s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80′s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.

Stylistically, it seems to want to emulate the 80s teen movies it mentions. However, it falls significantly short here. While those films generally had some sort of lesson to teach, this was pure drama for drama’s sake. There was no Breakfast Club moment where the characters realized they had been wrong about each other. The references were superficial, at best. It does, however, give a good indication of what those movies might have been like had they been made today. A little less meaning, a lot more attitude.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The DVD is coming out on 21 August, just in time for the holiday season. If you were raised on the Brat Pack, you should enjoy this. If you weren’t, I would still suggest adding it to your Blockbuster or Netflix queues.

Emma Stone was the clear breakout star here. She did an absolutely fantastic job with what the writers gave her, and she earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Comedy/Musical). Her performance here has landed her some big upcoming roles, including one opposite Steve Carrel, and the female lead for the reboot of Spiderman currently in production. Expect to see lots of her in the future.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I saw this two weeks ago, just haven’t had time to upload the review. Final exams and other things ended up getting in the way. Anyway, I really liked this one. My biggest criticism of the book was that it could have been more accurately named Harry Potter and the Endless Camping Trip. The movie adaptation cuts out a lot of the tedious unimportant parts, allowing the better scenes to shine.

Since this is so recent, i’m not going to give a plot summary to avoid spoilers. I assume that most people have already read the book, but the film handles some things differently, so i’ll refrain from spoiling it.

Unlike most of the last four or so Harry Potter films, this one stays mostly faithful to the book. Where they cut or altered something, it was generally to the scene’s benefit. Dobby’s death, for example, had more of an impact on me in the movie than I remember it having when I read it.

Another thing I really have to give them credit for is the special effects. CGI effects have gotten much better over the course of the series, and they really stunned me. I could swear that characters like Dobby were real actors.

If you haven’t seen it already, I really strongly suggest that you do. When you get to the theater, you’ll want to skip the extra large soda and opt for a small. There really aren’t any good times to take a bathroom break without missing something substantial. If you really have to, then the part where Harry infiltrates the Ministry of Magic is probably the best time to do it, but even that scene I enjoyed. Really, go see this.

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The Princess Diaries

Here’s another (very) brief review for you. After shuffling through my DVD shelf, I found The Princess Diaries. So, I popped it in and here I am.

The plot is very simple – a 15 year-old girl (Anne Hathaway) living in San Francisco finds out her grandmother (Julie Andrews) is the Queen of Genovia, a fictional country located between France and Spain. She must choose between the invisible nobody she is, and the rights and responsibilities she would have if she were to accept her title as Princess.

There really isn’t much beneath the surface here. The jokes are exactly as you would expect: Hathaway’s character having trouble understanding the finer points of Princess behavior, and her grandmother completely out of touch with modern American culture. The plot is simple and straightforward; not much in the way of twists or turns.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Just because the plot is predictable doesn’t make it boring. On the contrary, I found it enjoyable. If you want a deep moving experience, keep looking. But if all you need is a quick romp, or a family-friendly film (as only Disney can deliver) that won’t leave the grownups bored to tears, I would give it a chance.

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Analyze This

Sorry i’ve been away, folks. Life has been pretty chaotic. I’m now done with the Thanksgiving gauntlet, and ready to resume my reviews. In the interest of getting it all done and catching up with where I should be, I’m going to keep these next few reviews brief and to-the-point.

The 1999 film stars Billy Crystal as Ben Sobel, a psychiatrist that gets pushed into treating anxiety-ridden mobster Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro). Vitti is preparing for a nationwide Mafia conference/summit, but his frequent panic attacks cripple him and lead him to seek treatment from Dr. Sobel. This culminates in Sobel representing Vitti at the summit, and managing to hold his own until a dramatic shootout at the climax.

This film is one of the staples of 1990s comedy. Both of the protagonists exaggerate their characters to the point of being unrealistic, but wonderfully so. It requires that viewers suspend their disbelief, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The dialogue falls flat sometimes, but it also has some gems. The plot does seem to lose itself at times. I did particularly enjoy De Niro’s character, which showed the softer side to the mobsters we see in newspaper headlines. Paul Vitti had a family that he loved very much, and his anxiety attacks were the result of unresolved guilt over his father’s death. He was a mafia boss who was honest (brutally so, sometimes) and showed the full range of human emotion, even crying at times.

A tighter script would have helped the film out, but overall it wasn’t detrimental. I enjoyed this one, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good (not outstanding, but good) comedy.

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Artificial Intelligence (2001)

 

 

There really isn’t much to say about this one: it was awful. For a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, I expected much more out of it.

 

The movie is thematically similar to Bicentennial Man (reviewed here) in that it explores how humans might treat sentient robots. The protagonist here is David (Hayley Joel Osment), a robot designed to have the appearance and mannerisms of a child, including the ability to love his parents. However, the show is stolen by the always-fantastic Jude Law portraying Joe, a male prostitute robot who becomes a sort of guide for David.

 

Anyway, David is the first robot ever to have the ability to love. He permanently and irreversibly imprints on his mother (Frances O’Connor), who later decides she can’t love him back. She abandons him in the woods, where he begins an inexplicable journey to chase down a fairy tale character that he believes can make him human. Through a complicated and nonsensical series of plot twists, he wakes up two thousand years in the future when humanity is extinct. The robots running the world then manage to bring back his mother for just one day, and she tells David that she loves him and everything is alright.

 

At no point is there a coherent plot or theme. The dialogue was bland, and there was no sense of purpose or direction. The kid was on a journey that audiences immediately know has an impossible destination; the film makes no attempt to assure viewers that there is even a small possibility of achieving his goal. From that point on, nothing the movie tries to do has any meaning whatsoever.

 

The last half hour or so is a complete disconnect from the rest of the film. With two of the world’s best writers working on it, I would think they could come up with something better than a total deus ex machina to resolve David’s inner conflict. For example, his mother realizing she made a terrible mistake and finding him. That would have been far simpler and more realistic than the ending that they gave. It probably would have left the audience more satisfied while tying up loose ends, too.

 

Anyway, this one left a bitter taste in my mouth. One star, and it’s lucky it gets even that. Did you think something different about it? Let me know.

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Filed under Drama, Reviews, Science Fiction

Young Frankenstein

I don’t give out five-star ratings lightly. In fact, you probably won’t see me give them to more than a dozen times out of the 400 reviews i’m going to write. So, when I say that Young Frankenstein deserves one,  I really mean it. From start to finish, the film was nothing but fantastic.

 

Young Frankenstein is a 1974 retelling/parody of the 1930s Frankenstein films. It is based on the premise that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (portrayed by Gene Wilder, and pronounced FRONK-in-steen), a prominent neurosurgeon, wants nothing to do with his crazy ancestors, especially his infamous (and deceased) grandfather, Dr. Frankenstein. However, he inherits the latter’s castle, and by some strange twist of fate continues his grandfather’s work. The monster that he creates (the late Peter Boyle, better known as the grandfather from Everybody Loves Raymond) breaks loose and creates chaos. Villagers who remember the damage done by the Frankenstein family start a riot, and Frankenstein risks his own life in a last-ditch effort to save his creation from the villagers’ wrath.

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