Category Archives: Drama

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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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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Robin Williams Double Feature part 2: Bicentennial Man

Good morning, everyone. I finished late last night, but alas, my bed was calling to me. Better late than never, though.

 

Based on the novella The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov (probably one of the greatest and most prolific science fiction writers in history), this 1999 film explores such complex issues as what it means to be human. The protagonist, Andrew Martin (Robin Williams), is a robot who achieves sentience by some strange freak of technology. Over time, he develops the desire to become more human, much like Lt. Cdr. Data from Star Trek: Then Next Generation. Also like Data, he is constantly studying the humans around him in an attempt to emulate their behavior and “fit in” better. This eventually includes a prosthetic face, and then prosthetic organs (complete with central nervous system) and finally blood which will allow him to age and die. As time progresses, he experiences increasingly complex emotions, including happiness, anger, jealousy and love. Unlike Data, he is eventually successful. The World Congress declares him human in the year 2205, just as he dies on his two hundredth birthday.

 

The film took on the ambitious task of dealing with a form of prejudice which hasn’t happened yet, prejudice against artificial life-forms. At every step of the way, Andrew is discriminated against. His struggle for the rights that humans take for granted, such as the right to choose his profession (and earn money from it) or to marry the person he loves, mirrors the battles fought by blacks historically and, more recently, LGBT people. If the progress made by the MIT and Stanford AI Laboratories in recent years is any indication, humanity will soon be forced to consider the issue of what rights and freedoms artificial life should have.

 

The first half of the film was thought-provoking, and dealt with some intriguing issues. Andrew slowly becomes sentient, with liberal amounts of classic Robin Williams humor. He learns about such human concepts as humor and sex. Eventually, he develops a desire for freedom. When he achieves it is about when this movie starts to tank. The next several years are dismissed with a handwave, and then Andrew goes on a failed quest to find other unique robots (another 20 years gone in seconds). It would have been interesting to see what he did with his newfound freedom, and the struggles he would have had to face immediately after. The rest of the movie shows how he wanted to become more human, with prosthetic skin and organs. The story gets dull and plodding here; it suffers from bad scriptwriting. Even Williams’ usual witticism can’t spice it up  much. It tries to show the end stages of Andrew’s struggle for humanity, but honestly I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much. It lacked the flavor of the first half, which is what would have made it so special.

 

One thing that absolutely does deserve accolades is the makeup artistry. In the beginning, Williams is wearing a metal suit that successfully fuses Robin Williams with an artificial robot. As time passes, his features become more and more human. The talented artists managed to make it look fantastic at every stage of development. It even won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Makeup.

 

The wonderful makeup artistry and excellent first half of the movie props it up, but the bad script means that the second half drags. I award it three and a half stars, out of five. Better than average, but it has deep flaws that prevent me from considering it a truly good movie. Still, I don’t regret watching it.

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Robin Williams Double Feature part 1: Good Will Hunting

A quick “hello” to my readers, and apologies for not posting anything Wednesday or Thursday. I’ve had a hectic few days. Anyway, I’m back. On this wonderful Friday night (probably Saturday morning by the time this gets posted) I’ve chosen a late night double feature of Robin Williams movies I happen to have. The reviews will be posted separately, for easier tracking.

 

The first, Good Will Hunting, is the story of MIT janitor and reluctant genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon). An orphan from the Southie projects, Will had been squandering his gift for mathematics by drinking and getting into fights along with his loser buddies, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), Billy McBride (Cole Hauser) and Morgan O’Mally (Casey Affleck). Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers his hidden genius when Will solves a difficult math problem the Professor left for his students to attempt. Lambeau, a Fields medalist (the most prestigious award in mathematics), realizes how smart Will is, and puts him to work in the mathematics department solving problems he never could. Will came from an abusive childhood in a poor neighborhood (for my non-Bostonian readers, South Boston is the poorest and most dangerous part of the greater Boston area). Before he can pursue his future, he must understand that the past was not his fault, and be able to let go of it. With the help of the Professor, as well as his court-appointed therapist (Robin Williams), Will begins to battle his inner demons and realize his potential.

 

I found this film to be deeply moving. Damon played his part well, giving the character of Will Hunting plenty of emotional depth, not to mention a gorgeous body. I mean, seriously, the only thing that could make the then-27 year-old Damon better would be chocolate syrup dripped down his……..sorry folks, that one sort of got away from me. As a sidenote, I once saw a porn star that looked exactly like Matt Damon. Anyone looking for a treat should check out The Porne Ultimatum. I promise, you won’t regret it.

 

Anyway, Damon did a fantastic job showing us his character’s internal struggle to rid himself of his self-loathing that cripples his present and future. Even his friends recognize that he deserves more, and Ben Affleck’s character tries to give him the push he needs to better himself. I found myself empathizing with Will Hunting as he was torn between his comfortable (but unfulfilling) old life, and an uncertain future. Some of it mirrors what i’m dealing with right now, so I truly was moved by it.

 

Now that i’ve gotten all emotional (and a little turned on), stay tuned for part 2 of the double feature: Bicentennial Man!

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