Category Archives: Melodrama

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Not New Review

Every Wednesday, I post a review of a movie which is not new (no less that 2 years since release). In general, these will be movies that I enjoyed watching and in some cases have seen multiple times. This is primarily because, unlike many critics, I don’t enjoy spewing invective. Instead, I like to think about and spend my time on movies that I liked. That being said, I tend to like a wide range of films and I hope that some of my tastes match your own. I will freely reveal major plot points and spoilers in these reviews, but I will do my best to warn you or to [su_spoiler title=”Spoiler Hidden”]hide the spoiler material behind a shield.[/su_spoiler] With that being said, let’s get to the review.

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The depiction of high school life in The Perks of Being a Wallflower really isn’t all that different than it was in 1985 when John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club highlighted how even though we are all dysfunctional, we all have worth. In fact, the immortal words of The Breakfast Club’s resident jock Andrew Clark could practically be Wallflower’s chief thesis: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

Writer/Director Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the best selling novel of the same name, captures the high school years in all their awkward glory. He definitely has his finger on the pulse of the joys, fears, and angst that most high schoolers deal with. Charlie (Logan Lerman) has already been through a lot outside the classroom. Ever since his best friend committed suicide and his favorite aunt died in a car crash, he’s simply been unable to cope. He can’t seem to shake a sinking feeling of utter hopelessness. Add to that, the bullying, hazing and cruel antics of high school and it’s no wonder then that Charlie already has a running countdown to graduation. Just 1,384 more days, and he’s free.

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Logan Lerman is great as the understated lead. I see Charlie as a Holden Caulfield for the MTV generation. He mostly keeps his thoughts to himself and blurts them out passionately and awkwardly when he does choose to express them. Lerman shows something special that was missing from his Percy Jackson portrayals in this nuanced performance. He refuses to make Charlie pitiful when he has every right to be. I could not help to get knots in my stomach as he takes each step forward with uncertainty. It just feels genuine like the rest of the film.

The movie takes place around 1991, before cellphones and social media monopolized teenage communication. This absence underscores the incredible generational divide that has opened up in so short an amount of time. Check out the clip below to get a sense of the emotional climate of the movie. There are definitely funny portions, but overall, this is a gut-wrenching film which wrestles with a very complicated time of life. Perhaps it just rings true to me because I was a misguided 90s teenager listening to 80s bands and looking for my place in the world.

Charlie embarks on his first days of high school as an old soul who has no friends apart from his English teacher Bill (Paul Rudd) who feeds him tons of great books to continues to feed his love of reading and writing and provide him some guidance along the way. Bill is one of my favorite characters and he gets to answers the ultimate question of a teenage boy, “Why do some girls settle for losers?” Profoundly, he states his answer in a way that I think guides the rest of the story, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Soon however, Charlie stumbles into a group of friends who are just as messed up as he is. None of them are particularly good influences, but they give him something that he’s been looking for… belonging. They include the wise-cracking, constantly philosophizing homosexual Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the angry punk-rocking Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). But the most influential is the girl. All of you guys know what I mean when I say the girl, she makes him forget some of his troubles and pushes him to be the best version of himself. Being a big fan of Harry Potter and especially Emma Watson, I was excited to see how she did on her first non-Hermione role and she was stunning. The camera loves her and she even nails the American accent.

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This girl named Sam takes an interest in Charlie’s well-being and welcomes him to the “island of misfit toys,” where they can all “be psychos together.” Charlie describes Sam as “the kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal out of itself,” but Charlie is immediately drawn to the fact that she doesn’t see herself that way. She seems out of place with this group until we learn her background and realize that like some of The Breakfast Club, she just does a better job at hiding her dysfunction. Naturally, he falls for her, even though she’s three year his senior and is currently dating a jerk who is more than a few years older than her.

As the credits rolled I felt somewhat uplifted, even though it is a dark film. Its PG-13 rating comes from sexually suggestive scenes (mainly springing from the groups’ fascination with the Rocky Horror Picture Show), heavy themes (including sexual abuse), and drug use. It’s fair to say the film’s content is less than wholesome. But the content alone shouldn’t determine the value of a work of art. The important thing is the way the film interacts with, speaks to, and frames that content that really matters. It is from this perspective that I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent movie.

For the characters, salvation comes through love and the conscious decision to enjoy life in the moment. Though faced with the unbearable darkness that often finds us in life, these characters find healing as they cling to the love they share and find meaning in the moments in which they feel most alive. Some of the most memorable scenes involve Sam and eventually Charlie standing up in the back of a pickup, arms spread and head back, listening to just the right music, as they speed through a tunnel. They are embracing the meaning of life as it hits them in that moment, and this meaning carries them through the dark moments. Too often, we let life’s unbelievably rich moments pass us by as we focus on trivialities or get so caught up in finding a grand purpose that we miss the meaning and glory in the small things. Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those small things. Don’t let it pass you by, and keep the tissues close.

Weekend Outlook – June 3, 2016

What is your best bet at the theater this weekend? The 2016 summer movie season rolls on with three more big films hitting theaters, and after a relatively light Memorial Day holiday at the cinema, during which X-Men: Apocalypse did fairly well but Alice Through the Looking Glass bombed, this week’s releases are arguably even more forgettable than those released over the three-day weekend.

In addition to what remains in theaters from previous weeks, our latest releases include a kid-friendly cartoon adaption, an R-rated comedy packed with Saturday Night Live cast members, and a tearjerker romance based on a best-selling novel. Out of those three, the romance novel looks like the best option to me.

First, I don’t have any doubts that droves of young families will flock to see the latest from Michael Bay, but almost as many 30 somethings will come hoping that Michael Bay won’t destroy their childhood… again. Second, I like Andy Samberg as much as the next middle-aged white guy, but his latest vehicle just looks too much like other SNL productions that have left me disappointed. It could be good like Bridesmaids, but it is more likely that it will end up in the $2 DVD rack with the likes of MacGruber or The Ladies Man. If you want to hear more then I’ll share the details after the jump.

Continue reading Weekend Outlook – June 3, 2016

The Danish Girl (2015)

This is such a heavy handed Oscar grab. In a year with Caitlin Jenner, Orange is the New Black, and Transparent, I think most people are looking for a deeper look at this subject, but this film never gets deeper than the pretty pictures and scenery. In our all-inclusive political climate, even I feel the pressure to speak nicely of a film like this lest I feel the wrath of the left wing battering me for being some kind of sexist bigot. If I want to watch Eddie Redmayne transform before my eyes, I will dust off Theory of Everything from last yea. But in this film, I never get past feeling bad for his/her wife and being tremendously thankful that they didn’t have children. I don’t want to waste more time on this film than I must. There are much better offerings to discuss this year, and I hope that the Academy can see through this feeble attempt by Tom Hooper to continue is award winning streak by playing on the hot topic of the year with one of the best new actors out there.

Room (2015)

After seeing Room yesterday, I am struck by its range. I expected it to be emotionally anguishing, and it was. But I did not expect to find a film so absorbing, thrilling, and redemptive. This film should be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium. If you are not familiar with the plot of Emma Donoghue’s bestselling book on which it is based, it is probably better that way. This is not to say that the novel isn’t fantastic, but I haven’t read it and am not reviewing it. I just believe that this is a film that should be approached with as few preconceptions as possible. I would think that the screenplay is faithful to the novel seeing that Donoghue wrote the screen adaptation and Lenny Abrahamson, best known before this film for taking the helm on last years’ Frank, directs with a deft touch and creativity.room2 However, what ultimately sells the movie are the two central performances by Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay, who is one of the most unforgettable child actors you will ever see.

Larson, I have to confess, I have previously overlooked as superfluous, however she is stunning here in a role that requires her to be victim and rock, mouse and lioness, often at the same time. As terrific as Larson is, it’s Tremblay who emerges as the film’s true star. The adorable youngster proves to be both charming and heartbreaking as he charts Jack’s plastic transformation from innocent ignorance to the often painful struggle of experience.

Room is a film about liberation hidden inside a tale of entrapment. I don’t want to share too much, but Jack (Tremblay) lives with Ma (Larson) in Room. Notice the lack of a definite article, it is missing because Room is the only place on Earth the 5-year-old has ever known.room3 Room, we come to learn, is nothing more than a dingy tool-shed supplied with the bare necessities (a single bed where they both sleep, a toilet, a filthy rug, and an unreachable skylight). This is where Jack and Ma go through their daily regimen of washing, exercising, reading, eating, etc. At night, Jack is sent to the wardrobe while a nearly mythical monster of a man they call Old Nick unlocks the door that keeps Room locked up tight and proceeds to make strange noises with Ma on the creaky bed.

Jack knows of no world outside of Room, and all the inanimate objects within are his friends and playmates. “Good morning, lamp”; “good morning, sink,” he cheerfully greets each object daily. As they celebrate Jack’s fifth birthday, Ma decides that he’s now old enough to learn about the world outside of Room. She tells him how she was stolen by Old Nick when she was 17 and how she used to be a little girl named Joy with parents who live in a house, but Room is the only world she has known for the past 7 years. Viewers quickly grasp what Jack cannot. He does not like being forced to accept that there are other human beings and animals in a world that is real and not some imaginary images they see on the ancient television inside Room.Rm_D40_GK_0197.NEF I don’t think it is any coincidence that Ma’s actual name is Joy because despite the tremendously dark circumstances, joy sits just below the surface.

The second half of the movie introduces more characters and a whole new set of psychological dimensions. You should experience it for yourself rather than have me describe it here in inadequate terms. This second half is stronger in its emotional pull as we see a tremendous role reversal and young Tremblay steps into the spotlight even further. Room is ultimately a painful, conflicting, and gut-wrenching tale which is tremendously uncomfortable yet altogether enjoyable as we are reminded in a beautiful way the resilience and fullness of life.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Roger Ebert – Review – 1989

In honor of Robin Williams passing this week, I wanted to share my favorite of Mr. Williams’ films. His humor and exuberance was contagious. I don’t know what took him down the road of taking his own life, I only know that I am saddened to hear of his departure and know that the world is a little less happy with him out of it. Let his life and death be a reminder that even those with the largest smiles on their faces may be dealing with the darkest matters on the inside. If you are dealing with depression, please tell someone about it, get help, you are not alone.

image (1)Dead Poets Society takes place in the halls and fields of Welton Academy, a straight-laced prep school. During the opening ceremony, we see students carrying banners displaying the principles of Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence. This serves two major purposes: it introduces the main characters and establishes the rigid environment which they are about to enter. Robin Williams plays John Keating a bright eyed literature teacher returning to his alma mater, he bucks against the traditions and conservative administrators and parents when he encourages his literature students to “Carpe Diem!”

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that there will be SPOILERS AHEAD. If you have somehow missed this classic, then stop here and go watch it. Bring tissues and be prepared to be moved.

Continue reading Dead Poets Society (1989)

Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo-0022Vertigo is a psychological thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars Jimmy Stewart as a former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to his discovery of crippling acrophobia and vertigo. Scottie is hired as a private investigator to follow a woman, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly. The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as one of the defining works of his career. It is currently listed at #65 on the IMDb Top 250, which I think is a travesty. It shows you what type of list the IMDb Top 250 is, to see this film and others, like Citizen Kane, outside of the top 50, but The Dark Knight currently holds the #4 place. But in the 2012 British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ poll, it replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time and has appeared repeatedly in best film polls by the American Film Institute.

I have to confess. This is one of those movies that you hear about and want to watch because others say it is so good. I’ve had it on my watch-list for years. This was one of the many Alfred Hitchcock films that my parents owned. But for some reason, unlike North by Northwest or The Birds or Psycho, I just never got around to watching this one. But I finally tackled this one on Saturday last year and have been digesting it ever since. This draft has literally been sitting in my project pile since March 2013 and if WordPress is correct in its count, I have made 67 different revisions in that time. Well, I finally watched it again tonight with the purpose of finishing what I started.

Ebert’s Great Movies Review from 1996

*** SPOILER ALERT *** Because of the nature of this film, I must warn anyone who reads further on that the rest of this review will contain spoilers. Please take the time to watch this classic before reading any more. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Continue reading Vertigo (1958)

Day 30 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Your Favorite Movie of All Time – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Whether intentional or not, The Shawshank Redemption is a film about hope, and the redemption that can occur even in the most dark and degrading corners of our world. This engrossing film stands as one of the most entertaining, thought-provoking dramas of this century. It takes us to a disturbing setting, uses raw language, doesn’t present us with ideal role models, and there are numerous brutal, occasionally fatal, beatings. But we are not cast into this dark place to incite our own lust or rage. The film clearly shows us that these things are harmful or wrong. Because to tell a story of redemption; you have to sink to the depths before you can rise to the pinnacle. When the darkness is hellish, the light shines ever more brightly. Simply put, this film couldn’t have been made without these elements.

Our hero, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), is wrongly accused of killing his wife and receives two life sentences. Steadily and quietly in prison, he wards off the bitterness against that injustice and the further hardships he suffers by doing good for others, even those that despise him. When the film’s narrator Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) first sees Andy arrive, he wagers that the tall-but-quiet ex-banker is a guy who won’t last long. Red loses the bet, but as he gets to know Andy, he begins to respect him and the two become friends and help each other survive the long and dark days of incarceration.

The prison warden (Bob Gunton) is a hypocritical “Christian” who uses the Lord, the Bible, and the people for his own scheming, murdering purposes. We are meant early on to see through this painted on veneer as shown by his “welcoming” the prisoners to Shawshank, “I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.” This is not the cheap-shot characterization that many believers have come to expect from Hollywood. If you are turned off by the warden, it is because you are meant to be. Just remember who it was that had our sinless savior crucified; it was the conservative religious coalition of the day carrying out a sinister plot in order to maintain its own political power.

In fact, there are many similarities between the heroes of The Shawshank Redemption and the Gospel. The central characters are both wrongly accused. One receives two life sentences and the other is crucified. Neither are respected by their contemporaries, Andy is s a banker and Jesus is a Nazarene? While Andy is certainly flawed, the good work he does while in prison actually serves a ruthless political end that ends up holding him captive. Jesus was ridiculed and executed by the same people He came to free.

The characters are believable, the actors sink into their respective roles perfectly, and light up a brilliantly executed script. But it is the cinematography (crafted by the Coen Brothers’ go to guy, Roger Deakins) that provides the all important look of the film. Thick walls, imposing fences, and confined spaces remind us of the oppression. The guards relentless marching and the heavy bars slamming open and slamming shut reinforce it. Dull, chipped walls in every room surround the dulled, chipped lives of utterly hopeless men. But director Frank Darabont isn’t content to linger in the darkness. Hope is scattered throughout, from an Italian opera broadcast over loudspeakers to a senate appropriation for library books. From a cold beer after a days work to the thought of a “place of no memory.” From High school equivalency exams to a harmonica. From Alexander Dumas to Rita Hayworth.

*—–SPOILER ALERT—–*

Hope triumphs gloriously in the end. It only takes 19 years. But when Andy escapes the hard way, he makes it possible for his friend to go an easier way. Andy escapes the bonds of prison like Jesus escaped the bonds of death. Andy disappeared with an invitation for Red to join him much like Jesus told us that he was going to prepare a place for us. There are so many pictures of Christian hope in this movie that they couldn’t help but put the central message of the gospel in the title.

What is your favorite movie of all time? What do you think of Shawshank? Am I going overboard with the Christian allegory? Leave me a comment below. Also, with the 30 Day Challenge coming to an end, I am here at work for an overnight twelve hour shift. That gave me plenty of time to stamp out my last challenge and hopefully to fill in some of the gaps that were left when life or technology got in the way. I’ll let you know on Twitter or Facebook if I update any of my older posts. Follow me there to keep up with me as I continue my journey through the ever-changing IMDB Top 250.

Day 06 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Made For Television Movie

I am six days into the 30 Day Movie Challenge and I have remained faithful. But today presents a couple of obstacles. First, it is Wednesday and this is the one day a week that I take my kids to school. I choose Wednesday because that is Chapel day and I can sit with them as they sing and dance. It reminds me of an opening rally at VBS. I am writing this as I wait for chapel to begin, but this will delay me from my blogging time until about 10am. Add to that the very obscure topic for today, and it really does present a challenge.

I don’t recall ever purposefully watching a made for TV movie. I might have stumbled across one and watched a few minutes, I remember my mom and dad planning to watch and recording Hallmark movies when I was in High School, but I never found those sappy melodramas entertaining. Doing some searches for what others have said, I came across several that I had never seen but have now added to my want to watch list. I Know My Name is Steven was one that looked interesting, also Brian’s Song, Sybil, The Day After, RKO 281 – The Battle Over Citizen Kane, & The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Last week when I posted this challenge and began looking down the list and making my picks, I saw this one and drew a complete blank. So I began to ask the people that I work and go to church with, and I wasn’t the only one who drew a blank, but one of them had a suggestion and I found it on some other people’s list. This piqued my interest enough to find a copy and watch it. It’s called Door to Door, it was a TV movie from 2002 that aired on TNT. It was nominated for 23 awards, including 2 Golden Globes, and won 13 (including 6 Emmys). William H. Macy is Bill Porter in this inspirational story about a man afflicted with Cerebral Palsy who manages to become a successful door-to-door salesman with a career spanning four decades: from 1955 when he gets his first shot at being a salesman for the Watkins company to 1997 when the door–to-door division is all but dissolved. Macy nails the role with absolute brilliance, and Helen Mirren is stunning as his supportive then ailing mother, and to top it off, we get a young Kyra Sedgwick playing the bright-eyed Mormon college student who helps Bill with his business and becomes his friend.

Unfortunately, Door to Door is so coated with saccharine sweetness that it almost seems like a project that may have been intended for Lifetime. The story-lines involving Porter’s customers and how their lives were changed by him are certainly inspiring, but one must also wonder if they actually did happen. I was most intrigued by the story-line involving the gay couple and an obvious insinuation that one of their friends might have been afflicted with the AIDS virus. This was never resolved and seemed a little misplaced. Also, what is probably the films most quotable line, “God created us all, Shelly. He doesn’t make mistakes,” is in relation to this couple. The fact that this little bit of tolerance propaganda was tagged on kept this from being a really great film. But it doesn’t keep Door to Door from being a really an inspirational story that I still recommended for those who are sick movies about things getting blown up or people getting peppered with bullets.

Do you have any favorite made for TV movies. If so, please leave your recommendations in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

There is almost too much to say about these three films. In fact, only one film in the trilogy actually made it onto the IMDB Top 250 list, that being the final film, Red. Although these are each excellent as stand-alone works, they are best when seen as a whole. For that reason, I am going to review each of them separately. For the unfamiliar, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last work, “Three Colors Trilogy” takes its name from the colors of the French flag and its themes from the ideals represented by those colors: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

Blue, the first of the trilogy, takes place in Paris. It stars Juliette Binoche (Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, Chocolat) as Julie, the wife of a famous composer. She has to deal with a great deal of unwanted freedom when a car accident claims the lives of her husband and her daughter. At first, while recovering in the hospital, she tries to kill herself by swallowing a handful of pills stolen from the hospital, but she cannot. From that point on, she seems to devote her energy to disassociating herself from the memories of her past, a sort of emotional suicide. She sells the family home and all the furniture, moves into a small apartment in Paris, and even destroys her late husband’s last and highly anticipated composition. Along the way, she befriends Lucille, her downstairs neighbor; falls in love with Olivier, her late husband’s aid; and helps Sandrine, her late husband’s mistress who is carrying his child.

Because of its name, Blue, you can’t help but look for that color in the film’s carefully crafted images. With his expert usage of color, Kieslowski has forced the audience to pay attention to the slow-moving story that is unraveling on the screen. The most noticeable visual technique would be the odd fade-out/fade-ins that occur four times in the film. At each of the four points, Julie is at a crossroads, having to decide whether to push back the memories of her life before the accident, or to acknowledge them.

For a large part of the film, Julie is in a trance, trying to shut out the world around her. This could be a very boring role in a less capable actress’ hands, but Binoche turns in the best performance of her career. We frequently see Julie swimming completely immersed in a pool, bathed in a blue light, which symbolizes her past life. At one point, she immerses herself completely and stays underwater for as long as possible. But soon, she has to come up for air. In the same way, Julie can’t help but re-establish the connections with her past, and like the continent upon which she resides, she shifts from a state of liberty into a state of union. She gives the family home to her husband’s mistress’, completes her husband’s unfinished composition, and even builds a relationship with Olivier.

Being a trilogy, of seemingly unrelated films, there are little Easter eggs that will become prominent as you view all three films. Pay particular attention to the scene where Julie is at the courthouse. She walks into a courtroom where a trial is in session, and the audience is briefly given a glimpse of a divorce trial. The significance of this odd scene is revealed in White, where Julie walks in on the trial in the background. I am not in agreement with the IMDB list. I think that this is the best of the films when viewed separately. I believe that Red received a higher ranking because people use it to refer to the trilogy as a whole. Kieslowski did an amazing job of using film as a form of literature, combining the cinematography, music, lighting, and dialogue all to bring emphasis to the overall thesis of the film. I’m not a huge fan of foreign films, but this is one that can be viewed again and again.