Bridget Jones’s Diary

renee zellweger bridge jonesBased ever so loosely on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this 2001 British romantic comedy directed by Sharon Maguire is full of hits and misses.  The hits are all punches thrown between the two men who seek Bridget’s attention and the misses are all those single women who wish they had a choice between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

Adapted by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis from Fielding’s popular novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger), a single woman in her early thirties looking for love. She works at a publishing house in London, under the direction of Daniel Cleaver (Grant), a real hottie that she’d like to get her hands on.  Over Christmas, her mother tries to set her up with former childhood neighbor Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Get it? Darcy. Firth. Nudge nudge wink wink. Of course, he very aloof and disdainful and she dislikes him immediately.

Right from the beginning, you know it isn’t going to be anything like Pride and Prejudice. Bridget is drunk half the time, smokes constantly, burbling, bumbling, and making a fool out of herself every five minutes. NOT Lizzy Bennet.

Setting her sights on her boss, she begins wearing short skirts and see-through blouses and exchanging flirtatious emails with him. He, of course, responds. When they see Darcy at a party, Daniel tells Bridget that Darcy once stole his fiancée from him. Wickham, eh? They go away for a weekend and there’s that darned Darcy again. On the verge of meeting Bridget’s parents, Daniel abandons her, explaining that he has important work at the office. Not so. He’s actually having an affair with a woman from the New York branch of the publishing company and Bridget finds the woman at his flat.

She dumps him and there is Darcy, immediately interested.

Parts of the movie are quite funny, but most of the humor depends on Bridget’s putting herself in embarrassing situations, which she does over and over. Personally, I don’t care for that kind of humor, just as I don’t care for novels that depend on the stupidity of their protagonists to make a plot. It was hugely popular for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the sophomoric humor and the beautiful people. It didn’t win any major awards, although Zellweger was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award. (It’s funny that British actors routinely play American roles without getting props for how expertly they handle the accent, yet when a Texan plays a Brit everyone makes a big fuss about it. Frankly, I didn’t find it as believable as everyone else. Kind of like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, there was something that just didn’t completely ring true.)

The supporting cast is wonderful. I loved Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s parents. Embeth Davidtz, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, and Lisa Barbuscia are all excellent and add to the fun.

There is one other carry-over from the great BBC Pride and Prejudice besides Colin Firth: the screenwriter for that masterpiece, Andrew Davies, collaborated on the script for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

At 98 minutes, it’s a funny, entertaining evening, without having to exercise the brain at all.

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The First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival

When I finished the fifth draft of my novel Walk Against Time, I was suffering a bit of post-partum depression and decided to fill the void with Amy Adams movies, so I decided to create the First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival. Okay, it was a low-key affair, just me and a bowl of popcorn, but it was great fun.

I must confess right from the beginning that I love Amy Adams unconditionally.

There, it’s out in the open. A friend recently asked me what I love about Amy and I’ve got to confess that it’s pretty much the whole package.  Red hair, green eyes, a cute little pixie nose.  What’s not to love?  She’s not emaciated, but not overweight, either (okay, maybe just a tiny hint of baby fat).  Inside that perfect shell, there is a personality that just radiates optimism.  Don’t blame her, she can’t help it.  It’s how she is.  She’s like the Tom Hanks of female actors.  There’s just something that will never, ever give up on humanity and our potential.  Finally, you crinkle in a moderate dash of vulnerability that brings tears to my eyes.  Please, Amy, DON’T CRY!  I admit it freely.  I am besotted.

The film list below contains links to my reviews for each of the movies.  Just click on the name or photo to read the full review.

The First Annual Amy Adams Film Festival

Day 1

Leap Year

amy-adams-leap-yearAmy plays an Irish-American girl who travels to the auld country to propose to her sweetie on February 29th, when she believes he can’t refuse. Along the way, she meets an Irish pub owner that just might change her mind.  This is easily the worst of all the films in the festival.  It is a romantic comedy that is not entirely successful.  Read the review to find out why.  It’s a good film to begin the festival with because every movie will get better from now on.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

amy adams miss-pettigrewOne of Amy’s most adorable roles as nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse, a flibbertygibbet who is bouncing between three men. It takes a wonderful performance by Frances McDormand to help her realize her true love and find happiness.  A wonderful comedy!

American Hustle

amy_adams american hustleAmy does some real acting in this hilarious comedy about two con artists in the 1970’s who get into something over their heads. Christian Bale is unbelievably good in this movie and frankly he steals the show, but Amy is great, too.  In fact, everyone is good.

 

Enchanted

amy-adams encxhanted

This is an amazing Disney film containing both animation and live action with great music and some incredible songs. Yes, Amy sings again!  She is at her delightful best as Princess Giselle who is thrown out of her cartoon kingdom into downtown Manhattan by the evil queen Narissa, played by Susan Sarandon.  It’s joyful and funny and one of the best Amy Adams films ever.  A personal favorite.

 

Day 2

Sunshine Cleaning

amy adams emily blunt sunshine cleaningThis is kind of a dark comedy about two down and out Albuquerque sisters, played by Amy and Emily Blunt, who start a business cleaning up crime scenes. It is both funny and touching and features a great performance by Blunt.  Alan Arkin appears as their father.

 The Fighter

amy_adams the fighter

A great film on so many levels! Again, Christian Bale is over the top good and won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role as Dicky Eckland, the older brother of Amy’s love interest, Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahberg. Amy plays a smart bartender who helps Micky to escape his family’s bungling of his boxing career. She’s really good in this movie and creates a real regular girl-type character (except that she’s like totally gorgeous, as usual). This is a must-see movie!

 

Trouble with the Curve

Amy-Adams-in-Trouble-with-the-Curve-What more could one possibly ask than to have Clint Eastwood as Amy’s crusty old baseball scout father? She’s at her most vulnerable here in a movie that combines some subtle comedy with a deep hurt that she suffered in her childhood.  She and Clint are dynamite together and when you add in Justin Timberlake as her love interest, you have a wonderful, feel-good movie that just can’t be resisted.  Wonderful!

 

Julie and Julia

 

amy adams julie and juliaThe festival ends, appropriately enough, with Julie and Julia.  The first time I actually remember seeing Amy Adams in anything, it was this and I fell for her really hard as Julie Powell, a talented wannabe writer in a post 9/11 world who decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s legendary cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Although they have no scenes together, Meryl Streep’s endearing performance as Julia Child is a perfect counterpoint to Amy’s vulnerable, lovable Julie.  This is a film that I can literally watch over and over and love more each time.  As a writer, two scenes touch me the most.  First, when Julia receives the first printed copy of her book, and second, when Julie gets a call that a publisher is interested in publishing her blog.  I’m still waiting for the magical moment in my own life, but these two women are wonderful in their own joy of publication.  LOVE—LOVE—LOVE this movie!

 

 

And so the festival ends. An empty bowl of popcorn.  A little wetness about my eyes.  And a hope that the Second Annual Amy Adams Film Festival will be just as enjoyable as the first.

I hope you all like my reviews, please feel free to subscribe to my web site to enjoy all of the reviews I write in the future.

Until then, as Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss PettigrewLondon in 1939 was a hodgepodge of pre-war jitters. Depression era soup kitchens operated down the block from posh nightclubs for the rich and the middle class worked to scratch out a decent living.

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged spinsterish daughter of a vicar gets fired from her job as a governess. Rushing up the street with her suitcase, she bumps into a man just getting out of prison, Michael Pardue (Lee Pace).  Frightened, she runs away, leaving her suitcase in the street.  Standing in a soup kitchen that night, she sees fashion mogul Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) kissing someone in an alley. When Edythe sees she’s being watched, she takes her lover and leaves.

The next morning, Miss Pettigrew goes to her employment agency, but they turn her away because she’s lost every job they sent her on. She steals the business card of American nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) from her agent’s desk, hoping she can arrive first and steal the job. Delysia is in a state.  It’s nearly ten o’clock in the morning and she must get a producer’s son, Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) from her bed before her sugar daddy, Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) arrives. She hopes that bedding Phil will get her the lead role in his new West End musical.  She’s using him, just as she’s using nightclub owner Nick for her wardrobe and apartment.

Jumping into action as Delysia’s new social secretary, Miss Pettigrew manages to gently evict Phil and stall Nick because Delysia must attend a fashionable lingerie show. At the show, Delysia introduces her to Edythe, who doesn’t recognize her right away.  She also meets lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) who has been engaged to Edythe.  Delysia and Edythe give Miss Pettigrew a complete make-over.  Recognizing her at last, Edythe blackmails Miss Pettigrew into smoothing things over with Joe, even though she had been unfaithful to him, threatening to reveal that she knows Guinevere is actually penniless.

When they get back to the apartment, Michael is there. It turns out that he is the pianist that accompanies Delysia in her nightclub act.  They are in love, but Delysia persists in using the other men to further his career.  Michael gives her one last chance.  He has tickets on a boat to America and is leaving the next morning.  He begs her to join him and take their act to Manhattan.

This is just the beginning of a rip-roaring comedy filled with delightful performances. Directed by Bharat Nalluri, the film was adapted by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy from the 1938 novel by treasured British novelist Winifred Watson.  Scandalous when it was first released, the movie is quite tame by today’s standards, but still very amusing.  Nalluri shows a very deft touch in the directing, mixing tracking shots with steady cam to create a beautiful and tight movie.  In addition, the music is truly special, capturing the feeling of the time perfectly.  The art direction is fantastic, using upscale art deco side by side with the bleak depression era streets.

Frances McDormand, is, as usual, brilliant. She remains one of our finest actresses and infuses Miss Pettigrew with both restrained priggishness and down-to-earth humanity.  In spite of her upbringing, she is open to the friendship that Delysia gives to her.  Amy Adams is wonderful as the flibbertygibbet Delysia and she bonds with McDormand very well.  They make an amazing comedy team and yet both display great emotion with a restrained script.  The two of them make the movie, but all of the male co-stars are also terrific.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a truly entertaining movie that fans of McDormand and Adams will be proud to own. It can be watched over and over with a deepening level of enjoyment.  I highly recommend the film!

Chocolat

Chocolat VienneMost things that give enjoyment are not bad. In fact, most things in life that we enjoy are entirely without sin, even if they do induce sensual pleasure, such as, let us say, chocolate, that most wonderful of confections.

My review contains information about the story, so if you haven’t seen the movie, beware. Reading this review may spoil the ending for you!

It is 1959, in a French village surrounded by a wall and a river, barricaded from the world as if it hadn’t changed since the Renaissance. On a Sunday morning when everyone is at church, a woman, Vianne (Juliette Binoche), and her young daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), trudge through the wind and snow to open a chocolaterie. Vianne is destined to wander from town to town, as her mother did, dispensing the joy of chocolate.  She carries her mother’s ashes with her and she knows that Anouk will also be destined for the same fate.

 The mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) finds it sinful to open such a business during Lent and he encourages the villagers to boycott it and their young priest, Pere Henri (Hugh O’Conor) to preach sermons against it.  When he discovers that Anouk is an illegitimate child and that Vianne will not attend mass, he becomes even more consumed with driving her out of business.  He has his own problems: his wife has gone to Italy and it looks like she isn’t coming back and he is also struggling with his own desires for food as he starves himself in his sorrow.

chocolat anoukIn order to coax the villagers to buy her chocolate, Vianne gives away free samples, winning over Guillaume Blerot (John Wood), an older man whose little dog Charlie likes the treats. Blerot pines after a WWI widow, Madame Audel (Leslie Caron) and he wins her over with little chocolate treats.  Vianne’s first real friend comes in the form of her landlady, Armande (Judi Dench), who also doesn’t go to church.  She is estranged from her daughter, Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss), who works for the Comte and keeps her son, Luc (Aurélien Parent-Koenig), away from his grandmother. Vianne arranged for Luc to spend some time with Armande at the chocolaterie under the pretense of his drawing a portrait of her.  Vianne wins another friend when the owner of the café, Serge (Peter Stormare) beats his wife Josephine (Lena Olin) who runs to the chocolaterie for sanctuary.  She stays and becomes Vianne’s assistant.  The Comte attempts to force Serge to get himself together, making him abstain from alchohol, teaching him manners, sending him to catechism classes.

The town is thrown into chaos when a band of gypsies arrives by boat, docking along the river front. Led by a charismatic young man, Roux (Johnny Depp), the gypsies want nothing more than to trade, but the Comte forbids it and mounts a campaign to have the villagers boycott the gypsies.  Of course, Vianne is intrigued and makes friends with Roux.  When Serge assaults the chocolaterie in a drunken rage, breaking open the door, the women fight him off and Josephine knocks him out with a skillet. Roux volunteers to repair Vianne’s door and she agrees to hire him, thus breaking the boycott.  The Comte takes his fight with her to a new level as he tells all of the villagers that to consort with her is to consort with the devil and he makes Pere Henri do the same thing from the pulpit.

Vianne feels that the whole world is against her and considers leaving, but Armande requests that she throw her a party for her 70th birthday.  Vianne also has planned a Festival for Easter Sunday. Most of Vianne’s friends attend, including Luc and Roux, but dessert is to be served on Roux’s boat and they all retire there to dance and enjoy the evening.  Caroline comes in search of Luc, but when she sees him dancing with his grandmother, she doesn’t interfere.  However, Serge brings the Comte to see the party and the mayor tells him, “Something must be done.”  When the party winds down, a fire erupts on the boats.  Seeing the damage, Vianne decides that it is time to leave, so she packs, over Josephine’s pleas that she stay, and forces to Anouk to join her, but they fight and her mother’s ashes are spilled.  There is laughter and she looks into her kitchen to find Josephine leading the villagers in the preparation for the Easter Festival.  She abandons her plans to leave.

On the night before Easter, Serge confesses to the Comte that he started the boat fire because the Comte had told him that “something must be done.” In a fit of rage, the Comte banishes Serge from the village, then goes to pray, confessing that he is so starved and so weak of spirit that he must do something.  Taking up a knife, he breaks into the chocolaterie to destroy the confections in the window display, but a bit of chocolate splashes onto his lip and he licks it up. In one moment, he loses his composure and begins to eat every bit of chocolate he can get his hands on.  The next morning, Pere Henri sees the mayor passed out in the window display, covered in chocolate.

It’s hard to imagine anyone crusty enough not to love Chocolat.  It is a wonderful movie, beautifully and movingly directed by Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director who also gave us The Cider House Rules (and, by the way, Lena Olin’s husband).  The music by Rachel Portman, part gypsy, part Hispanic, part French, is absolutely perfect for every scene in the film.  Adapted by screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs from the novel by Joanne Harris, the story is strong and true, moving, funny, and uplifting.

All of the actors are wonderful and it would be hard to single out one performance that stands out above the other, but I must mention that Judi Dench is amazing as Armande and that Johnny Depp’s guitar adds a great deal to the fun. Binoche is lovely as Vianne and it is good to see her teamed with Lena Olin, the first time the two women have worked together since The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This is an incandescent story of freedom. No matter how firm oppression may seem, if you are good and true and give love back to the world, the world will eventually come to you.

Silver Linings Playbook

“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday’s my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.”

Cooper and Lawrence Silver Linings PlaybookThis delightful comedy/drama was written and directed by David O. Russell, adapted from the book The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  Centered around two quirky people, both at a crossroads in their lives, the film presents bi-polar disorder as a condition that can be overcome.

Pat Solatano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a former high school teacher, is held in a Baltimore psychiatric hospital for an episode in which he beat another teacher after finding him in the shower with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee). After serving his court-ordered eight months, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) gets him out.  In the parking lot, a fellow inmate, Danny (Chris Tucker) jumps in the car, announcing that he has been released, too, but Dolores gets a call from the hospital asking that Danny be returned.  Arguing with his mother, Pat grabs the steering wheel and almost gets them in an accident.

Returning home, Pat stops by the library to pick up all of the books in Nikki’s literature syllabus, intending to read all of the books. He is determined that their marriage can be saved, even though Nikki has moved and taken out a restraining order against him.  Pat’s father, Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro) has recently lost his job and is supporting the family working as a bookie, although he intends to open a restaurant so that he can look legitimate.  Family and neighbors are all passionate Philiadelphia Eagles fans and Pat, Sr. is hopelessly superstitious about wearing the right jersey, putting his remote controls in certain positions, and rubbing a green handkerchief so that the can bring good luck, “juju” to the Eagles.  He also has a temper and is barred from actually attending Eagles games because of his violent behavior.  His friend, Randy (Paul Herman), is a Cowboys fan and tries to make money in bets off of Pat, Sr. by gaoding him into making foolish bets.

Pat stays up all night reading Ernest Hemmingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms and then blows up at 4 AM because it doesn’t have a happy ending.  He throws the book out the window and harangues his parents.  Pat believes that the key to overcoming his illness is to find a silver linings in his every day life.  He tries to live by the motto Excelsior (ever upwards) and shares this vision with his therapist, Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher), who replies that he must get a strategy to live with his illness.

His friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), invites him to a Sunday dinner. Married to a beautiful girl, Veronica (Julia Stiles), and with a baby, Ronnie is a broker who is suffering anxiety from fluctuations in the market.  Veronica’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose cop husband was recently killed, shows up at the dinner and she and Pat find that they can talk about their various medications.

Tiffany agrees to deliver a letter to Nikki if Pat will dance with her in a competition and he reluctantly agrees. They begin to rehearse, but the dance competition takes on a new meaning when Pat, Sr. and Randy make a parlay bet that the Eagles will beat the Cowboys and that Tiffany and Pat can score at least a 5 in the dance competition.

The story is completely engaging. Even though the film runs nearly two hours, every single moment is compelling and one doesn’t notice the time.  Cooper and Lawrence are both really terrific, portraying characters that are complicated and yet disarmingly simple.  Lawrence won Best Actress for her role as Tiffany.  DeNiro is at his very best as Pat, Sr. and Jacki Weaver gives wonderfully believable and warming performance as Dolores.  All of the supporting cast are terrific.

Russell’s script and direction are spot on. The editing is amazing, as is the use of music and sound.

It is a movie that deserved all of its nominations and it should be seen by everyone. It is funny, full of pathos, and very moving.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah PhotoWhen a movie has as its basis such an incredible novel as Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, there should be no way that it could fail, yet this insipid teen comedy manages to toss aside all of the best stuff from the novel, including, amazingly, some of the best comedy.  It changes the course of events, and ends without a single note of the beauty that gave the book such raw power.

Cute, geeky Nick (Michael Cera) mopes around his house in suburban New Jersey, leaving long voice mails and making mix disks for his ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), a beautiful senior at a Catholic high school. Nick plays bass in an indie band called “The Jerk Offs” with gay musicians Dev (Rafi Gavron) and Thom (Aaron Yoo) who beg him to play this gig they have lined up and look for clues to the “secret” show that the band “Where’s Fluffy” will be playing somewhere in NYC later that night.  At the Catholic school, Norah (Kat Dennings) plans the evening with her ditzy friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and tries to avoid Tris.  When Tris throws away the latest “break-up mix” CD from Nick, Norah picks it out of the trash, as she has done many times before, because she loves the way he mixes songs.  Even though she’s never met him, she knows she likes him because of the CDs.

They all show up at The Jerk Offs’ gig, Norah hits on Nick, Caroline gets drunk, and Tris shows up with her new boyfriend. Dev and Thom offer to give Caroline a ride home while Nick takes Norah out in his Yugo to look for Where’s Fluffy.  An evening of hijinks ensues as Norah avoids her ex, Tal (Jay Baruchel), Tris tries to get Nick back, and the gay guys drive around in the band’s van, losing Caroline, hooking back up with Nick and Norah, looking for Caroline, and getting back together.  When they finally locate the Where’s Fluffy show, Tal claims Norah, Tris claims Nick, and are both rejected as Nick and Norah head off on their own.

The movie itself is a failure on its own merits. It’s not funny or charming or even remotely romantic.  However, when compared against the original novel, it must be seen as one of the most seriously blown opportunities in the history of filmmaking.

The novel is steeped in punk music, not indie music, and the writing makes the reader feel like they are inside the insane mosh pit. Nick is an edgy bass player in the group called The Fuck Offs, not a cute, geeky guy.  The miscasting of Michael Cera, perhaps the result of the hideous screenplay by Lorene Scafaria or the Happy Days directing of Peter Sollett, dooms the movie from the very beginning and keeps it dredging the bottom throughout the 90 minutes of the film.  The gay sexuality in the book, which was absolutely electric, is completely absent and the homosexual characters are made to look like harmless dolts.  The book had serious balls on teenage gays, but the movie totally emasculates them.  One of the best characters in the book, Tony, the transvestite bouncer dressed in a Playboy bunny costume was cut from the movie.

There is breathless feeling in the novel, partly derived from the thrashing punk and partly from the sparks that fly back and forth between Nick and Norah. The movie has no spark to it at all.  Where the novel thrashed, the movie bounces.  The plot of the book bowls along on a story arc that is lightning tight, but the film plot is unnecessarily convoluted, mostly because Dev, Thom, and Caroline and brought back time and again.  When it should have been focussed on Nick and Norah, it was wasting its time trying to be funny and failing miserably.

The one bright spot in the movie is Kat Dennings’ performance as Norah. While the filmmakers eviscerated Nick, they almost left Norah her own quirky self.  She also has the best line in the movie when she calls The Jerk Offs a fistful of assholes and Dev and Thom realize they’ve just found a new name for the band.  (That’s not in the book.)

Don’t waste your time on this movie. Read the book.

My review of the book is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Gravity

Gravity Sandra BullockAlfonso Cuarón’s 2013 science fiction film Gravity is extremely well-made, a tight thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for an hour and twenty-four minutes holding on for dear life.  It is almost a perfect movie.

This review includes vital information about the plot that may prevent a first-time viewer from enjoying the movie. Please read on if you’ve already seen the film.

On a mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), on her first space shuttle mission, works to install upgrades to the system. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) flits around her using his maneuvering back pack as he attempts to break the record for the longest space walk, knowing he will never have enough time to do it.  Mission Control interrupts them to abort the mission.  Apparently, Russia has demolished one of their satellites using a missile and debris is now hurtling through space toward them.  As they make their way back to the shuttle, Houston tells them that the debris is taking out other satellites and they will probably lose contact, which happens almost immediately.

Before they can get back into shuttle to return to earth, the junk comes shooting through their area. Although it misses the two astronauts, the shuttle is destroyed and the other mission specialists are killed.   Kowalski and Stone must now take a very long space walk to reach the International Space Station (ISS).  Time is of the essence because the debris will returns once it has made its way around the earth.  Unfortunately, the ISS has also suffered damage.  One of the two Soyuz escape modules has been used to evacuate the station and the other has been rendered useless because the parachute has already been deployed.  In spite of this Kowalski believes that they can use this useless module to reach the Chinese space station and use their escape module to return to earth.  Their approach is fast and they bounce off the craft, but finally Stone’s foot becomes entangled in the chute lines.  As Kowalski flies by her, she grabs his tether and holds him tight, but Kowalski’s momentum means pulls against her hold.  To save her, he unhooks his tether and drifts away.

From that point on, the film is sharply focussed on Stone’s survival from the Soyuz capsule to the Chinese space station, which is disintegrating in the upper atmosphere, to her entry into its escape module and flight to earth.

Obviously, in winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, it was clearly the best movie of the year and probably should have won Best Picture as well.

Cuarón’s hand is in most of the movie. Not only did he direct it, but he co-wrote the script with his son, Jonás, co-produced and co-edited it, so he deserved all of his awards, which also included six BAFTA Awards, including Outstanding British Film and Best Director, the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, and seven Critics Choice Awards.  The other artists that he surrounded himself with all made major contributions to the success of this movie.  The score by Steven Price is amazing, complimenting the action exactly as it should to keep the suspense at a high level.  The sound was so good that it was breathtaking at times.  Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is both flawless and inspired and the special effects by British artists Framestore is simply stunning.  Considering that nearly 80% of the movie consists of computer generated graphics, they certainly deserve a huge share of the praise for this awesome movie.

The human heart of the movie exists in Sandra Bullock’s inspired performance. Although George Clooney contributes somewhat to the action, his character is gone by the time the action really gets rolling and the only other in the movie is Dr. Stone.  This is Bullock’s film and she carries it from beginning to end with a high-energy emotional presence perfectly in compliment with the music, sound, cinematography.  Bullock has grown tremendously as an actress in the last ten years, especially with her role in Blind Side, but she tops that performance in Gravity.

Although it must be considered one of the best space films ever made, right up there with Apollo 13, there were a few things that bothered me and would probably keep the movie out of the top ten best science fiction films on my list.

There are many inaccuracies in the film, most of which can be easily overlooked, but not all. First, I do not believe that neither Kowalski’s mass, nor their speed would have realistically created the situation that forced him to un-tether himself so that Stone might be saved.  Their attempt to grab onto the ISS, hurtling into it and bouncing off, is a violent scene.  When Stone finally makes it inside, I expected to see bruises and contusions all over her body, but instead, she emerges from her space suit looking squeaky clean.  When she finally boards the Chinese space station, the same thing happens, but her grabbing a handhold while hurting at a prohibitive speed with the clumsy glove is extremely unrealistic.  The final problem for me occurred during her attempts to figure out how to operate the Chinese capsule as she pushed buttons at random and finally found the one that magically allowed her to re-enter earth’s atmosphere at the proper angle to avoid a complete burn-up.

I might be overly critical on these scenes—I’m sure most people wouldn’t have an objection—but I thought that all of these problems, with a little tweaking, could have been easily made more realistic and would have really made it a flawless film.

This is still a great and powerful film, a rollercoaster of a movie that shoots its way along an arc that is tightly plotted, with every aspect of the film working in complete harmony, and it does it with no discernable fat in terms of scenes or timing. Everybody should see this movie!

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

nick and norah book cover

This novel comes rumbling out of some torn up Manhattan tunnel like a queercore punk nightmare, full of profanity, revolt, degradation, and the sweetest young love you’ve ever tasted on some strange Jack Kerouac night full of piss and vinegar.

Much the way On the Road roared at the right side of the highway from America’s kick back against conformity in the 1950’s, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist assaults the reader from the first page and doesn’t stop jumping until literally the last word of the book, which is, appropriately: “Jump.”  Young adult authors Rachel Cohn and David Levithan trade chapters in this novel, with her writing as Norah and him writing as Nick.  That accounts for the distinctive voice of each character (written in the ever present YA Biblical tense of FIRST PERSON PRESENT).

The book begins with Nick on stage at some Manhattan club playing bass with his queercore punk band, The Fuck Offs. He’s the only straight guy in the group, comprised of high school seniors.  The drummer, Thom (with an H), is less than talented and waits for a solo that never comes in the two minute screaming slashes that they burn, and the lead singer, Dev, is a beautiful slut, ever on the make for his next guy.  Nick nearly loses it when his ex-girlfriend Tris comes smoking into the club with her newest guy because she is truly, eternally hot and he is still desperate for her.  After the set, he goes to the bar and when Tris approaches him, he turns to the girl next to him, who wears of all things, a flannel shirt in this den of trendy commercially run Ramones tee shirts, and says, “I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?” Norah answers his question by giving a deep, eye-opening kiss that begins a six hour trip for these two angst ridden teens that doesn’t stop until, well, like, you know, the end.

Alternately attracted and repulsed, Nick tries to deal with Tris strutting around with her new guy, while Norah, who is Jewish, tries to deal with her ex-boyfriend who has just returned from a kibbutz in Israel.  They are both POSITIVELY unhip and yet at the same time are the two COOLEST people in the novel.  Norah, it turns out, is the daughter of a lifelong A&R man and she grew up traveling the country, going to concerts, and listening to every kind of music there is and digging it all.  Right now, she is deeply, wholly, into punk and so, of course, is Nick, who himself is into all different kinds of music, even though right now he’s really into punk.  Although he doesn’t know who Norah is, she knows all about him because she’s an old friend of Tris and has listened to and admired the mixes he’s made and the songs he’s written.  They are both trying really hard to be people that they’re really not because they love this kind of music and nothing exhilarates either of them more than jumping into the mosh pit when Where’s Fluffy? plays their trashed out rejection of The Man.  As Norah sagely remarks: “The mosh pit never lies.”

Although there are things in book that made me seriously pause, look out the window, and wonder how it was possible to write something that sounded so trite and yet rang so true, I raced through the 183 pages in less than a day. The prose carries you forward as if you were just a passenger on their crazy train or a thrashing punk song, and after a while, you don’t really want to get off or see the song end.  Long sentences that riff like one of Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness poems run into even longer paragraphs that run into pages that occur inside one brain or the other and at the end you realize that only a few seconds have passed in the story and it only felt like a few seconds as these pages devoured you!

Most of the book is just laugh-out-loud funny, although there are some pages where you might develop a permanent little chuckle. Cohn and Levithan have such a grip on their writing, however, that this humor can change to heart-rending angst or unexpectedly profound observation within a few words.

The push and pull back and forth between Nick and Norah is a kind of song in itself as they feel their way through their anxieties, work out their past failures, and grope toward a relationship. They are, in some ways, metaphors for our fractured world and if they can work it out, maybe we can work it out.  This must be considered a break-through novel in the YA genre, not just for the language, but for the compression of time, the driving style, and the unique young voices that push it forward.

This is a compelling book that should be LOUD on YA radar.

Like it or not.

My review of the movie is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Broken Arrow

Broken Arrow Stewart PagetThis 1950 movie was one of the first to portray western Native Americans in a balanced manner and carries as its message racial equality and peaceful relations between Indians and Anglos. Based on the popular novel, Blood Brother, by Elliott Arnold, the film adaptation by Michael Blankfort dramatizes the historical relationship between Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) and Chiricahua Apache leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler).

When Jeffords goes panhandling for gold in Apache territory, he runs across a boy who is dying from buckshot wounds. He nurses the lad back to health, but is discovered by members of the tribe.  The boy intervenes on his behalf and they decide to spare him.  They are interrupted by the arrival of prospectors.  The Indians tie up and gag Jeffords while they ambush the prospectors, killing most of them.  When the melee is over, Jeffords is released.

In Tucson, he hears one of the prospectors who survived the raid giving a false picture of it and he corrects the man, then must describe what happened to him. The men berate him for being friendly to the Indians, but Jeffords has a plan to bring peace between the Chiricahuas and Whites.  He learns to speak Apache and is taught smoke signals by a member of the tribe living in the city, then he travels to meet Cochise face to face.  Impressed with Jeffords bravery and honesty, he agrees to let the mail go through unmolested.  While in the Apache camp, he meets a young girl, Sonseeahray (Debra Paget) and falls in love.

An Army unit, attempting to catch Cochise off-guard, goes into Apache territory and gets caught in an ambush. Although many of the soldiers are killed and their wagons stolen, General Oliver Otis Howard (Basil Ruysdael) survives and returns to Tucson, just in time to save Jeffords from being lynched as a collaborator with the Apaches.  The general has been dispatched from Washington to negotiate a peace with Cochise that will give the tribe 50,000 acres of land as a reservation.

Directed by Delmer Daves, the film strives for historical accuracy, but succeeds only in a Hollywood-skewed way. It was filmed near Sedona, Arizona, although the action should have been filmed hundreds of miles south near Tucson.  Even so, hundreds of Apaches from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation were used as extras. 

It is very unfortunate that Hollywood did not trust real Indian actors to accomplish most of the major Apache roles, although the venerable Jay Silverheels (“Tonto”) played the renegade Geronimo in the movie. Although both Jeff Chandler and Debra Paget are not completely believable as Indians, they are the only two Anglos to portray Native Americans in the film.  Paget, by the way, was only 15 years old at filming.  The actors were aided by a script that readily swapped out English for the assumption that they were all speaking Apache.  At least, no one spoke the broken English that ruled in films of the day.  Paget may have been misdirected to speak too proper English, but it doesn’t detract from the movie.

Most of the performances are quite acceptable, although none stands out as being a great performance.

The true value of the film is in its message, that we can all live side by side in peace. In 1950, this was rather a brave stand.  The film goes out of its way to make the point that there are both good and bad Indians and Anglos and it is more important to be true to an ideal than to condemn a man based on his ethnicity.  This was also a complete break from other Westerns.

The music in the film is unobtrusive, which is a good thing in a movie like this. There is no Hollywood orchestra playing some hackneyed Anglo version of an Indian war song, thank goodness.  The scenes with Indian music and dancing feel authentic, perhaps because they are being performed by real Indians. 

Broken Arrow claims high ground in the Western genre of filmmaking. The presence of James Stewart certainly adds weight to the message of racial equality and justice.  It’s a very good film that I would recommend for the entire family.