Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shadow of a Doubt

There are always those films from Hollywood's Golden Age that took the wholesome American image and turned it upside down. (Mind you, those were usually the ones that didn't fare so well at the box office.) But get the right actors and directors, and you've got a damn good film.

Need a good example? Try Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. It's a simple tale, really. It's only about the bond between a man and his adoring niece. Nothing too extraordinary. Oh, wait. There's the possibility that the uncle is a murderer. But again, nothing too extraordinary.

The man and niece are played by Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, both fine actors of the 1940s. They have a close bond (they even share the same name, Charlie) and people notice. But once the niece finds out about her uncle's possible crimes, that bond slowly but surely starts to crumble.

The amusing thing of Shadow of a Doubt is who one of the writers was. The writer in question is Thornton Wilder, basically one of the last people you'd expect to write for a Hitchcock film. But it surprisingly works.

Shadow of a Doubt is one of Hitchcock's more underrated films. Why that is, I have no idea. After all, it contains Cotten's best work as an actor. That, and it's damn fantastic.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Looper

There are three directors I've taken a liking to that have made names for themselves in the last ten years. One is Ben Affleck, who is has definitely proven himself to be a better director than actor. The other is Steve McQueen, who is practically re-inventing cinema. (To answer your question, yes, I look forward to seeing Argo and Twelve Years a Slave.)

The third director is Rian Johnson. His debut Brick is one of the best noirs of the past fifteen years. His sophomore film The Brothers Bloom was a nice tribute to the crime capers of the 1960s. Both films also have very clever scripts written by Johnson, which is always a good sign for a promising director.

Johnson's newest film Looper is a sort of re-invention of the time travel film. (Johnson also has a strong penchant for blood throughout, but not in the same sense as Tarantino and Refn perhaps.) He also shows that you don't need to be a complete genius to understand a sci-fi film.

The main stars are pretty good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove that he's a viable actor. Bruce Willis continues to prove he's not the kind of guy you want to fight. (He's John McClane, people. Don't mess.) Emily Blunt is good, even though the chemistry between her and Gordon-Levitt is lacking. (There's also some amusing supporting work from Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano.)

Looper is very good, but it has its flaws. It stumbles towards the end of the second act. A few parts you can see coming a mile away. (Definitely not including that ending.) That said, however, it's one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade. This deserves to be seen on the big screen.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy Together

Many films depict a blossoming romance, a number of times they result in a happy ending. But what about those films about the fractured affairs, the ones on the verge of collapsing? Well, those are the ones Hollywood usually avoids. (They prefer "happy" movies.)

Films from other countries, however, do these kinds of films often. (Recently, England-born director Terence Davies depicted such an affair in The Deep Blue Sea.) Perhaps it's because filmmakers from non-US countries are more driven to tell a story than to make money. (Or that's just me.)

Wong Kar-Wai has depicted unreachable love in the forms of Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love and 2046. With Happy Together, he depicts the waning passion between a couple giving their relationship another go. They anticipate a rekindling, but all they get is a complete burnout.

Like Wong's other films, the vibrant use of color is present as is Christopher Doyle's gorgeous cinematography. Another noted aspect of Wong's films is the quiet subtly in the way the story is told. It's small details like that which keep me coming back for more from the director.

Happy Together, much like In the Mood for Love, displays a love that's present in the respective partners but they can't bring themselves to admit it. It's hypnotizing to see the anatomy of a relationship, especially since we don't see what started it in the first place. Who knows what forces brought these two people together?

My Rating: *****

Thursday, September 27, 2012

All That Jazz

When the name Bob Fosse is mentioned, Cabaret is usually the main film that springs to mind. Not many are perhaps aware of his non-musical films.

One such title is the semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz, which was also his penultimate film. Based on his experience from directing Chicago for the stage, the film shows the chaotic balance between work, pleasure and reality.

Fosse is in the form of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a chain-smoking, pill popping, skirt chasing director. Like Fosse, Gideon's lifestyle of booze, cigarettes, pills and women takes one hell of a toll on his health. Throw in the fact he's working on a troubled musical, and he's on the route to the emergency room.

The film is even more haunting in the knowledge that Fosse intended it to be his final film. (His final film, however, was Star 80, released four years after All That Jazz and another four years before Fosse's death.) He knew his vices were going to win that final battle sooner or later. Might as well (try) to end your career with a bang.

All That Jazz definitely ain't your grandmother's musical. Like Fosse's previous film Lenny (which is also a brilliant film), it's more of a portrait of a man who fought many personal battles and lost most of them. Scheider, in a performance very much far from his Jaws role, is fantastic as someone who just didn't know when or how to quit. Truly fantastic work.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Man Who Wasn't There

The neo-noir. It's a favorite genre of mine. (Hell, I just like crime films in general.) Anyone who can depict a good criminal case can get my interest.

Joel Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There is one film. However, it isn't just about a little felony like murder. It's more about the mundane life of small town suburbia. (Well, what else do you expect from the Coen brothers?)

It's interesting seeing our protagonist Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) doing something most experienced criminals treat as a skill: getting away with a crime. Here is someone with the plainest of jobs (a barber), and he is somehow able to get away with the most serious of crimes. But that's the Coen brothers' quirk for you.

The cast is quite good. Along with Thornton, the names include Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini and Scarlett Johansson. They're all great, but Thornton who reigns supreme among them.

The Man Who Wasn't There is quite good though it's probably not among the top three of the Coen brothers' films. (It's still entertaining though.) That cinematography by Roger Deakins is basically a film junkie's wet dream. (How the fuck does he not have an Oscar yet?) Still, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Fire Within

You know how sometimes you develop a desire to see a film after reading someone's glowing praises for it? Most of the time it's for a film not many have seen. (It's often for a foreign film too.)

Now Alex has perhaps the best taste in film among the many bloggers I've gotten acquainted with. Thanks to another one of his fantastic lists, he introduced me to a film he speaks highly of: Louis Malle's The Fire Within. Did I have the same feelings for it as Alex? Just read on.

The film chronicles a day in the life of Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet), a writer and recovering alcoholic. By this point, he's coming along well with his treatment, but outside life tempts him. The result is something worthy of a Bergman film.

Alain isn't proud of his past drunkenness. In one scene, someone tells an anecdote of a drunk's incident. Someone else points an accusatory finger at Alain, identifying the drunk in question. The camera cuts to Alain, his eyes now sunken into his head. That lone scene shows how much of his former vice has stayed with him.

 The Fire Within is just fascinating to watch. Rather than it being about an addict slipping deeper into their problem, it's about someone on the path to recovery that takes a wrong turn. Along with Ronet's performance and Malle's direction, there's some marvelous cinematography from Ghislain Cloquet. This is also one of the most neglected foreign films I've seen, so I encourage you all to check it out. You won't regret it.

My Rating: *****

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Long, Hot Summer

One of the best things about Hollywood movies from the 1950s is that some of them are brimming with enough raw sexuality to stun an elephant. The fact the stars of the era displayed such a feat didn't help to tone it down much.

Martin Ritt's The Long, Hot Summer is one such movie. The reason? It stars future Hollywood couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and you can just see the sparks flying between them. (The script by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. is to thank.)

This movie isn't just about the sparks between Newman and Woodward. It also chronicles simple life in a small Mississippi town. But it's more about the people of the town, not just the many goings on. (That's just Ritt trying to maintain the wholesome 1950s image.)

The rest of the cast is pretty good. Among the names are Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles, Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury. They're all quite good, but the MVPs of The Long, Hot Summer are Newman and Woodward. (Though I did like Franciosa a bit too.)

The Long, Hot Summer is typical Hollywood fare with the smoldering leading man and the fine supporting cast, but I don't mind. It's good entertainment. (Especially for one scene of Newman clad in boxers. Yum.) Just watch this, and you'll see why Newman and Woodward were married for fifty years.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Master

In the opening moments of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, it's made quite clear how much of a loner Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is. He doesn't really fit anywhere he goes, and it's obvious that all he wants is someone to understand him.

Enter Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader (or "Master" as his followers call him) of a faith-based organization. Freddie is intrigued by Dodd's wisdom and charisma. It isn't long before Freddie joins the organization.

Both men are on completely different spectrums. Freddie is a loose cannon, an animal as Dodd calls him. He suffers from random bursts of violent anger when threatened. Dodd, on the other hand, always keeps a positive disposition when in the presence of people. His friendly persona manages to mask the controlling person that he is.

Anderson always knows how to pick the right actors, whether it be an ensemble cast like Boogie Nights and Magnolia or a single actor-driven film like Punch-Drunk love and There Will Be Blood. The Master is no exception. Hoffman displays a sly confidence in a similar vein to Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry. Phoenix, graciously (and hopefully) back in the game, proves that he's still got it.

The Master is probably the most bizarre of Anderson's films but also the most perplexing. It raises questions about a person's control on others, many never answered. It may be confusing and/or frustrating to some, but The Master is strangely fascinating to watch. Well done, Mr. Anderson.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Match Point

A good film is one where the dialogue plays as much of a role as the actors in it. That is always a key thing to listen for.

Woody Allen is one of those fortunate filmmakers who knows how to write a damn good film. Many of his films are comedies, other times romances. Regardless of the film, you can always count on fantastic dialogue from Allen.

His film Match Point, when in comparison to Annie Hall or The Purple Rose of Cairo, feels out of place. Rather than being a light comedy with snappy dialogue, this is the kind of film Alfred Hitchcock would have made. Honestly, what Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Nola (Scarlett Johansson) say to each other during their first encounter is worthy of the sly innuendos Hitchcock was famous for.

Speaking of Hitchcock, Rhys-Meyers and Johansson are just the kind of people Sir Alfred would've cast. (A good omen since Johansson will be playing Hitchcock blonde Janet Leigh later this year.) He is charming but is also hiding secrets. She is beautiful and has a few tricks up her sleeve. These are the kind of people commonly found in a Hitchcock film.

In all honesty, I had to keep reminding myself that this is a Woody Allen film. It's just so much darker than his other work. That doesn't mean it's not a great film; it very much is. Hell, it's one of the best titles of the last ten years.

My Rating: *****

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Rebecca Miller's The Ballad of Jack and Rose is different from the many eclectic titles of 2005. Rather than being a film boasting of its importance, it's a much more quieter title.

The film stars Miller's husband Daniel Day-Lewis as Jack Slavin, which is one of his more underrated performances. It's hard to say why that is. Maybe it's because it's a different role from some of his more famous performances. (My theory is because this was made between Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood.)

However, the star of The Ballad of Jack and Rose is Camilla Belle. (She plays Rose.) The way she views the world she inhabits is mystifying. So does the way she interacts with the people around her. I hope to see more of her.

It may sound odd, but this particular film reminded me of Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both films revolve around a father, his daughter and the small world they've created for themselves. In fact, that would make for an interesting double feature.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose is actually a quite fascinating little film. Day-Lewis, as per usual, is great. The supporting cast is also very good. But this show belongs to Day-Lewis and Belle. Oh, and be sure to check this out.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Noises Off

If you think working on stage is easier than working on screen, think again. You have to remember many lines without getting a break. You only have one shot to get it right.

Just imagine how much of a headache Lloyd Fellowes (Michael Caine) had throughout Peter Bogdanovich's Noises Off. Even during the actual performance his actors can't keep their minds focused strictly on the play. The off-stage drama seep into the on-stage antics.

Think of any possible dilemma, and it's very likely those involved with the production of Nothing On (the play within the movie) went through with it. Affairs, drinking problems, stress from rehearsals...you name it, they through it. Oh, the theater life must be a glamorous one. (Not really.)

The cast Bogdanovich wrangled together is pretty good. Caine is quite good as is Carol Burnett. My favorites, however, were John Ritter and Christopher Reeve as two of the bumbling actors of Nothing On. Their comedic timing was priceless.

Noises Off as a whole is an all right movie. It got a little too screwball as it wore on, but the performances kept my interest throughout. Is it something I'd recommend? Sure, but mainly to those who want a laugh and only that.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Punch-Drunk Love

At times, the lead performer of a film is the last person you would expect to be in this kind of film or performance. But most of the time, it usually works out.

Take for instance Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love. Who's the leading man of this particular film? Adam Sandler. What? A comedian like him in a role like this? Hey, Anderson had Mark Wahlberg as a porn star five years prior, so I have faith in him.

Surprisingly, Sandler is quite adept with drama. Okay, maybe not as adept as some of the other actors Anderson had worked with, but he's still good. Forget the mindless comedies he did in the 1990s. He shows some real acting chops here. (Can someone give him a good script again please?)

The film itself is also quite good. It feels a little quirkier than any of Anderson's other films, but I suppose that was intended. I approve of the use of Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman. The unconventional love story element is a nice touch too.

Punch-Drunk Love is something I honestly wasn't expecting, meaning I really didn't know if I would like it or not. Thankfully I did. It probably ranks as my second favorite Anderson film, my favorite being Boogie Nights. Re-watches are eminent, I swear it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Identification of a Woman

Niccolo (Tomas Milian), the protagonist of Michelangelo Antonioni's Identification of a Woman, is similar to that of Guido from Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Both of their lives are at a standstill, both professionally and personally.

Guido has difficulty balancing his professional and personal lives. He has his film sorted out, but he just has no desire to make it. Throw in the fact his mind is almost never in the present or in reality, and it's clear to see why he's viewed as odd by some.

Now Niccolo is different. He is more focused on his personal life, especially since he's a recent divorcee. He's not only trying to get his life back on track, he's also trying to find inspiration for his next film. He's looking for it in the form of a woman's face.

Both men are similar in the sense that they need emotional (but mostly sexual) support from women. In fact, women play a key role in their lives. Guido had women leave an impact on him throughout his life; Niccolo just wants them for the sake of his work. The parallels between the two men could go and on, but I'll stop it here.

Back to the film itself. With this being my first glimpse into the inner workings of Antonioni's mind, I really had no idea what to look forward to. Was I satisfied? Sort of, but not on a grand scale. However, it did make me want to seek out other Antonioni films.

My Rating: ****

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bright Star

When it comes to relationships, communication is key. It's all about what to say and when to say it.

Communication is also the driving force for the romance between John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) in Jane Campion's Bright Star. (A stark contrast to the complete lack of communication in her earlier film The Piano.) Keats, of course, is one of the most famous poets in history, so a way with words is practically natural to him.

Prior to watching Bright Star, I was already fairly familiar with Keats' work. ("Ode to a Nightingale" is my personal favorite.) Thanks to the film, admirers of the poet can get a glimpse as to whom Keats was, and that was of a man devoted to the people he knew and loved.

The two stars of Bright Star are fantastic. Whishaw, whom I recently gotten acquainted with thanks to The Hour, displays a quiet sadness as Keats. Cornish does the same as Brawne but an air of curiosity and understanding as well. In short, two performances I'm sad to see not get any recognition, public or awards.

Bright Star is a very lovely film. Along with Whishaw and Cornish's performances and Campion's direction, the cinematography by Greig Fraser is gorgeous. (Fuck you, AMPAS, for both not nominating Bright Star and then proceed to give the award to Avatar.) I also love the many colorful dresses Cornish wears throughout the film. Oh, and the final scene is solid testimony as to why Bright Star is a film that should be seen by everyone.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Piano

Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), the protagonist of Jane Campion's The Piano, is a very compelling person to watch. She's a mute yet her expressions speak volumes. She's one of these people that has you wondering what makes her tick.

She doesn't express any negative feelings towards her arranged marriage to frontiersman Alistair Stewart (Sam Neill) nor towards the lack of affection within the relationship. (She does show a bit of resentment towards Alistair however.) Yet you wonder if there's even any hope for them.

Ada's daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) serves as a sort of translator for those around them. (It seems fitting since she can't shut up.) But even with this form of communication, the ties between Ada and Alistair only fray further. They simply don't know how to express themselves to each other.

Baines (Harvey Keitel) gives Ada the attention she never knew she wanted and Alistair the anger he never knew he had in him. Pay attention to the two scenes of intimacy between Baines and Ada. She is very reluctant at first, but she's very enthusiastic the second time. (It's also during the second encounter where Alistair realizes what his own wife is capable of.)

The Piano is a film where the many unfolding mysteries are not a bother but rather a blessing, especially to those who like that added detail. Hunter, Neill and Keitel are responsible for this very sordid tale, and they act it out wonderfully. And Campion has become a person of interest in my book.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I need a break.

If you've been reading my Twitter page, I've constantly talked about a screenplay I'm working on. But it's hard to balance a blog and write something as time consuming as a screenplay. Because of that, I'm taking a break from Defiant Success.

It won't be a long hiatus; I'll be back on the 16th. My time will be focused on that screenplay. (Nikhat will be ecstatic.)

Enjoy the rest of the blog.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Green Mile

Frank Darabont's The Green Mile shares many elements with his earlier work The Shawshank Redemption. Both focus on life within the prison system, both are based on works by Stephen King, and both are very interesting stories told.

But both films are quite different. The Shawshank Redemption is told from the prisoners' perspective; The Green Mile is told from the point of view of guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks). However they show they show how horrendous life behind bars can be.

I think that's what makes Darabont so interesting. He takes King's work and goes through with it. (I haven't seen The Mist yet, so I can't say with complete certainty.) Still, it's interesting to watch.

The cast is pretty impressive. Along with Hanks, the roster includes David Morse, Barry Pepper, James Cromwell, Sam Rockwell, Patricia Clarkson and Harry Dean Stanton. The MVP of The Green Mile is, without a doubt, Michael Clarke Duncan. He gives such a heartbreaking performance, especially in light of recent news.

The Green Mile is just a fantastic film. It's a lovely character study as well. That last half hour or so is completely heartbreaking, no doubt about it. Oh, and I doubt I'll be able to watch Top Hat now without wanting to bawl my eyes out. Just saying.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Remains of the Day

Anthony Hopkins is best known for his Oscar-winning role in The Silence of the Lambs. But before and after that film's release, he has done several prolific dramatic roles.

Here in James Ivory's The Remains of the Day, he delivers his best work as Stevens. In a performance that's very much a far cry from Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins displays a subtly with his emotions. He clearly has them; he just doesn't show them.

He buries his personal life by focusing on his work. It's that sort of quirk of his that manages to stir some curiosity in Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Yet Stevens keeps his true feelings very well hidden. This is an ability only the finest of actors possess. Hopkins is one such actor.

But The Remains of the Day isn't memorable solely for Hopkins and his brilliant performance. It's also notable for its mature and lovely depiction of a restrained love. Like In the Mood for Love several years later, this provides a heartbreaking portrait of a romance that could have been. Bravo, Mr. Ivory.

The Remains of the Day is just very lovely. Along with Hopkins, there is some great work from Thompson, Christopher Reeve and (surprise, surprise) Hugh Grant. Oh, and the cinematography by Tony Pierce-Roberts is gorgeous. Thank you, Mr. Ivory. I now have a new film to add to my list of favorites.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go is a peculiar little film. It's a romance film with science fiction elements (or the other way around), which also acts as a character study.

Carey Mulligan is someone I've been watching since I first saw her in An Education two years earlier. As Kathy, Mulligan only confirms that she is an actress to keep an eye on. She displays a quiet sorrow in her features, which speaks greater volumes than her dialogue. It's performances like this that I just love.

After seeing his staggering performance in Death of a Salesman on Broadway earlier this year, I just knew that Andrew Garfield has potential. He plays Tommy as a young man with a child's perspective of the outside world, unaware of what it holds for him. The way he stares and holds himself is both mesmerizing and devastating.

Keira Knightley isn't exactly someone I'm overly fond of, but she did manage to mildly impress me here. As Ruth, she can be in control one minute and quietly broken the next. But she's easily overshadowed by her two younger co-stars.

It's slow early on, but Never Let Me Go builds up to something quite good. The final twenty minutes are just completely heartbreaking, and Rachel Portman's score is just fuel for that emotional fire. Seriously.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Amazing Grace

Most films about events in history are sometimes as dull and lifeless as learning them in history class. Of course there are those that make history lessons pale in comparison.

Does Michael Apted's Amazing Grace fit into that category? Oh, absolutely. It's about a rather crucial moment in history, and seeing the many differing opinions is fascinating to watch. That, and it's remarkable material.

The star of Amazing Grace is Ioan Gruffudd, more familiar to audiences from Fantastic Four. Here, he is, well, fantastic. He walks the thin line harboring between devotion and madness. It's a very bold part to play, especially for a period piece.

The supporting cast is definitely an impressive roster. Some of the actors include Albert Finney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Gambon, Romola Garai and Rufus Sewell. They're all great and I don't dare to choose favorites. (It's always a good sign when the supporting cast is as great as the star.)

Amazing Grace is, well, amazing. Usually films about history (especially British history) would bore me to death. But Apted shows that if you get the right actors cast, then you've got a film pretty much anyone will watch. And that's what this film was to me.

My Rating: *****

Monday, September 3, 2012

Richard III

Richard Loncraine's adaptation of William Shakespeare's Richard III is just one of several filmed perspectives of the Bard's work I have seen. (Others include Laurence Olivier's vision of Hamlet and Akira Kurosawa's Ran, a retelling of King Lear with a Japanese twist.)

But regardless, I am still a novice to Shakespeare. (I have only read Romeo and Juliet.) It's not that I don't like his work; it's just the way he wrote is hard to follow at times. That's my only problem with this film. It's difficult to grasp in spots.

The star of Richard III is Ian McKellen, who just makes this role his own. It's a somewhat showy role, but McKellen knows when he's gotten to the peak of the role's flashiness. He ain't Gandalf here. (Also, he was robbed of an Oscar nomination, I kid you not.)

This version of Richard III isn't set in the time period of Shakespeare but rather in 1930s England, an era and place where the fissures of chaos were beginning to show. A fitting move since the play speaks of an internal war more explosive than the battle waging on in other countries. Oh, how I love parallels between fiction and reality.

I know that it isn't entirely faithful to Shakespeare's play, but this is a very fascinating watch regardless. Witnessing someone descending into greedy madness is straight up hypnotizing. And McKellen such an insanity to a T. Oh, and it also has the best use of the famous line "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, September 2, 2012

ParaNorman

It probably says a lot about me that I like animated movies with dark elements. (Then again, this is a result of having a twisted mind.) But this is just who I am.

I opted to see Sam Fell and Chris Butler's ParaNorman, which shares many elements with that of The Nightmare Before Christmas. (It's evident in some scenes that Tim Burton is an influence.) The thing is though is that ParaNorman is much darker than any of the animated movies Burton was involved with.

As with most Hollywood animated movies, the cast is pretty darn good. Of the people involved, my favorites were Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck in the often stereotyped roles of teenagers in a horror movie. I also have a fondness for Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the school bully. They just know what they're doing.

It's the small details that make everything come together. There's Jon Brion's very effective score which has a few echos to Danny Elfman. There's also the sly horror movies references that the older viewers will get. But I like how the town the movie is set in is clearly based on Salem, Massachusetts.

ParaNorman is really good. It's definitely not suitable for younger viewers, but it's perfect for the restless older kids. A few moments prevent it from being great, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, September 1, 2012

BOOK VS MOVIE: Sophie's Choice

If there's one thing that's always bound to become an awards darling, it's fiction pertaining to the Holocaust. It seems like a sick joke that the worst cruelty towards mankind is fodder for media portrayals.

One such example is Sophie's Choice. Set a few years after World War II's demise, it chronicles the days of a survivor of that dreaded German affair. Her memories prevent her from leading a normal life in New York City. Who knows what haunts her mind?

William Styron's novel is a fascinating read but it does wade into melodramatic territory, mostly from Sophie's persistence on staying with her explosive lover Nathan. Still, Styron manages to squeeze out a few lovely passages. (Even if they are a bit soppy in places.)

Alan J. Pakula's film displays both the triumphs and failures of Styron's novel. Indeed Meryl Streep as Sophie is fantastic, but it's Kevin Kline who excels in his role as Nathan. He just embodied the role Styron originally wrote perfectly. (How did he not get any awards for his work?)

Both have obvious flaws, but both have their certain charms. The novel is more poetic whereas the film is easier to grasp. But being the type of woman not easily won over by melodrama, I wasn't too enthralled by either. God, now I have to make a choice. (Too much?)

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the movie.