July 30, 2011

Movie Review: Once (2006)

I fell in love with this movie last week. Once is a celebration of music, but it's also a celebration of friendship and love and the many forms it takes. A person can come into your life for just a short time and have a lasting impact. You might only meet them once, but sometimes that's all it takes.

Our story happens on the streets of Dublin. He (Glen Hansard) is a vaccuum repairman, who works in his father's shop. In his spare time, he writes music and performs it on the streets for spare change. She (Marketa Irglova) is an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who sells roses on the street. One evening, she hears him performing a song. No one else is listening. She loves his music, but lo and behold, she also has a vacuum to repair.

The plot is sparse, simple, and the perfect platform for some terrific songs. The two meet, walk the streets together, and she ends up showing him the piano she plays on. Next thing you know, they are singing one of his original songs together. As they make music, they fall in love with the connection they share. Both of them are lonely people. He has an estranged ex, and she has an estranged husband. Music is the language they speak to one another. With music, they share their hopes and dreams and flaws with one another. Through this innocent connection, they feel less lonely.

July 05, 2011

Book Review: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry Gives Hunger Games Fans Something New to Read

I have been a young adult librarian since 2006. I have witnessed book after book coming into the library. Let me tell you--there doesn't seem to be anything original coming in anymore. Now, teens and the adults who read teen books can breathe easy. In Rot and Ruin, Jonathan Maberry has created a novel that takes one of the latest crazes--zombies--and creates a new world that dystopian readers will delve into.
It seems odd to use zombies to teach lessons about humanity. It's the future, and zombies have taken over the world. Some virus has set in, and now it's only a matter of time before every human eventually becomes a zombie. If you get infected by a zombie, you're toast, and even if you die a natural death, you re-animate as a zombie. The only way to avoid being a zombie is for someone to drive a large stake into the back of their head.

Our protagonist is Benny Imura, a teenager who is your typical surly teen. Orphaned when his parents both became zoms, he now lives with his brother Tom. He despises Tom, because he believes Tom abandoned his parents when they needed him the most. But right now, Benny's biggest problem is finding a job. Everyone is required to work. He is willing to do anything but work with Tom. Tom is a zombie hunter, which should impress Benny, since he seems to be in awe of the other zombie hunters in town. But it's hard to look up to someone who you believe is a coward. Finding a job proves more difficult than Benny realizes. Inevitably, he ends up working with Tom, and he learns that everything he originally believed was a lie.

May 26, 2011

Movie Review: Blue Valentine (2010): Lessons from the Film

Blue Valentine takes two common movies and merges them into one film. We have all seen both of these prototypes. On the one hand, we have the love story. Two people meet and fall in love. Yes, they share an initial attraction, but it isn't until a series of events and shared understandings occur that their lives become intrinsically linked into one. On the other hand, we have a movie about the dissolution of a marriage and about two people who can't stand to be in the same room anymore. They argue, manipulate, scream, threaten, and berate. This isn't a relationship; it's a power struggle. What makes this story unique is that director Derek Cianfrance shows us the same couple doing these things simultaneously. While we are falling in love with this couple, we are also cringing and wishing they would separate indefinitely.

Blue Valentine is the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). We watch them meet, lay eyes on each other, lose each other, find each other again, fall in love, and get married. This story is intercut with the story of Dean and Cindy about a decade later. At this point, Dean and Cindy are married and are still together. They have a daughter, Frankie, and a dog. But things are not so good. Dean likes to drink, go to work, and come home to his family. He has no other aspirations than to be a good husband and father. This wasn't the life he chose (we find out later), but he has fallen in love with it and is content. Cindy, on the other hand, feels trapped in this life. She is a nurse right now, but in the past she dreamed of being a doctor. She wants more.

When we watch Dean and Cindy in the present day, the scenes are filled with tension. Both of them are unhappy. Dean is mostly unhappy because Cindy is unhappy with him, and she's stopped sleeping with him. But, still unhappiness shines brightly in this film. This movie hurts to watch. It's no fun watching a couple fight and argue all the time. We can't understand how they got together, but the director then answers this question by showing us how Dean and Cindy fell in love. Why they needed each other. How maybe they still do.

April 14, 2011

Movie Review: Bubble (2006): Murder in a Factory Town

Factory towns are the perfect location for a murder. Nothing ever happens. In a non-descript Midwestern town, people get up early, go to work, maybe go to a 2nd job, and then go home to sleep. The next day, they start over again. Like a hamster on a wheel, one could feel trapped. In this setting, all it would take is one moment where a seed of resentment ignites the resigned into acting on temporary passionate insanity.

A factory town in Anywhere, Ohio is the setting of our story in Bubble. The story is upfront and intimate. The actor's performances raw and unadorned.

Martha and Kyle work together at the doll factory. Martha picks up Kyle to drive him to work each day. They stop at the doughnut shop before work and eat lunch together at break. It is pretty clear that Martha has a crush on Kyle, even though she is much older than he is. Martha is a frumpy looking woman with red hair who takes care of her father, who is getting older. Her life seems pretty miserable. She doesn't have any romantic prospects or hope of escaping this life. She will probably live here until she dies.

 Kyle is a painfully shy guy. He lives with his mother in a double-wide trailer. He also doesn't show much hope for ever having more in life. He works two full-time jobs and comes home to smoke in his bedroom after work before starting another boring day.

Martha's attachment to Kyle isn't so much about him, but what he represents. She tells him, "I need a picture of you. You're my best friend." Into this boring but stable story enters a third party named Rose.

April 07, 2011

Movie Review: Angel-A: It's a Wonderful Life with Estrogen?

Angel-a gives movie viewers a chance to experience how Frank Capra's holiday film, It's a Wonderful Life, might have looked if pudgy angel Clarence was substituted by a tall leggy blonde female.

Unlike George Bailey, our main character Andre is not a good guy who has helped lots of people. Andre is a swindler. He lies about his heritage depending on who he is talking to. He borrows money and then loses it by gambling. Every time the bill collectors come by to collect, he has grand story of why he can't pay at the moment, but will soon. His only saving grace seems to be that he is somewhat charming and people enjoy hearing his excuses.

One evening, it seems his luck has run out and he is told to pay or be killed. He decides to end his life by jumping off a bridge. But just as he prepares to jump, he looks over and sees a gorgeous woman preparing to jump, also. She's over six feet tall with platinum blonde hair, long legs, and the perfect figure. Andre decides to save the goddess and can't understand why someone like her would want to kill herself. The woman's name is Angela. 

March 03, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech (2010)

I don't know what I was picturing from the film The King's Speech (2010). I knew it was about British royalty and someone with a stammer. For whatever reason, I pictured a stodgy film about people dressed up in period costume walking around in gloomy British rainy weather. I think it was because of reading a review, which mentioned the main character was King George VI. Whenever I picture kingly-type people, I picture people dressed in tights and a furry cape, looking surly and uncomfortable.

 Blessedly, The King's Speech was about a king who lived in 1939 and didn't wear tights or a cape. King George VI (Colin Firth) seems so normal. He's a blustery, humble man with a temper, which is especially triggered by a long line of speech therapists who are hired to "cure him" of his stammer. Good ol' 'enry 'iggins tried to make Eliza Doolittle speak better by making her talk with marbles in her mouth, and apparently this was a popular technique used by speech therapists round the world. Maybe the reason this king seems so likable is that he never wanted to be king. Before he was King, he was Prince Albert, Duke of York. He only became King because his brother gave up his title to marry an "unsuitable."

February 04, 2011

Understanding Movies, Part 3 by Raphael Shargel

In Part 3 of Understanding Movies, we move from silent pictures to full-sound pictures and learn how storytelling changed as demonstrated with the movie Stagecoach.

In the 1920s, we are ready to move into the world of talking pictures.  But, when movies first integrated sound into their soundtracks, it wasn't originally to hear spoken dialogue.  Movies with sound first featured sounds of the musical score.  Silent films were always accompanied by music, either a full orchestra or even one musician for a small theater.  Eventually, they eliminated the live music in favor of a movie soundtrack.  During the time when the movie soundtrack first came to be, the method of using pantomime and over-exaggerated facial expressions was still totally acceptable.  After watching several of the silent films, I must say that I respect the genre a lot more now.