In the Name of the Father (1993)

inthenameofthe1We are met with a deluge of drums, explosions, and the unmistakable voice of Bono murmuring over the credits. The year is 1974 in Guilford England, the Irish Republic Army is as belligerent as ever, and right from the beginning director Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father grabs hold of our attention.

But we actually become introduced to our story by backtracking. We meet our main hero and championing Gerry Conlon as a punk kid stuck in the thick of the IRA’s madness. His father, fearing for his son’s well-being after a close call, sends his boy off on a slow boat to England away from trouble, or so he thinks.

In England, Gerry and his bud Paul call on an old friend from back home and they soon become enamored by the world of free love, drugs, and communal living. Their soundtrack is the tunes of Dylan, the Kinks, and Hendrix. It’s a good gig sans bombs going off down the street.

inthenameofthe33But what follows is something out of some perverse nightmare. Upon a return trip back to Belfast Gerry finds his home raided and he ends up in the interrogation block being grilled by a group of less than sympathetic police attacking him with a barrage of insults and threats. This doesn’t just seem like an Irish-English problem. There’s so much hatred present and Conlon and three of his buddies get roped into signing confessions under duress.

It’s at this juncture that the film develops into a full-blown courtroom drama, but the nightmare is hardly over. Not only Gerry but his friends as well as his father, are all sent off to prison. Pleading innocence does no good. Being innocent is no good.

By the time he’s in prison, Gerry is all but fed up with the world. He’s hardened because as he sees it nothing in life is fair and so he will grin and bear it. He looks almost derisively at his father, a man still living as he always has, completely opposed to any rebellious or militant action. They have their share of familial conflict, but as Mr. Conlon becomes ill things begin to change, specifically in Gerry.

He resolves to take up the cause once again if only for the sake of his father, and an audacious solicitor thinks she might just be the one to do it for him. So he ends up in court once more for another round, but this time, proceedings are invariably different. Still, utterly chaotic but a lot has changed for the better in 15 years.

Regrettably, this is a rather disjointed narrative that feels more like shoddy storytelling than a complex plotting device. The most glaring example involves Emma Thompson who is shown multiple times in the first half of the film but does not actually become deeply involved in the storyline until well after an hour in. After a promising beginning, the film does seem to succumb to a bit of melodrama as well that gets remedied by a happy ending.

inthenameofthe3However, as he has the habit of doing Daniel Day-Lewis falls so seamlessly into his role as the Irish lad from Belfast who was wrongly accused. His Irish brogue is second-nature and he jumps between rebelliousness and fear with tremendous skill due to the emotional range demanded by the role.

Just like Conlon’s own struggles, this film is a long hard grind. It’s not always pleasant, not always gripping, but it does have staying power. In the end, the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite are worthy of our attention alone. The truth of the matter is that they are a truly dysfunctional father and son combination, but that makes them a gold mine for emotional depth. Their relationship becomes the major point of contention as they grapple with topics of justice and compassion.

4/5 Stars

Three Colors: White (1994)

threecolorswhite1The Three Colors Trilogy is made up of the three colors of the French flag. Thus, the second installment, between Blue and Red is of course White. It is considered by some to be the weakest of the three films, but that is rather unfair because it is still wonderful in its own right.

The other films are pensive, thoughtful pieces of drama, but White is actually quite funny in a dismal sort of way. You see, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is a Polish hairdresser, who is going through divorce proceedings because his beautiful French wife says she doesn’t love him anymore. He has to sit through the court hearing being delivered in a foreign tongue, and he has to go through public embarrassment in front of everyone. It’s a humiliating situation and the worst of it is that he still loves Dominique (Julie Delpy). He loses all his money, his credit is invalidated, and she takes about everything else. At least Karol has his giant suitcase, but that’s about it.

threecolorswhite2That’s where a fellow named Pole Mikolaj finds him slumped up against a wall in the subway station. He’s pitiful, but they strike up a conversation in their native language, and he agrees to help Karol stowaway to get back to Poland. There’s nothing left for him in France after all, so he hides in his suitcase and his new friend takes it through customs. It’s utterly ridiculous, but they play it straight. Then picture this. You’re stowing away inside a suitcase and then some thieves steal it to get the payoff inside. Imagine their surprise when they find not valuables, but a human being. And the jokes on them because that human has absolutely nothing to steal. All that’s left to do is give him a firm kick in the rear and leave him for dead. If it wasn’t so depressing, this would be absolutely hilarious, and it still is pretty funny.

Next Karol tries to make some quick money, because hairdressing may be in demand, but it’s not a great moneymaking proposition. He ends up being hired as a bodyguard, and he’s a very awkward sort to be packing a firearm. His next scheme is to double-cross his boss by buying up plots of land before his bosses can. They looked to sell if for profit to big corporations, but Karol beats them and they cannot touch him. They’ve no way to get the money from him, and all of the sudden, it seems like he’s doing very well.

threecolorswhite3The time has come for one last vengeful trick and the joke’s on Dominque this time. He still loves her, but Karol enlists the help of Mikolaj and a few others, to help him get back at his wife. It works better than he was expecting, in fact, maybe too well. Dominque still has feelings for him, but now he may never be able to see her again.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films usually have a sensuous and mysterious woman in the lead, whether it’s Irene Jacob or Juliette Binoche. Julie Delpy is a similar type of beauty, and yet she is less the focal point compared to Karol Karol. In a sense, you give up some of that enigmatic aura of the aloof goddess, but Karol is an extremely funny character, even visually. Thus, White is not quite like Blue or Red, but they are interconnected and it’s still thoroughly worthwhile. Different is often a strength, not a weakness, and in this case, it is a good thing.

4/5 Stars

Notting Hill (1999)

NottingHillRobertsGrantThere is a scene in the film where a group of friends is sitting around the dinner table in the Notting Hill district of London, and they are having a friendly after dinner competition to decide whose life is the most hopeless. The winner gets the last delectable piece of fudge. One person sitting at the table is seemingly out of place. Actress Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). Her face is plastered on double-decker buses all down the squares. She made $ 15 million on her last film, circa 1999. You would think she’s got it made. But this woman takes her turn and shares about her own brokenness. She’s had surgeries to maintain her beauty. The tabloids rake her life over the coals, and when she gets old, she will only be remembered as the shell of someone who used to be famous.

It’s a haunting, honest look at what it means to be a celebrity superstar, and it is for this reason that Notting Hill works as a charming, at times witty, and altogether unlikely romantic comedy. It’s this simple suggestion that two people, from two entirely different spheres of life, can be together, because of the simple urge of every human for companionship, closeness, and someone to know they exist.

The two individuals, in this case, are Anna who I’ve already mentioned and Will Thacker (Hugh Grant). He’s a nobody just like you and me. He owns a corner travel bookstore, very cleverly named The Travel Book Co. He’s gotten his heart broken seriously twice and his roommate is the oddest crackpot you could ever have the misfortune of living with. That is his average, everyday life, in the neighborhood of Notting Hall.

That’s what makes a visit by an inconspicuous Anna Scott to his bookstore all the more extraordinary, while still allowing for the suspension of disbelief. Everything follows sequentially as it should. He runs into her with a cup of coffee and offers his flat as a place to freshen up. The first kiss comes quite by accident. Days later he winds up in a press conference once again face to face with this great star. But she surprises him by being his date to a small dinner for his sister’s birthday. A nighttime jaunt is accented with all the romance you could ever expect.

It’s too perfect and what follows are two obligatory strikes in their fantasy relationship. Will learns about Anna’s big shot boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) who is back in town. He’s caught off guard by it. Months go by as he tries to forget her, but she shows up on his doorstep looking for that person to talk to once more. When the tabloids show up, she is peeved, directing all her anger at Will, perhaps a little unfairly. And that looks to be the end of it all.

Months roll on again like pages in a travel log and here Anna is again in his shop, like the first time they met.  There’s an earnestness in her request to rekindle a relationship that makes us ache for Roberts. Like any frightened, often wounded, ordinary man, Will turns her down. It’s the logical decision. After all, he doesn’t want to get hurt again. Strike three. Except… his friends rally with him to catch her before it’s too late, because what’s the fun of rationality?

They go racing like a daft crew from Top Gear, “Gimme Some Lovin'” thumping in rhythm with Will’s beating heart. He gets to the Savoy Hotel just in time for her final press conference. A la Roman Holiday he professes his love incognito, and they wind up with it all. Red carpets, quiet afternoons in the park, and most importantly each other.

Notting Hall had me hooked simply with its images of England, a place that is near and dear to my own heart. It’s also a wonderful backdrop for romance, and this story from Richard Curtis finds it’s perfect duo in Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. He is handsome certainly, but that is overshadowed by his decent, every man quality which attracts Anna to him. He’s the man who willingly defends her honor in a restaurant, not because it’s easy, but it’s simply the right thing to do. Meanwhile, Roberts perhaps is playing a version of herself, as an actress, but she gives the character the necessary insecurities, eliciting more sympathy than I would have thought possible for someone coming out of Hollywood. Yes, Notting Hall might be a few minutes too long, but getting to walk down Portobello Road just might be worth it.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

silenceof1The Silence Lamb is a horror film at times, a thriller at others, and most definitely a character study in its entirety. It features two wonderfully different figures in budding young FBI agent-to-be Clarice Starling and incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter played so impeccably by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins respectively.

It begins as a hunt for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who for some reason kidnaps his victims, kills them, and skins them like some kind of perverse trophy. This in itself makes for an interesting albeit grisly storyline. The race is on to find this man before he murders his latest victim who happens to be the daughter of a prominent senator. Thus, there is an immediate need to get inside his head and figure out what the next logical steps should be. That’s when Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Behavioral Science Unit calls on Starling to help him out.

The narrative of Silence of the Lambs is twofold because this larger manhunt becomes the backdrop for an arguably far more interesting development. The initial meeting and budding relationship, if we can call it that, between agent Starling and cannibalistic psychopath Dr. Lecter is deliciously intriguing. He just might be the key to unlock this case, but it’s not without peril.

silenceof2As the saying goes, “Quid pro quo.” Lecter is rather intrigued by Starling, so different and far franker than any of the other people who get thrown his direction. So he agrees to help her only asking in return that she open up about herself. It seems like a dangerous proposition with Lecter constantly playing mind games. He’s skilled at probing, dissecting, teasing, and prodding. But Starling willingly goes through his questioning to get help with the case. After all, who better to catch a serial killer than another serial killer?

They touch on the death of Starling’s father, a town Marshall, and her horror in seeing the slaughter of newborn lambs. In return, he tells her that all the information she needs is in the case files. But antagonistic Dr. Chilton is more a hindrance than a help to Starling’s case, and she must figure out the rest on her own.

Going through the files she finally makes some headway in her search for Buffalo Bill, but an FBI tactical unit already has sights on his location. Then there’s a surprising about-face in the case, not to mention that Lecter escapes his cell, kills his guards and is on the lam. Starling is not in danger from him, but he is looking to have an old friend for dinner instead.

Ultimately the plucky young agent comes through big in her case and in the academy. The film ends on a high note for her, but with it comes a titillating call from Dr. Lecter. He pays his respects for her recent graduation then goes off after his newest victim. Such a conscientious killer to offer up his congratulations like that.

How does one go about playing a man so evil and yet intricately interesting on so many levels? Hopkins said himself that he copied a friend who never blinked because it always makes people on edge. He likened his voice to an amalgamation of Katharine Hepburn and Truman Capote if that even makes sense. Finally, he saw parallels to another famed movie villain, the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Both so intelligent, so unfeeling and ultimately so deadly. What might put Lecter a trifle above HAL are his chilling unflinching facial expressions that are sure to send shivers down the spine of any normal person. A face like that just doesn’t leave you.

4.5/5 Stars

That Thing You Do! (1996)

thatthing6Recently I’ve seen a lot of films about music, musicians, and the like. There’s Llewyn Davis, who seems to have talent and yet gets little recognition for what he does. There’s the street musician in Once, who also has a lot of talent and we like to think that he makes the big-time, although the film leaves his fate open-ended. One is steeped in melancholy and the other has a raw beauty. Tom Hanks directorial and screenwriting debut That Thing You Do! seems to have very little in common with those films except in that features music. But that deserves some explanation.

Hanks’ film is a nostalgic trip for anyone wanting to get sent back to the 1960s via the 1990s. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable little romp that revolves around a group of typical teens in Pennsylvania, who go from a small-time talent show to one-hit wonders touring the state. But that’s exactly it. They’re one-hit wonders, who lack the talent of older more experienced musicians. In reality, they’re just a group of kids, still wet behind the ears, and just excited for the ride they are about to embark on. Even over the course of the film, their one smash hit, the eponymous “That Thing You Do!” can feel repetitive, and it is easy to realize that this is not the type of music that real connoisseurs want. It’s for the masses. The shrieking girls and the guys who want to dance with the shrieking girls. It’s certainly superficial, and yet there’s something quaint and at the same time infectious about it.

thatthing2We can readily get behind this little band christened The Oneders and modified to The Wonders for easier pronunciation because they’re a lovable bunch. Their members include appliance seller-turned flashy drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott), lead singer and serious-minded Jimmy (Jonathon Schaech), the jokester Lenny (Steve Zahn), the “other guy,” and, of course, the ever-present Faye (Liv Tyler).

In many ways, they shadow The Beatles. They ditched one drummer for a better one. They both lost their first bass player. Their first hit took a ballad and sped it up to great effect. The little similarities are undoubtedly put there by Hanks, but with all the similarities it only serves to point how different these boys are. They’re not going to end up music royalty like the lads from Liverpool. And that’s okay.

thatthing3We can get satisfaction out of their first airplay on the radio or the genesis of a romance that we were always expecting. In a way, this film is like a lesser American Graffiti even going so far as giving its characters an epilogue. It takes us back to that time and place, makes us feel good, and gets a few of us nostalgic for the olden days. Although, the old televisions and dishwashers don’t exactly look like fun now.

But let’s get back to that romance. The film Starter for 10 had a similar enigma when it came to the blond or the brunette. I suppose you could call it a trope, but on one side you have the primped and provocative Charlize Theron and on the opposite side of the spectrum is Liv Tyler, who acts as the honorary fifth member of the Wonders. She is constantly faithful and encouraging in the boys rise to the top, and they are better because of her. That’s the kind of girl you’re supposed to get and the right guy gets her.

3.5/5 Stars

Note: I watched the version of the film with 39 minutes of added footage and what it really did was develop these characters a little further so you grow to appreciate them even more. Otherwise, I’m sure the original cut gives you the same narrative so either version is probably fine.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The_sixth_senseAll I knew going into The Sixth Sense was that it featured Bruce Willis and there was a twist at the end. That was about it. Thus, it was an interesting opening to have our main character already be shot within the first few minutes. But it’s not much of a spoiler per se because we quickly flash-forward to a year later.

That first case came back to haunt him in the form of a very distraught patient, with a major grudge, however, Dr. Malcolm Crowe has seemingly gotten past it and continued with his life. It doesn’t mean that his marriage is not still difficult and his work still taxing, but he gets by. Finally, he gets a case that might help him resolve his previous failures, at least that’s how he sees it. Of course, the intelligent, but aloof boy Cole Seer (Haley Joel Osment) sees the world in a whole different way. He literally sees dead people, but let’s take a step back for a moment. He has trouble connecting with his loving but nevertheless troubled mother (Toni Colette) and Dr. Crowe seems like his only friend. None of the kids at school like him, because they think he’s a creep.

What Crowe does is help him work through everything that it is unique about Cole and also help him see that there may be some purpose behind these ghosts that he can see. They want him to do things for him so maybe this is Cole’s chance to help them. And so he begins the process and despite it being terrifying and disconcerting at times, he is able to lay to rest these specters. Finally giving them peace and in the wake of a traffic accident that results in a death, Cole finally opens up to his mother. She has trouble believing him at first, but she never discounts her son, which leads to a tearful scene between mother and son.

M. Night Shyamalan is obviously well-known for his great interest in supernatural stories with twist and turns, but to his credit, he firmly plants his films in a reality, like Philadelphia, that we can grasp onto. That’s our base and he can go from there with psychological thrills and even a touch of horror. However, his film actually has characters that are far from throwaway, even if we just look at Malcolm, Cole, and his mother. They are individuals that we can grow to care for over the course of the movie even with the supernatural plot devices and of course, the final surprise ending.

Honestly, I had an unfair advantage knowing that something was coming, so I caught onto some of the peculiarities leading to the final disclosure, but I was still relatively surprised when it came. Despite the rather contrived plot and purposefully cryptic opening, followed by a long wait, the final payoff of The Sixth Sense is certainly worth it.

4/5 Stars

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy_Quest_posterGalaxy Quest might be a kitsch homage to all things Star Trek and Star Wars, but that’s the secret to its unequivocal success. It stands on the laurels of its campy fun which it wears as a banner like all the Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics it looks to pay tribute to.

The film opens in the days before international comic cons and crisscrossing social media connections when nerd culture was still highly prevalent, but perhaps not as refined, and dare we say trendy, as it is today. People dress up in costumes, dote over their heroes, and let the fantasy worlds flood into their lives. It’s like they forget those worlds aren’t real. Or are they?

The crew of the NSEA Protector has been off the air for well nigh 18 years, but they attend a Galaxy Quest convention in order to milk the franchise for all its worth. By now most parties involved are fed up with these shallow, superficial roles they were forced to dawn all those years ago.

Daryl Mitchell was the boy genius Lt. Laredo piloting the ship and has by now outgrown his part, only being remembered as the precocious kid he used to be. Alan Rickman is the intelligent Klingon-like Dr. Lazarus, and yet by this point in his career, he hardly deigns to play such a tacky part. He would be much more lauded on the Shakespearian stage, and he’s long been tired of his role as the only alien member of the crew. Tony Shalhoub is the crew’s even keel tech the very un-Asian Sgt. Chen. Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is the dumb blonde whose only job is relaying information from the computer to her commander, while in real life she’s assertive and miffed by Jason Nesmith’s cavalier attitude. She’s not the only one. And as the nucleus of it all is our Captain Kirk, our William Shatner, a pompous, showboating celebrity who doesn’t know when it’s time to hang up the towel, Jason Nesmith aka Peter Quincy Taggart.

The behind the scenes turmoil that they are going through is necessary and for these characters to find themselves they must go on a hero’s journey. They must actually go on a real galaxy quest and in the ensuing adventures they cease being actors donning roles begrudgingly, but they actually begin to believe in the parts they are playing. They grow closer to the people they portrayed on screen and as a result grow closer together as a real-life television crew.

The peaceful Thermian people represent all those alien species in the vast galaxies who have ever needed a savior. The crew of the Protector, although caricatures, represent all the heroic ensembles that have ever graced the silver screen. They’re petty, insecure, and unskilled, but they still manage to succeed and we’re cheering for them all the time with dopey grins plastered on our faces. Even Sam Rockwell, a young, insecure extra who doesn’t want to die at the end of the episode gets his chance, and as an audience, we wholly relate with the audacious nerd Justin Long who is able to help his heroes on their greatest mission yet.

Is this a tacky, sentimental, melodramatic space opera? Most certainly yes, and yet we would not want it any other way. What it goes out to do, it does very well and that is better than plenty of other parody films floating around out there.

“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!”

R.I.P. Alan Rickman, you will be dearly missed.

3.5/5 Stars

Fargo (1996)

fargo1The Coen Brothers have always been an interesting case for me. I admit that there are still a lot of their films that I wish and need to see. Films like True Grit and Fargo I find thoroughly enjoyable or at least passable, but they do not completely resonate with me. However, I certainly respect them as writers, directors, and auteurs, because they know the lineage of film as a medium and they have their own unique way of approaching movies. It’s often clever, unique, and carries a wickedly funny tone no matter their subject matter.

Fargo is arguably their greatest work, following a kidnapping and murder investigation that involves Fargo, North Dakota and Minneapolis. William H. Macy is your standard Midwestern dupe Jerry Lundegaard, who makes an honest living selling cars. However, there’s another area of his life that’s not so honest. He’s in desperate need of money; we don’t know the reason, but he has resolved to hire two men to kidnap his wife. It doesn’t make much sense to the audience or the easily agitated crony Carl (Steve Buscemi). However, Jerry has a rich father in law with the necessary funds to bail out his daughter. And so it goes.

Except after the deed is done Carl and his taciturn accomplice Gaear get stopped by a highway patrolman and things are downhill from there. Murder, and blood, and more murder, all on a snowy Minneapolis evening.

The next morning pregnant cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) leaves her hubby and heads to the scene of the crime where she quickly pieces together the turn of the events. The search is on for the vehicle, and she questions a couple of prostitutes who aren’t much help except pointing out one of the men was “funny looking.”

Meanwhile, everything is falling apart on Jerry’s end with his father in law and he even gets paid a visit by Gunderson. When the drop finally does take place, Carl is livid when he is met by Wade instead of Jerry. He’s not messing around and neither is Jerry. Crime scene number 2 is set up. Carl finds a snowy locale to bury the payoff and heads back to the cabin, but he’s about had it with Gaear and the feelings are mutual.

Meanwhile, after a disturbing meeting with an old high school classmate Mike Yanagita (a rather troubling performance by Steve Park), Marge decides to question Jerry once again, and this time she gets somewhere. The reunion with Mike sets something off in her head.  Another tip eventually leads her to Gaear and his friendly neighborhood wood chipper. Being the pro-cop that she is, Marge subdues the culprit and gets an ABP out on Jerry which leads to his arrest. After a successful day at the office, it’s back to fast food and tv in bed with her loving husband Norm.

Fargo, to its credit, exudes a Midwestern charm thanks to all its colloquial “You betchas, darn tootin’s, heyas”, and so on. Perhaps most effectively it mixes the mundane and the violently shockingly in one pot of inspiration. The two-pronged story following two very different worlds somehow meets in the middle amidst all the improbability. The Coens start the film off labeling it as “based on a true story” and that opening statement had many people tricked. I myself was taken in the first time I saw it because however outrageous the following events are we trust the words of the filmmakers guiding us. And in the characters of Marge, Jerry, and most everyone else there is a charm or normalcy that feels so familiar. Thus, the Coens could get away with such outrageous plotting, because it so often felt grounded in truth.

4/5 Stars

Man in the Moon (1991)

maninthe1Robert Mulligan is an unassuming film director. Man in the Moon would be his last film in a career that was not so much illustrious as it was respectable. In truth, I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing one of his other films — his crowning achievement To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are in fact some similar threads running through these two films, starting with the Deep South nostalgia and close analysis of adolescence. Both these films take the point of view of a young girl. Their narratives hope to shed at least a little bit of light on that intricate stage of life. This time a 14-year-old Reese Witherspoon is our lead, playing the Elvis-loving, gum-chewing, spunky dynamo named Dani. She and Scout share a lot in common because as young people there’s an inherent tendency to mope, question, and disregard. They have not quite grabbed a hold of the mature world of their parents. After all, they still have a great deal to experience. That’s what makes these film arcs necessary.

Man in the Moon starts with Dani, but there’s a whole family unit around her. A father (Sam Waterson) who is a decent, down-to-earth-man, and he would rather commune with nature in his fishing boat than go to typical church. A mother (Tess Harper) who loves her husband and daughters dearly, knowing when to trade tough love for hugs. Maureen (Emily Warfield) is Dani’s oldest sister and her idol, along with the object of every local boy’s desire. She’s beautiful and yet what’s more extraordinary is her good-nature. She doesn’t deserve the creepy father and son duo eyeing her in the local town.

maninthe2Arguably, the next most important character in Dani’s story is Court (Jason London). They have your typical terse meet-cute that signifies only one thing. They must fall in love. It turns out he’s the eldest son of an old friend of Mrs. Trant. Soon things change for young Dani because she’s never known someone like Court, much less liked a boy.

Their relationship is one of those complicated entanglements. He’s a few years older and is the man of the house. He has to grow up quickly and views Dani as a child. But their friendship blossoms with frolicking afternoon swims. Dani is ready for something more. She thinks she’s in love. Now if Court was one of the other boys, he could easily take advantage of the situation — this fawning girl who is madly in love with him. But he’s not like that. Dani can’t quite get that through her head. It just doesn’t make sense. They enter friend territory and Dani’s heart is still aflutter, but she’s happy again.

maninthe3The second half of the film enters melodramatic territory that first hits the Trant’s with familial turmoil, and then Court. Dani for the first time in her life is faced with the full brunt of tribulation. What makes matter worse is her feelings are all mixed up. She loves her sister. She hates her sister. She cannot bear to see Court. She cannot bear the suffering. It’s in these moments that uncomfortable feeling well up in the pit of your stomach.

Man in the Moon like many of the great coming-of-age movies is really about adolescents coming out of their innocence and being inundated with the often frightening realities of life. It reminds even the youngest of us that more often than not life is unmerciful. It’s how we pick ourselves up out of that fatality that matters. It’s hard but that pain is often how we grow and mature — learning how to cope with the way things are. That’s what makes the people around us so integral to existence. They can be our lifeline that keeps us afloat. Thus, Dani’s friendship with Court matters so much. That’s why Dani’s relationship with Marie matters too.

Perhaps the drama is laid on rather thick, but nevertheless, it’s difficult not to get behind this film. Reese Witherspoon’s perkiness is wonderfully disarming, and Jason London plays a decent young man. These are characters I want to watch and emulate. Not quite Scout and Atticus, but they are still definitely worth the time.

4/5 Stars

You’ve got a right to grieve, Dani. You got a right to be hurt. But if you get so wrapped up in your own pain that you can’t see anyone else’s, then you might just as well dig yourself a hole and pull the dirt in on top of you, because you’re never going to be much use to yourself or anyone else. ~ Mr. Trant 

Note: This review previously said Marie (Gail Strickland) instead of Maureen (Emily Warfield)

The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

thedoublelife4Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique fills an ethereal world full of dancing light, soft hues, and faint reflections. It’s beautifully muted visuals complement a wonderfully mysterious story. Its title suggests the potential of a story about one woman living two varying lifestyles, one respectable, the other not. Instead, the film revolves around two women living parallel lives. Neither is shameful or noticeably corrupt. They are both sweet individuals with aspirations that drive their lives. They desire love and commendation like many of us.

The first is named Weronika, a Polish beauty, who is an up and coming operatic performer. While her star is on the rise, she meets a new boyfriend and goes a trip to visit her aunt. But everything goes back to the music. In fact, music often takes center stage totally enrapturing us in song. There are sublimely haunting melodies that pierce right through our core. The angelic voices are gracefully wafting through the chambers of cathedrals and music halls. And just like that the breathe is gone out of one of the angels for good. We get a hint at it from Weronika’s aunt, suggesting that all their family members died unexpectedly, but there’s no more explanation.

thedoublelife5The majority of the narrative follows French music teacher Veronique, who is the spitting image of her Polish counterpart. Except they have no relationship whatsoever, only some odd intuition that there is someone else out there who they do not fully know. As we observe the daily rhythms of this young woman’s life, it feels almost otherworldly with an unearthly golden glow that illuminates the streets she walks. It’s a film where marionettes are made graceful and bouncy balls are little orbs of wonder. Along the way, Veronique finds a love of her own that she doesn’t even know. But she’s enchanted by him and the magic that surrounds him, much as we are bewitched by her. Her lover is constructing two identical marionettes in order to tell a new story about two women with a connection that cannot be described. In other words, the mythos around his narratives, tread closely to Veronique’s own life. A girl in one of her photos makes it clear. Everything comes to a fitting full circle, and yet we get little in the realm of a fully gratifying ending.

thedoublelife2More often than not Kieslowski’s film has a mesmerizing effect on me and a  great deal of that power of entrancement is due to Irene Jacob. She is like a cinematic goddess with a face made to be scrutinized. A charming classical beauty, she exudes a range of emotions, while still managing to hold onto a semblance of mystique. Jacob is a wonderful muse for the director’s purposes and she would prove so again in Three Colors: Red. But that’s another conversation entirely.

I consciously ask myself, “Is this a film even to be understood?” Because the plot points and the pieces don’t always seem to fit together especially well when you actually consider them. And somehow I remain content in that reality. Whereas someone like Michelangelo Antonioni throws away a few pieces of the puzzle for good measure, for Kieslowski these final pieces never existed. They are not paramount to what he is trying to accomplish. The Double Life of Veronique maintains such a transcendental almost spiritual quality because we can only watch and listen. Ours is not to reason why ours is to simply look on in awe at what we are witnessing. The beauty, the enigma, and the feelings. Because Kieslowski is more interested in the essence of the film than the particulars.

4.5/5 Stars