My Week with Marilyn (2011) Review

15 03 2012

Copyright 2011 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ ★ ★

Another new release to DVD – we are on a roll burning through 2011 movies!  This one is a nostalgic look at an iconic world figure based on the supposed true events during and around the time of filming the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the son of wealthy art historian Lord Clark, wants to leave his upper class aristocratic lifestyle and “join the circus” that is the movies.  In an attempt to get his foot in the door, he moves to London and relentlessly pursues employment at the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions.  Impressed with his insistence, Sir Laurence (Kenneth Branagh), the noted actor and director, offers him a position as third assistant director on his next picture which will star American screen icon, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  Clark readily accepts, and is awe struck with his new found position.  Monroe, who has recently married playwright Arthur Miller, arrives in the United Kingdom for filming with her entourage, which includes acting coach Paula Strasburg (Zoe Wanamaker) and management David Orton (Robert Portal).  Once filming begins, the evidence of Marilyn’s many personal troubles are brought to light and her and Olivier clash regularly on set.  In an effort to calm the tension and keep an eye on the turbulent Monroe, Clark strikes a relationship that blossoms into a brief romance.  His time with the actress and experiences on set were documented in his memoir, of which the film was based.

Production-wise, the film is quite solid.  This is likely director Simon Curtis’s biggest achievement to date, being that much of his previous work was television or smaller films, and he handles the cast of experienced British and American stars quite well.  The cinematography by Ben Smithard, a new name to me, is gracefully shot and evokes the hues and tone of the era in which it recaptures during the late 1950s.  The use of hard back light and classic Hollywood lighting during the set sequences is very much true to form to the era, and it contrasts quite nicely to the mood enhanced lighting during the real life scenes of Monroe’s struggles.

For me, however, where this film truly shone was in the script by Adrian Hodges, that was intriguing and never dull, and the acting by the all-star cast.  Redmayne gave a good leading performance as Clark, but even still was over shadowed by the tremendous performances by Williams as Monroe and Branagh as Olivier.  I’ve always been a Branagh fan and he is a perfect choice to play Olivier, being that if you look at both their careers, his has very closely mirrored and taken cue from Olivier’s.  His brilliant Shakespearean work, various stints directing other genres and solid characterizations in other films like Woody Allen’s Celebrity make Branagh, in my opinion, one of the UK’s most well-rounded working actors.  For this performance, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but lost out to fellow Brit Christopher Plummer for Beginners, a film I have not yet seen.

Now, for the real shining star of the film, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.  Whereas, Monroe was iconically beautiful, Williams is cute in a waifish sort of way.  Upon seeing the trailer for this film, I really didn’t buy Williams as looking that much like Monroe.  However, once seeing it, her ability to re-create the voice, mannerisms and minute details of the Monroe persona sold the part so well that it was brilliant.  Williams, likewise, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, for Best Actress, but lost to Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady.  Williams, however, at just 30 years old, I’m sure has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

In short, this was a well made and very worthwhile film.  I would highly recommend it to audiences of any demographic.

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Bridesmaids (2011) Review

11 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

After many pleads from my girlfriend, I finally relented and watched this movie with her.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be from the title and premise, but it definitely wasn’t that entertaining of a film either.

Directed by Paul Feig, the movie focuses on the misadventures of, guess what, a group of bridesmaids at friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  Annie, who is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, has been Lillian’s friend since childhood and the two are nearly inseparable.  Having owned a now defunct bakery and her life pretty much in the gutter, it is a bit difficult for her to hear her best friend is going to get married, but she is wildly excited when it is announced that she will be the maid of honor.  However, as the plot begins to unfurl, it shows that Annie’s ability to coordinate all the duties of being the maid of honor are far inferior to Lillian’s new friend and wife of her fiancee’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne).  The story continues through the feuding of Helen and Annie, as well as the continued downward spiral of Annie’s life, and a romance with a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) is even thrown into the mix as a subplot.

Where and when it has become acceptable to produce comedies over two hours long is beyond me.  It’s just too damn long; comedies are meant to amuse and travel at a pace that holds the comedic element.  When you drag gags and situations out too long, they quit being funny.  Furthermore, unless you have an extremely detailed plot beyond that of the mishaps of a group of bridesmaids, you just don’t have the  structure to entertain for that amount of time.  A large part of this trend, I believe, comes from the recent phenomena of comedies letting 90% of their film be improvisations.  Sure, letting actors improv in a comedy can produce some amusing elements in the film, but when you just roll cameras with an idea and let them carry on during every scene, you get some hits and a lot of misses.  When you look at the better comedies of all-time, you will notice certain elements that seemingly hold true: a tight, well conceived script that generally runs an hour and half or so, incredibly odd or amusing characters and a pacing that continuously moves forward.  This film didn’t have any of those elements.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t good.  But, again, better than I thought based on the title and synopsis.





The Netflix Split: or how I should stop worrying and love Qwikster

19 09 2011

Copyright Netflix

I’m sure many of you received the email from Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, this morning.  If you did not, essentially, what was put across is a fairly sincere apology for the little notice given in regards to the price hike that cost the company 1 million subscribers over the past few months and the announcement that streaming and DVD services will now be completely split.  Streaming will continue with the Netflix name, whereas DVD services will go by the name Qwikster.  Furthermore, the the two entities will have separate Web sites and NOT be integrated in their directory content lists.

When the substantial price hike and billing split between Netflix services occurred a few months ago, I didn’t get too upset.  I merely reduced my DVD intake from three DVDs to two, which I could have stood to do earlier since I have some DVDs that sit on the counter for months at a time.  Another reason you can’t get too mad at Netflix for this price hike is that it really isn’t their fault.  They are trying to provide the best content to the general public and, to do so, they have to work with the studios and distribution legs of the television companies that produce the content.  For those of you who don’t know, distribution companies do not like services like Netflix; services that provide content the way a consumer enjoys, cheaply and easily.  Why, you ask?  Because services like Hulu, Netflix, On Demand, etc. cut into their DVD sales which is a huge profit maker for film and television production companies.  So, to remedy their “loss”, they push the licensing fees up regularly to companies like Netflix, making it almost impossible for them to provide all the content consumers want at a low price.  The same problems hit cable companies as well and that’s a large part of the reason our cable bills go up and up and up.  So, if you really want someone to bitch to concerning the price hike, call one of five major media entities that control 98% of your content, those being: Viacom, Disney, NBC/Universal, NewsCorps and Time Warner.

Now, for the second part of Reed Hastings’s letter.  The separation of streaming and DVD seems a little silly to me.  Isn’t Netflix supposed to be a company that provides Media Content in general?  Why they have to specify this and separate divisions of the company is beyond me.  It’s like buying a a DVD and the cover art/case being sold separately; it just makes no sense!  But, if you can get past the illogical point of contention in this decision and just accept it, then you get to the real problem.  That being, why are they not going to integrate the sites?  In the new format, Netflix.com and Qwikster.com will be COMPLETELY separate.  So, if you want to look up if they have a certain movie, you will have to first check their streaming site and then check their DVD site for the title.  Why kill the ease of use for a consumer?  As consumers, we care about two things: cost and ease of usability.  I can understand and accept the cost issue being out of Netflix’s hands, but to give us one more step to go through when we want to watch or find content to watch is preposterous.

Reed Hastings was brave enough to open the blog posting that mirrored his email to comments, and I admire him for that.  I just hope he will listen to these comments.  I love Netflix and its service and I hope they will be around for a long time to come, but in short, the only companies that survive the test of time are those that listen, communicate and deliver to their customers’ desires and concerns.  We are making ourselves heard Netflix, please listen to us!





Music on Film Series Reviews: The Kids are Alright

3 08 2011

Copyright 1978 The Who Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Who’s Next consistently ranks as one of my favorite albums of all-time.  Because of this, it was only natural for me to be drawn towards what live Who footage there was out there.  For many years, my uncle or one of my brothers had bestowed a Best Buy gift card to me for Christmas; being a digital nut, it was always a safe bet.  One year, when I was about 16 or 17-years-old, one of those gift cards was cashed in for this two-part DVD.

The footage itself is not so much self-contained as it is an amalgam of footage over the career of The Who.  Footage quality varies widely from early black-and-white to slick live color 16mm footage from the late 1970s.  Intermixed with the live footage are interviews with the members of the band: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.  The film encompasses the band’s life from 1964-1978 and includes some of drummer Keith Moon’s final performances.  He would die of accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 32 in September, 1978.

The raw energy of a band like The Who is hard to capture in concert footage, but I feel this film gives a valiant effort.  Especially worth noting are the later performances of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Who Are You” and “Baba O’Rilly” in 1978.  Iconic footage from these performances have made been integrated into many other media avenues since release including the 2001 Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky.

If you are a fan of The Who, then I highly recommend this film.  Not only does it capture the band’s life from early success until Moon’s final, tragic days, it also takes a look in a very unobtrusive way into their lives recording together and interacting on promotional tours, etc.  It definitely is a gem of compiled footage from a band that will go into the annals of music history as trendsetters and masters of raw emotion, both live and on the album.

Here’s one of my favorite tracks from the film:





True Grit (2010) Review

19 07 2011

Copyright 2010 Paramount Pictures

★ ★ ★ 1/2

I had high expectations for this film going into it; perhaps, too high.  This is the Coen Brothers take on the Charles Portis novel of the same name.  As much as it tries to be a quality adaptation of the novel along with keeping the Coen’s quirky edge, it somewhere misses the mark in being a truly great film.  It’s not a bad film, and like I said, perhaps my expectations were too high due to all the hype at the end of last year, but this film didn’t strike me as a 10 best of the year by any means.  If that’s the case, 2010 was a worse year for filmmaking than I originally thought.

As mentioned above, the film is based on the Charles Portis novel; it is the second adaptation of the book to film, the first being Henry Hathaway’s 1969 version with John Wayne.  When an outlaw known as Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) murders young Mattie Ross’s (Hailee Steinfeld) father over a petty gambling altercation, the young girl seeks justice.  A quick witted and intelligent lad, Mattie seeks out a man with “true grit” to help track down Chaney and the outlaw gang he has made acquaintance with in the Indian Territory.  She finds her man in dirty, drunk U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  He reluctantly agrees to help her; they are further aided by a Texas Ranger who has a bounty to claim himself for Chaney, LaBoef (Matt Damon).  They set out for their man and, eventually, track him down after several various altercations.

The acting in the film was very good.  Jeff Bridges delivered, as usual, and the girl, Hailee Steinfeld, who played Mattie Ross was incredible in her debut role.  Apparently, the Coen’s auditioned 15,000 girls for the part before deciding on Steinfeld.  The source material seems interesting as well; it’s bare bones and fairly straight forward in plot, but seems like a good premise for a western.  However, somewhere along the lines, this film just lost steam for me.  Primarily, I think, during the final showdown, which I thought should have a level or bravura to it to make it epic.  In reality, it seemed rushed and quickly lead into the denouncement.

All in all, I didn’t dislike the film.  It was a movie I could watch and say, “Well, that was good.”  When many critics put this on their best of lists and a lot of my contemporaries recommended the movie, however, to the point of my expectations growing very high – this movie just doesn’t add up completely.





Warner Home Video to Release Citizen Kane Blu-Ray

16 06 2011

Copyright Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video will be releasing a special 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray of Citizen Kane on September 13, 2011.

Long considered one of film’s classic treasures and twice voted by the American Film Institute as the Best Film of All-Time, Citizen Kane was the brain child of 25-year-old Orson Welles, who produced, directed, co-wrote and took the leading role in the film.  After the passing of newspaper magnet Charles Foster Kane (closely modeled after William Randolph Hearst), a newspaperman is sent to find out the meaning of his infamous final words, “Rosebud.”  In doing so, he finds a much more complicated and complex man behind the myth than he could have ever imagined.

The Blu-Ray packaging will include a host of extras including: a 48-page collector’s book, lobby cards, audio commentary by Welles’s friend and accomplished film director Peter Bogdonavich and film critic Roger Ebert, deleted scenes, full-length documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, HBO docudrama RKO 281 with Liev Schreiber and James Cromwell, a DVD copy of Welles’s follow-up film The Magnificent Ambersons (which, narratively, The Royal Tenenbaums borrowed heavily from) and much more.

This marks the first time that the classic film has appeared on Blu-Ray and the first time that The Magnificent Ambersons has appeared on any digital medium.  Pre-orders are available now through Amazon.com for $49.99, or minus The Magnificent Ambersons for $44.99.








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