Friday, February 26, 2010

The Class (Entre les murs)

I don't like to talk much about it because of the psychological scars, but I taught public school for several years.  I loved it about 25% of the time: June, July, half of August, Christmas break, and spring break.  Other than that it was pretty miserable.  So I can somewhat relate to the teachers in The Class.

This film won the Oscar last year for best foreign film.  It focuses on one French class at an inner-city Paris high school.  The class, a multi-ethnic mix of immigrants and French, could really be in any American high school (if only Americans spoke French).  The attitudes, cliques, and unwillingness to learn would fit right in.  Maybe what grabbed the critics' attention was the raw reality of The Class; it could almost have been a documentary.  Much of the movie's action is actually teaching lessons and class discussions.  Much of the dialogue seems extemporaneous and unscripted.

Watching these foul-mouthed, undisciplined, disrespectful punks reminded me what I hated about teaching.  The kids contemptuously push the teacher, Francois, past his limits of patience, thwarting his sincere desire to treat them like adults and instill some knowledge.

In one scene, another teacher storms into the teachers' lounge, loudly complaining about the kids, their attitudes, and their behaviors.  "I'm sick of these clowns!  Sick of them!  I can't take any more!  They're nothing!  They know nothing!  They look right through you when you try to teach them! . . . I'm not going to help them.  They're so basic and insincere, always looking for trouble. . . .  It's been 3 months now and they haven't done a single thing!  . . . Enough.  No more."  I can relate to this guy. That's how I felt almost on a daily basis.

I like the fact that, unlike most movies about teachers, this movie is not about a dedicated teacher who takes on a tough assignment and miraculously transforms a bunch of school-hating thugs into scholars.  In fact, Francois loses his cool and nearly loses his job.  Somehow he manages to stick around and does make some progress with the class. 

There's not a lot here in terms of story, but for a realistic portrayal of teen/teacher interactions at school, The Class is a strong movie.  Not a bad movie, but Oscar worthy?  Were there no better foreign films last year?  I bet there were.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


For a movie glutton, I've gone a while without watching a movie.  Between working overtime and last weekend's 50 mile race, I haven't had a lot of time to watch movies.  I was a little tired when I got home last night, but thought I'd watch a movie anyway.  Chocolate did not put me to sleep.

This may be the first Thai movie I've seen.  I watched with the English dubbing, which I usually do for martial arts movies.  On the plus side, I can watch the action without having to read subtitles.  On the negative side, I have to listen to some really bad voice acting.  So it's hard for me to judge the acting in Chocolate.  I think it was bad, but that's not really the point of the movie.  The point was to have a story to string together some really amazing fight scences.

Zen, the autisitic daughter of a Japanese gangster and the former mistress of a Thai gangster, has lightning-fast reflexes and amazing imitative abilities.  From watching the kids at the martial arts school next door, as well as hours and hours of martial arts movies, she becomes a phenomenal fighter.  After her mom, Zin (maybe in Thai their names aren't almost exactly alike),  is diagnosed with cancer, her friend Moom finds a notebook which details all the money owed to Zin by her former criminal acquaintances.  So to raise money for Zin's medicine and treatment, Moom takes Zen around to each of them to collect what they owe.

As you might guess, they don't want to pay, so Zen fights them all until they pay up.  These fight scenes, the purpose and core of the movie, have to be seen to be believed.  Zin's gymnastic, athletic moves are fun to watch.  Of course, the whole ridiculous set-up, typical of this genre, is laughable, but that doesn't change the spectacle of the fight choreography.  I did find myself asking, why are these grown men violently attacking a teenage girl?  But I do no claim to know the Thai criminal mind.  And of course every scene ended with dozens of men groaning, lying on the floor, having been vanquished by this young girl.

Be sure to stay for the credits.  After the movie ends, they show the aftermath of some of the fight scenes, which included plenty of bandages, ice, neck braces, and, in at least one case, a hospitalization.  These people suffer for their art, but you know they love every minute of it.  The tag line from one preview I saw was great: "A special-needs girl with a special need to kick some a--."

Bottom line: 3 stars.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


What would you do if you knew when you were going to die?  What if you knew when other people are going to die?  In Afterwards, Dr. Kay (John Malkovich) can see a flash of light around a person, which tells him when the person is going to die.  A skeptical Nathan (Romain Duris) slowly comes to believe Dr. Kay's claims, and becomes convinced that Dr. Kay has pursued him because Nathan's time has come. 

The DVD cover for Afterwards is misleading, maybe even deceptive.  It portrays Malkovich holding a smoking gun, and describes a "race against time," "filled with bone-chilling twists and turns" which "continues at a heart-pounding pace."  There is an intensity here, not the kind of edge of your seat intensity of a film filled with car chases and explosions, but the intensity of dealing with issues of life and death, the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse.

One of Dr. Kay's patients, a teen with a terminal disease, writes a letter shortly before his death.  "I know I'm going to die soon.  And I know I'm here to learn something. . . . In my head, I can't imagine that life comes to an end."  Afterwards does not give us any answers about the meaning of life, the meaning of death, and what hope or peril lies in death, but it asks the questions in a beautifully thoughtful way.  Like the fragile desert flowers Nathan's wife (Evangeline Lilly, Kate from Lost) studies, life can be fleeting.  We don't know when this life will pass; in the meantime, we can learn to treasure it and the people we love.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Maiden Heist

Put William H. Macy, Morgan Freeman, and Christopher Walken together in a screwball comedy, and why wouldn't I want to see it?  The Maiden Heist is definitely a walk on the light side, but entertaining nonetheless.

The three stars play security guards at a Boston art museum.  During their tenures, each has fallen in love with particular works of art.  When they learn that the pieces have been sold to a Danish museum, they decide they must take drastic measures to keep their loved ones close.  Freeman, the rock of the group, draws in Walken--who is faithful to his wife but who is in love with the woman in the painting, and Macy--the ex-marine and warrior at heart who so identifies with the sculpture of the nude warrior that he strips nude to pose next to it while on night guard duty.

Against all odds, they come up with a plan and manage to pull it off.  The art in the movie is fictional, made just for the movie, but I enjoyed seeing the love of the art.  I tend to breeze through art galleries; these men's dedication to art, and their habit of looking deep into the works and gleaning layers of meaning and appreciation made me want to slow down next time I go to an art museum.

I would be remiss not to mention Marcia Gay Harden.  She's terrific as Walken's wife.  With these four top shelf talents in a pretty decent film, it's strange that this went straight to DVD.  I've certainly seen much worse at the theater.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

As told to me by today's guest blogger, Zippy:

That was awesome!  This was the best Chipmunks movie ever!  Remember when the fat Chipette dropped her helmet and it hit the motorcycle and the motorcycle ran into Ian's nuts!  That was awesome when they were flying on the helicopter.  Too bad they couldn't get in it.  That would have been safer.  And remember when the Chipmunks gave those two guys wedgies?  And then tore up their shirts?  That was so funny!  "Shake what your momma gave ya!"  Hahaha!

Zippy's bottom line, 4 very enthusiastic stars!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Long Kiss Goodnight

I saw this movie years ago, and didn't remember much about it, except for one of the funniest moments I've seen on film.  OK, maybe it was funnier in my memory than it actually is, now that I've seen it again, but it's still very amusing.  About 30 minutes into the film, we meet Dr. Waldman, who's having dinner and watching television with his elderly wife.  She is holding a puffy little lap dog, who is licking his own bottom.  Dr. Waldman has had enough:
Dr. Waldman: Alice, please. Your dog, Alice. It and my appetite are mutually exclusive.
Mrs. Waldman: Well, what's wrong with the dog?
Dr. Waldman: Simple. He's been licking his a--hole for the last three straight hours. I submit to you that there is nothing there worth more than an hour's attention. I should think that whatever he is attempting to dislodge is either gone for good, or there to stay. Wouldn't you agree?

Through the wonders of the internet, you, too can view this great moment in film history:

Aside from this little interlude, there's some great action, and not a bad story, either.  I love Samuel Jackson and Geena Davis; they make a great team in this movie.  Davis is a suburban mom who has amnesia; she can't remember anything before the last few years.  Jackson is a small-time private eye whom Davis has hired to discover her original identity.  Turns out she is actually a trained assassin working for some shady elements of the federal goverment.  And it turns out that those elements want her dead!  So the adventure begins!

The descriptions on the little ratings box sometimes make me laugh.  This one is apt, if a little overstated: "A substantial amount of strong bloody violence, and for strong language."

If you are a fan at all of a good action movie, this one is definitely recommended.  Bottom line, 3 stars.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sunshine Cleaning

Amy Adams is a delight to watch.  I first remember seeing her in Enchanted, which was a delightful movie.  The other day I watched her play the young nun in DoubtSunshine Cleaning is all her, and she's terrific in it.  Rose (Adams) is definitely not a nun.  She's having an affair with a married man, and is a single mom strruggling with life.  She cleans houses for a living, but wants a better career and a better life.  With the encouragement of her policeman boyfriend, she opens a crime scene cleaning service.  The unusual choice of jobs makes for some darkly humorous moments, but it becomes a means through which she and her sister bond and come to terms with the loss of their mom.
Like many independent films, Sunshine Cleaning majors on quirky characters: Rose, with her depressing life and self-affirming exercises, her sister, who can't keep a job, dad (Alan Arkin, terrific as usual), with his business schemes, and Oscar, who can't stay out of trouble at school. I enjoyed seeing Chloe, one of my favorite characters on 24 (Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays Lynn, the lonely phlebotomist). Also in the quirky category is Wintson (Clifton Collins) the patient and helpful one-armed janitorial supply salesman who builds model airplanes.
Sunshine Cleaning is a comedy, but it's much more than that.  All of the characters are dealing with loss in their own way.  Even Rose's son Oscar is searching.  When Rose is shopping for a used van for her business, the salesman tells Oscar that the CD radio will take his voice to heaven.  Oscar takes him literally, and later he sneaks out of the house to try it.  "Where was I before I was born?  What happens when we die?  Can you see everything down here?"  Rose is not exempt from the same curiosity; later she tunes in for a one-sided conversation with her mom.

With an unlikely start--who would have thought crime scene cleanup would be a great basis for a comedy?--Sunshine Cleaning is a thoroughly enjoyable move with wonderful performances all around.  As a bonus, there are plenty of thoughtful moments, encouraging the viewer to reflect on death, coping with loss, and the importance of family.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Derek Charles (Idris Elba) used to be known as a the office ladies man.  But since he's settled down with his wife, Sharon (Beyonce Knowles), he's blissfully happy and solidly faithful.  When Lisa (Ali Larter, who "Heroes" fans will recognize as the ice woman) starts temping in Derek's office, she throws his life for a loop.  Her flirting with him, and his not pushing her away fast enough, lead to quite a mess.
He does remain faithful to his wife, but Lisa takes his actions and friendly responses to her as expressions of romantic interest.  From the moment they first meet in the elevator, he can't help taking a peek as she flashes her legs.  She interprets his stolen glances and friendly banter as encouragement for a relationship.  Of course he means no such thing, and makes it very clear when she physically comes on to him, but her pursuit only escalates.  Derek's first mistake was being a bit too friendly, bordering on flirtacious; his next mistake was not mentioning Lisa's come ons to his wife.  When Lisa sets him up, making it look like they are having an affair, Sharon refuses to believe that Derek is innocent, and kicks him out of the house.  I couldn't understand why she couldn't take his word; he ended up out of the house for three months!  But when she finally decides to forgive, Lisa strikes again. 

There are plenty of movies in which the guy cheats on his wife or girlfriend, then tries to win her back.  It was refreshing to see a movie in which the guy, in spite a few innocent mistakes, is faithful to his wife to the end.  I mentioned in my review of He Loves Me He Loves Me Not that the main character exhibits erotomania.  That word is not mentioned in Obsessed, but Lisa clearly has the same disorder.  The final confrontation between Lisa and Sharon goes a bit over the top, but, again, it's refreshing to see a wife so dedicated to protecting her marriage.

I know nothing about Beyonce's singing.  I couldn't name one of her songs.  But I saw in the paper today that she won a record number of Grammys, so she must be pretty good.  She's a darn good actress, too.  I thoroughly enjoyed her in this.  Elba was a bit wooden, and Larter was a bit stereotypically seductive, but Beyonce made up for their performances.

I liked the movie OK, but the rating is boosted for the clear, practical warning to all married men to diligently protect their marriages!

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.