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Into the Wild (2007)

I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.

— Christopher McCandless

I was always wanted to see the #145 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Into the Wild where people in the movie blogger community was saying that this movie got shafted at the Oscars when it was only nominated in two categories for Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor for Hal Holbrook. People were showering this movie with endless amounts of praise. When I saw the movie was on the shelf at my local library, I jumped at the chance to rent it. After watching the movie, I was thinking to myself what is the big deal.

Bad boy actor, Sean Penn wrote the screenplay and directed the true life story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) based on the book by Jon Krakauer. McCandless came from a privileged life in the early 90s. He graduated from Emory University, but he feels that his parents, Billie and Walt (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) are living in a superficial world of wealth and affluence. Chris wanted to live in a world where money doesn’t matter.

He decides to sell his possessions, cut up his credit cards, cash out his life saving and abandon his car to hitchhike across the country to find his authentic self. He doesn’t tell his parents or his younger sister, Carine (Jena Malone) about his whereabouts.

The audience gets to see Chris having chance encounters with a hippie couple, Rainey and Jan (Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) in Arizona, working for a farmer, Wayne (Vince Vaughn) in Iowa, meeting  a  girly that crushes on him, Tracy (Kristin Stewart) and a broken war vet, Ron Franz (Holbrook).

I understand that this movie was supposed to talk about living an authentic life, finding yourself in the world and all that. The whole spiel about quoting Thoreau, having the holier-than-thou attitude about other people left a bad taste in my mouth. It is a sad story. If I don’t care about the lead character, why should I care about this movie?

Judgment: The movie was gorgeous to look at, but it felt empty to me.

Rating: 6/10

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I could more easily forgive his vanity had he not wounded mine.

— Elizabeth Bennett

There have been at least a dozen adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice over the years. I have have not seen them all. I have only seen one Joe Wright directed in 2005. I caught it on television and I thought it would completely derivative, but I was enamored with the story and Matthew Macfayden and Kiera Knightley who garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I have to say that this is best Joe Wright film that I have seen.

The Bennett family has fallen on hard times the mother (Brenda Blethyn) is driving herself into hysterics trying to marry off her five daughters; the innocent Jane (Rosamund Pike), the outspoken Elizabeth (Knightley), the cynic Mary (Talulah Riley), the bubbly Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and the naïve Lydia (Jena Malone). The father (Donald Sutherland) want the girls to have better lives that what they already have. Have a suitor marry them for financial security, not love.

The first sign is that a wealthy eligible bachelor, Charles Bingley (Simon Woods) moving into a nearby property who is also looking for a bride. The opportunity to meet him is at a public ball where he comes with his sister, Caroline (Kelly Reilly) and his morose friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). Bingley immediately is smitten by Jane while Darcy sulks alone while everybody else. Elizabeth finds the time to verbally spar with Darcy who she thinks has no matters for a gentleman.

After the ball, Jane receives a letter from Bingley asking her to dinner at his estate. Along the way to the estate, there is a terrible rainstorm where Jane catches a cold and has to stay over. Elizabeth walks to the estate to see how Jane is recovering with her family bringing up the rear to suggest a less formal ball to be held at the estate after Jane recovers.

Since Mr. Bennett has not produced any male heirs to bequeath the property in case of his death, it would go to their distant cousin, the long-winded William Collins (Tom Hollander). The reason by him coming into the house of take one of daughters as his bride. He wants the eldest, Jane, but Mrs. Bennett says that Jane is already taken, but Elizabeth is equally suitable and the family could keep the estate.

In town shopping for ribbons, a handsome soldier Wickham (Rupert Fiend) picks up a handkerchief belonging to Lydia who tried to woo one of the Redcoat soldiers coming back from battle. He thinks that it belongs to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth fancies Wickham immediately. She hopes that Wickham would come to the ball, but he doesn’t.

She wants to avoid Darcy for the stories that Wickham tells about their strained friendship. Darcy wants to dance with Elizabeth, which surprises her. On the dance floor, Elizabeth and Darcy resume their verbal sparring match as they realize that their disdain for each other could wind up as something more.

It’s strange. The first time that I saw this movie, I fell in love it. Watching it the second time. It doesn’t hold up in my eyes. The score by Dario Marianetti was gorgeous. I loved the costumes. There were some instances where I knew why Keira was nominated, but I thought she could have gone more into Elizabeth.

Judgment: The movie felt a little shallow, but I am a sucker for costume dramas.

Rating: ***1/2

The Messenger (2009)

The Messenger has been a lot of awards contention for Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton lately. I first heard about this film from Michael Vox at the Cinebanter podcast a couple of months back. I saw the trailer for the movie and I was unimpressed with it. It seemed like another Iraqi war movie. There have been dozens of them that have not be successful. I gave this movie a chance and it paid off. It’s a good movie with some great performances to boot.

In his first leading role, Ben Foster plays Army  Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, an injured Iraqi war vet that returns stateside. He was hit with an IED that damaged his left eye and leg. With three months left on his enlistment, he is called to the office of Colonel Stuart Dorsett (Eamonn Walker) that assigns Will to the Casualty Notification Team.  A part of the military that notifies the next of kin about the death of a soldier on the battlefield. Will doesn’t want to do the job and he is frustrated about it.

Will is assigned to tag along with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) who will show him the ropes on what to do, and what not to do deliver the bad news to the next kin. Stone schools him about reading a guidebook; memorize a script by filling in the blanks with the correct family’s name, address, how the soldier died, etc. They have to be the first notify the next of kin within 24 hours of positive ID. Will has to wear a beeper on his person 24/7 so they could ahead of the vultures; press, soldiers with cellphones and webcams. Lots of what not to do like say “passed away”, “expired” or any physical contact with the people they contact.

There is a methodology to it. They have to park a block away and  walk to the residence. If the next of kin is not home, they have to leave and come back later. Will’s first CN assignment didn’t follow correct protocol when they encountered the pregnant girlfriend of a fallen solider, Monica Washington (Yaya DaCosta). The regulations go out the windows when the mother is out of the house. They wait in the living room. They listen to story about them getting married and her father lost his job. Until, Mrs. Burrell (Portia) comes in. From the family’s reaction, you know that this movie is not going be happy-go-lucky. It’s raw. It’s real.

Stone and Montgomery say the words like an automaton. Slowly after every notification, telling these people that their children have been killed eats away at their souls. They cannot sleep. They slowly break down from the inside out.

On another notification, the normal of having the next of kin yell, scream, cry, slap or spit at them is thrown of the window. When they notify Olivia Pittersen (Samantha Morton) about her husband’s death, she is calm. Olivia knows that they were going to deliver bad news. She keeps her composure throughout their canned notification speech.  She unintentionally breaks the rules by shaking their hands. They are taken aback.

After they rare encounter, Will watches Olivia’s family from afar in stalkerish kind of way until she has a blow up in a local mall when recruiters try to enlist a couple of teenagers. Will defuses the situation. She tries to push him away, but he keeps coming back. He has an odd fascination to protect this struggling family, because he doesn’t have one of his own. He becomes the surrogate dad. The more that Will delivers the bad news to so many military families, he starts to rebel about being the stoic soldier that doesn’t feel sympathy for the next of kin and what they are going through. That doesn’t sit well with Captain Stone.

As I said earlier, I thought the performances the three main characters were very good. The story as a whole was typical. I didn’t get way Will has a strong connection with Olivia. I didn’t understand. Why her? Why this woman? There is also something about the relationship between Will and his ex-girlfriend, Kelly (Jena Malone) that I didn’t get. He was keen to push her away, but she is about to move on with her life, he comes back. Why?

Judgment: The trio of strong acting performances elevate this movie into a must-see.

Rating: ****

Donnie Darko (2001)

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Do you want your sister to lose weight? Tell her to get off the couch, stop eating twinkies and maybe go out for field hockey. You know what? No one ever knows what they want to be when they grow up. You know it takes a little, little while to find that out, right, Jim? And you… yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Well, you know what? Maybe… you should lift some weights, or uh, take a karate lesson and the next time he’s tries to do it, you kick him in the balls.

— Donnie

I have no interest in seeing Richard Kelly’s latest movie, The Box. I thought I would go back to the movie that launched his career, Donnie Darko. Seeing this movie a mere handful of times over the years, I still find little nuggets that I hadn’t noticed in previous viewings. Overall, the movie that currently sits at #124 movie of All Time on IMdb is showing its age.

Taking place during October 1988, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Middlesex young man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He has stopped taking his medication. He begins getting strange visits from a guy in a deranged-looking bunny suit, Frank (James Duval) that tells him that the world will end on All Hollow’s Eve.

Frank instructs Donnie as he sleepwalks to ask him to do bad things around the neighborhood, which afterwards he doesn’t remember what he has done the previous night. During one of his sleepwalks; a 747-airplane engine mysteriously crashes through Donnie’s bedroom. Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), the therapist that tries to help Donnie hypnotizes him to get to the core of his delusions.

During English teacher Karen Pomeroy’s (Drew Barrymore) discussion about Graham Greene’s short story “The Destructors”; a new girl, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone) comes into class. Donnie is immediately drawn to the emotionally damaged girl.

On the drive home, Darko car almost hits Ms. Sparrow aka “Grandma Death” (Patience Cleveland) when she is constantly checking her mailbox. She whispered some chilling words in his ear that set the movie into motion. Donnie seeks the advice of Dr. Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) about time travel and portals.

The conservative gym teacher, Miss Farmer (Beth Grant), who teaches the ways of self-help guru Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) urges the parents to help stop “subversive materials” in the classroom that influences the kids. She might have a point when Donnie is urged from Frank to break the water main at his private school.

Donnie begins to lose control of reality when small wormholes form from the chests people around him. The intentions of Frank become more sinister as the 30th comes up. Life begins to spin out of control.

The themes of life, faith, the very existence on this Earth went completely over my head the other times that I have seen this movie. The movie is still as disturbing as ever about a boy that doesn’t want to exist in this world. The only complain I have is that the CGI is a little wonky.

Judgment: An impressive film about a troubled young man.

Rating: ****

The Ruins (2008)

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We’re being quarantined here. We’re being kept here to die.

— Amy

The Ruins is the next entry in my “Creep-A-Thon”. I do not know what this movie was about when I saw it. Judging by the poster, the ruins are going to get them. I was somewhat right. This is an interesting way to torture your characters.

Based on the book of the same name by Scott Smith, the movie is about four college age friends; Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and their girlfriends, Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), that are on vacation in Mexico. They are bored. They wanted to have a last hurrah before going back to school.

A German traveler, Mathias (Joe Anderson) befriends them and asks them to come along on a trek to long lost ancient Mayan temple that hasn’t been discovered yet. Mathias wants to find his older brother, Heinrich (Jordan Patrick Smith) that disappeared looking at the same area.

They travel to the remote place from a makeshift map with a friend of Mathias, Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). When they arrive at the pyramid, the local Mayans in the area, Lead Mayan (Sergio Calderón), Mayan Bowman (Jesse Ramirez), Mayan Horsemen (Balder Moreno) confront the group.

The locals kill Dimitri and chase them to the top of the pyramid. They surround it. The group wants to know why the locals cannot let them down. Jeff thinks that they would be rescued because before they left Dimitri left another copy of the map with a couple of Greeks.

The more time that the group stays up there, the more the pyramid wants to kill them.

I thought that this is a departure from the typical horror movie. That was no human killing them. It’s a plant. I know that sounds lame, but I thought it was more intriguing of a concept. The psychological effects that being near the vines are doing to them. By the way, doesn’t the growth on the temple look like marijuana?

Judgment: It’s a different type of horror movie to pique your interest.

Rating: ***1/2

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