The Avengers Did Indeed Punish…Me!

At the risk of alienating all you Marvel Comics/Superhero fans out there, I have to be honest, The Avengers just didn’t do it for me.  As the highest-grossing movie of all time (surpassing the $1 billion mark world-wide in a mere three weeks), I figured there had to be a little something in it for everyone for it to be so hugely popular.  But if that’s the case, then I guess I’m not everyone.  No, Superhero flicks are not generally my genre of choice, but I have on occasion enjoyed them (The Dark Knight, Iron Man 1, the original Superman, to name a few).  So with all of the hullabaloo surrounding this box-office blockbuster, I really expected to be wowed.

On the contrary, I was actually bored.  I was uninterested.  I didn’t really care about anyone or anything.  The stakes weren’t great enough ~ or at least not intriguing enough ~ for me to even really be invested in who “won” or who didn’t.  I found it trite.  And loud.  And silly…unfortunately, not in an enjoyable, entertaining way, even when it was tongue-in-cheek silly.  Nor was it nearly as funny as I expected it to be, especially in the hands of the ordinarily witty Joss Whedon, whom I genuinely like and respect.  As the director and co-screenwriter, he’s one of the reasons I wanted to see this movie.  Sure, there were a few chuckles, but not nearly as many as I’d hoped for in the hands of Whedon.  Mostly, I just wanted it to be over.  (And for the guy incessantly fiddling with his loud candy wrapper to be taken out by one of the Avengers ~ now that I could have gotten behind.)

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Jane Eyre Casts A Spell

And…the temperature of my Fassbender Fever continues to rise.  In the most recent adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, director Cary Fukunaga is blessed to have the ever-impressive Michael Fassbender playing the charismatic ~ and enigmatic ~ Mr. Rochester alongside the equally talented Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) as the title character.  Both actors are more than up to the task of portraying these classic literary characters in this bewitching rendering of the gothic mystery/romance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit (not without a modicum of shame), that I have never read Jane Eyre, nor do I recall seeing any of the umpteen film or television adaptations that have been produced of it over the years.  So this was my very first introduction to the well-known work…which I’ll admit probably helped rather than hurt my experience of it.  Granted, making the acquaintance of Mr. Rochester in the form of the magnetic Michael Fassbender did nothing to harm it, either.  But again, just as in my review of Fish Tank, I sincerely believe I am capable of distinguishing between my love for Fassbender and the true quality of a film ~ and this is a beautifully done picture in every sense.

I was swept away by the film, nearly forgetting I was watching performances, a particularly impressive feat when it comes to period pieces, when one must adjust to the more formal language of the time.  The majestic English landscapes (both lush and barren) gorgeously evoke the sweeping emotions of the narrative, especially those of the wonderfully rich character of Jane.  Save for the flashbacks of her as a child, Wasikowska is in virtually every scene of the film.  She is superb as the restrained Jane, more often than not conveying her thoughts and feelings through the most subtle of facial expressions and body language.  Jane is a remarkably strong, honorable and admirably self-respecting young woman ~ it is impossible not to root for her or to feel her pain, joys and sorrows.  It’s not often in a period piece one has the opportunity to see such an independent female character, one who is left to fend for herself from a young age…all of which underscores the desire to see her find true happiness.

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Jeff, Who Lives At Home ~ Not As Much Fun As Cyrus, Who Also Lives At Home

Written & Directed by Mark & Jay Duplass

Cast: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, Rae Dawn Chong

Jason Segel is Jeff, a 30-year-old stoner who lives at home with his mother (played by Susan Sarandon).  Obsessed with signs (both in the literal sense and, amusingly, in reference to M. Night Shyamalan‘s film of the same name), he is searching, rather aimlessly, for his “purpose”.  Segel is entirely winning despite the somewhat stereotypical character set-up.  Jeff is a gentle giant with a heart of gold, well-meaning even in his haphazard missteps (at which everyone in his family pokes fun).  Segel is perfect in this role and shows greater range than I’ve ever seen in him, beautifully and convincingly straddling the line between hapless lug and sincere loving soul, between comedy and drama.  It is really he who holds this film together and had me invested in any way.

Ed Helms, on the other hand, plays his narcissistic moron of an older brother, Pat, who is continually judging Jeff even when his own life is in actuality no less (if not more so) in disrepair ~  his marriage (to the always fabulous Judy Greer) disintegrating, with good reason (who could blame her?!), making ridiculous choices (like purchasing a brand new Porsche on a clearly meager salary), and holding “business meetings” at Hooters.  Not that Helms doesn’t have some humorous scenes (I do think he is a gifted comedian), but it really is tough to like or sympathize with him in any way since most everything he says and does here is idiotic.   Continue reading

Fish Tank ~ Reeled In By the Bait

Consider yourself forewarned that this will be the first of many reviews to come on films featuring Michael Fassbender.  After seeing him at year’s end in films such as A Dangerous Method and Shame (a stunning, searing performance for which he should have earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination), I have become a full-on Fan (yes, that’s with a capital “F”).  I have caught Fassbender Fever…in a big way.  And am therefore working my way through his filmography.  Yeah, he’s more than easy on the eyes ~ and as some may know, offers plenty of himself on which to feast the eyes (see Shame for full-frontal Fassbender).  BUT there is much, much more to this man than just a handsome face (and breathtaking body).  He is a terrifically talented actor, who shows great range and has yet to disappoint in anything I’ve seen.

His performance in Fish Tank is no exception.  Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, the film won Best British Film at the 2010 BAFTAs ~ with good reason.  It is a unique coming-of-age story centered on Mia, a foul-mouthed, back-talking, rebellious teen who has been kicked out of school and is struggling to find a way out of her stifled, unsupportive home life in a British housing project with a bitter, unloving single mother and feisty younger sister.  (Father, whoever he is, is nowhere in sight nor is he ever even mentioned.)

Changes are set in motion when the girls’ mother brings home new boyfriend Connor (Fassbender), who ultimately has a profound effect on each of the women in the family (in various ways and for various reasons), but on no one more so than Mia.  It is fascinating to observe the changing dynamics and ripple effects created by Connor’s charismatic presence, which, in the beginning is primarily positive for these women lacking any sort of stable, supportive male figure in their lives.  It is Mia’s struggle to differentiate between Connor as a father figure and a man to whom she has a burgeoning attraction, that ultimately proves to be the stimulus for change ~ and growth ~ in Mia’s life.

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Maurice Sendak ~ A Personal Remembrance

It was with great sadness that I awoke on Tuesday morning to the news of Maurice Sendak‘s passing.  The astoundingly talented author and illustrator was a predominant presence in my childhood, to be sure.  I know I am only one of multitudes who have enjoyed his work over the decades his artistry has spanned.  While I know the deserving remembrances of him have been fittingly pervasive over the last few days, I felt compelled to add my own small contribution, in honor of Mr. Sendak and his memory.

As a child, I was familiar with some of his best known children’s literature ~ such as the classic Where The Wild Things Are, with its fantastically creative illustrations that forever changed the way children perceived “monsters”, by having Max, its protagonist, actually engage with the creatures as opposed to merely fearing and hiding from them.  Other popular titles in Sendak’s canon include the often controversial (due to one of the young characters being naked through a portion of the book) In The Night Kitchen and Outside Over There.

But the most memorable and beloved contribution he made to my childhood is perhaps lesser-known than some of the works mentioned above.  In 1975, Sendak collaborated with the gifted and iconic singer-songwriter Carole King on a children’s animated television production called Really Rosie, which was also made into an album.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing the television show, but the album, and its accompanying Nutshell Library remains one of my most treasured childhood memories.

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Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) ~ From the Heart, For the Heart

Monsieur LazharI fear no words can do this extraordinary film adequate justice.  A Foreign Language Film nominee for this year’s Academy Awards, it simultaneously filled (to the brim) and broke my heart.  Quiet and gently-paced, director and screenwriter Phillippe Falardeau’s film is an exquisite depiction of the universality of loss and grief.  None of us, no matter our age or circumstances, are immune to tragedy touching our lives.  Yet in that sobering reminder, there is also a message of hope, for through that shared experience is great potential for healing.

Monsieur Lazhar has fled his native Algiers (for reasons to which we become privy) for Montreal, Canada, where he is seeking asylum.  He convinces the principal of a grade school to hire him as the replacement for a well-loved teacher who has committed suicide in her classroom (the reveal of which is tastefully handled, so please don’t let that bit of information dissuade you from seeing this lovely and powerful film).

It is deeply moving to witness the relationships that develop between this kind, gentle, Monsieur Laznharpatient man and his classroom of students, as well as the ways in which they are ultimately able to help one another to cope and come to terms with the emotions they are each experiencing.  There is something so pure and honest about what unfolds between this teacher and his pupils ~ they all possess both innocence and innate wisdom in relation to their grief, regardless of age or experience.  And thus the lines between teacher and student are touchingly blurred.  Continue reading

Tuskegee ~ Lionel Richie Goes Country!?

Lionel Richie - Tuskegee

I never imagined one of my first album reviews would be on Pop/R&B artist Lionel Richie.  He’s been nowhere near my radar since the 1980’s, when I actually regularly listened to ~ and cared about ~ Top 40 radio (you couldn’t tear my walkman headphones out of my ears on Sunday nights during Casey Kasem‘s Top 40 Countdown for anything in my youth!)   Save for the occasional reminder that Lionel is Nicole Richie’s (adoptive) father, I haven’t thought much of him, nor listened to anything of his, in ages.

However, of late, due to the recent release of his new album, Tuskegee, I’ve been hearing and reading quite a bit about the seemingly once again ubiquitous artist.  And I must say I’ve been impressed…by his humor, his groundedness, his sincerity and his willingness to do something different…

…something really different.  Lionel, in a move both bold and refreshing, has gone country…in perhaps the most clever way he could ~ with his very own existing catalogue of hit songs, every one of which he is joined on by one or another of today’s (and in a few cases, yesterday’s) hottest country artists.  He has essentially made an album of covers ~ country revisions of his very own songs…and believe it or not, it works!  Continue reading