Monday, December 28, 2009

In Theaters: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond

Opening on Wednesday: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, directed by Jodie Markell

Is that supposed to be a picture of Bryce Dallas Howard? I guess we'll have to see the movie to find out... or the trailer.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Complicated

Opening this weekend: It's Complicated, directed by Nancy Meyers

Synopsis from

An aged, divorced mother becomes "the other woman" in her ex-husband's life when the pair enters into an unexpected affair during an out-of-town trip. Jane (Meryl Streep) has been divorced from Jake (Alec Baldwin) for a decade. The mother of three grown children, she owns a successful Santa Barbara bakery/restaurant and maintains a friendly relationship with Jake, who has since been remarried to the much younger Agness (Lake Bell). Jane and Jake are attending their son's college graduation when they agree to an innocent meal together. Before long a simple dinner date has erupted into an all-out affair, and when architect Adam (Steve Martin) falls for Jane, he realizes he's been drawn into a most peculiar love triangle. Is love sweeter the second time around, or should Jane and Jake just be happy with what they had, and finally move on with their lives?

The movie's website is here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

In theaters now: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, directed by Betty Thomas

Probably the less said about this one, the better. Trailer, please!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Under the Eightball

Opening in New York this weekend: Under the Eightball, directed by Breanne Russell and Timothy Grey

From the synopsis on the movie's website:

In 1951 at Fort Detrick, Maryland,  construction crews built a hollow metal sphere four stories high. Inside germ weapons were to be exploded, creating mists of infectious aerosols for testing on animals... and people. Employees called it the eight ball.     

In the summer of 2006 my sister Lori was afflicted with an illness that, ten months later, has yet to be definitively diagnosed. Less than one year ago she had full function of her body, regularly riding bicycles, swimming and gardening with her son Jackson. One day, while helping Jackson onto his bicycle her leg gave way beneath her and she collapsed. Although it felt no different it just wouldn’t respond. 

She quickly sought treatment for what she thought was simply a pinched nerve. However, after seeing a specialist she was told that due to the quickly lost muscle function Guilian Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease, could be the culprit. She was started on a rigorous and extremely expensive course of intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, which boosts antibodies to help the good guys fight the bad guys. But why after a month of treatments, when improvements should be seen in a few weeks, was Lori not getting better but getting worse?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Netflix It: Walking and Talking

I'm very excited to hear Nicole Holofcener is coming out with a movie (Please Give) in 2010; her movies are always honest and thought-provoking, at the very least. Watch this space for more info...

Available from Netflix: Walking and Talking, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener

Synopsis from

A Manhattan woman struggles with loneliness in the face of her best friend's imminent marriage in this well-received independent comedy from first-time writer-director Nicole Holofcener. Amelia (Catherine Keener) feels isolated because her friend Laura (Anne Heche) has been devoting all her time to preparing for her upcoming wedding. Desperate, she resorts to the unthinkable: dating the nerdy, Fangoria-obsessed clerk at her local video store (Kevin Corrigan). This discouraging encounter, along with some awkward conversations with her former boyfriend, leave her even more depressed and jealous of Laura's good fortune. However, Laura soon reveals that she is having her own doubts about her future.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Netflix It: But I'm a Cheerleader

Available from Netflix: But I'm a Cheerleader, directed by Jamie Babbit

Synopsis from

In this satire, parents who are worried that their children might not be walking the straight and narrow path discover a rehabilitation camp designed to curb alternative lifestyles. Megan (Natasha Lyonne), a high school student and member of the cheerleading squad, seems like an ordinary enough teenage girl, but her habit of honestly expressing herself and lack of romantic enthusiasm for her boyfriend convince her very repressed parents, Peter (Bud Cort) and Nancy (Mink Stole), that Megan is becoming a lesbian. So Megan is shipped off to True Directions, a camp for gay and gay-leaning teens, where Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty) attempts to deprogram kids with homosexual tendencies. The first step in the process is to get each teen to admit to their homosexuality, which Megan is loath to do, since she doesn't believe she's a lesbian -- or at least she didn't think so before she met her new friend Graham (Clea DuVall), who seems quite sure that she likes girls. Meanwhile, Mary's son Rock (Eddie Cibrian) may be exempt from the camp's activities, but he turns more than a few heads among True Directions' male inmates. Noted female impersonator RuPaul appears as a camp guide, and Julie Delpy has a cameo as a "lipstick lesbian."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Netflix It: Oscar and Lucinda

Available from Netflix: Oscar and Lucinda, directed by Gillian Armstrong

Synopsis from

Australian director Gillian Armstrong directed this Laura Jones adaptation of Peter Carey's 1988 Booker Prize-winning novel. In a lengthy flashback, Oscar Hopkins' great grandson (Geoffrey Rush) narrates the family history that led to his birth. On an Australian farm, Lucinda Leplastrier was tutored by her intelligent mother, a woman who took part in the early feminist movement. Oscar's lonely boyhood in rural England was under the watchful eye of his preacher father. At Oxford to train as a minister, the adult Oscar (Ralph Fiennes) feels he doesn't fit in and develops a passion for gambling, giving his winnings away to the poor. Oscar and Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) meet aboard a ship; he's off to the outback to work as a missionary, and she's returning from London after buying equipment for her glass factory. As mutual misfits, they have an instant attraction and quickly grow close, developing a romantic relationship based on trust. However, the Rev. Dennis Hasset (Ciarán Hinds) and Lucinda are friends, sharing an interest in glass. Convinced they are in love, Oscar embarks on an unusual and difficult task, building a glass church for the reverend, an ambitious project to attempt in the remote wilderness.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Article about Women Directors (or the lack thereof) in the New York Times

I would just like to point out that all the films this article mentions have been featured in this blog...

Hannah Free

Opening this weekend: Hannah Free, directed by Wendy Jo Carlton

Synopsis from the film's website:

Hannah and Rachel grew up as little girls in the same small Midwest town, where traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another. Hannah becomes an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian and Rachel a strong but quiet homemaker. Weaving back and forth between past and present, the film reveals how the women maintained their love affair despite a marriage, a world war, infidelities, and family denial.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In Theaters: Serious Moonlight

Opening this weekend: Serious Moonlight, directed by Cheryl Hines

Until the Light Takes Us

Opening this weekend: Until the Light Takes Us, directed by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites

Synopsis from the film's website:

Part music scene and part cultural uprising, black metal rose to worldwide notoriety in the mid-nineties when a rash of suicides, murders, and church burnings accompanied the explosive artistic growth and output of a music scene that would forever redefine what heavy metal is and what it stands for to other musicians, artists and music fans world-wide. Until The Light Takes Us goes behind the highly sensationalized media reports of "Satanists running amok in Europe" to examine the complex and largely misunderstood principles and beliefs that led to this rebellion against both Christianity and modern culture. 

To capture this on film, directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell moved to Norway and lived with the musicians for several years, building relationships that allowed them to create a surprisingly intimate portrait of this violent, but ultimately misunderstood, movement. The result is a poignant, moving story that’s as much about the idea that reality is composed of whatever the most people believe, regardless of what’s actually true, as it is about a music scene that blazed a path of murder and arson across the northern sky.

Before Tomorrow

Opening this weekend: Before Tomorrow, directed by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu

Synopsis from

Canadian history comes to poetic life on the big screen as directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu team to adapt Danish author Jørn Riel's novel about a mid-19th century Inuit family whose lives are forever changed with the arrival of Europeans on their native soil. It's summertime, a time when Inuit communities come together to share food and tell stories, and for the young to get married. Ningiuq (Ivalu) and her best friend, Kuutuguk (Mary Qulitalik), are elders in one such community, and when Ningiuq gets word that the Europeans are advancing she fears for the future of her people. But Ningiuq has a more immediate problem to worry about as well; Kuutuguk has fallen gravely ill, and it looks as if she won't live to see another winter. After returning from a fishing excursion with a rather bountiful catch, Ningiuq, her grandson Maniq (Paul-Dylan Ivalu), and Kuutuguk prepare to dry the fish. Alone on a remote and uninhabited island, the trio waits for someone from their tribe to arrive and guide them back home. When no one appears to do so, Ningiuq and Maniq decide to set off for home while Kuutuguk waits behind. Unfortunately Ningiuq has a foreboding feeling about the journey, and she's about to discover just how accurate her instincts truly are.

The film's website is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Theaters: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Opening this weekend: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, written and directed by Rebecca Miller

Synopsis from the film's website:

From all outward appearances, Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn) leads a charmed existence. She is the devoted wife of an accomplished publisher (Alan Arkin) thirty years her senior, the proud mother of two grown children, and a trusted friend and confidant to all who cross her path. But as Pippa dutifully follows her husband to a new life in a staid Connecticut retirement community, her idyllic world and the persona she has built over the course of her marriage will be put to the ultimate test. In truth, looks are deceiving, and this picture-perfect woman has seen more than her fair share of turmoil in her youth. Embarking on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery, accompanied by a new, strange and soulful acquaintance (Keanu Reeves), Pippa must now confront both her volatile past and the hidden resentment of her seemingly perfect life in order to find her true sense of self.
By turns wry, humorous, and moving, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee presents the complex portrait of the many lives behind a single name.

The Jazz Baroness

Showing on HBO2 tonight: The Jazz Baroness, directed by Hannah Rothschild

Synopsis from HBO's website:

The Jazz Baroness tells the moving love story of Pannonica Rothschild ("Nica" for short) and pianist-composer Thelonious Monk. Directed by Nica's great-niece Hannah Rothschild, the documentary features the voice of Oscar® winner Helen Mirren, who reads Nica's words.

From wildly different beginnings - his on a humble farm in the American deep south, hers in luxurious European mansions frequented by kings, queens and heads of state - the film traces their lives up to the point of meeting, then follows their time together in a post-World War II New York City buzzing with pre-civil rights tension and the frenetic syncopation of bebop.

The film weaves together archival footage and interviews with family members, friends, jazz historians and luminaries, among them Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, Jr., Roy Haynes, Curtis Fuller, The Duchess of Devonshire and Clint Eastwood. The Jazz Baroness also features footage of the groundbreaking Thelonious Monk Quartet playing such classics as "Straight, No Chaser," "The Bolivar Blues" and "Nutty," including a 1965 BBC appearance, when Monk finally began to get the recognition, if not the financial rewards, he had worked for.

Hannah Rothschild spent years uncovering the story of her great aunt, a woman who as a child learned magic tricks from Einstein, and in later life lived with more than 300 cats and served Scotch from a teapot. This search for information often met a wall of secrecy from family members reluctant to divulge details about a woman who had so radically, some say eccentrically, reinvented herself.

Rothschild's film profiles an extraordinary woman who devoted herself to the cause of New York's jazz elite, who were not only struggling artistically, but battling a racist culture. Nica sheltered them when they were broke, bailed them out of jail and helped them cope with their drug habits. (She even took the fall when police found marijuana in the car she and Monk were traveling in, earning a three-year jail sentence, though the conviction was later reversed.) In appreciation, Monk and others wrote dozens of songs for and about her.

Among the most compelling segments is the story of how Nica and Monk met. Then married, Nica was introduced by a friend to Monk's "'Round Midnight," which would become one of the most recorded jazz standards of all time. "I couldn't believe my ears," she recalled. "I'd never heard anything remotely like it." Nica set out to find Monk, finally meeting him two years later. Interestingly, for all the mutual love and devotion that developed between them, it seemed that their relationship was essentially platonic. Monk remained married to his wife, Nellie, who seemed to embrace the unusual situation.

Ultimately, it was all about the music for Nica. She left her husband, she said, because he liked military drum music and hated jazz. Nica recognized Monk's musical genius years before the critics and even many musicians. In the words of saxophonist Archie Shepp, "She was a woman who was ahead of her time. She took a stand when it wasn't popular to do so."

Before she died during routine heart surgery in 1988, six years after Monk's death from a stroke, Nica made a special request. "I would like my ashes to be scattered on the Hudson River in the evening, around midnight," she said. "Yes, that's right, I said ' 'round midnight.' I think you all know why."

Interview with Hannah Rothschild at Women & Hollywood.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Opening this weekend: Home, directed by Ursula Meier

Synopsis from

An entire household is caught in traffic thanks to the opening of a new super-highway in this satiric comedy drama from Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier. Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) and her husband (Olivier Gourmet) live in a small home in rural France with their three children. The family values their peace and quiet, except for oldest daughter Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), who has a fondness for cranking heavy metal music as she relaxes in her lawn chair. While construction on a highway near the house began years ago, the progress has been so slow that Marthe and her family have all but forgotten about it. But once the road is opened, they're suddenly subjected to a nonstop barrage of noise, exhaust, and all the stress that comes with it, and the relative calm of the household decays into chaos as Marthe is driven to a nervous breakdown. Home was screened as part of the Critics' Week program at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

The film's website is here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Netflix It: I Shot Andy Warhol

Available from Netflix: I Shot Andy Warhol, directed by Mary Harron

Synopsis from

The true story of Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who became notorious after shooting art world icon Andy Warhol, is portrayed in this fact-based drama. In an attempt to present a fair assessment of her actions, writer-director Mary Harron focuses on Solanas' troubled life, from her childhood as an abuse victim to her life as teenage prostitute in New York City. These experiences left Solanas (played by Lili Taylor) deeply scarred, contributing to a hatred of men that later found full flower in her famous "SCUM Manifesto," an extremist tract calling for the establishment of a "Society for Cutting Up Men." Deeply troubled, she nevertheless briefly finds hope after befriending young transvestite Candy Darling (played by Stephen Dorff) and discovering herself on the fringes of the wild, colorful world surrounding the eccentric Warhol. She becomes obsessed with the idea that Warhol's support could change her life, only to become violently enraged when the artist and his friends begin to turn away from her.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Netflix It: The Holiday

#32 - The Holiday

Okay, so the X-Factor Contest picked another Nancy Meyer movie, not The Holiday, but I really enjoyed The Holiday (two romcoms for the price of one!), and the other movie stars a certain vile anti-Semite whom I would not want to promote in any way.

Available from Netflix: The Holiday, directed by Nancy Meyers

Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy Holiday stars Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet as two women who exchange houses in order to get a new lease on life. After each suffers her fair share of romantic disappointments, Englishwoman Iris (Winslet) and L.A. woman Amanda (Diaz) meet on-line at a website devoted to helping people exchange houses for vacations. Each agrees to spend the Christmas holiday at the other's home. While each suffers from a minor case of culture shock, both women also end up becoming involved with a man. Iris makes the acquaintance of an upbeat everyman played by Jack Black, while Amanda spends time with a handsome Brit played by Jude Law. Both women must decide what to do with these new relationships as their pre-arranged house switch is scheduled to last less than two weeks.

Netflix It: Something's Gotta Give

#31 - Something's Gotta Give

Available from Netflix: Something's Gotta Give, directed by Nancy Meyers

Synopsis from

Jack Nicholson plays Harry Langer, a swinging sixtysomething entertainment executive surrounded by plenty of young girlfriends. His latest romance is young petite sophisticate Marin (Amanda Peet), who takes him to her mother's beach house in the Hamptons for a weekend fling. However, Marin's successful Broadway playwright mother Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) is already vacationing at the house with her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand). Marin and Harry stay anyway, and Harry ends up having a heart attack. He goes to the hospital and is looked after by thirtysomething doctor Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves). Impressed by her writing, Dr. Mercer finds himself pursuing a romance with Erica. Because of his serious health condition, he orders Harry to stay near the hospital. While Marin returns to Manhattan, Erica agrees to stay on and look after Harry. Of course they are repulsed by each other at first, but they end up falling in love throughout the recovery process.

Netflix It: Bridget Jones's Diary

#30 - Bridget Jones's Diary

Available from Netflix: Bridget Jones's Diary, directed by Sharon Maguire

Based on Helen Fielding's hugely popular novel, this romantic comedy follows Bridget (Renee Zellweger), thirty-something British woman who has a penchant for alcoholic binges, smoking, and an inability to control her weight. While trying to keep these things in check and also deal with her job in publishing, she visits her parents for a Christmas party. They try to set her up with Mark (Colin Firth), the visiting son of one of their neighbors. Snubbed by Mark, she instead falls for her boss Daniel (Hugh Grant), a dashing lothario who begins to send her suggestive e-mails that soon lead to a dinner date proposition...

Netflix It: Away from Her

#29 - Away from Her

Available from Netflix: Away from Her, directed by Sarah Polley

This movie made me cry, and it also won Genie Awards (Canadian Oscars) for Best Director and Best Motion Picture, among others.

Synopsis from

Adapted by Polley from a short story by Alice Munro, this small-scaled two-character drama concerns Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie), a long-married couple, well into their golden years, who are much in love and connected to one another on every level. "Soul mates" in the purest sense of the term, the two feel a sense of ease and tranquility in their rural home. But when Fiona's memory begins to slip away and she insists on being taken to a rest home, the decision stirs up torrents of guilt and regret in Grant's heart. The rules of the center only complicate matters, as they forbid visitation and communication with Fiona for an interminable period of time. He determines to support his wife at all costs, even if it must happen at the expense of his own peace of mind.

Netflix It: Love & Basketball

#28 - Love & Basketball

Available from Netflix: Love & Basketball, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Synopsis from

A young African-American couple navigates the tricky paths of romance and athletics in this drama. Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) grew up in the same neighborhood and have known each other since childhood. As they grow into adulthood, they fall in love, but they also share another all-consuming passion: basketball. They've followed the game all their lives and have no small amount of talent on the court. As Quincy and Monica struggle to make their relationship work, they follow separate career paths though high school and college basketball and, they hope, into stardom in big-league professional ball.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Netflix It: Bend It Like Beckham

#27 - Bend It Like Beckham

Available from Netflix: Bend It Like Beckham, directed by Gurinder Chadha

Synopsis from

An independent-minded young woman discovers the joys of football, much to her family's chagrin, in this upbeat British comedy drama. Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is an 18-year-old growing up in West London, where her family has taken every effort to stay in touch with its Indian heritage. Jess' father and mother (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) are after their daughter to go to law school, learn to cook a traditional Indian dinner, and settle down with a nice Indian boy -- the latter of which is high on the agenda of her older sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi), who is soon to wed her longtime beau Teetu (Kulvinder Ghir). However, her family is unaware that Jess has a secret passion -- football (or soccer, as it's known in North America). While Jess' enthusiasm for football star David Beckham is obvious, given the fact his photos cover the walls of her room, her parents don't know that in her spare time she likes to play a friendly game in the park with some of the boys in the neighborhood. One day, while Jess and her pals kick the ball around, she meets Jules (Keira Knightley), who is quite impressed with Jess' skills. Jules plays with a local semi-pro women's football team, the Hounslow Harriers, and she thinks Jess has what it takes to make the team. Jess knows that her parents would never approve of their daughter playing football, so she doesn't tell them, and starts spinning an increasingly complex series of lies as she tries to keep up a double life as a student and a footballer. Jess soon discovers a number of her new friends have their own problems to overcome; Jules dreams of playing pro ball in America, but has to deal with her stubborn and disapproving mother (Juliet Stevenson), while Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Hounslow's Irish coach, still struggles with the disappointment of a career as a professional athlete which was dashed by a knee injury.

Netflix It: Sleepless in Seattle

#26 - Sleepless in Seattle

Available from Netflix: Sleepless in Seattle, directed by Nora Ephron

Synopsis from

Sleepless in Seattle, the sophomore directorial effort from Nora Ephron, is a light romantic comedy inspired by the 1957 film An Affair to Remember. Tom Hanks stars as widower and single father Sam. When Sam's son, Jonah (Ross Malinger), calls into a talk radio program looking for a new mother, Sam ends up getting on the phone and laments about his lost love. Thousands of miles away, Annie (Meg Ryan) hears the program and immediately falls in love with Sam, despite the fact that she has never met him and that she is engaged to humdrum Walter (Bill Pullman). Believing they are meant to be together, Annie sets out for Seattle to meet Sam, who, meanwhile, contends with an onslaught of letters from available women equally touched by his phone call. Rosie O'Donnell, Rita Wilson, and Rob Reiner also star.

Netflix It: You've Got Mail

#25 - You've Got Mail

Available from Netflix: You've Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron

Synopsis from

Sleepless in Seattle director Nora Ephron originally made a name for herself as the writer of romantic comedies such as Heartburn and When Harry Met Sally. She continues the genre with You've Got Mail, marking her second collaboration with actors Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The story brings romance and courtship into the electronic age of the World Wide Web via e-mail and chat rooms. Joe Fox (Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) live and work blocks from each other on New York City's Upper West Side. Their lives are practically intertwined. They both shop at the same place, frequent the same coffee shop, and even own competing bookstores on the same street. They also both have significant others of their own. Joe has the overly hyper book editor Patricia Eden (Parker Posey), while Kathleen lives with the scholarly newspaper columnist Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear). Then they meet in a chat room. Though they keep their identities secret (they're known only by screen names "NY152" and "Shopgirl"), they tell each other everything about their lives, including their private feelings, which slowly turn into affection for each other. When Joe decides to open a new branch of his "Foxbooks" chain that risks putting Kathleen's "Shop Around the Corner" out of business, the tension between them escalates. Surely her boutique business will be lost to the conglomerate with a built-in newsstand and coffee bar. When Joe sees Kathleen waiting for him in the restaurant where they agreed to meet up, he puts two and two together, but cannot face her, given their agreement not to reveal each others' names and professions. How can he reveal himself to her now, knowing that he is the cause of her misery? Hopefully, love will conquer all.

Embedding for the original trailer is "disabled by request," so enjoy this reimagining:

Netflix It: I am Sam

#24 - I am Sam

Available on Netflix: I am Sam, directed by Jessie Nelson

Synopsis from

Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert (Stanley DeSantis), an agoraphobic neighbor (Dianne Wiest), and his other disabled pals, Brad and Joe (played by real-life developmentally challenged actors Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg). Although he provides a structured and loving environment for Lucy that includes regular visits to IHOP, video nights, and karaoke, Sam's daughter is beginning to surpass him in mental acuity. When Lucy begins intentionally stunting her own growth so as not to hurt her beloved father, social worker Margaret (Loretta Devine) takes action, removing the girl from her home and placing her in the temporary care of a foster mother, Randy (Laura Dern). As the day of his hearing looms, Sam seeks out the aid of driven, obsessive lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes the case only to prove to her colleagues that she is willing to accept pro bono work. Opposed by county lawyer Turner (Richard Schiff) in court, Rita gradually comes to care for her client and his daughter, even as they force her to consider the limitations of her own abilities as a parent.

Netflix It: Across the Universe

#23 - Across the Universe

Available from Netflix: Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor

To be honest, this movie looked absolutely unwatchable to me, but my parents loved it, so...

Synopsis from

Set against the anti-war protests, rock & roll revolution, and mind-expanding psychedelia of the 1960s, Julie Taymor's hallucinogenic musical follows the arduous journey of star-crossed lovers Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) as they and a small group of musicians are swept up in the raging waters of the volatile counterculture movement. Guided through their journey by a pair known only as Dr. Robert (Bono) and Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), Jude and Lucy are eventually forced to find their way back to one another after being split apart by powerful forces beyond their control. The music in the film consists exclusively of songs made popular by the Beatles during the time period depicted in the movie.

The film's website is here.

Netflix It: The Savages

#22 - The Savages

Available from Netflix: The Savages, directed by Tamara Jenkins

A pair of siblings are forced to set aside their discomfort with one another for the sake of their father in this low-key comedy drama from writer/director Tamara Jenkins. Wendy Savage (Laura Linney) is a struggling playwright living in New York City who works a day job to support herself and can't shake the feeling that she's failed as an artist. Wendy isn't especially happy about her love life either, gaining little self-esteem from her on-and-off affair with oversexed, married neighbor Larry (Peter Friedman). Wendy's anxieties about her writing career are intensified by the success of her brother, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who teaches theater history at a college in Buffalo, NY, and has published a number of books. While Jon's life seems fine on the surface, a case of writer's block has stalled work on his latest project, and he's deeply upset that his girlfriend is soon to leave the United States to return to her native Poland. Wendy and Jon don't get along and prefer not to see one another, but an unfortunate circumstance brings them together -- their father, Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco). Elderly Lenny has began showing signs of dementia, and shortly after he takes to smearing his feces on the walls of his Arizona home, his ailing long-term girlfriend suddenly dies. Wendy and Jon have little choice but to fly to Arizona and see what can be done for Lenny, but their long-simmering animosity makes it hard for them to deal with the realities of Lenny's condition.

The film's website is here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Netflix It: Boys Don't Cry

#21 - Boys Don't Cry

Available from Netflix: Boys Don't Cry, written and directed by Kimberly Peirce

Synopsis from (one that, by the way, does not respect Brandon Teena's choice of pronoun):

Based on a true story, this drama was adapted from the life of Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, a woman who chose to live her life as a man and suffered tragic consequences as a result. In 1993, 20-year-old Brandon (Hilary Swank) leaves Lincoln, Nebraska for the nearby community of Falls City, where she sports a crew cut, favors jeans and boots, and is regarded as a man by most of the people in town. While Brandon's friend Lonny (Matt McGrath) warns her that sexual outsiders aren't looked upon kindly in Falls City, she develops a reputation for being something of a ladies' man, and is soon living with a single mother named Candace (Alicia Goranson). But when Brandon meets teenage Lana (Chloe Sevigny), the two become romantically involved almost immediately. Brandon makes friends with Lana's mother (Jeanetta Arnette) and a burly ex-con named John (Peter Sarsgaard). John and his buddy Tom (Brendan Sexton) run with a rough group of men who like to drink and carouse, and they accept Brandon as one of their own. However, when Brandon ends up in jail on a traffic violation, her secret comes out, and, while Lana stands by Brandon's side, John and Tom feel betrayed -- and their anger soon boils over into violence. A distinguished feature debut for director Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don't Cry was enthusiastically received in its showings at 1999 film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and New York.

Netflix It: Pay It Forward

#20 - Pay It Forward

Available on Netflix: Pay It Forward, directed by Mimi Leder

Synopsis from

A young boy stumbles upon a simple way to change the world in this drama. Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) is a bright 11-year-old boy who comes from a troubled home; his mother Arlene (Helen Hunt) is an alcoholic trying to hold down two jobs to support her son, while Trevor's father (Jon Bon Jovi) left his family behind some time ago. At school, Trevor's class is introduced to their new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey), a guarded man with severe facial scars. Simonet gives his class an unusual assignment -- think up a practical way to make the world a better place, and put it into action. Trevor comes up with the notion of "Pay It Forward" -- do a needed favor for three different people without being asked, and then ask them to do the same for three others. Trevor starts by letting Jerry (James Caviezel), a junkie living on the streets, stay in his home. Next, he tries to fix Arlene up with Mr. Simonet, since both seem to be lonely and the clean and sober teacher might help Arlene stay away from alcohol. Finally, he tries to rescue one of his schoolmates, who is constantly tormented by bullies. Meanwhile, journalist Chris Chandler (Jay Mohr) finds himself stuck on the road without a car late one night when a man stops and give him the keys to a new car, asking him only to pay the favor forward to someone else; astonished, Chris wants to find out where this philosophy came from.

Netflix It: Lost in Translation

#19 - Lost in Translation

Available on Netflix: Lost in Translation, written and directed by Sofia Coppola

One of the (very, very) few woman-directed movies ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture! Sofia Coppola did pick up an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Synopsis from

After making a striking directorial debut with her screen adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola offers a story of love and friendship blooming under unlikely circumstances in this comedy drama. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a well-known American actor whose career has gone into a tailspin; needing work, he takes a very large fee to appear in a commercial for Japanese whiskey to be shot in Tokyo. Feeling no small degree of culture shock in Japan, Bob spends most of his non-working hours at his hotel, where he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) at the bar. Twentysomething Charlotte is married to John (Giovanni Ribisi), a successful photographer who is in Tokyo on an assignment, leaving her to while away her time while he works. Beyond their shared bemusement and confusion with the sights and sounds of contemporary Tokyo, Bob and Charlotte share a similar dissatisfaction with their lives; the spark has gone out of Bob's marriage, and he's become disillusioned with his career. Meanwhile, Charlotte is puzzled with how much John has changed in their two years of marriage, while she's been unable to launch a creative career of her own. Bob and Charlotte become fast friends, and as they explore Tokyo, they begin to wonder if their sudden friendship might be growing into something more.

The film's website is here.

Netflix It: The Namesake

#18 - The Namesake

Available on Netflix: The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair

Synopsis from

A couple coming to terms with living in a new culture discover their troubles are compounded by their son in this drama from filmmaker Mira Nair. Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) are a young couple who are brought together in an arranged marriage and soon leave Calcutta to seek their fortune in America. As the couple becomes accustomed to one another, they learn to deal with the coolness and superficiality of life in New York, even as they revel in the opportunities the city offers them. Before long, Ashima gives birth to a baby boy, and pressed to choose a name, they dub the infant Nikhil, though he soon picks up the nickname Gogol, after Ashoke's favorite author. By the time the child is old enough to attend school, he insists upon being called Gogol at all times, and he displays little interest in his Indian heritage. Several years on, Gogol has decided he wants to be called Nick (and is now played by Kal Penn) and has become a thoroughly Americanized teenager, openly rebelling against his parents, smoking marijuana in his room, and dating Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a preppy blonde from a wealthy family. Ashoke and Ashima are uncertain about how to deal with their son's attempts to cut himself off from their culture, but Nick begins expressing some uncertainty himself when he meets Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson), a beautiful girl who also comes from a family of Indian expatriates. The Namesake was adapted from the bestselling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The film's website is here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Netflix It: Vanity Fair

#17 - Vanity Fair

Available on Netflix: Vanity Fair, directed by Mira Nair

Synopsis from

William Makepeace Thackeray's witty assessment of the British class system, as seen through the experiences of one young woman, is brought to the screen with some serious star power in this period comedy drama. Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) is a bright and ambitious girl born to a poor British family. Becky is determined to make something of herself however she can, and after accepting a job as a nanny for the children of the powerful and aristocratic Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins), she wastes no time ingratiating herself with the family. Pretty Becky catches the eye of Crawley's handsome and eligible son Rawdon (James Purefoy), and becomes chummy with sharp-tongued Aunt Matilda (Eileen Atkins). Between the two of them, Becky is introduced to London's most exclusive social circle, where she becomes re-acquainted with Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai), a former school chum who is amused by Becky's efforts to scale the ladder of social influence. Becky weds Rawdon, but following initial happiness, the social and economic stability she dreamed of begins to collapse when he begins drowning his troubles in gambling and drink, and soon she turns to the powerful Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) for support. Meanwhile, Amelia's fortunes fall even harder following the death of her husband. Vanity Fair was directed by Mira Nair, who enjoyed a surprise international success with 2002's Monsoon Wedding.

The movie's website is here.

Netflix It: Wayne's World

#16 - Wayne's World

Wayne's World! Wayne's World! Party Time! Excellent!

Available on Netflix: Wayne's World, directed by Penelope Spheeris

Synopsis from

Based on the Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, Wayne's World is a wacky, irreverent pop-culture comedy about the adventures of two amiably aimless metal-head friends, Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey). From Wayne's basement, the pair broadcast a talk-show called "Wayne's World" on local public access television. The show comes to the attention of a sleazy network executive (Rob Lowe) who wants to produce a big-budget version of "Wayne's World"--and he also wants Wayne's girlfriend, a rock singer named Cassandra (Tia Carrere). Wayne and Garth have to battle the executive not only to save their show, but also Cassandra. Director Penelope Spheeris, Myers and Carvey hang a lot of silly, but funny, jokes on this thin plot, and the energy of the cast--as well as the wild pop-culture references--make Wayne's World a cut above the average Saturday Night Live spin-off movie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon

Opening this weekend: Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon, directed by Mary Mazzio

Synopsis from the film's website:

In America, a kid drops out of school every nine seconds. Imagine if they didn't.

This is the compelling question behind award-winning filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s newest project Ten9Eight, a thought provoking film which tells the inspirational stories of several inner city teens (of differing race, religion and ethnicity) from Harlem to Compton and all points in between, as they compete in an annual business plan competition run by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

The film includes students such as:

Rodney Walker, age 19, Founder of Forever Life Music and Video Productions: Rodney was put into the foster care system at the age of 5 and ended up homeless on the streets of Chicago. Almost becoming a statistic like many of his brothers, Rodney was able to chart a new future – and is now studying business as a freshman at Morehouse College.

Amanda Loyola, age 16, Founder of Eco-Dog Biscuits: Amanda’s father escaped from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, finding a job at Burger King in Brooklyn, New York. He inspired his daughter, Amanda, to think that anything might be possible in America. Amanda started her business, a vegetarian dog treat company, after her dog, Princess, died from cancer.

Rodney and Amanda are but two of several remarkably resilient kids featured in this film, all of whom are facing the most challenging of circumstances in the inner city – making their achievements all the more remarkable.

The final competition in New York City convenes 35 young entrepreneurs chosen from over 24,000 students from across the country, winnowed down through a series of city and statewide business plan competitions held throughout the year. The winner receives $10,000 to launch his or her business – but more importantly, these finalists have the opportunity to interact with high profile entrepreneurs, including the likes of Arthur Blank (founder, Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons); Tom Scott (co- founder, Nantucket Nectars); Ralph Schlosstein (co-founder, BlackRock); Wyc Grousbeck (owner of the Celtics); and Kay Koplovitz (founder of USA Network). Although there can be only one winner, each student is empowered with the promise of a future they never thought possible.

The Hand of Fatima

Opening this weekend: The Hand of Fatima, directed by Augusta Palmer

Synopsis from the film's website:

The Hand of Fatima interweaves two parallel journeys separated by over theirty years: Robert Palmer’s 1971 pilgrimage to Jajouka and his daughter Augusta Palmer’s 2006 trip to the village. These two visits to Jajouka create a multilayered portrait of a music critic and his favorite band, while providing a very focused lens to track our shifting perceptions of the Islamic world.

Robert Palmer first visited Jajouka on assignment for Rolling Stone in 1971, but the transcendent experiences he had there continued to resonate throughout his life. Three years earlier, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had made the trip up an unpaved road to visit the Master Musicians and record an album of their music. Jones’ recording, together with “cryptic allusions” to the village in the writing of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, inspired Palmer to search out the village’s hereditary musical brotherhood. He was exhilarated by the idea of a group of men who “sat around all day playing music... when they weren’t driving possessed tribesmen into mass Dionysian frenzies.” Nor was he disappointed by the reality of the place. In Jajouka, Palmer found, music was the center of communal life, with the power to serve as a “technology” for brining nature’s male and female forces into a “positive and fruitful equilibrium.” Palmer played his clarinet alongside the Master Musicians and felt proud when their leader Jnuin announced, “We have seen you through the music. Now you are one of us.” He returned several times to tap into Jajouka’s baraka, which he described as “spiritual batteries.”

After Palmer died in 1997, a Moroccan necklace he left to his daughter provided the first clue that compelled her to start interviewing family members and friends about what Jajouka had meant to her father. In January of 2006, Augusta Palmer visited the village to reconnect with Jajouka’s spirit and to understand what happened to her father there.

In Theaters: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

Arriving in theaters this weekend: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, directed by Sarah and Emily Kunstler

Other films at the Mar del Plata Film Festival

Other women-directed films at the Mar del Plata Film Festival:

Cold Souls, directed by Sophie Barthes

Died Young Stayed Pretty
, directed by Eileen Yaghoobian

L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot
, directed by Ruxandra Medrea and Serge Bromberg

Humpday, directed by Lynn Shelton

She, a Chinese, directed by Xiaolu Guo

Sorry, Thanks, directed by Dia Sokol

Behind The Rainbow

Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: Behind the Rainbow, directed by Jihan El-Tahri

Synopsis from the film festival's website:

Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma are renowned figures of the South African political world. The former is an intellectual leader, and the latter is a trade union representative who never received any kind of formal education. Both have, from different places, fought for the liberation of their country during more than 30 years (first from the trenches and later in exile) and helped build a non-racial State under Nelson Mandela’s Government. However, a few years ago, Mbeki and Zuma became the main characters of a political struggle of epic proportions in which the well-being of the majority was replaced by party pressures and personal differences. Fifteen years after the democratic victory over Apartheid, Jihan El-Tahri´s documentary analyzes today’s African National Congress – the party with which Mandela came to power - to portray an internal crisis that threatens to destroy everything achieved so far by the South African people.

Trailer is here (embedding disabled), and the movie's Facebook page is here.


Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: Antoine, directed by Laura Bari

Synopsis from the film festival's website:

The first thing we see is a detail shot of Antoine’s ear surrounded by his slightly tangled black hair, but not his eyes. Immediately after, we see him opening the shutters and windows of a dark room. This is how we first meet Antoine, the documentary that permanently flirts with fiction, and Antoine, the little blind Canadian boy. With the excuse of an imaginary police case, this young main character becomes a detective who explores the world in search of a certain Madame Rouski, a woman who dissolves in water and wanders around the pipes of her natal Montreal. Without being overdramatic, victimizing the main character or making him play his part with arrogant stoicism, Laura Bari portrays the daily life of a normal boy by stretching the boundaries of the game and letting imagination guide the story. Her camera dives into the universe of a small group of five-year-old children - placing itself physically at the same height and capturing in depth their forms of perception - to discover a new way of seeing the world.

The film's website is here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zombies: When the Dead Walk

Showing at the Columbus International Film & Video Festival (aka the Chris Awards): Zombies: When the Dead Walk, directed by Donna Zuckerbrot

Synopsis from the Chris Awards website:

Zombies are part of pop culture, but what are they? Where do they come from? How can we ever be free of the curse of the living dead? To find real zombies we will have to go quite a ways from Hollywood and its pop culture offshoots. In Haiti zombies are an integral part of the island’s cultural and religious roots. Outlawed by the government, zombification is said to be performed secretly in the countryside. It’s meant as a punishment for crimes against the community. The culprit is magically killed, resurrected and enslaved. We take a look at the practice of Voodoo, examine advances in psychopharmacology, and zombies in popular culture. It’s a surreal mix of religion, science and fun... When the Dead Walk.

Netflix It: The Parent Trap

#15 - The Parent Trap

I don't know who this movie makes me feel sadder about, Natasha Richardson or Lindsay Lohan...

Available on Netflix: The Parent Trap, directed by Nancy Meyers

Synopsis from

The husband-and-wife team of Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, who scored with their 1991 remake of the 1950 Father of the Bride, returned for this updating of the 1961 comedy about twins who hope to bring their divorced parents back together. Sheyer and Meyers stayed close to the original screenplay by David Swift, based on Erich Kastner's book Das Doppelte Lottchen. At a summer camp in Maine, 11-year-old Hallie Parker (Lindsay Lohan) meets Annie James (also Lindsay Lohan). Despite a curious resemblance, Hallie develops an immediate dislike for Annie, and the feeling is mutual. However, the two eventually discover they are twin sisters separated not long after they were born. Their parents, Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson) and Nick (Dennis Quaid), had met on the Queen Elizabeth 2 and married on that same voyage. After a divorce, Nick brought up Hallie at his Napa Valley vineyard, while Annie lived with wedding-gown designer Elizabeth in London. Neither twin was aware she had a sister, until their summer-camp meeting. To learn more about their parents, they switch places and maintain the deception until Nick states he will remarry. The twins then try to engineer a renewed romance between Nick and Elizabeth, but Nick's annoying but attractive fiancee Meredith (Elaine Hendrix) presents a major problem in reaching their happy-ending goal.

Netflix It: Big

#14 on the X-Factor Filmmakers list for the competition for Best Female-Directed Movie: Big

Available on Netflix: Big, directed by Penny Marshall

Synopsis from

More than anything else, 13-year old New Jerseyite Josh (David Moscow) wants to be "big". That's the wish he makes at an odd-looking amusement pier fortunetelling machine. The next morning, Josh wakes up-only to discover that he's grown to manhood overnight! (At this point, the part is taken over by Tom Hanks). Still a 13-year-old mentally and emotionally, Josh decides to hide out in New York City until he can figure out what to do next. He lucks into a job with a major toy company run by kid-at-heart McMillan (Robert Loggia). By cannily bringing a child's-eye view to McMillan's business, Josh rises to the top - and in the process, he falls in love with fellow employee Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). But he's still a kid, and he'd like to go back to his own world and own body. Written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, Big proved a crucial success for budding director Penny Marshall, who'd work harmoniously with Hanks again on the radically different A League of Their Own.


Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: Amer, directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Synopsis from the film festival's website:

In Amer, the first images, sounds and voices seem to come from an Italian horror movie of the seventies. To be more precise (and encourage those who visit these sinister regions of the catalog and festival), they seem to come from a giallo, combination of suspense and horror, in which dark directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento excelled. But Amer takes a different path, and first-timers Cattet and Forzani cleverly avoid making a movie that is a mere homage or insider’s wink. The film is more than the updating of a genre by skillfully and knowledgeably quoting its forms; the directors´ intentions and achievements are greater. Unlike classic giallos, there is no mystery to unveil, or rather, there are so many mysteries that they seem abstract, pure cinematographic form portrayed through images –probably the most fantastic images of the festival-, sounds and music (including the justified appearance of Ennio Morricone). And through the mystery of a woman in three different moments of her life, real or imagined, lived or dreamt, or everything at the same time.

La hora de la siesta / Siesta

Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: La hora de la siesta, directed by Sofía Mora

Synopsis from the film festival's website:

Dad is dead and mom has locked herself in her bedroom to cry and sleep; she doesn’t want to see anyone. Franca and her younger brother guard the door of the room so none of the annoying relatives assembled in their house in the middle of the afternoon can interrupt her solitary mourning. Afterwards, while waiting for the funeral, they wander around the neighborhood, perhaps in search of fresh air to clear their weary heads. Their conversations seem to lack continuity, marked by a combination of innocence and cynicism, always revolving around the same subject: to believe or not to believe. From faith (and religious fear) to conspirational paranoia (and the myths and superstitions supposedly created by “the Yankees”: the landing on the moon in 1969, the bad luck of Friday the 13th, friend’s day!), agnosticism and skepticism. Almost teenagers, they are just two somewhat lost brothers trying to deal with one certainty (death) and the doubts it has brought about. Sofía Mora’s first feature film captures this limbo with a special sensitivity, portraying the quiet anxiety and silent uneasiness of a hot and grey afternoon in the middle of the week. This daily yet strange situation depicts the hard pain of growing up, announcing, with a stifled scream, nothing less than the end of childhood.

Cinco días sin Nora / Nora's Will

Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: Cinco días sin Nora, directed by Mariana Chenillo

Synopsis from the film festival's website:

The main character of this first work – which received the Best Director Award in the Festival of Moscow – is dead. Specifically, she committed suicide. A meticulously planned suicide, partly thanks to its timing: just before the Jewish festivity of Pesaj and during the holidays of her only son, a combination which forces Kurtz, Nora’s ex-husband, to take care of the corpse, the apartment and the funeral, which has to take place 5 days after the death. But Kurtz soon understands that these were precisely the woman’s intentions and is determined to sabotage the plans of this puppeteer from the beyond. Actor Fernando Luján is Jesus Kurtz, a grumpy man played in a deadpan tone (which resembles Jacobo, the main character from Whisky) and a recalcitrant atheist intent on sabotaging the retinue of the rabbi designated by Nora with small pranks, big insults and pepperoni pizzas. Virtually all of this black comedy about religion takes place indoors, which proves not only Chenillo´s talent to make the best use of spaces but also her ability to portray the way in which some secrets and true feelings echo sustainedly every time they appear, almost inadvertently, in the film.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nothing Personal

Showing at the Mar del Plata Film Festival: Nothing Personal, directed by Urszula Antoniak

Synopsis from the festival's website:

A girl looks out the window of her apartment in Amsterdam. Her belongings are downstairs, on the street. All alone in the empty room, Anne -that’s her name- takes her ring off: this is the first scene of Nothing Personal and that’s all the information we’ll receive about Anne’s past because Antoniak´s first film focuses exclusively on Anne’s journey to faraway lands. The place chosen by Anne for her intimate exile is Connemara, an inhospitable district on the west coast of Ireland. We see her walking like an unsociable vagabond through the roads of this austere landscape, searching for food in the garbage and baring her teeth to those who try to disturb her solitude. But then she meets Martin, a widow who is much older than her but equally determined to defend his isolation. She agrees to work for him in exchange for food and something begins to change in Anne’s interior. Using very few dialogues and taking full advantage of the enigmatic beauty of the Irish landscape, Antoniak finds the precise tone and rhythm to portray Anne’s transformation and the chemistry between Rea (Neil Jordan’s fetish actor) and the fantastic actress Lotte Verbeek, the great discovery of Nothing Personal. When our contemporary world is busy with issues of unification and integration, the two characters of Nothing Personal choose a solitude they see as personal freedom and comfort. But isn’t they longing for human contact? What are the stages of coming together of two people? Nothing Personal is a cinematic experience asking and answering these questions.

The film's website is here.