Friday, April 23, 2010

The BC Review: The Verdict

At my husband's suggestion/request (he's a lover of what is known as "oldies but goodies") I've decided to add another category to these film reviews; Classics. I believe he's given me an excellent idea, to use these reviews as a way to re-introduce viewers to some titles they may have forgotten about, overlooked, or perhaps (as is my case a lot of the time) never heard of! So, hear goes the first of what may likely be many "Classic" film reviews.

As I've previously mentioned, my husband is in his second year of law school (thus contributing to my time to watch more movies! Ha ha). As an interesting twist, a professor of his teaching a course on professional responsibility (and the law) assigned The Verdict to her class. Being the ever supportive wife that I am, I agreed to screen this one with him and then of course contribute to the mandatory brow-furrowing-what-does-this-mean-to-the-legal-profession discussion.

The Verdict (released in 1982) starring Paul Newman, as the drunken personal injury lawyer, Frank Galvin, presents the story of a by all accounts, down-and-out ambulance chaser, known for his boozing and questionable moral outlook on life. Due to the generosity of a former business partner, Galvin is handed a medical malpractice case; by all accounts primed to win a very large sum of money.

The case, a dreadful malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital and its bumbling treatment of a pregnant woman which causes the death of her baby and the near death of the mother (she is left in a vegetative state in a long-term care facility), manages to pull what is left of Galvin's heart strings, leading him to seek more than the customary "we're very sorry for our screw up" sum of money; justice and a well-deserved audible apology to the victim's family. (I should mention, The Verdict is quite timely these days as the story of Abbi Dorn is gracing the pages the CNN [see link here:]).

Despite the morally questionable behavior of the opposing counsel, church leaders, and even his love interest, through the duration of the trial we witness Galvin morph into a person of honor, set on winning not just money but the deep-seated apologies of the hospital, hospital staff, and most importantly - the Church.

Galvin's star witness, the former hospital admitting nurse, Kaitlin Costello, blows the case wide open with an admission of guilt and detailed description of questionable procedures that occurred in the aftermath of the incident. Of course, opposing counsel attempts to damage her credibility as a reliable witness, using her own mental breakdown and eventual departure from the hospital as fodder for their claims. Surely, she can not be trusted! But the judge believes otherwise...

Newman gives a command performance (as can be expected from this veteran actor) and in the absence of other notable namesake stars, carries the film. He gives us an honest portrayal of a down-trodden man and tugs a bit on our own heart strings as we start to pull for Galvin and hope to see him succeed in the case.

The Verdict was nominated for 5 Academy Awards:

Best Picture - Richard D. Zanuk and David Brown
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Paul Newman
Best Actor in a Supporting Role- James Mason
Best Director - Sidney Lumet
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium - David Manet

The Verdict comes recommended for Newman fans and move-goers who enjoy the slow, deliberate pace of a Classic (and may attract those interested in exploring the moral obligations and professional responsibility required of those in the legal profession).

The Bee Charmer Rating: B

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The BC Review: The September Issue

Long before I became a self-described "movie buff" I maintained a deep love of Fashion. A surprising admission I'm sure for those of you who know me (I am clearly NOT the fashionista these days). But throughout my adolescence I reveled in watching Fashion TV (run in syndication on VH1 in the mid 90s) and carried around a sketch book of my "designs" with me almost everywhere.

Some time ago, on a Saturday afternoon drive on Arlington Boulevard I flipped to NPR and tuned in to hear an interview with a gentleman (whose name now escapes me) who had just completed filming a full-length documentary on Anna Wintour, (for those of you not familiar with the all-too-important fashion world, I'll explain) the famed editor of Vogue magazine. Thus the waiting began...

Luckily, I did not have to wait too much longer to see the film. Unfortunately, I (somehow) managed to miss The September Issue in theaters, but not so long after its big screen run it turned up on Netflix.

The September Issue does not disappoint! It shows Anna at her best; sitting behind her intimidating editor's desk, sporting her sleek bob, and short sheath dresses in a variety of colors and patterns (much to my surprise, Anna is NOT a fan of black), dictating her "vision" for the magazine's pages to her many, many, peons. The film gives us a raw view of the creative process behind Vogue's much-anticipated September issue, complete with the trials and tribulations of Anna's dedicated staffers as they trudge through another season trying to accommodate Anna's demands.

For those of you who caught Meryl Streep's performance in The Devil Wears Prada, you will see some similarities between the farce and the real thing. Anna is as her reputation aspouses; disciplined, focused, (more than a bit) critical, but always, masterful in her vision for the magazine. Where The September Issue surprises is Anna's introduction to her daughter, Bee Shaffer. Anna, by reputation, is known for her tenacity to keep the details of her private life just that, private. But we are introduced to Bee, a well-spoken, confident girl with a surprising love, not for fashion... but the law! The issue of where Bee will end up... her "rightful" place clearly at the editor's desk; is somewhat of a question (a circumstance Anna is less than thrilled with).

The focus clearly centered on Anna, there are a few "characters" that jump out. One in particular, is Grace Coddington, the magazine's creative director. Grace, tho not much to look at these days, was once a budding beauty found on the inside of Vogue's pages as a high fashion model. However, in the aftermath of a fortuitous car accident, these days she's clearly focused on the content - contributing the bulk of the photo spreads; awe-inspiring shoots of romantic scenes full of imagery and well, absolutely stunning beauty. Unfortunately, for her (and for us) much of her work doesn't make it past the cutting room floor as time and time again we see Anna's discerning eye scan the shoots and systematically pull the assumed favorites off the line!

A documentary at heart, The September Issue is true to its subjects, presenting them in a realistic (and sometimes adversarial) light. While at the same time, providing some well-time comic relief; as we see Grace and Anna butt heads on more than one occasion.

Of course, as this is is a FASHION themed film, the best elements include the aspiring staffers, talented photographers, hungry models, gorgeous clothes, and of course, the cameos! Keep a watchful eye for Oscar (of De la Renta fame), Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, and every bride's favorite, the lovely Vera Wang.

The September Issue comes highly recommended for fashionistas and documentary connoisseurs!

The Bee Charmer Rating: B+

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The BC Review: She's Out of My League

As a wonderful surprise last Tuesday night, my husband took me out to the movies! For a change, I decided to let him pick the flick. Not surprisingly, he went with a bit of a lighter fare than I'm usually inclined to choose myself.

She's Out of My League, although certainly far from ever achieving the coveted Oscar nod, turned out to be a mildly amusing romantic comedy. The age-old, boy-meets-girl story gained a bit of a twist as the male lead, Kirk, played by Jay Baruchel, presented the down-trotten story of a mid-30s guy stuck in a dead-end job at a Pittsburg airport desperately trying to win back his, by-all-accounts, trashy, ex-girlfriend Marnie (played by Lindsay Sloane), when he suddenly meets the girl of his dreams, beautiful, viviacious, too-good-to-be true - Molly (played by Alice Eve).

Surrounded by his somewhat idiotic friends (who in the end turn out to be his saving grace), we watch as Kirk fumbles through awkard pseudo-dates with Molly; all the while questioning why anyone like Molly would be with a guy like him. After a fair amount of time/dates the two become an item; much to the chagrin of Molly's family and much to the shock of Kirk's less-than-supportive extended family (which humurously includes his ex and her polo-shirt-attired boyfriend Ron).

Throughout the ensuing scenes, we watch helplessly as Kirk struggles against his own self-loathing to see what Molly sees in him; a kind, if yet, "safe", sensitive romantic.

Some viewers may recognize Baruchel from previous films to include small roles in Tropic Thunder and Knocked Up. But my favorite harkens back to his Zeppelin-obsessed "band aid" character, Vic Munoz, the Zeppelin fan, in Almost Famous. Although older, and certainly more mature, Baruchel holds tight to his slight, nerdish frame; expertly playing the Anthony Michael Hall "we really wish he gets the girl!"-created pursuer.

Lastly, this review would be remiss without the mention of Kirk's BBF, Stainer, (played by T.J. Miller). A quick glance at his stats indicates Miller is a relative newcomer on the scene, but in this movie-goers opinion, his physical appearance and comedic "buddy comedy/bromance" timing, places him on the path of the Kevin James, Will Ferrells, and Jason Segels of the world. (I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more Miller roles in the future).

She's Out of My League comes recommended for those looking for a light-fare "date night" flick. For those looking for substance, our advice... keep looking.

The Bee Charmer Rating: C+

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The BC Review: An Education

As I am still catching up on all of the Oscar-nominated films from the past year, last night I checked one more off my list with Lone Scherfig's, An Education. This one was yet another pleasant surprise as it wildly exceeded my expectations. My mother mentioned I might like it, as she had seen it as part of AMC's Best Picture Showcase back in February. And indeed she was right!

An Education, starring Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard, and much to my surprise, Emma Thompson, presents the story of a 16-year-old school girl coming of age in 1960s London. Mulligan plays Jenny, our fresh-faced heroine, from a position of complete, unfettered honesty, and an indescrible sense of self. Little known until her performance in An Education, Mulligan is surely off to a whirlwind career. Her portrayal of Jenny is astounding, clearly reminisicent of Audrey Heburne at her greatest(which may explain her recent casting as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady).

Alfred Molina brings us the at-first, sterotypical over-protective father set on giving his daughter Jenny a first class classical education complete with exactly one "music/hobby" (in Jenny's case, the cello) in accordance with the strict acceptance standards Oxford University requires. As any young girl can probably atest, the father-daughter relationship is turbulent; however, through it all, the love they share for each other is constant and strong.

Jenny meets David (played by Peter Sarsgaard), a not-much-to-look-at older man while walking home in the pouring rain with her cello in hand. Asking to carry her cello in his car, as he is an avid cello fan, David presents himself as a kind, considerate, and "proper gentleman" (this of course does not last). Soon after their initial meeting, David and Jenny strike up a relationship, full of wine, French music, shopping, and "art dealing" leads Jenny on a winding path, ultimately leading her to question her entire sense of what is right and what is expected in life.

In an interesting twist, Jenny's parents, at first hestitant to allow their daughter to spend weekends in Paris with her David, soon become enchanted by his spell, just as their daughter (and we have). Practically swooning as a result of David's high-powered connections (to include a personal friendship with C.S. Lewis), Marjorie and Jack thrill at the idea of Jenny marrying the likes of someone such as David. Unfortunately, it is not until it is too late that they see the error in their own judgement.

Emma Thompson plays a small, but pivotal role as the headmistress of Jenny's school and serves as one of the only vestigages of reason in Jenny's now chaotic world. The headmistress and Jenny's teacher, Ms. Stubbs (played by Olivia Williams), foresee the poor decisions Jenny is about to make as a result of her love affair with a glamorous older man, and try to disuade her from her ill-informed choices. However, it is Jenny that must make the decisions in her own life; she is unwilling to take them at their word.

In the end, the fantasy life Jenny's been living does come crumbling down, leaving our Jenny left to contemplate her REAL education, only this time, not the education gained from her Latin lessons and concert rehearsals, but the education of life she has experienced through David.

The Bee Charmer Rating: A-

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The BC Review: Zombieland

At the risk of being ordinary, I've decided to expand my reviews to both currently in-the-theater films and those on DVD. The primary reason for this is there are a ton of wonderful films that do not get the exposure they rightfully deserve. Therefore, I've made it my goal to give them just that; exposure! These posts may vary, highlighting films recently released on DVD and those that have been out for some weeks, months, or even, years. And for those of you with Netflix, seeing these little gems is an inexpensive venture!

So, enough rationale, my first DVD review is below. I hope you enjoy!

When I first heard about Zombieland when it was released in the theaters some months ago I was not enthused to run right out and spend my $11.00 on a movie ticket. I mean, really, with all of the great dramas out there, what would possibly compell me to see a zombie-bashing flick?

So... I waited. I figured if my husband and I had some friends over on a Saturday night and they wanted to see a riduculous action flick then I'd just put it on the Netflix queue. In reality, things didn't happen in that exact order, but I did end up watching it one evening while my husband and his friends were studying in the apartment.

Much to my surpise I LOVED it! And at times, found myself having trouble stifling my outbursts of laughter. From the opening scenes, as told by Columbus (played by Adventureland's Jesse Eisenberg), narrating his key "rules to surviving Zombieland" (to name a few: cardio, the double shot, and beware/cautious of using public restrooms!) I knew, indeed, I was in for a raucous good time in Zombieland.

Surviving in the crazed Zombie-infested United States, now known to those who have actually managed NOT to become murderous Zombies, as Zombieland, we find an assorted cast of characters. The first of which, Columbus, a nerdy-bumbling college student, tells of his heartache surrounding the events of a few weeks prior. The love-of-his life, his attractive next-door co-ed, comes knocking on his door complaining a homeless man tried to bite her, much to Columbus's dismay, turns into - you guessed it - a flesh eating Zombie who in turn tries to take a bloody thirsty chunk out of him!

The second, Tallahasse, (played by a hilarious Woody Harrelson)gives us a refuse-to-quit cowboy character who much in the vein of Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas, enjoys his craft - killing Zombies in the most brutal of fashions. Harrelson's portrayal of Tallahasse is reminiscent of his role in No Country for Old Men, yet with a twist of comedic genius. Indeed, Harrelson steals the show here.

Adding to the mayhem, Tallahasse and Columbus arrive at a Zombie-destroyed grocery store, to find two more survivors - sisters by the names of Little Rock and Wichita -(played by Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine fame and the coolest girl in school, Jules, of Superbad, Emma Stone). Breslin gives a descent performance as Little Rock, although she's still a bit rough around the edges, at times playing the character a little too serious (this is a Zombie flick afterall!). But, she's definitely growing her craft(as evidenced in her recent role in My Sister's Keeper). Emma Stone plays a role we are familiar with - the too cool, popular, attractive vixen with a touch of humility and a "I'm deeper than I appear" interior. Overall, a fitting role for her.

Much to the viewer's surprise, these sisters take Columbus and Tallahasse on a raucous, and at times, frustrating ride! In the end, an enjoyable cast of characters takes to the streets crushing Zombies wherever they pop up; in their quests to reach a favorite childhood amusement park.

Of course, this review would be remiss without the mention of Bill Murray's surprise cameo. Love him, or hate him (it's definitely a toss up!) Murray adds to the debauchery; playing himself as an inventive Zombieland survivor, until ultimately meeting his untimely demise at the hands of a bumbling Columbus.

Whether an avid fan of the Zombie film genre or a conventional movie-goer, Zombieland comes highly recommended for anyone looking to kick up their heels and go along for the ride!

The Bee Charmer rating: A

The BC Review: Alice in Wonderland

My apologies for my somewhat late posting, things became a bit busier than usual these last few weeks. But as my husband has informed me, I now owe him (and you!) a couple of reviews! So here goes...

While enjoying a day off from work a couple weeks ago, I took a trip over to the Hoffman multiplex in Alexandria to see an afternoon matinee of Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland in 3D IMAX. Despite my anticipation for this film, I have to be honest and say it did not quite live up to my expectations. Of course, in true Disney fashion there were funny, loveable characters (i.e. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum), intermixed with some somewhat eccentric and therefore, exciteable ones (I will get to the Helena Bonam Carter's portrayal of the Red Queen and Johnny Depp's interpretaton of the Madd Hatter later). But the overall plot and direction of the film was just so-so. Perhaps it is the unavoidable comparison I find myself making between Disney's Alice and Cameron's AVATAR? To be sure, both included some pretty amazing animation, but AVATAR certainly beat out Alice (in my opinion) for creativity and the pure fun factor. Watching Alice in the middle of the day I felt myself bored with the plot and at times, glancing at my watch... a scene that never occured during the two times I sat through the 3-hour Cameron masterpiece.

As my husband can attest, I am an avid fan of Mr. Depp. And his portrayal of the Madd Hatter, as with all of his crazy, kooky, characters, left me wanting more. Love him or hate him, Depp's contributions to almost everything he's in makes the film what it is and well, can succeed in saving even the most dreadful of stories. Obviously drawing from his Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka characterizations, Depp once again gives us a loveable, fun, sometimes a bit unnerving, and at the same time, vulnerable Hatter. Indeed, the vulnerability displayed in Alice is key to Depp's genious. He gives us a Hatter once an employee of the White Queen, given to entertain the residents of the kingdom, now dejected and soured in the face of the Red Queen's tyranny. To be sure, the Hatter is looking for someone (i.e. Alice) to save him from himself, and in the end, he proves to take a much bigger part in saving himself.

I am also a big fan of Helena Bonham Carter and she once again leaves the audience wanting more of the oversized head and diminunitive body of the tyranical Red Queen. It is no surprise she was cast in this film due to the film's direction by her husband, Tim Burton, but she plays the character with a not-so-quiet dignity and lends at times a comical performance to the dark plot.

On the opposite side of course is the Red Queen's beautiful, prodigal sister, the White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway). Hathaway is OK, but not great in this role. Although I am also usually a fan of Hathaway's and especially these days as she's expanded her craft to include dynamic character portrayals as found in Rachel Getting Married and even Brokeback Mountain it is difficult to see her genius in Alice. This is likely due to two factors:

1. Not enough screen time
2. An extremely narrow character

The scenes of the White Queen are extremely limited in the film. Whether that was intentional or just a result of the cutting room floor is uncertain. Regardless, the character is bound by her overly sympathetic, kind, Glenda-the-Good Witch exterior. There appears little room for Hathaway to expand her character outside the box; a frustrating event.

I will end this review now so as not to wear you out with my commentary (in the hopes you will come back for another!) Ha ha. If you're looking for a fun, strict plot line 3D animated adventure, Alice has lots in store for you. Just don't go with the intention of witnessing dynamic characters.

The Bee Charmer rating: B