Lady in the Water (2006) Film Review


There is a really cool apartment building with a beautiful swimming pool that has a whole heap of interesting people living there, and the superintendent is a sad guy called Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti). Then a woman appears and she is from another place, another people, and she needs to get home. A Chinese woman in the building tells of this old bedtime story and everyone believes it and plays their part despite it being weird and unbelievable.

That’s a bad summary. But it’s also true. And it really works. M. Night Shyamalan has had varying level of success with his film, but he certainly can tell a story. And while the fact that everyone in the film just went along with it made no real sense, it also worked quite nicely.

Sideways (2004) Film Review


Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a depressed wine lover who is struggling to get past his divorce, even after two years. Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) is an actor who never really made it, and is about to get married. Miles takes Jack on a wine-tasting week away expecting lots of drinking and golf, but Jack is more keen on getting laid – and getting Miles laid. Then there are the ladies that they meet – but I don’t feel like mentioning them given that the only role they have is to be sex objects and to be treated poorly.

I don’t get this film. I don’t really understand why it was so highly lauded. Perhaps it is that we don’t see a lot of films of middle-aged men having breakdowns. Do we? I just found it boring, both the men had appalling attitudes toward woman and towards life in general. There were several scenes that seemed totally implausible, and really, just annoyed me.

Sideways won an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Thomas Hayden Church), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Virginia Madsen), and Best Achievement in Directing (Alexander Payne).


The Ides of March (2011) Film Review

the Ides of March

The Ides of March is a film about politics and power, focusing on those behind the scenes –  the campaign managers and interns who are working on the primaries. My understanding of the primaries comes from movies, TV and NPR podcasts, and I believe that the way it works is that the race for President is essentially between two people – a Democrat and a Republican. The primaries are how they decide who those two people will be – the various candidates campaign and then a caucus of the people from that party vote, and eventually someone is picked. There’s way, way more to it than that – for example, this film is set in Ohio, and that is apparently open voting, which means both Democrats and Republicans (and I suppose everyone in between) votes in the primaries. Look, ok, I don’t really know. All I know is, there is a lot of money in it, and the candidate who gets the most votes from delegates then goes on to campaign in the race for President.

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is second in charge to Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) on the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is a believer – he plays clean, he is honest, and he believe that the liberal views of Morris can really make the world a better place. During the Ohio campaign, a series of events happen that rob Meyers of his naivety and leave him difficult choices.

About three-quarters of the way through this film, I was trying to figure out what Meyers would do next. I felt that things were hopeless for him, but I was unsure whether I even cared. I decided I did, and was then trying to work out what paths he had left open – what was his goal and how would he achieve it. Then I wondered about whether I was enjoying the film or not. During films, I don’t usually think this much – or at least, not consciously. If I am aware that these are my thought processes, is the film not engaging me? This is why I can’t decide if I liked it or not – because I was just so conscious of the script and trying to dissect it. Writing this now, I realise I did enjoy thinking this way during the film – especially because it wasn’t predictable.

My main criticism was that the character of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) was very under developed. I didn’t believe the choices she made, or the manner in which she made them. For me to believe that Meyers would react in the way he did (I’m trying very hard not to put in spoilers) I needed more about Stearns. She just seemed like an unfulfilled character, and given her importance in the story, the film could have explored her more.

As a director, I think Clooney shows a particular penchant for the eyes. Perhaps it’s because his are just so gorgeous, or perhaps it’s because Gosling is able to convey a lot with a subtle lift of an eyebrow. There was an awful lot of eye and eyebrow acting in this film.

It’s got a strong cast with the usual wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giatmatti and Marisa Tomei. Clooney himself was a much smaller part in the film. I used to think he was a terrible actor – gorgeous, but terrible. That’s changing – between this and The American (which I did not like, but Clooney’s performance was very strong), I think there may be more to him than a charming smile.

As far as films about power and politics are concerned, I would recommend Wag the Dog (1997) and Primary Colors (1998) first, but the Ides of March certainly captures the filth of politics and power.

The Ides of March was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.

Saving Mr Banks (2013) Film Review


P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) wrote Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) wanted to make a film of it. But she hates films and she hates animation and she won’t bear it. However, she is convinced to visit Hollywood and work with a fabulous team (Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) to turn it into a film. Travers hates every moment of it, from the small talk of her driver, Paul Giamatti, to the food delivered to their workspace. But the experience takes her back to her childhood in rural Australia with her alcoholic father.

Most of the film I loved. I didn’t love the structure all of the time – sometimes the flashbacks were a bit clunky and annoying, but they were so important to the film as a whole. Emma Thompson is always a delight to watch on-screen and I especially loved seeing her interactions with the Hollywood types – especially with Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak trying to impress her. There was some heavy-handed make-up on Tom Hanks to make him look more like Walt Disney, and I felt that wasn’t necessary, however it didn’t bother me as much as it has in other films. And cry? Oh, so much so. And I so do enjoy a cry at a movie!

Saving Mr Banks was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (Emma Thompson) and for BAFTAs for the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film, the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer (Kelly Marcel), Best Leading Actress (Emma Thompson) and Best Costume Design (Daniel Orlandi).


Barney’s Version (2010) Film Review


Barney is a television producer or writer or something who is reminiscing about his life, his marriages and everything. A lot of things don’t happen in the most straightforward way (for example, the way he meets the love of his life), and the last twenty minutes or so take the audience a whole different direction.

I don’t think I gained anything from watching this film. It was fine. Kind of interesting, but not compelling. I feel that if I’d been interrupted halfway through watching this, I probably wouldn’t go back to it. There wasn’t not a lot there for me.

Barney’s Version was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup.