Film Review : About Schmidt (2002)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress – Kathy Bates

Cannes Film Festival Nominee for Palm d’Or

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, and Dermot Mulroney

A man upon retirement embarks on a journey to his estranged daughter’s wedding only to discover more about himself and life than he ever expected.

I’ve been meaning to get out to see Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska, which has been playing in my local art house for two weeks now. I’m going to have to get motivated or else I’m not going to be able to see it due to the five or so films that I still have left to see in this waning year. I’m a new fan of Payne. I saw Election about eight years ago and only recently revisited it on this site. I rented Sideways the year it came out and couldn’t finish it before I had to bring it back to the rental store. The Descendants was the first of his films I saw in theaters and while I loved it, I still haven’t revisited it since. There does seem to be a bit of a strange relationship I have with his films. On the one hand I find them unique and enjoyable and on the other I just can’t seem to watch them and appreciate them like some have. Hopefully Nebraska breaks that mold but until then I wanted to round out his mainstream filmography by watching About Schmidt.

The film is completely centered around the character of Warren Schmidt, played beautifully by the amazing and legendary Jack Nicholson. I don’t really know of anybody who isn’t a fan of of Jack and while his recent “retirement” from film have left most of us saddened, it’s honestly been a long time coming. We’ll still have his giant body of work to go back to and relive again and I hope his performance in this film is included because it was one of his best. The film is a character study focused directly on what happens to people when their age forces changes in their lives. Nicholson’s Schmidt goes through death, retirement, and the realization that his only daughter is getting married to somebody whom he finds intellectually substandard. It’s something that millions of Americans have gone through in their lives and will continue going through. Nicholson handles the role with subtle sadness and obvious disdain for the situation he’s in. He’s not ready for life on his own and it’s not going to get any easier. The only thing that is keeping him balanced is the six year old Tazmanian child whom he is supporting through a televised charity agency. He writes letters to this poverty stricken child like he’s writing an old friend. It’s more of a way to grasp his reality than actually wanting to inform his “foster child” of what’s going on in his life. It’s like therapy for him. This is the driving theme in this story…dealing with sadness.

Payne is used to this. His films have always been layered with emotion and usually feature somebody who is on the brink of a breakdown. George Clooney could have won an Oscar with his performance in The Descendants. Paul Giamatti SHOULD have won an Oscar for his performance in Sideways. He wasn’t even nominated. Now Bruce Dern is winning awards left and right for his portrayal of man who thinks he won a million dollars in Nebraska. Payne brings the pain in almost every film (Horrible pun, I’m so sorry) and he didn’t break that mold when making About Schmidt.

The supporting cast was great as well as most of the comedy came from them. Kathy Bates plays a free spirit with horrible marriages she doesn’t mind talking about and Dermot Mulroney plays a lovable but completely annoying and lame brained man who is to marry Schmidt’s daughter. The film has a bunch of those little awkward moments that make you squirm and writhe with unease but it never breaches into unsettling. It’s like little moments of watching Steve Carell on the Office.

Overall a very good film that should be remembered as one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles in a lifetime of amazing roles.


Documentary Review : Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2011)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 75%
Netflix Instant Watch

Directed By – Fredrik Gertten
Nominated for Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentray

Dole Food Company wages a campaign to prevent a pair of Swedish filmmakers from showing their documentary about a lawsuit against the company.

Yes. I’m aware that the title of this film is misleading. I can assure you that the film I’m about to review is REALLY about a lawsuit Dole filed against a film claiming defamation and not a film about a bunch of dudes going crazy on film with each other. As a lover of film it is my duty to remain unbiased towards certain titles and to never judge a book or film by its cover or title but I assure you that I read up on this film before I watched it. Now that I got that off my chest, let’s get to the film on hand.

So basically what this is is a documentation of the legal proceedings that followed the creation of Bananas!*, a film by Swedish director Fredrik Gertten about the legal battles and dangers that banana pickers/workers were going though at that time. Dole, the biggest manufacturer of fruit and vegetables in the world was mentioned in the film but not focused as a direct cause for these problems. The film is to be screened at the LA Film Festival and before it can do so, Gertten receives a cease and desist letter in the mail claiming that if the film is shown at the festival that a lawsuit will follow. The letter was sent by Dole. What follows is a document of how propaganda and direct violation of freedom of speech is rampant in US legal proceedings and that if you want to sue somebody you basically can as long as you have the money to back it up.

It’s kind of a weird concept. The film is about a film, one of which is readily available to the public now, but in order to take a side I feel like I should have seen this film in question. I haven’t and my opinion of the film only differs in a small sense but you should really see the film in question before watching this documentary. I feel it’s more fun that way. Even without doing so I enjoyed this. They show things through an ultimately biased but grounded viewpoint that becomes more factual and poignant as the story starts getting picked up by national news programs. It’s a great look into corporate dealings and operations and that if a company is big enough, they can basically do or say what they want as long as they have the funding for it. It’s a true David and Goliath story that sheds light on commercial industry and its treatment towards the bill of rights.


Film Review : Elephant (2003)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 72%

Cannes Film Festival Awards
Palme d’Or
Best Director

Directed By – Gus Van Sant
Starring – Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, and Elias McConnell

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

I was in school when Columbine happened. I remember getting nightmares and daydreaming during the day what I would do if such an event occurred. I researched the event non stop in order to be prepared if anything like that happened to me. It got to the point where I knew the names of the victims and where they died. I knew the time table of events. I could probably walk through that high school right now and find my way around. I was that frightened by that event. I became obsessed with my fears. I got a lot of those feelings back when I viewed this film.

As much as I was disturbed to the core by this film, I ended up loving every second of it. I’m not a big Gus Van Sant fan but this is one of those films that transcends the rest of his work. It’s one of the most realistic yet absolutely surrealistic views of high school I have ever seen. Van Sant decides to ditch traditional narrative and story telling and instead decides to following his actors as they go through their every day life in high school. I’m so glad he decided to film this way because it makes the impact of what everybody knows is going to happen even more terrifying. Long takes following students down hallways and into lunchrooms puts the viewer right back into those four years. While the school is ultimately different than my own high school, the feeling and tone of the scenes hit a chord with me. I was a happy neutral in high school. I was friends with the popular kids and friends with the freaks. I’ve seen my share of bullying just as our main shooter Alex endured in the beginning of the film. It’s terrifying to know that not only my school, but any school could have an event like this. It was eye opening.

I loved the long shots. I loved the minimal score that really only included Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, No. 2 Moonlight. It’s really the perfect piece of music to brings the subtle tension leading up to the climax to life. It was like feeding off my fears and is probably one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. It was damn near perfect. The fact that in won the Palme d’Or at Cannes is evident that this is a highly important film and should be viewed by as many as possible to fully understand these school shootings. I can exhale now.


Film Review – Prisoners (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.3
RT Score – 80%

Guys, I think it has finally happened. I think we finally have started to hit that point where quality films are going to start coming out and that one of the most boring and uneventful summer of movies is about to end. There have been some good films this year but as a whole I’m glad it’s starting to end. Cannes, Sundance, and the Venice/Toronto film festivals have ended and the New York Film Festival just opened last night. We’re here guys. We’re here.

Prisoners debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and placed 3rd in the People’s Choice category. I say it was well deserved. Denis Villeneuve, who directed on of my favorite films ever in Incendies, heads this film about a child abduction and how two men try to find the missing children. The film has a stellar cast comprised of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrance Howard, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis. I mention this lot because I think the acting was the highlight of the film as we get a powerhouse performance by Hugh Jackman and great subtle performances by Viola Davis and Paul Dano. The rest were great as well but the aforementioned stole scenes for me. Jackman is going to be in consideration for awards and until Oscar season comes to an end is my favorite male role this year.

The title of this film holds true to the story as Denis Villeneuve shows us many instances of how people can be taken prisoner. It’s really hard to go into this film without revealing spoilers but I’ll try my best. The cinematography in this film is outstanding. The camera paints a very bleak landscape very very well. Lots of rain and overcast skies that pair up with wonderful camera work during many of the films nighttime scenes. This is a very deep film that really makes the viewer try to determine who the victims are in the grand scheme of thing. What do we do when somebody takes somebody you love? What happens when you think the police aren’t doing the best they can do? I left the theater thinking that the end of the film, while fitting, didn’t quite determine the fates of those involved. This in no way deterred me from liking, even loving the film, as it gave me a lot to think about. This is a film that shows you just enough to be incredibly powerful and disturbing without threatening to beat the living snot out of you with it.

Prisoners has some fantastic twists and turns and fantastic performances from the cast. It’s Seven, meets Zodiac, meets Gone Baby Gone but just so unique in its own right.


Film Review : The Piano Teacher (2001)

IMDB Score – 7.3
RT Score – 73%

Best Actor Cannes Film Festival – BenoĆ®t Magimel
Best Actress Cannes Film Festival – Isabelle Huppert
Grand Prize of the Jury Cannes Film Festival – Michael Haneke

Okay, so I have been watching a lot of very difficult films lately. This is the third film by Michael Haneke that I have seen now after really liking Code Unknown and considering Cache is one of my favorite films ever. This however was definitely the most difficult to watch based on how grim and depressing the protagonist. Isabelle Huppert plays a gifted piano professor and scholar who has a dark secret…masochism. The movie follows this development as she meets and befriends a student. The film is a serious character study as we are shown some disturbing realities on how people live and deal with their problems. Masochism is a problem by the way. It isn’t a fetish. It isn’t normal. That is some deranged shit brought on by serious childhood trauma. This is obviously just my opinion but when you watch Huppert’s character go through these motions you can’t help but feel sick and sad for somebody so f’ed up in the head. Haneke crafts a haunting film but leaves, as normal for him, so many unanswered questions. It’s a brutal film slowly drained of human emotion which is ironic because there is so much beautiful music in this film. I appreciated it for what it was and Huppert was just, well, amazing really. I just didn’t really take to the subject matter and really wanted to the film to end as soon as possible.