The Cutting Edge Movie Review



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Review:

Toepick!

Geez, I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this one yet. The Cutting Edge has been one of my favorite movies for pretty much as long as I can remember. Like, to the point that I can remember being very confused about what the fiance’s “foreplay” line meant, because for whatever reason, my normally strict parents let us watch this movie in elementary school despite the sexual references. (It was rated before the PG/PG-13 split, so it’s rated PG but should really be PG-13.)

The story focuses on Doug, a star hockey player who has to give up his career after an injury and turns to pairs figure skating instead, in the process getting paired with rich, spoiled Kate, who is determined to add Olympic gold to her collection of medals after a disastrous first Olympics with another partner.

Due to the aforementioned parental strictness, this was one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw (possibly even THE first), and I think I must have imprinted on it hard, because Doug and Kate are one of the ur-bickering couples in my mind and I adore a good bickering couple to this day. The script is great, the chemistry is great, and although I’m not a huge fan of sports movies in general, I loved this one because it was about figure skating. Most of the actual skating for the film was done by Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, a Canadian pairs team known for their spectacular stunts, which the film takes full advantage of.

A classic.

My rating: (4.5 / 5)

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What’s Your Number? Movie Review



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Review:

So, one of the side effects of falling into a new fandom is that I start hunting down previous works from the actors and creators in question and since I skipped the wading pool and dove straight into the deep end with Marvel (thanks, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), that left me with some interesting dilemmas. I didn’t feel ready to brave Sebastian Stan’s filmography quite yet (Kings is on my to watch list, but most of the rest is borderline terrifying), so that inclined me more towards starting with Chris Evans. His best is supposed to be Snowpiercer, which is also on my to watch list, but I wasn’t really in the mood for something so dystopian today, so instead I settled on What’s Your Number? as a starting point for several logical and carefully considered reasons. In no particular order:

  • I thought the trailer looked kind of cute despite the movie’s 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • It checks off back catalogue boxes for several other Marvel actors in addition to Evans, including Anthony Mackie (Falcon) and Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), plus it has Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, Love Actually, etc.), Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek reboot), and Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents).
  • I’ve heard good things about Anna Faris but had never seen her in anything before. (Actually not 100% accurate – apparently she was in Brokeback Mountain? But I can’t for the life of me remember who “Lashawn Malone” was.)
  • It has Chris Evans in nothing but a towelchris-evans-shirtless
  • And Chris Evans taking a bath large
  • And Chris Evans playing the guitar in his boxers
  • And also Chris Evans playing strip basketball (and losing) 

(Looking at those gifs, it occurs to me that I’m having a hard time remembering the last movie I saw that had this many female gaze moments, though not exclusively so, as Anna Faris spends quite a bit of the movie in various states of undress as well.)

Anyway…

For any of you who have managed to progress past the gifs and want to know what I thought about the film, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Given the aforementioned 23% rating, I expected it to be a lot dumber than it was. I mean, yeah, it was predictable, but I’m not sure I can name a romantic comedy that isn’t. It’s not a genre that you go see to get blown away by the innovative storytelling, you know? You go see romantic comedies to laugh and smile and be entertained, and What’s Your Number? did just fine on that front.

The story follows a young woman named Ally Darling (Faris) who gets dumped by her boyfriend and fired from her job shortly before bumping into a previous boyfriend (Pratt) who’s turned his life around completely and gotten engaged to a gorgeous engineer. She enlists the help of Colin Shea (Evans), her womanizing neighbor and a rare male example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (apparently now genderbent to Hot Whore-ish Dream Guy?), to track down more of her previous boyfriends and reconnect in the hope that one of them might be “the one” after all.

Faris was as charming as I’ve heard she was and the charisma and chemistry that she and Evans both exude as actors really carried the film. They had lots of really adorable moments together and for the most part, I thought the film did a pretty good job of staying solidly on the cuter side of the cute-crude line. There were some exceptions and also some physical humor that seemed a bit out of place, but not to the point of being offensively bad.

I also liked the subplot about Ally’s family and specifically her relationship with her sister Daisy, who’s getting married and understandably stressed out about their divorced and dysfunctional parents. Their mom is a classic narcissist and their dad is Twitter-obsessed and married to a woman who looks younger than his own daughters – I kind of wanted to give both Ally and Daisy hugs and send them off to /r/raisedbynarcissists for some therapy!

But really, let’s be honest here, what can I possibly say about this film that will persuade you to watch it better than this?

 

Enjoy, ladies.

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My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Cinderella (2015) Movie Review



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Review:

It’s spring break, so I decided to take my daughter out for a mother-daughter date and see Disney’s new live-action Cinderella movie. I’m not even a big fan of the Cinderella story, but I spent most of the film with a big sappy grin plastered across my face, so clearly it did something right.

It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, feel good filmmaking that sticks pretty close to the story as laid out in the classic 1950 animated film, but smartly borrows from Ever After (the best Cinderella adaptation, imho) to have Cinderella (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) and the Prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones) meet before the ball. This allows the Prince (here called Kit) to demonstrate a personality – something he totally lacked in the animated film – and Cinderella to make an emotional rather than purely physical connection with him, both of which give the love story much more emotional resonance than the animated version.

The live-action Cinderella also spent more time establishing Cinderella’s family and happy childhood than the old animated film, which I also liked because the emotional speech by Cinderella’s dying mother (Hayley Atwell, aka Marvel‘s Agent Carter) as she urges her daughter to “have courage and be kind” gives the film a more active and meaningful message than “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

On the other hand, while Cinderella takes initiative into her own hands on several occasions in her attempts to fulfill her promise to her mother, the film did make a baffling and annoying slide back into passivity at the end, when she is locked in the attic and the narrator informs us that she neither knew nor cared who the men in the courtyard below were and basically was prepared to live the rest of her life on her happy memories of the ball. Even the 50’s Cinderella was crying and trying to help the animals release her, but this one just stands at the closed (but unlocked!) window and sings sadly, and it’s the MICE who think to open it and let her voice be heard. Like, really?

Despite that brief moment of feminist cringe, I enjoyed this adaptation more than most. For the most part, it was smart enough to keep the good and change the bad aspects of the original story. I was also impressed by the sumptuous visuals. As far as acting, the standout was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, naturally, but I thought everyone did fine with their roles. Holliday Grainger of The Borgias and Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey looked like they had a lot of fun as the step-sisters, and I was surprised to find that Derek Jacobi had a role as the King. He was much less buffoonish than his animated predecessor and had an especially touching scene with Kit after the ball.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Middlemarch Miniseries Review



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Review:

Adapting a novel as rich and multilayered as Middlemarch is a feat that, honestly, I might not have thought possible, but this 6 hour miniseries did a surprisingly good job. It makes a well-acted and enjoyable introduction to the story for those unfamiliar with it, and a pleasant accompaniment for fans of the novel.

However, it certainly doesn’t substitute for reading the book! Naturally, some subplots had to be trimmed or cut entirely and the miniseries never achieves the remarkable psychological depth of the novel, especially with some of the more unlikable characters. Casaubon, in particular, suffers – reading the book, you dislike him but you understand and even pity him to some degree. In the miniseries, you’re stuck at dislike and this makes it harder to understand Dorothea and her choices as well.

The biggest failure of the miniseries is the characterization of Rosamond Vincy, who becomes, of all things, weepy. The Rosamond of the novel could crush that pathetic and annoying creature like a bug. (And probably would!) Most of the other portrayals are pretty true to character, however, and several of the casting choices, most notably Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw, were absolutely inspired. This film was my introduction to Sewell’s work and I’ve been a fan ever since.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Harry Potter Movies Review



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Review:

Despite being a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, I’ve always been a little meh about the movies. The early films came out about the same time as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and they just didn’t stand up very well by comparison. The first two films were competently made, but lacked the sense of wonder in the books and never succeeded in making the world feel truly alive in the way the Lord of the Rings films did. The third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, was the most artistically accomplished in the series (with the exception of the unbelievably awful CGI werewolf), but made such egregious trims to the plot that I have to wonder if people who haven’t read the book even understand what is going on in certain scenes. The fourth and fifth films were back to competent-but-uninspired, and I never even bothered to watch the sixth, seventh, and eight, although my daughter likes them.

Amazing cast, though – practically a who’s who of great British actors.

My rating: (2.5 / 5)

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A Walk To Beautiful Movie Review

Review:



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This is an incredibly beautiful and powerful documentary about the work of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. Obstetric fistula occurs during obstructed labor, when the child becomes stuck in the birth canal and presses on the mother’s tissues for too long, leaving a hole between the vaginal wall and the bladder and/or rectum that causes the woman to constantly leak urine and/or feces. Once common, it is now nearly unheard of in the developed world, but still ruins the lives of tens of thousands of women in the developing world every year. Victims are commonly abandoned by their husbands and families and ostracized.

The documentary follows the cases of three women who are able to seek help at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to reverse their condition and reclaim their lives. Obstetric fistulas are considered a disease of poverty and the documentary touches on the heart-breaking concurrence of factors that make fistulas such a common occurrence in Ethiopia: inadequate nutrition in childhood, resulting in short stature and underdeveloped pelvises, early marriage (teenage mothers are more likely to experience obstructed labor than adults), and lack of adequate access to prenatal care and the services of trained doctors and midwives during birth, among others. It also touches on some cultural factors such as the prevalence of bride kidnapping and forced marriages in rural Ethiopia.

Despite such heartbreaking detail about the hardship of women’s lives in Ethiopia, the film is ultimately life-affirming and inspiring. I cried multiple times watching it, but I smiled, too. I wish we could hear more about how the women are doing today, especially Wubete, whose life has been a nearly unimaginable litany of horror but who ends the film smiling, happy, and finally safe.

Watch the complete documentary:

If you’re inspired to help, you can donate directly to the hospital via Hamlin Fistula USA/Hamlin Fistula UK/Hamlin Fistula Australia, or indirectly via The Fistula Foundation, which works in Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well as many other African countries, and is rated a 4 star charity by Charity Navigator.

My rating: (5 / 5)

Water Movie Review



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Review:

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse

One of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen. I saw in an arthouse theater soon after it came out in 2005 and haven’t seen it since, but I still feel physically ill when I remember certain scenes.

Water was written and directed by Deepa Mehta, a native of Amritsar, Punjab, India who now lives in Canada. It is set in India in 1938, during the rise of Gandhi, but mostly follows the life of a 7 year old child bride who is widowed and sent by her family to live for the rest of her life in an ashram (house of prayer) with other widows. The women are desperately poor and survive by begging and, it turns out, by prostituting the younger and prettier members of the ashram to wealthy men. Starting in childhood.

It does end on a slightly more hopeful note than most of the rest of the film, but overall, it is very hard to watch. Nevertheless, I do recommend watching Water if you can safely do so without triggering yourself. Not only is it a beautifully made and well-acted film, it’s also a very powerful and important one. Call me a bleeding heart, but I think it’s important for those of us with comfortable Western lives to be aware of the struggles of people in general and women in particular in more superstitious and unforgiving times and places. The plight of poor widows in India remains dire. If you feel inspired to try and help, check out The Loomba Foundation and similar charities.

Little Big Man Movie Review



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Review:

Back in my college days, I once had to write a paper on exactly what Little Big Man gets right and wrong about Cheyenne life. There was quite a bit of both, as I recall. Despite its flaws, however, I think Little Big Man deserves a lot of credit for being one of the first films to give a sympathetic portrayal of American Indians and their cultures, and more importantly, to give a human portrayal of American Indians and their cultures. The Indian characters experience the same depth and range of human emotions as the white characters, and include both “good” and “bad” characters. In contrast to their frequent portrayal in many earlier films as stern, bloodthirsty, and savage and in many later ones as solemn, mystical, and wise, the Indians of Little Big Man even have senses of humor!

Despite several prominent Cheyenne characters, the film itself does follow a white man named Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who is captured as a boy and raised by the Cheyenne. Crabb takes a somewhat Forrest Gump-like path through all aspects of Wild West society, from being “saved” by a fire-and-brimstone preacher after being re-captured from the Cheyenne to becoming a snake oil salesman, gunslinger, drunk, and muleskinner for one General George Armstrong Custer. The real historical events depicted (again, with varying degrees of accuracy) in the film include the Washita Massacre, the death of Wild Bill Hickok, and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

It’s an entertaining, well-acted, and frequently hilarious movie, but hard-hitting in its depiction of the genocidal campaign against the Cheyenne and their fellow Plains tribes, and you may want to keep a hanky handy for certain scenes.

Note: This film shouldn’t be confused for a biography of the historical Little Big Man, an Oglala Lakota.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Movie Review



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Review:

I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but ironically enough, two of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. Since they both happen to be written by the same guy, it might be more of a William Goldman thing than a Western thing, but even so, I probably shouldn’t discount the genre quite as much as I tend to do.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my parents’ favorite movies and is probably second only to My Cousin Vinny in the frequency with which it’s quoted at family get-togethers. Based loosely on the lives of real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, it’s one of the greatest buddy comedies ever made, and is loaded from start to finish with laughs, mainly from its witty and memorable dialogue. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are in their prime, both as actors and heart-throbs (luckily, the film is color, so you get the full effect of Newman’s incredible baby blues), and there are also some enjoyable action sequences.

A well-deserved classic and must-see film.

My rating: (5 / 5)

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Notes on Classic Films

Notorious (1946)

In high school, my brother took a film history course, and the rest of the family ended up doing most of his “homework” with him. I’ve always been kind of wary of classic films because they so often feature surprise sexism and/or racism, plus the different acting style used in the 30-50s isn’t always my cup of tea. But his assigned viewing list actually ended up introducing us to a lot of classic movies that we liked a lot and might otherwise have never tried, so it ended up being a fun semester for all of us, and we started adding more classic movies to our movie nights from then on.

Unfortunately, however, I haven’t seen most of these movies for 10-15 years, so I don’t remember most of them well enough to do a full review, but here are some notes based on what I do remember:

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