August: Osage County (2013)

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Director: John Wells
Writers: Tracy Letts (Screenplay and Stage Play)
Production Companies: Weinstein Company, Jean Doumanian Productions, Smokehouse Pictures, Battle Mountain Films, Yucaipa Films
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A family tragedy brings the Weston family back together at their old Oklahoma homestead.  Based on the play made for the stage by Tracy Letts.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: The Weston family is getting together again, and boy oh boy, is it entertaining to watch.  The patriarch of the family, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing.  His wife Violet (Streep) calls her sister and all three of her daughters and tells them to congregate at the old homestead in Oklahoma. One thing leads to another and before too long we find out that good ol’ Papa is dead.  These grieving family members have to try and get along long enough to not kill each other–more difficult than you might imagine for some.

HOLY DRAMA, BATMAN!  The character dynamics in this movie are just…ridiculous.  But the characters are written so well, that it all just melds together and makes sense.  A few of the motifs that get touched on (not to spoil any specific details): pill addiction, suicide, incest, infidelity, divorce, drug usage, pedophilia, terminal illness, alcoholism, child abuse, mental illness, racism….I know there are more, but I’ll just stop there.  That list just looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking, “You can’t lump all of that crap up into one script and have it work!”  Well, you’re wrong!  It works so seamlessly, that you don’t even take notice. I give that credit to great writing and wonderful acting.

Acting. I was a little concerned going into this movie because it had such a star-studded cast.  Sometimes a list of A-list actors can lend a hand to a film, but sometimes it can be detrimental.  The casting for this movie just nailed it on the head.

First of all: Meryl.  Her character is an old-fashioned hag of a lady who’s dealing with mouth cancer by popping as many prescription pills as she can get her hands on.  She. Is. Nasty.  There are so many moments where I find myself wondering if she’s being rude and awful to her children because she’s on too many drugs, or if she’s just cranky.  But they also touch on the fact that somewhere along the line, something went not-so-right in her upstairs department. She’s tormented…and sad…and lonely.  She’s just…incredibly complicated, but played so well by Mrs. Streep.  Always so many kudos to her.

Julia Roberts has never been my favorite actress.  It’s been a good while since I’ve seen something that I really enjoyed her in.  Well, this is probably the best role I’ve seen her in for some time….maybe ever. She plays Barbara, the eldest of the three sisters.  She’s having marital problems and dealing with a teenage daughter at home, and to top it all off, her precious father just died–and she isn’t her mother’s biggest fan.  She becomes the pseudo-matriarch while her mother is having a breakdown (so…forever). It’s so nice to see her grungier side–she’s not all dolled up and being her usual romantic-comedy self. There are so many fantastic scenes between her and Meryl.  They just play off of each other so well in this.  And believe you me, there are scenes when shit. hits. the. fan.

I could talk about how I loved each and every actor/character in this movie, but I won’t. Such a great ensemble cast.  Also, I’d like to point out that the three sisters are played by Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis.  The casting director must have a thing for names that start with Juli-. Just a weird coincidence, I’m sure.

My Rating: Huzzah!!

If you think your family is screwed up, just watch this.  You’ll feel 10 times better about yours. Be prepared for a dramatic ride with this one.

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Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

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Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Production Companies: Walt Disney Pictures, Ruby Films, Essential Media & Entertainment, BBC Films, Hopscotch Features
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Annie Rose Buckley, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak
Genre: Drama/ Comedy/ Biography

What It’s About: Author P.L. Travers reflects on her past as Walt Disney does everything he can to obtain the rights to her book Mary Poppins.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: P.L. Travers (Thompson) doesn’t want to let go of the rights to her beloved story Mary Poppins to the infamous Walt Disney (Hanks).  Disney will not give in.  He’s been trying for 20+ years because he promised his daughters that he would make their beloved Mary Poppins into a movie.  She travels to Los Angeles to negotiate the deal, and agrees to start going over details as long as she would get the final say on everything.

And so the process begins.  Travers is one tough cookie.  She doesn’t want it to be a musical, and she doesn’t want it to be animated–she has to have everything just right. And boy is she picky.  The problem is that the characters in this story are her family figuratively and literally–the story spawned from past experiences with her family. As we watch the grueling process that the writers are put through with her, we also see flashbacks to her childhood with her family–particularly with her father.  She works to come to terms with her past, as the writers do everything they can to please her.

The Sherman Brothers (Novak and Schwartzman) and and Don DaGradi (Whitford) have some of the most comedic scenes while working on the script and music with her.  Great performances by all of them.  In the flashbacks, her father (Farrell) creates some of the most heartwarming and tragic scenes in the whole movie–really solid performance by him. And another shoutout to Paul Giamatti who plays her chauffeur while she’s in LA–such a lovable character.

My Rating: Huzzah!

This movie is an emotional roller coaster.  There are highs and lows, and every emotion in-between.  I cried tears of joy and ones of sadness.  If a movie can get that many different emotional reactions out of me in one sitting, I’d say it’s pretty successful.  Great story.

Sidenote:  this movie really made me want to watch Stranger Than Fiction.  Emma Thompson plays the role of somewhat deranged author so well.

Summer Wars (2009)

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Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writers: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera
Production Companies: Madhouse, Nippon Television Network, Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., D.N. Dream Partners, Warner Bros., Yomiuri Television
Stars: Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura
Genre: Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy

What It’s About: A math wiz gets conned into acting as a female friend’s fiance for a family get-together. All the while, he unknowingly cracks a code and unleashes hell in a universally-used virtual world known as OZ.

How I Watched It: In my apartment with a friend.  Afternoon.

Thoughts: Kenji (Kamiki) is a math wiz who works as a part-time moderator for OZ, which is this massive virtual world.  OZ is universally used by everyone and most services are linked to it.  In this world, everyone has their own avatar, and with this avatar you can battle each other in an arcade-like setting.  Anyway, Kenji gets invited to go along with Natsuki (Sakuraba) to her grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration.  He agrees, not realizing that he is going to be paraded around as Natsuki’s fiance. You get to meet a crazy array of family members at the celebration–providing lots of comic relief.

The first night that they stay there, Kenji gets a strange code sent to him in a text message that beckons him to solve it.  Being the math wiz he is, he jumps at the opportunity, and spends all night solving the code.  He breaks it.  The next morning, he wakes up and sees his face plastered all over the TV saying that he hacked into OZ and made it crash–basically being wanted for cyber-crime. He had no idea what he had done.

Then we realize that someone has stolen Kenji’s avatar in OZ and has started absorbing other people’s avatars.  He gets stronger and stronger and begins to control important social services, such as emergency services and traffic services–causing total mayhem. Kenji and the motley crew of family members band together to defeat this unknown villain.

The animation in this film is really meticulous.  There’s a stark difference between the animation in OZ as opposed to the real world as well.  The animation in the real world is much more in the standard anime style, whereas the OZ universe is in more of a bright and colorful video game style animation.  Both are beautifully done.

My Rating:  Huzzah!

Now, I’m not incredibly well-versed in the world of anime, but I really enjoyed this.  I loved the story–lots of fun characters and lots of laugh-out-loud moments.

Otis (2008)

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Director: Tony Krantz
Writers: Erik Jendresen, Thomas Schnauz
Production Companies: Warner Home Video, Raw Feed, Flame Ventures
Stars: Bostin Christopher, Ashley Johnson, Illeana Douglas, Daniel Stern, Jared Kusnitz, Jere Burns, Kevin Pollak
Genre: Horror/ Comedy

What It’s About: A young girl is abducted by a serial killer….and her family decides to get their own breed of revenge.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Late evening.

Thoughts: The movie starts off in some dungeon-like room with a girl strapped down to a bed. She is obviously being held captive.  I love this set.  The mass amounts of lightbulbs above and beside the bed make for some really cool lighting for the room.  But I digress.

**THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

You get introduced to Otis (Christopher) right away. We see him tormenting a girl that he’s captured and put in his little fetish dungeon.  Otis apparently likes playing out this sick fantasy that involves him being a football player taking a pretty young high school cheerleader to the prom.  He also wants to call his captors Kim (Tarah Paige).  We discover the source of this fascination later. Well, “Kim” fights back…but ends up getting accidentally electrocuted in a tub. Oooops.

Then we pan over to a family of four: two parents (Douglas and Stern), a beautiful teenage girl, and a rebellious son.  We get a small introduction to them as we watch someone play Peeping Tom with the teenage girl, Riley (Johnson). We come to find out that her brother Reed (Kusnitz) was the one taping the video footage of her romping around her bedroom in her underwear. Probably one of the creepiest moments in the movie, in my opinion, and it wasn’t even Otis!  That’s just fucked up.

Anyway, the family orders a pizza, and guess who plays delivery boy?  You guessed it–Otis. Riley makes the mistake of being a little too nice to him, making him take notice of her.  The following morning, as she walks out the door to head for school, Otis swipes her up and throws her in his trunk to take her back to his lair. Somewhere along the way we also meet Otis’s brother, Elmo (Pollak) and we discover that Otis’s strange fascinations and fetishes spring from his brother’s life.  Creeptastic.

Once the parents receive a phone call from Otis asking them if he can take their daughter “Kim” to Prom, they bring in bring in Agent Hotchkiss (Burns), who plays annoying very well. And blah blah blah.  He holds her captive and does weird things with her, until eventually, he slips up and she manages to escape.  Riley calls her parents and she gets taken to safety.  And then her family decides that they’re gonna handle Otis on their own…

This was a pretty fun movie.  I really enjoyed all of the creative uses of lighting throughout the movie: the lights in the bedroom, the projector, the disco ball.  They really stuck out to me.

As far as performances go, everyone was decent in this.  Great breakout performance from Bostin Christopher as Otis.  The only character that really annoyed me was Jere Burns as Agent Hotchkiss.  He just seems the same in almost every role I see him play.  He played the role well, but I guess that I just feel he’s maybe type-cast a lot.
Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas were fun as Riley’s parents.  There scenes together were some of my favorite.

My only real complaint about this movie is how it ended.  I won’t completely spoil it, but it didn’t tie things up very well.  Sometimes I’m a fan of open-ended stories.  The ambiguity can sometimes be more frightening than explaining what happens.  But this is a horror/comedy.  I feel like it could have used a more defined ending.  But that’s just me.

My Rating: Meh.

There were parts of this movie that I really enjoyed, but there were several that I found myself kind of bored.  I feel like I could have had more fun with this movie if I wouldn’t have watched it alone, so it may be one that I’ll revisit later on.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

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Director: James Wan
Writers: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Production Companies: FilmDistrict, Stage 6 Films, Entertainment One, Blumhouse Productions, Automatik Entertainment, IM Global, Room 101
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: The Lambert family continues to be haunted, and again search for a resolution to the horrors they face daily.

How I Watched It: Alone in my basement room.  Night.  Lights out.  (Eeeeek!)

Thoughts: The movie starts with a scene from Josh’s (Wilson) childhood.  We get to meet a young Elise (Lindsay Seim).  Okay.  One complaint.  The only thing that really bothered me throughout this entire movie is this character–the young Elise.  The actress is great, but they dub her voice with Lin Shaye’s voice.  Whyyyyyyyyyy?  I understand some reasons for why they might have made that decision, but it was incredibly distracting during the entire first scene.  But kudos to Lindsay Seim for a nearly flawless lip syncing performance.

Anyway.  Once we get past that, everything is looking up.  This time around, we see a lady ghost wandering around the new Lambert house.  Renai (Byrne) is the one who tends to spot the ghost this time around, and she has trouble convincing everyone that she’s not crazy.  All the while, Josh is acting very strange after the events of the last film. Renai and Lorraine (Hershey) contact Elise’s former assistants Specs and Tucker (Whannell and Sampson) to help them figure out what’s going on.

I don’t wanna spoil any of the main plot points, so I’ll refrain from going further with the story.  Lots of surprises and twists, but not enough to take me out of it.  I really love this continuation of the story.  If you haven’t watched Insidious, please do so before watching this one.  I fell like this one may be difficult to understand without seeing the first film.

Sometime in the near future, I would love to watch these films back-to-back.  While watching Chapter 2, it didn’t feel disjunct from the first film at all.  The characters remained solid with great performances, and the story line seemed to flow really well from the first to second film.

My Rating: Huzzah!

I wouldn’t recommend watching this movie by yourself in a dark basement unless you like to torture yourself (like me, apparently).  I had to hang out with my roommates for a while after this one.