Victoria Jelinek


Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

 

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Finding Dory

A year after Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) helped reunite Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks), she has settled happily into her new life with them. Then Dory suddenly gets flashbacks from her childhood, so she sets out to find her parents at the last place she remembers them being all together – the Monterey Mfinding-dory-movie-poster-nemo-wallpaperarine Life Institute.

Critics of this film have grumbled charges of “sequelitis” against Pixar (Toy Story, Cars). Yes, the set up is similar to Finding Nemo: Dory goes in search of her parents and, returning the faith shown by Dory in the first ocean-spanning escapade, Marlin and Nemo join her. And yes, as characters are repeatedly separated and reunited, the storyline arguably gets a bit tedious. However, despite a familiar formula, there are tragic undercurrents such as loss, confusion, disappointment and fear, which make for a very human story. Meanwhile, these motifs are delivered alongside funny dialogue, vivid imagery, technical prowess, great characters, and fantastic casting (voices).

As is the case with most great family films, there is something here for both adults and children. Finding Dory is an emotionally complex, beautifully constructed, and hopeful piece about friendship, perseverance, and facing your own personal inhibitions.

 

 



The Big Short

the-big-short-movie-posters-001.jpg~originalFour outsiders foresaw the global collapse of the economy years before 2008. Something big banks, the media, and governments refused to consider. So these four made a bold investment – The Big Short – that led to huge profits for each of them even as they had to negotiate the dark underbelly of modern banking in order to get the boon.
There are three things that made me skeptical about watching this film: the lingo, the bizarre identifying traits for each of the main characters, and the concern that those who watch this film are those who already know about the perverse exploitation that constitutes modern banking.

The lingo is hard to understand for those of us outside of the banking world. However, Director McKay breaks the fourth wall down and introduces celebrity cameos to directly address the audience with colorful and cogent explanations of terms, which does help and also amuses.

McKay is best known for comedic fare, such as Anchorman and The Campaign, but one can see that even in the silly humor of these films, there’s a sly intelligence underling and animating them. And he infuses the script for The Big Short with a profanely witty dialogue.

While arguably he creates the character’s bizarre defining traits to show the types of brazen personalities that thrive in this environment, I believe it’s more evidence of his humor in the midst of sobering material. Bale lacks any social grace, rocks out to heavy metal music to get his brain up to speed, and sports a glass eye. Gosling is a typical douchebag banker, spray tanned, arrogant, and slick. Pitt is the former banker gone rogue, all shaggy, bearded, talking about intestinal health and the need to prepare for the end of the world. These are humorous elements that make these men characters, but don’t be fooled for a minute that any of it’s silly or distracting. There is committed and accomplished acting going on. These performances are what make The Big Short especially enjoyable. Carrell, however, is the heart of the film, delivering another impressive turn after surprising audiences and critics alike with his performance in last year’s Foxcatcher.

The ensemble cast superbly conveys the angry, pessimistic conviction driving this film, which is the argument that major banks all engaged in fraudulent, criminal activity leading to the 2008 collapse, and governments bailed them out at the expense of “the average Joe.” And there’s no reason big banks wouldn’t do it again – why shouldn’t they? We’re the assholes who let them get away with financial murder. Which brings me to the third concern I had before watching The Big Short. That those attracted to watching this movie will already be those who understand the situation. It won’t reach the folks who refuse to see what went on and continues to go on in large banking and global politics. Well, so be it. At least there are smart films created by thoughtful and critical people, for some of us to enjoy.

 



Spotlight

Spotlight movie posterA small group of journalists from The Boston Globe reveal the Catholic Church’s role in systematically covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and John Slattery play the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. Through them, Director Tom McCarthy demonstrates (again) his incredibly understated ‘touch’ with actors. This ensemble cast is a model of low-key greatness – as is the film itself. There are no ghoulish rape flashbacks or sensationalistic cutaways to a menacing clerical conspiracy behind closed doors. There is just the absolute confidence that the audience will be enthralled as the reporters quietly and quickly go through journalistic procedures, slowly and steadily gathering information, and painstakingly corroborating leads and hunches. Like so many films absorbed with the minutia of daily journalism, Spotlight is a terrifically nerdy process movie.

What I especially liked about this film is its incredibly perceptive sense of how inextricably the Church is woven into the fabric of Boston life. The Church concealed its corruption for so long by applying pressure to the city’s legal, political, and journalistic institutions. As Spotlight sifts through the appalling pile of evidence to reveal the Church’s horrific cycles of abuse and concealment, we understand that the most galling crime is that it has used its uniquely privileged position in society to exploit its victims (whom they are meant to serve). We also understand that many of us are complicit in allowing this type of oppression to flourish because we don’t do anything about it when we see it. Jamey Sheridan and Paul Guilfoyle are two Church-connected friends who try to convince editor Robinson (Keaton) not to publish, and we recognize these characters immediately — they are the members of our decent yet compromised humanity, the proverbial good men who do nothing and therefore allow evil to grow and to thrive.

Sobering, yes, but a very good film with a strong narrative and a fine cast.