Victoria Jelinek


Sunshine Cleaning
December 31, 2015, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

sunshine_cleaning_movie_posterThe heroine, Rose, is a single mom in need of a regular income who starts a business cleaning up crime scenes. The circumstances that prompt her need are multi-faceted. She’s poor. She’s trapped in an affair with her high-school sweetheart, who fathered her son but then married someone else. Her son is perpetually in trouble at school. Her mother is dead. Her father is a ‘chancer,’ whose moneymaking ideas almost never come off. And her sister, Norah, is a hard-living numskull.

Rose is a good mom. She ‘gets’ her son, and he seems like a nice boy, but the teachers and administrators accuse him of misbehaving and she can’t afford to send him to “a good school.” It’s Mac, the faithless love that abandoned her in the first place, that tips her off to the idea of a new business venture. He’s a cop who notices people get paid well for cleaning up after gruesome murders, and so Sunshine Cleaning is born. By the very nature of the work, Rose and Norah (who helps Rose with the business), witness the aftermath of lives irrevocably interrupted.

Does this sound sunny to you? It’s hard to make a feel-good film about murder scene clean- ups and broken lives. While the material has promise as a black comedy, Sunshine Cleaning’s attempt to keep a smiling face throughout is artificial. That said, it is a watchable film due to its cast. Amy Adams as Rose, and Emily Blunt as Norah, are effortlessly charming. As is Alan Arkin, who plays their father, perpetually hatching get-poor-quick schemes, and whose rapport with Rose’s son is heart-warming. If you’re in the mood for good acting, high production value, and can overlook the excessive cheerfulness of the script, despite the circumstances and events of the plot, then this is a movie worth watching.

 

 

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Christmas Movie Watch List

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Growing up, my family’s Christmas viewing was the films Valley of the Dolls and Lenny Bruce. While these remain staples in my holiday diet, in the years since I’ve lived at home my Christmas movie watch list has expanded.

Of course It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra, is a Christmas classic. The plot is about an angel who shows a man what life would have been like had he never existed. It’s from 1946, so the black-and-white coloring may turn some people off, but it’s worth watching not only ‘cause it’s a great film that any self-respecting cinephile has watched, but because it’s dealing with disillusionment, depression, and the prospect of suicide– avant-garde themes to put on the big screen at the time.

For a bright, silly, funny film with a gracious helping of insight into elfin mores, Elf tops my list. Directed by Jon Favreau with Will Ferrell, it’s the story of a human raised in the North Pole who goes to New York City to find his biological father, played by James Caan. Mishaps and misunderstandings that appeal to all ages and personality types ensue as the two cultures meet.

A Christmas Story is a close second to Elf. Filmed in the 1980’s, it’s circa 1940’s and all Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder B.B. gun. In the days that lead up to Christmas, we get to know Ralphie’s family – his father’s penchant for swearing, his mother’s desire to placate, his little brother’s atrocious eating habits, his aunt’s namby-pamby gifts, and the trials and tribulations of playground politics. This is a movie full of warmth that will have you and your family laughing out loud in recognition of its characters, and the circumstances and events of their lives.

While Bad Santa may have made the watch list in my family had it been produced while I was still a tot, it’s not general family viewing. Billy Bob Thornton plays a con man that dresses up as Santa for Christmas in order to earn a bit of dosh, and he simply doesn’t give a fuck about others’ expectations of him once he dons the Claus outfit. Humorous and downright rude, this movie entertains by taking the idea about what a naughty Santa would look like to its extreme.

As a caveat to my final recommendation for Christmas movie fare, know that I grew up with Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live and am a fan of the cult classic film CaddyShack, so I forgive Chevy his later career transgressions. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is funny ‘cause the Griswold’s family’s mishaps at Christmas could be our own – obnoxious family guests for one thing…

 

 

 

 

 



Pride

Realizing that they share a common enemy in Margaret Thatcher, the police, and the conservative press, London-based gays and lesbians give support to striking coal miners in 1984 Wales.

PRIDE is exactly the kind of film British filmmakers do best: a focused local story based on hard facts and blended with sentimental fiction. It’s poignant and humorous at the same time. Add a stellar ensemble cast and a nostalgic soundtrack, and you’ve got yourself a film worth loving. I found myself literally sitting on the edge of my seat, my spine tingling in response to this film’s charm. I laughed. I cried. And in lieu of my inability to join their ranks and raise a fist in solidarity, I clapped with joy (and relief) that such artful and engaging films are being made.

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Everest

Everest movie posterBase Camp Everest, 1996. Climbers from two commercial expeditions begin their final ascent to the summit. With little warning, a violent storm strikes the mountain and envelops them. The teams endure severe winds and subfreezing temperatures in their struggle to survive against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Everest appears to have it all. A great locale, it’s set on the world’s mightiest mountain. It’s based on a real-life cliffhanger. The cast is stellar. The director is a cool Icelandic fellow. And, the co-screenwriter wrote Slumdog Millionaire and The Full Monty. Yet despite these elements and the filmmakers desire to create a spectacle, this movie is distinctly unthrilling.

It could have been gorgeous visually. In the least, a good landscape film. Instead, the mountains look like the sulphurous crust of an alien planet or a silty oceanic floor. The camera focuses on the individual actors in their color-coordinated outdoor gear, rather than what they’re seeing, which means context and visual possibilities are lost.

The storyline is presented as immutable fact, while various members of the ensemble cast make their way up the mountain in what is already their preordained fate. But why do they go? The film doesn’t seem to be interested in what might drive these characters up the side of a feral mountain to potential death. Is it for the views? In order to breath the thin air? To say that they’ve been there? We don’t know. We’re repeatedly told that the reason for these characters risking life-and-limb to climb Everest is the pseudo mountaineering philosophy, “Because it’s there.” But that doesn’t work for cinema. We have to feel like we’re there or it doesn’t send the chill up our spines. We have to feel as though we’re invested and relating on some level and if we don’t know anything, really, about the characters, how can we? It also infuriates me that Emily Watson and Robin Wright are relegated to playing the “mother hen” and the sidelined spouse, respectively.

As a caveat for my lackluster review, I concede that I may simply be the kind of person that doesn’t get into stories and films about mountains and mountaineers. It’s ironic, too, because I live in an alpinists ‘mecca.’ However, I watched this film with a friend who is a mountain guide, and who has climbed in the Himalayas (Ama Dablam). As the credits rolled and we made our way out of the cinema, I asked him what he thought. He softly chortled and replied, “It was totally unbelievable. Their clothes, hair, and equipment would have been really dirty…”

 



I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore)

51VEnx3iQ9L._SY300_Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton) left Russia to live with her husband in Milan. Despite being a member of a powerful, ancient, industrial Italian family and the esteemed mother of three, she is unfulfilled. Then, a chance meeting with her son’s friend, a talented chef, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), revitalizes her.

One gets the sense you are watching a bygone era with the formality of tradition and the grace of luxury that pervades this film, supported by beautiful cinematography that sweeps over the tapestries, stones, tiles, chandeliers, polished tables, and the white gloves of servants. In the style of prior Italian directors, such as Antonioni or Visconti, the visual style is lush and sensual. While the plot is not original, and the movie is arguably melodramatic (one thinks of many stories about a working class ‘stud’ who rekindles passion in an aristocratic malcontent, namely D.H. Lawrence), the visual display and Tilda Swinton’s acting make this film fresh and authentic. From the opening scenes in which her face is controlled while she manages a grand family party, to the climax of the film in which it is in ruins, your gaze is absolutely fixed on her alabaster face. Long after its conclusion, her expressive face and its subtle reactions to the events and circumstances of the story, haunted me.



Sicario

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When FBI specialist Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) starts working with two dodgy defence advisors, she finds herself on the ethically blurred front of America’s War on Drugs.

I was so excited to see Sicario because publications whose opinions I respect hailed it one of “the best” movies of the year, and a “must see” film. Additionally, the cast, namely Benecio del Toro and Josh Brolin, are excellent actors I admire immeasurably. While I’d concede that my high expectations played some part in the disappointment I felt when I did see the film, Sicario goes on my list of movies (which are only a handful out of hundreds viewed) worth walking out on. And I would have, too, had my friend not refused to leave due to the expense of our cinema tickets. The only redemptive element in my opinion was the cinematography, but coupled with the cliché-ridden script, it becomes an accomplice in the hackneyed story and its characterisations.

Josh Brolin is meant to be a government operative whose cynical experience and daring makes him a cowboy who ‘always bags his man’. This is conveyed in a flat-footed manner, with farcical direction and no dialogue to support the idea that he’s actually a shrewd hunter. Benecio del Toro plays a shadowy character that we’re not sure is on the ‘good side’ or the ‘bad side,’ but it doesn’t matter, because, once again, his lines are so vapid and the plot is so thin that you don’t really care. And Emily Blunt. Good grief. She’s meant to be a young, up-and-coming ‘shit-hot’ FBI agent, but there is absolutely nothing in terms of dialogue, action, or her acting that supports the idea that she’s astute, capable, and one you’d want to be ‘in the foxhole with’ under fire. Instead, she comes across as a self-righteous blowhard, and, moreover, a hindrance to any real action that does take place in the film.

I’m perplexed as to how this movie is such a hit with critics…In this viewer’s opinion, if your keen to see it ‘cause of the reviews you’d thus far read, the tagline, concept, or the cast, then I’d recommend waiting till it’s on DVD.



Pitch Perfect

Pitch-PerfectBeca (Anna Kendrick) is cajoled into joining a female acapella singing group when she arrives for her first year at Barden University. Despite her initial scepticism about the troupe, Beca finds herself invested and wants to help them break their losing streak.

I’m not into musicals, and never got the attraction to the hit TV program Glee, but I love this film. Sure, there’s singing, but the choices are slick and the soundtrack, combined with the story’s milieu and simple plot, remind me of the John Hughes and Cameron Crowe films I grew up on and adored. The acting is as an ensemble, with characters that are astutely observed and well-written. The script is clever, and a catty wit abounds (thank goodness in these days of political correctness). Arguably, the film swerves from one daffy set-up to the next, but the characters and cast keep it anchored, it never loses sight of its story, and it’s really funny.