27 January 2008

the bedside movie reviews

During the week I was off sick, I wasn't good for much except taking up space on the sofa. That flu bug took my body hostage on Saturday and didn't let go for quite a few days. My head hurt too much for reading and it wasn't long before I had watched every movie I had any desire to watch from my own DVD collection.

On about Day 5 of my house arrest, I mustered up the energy for a trip outside the house and to the video store. If you're anything like me, sometimes the movies you pick up are such duds that you regret even having taken the time and fuel to go to the video store to get them. I am happy to report that my selections this time were worth the extra energy required for a trip out of the house and find them worth recommending here. The four films I chose could not be more different, each offering something unique unto itself.

Miss Potter
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Ewan MacGregor, Emily Watson
Director: Chris Noonan

Miss Potter is a delightful film adaptation about the life of the creator of the Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix Potter. Thirty years old and single, living in London with social-climbing parents who are frustrated with her refusal of any number of "acceptable" suitors, Beatrix's friends were often ones of her own creation. In the film's opening scenes, you see Beatrix gathering her porfolio of stories and drawings in preparation to visit publishers in London. She speaks to her drawings, urging them to behave and be good for their big trip out. The drawings come alive on screen as they move through her imagination, taking on a life of their own as they must have appeared in her own mind.

Ewan MacGregor portrays Norman Warne, the youngest of the three brothers who run the publishing house that finally agrees to publish her "bunny book". Norman is delighted with the tale and eager to please both the author and prove to his brothers that he can help this little children's book succeed. The ensuing publication and developing relationships with Norman and his sister Millie point Beatrix toward a life of her own, one outside London and beyond the social standards she refuses to adopt as her own.

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Director: John Carney

Once has a distinctly documentary-feel about it as it follows the unnamed Guy, who repairs vacuum cleaners with his dad during the day and plays his guitar and sings in the streets of Dublin by night. When paths cross with the also unnamed Czech Girl who holds a variety of odd jobs, takes care of her mother and young daughter, and plays piano and sings when she can, the two get to know one another on the streets of Dublin.

The music that is created over the course of their developing relationship is as much a character in the film as the Guy and Girl are themselves. As they work through past loves and rehearse together in order to put together a professional recording in hopes of securing a music contract in London, a love of their own develops, one that is neither contrived or polished in that Hollywood way.

Some call this film a "musical" and while strictly speaking that designation is correct, it is also a simplification of the role music plays. Raw, passionate, heartrending, and humorous, the music is woven into the narrative organically, such that there would be no story without the songs that tell the story of Once. Of all the films I rented, this one by far moved me the most.

Check out the trailer:

Starring: Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Charlie Cox
Director: Matthew Vaughn

Stardust playfully vacillates between the realms of fantasy world of Stormhold and a reality set in 19th century England. In the film's opening narration, the voice asks if we gaze at the stars because we are human, or if we're human because we gaze upon the stars. And then the voice wonders alound if the stars gaze back. The film's answer to that question is that yes, they do.

When Tristan (Charlie Cox) crosses the wall that demarcates the line between the village of Wall and the fantastical realm of Stormhold in pursuit of a fallen star to bring back to his beloved Victoria (Sienna Miller), he embarks upon an adventure that has him crossing paths with witches and the sons of the lately deceased king of Stormhold who are also in pursuit of the star. When the star falls in the land of Stormhold, it lands as Yvaine (Claire Danes). Upon finding her, Tristan is determined to return her to Victoria as he promised he would.

The bulk of the film portrays Tristan and Yvaine's journey toward the wall and the obstacles they face upon their return, namely with the witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is after the heart of the star so her youth can be renewed and the sons of the late king who need to secure the star in order to claim the throne of Stormhold. As they make their way home, they are aided by a pirate (Robert DeNiro) whose ship sails in the air; here, Tristan also acquires swordfighting skills that make him a force to reckon with as he strives to keep Yvaine safe.

Stardust is an unabashedly fantastical film, requiring a sense of playfulness to enjoy fully. The story it tells is the classic one of love, adventure, and good versus evil, told with lightness of heart and great imagination.

3:10 to Yuma
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe
Director: James Mangold

This particular selection was one I knew I would enjoy, given I had seen it in the theater. 3:10 to Yuma is a western in a style that is new, but also familiar in its rendering, a remake of one by the same name initially released in 1957. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling rancher who witnesses the robbery of a bank coach by the infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) with his sons.

When Wade is captured, Dan is promised enough money to save his ranch and support his family by assisting to escort Wade to the train that will take him to the prison in Yuma. The task proves to be a difficult one as Wade's band of outlaws is hot on the trail of the party escorting Wade to the train. Things get more complicated when Dan's eldest son flees home to join his father.

As the party makes their way toward the city where the train is scheduled to pick up the notorious outlaw to take him to prison, Dan Evans and Ben Wade circle each other cautiously, Wade sinister and affable and charming, and Evans tough, idealistic, a man of strong morals. Neither gives the other an inch, neither flinches at the other's strength.

While all markedly different from one another, each of these films offered something to compel and delight, going beyond mere entertainment to powerful storytelling. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time I got started packing my bags for Florida ... :o)


  1. Hooray! Packing bags for Florida! Hooray! Hooray! :)

    I've seen two and a half of these movies you reviewed. Kirk and I just watched 3:10 to Yuma this week and loved it. Powerful.

    Saw Miss Potter a number of months ago and also loved its playfulness and the relationship that develops for her. However, I remember being disappointed by the ending -- it seemed to end abruptly -- and there were a few other factors in the movie (can't remember what) that I thought evolved without much motivation. But overall, it was a good film. I particularly loved the scenes of her as a little girl with her friend, the boy. :)

    Kirk and I tried to watch Stardust in the theatres but didn't like it much and ended up leaving after about 30 minutes. We rarely walk out of films, but this one didn't do it for us. Too fantastical and silly that we didn't know what to make of it, but maybe it was the mood we were in that night. Maybe we needed to watch it with more silliness of heart in us!

    Once is the one that has captured me. I haven't seen it, nor did I know what it was about (just had seen posters for it), so I'm glad you included the trailer here. I'm hooked and am going out to rent it tonight. :)

  2. "who repairs vacuum cleaners with his dad during the day and plays his guitar and sings in the streets of Dublin by night." now that is the life I would like to live.... :)

  3. Once is sitting next to my dvr, waiting for me. I'm so excited!
    And I must say, I'm rather impressed with your sick in bed viewing.
    I tend to go for Judge Judy and Price is Right. ;)

  4. Hooray!! The countdown shows 0 days & 20-some hours. HOORAH!!

    I'm sorry too hear that you & Kirk didn't like Stardust. Not that it's required to like of course ... :o) it's not a genre for everyone, but yeah. I guess I found it imaginative & fun, maybe even moreso because I was able to hold a coherent thought in my head during that week.

    I hope that you enjoy "Once". This is another one that's gotten mixed reviews, but I really found a lot to love about it. I hope you do too!

    Ah, Nathan!! I hear ya!! If you watch it, you'll have to tell me what you think about the song he sings on the bus. ;o)

    Bella - yeah! I hope you enjoy "Once". I think it's a pretty special film. ;o)

  5. Only one that I've seen is "3:10" and I loved it. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are two of my favorite actors and both give compelling and believable performances. I thought maybe the ending got away from the director a little bit, but I'll say no more because I don't want to give anything away. ( I feel the ending of most movies makes it or breaks it and most break!)

    Definitely a thumbs up for 3:10

    Very interested in the others you critiqued and am looking forward to checking them out.

    Oh and if you and Christianne get a chance whi8le in FL go check out "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - wow, you'll lve it

  6. Kirsten, given your excellent taste in all things EVERYTHING (music, books, movies definitely included), I'm pretty sure the reason we didn't like Stardust is because of our mood that night. Maybe we went in expecting one thing but got another, and we weren't feeling pliable that night. :)

    Last night, when I rented Must Love Dogs, I also picked up Once. We'll be watching that one tonight, so I can give you my thoughts when you come . . . TOMORROW!!!!

    AHHHH! I can hardly believe it is here! I am so, so blessed.

  7. PS: Dave, thanks for the great recommendation on Diving Bell and Butterfly. I've heard a lot of good things about that film but don't know much about it. I'm going to check out the trailer, thanks to your high esteem of it.

    And yeah, I hear you on 3:10 to Yuma. That movie was so fantastic -- and I'm not a girl who usually goes for westerns! As for the ending, it gave Kirk and me much to talk and think about. Very provocative, which I love.

  8. AHHH!!! Is right. I can't believe I am going to be standing in front of my closet picking out warm weather clothes when there is snow outside my window. Too, too weird.

    And yes ... TOMORROW!!!!! What the heck? ;o)

    Oh, I do hope you like "Once". And I get you on the whole mood aspect. I'm the same way. I can be a bit of a snob with movies, especially when it comes to a genre that could probably best be described as "fantasy". Perhaps the flu did away with some of those pretenses that I know I bear. ;o)

    Yeah, Dave!! I'm glad you enjoyed 3:10 to Yuma. I really enjoy both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale for the simple reason that they've both got serious acting chops & don't typically get caught up in that whole Hollywood scene. And if my readers will forgive me, um ... seriously. It's Russell Crowe. It's Christian Bale. Even if the movie were terrible, it would not be a waste of my time. ;o)

  9. all i have to say is christian bale.... mmmmmmm ! :)

    but, seriously, i loved '3:10 to yuma' and we just watched 'stardust' and i thoroughly enjoyed it, also. i love all things fantastical! i want to see 'miss potter',too.

  10. chicky-dee, you are too, too funny about christian bale and russell crowe. :)