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Watching "All is Lost"
Published on December 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Robert Redford vehicle/survival tale "All is Lost."

Here's an excerpt:

"2013 has been a big year for experiential cinema. 'Gravity' gives viewers the experience of being lost in space. 'Captain Phillips' allows them to see, hear and feel what it’s like to be taken hostage by Somali pirates. '12 Years a Slave' immerses them in the life of a slave. This week I saw 'All is Lost,' a tense and visceral depiction of survival at sea. We learn little about this man — not even his name. (In the credits, he’s listed as Our Man.) But we understand what he’s feeling, hearing and seeing at any given moment.

'All is Lost' is the second film from J.C. Chandor, who made his debut with 2011’s 'Margin Call,' a gripping look at the financial collapse. 'All is Lost' is also pretty gripping, but in a completely different way. 'Margin Call' was a talky movie that featured a dynamite ensemble cast, while 'All is Lost' is a nearly wordless showcase for a screen legend: the 77-year-old Robert Redford. No other actors appear in the film, and although we do see the occasional fish, this isn’t 'Life of Pi.' There are no imaginary tigers or fantastical islands to liven things up. What we get instead is nature, and the elements: the open water, a raging storm, the glare of the sun.

'All is Lost' opens with Redford writing a letter of apology, placing it in a bottle and dropping it into the sea. The film then jumps eight days back in time, to the moment when Redford’s yacht crashes into a shipping container, tearing a hole in the side. The rest of the movie is a meticulous and painstaking account of the steps Redford takes to survive. We see him studying a book on celestial navigation, making an attempt to patch his boat and learning to operate a sextant. But the setbacks are numerous. Eventually his yacht sinks, forcing him to relocate to an inflatable raft with a small supply of rations and equipment."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Ranking Hayao Miyazaki
Published on November 26, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I rank the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Click here for more.


Watching "Blue is the Warmest Color"
Published on November 26, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new French film "Blue is the Warmest Color."

Here's an excerpt:

"Don’t be fooled by the nearly three-hour running time, the explicit sex scenes or the naturalistic, immersive filmmaking: 'Blue is the Warmest Color' is a coming-of-age story, about the joy and heartbreak of first love. This is a tale that’s been told many, many times, though seldom as emotionally or provocatively. Or as controversially.

'Blue is the Warmest Color' won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, marking the first time the award was given to both a film’s director and leads. But this triumph was followed by discord. The stars of the film, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, accused director Abdellatif Kechiche of being abusive and said they would never work with him again; Kechiche responded by saying that the film 'shouldn’t be released, it has been soiled too much.' Of course, the film has been released, despite his protestations, and moviegoers are free to watch the film, see what the hype and fighting is all about and come to their own conclusions about the merits of Kechiche’s movie."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Blue is the Warmest Color"
Published on November 26, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new French film "Blue is the Warmest Color."

Here's an excerpt:

"Don’t be fooled by the nearly three-hour running time, the explicit sex scenes or the naturalistic, immersive filmmaking: 'Blue is the Warmest Color' is a coming-of-age story, about the joy and heartbreak of first love. This is a tale that’s been told many, many times, though seldom as emotionally or provocatively. Or as controversially.

'Blue is the Warmest Color' won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, marking the first time the award was given to both a film’s director and leads. But this triumph was followed by discord. The stars of the film, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, accused director Abdellatif Kechiche of being abusive and said they would never work with him again; Kechiche responded by saying that the film 'shouldn’t be released, it has been soiled too much.' Of course, the film has been released, despite his protestations, and moviegoers are free to watch the film, see what the hype and fighting is all about and come to their own conclusions about the merits of Kechiche’s movie."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "12 Years a Slave"
Published on November 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "12 Years a Slave."

Here's an excerpt:

“'12 Years a Slave' is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen this year, which is a bit ironic given its subject matter: the brutality of slavery. Each scene is meticulously composed. The cinematography is excellent. And there’s a richness of detail and physicality that almost makes you feel like you can taste the food the characters are eating, or feel the hot sun as they pick cotton. Few films are this lush and visually intoxicating.

Which doesn’t mean that '12 Years a Slave' is easy to sit through. The film is often quite brutal, and I sometimes wanted to look away from the violence and cruelty. But I couldn’t, perhaps because of the artistry British director Steve McQueen brings to every frame of the film. He wants viewers to understand the experience of slavery — the pain of the lash, the cruel whims of the plantation overseers, the poor living and working conditions. Some critics have accused McQueen of wallowing in misery and rubbing viewers faces in it, but his overall goal, it seems to me, is to tell it like it is. His movie might be pretty — almost painterly, really — but the story it tells is harrowing and horrific.

Local readers might be familiar with Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free-born black man living in Saratoga Springs. In 1841, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for what he believed was a short-term job, and was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen’s opening scenes jump back and forth in time, showing Solomon picking cotton and having a sad yet intense sexual encounter with a fellow slave, as well as his life in Saratoga, where he wore fine clothes and enjoyed a loving relationship with his wife and two children. We know immediately what Solomon has lost, and the terrible circumstances in which he now finds himself."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Wadjda"
Published on November 12, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Saudi Arabian movie "Wadjda."

Here's an excerpt:

"I’m a sucker for foreign films about plucky children. Not only do these films tell heartwarming stories, but they also take viewers to intriguing and beautiful countries. The new movie 'Wadjda' tells a heartwarming story about a spunky young girl, while also depicting the daily rhythms and customs of a distant land. It is one of the few films to emerge from Saudi Arabia, and the first feature film directed by a Saudi Arabian women; production reportedly took five years, because director Haifaa Al-Mansour did most of her work from vans, using walkie-talkies, because men and women are forbidden to be seen working together.

Just for opening a window into a restrictive culture, 'Wadjda' is worth seeing. But it’s also a great little story, about an 11-year-old girl, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), who wants a bicycle. But at almost every step, she’s discouraged: Her mother tells her that bicycles are not for girls, asking 'Have you ever seen a girl on a bicycle?', and her stern headmistress is constantly trying to get her to conform to Saudi Arabia’s rigid gender norms. After all, this is a country where women are not even allowed to drive cars. The only person who seems intent on helping Wadjda achieve her dream is the neighbor boy, Abdullah (Abdullrahman Algohani), who lets her ride his bike when nobody’s around."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Captain Phillips"
Published on November 5, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Captain Phillips."

Here's an excerpt:

"Let me preface this review by saying that I have a difficult time enjoying movies that make me feel sick. And that the shaky camera work of 'Captain Phillips' made me feel nauseous — so nauseous that at one point I considered bailing on the film. But I decided to gut it out. And now it is Wednesday afternoon, and I still feel a bit nauseous. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming 'Captain Phillips' for what is clearly some sort of cold. Or at least a bad case of malaise.

'Captain Phillips' tells the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the cargo ship the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates — the first successful pirate seizure of an American ship since the 19th century. At the time, this story generated a lot of 'Pirates still exist — isn’t that crazy?' commentary, and it was easy to view the story with some amusement. But 'Captain Phillips' makes it clear that having a ragtag group of modern-day and well-armed pirates take control of your boat is no laughing matter. This relentless, tense movie never lets up, unfolding with the fly-on-the-wall perspective and sense of immediacy characteristic of the cinema-verite school of documentary.

The opening scenes give us a sense of what it’s like to work on a large cargo ship, establishing Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) as a no-nonsense, highly competent and resourceful leader. He isn’t the most likable guy, but he seems to have the respect of the men under his command. Not long after the voyage begins, he learns that pirates have been spotted in the area. And despite his best efforts, the pirates — there are four of them, led by a man named Muse (Barkhad Abdi) — board the ship and take Captain Phillips hostage while his crew hides in the engine room. For whatever reason, there are no guns on board, which forces crew members to get creative: They leave broken glass on the floor, so that the barefoot hijacker will injure himself when he steps on it, and cut the power to make it more difficult for the hijackers to find stuff.

Click here to read more.


NFL Picks, Week 8
Published on October 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I make my week 8 NFL picks.

Click here to read them.


Watching "Don Jon"
Published on October 23, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new romantic comedy "Don Jon."

Here's an excerpt:

“'Don Jon'” is one of the better romantic comedies I’ve seen in a while, though it’s probably worth pointing out that this is a pretty dreary genre, and that the bar is not set particularly high. In fact, one of “Don Jon’s” selling points is that it pokes fun at romantic comedies, and even features scenes from a fake romantic comedy starring Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway. Much has been made of this film’s focus on porn, but it might be at its best when it deconstructs the gender stereotyping typical of the Hollywood romantic comedy.

'Don Jon' is the directing debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favorite young actors. He also plays the lead, a shallow New Jersey boy whose prowess at picking up women has earned him the nickname Don Jon. But Don Jon has a secret: As much as he likes having sex with real women, he likes masturbating to porn even better, because the women in porn will do anything, and real women will not. Several scenes show him sneaking out of bed as his latest conquests sleeps, booting up his computer and getting off to a pornographic video. In addition to sex and porn, Don Jon is a clean freak who works out compulsively and never misses confession at his local parish. For the most part, he’s an incredibly boring person with little in the way of thoughts, ideas or an inner life; one of Gordon-Levitt’s feats is making Don Jon a character we feel like watching for 90 minutes."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Gravity"
Published on October 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new sci-fi film "Gravity."

Here's an excerpt:

"I tried to ignore all the hype about the new film 'Gravity,' because I didn’t want the film, which I was desperate to see, to fall short of expectations.

But that’s exactly what happened, despite my best efforts.

All the breathless chatter about how 'Gravity' is one of the best sci-fi films ever made, up there with '2001' and 'Solaris,' had an impact: By the end of the film, I was scratching my head, wondering how anybody could make such a claim. 'Gravity' is a pretty good movie, but a great one? Maybe I’ll feel differently once all the hype has died down, but right now I’d have to say no.

From a technical standpoint, 'Gravity' is fantastic. I paid $18 to see it at the IMAX at Crossgates Mall, and it was money well spent. So if you’re going to see this film, you really owe it to yourself to see it on the biggest, most sophisticated screen possible. Because here’s what this film does well: It makes you feel like you are floating in space. I don’t know how you can recreate that experience in 2D, or at home on your TV."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Rush"
Published on October 8, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Rush."

Here's an excerpt:

Do you care about Formula One racing? No? Well, neither do I. But I loved the new Ron Howard movie 'Rush,' which tells the story of the 1976 Formula One World Championship, and the rival drivers who made it so exciting.

'Rush' is something rare: a sports film that also works as a character study, and a fairly nuanced one at that. The rival drivers are British playboy James Hunt (who supposedly slept with 5,000 women before dying of a heart attack at age 45) and Austrian native Niki Lauda, whose seriousness and relentless determination made him hard to take. Although I liked Lauda (Daniel Brühl) quite a bit. He is the film’s true hero, which makes 'Rush' unusual: The typical sports film celebrates colorful, quirky characters who refuse to play by the rules, but 'Rush' has us cheering for an athlete with almost zero charisma. If most sports films are about Rocky or the Bad News Bears, 'Rush' focuses on the humorless opposition. Of course, 'Rush' is about two men, and Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is also an interesting character. By the end of the film, I was rooting for both of them.

Click here to read more.


Recent Viewing: Films
Published on October 7, 2013 by Sara Foss

Illuminata (1998) ***

Love Story (1970) ***1/2

The Act of Killing (2013) ***1/2

Lumiere and Company (1995) ***1/2

The Grandmaster (2013) ***

Antichrist (2009) ***

Fallen Angels (1995) **

The Spectacular Now (2013) ***1/2

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009) **1/2

Northern Lights (1978) ***1/2

As Tears Go By (1998) ***1/2

Lady Vengeance (2005) ***

Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) ***1/2

Film (1964) ****

Fair Game (2010) ***

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) ***

Burden of Dreams (1982) ***1/2

A Primer in Sky Socialism (2013) ***1/2

Rush (2013) ***1/2


Watching "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Published on October 2, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new film "The Butler," which I liked way better than I expected.

Here's an excerpt:

"'I’m going to see ‘The Butler’ on Monday,' I told a friend. 'Feel free to join me.'

'I don’t really want to see that movie,' my friend said.

'Well, I don’t really want to see it, either,' I said.

'Then why are you going?' my friend asked.

I explained my position: The film has received mostly positive reviews, it’s almost sure to be nominated for Oscars and I was curious — people are watching it and enjoying it and talking about it, and I want to be in on the discussion. And there was also the possibility that 'The Butler' might surprise me — that I might actually like the film.

And I did like the film! This is an emotionally involving, powerful film, a message movie that is never too preachy and is almost always entertaining. It’s melodramatic and sentimental, but not in a bad way — 'The Butler' is the type of grand and epic film that Hollywood used to make, a touchingly earnest drama filled with laughter and tears.

Director Lee Daniels ('Precious') is a skilled craftsman, and he’s aided immeasurably by a gifted cast that includes Forest Whitaker as butler Cecil Gaines. and Oprah Winfrey as his wife, Gloria Gaines. The supporting roles are also extremely well-cast: Cuba Gooding Jr. reminds everyone that, yes, he’s a very good actor as Gaines’ friend and fellow butler, David Oyelowo does fine work as Louis, Gaines’ rebellious son and Terrence Howard makes the most of his scenes as the Gaines’ ne’er-do-well neighbor. Even the stunt casting mostly works — I especially enjoyed Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and James Marsden as John F. Kennedy."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "The Spectacular Now"
Published on September 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new coming-of-age film "The Spectacular Now."

Here's an excerpt:

"I love coming-of-age films, and the new movie 'The Spectacular Now' is a very good one — unusually sensitive and perceptive, with lead characters who are endearing and flawed and worth rooting for. Critics have compared “The Spectacular Now” to the great coming-of-age teenage romance 'Say Anything,' and though it’s not quite as good as the earlier film, it’s certainly in the same league.

Much of the film’s success hinges upon Sutter Keely and Aimee Finicky, who fall in love during their senior year. Sutter (Miles Teller) is funny, bright and likable, but lacking in ambition: He’s a heavy drinker who cares little about schoolwork or responsibility — about anything other than having fun, right now. Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is smart and geeky and shy, but not exactly lacking in confidence — it’s just that her interests and goals lie outside of the high school mainstream. One of the nice things about this film is that becoming cool isn’t Aimee’s primary goal in life, as it would be in a lesser teen film: She’s content to do her own thing, and is drawn to Sutter because she senses that he’s a good person, not because he’s popular and goes to cool parties. Sutter and Aimee are a mismatch, but the film doesn’t dwell on this, and the plot is about much more than whether they get together, or go to prom. They do get together, and they do go to prom, but 'The Spectacular Now' is more interested in how their relationship changes them, and what it might mean for their future."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "The World's End" and "The Grandmaster"
Published on September 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movies "The World's End" and "The Grandmaster."

Click here to learn more.


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