Weekly Mini-reviews: “The East,” “Moonstruck” & More

November 24-30, 2013

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The East | Zal Batmanglij | 2013 | ★

After hearing so much about how she is the next big thing in cinema, I finally decided to give a Brit Marling-penned film a chance. I didn’t see Another Earth or Sound of My Voice because they just didn’t appeal to me. Well, from the trailers neither did this one but I just thought I’d give it a fair chance. If this film is any indication, then I did the right thing by skipping those other films because this was an excruciating viewing experience. I’m not going to put the blame entirely on Marling’s script as there are some interesting ideas in there about a spy working for a big company infiltrating a group or rebels but over time finding that they are the ones doing the right thing despite being labeled as “terrorists.” Even so, the script only touches on this briefly and with the exception of “Doc,” the characters aren’t more than what they are on the surface. With this, and the director’s attempt to stay 100% true to the script, the film just feels like it’s about a bunch of stereotypical hipsters with daddy issues and half-baked ideologies. In the last minute or so, the film starts taking a different approach to the subject of bringing down these companies that hurt the environment. I would much rather see a film based on those ideas.

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It’s a Wonderful Life | Frank Capra | 1947 | ★★★★

Every year on Christmas day It’s a Wonderful Life plays on TV, and every year, for some reason I have changed the channel. Why did I ever? I loved it for the reason everyone loves it: the great character of George Baily, James Stewart’s great performance, and the fantastic, super sappy (but well-earned) ending. What I love most about though, is how dark the movie really is throughout. From the get-go, this story is about a man who despite his big plans for himself will never really live the life he always wanted. Sure, he has a lovely family and a lovely wife, but the past and his unfulfilled dreams always haunt him. The film may not explicitly state this, but you can see it in Stewart’s performance. Even in the happiest moments in the film, there’s a heaviness to the way he portrays George after he is forced to stay and run his father’s business. Thanks to this there is the necessary balance between dark and light that is present in everyone’s life, and therefore makes resonate as much as it has throughout the years.

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Moonstruck | Norman Jewison | 1988 | ★★★★

As it was the case with The Purple Rose of Cairo, whatever words I come up with to review Moonstruck will fail to capture how brilliant and amazing it is. It’s a romantic comedy set in a magical, non-existent version of New York City with a dreamy atmosphere that envelops you like a warm blanket from the moment the opening credits start, but it doesn’t suffocate you by trying to be overtly stylish. It has a fantastic screenplay filled with funny moments, dialogue, and a large and distinct cast of characters that is perfectly balanced to the point where you feel like every one of them has a good reason for being (there are two specific scenes that prove this point). It is also filled with great performances that cover every spectrum of acting, from Cher’s subtle but powerful performance as a woman ready to settle but secretly wants more, to Nicholas Cage’s over-the-top, but swoon-worthy tortured lover. This is all tied up with one of the best finales I’ve seen in any movie this year. Although it’s not a holiday movie, it’s a perfect movie to watch with the family this season. I love this film so much.

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This is Martin Bonner | Chad Hartigan | 2013 | ★★★

This is Martin Bonner is a film that touched me in a way I never expected. The film is short and carefully paced and doesn’t have a strict narrative with intricate plot points or big melodramatic scenes, or any of the regular Hollywood drama tropes. It just tells the stories of two different people with completely different lives (one a man who was just released from prison and the other is someone who helps former convicts get back into society), but have something in common in their loneliness and crisis of faith and are only connected in a professional way. Even so, with it’s polished but restrained cinematography and warm, honest performances it manages to be touching in how it perfectly captures the many emotions any single person goes through on a seemingly-mundane day. It’s just a lovely, lovely film.

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