Quickie Reviews

So, my DVD kick continues. This is what I’ve been renting lately:

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Quick Stats: Directed and produced by Ridley Scott. Music by Hans Zimmer. Won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, and Brad Pitt (in his first major Hollywood role).

Plot: Two best friends take a break from their unfulfilling lives for a two-day vacation. One unexpected and tragic incident at a roadside bar changes their plans and the women become fugitives.

Verdict: This is one of my mom’s favorite movies, and now that I’ve finally seen this 90’s classic, I can see why! This movie was really, really good. The acting is very solid, especially the performances of the two lovely leads. The writing was fresh and real, which is saying something considering it’s been nearly a decade since the movie’s release. Thelma & Louise is a well-done action movie with a movie. It’s about self-discovery and empowerment, but it’s unpretentious about it. After I watched the movie, I researched it (movie nerd, I know) and I found out that it was actually pretty controversial at the time. I guess since I grew up in a post-Thelma & Louise world I didn’t realize that, but the movie was a big deal. It even made the cover of Time magazine- you can read the article here. So overall, I would definitely recommend it. It’s a very worthy rental.

Once (2007)

Quick Stats: Independent Spirit Award winner for best foreign picture. Academy Award winner for Best Original Song. All songs were composed and performed by the two leads.

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová.

Plot: In Dublin, two struggling musicians meet and spend a week writing and playing music together.

Verdict: This movie is perfect for a rainy day. It’s so sweet and intimate, you fall in love with the leads immediately. The music is absolute wonderful- the song “Falling Slowly”, which won the Oscar, is enough reason to watch this movie. The movie is also real and relatable- the two leads were first-time actors and some of the dialogue was improvised. Once may not be as polished as some Hollywood productions, but it’s homeyness sets it apart.

Iron Man (2008)

Quick Stats: Based on the Marvel Comics character. Directed by Jon Favreau.

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges.

Plot: An origin story focusing on Tony Stark, the playboy CEO of Stark Industries, a weapons company, turned Iron Man superhero.

Verdict: I should say first that I’m a very casual comic book fan, and I prefer Marvel over DC. I definitely didn’t know who Iron Man was until this movie came out, and I didn’t get around to watching until a few weeks ago. And no, I haven’t watched the sequel yet. The original though is a blockbuster that works. I think what sets it apart is the performances- RDJ, Paltrow, Howard, and Bridges do what award-winning actors do best: act. But is it the best superhero movie ever? I don’t know, but I think Peter Parker may be more my type.

Bright Star (2009)

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish.

Plot: A biopic focusing on the famed poet John Keats and in particular his romance with his muse, Fanny Brawn, in early 19th century England.

Verdict: This was a really beautiful movie starring two beautiful people. I’ll admit at times Bright Star can be a bit slow, but the ending is very emotional and totally worth the steady build-up. If you enjoy movies or books like Pride & Prejudice, then Bright Star is a must-see. Oh, with Ben Whishaw playing Keats… well, let’s just say the English language has never been sexier.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Quick Stats: Nominated for Academy Award for Best Leading Actress. First major motion picture based on a blog (yay!).

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci.

Plot: This movie tells two contrasting story lines. Julie (Adams), almost thirty and unsatisfied with her career, begins a blog chronicling her experience cooking through Julia Child’s epic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her journey is contrasted with Child (Streep) beginning her legendary culinary career.

Verdict: This was a really pleasant movie. It may not be ground-breaking in terms of the writing or direction, but it’s delightful to watch. (Although you should probably eat beforehand- all that French food can make you quite hungry!) Tucci gave a very warm performance, but Streep was absolutely remarkable.As much as I love Sandra, I think Streep was robbed of her third Oscar! The bottom line though is if you think you would enjoy this movie, you probably will!

So what do you think? Have you seen any of these movies? Any new recommendations?

~ Sarah

Book Review: Paper Towns

I’m sad to say I haven’t done much reading this summer. I know, my English teachers would be disappointed in me. I’ve started three different books, and I’ve only managed to finish one. (Not that the other ones were bad, they were just overdue at the library.) So this is why my first book review is coming towards the end of July.

Paper Towns was recommended to me by my friend Katie. She’s a big fan of author John Green, and she thought I would enjoy this novel in particular because it’s set in Florida. The main character is narrator Quentin Jacobsen, who goes by Q, who lives in a suburb of Orlando. His neighbor growing up was Margo Roth Spiegelman, the quintessential girl-next-door: beautiful, mysterious, and unattainable. Q is, of course, in love with Margo, and has been since they were childhood friends. They drifted apart though after a grim incident when they were in elementary school and haven’t been close since.

Orlando Map

That is until one school night weeks before graduation, when Margo appears outside of Q’s bedroom window. She’s on a mission and Q agrees to be her accomplice after little hesitation. And so the two set off on an adventure across Central Florida, enacting revenge on high school classmates and breaking into Sea World. It’s a night Q won’t soon forget, and he sincerely hopes that will bring him and Margo closer.

The next day Margo doesn’t show up at school. People aren’t worried at first- Margo, with her effortlessly cool and adventurous persona, has disappeared before. This time feels different for Q, and it’s not long before he starts finding clues Margo left for him. Soon Q decides that it’s up to him to find Margo, wherever she is. He gets help from his appropriately quirky and nerdy buddies, Ben and Radar, plus Margo’s best friend, Lacey.

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I didn’t have any expectations when I picked up Paper Towns. John Green is actually a pretty big name in the Young Adult publishing world, but I had never heard of him. Regardless, I absolutely devoured this book. I read it over two days, and it was hard for me to put it down. We’ve met the characters of Q and Margo before. He’s the quiet, smart kid- certainly no loner, but definitely not a “cool kid”. She’s the popular girl with a heart. Still, we get to know both of them intimately so they don’t feel like ordinary stock characters. The rest of the friends are the kind of people I would like to hang out with in real life- how often do you get to say that?

Another reason I loved Paper Towns is that it was about Florida, my Florida. For those of you who aren’t Florida (or even U.S.) natives, Florida is a state that is often misrepresented. It’s usually summed up by two things: Disney World and retirees. Instead, I know it is a flat, sprawling suburbia, with perfectly manicured lawns, streets lined with palm trees, and mega-high schools. This is the Florida that Green captures in Paper Towns, and he does it really well because he grew up here too.

Depending on your literature tastes, some of you may feel wary of picking up Paper Towns. I’ll admit I felt “meh” about it when I saw it was a young adult novel. However, just because this book is about teenagers doing teenager-y things, it doesn’t mean it reads like one. Green’s writing is very layered, so there’s psychological and literary perspectives on the characters and the plot. Still, it’s an easy read, and I’d recommend it for a day in, or even a trip to the pool or beach. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual “chick lit” targeted for girls my age.

What do you think? Have you read Paper Towns or any other books by John Green? What have you been reading this summer?

~ Sarah

Quickie Reviews

I’ve been on quite the DVD kick as of late, so I’ve watched four movies in a week. While I don’t really have the effort (or time) to write extensive reviews, I still want to write about all the good movies I watched. The solution: mini-reviews!

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Quick Stats: Written, directed, and produced by Ari Folman. The American DVD includes both Hebrew and English audio tracks, as well as subtitles. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Plot: This animated documentary details Folman’s attempts to piece together his memories from the 1982 Lebanon War. It features interviews with other soldiers and flashbacks (both fact and fiction) to the war itself.

Verdict: Waltz with Bashir is one of the most stunning animated movies I’ve seen. I’m no expert on animation, so it’s hard for me to explain the style  but it’s refreshing to see non-CGI animation, especially as the medium for a documentary. The plot is also fixating, because the majority of the movie follows young men thrown into a horrible war. The film was met with controversy in the Middle East, so it’s important to note that while this is a documentary, it’s not meant to be a retrospective on the entire war. Instead, look at it was one man’s reflection on his involvement. There’s no right or wrong here- it just is what it is.

Pirate Radio (2009)

Quick Stats: Inspired by true events. Released outside North America as The Boat That Rocked. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the man behind one of my favorite movies, Love Actually.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans

Plot: Set in 1966, the movie follows a young man living on a pirate radio ship, Radio Rock. Since no stations in the U.K. play rock and roll, the pirates illegally broadcast rock music to the British masses. The station’s popularity pushes the stuffy government to try to shut them down.

Verdict: Pirate Radio is a fun look at the 60’s combined with the quirky and cheeky British humor I love. Although it’s (purposefully) historically inaccurate, it still covered an interesting subject I knew nothing about: pirate radio in Europe. As expected, the movie also has an awesome classic rock soundtrack.

Whip It (2009)

Quick Stats: Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. She also produced.

Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kirsten Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore, and Jimmy Fallon

Plot: Bliss, a small-town girl and would-be beauty queen, secretly joins a roller derby team in Austin, Texas.

Verdict: Whip It is an entertaining “chick flick” that didn’t follow the usual and boring romantic-comedy route. Page is tailor-fit for the lead, and the supporting cast is fun and fresh. This coming-of-age, indie dramedy overcomes its predictability with loads of Southern charm and a healthy dose of Girl Power. Don’t be surprised if you starting think of roller derby names after watching it.

An Education

Quick Stats: Nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson

Plot: In post-war, pre-Beatles London (think: before Pirate Radio), Jenny, a bright schoolgirl with aspirations of attending Oxford University, begins a romantic friendship with a charming older man.

Verdict: An Education is a beautiful, intimate, and touching film. The acting is absolutely stellar. The cinematography and costume design are also great- this is one of those rare movies where every aspect is top-notch. After watching the movie, you’re left thinking and reflecting, not just on Jenny’s choices, but your own. I think it’s a very important movie for women especially to watch.

I would definitely recommend all of these movies, but they’re very different and each has its own merits. I can’t wait to pick up some more movies at the library this weekend.

Have you seen any of these movies? What did you think? Do you like this review format? Do you have any DVD recommendations?

~ Sarah