LITTLE WOMEN (1994)

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Elizabeth

I wish I knew how many times I’ve seen Little Women. I had seen it enough times to quote the movie by the time I finally got around to reading the novel in fourth grade. Between countless views and reading the novel, Little Women is a movie I could probably accurately re-write from memory.

At different points in my life I identified with each March sister, usually identifying with all of them at once. First there’s Beth, played here by Claire Danes. After I read the novel there was a week at school where I tried to change my name to Beth by only answering to Beth. Around day 3 I forgot to correct people when they called me Elizabeth, so it never really worked. But while I was still deep in my Little Women obsession, another little movie called Romeo + Juliet came out and became something I practically lived my life around. Claire Danes as Juliet only further fueled my love for Beth and solidified my belief that Beth was the most underrated character.

Then there’s obviously Jo, played by Winona Ryder.  While Beth and I basically shared a name, Jo and I seemed at times to share the same personality. Was Jo reacting just as I would react? Or have I seen Little Women so many times that Jo’s reactions have become my own? Who the hell knows, and who the hell really cares. The biggest flaw I found in Jo growing up was her refusal of Laurie (Christian Bale)’s marriage proposal. Were Jo and I not looking at the same person? Not hearing the same words? It seemed completely insane to me that she would not want to be with someone who seemed like her perfect match. I remember my mom trying to explain to me that Jo wasn’t in love with Laurie and wanted to see who else was out there, but Laurie being played by Christian Bale really made that hard to believe at the time. Jo ending up with Friedrich (Gabriel Byrne), whom I saw as just an old guy,  seemed like it was practically a plot hole. But I admit that watching Little Women as an adult makes the situation much clearer. Christian Bale is still there, but now he kind of looks like a little kid. Gabriel Byrne is still there, but now he looks sexy. It just kind of makes more sense.

The oldest March sister, Meg (Trini Alvarado) struggles with trying to be a good “lady” while simultaneously trying to figure out what that even means. I had some rich friends in elementary school who treated me the way the Moffats treated Meg – like they were doing me a favor by letting me into their world. And like Meg, I ate that shit up. But, luckily also like Meg, I found my rich friends’ lives to also be a little sad and cold. An Abercrombie & Fitch spending spree can’t match to being able to talk to your mom.

The youngest March sister, Amy (played first by Kirsten Dunst and then Samantha Mathis), was ironically the hardest for me to identify with despite being the closest to my age during the height of my obsession. I know in reality that this was clouded with jealousy – I mean, little Kirsten Dunst, who had ALREADY KISSED BRAD PITT, got KISSED (okay on the head) by CHRISTIAN BALE. That blew my mind. Something I felt really deeply about, though, was the scene where Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. Jo and Meg go to the theater with Laurie and John (later Meg’s husband); Amy perceives being left out as a complete slap in the face. I remember 100% agreeing with Amy at the time. They could’ve invited her, they just didn’t, just to be bitches. Amy is filled with a rage that seemed so understandable at the time that I don’t think it even registered as rage to me. Watching as an adult her request is completely absurd – a nagging child begging to go to the theater with adults. But then something switches. While they’re at the theater, Amy takes Jo long-worked-on manuscript and throws in the fire just in time for Jo to come home and watch it burn. That was when my writerly side trumped my child side. Be mad all you want, Amy, but don’t fucking touch Jo’s writing. That’s just crossing a line too bold to come back from. Of course, Jo eventually forgives her, but watching it as a kid I knew I would never be able to forgive someone for doing that to me. As an adult . . . I pretty much feel the same way.

Susan Sarandon as matriarch Marmee really stuck with me, too. First of all, Susan Sarandon looks so beautiful the entire movie despite being in a completely unsexy role. But mostly, it was the fact that she reminded me of my own mom and her reaction to Amy being hit by her teacher at school. While reading her letter to the teacher, Marmee says something along the lines of “if you hit and humiliate a child all you will teach that child is to hit and humiliate.” Hearing that as a child made total sense to me. In fact, after hearing that, I thought parenting was maybe not as difficult as it seemed, if you just understood a basic fact like that.

Of everything that happens, though, there is one moment in Little Women that I will always love and identify with the most. Growing up, I was known for my long hair. I grew it from about 1st-6th grade. Along the way I would get small haircuts, each one ending with me in tears and convinced feet of hair had been chopped off. In Little Women, rather than asking her awful great-aunt for money to help Marmee visit their wounded father in the hospital, Jo cuts her waist-length hair to her chin and sells her hair. That night, hearing Jo quietly sob in their bedroom, Beth wakes up and gently asks Jo, “Is it father?” Jo fingers the ends of her hair and pathetically whines, “My haaaaaaaaair.” Beth bursts into laughter, which must put the ridiculousness of the situation in a clear light for Jo to see, because Jo starts laughing, too. It’s a moment that’s genuinely funny and charming, but is also deadly realistic to a girl who’s had at least a couple of similarly dramatic haircuts.

You’ve seen Little Women, right? If you haven’t, don’t tell anyone and just watch it right now. You’ll feel better about everything.

Christopher

I always thought this movie was an epic. Something that would warrant two VHS’s. Though it’s not long it still packs a lot of story. I was hesitant about whether or not I would enjoy this film but in the end I found it super enjoyable. I felt like some stuff didn’t quite work. Such as Laurie and Amy getting together but I’m sure that makes more sense in the book.

I also enjoyed the huge cast. Ever since I saw The Usual Suspects I’ve really liked Gabriel Byrne and seeing a young Christian Bale is always great.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

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ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

  • Best Picture (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, and Jonathan Gordon – Producers)
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Christian Bale)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role (Amy Adams)
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Bradley Cooper)
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jennifer Lawrence)
  • Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten)
  • Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson)
  • Best Production Design (Judy Becker – Production Design; Heather Loeffler – Set Decoration)
  • Best Director (David O. Russell)
  • Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell)

Christopher

The best parts of this film are Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence. I kind of wish it was just about them because I didn’t find this story to be particularly compelling. This is the kind of movie where there is a kind of reveal at the end but I’m not sure if it’s really a surprise because you see it coming from the very beginning. I thought this movie started off stronger than it ended. I’m really not a David O. Russell fan in the first place and I really wanted to like this but I just find everything he does to be so boring. I can barely sit through anything he does and it’s not really because I’m completely uninterested in the subject, I just think he’s a poor director.

I did like this better than Silver Linings Playbook though, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

Elizabeth

The fact that America’s “A Horse With No Name” played in probably the first 15 minutes of American Hustle really should have told me everything I needed to know about how I would feel about the movie. Because, you might not know this about me, but I happen to think that song is maybe the worst song ever created by man.

So, while American Hustle was substantially better than the train wreck that was Silver Linings Playbook, I still just didn’t really like it. And despite SLP, I wanted to like American Hustle. I love Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. And they were all great in it. But to me, their performances really weren’t enough to make the movie completely worthwhile.

I’m going to take a controversial stance and say what I’ve thought for a long time: that Amy Adams is actually not that great of an actress. I’m not saying she’s bad. I thought she was very good in The Master. But I think that’s mostly because her character in that is supposed to be pretty stiff and calculating, and I think that’s how she comes off in every movie. All during American Hustle I just kept thinking that she was acting, which isn’t really a great characteristic. Also, I just don’t think she’s sexy. Which I never cared about or thought twice about until this movie, when she’s supposed to be ultra sexy. Amy Adams is gorgeous and can be very cute, but sexy? Especially not compared to Jennifer Lawrence.

So I guess the biggest problem I had with American Hustle is I didn’t really understand the point of anything anyone did. Irving (Christian Bale) and his girlfriend Sydney (Amy Adams) are con artists that promise loans to people, but take their money instead. They end up getting caught in the act by Richie (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent. In exchange for their immunity, Richie has Irving and Sydney teach him about cons so that the FBI will be better able to catch con artists. Aaaaand this is where the movie lost me. They end up targeting Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a New Jersey mayor that is genuine and beloved by everyone. They basically entrap him, as far as I could gather. I couldn’t understand why they went after Polito in the first place. Why go after a good politician, rather than criminals or at least corrupt politicians? They do end up nabbing corrupt politicians, but at the expense of Polito. There’s also messiness with Richie and Sydney, as Sydney has somehow hidden her real identity from the FBI and is pretending to be British. WHY? I just didn’t get the point.

The best parts of American Hustle were, by far, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence. Christian Bale was not the Christian Bale that I swooned over as a kid here: he was fat, hairy, and had a bad comb-over. But he was so great. Irving goes through most of the movie annoyed at everyone else not listening to him, even though he’s basically the only one who really knows what he’s doing. I loved seeing him get pissed off at Richie, who was basically insane. Even though I don’t really like Bradley Cooper, I did like his character because it felt like he was playing a similar character to the one in SLP, except this time it’s not just Chris and me who think he’s a total joke, it’s all the characters in the movie, too! And man, Jennifer Lawrence was great. I’m not sure it was exactly an Oscar-worthy performance, especially compared to someone like June Squibb, but she was great as Rosalyn, Irving’s possible insane wife. I really just enjoyed how genuine Irving was, which is weird to say about a character who’s a con artist. But he obviously truly loved Sydney, and truly cared about Rosalyn and her son, whom he adopted. He was sensitive and funny, which was nice to see in a movie like this.

I don’t want to say don’t see American Hustle because I feel like I’m in the minority of not really liking it. And it’s always worth seeing Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in pretty much anything. Buuuuut . . . there’s better stuff out there.

I’M NOT THERE (2007)

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Elizabeth

I purposefully waited a long time to see I’m Not There because of Heath Ledger. When he died, there were just a handful of his movies I hadn’t seen already, including I’m Not There, and I’ve mostly kept it that way so that there are always movies of his that are new to me. This is flawed logic, and eventually it’ll end, but his death hit me hard and this was a way of dealing with it.

But whoa, am I glad that I waited to see I’m Not There until after No Direction Home. Before the documentary, I really knew next to nothing about Bob Dylan’s career as a whole. I think it would be difficult to get through I’m Not There without knowing anything about Bob Dylan. I’m Not There is going to be fractured and experimental no matter how much you know about Bob Dylan, but having some kind of background definitely gives it a bigger impact.

I’m Not There is really unlike any other movie I’ve seen; it follows interpretations of different stages of Bob Dylan’s life and career, all with different actors playing different characters that aren’t Bob Dylan but are representations of him. The most striking was Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn, whose story takes the most from No Direction Home. When I first heard Cate Blanchett was going to play Bob Dylan, I thought it was insane. BUT HOLY SHIT. The fact that Bob Dylan, at that time, looked soooo young and sounded so young, paired with the fact that Cate Blanchett is not super curvy and has a fairly strong chin actually made her portrayal make so much sense. Give Blanchett the right hair and costumes and she does all the rest; after watching No Direction Home so recently, it was eery how similar she was to the real Bob Dylan of that time.

Of course, Heath Ledger’s section (as actor Robbie Clark) also particularly struck me. Not because of his character’s connections to Bob Dylan, but just because the story and performances were so good. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Clark’s eventual ex-wife and their breakup scene nearly made me cry (it really would have if it had gone on maybe 30 seconds longer). God, it chokes me up just thinking about it. It’s intense.

Really, all of I’m Not There is intense. I honestly don’t know much someone would like this if they don’t like or have no knowledge of Bob Dylan. But I still think it’s worth it, if for no other reason to see so many good actors be so good.

Christopher

As I’m writing this I’m listening to The Basement Tapes, a recording done by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967. Ever since Elizabeth said that she would be down to sit through a few minutes of No Direction Home, I’ve been into this super Bob Dylan mindset. It’s been a few years since I’ve really listened to his stuff, like I did in high school or college, and I kind of forgot how amazing he is and the kinds of emotions I get from listening to his songs. I was thinking about this last night. In many ways now I would say Joanna Newsom would be the number one person I would ever want to see, but I feel like most of that is because I know I will see it (If she ever performs in Texas I will be there) but I’ll never be able to really see Bob Dylan at his prime when I would have liked to see him. I went to see him once with a friend of mine from high school, Todd, but he didn’t really do much and it was kind of more of a concet or his band. But anyway, if I could somehow go back in time when Bob Dylan was first performing his own material in New York or be a the concert where he first played his electric stuff. I think I would just burst into tears, it would be insane. I would imagine I would be in a state that I propably wouldn’t evn be able to enjoy it. I went to see Brian Regan live when I was in high school and I was scared that he would make me laugh so hard that that’s all I would have been doing the whole time and they would have had to kick me out of the place; luckily I was able to contain myself. In regards to this film. I can’t love it enough. It’s essentially an essay on Bob Dylan. Some of it is goofy, I’ve never been a big fan of the covers, but if I ever made a movie I think it would be pretty weird in the same ways. I saw this film twice in theaters. I think the first time was with my mom and the second time a really good friend of mine, Justin, and I went to see some other movie and when we were leaving we noticed that the theater I’m Not There was playing was about to end so we just snuck in, watched the very end of the movie, and then stayed and watched it all the way through. ‘Cause it’s that good! But if you know nothing about Bob Dylan I don’t think I would recommend this to you. I really wanted to watch it with Elizabeth, becuase I love it and I know she loved Heath Ledger, but I knew we needed to watch No Direction Home beforehand. It just makes everything make so much sense in such a fantastic way because everything in I’m Not There is there for a reason and it has so much history and stories behind it. This film is so well researched and molds together in a way that just makes it flow seamlessly. I love Bob Dylan. I contribute much of my personality and my interests in general to him. I feel like before I found his music I didn’t really like listening to music in general. When I think back it was all the generic stuff people my age liked back then. I was kind of into Bob Marley for a while but once I started listening to Dylan he was immedialty my favorite. We really need to watch all of Todd Haynes’ movies.