Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Michelle Williams Elevates My Week with Marilyn to be Something Better than it's Subject Material

My Week with Marilyn (3 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by: Adrien Hodges
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne

Marilyn Monroe was a icon; she was someone women wanted to be, and men wanted be with.  Monroe was idealized that there is often a thought that she was never truly herself, or that even in life she was always playing a role.  This film centers around Collin Clark who wrote two books about the film actress entitled "My Week with Marilyn" and "The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me."

Collin Clark (Redmayne) was an ambitious young man from a privileged background; he went to the finest schools in England, like Eaton, but loved film and wanted to work in the film industry.  At one point while at one of his families parties Collin meets the famed movie actor Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) and his wife film actress Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), and Clark goes to Olivier's office day after day to get work with him.  Leigh convinces her husband to help him out, and Clark ends up getting a job on the film Olivier will star and direct entitled The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).  The other star of the picture is none other than the most famous actress of the time, Marilyn Monroe (Williams).  The film chronicles Clark's interactions with Marilyn, and Marilyn's journey to be an actress, an icon, and trying to find balance the person in between.

First time film director Simon Curtis struggles to bring this film to bring vibrancy to this film.  While the direction and Hodges script are not bad they lack the hook that pulls you in wanting more of the overall film.  The supporting players not mentioned where one dimensional.  Dominic Cooper's character Milton who supposedly had a similar situation with Marilyn added nothing to Clark's development.
Emma Watson  played the jilted costume designer Lucy, was used to show the effect Marilyn had on men, but to no avail we already know this.  Clark's connection to Lucy was not significantly developed enough to make me feel bad for her.  Judi Dench added another role where she plays the older wise British woman helping the younger generation.  While I know these interactions were based on actual events, there could have been more that made these characters more interesting.

The focus and center of the film like in real life was on Marilyn Monroe played by Michelle Williams.  Williams is radiant in this daunting role.  Monroe was seen as a movie star, sexual icon, and all around force in the film industry, for a short career.  Williams took on this role like Cate Blanchett did within the The Aviator; she never made Monroe into a caricature, but gave her the depth she deserved.  Williams continues to prove within this film that she is a terrific actress who can create different role that have so many layers and substance.  There were two moments that sealed her performance for me. The first was where she was in front of a group of people and asked "Should I be her" to Clark and she starts to put on a show and act for her fans.  The second was where she was playing her character and dancing in the film.  Both of these scenes were flawless, and prove that Williams is one of the best younger talents.

The strong part of the film was counter balance of Marilyn Monroe with Sir Laurence Olivier.  Olivier was frustrated with Monroe's style of method acting. Olivier was a classically trained actor who was naturally good at what he did, while Monroe had to work at her craft but was a superstar.  Clark points in the film that both Monroe and Olivier wanted what the other was lacking.  Branagh does a good job as Olivier, and delivers some stellar speeches, but I never felt as though I was watching Olivier.

Overall the film has its ups and downs, but most of the ups come from Williams.  I can't say I loved this film, but her performance made me sit back in my seat in awe of her sheer talent.  This reminded me of watching Some Like it Hot, and the way Monroe cast that power over movie goers.  Job well done!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New York Film Critics Association Like Brad Pitt Films this Year and The Artist

The New York Film Critics Association kicked off the award season, for the first time in many years (it's typically the National Board of Review) by announcing their winners via twitter.  I hate twitter but watched as this group tweeted the victors.  Usually critics awards solidly focus one or two films but New York went with a different pattern this year.  The group honored 9 different films (not including documentary and foreign language film).

This could be the first year for Brad Pitt to be an Oscar winner.  Pitt could even be a double nominee as he is campaigning lead for his film Moneyball, and Supporting for Tree of Life.  Both of these films earned honors in other categories as well.  Moneyball took home best screenplay.  Tree of Life was honored for its beautiful cinematography, and in the Supporting Actress category for Jessica Chastain.  Chastain was also recognized for her work in The Help and Take Shelter.

Meryl is at it again; she is the most honored actress at the New York Film Critics awards.  Streep won Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  The New York Film critics use a ballot system where they typically take around three round rounds of balloting to declare a winner.  While I was not in the room it is said that Streep won on the first ballot, which is incredibly rare.  I am excited to see this performance.

In the Supporting Actor category the went for a villain again with Albert Brooks in Drive.  I am going to start calling the supporting actor category the Best Villain award.  Awards never typically honor a lead character who is a villain, but honoring a supporting player as a villain is much more typical, especially in this category.

The big winner of Best Picture and Best was the silent film The Artist which was directed by Michel Hazanavicous.  This film has pushed out of the gate with an early lead and will likely win other other critics awards, but I do not think it has the stamina to win at the Academy Awards.  Look for Moneyball to be a a film that sneaks into this race and stirs things up.

  • Best Picture: “The Artist”
  • Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist”
  • Best Screenplay: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for “Moneyball”
  • Best Actor: Brad Pitt for “Moneyball,” and “Tree of Life”
  • Best Actress: Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady”
  • Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks for “Drive”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain for Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter
  • Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki for “Tree of Life”
  • Best First Feature: Margin Call
  • Best Documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Descendants Ascends to be a Solidly Quirky Film

The Descendants (4 out of 5 stars)
Directed by: Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways)
Written by:Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller

Seven years ago was the last time Alexander Payne wrote and directed another film.  Payne's last film was the brilliant Sideways, which chronicled a wine connoisseur's experiences in love, and life.  Payne has had a great repertoire of films.  The first Payne film I saw was 1999's Election (potentially his best) then there was About Schmidt in 2002, and my personal favorite his last film Sideways (2004).  The Descendants ranks as my least favorite Payne but this is also some pretty solid film making.

The Descendants follows Matt King (George Clooney) who is trying to bring his family together while his wife lays in a hospital bed in a coma after a tragic boating accident.  Matt is working to come to grips with no longer being "the back up parent" and helping his children cope with their mother's situation.  Matt also has to deal with his extended family and a piece of land they own.  Matt and his family are descendants of Hawaiian royalty and white ancestors.  Matt is the trust and has sole control over what to do with the land; his trust will expire in seven years because of the law.  Back to the story I actually cared more about. As Matt's wife's condition worsens he brings his daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) home to tell her his mom is not going to make it, and then she tells Matt her mom was cheating on him.

The strongest part of this film for me was George Clooney's performance.  I thought he played against type well, and gave one of his best performances.  My favorite scene was when he walked into his wife's room and cursed at her while she was laying there for making his life so hard.  Then when he later starts to cry as he realizes even though he has experienced so much pain.  Shailene Woodley who plays Matt's daughter Alex is pretty strong in this film.  I have seen her television show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and to see this performance come from her proves that strong material and direction matter!  Judy Greer who always plays wonderful small roles shines in one the last scenes of the film, I wish she was in the film more.

Payne's direction and the screenplay are solid.  I did not care for storyline (as much) that gave the film its title.  As Matt needs to decide what to do with his land I often felt a little displaced from that story.  The stronger emotional context came from watching this family deal with their own imperfections while they watched someone slip out of their life.  Payne's strength is often dark humor, and while this film had some laughs the strength was the strong dramatic moments.  While the dark humor was there and was often funny with Matt's youngest daughter acting out in the beginning it was sometimes off putting like Alex's friend Sid laughing at her grandmother's alzheimer's.

Even with a more awkward voice over from Matt, the beginning of the film starts with him talking about how outsiders glamorize Hawaii, meanwhile people who live their still have problems.  The direction and screenplay do a good job highlighting both the beauty and troubles that exist within this paradise. 

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: The Departed (2006)

When I got back home from Thanksgiving in Albany I did two things, I went to the gym, and then ate Thanksgiving left overs while watching The Departed.  The Departed is the first Best Picture winner I am re-visiting.  The other nominees in the Best Picture category this year were Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen.

gangster movies the departedThe Departed was directed by the brilliant director Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese is known as one of the best film makers living today, and he is one of my favorite directors ever.  I love his style of direction, there is always this dark gritty feel, but he also puts unique touches to each film he directs making them all different.  Scorsese's first major film was Mean Streets in 1973 which started his long standing working relationship with Robert DeNiro.  Scorsese continued on this brilliant streak of film making with Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990); he lost me after this and then in 2002 had a resurgence with Gangs of New York (2002), and The Aviator (2005).  While the the films in the 2000s were not his best this man has made some of the best films ever!  Ironically prior to this Oscar ceremony Scorsese had never won an Oscar.  In fact in 2005 Oscar host Jon Stewart joked Three Six Mafia has one Oscar while Scorsese has zero.  This was a funny joke, but I think the Academy finally got that they had left one of the best directors of all time empty handed and did not want to do the same thing to him that they did to Alfred Hitchcock.

Now I am not saying Scorsese and his film should not have won (although I would have not picked him for director or this for film), but I am glad the Academy got over their bias for his films, and awarded this movie as the Best Film of the year.  The Departed was a solid film, with solid direction.

The DepartedThe best part about the 2006 Best Picture race this year was that the Best Picture race at the time was a big question mark.  Going into the night there were a couple the field was pretty divided.   Letters from Iwo Jima was a surprise nominee and had Clint Eastwood a person who had directed two Best Picture winners.  Iwo Jima was the least likely to win though because the film is in a foreign language, and did not have as much support going in. The Queen was had a shot, as an important bio-pic about Elizabeth II, but the Best Actress prize was the trophy the Academy wanted to bestow to this film, as they saw the film was about Mirren's performance.  And then there were three. Babel was seen as the big sweeping drama that spanned countries and interconnected people in different stories.  Babel won the Gold Globe for Best Drama, but just was too weak of a film.  The critics were not that supportive of it, but it did have a lot of nominations. If there any year where a comedy was going to win this award it would have been  Little Miss Sunshine.  Little Miss Sunshine won Best Picture at the American Film Institute Awards, the Producer's Guild Award (the equivalent to Best Picture), and the Screen Actor's Guild's Best Ensemble Award.  These are three hefty trophies.  When the nominations were announced Little Miss Sunshine only had four nominations and no editing nomination, the film was sunk.  Films rarely win Best Picture without an editing nomination.

Mark Wahlberg The DepartedThe Departed's win seemed destined in the stars. Thinking back to that year, although my memory is cloudy, most people's predictions ranged from Babel to Little Miss Sunshine to The Departed.  Babel had the most nominations.  Little Miss Sunshine had heart.  The Departed had the trump card, Scorsese.  The Departed only had five nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Wahlberg) and Best Film Editing.  The surprising thing about the nominations was that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for Blood Diamond and not this film and Academy Award favorite Jack Nicholson was also not nominated.  With a small total number of nominations, and two big stars snubbed, this made the film look weak, but it took home the big prize at the end of the night.

I am glad this was an exciting year in this category (for once), but there were several films that should have been nominated in this category and were not.  My personal pick for the Best Picture of the year was Pan's Labyrinth. The film had 6 nominations and won three trophies, and it shockingly lost in Best Foreign Language Feature.  The other two films that should have been nominated were Children of Men (3 nominations 0 wins) and United 93 (2 nominations 0 wins).  I can understand why these three films were not nominated as they are more divisive, and not see as larger crowd favorites.  If the the Best Picture race looked like this: Children of Men, The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, Pan's Labyrinth, and United 93-I would would have been a happy person.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Movies that Put Life into Perspective: Pretty Woman Edition

This past week was my first time at home since I moved to Boston.  I go into town on Wednesday, and celebrated Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday.  On Friday at Midnight I went Black Friday shopping with my sister at Target.  Then on Saturday my mom made Thanksgiving part two to celebrate my favorite meal for my birthday.  My family and I spent the rest of Saturday watching movies and spending time together.  My parents fell asleep (as usual) but woke up and ended up watching Pretty Woman with my sister and I.

Pretty Woman (1990) is the story of the millionaire/billionaire Richard Lewis (Richard Gere) who picks up a hooker named Vivian (Julia Roberts) on Hollywood Blvd..  Richard has sex with Vivian and ends up paying her to accompany throughout the week as his date.  This was the film that launched Julia Roberts into super stardom; he performance in this film earned her her second Oscar nomination, and her first in the lead actress category.  Roberts and Gere had such amazing chemistry, and made this one of the best romantic comedies of all time.  Gary Marshall knows how to launch women into stardom; he has done the same thing with Ann Hathaway and The Princess Diaries.  While Marshall is not the best director this film has so much charm, and he has great loyalty to a few recurring actors.  Marshall has always cast Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller in most of his films.  Elizondo usually plays a much bigger supporting role, while Miller usually plays a small role.  This film is a fairytale come true, and was one of  my favorite movies growing up.

This was one of the movies that I watched with my family all the time when I was younger.  Do not scoff at the fact that I watched a movie about a hooker while I was younger.  Movies brought my family together and this is one the films that I remember always watching when I was a young kid.  I always remember my mom, dad, and I watching this film.  When we watch Pretty Woman we always say that our favorite part was when Vivian goes back to Rodeo Driver and she has her hands filled with bags and tells the women who pushed her away from shopping when she looked like a hooker.  Sitting with my family and remembering the old days was great.  While home for the holidays I sometimes get annoyed as there is arguing, but its times like these when my family sits down around the TV and watches a movie, I remember how nice being around them can be.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What Happened to The Learning Channel (TLC) ?

Today my sister was watching TLC, and all the shows started to blend.  There were two shows about weddings, and I honestly could not tell the difference nor did I see the purpose in either of these shows.  One of the shows had a girl planning here wedding, and the other had two sisters who owned a cupcake shop working on one their weddings.  I watched these show while I was eating my lunch and could not take much more!  I thought this network was about something different.

When I was going for my Master degree at Bowling Green State University an alum from the Popular Culture department Eileen O'Neill came to speak to our class.  O'Neil is currently the Group President at Discovery Communications.

Now before talking about O'Neill, her role within the company, and the current programming content, I
  Jon and Kate Plus 8 have to highlight that when The Learning Channel came to be to be called that name in 1980 it was different and a rival of The Discovery Channel.  In its early days TLC featured  mostly documentary content related to nature, science, history, current events, medicine, technology, cooking, home improvement and other information-based subjects.  To make a long history short the network began to change its programming due to dwindling ratings.  This evolution started in the 90s, and really gained ground in the late 90s early 2000s with shows like Trading Spaces, and Junkyard Wars.  The network changed the direction of their programming and moved towards shows that were not as focused on learning, but more towards unscripted television.  Of course this network would also eventually become the face of Jon and Kate Plus 8, and would eventually be part part of a larger network system that included The Discovery Channel.

While meeting with O'Neill she talked briefly about the history of TLC and how it came to be linked with its former competitor, The Discovery Channel, but we mainly focused on the current state of the network, and the evolution of the actual learning aspect of the channel.  During our sit down conversation with Ms. O'Neill one of my class mates asked the question "How is Kate Plus 8 an educational show?"  I do not remember her exact answer, nor would I want to misquote her, but her answer had something to do with parenting tips for people.  Now, in my mind I was stunned, baffled, and appalled at her logic.  During our conversation Ms. O'Neill seemed to be using the ratings logic that in order for the network to survive they had to keep up with the Joneses.

According to her biography on the Bowling Green State University wesbite Eileen O'Neill is "Group President for Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel (TLC), two of the most popular channels on cable. In her new role, she will supervise general managers for each network in the Discovery family.
In her most recent role as president and general manager for TLC, she helped the network introduce such reality series as “Say Yes to the Dress,” “Cake Boss,” and “19 Kids and Counting.”She is also credited as the original developer of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” a reality series that follows the life of Jon and Kate Gosselin as they raise sextuplets and twins. The program set new cable rating records in 2009. Other achievements during her career at Discovery Communications including launching Planet Green, the first and only eco-lifestyle network, while serving as the network’s president and general manager, leading Discovery Health Channel as executive vice president and general manager, and serving as director of scheduling for the Travel Channel."

After learning this information I can understand why she defended Jon and Kate plus 8, because she created it, and people always defend their own work (how could she have seen the crazy coming?)  I have to also applaud her for creating an eco friendly green network, and pushing this agenda, but this is also trendy.  O'Neill's only going with the flow, and while speaking with her she had no clear vision that made TLC unique from all the other garbage out there.  There are so many shows about baking, leave that to the Food Network.  The current programming content of this network has nothing to do with learning.  Shows like Toddler and Tiaras and Sister Wives are what draw people into this network.  This network maintains the TLC abbreviation in hopes people will forget the network is supposed to be about learning.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things in Movies, TV, and Music I am Thankful for This Year


More films centered on women-Maybe Hollywood will realize that women centered films can be Post to both solid, and money makers.  Two films that come to mind right away are The Help, and Bridesmaids.  Both films were some of, if not the most entertaining films of this year.  Bridesmaids was hilarious, and there were very few central male characters.  The Help was heartfelt and well acted and was focused centrally on the women.Twitter

The Muppet's-I am so happy this group of puppets is back.  I am so happy Jason Segal brought Kermit, Miss. Piggy, Gonzo, Fozie, and Animal back into my life.  The movie was hilarious, and brought out some great celebrity cameos.

Marvel Comic Book Movies-They started with Thor, then there X-Men: First Class (the best) , and closed out with Captain America.  These three films took the time create wonderful stories with great action, and unlike Green Lantern or the Green Hornet they did a good balancing story with action.  The other important part was that the casting was well done, from Michael Fassbender as Magneto to Thomas Hiddleston as Loki (the only awful call was January Jones).

Ryan Gosling- This boy can act!  I have seen quality work from him in the past in Blue Valentine, Half Nelson, and Lars and the Real Girl, but he had three amazing performances this year alone.  Gosling started with the summer film Crazy Stupid Love, where he was both sexy and hilarious.  Then Gosling had his starring role in Drive where he played the sulky stuntman/criminal.  He closed out the year with his best performance in The Ides of March where he started out an ambitious aid to a politician and ended up a bitter sullen victim of the game of politics.

Some great Original Screenplays- Midnight in Paris was romantic hilarious and beautifully written.  The Tree of of Life is ambitious and a revelation.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is dark and thrilling.  Margin Call is one of the most interesting looks at current financial situation.  Taking Shelter is a great look mental illness and how fear of losing things shapes our reality.  Even Bridesmaids (with its flaws) is a hilarious piece of work.  There are still so many great ones to come!Th


AMC- The Network is amazing!  They are currently airing The Walking Dead, which is having a great second season.  The first season of The Killing was addicting.  The fourth season of Break Bad continues the show's pattern of only getting better.  Mad Men will be returning in the new year.  What more could anyone want? This network is great!

Emily Van Camp-I love good soapy drama and she is currently the the headline of one of my biggest addictions this year, Revenge.

The Ensembles from Community and The Good Wife

Community has found their groove again, and NBC is shelving them for a short time?  This show has done such an amazing job evolving and continuing to be funny, and I could watch it over and over again.

The Good Wife's ensemble (including its guest stars) work impeccably together.  The cast is lead by Marguilles but this is not a one woman show.  The directors know how to intertwine stories and bring characters together.

Louis CK and Larry David-I am thankful for bitter sarcastic, dark humor!  Louis CK and Larry David have provided that for me this year.  Louis is a much darker version of Seinfeld, and his humor is so on point.  Meanwhile Curb Your Enthusiasm only has gotten better with Larry moving to New York City.


4-I am thankful Beyonce has decided to to follow her heart, and work on music she wanted to make because it has paid off.  With great songs like "I Care" "I was Here" and her bigger hits "Run the World (Girls)" "The Best I've Never Had" and "Countdown" Beyonce should be proud.

Adele-Her voice is flawless and she can actually sing.  I have always loved this women, and new found popularity is great.  This Best New Artist Grammy winner is one of the best singers I have ever heard!

David Guetta-His DJ'ing and new CD is one of my favorite of the year.  This music is my gym mix and all of these songs are what make me want to just get out there and dance

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Favorite Thanksgiving Episodes

Thanksgiving is that time of year when everyone goes home to spend time with their families or avoids their families like the plague an attempts to make on their own with their friends. This is one of the best times of the year where there are numerous holiday episodes.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday with the great food, and its also because it is close to my birthday.  Here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes.

1-Friends-This is the show that had a special Thanksgiving episode almost every season.  This show did Thanksgiving episodes best.  In the shows first season the thanksgiving episode "TOW Underdog Got Away" the six characters all made plans separately but Rachel could not get away and others plans got ruined so they all ended up spending their first Thanksgiving together.  The second season there was no Thanksgiving episode, but then in the third season they competed for the Gellar cup, and in the fourth season had Chandler sitting in a box because he betrayed Joey.  The best Thanksgiving episode ever is in the fifth season of Friends in an episode entitled "TOW All the Thanksgiving Flashbacks" is where we get to see fat Monica again, Chandler losing a toe, Phoebe's past lives, and Joey putting a turkey on his head.  The Thanksgiving episodes continued, but this one was the best.

2-The West Wing had two wonderful Thanksgiving episodes "Shibboleth" and "Indians in the Lobbey."  The better of the two is seasons two's "Shibboleth" and the best story was watching CJ (Allison Janney) having to help pick a turkey for the President to pardon.  Every year at Thanksgiving time the President pardons a turkey.  I love this episode!

3-Will & Grace also had two great Thanksgiving episodes "Homo for the Holidays" and "Moveable Feast."  The best episode among the two is "Homo for Holidays" where Grace and Will talk to Jack's mom and find out that Jack has not only never come out to her, but he has told her that he has dated both Karen and Grace.  This episode has one of my favorite lines in the entire history of the show, which came Karen.

GRACE: Hmmm. Well, you've come on a good night. Jack's mother is going to be joining us, and she doesn't know Jack's gay.
KAREN: How could she not know? What is she, headless?

4-Gilmore Girls-If anyone can eat four Thanksgiving dinners its Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.  In "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving" Lorelai and Rory start their day at Sookie's and get to see Jackson deep fry a turkey, then they head to the Kim's for tofurkey, then onto Luke's diner for their almost double date Thanksgiving, and they end their night at the Gilmore's mansion.  There is nothing better than a smart witty Thanksgiving.

5-How I Met Your Mother-This show like Friends did a good job of navigating the world of celebrating Thanksgiving with Friends.  In season one we get to watch Barney work at a soup kitchen, and find out he is only doing it because he was court mandated.  Then after each season we get into the world of the Slap Bet.  The Slap Bet Episodes are great!  they focus around Thanksgiving but also on a bet that Marshall has made with Barney, and Marshall gets to slap him for losing the bet.  

I love the more modern Thanksgiving shows.  They do not focus as much on dealing with family, but are more about making Thanksgiving a time where you can spend this holiday with people you love who you want to be around.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's time to play the music It's time to light the lights, It's time to me the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight!

When I was a young kid my parents and I would always go to Coulsens News.  My parents would go for various reasons, but I would always talk them into buying me comics or more importantly renting me a video.  One of the videos I rented the most was The Best of the Muppet's Show.  From Pigs in Space to watching the old men in the balcony rip a part the Muppet's I always loved this show!

The Muppet's were my childhood.  Along with The Muppet's Show I made sure I rented all of their movies.  The first of their films was The Muppet Movie (1979).  The Muppet Movie (1979) chronicles how the characters met one another, and tells of their battle with a restaurant that serves frog legs (gulp).  The first film was not my favorite, but who doesn't love the song "The Rainbow Connection?"

The there was the The Great Muppet Caper (1981) which takes the characters outside of their typical world and has Kermit, Fozie, and Gonzo playing newspaper reporters for The Daily Chronicle.  I love this movie, I think it is very clever and funny.  I love the running joke throughout the film that Kermit and Fozie are twins and no one can tell them apart unless Fozie has his hat on.  I also love that they get to England being thrown out of the cargo deck, truly hilarious.

In 1984 there were two huge landmarks in the Muppet world, The Muppet's Take Manhattan (another feature length film) and one of my favorite cartoons growing up The Muppet Babies (1984-1991).  The third Muppet film chronicles the group's journey as the Manhattan Melodies to attempt to make it on Broadway.  With numerous guest stars (like usual), from Liza to Brooke Shields, this film takes this rag tag group to the Great White Way.  This may be my favorite Muppet film, and is the only one I own.

The Muppet Babies was the first show I was able to watch, not on video, but when it actually aired.  This show was incredibly smarter than most cartoons.  The Muppet's imaginations took them in the world of books, movies, and to distant lands.  I loved this cartoon, and I am not shocked it lasted 5 years (a long time in the cartoon world).

As the years went on the Muppet's inspired shows like Fraggle Rock, have been connected with Sesame Street, The Bear in the Big Blue House, and many more.  All of these things were possible because of one man, Jim Henson.  Jim Henson was the creative mind behind these projects.  Henson worked mainly with puppetry, voiced Kermit of course, and was a master of working towards developing children's programming throughout his life.  Unfortunately Henson's past away in 1990 from complications with pneumonia.  Henson was only 53 and had some much more to do with these characters.  I remember a special episode where they had the Muppet's talk about his death so that children could understand what was happening.  I respected that so much as a kid, but was so sad about it.

On November 23, 2011, the Muppet's are coming back to the big screen in true Jim Henson style (unlike the 90s Muppet films). this one looks true to form.  Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother) and Nicholas Stoller are writing the film, while Segal is starring in it with Amy Adams (and of course the Muppet's) and Stoller is directing the film.  I will be attending the midnight showing of this film.  I am excited to relive my childhood with another great experience with this cast of characters that includes, Kermit Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Fozie, and my personal favorite Animal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Melancholia has some moments of beauty but is weighed down by Lars Von Trier's self-indulgent direction and screenplay

Melancholia (2 out of  5 stars)
Directed and Written by: Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kieffer Southerland

I promised myself I would avoid writing about his comments about Hitler at Cannes, but I guess I lied to myself.  Von Trier stated "What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit."  This helps pose the question who is Lars von Trier, and is this statement veiled in his work.  My guess (and I am not defending him) is that von Trier was trying to be edgy/ironic in his comments.  Not the smartest choice of words.  

This situation provides insight into the mind behind this film.  Melancholia starts with the wedding of Justin (Dunst) to Michael (Aleksander Skarsgard).  One of the post awkward weddings is held at Justine's sister Claire (Gainsborough) and her brother in laws mansion.  Dunst appears in love and happy throughout the first five minutes of the film, but this quickly disappears while she goes through the motions of the wedding reception.  Dunst slowly walks away from everything, her job her husband, its almost as if when she sees the planet in the sky that she knows things may come to an end.

In true von Trier style he has two parts to the film, the first is entitled Justine, the second Claire.  This can work in films, but in this film it did not work.  I know I am watching a movie, as a viewer I am attempting to suspend disbelief and become part of the world.  This separation makes things feel more like a play, and stylistically I did not see the purpose. The first part focuses on the wedding while the second part focuses on the title Melancholia the planet that was hidden behind the sun that is on a collision course with earth.

What works well in this film are two things the use of Vagner's Tristen and Isolde as the score to the film.  It's masterful, and fits the film beautifully.  I like that von Trier only showed us one aspect on the end of the world.  Dunst's Justine and Claire do have different perspectives on life, and their viewpoints were interesting to watch through.  I do not understand how Dunst's performance is the performance that is singled out; she plays every character she has played before with a bad and snotty attitude.  Gainsborough is much stronger as Claire.  I believe in the Claire character.  Unlike Justin I understood Claire.  Justine's aloofness never resonates with me.  Kieffer Southerland Jon was also great with his wit wonderful sarcasm.

Films do not need to always explain things, but this movie just lets things happen.  I never felt as though von Trier wanted me to care about the end of the world, and its probably something I should care about.  Sitting through this film felt like sitting through one of those pointless class in college where the teacher attempted to sound smart, but the lecture went know where. When I go to the movies I want to enjoy films, I do not want to have to put up with them or endure.

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: Juno (2007)

Well this was a fun weekend, my friend Keith came to visit from New York City.  We had a good time, and I thought after he left I would let my liver rest, but I went to Tremont 647, a Boston bar/restaurant and drank.  When I got back I past out and woke so I did not get to watch Juno until  late at night, but I was able to watch it.  Unlike typical Academy Award films, Juno is quick watch, and much more entertaining.   Juno was one of the first films I saw three times in the movie theatre, I have never seen a movie more than three times.

Juno is the product of team of two minds, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody.  Jason Reitman is the son of director Ivan Reitman.  Ivan Reitman was the mind behind Ghostbusters, and several other films.  Jason Reitman  has done  more than inherit his father' talent he has done something better he has created some of the best films within the last ten years.  Jason Reitman's directorial feature film debut was the 2005 film Thank You for Smoking. Smoking was a brilliant debut, and one two of his films that he wrote.  Reitman's second film was Juno.  Juno launched him into the spotlight.  Reitman then made Up in the Air (which he co-wrote), and this year has a another film with writer Diablo Cody. This was Diablo Cody's first film; she was a former stripper, turned screenwriter.  Cody was the film's lone Oscar winner, and has gone on to write for television; she wrote and created the the show United States of Tara which lasted three seasons.  Cody wrote the terrible film Jennifer's body, and now Young Adult with Reitman, which looks hilarious.  The pairing of Reitman and cody seems to work so well their dark wit combines so well!

2007 was one of the darker years in the history of Academy Awards.  The two films main films competing for this award were No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood.  Both of these films masterpieces, and two of the best films of the decade.  No Country for Old Men was the winner, and it deserved this award.  I would have awarded Paul Thomas Anderson Best Director for Blood, but the Coen Brothers won for No Country for Old Men.  Where does Juno fit into all of this?  Juno had four nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress-Ellen Page, and Best Original Screenplay (which it won).

The five Best Picture nominees were Atonement, Juno,  Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There will be Blood. Three of the five deserved to be there!  Atonement was not as good as the book, it was a solid effort, but not one of the five best.  Michael Clayton while a solid film was not deserving of this honor.  I actually forgot it was a nominee in this category until I started writing this again.  When a film is forgettable I think that ruins its lasting impact.  Looking back at this year, this was a weaker year.  I would replaced these two nominees with Zodiac (David Fincher) and Into the Wild (Sean Penn).  The other two solid films that could have been contenders were the French film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel) and Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg).

Juno deserved the recognition it received!  I am not sure I would have nominated Reitman for directing, and I would have nominated Jennifer Garner for her supporting role; she was just great. Every time I watch this film I am moved with both laughter and love watching the character grow as she gives up her child.  This is an incredibly heartfelt film that resonates still, and is a classic in my book.  Ellen Page gives a wonderful performance; her humor and naivete mix well.  I like her performance because you actually see her grow throughout the film.  Garner's performance is incredibly real, and raw; she wants a baby so bad.

I realize my own personal bias is that I love sarcastic films.  Throw in a hamburger phone, and I am sold home skillet.     I am glad films like this are honored.  The Academy Awards is always heavy on the drama, especially this year.  This film was a much needed breath of fresh air!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Margin Call is a Smart, Thrilling Ride, about the Financial World

Margin Call (3 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by: J. C. Chandor
Starring: Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Jeremy Irons

In our current economy the DOW is up and down, there are numerous people losing their jobs, and there is fear that things will not getter better.  This film is about a nameless company prior to the financial crisis in 2008.  At the beginning a group of people come in to tap workers on the shoulder to ask them to come to a room and get fired.  Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is tapped on the shoulder.  Dale explains to the women who are firing him that he is working on something he would like to finish, but they tell him that is not an option.  Dale leaves the files with one of his subordinates, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto and says "Be careful."

I would love to explain what caused the crisis, but I do not understand the mathematical logic behind what was discovered.  Luckily rocket scientist (literally a rock scientist in the financial world) Peter Sullivan is able to piece together the different things as he stays late at work and puts together the puzzle pieces.  Sullivan calls his co-worker in risk management Seth (Penn Badgley) and one of his superiors Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) to come back to the office as soon as possible.  Soon after all of the players at the company are called in to work on the problem.  Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) is the first to come to the scene.  Sam is the motivational leader on the floor. 

When Sam steps on the scene he asks Peter and Will to explain the situation to him.  When they begin talking financial jargon, Sam says "Speak to me in English."  The ironic aspect of many of the leaders of within the firm or workers is that they do not have a better understanding of numbers or financial terms.  As John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), the CEO becomes involved he commands his team to take the company on a course of action that could change the face of the economy.  Tuld is a man who like Sam has made his way to the top by just being cutthroat and smart.

J.C. Chandor has done a good job with his first major film; he constructed an interesting thriller that is both gripping and intellectual.  The problem with this film is within his screenplay which has a strong, but as the film draws to its close does have as much energy.  Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons gave stellar performances, and were the best part of this film.  Their performances gave this films its strength in the last half of the film.

This tale of business and morality is a solid, and provides a strong start from this new film maker.   Chandor uses the economic struggles as a way to describe not only a historical event in our history, but to display what people will do when they are put to the screws and forced to make difficult decisions.  This was a strong first effort and I was entertained by this film.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stylistically J. Edgar is a Clint Eastwood film, but this is one of his weakest films

J. Edgar (2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Gran Torino)
Written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Judi Dench

J. Edgar

Who was J. Edgar Hoover?  The answer to that question is not in this film, but like with most biopics they are only meant to provide a story or version of actual events.  The film starts with J. Edgar dictating his own story to different agents of the FBI.  The film jumps back and forth between Hoover as a young man climbing through the justice department under the Attorney General to founding the FBI, and then working under President Kennedy.  

Hoover served under 8 different Presidents as head of head of the Bureau of Investigations which was later  renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); he was appointed by Calvin Coolidge and died during the Nixon administration.  The beginning of the film shows Hoover's ambition within the Bureau and how believed that systems could be created to track different people, like using their fingerprints.  As Hoover dictated his story throughout the film, he kept changing the agent who was typing his story, because they either did not answer a questions correctly, or he did not like the way they spoke or dressed.   

The direction of this book Hoover was dictating pointed to him as a brilliant man who fought the Bolshevik Revolution along with Communists in general, brought down gangsters like John Dillinger, had power and control over Presidents, and who helped solve the mystery of the Lindburgh baby.  In reality Hoover was a paranoid man who rarely arrested anyone, made himself look like more of a hero than he actually was and took credit for the work other people did.  

Hoover's second in command throughout his entire time within the agency was Clyde Tolson.  Within the the film there is an insinuation that Hoover was a closeted gay man who had a "relationship" with Tolson.  There is limited proof on anything specific, but what this film does highlight is that Hoover was a complicated man with many demons which he tried to keep hidden.  DiCaprio plays the titular character and does a good job capturing every element of Hoover's character; he is great in the role and is the highlight of this film.  DiCaprio played another troubled historical figure, Howard Hughes in The Aviator, and it is apparent that this man take on incredibly complex roles and rise to the occasion. 

The rest of the cast did an alright job.  Armie Hammer's Clyde Tolson did a solid job playing the second in command, but his makeup while older was terrible.  Judie Dench who played Hoover's mother and Naomi Watts who played Hoover's secretary were just there, there was nothing spectacular about either of their performances, mainly because the script never created a moment for them to shine.

The team of Eastwood and Black tried to take on a complex man in a simple way, but the direction and script had numerous flaws.  While I was never bored this film began to fade towards the ending.  Every time I heard DiCaprio do a voice over I assumed the film was coming to an end, but this happened about four or five times before the film actually ended.  Eastwood's films have this grey look to them, and as a period biopic this worked, but unlike other films I never cared about the plot.  Answering who this man was, was never going to happen, but they made his story less interesting.  The inclusion of the different historical context was poorly woven into the fabric of the film.  

All of Hoover's accomplishments which built his road to "success" were not handled well.  Hoover had a complicated life, but it feels as though this film attempted to take on too many aspects and there was no true focus.  Eastwood is a taut director and usually has such wonderful focus, but this film does not, and Black's script is sometime awkward and clumsy.  I wanted this film to be good, and I glad it focused the rumored homosexuality, but even that was handled awkwardly.  The film does not have a center of gravity and often never finds its central theme.  Eastwood should be kissing the ground DiCaprio saved this film, now go back to Scorsese!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

I had planned on watching the Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, but I must have let someone borrow my copy, because I could not find it.  So I went with one of the other four nominees that I had not seen in a while, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  The other nominees this year Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader.

Button was directed by the talented director David Fincher, who directed great films like Alien 3Se7en,
next Fight Club, Zodiac, and in 2010 The Social Network.  Fincher like Tarantino is known for quirkier/darker films.  Along with feature films, Fincher has worked with musicians to help direct  documentaries of their work, and work with music videos.  His first major foray into the feature film was in 1992's Alien 3.  While Alien 3 is not the strongest in the series it was a solid endeavor, and if they had kept it at three films this franchise would have been impeccable. 1995's Se7en has not ounce of light, there is always this bleak rainy feeling. Fight Club (1999) is his darkest and most obscure piece of work as a director; he handles the adapted material well, and this one of my favorite films.  In the the midst of these two works of greatness Fincher had two let downs, The Game (1997) and Panic Room (2002).  Both films had solid casts and premises but there was just not much there.  Fincher came back to his true stylistic form in 2007 with Zodiac.  Zodiac is a dark ominous thriller that details the story of the hunt for the Zodiac killer.  Then in 2008 Fincher was honored with his first Academy Award nomination for directing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I have to be honest, Fincher is not my favorite director, but he holds high rank in my opinion with current film making.  Button should not have been his first nomination in the directing category, and I am kind of appalled that it took the Academy 17 years to honor this man.  Fincher's directorial work should have garnered him numerous accolades, but this picture is about more than David Fincher!

In 2008 the five films nominated for Best Picture were: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire.  This was the year The Dark Knight, the film with the second highest rated film with critics, and a popcorn flick to boot was left off the list.  The same can be said with Wall-E.  Wall-E was the first animated film that deserved to be nominated and win in a long time!  This was also the year of The Wrestler an amazing film about a man struggling to make it into the world of professional wrestling.  Those three previously mentioned films were some of the best film making and the Academy ignored them.  With only five nominees they picked the wrong five.  I would have nominated The Dark Knight, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, and The Wrestler.

In reality the 2008 Best Picture race winner was locked up early on.  Slumdog Millionaire steam rolled the competition.  Millionaire had taken a classic story of the under dog an put a Bollywood spin on the subject matter.  The Academy felt as though they were being hip and edgy by rewarding a cross cultural film that could transcend to America.  Benjamin Button had no chance but it was most likely in second because of the the big important production value, and the gravity of the story that spanned decades.

In reality if there had been ten nominees Benjamin Button would have probably made my list, but with five it did not have a chance for me.  Benjamin Button feels like Forrest Gump, and there are numerous transferable qualities of both stories. namely because both films were written by the same person Eric Roth.  Button feels self important like Gump does from a critics stand point.  Button like Gump is about a boy who is different from birth, who has a hard time walking, meets a girl who treats him different from those around him and they fall in love and are defined as soul mates (like Forrest and Jenny), benjamin works on a boat, and the film uses historical context to help tell the story.  Roth's screenplay is entirely different from F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, and the only real similarity is that the central characters name is Benjamin Button.  Roth seems to use gimmicks from other screenplays to force charm in this film.  I still cry at the end, not to seem heartless.
Brad Pitt

The film had 13 nominations, more than any film that year, including Best Picture, Best Director-David Fincher, Best Actor-Brad Pitt, Best Supporting Actress-Taraji P. Henson and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Statistically speaking, the film with the most nominations going into the night typically wins the Best Picture Award, but this film did not do so.  I would have only nominated this film for the Best Director honor.  Fincher's direction is the star of this show, and everyone else is along for the ride.  Pitt received his second nomination for this film, but should have received a nomination in the Supporting Actor category this same year for Burn After Reading.  2008 had people who had won previously talk about the different actors.  When Goldie Hawn talked about Taraji P. Henson, I did not get the praise for her performance, or what Hawn had said, and I still do not.  The screenplay has glimpses of greatness, but also major story flaws that could have been cut out.  I will finally admit that my fried Mike was right about the scene with the clock at the beginning.  The scenes symbolism was forced and heavy handed.

I sound like a grump, I know, and the thing is, I do not hate this film, but I do not think it's special or worthy of taking away the spot films that were better.  This category has two films that were much worse The Reader and Frost/Nixon.  Both of those films had strong leading performances, but were otherwise boring.  In a year with much more exciting films I am saddened to look back and see the Academy played it safe once again.  They honored another Holocaust film because it seemed important, and honored another film about Nixon because because of its subject matter.

Beginners, Adeptly tells the Story of two men Starting to Find Love Late in Life

Beginners (3 1/2 stars out of 5)
Directed and Written by: Mike Mills (Thumbsucker)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, and and Christopher Plummer

Love is seen as an important to emotional stability. The definition of of love is so broad.  Love can mean love of family, friends, God, or that eternal love of another human which people marry or form a longer lasting relationship. Beginners is the story about a father and son Oliver (McGregor) and Hal (Plummer) starting their journey finding that last kind of love.

The film starts with Oliver rifling through his father's belongings, finding and finding things in his father's place like his first personal ad in the gay world.  At the beginning of the film the director establishes one timeline where Hal has already passed away.  Oliver then takes Hal's dog to his home, a dog which speaks in subtitles to Oliver (but he only knows 150 words).  

The film jumps to the next timeline where Oliver's mother has passed away.  Oliver uses photos of the past to describe the way things looked explaining what his parents marriage looked like, the president, pets, happy people.  He uses happy families to compare to his own because he always assumed they were not happy. Hal comes out to Oliver after this sequence.  Oliver imagines that he told him in a purple sweater, but Hal actually told him in his bathrobe.  The director/writer uses these quirks while editing together different images of Hal in a purple sweater and bathrobe.

Soon after his father's death Oliver is taken to a party where he dresses like Freud.  At the party he meets a beautiful young woman, dressed in a male costume (I don't know who she was supposed to be), and her name is Anna (Laurent).  Anna talks to Oliver with a notepad because she has laryngitis.  Anna asks on her notepad, why are you a party if you are sad.  Oliver is amazed she can tell.  Anna draws eyes on the notepad and tells him that is how she figured out his secret.  McGregor and Laurent have amazing chemistry, and they provide solid performances in this film

In Hal's story we get to experience this older man working to be something in the gay community; he meets friends, join activist groups, has movie and book nights, and takes a lover in Andy (Visnjic).  Hal has started his journey at the end of his life; he has found happiness in moving forward and finally being himself.  Hal is living his life and exploring for a the first time, a life where he is free to love whomever he wants.  Hal wants his son to be able to do the same.  Plummer is the standout in this film; he plays Hal  with such charisma and heart.  I loved watching him call and wake up Oliver as he came home from the club asking about House music.  Plummer plays this role with sincerity.

In a third timeline Oliver is younger (about 10) and we see him only with his mother, and even while at his own father's gallery opening we never see Hal.  Oliver did not understand his parents relationship, and viewed as a loveless couple.  Oliver promised he would never become them, and has prevented himself from that until watching his father explore his own love life, and meeting Anna.

Director/Writer Mike Mills uses his semi autobiographical experience to tell this story.  Mike Mills experienced this exact story; his mother died from cancer then his father came out, and died fours years later.  Mills has done a good job exploring the world of coming out for love with both stories.  Both Hal and Oliver are facing their past and moving forward to begin their journey.  Mills script is a bit too quirky at times, but it's also incredibly emotional and heartfelt giving it enough to surpass that quirkiness.  The message is love, and working towards finding a love that makes you genuinely happy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Take Shelter Brings Fear to a Whole new Level

Take Shelter (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain

Take Shelter

In today's era people fear almost everything.  With the economy tanking people have a fear of losing, well everything.   Take Shelter starts with Curtis LaForche standing outside of his home while his wife cooks and his daughter is playing.  In the distance Curtis sees storm clouds, and its start to rain a yellowish color, a signal of the end of days.  This starts a cycle of paranoid acts, and dreams as Curtis struggles to keep his family afloat.

After a long day of work Curtis spends a night out at the bar with his co-worker and best friend Dewart.  Dewart (Shea Whigham) starts talking about his own problems while the two drink and ends up saying "You got it good."  The problem is Curtis has real issues like everyone else.  Curtis supports his family while his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) stays at home to take care of Hannah (Tova Stewart) their six year old deaf daughter.  Curtis's income and benefits are essential in helping his daughter get surgery for a cochlear implant.

Curtis's first dark dream involves his dog biting him, and after the dream he feels the pain of the bite as though dream were reality. Curtis starts to come undone as his dreams about having his family taken away from him, and as he continues to see a storm on the horizon. Curtis takes action in order to protect himself and his family from the darkness of his dreams and visions. Curtis starts building more to his bomb shelter using equipment from work.  Curtis soon starts to alienate people through his actions and his world unravels as he tries to prevent it from doing such.

Writer/Director Jeff Nichols does an amazing job creating a world where reality and paranoia blend.  Nichols shows two worlds, but the worlds start to blend together and Curtis appears to have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is not. The use of limited visual effects helps to keep the movie on a different level from most other films.  While Nichols uses the elements of the storm and a flock of bird to symbolize a darker future.

Michael Shannon is brilliant in this film!  Shannon's Curtis is a stand up guy, a family man, a friend, who starts to see things fall a part.  Shannon slowly unhinges; he fears he is turning into his mother (Kathy Baker) who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 10.  Curtis visits her on his quest to determine whether he is actually crazy or the end of days is coming.  Shannon is one talented actor, and so far has given one of the best performances i have seen throughout this entire year. 

 Jessica Chastain also gives a great understated performance as wife.  Chastain has starred in two other movies I have seen this year, The Help and The Tree of Life.  This woman has proved in a short time that she has the acting chops to go toe to toe with some heavy hitters, and in this film she gives her best performance of the year.  Chastain's Samantha goes from happy homemaker to wrought wife desperately trying to help her husband and her family survive.

There is something spiritual and potentially biblical about this film.  In a scene with Samantha's family, her father asks Curtis about his not attending Church.  Curtis responds with a question "How was the service?"  While I do not think the film was intentionally religious I do think the film mirrors a quest to feel at peace.  Curtis paranoid state about his economic woes cause mental anguish.  Together these elements create one stellar film.