Nicole Kidman

Review – Lion

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Review – Lion

By guest columnist Lauren (moviemagic16.)

Lion is the true story about a boy named Saroo who, when he’s five, falls asleep on a train and ends up lost. Thankfully he ends up getting adopted by an Australian family, but when he grows up he seeks to find out where he came from, and with the help of Google Earth (it’s like 2008 guys) he tries to find home again.

(Spoilers below.)

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Rabbit Hole

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Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole

Matinee with Snacks

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — often times, plays that are adapted into movies feel weird and stilted in their dialogue. Screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire adapted his own play, and he does a marvelous job de-theatricalizing his won work. Why does thus matter? What’s wrong with theatrical language? Nothing, as such. But Rabbit Hole is a delicate piece of drama, involving high states of emotion and confrontation — and for it to work as a movie, it absolutely must not sound anything but real and natural. Well done, Lindsay-Abaire. Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Shortbus) is no stranger to intensity or discomfiting levels of intimacy (emotional or otherwise), nor is he a stranger to the theatre. He’s the perfect director for a story that could have been maudlin, depressing, or self-indulgent in other hands. I had resisted watching this one for a while, concerned that it would be too crushingly sad or psychologically disjointed.

The premise is simple — eight months after the accident death of their young son, Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman (also consummate stage and screen crossovers) are struggling to keep their marriage afloat. Their coping, their mourning, but also their attempts to bounce back to some kind of new normalcy go in all directions, not always the same ones. We’ve got high drama fights and tony moment of sousal understanding — explosions and swallowing, love and fear and confusion. I haven’t enjoyed Kidman this much in some time; much is made of her ice-queenly, frozen forehead, but she is not anything but raw and uncontrolled here. Eckhart is always solid and here is no different — his time spent with Sandra Oh in group therapy reminds us of the husband he must have been Before The Tragedy, so we, like Kidman, can miss that guy all the more.

The supporting cast is also great, with Oh and Dianne Wiest as Kidman’s well-meaning mom, and Miles Teller as Jason, the teenager down the block. We don’t realize why he is significant until all in a rush we find out and it’s such an impact after his quiet teen presence. Each of these people help Kidman and Eckhart move through this moment in their lives and on to the next one. The next one will also be filled with a sense of loss, and love, and all the things currently crowding this one, but it’s at least the next moment, and not a state of permanent freeze as they fear. Rabbit Hole is a lovely contemplation on the grief process, on people just doing their best (failing and not), and the importance of comfort in all its many forms. Perhaps it would even be something that someone in a group therapy as these characters are in would benefit from.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/17/10
Time in minutes 91
Director John Cameron Mitchell
Studio Lionsgate

Nine

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I didn’t really know what to expect, walking into Nine. Well, I kind of knew what to expect from director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and I knew Nine was sexy and kind of based on someone’s mental state, so I probably expected a little Chicago magic again. For those confused by my review of 9, here I am speaking of the live-action musical and not the animated post-apocalyptic thing. Maybe the lead character’s state of mind is a little post-apolcalyptic, but I digress. Nine is set in Italy in 1965, that groovy frontier between girl group femininity and crazed hippie abandon.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director and walking id. Day-Lewis plays Guido with a cultured Italian accent, a good singing voice, and plenty of angst. He has made himself quite a career playing tortured men, and his customary level of actorly dedication therefore requires him to pretty much have a full-on nervous breakdown on screen. While this is not often the stuff of musical comedy, Nine isn’t either. Guido is difficult to like, which seems more like a failing of the original musical than of this production of it. Nine is not as good a show as Chicago and the filmgoing experience reflects it, but it definitely wrings all the best out of it that it can — and in gorgeous coastal Italy smothered in beautiful women.

Guido’s muses alternatively fuel him, torment him, love him, inspire him, arouse him, and nurture him, and in his mind, all exist only as fully as their usefulness to him extends. The women who surround Day-Lewis all turn in great performances, with some that took me by surprise. Who thought Kate Hudson could rock her Laugh-In genes on the only original song of the film? She doesn’t dance much (neither does anyone except Fergie) but she sells it. Marion Cotillard we already know can act and sing and she’s breathtaking here. Penelope Cruz, whom I usually really dislike, was awesome — though I hope her father never sees this film. Gentlemen, wear loose pants. Nicole Kidman doesn’t surprise us with what she does so much as remind us that she can still play a sexpot screen siren at 42 like nobody’s business. Fergie/Stacy Ferguson gets the big jaw-dropper number as far as I am concerned and tears up the screen even with a zillion backup girls in a long-ago but salient part of Guido’s psyche. Hers is the song you will be humming as you leave the theatre. And of course Judi Dench. As always, Dame Judi takes a little screen time and runs with it — her number is wonderful.

Marshall has always been marvelous at painting with bodies and light, and this film benefits from that touch immensely because of the abstraction of most of the songs. He uses static lighting like a stage production and as a result gets tons of gorgeous depth on screen. I would like to see this film in full Avatar 3-D to float in the spaces of light and dark and layers of people Marshall builds. Costumer Atwood proves she’s a force to be reckoned with but even her mastery cannot give Nicole Kidman boobs. Nine is about religion and morality and love and intimacy and inspiration and objectification and intimacy and superficiality and it’s a solidly-made film. It may not make you a fan of the show, but it should make you a fan of Rob Marshall.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 118

Director Rob Marshall

Studio Weinstein Company

Australia

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Baz Luhrmann’s few movies can be described as anything from whimsical tweaks to wild, ecstatic fantasias, but rarely have they followed any sort of formula. When I say that Australia is a good old-fashioned Golden Age of Hollywood romantic epic, I mean it in the best sense. The wild setting of Australia’s Northern Territory, the impossible gorgeousness of leads Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, and the story’s 1939 period and high stakes — it’s so grand and glorious and familiar, yet the Australian setting makes it exotic and new again. Australia (like all Luhrmann’s movies) demands viewing on the big screen — not just for Mandy Walker’s lush cinematography or the intensity of the sequences writ large — but for the sublime collective experience of being in a room with hundreds experiencing the movie together. One moment in particular elicited a mass groan of ecstasy from our packed audience, which then elicited empathetic giggles from everyone. You’ll know the moment when you see it.

The story, while engaging, is pretty standard fare, predictable by the rules that cinema has taught us. The real pleasure is in the rediscovery of what it must have felt like to see those old classics for the first time. I am not necessarily equating Australia with Gone With The Wind, even though I really did love both films; my point is the event of seeing a classic film on the silver screen with a full audience around you is an increasingly rare experience. In the film, we get a taste of what it was like back then to see the Wizard of Oz for the first time, and Luhrmann even manages to make “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” sound new and poignant again.

Kidman might lose the ranch to Carney the cattle baron (or his henchman Fletcher) unless she gets the lone wolf known as The Drover (Jackman) to help her. Nullah is a “half-caste” (born of white and aboriginal parents) child hiding on her property to escape “rescue” by the Aboriginal Assimilation missions. (For a thorough exploration of this terrible Australian legacy, see the wonderful 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence.) And there’s a drought. And World War II is crouched on their doorstep. And Jackman has to ride horses in open-necked shirts. The whole situation is fraught. The film is not over the top like Moulin Rouge; it strikes just the right tone of seriousness and reverence for the subject and it is crammed with action, excitement, loss, and romance.

Kidman (sporting the first suntan she ever got in her life) is clearly having a fantastic time with her buttoned-up Brit character (and no doubt being immersed in her native Australia), and it shows. She is always best as an actress when she is relaxed, and her barramundi-out-of-water Lady Ashley character is delightful. Jackman has to do no work to remind us he’s Sexiest Man Alive, but don’t forget this guy is a quadruple threat singer-dancer-actor-athlete — and he too is having a ball playing the rough and rugged Drover. Australian machismo makes that of other nations look pasty and wan in comparison. Jackman’s tanned and ripply form next to the porcelain waif Kidman speaks volumes about the colony’s divergence from the motherland.

David Wenham (Fletcher) twirls his wicked moustache with panache and bile, but thankfully never quite gets to the cape flinging “you must pay the rent” malevolence that a lesser actor might have limned. He is the lynchpin to the story, keeping the large-scale epic drama really an intimate conflict painted on a huge, luxuriant canvas. At last we come to first-timer Brandon Walters as Nullah, the boy mystic who sings his aboriginal magic and tightens the bonds among the other leads. His performance is fantastic and his eyes are as deep as Australia is wide.

If you can forgive the Elton John song over the credits (I could, my companion could not) I think you can walk out of the movie theatre feeling you got your money’s worth. Thanks to parking fees, I actually paid $25 to see this movie, and I still feel OK about it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/26/08
Time in minutes 165
Director Baz Luhrmann
Studio 20th Century Fox

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The Invasion

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Jack Finney’s 1956 Collier’s magazine serial Invasion of The Bodysnatchers is as vital an original work as George Romero’s first zombie movie in 1968. It’s imminently adaptable and re-adaptable, tweaking it ever so slightly for a whole new metameaning depending on society’s anxieties of the day. In 1956, the story couched its thinly disguised Red Scare tactics in the form of alien pod people (conformity to capitalism was OK, just conform with the Right People). In 1978, the enemy was conformity itself, a direct 180 from the previous ideal, but still terrifying with its implacable foe. In 1993, Body Snatchers seemed to put a shame-faced veneer on the Me Decade. Today, our invaders are a little bit more subtle, like our fears in this technologically advanced world.

Thankfully, German director Oliver Hirschbiegel decided to skip the hokey pods and instead transmit the viral invaders more like The Rage or Ebola (some recent terrors); once your hormones release in REM sleep, you’re gotten. Efficient, terrifying in a new way, and at least superficially scientifically grounded. We’re scared of pandemics and the fluids of strangers, but we’re also kind of nervous about losing our senses of self to antidepressants and toxins. That the sporelike virus, brought to Earth by the crashed Patriot shuttle, would naturally be dubbed the Patriot Virus (but never is) transmits a message quietly in the background.

As you would expect, the – well, they’re not pod people any more, let’s call them Citizens – the Citizens develop a peaceful hive mind (like the Borg), working on congress to infect/assimilate every human with the alien organism. The nightmarish result? Business as usual, but with no war, crime, prejudice, violence or fear; oh but we also lose love, joy, inspiration, warmth, individualism, freedom, privacy. So there are ups and downs, as with any global alien pandemic. How you interpret the danger (as with the previous adaptations) may depend on your politics or philosophy. Is it worth giving up your privacy and freedom to end war and rape and looting? Is it worth keeping our hatreds and our fears to keep our joys and passions? We’ll find out tonight on Fox News.

The Invasion lets you decide (though obviously it is rooting for our heroine to escape the change and does a smidgen of spoonfeeding as well); it also lets you take a different tack by choosing between bland, homogenized Prozac nation life or emotional, psychiatric necessity-riven life. It is amusing that he cast the legendarily chilly Nicole Kidman as practically the one person on Earth having to forcefully restrain her emotions. She actually has great chemistry with her onscreen son, Jackson Bond. As a former Scientologist and Stepford Wife, she seems an unlikely choice for the psychiatrist role and yet she is perfect.

The movie has great visual style (Rainer Klausmann is the director of photography and a renaissance man of the cinema). We float in the green droning monotony of fluorescent lights, the weird jangly unfocused discombobulation of sleep deprivation, interesting time overlapping cuts, and an overall exciting, suspenseful feel. I hope Klausmann does more work in the US as a result of this movie. The thing is, while you’re watching it, it feels new and interesting, and as soon as it’s over, you kind of feel like you’ve seen it before. It’s creepy and cool and stylish, meaningful, and forgettable. You have better choices for your movie dollar, but you have much much worse too.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/17.07
Time in minutes 93
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel
Studio Warner Brothers

Bewitched

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The only acceptable way to make a modern-day adaptation of this beloved show, which relied so much on Elizabeth Montgomery’s charm and its clever premise, is to do what this movie does. Exposing the egomaniacal crassness of remaking a well-loved Tv series (in the safe confines of a feature-film narrative) is good. Casting, by mistake, a real witch in the new Samantha role, unbeknownst to all is very clever. Giving everyone a big, gooey identity crisis over the whole thing is good. Casting Wicked’s Kristen Chenoweth as a mortal neighbor (not Mrs. Kravitz) is the cherry on the cake.

What went wrong? Nothing really, technically, nothing. Yet the film fails to magick its way into Sleepless in Seattle territory, though it is superior to any other Ephron film not considered a classic. Will Ferrell seemed poised, mid-film, for this movie to be his Liar Liar, his perfect vehicle which takes all the Ferrellisms and justifies them, which also makes him vulnerable and sympathetic and still get to play big-jerk for laughs. Somewhere he is hamstrung, and I couldn’t find where. Nicole Kidman plays Meg Ryan very convincingly, and that is one odd effect. It’s hard to have those sophisticated cat’s eyes on screen batting naively and being low-status and shy. It’s just weird. She seemed more natural as a Stepford Wife. Maybe that’s the slippery chemical that keeps Bewitched from gelling.

The film doesn’t really get going until Kidman finally lets loose (as you know she must; I have no spoilers here that the rotten trailer doesn’t ruin). Overall the performances are delightful, but there are no real surprises. Shirley MacLaine as Iris Smythson as Endora is a master’s thesis of metafictional glory. Steve Carrell channeling Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur is creepy but fun. Jonathan Schwartzman breaks out his inner Tom Cruise as Ferrell’s agent. How can a man like Michael Caine, who plays roles exactly like this as a warm-up exercise still make Nigel Bigelow only be right for Caine? The soundtrack is also a real keeper.

Possibly, like many insecure movies, the trailer gave away too many of the best bits – but surely there weren’t so few? I recall feeling pleasantly diverted the whole time, but (with the exception of Chenoweth and MacLaine and Carrell) not surprised. Sadly, Bewitched needed to surprise us with its twists and it couldn’t, for fear we would skip the film as yet another TV-show-gone-big-screen, so it gave up its treasure to get us in our sears. The TV show and the movie, however, are still both about a witch trying to suppress her power in a mortal world, and whether love is possible with a mortal. While this is the best possible way to big-screenify the original concept, the original was just too perfect in its execution to be improved upon, even with delicious self-referential wit.

It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s funny, but it won’t change your life. I am glad I saw it, just for a taste of the old magic again.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/23/05
Time in minutes 90
Director Nora Ephron
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Moulin Rouge

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This is a difficult film to rate. Whenever I give a rating purely based on my personal feelings and experience watching the movie, I get guff from the folks whose tastes differ from mine – not simple disagreement, I get plain old guff – but if they had asked me, I could have told them, no, this movie is not for your type. I went to two screeners in a row, one for Moulin and one for Evolution, and the demographics in the theatres were like night and day. The demo they invited to Evolution will not like Moulin Rouge. Me, I loved it. LOVED IT. My companion – LOVED IT. But we already knew we would. You should read this review and decide for yourself – I just don’t want any guff. Folks who prefer David Spade comedies will snicker but it is their loss.

When asked what I thought of the film, I say it was beautiful crazy sexy magical dangerous insane and cool. Rich adjectives all, but not very descriptive. It’s a sort of modern musical, not unlike the sort-of musical of Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labor’s Lost (but with much better singing) or Pennies from Heaven in that the songs are pre-existing songs, but here not period-appropriate, which are lyrically meaningful in the story and period (1899) in which they are being used, but also accessible and deliciously, marvelously reconceived to match the tone of the film. (OK, that row of guys in Budweiser T-shirts just walked out – I am narrowing my demographic with every word.)

In other words, yes, Jacek Koman growls a Tom Waits-like “Roxanne” with a tango twist (my very very favorite scene in the whole film, so far), but it works! Pick up the soundtrack album – the songs on there are actually more simplified versions of the dense, luscious orchestrations and mixes that actually take place – it’s like being on some kind of drug to watch this movie, but the drug is music! But there are far more songs, individually and mixed in, in the actual film, and I will be very vexed indeed if I have to be content with the relatively mix-content-free “Because We Can” after seeing what Craig Armstrong did to it in the film. Oh my!

If you are familiar with the flavor of low-end English music hall (greasy, syphilitic chorus girls with wild eyes and flailing limbs), with Cirque du Soleil (imaginative costumes, physical perfection twirling in French surrealism) and Mardi Gras (vital, dangerous, lurid, celebratory, colorful madness in the name of fun), then you have a sense of the scary beauty of the Moulin Rouge as realized in this film. The voice talent is more than adequate, especially Ewan McGregor, wow! Nicole Kidman is no Annie Lennox, but she is certainly not as bad as all I’d read set her up to be. And, as a nice change, she as an actress is nowhere near as chilly as she usually is in films, indeed she’s warm and yet still ethereally beautiful and supernaturally glamorous. Her costumes alone made me wet my pants and cry “mommy!” Jim Broadbent – I knew he was a great actor, but he’s got hidden pipes!

Everyone seems deeply committed to this project, one that is more of a feat of insanity even than Baz Luhrmann’s last film, Romeo + Juliet, which was a marvel of wedding modern sensibilities to the Bard’s language. Here he takes the decadence and innocence of the Belle Epoque and makes it splashy and ambrosial. Have I said enough about the totally kick ass orchestrations? It’s intense, clubby, accessible to young people, yet also big 1980’s Broadway (think of the vast lushness of the Broadway epics like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera without thinking of the actual shows themselves) – where a small band would do, make it a philharmonic, and mix in Bowie and Nirvana and Elton John and Beck and Nat King Cole and….yowza. It’s visually arresting and musically revitalizing. I’m going to see it again in a couple of days and I have cleared a spot for the DVD and second soundtrack album, yessiree!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/1/01
Time in minutes 126
Director Baz Luhrmann
Studio 20th Century Fox