The American President (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), president of the United States, was up for a possible re-election within a year’s time. His team (Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox) believed that by passing a bill, vaguely designed to reduce crime, there was a great chance that he could win another term. But when he met Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), hired to get the president’s attention toward a bill aimed to protect the environment, he was swept by her radiance, intelligence, and fearlessness to speak what was on her mind. Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), the leading conservative figure who had shown interest in running for presidency, took advantage of the budding romance and started to question the president’s character and accused Sydney of being a radical because of a picture taken thirteen years ago. Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, “The American President” was a romantic comedy for adults. While the material milked the obvious, like the first few scenes designed to paint the president as not only an amiable person in the work place but also an active figure in his daughter’s life, it was highly entertaining because of the smart dialogue and wonderful performances. In romance pictures, I always look the moment when one or both persons realize that they just might be falling for each other. There was a wonderful scene in the Oval Office when Bening scrambled to find the words to express how embarrassed she was for insulting the president. As she attempted to clean up her verbal vomit, Douglas gave her a specific look, which lasted for about half a second, that meant she was the one for him. As for Bening, I’m used to seeing her in intense performances so it was nice to watch her let her hair down and smile from ear to ear. She was completely captivating as a smart and strong woman who was rendered defenseless by the president’s charm. She could have played her character as a typical ditz throughout the film but as the couple got more comfortable with each other, we saw how passionate and serious she was about her work. As the events turned for the worse, reflected by rainy weather, scenes shot at night and bad poll results, the issue of public versus private space came into focus. While Andrew and Sydney were a great match romantically, there was growing tension between them politically. We even start to think that maybe it was good idea for them to not be together for a while. It gives me great annoyance when I read reviews claiming that the movie was terrible because it was nothing but liberal propaganda. They completely missed the point. The romance was supposed to be the foreground and the politics the background. It might have been Capra-esque in scope of how the government really worked, but there was confidence in its execution and we invested in the couple to make it through the end. Sometimes that’s just exactly what we need.
You, the Living (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Roy Andersson, “Du levande” or “You, the Living” painted an inspired picture of how the tragic moments in our lives were almost always counter-balanced with small and often unexpected comedic events. What I loved about this film was it felt as though anything could happen. Characters even broke out in song. Despite the ordinariness of the individuals at first glance, highlighted by the nondescript rooms and the dominance of the color gray in every frame, there was magic in each of their circumstances. Some scenes were solely played for laughs such as the Arabian barber and the businessman who was far from being in a great mood. Some were incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to watch. For instance, the couple who were having sex but only one was really into it. Others were downright pointless like a man cleaning glass windows. However, quite a handful were fascinating. I loved the couple in which the woman complained about everything wrong in her life while the man tried to endure her interminable tirades. At first glance, I thought she was just a spoiled woman who desperately needed a hobby (and perhaps a better sex life). But as the film went on, I actually grew to like her. It turned out that she was aware of her actions, that she may at times come off as selfish, and she knew that she was loved by those around her. The one that moved me most was the psychiatrist who spoke directly to the camera (and to us) and confessed that after twenty-seven years of practice, turning a mean person into a happy one was an impossible task. The only way to really “cure” them or to mask their unhappiness was to give them drugs. In the doctors own words, “the stronger, the better.” I thought it was an honest moment and ultimately a stronger message that lingers in the mind than the popular belief that all people in the medical field find it so rewarding to help people. Finally, there was Anna (Jessika Lundberg), a regular fan girl, who fell in love with Micke (Eric Bäckman), a boy who played in a band. Personally, the highest point of the film was when she recalled a dream she had about their wedding day. Throughout the scene of Anna looking beautiful in her wedding dress and Micke looking handsome in his rock star ensemble, I had a silly smile on my face. On top of that, there was a neat imagery in which their apartment moved like a train and, from their window, we could see strangers clamoring to offer their congratulations and best wishes. I wished the scene did not have to come to an end. It made me want to believe in romance all over again. “Du levande” was successful at embodying an unconventional stream of consciousness with images that crackle and pop with originality and earnestness. It may have been on another language but the emotions it conveyed overcame such boundaries.
The Blind Side (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a book by Michael Lewis about Michael Oher’s story being adopted by a rich, white Conservative family, “The Blind Side,” written and directed by John Lee Hancock, had a good balance of comedy and drama so I couldn’t help but enjoy it. In a way, the film reminded me of the movie “Precious” because it was about a person (Oher played by Quinton Aaron) who came from a terrible neighborhood and was so shut down that he barely spoke to anyone. But unlike “Precious,” “The Blind Side” is far more mainstream because, throughout the picture, as the lead character learned to open up a little bit more, it became somewhat of a standard feel-good movie with painfully obvious story arcs. However, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because the movie managed to have more hits than misses. One of its hits was casting Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a no-nonsense mother who had enthusiasm to spare. I love watching her in any role but I believe this is one of her best performances along with “Crash” because she was given more room to play with the subtleties of her character. She didn’t just rely on charisma because her Mrs. Tuohy was somewhat stern yet it worked for Bullock because there’s a certain cheekiness to the character she played. I also liked that the movie took the time for each member of the family (Tim McGraw, Jae Head, Lily Collins) interact with Oher. Head had some scene-stealing moments as the little brother who was so proud and so excited to have a big brother. If I were forced to point out a problem I had with the film, it would have been a lack of real exploration about where Oher came from. We get a few scenes of him returning to his neighborhood, meet some tough guys but that was about it. The movie mentioned his mother being involved in drugs all too briefly but I felt like we didn’t really get a full picture of Oher’s experiences in that neighborhood. As a substitute for the real source of tension, we get scenes of the mother’s friends making racist comments and some teachers giving up on Oher and labeling him as stupid. Knowing where the story took place in America, of course bigotry and prejudice will be present. I felt like those were good secondary sources of tension but the focus should have been where Oher came from as much as how the Tuohy family welcomed and accepted him. I can understand why a lot of people were inspired by “The Blind Side” and therefore obtaining a lot of hype. To be completely honest, I thought it was a solid movie but I wasn’t really moved in a significant way. Everything about it was nice but it could have used a bit more edge and less predictability.