Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
★★★ / ★★★★
A mother and son (Ellen Burstyn and Alfred Lutter III) decided to go on a roadtrip to Monterey after the head of the family (who was emotionally abusive) unexpectedly passed away. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie because I’m used to Martin Scorsese’s other projects which usually involved tough men drowning in dangerous situations. In here, it was more about a woman’s sense of self-worth and the way she kept picking herself up for her son after numerous heartbreaks. I think the picture had a great balance between drama and comedy but at the same time Scorsese wasn’t afraid to experiment with certain shots such as his homage to “The Wizard of Oz” in the first scene. It surprised me how amusing moments came off sad situations and vice-versa. The movie really embodied that 1970s feel; even though it was released thirty years ago, oddly enough, I thought it was fresh and I was fascinated with how it was all going to unravel. Two of my favorite scenes were when Burstyn said goodbye to her best friend and when the son tried telling his mother an unfunny and endless joke. Instead of going for the easy laughs and melodrama, it felt more like a slice-of-life picture that happened to work as a road trip film. I enjoyed the fact that the lead character was dependent on men and although she knew it, it was sometimes difficult for her to put her son first when she had a boyfriend. Even though that specific trait of hers bothered me, I still couldn’t help but root for her because she was essentially a good person. Even though her life was full of disappointments (such as her dream of becoming a singer not being realized), those things didn’t get her down. I also enjoyed watching the side characters such as the plucky waitress (Diane Ladd), the weird waitress (Valerie Curtin), and the kind but sometimes unpredictable farmer who the main character eventually fell in love with (Kris Kristofferson). All of them brought something special to the table that gave the movie a certain edge. “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is a great film with strong acting (especially from Burstyn) and an interesting script. I’ve read reviews saying that since this was one of Scorsese’s first movies, it didn’t quite have Scorsese’s style that could be found in his other works such as “Casino,” “GoodFellas” and “Raging Bull.” I disagree. One of the things that made those movies so great was a fantastic ear for dialogue and I think “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” had that quality. The dialogue just didn’t have that “tough guy” feel to it but it certainly had strength.
Broken Sky (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Julián Hernández, “El cielo dividido” or “Broken Sky” bides its time (two hours and twenty minutes to be exact) to tell the story of a couple (Miguel Ángel Hoppe and Fernando Arroyo) who started off as loving and eventually ended up cold and distant. One of the main reasons for such a schism was Arroyo fell in love with another man. Although this led Hoppe to seek attention from Alejandro Rojo, does his new partner have the same qualities as his former lover? This movie was painful for me to watch because of the fact that there were extended scenes of lack of dialogue for no reason whatsoever. It would have been fine if the narration was consistent because then the audiences would know what was going on in the characters heads. When we are left to watch the grieving characters doing whatever they choose to do, it’s not a good thing especially when the characters themselves do not know what they should do next. The whole movie was supposed to be poetic because of the music, the passionate sex and the absence of dialogue. But the way I saw it was the director got a bit too lazy. Instead of painting us a picture of the emotional turmoil that the characters were going through, he decided to sit back and “let it all unfold” when, really, there’s absolutely nothing to drive the story forward. Instead, we get redundant scenes of guys being in bed, going to clubs and stalking each other. It wasn’t an insightful or relatable experience when it should have been because most of us are familiar with heartbreak and rejection. This monolith of a movie could have easy been just above an hour long. Now, I can handle movies that are different and have an art-house kind of feel to them. But for me to ultimately enjoy movies that are “different” (or any movie in general), I look for an emotional core–whether such a core is droll, depressing, childlike, suspenseful or simply a slice-of-life–but “Broken Sky” didn’t have that basic quality. We see characters who are sad and angry but if they (and the filmmakers) don’t let us make a connection with them, why should we care what would happen to them? I’ve seen other self-obsessed characters portrayed on screen having an easier time to let me in. If you have insomnia, this soporific picture is your cure.
★★★ / ★★★★
This 80’s-inspired coming-of-age comedy-drama about James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who was forced to work on a theme park after his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) revealed to him that they were having pecuniary issues. He also had to sacrifice his trip to Europe, a graduation present that he was obviously looking forward to. What I loved about “Adventureland” was it managed to focus the spotlight on James’ journey to maturity no matter how painful some realizations ended up being. The colorful characters from the theme park, including his romantic interest (Kristen Stewart), and the comedy felt secondary to journey. It was a nice change from typical teen comedies of today. I also really liked the music that were featured. It feels like once in a blue moon that I actually am familiar with 85-90% of the soundtrack. (Mainly because my parents are big on music of the 1980’s and I grew up listening to such.) Written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), this film managed to paint all of its characters with a certain sadness which happened to unconsciously come out whenever they interacted with each other. Motolla actually gave his characters a chance to talk about their dreams, insecurities, and the things that were going on at home instead of just giving the audiences easy (and uninsightful) slapstick comedy. The only thing that did not quite work for me was Ryan Reynolds’ character and his relationship with James’ romantic interest. Not only did Reynolds and Stewart have too many scenes together, but the relationship somewhat felt forced. If I look back on the picture and not think about the scenes that mainly involved those two characters, pretty much everything else would have been the same. Having said that, this is still a strong movie about a college graduate who, through trials of hardwork and heartbreak in the theme park, actually learned more about himself and about life than if he had gone to Europe. And that’s a nice message for those who cannot quite leave their hometowns because of their many responsibilities or for whatever reason.
Blood Simple (1984)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Blood Simple,” directed by Joel Coen and written by the Coen brothers, is my definition of a great film. From start to finish, I was absolutely blown away because of its ability to take a genre on its head and create something truly original, or at least a breath of fresh air. Labeling this picture as a thriller may not do it justice because it contained darkly comedic scenes, horrific montages, and touching moments. To be released in 1984 and still remain that great to this day is an achievement that most pictures do not quite accomplish.
Marty (Dan Hedaya) hires a private investigator named Loren (M. Emmet Walsh) to observe his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) having an affair with Ray (John Getz), a man who works in Marty’s bar. Driven to extreme jealousy and heartbreak, Marty eventually orders Loren to kill the new couple for $10,000. Little did Marty know that Loren is a calculating, risk-avoidant man and that he has a plan on his own to get the money without killing Abby and Ray. A series of strange coincidences and assumptions are added to the seemingly simple equation which eventually makes a stylish film that is able to bring up moral questions, as well as what a person is willing to do to get away with something–whether that something is to benefit one’s self or others.
First of all, I have to commend all of the four leads because I felt like they each brought something special to the table. Each of their character was multi-layered in his or her way to the point where I did not know how they would react to certain situations when certain variables were changed. Each of them was intelligent, capable of good and evil, and has a good sense on how to survive when faced with certain challenges. This being a thriller film, I knew that not all of them would survive by the end. But the interesting part was trying to figure out who would outsmart who; it was kind of like watching sharks battle it out in order to ultimately be on the top of the food chain. I must also give recognition to the Coen brothers, especially Joel, for giving the audiences one memorable scene after another. While the conversations were smart, Joel Coen was able to use colors and sound to maximize the effect of certain scenes. In most thrillers of today, the soundtrack could get so distracting that it tends to take away the power of simply observing a character move in silence. Like a good novel, the use of foreshadowing was implemented in just about the right moments so when we actually get to the crucial scene, we are swept off our feet without feeling cheated. Lastly, I mention the genre-defying tone of the movie. There were some genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout but there were also some that left me cowering in a corner and wondering what I would have done if I was placed in the same position. The last thirty minutes or so were post-noir (arguably my favorite subgrenre) in its core and I relished every second of it because it was so well done.
I wish I had seen this film sooner. When I saw “Fargo,” I thought the Coen brothers would not be able to top it even if “No Country for Old Men” came quite close. However, having seen “Blood Simple,” I think it is possibly my favorite of the movies by them so far. I’ve seen a great number of fascinating motion pictures but I think this one deserves to be at least in my top twenty. The dripping ironies were just too impressive to resist (pun intended).