★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Barry Levinson, “Diner” was about a group of friends verging on adulthood who constantly tried to find a distinction between marriage and being in love with a woman. I adored this film greatly because I felt like the guys were the kind of people I could talk to. Even though they were silly and talked about the most unimportant things, they were very entertaining and each had a distinct personality. Eddie (Steve Guttenberg) was about to get married, Boogie (Mickey Rourke–who I did not recognize at all) was a womanizer, Modell (Paul Reiser) got on everyone’s nerves, Tim (Kevin Bacon) had issues with his brother, and Shrevie (Daniel Stern) was addicted to music. But my favorite was Billy (Tim Daly), Eddie’s best man, because he was the most mysterious of the group. His interactions with Eddie had a certain feeling of sensitivity to it; the look he portrayed in his eyes made me think that he harbored a secret and I desperately wanted to know what it was. While they all had separate personalities, I liked that Levinson surprised us somewhere in the middle. The picture seemed to have flipped itself inside out and showcased something unexpected about them. For instance, Tim turned out to be someone who was genuinely intelligent despite his sometimes unwise decisions. The biggest strength and weakness of this film was its many colorful characters. Since there were so many of them, I was never bored because it jumped from one perspective to another with relative ease. But at the same time, I wished it had less characters so it could have had the chance to dig deeper within the characters’ psychologies. Nevertheless, “Diner” was very funny because the guys had chemistry. Their interactions made me think of nights when my friends and I would hang out at Denny’s, talk about the most random things, tease each other, and eat until it was either difficult for us to breathe or our mouths were simply exhausted from talking. So I felt like the movie really captured how it was like to be considered as an adult (over eighteen) but not quite reach the maturity level of a real adult. “Diner” is a deftly crafted picture with intelligence despite the dirty jokes, characters who are easy to identify with and a script that flows and sounds natural. I always feel the need to say that a movie may not be for everyone only because the movie is heavy on dialogue. But I think this film is an exception because it knows how to have fun but remain honest so the audiences can feel like they’re part of the inner circle instead of simply eavesdropping from another table.
★★★★ / ★★★★
When twelve-year-old Josh (David Moscow) wished on a strange fortunetelling machine at a carnival that he wanted to be big, he woke up the next morning as a grown-up (Tom Hanks). With the help of his best friend (Jared Rushton), Josh moved to New York and ended up working for a toy company that really needed refreshment on what children really wanted and Josh fell in love with a much older woman (Elizabeth Perkins). In the meantime, his parents thought that he was kidnapped. I’ve seen a number of movies with pretty much the same premise so I must admit I wasn’t that excited to see the movie. But I decided to watch it anyway because I’ve heard great things about it and at the time I felt like watching something light and harmless. From the minute the movie started, it was consistently amusing, imaginative and touching without being too cheesy. The writing was confident and the combination with Hanks’ ability to embody a twelve-year-old’s innocence was very entertaining to watch. An absolute stand-out scene for me was when Hanks and his boss (Robert Loggia) who was a kid-at-heart played a giant piano in a children’s store. There was something so pure yet subtle about it and I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear throughout the performance. I also loved the fact that “Big,” being a children’s movie, proved that it could entertain kids as well as adults without having to result to slapstick humor. It was above trying to disgust audiences with bodily functions and I admired it for that. Instead, it took advantage of mistaken identities and fantastic elements to tell a story that commented on physically growing up not necessarily equating to maturity both intellectually or emotionally. It was sometimes character-driven but it was done in a fun way so that you never really notice it. I also enjoyed the picture that much more because I promised myself when I was in high school that I would try my hardest not to loose my childlike tendencies as I reached adulthood. I saw parts of myself in Hanks’ character as he worked in and around the company, more specifically how his enthusiasm inspired others to think outside the box and love what they do more. “Big,” directed by Penny Marshall, was ultimately a film for both children and adults that was intelligent, creative and highly enjoyable. It may have been released in the late ’80s but I haven’t yet seen a recent movie with essentially the same premise that was quite as strong.
Spirited Away (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Every time I watch “Spirited Away,” I am in complete awe from start to finish. When Chihiro and her family discovered an abandoned amusement park on the way to their new house, Chihiro’s parents were turned into pigs right when the sun started setting and she found herself alone in an alternate universe full of strange creatures and spirits. Chihiro must then navigate in her new world and find a way to turn her parents to their original form and return to the human world. There many elements to love in this animated film. One of those elements was Chihiro’s drastic change from a whiny, spoiled girl to a mature individual who was capable of making decisions under extreme pressures. With the responsibilities that the bathhouse (where she had to work so that the witch would not turn her into a pig) had thrusted upon her, she eventually learned to break from her “me” mindset and really care for others. I also admired the fact that there were many morals that could be learned from this picture but none of those lessons felt heavy-handed. The movie merely showed what was happening and then it was up to us to determine why certain events were unfolding before our eyes. The concept of false first impressions was definitely at the forefront. Instead of making the hideous monsters one-dimensional, they turned out to be quite docile and adorable in their own ways. I particularly loved the raddish spirit, the stink spirit and No-Face because each of them were put under the spotlight at some point which at first suggested that they were not friendly or had something up their sleeves. The level of imagination of the picture was very impressive. Everything is so magical–from a giant baby capable of making threats to a one-footed lamp that worked as a guide–that it was able to easily entertain the kids and make the adults look back on childhood when anything seemed possible. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “Spirited Away” was a complex demonstration on the power of imagination. Or better yet, how our imagination can inspire us to pull something from within and make it a reality. I would also like to note that I believe this is stronger than Miyazaki’s other classic animated feature called “Princess Mononoke.” The reason why I prefer “Spirited Away” is that I feel like this one had more magic, depth and malleability. It really offers a first-rate adventure that is unforgettable.
★★★ / ★★★★
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.
★★ / ★★★★
I have no idea why the movie was titled “7 Virgins” but I was relieved that it wasn’t about the sexual lives of the characters. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: Juan José Ballesta was granted a two-day leave from a juvenile reform center because his brother was getting married. Upon his release, despite his immediate return to his old ways, he slowly realized the things that he was missing out on while he was in that center. Even though Ballesta’s character was hard around the edges and was prone to very questionable behavior and ways of thinking, by the end of the picture, I had this feeling that he did want to change even without the help of the facility. The implication about the power of internal locus of control was subtle enough so it wouldn’t sound preachy. I liked the friendship between Ballesta and Jesús Carroza because they understood each other to the point where they fight one minute and forget about the whole argument just as quickly. However, I wanted to know more about Ballesta’s relationship with his brother, grandmother and girlfriend. Perhaps I was lost in translation but I felt like there was something else underneath the seemingly benign conversations that they had. The film could’ve used less scenes involving the two friends being involved in petty crimes and more scenes exploring the depths of the characters and convincing the audiences why they should ultimately care for the teenagers. This Spanish film, directed by Alberto Rodríguez, had potential to be powerful but it didn’t have enough focus to get to the next level. Instead of revealing the many insights that the main characters were capable of, such elements were stifled. It shouldn’t be that way because the characters were on a journey toward a possible maturity. Growth should come hand-in-hand with one learning various ways to express himself, one of which is effective communication. Still, this was not a bad movie by any means. Even though I wanted to beat the lead character until I knocked some sense into him, I still cared what would happen to him because the film shows that he was capable of good in subtle ways but he wasn’t emotionally equipped to accept it.