Robot & Frank (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Hunter (James Marsden) lives about five hours away from his dad, Frank (Frank Langella), whose dementia is starting to deteriorate at a much faster rate. In order to help him out, the dutiful son buys his father a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) programmed to function as a health care aide. Although Frank meets the gesture with resistance, he warms up to it eventually given the fact that not only does it make things easier for him, it is also proves to be quite a reliable companion. Frank being a former cat burglar, he soon decides to train Robot to pick locks and other requisite skills to pull off successful heists.
Written by Christopher D. Ford and directed by Jake Schreier, while some will be compelled to consider “Robot & Frank” to be a story about a man with dementia, this is misleading because it is actually more about an unusual friendship, if one decides to call it as such, between man and machine. Frank’s gradual and then sudden memory loss is an important tool for us to want to believe in the relationship forged over a period of time.
It is easy to buy into the picture’s reality. The story is set in the near future where robots are found in homes and at work but the machines do not look polished. They look very manmade, angular and blocky, so it is not at all a stretch to imagine that they are creations meant to serve specific purposes. Also, there are no flying cars or wild fashion to catch our attention. So when Frank and Robot interact in public, for instance, we are drawn to them instead of what might be happening on the background.
Langella injects his character with a gruff sense of humor. Despite his character’s age and declining memory, I enjoyed that his personality is as vibrant as someone half his age. By playing him in such a way, the character is not seen as victim of a disease. When he talks about his plans of stealing from a rich yuppie, he look forward to how he and Robot will manage to pull it off and not how it might fail because of the memory problems.
The robot, too, is interesting. At one point, Frank and the machine get into the topic of self-awareness and what it means to be alive. Robot admits to Frank that it knows that it is not alive and so it does not care about, for example, having its memory erased. It is easy to see the limitation in the duo’s relationship. As humans, we value our experiences and our ability to remember them. Machines, on the other hand, remember information because that is the way they are programmed, not because they want to. Machines do not even want. They do as they are instructed via direct commands or patterns.
“Robot & Frank” is not without moments of genuine dramatic heft. While Frank’s interactions with his daughter, Madison (Liv Tyler), verged on annoying, I wished that there had been more scenes between Frank and the librarian named Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) with whom he crushes on. The protagonist’s interactions with the latter have a lot of sweetness even though we suspect that it probably will not work out considering the circumstances. There is a dramatic punch involving the two in the back half, but it would have had more of an impact if we are given a more defined portrait of their relationship. Still, the film is not handicapped by a lack of depth in the romance because it is first and foremost about Robot and Frank.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Robert Miller (Richard Gere), in the process of finalizing of his company’s sale, is in a heap of trouble. When he is informed that there is a copper mine in Russia that is worth billions, Robert signs over four hundred million dollars to help execute the excavation. Although this risk proves profitable overseas, the billionaire is unable to touch the healthy yield. But there is a problem because now there is about half a million missing from the company’s account with a loan from a friend temporarily masking the fact. To add to the pressure, the police have reason to believe that Robert has been involved with a burnt corpse.
Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, “Arbitrage” moves elegantly and smoothly as it shuffles one plot twist after another. I expected it to revolve around fraud from a technical viewpoint and I was pleasantly surprised because it is actually more about a man so used to being on the top of the financial food chain, we wonder if there is any line he dares not cross because some battles just aren’t worth the trouble.
Gere’s performance is central to the story because he pretty much inhabits every square inch of the picture. We see his character cajole, harangue, and censure his colleagues, partners, and family. But he has such a strong presence, possibly helped by the performer’s good looks, that at times it almost feels like we should be rooting for him even though we can see that his actions are consistently driven by self-interest. Although he has big scenes in which he is required to yell at people and put them in their place, Gere is at his best when he plays his character with quiet hubris. He can simply be sitting in his leather chair but I could feel the machinery in his brain rumble, a similar feeling we can detect when we play chess against an opponent and he or she is deep in thought.
The film works as a suspense-thriller because the main character is surrounded by equally smart supporting characters. The game is for Roger to outsmart them but it isn’t as simple as winning or losing. Many of the situations involve ethics, professional and personal, as well as intense risk assessment. For instance, Brooke (Brit Marling), Robert’s daughter, notices that there is something not quite right about the company’s financial repots. As a young ethical professional, what level of responsibility does she have toward her scheming father versus doing the right thing in order not to jeopardize her promising career?
What the picture needs iron out is the role of Ellen (Susan Sarandon) in terms of her awareness involving her husband’s deceit. I suspected that the character was not as oblivious as Robert believes her to be not because the screenplay leaves enough bread crumbs that lead to a practical conclusion but because of the casting choice given that Sarandon has consistently played strong, eloquent women with fiery personalities. While she proves more than game for the role, her character is not given enough time on screen in order for us to feel the impact of her catharsis.
“Arbitrage” showcases a man struggling to juggle his highly profitable business, short gasps of pleasure, and personal life. He’s used to having them all but one of them has got to give since too many mistakes have been made. Though it is apparent that he is not going to let one of them go without a fight, the longer he waits, the more he risks to lose.
White Palace (1990)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Max (James Spader) ordered fifty White Palace burgers for his friend’s bachelor party, but when the guys opened some of the boxes, it turned out that six of them were empty. Max, being a man of principle, ignored his friends when they said it was no big deal and actually drove back to the burger joint to either get a refund or claim the missing burgers. Nora (Susan Sarandon) happened to be manning the cashier and she was not at all the type to be pushed around. After the night was over, out of pure coincidence, Max and Nora ended up drinking in the same bar. The power of “White Palace,” based on the screenplay by Ted Tally and Alvin Sargent, can be found in the way the filmmakers focused on two damaged souls and why they were potentially each other’s healing agents. Their devotion toward each other was so intense at times, it bordered on obsession. I liked not knowing whether I should be happy for them or be concerned that something was about to go very wrong. Every time the characters spoke about himself or herself and to each other, there was a piece of information given to make us consider reasons why Max looked so sad and Nora felt the need to put on an air of false confidence to remind herself that she was good enough. Since Nora and Max were initially strangers to one another, hearing them speak so vividly and openly about their personal lives was like going on a journey with them through their beautiful but tragic memories. Spader and Sarandon, although the two exercised different approaches to communicate what grief meant to their respective characters, were equally consummate performers in that each time the lens of the camera focused on their faces, the act of recollecting the past and discussing those they loved was like opening a gash that desperately wanted to heal. I felt their pain, rage, and disappointment toward an imagined life that would never be. I was most impressed in the way the material dealt with passion. Its rawest form was Max and Nora having sex and working to reach an orgasm. I found it titillating–sexy but not pornographic–mainly because the camera didn’t linger on the body of one gender. Most often, the two bodies shared a frame as to highlight their need for connection in a physical as well as in an emotional way. I enjoyed and admired that Luis Mandoki, the director, allowed the sex scene to play out without resulting to sleaze. The direction was so assured, there was even a nice comedic touch about a sandwich found on the floor. Equally commendable was the scene in the bar where Nora tried to seduce Max. It showcased Sarandon’s acting as Nora slinked from her initial lonely spot until she was able to place her hand on Max’ thigh. I just loved the idea of an older woman and the possibility of her taking advantage of a younger man. I was so intrigued by that sense of danger, I caught myself hoping the characters would put deposit more drinks down their throats just to see how far they would get with one another if all the red lights they lived their lives by suddenly turned green. But “White Palace,” based on a novel by Glenn Savan, was more than painful pasts, sex, and seduction. Although slightly less surprising, it was also about class differences experienced through Nora not having a college education and “just” being a waitress. With all the eyes that judge, it was no wonder that not only was she a fighter, she was a survivor.
Little Women (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★
The March household consisted of a matriarch (Susan Sarandon) and her four daughters: Meg (Trini Alvarado), Beth (Claire Danes), Jo (Winona Ryder), and Amy (Kirsten Dunst, but later played by Samantha Mathis). The patriarch participated in the Civil War as part of the Union Army. We observed the girls bask in their innocence as they starred in their own plays to pass the time and the way they responded to life’s small and big challenges that threatened their bond. Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott and directed by Gillian Armstrong, “Little Women” captured how it was like to be young and the feeling that we had all the time in the world to play, laugh, and be loved despite our imperfections. The film started off strong because each sister was given the chance to shine. Meg was concerned that she might never get married. She wanted to marry for love, but being around girls her age, most of them from rich backgrounds, made her realize that perhaps marrying for money was a more practical approach so she could provide for her family. Beth was the quiet and innocent one. It seemed like the only time she stood out was when she played the piano during the holidays. Jo, our protagonist, was the firecracker. She wasn’t like other girls. She was unafraid to roll around in mud and yell at boys from a distance. Older folks, like Aunt Match (Mary Wickes), were seriously concerned about her prospects for marriage. Boys just wouldn’t want to be with girls who acted like boys. Amy was the unpredictable one. Being the youngest, she was a keen observer. She didn’t like being poor and she made a personal promise that she would marry a rich man. The film’s first half was intriguing because there was complexity among the sisters’ relationships with each other and the men (Christian Bale, Eric Stoltz) they interacted with. Unfortunately, the second half didn’t feel as strong because there was a certain tone of detachment. Instead of focusing on the sisters’ relationships, the story turned its focus on the uninspiring romance between Jo and Friedrich (Gabriel Byrne), a German professor, while in New York. Since Jo’s story was supposedly based on the author’s life, I expected the screenplay to pay particular attention to Jo’s struggle in trying to become a woman writer in the big city. There were only approximately scenes which showed us that it was difficult for her to get published because nobody was interested in her “fairytale” stories. There was dramatic weight in the way she put her dreams at bay, that is, writing literature, and instead resulted to writing fantasy stories about vampires and beasts because she needed the money. Even though she was published, she felt like a failure because she wasn’t published for the right reasons. I felt as though there were a lot more meaningful things that needed to be said about Jo’s career. The romance felt unnecessary because it offered no excitement or spark. In fact, the romance almost felt like an antithesis to the film’s feminist undertones. Once scenes of reckless abandonment of youth passed by, the film never looked back and there was an off-putting lack of closure.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
As Jeff (Jason Segel) relaxed on the couch in the basement while smoking hookah and watching television, the man on the infomercial urged his viewers to pick up the phone. A beat later, the phone rang. Perplexed by this coincidence, Jeff, a man who believed in everything happening for a reason and a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” picked up the call. The man on the other line was looking for Kevin, but no one lived in that household other than Jeff and his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). Given a favor by his mom to pick up supplies at Home Depot, Jeff ended up following various clues as to who Kevin was and how that person was connected to him. Based on the screenplay and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, despite being submerged in coincidences, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” was clearly about love and family. This was dealt with in three fronts: the crumbling marriage of Pat (Ed Helms) and Linda (Judy Greer), Sharon and the instant messages sent to her by an anonymous co-worker who claimed to have a crush on her, and the barely existent bond between the two brothers, Jeff and Pat. Because the human element was believable, even though strange coincidences piled on top of one another, it was always easy to relate to the characters. What I found most interesting was most of them viewed themselves as painfully ordinary and they defined their lives by the ordinariness of every day. There was talk of dreaming about eating at fancy restaurants, living The American Dream, and visiting exotic, faraway places– all of which promised excitement and self-fulfillment. And then there was Jeff, happily ensconced in the possibility of small magic embedded in the routine. He was the heart of the picture and Segel embodied his character with quiet pride. Although Jeff towered over people in stature, he wasn’t domineering in terms of physicality and comportment. He looked soft and slow-moving. I liked that he felt he didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. Naturally, since he and Pat were almost complete opposites–one a dreamer, the other a pragmatist–there was tension in their relationship. Although not an exact parallel, it was an angle that I could relate with because my brother and I differ in about every respect. When Jeff and Pat argued, there was an obvious sense of humor in their disagreements yet the resentment they had for one another was consistently hidden underneath pointed words and phrases. The script stood out not just because it had an ear toward how people really talked but it wasn’t afraid touch sensitive truths that may go unnoticed to, for instance, people who are an only child. The film’s weakness, however, involved Pat and Jeff spying on Linda because she was potentially having an affair. It went on for too long and most of the clichés didn’t have enough twists in them to make the subplot interesting all the way through. At times it felt so convoluted that it began to affect the pacing of what was going on in Sharon’s place of work. I also wished Greer was given more to do because she has such range in comedy and drama. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” showcased a thirty-something protagonist with not much aim in life–probably not many of us can relate to. But he wanted to be understood and surely everyone can relate to that.
Middle of Nowhere (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
“Middle of Nowhere” was an indie drama about two teenagers who wanted to escape their lives. Dorian (Anton Yelchin) was sick of his wealthy family and their expectations of his eventual responsibility of running the family business. A problem child, he was sent to his uncle to learn discipline. Grace (Eva Amurri) wanted to go to college to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor but was unable to get financial aid because her mother (Susan Sarandon) took out unpaid loans under Grace’ name. The mother claimed that the answer to all of their problems was for Grace’ younger sister (Willa Holland) to enter the modeling industry. Dorian and Grace worked at a waterpark and eventually became partners in selling cannabis. I enjoyed the film mostly because of the performances. Sarandon was great as the mother who didn’t quite know how to be a responsible parent. I understood the many predicaments she was in, especially her financial instability, but I didn’t pity her because she was supposed to be the leading figure in the family. Unlike her eldest daughter, she wasn’t focused in accomplishing something she was responsible for. Yelchin and Amurri were equally interesting as teenagers whose lives were in a standstill. I admired that the script infused sexual tension between them but they never got together in a sexual way. That was important because their relationship was about business first, friendship second, and everything else was tertiary. Instead, a potential beau (Justin Chatwin) for Grace entereed the picture. They seemed like a perfect fit because he was worldly, smart and had substance. But was he too good to be true? As usual, I enjoyed Yelchin’s cooky side. A less charming actor would have looked like a complete fool while dancing in a laundomat. Amurri successfully made me want to root for her character. Although she was tough and sometimes cold, I understood that she had to be because she learned at an early age that nobody would ever just hand her what she wanted. I saw some similarities between the two of us but she definitely had a more unpleasant background. Unfortunately, the film hit a few bumps on the road. Half-way through, I began to feel as though the melodrama had completely taken over. I kept waiting for the tone to change up, surprise, and offer some laughter, especially during the scenes of Grace and Dorian’s odd occupation, but it remained painfully one-note. Written by Michelle Morgan and directed by John Stockwell, “Middle of Nowhere” had a good amount of intelligence and heart but I wished it was more playful with its tone because with such a somber material, the line between self-reflection and narcissism was often crossed.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
James (Paul Terry) lived with his egocentric aunts (Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes) ever since his parents died in a car accident. His guardians were very abusive, often sending him off to clean up after them, calling him worthless, teasing him about being an orphan and not having friends, and leaving him off to feed on scraps from the garbage. But when an old man (Pete Postlethwaite) gave James some magical green “crocodile tongues,” the boy’s life had a chance to finally change for the better. But first he had to escape the horrible household, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and make his way to New York City. Adapted from Roald Dahl’s story, “James and the Giant Peach” worked mainly for children but it had enough darkness to keep the older audiences engaged. While the film was full of energy, especially the first-rate stop-motion animation scenes with the eccentric bugs (Susan Sarandon as Miss Spider, David Thewlis as Earthworm, Simon Callow as Grasshopper, Richard Dreyfuss as Centipede, and Jane Leeves as Ms. Ladybug), the scenes when James had to deal with the feelings of abandonment due to the death of his parents and his yearning to be free from an abusive household carried a certain level of gravity. It was touching, sometimes a bit melodramatic, but we could not help but root for James because a child should not had to endure so much. However, admittedly, I enjoyed the picture more when I was a kid. While some of the jokes were still amusing, I wished the story had focused more about James instead of the bugs. After all, it was supposed to be about James learning to make new friends, despite how strange they may have been, after a considerable amount of time in isolation. The stop-motion animation and character development should have formed a kind of synergy instead of one getting in the way of another. Nevertheless, when I look at the big picture and its possible impact on its intended audiences, the movie was enjoyable because its high level of creativity in terms of its visual puns and wordplay. Directed by Henry Selick, “James and the Giant Peach” offered a strange universe with creepy images and eerie atmosphere but it wore its heart on its sleeve so kids should not be disturbed by its darker undertones. Younger kids may question their parents about death but I do not think it is a subject that parents should shy away from because it is a natural part of life. In fact, tackling the subject should further highlight the fact that, like the giant peach, life is indeed quite magical.
You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The first time I heard of Dr. Jack Kevorkian was in my high school Psychology course when we learned about the ethics of dealing with patients. It was a particularly memorable chapter because Kevorkian and his methods sparked a rousing debate about his methods. Like in the film, students who did not support euthanasia, assisted suicide, argued mainly from the perspective of religious dogma. I distinctly remember thinking that it was such a weak argument because it lacked common sense. The reason why I support euthanasia was not about living or dying. It was all about choice. I’d rather jump off a fifty-foot story building than to allow the government to choose when and how I should die. I admired the film, under Barry Levinson’s swift yet careful direction, because it painted Dr. Kevorkian (Al Pacino) as Dr. Kevorkian and not as Dr. Death, as the media and his enemies unjustly labelled him. While the media and government played an integral role in Dr. Kevorkian’s struggle, the picture took a more personal route and allowed us to get to know the medical practitioner in question and his biggest supporters such as his sister Margo Janus (Brena Vaccaro), one of his oldest friends Neal Nicol (John Goodman), a fellow activist Janet Good (Susan Sarandon), and a lawyer named Geoffrey Fiegler with a flair for the dramatic (Danny Huston). All delivered very strong performances with utmost conviction and devoid of cliché. By showing us scenes not easily found in books or covered by the media, despite my support for the issue of euthanasia, I learned something new and surprising facts about Dr. Kevorkian. There were many scenes that moved me but one that I will not forget for a long time was when Dr. Kevorkian decided to be thrifty regarding the gas required to make the person unconscious prior to stopping the heart. That was an important scene for me because it marked the point where I thought Dr. Kevorkian crossed the line. While he did regret it afterwards, it was unethical because the crux of euthanasia was to allow a terminally ill person to die in a peaceful and humane manner. During that scene, the person was uncomfortable and experienced pain. However, I was glad that the filmmakers added that scene because it showed us that Dr. Kevorkian, despite his best intentions, was far from perfect and that his willingness to push the envelope without fully thinking things through was ultimate downfall. Pacino as Dr. Kevorkian was excellent. Although his portrayal was denitely not as eccentric as the actual person, I believe it was one of his most mesmerizing roles in years. “You Don’t Know Jack,” written by Adam Mazer, deserves to be seen especially by those who do not quite know where they stand in the issue. It just might help to put certain things into perspective.
Greatest, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
When Bennett Brewer (Aaron Johnson) died in a car accident, his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) knocked on his grieving family’s (Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Johnny Simmons) door, told them that she was pregnant, and had nowhere else to go. The film focused on grief: the father internalized his anger and sadness so that the family would not collapse, the mother was obsessed with her son’s last seventeen minutes of life and held the belief that her son would still be alive if it was not for his girlfriend, while the son turned to drugs and grief counseling. The movie grabbed my attention because I thought it would be more about the unwed mother’s struggle in trying to cope with her situation. I was pleasantly surprised that she was generally happy with her situation and the only thing she craved was more information about the father of her baby. I was impressed with the way the picture balanced the four main characters and their styles of coping. Instead of going for the jugular and simply letting the audiences feel sorry for them, sometimes the characters said certain things that were hateful but we remind ourselves that they needed closure in order to feel right again. However, I found certain missteps especially toward the last fifteen minutes. When Brosnan’s character finally opened up, something did not feel quite right. That scene begged for a retake because it felt forced. Yes, he managed to internalize (with elegance) negative emotions throughout the film but I had a difficult time believing that he coincidentally opened up because the movie was coming to a close and his wife finally realized the truth. It felt contrived, almost too soap opera-like, and it stood out to me in a negative way because I thought the rest was consistently convincing. Another issue I had was the son’s connection with the girl (Zoë Kravitz) whose sister committed suicide. It fell flat because the latter’s performance felt too Disney Channel and I caught myself rolling my eyes when she was on screen. Maybe it would have worked if an actress that had been casted was used to playing with her character’s subtleties. Written and directed by Shana Feste, what I loved most about “The Greatest” was its earnest honesty despite some scenes that were not completely convincing. It had enough insight about people going through different stages of grief. I also loved it when Brosnan and Sarandon lashed out at each other in passive-aggressive ways just as much as I loved observing Mulligan’s elegance and Simmons’ potential to become a versatile actor. Ultimately, I wished it had more scenes of lingering camera work where the characters in frame did not say a word, such as the daring scene in the limousine after the burial.
Lovely Bones, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Lovely Bones,” adapted from Alice Sebold’s novel and directed by Peter Jackson, was about a fourteen-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan) who was murdered by a child predator (Stanley Tucci). As years went by after her unsolved murder, the protagonist watched over her family (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Rose McIver, Christian Thomas Ashdale) and the monster who killed her in cold blood. I’ve read a plethora of reviews claiming that this was a mediocre picture and was underwhelming. Maybe they expected too much considering Jackson’s power as a director but I thought the movie was above average. It felt painfully personal. I was moved when Ronan realized that she was dead but she was stuck between the real world and heaven. I thought it was very sad when she realized that her family was slowly being ripped apart after her death. Those dramatic elements worked for me because the exposition was consistently strong. It immediately made me care for the lead character because she wanted to do so many things in life. I couldn’t take my eyes off the fantastic imagery when Ronan lived in “the in-between.” I thought the images were magical, inspired and intelligent because the images she encountered almost always related to the things that were happening back in the real world. As great as the images were, I argue that they didn’t overshadow the picture’s emotional resonance. In fact, the imagery took the emotions to the next level. As for the villainous creepy neighbor, I thought Tucci was electrifyingly effective. Tucci excelled with his character’s eccentricities and the way he lured Ronan to her grave gave me the shivers. However, I thought the film came up short when it came to consistency. The last third lacked the momentum of the first hour and twenty minutes. About two-thirds into it, I started questioning when it was going to wrap itself up. Essentially, I think the movie would have benefited from a shorter running time. The scenes of Weisz’ struggle with the loss of her daughter (an emotional breakdown?) felt like it didn’t need to be there. I understood right away that everyone in the family was impacted by the tragedy so it didn’t need to hammer that point again and again. Luckily, Sarandon had a good amount of screen time to alleviate some of the seriousness by means of perfect comedic timing. If I were to describe “The Lovely Bones” in one word, it would be “misunderstood.” A lot of people thought that the CGI became the main focus and not the characters. I would advice those same people to watch the movie again and do what I did: ignore the fact that Jackson directed the film and swallow it as a “regular” film from a not-so-popular director. It may not have been as consistent as I would have liked but I thought it was able to deliver when it needed to.
Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Lorenzo’s Oil,” directed by George Miller, was about how Lorenzo’s parents, Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) and Michaela Odone (Susan Sarandon), invented a treatment for cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) when their son (Zack O’Malley Greenburg) was diagnosed with the fatal disease. The road to finally arriving to a sufficient (but not perfect) treatment was very emotionally draining for me. Admittedly, I cried because it was so heartbreaking to see a vibrant, smart kid who knows three languages turn into someone who couldn’t move, couldn’t express himself and couldn’t even swallow without the help of a machine. The way Miller used the passage of time to establish the cruelty the genetic disease was done with such craft and confidence. I felt like I was there in that house where the parents decided to keep their son for years. As emotional as this film was, I was impressed with how it handled the science. It brought up many things I’ve learned in the university and I was able to follow the scientific discussions and explanations with relative ease. As a Biology major, I often wonder why we have to study the specifics of the mechanisms of every system in the body–both in lower animals and humans; it all feels dry (not to mention pointless!) because the emphasis is on memorization despite the professors telling us that understanding is always the key. This picture made me realize that even though it might feel boring and pointless to us now, details really do matter when it comes to finding a cure for diseases that affect people all over the world. That fact was highlighted when Nolte was shown to spend days and days in the library to make sense of his son’s disease and construct an alternative theory that might lead to a treatment. I guess what I’m saying is that this movie forced me to look at the bigger picture, to want to learn more and it reminded me why I want to pursue a career in medicine. I also liked the fact that this wasn’t just about the disease and how the parents tried to find a treatment. The director had scenes that commented on the dynamics between the slow process of science and the people that desperately need immediate solutions, the importance of emotional intelligence from nurses and doctors, the family and friends that stick with us at a time of need, and the dangers of false hope. “Lorenzo’s Oil” is a challenging and heartbreaking film but it’s undeniably uplifting. Everything about it was consistently strong, especially the performance from the lead actors (Sarandon’s scene when she whispered to Lorenzo, “If you need to go, you fly to baby Jesus as fast as you can” was done so brilliantly.) and some notable supporting actors such as Kathleen Wilhoite and the very underrated Margo Martindale. I am very grateful to my professors who cited this film in their lectures and I am beyond happy that I decided to see it. It’s one of the most rewarding films I’ve seen in a while.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Tim Robbins, “Dead Man Walking” tells the story of a man on death row (Sean Penn) and a nun (Susan Sarandon) who takes his request to be his spiritual advisor despite people’s attempt to dissuade her from doing so. I thought this film was particularly effective because it was able to provide multiple insights regarding the issue of capital punishment, while at the same time I was curious whether or not Penn’s character really did pull the trigger that resulted the death of the two teenagers. Not only that, we really got to know the grief of the teenagers’ parents (Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston); that their rage and hatred do not come out of nowhere and that some of them might even be willing to move on. I was really touched by this film in its entirety because I felt like I was watching real people instead of actors merely playing their parts. The interactions between Penn and Sarandon–especially the close-up scenes–got me so involved to the point where I found myself beginning to truly understand the convict’s fear of death even though he is a racist, disagreeable, unfriendly man. Whenever they argued, I felt genuine tension between the two but I still could feel that Penn needed her and Sarandon cared for him. The issue of redemption was also explored. I’m not a big fan of religion but even I have to admit that it was effectively used in this film. Robbins managed to avoid telling a story that was self-righteous and manipulative, which I think was a difficult task because the picture ultimately geared us to sympathize for the convict. As a person who do not support capital punishment, I thought “Dead Man Walking” was able to both entertain and educate (and even enlighten, which is on a different level altogether). This is a strong film with so many layers to it so, naturally, I’m recommending it to anyone–even to those who do not have an opinion about the death penalty.
Rocky Horror Picture Show, The (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★
I can understand why this film bombed in the box office when it was released but later gained a strong cult following. Even in today’s standards, this still has a very strong shock value because it features transsexual aliens, dirty images and songs, bad special and visual effects (it had a low budget), and a story that doesn’t make any sense. But I found this picture to be very difficult not to enjoy because it is aware of its campiness and shortcomings. I loved the fact that this movie made a plethora of references to the story of Frankenstein but it’s not limited to that. There are a lot of jokes in the background for comedic effect (whether it’s a painting, a banner, or an actor not realizing that he is on camera) even though those jokes are never attended to. It’s really up to the audiences to put some of the pieces together to truly enjoy this cult classic. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are believable as a WASP couple who gets engulfed in Tim Curry’s world of decadence. Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror was really funny in his own mute way. Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the film) and Patricia Quinn provided an extra level of camp and originality. As for the songs, I found more than half of them to be very catchy especially “Dammit Janet” (which was sung in a church–it was hilarious), “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” If you’re look for a film that’s kitschy, sarcastic and bold, this is the one too see. I think it has a solid place in cinematic history because I haven’t seen anything remotely like it.