Colombiana

Colombiana is a film starring Zoë Saldana and Micheal Vartan.  The story revolves around a Colombian woman named Cataleya who at a young age witnessed the death of both of her parents at the hands of a very nasty drug lord.  Cataleya is moved into protective custody after her father’s death because she had a piece of technology the American embassy needed at the time of her father’s murder.  Cataleya avoids the federal government and travels to Chicago to live with her uncle.  Cataleya grows up and becomes a trained assassin who through the film works to take out any person involved in the death of her parents.

The problem with this film other than the fact that its utterly predictable is the fact that beyond the scenes of her childhood I didn’t care about Cataleya.  The kills in this movie are creative but they are also unsatisfying.  I really wanted Columbiana to not just tell the story of a woman seeking revenge but also the story of someone hurting who is seeking to have a place in the world.  I felt no connection to the world Cataleya operated in.   Nothing about Cataleya stands out and frankly I don’t see any personality or warmth coming from her character throughout the film.  She is a character shrouded in mystery which raises many questions about her true motives for killing and the director Olivier Megaton gives us few opportunities to learn any answers that would give the character any depth.  Supporting characters are virtually nonexistent in this film and that is acceptable because Columbiana was only made to serve as a starring vehicle for Zoe Saldana.  She is a capable actress but her character has no personality.

This film only serves as an action picture nothing more.  If you choose to see it watch it for that aspect.

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A Little Help

A Little Help is a film that was written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn and stars The Office’s Jenna Fischer.  Jenna Fischer plays the lead character Laura who occupies a broken marriage with her husband Bob played by Chris O’Donnell.  Laura is an emotionally blank and barely manages the responsibilities of being a wife and a mother.  Laura also abuses alcohol specifically the beverage Budweiser.  Laura’s family can’t rely on her to care about her life or the people in it.  Early on in the film Laura suffers a tragedy and is faced with making decisions about how to raise her twelve year old son and make herself happy.

What I love about the film A Little Help is that it’s honest.  Laura as a person has failed at life.  She lost her way at some point and gave up on life.  One thing that separates this drama from most of the other film’s that have a tragedy surrounding its story is that when things become difficult they stay difficult for a long period of time.  As much as I was watching Laura struggle to navigate the world around her after the tragedy she suffered, I also enjoyed being able to see the dynamics between her and other family members.  I have to say that her family treats her horribly throughout the film but I find that their actions are justified because they were so slow to react to how Laura was struggling to cope with life in the first place.  The relationship Laura has with her son Dennis is fractured because she depended on her husband to be the hero of the family.  A Little Help is simply about expectations.  What someone expects their life to be like and the shocking truth of the reality of what that person’s life actually is.  This central theme plays out for most of the characters in this film.

Jenna Fischer does some excellent work as Laura.  She’s broken, angry, and clueless to the harsh realities of life.  Jenna Fischer plays out an emotion I rarely see actresses display in films of this kind, feeling weathered.  Another standout actress in this film Is Brooke Smith who portrays Kathy, the wise older sister.  Immediately upon meeting Kathy you can tell she is in a marriage she does not want and is constantly fighting to prove to the rest of her family that she is a better daughter than the doted upon Laura.  Brooke plays Kathy with a surprising amount of resentment and slight disdain towards Laura almost as if Laura took the life Kathy wanted.

A Little Help is surprisingly moving because it doesn’t ask us to pity or understand the protagonist.  The film instead reminds us life is a journey and sometimes it takes people awhile to adjust to the bumps in the road.  Though Laura’s road is hard I would gladly travel with her any day of the week.

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Terri

Terri is a film by Azazel Jacobs about an obese kid named Terri.  Terri, played by Jacob Wysocki is a kid who is very reserved and good hearted.  Terri isn’t liked or treated well by any of his classmates but he gets by in life because he has a supportive and loving uncle.  Unfortunately for Terri that uncle suffers from a version of Alzheimer’s.  Terri pulls double duty being a caretaker for his uncle as well as trying to be an average student.  Terri wears pajamas because of the amount of work he ends up doing from both classes and his dedication to his family.  Terri’s behavior of sticking to being invisible because he works so much draws the attention of the vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald.  Terri and the vice principal form a relationship as friends so that the vice principal can make sure Terri isn’t destroyed by the pressures of high school.

Audiences may not get this film.  I think the point of Terri is not to focus how much or how little the protagonist evolves throughout the film but to look at how Terri as a character experiences life.  Terri, as a film is really engrossing mainly because lead Jacob Wysocki does such an impressive job at conveying Terri’s understanding of the world.  I love the fact that when Terri understands something he just states the obvious.  There is a scene in the film that particularly sticks out to me where Terri is having a meeting with Mr. Fitzgerald after informing him that he put mice killed by mouse traps in the woods.  Mr. Fitzgerald shows Terri a picture of himself at a younger age with what appears to either be acne or self-induced injuries on his back.  Mr. Fitzgerald informs Terri that he moved past those bad experiences of his teenage years and made something better of himself.  The vice principal claims that he thought of himself as a monster during his teenage years.  Terri responds with: “Mr Fitzgerald, you were treated like a monster because you were a monster, I’m treated like a monster because that’s what I am to them.”  Terri as a person emphasizes how people perceive him not who he actually is as a person.  Terri as a film doesn’t work because the audience feels sympathy for the protagonist’s life struggles, the film works because it talks about how different human beings function in life.  The predicaments Terri deals with in the film are not things an ordinary teenager wouldn’t deal with on a day to day basis. 

The director Azazel Jacobs tells the story from an all encompassing point of view.  The film doesn’t just focus on how Terri deals with life, it also discusses how life impacts other people and how they react to that.  Terri may be the central character of the film around which the story rotates but secondary characters also face their own unique challenges in life and it is that which makes the film an enjoyable experience.

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An Education

The film An Education is about a young girl named Jenny. Jenny is a teenager in the 1960’s played by newcomer Carey Mulligan. Jenny meets a charming young man named David on her walk home from school on a rainy day and he cordially offers her a ride home. David finds Jenny intelligent and engaging and creates events that allow her to spend time in a higher social class than she is used to. This is where her education truly begins as she eventually has to learn how to balance her studies and spend time with David and his friends. Jenny is guaranteed a certain amount of freedom and intellectual exercise by going to events with David and his friends. Jenny gladly takes the opportunity to learn how the other half lives instead of being nagged by her family to choose a strong academic vocation when her true love is the cello.

I found this film to be engaging although it did drag in a few places. Carey Mulligan is the standout of this film as her performance was charming and honest which really ended up being where the picture showed most of its heart. There was vulnerability to the character of Jenny and watching her evolution into a slightly older and more mature version of herself is where this dramatic independent film succeeded. Conversely there were a few points where the film dragged and most of those moments came from Jenny’s interactions with her parents…but I argue we needed those moments so that we could see the limitations and restrictions placed on Jenny outside of her interactions with her parents played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour. In short, if you’re looking for a coming of age tale with some frailty and honesty look no further than this film. Sometimes the best way to learn is by diving in and experiencing the world for yourself and I respect Jenny’s courage for taking the risk. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys independent film dramas or strong female characters.

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The Square

The Square is an Australian thriller written by Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner. The story begins simply enough with the idea that two people Ray and Carla are involved in an extramarital affair with each other and they both wish to leave their current spouses but lack the money to do so. Carla is a bored housewife who’s husband is a petty gangster and Ray has a wife who cares little about how he feels. Both characters solution to this predicament is to gather money and run away together, unluckily the money comes to them. Carla finds some money that her husband robs a business or a person of and she decides to steal it thinking that it might solve the financial predicament holding Ray back from running away from her. Carla asks Ray to contract someone to burn her house down so her husband will believe the money went up in the blaze. Once the fire is set however is where the characters lives slowly begin to crumble and Murphy’s Law of “anything bad that can happen will” comes into play.

This film is a “do it for love” movie which is what a lot of classic film noirs were based on and its played to perfection here. Like Gun Crazy and Double Indemnity before it The Square takes the idea of doing something extreme for someone you love but the writers decide to manipulate more than a number of times throughout this film’s hour and thirty minute run time. Every action in this film has a beautifully devastating consequence and it’s how the characters deal with those consequences that drives the story and keeps the audience interested. The scenes that speak to me most are actually all the dialogue scenes between the two lovers and any scene where the plan is close to being found out by people they associate with. I like those scenes because of the way the actors react to each other in their dialogue and how in those scenes it feels less like they are acting in a movie and more like I am slowly watching two peoples lives unravel and can’t look away or help them. The intensity this film puts on display is something comparable to each small twist revealed in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In the case of both films, the execution of these twists is flawless.

This film is not without its glaring mistakes however. There are a few situations where you find yourself frustrated asking “why did they go back there?” “why didn’t she just come clean and tell that guy this?” In those situations I say to you that there is a reason for everything and if you watch the film your question may not be answered but you may develop your own rational as to why the characters did something you don’t approve of. Forming your own rational in the case of this movie may be better than the ones the writers give. This can be seen as both a positive and a negative because on one hand it forces you to ask more questions which is good but on the other you don’t get the answer you have desperately been seeking.

I think this Australian crime thriller is worth the time of anyone who enjoys a good mystery and I would see it again just to try and resolve my own lingering curiosities about the situations the characters put themselves in. My suggestion is that when it comes to DVD and/or Blu-ray people pick this movie up if they enjoy thrillers.

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