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Chungking Express (1994)

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express is the interconnected tales of two police officers who’ve just undergone heart-breaking breakups and face loneliness in a city of millions.

In a swirl of beautiful imagery, Chunking Express tells the stories of Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), depressed about the end of his relationship with a pineapple-loving girl named May, and Cop 663 (Tony Leung), likewise depressed about the end of his relationship with his beautiful flight attendant girlfriend (Valerie Chow). Similarly, both cops become interested in new women: Cop 223 becomes captivated by a mysterious drug runner in a blonde wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin), while Cop 663’s storyline becomes entangled with that of a quirky, well-meaning, California-dreaming snack bar worker named Faye (Faye Wong).

The two narratives are separate from each other, though loosely connected in that both of the lovesick cops frequent the same restaurant, and both deal with heartbreak, though in different ways. Cop 223 collects cans of pineapple with the expiration date of May 1, telling himself that once he has collected 30 of these cans, he will either be reunited with his ex-girlfriend May, or his love will, like the cans of pineapple, “expire”. Meanwhile, Cop 663 pep-talks the various objects around the apartment he used to share with the flight attendant girlfriend who left him.

Though Chungking Express is humorous and smartly written all throughout, I found the second part of the movie (Cop 663’s storyline) to be the most compelling. After falling for Cop 663 (Tony Leung), endearing snack bar worker Faye begins sneaking into his apartment he shared with his girlfriend and brightening up the place, unbeknownst to him. Eventually, though, he figures it out (although it takes him a ridiculously long time). It’s pretty goddamn cute.

This is only the second Wong Kar-Wai film I’ve seen after In the Mood for Love, and I loved it a whole lot. I can’t wait to watch more!

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Umberto D. (1952)

It’s been awhile since any of us kool kats posted here at Moviefellas. I’ve been trying to get in as much movie-watching as possible in between rewatching the entirety of AMC’s Breaking Bad (expect a post about that coming soon…) and getting ready to go off to college for the first time ever, and recently I enjoyed watching Umberto D. for the first time during a Skype movie date with my fellow Moviefella Miranda.

Umberto D. is, in a word, heartbreaking. Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist film offers a stark view into the reality of Umberto D. Ferrari, an aged former government worker in postwar Italy who loves his dog Flike and is having a hard time making ends meet. Nothing seems to go his way–his coarse, unsympathetic landlady threatens to evict him and his dog if he does not come up with a large sum that he is incapable of raising. As if things weren’t looking bleak enough, Umberto falls ill with tonsillitis.

Umberto’s life is marked by loneliness. Perhaps his only human friend is the pregnant maid who works in his building. Umberto’s one constant, loving companion, though, is his adorable little dog Flike, a source of light in his otherwise depressing life. Flike was probably my favorite part of this overall wonderful film. Watching it, I found myself growing extremely anxious about what would become of these two friends.

The performance by Carlo Battisti, a nonprofessional actor, felt incredibly real. Umberto is a resilient, heartbreaking figure whose desperation and poverty make for a grim but sincere and heartfelt film from De Sica. De Sica’s exploration of working class struggles (and just human struggles in general, such as old age and loneliness) make for a beautiful, tear-inducing, and noteworthy neorealist film that I definitely would recommend. In a relatively short running time (1 hour and 29 mins), De Sica packs an emotional punch and powerful message, creating a film that is sure to stick with you.


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Oldboy (2003)

Park Chan-wook’s South Korean revenge thriller Oldboy is overwhelming in every possible way. Watching this movie was such an intense experience that I kind of don’t even know where to begin with this review.

First of all, Oldboy is one of those movies where giving away too many crucial plot points beforehand would ruin the experience for any viewer. The thrill of Oldboy is the gradual release of the truth; the slow reveal of the intricate details behind Oh Dae-Su’s kidnapping and release.

I didn’t really know much about the movie before watching it (other than a lot of people telling me it was amazing), which in hindsight was definitely the best to watch it. Everything was a surprise, and my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time (other than a few moments when, squeamishly, I had to look away). By the end of it, I felt like I had been run over by a train.

Without giving away too much, though, in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, the basic premise of the film is that businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped one night and imprisoned for fifteen years, torn away from his life and daughter and all of society. Without any explanation as to why, he is trapped in a room with no human contact, and nothing but a TV to keep him connected to the outside world. It is through his many hours watching this television that Dae-su learns of his wife’s murder, a case in which he is a suspect. After fifteen years, Oh Dae-su emerges from his prison extremely changed, and now must seek answers and revenge. The new Dae-su — who is dark and intense and played beautifully by Choi Min-sik — is taken in by a young woman named Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), who he meets at a sushi restaurant.

Oldboy is raw, gritty, violent, and powerful. It’s shocking and emotional and a complete roller coaster ride of a movie. It’s also filled with a lot of really memorable scenes involving hammers and live octopuses. The famous one-take hallway scene, in which Dae-su single-handedly fights his way through an army of henchmen, is particularly brilliant.

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) and Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung)

Fun facts from Wikipedia about the octopus scene: “The octopus being eaten alive was not computer-generated; four were used during the making of this scene. Actor Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. It should also be noted that the eating of live octopuses (called sannakji (산낙지) in Korean) as a delicacy exists in East Asia, although it is usually cut, not eaten whole. When asked in DVD commentary if he felt sorry for the actor Choi Min-sik, director Park Chan-wook stated he felt more sorry for the octopus.”

Now, about that remake. A couple of days ago, the first trailer for the English-language, Spike Lee-directed 2013 remake of Oldboy was released, and I saw a lot of outrage in response to it. Outrage that I think, after viewing the original, is definitely justifiable. Halfway through watching the movie, I found myself asking, “Why are they even remaking this?” To cash in on English-speaking audiences (and close-minded people who refuse to watch movies if they have to read subtitles — I know for a fact that these people exist) who haven’t seen the original, maybe? Remakes are acceptable if the source material can somehow be improved upon or reinterpreted, but I don’t see any way that this remake of Oldboy can do either of those things. And from the looks of the trailer, it’s not going to.

The concept of Oldboy is brilliant, and it is beautifully constructed and executed. I’m not exactly sure how any remake could improve, let alone measure up to, the original’s excellence. I just hope that viewers who go to see Spike Lee’s remake (which is out October 8 of this year) will watch the original first. Or, honestly, I just really hope that, at the very least, viewers know that the original even exists.

I had been meaning to watch this film for ages, and put it off because the version Netflix has available stream is an English-dubbed version (I really, really don’t recommend watching anything — especially this — dubbed unless you have no other option), but the other day I was informed that you can watch Oldboy for free on Hulu, so I ran to it with open arms. And it definitely paid off.

My advice to first-time viewers: prepare yourself. Oldboy is a movie that you should open your mind to and allow yourself to be absorbed into (getting sucked into it isn’t hard). The plot twist(s) and overall intensity will hit you like a freight train. After watching it, I felt dazed and drained — it’s a movie that you really experience. And it’s one hell of an experience. I’m still in shock, and I think I will continue to be for days/weeks more before this film fully sinks in.


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The 400 Blows (1959)

On Friday, TCM honored French filmmaker François Truffaut in their Friday Night Spotlight lineup, so I camped out on the couch with a frozen pizza and some blankets to watch Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows), Truffaut’s first feature.

The 400 Blows is the first of Truffaut’s films centering around Antoine Doinel, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, whose life in this film mirrors the real life struggles of François Truffaut. Like Doinel, Truffaut was born out of wedlock but accepted as a son by the man his mother soon married. His childhood was troubled, as shown by the life of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows. So brutally honest that his parents were hurt by the film (Truffaut defended his portrayal of his childhood, which he told them really was that unhappy), The 400 Blows is a touching story about growing up, touched with incredible insight and personal experience.

Antoine grows up in a cramped apartment with his mother (who really doesn’t seem to like her son very much) and stepfather, where he always seems to be unwanted and in the way, or else left completely alone. Misunderstood and mistreated by his callous and largely uncaring parents, Antoine engages in a life of petty crime and juvenile delinquency, eventually leading to his arrest for the theft of a typewriter. He is sent to an observation center for troubled youth, where, at the end of the film, he escapes and runs to the nearby sea.

Director François Truffaut

Director François Truffaut

In the famous final scene of The 400 Blows, we see Antoine Doinel standing on the shore and seeing the ocean–something he dreamed of all his life–for the first time. In literature, art, film and elsewhere, the ocean can often be a symbol of hope and renewal. As the final frame freezes on young Antoine, at the brink of the sea, my thoughts were that there is hope for him. Children are in the vulnerable position to be molded–for better or for worse–by their environment (which includes parents, who probably have more power than anyone in shaping the adults that we become). But as they mature, they have the opportunity to free themselves from their past, or from oppressive environments. That hope seems to exist for tender, movie-loving Antoine, who, as a maturing boy, has choices he can make to determine his own future.

Antoine’s real-life counterpart François Truffaut did just that, becoming one of Europe’s most celebrated filmmakers and a huge influence on the New Wave movement through his passion for and dedication to film. Movies became a kind of schooling for the future filmmaker, who, as a young’un, set goals for himself to watch more movies and to read more books. The 400 Blows, with its depth, sincerity, and honesty, shows that Truffaut’s dedication to cinema paid off. Henri Decae’s cinematography and the young talent of Jean-Pierre Léaud add to the impact of Truffaut’s touching debut feature.

After finishing The 400 Blows, I was already deeply attached to the character of Antoine Doinel, and wanted to see more of him, as well as learn more about the life of François Truffaut. I can’t wait to watch Truffaut’s other movies about Antoine (Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run), as well as more of Truffaut’s films in general. Shoutout to my fellow Moviefellas writer Miranda for letting me know this was on TCM!

The final shot of ‘The 400 Blows’


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The Searchers (1956)

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“We’ll find them in the end, I promise you…We’ll find them.” This line is my first recollection of The Searchers. I was about seven years old and we were in Disney for our family vacation. Back then at Christmas, all the rides would have two hours+ waits, including The Great Movie Ride; but that didn’t bother me. Instead, I was in awe of the larger than life movie screen in the faux-Gruman’s Chinese Theatre, playing trailers of various classic films featured in The Great Movie Ride, such as Footlight Parade, Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, etc. and, of course, The Searchers. I can’t tell you why that particular line stuck out to me; perhaps it was the determination and grit in John Wayne’s voice or the composition of the shot. Whatever the case, it did and it made an impression on me.

I’ve never been a fan of the Western genre, mostly because its setting doesn’t appeal to me but also due to its treatment and view of Native Americans. I pushed this film off for quite some time because of those reasons; but once I began watching the films of the 1970’s (ex. Taxi Driver), I knew that it was probably time to watch The Searchers. Brushing aside my bias for Western films, I sat down and began the film.

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his brother’s home three years after the Civil War. Still bitter about the Confederate’s

An example of framing the shot from inside the cave.

An example of framing the shot from inside the cave.

loss, Ethan comes off very cynical, somewhat cocky, and hard-edged but also very alone. Ethan is pleased to see his brother, Aaron, and his family again but takes an instant dislike to Martin (Jeffery Hunter) because of his part-Indian blood. Right off the bat we learn that Ethan is racist towards the neighboring Indians. The next day, a neighbor’s cattle are stolen and Ethan and Martin go along to help find the culprit. When the men find the cattle dead, they realize it was all a trick by the Comanche Indians to lead them away from their homes and families. Ethan and Martin come back to find that Aaron, his wife, and his son were killed and their two daughters kidnapped. Ethan and Martin go on a search for both daughters Debbie (played by Lana Wood and Natalie Wood) and Lucy. Ethan eventually finds Lucy dead near the Comanche camp but does not find Debbie. The rest of the film covers the next five years of their search for Debbie and ‘rescuing’ her.

I’m really not sure what to say about this film. I’ll admit that if it wasn’t for Martin, I don’t think I would have been able to stand it. Ethan came off very strong and almost dislikable to me. Martin didn’t allow Ethan to keep pushing him around and stood his ground; plus his story line offered comic relief in a few scenes. It was hard to put aside my contempt for the representation of Native Americans in this film but that was where Martin helped.

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Notice Debbie in the far back, almost like a black dot. Gradually gets larger as she runs towards Ethan and Martin.

Let’s establish the fact that John Ford is an absolute genius with the camera and Winton C. Hoch’s cinematography fully captures the tone of the film. Ford frames as many of his shots as he can through some sort of opening, such as a cave or a door. I love this idea as it helps focus the attention and emphasize the landscape of the shot. Ford also utilizes depth very well. Perhaps the most obvious is the shot of Debbie running down the sand towards Martin and Ethan. Overall, Ford is a master at making a Western a GREAT Western by going above and beyond.

I’m going to have to watch The Searchers again just to appreciate Ford. I think it will be better because I won’t focus so much on “what happens” but rather the directing and acting. For me, watching a movie a second time is very beneficial because I know the story so I can focus on the little things that I missed before. Even as I was going through the film to take screencaps after I finished it, I was stunned by the composure and set-up of his shots. Perhaps I will add more Ford films to my list but I think it’ll still take me awhile to warm up to John Wayne and the Western genre.

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It’s very clear to see why this film was such an influence on films in the 1970’s; there were so many aspects of The Searchers that I saw in Taxi Driver. But perhaps the one most similar to it is their disconnect from the world. We meet Ethan and he is alone and by the end of the film, after five years of searching and riding with Martin, he is alone. I love the last shot; Wayne standing in the doorway and to me, he almost seems unsure of himself. No one is there is to say thank you to him for bringing Debbie home as they’ve already gone inside with her. But the inside is black and empty and Ethan stands outside of it. It’s foreign to him; then the door closes. We don’t see what happens to Ethan. So what does happen to him? What is his purpose now? What will he do? The answer: we don’t know.


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À bout de souffle (1960)

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À bout de souffle (Breathless), directed by Jean-Luc Godard, is a hard film to review. On one hand, I love it: it’s fluffy, fun, jazzy, and set in Paris. On the other hand, it’s only so-so: jump cuts distract from the almost nonexistent plot, faux-improvised dialogue adds nothing to the story, and there are many pointless scenes. Yet it’s such an iconic film – and the leads are so charismatic – that even though it is a bit overhyped I have to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Godard is a very polarizing director, his personality aside – I’ve found that most people either love him or hate him. Personally, I have yet to form an opinion. He’s a groundbreaking director, there’s no doubt about that, but he almost oozes pretention. À bout de souffle was his first full length feature film, and it’s obvious (my first Godard film was Pierrot le fou, a much more polished film and one of his best). There are hundreds of unprofessional jump cuts in the film, and yes, I know they’re meant to be artsy, but they really distract from the flow of the film and the viewing experience.

À bout de souffle is the story of car thief Michel (think Grand Theft Auto: Paris) who steals a car and accidentally kills a policeman in the act. He travels back to Paris to meet up with Patricia, an American student he met in Nice, and ask her to go to Italy with him. They spend a lot of time talking as he convinces her to go with him, and afterwards, they are confronted by the police.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.

The strength and the enjoyment of the film lies with the two leads, Jean-Paul Belmondo (whose abs also play a supporting role) and the American Jean Seberg. While it takes a while to warm up to Belmondo’s Bogart-obsessed, misogynistic Michel, there’s no doubt that Belmondo’s presence keeps the viewers engaged in Michel’s story. And then there’s Seberg as Patricia. She’s dazzling, charming, and cute. I wanted to be Seberg as I watched À bout de souffle. Everything about her was effortless and cool – her hair, her striped ensembles, her voice…really, I could go on and on. It isn’t hard to see why Michel is so captivated by her and why he almost literally orbits around her.

At times, À bout de souffle is ironic and paradoxical. It’s almost overtly sexist with Michel’s treatment of women, yet Patricia is undoubtedly a modern women. She works, lives on her own, seeks out an education,  sleeps with other men, and speaks her mind. She’s a free women on the edge of second-wave feminism. I’m not sure if Patricia’s freedom (and her ability to make her own choices, despite Michel’s wishes) was purposely juxtaposed with Michel’s sexism, but it does add an interesting element to the film.

The soundtrack by Martial Solal is also worth noting. It’s airy and jazzy and really adds to the ambiance of the film. I’ve heard that some people have watched À bout de souffle solely for that soundtrack, and I can see why. It practically embodies the French New Wave and the free, youthful style of 1960s cinema.

À bout de souffle is simply a film that every film lover needs to watch. It’s significant, it’s iconic, it kicked off the French New Wave. Seberg and Belmondo sizzle against the Parisian backdrop. It has one of the best soundtracks of any film I’ve ever seen. It’s not The Best Film Ever. Hell, it’s not even Godard’s best film. But it’s enjoyable and interesting and worth a watch.


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Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool, stylish French crime drama Le Cercle Rouge (1970) is the slow-paced but brilliant story of an escaped murderer (Gian Maria Volonté), a high-class moustachioed thief (Alain Delon), and a police superintendent who really loves his cats (Andre Bourvil).

All men are guilty. They’re born innocent, but it doesn’t last.

Corey (Delon) is released from prison the same day Vogel (Volonté) escapes from police commissaire Mattei (Bourvil) while being transported on a train. Road blocks are set up all throughout the area, but Vogel manages to elude capture and ends up stowing away in the trunk of Corey’s car. The two inevitably meet and, along with alcoholic ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand), set up an intricate plot for a multi-million dollar jewel heist. They carry out the heist, but Mattei, a former colleague of Jandsen who is still searching for the murderer Vogel, is on their trail.

Melville’s deliberately paced thriller unfolds slowly, set to impressive cinematography and a bleak atmosphere that make it well worth the watch. Alain Delon is probably the smoothest criminal in town — everything he does looks super cool. Maybe it’s just the moustache. I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that the whole film is super cool. Criminals, police commissioners, and potential informants rendezvous in Santi’s nightclub, where cigarettes are inevitably lighted and girls are always there to entertain audiences and provide a glittering backdrop.

Overall, I was deeply impressed by Le Cercle Rouge, and thrilled by every second of it. I couldn’t help but take two hundred screencaps, some of which I put to use in this photoset on tumblr. Also, shoutout to our Star of the Month Alain Delon, who is one kool kat as Corey. Full disclosure: I watched this because I found out Alain Delon has a moustache in it. But whether or not you are a fan of Alain Delon/facial hair, I definitely recommend it. It’s worth the 140 minute running time if you want to watch a moody crime thriller.


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‘Before Midnight’: Reviewed

Richard Linklater’s new film, ‘Before Midnight’

Now in theaters and receiving widespread critical praise, Before Midnight is the third in Richard Linklater’s Before series, previously consisting of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Each film is set nine years apart from the last, and offers us a glimpse into the day (or night) in the interconnected lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy).

The pair first meet on a train in Europe in the first film, Before Sunrise (released in 1995), and soon fall in love after American Jesse convinces the French Celine to spend the night walking around Vienna with him before he boards a plane home the next morning. Before Sunrise is a film that I will forever hold dear–I don’t know of any other movie that could so beautifully make two people walking around and talking so engrossing and insightful. Watching it, you fall in love with Jesse and Celine as they fall in love, and are left with a question at the end: will they ever meet up again? 

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in ‘Before Sunrise’

In Before Sunset, (spoiler alert) they do, though not under the circumstances they had originally planned. It’s nine years later, and Jesse has written a novel about that night in Vienna with Celine. While on a book tour in Paris, Celine finds him, and the two long-lost lovers are reunited. The reunion isn’t without its complications, however–Jesse is caught in a troubled marriage, and Celine in a long-distance relationship.

I was so excited to learn that the third movie in the series, Before Midnight, was coming out, and even more excited when it finally expanded to wide release. Naturally, I rushed to the nearest theater to see it as soon as possible, and I was not disappointed.

This time, Jesse and Celine are in Greece, on holiday with their twin daughters. As always, the dialogue is what drives the whole thing and, as always, it’s a beautiful, natural-sounding balance of wittiness, realness, and depth. The screenplay by Richard Linklater and the film’s stars is brilliant, tackling a wealth of issues unexplored by the previous two films. As aging adults and parents, Jesse and Celine face new challenges and a changing relationship in a changing world.

Their relationship is not untroubled or as simple as it was when they were only two strangers who met on a train; this becomes especially evident in the second half of the film, which is pretty much just Jesse and Celine arguing in a hotel room. In spite of the back-and-forth jabs and obvious unrest, Before Midnight contains the underlying sweetness and deep, undeniable love that marks Jesse and Celine’s relationship throughout all three films.

Before Midnight is, overall, darker than the first two films (although, at parts, also a lot funnier). It tackles real, timely issues through performances that are so natural that the actors don’t seem to be acting at all. It’s easy to believe that Jesse and Celine are real people, in spite of their almost fairytale-like beginnings. But if true love ever existed, it’s here, and it’s not difficult to feel reassured that there is hope for them.

I would rank Before Midnight as my second favorite of the series. I found it to be a bit more dynamic and engaging than Before Sunset (though they’re all great and I love them all a whole lot), but nothing beats Before Sunrise. If you’re a fan of the first two films, rest assured that Before Midnight definitely stands up to them. If you haven’t seen any of the films… GO GO GO!


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Star of the Month: Inventing the Abbotts

My mother was right: if the Abbotts didn’t exist, Jacey would have had to invent them. But it seems to me that inventing the Abbotts was something that almost everyone in Haley did, and still do.

Inventing the Abbotts (1997) is a movie steeped in 1950s nostalgia, something that seems common in films from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a film about a small town boy from “the wrong side of the tracks”, Doug Holt (star of the month Joaquin Phoenix), and his older brother (Billy Crudup) who holds a grudge against the richest family in town, the Abbotts.

Crudup, Tyler, and Phoenix in Inventing the Abbotts.

The Abbotts are the closest thing to royalty in the small Indiana town of Haley, known for their glamorous parties thrown in honor of their three beautiful daughters. Doug is fascinated by the Abbott girls, but his brother, Jacey, is interested in them for a more malicious reason: he believes that their father, Lloyd Abbott, stole a business patent from their own father (who died when they were young), and proceeded to get rich off of it. He executes his revenge by seducing the Abbott daughters, one by one, and jeopardizing the blossoming relationship between Doug and Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler).

The film centers around Doug and his naivety concerning his brother and the Abbott girls. Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job of portraying the awkwardness of adolescence and the loss of innocence that Doug goes through. Stepping out of his brother’s shadow is a slow, subtle process that Phoenix masters, especially as Doug begins to fall in love with Pamela. He almost holds her up on a pedestal and can’t believe that one of the elusive, elegant Abbott girls could care for him in return. Knowing the behind-screen relationship unfolding between Phoenix and Tyler adds another dimension to Doug’s feelings: Phoenix once remarked to Jennifer Connelly (who plays Eleanor Abbott) that he could never get a girl like Tyler.

While the film focuses on Phoenix, it would be hard to review this film without taking note of Crudup’s performance as Jacey Holt, Doug’s older brother. Jacey has everything going for him: good looks, brains, and a bright future at the University of Pennsylvania. But he is a ticking time bomb; he’s held in his rage towards both his mother and Lloyd Abbott (the patriarch of the Abbott family) for years, and he’s ready to explode, not caring if he hurts himself and others in the process. Jacey is a character that’s hard to love but difficult to wholly hate, even as he messes up the lives of those around him, because in the end, his whole persona is built on a lie.

Tyler and Phoenix, on and off-screen sweethearts.

Inventing the Abbotts is a slow film, and both the plot and the drama gradually build up to a poignant crescendo as Jacey’s toying with the Abbott girls affects Doug in a way he never expected. It’s billed as a light-hearted romance (it’s not), but to me, the film is a story about growing up and learning to live. It’s a story about how to move on from everything you’ve ever known and how to grow into your own person when you’ve only ever been known as the “little brother.”

The film concludes sweetly, as Doug’s passion is the true to key to his own happiness and the happiness of others. The conclusion to his story is satisfying, if a little saccharine. Doug is an observer and he learns and grows from both his experiences and those of others. Told from his perspective, the film gives us some integral lessons about life and loving someone no matter what they do. In the end, it’s a sweet film; not one of Phoenix’s best, but one that shouldn’t be missed nonetheless.

There’s different kinds of love. Some people you love no matter what, and others you love if the situation is right. To me, the best kind of love is the “no matter what” kind.


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Allow me to start my Gatsby review with a confession: I am not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Never have been, never thought I would be. For some reason, he just creeps me out. However- I really liked The Great Gatsby, including (perhaps even particularly) Leo as Jay.

First, I would like to give the casting director a hug. Leo was the perfect Jay, and I might have liked him better than I have in anything else I’ve seen him in (that might not be much coming from me, but hey, it’s great progress). His acting was excellent, and I felt more sympathy for his character than any other in the film, though in the book he is portrayed as far from perfect. Tobey Maguire wasn’t anything to write home about, but honestly, neither is the character of Nick, who is oftentimes more of an observer than a participant, so I didn’t much mind. Carey Mulligan was, as usual, perfect- she was a flawless “beautiful little fool” wearing, of course, an equally flawless costume. Which brings me to my next point- the costumes were flawless throughout. Other than Daisy’s, I was also extremely in love with Gatsby’s. The beige sweater and the pink suit were my personal favorites.

Obviously the music and scenery were impeccable. No one could possibly accuse Luhrmann of not going all out for the Gatsby party. I even liked the trippy modern-jazz concoction of a soundtrack, which was interesting and new in a way that, for all the criticism it might draw, matched rather well with the colorful, insane visual of the film. All the sets, from the insane Gatsby palace, to Nick’s house covered in flowers for Daisy’s tea, to the ornate hotel room where Gatsby and Tom get in a fight, were overwhelmingly well-done.

The part of the movie that really had my jaw dropping was the scenes of Gatsby showing Daisy and Nick around his house. “House” might not be the right word: “palace” is more accurate. The palace is so ornate, enormous, and impossibly grand that you find yourself wanting to visit; it is the most striking visual in the film. In fact, what I liked best about this film is the way it pulls you into the world of Jay, Daisy, Nick, Tom, and the rest, truly causing you to get swept up in the heartbreak, the drama, and even the parties of fast-paced 1920s New York. In my book, any movie that can have this effect is one I have definitely enjoyed.

All that said, though I can’t see the movie winning any Oscars and it perhaps could have used a bit more emotional depth, this is a good movie. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t mind the spectacle of the over-the-top aesthetic and music of the film, and I understand why others might disapprove, but I personally enjoyed it. It was faithful to the book, made a valiant (and, as far as I’m concerned, successful) attempt to reel the viewer in with overpowering visuals and adapted modern music, and could not possibly have had any better of a cast. As Nick says, “I was within and without.” When you watch The Great Gatsby, you are within and without, and personally, I liked what I saw.