Category Archives: Movie review

5 Reasons to Watch: Phoebe in Wonderland

Phoebe in Wonderland, written and directed by Daniel Barnz, was released in 2008. I HIGHLY recommend this movie.

1. Visually beautiful

The entire film is shot beautifully, Phoebe’s costuming is wonderful, and the costumes from the children’s play are fantastic. Even more breathtaking are the scenes of Phoebe’s fantasies.

2. Parent-child relationships

This may not be the case for everyone who sees this film, but for me the relationship Phoebe’s parents have with her and her sister and their home life in general were an inspiration in some ways for what I’d like to be like when I become a parent (in the far-off future, mind you). Hillary and Peter are both intellectuals whose aspirations for incredible academic work often conflicts with their desires to be attentive parents. What I loved most is that they truly encouraged creativity and imagination in their daughters, along with truly wanting them to be individuals. I also really liked that parenthood is not portrayed as being easy or always fun. It’s clear that no parent is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, but these mistakes do not make someone a bad parent, only human.

3. Miss Dodger’s teaching philosophy

The drama teacher and one of the main characters in the film, Miss Dodger, has a teaching style I really appreciated and admired. She wants her students to think for themselves instead of just waiting to be told what to do by adults. This style really contradicts what the rest of her school is like in the film, along with how real schools are today. I thought her teaching practice was inspirational.

4. Phoebe’s rich fantasy life

Phoebe imagines interacting with characters from Alice in Wonderland. When you hear this or see it in the film, one of your reactions may be that Phoebe is possibly schizophrenic. I had this reaction at first until I remembered my own experience as a nine year old. I also had a world of imaginary friends and fantasies that slipped away as a grew into adolescence and adulthood. I challenge viewers to embrace Phoebe’s interactions with Wonderland characters in this film as an expression of her creative imagination rather than something that makes her abnormal.

5. Portrayal of children with psychological issues

I won’ t give away anything to spoil the movie, but it is clear from the beginning that Phoebe has some issues that make it difficult for her to function in everyday life. But instead of labeling her from the beginning or writing her off, this film takes an honest look at what it’s like to live with psychological problems as child or that child’s parent. The portrayal is moving and I really liked that instead of just writing Phoebe off as “crazy” or “weird,” this is a closer look at how special of a child she is, not in spite of her problems, but with them as a part of what makes her the wonderful person she is.

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5 Reasons to Watch: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, was released in 2009. It’s based on a Ronald Dahl book that tells the story of a fox whose family and community must face negative consequences when he cannot stop stealing from local farmers.

5 Reasons to Watch

1. Visually Captivating

Anderson’s artistic sensibilities are superb. The stop motion animation is wonderful, as are the periodic drawings when the animals hit electric fences, along with his overall vision. It’s wonderful to watch simply from an artistic viewpoint.

2. Characters are Simultaneously Human and Animal

The cast features foxes, badgers, weasels, a rat, and humans. The human characters are all constructed as bad guys, but they are funny in their own way and definitely will each point back to people you know personally. The animals in the film are smarter and more civilized than the humans. They are all incredibly witty with touchingly human emotions and reactions. Their dialogue is intelligent and poignant (marked characteristic of Wes Anderson is, in my opinion, nearly perfect dialogue). That being said, the animal characters are still animals, and the funniest moments of the film for me where when the civilized animals suddenly spring into wild animal mode, scarfing down their food and digging feverishly. The animation used for these parts is hilarious and reminds you that you are watching a movie about animals.

3. Touching Story

Something that often turns me off from children’s movies is the lack of a good story. This film had that though, with issues ranging from becoming better for your significant other and family, taking responsibility for your actions, the importance of family and community, seeking parental approval, being different, and adapting to change. I think these incredibly human story lines are what had me forgetting over and over that I was watching a movie about foxes.

4. All-Star Cast

If George Clooney and Meryl Streep co-starring in a movie aren’t enough to persuade you to see it, it’s probably because you are just too indie for such major stars (and won’t admit that the two are spectacular actors, even when they’re not physically on screen). But, if you are too indie for that, Anderson’s all-star team of Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and even Wes Anderson himself come out to play. Rest assured there are no cheesy voices pandering to small children used in the film.

5. Mr. Fox’s final toast

You’ll have to watch to understand the subtleties of this quote, but it is extremely poignant and touching even if you’re not a fox.

“They say all foxes are slightly allergic to linoleum, but it’s cool to the paw – try it. They say my tail needs to be dry cleaned twice a month, but now it’s fully detachable – see? They say our tree may never grow back, but one day, something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab and even these apples look fake – but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes – to our survival.”

5 Reasons to Watch Bright Star

Bright Star, directed by Jane Campion and released in 2009, chronicles the three-year love of poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Keats is heralded as one of the greatest of the Romantic poets, and died an untimely death at the age of 25 in 1821. I absolutely loved this film and highly recommend it to Keats fans, those who like period films, and anyone who loves romance.

5 Reasons to Watch

1. Visually breathtaking
This film as absolutely beautiful. From the costumes to the lighting to the shots (my movie-making vocabulary is not that great), it was truly gorgeous.

2. Old-school Romance
Set in a time before the often confusing ritual we call dating today, Keats more so courts Brawne than anything else, and it is enough to make any woman swoon. The pair recite poetry to one another, Keats writes Brawne poetry, they take long walks in the countryside, write sweet letters to one another, and exchange locks of hair. Their courtship is incredibly romantic.

3. Brings Keats to Life
I’ve studied Keats in school and read his poetry, but it is truly a magical thing to watch an author or poet whose work you are familiar with come alive on the screen. I already knew that Keats died at 25 before watching this film, and this biographical information was paired with several works I’ve studied with the intention of making a greater impact. While it did give some of his poems more poignancy, watching Keats on the screen (albeit just a depiction of him that although I’m sure mirrored him did not capture Keats totally) made the realization of how young he was when he died even more tragic and his poetry now has greater resonance for me.

4. Its Depiction of True, All-Consuming Love
Without giving away any of the plot that will spoil the film for someone who wants to watch it, the story of the love between Brawne and Keats is beautiful. In spite of all the obstacles that stood in their way, the pair never denied their love for one another and it is so clearly and breathtakingly portrayed in the film.

5. Heart-wrenching
It’s pretty much common knowledge that Keats died at a young age, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away by telling you that this film will make you cry. This may make some people not want to watch, but for me saying a film can make me cry is a high compliment. To become that engaged with a story, with people who aren’t part of my life, to the point that I am emotionally involved speaks highly of the film as a whole.

If anyone reading this has seen Bright Star, let me know what you think. And if you haven’t seen it yet, again, I highly recommend that you do so.

Sophomore slump: The girls of Sex and the City fail to “Carrie” away their second box office release

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie yet and don’t want to read anything that may spoil it for you, come back to this post after you’ve watched the movie.

Sex and the City 2 premiered May 24th, 2010, but I did not catch the film until yesterday, June 2nd. Typically I’m a fan of the Sex and the City franchise and love the strong, empowered women that Charlotte, Carrie, Samantha, and Miranda embody. The series is typically pretty progressive in its portrayal of what is acceptable for women and has never shied away from tackling taboo topics. This second film stays true to the franchise’s tradition of exploring issues that media typically remains silent on, including menopause, the difficulties of motherhood, being a woman in a career field dominated by men, gay marriage, cheating, and promiscuous sex. The most controversial thing I found about the film was the choice to portray the often-misunderstood Muslim world through a white American lens. While this could have been an opportunity to educate audiences and fight stereotyping, the film fails in this respect.

The girls take a trip together to Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The purpose of the trip is for Samantha to become well-acquainted with the hotel belonging to the trip’s benefactor so that she can begin a public relations campaign for the hotel in the United State (Charlotte, Miranda, and Carrie are just tagging along for an all-expenses paid luxury vacation). The hotel owner tells Samantha that Abu Dhabi is the “new Middle East” and with this Samantha seems to expect that their destination will not hold any of the traditional Islamic tenants commonly associated with the Middle East. Miranda tries to become knowledgeable about these traditions, including modest dress for women and no public displays of affection, and encourages Samantha to respect these traditions while in Abu Dhabi. Miranda seems genuinely interested in educating herself about the Muslim world and is the only informative voice in the film. Carrie and Charlotte follow Miranda’s lead in following conventions for behavior but are not interested in educating themselves about traditions. Samantha completely rejects following these traditions and does not care who she offends. While Abu Dhabi is progressive in many ways, there are still many Islamic conservatives portrayed in the film. Samantha repeatedly runs into problems because she refuses to respect these traditions, including getting arrested for kissing in public and facing an angry mob when she is wearing shorts and many condoms spill out of her bag onto the ground in front of an entirely conservative Muslim crowd. Her answer is to make lewd gestures, and the girls are only saved by a deus ex machina in the form of a group of conservative Muslim women wearing the traditional hijab. These women celebrate Samantha’s controversial display and reveal that they are all wearing Louis Vuitton clothing underneath their coverings. While their approval of Samantha’s behavior does carry the positive connotation of universal sisterhood among women and that Middle Eastern women are not all that different from American women, I think it also carries negative implications about traditional Muslim values. While the Muslim world is notorious for oppressing women, many Muslim women embrace traditions and even look at the hijab as something that does not hinder but rather enables them to have richer lives. Conservative Islamic traditions are outright bashed in this film.

It shocked me that the Sex and the City franchise, which in many ways seeks out opportunities to be progressive and culturally competent, rejected the opportunity to explore the Middle East in a more well-developed way. It would have been wonderful to have the movie explore the Middle East in a way that promoted cross-cultural understanding. Instead, this film only serves to further stereotypes about the Muslim world and promote cultural ignorance.