Monday, February 23, 2015

O Captain! My Captain!

Dead Poets Society
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, Kurtwood Smith
Released: June 9, 1989

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Driving Miss Daisy)
Best Director - Peter Weir (lost to Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July)
Best Actor - Robin Williams (lost to Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot)
Best Original Screenplay - Tom Schulman (won)

One of the late Robin Williams' greatest and most beloved roles was that of English professor John Keating who teaches at Welton Academy, an all-boys boarding school. This film gave us many quotes such as "O Captain! My Captain" which I saw written as many Facebook status updates as a tribute to Williams the day he died and "Carpe Diem"/"Seize the Day".  

The film takes place in 1959 and it's also Mr. Keating's first year of teaching at Welton. His young students include the shy Todd (Ethan Hawke); his roommate, outspoken Neil (Robert Sean Leonard);  romantic dreamer Knox (Josh Charles); stickler-for-the rules Richard (or "dorky redhead" as I call him!); and rule-breaker Charlie. And there's others I'm sure I'm forgetting. While all the students work together as an ensemble, it's Neil who is the leader and has the most screen time of any of the other young men. His passion is to be an actor, but his strict father (Kurtwood Smith) wants him to be a doctor. I wish I could say that he got his wish and Neil went on to become a successful doctor and I could make a House (because Robert Sean Leonard would go on to play Wilson in House!) joke here, but that doesn't quite happen.

Mr. Keating is unlike any teacher the boys have ever had at Welton Academy. After they have attended their history, science, and math classes with the usual lectures, they become unsure when they're in Mr. Keating's English class and he has told them to rip out the entire introduction of their textbook. The learn about an absurd method about how to rate a poem involving a line graph (please tell me this isn't real!) and Keating tells them it's a load of garbage and to tear out the pages of the introduction. Richard, who had been taking copious notes, is confused when Keating erases the graph off the chalkboard and quickly scribbles through the graph he had just drawn. The boys are all uncertain at first, but then more confidently start tearing out the pages they are instructed to rip out.

Keating tells them about a secret society he once belonged to when he himself was a student at Welton, the Dead Poets Society, where he and other students would meet in secret and read poetry. Neil, the fearless leader, decides to get this tradition rolling again and he and the other students meet in a cave at night to read poetry from a book and recite their own. They also joke around and gossip and philosophize.

Because of Mr. Keating's class and his motto to "seize the days", his young students start feeling more confident. Knox (who would later go on to become lawyer Will Gardner on Good, Welton Academy really is a good school as it produces doctors and lawyers!) gets the courage to woo a girl from a public school who already has a boyfriend (and gets beaten up by him in the process!) Mr. Keating encourages the timid Todd to come out of his shell when he is reluctant to read a poem he has written in front of the class which was assigned to all the students to do. Keating tells him to close his eyes and forget that the other students are in the same room.

Neil, the aspiring actor, tries out for A Midsummer's Night Dream and gets cast in a lead role. In order to be in the play, he must have permission from a parents, so he forges a letter, pretending to be his father. Of course, his dad finds out and is furious and forbids Neil to be in the play. Neil gets advice from Mr. Keating to tell his father how he really feels and he wants to pursue acting instead of a medical career, but Neil never gets the courage to stand up to his father. He still remains in the play and we see his father come in to watch. I thought he might have a change of heart after seeing how happy his son was and how seriously he took acting, but instead he punishes him by telling him he is being shipped off to military school the next morning. Neil fatally shoots himself with his father's gun and we see a heartbreaking scene where his father finds him in his office on the floor behind the desk.

Mr. Keating's ways of teaching is frowned upon by the school board and he is fired. In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, while he has come back to the classroom to pack up his things while a lesson is going on, we see Todd keep glancing at his former teacher and it is obvious he wants to say something, but is still too reserved to do so. As Mr. Keating is walking away, he blurts out it was unfair he was fired. He stands on his desk in an act of defiance and is followed suit by the other students who also agree with him. In an earlier scene, Mr. Keating had everyone stand on his desk to see the world from a different perspective. The music swells, Mr. Keating is getting tears in his eyes and so am I. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Practical Magic
Director: Griffin Dunne 
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest, Goran Visnjic, Aidan Quinn, Evan Rachel Wood
Released: October 16, 1998

This is based on a novel by Alice Hoffman. I figured the novel must be much better and more fleshed out than the movie since a lot happens in the film but is quickly glossed over, so I was sure that the book must go more in depth, which I'm sure it does, but when I was reading reviews of it on Goodreads, I was surprised that many people said that the movie was better than the book. Because the movie really isn't that great. It's not sure if it wants to be a comedy or a romance or a dark supernatural it's a bit of a trifecta of all three. 

Sally and Gillian Owens (Bullock and Kidman) are sisters who are witches. Just like Sabrina (heh!), they are raised by their aunts, Frances and Bridget (Channing and Weist). Older sister Sally is the more practical one while Gillan is the free-spirit. At a young age, the girls learn of the curse that has overshadowed their family for decades: any man who falls in love with someone in their family is doomed to die. Now that's something you don't want to reveal on the first date! Sensitive Sally is horrified by this news and casts a spell on herself so she will only fall in love with a certain type of man who is seemingly too good to be true that there is no chance he can even exist. Gillian, however, is not phased at all by this and can't wait to fall in love, or, to be more accurate, sleep around.

When the girls become young adults, Gillian goes on her way to start her tour of having love affairs and breaking hearts. Sally stays back with her aunts in their small town. One days she sees a good-looking man walking down the street and smiles at him. A few minutes later we see them running towards each other and embracing and the next thing we know they are married and have kids. Well, shocker of all shocks, we come to find out her aunts saw she liked him and put a love spell on both of them so they would fall in love. (You could say she drank some Love Potion #9! Yes, I went old-school Sandy Bullock reference for that!) There must be some unwritten prophecy that every Owens woman must have two daughters: one brunette and one redhead with bangs. Because Sally and her husband have two girls who fit this description as well. A young Evan Rachel Wood plays her daughter with the red hair. At first I was confused and thought she was supposed to be Gillian's daughter because she looked so much like her! 

The curse still holds and Sally's husband is killed. It is the most unbelievable death. First, it was laughable because we are meant to think he is going to be killed by being run over by cyclists (he's out in the street during a bike marathon or something), but then we see that he is hit by a car even though he had already been in the middle of the street, frozen as the cyclists go around him. Obviously the car saw there was a person standing in the middle of the road and had plenty of time to slow down. It was just so stupid. But he dies and is never spoken of again. 

Gillian has fallen victim to an abusive man, Jimmy (Goran Visnjic), who likes to drink a little too much. When she becomes scared, she calls Sally to come get her. Jimmy ends up kidnapping both of them and only wanting to drug him, Sally gives him a sleeping potion, but it ends up killing him. The sisters freak out because they don't want to be put away for murder, so they take him back to their house where they will perform a simple resurrection spell, which, if we've learned anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is NEVER a good idea! (Unless you die of a supernatural death, of course! And even that is never a good idea.) This involves having to draw a star on the deceased's stomach and Sally uses a can of Reddi-Whip to do that which is hilarious. And I love that she dips her finger in the whipped cream and licks it off. As soon as Zombie Jimmy is alive again, he immediately starts to choke Gillian and Sally hits him with a frying pan, killing him...again. They bury him in their backyard.

A detective named Gary (Aidan Quinn) from Jimmy's hometown comes up to inspect Jimmy's disappearance and is wary of the sisters. Turns out Gary has all the qualities that young Sally wished in the man she could never fall in love with. He can flip pancakes! He has one blue eye and one green eye! His favorite shape is a star because he has a badge shaped like one! I don't want to spoil anything by saying they get together in the end...but guess what? They fall in love!

Jimmy's spirit has possessed the body of Gillian and Sally and her aunts hold an exorcism to get rid of it. In order to do this, there must be a circle with a certain amount of people so they have to invite other women from their small town to help them. Margo Martindale plays one of those women who works at the apothecary shop Sally owns and runs.

The director, Griffin Dunne, is probably most recognized for his acting roles. He played Vada's poetry teacher in My Girl and played a judge on an early season of The Good Wife. 

The best thing about this movie was that the small town scenes were filmed in Whidbey Island, Washington...and I have been there before! It is an amazing location. I wish I had known that before I watched the movie because then I would have paid more attention to see if I recognized anything.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

I Take You With Me

Boys On The Side 
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Drew Barrymore, Matthew McConaughey, James Remar
Released February 3, 1995

Spoilers for a 20 year old movie...just in cases! 

This movie came out when I was in middle school and I remember seeing it in the theater with my mom. While I remember that, I didn't remember anything about the movie except the singalong to "You've Got It". And that Mary-Louise Parker's character dies at the end. Well, she was still alive at the end, but it was implied she died although for some reason, I remember a funeral scene. It's funny what your mind chooses to remember and what not to remember. Other than that, I didn't remember anything so I decided to see it again. I didn't even look at the rating on the DVD cover because I just assumed it was PG-13. Nope, it's an R. I was shocked that my mom let me see this movie as a young middle schooler! There is language in this movie that would make even Nancy Botwin blush! 

This movie reminded me a bit of Steel Magnolias (a group of women with a friendship and one of them is dying and one of them has a baby....luckily it's never been the same woman!) and then I realized it's directed by the same director, so there you go. This movie reminded me of a cross between that one and Thelma and Louise since the group of women are on a road trip. (And Whoopi Goldberg even makes a crack about how she's not driving over a cliff for the others). 

Jane (Goldberg) is a lounge singer in New York who has broken up with her girlfriend and has been fired from her job so she is looking to start over somewhere. She meets Robin (Parker) who has placed an ad in the paper that she is looking for someone to accompany her on a trip to California. I can tell you one thing, there is no way I would ever let a stranger join me on a road trip. That could end up either being very dangerous...or very irritating! But both women agree on taking the trip together and drive to Pittsburgh so Jane can see her friend, Holly (Barrymore). While traveling, we see the first glimpses of Robin acting odd. They have to stop at a fast food place because Robin gets sick. She tells Jane it's just allergies, but I knew (or thought I knew!) she had cancer. Well, no, I was wrong. I THOUGHT she had cancer because I guess that's what I remembered, but no, she has AIDS. Because this was 1995 and AIDS was all the rage in the '90s! It was kind of weird she had AIDS because she was this very uptight woman...she didn't look like the type to use drugs of have unprotected sex. I guess they just wanted to show us anybody could get AIDS? I don't even know how she got them.  

Hey, hey, hey, it's McConaughey!
When they pick up Holly, her abusive and drunk boyfriend is with her and won't let her go until he gets his drug money that he thinks she's stolen. Holly hits him with a baseball bat and the women tie him up. While they are gone, he tries to get to a phone, but ends up falling and hitting his head and dies. When they see this in the paper, the other two convince Holly to join them because she can't go back. She reveals to the others that she is pregnant. They make it to Tuscon before they have to settle there because Robin has gotten really sick and needs medical care. I believe this is when Jane and Holly (and the audience) finds out that Robin has AIDS. 

Holly starts seeing an old friend, a young cop played by a young  and pre-famous Matthew McConaughey (who, ironically won an Oscar for portraying a man with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club. It's like the circle of life, film style!) He finds out about her dead boyfriend and is torn between his feelings for her and obeying the law as his duties as a cop. Even though Holly goes to court and serves a short sentence, they end up married. Oh, and she names her daughter Mary Todd because McConaughey's name is Abe. :::GROAN::::  

Jane and Robin live in a house together with Holly and Abe until they have a fight and Jane moves out. While at a bar, they meet some people and one of them is a guy (Remar) who appears to be interested in Robin and Jane tells him that she has AIDS just so he already knows and Robin doesn't have to worry about having that awkward conversation so Jane thinks she's doing Robin a favor. One night, Robin and the guy get really drunk and pretty much start having sex outside right in the open. I mean, really! They do make it to a hotel room before clothes start coming off, but when Robin is about to tell him about her condition, he tells her he already knows and that he has come protected. I can understand why Robin was so upset, but at the same time, shouldn't she be relieved that at least he already knows and seems to be okay with it? (Obviously as he has his hands all over her). It doesn't surprise me that this guy was willing to have sex with her because he seemed like he would do it with anyone...he even makes a comment earlier in the movie about how hot the bar owner's 12 year old daughter is. It was really creepy.

Robin finds out Jane told him about her AIDS and that's why they have a fight and Jane moves out. When Robin's mother comes to visit, she is aghast when she learns that a lesbian (and a black one to boot!) has been living with her daughter! She should meet Keira Knightley's mother from Bend it Like Beckham! 

Like I mentioned earlier, the only scene I really remember is when Jane and Robin sing "You've Got It" to each other in a room full of people. It's a very sweet moment and got me choked up. 

This movie came out twenty years ago nearly to the day...and did you know that Drew Barrymore turns 40 this month? She was a very young 19 when she was in this movie and yet it seems like she had already been around forever!