Category: Film Reviews

Quick Review: Touching and heartwarming

Staring: Amir Farroukh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi

Release date: 1997

McCain DVD Call: 1864

Hashemian and Seddiqi are officially the cutest child actors. EVER.  Both turn out amazing performances in Iranian director Majid Majidi’s poignant film about childhood and  sibling bonds. After Ali looses Zahra’s only pair of shoes, Ali begs Zahra not to tell their father. Their family is poor, and he doesn’t want to add additional stress to their home dynamic. Instead, Ali and Zahra figure out a way that they can share Ali’s pair of shoes until Ali finds a way to get her a new pair.  Ali’s dedication to his sister and Zahra’s cleverness are real strengths of the film. For those of you interested in film history, the film had strong shadows of The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Italian Neo-Realism.

Children of Heaven is only Iranian film to be nominated for an Academy Award.


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Release Date: 2008

Quick Rating: Hauntingly fantastic

McCain DVD Call #: 1925

What happens when you take two of the most competant actors of our time, throw them together with the director of American Beauty (Sam Mendes), and add a splash of composer Thomas Newman’s genius? Revolutionary Road happens, that’s what!

Set in 1950s Connecticut, the film tells the story of Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet), two disenchanted suburbanites who can’t seem to confront the disapointment they feel in their lives.  A film very much about the obsession to socially conform in the 1950s and make a life  that resembles a Norman Rockwell painting, Revolutionary Road crept up on my emotions and left me feeling devastated. It’s a beautiful film that deserves  to be watched again and again. The two-actor show of DiCaprio and Winselt is something you  can’t take your eyes off  of; the writing is fantastic and Mendes’ visual poetry is trancendent.

Quick Review: Intense and Inspiring

Staring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton

Release Year: 2009

McCain DVD Call number: 2154

Precious (based off of the novel Push by Saphire) is an incredible story about a young black woman growing up in New York who faces an incredible array of challenges in her life. To start, she’s pregnant with her second child–both products of rape from her father.  Mo’Nique turns out a powerful and arresting performance as Precious’ abusive mother, who tries to stop her daughter from improving herself through education. Paula Patton gives a beautiful performance as a teacher who refuses to give up on  Precious, and helps her connect with herself through writing. Additionaly, Mariah Carey gives a surprisingly captivating portrayal of Precious’ social worker.

With knock-out preformances by all actors, great writing, and great visuals Precious is a film to see. My one critique of the film is that is does seem to drag a little towards the end.

A Single Man

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore

Release Date: 2009

Quick Review: Extraordinary

McCain DVD Call #: 2317

If you think Colin Firth will only be remembered as Mr. Darcy, think again.

To put it briefly, “A Single Man” is an emotionally gripping, visually stunning, humanly salient film. Firth’s performance will undoubtedly open new doors for him as one of today’s most gifted and expressive actors (for more proof, see “The King’s Speech”). George Falconer (Firth) is a man lost in grief because his partner, Jim, has died. The film takes place on one day–the day that George has chosen to commit suicide. Throughout the day, George arranges his affairs. However, what he thinks we be a simple day turns into a string of reminisces on the best parts of his life, and encounters with people who help him see the beauty in each moment. Julianne Moore shines as Charlie, his best friend. And Nicholas Hoult is remarkable as Kenny, a young man who tries to seduce George.

The Proposal

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds

Release Year: 2009

McCain Library Call #: 2089


If 2005’s Just Friends (starring Reynolds) didn’t make you want to raid the world’s precious film vaults, throw every film reel in the history of film into a huge hill, and ignite the whole thing with lighter fluid, then The Proposal will. The film, directed by Anne Fletcher,tells the story of Margaret and Andrew. Margaret (Bullock) is a controlling , hated boss at an editing company. Andrew (Reynolds) is her meek, pushover secretary. When Margaret (who is Canadian) gets threatened with deportation, she blackmails Andrew into marrying her so she can stay in the U.S. Thus ensues a weekend with Andrew’s family full of failed comedic moments, in which the two of them end up falling in love.

The writing is crap, and aside from several clever moments on Reynolds’ part, and acting is, too. One particular scene, in which Margaret finds Andrew’s 90 year-old grandmother doing “Native American” chants in the woods, and which devolves into Sandra Bullock booty-shaking to Lil’ Jon’s “Get Low,” was just painful to watch. It suddenly felt like I was watching Epic Movie, and that’s never a good sign. Additionally, the film seemed to be dealing with race in a disturbing way. The only non-white character in Andrew’s hometown is some unspecified kind of Latino who keeps popping up throughout the film in a myriad of jobs–from the bachelorette party stripper to the convenience store clerk to the catering waiter. It’s supposed to be funny each time the character appears in a new context, however, I kept wondering: what is this film saying about immigrants? that they need to hold five jobs to make ends meet? The scene at the  end, where he is jokingly questioned by the immigration officer, irked me especially.

Now, with all that said, you might (like me) be wondering the following: how the !$@&*$ did Bullock get a Golden Globe nomination for her role in this train wreck?

Starring: James Franco, Sophia Myles

Release Year: 2006

McCain Library Call #: DVD 2397

Quick Review: good for a rainy day

Let’s take a step back to 5th century England, shall we? Tristan and Isolde, directed by Kevin Reynolds, was marketed as a sweeping, epic, Dark Ages version of Romeo and Juliet. While the film isn’t the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen, the cinematography, costuming, and set design are fantastic. The story, which at times borders on the melodramatic, goes a little something like this: 1. Tristan meets Isolde, 2. Tristan and Isolde can’t be together, 3. shit gets crazy.

Tristan (James Franco) is the adopted son of the one of the kings of the scattered British tribes. And like all main men in this type of film, he’s broody and really good with a sword. While fighting mercenaries from the big, bad Irish king, Tristan is wounded and they think he’s died. Except, oops! he’s not actually dead. Not knowing this, he is set in a funeral boat and they shoot flaming arrows at the boat as it floats away. When his boat is washed ashore in Ireland (hey, I thought he was on fire..?), princess Isolde (Sophie Myles) finds him and nurses him back to health. They fall in love, but Tristan has to return to England. A lot of confusing political scenes ensue and suddenly Isolde is married to Tristan’s adopted father, the king (gasp!). More confusing politics happens, and Tristan and Isolde sneak around together behind the king’s back until the tricky Irish king (Isolde’s father) attacks.

The acting of the film is good enough, but certainly not award-quality. There are times when Franco’s character has to act really angsty because he’s jealous that his adopted father, the king, is shagging Isolde–however, Franco’s face just looks like a pouty raisin. I think that this film’s major strength is the visual aesthetic. The costumes rock, the landscapes are lovely, and the action scenes are pretty darn cool. Not to mention, Henry Cavill (the hottie from I Capture the Castle) plays Tristan’s friend. All in all, not bad.

Henry Cavill to the case you want to know...

Holy Smoke!

Starring: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel

Release Year: 1999

McCain Library Call #: DVD 2073

Quick Rating: WATCH IT!

Co-written and directed by Jane Campion (The Piano), Holy Smoke! tells the story of Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet), an Australian girl who goes on vacation in India only to come home a sari-wearing follower of a Hindu mystic named Baba. Ruth’s parents feel that she has been brainwashed, so they hire an exit counselor–someone trained to help people get out of cult religions. P.J. Waters (Harvey Keitel), the brash American counselor they hire promises that after three days Ruth will no longer want to return to India to group marry Baba. However, what P.J. doesn’t know is that Ruth isn’t like his other cases.

The bulk of the film follows P.J. and Ruth’s three days together in a secluded treatment bungalow in the middle of the Outback. By the end of the three days, P.J. hasn’t been able to make Ruth believe she’s been brainwashed. Instead, the power dynamic makes a sharp 180, and instead of P.J. mandating the terms of Ruth’s house arrest, Ruth takes control of P.J. by manipulating him sexually.

I love Campion’s film for several reasons. The cinematography of the film is colorful and bold, reflecting the high stakes situation between the two characters. The film is very much actor-driven, and the character development is captivating. Both characters have a vice: Ruth is selfish and P.J. is a womanizer. In the third act of the film especially, the two leads clash horns, and the film becomes less about curing Ruth’s spiritual state and more about curing them both of their worst quality. Additionally, the film takes a rather progressive stance on gender-bending and subverting the typical formula for what makes women sexy in Hollywood by making Ruth a realistic woman.

Vivacious, thought-provoking, and very much a product of 90’s feminism, Holy Smoke! asks us to think about what we believe, and questions how strongly we believe it.