Featured Post

The Man from Earth (reviewed by Ben)

You’ve probably noticed that most of the movies we review on this page are successful, or at least well-known. So you might be surprised th...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Reviewed by Ben)

Bathing in the sink, cars falling from the sky, stealing a house, Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst dancing around in their underwear as a man - hooked up to all kinds of wires - lies on the floor...

Sorry, what did I just watch? And what makes a vision as bizarre as director Michael Condry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind succeed as well as this movie does?

It’s hard to put your finger on where this film goes right, even as you realize you can’t take your eyes off the screen. In the hands of a less capable team, Eternal Sunshine would have been a cheesy mindbender that just couldn’t pull off the seriousness buried in a seemingly silly plot. In this dark comedy, however, sci-and romance go together like you never thought they would.

The movie is about something we all we wish we could do at one point in our life. Joel (Jim Carrey) is a man getting out of a serious relationship and discovers that his ex-lover, a colorful woman by the name of Clementine Kruckynski (Kate Winslet), has had a medical procedure which removed all memories of him.

Upon hearing this, he sets out to do the same.  But once he relives the memories, he changes his mind. The film is centrally about him running through his mind as if it were a maze, trying to get away from the doctors trying to get a hold of him to complete the memory-removal procedure. Unfortunately, he has to watch as scientists remove the priceless memories of his lover (who joins him on the race through his mind).

Those scientists play a unique role in this imaginative movie. For while this small group of friends who work in their office, they are completely unaware of the drama going on as Joel and Clementine - within their own reality - try to run away in hope they can call the whole memory-wipe off.

So what is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind exactly? A sci-fi mind bender? Maybe. A very dark comedy? A strong case could be made. I however, think that the sci-fi and laughs are there to provide a foil to a serious human story. The visuals are truly unique, but they play a part in one finest dramas I have ever seen, rather than take over the film.  

The movie is perfectly written, directed with impressive detail, and charmingly acted by some great performers. If it sounds like a “different for the sake of different” movie, know that watching Eternal Sunshine is a great experience for even the most traditional of cinemagoers.

The standouts in the cast include the two stars: an electric Kate Winslet and a much more toned-down Jim Carrey than one is used to. The medical staff include Tom Wilkinson as the older, thoughtful boss with a secret, Mark Ruffalo as the charming operator, Kirsten Dunst (who is especially good) as his girlfriend (the receptionist at the company), and Elijah Wood as a geeky intern who uses his knowledge about Clementine’s mind to replace Joel in her life. Their ensemble work is masterful.

It has a very complicated story and is certainly a movie one has to give their full attention to. There are a couple sex scenes, some drug references, and a whole lot of swearing, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. However, once you get around to watching this magnificent film, your view on film (and reality) will forever be altered.

Dad replies: I share Ben’s enthusiasm for this film, especially how they take elements of effects-driven science fiction and comedy and work them into a romantic drama with genuine heart.  This was one of the first pictures in which Jim Carrey (where did he go, by the way?) demonstrated his ability to turn in a heartfelt, powerful performance, rather than mug for the camera or explode into flames.  Truman Show placed him in a similarly unreal situation, but failed to invoke the core element that makes Eternal Sunshine such a triumph: a deep understanding that as much as love can hurt, it is the only part of the human condition that can not (and should never) be erased.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Goodby Lenin (reviewed by Dad)

This 2003 German charmer is set in East Germany, just before the “East” is dropped when the Berlin Wall fell and both halves of the country were united as simply “Germany.”

Years earlier, Mutter (played by Katrin Sab) was abandoned by her husband who defected to the West, leaving her to raise two children, Alex (played by Daniel Brühl) and his sister Lara, on her own. After emerging from nearly catatonic grief, she finds a renewed commitment to life by throwing herself into Party work, becoming an exemplary “comrade” in Erich Honecker’s East German “socialist paradise.”

The kids grow up to become working-class cogs in Berlin’s Communist economy, adding interest in the opposite sex to their repertoire as adolescence turned to  young adulthood. One such romantic pursuit leads Alex to one of the protest marches that broke out in Germany as the ripple effects of Gorbachev's Perestroika (reform) program reached the rest of the Warsaw Pact.

Unfortunately for Alex, his inadvertent participation the march led to a beating by the East German police, followed by arrest (all without reaching the girl).  Double unfortunately, Comrade Mom was on the street where the march and police attack took place, and watching her son get clobbered and dragged away caused her to have a heart attack and fall into a coma.

A lot takes place during her months-long coma (from which doctors said she would never recover), including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism and the reunification of Germany.  The kids roll with these changes, moving from earlier meaningless jobs to far more meaningful careers installing TV satellite dishes and working in a fast-food drive-through.  And, as it turns out, Mom’s nurse was the very girl Alex previously pursued (and subsequently caught during one of his many visits to the hospital to be by his mother’s side).

Just as they kiss, however, Mom springs from her coma - a miraculous recovery.  The only problem is that her fragile condition means that any shock (such as finding that her beloved Soviet system no longer exists) could trigger another heart attack and kill her.  Faced with this choice, Alex takes the only reasonable course of action (for a comedy movie script anyway): moving his mom back home and doing everything in his power to prevent her from discovering that history has transformed her world.

As it turns out, Alex is remarkably resourceful in maintaining this illusion, beginning with scrounging for East Germany food packaging into which he could stuff the West German (I mean German) products that had replaced Socialist pickles and coffee.  As time moves on and his mother becomes more lucid (and suspicious), his deceptions escalate.

This long set-up of a seemingly comedic premise might obscure the amount of heart in this picture.  Each character is endearing in his or her own way, even as they expend tremendous energy  hiding the truth from one another.  

Sab and Brühl are particularly good at combining warmth, intensity and eccentricity as they create the reality-distortion fields the family has shared for their whole lives.  And the subtle messages the filmmakers deliver are as complex as the power of nostalgia to make us long for what once made us miserable, and the way familial love can be communicated through deeds and glances, rather than words.  

Ben replies: The interesting premise, a great script, and impressive visuals (like the scene where the mother runs out of her apartment to see a changed world) fortunately make up for uninspiring acting. It’s a great mix of comedy and seriousness. Although it’s a slower-moving film that makes it better for more mature audiences, it has a lighter touch than you’d likely find in more “family” films. Certainly a strong candidate for your viewing.