Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

[rate 4]

The past few years have proven that there’s a place for quirk in popular culture, and “Sunshine Cleaning” is no exception. This indie dramedy, starring favorites Amy AdamsEmily Blunt, and Alan Arkin, gives us the story of a woman’s quest to find herself.

Typical.

But it’s the quirk that sets any indie flick apart (naturally), and “Sunshine Cleaning” delivers. Add in some blood and guts, an affair with a cop, and a witty-beyond-his-years kid and you have a film. Is it formulaic? Sure. There’s little doubt that “Sunshine Cleaning” checks all the boxes on the “quirky indie movie” checklist, but it rarely manages to feel like it does. Through the strength of its performers (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt carry this movie), the movie transcends its genre and becomes much more memorable.

4.5 out of 5 stars.
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0862846/

Being John Malkovich (1999)

[rate 4.5]

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Malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich malkovich.
Malkovich: malkovich://malkovich.malkovich.malkovich/malkovich/malkovich/

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

[rate 5]

At first, I was a bit worried about this 1964 French romance. Although I’m an admitted musical theatre dork, and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (“Les parapluies de Cherbourg“) is admittedly a musical film, something about it had me on edge. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t a film musical in the traditional sense: there are no choreographed songs (the title sequence notwithstanding) and really there are not even “songs.” The dialogue is presented as recitative, a la opera, and I had trouble getting around the awkwardness of this device.

But as time wore on, I became engrossed and captured. When you open yourself to it, you can see that Jacques Demy has created a colorful French world straight out of our imaginations, where we all speak in glorious melody, where love is pure and beautiful (and musical), and where wrong against love cannot be committed.

Or so it seems.

It’s when the main characters (Guy and Geneviéve, played by Nino Castelnuovo and the beautiful Catherine Deneuve, respectively) are thrust apart and forced into separate lives that the film takes on a depth and even bitterness that, really, we could only experience in a French romance. And in the film’s (arguably famous) final scene the air becomes tense, and the emotion the characters are forcing back is palpable.

Driven by Michel Legrand’s glorious score (and the hauntingly beautiful “I Will Wait For You” theme, which has stayed with me for days), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is a stunning romance that will grab hold of your heart and pull you along for its highly emotional ride.

5 out of 5 stars.
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058450/

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

[rate 5]

Chilling, suspenseful, wonderful: Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures is still lingering with me days after I watched it. Although I had initial qualms with slow points (easily explained: Netflix sends the “uncut” version) those concerns were quickly put to rest as the film built up steam. Jackson is at his finest here, directing (mostly) layered performances, structuring and organizing the plot extremely well, and creating a tight script (with wife and writing partner Fran Walsh).

As a director, I often focus on the arcs that characters and plots undergo. To me, the changes and transformations made in a story are the most intriguing (what would a story be without change and transformation) and thus when analyzing performance or plot that’s the first place I look to critique. And in this film, Jackson and his players are certainly spot on. Lynskey is stunning, opening the film quiet and reserved, and ending with murder. Likewise, Kate Winslet is a revelation. Her transformation is subtler and internalized, and all the more powerful for it. While her performance isn’t as nuanced as her more recent work (I did find myself cringing at a few line readings) it’s still commendable – this part is no picnic, and she does a tremendous job with complex material.

Structurally, it’s quite typical Peter Jackson; psychological human drama mixed with elements of fantasy or fairy tale (see: The Lovely Bones, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings – yes really!). In this case, the fantasy is a world dreamed up by the two girls. The art direction is great for the fantasy sequences, as you’d expect from Jackson standbys Grant Major (Production Designer), Richard Taylor (prosthetics designer), and Ngila Dickson (Costume Designer). And for the most part, they fit well with the movie, as their frequency sort of signifies the girls’ descent into ‘madness.’ An early sequence, referencing a “fourth world” felt awkward though, and although the point was made (“they’re crazy”) without being referenced again it simply felt like an ignored subplot or idea.

Overall though, Heavenly Creatures completely captivated me and had me gripping the edge of my seat with anticipation. It’s brilliantly crafted, and proves that Peter Jackson is not just a one trick ring-bearing pony – he’s a masterful storyteller and intelligent filmmaker.

5 stars out of 5.