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What is love, you ask?

Heck if I know, and neither does Charlyne Yi, I think.

She wouldn’t have made a documentary if she weren’t in pursuit of the answer, right?

Well, for herself, she really doesn’t, even with her real-life relationship (at the time) to Michael Cera.  In pursuing a documentary about love, the pair create a fictional portrait of their budding romance.  They enjoy the company at first, but after a while, between the camera crew constantly hounding the pair and Charlyne flat out saying that she isn’t in love, they split up, only to seemingly reconcile at the end (at least, that’s what the puppets describe for us in a genuinely hilarious ending).

It all seems deceptive too, given the fact that Charlyne interviewed couples, either married or with each other for years, to get a glimpse at what love is.  The highlights of this documentary involve those couples – all real, all very much in love – and how they described meeting each other, or just dealing with different moments in their lives, done to the tune of arts and crafts.  There are bold moments, crazy moments, and touching moments to be found.

Part of how this works comes from Charlyne herself: she has a rather disarming charm that allows her to get people to talk to her.  She’s humorous as well, in a happy, optimistic way (and somewhat self-depreciating, but it’s actually not so bad compared to other comedians).  Her relationship with Michael Cera was engaging as well, even if we know, for the film at least, it was fake.  It was probably their actual relationship that made this work better than it should.

This was on Starz On Demand, I believe.  It’s short (only 88 minutes), and it’s a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.  Don’t expect to get an answer to love – the whole overriding message, if there is one, is just to go find it on your own – but you’ll appreciate the moments of love that you find, especially during those real moments.

Third movie, and this one will be quick.

Trucker woman drives trucks for a living. Comes home one day with her son Peter being handed over to her: the father is dying of cancer. The two have no relationship at all (they call each other “Dude” and “Diane” respectively), but start spending time with each other and eventually break through their tough exteriors and accept each other.

Yes, very formulaic and predictable. Two reasons to consider it though: the performances and the deviancy from the norm. Michelle Monaghan, so bad in that action movie with Shia LeBouf (Eagle Eye, right?), is quite terrific as Diane. She’s tough, honest, but wants nothing to do with her son. She just wants to make a living, which is why she dumped her son with the father, played by Benjamin Bratt. The other great performance is from Nathan Fillion, who plays a friend and wishful lover to Diane. He has a quiet intensity that works well for the character.

The other reason, the deviance from the norm, comes in the interaction between mother and son. They don’t like each other, but they begrudgingly get along. What makes their relationship different is that they change only enough to satisfy each other. Diane is still a tough trucker, even if she’s changing some of her decisions regarding her travel life. The son is willing to try with her. He won’t call her mom though, and probably never will. What she did to him when he was born will never change, but he’ll give her a slight chance.

Those are probably the main reasons to see this movie. It works since it sticks close to the formula, but the performances and the nuances make it worthwhile enough.

Can I just say one thing about Michael Sheen?

Well, multiple, but here we go.

It’s unbelievable the transformation he undergoes from character to character. Part of it is probably Peter Morgan writing (this is their third collaboration I’ve watched, which makes me wonder if there are any more movies they’ve done together (wikipedia lists five total)), but Sheen is terrific. I saw him first in Frost/Nixon as David Frost, the TV personality in over his head against Richard Nixon and his ability to talk out of any relevant issue. I saw him next in The Queen (I know, this came out first, but I didn’t watch it until recently). I have to watch it again, but he was Tony Blair, in a nutshell.

Now he’s Brian Clough, a football manager who had a short lived tenure as the manager of Leeds United. It all of six weeks, in which he never was able to connect with his players. He was more concerned with 1) getting the hooliganism out of the team, and 2) finding ways of upstaging Don Revie, who never properly acknowledged him when they first encountered each other on the football field. Revie was the manager of Leeds United prior to becoming the manager for the England football team (which lasted all of three years as well before Revie went into obscurity).

Upstaging Revie was Clough’s drive for much of his managerial career, as the movie depicts. Prior to coaching Leeds, he was the coach of Darby County, a smaller school that had been relegated to the bottom of the Second Division. After a thorough whitewashing by Leeds, Clough gets personal. Along with his assistant Peter Taylor, they set off to sign several players with experience and youth, hoping to gain advantage over Leeds. Darby wins the Second Division title, which sets the stage for their rise in the First Division (after another beating from Leeds).

Clough is an interesting character indeed. He’s friendly enough, but ultra competitive, and often prone to speaking whatever comes to his mind. He has his own way of doing things, which works at Darby, but fails to work at Leeds (the players repeat several times that Revie often has dossiers set up for each team they face). It’s Clough’s mouth that gets him and Taylor fired from Darby, even after they get the club to the European Cup.

The movie is told in flash back, which is done to build up specific sequences in the present day (Clough’s tenure at Leeds). It works quite well thematically and narrative wise. The focus is more on the backstage drama than on the soccer action, but the latter, when done with the actors, is filmed well (some archival footage was used from actual matches in the 60s and 70s). All in all, the movie is filmed well.

This is definitely one to see for Michael Sheen though. This only adds to his great resume.

Yes, I know, it’s been a while since I did a DVD review.

In fact, you’re getting three.

It was originally just going to be An Education, but then it wasn’t, until I got a last minute phone call for being able to view this movie. I already had two other movies in my hand. So, you’re getting three movies: two British films, one American, all indie.

All perfectly fine by me (the selection, though all of the movies were good to excellent as well).

Anyway, let’s start with An Education, one of the best movies of 2009.

I say best in terms of everything, starting with production: it’s perfect. It’s brilliant in that I found nothing wrong, and after the second viewing, the things I missed the first time around or thought I missed were perfectly laid out. The movie works. There’s no argument about that.

The movie tackles just about everything too in regards to the relevancy of the time period: 1960’s London. The opening credits lay the foundation: women, being the expectant homebody, are learning more about cooking, cleaning, and general life as a wife than other life or career skills. You were expected to be married, or be a teacher, or a nurse. The options were limited. You were typecast the moment you were born, unfortunately.

Jenny, played masterfully by Carry Mulligan (she was my pick to win best actress at the Oscars), wants to at least raise herself beyond that. She’s pushed hard by her father (Alfred Molina in an Oscar-caliber role) in school: do well, study hard, get to Oxford (it’s all coming out of his pocket anyway). She wants to go to Oxford too, mainly to read English, but to also to embrace the world.

Enter David, a charming, older gentleman (his age is never given, but it’s speculated that he’s in his thirties), who is well to do, but is also a deceptive individual and a con artist. He introduces her to his friends, Danny (a fellow con artist) and Helen. Jenny enters into a world she has only been able to dream of before: late nights, music, dancing, and traveling. She has fun, too much fun. Her friends are envious, but loving her stories. Her teachers, on the other hand, hate to see her throw her life away.

But slowly she does, finding her well built world crumble piece by piece under David’s charms. She falls in love. She turns 17 and gives her virginity to him. He proposes, and decides after a conversation with her parents (who has also fallen for David’s disarming charms), says yes. It becomes the end of her school career, and soon becomes the end of her, once she finds out David’s secret.

I feel I maybe saying too much, but I’m not. I wrote about this movie back in October, before it came out, when I read an article by Lynn Barber. Her memoir served as the basis for the film, an all true story of an education, both in school and in life, love, and the ultimate deception. Here’s the link to the article , and I highly recommend the read. It captures everything the film does so wonderfully.

I think it goes without saying that I recommend this film highly.  Intelligent, humorous, and enlightening.  Now how many films can boast that claim?

2009 was definitely an excellent year in acting. Looking back at the recent Academy Awards, practically every performance, male and female alike, had the performer become something vastly different than their real life self. You didn’t see the actor, but you saw the person they inhabited, often blurring the lines between who they are and who they represented.

Some got left out of the mix, unfortunately, and this is one of them. Christian McKay is stellar as Orson Welles, whose perfectionist drive with regards to art and media (his art being the stage performance) makes him both revered and hated. McKay plays him perfectly. He practically steals and delivers on every single scene in the film. It’s one of those performances that makes you wonder why the Academy overlooked it. Certainly couldn’t be attendance and box office performance: The Messenger, the movie that got Woody Harrelson his best supporting actor nomination (McKay would have gotten the same nomination), has sold roughly the same amount of tickets as Me and Orson Welles did (which isn’t a lot at all). Harrelson’s nomination was well deserved though, and I think the same could have been said of McKay.

As for the movie itself, the story is set in late 1937, during the Great Depression, and Richard (Zac Efron), a high school senior, goes to New York with Hamlet in hand and finds himself outside of the Mercury Theatre, where Welles is working on a modern telling of Shakespeare’s Caesar. Richard gets the part of Lucas, a bard in the company of Brutus, played by Welles. He encounters the theatre’s secretary Sonja (Claire Danes), and they hit it off somehow, though, much like show business at times, things don’t always go so well.

The movie is at its best when it’s focused on the production of Caesar.  Welles went with a modern updating of the play (modern for 1937), with military costumes reminiscent of totalitarian leadership.  The players mix together quite well at times, usually getting along on stage despite Welles presence, though they also bicker as well, again because of Welles, though Welles sometimes doesn’t show up until much later.  Practicing the play becomes difficult at times, almost impossible.  Part of that lies in the decision to open the play in one week, often with little in the way of preparing.  But Welles believes (or doesn’t, he repeats the same supportive line often, almost rehearsed in a way to get the people to work better for him) in his players.  The show becomes a massive hit, solidifying Welles as a great stage actor and director.

The other plot that runs concurrent to the production is the romance between Richard and Sonja.  Efron is a decent enough actor, and plays the immature high school senior well enough.  His singing is much better than his acting, especially during the scene between Brutus and himself as the bard.  I can see why Disney loved him so much.  Given his acting though, Danes is able to carry the scenes between them.  Actually, their better scenes are ones that don’t involve Welles, as McKay just overwhelms them both.  But, that’s just Welles I suppose, right?

There’s also one other subplot that acts as a theme throughout the film the changes from the beginning to the end, something involving doing what you want to do and enjoying it.  I couldn’t exactly remember, though it was almost wasted.  It involved Richard and a young woman named Gretta, and her attempts at becoming a writer, either short story or play.  She has a short story published with help from Richard and Sonja, but that’s about it.  Like I said, it was a theme that connected the film together that just seemed not too necessary.

All in all though, this was a good film, usually at its best when Welles is in command (or not) of everything.  See it for McKay’s performance.

B+