1998 The Year of Gwyneth "Great Expectations"

"Great Expectations"

The classic Dickens novel "Great Expectations" has been adapted in many different things over the years along with several movies, this review will focus on the 1998 film directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke among others.  Remaking classic books and plays for a new generation is something Hollywood has always banked on and will forever be done whether warranted or not.

This modern retelling is a sexy and romantic tale of a penniless artist who gets introduced to a rich young girl and for the next twenty years tries to win her affections.  Ok its a little more than that but seeing as how I've never actually read the book, this version of the story is all I have to go on.  Living on the gulf coast of Florida Finn (Pip in the book) is a curious young boy who loves to draw.  While out by himself one day with his sketchbook he runs into an escaped convict played by Robert De Niro.  Scared to death Finn helps the man with his chains and feeds him.   These acts of kindness and feelings of terror will come back to him at an important crossroads later in life.  Another monumental influence in Finn's young life comes in the form of a rich eccentric woman Ms. Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter Estella.  This sets the foundation for Finn's life as we flash forward some 15-20 years, Finn is now played by Hawke, while Estella is played by Paltrow.  After struggling for years as a painter, he finally seems to get his big break and a showing of his work in a swanky New York gallery.  Estella is also back in the city after spending a number of years studying and living abroad.  They meet rather coincidentally and the torch Finn has always carried for her is reignited, although Estella has always been no more than a tease going all the way back to their childhood.  Then there's Dinsmoor, even more, older and more eccentric than ever playing the part of the puppet master in toying with Finn and his emotions.  Finn's one an only muse is Estella and she loves being his model, but she holds him at distance and after years of instruction from Dinsmoor plays him like a fiddle.  When Finns learns that she is engaged he tries harder than ever to win her over, her engaged looks to be just a front in order to hurt and inspire him.  Will his last-ditch efforts to win her over finally work, or will he be forever pining for a woman he can never have? 

When it finally comes time for his big opening all of his artistic dreams seem to come true.  With a few bumps along the way as his well-meaning father (Chris Cooper) crashes the party and nearly ruins everything.  The opening is a huge success and all of his pieces sell, but behind all of this was a secret benefactor who has been controlling it all.  Finn is a good guy, almost too good and brings to mind the saying "Good guys always finish last", its what makes this such a heart-wrenching story.  I also must point out that the soundtrack and the music used throughout the fill is exceptional and would be worth buying on its own.  The film is only available on DVD and it's kind of dated.  A Blu-ray release is sorely needed and I'm still waiting for it, just like Finn for Estella.

Ellen Page is "Juno"


Quirky, awkward, and truthful could describe "Juno" the indie sleeper hit of 2007.  Directed by Jason Reitman and starring Ellen Page in a star-making role.  The film was written by the equally quirky and unorthodox Diablo Cody.  Her dialogue is snappy and full of pop slang, but at the moment feels real and truthful   "Juno" was nominated for 4 Academy Awards with Cody picking up the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

The story takes place in Minnesota (Yea, I live there) over the course of the 4 seasons, believe it or not, it's not cold and snowy year round.  Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff has sex with Paulie Bleeker a friend of hers played by Michael Cera and shortly thereafter finds out she's pregnant.  Juno lives with her dad (J.K. Simmons), her stepmom Bren (Alison Janney) and her little sister in a boring middle-class suburb.  After talking with her best friend Leah and breaking the news to Paulie, she decides to go to a clinic for an abortion.  She has second thoughts and decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption.

Juno finds the right parents from an ad in the Penny Saver, Mark, and Vanessa, a young couple from St. Cloud (about an hour from Minneapolis).  Upon meeting them she really seems to click with Mark, played by Jason Bateman who at the time also played Michael Cera's father in the TV Show "Arrested Development".  However, Mark is a little reluctant to become a father and still has some growing up to do while Vanessa, played by Jennifer Garner, is the one really pushing and desperately wants to be a mother.  Juno is very cool about the whole thing but is soon overwhelmed with "things beyond her maturity level".  The relationship between Juno and Mark starts to get a little weird and the whole plan is on the brink of collapse, all while she and Paulie work to find out what this all means for them and their future.

Ellen Page makes this movie what it is as she melds perfectly with Cody's dialogue.  As for Michael Cera, he literally plays the same character no matter what he is in, although he does fit in well within the story as a tall lanky dufus.  Watching this movie about 8 years later it does seem a little dated, but it's a comedy that for its time period was fun and entertaining.

James Gunn's "Super" is Anything But


Years ago I reviewed Director James Gunn's first film, the awesomely twisted horror flick "Slither" and was anxious to see what came next.  What we got was the comedy "Super" starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, who also appeared together in Page's breakout role in "Juno".  "Super" was in direct competition with a similarly themed (and much better) film entitled "Kick-Ass".  Both films are about regular guys who dress up as superheroes and fight crime. "Super" has a style of comedy that is not for everyone, it's graphic, shocking and in your face.  It was a little much for me and the fact that I can't stand Rainn Wilson as an actor sealed the deal.  But here's how the whole film goes down.

Rainn plays Frank a goofy looking fry cook who is married to a recovering drug addict Sarah played by Liv Tyler.  When Sarah falls off the wagon and is taken in by nightclub owner Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank is determined to get her back at any cost.  While vegging out on the couch watching the cable access show "The Holy Avenger" he has an epiphany and God literally touches his brain. Through this divine inspiration, the Crimson Bolt is born.  He sews up a red costume a decides to fight crime, which he finds is a little boring at times.  His weapon of choice is the pipe wrench for which he cracks numerous skulls, some deserved it but most did not.  As the cliché goes for most superhero's the police are appalled and want to stop this violent vigilante.  The film does operate at a certain level of satire and campiness but I found it to be lazy and a little dull.

Frank does his research on superheroes at the local comic book store where he meets Ellen Page's character of Libby.  In a short amount of time, Frank realizes he needs a sidekick and Libby is just crazy enough to do it.  She becomes Boltie.  They team up to save Sarah from the evil Jacques and his equally evil crew of thugs. During the main siege of Jacques compound something happens that is meant for pure shock value and will alienate about 90 percent of the viewers.  I guess you have to give credit to the filmmakers for making such a gutsy move, but seriously there is no getting over it.  It does, however, bring a heavy sense of reality to a supposed unreal story but come on man.  "Super" does have some winks and homage to other films but all in all it's not a film that I would ever watch again.  Surprisingly after this film, James Gunn went on to direct the massively popular "Guardians of the Galaxy"  another film that I didn't really care for.  To each his own, I guess.  

Make the Trip to "Nebraska" with Alexander Payne


The most recent film in the career of American director Alexander Payne is the 2013 film "Nebraska".  Filmed in glorious black and white, which has seen a resurgence as a number of filmmakers have chosen to shoot in this artistic monochrome style.  Many factors came into play to make "Nebraska" one of the best films of 2013, from the superb acting performances, the script, the photography and its spot on observation of the human condition.  "Nebraska" was nominated for six Academy Awards, but was unfortunately shut out from any wins.

This film is about family, unconditional love and redemption.  Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a man whose best years are far behind him, his memory is rapidly deteriorating but his determination to get to Lincoln Nebraska and collect his million dollar prize could not be stronger.  Although he lives in Billings, Montana and has no car or even a driver's license he resorts to wandering down the shoulder of a highway.  This is how the film opens.  He is lost and oblivious to the things around him with only one thought, get to Nebraska.  He is picked up on the side of the road by his son David, played by former SNL cast member Will Forte, who brings him back home.  Woody's wife Kate is quite the boisterous spark plug, nearly stealing every scene she's in with her quick-witted remarks and no-nonsense behavior.  David has an older brother in Ross (Bob Odenkirk) a local TV news anchor.

Woody's so-called million dollar prize is one of those Publishers Clearing House-type sweepstakes, that's obviously just a scam, but not to Woody it represents hope.  The hope of providing a long-lasting legacy for his two boys.  He's spent most of his life drinking and wasting it away with this being his last chance of redemption.  His fierce determination to go to Nebraska remains even after his boys try to convince him that he hasn't won anything.  David finally gives in and decides to put this to rest as they get in his truck and head for Lincoln.  It would be a good road trip to get reacquainted with his stubborn and angry old man.  Along the way, they shack up with Woody's brother and his family.  A bunch of small town lowlifes who come to believe that Woody is rich and the vultures all over the small sleepy town want a piece of his imaginary fortune.  The town is full of desperate people who are bored to no end, just aching for something to happen.  Woody is looked upon as a sort of celebrity, everyone is your good long lost friend when they know you have money.  When things start to go south and greed gets the best of people they start turning on Woody and old wounds begin to surface.

David and Woody eventually make it to Lincoln and the small office of the sweepstakes company.  He is told that he didn't actually win anything but is given a hat that says "Winner".  His dreams of redemption seem all but crushed until David hatches a plan to restore his father's pride and dignity and as they make their way back home.  The core of "Nebraska" is a funny and endearing story about life that is so universal and basic that it just fits that it is in black and white.