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Friday, October 9, 2009

Sugar & Two Lovers

So being a teacher has its perks, like being able to watch lots of movies and blog about them during the summer.... it also has its drawbacks, which I will blame for my woeful lack of blogging the past month or so. Anyway, here are a few thoughts on a couple of recent 2009 viewings...

Sugar (2009)
Directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Nelson, the forces behind the excellent Half Nelson, Sugar tells the story of a 19-year-old Dominican who comes to the United States to play minor league baseball. This is kind of an anti-sports movie. There is no real big game or big moment. There is really only one extended sports sequence. It doesn't really care who wins or loses, it cares about this young man's experience. Miguel comes as a wide-eyed innocent to the United States, and the movie does a really fine job of portraying things through his eyes. It's a very gentle film, with not a lot of obvious emotional highs and lows. Still, at the end, I was genuinely moved and enlightened by Miguel's story.

Grade: B+

Two Lovers (2009)

I saw this movie yesterday, and I knew that I enjoyed it but saw it as sort of a minor accomplishment. As I've ruminated about it today, though, it strikes me more as a cinematic version of a really good short story. It focuses on a few characters, has a basic plot that can be told in a few sentences, but the characterization lends the story its complexity. A great Joaquin Phoenix stars as a youngish depressed man who lives with his immigrant Jewish parents in Brooklyn. The movie basically follows him as he is torn between the Jewish nice girl (Vinessa Shaw) and the troubled girl (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). What makes this movie really engaging is the performances. Phoenix brings to mind a young Brando in his naturalism of his performance. Paltrow, playing a sort of "bad girl," is the best she's been in a long time. And Isabella Rosselini, older and now able to pull off matronly (funny to see... anyone seen Blue Velvet?) gives a great small performance as his mother. The directing, by James Gray, is also really solid. He give the audience time to absorb each scene, but keeps the emotional story moving enough that I never got bored. A movie many people probably missed but I definitely think is worth a look.

Grade: B+

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