Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: The Impossible


Title: The Impossible

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Naomi Watts (Maria), Ewan McGregor (Henry), Tom Holland (Lucas), Samuel Joslin (Thomas), Oaklee Pendergast (Simon)

Director: Juan Antonia Bayona

The Basics: The Impossible offers a harrowing “based on a true story” account of one family’s struggle to survive and reunite in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that caused unfathomable amounts of death and destruction in southeast Asia. Separated from his father and two younger brothers, Lucas is forced to grow up far beyond his years as he journeys with his mother through the wreckage to an overcrowded hospital in order to get her the help she desperately needs to treat her life-threatening injuries. Although its subject matter renders it almost impossible to watch at times, The Impossible is ultimately a beautiful film about the strength of family and love in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Much of the film’s beauty and poignancy comes from its core cast, especially its incredible group of child actors.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): I know that Naomi Watts is the one getting so much of the credit and recognition for her work in the film, and there’s no denying that her performance is one of the best I’ve seen by an actress this year. However, this film belonged to young Tom Holland.

Just 16 years old, Holland acted with a maturity and depth far beyond his age. This role required him to do so much without words—to show fear and the struggle to compartmentalize that fear with just the slightest change in his expression or the way he carried himself. The naked vulnerability he showed is such a rarity for an actor that young. His panic felt real; his grief felt real. And ultimately his relief felt beautifully real as well. Holland had incredible chemistry with the younger boys playing his brothers as well as with Watts and Ewan McGregor. In many ways, his performance was the glue that holds the film together; his were the eyes we saw the story unfold through. I walked out of the theater genuinely upset that Holland didn’t get any award-season recognition for his revelatory work in this film, and days later I still stand by that assessment. His was one of the most incredible performances I saw all year, not just from a young actor but from any actor.

Scene Stealer: Once again, Ewan McGregor gave a performance that left me sobbing into my hands in a movie theater. And once again, he’s getting criminally little recognition for it. Henry’s journey to reunite his family is the most inspiring part of the film. His inability to give up on his wife and son gave the film a layer of love that’s palpable and heartbreakingly genuine. That steadfast faith could have led to a one-note performance, but McGregor wasn’t afraid to show the emotional turmoil behind Henry’s resolve to find his family. There’s a scene in the film where he’s given the chance to make a call back home, and the way the scene evolves into a gut-wrenching breakdown made it one of the most devastating in a film loaded with devastating moments. It was hard to watch Henry’s façade shatter in such an unflinchingly painful way, but it was right. No one can be strong forever in the face of so much tragedy. Every emotion McGregor showed the audience was so visceral it was as if you could reach out and feel it—his desperation, his guilt, his anxiety, and his incredible love for his family that gave much-needed warmth to such a heavy film.

Bring the Tissues? If the sobbing I heard (and participated in myself) throughout much of the movie is any indication, then yes. You’ll cry with sadness, and you’ll cry with relief. The moments that will make you cry might be up for debate, but one thing that’s not up for debate is this: You will cry, and you will cry hard.

Most Memorable Scene: The Impossible is a film that could have almost been unbearably sad—if not for one scene filled with such pure joy, love, and relief that it made all of the tension and heartbreak of earlier scenes worth the tears. Watching Lucas reunite with his little brothers filled me with such a sense of hope. Once again, Holland stole the show in terms of his reaction. The way he kissed and held the little boys felt so beautifully real, so earned in terms of the emotion of the moment. And the catharsis only intensified watching Henry gather his lost son into his arms. In that moment, I forgot I was watching a movie and truly got lost in this father’s love for his oldest little boy. As the scene continued and Henry was reunited with Maria, I held my breath the entire time. When he took off the oxygen mask to kiss her, it felt more romantic than any fairytale kiss I’d ever seen. It was the very picture of the idea that love is meant to last in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. As Henry held Maria, whispering that he was sorry if he let her down, I cried so hard I lost every bit of eye makeup I had on. And it was worth it.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Silver Linings Playbook

Title: Silver Linings Playbook

Rating: R

Cast: Bradley Cooper (Pat), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany), Robert De Niro (Pat Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores), Chris Tucker (Danny)

Director: David O. Russell

The Basics: This unconventional romantic dramadey tells the story of Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia native (and Eagles fan by birth) adjusting to life with his parents after spending eight months in treatment for bipolar disorder. Though Pat was hospitalized following the discovery of his wife’s affair and his subsequent attack on man she was cheating with, Pat still hopes to win her back (despite her restraining order against him). But along the way, Pat meets his match in Tiffany, a young widow facing her own struggles with mental illness who shows him that life is a lot like dance—all you need is the right partner. Featuring brilliant performances, an unflinching directorial style, and a script filled with humor and heart, Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make nearly enough—a genuinely feel-good story about love in all of its forms and all of its messy glory.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): In order for this film to work, both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had to turn in strong performances, and, lucky for us as viewers, they delivered the best performances I’ve seen from either of their careers in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper was the one I was most worried about, having only known him as the lovable best friend on Alias and the arrogant pretty boy in movies like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Needless to say, he exceeded my expectations tenfold here. There was something so vulnerable in his portrayal of Pat, a fear of himself and his illness that only a brave actor could bring to the surface. Cooper captured every nuance with detail and care; we believe that Pat is a man who could brutally beat another man, but we also believe that Pat is a man who is capable of immense amounts of goodness as well. Pat could have been an obnoxious caricature of a bipolar man obsessed with a wife who clearly doesn’t love him. But thanks to Cooper’s depth and fearless emotional honesty, Pat is instead a character that we care about and care for immensely, the broken but beautiful soul of this movie.

Cooper needed a true match in order to bring out the best in his performance, and the filmmakers found that in Lawrence, who should find herself at the top of the Best Actress Oscar race for the excellent work she did in this film. The maturity she brings to her scenes is astounding. She’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny, radiantly charming, and brutally sad, and she balances every facet of this complex woman with a dexterity that I’ve rarely seen even in the most seasoned actresses. In order for this film to succeed, we have to believe that there is something inherently lovable in these two characters, and we have to see them recognize that something in each other. Cooper and Lawrence are resoundingly successful at achieving both of those aims.

Scene Stealer: Robert De Niro shines at Pat Solitano Sr., a man plagued by his own demons but trying his best to help the son he clearly loves. De Niro gives a warmth to this character that adds another layer of authenticity to the film. Pat Sr. is a complex bundle of neuroses, anger issues, and helplessness in the face of his son’s bipolar disorder, and De Niro finds the humanity in that bundle and brings it to life with a captivatingly understated kind of power.

Bring the Tissues? If you aren’t made of stone, then the answer is a resounding yes. I found myself getting intensely choked up on many occasions throughout the film. I was especially moved by any scene in which Lawrence showed the cracks in Tiffany’s bristly exterior. And the beautiful release of emotions I felt at the conclusion of the movie was itself worth the price of the ticket.

Most Memorable Scene: I’m not sure it gets better than Lawrence going head-to-toe with De Niro as Tiffany rattles off all of the Philly sports victories that have occurred since she and Pat started spending time together. That scene is only made better by watching Pat’s face as it starts to dawn on him just how special this woman really is.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Title: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan/Cullen), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Mackenzie Foy (Renesmee Cullen), Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan), Michael Sheen (Aro)

Director: Bill Condon

The Basics: Based on the second half of the fourth and final volume in Stephenie Meyer’s worldwide literary phenomenon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with Bella awakening to a life as a newborn vampire after the birth of her daughter, Renesmee. This half-human, half-vampire child draws the attention of the dangerous Volturi, who plan to attack the Cullens as punishment for creating what they believe to be a dangerous “immortal child” (aka child vampire). While some aspects of this film are stronger than any of the others in the series (Bella’s character most of all), the failure of the much-hyped “twist” proves that the inherent weaknesses of the source material are too much to overcome, except in the eyes of the most ardent fans, who will be especially drawn to the surprisingly emotional ending.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Kristen Stewart has never looked better than she did in this film, and I mean that as both a beautiful young woman and an actress. There’s a strength in her performance that was largely missing from the other four films. It seems that giving Bella a purpose and plot beyond Edward and Jacob also gave Stewart purpose in her performance. The smiles feel more genuine, the passion feels less forced, and the happiness Bella feels in her new life is palpable. The maturity she gives to Bella this time around really surprised me; I especially liked the depth of chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson this time around. There is a warmth between them that feels more interesting than the obsessive, heavy-breathing “passion” that used to pass for their relationship, and a lot of that credit should go to Stewart, who I always saw as the one dragging that onscreen relationship down in previous installments. That warmth extended to her chemistry with Foy as well; I was downright shocked at how good Stewart is at playing a mother. This film was the first and only chance for Bella to show her strength as a character, and Stewart proved herself more than ready for the task.

Scene Stealer: Billy Burke has always been the scene-stealer extraordinaire in this series, and this was no exception. His dry humor, believable warmth, and undercurrent of genuine emotion have made Charlie Swan one of the most memorable and lovable characters in the Twilight movies. All of those wonderful elements are present in his performance once again, and though his time onscreen is short, Burke makes the most of it, creating some of the most humorous and poignant moments in the entire film.

Bring the Tissues? The best way to answer that question is to answer this one: Are you a fan of the series or have you ever been a fan of it (even on just a “guilty pleasure” level)? If the answer is no, then I think you can skip packing the Kleenex. But if the answer is yes, then you’ll definitely find yourself getting at least a little misty-eyed. Even as someone whose relationship with this series has soured over time, I found myself wiping my eyes by the end.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question this time around. Our theater was full and the people in our row were in a hurry to leave, so I only stayed until about halfway through the credits. However, you should definitely stay for at least the beginning of the credits to see a very nice (and very comprehensive) tribute to all of the actors who’ve appeared in the films throughout this series.

Most Memorable Scene: I know most people will probably answer this with “the fight scene,” but I have too many conflicting feelings about that sequence to single it out in this review. For me, the scene with the most lasting impact—the one I’m still thinking about hours later—is the ending. As Bella lets Edward read her thoughts for the first time, we see flashbacks to the most pivotal moments in their relationship throughout all five films. The way the series is wrapped up in this final scene between Edward and Bella struck a very moving and nostalgic chord with me. (I’m also a sucker for Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” which was used to beautiful effect in this scene.) Then, the film concludes with a shot of the final page of the novel, which I found a very nice nod to fans that have been with the series since the books were published. I applaud the writers, Condon, Stewart, and Pattinson for creating such a fitting and surprisingly affecting conclusion to the series.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Argo


Title: Argo

Rating: R

Cast: Ben Affleck (Tony Mendez), Bryan Cranston (Jack O’Donnell), Alan Arkin (Lester Siegel), John Goodman (John Chambers), Victor Garber (Ken Taylor)

Director: Ben Affleck

The Basics: In the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis, CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez is tasked to come up with a plan to bring home six U.S. embassy workers who escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s residence. Mendez, with the help of friends in Hollywood, devises a plan to enter Iran under the guise of scouting locations for a film, giving the six trapped Americans cover identities as his crew. Argo somehow manages to give a true sense of suspense to a story in which the ending is already known. Its tight direction, breathless pacing, and solid performances make it the first real contender of the early Oscar-buzz season.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Ben Affleck is enjoying a career rebirth as a director, but Argo also reminded me what a great actor he can be when given the right material. Tony Mendez is the glue that holds this film together, and Affleck wears that responsibility well. His performance is wonderfully understated; there are no theatrics, no “badass, tough guy” moments. Instead, there are quiet scenes where a close-up on his face speaks volumes about the incredible strain this man is under. Mendez has six lives in his hands, and that is never lost on the audience because Affleck makes certain it is never lost in his performance. He moves and blinks and breathes as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders, and that’s because—in a very real sense—it is. The humanity that he gives Mendez is exactly what is necessary to make us care about this man’s fate as much as we care about the fate of the six he’s trying to extract. The scene where he unsuccessfully attempts to call his wife and son before getting on the plane to Iran broke my heart, and that’s all because of Affleck’s eyes. This is the kind of film that could be undone with an overblown performance at its center. Instead, Affleck’s quiet power and undercurrent of humanity keep it perfectly grounded.

Scene Stealer: Alan Arkin is brilliant in everything he does, and he was the perfect casting choice for veteran producer Lester Siegel. His sharp sense of humor and biting line delivery are like a breath of fresh air in this very tense film. While his character mostly provides much-needed relief from the suspense, he never takes over the film with his performance. He maintains a level of gravitas that shows that even this fast-talking Hollywood suit understands the urgency and importance behind what he’s being asked to do. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar ballot once again this year.

Bring the Tissues? This isn’t really a tearjerker, although I did find myself a little choked up when the plane carrying Mendez and the six Americans left Iranian airspace. The genuine feeling of relief was palpable, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that each actor played their reactions uniquely—some with hugs, some with tears, and some with silence. Also, the final scene of Mendez coming home to his wife and son was incredibly moving without being cloyingly sentimental.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay through the first part of the credits to see photos of the real people and events put side-by-side with their cinematic counterparts. It’s a great reminder of how much care Affleck took to show the reality behind such a fantastic kind of story.

Most Memorable Scene: While the airport scenes are probably the most taught and suspenseful in the film, the most memorable scene for me boils all of the tension in the entire film into one breathtaking sequence. When Mendez is driving the six to the bazaar to maintain their covers as location scouts, they run across a demonstration in the streets. As their van slowly works its way through the angry, violent mob of Iranians, the tension is so high I found myself holding my breath. The lack of dialogue besides the chanting and shouts of the protestors adds to the feeling that even the audience has to be silent and still while watching—an experience I’ve never had so intensely during a film before. Affleck does a masterful job of keeping the camera tight on the people in the van and their reactions to the mob surrounding them, giving the scene a claustrophobic kind of intensity that only a very strong director and group of actors could achieve.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Sally Field (Aunt May), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy)

Director: Marc Webb

The Basics: Some parts of the Spider-Man story we’ve seen on the big screen before: the life-changing spider bite, the loss of Peter Parker’s father figures, the journey from masked vigilante to superhero…But some parts are new to moviegoers: Peter’s struggles with being abandoned by his parents, his first love with fellow science prodigy Gwen Stacy, and his battles with Dr. Curt Connors’s alter ego The Lizard. The Amazing Spider-Man takes a story we’re all familiar with (thanks to 50 years of comics and Sam Raimi’s recent trilogy of films) and makes it profoundly personal.This is a superhero movie that at times feels like a small character study, with moments of real warmth and surprising depth amid the action and special effects.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Spider-Man is literally Andrew Garfield’s dream role (just watch his speech at last year’s Comic-Con if you want proof), and you could feel it in every moment he was onscreen in this film. His total dedication to making both Peter Parker and Spider-Man human and relatable is a beautiful thing to watch. Physically, he deftly balances the mannerisms of Peter the gangly teenage boy and the surprising grace of Spider-Man the superhero. That dichotomy carries over into every aspect of his performance. He gives Peter the perfect combination of sadness, sweetness, and anger. His Peter is a loner by choice, living with the weight of being abandoned and then orphaned. It’s only when he’s with Gwen that we see that weight lifted, and Garfield shines in his moments with Emma Stone. This is a different kind of humanity that Garfield gives to Peter – not the crushing sadness of being an orphan but the incredible joy of being in love for the first time. He’s by turns awkward, playful, and warm – adding a lightness to the film that is very much appreciated.

Garfield also brings new life to Peter’s persona as Spider-Man. This is the Spider-Man of the comics: sarcastic and full of quips. Spider-Man is who Peter is without inhibition, under the protective mask of anonymity. The balance between Spider-Man’s inherent heroic streak and his sense of humor is deftly handled, and I don’t think that would have been the case without an actor of Garfield’s caliber in both Peter’s glasses and Spider-Man’s suit.

Scene Stealer: Gwen Stacy is no ordinary “superhero girlfriend,” and no ordinary actress could bring to life her beguiling mixture of beauty, bravery, depth, and intelligence like Emma Stone did in this film. She brings her own spark to one of the most iconic significant others in the Marvel universe, and it’s a spark that ignites some of the most charming and memorable moments in the film. Whether she’s bantering with Peter, using her scientific skills to save New York City, or showing a rare glimpse at the vulnerability behind her perfectionist exterior, Stone’s Gwen is a fully-realized character, and so much of that comes from the vitality Stone brings to the role. We know she can do comedy – and she’s excellent in her comedic scenes in this film – but she also has a talent for showing real emotion in dramatic scenes. She and Garfield bring out the best in each other as actors just as Gwen and Peter bring out the best in each other in the film.

Bring the Tissues? Yes. There are some truly moving moments in this film: the farewell between young Peter and his mother; Uncle Ben’s murder and Peter’s reaction to it; two poignant scenes of vulnerability between Peter and Gwen – one in her bedroom and one at his doorstep; and a scene featuring tower cranes that some might call cheesy but I call a moment to celebrate the heroism of the common man. Also, there’s a scene between Peter and Aunt May that will have me getting misty-eyed every time I see a carton of organic eggs (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen too often).

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay until about halfway through the credits for a mysterious confrontation about Peter’s fate. Who’s the man with the hat? It’s a question to keep us guessing until the next installment arrives in theaters.

Most Memorable Scene: In terms of cinematic spectacle, the centerpiece of the film (and one of its most stirring moments) is the aforementioned scene in which crane workers help an injured Spider-Man across the skyline of Manhattan to his final confrontation with the Lizard. However, the most memorable thing about the film as a whole is the blinding chemistry between Garfield and Stone. That chemistry shines throughout the film, but it’s at its strongest in two scenes that transcend the “superhero” genre and could stand on their own in any romantic film: Peter asking Gwen on a date (and Gwen accepting) in the most awkwardly endearing way imaginable and Gwen tending to Peter’s wounds while confessing her fears of the men she loves going off to save the world and never coming back.

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