Tree of Life: Can You Say Epic Fail?

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So yesterday, I had a few free hours even though lately I have been wildly busy preparing for my year in Korea. I took this free time and said, “okay, I will watch a movie. Why not the Tree of Life?” Little did I expect what horror was awaiting me.

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I only got through 45 minutes of this movie, so for your plot summary I will rely on Wikipedia. Tree of Life is an independent drama released in 2011 directed by Terence Malick. The movie begins with a family in the 1950’s with three sons. One of the sons dies. Because of this, the ill-tempered father (Brad Pitt) puts too much pressure on one of his other sons, Jack (Sean Penn) and despite his deep love of music, Jack ends up becoming an architect. Reflecting on this, Jack fights to realize who he really is.

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Apparently, that is what the movie should have been about. However, there was so much random shit in Tree of Life that it didn’t seem to be about anything. For 95% of what I saw, my reaction was, “What the hell does this have to do with the story?” Pretty much, the entire 45 minutes that I watched were a bunch of abstract images plus some video footage of the actors thrown in and over-the-top whispered voice-overs saying stuff like “When did you first touch my heart?…And even then I knew my life held no meaning…And then I was aroused, but I wasn’t quite sure why…I became determined to live my life as a fish…”  I didn’t mind it for the first few minutes and thought it was just setting the tone, and soon stuff was really going to start happening. 45 minutes later, I realized that the entire fucking movie was going to be that way. And that is why I turned it off, because having to ask questions like “How does showing me a picture of The Horse-Head Nebula have anything to do with your son dying?” just pissed me off.

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It would be easy for someone to point out, hey you didn’t see the entire movie, so how do you know it’s utter crap? Quite a valid point. However, a movie has to keep the viewer’s interest. And this movie obviously didn’t if I had no problem turning it off. If that happens with a movie, it has utterly failed.

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What’s frustrating is that I usually like artistic movies, films that try new things and experiment and aren’t completely conventional. However, I feel as if Tree of Life was just so avante guard and abstract that it was completely inaccessible. If you can’t connect with a movie, with the story or the characters, you might as well be watching a slideshow of the vacation taken by someone you hate.

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If I had to say one good thing about this movie, it would be that the images I did see were beautiful. They made no sense, but were in fact stunning. Completely uneccesary, yet pretty to look at. Very much like Paris Hilton.

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Considering how angry this movie made me (I want those 45 minutes back!) I give it a 1. Try again Terence Malick. Better yet, don’t.

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The Iron Lady

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Watching this movie was an interesting experience for me. When I watch a movie for the first time, I usually prefer to do it alone, because some people like to talk during movies (like pretty much my entire family). And then I ask them to stop and then of course they just do it more because it annoys me. I swear, I could be watching  the most intense, important scene of a movie, and suddenly my Dad would say “Who is that actress?…Is she still alive?…Why is Bruce Willis holding a Samurai sword?…I think John Travolta secretly wants to be a woman…” I love my father, but seriously, I don’t watch movies to have conversation. But of course a couple of days ago I have to be nice, and when we didn’t have anything to do I just had to mention that I had a copy of The Iron Lady. And of course, the movie had been playing not ten minutes before “Is that Glen Close?” Happy Father’s Day Dad :).

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Yet despite the unwanted disruptions, I really enjoyed this movie. The Iron Lady is a British film released in 2011 and directed by Phyllida Lloyd about the life of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The movie begins with Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) as an old woman suffering from dementia. As you continually watch her struggling with old age and dealing with her hallucinations of her dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent),Thatcher has flashbacks to when she was a young woman (Alexandra Roach) trying to become a politician in a world of men, and eventually the wife and mother who becomes the first female Prime Minister in a western country.

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There are so many great things about this movie. Although I might be biased as someone who majored in English and history, making me always up for a historical film. I’d say one of the best things about this movie is the artful way in which it was put together. This includes the inspired choice to not have a consecutive storyline but use flashbacks. This choice really gave more power to the tragedy of Thatcher’s aging as she reviewd her life.

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The Iron Lady also has one of the best casts I have ever seen. Meryl Streep was amazing no doubt. Some critics were quoted saying something along the lines of she had more iron than the real Margaret Thatcher did. She was completely transformed. But I also loved seeing Anthony Head, the actor who played Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is currently playing King Uther in the show Merlin, pop up in a huge movie like this. And Jim Broadbent who played Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis, did an astounding job, especially the scenes in which he was Margaret’s hallucinations.

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However, best of all, this movie had probably one of the most subtle yet poignant endings in film history. It ends with the elderly Margaret Thatcher washing a tea cup. Which of course sounds ridiculous by itself, but becomes increasingly powerful when I tell you that early in the movie, when Denis proposes to her, she tells him “I will not die washing a tea cup.” But what’s so beautiful about the ending is that Thatcher cleans the cup, puts it on a shelf, and goes on about her day. She didn’t die washing it, she continues to live. Despite her dwindling mind, she will continue to remain a strong female figure in history for all time. Sorry, did the English major in me just wax too strong?

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I think I only have one complaint about this movie. I felt it got a little repetitive, which I know is inevitable when it is constantly going back in time. However, I got tired of all the images of angry Englishmen tapping on her car window. After seeing it five times, I wonder, was the writer of this film not able to come up with another way to display the country’s outrage?

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I would describe this movie as beautifully tragic. It is tragic in the way that Thathcer is fighting so hard to retain her sanity, in the way that she desperately misses her husband, and in the way that as Prime Minister, she finally understands that even she can go too far. I give the Iron Lady a 9. And after seeing it I should probably add Meryl Streep to my list about my favorite actresses: https://hereslookinatyousquid.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/my-favorite-top-ten-actresses-13-2/.

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Comparing Mirror Mirror to Snow White and the Huntsman

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I doubt it has escaped the notice of most people that in quite a short span of time, two movies based on the fairytale of Snow White have been released to theaters. Mirror Mirror was released in March, and Snow White and the Huntsman came out June 1st. I have decided to do a double review and then compare the two. Because I can.

Mirror Mirror

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Mirror Mirror was a comedic fantasy directed by Tarsem Singh that really plays with the original fairytale. The evil Queen (Julia Roberts) realizes she is poor and decides marriage with a rich prince will save her. The prince she sets her heart on however, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) falls for the beautiful Snow White (Lily Collins). The evil Queen decides to have her killed. Snow White escapes, making it to the dark forest where she comes across a band of dwarf thieves. Snow White joins them and gathers the strength to take back her kingdom.

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While this movie was mostly geared toward children, I mostly enjoyed it. I thought the interpretation was very creative. My favorite part was that instead of the prince kissing Snow White to awaken her, in Mirror Mirror, Snow White kisses the prince to awaken him from thinking that he is a dog. And for the most part, Snow White fights for herself, rather than the Prince fighting for her. Although I didn’t like how in one scene Snow White feels the need to tell the Prince just that. It made me feel like I was being clubbed over the head. However, considering that this movie is for children, I can understand it.

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However, I found the characters very shallow. Even the most interesting character, the evil Queen is a flat cut out. The movie does not explain why she does what she does. Obviously she wants to be beautiful and powerful, but we need to know why. and possibly by poor acting or sloppy writing (I guess both), the characters of Snow White and the Prince are just not that fleshed out at all. I give this movie a 4 because I like the basic adaptation, but the characters just don’t hold up.

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Snow White and the Huntsman

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Snow White and the Huntsman is a British and American film directed by Rupert Sanders. In this version of Snow White, The evil Queen Revenna (Charlize Theron) discovers that Snow White’s heart can make her immortal. So when Snow Whte (Kristen Stuart) escapes imprisonment, the Queen orders the reluctant Huntsman (Chris Hensworth) to hunt her down. Quickly realizing the Queen’s deceit, the Hunstsman fights to get Snow White to safety so she can strike against the Queen and reclim her throne.

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This movie had some really awesome things about it. The first thing I think of is Charlize Theron. She was a great evil Queen, and a joy to watch. To my excitement, this version of the evil Queen was very fleshed out. The movie explains why she has become so bitter and evil: because she felt men use women until they were tired of them and then leave them to rot. So the Queen uses beauty as power.

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I also loved most of the special effects. The scene when the Queen breaks up into a bunch of crows is amazing. I also loved the mirror, which is basically a metallic, gelatinous man. There are many more, but those are the two I remember most.

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However, there were some problems. First of all, I had no idea what any of the dwarves were saying ever, which was quite frustrating. Even worse, other than the Queen, the characters were very flat. Even more than that, the relationships between them were shallow. There were quite a few moments where I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities. For example, when Snow White is reunited with her childhood friend who she has been separated from for at least ten years, wouldn’t you expect a scene which includes at most running towards each other across a field of daisies or at least an akward hug? And pretty much the entire movie sexual tension is growing between the Huntsman and Snow White. So when William, who clearly loves Snow White joins the group, that should disrupt the dynamic. I also felt the ending was very rushed and anticlimactic. However, the movie was already getting long, so I can understand these holes. I think to help this, the begiing sequence could have been shortened. It was a good sequence to be sure, but not all of it was needed.

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And then, I’m sure you were all expecting this, I have to complain about Kristen Stuart. She kind of seemed dazed and confused the entire movie. And even when she gives an inspiring peech, it seems as if she is thinking “Oh, I actually have a voice?” As my friend Kinsey said, Stuart was really good at letting the other actors act around her. Although I will admit she could have done a much worse job. But it wasn;t good enough. I suspect she was chosen because the film makers thought that if they chose Bella all the Twilight fans would come see the movie.

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So taking everything into account, I give Snow White and the Huntsman a 6. And it is worth seeing, even if all you do is drool after Thor.

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Comparison

Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman have an interesting relationship. Mirror Mirror is a comedy meant for children while Snow White and the Huntsman was very dark and meant for young adults and up.

Obviously, both films are extremely different. However, both attempt to make the fairytale more relevant to today by making Snow White more active and assertive, thus making the story have more feminist appeal. I don’t think either truly succeeded, but I think Mirror Mirror got the closest. As I said before, Snow White is determined to fight for herself and she kisses the Prince rather than him kissing her. However, even though he says she doesn’t want to depend  the Prince’s help, she pretty much does.

Snow White and the Huntsman tries to do this to an extant. Snow White rides into battle with her army. She kills the Queen. However, this adaptation still has the awakening kiss, which is extremely misogynist if you understand the symbolism. It basically says that women need to wait until true love (aka a husband) before their sexual awakening. However, unlike Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman does not end in a wedding, but rather Snow White’s coronation, making the story seem more about her instead of Snow White and the Huntsman together. I wonder if an adaptation of Snow White can be made in which there is no prince or romantic interest. But then it would be very far from the original fairy tale.

In conclusion, I would say Snow White and the Huntsman is the superior movie. It’s more dramatic and visually interesting. However, I think the story of Mirror Mirror is a more creative adaptation of Snow White.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I just watched the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I am happy to report that I think I found a movie that can knock Sucker Punch off my list of The Top Ten Best Mind Fuck Films.

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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was released in 2009 and directed by Terry Gilliam. I think its two main claims to faim are the fact that it was the last movie Heath Leger was ever in, and I think it is one of the most imaginative movies ever made. Suck it James Cameron.

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In this modern version of the Faustus myth, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) to become immortal, with the proviso that should he ever have a child, at the age of 16, he or she would become the devil’s property. Well, of course, Parnassus eventually has a daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and as her 16th birthday comes up, he dreads when the devil comes collecting. However, the devil offers Parnassus a wager. If Parnassus can collect five souls, he will save Valentina’s life. Parnassus fears it’s an impossible feat, but then he and his traveling sideshow save the life of a strange man named Tony (Heath Leger). When he is roused, he jumps at the chance to repay the kindness by helping Parnassus acquire the five souls.

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This is one of those movies that have so much depth that you kind of want to watch it again so you can make sure you understood it all. If a movie can do that, make you feel like there’s more to it that you have to find, it’s incredible. That is why I love movies, because they can have that power.

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I would like to mention that this movie came across a very tough challenge. During filming Heath Leger died. There have been precedent for such a situation. Plan 9 From Outer Space (yes, the movie considered by some to be the worst ever made) cast Bella Lugosi to play a vampire, and he died three days in. What they did was cast someone new and simply told the actor to hold his cape in front of his face the entire movie. Which I would like to believe started that image of a vampire.

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But anyway, the makers of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus decided to cast not just one, but three more actors to finish playing Tony: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. In the context of the film, Tony changes to one of these actors when he ventures into the imagination of Dr. Parnassus. The movie doesn’t explain explicitly why Tony morphs in Parnassus’s imagination, but I think it was hinted that he did because he has a fractured personality. It is incredible that the movie makers could take such a tough set back and work it into the plot.

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And of course, I have to mention the artwork in this movie. It was stunning. I literally felt as if I was wandering in someone’s imagination. I have never seen a movie before that had such fun, fanciful imagery. I kept wanting to see more, and was upset when the movie ended.

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Despite all these good things, I think over all, the movie jut isn’t completely in synch. It’s like the pieces of the story were forced together in a kind of off-kilter way. Which can be expected considering Leger’s death. I’m sure lot’s of unpredictable changes had to be made because of that, making the story kind of go out of wack. So I can understand that.

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I give The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus an 8 for it’s creativity. If you like innovative films and interesting art, this movie is right up your alley.

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Yentl: Barbara Streisand Does Drag

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Yentl is a musical about a woman who decides to dress up like a man to be able to study. There are actually quite a lot of stories out there involving women disguised as men simply to enjoy their privileges. I read a book about Pope Joan once, who the Catholic church denies ever lived, but they still had a Pope throne for years with a hole in the bottom so that people could check all the right parts were there. And during procession, there is a spot in the Vatican where the clergy turns their backs because that is apparently where Pope Joan gave birth, thus revealing that she was a woman (You’d think someone would have caught on before then).

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 Shakespeare in Love, a movie about a woman who dresses up as a man so she can act on stage, is one of my favorite movies.

And then in my Women in America class when I was a sophomore in college, I learned that a significant amount of women dressed as men to fight in the American Civil War. Very few were recognized because the uniforms were loose, and simply no one was looking for them. I read one story that said one disguised woman gave birth and fought in battle right after. Talk about tough.

And of course there is Mulan, the Disney movie about a Chinese woman who dresses up like a soldier to save her father’s life.

The point is, women disguising themselves as men is not unheard of in movies, literature, or even history.

 

Yentl is a musical from 1983 directed by and starring Barbara Streisand “Who woo o woo o!” based on the play of the same name. In the film, Barbara Streisand plays a young woman in Eastern Europe during the early 20th century. According to Talmudic law, women could not receive an education, but all Yentl ever wanted to do was study. After her father dies, she goes to a new town disguised as a man and begins her studies. Things get a lot more complicated when her sexy study partner Alvin (Mandy Patinkin) wants her to marry Hadass (Amy Irving) the woman he loves but cannot marry himself.

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Despite how much ridicule she receives from Southpark, I’m actually a Streisand fan, because you have to admit that very few other women can belt like she can. So I did enjoy this movie. 1. Barbara Striesand. 2. Hot love interest. Yes, he may be hairy with a beard, but I have a thing for facial hair. 3. I haven’t seen a musical like this before. In most musicals, everyone sings and there’s dancing in the streets and coordinated animals and people carrying giant cakes. In this musical, Streisand is the only person singing, and she’s not dancing. The songs reflect her mind and inner conflicts and nothing more. It’s a much more realistic form of a musical. You know, relatively speaking.

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I do like always have a couple of complaints. Eventually Yentl decides to tell Alvin about her secret by basically thrusting her boobs in his face. Despite this, Alvin has quite a violent reaction and yells at Yentl and pretty much calls her a demon. And then he screams “Why!” and Streisand collapses in his arms saying “Because I loved you!” Then instantly, Alvin tells Yentl that he loves her too! What the fuck? He was just calling her Satan and suddenly loves her! It doesn’t work like that! It would be more realistic if he pulled an Othello. Well, in this case, I guess it wouldn’t even be an Othello because Alvin didn’t even know Streisand was a girl. So let’s say it’s an Othello in which Othello kills Cassio instead of Desdemona. “Papa can you hear me?” No. No he can’t, because this part of the story just doesn’t make sense.

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I also felt that the songs all kind of sounded the same, and there was one song that Striesand sang when she saw Hadass and grew jealous of her, and she sang it it seemed like 5 times and I was getting very tired of it.

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And just for randomness, I have to share a personal anecdote. I watched this movie with my little sister who I turned into a Streisand freak after showing her Hello Dolly. After telling her I was writing a post on Yentl for my blog, she said I needed to refer to Yentl as lentil, and when I said no challenged me to a tonge twister battle by rapidly repeating the word “lentil” over and over. I totally won, by the way.

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Anyway, for Streisand belting power but a break down of sense, I give this movie a 6 out of 10.

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The Tempest

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As an English major, I love Shakespeare. Just to explain what a nerd I am, in high school I use to memorize his soliloquies for fun. Yeah, I didn’t have many friends then. But I digress. Because of my love of Shakespeare, I really wanted to see this movie, based on the Bard’s famous play of the same name.

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In this 2010 rendition of the Tempest, directed by Julie Taymor, the Sorceress Prospera (Helen Mirren) attempts to exact her revenge on her brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) and the King of Naples (David Sthrathairn) for stealing her duchy of Milan from her. The King’s ship sails by the island Prospera inhabits with her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) and she uses her magic to create a tempest to sink the ship, washing the men to shore. Prospera doesn’t count on the King’s son Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) falling in love with her daughter.

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This movie received many mixed reviews, and I myself have pretty mixed feelings. There are some really awesome things about it, and other things that are less awesome.

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On the good side, if you are also a Shakespeare fan, or have ever read The Tempest, you know that in the original play, the main character is a man named Prospero. Changing the character into a woman, especially one played by the indomitable Helen Mirren, is an inspired choice that brings a whole new dynamic to the story. Who says old writing can’t be made new? And even if that isn’t recognized, I just love watching Helen Mirren act anyway. I am one of the only people I know who actually enjoyed the film The Queen, and I correctly predicted that she would win the Oscar for Best Actress. She also does an Elizabeth I that rivals Judie Dench and Cate Blanchett. And she does a mean Prospera. There are moments you can tell she is full of hatred and you know not to mess with her, and others that she is vulnerable and you want to reach out and hug her. Or maybe that’s just me having a weird Helen Mirren crush.

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As far as bad, I mainly did not like the score. This movie attempted using rock and roll, although at least it did a better job than Marie Antoinette. God awful movie. Anyway, the score was basically made up of steel guitars, and it sounded so out of place. I didn’t mind that the music was anachronistic, it just sounded wrong. I think the main problem was in quite a few scenes the guitars got really loud, and was more distracting than anything. It probably would have been a lot better if they were just quieter.

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Most critics had problems with the special effects. I honestly thought some of the special effects were beautiful and interesting and added to the story, but some of them were in the case of fiery dogs that chased after Caliban,  done so poorly that all you could do was laugh at them, or just so overdone that they were  distracting and detracted from the story by competing with it. However, I especially loved the special effects used for the spirit Ariel, one of Prospera’s slaves. The effects make Ariel seem weightless and constantly underwater. The images help you understand his character. As a spirit, he’s ethereal and not of the earth. But, I do agree with most of the critics that Taymor really needed to dial it back on most of the other CG elements. Less is more. Yes, I’m talking to you, Michael Bay.

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Since my feelings are very mixed, I give The Tempest a 5 out of 10. I would recommend any Helen Mirren fans and especially any Shakespeare fans to give it a try. It is a lot of fun.

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Midnight in Paris: YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!!!

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I didn’t see this movie when it came out because I am not a fan of Owen Wilson. He’s not that great of an actor, and I can’t look at his nose. I am fully aware what a shallow bitch that makes me, but anyway, I digress. I eventually heard a lot of good things, And I actually went to Paris in January, so I finally decided to take a chance. And I’m so glad I did.

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Midnight in Paris came out in 2011, and was directed by Woody Allen. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer in ParIs with his pleasant (not) fiancé (Rachael McAdams). One night, Gil somehow stumbles into the 1920’s and meets Zelda and Scott F. Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

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This was pretty much my instant reaction to this movie: OH MY FREAKIN GOD THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But I must acknowledge that this has mostly to do with personal connections I had. First, I recently went toParis. During the film, when I’d recognize a part in the city I had been, I’d say “Oh, I’ve been there!” But most of all, I loved this movie because of its portrayal of so many authors and painters that I have loved for years. As an English major, I have read Fitzgerald and Hemingway (although I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of him). Gertrude Stein is one of my favorite writers, and I can’t think of a better woman to play her than Kathy Bates. But I also have a deep love of art. And seeing Picasso, Degas, Lutrec, Guagan and more… it was incredible.

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But to be more objective, I think it was still a pretty good movie. I would say though that I personally don’t believe that anyone would date Rachel McAdam’s character, because she’s a total bitch. The again, she is Rachel McAdams. So I guess I can understand it.

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On the whole, this movie was creative, witty, fun, and also effectively showed the doubts and insecurities of Gil, and then his transformation to a confident man. I loved every minute of it and was sad when it was over. I give Midnight in Paris a perfect 10. I would recommend it to everyone.

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