Attack the Block (2011, dir. By Joe Cornish). It’s always nice to see an original addition to the science fiction/alien/horror genre. Especially one that isn’t trying too hard. The film involves a gang of teenagers that find themselves protecting their neighborhood from some genuinely scary invading aliens, furry beasts with creepy glow-in-the-dark teeth. It works because the film opens up with the audience by despising the group of kids until the invasion begins to take place, when you will cheer for them through the whole thing. The cast is great, with newcomer John Boyega as a gang leader who shows us why he is the way he is, and Jodie Whittaker as a nurse befriended by the boys (though after a rocky start). Most memorable is Nick Frost as a stoner who doesn’t really know what is going on. It’s nice to see something new in this day and age of remakes and sequels.
The Reader (2008, dir. By Stephen Daldry). An astonishing film that tells the story Michael Berg, who, as a boy, had an affair with a woman twenty years his senior. This was not an ordinary affair because during their meetings, Michael would have to read to Hanna, played by a devastating Kate Winslet. Without revealing too much of the story, the pair are forced to go their separate ways until Michael learns the hard way that Hanna was a member of the SS, and she is imprisoned as a result. Years later, the duo are back in each other’s lives, with neither knowing what they truly want. David Kross portrays Michael as a teenager and Ralph Fiennes plays him as an adult. While I thought that Kross was very good, I felt that Fiennes’ parts of the film were stronger and Fiennes’ plays tired, middle-aged man perfectly. Kate Winslet won the Oscar for her performance and rightly so because she is so believable as Hanna that you will think that she is Hanna. Subtle and thought-provoking.
Being Elmo (2001, dir. By Constance Marks). If you are deterred by the thought of watching a documentary about the origins and puppeteer of Elmo, you are in for a pleasant surprise. The film centers around Kevin Clash, a man who has always loved puppets, and loved even more to put smiles on children’s faces. Really. We see clips of Kevin as a teenager performing in his neighborhood and for disabled children at hospitals. What was most fascinating to watch was how quick his ascent was in the “muppet world” and how accepting puppet-builder Kermit Love was to take him under his wing. Even better are the behind-the-scenes of Sesame Street and the parts covering Clash’s relationship with Jim Henson. We see the dedication and respect that the performers have for their craft, and the audience shares that respect. You’ll finish the movie just as Kevin Clash would have wanted you to: with a smile on your face.
Shine (1996, dir. By Scott Hicks). Flawed but not bad by any means I think is an accurate way to describe Shine. Telling the story of incredibly gifted pianist David Helfgott, the narrative switches between young-adult David and older David, played respectively by Noah Taylor and Geoffrey Rush. It is seen that young David was physically and mentally abused by his father, Peter, played here perfectly Armin Muller Stahl (also good in Eastern Promises). Peter suffers living with his own failures and appears, in my opinion, to despise that his son is more talented than he. Eventually, David manages to get a scholarship and go to a prestigious music school where he begins to work on an extremely difficult piano piece and his mental breakdown begins. As an adult, David is seen to be incredibly difficult to manage but still is able to impress with his piano talents. I found this part substantially weaker than the first half; one of the reasons is that I did not really care for David all that much. I attribute this to not really being a fan of the “idiot savant” drama and was pretty annoyed by David. Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar for his performance and I’m sorry to say it but I don’t think he earned it; one, for this type of performance being done numerous times before and two, he was in less of the film than I thought he would be in. Not great but not awful. I must note that all the piano playing sequences are very well done, and the music is wonderful.
JV comments: I don't have much to add to any of the above reviews, except that I largely agree with all of them.