OK, I have to leave to catch a train in about 50 minutes, so please forgive me if this week's blog is filled with even more spelling mistakes and factual inaccuracies than normal. Luckily, there's just a couple of movies to recap this time around, so I should be able to get this thing finished in time.
Chico & Rita (2010)
This brilliant love story is up for Best Animated Feature Film at this year's Oscars, and if it doesn't beat the likes of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots, I may be forced to write a strongly worded letter to the Academy. That'll teach them. Anyway, the plot here is rather simple - as the film opens in present day Havana, we meet the broken down, disconsolate figure of Chico, formerly a brilliant jazz pianist, but now reduced to shining the shoes of rude foreigners (he may be the most reluctant shoeshine boy since Tommy De Vito in Goodfellas). As he returns home, he turns on the radio and hears a song he recorded back in the late 1940s. We then flash back to this period, to a time when he met a beautiful singer named Rita, and fell in love with her ... All in all, it's a well told and heartbreaking story, with characters you begin to really care about. The animation used to spin this tale is simple but rather beautiful, and includes some thrilling chase sequences as Chico tears around the streets of Havana on his motorbike. The soundtrack is also top notch - the fimmakers obviously have a passion for latin jazz, and that music features in almost every scene. As Chico and Rita head to New York, we even get to meet legendary jazzman Tito Puente, who performs his greatest number since he dished out some musical justice to Mr Burns in The Simpsons ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ag-owTGckE&feature=related).
Young Adult (2011)
Jason Reitman teams up with Diablo Cody for the first time since their success with Juno, and the result is another excellent film. Whereas Juno featured a teenager forced to grow up to face adult responsibilities at a young age, here we have a woman in her late 30s who appears to have never grown up from an adolescent mindset. The 'Young Adult' of the title is Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), who has left behind her small town in Minnesota to move to Minneapolis, and has become the ghostwriter of a Sweet Valley High style fiction series. Despite being relatively successful in her professional life, on a personal level she is a mess. She spends her evenings drinking to excess with a series of meaningless one night stands, waking up hungover every morning with just a bottle of Diet Coke for company. When she discovers that her former high school boyfriend has just become a father, she decides to return home and win him back - notwithstanding the fact that he is now a happily married man... I was really impressed with this one, for a number of reasons. Jason Reitman seems to specialise in interesting films which feature rounded central characters who would be reduced to one note villain status in other movies - a pro-smoking lobbyist (in Thank You For Smoking), a corporate hatchet man (in Up In The Air), and, of course, a bitchy former homecoming queen in this film. Reitman is helped out by some fantastic acting, particularly from the two leads. Charlize Theron shows an admirable lack of vanity in creating an almost completely despicable and self-deluded character, and Patton Oswalt offers excellent support as a guy who was her polar opposite in high school, but who is now able to bond with her due to a shared interest in getting drunk. With her work on this film, Diablo Cody has refined her screenwriting technique, and has improved upon the sometimes overwritten dialogue she became famous for in Juno and Jennifer's Body. There are no references to 'home skillets', 'hamburger phones', 'honest to blog' or 'move on dot org' here - instead we have a more naturalistic writing style, which helps to create a darkly toned but realistic movie. I guess the moral of this story is that those characters in the film who have been able to put aside who they were in high school are those who have been able to achieve happiness in adult life, while those (like Mavis Gary), who still feel defined by their status as a teenager, are unlikely to ever really move on.