Movie Reviews - The Pianist, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Roman Polanski's The Pianist approaches the Holocaust by telling a personal story of despair and ultimately triumph against the broad canvas of World War II. Polanski and writer Ronald Harwood put a face on this massive tragedy by focusing on Wladyslaw Szpilman, a renowned Polish-Jewish pianist, passionately portrayed by Adrien Brody. Though tragedy abounds, the film never lets us lose hope, though it is a bittersweet notion in the end.
The film begins in 1939 as we witness Szpilman in his element, playing the piano for a Polish radio station. His performance is cut short by the sounds of war outside and little does he suspect that the fighting will mushroom into a conflagration that will derail his career and life. Szpilman and his family are soon required to wear the Star of David, have their home and jobs taken from them, and are forced to live in a restricted area of Warsaw, where they are eventually rounded up and taken to work in concentration camps.
Circumstances such as these have been recounted many times on film and in literature. Where Szpilman's story differs is in the strokes of luck that came his way that enabled him to survive. Based on Szpilman's memoir, the film accentuates the small acts of kindness and bravery by various individuals that helped this one man out of many live another day and perhaps outlast the hell visited upon a continent. While some doubt the impact a single individual can make, The Pianist reaffirms the notion that no act of charity is ever done in vain and that we all can have a profound effect on another's life. A meal provided by one person, a place of shelter by another, an apartment provided by a third--each gives Szpilman a chance at survival. The culmination of these events is moving and profound.
Brody does an amazing job, taking us through the journey of Szpilman's life, from being a cocky, pampered upper-middle-class musician to hanging onto his sanity and health by his fingernails. It's a convincing, moving transformation that is never played too broadly. Brody is grounded throughout, opting for subtlety even in the film's most dire moments. His chance at resurrection, in which he is given the opportunity to play the piano after years of inactivity, is one of rage, despair, and fragile hope, all expressed on the keyboard. It is a galvanizing moment.
Many of Szpilman's experiences matched Polanski's, also a Polish-Jew who survived the Holocaust as a young boy but witnessed the death of his mother in a German concentration camp. A sense of catharsis suffuses the entire film. Polanski tells the story in a very straightforward manner, taking a humanistic approach by displaying the frailties, faults, and quiet acts of audacity against such horrific circumstances.
Polanski apparently needed to be assured that sanity and common sense can prevail in a time of madness, and in Szpilman's tale he has found that affirmation. In the end, he and the viewer are better for it.
(Running time 2:28; rated R)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
You know what I'd really love to see? A romantic comedy. It's been so long since Hollywood has trotted out a lightweight, quirky romance in which opposites attract or the couple in question has to overcome insurmountable difficulties or goofy misunderstandings before finding true love. I mean, Maid in Manhattan was released more than eight weeks ago, Two Weeks Notice came out one week later, while A Guy Thing and Just Married have each been in theaters less than a month. And to make matters worse, The Guru isn't in wide release yet! Thank God How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is here! I'm not sure I could go more than two weeks without seeing another entry in this ever fertile genre.
Days is much better than most of its brethren, but it's surely nothing to write home about. It's a formula film from beginning to end that strains too hard to be charming and stretches too far in its efforts to be amusing. Some may be tempted to give it an 'A" for effort. I give it a "C" for cloying.
The couple in question here is Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) and Benjamin Berry (Matthew McConaughey) who get wrapped up in a bet that could only take place in the movies because if you were to get sucked into something like this in real life your friends would have you locked up. Andie, a writer for a hip New York women's magazine, decides she's going to write her next story on (you guessed it) how to lose a guy in 10 days. I'm not sure why a woman would need this information but I'm sure my having the pesky Y chromosome instead of the other X has something to do with my lack of understanding. Meanwhile, Ben gets roped into a bet in which he wagers he can make any woman fall in love with him in 10 days. If he pulls this off, he gets to head a huge account at the advertising firm he works at. Wouldn't you know it, these two meet and begin torturing one another over the course of a week and a half. While Ben pulls out all the charm by making dinner, sending flowers, and enduring chick flick marathons, Andie embarks on a pattern of up-and-down behavior that makes those suffering from bipolar conditions seem sane.
Once we get to the teaching-my-girlfriend-how-to-ride-my-motorcycle-scene and a painful drunken duet of "You're So Vain," there's no doubt this movie has run out of gas. Films this familiar shouldn't be this long or desperate. Since nothing truly new can be added to movies of this sort, a 90-minute limit needs to be imposed as a courtesy to all involved.
Obviously, there's nothing wrong with formula if a spark between the two leads is evident and a sense of enthusiasm can be mustered from the cast. Maid in Manhattan proved there's life still left in this old recipe. Days is an example of what happens when filmmakers try to pull the formula off with stale ingredients.
Hudson and McConaughey do their best to create that necessary spark and come close to succeeding, but it's all an exercise and they know it. What this film needs is the charm of Cary Grant, the spunk of Jean Arthur, and the rapid-fire direction of Howard Hawks. They could make the old seem new again standing on their heads. Days has studied the dance and knows the steps, but tries so hard to impress, all involved end up tripping over themselves.
(Running time 1:52; rated PG-13)