Latest Reviews

Entries in Anne Hathaway (6)

Wednesday
Nov052014

Interstellar

As a general rule, director Christopher Nolan doesn’t make bad movies. While not all have been great, neither have any been bad. In regards to consistency, at least, one could argue he’s the single best director working today and early buzz for his newest film, “Interstellar,” seemed to indicate magnificence. Some reports even stated that it was on a philosophical level of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Having now seen it, I feel like I can definitively say that it’s not quite up to that level. “Interstellar” is a great movie, one that will inevitably end up on many critics’ best of the year lists, but to make such a direct comparison is overenthusiastic hyperbole. It’s Nolan’s most narratively ambitious film to date and it does a good job of exploring complex themes, but its philosophizing doesn’t always land. Still, when most science fiction films these days involve little more than assault-on-the-senses action, one can’t help but appreciate that this one strives to be intellectually more.

And it’s that intellectualism, even when it’s not up to snuff, that gives “Interstellar” its edge. In a real world that seems increasingly anti-intellectualism and anti-science, with societies hell bent on holding onto archaic beliefs and ideologies, it’s a breath of fresh air to see onscreen characters portrayed in a way that highlights scientific curiosity and hope, even in the face of extreme adversity. Matthew McConaughey, in what could very well be his best dramatic performance to date, plays Cooper, a brilliant engineer and scientist who, due to apocalyptic weather patterns diminishing Earth’s resources, is relegated to farming. He’s a naturally curious person and has passed that curiosity down to his children, namely Murph, played by Mackenzie Foy, a young girl who swears there’s a ghost in her room trying to tell her something.

Eventually they learn the strange occurrences in her room are gravitational anomalies that began around 50 years ago. Around the same time, a wormhole in space appeared and has remained stable ever since. Using this wormhole, NASA was able to send its bravest men and women to a new galaxy with potentially habitable worlds. The data they’ve since received indicates a handful of those worlds could work to save the human race, so they enlist Cooper to leave his family behind and embark on a dangerous mission. Knowing that inaction could mean extinction for his species, he begrudgingly agrees.

In many ways, “Interstellar” is the polar opposite of last year’s sci-fi hit, “Gravity.” While that movie was essentially a 90 minute action movie in space with minimal characterization, “Interstellar” nearly doubles that length and is all about character. A few tense action scenes pop up in from time to time, but it’s the effect those scenes have on the characters that makes them so interesting. Before the characters even lift off into space, the stage is set for some wonderful human drama. The relationships are built in a believable way, which allows later scenes to lead to some truly heartbreaking moments. Characters aren’t mentioned in passing like Bullock’s daughter in “Gravity,” but are instead grown and explored through many years and even decades, thanks to a clever narrative mechanic grounded in real life science.

In fact, the lengths “Interstellar” goes to be scientifically accurate are both welcome and impressive. It takes liberties, of course, to form its story, but it dares to show its scientific literacy when other movies would have taken the easy way out. A great example comes in its portrayal of artificial gravity. Nolan could have very easily had the characters flip a switch to turn it on in their spaceship, but he instead has a 10 minute sequence where their ship docks with a circular apparatus that then begins to rotate, creating artificial gravity through centrifugal force. Is this sequence necessary for the characters or the drama? No, but it helps create a real, living world and, though minor in the big scheme of things, it allows viewers to sink fully into the desired immersion.

These details show a genuine love for the subject matter, for space and even for the unknown. The writing from Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, indicate as much. Wonderful scenes that mock Apollo landing conspiracy theorists and early dialogue discussing the merits of scientific study highlight a passion for scientific endeavors as well as the wonders of both the human spirit and the insignificant role we play in the immensity of the cosmos. The visuals similarly show this affection, with truly stunning imagery that looks pulled from NASA’s archives. This is a movie that understands not just the frightening and dangerous nature of our universe, but also its grandiosity and quiet beauty. If you too share such awe, as I do, then you’ll find plenty to love here.

When “Interstellar” stumbles, it’s not due to these things, but rather a narrative that occasionally misses the mark. When the characters start to hypothesize about the meaning of everything, one starts to babble on with silly nonsense about love, about how it could potentially be an extra dimension beyond time and space that we aren’t yet able to perceive. In a movie as grounded as this one, scenes like this are worth little more than an eye roll.

It also loses some narrative momentum in its final moments. Despite a deliberate pacing and a runtime of 169 minutes, its conclusion is rushed beyond plausibility. Although undeniably interesting and unexpected, a specific character comes to a revelation completely out of the blue with little convincing context behind it. However, it must be said that this moment also leads to one of the emotionally impactful moments in the entire film, which makes it easier to forgive such hurriedness.

If nothing else, “Interstellar” goes to show that there are still some great ideas out there that the science fiction genre can lend itself to beyond giant robots crashing into each other. It might not be the intellectual equivalent of “2001: A Space Odyssey” as some have argued, but it’s a wondrous movie in its own right that tackles complex themes, builds believable characters and hits all the right emotional chords while rarely relying on heavy-handed manipulation. Even with its faults, it’s one of the year’s best.

Interstellar receives 4.5/5

Wednesday
Dec192012

Les Misérables

The worst type of movie is the one that fails to live up to expectations. Usually when this happens, the movie itself is far below what it could and should have been. Usually, the standalone trailer is astonishing, managing to hit a range of emotions in a short two minutes, while the movie itself, when fleshed out to feature length, completely misses the mark. Rarely, however, does a movie fail to live up to expectations and is still as good as Les Misérables. It would be somewhat of a stretch to call it one of the greatest musicals ever made—it’s not even one of the best movies of this year—but its narrative grandiosity, lush visuals, assured direction and phenomenal performances from a terrific ensemble cast make it more than your ordinary film musical. Les Misérables deftly crafts unparalleled moments of beauty and awe, conveying true emotion around themes of love, loss and hardship that will cause all but the most hardened viewers to sympathize with, and maybe even cry for, those fighting onscreen.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel from 1862 (and adapted into a stage musical in 1980), Les Misérables follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a Frenchman who has spent many years as a prisoner and slave for stealing bread, overseen by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). When the film begins, he is finally released from his imprisonment, but is put on parole for the rest of his life. If he breaks it, he will be hunted down and captured. Rather than heed that warning, he breaks parole anyway and starts a new life as a wealthy factory owner and mayor of the town he has chosen to settle in. One day, he runs into Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ex-employee of his who was fired from his factory and is now selling herself to make ends meet and support her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). After tragedy strikes Fantine, Jean decides to adopt Cosette and raise her as his own, all while he hides from Javert’s relentless pursuit. Many years pass and Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried), is all grown up and they’re about to find themselves in the middle of a revolution.

Les Misérables isn’t like your typical musical. It’s not full of flamboyant choreography or energetic numbers that are cut to resemble a music video. Instead, it’s very reserved. The camera more often than not settles on close-ups and rolls without cutting, the performers singing their numbers in one take. This lends terrific weight to a film that relies almost entirely on the emotional fragility of its viewers. When the actors sing these songs, pouring their hearts and souls into them, and you are so close that you see every twitch in their skin and tear forming in their eyes, it’s impossible not to feel something. In particular, Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is heartbreaking and, perhaps due to this single moment in a nearly three hour long film, likely to win her an Oscar.

Much of the emotional impact comes from the fact that, unlike most movie musicals that pre-record their songs before shooting, the actors are singing the songs in real time, much like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. There’s no lip-synching present here and the turmoil of the characters comes through tenfold because they’re singing in character, not in some studio behind a microphone. It’s a tactic that is brilliantly used by director Tom Hooper, who, if 2010’s remarkable The King’s Speech is any indication, knows how to maximize the effect his movies have on an audience.

Despite the tragic story that unfolds and the many deaths that accompany it, Les Misérables has some lighthearted moments that come mostly from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Their presence is ever welcome in the sea of sadness, but there’s too little of them and they end up overshadowing some of the other, bleaker moments, if for no other reason than because they’re more upbeat. This discrepancy between these two different styles is indicative of the film as a whole, in that certain sections aren’t as interesting as others. Very few movies of this length have the ability to maintain viewer attention and with a gap of songs that range from breathtaking to flat out boring, Les Misérables doesn’t pull it off.

It’s still a wonder to behold, though, and its final scene, despite some lags in the narrative, packs a punch that wasn’t paralleled in any other movie this year. There has been a lot of hyperbole when expressing opinions of it in recent months, however. Some are saying it’s one of the best musicals (or even crazier, one of the best movies) ever while others are saying it’s overwrought, overlong and manipulative. Neither of those extremes are accurate. Les Misérables is neither great nor terrible, but it’s effective and rousing and, provided you can sit still for almost three hours, absolutely worth a watch.

Les Misérables receives 4/5

Tuesday
Jul172012

The Dark Knight Rises

There are few people that would argue The Dark Knight is anything less than a fantastic film. Most tend to agree it’s one of, if not the best superhero movie ever made. There are even those who think it’s one of the best movies ever made, superhero or otherwise. That film raised the bar for superheroes so high that it’s likely to be a very long time before one reaches or surpasses it. That philosophy holds true for director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises, but luckily, the film is only a disappointment in comparison. It may not reach the brilliance of The Dark Knight, but it’s still the best and most exciting movie of the summer. Dark, violent, terrifying and exciting, The Dark Knight Rises fires on all cylinders.

When we last saw Batman (aka Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale), he was running from the cops. He was taking the fall for the murder of Gotham’s district attorney, Harvey Dent, who the people of the city had put their faith in to clean up their streets. In Bruce’s mind, it was his duty to prove that true good couldn’t be corrupted, which meant making a martyr out of a madman. Now, Bruce has hung up his cape and mask because the city has turned against him, thinking him to be a violent sociopath who deceived their trust. However, a new villain is emerging. His name is Bane (Tom Hardy) and he’s out to destroy the city. He’s a bullish brute and it soon becomes clear that the police force won’t be able to stop him, which forces Batman out of retirement.

The Dark Knight Rises may be a misleading title for the film, seeing as how Batman does more falling (both literally and figuratively) than he does rising, but that’s why these films work. Nolan doesn’t treat his hero as a god. He treats him as he is: a human being. Bruce has demons to wrestle with, first isolated to the anger felt from losing his parents all those years ago, but now combined with the heartbreak of losing his only love, Rachel (played by both Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal, respectively), at the end of The Dark Knight. He’s not cracking jokes like Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man (despite the occasional witty moment). There’s too much at stake for such trivialities. His desire to fight stems not just from doing what’s right, but from the pain he’s feeling, his need to restore balance to a city gone mad, a city that took the life of everyone he ever loved. The Dark Knight Rises is a dark adult tale told by a masterful filmmaker who knows how to balance the necessary action with character development and relationships.

If anything, it’s the action that dragged down Nolan’s first film, Batman Begins, which was heavy-laden with too much shaky cam and too many cuts. Whether a product of the time, when the Bourne movies were finding so much popularity with the technique, or simply due to Nolan’s own inexperience with staging and filming fast paced action scenes, they were easily the film’s weakest aspect. But with The Dark Knight, Nolan refined his craft. The camera was smooth for much of the action, moving only to give us a better view of it, not to blur it. Nolan carries that maturity over into The Dark Knight Rises. While large in scope, including an absolutely incredible opening and appropriately epic finale, the action is never too much, never overloading your senses like many action movies these days. It’s presented in a way that feels organic, not forced for the sake of keeping action hungry audiences at bay, and Nolan’s steady hand approach ensures we get to savor every second of it.

But regardless of the film’s strengths, it’s impossible to watch The Dark Knight Rises and not compare Tom Hardy’s Bane to the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. When doing so, there is a clear winner. The Joker was a larger than life personality, one that gave the film a quirky feeling, kind of in the vein of a dark comedy, and the man behind the make-up gave one of the best performances ever put to film. Awarded posthumously at the Oscars that year, Heath Ledger created a terrifying monster, one that frightened, yet delighted at the same time. Bane, on the other hand, is too prophetic to be frightening. The majority of the fear instilled by him comes mainly from his size and brute strength rather than from anything psychological. He intimidates visually, but lacks the personality and off-the-wall insanity that made Heath Ledger’s cackling Joker so terrific.

Of course, Bane isn’t a bad character and Tom Hardy’s representation of him is just fine; they look worse only because Heath Ledger’s Joker was so amazing. The only true problem with the character comes from his voice, which is so modulated (thanks to the ever present mask covering his mouth) it’s sometimes hard to understand what he’s saying. Why such a problem was left unhandled—despite Nolan’s partial admittance to making select modifications after fan complaints from an early trailer—baffles the mind. A few other problems bring about the same reaction, like Bane’s nonsensical villainous plot that, for some reason, takes at least five months to unravel or why Batman would waste time lighting his logo on fire on a Gotham City bridge when he has mere hours before the city is destroyed. These moments don’t necessarily make sense, but they make the proceedings flashy and tense (and it’s impossible not to smile when that logo lights up).

The Dark Knight Rises is bogged down by a bit too much expository dialogue as well, but it more than makes up for it with a plethora of other brilliant little touches, like a sly reference to Killer Croc, another villain in the Batman universe. In an act of extreme skill, Nolan brings this story full circle, wrapping up his take on the character in as satisfying a way as one can imagine (though that very last shot, which I dare not spoil, should have been taken out). It works narratively, emotionally and on a visceral level—if the final 30 minutes don’t get your blood pumping, nothing will. It’s certainly not perfect and if comparing it to The Dark Knight, then it’s a disappointment, but if that’s the case, this is one of the best disappointments I’ve ever experienced.

The Dark Knight Rises receives 4.5/5

Friday
Apr152011

Rio

Fair or not, I set a high standard for animated films because I adore animation. The format has given me some of my most memorable and magical trips to the cinema—Pixar, Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks, all have given me enough reasons to hold onto the child within me with their fantastical tales of adventure and wonder—so when I sit down to watch one, I expect something great. Unfortunately, not all movies are worth writing home about (including a few of the aforementioned DreamWorks films). Rio is one of those movies. If the audience reaction at my screening is indicative of how it is going to be received, Rio will be a smash hit at the box office, but for my money, it’s not quite worth the price of admission.

As the film begins, a baby Blue Macaw is being taken from its natural habitat in Brazil and shipped overseas to be sold in an American pet shop. However, its cage falls out of the truck it is riding in before reaching the shop and is picked up by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She imaginatively names him Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and they spend the next 15 years living happily together. However, she soon finds out that Blu could very well be the last male of his species and to keep the Blue Macaw from going extinct, she is forced to take him back to his original home in Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last known female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Of course, things don’t go as planned. The two birds naturally don’t like each other, but are forced to work together when they are birdnapped and chained by the feet by a man who plans to sell them for loads of money. Naturally, they escape and begin to find a fancy for each other as they go along their adventure. That’s obvious and shouldn’t be regarded as a spoiler. What matters in this case is whether or not it’s funny and, as sad as it is to say, it’s mostly not. Aside from a handful of passable chuckles, the jokes fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both). They’re either simpleminded (monkeys texting each other “Ooh ooh ahh ahh!” is far too easy) or they’re unoriginal. You’ve heard these jokes, or at least variations of them, before. Many, many times. It's so derivative, in fact, that it even replicates a joke from last week’s abysmal R rated stoner comedy, Your Highness, which itself had been used previously in many other earlier films. The joke in question is a person singing badly out of tune. It wasn’t funny in Your Highness (although to be fair, nothing was funny in Your Highness) and it’s not funny here either.

If there’s anything to squeeze out of the jokes, it’s the delivery. The voice actors do a relatively good job of bringing forth some enthusiasm, especially Jamie Foxx and will.i.am, who play two birds who just love to break out into song at every chance possible. The complication, however, is that the voices are so recognizable it becomes distracting. On top of those already mentioned, there’s Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and more. All, especially Lopez and Morgan, are so familiar that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the characters from the voices behind them.

As should be expected at this point, Rio is in 3D, which only serves to detract from the experience even more. A few weeks ago, Rango, the first non-3D animated movie to come along in quite some time, proved once and for all that the extra dimension isn't needed. It was a wonderful movie, one of the best of the year so far actually, and it worked without resorting to the overused gimmick. Even when 3D works as intended by extending the depth of field, it comes at a price and dims the visuals due to the tinted glasses. And in a film about colorful animals set in as lively a place as the tropical Rio de Janeiro, stripping the brightness is the last thing you want to do. Usually, 3D is merely an annoyance, but in Rio, it’s a serious and unforgivable problem.

Still, I suppose the animation is good, but that’s hardly a compliment anymore given how much computer animation technology has progressed. Even smaller animation studios have to try pretty hard to look ugly. To put it simply, Rio is merely average, but if that must be noted, it should also be noted that it’s completely harmless. But consider this, if you will. The funniest part of this experience is the Ice Age short that comes before called Scrat’s Continental Crack-up (and it was even funnier the first time I saw it in front of last year’s Gulliver’s Travels). If the unrelated short at the beginning is more enjoyable than the feature length film that comes after, can Rio really be considered a success?

Rio receives 2.5/5

Wednesday
Nov242010

Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs is a movie that goes to show how important casting is. Without the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the film would fall into obscurity never to be heard from again. Their natural charisma and good looks take an otherwise formulaic romantic comedy and make it transcendent.

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a fast talking, womanizing salesman at a local electronics store. After being caught having sex with the boss’s girlfriend in the backroom, he is fired and ends up grabbing a job as a pharmaceutical rep at Pfizer right before the company had its breakthrough with Viagra in 1998. As a way to work his drugs into the doctor’s office, he bribes his way into an internship with Dr. Knight, played by Hank Azaria. There he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful 26 year old with Parkinson’s disease, but when he tries to pick her up, as he has countless women before, she calls him out for the game he’s playing. It turns out she can play it too and, despite agreeing to keep their relationship at the casual sex level, Jamie starts to fall for her.

Love & Other Drugs, like most romantic comedies, is predictable. While the smooth dialogue felt fresh, the plot turns did not. You’ll see where the movie is heading from the get go, having mapped it all out in your head well before it ends, but it’s still believable. Their relationship may unfold in a typical fashion, but it’s sweet and you’ll feel the appropriate range of emotions—sadness, happiness, depression, loneliness, fear—because the actors are that good at bringing them forth.

Also like most romantic comedies, Love & Other Drugs is full of contrivances that lead to misunderstandings and arguments that otherwise would have never occurred. Prior to one late scene, Jamie had never questioned the hardships that may come in the future from being with a woman who has Parkinson’s disease. It isn’t until a man at a random Parkinson’s convention details them to him in as grisly a fashion as possible that he starts to wonder.

There are also some romantic comedy clichés, including a late movie race to catch up to a loved one that is followed by a long, overemotional speech, but there’s something about it that works. It takes about half the movie for the sweetness to role in, but when it does it never lets up and it will grab hold of you. To sit here and tell you I didn’t choke up at certain moments in the movie would be a lie. It affected me despite its trifecta of romantic comedy downfalls.

With a supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, the aforementioned Hank Azaria and a hilarious performance by Josh Gad as Jamie’s brother, there isn’t a moment where charm isn’t seeping through, but this is still Gyllenhaal’s and Hathaway’s movie. They are in the spotlight and despite noble attempts from its talented supporting cast, it’s never stolen from them. Gyllenhaal is warm and funny while Hathaway is radiant. Their chemistry is magnificent.

While Love & Other Drugs can’t be considered one of the best of the year, it can be considered one of the best in its respective genre. It hits similar pratfalls as its romantic comedy brethren, but it’s funny and heartfelt and in a year lacking movies with similar traits, that is all I could ask for.

Love & Other Drugs receives 4/5