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Entries in Colin Farrell (6)

Friday
Dec132013

Saving Mr. Banks

There’s no telling how much of “Saving Mr. Banks” is actually true. Just how callous was P.L. Travers? Was Walt Disney really out to make dreams come true in adapting her popular book, “Mary Poppins”? And is it true that he essentially acted as Travers’ psyche savior as portrayed in the film? It’s tough to say, though recent articles have pointed out that much of what is portrayed in the film is a fallacy, an illusory look into one of the world’s biggest and most recognizable companies made by that very same company. Surely much of the truth—particularly the occasionally harsh realities of Mr. Disney himself—were glossed over for reputational purposes. But based-on-true-stories don’t succeed or fail solely on their historical accuracy, but rather on their ability to take even what could amount to a small kernel of the truth and craft something worth watching. In this regard, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a rousing success.

The movie, in a nutshell, is about Travers’ (Emma Thompson) popular book’s journey to the big screen. Through flashbacks that portray her rough childhood with an alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) that she nevertheless adored, it paints a picture that explains her hesitance towards adapting it. For over 25 years, Disney (Tom Hanks) tried to convince Travers to allow him to make this movie, a goal he claims stems from his desire to keep a promise he made to his children who adore her book and the characters in it. Over the span of a couple weeks, Travers travels to Walt Disney Studios and puts its employees through the wringer, insisting on having creative control over the final product and demanding all kinds of ludicrous things, like the complete removal of the color red from the movie. Eventually, her stubbornness starts to wane, resulting in one of the most beloved films of all time.

It’s that stubbornness, however, that gives the film its weight, even if some journalists are failing to see the meaning and misconstruing it as misogynistic. Seemingly every ridiculous demand she makes has an explanation, which is explained by the film’s frequent flashbacks. While Ms. Travers may seem unreasonable and cruel at first, these moments shed light on her in a way that builds empathy. By the end, she isn’t painted as a villain, but rather a woman who has had trouble coping with the reality of her childhood.

In terms of storytelling, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a tour de force, managing to jump back and forth between timelines seamlessly and without confusion. All of it adds up to an enchanting whole, one that has lots of things to say and explains itself well, even within its two hour time constraint. Perhaps its most successful idea comes in its emphasis on imagination. Echoing the (admittedly more thoughtful) sentiments of 2004’s marvelous “Finding Neverland,” the film understands the importance of imagination, in the ways it can make something bad seem good and fix past memories to be something of profound happiness. Even as adults, it’s important to remember the good things, even when it’s hard to forget the bad, and that’s what “Saving Mr. Banks” explores so well, even going so far as to say that there’s no greater joy than “seeing the world through the eyes of a child.”

That single line encapsulates the film’s very essence, as the “Mary Poppins” film ended up keeping the memories of Travers’ father alive, but more in the way she wished it had happened rather than as they actually did. In this way, “Saving Mr. Banks” proves itself to be surprisingly moving. Anchored by a terrific, Oscar worthy performance from Emma Thompson alongside a top notch ensemble cast, the film is a real treat. It may be hard to fight off the cynical realization that the film is trimmed in a way to protect the Disney company’s image and it may not portray the events at hand in a fair and balanced way (even if the real recordings that play over the credits create striking parallels between it and what we’ve just seen), but that’s not the film’s intent. “Saving Mr. Banks” has higher aspirations and it succeeds in reaching nearly every single one of them.

Saving Mr. Banks receives 4.5/5

Friday
May242013

Epic

It’s really hard to hate animated movies, even bad ones. If nothing else, animated movies are typically filled with lush visuals and virtuous messages that children need to hear, even if they are a little too simple for adults. Such is the case with the inappropriately titled “Epic.” It’s certainly not an example of a good animated film, and considering that it’s coming from Blue Sky Studios whose best film is the mostly bland “Ice Age,” that’s no surprise, but it’s hardly a disaster and it sports some imaginative visuals, despite a story you can’t say the same for.

The film starts with Mary Katherine, who prefers to go by M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a teenage girl whose father (Jason Sudeikis) hasn’t always been around for her. Despite this, she is making an attempt to connect with him and goes to visit him in his cabin in the woods. For years, he has been obsessed with a population of tiny creatures he believes to be living in the forest. Most people, including M.K., think he’s crazy, but little do they know he’s actually right. He just hasn’t found the proof yet. M.K. is about to realize this firsthand when she finds herself shrunk down to their size right after the queen of the forest, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), gives her the chosen forest pod, which will save the forest from Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and the Boggans, the evil little creatures who want the forest to decay. That little pod is going to sprout that night and along with the Leafmen, the guardians of the forest led by rookie Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and Ronin (Colin Farrell), it’s up to her to ensure it sprouts in light and keeps the life of the forest intact.

As one might expect, the story is inconsequential and filled with messages about saving our forests and preserving the delicate ecosystem of life on our planet. It’s certainly a good message and it doesn’t beat you over the head with it like last year’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” but the problem comes when the question is inevitably asked: why save the forest? The answer boils down to an unconvincing “because it’s pretty.” The Boggans, as far as the movie explains, don’t want to destroy the forest because they hate the forest’s inhabitants, but rather because they enjoy living in rot. To them, it’s simply a matter of beauty vs. decay and they prefer decay. The battle to save the forest becomes one of aesthetic purposes rather than one of nobility. Although the decay of the forest would obviously lead to the destruction of its ecosystem, such a point is never made. There are plenty of reasons to save our forests and respect the life in it, but kids watching won’t walk away with that understanding due to a narrow thematic focus.

One must admit, however, that the visuals do indeed paint a forest that looks exquisite and feels alive, so perhaps the narrow focus will benefit those watching. Due to our advanced technology, it’s difficult to make a movie with a presumably large budget like this look bad, but that no less diminishes its beauty. The characters are also animated well and move gracefully through the forest, even during the surprisingly taut action scenes. Watching the film move is a real joy, even if where it’s moving to isn’t particularly interesting.

The story itself is emotionally distant and the characters are flatly written, usually succumbing to the archetypes modern moviegoers expect. Nod is the reckless free spirit with untapped potential while Ronin is the hardened general whose duties to the Queen and the forest are his only priorities. Naturally, Ronin cares for Nod and believes in him, despite his recklessness, and it’s a safe bet to assume that Nod will make him proud by the end of the movie. And you can’t have a movie with characters of the opposite sex without sparking a romance, this time between Nod and M.K., a romance that is never truly built or felt and is largely forgotten by the end, given that M.K. has to return to normal size while Nod must remain in his diminutive state.

“Epic” is nothing but underdeveloped stories that are masked by high flying action and solid voice performances from a talented cast (aside from Aziz Ansari as Mub the slug, who proves he can be just as annoying without having to look at him). It’s sure to delight children, though it won’t leave a lasting impression and the chance to provide them with some meaning is unfortunately passed by for simplicity’s sake. For similar concepts told in vastly different ways, you’re better off checking out Studio Ghibli’s wonderful “The Secret World of Arrietty,” which is far more interesting, beautiful and profound than anything shown here. “Epic” is anything but.

Epic receives 1.5/5

Friday
Oct122012

Seven Psychopaths

Black comedies are hard to pull off because it’s extremely difficult to depict graphic, brutal violence and mean for it to be funny. It’s one thing if the violence is over-the-top or tame PG-13 action, but filming executions, assassinations and suicides and expecting the audience to laugh is like throwing in loopy cartoon sound effects over footage of the Holocaust. Somehow, though, Seven Psychopaths manages to do it. Some of the violence is still off-putting (there’s really nothing particularly interesting about watching someone cut their own throat), but the writing is so sharp, the performances are so good and the idea is so kooky that it manages to overcome the genre’s inherent problems. It’s not for everyone, but if there’s a template that needs to be followed for future black comedies, that template is Seven Psychopaths.

Colin Farrell plays Marty, a screenwriter currently in the middle of writing a movie titled “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem is that’s as far as he’s gotten. He doesn’t even know who these supposed psychopaths will be. Fortunately, he has a friend named Billy, played by Sam Rockwell, a local dognapper who wants to help him write the script. He gives him a number of stories that could detail who these psychopaths will be and even goes so far as to stage crazy and often dangerous events that will hopefully help him out of his bind. Eventually, the story begins to write itself when Billy dognaps a Shih Tzu owned by local gangster Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson, who will stop at nothing to get it back, even if it means killing everybody in his way.

The reason Seven Psychopaths works is because, in a way, it’s an absurdist comedy. It takes a relatively simple idea, one that could be (and has been) used in harmless family films and turns it into something that’s darker than dark. It’s kind of like a boy and his dog movie, except the extent the owner will go to get him back involves handing out bullets rather than flyers. Even if the violence is sometimes too extreme for its own good, the idea is too zany to take seriously, and that’s a good thing. But its absurdity does not mean it isn’t clever. The simple idea eventually balloons into something grandiose and observant, about how art imitates life. Although we never see the finished product of the “Seven Psychopaths” screenplay Marty has written, we know exactly how it plays out because it’s taken from the events we’ve just witnessed. It’s very meta in the sense that it knows it’s a movie and toys with the silly, but admittedly amusing, idea that screenwriters aren’t nerds sitting behind their computer pushing their glasses back onto their face, but rather adventurers who take their own real life experiences and put them on the page, no matter how outrageous they may be.

The best self-referential nod comes when Billy and Hans, played by Christopher Walken, are reading through Marty’s script. They remark on how the woman characters are awful and they either have nothing to do or are killed off five minutes after being introduced, a comment on sexism in the cinema. It doesn’t seem like much at first until you think back on the women characters in the movie who show up and disappear like props. These types of moments are what make Seven Psychopaths so enjoyable, the ones that say, “Yes, we know what we’re doing, so sit back, relax and enjoy.” But the ideas themselves only make up a portion of why the movie works. It’s the delivery of these moments by outstanding actors clearly having a good time that raise the movie to the level it’s at. Walken, the eccentric person he is, nails his role and manages to make the smallest, simplest lines bustle with humor, but it’s Sam Rockwell that shines. As a critic friend of mine commented after the movie was over, he’s one of the great character actors working today and is continually snubbed by the Academy for his brilliant performances. Perhaps this year will be his time to shine.

To expect something truly remarkable, though, would be a mistake. Coming from director Martin McDonagh, who knocked it out of the park with his feature length directorial debut, In Bruges, it’s hard not to get excited, but In Bruges this isn’t. This is funnier and, arguably, more clever, but it’s not as deep or emotional as In Bruges and, at the end of the day, narrative and thematic depth and emotional complexity are more important. Still, it’s not necessarily a criticism to say Seven Pyschopaths isn’t as good as In Bruges. Few movies are. It’s still an uproarious good time and, if dark comedies are your thing, it’s not to be missed.

Seven Psychopaths receives 4/5

Friday
Aug032012

Total Recall

The Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Total Recall, from 1990 didn’t have high aspirations. It was a campy movie full of hilarious one-liners, explosive, gory action and oddly intriguing sexuality, like the now infamous mutant woman with three breasts and a midget hooker. It was off-the-wall fun and it knew it, fully embracing its silliness from beginning to end. This week’s high octane remake, also titled Total Recall, follows a similar narrative path as the original, but somehow manages to be its exact opposite. Camp is replaced with seriousness, gore is replaced with PG-13 scuffles and the three breasted woman is…well, she’s still there (even if they do cut away before you’re allowed a good look).

By the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare brought on by a third World War has made our planet practically uninhabitable. Earth has been divided into two superpowers, the Resistance and the oppressive Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), which are in a battle for supremacy in a world gone awry. Most citizens are lowly factory workers who spend their days building police robots for the Chancellor in his efforts to stop the Resistance. One of those citizens is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). He’s married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he nevertheless needs some excitement. One day, he decides to go to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories into the heads of their customers, essentially allowing them to live out any type of fantasy they wish. While there, something goes wrong and the police force busts in. Next thing he knows, Quaid’s wife is trying to kill him and he’s on the run from the very machines he helped build. The strange thing is now he’s now being told he’s actually a secret agent; he just doesn’t remember it.

Those familiar with the 1990 original will both be in for a treat and a disappointment when watching this update. With plenty of sly references to the original, including a redheaded woman passing through a security gate (“Two weeks” she says when asked how long her trip will be), there is no shortage of little Easter eggs to be found. But sometimes those finds aren’t for the betterment of the film itself. Many of the lines (or at least variations of them) from the original are spoken here as well, but their tone is significantly different. While lines like “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” were played as humorous before, they’re played depressingly straight here. All the fun has been sucked out in favor of telling a darker story, but one that lacks substance.

That’s not to say the original had much substance to it, but it then again it never claimed it did. Both are so packed full of action that they hardly have time to tell a particularly engaging story. The difference, however, is that the original was knowingly silly, so it was easy to forgive. This Total Recall, on the other hand, tries to make you care. It wants the conclusion to be something you cheer for, but most cheers will be coming simply from the fact that it’s over rather than because the story has grabbed hold of you. With its over-stylized action scenes and constant forward motion, the characters hardly get breathers and their relationships are never built like they need to be. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t care about what happened to them that bugged me, but that the movie wanted me to, but provided no justification as to why I should.

Much like the original, the big question at the end is whether or not what we saw actually happened or if it’s just a byproduct of the Rekall implant. The question isn’t necessarily a hard one to answer in either movie when you consider certain things (that I’ll leave for you to figure out), but at least the answer had some slight ambiguity in the original. In the remake, it’s more or less cut and dry, despite trying to force that ambiguity in right at the end. The larger question outside the context of the films is: does it even matter? The answer in regards to this remake is a resounding no. This weekend, when you’re thinking about heading to the theater to see it, don’t and watch the original instead.

Total Recall receives 2/5

Friday
Aug192011

Fright Night

In regards to remakes, bashing Hollywood has become the cool thing to do. I don’t mean to be preachy (because I’ve done a fair share of it myself), but in reality, remakes aren’t nearly as common as original films. It’s a common misperception because it feels like they are (and even so called original films are redundant of each other). Case in point: in the last three days, I’ve sat through three separate remakes: Conan the Barbarian, next week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and now Fright Night. It’s getting a bit wearisome, to be sure, but this new Fright Night is solid. It’s a faithful reboot of the 1985 original that simultaneously does enough to stand on its own.

Anton Yelchin plays Charley, a normal high school kid who is caught up in a relationship with his girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots. He’s trying to fit in, which has caused him to neglect Ed, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, his nerdy former best friend. But when Ed accuses Charley’s next door neighbor, Jerry, played by Colin Farrell, of being a vampire, he has no choice but to listen. Before he knows it, Jerry is after him and Amy and he realizes he won’t be able to peacefully rest until Jerry is dead.

The original 80’s Fright Night is a good, not great, film that used its campiness and humor to charm. It had a creepy moment or two, but it wasn’t scary. It was just plain fun. The remake, similarly, is a good, not great, film, that retains the original’s humor, but dials down the camp and attempts (without succeeding) to ratchet up the scares. For what it’s worth, one film is no better or worse than the other. They both do what they do and they do it well without ever truly impressing.

Neither manage to impress because both films hit insurmountable narrative flaws that hamper the experience. While it could be argued the original is a tad too slow for its own good, the pace of the remake is decidedly too rapid. The film does a masterful job of establishing a battle of wits between Jerry and Charley, the latter the only person aware of Jerry’s true self and the former using psychological scare tactics to keep Charley subdued. Just when this intriguing set-up is about to play out, however, it goes overboard. Jerry blows up Charley’s house and goes on a statewide hunt to kill him. It becomes a case of too much, too soon. Rather than take the calm and patient (and, ultimately, better) route of the original, it goes to extreme measures to please a cinematic society that favors fast action over calculated storytelling.

Where it betters the original is in its casting of the villain. Colin Farrell is wonderfully evil as Jerry and he brings a type of menace that was missing from Chris Sarandon’s performance 25 years ago. The problem is that the script doesn’t allow him to shine (again, a problem stemming from the much too quick pace). He’s most effective when things are quiet, so when the movie decides to go berserk at about its halfway point, his commendable creepiness is rendered moot. Those around him do a good job of picking up the slack in the screenplay, however. Yelchin is a great nemesis for Farrell and he produces authentic chemistry with Poots, though that’s probably more in part to Poots’ natural beauty and charisma than anything else. Likewise, Mintz-Plasse does his best to keep the comedy coming and mostly succeeds, though, like most of his attempts since Superbad, he’s hit and miss.

Keeping with the recent trend, Fright Night is in 3D and, yet again, it’s an unnecessary aesthetic. Because this is a horror movie that takes place mostly at night, the dim picture is sometimes hard to see and there is rampant double vision. Despite a few effective moments, the 3D here is unpleasing to the eye. Even movies that are shot in 3D, as opposed to post-production conversions, have done little to persuade me that the effect is necessary, including this one. But 3D or not, Fright Night works and proves itself as one of the most purely enjoyable movies to be released this summer.

Fright Night receives 3.5/5