Latest Reviews

Entries in Drama (69)

Friday
Jan132012

The Iron Lady

There isn’t a movie buff out there who would argue that Meryl Streep is a bad actress. There probably isn’t even one who would argue she’s only good. The fact is she’s great. She always has been and she continues to impress year after year. Her yearly nominations in awards shows of all types are all wholly deserved. The same can be said for her performance in The Iron Lady. She is phenomenal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her clutching an Oscar a couple months from now. That said, the movie is awful. It’s so bad on so many different levels, it boggles the mind. It may very well be the worst movie I’ve ever seen with a truly phenomenal, applaud worthy performance. Meryl Streep is fantastic. Everything else is rubbish.

Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, the first Prime Minister of England. The film, in the loosest and strangest way possible, traces the steps through her life, from a young adult with dreams of political grandeur to the old maid she became. Though a biopic in nature, The Iron Lady tries to be more. Director Phyllida Lloyd, whose only other notable feature is Mamma Mia!, doesn’t trust in the inherent intrigue of such a life and tries to spice up Thatcher’s story with premonitions of her dead husband and child, panicked zooms, slow motion, extremely out-of-place canted camera angles that serve no metaphorical or narrative purpose and pretty much every other over-stylized technique in the book, including an awkward shot where Thatcher floats down the hall while a crowd of people walk behind her. The pizzazz is misplaced. Add some scary music and half of this movie could play as horror.

What The Iron Lady really boils down to is a brilliant performer at the top of her game in front of the camera and a pretentious director behind it. The movie is over-stylized nonsense, a visual mess. But its problems exist in every other facet too, including the terrible editing where it would be too much of a compliment to say it doesn’t have a good flow (that would imply it has a flow at all). There are multiple cuts between past and present, some of which give no indication the switch was even made, and there are multiple moments where a time lapse happens, but the audio stays the same. Take, for instance, an early scene where young Thatcher’s point of view (and thus, position in the room) changes while her father’s words continue uninterrupted. These are rookie mistakes and they pervade the entire film.

To see those mistakes, however, you’d first to have to get past the writing, which is heavy laden with unbelievable and grating dialogue. Thatcher, a powerful figure and intelligent (though controversial) woman, comes off as a joke in the film, always speaking in “speech,” as if she’s addressing a crowd or nation. Even when she goes to the doctor’s office for a check-up, she goes off on an unnecessary rant made all the more laughable given that she’s in a patient’s robe. By the time, you get to the end, you’ve already stopped caring (if you ever did at all), but the movie still manages to amaze by offering a silly, stupid, inane conclusion to the premonition plot thread.

The Iron Lady is dry, bland, slow, boring, pretentious, over-stylized, grating, amateurish and pretty much every other negative adjective in between with one shining star in the middle. As much as she deserves it, Streep’s shoe-in awards nominations will only give the film more exposure and lead more people to watching it, wasting precious hours in their short lives. Perhaps, just this once, we should ignore the power of Streep and let her movie fade into oblivion. We'll be doing the world a favor.

The Iron  Lady receives 1/5

Friday
Jan062012

Pariah

Homosexuality is a topic often explored in cinema. This is because it simultaneously provides interesting characters with an inner struggle who try to find themselves and cope with the discriminating world around them and because it provides for interesting societal commentary, given the rampant homophobia of many of the world’s citizens. Pariah is the latest movie to give the topic a go and it’s weak. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t do enough to reach the thematic depth of other similar movies. At a mere 86 minutes (less without credits), it doesn’t give itself enough time to do or say anything profound.

The movie follows Alike, played by relative newcomer Adepero Oduye, a 17 year old virgin lesbian who is one person at home and another when out on the town. At home, her strict, more traditional mother urges her to find a boyfriend, but she doesn’t yet know that Alike isn’t interested in boys, as she goes to great lengths to hide it. She leaves the house for school in a typical female outfit and changes on the way into something that suits her better. Before she gets home, she switches back again. But the more she hangs out with her friend Laura, played by Pernell Walker, the more suspicious her mother becomes, which will ultimately lead them down two very different roads.

That synopsis probably makes Pariah seem more intellectually stimulating than it really is. The mother in the movie, played by Kim Wayans, is held up as the villain, but they rarely take the time to develop her villainy. Her negative behavior and rejection of her daughter is unforgivable, not to mention the one moment of physical abuse, but all of that is piled on the end. The moments leading up to that don’t even hint at what may be coming. As far as the viewer can tell, her mother is no different than any other mother. She wants her daughter to grow up with good moral values and takes her to church on a regular basis. She tells Alike not to hang out with Laura because she thinks Laura is a bad influence. When you see the two together as they visit various sketchy clubs, you realize she’s right, though we’re supposed to look at her as vindictive and unreasonable for thinking so. Until the end, her villainy is forced and I wasn’t buying it.

In fact, everything is stacked near the end in a lame attempt to bring forth some type of emotion. For instance, Laura’s relationship with her mother isn’t even mentioned or shown until the final third of the movie and it’s just so hard to care. But the question is why should you if even the screenplay doesn’t seem to? No characters are built and the story doesn’t allow them the growth they need. By the time Alike begins to discover into her own sexuality, the movie is in the process of wrapping up and the potential for an interesting story is lost. That’s not to say it doesn’t make some good points. It does, but they’re hit more like bullet points that are missing an explaining paragraph.

Nevertheless, the performances are good and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Oduye is a godsend to cinema like some critics, she impresses with what little she’s given to work with. All the actors do, but they’re stuck playing characters that are uninteresting and stereotypical. Lots of words can be used to describe Pariah, but, as sad as it is to say, “thoughtful” is not one of them.

Pariah receives 2/5

Friday
Dec232011

War Horse

Steven Spielberg is one of the most prolific directors to ever step behind the camera. His movies are mesmerizing, exciting and sometimes even profound. Those adjectives are perhaps most characteristic of his earlier efforts like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but that doesn’t mean his newer films, like Minority Report and War of the Worlds, don’t entertain, even if they are thematically less interesting. He’s a living legend with a filmography as impressive as anyone to have ever been involved in the movies, so even though his latest, War Horse, is still a technically good movie, it manages to disappoint because it doesn’t live up to his other efforts. You should still see it, but only if you’ve already seen the others.

The story takes place during World War I. A poor family has just bought a new horse to plow their farm. However, the horse proves to be a poor worker and he is just as quickly sold to the soldiers going off to fight the war, much to the chagrin of Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, who has developed a bond and fallen in love with it. Tracing the path of the horse and the boy, the movie explores the bond between human and animal, even when they are worlds apart.

Or so it tries. Narratively, War Horse is bland. It moves along at an inconsistent pace, at times forgetting about the boy and other times forgetting about the horse. At times, this movie could simply be called War because the horse has little impact on what’s happening. And emotionally, the film is empty. Only the scene where they are torn apart manages to evoke any type of sadness because the bond between man and beast is barely even created, much less explored. You never feel like the boy is that upset about their departure because it is never shown. By the time they reunite via a major plot contrivance (which are preceded by a number of other major plot contrivances), only the most emotionally fragile of viewers will feel anything but coldness.

What really drags down War Horse is its sentimentality. Spielberg has had success in the past with what some might consider overemotional plots, but War Horse takes the cake. The dramatics in the film aren’t just obvious; they seem intentional. Spielberg could have just as easily filmed himself for two and a half hours begging for an Oscar and you’d get the same effect. Still, the film is a technical accomplishment. He may overdo it in regards to emotionality, but this is nevertheless a terrific looking movie. The gorgeous landscape shots really give a sense of time and place to the film, when folks didn’t have television or video games and spent most of their days plowing large stretches of field, and the war scenes are (unsurprisingly, given his success with Saving Private Ryan) intense and exciting. Spielberg directs with style and it shows.

The actors are phenomenal as well, even though they are forced to trudge through soap opera melodramatics. They are never thrown off by the unpredictableness of the horse and manage to make all of the film’s problems at least somewhat tolerable. Lots of lines are eye-rollers, but they’re delivered with confidence, which negates some of their negative effects. On the whole, however, War Horse is two and a half hours of mediocrity. It tries real hard, but in this case, that’s a bad thing. Its efforts come off as desperate, surely an unintended side effect. Don’t let my negativity fool you, though. This is still a good movie; it’s just not Spielberg good.

War Horse receives 3/5

Friday
Dec232011

Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs is a movie that will be overlooked. It’s a small film only getting a limited release and if the recent awards lists have been any indication, even Glenn Close’s captivating performance won’t do much to change it. It’s a shame because Albert Nobbs is entertaining, humorous, touching and thematically interesting, even if those themes have already been tackled in other films. Explain the plot synopsis and that wouldn’t be readily apparently, so even though this isn’t one of the year’s best, it’s certainly the most surprising.

Close plays Albert Nobbs, a woman in the 1800's working as a butler at a hotel under the guise of being a man. She hides her figure, wears no make-up and slicks her hair back. She has everybody fooled, which is a necessity if she hopes to keep her job and raise enough money to open her own shop. One night, however, she is forced to share her room with a guest, Hubert, played by Janet McTeer, and her secret is accidentally revealed. However, by strange luck, the man in her room is also really a woman. The two form a bond and the more Nobbs learns of her life, the more she envies it. Hubert is actually living with and married to another woman, so Nobbs begins to court one of the maids she works with, Helen, played by Mia Wasikowska.

Although surprising in quality, Albert Nobbs offers no surprises narratively. The plot turns it takes are obvious and all but those who are paying close to no attention will be able to see them coming. I battled with myself over whether or not to reveal that Hubert was actually a man as well, but then I realized it was hardly a spoiler. Once the viewer finally comes to the realization that the film is Oscar bait, the ending is a foregone conclusion, but that in no way diminishes its quality. The path to that ending is well structured with interesting characters and contemplative themes.

Nobbs is unaware of who she really is and has had a tragic past that included a brutal raping. Nevertheless, she’s a hopeful optimist, one that is looking to start a business in a time when women weren’t even allowed to hold certain jobs. At the same time, there’s an inner struggle that is never expressly stated, but nonetheless apparent. Nobbs needs a change. She needs to get away from her job where she is unappreciated and poorly paid. She needs someone to love and she’s finally working up the courage to follow her feelings, even though those feelings are contrary to what society says is the correct way to feel. You can tell she has been unhappy for a while, but after she meets Hubert and begins to make some changes with the way she lives her life, you see the hope begin to build.

You can’t help but love and root for Nobbs. When another character begins to take advantage of her, there’s a simultaneous feeling of anger and sadness. How could anyone do that to such a sweet, loving person? Of course, the driving force behind this character is Glenn Close, who gives one of the best performances of her career. She’s vulnerable, but strong, and her facial expressions are deep and nuanced. You can tell she has a lot invested in her character; she’s so good, she makes the movie.

The costumes and set design are top notch as well. Where Albert Nobbs leaves a little to be desired is in its direction, which is generally flat and uninteresting. While there’s certainly nothing in the film requiring flare, a constant string of shot-reverse-shots don’t do it any good. There might not be much there visually, but that’s a small flaw in an otherwise great movie.

Albert Nobbs receives 4/5

Wednesday
Dec212011

We Bought a Zoo

I wonder who came up with the idea to market We Bought a Zoo with “From the director or Jerry Maguire.” For a PG rated movie that is trying to appeal to families during the holiday season, it seems odd to remind parents that the director directed the filthy (though still great) Jerry Maguire. I can’t imagine it will be a turnoff for most people, or at least I hope it isn’t, because We Bought a Zoo is fantastic. It’s emotional without melodramatics, funny without a feeling of desperation and high spirited without being optimistically annoying. This holiday season, it should be on everyone’s must see list.

The story follows Benjamin (Matt Damon), a single father whose wife just passed away a few months prior. He is now a single father to Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and life isn’t great. Benjamin has just quit his job and Dylan is unhappy, partly due to his longing for his mom and partly because he’s simply at that rebellious age where nothing his father does is ever good enough. After Dylan steals in school one day, he is expelled, so Benjamin decides to start anew and they begin looking for a new house. Eventually, they find the perfect one and decide to buy it. The catch is that the house is actually part of a zoo that was just recently shut down. Buying the house also means buying the animals and ensuring their wellbeing. It’s a tough task, but Benjamin takes the responsibility anyway and, along with his zookeepers Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), Lily (Elle Fanning) and Robin (Patrick Fugit), he begins to renovate the zoo for a summer reopening.

We Bought a Zoo is simple, but absorbing. It takes a family that was torn apart by the death of their mother and wife and uses it to form a new dynamic, one where they can begin to heal and move on without ever really forgetting what happened. Although the mother, played by Stephanie Szostak, is hardly in the movie, you still feel the love that existed between husband and wife, mother and kids, which is a testament to the actors onscreen. Matt Damon is terrific as usual, but the kids shine. Fanning, who is beginning to overshadow her older sister Dakota, is radiant as the young animal lover who develops a childhood crush on Dylan. Ford has the toughest part as the child with the most baggage and a pent up anger over things he can’t control that he takes out on those around him, even if he knows he shouldn’t. The adorable Maggie Jones works as the opposite of her onscreen brother and she elicits a sparkle every second she is onscreen.

All of those people help create a story that is engaging and lively, itself a moving tale of loss and love. Where We Bought a Zoo suffers the most is in its desire to create a conflict. Granted, conflicts are an essential part of screenwriting—without one, there’s hardly a story—but the villain in this movie is caricature, an out-of-place, over-the-top inspector, played by comic actor John Michael Higgins, that will do anything to ensure that the zoo cannot open. He forces them to go out of their way to ensure every single nook and cranny of the park is up to regulation, even if that means spending untold amounts of money to heighten a barricade by only a few inches. While these standards and precautions are no doubt necessary in reality, Higgins plays the character like he stumbled in from this year’s Kevin James dud, Zookeeper.

Still, that character isn’t prominent enough to detract too much from what is otherwise a lovely and inspiring picture. It may be a bit too long with a runtime of over two hours, but the ending is so touching and perfect that any type of restlessness that you may have been feeling up to that point vanishes and is replaced by joyful tears. We Bought a Zoo doesn’t look like much on the surface, but there’s something very special hidden beneath its simple veneer.

We Bought a Zoo receives 4.5/5