Latest Reviews

Entries in Elle Fanning (4)

Friday
Mar222013

Ginger & Rosa

In this time of political turmoil, in a world where fear dictates much of our actions and motivations, a movie set during the nuclear scare of the 1960’s like "Ginger & Rosa" should be relevant to today. We should share the character’s sadness and fear for what often seems to be a waiting game to our inevitable self-destruction. "Ginger & Rosa" has all the ingredients to do that, but, unfortunately, doesn’t mix them together very well. Its approach is unfocused and halfhearted and it lacks a reason to care. The film always feels like a film rather than an insight into a turbulent time, so the viewer always feels detached from what’s happening. It’s like when your leg starts tingling after seeing someone break theirs. You know what it feels like, but it’s not quite the same.

The story takes place in London in 1962 and follows Ginger (Elle Fanning), a 17 year old girl who is best friends with Rosa (Alice Englert). They live a pretty happy existence, but they’re becoming increasingly worried about all the talk on television about these new nuclear bombs, which, if detonated, would be powerful enough to make the Hiroshima bomb look like someone kicking over an anthill. Eventually, they start to join groups who protest the bomb. Ginger’s father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), finds this to be a wonderful thing, as he was also an activist when he was younger. However, he and Ginger’s mother, Natalie, (Christina Hendricks), are about to go through a separation, which leads to a relationship between Roland and Rosa. Now Ginger has to deal with an unyielding fear of nuclear annihilation and a personal life that seems to be spiraling out of control.

Like many British dramas, including the good, but slightly overrated "An Education," "Ginger & Rosa" is slow paced. Although not an inherently bad thing, the film runs for less than an hour and a half, which makes the plodding narrative work counterproductively to the issues the film is trying to address. It simply doesn’t provide itself enough time to adequately explore both the personal story at hand and the threat of global extinction. Instead, it spends a minimal amount of time on both and neither really work.

Also like many British dramas, the acting is mostly terrific, particularly from Elle Fanning, who is proving herself to be quite the talent, even if she hasn’t quite gotten to the point where she can carry a movie. Much like her sister Dakota, her talent always shines through with each performance without ever nailing that “wow” factor that would make her stand out. Unfortunately, the buzz surrounding this movie isn’t due to its overall quality, but rather solely her performance. This focus on performance over story relegates the movie to merely admirable rather than truly entertaining.

Considering the fact that "Ginger & Rosa" has to coast by almost entirely on Fanning’s performance, the film quickly finds itself in bad shape. It’s a shame because the few times it does get interesting is when it explores, however briefly, its themes. Ginger’s father, for instance, isn’t a religious man and tries to explain to her that God is a construct of the mind, not an inherent trait or belief we’re born with, but rather an idea that is planted there by those who created it. Nevertheless, Ginger’s fear of worldwide catastrophe drives her, at least in some capacity, to religion—the innate fear of death is what drives everyone to religion. Of course, a real transition never fully takes place, once again ignored by a screenplay that doesn’t know where it wants to go. What could have been timely and necessary viewing for today’s generation instead becomes another forgettable, unworthy addition to an increasingly underwhelming cinematic landscape.

Ginger & Rosa receives 2/5

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

Thursday
Jun092011

Super 8

For many people, Super 8 is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, the same man behind 2009’s most exciting film, Star Trek, and produced by none other than cinema legend Steven Spielberg, Super 8 was bound for greatness. But, like most other movies this year, it hits some sour notes along the way. It’s incredibly entertaining, full of heart and whimsy, but when all is said and done, it’s not much different from any other sci-fi creature feature you’ve ever seen.

The film takes place in the 70’s and follows a group of kids as they set out to make their own little movie for an upcoming film festival. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is directing while one of his best friends, Joe (Joel Courtney) does make-up. It’s a zombie movie and they already have their lead and zombie(s) in the form of Martin (Gabriel Basso) and Cary (Ryan Lee). What they need now is a romantic interest, so they employ Joe’s crush, Alice (Elle Fanning) and set out to make their movie. While filming one night on a seemingly abandoned train station platform, an Air Force train passes by, derails and its cargo escapes. The problem is that the cargo is alive and is now wreaking havoc in their small Ohio town.

Super 8 is a filmmaker’s love letter to filmmaking. Because the central story involves a group of kids shooting their own movie, Abrams gives himself an opportunity to mock certain aspects of the filmmaking process. He pokes fun at rewrites, pushy directors, cost cutting and even distracting background extras. Throughout the film, the kids keep shooting, despite the creature running around, and even use the recent destruction as backgrounds for their shots. In a way, Abrams is giving a cinematic hug to film. He loves it and does his best to push that love onto us. When you finally get to see the kids’ final product during the credits, which include the scenes they shot within the scenes of the bigger movie you just finished watching, you’ll realize he succeeded.

Given the marketing of Super 8, which makes it out to be a serious tale, many will find the film to be more charming and funny than they expected. Unfortunately, also due to the marketing, which, like many movies Abrams is involved in, kept the plot details in a shroud of secrets, many will also find themselves disappointed by the time those credits roll around. To put it simply (and to avoid inadvertent spoilers), the set-up is better than the payoff. It begins with a bang (quite literally), setting up a mystery that begs to be solved, but once it is, it’s nearly impossible not to feel underwhelmed. You’ve seen this type of movie before, especially if you’re familiar with Spielberg’s body of work. It’s a shame because the film is so well done, but when a mystery is played up as much as it is in Super 8, the solution should be unique, not ripped from other films. Call it homage if you want; that doesn’t make it any less redundant.

Still, even with that massive problem, the film is endlessly enjoyable thanks to terrific performances from its mostly child cast (some of which have never acted before), Abrams fine eye for detail and his keen understanding of human emotion. You’ll laugh a lot during Super 8, but you might be surprised to find yourself tearing up too. Abrams begins the movie with the death of Joe’s mother and then milks it for the next hour and 45 minutes, but it’s never excessive or manipulative. He handles it delicately and you’ll never feel like you’re crying simply because you’re supposed to.

Abrams nails the comedy and the drama, but in his attempt to hit the emotional trifecta with fear, he fails. Super 8 is not scary, but it tries real hard with a large number of “Boo!” scares, which any filmgoer knows are merely startling (and that’s not the same as scary). It also goes a little overboard with its time period jokes. It’s cute for a while, but making fun of portable audio cassette players is a bit obvious and not particularly inspired.

Super 8 isn’t as frenetic as Star Trek and it’s not as novel as Cloverfield (which Abrams produced), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It exists separately from Abrams’ other cinematic endeavors, though not from other cinematic endeavors in general. Super 8 is a good movie, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not the mind-blowing spectacle it wants to be and, perhaps pretentiously, thinks it is.

Super 8 receives 3.5/5

Wednesday
Dec222010

Somewhere

Sofia Coppola’s movies seem so simple on the surface, but always prove more than meets the eye, with thoughtful subtexts that too many filmgoers seem to miss. As a colleague of mine recently said to me, “Those that say ‘nothing happened’ have completely missed the point.” Her newest movie, Somewhere, is quiet, understated and sublime. Rebounding from the mixed reaction she received from her last picture, Marie Antoinette, Coppola has returned to the glory of her 2003 hit, Lost in Translation. Somewhere is a spiritual successor to that film, in tone and style, and if you liked it, you’ll probably like this.

Stephen Dorff plays our protagonist, Johnny Marco. When we meet him, he seems a loner. He wastes his days away driving his car around and chasing women, just to end up back home alone drinking booze and ordering pole dancers. He has some friends, but he seems disconnected from them. When he finally does get a girl, he ends up falling asleep on top of her before the fun begins. He comes off as a lonely, downtrodden vagabond, never quite sure what he’s going to be doing from day to day, and you begin to feel sorry for him. Then, suddenly, we find out he’s a big Hollywood actor. This sudden flip in perspective is jarring, but in a good way.

The beginning of the film features very little dialogue and you see Johnny at his barest. As an actor, he’s almost always surrounded by a number of people, including fans, agents and paparazzi. He lives a lifestyle where he is never really alone, yet you gain the understanding that he is. Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, smartly hides his profession so as not to skew how viewers see him.

Eventually, his daughter, Cleo, played by Elle Fanning, comes into the picture, surprising him with a visit while he goes through the motions on a PR tour for his newest film. She’s a bubbly young eleven year old and loves her dad, even though he hasn’t always been around. Her appearance in the picture once again allows us to view Johnny through a different lens. When she arrives, he is clearly happy to see her and not once does he complain to her that he is too busy. In fact, he takes her along with him on his tour and does his best to make time for her.

However, he is not always consistent, which makes him a difficult character to decipher. Sometimes women take priority, like in a scene where he sneaks one into his hotel room while Cleo sleeps, but other times the opposite is true and he blows off women to spend time with her. This inconsistency is okay, however, because that’s how humans work. We don’t always consider our priorities and our urges end up getting the best of us. In regards to human nature, Somewhere is the most realistic movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

Somewhere is a minimalist movie in sight and sound. When possible, Coppola keeps the camera still and she mercifully takes her time in telling the story, as opposed to the kinetic pace of most Hollywood productions. If there’s a performance of, well, anything, you’ll see it in full. You’ll see a complete ice skating rehearsal and not one, but two stripteases to the end. It’s slow moving, but it’s never dull.

Hesitance going into the movie is understandable. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and the main star, Stephen Dorff, hasn’t done anything interesting since, let’s be honest, 1998’s Blade. But don’t let that stop you. Dorff gives a magnificent performance and makes you wonder why he isn’t hired to star in more major films. Actually, the entire cast is up to the challenge, with the only weak standout being Chris Pontius as Johnny’s best friend, though the fact that he could even remember and recite his lines seems like a minor miracle given the assumption that is he probably on some sort of drug, either for recreation or to curb the pain from his endeavors in the Jackass movies.

There is so much to discuss in Somewhere that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings because you won’t gather all of its intricacies in one sitting. I know I didn’t. And that, if anything, is what makes this film great.

Somewhere receives 4/5