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Entries in Emily Blunt (10)

Friday
Mar092012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’m pretty sure Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the most boring movie title I’ve ever read. Going into it, you can’t help but hope it’s not one of those titles that’s spot on like Snakes on a Plane or Zombie Strippers. You hope it’s a metaphor for something else that is perhaps a bit interesting, but it’s not. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, at its core, about salmon fishing in the Yemen, yet it’s not boring. It’s actually kind of heartfelt. It’s certainly no perfect movie and not good enough to be considered a surprising gem, but the performances are grand and its story is life-affirming. It won’t blow you away, but it’s worth a look.

The film follows Fred (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert who is approached one day by Harriet (Emily Blunt), a consultant whose boyfriend has just gone off to fight in the war. Along with a visionary Sheikh (Amr Waked), she wants to start a project that will bring the sport of fly fishing to the Afghanistan desert. To do this, they need a lot of money, manpower and even more luck, considering the area’s aridity is unfit for such a project. So with the backing of the British government that is looking to shed some positivity on foreign relations, they embark on a plan that only has a minor chance of success.

When taken as a whole, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is underwhelming. Looking back on it reveals many narrative problems and contrivances. But in the moment, individual scenes work brilliantly and it makes you feel good about what the people onscreen are trying to do. Despite its flaws, it’s inspirational to watch these people from all different backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal. Such diversity is absent in most films and although such a simple fact certainly doesn’t make this movie anything special, it’s worth noting all the same.

What Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does best is develop relationships. Although it does rely too heavily on soapy, feel good dramatic tricks at times, you come to care about everyone you’re watching. McGregor and Blunt, two terrific performers in their own right, craft a believable relationship that blossoms over time. At first, they’re at odds, Blunt ever the optimist that they can pull the project off and McGregor a cynical man who thinks it has no shot, but eventually they spur a friendship. McGregor’s character begins to find hope and passion for the project, which brings the two together in a sweet and charming way. Unfortunately, as is expected with nearly any movie these days, a man and woman can’t simply be friends and a romance sparks between the two. This is precisely where the film begins to go downhill, not only due to the fact that it’s not unlike every other movie romance you’ve ever seen, but also because this inevitably leads to forced drama late in the movie after a surprise plot twist involving Blunt’s boyfriend.

The events that transpire in the film are grounded and simple—this is not a fast paced movie, to be sure—except for perhaps a couple of remarkably silly moments, including one where Fred saves the Sheikh’s life by swinging his fishing reel towards an oncoming attacker and hooking him, forcing the gunshot to stray off course. It’s moments like these that make the film so hard to love. To hear that many didn’t like it much at all would even be understandable, but what can I say? It worked for me. It made me laugh, it moved me and it ended. In the end, that’s what we go to the movies for and despite its problems, that’s why Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is recommendable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar042011

The Adjustment Bureau

I’m noticing a trend in Hollywood, and it’s not 3D. While most of each week’s new releases run the gamut of stupidity, every so often there’s a movie that offers up intelligent thought on complicated themes and issues. The trend, however, is that those smart movies go off the deep end by their conclusion and lose what made them so good. January’s The Rite is only one exemplification of that trend, but, thankfully, Matt Damon’s new thriller, The Adjustment Bureau is here to break it.

Damon plays David Norris, who is vying to become the next Senator of New York. Although young, he is popular among his constituents and it looks like he is going to win the race, but after a video of him pranking an old college buddy gets leaked to the public, his numbers go down and he ends up losing. (Such a harmless prank seems like small potatoes when compared to the usual New York politician scandal.) What Norris doesn’t know, however, is that he was predetermined to lose by a mysterious bureau that operates under the public eye and causes things to happen, which adjust the course of time. Harry, played by Anthony Mackie, is assigned to Norris and has set him up for big things in the future, but when he accidentally neglects his duties, Norris comes into contact with Elise, played by Emily Blunt, whom he met once years ago, fell in love with and was never supposed to see again. This oversight also allows Norris to see behind the curtain and learn of the bureau. Rather than dispose of him, he is told to keep their existence a secret and also to stay away from Elise, but his feelings are too strong and he pursues her anyway.

Matt Damon thrillers always have a sense of urgency to them and they’re grounded so steep in drama that lighthearted tones usually pass by the wayside. That isn’t the case with The Adjustment Bureau. While by no means a comedy, the film has a little fun with its subject matter and gives viewers a chance to smile and enjoy themselves. From the opening few minutes, where everybody from Wolf Blitzer to Jon Stewart joins in on the fun, to the zingy one-liners, there’s some real charm here and it instantly pulls you in its grasp.

Though pleasant, that beginning is also deceiving because it sets itself up for a goofy romp, but when it gets into the meat of the story, it brings forth a surprising amount of intelligence. Early allusions to who the bureau actually is open up questions that form the intrigue (and although it’s fairly obvious what they’re hinting at, it could be considered spoilers, so consider yourself warned). The bureau, as answered by Harry early in the film, has been called many things, including angels. They are the overseers who look out for us, but in a different way than most people who believe in angels think. They are not of this world and they operate under “the chairman,” or as earthbound humans call him, God. In this way, the film ponders over the idea of free will. It wonders what would happen if there were indeed a heavenly being watching over us, but didn’t trust us enough to make our own decisions. As one bureau member tells Norris, we are bad at living. We cause too much destruction. It is told that the chairman gave us multiple chances to run our own lives, but we repeatedly squandered the opportunity, so he decided to control us. Another interesting thought is raised here. What if God changed his mind? A discussion like that is probably better left to theologians, but there’s no denying that the argument would ruffle feathers among those who believe in a steadfast, omnipotent God that, due to knowing everything, would never need to change his mind. But it is precisely that questioning of such complicated issues that makes the movie so interesting.

It doesn’t necessarily answer what it questions, but it doesn't have to because it is questioning religion and religion itself is inherently mysterious. In its story construction, however, The Adjustment Bureau comes off as much too vague. When Norris is told he can’t see Elise again, he asks why it matters. They respond with, “because it matters,” which isn’t exactly the most sufficient narrative explanation. With no detailed reason to keep them apart, and the bulk of the movie consisting of him trying to get to her, the question of why keeps lingering in the back of the brain.

It’s not the tightest thriller in that regard, but its abidance by its own set rules shows the care put into its production. Its mythology set by the opening scenes is never disregarded in favor of more action. Instead, it weaves the action around the mythology, which keeps it at a certain level of style and finesse. At its core, however, amidst the sci-fi mystery thrills, The Adjustment Bureau is a romance. Its message that nothing, even divine intervention, can stop two people in love could have come off as sickly sweet, but meaningful performances from Damon and Blunt make it work. It’s the best wide release movie of the year so far and, though it probably won’t reach my end of the year list, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And don’t forget your thinking cap.

The Adjustment Bureau receives 4/5

Friday
Feb112011

Gnomeo & Juliet

How many times can you tell a story and keep it fresh? That’s a question with no definitive answer, but it’s one that needs to be asked. After countless adaptations of Romeo & Juliet across film, television and theater, is there a point when we can officially retire it and say that enough is enough? It has been performed, written out and translated to screens big and small so many times that I’m not sure much else can be done with it. The newest, kid centric adaptation of the popular story, Gnomeo & Juliet, takes the two star-crossed lovers and makes them garden gnomes—a novel concept, if not exactly sustainable.

To its credit, Gnomeo & Juliet doesn’t try to pretend like it’s completely original. In fact, before the story even starts, a random gnome steps onscreen, addresses the audiences and tells us we've already heard this story—“a lot.” It’s a great beginning, humorous and appealing, and it sets the lighthearted tone for the rest of the film. It begins with feuding neighbors, Montague and Capulet (a nice touch) who believe the other is sabotaging their garden. The truth is that when they aren’t around, their gardens come to life. The red hatted gnomes, known simply as “the Reds,” and the blue hatted gnomes, “the Blues,” have been at war for an unspecified amount of time. Gnomeo (voiced by James McAvoy), a fighter for the Blues, hates the Reds, but ends up falling in love with one of them, Juliet (voiced by Emily Blunt). Her reciprocation delights Gnomeo, but they must keep their love a secret because their respective families would not approve.

Essentially, this is Romeo & Juliet to a tee, except cuter, brighter, funnier and with a key plot point changed to appease the young ones in the audience (and given the age demographic of the film, the change shouldn’t be difficult to figure out). That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the story of Romeo & Juliet is a great one, but by toning it down for children, it loses much of its appeal. The drama lands like a thud because that is not its focus, a clear separation from the source material.

Instead, Gnomeo & Juliet works the comedy over hard, rarely pausing to allow the theoretical emotion to seep through. At its worst, the jokes come off as childish, but at its best, it’s laugh out loud funny thanks to some incredibly clever adult references and top notch voice acting. The voices behind the characters in this thing work like a Pixar movie in that you aren’t always aware of who is actually speaking and if you are, as is the case with Jason Statham in his first animated role (unless you count Crank), they’re so good it doesn’t matter. Some of the funniest moments, however, come from the talented animation team (the same one behind the beautifully macabre 9). Even though only one visual gag works for every three or four you see, they come at such a rapid pace that the misses in between the hits are forgivable.

Still, Gnomeo & Juliet is primarily a kids movie and although it will certainly work for them, after a while the adult brains in the crowd are going to begin wishing they were being worked a bit more. It’s a pleasant diversion, if insubstantial, and yes, that’s good enough to recommend.

Gnomeo & Juliet receives 2.5/5

Saturday
Dec252010

Gulliver's Travels

When you consider how abysmal this year’s children’s films were, movies that would otherwise be easy to scoff at begin to look pretty damn good in comparison. Maybe it’s because Furry Vengeance, Yogi Bear, Marmaduke and The Rock fluttering around in a pink tutu in Tooth Fairy all still haunt my dreams, but I found the latest kiddy flick, Gulliver’s Travels to be easily tolerable. It’s not good, but it’s not unwatchable either and in this state of children’s films, I’ll take whatever I can get.

A modern update of the classic tale by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels stars Jack Black as Gulliver. He works in the mail room at the New York Tribune where his days are spent covering the rounds and dropping off packages. Working as a reporter at the paper is the girl of his dreams, Darcy, played by Amanda Peet. In an effort to impress her, he mentions that he likes to write in his free time and. It’s a hobby of his that he never really pursued in the job world. When she hears this, she gives him a chance to prove himself and enthusiastically asks for a writing sample. The problem is he lied and has no idea where to begin, so he instead turns in a plagiarized article. Unaware of this and impressed by his work, she gives him an assignment, a little one that will get him started. It’s a fluff piece about the Bermuda Triangle, so he hops in a boat and sets off in that direction. But suddenly, he runs into a strange whirlpool that stretches into the sky. Next thing he knows, he’s in a kingdom called Lilliput, a giant in a world of tiny people.

There’s nobody onscreen today that fits this role more than Jack Black. In all his kooky glory, he approaches the role with his trademark rock ‘n’ roll style and gives it all he’s got. He brings a certain vivacity to every movie he’s in. Sometimes, it doesn’t work (King Kong), but he’s never vexing. He has a personality that I find approachable and fun and it comes through full force in Gulliver’s Travels. His excitement bleeds through the screen and he manages to squeeze laughs out of some of the lamest jokes thanks to his excellent delivery.

The problem of the film is not in Black; it’s in pretty much everything else. It’s set in a new, undiscovered world that is devoid of whimsy or charm. Its tiny inhabitants, the most prominent of whom are played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, are uninteresting and their problems are slight. It’s less than an hour and a half, but it still feels too long. It utilizes “barely there” 3D technology that does nothing to make the visuals pop. And those are only the most noticeable problems. Once Gulliver decides to put out a fire by urinating on it (despite there being a giant ocean nearby), you realize that the film has no greater aspirations than to make kids laugh with the barest and most immature tactics available.

As I sit here and struggle to come up with kind words to say about Gulliver’s Travels, I find it increasingly difficult. The nicest thing I can say about it is I didn’t hate it, which is due to no particular reason. It’s not like the screenplay is any good or the acting award worthy or the cinematography exquisite. Rather, it’s an alarmingly bland film by traditional film critiquing standards, but to compare this to The Godfather would be silly. One cannot expect excellence in a kid-targeted film starring Jack Black at his goofiest. If you can keep that notion floating in the back of your mind as you watch it, you might come to enjoy the zaniness in what may be the best “just for kids” movie to be released this year.

Gulliver’s Travels receives 2.5/5

Friday
Feb122010

The Wolfman

The Wolfman has been plagued with production problems since its inception. Originally scheduled to be released in late 2008, it was pushed back numerous times, it underwent reshoots, a usual normalcy in filmmaking, that were rumored to be because the powers that be weren't happy with the look of the werewolf, directors were leaving the project due to the ever reliable term "creative differences," and even now, a week before the film came out, early word wasn't good. Well, it's not. The Wolfman is a dull, lifeless, meandering failure saved only by the sinful glee of watching England's citizens get their limbs get ripped off in splatters of blood.

The Wolfman stars Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, a British man who moved to New York some time ago to pursue his acting career. His brother, still living back in Blackmoor, England, has just been found dead and Lawrence has been summoned back for the funeral. The events surrounding his death are mysterious because his ravaged corpse shows evidence that he was not murdered by man, but by some kind of beast. One night at a gypsy camp, Lawrence finds that beast and is bitten, giving him the curse of the werewolf. Meanwhile, something doesn't seem to be right with his father, John, played by Anthony Hopkins and now he is being pursued by the local police, headed by Abberline, played by Hugo Weaving.

There are more than a few problems in this dreadful adaptation of The Wolfman, but none surpass the questionable decision to cast Benicio Del Toro in the title role. I haven't seen such an egregious case of miscasting since Ben Affleck in Daredevil. The film takes place back in old England, in the late 19th century and Del Toro plays a British lad who grew up there, yet he doesn't even attempt an accent. The problem is that his dialogue is still written in that time period's prose, so he ends up sounding silly. Every line he uttered was a distraction and his presence in this movie is unforgivable.

Still, with such great material to develop from, I find it baffling how bad this thing turned out. It should have been an homage to the olden days of horror, hearkening back to the roots of what made the genre so popular in the first place. Instead, it's little more than a new age horror flick hiding under the guise of a classic. It's incredibly violent and it uses dozens of jump scares, some that are placed within mere seconds of each other, none of which work.

The disappointment is that the film looks good. The production design is impressive, with a haunting, bleak atmosphere accompanied by gothic architecture and a dark tone that would have generously supported the story had there been one to care about. This thing goes from scene to scene without so much of a story arc, basically repeating itself over and over until the anti-climactic final battle. Scene transitions were sometimes abrupt and rarely seemed to gel together, even going so far as to overuse the fade-to-black scene ender multiple times.

What The Wolfman all boils down to is a slapdash, clumsy remake with zero scares, an uninteresting story and one ridiculously bad miscast. Sure, the intense violence will hold your attention for a few moments, but when you realize that's one of the only aspects of it worth noting, you begin to realize how truly shallow it is.

The Wolfman receives 1.5/5

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