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Entries in maria bello (3)

Friday
Sep202013

Prisoners

While I can’t speak from firsthand experience, I imagine the greatest fear anyone can have is the potential loss of a child. Nothing must be scarier than knowing that your kid is somewhere out there, perhaps kidnapped by some lunatic, not knowing if he or she is alive or dead. It’s with this notion that we come to this logical conclusion: movies about child abduction are extremely difficult to watch. They emotionally drain you and make you feel a certain kind of despair that is unrivaled in movies with differing stories. This week’s “Prisoners” is no different. It’s not fun, but it’s gripping and, despite some stumbles here and there, it tackles interesting themes that deviate from your typical abduction story. This is definitely one to see.

Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace (Maria Bello) are a happily married couple who have two beautiful children, Ralph (Dylan Minnette) and Anna (Erin Gerasimovich). They’re also best friends with a couple who lives nearby, Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), who also have a couple of children, Eliza (Zoe Borde) and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons). While together one day, Joy and Anna wander off. When the parents realize they’re not around, they desperately search and try to find them, to no avail. They quickly enlist the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to help them find their child. But Keller has his own agenda. Convinced they were abducted by local oddity Alex Jones (Paul Dano), he kidnaps him and tortures him with the hopes that he’ll reveal where the two girls may be.

With that set up, “Prisoners” blurs morality, that line between doing what is necessary and doing what is right. It never necessarily asks the viewer to pick a side, but it makes them understand the desperation in Keller’s actions while also showing them the ugliness that such actions entail. What is morally correct is never in question—clearly he should not be torturing this man—but whether or not his actions are justified will surely split viewers. And that’s the beauty of “Prisoners.” It tackles the complexity of morality while also encompassing a number of other heavy themes, including coping with grief, vigilantism, acting on emotions in the face of doubt and condemning those with absence of proof. When Keller jumps in his truck early in the movie and the man on the radio quotes scripture about how all men are “born of sin,” you’ll quickly realize that “Prisoners” is not going to be an easy watch; it will indeed make you wonder what you would do in the same situation.

Those are the most interesting aspects of the movie, as, unfortunately, the mystery behind who has the children isn’t the most compelling. Too often, objects are focused on so blatantly that their importance is too transparent and given the film’s thematic complexities, the obvious narrative direction was certainly not going to be the one the movie took. Thus, it’s fairly easy to figure out who has the kids. If you’re unable to figure it out, the motive behind this mystery villain is so utterly ridiculous, so ruthlessly absurd, so hilariously asinine that it comes dangerously close to turning an otherwise believable and tense film into a joke, so you may find yourself not caring anyway. Without ruining anything, the finale is such an obvious promotion of religion that if you took the curse words and some of the more egregious violence out of the rest of the film, you could pass it off as Christian. While religious movies are not inherently a bad thing, the angle feels out-of-place, almost like it was plopped in by a writer who wanted to say something about it, but had no idea how.

But while the whole reasoning behind the mystery is laughable, the film is nonetheless exceptionally well made. The understated score brilliantly builds ample amounts of suspense, the direction and cinematography are solid, with establishing shots that, deliberate or not, feel eerily like POV shots, and the majority of the performances are fantastic. While Gyllenhaal’s character is oddly written and portrayed with rapid, violent blinks, Hugh Jackman knocks it out of the park. This is the rawest, most powerful performance he’s ever given, to the point where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him nominated for an Oscar come awards season.

With that said, and despite the good performances, many of the characters are throwaway. Maria Bello’s character is mostly useless after having a nervous breakdown early on, sleeping away the rest of the movie and never doing anything substantial until the end, while the older kids are more or less the same. And even with a runtime of over two and a half hours, certain ideas aren’t fleshed out, though that’s not entirely surprising given the large amount of them on display. What ultimately makes the film work, however, is that the characters, when not sidelined at least, feel like real people. These families are beautifully established very early on, so you’ll care about what happens to those kids not simply because they’re kids, but because you’ve invested yourself in them. “Prisoners” is not the most solid movie in the world, nor is it subtle, but what it lacks in those areas, it makes up for with enough punches to the gut and haunting moments to last a lifetime.

Prisoners receives 4/5

Thursday
Jul112013

Grown Ups 2

Critics of waterboarding say that its results are not conclusive and don’t prove guilt. This is due to an eventual degradation of the recipient’s willpower, to the point where they’re willing to say whatever the torturer wants to hear so they can gain a reprieve from their endless onslaught. It’s a criticism that can be levied at many torture tactics, but if that’s the desired effect, none are as potent as watching “Grown Ups 2.” Halfway through this thing, I was ready to admit guilt to any number of horrible atrocities, just so long as it meant the movie would end. Plainly put, this isn’t just the most unfunny comedy of the year. It’s one of the most unfunny comedies of all time.

While the first movie was certainly no gut buster, it at least had a script. It had a story for the characters to exist in and progress, even if minimally. Conversely, the sequel feels more like a sketch comedy show. It doesn’t have a story so much as it does a series of random encounters that put our characters in allegedly goofy situations. There are unconnected scenes that take place at a ballet recital where the beautiful, big breasted teacher overshadows the children on stage, a female aerobics class where the skeevy janitor pretends to be the instructor and gets the women to perform sexually suggestive maneuvers, a doctor’s office where the “hilarious” payoff results in the doctor pulling out a flask from behind his lab coat, a finale where the old timers face off against an invading frat led by a character IMDB refers to as “Frat Boy Andy” (Taylor Lautner) and more. Quite literally, none of these scenes have anything to do with each other.

Continuing in the tradition of such lowbrow comedies as pretty much any Adam Sandler movie in the last five or six years, “Grown Ups 2” is riddled with potty humor so misguided and poorly delivered that it does a disservice to the values of actual excrement. The very first joke in the movie involves a deer urinating in Lenny’s (Sandler) mouth and it’s all downhill from there. Simulated defecation while standing on a chocolate ice cream machine, actual defecation in a retail store toilet and “burp snarts” (when you start with a burp as a sneeze is coming out, which pushes out a subsequent fart) become the order of the day. And if you don’t find burp snarts funny the first time, you won’t the second time either. Or the third. Or fourth. Or fifth. Or when the film wraps itself up with one, the final joke in a movie so full of scatological humor like this that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the pages of the completed script were accidentally used as toilet paper and the filmmakers couldn’t tell the difference.

When the film can’t find an organic (used in every sense of the word) way to include a pee or poo joke, “Grown Ups 2” reverts to slapstick humor. If your idea of a good time comes from watching people fall over, get hit with any number of odd assortments, accidentally spray pepper spray in their faces and have their crotch eaten by a deer, then this is the movie for you. In particular, Nick Swardson, playing a character imaginatively named Nick, exists solely to inflict harm upon. He takes so much abuse in this movie, I actually felt bad for him. His career has plummeted so far (if you can actually find a peak somewhere, that is), that he is relegated to a literal punching bag, the lowest point of a movie that already sinks so low it passes by the bottom of the barrel and digs a trench under it.

For every joke that delivers the mildest of chuckles (which would total, if my math is correct, one), there are about 150 that are so bad, they actually diminish your faith in humanity, especially if the crowd you’re watching this abomination with is actually laughing. Frankly, if this is what we find funny, there’s no hope for the future of American comedy. With a runtime of an hour and 40 minutes, “Grown Ups 2” is about an hour and 39 minutes too long and is an absolute embarrassment for all involved.

Grown Ups 2 receives an easy 0/5

Friday
Jun172011

Beautiful Boy

One of the beautiful things about cinema is that it forces us to experience events most of us would never have experienced otherwise. It pushes us into uncomfortable situations and, for a short time, allows us to live vicariously through the characters onscreen and view the world as they do, even if their world has been shaken to its core. The intense new drama, Beautiful Boy, is the latest film to give us such an opportunity. It’s not a pleasant movie and it certainly isn’t the way most moviegoers are going to want to spend their time in the theater this summer, but to pass it by would be a mistake. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s timely and relevant and is anchored by two incredibly potent performances from its leads.

For those familiar with tragedies like the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, this story is going to sound quite familiar. It follows Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello), a married couple in the midst of a separation, as they cope with the fact that their son, Sammy (Kyle Gallner), shot up his university before taking his own life. A media storm ensues as Bill and Kate take refuge with Kate’s brother, Eric (Alan Tudyk), and his wife and child.

I don’t know what it’s like to have something like this happen—few do—but I have to imagine the experience would be something like how it is presented in Beautiful Boy. It may add some plot points for increased dramatic effect (like the aforementioned separation) that may not be indicative of what other parents with stronger relationships have gone through, but it nevertheless feels like Beautiful Boy nails it. As Bill and Kate learn about what happened, they go through all kinds of different feelings: sadness, anger, confusion and, of course, guilt. They begin to place their son’s actions on themselves, wondering what they could have done differently that would have prevented it from happening.

After some time, they do whatever they can to get their minds off it—Kate cleans incessantly and fixes appliances that don’t necessarily need fixing while Bill tries to convince his boss he’s ready to come back to work—but nothing really works. Every time they try to move on, they keep slipping backwards. Though assumedly true to life (moving on from such a tragedy would certainly not be easy), the film still finds itself going in one giant redundant circle because of this. The chain reaction always begins with a willingness to move on before ending on an emotional breakdown after a sequence of similar events in between. However, those emotional breakdowns are powerful and do more than enough to make up for the fact that you’re more or less seeing the same thing happen again and again.

The message in Beautiful Boy comes off as surprisingly unclear, but that could be because the film doesn’t really have one. You could say it argues the importance of love and understanding, or even the all important foundation of family, but if that’s the case, the film is reaching in extreme directions. Most kids will not grow up to do something like this, regardless of how neglectful their parents were. If anything, the film begs parents to listen to their children. In a wonderful early scene, the night before Sammy commits his vile deed, he calls his parents in what seems like one last attempt to reach out to them, but neither senses anything wrong with him, even though there clearly is. Before long, Bill tells his son he’s going to get some sleep and hangs up the phone, only to pick up the newspaper and start reading. He later says, when being questioned by the police, his son sounded “completely normal,” but he really has no idea. He heard him, but he didn’t listen.

Beautiful Boy sounds heavy handed, but it’s not. With two less capable actors onscreen, it could have gone in that direction, but Bello and Sheen are terrific and its because of their raw emotion that the film is able to adequately tackle this difficult subject matter. They and their up-to-the-challenge co-stars show the devastation an event like this causes not just to those directly involved, but also to those around them. While many are quick to point the finger at the parents of a killer, Beautiful Boy shows that the parents are victims too. And that’s a brave stance to take.

Beautiful Boy receives 3.5/5