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Entries in Michael Sheen (2)

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

Friday
Dec172010

Tron: Legacy

The original Tron was a groundbreaking film. It wasn’t particularly good, but it did something no other film had done before. It created an entire living digital world. It was basically Avatar for 1982. It had great visuals (for its time), but it had no soul. Its sequel, Tron: Legacy, which sported one of the most promising trailers to be released this year, is much the same. It’s a beautiful piece of eye candy that is as hollow as films come.

The story begins in 1989. Kevin Flynn (a young digitized Jeff Bridges) is tucking his son, Sam (played at this age by Owen Best), into bed and telling him a story about Tron, the grid and the so called “miracle” that is about to occur. Afterwards, Flynn heads off to work, but never comes back. He has disappeared and nobody knows where he has gone. Twenty years later, Sam (now played by Garrett Hedlund) is all grown up and living alone. His father’s company, Encom, is being run by others because he refuses to head it himself (which is of little significance to the movie). When one of Flynn’s old friends, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), who still rocks a pager, receives a page from the number of Flynn’s old rundown arcade, which hasn’t been in operation for many years, Sam goes to check it out. There he stumbles on his dad’s old workspace and, after tinkering around with the controls, accidentally transports himself onto the grid, a digital space where an evil program called Clu (also played by Jeff Bridges) rules and forces programs to compete in a series of games.

At its best, Tron: Legacy is a visually arresting world of fancy and wonderment. At its worst, it’s a superficial piece of nonsense that lacks emotion and an engaging story. Unfortunately, visuals only get you so far. What this movie needed was a different script because the one it has is just awful. The entirety of the film is smothered in boring exposition that drags on for far too long and when it isn’t talking in technological psychobabble, it comes off like a really bad melodrama, taking the already ridiculous dialogue and littering it with over emotional gushiness. In a movie wishing to be fun, that's the wrong road to take.

Similarly, the action is boring and uninspired. Its visuals may be state-of-the-art, but its action certainly isn't. Most of what you see here was presented in the original movie. There’s a disk battle, a light cycle race and more, but the only thing separating it from its predecessor is its shinier coat of paint. And in close combat, it does nothing countless other films haven’t done, merely replacing swords with data disks.

There are some big problems with Tron: Legacy, but there are a myriad of smaller ones as well. As stated, the visuals are very impressive, but its digital recreation of a young Jeff Bridges comes at a price. Because his face is covered by computer effects as Clu, the physical emotion and facial expressions in his performance—which is underwhelming to begin with—are hidden. When he’s acting as the aged Flynn, the effect isn't much better. At times, the Dude from The Big Lebowski surfaces, which is funny if you’re familiar with that movie, but it’s contextually inappropriate and shatters the illusion that you’ve been transported to another world. Likewise, Michael Sheen pops up in a small role and at one point seems to channel the spirit of Charlie Chaplin, which is, again, unfitting in this universe.

Those small problems, which also include random, unnecessary interjections within certain scenes, add up to much more than a mild nuisance and contribute in breaking up the flow of the film. No matter how you cut it, Tron: Legacy just isn’t very good. It’s a shallow, heartless, empty movie with snazzy special effects and little else.

Tron: Legacy receives 1.5/5