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Entries in Rosario Dawson (4)

Friday
Apr122013

Trance

Danny Boyle is one of those directors that can be both brilliant and frustrating. He knows how to tell a story, but sometimes over stylizes those stories with narrative gimmicks and camera trickery. It’s almost as if he’s both confident and unsure of himself, like he loses faith in the story he’s telling and ups the style or takes detours that don’t fit. His most overrated film, “127 Hours,” is proof of this. With ridiculous ghostly visions of Scooby-Doo and long tracking shots that took the viewer out of the terrifying claustrophobic atmosphere its main character was stuck in, Boyle lost much of what made the rest of his movie so grueling. He made similar mistakes with the video game scene from “The Beach” (though it could be argued that movie was beyond repair anyway) and the ending of “Sunshine” that turned a wonderful, thought provoking science fiction movie into a glorified slasher film. Unfortunately, he does it once again with “Trance,” though to a lesser extent. Boyle mixes assured direction and a steady hand with a number of questionable decisions—the abundance of purposeless canted camera angles feel even more so when they’re simple establishing shots—and it’s frustrating to watch. It’s still worth seeing if for no other reason than for James McAvoy’s committed performance, but it’s no master work.

McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer who auctions beautiful paintings worth millions of pounds to the highest bidder. Although he’s been told that no piece of art is worth a human life, there’s nevertheless a procedure in place in case of an attempted robbery. In the commotion, he’s to grab the painting, enclose it in a zip-up bag and drop it down a safety chute to a place where nobody will be able to access it. One night, this procedure becomes practice when a group of armed gunmen, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), show up to steal the most precious painting up for bid. Right before dropping it down the chute, Simon is caught and gives up the bag, but not before getting cold cocked in the head with Franck’s shotgun. This hit causes Simon to lose his memory, which is a bad thing because it turns out that somewhere along the line, he made the old switcheroo. The bag is completely empty. Later, after Simon is released from the hospital, the thieves catch up to him and, with the help of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), attempt to siphon its whereabouts out of his brain.

Essentially, “Trance” is “Memento” meets “Inception.” It revolves around a man trying to recover his memories while also taking place in a dream state, one that blurs the line between reality and illusion, to the point where it tricks the viewer, unaware at any given time if what they’re watching is taking place in the real world or within someone’s mind. It’s not a bad concept, though it’s perhaps less interesting in a post “Inception” world that already tackled the idea in a better, more meaningful and more complex way.

The one thing that will be hard to accept, especially for the skeptics among us, is its story that revolves around the pseudoscientific nonsense that is hypnotherapy. It’s not the fact that it’s there, or even that it plays a major role in the story, but rather that it’s portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way. It never questions its authenticity and instead treats it as a real and true practice, which of course it isn’t. In a movie like “Inception,” such a practice would be okay because it takes place in a strict science fiction universe. Recapturing lost memories the way Guy Pearce did in “Memento” is okay as well because it at least makes sense and is grounded in some sort of reality. “Trance” feels like it couldn’t come up with a realistic way to explore the same idea, so it included science fiction elements in a story that is anything but science fiction, hoping the audience will fail to notice.

Yet one can’t deny that as silly as it is and as desperate to be unique as it sometimes feels, “Trance” works. McAvoy, as usual for the talented actor, gives a marvelous performance that gradually changes as we learn more and more about his character. By the time the end rolls around and the twist is revealed, things that didn’t make sense before suddenly do and our perception of him has completely changed. Unfortunately, that twist still revolves around the hard-to-take-seriously hypnotherapy the film uses as its crutch.

Frankly, Boyle is at his best when he keeps it simple, his best and easily most enchanting movie being the underseen “Millions.” Here, he has a story that is so elaborate, he can’t seem to keep pace and tries to cover it up with technical flash. It’s one of those rare movies that hooks you without ever providing the suspension of disbelief one would need to truly invest in it. You know full well while watching that it’s a tad rough and its attempt to legitimize hypnotherapy is total nonsense, but you don’t care. “Trance” won’t blow you away and if you’re looking for movies that tackle similar themes, you’re better off watching those aforementioned Christopher Nolan films, but it’s serviceable nonetheless.

Trance receives 3/5

Friday
Sep212012

10 Years

When you’re younger, ten years seems like an eternity. With so few years under your belt, the thought of ten years passing is unimaginable. It isn’t until you’ve lived through those years that you realize just how quickly they went. With my ten year high school reunion not too far off in the future, I’m finally beginning to understand this. I don’t really know what life holds for me or where I’ll be in the next 10 years and I’m longing to hold onto my childhood, but I know I have to grow up. It’s a sad, but inevitable revelation. The characters in writer/director Jamie Linden’s movie, 10 Years, are transitioning through the same time period I am and having the same thoughts. Perhaps this is why I connected with it so much, but by the end, I, strangely, didn’t feel sad about my now gone childhood. Instead, it gave me a newfound appreciation for those years and the good times I had while also giving me an excited optimism about the years to come.

The story follows a group of friends as they reunite for their 10 year high school reunion. Jake (Channing Tatum) is now dating Jess (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), but he still seems to hold some feelings for his high school flame, Mary (Rosario Dawson), and he needs to sort that out. His buddy, Cully (Chris Pratt), is using the event to make up for past mistakes, apologizing profusely to any “nerd” he may have bullied back in the day. Their mutual friend, Reeves (Oscar Isaac), has actually become a world famous musician and, despite the annoyance of his former classmates’ desires to take pictures with him, he begins to connect with his old science class buddy, Elise (Kate Mara). Meanwhile, their two reckless friends, Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella), are causing their own trouble and attempting to get close to the girl they considered the hottest in school, Anna (Lynn Collins).

Throughout each story, a lesson is learned; lessons about expectations, friendship, love and even waiting for love (they say love is patient, after all). Most of these stories involve characters who miss their high school days. Some are stuck in jobs they hate and long for the carefree days of high school while others, like Reeves, have done something interesting with their lives, but feel like they have unfinished business to take care of. What each story has in common, though, is that they’re all about growing up and moving on. They’re about holding onto the good old days while forging new memories in what will hopefully be better days to come. For someone who is relatively new to this whole “being an adult” thing, I understood what these characters were feeling, as will anyone who has made that bittersweet transition into adulthood.

As with any movie of this type, one that tells multiple stories with many different characters, it’s a bit uneven. Some are unpredictable while others you’ll see coming from a mile away. Some are genuinely emotional, while others are a tad too cheesy for their own good. Some feel incredibly real, while others seem like little more than manufactured melodrama. The surprise, one that deviates from your typical intertwining vignette picture, is that the better stories don’t completely overshadow the others. Most are so close in quality that the word “superior” becomes a relative term.

This is no doubt thanks to an incredible cast full of names and faces you’ll instantly recognize who craft characters that are charismatic, three-dimensional and likable. Even the ones who clearly had a shady past in regards to the way they treated others, like Cully, are genuinely redemptive, even if their attempts at that redemption are too forceful to reach full effect. In the end, 10 Years turns out to be an unexpected delight. It’s a happy and optimistic movie with a love for life, both for what is to come and what has already passed, and it will leave you with a smile on your face.

10 Years receives 4/5

Friday
Jul082011

Zookeeper

I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.

James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.

It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.

The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.

Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.

The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.

Zookeeper receives 0.5/5

Friday
Nov122010

Unstoppable

Over 80 years ago, silent movie star Buster Keaton released a movie called The General. Critics at the time didn’t appreciate it, nearly all of whom wrote negative reviews. As time went on, however, the cinema world began to realize its genius. Amidst the goofy humor, it was a movie that featured exciting, life threatening stunts. As I watched Keaton jump from car to car and even ride on the front of a train barreling down a railroad tack, I began to realize just how much danger he was putting himself in, all for the sake of my entertainment. I mention this because that movie is truly something special and if you’re looking for thrills, you need look no further than that. Passing by on the 2010 “train action” movie, Unstoppable, to watch The General instead would be a benefit to you, but if you’re so inclined to venture to the theater this weekend to check it out, you’ll find a stupid, half brained, yet absurdly enjoyable piece of nonsense.

Loosely based on a true story, Unstoppable stars Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes, an engineer at a Pennsylvania railroad company. Along with the new conductor, Will Colson, played by Chris Pine, they set out to do their daily duties, but they soon find out that a runaway train carrying hazardous material is barreling down the track towards them. After narrowly escaping a collision, they take it upon themselves to stop the train before it derails and kills any citizens in its path.

Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott have gone from the subway to the railroad. Last year, they teamed up for a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, a similarly stupid, but oddly compelling film that more or less has the exact same problems as Unstoppable. What that film lacked, so does this and both can be compared to other, superior films.

And when you do compare, this doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned The General. Unlike that movie where the action and excitement came from the characters, Unstoppable relies on objects. It isn’t until the last block of the movie that the two leads find themselves in any real danger and the admittedly impressive (though derivative) stunts begin. Up to that point, we merely watch the train hit other unmanned means of transportation. Ultimately, that is its biggest downfall.

The movie doesn’t bother so much with the characters, uncomfortably forcing in expositional dialogue in the thick of the action, but instead focuses on the runaway train, treating it as if it were this giant monster hell-bent on taking as many lives as it can. There’s no real villain here, though it makes a flimsy attempt to create one in the form of the company Vice President, played by Kevin Dunn, and its demonic personification of the train is absurd.

Truth be told, the events that unfold before the big climax are a little boring, though that doesn’t stop Tony Scott from attempting to create some artificial excitement with his trademark hectic technique. Like Pelham 123, the camera rarely stops moving, circling around the actors and quickly zooming in with the hopes that we’ll be fooled out of realizing that there actually isn’t much happening.

Scott’s irritating style is distracting, but the stars of the movie pull off the material, which helped me to, at times, forget about the incessantly moving camera. Washington and Pine are great together and, although they have only known each other for a few hours at the beginning of the movie, you feel like they’re genuinely bonding and coming to like each other.

Their fine chemistry together makes up for the lack of substance from the dialogue, a nonexistent problem in The General. That movie was more exciting, fun and funny than all of Unstoppable and it was done without the help of spoken word. While I am recommending this for its idiotically fun nature, I advise also watching that Buster Keaton classic so you can see just how easily a movie from the 1920’s can outmatch a modern big budget blockbuster any day.

Unstoppable receives 3/5