Latest Reviews

Entries in tobey maguire (3)

Friday
Jan312014

Labor Day

Jason Reitman has always excelled as a director by finding the extraordinary in the mundane. “Juno,” for example, was a simple story about a young, pregnant girl who use sarcasm to hide her insecurities and was forced to grow up before she was ready. “Up in the Air” was about a businessman who flew all over the world trying to hit the elusive 10 million mile mark only to discover that he has been chasing a meaningless dream. Eventually, he realized that, despite being surrounded by hundreds of people every day, he was just as lonely around them as he was back home by himself. However, in his latest film, “Labor Day,” Reitman attempts the opposite: to find the mundane in an extraordinary situation. As talented as he and his cast are, they can’t make this approach work. Its story is slow, hard-to-swallow, heavy handed and more worthy of eye rolls than tears.

“Labor Day” takes place in 1987. Young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She has been depressed and lonely ever since her husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg), left her. One day while out shopping, she and Henry are abducted by Frank (Josh Brolin), a recently escaped convict who was serving an 18 year sentence for murder. While at the hospital to get his appendix taken out, he jumped out of the second floor window while the cops were out for a smoke, resulting in a damaged leg. Since he has nowhere to go and can’t move well, he demands Adele drive him to her home where he shacks up for a few days. While there, he cleans, cooks and even fixes broken appliances, which slowly causes Adele to fall in love with him.

The way these moments are handled actually downplays the kidnapping. Never mind the fact that prior to these moments, he was gripping her son’s neck in a violent and threatening way. Or that he tied her up while Henry sat helplessly. Or that he used Henry as his guinea pig to shoo visitors away while he kept Adele from squealing nearby. Sure, Frank killed someone and could potentially kill her and Henry, but boy, can that man make a pie!

And there is its fundamental problem. “Labor Day” tries to negate the evildoings by showing that, hey, Frank is kind of a nice guy. Things may not be as clear cut as they seem, as evidenced by numerous flashbacks that are edited in so randomly as to be initially confusing, but the characers don’t know that. The film tries to make Adele a sympathetic character and, to an extent, she is—she’s clearly heartbroken and longs for some type of affection from someone other than her son—but as Henry puts it, it wasn’t losing his father that broke her heart, but the idea of losing love itself. She’s so desperate for that affection that she quickly looks past the threatening nature of Frank, which could potentially put her own son in harm’s way, for a quick emotional fix. If Frank had explained his indiscretions instead of giving vague assurances like “I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone,” then perhaps her decisions would have held more validity. Such is not the case, however, so they instead come with a lack of reasoning and a type of selfishness that makes her character extremely off-putting.

Thematically, Jason Reitman has never been too subtle. As good as the aforementioned “Juno” and “Up in the Air” are, you’d have to be pretty clueless to not see what they’re going for, but the events surrounding those themes were at least a bit more downplayed, particularly in “Up in the Air.” This makes me wonder what he was thinking while directing this. While some of the in-your-face pervasiveness can be attributed to others (the none-too-subtle score and sound editing quickly come to mind), others are clearly his own doing. The tone of the film is a complete mess, as is the dialogue that works as its foundation. Despite a score that makes it pretty clear upon his onscreen arrival that Frank is not necessarily who he seems to be, the film still tries to throw us off the trail with conflicting dialogue and character mood swings. Frank’s initial hostility quickly turns to a feeling of gratitude right before he once again starts issuing threats; a clumsy arc in an all-around clumsy movie.

To make matters worse, Brolin, in an uncharacteristically mediocre performance does everything he can to manufacture suspense, perhaps at the request of Reitman. He stays inside and away from prying eyes for the majority of the movie, but when he actually does come face-to-face with another person, he couldn’t be more suspicious if he tried. Every event that plays out in “Labor Day,” from the opening sequence to the final shot, is so preposterous that it’s far too difficult to take seriously, a request the film so desperately doles out to its viewers.

Adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name, “Labor Day” is awkwardly paced, tonally inconsistent and narratively absurd. One could joke that the movie came either too late or really early in relation to the actual day the title alludes to, but I’ll say in all seriousness that I wish it had never come at all.

Labor Day receives 1/5

Thursday
May092013

The Great Gatsby

Like all movies, there are a number of ways to analyze, interpret and criticize director Baz Luhrmann’s new take on the 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby.” More than any other movie in recent memory, it makes a number of unusual decisions with its soundtrack and visual style that seemingly contradict with its time and place. If my screening is any indication, it will be common for the viewing audience to start giggling when a Jay-Z track pops up, given that the film is set in the 1920s, far before his style of music ever emerged onto the public scene. Some will find this decision clumsy and distracting in an otherwise straight forward drama, but others will find the soundtrack appropriate in a movie about the dichotomy between surface-deep lavish lifestyles and the true quest for happiness. I’m in the former category, unfortunately. This baffling decision, along with a number of others, takes a movie that is generally well made and interesting and turns it into something that comes off more like a self-parody.

The movie begins with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) discussing the experiences he had with his millionaire neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious man living in New York that has rarely been seen, to the point where some claim him to not even exist. Nick quickly finds out he does, however, when one of his famous parties is thrown and he introduces himself. They quickly become friends and though Nick questions the stories that Mr. Gatsby tells him, he finds something oddly appealing about him. He soon realizes that Gatsby knew his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), from many years ago and had fallen in love with her. Although she’s now married to another wealthy man named Tom (Joel Edgerton), Nick agrees to set them up. Things aren’t as they seem with Mr. Gatsby, however, and it’s all about to surface.

One thing you can say about director Baz Luhrmann is that he knows what he wants. With each movie he directs, he has a clear vision of how it should be and sets out to make it, with mixed results. In “The Great Gatsby,” he attempts to do what he did with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and modernize it for a new audience. Yet those attempts to make something old new again come with their drawbacks, not the least of which is the setting of the source material. As mentioned before, “The Great Gatsby” relies heavily on modern day music, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Andre 3000, Fergie and more. Although one’s affinity for this conflict between modern music and classic time period boils down to little more than personal preference and is not necessarily a bad idea given the tone the film is trying to convey, it’s in its usage that the film becomes seriously wounded.

Much of the early footage in “The Great Gatsby” takes place at one of Mr. Gatsby’s extravagant parties, where nearly everyone from all walks of life drop by to have a good time and, expectedly, this is where the soundtrack is most prominent. However, using it like this—as the source music for the party itself—makes the music diegetic, meaning it exists within the world of the film and not as an outside source most scores and soundtracks exist as. One can’t help but wonder how this could possibly happen in a movie with its time period planted firmly in the past. When you begin catching extras or minor characters in the background singing the words, it really becomes tough to swallow.

This isn’t an isolated example, however. This problem of conflicting styles and settings is indicative of the entire film. The bright, exaggerated colors and excessive use of obviously superficial CGI backgrounds sometimes make this thing feel more like an adaptation of a graphic novel than a classic novel. The vertigo shots, slow motion and onscreen text similarly add flair to a story that doesn’t particularly need it. Frankly, the story is interesting enough without these supposed upgrades. Mr. Gatsby, as portrayed by DiCaprio in yet another knockout performance, is a wonderful character, one with a rich past and a terrific personality, yet he has skeletons in his closet. He has secrets that nobody else knows about. If you aren’t familiar with the source material, you may even question whether this man is good or bad due to a terrific balancing act and great display of skilled storytelling. Likewise, its themes, regardless of how closely one might argue it does or does not stick to the novel, are interesting, showing the power to love as a man’s greatest strength and, depending on how one approaches it, his greatest weakness.

This is a good story with good ideas and great performances that is told well. Furthermore, the tone and style of the film do indeed form a cohesive whole, but it left me cold. Its style, despite its cohesion, is misplaced. Sitting through “The Great Gatsby” is a frustrating endeavor because one can’t help but recognize that the final product almost certainly matches the director’s intentions, yet one must remember that the director’s intentions aren’t always of sound reasoning. This is a film that is surely going to be divisive due to this, but given its title, I personally expected something a little better.

The Great Gatsby receives 2/5

Monday
Jul022012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Rebooting a superhero series means once again going through an origin story. It’s the inevitable nature of the beast. But despite their narrative necessity, origin stories are generally frowned upon; audiences always seem to want to get to the action. I, however, like origin stories because they give our hero something to fight for. They put reasoning behind their actions other than the simple fact that evil is present. Usually they suffer through a life changing tragedy that gives them the will and motivation to fight. Origin stories set up the character for all that is come, making them the most interesting to watch, but The Amazing Spider-Man, coming so close to the end of Sam Raimi’s popular trilogy (only five years after the final installment), feels redundant. If there was ever a movie that had a been-there-done-that feel to it, it’s this one. In a time when most Marvel movies are setting new standards for what superhero movies can and should be, The Amazing Spider-Man falls far short.

Taking over the reins from Tobey Maguire is Andrew Garfield as the titular hero. Peter is still the nerdy kid we know him as and he’s still living with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He has a little crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a character different than Mary Jane in name only, who eventually reciprocates his feelings. One day after being bitten by an experimental spider, he is given amazing powers, including superhuman strength and the ability to climb up buildings using his fingertips and toes. In one of the only major narrative departures from the Raimi trilogy, he develops a durable web-like substance that he shoots out of a device attached to his wrist, thus rounding out his spider abilities and giving him a means to move about the city. His fun is short lived, however, when Uncle Ben is shot and killed by a fleeing robber, partially due to Peter’s unwillingness to do the right thing and stop him. Vowing revenge, he dons a suit and sets out to make him pay. His attention is soon diverted when a giant lizard begins running amok throughout the city. This lizard is the by-product of experiments with cross species genetics by scientist and former partner of Peter’s father, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and he’s out to get rid of Spider-Man and infest the city with a deadly toxin that will turn them into hideous creatures.

And if you’re wondering, yes, Uncle Ben does give the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech, or at least a variation of it. Although restrained somewhat by the source material, The Amazing Spider-Man fails to find a voice of its own, from its redundant opening all the way to its clichéd “ticking clock” ending (where Spider-Man may or may not save the day at the very last second). It’s all so familiar, so conventional of your typical comic book movie that it’s hard to muster up the strength to care, partially because the script seems to forget why Peter’s fighting in the first place. By the end, Uncle Ben seems like an afterthought and his prophetic words forgotten. Yet it’s that tragedy that makes Spider-Man such a compelling character, so by throwing that to the wayside, you lose much of the film’s (and character’s) appeal.

Take the abandoned motivation out of the equation, however, and you have a movie that does at least one thing correctly: it builds its characters. In particular, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy build a believable relationship (surely due to an off-screen budding romance between their real life counterparts) while the descent into madness by Dr. Connors isn’t rushed through, but rather approached with a deliberate pace. It nails everything that The Avengers did so poorly except the most important thing: the aforementioned lack of motivation. But where The Avengers suffered in character evolution and creating a team dynamic, it more than made up for with some incredible action (even if the team was separated too much of the time). The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t come remotely close to matching the awe inspired by that film, or many other recent comic book adaptations. The action is perfunctory in every sense of the word, both unenthusiastic and routine, seemingly there because it feels like it needs to be (aside from the climax, most of it is unnecessary, including a short lived scene where the Lizard bursts through a toilet in Peter’s school and starts attacking him).

Although character growth is more important than flashy action (and always will be), The Amazing Spider-Man is too immature to be recommendable, both in its technique—director Marc Webb, the man responsible for the wonderful, but wildly different, 500 Days of Summer, doesn’t quite have the experience necessary to tackle such a huge endeavor—and in its annoying, cocky approach to its lead. There’s a really embarrassing scene early on, just after Peter gains his powers, where he shows up the school jock on the basketball court, culminating in a painful-to-watch slam dunk that breaks the backboard. This is immediately followed by Peter shredding on his skateboard. This is a Spider-Man for the tween generation, not the mature movie going audience that wants, and expects, more. It may make attempts at being dark, but it’s a faux darkness, similar to something like Twilight: moody, but insubstantial. It may not be one of the worst movies of the year, but The Amazing Spider-Man is certainly one of the most disappointing.

The Amazing Spider-Man receives 2/5