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Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

The Lovely Bones Ain’t Lovely

December 27, 2009 1 comment

I can at least call this film an interesting failure. Based on the novel “The Lovely Bones,” by Alice Sebold, the film is about the murder of a young teenage girl Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) and how her murder impacts those close to her. Set in the 1970’s Susie narrates the story from a heavenly purgatory. She witnesses her father (Mark Wahlberg) not being able to cope with her death and watches his ongoing obsession into finding her killer. Her father ends up neglecting his wife (Rachel Weisz) who can’t accept that Susie is gone. Susie also keeps watch over her killer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who on the outside appears to be the Salmon’s harmless next door neighbor.

I read the book over a year ago and remember liking it a lot. I’m not a die-hard fan who demands that director Peter Jackson absolutely stay faithful to the novel. I was curious to see what he would do with the film, especially the heaven sequences. While Jackson creates some really intriguing visuals when the film shows us Susie in heaven, the film is empty emotionally. The book left me feeling very emotionally affected. The film has none of that. Jackson has a hard time balancing the visuals of Susie’s heaven with the drama occurring on earth.

I found the emotional drama between the Salmon family seriously lacking. The loss of the daughter and each member of the family’s reaction to it comes across as just barely hitting the surface. I wanted to see more of the family dynamic and see how it destroys their lives. Seeing the two parents just crying wasn’t satisfying enough to represent their pain. Rachel Weisz’s character gets shafted in the film. Her character in the novel has a much more absorbing character arc. Her actions in the film and it’s impact on the family is totally ignored in the film. Mark Whalberg almost borders on “The Happening” type acting here. The only two very good performances in the film are Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci as the killer. Tucci is appropriately disturbing as the child killer.

The visuals that Jackson uses to represent heaven are the film’s most fascinating moments. I remember in the book the heaven was very vaguely described. Jackson gives us a heaven that is full of big colors and images that are metaphors for what her family is going through back home. Some of imagery in alluring, but at times it comes across as distracting and at time ridiculous. One sequence has Susie being the star of her own fashion show. This comes across as very silly. But I guess a dream of a young teenage girl is to be in a fashion show. Jackson does an interesting thing where he will intercut major scenes taking place on earth with Susie experiencing the same thing in heaven. He lets the visuals speak for themselves. This is an intriguing way to let important scenes play out but it’s not always successful in getting his point across.

Jackson and his screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, needed to omit some of the novel’s storylines from film. Trying to cram in all these different plots robs them of any poignant impact they might have had. Characters, like Susie’s sisters, are not properly developed. I found Susie’s voice over in the film to be very annoying. The information that she tells the audience is redundant and at times unnecessary. Some of the film’s suspenseful moments are handled effectively well. I only wish the emotional scenes were handled with the same care. In the end, the film’s two narratives never come together in a satisfying way.

2 Stars

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Clooney, Reitman & Crew Deliver an Outstanding Film with Up in the Air

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Up in the Air

With this film director Jason Reitman I think cements his status as possibly one of our great future directors. With each successive film Reitman has grown as a filmmaker. I didn’t care for his debut, “Thank You For Smoking,” but I really enjoyed his follow-up “Juno.” I think “Up in the Air” is without a doubt his best film. The writing, direction, and the cast, is a step above the rest.

Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, is a man whose job is to fire people. Companies from around the country hire him to come to their company and fire their employees. He is an expert at it. Watching him fire people is like watching a fine artist at work. All this traveling requires that Bingham essentially live in the air. On the rare occasion when he returns to his apartment we see it is lonely and empty. Traveling is his life and he loves it. He has no use for an ordinary life. Along his travels he encounters two women who challenge his life. One of them is a female version of himself, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. The other is a young employee at his company, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who Bingham takes on the road to show her the ropes.

2009 has been a standout year for Clooney. He was the best thing in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” and his voice work was fantastic in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” With this film Clooney ends the year with another strong performance. He is completely charming, but doesn’t rely on it to carry the role. We get to see a real vulnerability behind all his charm and good looks. There is one great scene where we see Clooney at work. He fires J.K. Simmons with such sincerity that it had me thinking that I wouldn’t mind being fired by Clooney.

The two female leads are also strong. Vera Farmiga finally gets a chance to shine. I love the scenes between her and Clooney. When the two of them go at with the dialogue it reminded me a bit of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Anna Kendrick is completely engaging as the hot-shot newcomer who threatens Clooney’s way of life. There is a great scene where the two go at it for the first time and the cutting back and forth between the two reminds you of two boxers going at it. Kendrick puts up a tough persona, but we are able to see cracks in her hard armor.

The screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kerns, is terrific. There are a number of great one liners. The dialogue and the way the actors deliver the lines is delightful to hear.

The film mirrors the real life economic downturn that is facing the country today. Reitman uses real life out of work employees in the film. When I first heard of this, I wasn’t sure how this element would be incorporated into the picture. But Reitman blends the unemployed into the film in a nice, non intrusive way.

Just when the film reaches a level of sentimentality, the film pulls the rug out of the audience and Clooney. I kind of did see this event coming just when it was about to happen. A lesser filmmaker would have possibly went for the easy way out. I really liked the ambiguity of the ending. Where does the man in the air go now? The more I thought about the film afterwards, the more in stature the film grew.

I think Roger Ebert sums it up best about Reitman during his review of this film. He “makes smart, edgy mainstream films. That’s harder than making smart, edgy indies.” Reitman is a real talent, who has a knack for balancing humor and drama to produce a fully satisfying picture.

4 Stars

A Strenuous Journey Down The Road

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Strenuous is an apt word to describe the journey that the main characters in the film go through. It is also a proper word to describe the film itself. The film is an absorbing journey into a post apocalyptic world, but it’s also a frustrating piece of filmmaking that never quite reaches the level of greatness.

The Road, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, stars Viggo Mortensen as a nameless man who wonders around a post apocalyptic America with his son, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. The two journey toward the coast in hope of some type of salvation. Along the way they encounter a group of outlaws who resort to cannibalism to survive. In this world you can’t trust anyone. Mortensen clings to the past through flashbacks which show his life with his wife, Charlize Theron.

What I like about the film is the dark, dour environment that the director, John Hillcoat, has created. I appreciate that we don’t get to see what causes this apocalyptic world. The only hint we get is the ominous glow of fire coming through the windows in the flashback scenes. This is a bleak world of monochrome. Must credit the film’s cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe. Hillcoat is good at creating dirty environments on screen. Just watch his 2005 film, The Proposition. In that film you literally feel the slime on the characters and environment.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both good in the film. Mortensen is an actor who always fully immerses himself into each film role, and he does that here to great effect. Smit-McPhee does get a little annoying with his dialogue. I got tired of him saying papa. I attribute this weakness to the script by Joe Penhall. Robert Duvall makes a great cameo appearance. Duvall really nails the scenes he is in.

In a film about a world with no humanity, I could have used more of that. I’m not asking for sentimentality, what I wanted was a connection to make me care about these characters. The big emotional moments in the film didn’t work for me at all. The film has to rely on the score by  Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to convey what the viewer should be feeling. I found the score really distracting.

While the film keeps a pretty dark tone throughout, it does falters at the end. There is a deus ex machina of hope that comes at the end that rang false to me. The first half of the film intensely held my interest but halfway through I went from active participant to passive observer.

Nicolas Cage goes batshit insane in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

This image from the film should be reason alone to make you go out and watch this film.

Even saying the full title of this film is insane. Whenever you talk about it you just have to say the full title, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”

This film is a remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara film of the same name starring Harvey Keitel. But the only thing that the two films share is the title and the insanity of the main actor. Werner Herzog’s film stars Nicolas Cage as a corrupt, drug addict cop in New Orleans. Cage goes throughout the film doing really crazy shit by abusing his power as a cop.

Cage’s performance is really something to witness. Cage has always been a unique, strange actor to say the least, and I prefer him in something like this, than any National Treasure crap he might star in. What makes this performance so great is how Cage really walks the border between insanity and humor. There are numerous times when I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or turning away. At one point Cage develops a strange speech pattern, and there is no bother to try and explain it. It just comes out of nowhere. Cage just goes all out with this character.

Going into the film I expected the film to be totally batshit insane from the very beginning. I was kind of let down that the film is actually pretty calm when compared to Cage’s performance. Herzog uses a style of filmmaking that is pretty traditional. A lot of the scenes are filmed in one long take. I wish the filmmaking style could have been more fanatic, like the Cage character. We do get some unhinged filmmaking when we get a hallucinatory point of view shot from an iguana.

I do like that the film does not end like a traditional cop story. It does not go where you expect it to. If there is one thing to expect from Herzog it’s to expect the unexpected. Cage and Herzog make an odd, interesting combo. Perhaps Herzog has found his next Klaus Kinski? I certainly hope so.

3 Stars