I hate to be a party pooper but The Reader for Best Picture...really? I had such a lukewarm reaction to this film I can hardly think of very much to say about it*, which doesn't happen very often. However, as is my duty - I shall try to wrap some sort of pretty bow around my opinion and spew it here for all to see. Let's see...where to start? The film is an adaptation of Berhanrd Schlink's award-winning, best-selling, Oprah-book-clubbing novel about a steamy affair between a young German boy (Michael, played by David Kross) and a woman (Hanna, played by Kate Winslet) he meets on his way home from school one day. Alas, as all steamy affairs must do - their romance came to an end. Years later while in law school our young protagonist comes into contact with his feisty older femme again - only this time she is on trial for war crimes from her time as an SS Guard. Ouch young friend. You were basically sleeping with the devil and had no idea. I imagine it would read much better in the book than it translated to the big screen because in theory, it sounds like a pretty good plot, right?
Well, The best thing the story has going for it is that it talks about the Holocust from an angle we're not used to. What went on internally in post-war Germany? Just think of the trauma. What I appreciated most was being challenged to think beyond the history I know and be told 'Hey, not all Germans were Nazis and many people were ripped apart by WWII in many different ways, particularly psychologically. Chew on that'. At my age, it's difficult to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where militant radical ideology would forge such horrendous rifts between neighbors and cause people to act in the most inhumane of ways towards one another to the point of performing mass genocide. Most films dealing with this era focus on the atrocity and don't focus on what happened afterward, let alone in Germany. If The Reader did one thing right, it was that it shined a light on a very peculiar and intriguing time in Germany's history. The thing is, the story doesn't even get to this part of the plot until you're about 2/3 of the way through the movie and by then you're almost asleep (unless you happen to be very interested in Kate Winslet's breasts, which make many many appearances throughout the movie - perhaps that's why The Academy nominated her in the Best Actress category for this film?**).
Next up...tinkering with the narrative timeline. If done right it can be wildly successful (remember "Memento"?) But in this case...hmm...how to put this delicately? It sucked. And (*SPOILER ALERT!*) the whole plot twist about her wanting people to read to her is painfully uninteresting. Seriously. Illiteracy? I'm supposed to be angry with her for making kids read to her but sorry for her because she can't read herself? That was perhaps the biggest problem with the film. What statement if any is it making about Hanna and her behavior? Dammed if I could figure it out and that my friends is my two cents.
*Please note, this is actually my longest posting to date so apparently I do have some thoughts to share.
** I couldn't help myself. I was honestly appalled that Kate Winslet's performance in "Revolutionary Road" was 'outdone' by her acting in "The Reader". Sure, her turn as Hanna was good but certainly a far cry from the range she displayed in "Revolutionary Road". On the whole, that film was totally overlooked by The Academy and I think they should be ashamed of themselves. There are at least two films in the best picture category that are there wholly NOT the best films of the year - by a long shot. Why must it be so political? Oh yea, 'cause everything is. Sigh.
Posted by D at Friday, January 30, 2009
I have always been a very big fan of director Edward Zwick. Within the past 3 decades he has managed to dabble in many different genres in both film and television as a director, producer, and writer. His characters are fraught with genuine emotion that sits so heavily upon the viewer that in my experience, it is difficult not to be engaged on multiple levels. His style of storytelling for the big screen is often epic and deals with interesting and complicated relationships between friends and family during difficult times. Defiance is certainly not any different.
Set during WWII in Eastern Poland (now Belarus), Defiance tells the true story of 4 Jewish brothers who helped to provide shelter and protection for many Jewish escapees. Obviously being a film set during wartime it is often difficult to watch as we see the worst of humanity personified again and again. But at its core, Defiance focuses on family and all of mankind by examining the bonds that tie us all together.
There are some controversies surrounding the film largely due to the historical nature of the tale. As with all stories based on real events, what we see or read is rarely the full extent of what actually happened and in many instances our protagonists are seen in a better light than perhaps they actually were. But these voices of dissent shouldn't deter anyone from appreciating the enormity of the story.
The cinematography was lovely and the soundtrack haunting. All actors involved were incredibly solid. I believed every interaction and felt the aching in their eyes as difficult moments would come to pass. My only complaint would be that it felt a little long in a couple sections. Overall though, it's fine filmmaking and a heroic tale well worth your time.
Posted by D at Sunday, January 25, 2009
Frost/Nixon is the first film I have seen since the Oscar nominations have come out. In truth, it was a solid movie - is it worthy of best picture of the year? I'm leaning towards not so much however Frank Langella's portrayal of Nixon is certainly worthy of the best actor nom. Essentially the film dramatizes the series of taped interviews Richard Nixon had with David Frost in the summer of 1977, 3 years following the former president's resignation from office.
Overall, I liked the film however I feel it lacked some much needed punch and pizazz. There wasn't anything extraordinary about it at all. I got a little bored, more than once. I yearned to be more engaged with the complicated relationship between these two men and the verbal chess battle before them. It could be that I'm simply too young to appreciate the gravity of what these interviews meant to so many. It's possible that with a closer connection to that history, I wouldn't need additional exposition. I mean I wasn't even born when they were being taped! I have no memory of that era. Seriously my knowledge of Nixon extends little beyond high school US History and the phrase "I'm not a crook". While I can certainly read history books on Nixon - film can bring the man to life in a way no other medium can. Sadly for me, Frost/Nixon just did an okay job at exploiting the big screen's capabilities to allow for immersive storytelling. Nothing knocked my socks off or surprised me. The performances overall were incredibly solid but nothing terribly remarkable (with the exception of Langella). In fact nothing even really compelled me to even talk about this movie afterward. Where was the historical context? The first 5 minutes of the movie? That was nothing! Take us back into the white house. Take us through what made the "monster". Explain it to those of us who weren't there. I can only appreciate Nixon's emotional breakdown if I understand where and why it was so impossible to obtain in the first place. C'mon Ron Howard. The trailers before this movie were more engaging. Sure, it was a well done flick but besides Langella's performance it will be quickly forgotten.
Posted by D at Saturday, January 24, 2009
Note to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas: Your movie title is WAAAAAAYYYY too long and not very good. 9 words! Granted Raiders is also 9 words but that's just it...people call it Raiders all the time. No one is going to say "Kingdom" or "Crystal Skull". Even though you are now both disgustingly rich we still expect you to keep the bar high, make better choices please. If I had my way, I would name this film Indiana Jones and the Aliens. Aliens you say? Yes. We'll come back to that later.
Secondly, why begin your 4th installment of beloved Indy's story with a CG prairie dog? Did you not learn anything from Jar Jar? The CG creatures that were featured throughout this film were unnecessary (well, except for the ants as they actually did serve a purpose to move the narrative forward) and rather cartoony. Not a good move.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way let's talk about more important items. Like - how come Harrison Ford has to age? I want to keep him in an age-free bubble where he will forever be youthful and vibrant. Alas, he's in his 60s now and sadly he looks even older (Calista Flockhart at 22 years younger than Harrison is clearly no shot of collagen the way Ashton Kutcher who at 16 years younger than Demi has kept her looking even better with age - just like a fine wine or good cheese).
Now back to the aliens. WTF? Indy and the crystal skulled aliens are you kidding me? It's the most absurd storyline, really. Let's take it from the top.
Things I expect from an Indiana Jones movie:
1) Harrison Ford - check
2) Good cheesy punch lines - umm, there were a few decent ones but I nearly turned off my DVD when Indy said "I have a bad feeling about this". THIS ISN'T STAR WARS! What were you people thinking? It's not funny to have the same actor utter the same lines in a different film franchise 30 years later. Not clever. Not cute. Not nostalgic. Not ironic. Not anything. Sorry.
3) Indy's hat - check
4) Beautiful and feisty love interest - Karen Allen as the tough chick Marion Ravenwood once more. Sorry, it just didn't work - she's like a soccer mom now - I just didn't buy it
5) Memorable villain - Cate Blanchette as Irina Spalko - your thick accent was a tad, how do you say, unbelievable. I love you Cate but this wasn't a good choice for you.
6) John Williams soundtrack - check - sad though, he could have composed this in his sleep - just rehashed tons of themes from past Indy movies - yawn - nice job on the Inaugural composition though John.
7) Snakes & other creepy crawlies - Very nice use of the snake - I liked that part a great deal but the massive ant hill? This was a little bit beyond the icky gross "eww" factor of the bugs, rats, and snakes from the film's predecessors. The ants' victims were subsequently devoured and taken below ground in a disgusting cloud of ants - a little too nasty perhaps? It's not chilled monkey brains afterall. At least that was kind of funny.
8) Sidekick - Shia LaBeouf - Sorry but no. I don't even think I can elaborate further on this point.
9) Good chase scene - sword-fighting on jeeps through the Amazon jungle? TERRIBLE IDEA!
10) Strange unexplainable powers - back to the aliens. Please don't make another Indiana Jones movie guys. You'll ruin the 3 good ones you have.
Posted by D at Friday, January 23, 2009
Believe all the hype you have heard. Slumdog Millionaire is fantastic. The winner of this year's Golden Globes for best picture (drama), director, screenplay, and musical score is 100% deserving. This movie is such a beautifully executed emotional roller coaster. Within minutes I was struck by total disgust, side-splitting laughter, and quiet tears and by its finale I found myself clapping fervently with the rest of the audience. What storytelling!! I didn't quite know what I was truly in for until about 15 minutes in and then suddenly I was slapped in the face with its genius. On paper it's a film about a guy on Who Wants to be a Millionaire in India. Below the surface, it's an intricate multi-layered gem.
The main characters are incredibly rich and exquisitely cast at 3 different ages. I honestly couldn't believe how much I cared for them throughout the course of the film. I can't even pick a favorite performance because they were all stellar.
The photography by Anthony Dod Mantle is spectacular. At times, it was lit in such a way that almost brought me to tears. Natural light has done this to me before in films shot by the brilliant John Toll (The Thin Red Line, Legends of the Fall to name a few) but artificial light has never truly possessed such an emotive quality for me until now. If Mantle isn't nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography it will be a complete travesty (since this review the noms have come out, and yes - it is up for Best Cinematography).
Director Danny Boyle has brought us a curious cacophony of films up to this point. Sunshine. Millions. Trainspotting. The Beach. 28 Days Later. Each film pulled in audiences with a specific fan base that wouldn't necessarily line up to see the next one. Slumdog Millionaire is a film for virtually anyone. The story has universal appeal. Please support this movie and get yourself out there to see this film. It deserves all the success it's garnering. If audiences demand to have quality filmmaking and intelligent storytelling the industry will listen. Help bring films like this the attention they are so very worthy of.
Posted by D at Sunday, January 18, 2009
So in all fairness, I fell asleep one...maybe two times during this movie. Does this mean I should still review it OR was it the movie that actually lulled me to sleep and it deserves to be criticized? Hmm. I will say this. I was very ...very.......very tired of (yawn) the story of this 18th century woman who basically has no...(zzz)...happiness...(wake up and wipe drool)...in her miserable life at all. (zzzzzzzzzz)
Posted by D at Thursday, January 15, 2009
Ah Grasshopper, I was once number one son. How much fun are pandas? They're like the new penguin. Personally, I couldn't stop smiling as I watched this flick. First off the bat, this movie has the best integration of a studio logo with a film's aesthetic - awesomeness. This was the best quality version I could find out there.
Now we've seen this story before, countless times - guy with practically no talent is suddenly "the chosen one" to save everyone from the terrible threat. Will he or won't he be up to the task? The thing is, it really didn't matter what the story was. The characters were so darn cute. Well, except for Tigress. Tony the Tiger is way cuter than Tigress. That's just not right. Anyway, if you have kiddos or you just an affinity for animation - see this movie. It's a fun watch. Sure, there are a few moments that seem almost lifted from Disney's "Mulan" and "The Lion King" but one can forgive a couple moments like this when the overall enjoyment factor is high. And Jack Black, animated? So fun! He's the perfect kind of guy to be voicing characters. The accompanying cast was not as charming (with the exception of the great David Cross) but they still got the job done.
My favorite treat is the beautiful 2D animation that opens and closes the film. You can view the end credits here by clicking on portfolio & then main titles. http://www.shinestudio.com/
Posted by D at Sunday, January 11, 2009
The buzz behind "Revolutionary Road" has been slightly out of hand. Kate and Leo together again! Cue screaming. We get it, but really folks - this film is a far cry from the Titanic. Really far. The American dream in its most tragic state isn't romantic or adventurous in the slightest. No Jack Dawson standing on the bow of the ship. No icebergs (well, unless you count Kathy Bates - sorry Kathy but you haven't really kicked ass since "Fried Green Tomatoes"). And most definitely no James Cameron. This tale is downright heartbreaking - particularly since this story could happen...is happening...at any point in time...to anyone.
I've come to realize that perhaps the darkest stories about Americana can best be told through the eyes of someone from other shores. In this case Englishman Sam Mendes directs us through the dysfunction, love, and pure anguish of April and Frank Wheeler in 1950s suburbia. This isn't the first time he has pointed his microscope on American struggles. Remember "American Beauty", "Jarhead", and "The Road to Perdition"? A crumbling marriage, war, and gangsters. If that doesn't sum up the American experience, I don't know what does. I'm not being particularly cynical - these are just as much a part of our history and present day lives as all the good stuff. I suppose on many levels it's actually telling a story greater than America. This tale applies to us all - specifically to anyone who settles and doesn't strive to fulfill their dreams.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are flawless. This is not a term I throw about lightly so just for emphasis, it bears repeating - flawless. The emotional range they display is staggering. The fact that Winslet is married to Mendes makes it all the more interesting and impressive. I mean telling this achingly painful story of a crumbling relationship day after day for the pair of them must have been an intense journey. Another notable performance comes from Michael Shannon who plays a "clinically insane" guy who tells it like it is. Boy, does he. It's at times hilarious and at times shocking. He hits the nail on the head every single time and doesn't bat an eye in the process. Of course none of these talented actors would have much to say without the increible work of writer Justin Haythe who adapted the novel for the screen. The dialouge is often intensely powerful and then occasionally quiet and precise. To be quite blunt, it's remarkable. In fact, the overall craftmanship & creativity that went into this project is obvious from the outset. The cinemetography is lush an the score quietly reflective. Mendes and his team should be incredibly proud. It's not an uplifting feel good film by any means but if you're in the right mood - go see this movie. You won't be disappointed, there's little to criticize and much to praise.
Posted by D at Saturday, January 03, 2009
For whatever reason when this film was out in theaters I had somewhere between 0 and 1 percent interest in heading out to see it. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it just wasn't terribly appealing. So when I decided to finally give this flick a chance I didn't have high hopes. Throughout the first 20 or so minutes I was unsure where it was headed or if I was even interested. Then suddenly, it became kind of fun - in a weird way that you almost don't want to admit. First of all - surprisingly it was nice to see Jason Bateman team up again with Charlize Theron (they spent some time together on the tragically cancelled gem "Arrested Development"). They clearly have fun together on set and throw in Will Smith and you have a curiously successful trifecta - three entities you wouldn't necessarily think to put together but wow - it's perfect. Mind you, this is a big stretch for me to state - Theron has never been one of my favorite actresses. However, she pulled it off this time and Bateman and Smith were spot on as per usual. This was also a reconnection of Bateman with director Peter Berg. They recently worked together on "The Kingdom" - an entirely different sort of movie dealing with heroes. I recommend giving it a chance if you haven't already (bring kleenex).
Anyway, back to this movie..we begin the story at John Hancock's lowest point - he's a drunken, rude prick with superhuman powers and an urge to save people (somewhat poorly)...not exactly a candidate for the Justice League. Thankfully public relations guru Ray (Bateman) wants to give him a superhero makeover which leads to a plethora of twists and turns that miraculously kept me interested for the entirety of the film. As an added bonus, the special effects were impressive with some pretty entertaining stunts throughout. Overall I have to say, I did enjoy myself (insert shock here). It wasn't the best movie of the year by a long shot and while at times the film seems to struggle to stay within a specific genre, it somehow keeps itself together just enough to work - recommended rental fare for a rainy day.
Posted by D at Thursday, January 01, 2009