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Anyone else miss William Petersen's Manhunter?
Hannibal isn't bad. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are both very competent in their respective roles. My issue is more with the re-imagining of Special Agent Will Graham. Petersen's portrayal back in 1986's Manhunter (directed by the always awesome Michael Mann) was nothing short of groundbreaking. His Will Graham teetered on the verge of going too deep into the mind of psychopaths, yet was still resolute in his determination to stop these madmen. Manhunter was so good that Ed Norton's Red Dragon, while competent, felt completely redundant. Dancy's Graham is far more ... sensitive, almost equivocating. It's not necessarily bad, but different enough that I can't quite get my arms around this. It's OK, but not sure I can say it's a must-see.
Margin Call (2011)
Fantastic film, but not for everyone.
It's difficult to review Margin Call. Those of us who were close to the events of 2008 will find something personal in the story-telling. Others may see it as more examples of greed and hubris. In any case, the following observations apply to both groups.
The performances are top notch. Everyone from Zachary Quinto to Demi Moore brings their A-game. Even supporting characters are oddly fleshed out for a film with such an ensemble cast. Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany give the performances of their careers, I think. Only the Jeremy Irons character (John Tuld, aka Dick Fuld) feels a bit over the top, while the rest are truly believable well-rounded depictions.
Despite having good characters and amazing cinematography, the film lacks plot. The backdrop and setting are tense, but this doesn't feel like a "movie" in the traditional sense. There's no evolution of characters, no arcs, and the ending may leave some wanting. You can compare it to Michael Mann films where plot and pace are unconventional.
Not sure how the film will perform commercially, given the material is esoteric. If you're a film buff (and enjoy great performances) or you've been in finance, this is a must-see. Other may likely pass.
A Mediocre Video Game with Uneven Cutscenes
The whole movie feels like a video game, but only a mediocre one.
There is some good action with semblances of an engaging story that falls apart partway. I would have wanted CLU, the main antagonist, be more 3-dimensional, which they hinted at but ruined with a Leni Riefenstahl Star Wars moment. Michael Sheen's Liberace bartender should have also been re-imagined since it didn't fit with the overall mood of the story. Jeff Bridge's Kevin Flynn is great when he deals with estranged father-son issues both towards Sam Flynn and CLU, but then misfires when he channels zen monk-like traits from the Dude.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first 45 min. The film had me right until the end of the light cycle chase. Then the script popped an Ambien for the next 40 min before lumbering towards an adequate conclusion.
Visually, Tron Legacy is definitely worth a look, if for no reason than to give yourself ideas for when you open a techno dance club. Nonetheless, stunning visuals and good intermittent action does not compensate for a lackluster script.
Fairly Legal (2011)
After Episode, 2, Still Looking for its Rhythm
Sarah Shahi is instantly likable. She's attractive, intelligent, and kind-hearted. She seeks insight by talking to her deceased father's urn and champions to exonerate an Ivy League-bound teenager from being an accessory to a felony. There's a lot to like about Fairly Legal. Unfortunately, the tone of the series is still uneven.
I'm quickly reminded of Ally McBeal. From the innocent future Ivy Leaguer to the wrongfully-imprisoned man, cases in Fairly Legal are inherently intriguing. These manage to tug all the right heartstrings, without seeming trite.
Also, of particular note is Michael Trucco, who has developed nicely as an actor from his Pensacola: Wings of Gold days (a guilty pleasure, and yes, I've watched too much TV). He plays an amicable and well-meaning Assistant District Attorney and ex-husband of Shahi's character. Trucco here represents a healthy but sincere dose of pragmatism next to Shahi's lofty idealism.
However, there is some lazy expository writing that is consistently off- putting. Early in the pilot, we see Shahi foil the robbery of a convenience store by "mediating" with the assailant and the store clerk. The point of the scene is to display Shahi's amazing powers of arbitration. A similar moment occurs in the second episode where Shahi brokers a ridiculous peace between a cab driver and a bike rider. Both moments drag on way too long at the expense of believability.
As it stands, Fairly Legal is very watchable. Shahi (am I the only that thinks she looks a bit like J-Lo?) is a fun and quirky do-gooder. With some improvements, the show may be able to find its sea legs in the coming episodes.
Solid performances, poignant real-life story, but average movie.
Difficult to write anything negative about such an triumphant story. The New York Times ran an touching article October last year regarding the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters, a single-mom who put herself through college and law school to exonerate her brother. Much has also been said about the incredible performances of Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell, but supporting roles from Minnie Driver and Melissa Leo (I'm glad she's getting recognition since Homicide Life on the Street) are no less vibrant. So why the average rating?
The level of drama does not rise above Hallmark Made-for-TV movies. The plot, story pacing, and overall tone of the film are very one- dimensional. There are too few moments where we see these characters interact on any level that's not (melo)dramatic. My favorites scene involves Minnie Driver and Hillary Swank shopping for groceries. It's the only time these characters feel real.
I keep thinking Conviction has the premise of a David E. Kelley TV series, where the Kenny-theme could serve as a season long arc. The characters are interesting enough, but I was hoping for so much more. Conviction is by no means a bad film, but it's not a very good one either.
Some potential, but mostly disappointing.
I'm writing a belated review now only because I'm watching a BluRay version of a better film in the same genre, Tony Scott's Spy Game, and am reminded of how incredible the latter is while Angelina's vehicle here is a muddled mess.
After a 3 min opening sequence where we are introduced to a promising Angelina in a prisoner exchange (sure the director is using torture as a cheap method to create character depth, but that doesn't mean it can't work), the plot flies off the rails. Nonstop action alone does not create people we empathize/sympathize with, unless you're watching a WWE production. If you don't totally lack situational awareness, you should see the convoluted twist ending coming a mile away.
Jolie is capable of more, and with these production values I put the blame on the script writers and director. I can't help but think this should have been placed in the hands of Tony Scott. If you want to see a top notch spy film (possibly one of the best ever), go watch Spy Game with Jolie's better half. As for Salt, you can take a pass.
Law & Order: UK (2009)
It's okay, but do we really need another L&O spin off?
When the original Law and Order came out some 20 years ago, it was fresh, tough, gritty, and immensely entertaining. I remember watching it through college thinking it would inspire me to apply to law school and eventually become the next Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty was THE MAN when it comes to executive ADAs).
Personally, I think 20 years is too long a time for any series to run. Add a few diluted spin offs (L&O: SVU, L&O: Criminal Intent, L&O: Equestrian Unit, L&O: Truancy Unit) and the series starts to taste like water-down fountain soda. Still, it's a New York staple so I've grown used to seeing L&O production crews shooting around the City.
Which makes L&O: UK, just weird. At first, it feels like a British parody, right down to the "doink, doink" sounds between scenes but with the odd London cockney accent. After a few minutes, you start to pick up the familiar L&O feel, the shaky cam, no nonsense dialogue it's the police procedural show you've come to love, except it's in London. The cast is very competent. Having lived in London at one point, I can say that Jamie Bamber, Bradley Walsh, Freema Agyeman et al. successfully deliver the L&O brand across the pond.
There is nothing wrong with the show, except I have to question the reason for its existence. All L&O shows are exported to Europe, with the standard 1 year delay. I know Londoners have seen our original L&O. So does a local London flavored variation add anything new to the mix?
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Sam Mendes Hates American Suburbs
The New York Times called this "pessimism without redemption" -- that's pretty accurate. Despite strong performances by DiCaprio and Winslet, the film never exceeds a relentless hammering of the banal American suburban existence by Sam Mendes. Within 5 minutes, we see an all-too-real-feeling argument between our lead couple over the realization that Winslet's character is just not a talented actress. From there, we are subjected to a near 2 hours of the worst moments of couples therapy. The problem with Revolutionary Road is shared by both the source material (Richard Yates' novel) as well as the direction. Mendes' earlier treatise on suburban existence - American Beauty - worked because of the self-deprecating humor of Kevin Spacey. Here, there's no humor, just multiple layers of misery. It doesn't help that a little careful scrutiny of that misery uncovers how trivial the couples problems really are (the couple wants to move to Paris because they are in a rut living in the NY metro area. Funny how no one asks, "Why not get another job?"). In the end, R^2 is really a mediocre stage play filled with misplaced angst. Without any real drama (or perhaps too much of it), I really left the theater asking myself "who cares?"
Seven Pounds (2008)
Very Much a One-Note Feel Good Film.
I got a chance to see the screening as well. I liked it, but didn't love it (even though I really wanted to).
1. Will Smith's performance was great, but not enough to overcome a weaker than expected script. It's a rare case when I don't fault him for basically conveying a one-note character. Aside from the incredible pain Ben carries, I don't think we really know much else about him. Nonetheless, solid performance by Will, but I'm not certain it's quite Oscar-worthy that many have implied.
2. Very weak script. Really hinges on the "secret" factor that many in the audience figured out about 25 min into the film. Unfortunately, once you figure out the secret, rest of the film moves VERY SLOWLY. The "ah-hah!" type films are very difficult to pull off because it is really uni-dimensional.
3. Love interest between him and Rosario Dawson just didn't seem to fit in the context of what Ben was trying to achieve. His actions also come across as being a little stalker-ish.
4. Some supporting characters are VERY under-used. Michael Ealy, Woody Harrelson, and Barry Pepper are thoroughly wasted in what amounts to cameo appearances. We've all seen these guys do so much more than the protracted moping that they're relegated to here. Again, I return to the weakness of the script for under-developing their characters.
I didn't hate the film, just thought it could have been better. For me, a solid 6/10, or a "Matinee." For an even better Will Smith performance, I suggest Six Degrees of Separation.
Eagle Eye (2008)
Heavy-handed pap. You've seen this done better in Enemy of the State.
The first 5 minutes of this film was awesome. We witness a Special Forces/CIA elimination of a suspected terrorist. All the cool bells and whistles are there, UAVs, US Army, important conversations between SecDef and the President. Very well done, and I was left anxious for more.
The problem with Eagle Eye lies not in way it was made, but in the ridiculous script. All the ingredients of a good film are there, but the Big Brother / anti-Patriot Act message was handled with all the subtlety of a mack truck. When the primary villain and conspiracy is revealed at the 1 hour mark, I literally groaned aloud. A pure waste of money and talent. Shia, Michelle, and especially Billy Bob Thornton give competent performances, but the story is just ... dumb! For a similar film, please check out Will Smith and Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State. Though made pre-9/11, it deals with some of the same issues as Eagle Eye, except it's MUCH MORE intelligent and entertaining.