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The Sound of Music Live! (2013)
Why all the comparisons?
There are some who compare the live TV production to the 1965 film; others compare it to the original Broadway production. Although such comparisons may be inevitable, I think that things should stand on their own merits and deserve to be seen in their own light (I mean, no disrespect intended to the extremely brave and wonderful Von Trapp family, but has anyone compared them to the Broadway and/or Hollywood version of themselves).
My impression of the 'live' production was that it was quite a Herculean task to pull off and they were certainly ambitious in their efforts. And, everyone involved should be applauded. However, when dealing with such a huge undertaking a subject matter, as well as such iconic roles, casting becomes a huge issue.
Yes, Carrie Underwood is a wonderful singer and can hit the high notes, and yes she is popular, but her acting is nowhere near up to snuff. I would go as far as to say she was wooden and lacked all of the charm the role needs. I'm not saying this to be malicious. It is only my impression of her in this particular role, not a criticism of her as a country-western performer, nor human being.
Yes, Stephen Moyer is handsome, dashing, and can carry a tune. But he does not have the charm, nor charisma of a Captain Von Trapp. He seemed lost and too concerned with hitting his marks.
And, who can ignore the enormous vocal talent that is Audra McDonald. But even she was far from believable as the Mother Superior. She seemed to be playing the role of a 'Grande-Dame of the Stage', dressed in a habit.
What it comes down to, for me only, is if a production has the combined chemistry of all of its parts to draw me in and make me care for the characters, feel their emotions, and invest in their outcome. For this group, I did not.
I may say 'A' for 'ambition', but a definite 'D' for 'dull'.
Sum-total of our experiences - in film and otherwise
This is a lovely film that borrows a little from everything and everywhere. It borrows from other films, directors, characters, other eras, and even music. We have seen a little bit of this story in other places, these same characters played by other actors, directed by other directors. I like the fact that you cannot pinpoint the era in which the story takes place. It is for this very same reason that I enjoyed this version of this story. We have seen all the different permutations, and for once, I like the fact that there is no moralising, no long, drawn-out monologue, or proselytising. It was said of Billy Wilder that he gave as much importance to what wasn't written on the page. It holds true here.
We glimpse the non-judgmental nature of an innocent who knows nothing of sex and sexual love, therefore she isn't shocked by two men sleeping in the same bed. We witness the Mother Superior's fervent faith that this is her calling, to raise a child in perfect purity. We see that this child is the one chance for the Sisters to know the love of a daughter. We find love in humankind, sibling or other, that exists. We observe the evolution of how a simple, though some may argue necessary, lie can unravel and destroy. And we see what real, true, pure unadulterated love can mend, and help flourish.
It touched my cynical-yet-idealistic heart.
Daniel & Ana (2009)
Read This Review: Trauma is Rarely as Melodramatic as in Soap Operas or Movies
I hope you get to read this after, or instead of, the other reviews. Firstly, I do respect every person's personal point of view. What we take away from a film is subjective and a reflection of our own experiences.
This is supposed to be a true story, and I don't doubt it.
A brother and sister are forced by kidnappers to do, what in my mind, is probably one of the most traumatic things imaginable, have sex with each other. The emotional trauma is unfathomable on many levels. Put yourself in one of their shoes and think about how you would feel, and how you might have reacted in that situation.
What is successful about the movie is the realism with which the incident is filmed: there is no soundtrack of ominous musical creepiness. And then, how the shame, fear, "lost-ness", sadness, depression, and emptiness that follows are portrayed. As victims, how do they cope with all of that at once? They certainly can't look each other in the eye after such a horrific experience. Nor can they tell their parents. She is older and gets herself to a therapist. He is much younger and flounders, even as she tries to have him accompany her to sessions. Even when things seem to get better for one, the other's hurt manifests itself in tragic ways.
There is none of the anger and object-throwing that would be seen in a Hollywood-type movie. None of the melodrama of a Lifetime movie. What there is in the movie is the beauty of the director's quietness, and the restrained acting ability. This allows the feeling of horror, and the anguish that follows to permeate us, as it does the victims. Every emotion is legible on their faces.
This is not an easy movie, by any means. It is not meant as 'life's-horror-story" entertainment. It is a reality that seems very far away from our own, but, with a little bit of empathy, can be deeply felt.
Not for everyone, but definitely worth seeing.
The Words (2012)
Interesting Concept...Okay Delivery
Interesting concept for the plot, but mired in screenplay editing and, surprisingly, some weak acting.
Not sure if I'm spoiling anything, but:
The movie starts with the author at the reading of his book. The plot of his book is that another author steals the work of an unknown writer, becoming famous, and then meeting an older gentleman (the actual writer). Lots of rich soil to harvest many, many themes from, both moral and psychological.
Sounds great, but...I'm not quite sure if it's the writing, the directing, the screenplay editing, the movie editing, or a combination of all of these, but this is not the best opus from a group of seriously good, if not great, actors. It seemed that the first forty minutes was just a warm-up, because the acting was far superior in the second half of the movie.
Normally, Bradley Cooper is wonderful at playing the small stuff that makes a person humanly interesting. Not here. Dennis Quaid, at the reading of his own novel, is monotone; not very engaging when you're trying to sell a story (both his book & this movie). Even Jeremy Irons, an acting icon, doesn't deliver in the beginning. An example that may be a bit cliché, but it's about facial expression: you know when film characters reminisce, they look off into the distance as if they are peering deeply into the rich haze of their past? Here he seems like he's just looking at something across the way. But, like I said, much improved in the second half.
Zoe Saldana is charming; strong, yet vulnerable. But the real kudos go to Ben Barnes (Jeremy Irons's character as a young man) and Nora Arnezeder. During these segments the movie shines. Beautifully acted as well as filmed. A story you can sink your teeth into: meaty; one that moves you. This is the story stolen by Cooper's character. But then when the movie cuts back to Quaid and his audience, or to Irons and Cooper, the story doesn't seem to have registered with them at all; at least not until much later.
And the writing has something to do with it. When a movie plot hinges around characters that are writers, the screenplay better be damn good. This one hits with World War II-era Paris, but misses with modern New York. The lovely Olivia Wilde is an example. And her character is supposed to be lovely, and smart, and seductive. But here she comes off as a little creepy; a little stalker-ish.
There is another difference between the flashbacks and the present. The flashback characters have less proselytising. Back in the present, when every little thing that your character is feeling, thinking, or learning, is spoken out loud, it almost seems unnecessary to show emotion and thought through facial expressions, body language, gestures, or looks.
There are definitely exceptions, and this an excellent effort. But it takes a lot to balance the passion of directing your own writing with the distance needed to tell a story successfully. And it usually lies with the trimming of the fat. That's why authors need editors.
Again, a potentially great concept, but with okay delivery.
Pretty Ugly People (2008)
Give it a chance...
Firstly, I'd like to get this out of the way: If you have not watched a movie in its entirety, you have no business reviewing it. That would be like listening to the first note of a song, or reading the first line of a book and panning it. Shame.
Now, on to the business of reviewing. While not the best movie in the world, it is certainly far from being the worst. There will always be something for someone to criticise, but for the most part, this movie is funny, sad, maddening, sappy in parts, and even hits a few sore spots. This is all good in my book. If seeing the real truth about yourself, or someone else, for the first time doesn't initially make you at least a little angry, then...
Not all film is supposed to be a masterpiece of cinema. Some are just there to entertain us a bit and, if possible, to help us along the way. This may just be one of those.
The premise is okay, just an excuse to get a group of people together. The story you can read about in the plot synopsis. The acting is quite good, considering that coming off as an every-day person in a movie is a lot harder than it seems. And I was happy to see some of my favourites: Missi Pyle, Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer (all of whose talents are abundant), Larry Sullivan (adorable and hot at the same time, not easy for a real actor), William Sanderson (that's the way he speaks; nice to see someone not try to botch a local accent). Also noteworthy were Philip Littell (as the repressed, judgmental Richard) and Phil Lewis (whose Raye gives Wayne Brady a run for his money as the "whitest black guy").
All in all, much better than most of the drivel out there that people actually pay to see. Quite a few belly laughs and some intimate moments, different for each, that may ignite a spark.
Mirror Mirror (2012)
Visually Striking...Wasted on the story and acting
Yet another visually breathtaking film by Tarsem Singh (The Cell; The Fall). A stunning array of sets and lavish costumes. But, where the scripts were engaging for the latter two movies, Mirror, Mirror is disappointing.
It is a re-telling of the Snow White fairy tale from the evil stepmother's perspective, with some amusing changes. Unfortunately, the actual script is weak and relies on semi-farcical slapstick for humour and interest. Part of the weakness lies in the fact that by exploring the human side of the step-mom in order to show us that evil is in all of us and that it can be a result of the choices we make, the 'oomph' is lost.
Another weakness is Julia Roberts. Although she can be charming, as she was in her other "Stepmom" portrayal, she does not have the acting chops for such a complex character (demonstrated by, amongst other things, the fact that she cannot decide what accent the character should speak in: English, American, 1930's & 40's screen queen, etc.).
Nathan Lane is Nathan Lane. Lily Collins is sweet. The interesting characters end up being the new "seven dwarfs".
All in all, an okay story, sometimes entertaining, and a treat for the visual imagination.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Take Bring It On, Glee (not in the icky cheesy way, but because there's singing involved, the good kind), Mean Girls, and add some quick-witted, sharp-tongued dialogue and commentary, and you have the funniest of movies.
At first I was leery: a movie about A Cappella singing groups; I thought at best, it would be a teen flick. Yes, I know, Anna Kendrick. But bigger (some better) names have made some doozies. But, I was unbelievably surprised. Every kind of humour is covered here, and done to absolute perfection. You will be adopting many, many of the lines into your daily lexicon.
For me, Rebel Wilson (as Fat Amy) and Elizabeth Banks (as Gail, the commentator) have some of the most hysterically smart lines ever committed to celluloid (right up there with Young Frankenstein).
Hope Springs (2012)
A slice of older life - Quietly & beautifully acted
A slightly-over-middle-age couple finds themselves in more than a rut, post-post empty nest. What to do?
An overly-simplified plot outline for a lovely, sweet, funny, sad, quiet movie that allows the cast's acting talents to shine. A great script with spot-on character development. None of your over-dramatics here.
We all know about Meryl Streep & Tommy Lee Jones, but even they deliver some newness. But Steve Carell gives us a nuanced performance without the smallest hint of shtick. Notice Elisabeth Shue in a small part that delivers big. As well as Jean Smart & Mimi Rogers.
Don't miss this one.
Made thirty-two years after the fact, this short film falls way short, everywhere. The themes of revolution, religion, racist housekeeping, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, AIDS, politics, economics, & sociology are all part of this package. With choppy, incomplete story-telling, and direction, combined with wooden acting (although some parts were reminiscent of 70's style Iranian commercials, quite unintentionally), this short was in need of an editor, both in writing and post- production. The caricature portrayal of the Iranian family is insulting, especially the close-to-mentally-challenged writing for "Jack" who can't tell what sex the dog is, and when he finds out it's a female, wants to name her "Anthony". Really? Housekeepers get fired, mothers crying in bubble-baths, hiding a dog, hairdresser's funeral, and some sexual awakening at the hands of the new housekeeper's son, are all clumsy attempts to move a non-existent plot forward. The way-too-many themes in this short were tackled with the delicacy of a sledgehammer cracking a walnut.
A beautifully written film. Very well-cast. Beautifully acted. And sometimes it's nice, and necessary, to juxtapose life's observations with concrete examples.
I don't know if I'm giving anything away, but here goes:
Very 'put-together' husband asks very 'put-together' wife for a divorce. After wife's initial barb, her first reaction is: I'm taking the kids to Mom's. Natural, "I'm going to my mother's with the kids!" Sounds normal, right? We learn very quickly, there are issues between wife and Mom. This is where the film's strength lies. Even though she has deliberately stayed away for years, instinct has kicked in, against all intellect, and she needs to go back to where her issues took root. All the necessary characters are there to guide each person through their journey of discovery and road to self-awareness. But, the subtleties are there as well.
Superb acting nods to Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, & Jeffrey Dean Morgan as usual. A couple of brilliant small parts for Rosanna Arquette and Joyce Van Patten. But, also, HUGE kudos to Elizabeth Olsen & Nat Wolff for outstanding performances (whether they receive recognition from awards shows, or not), this film would not have succeeded without them.