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Mystic River (2003)
What a way to waste a cast...
...having been a virgin to Eastwood's work behind the camera and hearing incredible things about this movie, I was anticipating my viewing of this film very much. What I got was an average thriller, with an exceptional cast, ALL of whom failed to deliver the performances they are capable of.
I mean seriously. Sean Penn won an Oscar for this, when he made 21 Grams in the same year? What the hell is that about? Tim Robbins didn't convince me. It took me a good half an hour to pick up on the fact that his character was supposed to be a bit 'slow' and there were no subtleties in his physical stance to indicate this. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne gave standard good cop/bad cop routine acting, but neither reached the potential that they've shown in other movies. Marcia Gay Harden is an actress that I find tolerable at best normally - but in this movie her face had the same expression in nearly every scene, particularly the first half. It was like 'Oh I'm a bit confused'... and a few minutes later 'Yep... still confused'. On the contrary, Laura Linney is an actress that I have the hugest respect and admiration for, not least because I feel she is without a doubt the most IMPROVED actress in our current climate (check out her performance in 'Primal Fear' and then compare it to her performances in 'You Can Count On Me' or 'Love, Actually' to see what I mean). However, Linney is underused completely - and at the end she is given a big scene to do that you think might lead onto something bigger but.... no. It's nothing.
I blame the acting on the director. When you get a group of consistently good actors (Marcia Gay Harden excepted, in my meek opinion) and put them together there should be some magic there. But there's no spark from a single one of them in my eyes. Todd Field's directing of his actors in 'In The Bedroom' three years ago, managed to get some incredibly drawn performances from Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei that are not even gone near in this movie. And it's all Clint Eastwood's fault.
The story itself is so generic it's not even worth going into. Girl is killed. A few of the characters are suspects. The murder is resolved, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste, for certain reasons that I won't state here.
The resolution in particular is very messy. The movie seems to be searching for a place to end for the last couple of minutes... we get silly shots of Harden and Linney's eyes meeting followed by Penn and Bacon's eyes meeting... and it all feels painfully contrived as a way to end the movie, but without knowing how to.
I had been looking forward to this movie in a big way. It was seen as one of the three 'serious drama' movies at the 2004 Academy Awards, but in my opinion both '21 Grams' and 'House Of San & Fog' stand miles above it.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
One thing I've noticed whilst reading the reviews here is that the people that can actually construct intelligent sentences, with long words and good film theory in their comments LIKED this film on the whole. People with spelling errors, inconsistencies in their comments and basically BAD reviews, DIDN'T like this film.
Luckily, I liked it. I am quite a big horror fan - and I think only a horror fan could like this movie - and weirdly enough it took me till now to watch this 'classic'. There's something very real, something very vivid about the movie. The people that have complained that the deaths are too quick - well, I'm sorry, but surely that adds realism and makes it scarier? I guess it's the difference between a Stanislavskian horror movie and Brechtian horror movie. Well, I think the Stanislavski way is the ONLY way to go in horror - presenting something that feels real.
Most of the people that didn't like the movie say that the end section was the best bit too. Well for me, the first 2 deaths are the real selling point of this movie. They come completely out of the blue and very scarily. One minute there's nothing to fear - the next the film takes on a completely different tone. The build up of a sound collage when Pam falls into the room with all the skulls is one of the most effectively creepy scenes I've ever seen on film.
And everyone that keeps saying 'I thought this was supposed to be groundbreaking?'. Um... yes... it IS groundbreaking. Did you forget it was made 30 years ago?
A very very shocking movie.
Life Is Sweet (1990)
Sometimes the best movies...
...are the small ones.
Mike Leigh worked with his relatively small cast (five main cast members and about four supporting cast members), improvising characters, devising scenarios and plots, and came up with this; one of his earliest masterpieces.
The plot is simple enough. A couple of days in the life of a working class London family. There isn't really a plot as such. A couple of fairly deep issues are dealt with, such as eating disorders and depression, but other than a few moments, all we are doing is watching a family live their life: a strong hard-working mother (Alison Steadman); a weaker easily-led by his mates father (Jim Broadbent); and their twin daughters: Natalie (Claire Skinner) - resourceful and kind-hearted but with a strange tendency to wear men's shirts and down pints - and Nicola (Jane Horrocks) - screwed up, rude, irrational and painfully insecure in both her looks and her intelligence.
The performances brought out by this form of filmmaking are superb - as they are in all of Leigh's movies (Secrets & Lies, Career Girls and All Or Nothing are all worthy of viewing, but especially Secrets & Lies). However, Alison Steadman is the standout (perhaps for no other reason than she has the most screen time), the driving force that brings all the family together. The scene in which she finally cracks and loses that nervous laugh to tell Nicola a few home truths and break down the barriers that Nicola has put up between herself and the rest of the world, is so beautifully written and terrifically performed that it is a shame that Steadman in particular was not Oscar-nominated.
Only one or two criticisms struck me. One was a slight lack of development of the other daughter. What exactly DOES make her tick? Am I merely stereotyping by assuming she is supposed to be a lesbian? Or is she just happy being so masculine in her dress-sense and mannerisms - (she isn't even offended by a client who calls her a 'good lad')? We never find out, because the film focuses a little more on her sister. It certainly appears that her mother suspects her daughter of being gay, but for some reason the subject is never brought up.
Similarly, a couple of loose ends are never tied up. The caravan and the restaurant in particular. But I guess we have the prerogative to make our own endings up haven't we, so that's a good thing in many ways.
I think at the end of the day, people will either like all of Mike Leigh's films or none of them. And I'm in the former group. His work is beautiful and always touching.