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John Carter (2012)
Patchwork of Mars
After having read the first four novels in Burroughs' classic series, I truly wanted to love Disney's John Carter! However, familiarity with the plot lines & major players only served to confuse the viewer here, as there was such a mishmash of Burroughs' characters, interactions, & settings that I actually wished they'd layered a narrative over the entire mess. Horrors! What is up with Hollywood's insistence on tossing snippets of an author's works into a blender with 'new material', effectively ripping the original plot to shreds? As soon as I saw wedding rings on Captain Carter's left hand, I knew we were in for a rough ride. Did I wake up on a different planet like our hero? Or was it revealed that he had been married (& a father) in later books? If not, how gratuitous of Stanton & his fellow screenwriters to drop in flashbacks of a family who shouldn't exist at all - only to kill them off! Kitch, Collins, a strong supporting cast, & even the impressive CGI are merely wasted on such a weak script. There is so much more material in Burrough's books that this could have been the first of an intriguing film series. Unfortunately, this poor Frankenstein was dead before it made it to the village.
Are The Producers Trying to Tank CM?
Becoming a Criminal Minds freak just last summer doesn't mean I don't appreciate the legacy of the show. I've watched every episode to date, & this one just didn't live up. There's no other way to put it: 'With Friends Like These' was predictably written, & snooze-worthy in execution.
The unsub's trio of instigators were phantoms! SURPRISE! Within less than ten minutes we knew they were products of a troubled mind, but for some reason, the writers insisted on beating these dead horses to paste, the only twist being his insomnia. Repeated glimpses of flame, water dousings & references to exorcism seemed clumsy at best. And the 'climatic' scene where Reid's image becomes wavy was actually painful to watch.
Hotch was underused to the point of irrelevance, with Rossi trotting behind. We were subjected to Morgan acting as Seaver's nanny & Reid's shrink. Do they seriously think we're buying Seaver as a valid BAU profiler because Garcia baked her cupcakes? Or that we'll relish Reid spiraling into psychosis? For crying out loud, no wonder the kid has headaches. Lighten up! Give Reid a break & bring back the starlet in the swimming pool.
Seriously, I fear the Criminal Minds team has lost its way, or perhaps, they've split their creative resources to accommodate the unworthy spin- off, which would ultimately prove fatal to both shows. In either case, someone needs to listen to the disgruntled viewers & get the train back on its track... sooner is better.
The Informant! (2009)
Insomniacs, There is a Cure!
If you have tried all the sleep aids they make, heated gallons of warm milk, & still can't catch a few ZZZZZs, this film is for you. If on the other hand, the notion of blasting a ten-buck hole in your wallet for this slop is nightmarish, give The Informant! a WIDE berth.
I won't attempt to describe the plot, due to two things: A) After seeing the film only 24 hours ago, I can't recall anything salient & B) Oh, yeah! There isn't one! Matt Damon & his side-swept pompadour are mind-numbingly boring, or is that the script? Direction? It's hard to tell who's to blame, but by the end, who cared if it was a true story or not? Either way, it's ridiculously convoluted, an hour too long & DULLER than DIRT!
Cinderella Man (2005)
Pop! Pop! Shazam!
Like mythical alchemists, Russell Crowe, Ron Howard, & Brian Grazer have once again contrived to make movie gold from what could have been mere lead. Their latest collaboration, Cinderella Man, is PURE magic, despite the fact that from the title alone, most could discern the outcome. The riches-to-rags-to-riches theme may be more than familiar to us, but is never more convincingly retold than here.
Based on fact, executed with uncanny skill, every scene of the movie, even the most brutal of boxing matches, is riveting. You can't take your eyes off the action, just in case you'll miss a single twitch of James Braddock (Crowe's) face or the infectious enthusiasm of a superb Paul Giammatti as his manager, Joe Gould.
As in every role he's played to date, Crowe morphs entirely into his character. His body is sculpted to appear as if he's just stepped out of a '30s newsreel. If anyone has ever doubted the actor's commitment to a role, they need look no further than when he performs his training scenes. Kudos to the surgeon who performed a second shoulder repair upon him, due to the recurrence of an old injury which threatened to halt the production in its infancy. He should be acknowledged as one of the sorcerers responsible for preventing the project from dissolving into a puff of expensive smoke. Of enormous significance, there is also an elusive but palpable humility in Braddock's portrayal, a quality which we have heretofore not seen in a Russell Crowe film, happy proof that the man many call 'greatest living actor' continues to learn & evolve.
Of course, there is the remainder of the superb cast: Renee Zellweger as Braddock's distraught & devoted wife, Craig Bierko as brutal playboy Max Baer (factual or not?), & Bruce McGill as slick promoter Jimmy Johnston, to name a few. Just as during any great sporting event, all the players perform to their highest abilities, the bar set by Crowe or perhaps, their mere collaboration. It matters not. The whole far outweighs the sum of the parts. Art direction, Costume design, Cinematography, Sound effects, & Score should be listed among these, since the look & sound of Cinderella Man is virtually another composite character, another ingredient in the magic formula. Let's hope the alchemy comes full circle, that the creators' bright & shiny alloy is fashioned into statuettes next February.
Dear Frankie (2004)
More, More, More...
If you are interested in fast-paced vacuous dialog &/or shaky, edgy camera work, go rent something by Steven Soderbergh. If, however, your taste runs to gentle, almost hypnotic story telling, shot with subtle realism, this one's for you. Add to the mix performances through which the characters engage us as well as one another, & voilà! This is what good independent films are all about. Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer), her mother (Mary Riggans), & especially her deaf, wise-beyond-his-years, son, Frankie (Jack McElhone) virtually charm us into their world. Then the Stranger (Ger Butler) enters - after 45 minutes - to finish us off. We are completely theirs to be done with as they will. Dear Frankie has it all: there is love - on many levels; there is pathos; there is humor; there is a wee surprise. Shocking for these days, the only thing wrong with this film is that it's a good five or ten minutes too short. Ms. Auerbach leaves us wanting more. You're left hungry to 'hear' again from her clever little Jack, not to mention gaze again into those spell-binding green eyes of Butler's.