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Captain Phillips (2013)
Doesn't stay afloat
Captain Phillips is a movie which is certainly well-made but ultimately unsatisfying. The production values are there, the entertainment is not. This should be a tight, taut, tense thriller. But the tension seeps away long before the movie finally draws itself to a close. The movie certainly has a captivating, true-life story to work with, a story which would seem to have great potential. But that potential is unrealized. The movie disappoints.
Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, who is in command of a huge cargo ship headed to Kenya. Rather awful attempt at a Boston accent aside, Hanks is otherwise reliable as ever in the role. And the completely unknown Barkhad Abdi proves a worthy acting adversary for Hanks. Abdi plays Muse, the leader of the gang of four Somali pirates who hijack Captain Phillips's ship. The first half of the movie, setting up the hijacking from the perspectives of both Phillips and the pirates and then the hijacking itself, works reasonably well. The second half of the film, with Phillips having been taken hostage by the pirates as they fled the giant ship in a small lifeboat, works markedly less well.
Initially there is great tension as hostage Phillips tries to keep his wits about him and keep himself alive while rescue plans are set in motion. But then the movie just kind of sits there. It becomes very repetitive as we wait for that potential rescue to come. Interactions between Hanks and Abdi, Phillips and Muse, are good. But the other three pirates make either a bad impression or no impression at all. The only other standout, and not in a good way, is the character of Najee, the hothead of the pirate group. His frothing rage wears thin quite quickly. Maybe the true-life counterpart really was like this but in the movie it seems way over the top. He's the designated villain but he's too villainous for the film's good. There are some things to admire about the film. Hanks is solid, the young unknowns playing the pirates do reasonably well with their roles, with Abdi doing quite well indeed. The movie looks good, it was clearly a challenging movie to shoot and director Paul Greengrass pulls that aspect of the proceedings off well. Though there is definitely the sense a steadier camera would have worked well at times, there's only so much shaky-cam you can take. Ultimately though, as with any movie, the most important thing is the story. This story had great promise but for whatever reason it just doesn't work. As the movie careens towards, and then over, the two-hour mark the tension fizzles away. You've had enough and you're just ready for it to be over. This compelling real-life story ultimately makes for a less than compelling movie.
Paris, je t'aime (2006)
Some hits, some misses
Try to cram eighteen different stories into two hours and you're going to end up with something which, as a whole, is rather uneven. Such is the case with Paris, je t'aime. This is less one movie and more eighteen movies which happen to be shown in succession. The only common denominator is the setting, Paris. Eighteen different stories, told by eighteen different directors, featuring eighteen different casts. Some famous directors, some largely unknown. Some stories feature famous performers, others feature performers who are completely anonymous. There are little comedies, little dramas, little romances, little tragedies. It's quite the ebb and flow, you never know what's coming next. At least you know that if you're not enjoying what you're watching in a given moment there will be something entirely different coming along shortly.
All in all it's an interesting experiment, buoyed by mostly interesting stories. A few of the mini-movies don't work or seem out of place. In a movie full of ordinary stories about ordinary life in Paris a vampire segment is a little jarring and bizarre. There's a story centered around a Chinatown beauty salon which is quite incomprehensible. A few of the stories fall rather flat. But on the other hand a few of the stories are actually quite brilliant. Most fall somewhere in between. At its best Paris, je t'aime is really good and even at its worst it's not truly terrible. The film may wear you down by the end, there's the sense that maybe there are three or four stories too many. But even if the film does start to drag it manages to pick itself up and get moving again. Such is the benefit of having an entirely new story every few minutes. Everyone will have their own favorite segments. There is something here for everyone. Fittingly the final segment is essentially a love letter to Paris. Margo Martindale plays Carol, a middle-aged American tourist extolling the virtues of the city in truly terrible, amateurish French. Carol may not have mastered the language but the sentiment is clear and sincere. She loves Paris. Simple. There is obviously much to love about the city and in Paris, je t'aime all the different directors with all their different stars do the city justice. It's an up-and-down movie, by its very nature inconsistent. But it's a unique ride, one worth taking.
City Lights (1931)
Charming to the last
City Lights is a film which is beloved and revered. And it is easy to see why. As comedies go, it may not be among the funniest films ever made. But if there is any shortfall of laughs the film more than compensates with an overabundance of charm. And it is not as if the film is totally lacking in laughs either, there is plenty of good humor here. But in this case it is the story, more than the jokes and gags, which really is the key to the film's success. That story draws you in, makes you root for Charlie Chaplin's famous Tramp. It's a beautifully unique love story which will definitely bring a smile to your face and ultimately maybe even a tear to your eye. City Lights is the brilliant result you get when you have a master of his art form at work.
The simple, though thoroughly captivating story, follows The Tramp as he falls in love with a beautiful, blind flower girl. She can't see him for the lowly hobo he is, a misunderstanding upon her initial meeting leads her to believe he is a wealthy gentleman. The Tramp is more than happy to allow her to maintain that illusion. He gets some help in this endeavor from a drunken millionaire who befriends him. The Tramp gets money from the millionaire, stays in his house, drives his car. All very helpful in keeping up the ruse of wealthiness for the blind girl. Unfortunately the drunken millionaire is only friends with The Tramp whenever he is in fact drunk. When he sobers up he doesn't remember The Tramp at all. This of course causes awkward, and funny, complications. Meanwhile the flower girl has problems of her own. She's behind on the rent and, unknowingly since her grandmother hides the notice, about to be evicted. The Tramp is determined to save the day, pay the rent and also somehow pay for surgery to cure the girl's blindness. How will our shabby little hero pull this off?
Chaplin is a master of his craft at the peak of his powers. When City Lights was released the era of silent films was at its end, the talkies had taken over. But Chaplin was determined to tell his story his way, really the only way a story of The Tramp could ever be told. Who would want to hear The Tramp speak? The brilliance of the character is in the pantomime, the expressions. Chaplin tugs on the heartstrings without ever saying a word. Other performers in the film, most notably Virginia Cherrill as the blind girl and Harry Myers as the millionaire, play their parts well. Cherrill in particular deserves much credit for the film's ultimate emotional wallop. But this film is Chaplin's through and through, his fingerprints are on every frame. A brilliant performer, a brilliant director. Every moment is so well thought out. Maybe the film is not outrageously funny but there is plenty of humor to appreciate. Even if you think a scene may drag on too long, like a boxing match late on in the film, you can't help but appreciate the effort that went into it. It may be a little long but the scene is undeniably worked out beautifully, Chaplin showing an absolute mastery of choreography. It is a comedy film in which ultimately the comedy is secondary. Yes, there are jokes and gags and no, not all of them work perfectly. But there are definitely enough good comedic moments to keep you entertained. But more importantly there is a story to keep you enthralled. The love story between The Tramp and the blind girl warms your heart and makes City Lights a true feel-good movie, one worthy of its status as one of the most beloved films ever made.
It's 1967 and famous British spy Austin Powers has defeated his nemesis Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil proceeds to do the only logical thing, escape in a rocket ship disguised as a Big Boy statue and cryogenically freeze himself (and his cat). Austin Powers volunteers to be frozen in case Dr. Evil returns to wreak havoc in the future. Thirty years pass. It's 1997 and Dr. Evil is back. Time to unfreeze Austin Powers who is about to find out the '90s aren't quite as groovy as the '60s.
Dr. Evil plots to steal a nuclear weapon and hold the world hostage for one million dollars! Er, one hundred billion dollars! A million bucks just doesn't buy what it used to. Dr. Evil has got a lot to catch up on, as does Austin Powers, the product of the swinging '60s who is very much out of place in the more sedate '90s. This leads to some good laughs, many of which center around Austin's attempt to get his new partner, the stunningly beautiful Vanessa Kensington, to sleep with him. Sadly, Austin's tried-and-true '60s seduction techniques aren't going to work on Vanessa. Meanwhile, there's the small matter of foiling Dr. Evil's dastardly plan.
The movie maybe never hits the heights of comedic genius. It's never uproariously funny but it is reasonably amusing. And charming too. Mike Myers does very well with the dual roles of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil though there is the nagging sense that the bad guy is funnier than the titular hero. There is little question the funniest moments come from Dr. Evil, the prototypical James Bond villain who knows he's the prototypical James Bond villain. Among other things this means he must have over-elaborate ways of doing everything when he knows darned well a simpler way would surely suffice. And it also of course means he is fated to be frustrated. What's a guy got to do to get some sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads? Dr. Evil is a hoot, Austin Powers sometimes less so but you root for him. He's charming in his own very unique way. Maybe Vanessa will even come to love him. Happily Elizabeth Hurley, playing Vanessa, proves to be a model who can actually act. She more than holds her own with Myers, the two work well together. There are other familiar faces in the cast, including Michael York, Robert Wagner and Seth Green, who all do well with their respective roles. But the movie obviously belongs to Myers, this is his baby. And he pulls it off well enough. Yes, the humor is hit and miss but there are enough hits to keep you smiling. This is the spoof James Bond deserved. Yeah, baby, yeah!
Solid addition to the saga
Kate Beckinsale was quite clearly the best thing the Underworld franchise had going for it. Making an Underworld movie without her was either very bold or very stupid. Happily, with Rise of the Lycans, that decision proved to be more bold than stupid. Yes, Beckinsale is missed. No, this movie is not as much fun as the first installment in the series. But there are enough good things here to make this movie a worthy addition to the saga. It may fall short of the original but it is at least on par with, probably even a touch better than, Evolution. And Evolution had Beckinsale in it so that's saying something!
Beckinsale is not here because this is a prequel, her character of Selene has yet to enter the story. This movie takes us back to the origin of the Lycans, the werewolves who retain the ability to transform back into human form. Lucian, who we know so well from movie number one, is the first Lycan. And that's good news because that means Michael Sheen is back. In the first film, told from a vampire's point of view, Lucian was the bad guy. Here we see things through Lycan eyes, Lucian is the hero. And Sheen gives a very powerful performance, he is indeed an inspiring hero. But if we are meant to sympathize with the Lycans in this movie, and we clearly are, who's the bad guy? Welcome back vampire elder Viktor, played as in the first film by Bill Nighy. Viktor, as any fan of the saga knows, is quite a nasty piece of work. And Nighy plays the part with gleeful relish. This is one of the hammiest performances you'll ever see, laughably over-the-top. But for this kind of film it actually kind of works. We're talking about vampires and werewolves here, let's not take things too seriously.
Sheen and Nighy draw most of the attention. The other key role goes to Rhona Mitra. She plays Viktor's daughter, Sonja, who is of course in a forbidden romance with Lucian. We know how that story will play itself out but it's interesting seeing the journey to that story's end. Mitra gives a solid performance, though certainly not as memorable as Sheen or Nighy. She's obviously meant to be this movie's Beckinsale and while not as great as Kate she holds her own. Even if we already know much of the story heading in this film still manages to entertain and spring a surprise or two along the way. In some ways though the film does disappoint. The scale of the thing seems rather small, almost entirely contained within the vampire fortress. The action is, after what we've seen in the first two films, overly familiar and repetitive. And oh so dark. Yes, vampire stories have to unfold at night but honestly this film is shot in such a dimly lit way it's often impossible to tell what's going on. And there is the sense that the movie ends just when it should be getting good. We see the rise of the Lycans, the start of the war we've heard so much about. And then it's over. There's so much more we already know about the story that we could have seen on screen. The movie could have gone further. We could have seen some more of that war. We could have seen that famous confrontation between Lucian and Kraven. And of course we could have seen Selene. This movie leaves a lot on the table. Though if the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it leaves you wanting more that's not so bad.
Hit Girl kicks...well, you know
If the idea of a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl slaughtering people is just too repugnant for you then do not watch Kick-Ass. If you are willing to accept such an idea then there is much for you to enjoy in this movie. This movie is gleefully over-the-top in every way. And it makes for a rollicking good time. The movie has great wit, action and, surprisingly for a movie which is absolutely drowning in blood, charm. But make no mistake, for all the movie has going for it the best thing it has to offer is that pint-sized, potty-mouthed terror, Hit Girl.
But before we get to Hit Girl a word about Kick-Ass since the movie is after all entitled Kick-Ass. Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, an ordinary, anonymous teenager who decides to become a real-life superhero. He buys himself a cheesy costume, christens himself Kick-Ass and takes to the streets to save the day. And proceeds to get his ass kicked. But soon enough he manages to become an internet sensation...who's still getting his ass kicked. Enter Hit Girl. Begin the slaughter. She's got a costume but, unlike Kick-Ass, she's also got skills. And no qualms about hacking off a bad guy's limbs. She's been trained by her father who dresses like Batman and calls himself Big Daddy. This is one deadly duo. They're going to team up with Kick-Ass who, all things considered, might want to go back to being plain old Dave Lizewski.
There is much to like about the movie. It's funny, it's exciting, at times downright exhilarating. Not everything works perfectly. A subplot where Dave's dream girl, Katie, suddenly becomes interested in him because she mistakenly thinks he's gay doesn't add much to the proceedings. Mafia boss Frank D'Amico, the main villain for most of the film, is not the most exciting of antagonists. A movie this far out there (and boy is this movie far out there) needs a more compelling adversary for our heroes. Happily Red Mist enters the fray. Yes, another weirdo in a costume.
The one flaw with the film which is most clear is that the central character is nowhere near as interesting as the supporting players. Johnson gives a reasonably fine performance as Dave/Kick-Ass but the character is a little flat. Happily Hit Girl is here to liven things up. This girl is dynamite and Chloë Grace Moretz plays the part perfectly. A star-making performance. Moretz looks every bit the action star and is utterly convincing with the dialogue (including the raunchy stuff) and emotional scenes as well. And Moretz works beautifully with Nicolas Cage, playing Big Daddy. Cage decided to go way, way over-the-top with his performance and in this movie that works perfectly. He hams it up and he should be hamming it up, it's that kind of movie. Christopher Mintz-Plasse brings a very unique personality to Red Mist and, though her character seems a bit extraneous, Lyndsy Fonseca plays the part of Katie well. This is a pretty good movie up to the point we first see Hit Girl in action. From there the movie kicks into a higher gear and never lets up. Embrace the violence, enjoy the carnage, cheer on Hit Girl, one of the unlikeliest heroes you'll ever see. She kicks ass.
Avoid like the plague
A medical disaster which could potentially kill millions of people all around the world...well that shouldn't be boring. But in Contagion boring it is. This is a medical thriller which is not at all thrilling. The film is a largely tedious, totally unfocused mess. You have a great cast filled with some of the most renowned performers of our time. You have a highly acclaimed director in Steven Soderbergh. And you have a story which should be absolutely gripping. How could it all go so wrong?
A woman drops dead in Minnesota. Soon people are dropping dead all over the place, felled by a new disease doctors can't figure out. The world goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket. We see doctors investigating the origin of this new virus and trying to find a cure. We see ordinary people trying to survive in a society which is crumbling all around them. And, in a subplot which should have been excised from the film, we see an unscrupulous blogger who professes to have the cure. There are a lot of strands of the plot and these strands don't come together at all satisfactorily. Honestly the whole thing is a mess. And a quite boring mess at that.
With the film being so unfocused it's hard to form attachments to any character. If there's one person we come close to connecting with it's an ordinary man, played by Matt Damon, who just wants to keep his daughter safe. But any time you want to invest in his story the film abandons him and goes off somewhere else. We go to Atlanta where Laurence Fishburne plays the man heading the efforts of the CDC. We go to Hong Kong, where Marion Cotillard's character investigates the origin of the disease and ends up in a surprising situation which does absolutely nothing to advance the plot. We have Kate Winslet playing a doctor investigating things in Minnesota. Her story has a little juice to it but it isn't sustained. And we have Jude Law, playing that incredibly annoying blogger, whose story sends the film completely off the rails. All the while there's a global disaster going on so the film should feel big, have some real weight to it. But it doesn't, it's all very mundane. An easy film to compare Contagion to is Outbreak. In that film, the focus was on an outbreak in one town. Not as big a deal as a worldwide pandemic. Maybe Contagion is too big for its own good. Outbreak was a taut, tight thriller. It had focus. Contagion is all over the place. And the thrill is gone.
Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
Wit, charm and naked girls
Mrs Henderson Presents tells the charming, and more or less true, story of the Windmill Theatre in London. It's the 1930s. Newly widowed Laura Henderson buys a theater and enlists gruff, old Vivian Van Damm to manage the place. After some fits and starts Mrs. Henderson hits on the idea which will make the Windmill a sensation. Her show will feature naked girls. This sort of thing just wasn't done in the United Kingdom back then. Well, it would be done now.
The movie succeeds largely because of the performances of Judi Dench, playing Mrs. Henderson, and Bob Hoskins, playing Van Damm. Mrs. Henderson is eccentric and mischievous, Van Damm is quite serious-minded. Put these two together and you're going to get something good. The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the film and Dench and the ever-exasperated Hoskins bring that relationship to life beautifully. Van Damm isn't the only man Mrs. Henderson flummoxes. Her negotiations with the Lord Chamberlain, who must approve her show, over exactly what bits and pieces of the female anatomy will be displayed, and how they will be displayed, is priceless. Christopher Guest is wonderfully, and entirely appropriately, flustered in playing the role. You'd be flustered too if you heard what comes out of Mrs. Henderson's mouth. The woman has no filter and for this film that is a very good thing. She'll definitely keep you entertained.
The movie is witty and charming and, for a story about naked girls, very tastefully done. Those naked girls are very much in the background, both in the show within the movie and in the movie itself. Kelly Reilly plays the lead girl, Maureen. We get to know a little bit about her character, the rest of the girls remain a largely anonymous bunch. The story really isn't about the girls, it's about Mrs. Henderson and Van Damm. And that's fine, it works well, especially with the excellent performances by Dench and Hoskins. But there is the sense the girls maybe should have had a little bigger part in the story. Other than Maureen none of the girls really have any story at all. There may be minor misgivings here and there, maybe some things could have worked a little better. But all in all Mrs Henderson Presents is good fun. And when World War II, in the specific form of German bombers, intrudes on the fun the film does well with its serious moments too, finding the right tone. Maybe not a masterpiece but Mrs Henderson presents is definitely worth seeing, a charming little movie to put a smile on your face.
Green Fire (1954)
Grace Kelly's most forgettable film
Grace Kelly only appeared in eleven films during her brief acting career. Green Fire is the most obscure of them. Obscure for good reason. This is an eminently forgettable film. Kelly plays Catherine Knowland, owner of a coffee plantation in Colombia. Stewart Granger plays Rian Mitchell, who's hunting for emeralds nearby. Paul Douglas plays Vic Leonard, Rian's reluctant partner in the emerald mining expedition. Rian wants emeralds. He also wants Catherine. Unfortunately there are complications. The mining is going poorly. No emeralds. Local bandits show up and threaten to steal any emeralds he may eventually find. Rian gets frustrated, then he gets desperate and desperation can lead to terrible consequences.
There's a lot of melodrama here but it doesn't really make for a very good film. The plot is threadbare. The film is billed as a spectacular adventure but there is absolutely nothing spectacular about it. It's very mundane, in many places dreadfully boring. Granger comes across very flat in playing Rian. Douglas brings much more personality to the role of Vic, at least he has some wisecracks which perk things up a bit. The romance between Rian and Catherine never sparks to life. Vic is interested in Catherine as well but that would-be romance seems unlikely to say the least. The film plods along, leading man Rian being unlucky both in love and emerald mining, desperate enough to do things which make both the other characters and the audience detest him. He becomes an entirely unsympathetic character, which certainly doesn't help any with enjoyment of the film. The film really struggles to hold your interest and keep you invested in the proceedings. The romance falls flat. None of the action sequences are particularly memorable. Douglas does have some good moments. Kelly isn't given much to do besides look pretty, though she certainly is good at that. Granger really disappoints. All in all, it's a movie not worth remembering. It's Grace Kelly's one true dud.
Doesn't reach its potential
Brothers is a movie which has the pieces to succeed but those pieces do not end up coming together to form a satisfying whole. The story is certainly compelling. Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal are reliable performers who are certainly capable of making something good out of the material. The whole production is in the hands of well-respected director Jim Sheridan. The movie should work. But it really doesn't. You can see the potential here but Brothers falls well short of what it could have been.
Portman and Gyllenhaal do fine work but the key performer in Brothers is Tobey Maguire. And therein is the first problem with the film. Maguire never really convinces in the role. He plays Marine captain Sam Cahill, who as we meet him is about to head out for another tour of duty in Afghanistan. He'll be leaving behind his wife, Grace, and their two young daughters. Also left behind is Sam's brother, Tommy, the black sheep of the family. Tommy just got out of prison, he's always drunk, he's a complete loser. Sam loves his brother but nobody else wants to deal with Tommy. His own father, a military man who worships Sam, despises him. Sam's wife is disgusted by Tommy and does not want him around at all, ever. With Sam gone, Tommy will be rudderless, left to fend for himself. And then things get a lot worse. In Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter crashes. Sam is dead.
Only we see right away that Sam is not dead at all, he survived the crash and was taken prisoner by the Taliban. Which begs the question of why the U.S. military was in such a hurry to tell Sam's family that he was dead. Anyhow, while Sam's family tries to carry on and cope with his death the very much alive Sam does whatever he has to do to survive to try to get back to his family. The movie proceeds on these parallel tracks. What will happen if these tracks come together, if the "dead" Sam comes home? Certainly an interesting situation but there is the sense the movie fails to make the most of it. With Sam supposedly dead Tommy cleans up his act. He tries to help Grace around the house, grows close with her and her kids. It's a nice redemption story but uncomfortable for obvious reasons, especially as we keep cutting back to the trials and tribulations of Sam in Afghanistan. And, as you might expect when one is imprisoned by the Taliban, those are some pretty nasty trials.
There is the sense the movie chickens out a bit, Grace and Tommy never go as far with their relationship as you might expect them to. It becomes more about Tommy's relationship with Grace's kids. Sam's kids. The kids come to love Uncle Tommy, accepting him as more or less a new father. So what happens if the old father comes back? Awkward. And not just awkward, potentially frightening because after what he's been through Sam is not the same man he once was. The loving husband and father, the heroic Marine...that Sam is gone. He's a shell of the man he once was. How this all plays out ultimately is disappointing. You buy into Maguire as the nice Sam at the film's beginning. The not-so-nice Sam we see later on Maguire struggles with. The actor doesn't fit the role. He's trying really hard. Too hard. Rage and fury just don't come naturally to Maguire it seems, he's overacting trying to pull it off and it's just not believable. Portman, playing Grace, and Gyllenhaal, playing Tommy, are good. They work well with one another and they play off of Maguire well. Their reactions to Maguire work, Maguire himself doesn't. The story has some failings in the end, seen most clearly at a family birthday party where everybody behaves in ways which are hard to believe. It eventually comes to a big dramatic, climactic (though overacted) head...and then the movie just kind of ends. There is very little in the way of resolution. For a movie which seemed to hold great promise in the end there is not much satisfaction.
Great idea, good movie
Boyhood is a film which is all about its idea. Director Richard Linklater tells a story which plays out over twelve years and does so by filming his movie over a period of twelve years. We are going to watch a boy grow up right before our eyes. You admire the ingenuity and certainly admire the passion everyone involved had to have to be able to see this project through. Linklater has crafted a film which is certainly unique. But uniqueness is not quite enough. The film also has to be entertaining and there Boyhood is very hit and miss. It's a great idea for a movie but you are left thinking that perhaps that idea could have been realized in more entertaining fashion.
The story is exceedingly simple. We're going to watch young six-year old Mason grow up. It's not an easy childhood, no smooth journey to adulthood here. There are many bumps along the way which each, in their own way, will ultimately play a part in what kind of man this boy becomes. When first we meet him Mason is a charming little boy. But his life is a bit of a mess. His parents are divorced, he and his sister live with their mother who struggles to make ends meet. Their father fades in and out of their lives. Big changes come when other men come into Mom's life. Not necessarily changes for the better it turns out. As Mason grows into a teen he gets involved in the sort of questionable behaviors teens do. What type of man will Mason be when he comes out the other end? That is what the movie is all about, the journey to adulthood, the growth along the way. In its own way it is a fascinating journey, one unlike we've seen in any movie before. But that journey does get bogged down at times. This film, just by its very nature, was always going to take its sweet time in telling its story. But moving things along a little more quickly, with a little more energy, surely would not have hurt. Too often in this movie there really is nothing going on. This idea would make for a great documentary, and the film often does have a documentary feel to it. As entertainment though the film sometimes struggles.
One of the obvious potential problems with this project is that when you cast a young boy you have no idea what kind of actor he is going to grow into over the course of twelve years. And, not surprisingly since this was his only real work as an actor, Ellar Coltrane did not grow into a very good performer. As the character grows the actor struggles, by the end Coltrane is exceedingly stiff, unnatural and unconvincing. The personality you would hope to see just isn't there. When he shares scenes with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who play Mason's parents, the contrast is jarring. Coltrane sadly can't come close to matching these seasoned performers. Arquette and Hawke both do great work in this movie, Coltrane and other younger, unseasoned performers struggle to keep up. The movie starts with great promise, but for various reasons, loses its way now and again as Mason moves towards adulthood. Sometimes there are lulls where not enough interesting things are happening. Some of the things that do happen are uncomfortable to sit through, there are some raw, painful moments here. The film also beats you over the head with a political agenda which is completely uncalled for in this story. And the ending is a bit of a letdown. There's no grand finish. Arquette's character, in what seems a jarringly out of character moment after all the time we've spent with her, says it herself: "I just thought there would be more." Give Linklater credit for his unique idea but acknowledge that he did not pull it off quite as well as maybe he could have. Some things, like his grown-up lead's acting ability, really were out of his control. But Linklater clearly made missteps of his own along the way. Boyhood is a great idea for a film but not really a great film. It's a good film, a unique journey worth seeing. But you get the sense it could have been something more than what it ultimately turned out to be.
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Nothing Sacred is a screwball comedy which is rather light on the laughs. Carole Lombard is unsurprisingly the best thing the film has to offer. She has great comedic talent and genuine star power. But a performer is only as good as the material and unfortunately for Lombard, and for the viewer, the material here just isn't good enough. The movie is rather dull and, despite clocking in at a mere 77 minutes long, plodding. Lombard has her moments and injects a little life into the proceedings now and again. But by and large the film falls flat. It's not very interesting and, fatally for a comedy, not very funny.
Lombard plays Hazel Flagg, a young Vermont woman who is dying of radium poisoning. Only she is not actually dying, she was misdiagnosed and is actually in perfectly fine health. She finds this out just before disgraced New York newspaperman Wally Cook tracks her down. Wally needs a big story to rescue his career after his last big story turned out to be a total fraud. Hazel Flagg, the courageous young woman bravely facing death. That will be his big story. Hazel isn't going to tell him she's not actually dying because, hey, he offered her a trip to New York! The whole city falls in love with brave, valiant Hazel Flagg. How long can this charade be kept up? Meanwhile, Hazel and Wally might be falling in love. This whole thing is a big mess which seems destined to unravel in spectacular fashion. It's a scenario which seems to have much comedic potential. But the laughs never come. Lombard has her charms and gives it a game effort. But she has so little to work with. And her co-stars don't provide much in the way of help. Fredric March displays very little personality in the role of Wally, the character comes across as very dry. Walter Connolly, playing Wally's boss, is a notable supporting player. Unfortunately he's notable really only for how annoying he is. Horribly grating overacting. Ultimately Nothing Sacred proves to be nothing special. This is a dud.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Needs some minor adjustments
David Norris is a rather arrogant fellow. As well he might be as he is a Congressman who is expected to coast to victory in his upcoming Senate race. The sky is the limit for young David Norris...but then the sky comes crashing down on him. He loses that Senate race and, humbled, makes a candid concession speech which goes over so well he immediately becomes the favorite to win the next Senate race a few years down the line. In this speech, by laying himself bare and talking from the heart, David really connects with people. He'd really like to thank the person who inspired the speech. That would be Elise who is...a woman he just met in the men's bathroom? This intriguing woman might change David's destiny. And that is a problem. David and Elise were never supposed to meet. Says who? Some mysterious men in fedoras.
David and Elise have their restroom moment and then she's gone. David would very much like to find her. The men in hats would very much prefer he not do so. And they have strange powers which enable them to keep David and Elise apart. But then one of the men in hats screws up, David bumps into Elise and things start to get really, really weird. The men in hats are from the Adjustment Bureau. David catches them in the act of doing some adjusting on people in his life. They can change people's thoughts, ensuring that everything unfolds according to The Plan. What plan? The Chairman's plan. Who's the Chairman? David would surely like to know but the Adjustment Bureau is not going to be forthcoming with any such information. All they need David to know is that if he reveals their existence to anyone he will be "reset" which is a cute way of saying lobotomized. And he is not to see Elise ever again.
So of course David becomes more determined than ever to see Elise. The Adjustment Bureau throws obstacles in his path, David overcomes them. Eventually the Bureau has to call in the big gun, Thompson, the scariest dude in their arsenal. Thompson provides a little insight into the Bureau. He provides a little insight into why David is so important. And he makes it perfectly clear that he will have no qualms about crushing Elise to make sure David sticks to The Plan. Can love overcome? This is all very intriguing but as the movie plays out it is not quite as exciting as one might hope. Things get rather muddled, bogged down. For much of the film's running time there is not much energy to it. Matt Damon gives a good performance as David, a character who is initially unlikable who we very quickly start identifying with and pulling for. Emily Blunt is also quite good as Elise, creating a character who is instantly intriguing and always interesting. Easy to see why David would fall for Elise. Damon and Blunt have good chemistry but, seeing as the whole point of the movie is their two characters being kept apart, they are not ever really together long enough for that chemistry to pay great dividends. The Adjustment Bureau is of course shrouded in mystery. That mystery doesn't pay itself off as well as you might hope, instead of a big finish things sort of fizzle out. Questions are raised about humanity's free will but those questions are not really answered satisfactorily. In the end it doesn't quite all tie together. There's some good intrigue here, some good romance too. Damon and Blunt do very well, drawing you in and making you really invest in this relationship which, for reasons unknown, is not allowed to be. It's an intelligent film, one which makes you think. So there's a lot the film has going for it. There is the nagging sense though that the film falls just a little bit short of the greatness which seemed to be within its grasp. Maybe a slight adjustment here or there...
Hang 'Em High (1968)
Misses the mark
Hang 'Em High proves to be one Western too many for Clint Eastwood. After the success of the Dollars trilogy he jumps back into the genre with a movie which thoroughly disappoints. This is a slow, dull, quite tedious film. Not much interesting happens. Honestly not much of anything happens. Drama and excitement are in desperately short supply. The big action sequences you expect from such a film never arrive. The characters are not compelling, the story is paper-thin and the supposed climax is totally anticlimactic. Very hard to find anything good to say about this one.
In this film Eastwood's character actually has a name. He's Jed Cooper and soon after we meet him Jed finds himself swinging from a tree with a rope around his neck. A posse, thinking him to be a cattle rustler and a murderer, hangs him. They do a rather lousy job of it. A federal Marshal shows up, cuts down the still very much alive Cooper and brings him before a judge. This judge likes to hang pretty much anyone brought before him but he realizes Cooper's innocence and actually makes Cooper a Marshal. And from there things go about as you would expect, Cooper hunting down the men who lynched him, seeking vengeance. Sounds like it could be interesting but it doesn't turn out that way. The fact the bad guys are such bumbling, bungling idiots doesn't help. Given another chance to kill Cooper they fail even more miserably than the first time. They really are quite pathetic. If you can't take the bad guys seriously it's near impossible for this type of movie to succeed. And that's the case here. The film's central conflict is a letdown. And there's nothing else to prop the film up. A tepid love story falls completely flat. The hanging scenes (and with this judge in town there are plenty of opportunities for hanging scenes) are interminable. Eastwood is reasonably decent in his role but no other performer really makes a mark. Some, most notably Ed Begley as the lead bad guy, miss the mark entirely. Getting through this film is really a chore. There's no suspense, the drama drains away all too quickly. This is not a good film. In fact it's quite bad. You might even call it ugly.
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
The Mask of Zorro is quite good fun. In this case good fun is enough. The film promises excitement and entertainment and it delivers on its promise. It even gives you two Zorros for the price of one. Anthony Hopkins plays Don Diego de la Vega, Zorro number one. Unfortunately for de la Vega when we meet him his time as a swashbuckling hero is about to be cut short in rather tragic fashion. He loses everything that is dear to him and is tossed into a dungeon. Twenty years later he escapes and plots his revenge. Only by this point he's a little too old for the Zorro stuff. He needs a protégé. Enter Alejandro Murrieta, played by Antonio Banderas. Alejandro, seeking revenge of his own, is raw and uncultured, nowhere near as suave as the original Zorro. And being suave is part of what makes Zorro Zorro. de la Vega will have to teach the new Zorro so much more than how to use a sword.
Conveniently the man who wronged Alejandro, Captain Love, is now the right-hand man of Don Montero, the man who wronged de la Vega. They will take their vengeance together. Of course it's not quite that simple, there are complications. As you would expect in a movie of this sort one of those complications is a stunningly beautiful woman. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Elena, the daughter Montero stole from de la Vega when she was an infant all those years ago. Elena and Alejandro fall for each other because of course they do. Meanwhile there are still those bad guys who need to be dispatched and a plot to steal California which needs to be foiled. This of course will involve sword fights. Many, many sword fights. Hey, it's a Zorro movie, what were you expecting?
The movie greatly benefits from the performances of its three leads. Hopkins is reliably brilliant and clearly enjoying himself in a role which allows him to have some real fun for once. Banderas really grows into the role of Zorro as the movie progresses. He may not be very suave in the beginning but by the end he's quite the charmer. And Zeta-Jones brings a great spark to the proceedings. Elena's not your stereotypical damsel in distress, she gives as good as she gets. Zeta-Jones fits the role perfectly, full of confidence and charisma. Being drop-dead gorgeous doesn't hurt either. Banderas and Zeta-Jones have great chemistry but so too, in a very different way, do Banderas and Hopkins. Everyone plays off one another ever so well. While certainly not as memorable as the three stars the villains play their parts well too. A movie like this needs strong antagonists and here we are not disappointed, these are some truly hissable villains. Captain Love is so over-the-top in his evilness it's a little hard to believe. But the character is based on a real-life figure so give the movie the benefit of the doubt I suppose. Anyhow if you hate the bad guys, and you will, that can only help the movie in the end as you become more emotionally invested. This movie has a lot going for it. Action, drama, romance. A great story, great actors, great visuals, great music. Heroes to cheer, villains to despise. It's certainly not the most serious-minded of films but it's serious enough when it needs to be. Really good swashbuckling fun, that's what this movie is. What more could you want from Zorro?
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Intriguing story, lackluster execution
In 2027 James Cole is a prisoner living beneath the streets of Philadelphia with some of the very few survivors of a virus which wiped out most of humankind back in 1996. Somehow these people living under the streets have invented time travel. OK then. The scientists in charge send Cole back to 1996 to collect information on the virus in order to develop a cure. Why, if you have time travel capabilities, the focus is on finding a cure for the few people alive in 2027 rather than stopping the virus from wiping out the species in the first place is not particularly clear. Anyhow Cole's mission gets off to a bad start when he ends up in 1990 rather than 1996 and immediately finds himself placed in a mental institution. This is all very weird. It's about to get much weirder.
Cole ends up jumping back and forth in time, quite befuddled by the whole experience. Anyone watching this film will also feel that sense of befuddlement. It's certainly an intriguing story but one which director Terry Gilliam never really got a firm grasp on. The film ends up being a bit of a disjointed mess. You're drawn into the story but ultimately end up lost in this movie's complex maze. Bruce Willis turns in a solid performance as Cole. He's solid and reliable, giving this film which threatens to veer out of control some desperately needed grounding. Brad Pitt is the other big star. He plays Jeffrey Goines who is one of the craziest crazies in the institution. Pitt plays the part with wild-eyed manic enthusiasm. The effect is quite jarring. Yes, Jeffrey is supposed to be crazy but this is some serious overacting on Pitt's part. Madeleine Stowe plays the female lead, Kathryn Railly, Cole's doctor at the institution. Cole pops in and out of her life. Initially she thinks he's nuts but as she processes new information she may have to re-evaluate that position. Unfortunately the chemistry between Willis and Stowe is lacking, the relationship between their characters falls rather flat. And as their relationship becomes more important in the story that becomes a big problem for the movie.
Ultimately 12 Monkeys is a rather frustrating film. It has an intriguing premise but the story does not play itself out in a very satisfying way. Things get muddled pretty quickly and the story twists itself into some confusing knots. The film tries to spring some surprises but telegraphs some of its twists way too soon, which is part of the reason the ending is not nearly as powerful as Gilliam would hope. Meanwhile Gilliam's assortment of visual tricks throughout serve no purpose other than to distract and annoy. Stowe's performance lacks energy, Pitt's has too much energy. Christopher Plummer is underused. Willis does a fine job but too much of what surrounds him disappoints. For all the jumping back and forth in time the film is rather slowly paced. The story may interest you but there really is not much in the way of entertainment. You would imagine a story such as this would be full of exciting moments but excitement is in very short supply. 12 Monkeys held great promise but in the end that promise is not fulfilled.
Great actors largely wasted
Robert De Niro and Edward Norton have long since established that they are great actors. Unfortunately Stone is a movie which pretty much completely wastes their talents. The plot does not engage, moves too slowly and quickly becomes repetitive. This is a movie which gets stuck in a rut that not even the greatest of actors can pull it out of.
De Niro plays Jack, a prison officer who is soon to retire who evaluates prisoners who are up for parole, recommending whether they should be released. Norton plays Stone, a prisoner who will test Jack, tempt him, make him question things about himself. Used as the object of temptation is Stone's wife, Lucetta, who is given a mission to seduce Jack so that he may look upon Stone's case more favorably. Jack's moments with Lucetta add a little something different to a movie which otherwise is just De Niro and Norton sitting on opposite sides of a desk jabbering away at one another. Lots of talk, very little action in this movie.
Stone is the convict but Jack clearly has some serious inner demons. There is an anger boiling inside him. If he ever had any faith he seems to have lost it. Stone meanwhile finds some new spirituality. Or maybe that's just a ploy to make him seem a better candidate for release. Jack's wife is deeply religious. Stone's wife most certainly is not. Spirituality hangs over the whole picture. The film appears to be trying to tell us something important. But it never gets the message across. Ultimately it all fizzles out with an ending which is not much of an ending at all, this is a movie with no real resolution to it. It is a movie which never comes together properly. With De Niro and Norton on board, playing off one another throughout, there was great potential. But that potential is wasted. Great actors let down by a lousy script. De Niro seems a little bored at times. Can't blame him really. But by and large he and Norton, as well as Milla Jovovich who plays Lucetta, make the most they can out of the material. The performances are fine. But the material is just not good enough.
Swashbuckler films should just by their nature always be quite fun. Unfortunately Ivanhoe is not much fun at all. This is a dull film, too serious-minded for its own good. When you think of swashbucklers Errol Flynn's Robin Hood is of course the first thing that comes to mind. This film suffers terribly by comparison. Robert Taylor, playing Ivanhoe, has none of the charm and charisma Flynn had. Taylor turns in a very bland performance. To be fair he is not helped by what is a rather lousy script. The dialogue in this film is so stilted and unnatural. The film looks good, colors pop off the screen, battle scenes are well done. But visual spectacle is not enough. The story has to engage. And, weighed down by that clunky dialogue, the story in this film falls flat.
There are some saving graces here. Taylor is a bit of a dud and in a film like this if the hero is a dud that is a big problem. But the supporting players perk things up a bit. Joan Fontaine plays Rowena, the object of Ivanhoe's affection, and Fontaine falls comfortably into the role much like her sister did in Robin Hood. There is the sense though that, much as with Olivia de Havilland in that film, Fontaine's character is somewhat underdeveloped. The story would be helped if we got to know more about Rowena. We do get to know more about Rebecca, a young Jewish woman who finds herself in quite a difficult situation. Elizabeth Taylor plays the part very well, bringing some emotion to a film which desperately needs it. Of course she also brings her great beauty to the role, easy to see why a man would fall under her spell. It is De Bois-Guilbert, Ivanhoe's rival, who loves Rebecca. But she loves Ivanhoe. And Ivanhoe loves Rowena. But Rowena is jealous of Rebecca. All a bit messy.
The romantic entanglements all sort themselves out in the end. But it's a bit of a slog getting to that ending. This is a rather dull, oddly lifeless movie. You can't help but compare this movie to Robin Hood. Heck, Robin Hood even shows up in this movie, serving to do little more than to reinforce the notion you'd rather be watching Errol Flynn. Ivanhoe is no Robin Hood. The women in the picture, Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor, do good work. George Sanders, though saddled by that awful dialogue, is reasonably decent as well playing De Bois-Guilbert. But in a movie titled Ivanhoe the actor playing Ivanhoe obviously holds the key to the film's success. And Robert Taylor is not up to snuff. How can the hero of a swashbuckler film be so bland? The character of Ivanhoe disappoints so the movie can't help but disappoint. This is a movie which takes itself way too seriously. It is the type of movie you should be able to have some fun with. But fun is in desperately short supply here.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Uneven, ultimately disappointing
Vicky is a prim, proper, practical woman. She is engaged to the type of man prim, proper, practical women marry. Vicky's friend Cristina is everything Vicky is not. Adventurous, spontaneous and quite willing to hop into bed with some random man she just met. Vicky knows what she wants in life. Cristina is searching. The two friends are spending the summer in Barcelona. Artist Juan Antonio, of whom Vicky and Cristina know nothing other than he tried to kill his ex-wife (or maybe the other way around), introduces himself and suggests the three of them fly off to Oviedo for a weekend of sightseeing and sex. Mostly sex. Vicky is of course appalled. Cristina is of course intrigued. Off to Oviedo the threesome goes, Vicky only agreeing to go along to keep an eye on Cristina. And then things get complicated.
Woody Allen has set up an interesting situation here but the film doesn't live up to its initial promise. Ultimately it is quite a letdown. This seems like a story which should be full of emotion but the movie is oddly flat. The performances of the leads don't help. Scarlett Johansson, playing Cristina, is a blank slate in desperate need of some color. She's quite dull. Rebecca Hall, playing Vicky, comes across somewhat better. It is really left to Penélope Cruz, playing a prototypical Spanish firecracker, to inject some life into the proceedings. The movie noticeably perks up when Cruz is on the screen. Her scenes with Javier Bardem, playing Juan Antonio, have some sizzle to them, a notable contrast to Bardem's interactions with the film's other leading ladies. Cruz brings good energy but not nearly enough to rescue what is all in all a rather boring movie.
While not a total misfire Vicky Cristina Barcelona has too many flaws to be deemed a success. The dialogue is rather pretentious. There is an incredibly annoying narrator who just never shuts up. The story, which seemed to have great promise, ends up falling rather flat. Some of the key performances fail to engage. And in the end it all seems rather pointless, there is no satisfying resolution whatsoever. Cruz and Bardem work well together. Unfortunately that which surrounds them disappoints. You can see potential in this movie. But Allen was unable to put the pieces together properly. One of those frustrating movies which you can't help but feel should be much better than it actually is.
The Goonies (1985)
The Goonies is a childhood adventure best left to children. Kids might find the movie enjoyable. Maybe. But viewed through the eyes of an adult the movie is a flop. The script is dire, the acting is rather terrible, a number of the characters serve no purpose while other characters serve only to annoy. And the supposed great adventure our young heroes go on is not even particularly interesting. There is very little excitement to be had here, honestly this is a rather boring movie.
The story follows a group of kids as they search for long-lost pirate treasure. A very simple plot but that would be OK if this treasure hunt was exciting. It is not. The kids find many obstacles in their way. There are booby traps to get through and some hapless villains on their tail. It all becomes repetitive rather quickly. Make your way through this trap, then that trap, then another trap. All along the way spout terrible dialogue and in many instances have many kids spouting that terrible dialogue all at the same time. These kids talk, and scream, over one another for two hours. Get me an aspirin. The acting is completely unconvincing. Child actors are capable of great performances. Not in this movie. We get grating performances from the whole lot of them. Sean Astin, playing the leader of the group, is probably most annoying of all though Ke Huy Quan, who you may remember as the incredibly annoying kid from Temple of Doom, runs him close. There are a couple of girls tossed into the proceedings and they add absolutely nothing. Meanwhile the villains are total duds. There is very little good to say here. This is one dull, empty adventure.
Just Go with It (2011)
Just not funny enough
Just Go with It is less juvenile than many of Adam Sandler's previous works. So that's good. But in a movie which unbelievably stretches to almost two hours in length there are very few laughs. That's bad. Sandler, for the most part, acts like an actual grown-up. But this more mature Sandler doesn't turn out to be a funnier one. This is a hit-and-miss comedy in which the misses definitely outnumber the hits.
Sandler plays Danny, a successful, and quite single, Los Angeles plastic surgeon who scores with hot women by using a wedding ring to pretend he's unhappily married. He is quite content with his life of meaningless one-night stands. Then, without his fake ring on, he hooks up with the impossibly hot Palmer. He feels a genuine connection with her. But then she finds the ring, assumes he really is married, and refuses to have anything to do with him. Danny tells her he is about to be divorced, Palmer insists on meeting his supposed wife. Danny concocts a plan, having his office assistant, single mom Katherine, pretend to be his wife. But the plan veers off the rails and Danny ends up having to take the ruse all the way to Hawaii. Danny, Palmer, Katherine and Katherine's kids, who Palmer thinks are also Danny's kids, jet off on their tropical adventure. There's also a very annoying fake boyfriend for Katherine. So much deception. But so few laughs. The setup is seemingly there for some decent screwball comedy. But the movie largely falls flat.
The movie is not a total failure. There are some chuckles here and there but no huge laughs. Certainly not enough consistent comedy to maintain the film over its exorbitantly long running time. Sandler is OK. The real standout is Jennifer Aniston, playing Katherine. Aniston has such great comic instincts and is so incredibly charming. It's a shame she doesn't have better material to work with here. Brooklyn Decker is surprisingly good as Palmer. A swimsuit model by trade Decker certainly fills out a bikini quite well. And in this film the camera lingers over her to the extent drooling may be induced from some members of the audience. But Decker proves to be capable of more than looking hot, she actually shows reasonably decent acting chops. She could have a future in this. Heck, she turns in a much better performance here than Nicole Kidman does. Kidman shows up halfway through the film and you'll wish she hadn't. She mails in a terrible performance and her character brings a bad vibe to the proceedings. She's a villain in a film which didn't need one. Nick Swardson, playing Katherine's fake boyfriend with a fake German accent, is grating to the extreme. And just when you think he can't be any worse he has an excruciatingly unfunny encounter with a sheep. The less said about that the better. The children are rather annoying as well. It's hard to produce a likable comedy when there are so many characters you don't like. Sandler, Aniston and Decker do the best they can but everyone and everything else fails. The comedy never hits it big. The plot fizzles out rather quickly and there's more than a hint of obviousness to it. It's not hard to guess where the story is headed. That wouldn't be so bad if there were a lot of great laughs along the way. But those laughs are not there.
Enough Said (2013)
Charming comedy tinged by real-life sadness
Enough Said is charming, funny and enjoyable. For real-life reasons it is also somewhat heartbreaking. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini make for a great, if somewhat odd, couple. You'll love seeing them together. But an undeniable sadness hangs over the film. You can't help but think of Gandolfini's untimely passing, especially as the film makes jokes about his girth, jokes which now seem desperately sad and not at all funny. But this is a great performance from Gandolfini. It is sad that we won't see him on the screen again. But Enough Said is a film worthy of his superb talent, giving us one last great memory of the man.
Louis-Dreyfus plays massage therapist Eva, divorced mother of a teenage girl. Her daughter is about to head off to college. Gandolfini plays Albert, divorced father of a teenage girl. His daughter is about to head off to college. Neither Eva nor Albert appear to be seriously looking for a relationship. But at a party they find one another and there is an obvious connection there. Eva, not physically attracted to flabby Albert, hesitates at first. But she finds herself charmed by this man. They become friends. Then they become something more than friends. It's a great coupling. Eva and Albert are great together, largely because Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini are great together. This seemingly mismatched couple have great chemistry. Their relationship is charming, their interactions are witty, it's really fun to see. But there are complications.
Albert wasn't the only interesting person Eva met at that party. She also is introduced to Marianne, a divorced, and rather pretentious, poet. Eva takes on Marianne as a client and quickly becomes good friends with her. And then things get a little messy. Here the film becomes a little obvious, it's not hard to deduce the plot's secret. But that doesn't really detract from the film, everything is clearly revealed rather quickly anyway. Anyhow, Eva finds herself in a bit of a pickle and she reacts badly, making a real mess out of things. You want Eva and Albert to be together but as you watch things play out you wonder if Eva deserves him. She screws up big time. There is a lot of hurt which will need to be overcome if there is to be a happily ever after to this tale.
The situation Eva finds herself in, and the way she reacts to it, does seem a little contrived. And some of the film's initial charm does fade as Eva behaves rather badly. Albert deserves better. But Eva is not a bad person and, portrayed as she is with wonderful vulnerability by Louis-Dreyfus, she is a woman you still pull for in the end. Of course Eva is not the only vulnerable one. Albert has been hurt before. You hate to see him possibly hurt again. And Gandolfini captures the hurt, the pain, the vulnerability so well. It really is a startling performance. There is much to like about this film. It is well scripted, has great wit and some truly funny moments. It also has great charm and tenderness. Maybe it loses its way a bit in the middle there. The character of Marianne, played with icy coldness by Catherine Keener, throws a bit of a wet blanket over the film. But Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini are so good, and so endearing, you overlook any little quibbles with the film. These are two great performers who are absolutely perfect for these roles. You look at the characters and you can't see how they could possibly be a match for one another. Albert, so sloppy and huge. Eva, so stylish and tiny, looking as if she could fit into the palm of Albert's hand. In this case opposites really do attract. And it is good for us that they do. Because these characters, these performers, give us a film so easy to embrace. It is desperately sad that we won't see Gandolfini again. It is an absolute joy to be able to see him here, in a film which serves as a clear reminder of why he will be so missed.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Odyssey with music and laughs
The Coen brothers present a reasonably entertaining comedy very loosely based on Homer's Odyssey. The hero of this film's journey is Everett, whose first name is actually Ulysses, and whose story parallels that of Homer's hero. But Everett's story is very much unique, the Coens take a rough outline from Homer and then make the story all their own. The story unfolds in rural Mississippi in 1937, a unique and, as we will come to see, rather strange place. Everett is an escaped convict who has two companions on his journey. Pete and Delmar were chained to Everett at the time of his escape, he convinced them to go along with him by filling their heads with a story of buried treasure. They lose the chains, will they find the treasure? The first person they stumble upon after their escape tells them they will find a fortune, but not the one they seek. Interesting. What will fate have in store for our trio at the end of their arduous journey?
This is a comedy film which has its funny moments but the film is rather uneven. The laughs don't come as consistently as you would like. It is music more than comedy which really sparks the film to life. Everett, Pete and Delmar end up unwitting radio stars, the Soggy Bottom Boys. Their hit song, Man of Constant Sorrow, is a treat. The film has a good, lively mix of folk and bluegrass music throughout. So, the music is fun. The story doesn't quite match the music though. There are times where things move a little too slowly, times where things get a little too weird. At one point Delmar is convinced Pete has been turned into a toad. Yes, weird indeed. Delmar is a bit of a dim bulb, Pete isn't much brighter. Everett is the brains of the operation but, while he's got a quick wit, he's surely no genius either. There are times when the dimness of the trio is endearing, but there are times where it wears thin too.
Everett, Pete and Delmar are certainly the focus of the story but they meet plenty of interesting characters on their Homer-inspired journey. And, keeping with the offbeat theme of the entire film, many of these characters are exceedingly odd. This really is a strange film but the Coens pull it all together reasonably well. George Clooney, playing Everett, is a good star to build around. Clooney brings real personality to the role. John Turturro, as Pete, and Tim Blake Nelson, as Delmar, complement Clooney well. There may be times the story drags, times where the comedy misses the mark. But it is not the fault of the performers, everyone suits their role very well. John Goodman and Holly Hunter are among those who pop into the film, portraying characters who take the story in some surprising directions. It seems a simple story, that of Everett and friends on an ordinary journey. But there is nothing ordinary about the world of this film. The Coens have populated this world with some supremely strange people. And that makes for a decent bit of fun. Maybe the film doesn't always work as well as it should but it perks up enough here and there to keep you interested and entertained. Things get a little bizarre at times but there is some fun in that too. And the music keeps things lively, you'll be clamoring for more of the Soggy Bottom Boys. This is certainly not the greatest comedy the Coens ever produced. But it's good enough to satisfy.
The Hustler (1961)
It's a scratch
Esteemed as a classic The Hustler doesn't match the hype. There is not near enough entertainment on offer here to stretch across the film's much too long running time. The film takes place in the dingy, seedy world of pool, with all its gambling and boozing. It makes for a rather dark film. There is a little bit of fun to be had in the beginning as we're introduced to small-time hustler Fast Eddie Felson. Eddie yearns to be big-time and to do that he's got to beat the best. And Minnesota Fats is the best. We see Eddie and Fats play a thoroughly compelling game of pool. But for the film it's all downhill from there. Things get too dark, too bleak. There is nothing to enjoy. The film tells an interesting story to be sure. But that story is ever so hard to embrace, it's quite a sordid tale. Ultimately The Hustler leaves you with a sinking feeling in your gut. This is a rather unpleasant movie-watching experience.
Paul Newman, as Eddie, and Jackie Gleason, as Fats, give fine performances. Newman makes Eddie into a compelling, if thoroughly flawed, hero. Gleason doesn't have much screen time but he makes the most of every moment, having such a great presence about him. Unfortunately the good work of Newman and Gleason is undermined by what surrounds them. The character of Bert Gordon, unscrupulous gambler, drags the film into the muck. George C. Scott plays the role and there's nothing wrong with the performance. Scott makes Bert into what the script calls for him to be. Unfortunately what the script calls for Bert to be is a vile, miserable, reprehensible human being. Hearing Bert, a man who has no character whatsoever, lecture Eddie about his lack of character will have you shaking your head. Bert is so repugnant his presence makes the entire film distasteful.
Then there's Sarah, a young alcoholic woman who falls into a relationship with Eddie. Piper Laurie plays this part and, as with Scott, there's nothing to fault about the performance. The character just doesn't work properly, she's not entirely believable. She seems to exist only to teach Eddie life lessons. And Eddie does indeed learn much about himself by the time the film ends. But for the viewer it's been a rather unsatisfying journey. The film is slow, plodding and bleak to the point of being outright depressing. The film started with great promise. You thought that even in those dingy pool halls there might be some bright enjoyment to be had. There was not. This film gives you precious little to enjoy. Newman does the best he can to carry the film but ultimately he, and we, are let down by the story. The Hustler unfolds in a very dark world. Sadly, that darkness overwhelms the film.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Not the most enjoyable day
Ferris Bueller's Day Off is among the most acclaimed and beloved comedy films of its generation. Which is quite startling as this is a very ordinary, frankly disappointing, film. There's not enough fun, not enough laughs. The movie never truly sparks to life. Ferris Bueller had a pretty eventful day. But it doesn't translate. Ferris, the character, probably found his day off to be wildly exciting. Living it is one thing. Watching it is another. For those of us who can only watch it is not particularly exciting at all.
It's an absurdly simple story. High school senior Ferris Bueller skips school and, girlfriend and best friend in tow, goes to Chicago and does some stuff. There's a subplot about the school principal who is obsessed with catching Ferris. This subplot falls completely, and rather annoyingly, flat. The principal is an unfunny irritant. Time spent with him is time wasted. We'd rather spend more time with Ferris and his friends. But honestly the time we do spend with them is disappointing as well. Matthew Broderick gives a game performance, infusing Ferris with some personality. But the girlfriend, played by Mia Sara is a dud. A stunningly beautiful dud but a dud nonetheless. And Cameron, the mopey best friend played by Alan Ruck, is a total drag. Ferris tries to get Cameron to loosen up and have a good time. Not happening. And then, in a film which is meant to be escapist fun, things get all too serious as Cameron has to deal with his unseen, overbearing father. The tone here is all wrong. It puts a damper on a film which wasn't even as fun as it is cracked up to be in the first place. The great adventure Ferris went on wasn't so great. It was quite frankly mundane. Laughs are in desperately short supply. The principal is notably annoying and the other supporting characters, including Ferris's sister, add nothing to the proceedings. The device of Ferris breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the camera is overused and wears thin very quickly. All in all this is a very disappointing movie, one which falls far short of the expectations you would have of it given its stellar reputation.