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Winter's Bone (2010)
Phony and folksy.
As phony as it is folksy, Winter's Bone's lack of authenticity isn't its biggest flaw. It thrusts us into a convoluted, overcomplicated plot, which only gets sillier as the ensemble swells. The work all falls on the stone-faced Jennifer Lawrence, a pudgy, limited actress, who often fades into the background during her dozens of close-ups. Those endless close-ups are used to compensate for underwritten characters. I guess if we can see these actors' tears as clearly as we do their pores, we'll care more deeply for them.
There's only one great scene in the movie, as Lawrence can't articulate a good reason why she wants to join up to an army recruiter. Otherwise, Winter's Bone exemplifies why there are so few great films about rural America. Granik can't be content with the low-key drama of a youngster forced to care for her younger siblings. Even the threat of losing their home isn't enough. (Places in the Heart or Sounder this is not.) There are so many throwaway scenes, like a trip to the cattle auction where Lawrence tries to talk to somebody for some reason. Most of it doesn't really matter, as Granik's obviously building toward an ending formulaic, reassuring, and false.
Also, to nitpick, it's set in Christian County, Missouri, but nobody in that part of the Ozarks spouts such rapid-fire colloquialisms ("I'll take you to see your Daddy's bones"). The accents are also wildly inconsistent.
Good intentions aren't a substitute for deeply flawed logic.
How funny that a film about the importance of forthrightness is so often dependent on anonymous sources and hearsay. Its politics aren't repellent at first, as Kirby Dick only outs politicians involved in public sex scandals. But then he just goes after whomever he pleases. Dick goes so low as placing a photo of Rep. David Dreier next to a disco ball and underwear-clad men at a pride parade. Then we're shown an embarrassing slip-up by news anchor Shepard Smith, a lead-in to outing him too. Many of these individuals' sexual orientation is none of our business. Being outed for hypocrisy is one thing; being outed anecdotally is quite another.
The more aimless the documentary gets — and it meanders ceaselessly — the more frustrating its politics become, concealing an inconsistent moral standard with flashy graphics and rousing, but outrageous political claims. "If every gay person would come out of the closet, the gay rights movement would be over," claims one interviewee. This is the film's concluding point, with Harvey Milk discussing the importance of gay visibility. Inexplicably, the film fundamentally refrains from analyzing the irony that most of the high profile public figures outed here would never have gotten their positions if they were openly gay. Dick fails to realize his good intentions aren't a substitute for deeply flawed logic.
John Waters meets a killer turkey...
From the opening shot onward, there's a vile humor and manic energy in "ThanksKilling" comparable to John Waters' "Multiple Maniacs." It's obviously a slapdash effort with sloppy framing and a dire need for re-shoots in a handful of scenes, but there's still undeniable charm here. The self-referential scripting and sight gags feel unrefined, but successful camp requires some level of intelligence and this is as delightfully campy as killer turkey movies come. Despite casting that's not doing the film any favors, it ambles along undeterred from one one-liner to the next. That determination is admirable and thoroughly entertaining since the film's as able as it is eager to please.
One-dimensional storytelling in 3D!
Tron reminds me of another one-word titled film that relied on special effects to bring in money: Them! from 1954. Neither film's effects hold up over the years. That is where the comparison fades since Them!, bizarrely, is the only one of the two with a slight focus on dialogue and plot. Tron lacks all the vital elements for a good film and instead hurls us into a nonsensical world of pastel colors and cheesy effects. Dialogue and plot may not exist within the mind of a super-intelligent computer, but any somewhat-intelligent human should be wondering where they are. With shots and ideas stolen directly from Star Wars, something must have gone wrong at a fundamental level to make Tron look like Star Wars's ugly cousin.
The suspension of disbelief is important for a viewer to have when watching a movie. Tron is certainly no slice of life, but has characters that look very much like a slice of key lime pie. I am well aware that the possibility of Jeff Bridges being transported into a computer is fairly slim. It does not especially bother me that Tron, Yori, and Sark all look like people he knows in the real world. For all I know, he could just be really, really high. But the fact that Flynn (Bridges) and Tron and Yori are all wandering around in costumes that Star Wars's stormtroopers would laugh hysterically at sort of grates my nerves. The film is not the visual feast it thinks it is. Honestly, the film is not remotely entertaining. The sense of urgency we are required to feel in this adventure does not seem plausible when one stops to think, "If a user's program took this long to contact me when I tried talking to it, I would go outside and play baseball and maybe hope it would talk to me in an hour or two." There is no urgency. There is no logic in Master Control's desire to take over the world. In fact, that is a subplot so desperate to draw us into the story that the movie is obviously using scare tactics to convince us we think it is cool. Yes, Master Control, you are so cool. You shrunk Jeff Bridges. You are making him perform tedious tasks instead of killing him when he obviously would waste no time in killing you. You know, Tron's a pretty capable hero. I think he would make it OK without Jeff Bridges, but never underestimate star power in a bad Disney film. He even manages to kiss Yori without making her short circuit, in a proud tradition of female Disney characters who could not possibly be more one-dimensional.
There are no impressive twists or turns in this film, and not a single, catchy one-liner to be heard in a string of flat dialogue. The film lacks charm, story, but at least I can be glad we have come a long way since 1982... sort of.
Angels in America (2003)
The Best Picture of the Year
It was only a few months ago that I read the plays of "Angels in America". I was amazed that something so massive could be captured on the stage, but even more so to think that it could ever be caught on film.
Mike Nichols is one of my favorite directors and made one of my favorite films ever ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"). With one of the greatest casts ever assembled, he has done justice to what is one of the greatest pieces of drama ever written.
Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, and Patrick Wilson are the ensemble cast that tower along side ensembles like those of "Nashville" or "Short Cuts". Each and every one is brilliant, though Streep and Pacino both prove that with age they have become better than ever.
This is more than some made for TV movie. This is the movie of the year.
The second part of "Angels in America" shows tonight. I am confident that there is no reason to wait to post my comments because I'm certain it will be just as incredible.
The Emmys of 2003-2004 will have a theme: "Angels in America".
The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
A Charming, Shining Gem
Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor for Frank Morgan (best known for his many roles in "The Wizard of Oz"), this film is a rare gem that's well worth it's 80 minutes. The film showcases wonderful performances from an all-star cast that includes Fredric March ("The Best Years of Our Lives"), Fay Wray ("King Kong"), and Constance Bennett. Witty and clever dialogue is a strong point in the film and everyone makes this comedy as funny as it can be.
Fox Movie Channel is showing this from time to time, so definitely stop and see it if you have the chance. Not only will you get to a rare Oscar-nominated film, but a brilliant comedy with a remarkable cast.
One of the Last Great Epics
The 1963 version of 'Cleopatra' is one of the last great epics of all time. Standing firmly beside such great epics as 'Ben-Hur', 'Cleopatra' truly is one of the greatest films ever. With superb writing and directing by Academy Award winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz and excellent acting from Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, and Roddy McDowall. This is one of the last true epics. 'Cleopatra' is known as the most expensive film of all time (with inflation) and is said to cost over $440 million dollars if it were to be made today. The cost is evident through every detail through props and costumes. This movie also displays one of the greatest spectacles to see in a film: Cleopatra's Precession into Rome. 'Cleopatra' is truly one of the greatest stories and films ever.