Hereditary also had that sense of watching the inevitable play out, but with that film you cared deeply about the family and were deeply horrified by what was being done to them. This was brightly colored and elegantly shot schlock.
Hereditary also had that sense of watching the inevitable play out, but with that film you cared deeply about the family and were deeply horrified by what was being done to them. This was brightly colored and elegantly shot schlock.
I liked a lot of the scenes in the beginning, the little mundane details like when Michael Pena's character is going about his everyday street beat. But the scenes at the WTC itself are really awkward, especially the cross-cutting between real footage and the actors. They just don't match, neither the film stocks nor the actors' reactions. A couple of moments with Pena standing there on the concourse were effective in creating a sense of horrific surrealism, and the moments right before the collapse were sudden and chilling...but overall it was not as powerful as I was expecting. For a film called World Trade Center, I guess I was expecting a little more context and not something focused so narrowly on these two Port Authority cops and an ex-Marine from Connecticut (as the only person outside these two cops' families whose story is told in the film, the focus on him reeks of jingoism in a GI Joe/Rambo vein).
I know it's a little unfair to compare this to United 93, but I need to in order to illustrate the point. U93 told a specific story (the experience of the passengers on the plane) and placed it within a context (what was happening with air traffic control and the military). The lessons that are demonstrated in the actions of the passengers are enhanced by contrasting them with the helplessness of the "professionals" responsible for their safety. It's telling a dramatically powerful story, conveying a theme , AND providing a larger historical context of what happened that day. Oliver Stone, by comparison, has failed to effectively tie the experiences of these two trapped cops with the larger events of the day, and his film suffers as a result. And in the end the film largely shortchanges the stories of the 2749 families who didn't get good news that day.
OK, so the film focuses on a narrow story of these two trapped cops and their families (and the gung ho marine, but he has limited screen time). Was their story well told? The scenes amidst the wreckage were compelling, but the back-and-forth with their wives became annoyingly schmaltzy. Yes, Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a strong performance as the pregnant wife and a lot of the moments with her family (esp the brief scene with the Colombian mother-in-law praying) were emotionally poignant, but so much of the family stuff was lame melodrama. And to be honest, even Maggie's performance was a little generic. I understand that these characters are all closely based on real life, but it still felt very Lifetime movie of the week. As for Maria Bello in the role of the other wife, I loved her in A History of Violence, but she was bland in this. The kid actors playing her children were mostly awful, and the film dragged whenever their story was on the screen. The resolution is mostly handled well, I really like what Oliver Stone is trying to convey about these small gestures of heroic goodness in the face of such desolation. But the power of these scenes is undermined by his tendency to pour on the sappiness while largely ignoring the greater horror of the day. It feels like a soap opera set against the greatest tragedy of our age, and that just doesn't work for me.
In short...not intense enough, not enough context, too much melodrama, not enough of a sense of reverence for what happened, highly impressive job of recreating the debris field, a charismatic performance from Maggie, overall a mediocre film.
But it's not Steve Carell's film. It's a startling departure for him, a nuanced and heartfelt performance that's just as strong as his career-making turn in 40 Year Old Virgin. Likewise, this film does not in any way belong to Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, or Alan Arkin, all of whom are at the absolute top of their games and each of whom is allowed many moments within the ensemble structure to create a complex and compelling character. Hell, the film doesn't even belong to Paul Dano, who's just as good as his more experienced co-stars even though he doesn't have a single line of dialogue in the first 80% of the movie.
No, this film is owned wholly and entirely by a nine-year-old actress named Abigail Breslin. I think a lot of viewers might miss it because she's surrounded by enormously talented performers and is "golly gee whiz" "aw shucks" cute, but this performance is, all hyperbole aside, Oscarworthy. The entire film hangs on her emotional vulnerability and she is achingly real in every moment of joy, sorrow, confusion, desolation, and determination. The closest comparison I can think of is Amy Adams in Junebug. She's that good.
OK, I seem to be writing this review backwards. Let's see if I can pull together a plot description. The film is basically a dark comedy dysfunctional family road trip. It starts out resoundingly bleak. Richard (Kinnear) is a wannabe motivational speaker who in his desperate drive for excellence has become deeply alienated from his family. His wife Sheryl (Collette) tries to keep their family together but is so frustrated with her husband and nerve- shredded by the stresses of her home that it seems like she will cave in at any moment. Also in the home is Steve's elderly father, who is perpetually profane and angry and copes with the disappointments of his life by snorting heroin. Richard and Sheryl are raising two children, the cute but seemingly unremarkable Olive (Breslin) and the perpetually silent, glum, and angry Dwayne (Dano), who is marking off the days until he can go join the Air Force and escape this familial hellhole. Into this enclave of joy and bliss enters Sheryl's brother Frank, who has just been released from the hospital after trying to slit his wrists due to his unrequited love for one of his grad students. When Sheryl tells her brother that she's glad he's alive, he tonelessly responds "that makes one of us."
These are the characters. I know they must seem like pathetic indie stereotypes, but over the course of the film each of them is revealed as a multi-dimensional person struggling miserably but nobly to make the best of a life that is not working out the way they had hoped. And despite the gloomy set-up, this twisted thing becomes the most life-affirming film I've seen since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It's not a perfect film by any means. At times it feels a little contrived, as if several years of trauma were compressed into two days. And while the climax undeniably represents the most ruthless skewering of beauty pageants in the history of cinema, skewering beauty pageants doesn't in itself really qualify as daring satire.
Nonetheless, the film packs an emotional wallop that's going to take a lot of people by surprise.
And I haven't even mentioned that it happens to be the funniest movie of the year.
LitW represents all of Shyamalan's worst tendencies taken to extremes in the context of a metafilm that raises Shyamalan to the level of intellectual Christ and devalues the humanity of his critics. It's not merely an interesting experiment that didn't work or an auteur being a little too self-indulgent...it's vile.
For those who haven't read the book, it's important to know what you're getting into. PK Dick wrote this novel as a way of telling the story of how he and his friends in the early '70s damaged and destroyed themselves with drugs. He tells this story within the framework of a surreal science fiction thriller, but many of the scenes are straight from his own experiences with the unpleasant consequences of people using drugs and disintegrating mentally.
This film does an amazing job of capturing the feel and tone of the book as well as the paranoia, perceptual distortions, and chaos of hallucinogenic overindulgence. Add to that a story that only gradually emerges from the madness, but by the end brings in a lot of heavy ideas such as the existence of free will, whether ends justify means, etc. There is a sense of consequence to what happens in the film, a sense of despair at what has been lost. So this story of drug-addled losers becomes the story of the human struggle for identity and meaning.
I have a couple of minor quibbles regarding scenes from the book that only partially made the cut (no explanation for the significance of "If I'd known it was harmless I would have killed it myself, no little kid to explain how 6 and 3 gears means 18 speeds). Still, most adaptations of PK Dick stories take a few basic ideas and try to shape them into more conventional films that fit into established genres. Even when it works, such as with Blade Runner or Total Recall, it's not really PK Dick. Not so this film. This is PK in all his dark and perverse and deeply thoughtful glory.
Rating: 2/5 Plot: Two months after getting dumped by a woman named London (Biel), drugged out Syd (Evans) is informed by a phone call that his ex is having a going away party that night and will be leaving town the next day. Enraged and agitated, Syd decides to crash the party and make one final attempt to salvage his relationship with London. Along the way, he picks up Bateman (Statham), a coke-dealing white collar professional who Syd cajoles into accompanying him to the party. Once they arrive, they shack up in an opulent bathroom where they snort massive amounts of smack, debate the existence of God with a pair of passing party-goers, and boorishly compare notes on who has endured greater pain and suffering. Will Syd snap out of his drug-induced haze long enough to speak his peace with London? Is there anything left to reconcile, or can he at least pull himself together enough to move on with his life?
Criticism: The biggest problem with this film is that it's seldom as insightful as it wants to be or thinks it is. Syd and Bateman are not particularly interesting or compelling characters, despite their emotional issues and drug abuse. Their "intellectual" discussions are shallow and trite and flat. They are both so caught up in their insecurities and belligerence that they are incapable of genuinely seeing or feeling for anyone else. The filmmaker is well aware of this, as shown by the use of tag names (acid casualty Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd infamy and Bateman the soulless corporate killer from American Psycho). But the filmmaker refuses to acknowledge that his creations are pathetic and empty. He presents their hollow observations and meaningless chatter as if it were genuine insight. This makes what happens in the last 20 minutes entirely ludicrous, as the film veers suddenly into conventional romantic drama territory that cannot be justified on the basis of what has come before.
Prescriptive Analysis: (spoilers galore) One of the few dead-on moments in the film is in a flashback where London tells Syd that his philosophical discussions are little more than bullying designed to raise himself up by tearing everything else down. The film needs to do more to play up that angle. But first, the Syd character has to be shown as having a little more potential that what is demonstrated here. His "intellectual" repartee needs serious punching up. There are plenty of clever cynics/nihilists to use as models. What he's saying needs to sound attractive and interesting on the surface, so that it can come as a revelation when it's revealed later on in the film as hollow and manipulative self-absorption. Likewise, the numerous flashbacks to his memories of the relationship need to show moments of beauty and understanding and not just the distrust and macho posturing shown here. We need to see that this relationship was something special and we need to feel a sense of tragedy at its loss. We need to see its flaws, especially his flaws which the audience should see even if he doesn't necessarily, at least at the beginning. But we also need to see the beauty when it's not totally swallowed up by the ugliness.
Then there's the issue of those last 20 minutes. Syd and Bateman go downstairs, get into a massive brawl with the party's hosts...and then not only does London leave with Syd, but, after a "deeply meaningful" conversation in which nothing actually deep or meaningful is said or shown, she actually goes to bed with him before catching her plane in the morning. And throughout all this Syd comes across as remarkably together for a man who has indulged in an epically massive cocaine binge.
OK, so how might they have done this instead? Let's keep the fight, but make it even more of a mess. Bateman breaks somebody's nose, the apartment is totally trashed, police get called. Bateman gets arrested, and London has to beg her friend not to press charges against Syd. Syd ends up back in the bathroom, where London comes in to help nurse his injuries. They talk, using some of the dialog from their "deeply meaningful conversation" in the actual film but also more raw anger and hurt from him and a lot more analysis of their relationship's shortcomings from her. Without admitting it, it is here that he has to realize that his intellectualizing is bs and that he's been a totally selfish prick. And, through her tenderness and sadness and invocation of what was beautiful about their relationship, it needs to become clear that she still deeply loves him, though she has made the choice to move on with her life. Perhaps they could fall asleep in the bathroom together, then he takes her to the airport in the morning. The tracking shot at the airport, which is a nicely shot farewell, could then be mostly left intact, only the emotions would be earned.
OK, so it's patriarchal and sexist and treats all its female characters as different varieties of whore. (Isn't that why the blonde co-worker is in the film, to make the Claire Danes character seem like less of a tramp by comparison?) Why is she with this guy other than (a) just not to be alone and (b) because he buys her stuff? So this is what passes for love these days.
For that matter, isn't Jeremy such a ridiculously over-the-top screwup in the first act simply because otherwise the relationship between the two leads would be offensively sleazy? Seriously, I've known lots of screwups in my life, and none of them are this oblivious. This character is totally make-believe- a person this incompetent would be unable to maintain themselves. This makes it even more ludicrous when after a few months of self-help tapes he suddenly has a nice car and respectable clothes and a significantly different personality (which, as it happens, is still never shown as meshing with the "protagonist") So with these few changes he is now a decent enough man for the "protagonist", despite falling into a shallow sexual escapade with the blonde tramp.
And technically the film is pretty dreadful as well. Establishing shots tell you it's L.A., Seattle, or NYC, but there's never a sense a place. The same camera angles are repated over and over, and not to any aesthetic or symbolic effect. The musical score is effective at first, but then it's the same thing over and over no matter what's happening on screen. It's a very thin story made even thinner by the complete lack of character development. They're not archetypes, they're not stereotypes- but they're most certainly NOT fully developed individuals, either. It's painful watching Claire flailing from scene to scene without emotional continuity or even a vaguely coherent identity. Is she seriously mentally ill or does she just have a few self-confidence issues? Has she been a victim of some sort of abuse? Or is she happy and well-adjusted other than just needing to be loved? I never felt like I was watching anything other than Claire trying to act.
About the only thing this film does right is that they do a beautiful job of filming Claire's body. And that's just not enough.
The film opens with shots of German planes in the sky during the Battle of Britain. We're introduced to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as they go scrambling into the bomb shelter adjacent to their London home. It's a nice touch, a context that is only mentioned in passing in the book but which benefited from a more explicit showing now that WWII has faded from our collective memory. The film then proceeds with the events of the book, matching developments very closely. The four child actors play it all with a very English sort of reserve, which is a nice departure from the "needs their Ritalin" kids of many contemporary films, but it also mutes the sense of wonder sometimes. With the exception of a few moments between the very young Lucy and Tumnus the fawn, the kids accept what happens to them and how their lives are changed with relative nonchalance. They're good, and it's good to watch them as they endure and develop, but they're hard to relate to.
Turning to the ideological content of the film, the Christian metaphor becomes pretty explicit (perhaps even moreso than in the book). It didn't bother me per se, but I can see that becoming an issue for militant atheists. It IS a propaganda piece for the values that C.S. Lewis associated with Christianity at its best, but even as an agnostic I have respect for most of those values. I was bothered somewhat by the strident militancy of the last third of the film. There's a blend of childish awe and violence in the battle scenes that doesn't sit well with me, though to the filmmakers' credit they are just reproducing the tone of the book. But it's such a naive view of war, and it's so bizarre to set up these kids in a setting that plays like something out of Braveheart or Return of the King except with the miracle of no blood being shed. The mixing of violence and innocence, with religious overtones, is fundamentally disturbing to me.
Still, it's a good story well-told, and the filmmakers show a deep reverence for Lewis' writing and tremendous special effects know-how to bring it into motion.
In many respects, the film is a success. Top-notch acting from Gyllenhaal, Sarsgaard, and Foxx. Amped up physicality and the perpetual potential for violence lend the proceedings an air not dissimilar to the films that it often references, especially Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. It has a tremendously raw feel to it, from the profanity-laced tirades of basic training to the surreal patrols through burning deserts streaked with raining oil.
Through it all, though the characters share bonding and destabilizing encounters with one another in a manner typical of the genre, the story refuses to follow any established formula. Characters most emphatically will NOT be learning great life lessons or developing the courage to stand up to their convictions or becoming deeply disillusioned by the horrors around them, nor will they come together to overcome tremendous obstacles. There will be no explicit commentary on the war that was fought then or the sequel that we are engaged in now. It's a story about life in the Marines, in all its ambiguity and with no attempt at putting anything in perspective or context.
Part of my problem with the film stems from the fact that I am a history student with a keen interest in the time period. And Clooney does nothing to place his story in historical context. He's just taking pieces of a story and expecting the audience to fill in the rest. Like the loyalty oath piece. It really has nothing to do with the rest of the film. It is not explored further in any other scene. It is not really debated. Just one scene, designed to get the audience to recoil and say "wasn't that horrible?" Then it's not mentioned again. No reference to Stalin...hell, no reference to the Cold War, the atomic bomb, the Korean War, or even any aspect of the Red Scare other than McCarthy. There's one line about Alger Hiss near the end, but it provides little context or explication. The film makes it seem like McCarthy was a one-man wrecking crew instead of a particularly ruthless and ambitious politician taking advantage of a fear that was already widespread and deeply penetrating.
And loyalty oaths still exist, by the way, and the truth is that for the most part we accept them. I had to sign a loyalty oath to be a public schoolteacher.
As for the idea that Clooney is trying to make commentary about how society has changed in the past 50 years, I agree that such is his intent. In this regard he is clearly inspired by Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, which his company produced and which he vigorously promoted. But Haynes does it much more elegantly. He shows his characters confounding their stereotypical roles; Clooney merely reinforces them. I wanted to see Patricia Clarkson's character do something other than fetch newspapers. I wanted to see a black character do something other than belt out jazz tunes that lay out the plot like something in an old musical. Otherwise, their presence smacks of tokenism, of the worst kind of liberal condescension. Also, Haynes' film is a fiction commenting on the fictional representations and actual reality of a bygone era. Clooney's is, at least in its central scenes, practically a documentary. Having subplots whose primary purpose is smug contemporary commentary detracts from the versimilitude.
The scene near the end in the office between Langella and Strathairn is the thematic lynchpin of the film. However, this is where I think Clooney most clearly falls short. It seems to me that they address Murrow's earlier complicity in the Red Scare (re:Alger Hiss) surreptitiously by burying it in a set of defensive comments that are presented like a bunch of excuses for the network's moral cowardice. It's scripted in such a way that Murrow does not have to respond. As for the idea that corporations run the media for profit and that the nightly news is more distraction than edification ...well, that was a bold statement when Network came out 30 years ago, not so much now anything more than stating the obvious. I wanted more from this.
I almost feel like Clooney was torn between making a documentary and making something truly scathing in the Network vein. As documentary the film is brought down by its lack of context, which is a shame because Strathairn's line readings are chillingly good. As social commentary the film simply doesn't say anything particularly perceptive, and at times it comes across as liberal bourgeois moralizing.
Catherine Keener plays Nelle as the perfect foil, warm and caring but so perceptive and cruelly honest. Clifton Collins Jr.'s Perry is mesmerizing, a vulnerable and sensitive and desperately yearning young man who knows he's no good. His confession is breathtaking, cold, devastating. Chris Cooper and Bruce Greenwood are also excellent in smaller roles.
In a film with acting this sublime, it would be easy top overlook the technical accomplishments of evocative cinematography and measured, confident editing. The rhythm of the film is slow, with spaces provided for the viewer to fully absorb what's happening, and the accumulated effect was such that I had a difficult time stopping myself from shaking as I left the theatre.
This is it, the real deal. It is difficult to imagine a more powerful film being released this year.
Much of the visual wit and even a couple of the songs were largely lifted from Nightmare Before Christmas. (When they're preparing the wedding cake, I dare you not to sing to yourself, "Making Christmas, making Christmas, it's ours this time.") MANY of the characters have analogues in NBC, and in just about every case the NBC character was more interesting.
The villain is obvious. Painfully obvious. Makes the Shrek villains seem elegant and mysterious by comparison kind of obvious. The most uninspired creation of Burton's career.
The chemistry between Victor and Victoria is non-existent, and honestly neither one of them develops very much or does anything particularly interesting. If you're going to try to sell "love at first sight", they need more of a connection than a shared feeling of being put upon by their parents. It would have made a great starting scene if they were going to develop a relationship gradually or if they were going to become best friends, but not "love at first sight." Corpse Bride is the only remotely well developed character, but even in her case the pathos is a little lacking. (Remember in Toy Story 2 when the cowgirl is relating the story of becoming unwanted- Corpse Bride's story should have been that kind of sorrowful, but with a jazzier score). Helena Bonham Carter voices her perfectly, though, and she has a few nice scenes here and there.
Overall, disappointing and strangely conventional, premise and visuals notwithstanding.
There is no sense of artistry or style. The music is repetitive and swells overdramatically even when nothing much is going on. Transitions are abrupt and jarring. Every time the film starts to get going, with a scene that's genuinely unnerving or beautiful or somewhat authentic, the moment is killed by a cut into numbingly clunky, meandering, and/or unaffecting drivel. And then there's the very last scene, which looks like something out of a soft core porn film.
What kills me is that they had the material here to make a daring and original Christian film. Really deal with teenage alienation, moral choices and their consequences, the power of faith and love to save us from the very real darkness that inhabits everyday life ... but it's just not here.