REVIEW: Nowhere Boy

19 06 2013

Layout 1Everyone loves the Beatles, right?  Well, just because you love the Beatles does not mean you will automatically love director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Nowhere Boy,” a chronicle of John Lennon’s formative years.

Maybe my view was tainted because I’m not a Lennon or Beatles obsessive.  I know the basics, your “Imagine” from his solo career and chart-toppers like “Hey Jude” and “All You Need Is Love.”  But I really haven’t invested much time in learning their history or going beyond the Beatles songs that everyone knows before they are aware that they know it.

So perhaps a Beatles neophyte fan such as myself missed some of the Easter Egg-style references.  I caught a few of the blatant ones, but I still felt like I was missing something watching the movie.

I will tell you what I did not miss in “Nowhere Boy.”  I definitely caught the lackluster performance of Aaron Johnson as Lennon, who has a way of sucking the life out of every movie he’s in, be it “Savages” or “Anna Karenina.”  I absolutely noticed the lack of compelling drama, be it between his aunt who raised him (a nonetheless good Kristin Scott Thomas) and his biological mother (Anne-Marie Duff).  I did, however, also hear some good music that kept my ears happy while the same could not be said for my eyes and my mind.  C2stars

Advertisements




REVIEW: Albert Nobbs

3 01 2013

If a movie is someone’s passion project, shouldn’t you feel – well, passion oozing out of every frame?

Don’t answer that rhetorical question because it’s what sounds the death knells for Glenn Close’s “Albert Nobbs,” a movie she fought for 30 years to get to screen.  You might notice that I attributed the movie to Close herself and not to Rodrigo Garcia, its director.  That was not an accident.  He doesn’t seem to have much of a vision for the movie, nor does he seem to care half as much as Close.

Over the summer, I got really into the TV show “Damages,” a superb drama starring Glenn Close.  I recommend it far more than I do “Albert Nobbs” as I would finish seasons in a matter of days.  And in the more recent ones, it was clear that she was masculinizing herself to prepare to play Albert Nobbs, the Irish woman disguised as a male butler in order to buy a tobacco shop and some freedom.

As I watched “Albert Nobbs,” I found myself wondering what about this story and this character was so appealing and enticing to Close.  It’s not as showy as some of her famous roles, although that’s not always a bad thing.  All movies don’t need to give their star the hypothetical “Oscar scene,” and this one sure does not.

But “Albert Nobbs” has no drama to entice us in, no multidimensional characters to gain our curiosity.  We mainly watch because we expect something big to happen, and it just doesn’t.  The most surprising revelation comes in the first act when the new butler, the large Hubert Page, pulls Albert into a side room and reveals what lies underneath her shirt: Janet McTeer’s breasts.

The movie moves along at the pace of the molasses that Close’s Cruella DeVille falls into in “101 Dalmatians.”  It’s brutally boring and a tedious watch, one that results in no ultimate emotional or intellectual payoff.  If it was some sort of commentary on the oppression of women, it was hidden far beneath the film’s self-constructed cocoon of miserable understatement.  C2stars





REVIEW: Anna Karenina

25 11 2012

Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” is a cinematic version of Tolstoy’s treasure meant for people who love “Anna Karenina.”  In other words, if you haven’t read it or spent time with other film adaptations, this film will be as lost on you as it was on me.  It’s a stylized take on the classic that leaves those watching the film trying to decipher the plot in the dust.  (Recommendation: read a plot summary beforehand.)

Wright is trying to do a master class on “Anna Karenina” by doing something unconventional with the staging: that is, to literally set it on a stage.  The setting works well as a clever metaphor for Russian high society and breathes some new life into the dusty tale.  And kudos to Wright for trying to break out of his doldrums of conventionality that have led to a string of mediocre films that have fallen ever so short of success.

However, the extended metaphor is quickly revealed to be incredibly quixotic; that is, idealistic but not practical.  If you’ve ever seen a copy of Tolstoy’s book in print, you would certainly notice it’s a hefty volume that is sure to have quite a sprawling narrative.  The story of “Anna Karenina” takes us to all sorts of locales, many of which simply don’t work inside of a theatre or stage setting.

So rather than try to make it work, Wright hits us over the head with it in the first act … and then essentially discards it when no longer expedient.  With a little more thought, it could have yielded all sorts of revelations about the story.  But as it appears on screen in his final version, the metaphor is unfulfilled.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: Savages

1 08 2012

I’m not one to say that a movie HAS to be made a certain way or in a certain style. Having said that, movies about drug trafficking, drug cartels, and drug violence should really be done in a raw, gritty fashion.  That’s the standard, be it Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” or television’s “Breaking Bad.”  The style and the content really work in perfect harmony.

And it’s a standard for a reason.  Oliver Stone, ever the belligerent iconoclast, feels no need for such formalities.  He’s begging for attention as usual in his latest feature effort “Savages,” a film that’s about two drug growers in a ménage à trois with a girl who winds up being used as a pawn against them, although it’s really just about Oliver Stone.  His insistence on making curious directorial choices often makes the film feel like a tasteless, hair-brained Tarantino flick.

His insistence on savagely graphic violence aestheticizes slaughterings, tortures, and killings to the point where it seems to serve only Stone’s eye.  One particular scene goes way too far; it’s a disgusting sight to behold and really doesn’t have much to say about the morality of violence.  Scorsese-esque, this is not.

And if the violence doesn’t make “Savages” unwatchable for you, then maybe the acting will.  Blake Lively, taking a page from the Kristen Stewart playbook, grunts, moans, and brays her way through a juicy role that could have been memorable in the hands of someone like Elizabeth Olsen or Rooney Mara.  Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch as leading men in a love triangle (that Stone presents with some homoerotic undertones) are passable, but Kitsch really should find a role where he can channel the emotional honesty he brought to Tim Riggins on television’s “Friday Night Lights.”

Stone also finds a way to turn Oscar nominees John Travolta and Salma Hayek and winner Benicio del Toro into caricatures, particularly Hayek, whose thick accent is played for comedy.  It’s a shame that “Savages” is hijacked by its director to flaunt the peculiarities of his own mind.  The story, a caper of duplicity and cannabis, is actually quite captivating.  But to Oliver Stone, it’s merely a canvas onto which he can make his “Bonnie & Clyde.”  In the hands of a director who respects the source material enough to subvert and subdue their own tendencies if they were not suited for the story, “Savages” could have easily been something very special.  C+





Oscar Moment: “Nowhere Boy”

15 10 2010

With the expansion of the Best Picture field, we have to take into account all sorts of contenders for Best Picture.  “Nowhere Boy” is a movie that wouldn’t have much of a chance in a field of five, but it seems like a good Golden Globes film that might have a nice shot at some Oscar nominations.

Based on the early years of John Lennon (Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass fame), the movie leads into the founding of the world’s most famous band, The Beatles.  It also focuses on Lennon’s relationship with two important women, his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his mother (Anne-Marie Duff).  It’s an appealing biopic that has been certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is expanding into over 200 theaters this weekend after doing respectable business in its American opening.

I say American opening because “Nowhere Boy” opened last Christmas in the UK, making it eligible for the BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars.  It fared pretty well there, receiving nominations for Outstanding British Film, Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, and two nominations for Best Supporting Actress honoring Scott Thomas and Duff.  Given the press that the growing British faction of the Academy has received over the past few years, it would be unwise to discount a movie that they clearly liked quite a bit.

Since the movie is centered around the very musical Lennon, it will be considered in the Musical/Comedy category at the Golden Globes where it will not have a hard time scoring nominations for Best Picture and perhaps Best Actor for Aaron Johnson.  Scott Thomas and Duff, however, will be competing against dramatic supporting actresses.

In their favor, though, is that the category is still incredibly wide-open with no frontrunner or even sure-fire nominees.  Both is going to be hard for a movie that doesn’t have Best Picture written all over it, but one of them could find a nice slot.  My money is on previous Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas, who found herself in contention for “The English Patient” 14 years ago.  Although if the voters are feeling younger this year – and they very well might with players like Hailee Steinfeld and Elle Fanning in the race – the pendulum could swing towards Anne-Marie Duff.  Hate to say it, but Johnson doesn’t stand much of a chance given his young age and the tight Best Actor category.

And in October, I don’t think we would be entirely remiss to say “Nowhere Boy” has an outside shot at Best Picture.  It’s an incredible dark horse, but if it finds an audience and does well at the Golden Globes, it might be able to sneak in.  It’s not looking good for “Never Let Me Go,” one of the movies I presumed would tickle the Academy’s British fancy, but “The King’s Speech” is looking strong, so who knows how much Brit they can take in a year?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actress (Scott Thomas)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Duff)





REVIEW: Kick-Ass

2 08 2010

I can’t think of many titles that describe their movies so aptly as this one. “Kick-Ass,” the R-rated superhero movie that indirectly spoofs “Watchmen,” hits us with a one-two punch of comedy and action. The punch is pretty much a knockout.

It’s devilish fun when the action is as outrageous as the comedy. The movie follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a teenaged New York geek who unleashes his inner fanboy in a way that would make everyone at the comic book store pee themselves with envy. He decides to rise above the common crowd and become a superhero, despite having no actual powers and few confrontational skills. Still, he holds onto the hope that a fancy scuba suit and a cool name, Kick-Ass, will scare off his opponents. But at first, as one of his rivals points out, he should be called “Ass-Kicked” because that’s the only thing that really happens to him.

As entertaining as the adventures of Kick-Ass can be, it’s the other heroes who steal the show. They should really call the movie “Hit Girl” because we’re always waiting for that precocious child vigilante with a foul mouth and impressive combat ability to return to the screen. It’s hard to tell where most of her allure comes from: actress Chloe Moretz or the script. Moretz has shown skill playing adult characters written for kids to play in “(500) Days of Summer,” and she really seems to get how to make them read. The sheer absurdity of hearing the words come out of her mouth is a comedic masterstroke.

“Kick-Ass” also marks a semi-comeback for Nicolas Cage, at least in my book, who has been getting a bad rep for all the abysmal action and horror movies he has been doing recently. When you have an Oscar, it’s OK to branch out and try other genres, but Cage has strayed far from the nest. One more flop and he could have been a laughing stock. “Kick-Ass,” however, was an excellent choice for the actor. It’s a crowd-pleaser, sure, but it requires him to act. He took a supporting role as Big Daddy, father and shaper of Hit Girl, and it shows off the crossover appeal Cage has. The part allows him to be funny as well as an action star, and there’s even room for him to deal with little bit of real human drama.

Matthew Vaughn does a great job directing the riot that is “Kick-Ass,” never taking himself or the material too seriously. One can only wonder how he will handle the “X-Men” franchise, which has an entirely different tone and involves people with real powers. Hopefully he can bring the same fun he brought to this movie, just leaving the farcical stuff on the side.  He directs a superb movie, but the fact that it devolves into “The Chloe Moretz Show” so easily might raise a tiny red flag in your mind.  A flag so tiny, in fact, that you might forget to realize it’s there while you’re laughing so hard.  B+ /