REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

29 07 2012

I don’t force every domestic drama I see to stand up to “American Beauty.”  Nor do I weigh every romantic comedy against “Annie Hall.”  So in a sense, why should I make a superhero movie stand up to “The Dark Knight?”  I consider it every bit as paradigmatic as the two previously mentioned Best Picture winners, so an apples-to-apples comparison is hardly even possible.  It’s more like apples-to-Garden of Eden fruit.

Indeed, a number of directors have tried to make their genre films a little more in the mold of Christopher Nolan’s iconic tale of the Caped Crusader, such as Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” to little success.  Yet even “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to the revolutionary film itself, can’t recreate its magic nor cast a comparable spell.  Perhaps its time to declare those heights unattainable to avoid further disappointments.  If Christopher Nolan himself can’t reach them, surely it is time for Hollywood to find its next golden goose.

“The Dark Knight Rises” also has the added disadvantage of being scrutinized as a Nolan film, not merely a post-“Dark Knight” facsimile.  Coming off an incredible decade of filmmaking (five supremely acclaimed films: “Memento,”  “Batman Begins,”  “The Prestige,”  “The Dark Knight,” and “Inception“), it is hardly premature to call him the Millenial equivalent of Steven Spielberg.  His movies are so good that they have merited many a repeat viewing, allowing dedicated fans to really analyze what makes his work so exceptional.  Now, it’s immediately recognizable when his films are not up to the sky-high standard he has set for himself.  For instance, in the opening scene of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

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REVIEW: Rio

2 04 2012

2011 will likely go down in the comedy record books as a year where raunch ruled the roost.  Yet it is possible that “Rio,” a G-rated animated comedy from BlueSky, packed the most laughs of them all (save perhaps “Bridesmaids“).  Without ever uttering a curse word or resorting to the profane, the animals take the day in a wholly unexpected and delightful way.

While it may not be able to boast the complex emotions or deep storyline of a Pixar film, “Rio” is just like a beach ball, meant for fun and little else.  And I’m totally fine with that.  Its clean, innocent humor charms anyone willing to resume the persona of a child.

The movie boasts some hilarious characters thanks to very clever voice casting.  Neurotic Jesse Eisenberg plays opposite the sassy Anne Hathaway as a macaw returning to the Brazilian wild after years living in a Minnesota bookstore.  It’s a journey done many times before, but when you take it alongside Tracy Morgan as a drooling bulldog, it can still be fun.  Add in a few toe-tapping musical numbers that are not necessarily well incorporated (but still enjoyable nonetheless) and a setting against the backdrop of the Brazilian Carnaval, and you just might want to book your ticket to Rio for 2016.  Or maybe just watch it repeatedly on TV.  A-





REVIEW: One Day

20 08 2011

Romance movies aren’t always my thing, being a guy and a Woody Allen fan. “One Day,” however, is a pleasant surprise.  It takes a novel concept – from an acclaimed, best-selling novel – and makes a will-they-or-won’t-they friends or lovers story fun and engaging.  While it’s a step down for director Lone Scherfig, whose film debut “An Education” was nothing short of masterful, it’s not a terribly precipitous decline.

In addition, it’s the kind of movie that played perfectly well in the early weekend afternoon matinee setting in which I saw it.  “One Day” is like a very long stroll with two very interesting and complex characters.  Anne Hathway’s Emma is a strong-willed, slightly prudish peace activist totally lacking in self-confidence.  Jim Sturgess’ Dexter is a laid-back, entitled mess of a man who never seems to be lacking in excuses to doff his clothing.  After a few bottles on the evening of their graduation, they spend a night together and begin a friendship that continues throughout the years.

The movie is then driven by their change over the next twenty years as we see them on July 15 from 1988 all the way to the present.  This nifty device prevents the movie (and I guess, prevented the novel as well) from slipping into predictable melodrama as their metamorphosing and evolving is what keeps us interested.  One year, Dexter is a drug-addicted hack television host and Emma is in a happy relationship; soon after, he’s cleaned up and in love while she’s found herself in a dead end.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 19, 2011)

19 08 2011

Anne Hathaway can do so much better than the romantic rut she’s leading herself into. The actress seems to have an incredibly fiery, passionate base of detractors, something that I really don’t understand. Clearly they haven’t seen “Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film that is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Hathaway, in a stunning performance that deserved the Oscar nomination it received, plays not the title character but rather her sister, Kym, who is on furloughs for the weekend from rehab. She’s unlikable with a prickly exterior, something portrayed with gusto by the normally charming actress. Yet underneath her thick-skin lies a vulnerable and hurting person, still reeling from tragedy earlier in her life. Caught at a crossroads between moving on and accepting responsibility, she stands uncertainly and without confidence to face a world colored by the consequences of her actions.

Hathaway brings such a vibrant and visible contrast of these two sides of Kym to the screen, fully realizing her from her flaws to her fears to her love to her guilt. It’s one of those miraculous performances by an actress that carries such tremendous emotional nuance that it continues to reward those who dare to take the gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride with the movie again.

What makes “Rachel Getting Married” even better is that every aspect of the film is on par with Hathaway’s towering performance.  Jonathan Demme’s direction is impeccable, capturing the intensity of every moment with a fly-on-the-wall sensibility.  The tension and the mood is right in every moment, although I will give my one caveat in this glowing review: fast forward through the wedding reception dancing.  It’s a bloated sequence that offers a lot of excess with a few cutaway shots to Kym.  Surely it couldn’t have been that way in the brilliant script by Jenny Lumet, director Sydney’s daughter, which paints a portrait of a family torn asunder by a disaster yet forced to put aside the past and come together for a wedding.

The bride, Rachel, is burdened on what should be the happiest weekend of her life by her sister Kym’s re-entry into society, something that comes with many bumps.  With the skilled Rosemarie DeWitt behind the wheel, Rachel weathers these events with increasing emotional fervor until she reaches a breaking point.  It’s a tour de force to rival Hathaway’s work, snubbed of a deserving Oscar nomination – and maybe even a win.  She’s pitch perfect throughout as she tries to maintain her happiness and sanity in the presence of the self-proclaimed “God of Death.”

The sisters are also estranged from their mother Abby, played by Debra Winger, whose performance epitomizes art imitating life as the actress herself has been practically estranged from serious cinema for over a decade.  Her emotional distance echoes her reaction to the divisive family tragedy as she has tried to totally move on and forget the whole thing.  Winger’s quiet character is very mysterious and, like Hathaway’s Kym, holds much to be discovered in her work the second time around.  While Abby may not be easily embraceable, neither is the movie.  But the difference between the two is that “Rachel Getting Married” as a whole is truly endearing, a powerful portrait of the power of love and family through countless issues.





Random Factoid #540

19 01 2011

So, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.  Time for her to get her sexy on (since she won’t be able to rely on just straight up being naked like in “Love & Other Drugs“).  Guess we just have to trust Christopher Nolan’s casting instinct.

It’s hard being a fan to remind myself that I actually have no say in how movies are made.  I don’t get to write, cast, or direct Hollywood products (yet).  I don’t have control, and we have to remember that a studio wouldn’t give millions of dollars to a director if they didn’t know what they were doing.  And after “Inception,” I dare you to tell Christopher Nolan that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

A lot of people, particularly us vocal bloggers, have a hard time reminding themselves of these things.  We scream as if there’s actually some way we can change things.  But we really can’t, and it’s only worth writing about if you can joke about acting like you have a say.

What about YOU?  Do you struggle with remembering you don’t run Hollywood?





“Love & Other Drugs” Poll Results

3 01 2011

If these two without clothes on can’t sell, do you need any more proof that the Internet has oversaturated the market?

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, two young and attractive starlets, couldn’t power “Love & Other Drugs” to box office success.  The movie will cap off its run in a week or so here with a little over $31 million in the bank.  It cost $30 million to make.  Phew.  Fox can breathe.  (They had “Avatar” to save them last year.)

But the real number to talk about is 49%, its approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The number was even lower from the top critics, who only deemed it fresh 34% of the time.  Obviously, for a movie to get nominated for Best Picture even in this era, that’s really not going to cut it.  Heck, it didn’t even cut it for the HFPA, who gave Golden Globe nominations to “The Tourist” (10% approval from top critics) and “Burlesque” (27% approval from top critics).  But clearly quality wasn’t very important to them this year.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway were both nominated for Globes for their performances, and I’d say it wouldn’t be too far-fetched for Gyllenhaal to win.  As for Hathaway, there’s some nobody named Annette Bening who she’s up against that I heard might win.

Back in my Oscar Moment when it was still an outside chance for Best Picture, I asked if “Love & Other Drugs” would go beyond the Golden Globes.  The only voter said no, and kudos to them for having obvious foresight.  But hey, it’s always worth a shot for me with the Oscar Moment column.  God forbid I were to miss a Best Picture nominee in my first full year of forecasting…





REVIEW: Love & Other Drugs

4 12 2010

There’s an interesting commentary on the pharmaceutical industry at the heart of “Love & Other Drugs,” a prevalent enough part of the story to make it into the title.  But it’s the love part of the name that takes control of the movie and ultimately devalues the larger and more relevant message.  Like a pimple, the romance grows and grows until it virtually envelops the face.

Granted, this is an incredibly attractive pimple.  The film’s historical background in dealing with Viagra gives it free reign to go crazy on the sexuality, and director Edward Zwick runs with the opportunity.  It’s practically soft-core porn starring two young, attractive stars in Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal.  But the movie is more than just two constantly and completely naked stars on a bed; it develops the emotional out of the physical.

The nudity isn’t meant to titillate so much as it is to be honest.  It removes the sheets of pretense from the bedfellows, Jamie the womanizing Viagra salesman (Gyllenhaal) and his latest squeeze Maggie, a passionate but insecure lover affected by stage 1 Parkinson’s (Hathaway), and leaves their character naked.  The two nudities complement each other beautifully, and these are two fascinating portraits of people trying to figure out where their lives are heading.

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