REVIEW: Lion

14 11 2016

Houston Cinema Arts Festival

I left Garth Davis’ “Lion” feeling as if I had watched two acts from a good movie – the first and the third. If you recognize common parlance surrounding story structure, you might detect that I neglected to mention the second act. Yes, that is what I meant.

The sprawling cross-continental tale of “Lion” is essentially split in two. In the first half, a young Indian child Saroo (Sunny Pawar) winds up stuck on a train that takes him thousands of kilometers from his native town. With little knowledge about his family or surroundings, Saroo falls into foster care and winds up adopted by a philanthropic Australian couple John and Sue Brierly (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). In these early scenes, Davis comes quite close to achieving a kind of neorealism; shots that place a confused, lost Saroo in the vastness of the Calcutta metropolis are haunting.

Then, at the midpoint, the film flashes forward twenty years to a grown, well-adjusted Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) headed off to study hotel management. He seems fine until, of course, a question about his birthplace opens a Pandora’s Box in his brain. With a little help from Google Earth, Saroo attempts to pinpoint his home within a vast radius of possible points of departure. If you doubt his commitment, just look at the scraggly hair and scruffy beard he grows!

Perhaps the back half of “Lion” would feel less like a television movie of the week had screenwriter Luke Davies included a little bit more information about what led Saroo to become the man who would doggedly pursue the truth about his heritage above all else. As an audience, our attachment to the character comes primarily through the adorable, disoriented child version of Saroo. We know little about Patel, and without a “Philomena“-style attitude or a “Spotlight“-esque focus on tedious processes, “Lion” does little to close the pathos gap between the two iterations of its protagonist. Leaving the audience to supply the difference without providing any context on what drives the changes from boy to man is not a winning strategy.

Sure, the inevitable ending of “Lion” is moving, provided you do not have a heart of stone. But imagine how much richer the feeling could be had we known more about what kind of life Saroo lived in the twenty years elided by the film. For example, what if we saw more of the pain that stems from living away from your biological mother. Or what if we observed him becoming enticed by the life offered by the Brierlys and how it incentivized him to wipe away the past? The film is missing some connective fiber that could move it from being a mere story to embodying the story of a lifetime. C+2stars

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REVIEW: The Man Who Knew Infinity

11 05 2016

The Man Who Knew InfinityStop me if you think you’ve heard this one before…

A bright man enters a new space as outsider, establishes his genius as a mathematician but then comes undone by some kind of illness. Did I just describe the plot of “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Imitation Game,” or “The Man Who Knew Infinity?” Not so trick question: it was all three. I guess it makes sense that these mathematician-based films all follow formulas – what other class has you memorize them?

To fill in some of the mathematician Mad Libs of the plot, Dev Patel stars as Srinivasa Ramanujan, a brilliant Indian student who overcomes adversity and lands a spot to study at Cambridge University during World War I. Hey, could you guess this story involved British racists? We get a derisive dismissal of him as “you people” within the first THREE minutes!

Ramanujan bonds with his mentor, Jeremy Irons’ Hardy, over their outsider status in the elite university environment and eventually share profound conversations about the immovable mover. In other words, Hardy is just like the Keira Knightley character in “The Imitation Game!”

At least for that film, I had 13 years to slowly forget the details of its comparable predecessor. “The Man Who Knew Infinity” arrives less than two years after “The Imitation Game” and cannot even hurdle the lowest bar that film set. No matter how hard Patel and Irons try, they can never elevate the material. It’s like they are punching a long equation into the calculator, and we see a “divide by zero” almost immediately. At that point, you know this will not turn out well. C2stars





LISTFUL THINKING: 2012 Superlatives

1 01 2013

New Year’s Day always marks a very interesting balancing act, reflecting on the old while also ringing in the new.  So while people are still thinking about 2012, let me offer up the first annual Superlatives post for the films of 2012.  I’ve already weighed in with the best and worst 10 of 2012, but what about the other 80 movies of the year?  What about the performances?  What about all sorts of other things?  This is the post where I get all sorts of stuff floating in my mind out there.

For the sake of review, I’ll go ahead and re-list my 10 best and worst of 2012.

Top 10 of 2012

10 Best of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Argo,” “Hitchcock,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Looper,” “Bernie,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Master,” “The Queen of Versailles

Prometheus

Honorable Mentions: “Rust and Bone,” “Prometheus,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “End of Watch,” “Holy Motors

Worst 10 of 2012

10 Worst of 2012: “The Grey,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “John Carter,” “Gone,” “The Vow,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Watch,” “Casa De Mi Padre

pitchperfect2

Honorable Mentions: “Pitch Perfect,” “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “First Position,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Being Flynn

10 More 2012 Releases I Still Need to See: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Impossible,” “Promised Land,” “The Intouchables,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Not Fade Away,” “Smashed,” “The House I Live In,” “Searching for Sugar Man”

Vanellope

5 Most Surprising Movies of 2012: “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Bernie,” “End of Watch,” “Hitchcock,” “21 Jump Street

Denzel Washington in Flight

5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2012: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Bourne Legacy

Bachelorette

10 Most Forgettable Movies of 2012 (in alphabetical order): “Bachelorette,” “Hysteria,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Lola Versus,” “Man on a Ledge,” “Men in Black III,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Take This Waltz,” “Trouble with the Curve

Silver Linings Playbook

5 Most Rewatchable Movies of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Argo,” “Ted

Lincoln

5 Movies of 2012 I’m Glad I Saw But Will Never Watch Again: “Lincoln,” “Amour,” “The Invisible War,” “Compliance,” “ReGeneration

Killing Them Softly

5 Most Underrated Movies of 2012: “Killing Them Softly,” “Les Misérables,” “Prometheus,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “End of Watch

The Avengers

5 Most Overrated Movies of 2012: “The Sessions,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “The Avengers

PSH

5 Movies That Got Better with Distance and Time: “Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Prometheus

Brave

5 Movies That Got Worse with Distance and Time: “Brave,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Dark Knight Rises

Argo

5 Movies That Felt Shorter Than Their Runtime: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Argo,” “Django Unchained

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

5 Movies That Felt Longer Than Their Runtime: “Lincoln,” “Anna Karenina,” “This Is 40,” “Damsels in Distress,” The Five-Year Engagement

BOTSW

Breakout Performances: Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road,” Scoot McNairy in “Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Breakthrough Performances: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Pena in “End of Watch,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” Elizabeth Banks in “People Like Us

Best Exotic

Breakdown Performances: Anna Kendrick in “Pitch Perfect,” Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Emile Hirsch in “Killer Joe,” Dev Patel in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

frame 01021605R

Best Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Misérables,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook

The Deep Blue Sea

Worst Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Rachel Weisz in “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter” and “Savages

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Best Heroes: Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables

John Carter

Worst Heroes: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in “John Carter,” Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy

Catwoman

Best Villains: Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Russell Crowe as Javert in “Les Misérables,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained

Skyfall

Worst Villains: Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Javier Bardem as Silva in “Skyfall,” Rhys Ifans as Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man

Joaquin

Best Possessed Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master

The Paperboy

Worst Possessed Performance: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy

Bernie

Best Comedic Performance: (tie) Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street

The Watch

Worst Comedic Performance: The cast of “The Watch

Uggie

Best Cameo: Uggie in “The Campaign

Ryan Reynolds

Worst Cameo: Ryan Reynolds in “Ted

Eddie Redmayne

Best Singing: Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables

Alec

Worst Singing: Alec Baldwin in “Rock of Ages

That’s about all I can come up with for now … may add to this later!  Happy 2013, everyone!





REVIEW: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

24 06 2012

As the all-star team of British thespians entering their twilight years disembark from their plane in India at the beginning of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the particularly closed-minded Jean (Penelope Wilton) claims to know a little something about the native culture from reading Rudyard Kipling.  Of course, she is referring to “The Jungle Book” and other works that famed British author Kipling wrote about his country of birth.

However, if there was one thing I learned from all three of my high school history classes, it was that Kipling appears in textbooks for something else he wrote.  It’s a little ditty called “The White Man’s Burden,” and the first verse goes like this:

Take up the White Man’s burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need…

Kipling’s poem was written to encourage the United States to join Britain in its endeavor to colonize the uncivilized East at a time when it was said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because their holdings were so vast and widespread.  While I doubt this poem crossed the minds of director John Madden or the rest of the cast, I found it beautifully ironic. “The White Man’s Burden” would explain the troublesome undercurrent of neo-colonialism that runs throughout the movie, just as it can persuade them into thinking their adventurous escapade to India is just and noble.

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REVIEW: The Last Airbender

8 07 2010

You’ve almost assuredly heard all the bad buzz surrounding “The Last Airbender.” And yes, it’s pretty bad.  But don’t let the 9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes convince you that this some sort of cataclysmic flop.  It’s no worse than any of the other mindless, soulless blockbusters that studios engineer to turn our suffering into their profit.

The root of the movie’s problems is producer, writer, and director M. Night Shyamalan and his decade-old hubris from creating one of the greatest thrillers ever made, “The Sixth Sense.”  The allure wore off in 2004 with the release of “The Village,” and it’s been all downhill since.  No longer can he coast on the glory of that one movie; you can’t feed America crap and then fall back on dusty laurels.  One can only hope that this wakes Shyamalan from his stupor, and he will go back to making good movies.  That would make one good thing that could come from “The Last Airbender.”

Everything suffers from Shyamalan’s ignorance.  His script is unimaginative and dull.  Simply put, he just cannot handle themes or dialogue.  The plot does move, although at the pace of molasses sliding down a mountain.  It’s no simple task to dumb down genocide, but Shyamalan does it with ease (and that’s not a compliment).

The acting is all pretty laughable, even Dev Patel (for whom I yelled “JAMAL!” upon seeing).  I normally don’t think ethnic casting too big of an issue, but it did bug me that the three leads were white and everyone else was Indian.  Unfortunately, the worst among the ranks is Noah Ringer, who plays top dog Aang thanks to his discovery at an open casting call.  Apparently, they weren’t looking for anyone with any talent or acting skills.  You could have stuck one of the E-Trade babies in the movie and gotten a more emotionally compelling and appropriate performance.  Never did I think I would see the day when I would pine for models turned actors, but watching “The Last Airbender” made me do just that.

The visuals aren’t terrible, and the bending of the elements looked pretty cool.  I could even get over the fact that the art of bending looks like a step-by-step instructional for urban dancing.  But once again, Shyamalan undoes what the visuals could have done for the movie by sculpting horrible action sequences.  His use of slow-motion is more than excessive, it’s outrageous.  And when the adrenaline-fueled action moves as slowly as the rest of the movie, you know you’re in for a painful ride.  C- /