REVIEW: The Homesman

29 11 2014

The HomesmanHistorically speaking, the Western has not been the most hospitable type of movie to the female gender. This philosophical statement from the genre’s patron saint, John Wayne, pretty much says it all: “I stick to simple themes. Love. Hate. No nuances. I stay away from psychoanalyst’s couch scenes. Couches are good for one thing.”

Writer/director Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” provides an interesting rejoinder to that legacy of rugged masculinity through its protagonist, Hilary Swank’s Mary Bee Cuddy.  She is a gritty, hard-working single farmer in the Nebraska Territory who still maintains a sense of empathy and caring.  So, in other words, she balances traits that are socially gendered for both sexes.

She also initiates her own destiny rather than waiting around for someone else to save her, boldly proposing marriage to other landowners in order to consolidate property.  Unsurprisingly, in the 19th century just as today, men greet such a woman with suspicion.  And their favorite word to describe Cuddy?  Bossy, the very word for girls that outspoken feminist Sheryl Sandberg wants to ban.

Cuddy’s resolve certainly stands out not only for the film’s phylum but also within the movie itself, as women are otherwise made victims of rape or cruelly objectified by men.  This message is undeniably worthwhile, yet little else about “The Homesman” is.   The film is a meandering mess that no amount of advocacy can fully redeem.

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REVIEW: New Year’s Eve

2 01 2012

What were you doing this new year’s eve?  I hope you were celebrating with those you love or just celebrating in general.  But if you happened to be at the movie theater, I pray that you were nowhere near the egregious load of crap disguised as a movie called “New Year’s Eve.”  If you were one of those looking to get in the holiday spirit, I surmise you walked out not blissful for the year to come but rather disgusted that movies like this are allowed to exist.

Only see the movie for the following reasons:

1. You for some reason like to watch bad actors doing bad acting.  Yes, Katherine Heigl, you should not have spit in Judd Apatow’s face because he actually gave you a multi-dimensional character.  Now, enjoy being stuck in movies like this and “Life As We Know It” for the rest of your life.  Zac Efron … it’s official, your glory days were in the “High School Musical” era.  And in case you need a reminder, many musicians can’t act – looking at you, Ludacris and Jon Bon Jovi.  Oh, and Lea Michele too, who somehow to forgot how to act between “Spring Awakening” and “New Year’s Eve,” picking up how to be a gratingly obnoxious diva.  (Wait, she got that from “Glee!”  Thanks a lot, Ryan Murphy…)

2. You for some reason like to watch good actors doing bad acting.  Can you count the Oscar wins and nominations on this poster?  13 Oscar nominations and 5 wins.  While we can’t get the Academy to reclaim the statues (and indeed they shouldn’t), we as a public can take away their credibility and prestige.  I just don’t understand why Robert DeNiro can’t seem to stop the out-of-control downward spiral that is his career.  Strangely enough, the most unbearable members of the cast is a horserace between two-time Oscar champion Hilary Swank and three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer.  Any good will for a career comeback after “Hairspray” just went down the drain.

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REVIEW: Conviction

14 11 2010

There’s something noticeably missing from “Conviction,” Fox Searchlight’s annual super Oscar bait entry: emotion.

The movie has a fascinating premise at its core as Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) works tirelessly over the course of two decades to acquit her innocent brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) of his murder conviction, putting herself through law school while raising a family at the same time.  His case is solved quite simply by DNA evidence pulled from the crime scene and getting the witnesses to testify to their intimidation by a crooked female police officer (Melissa Leo).

The struggle against the law manages to keep us interested for two hours, but the way the story is told by screenwriter Gray and interpreted by the actors fails to compel us.  The movie feels like a first draft, lacking any sort of refinement or polish.  I found it particularly alarming that director Tony Goldwyn felt content with the performances of Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell given their history of powerful performances.

Both actors are in low gear, offering work that seems void of any sort of emotion or care.  It feels like they are doing their first read-through of the script and simply reading the words for the first time, not stopping to look into subtext or the true intents of their characters.  Even when the movie tries the typical heart-warming moment, Swank and Rockwell don’t even seem to be trying to convey any sort of feeling.  The movie’s chain of events moves, but we as an audience are not moved.  It’s interesting to see the story of Betty Anne Waters, but since Swank doesn’t seem to find it as such, maybe you’ll find more interest in checking your e-mails or Facebook while following along with the plot.  C





Oscar Moment: “Conviction”

1 10 2010

With the Oscars expansion to ten Best Picture nominees, it’s truly unfortunate that within the first year, the term “The Blind Side slot” became a legitimate phrase.  We now know that certain movies of less Academy-caliber filmmaking have a shot at Best Picture.  “The Blind Side” brought a mixture of inspiration and sports to the table and wound up on the Academy shortlist.

However, those two elements seem to go hand-in-hand nowadays.  Could this same slot be for a movie that is just inspirational?  What I am suggesting is that perhaps “The Blind Side slot” in 2010 is destined to go to “Conviction,” not the presumed heir apparent “Secretariat.”

It’s a legal drama, a genre that has been more traditionally up the Academy’s alley that sports.  Betty Anne Waters, played by two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, spends a decade earning a law degree to prove the innocence of her brother Kenneth (Sam Rockwell), who is jailed on a murder conviction.  The struggles are many, but the underdog story prevails as always.

On paper, the plot seems to good to be true – and it may turn out to be exactly that way. “Conviction” may be hitting theaters a few years too late as many will feel like they have seen this exact same story several times before.  We’ve seen audience backlash on banality before, and the Academy have echoed their sentiments.  Just look at how they scoffed at “Invictus” last year, a movie everyone thought was safe on the virtue of being about sports and Nelson Mandela.

The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a few weeks ago to fair reviews. Here’s what Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon had to say:

“‘Conviction’ is a rather simple film, but the emotional impact of the story comes through in the end after what is a rather mundane and cliched story of the innocent man in jail and the person working hard on the outside to get them out. At no point does this seem like new territory, but outside of being about ten minutes too long it’s a decent film despite its rather traditional dramatic nature.”

This might be an alarming review or an almost immediate disqualifying flaw if the same words could not be used by most critics to describe “The Blind Side.”  Nowadays, if the audience is moved and critics aren’t, the former can win out.  I think a Best Picture nomination is a possibility if the reviews can get into the 70% range on Rotten Tomatoes and the box office take exceeds $25 million.  But sorry, Tony Goldwyn, the Best Director field is too talented to make room for you.  (I haven’t seen “A Walk on the Moon,” but “The Last Kiss” was kind of lame, so he can start proving himself here.)

“Conviction” also stands a chance in the acting categories as well.  While I have nothing against Hilary Swank, there are plenty of people up in arms that she has the same amount of Oscars as Meryl Streep.  I think backlash and a strong field of Best Actress candidates will keep her out of the race.

Sam Rockwell, as the convict of “Conviction” (punny, I know), seems to be the movie’s best shot at Oscar glory.  He has been coming into his own as a star as of recent, and movies like “Moon” have made him a cult favorite.  This could be his chance to show the mainstream how talented he truly is, and I think an aggressive campaign could easily get him into the relatively unformed Best Supporting Actor race.

Rockwell seems to be the one part of “Conviction” that everyone can rally around.  According to Katey Rich at Cinemablend, “every scene in the prison interview room and especially flashbacks gives the film a jolt of electricity.”  I think we can expect some sort of representation from the movie, be it just Rockwell or the movie as a whole.

BEST BETS AT NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay





NOLAN REVIEW: Insomnia

11 07 2010

After the smashing success that was “Memento,” Nolan went mainstream and made a movie for Warner Bros. – a remake of the Danish film “Insomnia.”

“Insomnia” is definitely the most conventional and least Nolanesque movie that Christopher Nolan has made in his career, but even that doesn’t stop it from being one great movie.  It’s a great psychological thriller and murder mystery that is well plotted and paced, plus it features three great performances from Oscar champs Pacino, Williams, and Swank.

Tough-as-nails cop Dormer, played by Pacino of course, is sent along with his partner to investigate a murder in summertime Alaska – where the sun doesn’t set.  And the disturbing beating and death of the teenager doesn’t get to Dormer so much as that sun does, which causes him to grow restless.  As if that isn’t enough, his partner is willing to throw him under the bus for personal gain, and he has to put up with a zealous hometown cop (Swank) who learned how to do her job from the lessons he preached.

It’s got that same kind of eerie, psychological vibe as “Shutter Island” gave off this year.  But what makes the pendulum swing in favor of Scorsese’s latest over Nolan’s film is the directorial control.  Scorsese slowly leads us into the mental anguish of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, making us grow more and more anxious until we almost can’t take it anymore.  Nolan in “Insomnia” only hints at Dormer’s torment by giving the occasional visual clue.  At the end, he goes all in and uses the cinematography and quick editing to make us feel nauseous and overwhelmed like the character.  It’s very effective, but the power might have been even greater had it been more present throughout the movie.

In fact, I’d like to see Nolan remake his own movie here in a decade or so.  Not necessarily “Insomnia” itself, but with more filmmaking expertise, he could revisit this genre and give it a masterpiece.





REVIEW: Amelia

18 05 2010

Can I call BS on “Amelia?”  The movie claims to be inspired by two biographies written about female aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart; however, I have located the real source for the movie.

The movie is in fact derived from those cheesy inspirational poster that are plastered on the walls of workplaces and classrooms everywhere.  You know, the ones with the cat reaching for the ball of string on a high table with the caption “You Can Do It!”

“Amelia” is quite literally the biggest cliché I have ever seen.  I know that I use that word a lot in my reviews, but it has never been so dreadful as it is here.  Sometimes clichéd movies are bearable, other times just annoying; Mira Nair’s movie is laughable.  The dialogue is so uninspired that I found myself giggling at it.

The writing is the core of the problems, yet the movie doesn’t exactly help itself out.  The acting is cringe-worthy, led by two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as the titular character.  Despite playing a charismatic figure, she comes off as lifeless and dull.  However, those last two adjectives seem more fitting for Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor as her husband and lover, respectively.  Nair’s direction is unstable, and we are never sure if her portrait of Amelia is supposed to deify her or humanize her.  In my opinion, she’s better left as a legend.

The movie in itself serves as an argument against the dreaded “Oscar Bait” films which audiences believe are tailored to win Academy Awards.  According to my dictionary widget, one of the meanings of bait is “an allurement; a thing intended to tempt or entice.”  In that sense, it absolutely falls flat on its face.  “Amelia” is more likely to turn people away, not bring them in.  Another meaning, in the context of a fisherman, is “food used to entice fish or other animals as prey.”  In this context as well, it also fails.  When Fox Searchlight went fishing for voters with “Amelia,” they might as well have held up a sign that said “WE WANT OSCARS.”  No attempt is made to hide the real ambitions of this movie, and it stings all the more when it winds up as a bona fide flop. D /