REVIEW: The Voices

9 02 2015

The VoicesThe Voices” takes a protagonist plagued by mental illness, as in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and combines him with the unsuspecting, mild-mannered murderer like in “Bernie.”  The film’s Jerry, as played by Ryan Reynolds, is an outwardly cheery factory worker whose schizophrenia makes him subject to violent impulses.  He can mostly suppress these urges, yet the invented voices of his cat and dog begin to lure him into violence against the women of his company’s accounting department.

As he knocks off characters played by Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick, director Marjane Sartrapi aims for a tone of black comedy that never really sticks.  Sartrapi showed with her Oscar-nominated “Persepolis” that she can make a character with only two dimensions feel as whole as any actual human, so the film’s lack of depth feels especially disappointing.  She does not deserve all the blame, though; Michael R. Perry’s rather bland, unfunny script does not set the stage for her and the cast to succeed.

Not to mention, the humor of “The Voices” also falls victim to forces outside the movie.  Sartrapi obviously does not condone murder, but placing a character who commits them at the center of a story does make identification and sympathy much simpler.  By making Jerry the protagonist, the film does glorify his exploits to some small extent.  In a time where mentally disturbed people come unhinged and tear holes in communities like Aurora and Newtown, serving as a party to their crimes just feels inappropriate.  Laughing at them seemed downright wrong.  C+2stars

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REVIEW: Parkland

22 11 2014

The JFK assassination drama “Parkland” comes courtesy of Tom Hanks, who was dubbed America’s “history maker” by Time.  Sounds like a legitimate enough credential to qualify the film, since, after all, Hanks is one of the people behind widely acclaimed HBO series like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

But “Parkland” falls short of the prestige of such premium cable programming, instead feeling more in the vein of another History Channel special attempting to cash in on mourn the passing of our slain leader.  Everything about Peter Landesman’s film seems of low production value, a quality that shows when accompanied by such acclaimed actors as Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, and Paul Giamatti.

The movie follows a wide variety of supporting characters who found their lives changed by the shocking events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  “Parkland” includes everything from Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti) filming his notorious home movie at the scene, to the medics trying to save Kennedy’s life (Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden), and even Lee Harvey Oswald’s wacky mother (Weaver) in this broad catchall of perspectives left out of most history books.  Most get ignored for a reason: they are secondary narratives

Perhaps if each story received feature-length treatment, they would provide some sense of satisfaction.  But “Parkland” can only dip a toe into a single narrative with its prevailing approach breadth over depth, and it gives a distinct impression of shallowness.  Landesman’s film can really only excite and enlighten in the rare expertly realized moment: the second when the hospital crew realizes the gravity of their task, the efforts to fit Kennedy’s casket on board Air Force One, the first glimpse of the Zapruder film.  C2stars





REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009’s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook

21 11 2012

Over six months later, it appears that I can finally reveal to you the mystery movie that Harvey Weinstein unveiled for me at a screening for international buyers and distributors in Cannes: a rough cut of “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Although had you told me it was a final cut, I would have believed it.  The film felt totally complete and in no need of further tweaking.  In fact, I almost ran my review of that version when the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, hoping people assumed I was there and saw the theatrical cut.

Now that I’ve seen the movie for a second time, I’m definitely glad I did not run a review on the rough cut.  The film improved by leaps and bounds over the four months in which David O. Russell and company worked out the kinks in the film, and most of the things I would have griped about in my review of the rough cut disappeared.

On the surface, everything is relatively the same: the story still plays out in the same way, the rhythm of the film kept in tact, among other things.  But I noticed a much more complex visual scheme, one that made “Silver Linings Playbook” feel like a David O. Russell film, not your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.  Rather than the standard back-and-forth, he’s-talking-now-she’s-talking editing, Russell opts to go deeper and use the camera to probe his characters psychologically.  Rather than merely capturing the plot like the rough cut, Russell ultimately found ways to suggest levels of depth extending far below a single shot.

Russell is able to make the performances shine by keying off the wacky family dynamics that made “The Fighter” such a hoot (and also harkening back to the zaniness “Flirting with Disaster” –  for fans of Russell’s early work).  You wonder how these relationships can possibly function in any way other than what Jim Morrison called “mutual wierdness,” or love.  He draws us in with characters who wear their flaws on their sleeves yet keeps us engaged by continuing to show how they motivate the character at their core.

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“Animal Kingdom” Poll Results

23 01 2011

With all the hype around Jacki Weaver’s performance in “Animal Kingdom,” I just had to see what all the fuss was about this week.  And to be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed.  In my review, I wrote:

“As for Jacki Weaver, the reason I plopped this movie in my DVD player, I saw why she needed an Oscar campaign but not why she deserved a campaign.  She plays a one-note character that doesn’t play much of a part in the storyline until the conclusion.  Her big emotional scene falls pretty flat, unless, of course, you consider changing her facial expression ever so slightly compelling enough for an award.  Had I not heard all the buzz around Weaver, I would have forgotten about her as quickly as I’ll forget ‘Animal Kingdom.’  Neither have any teeth, something necessary to make a crime thriller bite.”

But with the campaign in high gear, she seems to be making a mark.  So back in December, I polled readers on an Oscar Moment, asking them if they thought Weaver would receive an Oscar nomination.

The jury was in favor of Weaver as both voters said she would be nominated.  If I were an Academy member, I wouldn’t vote for her.  But I’m not an Academy member, and I think she will probably make it.  But I’m not confident or positive in that assertion.





REVIEW: Animal Kingdom

19 01 2011

A poor man’s version of Martin Scorsese’s crime classic “GoodFellas” with Australian accents, “Animal Kingdom” is a tale from down under that’s quite a few rungs down from the movies it so desperately wants to be.  Considering that it’s a debut film from writer/director David Michod, it’s somewhat more impressive, and I have a feeling that we can look for big things in the future.  But for now, we’re left with a movie that’s filled with one-dimensional characters played by actors without any gusto.

After the death of his mother, twenty-ish J (James Frecheville) is forced to take up residence with his estranged grandmother “Smurf” (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of a crime family who’s grizzly enough to make Sarah Palin cower.  He unwittingly gets caught up in the exploits of his uncles, whose activities jeopardize his chances for a normal life with his girlfriend.  J is recognized by a cunning police officer (Guy Pearce, the movie’s only familiar face) as pliable, and he is faced with the choice between blood loyalty or the comforts available within the law.

The problem with “Animal Kingdom” is that it starts off really slow, and it takes a long time to get acquainted with the characters enough to care about them.  The movie starts getting really interesting around the hour mark, but by then, it feels like we’ve spent an abysmally long time in the Aussie underworld.  Michod throws plenty of action and twists at us in the second half, yet without dynamic characters, it ultimately goes in one ear and out the other.

As for Jacki Weaver, the reason I plopped this movie in my DVD player, I saw why she needed an Oscar campaign but not why she deserved a campaign.  She plays a one-note character that doesn’t play much of a part in the storyline until the conclusion.  Her big emotional scene falls pretty flat, unless, of course, you consider changing her facial expression ever so slightly compelling enough for an award.  Had I not heard all the buzz around Weaver, I would have forgotten about her as quickly as I’ll forget “Animal Kingdom.”  Neither have any teeth, something necessary to make a crime thriller bite.  B





Oscar Moment: “Animal Kingdom”

11 12 2010

Who is Jacki Weaver?  The Oscars could force you to know who she is on February 27 by awarding her Best Supporting Actress.

Sony Pictures Classics saw a performance in Weaver in “Animal Kingdom” that they thought was awards-worthy but knew it would never be considered unless they campaigned the heck out of her.  The movie is a little-known specialty release straight from Australia with Guy Pearce as its only faintly recognizable name.  It received a small release in the United States after winning a big prize at Sundance but garnered little buzz except for the raves it drew for Weaver as a crazy mother.

Trying to capitalize on this goodwill, SPC started campaigning her early seeing how wide-open the Best Supporting Actress category was (and to a large extent, still is).  They sent out “Animal Kingdom” screeners on September 30, remarkably early and the first of the year’s to arrive.  To Oscar bloggers, they sent out T-shirts with Weaver’s face plastered on the front.  They also put up FYC advertisements on major pundits’ sites starting in September, noticeably before any other movie this year.

Sure enough, their work hasn’t gone unnoticed: in the first week of awards precursors, she has won Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, the first big group to announce their year-end favorites.  She was nominated by the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics in the same category but lost to Melissa Leo for “The Fighter,” and she was also recognized by the Golden Satellite Awards.  Back in her native Australia, she won Best Actress in an across-the-board “Animal Kingdom” sweep.

So clearly the goodwill for Weaver is there, but the question still remains: can an unknown foreigner win, or receive a nomination, for an Oscar?

Marion Cotillard went all the way for “La Vie en Rose” back in 2007; few knew her name then.  The same year, Amy Ryan dominated the critics circuit, winning almost every group’s Best Supporting Actress prize for her work as a negligent mother in Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone.”  She was hardly on the map, but thanks to Miramax’s campaigning and her widespread support, she entered the field at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Oscars.  The NBR’s pick for Best Supporting Actress has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination 6 out of the last 10 years, although only once did they manage to pick the winner (Penelope Cruz in 2008).

I think in order to get past the issues with name recognition, Weaver is going to need a strong showing from the critics groups in the weeks to come.  If they like her, then nominations from the Golden Globes and SAG Awards should ensue, making an Oscar nomination highly likely.  All signs point towards this trajectory now, but the momentum could easily shift away from Weaver.  One thing’s for certain: she makes a dull Best Supporting Actress category in 2010 a little bit more exciting.

BEST BET FOR NOMINATION: Best Supporting Actress