REVIEW: Deepwater Horizon

28 09 2016

deepwater-horizonPeter Berg has a knack for directing blue collar dialogue in a convincing manner. For films like his 2013 survival drama “Lone Survivor,” such exchanges lent the film an authenticity and humanity before its Navy Seals face life-threatening trials. In Berg’s latest directorial outing, “Deepwater Horizon,” the commonplace banter feels more like a counterweight to some of the complex oil industry jargon taking place on a Gulf Coast rig.

For much of the film’s first 40 minutes, the screenplay from Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan overloads with technical terms explaining the operations on the Deepwater Horizon. And even with blatant expository scenes, they still have to dole out some more details in subtitles. It’s wasted air space in the film, which foreshadows the well-known explosion with obvious harbingers of doom. Be it an exploding Coke at the home of protagonist Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) or a BP big wig wearing a tie in the color of their worst level alarm, there’s no denying what’s coming.

Berg sets up “Deepwater Horizon” as an disaster flick, yet he fouls up some key ratios in establishing tension and connection. His energy goes disproportionately to setting up the crisis (roughly 50 minutes), which in turn makes the escape (roughly 35-40 minutes) feels like getting short changed. There’s some decent tension as wounded crew members navigate their way through a literal enactment of the burning platform metaphor, but Berg undermines it with weak characterization and pointless cutaways to Kate Hudson as Mike’s grieving wife back at home.

The film takes an interesting turn in the coda where surviving workers from the Deepwater Horizon rig are greeted in their grief by robotic crisis management professionals. Rather than seeking to ease their pain and embrace the souls who survive, BP adds a thin coat of dehumanization on top of a devastating loss of human life by locking them away from the world in anonymous hotel rooms. These scenes of the battered, tattered employees struggling to cope with the events that just occurred frustratingly dangle the potential “Deepwater Horizon” had in front of us. Were the critique of corporate malfeasance not so toothless, or were the rising action of the film built around developed characters, this lack of resolution might really sting. Instead, it just replicates the numbness of the setting. C+2stars

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REVIEW: Wish I Was Here

16 07 2014

Wish I Was HereZach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here” caught a lot of flak for raising additional funds through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, so I found myself watching the film with an especially sharp eye on how the budget was being spent.  My friend and I found ourselves, perhaps cynically, coming to the conclusion that Braff was using the fans’ money on less necessary frills like a Maserati or the sporadic CGI-heavy sci-fi reveries.

Yet if these somewhat excessive flourishes are what it takes to get an otherwise deeply felt movie like this made, I will make that trade-off every day of the week.  “Wish I Was Here” is an uncommonly thoughtful dramedy about life and death, a breed of film that has sadly become an endangered species.  What Braff crafts is something akin to a Woody Allen film scored to the Bon Iver Pandora station.

That’s not to say, however, that Braff has quite the effortless mastery of Allen’s best.  He doesn’t quite grasp the often tricky economy of ensemble comedy, bungling subplots involving Josh Gad and Kate Hudson.  And at times, the film gets a little bit uncomely in its wild fluctuations of tone.

But even so, “Wish I Was Here” is rather endearing.  Its brand of messy is a lifelike one, not a lazy or sloppy filmmaking one.  Braff throws everything he’s got against the wall – I like to believe it’s everything he’s been thinking in the decade since “Garden State” – and not all of it hits.  What does stick, though, teems with such raw and poignant emotion that it’s easy to overlook the film’s faults.

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FEATURE: From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold, Part 1

23 11 2010

Before I begin, let me give credit to Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly for inspiring this post after her blog entry on Jennifer Aniston got my creative juices flowing.  It’s a great post, and it’s worth a read.

After Sandra Bullock becomes the latest comedic actress to put on a serious face and win an Oscar (in the tradition of Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon), Schwarzbaum wonders if Jennifer Aniston could ever join the list.

Since she’s taken Aniston, I figured I would take eight other actresses who have a similar track record as Bullock on the comedy side of things.  In part one of the “From Rom-Com to Oscar Gold” series, I will analyze four actresses who many people could actually envision with an Oscar in their hand.

These actresses are …
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, and Kate Hudson.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 20, 2010)

20 08 2010

It’s the one-year anniversary of the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column!  I thought the best way to celebrate that milestone would be by featuring one of my-all time favorites, “Almost Famous.”  It’s not exactly little known given its pretty devoted following and its awards season haul, which included an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Picture.  Although it was criminally snubbed by the Academy for a shot at the top prize, it is still more than worth your time.

The movie, written by director Cameron Crowe, is semi-autobiographical.  As a teenager, he wrote for Rolling Stone and had the pleasure of touring with bands like Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Jealous, anyone?

Young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) discovers music after his rebellious sister (Zooey Deschanel) flees the tyrannical reign of their mother, the strict fundamentalist Elaine, played with brilliant propriety by Frances McDormand.  As a young boy, Elaine thought her son to be so smart that she moved him up two grades in school, thus socially crippling him.  His sister leaves behind a giant record collection, and William’s obsession with music begins.

Not unlike myself, he begins writing about his passion.  We differentiate, however, in the fact that William’s work gets picked up by Rolling Stone.  The industry-leading magazine asks him to follow Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock band, on their tour and write an article on them.  He meets an interesting crowd aside from the band, who are always skeptical of his intentions, particularly lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee).

The most intriguing figure by far and away is the so-called Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), whose name, age, and intentions are always clouded in mystery.  Penny is a different kind of groupie, offering herself to help the band more as a muse to inspire artistic inspiration than to satisfy lustful desires.  She and William, both in their teen years, form a very interesting relationship while on the road.  Hudson, only 21 at the time of the movie’s release, gives an absolutely masterful performance, and her virtuoso turn is only made more astonishing by her age.

But the movie’s real heart and soul comes from William’s friendship with guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup).  It is he who teaches the young journalist to enjoy the ride and love every minute of being able to do what you love.  Indeed, we watch “Almost Famous” with the same sense of wide-eyed wonder of William on the road, and the movie is an exciting experience that inspires our own fantasies of living out a childhood dream.  Even if that doesn’t involve music, Crowe’s true masterstroke will still be able to delight your latent aspirations.





REVIEW: Nine

30 12 2009

About midway through “Nine,” Stephanie, the Vogue reporter played by the ravishing Kate Hudson, informs us that “style is the new content” for her readers.  Applying that quotation to Rob Marshall’s latest film adaptation of a Tony Award-winning musical, the movie is a flashy work of pure artistry that dazzles the eye.  While style is a crucial part of “Nine,” the movie will be remembered for its phenomenal cast who turn in mostly solid performances but are thwarted by inept direction.

The movie’s story is indirectly based on the life of Italian film director Frederico Fellini, yet it seems to now have some striking parallels to the recent downfall of Tiger Woods.  Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a beloved director, yet his last two films have been somewhat underwhelming.  He hopes to steer himself back on the path to success with a new film, “Italia.”  However, he is in such mental anguish because he cannot commit himself to anything or anyone.  Guido has a gorgeous wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) at home whom he constantly neglects in favor of the temptress Carla (Penelope Cruz).

And the problems with women don’t end there.  He has to deal with his indignantly querulous muse (Nicole Kidman), an American reporter who is quite the flirt (Hudson), a sassy costume designer and old friend who can sense the torment (Judi Dench), and his mother (Sophia Loren) whose legacy still haunts him.  As Guido tries to find inspiration through these women, bouncing between past and present, he only finds himself more conflicted and lost.  One major success of “Nine” is using cinematic devices like choppy editing and constant changes between black and white and color to show this torture.  Daniel Day-Lewis is plenty capable of showing it as well, although his voice lacks some of the vocal power that the Broadway actors had in this part.

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What To Look Forward To: “Nine” Soundtrack

19 11 2009

Can December just get here already so I can see “Nine?”

The tease continues.  The Weinsteins recently released three songs from the movie.  The first two are original songs written for the movie.  “Cinema Italiano” is Kate Hudson’s sizzling number; “Take It All” is the number originally written for Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, and Marion Cotillard, but the decision was eventually made to have Cotillard sing the number alone.  And the final track is the one that we have heard snippets of in the trailer – “Be Italian” by Fergie.

The soundtrack will be released December 22 according to Amazon.com, 4 days after the movie hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles (and possibly Houston!!!).  So add another date to your “Nine” calendar to look forward to.

P.S. – The countdown would have been 6 days to release had it not been moved.





What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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