REVIEW: Song One

28 04 2015

Song OneThere is really not too much to say about a film like Kate Barker-Froyland’s “Song One,” which seems to be the very definition of a film as trifle.  The story follows Anne Hathaway’s Franny as she tracks down a musician that her estranged brother intended to see, had he not fallen into a coma.  A forced romance with singer/songwriter on the brink, James Forester (Johnny Flynn), ensues, along with all the usual notes any film about grief and troubled families is supposed to hit.

“Song One” contains no notable screeches or strains, although it never makes a sweet sound either.  Barker-Froyland seems afraid to take a bold step and assert something unique about her film.  As a result, the movie becomes forgettable even as it is being consumed.

At this level of safe mediocrity, an actress like Anne Hathaway should be able to step in and effortlessly elevate the material.  Yet even her presence, a far cry from the raw torment she wore on her sleeves in “Rachel Getting Married,” cannot give this dull, dour ditty any character.  Like the rest of the movie, Hathaway is not actively bad, but the passively pedestrian “Song One” disappoints nonetheless.  C2stars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 3, 2010)

3 12 2010

With the smash hit “Inception” hitting shelves next week, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to revisit a little-known movie of its star, Leonardo DiCaprio.  I’ve featured virtually every supporting cast member in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column before, and it’s time for the Academy Award-nominated DiCaprio to join their ranks.

(For the sake of reference and shameless promotion, I’ll list the other stars and their criminally underseen gems: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s, “The Lookout,”  Tom Hardy’s “Bronson,” Ellen Page’s “Hard Candy,” Marion Cotillard’s “La Vie en Rose,” Cillian Murphy’s “Sunshine,” Michael Caine’s, “Children of Men,” and director Christopher Nolan’s “Following.”  Ken Watanabe … perhaps coming soon?)

So for Leo’s entry, I submit “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”  This is one of his early movies, four years before “Titanic” superstardom, and at 19, he shows the same mastery of acting as he does in the psychologically tormented characters that he played in 2010.  Here, his Arnie suffers a different mental affectation: a developmental disability that was supposed to take his life at the age of 10.

Eight years later, his care is left largely in the hands of older brother Gilbert Grape, played by a younger, red-haired Johnny Depp.  Gilbert struggles with his circumstances: he’s frustrated living in the small town of Endora, Iowa, where nothing seems to happen.  He’s tired of being stuck in a job at the down-home town grocery store, preventing him from using the modern supermarket that has opened nearby.  He’s fed up with his family whose apathy leaves him with all the responsibilities since his obese mother is practically immobile, his father has deserted the family, and his siblings are caught up in their own little worlds.

But when the yearly exodus of trailers comes through the town, Gilbert is offered some relief from his dreary existence by the prospect of romance with Becky (the ever-so-’90s Juliette Lewis).  Her presence shakes up his life, making him more hesitant to add sensuality to his grocery delivery for the maritally frustrated Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen).  But there are more profound changes that happens in Gilbert and his life, and director Lasse Hallstrom unravels the Grape family saga with such sensitivity that it’s irresistible and profoundly satisfying to watch.

There’s so much emotional depth endowed to this character that isn’t externalized by Depp, and 10 years before his first Oscar nomination, anyone who saw this movie could have seen it coming.  But the real star of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” is DiCaprio, who surrenders to the character to the extent that it’s possible to forget who you’re watching.  To think that this is the same actor who wowed us in “The Departed” and “Inception” becomes hard to believe as we watch his overwhelming physicality draws our eyes to him for the entirety of the movie’s two hours.

REVIEW: The Proposal

8 08 2009

I hate re-runs, so I will spare you my rant on the predictable nature of the romantic comedy.  And although it is caught up in some typical clichés, “The Proposal” manages to succeed in spite of them.  The movie provides decent fun for all, offering many solid laughs.  Sandra Bullock makes a welcome return to the genre where she belongs, and she has great chemistry with Ryan Reynolds, who is surely headed for Hollywood superstardom.  The way that they are able to play off of each other’s energy is really what makes the movie work.

Margaret Tate (Bullock) is an uptight book editor who treats her workers like garbage, especially her dedicated assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), who has aspirations to inspire people with his own writing.  But Margaret has a problem: she has put off her immigration lawyer in favor of her work so many times that her application to renew her visa is denied.  To avoid deportation, she forces Andrew to marry her on the threat of ruining his career.  After three years of being Margaret’s assistant, Andrew knows everything about her.  She, of course, knows nothing about him.  To change that, they go to Andrew’s grandmother’s 90th birthday weekend celebration in his home state of Alaska.  Margaret’s big city working girl attitude clashes with the slow small-town attitude of Andrew’s family.  At first, the family is puzzled by his engagement to the woman he loathed.  But eventually, his mother (Mary Steenburgen) and grandmother (Betty White, TV’s “The Golden Girls”) accept it, but his father (Craig T. Nelson) cannot.  As time goes on, Andrew and Margaret begin to open up to each other and realize that there is something different than expected behind their working exteriors. Read the rest of this entry »