REVIEW: Beyond the Lights

9 08 2015

Beyond the LightsBeyond the Lights” features one of the more interesting dialogues about the suffocating pressures of fame and the stifling sexualization of our culture.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Noni Jean, a digital-age pop star with all the qualities of a true songbird, gets fed up with both and threatens to throw it all away by jumping off a balcony.  Thankfully, Nate Parker’s officer Kaz is there to keep her from making the leap.

What follows in writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film is partially a demonstration of what happens to women who rebel against the implicit contract that they must become objects of sexual desire first and bearers of talent second.  (Shocker: people, men especially, HATE it.)  But to keep Noni from another complete relapse, she needs some source of comfort; she finds that in Kaz.

A romantic subplot is hardly objectionable, yet it seems odd when it ultimately becomes the main storyline in a film that otherwise concerns itself with female empowerment.  Prince-Blythewood directs the scenes between Noni and Kaz with all the subtlety of a Hallmark movie.  They are drawn-out, sappy, and far too numerous.

The discussion “Beyond the Lights” wants to start is worth having.  But whether you want to endure some of the standard-issue syrupy adoration to join in is a decision you have to make for yourself.  B-/ 2stars

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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