REVIEW: The Judge

1 11 2014

The Judge” tries to be a lot of things, among them a courtroom drama, a family drama, an illness drama, and a relationship drama.  It’s a shame that amidst all that action, seldom does the film manage to be any good.

It’s certainly admirable that Robert Downey, Jr. wants to convert his mainstream credibility into something of greater cinematic value.  But the effort is in vain as “The Judge,” which he and his wife Susan produced, bites off more than it can chew in nearly every aspect.  Their one genius move was bringing Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for Steven Spielberg’s last two decades of work, on board to give the film the sheen of prestige.  (Not as great a hire? Director David Dobkin, whose recent credits include “Fred Claus” and “The Change-Up.”)

Kaminski’s beautiful rays of ambient light flood every frame, but the beauty largely stops there.  “The Judge” meanders for the whole of its runtime – a bloated 140 minutes – without ultimately settling on any kind of identity.  Every time one of its subplots begins to pick up steam, the film inexplicably shifts gears to follow another one.  As such, momentum never builds, and “The Judge” just begins to feel like a life sentence.  One with lots of cloying montages set to Bon Iver.

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SAVE YOURSELF from “The Road”

27 11 2012

The RoadI’m in a semi-minority when I say that John Hillcoat’s film “The Road” is a dreadful movie.  However, I know I’m in a vast minority when I say that Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road,” the book Hillcoat’s film is based on, is just as bad – if not worse.  Yes, I’m taking issue with the novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and Entertainment Weekly‘s distinction of the best book of the past 25 years.

To all the haters who are sure to be drawn out of hiding by this pan, I assure you that I’m not some uneducated Philistine who is quibbling with McCarthy’s unconventional prosaic style.  Sure, it makes it a difficult read, but I actually quite enjoy it.  The experience is tough but refreshing, particularly in McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.”

But “The Road” is just tedious and boring.  Yes, I know that’s the point!  But beyond a certain point, I get it.  I understand how the man, played with vigor in the film by Viggo Mortensen, and the boy, portrayed by then newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee in a rather impressive debut, feel on the road.  I don’t need to spend hours of my time reading them do the same things and having minor variations of the same conversation, day after day.  It makes for a great short story or short film, but stretched to novel and feature film lengths, monotony ensues.

Perhaps Hillcoat was fated to displease me with “The Road” since many of my issues with the text and story seem to be rather systemic, foundational quibbles.  Yet the upstart Australian director had made a capable, taut thriller in “The Proposition” before he tackled McCarthy’s work.  (“Lawless” had its issues as well, but I still admired the work on display.)

Joe Penhall’s script tries to add some sensationalism to make the story more tolerable (and commercially viable, I can imagine), but the attempts fail miserably.  Making The Man’s wife a larger character in the narrative adds nothing to the story, even when she’s played by the talented Charlize Theron.  Adding further dimensions of terror to their foes on the road don’t make the movie any more thrilling.  Instead, we are left with a film that ambles slowly and uninterestingly towards bleak nothingness and can’t succeed at the one thing that should have been a no-brainer for it: a deep character study of the Man and his Son.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLgszfXTAY





REVIEW: Get Low

15 12 2010

It’s always nice when a movie like “Get Low” comes along.  While it’s nothing earth-shattering for cinema as we know it, the movie is just a witty but serious drama propelled by great performances by capable actors and an interesting script that keeps the plot moving.

Robert Duvall stars as the aging hermit Felix Bush, living pleasantly in solitude as the town surrounding him seeks to make him a sort of urban legend.  Rumors abound that he’s a cold-blooded killer and a devil worshipper.  Granted, Felix doesn’t do much to stop these notions, chasing off trespassers with a shotgun and putting up “beware of mule” signs.  But all of a sudden, Felix decides to emerge with a grand plan – a living funeral for the entire town to attend.

It’s hard to tell exactly why Felix wants this at first, particularly because Duvall has given him such a hardened exterior that masks all his true intentions.  Yet pulsating underneath is a heart and soul, and only an actor like Duvall can make it beat in such a profound way.  Slowly but surely, he unravels the character until we see Felix completely unexposed, and the sheer raw emotion makes for a powerful last scene where Duvall goes broke.  The success of the entire movie rests on Duvall and his ability to convey a whole host of emotions at once, and “Get Low” works because he is in peak form.

While the whole business of “getting low” keeps things fairly serious, there’s plenty to keep the movie a light and enjoyable watch.  Bill Murray is perfectly cast as money-grubbing funeral parlor owner Frank Quinn, who makes the living funeral something of a carnival attraction to make up for bad business.  It’s a sly, devious, and understatedly humorous character, and Murray milks it for all the comedy he can get.  It’s Felix who gets us to start chuckling as he unwillingly does ridiculous promotional stunts, but it’s Frank who keeps us laughing with his off-handed comments.  Add in Lucas Blacks as Frank’s second-in-command along for the ride and Sissy Spacek as Felix’s old love to make things grave, and you have one heck of an acting ensemble.

There’s nothing to go proclaim from the rooftops about “Get Low.”  It’s not going to amount to much more than nice acting, a suitably engaging script, and a glimpse at some beautiful Southern woods and forests.  But sometimes, that’s just the kind of movie you need.  B+





“Get Low” Poll Results

11 06 2010

Back in May, I wrote about the Oscar chances of “Get Low,” which premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and opens on July 30.  Particularly, I speculated about Robert Duvall and his status as an acting legend.  Would that be enough to catapault him into the race?  I said:

Here’s my question: does [Duvall] need Oscar bait?  He’s already won Best Actor!  Sure, it was over 25 years ago (1983 for “Tender Mercies” to be exact), but that’s still a trophy on the mantle at Duvall Manor.

People make this argument for Meryl Streep year after year.  ”She won so long ago,” they say.  ”They don’t need to hide their affection; just give her another Oscar!”

The difference between the two is as follows.  Since Robert Duvall won the Oscar, he has received two other nominations (in consecutive years, as a matter of fact).  Since Meryl Streep won her last Oscar, she has been nominated eleven times!  Eleven!

I think he will get nominated for an Oscar.  I polled to see what you all thought, and the results seemed to confirm what I thought.

Be sure to take the poll on the Oscar Moment for “Shutter Island!” I’m not sure how long I should keep a poll running; this one ran for over a month and that’s definitely too long.  I’ll happily field your suggestions in the comments below!





Oscar Moment: “Get Low”

11 05 2010

Out to top R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet,” Robert Duvall stars in the film adaptation of Lil’ Jon’s hit song “Get Low.”

Just kidding.

It’s about the opposite.  “Get Low” could wind up being one of the biggest bait movies of the Oscar season, particularly for leading man Robert Duvall.  It was a hit at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and instantly thrusted Duvall into the Oscar conversation.  But when it was bought by Sony Pictures Classics following the festival, they decided to move it to the end of July 2010.  Thus, Duvall and “Get Low” are now in the 2010 awards talk.

Here’s my question: does the man need Oscar bait?  He’s already won Best Actor!  Sure, it was over 25 years ago (1983 for “Tender Mercies” to be exact), but that’s still a trophy on the mantle at Duvall Manor.

People make this argument for Meryl Streep year after year.  “She won so long ago,” they say.  “They don’t need to hide their affection; just give her another Oscar!”

The difference between the two is as follows.  Since Robert Duvall won the Oscar, he has received two other nominations (in consecutive years, as a matter of fact).  Since Meryl Streep won her last Oscar, she has been nominated eleven times!  Eleven!

Let’s take a look at some other revered actors who took home their first Oscar several decades ago and the results when they are in the game again.

  • Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress in 1974 for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2000 for “Requiem for a Dream.”  She has not won since.
  • Sissy Spacek won Best Actress in 1980 for “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  Since then, she has been nominated four times, most recently in 2001 for “In the Bedroom.”  She has not won since.
  • Diane Keaton won Best Actress in 1976 for “Annie Hall.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2003 for “Something’s Gotta Give.”  She has not won since.
  • Ben Kingsley won Best Actor in 1982 for “Gandhi.”  Since then, he has been nominated three times, most recently in 2003 for “House of Sand and Fog.”  He has not won since.
  • William Hurt won Best Actor in 1985 for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”  Since then, he has been nominated three times, most recently in 2005 for “A History of Violence.”  He has not won since.
  • Julie Christie won Best Actor in 1965 for “Darling.”  Since then, she has been nominated three times, most recently in 2007 for “Away from Her.”  She has not won since.

See a pattern?

(NOTE: I excluded one outlier from the list: Jack Nicholson, who has received 12 nominations in his illustrious career.  His first win came on his fifth nomination in 1975 for Best Actor for “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Two nominations later, he won again in 1983 for Best Supporting Actor for “Terms of Endearment.”  Another four nominations later, he won his third statue in 1997 for Best Actor for “As Good As It Gets.”  He was nominated for Best Actor again in 2002 for “About Schmidt” but lost to Adrien Brody.)

But if you know anything about the Oscars beyond the statistics I gave you, another trend might have popped out at you.  In case you didn’t pick up on it, this might guide you.

  • When Ellen Burstyn was last nominated, she lost to Julia Roberts for “Erin Brockovich.”  Roberts was 33, and this nomination was her third.
  • When Sissy Spacek was last nominated, she lost to Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.”  Berry was 35, and this nomination was her first.
  • When Jack Nicholson was last nominated, he lost to Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.”  Brody was 29, and this nomination was his first.
  • When Diane Keaton was last nominated, she lost to Charlize Theron for “Monster.”  Theron was 28, and this nomination was her first.
  • When Ben Kingsley was last nominated, he lost to Sean Penn for “Mystic River.”  Penn was 43, and this nomination was his fourth.
  • When William Hurt was last nominated, he lost to George Clooney for “Syriana.”  Clooney was 43, and this nomination was his first.
  • When Julie Christie was last nominated, she lost to Marion Cotillard for “La Vie en Rose.”  Cotillard was 32, and this nomination was her first.

As I hope you now see, these veterans usually lose to younger actors with few nominations.  So does Duvall have history against him?

The role seems like a character he can really dig into.  In “Get Low,” he plays a hermit who plans his own funeral – which he plans to attend.  Alive.  He wants to hear what people think of him, but as events unfold, he ends up divulging why he’s been away in the woods so long.

The movie also features performances by Oscar winner Sissy Spacek and nominee Bill Murray.  Both could easily be in contention, but Murray seems to have the more substantial part.  They, along with Duvall, are definitely worth keeping an eye on this season.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Robert Duvall), Best Supporting Actor (Bill Murray)

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





REVIEW: Crazy Heart

28 02 2010

Whenever I wrote about “Crazy Heart” back in December in an Oscar Moment, I lampooned it for its obvious similarities to last year’s “The Wrestler.”  Turns out, I was right.

But “The Wrestler” was a killer movie.  And so is “Crazy Heart.”

Sure, it loses some originality points, but that doesn’t make the character study any less effective or entertaining.  It also doesn’t suffer because it adding elements of another great movie, “Walk the Line,” with its background in country music and some very catchy songs.

“Crazy Heart” follows washed-up country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) trudging through an increasingly insignificance as a performer.  He has gone from packing in crowds in Nashville to empty bowling alleys in Santa Fe.  He certainly isn’t doing himself any favors with his raging alcoholism and his refusal to churn out any new material.  But over the course of the film, he realizes, although somewhat reluctantly, Bad Blake begins to change his ways.  The main impetus comes from a younger journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who looks beyond the singer for her interview.

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