Posts Tagged ‘movie review’

Summer Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman Lacks Heart

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

In the Disney version of Snow White, the title princess is a bit, well, boring.  Or is tame a better
word?  This summer’s Snow White and the Huntsman throws all of that sweetness out the door and exchanges it for a fierce, feministic tale.

Snow White and the Huntsman is as grim as the brothers’ tales themselves.  The story is the same,
young girl’s mother dies and father is taken in by beauty of a mysterious woman.

The twist is that Charlize Theron plays one of the most evil queens possibly ever to grace cinematic history.  Sadly, Ravenna has a tragic past, and a few good points too, about how men in that time used women and disposed of them without a second thought.  The problem?  Ravenna and her creepy, equally evil brother have one too many screws missing.

Theron takes her role seriously, too seriously perhaps, as she channels Ravenna’s pain through her tortured stare and her rage as well.  Theron is an exceptional actress, and this film no doubt belongs to her and Kristen Stewart (who plays Snow White), but it seems as though she is in a different movie as her performance is over-the-top.

Stewart is one of the most underestimated actresses of her era but she is given little to do in terms of dialogue.  The saving grace to the unevenness in performances and film itself is Chris Hemsworth, otherwise known as the Huntsman.  Hemsworth brings a necessary humanity and warmth that is otherwise lacking as both the lead actresses are a bit cold.

The special effects in Snow White and the Huntsman are excellent, as are the costumes.  Theron
is stunning in articles like elaborate headpieces and even a long, black, feathered “crow” coat.  These two aspects of the movie are worth seeing even though the film itself is far from perfect.

There are two last notes that are worth mentioning about the movie.  First, the prince (or William,
the Duke’s son here) would have been better left out as he does not even garner a part of the movie poster.  Rightfully so it turns out, as his role and consequence to the storyline are severely
limited.  The love triangle in this way is lopsided.  Second, the battle scenes could have lasted longer especially towards the end of the film (for example, galloping down a beach does not a fine battle make).

Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman takes on far more than many summer blockbusters as it shows the remnants of a war-torn land and gives us a fierce look at how strong princesses and queens can be.  Sequel anyone (as it looks like there may be one)?

 

 

Leave “The Hunger Games” Fully Satisfied

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

There has been a lot of speculation, expectation, and hype for the long-awaited The Hunger Games movie premiere.  Some critics have celebrated the film and others have been quick to point out the film’s flaws.  With all of the excitement it is almost impossible to leave The Hunger Games fully satisfied, but Hollywood gives it a valiant effort.

After several threats from my older sister, I finally read all three books of the Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, making sure to finish well ahead of the movie release.  I am glad I did, because it seems as though some of the critics have not read the books.  In this movie’s case, knowing the material ahead of time provides a richer experience.

Set in a dystopian, apocalyptic future where North America no longer is North America but instead Panem, a collection of districts ruled by the cruel hand of the dictatorial Capitol.  Every year the apathetic Capitol commands one girl and one boy from each district to compete in what is called the hunger games, a fight to the death where only one child will survive.  Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself for her younger sister when Prim is selected as one of the competitors. What is striking about these novels is the author’s fearlessness and ambition, as she captures a wide foray of human themes, from betrayal to resilience with a heroine that is both vulnerable and fierce.  Humanity drives The Hunger Games, an anti-war novel, from start to finish.

That said, The Hunger Games is a big load to carry.  Subtlety seems to be director Gary Ross’s forte.  That is both a positive and negative for the film.  With a PG-13 rating and a tricky subject matter, being subtle is a good choice in the scenes of the games.  However, Ross’s filmmaking style detracted when it is flitting back and forth to different places and is literally shaky.  Ross seems to be going for grit, but The Hunger Games could actually use more punch.

Some parts of the film are too subdued.  Avid fans will be upset that some details are changed, including who gives Katniss the mockingjay pin.  The garish Capitol is not so garish in the film.  It is understandable that the designers of the film did not want to go too over-the-top with the costumes but Katniss is supposed to be “on fire” after all.  In addition, the special effects are also not impressive.

The Hunger Games has an outstanding cast.  Jennifer Lawrence is strong as the lead.  Lawrence has quite a lot to take on as such a beloved heroine.  She captures the fierceness (as she did in Winter’s Bone wonderfully) but perhaps is a bit too stoic.  Maybe Lawrence could have used a little more vulnerability to let us know what Katniss is thinking, as we are unable to look into her mind as we are in the first-person novel.  Woody Harrelson is excellent as Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor in the games, and Lenny Kravitz brings gravity to the film as Cinna, a supporter of Katniss.  Rue is beautifully played by the young Amandla Stenberg.  In fact, the reaping and the scenes with Rue are the most touching of the entire film.

Elizabeth Banks plays the funny, silly Effie perfectly and Stanley Tucci is also great as the amusing Caesar Flickerman.  Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale (both in love with Katniss) are also very good.  A weak link unfortunately is Donald Sutherland as who should be the evil, snake-like President Snow.  Sutherland comes off neither sinister nor frightening.  He is not able to capture what Ralph Fiennes was able to when he played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.

Overall, The Hunger Games is done well and tries to stay as true to the book as it can.  Hopefully, the second installment will be even better as the filmmakers learn what worked and what did not.  Perhaps with the second installment they can capture and stress more the urgency of the work’s main theme, that against all odds we must never lose sight of our humanity.

(The soundtrack that has been released is sadly and surprisingly not used in the film.  “Safe and Sound” could have worked well.  Here it is, Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift Feat. The Civil Wars.)

“The Vow,” “This Means War” and “The Grey”: Spring Misses

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Valentine’s Day and post-award season consideration means a mess of spring movies.  These end of winter into spring films are neither here nor there.  They are not in the realm of being nominated for anything and they are also not summer blockbusters.  Consequently, the movies end up being forgettable, in the grey area of film.  This means they are not horrible (sometimes) but are not really any good either.

Most of these types of movies make pulling out money for a movie ticket hard and yet when you want to go to the theater there is nothing else to see.  So, it becomes a decision of what will be the least painful.  Another way to think about these movies is to think that it will be an escape, just some mindless fun.  Otherwise it is best to wait for DVD since they will be out soon enough anyway.

This devoted moviegoer went to see three of these kind of films recently, sadly.  It was hard to stay away from the movie theater for too long and that is the truth of the matter.  “The Vow” was the first up.  Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams play a young couple, Leo and Paige, madly in love.  After a car accident Paige loses her memory of Leo and all their time together (interestingly she only forgets her husband).  Of course, she remembers her old life and that she is engaged to another man. (more…)

“Coriolanus” and “A Dangerous Method”: Moviegoers Feel the Chill and Are Left Out in the Cold

Monday, February 27th, 2012

“Coriolanus” and “A Dangerous Method” are two of this year’s indie films with specific niches that garnered no big awards.  These two movies prove the unfortunate perception that smaller films are not always better and that sometimes not waiting for DVD is a mistake.  This is sad because many a time it is the small films that are undiscovered gems; they can surprise us, teach us, and open our eyes the most.

At first before I saw both of these films I wondered why they had not been nominated, especially for the Oscars.  Keira Knightley was applauded by her peers for what they called a fearless performance and Ralph Fiennes had directed a modern take on Shakespeare (usually an Oscar favorite). (more…)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: A Boy’s Search

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

My mother recently said that there has yet to be a strong movie made about 9/11.  Not only is it a difficult subject to approach, there is the question of perspective.  By this I mean should the movie be more political or personal?  Should the movie try to represent many people, many families, or just one person?  In the case of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” the film is about the latter viewpoint.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” received mixed reviews from critics, mainly negative.  The fact that it made it onto the roster of Best Picture nominees for the Oscars is a surprise.  The film overall is far from perfect.

A young boy named Oskar struggles with the tragic loss of his father, who was in the Twin Towers on what he calls “the worst day.”  He tries to overcome his fears in a world that makes no sense by creating a puzzle that he believes will give him some more time with his father.  Along the way Oskar meets many people and finds that even when we would wish for nothing more than to be alone, we simply cannot be on life’s journey. (more…)

Remembrances of Movies Past

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

This year’s two biggest standouts and award winners are “Hugo” and “The Artist.”  Both films have a big thing in common.  Besides being beautifully directed, artsy, and uplifting, “Hugo” and “The Artist” are an homage to classic cinema.  The movies also both champion the preservation of film.

Martin Scorsese surprised many by directing a film that children could actually see.  “Hugo,” set in Paris, is about a young boy who has lost his father.  Hugo lives in a clock in a train station, where he must hide from gendarmes who would take him to an orphanage.  His life changes when he finds the key to a robot that his father was trying to fix. (more…)

Oscar Nominations 2012: Shock and Awe-ards

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

This year is one of lightness, not in the real world, but in the world of cinema.  The dresses on the red carpet are not the only things that are prettily pastel.  It is also a year of snubs.  As the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced the Academy seemed to be saying, “Hah!  We are not going to do anything you think.  We are rebellious and like to make people angry.  As such, we cannot even stoop to find a tenth movie for Best Picture.  Oh and by the way everyone’s songs sucked, so take that Madonna and Elton John…you can stop fighting with each other now.”

My family, who likes to make a competition out of guessing the winners of all the movie award shows (for the Golden Globes just put your bets on what you think possibly could not win and that will be the winner) is at a loss for the Oscars.  We thought that they would correct what the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards did strangely but instead they may have made it worse.

I am not really sure what happened with the Oscar nominations.  All I know is people are angry and every prediction and guess is altered now.  Let’s start at the top and throw in some Golden Globes comparisons for good measure.

(more…)

Mission Adventure: A Look at Two Sequels

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows are this season’s action-packed blockbusters.  If you are in the mood for some mindless fun and excitement (come on, who isn’t) and don’t want to have to work too hard to follow the plot then these two movies are the right ones to see.

The two movies have a few things in common.  They are both over two hours, have great special effects, the plots are a little overly convoluted, and most importantly they are better than the preceding movie in their series.  They also do not take themselves too seriously.

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol picks up with Ethan Hunt in prison and from there goes through a bunch of frankly awesome action sequences full of massive explosions, elaborate disguises, and a couple of truly memorable scenes.  (I am sorry for running out of superlatives.)  Tom Cruise’s hand-picked new team in the movie is charismatic, including Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg (who is very funny).  The stand-out scenes are the magnetic suit that makes Jeremy Renner able to fly above a large fan, the rotating car garage that Tom Cruise must jump off various levels of, and the most spectacular is the scene in Dubai where Cruise seems to have nothing holding him to the outside windows of an unnaturally high hotel but a pair of gloves (he actually did this stunt himself but with a cord).  That last scene leads to an incredible amount of palm-sweating (or at least it did on my part).  Besides being an action-scene expert, Tom Cruise brings his always sincere intensity to the movie.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is more fun than its predecessor.  There are more twists and turns and we get back to the better core of the film, the funny relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Thankfully Robert Downey Jr.’s accent is a little more understandable this time around.  Noomi Rapace sadly has nothing to do but we finally get to see Sherlock Holmes’ real nemesis, Professor Moriarty.  At times there is too much going on but it is easy to see that Guy Ritchie is having a good time here.  The special effects, especially one of the ending scenes on a never-ending waterfall, are spot on.

Both movies have endings that open up for a new adventure.  It never ends, say you?  Yes, it never ends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peter Pan Syndrome of “Young Adult”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Young Adult is a guilty pleasure if ever there was one.  Critics have described it as a train wreck that is impossible to turn away from.  Actually, it starts out more like that strange aunt who has a little too much to drink during the holidays and reveals all her secrets, and then it ends up as a full train crash.

Charlize Theron is wicked perfection as Mavis Gary, a 37 year-old woman who never grew up.  Mavis is stuck living in the past glow of what she thinks was her peak, those high school glory years when she was 17, beautiful, popular and dating cool-guy Buddy Slade.  Everything seems to have gone downhill from there as we catch up with Mavis sleeping in yesterday’s clothes face-down in a messy apartment with the Kardashians rambling on the television in the background.

There is a parallel drawn between Mavis’ life and the fictional young adult series she is a ghostwriter for.  As the series ends she could choose to make a change in her life but instead she decides to visit her hometown and go after Buddy (who is now married with a baby on the way).  Usually we would like to think that people learn from their mistakes but as Mavis so wonderfully illustrates, not everyone cares to.

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have a knack for edge.  The question asked is how much can we possibly hate ourselves?  As it turns out, a lot.  This is shown when Mavis picks out her blonde hair that once earned her the title of “Best Hair” in high school.  However, as Young Adult is a character study, it is the performances that are the most essential to the film.  Charlize Theron fully commits to her role, as always, managing to get across Mavis’ bitterness and her brokenness at the same time.

The most cringe-worthy scene is Mavis’ breakdown at Buddy’s baby shower as she hears for the first time that it is everyone else that feels sorry for her and not the other way around.  It is Patton Oswalt that stands out, though.  He grounds the film and pulls out the most touching performance as a former classmate of Mavis who became disabled after being the victim of a hate crime in high school.

Sure Young Adult is snarky and has no redemption for the main character (something we do not see much of in Hollywood films) but more than that there is an underlying desperation and wrenching sadness that is frightening because it could become all too familiar fast.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Dark Side: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Movie Review

Monday, January 16th, 2012

I apologize for the lateness of these reviews and blame it on holiday withdrawal.

Who is fierce, brilliant, and unafraid?  If you answered Meryl Streep and actually all the actresses who gave great, strong performances this year you are right.  Well, sort of.  In this case the person or character referred to is Lisbeth Salander.  Noomi Rapace brought her to life perfectly in the Swedish trilogy.  However, Rooney Mara is also excellent in David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

It was hard not to have high expectations after Noomi Rapace and the striking three Swedish films adapted from Stieg Larsson’s novels.  You do not want to be disappointed.  Luckily, Fincher does a wonderful job of directing in his usual dark style, save the opening sequence.  What was up with that exactly?  Besides that though, this The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took the positive elements of a Hollywood film, crisp editing and finesse.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two and a half hours, like the original Swedish version, but it moves along quickly and has the same intensity.  By intensity, I mean sitting on the edge of your seat/biting your nails with one hand/making a fist with the other intensity.  This is not a light film by any means but the scenes are shot well.  The soundtrack by Trent Reznor adds to the overall feeling of movie.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Immigrant Song — Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross feat. Karen O

Some elements of the plot have been changed but none have a negative effect on the film.  In fact, the relationship between Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander is made more obvious.  Mikael comes to Lisbeth to ask her to help him find “a killer of women” and the ending of the film goes beyond its Swedish twin by leaving us with Lisbeth watching Mikael leave with his fellow journalist (also his mistress) and the look of disappointment on her face.  It makes their relationship more important and vital to the story, which is a positive addition.  Also, Daniel Craig is in his most likable state here, softer than usual.  It is Rooney Mara who pulls through and makes Lisbeth young, vulnerable and even more playful (although not as haunted as Noomi Rapace).  Mara has been nominated already for some prestigious awards and hopefully will be nominated for an Oscar as well (the movie and Fincher should also get noticed).

If you have been living under a rock-like place and do not know what The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about, here is a quick synopsis.  A smart, antisocial woman named Lisbeth Salander is a computer whiz/hacker by day and a feminist always.  A journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, whose name has been slandered from a messy trial, is asked to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy, powerful man’s granddaughter who went missing over forty years ago.  Lisbeth helps Mikael find the killer and they find out a lot of pretty bad stuff along the way.  The corruption that goes all the way to the top and Lisbeth’s past leads to her being The Girl Who Played with Fire and eventually The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  “The land of the midnight sun is much darker” than we could have ever imagined.

 

 

 

 

Just Enjoy the Show: The Twilight Saga Continues

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Yes, the long-awaited The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1.  I know what you’re thinking.  Before you think it though, here it goes.  Breaking Dawn Part 1 is actually enjoyable.  That’s right, I said it, enjoyable.  If you know exactly what you are getting you will not be disappointed.  This is different than a lot of movies recently racing towards the Oscars that were a bit, ahem, disappointing.  I won’t name names, though, cough cough The Descendants, Moneyball, Beginners and The Tree of Life.  Even The Help.  I mean, good?  Yes, definitely.  The best we’ve ever seen?  I don’t think so.  Many of the movies seem to be coming up short.

I read a couple of reviews of Breaking Dawn, including the one in the L.A. Times, and I was expecting the worst.  This is from a fan of the Twilight series, both books and movies.  Okay, not a die-hard wait in line for the premiere or wear a t-shirt or admit out loud (oh wait, too late) fan or anything.  I probably would have fallen asleep during the midnight premiere.  Not even Harry Potter could keep me up I think.  Gasp, a Stanford student who likes Twilight and admits it?  The series is silly and a fantasy of course.  But that’s just it, it’s an escape.  I mean when you have to deal with guys not even offering to pick up the check anymore Edward and Jacob seem like a dream.  Also, amidst many vampire series, mostly lame, Stephenie Meyer did something right (make the characters likable).

So the reviews were harsh of course but to tell the truth Breaking Dawn personally was the only movie this holiday season so far that was fun to watch and without high expectations.  The movie covers the wedding, honeymoon (finally but don’t get your hopes up too much, this is still PG-13 after all), Bella’s pregnancy (spoiler alert, sorry) and birth (world’s fastest pregnancy) and ends with her transformation into a vampire (spoiler alert but come on you should  have seen that one coming).  Part 2 is up next but Part 1 was like an entire lifetime consolidated into one movie.

Breaking Dawn still doesn’t top the first Twilight movie with its sort of indie innocence before all the mega-fame and budgets.  However, Breaking Dawn is better and more faithful to the series than Eclipse, focusing more on the romance than the violence.  Actually, when I read the Breaking Dawn book in high school (hiding it under the desk from people who literally cringed when they saw it) I wondered how they would make it into a movie, especially with the birth scene.  Bill Condon (director of Dreamgirls) did a nice job.  The actors, Kristen Stewart (a strong actress anyway), Taylor Lautner, and Robert Pattinson do the best they can with the material they are given and try to do as little winking at the camera as possible, so for that I applaud them.  Pattinson especially is much better in this movie and even gives Edward somewhat of a backbone.  Bella and Edward’s wedding is a highlight with its beautiful décor and wedding dress (vampires really do have good taste).

Just let go of the questions (like how can a vampire get someone pregnant and the whole verging on creepy imprinting thing), sit back, and go with it.

Bruno Mars – It Will Rain [New Music]

 

 

The Descendants: Good, but Great?

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

The Descendants is getting rave reviews.  Critics claim George Clooney is at his best and will definitely be Oscar-nominated.  I am sure he will and the movie may even be as well.  So it is with high expectations of a real-life type of drama with a touch of comedy (done by the same team as Sideways) that I went to see The Descendants.

George Clooney plays a father who finds himself the sole guardian of his two daughters after his wife has an accident and is in a coma.  He is clueless as to how to deal with his two girls, one 10 and one 17, that he does not know all that well.  They must come together though as Matt King decides whether or not to sell his family’s ancestral lands and learns that his wife had been having an affair.

Do not get me wrong, I like a real-life type of poignant movies as much as the next person but somehow I felt detached from these characters.  I think the problem comes down to George Clooney.  If an actor like Matt Damon had been the lead it might have been different.  Clooney is a little cold in his acting, which works as a politician in The Ides of March but not as a father whose life is unraveling.

Clooney’s eyes look untouched as he goes through the motions but does not seem to register the emotions.  The close-ups of his face show this especially and it is a bit disappointing.  It seems that the movie may have been overhyped by the critics.  It is a good movie, but a great one?  I am not so sure.  The girls are very good, though.  Shailene Woodley shows her acting chops and accomplishes what I wish Clooney could have. We can actually see the pain in her eyes.

An Insidious Menace Haunts Martha Marcy May Marlene

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the most intriguing films this fall.  It is hard to place into a genre, but psychological thriller is probably the most fitting.  A piercing, standout performance by Elizabeth Olsen drives this film.  Olsen, who definitely will become a big star, plays a lost young woman running away from a terrifying cult.  The pain in Olsen’s eyes cut to the bone.  Martha’s demons surface as we question whether she may just be paranoid.  Turns out, she isn’t.  The most chilling aspect of the film is that it is not all in her head (unlike Natalie Portman’s role as Nina in Black Swan last year).  Preying on those who have nowhere else to turn, the cult (led by a frightening John Hawkes, who gives Martha her other names as well) takes young women in and slowly fools them into trusting this new “family.”  Martha tells her sister, who she has not spoken to in two years, that her boyfriend lied to her (and in a way this is true) instead of telling her where she has really been.  The character herself is complex and interesting as she is able to be taken in by the lies of this abusive group of people but also has the strength to finally leave.  The cult is even more terrifying than imaginable as they not only take advantage of people but also are killers.  One could see why Martha is so haunted and scared out of her mind.  The small things of everyday life prove most powerful to show how Martha has lost every sense of common civilities, like jumping in a lake naked.  There are no societal boundaries any more for her as on the farm everything is shared.  This is also why she has so many different names.  Her real name has been changed by the cult leader, stripping her of her own identity.  Everything in this movie escalates, from Martha’s fear to the flashbacks of the cult itself.  Slowly but surely building, you are on the edge of your seat as you wait for what will happen next.  Unfortunately, many that are innocent become victims.  Martha’s sister and she have a Rachel Getting Married type of relationship.  There is a lot of pain there and probably also some blame as Martha was left alone after her sister went to college.  They do not know how to communicate with one another.  Martha’s sister and brother-in-law cannot even fathom what she has been through.  They know something is wrong but would never be able to guess all that has happened to her.  She is more alone than ever and lives in a world all her own with a future that seems less and less certain of even existing.  Her sister on the other hand is very normal, just starting out with a husband and trying to have a baby.  Their worlds do not go hand in hand.  The ending is ambiguous but we know that it is not good, and her sister and brother-in-law do not even see what is coming.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is intense and haunting and something very different and new.  Like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone last year, Elizabeth Olsen has made a name for herself with this first role.  She definitely should be nominated for an Oscar.  It is nice to see so many interesting roles for women this year.  There is a lot of variety for the actresses, from Martha Marcy May Marlene to The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep) to The Help to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to The Debt (Jessica Chastain) to Young Adult (Charlize Theron).

J. Edgar the Movie

Friday, November 18th, 2011

J. Edgar is not perfect.  The movie and the man that the movie is about are both not perfect in fact.  However, J. Edgar the movie is as complex and intense as the man himself.  Clint Eastwood directs in a documentary-style that proves a little long and at time drags.  The narrative is a little confusing at times as like a history lesson we are taken through J. Edgar Hoover’s journey (or his own vision of his journey) through flashbacks from WWII to the Civil Rights Movement.  He arguably made the FBI what it is today, creating the fingerprint system, organizing/cataloguing the Congressional Library, and inventing the creation of a damning confidential file.  In fact, J. Edgar used this file as leverage on many presidents, including Kennedy (and J. Edgar also thought he could stop Martin Luther King Jr. as well).  His work consumes him and is everything to him but at the end we can wonder what does he have to show?  Much of J. Edgar’s self-consciousness stems from his mother (proving that we can indeed blame our parents for everything) played by Judi Dench.  Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as J. Edgar, to the point that we forget he is acting.  It also made me realize that DiCaprio chooses difficult roles and is an underrated actor who has actually only played one likable character, Jack in Titanic.  Armie Hammer is simply wonderful, working as the most grounded and sympathetic character.  Hammer plays Clyde, J. Edgar’s right-hand man in the FBI and also J. Edgar’s secret love.  In a time when J. Edgar cannot admit to the world or even his own mother (she tells him she would rather have a dead son) that he is gay, he cannot come to terms himself with his true feelings for Clyde.  Much of their relationship is a guessing game to viewers as the only time the men confront each other is when tension and frustration have reached a climax (lots of glass thrown).  There is love there and a simple gesture like holding hands or when a much older J. Edgar kisses Clyde on the forehead and tells him he needs him shows this.  Speaking of looking older, the makeup is not done well unfortunately.  If everyone looks like that when they are in their sixties or seventies then we do not have a lot to look forward to.  I am sure that DiCaprio and Hammer (who I underestimated even though he was good in The Social Network and made us want there to be two of him) will get Oscar nominations.  I do not think the movie is strong enough to get nominated as a whole.  There are a lot of strong performances but not very many strong movies.  One last note of frustration: it is a shame that the artsy, indie films are never released wide.  It is hard to track them down to see and inevitably they are always the ones nominated.  Give us a chance; I think that more people are interested in films that actually give us something to think about.  Although I could be wrong as it is not the imperfect J. Edgar that was number one this past weekend but Immortals.

 

The Ides of March: Politics, Corruption, and Betrayal

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

        The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney, is not the betrayal in the way you would think.  From the trailers, it seems as though Ryan Gosling’s character, Stephen Meyers, is the Brutus to George Clooney’s charismatic, upstanding Democratic politician, Governor Mike Morris.  It is the opposite, in fact.  Interestingly, the title of the film is quite deceptive.  It is Stephen who is the young, naïve, idealistic Junior Campaign Manager in the campaign for a Democratic candidate that seems like he will be able to change things.  (The movie’s release date was actually postponed until now because its original release date was during the 2008 election and they did not want any likeness to be drawn to Barack Obama.  The only likeness here though, fortunately, is that both candidates are charismatic.)  Things start to unravel quickly.  Gosling unearths a big secret about Governor Morris (I do not want to give away everything but it involves the talented Evan Rachel Wood’s character, Molly Stearns) and needs to use it as leverage when he is manipulated by the opposing Democratic candidate’s Campaign Manager, Tom Duffy, played by Paul Giamatti.  A phenomenal cast brings the Ides of March, which is really not a new or unknown story, to another level.  Hopefully some of the actors will get nominated, perhaps Paul Giamatti or Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Gosling needs to get nominated for one of his roles this year (either from Drive or this film).  Giamatti and Hoffman are great as the disillusioned old-timers and Marisa Tomei finally has a worthwhile part as a hard-hitting journalist who will go to any ends to get a scandalous story.  Gosling, once again proving himself as a fantastic, committed actor, undergoes the most startling, sad transformation as by the end Stephen too is jaded from all the corruption he has seen with his own eyes.

 


The candidate that he had once believed so firmly in has made him lose all faith and the final scene (in comparison to the beginning scene) is haunting as it ends with a close-up shot of Gosling’s eyes (and they look like they have seen it all).  We see everything written in his eyes with just one look.  Clooney is perfect as the politician, smooth and charming and his poker face works well here.  His direction is quite good as he plays it straightforward with nice close-up shots of all the actors.  The climactic, intense scene between Stephen and Morris is one of the best scenes in the movie (besides the confrontation between Tom Duffy and Stephen).  The simmering anger turns boiling as they play a game of cat and mouse, a who knows what.  The betrayal here is Caesar’s, the older, more knowing people manipulating and sending the young out for slaughter.  This is different than what is expected from the previews, and leaves some parts ambiguous and up to the viewer (*spoiler alert*: for example, what really happens to Molly and will Stephen ever reveal the Morris’s secret).  For the latter, the answer is probably no.  Tom Duffy has the harshest lines, including when he tells Stephen to “Get out now,” while he still can and also when he tells Stephen that the Democrats need to learn to get down in the dirt with the Elephants.  With what goes on in this movie and all the meetings in dark alleyways in cars with blacked-out windows, it seems that his wish is sadly not too far off.