Monday, March 27, 2006

A History of Violence

This could have been a really good movie.
A History of Violence tells the story of Tom Stall--portrayed admirably by Viggo Mortensen--a mild-mannered, middle American everyman who may or may not have a dark secret. He lives in Nowheresville, Indiana, with his wife, son, and daughter, all of whom have lives so achingly common that you could weep. But is there more to Tom Stall than meets the eye?
Yes, of course, obviously there is. The trailers give that much away, so I don't feel bad about doing the same. I won't tell you what it is, so you can enjoy the hour of the movie that actually is enjoyable.
The remaining half hour--after you learn Viggo's secret--is both confusing and disappointing. Supporting characters begin acting in noticeably head-scratching ways, revealing that their true purpose was never to be characters in this story, but merely props in an attempt to make Viggo's plight all the more compelling.
The fault here lies partly with the screenwriter and partly with the actors. Maria Bello, playing Viggo's wife Edie, is a particularly noteworthy offender. She's not helped at all by the script, but her tenuous grasp of subtext and layers would I think be evident even with a masterpiece of a script. Ashton Holmes does a better job as Viggo's son, Jack, but even he falls victim to the nonsensical behaviors foisted upon him by the writers.
Viggo is really the only who acquits himself flawlessly, but then again he plays the only character that the movie really bothers to develop properly. William Hurt also deserves an honorable mention for his brief-yet-Oscar-nominated role, though he seemed to have recently taken a crash course at the Will Ferrell School of Acting, where they teach you to completely sell out to your role no matter how silly you look or feel. But the Ferrell School might be onto something: It's much more compelling to watch an actor who seems to be sold out to his role than it is to watch one who seems embarrassed by it.
Acting matters aside, what really prevents the movie from soaring to the heights it initially promises to are two things: a mild disregard for plausibility, and an apparently misplaced climax.
Having come down so hard, though, I will concede that this isn't a terrible movie. It's certainly watchable from start to finish, if a bit dicomfiting at times. And even the slow-moving sections--of which there are more than one--do a good job of keeping you interested with a certain intangible "what's next?" factor.
In the end it amounts to a movie that's better than bad, but still not really good enough to be good.
Numerically speaking, that averages out to a 4.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mulholland Dr.

I don’t like being laughed at. When I’m trying to be funny, people are laughing at things I say or my behavior, not at me personally. I don’t like my friends laughing at me, my family, or even people I don’t know. And I especially don’t like directors laughing at me.

I’ve heard Mulholland Dr. described as “David Lynch trying to be artsy-fartsy, but ending up just being fartsy.” That is true, but it goes a little bit deeper than that. Mulholland Dr. is obviously a project he had a lot invested in, and was not willing to let go of lightly. It started off as a TV pilot, but the television executives (rightly) said, “One, we’re not going to release it. Two, you should get your head examined.” So David Lynch just shrugged his shoulders and decided to make a movie out of it. That was better anyway, by his reckoning, because that was where his penchant for disturbing visuals and graphic sex could really be given free reign. You can’t have a naked lesbian sex scene on TV, breasts and all, but in the movies…

By the end of the movie, we can’t even be sure that the two women in the sex scene are even different characters, and that is not the only thing ridiculous about this movie. A lot of the plotlines don’t make any sense, the circumstances and some of the visuals are bizarre to the point of being silly, and not a single person in the movie talks like a normal human being would. And the entire time, it seemed that David Lynch is saying to the audience, “Ha ha, you stupid people! You’re way too dumb to understand this movie! Only I, with my superior intellect, can fully decipher it.” Well, screw you, Dave. I’ll just watch The Princess Bride. At least Rob Reiner has some respect for me.

Now, I understand that watching Mulholland Dr. is supposed to be like having a dream. In a dream, events don’t make sense, people do things that they would not normally do, and ridiculous circumstances seem commonplace. Also, if it were to run like a movie, it would be very poorly edited. Truthfully, shooting a movie that is supposed to be structured like a dream is not a very good idea. When you have a dream, you’re asleep, so you’re in a certain mode. But you’re in a completely different mode when watching a movie, plus you’re wide awake. Those two things, that fundamental difference, make watching a movie and having a dream incompatible. You can’t do one while you’re doing the other, and David Lynch shouldn’t try to make you.

This was an abysmal movie, and I didn’t enjoy it in the slightest. I get that the point was not really for me to enjoy it, but that is left for movies that really have something important to say. Mulholland Dr. doesn’t. It shows you all these weird images, and then asks, “Wasn’t that weird?” I didn’t spend any money on it specifically, but I wish it hadn’t taken up space on my Netflix queue. That was a space of time when I could have been seeing something worthwhile.

Iconic lines:

22 Rating: -10

Particle Man

Thursday, March 23, 2006

In America

Initial reaction: (Relieved sigh, wiping away some tears.) "That was really good."

America takes the typical heartwarming, family film and gives it life. It embraces experiences and emotions that are important to all families, without making them cliché or saccharine sweet. It isn't the type of film that makes you roll your eyes and inwardly say "Ah, yes, a family film like all the other family films," even though in many ways it is. In no time I was hopelessly caught up in the lives of the characters and rooting for them to come out unscathed in the end.

The story is about an Irish immigrant family that we follow through their painstaking journey in a new country. Sarah and Johnny move their family of four to Manhattan, wanting to make a new life for themselves and their daughters, Christy and Ariel, not long after the death of their youngest child, Frankie. It is a world full of hope, but also incredible hardship from the very beginning. Samantha Morton plays Sarah in a wonderful appearance of a mother who will do anything to keep her daughters happy and hopeful. She, along with littlest actress Emma Bolger, were the only two parts of this film that kept me from throwing my hands up in despair due to the seemingly never-ending roadblocks and challenges they faced. Morton portrays the character in an expert way, as it wouldn't have taken much to ruin it.

In general, I felt that the acting in this film was absolutely stellar. The two child actresses completely steal this movie. This is especially true for Emma Bolger who plays Ariel. With her angelic face, captivating Irish brogue and humorous quirks, I found myself completely won over. Without the awkwardness that many times comes with the territory of child actors, Emma Bolger was refreshing and completely enthralling. The older girl, Sarah Bolger, plays a very different role as Christy, and plays it well. She is the oldest child in this hurting family, and carries this hurt with her throughout the story. Her words and actions during the film would lead us to believe that she's much older than she is, and she actually seems to be the only one who knows what is really going on and how to deal with it from beginning to end.

Paddy Considine, who plays Johnny, isn't too shabby either. Actually, he was the character that made me clench my fists and hold my breath from beginning to end. While he tries to provide and care for his family during this huge transition, he also is struggling to get over the death of his son and still be the loving husband and father his family needs. Way too much, in my opinion. And the pressure doesn’t let up for the entire movie: living in a building inhabited by drug addicts, scarce work, medical problems, bills that can't be paid, guilt for the loss of a child, and children that miss their fun-loving father. Let me tell you, I think I'd want just about anyone else's place in this movie except Johnny's. Maybe even the pathetic, wandering drug addict who constantly bugs Johnny for money.

In America accurately depicts for its audience the extreme highs and also devastating lows that sometimes come simultaneously in the life of a family. One moment we're mourning with them over their losses, the next we're rejoicing with someone's small, yet significant, victory. They bravely attempt to deal with their past while at the same time enjoying the present and building towards their future.

Rating: 16

Because of my soft spot for heartwarming films that draw me in emotionally (in short, movies that make me bawl), I give this movie a 16. Not one of my list of favorites, but also not far from it. And I also appreciated that it wasn't a movie that said: "Betcha I can make you cry... Ha! Well, I proved my point. The End." No, this film wasn’t that unkind. Instead, we learn, along with the characters, that we have strengths that will carry us through the hard times, and also how to see blessings in disguise.

She's the Man

There is no holier and more sanctified establishment in all of literature than Shakespeare. He is known at least on a cursory level to everyone, and I do mean everyone. The thing is a lot of people look at Shakespeare and they go “this is crap; I can’t read this; he’s not even speaking the same language as me.” Partially true, but that is a discussion for another time. But for those people, all hope is not lost. That’s why God invented remakes.

She’s the Man is an update of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, setting it in a modern day high school. Now, the fact that all the high-schoolers are 25 years old and think a pimple is some kind of Swedish cooking utensil is forgivable considering that in the list of things that are unbelievable about this movie, this is relatively low. The entire plot is completely ridiculous and unfeasible, but that’s not the point. For that matter, the plot of Twelfth Night is every ounce as unfeasible as this one. That’s why it’s a comedy. Comedies by nature are unfeasible because that’s what makes them funny. Also, comedies by nature end with everyone being happy, except for the villains, who are shaking their fists in an “I’ll get you for this!” fashion. This is a paradigm that has stood the test of time, and there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. After all, we’re re-making, not starting from scratch.

The ridiculousness of the plot is redeemed by the cast’s skill at comedy and considerable charm. There isn’t a cast member that isn’t at least a little funny. Vinnie Jones’ character might qualify, but he is funny on a somewhat different level than the others. At the center, though, is Amanda Bynes’ performance. She is in nearly every scene, and she carries that responsibility with poise and competence. Plus she’s just so cute. Sure, she’s not at all convincing as a boy. Sure, her accent when doing the guy voice sounds like a ghetto Alabaman. But again, that’s not the point. If she wanted to, I think she could have done a serious and convincing guy. But her aim was not to create a convincing guy; it was to create a guy that would make you laugh. There were a dozen little touches for the bibliophiles who couldn’t escape comparing it to the play, like that the pizza place the teenagers frequent was called Cezario’s, or that Malcom’s spider was named Malvolio. I could have done without that, actually. That was where the screenwriter decided to hit the audience over the head with a frying pan and say “THIS IS MALVOLIO!”

The first five minutes or so belong to a different movie, however. I am convinced that they were written by the screenwriter’s five-year-old daughter. During them, I seriously thought I would hate this movie, because the dialogue was handled with such ineptitude that I thought it was aimed at preschool. But then it does a switch, being the point that all the characters become comfortable in their own skin. What was a problem at first, and became less so as the movie went on, was the prevalence of clichés and contrivances about gender roles. Guys play sports, girls bake cookies. Girls wear frilly dresses, so they don’t need a soccer team. But then I realized that all those clichés come from Shakespeare, so it was okay. Plus, they were presented in a way that didn’t seem like a retread.

To enjoy this movie, one has to get back to what comedy is really all about: making people laugh. It’s not about presenting a convincing story, or characters that are real people. If you are looking for that, She’s the Man is definitely not for you. But if you want to laugh, and are ready to let yourself laugh, it is.

Iconic lines:
“Is it just me, or does this soccer game have more nudity than most?”
“I mean… which one would you rather see NAKED??!!??”
“Do you like… cheese?”

22 Rating: 13

Particle Man

Walk the Line

Hello All! Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many posting sessions on They Might Be Critics. For tonight’s critique I have chosen a biopic called Walk The Line. For those unfamiliar with this movie, this is the biography of late singer Johnny Cash. This movie follows his rise, his first marriage, his struggle with drugs, and finally his overcoming substance abuse and getting a second chance.
First things first, on a scale of -22 to 22, I gave this movie a 17. Overall, this was a wonderful, enjoyable film. One thing that tends to happen with biopics is that the film can tend to drag. That did not happen with this film. There are a few reasons as to why I believe this happened. First, the story did not lend itself to dragging, because it was broken up by music. Secondly, the acting in this film was phenomenal.
The story of Johnny Cash is not a boring one. His life was filled with interesting events and numerous musical endeavors (at least enough to keep me interested), such as being abroad while in the Air Force, meeting people he had always dreamed of meeting. However, while I did feel like I was watching the movie Ray only with a white musician (as was pointed out by Jon Stewart at the Oscars), I quickly got over that fact and was able to get lost in the story and the music. Throughout the movie I found myself rooting for Johnny and also wanting to hit him, simultaneously at some points. He did have challenges as most people do, and he also had periods of destruction toward himself and those around him.
This feeling of wanting to clap for and hit the main character at the same time was something that made me very interested in the movie. I wanted to see which feeling would win. However, I do not think this feeling would have occurred had it not been for the wonderful acting of Joaquin Phoenix. After watching the movie for a relatively brief period of time, I forgot that I was watching an actor and felt like I was watching the subject. I feel the same way about the performance of Reese Witherspoon, who channeled June Carter Cash. Channeling is the only word I can think of that would describe what she did. Every actor in this movie was so dedicated that they learned whatever instruments that they had to learn in order to perform the original music. This work produced a brilliant film that I thoroughly enjoyed watching.
This movie receives a 17 in my book, but if you have not seen it, you should and see what rating you give it. Feel free the let all of us here at They Might Be Critics know what you think.

Stormy Pinkness