Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Eight Movies, Ten Days, 127 Hours

As of 7 PM this rainy Sunday in Westchester, California, I have the honor (curse?) of having seen six movies in ten days. Starting with Fair Game in Austin, then Unstoppable and The King's Speech last weekend, and finally wrapping with Black Swan, Burlesque and Love and Other Drugs this weekend, I've seen some great performances, some interesting films, and some absolute schlock. I also need to write up 127 Hours and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I from last month. And this is what I like to call Rapid Reviews.

I'm really doing this in no particular order, but let's go ahead and start with the movie that left me the happiest leaving the theater: The King's Speech. What a fun movie. I was seriously concerned I'd find Speech to be a little too stodgy or staged, but I couldn't be happier to be wrong. Colin Firth was brilliant in his role as King George VI, the reluctant monarch with a speech impediment, and his two supporting actors, Geoffrey Rush as his stubborn speech therapist and Helena Bonham-Carter, disappearing completely into her role as the future Queen Mother Elizabeth, do fantastic work. The direction could be a little too television miniseries-esque at times (probably due to director Tom Hooper's background in the genre), but the writing was lively and the performances wonderful. There's a lot of talk that Speech is likely to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and I can't say I would have too many complaints if it did. A-

Fair Game is a film that you're best off going into without knowing the full story ahead of time. Naomi Watts, an actress I'd never previously loved, was brilliant in her interpretation of embattled spy Valerie Plame who gets dragged into a public relations war with the Bush administration after a staffer leaks her identity to the New York Times. Sean Penn plays the role of her husband, Joe Wilson, with aplomb. The film has several wonderful elements to it, but it almost plays as a showcase for the story and those two performances. Not like a duet, because their interactions are not the centerpiece, but more a duo, two lively performances occurring simultaneously. Still, the supporting cast is unmemorable and the supplementary spy plot useless to what we actually care about, so for having a few problems outside those grade-A performances, the movie gets a B.

Unstoppable is not a movie you go see expecting too much. I actually wasn't expecting anything, since I only saw it when I couldn't see 127 Hours a second time, but it was still a good thrill ride. It was intense when it needed to be, the acting was solid, and the material was...well, pretty bad, but hey, you gotta give them credit for working so hard with so little. Not too much credit, though. C

The above image isn't from a new animated film, but from the best sequence in an otherwise pretty mediocre Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. The film series long ago gave up on directly importing the books onto the screen, but the decision to split up into two parts a book wherein so much is just camping (SO MUCH CAMPING) and then still cut material is pretty shocking. There were several choices that were really interesting, such as many of the added portions of Hermione's plot line (showing the act of Obliviating her parents' memories, the dance sequence between Hermione and Harry in the tent), and the animated sequence illustrating the story of the Three Brothers was absolutely phenomenal. However, the movie was still a poorly-translated version of the book that felt like nothing more than a prologue with no climax (the exciting Malfoy Manor scene was cut down into nothing) with great performances, a few fun bits for fans, and one brilliant short film hidden in the dirt. A for the Three Brothers sequence, A- for the performances, but C+ for the film on the whole.

127 Hours is another film for which the performances must be judged separately from the film--or, in this case, just one performance. It's stunning how good James Franco is in the film. He takes one sequence of talking to himself in two different personalities (the talk show host and talk show guest) and turns it into one of the greatest contemporary monologues for an actor. However, the direction, helmed by Danny Boyle, can be over-the-top at times, though I'll admit it's appropriate for the scope of the film. The score, done by Slumdog Millionare composer A. R. Rahman, was solid if unmemorable. In fact, Boyle seemed to be trying to make a new Slumdog, reuniting not only himself and Rahman, but also Simon Beaufoy, who took Q&A to such great heights when adapting Slumdog and yet failed so disappointingly here with the script, never taking it beyond what it could be and merely adapted to what we'd expect as moviegoers. Not a bad movie in any respects--I liked it just fine--but it never hits a peak. A for Franco, B for the movie.

Love and Other Drugs wants to be more than a romantic comedy. It has a great performance from Anne Hathaway, an otherwise great cast, a good director, and an interesting subject material. Unfortunately, the guy gets the girl and there is hope that she'll survive her disease. Big whoop. It wasn't offensive, but it could have been so much better. C+

Cher and Stanley Tucci: the only good parts of Burlesque. Oh, and Christina Aguilera's voice, but you can't photograph that without also photographing her simply awful acting abilities. I don't wanna be too harsh, because Burlesque was certainly fun, but it's just disappointing. Cher and Tucci are massively talented, and Aguilera's voice is a firecracker, but the movie just doesn't connect. C+

And then there was Black Swan. I can't review this without giving too much away or simply mindlessly gushing, but my God, what a movie. What a truly engrossing, engaging, volatile, in-your-face movie. And what a performance from Natalie Portman. If you don't think she's worth her reputation as one of the finest actresses in the business today, just watch this movie. She's incredible in so many ways. She becomes Nina Sayers--she fully engages and never once worries about how close she is to the role. It's an absolutely amazing performance, and she's surrounded by other phenomenal performances (Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder). The script is great, engaging without pandering or minimizing the impact of its plot. The direction is phenomenal--Darren Aronofsky truly is one of the most engaging, brilliant directors of our time. Here's the one thing: the movie is all impact, no subtext. You aren't meant to look beyond, but simply look at what is presented to you. Some critics might have a problem with that. Not me. For me, it was my favorite movie of the year and definitely among the best (next to The Social Network). A

Phew! That's just about enough procrastination from homework. Have you guys seen any of these? What are your opinions? Take it to the comments!

1 comment:

Robert said...

I loved the rapid reviews! I liked what they did in HP7 with Hermione as well - and I thought Emma Watson really did some nice stuff, especially in that opening obliviate sequence.

And how about Black Swan? OMG AMAZING. haha