Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Fighting the Return of Phillip Morris Through the Rabbit Hole

Let's be honest, these Rapid Reviews titles are getting a little ridiculous.

I was planning on holding off on this set until I stockpiled the rest of the films I need to watch this year (still remaining: Somewhere, True Grit, Animal Kingdom, Winter's Bone and The Ghost Writer, though I'm also gonna take a second look at Inception), but I saw The Fighter today and, well, let's just say the occasion called for a set of Rapid Reviews. And let me say that the lead review is gonna be a little less than rapid.

The Fighter
is, in my mind, an absolute disaster of a film. I don't know what about the movie's punch isn't connecting for me. I was expecting a knockout and left feeling like I had been socked in the gut. (Hee, boxing metaphors.) And it's not like going in with high expectations has always been a detriment: both The Social Network and Black Swan were films I had sky-high expectations for and not only did they both meet those expectations, they demolished those expectations. So what went wrong with this, a supposedly fantastic film about Lowell, Mass. boxing legends Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund?

Honestly, the whole thing felt like a mess. I admire how critical darlings Christian Bale (playing crack addict Eklund) and Melissa Leo (playing monster mom Alice Eklund) transformed themselves for their roles, and when Bale (and possibly Leo, though that's less certain) wins his Oscar in February it will be a reward for an incredible career. But I found Bale especially over-the-top in this film, never quite reaching the level of great performance and instead not only clearly acting (which you can see at almost every moment he's onscreen), but acting a caricature of a crack addict trying to live up to his past promise. Leo wasn't bad, but she didn't go much beyond caricature either. Mark Wahlberg (Ward, our protagonist) was inoffensive and I would award his performance before either Bale's or Leo's, but he didn't do much. The star here, in my opinion, is Amy Adams, who transformed her love interest character, Charlene, into a real human that an audience can really identify with. It seems as though she was the only actor to really get underneath her character's skin in a non-cliché fashion and come up for air with a great performance in tow.

Not only were the performances, on the whole, utterly underwhelming, but the plot was trope-filled and seemed like what would occur if Rocky and Rachel Getting Married had a baby that was raised by The Town. There is nothing here that has been done before. Not only that, but the movie didn't seem to know whether it was inspiring, comedic, dramatic, or even who its protagonist was at times. What a mess.

Speaking of The Town, I actually had a bit of a debate with the idea that I hate Boston-centric films. After all, this is the second film of its ilk this year that critics love and I hate, so something must be failing to connect. However, I'm a big Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone fan, so it can't be Boston that's turning me off... Hmm. A mystery that's gonna take some more analysis. But for now, regarding The Fighter, it's a C effort. (Though I'd give Amy Adams an A-.)

I Love You, Phillip Morris is a film that should be most proud of its central performance, a superb one from star Jim Carrey. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind star is doing career-best work here as a gay con-man who falls in love with a fellow inmate and does anything (literally, anything, even faking death) to be with him. It's too bad the rest of the movie isn't as good as he is. The plot is a tad too simple, with certain twists and turns coming far too easily and others being overly complicated with simple solutions. Ewan McGregor is outmatched here in his role as the titular Phillip Morris, though his chemistry with his co-star is lovely. If the script and co-star had amped up their game a bit, this would have been a film to match Carrey's grade-A work. Instead, it's more like a B.

Unlike Phillip Morris, the deft, morbid, utterly fascinating Rabbit Hole is a film that has no problem keeping up with its incredible lead performance. Nicole Kidman is in fine form in this adaptation from a stage production, playing a mother denying her lasting grief after the death of her young son. Complicating matters are her fractious relationship with her husband (Aaron Eckhart, doing beautifully ranged work here) and mother (Dianne Wiest, solid if slightly under her usual standard), as well as a budding friendship with the young teen who accidentally hit her son in the street (the previously unknown Miles Teller, who will hopefully not be unknown for much longer). Kidman, Eckhart, and especially Teller all nail their roles, with Kidman returning to former greatness after a few years of poor performances in such films as The Golden Compass and Bewitched. Teller is an absolute find--if he's not cast in at least five projects the next few years after his work in Hole, Hollywood is even crazier than it seems. The screenplay is well-written and John Cameron Mitchell's direction is decent, but the real stars here are those three actors, elevating this to a masterwork. A-

Finally, to wrap with a film up for absolutely no awards this year (though it was once up for Best Actress Penelope Cruz--she lost to Helen Mirren in The Queen), Volver is a Spanish-language melodrama from the great Pedro Almodóvar that relishes a good laugh, a good song, and a good lack of explanation for a ridiculous plot twist. Seriously, the characters might as well all be mentally unstable for as little as they question what's happening in this film. (Then again, the East wind in Spain does make the folks in this village crazier, so maybe the lack of questions about the twists is plot-explained?) Still, Cruz's performance as Raimunda, the woman with far too much drama in her life, is pretty phenomenal, so a few unexplained plot holes can be forgiven. B

Well, that's it for this group of Rapid Reviews. Have you seen The Fighter? Am I just Volver-style crazy not to love it? Do I have a bias against 2010 Bostonian films? What about Rabbit Hole? It's got a pretty limited release--if it comes to your city, will you catch it? Are you a former anti-Carreyite like me who's coming around to him? Leave your responses in the comments!


Robert said...

Great reviews! You're right, Rabbit Hole was great, and Teller was quite a find.

I think the plot holes in Volver though can be explained by all of the superstitions that the small Spanish village harbored. The stuff that was happening was stuff that they had been told stories about for years and years and so when it actually started "happening" it just seemed totally normal. Am I totally addressing the wrong thing here or does that help explain it at all? Hahaha I'm trying to work based on not giving too much away and also I haven't seen it in a few months.

Kevin said...

Robert, you're technically right. I mentioned something in the same vein about the East wind making them all insane, but more than that, I was referring to how they all seem to respond to major dramatic twists (i.e. the death of THAT major character...hopefully you know what I mean) with a moment of surprise and then move on. It can be explained away, yes, but it's also kinda lazy.

joe burns said...

Haven't seen Rabbit Hole or The Fighter yet, but they are both at the top of my list.

Really liked Volver, and Cruz was wonderful

Robert said...

AH! You were speaking of THAT. Haha. No, you do have a point then - that point was definitely pushed aside. I'd have to watch it again to make a real conclusion. But now I totally understand what you mean. Haha