After their flight is canceled, a happily unmarried couple is forced to spend Christmas with each of their four parents, all in one day. Mayhem ensues. The story has some humorous moments here and there, but this material is way below the best work of actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen who play the respective parents. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are a funny couple, however, and they make the most of the episodic script. Enough laughs to make this a mildly diverting holiday movie.
Archive for January, 2010
Poignant character study of Bad Blake, an aging country singer whose existence is something of a mess, until, that is, he meets a young female reporter. Actor Jeff Bridges embraces the personality of the ragged, seen it all country singer so convincingly it doesn’t even feel like a performance, it feels like real life. He even sings his own music. It is a brilliantly restrained achievement, a portrait long remembered even after the story fades from memory. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, almost 30 years his junior, supports him nicely as the woman who gives his life new meaning.
Flashy filmed performance of a Broadway stage play. Set in the late 1970s, a young black musician rebels against his church-going, middle-class, South Central roots by traveling the world in an effort to experience something “real” in life. Los Angeles performance artist Stew narrates what is essentially a concert trip through a dizzying number of musical styles that touch upon gospel, punk, blues, jazz, and rock. The ubiquitous score is excellent, but it’s surrounded by an incredibly stagy artifice with a noticeable lack of sets, that feels overly avant-garde. We’re constantly reminded that this is a filmed play. Even the acting is affected and unnatural. The passion felt by those who were in attendance in that theater is not the same emotion felt as a viewer watching it on a screen. Brilliantly catchy songs include: “Love Like That”, “Amsterdam” and “We Just Had Sex”.
Psychological science fiction about an astronaut harvesting precious Helium-3 on the moon alone….or so he thinks. Thought provoking drama owes a definite debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey. While this drama suffers in the comparison to that science fiction classic, it still presents some interesting ideas. The isolated mood is tense and it begins well. Unfortunately halfway through, the action starts to drag as it becomes more of a cerebral exercise than an entertaining film. Nice production design is visually engaging and nicely complements the action. Kevin Spacey’s instantly recognizable voice as a robotic assistant named GERTY, is a distraction that feels like a poor imitation of HAL 9000.
Opulent romantic drama set during the 1830s about Queen Victoria, her accession to the throne and her relationship with Prince Albert. The machinations of the court of England are captured in all their back-stabbing glory. We as the audience feel an intimate look behind the scenes. Emily Blunt has a commanding presence as the youthful ruler that draws you into her world. She’s matched by a first rate cast that support her skillfully, particularly Rupert Friend as her suitor. Their chemistry is a romance of the highest order. Music, costumes, and sets are transcendent in recreating the look of the period, perfectly complementing the action. Stately and well crafted, but never fussy. This biography has life.
Vulgar, decadent, autobiographical musical about Bob Fosse. Interestingly, the portrait is not flattering despite being written, directed, even choreographed by Fosse himself. There is real self -loathing here as the film challenges the viewer to care for the main character. He’s morally repellent and downright unpleasant. Joe Gideon’s constant daily routine is Vivaldi, Visine, Alka-Seltzer, Dexedrine and sex. He juggles multiple women, including a wife and girlfriend as his health deteriorates. Overly affected and self indulgent, fantasy sequences in which he flirts with the angel of death are intercut with graphic scenes of real open heart surgery. Even the dance numbers feel overwrought. “AirRotica”, one of his most flamboyant, tries to be so aggressively sensual, it’s actually humorous. Shockingly overrated, it was nominated for Nine Academy Awards. Roy Scheider has a real presence in the leading role. As for the rest? I just didn’t get it.
Interesting drama about a young girl who watches from heaven as her family attempts to find out her murderer. Feelings of loss and mourning is the theme explored here. However, Peter Jackson’s surprisingly restrained adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel works best as a “Will they or wont they catch her killer?”. Gorgeously crafted fantasy sequences (those massive ships within glass bottles is a stunner) is a style device also used in his earlier film Heavenly Creatures. Unfortunately, the film suffers from some basic storytelling issues. Several plot threads, as well as the ending, are unsatisfactorily resolved during the film‘s final 20 minutes. At any rate, an intriguing film for the most part. Actress Saoirse Ronan gives a mature, understated performances as the main character.
Archetypal backstage musical about putting on a Broadway show, from casting call to opening night. Actress Ruby Keeler is Peggy Sawyer, the ingénue, in her film debut. Landmark musical holds up pretty well considering its age, but features a storyline full of what would later become well-worn clichés. Three Busby Berkeley production numbers: “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, “Young and Healthy”, and the title song, make up the last twenty minutes of the film. These numbers, are the real reason to watch. The last two, in particular, are an absolute tour de force of the chorographer’s talent.
Bright musical biography of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice. Barbra Streisand, reprising her Broadway role is nothing less than astonishing in her film debut. As a biography, its authenticity is questionable, but as an introduction to the talent that is Barbra Streisand, it‘s stunning. This film is the prefect star vehicle for the egomaniac. Everything revolves around her and she’s in virtually every scene. Legendary director William Wyler was not known for comedies or musicals and he applies an overly-produced feel to the proceedings. It’s also over-long at 155 minutes. However, whenever our lead actress sings, it’s magic. The iconic score includes the songs “People”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “My Man”.