Archive for the Drama Category

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Animated

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on February 27, 2014 by Mark Hobin

2014 Oscar Nominated Short Films photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Oscar for Animated Short Film has been awarded every year since the 5th Academy Awards beginning in 1932. Walt Disney received 12 of his 22 Academy Awards in this category. Needless to say it’s a prestigious honor that should highlight some of the most important contributions to the world of animation of that year. With that said, this year’s crop of animated films were a wee bit disappointing. With one exception, I found them to be pleasant but uninspiring.

 


 


 

Feral

Feral
USA/13min/Director: Daniel Sousa
A wild boy is found in the forest by a hunter. He is brought back to civilization where he must adapt to his new surroundings. Black and white with green tints, the hand drawn story has some eerie visuals and some beautiful music, but this wordless mood piece is rather dull and inconsequential.

 


 

Get a Horse!
Get a Horse!
USA/7min/Director: Lauren MacMullan
Easily the best of this group. Fun throwback to the earliest B&W shorts of Mickey Mouse. The production is thrown completely on its ear when flat animation becomes 3D and colorful. The characters appear to burst from the screen as they use their surroundings to their advantage. An homage to classic Disney but it also deconstructs the character in a delightfully modern way to create something fresh and original. A real winner.

 


 

Mr. Hublot
Mr. Hublot
Luxembourg/France /11min/Director: Laurent Witz
Mr. Hublot is a quirky character that lives in a mechanized world beautifully rendered in computer animated detail. A robot pet resembling a dog is introduced into his life and the addition will have a major effect on his comfortable existence. If Get a Horse! didn’t exist, this would be my favorite.

 


 

Possessions
Possessions
Japan/14 min/Director: Shuhei Morita
A man lost in the woods, waits out a storm in a small shrine. Suddenly the room is transformed and inanimate objects appear before him. Beautifully animated but the story is random and aimless. Not my cup of tea.

 


 

 photo ROOM_ON_A_BROOM_zpsbbdf1be3.jpg
Room on the Broom
UK/25min/Director: Max Lang and Jan Lachauer
Story about a overly sweet witch with a collection of animals she invites to share space on her broom. This is based on a children’s picture book and it feels like something for pre-preschoolers. Constant narration explains to us what is happening while we actually watch it happening…for 25 long minutes. The book is read to us by what sounds like a librarian as portrayed by Simon Pegg. From the producers of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child.

 


 

Pompeii

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller with tags on February 19, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Pompeii photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe studio pitch for Pompeii must have gone something like this, “People loved Dante’s Peak and they loved Gladiator, so why not combine the two?” It speaks to general mood that this story doesn’t unfold as something fresh and original. It feels like a dusted off script from some sword and sandal relic from the 1960s. You know the kind, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts are examples. They featured great special effects by Ray Harryhausen. No one would ever raise them up as great art, however they were rousing adventures that were fitfully entertaining. Pompeii is very much in the same tradition.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is best known as the director of Resident Evil and the husband of Milla Jovovich whom he met while directing her in that movie. He also helmed Mortal Kombat which was a nifty little flick that combined martial arts and fantasy. He can be a dependable talent.  It was a monetary triumph back in 1995. Though he’s never been a director that gets critical acclaim. Much of that is deserved. But he shouldn’t be held accountable for past transgressions. He gets a lot of things right here.

The first part, the gladiator section, is set in 79 A.D where we meet our hero, Milo (Kit Harington), a slave. As a child, he witnessed his parents’ slaughter by Romans who demolished his entire Celtic village. Now an adult, he is in the company of a lot of other slaves that are being taken to the city of Pompeii by the Roman Empire. Unless they had 24 Hour Fitness in ancient Rome, they’re more physically fit than anyone in that era ought to be. Milo sports curly locks and a smoldering stare but with a dim bulb personality that doesn’t feel the need to speak much.

Then there’s the romance which is de rigueur in these stories. Emily Browning plays the daughter of a wealthy businessman and his wife, Aurelia. Kudos to Carrie-Anne Moss who manages to get second billing for her cameo. She does speak once, maybe twice? I can’t remember. Anyway Emily Browning’s chemistry with Kit Harrington is not particularly moving but if you‘re here for the romance, you probably didn‘t take note of the size of the volcano on the movie poster. Poor Browning has had one success in the beginning of her career (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and hasn’t had a hit since. That’s not going to change with this film. The beautifully blank Cassia admires the young slave for his horse whispering skills. Milo and Cassia “meet-cute” occurs when he humanely kills a horse with his bare hands to ease its suffering. It’s a moment where Cassia looks so moved she just might faint. “I can’t believe he had the strength to do that,” Cassia breathlessly tells her gal pal later on. “Didn’t you see his muscles?” her friend replies. Oh but Cassia apparently meant his strength of character. You decide if exchanges like that are enjoyable funny or roll-your-eyes silly.

If I’m being more critical than my star rating suggests, you misunderstand the weight of my objections. The supporting casting is really good. The face of the evil Roman empire is embodied by Senator Corvis, a hissable villain portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland. He’s the only one who seems in on the joke and he chews scenery like Jon Voight in Anaconda. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje commands the focus of every scene in which he’s present. As Bridgageous, a fellow slave, the two are meant to be rivals. They’re destined to face off in the arena, but when Bridgageous saves Milo from a fellow slave who tries to stab him, we know it’s only a matter of time before these two ultimately join forces.

Pompeii is good old fashioned nonsense. The story is refreshingly simple and uncluttered with superfluities. Completely unencumbered by anything deep or pretentious, it’s the occasional cheese that makes this experience fun. I actually wished there was more. Milo’s moral dilemma is initially conceived as a revenge tale but clearly the gods are not happy with Rome either and the narrative slowly turns into a disaster flick. I chuckled every time rumbling shots of Mount Vesuvius were randomly inserted amongst the action.  These sonic reminders of the mountain percolating in the background pop up occasionally. “Remember me? “ the mountain seems to ask. “Well I just might have something to say a little later.“ The climax is exciting and when the ASH hole blows its top, the spectacle is appropriately impressive. Before that happens, however, we get some nicely staged action sequences in the arena. There’s slashed throats, stabbings, and enough deaths that might have earned an R, but the spirited battles are surprisingly bloodless. The PG-13 rating makes sense for a lively production a teen audience shouldn’t be denied the right to see. Pompeii is by no means a great film, but it isn’t horrible either. It kind of exists in that realm and that’s how I appreciated it.

Gloria

Posted in Drama with tags on February 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Gloria photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe song “Gloria” that was a smash hit for Laura Branigan in 1982 was first sung by Umberto Tozzi with Italian lyrics in 1979. You’ll hear the later version of the song near the end of Gloria the movie, which was Chile’s selection for the foreign language Oscar in 2013. It didn’t get a nomination incidentally. For my tastes I prefer the remake because its extra bouncy kick is upbeat and inspiring. The original, while pleasant is more romantic with a starry-eyed flavor.

I can see why the filmmakers chose Tozzi’s version though. Its softer beats actually befits the film. Gloria is 58, divorced and single. She’s rather nondescript but she wears these super large glasses that compare to the spectacles Dustin Hoffman wore in Tootsie. Come to think of it, Gloria looks a lot like Tootsie. Anyway, she’s been single for 12 years so perhaps a little desperation has set in. She’s tired of being lonely. She spends her nights hanging out in dance clubs that play the disco music of her youth. She’s looking for love by seeing a succession of men her own age, but the affairs lead to nothing lasting. Then she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a man in his mid 60s. Could he be the one?

Gloria is sympathetic up to a point, but she also makes a lot of really bad choices. We have the insider’s view, watching her relationship with Rodolfo when they‘re together. He is an ex-naval officer, who is recently divorced with two needy adult daughters. He is taken with Gloria and she with him. But he doesn’t even want to tell them of his new love for fear they will laugh at their old man. They call his cell phone constantly when they’re together. Their interactions involve the occasional sexual encounter. The actors bare all for their director. Sebastián Lelio proudly flaunts the nudity of people over 50 as if the lack of restraint deserves acclaim. Gloria ultimately introduces Rodolfo to her own family at a special dinner party. Then he inexplicably leaves for questionable reasons. “Grow a pair!” she demands out of exasperation. This type of insensitive behavior happens several times. You want her to just leave him, but she keeps coming back. Apparently he is all she has.

Gloria as a movie isn’t particularly innovative. It feels like some rediscovered relic from the 70s highlighting the liberated single woman character wronged by men. Here she is a vibrant older woman who, once married, must now come to terms with being alone. Her emotional journey to make peace with her current state in life is where the story mines its drama. The entire film rests on the performance of its titular star. Gloria is highlighted by Paulina García. She craves passion and it’s hard not to care about her predicament. We sympathize with her for awhile. But Rodolfo’s conduct grows more inconsiderate and less tolerable. He’s weak and ineffectual. We do not share in her attraction to this man. Her decision to keep going back to him is a little frustrating and after awhile, enabling. Laura Branigan sang, “Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?” Because if they are, don’t answer them, Gloria. Just walk away.

Labor Day

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on February 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Labor Day photo starrating-2stars.jpgBack in 2007 Chronicle Books published a paperback entitled Porn for Women. Despite the raunchy sounding title, it was in fact a tongue-in-cheek, PG-rated photo book. The humorous publication featured clean-cut guys washing dishes, doing the laundry, and saying things like “Let me make you some tea and we can talk about it.” Labor Day is kind of pitched to the same audience except that it’s no joke.  It might have been rewritten and worked as a parody, but as a serious romance, it’s just awful. The most stilted fantasy aimed at lonely women since Nights in Rodanthe.

The drama stars Kate Winslet as Adele. Apparently she’s suffering from depression after the breakup of her marriage. She’s extremely forlorn, although her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) does his best to comfort her. He is sweetness personified even giving her a coupon book offering to do all the chores around the house. I will say that his coming-of-age character makes the most sense. The young actor is quite good. Anyway, while shopping in a discount store one day, the twosome are accosted by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict with a bleeding wound on his stomach. He forces the two to take him to their home so he can hide out for awhile.

What happens next is too illogical for words. Within seconds of entering the house Adele is making Frank coffee. “Isn’t it against the law to hide a fugitive?“ her son asks.  So Frank gently ties her to a chair to look as if she has been forced contrary to her will. For some reason, he spares the son. Henry watches on nervously. Then Frank whips up his famous chili and spoon-feeds it to Adele, blowing on each bite so it doesn‘t burn her tongue. As the weekend progresses, manly Frank replaces the oil on her car, changes the filter on the furnace, washes and waxes the kitchen floor and even helps her son understand what a ratchet wrench is and how to throw a baseball. Are you kidding me? However the most ridiculous sequence is an extended cooking demonstration in which Frank teaches mother and son how to bake the perfect peach pie. Each brand name ingredient lovingly framed at camera level ostensibly so the audience can go buy the correct ingredients when they make the recipe at home. Adele mixes the peaches with her hands. Then Frank also puts his hands in the mixture and the two affectionately caress one another. First I thought of the pottery scene in Ghost. Then I rolled my eyes so far back I thought I saw my brain.

The plot is simplistic in the extreme. Lonely divorcée falls in love with an escaped prisoner. He’s pretty benign, but the ominous music misleads the viewer into believing something very evil is imminent. I suppose falling for a murderer isn’t ideal. But then there are several groan-inducing flashbacks that awkwardly persuade us to sympathize with Frank in the most horrendously manipulative way possible. Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult: I’ve adored every single one of Jason Reitman’s other films. I am flabbergasted this was helmed by the same director. Furthermore, he adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel himself. Regardless of how sappy the source material is, he must accept blame for this script. I kept thinking that at some point in the development of this story there would be a twist or surprise that would explain why such a mentally troubled woman would be so comfortable with a convicted felon in the house. No such luck.

The Invisible Woman

Posted in Biography, Drama, Romance with tags on January 29, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Invisible Woman photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBiographical romance spotlights Charles Dickens and his clandestine relationship with English actress Ellen Ternan, or Nelly. By 1857 Charles Dickens had been married to his wife Catherine for over twenty years. They had 10 children together. Dickens meets Nelly, a struggling young actress who is performing in one of his plays, The Frozen Deep. He is 45, she is 18. Immediately taken with the girl, he ever so delicately pursues her in the most gradual way possible. Slow, methodically plotted story truly emphasizes the great lengths that Dickens took to tread lightly in his advances toward the woman. Based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name, this handsomely mounted costume drama is actor Ralph Fiennes directorial follow-up to Coriolanus.

In essence the film is about lust. But it‘s presented in the most carefully articulated way so as not to disturb societal conventions. There aren’t obvious displays of tremendous passion. Dickens’ pursuit of Nelly progresses through glances and things not said, but understood. Despite his best efforts, his attraction to the young woman does not go unnoticed by her mother portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas. Mrs. Frances Ternan regards his intentions with a mixture of cautious uncertainty.  Frances is a small role but the inspired casting choice grants Thomas the opportunity to share the screen with the actor with whom she famously co-starred in 1996’s The English Patient.

For half the movie Nelly and Charles refrain from physically acting upon their desires. She initially rebuffs his advances. At a key juncture, Dickens brings Nelly to friend and author Wilkie Collins’ (Tom Hollander) home, where Collins’ lives in an openly unmarried affair with his mistress Caroline (Michelle Fairley). Nelly is visibly appalled that Dickens would take the liberty to expose her to it. They are clearly falling for each other, however, as their slowly growing emotions are perceptible. They keep their feelings hidden from the public sans overt demonstrations of their love. This isn’t the type of love affair we’re used to seeing, but that is what makes this production unique.

Dickens is a charismatic presence, particularly in Ralph Fiennes’ hands. In public he commands attention. He captivates a crowd in town who swarm around him like a rock star. Privately however, Dickens was surprisingly insecure and shy. Felicity Jones isn’t as acclaimed as her co-star, but she superbly proves herself every bit his match in the title role. She exhibits a wide eyed innocence that gives way to moral turmoil. Together the couple are static vessels externally hiding powerful emotion kept tightly within. The much lauded novelist, comes up decidedly short as a husband. Joanna Scanlan is quite memorable as Dickens’ wife Catherine. She beautifully conveys the heartbreaking realization of her husband’s infidelity in one devastating scene. The visit she pays the ingénue is mortifying. Catherine’s subsequent declaration to Nelly is heartbreakingly pragmatic.

The Invisible Woman details a specific period of a particular time. The 13 year relationship between Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is not just a tale of love but of pain and regret as well. Occasionally the focus on this exclusive detail of the author’s life doesn’t always sustain the narrative. But more often than not, the production captures an era when traditional moral attitudes were held dear. Outwardly, Dickens was the passionate defender of home and family. But secretly his heart belonged to another . Even after separating from his wife, he continued to keep his association with Nelly a secret for fear of damaging her reputation. There were rumors, but he consistently maintained in public that Nelly was nothing less than a chaste woman. This endured for the rest of his life until 1870 when he died. These conventions seem archaic to modern audiences, but those social mores made this couple’s guarded behavior necessary. Breaking implied codes of decency would condemn a woman’s standing in the community. The threat forced people at least to maintain the appearance of adhering to accepted societal customs. I can understand why someone wouldn’t appreciate the film’s deliberate pace but that is precisely what I loved about it.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 26, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Ferris Bueller's Day Off photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe simple tale of how a high school senior spent one glorious spring day playing hooky after faking an illness. It doesn’t sound like a saga destined for greatness, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has become iconic. Perhaps it’s lead actor Matthew Broderick’s delicate balancing act. He gleefully inhabits a character that is a smug smartass, yet we are delightfully happy to see him succeed.

He urges his buddy Cameron Frye to borrow his Dad’s prized sports car then manipulates the administration into releasing his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) for the day. News of Ferris’ infirmity grows. We are made aware of the public’s concern for the boy’s health at various moments during the chronicle. Apparently news of his sickness has spread far and wide in the school and throughout the city. People really like this boy. Definitely not in the Ferris Bueller fan club is Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) who makes it his mission to prove the truant boy is not really sick. Ferris’ sarcastic sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is also not taken in by her brother’s shenanigans. Her brother’s ability to go unpunished for his many misdeeds, provokes a hilarious mixture of outage and jealousy in her. Grey also registers considerable chemistry at the police station with a dangerous rebel played by Charlie Sheen.

John Hughes would go on to write bigger hits (Home Alone). But of everything he directed, this was his biggest box office success. It’s easy to see why. Part of what makes this comedy so winning is the utter innocence of it all. Ferris’ indulgences comprise of nothing more than trips to a fancy restaurant, the Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Ferris famously crashes a parade celebrating German-American culture. His lip-synch to the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” is a highlight. Indeed the spectacle was enough to push the hit back onto the Billboard Top 40 charts back in 1986. Music figures prominently in inspired bits elsewhere. An instrumental version of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” at the museum is fittingly poetic. And nothing underscores a teen’s desire to drive a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder convertible more perfectly than “Oh Yeah” by Swiss electronic band Yello. The song has become a symbol of want.

For anyone who was in high school when this came out, the production will resonate even more as pure nostalgia. Much of the teen movie is well crafted lightweight fun. But as the film’s final coda unfolds, Ferris’ altruistic motives become apparent. His objective to help his best friend achieve a deeper sense of self-worth resonates long after the movies fades.

August: Osage County

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 8, 2014 by Mark Hobin

August: Osage County photo starrating-4stars.jpgAugust: Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2008 It’s an actors showcase. The cast assembled is a veritable who’s who of great thespians. Meryl Streep is 65 year old Violet Weston, an aging mother and matriarch. Because she suffers from mouth cancer, she is taking a variety of medications. Prone to mood swings, it’s unclear just how much of her argumentative personality can be blamed on her prescriptions. After her husband Beverly goes missing for five days, several generations of the Weston family converge on the house to offer support.

I enjoy saying that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put the “fun” in dysfunctional families. There’s some truth to that as there are laughs in Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his own play. His screenplay is amusing but the humor exploits the darkest observations. He mines a most acerbic wit. It can be depressing and touching in equal measure as it focuses on the strong-willed women of the Weston clan.

“Every woman needs makeup,” Violet instructs her ordinary looking daughter Ivy. “The only woman pretty enough to go without makeup was Elizabeth Taylor, and she wore a TON.”

Everyone puts in a fine performance with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts at the forefront. Their back and forth banter is whip-smart. They wield words as weapons to verbally attack one another. As Violet, Meryl Streep saves her revelations when they can hurt the most and then unleashes them at unexpected times. She calls it “truth telling” but she is an absolute shrew of a woman whose nasty temperament is unyielding. Sometimes the malevolence can almost get a bit excessive. Right when you think things can’t get any more dysfunctional, another revelatory bomb is dropped and family members are left to pick up the pieces. Some roles are meatier than others, but there isn’t a weak link in the entire company. A few characters bear special mention: Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as Violet’s other daughters and Margo Martindale as her sister.

August: Osage County is not a heartwarming drama about family. It’s bitter and caustic, but yes funny too. Tracy Letts’ play is a distant cousin to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with the vitriol multiplied by 10. It can get cruel, but there is just enough humor and honesty mixed in to make this script palpable. There is a is a lot of skill at work here. In the hands of lesser actors, this might leave the audience emotionally cold, but watching this group of incredible acting talent work together is a joy. This ensemble meshes as a well oiled machine. The lines are delivered with such conviction, it becomes mesmerizing. There are moments where people give it back as good as they get it. That fiery intensity keeps you watching, like a horrible accident from which you cannot turn away.

P.S. My pick for best movie poster of 2013.

The Great Beauty

Posted in Drama, Foreign with tags on January 5, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Great Beauty photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Great Beauty is director Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to finding the beauty in one’s own existence. The production reunites the filmmaker with his frequent lead star (and muse) Toni Servillo in a character study. We’re presented a contemporary version of Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella. The aging bon vivant once wrote a masterpiece novel in his twenties. However he hasn’t written anything of note in the 40 years since. Now the well dressed playboy has retired to infrequently writing cultural columns, and is living the good life in an incredible apartment overlooking the Coliseum.

There is a euphoria to the party scenes that is captivating. Rome is a stunning backdrop——the cathedrals, the museums, the amphitheaters. I’d almost defy any filmmaker to make an ugly movie here. These stately monuments of the old world contrast with the vacuous people of the new world. Jep is cultured, intelligent and parties until dawn nearly every night with the country’s well-to-do. Their lives an intoxicating mix of celebration, superficiality and emptiness. We first meet Jep as he’s celebrating his 65th birthday. He experiences reality as an observer lamenting his current situation. He’s searching for that intangible revelation. The script contrasts Jep’s despondency with the enthusiastic zeal of party revelers. The opening soirée is a dazzling mélange of music and merriment. It presents an energy that is palpable.

There’s little substance, only style to this beautiful looking film. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not about narrative thrust, but more of a feeling, a vibe. The plot is just a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. He surrounds himself with various oddballs: a nun with two crooked teeth, a clever stripper, a self-described “dwarf”. We see a young girl unhappily creating avant-garde paintings by throwing herself at a canvas in front of an audience. Through wisecracks and cynical smirks, Jep breezes through life. “The best people in Rome are the tourists” he offers casually. You’re meant to hang on his every word, but he’s a bit self involved. Occasionally he says something great. He tells a pretentious performance artist exactly what he thinks of her work and it’s refreshingly pragmatic. Unfortunately his lamentations put him in a melancholy state. Of course he doesn’t have any real problems and that lack of conflict tugs at your brain throughout the 142 minutes. For the most part, The Great Beauty is more of an art house feast for the eyes than the mind.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy with tags on December 31, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgI have no desire to write this review. I’ll give you a little insight into my creative process. I really enjoy evaluating movies I am passionate about, 4 stars or more. And I’ll admit I take some delight in assailing a production that is an affront to my sensibilities. That’s 1 ½ stars or less. The ones that earn 2-3 stars from me are the most difficult critiques to compose because those flicks merely exist. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of brilliance in them, but by and large they fail to truly engage me as a moviegoer. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films.

This is the 2nd time that James Thurber‘s short story has been made into a feature. Apparently bringing the comedy back to the screen again was a tough nut to crack. The origins of this long developing remake go back at least as far as 1994 when its producers had Jim Carrey in mind for the title role. The director included everyone from Ron Howard to Chuck Russell (The Mask) to Steven Spielberg. The lead actor changed as well. Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen had each been attached. It wasn’t until April of 2011 that Ben Stiller was tapped for the lead. A year later he stepped up to direct as well. The current screenplay by writer Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) is less an adaptation of the original short story and more of a modern rewrite. Walter still has a predilection to daydream. However it’s updated to a 21st-century milieu by setting it amongst the modernity of corporate downsizing and eHarmony online dating. The latter of which hopefully paid for all the free advertising they get here. 

Ben Stiller is a proven talent that knows how to connect with his audience. Tropic Thunder was a prime example of an innovative comedy that brought something new to the table. Conversely, it’s hard to believe this production is from the same director. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s inoffensive. Stridently bland and mild, the picture’s grand design is to serve up some special effects-laden setpieces whereby a milquetoast learns to find himself. Our protagonist manages the photographic negatives at LIFE magazine where he has a crush on his coworker Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. She is quite likable in the part. Walter has a new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) at work.  Writer Steve Conrad has envisioned his part as a smug jerk. I think Ted is supposed to be amusing, but he’s just annoying. He’s also got a ridiculous looking beard. Actually his whole adversarial team have beards. Anyway, it looks fake, like it was darkened by a magic marker. I was distracted by how ugly it was. The tale is set against the backdrop of the magazine’s final print issue as it converts to online status. (Incidentally this occurred in real life for the 3rd and last time on April 20, 2007 when LIFE was a newspaper insert).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the whimsically labored chronicle concerning a daydreamer who finds himself. The screenplay is annoyingly twee. His amusing daydreams permeate the beginning. Some of these fantasies are kind of inventive while others are kind of random. In one he has the “Benjamin Button” condition where he ages in reverse, leading him to imagine growing old with co-worker Cheryl whom he fancies. He‘s sitting on her knee, as an old geriatric baby. However these delusions dissipate after a while and then we’re left with the reality of Walter Mitty. His goal?  To find a photographer! Zzzzzzzzzz. He flies to Greenland and knowingly boards a helicopter being maneuvered by a drunk pilot. Once in the air, he accidentally jumps out of that chopper and fights a shark in the water below, then takes a boat up to Iceland where heads to a volcano. The non existent drama is populated by overly precious scenarios without much substance. The story ends up having very little narrative heft. Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty is an inconsequential fellow, much like the picture. His character has the soul of a dreamer, but the film itself has no soul.

The Past

Posted in Drama, Foreign, Mystery with tags on December 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers