Archive for December, 2010

True Grit

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Western with tags on December 31, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the 1969 classic starring John Wayne about revenge. Straightforward and unpretentious, this is the Coen brothers most traditional film yet. That’s both a good and a bad thing . Rooted firmly in classic storytelling conventions, its old fashioned sentiment is comforting. However it isn’t particularly memorable or as innovative as their best efforts. The ending is even anticlimactic after all the buildup we’ve witnessed beforehand. Conventional western’s highlight is the feature debut of actress Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the girl out to avenge her father’s death. She perfectly captures the tough, precocious, no nonsense teen, speaking her lines with perfect diction and clarity. She is self assured and precise and she makes the movie. John Wayne may have been the attention grabber in the original, but she is without question the centerpiece here.

Winter’s Bone

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on December 30, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Upon learning her missing father has put their home and land up for bond, a teen sets out on a dangerous quest to find him. At the center of the action is 17 year old Ree Dolly played by actress Jennifer Lawrence. “Forced to grow up fast” situation has her in charge of two young siblings and an incapacitated mother.  The determination to locate her father is born out of necessity and becomes a compelling as well as heartbreaking mission. If not for Ree’s hopeful spirit, the film would have been too oppressively bleak to handle. Set in the Ozarks, the story involves present day methamphetamine production and its impact on families on the plateau. Her fearless confrontation of the local hardcore criminal network is a harrowing journey. Fascinating portrait gives a frightening glimpse into a community we rarely see in contemporary society. A woman driven to hard choices by hard circumstances is thematically similar to 2008’s Frozen River where the style, tone, class of characters and protagonist are very much alike. Coincidentally, both films won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in their respective years.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on December 28, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Dark comedy is true account concerning con artist Steven Jay Russell who met the love of his life behind bars.  Bizarre feature is alternatingly funny and touching at different times and the weird shifts in tone are frustratingly uneven.  One moment the movie attempts to be a poignant love story, the next it’s a vulgar farce making exaggerated jokes about the relationship.  Witty satire that sends up the stereotypical expectations of a perfect life and Steven’s uncanny ability to break out of prison over and over, are fascinating details only fleetingly touched upon.  Jim Carey, in a seriously mannered performance, always appears to be on the verge of bursting out laughing and yelling “gotcha”.  He manages to keep it together, but he looks uncomfortable.  His physically gaunt appearance throughout the entire film is off-putting too.  In the end, the discordant script wants to both be hilariously raunchy comedy and touchingly emotional drama and eventually doesn’t succeed on either level.

The Fighter

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on December 19, 2010 by Mark Hobin

Gritty sports drama detailing the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his half-brother who helped train him.  The subject matter of underdog fighters might seem like old hat.  Anyone who has ever seen the classics Rocky, Raging Bull or The Wrestler will be familiar with the blueprint for these types of stories.  But the surprise here is that the acting compares favorably with, and perhaps even surpasses, those extraordinary movies.  The script resonates all the more emotionally as a slice of life about four people from the working class mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts and how their lives intersect.  Every actor is at the top of their game.  Mark Wahlberg is convincing as the star.  He’s supported by actresses Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, unforgettable as Micky’s mother and girlfriend, respectively.  Both performances are among the best of the year, but it’s Christian Bale’s raw, heartfelt Dicky Eklund that’s a revelation. A heartbreaking portrayal that combines his physically emaciated appearance with fast talking speech mannerisms as his law breaking, crack addicted half-brother.  He’s so mesmerizing, the focus is as much on him as it is on Micky.  It’s the relationship of all four characters that make the film so powerful.  An example where the actors have produced better work from their interaction with each other.  I think I may be willing to forgive director David O. Russell for I Heart Huckabees now.

Tron: Legacy

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on December 17, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketWhile attempting to find information regarding the mysterious disappearance of his father, Sam Flynn activates a laser which transports him to the Grid, a cyberworld within the computer program Tron. This continuation of the original Tron from 1982 even sees the return of original star Jeff Bridges as the talented computer programmer from the earlier incarnation. Technology has even allowed the actor to appear as a digitally younger, though unsettling, vision of the veteran actor.

Tron: Legacy is a visually impressive picture that exploits the love of technology love found in the original with the all the whizbang eye candy updated to 2010. The effects are a technologically dazzling marvel that exceed expectations in visual splendor. And the music – oh what music! Electronic duo Daft Punk’s score pulsates with excitement. The computerized beeps and blips energize the plot onscreen. The impact of the visual display and the aural assault should not be minimized. If perhaps the story leaves a little something to be desired, the pictures is an absolute joy for the senses

The actors are well cast. Actresses Olivia Wilde and Beau Garrett are stunningly beautiful as programs Sam encounters. Martial arts techniques are utilized in their various showdowns and the well choreographed displays definitely engage the viewer. They’re a special effect in themselves. Also of note is Zuse, a club owner in Tron city, played with flamboyant gusto by actor Michael Sheen looking like an albino David Bowie. He’s playing the part at full tilt clearly enjoying the opportunity to chew the scenery in a villainous display that energizes the action onscreen. He’s memorable and adds something this story lacks, personality.

Like its predecessor, the movie is cold and detached,. The screenplay is in fact, even more inferior. Six, count ‘em SIX writers arte credited with the script. This is perhaps a case of too many cooks. They seem content to rely on the technological displays and let them speak in place of a meaningful story. Action sequences, few and far between, are separated by sleep inducing blather that makes no sense whatsoever. However when the action occurs, it’s breathtaking. The little kid on me was transported back to the feeling in 1982 when I first saw Tron and was enraptured by the impressive technological spectacle for its time. I don’t think I’ve ever endorsed a movie with a script this awful. Yes, I’m recommending the film. The visual effects and music are just THAT good.

The King’s Speech

Posted in Drama, History with tags on December 10, 2010 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketAfter his disastrous closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, England’s Prince Albert is impelled to see Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist. Inspiring period film is a stately historical drama about living with a disability, specifically stuttering. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are an unlikely duo, engaging as student and teacher respectively. English director Tom Hooper wisely trusts David Seidler’s marvelous script to support the film. The words carry the story and empower the actors to give life to the dialogue. They completely inhabit their roles to the point where their verbal exchanges are riveting. A subtle picture that demonstrates that the future King George VI was just an ordinary man, a modest man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.  In spite of his wealth and privilege, the audience actually feels pity for a man about to become king.  Similarly unexpected is that something as mundane as a radio-address could hold the comparable excitement of an Olympic athlete striving for the gold medal. Yes, This is one of those distinguished dramas they’ll watch in school. It has the respectable feel of a history lesson. The difference here is the entertainment value, genuinely touching and surprisingly funny.  An uplifting tale.

Black Swan

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on December 3, 2010 by Mark Hobin

A ballet director is mounting a production of Swan Lake and is looking to replace his prima ballerina with a new face, someone who will embody both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan.  Stunning window into the incredible dedication it takes to be a great dancer, is highlighted by exceptional performances.  Natalie Portman is flawless as Nina Sayers, completely consumed with dance and little else in her life.  She’s fragile and sensitive yet obsessively driven by a desire to be perfect.  She is matched by Mila Kunis as Lily, an uninhibited rival whom Nina is wary of.  She’s even adversely affected by her own domineering mother, a former dancer, chillingly played by Barbara Hershey.  Director Darren Aronofsky’s complex story explores many themes.  This psychological drama flaunts the human aspiration to supplant those at the top of their game, but also the self destructive effects of our own anxiety.  He shows that the line between obsessive ambition and insanity is a fine one.  He keeps the audience guessing as things are not always what they seem in this film.  Sumptuous cinematography simultaneously highlights the beauty of ballet in dizzying sequences, but also the body destroying consequences of it as well.  It’s a viscerally intoxicating mixture, like a hallucinogenic dream that is at once beautiful and horrific.  Ballet is not for the weak.

The Karate Kid

Posted in Drama, Family, Sports with tags on December 1, 2010 by Mark Hobin

The common objection goes, why remake a classic film?  It’s never going to be as  engaging as the original and it’s a lazy way make a buck.  You’ll feel even more jaded when you realize the movie’s producers, über famous Hollywood couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, have cast their own son as the titular star.   While it doesn’t hold up to the 80s coming-of-age story, the production’s biggest twist is that it’s surprisingly good.  The cinematography features gorgeous scenery of China which adds some authenticity to the surroundings.  The title is actually a misnomer since the competition is all about Kung Fu not Karate.  But why is everyone so young?   The chief bully looks like he’s around 10.  He’s not threatening and has zero personality.  Granted, Jackie Chan is excellent as a maintenance man who teaches martial arts.  Jaden Smith gives a relaxed performance, but he’s too overly confident for us to ever be worried for him.  As a result, the drama isn’t as powerful as it could have been.  Padding the plot to a ridiculous 140 minutes is unnecessary torture.