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I’m confused. This movie has received a ton of award buzz, particularly for the lead acting performance of Oscar favorite Bruce Dern and the breakout dramatic performance of SNL alum Will Forte. Suffice it to say, the bar was set high. To say the movie failed to live up to expectations is an understatement.
Well, I’m not delighted. I’m not disappointed. I’m not teary (not too teary). I’m not charmed. What I am is incensed. This movie pulls what I refer to as a 'trailer dupe.' That’s where the trailer leads you to believe a movie is one thing—in this case a heartwarming comic adventure to reunite a mother with her long-lost son--but the film is something else entirely.
Frankly, this is one of those movie reviews where the space would be better filled by giving you my savory beef stew recipe than actually discussing the film. I mean, I could tell you that halfway through the movie, pigmies run in and jab the audience with pointy sticks. But if you’re going to see it, you’re going to see it. On the flip side, I could tell you that going to see this movie is like watching Pretty Woman, sitting next to George Clooney, while getting a foot massage, eating Champagne truffles on Prozac. But if you don’t want to see it, you’re not going to see it.
It seems a lot of people had very high hopes for this film. Critics certainly predicted it would have a presence come awards season. Matthew McConaughey definitely had big ambitions as he continues to chase the ever-elusive Oscar predicted for him so many years ago. Most important, audiences had the bar set high in anticipation of a thought-provoking, touching and beautifully acted film. All I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger.
If you need a break from your Oscar checklist, or simply prefer to watch some of the early contenders from the comfort of your couch, here are the latest releases on DVD (and most popular downloads). It’s a good week for action fans. For your convenience, I’ve divided them into two categories: Worth a Watch and Must Miss.
I’m always iffy about time-travel movies--there’s always that over-analysis of plot points that strain the willing suspension of disbelief. That being said, this romantic dra-medy employs time-travel as both a comedic device and a catalyst for the life lesson that is the film’s focus. So, in a way, the logic--or lack thereof--of traveling back in time to relive an event is less important than the bigger picture. That’s all a very wordy way of saying, Don’t think too much about it, just enjoy it.
One can’t help but immediately be struck by the striking similarity between this film and another Oscar contender, Gravity. Neither is a plot-driven film, and both feature a lone character fighting for survival against a powerful force of nature. Instead of Sandra Bullock’s frenetic stream-of-consciousness chatter, here we have Robert Redford’s stoic sailor. For those of you who have thought through the years that Redford is so spectacularly attractive you could just watch him for two hours, here’s your chance.
Story: The well-to-do Duncans of Main Line, Philadelphia seem to live in a TV sitcom from the ‘50s. Arthur is a bank president, his wife Grace spends her days dressed in heels and jewelry on shopping sprees and daughter Emma is a bundle of frazzled nerves from her wide eyes down to her bobby socks. She desperately longs for boyfriend Tommy to pop the question so they can get married and she can start her own idyllic family. Instead, Grace orders Tommy to put on a maid’s uniform and get busy with his new chores, since she’s unimpressed that he’s a waiter.
Here, we have the golden years’ version of The Hangover: Four friends head to Vegas for a bachelor party; this time, the groom is 70. So far, so good. No doubt four lifelong buddies heading out to Sin City would provide a seamless vein of comedy to mine, one would think.
Here’s the thing: Is it possible to dislike this movie? Surely, one can loathe slavery, inhumanity and evil, and not particularly like a film about it. This movie tells an unfathomably horrible true story about the abduction and enslavement of a free black man in mid-19th century America. It’s painful to watch—often because of the subject matter and occasionally because of some awkward film-making and direction that doesn't seem to trust the power of the story itself.
If you are 25 or older:
Here’s the thing: This movie has a brilliant screenwriter: Cormac McCarthy is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and is, without question, one of the country’s greatest living writers. He may very well be too talented for film. His use of metaphor and symbolism often replace the plot thread and his flowery (and exceptionally beautiful) prose are a challenge for any actor to own. So, sadly, what we have here is an A-list cast, director and screenwriter, and a B- movie.
It seems Oscar is taking a nap this week, so it might be a good time to hit the couch with a good download. Here are the new releases and top rentals:
Nearly every review of this film describes it as a rehashing of '80s action movies. Frankly, that is precisely what sent me running to the box office. After the abysmal summer of blockbusters, maybe Hollywood needs a refresher course. If anything isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s this genre. I’m easy to please. Give me a respectable plot, some good explosions and a clever quip and I’m happy. Well, if there is a school for action movies, Stallone and Schwarzenegger should teach the master class.
When you think of a movie about pirates, hooks and eye patches leap to mind, not the infinitely more harrowing story told here. This film recounts the true story of the hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates in 2009, and the heroic efforts of the captain to save the cargo and the crew.
Bringing Shakespeare to the big screen can be a two-edged sword. Shakespeare is dated; Shakespeare is timeless. Shakespeare is melodramatic; Shakespeare is poetic. Romeo and Juliet can be particularly challenging in that regard, as the audience has to buy into a love that is so instantaneous and so powerful that the main characters are willing to die for each other after only days. That is the key to success with the play; and unfortunately, the reason it fails here.
Story: Ben enters a farm house that appears to be abandoned. Inside, though, he finds a barefoot young woman named Barbra who seems to be in shock. Eventually, Ben learns that Barbra and her brother Johnny had been attacked by “the living dead,” and that Johnny is dead. Barbra ran to the house before slipping into shock. Ben abandoned his truck, which needs fuel, and is seeking shelter in the same house.
I hate setting the bar too high with a film like this, because one of the things that can really blow you away is the unexpected. Considering the huge amount of pre-release press and Oscar buzz, I knew surprisingly little about this film. I will try to extend the same courtesy.
OK, let’s not waste too much of anyone’s time with this. The film already took 90 minutes of mine that I’ll never get back. I want to make one thing very clear: I am not opposed to the occasional eye-candy-movie. Yes, it’s Oscar season. Yes, we have the right to deserve some sort of effort. Yes, filmmaking is an art. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with watching scantily clad people running in slow motion on a beach every once in a while. My overly drawn-out point is this: I didn’t hate this movie because it’s eye candy. If anything, I disliked it more because it wasn’t eye candy. When all you have to offer is good-looking stars, let the slow motion games begin.
First and foremost, there’s the elephant in the room: This film represents the final work of the late actor James Gandolfini. It obviously has sentimental value; and while this film is not going to be winning any awards, it is—much like Gandolfini himself—a sweet, likeable, flawed movie.
As a filmmaker, there’s something of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t aspect to a project based on a true story. If the film sticks to the actual story, the result can be anti-climactic. On the other hand, if the filmmakers manipulate the script to make it a Cinderella story or to intensify the drama, they are criticized for it. This film is yet another example of a true story falling flat--although I’m not entirely convinced that’s what left me cold.
I think at one time or another, everyone has thought about writing a movie about a quirky career or hobby. Best in Show and Little Miss Sunshine are stellar examples of how delightful a slice-of-life film can be. However, this comedy about the strange world of voice-over acting is an example of an idea that should have stayed at the dinner table.
Prisoners is a suspense thriller—completely my cup of tea. However, it is a child-abduction suspense thriller, and that’s where I cringe. Nevertheless, this is a gripping, if forced and slightly ham-handed, exploration of the extremes a parent might go to in order to find a missing child.
This may not be the best weekend to venture to the cinema, but if you feel compelled, here’s what’s out there.
Well, this is unusual. Here we have a movie helmed by a group of actors who spend their free time dusting their Oscars. The movie has a tested director, an intriguing, if well-worn premise, and virtually no competition at the box office. What would it take to make this worth a rainy day jaunt to the Cineplex? Whatever it is, this movie doesn’t have it. In fact there is only one word I can think of to describe it: unredeemable.