29 June 2011

Banzai! 2010 Catch-Up, Part III



Hereafter

Starring Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Derek Jacobi
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Release: 22 October 2010
Warner Bros., 129 mins., Rated R

Plot: Three people who have experiences with death first hand are gradually brought together to help one another.

Visions of the afterlife is a tricky subject, and having a story that weaves multiple characters and plotlines together in the climax is just as tricky, but amazingly, Hereafter overcomes the possibility of corniness or failure and instead becomes a rather engrossing movie with some phenomenal and sadly overlooked performances.

For a film that gained some Oscar buzz pre-release, Hereafter didn't come anywhere near the Twin Cities, so sadly a DVD rental was my resort. It's unfortunate, because the film opens with a utterly spectacular nine-minute CG-heavy tsunami scene that propels one character into her familiar arc: a woman who 'visits' the afterlife, gets a glimpse behind the curtain, as it were, and is now consumed with finding out as much information as she can about it. Records and testimonies of folks who claim to have glimpsed the afterlife, like her. Marie's story seems to be the glue, but the beautiful and successful thing about Hereafter is that each story compliments and doesn't overshadow the others. They need each other, and the film wisely inter-cuts between these arcs, one never overstaying its welcome. So Marie is the investigator, and there's George (Damon), a man who is able to channel the afterlife with great concentration and the touch of ones hands. A tortured soul like anyone with a gift, George doesn't tend to socialize much, and has come to be angry at his abilities. What George can do makes him a target of interest to a young boy in London, Marcus (McLaren) who recently lost his brother and seeks George's assistance to make a connection. With these three storylines set up, Eastwood and Morgan nicely intercuts between them rather smoothly, each story having sufficient time to develop, none of them feeling forced or lacking in screentime.

The characters are interesting, no doubt, and the best thing that can be said about the actors is that we're not looking at Matt Damon or Cecile de France or Bryce Dallas Howard or what have you, but the characters themselves. The actor shell slides away and we have the characters. That's quite the accomplishment, I daresay. Dark, somber, quiet, George and Marcus are similar in that respect, both looking to forge their own lives out of death. And Marie wants to move on, but feels compelled to make her experience widely known.

Competently written and directed, Hereafter is a solid and interesting film exploring life after death and how it affects the living for those who have glimpsed behind the curtain. Fascinating, really. And although a part of me feels that Hereafter doesn't push the envelope enough, more intent on character over musings on the afterlife (and understandably so), it's a engaging story and film. Sadly overlooked, if you have the chance to check it out, do so.

Rating: 7/10 = Interesting drama of loved ones lost, what's not to dig?


I Love You, Phillip Morris

Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro.
Written & Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Release: 3 December 2010
EuropaCorp, 93 mins., Rated R

Plot: While incarcerated, Russell falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris, and once on the outside, they plan a life together that doesn't exactly go as planned.

Unrelated note related to I Love You, Phillip Morris: this aging Jim Carrey has a sort of creepy appeal to him, so instead of comedy films (and utter shit like this penguin childrens garbage out this summer) Carrey could easily flex his acting muscles as a serial killer. He has the look for it, and his aged face and crazy eyes could definitely sell the role. Alright, onwards to I Love You, Phillip Morris.

Basically, it was "okay." One of those shoulder-shrugging, "Yeah, I saw it" type flicks where you can't honestly say you feel one way or another about it. The thing is, I was looking forward to it. The opportunity to see Jim Carrey stretch out his acting muscles, and to see the blossoming love life of Jim Carrey and motherfrakking Obi-Wan Kenobi - how could I not be enticed? To the films credit, there are some genuine moments where the couple are really good - and dare I use the word cute - together, and their relationship feels momentarily real and strong. McGregor's Phillip Morris, however, isn't a strong character, and is very much regulated to the sidelines, hardly standing out as a person other than to be the object of Carrey's desire. Rather amazingly, though, Carrey does steal the film, and not in a over-the-top-look-at-me-I'm-incredibly-obnoxious kind of way. Yes, he does have a tendency to be a little loud and aggressive with his mannerisms and expressions, but it is one of Carrey's more subdued and honest performances to date. Russell is a fantastic character who can't help take some money from a company or two unjustly, and tends to get caught a lot. His personality definitely holds this movie upright, but ultimately, when the film is about Russell and Morris together, it doesn't soar. It's best and most enjoyable when Carrey is pulling off one of his cons and escapes from confinement (once again).

This being a comedy, I guess it might be best rating the "ha ha"'s. There are some moments that bring on the laughter, but for the most part, I found handing over a chuckle or two. I Love You, Phillip Morris has its flaws, but its heart is at the right place, and Carrey is loads of fun (although scary to look at), so it's worth a rental. Not a blind buy by any means, but a rental most definitely.

Rating: 6/10 = Flawed here and there with Carrey ringing in the laughter, the film could benefit from a tighter, funnier script, but for what it is, Phillip Morris is lovable enough.


Love and Other Drugs

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathway, Josh Gad, Judy Greer, Gabriel Macht, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, George Segal, Jill Clayburgh
Written by Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz
Directed by Edward Zwick
Release: 24 November 2010
20th Century Fox, 112 mins., Rated R

Plot: Jamie shags Maggie, Jamie falls for Maggie, Maggie falls for Jamie, Maggie 'grr' cos she has Parkinsons, makes relationship difficult...love!

NAKED ANNE HATHAWAY! NAKED ANNE HATHAWAY! NAKED ANNE HATHAWAY!

Alright, now that the prime motivator for checking out Love and Other Drugs has been established, let's talk about the movie itself. Overall, not bad. But the general consensus that the film is 'uneven' does have some merit. The films tone seem to hit different marks, never really seeming to be organic but instead just out-of-placey. That said, aside from a script that could use a bit of a sprucing upping, Edward Zwick's love story ain't bad, and I ain't got no complaints.

I appreciate Anne Hathaway's Maggie Murdock being a sort of anti-social, no bullshit kind of woman, who just wants a meaningless shag here and there and is a tad grumpy at her deteriorating state, and Hathaway portrays the character wonderfully. Similarly, Gyllenhaal perfects the womanizing Jamie who uses his Jedi powers to charm women into bed. When these two characters meet, one can't help but be pulled in. In regards to romantic comedies or dramas, I tend to concentrate more on the chemistry and story of the film over its technical value. For example, I'm not exactly going to be judging Zwick's directing style like I analyze Nolan's perfect and gorgeous cinematography in The Dark Knight. Taking that into account, I gotta say, Love and Other Drugs is quite successful. Yes, we have two quasi-formulaic characters undergoing a formulaic film: the womanizer, the sorta-artsy-bitch, they mingle and eventually like each other, and love is hand - The End. It's how their story is handled and the performances of both Hathaway and Gyllenhaal that save the film.

I love that Jamie and Maggie recognize that their relationship isn't going to be easy, that there's going to be some seriously tough shit heading their way, and I love that Jamie accepts that and chooses to go through with it. Oops, does that constitute a spoiler? Sure, I could have done without the super-facepalm-groan-ugh-worthy-cliched-man-stopping-car/bus-with-girl-inside bit, but hell, whatever. If I was the screenwriter, I maybe would have changed that bit, but otherwise, very well written. The gradual progress of their hookups turning into a sort of dating and eventually cementing into full on passionate love was great to see, and definitely one of the films highlights. Love and Other Drugs definitely calls for some improvement in the script area, but Hathaway and Gyllenhaal are so fun to watch, I'll nearly let it slide.

Nearly. The film could be so much more fun and interesting, but it doesn't really seem to take off. It became a One Time Watched film, where it doesn't necessarily call for another viewing anytime soon or down the line. And that's a bummer to say. Hell, with the exception of Tangled (review below), none of these films escape the One Time Watched syndrome (should come up with a better name).

Rating: 6.5/10 = A gorgeous Anne Hathaway and charming Jake Gyllenhaal sell a film that is a fine piece of entertainment, but I can't help but feel the film could be so much more.


Tangled

Featuring the voices of Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Ron Pearlman
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Release: 24 November 2010
Walt Disney Pictures, 100 mins., Rated PG

Plot: Rapunzel wants to get out of her prisoner/tower, and opportunity arises as thief Flynn Rider comes to save the day!

TANGLED is loads and loads of supergigantic loads of fun. Why? The horse Maximus. A true testament to the brilliance of animation, Maximus boasts the best facial expressions, physical gags, and hilarious situations that I've seen in a long, long time. Maximus is the true heart of gold in this movie, and if it wasn't for him - and Rapunzel's chameleon Pascal - TANGLED wouldn't be nearly as fun. I know, I know, horrible thing to say. Sure, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are great characters - especially Rapunzel (more on that in a sec), but I guess what I'll be taking away from TANGLED more is these two creatures, Maximus and Pascal. They are absolutely brilliant.

The story of TANGLED doesn't exactly reach new heights of creativity, but then again, the story isn't what's important here. What is important is Rapunzel and her newfound freedom. Her flirtation and eventually likey-like with Flynn also isn't all that important, it's just sorta there. The foundation of TANGLED, aside from having a jolly good Disney time, is Rapunzel coming into her own, finding her place in the world, and most of all, having one heck of a fantastic personality. Rapunzel is funny, she's curious, she's strong, she's playful, and she begins to forge her own independence away from her overbearing 'Mother'. Speaking of 'Mother', what a weak villain. Yeah, she fulfilled her evil duties in the first two acts, and she went a bit nutso in the third (which I appreciated), but as far as Disney baddies go, Gothel is kinda lame.

TANGLED is funny. It's a jolly good time at the movies, and it ranks as one of Disney's best in the last few years. The trailers definitely didn't look remarkable, the plot reflects that rather accurately, too. But it's the script and characters that once again make one of these animated films far, far better and entertaining than what could have been anticipated.

That said, there is a downside: the music. Ugh. None of the songs are remotely good, and the only track in the entire film that I love is from the score by Alan Menken, "Kingdom Dance." Score aside, the songs are just - "meh" [insert a shoulder shrug here]. To make up for the lack of decent music, Disney produced one hell of a gorgeous film. Absolutely stunning. Seriously, if you have a PS3 or a Blu-Ray player, there is no better way to see TANGLED. The above screenshot is a good example of how gorgeous the whole film looks. Solid, beautiful animation.

A strong female protagonist with her own fantastic arc, two wildly expressive and hilarious animal characters, stellar animation, so-so songs, and a huge sense of fun. That's what TANGLED is. Entertaining for audiences of all ages, watch it. Pronto.

Rating: 8.5/10 = Better and funner than it has any right to be, TANGLED is a blast, and should not be missed.

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