Film Review: The Blind Side

28/03/2010

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side. After watching this film, the other nominees must have felt they had been robbed. Whilst there is nothing deficient in Bullock’s performance, there is nothing remarkable either.

The Blind Side is based on the real life story of the Tuohys, a white, middle class, republican family from Memphis who take in a poor black homeless teenager. With the help of Leigh Anne in particular, Michael Oher goes on to become a member of the family, and eventually wins a college football scholarship.

The main problem with The Blind Side is that it is so schmaltzy, it’s saccharine. A feel-good movie, there is nothing but positive portrayals of all the main characters. There does not seem to be any unease whatsoever by any of the family at the unusual situation, but perhaps in real life there wasn’t. More significantly, the film lacks the element of threat or danger that things might not turn out as planned; the happily ever after is guaranteed from the off.

Furthermore, there is little resistance to the Tuohy’s plans for Michael. Save for a few comments from a redneck, and some bigoted remarks from some of Leigh Anne’s friends, there is a distinct lack of struggle for the family. This absence of hardship is interspersed with what is intended to be witty observations about the situation, with Sean Tuohy commenting: “Who would’ve thought we’d have a black son before we met a democrat”.

The Blind Side is not a terrible film. However, it lacks the gravitas of more serious silver screen drama. Whilst the narrative is positive and uplifting, it is more at home with “true-life story” style of made-for-television films.

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Film Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

24/03/2010

The most striking thing about Phillip Morris is, as the opening titles emphasise, that the events in the film really happened. For many of these events are audacious to say the least, and make for entertaining viewing.

Philip Morris tells the story of scam artist Steven Russell and the lengths he goes to in order to be reunited with the man he loves. Some reviews have drawn attention to the fact that it is a homosexual relationship at the heart of the film. However, the fact the film is about a gay couple is incidental; it neither draws nor detracts from what the film is really about.

Carrey is takes a step outside of his comfort zone with this role. Rather than the brash, often one-dimensional roles he is often associated with, it is a risk that has paid off as the actor is engaging as the rather complex Russell. In this way in particular the film is comparable to Catch Me If You Can, as it tells the story of a character taking on a variety of guises to make up for their own lack of identity.

Though predominantly a comedy, there are still moments of genuine emotion. When Russell pulls off his biggest con there is real sadness about the situation, before the scam is revealed. Moreover, McGregor brings an earnest to his role of Phillip Morris, there is a believability about him that suggests he was perfectly cast.

I Love You Phillip Morris is an entertaining and humorous affair, but one laced with poignancy as one remembers that the events illustrated happened to real people.


Film Review: The Bounty Hunter

21/03/2010

In The Bounty Hunter, Jennifer Aniston plays a career-obsessed journalist determined to get the scoop on the latest story. It’s a pity in real life Aniston does not pay as much attention to her career, otherwise she may not have opted for such a dud.

Though a regular fixture in the rom-com genre over the last decade, surely the actress receives scripts more promising than this. The Bounty Hunter does not work on any level. The film attempts to combine an action thriller with a romantic comedy, but fails on all accounts.

The main problem with The Bounty Hunter is that it is painfully unfunny. Whilst some lacklustre comedies may have only one or two humorous set-ups or jokes, this film does not have a single genuinely funny moment. Furthermore, the characters are one-dimensional; when the couple is in a somewhat perilous situation, it is hard to muster the effort to care.

The film is inevitably predictable, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the film had something else to offer. As it stands, The Bounty Hunter is the worst film of the year, so far.


Film Review: Shutter Island

20/03/2010

Often, Martin Scorsese makes it all better. Every now and again, tired of the incessant remakes, sequels and sub-par star vehicles, one longs for a bit of quality in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It seems that Mr Scorsese has heard our cries, as Shutter Island is a thoroughly enjoyable film, reinstating a degree of quality missing from many other recent films.

Granted, the film not an entirely original affair; it is based on Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. However, Scorsese’s picture is an exceptionally well crafted suspense thriller. Whilst perhaps not being on quite the same level as some of the director’s earlier work, it nonetheless harks back to the Classical Hollywood thriller, popularised by Hitchcock and others.

Shutter Island tells the story of a US marshal and his partner who visit an island inhabited solely by a hospital for the criminally insane. Originally called to investigate the disappearance of a patient, their inquiry uncovers something deeper…

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a compelling performance as the marshal haunted by the death of his wife and the atrocities he witnessed whilst serving during World War II. Shutter Island features many of the Scorsese hallmarks, although this time the persistent theme of psychology and the frailty of sanity is brought right to the forefront.

As ever, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is on point. The production design, particularly of Ward C, is excellent. The editing, cinematography, design, and the jittering score combine wonderfully to generate an atmosphere of trepidation throughout the duration.

Perhaps the one downside is that the ending may be disappointing for some viewers. However, for over two hours Scorsese grips the audience with this immensely absorbing thriller.


Film Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

15/03/2010

When a film actually feels long, it’s never a good sign. The problem with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is that it takes far too long to build momentum. It is only in the second third of the film that pace is generated; prior to this there is exposition and little else.

The film centres around the mystery of a missing young girl, disappeared decades before from her wealthy family. What distinguishes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo most from others in the murder mystery mould is the explicitness in not only the crimes that are discovered, but also in the violence that is depicted. At times, the graphic nature of the violence and sadism on display is difficult to watch. Unlike movies such as Saw, which seems to function on the ‘gore for entertainment’ premise, it is hard to see what is gained from such graphic scenes. Murder mystery for the Hostel generation perhaps.

The selling point of the books and this subsequent film appears to be the central character of Lisbeth. With her shadowy background and non-conformist appearance, Lisbeth is a researcher and hacker who is drawn into the case after completing research on reporter Michael Blomkvist, who is originally tasked with the case.  With her piercings and tattoos, Lisbeth may seem a world away from Miss Marple, yet there is little more to her beyond this outsider persona.

The film is the first instalment of a trilogy, so presumably more will be revealed about Lisbeth and her background. The ending of this film, however, feels protracted; it goes on at least fifteen minutes longer than what appears to be a logical conclusion.  Whilst the next two films may pick up the pace, it is questionable how many viewers will return after this mediocre start.


Film Review: Green Zone

13/03/2010

A number of reviews have highlighted Green Zone‘s similarities to the Bourne film series. It is not hard to see why – with Greengrass at the helm (director of two of the Bourne films) and Matt Damon taking centre stage, Green Zone could be ‘Bourne in Iraq’.

Taking cues from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the film focuses on the WMD (or lack of) scandal in 2003. Damon plays a soldier who becomes suspicious about the intelligence after his unit’s lack of success in locating the weapons of mass destruction.

The film attempts to saddle an action thriller with a real political narrative. The problem lies in the fact that in this type of action film, the political element does not work too successfully. The political story is simplified in order to placate the need for the frequent action sequences. And as this is based on a recent and familiar subject, there is little doubt to how the film will conclude.

Greengrass’ use of hand-held camera is present once again here; the technique certainly adds tension in pivotal scenes. Moreover, production design, sound and editing are all solid. As an action thriller, Green Zone is an enjoyable enough film.

In the post-Bush era, one imagines that Green Zone is only one of many films that will be made concerning the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. Like the plethora of ‘Nam films decades before, there are sure to be more controversial or illuminating ventures than this rather stock Greengrass feature.


Film Review: Alice in Wonderland

12/03/2010

Tim Burton’s live action-CGI extravaganza is an entertaining escapade well worth the watch in 3D. A sequel to the Alice stories rather than a remake, it bares little resemblance to earlier cinematic adaptations. In this version, Alice is a nineteen year old who falls down the rabbit hole after running away from an undesired marriage proposal.

Burton’s film features a far more active Alice, one who eventually fights in battle against the Red Queen’s army. Whilst the film features the familiar Wonderland characters, the plot diverges greatly from the 1951 Disney animated feature of the same name. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton has created a quest narrative for the teenage Alice, which contrasts significantly with the whimsy of Carroll’s original stories.

The cast features many of the familiar Burton players, with Bonham Carter making a fittingly over the top Red Queen. Depp is suitably outrageous as the Mad Hatter, although he does play the character with a modicum of sadness. New blood is injected with the welcome presence of Mia Wasikowska and the delightful Anne Hathaway. A particular highlight is Stephen Fry voicing the enchanting Cheshire Cat.

As ever, Danny Elfman produces a score that compliments the visuals perfectly. Generally the 3D works well given the content, although it does look a little flat when compared to recent box office behemoth Avatar.

Alice in Wonderland‘s opening weekend success is unsurprising, considering its first quarter opening and the huge promotional campaign orchestrated by Disney (the publicity of the threatened boycott no doubt helped to boost audience awareness). Nonetheless, as a longtime Tim Burton fan, one can’t help but be disappointed by lack of originality in his recent work. With a reworking of Dark Shadows being reported as his next project, it looks like the days of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands are long gone.