Film Review: Crazy Heart

11/03/2010

Jeff Bridges gives an exceptional performance as the washed up country singer attempting to revive his career in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart. Behind the singer, who is lamented by both his dwindling fan base and his fellow musicians, is a man struggling with an alcohol problem, amongst other demons.

Crazy Heart features a wonderful and fitting soundtrack, including the Oscar-winning title track ‘The Weary Kind’. Composer and performer Ryan Bingham also makes an appearance in the film as one of the numerous musicians Bad Blake performs with. Colin Farrell is impressive as Blake’s more popular rival and former collaborator.

The narrative is not incredibly original. Nonetheless, this does not seem to matter when the story is told in such a captivating manner. Along with Bridges’ award-winning performance, Maggie Gyllenhaal makes a believable love interest. There is a depth to her character that makes the audience root for the unlikely couple.

Despite his talent, Blake is a fallible character. Although much of the audience will not be able to identify with his specific issues, the general themes of redemption and second chances are universal and timeless. Thus, Crazy Heart is a moving tale, one that is worth a look for more than just Bridges’ noted performance.

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Film Review: The Lovely Bones

11/03/2010

Based on the bestselling novel by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is a heart-wrenching drama that will elicit emotion in even the most hardened cinemagoers. The story of a murdered teenage girl and the aftermath of the tragedy overrides the harrowing nature of this event, instead choosing to focus upon the relationship between family members.

The film combines drama and fantasy to produce a film that leaps between the identifiable and the surreal. It is in these fantastic “afterlife” sequences that The Lovely Bones most closely resembles director Jackson’s previous work. It is the real life action however that packs the most punch on an emotional level.

Tucci excels as the creepy neighbour turned murderer. He gives an unnerving performance a world away from roles he has formerly been associated with. Weisz and Wahlberg are convincing as Susie’s distraught parents, each struggling to cope with her death in their own way. Newcomer Saoirse Ronan is absorbing as the tragic teen, and has a promising career ahead if her performance here is anything to go by.

Set in the 1970s, art direction, cinematography, score and costuming is spot on in recreating the period. Rather than focus on the terrible crime, the film shifts its attention to the family and the way each member copes with the loss of a loved one. In doing so, The Lovely Bones is an uplifting experience despite the sombre subject matter.


Film Review: The Last Station

10/03/2010

The Last Station tells the story of the final days of Leo Tolstoy, and the tumultuous relationship he has with his wife, the Countess Sofya. Rather than a biopic, The Last Station is more concerned with the relationship between the two protagonists and what it reveals about life.

Although the focus is on Tolstoy and Sofya, there is a parallel storyline featuring Tolstoy’s new secretary Valentin Bulgakov, and his relationship with Masha, a young female member of the Tolstoyan Movement. Much of the film is seen through the eyes of Bulgakov, and it is clear by the end that it is the lessons learnt by this young man which prove most telling.

The Last Station features an excellent cast, with Mirren and Plummer thoroughly deserving their respective Oscar nods. Mirren in particular is affecting as the troubled Countess. Both the love and the frustration that Tolstoy feels towards her is replicated by the audience, such is the power of Mirren’s performance.

The film emphasises a sharp divide between the discipline of the Tolstoyan Movement, in particular with Giamatti’s Chertkov, and the passion of love and freedom, as demonstrated by both Sofya and Masha. With Tolstoy preaching to Bulgakov the wonder of love, it is clear where the author’s allegiance lay, despite the movement named in his honour. Overall, The Last Station is an affecting and engaging drama, which exhorts the importance of love in a well-rounded life.


Film Review: The Crazies

10/03/2010

Eisner’s remake of the low-budget 1973 Romero flick is an entertaining enough affair. The slick production gives it more of a blockbuster feel than the original, though the premise is much the same.

The contamination of a small town’s water supply leads to some strange behaviour, culminating in the presence of the undead and the containment of the residents. The Crazies falls more into the category of action film than horror, although there are a number of scares that appear straight out of the latter genre.

The narrative projects a negative view of authority and organised government, with the heartless approach taken by the military and the death of many innocent and unaffected civilians. More emphasis is laid on personal responsibility; it is up to hero Dutton to save himself and his companions, and despite being in the military, it is the choice of the soldier they capture to not give the group up.

Political commentary aside, The Crazies functions well as an action thriller. The unknown cast are adequate, although the dialogue is at times naff. The special effects, sound, editing and cinematography combine well to create a high-octane, and sometimes very gory, film. Whilst it may lack the terror of other zombie films, The Crazies is an entertaining ride. At the climax of the film, the viewer is in no doubt as to who the real villains are.


Film Review: Youth in Revolt

08/03/2010

The tricky thing with comedy dramas is getting the balance right between the two genres. Err on the side of comedy, and risk creating characters that the audience doesn’t care about. Lay emphasis on the depth of characters and seriousness of narrative, and inevitably the laughs will be sparse. Youth in Revolt has a difficult time in marrying the two genres, thus it does not succeed too prosperously in either of them.

Michael Cera plays the central character Nick Twisp, a geeky but endearing virgin. By now, one thinks Cera would be worried about being typecast in this kind of role. Nonetheless, there is twist to proceedings; Twisp has an alter ego, Francois Dillinger, who eggs him on to do things the young teenage would usually never consider. Unfortunately, this facet does not make the narrative any more engaging.

Although there are a few humorous events in the film, these are not frequent enough to counterbalance the weak storyline. The characters are not absorbing enough, and this viewer at least was nonplussed to Twisp’s plight and the situations he gets into.

Youth in Revolt is not a terrible film. However, it is a disappointing endeavor, considering the promising cast. It lacks the belly laughs of Superbad, as well as the engaging characters that Cera’s earlier film promotes.


Film Review: Solomon Kane

06/03/2010

Publicity for Solomon Kane focussed heavily on the fact that the character was created by Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame. Presumably, marketing executives hoped this association would help snare sword and sorcery devotees. And though Solomon Kane and the Conan films have very different settings, there are many parallels between both the stories and the characters.

Kane is a former captain, and as the opening sequence shows, he is one that is not averse to looting and brutality. It is only after the devil comes to claim his soul that Kane sees the error of his ways, vowing to renounce violence. This does not last long, however, as Kane has a quest to rescue a young girl, after making a promise to her father. Like Conan, it is only under duress that Kane will fight – be it to defend innocents or to defend himself.

Visually, the film functions successfully in creating a fantastic sphere – the historically setting is decidedly otherworldly in the presence of the supernatural. The narrative, however, leaves much to be desired. Solomon Kane is standard, by numbers, sword and sorcery fare that lacks originality. Even the twists are predictable – most audience members will see certain revelations a mile off.

The end of the film points to a likelihood of one or more sequels. Given the film’s lacklustre box office performance however, a Solomon Kane franchise possibly isn’t the surest bet.


Film Review: Ponyo

01/03/2010

Ponyo tells the enchanted tale of Sosuke and his goldfish Ponyo, who longs to be human. Through the power of magic, Ponyo gets her wish, but it is only Sosuke who can make her dream permanent.

The animation  is fluid and lively, what one has come to expect from Studio Ghibli. Unlike such fare as Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo appears, at first glance, expressly aimed at a younger audience. Along with the young protagonists, there is a lack of any real menace or villain per se.

The story, though simple, contains themes universal enough that a wide demographic can relate. Ponyo is a story about friendship, and the very innocent love between a boy and a girl. Furthermore, Sosuke’s mother Lisa has a pivotal role to play. In the exploration of her disappointment at her husband’s frequent absences, Lisa appears a natural and identifiable character for older audience members.

Overall, Ponyo is a charming film, which wisely errs on the sweet side, rather than straying into saccharine territory.