Sunday, October 15, 2006

"Flags of the Fathers," "The Prestige," "Marie-Antoinette," "Flushed Away," "The Grudge 2"

"Flags of Our Fathers"

Reaction's been all over the map on this one. Roeper and Variety have called it a masterpiece, Jeff Wells and Kris Tapley weren''t too hot on it and David Poland called it "not just a disappointment, but a bad film." I agree with Wells in that, with this one, Eastwood's head and heart were in the right place. I agree with what this movie's saying, and I admire a lot of the intentions behind it. But when it comes down to it, it's just not a good film in any way, shape or form.
For those who don't know, the film's narrative structure is that it cuts back and forth from the battlefield and the three main men touring across the U.S.A after the battle, being used to raise money for the government. I understood this approach at first, but it continues for the entire movie. By the last 30-45 minutes, the film drew loud sighs from the audience each time it cut back to the war sequences. It doesn't help that the war sequences seem like we've seen them 100 times before. It's not fair that every war movie gets compared to "Saving Private Ryan," but here it's inevitable with these battle scenes, and the comparison just kills them.
But whatever, the battle scenes are only half the movie, what about the other half? Well, frankly, they're rather dull-- the events are never involving and we don't really feel anything for the characters. Adam Beach does a good job with the only emotional role, but he's not given a ton to work with. Ryan Phillippe is fine with a threadbare character, and Jesse Bradford just sucks in everything I've ever seen him in, up to and including this.
I know a lot of people really WANT to love this movie. I did too-- "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby" were each in my top 3 of their respective years. But "Flags" just left me cold-- it didn't arouse any interest, emotion or strong feelings of any sort in me. It has the right spirit, but in the end, it just lays there for two hours. And do I speak for all of us that I'm sick of the bleached-out blue-gray look of all of Clint's films?
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Honestly, despite the hype, I don't think this will garner any major nominations, but if somehow it goes over well with Academy and they feel the need to reward Clint yet again, it could feasibly get nominations for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Adam Beach)

"The Prestige"

I have no idea how critics are going to react to this one, but I thought it was pretty fucking awesome. The concept of "dueling magicians" was inherently interesting to me right off the bat, but I didn't expect it to make such a strong impression on me emotionally and intellectually (by the way, when a dueling magician movie is more emotionally resonant than a Clint Eastwood war movie, you know something's wrong). It provides Christopher Nolan his first real opportunity since "Memento" to delve into more complicated structural and mind-bending territories, and the results are superb.
I don't even want to delve into the plot at all, as the twists and turns the story takes are a big part of what makes it so much fun. That said, the film is not overly reliant on twists-- it's remarkably clever and entertaining all throughout, not just leading up to some lame twist (I'm looking at you Shymalan). The Nolans have woven such a clever, dark, sad screenplay here, filled with something that will make film lovers smile at least every few minutes.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as said magicians were fantastic, as they're asked to strike an incredibly difficult balance here that works completely. Our alliances keep shifting between them, and by the third act, we're not quite sure which one (if either) should be in our favor. While it's not a huge surprise to see a stunning performance from Bale, it's almost jarring to have seen the two best performances of Jackman's career at screenings taking place in the last week ("The Fountain" being the other). Variety's negative review has indicated that word-of-mouth won't be hot, but I couldn't disagree more. I think this is precisely the type of movie that will benefit from people telling their friends about it and being something they can have endless discussions about.
Michael Caine doesn't get to stretch much here but he's still great as possibly the only genuinely likable character, and well... how do I say this.... I DIDN'T hate Scarlett Johansson here. Maybe it's due to her small role, or her not being wildly out of her realm, but I almost liked her.
I didn't even know David Bowie was in this going in, but he ends up giving one of the best performances in the film as Nikola Tesla. Speaking of Tesla, I must give an advance warning. "The Prestige" is not 100% realistic, and for one to enjoy it, they need to be able to suspend disbelief and buy into this world of magic, with its own laws of ethics, norms and what's acceptable or possible.
I can't recommend "The Prestige" enough, and in a time when most movies seem borne out of repetitive ideas and premises, it's filled with revelations, complications, flashbacks-within-flashbacks and constant narrative intrigue.
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Probably none, but possibly Best Adapted Screenplay


Sofia Coppolla's latest is the rarest of projects: a completely and utterly well-made film that succeeds at exactly what it wants to be, but I couldn't have enjoyed less. Though not worthy of the hate by Jeff Wells, or the boos at Cannes-- there's certainly some things of merit here-- "Marie Antoinette" is an utterly dull piece of work. It will no doubt enthrall a certain segment of film aficionados but it did nothing for me.
Someone needs to teach Coppolla how to make a movie about something more than just a mood, with some actual content in there. This approach worked with the phenomenal "Lost In Translation" because our interests in the characters actually built to something there, and we had a genuine attachment to them (more due to the performances than what was on the page).
I've seen this movie referred to as both "shallow" and "a film about shallowness," and I can only agree with the latter. Shallowness is it's subject matter, and as such, it's about something and going for a feel and some sort of content. But as a film about shallowness, it does leave you with a completely empty feeling and makes for a remarkably uninteresting, vacuous experience.
One of the positive things about it is that it spares me a plot synopsis, since there's none to speak of. The majority of it concerns how the title character, played by Kirsten Dunst, deals with how everyone hates her, both revels in and bemoans her life of privilege and how her husband Louis XVI (a one-note but trying hard Jason Schwartzman) won't have sex with her.
Much has been made about the use of pop songs in the film ("I Want Candy" is used for a montage of cakes and shoes), and while it works in theory, and I did enjoy the songs being played because it gave me something to be interested by, in execution it doesn't work at all. I get that it's supposed to make us draw comparisons to modern times, but it really just takes us out of the movie and doesn't mesh with the material in the least. I hate to say it, but the execution worked a lot better in something like "A Knight's Tale."
Dunst's performance in this is clearly coming from a sincere, emotional place and she's to be commended for the effort. But for each scene where her performance comes from a strong, honest place, there's another where she seems to not know quite what she's supposed to be doing (a probable result of direction).
On the plus side, the set design, score, make up, costumes are all very strong and most of them will likely (deservedly get Oscar nominations). We're also given relatively wonderful supporting performances from Rip Torn and Steve Coogan, and a surprisingly chemistry-filled pair, Molly Shannon and Shirley Henderson.
Coppolla hasn't made a bad film here, just a relatively vacuous, uninteresting one, which seems especially so following the release of the terrific "The Queen." To be fair, I'm really not this film's target audience. But in the interest of full disclosure, my screening companion who was eagerly looking forward to the film was left somewhat cold as well.
OSCAR POTENTIAL: All technicals, but that's all

"Flushed Away"

With its minimal trailers, and my seeming to be the only person on earth not enthralled with "Wallace and Gromit," I was completely blindsided by how taken I was with this, the latest Aardman animation production. Not only was the animation (carefully CG'd to keep the claymation look) beautiful and the voice work (by Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen) perfect, it'll probably end up as one of the funniest movies of the year. There are certainly funny animated films, but very few in which I laughed as hard at as I did with "Flushed Away." There's an endless amount of funny lines and I delighted at every moment featuring the slugs, who often serve as a Greek chorus.
"Wallace" fans should be warned that the humor on display here is of a (mostly) different breed-- meaning actually funny and clever, rather than just cheeky and mildly amusing.
I know it's not exactly high praise, considering that the only other animated film this year I even liked was "Over the Hedge," but this is easily the best animated film so far this year, and having not yet seen "Happy Feet," I'd bet on this one winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar.
This is a wildly entertaining 80 minutes, and is completely hilarious and enrapturing enough to spend ten bucks on, even with no kids to tote along.
OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Animated Feature

"The Grudge 2"

This really doesn't deserve my time or energy to write about it, let alone you going to see it. Ponderous, non-sensical, not scary in the least, and exceedingly dull. An endless string of 10-minute sequences that go nowhere and than lead up to a 5-second-long "scares" that no one in my packed audience screamed or jumped at. A giant waste of time, and quite possibly, the most bored I've been at a movie this year. (FYI, I am a fan of the first "Grudge")

Just an added note: while home in New York this weekend, I took a third look at "The Departed" with my dad, and a second one at "The Queen" with my mom. I'm really astonished how well these movies hold up on repeat viewings, and I'm beginning to see each one more and more as locks for Best Picture.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw Sofia's movie as a noble failure ... I think it lost me in the 50 minutes or so of "birthing rituals of the rich and famous" ... I respect what she tried to do, but I too just couldn't follow her there

6:45 AM  
Blogger Emma said...

I'm glad Kirsten didn't float your boat.

9:23 AM  

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