Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

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REVIEW: Remember Me (2010)

August 11, 2010

First off, let me just say that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t excel at being particularly objective when trying to choose a movie to watch. If you’ve read any of my previews, then you know that I scrutinize a lot of specific things when I’m deciding whether I think a movie will turn out to be worth 90+ of my minutes. In fact, I very rarely see movies with an entirely open mind at first and it’s often difficult for me to eliminate all of my preconceptions before I sit down to watch something. So being that I am a 16-year old male, you can imagine what kind of prejudices were hanging out in the back corner of my mind when I settled down to watch Remember Me– a film that looked like a sequel to Dear John with none other than that overnight-phenomenon, Twilight heartthrob leading the show. That being said…

Remember Me is not a unique romantic drama. Nor is it a special romantic drama. In fact, it’s really not a romantic drama at all. It is the story of the lives of two 21-year old New Yorkers who are still dealing with their grief over deceased family members. One is Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson), a lost and rebellious bookstore employee who blames his dad for his older brother’s suicide and is “undecided about everything”. The other is Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin), a college student who witnessed her mother’s murder at a young age and now lives with her overprotective cop father (Chris Cooper), living her life to the fullest and eating dessert before her entree at every dinner in order to make sure that if she were ever to meet an untimely death during her meal, she would at least have made it to one final indulgence.

The film focuses primarily on Tyler, observing the many problems he must endure, ranging from coping with the inescapable memory of the loss of his brother; an 11-year old art-prodigy sister (Ruby Jerins) who is unfairly teased and tormented by her classmates; and a cold, distant father (Pierce Brosnan) who ignores him and his sister both… to the troublemaking antics of his roommate, Aidan (Tate Ellington), and a broken deadbolt.

After his inability to keep his mouth shut lands him and roommate Aidan in jail for a night- courtesy of none other than Ally’s father himself, Tyler makes a deal with Aidan to sleep with Ally and then subsequently leave her to get revenge on her father. Of course, this devious and mean-spirited ploy sets into motion a relationship that transcends all of Tyler’s childish intentions, but at the same time, brings even more troubles into his life.

As I mentioned before, despite misleading trailers and marketing campaigns, this film is not primarily a romantic drama. While it’s certainly difficult to convince one of this notion with words alone (and given what seems to be a very romantic drama-ish plot), it’s an important reminder to remember when seeing the film. Many- both common moviegoers and critics- have cited their disappointment with the movie’s ending because it supposedly strayed from the film’s romantic tendencies. However, the ending reveals the movie’s true essence and conveys its intended message. In an effort to keep the review spoiler-free, I will refrain from elaborating on the ending any more, because- while I won’t guarantee that your viewing experience will be undermined by knowing the nature of the ending ahead of time- it is certainly crucial to the intended impact of the film that you don’t know about it beforehand. I’ll get to more on my thoughts about the ending later, for those of you who have seen the movie already.

In other departments, the film hardly ever excels above and beyond a simply decent production, however, certain aspects absolutely exceeded my expectations. Robert Pattinson’s acting didn’t blow me away, but managed to reconcile him from my list of actors who don’t deserve to be in the industry at all (if you’re wondering who’s still stranded on that unforgivable list… Zac Efron, Gerard Butler, Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, and Keanu Reeves are just a few of the top candidates I would vote out of the Hollywood tribe). I’m not about to jump the bandwagon of spellbound tweenage girls and run out to buy an Edward Cullen poster to plaster on my wall, but I will say that I was impressed with his abilities here. It’s true that he’s one of the best at brooding and sulking and even if that’s all he’s great at, at least it’s something. Emilie de Ravin isn’t quite as exceptional, but still puts in a strong performance. In the grand scheme of things, Chris Cooper and young rising star Ruby Jerins (she’s a regular in Nurse Jackie, but I’m now convinced she deserves an even bigger role in the near future) were the standout performers in my opinion as the loving but conflicted father and the misunderstood, too-mature-for-her-age sister. Pierce Brosnan, too, is exceptional in a way that makes you incapable of resisting your inner urge to hate his character and then find yourself sympathizing with him just a little bit, even if you don’t want to.

Some interactions breed a tad too much melodrama, the writing is far from flawless, and the dialogue is not without the occasional line that borders the edge of too-cutesy-to-hold-back-the-laughter, but these are all things you have to expect (not necessarily forgive) in a film that deals heavily with the relationship of two 21-year olds. For first time writer Will Fetters (who finished most of the script several years ago when he was only 22) and small-time-experience director Allen Coulter, the execution and production value of the film are enough to engage you for its full 113 minute runtime and feel satisfied with the time you spent. But if there’s any one element that sets it a step ahead of most other films of a similar nature (other than, of course, the ending… which I still can not ruin for those who haven’t seen it), it’s probably the film’s ability to feel genuine on many of its several layers. More than anything, the relationship between Tyler and his sister is admirably real and the chemistry between the two actors is particularly apparent. And on a greater scale, almost the entire cast give performances that feel collectively authentic, which is perhaps what allows the movie to create the meaningful effect that it does and leave you stunned by the ending.

In the end, the product that Coulter, Fetters, and their noteworthy cast accomplish is a well-constructed and– dare I say– captivating story of the lives of seemingly real New York individuals and the ways they deal with their unfortunate hardships and interactions, without pretending to give us the answers to our own problems or ostentatiously displaying to the audience how relationships are supposed to work. It’s flawed, but its strong points outweigh the weak ones, giving it the weight it requires to make an impact.

P.S.  If you’re interested in my take on the ending and my VERY mercilessly critical response to the way in which critics and many viewers have reacted to it, stay tuned for a later update in a lengthy, unrestrained, editorial-like style. It will come with a sufficiently sized spoiler alert, as I do STRONGLY advise those who have yet to see the film to avoid spoiling the ending for yourselves and make an effort to see it.

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REVIEW: The Lovely Bones (2009)

January 26, 2010

The Lovely Bones is quite a complicated film that can best be described in quite simple terms: a cinematic mess. Perhaps unfair expectations were placed upon the project because of Peter Jackson’s past work, but his effort on this one seems to be considerably less apparent. Nearly everything about the film’s structure and execution seems to fall apart at some point and almost the only thing about it worthy of significant praise is its vivid and colorful visuals, which don’t even seem to fit in or provide much purpose to begin with. And in the end, sadly, this film, that originally seemed like it had such potential, ends up virtually nowhere and leaves the viewer considerably unsatisfied.

The story is a unique tale of a young girl’s murder and the aftermath, including her family’s subsequent emotional breakdown, her father’s relentless search for the murderer, and her journeys through the odd, colorful limbo she’s trapped inside of until both she and her family willingly move on. The story is accompanied by quite an impressive cast and crew list. As mentioned before, Peter Jackson directs with his usual writing crew- Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong)- who took on the responsibility of adapting Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel of the same name. British breakout star Saoirse Ronan plays the protagonist, 14 year-old murder victim Susie Salmon. Mark Wahlberg plays her obsessive father, Stanley Tucci is the creepy and deceptive killer, Rachel Weisz plays Susie’s mother, and Susan Sarandon takes on the role of the eccentric grandmother who provides comic relief in the way she manages to down at least one sip of alcohol in almost every scene she’s in.

And while the story is certainly unique and the cast list makes one hopeful, something just doesn’t go right in the execution of it all. The pace jumps around far too often for the viewer to keep up, the tone never seems to officially establish itself and stay consistent in any way, and the dialogue is simply dreadful at times. The acting potential was certainly present and Saoirse Ronan, Wahlberg, and Tucci all seemed to provide strong efforts, but they received no assistance from the script whatsoever. In fact, the consistently bad dialogue and frequently changing atmosphere seem to bring down the performances and make everything seem too over-dramatic– an unfortunate result of such potential. As a whole, the film just seemed to try too hard to be too much.

The film’s focus is all over the place and at certain times, within a span of just five minutes, it might switch between the perspectives of three or four different characters. And while the film is certainly long enough to take on such a feat of presenting multiple important characters to the audience, it never quite manages to do so in a substantial way. Instead, the movie ends with none of the several major characters completely developing and the audience walks away with no true care for any of them. And this is perhaps the film’s biggest problem– it never does appear to know just what it is trying to accomplish. Even if it does prove to be even slightly emotionally engaging, it’s not without odd and out-of-place scenes every other couple of minutes. Focus frequently switches from Susie Salmon’s fantasy-like encounters in limbo to her father’s desperate attempts to find his daughter’s killer to the comedic acts of the grandmother to the sudden dramatic breakdown and exodus of the mother. Perhaps the editing is partly to blame as well, but it’s hard to believe that a film crew can’t find a way to use 2 hours and 16 minutes to evolve and develop a couple of characters without throwing too much at the viewer in each couple of minutes. It seems half-hearted and incomplete.

Adding to the jumble and confusion, each character’s short-term and long-term conflicts seemed, at times, unclear. In fact, much of the time our supposed “main character” spent her time standing around in the beautiful limbo that’s been so carefully crafted (perhaps too carefully), not doing anything apart from giving narration that sounds like poorly written spiritual poetry from the Victorian era that eventually amounts to nothing and seems like filler. In a similar fashion, I think it’s fair to say that the entire movie came off as a pretentious “artistic” film that no one understands and that the filmmakers are apparently too brilliant to have to clearly explain. One may argue that the audience isn’t supposed “to understand” it all. “But the audience is supposed to experience Susie’s confusion and share her feeling of being lost” is not a valid counterargument. There’s a fine line between captivating the audience with a world of wonder and majestic daze and leaving so much unexplained that causes them to lose interest out of boredom and confusion.

And if you ask me, on top of all of those flaws, the amazing and vibrant visuals of Susie’s “in-between” serve no purpose but to provide some indication as to where $100 million went with this film’s production. Although I haven’t read the novel, I have heard that these colorful landscapes do help to capture the tone of Sebold’s story.But Peter Jackson overuses them to the point where they simply seem out of place- as if their repetitive appearances were only meant to charm the audience into a false feeling that the film was somehow improved by them (*cough* Avatar) and to act as a constant reminder that Jackson’s team knows how to use their computers (and if you saw any of the Lord of the Rings films, let’s face it, you already knew that).

In the end, The Lovely Bones is just a mess of plenty of things that could have amounted to something but never really do due to lack of focus and development. Peter Jackson and his team should stick to epic war battles and dramatic tales of world danger.

Sorry, Peter. I really did try hard to like it.

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REVIEW: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

November 8, 2009

After Magnolia and before There Will Be Blood, came Punch-Drunk Love in Paul Thomas Anderson’s arsenal of movies. In this dark and odd romantic dramedy, Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a childish adult man who is still shy around women and whose seven manipulative sisters criticize and torment him into uncontrolled bursts of anger. His wholesale plunger business keeps him busy, despite the fact that he never seems to do anything productive at his office. Rather, he spends his time exploiting a loophole in a special Healthy Choice promotion by buying large amounts of pudding in order to rack up millions of free frequent flyer miles that he has no specific use for (a story that is based off of that of “Pudding Guy” David Phillips). Boring and aimless as his life may be, Egan endures with only minimal broken glass windows and few crying episodes. However, all of that changes when an interested woman becomes intent on meeting him and a phone sex hotline operator becomes violently vengeful.

Adam Sandler performs like you’ve never seen him before, and at the same time- just like you’ve always seen him. His natural childish persona is preserved, but instead of being channeled into awkwardly unfunny jokes that would more likely be heard in a middle school cafeteria, Paul Thomas Anderson finds a way to use Sandler’s juvenile behavior powers for good. Together, the two create an air of loneliness and constant distress that manages to engage the audience and evoke a sense of sympathy for the protagonist. And with added exceptional performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mary Lynn Rajskub, Punch Drunk Love is something that prevails in its own way.

Admittedly, the movie’s dream-like nature and unconvential quirkiness isn’t quite for everyone and some might come away feeling as if they simply didn’t get it. However, those who appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson’s general quality of work and are curious to see a different side of Sandler’s abilities will certainly be charmingly pleased. To give a fair evaluation, it’s not particularly a film that most will love or hate. Moreover, it’s simply a respectable piece of work that’s well worth a viewing, at least for the experience that Anderson creates.

three stars