Jan 29, 2012

The Iron Lady (2011): D

Fueled by a quandary of faults and embarrassments that might threaten to turn a review into a bullet point list of reasons to save your money, The Iron Lady transcends the typical aura of simply bad, simply inept movies and threatens to mutate into avant garde trash. Imagine a public art display involving a derailed freight train, and you’ll be in the right neck of the woods. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I feel a little bad coming off so harsh, aware as I am that actual people made this movie, cared about it and saw it through, and inasmuch as I might disagree with their taste in much, including (but not limited to) worthwhile filmmaking and possibly politics, the truth is that their product never strays to that which is evil, except for the very valuable time it wastes from your life.

To that end, they’ve actually created the perfect black hole, and they shouldn’t feel personally slighted, just professionally. Director Phyllida Lloyd is all gassed up with no place to go, and making movies is – if I may try to be polite – a misguided channeling of those energies. Please, stop it. There are yet positive ways you can contribute to the world. (Might I suggest Kidspeace?) Concerning the leading lady, Meryl "Greatest Actress of Her Generation" Streep: though technically astute in her mimicry of Margaret Thatcher, the performance lacks even the most basic spark of empathy, or soul, or worthiness of investment, and while some might argue that's appropriate given the figure in question, here it functions less as the centerpiece of a character study than simply as a wax museum figure come to life. Like much of her recent career (Fantastic Mr. Fox being the only exception coming to mind), Streep's in coasting mode here, and it might be said that the wasted presence of her talent heightens the noxious effect of the creative void around her.

A point is made late in the film concerning the cost of a gallon of milk, the image of which most appropriately opens this whitewashed creation. Focusing on the elderly Thatcher’s senile recollections in ways shrill enough to make A Beautiful Mind’s didactic representations of that organ look respectful by comparison, The Iron Lady looks, sounds and feels as if it happened largely by accident, and perhaps the only way its one-of-a-kind, chimpanzees-pounding-on-typewriters awfulness could have been justified would be to have had the film forgo non-fiction status and instead reveal the former Prime Minister as an alien in disguise. Frequently selecting the worst possible camera angle, or motion, or editing device, the film eventually takes to firing off meaningless and frequently nonsensical transitions, montages, and layering effects, as if it were a student project on which every tool available in the provided video editing software had to be used at least once. The nominees have just been announced, and Oscar should feel ashamed for even considering this junk.

Jan 19, 2012

Disney Favorites and such

Within the next 24 hours, I'll have succumbed to temptation and gone to the multiplex to see the 3D-retrofitted, presumably "extended" edition (I haven't verified this fact because I want it to be a surprise) of Disney's first real crack at Oscar gold, Beauty and the Beast. Released when I was six years old, it was and remains a personal favorite, even as the years have seen it transform from timeless masterpiece to a slightly less emotionally substantial but still thoroughly entertaining, engrossing experience. Until then, it remains tied (with Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, of all things) as the film I've seen the most times theatrically (seven; bless my mother for tolerating my repeat-viewing insistence).

I've never seen the 2002 cut of the film, and while I'm apprehensive about the 3D quality (The Lion King re-release looked terrible, and in hindsight, two-and-a-half stars was overly generous on my part), my primary thought is: what the hell? I owned all manner of merchandise and paraphernalia (including a collector's card series, which I completed), and listened to the cassette tape soundtrack of the film to the breaking point. Why stop now? I could certainly use a return to my youth.

Which is a very roundabout way of making this another opportunity for a mostly pointless list. For the sake of simplicity, I've made this list traditional Disney animated exclusive, while also deliberately disincluding anything with the Pixar label, both pre- and post-Disney merger. Otherwise, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird and company would threaten to eat up half of the slots, and I'd have had to kick a few more animated titles out for a certain David Lynch joint and one, maybe two, Jeff Bridges vehicles. (For the record, I haven't seen Song of the South yet, although there is a YouTube rip of the film waiting on my hard drive...) Post your own list. Or simply fire away.

1. Dumbo
2. Pinocchio
3. The Fox and the Hound
4. Lilo & Stitch
5. Beauty and the Beast
6. Fantasia
7. 101 Dalmatians
8. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
10. Sleeping Beauty

Jan 15, 2012

Nikita (1990): B-

Sexy as Luc Besson's sleight of hand remains, his widely triumphed Nikita (aka La Femme Nikita) skimps out on the goods concerning the sexy, troubled Nikita (Anne Parillaud), an amoral addict from the streets turned assassin for the French government. Part action thriller, part character examination (there isn't much to the titular female, and her void is only half as meaningfully examined as the film aims for), this stylish creation pulls this way and that, almost as unfocused as Nikita herself often is, with occasional lapses in logic that are hard to overlook in an otherwise smartly rendered film. A cool sensory indulgence, but irksomely lightweight. Pass me some Angel-A instead.

Awakenings (1990): C-

Although far more digestible, the schmaltzy worldview offered by Awakenings can now be seen as the forerunner to Robin Williams' most offensive vehicle to date, Patch Adams. Williams is Malcolm Sayer, a doctor who hasn't worked with living human patients since his schooling, now employed at a Bronx hospital at which reside numerous catatonic patients, some of whom have been completely unresponsive for several decades. A new drug may be the cure they've been waiting for. The film is empathetic and deliberately "touching" without quite triggering the gag reflex, but the script needed at least another rewrite before moving on to production, and the visual elements are Oscar-friendly bland. The reason to watch, then, is a tremendous Robert De Niro, as Leonard Lowe, the first patient to be awoken, and the first to subsequently lose control of his body once again. Based on Oliver Sacks's memoir of the same name. Maybe life affirming, but hardly life-changing.

Bugsy (1991): C

Once infamous for courting a round ten Oscars, now seemingly all but forgotten, Barry Levinson's gangster drama Bugsy is exhausting in all the wrong ways, suggesting less of a handsomely mounted epic period piece than it does a begrudgingly completed middle school biography paper -- all that's missing is MLA formatting. Warren Beatty is Benjamin Siegel (the name Bugsy instills him with rage, so we don't hear it often), and maybe it's due in part to the fact that his turn as the titular senator in Bulworth is my political wet dream fantasy, but I just can't believe the man as a borderline-psychotic, hairpin-trigger madman with visions of grandeur. The character study is only skin deep, and the central financially-dependent drama lacks enough thrust to sustain two plus hours running time, although Annette Bening, as Siegel's lover Virginia Hill, instills the proceedings with a sporadically volatile intensity (I'm happy to have seen the film if only to have heard her epic iteration of "philandering fuck"). A curious and curiously dull misfire.

Young Adult (2011): B

Jason Reitman rebounds from the noxious Up in the Air with Young Adult, although it's the stamp of screenwriter Diablo Cody that's most evident in this biting look at grown-up responsibilities and the difficulties of giving up youthful desires after tragedy and trauma scar the body and mind. Charlize Theron is a barbed wire force to be reckoned with as Mavis Gary, a successful, semi-celebrity ghost writer whose attraction to her ex Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) is rekindled when she's invited to his newborn baby's naming ceremony. Balancing her character's impractical ambitions of the heart with a very real hurt that transcends the film's cultural satire (which sadly skirts contempt of the middle and lower classes and culminates in an unfortunate speech that leaves an odious aftertaste), Theron is a tour-de-force of ping-pong emotions, contrasted almost sublimely by Patton Oswalt's turn as a hate crime victim. Often hilarious and true, but saddled with too much unexamined anger.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011): C-

Setting aside a handful of pulse-raising set pieces, this sequel to 2009's raucous revamp of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle legend is the deflated yin to that film's energetic yang: excessively plotted, poorly characterized, thin as used sandpaper. Not unlike Iron Man 2 (although exceedingly more watchable), the effort to reproduce the spontaneity of the previous film's success imbues Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with a weary tone of overexertion, with so little worth investing in that one might find themselves forgetting about the whole endeavor even as they're still watching it. Robert Downey, Jr.'s schtick has gone from chic to borderline embarrassing, while Guy Ritchie's directorial suave bangs around the empty script like pennies in a pot. Somebody get these men a script worth shooting.

Clueless (1995): D+

A gag-inducing Four Loko misfire, Clueless goes haywire with exaggeration and a bare minimum of return value. Calling it the Citizen Kane of high school movies may be accurate from the zeitgeist perspective, but it's a dubious designation. I've never read the Jane Austin novel Emma on which Heckerling's script is loosely based, but even amidst the onscreen chaos (as if!), the genuine intelligence lurking beneath is obvious. Pity it oversells the material to a crowd that isn't going to get (or appreciate) it anyway, and the result is like watching a gifted student sell out to the popular idiot crowd. The movie seems afraid to show genuine sincerity, and Paul Rudd can only pull so much of the weight. The high point is a cheeky nod to Kubrick's monolith, but it's a slog to and from.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999): B+

Trendy and "current," yet also steeped in a smartness and sincerity becoming of its Shakespearean roots, 10 Things I Hate About You does for the silver screen what Daria did for MTV, sort of. As the too-cool-to-care dude who finds it his duty to tame the shrew, Heath Ledger is simply magical; there's no doubt he was a natural from day one. Pointed satire is mixed in moderate proportion with irony-free conflict in this subversive high school rom com, which almost completely sidesteps the off-putting calculation inherent to some of its plotting, and rolls with it pretty well when it doesn't.