Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Film Round-Up for November

In this edition of the Film Round-Up: Get ready for the most overrated movie of the year! Behold one of 2009's breakthrough performances (Carey Mulligan, pictured ahoy)! Gasp at overblown, super-kinetic independent filmmaking! Soak in Jude Law as a Russian drag!

As always, these reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission (thanks, Trina).

Apologies for the late posting. Lots of freelancing, some housesitting, and no free time until today. Still, I do like eating, so the extra money is always good.

And with that, away we go...

Precious (Dir: Lee Daniels). Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz. In 1987 Harlem, 16-year-old Precious (newcomer Sidibe) wears a permanent scowl as she slogs through an atrocious life. She’s pregnant-- by her father-- for the second time and at the permanent beck and call of her vicious, abusive mother (Mo’Nique). Precious can only rely on herself and her imagination. All looks lost until the teen attends an alternative school, where a benevolent teacher (Patton) urges Precious to break through by writing. Or something like that. The movie is certainly packed with drama, but more isn’t necessarily better. The rising tide of tragedy encountered by Precious is desensitizing and it dwarfs the progress of the protagonist and the relationship she builds with her teacher and welfare counselor (a deglamorized Carey, who’s surprisingly good). Geoffrey Fletcher’s disjointed, poorly organized script (based on a novel by Sapphire) doesn’t do Daniels or his hard-working cast any favors by opting for flash and shock over insight and pacing. Bottom line: don’t believe the hype on this unsatisfying, depressing feel-good movie. Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey served as executive producers, ensuring that the movie will be covered by every media outlet known to man. ** [R]

An Education (Dir: Lone Scherfig). Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson. Whip-smart 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan) hungers for a world beyond the rigid prep school routine instituted by her academics-obsessed father (Molina) in 1961 suburban London. Enter the much-older David (Sarsgaard), an eloquent, well-dressed schemer who is the worldly, adult-fun alternative Jenny desperately craves. But entering into such a world comes with a set of compromises and consequences that blindsides her. Adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir by author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) is an evocative, touching ode to growing up and what happens when we rush into adulthood. Despite the whiff of pedophilia, the movie’s cheery attitude never feels out of place; it’s all part of a woman’s remembrance of her favorite mistake. The elegant, charming Mulligan is outstanding the lead, but the usually intense American Sarsgaard is a bit miscast playing the English charmer. (Jude Law, if he weren’t too busy playing dress-up, would have nailed this role.) Molina is terrific as a father whose desire for his daughter’s security leads to a load of conflicting advice that turns from humorous to destructive. *** [PG-13]

Bronson (Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn). Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Hugh Ross, James Lance, Juliet Oldfield. Charlie Bronson (formerly Michael Peterson) is one of England’s most famous prisoners, a muscled goon with a mustache from a silent movie and a shaven head who has been imprisoned for 34 years—30 of them in solitary confinement. This doesn’t bother Bronson, who compares prison to staying in a hotel and who basks in his savage infamy. Refn’s highly stylized, violent biopic examines Bronson’s life behind bars in various prisons (and his brief time outside) with Hardy delivering a frenzied, sometimes hypnotic performance. Movie starts off promisingly enough, offering a glimpse into the veteran prisoner’s delusions, including Bronson visualizing himself as a stage performer. But it veers wildly off course from that reference point, becoming increasingly rudderless and flashy. Without proper background or insight, it’s hard to stay interested in the life of a psychotic (especially when he’s the movie’s focus), regardless of the actor’s fervor for the part or the director’s visual flair. Really, this should have been a lot better. ** [R]

Rage (Dir: Sally Potter). Starring: Simon Abkarian, Patrick J. Adams, Riz Ahmed, Bob Balaban, Adriana Barraza, Steve Buscemi, Jakob Cedergren, Lily Cole, Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, Jude Law, John Leguizamo, David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest. Bare-bones production features 14 people all involved—some directly, some peripherally—in a major NYC fashion show. Over the course of several days, they’re all interviewed by a student for a class project. When tragedy strikes and the kid’s footage winds up on the Internet, the self-important subjects become more ragged, even human, as they unburden themselves to the student reporter. Writer/director Potter (Orlando, Yes) touches on a wide variety of subjects with fierce intelligence, and the performances from the terrific cast (especially Buscemi and Leguizamo) are excellent, but her aggressively artsy bent (e.g., a Shakespeare-quoting detective; the unseen and unheard student filmmaker) and the film’s sheer philosophical weight ultimately make for exhausting viewing. You never feel like you’re getting the message, or even what one you should be following. Reason for watching, if just for a little while: Movie star Law in drag, sporting a Russian accent, playing a model named Minx. ** [NR]

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