Posted on 12/24/13 05:46 PM
In too many ways, the Hollywood animation industry has ruined the market for everyone else. Disney and Pixar are leading a pack - DreamWorks, Fox, Sony - that have considerable resources at their disposal: they can easily afford to hire the best talents and bombard the entire world with adorable tie-in merchandise, even if the films they're producing aren't particularly good. It's a real shame, because it means that smaller, semi-independent efforts like The House Of Magic - an utterly charming French co-production - might too easily fall by the wayside.
Abandoned by his owners, a cat sneaks into a mysterious mansion that the neighbourhood pets are convinced is haunted. In short order, our feline protagonist gains a new name (Thunder) and a new master - the genial, elderly Lawrence, a magician who lives happily in a magical world with his toys and mechanical gizmos. However, Thunder also gains a few enemies: Jack Rabbit and Maggie Mouse have no intention of allowing him to become part of Lawrence's act, even as Lawrence's nefarious nephew Danny plots to sell the house away.
Plot-wise, there isn't anything particularly special about The House Of Magic. The story marches along in largely predictable fashion - the schemes cooked up by Thunder and his buddies aren't enormously innovative and the ending of the film is never in doubt. It's also the kind of movie in which moral complexities are easier to ignore than include, so don't expect many shades of grey in the characters of Thunder, Lawrence or Danny. Even Jack Rabbit, who proves a worthy, grouchy secondary antagonist to Thunder is quickly forgotten in the film's action-packed ending.
But it's all woven together to charming, sweet effect in the film, which benefits enormously from its excellent character design. It's easy to forgive the straightforward narrative when it's hurried along so effectively by the bouncy, adorable Thunder and his desire to be part of a family again. Lawrence's toys are also wonderfully realised: Edison, the most expressive walking lightbulb you'll ever see, is a standout, but the other supporting characters are lovingly developed too. Much of the joy in the film comes from watching them come together to thwart Danny's efforts.
Taken all together, The House Of Magic has the feel of a well-worn bedtime story: it may occasionally feel like something you've seen a thousand times before, but it's also powered by a comfortable, familiar spark of magic - the kind that makes you feel right at home, wherever you might be.
Summary: This house breaks little new ground but is nevertheless filled to the rafters with its own magic and charm.
Posted on 7/22/13 12:57 PM
Watch a documentary on a musician and his music, and what do you expect? A biopic, perhaps? A film about his beginnings, his inspirations, the way his fans have changed him, the crippling (or enabling) effects of fame? A glimpse, perhaps, into the singer as a man - the humanising of someone touched by the supernatural glow of celebrity. Or perhaps it's a concert documentary: a film focused more closely on talent and musicianship. Much as pioneering rock-and-roll icon Bruce Springsteen is deserving of all such cinematic treatment, Springsteen & I, refreshingly, falls into none of those categories. Instead, it's a movie for his fans and made by his fans - and, as a result, one that works very well too as an examination of the modern phenomena of celebrity culture and fandom.
Checking in with Springsteen's fans from all over the world, the documentary is spliced together from their home videos and personal accounts - resulting in stories that range from the hilarious (a mother who has forcibly passed her love for the Boss down to her offspring) to the touching (a British couple get an unexpected surprise when they fly to New York to catch a live concert). Fans talk about the electric moments in which they find themselves unexpectedly sharing Springsteen's spotlight, whether it's onstage or in an impromptu street performance. Of course, there's much ruminating on the way in which Springsteen's music has underscored and even changed the lives of his fans - even if they've never had the chance to see him perform live.
There's a real danger at every point in the film that it might become too mawkish and self-congratulatory. Indeed, if this were a documentary made by any other world-famous celebrity, it would likely come off as self-aggrandising, arrogant pablum. But because Springsteen has somehow managed to maintain a reputation for humility and being, as a fan put its, very much "salt of the earth", despite being one of the biggest stars on the planet, he just about gets away with it. Fans of the man and his music will recognise their own stories in these sweet, affecting tales, which ring with truth and a shared passion.
On the other hand, non-fans and neophytes might find the general air of breathless reverence somewhat off-putting - although there are certainly elements in the film which they can probably appreciate too. Director Baillie Walsh puts the story together with a light touch, taking care to inject humour into the proceedings. Specifically, she presents the point of view of, for want of a better term, a "fan-in-law" - a man who dutifully but reluctantly accompanies his Springsteen-obsessed wife to concerts all over Europe. It's moments like these that expand the film beyond a mere homage to a celebrity. Look a little deeper, and the vignettes in Springsteen & I reveal a great deal about passion and fandom: the need for human connection, the power of music and poetry, the community and camaraderie that can form from shared interests.
Another undeniable huge draw of Springsteen & I is the live footage that runs throughout the film, as well as the exclusive concert highlights that unspool after the credits. The sense where the former is concerned is of Springsteen sharing the limelight with his fans: his performances, including some rare, purportedly never-before-seen live footage, are tied into their stories. He riffs charmingly on the hidden subtext in Red-Headed Woman, for instance, or sings Born To Run across years and generations to close out the film. The concert reel after the credits, taken from his Hard Rock Calling performance in London last year and featuring Sir Paul McCartney, includes six rousing, wonderfully-performed rock anthems that are alone worth the price of admission.
For anyone who's ever loved something or someone in an indescribable, soul-deep way, even if it isn't Springsteen (but especially if it is), Springsteen & I is a movie that will resonate. It acknowledges the huge, enormous place celebrity, music, culture and art can occupy in someone's life, without the derogatory allusions that usually come with being classified a nerd, a geek or obsessive. For those unacquainted with the cult of Springsteen, be warned: this could prove both annoying and cloying, though there's also a chance he and his fans could charm you with the strength of their love and devotion.
Basically: A fascinating, unexpectedly insightful documentary that pays homage to Springsteen but also celebrates the passion of his fans.
Posted on 6/17/13 06:32 AM
Before Sunrise is a simple, poetic distillation of the essence of romance. On a cross-Europe train ride, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy), and as they talk and impulsively jump off the train together to walk around Vienna for a day, they discover a connection so startlingly deep and touching that they fall in love knowing that they must part in the morning.
The movie camera does little more than follow Jesse and Celine on their extended date through the beauty of Vienna by night--they talk about anything and everything: first loves, heartbreaks, men and women. They get on each other's nerves, briefly, visit a cemetery full of unknown ghosts, and wrestle with their growing desire to meet each other again. It's lovely to watch, considering how easily the film could have been boring and pretentious with its protagonists making pseudo-intellectual chatter throughout (as Hawke's character wryly observes at one point). And yet, it's surprisingly real and heartbreakingly sweet, including the people they meet along the way--such as the poetic bum or the kind-hearted bartender.
One of my favourite scenes would have to be when Celine initiates a phone conversation with her friend, played by Jesse. As they hold their hands to their faces, pretending to speak into telephones while facing each other across a table, they reveal first impressions and secret thoughts, and find out new things about each other. It's sweet, yet real, and so... ordinary. But beautiful nonetheless. Hawke has a tiny moment when his character forgets, and his hand slips to cup his chin, entranced by Celine. But he quickly recovers himself and gets back on the phone... part of their charade, their little game of falling more in love with each step they take.
Before Sunrise is a small, elegant picture that says more with its tiny cast and budget than a lot of films these days. I'm much looking forward to its sequel.
Posted on 6/17/13 06:30 AM
It‚(TM)s happened before ‚" I‚(TM)ve read poor to middling reviews for a film, wandered into the cinema with my expectations accordingly dialled down as low as they can go‚¶ and wound up really enjoying myself. I figured that could be the case for The Words, which has pretty much been slammed from all corners in a way that suggests either (a) it‚(TM)s really quite terrible, or (b) it‚(TM)s one of those oddball cult movies that‚(TM)s likely to gain its own small, loyal following. So I went in with an open mind ‚" and came away with the unfortunate conviction that The Words is every bit as bad as reviews will have you believe.
The film opens with celebrated author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading from his latest novel, which tells the story of Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper). Rory‚(TM)s life looks like a charmed one ‚" he‚(TM)s the new darling of the literary world following the publication of his book, The Window Tears, and he‚(TM)s deeply in love with his beautiful, supportive wife Dora (Zoe Saldana). But then he meets a mysterious old man (Jeremy Irons), weighed down by years and secrets and pain‚¶ and Rory‚(TM)s fictional world starts to crumble even as Clay finds himself defending his book and protagonist to grad student Daniella (Olivia Wilde), one of his most ardent fans.
To be charitable, I suppose Brian Krugman and Lee Sternthal ‚" who are both credited as directors and writers for The Words ‚" had grand ambitions of devising a profound, literate drama blending a wealth of intriguing questions and themes: what is reality, and what is fiction? What happens when you‚(TM)re not as good as you hope to be? How far will you go to get what you want? Is it really your story if you don‚(TM)t get to tell it yourself? Certainly it sounds like an intriguing movie could be concocted out of these elements, one which darts from reality to fiction and back, weaving a cinematic spell from lies and fiction until reality itself is warped and changed.
The Words is not that movie. For much of its running time, it‚(TM)s pretty inoffensive ‚" a half-baked drama that plods along in its mediocre fashion, with nothing that particularly recommends or condemns it. It‚(TM)s pretty to look at, Rory and Dora seem like a sweet couple, and the old man‚(TM)s story is interesting enough as sepia-tinted tales of falling in love on the cobblestoned streets of Paris go.
But then the film reaches its climax, which is a misnomer in this instance because there‚(TM)s nothing especially exciting about it. At that point, the film actually manages to plunge downhill from its steady plateau. Laughably bad dialogue abounds, the sort that is so clunky that Cooper‚(TM)s best efforts can‚(TM)t rescue it. Sometimes, the performances in a film can salvage it from the dustbin of history and The Words really does boast an unusually impressive cast. Tragically, not even Irons can do much to elevate the distinctly poor script, while actors who usually do solid character work like Quaid and Wilde seem to be sleepwalking through their scenes. It feels almost as if the directors cobbled their cast together by calling in favours from the biggest names on their Facebook friends list.
How Klugman and Sternthal‚(TM)s script ended up on the Black List in 2005, an annual compilation of the best unproduced scripts making the rounds in Hollywood, is a mystery to me. Somehow, from script to screen, the movie floundered and wound up committing the greatest crime imaginable for a film so concerned with the power of language ‚" it failed to find the right words to tell its story.
BASICALLY: A waste of words.
Posted on 6/17/13 06:29 AM
With its loud dayglo poster and hopelessly retro-hip trailer, C.R.A.Z.Y. appears to be marketed (at least in Singapore) as a hilarious, hip teen flick about coming out of the closet... which had me half-expecting one of those gross-out comedies the Americans seem to love so much. I just figured the Canadians were about to get in on the act. Of course, I should have been sufficiently clued in by the numerous accolades and critical plaudits this movie has won to realise that it was no mere mainstream hit, though it certainly has crossover potential given the gripping universality of its themes. Thank heaven that C.R.A.Z.Y., despite its trappings as a dime-a-dozen family drama about a young male protagonist's coming of age, actually breaks out of every marketing and genre mould you'd expect it to occupy, to create a fresh, touching and very real exploration of all the pain and joy associated with family, growing up, and wanting - nay, needing - to be loved.
Zachary Beaulieu (played by Marc-Andre Grondin when a teenager/adult and by Emile Vallee as a child) is the fourth boy in a set of five sons, literally marked as different from his brothers by a scar - caused when he was dropped on his head the very Christmas day he was born in 1960 - and a stray lock of blonde hair at the nape of his neck that has never matched the rest of his dark hair. Each of his brothers have their own distinctive personalities, of course - Christian (Maxime Tremblay) is a bookworm who reads so voraciously even food labels don't escape his hungry eyes; Raymond (Pierre-Luc Brillant) a drugged-out loser of a hippie who nevertheless emanates cool; Antoine (Alex Gravel) a jock whose life revolves around sports; and youngest son Yvan (Felix-Antoine Despatie) whose sole distinguishing characteristic unfortunately appears to be that he's chubby. But there is something different about Zac - not because he has miraculous healing powers imparted to him by the Christ-child whose birthday he shares, as his loving, quietly devoted and spiritual mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx) wants to believe, but because Zac is gay (or at least bisexual). As he struggles for years to find and define himself as a human being, Zac battles his own disgust and horror at what he hopes he will not become, praying to an apparently unhearing, uncaring god to fix what he thinks is wrong with him. But even harder to handle than his own self-recrimination, Zac discovers, is the dark, bitter disappointment and denial of his beloved father Gervais (Michel Cote) that fundamentally and painfully redefines their relationship when the latter's suspicions about his son's sexual orientation solidify and start to colour his perception of Zac for the worse.
For the most part, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a wonderful movie-watching experience - it's engaging, funny, thoroughly involving... and unless you've grown up a hermit and have no familial relationships whatsoever, it's also the kind of movie that strikes a chord with just about anyone anywhere. Who hasn't felt, however fleetingly, that miserable feeling of alienation from the people you love the most, and most crucially, the people you expect to accept you and love you conditionally? The snapshots of a life provided by Zac's wry, quirky voice-over as he recounts seminal moments in his childhood are achingly familiar - and perhaps become most clear when he introduces each of his brothers with the knowing, weary frustration that comes from loving and hating them in equal measure, particularly his "mortal enemy" Raymond. That's just how sibling relationships are - the love is there, but it's buried beneath a layer of annoyance, frustration and what feels a lot like hate, frequently more immediate and certainly manifesting itself more obviously than its opposite. In this sense, the movie excels, because Zac's relationships with the key members of his family - namely his parents and Raymond - are painstakingly drawn, and coloured in with so many shades of grey that their relationships and motivations are always shifting and never predictable. In other words, they're - crucially - very much as you'd expect real people to be.
Standouts, of course, are not coincidentally also the stars of the show. Zac is front and centre, and is certainly a fascinating study of a young man not just dealing with growing up and its attendant hormonally-induced turmoil, but also struggling to understand his own feelings and sexuality. Thankfully, the scenes illustrating this internal conflict are usually subtly handled - ranging from the painfully funny (Zac's star-spangled rendition of a David Bowie song gets him a walloping from the macho Antoine and the bemused giggles of a gaggle of amused schoolmates outside his window) to the viscerally shocking (as Zac mercilessly pounds into the pavement the one boy at school who recognises and understands what Zac is going through) and the frustratingly, miserably sad (Zac projecting his feelings of lust for his cousin's boyfriend onto his cousin, in the misguided belief that incestuous feelings are at least a notch about homosexual ones). As Zac spirals through denial after denial, until he almost convinces himself that he was just suffering through a phase, his own actions (getting into a horrific car accident, shouting abuse at the same boy he beat up when) only play as a reflection of the same feelings of revulsion and horror that plague his father.
Which leads me to the wonderfully-drawn secondary characters in this piece, who I feel actually were the stars of the movie. Much as it belongs to Zac and his journey, it's also his father, mother and arch enemy of a brother that lend such emotional resonance to Zac's travails. Gervais, in particular, is perhaps one of the best minor roles in recent memory - tough, loving, bossy and a know-it-all, the audience watches with Zac as Gervais morphs from the world's best dad, when they go on special just-them outings for french fries, to a paranoid, untrusting homophobe who seems better able to accept a druggie stoner for a son than a gay. (The pride Gervais takes in Zac's manly exploits - beating up a kid in school, for instance - is funny in the context of the movie, but a great, revealing character moment too.) Even in the face of his wife's far less belligerent attitude towards Zac's possible sexual proclivities, Gervais remains adamant that he can fix what he thinks is wrong with his son, sending him for therapy or shouting him down in a rained-out carpark on the night of Christian's wedding. In a moment of particularly hard-won, tortured epiphany, Gervais finally sits his son down and explains to him just why he can't get over Zac being different in this particular way - and it's a moment shot through with so much pain and love that it becomes difficult to begrudge Gervais his longstanding refusal to give up on his son perhaps becoming normal.
Meanwhile, although given less screen-time and dialogue, Zac's mother Laurianne is as strong a presence in the boy's life - this stemming very much from her undeniable unconditional love for him, as she indulges the young boy's desire to push his baby brother's pram once out of sight of Gervais and the eye he always keeps open for any hint of girliness in his son such that it can be immediately quashed. Laurianne's quiet faith and devotion to her god and her children are never articulated, but come through strongly - from her reaction to Zac's gift to her of a book on Jerusalem, or the thudding sound from the kitchen that for her takes the place of heaving sobs as she irons bread for Raymond the way he likes it. Raymond, as Zac's dramatic counter-point, is another great character - lurking always on the peripheries of his brother's subconscious, Raymond is the brother Zac can neither understand not accept, because surely what Raymond does is worse than what Zac only thinks about. As both brothers squabble, picking up on where the other is most sensitive to criticism (Raymond never fails to belittle Zac as a fag, above and beyond the casual use of slang), what's surprising is that love which still underlies their prickly, hate-filled relationship. Raymond fights for his brother's honour at Christian's wedding, or Zac secretly sends Raymond the money he refuses to personally give the latter. And tellingly, at one of the lowest points of Zac's life, the hallucinated person he first sees that gives him back his life is Raymond - something that becomes true, in a devastatingly literal way, nearer the end of the film.
Not to say that C.R.A.Z.Y. is perfect - not quite. Tonally, it's a bit of a mess, and I have to admit that I far prefer the quirky charm of the first part, as we watch young Zac grow up and deal first with childhood neuroses like bed-wetting, and then far more serious grown-up problems of anger (breaking his father's beloved Patsy Cline record), resentment and denial. The feel of this section of the film recalls the offbeat appeal of Amelie, radiating as it does the rose-glow of childhood as Zac complains about sharing the Christ-child's birthday or gets taken to the local medium/healer Madame Chose (Helene Gregoire) so that she can tell if he shares her gift. It's also peppered through with gorgeous imagery - Zac hanging blissfully out of his dad's car window as they take a winding trip down a meandering country road, Zac getting dunked at camp as his mom's cross disappears into the blue nowhere. The slow disappearance of Zac's voice-over heralds also a shift into far more gritty, close-to-the-bone dramatic territory, as he grows up and his world becomes a consequently far darker, far gloomier place. The movie's appeal is considerably reduced when it becomes a series of increasingly depressing scenes which certainly add to the story (and the already hefty two-hour-plus running time), but unfortunately fail to elevate it beyond what had already been established story-wise (Gervais does not want a gay son, basically). Even the flights of fantasy to which Zac is prone become more disturbing in the darker half of the film, which certainly befits its more serious tone - but because the movie almost becomes a documentary in terms of how grave it gets the more running time is clocked up, these more macabre jaunts of imagination (Zac dragging his way across a hot, parched stretch of desert) are jarring rather than organic to the movie and its main character.
Nevertheless, C.R.A.Z.Y. is one of the better coming-of-age stories to have emerged in recent years. Fortunately, writer-director Jean-Marc Vallee clearly wanted to create a true coming-of-age movie rather than a titillating one just about coming out of the closet - and it's a far richer, more engaging experience because of that. Smart, tender and painfully real, the movie boasts a cracking cast (all are great, but my favourites include the precocious young Vallee, the gruff Cote and the winsome Proulx) and heaps of touching, truthful insight into the ways families can pull together just as easily as they can tear themselves apart.
Posted on 6/17/13 06:29 AM
Never let it be said that George Clooney is not a thoroughly ambitious man. In his second bid at directing a motion picture, Clooney also assumes writing duties alongside scripting buddy Grant Heslov, and takes a minor starring role in Good Night, and Good Luck. Which, as we've seen in many other vanity projects pushed laboriously through by actors who are trying to stretch their wings and prove they've got brains, does not necessarily a good movie make. Grappling with weighty subject matter (the McCarthy hearings of the mid-1950s and one valiant journalist's attempt to take him down), not to mention a slightly dangerous artistic decision to present the movie in crisp black and white (just a slip away from pretension), it would have been far easier for the movie to spiral out of control and turn into some kind of archaic curiosity piece that only proved Clooney should have stuck to acting. Fortunately for all of us, Clooney pulls it off with GNAGL, producing a slick, smart movie teeming with ideas and passion. Sure, it grabs your brain rather more than it does your heart, and can't always avoid sounding a bit like a preachy documentary, but in a climate of increasingly dumb, visceral movies, it's a blessing and a joy to sit through a film so dedicated to making its audience think.
GNAGL tells the story of how veteran CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his trusty news team went up against the fear-mongering juggernaut of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), way back in the 1950s when sunshiny bobbysoxers and Elvis' pelvis couldn't hide the pervasive climate of fear and paranoia which McCarthy exploited to the hilt in fingering alleged Communists in every sphere of work he could think of, from Hollywood to the air force and beyond. One baseless indictment too many finally pushes Murrow over the edge and, with the help of his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) and the reluctant backing of CBS head honcho William Paley (Frank Langella), he starts using his previously strictly neutral news programme to expose McCarthy's unsavoury bullying tactics for what they really are. Soon Murrow finds himself directly under a very direct, very personal attack from McCarthy...
Much as there is to recommend this movie (and I will expand on this at greater length), there are a number of scripting problems that keep GNAGL from being as effective as I think it could have been. Whatever their intentions were, Clooney and Heslov come dangerously close to making a documentary rather than a genuine drama - at some points in the film, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a clinical version of real-life events enacted by actors for a news programme, rather than a movie breathing with the lives and losses of the real people on which it is based. "I don't want a civics lesson," claims one of the characters near the end of the film - a scarily apt comment, since it's occasionally hard to believe that you're not sitting through a lecture on American history. This is partly due to the extensive interspersion of actual footage from the era throughout the movie - while this works wonderfully in the case of McCarthy (no one could believe such a blustery bully of a man once existed and terrorised a nation unless confronted with the real deal), it does cause the pace of the film to dip considerably at other points, notably during the extended scene featuring the interrogation of alleged Communist Annie Lee Moss. Powerful message or no, the story loses too much of its focus right at this moment - the key plot points having been established even before the too-long clip is screened.
To give credit where it's due, Clooney's use of archival footage is for the most part masterfully edited into the movie. Another reason I found it difficult to forge an emotional connection with the characters, however, is that the story, aside from a not entirely subtle subplot featuring romantically-involved co-workers Joe (Robert Downey Jr) and Shirley (Patricia Clarkson), loses quite a bit of its dramatic potential in staying so essentially confined to the newsroom. Where we might want to see Murrow as a flawed, noble human being, we are instead forced to accept him more as a righteous, impervious knight. One example: we never really see the impact that his decision to go head to head with McCarthy has on his personal life, especially in that crucial one week after Murrow had pledged not to defend himself or editorialise any of McCarthy's commie allegations. It's only through Strathairn's brilliant performance, captured in a series of completely silent close-ups peppered throughout the movie, that Murrow's fears and insecurities about his potentially career-sinking choices are shaded in and the audience gets a glimmering of the man he really was, as opposed to the gilded hero the movie is making him out to be.
Perhaps Clooney meant it to be a tour de force of acting, and thus left it out of his screenplay. Somehow, I think not. That's because there's an argument to be made (and I'm about to make it) that GNAGL is Clooney's modern Western, with power suits substituting for ten-gallon hats, and words taking the place of guns. That's why Murrow's character is set up the way he is - he is a hero, much in the style of latter-day Westerns which recognised that the Old West and its values were very quickly becoming a thing of the past. He's a newscaster as John Wayne would have played him: an old-fashioned, reticent, honourable gentleman whose beliefs are going the way of the dinosaurs, but who nevertheless takes up a noble cause (in this case, the entitlement of the American public to privacy, free speech and independent thought) and goes out guns a-blazing to set things to rights. In this sense, Clooney succeeds at creating a far more melancholic, complex and thoughtful picture than you'd expect. Unlike early Westerns, when just rewards for the good and the evil dictated how these movies ended, GNAGL is very much in the vein of conflicted, complex pictures like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Clooney does not end the movie when Murrow triumphs over McCarthy. No, he chooses to show us that heroes do not always get their happy endings. Not only is Murrow's joy at McCarthy's downfall immediately tempered by the death of his greatly maligned news anchor friend Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), his own standing as a journalist takes a hit when Paley reassigns him to what is essentially a kiss-of-death Sunday afternoon timeslot. What Clooney is saying - and he does this pretty subtly, through the speech Murrow gives that bookends the film - is that Murrow may have won a few hard-fought, crucial battles, but he lost the war where it really matters. He did change things for the better, and inspired a nation in the process. But, if Clooney's underlying message is to be believed, Murrow's words of caution and tolerance have failed to permeate the American consciousness as he would have hoped... his plea for open, mature, tolerant debate has been forgotten, as reflected in the state of today's media, which helps rather than hinders the American government in its implementation of unpopular, sometimes deeply unjustified policies.
Moralising? Shamelessly. But even if you disagree with my thesis of Murrow as hero cowboy, there is no denying the power of the subject matter Clooney is working with here. Murrow's broadcasts, always ending with his trademark sign-off (the title of the movie), are savvy, literate, and frighteningly prescient. They ring as smart and true now as they must have then, and are more inspiring than anything you'd ever hear on a news broadcast these days, all of them made Mcready for an audience whose attention span doesn't go beyond a thirty-second soundbite. Yes, as Murrow himself says near the end of GNAGL, "Just once in a while, let us exalt the importance of ideas and information." Let us dream, however naively, of a world in which television can fire rather than stifle the imagination again - it's more important to have the dream, to remember it, than to never think about it at all.
And that's really what Clooney is trying to put across, while, thankfully, never once talking down to his audience, nor accommodating their unfamiliarity with rapidfire dialogue. His movie harks back to (though it can't quite match) the sly, intelligent banter of classics like His Girl Friday, delivered by a cast as competent as anyone could wish for. Strathairn, as I've already said, is a revelation as a man of few, few words onscreen, but a poet and a revolutionary in his element. He sparks off well with Clooney, whose Fred Friendly provides the quiet, unqualified backing that any renegade needs to have any chance of survival. Downey Jr and Clarkson provide able support, although their storyline is a little too obvious and feels a bit tacked-on for it to really work in the context of the rest of the film.
Part documentary, part biopic, and all cautionary tale, GNAGL is undoubtedly the kind of mature, smart film that should be filling cineplexes rather than the dreck we're now forced to endure as entertainment. In spite of some scripting and pacing problems, Clooney's movie is meant to be an unrelentless challenge to the mind, an engagement of one's values and beliefs... and that's exactly what it turns out to be. Even if it doesn't on its own quite manage to grab the hearts of its audience, it's far harder to deny that GNAGL's own heart wasn't in the right place.
Posted on 6/17/13 06:29 AM
Ten years (count 'em up, that makes one full decade, yo) has passed between the original Mission: Impossible and its second sequel, MI:III. One might wonder - isn't Tom Cruise just a little too old (44 years ancient this July) to be risking his life proving that all those impossible missions his special agent character Ethan Hunt gets sent on aren't quite so impossible after all, as he hangs out of cars, catapults himself onto roofs, and gets blasted out of the air in about a million different ways in exotic locales all over the world? And, quite honestly, does anyone even care anymore? Should they? What's to stop this from being just another in a string of filler summer movies, packed to the gills with heart-stopping action scenes, hot girls and really cheesy dialogue? Certainly not the box office - it would have wiped the floor from here to Nantucket with every other movie that dared to share its opening weekend. Yes, in a way, MI:III wouldn't even have had to apologise for being a cookie-cutter action movie, popped out at the star-making factory with Tom Cruise's big cheesy grin slapped across all the posters and advertising - that's all we were expecting it to be, after all.
Fortunately for this nay-sayer, Cruise - ever savvy when it comes to selecting his movies and the people he works with - happened upon TV's Alias and decided that nothing would do for him but to get television wunderkind JJ Abrams (also of Lost and Felicity fame) on board as the director of the third installment of the MI franchise. In accepting directing duties, Abrams said that he wanted to reinvent the series - not to do away with the slick, heart-pumping action sequences that tumble over each other in rapid succession, but to make these scenes mean something a little more than they did in the previous MI movies, to give the random violence, explosions and seriously cool heists a shot of heart and soul to complement all that adrenaline. I guess I should have had more faith in him, because I still didn't think MI:III would amount to anything much more than a welcome, brainless diversion on a Saturday night. And it was that, of course (I would have been upset if it wasn't), and yet, through all those rip-roaring, spectacular action sequences, Abrams weaves in a backstory for Ethan that makes his desperation to complete his impossible missions far more believable.
In short, Ethan now has a fiancee - the kind that would cause any self-respecting agent of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) to take himself out of the field and become a semi-retired trainer instead. But Ethan's life with Julia (Michelle Monaghan) isn't getting off to the best of starts - his engagement party is interrupted by news from his IMF contact John Musgrave (Billy Crudup) that the best trainee he's produced, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), has been taken hostage by the movie's token baddie and illegal everything trafficker Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). What starts out as a mission to recover Lindsey from her prison in Berlin soon spirals across the world, from the Vatican to Shanghai, as Ethan's goals continually shift - first, to chase Owen down to exact his revenge for Lindsey's torture; then, to protect the life he wants to lead in the future when Owen sets the wheels within the wheels of IMF turning and abducts Julia in exchange for Ethan pillaging a Shanghai vault to procure the mystical Rabbit's Foot. Hampered by the bureaucracy and possible corruption of IMF head honcho John Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), Ethan finally finds himself with 48 hours to pull off another in a string of already impossible missions - to save Julia's skin, and his heart.
Surprisingly, everything about this movie works smoothly, the way it's supposed to. The action sequences are literally breath-taking (I found myself having to remind myself to breathe out a number of times throughout the movie - I'd subconsciously held my breath as Ethan essayed another death-defying stunt or seven). Knowing full well that he was putting on screen utterly ludicrous, totally impossible set-pieces, Abrams chose to delight in them rather than blow them even further out of proportion. Take the audacious incursion into the Vatican - as Ethan and his similarly genetically-blessed and physically gifted buddies Luther (Ving Rhames), Zhen Lai (Maggie Q) and Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) infiltrate the world's most heavily-guarded country one by one, you know you're suspending your disbelief that everything could be that simple, that smoothly executed. Ethan's stunt with the Vatican camera, or the entire ruse in which they plan to capture Owen? Unbelievable. Impossible. But it's pulled off with so much style that you just don't care. What helps the movie immeasurably is that Abrams, drawing on his experience from the angst-soaked Alias, also grounds the action in a little human suffering to keep the audience hooked - not just visually, but at an emotional, visceral level. You want Ethan to succeed, as he desperately chalks out the math that might or might not help him live to swing between two buildings like a pendulum, or when he ducks air assaults and exploding trucks to grab what's essentially a missile-launcher to blow an enemy helicopter out of the air. Abrams manages to infuse moments where little in terms of physical activity happens with a sense of high drama - take the opening scene of the movie, which intriguingly introduces us to the cold, murderous Owen grilling Ethan mercilessly about the Rabbit's Foot, a gun pointed casually at Julia's temple.
Abrams also benefits from a strong cast that helps lend the movie the emotional weight it needs to be not just another action movie. Bringing an actor of Hoffman's pedigree on board, for example, was a coup, since Owen as a character is essentially a cipher. It's hard to make people care about irredeemable evil - more interesting would technically be Ethan's contacts in IMF, Musgrave and Brassel, as they struggle with their own priorities and world views when directing operations against Owen. But Hoffman makes his creepy character sing, and it's a thrill to watch him underplay Owen's menace when his character repeatedly asks Ethan, in a thoroughly matter-of-fact way, what Ethan's name is. Just so he can seek out the people Ethan loves and kill them good. Supporting cast members are generally up for the challenge; you can tell Rhames and Fishburne are just loving their snarky asides, and Russell is as far removed from her angsty TV persona (Felicity) as you can imagine - she serves up some excellent melodrama when Ethan delivers a shot of adrenaline directly to her heart, or when you see her training with Ethan in flashbacks. To his credit, Cruise, who could have phoned his performance in from Katie Holmes' bedside, goes all out to prove once again that he actually is a pretty good actor who's thoroughly committed to his work. It's a shame how tarnished his public reputation has become since he became one half of the world's most notorious Scientologist couples (TomKat!), because he does do good work here in making a faintly creaky and idealised relationship relatable, but all everyone is going to be interested in is whether Katie screamed when Suri was born. His best scene, at any rate, comes near the end of the movie, when the rug is pulled out from under his (and the audience's) feet again and, his face soaked in tears, he tries to piece together just who the bad guy is in all this.
My only complaint about MI:III, if a complaint it really is, will probably be that it's just a little bit too reminiscent of Abrams' TV work, especially Alias. If you're any kind of a fan of his TV shows (and chances are you've caught at least one of the three), it's hard to shake the feeling that you've somehow walked into a feature-length episode of Alias, minus one Sydney Bristow and with a budget in the gazillions of dollars. Abrams, as usual, sneaks in his favourite actors (Russell, Greg Grunberg) to the extent that I thought the geeky computer dude Marcus (Kevin Weisman) would turn up. Nope, this time Brit Simon Pegg plays the role of all-powerful tech dude (to wonderful, hilarious effect, by the way, in his too-brief scenes). But still, I kept expecting Lena Olin to turn up and go medieval on Ethan's ass (and I don't even watch Alias!). And it was very JJ Abrams for the secret of the Rabbit Foot to be quite as obtuse as it finally turned out to be. I didn't have a problem with the lack of resolution (I actually felt Abrams was making a pretty sly point here; Ethan didn't need to know what he was chasing after, because in movies like this it's always something so ridiculous you'd be better off not knowing any specifics), but some people might.
There's very little point trying to pick at loopholes or implausibilities in this movie though - everything about it, every action sequence, is riddled with impossibility. That's what it's about, after all. Why waste time thinking about it when MI:III does what it says on the box and delights in being the brainlessly flashy summer blockbuster it is? In a movie that does what it sets out to do with this much flair, humour and the surprising heaping of heart that laces its way through the plot, you'd have to have been sedated to not come out of the cinema feeling that, if nothing else, you had been quite thoroughly entertained...
Posted on 6/17/13 06:29 AM
Do I have to apologise up front for enjoying this movie far more than I thought I would? I mean, come on, this wasn't even supposed to be entertaining; I thought I'd go in, be bitterly disappointed, and spend the rest of the night amusing myself by mocking it mercilessly. Why did I go in with such negative expectations, you ask? Okay, first of all, any movie that opens too late for reviewers to rip it apart in the press always suggests that something went badly, badly wrong in the editing room. Secondly, it stars a decidely over-the-hill Michael Douglas, who also had to produce the damn movie in order to be in it. And thirdly, because you always need a third reason to fear something, The Sentinel's supporting cast consists of two TV actors trying to break into the big time - 24's Kiefer Sutherland, shouting from the rooftops his intention to fully cash in on his TV fame before it dwindles away, and Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria, who only wants to get away from her sexpot TV image by playing (get this!) a sexpot CIA rookie agent. Hmmm. Far from excellent credentials, wouldn't you say?
And, of course, the movie is predictable pablum. The plot is hokey and obvious as all get out - though, to its credit, never pretends to be anything more than it is. You won't need much more than a brief recap: Pete Garrison (Douglas) is a Secret Service agent who's been assigned to the White House for the better part of two decades, a legend more for having taken a bullet for Reagan in the 80s than for making much of his career thereafter. (He didn't.) Pete, who's hiding an explosive, career-ending secret from his boss, who just happens to be the current President of the United States (David Rasche), suddenly finds himself framed as the Secret Service mole who's conspiring to assassinate dear old POTUS. Desperate to prove his innocence, Pete goes on the run with erstwhile best friend and brilliant investigative director David Breckinridge (Sutherland) hot on his tail. Longoria plays Jill Marin, a purportedly brilliant young import from the training academy whom Pete sent over to shadow David. She... uh, swans around in low-cut tops, the obligatory female lust object to keep the guys in the audience always anticipating the possibility of near nudity. (Guns and violence and babes, oh my!)
So, if it isn't obvious by now, The Sentinel is a straight-up thriller from start to finish, with no hooks, no breathtaking twists, and surprisingly, no jawdropping action scenes. So you'd imagine I would hate it, or at least disdain it a little for being so unambitious. Because you can accuse the movie of taking an interesting premise and fairly intriguing characters (Pete's secret, which implicates the President's wife Sarah, played by a perpetually frowning Kim Basinger) and turning them into something predictably rote. The movie's twist is obvious (no one involved in the project even bothered to litter red herrings throughout the script to seriously implicate either of the main characters or many of the other secondary ones), and after the mole's identity is unveiled in the obligatory, painfully self-conscious revelation scene, the movie flags quite a bit.
But somehow, through some miracle of movie magic (which, fittingly, always strikes when you least expect it), The Sentinel does not suck. In fact, the movie is slicker, more intriguing, and works far better than it should - mostly, I suspect, because not for one moment do you ever feel that the movie-makers, either director Clark Johnson or screenwriter George Nolfi, were aiming to produce anything other than a sturdy, entertaining diversion of an action movie, one which doesn't require you to think, but which doesn't make you want to cry for being so lazy either. (For proof that you can feel guilty for wanting to watch a stupid movie, see one of the most catastrophically bad movies of all time, Ballistic Ecks vs Sever.) There are promising flashes of character development as well, not too much that you feel overwhelmed by the need to emotionally empathise with Pete, but enough so that you feel invested in his quest to protect both his secret and his reputation. It's a shame that the other two minor leads aren't quite as interesting; David's only motive and bias appears to be jealousy, while Jill starts out interesting and then fades quickly into the background when you realise she's only filler. The First Lady, however, makes for an interesting supporting character, as she's torn between her loyalty to her husband and her need to keep the secret she shares with Pete just that - a secret. It's this dramatic pairing that makes the movie's various set-pieces rush along at an easy, amiable clip.
Given the non-taxing nature of this movie, all of the actors could have phoned in their parts, and to their credit, most of them don't - even if they're at times given so little to do that a coat-rack could have just as easily filled in for them that particular day. Douglas is a little too old to convince in the stock character Cary Grant made his own in his Hitchcock run of films - the everyman thrust into an extraordinary situation far beyond his own control, accused of crimes he didn't commit. But he retains an inexplicable grizzly charm (surely Catherine Zeta-Jones will be better able to explain it than I) that powers the movie along when its flimsy plot can't. It's perhaps a good thing I've not seen Sutherland in 24, since I gather from various reviews that he's playing a pale retread of his character here - I'd have been even more frustrated as a fan of Jack Bauer, I suppose, since David isn't the most well-sketched-out of characters, and remains annoyingly obtuse despite a couple of fine, dramatic shouting matches with Pete. As for Longoria - not that she's bad, because she isn't. Her role sucks, basically dwindling in importance with every second that passes, and all I have to say is that, if she wants to prove she can play roles other than Gabrielle on Housewives, she's got to have it written into her contract that she not serve as whichever movie's designated lust object. (Doesn't help with the stereotyping, darling - just a hint!) Basinger runs a close second in terms of being excellent in a mediocre movie. She's not even close to being top-billed here, and yet she has a far more interesting role than either Sutherland or Longoria. It's thanks to her that a mostly under-written part - Sarah's traumas are communicated more through a flick of Basinger's eyes or a worried twist of her hands than actual dialogue - leaps off the page the way it does here.
Certainly I willingly and quite happily checked my brain at every door there was for this movie. The Sentinel is not great art and knows it - but, and think about some of your guilty pleasure movies at this point, when has actual quality ever necessarily corresponded with one's enjoyment of a movie? Brainless, absorbing and less annoying than it really ought to have been, this is a movie you're not going to remember about a day after you've seen it - but you're not going to come away from the cinema hating it (or yourself for watching it) either. And I suppose that's as good an achievement as any, in these months of the ubiquitous summer blockbuster...
Posted on 10/06/12 07:13 AM
It‚(TM)s a tough life for writer-director Woody Allen ‚" he‚(TM)s been churning out movies like clockwork for the past three decades, one quirky, offbeat romantic comedy/drama per year, to the point that he‚(TM)s now taken pretty much for granted. Every year, we know there‚(TM)ll be a movie with a sprawling ensemble cast spouting witticisms about love, death and marriage ‚" the only difference is whether Allen will play his standard, neurotically Jewish, death-obsessed character, or if he‚(TM)ll find someone to sub for him. (Granted these days Allen is switching it up even further by filming in various cities in Europe rather than sticking to his usual stomping grounds of Manhattan.) It‚(TM)s almost sad to think that a lot of his recent movies would probably be far better-received if they‚(TM)d be made by anyone else. But, because it‚(TM)s Allen, even his long-time fans (and I count myself among them) shrug and go, ‚Oh well, he‚(TM)s just doing what he‚(TM)s done for the last thirty years. It‚(TM)s not as good as his stuff from the seventies.‚?
Much as it pains me to trot out that tired old clich√ (C) again, I‚(TM)m afraid it‚(TM)s appropriate here because that‚(TM)s exactly what To Rome With Love is: not as good as his stuff from the seventies. But it‚(TM)s also not as hollow or bland or bitter as some of its predecessors in the past decade ‚" in fact, it‚(TM)s a solid, sweet little film that reminds you of how good Allen really is at whipping up oddball characters, gifting them with insanely witty dialogue and tossing them into refreshingly strange scenarios‚¶ while still having rather intelligent things to say about any number of topics, from the perils of fame, both real and ridiculous, through to the dizzying heights and depths of forbidden love.
Rome tells four stories which aren‚(TM)t really connected, beyond the fact that they all take place in the lovely, sun-kissed capital of Italy. Allen plays retired opera director Jerry and Judy Davis his psychiatrist wife Phyllis, who head to Rome to meet their daughter Hayley‚(TM)s (Alison Pill) boyfriend Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) and his parents. John (Alec Baldwin) is a successful architect who walks the streets of a city in which he once lived and loved, and meets a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) whose travails with the women in his life are oddly familiar to him. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are a young, sweet couple just off the train to Rome, who get their heads turned by the bright lights and people they meet ‚" including sassy hooker Anna (Penelope Cruz) and movie star Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese). Last, but not least, we meet Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), an ordinary schmuck who usually doesn‚(TM)t have a single interesting thing to say about his ordinary life ‚" until, one day, inexplicably, he becomes an enormous celebrity and suddenly finds the whole world interested in the most minute, mundane details of his life.
As you can probably imagine, Rome is a little bit like the cinematic equivalent of a butterfly ‚" it flits from story to story, imparting some insights and a couple of great lines, and then dances off to another plot. It‚(TM)s not particularly consequential, nor is any of it as dark and brooding as Allen‚(TM)s melodramas (and even comedies) can sometimes be. If you can imagine a film that manages to be both literate and lightweight, well, that‚(TM)s what you have here ‚" it‚(TM)s smart, fluffy fun that delights in its characters and its gorgeous surroundings (Allen and his cinematographer really do justice to the romance and magic of the city).
Each of the four stories has its charm ‚" Allen takes a couple of sly digs at his critics in Jerry‚(TM)s tale, as he meets Michelangelo‚(TM)s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), an undertaker with a gorgeous operatic voice‚¶ but only when he‚(TM)s singing in the shower. As Jerry frets about his career, proclaiming that he‚(TM)s always been ahead of his time, it‚(TM)s difficult not to imagine Allen quirking an eyebrow at all the critics who‚(TM)ve suggested that‚¶ well, the times have finally caught up with him. Allen‚(TM)s banter with the delightfully wry Davis, a shrink who psycho-analyses Jerry so that we don‚(TM)t have to, is a delight, as is the inevitable solution at which Jerry arrives in debuting Giancarlo before the world.
Baldwin joins Allen‚(TM)s regular stable of actors (he‚(TM)s already working on Allen‚(TM)s next film set in Manhattan) and proves himself adept at delivering the sort of arch, deliberately self-referential and self-aware dialogue that Allen has turned into his stock-in-trade. He‚(TM)s a great mentor to Eisenberg, who believably, painfully and comically wavers between his long-time girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and the siren call of Monica (Ellen Page), a flighty, beautiful, sexual actress with whom he vows not to fall in love. As the young man squires Monica all around Rome, it‚(TM)s easy to see why he finds it difficult to keep his vow‚¶ even as John provides astute commentary about why it‚(TM)s the worst possible thing for him to fall for Monica at every turn.
For the first time in one of the movies Allen filmed in Europe, he employs local talent for more than a supporting turn or as bystanders. Benigni fares particularly well in his little morality tale about a man who becomes famous for ‚" well, having done nothing of much import. This is Allen‚(TM)s treatise on celebrity as we know it these days: reality stars who rise within the pantheon as gods among men, and who are forgotten and disposed of as quickly as today‚(TM)s newspaper. Of course Benigni is actually one of Italy‚(TM)s most famous exports, having won an Academy Award or two for his troubles with Life Is Beautiful ‚" but he‚(TM)s utterly convincing here as Leopoldo fumbles through and starts to enjoy and then dread his fame. As for Tiberi and Mastronardi, they are suitably winsome as the young couple who get an unexpected dose of the big city, although their story is probably the least memorable of the bunch.
All in all, Allen has crafted a lovely, sweet film that‚(TM)s easy enough on the eyes and heart. The narrative is a bit scattershot (some stories take place over weeks or months, others within the span of a day), but that‚(TM)s small enough criticism. The problem for Allen is that he is his own benchmark ‚" this is top-rate fluff by most other standards, but second-drawer magic from a maestro like him.
BASICALLY: There‚(TM)s a lot to love about this love letter to Rome, but (all together now) it‚(TM)s a far cry from Woody‚(TM)s best.
Posted on 10/06/12 07:12 AM
Logan Lerman hasn‚(TM)t had the best of luck so far with literary adaptations ‚" it looked like his career was going to go supernova with the Percy Jackson franchise, failing which he could count on the latest blockbuster incarnation of The Three Musketeers to get his name out there‚¶ right? Unfortunately, neither of those movies were particularly well-received, and for good reason: they were pretty terrible, or at the least, disappointingly mediocre. Good thing he didn‚(TM)t give up on bringing characters who live and breathe on paper to the silver screen though, or he‚(TM)d have missed out on the smart, sweet, emotionally powerful Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
Lerman plays Charlie, a sweet, troubled loner of a kid who dreads starting high school after spending some time away in hospital. At first, it looks like his only friend is going to be his English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), and he‚(TM)ll be an outcast forever‚¶ until he meets kooky free spirit Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his charmingly screwed-up, adorable stepsister Sam (Emma Watson). Thereafter, Charlie is inducted into the Wallflowers, a group of misfit kids ‚" boasting such outcasts as punk Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) ‚" and the story of his life, including all the history and problems he‚(TM)s had to live through, begins to intertwine with theirs.
There‚(TM)s something to be said, it turns out, for having the author of the novel also call the shots on the movie ‚" Wallflower is clearly a passion project for Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the book and the script and directs the film. There can be no suggestion here that, in translating the novel to film, the plot or the characters got lost along the way, as too frequently happens with literary adaptations. Of course, the opposite could happen: Chbosky could be so lost in the details of the novel that he fails to bring out the themes in the film, or creates something that‚(TM)s little more than a staged reading of his book. Fortunately that doesn‚(TM)t happen here, or at least not overly much: Wallflower is, for the most part, a rich, moving gem of a film about the difficulties of growing up, the tragedy that is high school, and the power of friendship to get you through it all.
The trio of complicated, broken, very real kids at the heart of Wallflower are a big reason why the film succeeds as it does. A lot of people have looked upon this as Watson‚(TM)s breakout movie after her own far more successful foray into the realm of turning books into movies. On the strength of her turn here, there‚(TM)s hope for her yet ‚" she‚(TM)s not the strongest actress by a mile, but she‚(TM)s good enough at what she does and doesn‚(TM)t suffer much in comparison to the real bravura performances in the film.
These belong, of course, to Lerman and Miller. Miller ‚" already so chillingly impressive as the lead character in We Need To Talk About Kevin ‚" completely turns that dark, creepy performance on its head and makes Patrick one of the giddiest, most appealing young teen characters in recent movie memory. He steals every scene he waltzes through, a starburst of life, energy and sass, while still managing to effectively convey the heartbreak and vulnerability that underscores the great love of Patrick‚(TM)s high school life.
His is the showier role, however, and Lerman actually matches ‚" if not exceeds ‚" Miller every step of the way with his raw, tremulously authentic performance as Charlie. I‚(TM)d always wondered why Lerman had been talked up to the high heavens as a great little actor who was wise beyond his years by the people who took a chance on casting him as Percy Jackson in a potentially huge kids‚(TM) fantasy franchise that seemed to be Harry Potter‚~s natural successor. That movie tanked, and I really didn‚(TM)t see any hint of Lerman‚(TM)s purported acting prowess in it. I‚(TM)m happy to say that Wallflowers proves that he really is that good. The role of Charlie is a tough one to calibrate: he tries so hard to bury his secrets, rage, guilt and problems that it would be easy for him to appear blank-eyed and sullen. Lerman doesn‚(TM)t go down that route, instead presenting us with a Charlie who‚(TM)s tentatively keen to live his life again, who is trying (even if not particularly successfully) to get away from his past and his troubled memories of his aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey).
There‚(TM)s a great deal more to savour and enjoy in Chbosky‚(TM)s film than there are in any number of coming-of-age high-school dramas ‚" the web of relationships he weaves is powerful, sad and real, with Charlie never quite being able to get as close to Sam as he‚(TM)d like. This helps a great deal in papering over the moments in the film that meander, or which don‚(TM)t have as strong an emotional impact as Chbosky was probably going for. Sometimes the film feels clumsy and Chbosky‚(TM)s direction a mite too heavy-handed, but you‚(TM)re rewarded with bliss-out moments like a musically-charged drive through a tunnel or faithful, fun re-enactments of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
BASICALLY: Don‚(TM)t judge a book by its cover, or a movie by its poster ‚" this is considerably more thoughtful and heartbreaking than you‚(TM)d expect from a movie about teenagers hooking up and breaking up in high school. Lerman and Miller are absolutely fantastic.