Monday, 14 November 2011

J. Edgar Review

The problem with biopics is that they are, by nature, episodic.  Only the very special ones can use this to their advantage and, somehow, not appear to be just stringing along a series of anecdotes from a figure's past.  J. Edgar, while not as episodic as, say, The People vs. Larry Flynt, still falls short of being able to rise above and be a great movie.  It is unfortunate because Hoover's story is one that is quite enigmatic and has never really been told.  But I think the fact that we actually know very little about his private life hinders a movie about his life from being one grand story.  All we really have are the anecdotes.  Clint Eastwood tries to overcome this by jumping between Hoover's earlier and later years.  Instead of losing the episodic feel, all he does is disjoint the story and ruin any flow that may have been building up.  The result is a bored viewer.

I have no idea if this movie is accurate.  In fact, I don't know if anybody could really tell you.  There's so much private stuff displayed that would never have been made public that makes the film scream "hearsay."  On the other hand, there are also a lot of other stories that would have been public record so those will have some accuracy to them.  But given the fact that I believe Hoover was an egomaniacal paranoid little man, who knows what is truth when he is involved?  So you can really throw any expectation for truth out the window with this one.  Instead, they try to depict Hoover's transformation from an ironically radical view of radicalism to over abuse of power.  This, in itself, would have made for a very good movie.  But then they try to intertwine it with his personal struggles with his sexuality and mommy issues.  That, on its own, would have made a good movie too.  But, put the two themes together and, again, the flow is ruined.  Nothing in this film grabs the viewer into a consistent story.  Instead, it is about 30 minutes too long.

Now, the technical stuff.  The film is very well shot and lit and is superbly acted.  Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer are terrific.  This is especially true of Hammer after Tolson's health starts to fail.  However, the great acting is overshadowed by some really, really bad makeup jobs.  Half the time the actors look like more like Eric Stoltz in Mask than ageing men (especially Hammer).  And some of the casting choices were a bit odd.  Jeffrey Donovan made a convincing Bobby Kennedy.  But I'm pretty sure that they just picked the first guy off the street with bushy eyebrows to play Nixon.  I know those characters are minor but I believe a biopic needs to make the extra effort on those things.

Don't see it.  It just isn't worth it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Big Year Review

Given the subject matter and knowledge I had of the movie going in, I had a feeling it would be a subtle but fun feel good story.  And that is just what it is.  The Big Year is a typical "learning what is important in life" movie.  It uses the activity of obsessive and competitive birdwatching and a metaphor for finding your way in life.  It's pretty thinly veiled (and sometimes not at all) but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.  While it is a comedy, it doesn't rely on getting laughs to keep the viewer interested.  Instead, it relies a lot on some good acting and a very strong story with some comic events mixed in.  The result is a really tight and light hearted movie.

I wasn't expecting too much.  After all, the film wasn't marketed much and really doesn't have much of a hook to compete with the plethora of choices out there.  Except for one thing.  It has an absolutely spectacular cast.  You get excellent and heartfelt performances from all of the three main actors of Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.  None really stand out from the other two but if I had to pick the best performance, it would be Martin.  He was the most believable and likeable of the three.  And then the supporting cast is full of strong and recognizable people.  Even if they are in only a few scenes (like Brian Dennehy or Anthony Anderson) or even one scene (like Steven Webber and Corben Bernsen), there isn't really a poor performance.

All of the strong acting mixed in with the right pace and a heartwarming story, makes the viewer actually care about what happens to the characters.  You even want the jerk (played by Owen Wilson) to succeed.  When that happens, you know you have a good movie.  And that is even strengthened by strong camera work in the tremendous scenery and some fantastic choices in music, especially in the brief but effective montages.  The end result is a very tight and strong movie (but I think I already said that).

See it.  Unfortunately, it wasn't marketed much so it likely isn't even in the theatre anymore.  But, thanks to on demand, DVD, etc, you should be able to find it and it is worth the effort.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Prayer for the Dying Review

Although I haven't read the Jack Higgins novel yet, I imagine that the movie is very true to the book.  It has all the hallmarks of a good Higgins novel.  There's the IRA guy who has become jaded towards the cause.  There's gangsters, an innocent girl and guns with silencers.  And the story is classic Higgins.  The problem is that they didn't do a really good job in delivering that story.

Higgins novels are melancholic and dark.  And while the film is shot and written that way too, the acting is pretty poor.  It's surprising because the film stars Mickey Rourke and features Liam Neeson.  While Rourke isn't horrible, he isn't anything to write home about either.  And Neeson's character is so minor that they don't even really need it.  The rest of the acting is well below average save for one.  Bob Hoskins is quite good as the priest.  He probably gives the best performance of the entire movie.

Being a thriller, you would expect there to be more action involved.  But there really is next to none.  I say this because Jack Higgins is known for writing compact action thriller novels.  So, if you are expecting that knowing that it is a Higgins story, you will be disappointed.  The movie moves very slowly.  It would have helped to write in a bit of exposition rather than relying on visuals to tell the story.  That would make it move it along quicker and allow for a couple of tense action sequences.  Those scenes work in the written word.  On screen, they slow things down.  Making those tweaks would have made for a better adaptation.

If you are a Higgins fan like me, you will probably want to see it just because it is a Higgins story.  But, other than that, I would have to recommend that you don't see it.  And it pains me to say that because I'm a huge Higgins fan.  I guess his books just don't translate well to the screen.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Johnny English Reborn Review

I guess the decision to reboot James Bond sparked something in Rowan Atkinson to revive his satirical character, Johnny English.  When the original came out, it was marketed as a James Bond spoof and, while a fun movie, came off as more of a goofy 90s comedy with unbelievable characters and wacky situations (my review is here).  Reborn is much more similar to the Bond movies through its use of locations, action sequences, gadgetry (although that was in the original too), hot women and music.  In fact, the two Johnny English films mirror the Bond movies in the fact that they go from outlandish villains and plots to a much more realistic situation.  Remember Moonraker?  Jaws?  Spectre?  Those were a lot like John Malkovich's nutty plot to turn England into a penal colony by claiming the throne.  In Reborn, you get a much more realistic and subdued plot of simple assassination, much like the villains and plots have come closer to earth in the Bond movies.

Bringing that back to reality really allows the film makers to focus on what we all want to see: Rowan Atkinson being a boob.  And he does it very well in this film.  Unlike Mr Bean, Johnny English is not a loser or an idiot.  He's actually quite good at what he does while being a bit odd and insecure in his abilities.  The character was a bit raw in the first one but Atkinson does a terrific job with him in Reborn.  And, unlike Mr Bean, Johnny English works on the big screen.  Because it's an English movie, a lot of the humour is subdued and subtle which won't please many on this side of the Atlantic.  We've gotten so used to the Will Ferrell style of comedy that everything has to be loud and slap you in the face.  Reborn does none of this.  Both the physical and verbal comedy are subtle and smart which makes it funnier to me.

There was one significant drawback.  As a James Bond spoof, they have to put in action sequences.  In doing this, they skimped a bit on the budget.  A lot of the action is poorly green screened and takes away from the visual quality of the film; especially in the exotic locations.  And many of the sequences went on a little long and weren't as fast paced as they could have been.  They did, however, do a decent job in mimicking and satirizing the stereotypical Bond action with the locations and shooting angles.

I say See It.  I think it is better than the first.  But keep in mind that I'm the kind of guy who likes the dry, subtle British humour.  If you don't like that, give it a pass.