Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

LES ASTRONAUTES (1959)
Fascinating and whimsical cut-out animation made the great filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. Not a story so much as a crazy impression of space flight, featuring planets that are people and capturing the breathless dream of flight. ***1/2

COUNTRY STRONG (2010)
There's nothing wrong with this movie that a page 1 rewrite and recasting the lead actress couldn't fix... The problem is, there's no real focus. The film can't decide what it's about. Is it about its ostensible main character, a popular country singer recovering from tragedy and addiction and terrified that the audience has abandoned her? If so, Gwyneth Paltrow's just not up to the task. Look, I've seen her in a lot of films in the past 20 years, and I've even liked her in some of them, but she's just not ever going to be naturally likable or appealing. She's not. Sorry. She can't fake human warmth and she's never been the kind of actress that just inspires sympathy. And here, we're supposed to regard her, on some levels, as a person that we want to see succeed. She's a wounded bird we're supposed to want to care for, that we're supposed to really feel for and hope she finds her humanity and rises above what's holding her back. But I didn't. Not once. I understood her, to some extent, because I know what it's like to throw up emotional obstacles in my own way, and I know what it's like to weather a tragedy. But she just didn't make me care. Country may be strong, but Gwyneth Paltrow's acting isn't. It's a fatal miscast that sinks the entire movie; it's like a black hole at the center that just pulls everything into it. Is the film instead about her husband and manager, Tim McGraw, who is meant to be the villain of the piece? As much time as the movie spends with him, he's too one-dimensional (though the screenplay clearly thinks he's complex, and it is very wrong). Is it about Garrett Hedlund, a man who gets out-acted by a one-dimensional Tim McGraw? Hedlund's character, who is not only attempting to sleep with both Paltrow and her competition/admirer, Leighton Meester, is basically a hole in the screen; boring character played boringly by a boring actor. What the film should have been about is Leighton Meester's character, a former beauty pageant winner who wants to be a country star and desperately admires Gwyneth Paltrow. She's thrilled to be opening for her, even as Paltrow fears that this girl is going to end up replacing her and is threatened by her youth and freshness. Meester is the only one in the film who plays more than one emotion. Unlike Paltrow, Meester is appealing, sympathetic, and instantly likable. She's emotionally genuine, and her story is, by far, the only interesting one in the film. (And she can sing, which... come on, it's a movie about singers.) I know this thing got critically ignored, but I honestly didn't expect it to be this much of a waste (and an overlong one at that). Poorly executed, poorly acted, with one exception. ** I hope that with Gossip Girl ending, Leighton Meester gets the opportunity to do some good films and not Country Strong or The Roommate.

GONE (2012)
Proof that I'll still watch Amanda Seyfried in anything. Actually, it's not a terrible picture; it's almost pretty solid, with some decent characterization, but it also raises potential misdirections that it doesn't really know how to do anything with (or isn't interested in, maybe). This is about a girl who was kidnapped and escaped, and one year later, the killer comes back for her. There's a lot of question about whether it was a hoax or whether she's crazy, but the film is so determined that neither of those things is true that characters insisting on them become either annoying or manipulative attempts at making the lead character sympathetic; the cops don't believe her, so they must be bad people! There's no one on her side! There's so much more that could have been done playing with the psychology of it--especially since it seems to raise the possibility of the killer's identity in a way that goes nowhere and is frustrating--but instead it's a straightforward thriller. Not necessarily a bad one, but not a really enjoyable one, either. It's a better Amanda Seyfried vehicle than Red Riding Hood, which was unwatchable, but it's not what it could be. And how shitty is that it's 20-fucking-12 and I have to be impressed that a young woman in a movie is very smart and capable? **1/2

HICK (2011)
Here's where all of these movies about young girls on road trips make their big mistake: they want to be cautionary tales about how dangerous this world can be for young girls, but they do it by spending an hour and a half sexualizing them for us, only to decide in the last 10 minutes that we should be sympathetic and see them as children. It's an uncomfortable movie about a girl getting herself further and further into danger because of things she doesn't understand, and if it weren't for Chloe Moretz being as talented as she is, it would just be a nightmare to get through. It's well-written--Chloe Moretz's Luli is an interesting, three-dimensional character, but she's playing with fire and she knows she's doing it. And then when the movie gets where it's inevitably going and then turns left, it's truly frightening to watch. The movie creates real characters and genuine suspense. But at the same time... maybe it's the age I'm at and remembering when my sisters were 13 and just wanting to be able to shake them out of making stupid decisions. But it's a mark of the talent involved both behind the camera and in front of it that the film hit me on that level. Blake Lively, by the way, is much better in this than in The Town or the idiotic Green Lantern, but I still don't think I'm ever going to warm to the creepy intensity of Eddie Redmayne. ***1/2

1 comment:

DrGoat said...

I agree with you about Paltrow. I have the same feelings about Renee Zellweger. Her role in Appaloosa had me wanting to shoot her myself.