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Entries Tagged 'Drama' ↓

Precious

You can always tell who the people are who saw Precious as they leave the theater.  They’re the ones who are shuffling down the hallways, staring at their feet in a blank look that may or may not have a hint of suicidal thoughts behind it.  Yikes!  This movie is almost in the same realm as Requiem for a Dream or American History X in the way that it’s full contact cinema.  You don’t sit back and enjoy this movie; this movie sits back and kicks your ass.  But in this case, it doesn’t make it a great movie.  The story is about a 16-year-old girl named Precious who has one of the most horrible, abusive lives you can possibly think of.  Go ahead and think of something horrible you can do to a human being; chances are that happens to Precious.  The title role is played wonderfully by a young newcomer named Gabourey Sidibe.  Her vulnerability is admirable as she’s the opposite of every single leading actress in Hollywood, yet she carries herself with a confidence that most don’t.  There are also some shockingly great performances from Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey…yeah, THE Kravitz and Carey.  You probably won’t recognize them though–unless they’re pointed out to you–due to weight gain, lack of make up and a killer accent on Carey.  Sherry Shepard (30 Rock, The View) also shows up in a near disguise performance as well.  The real star of the film, however, is Mo’Nique…comedian Mo’Nique.  Never did I ever think that I would say the sentence “Mo’Nique should win an Oscar,” but here I am saying it.  She gives one of the best performances of the year, and possibly of the last decade, from a woman.  Her entire role is disturbing all the way up to the climax of the film where Mo’Nique treats us to one of the most heartbreaking and soul-wrenching monologues I’ve ever seen.  Mo’Nique, who is a victim of childhood sexual abuse herself, had to dig so deep for that scene I have the feeling that it was purely cathartic, making the tears from the other actors painfully real.  If Mo’Nique doesn’t win an Oscar for this performance there should be a public outcry over it.  I think another Oscar might go to director Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball).  His approach to such a dark story is almost whimsical at times while keeping it gritty and painful.  He does let you off the hook with some of the more disturbing scenes by cutting away just in time…thankfully.  His directing choices remind me almost of Oliver Stone in the way he edits, zooms, goes to fantasy scenes and even uses colors.  But all this said, the movie isn’t great.  The performances are.  The directing is.  But not the movie.  I’m trying to find meaning in the story.  I get that it’s meant to be inspirational and that even when this girl was beaten down as far as she was, she still picked herself up to move forward.  But does that work on me?  It’s interesting that the theater was packed when I saw it and it was all by white people.  African Americans are not flocking to see Precious.  Instead, it’s being seen by the white, suburban, Art House crowd, like me, and it’s not filling me with inspiration.  In fact, all it did was make me feel sorry for people like Precious, and I don’t think that’s the movie’s intention.  I can gain some inspiration from the drive to keep moving forward no matter what; but it still comes from a place of pity because I can’t identify with any of her problems.  Because of that, I think this is becoming a movie that everyone thinks they HAVE to like, while losing sight of the fact that some films can offer you great elements without a win overall.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+

The Road

Novelist Cormac McCarthy seems to be a discovered treasure lately.  The 76-year-old wrote the novel that 2007 Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men” was based on and he has three more of his novels being turned into movies in the next two years.  He also wrote the novel “The Road” and if I were a betting man, I’d say he’s got a good shot at having another one of his babies win Best Picture again.  “The Road” stars Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Robert Duval, Guy Pierce and a brand new 14-year-old Australian boy named Kodi Smit-McPhee.  This cast gives every inch of themselves to this story of survival in a post-Apocalyptic world.  But don’t be fooled.  This isn’t “2012” or some other special effect extravaganza where the every-day guy does amazingly heroic things while falling in love again with an old flame.  This is bleak, dark, depressing and beautiful.  In fact most of the movie has no special effects at all.  Director John Hillcoat did a great job of choosing already desolate locations to film so that elaborate FX weren’t needed to distract you from the story.  Why did the world end?  How did it end?  When did it end?  These are all questions that aren’t answered and don’t need to be answered.  In fact, we don’t even know character’s names.  Mortensen and Smit-McPhee are simply credited as “The Dad” and “The Boy.”  That’s all you need to know because at the core of this movie is a simple struggle of a father and son surviving in an unfriendly, hostile world, all while being completely relatable to the perils, triumphs and heartbreak that live in the seasons of life.  The Academy should really pay attention to this movie.  I’m not a fan of children or actors that are in the movie for 5-10 minutes winning Oscars, but this may have to be an exception since Smit-McPhee and Duval give us performances that are gut wrenchingly sad.  The tone of the movie is reflected perfectly by Hillcoat’s directing.  The movie wasn’t shot in Black & White, but it might as well have been since it’s depleted of colors except for some choice flashbacks.  The flashbacks, by the way, are the only change from the novel, to which it stays very faithful.  The violence in the book is done tastefully and modestly in the film, although sometimes what’s not seen is far more grotesque and disturbing than what is seen.  (Not hard to figure out how some people are surviving)  It might get a little slow and plodding for some viewers that have a shorter attention span but sticking this movie out till the end is not just what you need to do for closure to this hopeless story, but it’s almost a gift to anyone who’s ever had to go through life, that’s symbolized here as “The Road.”
The Road (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A+

The Reader

The Reader (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+

Seriously?  This is what Kate Winslet won her Oscar for?  When you compare this review to the review for “Revolutionary Road,” you’d think that I just have it in for Kate Winslet, but that’s not true.  It’s just that she chooses to do painfully average movies.  When people who make fun of “Oscar” movies make fun of “Oscar” movies, this is the kind of movie that proves them right.  It’s about weird sex, lots of crying, The Holocaust, different time periods, people with accents and lots of nudity.  Speaking of nudity, I feel like I’ve seen more of Kate Winslet than her own husband.  For the first half hour of the movie, there’s only two scenes where she’s NOT naked.  Why?  Because she’s involved in a wacky, and gross affair with a 15-year-old boy that develops completely out of nowhere.  The second half of the movie is actually quite good.  It turns into a semi-compelling story of Holocaust justice and questionable redemption, but if this was a DVD I would’ve shut it off long before it got to that point.  The first half is nothing but scenes between her and newcomer, David Kross, which seem as if they’re more of a montage of randomness that make no sense, confuses the audience and gives the impression that we’re watching a Cliff’s Notes version of what happened.  The reason why that’s so bad is because we don’t feel for the characters at all.  Not to mention the fact that plot lines are brought up with no prompting and no resolution.  It really makes me wonder why this was even up for Best Picture.  So if feeling “arty” and a little pretentious at the movies is your thing, or if seeing Kate’s giant nipples and an 18-year-old’s penis is your thing; than this is your movie.  If it’s not, then I’d go see any of the other Oscar movies this year instead…you’ll enjoy them more.

Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B

Oscar Watch!  This one’s up for Best Picture and when that news got out, the studio re-released this.  That means it was out of theaters in Sacramento, but now it’s back and playing a couple places. Make sure you don’t go see this movie tired; it’s definetly a “Talkie.”  It’s not the most exciting movie in the world, there aren’t twists and turns that keep you interested either.  The only thing that makes this movie what it is, is the story and the performances.  Makes sense too considering that it’s based on a play.  The story is about how a British talk-show host, David Frost, bet everything on getting an interview with former disgraced President, Richard Nixon.  What Frost tried to do was get Nixon to own up to his mistakes and apologize to America for his wrong-doings.  A story that echoes the sentiments of how many Americans feel about George W. Bush eerily too well.  The movie is carried by the two main actors.  Michael Sheen plays Frost and Frank Langella plays Nixon.  If there is anyone in this year’s Oscar race that can give Mickey Rourke a run for the money and SHOULD win over him, it’s Frank Langella.  Sadly the last thing I remember him from playing Skeletor in “Masters of the Universe.”  But Langella is so good in this movie that it’s like watching moving art.  He has lengthy monologues that make you think that you ARE watching Richard Nixon spout his sadness and insecurities.  What’s just as good as Langella’s performance is the partnership between director, Ron Howard, and writer, Peter Morgan (who also wrote the play).  They actually show Nixon as a smart, crafty, selfish and unstable man, but make you feel so bad and sympathetic for him that you may be like me, and have a few tears by the end.  However, the biggest tragedy with this movie is that Langella will lose Best Actor to Mickey Rourke.

The Wrestler

The Wrestler (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
Oscar Watch!  Eh, who are we kidding; Mickey Rourke has this one in the bag.  Everyone is calling this his big comeback to acting, but I thought he had that when he starred in “Sin City” a few years ago.  Of course instead of shooting comic book bad guys, this time he’s a professional wrestler who’s down on his luck.  The whole story personifies Rourke’s own career which is why director, Darren Aronofsky, said he would only do this movie with him.  Aronofsky is the director of “Requiem for a Dream,” which is one of my favorite movies.  His approach to “The Wrestler” was totally different though.  He used handheld camerawork through the whole movie and made it feel almost like a documentary.  If you get motion sickness, you might want to sit this one out.  You may also want to sit this one out if you have a weak stomach, considering one scene is gut-wrenching as we see a brutal wrestling match that involves barbed wire, staple guns and razor wire.  The one thing that I loved about this movie was that it’s the first movie in a long time that really was about an anti-hero.  At no point during this movie do I like Rourke’s character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson.  I feel bad for him, but he’s his own worst enemy.  The only people in his empty life are his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and a stripper (Marisa Tomei), who is just as lost as him.  Those two crank out performances that are just as noteworthy as Rourke’s.  In the end, the movie stands up as a really impressive character-driven story.  However, the film is like “The Ram,” it might be its own worst enemy in the respect that the world of Pro Wrestling might be too much for some moviegoers to take, and the main character is so unlikable that you’re not hoping he succeeds.

Gran Torino

Gran Torino (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
Oscar Watch!  Clint Eastwood was never one of my favorite actors.  I always thought that a bulk of his work was cliche and hokie.  However in recent years, he’s really impressed me as a filmmaker.  His performance in this movie doesn’t really do much to change my opinion of him being a walking stereotype since he plays an old, grumpy, racist Korean War Vet.  He even goes as far as yelling “get off my lawn!” at some gang members.  But what makes this movie decent is the story.  Classic tale of meeting friends in unlikely places?  Yeah.  But it’s a little different in its approach.  Eastwood is a widower that lives in the same house in a crap neighborhood that has economically and demographically changed.  Living next door are Hmongs.  When one of them tries to steal his Gran Tornio (which is a classic, bad-ass car) fate intervenes and he makes unlikely friends.  That’s where the movie goes from good to average, even verging on bad at times.  I don’t know who did the casting in this movie, but Ahney Vor and Bee Vang, who play the syblings living next door, are some of the worst actors to ever be in a major motion picture.  Good God!  If you are cast in a movie directed, produced and staring Clint Eastwood and you’re the LEADS…take some acting classes.  These two are so piss poor that it detached me from their characters and made me wanting the end of the movie to come sooner than the quality of story should allow.  It’s ashame because the best scene in the whole movie is the one where Eastwood is alone.  It’s a shame when you consider how well he conducted “Million Dollar Baby,” and its sensitive story.  Better luck next time, Clint.

Revolutionary Road

nullRevolutionary Road (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
Oscar Watch!  Awe!  It’s the re-teaming of a dream couple that everyone in the world loves…except for me.  Yes, it’s the first time that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio did a movie together again since “Titanic.”  Don’t make me gag.  But my lack of compassion for something like that is not the reason why I didn’t like this movie.  I didn’t care for it because I didn’t know what the movie was trying to say.  It’s from director Sam Mendes, who did the great movie “American Beauty.”  Just like that movie, this is also about the not-so-perfect lives of suburban couples and the destruction of dreams by the toils of life, but this time it’s set in 1955.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people that needs a movie spelled out for him.  I like it when movies leave you walking away with whatever message you wanted to get from it, but this left me with nothing.  I didn’t get what the story was trying to convey.  Was I suppose to feel bad for one of them, both of them or none of them?  I certainly did feel bad for the men in the movie, since they all suffer from Premature Ejaculation (both sex scenes begin and end in less than a minute.)  However both of them did the best they could with the script.  In fact both were really impressive to watch and Winslet got herself a Golden Globe win for it.  In supporting acting roles are Kathy Bates and the ever-impressive Michael Shannon, who plays her insane son.  He’s only in two scenes, but may steal the movie with them.  Mendes’ attention to detail – from the props, to costumes, to the sets, is impressive too.  The problem with this film lands square on the shoulders of a confused story that leaves the audience feeling the same way.  Maybe the book was better.

Doubt

Doubt (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A
Oscar Watch!  I didn’t love this movie just because I love the play, but that was a HUGE reason why.  As a film, the movie stands up as quality cinema; shocking considered that it was directed by John Patrick Shanley.  He’s the guy who wrote the play but was more famous for directing the opus “Joe Versus The Volcano!”  Who knew that guy could be so deep!?  The movie stars Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (who is WAY too cute to play a nun.)  These three deliver a 1-2-3 combination of amazing acting.  The story is a metaphore for Good vs. Evil set in a Catholic School in New York City when a nun, played by Streep, suspects the Priest, played by Hoffman, of molesting a young boy.  The question for you as an audience member is, which one is “Good” and which one is “Evil?”  Representing the audience is another nun, played by Adams, who gets caught up in the middle.  The Golden Globes passed on all three of these actors for awards, but I have a feeling that we’ll see The Oscars reward at least one of them.  They’re all SO good that they can’t be ignored.  Not only was the acting amazing, but the story is amazing!  I’m a big fan of stories that can be taken any way that you want them to go.  Just like how “Hamlet” is considered the greatest play of all time, just because the role of Hamlet can be portrayed in any way possible – it’s up to the actor.  “Doubt” is exactly like this.  Fascinating to watch play out and even better to try and figure out the truth.  Also watch for a 10-minute-long performance from Viola Davis, who plays the reserved, loving and tormented mother of the boy in question.  It may be the best 10 minutes of the movie!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C+
Oscar Watch!  This film is based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story that I read somewhere in my high school years.  I remember the book being short, easy to read and actually…funny.  The movie is far from that.  It’s long and not very funny at all.  At a running time of almost 3 hours, it’s hard to say if there’s anything that could be cut; probably not.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel long.  It’s weird too while watching it because it’s a mix of “Forrest Gump” and “Big Fish” but it failed to capture the magic that both had.  I was actually hoping that it would be that “great” movie that Brad Pitt gets remembered for, just like Tom Hanks will forever be remembered for Forrest Gump.  Sadly, I don’t think this will be it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE Brad Pitt fan.  But sadly, I was let down by his performance in this.  I thought that he tried so hard in being a complacent, mild-mannered character that his mild-manneredness got in the way him portraying any sort of drama.  Maybe I had too high of hopes for this movie.  David Fincher is one of my favorite directors.  I think he’s guided Pitt to amazing performances in “Se7en” and “Fight Club.”  But him trying to guide him in a drama, just didn’t translate; or maybe it was just this drama.  Cate Blanchet gives a stunning performance, as usual.  But watching her age in the movie is almost just as facinating as watching him.  Not because of special effects or make up, but because of her nuances and detail to character.  It sounds like I’m beating up on this movie, but don’t let that give you the wrong impression.  After seeing this movie, I told my family that I thought it was “good, not great.”  “GOOD, not great.”  It’s still a GOOD movie…just not as good as it could’ve been.

Milk

Milk (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-
Oscar Watch!  Sean Penn has already been nominated for Best Actor by The Golden Globes for his portrayal of Harvey Milk.  Who’s Harvey Milk and why make a movie about him?  Well, he was the first openly gay man elected into office in America.  While he was in office, he worked hard to make sure that gay rights were brought to the front lines of America and shot down California Propositions that were cased in hate and bigortry.  Sounds like 2008, right?  Well this was 30 years ago and because of that, this movie rings so relevant.  Besides the timely subject matter that might make you think twice about how you vote on gay issues, the performances are what drives this movie to its level of greatness.  Sean Penn is just the beginning.  His first boyfriend is James Franco, who also picked up a Golden Glob nomination…but for “Pinneapple Express.”  (Huh?)  There’s also Josh Brolin who stuns as another conflicted character with his subtle character ticks.  And rounding it out is Emile Hersch who Penn directed last year in the amazing “Into the Wild.”  So far it sounds like a perfect movie, but it’s not.  Somewhere near the beginning of the third act, the movie gets plotting.  It starts feeling slow, dragging and bogged down.  Almost as if the plot is just treading water for the sake of staying longer, resulting in the just-over-two-hour-long movie feeling closer to two and a half.  But the dragging doesn’t last too long and the movie is not only a quality movie but it’s an important movie; it’s just so good when those two things sync up together.