The Beaver

August 30, 2011

Issue Films tend to be the most problematic projects that Hollywood produces on a regular basis.  There is a tendency to treat serious subjects in a po-faced, serious way that is often reductive and, more often than not, insulting.  The most obvious recent example is the Best Picture winning, critically loathed Crash, which treats race in America in such an insulting, ham-fisted way that only a self-congratulatory cabal of morons could pat themselves on the back for being so damn sensitive.  There’s also the issue of Hollywood having to be Hollywood.  A serious subject can give weight to a film that doesn’t deserve it, because the audience will be guilted into thinking it is something they are supposed to like, but it can’t be too alienating that it just flat out depresses people.  So you get a po-faced representation of a real problem, but you must distract the messiness because it’s still a movie and people don’t want to leave thinking there are Real Problems that are too complicated to be easily dealt with.  This all means awkwardly shoehorning the serious subject into a classical, comforting formula, often leading to a series of offensively dull clichés peppering a structure too rigid to allow a serious exploration of whatever serious subject they want to explore/exploit.  Jode Foster’s The Beaver falls into an awful lot of these traps.  In fact, it falls into so many I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating it.  Read the rest of this entry »

How Do You Know

December 21, 2010

Perhaps it is unfair to expect more from James L. Brooks.  His romantic comedies have generally been delightful but they are often far from transcending the genre.  They elevate themselves primarily by being wittier and sometimes cleverer than the norm, but they’re hardly great, indispensable films.  I have a certain affection for As Good As It Gets and while I didn’t care for it at the time, Kent Jones’ writing has convinced me that Spanglish might be worth another look (Tea Leoni’s mad performance stood out even then, and is perhaps worth reconsidering).  How Do You Know is slight, meandering, a little too long, vaguely enjoyable and only very occasionally “funny”.  It is an “adult” rom-com only when you compare it to every other mainstream rom-com released in recent years, and that is a sobering thought that those even those of us who love easy entertainments might find hard to swallow. Read the rest of this entry »

Far be it from me to throw my two cents in as to what will or won’t win an Oscar next week. I have an educated guess on who will win what, but it’s still guesswork, and I also don’t really care. What this does allow is the opportunity to throw up some quick reviews for the films I haven’t already talked about on the site. I haven’t seen The Blind Side, as it has not been released in the UK yet and while I probably will see it, I’m really not looking forward to the experience (I will not, however, write up a snide review of what I think it will be, because ya never know, it might surprise you…right?). So there are four Best Picture nominees beyond the five already reviewed to get through, and coming up are some quick thoughts.

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The autumn of 2009 was a very troubling time.  If you can’t summon up the memories from so long ago, fear not, for I will helpfully recap.  As the world geared up for yet another Oscar season, a small film by Lone Scherfig was garnering the kind of awards hype you couldn’t ignore if you tried.  Touting an original screenplay by Nick Hornby, An Education was meant to be a smart, sensitive coming-of-age story featuring a breakout performance by a relative unknown and would, at the very least, herald the beginning of an exciting few months for smart, worthy filmgoers.  Of course, anyone who knows just how awful these ‘award seasons’ are will greet the hype with a sense of knowing, slightly smug dread.  Still, this was hardly a Ron Howard movie, and its smallish, festival roots gave some small amount of hope.  On top of that, any Doctor Who fan worth their salt would never turn down the chance to watch that breakout star, Carey Mulligan, for a few hours.  As it turned out, it was one of the worst seasons for award-bait in a while, and An Education was predictably over praised and now, aside from Mulligan, doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning anything of much significance (offense intended, BAFTA). Read the rest of this entry »

The Wrestler

February 6, 2009

He’s down and out. The world he has invested his life in has left him stranded. He’s just too damn old. He now has to pick up the pieces of what he left behind. Reconnect with the daughter. Make a move on the girl. Find meaning in things he didn’t pay attention to before. He discovers what really matters in life. The redemptive tale is well-trodden territory. The trailer for The Wrestler works very hard to give us the redemptive tale impression. The film isn’t strictly like that, but we can’t blame the marketing. After all, an action film trailer should show the exciting explosions, a comedy trailer should show the funny moments, and an “important, intelligent” indie film trailer should show why the experience will be palatable to a mainstream crowd. The Wrestler is better than your standard indie fare, however, and even though it falls into some pretty standard traps, I hope the trailer doesn’t put anyone off.

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The Reader

January 22, 2009


“How many more movies do we need about the Holocaust? I mean, we get it, it was grim.” – Kate Winslet, “Extras”

A cheap shot to start with, I know, but on the one hand, I couldn’t help myself, and on the other, it is pretty apt.  Every year sees the release of a slew of Oscar-baiting, ‘worthy’ films, which have become about as difficult to sludge through as your standard Hollywood rom-com crop or summer action spectacles.  They tend to be visually bland, but still “moving” and “serious” in a way only an audience who doesn’t know the difference between those words and “self-important tripe” can understand.  And so, from Stephen Daldry, the director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, comes The Reader, just in time for awards season.  How fortuitous.

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