The Silver Bullet ~ The Look of Love

look_of_love_a

Synopsis: The life of Paul Raymond, the controversial entrepreneur who became Britain’s richest man

Release Date:  April 26, 2013

Thoughts: British director Michael Winterbottom has directed some failry interesting films that you’ve probably never seen.  There’s a fine style to his work that allows him to deliver movies across many genres.  This period biopic about the one-time richest man in England finds Winterbottom reteaming with his The Trip star Steve Coogan for a groovy look at a swinging time.  Coogan is tolerable in spurts but I’ve yet to sit through a film he’s headlined and not wanted to run for the hills.  My interest in these historical pictures is always high so even with a leading actor I’ve yet to warm to, a glance at The Look of Love is probably in the cards.

Mid-Day Mini ~ …first do no harm

The Facts:

Synopsis: The true story of one woman’s struggle against a narrow-minded medical establishment.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Fred Ward, Seth Adkins, Allison Janney, Margo Martindale

Director: Jim Abrahams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  It was big news when Streep took leave from her cinematic playground and ventured into the boob tube with this maudlin made for television film.  Not that Streep and a solid cast don’t give it the good ‘ole college try as they work with a cookie-cutter script intent on doing them no real favors.

In the grand tradition of countless parents vs. modern medicine films like Lorenzo’s Oil, …first do no harm casts Streep as a plucky mom from the heartland that takes on the doctors and hospitals that don’t have answers to why her young epileptic son (Adkins) continues his violent seizures.   Refusing to sit back and condemn her son to a lifetime of hospital stays and prescription drugs, she goes against the advice of physicians (namely Janney’s chilly doctor written like a villain from a Batman movie) and seeks alternative treatment in this true life tale.

Ward provides nice support as Streep’s nicely supportive husband while Martindale is her usual warm presence as a family friend.  The late actors Oni Fada Lampley and Leo Burmester (The Abyss) also make strong impressions in their peripheral roles.  Director Abrahams (diverting from his spoof films Airplane! Hot Shots! and The Naked Gun) took on this project as a labor of love and makes it feel pretty lugubrious. 

The small screen was the right place for this work and maybe Streep was simply too big a star to keep the movie balanced for its humble origins.  A noble story is told but the script is so color-by-numbers that you could probably imagine the outcome before the first commercial break.  It doesn’t do any harm to give this one a look but this story has been told too often to be truly memorable.

The Silver Bullet ~ Family Weekend

family_weekend

Synopsis: A 16-year-old girl takes her parents hostage after they miss her big jump-roping competition.

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Yeow!  I’m all for family togetherness but this one looks absolutely dreadful.  While I’m not the biggest fan of Kristen Chenoweth, I do think she possesses a certain charm that Hollywood hasn’t quite found a way to work with yet.  She’s struggled in both television and film, stuck in stereotypical roles that don’t suit her very well.  Being teamed with Matthew Modine makes for a strange combo – but the strangest thing of all is why anyone would want to see such a lame looking film.  Destined for the $5 bin at WalMart, Family Weekend will probably last that long in its theatrical release. 

Mid-Day Mini ~ Ironweed

The Facts:

Synopsis: A schizophrenic drifter spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Tom Waits, Carroll Baker

Director: Hector Babenco

Rated: R

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:   The pairing of Nicholson and Streep worked so well in 1986’s Heartburn that the two were teamed up again the very next year in this adaptation of a novel by William Kennedy.  Set in depression-era New York, the movie is a somber look at the lives of a rag-tag group of bums and drunks around Halloween as they deal with the ghostly shadows of their unfulfilled lives.

In roles that seem tailor-made for them (perhaps a tad too tailor-made), Streep and Nicholson go for the jugular and earned Oscar nominations for their effort.  She’s a failed singer on her last legs, leaning perhaps a bit unwisely on the shoulder of Nicholson’s ex baseball player.  Now he digs ditches and occasionally visits his abandoned wife and family who want nothing to do with him.  They hang out in shanties, drink, gossip, argue, and care for one another the only way they know how.

It’s a bleak film given dignity by the performances (including Waits, Nathan Lane, Fred Gwynne, and especially Baker as Nicholson’s wife), script (by author Kennedy), and direction from Babenco who found similar light in dark pieces like Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Pixote.  By the end of the film you’ll be as haunted by these characters as they are by the dreams of their lives that might have been.

The Silver Bullet ~ Simon Killer

simon_killer

Synopsis: A recent college graduate flees to Paris after a break-up, where his involvement with a prostitute begins to reveal a potentially dark recent past.

Release Date:  April 5, 2013

Thoughts: Produced by the team that made the overrated and underseen Martha Marcy May Marlene, Simon Killer is an indie thriller with a very European feel to it.  I was left a bit cold by Martha Marcy May Marlene but did feel that it had its moments…especially in its curious ending.  I’m hoping for more of those kind of twists and less of the trite filler that occupied much of the previous film.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Plenty

1

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young Englishwoman spends 20 years to make whatever kind of life for herself at the expense of others around her in post-World War II England.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, Charles Dance, Tracey Ullman, Sting, Ian McKellan

Director: Fred Schepsi

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:   Here’s a curious character study drama that was adapted from the stage play its author, David Hare (The Hours, The Reader).  Already a two-time Oscar winner racking up a strong streak of films (and coming off of the undervalued Falling in Love), Streep is strangely subdued here playing a former resistance fighter that has to adjust to life after wartime.  The film has a real dreamlike quality to it and though the work among the actors is strong, it’s an aloof affair that made it a tough one to really get involved with.

The movie has a lot of layers to it, compounded by Hare’s revised script that expanded upon certain relationships previously unexplored on stage.  Director Schepsi relies on the strength of his actors to maneuver through a middle act that sags a bit but succeeds in a strong opening and closing to the piece.

Along with Streep (who, even subdued, is mesmerizing) there’s commendable work by Neill, Dance, McKellan, and Ullman.  Ullman and Streep formed a nice bond onscreen and off and it’s nice to see Ullman in this type of role as she’s primarily known for her comedic work. 

The overall experience of Plenty may not be enough to warrant a second viewing but for Streep completists interested in her early evolving body of work it’s worth a look.  Her next film would be Out of Africa and I tend to look at this film and Falling in Love to be a bridge between the types of performances Streep gave in Silkwood and would give in Out of Africa.

The Silver Bullet ~ Disconnect

disconnect

Synopsis: A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world.

Release Date: April 12, 2013

Thoughts: As our reliance on technology grows, so our connectivity with living and breathing beings seems to be waning.  The upcoming ensemble drama Disconnect seeks to explore the emergence of how much of our lives are spent on the internet and how intertwined we’ve become with the online world.  From cyber bullying to identify theft to “catfish”ing someone, the internet has become a place for people to lose themselves.  These types of films are always very interesting…especially when they are centered around a central theme as timely as this one.

Mid-Day Mini ~ The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The Facts:

Synopsis: A film is being made of a story set in 19th century England about Charles, a engaged biologist who falls in love with outcast Sarah.  Anna and Mike, who play Sarah and Charles onscreen, find themselves in a relationship that runs parallel to that of their characters

Stars: Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Hilton McRae

Director: Karel Reisz

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  Once you see that this 1981 film of the John Fowles tome was adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter, the film’s ever-o meta construct makes a little more sense.  Though Fowles work  is fairly dense and was considered by many un-adaptable for film, Pinter employs an interesting device that may seem a bit novel to modern audiences accustomed to the parallel time construct.

Though nominated twice before (and winning once) in the supporting category, Streep earned her first Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work  in the film.   Here she’s playing the dual role of a 19th century woman engaged in a torrid affair and her modern day film star counterpart involved in a similar dalliance on the set of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  Irons is a strong co-star with a tricky role that often is relatable but unlikable at the same time.  The two classically trained actors have a believable rapport and chemistry that helps define their characters in each time period.

Pinter and director Reisz keep things on track but audiences will need to stay alert to follow the action as it bends, twists, and dips through two different time periods essentially telling the same story.  For Streep fans, it’s an interesting film to view as its really with this performance where she became an A-lister.

The Silver Bullet ~ At Any Price

at_any_price

Synopsis: A farming family’s business is threatened by an unexpected crisis, further testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son.

Release Date: April 24, 2013 

Thoughts: When a film critic of such stature as Roger Ebert says that a movie has a performance that is a career high, that’s something I’m interested in seeing.  I enjoy that Ebert seems to take every film on its own merits, rather than go in with any strongly preconceived notions – which is why his request we take note of Dennis Quaid in At Any Price is notable.  As a farmer struggling to keep his family business thriving, Quaid heads a cast that also includes Zac Efron and Heather Graham.  I’m interested to see where this film ends up.

Movie Review ~ Oz The Great and Powerful

2

oz_the_great_and_powerful_ver5

The Facts:

Synopsis: A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one.

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell

Director: Sam Raimi

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  When this project was first announced I remember being both horrified and excited at the prospect of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  The horrified part of me couldn’t imagine why a studio would want to get within ten feet of one of the most beloved films in history.  Excitement came from the rundown of talented artists that would be bringing Oz to life for Walt Disney Studios: director Raimi, composer, Danny Elfman, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, and an award winning crew of visual effects craftspeople.

So even if the final project isn’t everything some dreamed it would be, the more I think about Oz the Great and Powerful (and I have found it on my mind a lot in the week since I’ve seen it) the more I appreciated it.

Getting right down to it, this prequel to the events that take place before Dorothy drops in is really just a re-telling of that later story but with the would-be Wizard taking the place of the girl in blue gingham and ruby red slippers.  The film opens on a county fair where magician Oz (a miscast Franco…more on him later) is wowing the small town crowd with his tricks.  Not a bad magician, he has no heart so he can never be truly great…and to top it all off he’s a blowhard lacking in the charm department.

It’s not long before a twister tunnels by and sweeps Oz away in a hot air balloon to the magical land of…well…Oz.  It’s a sign!  At least that’s what naïve witch Theodora (a marginally miscast Kunis…more on HER later) thinks when she witnesses Oz fall from the sky.  Taking him to meet her sister Evanora (a perfectly cast Weisz), Oz eventually finds himself on the hunt for the Wicked Witch terrorizing the land with her flying baboons.  Along the way he’ll meet another witch or two (one of the green variety) and learn a thing or two about friendship, honesty, and finds out there’s more to his magic than meets the eye.

That’s the gist of things and fans of The Wizard of Oz (either the movie or L. Frank Baum’s library of Oz-ian tomes) need not fret that this film will sully the image of Oz…that will surely be done by 2014’s Legend’s of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.  Like the stage musical Wicked, this movie connects a few of the dots to its 1939 predecessor and those paying careful attention will see that the filmmakers have inserted a number of references to the previous film like using magical Oz-ian characters as Kansas counterparts .

Two bits of casting have received the most attention since the film was released and I can’t say that some of the gripes haven’t been justified.  Franco is simply not the man for the job here and he’s painfully miscast as Oz.  When you consider Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp were the first choices for the wizard an extra pang hits you for the performance that might have been.  Kunis (Ted) isn’t as bad as the reviews say but she struggles quite a bit for at least the first 2/3 of the film.  I felt she got better as her character progressed but it never really lands like it should.

The good news is that Weisz and Williams are so good as Evanora and Glinda that you almost forget they are sharing scenes with lackluster partners.  Weisz wipes the floor with them all, though, in a cleverly coy role rife with lip smacking and glinting eyes.  She’s the one actor that doesn’t let the sumptuous effects dictate her performance.  Williams is strong too but at times it felt like she hadn’t fully shed her Marilyn Monroe persona as Glinda the Good (or is she?)  Braff and King steal their fair share of scenes in dual roles and Raimi peppers his supporting cases with journeymen actors from his stable.

Effects-wise, Oz looks incredible.  Produced by the same team that brought us the mind-crushingly awful Alice in Wonderland reboot a few years back, they’ve wisely stayed away from that super fake looking Wonderland world for a slightly more realized take on Oz.  It’s still too CGI heavy for me but there’s no denying that the movie is a true feast for the eyes.  Elfman’s score doesn’t stray too far from his norm of notes but he’s tailored it to whip up some magical moments of his own.

Very rarely do I find that 3D is really worth the upcharge but Oz is a film that really should be seen through a pair of 3D glasses.  The opening shots in glorious black and white are presented in a small aspect ratio (picture size), emulating a film from that era.  The 3D is purposely less “deep” in these shots to play in nice contrast with the added depth once we get to the Technicolor Oz.  Though prices for the 3D experience have risen, this is one film that’s more than worth it.

When the screening I saw was through, I wasn’t quite ready to make a final call on what I thought of the film but found that it was on my mind often in the following days.  No, it’s not a perfect film or the most original storyline…but it’s a visually arresting wonder that impressed me the longer it lingered in my memory.  Rumor is that plans are afoot for another sequel and based on what I saw here, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.  Would it be weird to recast Franco, though?