Movie Review ~ Woman in Gold

woman_in_gold_ver3
The Facts:

Synopsis: Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

Stars: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Tatiana Maslany, Charles Dance, Max Irons, Frances Fisher

Director: Simon Curtis

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:

Review: For Oscar winning star Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold probably looked like a sure bet.  Here was a true life tale of a woman battling painful memories from her childhood in her quest to take back what is lawfully hers and teaming with a young upstart lawyer to do so.  Throw in some courtroom drama and a lovely series of period-set flashback sequences and the Dame was likely flashing that wickedly smug smile of hers to any passerby on the street.

So how does Woman in Gold come across so phony, so airless, so totally beneath her talents?  It’s all in the surroundings, my friends…all in the surroundings.

As an attorney introduced to Maria Altmann (Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey, RED 2) by a mutual acquaintance (his mother, played by Frances Fisher, who hopefully pocketed a nice paycheck for her five minutes of screen time) Ryan Reynolds (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Ted) spends the first half of the film playing second fiddle to Mirren’s old biddy of a client.  She wants to reclaim a series of paintings by family-friend Gustav Klimt, the well regarded artist responsible for the painting known as Woman in Gold.  Maria knows the titular character as her aunt Adele, a beauty that died tragically young but with a visage immortalized in the gold leaf heavy work.

Forced out of her home and homeland by Nazi invaders, she came to know that the paintings that adorned the walls of the stately apartment owned by her wealthy family were seized and later displayed in one of Austria’s most renowned galleries.  As a way to retrieve some semblance of a family legacy, Maria joins the famous legal battle in the late 90s that sought to restore the countless works of art stolen by the Nazis to the Jewish families they originally belonged to.

No doubt about it, all the elements for a finely tuned drama were available to everyone involved but what a mess they make of it.  From the tin-earned dialogue courtesy of Alexi Kaye Campbell to the ham-handed direction of Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) the final product is a teeter-totter of a film with some very good elements unable to overcome the larger weaknesses that weigh the whole thing down.

The first problem is Mirren’s co-star.  Reynolds has never been what you’d call an emotional heavy in his roster of roles up until now, trading on his good looks and frat boy “charm” in place of lines delivered with any semblance of sincerity.  Reynolds has carved a nice little career in comedies and the occasional superhero bomb film (Green Lantern, X:Men Origins: Wolverine) but his dramatic roles have been scarce.  There’s clearly a reason for that.

A bizarre party of random familiar faces dot the supporting cast, most of whom can’t make heads or tails of their roles which are little more than walking plot devices for Reynolds and Mirren to do their thing.  I have to believe that most of Katie Holmes’s role was removed in editing…how else can you explain her character (Reynolds’s wife) dropping in only to have the occasional child and reciting lines that, and I’m paraphrasing slightly here, “Here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to drop me off at the hospital so I can have this baby and then you’re going to Washington D.C. because it’s the right thing to do.”  The scenes between Holmes (Batman Begins) and Reynolds are awkward to sit through because they’re meant to be emotionally driven yet the film never establishes anything about them as a couple so we don’t care about what they’re going through.

Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Elizabeth McGovern turn up as various judges that Mirren and Reynolds appear before.  Pryce is supposed to be a member of the Supreme Court but for the life of me I can’t figure out which one.  McGovern, the wife of the director, obviously did her husband a solid and donned a robe for her brief, yet enjoyable, cameo.  There’s also Brit Charles Dance (Dracula Untold) doing the most head-scratching Kentucky-fried accent you’ve ever heard and several minor doughy-faced European males feebly sketched as villains that won’t relinquish Maria’s beloved painting.

The good news is that a good chunk (though not nearly enough) of the run time is devoted to Maria’s flashbacks to her youth when she’s played by Tatiana Maslany (The Vow).  Not only does Maslany look strikingly like Mirren but she makes it feel like Mirren modeled her performance off of Maslany and not the other way around.  These flashbacks are where the real gold lies in a film that’s otherwise very paint by numbers.  Another positive to mention is that these flashbacks are almost entirely in German, resisting Hollywood’s penchant for being afraid of using subtitles.

Had the movie been set in the past with brief glimpses of the present, Woman in Gold may have been an overall better film.  Saddled with weak performances (Maslany and Mirren notwithstanding), a hokey-pokey script that feels like the first draft of an intro to screenwriting assignment, and a director that can’t make lemonade out of these lemons, it’s a pure pyrite affair.

The Silver Bullet ~ G.I. Joe: Retaliation – Trailer #3

gi_joe_retaliation_ver25

Synopsis: The G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence

Release Date:  March 29, 2013

Thoughts: Arriving 9 months after its original release date of June 29 2012, this sequel to 2009’s brain dead but blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has released a new-ish trailer as it revs up to its late March release date.  The official reason for the move was that Paramount Pictures wanted to add 3D effects to the film (a tip…any movie converted to 3D is usually a total waste)…but the real reason turned out to be that the move allowed new scenes to be shot that kept Channing Tatum alive past the first 1/3 of the film.  With Tatum’s star taking off in a major way in 2012 (The Vow, 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike all being huge box office hits), this change of course makes sense.  I still think the film looks like something that would have been released in the mid 90’s but I’m hoping it’s not quite as insipid as its predecessor.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Tomorrow Never Dies

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond heads to stop a media mogul’s plan to induce war between China and the UK in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Götz Otto, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in GoldenEye made a strong case that the James Bond series still had life left in its bones so was anyone really shocked when MGM fast tracked another entry in the franchise?  After taking a six year break before GoldenEye, the studio was eager to get their cash cow back up and running so Tomorrow Never Dies was moved into production on a fast clip.

Surprisingly, the film that resulted was a competent entry that didn’t have the look or feel of a movie that had little thought put into it.  In fact, when I revisited it again recently I was surprised that I liked it more now than I did when it was released in 1997.  Maybe coming off of GoldenEye I had too high expectations for the 18th (!) Bond film but I wasn’t a fan of the picture when I first saw it.

Time has been kind to Tomorrow Never Dies, especially considering that so much of it depends on media and technology that has been left in the dust by newer forms of communication and culture.  This adventure finds Bond squaring off against a mad media tycoon that happens to be married to an old flame of our spy.  Teaming up with a Chinese mercenary (Yeoh), Bond must avert war between the US and China as time hangs in the balance.

Though produced with the same breakneck speed of GoldenEye, it can’t quite match the previous entry with its plot that feels a little also-ran.  The same kind of evil genius is present, the same Bond babe works her magic on trying to soften him, the same second henchman lives long enough to battle 007 in a well-staged final battle…so it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all before and know where it’s heading.

That’s not to say the film isn’t an enjoyable ride with its top of the line production values and strong direction by Spoittswoode.  Spoittswoode stages some of the most impressively delirious action sequences seen so far in the series with Brosnan and Yeoh’s motorcycle chase through the city streets an unforgettable blast.

Yeoh’s martial arts strengths are also capitalized on without making it obvious that the stunts were designed with her in mind.  As the first ally to hold her own against Bond since Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loves Me, it’s no surprise that for a while a spin off series with Yeoh was considered.  As Bond’s previous lover, Hatcher is adequately sultry but I find it hard to believe she’d ever marry someone like the character Pryce plays.  I’ve always found Pryce to be overrated as a go-to actor and as a last minute replacement for Anthony Hopkins, he can’t help but be overshadowed by everything going on around him.

Returning credits designer Daniel Kleinman has produced another impressive opening sequence…though I think k.d. lang’s closing song should have swapped places with Sheryl Crow’s bland title track.  David Arnold comes on board as composer and works in some nice music cues that look to the future while making several nice references to the past.

Though it may feel a bit familiar, Tomorrow Never Dies functions well as a sophomore effort for Brosnan and company…producing an exciting film that provides the kind of entertainment audiences have come to expect from Mr. Bond.