January 21, 2011
Temple Grandin (2010) ****1/2
Directed by Mick Jackson
Temple Grandin (2010)- Danes is spectacular in an earnest yet inspirational look at autism & accomplishment. Compelling watch. ****1/2 of 5
Temple Grandin is a wonderful movie. It's better than I ever could have imagined a made for cable biopic about an autistic woman who invented a humane way to slaughter cows might be. There are so many tricky aspects to a movie about this subject matter. First of all, how do you go about playing an autistic woman, especially considering that the film sincerely attempts to show viewers what it's like to live with such a disability? Claire Danes, giving a performance that has cemented her in my judgment as one of the most talented actresses working today, could easily have gone down the Dustin Hoffman Rain Man gimmick route, portraying a two dimensional automaton. Instead, she breathes a great deal of life and joy into a character so often frustrated by her total lack of social skills. Second, what's the best way to showcase the agricultural advancements that Grandin brilliantly conceived without repelling the audience at the gore and death associated with the slaughtering of animals? Personally, if I was the head of HBO, I would never in a million years have greenlit a film like this one precisely because of these two towering obstacles. Mick Jackson, with a great deal of help from Danes, Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and others, jumped these hurdles with room to spare. Temple Grandin is fascinating, entertaining and inspiring. Granted, I'm not sure what Catherine O'Hara's character is doing in this movie. Her very presence confused and distracted me since her character seems to have no real reason for being in the movie at all. Besides this minor quibble, I have nothing but great things to say about Temple Grandin. It's an absolute delight.
Robin Hood (2010) **1/2
Directed by Ridley Scott
Robin Hood (2010)- Dull, muddled storytelling, murky cinematography and indecipherable battle sequences. **1/2 out of 5
Wow, the story of Robin Hood has never been so dull. This is the backstory before the iconic tale of the man who steals from the rich to give to the poor. I don't really care enough about this movie to research the history involved, so I'll be purposefully curt in my description. Robin Hood is a soldier who has to deliver the news that a king is dead, then hides out in a town with Cate Blanchett whose husband died in battle. The two fall in love and must fight the French. The whole time, arrows fly. The battles are so poorly staged, and the momentum of the plot is literally nonexistent. Worst of all, this cinematic tedium goes on for a God awful two hours and twenty minutes. I'll take Kevin Costner, men in tights and Disney animation over this slick snoozefest any day.
44 Inch Chest (2010) ***
Directed by Malcolm Venville
44 Inch Chest (2010)- Great performances, but monotony hurts the execution of a fundamentally clever screenplay. *** out of 5
I added 44 Inch Chest way back at the beginning of 2010 when I was adding far too many movies every week to my list to see than someone who is a full time high school teacher could ever reasonably watch. Around late summer 2010, I parsed the list down, only holding onto those films that I felt I really wanted or needed to see. 44 Inch Chest made the cut solely because I already had it sent to me from Netflix. It took me almost five months to actually watch it. I'm certainly glad that I did, even though the film is quite messy overall. It doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to, even though I respect its ambition and its best moments enough to give it a pass. 44 Inch Chest is very similar to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, except it's not as bloody and (believe it or not) it's much more profane. It's an odd story of a man who discovers that his wife has cheated on him with a young man. The next day, lost in total shock, he invites an eclectic group of acquaintances to help him remember what he did the day before and advise him on what to do next. He did awful things the day prior, and he's thinking about doing unimaginably awful things later that day all out of revenge. With the exception of a handful of flashback scenes, the entire movie takes place in one room. It's a very stagy film, yet the colorful dialogue and the amazing performances by such great British actors as Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson almost keep this thing afloat. Unfortunately, its unfocused conclusion doesn't hold up at all. It's like they didn't know where to go with such great material in the first two acts. 44 Inch Chest could have been a masterpiece, and even though it never gets there, what it is and what it could have been is definitely enough to make me glad that I didn't take it off my list.
Alamar (2010) ***1/2
Directed by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio
Alamar (2010)- Environmental message feels tacked on, but father/son story is subtly sweet, smart and sad. Lovely little film. ***1/2 of 5
IFC's great critic Matt Singer has been singing the praises of this little film for months now, and when he proclaimed it his number one film of 2010, I decided to check it out right away. At only slightly over one hour, it fit perfectly into my schedule late one night. Alamar is another film like 2009's wonderful hidden treasures Treeless Mountain and The Window that's released by the Film Movement organization dedicated to promoting truly independent cinema. This is a simple tale of a father who spends his last days with his young son on a fishing boat before his son and his ex-wife move to Europe. Narratively, not a whole lot happens, but we see a man being a good father to a good little boy who clearly looks up to the man he won't be able to see much in the future. Very often, I found myself fascinated by the world of a fisherman much like the six year old boy. His wonder is beautifully captured by Gonzalez-Rubio, and it's alongside the boy that we journey out to the sea. Further, there's a white bird that quickly became one of my favorite characters of any film of 2010. Despite its sweetness and its undeniable charm, I do have to conclude, though, that there's not really a whole lot under the surface. Its lack of substance runs the risk that it might be easy to forget a few months or years down the line. Perhaps Alamar's biggest fault lies in the statement on screen we see before the closing credits about an area of water that they hope will soon be a refuge for its wildlife. Never once did I see Alamar as a movie with an environmental message. The random inclusion of that disconnected statement at the end did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Though Alamar won't come anywhere near my number one film of 2010 when I am finally able to make that decision, it's a lovely little treat.
Tales from the Script (2010) **1/2
Directed by Peter Hanson
Tales from the Script (2010)- Looks like it was edited as part of a junior high media class. Slapdash screenwriting insights. **1/2 out of 5
Tales from the Script looks cheap, and considering that it's easily going to be a staple film in many Introduction to Film Appreciation courses, I don't think that's acceptable. This is a wonkish interview film with actual Hollywood screenwriters providing personal insights and anecdotes into the creative process, making it in the business, dealing with studios, directors and actors, among other topics. The talking heads throw their often trite insights at the viewer, and admittedly some of their words of wisdom do stick, providing more than one fascinating glimpse into the movie-making process. On the other hand, many sequences and stories ultimately end up a complete waste of time. Beyond its six chapter structure, there's little coherence to the editing of the babbling writers. Further, there's a varying range of success and talent on screen. We get everyone from John Carpenter to the man who wrote Catwoman. Perhaps the idea is to gather as many different perspectives as necessary, but they all start to sound the same after a while. Overall, too many of these people simply come across jaded, cynical and petty. "Life is so hard" and "woe is me" are often felt mantras threaded throughout. Even a documentary like Visions of Light about the history of cinematography in film has fascinating cinema clips adding richness to the interviews on screen. In Tales from the Script, they have one film scene introducing each of the six or seven chapters. Once again, I'm guessing this is due to budget and time restraints, and once again, that's simply not a good enough excuse.