After months of staying away from the movies, I returned with a flurry this past month. We saw no less than four movies and considered a fifth. So it’s time for me to catch up and tell you what I thought of them.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
If you’ll recall, I thought very highly of J.K. Rowling’s final book in the Potter series, which tied up more loose ends than would seem possible, while adding plenty of action that left the reader breathless. Yet I was concerned about the transition to film, when it was announced that it would be split in two. Setting aside any accusations of corporate greed, I was more worried because of how the book was structured. The first half was a slow burn adventure on the road, where Harry, Ron and Hermione were embroiled in angst and grew weary of each other. Despite some moments of excitement, all of the really “good stuff” happened later.
And unfortunately that’s how it came across in this movie. Although it was beautifully shot and the acting was very strong, it lacked the pacing needed to sustain a movie of that length, and to keep the audience begging for more. That being said, I don’t really fault the screenwriter (Steve Kloves) or the director (David Yates), as they made the most of this half-book approach. The darkness, the maturity and the character development was all there. When Dobby had his big scene near the end, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
On the whole, a good movie, but as ScottE commented, “I’m reserving judgement until I see Part 2.” My preliminary grade – B+.
The facts are these – Cher has returned the big screen, Christina Aguilera is a powerful singer, and Stanley Tucci is still hot. If that’s enough to get you to the theater, then you really must go and enjoy Burlesque. If you go in with any higher expectations than those, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Because the reality is this movie is so bad, it’s good.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not as bad as other movies in the genre (I’m looking at you, Showgirls), but it’s not very good. The dialogue is often laughable, and the various twists and turns of the plot are far too convenient. Frankly, the intervening scenes start to get in the way, to the point that you find yourself counting the minutes until the next musical number. That’s when the movie shines – Xtina takes the stage, the girls writhe and smirk in a very Chicago way, and all is well. Occasionally Cher graces the screen with her larger-than-life personality that’s so clearly typecast. I, as a gay man, am obligated to love her every minute.
There is also the hotness factor. The love interest, Cam Gigandet, is easy on the eyes even if he has nothing to do but act like a rogue. Stanley Tucci is still adorable, and ends up with a most adorable boyfriend in David Walton. So for the gals and the gays, plenty of eye candy to go around. But if it’s a well-crafted plot you’re looking for, look elsewhere. My grade – a C+ for effort. This will be the movie that years from now we’ll get drunk and laugh with at Thanksgiving.
I admit I’ve been wanting to see this movie since I first saw the preview ages ago. And I was not disappointed. Darren Aronofsky has delivered a film that messes with your head, unfurls bravura performances, and shows proper reverence for the art of dance. If you can handle a serious mind-frak, then you won’t want to miss this movie, which is bound to be recognized come Oscar time.
The basic plot of the movie mirrors the story of Tchaikovsky’s (or is it Petipa’s?) ballet, Swan Lake – a ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) struggles to move past her gentle nature (a.k.a. the white swan Odette) to embrace her hidden dark side (a.k.a. the black swan Odile). In doing so she will master the dual role often considered the most difficult for any prima ballerina. Nina is continually pushed in this direction both by her director (Vincent Cassel) and a new rival (Mila Kunis). The key appears to be in unlocking her sexual desire, which has been kept dormant, no thanks to her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey) that keeps her in a child-like state at home – picture a room full of stuffed animals and whole mess o’ pink. Can she overcome and give the performance of a lifetime?
Aronofosky’s vision is truly spectacular, but even more so is the acting of Portman, who speaks volumes with the creases in her face. Her descent into madness is a sight to behold. She not only acts to the hilt, but she dances it, too – her body is all sinew and strength – she carries herself as a dancer in a most remarkable way. Kunis proves to be an excellent foil, carrying on with a casual California style that was so charming in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The two women share one scene in particular that is, shall we say, intensely charged with sexuality.
As I mentioned, I felt this film did a great honor in showing the pain and struggle that is the life of a dancer, particularly for women in ballet. The blood on the feet, the steely determination, the constant repetition – that’s achingly real. But I would caution that other elements of the movie are there for the sake of plot – most ballet companies aren’t full of women trying to best each other, nor are you likely to see this lascivious a director. These quibbles are minor, and I consider the movie a triumph – I give it a solid A.
I Love You Phillip Morris
This week we had the rare opportunity to see a film for free, and at the MPAA screening room, no less! The ironic humor of seeing such an aggressively gay movie there was not lost on me.
The story is based on the real life of Steven Russell, a gay man that taught himself the art of the con in order to keep up the life to which he had become accustomed. When he’s finally caught and thrown in jail, he happens upon a nubile youth named Phillip Morris (no relation) and falls in love. Desperate, mad, willing-to-do-anything love. Thus follows his crazy adventures of getting in and out of jail, while conning money from a major corporation. He continually falsifies his identity, while Phillip tries to ignore the untruth he must know is there.
While Ewan McGregor (as Phillip) comes across well with his innocent charm, I felt like Jim Carrey (as Steven) was playing just another twist on the madcap character that has become the staple of his movies. That being said, the love story portrayed was strong and believable. If nothing else, the film convinced me that Steven’s motivations were always out of blind love for Phillip. He just lacked any filter or common sense.
It was a charming romp, but the script lacked the bite it needed to compete with this year’s Oscar contenders. I give it a very agreeable B.