"There's men, who play the game of life so well." "Man", forget that… More"There's men, who play the game of life so well." "Man", forget that song; this film is older than either Paul McCartney's or Michael Jackson's career, although that reference still fits, because this film is a much bigger mix of black-and-white than "The Man". This film is so old that it was the feature debut of Marlon Brando... who was in the lead role, having to project the anguish of a crippled war veteran. Well, I reckon it's always been known how awesome Brando was, though not necessarily by moviegoers, because this film didn't make much money, which is completely shocking. I mean, seriously, who, not ten years after the end of WWII, wouldn't want to see a WWII veteran suffer horrible emotional and physical turmoil as he struggles to adjust himself to get back into society? Yeah, when you're wheelchair-bound, there's a big difference between being "Men" and "X-Men", although I am very appreciative of brutal realism, and yet, again, this was 1950, so I don't know just how brutally believable this film can get, no matter how hard Brando tries. Make no mistake, the film is decent, but it's not quite Marlon Brando awesome, because, like me, that guy who's into brutal realism, it has some problems.
To be so short, with a runtime of just over 80 minutes, this film deals with a couple important characters and story branches, all of which are reasonably engaging, but feel excessive, due to the film's jarring between its layers in a feat of focal unevenness, deriving from some dragging in this brief, but somewhat steadily paced drama. Along the way, this film drags into its share of tropes, which include formulaic set pieces and dramatic progressions, and even character types, all of which seem to betray the potentially refreshing edge of this drama, particularly when they encompass of hint of melodrama that betrays the genuineness of this subject matter, and most of the storytelling. At the very least, director Fred Zinnemann makes the film feel rather melodramatic, by dousing the storytelling with a certain sentimentality that is admirable, and often effective, but seems to try too hard to compensate for a certain superficiality in this approach to heavy subject matter from 1950. The film's era and, on top of that, runtime of not quite an hour-and-a-half set boundaries for dramatic depth, and although this film works hard within those boundaries, there's something undercooked and safe about this portrait on paraplegia and post-war misfortune, and that reflects other superficialities in this narrative. The subject matter of this film is so weighty that a very rewarding drama could have somewhat easily been crafted, but with the superficializing of all of the dramatics, there's nothing especially grand about this perhaps overly intimate and brief affair. Don't get me wrong, the film is consistently enjoyable, and often so compelling that the final product comes very close to being richly rewarding, but at the end of the day, there's not much flare in concept, and when it comes to execution, issues in structure, originality, subtlety and depth finalize the final product as a little underwhelming. With that said, the film does a lot of things better than I expected, so much so that it almost transcends the shortcomings in the telling of a story concept that has its own shortcomings, though only so many.
As I said, this film's story concept isn't especially broad in scale, relying largely on dramatic intimacies that would be a whole lot more effective if it wasn't for the conventions, histrionics and, of course, superficialities, yet still stand almost rich with potential, studying on the struggles of those coming to terms with paraplegia, and paying tribute to both the strength and human vulnerability of war veterans. There's a lot of heart in this film to either superficialize or overplay cloyingly, and when it comes to, at the very least, directorial storytelling, Fred Zinnemann gets a little sentimental, but he never loses some sense of inspiration, which keeps pacing tight enough to sustain a consistent degree of entertainment value, and which becomes passion and resonance once Zinnemann finds realization in his drawing upon Carl Foreman's scripting. Foreman does what he can with this subject matter, held back by limitations in the light-scale premise and of the time, and by his own missteps in structuring, but he still offers plenty of wit and solid dialogue to prove effective in lightening things up without superficializing dramatics more than the usual superficialities of the time already do, which isn't to say that there isn't a good deal of depth in the writing, or at least color, like in the characterization that is somewhat thin, but full of distinct characters who fit their respective roles charmingly, and present different angles in very human subject matter. The film tackles several character-driven branches as a very human drama, and although it often jars between its layers, there's something engaging about each character's side of the story, not simply because each role is distinguished, but because when there is, in fact, depth incorporated into the characterization, marking a bit of human edge that wasn't particularly common at the time, and is made all the more effective, even to this day, by the portrayers of the well-written characters. Essentially everyone focused on in this film delivers, probably more than this time period deserves with the lovely Teresa Wright, as the lover of a broken man who may ultimately be nothing but a burden, and the charismatic Everett Sloane, as a sympathetic, but stern and flawed doctor, prove to be convincing and sometimes dramatically moving, while just as much, if not more effectiveness is found in the wheelchair-bound performers, whether that be Richard Erdman as a man trying to make the best of his situation, or Jack Webb as a sharp, yet bitter realist, or Arthur Jurado as a hard-worker who tries his best to not like circumstances cloud his potential or good heart. Of course, the real revelation in this film is Marlon Brando, who, as the lead in his feature film debut, is given a rare honor that he does not squander, all but breaking ground in dramatic acting sensibilities of the time by subtly and emotionally projecting the hopes and frustrations of a man who gradually comes to terms with his terrible situation, but comes to find that he may continue to face struggles, within himself and among loved ones, for the rest of his life. Grief, intensity, anger, joy and passion are all showcased impeccably in the first powerful performance in a filmography that is rich with powerful performances, thus, Brando marks the peak in inspiration found on and off of the screen throughout this drama, and that's rather frustrating, because the final product doesn't quite make it to thoroughly rewarding, although it comes close enough to compel adequately and sometimes resonate.
Bottom line, there's some surprising unevenness and dragging in this conventional, histrionic and sentimental drama whose briefness reflects a certain superficiality, in the dramatics and the narrative scale, thus, the final product falls as rather underwhelming, but by a hair, for there is enough value to this story concept, heart to the direction, with and extensiveness to the scripting, and effectiveness to an across-the-board solid cast that Marlon Brando stands out from to make Fred Zinnemann's "The Men" a frustratingly held back, but near-rewardingly compelling portrait on the struggles of the paraplegic.
2.75/5 - Decent
This will surely be a lively film, what with its being an adaptation… MoreThis will surely be a lively film, what with its being an adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa's 2003 musical of the same name... right? Yeah, that was a lame, forced reference, but it's not like I could have quoted the Brian Eno [u]instrumental[/u] "Little Fishes", which is bogus, because that indulgence in ambient artistry better reflects just how exciting this film is. I'm still glad to see Cate Blanchett finally fulfilling her true roots, and by that, I am not referring to the fact that Blanchett is Australian, no matter how much she's tap danced around the home culture that catches up with her here, but to the fact she actually looks like a fish. No, she's cute in this film, and she's not playing a fish, because where "Big Fish" was all about fantasy, this film is about the harsh realities faced by former drug addicts. ...So, yeah, in other words, where the story of "Big Fish" was probably inspired by pot and psychedelics, this film is openly inspired by heroin, which isn't to say that this film is quite as lively as "Big Fish". You'd think that there would be more colorful sci-fi or fantasy from Rowan Woods, what with his directing a couple episodes of "Farscape", but don't worry, fans of that show, because this film is at least extremely Australian, , at least because it's very dry. Okay, now, this film is decent, but, again, intrigue is a little loose, as is originality.
This is a very conventional meditative, pseudo-arty drama that follows the usual characters along the usual plot formula, no matter which angle it takes as a somewhat focally uneven ensemble character piece. The film might pack on a few too many layers to juggle with adequate coherency, because through all of the plot branching is a narrative that doesn't have much in the way of weighty and urgency, conceptually thriving on some sort of slow, but sure character progression that the storytelling doesn't even manage to keep consistent with. It takes a long while to get used to the characters, because there is no immediate background development, which is compensated for in gradual exposition, up to a point, until focus in characterization is shaken up by the aforementioned disjointed story branch shifts, and by occasions in which focus in storytelling style also finds itself lapsing. Early on, the film ought to give one concerns that it will suffer from some sort of arthouse abstractionism, and then it finds a more grounded, traditional path, occasionally to jar back into those meditations on more-or-less nothing, resulting in a stylistic unevenness that messily juggles the artistic ambitions of this film which at least keeps consistent in one thing: a sluggish pace. The aimlessness and dryness may peak with those meditative moments in which reasonably engaging dialogue and characterization highlights are near-totally halted, but at almost two hours of a somewhat simple story, this film drags along, with filler and repetition that are made all the more glacial by Rowan Woods' subdued atmosphere, which ranges from rather blanding to just about challenging. The film is more sufficiently interesting than I jokingly let on earlier, and with the subtle sharpness in writing and acting, it's rarely terribly boring, but it is slow something fierce, too limp to overcome natural shortcomings, familiarity, inconsistencies and problematic exposition. The final product does try your patience a bit, but it does endear those with plenty of patience to spare just fine, with adequate dramatic effectiveness, and decisive artistic integrity.
Nathan Larson's score is seriously underused, and strictly minimalist to begin with, maybe a little awkwardly experimental, yet when it does come into play, it proves to be one of the more realized aspects of the film, with a tender taste that is haunting by its own right, and brings some sense of vibrancy to the problematic heights in the taking advantage of an artistic license. The visual style of the film also keeps the artistic integrity of this drama fairly stable, for although Danny Ruhlman's cinematography runs technical shortcomings in the cinematography through a subtly intense range in lighting in order to craft a handsome palette throughout the course of this film, there are certain shots that are nearly breathtaking in their realization, in the efforts of both Ruhlman and Rowan Woods. Woods' artistic approach is sometimes misguided to the point of leading into an aimless meditativeness that exacerbates consistently sluggish pacing that is anchored by Woods' subdued atmosphere, so it's not as though Woods ever does anything especially spectacular as a dramatic director, but his aesthetic tastes, as I said, have their admirable heights, many of which come with so much depth that they bring life to the tender subtlety of this drama. Again, there never is a point in this film, at least for me, in which the emotional resonance really soars, but there are a number of touching, audacious moments, and that's something I wasn't really expecting in a film this dry, despite the promising subject matter. Now, the plot concept of the film itself is flimsy, what with its familiarity, thinness and unevenness, but at its core, this story is rich, taking on an audaciously realist approach to themes regarding struggling to overcome a dark past which just won't depart, and doing so with a great deal of help from Jacquelin Perske's solidly convincing dialogue, and worthy, if undercooked characters, brought to life by even worthier performances. When it comes to the supporting cast, Dustin Nguyen, Martin Henderson, Sam Neill and Joel Tobeck hold their own, while Noni Hazlehurst, as an angry mother fearing that her children might not be able to fully return from dark paths, and Hugo Weaving, as a junkie suffering in an attempt to make a better life for himself, steal the show, and as for leading lady Cate Blanchett, she may not be given a great amount of material, yet she still manages to capture the humanity and pain of a woman who finds her path to redemption bumped up by past demons, and by peers who might not be what she hoped they would be. There is a lot of heart in this film's cast, and storytelling, for that matter, and although such a heart doesn't have enough pump to it for the drama to reward, or even challenge underwhelmingness all that much, where the final product could have fallen into mediocrity under the weight of misguidance, decency, intrigue and, to an extent, impact are maintained serviceably.
When it comes time to swim away, the film all but drowns as rather ineffective amidst all of its conventions, focal and stylistic inconsistencies, narrative thinness, and sluggish pacing, but there is some distinct inspiration to bring life to important subject matter within the haunting score work and cinematography, tasteful direction, convincing writing and strong performances - especially by Noni Hazlehurst, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett - which secure Rowan Woods' "Little Fish" as a fair, if challenging portrait on the harsh persistence of a regrettable past, and how that can affect the future of someone and his or her loved ones.
2.5/5 - Fair
"Well, I used to know a girl, and I would have sworn that her name was… More"Well, I used to know a girl, and I would have sworn that her name was Veronica... Guerin!" First it was "Michael Collins", and now we come to the second installment in the "Biopic Whose Title Features the Full Name of an Irish Figure" trilogy! Yeah, this film is much less Irish than its predecessor, because it stars an Aussie, and both its director and producer are American. Yup, Joel Schumacher directs this Jerry Bruckheimer production, so this is either a massive, high-profile blockbuster... or something of a critical flop. Now, this may not exactly be a critical flop, but it is a commercial flop, because it cost about $17 million, or rather, about half of the change in Bruckheimer's back pocket, and it barely made just over half of that back worldwide. That's right, not even Ireland was flocking to see this, probably either because they wanted an actual Irishwoman in the title role, or because even they got nervous about the quality of this film when they saw Schumacher's and Bruckheimer's names attached. Well, I for one liked this just fine, but, yeah, it does get a little flimsy, even in its focus.
The film focuses, not simply on Veronica Guerin, but on other angles in affairs regarding Irish drug trades of the 1990s, with particular attention towards the gangsters conducting the trades, and I kind of admire that ambition, but in execution, the film's focus jars all about the place, uncertain about which route to take, largely because it's uncertain about the pace it should take along the paths. A fair bit of the film is steady in momentum, or at least blandly draggy, but if a runtime of just over 90 minutes sounds too short for a film following subject matter this weighty, then you're on the money, because more than anything else, the storytelling sustains a busy, heavy-handed pace that is made all the more aggravating when it forcibly breaks the slow-downs, and always drives the plot forward with a monotony that wears you down something fierce. If nothing else, the business comes at the expense of exposition, seeing the film rush along its points, following what should have been a place for immediate development that is all but abandoned, thus, screenwriters Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue try to make up for characterization shortcomings by resorting to molding thin character types. The antagonists may be particularly cartoonish, but even the leads are lacking in layers within this thin character study, whose contrivances do not end with the characterization, thriving on somewhat improbable happenings that at least feel histrionic when backed by Joel Schumacher's overwrought atmosphere, a reflection on overstylization in the director's efforts. The direction is overblown pretty much across the board, and although it matches ambition with inspiration enough to beget some compelling moments, Schumacher tries too hard to salvage depth from a superficial and flimsy script, and from a story that, no matter how conceptually worthy, is too blasted unoriginal to deeply enthrall. If this basic story about drug trades and journalism doesn't feel generic in the context of a film narrative, then the storytellers make it feel trite, hitting the usual contrivances and tropes, and doing so at a terribly incoherent pace, with terribly incoherent focus, challenging your investment every step of the way. Potential is betrayed time and again, but not entirely at the expense of one's investment, which is shaken, yet never lost, at least when it comes to style.
Harry Gregson-Williams is a very gifted score composer who can deliver on punchy pieces and powerful symphonies, and here, when the soundtrack gets rather action-oriented, it gets cheesily overstylized, and often falls behind the relative slow spells in order to establish some sense of nervousness, yet when things get more tasteful, they see a very unique blend of Irish music styles and modern classicism that is pretty powerful, complimenting the weight of the dramatics, while tensions are complimented by Brendan Galvin's handsomely bleak cinematography. The score work and cinematography, while not necessarily stellar, have solid highlights which define the effective aspects of a mostly overblown style, defined by flashy plays on visuals and editing, by David Gamble. These stylistic bloatings are the fault of Joel Schumacher, whose direction is heavy-handed and flimsy in its pacing, contrivances and tropes, and yet, the directorial hiccups reflect, not so much a laziness, but too much ambition, which does go fulfilled often enough, through intense heights in gritty style and atmospherics that peak with a surprisingly powerful ending, to make for a reasonably effective dramatic thriller. At the very least, whether he's proving genuinely effective, or getting rather frantic with his ambition, Schumacher delivers on pure entertainment value throughout the course of this superficial, but lively affair, and that, to some extent, endears you to the deeper areas of potential within this film's subject matter. Veronica Guerin's is a story that has been experienced by many journalists seeking to shine a light of troublesome and dangerous matter, and more than a few of those journalists have been brought to the screen, thus, this film's story is nothing new, and its potential is further obscured through a problematic interpretation, but it is still worthy, whether it be focusing on the brutality and intrigue of the Irish drug trades of the 1990s themselves, or on a charming woman who has to get serious for the safety of society, even if that means threats to her own safety. If nothing else convinces you of this contrived film's human depths, then it is the performances, all of which are pretty strong, with Cate Blanchett, of course, standing out, with a convincing Irish accent, and a charm that sells the lightheartedness of the titular lead which is brought too much to light for too often, until tension thicken, allowing Blanchett to do a better job than the writers of projecting a sense of strength and fear in a woman who is threatened, but remains passionate about doing good. Blanchett is unsurprisingly solid, about as much, if not more so than anything else in this messy film, which remains endearing enough to entertain and occasionally compel, even if it could have done so much more.
Uneven in focus and pacing, often intensely, with underdeveloped character types, contrivances and genericisms, the final product ultimately collapses as a decidedly underwhelming take on worthy subject matter, done enough justice by highlights in entertaining and sometimes effective direction that works fairly well with Harry Gregson-Williams' strongly heartfelt score work and Brendan Galvin's handsomely bleak cinematography, and by a talented cast that Cate Blanchett stands out from to secure Joel Schumacher's "Veronica Guerin" as a decent, entertaining and sometimes truly engrossing, if ultimately thoroughly improvable drama.
2.5/5 - Fair
Well, there's "Heaven isn't too far away!", or, "I'm findin' it hard… MoreWell, there's "Heaven isn't too far away!", or, "I'm findin' it hard to believe we're in Heaven!", or, "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens!". Wow, and that was only the beginning of the many, many references I could make to a song titled "Heaven", although the familiarity in this film doesn't exactly end there, because we're talking about yet another Tom Tykwer thriller about a woman kicking some butt in the name of her male other, or rather, "Run Philipa Run"... named after Cate Blanchett's character in this film, for the record. Speaking of which, it's Blanchett reuniting with Giovanni Ribisi in a film that has something of a supernatural and very generic title, so this may be mistaken as "The Gift 2"... to, you know, that guy who remembers "The Gift". Man, Giovanni Ribisi is an awesome actor, as well he should be if he's going to be working with Cate Blanchett in at least two movies, but he can't really catch a break, not with these forgotten films as vehicles for revelatory performances. I just love seeing Ribisi really embrace his Italian heritage, and seeing the irony in Ribisi's being a Scientologist in something called "Heaven", which is... sacrilegious... I think. Okay, this film isn't really about Heaven, but don't get too excited about seeing something as cool as "Run Lola Run" either, kids, because this was to be the first part in an ultimately incomplete trilogy written by Krzysztof Kieślowski and Piesiewicz, and the last trilogy those guys penned was the "Three Colors Trilogy". Well, sure enough, this film is mightily misguided, though mostly in the scripting, not necessarily, say, the music and cinematography.
Well, the film is so flat that neither its soundtrack nor Frank Griebe's cinematography is allowed to truly thrive, with a mostly unoriginal score being particularly underplayed in this largely quiet affair, which, upon either utilizing pieces by such minimalist classical virtuosos as Arvo Pärt, Marius Ruhland and Tom Tykwer himself, or finding striking, maybe even immersive highlights in visual style, is rather haunting. There are technically beautiful aspects in the film, and if they do find an opportunity to thrive, then it is provided by Tom Tykwer, who, as director, takes an intensely subtle approach that, because of the shortcomings in material, is more tedious than anything, but is almost piercing when it does, in fact, find a dramatic height to draw upon. Something about this film is reflective of Tykwer's capabilities as a dramatic storyteller, because if there is any shred of effectiveness in this drama, then it is encompassed in Tykwer's tasteful, if often tedious subtlety, which seems to have its heart set on salvaging some degree of life from this story. The telling of this tale is so misguided that the story's value is all but obscured, while its great deal of conceptual thinness goes fiercely stressed, but there is something to admire in this subject matter, and it's not in the melodramatic and minimalist plot, or in the thin and barely buyable characterization, but in worthy themes that explore upholding justice in the most brutal of manners, confronting terrible mistakes, and doing right by the heart when what you once believed in has its image besmirched. These are all human themes in a developmentally flimsy character piece, and if there are sold, then it is either in the aforementioned highlights in Tywker's thoughtful storytelling, or in a strong cast that has its standout moments, most of which are by the subtle and graceful Giovanni Ribisi who is surprisingly convincing with both an Italian accent and a sense change in views on justice, and by a beautiful Cate Blanchett, whose remarkable emotional range presents both piercing delicacy and devastating intensity in order to sell the Philippa character's passion, frustration and guilt. The tools to make a very powerful character study are there, and, outside of the consistently strong acting, they're all dulled down by some sort of artistic misguidance that only grows worse as things progress, but when there is, in fact, focus in the vision of this drama, it begets some degree of effectiveness. For a long time, the film is effective, and decent, and then there comes a point where the conceptual intrigue, tasteful artistry and direction, and inspired acting fail to truly pull through the issues, which grow clearer and clearer, but never actually abate.
Somewhat refreshing in its lack of certainly regarding whether it is to be a grounded drama or, as Paul Matwychuk of Canada's "Vue Weekly" perfectly put it, "arthouse hoakum", the film is rather conventional, on either extreme of the storytelling style spectrum it jars through, whether it be falling into the usual arthouse pseudo-abstractionism whose basic nature is tedious enough without the familiarity, or conforming to more accessible dramatics so deeply that it succumbs to histrionic, which gradually grow a little more prominent, until a romantic angle is forced in, made somewhat subtle only by the overt subtlety that defines and ultimately ruins this melodrama. Only so much ever truly sells in this film whose dramatic heights ride on the backs of questionable character motivations that one might be able to get a firmer grip on if it wasn't for the expository issues, which find characterization undercooked, like subtle shifts in focus whose transitions aren't fleshed out enough to feel truly organic in the context of plotting focus. The angles gradually begin to converge, thus, focal inconsistency is not as big of an issue as the underdevelopment that, as irony would have it, only continues to intensify as the plot progresses, taking twists and turns that seem to come in from out of the left field, barely, if at all motivated enough to be convincing, or able to sell a sense of rising action. There's a dreadfully cruel irony in Krzysztof Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's script, because as the plot thickens in concept, the interpretive storytelling only grows thinner, although it's not as though the plot ever thickens to a tremendously juicy extent, for what histrionics there are go forced in as some desperate attempt at carrying this narrative beyond meticulous, ultimately thinly executed meditations on dialogue and minimalist set pieces that, while thematically important, mostly wield only so much substance, yet are still so aimless so often. The extremes in the meanderings might not so much be the fault of this unfocused story concept, as much as it might be the fault of Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's exacerbating all of the aimlessness through monotonously draggy scripting that couples with the considerable thinness in expository depth in order to craft a seemingly brief runtime of under 100 minutes whose lack of direction results in a glacial pacing. Whether it be a deliberate exercise in artistic indulgence or whatever, this film is draggy something awful in its take on an already thin and questionable story, and that places a serious threat on the engagement value of this film that, well, could have easily been overpowered if it wasn't for the fact that much more often than not, the film is terribly boring, its stylistic heights being rare, and its thoughtful directorial effectiveness being even rarer, due to there being so little material for Tom Tykwer to draw upon with his meditative direction, which grows more and more tedious, and tries one's patience more and more, until the final product loses the last bit of spark that could have saved it. The film has potential, opening with an excessively meandering, but somewhat gripping hook, then leading into a body that, because of the thematic intrigue, dramatic heights and strong acting, is so decent for so long that the final product comes close to transcending mediocrity, but somewhere along the way, it just becomes near-impossible to forgive this misguided drama, whose shortage of true depth and resonance only grows greater with the artistic buffoonery of a script that files down patience about as much as it files down direction, and is accompanied by a tedious atmosphere, until the final product ever so slightly, but nonetheless decidedly succumbs to mediocrity, at best.
All in all, there are few tasteful highlights in the scoring, cinematography and direction to do some sort of justice to valuable human themes that best emulated through a respectable cast that Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi lead with sharpness, so there is a fair bit to admire here, almost to the point of maintaining decency that is ultimately lost somewhere along the onslaught of conventions, histrionics, narrative thinness, lack of expository and plot focus, and tedious atmospheric dryness that barely, but decidedly secures Tom Tykwer's "Heaven" as a sometimes promising, but ultimately flat, hopelessly misguided arthouse drama.
2.25/5 - Mediocre
"Je m'appelle Gray... Charlotte Gray." Actually, I don't know of any… More"Je m'appelle Gray... Charlotte Gray." Actually, I don't know of any people from France being majorly involved in this film about French Resistance agents, because even the Euros that are funding it are coming in from Germany. Yeah, as if there weren't enough financial issues pertaining to the Euro already, this film bombed something fierce, although it did get a tiny bit of attention in Australia. The lead and director for this film are Australian women, so I guess this film is kind of empowering for Australian women, even though it doesn't have anything to do with Australia. Seriously, it's the story of a female Scot serving as an agent for the French Resistance, probably because Cate Blanchett wasn't ready to come home to Australia without one more accent challenge. Shoot, even when she went to New Zealand, she got some good money off of "The Lord of the Rings", but in Australia, long after she broke out, she still can't catch all that much of a break. In all fairness, the word of mouth must not have been great for this film's business, because even though I liked it better than plenty, even I have to admit that there are quite a few problems.
There are some hints of improbability in this film, and although they peak with the incorporation of a melodramatic romantic angle in the narrative, a number of things don't sell, especially with a sentimental atmosphere at their back, although they probably would be easier to buy into if they were more fleshed out. Plenty is undercooked in this relatively meek WWII Nazi drama which all but abandons disturbing imagery and forces in only a couple of tragedies, underplaying a sense of danger and consequence whose limitations render them unable to fully compensate for a shortage on immediate background and extensive gradual exposition that distances you a bit from the characters and their role in an uneven narrative. The film is split into several segments, which are not episodic, but feel like they are, due to the film's spending too much time with each individual layer, whose eventual replacement, if not dismissal, proves to be jarring. There's something a little excessive about the storytelling, which is too fatty around the edges to keep coherent, or even keep up a brisk pace, which is further retarded by a subdued directorial atmosphere that gets to be bland, though never really dull. The big complaint is about how boring this film is, but I was never really bored, very there is plenty of dialogue and stuff going on, and it's all backed with some sense of urgency, yet the momentum remains defused by the film's unevenly meandering along a path that, on top of everything, is predictable. This film has the potential to be fresh, but as a WWII drama of its type, it's seriously generic, failing to do anything new or substantially interesting, even when it forces in certain other, theatrical tropes, and also failing to generate enough spark to make the final product all that compelling. The film fails to truly resonate, but there are compelling elements, which aren not necessarily plentiful, yet are decisive, with fair dramatic value and production value.
Art director Su Whitaker doesn't really do anything especially unique or sweeping with her restoration of 1940s London and Vichy France, but her crafting of this period drama's distinct setting is convincing enough to be immersive, and goes polished by Dion Beebe's often flat, and just as often glamorous cinematography. Even the artistic integrity of the film is a little undercooked, but style, reflected in the art direction, cinematography and, to an arguably lesser extent, score work, by Stephen Warbeck, is perhaps a little more consistent than the substance. With that said, there is plenty to commend in the substance, at least in concept, for although this story isn't anything particularly new or especially believable, with only so much depth and consequence as a French Resistance drama, subject matter regarding the agency of the French Resistance is pretty interesting, and a plot about a woman trying to keep from getting emotionally compromised on a mission within a war that is taking from her so much of what she loves. The telling of this fairly promising story obscures much of the depth because of its messiness, but for only so long, before dramatic significance is done some genuine justice by a well-intentioned directorial performance by Gillian Armstrong which ranges from atmospherically bland to tonally overblown, but rarely falls too limp with its pacing, and even more rarely loses a sense of dramatic inspiration. Whether or not Armstrong's inspiration is able to stand its ground against the misguidance of Jeremy Brock's script is an entirely different matter, for the final product fails to resonate enough to be all that compelling, even with subject matter this weighty, yet there is a heart in this film that is consistently endearing, and if there is consistency to a sense of humanity, then it stands within the performances. Michael Gambon is charismatic in the usual manner, and Billy Crudup puts on a fairly convincing accent and presence as a Resistance member struggling to defend the integrity of his country and the safety of his family and friends, while the real standout in a cast full of talents is leading lady Cate Blanchett who is surprisingly gorgeous, and unsurprising effective, projecting enough strength to sell a woman who is willing to fight for the sake of the innocent, and gradually layering on raw human emotion and vulnerability in order to sell the woman's strife when her life and the lives of people she either has cared or is growing to care a great for go threatened. Blanchett isn't given much to work with, and her titular Charlotte Gray character is written too thinly to really enthrall, even if she is as fleshed out as any aspect in this undercooked drama, but Blanchett remains something of a powerhouse who drives much of the heart and soul of this misguided, but well-intentioned and often engaging opus.
Overall, the film isn't consistently believable, nor is it well-rounded in its exposition or even in its slightly segmented structure, although it does have enough fat around the edges and dryness in its atmosphere to fall into a number of slow spells along a path that is too generic to really intrigue, thus, the final product fails to resonate enough to stand a chance of transcending underwhelmingness, although it is well-intentioned, and conceptually worthy, done enough aesthetic justice by convincing art direction and handsome cinematography, and enough dramatic justice by highlights in direction and acting - whose effectiveness is most prominent within a beautiful and layered Cate Blanchett - to secure Gillian Armstrong's "Charlotte Gray" as an adequately engaging, rather lacking tribute to the women of the French Resistance during WWII.
2.5/5 - Fair
"Waldo Jeffers had reached his limit; it was now Mid-August, which… More"Waldo Jeffers had reached his limit; it was now Mid-August, which meant he had been separated from Marsha for more than two months. Two months, and all he had to show was three dog-eared letters, and two very expensive long-distance phone calls." Man, that is a weird song, as well it should be for a song by The Velvet Underground, although INXS' "The Gift" was kind of weird, too, at least for INXS, so I don't reckon there's any doing anything titled "The Gift" without things getting rather surreal. Billy Bob Thornton must have known that, because this film is something of a passion project of his, but rather than direct it himself, he gets Sam Raimi to tell everyone a story inspired by Mama Thornton's alleged psychotic-I mean, "psychic" abilities. The film is about extrasensory powers and criminal investigations with more than a few supernatural twists, but about as much as it's a Sam Raimi thriller, it's Raimi's superhero film between "Darkman" and "Spider-Man", "Psychic Woman", complete with Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons. This still may not be quite as over-the-top of a female-led Raimi film as "The Quick and the Dead", but it's cast sure is over-the-top, featuring Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Cate Blanchett and, just for the heck of it, Danny Elfman. Man, this is an awesome cast... even with Keanu Reeves, but the film itself, while it's plenty decent, it has its issues, and even a few contrivances.
Actually, contrivances are among the least of this film's worries, being somewhat rare, but still very much present, found in occasions of overstylization, and more than a few moments of atmospheric bloating that stress dramatics and tensions rather tritely. The genericisms don't end there in this potentially refreshing, and ultimately formulaic supernatural and whodunit mystery thriller, succumbing to predictability, no matter how much focus is lose in an onslaught of layers. Now, there are just too many branches in this narrative, which deals with some redneck threatening the lead and her loved ones (People like him are why there should be leniencies on murdering dirtbags), various cases taken on by the lead as a psychic, a murder case, and all sorts of other stuff, and is plenty interesting through and through, to one degree or another, but excessive, jarring from layer to layer in a convoluted and incoherent manner. The layers eventually converge into a singular narrative, but they take a long, long time to connect, and once they do, there are still plenty of loose ends that don't do much to provide a sense of punctuation in this nearly unfocused thriller whose aimlessness is exacerbated by other bloatings in storytelling. If the film isn't bloated with material, then it is bloated with filler, dragging along at a meandering clip that is made all the slower by a directorial thoughtfulness from Sam Raimi that is pretty effective pretty often, but doesn't have enough realized material to draw upon with subtle effectiveness. The film gets to be kind of dull, and I didn't really expect that, not necessarily because I was expecting this to be colorful, like the usual Raimi affair, but because I wasn't expecting there to be so much taste in Raimi's efforts, which reflect an inspiration that could have maintained and almost secures a reward value, but loses resonance amidst all of the conventions, overblown writing, and problematic pacing which hold the final product back as rather underwhelming. Nevertheless, I don't feel that the film falls quite as flat as many say, having plenty of solid strengths, and a couple subtle, largely aesthetic ones.
Christopher Young's score is underused in this largely quietly intense thriller, but when it does come into play, rather than resorting to cloying strikes and stings, it falls into sober formulas that, while familiar, are aesthetically impressive as experimental classical pieces, and piercing in the context of an intense atmosphere. Young's score is solid, when utilized, and Jamie Anderson's cinematography is also striking, when really played up, but their place in the storytelling is defined by the efforts of director Sam Raimi, whose scares sometimes rely on forced jump spooks and other contrivances, but often thrive on genuinely disturbing imagery, and an effectiveness in an subdued atmosphere that is frequently blanding, but has its realized moments that are truly engrossing. In a lot of ways, this is a misguided, somewhat overambitious thriller, but in a few key areas, it's pretty smart, with Raimi finding revelatory moments in his handling of this relatively major dramatic turn that do decisive justice to subject matter which is admittedly deserving of inspiration, maybe even ambition. This story isn't especially unique, and it is excessively branched something awful, being incoherent and convoluted, but by no means short on sound potential, for each one of these many layers carry intrigue deriving from dramatic significance, thematic weight, thrills, and so on and so forth, carrying a potential for compellingness that is fulfilled in glimpses by Raimi, and an even more flawed script. Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton turn in a script that either does too much or doesn't do enough, falling into tropes, inconsistencies and dragging, but only between heights in the scripting that really do craft some suspenseful set pieces and a few surprises, as well as well-rounded characterization which sells the motivations of the characters as best it can, while the characters are sold the rest of the way by their portrayers. The film boasts a richly talented all-star cast, whose secondary standouts include Greg Kinnear, a surprisingly effectively antagonistic Keanu Reeves (I liked the performance, but one of the big disappointments of this film is that the character doesn't die an immeasurably excruciating death), and the absolutely phenomenal Giovanni Ribisi, who steals the show every time he steps onto the screen, with a devastating emotional intensity and sense of nervousness and unpredictability, as an unstable and lonely man trying to find the source of all of his unbearable pain, that makes his segments, no matter how forced, one of the most compelling in a film that is always carried by the great Cate Blanchett, who nails, not only a southern accent, but a sense of burden as a woman given a gift that can help people and expose terrible things, while bringing to her doorstep dangers and fears that are interpreted with a human vulnerability, and enough of a sense of strength to make a worthy protagonist whose portrayal may be more than what this film deserves. The acting is not simply the most consistently effective aspect of the film, but strong across the board, so much so that it plays an instrumental role in bringing the final product to the brink of a rewarding state is ultimately lost amidst a number of fatal errors, but caught in enough glimpses to engage the patient adequately.
Once the vision has faded, dramatic effectiveness finds itself shaken up a bit by a few contrivances, and a certain predictability deriving from conventions in the telling of an excessively layered, perhaps even aimless story, whose momentum is further shaken by draggy spells and a blanding atmospheric dryness that ultimately secures the final product as underwhelming, but just barely, for there is a plenty of intrigue to this story concept that is done enough justice by highlights in direction which utilizes haunting score work by Christopher Young and striking style and visuals to resonate, and in well-characterized writing, as well as by an across-the-board strong cast, - from which the phenomenal Giovanni Ribisi and the film-carrying Cate Blanchett stand out - to secure Sam Raimi's "The Gift" as a reasonably compelling, if ultimately misguided supernatural dramatic thriller.
2.75/5 - Decent
Man, Lizzy's getting old, so maybe they should call this "Elizabeth:… MoreMan, Lizzy's getting old, so maybe they should call this "Elizabeth: The Golden Girl"... or something less cheesy, and less clichéd than "The Golden Age". Nearly ten years is a long time to release a sequel, but in 2007, the last time we saw Queen Elizabeth I, she was in an HBO miniseries being played by Helen Mirren, so she's looking like a spring chicken here. It doesn't exactly hurt that Lizzy is sassier than ever, tossing in so many nifty lines that if it wasn't for all of the white make-up, I wouldn't have been able to tell if I was watching a film about Queen Elizabeth or Queen Latifah. ...So, uh, yeah, the fact of the matter is that Elizabeth is back, and she's still getting on Catholics' nerves somehow, probably because she's still keeping that Hindu around. Shekhar Kapur didn't do but one film between this and its predecessor, and as much as I liked 2002's "The Four Feathers", I have to admit that with its box office numbers and lasting power, Kapur may as well have not done it, so, seriously, how much of a challenge was it going to be to get the original's director back on board? I just think it's bizarre that they're even making near-indulgently expansive, pseudo-blockbuster sequels to period dramas now, although I am looking forward to "Anne Boleyn: The Revenge"... you know, because there aren't enough films about Anne Boleyn. Shoot, there are more than enough films about Queen Elizabeth I, but I'll take it, because this subject matter can apparently still making a movie that is not simply good, but mighty strong, for all its shortcomings, that is.
It's so hard to do something unique with films like this, and even though the original "Elizabeth" had plenty of refreshing elements, it ultimately succumb to a number of conventions, so, seeing as how this particular formula has already been done by "Elizabeth", and by a number of films that "Elizabeth" has since influenced, this film is even more familiar, handling its tropes better than most, but nonetheless having no shortage of them. Among these conventions is, of course, slow spots, for there are occasions of meandering that go backed by a hint of tonal dryness, and ultimately try your patience, even though the final product is ultimately much less repetitious and slow than its predecessor. This sequel does a much better job of breaking monotony, at least in pacing, although it often has to resort to fluff to do so, finding hints of tonal unevenness within a more distinct sense of humor, but mostly finding superficiality within certain melodramatics, or at least certain overdramatic atmospherics, whose excessive intensity occasionally wears you down, despite not being as excessive as the layers that are handled so overambitiously. There's much more going on in this film than in the predecessor, with dramatic and thematic versatility and intrigue that are both more plentiful and handled better, and yet, the predecessor had enough trouble transcending convolution, so it should come as no surprise that this epic is also hard to follow, especially when the focal shifts prove to be jarring and detrimental to the focus of the plot. The predecessor may have gotten convoluted, but it rarely, if ever got all that uneven with its focus, whereas this sequel, despite its best efforts to establish an enthralling sense of importance within each layer, goes all over the place, perhaps because it, being both grander and shorter than its predecessor, doesn't have the time to really flesh out the connections between the layers, whose undercooking also causes the film to rush along its points, wearing you down until meanderings come into play, further challenging your investment. I suppose this reflects just how well-made the film is, because for all of the trials to your patience, the final product stands strong, its issues overshadowed pretty solidly more often than not by inspiration and tight composition, but when the grip of the engrossing storytelling loosens, things really get a little messy, more so than they did in the ultimately inferior predecessor, thus, I cannot promise that one's investment will stand its ground against all of the conventions, overambition, and flimsy structuring and pacing in this simultaneously overblown and rushed epic. There are some points of excellence in this film, and plenty of points of misguidance, but, honestly, this drama is never less than compelling, and between the missteps and the occasions of excellence, in addition to the prominent moments of strength, the final product rewards much more thoroughly than I expected, while being about as aesthetically outstanding as one might predict.
For this film's score, Shekhar Kapur snuck in fellow Indian A. R. Rahman, as well as the gifted, Shakespearean-style composer Craig Armstrong, and such an ambitious union pays off, for although this film's soundtrack isn't brand-speaking-new, it's stellar, with beautiful lows, enthralling midranges, and soaring, often whimsically symphonic highs, all of which play a major role in livening this film up, to one degree or another, while bringing life to the resonance and grandness of this intimate, but rich epic. Just that can be said about Remi Adefarasin's exquisite cinematography, whose crisp coloration and lighting always carries a certain portraitist glaze, - which, upon falling over gothic and lyrical visuals that heavily stress light and the abence of it, is utterly breathtaking on a level that has to be seen in order to be believed, maybe even recognized as a triumph in cinematic photography - as well as a tight scope that is both intimate and broad, in order to immerse you, with a great deal of help from Alexandra Byrne's stunning costume designs and Guy Hendrix Dyas' expansive production designs, all tightly orchestrated through lavish art direction by David Allday, Jason Knox-Johnston, Phil Sims and Andy Thomson that restores the Elizabethan Era with so distinctly, so transportively, and all around so meticulously that it's utterly awe-inspiring. The impact of this epic thrives on its aesthetic value in a lot of ways, for the film is very decidedly superior than its predecessor on a technical level, and yet, when it comes to substance that accompanies the style, there is admittedly more potential, for although this story concept is convolutedly and unevenly overblown, perhaps even soapishly histrionic, every single layer is thoroughly intriguing in this study on Queen Elizabeth I's struggle to maintain her composure and purity amidst a juicy romantic conflict, aging, threats on her life, treason, politically charged propositions for marriage, and imperial warfare. Yeah, based on that story description, you see what I'm talking about when I say that this epic bites off more than it can chew, and yet, even though convolution and unevenness are more-or-less unavoidable, this film does as well as it can to keep things tight and fleshed out, largely through a script by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, writer of the original "Elizabeth", that offers more clever humor and subtly colorful set pieces in order to hold you over with entertain until the plot thickens, to a point that is beyond total control, but handled tightly enough for you to grasp the nuance of the individual layers, and the significance of this plot. In concept, this is an intimate, but sprawling epic, and in under two hours, Nicholson and Hirsch manage to bring a great deal of life to their ambitious and noble vision, which couldn't have hit so hard if it wasn't for Shekhar Kapur, whose directorial style delivers on plenty of flash, - especially during a final act that delivers on marvelous, technically spectacular battle sequences - but is much more controlled than it was in the often overstylized predecessor, being celebratory of the drama's environment and weight, sometimes to an overdramatic extent, but largely to an extent that transports viewers into this world, capturing a sense of expansion that was lacking in the more repetitious predecessor through a grand scale, as well as tight intimacy. I don't really get the complaints that there is a lack of emotional connection with this film, for I found myself very invested in the characters, do to their being so distinguished and nuanced by Nicholson and Hirst, so complimentary to a dramatic tone that Kapur molds with inspiration, and, of course, so well-portrayed by a cast full of talents, such as the charismatic Clive Owen, the beautiful Abbie Cornish, the distinguished Geoffrey Rush, and, above all, leading woman Cate Blanchett, whose reprisal of the role that broke her out as a revelation of better than ever, with an esteemed charisma that sells the stature of Queen Elizabeth I, and a sweeping dramatic range that captures the lead's humanity, complete with vulnerability and, of course, flaws. Watching Elizabeth come into power through grave danger and maturing in the predecessor was enchanting, but the true journey is beholding Elizabeth struggle to overpower corruption and a dehumanizing feeling of invincibility and power that ironically derives from human error, because where the transformations of this iconic role could have felt uneven in this heavily layered character study, Blanchett's effortless emotional conviction and well-rounded transformation milks every drop of nuance in this intimate drama in a performance that stands as a testament to the actress' being one of the more gifted performers alive, while joining an inspired telling of a sweeping story in transcending the many shortcomings and overambitions and making a drama that borders on outstanding in its effectiveness and realization.
In the end, one's investment is sure to find something of a challenge in familiarity, slow spots and tonal inconsistencies, and great challenges in storytelling so overblown that it begets convolution, unevenness and near-exhausting business, thus, there is plenty to complain about, but plenty more to, not simply compliment, but laud, because through phenomenal score work, breathtaking cinematography and lavish art direction, the film proves to be an outstanding aesthetic experience, while the scale and dramatic value of a grand, heavily layered story is done great justice by the wit and predominantly well-rounded tightness of William Nicholson's and Michael Hirst's script, the flashy style and sweeping, emotionally charged inspiration of Shekhar Kapur's direction, and the across-the-board strength of a talent cast that Cate Blanchett heads with a stellar performance that surpasses her revelatory performance in the predecessor, and defines the inspiration that, through all of the many shortcomings, defines "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" as a, for me, decidedly superior sequel to a classic, as well as a generally deeply rewarding dramatic epic by its own right.
3.25/5 - Strong
"Don't know if I could ever live my life without you; oh, Elizabeth,… More"Don't know if I could ever live my life without you; oh, Elizabeth, I'm sure missing you." Sorry, people who remember that The Statler Brothers were still around in the '80s, but this film is a very different sort of tribute to countrymen, although, make no mistake, it remains a very patriotic affair for the Brits... as told by an Indian. I'd say that Shekhar Kapur is betraying his own countrymen by paying tribute to the nation that took his home over, but this film is pretty much about how messed up the British Monarchy and, for that matter, the Catholics can get. I don't know if Kapur ticked off any Hindus with this film, but he certainly got on the nerves of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and, well, a couple historians. This film may be critically acclaimed, but it seems like the only people it isn't making made are women, because it is pretty empowering seeing that this queen is the only pure person in the British monarchy at this time, so much so that her big gimmick was that she was a virgin. Yeah, ladies, you don't need to fool around to be loved, just be... a high political figure during a time when royals were entirely respected. Shoot, being Cate Blanchett is awesome enough, and it makes for a good film, though not really an awesome one, or even an entirely original one.
Man, there's hardly any way of doing anything new with these period political dramas, but really, this film stands a very real chance of changing up formula, and does just that in enough places to make the many conventional areas all the more glaring, challenging your investment, which is further opposed by aspects that try too hard to freshen and liven things up. Among the distinct aspects of this film is an overt attention to disturbing imagery and gore, for although there isn't a whole lot of action and immediate consequentiality in this talkative drama, when things get nasty, the imagery gets a little too nasty, taking you out of the intellectual integrity of the drama, just you are taken a bit too far out of the traditionalism of this period piece through excessive moments in a style that is frequently refreshing, creative and altogether solid, but doesn't always fit in the context of either period setting or substance. Some degree of overstylization even works its way into the storytelling, sometimes in the form of overdramatic heights in tonal flare, and surprisingly often in the form of an urgent atmosphere that establishes a busy-feeling pace at the expense of nuance and a sense of progression in an almost sweepingly layered plot. The film may be a little too layered, because even though a runtime of about two hours doesn't exactly make this a sprawling epic, there's a touch too much going on to keep up with, resulting in a convolution that challenges your attention, especially when backed by that pacing inconsistency that derives from an alternating between the aforementioned busy storytelling and the repetitious bloating of a narrative which is too talkative to carry particularly lively filler. Dramatic intrigue is pretty solid throughout the film, and when the plot thickens, tension joins it, but this period piece is largely lacking in action and dynamicity, and that would be so much easier to disregard if it wasn't for the convoluted excesses in the layering of an already conventional story, or for the flimsy pacing that Shekhar Kapur further retards the momentum of when he finally abandons all of that pesky overstylization and takes up an atmospheric sobriety which ranges from blanding to, well, boring. Indeed, among the conventions hit by this film is a certain dryness that limits entertainment value quite a bit, yet there are unique and lively elements to stress the conventions and dry spells, and to drive further inconsistency into the stylization, focus, progression and dramatic significance of this ambitious drama. The final product is both overblown and underdone, but more than anything, it is rewarding as a particularly edgy, stylish and effective take on promising, if familiar subject matter.
Whether it be this particular story or not, subject matter in this vein has been more accurate, accessible and lively time and again, at least in concept, but this remains a very intriguing story concept, which studies on Queen Elizabeth I's ascent to power, and struggle to maintain integrity amidst issues regarding romance, warfare, religion, and political affairs, both domestic and abroad, albeit in a convoluted and talkative manner, but nonetheless intriguingly. There is potential to bring to life with this layered, if somewhat overblown and undersized epic, and even Jonathan Lee's and Lucy Richardson's art direction help, by restoring Tudor England with lavish distinction that is made all the more stunning by highlights in Remi Adefarasin's somewhat flat, but often hauntingly spare cinematography. Much more aesthetically striking than Adefarasin's visual style is a score by David Hirschfelder, a seasoned pop and adult contemporary musician who proves to be revelatory as a classical composer here, delivering on thoughtfully atmospheric pieces, some grand pieces, and even some whimsically soaring pieces whose symphonics and choral vocals are enchanting in their marking heights, not simply in stellar musicality, but in the complimenting of the essence of this pseudo-epic drama. Michael Hirst's script is a more direct storytelling supplement that carries liveliness, for although much is excessive and limp about Hirst's writing of a talkative tale, sharp dialogue and moments of witty comic relief capture the tongue of the time without getting too stereotypical, while holding your attention amidst the well-rounded characterization that all but makes up for flimsy structuring through a more organic sense of layering. As for Shekhar Kapur's direction, it too is colorful, thoughtful and flawed, with overstylization, and either a bloating or a drying of scene structuring and atmospherics, leading to distancing moments that break up a frequency in sharp stylistic touches which include nifty imagery, snappy plays on Jill Bilcock's snappy editing, and a celebration of the aforementioned artistic attributes which compliment the range of this drama, whose overdramatic and slow spots are outweighed by a piercing thoughtfulness, and a biting sense of tension. Conventional though this film may be in a number of ways, there's plenty of edge to this film that wasn't especially common with period dramas of this sort, and if it isn't defined by Kapur's audacious performance, than it is defined by the dramatic depth of a cast that is strong across the board, with many a notable standout, the most notable of which being leading lady Cate Blanchett, who is always charismatic, but takes advantage of subtle nuances and intense emotional range to capture Queen Elizabeth I's gradual transformation from a brilliant, but vulnerable and controversial new queen into a figure of high power, command and independence. If nothing else about this film is engrossing, it's the experience of watching Elizabeth become a human, but admirable legend which is carried by Blanchett's revelatory breakout performance, which also carries the rest of the film, aided by a fresh and effective blend of sharp artistry and powerful substance that transcends shortcomings and secures the final product as rewarding.
In closing, there's something overwrought about certain disturbing imagery and certain areas of stylization, and something familiar and convoluted about a talky story whose unevenly paced and often atmospherically bland telling challenge an investment that is ultimately firmly secured by intriguing subject matter's being brought to life by immersive art direction, handsome cinematography, outstanding score work, sharp writing, stylish and often resonant direction, and a strong cast that Cate Blanchett stands out from, until Shekhar Kapur's "Elizabeth" is secured as a mostly rewardingly engrossing portrait on the rise of one of England's greatest queens.
3/5 - Good
It's maleficium at it's most excellent, so it's maleficent! Well, that… MoreIt's maleficium at it's most excellent, so it's maleficent! Well, that was lame, but, yeah, as if "Snow White and the Huntsman" wasn't a dark enough de-Disneyfied Brothers Grimm tale, for the anti-"Sleeping Beauty" film, they have the nerve to make the protagonist... the antagonist! Man, I knew that modern liberalism was giving villains too much credit, but I didn't expect them to try and justify Maleficent, although this film gives her a better reason for being evil than the original "Sleeping Beauty", because if Maleficent is supposed to look like Angelina Jolie, then how can she complain about not being beautiful? ...Oh, wait, that's the antagonist motivation in... well, most Disney stories in this vein, although there are plenty of other ways in which this story runs into the usual formula of Disney princess properties. Shoot, even these anti-Disney films are going to start running together, especially if they keep giving prominent work to Robert Stromberg, which isn't to say that I mind Stromberg's art direction and effects designs, or feature direction, for that matter. This is his big directorial debut, but he's been a major figure in the crafting of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland", Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful", and, of course, James Cameron's answer to "Pocahontas", "Avatar", so either he's big on darkening children's sacred memories, or, well, into some seriously awesome hallucinogens. He probably has deeper sleeps than Sleeping Beauty, but I suppose that's alright if this is what he dreams up, because this is some good stuff, even if it is flawed, and hardly anything new.
I joked about how even these anti-Disney films are beginning to run together in formula, but, yeah, this is a lot of what we're getting used to, and while that is by no means a bad thing, considering the quality of this film and many of its peers, firm are the conventions, if not predictability, exacerbated by the film's not drifting too far from the Disney sensibilities it is rooted in. There is even a slight sense of humor, or at least an overt lightheartedness which jarringly breaks tension, resulting, not simply in occasions of tonal unevenness, but in some sense of juvenility. There's plenty of edge and depth in this drama, but this remains something of a family affair, and as such, it has to be a little safe, either through the aforementioned hard breaking of tension, or simply through a superficialization of certain conflicts, if not characterization. This film is so good at capturing a sense of dimension within its most prominent characters, but just about all of the supporting roles are thin, almost to the point of being types, which is detrimental to a sense of expository fulfillment, like the incorporation of prominent narrated segment that break up the nuanced nature of surprisingly thoughtful storytelling through objectivity that takes you out of the drama's depths. Really, the narration is a height in the film's hurrying, which is usually not so much a problem, as much as it's simply questionable, for it sees storytelling just touching on the bare minimum of its material as it progresses, with a frequent activity that gets a little repetitious, and reduces the film to runtime of not even 100 minutes that limits a sense of importance. This drama explores pretty weighty subject matter, and through exuberant style and inspired substance, it rewards plenty, but it could have even more so if it didn't have to follow formula, forcibly play itself down for the superficial, or adopt a bare-bones runtime. There's something kind of lazy about this film, but what is inspired proves to be very compelling, whether it be drawing a generally rich narrative, or delivering on high-caliber artistry.
This film's score is rather formulaic for this sort of Disneyfied dark fantasy, and for James Newton Howard, but it takes from good formulas, with an almost enchanting liveliness and some engrossing dark whimsy, both of which capture the range in this film's tone, not unlike vibrant cinematography by Dean Semler whose crisper areas in lighting are breathtaking, and whose bleaker areas in coloration are haunting. The film is particularly beautiful and immersive from a visual standpoint, and not just because of Semler's cinematography, for David Allday, Robert Cowper, Paul Laugier and Elaine Kusmishko deliver on art direction that captures the Middle Ages and its diverse landscapes lavishly, and is almost as captivating as dazzling visual effects which bring life to a magical world, whether through convincing character designs, or through flashy images that are stunning. Stylistically and technically, the film is mighty proficient, and that plays a prominent factor in impressive action sequence, and in aesthetic value, and in selling and transporting you into a distinguished setting with worthwhile characters and, of course, a rich story. This is a formulaic sort of dark fantasy story, and as a Disney film, a lot of the subject matter's depth is superficialized, but the idea behind this film remains extremely promising in its aiming to bring weight as a re-imagining of Disney's interpretation of Charles Perrault's "La Belle au bois dormant", complete with layers and dramatic tension surrounding iconic roles, - particularly the titular Maleficent - as well as a sense of scope and consequence. There is plenty of potential in this film, and it is all but betrayed by the lazy aspects, which are ultimately overpowered by the inspired aspects, within a script by Linda Woolverton that provides well-rounded depth in the once-thin and now-prominent Maleficent and King Stefan characters, and, at the very least, color in the much thinner supporting roles, and within direction by Robert Stromberg that is particularly inspired, both in style and in a surprisingly thoughtful attention to tonal details that entertains during the lighthearted spots, and resonates with tension and emotion when the plot thickens, as it often does. There should be more depth, but there is ultimately a whole lot more of it than one might fear, and if it is not encompassed in the heartfelt storytelling, then it is encompassed in character aspects that most brought to life by a strong cast, whose highlights include the charming Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville, the solid and lovely Elle Fanning, - who captures the depths of the iconic Princess Aurora character better than the storytellers - the layered Sharlto Copley, and, of course, the perfectly cast Angelina Jolie. Jolie's range in charisma and emotion is instrumental in capturing Maleficent's humanization in this character study, selling you on the lead's corruptible purity, anger, redeeming qualities, and vulnerability, and therefore carrying this drama, whose flaws and superficialities are undeniable, but challenged firmly enough by an inspiration in both style and substance that is becoming common in films like this, and makes this film surprisingly rewarding.
With the story retold, familiarity proves to be almost as detrimental to the effectiveness of drama as hints of tonal unevenness, juvenility and other superficialities - particularly in secondary characterization and an extensiveness whose absence all but renders the film to brief to feel important - which reflect as certain laziness that the final product should be above, because through excellent score work and cinematography, immersive art direction, marvelous visuals effects, and the occasional killer action sequence, lively style flourishes, while dramatic weight flourishes enough through an intriguing story concept, generally clever writing, thoughtful and inspired direction, and a gifted cast that Angelina Jolie heads relatively impeccably for Robert Stromberg's "Maleficent" to reward as a surprisingly compelling and unsurprisingly lively re-imagining of a classic Disney tale.
3/5 - Good
He's just kicking butt and taking lives, so he's pretty much the last… MoreHe's just kicking butt and taking lives, so he's pretty much the last boss you want to tick off. Man, this is one seriously crazy Canadian who must be brought to justice, thus, we have to call in a major detective to take seriously... or at least a hot chick. Well, there is some reasonable casting in this film, like Kiefer Sutherland as a... Canadian, and Ethan Hawke as... um, an art dealer. Hawke is an Austinite, so I can get his being pretentious enough to be an art dealer, but it's still trippy not seeing him or Sutherland as law enforcers of some sort, and, of course, seeing Angelina Jolie doing the detective work. D. J. Caruso might just be collecting as many stars as he would like to in this cast in order to lavish in making a more high-profile crime thriller than "The Salton Sea". Well, in most every other department, he must have lazed out, because even though this film is a much, much, much bigger commercial success than "The Salton Sea", it's not as big of a critical hit, although, in all fairness, there probably weren't enough people who saw "The Salton Sea" to provide all that accurate of a consensus. I don't know how accurate the consensus on this film is, because I kind of liked it, although I have my share of reservation, kind of like the film does when it comes to, say, exposition.
There's no background to the protagonists, and although gradual exposition, or at least engaging performances, are serviceable in getting you used to the characters, there's a serious shortage on some sense of humanity amidst all of the over focusing on plot progression over nuance. More often than not, the film focuses on action, action, action, not of a combative nature, but of an investigative nature, with new natural slow-downs, which is monotonous enough without all of the fat around the edges of the plotting, backed by atmospheric dry spells which are near-dulling. The film tries livening things up with fluff which ranges from lightheartedness and a hint of humor, to somewhat overwrought action sequences, and which marks inconsistencies in a largely serious tone, while sometimes proving to be cheesy in its being near-witless and trite. Much of the film is trite, or at least simply conventional, following a formulaic path that is filled with formulaic characters and set pieces, until finding itself becoming something that a mystery thriller like this shouldn't be: predictable. The film sometimes has the audacity to all but spell out where it's heading, through contrivances that extend beyond the forced fluff, and are often directed in obvious tonal hints and manufactured happenings that get to be downright improbable, and are recurrent enough to take you out of a lot of a genuine sense of tension. The film is far from as incompetent as they say, being pretty sharp in a lot of ways, but nevertheless flimsy in a number of other ways, with no much developmental depth, or dynamicity, or momentum, and a number of inconsistencies, clichés and contrivances, thus making for a fairly inconsequential thriller that doesn't cut deep enough to be memorable, let alone stand a chance of transcending underwhelmingness. The film even flirts with mediocrity on occasion, but on the whole, it held my attention just fine, with both style and substance.
This murder investigation thriller is not much of anything new, and is plenty improbable, and one has to question the shortage of humanity and nuance for the sake of forward momentum that its limited enough by flimsy storytelling, but there is always something intriguing with subject matter like this, some potential for heat in a chase that, no matter how predictable, can be fun to unravel, at least with a cast worth sticking with. Ethan Hawke often stands out in his portrayal of a distinct anxiety and fear in a witness to a horrible crime that may come back to haunt him in more than just a psychological way, and Kiefer Sutherland is pretty solid for the brief time he's present, but most everyone has some charisma in this talented cast, from which a particularly lovely Angelina Jolie also stands out, with an engaging presence that convinces you of the Illeana Scott's competence more than the development and casting choice. Jolie is, in fact, miscast in her being so much of the hot, pseudo-psychic investigator, but her and most everyone else's performance is pretty endearing, bringing some substance to a thriller that mostly thrives on style, even that of a musical nature. Now, there is a lot of conventions and some contrivances to this film's score, but only so much can be done to hold back a gifted classical mind like Philip Glass, who turns in some tasteful and intense pieces which prove to be almost as aesthetically solid as truly stunning highlights in Amir Mokri's bleak, sparingly lit cinematography, which graces the thriller with an effective and immersive visual style that does not mark a peak in style. Highlights in D. J. Caruso's directorial style include simulations of Agent Scott's deeply intense observations for clues which immerse you into the environment, but there's always some sort of flash in Caruso's utilization of creative filming and Anne V. Coates' snappy editing, particularly in the context of some forced, but solid action sequences. Caruso is better at livening things up than Jon Bokenkamp's uneven script, but what can make or break this thriller is the effectiveness of the storytelling, and even though there are pacing issues that hold Caruso's grip back, audacious, if somewhat overly disturbing imagery, and some moments of piercing thoughtfulness to storytelling, lead to genuine tension that is recurrent enough to make the plot reasonably effective. Storytelling in writing and direction is plenty messy, enough so to hold the final product quite a ways back, for all of the strengths, but there is enough entertainment value deriving from style, and engagement value deriving from heights in storytelling and acting, to make the final product fair, if flimsy.
Overall, there's not much developmental depth to place humanity in the wake of all of the repetitious focus on eventfulness which still finds time to reach slow spots, forcibly broken up by jarring and trite fluff that is almost as contrived as lapses in probability which make the clichéd narrative even more predictable, thus, there is a lot to challenge one's investment, and is itself challenged by an intriguing story that is carried by solid performances, score work and cinematography, and by often stylish and effective direction, enough so to make D. J. Caruso's "Taking Lives" an adequately effective thriller, in spite of its messiness.
2.5/5 - Fair