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
Fear not, foreigners trapped in horrible social and political turmoil,… MoreFear not, foreigners trapped in horrible social and political turmoil, because Angelina Jolie is here to save you, as always! I love how this role of a humanitarian was essentially made for Jolie, and she still got a Razzie nod. I'm sure the Razzie people who just try and find something to pan were the only ones who saw this film, because, wow, this film bombed for a Martin Campbell flick. I can understand why the man did "The Legend of Zorro" right after this, because he need to get his money back, although I don't feel too sorry for him, because he just had to have known that a sequel that features Zorro taking his swashbuckling adventures across the border into America was a stupid idea. Actually, the ultimate Mexican border like that sounds a good bit more interesting than this film, which isn't to say that there isn't something rather intriguing about how this being some kind of a fantasy for Jolie. Star-crossed lovers try to save each other and victims of warfare in a dangerous, foreign land... starring Clive Owen as Brad Pitt, right? I guess Owen doesn't have that kind of star power, because, yeah, this film didn't make much money, and while I am that one guy who thinks that it is decent, I can kind of see places where this film turned people off.
Trite in as many ways as it can be, this film is rich with clichéd dialogue that often falls incredibly flat, much like thin spots in the characterization that ends up supplementing melodramatics, namely those from a romantic angle that does not really gel with the rest of this drama. The focus of the film jars between humanitarianism and hopelessly histrionic romance, and that's awkward enough with it corrupting thematic consistency in storytelling that at least maintains consistency in manipulation. Caspian Tredwell-Owen's script utilizes contrived set and dialogue pieces to supplement a portrait on suffering, while Martin Campbell's direction delivers on overblown plays on score work and atmosphere to beget sentimentality which cheesily dilutes genuineness. The film is nothing if not manipulative, but less in a frustrating way, and more in an ambitious way which reflects this film's good intentions, betrayed by overblown storytelling that tries so desperately to salvage juice from its subject matter than the limitations of the subject matter itself go stressed. This is a story concept whose value can be emphasized as easily as it shortcomings can be, because through all of the themes on warfare and social turmoil is a somewhat simple study on people going from conflicting country to conflicting country to simply help the suffering, and outside of the romantic angles, there's not much meat on the bones of this narrative beyond that, and if there is, then the film takes itself to get to it. The film is too long, and it doesn't have the scope to justify its length that it could have had, superficialized by clichés, inconsistencies and contrivances that wear the final product down as very underwhelming, at best. Still, I don't find the final product to be quite as great of a misfire as many say it is, for as misguided as it is, it does have a gifted team whose talent can be muted for only so long.
For all of its flat spots, Philip Meheux's cinematography has more than a few ruggedly handsome areas in its complimenting the bleak grit of corrupted environments that are built with remarkable convincingness and, of course, captivating sweep. This film has the potential and, in a few ways, the aspirations to be an epic, for although the plot is a touch thin in its happenings, its scale is commendable, and that does play a solid factor in the importance of this film's story concept. Although the film is a whole lot of nothing but helping, when it doesn't jar into a whole bunch of romantic melodrama and other such nonsense, humanitarian themes are worwhile, and they often do go into establishing a sound sense of conflict and consequence into a histrionic and superficial, but still promising story concept. Caspian Tredwell-Owen's script is consistently flimsy in how it handles promising subject matter, but Martin Campbell, as director, has his moments, delivering on subtle stylization and a solid sense of scope in order to immerse you into the distinct environments of this pseudo-epic, until finding realization in his celebration of James Horner's overblown, but solid score, which is either thoroughly sentimental, or genuine enough to resonate, particularly with a surprisingly engrossing final act. If Campbell does nothing else, he manages to keep up solid entertainment value through smooth pacing and an endearing atmosphere, and that should be enough to challenge mediocrity in between the dramatic highlights that are largely guided, not by Campbell, but by a talented cast. When used, Noah Emmerich plays Noah Emmerich, and is therefore very charming and relatable, but this is mostly Clive Owens' and Angelina Jolie's show, and although the two leads aren't able to keep up all that much chemistry with the thin dramatic writing, both deliver on genuine, sometimes powerful emotional range that is more than what this film deserves. There are times - especially when the plot thickens - in which Jolie and Owen carry the film, being capable enough leads to further emphasize the potential that is being portrayed by all of the misguided storytelling, which has enough highlights to secure the final product's decency, no matter how firmly challenged.
Bottom line, clichés are almost as recurrent as superficialities, in thin characterization, trite melodramatics and contrivances which join an excessive length and inconsistencies in emphasizing what natural shortcomings there is to worthy story that is done much injustice, yet is done enough justice by handsome cinematography, sweeping visuals, lively and sometimes resonant direction, and strong performances by Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie for Martin Campbell's "Beyond Borders" to stand as a decent, if flimsy romantic drama and tribute to humanitarianism.
2.5/5 - Fair
First there was "Rock Star", and now Stephen Herek is back with "TV… MoreFirst there was "Rock Star", and now Stephen Herek is back with "TV News Star". Man, I love this film's actual title, in all of its sarcastic glory, because it sums up the superficiality in this TV reporter's trying to find the meaning of, not life altogether, but [u]her[/u] rather spoiled life. More fitting would have been if Angelina Jolie played, not a reporter, but a weather forecaster, because with lips those bloated, it would rain every day. I sure am piling on cheese with this opener, but I don't know if I'm being any cheesier than this film, because, seriously, this is a romantic-comedy by the guy who did "Critters", "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead", "The Mighty Ducks", 1993's "The Three Musketeers", "Mr. Holland's Opus", the live-action "101 Dalmatians", and "Holy Man". Wow, you'd think that Herek really is a major box office draw, you know, up until you see that the only big star in this film is Angie Jolie, and bombed. This film really did mark the beginning of the end of Herek's relevance, but hey, at least he had his extensive period of fame, as opposed to poor old Edward Burns, whose career wasn't exactly helped by this film. Well, it probably didn't help that he stinks in this film, although he's far from the final product's biggest issue, which isn't to say that there isn't a few things worthy commending, emphasis on "a few".
Stephen H. Burum has proven himself to be a fairly talented cinematographer, and here, his tastes in soft lighting are mostly used to accentuate the star power of Angelina Jolie, although there are a number of other handsome visuals that Burum anchors, which isn't to say that his photography is the only pretty thing in here to hold your attention. Well, Jolie isn't the only performance worth noting here, with the underused Tony Shalhoub stealing the show at times as a homeless prophet, while Edward Burns proves to be notable only in his being so flat, but it ultimately comes down to a Razzie-nominated performance by Jolie that convinces more than the lovely lead's blonde wig, bringing charm to an unlikably written character, with some moments of dramatic effectiveness that are rare, but still more than this film deserves. This is one of those cases in which the Razzies gave a nod to a lead just for being involved in a bomb of a film, because Jolie is more-or-less the best thing about this film, so much so that she helps in carrying it, and endearing you to a premise that admittedly has some potential. The subject matter of this film at least has a potential for freshness, brutally betrayed by genericisms that reflect a laziness which ends up defining much about this flat rom-com-dram, but does not completely obscure the intrigue to a story about a woman coming to terms with an uncertain fate, and with her humanity. Of course, the laziness could have completely overshadowed this premise's value, were it not for the occasions in which it is broken, at least by Stephen Herek's direction, which occasionally smooths out the transitions between humor and drama, but mostly just keeps up some degree of liveliness that begets some degree of entertainment value, if not charm. There is something a little endearing about this film, and it, largely on the back of Jolie's performance, grows a little more prominent throughout the film's course, resulting in moments of decency, and, really, an obscurity of any major contemptible moments. The final product all but transcends serious mediocrity, but on the whole, it falls spectacularly flat as a trite and superficial flick that doesn't even carry much weight in concept.
I've given a little bit of credit to this story concept for its potential for liveliness and intrigue, maybe even a sliver of originality, but that potential is still seriously limited by superficiality's even managing to rear its ugly head into this premise of little consequence, and no potential to transcend decency. Even the decency is easy to threaten, and John Scott Shepherd's and Dana Stevens' script is certainly threatening in that regard, because even though there are commendable aspects about the acting and storytelling, the writing of this film is consistently flat, with dialogue and even with humor. What ambitions there are to scripting don't always work, because even though the story takes some somewhat engaging turns, it jars its way there, being too uneven with its theme, progression and, to a certain degree, tone for you to get all that comfortably invested in the story, and its contrived characters. If there is some depth to the characterization, that is, of the Lanie Kerrigan lead, then it thrives on Angelina Jolie, because in writing, just about every role feels manufactured, with forced layers to accommodate trite storytelling. Even David Newman's score is almost embarrassing in its being so blasted generic, but the conventions are far from ending there, because if there are unique aspects of this premise, they are lost amidst the aforementioned trite dialogue, humor, characterization and plotting formula that ultimately leads to a predictability which reflects laziness. I don't reckon laziness is a huge, infuriating issue, but the fact of the matter is that there's barely all that much inspiration being put into transcending natural shortcomings, even in the direction, which has a certain charm and color, but not really an pace, thus making the overdrawn nature of this uneven and misguided mess all more punishingly palpable. Maybe the structure of the film isn't punishing in its dragging, because as things go along, engagement value really does start to pick up, with the thickening of material for Jolie, and of worthy themes and story aspects, but these highlights are never that bright, and they arrive much too late to save this superficial misfire of a promising, but ultimately flat affair.
Overall, there are handsome occasions in the cinematography, effective moments in Angelina Jolie's acting, and some endearing heights in Stephen Herek's reasonably charming telling of a reasonably promising premise, whose superficiality is emphasized so intensely by flat writing, an uneven narrative, contrived characterization, and genericisms, all of which reflect a certain laziness that wears down patience, until "Life or Something Like It" collapses as a mediocre romantic comedy-drama that could have done something fresh, but doesn't quite secure decency.
2.25/5 - Mediocre
This time, they took out the colon between "Lara Craft" and "Tomb… MoreThis time, they took out the colon between "Lara Craft" and "Tomb Raider", like Tomb Raider is the name she married into, so it's only natural that the colon now leads into talk of a cradle. "Well, rock the cradle of life!" Man, that poster has got Angie Jolie, looking hot in a silver cat suit, with the title in huge, bold, golden letters, which makes this look more like the sequel to "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life", and it doesn't help that the movie is kind of hilarious in its British silliness. Well, this film did get better reviews than its actual predecessor, although that just means that people disliked it, rather than flat-out panned it, so, either way, one can understand why so many people were turned off by this film. That's right, people, even though the reviews were relatively better, instead of making a whopping $274,703,340, it only made a mere... $156,505,388. Well, I guess Angelina Jolie in a silver cat suit in front of big, bold letters still sells quite a bit, as shocking as that might be. It helps that this film is pretty entertaining, whether it be better than its predecessor or not, although that means that this film has stuff to turn people off, as well.
Man, this movie is unsurprisingly corny, and although the tone is arguably not quite as confused as it was in the predecessor, that just means that there's a little more balance in cheese within the fluffy humor and over-the-top action and storytelling, all backed by trite dialogue and, last, but no least, an overwrought style. The overt fluff would be easier to get past if it was mildly original, but as things stand, what freshness there may have been in the predecessor is all but cleansed in this stereotypical action-adventure popcorn piece which hits trope after trope, formulaic set and dialogue piece after formulaic set and dialogue piece, and character type after character type. Nevertheless, viewers stand to be more familiarized with this conventional story and its basic characters, for the film glosses over exposition and jars between its segments as it progresses through a narrative of broad, but disjointed scope, and yet, the final product still finds time to bloat itself with fat around the edges and aimless meanderings in order to achieve an unreasonable runtime of almost two hours. This film is fun, but it doesn't quite have much as much of the momentum which saved the predecessor, and is sometimes bland, so I suppose you could say that even the entertainment value that can make or break a film like this goes a bit superficialized. More than anything, the story is superficial, and ridiculous, having a little more dimension than the predecessor's story, with less convolution, but still no real resonance amidst the often lazily inconsequential, thematically overblown plotting whose shortcomings are further stressed by missteps. The film makes a lot of problematic moves, in concept and in execution, and even though entertainment value never truly abates, patience is limited by a lack of substance, and challenged by cheese, conventions and a disjointed, limply dragged out structure. The film's superiority to an already seriously underwhelming predecessor is pretty debatable, but, make no mistake, just as a fun factor saved said predecessor, it saves this film, which doesn't have much substance or consistency, yet has plenty of flare.
Graeme Revell composed a lively, but superficial and often near-painstakingly overstylized score for the predecessor, and here, even though Alan Silvestri does nothing new and gets a little overblown himself, his musical style which encompasses electronic rhythms and a few elements of neo-classicism is a little more realized in its being both lively by its own right, and complimentary to the liveliness of the film overall. The visuals of the film further keep things colorful, for David Tattersall's clean cinematography does a fine job of capturing a certain majesty to sweeping settings that in turn capture the scope of this adventure opus, and are further distinguished by Silver Cheung's, John Fenner's, John C. Hill's and Paul Kirby's often unique art direction. The practical technical touches are pretty solid, as are the digital touches, which have become rather dated, sometimes cheesily so, but are conceptually nifty enough to hold your attention, especially with a flashiness that is at its most captivating during tightly choreographed and extensively staged action sequences that is itself greatly complimentary of the fluffy entertainment. Popcorny something fierce, this film thrives on fluff, and that's seriously superficial, but it is sort of justified by the aforementioned solid style, as well as some colorful highlights in conventional humor, and a solid fun factor on paper. The story might not be quite as superficial or convoluted as that of the predecessor, but I'm not entirely sure that it lives up to the last non-plot's liveliness, and yet, this is still a grandly adventurous narrative that is interesting to unravel, especially when told with plenty of color by Jan de Bont, whose direction packs in enough style and fast pacing to keep an excessive runtime of almost two hours running about as smoothly as it can, what with all of the other storytelling hiccups. At the very least, there's a charm to de Bont's efforts, and they are outweighed by the charm found all throughout the cast (Always nice when Djimon Hounsou shows up), from which the beautiful Angelina Jolie stands out, yet again, with a strong charisma that makes the casting choice and, of course, the lead pretty worthy. Again, I don't know if the film is quite as fun as its mindless, but entertaining predecessor, but it is still pretty fun by its own right, with enough style, scope and momentum to hold your attention, even if it asks nothing from and does plenty to challenge your investment.
When the cradle falls, the final product falls pretty firmly into underwhelmingness, under the weight of cheese, genericism, disjointed pacing and an almost blandly overlong runtime, all behind a hopelessly superficial story, but on the back of lively score work, clean cinematography, grand settings and art direction, decent visual effects, dynamic action, and a certain fun factor in the story that is brought to life by well-paced direction and charismatic performances, "Lard Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" stands as a very entertaining, if utterly inconsequential action-adventure popcorn piece.
2.5/5 - Fair
Why, I just can't believe that Angelina Jolie could possibly condone… MoreWhy, I just can't believe that Angelina Jolie could possibly condone grave robbing! Seriously though, Indiana Jones raided the lost ark, and all this chick is raiding is some old tomb... that is filled with ancient artifacts of great power which is pursued by the Illuminati. ...Yeah, well, other than that, Lara Croft is not as cool as Indiana Jones... even if she is a hot British chick with a great deal of wealth, and advanced, video game-grade combat skills. Shoot, on top of that, it took Indy until his third movie to hang out with an old James Bond, and on her first movie, Croft hangs out with Daniel Craig at one point, well before he was James Bond, which isn't to say that this film didn't commit some form of fan service at the time of its release. Jolie finally had to face up to being Jon Voight's daughter, so, naturally, this is big-time fan service to fans of the Voight family... whose fanbase is largely focused on hard-hitting dramas like "Midnight Cowboy", or "Deliverance", or "Coming Home", or a bunch of other stuff that only Jon Voight has been in. Come to think of it, Jolie didn't really start getting dramatic until well after this film, so maybe her being disowned by the respectable Voight name was daddy's idea, but now that Voight can't afford to only do the heavy stuff, he and Jolie are going to have to take the commercial train together. Financially, I'd say it paid off, but critically, on the other hand, definitely not so much, and really, while I think that the film is reasonably entertaining, I can see where some people are coming from.
As an early 2000s action-adventure popcorn piece, this film is not much of anything new, following the same style and lame score, and lazily manufacturing a very typical plot formula that, no matter how overdone, is still a little hard to figure out. Overblown and improbable in its juggling so many themes and happenings that converge somewhere along the way, this film's story is convoluted, and yet, so much about it is so simple, and that stresses the silliness and contrivances, until the plot becomes near-senseless, with a lack of focus that is exacerbated by a lack of coherency. Storytelling gets to be seriously disjointed, tossing characters and plotlines about to exacerbate a sense of convolution, and never really coming down to any sense of nuance to distinguish the characters, or their place in the story, amidst all of the action that seems to not be fluffy enough for writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman. The storytelling attempts to maintain some sort of extensive tension, suddenly and jarringly broken by comic relief which is made all the more aggravating by a consistency in sheer genericism and predictability, sometimes further exacerbated by a cheesiness that never leaves the storytelling, even with the tension that thrives on contrived and ludicrous atmospherics and happenings. Really, looking through all of the missteps, in its basic nature, this film is so popcorny, with a heavy emphasis on action to drive the progression of the plot, until sense behind the action is lost in the wake of overwrought style, not compensated for by a cornball telling of a simultaneously convoluted and superficial plot, thus making for a film with plenty of laziness and no resonance. At the same time the film has plenty of entertainment value, and that really gets it by, at least as decent, but it's hard to have all that much fun with something this generic, disjointed, superficial and altogether silly. The final product will fail to endear for so very many, but if you are willing to check your brain in and take this film for what it is, while entertainment value is challenged by the stupidity, it does thrive, even in concept, to a certain extent.
Man, I really don't want to direct that much compliment to Sara B. Cooper's, Mike Werb's, Michael Colleary's and Simon West's video game-inspired story, because it is so formulaic, convoluted, disjointed, superficial and, well, if you will, stupid, but it is dynamic, with a fun, if somewhat campy narrative behind an adventurous scope whose approach can make or break the entertainment value of this film. David Allday's, John C. Hill's, David Lee's and John Fenner's art direction does a fine, sometimes exceptional job of capturing this scope, celebrating and, with the help of production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli and set decorator Sonja Klaus, building upon culturally versatile and mythologically nifty settings to catch your eyes in between the less practical designs. The more ambitious visual effects are dated something fierce, but all the designs are generally adequately well-rendered, and conceptually cool in the first place, particularly when used to polish up action sequences that, upon coming into play, are excessive to the point of losing substance, but never to the point of losing style and entertainment value, achieved through wild staging and acrobatic choreography that, no matter how over-the-top, dazzles through and through. That action really thrives on the efforts of West, as director, because even though substance is not on his side as a lazy, hopelessly superficial storyteller, he hardly falls short on style, whether it be in his celebration of Peter Menzies Jr.'s handsome cinematography and Graeme Revell's often lamely trite score, or in his flashy scene structuring which leads to a fairly tight sense of pacing and dynamicity to the disjointed, but expansive plot. West really does manage to capture some sense of adventure just fine, enough so to capture some sense of fun, and while that does not justify the silliness and sloppiness of this popcorn fluff piece, it does charm enough to make up for a lot of shortcomings. About as much charm, at the very least, is found in a decent cast that features the charismatic Daniel Craig, the effectively antagonistic Iain Glen and Richard Johnson (Oh, what a terribly unfortunate name), the delightful Noah Taylor, and, of course, Angelina Jolie, whose convincing English accent and presence make sure that the arguably impeccable casting choice is not squandered, and that an endearing lead stands. Yes, there is a fair bit about this film that is endearing, and although about as much is distancing, entertainment value and charm stand firm enough to make for a fun, if flimsy affair.
Bottom line, this is a formulaic, convoluted and rather ludicrous plot, whose conventional, disjointed and cheesily overwrought and superficial telling renders the final product pretty decidedly inconsequential, almost mediocre, but the fun factor in the senseless plot is brought to life by art direction that is rich with scope and versatility, visual effects that are nifty in concept, and thrilling action that is tightly orchestrated by Simon West's lively direction, whose charm is outweighed by that of an endearing cast, headed by the well-selected and convincing Angelina Jolie, who helps in securing "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" as an entertaining popcorn piece, for all of its superficiality and messiness.
2.5/5 - Fair
"G-G-G-Gia!" Yeah, watching grass grow on a Chia Pet is cool and all,… More"G-G-G-Gia!" Yeah, watching grass grow on a Chia Pet is cool and all, but with a Gia Pet, you need only to sit back and watch the lips grow! I don't know if Angelina Jolie was great casting for Gia Carangi, but Mila Kunis was decent casting for a young Angelina Jolie, although I can't see Kunis could ever grow lips like these. Now, come on, Carangi and few other women in the history of modeling have had lips these big, and it's not like heroin makes you bloat. Yeah, now that's the way to sell this film, because a young Angelina Jolie going bi in a TV series that was made for HBO partly as a big middle finger to the FCC sounds terribly dull. Well, naturally, it's been cleaned up quite a bit ever since they started running it on Lifetime, but don't worry, because without the nudity, it's still a decent soap opera, probably because the director and score composer went on to make a jazz opera. Considering all my rambling, the idea behind a jazz opera must be more interesting than you'd expect an Angie Jolie-starring, bisexuality and drug-themed HBO film, but don't worry, because for a film showed on Lifetime these days, it is interesting, for all of its shortcomings.
The film follows a pseudo-documentary style by incorporating interview footage of performers as Gia Carangi's peers that feels rather expendable, due to an uneven usage of the interview footage, which, by its own right, is disconcerting enough by eliminating a sense subjectivity that takes you out of the drama's intimacy, even though it tries too hard to supplement thematic focus. If nothing else, the unevenly used documentary style glosses over certain material, although it's not as though the film waits for someone to come in and objectively explain the situation so that it has an excuse to pick up the pace, because no matter how much filler leaves the storytelling to drag its feet to runtime of a little over two hours, this film isn't long enough to get all that deep into the nuance of the lead. There's a certain sense of aimlessness deriving from the film's jarringly alternating between repetitious dragging and a certain rushing which is arguably more recurrent than anything in this character study which seems to be missing something, at least in terms of a sense of material, and gives you not much beyond the bare bones of the subject matter, just like so many other TV films. Man, even Terence Blanchard's corny score is distractingly trite, but the conventions don't end there, because as ambitious as this film is as an edgy drama on premium cable, it feels much too much like a TV film, complete with messy pacing that is manufactured to accommodate a channel schedule, and with a superficiality that is often forcibly maintained. Quite frankly, there's hardly any subtlety to Jay McInerney's and Michael Cristofer's, which is sloppy and undercooked enough without contrived characterization and set pieces that beat you over the head with themes regarding a disturbed girl being broken by the modeling industry, and finalize the script as hands-down the biggest issue of the film, even though subtlety issues also stand firm in a directing Cristofer's abuse of the trite, either flashy or bluesy score, and over-exploration of the problematic writing. I don't know if it's reflecting an ambition or a laziness, but the film's sentimentality plagues the final product throughout its course, almost as much as the script's subtlety issues, problematic structure and TV-grade superficiality, which render the final product kind of inconsequential in a lot of ways. The film would have fallen into mediocrity, at best, if it wasn't inspired in a number of ways that are common for TV flicks this high in profile, because as misguided as this drama is, it has distinct dramatic strengths, and some technical strengths.
Well, perhaps the only technical aspects worthy of some sort of note is Rodrigo García's cinematography, which, even then, has a certain flatness that takes some getting used to, but proves to be very appealing once you are able to embrace the subtle softness of the lighting, whose shadowy spots all but carry lyricism to their capturing the bleakness of this subject matter handsomely. I reckon García does a much more consistent job of selling this drama than the storytellers, although he couldn't have done it if Michael Cristofer's direction didn't do a decent job of playing up style in the context of substance, getting sentimentally misguided in his overplaying a contrived score and script, but having some moments of subtlety that are unusual for a TV film like this. This is HBO we're talking about here, thus, Cristofer is not held back by boundaries set by commercial breaks and censorship, and although he is held back by TV film sensibilities that stand firm, only with a little more nudity and swearing, he does give this film a certain edge that does justice to edgy subject matter. The story of punk-turned-troubled model Gia Marie Carangi is nothing new for dramatic filmmaking, in terms of theme, focusing on her drug addiction and bisexual affairs, both of which make for a story that is more intriguing than formulaic, with a dramatic depth that is betrayed by flimsy scripting and some misguided spots in direction. It's the performances which really bring life to the humanity of this drama, for just about everyone has a time to shine, whether he/she be Mercedes Ruehl as a loving mother of a troubled woman, or Elizabeth Mitchell as the fearing love of the troubled woman, or Alexander Enberg, Eric Michael Cole, and other caring peers to a troubled woman. It all leads back to the disturbed Carangi, so it should go without saying that most of the material falls on the shoulders of the beautiful Angelina Jolie, who was merely up-and-coming when she took this project, the other side of which broke her out, as well it should, for Jolie is more convincing than the writing when it comes to selling the edgy, glamourless nature of a woman who was touted as glamorous, being charismatic in her roughness, until Carangi becomes lost in her addictions and allows Jolie to become lost in Carangi, gradually projecting more and more intensity, more and more anguish, until anchoring powerful moments in the film through a convincing and emotionally charged portrayal of a beautiful star who must face devastating consequences for her actions and addictions. Jolie is revelatory, and if there is genuine impact in this drama, then it rides on Jolie's back, supported by the worthy subject matter and highlights in other performances, both on and off of the screen, that make the final product fair, for all of its shortcomings.
Once the shoot has wrapped, uneven and questionable usage of interview footage take you out of the character drama almost as much as pacing problems, TV film conventions and superficialities, and contrivances, found in unsubtle writing and sentimental direction, make the final product an underwhelming TV drama, brought to life enough by worthy subject matter, handsome cinematography, moving directorial highlights, and strong performances - especially by Angelina Jolie - to make Michael Cristofer's "Gia" a fair and sometimes moving, if superficialized portrait on how far someone of great beauty can sink.
2.5/5 - Fair
They've been talking about winter coming for a long time now, but now… MoreThey've been talking about winter coming for a long time now, but now Captain America has entered the "Game of Thrones" warfare. Well, Cap isn't actually the titular Winter Soldier, so that title was a lamely forceful in all kinds of ways, outside of being a reference to relevant property. Don't worry, folks, because this film does a much cooler job of bringing Captain America to the modern world... and not just because it talks of winter. Man, I am doing terrible things with this film's subtitle, and it's still less cheesy than the subtitle of that "Captain America 2" that CBS had back in 1979: "Death Too Soon" (At almost 140 minutes, this film doesn't do much of anything too soon). Speaking of the '70s, I don't know how much this film is actually bringing Cap to the modern world, because it supposedly takes a lot from 1975's "Three Days of the Condor" without actually featuring Condor (At risk of sounding like a comic nerd, this film features Falcon, not Condor), although you know that it's still going to be exciting, for nothing says fun quite like a Sydney Pollack political "thriller". Jokes aside, this film is bringing the political thriller back, and bigger than ever, but, more interestingly, it's bringing back the directorial duo behind... "You, Me and Dupree". Well, this film doesn't exactly promise to be fun, but make no mistake people, it is loads of fun, although it is more of that usual sort of fun.
These sort of Marvel blockbusters with a lot of fluff and a moderate degree of dramatic weight are really starting to run together, and sure enough, this film leaves only a couple stones unturned, being smart enough to not be predictable, but nevertheless formulaic something fierce, even though to the comic relief. When it comes to Marvel "dramas", the comic relief is particularly organic in these "Avengers" films, but here, while this drama's being weightier than the predecessor is debatable, there is a little too much tension to relieve, thus resulting in moments of tonal unevenness that are all but matched by the structural inconsistencies. Speaking of conventions, Marvel film franchises have been no stranger to convolution, particularly in these days of overlong lengths which are achieved through excesses in layering, and in focus on respective layers, and, as I kind of feared, this film sees the "Captain America" saga biting off more than it can chew, without jarring between segments and layers. The storytelling gets a little disjointed, but really, even in concept, the story is too busy for its own good, juggling political thriller aspects, the framing of a hero, a cat-and-mouse game featuring an assassin, buddy fluff, and other elements as it progresses through an already complicated story that ultimately proves to be too busy for comfort, and for the sake of depth. What I really admired about the predecessor was its having the ambition to transcend the usual Marvel blockbuster formula of action, action, action, and meditate on depths and nuances as a character study, and here, while there is plenty of weight, maybe even more tension, it marks a return to reliance on sheer momentum and action, and considering that the narrative is so complex, you often find yourself worn down by the fast-pace and somewhat superficialized storytelling. Substance bonds with entertainment value pretty tightly, making for a film that is both fun and rewarding, but not quite as rich as it perhaps could have been, even though it's already pretty overlong, or rather, excessive. This is prime popcorn at the end of the day, but no matter what is overcooked or thinned down, the final product compels through and through, with generally smart storytelling, and sharp aesthetics.
Undercooked, formulaic and strong is the best way to describe both Henry Jackman's score and Trent Opaloch's cinematography, which are nothing spectacular, but still hard-hitting in their crisp liveliness and stylistic sharpness, which is, of course, more prominent in other technical aspects. Aiming to be less reliant on digital effects, this film delivers on a number of outstanding practical effects that are convincing and flashy, if not intricate, and the digital effects are present blend with them organically, while augmenting all of the spectacle, especially during explosive moments in extensive action sequences that, while occasionally frantic in its filming and editing, primarily impress with their tighter staging touches, driven by painstakingly precise and fabulously dynamic fight choreography. Style and action are as, if not more prominent than they were in the predecessor, and they are both killer, as well they should be, for Anthony and Joe Russo's direction manages to orchestrate sound entertainment value throughout the handling of this material, so much so that they compensate for a lack of depth, until taking advantage of more delicate scene staging to actually salvage some depth, and compliment the consequentiality of a fluffy, but gutsy story concept. I actually prefer the way the predecessor's subject matter was handled, with more dramatic nuance and straightforward focus as a character-driven blockbuster, because with this sequel, as I said, there's too much going on, and too much momentum, thus making for a more superficial and excessive narrative that remains rich with potential, carrying a lot of intrigue of a political and dramatic nature, intensified by plenty of attention to tension and consequence, even in the writing. Sure, Christopher Markus' and Stephen McFeely's script may break tensions a little too jarringly with its admittedly sharp sense of humor, and then try too hard to restore it through excessive plotting, but when the writing is tight, it's airtight, doing a pretty respectable job of maintaining momentum with memorable set pieces and complex storytelling, backed by well-drawn characterization that is itself backed by charismatic performances. Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie are particularly charming in the upper-secondary cast, and the beautiful Scarlett Johansson, as a strong woman of mystery, is as convincing as always, while bringing in a little more humanity than usual, just as Chris Evans dials down the humanity in this less character-driven drama, but still brings in enough to make the Steve "Captain America" Rogers character as vulnerable as he is sharp and strong, thus making for a strong lead. Consequential shortcomings are distinct, and natural shortcomings are prominent, so the final product doesn't quite carry the weight of its predecessor, and is ultimately not much more than the usual comic blockbuster of its type, but as far as films like that are concerned, it gets it all down tight, with enough strength and entertainment value to stand firm as fun, compelling and altogether rewarding.
In conclusion, this film is more of the same as a Marvel popcorn piece, complete with a hint of tonal unevenness, and a fair bit of focal unevenness, deriving from a convolutedly busy story whose reliance on momentum over nuance superficializes the final product too much for it to truly stand out, but strong score work and cinematography compliment a liveliness that primarily thrives on excellent practical and digital effects, outstanding action sequences, a generally intriguing and reasonably weighty story, smart scripting, energetic and often tasteful direction, and compelling performances render "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" rewardingly fun and involving as yet another worthy installment in "Marvel Cinematic Universe" franchise.
3/5 - Good