ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HOLIDAYS BRING A MIXED BAG OF MOVIES
Reviews: True Grit, Tangled, The Fighter, and I Love You Phillip Morris
By Brian Lafferty
December 30, 2010 (San Diego)—Today’s column is going to be different. Normally I post one movie review at a time. Today I will have several shorter reviews in this one post. Before I post them I would like to explain what has happened the last two months that have made for less reviews than normal.
A few months ago I revealed that my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I am sad to report that she passed away on November 26 (a day shy of my 25th birthday). The cancer was quick; she was diagnosed in early September. She was peaceful and not in any pain. It has been a month now and her loss has been starting to hit me harder than ever. Some days I’m fine, some days I don’t have the will to get out of bed. It has been difficult for me to adjust to a new normal. But the last few days I’ve been feeling better. Even though I always think about Mom (and there will not be a day that goes by that I won’t) and there are times when I feel sad, I have discovered that I can assuage these feelings by knowing she will always be around, both in spirit and as a part of me.
I’m eager to start the New Year. Now for some reviews.
True Grit isn’t as technically dazzling as some of the Coen Brothers’ previous work. Instead, the movie relies more on the acting. Just like with one of 2009’s best films, A Serious Man, True Grit proves that the Coens are as capable of eliciting great performances from their actors as they are at making their films look good. Jeff Bridges continues his stellar track record of great performances with his role as the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, played by the legendary John Wayne back in 1969. I wouldn’t call Jeff Bridges a legend (at least not yet) but he by some miracle doesn’t draw unfair comparisons to Wayne. He makes the part his own. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld provides much of the humor and serves as a great foil for Bridges and Matt Damon.
It is not as visually colorful as O Brother Where Art Thou and Miller’s Crossing. However, the combination of slightly desaturated colors and a dark tone makes the mise-en-scene, even in daylight, foreboding and shadowy. The Coens wisely choose not to overwhelm us with style. Their restraint still makes for an aesthetically pleasing film but at the same time it allows us to focus our attention where it belongs: the outstanding performances.
Released last month, Tangled is the newest Disney animated film. Unlike last year’s The Princess and the Frog, the studio has gone the 3D animation route. I was skeptical and disappointed when I first learned of this, remembering fondly the studio’s 1990s renaissance. As a kid I recall enjoying Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (which I saw in theaters three times back in 1994). But within the first ten minutes of seeing this film I was won over. With Tangled, the studio shows as much dedication to their 3D animated films as they did their 2D films in the 1990s. Every environment, whether it be the forests, castles, villages, and every other locale, is easy to admire and take in. I found myself attracted to everything in each frame. The animators take advantage of what 3D has to offer, the best of which is total immersion into this film’s world. Little things are added such as making the grass and bushes stand out. Overhead shots from the tower and cliffs are made scarier and more intense because the 3D makes them more believably and dangerously real.
I do wish the filmmakers paid more attention to the story, which isn’t very compelling. It lacks depth and the characters aren’t as interesting or deep as many of the successful Disney films. The musical numbers aren’t memorable, either. But children should still be entertained by it and the overall beauty of the film makes it a movie that parents can sit through with their children.
One aspect I’ve always admired of David O. Russell is his ability to balance effectively multiple storylines and characters while simultaneously keeping them fresh and hilarious. It didn’t work so well in his debut film Spanking the Monkey, but he succeeded well in Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, and I Heart Huckabees. He continues this success with The Fighter, his first attempt at a drama.
The movie combines loose plot elements of the Rocky movies, Raging Bull, and The Champ but takes the familiar material and makes it both fresh and his own, rather than a simple retread. We’ve seen the quest for the title before but I wasn’t bored because of the passion and intensity of the characters as well as the multiple plots that enveloped it. His attempt at success is constantly thwarted by his family who has a tendency to bring him down. His wife won’t let him see his daughter because of his drug addict, former champion brother (Christian Bale). She even goes as far to tell her Bale is an extension of Wahlberg. Those plots are only a portion of the overall movie and Russell always has something interesting to cut to.
The cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema (photographer of the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In), uses a visual trick for the televised matches that is daring but pays off. The matches are not shot on film but rather on videotape, exactly like it would appear on HBO. It is risky putting anything resembling TV on the big screen but it works because of the emotional effect it has on the audience. Instead of feeling like I watched it with only over a hundred people in a theater, it made it feel like I was watching with the rest of the country. It makes crushing defeats even more humiliating and the final match all the more significant.
I Love You Phillip Morris
If I Love You Phillip Morris stayed true to its high-energy beginning and if Jim Carrey had relaxed and let loose, then the movie would have had the potential for a great comedy. The movie opens with rapid-fire jokes and gags, smash-cuts for humorous effect, and unpredictable humor that had me on the edge of my seat. It isn’t long, however, before the movie switches gears and all the life and humor is sucked away, leaving a movie that is dull as well as containing strained, painful to watch performances.
Co-writers and co-directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa bungle the centerpiece of the movie, the relationship between Carrey and Ewan McGregor. The film doesn’t take the relationship seriously, treating it like a game or a joke. So not only is a lot of the humor not very funny but the relationship isn’t believable.
Jim Carrey can be funny but not this time, especially when he doesn’t hold back (Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber). But here he restrains himself too much and his performance suffers for it. I see him trying to be funny instead of being funny.