Posts tagged Jude Law
This week’s Weekend Movie Preview column has my review of Steven Soderbergh’s crime thriller “Side Effects.”
Summary: Psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) finds his happy marriage and successful career crashing down around him after he prescribes his patient Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) a new antidepressant, which has unanticipated side effects.
Director: Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Haywire”)
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant”)
Notable Supporting Actors: Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mamie Gummer
Click here to read my take.
This round features my thoughts on “The Master,” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
In the past I was never a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. I always found them strange, aimless, and tedious, including “There Will be Blood.” Anderson’s latest picture “The Master” marks his first that I’ve watched since becoming a critic and the one I’ve come closest to appreciating. Part of that has to do with the fact that I watch movies differently now, looking at them with a sharper eye for technical details. The other key difference was that I was appropriately intoxicated while watching the film. If you’ve seen “The Master” then you know why it’s fitting that I was intoxicated. For those who haven’t though, I’ll explain.
This postwar tale concentrates on Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a young man drifting through life since the his release from the Navy at the end of World War II. Freddy is a raging alcoholic suffering from PTSD, who travels the country aimlessly, taking on odd jobs, which he is swiftly fired from because of his erratic drunken behavior. Things change for Freddy after he crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a cult leader who takes an odd interest in him. Dodd and his clan take Freddy in, hoping to tame the loose cannon and cure him of his affliction through a series of bizarre mental control exercises. At first Freddy feels at home there, although the deeper he gets into Dodd’s cult, the more disturbed he becomes by it.
From a technical perspective, “The Master” is a majestic mixture of excellent directing, cinematography, and music. Anderson’s directing is sublime, using smooth, controlled camera movements to keep you invested even during outlandish moments. A great example is the slick tracking shot that follows Freddy through a department store as he runs around throwing objects at an angry customer. There are also impressively lit panoramic shots that will leave you breathless such as one where Freddy flees on foot through a field at dusk and another where Dodd and Freddy are taking turns gunning a motorcycle through the desert. Music in the film almost feels like it’s out of a silent movie, beautifully arranged with precision to match actions from the characters on screen.
Despite the incredibly bizarre plot and dialogue, “The Master” is strangely captivating, constantly leaving you wondering where the relationship between Quell and Dodd will go. Most of that is due to Anderson’s and his team’s technical prowess discussed before, although the remaining bit is a result of the performances from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Amy Adams who plays Dodd’s manipulative wife. It’s a bit silly that the almost 40-year-old Phoenix is playing a “young man,” but he’s eerily convincing as an unhinged boozehound. Hoffman is intensely commanding as well playing Dodd and Adams subtly conniving as the outwardly sweet Peggy. Unfortunately there is very little payoff at the end when Quell and Dodd finally reach an impasse with one another, so all my rapt attention felt wasted. While I laud the skill with which this film was made, I don’t care for Anderson’s story enough, to watch “The Master” again.
My Grade: B+
Rise of the Guardians
The best part about “Rise of the Guardians” is its fresh approach to well-known characters from children’s folklore. In the imaginative world that this animated film crafts, Santa Claus (North), The Easter Bunny (Bunny), The Toothfairy (Tooth), and The Sandman (Sandy) work together as a superhero team known as “The Guardians,” powered by the support of kids around the world who believe in them.
Long ago, the group defeated The Boogeyman (Pitch) so kids no longer believe he exists. At the outset of the film, Pitch has decided to return and to make his presence known to the world. This prompts the commission of a new Guardian: Jack Frost, someone the other heroes hate for his mischievous weather. The remainder of the film focuses on Jack trying to earn acceptance among his new colleagues, while learning to harness his powers, so that everyone can defeat Pitch before he does them in.
Mainly this movie is fun because The Guardians aren’t the same boring personalities from tradition. North is a hulking, sword-wielding Russian with tattoos, who lives in the company of elves and yetis. Bunny is a buff Australian rabbit who knows martial arts and uses a boomerang for a weapon. Tooth is a feathery sprite who enjoys collecting teeth for the memories that they hold. And while The Sandman can’t speak, he is a powerful sorcerer, who conjures up all sorts of wild creatures.
The story in “Rise of the Guardians” is nothing impressive, and neither is the animation. It’s your average tale about an outsider trying to fit in. As the villain, Pitch has similar motives to Jack Frost, although his exact endgame is murky and his appearance to fight The Guardians feels very random at points. His predictable defeat at the end feels anticlimactic, because the film doesn’t build adequate anticipation to the final conflict.
Aside from the creativity used when designing The Guardians, the next most entertaining part of this film is the voice talent chosen to portray the central characters. Alec Baldwin does a silly Russian accent as North, Hugh Jackman actually gets to use his real accent as Bunny, Isla Fisher gives a cutesy flair to Tooth, and Jude Law has a diabolical quality as Pitch. Chris Pine does a fine job as Jack Frost, however he feels very out of place because his voice is too mature for the boyish looking guardian.
“Rise of the Guardians” excels with amusing characters and excellent voice talent, although it never rises above the status quo for this genre. Generally I dug this movie, but didn’t feel like it lived up to the standards of other great animated flicks from 2012 like “Wreck It Ralph” and “ParaNorman.”
My Grade: C+
My latest round of reviews features my thoughts on “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and “Anna Karenina.”
Beasts of the Southern Wild
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is another film from 2012 that earned tons of acclaim before I had a chance to see it. After I finally watched it, I understood why people enjoyed it; I just didn’t feel the same level of attachment. It deserves props however for being one of the most original tales I’ve seen in recent memory.
The movie is narrated by Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a precocious girl with a vivid imagination, who lives with her terminally-ill father Wink (Dwight Henry), in a fictional section the Louisiana bayou called The Bathtub. Although residents of The Bathtub live in poverty, they are rich in spirit. Children like Hushpuppy are taught in school that the only thing that matters is day-to-day survival. These teachings are put to use when a brutal hurricane tears through the area. A few people, including Wink and Hushpuppy have nowhere to go, so they attempt to stick it out on flooded terrain. Even after they’re forcibly evacuated by the government to a shelter, everyone escapes and runs back to their homes in The Bathtub.
With his first feature, writer/director Benh Zeitlin crafts a beautiful looking film that celebrates the grandeur of the movie’s Louisiana settings. He also gets you to realize a certain bizarre splendor in squalor of The Bathtub, something you don’t expect. Zeitlin’s excellent directing extends into the moving performances he coaxes out of untrained actors like Wallis and Henry. Wallis was only six-years-old when the film was shot, yet she performs complex narration and shows a wide range of emotions. Additionally Henry’s Wink is incredibly layered, and remarkably sympathetic; a delicate balance between a cruel, irresponsible father, and a loving one, doing the best that he can.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” kept my attention, although ultimately I found its narration and daydreams about prehistoric creatures too abstract to fully engage me. Plus at times, the poverty shown in the film and the tragedies that befall its characters made me incredibly depressed. On the flip side, this misfortune helps to reveal strong statements about survival and the human spirit. While I liked these aspects about endurance and determination, I didn’t love this movie enough to want to watch it again.
My Grade: B
I’m not easily confused when it comes to movies, so if there’s one like Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” that quickly befuddles me, that’s a problem. For the first 10-15 minutes of Wright’s film, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I didn’t want to blame the picture right away though. My first suspicion was that I was lost because I never read the Tolstoy classic that Wright’s film adapts. But then I realized there surely would be other people watching it in the same situation, and that the movie needed to clue us in somehow. That’s when I came to the conclusion that Wright’s method of storytelling was keeping me from processing everything properly.
“Anna Karenina” starts off at such a brisk pace that it barely allows you time for one scene to sink in before it jumps to the next. As a result, it’s difficult to figure out who the characters are and how they relate to one another. After a few minutes you start to grasp the major players and their motivations, however you never really feel a chance to connect with them because you’re primarily focused on the film’s main visual conceit happening around them. Wright blends cinematic elements with those of theater, setting the story up as a pseudo play, using a stage to frame much of the action. In the beginning he leans very heavily on this trick. Every scene appears to be a single shot, strung together as set pieces around the characters shift to create new surroundings. It’s actually pretty cool for the first few minutes, but it doesn’t take long for it to grow old.
Unfortunately “Anna Karenina” is one of those movies where style trumps substance. Wright seems most concerned about creating a vibrant period piece with elaborate set pieces, grand costumes, and detailed choreography. While all the spectacle is fascinating, it distracts you from the story, the characters, and the performances of the actors. How were the performances? I don’t even remember. Even love scenes which should be intimate, steamy conversation with the viewer take on a ridiculous quality with all of Wright’s odd camera spinning and random shots of body parts. If I can’t tell what parts belong to each character, you’re doing it all wrong. Mr. Wright, you lost me at hello with “Anna Karenina.”
My Grade: C
Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” was clearly made with the intention of building a franchise. It’s obvious because the 2009 film painstakingly establishes the quirky Holmes/Watson bromance, so character development wouldn’t be necessary in the impending sequel(s).
However with Ritchie’s second entry in the series, “A Game of Shadows,” his writing team Michele and Kieran Mulroney make the classic sequel mistake that character development is superfluous. They seem to have forgotten that when you introduce new protagonists and a main villain like they do in this film, it’s just as critical, to keep audience interest.
“A Game of Shadows” picks up several months after the first film left off: Watson (Jude Law) is preparing for his wedding day and Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has developed a manic obsession with catching his brilliant new adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). In the first “Sherlock Holmes” Moriarty lurked in the shadows, but now he has revealed his desire to create chaos across Europe.
When Moriarty threatens to harm Watson and his new bride, Holmes convinces his old pal to join him for one last big case. So Holmes and Watson undertake a mission across Europe to catch Moriarty and to stop his dastardly assassination plot. This time they get some help though from new allies: Sherlock’s flamboyant diplomat brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) and a badass gypsy fortune teller Madam Simza Heron played by Noomi Rapace.
Although Madam Heron doesn’t really get terribly fleshed out, her strong silent nature and self-assured persona make her a more suitable companion for Holmes and Watson than the dainty Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who didn’t add much to the first film.
Despite being touted as Holmes’ greatest foe, Moriarty receives surprisingly little development as well. Ritchie paints their relationship as one of familiarity, like they’ve been after each other for years, even though Holmes only learned of Moriarty in the previous film. Professor Moriarty is evil and his competition with Holmes is amusing, however the writers don’t build up his misdeeds enough to fully turn the audience against him.
In addition to flimsy characters, “A Game of Shadows” also lacks the same great banter between Watson and Holmes that was present in the first film. Holmes specifically rambles like a nut with very little substance to his dialogue. Given these two weak spots the first half hour of the movie is pretty boring.
Action picks up heavily toward the middle of “A Game of Shadows,” with some sequences surpassing the original in terms of danger for our heroes. Unfortunately Ritchie seems to care more about style than substance in “A Game of Shadows.” He continues to use Sherlock’s own bullet-time type slow-mo combined with crazy forced perspectives of bullets and shells being shot from guns, which admittedly is pretty darn exciting at times.
Ritchie redeems himself with the final conflict between Moriarty and Holmes, which is a thrilling battle of wits in a literal and metaphorical chess game. In spite of some entertaining moments though, “A Game of Shadows” as a whole, isn’t as cohesive as its predecessor.
My Grade: B-