Monday, December 31, 2012

Take This Waltz (2011)

Sarah Polley’s latest was made for the Instagram generation. With it’s combination of rich, bold colors, manufactured shabby-chic production design, and outfits that could be from Anthropologie or H&M, the movie looks just like a snapshot from a friend’s Facebook feed, or maybe a “Visit Canada!” ad campaign. 

That wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the serious subject matter. Michelle Williams plays Margot, a young, unhappy married woman. Her husband, Lou (Seth Rogen) is a cook working on an all-chicken cookbook. They have a playful relationship, but every time she says, “I love you,” it’s like she’s dipping her toe in a bath to see if it’s hot or cold. She falls for a neighbor named Daniel (Luke Kirby) and, in the end, gives in to temptation, destroying her marriage but at least finding happiness. 

Or not. 

Take This Waltz is truthful in the sense that sometimes the things we want won't really make us any happier. The problem, though, is that the deck comes stacked so high against Margot there’s no suspense one way or the other. Every incident pushes her further into Daniel’s arms, but I was never convinced that she was all that miserable with Lou in the first place. When she slides into one of her gloomy moods, it seems to happen against her will–the story calls for it, so it must be so. 

Well-acted though it may be, and distractingly nice to look at, the story just didn’t work for me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Annual Onslaught of Sameness

Yesterday, I commented on Twitter about the number of year-end lists I've seen that put Lincoln near the top, but then, in their blurb about it, seem to apologize for putting it there. I said that less because I wanted to comment on Lincoln than because of the insecurity I feel about my own tentative list (which I’ll share in due time). It has a lot in common with others, but also includes a few picks that might elicit a “Really? You picked that?” kind of response. Or maybe I’m just imaging the worst.

Whatever the case, I'm starting to feel differently. The more lists I see, the more I'm proud of my differences. The same three, four, or five titles are showing up again and again, often in the same spots. Which is fine—they’re good movies (although, I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty or Amour yet; I'm just assuming on those).

Still, I have to wonder: is everyone really of such a like mind? One of the whole reasons I look forward to lists each year is for the surprise of seeing something I hadn't heard of, or something I’d written off that another person saw in a very different light. But for yet another year in a row, I feel like we’re facing an onslaught of sameness. What about uniqueness of vision? Is critical opinion really as homogenized as this?

That’s why I admire Tasha Robinson’s list for The AV Club. I can’t say I agree with her number one pick, but what a move! And there are at least a couple of other titles here that had me thinking, either because I hadn't heard of them at all or because no one's mentioned them in a long while.

So anyway, for the sake of celebrating diversity, I decided to post her list below. And to see the rest of The AV Club’s lists, you're just a click away.

Tasha Robinson
1. The Avengers
2. Wreck-It Ralph
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Chasing Ice
5. I Wish
6. Where Do We Go Now?
7. The Master
8. Beasts Of The Southern Wild
9. The Secret World Of Arrietty
10. The Cabin In The Woods
11. Life Of Pi
12. The Rabbi’s Cat
13. Cloud Atlas
14. Haywire
15. Looper

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wasn't made for me. It wasn't even made, strictly speaking, for fans of The Hobbit, but for Tolkeinites who want more of the Middle Earth they saw in Lord of the Rings. It was made, in other words, for the homespun Viking at my screening who corrected a guy's pronunciation of "Balrog."

I'm a fairweather Tolkein man, myself–I've seen the movies a few times and read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I couldn't tell you the history of Middle Earth, and I certainly can't speak Elvish. My sense, though, is that Tolkien never sewed his two stories together to the extent that Jackson does with his new trilogy. Here, Smaug the dragon's attack on the dwarve's subterranean treasure isn't just bad luck or the major conflict of the series–it's a portent of Sauron's return 60 years in the future.

And that's fine, I guess, but Lord of the Rings this is not, and nor should it be. An Unexpected Journey deserved a lighter touch. And I don't mean that it needed more humor–it has that. What it needed was a director more in love with the original story than his own personal vision. Jackson indicated, during the interim between Lord of the Rings and this first movie, that he wasn't the man for the job, and he should have listened to his own advice.

But that's not to say An Uexpected Journey is wholly unenjoyable. The much-anticipated meeting between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) is everything it should be–whimsical, creepy, and oddly touching. Plus, you couldn't ask for a better Bilbo than Freeman, both in terms of how he looks and his ability to play the exasperated, put-upon everyman. He's built a career out of it, in fact. The only major difference between his part here and his parts in Sherlock and The Office (the original one) is that he's smaller and has hairier feet.

It's also nice to see familiar faces again: Ian McKellan is back, of course, as are Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee. But honestly, with the exception of McKellan (who's integral), their parts could've been saved for the extended edition. Here, they're dead weight in a spectacle already overstuffed with too much walking, talking, and running. What could Jackson possibly add to an extended edition, besides the other two movies?

Length is just the more glaring issue, though. The other big oliphant in the room is the frame rate. I understand Jackson's reasoning and I applaud his adventuresome spirit, but I couldn't adjust to it. You go to a movie expecting a certain look, and that look usually isn't "History Channel reenactment." The action is clearer, but if that's the only improvement a higher frame rate gives us, I'm not sure how much more experimenting we need to do. Like Bilbo at the outset, I'll gladly stick with what's familiar.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012)

My review of Cloud Atlas with Filmwell.

Criticwire - 12/3

Take a look at my answer to the latest Criticwire question, which asks: "What is the single best performance of the year, male or female?"