I enjoy writing reviews of (moderately) recent movies and I get the impression they generate some traffic to this humble blog.
Once in a very great while, somebody comments that I only seem to write about movies that I like.
I don’t really understand this observation as I normally see no point in writing about things I don’t like and nothing makes me so unhappy as a poorly-made film. Since I see no point in making my precious few visitors suffer, I have always shied away from reviewing anything that fails to make the grade.
But I recently noticed I’ve jotted down some thoughts about a few films that I viewed with some initial hope only to have those hopes dashed by the time the closing credits have finished rolling. And many critics will tell you that they often enjoy writing about bad fims as it allows them to give vent to their deep wellsprings of sarcasm fed by their own deeper waters of insecurity.
Since nobody’s ever accused me of lacking either sarcasm or insecurity, I guess I may as well go for it…
“Her” – Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johannsen in a Spike Jonze film that is part psychodrama and part Science Fiction about a lonely man who cannot maintain lasting personal relationships, then buys an Artificially Intelligent operating system for his PC and proceeds to fall in love with the female avatar which grows out of it.
While the idea is intriguing, and both Phoenix and Johannsen are both talented actors (Ms. Johnannsen should be given a special award for her hitherto unappreciated talents as a voiceover actress; she is that good), the script and the director don’t ever really seem to know exactly where they want to go with it.
Studded with great supporting performances from people like Amy Adams (cast against type as a mousy, non-descript platonic friend), Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (both also appearing in voiceover roles), and little touches like the setting for the man’s job (“SweetHandwrittenLetters.com”), nevertheless the film seems to run out of steam in the last 20 minutes.
The ending is less than satisfactory and the overall tone is more than a little depressing. Forget what the New York and L-A critics may have written about existentialism in film, this one isn’t worth the effort except for the cultish and curious who don’t mind spending a little extra time discussing it with their therapists.
“Into the Woods” – Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman (yay!) and James Corden (also yay!) are more than equal to the task of fleshing out Steven Sondheim’s libretto and songs (BTW, Meryl Streep singlehandedly steals the movie), but why is this a Disney film?
Based on the best-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, the resulting effect is more than a little grim in the most literal sense of the word.
Touching heavy-handedly on topics like poverty, hunger, infertility, envy, theft, greed, murder and more besides, the tone of the proceedings never really lightens for more than a minute.
This is in fact an opera because every line is sung. Once again, Ms. Streep proves herself equal to the task at hand, as do Ms. Blunt, Ms. Ullman and Mr. Corden. The supporting players are all talented and the film sets out on a promising note, interweaving such old school tales as Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and more.
But when Johnny Depp as the big bad wolf winds up getting lost in the sauce (he’s barely there for a cup of coffee), one begins to wonder just what is going on. And if that’s what the viewer is thinking, what were the producers and director doing all this time?
Once again, the overall tone is more than a little cynical and dark and even the most willing of audiences will begin to wonder why – Meryl Streep notwithstanding — they are bothering to watch this.
Add to this one of the cardinal sins of filmmaking: the movie isn’t ready to stop when we are. This is a feeling I have rarely experienced in a film of any sort: “Can we please wrap this up already?”
You can give this one an ‘A’ for effort and even one for ambition, but sadly the resulting film winds up earning little higher than a ‘B-minus’ for actual execution. The Disney imprint and source material notwithstanding, this one is not for the kiddies.
Sorry, Walt, better luck next time.
“Green Lantern” – Ryan Reynolds is not a bad actor. If any support is needed for that argument just consider how well he was received in this past year’s mega-hit for Marvel, “Deadpool.”
But this effort some 4 or 5 years previously might be better subtitled, “Dead On Arrival.”
Back in the days when I read comic books regularly, Green Lantern was a title I tended to enjoy. Test pilot Hal Jordan, deputized into the interplanetary Green Lantern Corps, was a role model a lot of young boys wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, the character in this film is more of an intergalactic schlemiel and a self-centered one at that. And that’s just the tip of the green iceberg…
Again, it’s important to remember that once an actor’s work is done he must entrust his efforts to a director, an editor and a movie studio (in this case, Warner Brothers) and have some faith that things will turn out well in the end. One suspects Mr. Reynolds may have had some doubts. The screenplay credited to four different writers may have been giving off some telltale fumes early on in the proceedings. By then, of course, the cast is more or less trapped and must make their best effort and pray like there’s no tomorrow.