Rewind Review: The Kids are All Right

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right is a film for whom success, marginal as it may be, rests entirely on the shoulders of its cast. The film tells the story in a rather tight nucleus focusing on the parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), the kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) and finally their heretofore unknown sperm donor/father (Mark Ruffalo). Ultimately it is the compelling, truthful, funny and touching performances in this film that make it worth watching even in spite of some very serious problems.

While this is a more sure-handed feature effort from Lisa Cholodenko than the disjointed and awful Laurel Canyon it is not without its serious deficiency. That deficiency to be discussed in full warrants a spoiler alert.

Having said that the major conflict of the film occurs when Jules (Julianne Moore) starts having an affair with Paul (Mark Ruffalo). At one point you think it may just be a one time thing but the film almost revels in showing the multiple relapses that Jules has and her enjoyment of this seemingly inexplicable affair. Your hopes that it will never surface are also quickly dashed.

x950

Now while I will not dwell in the land of film theory in this review and speculate on the potential impact of yet another homosexual character engaging in a heterosexual tryst in a film it is also a plot contrivance that fails in terms of cinematic mechanics in several ways.

First, to simply state it it’s lazy. My major grievance with Valentine’s Day is that even with the sheer number of couples in that film nearly all of them were dealing with infidelity. Oddly enough that film deals with its one homosexual couple in a unique and taboo-breaking way and they have no issues.

While barring some other grievous offense this is the biggest cause of conflict possible it’s not one that had to be introduced just to create drama. While it does allow there to be a very emotional tearing apart and subtle reunion of the family as Joni (Mia Wasikowska) goes off to college one wonders if there would ever be a film that would ever do the opposite and get away with it. Would a man be able to have an affair with another man and be able to repair his marriage, family and have an audience believe it? Doubtful. However, here a gay couple faces the ultimate betrayal and while you want them to resolve things it doesn’t make it any less implausible that they’d manage to stay together.

the-kids-are-all-right-1024

Yet, plausibility is overrated and almost anything can be accepted in a film if it is sufficiently set up but aside from the one cliché I-Hate-You-I-Want-You glance they exchange right before they kiss you don’t see it coming and further more when pressed Jules doesn’t have a satisfactory answer for Nic (Annette Bening) that would explain not only an extra-marital affair but one with the opposite sex. If that is going to happen in homosexual relationship more needs to be cited than a lack of attention. It’s not like flipping a light switch and while sexuality is between the ears and the affair doesn’t make Jules suddenly straight, this kind of thing does take convincing to make sense and it never quite does.

Unfortunately, this affair is a major event and does take up a significant portion of this film and thus this review. Ultimately, the audience is the determinant of meaning so it is the director’s job to convey that meaning clearly so we can see intent. I am quite sure that perhaps there was some symbolic or representational intent with the affair and that Cholodenko didn’t want it interpreted in a possibly negative way, however, whatever message or motivation existed there was not clearly conveyed.

The overall affect the film has on an audience is a positive one. It is a touching and fitting conclusion and Julianne Moore’s apology scene is a tear-jerker as is Laser’s (Josh Hutcherson) final assertion of why they belong with one another. It’s a film that makes it by on the strength of its actors and its finale it’s the journey I would’ve preferred changed somewhat. Perhaps the message lies in the title that The Kids Are All Right even if the adults aren’t but isn’t that an awfully dangerous mixed message?

6/10

Rewind Review- Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time, but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is in large part a victim of a poorly thought out unoriginal marketing scheme as much as Paranormal Activity is the product of brilliant marketing. Having said that we will discuss that later and deal first with the film at hand.

The Vampire’s Assistant is by no means a perfect film, however, I did enjoy it quite a bit and it did leave me wanting more if perhaps a bit too much. The major flaws are the quickly drawn and superficially defined characters. We get enough on each to start such that the story is able to function and begin, yet the information disseminated is given to us clumsily and easily through dialogue. We instantly find out that Darren (Chris Massoglia) is a good kid and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) is a tough guy with a chip on his shoulder and all the reasons therefor.

The things conveyed through voice-over, like their individual obsessions, would have been much better conveyed with more visual information. An example, Steve’s dad left and his mom is an alcoholic so he feels he has nothing to live for when a crucial decision comes about. We learn all this through his dialogue, and have seen neither hide nor hair of his father or mother throughout. Even a flashback quick would’ve enhanced that emotion a bit which was very effectively conveyed by Hutcherson. Both young leads, in fact, elevated the story through their convincing portrayals of their sketched characters. Again each has an obsession that sets them on their path that sets them down their course but we learn this mostly through voice over.

The last issue was that of the character of Mr. Tiny. He’s an enigmatic villain and an interesting one, and his words and the opening title sequence make it clear he is only interested in being a puppet master in the battle between two rival factions of vampires. However, why he is only interested in that, what his timetable is, what his real motivation is, and why he chose Darren and Steve is nebulous at best. There is a mention of a prophecy but it is ill-defined.

Now having said all that the film does have quite a bit going for it, and knowing that Universal was hoping to launch a franchise does explain some of the lack of detail. The first part is that it does not take itself too seriously. There is a quite a bit of good humor had with the vampire genre as it turns some of the vampire clichés on their ear.

Aside from supporting turns by John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe and more the film does have an essential conflict at its core that is quite interesting. You have in this story two best friends who become enemies and a rivalry that could’ve been avoided. You also have hilarious cartoonish portrayals of the adult characters at the beginning, which are deftly altered by Weitz when they re-emerge later on and the tone of the tale has changed. The parents reappearing looking concerned and real the teacher seeming confused and frightened, both merely shells of their formerly goofy selves.

The effects were quite good, which is more than can be said for most films, and this one based on reports didn’t cost an arm and a leg. The cinematography was composed and contained even in heavy action sequences which also can’t be said of a lot of films.

To return to the marketing, this is a film that was pushed into October and then had its title altered to include The Vampire’s Assistant, which is the title of the second book in the series. The use of the word vampire a calculated attempt to try and capitalize on Twilight‘s popularity. These are mistakes because this movie is nothing like, and never tries to be, Twilight. The target audience is different, the conflict at the center of it is completely different, and none of these ploys yielded box office results with the film finishing 8th with just $6.35M in gross. This is a shame because all these questions that came to mind wouldn’t have held any water had it not been interesting, and so now it seems they will be unanswered in celluloid and left only within the pages of Darren Shan’s novels.

6/10

Review- The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games (Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games, as many expected, was one of the most anticipated films of the year. It will likely go down as one of the top earners of the year as its early run totals rank amongst all time highs, and it’s a three-time box office champion. I wanted to read the books but never really did, I borrowed the first book from the library and got through half of the first chapter and didn’t get to renew it. Therefore, I had little foundation to go upon but found the film for the most part to be quite enjoyable and captivating.

The double-edged sword in this film is that the backstory of this world, this dystopian future where America is unrecognizable and not even named as such anymore, is not overtly told. The positive to that is that there are not really any overly-elongated and elaborate expository sequences and the negative is that at times you are left flailing about awaiting the next tidbit of information that will enlighten you. You eventually do get sufficient information to get by but you also get the sense that there are unplumbed depths that are likely the key to the book’s success.

The only other truly significant struggle this film faces is in the game itself Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is steadfast in her character but she only attacks her opponents when in a bind, which is admirable but there is much waiting, hiding and running. Essentially, it’s a slight editorial problem more so than a character flaw. Virtue is a positive and Katniss has it in spades there were just a few opportunities that are better off not presenting themselves if that is to be her approach.

Those minor reproaches aside there is a lot to like in The Hunger Games. Perhaps the best part of the film’s success is that now everyone can see just how awesome Jennifer Lawrence is. She already has an Oscar nomination that she was very worthy of, but it was Natalie Portman’s year, for which she was woefully under-publicized and Winter’s Bone is not the kind of draw that this film is. In a similar vain, I’ve known for quite some time that Josh Hutcherson would be a superstar and this is truly his breakout. Now, Josh has a long track record from the Journey series, to appearing in the Best Picture Nominated The Kids Are All Right, to his early days as a young performer that garnered him a BAM nomination for Bridge to Terabithia, however, here as Peeta, a character who knows the game better than Katniss at the start but isn’t as steadfast or strong-willed as she is, he brings his chops to a big vehicle. That could be the most impressive facet of the film; not only is there action and commentary but also room for performances. You should also look for Stanley Tucci’s great supporting turn.

Aside from the aforementioned concern in the Game the film’s pace stays rather brisk even if its running time tops two hours. The tale is a bifurcated one: before the games and the games themselves and they are distinctive sections of the film that are a bit different but they balance quite well. The before the games section builds up some good drama and anticipation and to an extent the game brings good sequences and tension.

The Hunger Games also presents a pretty interesting vision of a futureworld most vividly conveyed by the production design, which is amazing and also the makeup and costuming. Now the latter is not something I was not instantly enamored with but it was a bold and consistent choice and it is a class distinction that is a kind of interesting future-retro hybrid, as the exaggerated hair and makeup hearkens eons past where powdered wigs and ivory faces were status symbols.

The ending of the film foreshadows much larger hurdles and problems to come in the series that even teases it will grow outside just the insular world of the Games and branch out into the politics of this world. Perhaps the upcoming installments will fill in some of the nagging blanks.

When a film does a lot very well the few things that leave you wondering do tend to stand out a little more than they would otherwise but this is a very enjoyable, occasionally funny, romantic, dramatic and thrilling film.

8/10

Review- Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmán, Vanessa Hudgens and Dwayne Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps one of the things that works best about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island if that it gives you sort of a non-sequel/quickstart. The concept of the film is introduced quickly and simply and before you know it we’re on the beginning of the quest. It’s a film that knows it’ll be plot-driven so it gets right down to it.

That being said there are a few character and dialogue issues that come into play right away. They don’t rear their ugly heads too often but they do hold the film back a little bit. In the first scene things are going swimmingly and then Sean (Josh Hutcherson) sees longitude and latitude coordinates and doesn’t know what they are though it’s already established he’s a straight-A student. There are also perhaps too many attempts to make certain plot elements seem plausible with lengthy explanations. The elements are well thought out but the dialogue is somewhat clumsy and didactic.

To address the only other bugaboo quickly there’s also the unnecessary complication of gold in this film also, a bit like the latest Chipmunks movie. It’s such and antiquated and tired cinematic motif, and hard to swallow in a life or death situation.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was a precursor to the 3D renaissance and it was very good and took advantage of the technology. This film may not be up to that standard , partially based on other production decisions, but it is good and utilized 3D that’s worth the up-charge for sure.

The cast in this film is quite good and keeps the tone light and fun and makes up for any inadequacies the film may have. Josh Hutcherson is clearly the lead, while he’s always been a great talent, here he really shows he’s already a movie star by carrying an action vehicle with some heavy-hitters. That being said Dwayne Johnson does well here with his usual good delivery of humorous one-liners he also works well with Michael Caine who effortlessly adds a nutty adventurousness to the film. Luis Guzmán, who has been hilarious in countless things gets a much bigger part and stage upon which he can shine.

The movie keeps the laughs consistent, which keeps the tone fitting with the prior installment. This means that this film will earn new fans and please old ones in equal measure.

The CG on screen is better than TV and trailers can really give you a sense of and the action sequences are pretty good. They work especially well with the good 3D.

This is a real fun and funny follow up to the prior film that made it worth the wait.

7/10