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.

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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.

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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

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Rewind Review- Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

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!

Those who don’t like superlatives should stop reading this right now. Those of you who are still reading please believe that it is not for simplistic reasons alone that I am all but ready to anoint Where the Wild Things Are as the best film of the year. It is unquestionably a complete cinematic experience that, for the most part, paralyzed my pencil from note-taking and here are some reasons why.

It lives up to the old manic depressive statement of “I laughed, I cried” but goes so far beyond that. The beginning of the film sets up Max’s home life and imagination in simple, beautiful terms with nary a word wasted, which goes for the whole film. The dialogue was carefully chosen and all lines were simply set traps which if sprung would take you into the deeper meaning of the film.

This is the kind of film that does require multiple viewings for the inquiring mind, and it is the best kind of film because it works on multiple levels without any of those levels interfering with the other. Some argue that some parts of the film are too frightening for children. That is a parent’s decision, not a critic’s, and frankly the book has scared many children while others read it and remain unaffected. It has always been that kind of tale. So to think that Spike Jonze was cavalier or somehow remiss in his filmmaking is ridiculous. Two words of wisdom to keep in mind are first Maurice Sendak the writer of the tale wanted the film “not to condescend to children” as he stated in a featurette released about a month ago. Films have been known to scare kids but kids will watch them anyway. The first film I remember seeing at the theater was a re-release of Bambi and almost off the bat Bambi is orphaned. Is it terrible? Yes. Did everyone keep watching? Yes. Yet people haven’t shouted about Bambi’s inappropriateness as loudly as about this film. The other quote would be Sondheim’s as related by David Poland on his blog “Children will listen…”

Ultimately, that will be what they do – listen and watch as they see a boy be angry with his mother, run off find new friends, but ultimately find that home is the better place. He returns home and is welcomed back, again almost without words. Histrionics are not needed at that point either for dramatic or moralistic purposes. The lesson is learned by all, you have no reason to run from home and you can always go back there and be accepted. A little hard to misconstrue that, and perhaps you need to boil it down for them, but one angry incident or a little yelling and growling shouldn’t deprive a child of this experience. It’s PG for a reason…be a parent and guide your child through the film. Don’t expect it to do all the work for you.

Back to the aesthetics – while CG needed to be implemented on the Wild Things’ faces, you’d be hard pressed to tell. And amen to the practical suits which just add that much more realism. Also, adding tremendously to the mood and overall effect is the score/soundtrack, written by Karen O. and Carter Burwell, which always sets the tone with absolute precision. There is never any doubt as to the intention and correctness of the score and it is almost as wondrous as the film.

The refracted tale, of course, is that of a child trying to cope with the divorce of his parents. Pull the dialogue from some of those scenes and just read them and you heard homely and very parental type battles. In the Wild Things you see various interpretations of those relationships. Again the separation of these layers of the film must be stressed. It is not the kind of tale in which missing on such details would ruin it but perceiving it will only enhance it.

For as large or small as the part was, the cast both voice and actual couldn’t have been better-chosen. Whether it be Katherine Keener in her limited screen time as Max’s very endearing mother, Mark Ruffalo as the cause of Max’s ire, Max himself played by newcomer Max Records, a surprisingly sensitive and complex James Gandolfini as Carol, or Catherine O’Hara as Judith.

This film is proof that you don’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance to elicit emotion. With the imagination everything can expand like the lecture of a teacher. It is a tale sure to delight the child within us all and also profoundly move adults. A “must see,” and likely the best film of the year.

10/10

Review- The Avengers

So here it is at last, the convergence of all the Marvel has been working for with its recent films. It’s the make-your-head-explode conception sure to delight many a film geek and comic book nerd the world over. Surely almost any film would implode under these nearly insurmountable expectations and such deafening hype, right? Wrong.

What we turn to summer movie fare for are spectacles. It’s where we want the ultimate in escapism, and have been let down over and over again. The Avengers name is in some ways a meta-textual one as it avengers many of the over-hyped bombs of the past but it really does is delivered as expected and so much more.

The tale is a simple one wherein the Tesseract, a stone that is a source of renewable energy and power, has fallen into the hands of the megalomaniac Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Enter S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who has had small appearances in the previous Marvel films building to this event, the assemblage of the Avengers, a superhero team to combat a super threat. The tale being rather straight-forward is a great thing here because it allows the film to do something these films don’t usually do: introduce and build the characters, create conflict and investment on behalf of the audience. In the end, you want the heroes to save the world, of course, but you also want for the heroes to succeed to avenge their enemies and vanquish their demons. A rare feat, and colossal when you consider how many characters this applies to.

The common thread that applies to all the characters and actors in this film is that even though they’ve all had their own film(s) none of them have been better in their given part than they are here. Which is slightly a contrarian thought because you’d think with less screen time each and so many characters it’d end up being insufficient and watered down, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), due to the fact that Loki is his brother, has the most invested in this cause. His entrance into the tale is spectacular and one of the many memorable moments this film offers.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is great here in many ways. Not only is he perhaps the most idealistic of the characters in the context of this story but he also has similar baggage to Thor in as much as he too is a bit displaced, Thor in place and Captain America in time. His moments come both in dialogue and in a few battles.

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is back and better than ever. I’ll discuss Whedon’s writing and directing more later, but having Tony Stark be the one who is confrontational and snarky about the team is one of the film’s best touches. It gives him a journey as first he’s arrogant, the most informed on the dossier and then has to make it work with this crew because that’s the only way it’ll happen. I cannot describe his best moment as it’d be a massive spoiler if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet.

As for The Hulk, I did trudge through the previous two attempts to make his character work in a full-length motion picture. It didn’t work at all until now. This character was really the gamble, he’s a major “new addition” to characters who had recently gotten their own successful big screen ventures. They could’ve pulled someone else in but they went back to the the Hulk. This time it pays off big time. This is all thanks to both the way the character is written, again to not say too much, and also Mark Ruffalo’s tremendous performance.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also makes a return after first appearing in Iron Man 2, however, here is where her character really develops and quite frankly she’s amazing in this. Not only in the fighting scenes but she’s also playing subtext and conveying emotion brilliantly. As the girl in the group she’s outnumbered but by no means outmatched.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is an example of impeccable casting. Due to the way the film structures itself he suits the role perfectly well and does some pretty awesome jumping about and target shooting.

Every superhero film needs a villain and the best thing this film does is it has one and one only. We know who he is early and focus on him. He gets his thralls but is allowed to flex and posture and does his darndest to convince us that things won’t work out in the end. Tom Hiddleston far outdoes himself in this encore.

Joss Whedon is someone I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about until very recently. I knew the name but I had not seen a lot of his work. However, in light of his role as co-writer and producer of The Cabin in the Woods I’ve started to see some more and I can say that his contributions to this film are massive. He clearly has immense respect for this material but also knows how to play with it. The respect is evident in that despite the fact that this film end with a massive, near-cataclysmic, jaw-dropping action sequence it takes the time to get these characters together see how they gel or create friction, sort through some of their baggage and get people moments that they earn.

The effects in the film are, of course, tremendous. I did happen to see the movie in 3D and I would say that it’s one you can enjoy just as much without it. The difference made is negligible.

So to those of us who wondered if a super-group superhero film could work, the answer is a resounding yes. Anticipation quenched and all we wonder now is where it’ll go from here.

10/10