Sunday 7 March 2010

Review: Crazy Heart

Year: 2010
Director: Scott Cooper
Screenplay: Scott Cooper
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell

Plot Synopsis is here

Crazy Heart is not a very surprising movie. It follows the same well trodden paths as many musical biopics or character studies and seen them once then you've seen them all. However, Scott Cooper's film is not only effective in telling the tale well but it also features a great performance from Jeff Bridges. It may not be the Dude, but it's a towering performance that dictates much of the film. There's a laid back charm shines through so many moments of the display, that it's hard not to like Bad Blake, despite what his inner demons have done. I feel that if you enjoy Bridges' performance than you'll warm to the whole movie.

This is not to say that there's nothing else to Crazy Heart at all. Not at all. From an acting point of view the whole cast is worth watching; Maggie Gyllenhaal's sensitivity and shyness is spot on as Jean, Robert Duvall (a producer to the film) appears with a small yet amusingly grizzled display, and Colin Farrell once again reminds us that he has a great talent for accents.

In fact Farrell's pivotal role is one of the most interesting of the film as we are given a character who looks to be a full on antagonist who actually isn't that despicable at all. The few scenes that Farrell share with Bridges on screen are to me the most memorable. The reasons for the former partners breaking up are ambiguous enough to keep a considerable amount of weariness about both characters and what happened. Credit to Cooper is due for keep the tone in the writing and execution of the scenes from being too explicit.

I also liked how alcoholism is approached in the movie. Yes, you have your more "blatant" moments, but it's the quieter moments that are the most affecting. The best moment being seeing Blake sober compared to drunk. A small moment but effective.

This does bring me to the movies third act, which unfortunately are not as strong as the scenes that have taken place before it. At the end of the film, everything seems to tie up a little too neatly. In fact I found myself asking "is it that easy?!?!" It's a little hard to swallow considering how far this character had fallen. However like I mentioned before this is a character study on rails and contrivance does rear it's ugly head at the best of times.

But it doesn't stop the film from being watchable. Very watchable in fact. The dialogue is funny, the emotional moments are warming enough and the almost relaxed nature of the film makes it hard to hate. There's been comparisons of Crazy Heart to The Wrestler and while I can see the similarities, The Wrestlers effectiveness comes from the attention to detail to that world. It's a stronger movie that doesn't let up. Crazy Heart is more interested in letting you go with the flow.

Review: Alice In Wonderland

Year: 2010
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bohnam Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, Barbra Windsor, Alan Rickman, Micheal Sheen, Matt Lucas, Paul Whithouse

Ploy Synopsis is here

For me, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is much like his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the film lacks focus. The script is patchy, the main character is relegated to background for various reasons and emotional response is minimal. Once again Burton is more interested in bulking up the background of the "oddballs" than giving the lead character and the story the drive that the film truly needs.

In addition to this, the visual aspect of Burton's work is weak. There's an over reliance of CGI and Green screen that really effected my enjoyment of the world. In comparison to the wonderful balance of CGI imagination and real world that Terry Gilliam managed with The Imaginium of Doctor Parnassus and I found that visually, Wonderland suffers. Not that we're allowed to see that much of it anyway. Once we enter Wonderland we are never given a full experience of actual Wonderment that is really needed to be effective. Alice falls down the rabbit hole having forgotten her original adventure (a bad piece of plotting) but doesn't seem to give much of a damn of how bizarre this world is, something that The Blue Movie (for it's faults) got right.

But then again the film doesn't appear to be really about Alice in Wonderland. No it's more about the Mad Hatter in Mordor (Wonderland nabs quite a bit from middle earth in looks) or The Red Queen's sibling rivalry with the White Queen. Mia Wasikowska is a blank slate and remains that way throughout the entire film. Yes, she bookends the film's story, however her "realizations" at the end of the film come of a little more than a bit of a cheat. Is Wasikowska a bad actress? Maybe. But this film isn't the one to judge her because she has nothing to do and no characterization to grab hold of. But this was the same in CHARLIE and chocolate factory in which Burton and his screenwriter decided that Willy Wonka is clearly the focus of the film and not the titular character.

So once again the film relies on the viewers affection for Johnny Depp more than anything to hold your attention. It's a shame that my love for him is waning. This is not because Depp is a bad actor or bad in this (in fact he's one of the more appealing aspects of the film). But it's because that the more "off key" the Depp performance is the plainer it now seems to become. Depp by numbers is the term I'd use. I doubt we will see a subtle performance from him anytime soon.

It's been quite a while since the movie and I'm still wondering in the point of Anne Hathaway being in the role she was in. I like what she did with the part, but she had to do something to make such needless character interesting. The same goes for Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts. The standout is of course Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter, who, nepotism or not gives a devilishly delicious display (say it quickly) as The Red Queen. Yes, her character traits are from the queen of hearts but give her some credit!

The problem is there's not enough of Carter's energy to go around. It's that kind of verve that was needed to push the films flimsy plot forward. Once again Burton has mentioned of his dislike of the source material (RE: Batman, comics) but the changes agreed with himself and others in the production are more frustrating than anything else. Many of the films set pieces are quite dull, and the films pace is a plodding one, which wouldn't be a problem if Alice wanted to explore such a dream world. May I also add that the 3d element is clearly an after thought and not only takes away some of the films sorely needed colour but adds no depth of immersion to the proceedings but I enjoy the idea of 3D...

On the whole Alice in Wonderland is yet another dreary adaptation of a famous work that lacks the heart found in Big Fish nor the inventiveness of his earlier works. I'm there's enough Johnny and art direction for the die hard fans, but those looking for a dark look at a classic fairy tale may find the whole thing a bit soulless.

Note: Burton's latest achievement in Depp and Set Design is breaking a few Box Office records but hey, just because 50 Cent sold $12 Million on get rich or die tryin doesn't mean I have to think he's a great rapper.