January 6, 2009

Movie Reviews: Don't Doubt My Milk-Frosted Button

I hear ya: How can you really evaluate a movie without more than 17 syllables – and with no Twix bar rating?! So, here we go – a few more details on the movies we caught this weekend.

Milk

I went into 'Milk' expecting it to be a little bit of a vanity piece for Sean Penn. I thought we’d see an imitation of an easily imitable character, on a backdrop of nothing-else-too-impressive (Think ‘Ray.'). I was wrong. Sure, there were problems with this movie – a few script falters, one too many scenes of James Franco’s character staring pensively, and a questionable setup for the pivotal assassination scene (No, no spoiler alert for that one) – but for the most part it was a well-told, extremely well-paced, touching and relevant story, with a powerhouse performance by Penn, and, almost more impressively, great supporting work from those around him, including James Franco, Emile Hirsche, Diego Luna and even Victor Garber.

I’m curious to see what creative liberties Gus Van Sant and his team took with this, and will report back after the Netflix-screening of the ocumentary, ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.’

8 Twix bars! (For those new to the rodeo, this is out of 10).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This is pretty close to an epic. A sprawling tale that covers a lot of ground, supported by beautiful backdrops and a rotating cast of interesting characters (Captain Mike being one of my favorites).

Of course it doesn’t end happily. It doesn’t even start happily. As Trevor aptly put it, it’s essentially three hours of constant sadness. But it sure is beautiful. Like ‘Doubt’ fails where ‘Closer’ succeeded (more on that below), this movie knocks it out of the park where ‘Big Fish’ flyed out, by taking a larger than life story – a fantasy, essentially – and grounding it in meaning.

8 Twix bars!

Doubt

I had a lot of problems with ‘Doubt,’ and most of them can be blamed on directing. The movie, an adapted version of the award-winning play, was written and directed by its playwright, when it would have been much better served by a fresh perspective and a movie-smart filmmaker.

The movie felt short, and yet every character was underdeveloped. Sure, part of the power of the story itself is in the vagueness – the audience isn’t meant to know what (if anything) actually happened). But there’s subtlety, which can be powerful, and there’s lack of direction, which robs the film of meaning. And, worse, where there was meaning, we were whacked over the head with it: The metaphor of the weather (which had “never been like this before”) might have translated well on stage, but – just like Meryl Streep and that accent – it was obvious and overdone in the movie.

6.5 Twix bars!

Frost/Nixon

To be honest, I’m probably just glossing over a lot of problems with 'Frost/Nixon' because we saw a lot of movies this weekend, and this was the last. But, I really enjoyed this movie because it felt like an accurate, yet fresh, version of the play. The faux documentary part felt unnecessary, confusing in context with real historical footage, and also not post-dated enough to be relevant. I can overlook this, and some classic Ron Howard heavy-handedness, in light of the riveting Nixon performance by Frank Langhella. The scene where he calls David Frost in his hotel room – that was clearly torn directly from the play, and the dialogue was perfect.

7.25 Twix bars!

I’m glad to have seen each of these, but after 4 pretty heavy movies set between 1907 and 1978, I’m ready for some meaninglessness and modernity. ‘Bride Wars,’ here I come.

3 comments:

Nic said...

oooh, I want to see Bride Wars! Maybe we can actually make plans to see each other this year?! :)

Meredith said...

I really enjoyed the characters in Benjamin Buttons. They were full, unique and pretty endearing, yet seemingly authentic. Benjamin's mother was a delight. I definitely agree that it was sad, but it also seemed full of love and joy making it feel real despite the fantastic aspects to it.

My Irish is Up said...

The sadness in Benjamin Button was as inevitable as sadness in real life -- it must exist to validate the joy and love. That we all must watch people we care about pass through our lives never to be seen again (at least in THIS life) is the price we have to pay for caring at all. So I've decided to be happy about it! I loved that movie and have thought about it way more than any other movie in a long, long time.