Over the weekend, my Oscar research continued, as my wife and I took in four nominated movies in as many days. After a few more weeks of this, it’s entirely possible that my body will take on the form of a movie theater seat. (Some may say that’s already happened, but I digress.)
In any event, some thoughts about the four movies we saw:
This is a prototypical Mike Leigh movie. Deeply-drawn characters whose evolution comes through a period of ruminative time. A slice of time marked not for its Big Events (there are no car chases, bombs, or great inventions here), but rather for its smaller ones (a new girlfriend, buying a car, etc). And very strong performances.
Let’s focus on that latter part for a minute. In particular, the women of this film are very convincing. They inhabit their characters in what appears to be an effortless way. From the flighty Mary (played by Leslie Manville) to the grounded Gerri (played by Ruth Sheen), it’s impressive. The male characters have much less to do, although Jim Broadbent does it admirably.
So what’s not to like? Length, mostly. The reflective pace can sometimes stall a bit into a drag, and as a result, there could have been some trimming along the way. In depicting vignettes of a year in this couple’s marriage (and their friends), there were a few points where I thought it might be real-time…
All in all, though, worth a rental. For a couple of hours, it will slow things down and maybe even give you a chance to think about the seasons in your own life.
I’m convinced that, in some little-known dialect of Spanish, “Biutiful” is the word for “long.” On paper, it’s two and a half hours. In the theater, it feels more like three.
First, a positive: Javier Bardem’s performance is very strong. He’s in the majority of the frames of the movie, and his evolution over the time (did I mention it’s a LOOONG time?) is nuanced and appropriately despairing. You can watch him slowly come to terms with his options disappearing one by one.
But that could just as easily have been portrayed in two hours. Or maybe even 1:50. Do I hear 1:45? In fact, with the brevity that comes with a shorter time, the emotional effects may have been amplified. It may have been slightly less of a tour de force by Bardem, but likely much more moving.
Probably not worth a rental, but if it’s on TV and you’ve got the time…
OK, I’ll admit it. I really had no interest in seeing this. I remember the hype when it first came out, and at the time, it sounded like it might be interesting. But over the ensuing months, it began to sound more ponderous. Plus, I’m not a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, to be fair, I’m mostly not a fan of some of his choices of roles. (Gangs of New York? Really?)
But this ended up being better than I feared it would be. Sort of like Memento, the hype about it being difficult to follow proved to be just that–hype. The performances were good for a popcorn movie, and the visual effects really were incredible. I think I was actually more impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt than DiCaprio; although the latter had more emotional range to display, Gordon-Levitt struck a good tone of jocular focus.
For what it was, an effects-driven popcorn movie, it was pretty good, actually. There was a little thought required, which elevates it within the genre for me, and although there were a few places where the editing could have been stepped up, the technical prowess shown on the screen is remarkable.
Worth a rental, especially if you have a tricked-out home theater in which you can really see the effects.
Finally, the popcorn-iest (and pop-corniest) of the bunch: Tron. When the first one came out a couple of decades or more ago, it was amazing to me. Even after just watching the first fifteen minutes, I knew it was completely forgettable as a Great Film, but I also knew it was showing technical effects that blew my mind.
This time around, both reactions were mediated a bit. The movie? Well, if the original Tron was a C or C-, this was a B-. It was better. And the effects? Well, if the original was an A+, this was an A.
Let’s start with the movie part. Jeff Bridges did a fine job, trying his best to not make the dialogue come across as cheesily as it was written. And, oh, man, was it cheesy. Perhaps The Dude abides, but Kitsis and Horowitz (and the other credited writers) give one lactose intolerance. Garrett Hedlund did an adequate job, too, carrying the primary protagonist role with zeal. Neither actors had much emotional nuance, but that’s less their fault than that of the vehicle itself. (Perhaps the most scenery-chewing came from Michael Sheen, who definitely made the most of his character!)
The effects, though, are really the stars of the show. And they were darn good. It’s clear that they were intended to depict an electronic reality as convincingly as an actual one, and they do that well. It’s more a tribute to the state of the art today that there aren’t the breathtaking moments of the original (visually) than it is a failing of the effects themselves. Perhaps the ability to enhance the realism of the world helps to make it less overtly wondrous. It’s not pervasively showy like Avatar (or Inception), but just… pervasive.
Worth seeing in HD on TV, and maybe a rental for those who are nostalgic for the original or those who love Jeff Bridges, regardless of the context. If it comes out in 3D on DVD and you’ve got a 3D set at home, it’s a good one for the collection.