Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Film Review: The Descendants

I remember watching a young George Clooney early in his career in several TV appearances.  I liked a few of them, including a failed TV series called - believe it or not - ER.  But it was a different ER.  This one had a slash through he middle (E/R) and it was a comedy.

Flash forward years later and the other ER - the one everyone knows about - launches his career into the stratosphere.  Does anyone remember him in Facts of Life?

I've seen a few of Clooney's post ER films and one thing I've noticed is that while many are quite enjoyable, and he does give a convincing performance overall, there is this sameness between the characters.  It's as if he's playing the same character in different situations.  His narration is also a bit stiff.  In Up in the Air and The Descendants, it's as if the same character has been transplanted from one film to the next.  When the narration started for The Descendants, I wondered if his character portrayal on camera would be the same as Up in the Air.  Fortunately, I was wrong.

Still Clooney isn't as animated as I remember him from the 1980's.  Despite being somewhat convincing as Matt King in this film, I still felt he was a bit weak at times.  Fortunately, the rest of the cast is terrific and really carry the movie.

I think Clooney is at his best when he can play off others, and it's the rest of the cast who shine in this film.

The trailer is actually funnier than the movie itself, but it has some amusing moments and some equally cringe-worthy ones as well.  Still the film is worth a rental at the very least.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Belated Review - The Visitor

There is a new film being released this weekend titled "The Last Rites of Joe May" that has a familiar ring to it.  The plot summary sounds similar to The Visitor, which was the first film I had seen at the preview screenings I attend.  It was a few years back, so this is a much belated review of that film.

The similarities in plot-line are as follows:  A lonely man arrives at his apartment to find strangers living there, and initially tries to kick them out, then feels sorry for them and becomes involved in their own personal struggle.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Visitor, despite some concerns with the plot twist midway through.  I worried at first that this would be a veiled political film about being more tolerant about illegal immigrants in the US, but if it was, I didn't notice it.  I'm not a political person and would rather not see a film with an agenda.  Fortunately, this one didn't seem to have one.

As a whole it was a heart-warming story about the human spirit.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Film Review: The Man on The Train

Based on the French film by Patrice Leconte, this delightful tale depicts what can happen when people from opposite sides of the tracks meet and discover that the other person lives a life they had craved so much.

Donald Sutherland and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drummer for the rock band U2) star as two men who cross paths and wind up being unlikely friends.  Sutherland is a retired college English professor who is tutoring high school kids, while Mullen is a bank robber who arrives in Sutherland's town to rob the local bank.  Mullen's character (simply named The Thief in the credits, but has a name in the film) is suffering from a migrane headache.  He enters a drug store seeking a prescription drug, but when the pharmacist refuses to sell it to him without a prescription, Sutherland (credited as The Professor), happens to have just bought a bottle himself, and passes on a few pills to the robber.  And here starts the shaky beginning of what becomes a beautiful friendship.

It's obvious that the thief is out of place in this small town, but that's what appeals to the professor, who lives alone, has never married and is surrounded by the classics in literature, art and music.  He fantasizes of a more romantic life and wished he had been more cavalier and daring much like his literary heroes.  Meanwhile, the thief, who hasn't given his reason for coming to town away, quietly reveals that he is well read and has a love for literature himself.  He quotes text with the professor and even helps tutor a student when the man isn't available.

They each learn from each other, but in the end each much face their own predetermined fate in life.  The bank robber must rob the bank, and the professor must get his heart surgery.  Will they both make it through to see their dreams fulfilled or be stuck in a role that neither feels is as rewarding anymore?

Graham Greene and Carlo Rota play the thief's partners in crime. Both men are highly underrated actors in my book.

Being an English major myself, I'm always drawn to and entertained by these kind of films.  I might be biased as a result, but I really liked this movie.  Mullen was a bit too quiet for me at times, saying little, making it difficult to read his mind until he either picked up a book or said a word.  At times I wondered if he didn't speak for fear we'd hear his Irish accent, which did come out on occasion.  Considering this film was taking place in America (or Canada) somewhere, he did sound a bit out of place.  Other than that, I thought it was a really good film.