Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What I've Been Watching -- January 2011

Happy New Year!

I've been taking a break from blogging for the last couple weeks, but now I'm back with some quick reviews of movies I've seen over the last 3-4 weeks. So, without further ado...

The King's Speech (dir. Tom Hooper, 2010)

Right now, The King's Speech is being heavily awarded by the annual critics associations, boards of review, and major award shows. It is already pre-ordained to be a front-runner for Best Picture honors at this year's Academy Awards. Is the film worthy of the acclaim? After all the adulation slides away, is it a good movie?

Yes, and no. Yes, it's an excellent film, expertly crafted, directed and acted. The performances of Colin Firth as Prince Albert, the future King George VI of England, and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, Albert's speech therapist are terrific and inspired. When the two of them are on screen, the movie is at its best.

The story is surprisingly simple for a British royalty drama. King George V dies, leaving his son Edward (Guy Pearce) as the new king. Unfortunately, Edward's lust for sex and a normal life put an end to his short stint as monarch and thrust the unprepared Albert into the spotlight. This wouldn't be so important or dramatic if it weren't for the fact that poor Albert -- or Bertie, as he is known to his loved ones -- has a painful stutter. Albert seeks out the help of Logue and begins the arduous and noble process of serving God and country by overcoming his impediment just in time to make his important radio address declaring war on Germany.

Firth's performance is brave and exciting, and he makes the act of stammering a cause for sympathy and suspense. Rush is even better as the Aussie, Logue, who brazenly pushes aside all decorum and tradition in his approach to treating Albert.

For as good as the performances are, the movie is still very traditional and safe. It is also primo Oscar fare. Look what it has going for it: it's British, about royalty, and features a character who overcomes a disability to do something of historic importance. I think it has a great shot at winning Best Picture, although it is not as deserving as the more relevant Social Network or haunting Black Swan. Nonetheless, expect Firth to win Best Actor. It's as much a lock as Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

We get the chance to watch both the rise and fall of a modern marriage in Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance's moving and heartbreaking film. This may be the most emotionally raw film I've seen in years. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams fully invest themselves in these characters, Dean and Cindy, and give us two distinct perspectives on love and life.

We open with Dean and Cindy's marriage falling apart. In an effort to bring back some romance, Dean books them a night in a cheesy hotel's "Future"-themed suite so they can get drunk and fuck. Things don't go according to plan. The movie then cuts to flashbacks in which we watch as Dean and Cindy meet and fall in love. The pain and angst of their conflict in the hotel room is amplified as our hearts leap for joy at their early passion and pleasure.

This is a hard film to write about because of how eerily in mirrors my own divorce. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful film that makes us once again question the idea of whether it is better to have loved and lost than to ever have loved at all.

Piranha 3-D (dir. Alexandre Aja, 2010)

From the French horror maestro (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) comes this campy throwback to when horror movies were fun, bloody and excessively gratuitous. The film is a remake of Joe Dante's answer to Jaws. It's a franchise that I never really felt needed an update, but Aja gets the most out of his material. Piranha is a guilty pleasure, pure and simple.

We begin at Lake Victoria where Spring Break has arrived and with it 20,000 drunk, lusty co-eds. Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the Steve McQueen) is a geeky teenager who is forced to babysit his annoying kid brother and sister when all he wants to do is head out to the lake and look at titties. Suffice to say, he finds a way out of babysitting and gets involved with a porn producer (Jerry O'Connell), a couple "actresses" and the girl-next-door he's in love with. His mother, Julie (Elisabeth Shue), is the town Sheriff who is frustrated by the Spring Break crowd and the fact that a team of USGS scientists have come out to investigate seismic activity in the lake.

This seismic activity has unleashed a threat from the pleistocene past in the form of thousands of hungry piranha, ready to wreck havoc on the unsuspecting, naked party goers. As you can imagine, we get countless underwater shots of hungry, toothy piranha racing at vulnerable body parts.

The energy of this film is terrific and the pacing awesome. The CGI is lame, but forgivable, since the massacre scene is one of the goriest and best staged scenes of mass brutality ever put on film. The story is that the filmmakers averaged 75,000 gallons of fake blood a day to make this movie. It shows.

No comments:

Post a Comment