by James Gilmore
Tony Stark’s character is well-rounded, but the others are cardboard.
Excellent chemistry between Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Good concept, decent execution, and an interesting cast. The comedy focuses on normal people in extraordinary circumstances with an outcome of constant awkwardness. Jokes are never too over the top or out of place in the story. Carell and Fey do an excellent job of grounding the comedy in the reality of the story. Comedy aside, the film is packed with a lot of heart, made surprisingly powerful by the director’s work and the commendable seriousness of Carell and Fey.
Too many shenanigans, not enough story (common problem in feature comedies). While Paul Rudd is extremely likeable, he does not have the presence or ability to carry the success of an entire feature on his back. Great concept, adequate execution, some funny bits, but otherwise not worth the time.
by James Gilmore
In what should have been one of the greatest climaxes of modern film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 falls very short of its mark. While Part 1 transforms the worst segment of the Potter novel series into the greatest film of the series, Part 2 manages to insult the best portion of the novel series with nearly the worst filmic experience in the series. The film is not without a few traces of remarkable moments, but nothing more than a trace.
It is perplexing how director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves managed to create such a remarkable Part 1 and a pathetically deflated Part 2. Part 2’s story somehow lacks the robust emotional presence, subtle character, the visual acuity, and skillful storytelling of Part 1. The writing barely suffices to tell the plot of the story and proves completely insufficient to do anything more. It lack the thematic material warranted by such an epic series conclusion. Despite the intensely emotional situations involved in the story, every scene feels drained of emotional power, and is frequently absent altogether.
The main characters are robbed of their greatest gems, especially Snape, Hermione and Ron, all of whom receive little to no actual development on screen although they are ever present in the background. Snape, for whom Part 2 is the apex of his character, is completely blunted as a character by the writing and direction to point that the incredible twist associated with his character is treated as a mere afterthought. The lovable secondary characters are used liked doilies, thrown into the story whenever required but serving little to no purpose except to have a few minutes of face time before they are again forgotten. The death of the Weasley brother, a moment of intense catharsis for the audience, is glossed over like the death of a background extra. Only Narcissa Malfoy and Neville Longbottom are given any character work worthy of remembering.
Quite deadly to the film is its ending, or lack thereof. Although there is a cute “years later” scene to conclude Part 2, the real conclusion which precedes it is barely a conclusion at all, consisting mostly of the main characters walking around with vacant stares.
Somehow, Daniel Radcliffe managed to break through the stunted storytelling to illustrate his grown maturity as an actor.
Overall, Part 2 feels unfinished, unsatisfactory and rushed, as if irreverently composed of mostly B-footage.
by James Gilmore
The Kids Are All Right (but the parents are not)—the anti-hollywood movie; or, an advertisement for ultra-liberal living.
Somehow Lisa Cholodenko has managed to turn slow pacing, low conflict, and a nearly directionless plot into a film that is oddly intoxicating, sucking the viewer into a strange microcosm of uber-liberal Californianism. Although laughs are unevenly distributed, the comedy is always natural and never forced or artificial as is seen in so many Hollywood films, but grows organically out of the emotional content of the scenes. Despite its ability to entrance, the ending is so poorly handled it begs the viewer to second guess the film’s anti-Hollywood nature and instead wonder whether the filmmakers simply didn’t know what they were doing. The final sequence—the most crucial in any film—is not only unsatisfying, but is handled with complete ineptitude and lack of relevance to the story.
Also problematic with this character piece is, in fact, character. The story could use a little more diversity among the adults, who all feel like they are part of the same social circle from the start. And while the sex of the director should not interfere with the storytelling, somehow all the male characters in The Kids Are All Right receive unfair treatment. They fail to compare in dimension and emotional presence to any of the female characters. Paul (played by Mark Ruffalo), a principal character and the lynchpin which the entire plot of the story hinges upon, disappears after an ambiguous, noncommittal confrontation with Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and doesn’t even make it to the conclusion. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) lacks both character development and depth, being stereotyped as the typical “insensitive” male in a story unevenly weighted in favor of the females. Even the extraneous gardener character, also male, serves no appropriate purpose except an artificial construct to hinder (although he fails to do so) the developing physical relationship between Paul and Jules (Julianne Moore).
Finally, the acting gems of this film: Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. Mark Ruffalo also delivers a commendable performance.
The Kids Are All Right could have been a 5 / 5 film but pitfalls in character and the ending of the story severely hamstring the film.
by James Gilmore
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the mantra of the 16-bit generation who grew up in the early 90s. A musical about adolescent love with a surprising amount of heart, only there’s fighting instead of singing. Although dressed with the trappings of video game culture, the film is actually a kung fu movie at its core, albeit a very surreal one.
Michael Cera plays himself as usual, although his transition from self-conscious nerd to super fighter is a welcome surprise. Co-stars Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong and others are, despite their obscurity in American films, nothing less than refreshing and delightful, although Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance comes across as relatively flat by comparison.
This filmic experience proves overwhelmingly satisfying to the A.D.D. senses of the modern movie-goer, no doubt due to Edgar Wright’s brilliant artistic direction, and should be required viewing for the video game generations, although everyone else will find Scott Pilgrim completely senseless and perplexing at best.
by James Gilmore
Black Swan is perfect in both conception and construction, although the plot and main character leave something to be desired. Despite a very good script, Aronofsky’s masterful directing far exceeds it, nearly surmounting the story’s shortcomings. Nina and Erica Sayers both lack adequate character depth, as does their relationship. The end result is a strange film whose story fails to engage the audience enough to match the superb filmmaking which surrounds it. Once again, a potential masterpiece is thwarted by a thin script. On the other hand, the exquisite filmic storytelling boasts powerful imagery and cinematography with a strong European—but especially French—influence.
Excellent casting with outstanding performances by the actors. Mila Kunis’ surprising performance demonstrates her capability to grapple serious acting weight while Vincent Cassel’s work falls nothing short of superlatively stunning. Natalie Portman delivers her best performance to date upon transformation into the Black Swan, but otherwise remains her usual self in which she appears to be perpetually on the verge of tears.
On a side note, one might almost call Black Swan “The Machinist for Women.”