Tag: anne hathaway

Serenity


Serenity (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Points for “Serenity,” written and directed by Steven Knight, for trying to rise above a standard thriller involving a boat, an abused wife, and a murder plot. There is a massive but elusive fish, a mysterious businessman who sticks out like a sore thumb, a combat veteran who is estranged from his son, a lone bar on an island where everyone appears to get information, and acknowledgements of rules being changed suddenly. There are psychic connections and a bird that follows the boat around. At one point, even our protagonist declares that there are strange goings-on. It is all very aware and ambitious, but these disparate elements never come together in a way that makes us feel as though it is worth the time and effort we invest in attempting to put the pieces together.

The problem lies in the screenplay. It relies on one big twist that is revealed about halfway through and smaller twists dispersed throughout the remainder of the story. After the game-changing revelation, it forges on telling the story it initially presented, but this is an incorrect decision, you see, because the more interesting angle is the one not being explored. Once we know what is really going on, the initial story, and whatever happens in it, feels so inconsequential. If I sound like I am being vague on purpose, that is because I am. Pulling out the rug from under us is quite neat, and to spoil it would reduce the film into pointlessness.

This leads us to the second major problem. Brilliant twists do not make a movie, not even in superior films like “The Sixth Sense,” “The Crying Game,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Se7en,” and even “Sleepaway Camp.” In these aforementioned movies, take away the respective reveals and the picture is still able to stand strong on its own. In Knight’s work, however, the pieces are not only amorphous and nonsensical, there is no convincing emotional arc. The main character, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a father who chases a fish so obsessively because he has not seen his son in years, undergoes numerous suffering—psychological, financial, physical—but we are not compelled to learn more about him, his lifestyle, and those around him.

The film is beautifully photographed, especially shots of the fishing boat leaving the harbor and when the camera looks into the deep water before fish is pulled out of it. There is also some excitement when there is silence and suddenly the clicking of the fishing reel builds up to a heart-racing staccato. This should have been a segue for the viewer to understand Baker Dill’s all-consuming quest of reeling in Justice, a large tuna. But these postcard-worthy shots are disconnected from the neo-noir thriller with moments of paranoia. It made me wish that I was at the beach instead of sitting inside the movie theater hoping for all the ideas to come together.

The performances are fine, nothing special. I must note, however, that those hoping to see McConaughey in various states of nakedness are likely to have a ball. For instance, we watch him jump off a cliff and swim in the ocean with nothing on. Perhaps, to some, that is a selling point. For me, though, Anne Hathaway who portrays an abused wife is the most watchable because she, as usual, milks every moment. As I walked out of the theater, it struck me that I don’t remember her character’s words, but I do remember how Karen holds her eyes when she is desperate, the way she moves her body when she is humiliated, the manner in which her lips quivers just so when freedom is at arm’s reach. Like the audience, the actors deserve stronger material.

Colossal


Colossal (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Although not short on imagination, “Colossal,” written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, remains a marginal disappointment because it is unable to balance its dramatic shifts in tone. A picture about alcoholism, toxic relationships, and giant monsters attacking Seoul, South Korea requires writing so on point that it creates an effortless melding of variegated elements. What results is a watchable but frustrating film, full of potential but ultimately unsatisfying.

Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a New Yorker and an online columnist who also happens to be an alcoholic. Her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) is so fed up with the same old speech involving her willingness to make a change but history proves there is only inaction. Hathaway is able to play a spectrum of emotions and halfway through I wondered how she would fare in bleak dark comedies, a shade or two darker than her work in “Rachel Getting Married.” Here, she shows that she has a knack for looking like and being a miserable character but there is something about her portrayal that makes us wish to find out more about the flawed person who takes up a job as a waitress in her hometown. I wished, however, she would have refrained from employing her go-to wide-eyed innocent girl when situations present more interesting avenues to show other emotions.

I admired the film’s willingness to show what alcoholism does to a person. Initially, I found it quite off-putting that certain scenes would simply stop in its tracks, without closure or punchline, and then it is onto the next scene. Upon closer inspection, however, we realize that we experience what Gloria experiences on a day-to-day basis: random blackouts, inability to focus on tasks or conversations, the sheer exhaustion of having to keep one’s eyes open, the confusion of waking up in a room she doesn’t recognize. I enjoyed that the writer-director made the decision of allowing Hathaway to look beautiful physically but the ugliness lies within the characterization of both the performer and screenplay.

I found the giants fighting amongst South Korean skyscrapers to be cheesy and overlong despite being shown in quick bursts. I think that it is supposed to be cheesy on top of being silly, harmless, and amusing, but I did not buy fully into its conceit. The metaphor involving alcohol mixed with personal demons personified through these monsters is a hammer over the head, but it works well enough because Vigalondo grabs onto his ideas and pushes them all the way. There are even a few creative moments worth a chuckle or two. However, it must be pointed out that moments performed in front of a green screen are awkwardly put together, distracting, and ultimately taking away from the drama.

“Colossal” is for a select group of audience. If you believe monster movies, dark comedies involving a return to one’s small town, and character studies through veil of booze is niche, get a load of this one. I am happy to give it a marginal recommendation for those willing to see something on the fringe of mainstream. But viewers with certain defined expectations when it comes to how character studies should unfold might find it a better alternative to overlook the picture completely.

Song One


Song One (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Franny (Anne Hathaway), who is working on her Ph.D. in Anthropology overseas, receives news that her singer-songwriter brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), had been involved in an accident. He is in a coma and there is a possibility that he may never regain consciousness. Guilt-ridden from their last fight and feeling helpless about the situation, Franny retraces Henry’s steps using his notebook which is full of lyrics, thoughts, and favorite places to visit.

The problem with “Song One,” written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, is its tonal inertness. Ninety minutes is composed of taking turns between a woman looking sadly at her comatose brother and live performances by James Forester (Johnny Flynn), an artist that Henry admires greatly. The picture does not go anywhere for a long time and halfway through one cannot help but wonder two things: who is the audience and what is the point of telling this story because it offers nothing special.

Hathaway almost singlehandedly saves the film. Even though her character is somewhat one-dimensional, I enjoyed her commitment. The pixie haircut works to her advantage because her features are all the more salient—particularly helpful during close-ups in which she is required to summon and express every minute emotion of confusion, rage, regret, and helplessness. There are moments when she does not speak a word and yet I was engaged. I wondered what the character is thinking or feeling, whether the smile drawn on her face is genuine or a convincing front. I felt the strength of Franny.

Less intriguing is the romance that develops between James and Franny. It is predictable from a mile a way that the two will eventually fall for one another. The material takes a long time to get to that destination and when we get there, it comes across anticlimactic. The picture might have been stronger if the romantic angle had been excised altogether and focused on the family that is barely standing on its feet.

Worth exploring further is the relationship between Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen). When the two are in the same shot, there is tension; the silence is almost deafening because we understand that they need to talk about what is on their minds. We grow suspicious as to when and where the eruption will take place.

Generally, the songs in “Song One” are hit-or-miss. Although the various performances that Franny comes across during her lamentation do have obvious talent in them, the songs, collectively, reflect that of the picture: tonally flat, almost always sad, unpolished, quirky. These are not all negative qualities but we grow to expect these traits eventually and so a passive experience is created.

Interstellar


Interstellar (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

These days, when a Christopher Nolan film comes out, it is an event. The reason is largely because he is willing to set the bar quite high for himself as a filmmaker and storyteller that sheer ambition and verve usually tend to inspire or impress many. But those willing to inspect closely will notice a chink in the armor: Like his weaker pictures, “The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Interstellar” is beautifully shot and photographed, even exciting superficially, but it is overlong and overblown.

Most problematic is the so-called revelation during the final quarter which delves into a perceived supernatural presence acknowledged early on. It is entirely predictable. At that point, I felt my body sinking into my seat, almost embarrassed but certainly in disbelief that Nolan, despite his admirable quality of constantly striving for boldness or originality, has actually utilized one of the oldest tricks in the book. Worse, it is employed for the sake of sentimentality. I did not buy it and neither should any intelligent viewer. It is important that we know we deserve more.

What should have been done instead is to leave a bit of mystery for audience. Clearly, the film is influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s challenging “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It is disappointing that the script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan has chosen to traverse a more accessible path, easily digestible, some might argue spoon-fed, providing all the answers by the time the screen fades to black. The final thirty minutes comes across messy, amateurish, and not fully realized.

The basic premise is this: Earth’s atmosphere is now largely composed of nitrogen, rather than oxygen, and so the planet is on the verge of becoming uninhabitable. As a result, a shortage of food spans the globe. It is without a doubt that mankind is facing extinction. When ten-year-old Murph (Mackenzie Foy) begins to receive strange messages in her room, she and her father, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), are led to a hidden facility where scientists (led by a character played by Michael Caine) have come up with a plan to save the species. Cooper, currently a farmer but formerly a test pilot and engineer for NASA, is asked to participate on a mission which involves visiting potentially habitable planets outside of our known solar system.

Perhaps the most suspenseful sequence takes place on a bizarre planet where it appears to be composed of only water. The sequence demands attention because of two factors: we do not know what to expect from the seemingly calm environment and we are not yet aware if Cooper and the team (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi) will be able to work together effectively. On top of these, spending time on this particular planet carries a special risk. Cooper has promised to return to his daughter.

One of the picture’s limitations is its tendency to jump back and forth between the intergalactic mission and the happenings at home. While it is important we are consistently reminded that time is of the essence, both on a personal and a global level, we need not observe the drama between Cooper’s grown children (Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck) because it all seems so insignificant compared to the decisions their father must face. Video transmissions aboard the ship would have sufficed. Sometimes showing less communicates great sophistication while more is just overindulgent.

“Interstellar” is well-acted by the performers across the board; they deliver what is expected of the roles they must play. A few images are a marvel, particularly those of icy mountains that seem to go on for miles and a spacecraft set against the darkness of space—with no sound. But the picture fails to drill completely into Cooper’s roles as a father and a potential savior of the human species. It goes to show that although a filmmaker is provided a sizable budget to employ talent that will grace the screen and hire technicians to make images look just right, when the screenplay is not sculpted to near perfection, an otherwise ambitious project that can potentially set a standard may end up just satisfying rather than transcending.

Les Misérables


Misérables, Les (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Having done imprisonment and hard labor for years, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) decides to break his parole and disposes of his old identity. With a new life comes a personal vow to lead an honest life and helping others along the way. Eight years later, 1823, Valjean, under a pseudonym, has become the mayor of Paris and a factory owner. A worker, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), has been fired by the manager after she is discovered to have been sending money to an illegitimate daughter. Eventually, the desperate woman is driven to prostitution. While on her deathbed due to possible extreme exhaustion combined with famine, guilt-ridden Valjean promises to take care of her child.

Based on Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s stage musical, “Les Misérables” might have been a more immersing picture if it had been divided into two films. It has the scope of three or four movies and cramming the material into a two-and-a-half hour film means sacrificing depth of events and characterization. These two are very necessary if we are to plunge completely into a world of the past that is both full of blazing passion and dark realities. Without splendid work from three of the four central performances, the whole project might have collapsed under its own ambitions.

The picture proves expert in executing individual scenes. When it is only the camera and an actor in a frame, it captures the feeling of privacy beautifully. Most memorable is Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” so absent of vanity that although I did not fully buy into her character’s desperation due to glaring lack of details about Fantine, I was nonetheless very moved. Close-ups are utilized well, highlighting the most minuscule ticks on the performer’s face. I liked the way Hathaway is willing to be ugly–not superficially like having grime all over her or sporting a Mia Farrow haircut à la “Rosemary’s Baby”–by contorting her face in awkward angles in order to summon the right emotions and hitting the right notes. It is too bad that she is not in front of the camera the entire time.

Jackman is very capable as the conflicted protagonist. Like Hathaway, his talent is best showcased during the more personal scenes. He gets the most screen time, but at times I wondered about the other characters like Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Fantine’s grown-up daughter, and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), one of the young people who is adamant about creating a revolution. Cosette is introduced and disappears for a big chunk of time so the romance between she and Marius (Eddie Redmayne), Enjolras’ partner in the cause, is not entirely believable even though the actors look attractive together. Because of the lack of depth, Cosette comes off soft and beautiful but vapid, a critical misstep considering that she is a symbol of Valjean’s redemption. As Marius, Redmayne is very good in balancing the subtleties between two kinds of passion: the girl he loves and his duty to do what he thinks is right for his country. Since Marius is given more time to develop, he escapes being superficial. At least we understand half of the couple.

Though some may consider Russell Crowe’s voice to be the weakest link in the musical, I say it is the occasional mismanagement of the camera. This is a problem when there are five or six people in a frame. Tom Hooper, the director, is generous when it comes to going for the close-ups–which does not always work. When the technique is used in a group shot, I felt the camera inching toward a face. Sometimes Hooper flings the camera at them. It took me out of the experience. In such cases, it might have been better if the camera had allowed us to absorb the celebration or whatever is going on from afar.

I was won over by the ambition of “Les Misérables” even though about half of the songs are not my cup of tea. What saddens me is that movies like the last chapter of “The Twilight Saga” gets split in two when it is absolutely not necessary because the story is so thin. In here, you can really feel that there is so much more to discover about the characters and their experiences, but a lot of the details are sacrificed. This creates a feeling of an incomplete film due to the noticeable gaps in the screenplay.

Rio


Rio (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Blu was a baby bird, he fell off a tree and animal smugglers took him to America. When the deliveryman suddenly stepped on the break pedal in the snowy terrain of Minnesota, the cargo which contained the macaw fell out of the truck. He was found by a caring little girl named Linda. Several years later, Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann), who now owns a book store, is informed by a passionate ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), that Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last of his kind. In order to preserve the species, Linda has a choice of coming with Blu to Rio de Janeiro so her friend can mate with a macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway).

Directed by Carlos Saldanha, “Rio” is an energetic animated film where its colorful characters are thrown in one chase scene after another, from the busy streets to the dangerous jungles of Rio and back. Children and children-at-heart will most likely find it entertaining because something cute is always moving and making noises while the jokes are funny but rather harmless.

The movie excels in its chase sequences. Animal smugglers (Carlos Ponce, Jeffrey Garcia, Davi Vieira) want to make a lot of money by capturing Blu and Jewel and selling them. One of the criminals owns Nigel (Jermaine Clement), an ugly-looking bird who used to be quite a celebrity. When Blu and Jewel, chained together by the foot, try to escape from the three goons and the aggressive Nigel, it is like putting a camera on a roller coaster: we are right behind the duo as they slide, bounce, jump, and crawl over the favela rooftops, the poorer areas of the city.

While it is exciting to watch because something genuine is at stake, it challenges itself by trying to be more creative than its last joke. However, I wished the filmmakers had worked more on the characterization. Blu, a domesticated bird, feels depressed when he realizes that his being unable to fly makes him feel like he is missing out on being truly free. I wished it had explored that feelings of inadequacy a bit more instead of simply giving us only about three other scenes before it moved onto the next. Does domestication equal emasculation?

And then there is Nigel, the angry bird, the villain. Even though he is mean, I wanted to get to know him more. After one song, we learn that he is bitter because is replaced by a more beautiful bird. But what else? Why take orders from a human when humans are the ones who disposed of him so quickly? “Rio” is fun to watch but it could have been stronger if it the writing had been more direct in asking the more difficult questions. If not through dialogue, then perhaps through songs.

The Dark Knight Rises


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, a former District Attorney and one of the leaders of the fight against war on crime, organized crime had been completely exorcised from Gotham City. Since Batman took the fall for the demise of the white knight and several police officers, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) had been living as a recluse. This temporary peace in Gotham, however, was threatened by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a thewy mercenary who recently kidnapped an important scientist. But Bane was not a typical mercenary: he was a former member of the League of Shadows, the same group that trained Bruce before he created Batman, and personally exiled by its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. “The Dark Knight Rises,” directed by Christopher Nolan, delivered an absorbing exposition by allowing us to feel sympathy for the true hero that afforded Gotham citizens the kind of city they’ve always wanted. More than ever, Bale was allowed to shine in the way he meticulously but naturally portrayed a character who was no longer needed by his creators. There was drama not simply because Bruce felt lost and depressed, it was due to the fact that we knew that he deserved fulfillment, a life he could call his own, outside of the mask. No other person could understand the man behind the mask more than Alfred (Michael Cane), Bruce’s help, best friend, and father figure. The most emotionally moving sections of the film involved the two clashing in terms of what the city really needed versus how Bruce should go on with his life. Cane was so good with his line deliveries, I teared up a bit when Alfred mentioned his yearly vacation in Florence, Italy and what he hoped to see across from him while sitting in a restaurant. There was a much deserved complexity in Alfred and Bruce’s relationship which was more than I can say about Bane’s plot to so-called give the people exactly what they wanted. While the action scenes held an above average level of excitement, such as when the villain made his first public appearance, there were too many characters running all of the place–characters who were worth knowing more about. There was Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), conflicted in terms of whether he should reveal Dent’s true colors to the public; Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an ardent young man willing to fight to preserve the good in his city; and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who wished to wipe her criminal past clean. And then there was Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Bruce’s romantic interest that came so far out of left field, I found it completely unconvincing. There was already little chemistry between Cotillard and Bale and the writing didn’t help them in building something the audience could get behind. Each of the supporting characters was given the spotlight one way or another but the screenplay didn’t have enough time to really drill into what made them more than pawns in the people’s liberation against Bane’s grasp. And so when the denouement arrived, some of the revelations, one of which I found predictable in a fun way, did not feel entirely rewarding. Based on the screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, while “The Dark Knight Rises” was undeniably entertaining, it could be observed that perhaps it attempted to take on too much. It wasn’t a breezy bat-glide to the finish line.