Tag: guy pearce

Hateship Loveship


Hateship Loveship (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

After the older woman she worked for has died, Johanna (Kristen Wiig) is employed by Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) to help take care of his granddaughter. Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) does not live with her father (Guy Pearce) because he had been imprisoned and is currently struggling with drug addiction. Her mother, on the other hand, passed away due to an accident. Johanna and Sabitha do not see eye to eye, the former for her lack of social skills and the latter for feeling threatened by the new presence in the house.

Directed by Liza Johnson, the goal of “Hateship Loveship” is to tell a small but specific story about a woman who is so used to things just happening to her that we come to wonder if she has experienced how it is like to truly live. Although the screenplay by Mark Poirier attains that target occasionally, the emotional power of the film depends on how consistent it hits the mark exactly. By the end, one gets the impression that the film has good intentions but it is a misfire.

Part of the problem is Johanna teetering on bland, colorless, on paper. Wiig plays her just right—unfashionable, soft-spoken, always looking down—but the writer does not give her very much to do or say. Wiig single-handedly makes the quieter moments work—such as one involving a trip to a clothing store—because she has the talent for looking sad without being pathetic. We root for her to achieve some sort of happiness.

Still, for such a quiet person, we almost expect Johanna to offer profound insight when she does choose to speak. We know that the character is really at good cleaning, almost on an obsessive level, cooking, and is sensitive to others’ needs. We also know that she is so yearning to have romantic love that she becomes prey for a cruel joke.

There is a lack of fluidity in the storytelling. By dividing the picture into two major parts, the first half consisting of Johanna’s every day life with Sabitha and Mr. McCauley and the latter half Johanna spending time with Johanna’s father, it feels like two movies awkwardly conjoined. The final scenes have no sense of time passing by. Major events are thrown at us but they bear little impact because they are not yet earned.

Worse, there is a late subplot involving the grandfather finding a special woman. It has nothing at all to do with the larger themes of the movie so discerning viewers must wonder if such scenes had been added for the sake of having “feel-good” moments. I questioned if the writer did not have the confidence in the effectiveness of the dramatic material that he felt compelled to introduce a light distraction.

“Hateship Loveship” might have worked if it had been reread and rewritten several more times—to get rid of unnecessary details that contribute nothing to the overall arc and to focus on the protagonist’s struggles to find the love that she has longed for. At least it is refreshing to see Wiig in a dramatic role that she embodies so fully, there are moments when I forgot that she has made a career out of making people laugh.

The Rover


The Rover (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Stained with bleakness gray, desert-dry yellow, desaturated dirt and grime, “The Rover,” directed by David Michôd, is a picture that is clearly made with a vision. It is to be admired in parts for two reasons: its visual presentation of rural Australia after an economic collapse and the performances by its two lead actors. But the film is a disappointment in that it fails to engage in the long haul. We want to get to know it, but it does not let us in such a way that by the end of the experience, we feel as unwashed and emotionally drained as the characters look and feel.

The story begins with three men (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) stealing another man’s car after they get into an accident. Eric (Guy Pearce), sitting in a bar while the trio break into his vehicle, would not have anybody stealing from him and so he uses the thieves’ transport—still functional after an unbelievable acrobatics—to go after them. The sequence that transpires on the road has an ironic sense of humor about it that discerning viewers will likely suspect that it is building up to something.

Robert Pattinson steals the film because he delivers an odd, magnetic, and at times sensitive performance. He plays one of the brothers of the car thieves and we meet Rey with a bullet in his midsection. Pattinson has a way of acting in a scene with dead blank eyes and yet it is not boring. It is because everything else is interesting: his posture, the awkward way he moves, the tension in his lips, the way he strings words together. The predictable thing to have done was to play the character tough and unstable. He takes the unstable part and twists it in such a way that we become interested in learning who he is despite the screenplay not giving much.

And therein lies the problem: The screenplay by Michôd is so inaccessible or deliberately opaque at times that the story ends up not having a defined shape. While it is a positive quality that we get the impression that just about anything can happen, especially with its tendency to erupt into quick bursts of violence, it is difficult to care about what might transpire. I caught myself being along for the ride, admiring a handful of its technical achievements, such as the score and choice of soundtrack, but I was disconnected from its core.

The picture is highlighted by several seconds of brilliance. Several examples include a vulture observing a man waking up from unconsciousness, a young girl bleeding from being shot through the chest, and a confession that takes place at an Army base. There is not enough connective tissue in the material to underscore these memorable seconds and unify them into a theme.

“The Rover” is not about entertainment but about texture. Notice the people we meet, how famished and desperate they appear. Look at the desolate environment. Just about every place Eric and Rey visit appear as though a riot or pillaging had taken place there at one time or another. We notice the dirt on their clothes, limbs, and faces. The hunger in their eyes or revenge. On the basis of style and mood, at least it delivers.

Iron Man 3


Iron Man 3 (2013)
★ / ★★★★

“Iron Man 3” is anything but a consistently entertaining, funny, and thrilling superhero bim-bam-smash action extravaganza. It is a throwback to movies like Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” where there are too many villains but not enough effort is put into exploring who they are, what they aim to do exactly, and how they, after executing their evil plot, will help our hero, or heroes, gain an insight to the questions that plague his mind.

In the case of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), after having learned the existence of gods and aliens as well as having a brush with death in Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” he finds himself in a suspended state of trauma, barely getting a night’s sleep, obsessing over creating more Iron Man suits, and fixing whatever knickknack when he really ought to be getting some counseling. When a man called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) executes bombings–first abroad then in America–Stark is, at best, underprepared.

As expected, the film has an eye for destruction. When Stark’s home is attacked by three helicopters with long-range rifles and rocket launchers, it is wise to minimize shots that take place outside. Since the scene is composed mostly of interior shots, there is a feeling that we are in the middle of the action: red hot bullets swishing by, ground collapsing without warning, and a posh car–that happens to be indoors–falling off a cliff. With the aid of first-rate sound mixing, it is a believable localized war zone soaked in dust and danger with seemingly little hope of escape.

Whenever the action stops, however, it is a first-class bore. The would-be funny quips and exchanges are not all that impressive. There are a few lines that made me chuckle, but for the most part they are often misplaced or forced. Instead of engaging us in a consistent build-up of adrenaline, a short break, and then more thrills, the material is punctuated by long stretches tedious dialogue. It gets so pedestrian that–can you believe it–characters eventually verbalize what they are doing at the time when we can see them doing it. The script is filled with padding; there is no reason for this movie to run over two hours.

It has neither intrigue nor a convincing mystery. In the second half, Stark is forced to catch up to what we already know with regards to a villains’ identities. When he inevitably discovers these people for who they really are, it does not feel like a big deal. It is anticlimactic. There is no secondary twist that Stark is able to deduce while the rest of us feel the rug being pulled below our feet. It seems the material has lost touch of what makes Stark such an interesting character in the first place: he is constantly ahead of us–his mind compromised or otherwise–and almost never the other way around.

Talented actors like Rebecca Hall, who plays a botanist, Guy Pearce, a scientist, and Gwyneth Paltrow, the love interest of Stark, are not challenged. Their roles are one-dimensional, diluted by a laughably bad screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black. The one that stood out to me is James Badge Dale, playing a super soldier who works for The Mandarin. Savin is rarely given a chance to speak so it is smart for the actor to apply unwavering tension in his body language. He is robotically sinister; those eyes can put frost on a popsicle. I wished Savin had a backstory.

Directed by Shane Black, there are few reasons to watch “Iron Man 3.” One of them is a scene involving Iron Man attempting to save thirteen people in free fall after being sucked out of a plane. But the rest is folly, oozing mediocrity in every one of one its metallic pores. Iron Man deserves a better story; we deserve a better movie.

The Proposition


The Proposition (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

After showering the Burns house with bullets, Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mike (Richard Wilson) sat in front in front of Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), the man in charge of whoever was responsible for the rape and murder of a woman and her family. Just when Charlie was convinced that only capital punishment was in store for him and his brother, the captain surprised him with a proposition: If Charlie was able to find and kill his brother Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of the Burns gang currently in hiding, within nine days, both he and Mike would be pardoned of their crimes. Directed by John Hillcoat, “The Proposition” was deceptive because its plot involved a man on a mission to kill another who happened to be of his own blood. While it managed to deliver many scenes of violence, from being impaled by a spear through the chest to bashing one’s skull, what kept it a fascinating experience was its insight, utilizing the sadness of the characters to communicate that some things just had to be done or finished even if that halfway through minds became convinced that the initial course of action was rash or reckless. Captain Stanley was one of the most interesting characters, a man of the law but not above stepping outside of it if he felt necessary, a leader who was intent on “civilizing” the fresh Australian land. As an opponent of disorder, although he had the badge, the gun, the men, and the reputation to work toward his vision, circumstances surrounding the Burns problem proved time and again that he was a bug in a rainforest of starving birds–as powerless as the citizens he vowed to protect. When the camera focused on his wrinkled face and tired eyes, we could sense the inner turmoil in his brain upon realizing that his plan involving Charlie was more complicated than he had anticipated. On top of the stressful nature of his job, he also had to think about his wife, the mousy Martha (Emily Watson), who wanted to know what was going on but was consistently set aside the moment she opened her mouth. What I did find somewhat strange, however, was the screenplay by Nick Cave didn’t really delve into the depths of Charlie ‘s motivations. He did a lot of laying about for most of the picture’s running time and yet he was asked to make a lot critical decisions toward the end. His importance as the film began to wrap up didn’t feel quite earned. But this isn’t to suggest that he wasn’t given some spotlight. Particularly memorable was when he met Jellon Lamb (John Hurt), a smart bounty hunter who happened to have a bit of alcohol in him at the time, and the extended conversation, with threats thrown about here and there, that led to a recommendation of Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.” It was an odd scene but very skillfully executed, especially when the camera fluidly moved from one area to the next as words were being exchanged. Conversely, it stood frozen in its tracks when not a word was uttered which amplified an already high level tension and forced us to consider that perhaps we were milliseconds from witnessing something especially gruesome. I found “The Proposition” admirable because it wasn’t afraid to step inside bizarre territories while remaining true to the lyricism of inhabiting and slowly claiming an unadulterated land and culture. This was best showcased through a dichotomy: a person’s whipping in a “civilized” area and a beautiful a cappella being performed out in the wilderness.

Lockout


Lockout (2012)
★ / ★★★★

When Snow (Guy Pearce) was charged with first degree murder, he was sentenced to serve time in M.S. One, a maximum security prison in space where the inmates were cryogenically frozen in order to minimize incidents. Meanwhile, the president’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), currently on a mission to make sure that the prisoners were being treated fairly, became trapped inside the space station when all the captives were woken from their slumber, caused a riot, and demanded to be set free. In turn, authorities informed Snow that if he alone could rescue Emilie, he would be pardoned of the crime he didn’t commit. Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, although “Lockout” showed promise with its template involving a clear-cut rescue mission, it quickly turned into an action film devoid of fun and thrill. It seemed like the only thing it had going for it was Snow’s sarcastic remarks. Each jab was like an open sore ripe for the picking; a possibility that perhaps Snow didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. Everything and everyone was suffocatingly serious, almost robotic, that a glimmer of a genuine human personality was not only welcome, it felt critical to the survival of our interest in the film. Still, aside from Snow’s wit and endurance to take punches, we knew nothing about him. He was fun only on the outside which made the eventual romantic connection between Snow and Emilie very unconvincing and desperate. For someone who was supposed to be worldly, Emilie was incredibly annoying. Her self-righteousness made me question if she really was worth saving. I disliked her so much, I wished halfway through that Snow would realize what a pain she was and force her to drag her own weight. It seemed like every time they had an option to get out, she found a way to sabotage his hard work. I found no reason for him to be attracted to her aside from her looks. Furthermore, the action sequences were limp. The motorcycle chase scene on land looked very much like video game released ten years ago, its blurriness and lack of lighting were utilized as so-called techniques to hide its lack of pixelation. I actually snickered to myself because it was all supposed to be moody and futuristic. I didn’t buy it one bit. The battles that took place in space also lacked a proper level of believability. When crafts exploded and missiles sped through one another, loud booms and swishing noises could be heard. I could have ignored that space was a vacuum if it had had several interesting things to offer. But since I was so fatigued from the passive script and lack of originality, I was more sensitive of its shortcomings. Based on the screenplay by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather, and Luc Besson, “Lockout” presented very little substance and even less energy. The tattooed prisoners, obviously the villains, might as well have been target practice in a shooting range. Most of them did nothing, said nothing, thereby amounted to nothing. There were supposed to be almost five hundred prisoners in the facility. I think I only saw about fifty walking about. The rest of them probably remained asleep in the realization that the movie was not worth their attentions.

Death Defying Acts


Death Defying Acts (2007)
★ / ★★★★

Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Benji (Saoirse Ronan) were a mother-daughter pair of charlatans. In order to get by, they deceived people into believing that Mary had the ability to communicate with the dead. Their path crossed a famous magician’s when Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) announced he would hold a contest. The psychic who could guess the exact words locked inside a box would win ten thousand dollars. Written by Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward, “Death Defying Acts” had the elements to make a period drama that we could invest in, but none of the elements were explored in a meaningful way. Take the relationship between Mary and Benji, for example. Mary held a practical view of the world. She distrusted men and everything they symbolized. The one thing she was interested in was how to survive in a world where women were considered as less than. Although the two shared the same bloodline, Benji was different from her mother. Still a child, she was interested in fantasy, magic, and held an idealistic view of love and romance. She helped her mother to gather information required to convince people of Mary’s so-called gift although she didn’t necessarily agree. Instead of focusing strictly on the budding romance between Mary and Houdini, I would have liked to have seen the specific triggers which inspired the mother and daughter to change. At the end of the film, we saw the two women switching perspectives. However, I wasn’t convinced of their respective changes. It felt forced and, at times, cloying. As for Mary and Houdini falling for one another, although Zeta-Jones and Pearce tried to do their best, the script played like a dumb romantic comedy but with big dresses. There was a painful lack of electricity between the couple. They spent their time dancing, having dinner, and standing from great heights but there was no sense of urgency on why the two should (or should not) be together. The contest was an awkward appendage. Houdini was supposed to be suffering from guilt because he wasn’t next to his mother when she died. There were reactions shots of the Houdini looking sad but they failed to move me. I wanted to experience the details of his emotional trauma. Dramas thrive on details and “Death Defying Acts,” directed by Gillian Armstrong, lacked important scenes filled with passion and enthusiasm. I wished the film was told from Sugarman’s perspective. Sugarman (Timothy Spall) was Houdini’s manager and, at times, a sort of guardian who tried to reel in the leash when Houdini got too wild. But he was too often brushed to the side and played for laughs. It was a key miscalculation because Sugarman was the only one who commanded a believable perspective.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sally (Bailee Madison) was sent by her mother to live with her father (Guy Pearce), Alex, in Rhode Island while he and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes), Kim, restored the historic Blackwood mansion. Despite the manor house being dark and creepy, it wasn’t haunted by ghosts. It was, however, home to little creatures in the basement whose diet consisted of children’s bones and teeth. Based on the screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” reached a synergy between horrific and fantastic elements. Although Sally had the tendency to mope about, we loved her because she was sassy, and we cared for her because her childlike curiosity often got the best of her. It could have taken the convenient path of simply putting children in peril to deliver cheap thrills, but the material strived to be more than that. It provided us with a proper background story that involved Blackwood (Garry McDonald) and his desperation to save his eight-year-old son from the teeth-hungry creatures. Like the best horror movies, I found myself wanting to know more about the source of horror and why the antagonists were motivated to do the things they did. The jump-out-of-your-seat and cringe-in-your-seat moments were earned. Naturally, Alex didn’t believe in her daughter’s stories. He believed the stories were a product of adjustment issues. After all, Sally felt like she wasn’t wanted by her mother, claiming that she had been given away. It was expected that the father would eventually realize that the creatures from her daughter’s imagination were actually real. It was a matter of exactly when. Perhaps as he looked through a keyhole and a needle was waiting on the other side? When Sally took pictures using a polaroid camera during an important dinner? It teased our expectations and the answer was given to us when we least expected it. However, I wish the filmmakers showed less of how the creature looked like. It didn’t help that their bodies were revealed early on. It didn’t give us time to speculate. The teeth-lovers were CGI and I wasn’t too convinced that the animation complemented the gothic interiors of the mansion. It would have been just as effective if we only saw the creatures’ glowing eyes as they hid in darkness from under the bed and staring ravenously on the other side of the hallway. Furthermore, Kim could have been more developed. She was Sally’s eventual mother figure (rather than an evil stepmother) who was reluctant in her ability to parent. That struggle was interesting and an exploration of her feelings of inadequacy would have added another layer of emotional resonance. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” directed by Troy Nixey, was accompanied by a gorgeous art direction and cinematography. Like the towering Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” it made me want to explore its interiors as well as its grounds.