Category Archives: Drama

Magic Mike (2012)

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Magic Mike

Magic Mike

Set in the world of male strippers, Magic Mike is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Channing Tatum in a story inspired by his real life. The film follows Mike (Tatum) as he takes a young dancer called The Kid (Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the fine arts of partying, picking up women, and making easy money. — (C) Warner Bros.

I figured I’d watch this one eventually, though I was in no hurry. Still, it got some great reviews so I assumed it would be worth the time. I was wrong.

There is not enough dancing to make this a fun, musical romp. Were it to focus more on the club & dance routines, I could at least appreciate it on that level. By trying to add some deeper, dramatic narrative, they set the bar higher . . .

. . . and fell far short.

This is not a convincing drama. It is not compelling love story. Perhaps if they had spent less time on the club & dance routines, they could have focused on telling a good story.

In far too many scenes the dialogue just d-r-a-g-s along, as if the actors are doing a lazy table-reading and keep losing their places on the page. There are some fine actors in this cast, yet they are so poorly used that McConaughey (who built his career on wooden, one-dimensional characters) actually gives the most convincing performance.

The major players in this drama repeatedly make bad decisions, making it very difficult to care what happens to them in the end. Even our “hero” is unlovable for any reason beyond his ripped body and accomplished dance moves.

We are supposed to care that Mike wants to make furniture out of junk, but we never see enough of that side of him to believe it – and the finished pieces they show are pretty blah. We are to feel for his plight trying to save money for, and get a loan toward, this dream – but we don’t know what he actually needs money for. More junk? We are to just accept that while he is alley catting around, he is somehow finding love with a chick that he repeatedly disappoints – and with whom he has zero in common.

Can’t really imagine recommending it to many folks, so based on the Word of Mouth Scale it get half a star.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 80%; Audience 63%

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The Women (2008)

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The Women

The Women

A wealthy New Yorker leaves her cheating husband and bonds with other society women at a resort.*

 
This was another movie I never intended to see. But, it was on …

First, the glaring issue running throughout the film – it is a cautionary tale about bad plastic surgery. Several of the women in this cast were, at one time, considered attractive to some degree. Unable or unwilling to age gracefully, they have undergone procedures that have turned them into caricatures. Scary, rubber-faced caricatures.

Now, to the film itself – also a scary caricature…of the far superior movie it claims to update.

  • Meg Ryan plays Mary Haines as a ditsy, uninvolved, overwhelmed mother. It’s hard to feel any empathy for her, which makes the story arc a tough sell, indeed.
  • Annette Bening is a grating Sylvie Fowler, a poor echo of the positively caustic Sylvia from the other versions.
  • Eva Mendes‘s Crystal Allen seems barely appealing enough for a one-night stand, let alone worth leaving your family for (except that Meg Ryan plays the wife as ridiculously unappealing, too)
  • Debra Messing is Edie Cohen, playing her as a schlumpy, goofy earth-mother. Hard to believe how Messing could become even less appealing than she has been in other projects, but she managed it here.
  • Jada Pinkett Smith, always grating, is cast as butch-Lesbian Alex Fisher. Oddly, hers is one of the least irritating characters in the film (which isn’t really saying much with this script)
  • Bette Midler is cast as Leah Miller, an apparent fill-in for Countess De Lave who, in the original, was both amusing and pivotal. Midler’s character has no purpose in this film. Her inclusion, in fact, was so odd I’d have thought it was spliced in from a different movie if she hadn’t dropped the name “Buck Winston” (the cowhand who wooed Countess De Lave). If they weren’t including the rest of her story-line, there was no reason to have her at all.

The list goes on – and on – and on. I could go through the entire awful cast, the awful butchered script, the bland direction, the ridiculous ending.

Unless you are in the mood for a glaring example of how not to remake a classic, avoid this one.

* This description is from IMDB for this remake, but it describes the original. The divorce resort is not a part of the 2008 version.


The Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 13%; Audience 41%

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

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Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl

Lars (Ryan Gosling) and Gus (Paul Schneider) are the grown children of a father who died recently and a mother who died giving birth to Lars. But as brothers, they couldn’t be more different. While Gus lives in the family home and has a loving wife (Emily Mortimer) and a child on the way, Lars leads a more reclusive existence in the family’s garage, hiding in plain sight of his small, wintry hometown. Painfully shy and eccentric, Lars fails to recognize that his co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner) has a major crush on him, and he picks up on a casual reference made by his cubicle mate, who mentions a website where you can order life-sized, anatomically correct sex dolls. But instead of seeing a sex object, Lars sees in this doll a potential life partner and the only kind of social “peer” he can relate to. So Lars orders a doll, whom he names Bianca, and begins treating her with utmost gentlemanly respect — and as though she’s his real-life, flesh-and-blood girlfriend. As he begins bringing Bianca with him everywhere he goes, the townspeople have to find just the right balance between supporting Lars’ unusual romance and trying to introduce him to a more conventional partner. Lars and the Real Girl was written by Six Feet Under scribe Nancy Oliver and directed by Mr. Woodcock’s Craig Gillespie.

~ Derek Armstrong

 

I’ve been wanting to see this one for a while, but had a hard time ‘selling’ it to D. After all, “guy falls in love with a sex doll” doesn’t exactly scream quality entertainment. In this case, however, quality entertainment is exactly what we get.

The part of Lars seems written specifically for Ryan Gosling’s delivery; his quiet, quirky, charmingly unsure delivery brings Lars to life for viewers (much as Lars’ affection brings Bianca to life for the townspeople). His pain and growth really come through.

Kelli GarnerAlso particularly well cast is Margo (Kelli Garner, right), whose shy infatuation with Lars has you wishing for his recovery. The lengths to which sister-in-law Karin is willing to go in her attempts to reach Lars in his self-imposed bubble may have been less believably sweet if not for the deft portrayal of Emily Mortimer

The stand out in this very strong cast though was, for me, Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar. She is the doctor who treats “Bianca” in her physical ailments, and Lars in his emotional ones. The role is small and quiet … and absolutely vital. Through her we learn who Lars is and why he is in such pain. Through her (and the other ladies), Lars learns who he is and how to deal with his pain.

So, we have a movie about death, and pain, and sex-dolls…and I am going to recommend it to most of my friends. It is lovely and sweet and explores what relationships mean to us – with family, with friends, and with that special someone (or something?) to whom we give our heart.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 81%; Audience 83%

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The Way (2010)

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The Way

A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

I’ve been a fan of Martin Sheen‘s smaller, quieter work since I saw him decades ago in Sweet Hostage. He is best when he is acting least, and playing a father mourning the loss of his son fit him like a glove.

As Tom (Sheen) makes his physical journey, he is making an emotional journey, as well. Along the way he meets fellow “pilgrims”, each with their own story. Some he meets for only a moment, some join him on his travels; Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), the sweet, sad-sack from Holland; Jack (James Nesbitt), the bold and brash travel writer from Ireland; Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), obnoxious, judgmental Canadian.

The film treads gently through the poignant moments, giving us some laughs to lighten the mood. The location shots are beautiful and Emilio Estevez‘s direction is reverent. This movie also did more to inspire me to travel than anything I’ve seen since Shirley Valentine planted the “must see Greece” seed decades ago.

The story won’t be for everyone, I think a certain maturity will be necessary to appreciate it. Most of those in my circle are out of their teen years, though ;-), so I will be recommending it to most of them.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 82%; Audience 83%

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Atlas Shrugged Part II (2012)

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Atlas Shrugged Part II

With the global economy on the brink of collapse, Dagny Taggart discovers what might be the answer to a mounting energy crisis and races against the clock to prevent the motor of the World from being stopped for good.

Who Is John Galt?As I said when I reviewed 2016: When it comes to political movies of the Right, you can generally tell if they hit their mark by the critics’ reaction. The “independent” critics show their true colors by panning the movie for making points with which they disagree, not the quality of the film itself. So it is with the Atlas Shrugged trilogy; both installments released so far have been panned by the film critics, most of whom out themselves by criticizing the “message” rather than the movie. Both installments have rated highly among the audience, however, perhaps also more for the message than the movie.

On that front, Part II does a much better job with the message. It is a cleaner, smoother, more entertaining movie. Though in some ways it suffers by comparison.

Before I bore you with my nit-picks over casting, I should share what is good here.

  • The story is better, and could stand on it’s own even without Part I to set the stage.
  • The higher budget is definitely in evidence (though some effects are still…iffy).
  • The flow is smoother, allowing Rand’s speeches to seem a part of the narrative, rather than a narrative of their own.
  • The cliffhanger is more intriguing, leaving me wanting to see what happens next
  • The message is tailored more to our current world; whereas Part I gave us a mysterious distant-future-sometime* with cities in ruin, Part II could be happening next year. (Yes, that makes for a continuity issue)

Because it was a better movie, and I will recommend it to the same people in my circle, Atlas Shrugged: Part II gets 4 1/2 on the WOM Scale.


And now, casting. My impression leaving the theater: Stronger movie, weaker cast.

I was disappointed when I initially heard they had reworked the entire cast. I tried to brush it off, hoping that with the increased budget they were bringing in more seasoned actors. Unfortunately, in almost every case, the replacement actor makes a diminished impression. This is most apparent when it comes to Dagny Taggart, our heroine, and Lillian Rearden, the conniving wife of our hero.

Taylor Schilling may have been simply a passable Dagny, but she was at least passably likeable – and relatable. Samantha Mathis is … not. Her Dagny is drawn and rough, conveying every emotion as some odd variation of a pouting grimace. I realize Dagny has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but portraying her as unflinchingly sullen denies us glimpsing the fire & light inside her. I found I was less invested in her and the fight she was waging.

I’m guessing they may have been unable to bring Rebecca Wisocky back as Lillian Rearden; I can think of no other reason to forgo one of the brightest spots from Part I. Wisocky brought a gleeful edge to Mrs Reardon that Kim Rhodes lacks (and let’s face it, a little humor is welcome in a Rand tale).

Grant Bowler was a much better Hank Rearden if only because he was less of a caricature version than his replacement. Our new Hank, Jason Beghe, would have been fine if cast originally. However, as a new edition, his delivery seems just a bit like a gravelly voiced impersonation – and the chemistry between Dagny & Hank is just not there.

The new Eddie Willers, Richard T. Jones, was a positive move. As much as I enjoyed Edi Gathegi in Part I, this Eddie is much more commanding – and more convincingly protective.

The other casting changes mostly created issues with continuity, making it even more difficult to keep track of the plethora of characters.

Please, producers, if you plan on presenting a story in “III” parts, do your best to secure the same talent each time. It makes it so much easier on your audience

* The DVD says “The year is 2016”, but it felt much more distant


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 0%; Audience 84%


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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

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Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childers is a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been forced to become soldiers.

Another movie “based on true events”; this is a more vivid, higher budget “Kony 2012” The final product is sub-par, but still conveys what is a gruesome, horrifying situation in Sudan.

The main failing is that the film tries to tell us too much of the tale. The narratives get a bit disjointed as we follow Childers’ come to Jesus, crisis of faith, family tension, business success, business failings, friendships gained, friendships lost, battles fought, children saved, ups & downs… An inability to focus the story, rather than sending us in several directions, dampens the ability to fully invest in any part of it.

I understand (and appreciate) that it was important to reveal our hero’s flaws, but he comes across as simplistic. As does much in the movie.

It’s actiony. It’s tragic. It’s well cast. It just didn’t quite succeed. Some will enjoy it, but not many in my circle.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 29%; Audience 64%

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Redemption: For Robbing the Dead (2011)

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Redemption: For Robbing the Dead

Another small, independent movie D found. So small, in fact, that  Rotten Tomatoes has no reviews as of this writing. There is little information about the movie online, but according to the blurb on the movie’s official site, it is based on actual events. It also was filmed in the actual locations, including Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.

For Robbing the Dead is a story of compassion. It follows the story of Henry Heath, a law officer in 1862 Salt Lake City. Heath finds himself responsible for the well-being of a prisoner whom he despises – an impoverished French immigrant named Jean Baptiste who is convicted of robbing the graves of the recently deceased. Baptiste is exiled to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. With no one willing to look after this man, Henry Heath becomes Baptiste’s sole defense against the hostile isolation of Antelope Island and the contempt of an entire community.

Margot Kidder is a surprise here, as the condemned man’s slightly ‘tetched’ wife. Barry Corbin is a good choice for the wizened Judge and mentor to the lawman who catches – and cares for – “the ghoul Jean Baptiste”. The stars, John Freeman as Heath and David Stevens as Baptiste, are convincing in their pain and dysfunction.

It took me a while to decide whether I liked this movie or not (I did), and so I am not sure how much of a recommendation to give it. There are some unpleasant bits, but only so much as is necessary to convey the story. The subject matter itself is tough, we are talking about grave robbing & frontier justice, after all. However, the bigger story is about Grace and sometimes finding it in the most unlikely places. For that reason, I think I will recommend it to most in my circle – because this film is odd enough, and small enough, and quirky enough that I think they will all find something positive in it.

It isn’t a great movie, but I am giving it four stars.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 60%

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