Sunday, 29 January 2012

Short Takes: The Descendants; The Iron Lady; War Horse

I’m loathe to approach the review for ANY film in such a lazily flip manner, but…I just can’t. Neither of these is an abysmal film by any means, but I suppose one could consider my tepid response to them as indicative of my general response to so many of the films in 2011. I can’t muster up the dedication offer full perspectives on either of the three…so…bit notes.

“Paradise can go fuck itself” directed by Alexander Payne; written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

And, this movie too…okay, that’s harsh and not really my actual feeling. I suppose, no –I know - that The Descendants doesn’t hit me in the way it wants to, and not in the way that it undoubtedly will hit a slew of other people. And, it’s because almost everything in it comes off as decidedly synthetic to me. This is more than a little ironic since in his opening voice-over monologue Matt King tells us that he’s intent on showing the world that Hawaii isn’t the tropical paradise it’s made out to be; people have real problems here. Okay, I’m game – or, I really want to be. I heard that it’s mentioned in the trailer, so I suppose it’s not a spoiler to say that The Descendants reaches part of its crux when Matt finds out that his comatose wife has been having an affair with a real estate developer of some sort who, incidentally, stands to benefit from a potential decision which Mike may make concerning the selling of some family land; because the name “King” isn’t subsidiary – his family apparently owns a significant portion of the island on which they live since they’re descendants from…umm, I can’t recall actually (I saw this at the beginning of January) – Hawaiian royalty, let’s say. Mike’s the title-holder so he has THAT burden along with the cheating, comatose wife burden, along with the added encumbrance of a father-in-law who hates him; a teenage daughter who is a typically angsty, angry, rebel; a younger daughter who flips people off and calls her sister a motherless whore; his older daughter’s annoyingly mellow boyfriend who tags along for the family escapades, and – it would seem – no friends to stand by him.

Homeboy’s got it rough, y’all, because he is a VICTIM. It doesn’t matter that he a) admits to being a back-up parent in an opening monologue that doesn’t seem to be considered after it is expelled, b) so apparently unaware of what goes on around him that his daughter who is away at boarding school realises that his wife’s having an affair and he doesn’t and c) unable to offer any gems in terms of parenting skills – he’s a noble creature who upon realising that his cheating, comatose wife won’t wake up starts out on a trek to find the man who has cuckolded (aside: cuckolded is a word I learned from Shakespeare’s Othello, and wouldn’t you know it. The Descendants features a a scene where the husband talks to his dead wife, a scene that seems put there simply to show how much Mike has suffered, and not because he’s come to any sort of development over time,) him so said man will have the chance to say goodbye. As any travel story works, surprises will be made, bonds will be forged and it comes off to me as so decidedly uninspired I can’t help but discern a bitter taste in my mouth at its machinations. And, really, I’m not against movies having characters being somewhat reprehensible but the movie is so bizarre about its ideals and that aforementioned railing scene at a semi-corpse is just odd, oddly placed, oddly acted and so strange since it’s as if we’re supposed to cheer it on…which is just rather weird. And, then it all wraps so, so, so very neatly with overly earnest speeches, and photogenic moments (that final shot) eliciting little more than a shrug from me. So….umm, I didn’t hate it. (Nick, I am sorry.)


“What a strange beast you have become”: directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall

Look, cards on the table – War Horse is not the type of film that was going to work for me. A boy following his horse over a continents, years and owners because he loves him so very much? Umm, sorry…. I can’t. Not really. Seven people I read have mentioned its similarities to How Green was My Valley (which I happen to like), and – okay – fine it looks like a Ford movie, hell it perhaps even looks better because War Horse looks GOOD. Which is about the only thing is truly excels at, and I think even if all the pieces had fallen into place and War Horse had managed to deliver on all fronts I still wouldn’t have been able to muster up more than pleasant appreciation, and the thing is War Horse isn’t quite good on all other fronts. Although, really, it’s not bad either – so that sentence might be disingenuous. In fact, I can’t put my finger on anything significantly wrong with War Horse other than the fact that my temperament does not allow me to be the type of person who gets caught up in the manoeuvrings of a horse for two and a half hours. Theatre folk help me out here – doesn’t Albert’s relationship with the horse remind you of Jack’s freakish relationship with Milky White in Into the Woods? The relationship between a boy and his animal isn’t meant for humour here, it’s all in earnest – think, sometimes mawky, sometimes cloying and oh, so very deliberate earnest.

Really, I can’t fault it for that, neither will I fault it for its attempt to evoke a period gone by. Everyone seems down on nostalgia this year, and if Spielberg is taking a trip back with this one…he’s allowed, I suppose. What I don’t care to allow is the way the story just ambles like one of those pastures it’s set on with apparently no sense of direction, which is all well-and-good if this is a bildungsroman but ISN’T all well-and-good when your lead character is a horse. And, the story is only robbing the actors of chances to portray people (though Emily, darling, Watson rises above it so beautifully) and I can’t really judge Irvine’s performance because I’m never sure if Albert is the slightest bit touched, or just…umm, I don’t know. He’s saccharinely sweet in his earnestness. It’s not completely off-putting. The entire thing is just so – unchallenging and it doesn’t seem to have anything to say, not even about what I’d assume is the major theme of love and perseverance against all odds…etc, etc, but golly it tries too hard. But, it’s hardly a poor exercise. And, I wager that if this is the sort of thing that seems like it could be your thing then it definitely will be your thing because it’s okay in the way it does its…thing. It’s just not really a thing for me. (Sorry, Alex.)


“One must know when to go”: directed by Phyllida Lloyd; written by Abi Morgan

…and, this one, my friends doesn’t know when to go, it doesn’t even have the good sense to realise that it probably shouldn’t have arrived in the first place. Good thing first, (and yes I will say it has its one good thing which are part and parcel with its bad things) is that because it’s wonderfully noncommittal about its subject The Iron Lady is never difficult to watch. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to watch. There is no tension, no appearance of sustained dramatic beats so the film sits there and it’s easy to watch and its poorness never as objectionable as it could be if the film was COMPLETELY terrible. Small mercies. Okay, I lie – Meryl Streep is okay, too. Look, it’s another in a long line of roles where Meryl dons an accent and (if you’re a fan, like millions of you are) *transforms* herself into X person. I, myself, am not an ardent fan of this. When I like Meryl, it is at her least ostentatious and playing the woman with the Iron fist donning two accents (one more RP than the other) it’s a performance that can be nothing BUT ostentatious especially in a film like this which is just inert that I have to wonder why on earth it was made other than to give Meryl the chance to traipse around, touch her face poignantly, glare and then raise her voice in a series of what seem to be ham-fisted Oscar bait clips in the worst of ways. And, that’s a sentence that pains me to write because I never like to think that a film was made simply for awards’ purpose but The Iron Lady has so little about its protagonist that you’ll forgive me if this is where I suspect its roots lie. And even though it might win awards for the performance it’s shame because other than what I assume is a fantastic accent, Meryl’s performance goes nowhere.

Look, a good performance can come from a terrible film – not often, but it can happen. But, a good performance cannot come from a film so undemanding, tepid and lazy and sometimes Lloyd chooses some inexplicable decisions to make. The cutaways aren’t serving the story, and they’re not serving the actors either. I am, embarrassingly, not as au fait with Thatcher’s legend as I wish but from what I do know it’s so painful that it an attempt to – what I assume is – humanise her Abi Morgan tacks on the hook of Margaret and her husband Denis and their relationship being buoyed around The King and I and, wouldn’t you know, “Shall We Dance”. And, perhaps it’s deliberate that they make Margaret’s assertions on storming the boys’ club mentality of those around her some sort of reaction to her *knowing* that she’s “just” a woman because the film essentially boils down her entire life into a delusional, batty woman unable to let her dead husband go. It’s not deliberate, though, Lloyd and Morgan just seem to have approached the project in the wrong way. That ghost issue could be could work with a more adventurous team, but it’s use here is baffling, comical, ridiculous and just rather strange. I don’t dislike biopics generally, but films like this get me so incensed because it sets the genre back 20 steps. No, just, no. (Sorry, Walter.)


So, umm, short takes – with apologies, because – honest – I’d love to live in a world where I loved all the movies that came out. This is not that world. What think ye? All three of these just might win at least one Oscar, maybe more, in a month’s time. What do you think of them?


Castor said...

Wow... I wouldn't have never expected you to loath The Descendants! I actually just saw it yesterday and thought it was a touching movie almost certainly a bit heavy handed with the sentiments (I would have wanted more dry humor). I also had a beef with how the daughters are pictured as completely messed up in the first 20 minutes but then the issue is basically swept under the rug through the rest of the film.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I am alone on my island of love for The Iron Lady, which is admittedly unfocused and bats, but far more interesting to me in that aspect than most other bios.

Albert *does* seem slightly touched! I noticed that too! The way his eyes blank out and mouth gapes open before he starts yelling about the horse is so...creepy.

Actually does me good to see two of my faves underwhelmed by (you, nate) and two outright hating (nick, glenn) The Descendants. Because if I hear one more time that it's the best movie of the year, I will break something.

Nick Prigge said...

Sigh. You know, Andrew, I'm starting to understand how you feel about "The Help." Not that I've come around on the "The Help" but I feel like suddenly I'm running around from place to place desperately arguing in favor of "The Descendants." At least we're both passionate about the films we adore, eh?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

castor i'm a bit intrigued that you thought i'd like it. any specific reasons? (granted, i thought i'd like it more.)

walter aaaaw, two of your faves? *pumps fists*. even though they're terrible used, i love the roll-call of actors in war horse and though irvine is fine, i sort of wish that david kross had the lead. guy needs to make another movie pronto.

nick incidentally, i'm not even passionate about the help, so i understand your need to argue for the descendants more than my need to argue for the help. maybe i am passionate about passion?

Alex in Movieland said...

No reason to say Sorry... :P Yes, I enjoyed War Horse more than The Artist & The Descendants & The Help & Midnight in Paris.

I knew very little about the book/play, so I didn't know what to expect. Not without its problems, but mostly enjoyable for me.

Alex in Movieland said...

Also, I'm more of a C+ on The Descendants... it's VERY inconsistent, but had a couple of good scenes.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

alex although i didn't HATE td i can't think of a scene that i particularly liked :(

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