And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Quickie Reviews: The Glass Castle; Wind River; The Fencer; A Taxi Driver

I’m generally a fan of (or maybe a sucker for) movies based on real people and events, so that could be why I had a pretty good week at the movies with two mainstream dramas and two foreign films. First up: The Glass Castle, based on Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir about her unconventional upbringing and coming to terms with the complexities of her relationship with her dysfunctional parents and remarkably normal siblings. The film features a stellar cast that includes Brie Larson (Room), Chandler Head and Ella Anderson as Jeannette (through the years), Woody Harrelson as her fundamentally flawed but occasionally well-meaning father, and Naomi Watts as her eccentric artist mother. The parents are the types to define homelessness and squatting as a ‘lifestyle choice’. I haven’t read the book, but those around me who did seemed satisfied with the way the film played out. Others, however, (while still acknowledging the strong performances) criticized the movie for glamorizing or romanticizing what they saw as dangerous, irresponsible and often cruel parenting. I thought it walked the line fairly well, in much the same way as last year’s well-received indie Captain Fantastic.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: The Boss; Demolition; Mr. Right

The Boss – Sadly, The Boss kinda sucks. Or, to put it more gently, it’s really weak. The R-rated comedy starts out with huge promise and some very funny moments, but fizzles rather fast. Here’s the gist: Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a very successful but not-so-nice Suze Orman/Martha Stewart hybrid type who gets sent to prison for insider trading. She emerges from prison friendless and broke, but determined to rebrand herself and rebuild. Considering she screwed over a lot of people during her rise to the top, including her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), Darnell’s road to redemption is sure to be a rocky one. The Boss is no Bridesmaids. The plot is extremely contrived, relying mostly on physical comedy gags to break the monotony. Without a doubt, the character of Michelle Darnell needs to stay relegated to smaller, SNL-style skits. This full-length feature film treatment doesn’t do her, or the audience, any justice. Case dismissed.

While We’re Young

While We’re Young is a solid indie that many adults (even of the mainstream variety) should be able to relate to. It’s a comedy/drama about a middle-aged, childless couple named Josh and Cornelia Srebnick (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) whose best friends have just had a baby and seem to be drifting away. Then they meet Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a pair of twenty-something hipsters who become their new besties and inject new life into the Srebnicks’ otherwise stagnant personal and professional lives.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman has no competition, because there is nothing remotely like it out there. It is a semi-fantasy, dark comedy with an amazing cast and a highly imaginative script. Michael Keaton has never been better, and in this role he shows off a kind of raw emotive talent that I would not have guessed he possessed. Playing Riggan, a former mega-star who was known for his role as the immensely popular superhero Birdman a couple of decades back, he has come down to earth and is trying to make a name for himself again, only this time with a Broadway play that he wrote, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” He is directing it and starring in it as well. And he may just be losing his mind.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a surprisingly feel good flick, and a great deal of that is due the performance of Bill Murray, who has followed his early comedy career with some wonderful dramatic turns. He is fortunate to have teamed up with a very talented newby writer/director who crafted a layered character for him to sink his teeth into. But the film also has what could have been a pretty cliched story at its center that is slowly turned on its head as the film chugs along. Not that Bill Murray isn’t funny in this role. There are some very funny bits in that deadpan, world weary way only he can pull off. It’s just that the laughter is tempered with some dramatic moments that keep it from being typical curmudgeon comedy.

The Impossible

You’ll need the tissues for this one. Seriously. It’s nearly impossible not to cry watching The Impossible. The movie is gripping and intense, horrifying and uplifting- all at once. It’s based on the true story of a family literally torn apart by the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than a quarter million people in 2004. The Impossible seeks to humanize the enormous catastrophe by focusing on this one family’s plight. It’s hard to watch. But it’s even harder to look away.

J. Edgar

What a strange man, that J. Edgar Hoover! And yet – for nearly 50 years – he managed to wield tremendous power and influence as the controversial head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. This biopic seeks to show us how, and why.

Fair Game

Fair Game is billed as a political and/or spy thriller – but it’s really a horror movie, at least for democrats. It’s a cautionary tale about government operatives, back-channel dealings, vendettas, and the manipulation of facts to promote an agenda. And it’s based on a true story – which makes it even scarier!

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Allen’s latest is set in London and in early voiceover we are treated to a quote from Macbeth. “Life’s but a walking shadow …a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Woody might have been reviewing his own film. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn’t really full of sound and fury but ultimately isn’t about anything except life. It takes a family and follows their individual stories as they split up, marry, lust from afar and get on with it.

Mother and Child

I’m not quite sure how I ended up watching Mother and Child instead of Shrek 4 this weekend, but I think it was the casting that ultimately roped me in. Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits. Really – how can you go wrong? Performance-wise, you can’t. These pros can make anything watchable. But the movie does have some major flaws in character development, and I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it except to those particularly interested in the subject of adoption.