Thursday, March 22, 2012

Killing the Dream Contagion

My three new DVD reviews include the weakest entry in the great Jessica Chastain film festival of 2011, a high profile disaster flick, and a fairly standard horror movie with some A-list talent attached.  Let's hop to it:

Texas Killing Fields - This is the fifth of the six films that Jessica Chastain appeared in during 2011 that I have seen.  While she is definitely the strongest thing about the film, that is the most backhanded compliment since Reagan said that Bush was the best vice-president in his memory.  Don't get me wrong, she does make the most of the material unlike her co-star the often brilliant Sam Worthington.  Often. His over the top stylings here, however, call to mind every angsty junior partner in every B cop drama of the eighties.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chloe Grace Moretz do respectable jobs, making the most of the material if not quite overcoming its limitations.  To be fair to director Ami Canaan Morgan, this is her first attempt at creating a major feature with name talent, and many a great director has put together a clunker or two before hitting their stride.  Even a more experience director would have trouble spinning gold out of a script which is basically a murder mystery in which the killers might as well have ridden into town wearing black hats.  If the audience knows who the killers are from the get go, you have to create suspense by making the audience wonder how the detectives will catch them.  This flick made just made you feel incredulous that they hadn't caught them yet.  2 out of 5*(1 1/2 but for Jess)

Dream House - Director Jim Sheridan has made a couple of really good movies, but this was a bit of a let down.  The acting is definitely stronger than in most horror films.  Heading a cast with Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz should and did accomplish that.  However, the beginning is lacking in chills and suspense.  Then comes the twist, which made the middle a little more interesting, but created a plot hole when combined with the resolution.  This hole reveals itself just as you are getting to the pay off scenes, rendering the believability non-existant.  I, at least, was too angry about the plot's obvious contradictions to feel any fear.  I can't say much more without spoiling it, but I'll post a comment that explains what I'm talking about so:  spoiler alert in the comments section of this article.  2 1/2 out of 5*

Contagion - Steven Soderbergh is not only a prolific director, but a highly accomplished one and the disaster movie Contagion is certainly no embarrassment to him.  It is slick, stylish, well acted, and has a cohesive storyline.  It is, however, a little short on thrills for its genre.  Fighting a disease does not make for as much action as a disaster movie about a threat of a more macrocosmic nature.  This is understandable.  Soderburgh tries to avoid the cheesiness that many films of this genre suffer from by keeping the professionals acting like professionals, rather than engaging in histrionic speechifying.  This is an admirable choice, but the film swings a little too far in that direction, leaving the audience feeling as detached as the characters are forcing themselves to be.  Most of the characters who are not professionals dealing with the threat (Jude Law as a blogger, Gwyneth Paltrow as patient zero) are unsympathetic in some way, again inhibiting an emotional connection.  Even Matt Damon as a grieving husband and father keeps his emotions in check for most of the film for the sake of his daughter.  It is only when the threat has passed that he allows himself a moment to let it all out and it is as much of a relief for the viewer as it is for him.  While the film left me a little cold, it is highly watchable and well made, but not a must see.  3 1/2 of 5*

1 comment:

  1. Dream House spoiler alert: Daniel Craig's character and his family have moved into a house only to find that it's previous owner had supposedly killed his wife and two daughters there and was recently released due to a lack of physical evidence against him. The twist comes when Craig learns that he is the man who he thinks has been terrorizing his family and that he has imagined up this new identity for himself and his family who no one else can see because they are actually dead. Are they ghosts or figments of his imagination? The viewer must conclude that they are figments of his imagination because his wife seems to be just as convinced of her new identity as he is. Then, late in the film, she affects the physical world in a way that suggests she must actually be a ghost. As a ghost, however, she would have known who she was from the start, not sharing in his delusion or the knowledge of all the details he had constructed to flesh it out. Big plot hole!!!!