In this installment of DVD (and sometimes Netflix Instant Play) reviews we cover an amazing directorial debut, a Portuguese melodrama, and a biopic about one of the most controversial public figures of the twentieth century from a director who lived through almost all of it (I know, I have penance to do for that one, sorry Mr. Eastwood). Let the games begin:
Tyrannosaur - It seems like almost all of my favorite movies from 2011 made no money at the box office. I swear, it's not a personal bias. In 2010, films like Inception, Black Swan, and How To Train Your Dragon were at or near the top of my list. Even Exit Through the Gift Shop was a serious success story as far as docs go. But that was 2010...
I LOVED Tyrannosaur. Actor turned writer/director Paddy Considine should be immensely proud of his freshman effort. In it, he tells the story of a broken man who meets a good Christian woman whose world falls apart. It's about how easily man (or woman) can become like a beast and how treacherous the climb back out of that state can be. It is brutal and hard to watch in places. Everything means something, yet nothing about the film preaches at you or interrupts the believability of the story for the sake of symbolism.
Speaking of the believability of the story: You would be hard pressed to find two more natural performances or fully realized characters on the screen than this film's two leads. There was a movement among critics last year to try and get more attention paid to Olivia Colman in the awards races. If I had seen this film at that point I would have been rooting for both her and co-star Peter Mullan, who I found to be every bit as good.
This is a simple film, that tells an interesting story, with brilliant performances and it just works. Check it out. Available on DVD, coming soon to Netflix Instant Play. 5 of 5*
Mysteries of Lisbon - One of the late director Raoul Ruiz's final projects before his death last year, this film tells a story that Dickens would have told had he been Portuguese. It is full of twists, turns, accidents of birth, and unforeseen connections between people, time, and events. It is a mystery that we enter in the middle and discover largely in flashbacks covering over a decade of history. It covers this at its own relaxed pace, the film is six and a half hours long. I think that an hour or so could have been trimmed, but nowhere near enough to make it into a normal length movie. There is just too much story here. Treat it like a mini-series and you should be fine.
I will say that the acting was a little melodramatic for my tastes, even if the story is a bit of a melodrama. There were a few too many teethmarks in the (beautiful) scenery that didn't belong there. Otherwise, I would likely have scored the film higher, as the plot is fantastic. Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play. 4 of 5*
J. Edgar - This film is the Leo show in much the same way that I pegged The Iron Lady as the Streep show. Most of what there is to recommend in this film is DiCaprio's performance. It is not his best work, but it is still beyond what most actors could have done with the role and served to elevate the quality of the movie overall. Which is not to say that this is a BAD film, it's just a little old-fashioned and has some annoying make-up work. In THAT respect, The Streep Show was actually stronger.
Eastwood's style as a director is beginning to appear something of a throwback. It was an interesting experiment to try and pair him with a writer like Dustin Lance Black, a writer very much of the NOW, and see if this could make him edgier or more current. The problem is that their styles never really meshed, and you wound up with a movie that is not quite one thing, and not quite another.
Aside from DiCaprio, Judy Dench gets best in show as J. Edgar's mother, although it is a fairly limited role. Watts was respectable in another small part, and Armee Hammer is pretty uneven in a much larger one. All in all, sort of mixed bag. Available on DVD. 3 1/2 of 5*