Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Would You Whistle Carnage For a Buck?

     I just want to apologize for the title of this article, but what would you have done with these three titles?
Sometimes it's not easy being a movie frog.
     Today's reviews include a screen adaptation of a highly regarded stage play, a thriller set in post war Bosnia, and a bio-doc about a man who may be the world's greatest living horse trainer.  A diverse group of films, let's start with...

Buck - I really liked this picture, despite the fact that the premise did not grab my interest the first time I heard about it.  It was one of the most celebrated documentaries in the critics' circles last year, yet failed to garner an Oscar nomination.  Buck tells the story of celebrated real life "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman: his childhood of parental abuse and fame as a child "celebrity roper" on the rodeo circuit, through his years as a young horse trainer, to his current life traveling the country teaching others his methods.  First time director Cindy Meehl does an admirable job, largely by getting out of the way and letting her subject tell his own story.
     It helps that Buck himself is very charming and engaging, with a simple straightforward way of talking that is comfortable yet interesting, with a healthy ability to laugh at himself.  Where this documentary really shines, however, is in the footage of Buck's modern day clinics.  His way of establishing true communication with the horses is captivating, almost magical to watch.  If you have ever had that kind of a relationship with an animal, where you really understand and trust each other, I think it enhances the experience.  However, I dare even the most jaded non-pet owner to not be mesmerized watching how quickly this man can get a horse he has never met before to understand everything he asks of it.
     I have to say, I think the Academy was a little crazy to leave this one out of the running this year.  I can't imagine it won't end up being one of my five favorite 2011 documentaries.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  4 1/2 of 5*

Carnage - In a good stage production of the play God of Carnage, the audience is woven into a feeling of being trapped and claustrophobic brought on by the characters' inability to leave the room.  This feeling is enhanced greatly by actually being in a room with the actors and some of that element is lost in the translation to film.  I think that this movie actually suffers from the same ailment as A Dangerous Method in that it does not take enough liberties with the source material to take advantage of the different medium.  With Roman Polanski at the helm, I would not have expected this but the movie feels a little...well...stagy.  I love live theatre but it only really works if you see it live.
     The acting is pretty uneven.  Waltz is fantastic and Winslet is also very good.  Foster has some great moments, and some that seem a little overblown.  Reilly is a little weak by comparisons, sounding at times more like an actor reading lines than a character speaking spontaneously.
     It's not a bad movie.  It has some great dialogue and Winslet and Waltz are very entertaining.  I won't say I don't recommend it, just that I had higher hopes for Polanski and company.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

The Whistleblower - Like the first film in this post, Buck, The Whistleblower is the debut feature length film for director Larysa Kondracki.  Unfortunately, it does not show nearly as much promise.  I will say that star Rachel Weisz gives a respectable performance (and Vanessa Redgrave is delightful as always in a smaller part), but most of the rest of the cast is kind of meh...
      This film would have made a great Lifetime TV movie.  It has a tough as nails woman struggling in a man's world.  She's a single mother fighting to regain custody of her children.  Its principle villains are subjugating and taking advantage of women.  It gives the heroine a taste of romance, but her mission comes first.  It's almost too specifically aimed at its target demographic, and fails to transcend that purpose and appeal to a wider audience.  Oh, and so many repetitive shots of dirty young girls huddling in corners and crying.  The first one was horrifying.  The eighth one was horrifying in an entirely unintended manner.
     If you are a big fan of Weisz this might be worth a look.  Otherwise....  Available on DVD.  2 1/2 of 5*

     Next time up it's time to play the music before this message self destructs...hehehe.

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