Monday, July 30, 2012

Silent Grey Salmon

     In this edition of DVD reviews, we explore a romance about the zen of fishing, an outdoor survival adventure, and a Uruguayan horror flick with very little dialogue.  No, after you...

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Director Lasse Hallstrom certainly has greatness within him, but he seems to be having a difficult time letting it out in recent years.  The last film that garnered him any real critical or awards oriented attention was 2000's Chocolat, and many feel as if THAT film were somewhat overrated.  I personally do not feel that he has ever topped his 1993 masterpiece What's Eating Gilbert Grape, easily one of my top 100 films of all time.  However, I digress.  We are here to discuss his current DVD release, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
     The film certainly has a unique premise: a fisheries expert is recruited to help create a habitat capable of sustaining salmon in the wilds of Yemen so that a local sheik can fish and ends up falling for a consultant in the sheik's employ.  It sounds much more fascinating than the script ever allows it to be.  I'm not sure how screenwriter Simon Beaufoy went from Slumdog Millionaire to 127 Hours to...this, but it hits all the most predictable plot points that a romance possibly could.  You see everything coming from way before it occurs because we've seen exactly this sort of romantic comedy a million times before.  Except when we saw it before, it was funny.
     Let's be kind and assume that it was Mr. Hallstrom's capable direction that allowed the cast to thrive in these somewhat tepid waters, because they actually did, making more of the material than I would have thought possible.  I'm already a huge fan of Ewan McGregor's and Emily Blunt is growing on me with each time that I see her.  They actually manage to pull a lot of chemistry together in spite of the pat storyline, and both elevate the production beyond what it would otherwise have been. 
     The standout performance of the film for me, however, was given by relative unknown Amr Waked as the sheik.  Although given mounds of mouthy monologues from some "Zen Islam" perspective on fishing and spirituality, he manages to pull off his role with charm and extreme watchability. 
     To sum it up - script:  lame, actors - saved the day.  If you can suspend your disbelief and put on cliche blinders more easily than I can (which applies to most people), you might well enjoy it.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

The Silent House - I hope no one is too disappointed that this review is actually of the Uruguayan, original version of this film and not the recent Elizabeth Olsen starring English language remake.
As of right now, I have no plans to review that film, but if even one reader leaves a response in the comments that they would like me to, I will certainly change that.
     This film was Uruguay's entry into the Foreign Language Film competition at the Oscars this year, which is how it got on my radar.  It did not secure a nomination, or even a spot on the short list, but I thought the premise sounded interesting.   It was...somewhat worth the wait, but some holes in the plot of the story keep me from giving it a truly enthusiastic recommendation.  Suffice it to say that it would make for significant spoilers if I were to expound too much upon the nature of said holes.  Basically, the big twist ending doesn't make much sense in light of some of the things that we see earlier in the film.  I'm being very tough on scripts this week, probably due to my recent post in my Best of 2011 series:  Writers and Directors causing me to view things through that lens, but I'm not wrong either.
     On the other hand, the film does have some really effectively chilling moments, particularly this bit with a Polaroid camera very near the end, that are highly effective.  I also must commend the lead performance by young Florencia Colucci, in her film debut.  The camera rarely leaves her for most of the movie's run time, and she never misses a beat.
     If you are a true horror fanatic (I try to be, I LOVE a GOOD horror film) than this is definitely an above average choice for you to indulge your obsessions with, but it does have some flaws.  I still enjoyed it, despite my aggravations with continuity.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

The Grey - To an extent, this is a pretty typical man vs. nature, outdoor survival action/adventure flick, but it is a very good one.  The thrills are intense, the suspense is palpable and the story moves along at an excellent pace.  Writer/director Joe Carnahan's previous endeavors have been a somewhat mixed bag (Smokin Aces and The A-Team), but The Grey seems to indicate that he is currently headed in the right direction.  Some of the effects with the wolves seemed a little forced, but that is a relatively minor complaint in view of the big picture.
      I also cannot conclude this post without praising the acting job turned in here by star Liam Neeson.  He is always good, but here he is really excellent, painting a portrait of a protagonist that is a little deeper and more well rounded than the hero of this type of film usually tends to be.  I'm sure that the early release date (and possibly even the genre) will render his hopes for awards recognition nill by next February, but don't be surprised if he earns a mention somewhere in my Best of 2012 series next year, because he really is excellent here.
     Dermot Mulroney and Frank Grillo are also worth applauding, as they gave impressive supporting turns, even if the rest of the supporting cast seemed a bit one dimensional.
     I would definitely recommend The Grey, even if it does not seem to be your thing.  It was most of what I look for in a good action movie, and very little of what I fear from one, making it my top recommendation of the films covered in this post.  Available on DVD.  4 of 5*

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