Friday, September 14, 2012

Being Margaret's Mirror

     This installment of DVD reviews features a drama that just missed masterpiece status, a father/son dramedy that got nowhere near, and a fairy tale told twice upon a year.  Might as well jump in...

Being Flynn - Writer/director Paul Weitz is probably best known for launching the American Pie franchise.  I won't say that I think Being Flynn has the potential to become that sort of cultural phenomenon, but it is definitely a step in the right direction from his last two films (Little Fockers and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant).  This story of an estranged father and son has a lot of charming bits and moments, although it ultimately fell a little short of forming a cohesive and impressive whole.
     Paul Dano is almost always a mixed bag for me as an actor.  He stars here as Flynn the younger.  Some of his scenes are so naturalistic.  In others he seems to almost be winking at the camera every other line.  He definitely has talent, but there is an element of self awareness that need to be eliminated from his performances before he truly achieves greatness.  Hopefully his upcoming star turn in Ruby Sparks will live up to the early promise of the promotionals.
     Julianne Moore is sort of wasted playing his mother in flashbacks.  She is fine in the role (as usual), but is not really given enough chance to shine to warrant taking up the time of one of our most talented actresses who could have been working on something else.
     The real stand-out of this film is Robert DeNiro, who is actually given a character with enough depth to show his talent off for once.  It's been a tough few years for Bobby the Great, but hopefully this return to near form is a harbinger of what we can expect from him in Silver Linings Playbook later this year.  If so, the Academy might recognize him in the Supporting Actor category come February, but not for Being Flynn. As Flynn the elder, though, we do see shades of the actor we all knew and loved reawakening.
     I can't say that I heavily recommend this movie, but I certainly didn't hate it.  For DeNiro fans it is definitely worth checking out.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*

Margaret - Oh, Margaret..I knew that this film was going to be the one to invalidate my Best of 2011 lists and if I had seen it in time it would definitely have figured into Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and especially Actress.  This is auteur Kenneth Logerman's sophomore directorial effort (his first being the much lauded You Can Count on Me from all the way back in 2000), although he has written several other films including 2002's Gangs of New York.  This film actually completed shooting several years ago and spent years in post-production limbo before it finally was released late last year.  I am so glad it did.  This picture has an excellent script, well developed characters, great acting and fell just short of a masterpiece.  The first fifteen minutes form one of the best opening sequences that I have seen in quite some time.
     The best thing about Margaret, though, is Anna Paquin.  She plays Lisa, a slightly self possessed young woman whose involvement in a horrible tragedy haunts her and slowly brings out the very worst in her personality.  The entirety of Margaret was shot before she ever played her first scene as Sookie, and it is amazing to see an actress so young able to say so much about issues of guilt and self worth in such a complicated and nuanced way.  She is truly a gem and I can't wait to see what she does when she returns to film full time.
     She is backed up by a highly talented supporting cast including such familiar faces as Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, and Allison Janney.  The real stand out, though, is J. Smith Cameron as Lisa's mother Joan, who might have made my Best Supporting Actress list for 2011 if I had seen it in time.  Watching Joan, you can totally understand how Lisa became who she is.
     The only fault I find with the film is some of the editorial choices made, particularly in the last half hour of the film.  From early on, the pacing makes use of rough, time displacing cuts that speed the story along.  I have to believe that these are intentional flourishes enacted as a device to keep the viewer jarred and confused, echoing Lisa's own state of mind.  They work quite effectively in the early part of the film, even if it does take a few minutes after each jump to figure out how much time has passed and what occurred in the interim.  Near the end, however, these harsh scene changes and chronological leaps become more pronounce in a way that looks almost unintentionally sloppy.  Other than this one criticism (which cost the movie its five star rating), Margaret is a near perfect film.  I highly recommend it, and for Paquin fans it is a must see.  Available on DVD.  4 1/2 of 5*

Mirror Mirror - I always thought it was very strange that two movies based on Snow White but focusing on the Queen were both being released in the same year.  I REALLY hope that this is the lesser offering, so I don't have an even worse experience watching "Huntsmen" when it comes out on DVD.
     This is not the first time I have gone on record stating that director Tarsem Singh's efforts are all style with very little substance (that would be when I reviewed worst of 2011 ranked Immortals), but this film certainly did nothing to curb that impression.  It is lush to look at.  Even though I found them to be a little overblown, Mirror's costumes might well find recognition in this year's awards season.  That, however, is about the best thing I can say regarding the picture.  It seems to be attempting to offer a more family friendly alternative to "Huntsman", but it just comes off as childish.
     Poor, miscast, Julia Roberts is dreadful as the queen.  I'm not sure why the choice was made to have everyone speak in faux British accents, but she cannot even maintain hers from one sentence to the next.  Worse, her natural southern twang leaks out between the cracks in a way that it hasn't in years.  She is a little more convincing in the secondary role of magic mirror, but this flick is a long way from a career high.  Nathan Lane is even worse as her buffoonish sycophant.
      If there is one stand-out performer (in a good way), I suppose it is Armee Hammer, who is handsome and charming as the prince.  Since the role requires little else, he fills the shoes pretty effectively.
      There is one good scene in the film:  a fight in the forest involving giant wooden puppets, that is actually rather entertaining.  Aside from this one bright spot (which earned the film an extra half star in my ranking), there is little to recommend here.  I'd rather have spent the time rewatching a couple of Once Upon a Time episodes.  2 of 5*.

     That's it for this time.

Related Articles:  Best of 2011 - Best Picture (concluded)Writers and DirectorsThe Performances: Part 2Immortal Skin, Forgotten Dreams (Immortals review), Sept Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part 2

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