Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Orange Rock Diaries

     In this edition of DVD reviews we will cover a quasi-Zombie flick, two British films, one full of heart and one heartless.  Not my strongest batch of reviews ever, but we might as well get started...

  Oranges and Sunshine - This is the true story of a social worker in 1980's England who discovered a plot by which large numbers of English orphans were deported to Australia, never to discover the fates, or in many cases identities, of the families they had been born to.  It is the first feature film by director Jim Loach and it is something of a mixed bag.  Nothing stands out as bad about the film, and it is touchingly rendered in places.  However it lacks a narrative twist or punch sufficient to help the film transcend the status of acting showcase for its star, Emily Watson.
     That's EMILY Watson from Hilary and Jackie, Breaking the Waves, and Angela's Ashes (we'll forget about War Horse), not EMMA Watson from the Harry Potter franchise.  Miss Emily is always reliably great, and she fails to disappoint in this role.  She plays a woman pushed to the brink by both the horror of these children's experiences and the strain that she experiences from a secretive government pushing back.  Her struggle to be stronger than her trials becomes the central narrative and dramatic force of the movie.
     I applaud director Loach's decision to give an actress mostly sidelined into supporting roles in recent years a much deserved moment in the sun(shine).  However, while competently rendered, the other elements of his picture suffered a bit by comparison to the central performance.  3 1/2 of 5*

  Brighton Rock - I have this tendency, with stars who just improve with age, to want to see all of their work as they get older.  So we're going to blame Helen Mirren, and my undying devotion to her talent, on the fact that I watched Brighton rock.  She was good as always, but ultimately not enough to save the picture.  What was so wrong, you ask?  Well, three things primarily...
     I hate to pick on specific actors, especially when they are young and learning their craft, but Sam Riley is not having a good year with me.  He starred in two of my least favorite 2011 releases: this film and 13.  13 was not so much his fault, although I did keep wanting him to get shot in every repetitive round of Russian Roulette so that the film would just end.  There is just no way to not hang a good deal of the blame for why this movie failed on the constantly hunched shoulders of this muggy, campy performance.  Many great movie gangsters have personas that ooze tension.  As Pinky, this young man gushes it like a geyser.  He's like the hyperactive love child of Brando's Corleone and McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange.  Hopefully, Mr. Riley will show me something subtler in On the Road.
     Which leads directly into my second gripe:  When Pinky is played as such an obvious, Grade A sociopath, how can we see Andrea Riseborough's character Rose as anything other than a self destructive moron for getting involved with him.  There was room for Ms. Riseborough to play Rose as feeling more coerced than she appears to in all this, but she plays for out and out obsession right to the end.  You almost want her to meet a dark fate for the sake of the gene pool.  Coupled with W./E., this was not this talented actress's best year either.
     Both of these stars may have been saddled by poor directing choices, however, as the ending is completely botched in how it was handled.  I don't like to use spoilers, so I won't go into detail any greater than to say that it devolved into camp that evoked unintended laughter where the film most needed pathos to succeed.  With no other films on his directing resume, first timer Rowan Joffe may go back to screen writing for a bit, where he has met with much greater success (The American).
     John Hurt and Andy Serkis turn in fine supporting work, but are unable to elevate the film any more than Mirren is.  If I had seen this film earlier it would have definitely been on my Tin Toadstool list for worst film of the year in 2011.  I hoped I would disagree with the consensus on this one, but...1 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Chernobyl Diaries - I've never written a DVD review post in which I've had to unload on two films in a row like this, and I'm not sure I've got enough venom left to do it properly, but here goes...This is rapidly turning into an article about first time directors who appeared to be better at their original roles in the film world.  First time director Bradley Cooper was best known as a visual effects artist on films like Fight Club and Let Me In before bringing us the Chernobyl Diaries and out of charity I'm going to always try to remember him that way.
     It's the sort of film where you are glad that they used a mostly unseasoned cast of younger actors because any feature film will look good on their resume right now and they can look back on making this film as a good choice and and positive experience.  I'm going to leave them alone now, they weren't experienced enough to direct themselves.
     The premise of the movie is that this group of young American tourists visit one of the towns just outside of Chernobyl and get trapped there overnight.  It quickly becomes apparent that the town is populated by nocturnal zombie like mutants.  There, I've ruined the whole thing.  That's all the story they bothered to come up with:  screaming teens running from shuffling, slow moving, unintelligent predators, who still somehow seem to have the upper hand.  The biggest surprise of the script is the appearance of a mutant bear on the tenth floor of a building (maybe a symbol that even post-Glasnost, Mother Russia will eat these American brats up, hey I'm trying for some subtext).
     There, I have ruined the picture enough that you won't waste time watching it.  My bit of public service for the day is done.  1 of 5 stars.

     I don't know about you, but I feel better.

Related articles:  Best of 2011 - Best (and Worst) Picture

No comments:

Post a Comment