Michael Clayton REVIEW
Director – Tony Gilroy
Cast – George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sidney Pollack, Austin Williams
Tony Gilroy, first time director and seasoned writer (The Devil’s Advocate, the Bourne franchise, among others), brings a surprising sense of maturity and a great handling of character to the drama/legal thriller Michael Clayton. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, and scored the Supporting Actress statue for Tilda Swinton’s excellent performance.
The plot is set in motion when a high-profile lawyer (played with absolute perfection by Tom Wilkinson) goes berserk. He switches sides and starts gathering information to prosecute the very company (fictional U-North) that he has been assigned to defend in a class-action lawsuit. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has to come in and clean up the resulting mess, while Karen Crowder, the general counsel at U-North (Tilda Swinton) must deal with the repercussions of an incriminating document she finds.
While movies about evil corporations fighting decent men and women, usually lawyers, are hardly new (John Grisham seems to have made his living out of such movies based off his books) Michael Clayton successfully avoids becoming just another legal thriller. Tony Gilroy avoids focusing entirely on the importance of what happens in the story, and instead focuses mostly on the character of Michael, played by Geroge Clooney, and his reactions to what happens in the story. When the conclusion happens, we aren’t relieved that the good guy has won. We are relieved that Michael will now have some internal peace because the good guy has won.
George Clooney works against his usual charm here, and portrays a man who is not all he once was, and yet also has never realized his full potential. He makes references to his past experience as an excellent lawyer, but it is implied he wasn’t as good as he portrays himself. His current job as a “fixer” is an ambiguous one, and he constantly worries that he will be replaced if the company with whom they are merging sees him as worthless. He tries to open a restaurant on the side, but fails. He tries to free himself of a poker addiction, but fails. However, when presented with a moral dilemma at the end of the movie, he does take the right path. This does free him somewhat of the burdens he has had, and the doubts that have been plaguing him about his life.
At the core of the movie is the idea of the increasingly blurring lines between ones personal life and business responsibilities, and of the personal loss involved in a successful business career. Tilda Swinton’s character brings out this idea the most in a couple of remarkable scenes (remarkable in both their writing and Tilda’s exquisite acting). We see her first preparing answers to questions to be asked in a TV interview. She is preparing herself for the day, obviously tormented by the thought of the interview. She goes over her answers over and over again, changing a word here, an insinuation there. She is almost in tears. Next we see the interview itself, where she spits out the prepared answers like a fax machine. It is an enormously successful scene.
The pacing of the movie is deliberate and measured, seemingly coming in pulses, rather than one continuous climb to the climax. In other words, it is what the average movie-goer would call boring. However with just a small bit of patience this movie presents a wonderful and atmospheric character piece.
Michael Clayton is a remarkable movie, especially for a first-time director. The cast is beyond reproach, and the cinematography and superb editing go wonderfully toward the mood of the movie. It has an insightful plot, yet never sinks into a typical message movie. It is a great movie that defies categorization. See it, then give it a day or two, and watch it again. It will not disappoint.
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War of the Worlds REVIEW
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto
War of the Worlds tells the familiar tale of hostile aliens attempting to wipe out humanity and take over Earth. It is based on the book of the same name by H. G. Wells. The book was adapted to film in 1953, with that adaptation cited as a “classic” (whatever that means anymore.)
Steven Spielberg’s latest take on the story updates it to modern-day New Jersey. The main character is now a divorced dock worker with two kids to take care of over the weekend. They must survive an alien attack, while along the way growing together as a family. It’s not as corny as it sounds, as the “growing together” aspects are played as a second-hand result of the attack, and is not given front and center placement.
The film is quite scary, and features excellent acting from all the cast concerned. Dakota Fanning (as Tom Cruise’s daughter) is wonderful. She is among the best child actors ever, and is better than most adults. This and her amazing work in Man on Fire really cemented her as a real talent in my opinion. Tom Cruise himself is at the top of his game here, even though it could be said he just plays an extension of all the characters he always plays. However you look at it though, he is very natural on-screen, and can portray a surprising variety of emotions. Couch-jumping or not.
Despite being a premise ripe for a horror movie treatment (or rather, what people think is horror nowadays, i.e. blood and guts), Spielberg keeps the bloodshed in War of the Worlds low. However he ratchets up the tension to a very high degree, which in my opinion is where real horror comes from. We don’t get scared by people being ripped apart, we are scared by thinking they might get ripped apart. This tactic is put to effective use many times throughout the film. The design of the aliens also works in favor of the movie, as they are slender, yet sturdy; graceful but menacing. One scene in particular where they rise out the water is very chilling.
The movie is strongest when it focuses on Cruise and family as they survey the mass destruction caused by the aliens. Planes crash, flaming trains roar past (an EXCELLENT scene), and we are immediately placed in their shoes. The camera is almost always at eye level, which keeps us with the characters very effectively.
The movie does go off track in the ending of the movie, and does sometimes come across as too “Hollywoodized”. The ending itself is dealt with as best as possible though, and as it was the ending of the book we shouldn’t nitpick too much. I just wished it fit better cinematically. There are a couple moments as well that seem pandering to the audience, as when Tom Cruise yells out to the soldiers a vital piece of information regarding the alien “walkers” near the end of the movie. It is something they should have been able to see for themselves, yet it felt like we needed Tom Cruise to get his moment in the spotlight. We didn’t need Tom to take action and save the day. The whole movie is all about things happening to him, and thus focuses on his reactions to those things. Thematically, it would have been better I think to have ditched that particular spot, and had the soldiers realize that piece of information for themselves.
War of the Worlds is a solid alien-invasion movie, with wonderful performances. The great acting and special effects are unfortunately let down by a slightly weak script. I do recomend this however, as it is very solid and features an excellent Dakota Fanning.
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Upcoming Movies – March 2010
There’s just a short Upcoming Movies article for now. Just to clarify, this is not a list of My Eagerly Anticipated movies, just an observation of what we see coming to us in the future. (Though some of them of course I will look forward to seeing.) In no particular order, here is the Upcoming Movies – March 2010 post.
—– Robin Hood —–
For those worried that Ridley Scott seemed to have copied Gladiator for his Robin Hood flick, it seems those fears are put to rest a bit in the newest trailer. My interest went up a bit, I think.
Release Date: May 14, 2010 —– TRAILER —–
—– Iron Man 2 —–
Jon Favreau looks to repeat his huge Iron Man success with the sequel, which of course unleashes more villains, played by Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell.
Release Date: May 7, 2010 —– TRAILER —–
—– Tron Legacy —–
The original Tron was ground breaking in its special effects, and while Tron Legacy won’t be that important in the history of film, its design is breath-taking in my opinion.
Release Date: December 17, 2010 —– TRAILER —–
—– How To Train Your Dragon —–
The latest family film from Dreamworks hits our screens later this month. It features Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, and Craig Ferguson, among others.
Release Date: March 26, 2010 —– TRAILER —–
What do you think? Interested in any of these? Any other upcoming movies you really want to see? Leave a comment!
Alice in Wonderland REVIEW
Director – Tim Burton
Cast – Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Tim Pigott-Smith, Paul Whitehouse
Alice in Wonderland is adapted from one of the best loved children’s books of all time of the same name, by Lewis Carroll. It is the latest of many adaptations, and as such its director, Tim Burton, recognized that a new approach needed to be taken to the classic tale. There is no point, he rightly thought, in merely repeating the work of others.
Burton decided to set the story some years after the books, and now Alice is in her late teens and her family is trying to marry her off to a horrid, snobby, snot of a boy. She is swept off by the White Rabbit again, who has been trying for years to get her back to Wonderland, where she must fight the legendary Jabberwocky and the evil Red Queen.
The cast performs admirably for the most part, especially for a movie shot almost entirely against green screen. The one problem in the cast is surprisingly Johnny Depp, whose Mad Hatter is all over the place, and not in the right way. First of all his accent changes dramatically from whiny and effeminate to butch and Scottish from time to time, and that is never explained. I got the sense that Depp is running out of weird characterizations, and decided to go with a mish-mash of Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka.
The bright spots, acting-wise, are probably Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter, as the White Queen and Red Queen respectively. Anne is wonderfully dotty and “ditsy” with her over-the-top and purposefully on-the-nose portrayal of the do-gooder sister of Helena’s evil Red Queen, whose enlarged head dominates any scene she is in.
But despite the consistent work by a cast of Burton regulars, the story is the real let down of the movie. Despite a fabulous array of characters (most of which go horribly under-used) the story is the old well worn tale of a girl forced to find her true self by going on a journey to defeat an evil monarch in a fantasy land. It all leads up to a battle, where all the old clichés are trotted out on full display. Alice is told she alone can fight the Jabberwocky, and with no help (Why? Especially when it turns out to be SO easy to kill…), she finds the strength to turn down her snobby wannabe-fiance, etc etc. This makes the whole thing SO dull, SO boring. We have heard the sage words of advice, we have seen the plot SO MANY TIMES before. It is a pity Burton’s wonderful visual creativity doesn’t also extend to his story telling.
It is an old familiar complaint, to be sure, but a trend that is becoming more and more obvious. We can cry out for inventive story telling all we want, but nothing happens. Why? Because to be honest, the average moviegoer hasn’t seen as many movies as most reviewers, and thus a) doesn’t recognize old and overused stories, or b) are just looking for a little relaxation, and don’t want quality art. They want entertainment. All we can do (as people who have the audacity to think we know anything about movies) is write reviews for each other, and then go watch the movies we actually like. For as long, at least, as they keep making them.
Tim Burton is wonderfully inventive with his visual design, but the lackluster story is told with such boredom and with such a lack of energy that it hurts the movie irreparably, in my opinion. The cast is good, but none really excel. We still need our definitive Alice adaptation. Maybe sometime, someone will get it right.
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