Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Reader

The Reader
2008. Rated R, 124 minutes.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Starring Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Lena Olin, Jeannette Hain.

Plot: In 1958 Germany, 15 year old Michael has an affair with 30-something Hanna which has a profound effect on both of their lives. At her request, they develop the habit of Michael reading aloud to her before sex. A few years later, they cross paths again. This time, her past comes to light causing Michael much stress.

The Good: You can't begin to discuss this movie without mentioning the performances. Kate Winslet proves she is one of the very best actresses of her era, once again turning in stellar work and earning her first Oscar (Best Actress) in the process. She deftly portrays Hanna as a woman with both a horrendous past and an embarrassing inability. To his credit, director Stephen Daldry handles both well. He reveals her past in a painful instant and hints at her inability but doesn't fully divulge it until it becomes relevant to the story. Now, back to that acting. The unsung hero of the cast is David Kross as the younger version of Michael. Watching him grow from a wide-eyed teen to a jilted lover and then a torn man is a joy. His work renders Ralph Fiennes, who plays the older Michael, little more than a placeholder. Finally, even though its unabashedly a tragic romance, it never resorts to the histrionics of melodrama. This makes the characters feel as if they're people reacting to real situations instead of performers going for their big moment.

The Bad: Two aspects of the movie that could've elevated it are left largely underdeveloped. First, there's young Michael's relationship with his family. It's introduced and peeked at, promises to add an interesting layer but is abandoned abruptly. Second, older Michael's relationship with his daughter needed to be either greatly expanded to build upon the parallellability of his with Hanna or cut out completely. As is, it just seems like a superfluous epilogue.

The Ugly: Young Michael's family dinners - talk about tense.

Recommendation: This is a very good movie but seems to have gotten its Best Picture nom on the strength of it's performances and the fact that it deals with one of the Academy's favorite subjects, the Holocaust. That said, its still a solid drama telling an intriguing story, just not one of my five faves of the year. Prudes beware, Winslet and Kross spend much of the first half of the movie naked.

The Opposite View: Julie Rigg, Movie Time - ABC National Radio

What the Internet Says: 7.7/10 on (6/8/09), 62% on, 58/100 on

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2009. Rated PG-13, 150 minutes.
Director: Michael Bay.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez.

Plot: An ancient Decepticon known as “The Fallen” returns to Earth to destroy blah blah blah to gain ultimate blah blah blah moowahahahaha (evil laugh). Robot fighting, screaming and anatomy jokes ensue.

The Good: Director Michael Bay knows that the majority of people attending a Transformers movie want to see giant robots beating the crap out of each other so he gives us more of it than the original. Since he also knows that most of these people are boys, no matter what age, he throws in pretty girls, off-color jokes and slow motion, lots of slow motion. Most of it features either a robot being ripped apart or Megan Fox running “Baywatch” style. And living up to its name, nearly everything transforms. Like its predecessor, it’s a visual spectacle.

The Bad: Like numerous other sequels, this suffers from “more is less” syndrome. The action and silly jokes increase exponentially from what was in the original, yet the things that might make it engaging are far flimsier and much less coherent. Its simply two and a half hours of flashing lights and noise. Therefore, we never really care if what’s-his-face activates the thingamajig with the whatchamacallit. Even worse, if your main focus is robot fighting then the robots should be easier to tell apart. This isn’t that big a problem for the Autobots who are pretty much color coded. However, almost all the Decepticons of any significance are plain chrome and blend together in combat. Shallow as it seems, I’d like to know which bad guys are actually fighting. And don’t even get me started on the two jive-talkin’ bots.

The Ugly: Two words: robot scrotum.Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to see this or not. If you’re not sure, see the first one first with a surround sound system cranked up pretty good, if possible. After that, imagine it bigger, louder and dumber.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on (6/28/09), 20% on, 36/100 on

MY SCORE: 4/10