Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review Catchup (Pt. 1)

Lots of movies to cover, so we'll get right to it.

Carrie
A solid effort that doesn't quite reach the level of the original, this remake (or reimagining, if you prefer) puts more focus on Carrie, Sue, and Miss Desjardin with less on Chris and her boyfriend.  Still, it fails to differentiate itself from the original (Lawrence D. Cohen gets top writing credit despite not working on the film) and one can sense quite a bit of producer influence on director Kimberly Peirce.  The changes made do work and hint at a better take on the material, but it falls short of its potential for most of the running time - only coming alive towards the end as we get to see a bit of destruction hit the town at large instead of just the high school.  Chloe Grace Moretz doesn't hit her stride until Carrie's powers are fully unleashed, failing to come across as shy and introverted.  I wish that Elle Fanning had been cast instead, and maybe had Moretz as bully Chris.  Not that Portia Doubleday did a bad job as Carrie's nemesis, but it would probably had helped the film as a whole to recast those two key part.

Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell and Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross are both excellent in their roles.  Nothing against Amy Irving, who was quite fine as Sue in the original, but the additional focus given to Sue gave Wilde much more to chew on, and she sells the conflicted teen wrestling with her own guilt quite well.  Elgort, in particular, is amazingly charming as Tommy; one hopes he gets more roles since he has charisma and presence in spades.

The two main adult characters, Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) and Margaret White (Julianne Moore) are a mixed bag.  I can't decide if the lack of real authority from Desjardin during the scene where she scolds the girls for their treatment of Carrie is intentional (thus showing the character's powerlessness to stop the bullying) or not (Greer comes across much stronger in virtually every other scene).  Moore, however, shines as Carrie's mother.  If Piper Laurie's performance is the equivalent of Grand Opera in the original, Moore's is the equivalent of an intimate black box production.  There is nothing grand about this damaged woman:  she is every day, human horror.  Yet there was palpable tension when Carrie returned home from the Prom and Moore lurked in the background.

Technically, the movie was fine, with a slight bit of overly-done CGI during the destruction of the Prom.  The best-in-show part would definitely be when Chris flies into the windshield of her car when trying to run Carrie down.  But otherwise, most of the tech was not noteworthy, which is quite surprising given the cinematography of Boys Don't Cry.

The original Carrie is, to me, a solid 7.  Since this one isn't quite as good, but still rather enjoyable, I would place it at 6.5.

 Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon's modern take on William Shakespeare's play is funny, poignant, and crowd-pleasing.  Shot in black and white at Whedon's residence, the intimacy of the direction works well with the performances, creating an immersive slice-of-life tale.

The single greatest change from the play is the allusion to a prior affair between Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) that changes this from two stories of first love (the other couple being Fran Kranz's Claudio and Jillian Morgese's Hero) to one of first love and reunited love, creating a parallel between the two that enriches the experience.

Acker is easily best in show.  Whether trading barbs, comically ease-dropping, or bittersweetly recalling her prior experience with Benedick, Acker's portrayal of Beatrice is fully realized.  Denisof ably plays his part, nailing the physical comedy, but falling somewhat behind Acker when it comes to the romantic and dramatic parts.

Outside of those two performances, no one really stands out.  Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk are funny enough as the comic relief, and Sean Maher is suitably slimy in the manipulative role of Don John, but none of them reach quite the same level as the two leads.  There is something to be said for nice, solid supporting work all around, but I was really hoping for a standout instead of one or two moments of amusement.

Utterly enjoyable, if a bit frivolous.  7.5 out of 10.

Rush
I am not a sports movie guy.  And of all sports, I think racing is second only to golfing amongst the most boring sports to watch.  Which makes my clear enjoyment of this movie something of a marvel.

Focusing on the 1976 Formula season, and the rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) as they both compete for the championship that season, the movie has a quick pace and engaging performances.

What is exceptionally great about the film is how well it juggles the lives of the two racers.  Bruhl is the standout of the film, managing to play Lauda's worse traits while still keeping him likable.  Despite this being Hemsworth's movie (as Hunt is the eventual champion of the 1976 season), Bruhl commands it:  One almost wishes the movie had exclusively focused on him.

Which isn't to say Hemsworth is bad.  Far from it, as a matter of fact:  Hemsworth proves his up-and-coming status with a charismatic and carefree performance.  There is a reason I say one 'almost' wishes the movie focused on Lauda.  Without Hemsworth's Hunt, so much of the lived-in energy would disappear.  And despite being the warmer, more fun-loving of the two racers, Hemsworth never fails to nail his dramatic moments, especially during his final seen with Suzy (Olivia Wilde) and his meeting with Lauda after he returns to the season.

The movie has some great makeup and costuming work:  in particular, the burn makeup on Bruhl post-accident is amazing, and the movie feels like the 70s in a way not many have managed.  The editing is another strong technical aspect, keeping up the frenetic feel of the racing while not leaving one confused as to what is going on.

A solid, satisfying flick.  8.5 out of 10.