Friday, December 20, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Coal in My Stocking

Silver bells and golden statuettes are ringing throughout Hollywood this week before Christmas, primarily thanks to the film critics’ group awards announced thus far. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle have been the big winners, with Spike Jonze’s Her and Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine also receiving numerous laurels.

Alas, in looking back over 2013’s movie and home video releases as well as current award hopefuls, not everything appears jolly and bright. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the industry’s lesser offerings:

Adore (now available on Blu-ray and DVD): A gorgeous-looking movie about gorgeous people. Unfortunately, it is constructed on a ridiculously improbable and just plain tacky plot about two middle-aged, lifelong friends (played by fine actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who knowingly enter into sexual relationships with one another’s young adult sons. That said affairs go on for more than two years, even after the boys have moved away and developed other romantic interests, only adds to the implausibility. Amazingly, the screenplay was adapted by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a novel by Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing. Everyone associated with this film save actors Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville, who play the women’s sons, and cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne would probably do well to scrape this off their resumĂ©s.

Nebraska (now playing in theaters): While we’re on the subject of implausible plots, this movie also wins my personal award for the most overrated movie of 2013. An obvious throwback to late 1960’s-early 1970’s films featuring gruff yet ultimately lovable characters such as Scarecrow and Midnight Cowboy (and even shot in stark black & white), Nebraska spins a relentlessly heart-tugging tale of a grown son (a nice dramatic turn by SNL alum Will Forte) who accompanies his befuddled father (veteran actor Bruce Dern) on a pointless quest to claim a million-dollar prize promised in a marketing ploy. The now elderly Dern has inexplicably been winning accolades for playing… an elderly Bruce Dern. I am a great admirer of director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) but it seems clear that Payne’s best films are those he also has a hand in writing, unlike this one. While Nebraska isn’t a bad movie, it also isn’t a legitimate awards contender.

Lone Survivor (opening December 25th in Los Angeles and New York): Its ad campaign assures us that this film was “based on true acts of courage,” which is all well and good. When said acts primarily involve SEAL team members indiscriminately shooting, getting shot at and literally rolling down a mountain to their deaths during a failed 2005 mission in Afghanistan, however, they sadly seem more foolhardy than courageous. To me, the real heart of Lone Survivor is the friendly relationship that develops between its title character (played by Mark Wahlberg) and an Afghan father and son who hide him from the Taliban at great risk to themselves. This sequence, though, is only given about 30 minutes of screen time, which seems especially negligent when compared to the 60 minutes of bloody mayhem that precede it. Reliable director Peter Berg; a great all-male cast that also includes Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana; and spectacular photography by Tobias A. Schliessler are compromised by Berg’s excessively action-leaning screenplay.

The Rooftop (now available on home video and VOD): Taiwanese actor Jay Chou, best known in the US as Kato in 2011’s The Green Hornet, wrote the script and songs for as well as directed this ambitious, visually elaborate but pretty juvenile musical. Chou also stars as Gao (a.k.a. “Wax”), a happy-go-lucky guy who runs afoul of some nasty gangsters with his rooftop-dwelling friends. Playing somewhat like a comedic Asian version of Rent if it were directed by the flamboyant Baz Luhrmann, the film is entertaining in spots (gay viewers shouldn’t miss a musical number/fight scene that takes place in a men’s bathhouse) but goes on far too long. Also, while Chou’s music is good his lyrics are pretty bad, although it is possible their real meaning got lost in the translation to English subtitles. God knows there are worse movies out there though.

Watch here for my choices of the best films of 2013 after the holidays. Reverend and everyone at Movie Dearest wish our readers a very merry Christmas!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Adore: C-
Nebraska: C
Lone Survivor: C
The Rooftop: C+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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