Tag Archives: Sandra Bullock

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

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I thought I was done with 2015 movies, but I was on a short flight today and Our Brand Is Crisis turned out the be the only movie I hadn’t yet seen, so I thought, “Why not?”

I had very little interest in this movie when I saw the poster and trailer for it. Basically, Sandra Bullock plays a crazy political fixer who will do whatever it takes to help her candidate win. She’s apparently “the best”, but for some reason she has stepped away from the game for years and lives out in the middle of nowhere.

So when two American campaigners played by the fantastic Ann Dowd (from Compliance) and Falcon (ie, Anthony Mackie) are hired by a Bolivian candidate (Joaquim de Almeida) for a struggling presidential campaign, they decide to entice Bullock out of retirement so she can go up against her arch nemesis, a skeletal, sleazy SOB by the name of Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Joining the team are the marketing guru (played by the guy who recently lost his legs to Superman, ie, Scoot McNairy) and a miraculously good investigator who can also speak Spanish (Zoe Kazan).

And so begins a battle of wits between the two fixers, who continue to raise the stakes and become more relentless in their pursuit of victory at any cost. It’s a film set on the campaign trail, tackling one sneaky tactic at a time, and with periodic updates of poll numbers to let us know how far away we are from the climax.

So I’ll just come out and say it: Our Brand Is Crisis is a weird film. First of all, it’s a fictionalized account of a true story and actually shares the same name as a 2005 documentary. In other words, pretty much everything is fiction except for the broad premise of an American campaign team working on a Bolivian election. So it’s kind of real but not real, and the film is kind of a drama, kind of a comedy and kind of satire, but it’s not really any of those either. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film begins with a serious vibe, making me think that we were going down the route of something like say The Ides of March or Primary Colors. But then it goes all goofy and jokey, with fairly standard gags and slapstick humour. There’s even the impassioned (campy) speech by Bullock’s character that made me feel like I was watching Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. And then at the end, political commentary competently takes over and tries to convince you that it’s deeper and more meaningful than it really is.

Secondly, as the film is set in Bolivia, you have the politicians and locals speaking Spanish, while the American campaigners speak English. I’m sure that’s what actually happened in real life as well, but it just seems like a lot of work for everyone involved, including the audience.

Thirdly, Billy Bob’s Candy is a weird antagonist. He starts off as a caricature, and you only get more and more surface with him, but never any depth. He’s kind of just there to irk and egg on Bullock, because by the end of it all you still don’t really know what to think about the guy.

Having said that, the film is passable from a entertainment perspective. Bullock does her usual thing and it works to a degree, though her character isn’t likable enough for you to want to genuinely root for her. Her team is actually where the fun is at, but unfortunately there’s not enough screen time to go around for everybody. They all get a nice little intro but then get shoved to the side and basically forgotten. Scoot McNairy was a lot of fun but doesn’t get much to do, which also goes for Dowd and Kazan. Mackie, in particular, is under-utilised and you never get a proper picture of who he is.

Instead, much of the story is spent on a wide-eyed Bolivian youngster who is a fervent supporter and works as a campaign assistant simply because of a brush with the candidate as a child. We’ve seen the “enthusiastic young man gets disillusioned with politics” angle countless times in movies like this, and while this one wasn’t badly done, it just felt like time could have been better served on what makes the movie different, rather than the same.

In all, Our Brand Is Crisis is a shade-above-average politics film that never ends up as intriguing, funny or profound as it wants to be. It’s watchable for a flight film, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

2.75 stars out of 5

Minions (2015)

Minions

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not enamoured with the Minions, the yellow, pill-shaped creatures from the Despicable Me movies. Never have been. I’m not into “cute” cartoon characters anyway and don’t understand why people can obsessively gush over creations so obviously designed to elicit “awww”s from grown-ups.

Still, when a movie makes a billion dollars at the box office even before it is released in all worldwide markets (such as China) there must be something more to it than just cuteness. I was also encouraged by the highly positive review from the BBC’s Mark Kermode, who even placed the film in his top 10 of the year (so far). So I checked it out.

My own reaction to Minions? Meh. Don’t get what the fuss is all about. Granted, it’s not as half-assed as some other spin-offs of popular franchises, but ultimately I just found it kinda repetitive and unable to sustain my interest.

For starters, the film has basically one gag: the Minions are always trying to find an evil master but keep ending up toppling them by accident instead. They are more or less a bunch of Forrest Gumps in yellow pill form — they are dim-witted but have an endless supply of dumb luck that seems to always get them out of a jam. It gets better and more varied when Sandra Bullock’s and Jon Hamm’s characters are introduced, though even then it always comes back to that one gag.

Secondly they speak largely gibberish, so you can’t understand them the vast majority of the time. It’s “cute” at the beginning but gets a little annoying after more than an hour of the same thing. Again, audiences have to be rescued by Bullock and Hamm, who actually reveal themselves to be quite talented voice actors and have surprising voice chemistry. Allison Janney and Michael Keaton aren’t bad either.

To its credit, Minions is about as fast and furious as you can get without the presence of Vin Diesel. The gags, while repetitive and hit-and-miss, just keep coming and coming for the entire 91-minute running time. So eventually there will be a few that stick. If you enjoy this style of humour then you’ll probably be laughing non-stop. On the other hand if the jokes elicit not much more than the odd chuckle, then you’ll probably fall in my boat and just find the experience underwhelmingly average.

In some ways you can compare the craziness and zaniness of the film to last year’s The Lego Movie. Both are super-paced and constantly throw jokes at you from all angles, often with uneven results. But I found The Lego Movie a lot funnier — even though it was probably more all over the place — because there was more variety and more shades in the humour. Some of it was random, some of it was deadpan, some of it was dark. By contrast, Minions was more of a one-key affair.

At the end of the day, I still see Minions as a spin-off, and most spin-offs fail to branch out fully on their own. There’s not much that I disliked about the film — it’s more that they just didn’t do much for me despite the occasional chuckle here and there. The characters may be adorable and hilarious  in small spurts, like they are in Despicable Me, though when they are asked to carry a film from start to finish they can’t maintain their charm all the way through, and instead I find that their likability becomes a lot thinner as it is stretched across the longer screen time.

2.75 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VI

I’m back with some more reviews of 2013 films I watched in recent months.

The Grandmasters (2013)

Grandmasters

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai is regarded as an artist with classics such as Chunking Express and In the Mood for Love on his impressive resume. So when I heard he was directing The Grandmasters, about the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (played by Tony Leung, though Donnie Yen previously played the role in the eponymous Ip Man films), I had reasonable expectations for something with more beauty and depth than some of the manufactured Hollywood wannabes I’ve seen, such as Hero, The Promise and Curse of the Golden Flower, all of which felt like they valued style over substance by a considerable margin.

The film has been selected as Hong Kong’s entry for Best Foreign Film at next year’s Oscars, but I don’t think it is quite good enough to secure a nomination (though what the hell would I know?). The good thing about Grandmasters is that it has some of the most beautiful fight scenes ever filmed. While they have a strange air of authenticity to them due to the genuine Wing Chun moves, they are really more art fantasy than anything else, and I think that’s a good thing. The performances of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi are also strong and you could have fooled me into believing that they both had years of martial arts training.

The bad thing about The Grandmasters is that when the characters aren’t fighting the film crawls along at a snail’s pace with lots of pretty images, which is fine but could put a lot of people to sleep. I was also kind of shocked that the story itself wasn’t more interesting. On a side note, I found the casting of Korean star Song Hye-kyo, who rose to fame in the TV drama Full House with Rain, a complete distraction. I had no idea what she was doing there as Ip Man’s wife, and it seems she didn’t either, as she said in an interview that there was “a bit of friction and misunderstanding” during filming with the director.

Overall, there are positives and negatives to take away from The Grandmasters. I’ve seen parts of the second Ip Man film and that was complete trash. The Grandmasters also wipes the floor with most of the other ambitious and flashy kung fu films I mentioned above. But at an unnecessarily long 130 minutes (I watched the full Chinese version) and with so many flaws, it really a great film? I think it falls short.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Heat (2013)

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I like Melissa McCarthy (photoshopped or not) and I can tolerate Sandra Bullock, but both are actresses I can’t see too much of at once, or else I’d get sick of them. This is why I wasn’t initially enthused about their action comedy buddy movie, The Heat, about a couple of FBI agents trying to take down a mobster.

They basically play versions of characters they have played before. Bullock is the uptight, goofy, ditzy detective who is dorky but adorable. McCarthy is the foul, abrasive loudmouth with the sharp one-liners and insults. Surprisingly, they have fairly good chemistry and as a result the movie was better than I expected.

Still, this is a formula movie that progresses as you would expect – the initial wariness, the bonding, the fallout, and the best buddy reunion just in time for the climatic finish. The Heat has some good laughs, some of which at the expense of an albino and McCarthy’s dysfunctional hillbilly family, but there is nothing gut-bustingly hilarious or memorable about it or even just specific scenes or conversations.

For me, I had a reasonably amusing time with it, but somewhere along the final third the film started to run out of steam and I wanted to more than the same clichés and jokes they were throwing at me.

2.75 stars out of 5

Snitch (2013)

Snitch-Poster

Snitch is about an “ordinary” father who would do anything to save his son from a lengthy prison sentence and decides to put his life on the line by going undercover to gather evidence on dangerous drug lords to get his son a plea bargain.

The problem is, the dad is played by The Rock, who despite his best efforts to look scared and vulnerable, is still THE ROCK. Apart from this weird casting choice, however, Snitch is a pretty solid crime drama that is heavy on the grit and the atmospheric tension, though at the end of the day it’s not as riveting or exciting as I hoped it would be.

Much of the film centers on The Rock’s efforts to infiltrate the drug world with the help of one of his employees, Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead, who is alive and well this time. And it’s a scary world with lots of bad people with guns and intimidating faces, though you would have to assume that in real life they would take one look at The Rock and scamper in the opposite direction.

On the side of the “good guys” are Barry Pepper, who plays a bearded agent, and Susan Sarandon, who plays the US attorney who can cut a deal for The Rock’s son. Good actors and good performances, but I thought their characters were poorly written, with Sarandon’s in particular a real cardboard cliché.

I suppose director Ric Roman Waugh went for dark realism in this one, which means you don’t get to see The Rock kicking ass and doing his thing, even though there are shootouts and car chases. You get to see his amazing “acting” muscles in action instead.

It’s a thoughtful film about the way the justice system works but I think it could have been better had the execution been sharper and the direction less muddled. As a result, it kind of works as a crime drama but is not a particularly effective action movie.

3 stars out of 5

Curse of Chucky (2013)

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One of my favourite horror movies growing up was the 1988 classic Child’s Play, which kept me up at night and made me forever fearful of dolls. I was also a fan of the next two sequels which kept the straight-laced horror, but then the franchise took a turn towards comedy with the next two installments, Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky (the latter of which I haven’t seen). I think Chucky lost a lot of his cache with those two films (a mixed bag at best), which is why I was happy to see the straight-to-DVD Curse of Chucky, a welcome return to darker tone of the original.

Brad Dourif is back as the voice of Chucky, who for whatever reason is not dead (again) and arrives in the mail for Nica (played by Dourif’s real-life daughter Fiona), a wheelchair-bound girl living with her mother in a giant mansion. Chucky makes real quick work of the mother and Nica is left to grieve with her older sister, the sister’s husband, daughter and live-in nanny – all just more victims for Chucky to have some fun with.

Bearing in mind that this is a straight-to-DVD sequel, Curse of Chucky is not all that bad. It’s got the usual clichés but it does have some surprises, scares and gory moments which bring back memories of Chucky’s glory days. There is also a back story that takes us back to the original and helps us understand some of Chucky’s madness. And if you stick around for the credits there is a cool cameo from Alex Vincent, the kid who played Andy in the 1988 original.

It’s not exactly a great horror flick but unlike most of these relatively low budget sequels Curse of Chucky doesn’t take a dump on the franchise and in the scheme of things is actually not a bad addition that could open the door for a new generation of Chucky films. Just don’t expect too much from it.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gravity (2013) (2D)

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I’m probably biased because I am a massive fan of director Alfonso Cuaron (responsible for possibly my favourite movie from the last 10 years, 2006’s Children of Men, as well as the best Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban), but let me just put it out there: I reckon his latest, Gravity, could very well be a masterpiece.

I saw just one scene of the film in one of the trailers, so I went into it with relatively little knowledge of what it’s all about, potentially a key reason why I found it so engrossing. I won’t say much except that it takes place in space and is about a bunch of astronauts (headed by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) on a mission. It is unconventional and a bit of a “concept” film in that there is only a handful of actors, minimal dialogue and limited human interaction. But it is one heck of a ride, one that is packed with a wide range of emotions ranging from fear, horror, desperation and claustrophobia to serenity, solitariness and hope.

The script is written by Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron. I don’t think there is anything exceptional about it or the dialogue (there’s not a lot of it anyway), but I do think it is Cuaron’s masterful direction that makes Gravity work so well. He employs a lot of his trademark long takes which I absolutely adore, some of which feel like they last for 5 to 10 minutes each (the film’s first scene has no visible cuts for about 10 minutes). I’m sure a lot of it is just clever effects and editing, but the feel of a long, continuous, winding shot that moves from place to place and character to character really immerses you in the moment and the action.

Gravity is also one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen and makes you wonder how Cuaron went about shooting it and creating the special effects. I assume pretty much all of it is shot in studios with green screens, but the end product comes across as frighteningly realistic and genuine (I say “comes across” because very few of us know what it actually looks like in space). The same could be said for the space stations and shuttles in the film, which, I assume again, are close replicas of their real-life counterparts. The stunning and soothing views of Earth from space are incredible as well, and provide a beautiful contrast to all the man-made chaos happening right above it.

I was tempted to watch the film in 3D because apparently it’s “worth it,” but I’ve heard that so many times now and every time I’ve fallen for it I’ve come away disappointed. That said, there were parts of the film where I thought 3D might work well, and if I had the opportunity (sadly, I probably don’t) I’d love to watch it again in IMAX 3D. Either way, it’s a film that definitely should be seen on the big screen for maximum appreciation.

As with almost all films with only few characters, the quality of the acting is vital. In this regard Gravity also delivers, with Sandra Bullock — who I’ve never been very high on as an actress despite her Oscar win for The Blind Side — giving one of the best performances of her career. She spends a lot of the film on her own but somehow still manages to make us connect with her on an emotional level and forces us to sense her fear and dread. Apparently Bullock was one of the last choices for the challenging role after the talks with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman fell through, but it has turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.

The other major role is played by George Clooney, the experienced wisecracking team captain who is so cool and calm under extreme pressure that it makes you wonder whether he is either a robot or a psychopath. Damn this perfect man (again) because he delivers a perfect performance, one I can’t really find any faults with.

I see a LOT of films, so I always welcome something that is a little different to your typical Hollywood blockbuster. It doesn’t mean I prefer them or will necessarily like them more (for example, I liked the concept of the 2010 Ryan Reynolds film Buried, though I didn’t think they ultimately pulled it off), but I find it exciting to experience something I haven’t before. Gravity is definitely something different, so I can appreciate that it is not for everyone. As I was walking out of the cinema, most of the comments I heard from my fellow viewers were negative, such as, “It was too slow and depressing”, “There weren’t enough people in it”, and “There’s too much internal psychological drama”. Even my wife thought it was just “OK”, not boring but not great either.

But for me, Gravity ticks all the boxes for a great film. It’s engrossing, exciting and intelligent, visually captivating, masterfully directly and skillfully performed. And it’s daring and memorable. It will dash the desire of anyone who ever dreamed of being an astronaut, and viewers used to more conventional films might feel like something’s missing, but apart from that, it’s as close to a masterpiece as any film I’ve seen in years.

5 stars out of 5!

Classic Movie Review: A Time to Kill (1996)

After reading the book of the same name by John Grisham (my review here), several people have recommended that I watch the film adaptation of A Time to Kill, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey (in his breakout role).  It’s one of those films that I really wanted to, but for whatever reason never saw when it was first released in 1996.

For those who don’t know the background, it’s Grisham’s first book but the fourth of his adaptations (behind The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client).  It stars McConaughey as a young hotshot lawyer, Jake Brigance, who is tasked with defending a black father who took the law into his own hands after two white drunks raped his little girl.  Due to the racial politics of the time and place (very important to remember when watching), Brigance not only has to fight a seemingly unwinnable case, but also has to deal with the dangers of representing a black man in a racist community.

I quite liked the book, but didn’t think it was anything special.  For me, the film version was a rare improvement on the book that addressed some of the things I felt the book could have done better.

For starters, Brigance is a much more likeable character in the film than the book, where he was more egocentric, obnoxious, and cared far too much about publicity.  In the film they really toned it down and made him more of a ‘hero’, which works well because the audience really needed to connect with him.

The second big alteration is that Ellen Roark, the brilliant college student played by Sandra Bullock, is given a much bigger role in the film than the book.  In the book, Roark doesn’t appear until halfway through, but in the film she’s there almost right from the beginning.  In fact, Bullock received top billing even though she was a secondary character — most probably because she was coming of the phenomenal success of Speed and The Net and was a huge cash cow at the time.  Nevertheless, I liked Roark’s expanded role because I always felt she was one of the more interesting characters in the book.

Plenty of scenes, characters and subplots were condensed or removed in the film version, which I personally thought was welcoming because they clogged up the central narrative and slowed the pace.  When I read the book I always felt there was something not quite right in the structure and the development of the plot, as though Grisham couldn’t figure out what was important to the story and what wasn’t.  In the film, they were able to adjust the equilibrium to create a smoother, less stilted delivery.  For instance, I was glad to see the actual trial commence relatively early, unlike the book, which waited until the final 100 pages or so.  The final climax, in particular, was reformulated to make it more about Brigance’s ability than luck, which made for much better cinema.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the number of stars or would-be stars in this film and outstanding performances they delivered.  Of course, McConaughey went on to be a big star after this film, and even though I’ve paid him out ever since Contact (‘By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it. Whyyyyyyy?!!’), I must admit he was excellent here as Brigance.  It also made his solid performance in the more recent Lincoln Lawyer easier to comprehend.

I already mentioned Sandra Bullock as the top-billed star of the film, and she was probably at the height of her stardom at the time (some may say she was ‘bigger’ when she won the Oscar, but I disagree), just before Speed 2: Cruise Control knocked her down a few notches.

Of course, there was also Samuel L Jackson, one of my favourite actors in one of the best performances of his career as the father, Carl Lee Hailey (I’d still say Pulp Fiction was his greatest achievement, but others might say Snakes on a Plane or Deep Blue Sea or perhaps The Search for One-eye Jimmy).  In 1996, Jackson was coming off a string of less than impressive films (with the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance) and this film helped boost him back up to where he belonged, as he would then go on to appear in a number of blockbusters/hits over the next couple of years, such as  Jackie Brown, Sphere, The Negotiator and Out of Sight.

The list of goes on.  There’s Kevin Spacey as the snooty DA, Rufus Buckley, who was, as usual, marvellous, and one of the highlights of the film.  He brought out the essence of Buckley without overdoing it, making him less of a caricature than he was in the novel.  Remember, in 1996 Spacey was coming off his masterful performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects,  and would go on to appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, LA Confidential and The Negotiator, right before his career defining performance in American Beauty in 1999 (personally, Verbal Kint is still my favourite).

What about the always-good-to-have-around Oliver Platt, who plays Brigance’s best buddy Harry Rex, or Donald Sutherland, who plays Brigance’s mentor Lucien Wilbanks?  What about veteran actor Chris Cooper as poor officer Dwayne Looney, before he rose to prominence in films like American Beauty, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation?  Or Ashley Judd as wife Carly, at the start of her strong career, before she broke out in films such as Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and Eye of the Beholder?  Heck, there was even Mr Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, as a KKK redneck, before he became the butt-kicking CTU agent in 24.  I knew the film starred McConaughey, Bullock and Jackson, but it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much star power this film had.

In all, I enjoyed A Time to Kill (the film) a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is a little self-righteous, melodramatic and contrived at times, but for the most part it was still an entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking courtroom drama that was boosted by its awesome star power.

4 out of 5 stars

Capote (2005) vs Infamous (2006)

Toby Jones (left) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (right) as Truman Capote. Source: Guardian.co.uk

A recent revisiting of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood sparked some interest in the two films about him that were released in quick succession in 2005 and 2006 — Bennett Miller’s Capote and Douglas McGrath’s Infamous.

Being the first released, Capote stole most of the limelight, especially as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Capote won him an Oscar for Best Actor (not to mention the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAGs).  The film itself was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (for Catherine Keener as Harper Lee), and was at the top of most critics’ lists for the year.

On the other hand, Toby Jones, who played Capote in Infamous, won high praise for his performance too, and physically he was closer to the real life counterpart.  Sandra Bullock’s portrayal as Harper Lee was also praised, but did not receive the same recognition as Keener.  Infamous also had an arguably better cast, featuring stars such as Jeff Daniels, Daniel Craig, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and a cameo from Gwyneth Paltrow.  But despite all of this, and the fact that most critics thought the film was pretty good too, Infamous could not avoid being compared to the earlier film, which they almost unanimously agreed was superior.

The real Truman Capote

Having read the book and watched both films in quick succession, I thought I would throw in my two cents on the two film versions.

Capote was based on the biography by Gerald Clarke, whereas Infamous was based on the book by George Plimpton.  Nevertheless, the story is essentially the same — Truman Capote is fascinated by a 300-word article about a family that was brutally gunned down in the small town of Holcomb, and decides to travel there to write an article.  He brings his good friend Harper Lee with him, and after a lengthy investigation, decides to turn that article into the “first” non-fiction novel (ie a non-fiction book written with fictional techniques).  In order to write the book, Capote gains access to the two killers in prison, Dick and Perry, who are facing the death penalty.  Capote befriends both men, and is particularly drawn to the sensitive and artistic Perry.  Despite becoming extremely close with the men over several years, Capote knows that the book’s ending can only be effective if they are ultimately executed for their crime.

Both films were good, but in different ways.  Capote is a classy production with a classy performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who really brings out the genius and the narcissism in the titular character.  It’s a slow burning film full of pain and contemplation, where the pauses are long but meaningful.

Comparatively, Infamous is lighter and flashier.  Toby Jones is a more flamboyant, less subtle Capote who is portrayed as a shameless gossip with the high society women in New York.  Jones also makes Capote seem like a prick, though Hoffman’s Capote is colder, more reserved but definitely more manipulative.  As good as Jones was, the edge goes to Hoffman in my opinion.

Catherine Keener and Sandra Bullock both make fairly good Harper Lees — but again, Keener is more subtle whereas Bullock is more in-your-face.  Not to say that makes her a weaker Harper, just a different one, though this was probably attributable more to the script than the actresses.  I’d say they were equally good.

I found it interesting that both films focused almost entirely on Capote’s relationship with Perry, even though Dick also played a very large role in the book.  Nevertheless, I thought Capote handled this crucial part of the story better than Infamous did.  In Capote, you really get a sense of the struggle Capote is facing — he clearly feels something for Perry (though exactly what that feeling is is left rather ambiguous) but he also knows he must finish his masterpiece — and that obsession, vanity and selfishness eventually gets the better of him.

As for Infamous, I thought getting Daniel Craig to play Perry was a bizarre choice.  He’s a very good actor, but having read the book, he does not exactly fit the bill (Perry’s supposed to be very short and half American-Indian).  I didn’t fully buy into the relationship, which lacked the emotional power of the earlier film, even though it actually depicted a physical relationship between the two men.

Ultimately, Capote is more serious and reserved, much like the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Infamous, like Toby Jones’s performance, is more “out there” and talkative, especially as we get to see more of Capote living his high society life in New York, and there are occasional mock interviews with his friends that remove a layer of realism.

So yeah, same story but different approaches and different results.

Capote: 4.25 stars

Infamous: 3.5 stars

Movie Review: The Blind Side (2009)

I can’t believe I am saying this, but I loved The Blind Side.

When I first laid eyes on the poster with a blonde Sandra Bullock and a big, black American footballer, I groaned.  With a name like The Blind Side and a poster like that, I expected a sappy, saccharine melodrama in the vein of Pay It Forward and Stepmom.

I was wrong.

The Blind Side is a film about compassion, prejudice, family, chance, and the virtues of hard work.  It tells the inspirational true story of Michael Oher, an underprivileged (albeit talented) African-American youth, and his relationship with Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white woman from the other side of town.  As per usual, I won’t say much more than that.  If you don’t know who Michael Oher is, great.  Don’t look him up before seeing the movie.

Two things really surprised me about The Blind Side.

First, it is so much better than it should have been.  The Blind Side is truly a terrific film.  One that pulls at the heart strings without trying to tear them down.  It may have been a little sappy and a little melodramatic at times, but for the most part, director and screenwriter John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Alamo) manages to keep the film from tipping over the edge.  There are numerous moments that will warm your heart, but very few that will make you cringe in discomfort.

Second, Sandra Bullock is good.  There, I said it.  Sandra Bullock is good in The Blind Side.  I may have ranted about her Oscar nomination but I now think she is deserving.  Bullock’s really not that much better than she was in her other movies, but when you stick an average actress in a great film and the perfect role, anything is possible.  While I don’t think Bullock deserves to win (though I think she probably will), I admit I was wrong to compare her to Matthew McConaughey.  That was low, even for me.

There’s not too much to complain about The Blind Side.  The length (128 minutes) is fine, the pacing is good, and the sporadic humour is lighthearted and in the right spirit.  The only thing is that it’s a little too neat and tidy.  There are some very ugly issues underlying the film, but it never felt like they were properly confronted.  Too sanitised, perhaps, and consequently missing that raw emotional power.

It would have been easy to dismiss The Blind Side as a “white people are so wonderful” movie, except that it is a true story.  Romanticised, perhaps, but a true story nonetheless.  That’s what makes it remarkable.  Every time you think things are too good to be true, you just have to remind yourself that it (or something like it) actually happened.

Movies based on inspirational true stories aren’t supposed to actually leave you feeling inspired, but somehow, The Blind Side does.

4.5 stars out of 5!

DVD Review: The Proposal (2009)

The Proposal is one of those romantic comedies that you wouldn’t necessarily call good, but there are worse ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon than watching Sandra Bullock (Ms Oscar Nominee) and Ryan Reynolds (Mr Scarlett Johansson) on screen (though let’s face it, not many).

Without giving too much away, Bullock plays Magaret Tate, the bitchy executive editor-in-chief of a publishing company, and Reynolds is Andrew Paxton, her hard-working assistant.  You can pretty much work out the whole story from there if you have a think about the name of the film (ie The Proposal), the poster, and what type of roles Bullock and Reynolds seem to always play in rom-coms.  And to top it off, the director is Anne Fletcher, who was at the helm of Step Up and 27 Dresses.  Let’s stop pretending the movie is not entirely predictable.

Fortunately, The Proposal does have some funny parts, and it does have a bit of heart.  There are a few decent laughs, mostly involving Bullock and her silly character traits, though Reynolds does have surprisingly good comedic timing.  However, it’s not what I would call a hilarious movie – a number of jokes don’t quite have the intended effect, and a few simply fall flat.

Another plus of the film is that there a couple of minor breaks from the ordinary rom-com cliches, and a few unexpected little twists.  You probably wouldn’t even notice them, but they’re there.

What I probably liked most was that the film was set in a major publishing company.  Though the opening scenes were relatively short, it was interesting to see how a place like that worked.  I’m not so sure I’d like to work in one now!

3 out of 5 stars!

[PS: Sandra Bullock’s character unfortunately reminds me of quite a few power women at work.  Despite the fact that it’s hilarious to make fun of them, their lives are actually really really sad.]