Saturday, May 15, 2010

At The Movies (V)

movie reviews

Hollywood’s book-to-film adaptation department goes into overdrive; both real and fictional characters leap from black and white pages to the big screen

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Director: Clint Eastwood
Based on a book (just like most films these days seem to be), Invictus is an adaptation of John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, and portrays South African President Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) struggle to bring his country together after the fall of apartheid, with the help of the South African rugby team captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon). A showcase of both smart leadership and the power of sports to inspire and unite people, Invictus is propelled by terrific performances by Morgan Freeman (who was chosen for the role by Mandela himself) and Matt Damon, and the output is so inspiring that at times it almost becomes hard to believe that this is how it really went down!

The Informant!
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Director: Steven Soderbergh
The story of American executive Mark Whitacre (portrayed by Matt Damon) who was the whistleblower in the lysine price-fixing conspiracy case and acted as an FBI informant from 1992 to 1995, The Informant! recounts the events detailed in Kurt Eichenwald’s 2000 book, The Informant. Based on true events, the film follows the tale of its delusional protagonist (and self-proclaimed good guy) as he struggles with a troubled relationship with the truth; his behaviour becomes more and more bizarre with every passing minute, as the film becomes increasingly amusing while you try to figure out whether he is, in fact, too smart, or just too dumb. Fascinatingly absurd, The Informant! is layered and absorbing, and a striking showcase of Matt Damon’s acting skills.

Julie & Julia
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Director: Nora Ephron
Cramming Julia Child and Julie Powell into one film is a decision that defies logic – one is a culinary legend well know to millions around the world; the other, a whiny self-obsessed cooking blogger who appears to be as boring as she is annoying. What, then, possessed someone in Hollywood to put these two women together? And how does it do justice to Julie Child – and to Meryl Streep who outdoes herself with every role she takes on? The film is based on Child’s autobiography My Life in France and Powell’s Julie/Julia Project blog-turned-book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (in which she writes about her attempt to make all 524 recipes in the chef’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year). Now, if only one could exorcise the film of the annoying Julie so that all the focus would be on Meryl Streep’s delightful depiction of Julia…oh what a film that would be.
Julie: * Julia: ****

Sherlock Holmes
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie
The amazing Robert Downey Jr. joins the lovely Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s revisionist take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, in a film that sees the legendary detective (Robert Downey Jr.) along with his trusty companion (Jude Law) unravel a Dan Brown-esque mystery that involves a black-magic practitioner’s (Mark Strong) attempts to take over the world; meanwhile, Dr Watson is itching to get married and settle down, much to Holmes despair; and of course Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is on hand to provide the requisite love interest angle to Holmes revamped action hero character. Two hours of action and deduction ensure, and by the time the case comes to a close, there is little doubt that another case will soon follow and you can distinctly hear the sequel bells ringing. It isn’t a masterpiece and it certainly isn’t likely to go down as a definitive classic, but it is fun…and that’s about it.

The Time Traveller’s Wife
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston
Director: Robert Schwentke
What would it be like if someone had to involuntarily travel back and forth in time? If The Time Traveller’s Wife is anything to go by, it would all be pretty damn boring! At least that’s how it seems after watching The Time Traveller’s Wife, a films bereft of all that makes a movie enjoyable. Based on chick-lit writer Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 bestseller, the film follows the story of Henry (Eric Bana), a librarian who has a genetic disorder that forces him to time travel randomly and without his control, and how this affects his relations with his wife Clare (Rachel McAdams). What results isn’t exactly a sci-fi adventure but an unconvincing romantic melodrama that is as awkward as it is bland – the script lacks mirth, the characters are charm-less, the storyline is dreary and robbed of all authentic emotions. Ultimately, the only thing the film leaves its viewers with is a strong urge to go back in time and un-watch this illogical piece of fluff. Fans of the book may be able to look at the film differently, but for the rest of us, it might be a good idea to give The Time Traveller’s Wife a miss.

The Blind Side
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates
Director: John Lee Hancock
I have never seen an American football games, and I have no idea who Michael Oher is (or at least didn't before I saw this film). Yet I enjoyed watching The Blind Side, the story of an African American teenager (played by Quinton Aaron) who goes from being a homeless youth to a successful NFL (National Football League) player with the help of a wealthy family that takes him in and eventually adopts him. The feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy takes charge of the family as Sandra Bullock takes command of the film, steering it into the direction of a conventional feel-good sports drama that tries a little too hard to be sincere and does everything it can to tug at your emotions. The film is based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and it isn’t exactly a cinematic wonder, but it is a touching story that is so sweet it is very likely to make your teeth hurt. Make a dentist appointment in advance.

Whip It
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Landon Pigg, Eve, Andrew Wilson
Director: Drew Barrymore
Based on Shauna Cross novel Derby Girl, Whip It is an enjoyable coming-of-age comedy that marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore. Set in a small town in Texas, the film tells the story of a teenage misfit (Ellen Page) who joins a roller derby league. A celebration of girl power, Whip It is a simple feel-good flick and an entertaining testament to Drew Barrymore’s directing chops, as it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It may be formulaic and predictable and drenched in clichés, but it’s still fun to watch and not a bad way to spend an idle evening.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May-Jul, 2010

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