The Movie Report
April 2013
Volume 1

#713 - 714
April 5, 2013 - April 12, 2013

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#714 April 12, 2013 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

42 poster 42 (PG-13) ***
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As deceptively simple as they appear to be, a film like 42 requires a number of delicate balancing acts to effectively pull off, chief among them that between the responsibility to the real life figure--in this case, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball--and the attached weight of history; and the responsibility to the viewing audience to deliver a compelling, enlightening-without-being-medicinal entertainment. If writer-director Brian Helgeland falls into a common biopic approach of playing the story earnestly, resolutely by the book, in this case such a staid approach serves to slyly underscore two greater points: (1) that African-American stories are just as much a part of general, for want of a better term, "traditional" Americana as any other; and (2) the more story-specific idea that Robinson, as a player and person, simply wanted to be treated with the same basic modicum of respect as anyone else, of any ethnicity. The latter point is well brought home by Chadwick Boseman, Helgeland's smart casting choice as Robinson. Without a more familiar face and the distracting baggage that would come with it, one is more readily able to immerse into and get involved with Robinson's story--but owing to another key balancing act, the understated yet captivating poise that Boseman himself distinctly brings to the part is crucial to the viewer's connection with it. Even if it may not necessarily read on Helgeland's more surface-skimming page, it subtly yet deeply reads in Boseman's eyes and the tone of his voice Robinson's wrenching day-to-day struggle to maintain almost superhuman composure amid literally, viciously in-his-face prejudice, underscoring just how much courage and strength it took to suppress the natural human instinct to violently lash back in return and instead choose to combat with class. That sense of class extends to the whole of the production, but this is no overly austere history lesson, thanks mostly to Harrison Ford, deliciously displaying his too-often forgotten crack comic timing as Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers owner who gives Robinson his big opportunity. That said, for all the live wire energy he brings whenever on screen, Ford also injects ample doses of humanity alongside the humorous hubris, and Rickey's relationship with Robinson as it grows from merely a somewhat opportunistic business decision on the former's part to one of mutual respect as people is a nicely drawn arc, fueled by Ford and Boseman's chemistry and genuine warmth. Overall, it is that last quality, warmth, that characterizes the film and lends it such beguiling appeal: that in its relationships between Robinson and Rickey, Robinson and his wife (Nicole Beharie, somewhat underused), Robinson and the journalist (Andre Holland, solid in a likely to be underappreciated turn) assigned to cover him, Robinson and his teammates, Robinson and the sport he simply wanted to play in peace--and that between the audience and Robinson for the path he cleared for generations to follow.

To the Wonder poster To the Wonder (R) *** 1/2
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For the better part of two years, Terrence Malick's To the Wonder was known only as "Untitled Love Story"--a fact that I think has led to a certain misunderstanding of what I feel is the notoriously esoteric auteur's goal with this typically ethereal, elusive piece. This isn't a "love story" in the more conventional and expected notion of a romance but rather a story about love, the very idea of it--which is such a quintessentially Malick angle. So whether or not one gets the full gist of exactly how or why Ben Affleck's romance with single mom Olga Kurylenko goes south once he brings her back to the States after an all too idyllic initial phase in France, or the even sketchier souring of Affleck's subsequent link-up with old friend Rachel McAdams, is really secondary to the query that is often repeated by Kurylenko: "What is this love that loves us?" On the face of it, the side thread of Javier Bardem, playing a priest in Affleck's small hometown, has nothing but tangential relation to all else going on as far as "plot" is concerned. However, his existential quandary of how to bolster the faith of his congregation while his own faith is thoroughly challenged by all he witnesses sums up the overall question of not only the film but--in true Malick fashion--one of the key questions of life itself: does not actually personally feeling love deny its very existence, and then do we choose to continue to believe in its existence even when not in the experience? To many this will all be pretentious, touchy-feely navel gazing, and with Malick's usual touches of dreamy slow-motion shots of nature and whispery stream-of-consciousness voiceover matched with an even more threadbare sense of narrative and characterization, detractors will say he's finally edged into inadvertent, completely indulgent self-parody. But in its conventionally alienating extremes, this is probably Malick's most pure expression of his uniquely impressionistic, almost extra-sensory cinematic gifts, transporting one to a meditative wavelength of emotional experience--one as difficult to describe as it is to explain to those who understandably can't get it, but a truly rewarding space if one is able to surrender.

#713 April 5, 2013 by Michael Dequina

In Brief

Trance poster Trance (R) ***
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The title of Danny Boyle's thriller has a literal application, for it centers on the hypnotherapy regime an amnesiac art thief (James McAvoy) undergoes to recover the memory of where he left his last stolen piece--but as one would hope and expect from someone like Boyle, that is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg and a mere entry point for a wilder-by-the-passing-second ride, for as the hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) plumbs deeper into the recesses of his mind, various other truths about him, her, his partner-in-thievery (Vincent Cassel), and their ever-shifting relationships with each other are revealed, concealed, confirmed, contradicted. What is the ultimate truth about the lost painting or pretty much anything else storywise is pretty much a side concern for Boyle and writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, the latter two mainly devising a framework for Boyle to go wild and put the viewer under (yes) a trance, and if the film may not make complete sense by the end, much less moment to moment, that appears exactly the point--and the unpredictable journey through fluid and malleable concepts of reality and identity is consistently gripping, thanks in large part to Boyle's three leads, who maintain a captivating and connectable core as everything around them continually builds and destructs into something ever-increasingly alien and alienating.

Temptation poster Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (PG-13) **
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Despite it being one of the least buzzed-about entries in his ever-quickly-growing film canon, Tyler Perry's early-year entry of last year, Good Deeds, is a bit of a milestone in his writing/directing filmography, for it exhibited him displaying qualities, genuine understatement and nuance, that one would have never associated with him or his work before--and since, sadly, most especially in his latest non-Madeaverse project. The thorny issue of marital infidelity is one that would be a more natural fit for a more sober and subtle approach, especially with actors as talented Jurnee Smollett-Bell (how great to finally see her in an adult big screen lead) and Lance Gross as the young marrieds whose union hits turbulence when she feels the itch for a taste of something beyond her nice, stable, safe longtime relationship--namely, a taste of a carefree billionaire (Robbie Jones) whom she first meets in the workplace. It's certainly a workable premise, and Smollett-Bell, Gross, and Brandy (as a mysterious new co-worker of neighborhood pharmacist Gross) work hard to bring an emotional authenticity to their characters and relationships--an authenticity that is ultimately negated by questionable choices in Perry's script and direction, chief among them Jones's character. He's written and played as more than a little overtly creepy from the jump, so much so that the prospect of him being something "new" and "different" and "exciting" to Smollett-Bell is rendered moot, and it just gets even more overwrought from there, eventually infecting radical characterization changes in Smollett-Bell and increasingly overblown turns of the plot. By the end one is reminded of 2006's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), in which writer/director Karan Johar, closely identified with more romantic works, attempted to tackle the issue of adultery only to have his more ill-fitting filmmaking instincts sink his valiant attempts at anything remotely approaching a serious exploration of a sensitive topic; the same applies with this film and Perry, whose similar ambitions with the complicated topic are also quashed by his more simplistic storytelling habits.


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