A successful artist's husband takes all the credit for her work.
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
When a director’s made as many films as Tim Burton has, they develop a distinct style. In Burton’s case, that style is mostly an eccentric jumble of affectations, often portrayed by Johnny Depp in a weird hat or Helena Bonham Carter… in a weird hat. His characters are often outsiders with no chance of fitting in to society but they give it a go anyways. Though he’s made plenty of fantasy films, even his films that ostensibly take place in the real non-magical present either have characters that push the envelope of what’s real (Big Fish) or live in their own fantasy worlds (Ed Wood). He’s also someone who’s burned through a lot of critical goodwill. Big Eyes feels like an attempt to get some of that back, as it has little in common with anything else he’s ever done. Released during 2014’s Oscar season to little effect, Big Eyes suffers from a feeling of going through the motions, like no one’s excited or challenged by this material.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey is an example of the biopic that’s more interested with hitting plot points than finding the real person onscreen. If a subject had a life notable enough to get a film made about them, then those plot points should be interesting in and of themselves, as is the case in this story. There are givens in Megan Leavey, specifically that an intense bonding between a dog and its owner are going to be affecting. However in relying too much on cinematic reportage (this happened, then this happened), the characters in Megan Leavey feel like talking heads in a documentary, providing some background and a sense of stakes without ever drawing the viewer in. This is a bare-bones film, carried along by the raw power of the events behind it. Cowperthwaite gets the big moments right while skimping on any depth or nuance in the smaller ones.
Chad Hartigan’s Morris From America places an American kid in Germany, but the culture clash it depicts is both less and more specific than just a transplant of continents. Hartigan gets the strangeness that exists whenever a kid goes to a new school, language barrier or not. They like different things and have their own social rhythms, but there’s also the difficulty of getting comfortable in a new crowd and allowing yourself to take part. While that curtain’s up, it’s difficult to let anyone in, especially peacocking teenagers. There’s also the racial aspect that drills down into Morris’ unique circumstances, being a black boy in a society that only knows about African Americans through stereotypes. Morris From America provides a deeply sympathetic look at the isolation and loneliness of a new place while also giving peeks at the kind of euphoria provided by breaking those walls, no matter how fleeting it may be.
Knowing very little about the Pelican Brief before pressing play, beyond its early-90’s setting, its casting of a peak-of-their-powers Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and its adaptation from a John Grisham novel, I hardly expected a 70’s style conspiratorial saga in the vein of All the President’s Men or The Conversation. A Time to Kill and The Client are both pulpy stories on a local scale, but The Pelican Brief revolves around the highest levels of American power. This is one of those cases where the source material and the writer/director are in perfect synch, with Grisham’s high-minded David and Goliath stories matching up with Alan Pakula’s established credentials as a master of these kinds of films. Having directed All the President’s Men, Pakula knows how to make goons shadowy and dialogue-heavy scenes propulsive, as surely as Grisham knows how to make lawyers heroic.
Something has held true throughout the first two films of our Denzel Washington trilogy, and it’s held true for Denzel’s career at large: he’s always the best thing in his films. That’s not a hard task when he’s opposite Mark Walhberg or a bored Chris Pratt, but it’s the case too when he’s working with Tom Hanks or Viola Davis or Russell Crowe. The man has presence, and no matter how bad the film is (Magnificent Seven, cough, cough), he’s going to steal his scenes. The tragedy is that he takes part in films where he’s the eye in a swirling storm of half-baked characters and subpar writing, as is the case with Mo’ Better Blues. Denzel’s Bleek is untouchable, but we’re on a sliding scale of Spike Lee movies at the MMC. Chi-raq flirted with greatness, School Daze had enough going for it to make it recommendable, and now, even Denzel’s iron-willed lead performance can’t rescue Mo’ Better Blues from mediocrity.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.