Monday, February 16, 2009

The Reader

How can a movie based in post-Holocaust Germany possibly be enjoyable?
Well, The Reader is not a lot of fun to watch, but it is thought-provoking and moderately touching at points.
The crux of the story is a love affair between a teenage boy and a grown woman. Michael (David Kross as the younger, Ralph Fiennes when he is grown up) meets Hanna (Kate Winslet in her multiple-award winning role) when she helps him as he falls ill in front of her apartment.
This chance meeting is followed by a couple of awkward encounters brought by him trying to thank her for her kindness. Hanna is a domineering woman who gruffly accepts his thanks and then aggressively seduces the boy. Not that seducing a 15-year-old boy is all that tough.
The affair lasts a summer as he neglects his friends and family for a woman who is mistaken by a stranger to be his mother. Hanna makes Michael read to her each time they meet up as a part of the intimacy that grows to seem more important to her than the physical side.
She abruptly disappears from his life and he begrudgingly returns to the life of a teenager.
A few years later he is a law student who happens to be witnessing a trial of five women being accused of atrocities that occurred during WWII. One of the women is his former flame, Hanna.
While the subject matter of anything surrounding the Holocaust is always treated with a certain gravitas, The Reader takes itself even more seriously than it probably should.
This story framed by any other crime would probably not get the attention from critics that this film is getting.
That is the tough part of making a movie from a subject matter that holds this harsh of a place in human history, finding a story within the epic framework that can hold the dramatic weight it needs to not be overshadowed completely by the historical facts.
The dramatic climax is a bit of a letdown as the buildup feels like it is heading towards something more intense.
The performances are all solid, but again, probably would not be getting the attention if not for the framework of the Holocaust behind it.
The Reader delivers enough to maintain the audience's interest, but falls short of being the epic Holocaust drama that it's makers clearly envisioned it to be. They get a B- for the effort.
--John Berry, online editor--

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Melodramatic and over-the-top performances override the solid storyline of Revolutionary Road.
A couple drifting through a suburban existence in the 1950s struggle to find a reason to be happy.
Kate Winslet's April Wheeler is a failed actress and housewife who is ultimately unhappy with what her life has become. Her husband, Leonardo DiCaprio's Frank Wheeler, is mostly resigned to his role as father and breadwinner until he becomes convinced that he has not found his true calling in life.
An interesting character study becomes secondary to actors actively trying to one-up each other with emotional outpourings. It seems like director Sam Mendes decided to let his actors go unrestrained, begging for attention from the awards community. The final product is watchable, but nothing spectacular.
Both DiCaprio and Winslet have given audiences better performances in other movies, so it is no surprise that they were overlooked by the Academy.
The over-acting was not limited to the top two roles though. The supporting cast had their share of cringe-worthy moments. It makes me believe we have director Sam Mendes to blame.
It seems more disappointing when you have a good cast, interesting concept and decent dialogue and it gets ruined by mediocre execution.
Revolutionary Road gets a C+.
--John Berry, online editor--

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gran Torino

The best movie that the Oscars ignored this past year has got to be Gran Torino.
Rumored to be Clint Eastwood's final movie (he himself stated it will be his last acting), it will stand as a fantastic swan song.
Watching an old man lost in a world where he feels alone and ostracized is more interesting than many of the other films that are up for big awards.
Throughout the movie, Eastwood's performance as Walt Kowalski, a recent widower and veteran of the Korean War, is as touching as it is amusing. He goes from crotchety old racist to father figure for a young Hmong neighbor struggling to fit in to his own community.
Not giving away too much, the ending is as powerful an ending as I've seen in a long, long time. A profoundly touching final scene for the character and one of the most iconic actors of all time.
It really seems like a crime that Gran Torino got ignored by the Oscars, but awards don't always go to the best performers or movies.
The only drawbacks in the movie are a few weak scenes involving an old man punching stuff and some less-than-stellar performances from the supporting cast.
Gran Torino gets a B+.
--John Berry, online editor--