Widows has an all-star cast, an Oscar-nominated director, and a best-selling novelist-turned screenwriter, so my expectations might have been turned up a bit too high. It follows a team of titular widows (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Dibecki) picking up the pieces in the wake of their husbands’ deaths. It seems their dearly departed spouses stole money from a local criminal who very much demands the sum returned. The women must enter into a criminal heist, using notes left behind by a dead hubby, to settle the debt and spare their lives. Widows is a higher caliber crime movie with notable texture given to a wide assortment of characters; even the villains are given small character touches to better flesh them out and feel more realized. There’s a concurrent election tying together different corrupt and criminal enterprises that widens the scope of the film into a grander scale. The characters and performances are the selling point of the movie and provide consistent entertainment. Davis (Fences) is the strong-willed linchpin of the group and I could watch her boss around people for hours. Dibecki (The Great Gatsby) has a nice turn as a trophy wife accustomed to being abused. The problem is that there might be too many characters. Rodriguez has far more significance in the first thirty minutes and then is put on ice. Likewise, Carrie Coon and Cynthia Erivo are hastily added when the plot requires something of them. That plot, adapted by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), proves to be the film’s biggest hindrance by the end. The second half plot turns seem to come from a schlockier version of this story, not the classier version we had been treated to beforehand. There are character decisions that baffle credulity and personal safety. The quality of the characters deserved a movie that could refrain from the hacky genre twists. McQueen’s precise camerawork is still alive and well and highlights tension and also moments of social commentary, like when we watch a car travel mere blocks from a rundown inner city neighborhood to a fancy gated residence. There’s a lot to like with Widows, and plenty to get excited about, but I wanted to like even more.
Nate’s Grade: B
This slice-of-life Depression era tale examines a hermit named Felix (Robert Duvall) coming to terms with his life. He’s the scary old man that everyone has a story about, and now he’s come to town to make his funeral arrangements with a sleazy funeral director (Bill Murray). Except Felix wants to have his funeral while he’s alive, invite everybody in town, and have them share their collected stories, and he?s got his own story to share that’s been haunting him for decades. This is a very slow burn of a drama, to a fault. It works itself into a corner, and when Felix reveals his haunting secret you sort of shrug and think, “Is that all?” The pacing is languid; the movie feels lived-in and authentic down to its terse sense of humor and local color. You can feel the fingerprints of the Coen brothers on the film even though they had no involvement. This is a mildly touching, occasionally inert drama that benefits tremendously from the talents of Duvall and Murray, both relishing their folksy characters. This is a movie where the actors have time and space to dig in and explore their characters. Duvall and company keeps the movie from drifting off into melodrama. Get Low follows a cue from its lead actor. It’s understated, low key, and will likely go unappreciated because of its emphasis on subtlety, sometimes too much subtlety.
Nate’s Grade: B
Crazy Heart is more than a country tune come to life. This is a transfixing slice-of-life flick that serves up a big piece of country lifestyle. This is a dusty, slow burning character piece where consummate actors just dissolve inside the bodies of their characters. Jeff Bridges is country music legend “Bad Blake,” a chain-smoking, alcoholic, hard-living dude who’s given up on everybody in his life, he included. Fame long gone, he performs from hole-in-the-wall bars to bowling alleys for small change and the embrace of middle-aged groupies in seedy motels. Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring journalist, interviews Blake and the two seem unable to keep their flirtation at bay. She’s prone to making bad decisions, and he’s looking for somebody that will actually care about him as a person. The relationship between these two is starkly realistic, and the actors interact with astoundingly unrestrained intimacy; there isn’t a glimpse, a pivot, or a nuzzle that feels trite. The love-of-good-woman-grants-second-chance plot device may feel overdone, but Crazy Heart is more than the sum of two great performances (and they are great). There’s a heavy, elegiac pall to the movie, where tiny details quiver with insight about Blake’s life. Writer/director Scott Cooper explores the grimy, dismal lifestyle of a man living on the fumes of fame, rethinking his life’s choices and becoming reinvigorated with creative inspiration. Even better, everyone performs their own singing and they are all, without fail, excellent. Who knew that Colin Farrell could be a convincing country music star?
Nate’s Grade: A-
Walter (Haley Joel Osment) is being shipped off by his absent-minded mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to spend the summer with his two great uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall). His mother is secretly hoping that Walter will cozy up to his eccentric relatives because of rumors that they have stockpiled millions of dollars. She sends Walter off with a mission to find the location of that money. Walter is a weenie, and Caine and Duvall are mans men that can still show them cocksure youngins a thing or two. The summer passes and Walter learns more than he could have ever known about his uncles and their supposedly amazing lives.
Caine and Duvall, two of the best actors we have, are wasted with material that pushes them into grizzled ole curmudgeons that inevitably soften up. Duvall plays the same rough and tumble character he plays in so many better movies, and Caine just seems like hes bored. Osment loses some cuteness as he hits puberty. He still has the face of a teddy bear (really look sometime) but Im sure hell rebound and it’ll only be a matter of time before he’s dating one of the Olsen twins. Wow, this is weird for me to write about.
The film feels like its in the hands of a novice with no confidence. The director (whose only other experience was a film called, [Dancer,Texas Pop. 81) doesn’t seem to know of anything reaching subtlety. The storyline with Osment’s flighty mother is just painful to watch. She’s an embarrassment of a character. Scenes are awkwardly framed and there are way too many fun montages of Caine and Duvall shooting things endlessly. I don’t know about your movie lore, but when I see old men firing at people from their porch, this doesn’t register as crazy yet lovable old timer but only as crazy. The entire lion subplot is just silly. The film even gets worse as it spins into a fantastical epilogue that stretches the bounds of reality. You’ll know it when the helicopter touches down.
Some elements of Secondhand Lions work despite themselves. Theres an ongoing subplot where Caine spins a great yarn about him and Duvall’s adventures as young men in the French Foreign Legion. We cut to some B-movie inserts that provide some fun, despite a preponderance of sword swinging violence that may question the family label people are too freely applying to Secondhand Lions. Watching this tall tale was far more entertaining than the reality Secondhand Lions[ was trying to dish. I kept wanting the film to somehow invert, and then this film would be the B-movie adventures where some person is telling a story about a whiny kid who gets an old lion and learns a thing or two about life and being a man from his two crazy uncles. Do you see what Im getting at.
Secondhand Lions is an overly sentimental Hallmark card of a movie. I dont think I’ve yawned this much during a movie in a long time. Secondhand Lions is an uninspired trick pony trying to appear like a wise coming of age nostalgic tale. Instead, the entire film feels secondhand. Beware, contents may have shifted upon delivery. Mark this box return to sender. Okay, I’m done with the postal puns.
Nate’s Grade: C
The movie I’ve seen trailers for since last summer finally hits theaters in a summer full of hungry patrons all wishing for the biggest explosion and coolest effects. But with its star heavy cast and array of sleek cars can Gone in 60 Seconds propel itself to the front of the race with audiences?
Nicolas Cage plays a reformed car thief forced back into the fray when his screw-up brother (Giovanni Ribisi) botches a deal for a local toughie. To rescue his delinquent bro Cage must steal 50 cars over the next three days for the man. So Cage wastes two days assembling his team of usual stereotype frat kids who are “the best and brightest” to aid in the mission. That leaves 24 hours for Cage and company to steal 50 cars and save the day minding any moral objections over grand theft auto.
Gone in 60 Seconds is a living dream of testosterone with fast cars, sexy girls, and colossal explosions. But all the action is mercilessly loud yet surprisingly tame and empty. All the action lacks true tension or any real semblance of excitement. The director uses poor choices of rapid quick-cut edits that dull any build up of excitement. Most of the action doesn’t even center on the theft of cars, it just happens. Excluding one chase scene toward the end Gone in 60 Seconds is a popcorn movie with no flavor.
The script and characters take a back seat toward the effects and speeding cars but this to be expected from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who gave us the equally boisterous Con Air and The Rock. This time the holes of the plot are easier to see and the dialogue no less cheesy especially when car talk turn innuendous. It’s easy to argue that story should be forgotten because audiences came to see cool cars and cool crashes, but it’s also easy to argue that those cool crashes and cars are distractions (as is Angelina Jolie) from the thinly strained story. When you have time to really analyze the plot in an action film you know the action isn’t up to par.
Gone in 60 Seconds could also serve as an apt description for Angelina Jolie’s running time. The recent Oscar winner dons bleached dreads and those pouty lips but is still seen less than Waldo – and that is a criminal mistake with someone like her. Gone in 60 Seconds has a bounty of Oscar winners with scant supporting screen time yet it can’t fool the crowd.
Gone in 60 Seconds may fit the criteria for a grand summer fireworks show but can never deliver the goods. It may be flashy, loud, and fast but this flick just isn’t running on empty, it’s past the “E.”
Nate’s Grade: C-