It would seem, after looking over the movies watched this week, that the theme is “breakout performances.” Each movie contains either a new or career-defining performance at the center of each narrative: Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious,” Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence…” and Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James…” All three were nominated for Academy Awards. Unfortunately, however, none of them won. In all cases, they were bested by other actor’s in career-defining roles. Sidibe was beaten by Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.” O’Toole had the poor luck of going up against Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lastly, if you’ve seen “No Country For Old Men,” you know it would be pretty tough for Casey Affleck to get noticed in the shadow of Javier Bardem’s performance as the deranged Anton Chigurh. In any case, bad luck aside, the performances are truly amazing and should at least be rewarded with a viewing. (I guess in order to keep with the theme, we'll just consider the "Chippettes" as the break-out performance in "Alvin and the Chipminks: The Squeakquel.")
Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire – (2 ½ Stars) – Clareece “Precious” Jones is illiterate, pregnant with her second child, and stuck with her abusive mother until an opportunity to attend an alternative school presents itself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious with an emotional intensity that makes it seem as if she has been acting for quite awhile, where in fact this is actually her first movie. Based on a true story, it’s hard to believe, let alone stomach, what happens to Precious. The movie does have an uplifting message to it, but it doesn’t shine through the rest of the grime as much as one would hope. (Netflix) (109 minutes – Rated R for Child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language -2009)
Lawrence of Arabia – (4 stars) – Based on the true exploits of T.E. Lawrence during World War I, “Lawrence of Arabia” is an epic that only David Lean could accomplish. Peter O’Toole, in his breakout performance, brings a full range of emotions to the conflicted Lawrence who is caught between two worlds and allegiances. As is the usual in a Lean movie, the scope and scenery of the movie are breathtaking. (Netflix) (227 minutes – Rated PG - 1962)
In general, whether intentional or not, people are always trying to classify things. Whether it’s music or movies, books or video games, everything always has to be defined. However, more often than not, we may come across media that defies conventional labeling. So, in response to this, new labels are created such as RomCom, Dramedy, Bromance and Mockumentary (to name a few). But even then sometimes our best creative inventions aren’t enough to categorize a movie. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is just such a movie.
Since the movie revolves around a famous outlaw and takes place in the 1800’s, most people would be quick to slap a “Western” sticker on the cover and call it a day. But, in doing so, it would be doing the movie a great injustice. I enjoy a good western every now and then, but not everyone would share my enthusiasm, and would end up putting “Jesse James” back on the shelf where they found it. I’m not going to invent a new portmanteau, but considering this movie a “character study” would probably be the best I could come up with.
Brad Pitt plays the infamous Jesse James, and is devilishly suited for the role. He plays him as both a sympathetic family and sociopathic anti-hero. James is a man of whom paranoia pervades. Casey Affleck is the Brutus to Pitt’s Caesar, playing the part of Robert Ford. Affleck plays Bob Ford perfectly awkward. Like the star-crossed kid who finally gets to spend time with his idol, but is unsure quite know what to do with himself once he meets him. Always lurking in James’ shadow, he doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to “be like [Jesse] or be [Jesse].”
The movie’s score is a haunting piece of work by the duo of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that has quickly become one of my favorites. It manages to capture the intensity and tragedy of the situation and players involved. The direction, by relative newcomer Andrew Dominik, has the maturity of a seasoned veteran. The cinematography also manages to capture the harshness and beauty of the time period. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford” has a very deliberate pacing to it as well. The viewer is given time to examine and observe each character and their actions. In the end it is this perfect combination of elements that combine to make “Jesse James” a superb piece of cinema. (Netflix) (159 minutes – Rated R for Some strong violence and brief sexual references - 2007)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel – (2 Stars) – Alvin and company return in an all new adventure, but this time they aren’t the only singing chipmunks on the block. This movie is basically everything it is advertised to be. If you liked the first one, you will most likely enjoy this entry. If you can’t stand the sound of high-pitched pop tunes, you’re better off watching something else. No surprises here. (Netflix) (88 minutes – Rated PG for Some rude humor – 2009)
Movies for this week: