...or simply something in between?
As some of the bigger films of 2008 start to trickle out to DVD, I can finally begin catching up on what so many folks were talking about last year. I usually watch most of the new releases by getting the 3 for $10 deal (for 5 days) from my local video store, so the trio I picked up a week or so ago (I am REALLY slow on the posts coming out of the 2009 gate...) was:
- Burn After Reading
- My Blueberry Nights
- Speed Racer
Three vastly different movies that share a common trait: They were all pretty much eviscerated by many critics when first released. All three films suffered a raft of slings and arrows mostly due to high expectations given the directors involved (Coen Brothers, Wong Kar-Wai, Wachowski Brothers). But as their releases widened, all three seemed to find their fan bases and suddenly there were passionate defenses and appearances on Top 10 lists for the year. So I've been slightly curious...
As it turns out, all three share something else: In the end they all made me shrug "Meh". All had extraordinary moments and characteristics, but in the end just left me thinking "well, it wasn't bad, but...".
For example, the first 20-25 minutes of "Burn After Reading" was, frankly, boring...It turned a corner fortunately and Brad Pitt's comic turn was inspired at times (I also loved Richard Jenkins and Clooney), but the story failed me. I found it fizzled at the end and overall balanced out to a middling affair. I know it's a film about "nothing", but knowing that didn't help much in making it more interesting. I did laugh out loud at Clooney's "I meant the back seat, not a rear entry affair..." line - mainly due to his delivery.
With "My Blueberry Nights", I fully expected to be cringing with every line delivery by Norah Jones if early reviews were to be believed. But she wasn't that bad - not exactly subtle or with a wide range, but certainly at least adequate for the role she filled in the film. As well, the look of everything was gorgeous - Kar-Wai fills his frames with colour and care (though I was getting awfully sick of that jittery slow motion - it reminded me of cheesy 80s music videos). The setup and the idea of Jones reporting back her travels to Jude Law's Cafe owner was fine, but I found that neither of the two long stories (the first with Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn, the second with Natalie Portman) were really worth their length. Even typing that, I find it strange to think it - I should be happy to have the extended time with these people to flesh out their characters, especially with the quality of the actors (Weisz and Strathairn are pretty great). But I think it would've worked more towards helping the wrap around story and Jones' character if there had been at least one or two more stories as she hopped between waitress and barmaid jobs.
Then there's "Speed Racer" - hitting the Top and Bottom 10s of many of the bloggers and critics I respect the most. I was quite apprehensive going in, but was pleasantly surprised that the visuals weren't as distracting or headache inducing as I had been led to believe. As a matter of fact - they were stunning. Every single frame of the film looked like a Lite-Brite set had just exploded right underneath a rainbow. The race courses reminded me of the strange, convoluted ones I built as a kid using popsicle sticks, Hot Wheels tracks, cardboard tubes and anything else I could find lying around. These were much cooler though...And the acting was far superior to what I expected as both John Goodman and Susan Sarandon actually created real people within this cartoonish world. But again, it was the story that let the whole thing down. Dull, predictable and without a single interesting character outside the immediate family. I know the bad guys are supposed to be bad, but did they also have to be boring? I found that whenever the plot returned from the racing, I started to tune out or had to find refuge in the beautiful pictures. The additional issue - the one that brings it much further down my list for the year - was the character of Spritle Racer, Speed's young brother. What the hell were they thinking? He was, hands down, the most annoying unfunny character I've seen in the past year. Perhaps longer. I don't know the original show of Speed Racer, so I can't say if they were trying to recreate something from it or just felt they needed some humour for the kids. Whatever the case, they failed miserably. I gritted my teeth every single moment that kid was on screen while he mugged away and shouted his lines.
In the final analysis for me, all three films are somewhere below average if I take into account all the 2008 films I saw. Some great moments, sequences and acting - but stories that just didn't pull me in and never managed to get me to really care what happened in the end. I'm glad I saw them though (and actually have a strong urge to see "Speed Racer" again at some point...).
Next up? Probably "The Flight Of The Red Balloon", "Mister Lonely", "Pineapple Express", "Sukiyaki Western Django" and "Ping Pong Playa". So I'll report back on those sometime in, oh I don't know, June...