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Dec 30, 2008

Fletch's Film Review Blitz: Seven Pounds, Frost/Nixon and The Tale of Desperaux

Seven Pounds
Possible alternate title: Will Smith Has a Martyr Complex. Seriously, if any actor has ever been more ripe for a killer villain role, I'd like to hear it. Some 15 years ago, The World's Biggest Star At The Time took on not just a heel role, but a controversial one at that - namely, Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire. Though you'd be hard-pressed to state that Cruise's career was either in flux prior to Vampire (it was on the heels of A Few Good Men and The Firm) or saw a wild hot streak after (Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire), it's fair to say that Lestat was just the creative spark that took Cruise's career to another level. At the very least, it kept us from being lulled to sleep by role after role of endearing do-gooders.

Now it's Smith's turn. It doesn't seem like it, but Smith's been in 18 films, and has been the headlining star in 10 of them since 2000 (not including Legendarily Baggy Pants, in which he shared top billing with - or even took second to- Matt Damon. With Seven Pounds, he re-teams with the director of the film that netted him his second Academy Award nomination (The Pursuit of Happyness) and grants a similarly impressive performance...in a subpar film. You'll be forgiven, though, for neglecting the strong acting as you're distracted by the lame, pay-it-forward plot that's insulting enough to show you the end of the film in the beginning, only to act like it's showing you something new in the end. It's as though the writer and director thought their little twist was soooooo good that they neglected to bother making the rest of the film stand up to the denouement.

Fletch's Film Rating:


I hate to make generalizations, but I seem to be stuck in a rut in terms of critiquing historical dramas, specifically those based on a specific event and/or biopics. I noticed it first with Milk (which had me hearkening back to Ray and Walk the Line) and had my feelings entrenched a bit further with Frost/Nixon.

It goes something like this: these types of films are almost exclusively made by veteran, well-respected directors (Ron Howard, Gus Van Sant, Oliver Stone). They almost exclusively star top-notch actors, in it almost exclusively (so it seems) for an Academy nod. There's nothing wrong with these things, I'm just calling it like I see it.

The problem is, the films all seem to blend together, they rarely show any style or panache, and they're easily forgettable. Well-acted, well-directed, well-produced, pedigreed, good-to-great films that I can almost definitely say will never rank amongst my favorite films. I almost think they should be given their own "Best Picture" category at the Academy Awards; after all, I'm sure that both Milk and Frost/Nixon will be on the very short list for Best Picture, but I'm also sure that I'd be pissed if either won.

That said, Frost will likely place somewhere in my year-end top 10, and is worth your time. Yeah, I know - the hypocrisy of that pisses me off, too. I just don't know how else to explain it.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"

The Tale of Desperaux
Yea, we went to see a kid's film, got a problem with it?

But seriously, Mrs. Fletch, a graphic designer by trade, had been itching to see the beautifully animated Desperaux for months. You know what? It's worth it, too. It might not be as digitally crisp as Ratatouille was, but it's got loads more pizazz and vision, from the multiple animation styles to the imaginative camera angles and more. It also has much more charismatic leads, in the form of Dustin Hoffman's worldly rat Roscurro and Matthew Broderick's fearless, noble Desperaux, and that rarity in film these days - narration (by Sigourney Weaver) that helps the film along and entertains rather than merely stating obviousness and acting as an obstacle.

On top of that, it features an Ocean's-like cast, but here it's made up almost entirely of Academy Award-nominated actors, from Frank Langella to William H. Macy to Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Weaver, Hoffman and Broderick. Fans of Arrested Development will even get a dose of Buster (Tony Hale) - always a welcome sight (or sound).

If the somber tones of The Reader or Gran Torino have got you in the holiday doldrums, let yourself instead be whisked away by Desperaux. (How's that for a blurbified statement?)

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

7 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review Blitz: Seven Pounds, Frost/Nixon and The Tale of Desperaux"

Rachel said...

I totally agree about Smith needing a meaty villain role to re-engergize his career. As much as I love him, he's beginning to fall into a rut.

And I totally agree about historical biopics. Haven't seen Frost/Nixon (hasn't made its way here yet), but most seem to be good for one viewing, then that's it. After seeing films like Hotel Rwanda and Walk the Line, I added them to my dvd library, but I have no idea why. I've seen them one time and never feel like giving them another chance whenever I'm in the mood to watch something. They may be the ones that deserve the awards for "best" whatever (relative term anyway) but rarely favorites do they make, like with most Oscar-bait films, IMO.

And I have nothing to say regarding Desperaux b/c I haven't seen it and probably won't anytime soon. No offense to family friendly films, but I'm trying to watch as many R rated films before I'm forever destined to view only kiddie films for the next 10 years or so. I'm so selfish.

Anonymous said...

I dug Frost/Nixon too, way more than I thought I would.

PIPER said...

Seven Pounds seems like another Pay It Forward. I'd like to see him take a legitimate non-schmaltz serious role.

Fletch, you got me scratching my head on the Frost/Nixon review. I haven't seen it but it's probably the one I'm most excited to see. I would never say that Oliver Stone's films lack style or panache. That might be true of W, but certainly not of JFK or Nixon. As a matter of fact, I would say that his style gets in the way of telling a factual story. There is a fine line of telling an accurate story without getting in the way of it.

I would say that All The President's Men is one of the finest factual stories and it is without style. But it's damn good storytelling. It might be that you have to give up signature directing to retell history.

Fletch said...

So it's all porn, all the time right now at the Thuro household? Don't get too crazy. But that cracks me up that you'd do that - I think I'd do the same thing, especially if I had a Netflix queue - quick, all the R-rated stuff, to the front!

Piper, er sorry, PIPER, I'm not dogging F/N at all. See it, it's a very good film (I've given it my 2nd-highest rating, even). It's just that they all seem so generic to me. It's funny that you singled out Stone from my examples given, and then singled out W. after that, because as I was writing it and afterwards, I was thinking that, at least in terms of how the subject matter was handled, W. was the most different of all the ones I mentioned. And yet you single it as the one that fits most into the mold.

Again, it's not necessarily a bad thing, it points more to the, um, point that Rachel made about favorites/best (I think I jut got done with that debate elsewhere). Historical dramas might be excellent showcases, but I rarely walk away with that "wow!" feeling.

PIPER said...

Fletch, I mean FLETCH (all caps is the only way to fly).

I just got out of Frost/Nixon and in looking at your comments - you're dead on. And yet, I think you think it should be considered a great film. All the elements were there, but Howard failed greatly. And he failed because he is not a great filmmaker. Maybe an entertaining one, but not a great one. Anyway, I am writing more thoughts on this.

Fletch said...

I don't know if I agree with you. I don't think he failed, I think he took a story that was wildly interesting while it happening and is marginally interesting now and turned it into a pretty interesting study/comparison of two men that seemingly had nothing in common. At the same time, he shed some light on an important chapter in American politics.

I just think there's a ceiling to the greatness that can be achieved by this type of film. Not his fault, just reality.

Anonymous said...

I've really looked forward to most of these recent movies, Frost/Nixon, Torino, etc... but the only one that hasn't left me with a slight "used" feeling is Desperaux.