Changeling (aka Law and Order starring Angelina Jolie)

changelingOkay. Changeling hasn’t gotten universally positive reviews. And even though I thought the film was riveting, I can kind of see why. Here’s a film that was marketed as this dark mystery. Well there are certainly mysterious things that happen in the film that make the viewer think, “Hmm. What’s up with that?” and “I wonder how that’s going to turn out.” But the film focuses on an actual kidnapping case that is more or less solved with a lot of the film remaining. If one expects what the trailers promise–a taut thriller–one will be disappointed. Changeling more or less follows the structure of Law and Order: the crime is solved, and then we move to the courts where everything is resolved one way or another.

If, however, one goes into the film expecting a dramatization of the real life kidnapping of Walter Collins, one will be delighted. And here’s why. Clint Eastwood made a damn fine film. The real life story is so incredibly appalling, and takes so many bizarre twists and turns, that a film based on it, almost necessarily, seems to go in too many different directions. In fact, if the story didn’t have basis in reality, it would almost be unbelievable.  But knowing that this stuff (more or less) really happened, it’s fairly appalling, and it’s pretty tough to look away.

It’s also pretty tough to look. I’m glad I saw it. But I won’t ever watch it again–not because it’s bad, but because it makes me feel uncomfortable in the same way that Sherry Baby and Monster did. Along with those two films, Changeling left me wondering exactly what kind of crap world we live in, Monster and Changeling especially, because they’re both based on real events.

And Angelina Jolie is the reason this film is so hard to watch. A viewer could walk into this film having never thought about what it would feel like to lose a child, but it would be pretty hard to walk out without having gleaned the horror of it from Jolie’s performance. She’s angry, helpless, frantic, and completely bared and vulnerable. As her deep frustration grows, so did mine. It’s difficult not to go through this ordeal alongside her. Director Clint Eastwood deserves some of the credit of course, but Jolie once again proves that she’s far more than a pretty face.

I have two gripes with the film. The first is with LAPD Captain JJ Jones, played by Jeffrey Donovan. My gripe is on two levels. First, I don’t think the guy is a very talented actor. I watch his show Burn Notice, but more for the ancillary characters played by Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, and Sharon Gless. In fact, the first few episodes I watched, I fairly well hated the wooden Donovan. He’s grown on me in the context of the show. But in this film, he has this wildly vacillating Irish accent (well Irish is my best guess) and he’s stiff as a board. Which I might buy if I hadn’t seen him already playing stiff board in something else. But in addition to Donovan’s annoying performance, the character of the Captain is fairly one-dimensional as well. It’s difficult to beleive the real life guy was as much of a complete slime as this film suggests. Perhaps he was. I’m not going to say it’s impossible. But just one small indicator that this character has some small vestige of a soul would have been nice.

The second is that you’ll leave the film questioning the motives of some of the key players and wondering what exactly happened. The film doesn’t tell you. And there are plenty of possibilities to mull over.  The curious can easily discover what happened, but that’s extra work, and I already paid nine bucks and spent two and a half hours watching this thing. I don’t think I should have homework.

But, gripes aside, I highly recommend Changeling. In addition to the kidnapping plot, it shines a light on LAPD corruption, along with some of the indignities faced by women early in the last century.  Superior supporting performances by Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner, and Michael Kelley round out this compelling historical drama. Don’t miss it!

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Australia

Australia

Australia is Baz Luhrmann’s new opus featuring his muse, Nicole Kidman, alongside Hugh Jackman. You might remember Luhrmann from his super stylized films Moulin Rouge! and Romeo & Juliet. And if you’re expecting such over the top and over saturated eye candy in Australia, you’ll be pretty disappointed.

Luhrmann has been criticized for his “gimmicky” visuals used in previous movies. I believe he’s turned some people off with his signature style, of which I’m a big fan, and I think it’s those people that will appreciate Australia more than his usual devoted followers.

When watching Australia, the only thing that was giving me signs that is was a Luhrmann film was just how epic it was. He’s known for interpreting majestic stories and Australia is no different. It’s an epic tale, yes, but also epic in length. Preparing yourself to sit down for almost 3 hours straight is a pretty daunting task.

And that’s my major problem with Australia. Unlike a monumental book where you can spend months reading it, digesting it in small bites, this movie has to be taken all at once. If you were to adapt War & Peace or The Epic Of Gilgamesh into a film, you’d inevitably have to cut some pieces out. Tales that long don’t work as one single movie unless it’s abridged.

Obviously, these are my opinions. I don’t have the best attention span and extravagantly long movies such as Australia are difficult for me to watch in the theaters. If I was able to watch it at home, pause it, grab a snack, or do whatever, I’d probably be less harsh on it’s running time. But I know there are those of you who wait with baited breath for those movies that break the 140 minute mark. I mean, it’s not every year that we get a Titanic or Return Of The King. So if you’re not a fan of “comic book” movies like The Dark Knight, then here’s the one you’ve been waiting for.

Slumdog Millionaire

slumdog-millionaire-fl-01Slumdog Millionaire, co-directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine) and first-time Indian director Loveleen Tandan is a touching, sometimes brutal tales of love, family, and destiny that takes place in modern day India.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Jamal Malik is a young man who has been a slumdog all of his life – living off next to nothing, never really having his own home and constantly traveling the country chasing after his one true love. Jamal appears on the Indian version of the poplar game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire , and using past life experiences is easily able to answer the questions he is given. Of course, being that he is from the slums he is not supposed to know the answers to the questions. Before long he is taken into police custody on suspicion of cheating. The film is much deeper and complex than that, delving into family conflict, gang crime, and race and religious conflicts.

Slumdog Millionaire is, hands down, the best film I’ve seen this year. I will even go as far as to say it’s the best film I’ve seen in the last few years. Boyle is a brilliant director, working with a bunch of no-name and child actors and getting Oscar worthy performances out of them. Boyle and Tandan craft a beautiful epic that is equal parts suspenseful, harrowing and tear-jerking touching. The beautiful cinematography coupled with excellent choices in music really bring the story to life and help the viewer to really connect with the characters and understand what they’re going through. Danny Boyle, an English director exquisitely captures the heart of India and reels you in. Danny Boyle, while always a good director, has really stepped up his game with this film and proven that he really can make any kind of film and work in almost any genre.

I honestly can’t recommend this film enough and I urge everyone to see it, even if the premise doesn’t interest you. Slumdog Millionaire is an almost perfectly crafted film and one that will stay with you for a long time.