Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Revolutionary Road" / "Defiance" / Crappy Classic: "Rock Star"

Revolutionary Road - Directed by Sam Mendes, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Michael Shannon - Rated R

This film's look at relationships and suburban life is as brutal as Chigurh.

Revolutionary Road is the film about a suburban couple, Frank and April Wheeler, dealing with the problems of a troubled marriage in the 1950's. This is basically a two hour long movie about an extremely rough patch in a relationship, but there are deeper issues about suburban life in general and what is an acceptable middleground between being bold and moving to Europe to start over (which is the plan the Wheelers hatch early on) and staying in suburbia and learning how to make something out of that life rather than become encompassed by the surroundings. Depending on whether those issues sound interesting or too depressing for a film will determine whether or not you enjoy this one. I, for one, found it interesting enough to get past the more miserable aspects.

The idea of watching Dicaprio and Winslet argue for an extended amount of time may not sound interesting, but the script (adapted from the classic Richard Yates novel of the same name) handles their relationship so realistically that it makes it compelling. There were so many times when, during an argument, one of them would yell out exactly what I was thinking. Usually, bad relationships in movies are either too black and white, or too vague to be realistic. The Wheelers have problems and the audience is going to hear about them, but they are not simple problems. In other words, I cannot imagine the audience really taking sides in this one. Both Frank and April do questionable and deceitful things. This didn't make me hate both of them or anything, though, it just allowed me to understand them better. This film does not ahy away from delving into characters.

Normally, a movie that takes place in the 1950's will paint this picture of the perfect family and how great things were back then. Which is to say that character development is nonexistent since there is no such thing as the perfect family. So it's very refreshing to see the curtain pulled back on a 1950's suburb and see that people may put on their happy faces and be completely fake in social situations, but they still interact when they take the masks off, too.

Speaking of the 1950's aspect, this movie looks great. There is a great amount of detail in the clothing and the sets that really adds to the realism, which is very important because the viewer needs to believe that this is taking place in the 50's or the power of the story will start to deteriorate. That might be why I like the period aspect of this film, or it might just be my love of 1950's life. The constant smoking (even by pregnant women), the lunch break drinking, and the little bar area everybody has in their living room with an always filled bucket of ice. I don't want to go too deep with this since that is what life used to be like for some people, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that these people felt a constant need to drink to try and deal with the mundane lives they lived.

Era aside, these characters need something else to make them interesting: actors. Dicaprio has been turning in great performance after great performance and this film is no different. He fits naturally into the timeframe and he makes for a convincing, angry husband. Winslet is in the same boat. The only difference is she finally got the Oscar this year (though it was for The Reader, but it could have been for either film in my opinion). Kathy Bates does well as the annoying realtor, but it's Michael Shannon, who plays her mentally disturbed son, who shines here. He's basically the bulls**t detector for this film. Whenever he interacts with the Wheelers, there is this look of skepticism on his face and he points out what everybody is thinking. It's just fun to watch Shannon make everyone around him cringe.

Michael Shannon and the rest of the cast turn in entertaining performances, but I'm not sure I would call this an entertaining film. Once again, it may just depress some people, but I found it interesting. I can't stress enough about the other issues of this film. Mendes put in those meandering scenes of daily life for both Frank and April for a reason. And the score amplifies the mood of each of those scenes (in particular the shot of hundreds of businessmen, all dressed similar, slowly walking to their boring office jobs). I could go, but it's better to just watch it and experience each issue for yourself. You might not enjoy it, but it should make you think.

*I just wanted to add that if you are interested by this film at all, read the book. The book is able to delve into issues not possible on film, though this is one of the more faithful adaptations out there.

Defiance - Directed by Edward Zwick, starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Alexa Davalos - Rated R

This one is as plain as Commodus.

I'll keep this one short. I've been a fan of Edward Zwick's work lately (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond), so I had high expectations for this. All I can say is that this movie is quite plain. It is based on a true story of Jews fighting back and surviving in the forests of Eastern Europe during World War II. I found the aspect of Jews fighting back to be interesting, since they are almost always shown to be completely helpless in other WWII films. In this film, they are not sitting around waiting for an army to save them, they are training to fight for themselves. Alongside this storyline is the struggle of two brothers (Craig and Schreiber) who clash over how to fight back. If this storyline had been more compelling, I might have been more interested, but it didn't really feel like much was at stake when they argued. And even though this is a true story, you can't help but compare it to Schindler's List. A couple scenes seem to be taken directly from that film (a wedding scene comes to mind, and the score at times sounded like it was taken directly from the Spielberg film). I thought that the filmmakers should have at least realized that and made some cuts and changes. Aside from those problems, you get the typical survival scenes; people getting sick, hungry, pregnant, people fighting for power, people questioning if they are any better than those wanting to kill them. All compelling, but all of it has been done before, and in a more interesting way. But this film is decent and contains a few impressive war scenes near the end. I was just hoping for more.

Crappy Classic: Rock Star - Directed by Stephen Herek, starring Mark Walhberg, Jennifer Aniston, and Dominic West - Rated R

The Kurgan likes to rock out, and you should too.

Rock Star may be able to be considered a forgotten classic as well, since I rarely hear anything about this movie. I've always been surprised at the lack of attention this film gets and even more surprised by some of the negative reactions to it. The movie, as you can guess from the title, is about Chris Cole (Wahlberg) and his dream of being in a famous rock band. He gets his chance in a story based on what actually happened with Judas Priest. Chris' favorite band, Steel Dragon, gives out a casting call for a new lead singer and Chris is perfect, since he's been pretending to be their lead singer in a tribute band for the past few years anyway. Once he gets the job, the audience is taken on a hilarious and entertaining ride in the world of 80's metal music.

Of course, that means it's montage time. But when a montage is done well, it's great for a movie. The montages here lead to some funny elements as you see what life on the road is like for a rock star. So there are plenty of partying scenes, all set to great music from that era. The original music made for this film is surprisingly good as well (I heartily recommend picking up the soundtrack). Along with the music, you get some funny characters (Timothy Olyphant is great as the guitarist in the tribute band) and when they clash, literally, it leads to some funny stuff. I'm not sure what everyone else was wanting from this film, but I was very entertained. I can't pinpoint what makes this film so good (hence the unfocused rambling above), so just do yourself a favor and check this movie out, you might be surprised.

Also, metal fans should keep their eyes open for Zakk Wylde (from Ozzy's band and Black Label Society, who has a hilarious line about hunting), Jeff Pilson (of Dokken fame), Jason Bonham (John Bonham's son), and many others. If you're into that type of music, it's cool to see those guys in a movie.

Next: The Hangover, Killshot, and maybe a third review, maybe not.

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