“Power Rangers”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Power Rangers” is far better than it has any right to be. Previous knowledge of the original 1990s television show isn’t required to enjoy it, either. Here is one of those rare movies that will appeal to both its die-hard fans as well as newcomers who have no idea what any of this means, and that’s a sign of quality and skilled storytelling. It’s entertaining as all get-out, and has massive potential to spawn a new franchise.

The plot, which focuses on five misfit teenagers who find an alien spaceship and develop superhuman strength and other special powers, is basic but it works. Of course they have been chosen to save the world from a greater evil but they must learn to work together so they can “morph” into their new alter-egos, the Power Rangers. What truly works about the film is the very likeable kids and cast — these are teens that I want to spend more time with.

The movie isn’t really campy at all when you consider the source material. It’s played straight by the teens (Dacre Montgomery, Naomi ScottRJ CylerLudi Lin, and Becky G.) As well as Bryan Cranston as  ghost in the machine Zordon, with Elizabeth Banks being the only exception. Here Banks is unafraid to massively chew the scenery as the Queen of Camp in her portrayal of Rita Repulsa, a gold toothed, scantily clad alien warrior who likes to overact by screaming and making overstated, grand gestures, finished off by a gloriously evil cackle. The special effects are as good as you could reasonably expect, and the film is appropriately rated PG-13 for some sci-fi violence, crude humor and mild language, all thrown in to give your preteen a good thrill.

As with most superhero origin stories, the set-up and back story is immensely enjoyable — until the kids actually become the Power Rangers. That’s when the CGI goes wild and the film loses its personal feeling. There are a lot of rock monsters, explosions and cartoonish action scenes with evil minions trying to destroy the planet. Yawn. But for every noisy, detached element, there’s a wealth of earnest character development — far more than you’d ever expect, and far more than a movie like this deserves.

One major flaw is also one of the most comical things about the film, and that’s the overt product placement for one particular brand of doughnut. It’s so abruptly in-your-face and distracting that the studio should just go ahead and rename the film “Power Rangers: Krispy Kreme Edition.” The characters mention the delicious doughnut chain so often that it starts to become completely ludicrous. I want to see this movie again so I can count how many times you either see a doughnut, there’s a mention of the joint, or there’s a shot of the brand’s logo somewhere in the film. The best laugh out loud moment? During an action-packed major fight scene, Banks actually sits down inside a Krispy Kreme restaurant and pauses to eat a chocolate iced with sprinkles.

I really had a good time at this movie and if you enjoy sci-fi or superhero stories, it’s worth buying a ticket.

“Wilson”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Indie comics legend Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World,” “Art School Confidential”) brings his cult graphic novel “Wilson” to the big screen, directed by Craig Johnson. Clowes wrote the screenplay and has found the perfect match in Johnson, who tackled similar themes in his previous film “The Skeleton Twins” (which landed in the #1 spot on my Top Ten Best Movies of 2014 list).

Woody Harrelson stars as the lonely and neurotic Wilson, a middle-aged man-child and antihero of the story. Wilson is a grumpy weirdo who struggles to understand society’s current obsession with technology and mourns the lost art of conversation. He truly has a desire to connect to people the old fashioned way, but he often approaches strangers in the most off putting manner possible (like taking a seat right next them on a train or in a cafe when there are plenty of empty ones nearby, with no boundaries nor respect paid to anyone’s personal space). Wilson makes folks rather uncomfortable, but his social awkwardness simply masks his longing for any type of human interaction. He’s a lonely man with only his loyal and elderly dog, Pepper, as a constant companion.

When a chance encounter leads him to track down his ex-wife and former junkie prostitute Pippi (Laura Dern), Wilson learns that the baby he thought she aborted after she left him was actually born and put up for adoption 17 years ago. The two team up and go on a weird undercover mission to find their daughter Claire (Isabella Amara). Once they find her, the movie really starts diving into a strange familial tale of utter dysfunction. As with most families, there’s plenty of melodrama to be found, but Wilson is at once confused and elated by the fact that he’s just discovered that he’s somebody’s daddy.

Harrelson gives a seriously award worthy performance here and manages to do the near impossible: make a struggling, emotionally unstable and immature adult relatable and likeable. Wilson isn’t a nice guy but he’s not a bad guy either; he’s gruff and grumpy but at his heart lies an optimist who truly has a desire to connect with all people. He’s a lost and lonely soul who suddenly finds purpose and meaning to his life. Wilson cares, so you’ll care about him too.

The film has a certain eccentricity to it that’s never off-putting because it’s grounded in its authenticity (I give much credit to Johnson for this, as he really is the perfect match with his straightforward and heartfelt directing style). In addition to the phenomenal Dern and Amara, there’s also a multitude of strong supporting performances from Cheryl Hines as Pippi’s competitive and constantly criticizing sister Polly, Margo Martindale as a talkative stranger, and Judy Greer as a kindly dog sitter who sees the good in Wilson’s heart.

There’s a certain brand of strange to this story and film, but it’s well done and oddly touching. This isn’t a movie that will appeal to everyone but if you’re open-minded when it comes to indie cinema, it’s well worth checking out.

“CHIPS”

LOUISA: 1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

Once in a while that one special film comes along: one that is so odious, so dreadful, and so incredibly lousy that you’ll find yourself asking how on Earth did this garbage ever get the green light from a major studio? Well folks, we have the first entry into what will undoubtedly be vying for the top spot of the worst films of 2017, and I won’t be surprised if it lands at or near the very top of the trash heap.

What a waste of a great concept! “CHIPS” is the lame attempt by actor (and here also the writer and director) Dax Shepard to bring the popular buddy motorcycle cop show of the same name to the big screen. Most of us 70s kids loved Ponch and Jon, two iconic television characters who should’ve been a true goldmine for a comedy film — but Shepard manages to completely ruin it for everyone with his unfocused direction, lackluster plot, and his sad excuse for humor.

The casting is on point, with Shepard stepping into the role of daredevil turned highway patrolman Jon Baker and Michael Peña taking on Erik Estrada’s iconic Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello. The two should’ve made the perfect onscreen duo, but their chemistry is sorely lacking and their endless riffs feel stiff and unnatural. Shame on Shepard for squandering the talented Peña, a crime against movie lovers everywhere which in itself should be a punishable offense. Let’s hope his career can recover from this dreck.

I honestly hate trashing on Shepard because I truly do like the guy, and I usually respond to his brand of funny. But the lame excuses for jokes in this movie are really, really lousy. Everything is lowbrow in the worst possible way. The attempts at humor are so abysmal that Shepard repeatedly resorts to homophobic, sexist and racist wisecracks — and none of it is funny. Case in point: he attempts to make Ponch’s sex addiction and gross objectification of women into a running slapstick gag, which plays as extremely vile and obnoxious. There are plenty of outdated anti-gay one-liners too, and to top it off, it’s mean-spirited towards cats.

The storyline is one that’s loaded with indifference. In between the forced clashes between the inexperienced rookie and hardened veteran, there’s a half-baked plot about corrupt cops, undercover FBI agents, and more, none of which makes much sense or gives the audience a reason to care. Even the motorcycle chase scenes are poorly done, with lame stunt driving and even worse staging. Geez Dax, I know you love choppers and cars, couldn’t you even get that right?

If I force myself to say something positive about the movie, all I can come up with is that at least Shepard’s time spent at the gym surely shows (he’s buff and shirtless for many scenes), but even that’s not nearly enough to hold anyone’s interest.

There was so much potential for this film that is completely wasted. Instead of taking a straight-laced approach or even better, a tongue-in-cheek, spoof-filled approach, Shepard simply cannot decide on the tone he wants for the movie. He gives us a comedy that lacks any elements of comedy.

This movie is so lazy, so unfunny that it’s actually an insult to anyone who purchases a ticket and subjects themselves to two hours in a darkened theater. Mindless cinema can be fun, but not when it’s this awful.

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“A Street Cat Named Bob”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The healing power of an animal’s unconditional love is given its due in “A Street Cat Named Bob,” a film based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by James Bowen. Bowen (played here by Luke Treadaway) is a former heroin addict who had his life turned around when he met a stray cat that he named Bob. Bowen decided to take in and care for the kitty and his true, tender and heartwarming story is hard not to like and admire.

This true tale starts out with a harrowing drug overdose that lands Bowen in the emergency room, near death. He’s trying desperately to get off drugs but has been unable to find the strength to shake his demons. The young man has been disowned by his family, living on the streets of London and playing his guitar for pocket change just to survive. When it seems he has hit rock bottom, a four legged savior named Bob purrs his way into his life. The boisterous, ginger feline gives Bowen the strength and determination to become a better man.

There are some very heavy themes at play here (the screenplay touches briefly on some serious social issues including homelessness and the plight of drug addiction), but the film isn’t too dark or serious and mostly feels like it’s designed to tug at your heartstrings. What elevates from your usual Hallmark movie of the week is that the story of inseparable friendship is truly touching and doesn’t ring false. Even if you never cry at movies, I dare you not to get teary eyed when viewing this one. Get the hankies ready when Bowen foregoes eating himself just so he can use the last of his money to buy Bob a can of cat food.

Treadaway is compelling and gives a heartfelt, earnest performance as Bowen, but it’s the cat who steals the show. Even better is the fact that the real Bob the cat plays himself, and he’s a true character.

This is a feel good movie that will surely touch the hearts of animal lovers everywhere. Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to share their life with a cat needs to see this one.

“Beauty and the Beast”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I understand that it’s next to impossible to avoid letting your nostalgia for the original 1991 animated Disney film “Beauty and the Beast” fool you into thinking this live action remake is fantastic. I get it. It is arguably one of the greatest animated films of all time with iconic characters, scenes and songs. So iconic, in fact, that I wish the Disney machine would’ve just left it well enough alone. This nearly shot-by-shot retelling may have its moments, but they are few and far between. The film amounts to little more than a mediocre cash grab that putters along, fueled by the good will from its audience.

The film is surprisingly poorly directed by Bill Condon. The big CGI animated scenes that should be true show stoppers (like the classic “Be Our Guest” dinner performance) are choppily edited and packed with so much visual noise that they are ugly and at times ungainly. The entire project reeks of desperation as everything in the movie looks and feels overdressed and hollow, from the choreography to the mediocre costumes. The animated Beast (Dan Stevens) looks fake and terrible in the way he talks and moves, and don’t get me started on the ghastly singing all around.

The cast is so perfect (I’ve been excited for months after the accomplished list of actors was announced) and I can’t believe they actually blew it. Something feels completely “off” about many of the performances here, especially from Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (Lefou), and at times, Emma Watson (Belle). They look uncomfortable and confused, awkwardly delivering lines and sometimes even changing acting styles throughout the film. Watson and Stevens lack even an ounce of chemistry, which sorely hurts the entire project.

There’s the typical overacting from voice talent Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), and a really bad vocal turn from Ewan McGregor as everyone’s favorite candelabra, Lumiere. It’s not all rotten, thanks to Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock (he turns in an inspired voice performance) and a very funny, boisterous, and cartoonish Luke Evans who gives Gaston his due.

The film exhibits such loyalty to the source material that it often reeks of desperation in its blind insistence to mimic the original. Scenes are set up shot-by-shot and reenacted, and the love story now feels a bit dated for today’s sensibilities. With the new Disney trend of writing tough, I-don’t-need-a-man strong female characters (“Frozen,” “Moana“), this movie feels like someone is rewinding the time clock back to the early 90s, regressing to what now feels like an old-timey attitude towards men (those filthy beasts!) and women (if I stay long enough, maybe I’ll learn to love him!).

The runtime is over two hours and there is just far too much going on in this overstuffed, bloated, and disappointing film. It may remain true to the source material, but that alone doesn’t make it a good movie.

“Before I Fall”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It’s “Mean Girls” meets “Groundhog Day” in “Before I Fall,” a surprisingly thoughtful young adult drama based on the novel by Lauren Oliver. The story gives a fresh perspective on the familiar themes of self discovery, living your life to the fullest, and the potential of one single gesture to make a powerful difference in the world.

Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is a high school senior with a seemingly perfect life and bright future. She hangs with a popular pack of pretty girls (Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi, and Cynthy Wu) who take pleasure in bullying reclusive weirdo Juliette (Elena Kampouris) because of the strange way she dresses and acts. On the way home from a party one night, she and her best friends get in a horrible car accident. The next morning, Samantha wakes up with a serious case of deja vu.

Sam soon realizes that she has become stuck in a time loop and is forced to relive the same day over and over until she finally gets it right. It’s unclear if she is dead or alive, but every single night the day reboots and she’s back in her bed, waiting to start again. No matter what she does the day always ends and restarts the same way. It’s a good concept that’s been done to death, but luckily this version of the stuck-in-Purgatory theme seems fresh and new.

So why is that the case? I give great credit to Deutch and her natural, organic, and effortless performance. Even though she hangs with some not so nice gal pals, you can’t help but instantly like her and feel a real connection. Another reason this film works is the surprisingly mature and strong screenplay (by Maria Maggenti). The characters are written with an honest sincerity, as we all knew kids just like this when we were in high school. They speak like real teens and they act like real teens, with the most superficial things taking center stage in their lives.

This would be a good film to watch with your tweens and teens as there is a lot of material that should encourage interesting discussions, from the damaging effects of cruel bullying to the responsibilities of being a young woman to dealing with peer pressure and semi-toxic friendships. I love that the movie respects its characters and its audience, which makes it rise above the rest.

That’s not to say that it’s flawless, however. There’s a little too much filler, with repetitive scenes of teen girls singing along to the radio, putting on makeup and hanging out. The film could stand to lose at least fifteen minutes of superfluous padding, which was unnecessary in the first place because the story is so compelling and the script is so well written.

Still, there are quite a few refreshing revelations and twists to the story and a great (if startling) ending that’s not a letdown (even though the lesson is probably one that you’ll see coming from a mile away).

“Before I Fall” is a reminder that high school is torture and being a teenager really, really sucks. I am surprised at how good this movie is.

“Logan”

LOUISA: 4.5 STARS MATT: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

With its narrow and unflinching scope, “Logan” forces the audience to face a world-weary man’s past demons up close and personally. While this poignant farewell chapter may be a swan song for Wolverine, this dark, violent and brutal film is so much more. It’s a somber, slow burn fueled with a painful introspective of a tormented man’s reflection on morality, mortality, and regret. It’s a superhero movie that has nothing to do with being a superhero, and it’s easily one of the best movies of the year.

Hugh Jackman elevates his final outing as the popular X-Men character with a melancholy performance in this exceptionally and unexpectedly thoughtful movie. The year is 2029 and most mutants are now extinct. Logan’s adamantium metal skeleton is slowly killing him, and he’s living his life in physical and psychological agony. It’s hard to see him like this, and it’s even harder to see his old friend and mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) losing his mind and the control of his own powers. The two are hiding out in a remote area of Mexico where Logan drives a limo for cash and finds it necessary to drug Charles in order to keep him sedated (and to prevent him from hurting himself — and others). When a frantic woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) begs Logan for help moving young mute girl Laura (Dafne Keen) across the border to safety from an evil government organization (led by Boyd Holbrook), he learns about the existence of a new generation of mutants and does everything in his power to help grant them safe passage.

Newcomer Keen seamlessly integrates her way into the story with the perfect blend of sympathetic and lethal, her character paving the way for a new generation to continue the X-Men legacy. She gives a strong performance, especially for such a young actor, and I’m quite excited to see more of her in future installments.

The genuine and skillful acting throughout elevates this film from being nothing more than a lurid, cheap exercise in hyper violence. There’s a certain sincerity in the mutual respect between Charles and Logan, a tumultuous yet appreciative relationship between two men with a dynamic chemistry (Jackman and Stewart remain loyal and respectful to their characters, oftentimes with agonizing sorrow when you suddenly realize that this could be the final, mournful end to their bond).

There’s an underlying anguish to Wolverine’s rage, a painful ache that simmers under the stunning action sequences. This isn’t your typical Marvel blockbuster: get ready for gory dismemberings, close-ups of claws piercing skulls, razor sharp instruments popping through eyeballs, and ferocious blows that will make heads roll — literally. (In case you haven’t figured it out, this decidedly adult oriented film is not appropriate for the youngsters. Please leave ’em home for this one).

As a long time fan of the “X-Men” film series, I have to admit that it was a little disconcerting and quite alarming to see Wolverine actually draw blood from his victims. Showing the aftermath and reality of his viciousness through brutal violence was startling and disturbing, especially after all those years of watching the superhero bloodlessly slash and stab his way through countless bad guys. His rage has at last been unleashed, and fans will surely agree that it’s true to the character (and how great is it to finally hear the man continuously dropping the “f” word in the most natural, organic way)?

“Logan” makes the most of its R rating and is sure to unsettle and disturb those seeking a traditional Marvel superhero movie. This isn’t an action packed fluff piece: it’s a deliberate, dark, and thoughtful introspective tale of a downtrodden man who has lost his will to live.

The movie isn’t without its mild flaws, from the beat-you-over-the-head parallels to the classic western “Shane” to an astonishingly choreographed old Wolverine vs. young clone Wolverine fight that is freaking fantastic — until it’s repeated later on. But these are only minor criticisms of a film that’s a bold, daring, and sad-yet-satisfying finale to the saga of Logan.

MATT SAYS:

Violence has consequences. And in “Logan,” horrific violence has horrific consequences, even if you’re one of the “good” guys.

“Logan” finds the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in the not-too-distant future, working as a chauffeur to make ends meet and trying hard to forget his past. When he’s not working, he’s caring for the ailing nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a world where mutants are no longer being born and the X-Men are all but extinct. Now an aging has-been, Logan is but a shadow of his former self: hardly the cocky, self-obsessed man he once was, this broken-down man is haunted by the memories of the people he has killed and those he has left behind. When a mysterious girl with powers like his lands on Logan’s doorstep, he is forced to live up to his legend and fight to protect her from forces that want to destroy her.

In “Logan,” we finally get a superhero movie that doesn’t feel like a comic book. The story is a small one, where the there is no larger-than-life megalomaniac wielding a giant destructo-beam with aspirations to rule the world. Instead, this movie is satisfied with the central goal of keeping the girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) safe. In this mission Logan finds purpose, and it is enough.

Those who were hoping for an X-Men movie will be disappointed in “Logan.” While there are multiple well-choreographed fight sequences (without fast-cut editing), in this film the violence is nothing like we normally see in superhero cinema. In this movie, when someone is sliced by the Wolverine’s sharp claws, there is blood. There is gore. Death isn’t bloodless or pretty, and the camera doesn’t flinch as we are shown the violence inflicted by Logan and others. This is, by far, the bloodiest movie based on a comic-book character I think I’ve ever seen. But it’s not gore for gore’s sake; there is a purpose for it.

At its heart, “Logan” is a character study about a man that has done terrible things and now has to live with them; worse, he has to live with himself. Much like James Gunn’s excellent 2010 movie “Super,” there are no white hats here: just real killing with real consequences.

Built upon fully-realized characters with understandable motivations, “Logan” never feels like it’s manipulating us. The drama is earned, as are the laughs and cheers. This kind of character-driven drama is not something most audiences are used to, but it’s a significant step forward for the superhero genre.

“Kong: Skull Island”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Even if you aren’t a fanboy of the monster movie genre, you’ll have a good time at “Kong: Skull Island,” an eye popping popcorn movie that offers up some good old fashioned cinematic escapism. The film has a serious-yet-satirical attitude that gives it an elevated B-movie vibe, and it’s a ton of fun.

Setting the film in the 1970s was a brilliant move and it serves the story well. Conspiracy theorist Bill (John Goodman) convinces the government to give him a military escort to chart a mysterious island. Accompanying him are tough and combative career military man Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squadron, British tracker James (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photojournalist Mason (Brie Larson) and several other random company suits and scientists. After arriving on the island the group encounters wildly strange hermit Hank (the scene stealing John C. Reilly), a presumed dead WWII military pilot who crash landed and has been stuck on the island since the 1940s. King Kong is a hero ape in this version, keeping the local tribespeople safe from the Skull Crawlers (which are admittedly lame and fake looking dino lizard things).

The plot is thin, the dialogue is at times clunky, and there’s little character development. But that’s not really why audiences flock to movies like this, is it? We’re here to see a giant monkey wreak havoc, and the film delivers. (In fact, Kong shows up within the film’s first few minutes, providing an instant satisfaction by giving us an early and grandiose glimpse of the beast).

This is one great looking movie that’s extraordinarily visually focused (if not so much story-wise). It’s an expensive spectacle with a huge budget (rumored to be in the $190 million range), and you sure as heck can see where the money was spent onscreen. It’s not in the talented, credible actors that helm the cast: it’s in the absolutely flawless — and I mean FLAWLESS — visual effects. The CGI eye candy is breathtaking and the classic movie monster is brought to life on an epic scale by the animation geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic (with visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum working at the top of his game here). Kong looks and feels like an actual ape and is given a real humanity through the topnotch animation.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who directed the intimate film “Kings of Summer” (which clocked in at #4 on my list of the Top 10 Best Movies of 2013), makes an enormous and impressive creative leap from spearheading a low budget indie to an extravagant blockbuster with enviable ease. Vogt-Roberts has a skilled, artistic eye for visual beauty and stages some epic set pieces here. You’ll get big monsters and even bigger explosions with a pulsating retro rock soundtrack throughout.

All of this dazzling spectacle serves as a flashy distraction from the thin story and flat acting, but this is a wildly entertaining movie that breathes life into the Kong franchise.

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“The Belko Experiment”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Oh, what a great movie this could have been.

In what’s been described with mild accuracy as “Office Space” meets “Battle Royale,” “The Belko Experiment” is a bloody, gruesome and hyper violent exercise in indie cinema with an abundance of missed potential. Instead of striving for a masterpiece of comedy or a clever critique on workplace hierarchy and office politics, director Greg McLean and writer James Gunn instead opt for a disappointing, unimaginative bloodbath. It’s a cruelly savage tale of massacre and slaughter with no heft or meaning, just lots of blood.

What a letdown.

The plot is straightforward and unoriginal, and the film relies on its white collar world setting as the only mark of creativity. In a sick and twisted social experiment, an office full of 80 American employees are trapped inside their corporate high rise headquarters in Bogotá, Colombia. They must commit a certain number of murders per hour at the behest of an unknown voice broadcasting over the loudspeaker in the building. An all-out war soon ensues as the office becomes a splatter-filled playground of carnage in a contest for the survival of the fittest.

Movie like this are always a bit fun to watch (“The Hunger Games,” “The Condemned,” “The Running Man”) and I understand that nonstop violence can sometimes be a fun escape, but this movie misses the mark in a big way. For films like this to be truly compelling, the characters have to be sympathetic, driven and relatable in their will to survive and their eagerness to become murderers. It’s not the fault of the actors either, as there are some decent performances from John Gallagher Jr., Melonie Diaz and Adria Arjona, with Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley adding the best turns as two bosses gone rogue. Here we just get to watch as shallow, thinly scripted office workers are shot, stabbed, impaled, torn apart by hatchets, kicked to death, burned alive, and have their necks broken, all in a frantic assembly line fashion.

There are a couple of inspired ways that some of the associates meet the demise, including one guy who has his brains bashed in by a tape dispenser and several others getting the ultimate surprise of having their heads explode all over the break room. This is more of a straight up horror gore fest rather than a thoughtful or fun movie, and I left extremely disappointed in this colossal waste of potential.

“The Belko Experiment” is little more than dumbed down carnage that’s being marketed to educated genre fans and as a result, the project fails.

“American Pastoral”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I appreciate Ewan McGregor‘s assured confidence in tackling the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “American Pastoral,” but he never should have chosen Philip Roth‘s difficult material to make his directorial debut. McGregor is capable enough as a director but his talents lie onscreen, not behind the camera. He treats this material with a pedestrian, humdrum lens and turns it into a flaccid family melodrama rather than a provocative American tragedy, which is a bit of a shame.

The subject matter, with its ‘America in turmoil’ theme and emotions boiling over with disenchantment towards the government establishment, could have been made into a timely and relevant commentary on today’s society. Instead we get a by-the-book film with little to no artistic interpretation, and the end result feels as shallow as it is hollow.

“American Pastoral” tells the story of former legendary high school athlete Swede Levov (McGregor) and his former beauty queen wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). The classic hardworking family finds their lives turned upside down when their rebellious teenage daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) becomes a political terrorist during the Vietnam War.

The 1960s-era film has a few good looking scenes but everything about it feels far too staged, from the camera angles to the set design to the performances (the acting is skilled across the board, but it’s hard to truly enjoy anyone’s performance when the film itself is so bland).

This movie tries to cover far too much ground and sadly drowns in the provocative source material.