Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Directed by: Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)

With 9/11 brooding at the center of its emotionally manipulative core, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” displays about as much modesty regarding the 2001 tragedy as Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Simply put: it’s an exploitative sham.

While the self-important drama would like to do for September 11 what a film like 1997’s “Life is Beautiful” (“La vita è bella”) did for the Holocaust by telling a whimsical and heartfelt story within the framework of an unimaginably painful time in history, it doesn’t have nearly enough charm to pull it off. Its lack of quality storytelling and characterization begins and ends with acting newcomer Thomas Horn as the film’s main character Oskar Schell. Metaphorically and pretentiously speaking, the boy’s last name could refer to the hard outer covering of the personality he must break through to let others in. Sigh.

Oskar, who just might be one of the most posturing characters in cinematic history, is unlike any other brainy 9-year-old kid usually seen in the locker room with his underwear pulled over his head. Not only is he an amateur entomologist, Francophile, pacifist, and undiagnosed autistic — his idea of fun is going on fact-finding expeditions through the New York City his father (Tom Hanks) creates for him. When his father dies in the World Trade Center attacks, Oskar is convinced a mysterious key he discovers is a clue left behind for his next journey.

Ignore the fact that Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock) allows him to walk around NYC unsupervised or that actually coming across a lock the key will fit is highly improbable; what is most problematic about the screenplay is the rambunctious and grating nature of Oskar himself and the phony relationships he creates along the way, including one with his estranged mute grandfather (Max von Sydow).

Despite the exaggerated melodrama, what works best in the film are the few moments director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) allows a child’s perspective to be the window through which the audience watches the events of September 11 unfold. Hanks, too, is memorable when he’s not on screen. The voice messages he leaves on an answering machine on what Oskar calls “the worst day” are chilling, to say the least.

Beyond that, however, “Extremely Loud” is meaningless. As much as it wants to affect, connect, and heal, there’s only so much fiction you can attach to 9/11 before it feels like just another sob story. If the Academy made a glaring gaffe with this year’s nominations, it was in calling this sentimental drivel one of the best films of the year. In fact, this is a forced tearjerker that can’t wrap up soon enough.

The Blind Side

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw
Directed by: John Lee Hancock (“The Alamo”)
Written by: John Lee Hancock (“The Alamo”)

While Sandra Bullock has flocked to typical airhead roles for most of her career, she chooses something with a bit more substance in the inspirational sports film “The Blind Side.” It’s unfortunate, however, to see director/writer John Lee Hancock (“The Alamo”) take a more conventional route in this true-life story that starts off strong but eventually settles back into a comfortable spot on the sidelines.

In “The Blind Side,” Bullock plays Leigh Anne Touhy, a wealthy Southern wife and mother who opens her home to a homeless, uneducated black teenager everyone calls Big Mike (Quinton Aaron). Today, Big Mike is known better as Michael Oher, rookie offensive tackle for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

Based on the 2006 book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis, the film version of Oher’s story can be moving at times, but such a major portion of the film is centered around the philanthropic nature of Leigh Anne and her family, Hancock somehow dodges the heart of the story.

Michael comes from a broken home. His mother has abandoned him and he has no support system to guide him through his most formidable years. In steps Leigh Anne and her family (Tim McGraw plays the agreeable husband) ready to mold Michael into a successful young man with a bright future. Along the way, football enters into the big picture although the sport itself doesn’t play much of a role other than being a metaphorical connection to the film’s title. Since Michael’s position on the gridiron is offensive left tackle, it’s his job to protect the quarterback’s vulnerable “blind side.” It’s basically another way of saying Michael has the ability to stand strong against any adversity he faces in life.

While the underlying meanings are all well-intended, it would have been nice to get a better sense of Michael as a real human being rather than someone written only as gentle giant. The character is probably close to who Michael was at that time in his life, but Hancock drives those big teddy bear-like characteristics into the ground. He even compares Michael to “Ferdinand the Bull,” a children’s story about a bovine who would rather smell flowers than participate in bullfights.

It’s a sweet idea, but one that makes the Touhy’s good deeds seem more like a charity case than something genuine and heartfelt. It’s not until the credits roll and real-life photos of Michael and Leigh Anne replace the cliché movie that just ended when we feel closer to these characters.

There really is a moving film somewhere inside all the marshmallow stuffing of “The Blind Side.” It probably would have made more of an impact if it was presented as an ESPN-produced, 10-minute-long human interest story shown at halftime of a Baltimore Ravens playoff game. Instead, we’re dealt a cuddly feature film in dire need of some edge.

All About Steve

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Hayden Church
Directed by: Phil Traill (debut)
Written by: Kim Barker (“Liscence to Wed”)

Even in Sandra Bullock’s airhead comedies like “Miss Congeniality” and ‘The Proposal” she can be cutesy and fun. In “All About Steve,” there isn’t one ounce of likeability in the moronic and deathly unfunny character she takes on for 98 minutes of pure torture. Bullock takes a big leap with this one and lands flat on her backside. It’s easily one of the worst films of the year.

The Proposal

June 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”)
Written by: Pete Chiarelli (debut)

It’s fairly easy to compare the new Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “The Proposal” to the 1990 film “Green Card” starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. Both are conventional stories about two people scamming the immigration system so one can stay in the U.S. Both have lead characters with natural chemistry.

But where ‘The Proposal” differs drastically from the Peter Weir-directed rom-com of 20 years ago is the dynamic in which the two lead characters’ relationship is written. While Depardieu and MacDowell are portrayed as strangers who are basically doing each other a favor, Bullock and Reynolds have an everyday working rapport that disrupts the already sitcom-like storyline.

In “The Proposal,” Bullock plays Margaret Tate, an icy New York book publisher who learns she is being deported to Canada because she failed to renew her citizenship. Desperate to stay in the country, she turns to her always-reliable personal assistant Andrew Paxon (Reynolds) who hopes his role as her whipping boy (he goes on latté and tampon runs for her) will only last until the company publishes his manuscript.

When Margaret blackmails Andrew into marrying her so she can get legal status, both see a way to get what they want. But when a suspicious immigration officer questions the veracity of their engagement, the quasi-couple is forced to verify their relationship by traveling to Andrew’s home in Alaska to tell his family that he is about to marry the boss he has always complained about.

What is it about the state of Alaska that screenwriters find so humorous that they have to set their story there? Renée Zellweger did the same thing in last year’s unpleasant romantic comedy “New in Town.” Here, Bullock and Reynolds team up with the Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Oscar Nuñez, and the charming Betty White to slush through the snow one predictable step after another. Since Margaret and Andrew have known each other for so long, there is no sense of discovery between the two although they are supposed to be learning about one other during their trip so they can pass a mandatory couple’s test administered by U.S. Immigration. There should be cause for concern and at least the impression of anxiousness in these characters, but instead first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli executes everything so fluffy there’s not much to stand on other than a couple of amusing performances.

Along with former “Golden Girl” White’s rare and funny appearance, it’s really Reynolds’ familiar humor that keeps the film from taking a dive. Even when Reynolds takes on a role that has him portray a more sensitive character like Andrew, his deeply-rooted sardonic traits peer out through his boyish eyes. It really is the highlight of the film and keeps Bullock’s character from blowing up into more of a caricature than it already is.

If rom-coms are the flavor you like, you can do a lot worse than “The Proposal.” It’s harmless, second-rate material just good enough for a date movie with a girl you necessarily don’t want to impress with your keen cinematic taste.

Sandra Bullock – Premonition

June 7, 2007 by  
Filed under Interviews

Known mostly for her role as undercover cop turned beauty pageant queen Gracie Hart in “Miss Congeniality,” Sandra Bullock, 42, isn’t always about the slapstick or romantic comedy role.

In her new film, “Premonition,” Bullock plays a woman who loses her husband in a car accident only to find him alive the next morning.

From a press junket in Los Angeles, Bullock talked to me about her role in the psychological thriller, the difficulty she had following the story during production and whether or not she has ever experienced premonitions in her personal life.

“The Lake House” and now “Premonition;” Do you have certain affinity for these time- travel films?

No. To me they are two completely different scripts that were really good. One is a love story with paralleling times that are different. [Premonition] was a beautifully-written thriller that actually had bigger meaning and incredible depth, but also incredibly complicated. I don’t think [these types of films] are made a lot because they are not easy to make. So, I was just lucky that I was able to do various different films with various different motifs – two of them happen to deal with time.

You don’t think “Premonition” is a love story as well?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a love story but it’s also shattering the American dream. It’s the American dream becomes a nightmare because [the American dream) doesn’t fit everyone. It’s one of those things that I think several people have encountered in life. It’s when it’s too late and you think, ‘Why didn’t I do something to make life better? Why didn’t I do anything?’

Have you found the American Dream?

I don’t know. There are so many wonderful things in America. I take and enjoy what I take and enjoy. I think everyone’s dream should be unique to themselves. I think if you try and squeeze yourself into that idea of get a house, marriage, two kids, success equals monetary success, I think it’ll shatter most people because then you’ve locked yourself into a corner.

Did you have trouble not losing your place in this nonlinear story?

Yes. I had the hardest time I ever had working. You know, films shoot out of sequence anyway, which is nerve-wrecking. Everyday you’re looking at the scene going, ‘We’re shooting the end at the beginning. We’re shooting the middle at the end.’ You always have to go back and see what happens before the scene you’re shooting. Then, on top of that, the days are out of order and you have to get yourself to an emotional state of grief every single day for 12 hours a day for three months in Shreveport, Louisiana with no flight back home in this house – in this cocoon – it was really hard for me. That’s probably why I didn’t work for a year after it. But I’m thankful for it now.

Have you ever had your own experience with premonitions?

No, I think there’s different words you can attach – premonition, intuition, gut-instinct. People are psychic. People are intuitive. People have feelings. People have dreams that have come true. I’ve had things say to me, ‘Don’t do this’ and when I didn’t listen to it, I regretted it. And when I did listen to it, I was thanking whoever it was. I haven’t had a very specific feeling that has come true, but I’ve had things happen that I can’t explain that have helped me avoid something tragic. I think everyone has. Some call it woman’s intuition. Twins have it. How do you explain that?

Talk about where you see your status in Hollywood today?

I couldn’t give a shit about status. My status has been knocked of the pedestal so many times. You can’t control it. I couldn’t control whether or not people liked me in the beginning. I’ll never be able to control whether they like me at the end. At some point, if you’re lucky, you’ll have that great epiphany and say, ‘Hmm…why don’t I just do what I love…and just do what your gut tells you is the right thing to do and with the people that make you better in the projects that you want.