Tag Archives: naomi watts

The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B

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Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Review

10 Nov

Every so often, a movie comes around that makes me really appreciate all the creative work that film makers put into it. When I first saw the trailer to Birdman, I was set and ready to see it. When I saw that Alejandro González Iñárritu was in the director’s chair and also wrote the film, I was more than ready to see it. This is a film like no other that I’ve seen in a very long time, with a story that hits you where you really feel it and cinematography that will make you rethink how the medium can be utilized. This is an amazing film, and very well may be the best movie of the year.

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Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an aging movie star best known for his portrayal of the comic book hero, Birdman, in the early ’90s. Now, he considers himself to be washed up and only remembered as the man behind the mask, so he decides to reinvigorate his career by adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full length Broadway play. A number of things begin to go really wrong including replacing one of the actors with the belligerent, but well known, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), getting into multiple confrontations with his recovering drug addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and just plain bad luck. At this rate, it would be a miracle if they made it through the few previews they have before opening night.

Where do I even begin? When I left the theater, I was completely wound up and trying to sort through all of my thoughts on the movie. It was just so exciting to see a movie that seemed to hit everything perfectly. I don’t have a single complaint about Birdman. First off, the cast in this movie are excellent. Michael Keaton completely owns the show and I’d say deserves some recognition when the time comes for Best Actor nominations to be announced. The other person that matches Keaton’s level of performance is Edward Norton, who I think deserves his own bit of recognition when the time comes. Everyone else is also note perfect.Zach Galifinakis, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts are all memorable in their own ways, which brings me to my next point.

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I was really surprised at the layers the characters had. It’s great when characters are fleshed out, but the ones in Birdman were strangely real. There aren’t any good people or bad people, but only people who have troubles that affect how they live their day to day lives. Each day that passes presents each character with their own set of problems, and the most entertaining part of this movie is watching each person deal with the issue, but also change a little bit because of it. The arcs that start in the beginning and get wrapped up as the movie progresses come so naturally and I believed everything I was watching, even though there were moments of fantasy strewn throughout the film. This is one of those movies that I think is just perfectly written. Every joke made me at least chuckle and the drama was enough to completely floor my emotions.

In my opinion though, the most impressive part of Birdman was the cinematography and the editing. The audience literally follows these characters around as they prepare for the show’s opening night. By that I mean that the camera doesn’t cut until a few minutes before the end of the movie. Now, I know that would be ridiculous to say, because it is ridiculous. It’s not like this movie is one continuous take, but it is cleverly edited to make it seem like it’s one take. Think of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, except the cuts are much more subtle. Does the film have to be edited like this in order to work? Certainly not. The movie would have been just fine if it was edited normally, but it did add a new dimension of appreciation and skill that wouldn’t have been there.

Birdman is a movie that is sure to blow you away, just like it did with me. I went in expecting a lot and left feeling like I was given a lot more than I could’ve ever wanted. This is a comedy with an sort of depressing edge to it, but one that seems very understood by everyone working on the film. The bottom line is that every part of this movie came together so perfectly that it surprised me. If you haven’t gone out to see Birdman yet, consider it your duty as a human being to get to the theater as soon as possible!

21 Grams – Review

11 Jan

I didn’t really know what to expect going into 21 Grams. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it and I have seen and enjoyed Babel, another film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, I didn’t know what the story or execution of 21 Grams was going to be like, so I was really going in blind. What I got was more than surprising. It was an exceptional piece of art that deserves the highest amount of praises, and while it may not be a new favorite, I can say that it was one of the most well put together and executed films that I have ever seen.

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The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three characters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con who is trying to turn his life around by teaching the word of God to people who need it most. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving wife and mother with a disturbing past. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician who is slowly dying of heart failure and in need of a new one for a transplant. One night, Jack is involved in a hit and run accident with the family of Cristina, who now has lost everything, but Jack has gained a new heart out of it and is trying to connect with the person who saved his life. As the lives of these three people come closer together, a more volatile mixture of love, hate, and revenge begins to brew.

The best way to describe what I was feeling within the first 15 minutes of this movie would be confusion. I was completely lost until I realized that 21 Grams is told completely out of order. It seemed like the editor was someone with terrible ADHD that was just clicking on random scenes and pasting them together. If you thought Pulp Fiction was jumbled, check this one out. It took a little while to get used to, but once I found the style, it made piecing together these different puzzle pieces all the more fun. Almost as if I was only given the pieces, but didn’t see the full picture beforehand. It’s an interesting way to tell the story.

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I don’t think there’s really a specific need for the story to be told this way, but I’m really glad that it is. I’ve heard reviewers say that this disjointed narrative pulls you away from the characters and makes you feel like they aren’t as three dimensional as they could have been if the story was told in a more traditional way. I completely disagree. I felt very close to the characters and really was concerned for what the outcome would be for them. Also, if you really break this movie down, it is a plain and simple melodrama. Hearts being transplanted, ex cons finding Jesus, and a love being described as taboo would be the understatement of the century. This disjointed narrative keeps things interesting. Rather than just watching things play out, I had to piece things together, which made me pay a lot more attention than I probably would have.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies where I need to rave about the acting, the past two being Prisoners and American Hustle, and now the streak continues with 21 Grams. Everyone in this movie is really incredible. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn carry the film all through its jumbled plot with ease and made me really believe in these characters. Naomi Watts, especially, gives 110%. Even the supporting cast is great. Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg, while they are minor roles, help carry the movie and support the main players.

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21 Grams is a fascinating movie that hooked me with its performances, characters, and direction with special detail given to the editing. While Babel was a really good movie, it isn’t as memorable as 21 Grams. The story that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have created is deeply moving and thought provoking in a way that can truly change people. It’s rare that a movie can really make me think as much as 21 Grams, and because of that it is one of a kind.

J. Edgar – Review

26 Aug

J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.

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The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.

As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.

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I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable.  All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.

It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.

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J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.

Eastern Promises – Review

3 Jan

When it comes to David Cronenberg, I’m pretty hesitant. Scanners and A History of Violence were very disappointing movies for me, and The Brood was only acceptable. Eastern Promises is the fourth movie I’ve seen by this film maker, and it surprised me completely. I was concerned going into it knowing it was Cronenberg. He is a great film maker but just doesn’t catch my fancy too well, but this entry in his filmography is a deeply moving and cringe inducing crime thriller.

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After a 14 year old prostitute dies during child birth, hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is determined to find the proper home for the new baby. She asks Russian restaurant owner, and dangerous crime boss, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), to help translate a diary she found on the dead prostitute. Unbeknownst to Anna, this diary holds incriminating evidence against Semyon and his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). The only help Anna seems to have comes in the form of the crime family’s driver and “cleaner”, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who seems to have a tight grasp on what is actually going on within the family and on the crime riddled streets of London.

This is storytelling at its tightest and its finest. Saying that this movie is about protecting a baby and solving a potential murder mystery wouldn’t be doing the plot any justice. This movie is about the people and how the lives of crime and innocence can blend together. Its a story about strains on families and how violence can take life or save life. Cronenberg doesn’t condemn anyway of life in Eastern Promises by expertly showing the good sides and the bad sides of every character presented in the movie. They’re deep, complex characters who are the real driving forces behind the movie.

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While the violence in this movie is brutal thanks to Cronenberg’s unforgiving film making, it isn’t what the movie is all about. A lot of the violence is actually described in a voice over and not directly shown. While I don’t necessarily agree with the use of a voice over, I will say that the scenes that they describe are brutal and definitely help with the full impact of the story. The violence that is shown onscreen is just as intense as the violence that is described, but never do you think that something like what you are seeing could never happen. It is realistic and an impressive display of brutality.

Viggo Mortensen is out of this world awesome in this movie. In order to prepare for his role, he traveled to Siberia and the area around it without a translator in order to learn how to talk and behave by the people who live there, even if they weren’t the most savory people in the world. Naomi Watts also shows good chops as the sort of eyes and ears into the Russian criminal underworld that plagues the streets of London. Mueller-Stahl is appropriately intimidating, but Vincent Cassel playing his son is more enjoyable. He is borderline psychotic and excruciatingly uncomfortable with himself, which proves to be a dangerous combination.

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Eastern Promises is the first movie I’ve seen by David Cronenberg that I really enjoyed. I recognize that he is a very talented film maker, but I just can’t seem to get into his movies. Luckily, this one brought me hope for my future Cronenberg viewings. It’s a brutal story of violence, but also a tragic story of family. This is an incredible movie that can be ranked with the best gangster movies, and should be seen by anyone who is a fan of the genre or just enjoy excellent movie experiences.