Monday, November 29, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Love and Other Drugs has two notable things wrong with it, one major one nit-picky.  The major one is the fact that it has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be.  Part chick flick, part serious romance, part steamy love affair, part slapstick comedy, part gross out romp, part medical drama.  Just pick one, don’t market yourself as the cute little holiday movie for adults.  You aren’t that because you’re trying to be so much more.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a pharmaceutical rep who finds great success when his company starts selling a new drug called Viagra (the year is 1996).  But his great challenge is wooing a tough as nails little vixen (Anne Hathaway) who just happens to have stage one Parkinson’s.  The two start one of those let’s-not-be-serious-and-just-fuck-all-the-time relationships, before, of course, falling for one another.  Then they argue, then they break up, then… do I really need to continue?

Here’s the good, and upsetting, part.  Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are good together, damn good, in fact.  Their chemistry, in and out of the bedroom, is almost always believable; their scenes together are the only decent ones in the film.  This is upsetting because their powerful chemistry belongs in a better, more developed film, with a better, more poignant script.  Like… Brokeback Mountain for example.  Oh, wait.

Now for that other nit-picky flaw.  It is becoming an increasing trend in movies to have either the very beginning or the very end (or both) narrated by a main character.  Not the entire film, just the bookends.  This is pure laziness.  Instead of sticking to the narrative the film has carried for the past two hours, it switches up in the last two minutes, simply because it is easier. Good films do this too.  An Education was a fantastic film, damn near ruined by its final minute of worthless, out-of-place narration.

Love and Other Drugs commits this crime in a far more brutal way.  Instead of showing us a few clips using, you know, creativity, Gyllenhaal’s voice booms over the soundtrack, summing up every plot element of the film.  Not that anything could have saved the movie. By then, it was far past redemption.

This isn’t an awful film, but we’ve seen better from all the major principals involved, including director Edward Zwick, who’s known for action epics like Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond.  Zwick's got the love down, but maybe he should've shot a little coke into his film, thereby giving it a pulse.  D+

The Next Three Days

Anyone looking to break their loved one out of prison should look no further than The Next Three Days for a step-by-step playbook.  It’s so easy!

First, disregard everything your lawyer and a jury tells you, they are obviously wrong.  Next, ask a guy who has admittedly escaped from seven prisons, how to escape from prison (don’t worry, he’ll be easy to find!) Next, sell every tangible possession you have on Craigslist.  Next, go to a gun shop and offer the guy money under the table, he’ll definitely sell you an unmarked gun.  Hell, he’ll even show you how to use it!

Next, learn how to break into a car (for help, search “how to break into a car” on YouTube, yes, YouTube). Next, go your closest ghetto and watch, from inside your not-at-all-noticeable Prius, how drug dealers interact. After only an hour or so, you’ll figure out where the stash house is.  Go rob it, you’ll only have to shoot two guys!  It’ll be easy!

Now, once you’ve switched your loved one’s medical documents (a cinch), and made a fake key (YouTube again) and cut a hole in a random fence (easy pisye) you’ll be ready to go.

You’d think things get harder after you break them out of prison.  No way!  All you have to do to avoid the cops is keep changing your clothes. Easy!  Oh, and better rent a car as well, that always throws them off.

Russell Crowe manages to do all this, and more, in the span of two very long, very boring hours in Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days.  Crowe, like Haggis’ film, is a bust.  Elizabeth Banks, who plays Crowe’s self-effacing wife, is not.  She flexes her dramatic muscle well. More please.  The rest of the film however, is worse than I’ve described. I haven’t even mentioned the cops hot on Crowe’s tail, who take every lead in stride, examining all the details and reaching accurate conclusions over and over again.  Oh, and they do it all in the span of a few hours.  Two detectives solve a large city police department case in a few hours.  Right.

Haggis’ first directorial effort was the overrated Crash, followed by the underrated In The Valley of Elah (such a good film, that it inspired me to start this site).  But in The Next Three Days, he’s gone for cheap thrills; usually an easy way to increase the dollars in your bank account.  The movie cost $35 million, it’s made $6.5 million.  Oops. D


If Ed Wood, the revered best worst director of all time, was alive today, he would have killed for a chance to direct Skyline.  The plot of the movie sounds like its right out of one on Wood’s ‘50s sci-fi romps.

A slew of cardboard cutout characters (the rich dude, the hot chick, the nice guy, the douche bag, the innocent girl, the tough guy) find themselves trapped in a swanky LA apartment due to the fact that aliens are taking over the City of Angels.  The kicker?  The aliens feed on human brains.  Oh brother.

The makers of this idiotic film, who obnoxiously refer to themselves as “The Brothers Strause” are priding themselves on the fact that they shot this movie independently for cheap, then sold it to a studio who added the “fancy” special effects in post production.  I respect that, I really do. That method of independent financing is how most of my favorite movies are currently made. 

One question: how the fuck does an unfinished movie like Skyline, with virtually zero digital effects, find itself purchased by a major studio when every year, dozens of fantastic films at Sundance that never make it out of Park City?

The answer: money.  As in, the producers thought Skyline would make some.  Oops.  F

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Running off the formula Speed introduced and perfected more than 15 years ago, Tony Scott's latest seizure-inducing action romp has Denzel Washington as a veteran train engineer racing against the clock with his rookie partner to stop a rouge train from destroying the entire state of Pennsylvania.

At least that's the way the characters make it sound. This train, despite not having a conductor, is running lose on a main track and consistently gaining speed. If it isn't stopped, it will devastate the small town of Stanton. 

Oh, and the train is hauling thousands of pounds of explosive chemicals. Duh.

I do not know the first thing about how to conduct or engineer a train. What I do know a little about, however, is local news media coverage. And it is from that basis that I plan to discredit this farce of a film.

Where to begin. Ten minutes after the train is off and running, the local news media are reporting every single detail of the incident. Hell, they even have a mug shot of the dope responsible for the whole thing. This is utter bullshit. There is no way in hell a small town news organization would have every detail of an event like this 10 minutes after it took place, let alone a mug shot of the idiot behind it. How did they get his picture? Employment records for train engineers aren't public record. Who even told the press this guy was responsible? They just... know.

The reporters constantly say they are receiving their information from the press liaison for the train company. Again, utter bullshit. Press officers, especially ones for modes of public transportation, do not divulge every single nasty detail to the press about how the company they work for is about to kill thousands of people. Doesn't happen.

In once scene, the train rams a horse trailer that is standing idly on the track. Several residents and one news crew is there to witness it. After the collision, we see it again on TV. Then again, from another angle, then again from yet another angle. But there was only one news camera there, not three. How did three different news channels get a different shot of the same crash, when only one was present? Hmmm.

In another scene, a train worker tries to move his small train in front of the unstoppable train and slow it down. A news chopper zooms in on the guy and then a mug shot of him appears on screen. Nope, can't happen. Not even CNN uses good enough quality video cameras to produce a still shot from a moving helicopter of a guy on a moving train. Ever heard of lens exposure rates? 

And how about those damn choppers. At least one news chopper stays with the train throughout the duration of the entire film. Filming it for the viewing audience to watch. Yet, at any given time, there are multiple shots of the train during a climatic event, taken from a helicopter, from several different angles. So... four helicopter shots of the same moment displayed on TV, but only one helicopter is present. Were there invisible helicopters?

I'm being too hard on this movie, I know. And the only reason for this is because it touts the "based a true story" bit as a badge of honor. Hell, we're even given title cards at the end of the movie telling us what the main characters are now doing.

How can a movie based on a true story get so many facts wrong? And why even throw in the media coverage as part of the movie's narrative? It doesn't help it in any way.

Oh well. Tony Scott's latest films (which should be slapped with a warning urging epileptics to stay away) clearly appeal to action film aficionados. I liked Man on Fire a lot, a whole lot, actually. But once was enough. Move on. You made True Romance, dude. You can do better. As can Denzel, for that matter. D

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

I often purposefully sit through shit just so I can accurately tell you that a film is not worth watching.

But the Harry Potter movies are just too much.  I sat through the first one, barely made it through the second, and fell asleep in the third (which is the only time I have ever fallen asleep in a movie theatre).

I cannot, in good conscience, monetarily contribute to the Harry Potter mania that has swept the globe for the past decade.

However, here I have complied excerpts from a half a dozen reviews from respected film critics.  The mood seems mostly middle ground, and bad not great, but most everyone agrees that the filmmakers are circle-jerking us with Part 1, building up to the finale.

Thank God these critics exist, for they are willing to do what I am not:

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: Like a virgin's padded bra, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is all tease, zero payoff.

Richard Corliss, Time Magazine: Now the end is near, and the series' myriad fans, thronging to the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, face their gravest challenge yet: sitting through it.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun TimesHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a handsome and sometimes harrowing film, and will be completely unintelligible for anyone coming to the series for the first time.  Though I’ve seen all the films, there were times when I had no idea what they were talking about.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: But it is, to an unusual and somewhat risky degree, sadder and slower than the earlier films. It is also much less of a showcase (or bank vault, as the case may be) for the middle and senior generations of British actors. 

Scott Bowles, USA Today: Menacing and meditative, Hallows is arguably the best installment of the planned eight-film franchise, though audiences who haven't kept up with previous chapters will be hopelessly lost.

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: It's half of a really good movie, full of the enchantment, emotion and incident for which the Potter series has become so fanatically cherished.

Friday, November 19, 2010

127 Hours

You hear me talk a lot about plot vs. execution in these reviews.  Here’s why.  To describe, in detail, the plot of 127 Hours is to take up seven seconds of your time.  “Adventurous rock climber gets pinned down in isolation and after several days without food or water, has to resort to chopping off his own arm to free himself.” 

Because this is a true story that happened only a few years ago, it’s a story you’re familiar with.  So, why see it?  Because Danny Boyle directed it, that’s why.

As he proved with Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle as a hyper yet eerily focused way of cutting his movies together.  The screen cuts into thirds, the music blares, the camera swoops down and under and over and out, and then, maybe, everything slows down to fit in some dialogue.

But most of 127 Hours’ 90 minutes takes place in one unmovable location, so it must be slow, right?  Not a chance.  Why?  Because of Boyle’s supreme eye for the craft of cinema.  He’s like Stanley Kubrick on coke (and maybe a little acid).

Once the ballsy, arrogant Aron Ralston found that his right arm was wedged perfectly between two rocks, he quickly, and resourcefully, began using the materials at his disposal to free himself.  He rationed his water and food, attempted to construct a pulley, recorded his dying thoughts onto his video camera, and so on.  But it was the cheap, dull knife that eventually gained him his freedom.

There’s a few things, aside from Boyle’s technique, that make 127 Hours one of the very best films of this year.  First is James Franco. In a career that has amounted to the uselessness of the Spider-Man trilogy and other duds with titles like Annapolis and Deuces Wild, Franco has impressed me in one role, that of Sean Penn's lover in Milk.  Mostly, he has under delivered in bad movies, and never did I expect him to floor me as he did here.

As Ralston, Franco is an utter revelation.  It’s hard to describe this performance without getting weighed down with fancy adjectives.  And honestly, there’s no need.  His performance – the anguish, the exhaustion, the frustration, the humor, the paranoia, the delusion – it’s just that good.  I don’t believe I’ve seen better acting so far this year.

Reports have been springing up consistently of people fainting at 127 Hours screenings (Franco and Ralston actually observed a few people pass out at a screening they attended), and why is this?  Why is it that we can laugh and pay a film like Saw and Hostel no mind, but we actually pass out in 127 Hours?  The answer is simple: because we actually care about a film as good and well done as 127 Hours.  We care what happens to Ralston, we care how Boyle and Franco handle the final hazy, uplifting moments. 

We care because we’ve invested time and energy and compassion, not just money.  We care, because it’s good, really good.  

I'm asked a lot what the hardest part of reviewing films is, and that too is an easy answer: exaggerated praise. Often times, I'm high off the sugar rush a film leaves and think I like it more than I actually do.  After it settles a few days, weeks, or months later, I may realize that the movie was good, but not great, as I previously stated.  With that in mind, I'll say that 127 Hours isn't a good film.  Nope.  This is a damn great, nearly perfect film.  A

Fair Game

Naomi Watts does this thing with her voice, when her character is angry, broken and engulfed with despair beyond repair.  It’s a scream, but not one of terror.  But rather of frustration and shock, which causes her voice to crack and shake.  You can hear it when she finds out whose heart Sean Penn has in 21 Grams, or when she is begging for her son’s life in Funny Games

That scream is one of the reasons Naomi Watts is one of my very favorite actresses.  She brings a sense of conviction to every one of her roles, no matter how bad and foolish the script.  And in playing real-life Valerie Plame, you can bet our ass that Watts has a lot to scream about.

Fair Game tells the story of Plame’s fight to discover who, and why, she was ousted as being a CIA operative.  In her shock, Plame’s fight is led much in part by her liberal activist husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn).

Wilson makes television appearances, writes Op Eds for "The New York Times," and yells at dinner party guests, all in an effort to clear his wife’s name.  But that’s where Doug Liman’s (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) film is actually the most reserved.  Fair Game doesn’t play best when the camera is constantly moving or the scene is set in a lavish part of the Middle East.  Fair Game, for the most part, is best played out in rooms.

Take the Plame-Wilson kitchen for example.  There is a scene in which Valeria and Joe have an extended conversation which escalates into a hellacious screaming match.  It isn’t until the moment is brought down to silence, and your heart has a chance to catch up to itself, that you realize you’re watching two of the best working actors in movies fully flex their craft. 

These are two people at the top of their game, and, as previously proven in the gut wrenching 21 Grams, Watts and Penn’s talents are raised when working off each other. 

Fair Game is a good movie with an incredible story, secured by knock-you-ass-flat acting.  The movie itself isn’t generating much awards buzz.  No matter.  Ms. Watts, the floor is yours.  A-


Judging from its trailer, Stone is a simple, floozy revenge flick.  Con Edward Norton is up for parole, but has to slog through several meetings with a straight-laced, but deeply conflicted Robert De Niro.  Things aren’t working in Norton’s favor, so he sends in his smoldering wife (Milla Jovovich) to seduce De Niro.

Pretty simple, and for the first act, everything rolls along smoothly. Norton, sporting tightly laced cornrows and a squeaky Southern ghettoized accent, excels early.  While Jovovich proves that she can be utterly fearless as an actress, when tested properly (which, admittedly, doesn’t happen often).

But then there’s good old Bobby De, looking bored as ever, overacting through every one of his scenes.  And once a lame, useless religion subplot is introduced, the movie falls apart quickly.

In one of my fiction writing classes in college, the professor told us that our short stories could be about any topic and have any resolution.  Except two things.  None of our stories could end with the main character dying, or “finding God.”

My professor had good reason for this because these are two things that seem to be seriously bogging down fictional pop culture.  Dying is an easy way out; the story ends, it cannot move forward.  Finding religion is very similar.  The character changes their life and everything is peachy keen.

It’s lazy writing that makes for a boring film.  Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite movies end with the main character dying, but those movies have a few differences from that of Stone.  They’re smart, compelling, rewatchable, and don’t involve an actor who’d rather shoot himself in the head than actually show up on set.

Anchored by Norton, Jovovich and director John Curran’s powerful cinematography and editing, Stone could have been good.  Could have.  D

Monday, November 8, 2010

Due Date

Shortly after leaving Due Date, the farcical, absurd waste of time from Hangover director Todd Phillips, I received a text from my good friend, asking me if the movie was any good. 

I told him that the movie was stupid, but people who like those kinds of movies should like it, meaning, he would like it.  He thought that meant I was calling him simple.  Sigh.

Since that text conversation, I’ve spent far more time than I should thinking about this movie.  Because not only is Due Date not worth your viewing time, it isn’t worth your time period (which includes reading this review).

But you’re here, so: Due Date is basically the last 10 minutes of The Hangover, spread over 100 exhaustive minutes.  Tightly-wound Peter (a bored Robert Downey Jr.) needs to get from Atlanta to L.A. to witness the birth of his child from his caring wife (a wasted Michelle Monaghan).  But due to a series of absurdly far-fetched circumstances, Peter’s only way home is via a rental car with the increasingly annoying Ethan (Zack Galifianakis playing the exact same character he did in The Hangover, who now prefers to hit weed instead of cards).

The two characters fight, get into a sticky situation, get out of said situation, drive farther, fight, get into a sticky situation, get out of said situation, repeat x 10, roll credits.

So, here’s my problem: why aren’t contemporary American comedies really comedies anymore?  They are action comedies. Which, in the case of Due Date, involves punching a 10-year-old in the stomach, running a car off a bridge, stealing a border patrol car, getting shot in the leg, and drinking a dead man's ashes, among other things.

Why can’t comedy just be comedy?  What’s with this recent trend of having comedic characters run and jump and scream and fist fight and car chase each other around?  To me, it’s getting old, not to mention unoriginal.

The Hangover was, for whatever reason, a phenomenon.  As the third-highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time, I found it overly long and worn out.  “The laughs, for the most part, are pretty plain,” I said in my original review. That is, of course, save Galifianakis’ performance and the film’s closing credit sequence.

Galifianakis became an overnight sensation from playing that overweight man-child.  But what makes him think he can keep coasting by simply repeating the role?  Watching Due Date, in which very few jokes actually garner a laughing response, I cringed at Galifianakis’ wasted performance.  He isn’t funny, he’s just on repeat. You want funny, check out his segment “Between Two Ferns” on

The way I ended the conversation with my friend is the way I’ll end this review.  I’m not saying you are stupid for wanting to see Due Date.  I’m saying that thousands of people spend millions of dollars on movies that treat them like they are fucking four years old.  But…why?  D

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo we found out that Lisbeth Salander, the best, most acutely written literally character in years as played to fearless perfection by Noomi Repace, did indeed have a large dragon tattoo. Months later, we learned that she had played with fire, now, she's the girl who kicked the hornet's nest. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea. Minor details.

For their third, and final outing, punked-out hacker Lisbeth and dedicated journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, as cunning as the character he plays) continue to battle a corrupt system of old-school elites who seem to control... everything.

Hornet's Nest picks up the second where The Girl Who Played with Fire left off , so much so that the two can be viewed as the same film, with a thee month intermission. Which is why, if you haven't seen the first two films, this review will be tricky to write. 

Lisbeth, now in police custody after arising from the grave and attempting to murder her deranged daddy, is shackled from fighting for her life. That's where Mikael comes in. He's smarter than the cops, more convincing than the thieves and fares pretty well with the ladies. He's like James Bond, but the kind that could actually exist.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

These movies, yes, all three of them, go on far too long. The story (the part that's important) ends well before the credits roll. But for some reason, they linger on for an additional 20 minutes.

Hornet's Nest, however, is the first of the series to lag in the middle. At two and a half hours, I need to mention that sections of this movie stall. Not horribly, but noticeably. But that's forgiven for two reasons. One, you know damn well you're not going to clock out now, after sitting through the first two. And two, the last 45 minutes make up for the lag, and then some.

Once Lisbeth sits her goth self down in the courtroom, the dialogue flies faster than any bullet, rivaling Inception in thrills and The Social Network in rat-a-tat wordplay. 

And, of course, there is always Repace and Nvqvist to fall back on.  Even though they haven't been given as much shared screen time in these last two films to flex their chemistry, both of them are best when playing off each other.

Nvqvist, with his scarred face and everyman belly, has done wonders with a very complicated, demanding role. Half physical, half ingenuity; he plays  Blomkvist as a guy you fear but are immediately willing to divulge any and all information to.

I've said this before, but, let's be honest, this is Repace's show. In what has by far been the year's most challenging role, Noomi Repace has excelled as Lisbeth. She brings one of the most popular contemporary literally characters to life, exceeding all expectations. As Lisbeth, Repace is utterly convincing in everything she does. The way she stares down her accusers, or strokes a keyboard, or takes a drag off her cigarette; each mannerism and expression is undeniably flawless. 

Daniel Craig should do well as  Blomkvist in David Fincher's version of Dragon Tattoo, but my God does Rooney Mara have some very big shoes to fill. 

I'll be rooting for her, knowing all well that nothing she does will top the original.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: B

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Temple Grandin

I’ve never reviewed a made for television film before, and for good reason(s).  They don’t have as much at stake as other movies.  Films released theatrically are vying for two things: money and street credit in the form of Oscars.  TV movies aren’t in competition for either, so they carry little-to-no pressure, which explains why so many of them aren’t worth your time.

Here’s a rare exception.  If you watched the Emmy’s in August, then you know the cast and crew of Templin Grandin owned an hour of the telecast when they won their seven trohpies.  (Because of that, critics are actually trying to remove the “Made For Television” categories from the Emmy broadcast).  I have HBO, it was on one night, so I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about.

Temple Grandin tells the true story of a woman diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who, despite her social awkwardness, put herself through college, got her doctorate and became a renowned expert in the field of animal husbandry.  There’s definitely a movie to be made in the fact that a girl who didn’t speak until she was four years old is currently a professor at Colorado State University.  But why a TV movie?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  Everything in this HBO flick is top notch.  To mention the acting is to grow repetitive, as it is all perfect.  Claire Danes has never impressed me (Brokedown Palace… maybe) but as Grandin, she is an utter revelation.  She embodies Gradin’s voice, facial ticks and imperfections without the slightest bit of force.  Her mother, as played by Julia Ormond, delicately and seamlessly captures the everyday struggles of a parent with an autistic child.  And Grandin’s inspirational teacher (as played by the never-not-perfect David Strathairn) does subtle wonders with his brief role.  It’s no surprise that these three all won Emmy’s.

Then there’s director Mick Jackson and his crew. Jackson, best known for directing The Bodyguard, uses storytelling devices in Temple Grandin that most other films screw up.  Remember the whole, “Oh look, that’s how he sees the world,” moving of numbers and graphics in A Beautiful Mind?  Well, imagine that done right.  When you watch Temple Grandin, and more importantly, Danes’ performance, you know, better than any other film I’ve ever seen, what it is like to have Asperger’s.  When Danes looks at something, the camera suddenly freezes and flashes several black and white still shots, conveying her photographic memory. 

A simple gate leading to a horse farm is a challenge for Grandin, one that we figure out through her eyes.  These devices are, admittedly,  harder to write about than they are to view. 
The real Temple with Danes on set
2010 has been a very rough year for movies.  We’ve had a few standouts (Inception, The Social Network) and hopefully we’ll have a few more (127 Hours, The Fighter) but nothing yet has come remotely close to hitting the emotional peaks of Precious or The Cove last year. 

Many films based on true stories don’t know when, or how, to end.  The final scene of Temple Grandin is so convincingly gut-wrenching and inspiring at the same time, that you can’t help but get choked up.  It’s the most emotional I’ve gotten over a film this year.  Who cares if it’s made for television?

Danes’ performance rivals that of Dustin Hoffman’s in Rain Man and far surpasses Russell Crowe’s in A Beautiful Mind.  Lead actresses should be thanking HBO for picking Temple Grandin up.  If it was released in theatres, Claire Danes would win the Best Actress Oscar without breaking a sweat.  A-

Monday, November 1, 2010


It’s hard to be completely objective toward a movie after witnessing a panel discussion with the cast and real-life subjects directly after it.  For instance, Hilary Swank in person makes a damn good case for her role in Conviction, where she plays Betty Anne Waters, a woman who fought for decades to get her brother out of prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

During the movie, in which Swank is outacted by every other member of the extremely talented cast, I kept rolling my eyes at Swank’s God-awful, over the top New England accent.  Then, after the movie, I was privy to a Q&A where Swank, the real life Waters, and others participated.  After Waters’ first spoken sentence, I ate my words, because Swank in the film sounds exactly like her. 

It makes you think: what in films, particularly ones based on true stories, do we scuff at because it sounds or looks or seems absurd? 

My point is, Conviction isn’t a great film, and at times, it isn’t even very good.  But I appreciate it so much more having witnessed that Q&A (where, surprisingly, extremely interesting and important details not in the film were revealed).

Swank is not a good actress, but she has been outstanding in a few select roles, two of which earned her Oscars.  In Conviction, she is great when dealing with the bullshit bureaucracy of her brother’s ordeal.  Her scenes with fellow law school student Abra Rice (an excellent Minnie Driver) are where she is best.  But when she is forced to go toe to toe with her vengeful, angry brother, Kenny (a never-better Sam Rockwell), she is a mere afterthought.

Rockwell’s career has spanned from the good (Heist, Matchstick Men), the bold (Snow Angels, Moon) and the uncanny (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), and his performance in Conviction, most of which is done in prison meeting rooms, is a work of art.  Why has this guy never been nominated for an Oscar?

But there’s something missing here.  Along with Rockwell, the film’s other performances (by the likes of Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Peter Gallagher and Clea DuVall) are all flawless.  But the film is not.  It’s overly sentimental and fails to hit emotional peaks in scenes that should bring tears on with ease.

This happens every once and a while; fantastic performances fill a mediocre movie (North Country comes to mind).  And I’m not sure who to blame.  Maybe director Tony Goldwyn (the bad guy from Ghost), or his makeup artist (why does everyone age but Swank?). 

The marketing for this film has been very Swank-heavy.  She should step out of the way, it’s Rockwell’s show. B

(For an 
excerpt from the Q&A, click here, this was filmed via my BlackBerry so please forgive the shakiness and low quality. Also, the caffeinated editing was done as to not spoil plot elements from the film.)
Hilary Swank in Ashburn, Virginia