This Wednesday I had the chance to attend 2 film screenings: First, the violent action crime, thriller, The Protégé, and second the mystery, sci-fi, romance Reminiscence. Of the 2 I prefer The Protégé. I don’t know if that is saying much but if you are looking for an action movie with a kick-butt lead character you could do worse than Maggie Q in The Protégé.
The Protégé is directed by Martin Campbell who is most well known for his Bond movies like GoldenEye and Casino Royale. Here he has Maggie Q in the lead as an assassin who is asked to look into a mysterious disappearance and then it becomes a revenge story when someone she loves is threatened.
Samuel L Jackson plays her mentor who saves her from a traumatic childhood in Vietnam and they basically have a father/daughter dynamic. Their relationship helps soften Maggie Q’s character and gives the action stakes because she doesn’t feel invincible even when racing through scores of bullets unscathed.
Michael Keaton and Maggie Q also have chemistry. She’s the assassin and he’s the hit-man sent in by the criminal underworld to stop her. Their sexy repertoire is what you want in a movie like this.
Make no mistake The Protégé is an extremely violent movie with lots of brutal action. I wish that more of it had been hand-to-hand instead of with guns. It might be more shocking with guns but it’s less interesting to watch than martial arts/fighting.
The movie also starts to feel repetitive and has a major plot twist that is difficult to believe even for a movie like this. I don’t see many movies like this but my guess is others will call it tired and ‘we’ve seen it all before’ and they are probably correct. I’ve never seen movies like John Wick so The Protégé probably feels fresher to me than it might for others.
The reason to see The Protégé is Maggie Q. She’s awesome and I hope this is a jumping off point for more action roles in her career. We could use more female action stars like her especially being part Vietnamese.
She rocks. The movie is just fine if you can stomach the violence.
We can all be glad the Grand Budapest Hotel is there because without it we’d have a lot of solemn nominees. I mean has the academy forgotten how to laugh? Gone are the days when movies like It’s a Mad Mad Mad World could get nominated for Best Picture. Kind of sad really.
Anyway, here’s how I would personally rank the nominees.
1. Boyhood- It’s a movie that really moved me and made me think about my life in a new way. It’s not a movie to entertain you but to remind you about the small moments with people that make up your life. I loved it. To me it is significantly better than any of the other nominees.
2. Selma– A movie that helped me get to know all sides of a great American. It wasn’t all the grand moments but soft, even shameful moments where you saw that anybody can make a difference. It was a part of the Civil Rights movement I wasn’t as familiar with and I was really moved by it. Amazing performance by David Oyelowo.
3. Whiplash- Mesmerizing film that builds tension so well with an insane performance by JK Simmons. It asks the question ‘what is the price to be paid for greatness?’ I wish it had shown more of the motivations behind the characters but still very gripping movie.
4. American Sniper- Gripping account of the most successful sniper in US Navy Seals history, Chris Kyle. The movie gets you down with the soldiers a lot for a sniper movie and it feels gritty and very intense. The narrative at home and on his tour of duties flow well together and are brought together in the story of a very complex man. It is a movie that tells his story and leaves the judging for God and others. I was really moved by. 5. Grand Budapest Hotel- The one comedy nominated! I think I give this a little bit of a pass because it is Wes Anderson’s best and most mainstream film. I’d have to watch it again to decide if I really like it better than the other nominees but I did like it. It’s not over-quirky like a lot of Anderson’s films. It is witty and the world creation is strong with more likable characters than many of his other films. Very good engaging cast as always.
6. Imitation Game- A solid biopic about Alan Turing, the man behind the computer which decoded the enigma machine. I liked the stuff about the decoding better than the more predictable personal portions but it was all strong and very well acted. The big mean boss who is constantly after Turing felt like such a cliche and the cop narration felt a little phony but I liked it.
7. Birdman- I know I’m not as high on this as everyone else but I’ve got to tell you what I really think not what is popular. I really hated the way this movie treated its female characters. I’m shocked that nobody else in criticism seems to be saying this? It will probably win tomorrow when Boyhood a movie featuring complex woman will not (although hopefully she will win). I have thought about it and I know it is an allegory for popularity and fame but why does the movie assume women are so much more fragile and judgmental than men? Is there not a Chris Farley, River Phoenix for every Lindsay Lohan and Judy Garland? The critic and the near rape especially bother me. But that said, it isn’t at the bottom because I do think they tried to do something different, the cinematography is very good and I thought Michael Keaton was great. I just don’t think it was anywhere near the best picture of the year. Oh well.
8. Theory of Everything– This is a good movie. I enjoyed watching it much more than Birdman. And Eddie Redmayne was unforgettable as Stephen Hawking. You forget it is an actor after a while. That’s pretty amazing especially since he doesn’t have a voice for a good chunk of the movie. However, it is pretty predictable biopic and large sections drag a bit. I didn’t think Felicity Jones was very good and the dewy sepia toned cinematography and constant twirling (even in the coffee) got on my nerves. Still a very good movie just bottom of the 8 for me.
Recently I had the chance to watch the Oscar nominated film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I’m afraid, like with Gone Girl ,my opinion is not as positive as the public at large….It has many strengths but some problems I have a hard time ignoring.
Let’s start with the positives. Birdman is about a man named Riggan Thomson played my Michael Keaton who used to be a superhero action star for a franchise called ‘Birdman’. Evidently at one point he could have done Birdman 3 but stepped away from the franchise out of artistic integrity and his career never recovered. Now years later he is trying to make a comeback in a broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.
Edward Norton also stars as a young, high strung method actor who thinks he’s better than Riggan and condescends to be in the show because of his friendship with a first time actress Lesley played by Naomi Watts. Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter who is recently out of rehab, Andrea Risenborough is his girlfriend and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer and best friend.
Birdman has very good performances especially from Keaton. He is great, vulnerable, believable, authentic and tragic. The whole rest of the cast is great and nuanced in their roles (although actors playing actors may not be that much of a stretch…).
Birdman’s cinematography is also a huge accomplishment. It is edited to look like the whole film is done in one take so there are very few cuts from one person shot, to 2 person shot like in a normal movie. The camera just moves fluidly from a scene to another scene as if someone was walking from one area of the hallway to another hearing different gossip along the way.
Here’s my issue with the film. It really bothered me the way women are treated. Now before you roll your eyes at another feminist movie review hear me out. I don’t care if a movie has weak, shallow women. That’s fine and certainly the strong empowered woman can be equally clichéd. However, I do have a problem when every female in a picture is weak, shallow, mean, petty and shrill.
Let’s go over quickly the women we get in Birdman.
1. Andrea Risenborough as Riggan’s girlfriend Laura who pretends to be pregnant in order to manipulate him into committing to their relationship. She is shrill and judgmental and a real jerk
2. Next we get Lesley played by Naomi Watts who has always dreamed of being on Broadway. The movie seems to judge her for this dream as if Riggan’s is the realist and Lesley is the naive simpleton. We see so little of her acting that it is hard to say one way or another. What really upset me is in an early scene Edward Norton tries to force himself on Lesley in an attempted rape on stage so that he can be “in the moment” and then the movie forgets about this far too quickly. It was extremely distasteful. I’m not saying the movie endorses Norton’s choice but it doesn’t take it seriously enough.
3. There is a lesbian kiss between Lesley and Laura which I felt was only there to titillate men not for any plot device or importance. To be clear I am not offended by the kiss but haven’t we moved on from when gay/lesbian kisses and relationships were included to sensationalize or for comic relief? Apparently not. There is no relationship between them and it means nothing. I saw no reason to include it and it was never discussed again.
4. Emma Stone playing Sam, Riggan’s daughter, is probably the best female character in the movie but she is still very judgmental and preachy to her father. Can’t she see that he is trying to do something important and good? You would think she would appreciate that but instead she lectures him about how he is worthless and nobody cares.
5. Amy Ryan has a few scenes with Riggans as his ex-wife who hates Riggan but is still attracted to him. She’s very shrill with a couple softer moments. (not in the movie much).
5. The worst of it all is a woman named Tabitha Dickinson who is a famous theater critic from the New York Times. She knows she can make or break a Broadway show by her review and she tells Riggan she is going to destroy him and his play before even seeing it. She feels this way because she resents celebrities infringing on the Broadway scene. This was outrageous. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there is a critic worth their ticket stub who would decide on a review before seeing the play. And if they did they certainly wouldn’t admit it to the show creator and star. That sounds like a good way to lose your job. There is a little redemption for her character but still she was unbelievable from the start. And why did she have to be a woman? Couldn’t the movie have made one judgmental jerk a man?
Again, it’s just another example of the shrill, judgmental, mean-spirited women the movie seems to think are the rule.
The men on the other hand are more positively portrayed. Zach Galifianakis is the good friend who still believes in Riggans despite all the junk he does. Edward Norton is a pig but has softer moments with Emma Stone. Riggans is a sympathetic character surrounded by all these maniacs. He is depressed and mentally ill, hallucinating and running around in his underwear in Times Square but is still likable.
I don’t know. I just couldn’t get passed these depictions of women throughout the film- especially Lesley’s near rape and Tabitha’s condescending review threats. It made the movie unpleasant and frustrating.
It also has lots of profanity, some nudity, and mature content. Adults only. It took me two go-arounds to watch the whole thing because I wasn’t invested in it.
I know many love it and it may win Best Picture (a travesty if it does IMO) but I didn’t care for it. Sorry!
Overall Grade- C- (only because of the strong performances and cinematography). Content Grade- F