Seven Pounds ***½
Movie megastar Will Smith is probably one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood today, with virtually anything he stars in being transformed into box office gold, even the most unlikely of successes. However, even Will Smith is not completely infallible as has been illustrated by the disappointing US box office and tepid reviews for his latest film, ‘Seven Pounds’. Smith’s latest reunites him with director Gabriele Muccino following their previous collaboration on ‘The Pursuit Of Happyness’, which for all its potential, was arguably one of Smith’s weaker films of the last few years, even though the criticism for that film was not aimed at Smith himself (he actually received much acclaim for his performance) but rather at the story and direction. As such, this critic had extremely mixed feelings about ‘Seven Pounds’. It’s certainly a film with potential but does Muccino deliver this time around?
It is hard to summarise the story of ‘Seven Pounds’ without giving too much away so here is a very brief summary: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent with a big secret and who is haunted by his past. He embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption by helping and forever changing the lives of seven strangers including Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a woman suffering from congenital heart failure, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), a blind piano player and Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carrillo), a mother who is being abused by her boyfriend. The only person who knows what Ben is really up to is his best friend Dan (Barry Pepper) who has a crucial role to play in Ben’s plan, and only when Ben’s plan is complete will the truth come out.
‘Seven Pounds’ suffers from many of the same problems as Smith and Muccino’s last collaboration. As with ‘The Pursuit Of Happyness’ there is nothing wrong with Will Smith’s performance, but the storyline is overly convoluted and the direction is severely lacking something. The plot is extremely complicated and while everything does come together sufficiently at the end there are certain that are not thoroughly explained enough and at times it is hard to tell whether what is happening is in the present day or a flashback. Also, it is likely that most viewers will guess the ending before the film even reaches the half way point, which detracts slightly from the impact of the ending. So, while the film is certainly an interesting emotional drama, slightly slapdash writing, and direction that is once again lacking prevents the film from having the impact that it could have had. There are some things to be applauded here despite such shortcomings, however. The ending, while not being as effective as it could have been, still has an almost poetic feel to it. Will Smith is on top form as always delivering a very convincing and moving performance and he is also backed by strong performances from the other cast members. If it were anyone else in the lead role this film would probably have failed miserably but Smith just about pulls it off. Overall, ‘Seven Pounds’ is an interesting, if not entirely successful, drama that has more than enough merits to make it worth checking out. Just don’t expect a particularly happy ending.
The Wrestler ***½
Coming after tremendous reviews and word of mouth and a best actor win at the Golden Globes for star Mickey Rourke, ‘The Wrestler’ is a film that has an awful lot to live up to. The latest effort from director Darren Aronofsky, who is best known for artistic films such as ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, could be described as a sort of ‘Rocky Balboa’ for wrestling as the film certainly bears more than a few similarities to that film. However, unlike that film, which got away with a lighter 12A rating in the UK, ‘The Wrestler’ is a much more adult film, receiving a 15 certificate. Dubbed by some as Mickey Rourke’s big comeback, and while he hasn’t exactly gone anywhere, this is certainly a decent description of this film, as it showcases Rourke’s finest performance in a long time, and Rourke should certainly get the kind of career boost that Sylvester Stallone got from his ‘Rocky’ revival.
Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is an aging professional wrestler decades past his prime. Now he barely gets by in life by participating in small wrestling shows and working part-time at a supermarket. As he faces health problems that may end his wrestling career for good he attempts to come to terms with his life outside the ring: by working full time at the grocery store, trying to reconcile with Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter he abandoned in childhood and forming a closer bond with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper he has romantic feelings for. He struggles with his new life and an offer of a high-profile rematch with his 1980s arch-nemesis, The Ayatollah, seems too good to refuse, offering him one last chance at happiness, even if it may cost him his life.
From the moment the opening credits roll it is clear that this is a relatively low key film, far removed from the Hollywood style of filmmaking. The simple but effective opening credits show the back story of Randy through clippings of articles and flyers about him and his wrestling matches, making for a good start to the film. When the credits are finished it becomes apparent that the method of filmmaking is also going to be just as basic, with handheld camera shots being prominent for the duration of the film. This proves to be both the film’s biggest strength and also its biggest weakness, as the movement makes it feel almost like we are there, adding to the realism, but at the same time it also proves to be a bit too much on occasions. Also, at times the shots look a bit amateurish, although whether this is deliberate on the part of Aronofsky to make the film look like a home made documentary or due to a lack of better equipment is hard to tell. However, the basic filmmaking style does at least give greater emphasis to the acting, as this is where the film really delivers. Mickey Rourke really deserves the Golden Globe that he won for his performance. He gives a wholly convincing portrayal of a man whose glory days are behind him and is now wandering aimlessly through life with wrestling being the only pleasure he has left. Rourke clearly puts a lot of himself into the role, delivering a truly moving performance of the kind of character that could and probably does exist in real life. He creates a character that viewers can really sympathise and empathise with, and that we can actually believe to be real. He truly is fantastic and really deserves recognition for his portrayal. Marisa Tomei also delivers a believable performance in an extremely against type role as stripper Cassidy, and through these two characters we are shown a different side to the often misjudges professions of wrestling and stripping. Another strong performance comes from Evan Rachel Wood, even though she doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Something else that this film shows us is that while wrestling is staged it is by no means fake. The wrestling sequences, which are very well staged, are truly brutal and definitely not for the faint hearted. In one sequence Randy and his opponent are at each other with staples and barb wire, and this sequence shows more than any other that wrestling isn’t just for show – it is a truly brutal sport. All these strengths make for a film that is very compelling viewing, even it is quite a difficult watch, but the film does have shortcomings that prevent it from being as good as it could have been. The already mentioned shooting style combined with some poor editing in places make for a viewing experience that never quite has the impact it could have, and the film could have benefited greatly from being a bit more polished. Also, the abrupt and open ending will be considered a let down by some viewers. It is clearly left open for interpretation. Some will consider it a stroke of genius, others may consider it a bit of a cop-out, but whatever your opinion it is handled quite effectively. So, lacking visually it may be, but there is no denying the power of Mickey Rourke’s central performance and the film is worth seeing for that alone. Just as ‘Rocky Balboa’ was not really a film about boxing, ‘The Wrestler’ is not really a film about wrestling. What it is an interesting character study about the kind of life troubles that many people face in reality, and in this regard the film is extremely effective.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua **
Movies about dogs, it seems, are hot property right now, with ‘Bolt’, ‘Hotel For Dogs’ and ‘Marley & Me’ all being released in the next couple of months, following this Disney effort ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’. All these films have already proven very successful at the US box office, proving the notion that films about cute animals sell well with moviegoers, and the success of this film shows that films featuring talking animals, in particular, will always find an audience, even if they aren’t necessarily that good.
Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a pampered chihuahua from Beverly Hills whose owner Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes away on a business trip leaving Chloe in the care of her niece Rachel (Piper Perabo). Rachel, isn’t too keen on looking after Chloe, however, and when she goes down to Mexico to party with her friends she ends up leaving Chloe alone. Finding herself lost in a strange land Chloe gets into greater trouble when she is abducted by a gang of criminals. When Rachel finds out she immediately starts searching for Chloe and is determined not to stop until she has been found. Chloe finds help in the form of lonely German Shepherd Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia) who travels with her to protect her from the evil Doberman (voiced by Edward James Olmos) who wants to return her and her diamond collar to the dognapper. In the meantime, Papi (voiced by George Lopez), a male chihuahua who is in love with her is also in pursuit of her and Papi’s master (Manolo Cardona), a handsome young gardener for Viv, also tags along. As Chloe faces an epic journey to get home she learns about the important things in life and realizes that what she is missing may not be all her pampering but rather a special someone.
If you are familiar with the past films of director Raja Gosnell, whose biggest credits are probably the ‘Scooby Doo’ movies, then you will already have an idea of what to expect from ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’. Blatantly aimed at the most undemanding of child moviegoers, this is a film that has nothing fresh or original to offer, being exactly like many family films that you have seen before. The story is predictable with no surprises whatsoever, and fails to deliver anything particularly inventive or imaginative. You don’t even need to see the film to know how the film ends as it so completely obvious. The cast doesn’t help things out much with the usually reliable Jamie Lee Curtis and Piper Perabo both being completely wasted, and actually being out-acted by their four legged co-stars. In this regard, at least, the film does deliver, with the dogs, all of which are real, being totally adorable, meaning that the film does deliver in the cuteness department. The fact that all the dogs are real heightens the impact of the film’s events but the inclusion of some CG animals (notably a rat and an iguana) cheapens the effect somewhat. The humour is also severely lacking, and it is most likely that only really young viewers will find most of the gags funny. So, overall, ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ is a moderately entertaining but entirely disposable family flick that really young children will probably enjoy but accompanying parents won’t get much enjoyment out of and certainly won’t be saying “Ai Chihuahua!” when they leave the cinema.
Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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