Tag Archives: Reese Witherspoon

The Importance of Being Earnest (2002, Oliver Parker)

Oliver Parker takes an interesting approach when it comes to adapting The Importance of Being Earnest from play to screen. He doesn’t worry much about opening up the film; at the beginning of the film, he showcases late nineteenth century London and later does quite a bit with Colin Firth’s country estate… but during the lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes, he just lets the dialogue do its work.

The playfulness of the dialogue, the combination of sincerity and humor the cast imbues in it, makes Earnest seem open even when it’s closed. Tony Pierce-Roberts’s sumptuous photography and Charlie Mole’s playful music help quite a bit–and there are some distinct, memorable outdoor sequences (not to mention a singing montage). It’s quite an interesting adaptation.

Of the two male leads–Firth and Rupert Everett–Everett gets to have more fun. It’s appropriate, because of their love interests–Frances O’Connor for Firth and Reese Witherspoon for Everett–O’Connor gets to have more fun. It all balances out.

The film moves through a few phases, with the focus switching between Everett and Firth, before it becomes their dual effort to win back their love interests. That structure also allows for some nice scenes with O’Connor and Witherspoon. O’Connor and Everett are outstanding.

There’s some nice support from Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey and Edward Fox.

As the film winds down and the contrivances stack up, it does appear a little flimsy. Luckily, Parker saves some good jokes for the finale and recovers.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Parker; screenplay by Parker, based on the play by Oscar Wilde; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Charlie Mole; production designer, Luciana Arrighi; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Rupert Everett (Algy Moncrieff), Colin Firth (Jack Worthing), Frances O’Connor (Gwendolen Fairfax), Reese Witherspoon (Cecily Cardew), Judi Dench (Lady Augusta Bracknell), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Chasuble), Anna Massey (Miss Prism) and Edward Fox (Lane).


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Devil’s Knot (2013, Atom Egoyan)

There are plenty of things one simply cannot do in two hours; if Devil's Knot is any indication, one cannot try to tell the story of the trial of the West Memphis Three in two hours. Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson's script seems to do quite a bit well–for the first third of the film, the horrific nature of the crimes has the film sympathizing with the police officers (Robert Baker in particular), only to later reveal incompetence and corruption on these characters' parts.

Then, once the script's obviously manipulative nature becomes clear, it's hard to take Knot seriously. The deception makes little sense, since the film's written for people familiar with the case (as there's no explanation why Damien Echols isn't executed at the end).

As for second-billed Reese Witherspoon, who plays a grieving mother looking for the truth, her arc's incompetently handled. At least Colin Firth doesn't have an arc or character development. It may very well be historically accurate, but it's far from dramatic.

There are some excellent performances. Kevin Durand and Alessandro Nivola are both good as suspicious fathers. Amy Ryan has a nice scene. Firth isn't bad. Witherspoon eventually gets a little better–but it's too little too late. Much of the supporting cast and some of the principals are weak. Especially James Hamrick as Echols.

Mychael Danna's score is manipulative and derivative. Director Egoyan does an insincere job. It's tepid, vaguely incompetent and Oscar-desperate.

Its compelling nature has nothing to do with the filmmaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Atom Egoyan; screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, based on the book by Mara Leveritt; director of photography, Paul Sarossy; edited by Susan Shipton; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow and Boardman; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Colin Firth (Ron Lax), Reese Witherspoon (Pam Hobbs), Dane DeHaan (Chris Morgan), Mireille Enos (Vicki Hutcheson), Bruce Greenwood (Judge David Burnett), Elias Koteas (Jerry Driver), Stephen Moyer (John Fogleman), Alessandro Nivola (Terry Hobbs), Amy Ryan (Margaret Lax), Robert Baker (Det. Bryn Ridge), Kevin Durand (John Mark Byers), Michael Gladis (Dan Stidham), James Hamrick (Damien Echols), Martin Henderson (Brent Davis), Kristopher Higgins (Jessie Misskelley Jr.), Brian Howe (Detective McDonough), Matt Letscher (Paul Ford), Seth Meriwether (Jason Baldwin), Rex Linn (Inspector Gary Gitchell), Kristoffer Polaha (Val Price) and Collette Wolfe (Glori Shettles).


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Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross)

All through Pleasantville, I kept wondering how–for a film with so many problems–it could have not only some of the most emotionally affecting (not effective) scenes I can remember seeing, but also an overwhelming ending, which makes the whole film seem like it was better than it was… Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s name at the end on the producer list. That one’s a cheap shot at Gary Ross, but there’s a litany of things wrong with Pleasantville.

Firstly, it makes no sense. It doesn’t establish any reasonable rules for its fantasy (in fact, it seems to be trying to play down the fact it’s a far out science fiction story about a couple kids’ adventure in an alternate reality). The people and objects colorize for emphasis, not for any logical reason. It’s distracting and cheap–Pleasantville is very cheap. It’s the intelligentsia (or what passes for them in America–and in Hollywood films for that matter–so think Spielberg, which Ross does a lot) sucker punching the right wing. There’s another problem with Pleasantville: it presents a number of complicated problems and gives them all easy solutions. Some people exist after they switch universes, others appear to be gone from the collective memory. But back the sucker punching the right wing. The bad guys in Pleasantville are a bunch of white guys who are pissed off their wives aren’t cooking them dinner. I had to remember it came out before 2001, because I really can’t see it being released otherwise until a couple years ago (when Hollywood finally stopped lionizing fascist white men). Ross is real cheap with his comparisons too–are the newly conscious people of Pleasantville supposed to be stand-ins for blacks in America circa 1958, Jews in Germany circa 1934, or something else entirely? Or all three, whenever it suits Ross for the most effective scene (he loves the Nazi imagery though).

It’s weird to see a film, recognize it’s working you over, yet still let it do that number on you. And Pleasantville does it. It might be the only film to do it.

Ross’s composition is poor, the editing of the film is atrocious, so what drives it home. Randy Newman’s score is immeasurably important and the film couldn’t work without it, but it also couldn’t work without the performances. Tobey Maguire’s been so ineffective for so long, it’s a bit of a shock to see him act so well. Reese Witherspoon is even good, though her role is very simple. But the film works because of two people–Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen. Allen’s too good for it and she brings the material up to her level. Daniels’s role is also geared to be cheap (the character goes through extraordinary change in five hours, which take place over five minutes in the film, and we’re supposed to be wowed), but his performance is touching and tragic and wonderful and the longing in the scenes between the two of them, the longing for something unknowable… it makes Pleasantville a significant and essential viewing experience. It’s a cheap film, terribly, terribly cheap, but it’s a magnificent two hours and four minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gary Ross; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Ross, Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus and Steven Soderbergh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Tobey Maguire (David), Jeff Daniels (Mr. Johnson), Joan Allen (Betty), William H. Macy (George), J.T. Walsh (Big Bob), Don Knotts (TV Repairman), Marley Shelton (Margaret), Jane Kaczmarek (David’s Mom) and Reese Witherspoon (Jennifer).


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