Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews


The Proposal (2009): Why is it called "on-screen chemistry" when two people seem to romantically connect? The concept of romantic chemistry sounds like an oxymoron to me. In chemistry, there are repeatable experiments, formulas to follow, and scientific structure to be maintained. If you add a and b, you'll get c. In romance, it's much more complex, mysterious, and strangely beautiful than a chemical reaction in a lab. Take Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, for instance. Bullock is a 44-year-old actress with an accomplished film career ranging from Miss Congeniality to the Best Picture winner Crash. She does mostly romantic comedies, though her biggest break was Speed (remember, with the bus?). Reynolds is a relative newcomer; I remember when Van Wilder came out and it looked incredibly juvenile. Then he was in Blade Trinity and Smokin' Aces in action roles. Now he's doing romantic comedies alongside playing Deadpool in the latest Wolverine movie. Quite the jack-of-all-trades here. Oh, and he's 32, twelve years younger than Bullock.

They don't have much in common. But in The Proposal, they've got chemistry. Serious chemistry. And it holds the entire film together.

Margaret Tate (Bullock) is an emotionally aloof workaholic book editor, which basically means that people don't like her. Her assistant Andrew (Reynolds) suffers through it in the hopes that he can accomplish something in the writing/editing world. When her American visa expires and she's threatened to be deported, she makes a desperate attempt to fix the situation quickly by having Andrew marry her. The INS agent isn't convinced. They'll have to go through a huge test to see if they really know and love each other, or if this is the fraudulent marriage that it appears to be. So Margaret and Andrew head off to Alaska for the weekend to get to know each other and spend time with Andrew's family.

The rest of the film is filled with some fairly conventional romantic comedy elements. There's the crazy family members and side characters. There are the awkward sexual innuendos, mostly made by the token grandma character. There are the hilariously uncomfortable social situations that Margaret and Andrew find themselves thrust into. But trumping all of the formulas is the chemistry between Margaret and Andrew. They're witty and smart and playfully antagonize the other person. Over the course of a short weekend, they both learn a great deal about themselves and each other, transforming their relationship and bringing up feelings of affection. Reynolds and Bullock genuinely seemed to be having fun making the film, which makes it even more fun for the audience. There's not a ton of depth to the script, but both actors create a rich profundity in their authenticity and relational connection.

I can't pinpoint how and why two people have chemistry. But these two do. The Proposal is worth watching on a date night. It's surprisingly fun.

Defiance (2008): Based on a true story, Defiance tells the tale of four Jewish brothers struggling to lead a band of Jews hiding out in the Belarus forest during WWII. When their families are killed or herded off into ghettos and internment camps, the Jews flee into the trees and form a sort of commune. Stealing food from nearby farms and partnering with the Russian army, they manage to survive for years in fear of being discovered by the Nazis.

For being such a remarkable true story, this is a rather conventional war film. Director Edward Zwick is good at making heroic war epics; his resume includes Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond. He's definitely got a type. And it works here, with Daniel Craig as the eldest brother and the cadre's leader. There is action. There is tension. There is romance. There are heroic speeches given from atop a white steed. There are long slow intervals with secondary characters used as comic relief. It's all very entertaining. You've just seen it before.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't see it still. There are some good performances and entertaining moments. Craig's Tuvia Bielski is a pragmatic and principled leader who keeps their situation very down-to-earth. How do we get people food? How can we keep them warm? He's less interested in giving speeches or inspiring others and more interested in survival. He isn't a William Wallace or Aragorn; he's more like Frodo, an unwilling leader who steps up because no one else will. And by Frodo, I mean a cold-eyed Jewish Frodo with a leather jacket and a submachine gun. Craig gives a solid performance throughout.

Overall, Defiance doesn't add anything new to the war epic genre. But it does highlight a fascinating story about people struggling to stay alive during one of the most horrific experiences in human history. For that, it is worth your time to experience their story.

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