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Non-Review Review: Home Again

Home Again is an attempt at a classic screwball comedy where anything resembling a hard edge has been softened to a smooth felt.

Writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is clearly hoped to construct an old-school Hollywood farce, centring on a relatively recently singled mother who finds her world turned upside down when three handsome young strangers move into her guest house down the end of her garden. Naturally, Alice Kinney cannot anticipate how quickly these three young aspiring film makers will disrupt her family life, but the situation quickly escalates in a relatively unthreatening manner.

Home Again has a solid premise and a charmingly committed performance from Reese Witherspoon, but the movie feels far too gentle to really work. There is something strangely bloodless about Home Again, which means that the movie often struggles to get its own pulse racing. There is a sense that Home Again is far too worried about the possibility of offending anyone, even its own characters. Home Again is a film full of selfish, shortsighted and manipulative characters, but it never allows them to embrace those qualities in a way that might threaten the happy ending.

Home Again feels far too comfortable in itself to really work.

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Non-Review Review: The Good Lie

The Good Lie works very well.

Margaret Nagle’s script was inspired by the “lost boys” who escaped the Sudanese Civil War. These displaced refugees found themselves scattered. Some walked hundreds of miles to neighbouring countries like Ethiopia or Kenya. Some travelled even further, emigrating to countries like the United States. The Good Lie is a fascinating exploration of the lives of four such immigrants who arrive in their new home in the year 2000, finding themselves struggling to adapt to life in America. It is a subject that could easily seem exploitative or maudlin.

Packing light...

Packing light…

It would be easy to turn The Good Lie into a heavy-handed meditation on human suffering as explored through the eyes of these four immigrants. The poster for The Good Lie allots considerable space to actress Reese Witherspoon, and it would be easy to write the story as told from the perspective of the American characters who interact with these new arrivals. It is to the credit of Nagle’s script that The Good Lie never allows its focus to shift, that it is never distracted by the more prominent American cast members.

The Good Lie is perhaps a little bit too broad in its humour at points, and its structure occasionally feels a little contrived. However, there is a lot of warmth and affection underpinning the script, with the sense of humour helping to relieve what could easily descend into an overly solemn drama.

Leaving on a jet plane...

Leaving on a jet plane…

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Non-Review Review: Wild

Wild is adapted from Wild: From Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her spiritual 1,100 mile trek across the California Pacific Trail. The bulk of the movie features Reese Witherspoon carrying a gigantic backpack stuffed with the essentials – described accurately, and perhaps affectionately, by some observers as a “monster.” This image adorns the posters and publicity materials, and feels strangely appropriate. Cheryl may have carried a gigantic back upon her back, but Reese Witherspoon carries the entire movie.

To be fair, Wild is not a bad film on its own merits. It is perfectly functional, if a little familiar in places. However, it is Reese Witherspoon’s performance that sets the film apart. It is a powerful and naked lead performance which counts among the best work in the actress’ career. The plot and character beats may feel like they have been inherited from countless other “find yourself in nature” films, it is Witherspoon who imbues Cheryl (and, by extension, the film) with a warm humanity.

Into the wild...

Into the wild…

Witherspoon a momentous performance, and Wild seems keenly aware of this. The film knows it has a gifted performer at its core giving one of the most memorable performances of the year. So Nick Hornby’s screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée are clever enough to stand back; the bulk of the film seems built around Witherspoon, a showcase for the performer. That is a lot of weight; even more than the hefty backpack that Strayed carried with her across California. Witherspoon is more than up to the task.

Wild is a movie that lives or dies on the strength of its lead performance. Luckily, Witherspoon is tremendous.

A long walk home...

A long walk home…

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That Pivotal Second Viewing…

As a film blogger, I tend to write reviews of films that I have never seen before. I occasionally take the opportunity to share my thoughts on classic films I have seen countless times, but most of my writing covers films I’ve only seen once. In some cases, that will be the first and only time that I see a movie. I have, for example, no desire to ever site through This Means War again. However, I occasionally find the second viewing of a film to be a much more enlightening and inspiring film, whether it crystalises my original opinion or perhaps even prompts a re-evaluation of my earlier thoughts. It’s interesting how different and distinct a film can appear each time you happen to watch it.

Twice the excitement...

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Non-Review Review: This Means War

It’s hard to find anything redeeming in McG’s This Means War, a romantic comedy that attempts to court the male demographic with promises of car chases and explosions and action sequences. However, the movie has some rather unpleasant undertones as it devolves into a competition between two male friends to see who can effectively trick a beautiful young woman into falling in love with them. Interestingly, the movie is primarily about these two guys and their relationship, with the (supposed) object of their affection serving as a glorified prop.

War and pieces...

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Non-Review Review: Monsters vs. Aliens

I do quite like Monsters vs. Aliens, even if it feels like it’s trying to do too many vastly different things are once. It’s too goofy and silly to be a genuinely emotional morality tale about appreciating those different than us, while also being too sentimental to work as a sort of a goofy hokey monster mash nostalgia trip. One gets the sense that it could have been a much better film had it opted for one approach rather than the other, instead of trying to straddle the middle ground between them. It’s a shame, because it has some genuinely impressive sequences and warm sense of respect and good humour for all those classic creature features, but it just ends up feeling too much like a standard cookie-cutter modern animated film.

It's a Monster Mash!

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Non-Review Review: Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants is undoubtedly a well made film from a technical point of view. It stylishly evokes a collective memory of Depression-era America with a skilled romanticism, all beautifully staged and designed, scored with music clearly intended to tug at the heart-strings. However, despite the technical proficiency with which the film is crafted, it ends up feeling ultimately quite lifeless, and a little stale – like a mediocre circus, the movie is stylish and momentarily distracting, but it never manages to grasp its audience, or to engage.

He packed his trunk and said goodbye to the circus...

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