Four Dramas from Paramount
Carriers (February 20/11)
Set within a landscape devastated by a viral outbreak, Carriers follows a quartet of friends (Lou Taylor Pucci's Danny, Chris Pine's Brian, Piper Perabo's Bobby, and Emily VanCamp's Kate) as they attempt to safely travel to a supposed waterfront sanctuary - with their journey complicated by a number of post-apocalyptic problems (eg a pervasive lack of gas, roaming bands of deadly survivalists, etc). It's an awfully familiar premise that's employed to lukewarm (yet watchable) effect by filmmakers Alex and David Pastor, as the movie, for the most part, plays out exactly as one might've assumed based on the spare setup - with the commonplace feel extending even to the personalities of the four central characters (eg Brian is the pragmatic hothead, Danny is the wide-eyed optimist, etc). There's little doubt, then, that it's the stellar performances and smattering of stand-out sequences that ultimately sustain the viewer's interest, with, in terms of the latter, a trip to a seemingly deserted school certainly ratcheting up the suspense level to an impressive degree. (Likewise, the four leads are all incredibly strong in their respective roles, though it's clear that Christopher Meloni, cast as a desperate father, stands as the movie's MVP.) But, as becomes increasingly clear, Carriers has been infused with a deliberate sense of pacing that does prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative, and it's ultimately impossible to label the film as anything more than a well made, well acted, yet far from engrossing drama.
The Escape Artist (October 3/11)
Directed by noted cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, The Escape Artist follows a young boy (Griffin O'Neal's Danny Masters) as he leaves home to become an assistant to his aunt and uncle in their low-rent magic show - with complications ensuing as Danny finds himself caught up in the illicit activities of the mayor's sleazy son (Raul Julia's Stu). Deschanel, working from Melissa Mathison and Stephen Zito's screenplay, admittedly gets The Escape Artist off to a promising start, as the movie opens with a compelling sequence in which Danny presents himself to the police and claims that he can escape from a prison cell within one hour. From there, however, the film, which subsequently flashes back into the events leading up to that point, segues into a slow-moving and hopelessly uneventful drama revolving around the protagonist's low-key exploits - with the movie's pervasive lack of drama or tension result in a palpably flat atmosphere that proves disastrous (ie none of this is even remotely interesting). The less-than-engrossing vibe is exacerbated by O'Neal's competent yet bland turn as the central character (ie Danny generally comes off as a garden-variety scrappy kid), and although Julia delivers an expectedly compelling performance, the film is simply never able to raise itself up to the level of the actor and his various costars. The inclusion of a relatively engaging jailbreak sequence towards the end briefly injects the proceedings with a much-needed burst of energy, yet this interlude arrives far too late to compensate for the movie's otherwise lackluster atmosphere.
Grandview U.S.A. (October 16/11)
Though it derives some mileage out of its impressively star-laden cast, Grandview U.S.A. has been saddled with an all-too-slight narrative that effectively (and pervasively) prevents the viewer from connecting to the various characters and their respective endeavors. The movie, for the most part, details the coming-of-age exploits of an affable teenager named Tim Pearson (C. Thomas Howell), with Tim's assured post-high school track thrown into question after he meets and falls for an older woman (Jamie Lee Curtis' Michelle Cody). Filmmaker Randal Kleiser has infused Grandview U.S.A. with a subdued feel that admittedly does reflect the low-key bent of Ken Hixon's screenplay, with the authentic atmosphere and charismatic performances initially compensating for the decidedly thin storyline. The uneventfulness of Hixon's script does, however, become more and more oppressive as time progresses, and there inevitably reaches a point wherein the viewer begins to crave a more substantive vibe. (There is, for example, an incredibly entertaining sequence in which Patrick Swayze's scene-stealing character freaks out after catching his wife with another man, but such moments prove to be increasingly few and far between.) It is, as a result, difficult to work up much interest in or enthusiasm for the love triangle that dominates the movie's third act, which ultimately cements Grandview U.S.A.'s place as a forgettable bit of '80s nostalgia.
True Grit (February 27/11)
Based on the novel by Charles Portis, True Grit follows 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she hires a grizzled U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn) to bring her father's killer (Josh Brolin's Tom Chaney) to justice. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have infused True Grit with precisely the sort of authentic, firmly idiosyncratic feel with which they've come to be associated; as such, the movie, which kicks off with a hypnotically methodical opening shot, generally comes off as a traditional Western that's been augmented with a number of irresistibly off-kilter elements. It's clear right from the outset, however, that True Grit's most valuable asset are its performers, as the Coens have ensured that even the smallest of roles have been memorably filled - though it's just as obvious that the movie belongs to Bridges and Steinfeld. The latter delivers a surprisingly accomplished performance that's never diminished by her commanding costars, while the former's almost impossibly grizzled work stands as an ongoing highlight within the proceedings. (This is despite the fact that a good chunk of Bridges' dialogue is rendered unintelligible by the actor's exceedingly gruff delivery.) There's consequently little doubt that the deliberately paced, episodic nature of True Grit's midsection isn't quite as problematic as one might've feared, although it's worth noting that the film's erratic atmosphere does prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative on an all-too-consistent basis. The inclusion of an undeniably exciting finale ensures that the movie concludes on a thoroughly positive note, which cements True Grit's place as one of the more memorable Westerns to hit cinemas as of late.