Three Dramas from Sony
Bloodworth (August 14/11)
Based on a book by William Gay, Bloodworth follows Kris Kristofferson's E.F. Bloodworth as he decides to return home after more than forty years on the road - with the character's three sons (Val Kilmer's Warren, Dwight Yoakam's Boyd, and W. Earl Brown's Brady) each reacting very differently to his unexpected arrival. (There's also an ongoing subplot revolving around Boyd's own son, Reece Thompson's Fleming, and his fledgling relationship with a sassy local played by Hilary Duff.) It's a reasonably compelling premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by director Shane Dax Taylor, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an almost oppressively deliberate pace that effectively highlights the various deficiencies in Brown's less-than-authentic screenplay. It is, as such, impossible to work up any real interest in the exploits of the movie's off-kilter, one-dimensional figures, and although Brown does pepper the proceedings with a few admittedly compelling sequences (eg E.F. tells Brady exactly what he thinks of him), Bloodworth is, for the most part, dominated by uninteresting, pointless encounters and conversations. (This is especially and painfully true of everything involving Thompson and Duff's respective characters.) Kristofferson's strong work ultimately stands as the movie's one saving grace, as the grizzled veteran delivers an engrossing performance that effectively transforms his thinly-written character into a surprisingly compelling figure - though this isn't, in the final analysis, enough to justify what is primarily a seriously tedious slog through overly familiar territory.
Mirrormask (January 31/12)
Though it begins with a fair amount of promise, Mirrormask eventually establishes itself as an thoroughly interminable piece of work that substitutes endless creativity for context and character development (ie the experience of watching the film is akin to attending an experimental art exhibit). The movie follows sullen teenager Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), the daughter of a circus owner (Rob Brydon's Morris) and his wife (Gina McKee's Joanne), as she inadvertently steps into a fantastical world comprised of strange creatures and gravity-defying landscapes, with the narrative subsequently (and primarily) detailing Helena's ongoing efforts at locating a mysterious item that will allow her to save the magical kingdom and return home. Filmmaker Dave McKean has, at the outset, infused Mirrormask with an inviting, Terry Gilliam-like sense of style that effectively captures the viewer's interest right from the get-go, with the familiar nature of the storyline - the movie is, after all, initially concerned with a teenager's rebellious attitude towards her parents - offset by the inventive visuals and strong performances. It's only as Helena moves into the aforementioned fantasy world that Mirrormask slowly-but-sure begins to morph into a seriously oppressive endeavor, with the admittedly impressive special effects simply (and utterly) unable to compensate for the pervasive lack of concrete elements (ie with nothing real at stake, it's virtually impossible to work up any interest in the protagonist's progressively oddball exploits). The increasingly surreal atmosphere ensures that Mirrormask only grows more and more tedious in the buildup to its hopelessly anticlimactic final stretch, with the end result a complete bore - an imaginative bore, admittedly, but a bore nonetheless - that's sure to leave kids and adults alike absolutely cold.
Moneyball (January 6/12)
Based on the book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball follows Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he teams up with an economics graduate (Jonah Hill's Peter Brand) to build a team based solely on statistical averages - with the controversial maneuver inevitably raising the ire of several key figures within the organization, including Athletics manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Director Bennett Miller, working from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, has infused Moneyball with a decidedly slow-moving feel that does, at the outset, prevent the viewer from connecting to either the material or the characters, with the arm's length vibe compounded by an ongoing emphasis on elements of a less-than-engrossing nature (ie the movie is, more often than not, steeped in baseball-related minutia to a degree that borders on oppressive). It's thanks primarily to the stellar work of the film's stars that Moneyball remains watchable for much of its running time, as Pitt and Hill step into the shoes of their respective characters with an ease that ultimately proves hypnotic - yet, by that same token, one can't help but wish that Zaillian and Sorkin had devoted a little more time to the pair's personal lives (ie we learn virtually nothing about Peter apart from his genius with numbers). But as strong as the actors are (and as compelling as the material can be), Moneyball is, in the end, undone by its excessively subdued atmosphere and pace - with the film seemingly designed to appeal solely to fans of America's Favorite Pastime.