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Somehow, Rio is the first movie from 2011 that I’ve seen. So I figured that I’ll try to write up little reviews for every 2011 film I see. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but I’d like to at least get a few thoughts about each one.
There are always a lot of animated kids movies in theatres, but it seems like there’s been a new one out each week lately. But between Mars Needs Moms and Gnomeo and Juliet, a lot of them seemed a bit too juvenile for adult audiences. So of course my pretentious sensibilities gravitated to the one starring Jesse Eisenberg (who would probably be terrified of children, in actuality). A neurotic bird who can’t fly has to be comedy gold, right?
Well, kind of.
At its base, Rio is a movie for kids. This shows in some of the humour that relies on tame puns, and in the sometimes weak script. You don’t get the sharp humour of Tangled, the heartfelt dialogue of Toy Story 3, or the simple visual emotional heft of How to Train Your Dragon.
But Rio is still a very cute movie. To begin with, the animation is lovely. The film mostly takes place in Brazil, where the domesticated main character, Blu, is brought to breed with the last remaining female of his species. And with this tropical setting, the animators bring virtually every possible colour to life on screen. From the various birds to the sprawling rainforest, everything feels so vibrant. And while less of the film takes place in natural settings than I had expected, the film finds just as much energy in the city of Rio de Janeiro itself. The cityscape is unique, and the film actually does a great job of showing the scope of the area’s architecture and living conditions. They even integrate the towering presence of the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue (which always makes me think of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet). Maybe this whole film is some kind of cleverly-constructed tourist advert for Brazil, because I spent a good portion of the film thinking about how I suddenly want to visit Rio.
But the exotic setting is not the only thing working in Rio‘s favour. Despite a lot of kid-oriented humour, there is still plenty for adult audiences, too. Tracy Morgan’s salivating bulldog is the source of a few solid laughs, and Will.i.am and Jamie Foxx are surprisingly funny as an odd-couple pair of bird sidekicks. One especially funny scene comes when the two of them try to serenade Blu and his female counterpart, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). (Even if, as my friend pointed out, it is kind of reminiscent of the “Kiss the Girl” scene in The Little Mermaid.)
Jesse Eisenberg also does a fantastic job of elevating the material with his dry wit. His mere presence automatically makes the film seem a bit more “mature”, and he gives a really spectacular vocal performance. He’s funny and sarcastic when necessary, and he also excels in the film’s more subtle, tender moments.
Anne Hathaway is also good, though she is given less to do. One of my main complaints with the film is that her character, Jewel, felt rather underdeveloped. She’s a strong female character, but we never learn much about her. I think the romance between the two leads would have been far more impactful if we knew more about her character, and understood better why the two of them would fall in love. Their romance feels slightly rushed, as does the ending of the film.
Overall, Rio is a fun time at the movies. The film, while nothing groundbreaking, is greatly helped by Eisenberg’s performance, the beautiful animation, and a couple of expertly placed musical numbers throughout. If you’re looking for a cute diversion, you could do a lot worse.
Vanity Fair, March 2011
- LOL @ Robert Duvall
- I like everyone on here (I’ve yet to see any of Jennifer Lawrence’s or Noomi Rapace’s films, but they seem cool, I guess?). I would’ve rolled my eyes at Olivia Wilde (especially in that outfit), but I thought she was surprisingly good in TRON: Legacy.
- Rapace and Anthony Mackie (who is fabulous in The Hurt Locker and Half Nelson) are unexpected choices, but it’s nice to see a broader spectrum of actors here (in other words, I’m glad that they didn’t just pick a bunch of twiggy little starlets…though I wouldn’t have minded seeing Emma Stone on here. But I digress.)
- I like that they’re mixing more established actors (the four lovely folks on the first panel) with smart choices in newer actors. Garfield, Hedlund, and Lawrence were practically unknowns a year ago, but they’re three actors who seem to have a bright future ahead. And I like that Jesse Eisenberg, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mila Kunis, who have been acting for years are finally getting their due.
- The men all look verrrrry dapper
The Hollywood Reporter’s “Roundtable” video series has been going for a few years now, but I must admit that this is the only segment that I’ve ever watched. It probably has something to do with the names involved in this roundtable – Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Colin Firth, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Duvall (who seems a bit like the odd man out, to be honest) – that got me to watch the entire hour’s discussion. And it was pretty interesting. You can click here to watch the whole thing.
It’s nice to see actors discussing the craft in a somewhat more natural way. Yes, it is still a contrived setting and there are “moderators” controlling the discussion. But the desperate need for talk show anecdotes is largely gone. At times, it veers into navel-gazing contemplation about the art of acting, but I’d say that the video is well worth watching, if not only for a few choice moments. Highlights (though I recommend watching the video for yourself):
- Ryan Gosling’s discussion of Derek Cianfrance’s approach to making Blue Valentine. Coming from a history of documentary film, Cianfrance apparently never did more than one take of a scene (and the actors had no rehearsal time). And an entire night of filming was devoted to capturing whatever Gosling and Michelle Williams improvised while wandering the city. Because of the film’s tight budget, Cianfrance had to give up having lights for the entire film in order to have the resources to film from sunset to sunrise on this one night. As Gosling puts it, “He knew where to spend his money in the hopes of grabbing those moments.”
- Gosling’s explanation of why he pulled out of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Gosling gained sixty pounds for the role, but a lack of communication between actor and filmmaker made for an unpleasant surprise when he showed up on set weighing 210 pounds. But as Gosling says, the weight issue was only a small indicator of the vastly different visions that he and Jackson had for the film and the character. And having seen The Lovely Bones, I think I’d probably prefer Gosling’s version.
- Jesse Eisenberg’s hyper-self-consciousness. Insecurities fly fast and furious here, and that’s why I find Eisenberg such an unrelentingly fascinating character. He talks about doing 50 takes for a scene on The Social Network, and feeling like 48 of those takes were “terrible and mortifying”. He also talks about the filming of Adventureland, and how he would keep track of which takes and specific lines he thought he delivered well, and request that only those takes be used in the movie (the other roundtable actors get a kick out of that one).
- Robert Duvall’s incredulousness over David Fincher’s perfectionism and penchant for endless takes.
- The discussion of doing “bad movies”. Franco talks about his early work, and how doing movies that he hated eventually led to him pursuing other interests and “viewing movies in a different way”. Eisenberg also talks about one instance where he struggled with deciding whether or not to take an early role that he had no interest in.
- Is it just me, or does Mark Ruffalo seem like the friendliest dude ever? He definitely came across the warmest, adding little jokes and encouragement (and possibly patting Colin Firth’s knee at one point near the end?). He also seemed to take himself the least seriously of the group, which I respect.
As for the Oscar chances of this group (since awards season is the impetus for these videos), I think all of them have a decent shot. I still don’t think that Franco, Eisenberg, and Gosling can all squeeze into the Best Actor category. They’re just too young. But with Jesse Eisenberg’s Best Actor win from the National Board of Review earlier this afternoon, it looks like he could be a major contender. And with Franco as a virtual lock, I fear Gosling might be left out in the cold. Firth and Duvall will also both likely be nominated for Best Actor. The only supporting player involved here is Ruffalo, and I hope that he can still find a spot in his category.
Being brilliant and cultured is such a burden. Or, at least, that’s what Noah Baumbach would like everyone to believe.
In his 2005 breakthrough film, The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach digs back into his own upbringing to explore the inner workings of a fractured family. Jesse Eisenberg (who also received his break with this film) plays Walt, an intelligent but disconnected teenager caught in the middle of his parent’s messy separation (played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney). As well as bouncing between New York residences as part of the joint custody agreement, he also has to deal with a maladjusted younger brother, Frank (Owen Kline), and settle for a merely “cute” girlfriend.
What works so well about The Squid and the Whale is the humour that Baumbach mines from the bleakest of situations. At times, there’s a morbid hilarity in this cruelly dysfunctional family. Whether they’re attacking each other (Frank tells his mother she’s ugly) or the uncultured philistines that populate the world (basically, everyone outside of their immediate family), there’s a dark, biting wit to Baumbach’s squirmy screenplay.
It’s unusual for a film to present such relentlessly unpleasant characters. Walt is the closest thing the film has to a hero, but I hardly want to root for someone who takes his girlfriend for granted, tells his mother that she disgusts him, and fools everyone into thinking he wrote Pink Floyd’s “Hey You”.
Yet, after nearly an hour of gloomy confrontations, the film reaches a surprising emotional climax in a scene where Walt outlines a fond childhood memory. His simple description is surprisingly moving. I was amazed to find myself relating to such an insufferable character (what does that say about me?), and by the vivid feelings of childhood and nostalgia that the scene provoked in me.
Soon after, we also get to see Walt’s guarded facade crumble entirely for a brief moment, and Eisenberg plays the scene with a welcome understatement. While Linney relies on high drama and hysterics to do her best acting, Eisenberg injects heart into the most unexpected nooks of the film.
Daniels is also great as the father, Bernard, a smarmy, self-loving writer struggling to get another book published. Bernard is defeated, but so much so that he doesn’t relish tearing down others’ uncultured pursuits. The scenes that Daniels shares with Eisenberg are kinetic, even though it’s horrifying to see Bernard transferring his twisted worldview to an impressionable son.
The Squid and the Whale employs many techniques that are now associated with modern independent filmmaking. Comparisons to Wes Anderson’s quirky fare are obvious (especially since Anderson served as a producer here), and the downtrodden tone compliments Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze’s work nicely. But Baumbach offers a tense, raw alternative to Coppola’s dreamy love letters. At times employing a documentary-esque style, he keeps the visual flares to a minimum.
His editing is unobtrusively wonderful, too. At one point, a character reminds another of their distaste for Godard and his jump cuts. But sure enough, a mere couple of minutes later, Baumbach inserts his own jump cut with a knowing wink. He knows how to hit a nerve in the film’s darker moments as well, making the audience squirm with his frank camera work.
The film’s refusal to take itself seriously is a real asset. Some moments are uncomfortable to watch, yet somehow the film never becomes heavy-handed. I was totally sucked into this bizarre, off-putting world. Call it a “hipster” film if you wish, but to me, it’s just an example of great filmmaking.