The Dilemma – Review

The Dilemma (2010)  

Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Vince VaughnKevin JamesJennifer Connelly

The truth might hurt, as the poster says, but so does this film!

In a way I should have known better, but in my defense I really wanted to go out and watch a movie tonight and it seemed like I had already seen everything else that my multiplex was showing. Ron Howard‘s latest comedy sounded like an easy watch for a Sunday night… How wrong I was!

This is one of the most misjudged film I have seen in a very long time and the possibly worse since I’ve started writing on this blog (I didn’t see “Vampires suck” last year, which I hear could have taken the crown).

The biggest crime of all, for a comedy of this kind, is that not only it’s just  un-funny (I probably chuckled once or twice at the most), but also it’s really boring. In fact I don’t even think it can be called a comedy… and yet it’s so superficial that it can hardly be considered a drama.

It has the longest introduction ever but I sort of decided to go for it anyway, hoping that the more time the film would spend setting up the scenes and its characters, the more engaging I would find it all once the “dilemma” would come.

Finally a good 30/40 minutes into the film (though it surely felt like a lot longer) the dilemma does arrive. Unfortunately that is almost the moment when I realized that the film was not going to improve and I plunged into complete boredom.

Everything about this film is wrong: Vince Vaughn’s monotone acting and his ludicrous religious moments, the pacing of the scenes, the lack of jokes and the complete misfires of the few that are actually there (the long speech at the 40th anniversary being the most glaring example of something which is supposed to be funny but fails on every level), the casting of Kevin James (who should clearly stay on TV) randomly paired up with Winona Ryder (never for a moment I believed that those 2 could have got married), the wasted use of Jennifer Connelly (she probably owed Ron Howard a favor from the time they did “A beautiful Mind” together: nothing else would explain why she should have taken this thin-paper part), and even Queen Latifah feels like it’s a character added in at the last moment, even on a half day re-shoot) because they felt the film didn’t have enough laughter.

What on earth happened to Ron Howard?!? I mean, only a few years ago he did Frost/Nixon, which I really loved and whatever you thought of A Beautiful Mind (over-rated Oscar bait in my view) at least it had a style and it felt as if it actually had been “directed” by somebody who knew what he was doing. Ransom was a fairly competent film too, edge of the seat drama/thriller (completely ruined by one of the worse trailer ever, which gave away 9/10 of the plot). Apollo 13 (which I haven’t seen in ages) was huge at the time and quite engaging. I even remember liking Cocoon back in the 80s (though I haven’t seen it since…).Despite all this he’s not the kind of director I would expect to see behind a comedy, but then again with Parenthood and even Edtv, he did prove  that at least he knew how to make entertaining light films… And after all, he was one of the forces behind “Arrested Development“, or was he? I’m beginning to doubt he was even involved with  the photocopying of the scripts in that series!

I’m not even sure Howard himself knew what kind of film he was making, as the film switches from bad slapstick to slow melodrama (a balance that as the New York Magazine noted “Perhaps the late Blake Edwards could have got right, but not Ron Howard”).

The general un-likability of the (potentially good) cast and the fact that this is a Ron Howard’s film makes the failure even greater.

I probably shouldn’t even waste anymore words on this.

The real dilemma for me was whether to give the film more than 1 star! In the end 4.5  will do.


Black Swan – Review


USA 2010 . Directed by Darren Aronofsky. With Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

Black Swan is the 5th feature by director Darren Aronofsky. If you think that his previous works include movies like “Requiem for a dream“, you won’t be too much surprised when I tell you that this latest piece is a pretty strong draining experience. A dark, emotional, nightmarish roller-coaster of a movie, and a real exhausting experience. When I left the preview theatre where I watched this I felt I like I had lost a few kilos.

It is also the most accomplished film by Aronoksky. In a Q&A session after the film, the director revealed how he’d been wanting to make a film about ballet for a very long time, but found it quite hard to get it financed. Finally he managed to combine an old treatment he’d been working on for a long time about understudies and ballet dancer in what can only be defined as a psychological thriller.

It is filmed mostly in very tight handheld close-ups, with muted and colors and a general grainy style reminiscent of his previous film The Wrestler. It is quite unusual to be so close to a ballet dancer while she’s performing. We are so used to watch ballet dancers from an “audience prospective”, that is from enough distance where they all seem so light.and graceful. Their movements effortless. But only when you’re so close to them you can really see and feel their pain: the sound of the heavy breathing, the look of exhaustion on their faces. Aronofsky captures all that and more.

The film is certainly not for everybody’s taste: people may find it too strong or even too slow, but if you are a film lover, I am sure you’ll appreciate its technique.

The music also plays a huge part in the film. Once again the director teams up with Clint Mansel who so successfully had produced the hit soundtrack from requiem for a dream 10 years before. The score builds on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and re-works into a film score, enhancing it, making it sound bigger or more haunting and slowing it down, according to what the mood of the film requires.

It is an amazing achievement, but the real star of the film is Natalie Portman, beautiful as ever,  who gives the best performance of her career so far (Yes, better than in Leon). She manages to capture both that grace and lightness of the white swan and the darker side of the sexy and devilish black counterpart.

The scene where she phones her mother to tell her that she’s got the part in the Swan Lake, all filmed in a tight close ups,  is probably the highlight of the film in terms of acting. You can see every single possible emotion passing though her face: happiness, exhaustion, pride, terror ! She really deserves an Oscar for her performance, though having said that, the film itself is a bit too weird for the Academy and its dark mood that might prevent any other Oscar recognition.

A lot of people have been praising this film calling it a masterpiece, I wouldn’t go that far. It is all fairly predictable if you really want to take it to pieces and, dare I say, slightly over the top with a few moments where it almost falls into a splatter horror without any real need. And of course at the end of the day, it’s all rather ludicrous! Yet it is still closer to “the wrestler” than “Requiem” at least in terms of real emotion and character development, as opposed to “style” over “substance”  (let’s face it, I did loved “requiem for a Dream“, and it was beautiful to watch but it did go on for a bit too long and over-stressed its point) and it did manage to create a palpable atmosphere like very few films have this year.

With this movie Aronofsky confirms himself as one of the most interesting, visionary director working in Hollywood today. I wish him good luck for the forthcoming awards Season (though I wouldn’t want to bet on him, as it’s clear that the King’s Speech and the Social Network will get everything else) and I am looking forward to see what he’ll do next with X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2

(note added after the Oscars 2011). Natalie Portman won the Oscar for her performance in this film, as I had predicted by the way…


The King Speech
The Social Network

%d bloggers like this: