Had a movie night with Lisa yesterday (about time!). She's been so busy with work these past few months that I've honestly been watching a lot less movies than I normally do. It might be hard to believe, but we usually catch at least two movies a week, sometimes more. Living in NYC (and not having any kids) makes this very easy to do. :)
Anyway, I'm not going to write the standard review for both. I'll just provide my general impressions.
We went to see Lakeview Terrace and The Secret Life of Bees.
Lakeview Terrace was okay, but nothing spectacular. Sam Jackson was, as always, the man, but ultimately the movie fell flat with its ending. I also found some of the plotting very deliberate and artificial. Going off on tangents early on with various secondary characters just to have them appear later on for contrived results, that sort of thing. And I have my issues with the resolution that came straight out of your typical stupid Hollywood thriller.
The film did have a bit of an edge, however, with its discourse on race relations and, in particular, interracial marriage (gah, I HATE that phrase). But ultimately it did not hit these themes hard enough. And since the movie delves into your by-the-numbers thriller halfway through, it all gets swept under the rug of a crazy Sam Jackson performance anyway. Although I will admit that Jackson was more restrained in this role than he's been in a while. I can see a nuanced sophistication developing to his acting, although he does seem to gleefully channel the angry black-man role he's been cultivating ever since Die Hard III. In the end, I'd only recommend this as a rental or a movie channel selection.
The Secret Life of Bees, on the other hand, was VERY good. I'm *still* thinking about this movie a day later. I'll get what was wrong with it out of the the way early, though -- at times, it was just TOO saccharine. You know, the type of movie that tries so hard to coax the tears from your eyes and is way too eager to gain critical acclaim? In other words, "Oscar bait." Oscar bait is fine once in a while. In fact, this is that time of year when such movies worm their way out of the woodwork. But when the movie is too self-aware of its supposed importance, it can come across as disingenuous to its viewers. This is a little of the feeling I got when watching it.
However, emotional artifice aside, I can't deny that it really is a damn fine motion picture. Like Crash a few years ago, it does go over the top with the tear-jerking moments (there were many sniffles and choked sobs in my theater). But because the story was so well crafted, and the performances so well delivered by all involved (kudos to Paul Bettany, btw), you kind of have to forgive it these faults for the sake of the whole.
I've never read the book, but I can definitely discern the film's literary roots. It's the classic tale of adolescent self-discovery set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights-era south. I admit, not the most original of premises, but the movie still works despite its cliches.
I would end up writing a book here if I praised each actor individually, so I'll just say that they all pulled off brilliant portrayals. That said, Alicia Keys was the weakest; Sophie Okenedo and Queen Latifah were the strongest. And Dakota Fanning was Dakota Fanning. Nothing special with her performance, but at the same time it wasn't weak or by-the-numbers. She really is an impressive actress, despite the flak she receives for being an artificial by-product of her parents' ambitions. Yes, she's that precocious Hollywood child actress that the media loves to poke fun at, with the huge eyes hiding a wisdom beyond her years . . . yadda, yadda. But I won't take away from the tremendous job she does here. This is her movie, and she shines.
That being said, if there were any acting awards to hand out for this film next year, I would place my bets on Okenedo or Latifah. Although, I'm fairly confident neither will get a Globe or an Oscar. But I'm sure an Image award is a foregone conclusion for one of the two. I think Okenedo did the better job, but she had less scenes than Latifah. So it's a toss-up.
Lisa loved it more than I did. This is, of course, one of those movies tailor-made for feminine sensibilities. I'm sure Oprah already whored out the cast on her show multiple times by now (amirite?) Which is not to say a man can't and shouldn't enjoy this movie. I certainly did. I never felt like crying (and I have on other movies, so it's not because I'm some cold-hearted bastard), but I would definitely buy this on DVD when it's available. I'd also highly recommend it to everyone.
So, there you go. Go out and see it! :)