Tag: Dakota Fanning

American Pastoral: Blu-ray review

AP5Actors who try their hand at directing often yield mixed results.  For every Affleck, Eastwood, or Gibson (who gave us masterpieces such as Gone Baby Gone, Unforgiven or Apocalypto) there are their flagging counterparts. Whoever heard of a film directed by Nicholas Cage.  That’s right, no-one, because his only effort, Sonny, barely registered a blip on the consciousness of the film going public.  It wasn’t a flop; it’s only a flop if anyone cares.  It was just a bland piece of “been there done that” box ticking—a place to hang up your coat when you’ve lost your good looks (although I’m unsure if Cage had any good looks to start with).  There are plenty more ho-hum actor-turned-director efforts from where Cage came from.

Here’s one.

It’s been a while since the somewhat tepid theatrical release, but American Pastoral has finally made its way onto Blu-ray. This film represents another “have a go at directing” attempt by an A-list actor—namely Ewan McGregor, who also plays the film’s main protagonist, Seymour “Swede” Levov.  

The story begins in the turmoil of ’60s America and spans a few decades after.  The Levov family represent all that is “wholesome” about America. Together, Swede, an all-American college star and his beauty-queen wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) bring up their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning).  Conservative, yet with a liberal edge, this well-mannered family are blissfully living the American dream when their life is derailed by Merry, who in her teens unexpectedly turns into a violent activist. Her criminal acts and then disappearance haunt Swede and rocks the foundations of his marriage and his repeated attempts to find Merry are met with heartache and ultimately a life-defining discovery.

Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, from which this film is based, has been languidly adapted by John Romano (who also wrote the Coen brother’s worst film; Intolerable Cruelty).  His rather bland hand is a seemingly safe bet for a novice director.  However, I can’t help but wonder what McGregor’s might’ve achieved had Romano injected a bit more spunk into his adaption.

But as it stands this ho-hum release feels very tame—a gunpowder factory would take more risks. What remains is a mildly engaging story maintained most likely because of the source material rather than its cinematic embellishments (or lack thereof).  

The Blu-ray offers two bonus features: Making the America Dream is an 18-minute feature that explores behind the camera, the film’s locations, costume design etc.  The second feature, American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic, is a 28-minute investigation into the film’s characters, cast, and direction. Both features offer extensive interviews and a reasonable amount of depth.  The feature is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and there is an optional director’s commentary included.  Its picture is beautifully rendered in 1080p with a 2.40:1 screen ratio and takes advantage of Martin Ruhe’s (Control) deft hand with the camera.

American Pastoral Blu-ray hits shelves 11th July.
 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Ocean’s 8

oceans 20386.dngIt’s been over a decade since the Ocean’s trilogy planted the then “it” men George Clooney and Brad Pitt firmly within the heist genre. Now director Steven Soderbergh has handed the reigns over to Gary Ross and instead of Clooney and Pitt, we have the “it” chicks Bullock and Blanchett to head up an all-female crew of eight; including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, and the delightful Anne Hathaway.

For fear of spoilers I won’t dive too deep into the plot details—suffice to say that Ocean’s 8 does have its twists and turns, but on the whole plays it fairly safe.  Fresh out of jail Debbie (Sandra Bullock) seeks revenge on the man who sent her there in the first place.  As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold and five years in the clink has given her plenty of thinking-time to come up with a really cold one.  It is a plan that involves an elaborate heist to rob the multi-million-dollar Cartier diamond necklace right from under the nose of Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at New York’s glitzy Met Gala ball.

Aside from a few head-scratching moments, which are eventually explained by the obligatory “how it was all done” flashback, the plot is fairly water-tight and explained with such mechanical precision that there is little time left to flesh out its many characters. The end result is a soulless film that attempts to inject some warmth with a few chuckles and an emotive soundtrack.

But the biggest disappointment is that it is far too tentative in its feminist agenda. More should’ve been made of eight kick-ass women who’re played by some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters. One might argue that the very nature of women occupying roles traditionally reserved for men—and doing so without shouting to the rafters—goes some way to normalise such roles. Yes, a good thing, but here it feels like the potato becomes too hot to handle for its male director.  Sure Ross does an acceptable job of swinging a camera kinetically around a set; he gets the job done, but he doesn’t come close to tapping into the charisma of his ensemble cast.  Ultimately, Ocean’s 8 is clinical, mildly entertaining and carries you along—but could’ve been so much more.
 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.