Monday, 29 June 2009

Gran Torino

Lowdown: An old racist guy opens up to his immigrant neighbors.
I have been known to mention I consider Clint Eastwood to be the best film director around at the moment, having found his work to be so consistently good. The Eastwood story doesn’t end there, because I like him as an actor too, from his Spaghetti Western days to his Dirty Harry era, built in fascism included. Gran Torino is a film that seems to have been made to reinforce these opinions of mine, with Eastwood giving us a mighty demonstration of subtle but effective directing and more than a passing wink at his Western and Dirty Harry acting days.
And he does it while starting off from a position that is really hard to identify with. Eastwood plays a seventy year old Catholic American of Polish heritage living in a rough neighborhood of the USA’s Midwest. His wife had just died but despite the opportunities to do so he seems totally unable to get close to his two sons and their families. Instead, the Korean War traumatized Eastwood character focuses on maintaining his house and polishing his pride and joy, the 1972 Ford Gran Torino muscle car he owns (but throughout the film never drives), a car for which he himself, as a Ford employee, has assembled the steering column. Yet with all that background the one thing you notice and remember about Eastwood’s character is that he is a racist through and through, and an obnoxious one at that.
Thus begins a story of redemption when circumstances bring Eastwood closer to his Hmong (an ethnicity from the Far East) neighbors. He first encounters them when a Hmong gang forces the family’s boy to try and steal his Gran Torino and he almost shoots the boy in the process; but when he saves the family from the gang (for the sole reason the gang stepped on his lawn) he finds himself unable to resist their friendly approaches to him, their good tasting food, and in particular their friendly daughter. The relationship with the family develops, yet as long as that gang is about there is no hope for the family's kids; which is where the Eastwood of old steps in.
Gran Torino is an excellent piece of film from start to finish. Loaded with well developed characters and a wonderful story, I was surprised to find myself identifying with Eastwood's racist character. The relationships in his family, and even the ingrained racism, reminded me of my own family, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I am as much of a pest to my parents as Eastwood’s sons are. Not to mention my worry as a parent in the face of Eastwood’s spoiled grandchildren.
Symbols are widely and effectively used to enhance the film, starting from the subject car to the various military related analogies. Religion is discussed, too, in an interesting manner: it is being both praised and mocked at the same time, to a state where everyone can see in the film whatever their own religious views lead them. Yet if you ask me, I would say Eastwood praises religion overall as a positive influence in society (in deep contrast to my own views). My take on Gran Torino's religious involves a bit of a small spoiler alert: "They" talk and talk about how Jesus saved us all by dying, yet "they" are completely unable to explain in what way Jesus' death saved us (other than through some blood for blood scheme that would take a real psycho to conceive); well, in Gran Torino Eastwood shows us what a real life saving sacrifice is. Who needs pretend prophets when Clint Eastwood is at hand?
Best scene: The Hmong daughter takes Eastwood inside her house for the first time so he could join a family barbecue. The resulting clash between cultures has everything in it: It’s funny, it’s charming, it’s interesting, and it’s confronting.
Technical assessment: There is some inconsistency with the picture quality, which is often excellent but mostly suffers from undercast colors. The sound, however, is stupidly bad, especially given the Blu-ray format: there is hardly any action outside the center speaker (with the rare exception of some nice music towards the film's ending), and dialog is very badly mixed with so much distortion it’s a pain to listen to. My partner claimed this is not the type of film to look for good sound in, but I argue good sound is the only thing Gran Torino is missing.
Overall: Returning Gran Torino to the video rental shop was quite a hard experience, a rarity for me in latter years; I obviously fell in love with it. 4.5 out of 5 stars from the acknowledged best director around. And do let me conclude by stating I hope Eastwood can come up with plenty more siblings!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Vera Drake

Lowdown: A simple hard working woman gets in trouble with the law over abortions in post war England.
My first proper encounter with director Mike Leigh was through the laserdisc of his 1996 film, Secrets & Lies. The guy has a unique style: His films are distinctively British, made of very long scenes with not much in the way of cuts, and are powered by overall simple themes and simple cinematic techniques. This sets the stage for the actors to do their acting, probably with a lot of improvisations too. It all feels a lot like a play.
2004’s Vera Drake still shares a lot of these themes but it’s also different. Slightly. The main difference is the scenes being shorter and the more occasional use of cuts. It is, however, an exercise in relativism: we are still dealing with a director that throws the burden of things down the actors, often delaying the cut long past the point where the vast majority of directors would do it. Luckily for Leigh, he is able to come up with actors that supply the goods.
Vera Drake takes place in 1950 London. At its core it follows a hard working, low means family with Vera (Imelda Staunton) in the center. Vera is a hard working angel: she cleans the houses of affluent upper class families for a living, but despite her hard work she doesn’t neglect her ill old mother and other unrelated people in need of help and food. And because Vera is such a generous and good hearted person, she secretly does favors for London women in need of an abortion: she has her abortion kit, and when – through a coordinator - she learns of someone in dire circumstances due to an unplanned pregnancy, she helps the woman abort without asking for anything in return.
By showing us what takes place with a rich client of Vera Drake’s, the film cleverly compares between the way abortions take place at the upper classes, where a legal abortion can be afforded, and the sheer brutality that women of the lower classes had to face in order to continue being able to contend with life’s already harsh demands. Eventually, though, things go wrong for one of Vera’s abortions, and the law catches up with her.
Vera Drake is memorable for its seemingly very authentic portrayal of post war England and for its very authentic portrayal of the larger Drake family. The people are simpletons, quite dumb and ignorant by contemporary standards, but you can still see the well meaning ones from the selfish; it is this very simplicity that enhances the point of the film. Indeed, the morality of the abortion act is never truly discussed; it is the way people handle the harshness of reality that is at the core of the film.
Very character driven, Vera Drake solid acting provides a very moving and memorable experience. It’s not conventional cinema because it borrows a lot from the world of theater, but the combination makes for a very memorable experience (if quite depressing, too).
Keynote scenes: As mentioned, cuts are often way overdue. Only compared to what we have been trained to accept though; they are not really overdue. This does, however, lead to prolonged scenes that render the viewer uncomfortable, such as lengthy scenes where we watch a major character do nothing but cry upon learning some harsh bit of news. The uncomfortable feeling is also boosted by Leigh sticking the camera right up the actor's face.
Overall: Requires the right sort of mood (one that is ready to be depressed), but oozes with undeniable quality. 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Death Race

Lowdown: Reality TV creates a Mad Max like world inside a prison.
Our Jason Statham festival is continuing with Death Race (and there is still Transporter 3 to go!). This time around, our old pal Statham lives in a near future world where crime rates have reached such sky high levels, probably almost as high as contemporary USA levels, that prisons have been turned into private enterprises and the prisoners themselves are but a commodity. Like all good private enterprises, the prisons seek to make money; and what better way is there to create money than to come up with a reality TV show with an edge? The theme of choice is a car race between prisoners: win it as a driver five times and you’re free; the only problem is, your competitor drivers will stop at nothing, including killing, to get there ahead of you. In order to achieve the killing the cars are heavily armed and the tracks are booby-trapped; hence the Death Race.
Where does Statham fit the picture? He’s an ex racing driver, retired following a brush with the law. Nowadays he’s hard working at a factory, only the factory just closed down to commemorate the beginning of the film and money is hard to come by. Things are made worse when his wife is murdered in front of him, he is pinned with the blame, and his baby daughter is given away to foster parents.
Thus our Statham finds himself in our prison with a choice: replace a popular masked driver that died after winning his fourth race (and pretend to be him by wearing the same mask) or rot in jail. Circumstances don’t leave Statham with much of a choice: The warden wants him driving to maintain TV ratings. It turns out the warden had wanted him so bad she might have just arranged Statham being in jail in the first place. And all he needs to do is win his first race!
But all of that doesn’t really matter because in the grand scheme of things this is all about the race itself. Death Race is car racing action, Road Warrior style, with some basic plot elements wrapped up in between to seal the edges off. They just manage to provide basic sealing, because there are so many things that don’t make sense with Death Race, but – and that’s one great but – it doesn’t matter because of the action.
Oh, the action! I find it hard to recall action scenes as visceral as Death Race’s. People die brutally, they die often, and they die right in front of our eyes; Death Race is no kids’ film. People and settings look brutal and frightening; there is more than a passing resemblance between the car races and the Mad Max world of The Road Warrior, especially given Statham’s hockey like mask that resembles the Road Warrior’s chief villain. But first and foremost, this is about cars coming into early demise in very creative ways; and lucky for us, this is all done clearly in front of our eyes. There are only a few scenes in the beginning where the camera shakes and we don’t know what’s happening; the rest is the way action should be shot. Everything just looks real and authentic! I was very much unable to detect traces of CGI. The result is just awesome – a stupid film, yet a kick ass one.
Silliest scene: Given the dominance of male hormones in Death Race, cars had to be supplemented by chicks to add that extra nitro boost. While there is no nudity and there are no sex scenes (shame!), the moviemakers have thought of an ingenious way to introduce the beautiful sex into the male prison: our race car drivers have navigators from a neighboring female prison. Them navigators all look good, and they’re all dressed in a manner that would make the audience think female prison uniforms are more minimal than beachwear. It’s all very silly, but it fits the general atmosphere of the film.
Technical assessment: The picture and the sound are not the best Blu-ray can deliver, but I wouldn’t want to watch Death Race any other way. The sound, in particular, is a blast. As is the overall experience…
Overall: An authentic Jason Statham film. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

2 Days in Paris

Lowdown: The relationship of a New York couple is stressed when visiting the woman's home in Paris.
Julie Delpy is a name I remember from my teenage years, the name of the occasional star of a minor teenage flick. Later on in life I stumbled on her while watching some French films, which made me wonder what Delpy's story is: what is she doing in French films on one hand and in cheap American stuff on the other? Well, the mystery may be answered by 2 Days in Paris. If ever there was a film that's owned by one person then 2 Days in Paris is it: Judging by the closing credits, Delpy did everything from writing the script to directing the film and in the middle of it sweeping the set's floors and doing the catering. Judging by the film, which feels more than a bit autobiographical, the answer Delpy is a French that moved to the USA; cest tout.
Delpy's film tells the story of a couple of lovers from New York who have been together for a couple of years: He, Adam Goldberg (aka The Hebrew Hammer), an authentic New Yorker with some Jewish background and tons of tattoos; and she, Delpi, a Parisian girl that moved to New York later in life. The two arrive in Paris for two days only, offering Goldberg the first proper opportunity to meet with Delpy's family. And what a shocking encounter it is! Delpy's family seems as dysfunctional as mine. Then Goldberg goes to meet some of Delpy's friends, in the process learning that she had more than casual relationships with several of them. The entire encounter shocks Goldberg as he learns things he never knew about Delpy, yet on the other hand he realizes he mustn't expect Delpy to be a virgin. And should Delpy have told him more about the life she used to have before they got together? Paris, the city of lovers, never seemed so relationship threatening.
Overall, 2 Days in Paris is a romantic comedy the way a romantic comedy should be. For a start, it is a proper comedy in the sense that it made us laugh very loudly on numerous occasions. That said, it is important to stress 2 Days in Paris is a drama before it is a comedy, and the romance bit of it is at the core of the drama: it is a tale of a relationship in stress, and as tales of relationships go it is a very authentic tale. The reason for the tale's authenticity and relevance is quite clear: All couples need to navigate the minefield of past relationships and family history, and in all cases there is some stress involved. And yes, the more exotic the place you visit is, the more chance you have of the visit being stressful; it's the normal story of the higher the expectations, the higher the potential fall.
Best scene: Goldberg takes a walk down narrow Parisian streets with Delpy and her French speaking only father. While walking, the father makes sure he keys every car that slightly blocks the sidewalk. Goldberg, the enlightened politically correct oriented New Yorker, is terrified; Delpy is so used to it she completely ignores it. Me? I wouldn't mind doing similar things from time to time and take upon me the task of being the judge and the executioner; it's tempting even if it's clearly wrong. I just don't have the balls.
Technical assessment: Production values make it clear that 2 Days in Paris was made to a very tight budget. It's hard to tell whether the fault is in the original or in the DVD, but it seems a fair assessment to say much of the film was shot with consumer video cameras under available light.
Overall: Watching 2 Days in Paris made me want to thank Delpy for producing a film that is so relevant and also so entertaining at the same time. Compare it to the regular trash that passes for romantic comedies nowadays (e.g., Made of Honor) and you will agree, too, that Delpy's effort fully deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Lowdown: The world's interaction with a guy that was born old and grows younger every day.
To me, watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (or just Benjamin Button for short) has had a motif or "returns". It's a return of Kate Blanchett and Brad Pitt working together as a couple after Babel; more importantly, it's a return of David Fincher, one of those directors I look up to ever since Se7en, even if his follow up work was not in the same league.
Like previous Fincher films, this one is also on the eccentric side of things. On the day in which World War 1 had ended a guy had installed a clock that runs backwards at an American train station, in the hope it would bring back the son he lost at the war. That same day Benjamin Button got born, but "obviously" - given the clock running backwards - his life his running backwards, too. That is, he was born old and he's growing younger by the minute.
I knew thus far from hearing about the film, which left me curious: does being born old mean the guy was born at adult size? The answer is no, although later in this film that follows his life from start to finish he does grow smaller as he becomes a child. My point? The story's premises only goes as far as it is comfortable for Fincher to go ahead with it. Now let's get back to the plot.
Benjamin Button's mother dies at birth and his father abandons him, given his old looks. Button is adopted by a black woman running an old people's home; she raises him as her own child. He fits there anyway, being that he's old and all. Eventually he meets a girl visiting a relative of hers; with time he grows to be Brad Pitt and she grows to be Kate Blanchett, and as you can guess their lives intersect but them coming at it from different directions offers a challenge.
The thing about Benjamin Button the film is that it's full of symbolism. The story is told by an old Blanchett that is about to die of old age at a New Orleans hospital just as hurricane Katrina is about to hit, and it's told through Julia Ormond (her daughter) reading Button's diary. Between Katrina, the flashbacks, the basic premises of the film, and the various side plots + characters + flashbacks it becomes plenty obvious one can read a lot out of the film. Clearly, a center motif is that we navigate through life under the effect of seemingly minor events; crossing the road a second later than when we did would have led us to live a completely different life. The thing is, with Benjamin Button so heavily loaded with two and a half hours of symbolism, one can read any agenda one likes to read in the film. To me, it all felt like one big wank.
A wank, however, is not necessarily all bad. The story can be interesting, even if it's on the weird side of things. It can be enjoyable, too, despite its slowness. It is often touching and it is not without elements I could identify with, such as Pitt going to see the world and learning what life is about. The biggest thing about the film, though, is its production values: Everything is just so well done and looks so great and authentic (including, by the way, Pitt's makeup). It's just a pity the film smears things out into a big mushy pile of symbols.
Interesting scenes: Did Blanchett, portraying a ballet dancer, really do her own dancing? Most of the time you see a cut just before the face can be identified, but that is not always the case.
Technical assessment: Fincher was always in love with high contrast stock and this is no exception. Sound wise, the things are hardly ever aggressive yet you can feel yourself right in the thick of things; a great job for a subtle effort rendered even better by the Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The musical score is worth it's own mentioning: I wasn't surprised to see it was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy, probably the best guy in the world for this job.
Overall: There was a lot of fuss around The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and I can see why; it couldn't have been a success on the merits of its artistic qualities alone. I'll be generous and give this fussy affair 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Rogue Assassin

Lowdown: Total war between the FBI, the Yakuza, the Triads, and a mysterious assassin.
Rogue Assassin is a compromised film from its very beginning. While the Blu-ray sports a box claiming the film to be called “Rogue Assassin”, the opening credits refer to the film as “War”; later I noticed the disc’s menus and supplemental material refer to the film solely as War. What happened there is a question that is begging to be asked, and after watching the film I can report this very question may apply to more than the film’s title alone.
Rogue Assassin pits in opposite corners two famous action stars that have been frequenting this blog much lately. On one hand we have Jet Li, who seems to have developed a talent to appear in mediocre films and thus feels at home with Rogue. However, on the other hand we have Jason Statham, an actor specializing in silly action films (e.g., The Transporter) that thus far I have always thoroughly enjoyed. As with The Bank Job, Statham is stepping outside his native environment of the silly action film, but unlike The Bank Job the result does not flatter him.
Set in San Francisco, Statham plays an FBI agent traumatized by losing the partner that saved his life from a valiant attempt by the mysterious Rogue Assassin; that life was lost to that same mysterious Rogue Assassin. Rogue, because the guy used to work for the CIA, then betrayed them and started working for the Yakuza, and now he’s back. Only this time he's siding with the Chinese Triads and he's armed with a new plastically surgeoned face that looks remarkably like Jet Li’s. Our duo of heroes fight things out while in the background (or is it the foreground?) the Yakuza fights things out with the Triads, hence the title name War.
Sporting some nice action scenes and a twist that genuinely took me by surprise, Rogue Assassin is (in addition to being an action film) another shallow cinematic attempt to look at what makes good and what makes bad, Face/Off style. It is, however, full of problems.
First you have the things that don’t make sense, like people changing their accent post plastic surgery to the face. Who would have thought a nose job goes that far? Second, there is a definite flaw in the film’s flow; I cannot recommend Rogue Assassin’s editing and direction work. And third: With all due respect, Rogue Assassin is a film we’ve seen many times before, twist or no twist.
Ultimately, Rogue Assassin feels like a Jason Statham film that decided, wrongly, to take itself seriously.
Best scene: There is no real standout scene in Rogue Assassin. My pick therefore is the scene where the daughter of the Yakuza boss, upon arrival at their San Francisco head office (located, oddly enough, at an exotic car dealership) talks tough to the two local branch managers. The reason for this pick? It’s a silly scene, the way the rest of the film should have been acted, even if it may have been the result of poor acting rather than an intentional effort.
Technical assessment: Crisp picture and an aggressive, if uninspiring, uncompressed PCM soundtrack.
Overall: A rather confused effort. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Last Samurai

Lowdown: A disgruntled American warrior falls in love with samurai Japan.
Edward Zwick has already been noted by this blog for his talent at creating epics (e.g., Legends of the Fall), especially those dealing with foreign cultures and the damage caused to those foreign culture through Western culture (e.g., Blood Diamond). The Last Samurai, a two and a half our long effort from 2003, is another typical work by Zwick. We saw it before during its cinematic release, but it was clear the film should be given a better chance than the cinema’s poor presentation quality. Blu-ray offers the opportunity to go higher in everything but screen size, so we gave it a go.
The Last Samurai takes place towards the end of the 19th century. It follows Tom Cruise, an American Civil War hero traumatized by his regiment’s experience with Indian massacres. He is approached by the severely miscast Billy Connolly, his old army sergeant, to take some work in Japan: help the Japanese emperor’s army train so they could beat a samurai led rebellion using American gunpowder based weapons. So off our pair goes to Japan.
Cruise starts to work with his army of conscripts, but before they can get anywhere in their training the smug men in power decide the army is fit to battle the samurais. Cruise protests to no avail, and in the ensuing battle his army is, indeed, thoroughly beaten by a small number of samurai bearing no firearms. Cruise himself is taken captive and gets to spend time with his captors at their secluded village, where he learns their ways. As time goes by, he falls in love with the samurai way, a way too pure to get contaminated with Western culture and weapons. The question is, what will happen to the rebellion?
I like epics and I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Last Samurai again. It’s not only an epic story, there are also some nice action scenes and impressive army scale battle scenes of the Braveheart caliber. Between those extravagances and the use of Cruise’s star power, I suspect The Last Samurai was one expensive production. Talking about Cruise, I have to add his normally psychotic presence didn’t bother me here; his acting did not bring me to my knees, but it didn’t annoy me either.
What did annoy me, though, is the way the film focuses on certain nice things while ignoring the not so nice things in order to drive home its point. Or, to put it more clearly, the way it romanticizes reality. The Last Samurai is a film dealing with a collision of cultures and it goes through great lengths to show us how badly our Western culture damaged other cultures it had encountered. The point is further emphasized through the obvious comparison between what happened to the Indians in the USA and what happened in Japan, or rather what happened in Japan according to the film (I plea ignorance in Japanese history). Essentially, it says that Western capitalism has trodden over too many good things that stood in its way, even if The Last Samurai does end up with a sort of a happy ending.
So far it’s all nice and dandy and, indeed, I agree with most of what Last Samurai is trying to say. The problem is in the way the film portrays the Japanese Samurai culture: they’re all so pure of heart, so dedicated to their self perfection endeavour, so disciplined in their practicing of martial arts. Even when things go wrong and they die on the battle fields, it’s all so pure and clean and they all like dying with honor. At this point I stop and ask: Is that really the case? Should a society with such inherent violence be praised as superior to ours, even if they’re so polite at being violent? My answer is a definitive no. Even if most Japanese at the time liked their own culture, that culture did not offer those that wanted to have a peaceful life with no fighting a get out of jail card; these people did not have the freedom to choose a life of peace or a life of war. And don't get me started on the way women are treated. How can such a culture be praised without the slightest of criticism?
Special mentioning goes to science and technology. The Last Samurai might easily lead you to believe technology is our biggest problem, with the way it’s being used to manufacture mass killing devices. True, technology has always been used to do evil; but technology, when used responsibly, can do good, too. Those nice Japanese villagers we see in The Last Samurai could have good medical facilities with the aid of technology, not just a bullet in their head; and Last Samurai sins by only looking at things through a single colored lens.
Best scene: Other than the major battles, the harakiri scene offers a good introduction to the samurai culture, especially when coupled with a later scene in which a samurai is put to shame when his hair is cut.
Picture quality: I constantly had the feeling Last Samurai’s picture was not as sharp as a Blu-ray can be. What it does provide, though, is ample evidence for the film not being Blu-ray ready: there were way too many scenes where Blu-ray clarity made the use of blue screen shots way too evident for comfort.
Sound quality: For an epic of this size the sound was disappointing in its lack of presence. Also disappointing was the choice of a DVD grade Dolby Digital soundtrack on a Blu-ray disc; if Blu-ray wants to establish itself as a format of choice (and if the studio wants people who previously bought the DVD to justify the re-purchasing of the film), it needs to offer the superiority it can offer to stand out.
Overall: Compromised, but still an entertaining epic. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Marley & Me

Lowdown: A couple's war of attrition with life is made worse through their dog.
I first heard about Marley & Me when I stumbled upon the book a few years ago. The cover talked about "life with the worst dog ever" (or something along these lines), my dog crazy mother in law's birthday was coming up, and the book was on special offer; she reported to have really liked the book. While Marley & Me was not the type of book I would waste my time on I was still curious enough to see what is was all about through the film. In retrospect, it was a case of curiosity killing the dog.
Marley & Me seems to be the autobiography of John Grogan (portrayed by Owen Wilson), given the film's main character happens to have the same name as the book's author. Wilson is married to Jeniffer Aniston, and in typical cliche male attitude he determines that in order to postpone the inevitable request to have a baby they should go for a dog - a Labrador called Marley. Marley turns out to be nothing but trouble, leaving nothing but a trail of destruction behind of being totally uncontrollable.
Then the inevitable happens and our couple starts bringing kids to the world. Between toggling their careers and their family life, their aspirations and the harsh restriction reality imposes, and that massive dog problem of theirs, Wilson and Aniston find life to be really hard. But they have each other, and everything will sort itself out eventually in this typical mass production grade American film. Because it's all about family, and in this conservative view even a pest of a dog is an asset.
I have had a few issues with Marley & Me which meant I didn't enjoy watching it. For a start, there are some contradictions thrown about: As the film starts, our couple moves from cold Chicago to warm Florida because of the weather; yet later on they go back to cold weather. It wouldn't have been a big deal if it wasn't for the fuss the film makes about these moves.
Second, the film actively avoids spelling the truth, that the dog behavior problem is due to the mishandling of our couple of heroes. Sure, this is pointed out to them at some point by their dog trainer of choice (see more below), but the point of there being a serious issue here - dog owners being completely irresponsible - is not well made. [Ignorant] People will watch the film and think there is nothing wrong with the way Marley is handled and that the heroes' problems were due to pure luck when this is clearly not the case.
Third, and most importantly, Marley & Me is a very boring film. I often wondered how would a film depicting real life feel like, craving for a good and authentic portrayal of something I can identify with as my own life. Marley & Me is pretty close, being that at its core it is not much more than the tale of a family with kids and the issues they confront, issues I'm facing on a daily basis; but it's all so superficial, so ordinary, so boring that you have no reason to like the characters (not even the occasional throwing about of yet another scene where the hero dog does irrepressible damage helps). It just doesn't work as a drama, even though the subject matter is not that bad, and it definitely doesn't work as a comedy; I didn't even smile once throughout the film. If anything, I wanted to get it over with so I can do something useful with my time like digging a hole in my garden or something.
Interesting scene: Our heroes take Marley for training lessons with Kathleen Turner. Let me tell you this: Turner looks slightly different to the way she did back in Body Heat.
Technical assessment: While benefiting from the Blu-ray's format superior resolution, colors are way out of place. The soundtrack is also way too ordinary.
Overall: Extremely boring and un-involving, 1.5 out of 5 stars.