This week - Adam Sandler's family were killed in 9/11 (Reign Over Me) and Ryan Gosling is a crack addict high school teacher (Half Nelson).
Before we push on, it is only right that we warn you that Peter Bradshaw hasn't written any reviews for the films that we feature today. Even geniuses like him need a week off, even if he can watch a 2 hour film in 3 minutes superman stylee then write a world changing review in 30 seconds. We hope he hasn't been sacked. Anyway, the Guardian have put us in the capable hands of Andrew Pulver, and he gives Reign Over Me 2/5.
One of the main talking points regarding this film is obviously the casting of Adam Sandler, lead man in a million rubbish 'comedies', in a serious role,
Adam Sandler has been attracting a modicum of praise for his willingness to occasionally "stretch" - in other words, to dip a toe in the murky waters of notionally serious drama, instead of the increasingly gormless comedies with which he made his name. Reign Over Me is his most demanding stretch since Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love back in 2002, and while hot-number director Anderson might have persuaded Sandler into territory that was pretty much baffling to everyone then and now, Sandler is taking no such risks here.
He continues, writing that with Sandler, the film would be little more than "a gloopy, post-9/11 love-in."
Sandler makes a pretty good job of his role, especially given how often even gifted performers make fools of themselves playing mental illness. Sandler, throughout his career, has got a lot of laughs from playing characters prone to bewildering switches of mood: it's easy to see how this can be harnessed in the portrayal of someone deep in the grip of post-traumatic stress.
So if Sandler puts in a decent performance, why do we only see two shiny stars Mr. Pulver?
Where this film tries the patience, though, is in its beady-eyed concentration on the processes of "healing". Currently an American obsession, for obvious reasons, here it is transmuted into yards of pompous self-analysis that actors no doubt love, but makes for a dispiriting watch.
Ian Johns at the Times gives it 2/5 and is far less impressed by the casting of Sandler. He writes that casting him as "9/11 widower seems akin to giving Jim Carrey the title role in a remake of Taxi Driver." He then writes that,
Sandler, sporting an unruly mop of hair that makes him look like a Bob Dylan tribute act, resorts to his usual irritable man-boy act and descends into a cloying infantilism.
Other problems are that the film "meanders", the end is no good and the protagonist's "grief could just have easily have been caused by a house fire or car crash so it’s as if 9/11 was simply coopted to bring an extra weight to a script that couldn’t be trusted to deliver on its own."
Anthony Quinn also gives it 2/5, making this a seriously two star film.
He doesn't share Pulver's enthusiasm about Sandler either,
As ever, watching Sandler is akin to having your teeth pulled: even with his tragic back story, he's merely reprising his borderline-autistic persona and indulging extravagant fits of rage left over from Punch-Drunk Love, another of his "serious" roles that didn't work.
The writing in the first half of the film is "pretty smart" but,
We are meant to be moved by this portrait of friendship rediscovered, which is powered along by the music of the late Seventies (Springsteen, The Pretenders), but it's thrown off-balance by Sandler's antics and a very soppy last third.
Watch the trailer -
Next up, Half Nelson
Andrew Pulver at the Guardian gives it 3/5 calling it a "self-conscious US indie".
The self-confessed "asshole" shows up each morning at his tough Brooklyn school considerably more trashed than any of the students, where he teaches history to 12-year-olds using a would-be inspirational technique that's so far off-syllabus it doesn't bear thinking about.
Sounds like our experience of school without the cross country and heavy manual labour.
However, there isn't enough "narrative meat" the cast "to get their teeth into",
In the end, it's this reluctance to grapple with the larger questions that hampers Half Nelson... Half Nelson's aim is never quite so confident when it comes to the social or political implications of what it highlights; for all its efforts, there's an unavoidable sense of inconsequentiality about it all.
James Christopher gives it 4/5,
Half Nelson is an extraordinary watch. A stunning performance by Ryan Gosling as a gifted schoolteacher with a crack habit illuminates this gripping film set in an inner-city slum.
The film earns its four stars by merit of its "gritty script and sheer quality of the performances". Gosling is "mesmeric" and was "rightly nominated for an Academy Award" while Epps is "an extraordinary find" in this "wonderful indie gem".
Anthony Quinn gives it 4/5 and he has not a word for the performances here,
What never flags is the absolute conviction Gosling invests in the role. The details are good, his chewing-gum habit, loose tie and slouching walk quietly underlining that he's barely more grown-up than his students; but there's also a shambling blankness that Gosling nails superbly, a blankness where his self-esteem, perhaps, should be. "The kids keep me focused," he says, before tailing off in the maddeningly non-focused way he has. Best of all is the restraint in this provocative performance: whereas another actor, such as Edward Norton, would have indulged in a little grandstanding, Gosling never overdoes it. He is spare, discreet, unflamboyant - and truthful.
Almost as impressive is Shareeka Epps as Drey, a touching study in self-containment (and self-concealment) that bespeaks a maturity way beyond her years. Her body language can turn silence into a little drama of its own.
He concludes with a glowing endorsement,
If the film were only the sum of these two performances it would be required viewing. As it is, the lean, insinuating screenplay by Fleck and Boden has a pace and punch that rank it among the very best of the independents from recent years.
Watch the trailer -
We think Pulver did a good job this week. Bradshaw who?
Trailer of the week- Black Sheep - killer mutant sheep! Amaaaaazing.