The Soloist was met with a relatively indifferent reaction following a screening at Le Theater des Arts. I respected and even admired Joe Wright's (Atonement) latest effort, but had almost no direct connection to the material. Perhaps my greatest concern going into the screening was the potential for the film to go over the top in impressing the sentimentality of the story on the audience. Instead, the movie never reached the emotional heights that it should have. Robert Downey Jr. gives a typically charismatic performance as Steve Lopez, a columnist for the LA Times. Lopez accidentally encounters Jamie Foxx's Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Jr., a homeless former cellist, while on assignment in the Greater LA area. Ayers was once a promising musical talent at Julliard, but suffered a schizophrenic breakdown in his early 20s. Lopez becomes increasingly invested in restoring Ayers's potential, even as his own life is in disarray. Wright effectively grounds the story in the reality of the LA landscape, not shying away from photographing the city's least desirable areas. Unfortunately, this is also one of the film's most problematic areas. I was frequently uncomfortable with the portrayal of race and poverty throughout the film. The implication that it required the presence of Lopez, a relatively affluent white male, to shed light on the city's drug problems was troubling and lacking in nuance. The movie also falls prey to the Hollywood trend of providing excessive back story. We are treated to extensive flashbacks of Nathaniel's childhood and his eventual decline into paranoia. The sequences are competently acted and captured, but they seem redundant. It would have been more interesting for the audience to piece together the character's story on their own which also would have allowed Jamie Foxx a chance to provide more nuance in his performance.Supporting Actress Oscar campaign possibilities for Keener than, or is the role too incidental to the meat of the thing? Speak up awards season addicts.
Surprisingly (or not), I found Catherine Keener to be the highlight of the film. She has a small role as Lopez's former wife, but makes the most of her screen time. Keener is able to convey an array of emotions as she watches her ex devote himself to a stranger while neglecting the couple's own son. As an upper-level staffer at the Times, she also provides one of the more compelling portraits of a powerful woman in the workplace in recent memory.
We saw extensive footage from Angels & Demons, The Ugly Truth, Julie & Julia, The Year One, District 9, and The Taking of Pelham 123. Despite my distaste for this Katherine Heigl person, The Ugly Truth looked unexpectedly funny.Paranoia what. who? I got stuck on the spontaneous applause for Streep's biopic transformation... from industry folks no less. I missed the rest of that paragraph. In case you missed it here's the previous post on Meryl as Julia.
Julie & Julia looked great, and the audience burst into applause at Meryl Streep's first appearance as Julia Child. I believe we were treated to the first footage of District 9, which is presented by Peter Jackson and is currently being worked on by Weta. I am skeptical of the story, which follows the segregation of an alien species from humans, but the film had an interesting look to it. Interestingly, Sony was the only studio to require a full cell phone check. Wolverine induced paranoia?
Before a screening of The Proposal (surprisingly charming), Disney had a treat in store, a scene from the upcoming The Princess and the Frog. Disney is opening the movie in New York and LA on November 25 and platforming it out on December 11. The sequence we watched had elements that were still very early on in the animation process, but the audience was captivated. Anika Noni Rose voices Tiana, a native of New Orleans, who has dreamed of opening a restaurant for 14 years. Defeated, she walks onto a balcony to pin all of her hopes on making a wish on an evening star. Well, her wish is granted in the form of a prince trapped in the body of a frog. The prince convinces Tiana to kiss him and return him to his original grandeur, in exchange for him making her dreams finally come true. The clip was hilarious and poignant, and the voice work was very impressive. I thought the footage looked right at home alongside the Disney classics and I cannot wait to see the finished product.I had no idea what the story elements for this New Orleans musical were going to be. Opening a restaurant, eh?
Rose definitely has a beautiful voice so I'm pleased that Disney entrusted their first black Princess to her. You get glimpses of the strengths of her pipes in From Justin to Kelly (I know!) and Dreamgirls but her best role to date was definitely her TONY winning jubilance in Broadway's shortlived but spectacularly moving Caroline or Change (all of this, previously discussed). Though it's only voice work and she isn't famous enough to get marketing built around her (like Cameron Diaz and Mike Myers for the Shrek films), I hope Anika the actress manages plenty of face time when the movie arrives for the holidays. This star can shine. Hollywood just needs to let her. But you know how they have trouble maintaining interest in the black actresses, even the very talented ones.