Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Reviewer's Quandry

These are the types of movies that test a blog reviewer's mettle.  

Okay, first things first, I don't like Denzel Washington.   Odd because he and I grew up in the same home town of Mount Vernon, New York.   But I just know way too much about the guy personally that makes him very difficult to like.   Let's just suffice it to say...he's not a nice person and we leave it at that.

So, when you see a movie that he stars and also directs...a true vanity project...how can you objectively review the film for an opinion?

Now, "Fences" comes to us from Broadway back in the 80s and it won Tonys plus the Pulitzer Prize.  I never saw it on stage but, given the way the movie adaptation is presented, I might as well have.   Almost 90 percent of the film is set in the backyard of a house where the characters gather to talk.   And talk.   And talk.   And talk.   

Don't get me wrong.   Playwright August Wilson is quite the prolific writer. The movie uses his screenplay, which is interesting since he's been dead since 2005. So I am guessing that the movie script is essentially exactly what was presented on the stage.   It's an interesting tale of a garbage man back in the 50s who once had a baseball career and now is just plain angry at everybody for his plight picking up trash.   He takes it out on his children and his current wife.   And talks.   And talks.   And talks.

Here's where reality and drama become uncomfortably intertwined for me.   As the garbageman Troy, Denzel is so despicable a human being that I couldn't help but hate him and every moment he is speaking.   Which, of course, is 85 percent of the two-hour-plus movie.   But I am wondering if Wilson also wanted you to feel a little pity for his main character?  For me, that was tough.   I had trouble separating the character from the actor.  To me, they were one in the same.   

I mean, the character is verbally abusive to his three children, each of them, by the way, from different women.  (Hmm, more fuzzy reality...I say no more) When Troy finally goes the way you are hoping, I personally was disappointed because his...ahem...comeuppance happens off-camera.  But was I craving the character's plight...or imagining it happening to Denzel himself?  And, beyond the acting, I also found fault with the length of the movie as well as the hammy direction.   Again, am I being objective or just anti-Denzel?

I can tell you that the performance of Viola Davis as the long-suffering wife and Jovan Adepo as the 17-year-old son who battles his dad at every turn.   When they are on screen...alone, I was glued.   But that doesn't occur enough.   For the most part, it is Denzel talking.   And talking.   And talking.

Naturally, "Fences" is getting strong Oscar buzz for its acting and...gasp...directing.   By the way, remember last year and all the hoopla about no diversity being seen in the nominations?   Well, come February, you will see many, many nods to race and ethnicity amongst the nominees.  In most cases, well deserved.   But, when it comes to Denzel Washington...

Oh, there I go again.

LEN'S RATING:  Two-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Leftover lasagna and salad.

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