December 2, 2012
D/W: David O. Russell. DP: Masanobu Takayanagi. Starring: Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence/Robert De Niro/Jacki Weaver/Chris Tucker/Julia Stiles/John Ortiz/Anupam Kher/Shea Whigham/Dash Mihok. (NOTE: Based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name.)
I won’t bore you with another trailer lamentation. With all the Oscar propaganda and holiday movie hub-bub I just can’t stomach it. Yet Silver Linings Playbook might just be the best of the year, and I almost opted out.
David O. Russell took 2010′s The Fighter and made it into the best film it probably could have been. Yet here, with his own project, a better sense of wholeness is felt. A liberation. Or maybe that’s just the byproduct of a very smart story.
Silver Linings Playbook gives Bradley Cooper (Limitless, Hangover) a decent opportunity to wipe that obnoxious grin off his face and get to acting. Cooper’s American bred handsomeness and borderline bonkers grin gives his Pat a disarming amount of charm. You can almost see the gears and hinges working in Cooper’s brain as his Pat must re-acclimate to life after his release from a psychiatric institution. Just as abruptly as his mother (Australian actress Jacki Weaver) picks up from the institution, the audience must immediately start to unpack his situation and his emotional suitcase.
Cooper and his obsessive compulsive father, played by Robert De Niro, attempt to navigate his situation and mental illness like ships that pass in the night. Eventually Cooper’s friendship with Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany (be still my 90s heart) gets the film going to where it should. What was muddled in The Hunger Games, is fully realized here. Lawrence’s Tiffany is scarred and self-destructive, but so deliciously so you’ll want to join in on her one person party. Lawrence gives Tiffany a nuanced amount of vulnerability and tough tail spunk. She not only spits to Cooper’s Pat that she’s a bit messy and is okay with it. But I feel it with her, right down to the final eyeliner stroke. And I like it.
The couple’s chemistry is the driving force of the film, allowing the family conflict to breathe and refrain from melodrama. Towards the end you might have the urge to ask, was this a romantic comedy I’ve been watching? Well, maybe, but you certainty didn’t feel it coming. And that is exactly what is so refreshing about Silver Linings Playbook. It does not candy coat stale tropes or confine drama to common conflict. Rather it marches you into a story that captures the heart of modern American life and puts it onscreen. These characters have problems, but that’s alright. Down crumbles the facade of Hollywood movie stardust. Just try not to sneeze.
November 30, 2012
D: Sam Mendes. W: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan. DP: Roger Deakins. Starring: Daniel Craig/Judi Dench/Javier Bardem/Ralph Fiennes/Naomie Harris/Bérénice Lim Marlohe/Ben Wishaw/Albert Finney/Rory Kinnear/Helen McCroy. (NOTE: Based on Ian Fleming’s characters from his James Bond book series.)
He struts, he gleams, he’s wounded, he’s heroic, and damn it, he likes his drink made a certain way. Bond is back.
Although this is Daniel Craig’s third film in Ian Fleming’s well quaffed hero’s tux, 2008′s Quantum of Solace was so dreadful most of us needed four years to get over the memory. This year’s Skyfall is brilliant in comparison. However, 2006′s Casino Royale is probably the best concept and executed film of the Craig era. And here’s why…
Skyfall runs at a whopping two and a half hours, which was survivable but annoying as the film was mostly uneven. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Away We Go) has a clear visual vision. Cinematographer Roger Deakins must be given high praise for his camera work. There are moments where the use of shadows and light is just astounding and will remind anyone what can be achieved through this visual medium. Deakins is an industry veteran and lends a new dark beauty to Bond’s world.
With three writers on the script this may have been the downfall of Skyfall. There are few too many easy fixes, with a planned attack ultimately feeling a bit to obvious and simplistic. The adult Home Alone-esq defense falls flat too. At times this is remedied by Javier Bardem’s grizzly and memorable turn as Craig’s enemy. Without ruining anything, it is safe to say he makes white the new black. It is also fun to see Craig against a smart villain who isn’t defined by guns and rooftop leaps. Craig continues to give his Bond depth, while harnessing this ex-military modern look. Somehow he is able to be physically imposing and dashing in a tux all at the same time.
The Bond ladies of this film are striking, but remain in their usual two categories. Judi Dench returns as her crankily head of British Intelligence, M. Dench never fails to play her competing warmth and coldness towards her Bond. Her presence elevates the film and her storyline is well developed as the maternal figure of woman. In the other category lies gorgeous French Cambodian actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Sévérine. As the sexual causality of the film she represents the sexual figure of woman. Unfortunately, Naomie Harris’ as Eve, Craig’s pseudo partner, could hopefully bridge the gap and be a female comrade to Bond. However, you get the feeling she’d hop into bed with him at any minute, which negates that concept.
Ultimately, Skyfall is immensely enjoyable. Composer Thomas Newman uses the canon of Bond music to his advantage, creating throwback moments that elevate the film. There are fun nods to old Bond films, but nothing is overdone or cheeky. Even Ralph Fiennes seems in place in this world. Lastly, whose ever idea it was to have Adele write and perform the theme song should get a bonus. The credits sequence is breathtaking, but so is the song. Harkening back to when Bond songs were ‘it,’ Adele’s song is truly on the mark.
November 21, 2012
D: Sacha Gervasi. W: John J. McLaughlin. DP: Jeff Cronenweth. Starring: Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren/Scarlett Johansson/Danny Huston/Toni Collette/Michael Stulbarg/Jessica Biel/Michael Wincott/James D’Arcy/Kurtwood Smith. (NOTE: Based on Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”)
Hitchcock. One name, one man. Alfred Hitchcock is a cinematic pyramid. Built tirelessly for years and visualizing extensively manicured ideas, the Hitchcock canon is as marvelous as it is enjoyable. It is safe to say that anyone worth their popcorn has a favorite. But can a dual biopic and ‘making of’ film be as memorable? Sadly not.
Earlier this month, HBO premiered a television movie, The Girl, that dealt with Hitchcock’s discovery and destruction of actress Tippi Hedren’s career. The star of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie, Hedren admirably and notoriously rejected Hitchcock’s sexual advantages and paid the price with her career. HBO’s attempt was gallant, but its execution pretty poor. The Girl lacked complexity or balance. The story is essentially one of transgression and shame, yet audiences don’t get to know either character. I mention this project as it somewhat works in tandem to Hitchcock as it picks up where this film ends and portrays an entirely more menacing side of the cinematic master.
That being said, Hitchcock is an improvement, but not a knock-out. Anthony Hopkins fills Hitchcock’s weighty shoes and trousers with a tremendous sense of play. He never allows his performance to become a caricature and is aided by the narrative. Screenwriter John McLaughlin seems to have a penchant for characters with weird dreams. Having written one of the incarnations of 2010′s Black Swan, it is clear he took some cues from that for his Hitchcock story. But rather than spiral into obsession like Natalie Portman’s ballerina, Hopkins’ Hitchcock observes and casually converses with his imaginary Ed Gein. As the basis for his Psycho film (and also the book), Ed Gein clearly represents Hitchcock’s creative obsession, although painfully literal at times.
Hopkins has skillful Helen Mirren in his corner as Hitchcock’s devoted wife and creative support, Alma. Ultimately, the film merely uses the behind the scenes tropes as a platform for a relationship story. This works to the films advantage as it allows Mirren and Hopkins to be center-stage, with the reincarnations of Psycho filming kept in the background. Much like last year’s My Week With Marilyn, Hitchcock thankfully centers on a certain period in someone’s life rather than a grand scope. This forces the supporting actors, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and Jessica Biel as Eva Miles to have a bit more presence and importance. Frankly though, all the supporting roles are pretty thankless.
With music by Danny Elfman and gorgeous location shooting, Hitchcock is one of those films you want to love, but can’t. It is at times way too delighted with its own cleverness, while at others only skimming the surface of true and fascinating neurosis. As always when dealing with recreating someone’s own life there are pitfalls. Regrettably, Hitchcock deftly steers around them so carefully that it becomes predictable. Sure to become an Academy contender, I at least hope the film reminds people to watch Hitchcock’s films and to take their own pledge to never, ever remake any of his work.
November 19, 2012
D: Bill Condon. W: Melissa Rosenberg. DP: Guillermo Navarro. Starring: Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Peter Facinelli/Billy Burke/Ashley Greene/Nikki Reed/Dakota Fanning/Michael Sheen/Maggie Grace/Jackson Rathbone/Kellan Lutz/Mackenzie Foy/Jamie Campbell Bower/Elizabeth Reaser/Lee Pace/Joe Anderson/Noel Fisher/JD Pardo. (NOTE: Based on Stephanie Meyer’s young adult fiction book of the same name.)
Four books and five films later the Twilight Saga came to an official end over the weekend. I began this blog more than three and a half years ago and the first review I did was on Twilight. So this not only feels like cinematic closure, but it also means I finally never have to write about soporific vampire love ever again. Or at least not until the series is ceremoniously rebooted, which hopefully won’t be in my lifetime. We can all dream!
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 picks up where its disastrous predecessor, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, left off. Kristen Stewart’s Bella has not only given birth to her half human, half vampire daughter, but has survived the birth by being turned into a vampire herself. Sporting crazy contacts, fake lashes, and even more fake hair Stewart strides into her new life with immense restraint and a humorous first scene with Taylor Lautner’s Jake. Both in the books and films, the werewolf ‘imprinting’ is the silliest and least believable element to the wolf lore. This concept reaches levels of embarrassment as Lautner has to painfully admit to Stewart and Pattinson that he has ‘imprinted’ on their infant daughter. Awkward.
Even more silly was Stewart and Pattinson notorious “first night” together as vampires. Like something out of a CW fairy tale, the montage is so honey coated it practically oozes off the screen. Somewhere, someplace, my 14 year old self is mighty thankful that her vampire story growing up was Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At least that character kicked some ass and didn’t feed ridiculous notions of candlelit sex to teens. I digress.
Much like Eclipse, this installment enlarges the vampire world and has the Cullen family out recruiting other vampires to join their stance against the Volturi. These journeys feel laboriously slow as Stewart’s voice-over is used as a crutch to transition all these various scenes and locations. In the very first Twilight, Stewart’s voice-over was deliberate and diegetically made sense as she was a character in new surroundings and very much alone. But now so much further in her relationship and part of a team effort to protect her unfortunately named daughter (Renesmee???) the voice-over falls flat. The special effects on Renesmee don’t help either.
However, what ultimately saves the film is this vampire community. Unlike the caped and archaic Volturi, this group of misfits has life and energy. The new actors seem to help breathe life into the boring Cullen clan and director Bill Condon seems more at ease with his pacing with these new elements. Most memorable is talented Lee Pace as rogue vamp-dude Garrett, Joe Anderson’s English loner Alistair and Noel Fisher’s Transylvanian Vladimir. They all seem to be having an immense amount of fun, as does Michael Sheen whose Aro laugh is pure unadulterated glee. Filmed back to back with the last film, this installment also sports the best opening and ending credits of the series.
Thankfully, the werewolves are less important in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 as they were one of the pitfalls of the last film. However, Lautner’s Jacob’s break from his pack to form his own is completely abandoned in the film. Not a heartbreak, but still it could have been tackled in one scene and allowed Lautner’s decisions and imprinting to have clear consequences. That being said the acting is all about the same level here as it has been in the rest of the film so maybe consequences really wouldn’t make a difference. What did was screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s trick story element at the climax of the film that allows action that never happens in the book to be seen visually. This trick saves Breaking Dawn – Part 2 from the anti-climactic ending of the novel.
Ultimately, the best film and novel out of the bunch was New Moon. Brimming with teenage idealism and the destruction it causes, the film and book have the most memorable moments out of the whole saga. And a saga it is. For all those who camped out to feed their obsession, clapped and yelped in the theaters, this must be a sad weekend indeed. For the rest of us, phew, no more teenage sparkle vampire drama for awhile. Cheers to that.
November 15, 2012
D: Robert Zemeckis. W: John Gatins. DP: Don Burgess. Starring: Denzel Washington/Bruce Greenwood/Don Cheadle/Brian Geraghty/Kelly Reilly/John Goodman/Nadine Velasquez/Melissa Leo/James Badge Dale.
Amidst James Bond, vampires and hobbits a few films this season will claw their way into the box office and people’s memories. It is difficult to say if Flight will be among them, but it’s never too late for a surprise.
Having toyed with the script for over a decade, screenwriter John Gatins is clearly at his most interesting mark yet. Gatins other work, 2001′s Summer Catch, 2005′s Coach Carter & Dreamer, and 2011′s Real Steel, seem to have a clear inspiration message. And although he has also doctored other scripts along the way, Gatins’ Flight is a testament to his research and personal connection to his story. The age old saying is to always write what you know and Flight succeeds because of this well rooted honesty.
Gatins work also succeeds as it was put in experienced hands with Robert Zemeckis directing and Denzel Washington taking on the lead. Washington’s age and trademark gravitas gives added weight to his characters internal and external struggles. His performance pulsates with varying degrees of intoxication and his likability forces you to be conflicted about his character throughout the film. Washington is supported from all ends by stellar actors, with Kelly Reilly leading the charge as Nicole, an addict he chance meets in the hospital. Their relationship however, never pulls focus, but rather their meeting is one of the best scenes in the film.
The first thirty minutes of the film are tense, yet spectacular as the plane crash is simultaneously brilliant and terrifying. Yet thankfully it is not the whole film. At its core, Flight explores the power of addiction to shape our lives and make choices while deluding us into believing that these choices are of our own making. And just as dynamic as the crash, the conflict within Washington’s Whip makes the film memorable and ultimately enjoyable.
Lastly, as was similar with Lawless earlier in the year, its previews do the film a disservice. Coming off as conventional and too glossy, Flight will probably surprise many purely because it is not the film advertised. All I can hope is that it will work in the films favor and get a wider audience to see something less candy coated.
November 12, 2012
Go read the novels first, like I did!
World War Z
November 1, 2012
D: Ben Affleck. W: Chris Terrio. DP: Rodrigo Prieto. Starring: Ben Affleck/Bryan Cranston/John Goodman/Alan Arkin/Victor Garber/Tate Donovan/Clea DuVall/Scoot McNairy/Rory Cochrane/Kyle Chandler/Chris Messina/Kerry Bishe. (NOTE: Script based on Joshuah Bearman’s article “Escape from Tehran.”)
Already a festival and critical darling before its wide release, Argo marks actor/writer Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort. 2007′s Gone Baby Gone and 2010′s The Town were not only successful, but affirmed Affleck’s good taste in adaptable material. Argo is no exception. Keeping with his theme of interpreting strong established material, Affleck ups the anti in tackling a real life rescue mission.
Argo, of course, refers to a fake science fiction movie the CIA operative, Tony Mendez (Affleck), fake produced and scouted for as a guise while actually shepherding American diplomatic hostages out of Iran in 1980. In conjunction with the Canadian government, Affleck’s Mendez created an elaborate farce to get in and out of the country. Luckily this farce makes for a great story. Taking the lead (on and off camera), Affleck deftly balances the tense danger of Iran and the hostages with the second hand tension in the CIA offices and Hollywood production offices of Argo.
Affleck might have learned a few things from his 2009 acting turn in State of Play, but we’ll never know. His film actually succeeds where that one failed. Not only is the premise much more succulent, but there is so much tension from start to finish you hardly breathe until it’s over. Familiar experiences like customs crossings become dangerous mind fields of fear and most audiences will end up forgetting that they already know the outcome. Thankfully some light moments with brilliant John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Hollywood archetypes allow you to laugh (even if one joke is redone about three times too much).
This balance between the two parts of the world also visually allows Argo to explore how information is circulated and lives on the same planet can be so disconnected. Victor Garber, as the Canadian Ambassador in Iran, acts as this bridge between worlds and helps ground the group dynamic of his hostages. In the modern age of technology it is easy to buy into the compulsive use of the internet and cell phones. But let’s not forget there was an age before that! The hostage group, all masterly handled by the actors, effortlessly allows the film to remain personal and engaging. Affleck helps this engagement by using close-ups and tight shots that bring out the suffocation and fear of the hostages.
One of the few pitfalls of Argo is that Affleck gives himself a bit too many glamour/tortured Daddy moments. Understandably Affleck’s acting presence helps get his movies made. However, in this scenario he should have concentrated a bit less on these moments as the true story lies in the action of his character and his intelligent thinking on his feet. This does not ruin the film, but certainty detracted from its mood and rhythm. Thankfully, the man can grow a decade appropriate beard as well.
October 31, 2012
D/W: Martin McDonagh. DP: Ben Davis. Starring: Colin Farrell/Sam Rockwell/Christopher Walken/Woody Harrelson/Abbie Cornish/Tom Waits/Olga Kurylenko/Gabourey Sidibe/Michael Pitt/Michael Stuhlbarg.
Every know and then there is a film that catches me off guard. Either I haven’t researched it obsessively enough or simply, its marketing didn’t reach me. Seven Psychopaths was one of these. And now it is one of the most memorable films of the year.
Previously nominated in 2009 for best original screenplay for In Bruges, screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh is at his best here. McDonagh has better command of his story and the rhythm of this world. Frankly, In Bruges was not for me. However, this film uses its humor and violence to create a dynamic world that is unforgettable.
Seven Psycopaths might appear to be just another movie about crazies. But rather it is a film about storytelling, its frustrations and how one idea can manifest itself in your own life. As writer Marty (Colin Farrell) attempts to write a new screenplay amidst an alcohol haze, his concept of seven psychopaths that aren’t any good and doing what they do takes on a life of its own. But rather than falling into a silly “this is how we make a movie” story, the film takes off in exploring just how ridiculous psychopathic scenarios are and how specifically the movie business has heightened this silliness. This is where McDonagh’s writing shines. He is able to build moments within in the movie that actively debunk movie conventions while also embracing them for what they are and the pleasure they provide.
Additionally, Seven Psycopaths is a success because of the group of actors involved. Farrell roots the story in realistic egotistical handsomeness, that actually works here. His character is able to balance out the many moods of Sam Rockwell, who nearly steals the whole film. Christopher Walken, now a walking caricature of himself, simultaneously gives his scenes violent humor and tenderness that round out the group of misfits. Woody Harrelson has a fun turn as a crazily intense psychopath looking for his dog. Once you’ve seen his menacing act you’ll laugh to think Mickey Rourke originally had the part.
One of my major gripes in the film is the complete dismissal of women. They all die, are bitches or just provide a catalyst for the action.Out of seven psychopaths only one is a woman and she works in a team (with a man) rather than on her own. However, it is healthy to let go of gripes and regardless, Seven Psychopaths is brilliant and should remind everyone why we just might not have needed that re-make of Total Recall…
October 12, 2012
D: Jason Moore. DP: Julio Macat. W: Kay Cannon (Based on the book by Mickey Rapkin.) Starring: Anna Kendrick/Skylar Astin/Ben Platt/Brittany Snow/Anna Camp/Rebel Wilson/Adam DeVine/Alexis Knapp/Ester Dean/Hana Mae Lee/Elizabeth Banks/John Michael Higgins/Freddie Stroma/John Benjamin Hickey/Christopher Mintz-Plasse/Jacob Wysocki.
For those of you unaware of the acapella sensation finally sweeping our country, let me be the first to congratulate you on the rocky cave that you have built and are living in. Let’s hope it is cozy, for your sake. If you have been paying attention, whether it’s Fox’s obnoxious television series Glee or NBC’s underrated competition show The Sing Off or your basic college experience 101, then you are primed for Universal’s Pitch Perfect.
Bright, quick-paced, and embracing moments of sheer crazed college fun, Pitch Perfect is right on the mark. Yes it has moments that steal a bit from last year’s Bridesmaids, but in the end I can promise you that you won’t care. The film was helmed by female television writer (GASP), Kay Cannon, and directed by television director, Jason Moore. This team was in clear command of the pace of their story, while also allowing their characters to breathe and establish themselves.
Anna Kendrick, known from her work in the Twilight films, 2011′s 50/50, and 2010′s Up in the Air, takes on the lead role of Beca. Craving a Los Angeles’ music adventure rather than college, Kendrick’s Beca reluctantly enrolls at the college that also employs her father. Encouraged and somewhat forced to become more involved in school, Kendrick ends up auditioning for the all girls college acapella group. In sad disarray, the Barton Bellas act like a mini sorority (mostly the negative aspects of those organizations). However, thankfully, Kendrick is quirky and normal enough to be compelling and threads the film together effortlessly. Anna Camp and Brittany Snow do well supporting Kendrick in their roles as the Bellas leaders. Both have decent voices, and lets remember not everyone on an acapella team has to be a Kelly Clarkson.
However, the star of the Bellas ends up being Rebel Wilson. Embracing her true Aussie status, Wilson pulls back at the right moments and lets loose when it’s needed. Her singing moments specifically stand out. Balancing out the Bellas are the all boys team, The Treblemakers. I know, I love the names too. Leading the pack is some dude named Bumper (Adam DeVine), whose as annoying as his name implies. Thankfully, Broadway’s Spring Awakening alum, Skylar Astin steps in as a new member and “friend who wants more” interest for Kendrick. Astin’s Jesse has a tremendous voice and it written well enough not to feel flat against all the pop of the film.
Stealing some scenes is producer Elizabeth Banks and her co-host John Michael Higgins. Acting as journalists covering all the acapella competitions, the two have some of the most memorable lines and clearly embrace the fun and humor of the film. Between this pair and the music, no one will be able to leave the theater without a grin on their face. And that is just what Pitch Perfect aims to do. It lightens your load, without pretending to do anything else.
October 3, 2012
D/W: Rian Johnson. DP: Steve Yedlin. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis/Emily Blunt/Paul Dano/Noah Segan/Piper Perabo/Jeff Daniels/ Pierce Gagnon/Tracie Thomas/Frank Brennan/Garret Dillahunt.
The young Bruce Willis has arrived! Well, wait, it’s the uber talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a young Bruce Willis. Or should Willis be playing an older Gordon-Levitt? Gordon-Levitt’s character is the protagonist right? Damn it, well, I guess the fake nose clears things up. Or does it?
Director and screenwriter, Rain Johnson, once again collaborates with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Johnson’s third feature, Looper. The pair first worked together on Johnson’s debut film, 2005′s Brick. Although not overwhelmingly impressed with Brick, Johnson’s clear command of his story elements and visual world are even stronger in Looper. The film never slows down and this pace forces the script to tie up every loose end (even how injuries work on future selves). And it is this succinctness and successful balancing of action, suspense, intrigue, drama and science-fiction that is not only catapulting the film through the box office, but into critical notice.
Looper is set in the future when time travel has not yet been invented, but everyone knows it will be and everything’s goes to the dogs anyway. In future of this future (haha) time travel has apparently been invented. However, certain people in the future future cannot dispel of their own dirty dead body laundry. So with the use of their fancy illegal hidden machine, future future crime lords send their sentenced bodies back in time to be shot, bagged, and disposed of by our future. These are the loopers. Given that name because, well let’s face it, any job that revolves around killing and dispensing has an expiration date. Eventually the loopers will have to “close the loop” and kill their own future selves. If this premise alone doesn’t get you to the movie, shame on you.
Of course this set up comes with a few hiccups. Current looper Joe (Gordon-Levitt) dabbles in expensive satiated boredom, hoards his money, and seemingly prepares for his future happy days outside of no-where America. However, when his friend Seth (Paul Dano) is unable to close his loop and suffers for it, Gordon-Levitt semi-awakes from his stupor. Gordon-Levitt is great here, he’s charismatic without being predictable. His Joe is the right amount of conflicted, unsatisfied and smug to, you got it, eventually be his older self played by Bruce Willis. The only jarring thing is Gordon-Levitt’s prosthetic that attempts to match his profile to Willis’. How annoying this will be will depend entirely on the movie-goer, for me, frankly, after the first half hour I let it go as I was so engrossed. I do not think the prosthetic was necessary as there was so much suspension of belief anyway and audiences have spent decades believing people were related or older/younger versions when consciously they new they were not. Thankfully, it doesn’t taint Looper, nor does it help it though.
Willis is excellent here too and helps to ground the action through his seasoned bravado. His scenes with Gordon-Levitt are not hockey and only give the audience a few gimmicks to get a laugh between so much action and drama. Emily Blunt helps to support the two men in her latter half role as a farm working mother with a Southern twang. However, it is Pierce Gagnon who plays her son Sid that easily steals the film. Nothing can be revealed about his purpose, but truth me told the second half of Looper is all his.
My only grievance is that parts of the voice-over get a bit repetitious and yank you out of the rich world of the film. With its excellent pacing, great camera-work and some memorable uses of slow-motion, Looper didn’t need the crutch of that voice-over. Yet, regardless, it’s a wild ride and one that gives you as many answers as it can so you will leave satisfied, and yes, pumped up for more.
September 11, 2012
D: John Hillcoat. W: Nick Cave. DP: Benoît Delhomme. Starring: Shia LeBeouf/Tom Hardy/Jason Clarke/Guy Pearce/Jessica Chastain/Mia Wasikowska/Dane DeHaan/Gary Oldman/Bill Camp. (Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County in the World.)
As fall descends on most parts of the country, us Angelinos still writhe in heat and repeat our monologues on the wonders of daily life without air conditioning. For those sweating out September like me, might I recommend escaping the humidity with a little Depression-era fun? Alcohol included.
Lawless was originally conceived and put together as a studio film. Brimming with an A-list cast, the film soon fell apart in 2008 as financiers fell out and creativity clashes came to light. Thankfully, director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave were able to resurrect their story on an independent budget and with a, in my opinion, even better cast.
The only actor to remain attached and apparently championing the film was Shia LeBeouf. Rightfully so it is Lebouf’s character, Jack Bondurant, that acts as a catalyst for much of his family’s journey in the film. Lawless delves into the Bondurant boys’ Virginia business of making moonshine for the local community. Yet LeBeouf’s desire to expand is stalled when Prohibition hits their town. LeBouf’s Jack is the youngest, least physical, but most ambitious of the Bondurants and deftly feels the highs and lows of his business in his pocket and on his face. LeBeouf’s doe-eyes, innocent smile, and clear understanding of the material serve him well here. He’s as much likable as he is pathetic, and you cannot help rooting for him through his stupidity, bravery, and grief.
LeBeouf is generously and memorably supported by Tom Hardy as eldest Bondurant boy, Forrest. As thick as his name suggests, Hardy’s Bane-like physique is mastered beautifully. Kept snug by a grandfather cardigan and favorite hat, Hardy’s Forrest is subtle, commanding, and powerfully controlled. You’ll honestly wish there was even more of him in the film. Yet if there was we’d miss out on Gary Oldman’s sparkly turn as a local gangster and the little of Jessica Chastain’s Maggie we get to see. Equally as good yet with less moments to shine are Mia Wasikowska as LeBeouf’s young love interest and Jason Clarke as middle drunken Bondurant boy, Howard. Rounding out all of these fine actors though is Guy Pearce as trecherous germaphobic special agent Charlie Rakes. Hell bent on spreading hell within the Bondurant camp, he’ll hopefully remind everyone why Prohibition ended.
Lastly, Lawless was clearly lovingly made. Hillcoat provides a well-balanced film that both visually resonates and orally ignites. In clear conjunction with his screenwriter, he melds the gangster and western genres so well that ultimately the biggest compliment I can give is, I want to see more. And with a soundtrack and original music like Lawless let’s hope this collabartion continues.
September 5, 2012
D/W: David Cronenberg. DP: Peter Suschitzky. Starring: Robert Pattinson/Kevin Durand/Juliette Binoche/Jay Burachel/Sarah Gadon/Samantha Morton/Paul Giamatti. (Based on the novel by Don DeLillo)
At first, I might have admitted I was peeved at myself for not having read Don DeLillo’s novel, Cosmopolis. However, after sitting through nearly two hours of footage summarizing a day in the life of a pretty playboy in a limo, no peeving happening here. I originally mused…I am sure the novel is better and there is a story on the page. After that, I’m not so sure. Now I am sure, I just don’t care.
Replacing Colin Farrell who dropped out to do that little remake of a movie called Total Recall, Robert Pattinson got a big role put right in his lap. Yet as noted in Water for Elephants and the Twilight series, he fumbles with what he’s given. Confined to a limo as a rolling office for the majority of the film, Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 20 something money making misogynist who fucks around all day. Sleek and stiff as usual, Pattinson does little to give his character charisma other than his gadgets and gizmos. He seems to be in a stupor most of the time and unfortunately, David Cronenberg’s script is also to be blamed.
The last Cronenberg film was 2011′s A Dangerous Method. Lush, complex and brimming with dialogue, that film had such life to it. Cosmopolis is it’s unwanted Cinderella step child that is actually stuffed up the chimney rather than degraded to cleaning it. Cronenberg’s script is very word heavy and with some doozey lines that actually detract and pull you out of the limo version of Manhattan. For a story so bent on obsessing about the lack of substance money buys, the disconnection of urban life, and luxurious boredom, the film never went beyond just that. Boredom.
A hardy few claps must be given to Kevin Durand as Pattinson’s chief of security. He spends most of the film crouching down into the limo and apparently could keep a straight face while doing it repeatedly. Both Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton make brief and forgettable appearances, which is much more disappointing for them then anyone will admit. But what is even more embarrassing is Paul Giamatti’s raging scenes towards the end. My only hope is that so few people see this film that no one else will have the scars from that last twenty minutes. You have been warned.
August 15, 2012
D: David Frankel. DP: Florian Ballaus. W: Vanessa Taylor. Starring: Meryl Streep/Tommy Lee Jones/Steve Carell/Jean Smart/Elizabeth Shue/Becky Ann Baker.
As the summer big releases reach their final push month some smaller movies start to trickle in. One of those is Hope Springs. A remarkable little movie about bridging the gap in a relationship and taking that necessary plunge with your partner to reach a place of renewal.
First time feature writer, Vanessa Taylor, who also spends her time writing for the HBO series Game of Thrones, delivers in this first endeavor. Her script maintains a nice pace with a focus on character rather than gimmicks and silly montages. Her core elements are Meryl Streep’s Kay, her husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), and their expensive marriage counselor Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). Taylor never pulls the focus from the couple and thankfully never wasted time building a back-story to Carell’s Dr. Feld. Rather he is present in their sessions and that is it.
Taylor’s script is given life and legs by its leads. Streep embraces Kay and allows her body to do a lot of the talking. Her Kay is fully fleshed out from her middle aged matching nightgowns to her painfully restrained laugh that breaks your heart. But let’s face it, we all knew Streep would be great here. It’s hard to ignore her onscreen, even when she’s playing someone who feels they’re ignored. You will even forgive her for the stupider moments in the film because she handles them with such grace and sparkle it seems silly not to.
Streep’s partner in pain is Jones’ Arnold whose briefcase and routine could easily be read as stately stereotypical. Thankfully Jones is as subtle as Streep here. His twitches and fits in sessions will have coupes and singles everywhere squirming in their seats. His Arnold does not want to be in counseling and makes it known. Yet the story, gracefully, remains balanced enough that it never seems to tell the audience whose side to be on. Rather Hope Springs roots its faith in the relaxed performance of Carell who attempts to shepherd his couple through the rockiest of conversations.
What ultimately irked me the most was the use of music in the film. For some reason the producing team thought that despite a great script and superb acting almost every scene in the first two acts of the film needed a Sara Barielles’ song blasting through the speakers. Not only is it jarring, but completely trivializes some wonderful subtle moments these two acting greats create. What might have been a marketing ploy to lighten the mood and make the film come across more as a romantic comedy actually nearly ruins the first half of Hope Springs. But go, tread lightly, though not as bleak as 2010′s Blue Valentine, Hope Springs still drags you through the jungle of sexual and emotional hiccups in a marriage.
August 6, 2012
D: Christopher Nolan. W: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan. DP: Wally Pfister. Starring: Christian Bale/Gary Oldman/Tom Hardy/Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Anne Hathaway/Marion Cotillard/Morgan Freeman/Michael Caine. (Based on the DC Comic characters created by Bob Kane.)
In all honesty it took my awhile to get to this review. I was very tense after the Aurora shooting, which I actually felt in the theater. I keep my thoughts with the victims’ families and communities. I echo Mr. Nolan’s comments, the movie theater is my home and it saddens me that someone has violated that safe space.
The Dark Knight Rises is probably the most anticipated summer release this year. Not only due to its subject matter, but also because it officially concludes Christopher Nolan’s cinematic interpretation of the Batman story. Nolan’s dominance is hard to ignore and his influence can be seen in this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming summer 2013 Man of Steel, which he executive produced. But did his final installment live up to all the hype?
Where The Dark Knight Rises succeeds is mostly in mood, visuals, and giving fans a clear conclusion to the Batman’s story. Firstly, Hans Zimmer must be praised for his score. His score adds a pulse to the entire film and his Batman theme still resonates after three films. Zimmer’s work creates a base for the mood of Nolan’s Gotham, which despite the Dent act (which gives harsher sentences to criminals) is lit just as dark and gloomy as in the previous films. Yet this darkness echos Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) pain, grief, and loss of identity. Bale’s decision at the end of 2008′s The Dark Knight to put away Batman has clearly robbed him of his purpose. This reclusive Wayne finally allows Bale to show Bruce’s orphaned, damaged edges that have clearly deteriorated his personal life.
Bale, for me, has easily been the best Bruce Wayne. Not only do I prefer this darker interpretation of the story, after all Bruce is just a man with expensive resources, but the films are well balanced between the two spheres of his life. Nolan allows Bale to grapple with Bruce’s need for Batman and his ultimate ignorance that he does, in fact, need his life as Bruce as well. Thankfully, Bale embraces the conflict between these two spheres and provides an intensity and depth on screen that cannot compare to previous incarnations of this character. In this film, Michael Caine steps up his game as Bale’s butler, Alfred. The scenes between them are not only poignant and moving, but act as marker’s for Bale’s journey.
Batman’s journey in this film is littered with clear visual winks at the audience and acknowledgements of Batman’s legacy. When Bale first appears donning his once abandoned suit, the music pulsates, and cinematographer, Wally Pfister, shoots his Batman in one shot. From toe to pointy ear as his cape billows behind him and he pulls up a bad guy with just one hand. Pure idealism at best, but also pure fun. Later in the film, Bale as Batman is seen, with one leg up, atop a skyscraper, surveying his city below. And ultimately, it is these visual moments that remind all of us that though Nolan’s interpretation of this comic book character are considered more realistic, he has not forgotten the origin and the thrill of the orphaned boy who becomes a city’s crusader.
However, where The Dark Knight Rises falters is in its female characters, plot anomalies, and simply put…Bane. Unfortunately for this franchise, Nolan is not adept at casting women or let alone directing them. Marion Cotillard’s Miranda comes out of nowhere to seduce Bale’s Bruce, but is giving so little to work with that she seems ancillary to the story. Rumor has it Nolan even re-worked the shooting schedule to accommodate her maternity leave, so to speak, from films. Although she was wonderful in Nolan’s 2010 Inception, this seems to much like she was left to her own devices and came up short. Where the real travesty lies is with Anne Hathaway’s Selina/Catwoman. Thankfully, she does not ruin the film. But one cannot help but begrudge Nolan for not using the character to cast someone completely new and, ahem, interesting. With Hathaway the film’s casting just seems too safe. Her Selina is clean, crisply articulate, and just far too all-American. Personally, I believe Hathaway was probably far too focused slaving away at the gym to fit into her latex suit to bother with developing a character. And at some point we have to concede that Catwoman needs to be a little bit sexy and a little bit dirty, like Bruce. And Hathaway is just not that.
As for plot anomalies there are a few. Some characters will connect Bruce Wayne and Batman rather seamlessly, others apparently take three years to put it together. For a powerful corporation, Wayne Enterprises apparently has some glaring cracks that conveniently show themselves. Yet you almost want to forgive these misgivings as it is clear that Nolan and his co-writer (his brother) had fun writing this film. The Dark Knight Rises has the most one-liners and silly goofs out of the three films. And one walking silly goof is Mr. Tom Hardy as Bane. Thundering and massively built, Hardy tries his hardest (har-har) to act his way out of his face mask. Nothing compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker (but no one will ever top that), Bane’s purpose seems far too simple and literal to mean anything. Apparently he seeks revolution and a chance to give the city back to the people in order to eliminate corruption. An apparently direct analogy to the state of this country, somehow something is lost in translation. Rather Hardy, with a hilarious sort of Sean Connery spoofed voice that is at times inaudible, does all the groundwork for a later reveal that proves he’s just as null and void as his brain.
But Nolan does not succumb to his faults. He gives us an ending. He gives us ever present and loyal Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and introduces Joseph Gordon-Levitt to more fans as Officer Blake. These strong supporting roles actually carry the film and help to balance out the moments that get out of hand and the plot holes that will leave some shaking their heads. At the end I left the theater sad the films were ending, yet smiling as Batman is forever re-incarnated on screen and like all creative things, never truly an end.
July 25, 2012
July 24, 2012
D: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris. DP: Matthew Libatique. W: Zoe Kazan. Starring: Paul Dano/Zoe Kazan/Annette Bening/Antonio Banderas/Chris Messina/Steve Coogan/Elliot Gould/Toni Trucks/Deborah Ann Woll/Alia Shawkat.
Amidst the big action and comic book films of the summer, a few films are hopefully reminding audiences of young, smart talent coming through the wood works. Ruby Sparks, a new film written and starring twenty-something Yale graduate, Zoe Kazan, is one of those. All I can do is pray to my cinematic deities that not everyone misses out on this little gem.
Set in the more charming (and you have to work hard for this) parts of Los Angeles, Ruby Sparks delves into the mind of young writer, Calvin Weir-fields (Paul Dano). Dano’s Calvin, a high school dropout and over night sensation with his first novel, now struggles with following up that book, his success, and the ultimate fear for any novelist, writer’s block. Dano’s wiry physique and owl-like stillness work wonders here as he begins to dream of a girl, writes her down, and then comes home one day to find her living in his apartment. Without giving anything away, Dano’s mere reactions and playing out of that sequence merits true accolades (and laughter).
His major scene partner is found in (real life girlfriend) screen writer Kazan, who plays Ruby. Kazan’s long read hair and borderline gangly body work to give her Ruby a sort of ethereal quality. She will remind some of a wood nymph, with an almost childlike look and wonder at the world and Dano. Their chemistry is clear and thankfully Kazan’s script deals as much with the “is Ruby real” question as the “are we happy in this relationship” and “how do you make that relationship work?” Dano’s other screen partner is Chris Messina as his older brother, Harry. Messina’s character not only gives Dano a familial anchor, but also a empathetic voice of reason. Full of warmth and with his own twinkle in his eye, Messina remains memorable and well cast.
Stealing a few scenes is Annette Bening as Dano and Messina’s mother and Antonio Banderas as her new age sculptor boyfriend. But ultimately the credit must be given to Kazan’s tight writing and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Davis’ work as co-directors. This husband and wife team is also responsible for directing 2006′s Little Miss Sunshine. They are clear and concise here with Kazan’s story. Nothing feels too long or labored, which thankfully allows the film to be more about the relationships and Dano’s journey than answering any big logistical questions. The only thing working against the film is it’s sort of hipster, adorkable quality that could annoy some audiences members. But hey, at least you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
July 22, 2012
July 18, 2012
1. The Bourne Legacy (inspired by Robert Lundlum’s novels). In theaters August 10. Do I need to read these?
2. Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo. In theaters August 17. Lots of buzz on this one, especially as David Cronenberg is directed. I have not read, but still have doubts about Robert Pattinson. Waiting to be impressed.
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. In theaters September 14. I know this novel has fans everywhere and I somehow missed in my younger years. Emma Watson outside of her Hermoine character will surely be a treat and we’ll seen if teens show up for films outside of the big franchises. Also, noted that the novel’s writer also wrote the screenplay and directed the film.
4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. In theaters October 26. Still on my bookshelf to be read!
5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. In theaters November 9. My mother has just bequeathed a copy of this to me. Big hill to climb, but it might be worth it with a Tom Stoppard script and direction by Joe Wright. Cue the sweeping epic music…
6. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2by Stephanie Meyer. In theaters November 16. More comments on this later.
7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. In theaters November 21. Read it now. And I mean NOW.
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. In theaters December 14. ENOUGH SAID!
9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In theaters December 25. At this point most of American generations have read this literary milestone as part of required high school reading. This upcoming take my Baz Luhrman will not only prove to be different visually, but could push the story’s boundaries. I am giving it an older me re-read. I suggest you do the same.
10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Set to release this year. An American classic, but having recently read it will be interesting to see how they shape the narrative for the screen. The book didn’t move me, hopefully the movie will. I have faith in a slew of the actors, but the blight will probably be Kristen Stewart.
July 9, 2012
D: Marc Webb. DP: John Schwartzmann. W: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves (based on the Marvel comic books by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko). Starring: Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone/Rhys Ifans/Denis Leary/Martin Sheen/Sally Field/Chris Zylka/Embeth Davidtz/Campbell Scott.
Over the fourth of July holiday, movie theaters everyone got the booming cash flow they needed as The Amazing Spider-Man hit their screens. Not only has the film raked in money domestically and over-seas, but as a re-launch of a franchise it has surpassed monetary expectations. So the true question is, really…did it match our expectations of quality? (And did we even have any?)
Firstly, much must be said of lead Andrew Garfield. Inheriting the Peter Parker role from Tobey Maguire, Garfield wasn’t an obvious choice though he boasts great credits. Seen in 2010′s The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, British Garfield has proven himself as a young dramatic actor. He even worked alongside Heath Ledger in the actor’s final film, 2009′s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Here as Peter Parker, Garfield’s genuine charisma shines through. He carries the body language of a teenager well, boosts an adorable grin, but also manages to pull you into the inner workings of a teen in search of his own identity amidst an already grief-stricken young life. Thankfully this script emphasizes Parker’s intellect and gift for science, which more logically supports his eventual understanding of his transformation into Spider-man and the gadgets he then creates.
Luckily Garfield has an excellent partner in crime in Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey. Uncharacteristically blonde, Stone is enjoyably pert and just as smart as Garfield’s Peter. Their chemistry is evident and the script is strongest here. Their scenes feel genuine, age-appropriate and lack the gloss and smooth lines some writers give high school characters. Being just as supportive are Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Parker’s aunt and uncle. Their family dynamic roots the film in a real familiar context and thankfully never feels hokey. What can feel a bit silly is Rhys Ifan’s reptilian transformation (not giving anything away as this is clearly the story in the preview.) However, how do you create creatures and monsters without them feeling a bit goofy? Especially when the creature needs to be seen in close up? And be a clear character transformation? Regardless of audiences’ temperament for the big lizard, it is great that Ifan’s character doesn’t lose his memory through this change and the script gives his actions clear purpose, conflict and topical context.
Director Marc Webb was a risky, yet thrilling choice here. His previous work consists mostly of music videos, but he waltzed into people’s radars with his directorial debut in 2009′s 500 Days of Summer. I say risky, because this is not only a high profile big budget studio film, but it is also the re-boot of an already successful franchise. The previous trio of films, all directed by Sam Raimi, were monetarily successful, but lacked a sense of darkness or depth. In a post Christopher Nolan Batman reboot world, it is easy to look back and be very critical of Raimi’s Spider-man interpretation. But we must remember that Batman Begins didn’t premiere until 2006, when Raimi’s final Spider-man was already in production for its eventual release in 2007. This is not mentioned to credit Nolan with being solely responsible with changing the way comic-book heroes and stories are interpreted. But rather it cannot be ignored that Nolan’s success with a more realistically darker approach to Batman has influenced other studio franchises to not be weary of that approach. This being said, Webb handles the Spider-man story well with the film having a consistent look, great scope of character, and far better acting than its predecessors.
Ultimately, where The Amazing Spider-Man needed work was in its story. With three writers contributing, things get a bit clunky and there are a few tangents that create gaping holes in the plot. This by no means ruins the film, but instead disrupts the balance and good components of the script. For example, the script refreshingly focuses on Parker’s identify struggle and his desire to be honest and present with Gwen. Thankfully this allows the action and inevitable final battle sequence to be secondary to the character developments it causes. However, key injuries mysteriously disappear, the 3D is barely noticeable, some point of view shots feel very gimmicky, and as mentioned whole tangents just drop off. Yet The Amazing Spider-Man is an enjoyable ride, and begs a lot of questions of Peter Parker’s identity that audiences will surely want to know more about.
July 6, 2012
D: Colin Trevorrow. DP: Benjamin Kasulke. W: Derek Connolly. Starring: Aubrey Plaza/Jake Johnson/Mark Duplass/Karan Soni/Kristen Bell/Mary Lynn Rajscub/Jenica Bergere.
Every so often it is important for main stream movie goers to expose themselves to something other than a big budget studio movie. And not because it can be assumed that the story will be better or more original. But rather, to be reminded of the origin of cinematic story telling. Story telling that comes in all shapes, sizes, and costs.
Safety Not Guaranteed comes to its party with a bag full of charm and a cooler full of freshness. Bored intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) embarks on a work trip/vacation with her internship boss, Jess (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni). The misfit trio head down from the offices of Seattle Magazine to track down a beach town crazy who has posted a classified ad for a fellow time traveler. So what begins as journalistic curiosity ends up being Plaza’s own journey into trust, life, and that line we all draw between sanity land and crazy town.
Plaza is immediately likable in that indie real girl sort of way. She’s present and subtle, allowing the story to slow gear up. Her partner in crime for most of the film is Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the classified ad poster who ends up approving her participation in his time traveler venture. Mark and his brother, Jay, both executive produced the movie and are responsible for 2010′s Cyrus. Mark is playful and lovable here as cooky and endearing Kenneth. A standout at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it’s easy to see how alive a story can feel if acted with the same tone.
Joining Plaza on her adventure is Jake Johnson. Now recognizable as one of the three male roommates on Fox’s new hit show, New Girl, Johnson grounds the story in some realm of reality and older guy wisdom. His character’s own grappling with his age and misguided life help to balance the quirky bizarreness of Duplass’ search to go back in time. Johnson also manages to steal some scenes with Soni’s Arnau, who must learn to embrace is youth and opportunities.
Ultimately, the film is uplifting, tender and fun. Although it could have not revealed so much in its conclusion, Safety Not Guaranteed embraces its anthem and gives an over-saturated movie market, something fresh to fawn over. Let’s just hope enough people go to see it and break their own cycles of monotony.