Shame (2011) Review

18 12 2012
Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few well regarded films of last year that I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to see. After literally months of two Netflix discs (yes, I still get discs because the selection on instant would piss me off if that was all I got) sitting on my kitchen counter unwatched, I finally sent in for some replacements — this film was one of the two that arrived. The other was Magic with Anthony Hopkins (a pretty scathing review forthcoming on that).

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in this NC-17 drama. A successful New York businessman, he spends his days at the office watching porn, his nights at home watching porn, masturbates incessantly and is constantly on the prowl for his next sexual encounter, whether that be through a random hookup or a paid escort. When his somewhat estranged musician sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him out of despair, he finds her desire for a more meaningful relationship with him a hindrance on his routine sexual escapism.

This film is a very slow, yet well-paced study of an addiction that is not nearly as touched upon in mainstream media as many others. Brandon’s character and world are very ethereal, and the artistic approach of the film help elucidate this fantasy-esque overtone in its pace and cold visual style. Fassbender is excellent in the title role, a role which required a great degree of comfortability in the character, being that many sexual scenes are shown quite explicitly and nudity is prominent throughout. Carey Mulligan is wonderful (isn’t she always?) as his depressed sister who longs for a stronger relationship between herself and her brother.

There are a lot of things about this film that seem like they shouldn’t work so well on the surface, but yet, somehow they do. It’s a terribly interesting character study and a film that engrosses, even at its very deliberate and slow pace. I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a deep, intense drama; however, I will strongly warn of high sexual content and physical nudity that may offend or upset certain audiences.

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A Dangerous Method (2011) Review

2 04 2012

Copyright 2011 Recorded Pictures Company

★ ★ ★

David Cronenberg’s films are, for most people at least, a love it or hate it situation.  Surprisingly, my girlfriend really enjoyed this film despite the fact that she generally abhors anything by Cronenberg; I, on the other hand, am either genuinely engaged or somewhat intrigued by his work.  This film, for me, I found somewhat interesting, and in a first, Maddie enjoyed a Cronenberg film more than I.

Based on a true story, this film analyzes the relationship that develops between famed psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient-turned-mistress Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).  Furthermore, the film depicts the initial respect and collaboration between Jung and other famed early 20th century psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (an almost unrecognizable Viggo Mortensen), as well as their eventual falling out.  Throughout the film, many elements of psycho analysis and sexual psychology are interpreted and pondered through the dialog between the primary characters.

This is a smart film, and has a smart script.  The psychological analysis throughout the narrative is interesting, but on the whole, leaves something to be desired in regards to entertainment value.  Fassbender and Mortensen give good performances playing their respective iconic figures, and Knightley, who I am rarely impressed with, let history take precedent and didn’t impress me.  She did well throughout the film holding her Russian accent, but overall, I found her performance wooden and lifeless.  As for being a Cronenberg film, this felt possibly one of the more “normal” of the lot.  The narrative was relatively straight forward and the direction was fairly standard, a sharp contrast to the usual bizarreness of a large body of his work.

If you like psychology and like a “based on a true story” movie, then I could see one finding this film quite enjoyable.  For me, though I am interested in psychology to a degree, the entertainment value was only slightly better than average, which outweighed the intriguing subject matter.





50/50 (2011) Review

28 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Summit Entertainment

★ ★ ★

So, I’ve got this film and two others on the backlog for reviews.  Apologies, for the delays, had a lot going on over the past few days.  Possibly very good things though!  Anyway, 50/50, seems like the jury is split on this film; some reviewers call it one of the best movies of the year, others are more or less underwhelmed.  What was I, you ask?  Definitely on the side of underwhelmed.  This is by no means a bad film, but also by the same token, nowhere near one of the best films of last year.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a very normal 27 year old working professional, who gets some terrible news at what should be the height of his life.  He has cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next year alive.  Seth Rogen plays himself; wait, no his character’s name is Kyle, but in reality it’s just Seth Rogen being himself like he is in every film he appears in.  I think he’s funny, but he has about as much depth as an actor as a jar of peanut butter.  Pretty much the entirety of the film plays out largely how you could imagine being a comedy/drama about a young man getting cancer.  He has his ups, his downs and a lot of emotional tension dealing with the news and the personal troubles it creates, and for the comedy element there are funny and amusing lines exchanged between him and best friend Kyle.

This is just a decent film.  It doesn’t break any huge barriers down; it only works decently as a comedy, and it only works decently as a drama.  I wasn’t impressed with the direction, the story was only average, the acting was OK and as with most of these types of films, there was nothing of note with the production value or cinematography.  I’m glad I saw this film, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but don’t expect a life changing viewing experience with this one.





Drive (2011) Review

1 02 2012

Copyright 2011 Bold FIlms

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Drive is an extremely stylized film that borrows heavily from two different, yet quite separate, eras of American cinema: the 1940s and the 1980s.  From the 1940s, the film borrowed heavy traits in its presentation from the popular film noir genre that was at its peak during this era; the soundtrack, filming style and titling attributes were all borrowed from 40 years later in the 1980s, giving off a very reminiscent feel to such films as De Palma’s Scarface.  However, as much as I appreciate high stylization for certain films, it does take more than that to be a truly great movie.

Ryan Gosling plays our unnamed hero, a part-time mechanic, part-time movie stunt driver and part-time driver for criminal activities.  When performing the latter, he has a very standard set of rules which he abides, that are not to be broken.  At the body shop, he works for a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who assists him at times and has a history of being involved with criminals like Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).  Shannon enlists Rose’s help in the amount of $300,000 to fund a stock racing car idea, with Gosling’s character being the driver.  Around this same time, Gosling’s character meets his next door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos).  He finds that she lives alone with her son because her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison, and he and Irene develop a certain relationship together.  Upon Oscar’s return, Gosling character (wouldn’t this be easier if he had a name) finds out that Oscar was indebted to some guys from prison who are now threatening his life, as well as Irene and Benicio’s.  To help, Gosling’s character agrees to be the driver for a job that will clear Oscar of his debts and save Irene and Benicio.  Unfortunately, however, the job ends up going very wrong.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, this film, as mentioned earlier, is highly stylized and the handling of the visuals works great for the type of picture it is.  Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography further helps to develop the polished look of the movie, and there many shots throughout that I was very impressed with.  I think in a lesser year for cinematography, Sigel would have had a good chance at getting a nomination for this film.  Yet, polished looks aside, the story only held my attention to a degree.  It was interesting and I liked the film alright, but it wasn’t spectacular by any means.  Gosling did a good job in the lead role, as did Albert Brooks.  Again, however, Brook’s adoration for his role as Bernie Rose is a bit overrated in my book.  Yes, it was a good performance, but it wasn’t anything to write home about; we’ve all seen that character before.

I can see how many people really loved this film, and I can see how some didn’t care for it at all.  My opinion falls somewhere in between; it was good, but I’ve seen a dozen films off the top of my head with the same basic elements that I thought were better.





The Artist (2011) Review

30 01 2012

Copyright 2011 La Petite Reine

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This was my most anticipated film of the year, hands down.  Ever since I first heard about this movie during its screening at Cannes, I have been anxiously awaiting the local release.  I’m extremely happy to report that, even despite my incredibly high expectations for this movie, it did not disappoint.

The story begins in 1927, near the height of technical and artistic achievement in silent motion pictures, chronicling the success of matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin).  His movies are known and loved the world over and his off stage charisma and antics are always front page news.  After the screening of one of his latest films, a young aspiring starlet in the audience accidentally bumps into him as he is getting photos taken outside the theatre.  At first embarrassed and scared of how Valentin will react, she immediately lightens up when he begins to laugh and let’s the photogs take several snapshots of them both.  The next morning, those photos are front page news, and the young woman, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), makes her way to the studio to try and get some work.  At Valentin’s insistence, she is hired on as an extra.  After the day’s shoot, she visits him in his dressing room and they nearly share a romantic moment before being interrupted by Valentin’s chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell).  With the advent of sound, Valentin’s studio, Kinograph (a take on famous monikers like Biograph), move in new directions.  Valentin, like many silent stars of the day, refuse to accept the new medium and, after being dropped from Kinograph, begins to write, direct and shoot his next film, Tears of Love, himself, funding out of pocket.  With the stock market crash following on the heels of the disappointing reviews and returns of Tears of Love, Valentin is broke, dried up and desperate.  In contrast, however, young Peppy Miller has made a meteoric rise to fame in the new talkie medium.

In conjunction with the story itself, the film takes many liberties to authenticate it to the time in cinema history in which it is presenting.  The film is shot in black-and-white (well, color converted to black and white in DI for all you DPs that need to know exactly), it is 95% silent, shot in Academy ratio (1.33:1, essentially squared as was standard before the 1950s) and recorded at 18 frames per second to elicit the common motion difference we sense between many silents as compared to modern films.  Though, again, for you purists, this motion deception was not because of the films themselves, as much as with projection measures today being at 24fps, whereas common frame rate in the early part of cinema was dictated at 16fps; however, since films were hand cranked by the cameramen, the fps actually fluctuated a bit between 12 and 20 most of the time depending on the action on screen.  Anyway, in short, this movie did all it could do to authenticate the look and feel of classic Hollywood cinema.  It turned out to be an endearing and perfect choice for the story, and not at all a gimmicky or satirical take on the perception of silent cinema.

The acting, since the film was silent, was more about body language than anything else.  Everything had to be visual and the actors were made to express much more through actions and facial expressions than anything else.  Again, it was a natural ode to silent cinema and the long lost art of pantomime.  The way Dujardin and Bejo interacted and expressed emotions physically was breathtaking and captured the magic of some of silent cinema’s greatest actors and actresses precisely.  Largely, Valentin’s character was modeled after such stars of the 1920s like Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert, where, in turn, Miller’s part was very much Garbo-esque (even the line “I want to be alone” famously appears in the film!).  Their performances, one without any lines and the other with one single solitary line, were breathtaking.   So far in my journey through this year’s Oscar nominees, these two are my picks for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.  A special note needs to be given to Uggie the dog as well, who expertly played his supporting role of Jack the Dog – if only a non-human could get a Best Supporting Actor nod!

In the technical arena, in addition to the shooting standards mentioned earlier, this film was just seamlessly well-made.  Guillaume Shiffman’s classic hard light approach to the cinematography was fantastic, absolutely beautiful.  Nearly every frame of this film I could easily see myself hanging a still on the wall of my house and being pleased; then again, however, I love classic Hollywood era lighting.  I think it is classy and sharp, and even more than that, I’ve always had a soft spot for black and white cinematography.  To me, black and white helps suspend my disbelief more than color; it creates somewhat of an alternate reality that I can accept more as a totally different world than color, which so closely resembles our own.  I know every film doesn’t call for the use of black and white, but this one certainly benefited and I’m always happy to see well shot black and white footage on the screen.  As for the direction, Michel Hazanavicius did a phenomenal job.  There were many beautifully framed and interesting shot selections throughout and several scenes that helped convey Valentin’s emotions through a creative addition of some sound work.

In conclusion, I loved this film, everything about it.  I loved that it was silent, that it was black and white, the costume design, the acting, the story, the direction, the great cinematography, the precise art direction in creating 1920s Hollywood, the fact that it was an ode to silent cinema which I adore, and how heartfelt so many of the scenes were.  This was a brilliant  movie.  I loved Hugo nearly as much, but I have to go on the record to say that this film will be my pick for Best Picture for this year, at least so far.

I’ve currently seen six out of the nine nominees this year for Best Picture and don’t see any of three I have yet to see usurping this pick.  Actually, I have two left to see – War Horse and The Descendants, because I refuse to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because I hate when crap like that gets on the nominee list.  It’s been destroyed by critics, I didn’t like the director’s past films and it just comes across as Oscar fodder we-love-Scott Rudin crap, and for that I boycott it.





Jane Eyre (2011) Review

17 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Focus Features

★ ★ 1/2

I will be honest about two things in this review, outside of my opinion of the film of course.  Firstly, I would have never watched this film on my own volition, I did so at the behest of my girlfriend (who I obviously care very dearly for).  Secondly, I cannot stand any material that was ever produced by either one of the Bronte sisters.  It doesn’t relate to me and I find it drab and incredibly boring.  There, I am done with my prefaced rant.

Ah, the story of Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska).  For those of you who don’t know, it is about a young orphaned girl who is wrongly treated by her aunt, whom adopted her.  Being sent to grow up in a miserable orphanage, she eventually gets out and becomes the governess for a wealthy man, Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender).  They, over time, fall in love with each other and he asks her to marry him.  She obliges, and they are all set for their wedding day until a horrible secret is found out about his past that destroys her trust.  She flees his mansion and learns to make ends meet on her own, eventually inheriting a fortune from a wealthy distant relative.  Now wealthy and in good standing, she returns to her love, but what oh what will she find of him?  Without ruining too much of the suspense that is in the film, I’ll leave you with that short sarcastic synopsis.

The film was aptly directed by Cary Fukunaga, and has some very pretty cinematography.  Mia Wasikowska does do a wonderful job in the lead role, as does Fassbender as Rochester.  However, the story will always be the same, and I’ve never related well to it.  It does have some suspenseful, interesting moments, but largely doesn’t take advantage of them as key story points.  Prior to seeing this adaptation of the book, I saw the 1980s version with Timothy Dalton, and was equally underwhelmed.  Though I will say, however, that I enjoyed this adaptation more so than the previous.  For that, and for the fact that I was actually able to sit through the whole thing, I have to give it some credit.





Our Official Entry into the 48 Hour Film Project Greensboro: “Eat Me!”

4 08 2011

About six weeks ago, I put out a post based on my experiences with the 48 Hour Film Project.  Subsequently, a few weeks later, I posted on some administrative changes to the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project that I felt were pertinent for continued success of this filmmaking collaboration in our region.  As of yesterday, our entry into the 2011 Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project has been posted online at vimeo.com.  I have provided a link below for all those interested in viewing the film in it’s entirety.  Do note that a few extra sound effects were added that were not in the original entry; however, other than those minor changes, all is the same.

I hope you enjoy and can’t thank my collaborators enough for a wonderful 48 experience on set!  If anyone has any questions related to production of this short or how the 48 works, just post them into the comments section and I will do my best to answer.

Our criteria was as follows:

Genre: Comedy

Line: “Where did you go?”

Prop: Crayons

Character: Plumber – Don or Donna Hastert

 








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