American Hustle (2013) Review

24 12 2013
Image

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2013

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

So, the narrowing down of what film to go see yesterday came down to this film and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; this one won out, but Smaug will probably be seen within the week since I’m off all week from work.

American Hustle takes place in 1978, and primarily follows the characters Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale), a small time con-artist and dry cleaner owner, and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his mistress and accomplice who mostly acts under a British alias of Lady Edith Greensly. After getting into a bind with the FBI, they agree to assist agent Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) on a small series of cons that eventually leads to hopeful nabbing of not only members of congress and popular Camden, N.J. mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but also several high standing members of the mob. In the process, Rosenfield’s difficult wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), manages to get intertwined at all the wrong places at all the wrong times.

Director David O. Russell has definitely hit his stride with his past few films, solidifying himself as a writer/director to be reckoned with. This film expertly captures the gawdy era of the late 1970s, while carrying a very reminiscent feeling of a Martin Scorsese film from his heyday, especially Goodfellas and Casino. Hey, we even get a surprise cameo from Bobby D! 

The script is strong and has some surprising twists, it is shot beautifully and smartly, but where the film really shines is in its performances. Bale and Adams are absolutely superb, and Cooper and Renner are excellent supporting characters. Even from a physical perspective, Bale has completely transformed himself gaining some 65 pounds, and his New York accent is very impressive, especially knowing this is a Welshman playing the part.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and would highly recommend it. I think we’re going to see a lot of this one through the awards season.





Greenberg (2010) Review

22 12 2013
Image

Copyright Focus Features 2010

★ ★ ★ 1/2

OK, I know I have neglected this site terribly, but I’m going to try my best to hop back on board with some regularity. Work, hobbies, social activities and just plain boring errands and such have literally eaten up most of my time as of late. However, in an effort to keep some form of consistency with the updates, I’m going to try to do “mini-reviews”. So, the new posts might not be as in depth as some of the old reviews, but at least there won’t be breaks of months on end.

OK, now on to Greenberg. After spending the better part of 30 minutes looking for something I either haven’t seen and/or was in the mood to see on Netflix, I came upon this quirky little flick. A Noah Baumbach film, I kind of knew what to expect going into it — your typical mumblecore, Woody Allen-lite pseudo-intellectual comedy-drama. And, guess what? That’s exactly what it turned out to be!

Ben Stiller plays the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40-something more-or-less unemployed ex-musician who just exited a mental hospital and is spending 6 weeks at his brother’s house in LA to focus on doing nothing. His brother, a wealthy hotelier is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, and LA also serves as Roger’s hometown, though he currently lives in New York, and seems to carry a New York-esque attitude about life in general.

His brother’s nanny/assistant, Florence, is played by stereotypical Baumbach-written female, Greta Gerwig — a slightly neurotic mid 20-something with low self esteem and seemingly no direction in life. As Greenberg revisits his old friends and former bandmates during his six week stay, he of course, begins a relationship of sorts with Florence that carries all the insecurities and road bumps of what we have come to expect from Baumbauch’s films.

I know I am weighing heavily on the stereotypical nature of this movie to its director’s style and canon; however, don’t get me wrong, Greenberg is not a bad film. It’s definitely not Baumbauch’s best work, but by no means bad. I enjoyed the film, and think anyone who has an affinity for oddball/neurotic romance films will enjoy. Yes, the main character of Roger Greenberg is fairly morose and pathetic to a degree, but Stiller’s performance helps you build enough empathy to accept him as a protagonist. 





Warm Bodies (2013) Review

15 06 2013
Warm_Bodies_Theatrical_Poster

Copyright 2013 Mandeville FIlms

★ ★ ★ ★

This was a film recommended by my girlfriend Maddie, and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! I had never heard of the movie before, or the book for that matter, so I really didn’t even have a frame of reference as to what the film was about before we started watching it.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who directed the 2011 comedy/drama 50/50 with Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The screenplay is based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. As strange as this sounds, the film is a romantic zombie comedy — pretty crazy, huh? Well, the novel take in this story on the zombie genre is that an actual zombie (Nicholas Hoult), who goes by “R” since he can’t remember his real name, is the protagonist. From my account, I’m not sure that a zombie film has ever taken this bold move; 90% of the time, the zombies are just the catalysts for the exploits of our living heros.

Anyway, R spends his days doing normal zombie stuff like roaming around, grunting and eating the living. However, deep inside of him, there is still a part of him that still feels like a living creature would and longs to be something other than a brain dead zombie. On the hunt for “food” one day, he catches the sight of Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer), while eating her boyfriend’s brain I might add. Smitten by her, he saves her from the zombies, and brings her back to the airport where many of the zombies reside.

A friendship blossoms between them as she realizes that there is something underneath his undead outer appearance. As the story progresses, it begins to become apparent that he might not be the only zombie who feels something more than a desire for living human brains.

This is a very smart and well-written film. It’s fun to watch and constantly amuses, but is actually much deeper than that as a film, and in its social commentary on a higher level that people aren’t always what they seem. I highly recommend this movie and, so far, have found it one of my favorites of this year to date.





Forbidden Games (1952) Review

4 06 2013
Jeux_interdits

Copyright 1952 Silver Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I was in a pretty open mood as far as movies were concerned yesterday, one of those rare times where almost any genre would do. Due to a tight time frame, Maddie and I were looking for something under an hour and a half, so we settled on the 1952 French war drama Forbidden Games.

The film, based on the novel Jeux interdits by Francois Boyer, was directed by renowned filmmaker Rene Clement and was the winner of multiple awards including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film upon its release.

In 1940, during the German air assault of France, a crowded highway in the French countryside is bombarded. A young girl, Paulette (Brigitte Fossey), runs after her dog, Joch, after he jumps from her arms in fear of the bombs. Her parents pursue her in terror as the bombs and bullets fly down from overhead. In the aftermath, both of her parents and her little dog are slain. Alone and confused, she wanders from the dirge of people on the crowded highway into the wilderness with her deceased puppy in arms. Nearing a family farm, a young farm boy, Michel (Georges Pouljouly) finds her in the woods as he is wrangling a strayed cow. They make fast friends and he brings her back to his house. His poor family reluctantly agrees that she can stay, only out of disdain that the feuding neighbors might get rewarded for their patronage by taking her in their stead if they declined. Michel, who is schooled in his catechism quite well, tries to comfort the distressed Paulette over the loss of her parents and dog by explaining that people and pets can be buried in a cemetery under the rites of God and be accompanied by others so they won’t get lonely. The next day, they retrieve Joch from the woods where he was left, and bury him in the mill on the farm with a cross and last rites. Worried of his loneliness, young Paulette wants more animals for the cemetery and more and prettier crosses for their graves; Michel obliges and, perhaps, takes things too far resulting in renewed family strife.

There are a lot of powerful images in this film and scenes that are painfully realistic. Brigitte Fossey and Georges Pouljouly, just 6 and 12 at the time of filming, are tremendous on screen and have a wonderful chemistry together. Though much due needs to be given to these young actors, an almost equal amount needs to be given to Clement who would have had to have run a very nurturing and comfortable set to allow these young children to give the performances they gave. This film explores the innocence of childhood, especially in a time of chaos, and the very special bond between two children trying to cope with the circumstances surrounding them.

It’s always refreshing to see such a simple, yet moving story on the screen. Clement’s visual capture of the script was very unobtrusive, so the natural element of reality and humanism was preserved, which is what I think, makes this film such a powerful and moving movie to watch.





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.





Lincoln (2012) Review

9 12 2012
Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

★ ★ ★ ★

Catching up a bit here, so expect to see about 4-5 reviews over the next week or so. On Thanksgiving Day, right after a wonderful dinner with my family at Bermuda Run Country Club in Bermuda Run, N.C., my brothers, Maddie and I, went to see Lincoln at the theater.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, Lincoln chronicles a very specific time in the 16th President’s tenure. The film begins in January, 1865, and continues through Lincoln’s assassination in April of that same year. The focus of the narrative heavily revolves around the passage of the 13th amendment, a revolutionary amendment to our Constitution that abolished slavery in America. Even without the presence of the southern states in Congress, the passage of this amendment was, surprisingly, still extremely difficult to pass in the House of Representatives. This was largely due to heavy opposition from the Democratic Party of the era (interesting how the Democrats of this time seemed the more conservative and the Republicans more liberal in their stance; a direct opposite of our current state in America today…) Though the passage of this amendment is the primary focus of the film, the viewing audience does get a glance into Lincoln’s private life during this time, as well as how efficient an orator and politician Lincoln could be through persuasion and motive.

The first part of this film was a bit slow for me. However, I quickly became engaged in the narrative, due largely to Day-Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of Lincoln. Without much reservation, I consider Day-Lewis one of the best and most well-rounded actors of our time. His credit list, though not large, encompasses an array of interesting and brilliant performances. I always look forward to his films, whether a brilliant opus like There Will Be Blood, or independent Irish films like Jim Sheridan’s wonderful dramas My Left Foot and  In the Name of the Father.

Spielberg, for me, sometimes gets unduly praise for his work. Yes, he is a brilliant director and has given us a wide range of amazing films; however, his praises sometimes go beyond a reasonable measure, in my opinion. This film, for me, was one of his better in recent years and, being a biographical period piece, something he seems to excel at. Likewise, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was quite pretty, and though not the most visually stunning of his career, it was perfect ambience for this film.

I definitely see this film taking home some awards this year, and highly recommend it from both an entertaining and historical perspective.





My Name is Bond Series: Diamonds are Forever (1971)

13 11 2012

Copyright 1971 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★

After a one picture hiatus in which Australian model/actor George Lazeby briefly picked up 007’s licence to kill, Sean Connery returned for his final portrayal as Bond, at least, his final portrayal that falls into the official canon of Eon Productions films. He did pick up his Walther PPK one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, an interesting re-take on Thunderball that only came to fruition because of some sticky copyright dealings.

One of Bond’s arch enemies, Ernst Blofeld, this time portrayed by Charles Gray, is supposedly murdered early on in the pre-title sequence. However, with experimentations in facial reconstruction surgery, it soon becomes apparent that Blofeld was not as easily killed off as originally thought. In the meantime, Bond is assigned to a case involving a supposed smuggling ring in the South African diamond industry. To intercept the targeted diamonds, Bond travels to Amsterdam disguised as smuggler Peter Franks. It is here that he meets the primary “Bond girl” of this film, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a liaison in the smuggling circle. When the real Franks shows up, Bond kills him, and switches identities in Case’s eyes by saying the dead man is British agent James Bond. The diamonds are then smuggled to Los Angeles via the real Franks coffin, and later, through to Las Vegas. As he becomes involved deeper in the disappearance of the diamonds, he realizes that the true cause is much deeper than just depressing the diamond industry as originally thought. The diamonds are being used in a contraption within a top secret base that belongs to billionaire recluse Walter Whyte (Jimmy Dean, taking cue from real life billionaire Howard Hughes). As Bond digs deeper, he realizes his supposedly deceased foe, Blofeld, may in fact be behind the whole operation. Furthermore, he has a pair of sadistically witty, homosexual assassins, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (bassist Putter Smith) on his tail.

Whew, gotta love writing a synopsis for a Bond film. This one might be more convoluted than most, however, with a story that kind of weaves in and out of direction as the movie progresses. Of all of Connery’s performances as Bond, this might be one of the weakest, if not the weakest. The villains aren’t particularly novel, Jill St. John is not a very well-rounded Bond girl as neither really an adversary, nor a solid ally, and the suspense that Bond gets himself into is not particularly exciting. It’s not a terrible film, but it doesn’t capture the magic of early Connery movies like Dr. No, From Russia with Love or Goldfinger. Directed by Bond alumnus Guy Hamilton, this is a novel effort to recapture the magic of Connery’s early era as Bond, but somehow misses the mark and falls short of full potential.





My Name is Bond Series: Skyfall (2012)

11 11 2012

Copyright 2012 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Even though it’s only been released in the US for a couple of days now, it feels like I finally got to see the new Bond film.  Coincidentally, I saw it on the heels of The Living Daylights last night, a selection from the Bond 50th Blu-Ray series which was my birthday present from my sweet girlfriend, Maddie.

OK, so the 23rd Bond film, and Daniel Craig’s third go round in the part. Upon hearing of the production of this film I was wildly excited, first because one of my favorite DPs, Roger Deakins, was going to be shooting the film, but even more so, that it was being helmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Granted, an acclaimed artistic director doesn’t always make a great Bond film (Michael Apted and Marc Forster…ahem), but I have consistently been amazed with Mendes’s work over the years (outside of Away We Go, which was terrible.)

This paragraph of my reviews is usually reserved for a synopsis of the film; however, for this film, I feel I would be cheating you, my reader, by divulging much of the story. This film carries nearly all of the staples of a classic Bond film, yet if I gave you too much of an overview, it would spoil the brilliance of its execution. So, I opt out of this usual section of my review format (you’ll thank me later).

What I can say, is that this is one of the best Bond films in many years. I will have to let it all sink in a bit more, but it might actually be one of the best Bond films of the entire canon. Daniel Craig seems quite comfortable in the role now, even more so than his previous two installments. The script is sharp, the action sequences are breathtaking, the direction apt, cinematography exquisite, the villain is evil, really there is nothing I can say bad about this film. It fits the Bond formula to a tee, but also manages to add something new and invigorating to the mix. Its achievement in doing this, make it a very fitting film for the 50th anniversary of this iconic franchise, and I think, proof that Bond will continue for many generations to come.





The Master (2012) Review

16 10 2012

Copyright 2012 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ 1/2

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with this: When P.T. Anderson is “on,” he’s on fire; when he’s “off,” he has missed the mark by a mile. As much as I wanted this film to fall under the former half of my opinion on his career, it sadly, fell under the latter.

The Master is loosely (can I really even say that?) based on L. Ron Hubbard and his cult-like religion of scientology. Rather than saying the word “scientology”, we get “the cause”; rather than “auditing”, we get “processing”, and so on. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a repertoire actor in P.T.’s films by this point, plays the part of Lancaster Dodd (i.e. L. Ron Hubbard), a self-professed philosopher, doctor, writer, raconteur, etc. He has a group of followers who abide closely to his ideals and processes, which include breaking yourself from your past lives through the method of “processing”, and other pseudo-psychological means. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is an ex-seaman, having served in the Navy during World War II, who not only harbors a good deal of agression, but also has an unhealthy drinking problem and some mental instability. By chance, Quell stows away on a yacht that Dodd is borrowing for his daughter’s (Ambyr Childers) wedding, and the two strike an odd friendship, ultimately leading to Quell becoming one of Dodd’s most devout followers. The remainder of the film follows each of these bizarre personalities as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.

There are elements of this film that work, but for the most part, this is a large, disjointed mess. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, and, yes, Joaquin Phoenix gives a wonderful performance (despite the fact that I hated his character with a passion). But, all in all, this film is all over the place. It’s just one big, pretentious, boring mess, and it hurts when I see someone as talented as P.T. Anderson put out such a horrid film as this. This guy gave us Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood for Christ’s sake! However, he’s also given us Punch-Drunk Love, which for me, was a big turd. One point of note that is a great high point for this film, however, that must get due mention, is Amy Adam’s knockout performance as Dodd’s fourth wife, Peggy. She definitely deserves a nod from the Academy for this one, and I’ll honestly be very surprised if she doesn’t.

Bottom line: don’t go see this film. Save yourself the time, the money and, most of all, the disappointment of seeing a respected director create such a terrible mess of a film.





A Separation (2011) Review

24 09 2012

Copyright 2011 Hopskotch Films

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I finally got around to seeing this film recently and, if you haven’t seen this one yet, stop what you are doing right now, go to the local redbox, and rent this tonight.  Seriously, it’s the best film of last year, and I don’t mind saying that in the first sentence of my review, which says a lot.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this now Academy Award-winning film, stars well-known Irania actress Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi as couple Simin and Nader.  Together, they have a adolescent daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  They reside in Nader’s father’s apartment, who is essentially an invalid due to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.  When Nader refuses to leave their native country and his father, Simin demands a separation, to which he readily agrees.  With Simin leaving the household, Nader hires a sitter for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  However, after having to clean up an accident his father has on her first day, she tells Nader she can no longer do the job; the drive is too far, and she has religious concerns over touching his father to clean him up if he soils himself.  She, however, recommends her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is out of work and deeply indebted to creditors.  The following day, when Hdjat can’t make it to the house due to a court appearance, Razieh, who is pregnant, returns with her young daughter to do the work.  However, she leaves his father unattended during the day for personal reasons.  When Nader comes home to find his father tied to a bed and nearly at a point of death, he blows up at Razieh when she returns.  The scuffle includes a slight physical interaction on his part; she, subsequently, miscarries her child.  It’s left to the court and the families to decide whether Nader is responsible.

This film, made on a minuscule budget compared to even independent American films, is a powerhouse dramatic effort.  The acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and most of all, wonderfully dramatic story, come together to create an engaging, passionate and engrossing film that will go down in history as a classic.  It’s once in a blue moon that you get to view a film that is as truly cinematic as this, and its always a special occasion that will be savored in an your mind long after it’s running time is over.

It’s films like this that renew my hope in cinema whenever the general Hollywood “fodder” has be down about the industry.  I can only hope that I can be a part of a film as special as this one day.








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