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What Richard Did (2012)
Morally complex Irish drama with a fantastic central performance.
"What Richard Did", which I saw as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, is a low-key but very powerful and morally complex film.
It features an excellent performance from newcomer Jack Reynor. While his titular character is obviously charismatic and charming throughout, Reynor's performance explores the depth of the character, particularly his restrained rage. There's a scene near the end of the film where he breaks down alone in his family's beach house, and it's truly heartbreaking and memorable. You really feel for the character's plight throughout the movie.
My only real complaint would be, by contrast, the performance of Lars Mikkelsen. He's not a good crier at all and one key scene in the film almost had me laughing because of his acting. A small flaw in an otherwise highly recommended movie.
L'inconnu du lac (2013)
An admirable thriller - but extremely explicit
A very explicit French gay-themed film. Sometimes it felt a bit overly so - including graphic unsimulated scenes of oral sex and even a shot of a man, erm, climaxing. But I kind of admire the movie at the same time for not shying away from showing anything. The characters are intriguing and the film is beautifully photographed in long, uninterrupted takes and panning shots of the lake setting. The setting itself is one of the best things about the movie. Everything takes place either on the lake or shore surrounding it, in the forest behind the lake, or a car park. You become so accustomed to these settings that everything else outside them seems meaningless - for instance we never see what the main character does for a living, or the supposed 'happy hour' drinks many of the cruising characters in this film attend after a day on the lake. None of that would've been necessary because the film is all about the character's interactions with one another on the beach, anything else would've felt out-of-place. It's a brilliant choice on the part of the director and has an interesting, hard-to-describe effect on the viewer. The film also has a healthy dose of humor (the police inspector is hilarious) and several very intense scenes, especially towards the ending. Recommended, but not for the squeamish or conservative!
Robin Hood (2010)
Visually handsome and not without some well-executed sequences, but overall one of Scott's lesser pictures.
"Robin Hood" is a bit of a letdown for fans of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's previous collaborations, especially the great "Gladiator" which is its closest cousin. Crowe's performance never projects the same animalistic intensity he gave to Maximus in that film, and as a result his Robin Hood is somewhat bland. Not to mention his all-over-the-place Irish (?) accent seems to change by the scene.
The love story he shares with Cate Blanchett feels very by-the-numbers and overall it's totally unconvincing. Both actors fail to create a spark of chemistry with the other, and the movie works better when they are apart. Blanchett, when she's given the opportunity to take centre stage away from her dull romantic story with Crowe, emerges as the best part of the film. It's odd that she steals the lion's share of the memorable scenes, given that the story revolves mostly around Crowe's titular hero. In a scene where her village is set upon by vicious pillagers and she is nearly raped, Blanchett is so good you'll almost want to cheer for her. This entire sequence is worth mentioning as it's the film's highlight. If the rest of the film had been this emotional, Scott might've been onto a winner.
This is a Ridley Scott production, so the mise-en-scene is typically spot-on, and it's visually handsome throughout. The cinematography captures the vast landscapes of the period beautifully, and brings intensity to the multiple battle sequences.
Scott clearly sets the stage for a sequel with his final scene, and if it ever emerges (which based on the so-so critical reaction, it won't) you'd hope he spends less time on the muddled plot and expositionary dialogue, which could take up probably 1/3 of this effort and bogs down the finished product considerably. If it had the sense of adventure the legend is known for, this might be a character I'd look forward to revisiting. Perhaps in this film Scott has chosen to take his source material far too seriously.
It's one of Scott's least enjoyable films to date, though worthy of checking out for a couple of undeniably powerful moments and the beautiful visuals. Just don't expect "Gladiator".
A very cool movie, bound to start a deserved cult following, and featuring a brilliant leading performance from Gosling.
Ryan Gosling is fast becoming one of the most exciting actors working today. It's nice to see him overcome the 'heartthrob' status achieved thanks to his role in the overrated "The Notebook" and work on genuinely interesting, and challenging projects like his latest, "Drive".
The film thrives on his excellent performance. Whether getaway driving or charming Carey Mulligan, he's nothing short of riveting to watch. As an action hero, this guy makes Liam Neeson in "Taken" look like a whimpering pussy in comparison. Simply put - he's awesome, and utterly sells this character. I look forward to another quality performance from Gosling in the upcoming "Ides of March".
I was lucky enough to see this film at its (apparently) second screening in the world, at the Wellington International Film Festival in New Zealand. It was obviously massively popular during this screening, rousing an opening introduction speech (it was the festival's closing night film) and an enthusiastic clap from the audience at the climax. It's not hard to see why audiences embraced "Drive". It's both an unpredictable and exciting outing for action fans, but all the same well-observed and gritty, which will no doubt appeal to indie viewers.
The film's stunning cinematography envelopes the audience in the proceedings. The adrenaline-fueled car chases are furiously shot and nothing short of thrilling. Director Refn's camera also beautifully captures the Los Angeles skyline and the sprawling lights of the city. It's some of the best photography there's been of this city that I've seen in a film.
There are a couple of really well-filmed "shock" moments worth mentioning. One is in a car parking building and one a hotel bathroom, both featuring gunshots. Both are jump-of-your-seat scenes at their very best. Refn constantly keeps the audience on their toes, and there's no way to predict what will happen next. That's one of the most refreshing things about "Drive".
Carey Mulligan could've been utilized a little more, especially in the film's final third, where she sort of just disappears. It's disappointing because she really gives the movie a heart in her handful of scenes with Gosling. I was glad she wasn't reduced to a typical "damsel in distress" role (the film actively avoided action movie clichés, much to my delight), but she could've been included somehow.
Overall, it's small complaint in a very "cool" movie that a lot of people are going to love. Is the movie likely to be a little overrated and over analysed? Probably a little. Is it going to start a cult following and does it deserve said following? Most definitely. It's a refreshingly unpredictable and well-made roller-coaster ride featuring another excellent performance from one of Hollywood's hottest talents in Gosling, who is proving himself to be one of the most reliable leading men in modern cinema.
Crazy Heart (2009)
Bridges' much-hyped performance doesn't disappoint, but the film itself isn't a masterpiece.
Crazy Heart has often been dubbed "The Wrestler, Part 2". This film's general premise is much the same (swap wrestling for singing country songs), and while this story works well enough, it can't help but compare to The Wrestler and feels inferior and almost a rehash of that film. The pace is slowed considerably by the extended musical performances, they frankly drag and distract from the more interesting personal struggles of the two lead characters. Bridges' much-hyped performance doesn't disappoint, he truly inhabits this character flaws and all and gives a gritty showing that is some of the best acting of his great career. Gyllenhaal, too, is superb, her and Bridges have a wonderful chemistry that is the film's highlight. Too bad Cooper's film stands as just good, rather than great, as he invests too much in the overlong musical sequences and not enough in exploring these two appealing characters and their believable connection.
Away We Go (2009)
A nice change of pace for Sam Mendes.
Sam Mendes takes a welcome break from his high-budget, A-list starring films to direct this neat little movie that has an indie-vibe about it. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph have wonderful chemistry, playing two mobile mid-thirties "fuck-ups" who cris-cross across America in search of the perfect city to lay down roots and raise their impending family. Krasinski in particular is lovable and very funny in his role. As the couple travel to different cities in search of a new home, we are introduced to an array of supporting players who, despite limited screen time, make just as much of an impression as the two leads (who are basically in every frame of the film). Maggie Gyllenhaal is stand-out hilarious as NL, a "new age" mother, the segment at her home is easily the film's funniest. Melanie Lynskey and David Messina break your heart as a big-hearted married couple unable to conceive their own children. Kudos to Lynskey for really making a pole-dancing scene suitably remorseful, and Messina's monologue whilst he watches his wife is one of the film's emotional highlights. From this lovely film it's clear that Mendes directs an intimate, subtle and observant story just as brilliantly as he does the "big" movies he's commanded since American Beauty. More ventures like this would be a welcome treat from him.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
A refreshing, quirky romantic comedy.
(500) Days of Summer is a truly original and refreshing romantic comedy, that feels straight from the heart and relative to almost any audience. Every character, whether it be Gordon-Levitt's embarrassing drunk workmate or the quirky, totally unpredictable Summer herself, feels utterly authentic and any viewer should be able to relate back to the people they know. As well as a stand-out performance from Gordon-Levitt, the movie also offers a number of the year's most memorable and unique scenes. Expectation/Reality is a heartbreaking, perfectly edited split-screen sequence that dashes Gordon-Levitt's hopes of regaining Deschanel's love after they split. The film also perfectly captures that "first love" feeling of being on cloud nine with the hysterical dance sequence.
Overall, the film is as unique and vibrant as the character of Summer herself, and for a film fitting the description of "romantic comedy" in this current cinematic climate, that's some feat indeed.
Not the most action-packed of the films, but a worthy adaptation nonetheless.
As it happens every time a new "Harry Potter" film is released, there was a giant amount of hype surrounding "Half-Blood Prince". Add to the fact that it's obviously going to be popular due to the Potter phenomena that's swept the world over the last 10-12 years or so, the movie was met with glowing reviews - many indicating it was the best film in the saga yet.
This I personally disagree with. "Half-Blood Prince" was never my favorite of the books - it was still very good - and the film definitely isn't my favorite of the movies thus far. It lacks the constant excitement of "Goblet" and anyone who was let down by the Department of Mysteries sequence in "Phoenix" will be gob-smacked by the fact that the entire Death Eaters vs. Hogwarts students/teachers battle that took place at the end of the sixth film is nowhere to be seen in "Half-Blood Prince". One of my biggest beefs with the film personally. Apparently Yates didn't want it to be too similar to the end of the final film, this isn't a good enough excuse for me. It was one of the most entertaining sequences in the book and should've been in the film. It felt a little too casual how Snape just killed Dumbledore and strolled off on his way. Thankfully the actual scene with Dumbledore getting killed was very effective, as is the touching memorial his students display around his body after the murder.
For most of my friends and a lot other audiences, the film simply doesn't feel like "enough" is happening per se. The film goes along at a fairly slow pace which will put a lot of viewers off. Probably because Yates, director, focuses his energies more on the analysis of Harry, Ron and Hermione's teen angst than the action/epic side of Potter. Not such a bad thing for me as a viewer, because this is portrayed better than it has been in any of the other films. The dialog is sharp and witty, and the young actors are stepping up to their roles more. Watson, always strong, is really developing into a great young actress. Radcliffe too is at his best as Harry and he too has developed a lot as a performer since "Philosopher's Stone".
Jim Broadbent is a welcome addition as Professor Slughorn and is very humorous and quirky here. He makes the character more intriguing than he was in the books and that is true credit to his performance, considering how detailed Rowling's writing is.
I'd like to give special credit to the whole seaside/cave sequence with Harry and Dumbledore finding the first Horcrux (or do they?), this is the most well-realized section of the film. The movie really rockets alive during this sequence that was always the best part of the novel as well. It's displayed in such a perfect way that was personally *exactly* how I had imagined it in the books. The visuals in the sequence were truly spectacular and it was emotionally effective as well (containing one of Gambon's most outstanding scenes in the franchise).
Overall, a strong entry into the Potter canon, but far from the best as a lot of the reviews are indicating. Perhaps one should stray from reviews and not read them before seeing movies they're anticipating so as to not be letdown, but it's hard for any movie-goer to do. Nonetheless, the movie is good and succeeds in leaving viewers on the edge of their seats for next year and the first part of the final Potter installment.
Southland Tales (2006)
Watch it a couple of times.
This is one of those movies that you need to watch a couple of times to really appreciate the story that's being told. There's no doubt that Richard Kelly is blatantly very ambitious with this project and packs - for most viewers - way too much storyline into his epic that can sometimes make it hard to follow. But a couple of repeat viewings really does the movie justice, at least for me.
Despite Kelly's over-ambitiousness and the movie's subsequent messiness, it's refreshing to see such a creative film literally bursting at the seams with ideas. Every shot feels energetic and detailed. The plot line keeps you thinking and is topical and relevant. Some of the dialog in the film doesn't always sound as cool as Kelly would like it too, but a lot of is also fantastic. Pretty much any line spoken by Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar, the comedic highlight of the film) is instant gold. There is a large ensemble cast and the movie boasts a number of great performances.
The soundtrack is brilliant and use of song in the film really works in it's favor. Particularly a climactic sequence near the end of the film played over Moby's "Memory Gospel" will burn in the memory as the most compelling part of the film.
Didn't enjoy it the first time? I recommend giving this movie another go. It makes a lot more sense the second time around and you start to really see the messages Kelly is attempting to bring across to the audience, rather than spending your viewing time figuring out the sprawling storyline. Invest time in this film and it's a near-masterpiece. Not perfect, but damn close.
The Air I Breathe (2007)
Gellar's performance is truly breathtaking, and the film as a whole is very entertaining and dramatically effective.
The Air I Breathe (2008) Dir. Jieho Lee
The Air I Breathe is one of the most underrated and under-seen films of the year just recently gone by. It is similar in style to many other recent dramas in which the story of the various characters intertwines and connects throughout the film. In this movie, it's done in an interesting style with lots of surprises and memorable moments along the way. Novice director Jieho Lee has done a very good job in presenting a visually appealing and consistently interesting multi-layered interpretation of an ancient Chinese proverb dividing life into four emotions: Pleasure, Sorrow, Love and Happiness.
Forest Whitaker's story - Happiness - opens the film, and is one of the film's weaker links. Whitaker himself, after showing true dramatic depth with The Last King of Scotland, disappointingly doesn't really sell this role. His crying scene is distinctly fake and nearly laughable, when it should've been dramatically effective. When he robs a bank in what is practically the next scene (feeling somewhat rushed...suddenly this timid man is going to do something so bold?), he runs through the streets with a gun flailing his hand for all to see. The chase scene with him and the police is thrilling, and the sequence on the rooftop concluding the film's first act is particularly compelling and elevates this story more.
The film's middle act is it's strongest and features all the best parts of the film. Brendan Fraser gives an understated performance as a clairvoyant gangster in a moral rut. It's his best performance to date. The film splits the actors' screen time pretty evenly but Fraser solidly carries this section of the film as a lead. Andy Garcia is also appropriately menacing as Fingers, Fraser's malicious and powerful boss, and even brings a sympathetic nature to such a vicious role. In one hard-hitting moment in the film where he proclaims "I'm not a bad guy", aa lesser actor than Garcia couldn't have sold it but it feels absolutely genuine. Garcia is a subtle actor but it works with this kind of role. There is also a very amusing supporting performance from Emile Hirsch as Fingers' horny nephew.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is a powerhouse as Sorrow, a character who seriously gets put through the ringer and Gellar makes every nuance felt with her incredible dramatic skills. She is worthy of awards for her investment in this role and critics agree, one even stating she achieved the same level as Halle Berry's similarly tragic and Academy Award-winning Monster's Ball performance. It's a shame Gellar doesn't pick projects that showcase such amazing talents more often. Her section of the film is also the most interesting.
Kevin Bacon and Julie Delpy's story feels more like an afterthought than anything else and was my least favourite section of the film. I'll admit that while I think this movie is very well-written for the most part, sometimes the story twists are just too convenient and far-fetched to be believable - and this is most true for Love's (Bacon) storyline. A person who studies snakes is stupid enough to let one bite her is far enough, but also the whole blood-type thing was verging on silly. Thankfully Gellar's character invests this segment of the film with a little more dramatic intensity. Her scene on the rooftop with Bacon is very emotional and gorgeous cinematography - the scene appears almost like a classic, beautiful painting. The film across the board is visually effective, also loved Fraser's sometimes misleading (for the character) flashes of the future.
Overall, this is a very strong first effort from a talented director who hopefully can produce more great dramas, even though this movie wasn't as much of a success as it should've been. It's not perfect and you have to forgive some story conveniences along the way and really just go with the movie. But it's fast-paced, never boring and features some seriously outstanding work from Gellar and many breathtaking and heartwrenching story twists that make the mediocre moments all worth it. I've watched this film a bunch of times and it's become a personal favourite of mine, I really want more people to see it and enjoy it.