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Hot Pursuit (2015)
A front runner for the Razzies
"He is known as the Bank of Bogota, the Tender Tender, the Lender Lender, the Money Launderer, El Chapo, the Pork Chop."
There are films where the producers and everyone involved in the making of the movie seem to demand that its audience shut down their brain in order to simply enjoy the movie and have fun with it, and then there are movies like Hot Pursuit where it's simply impossible to experience any pleasure from it no matter how long you've shut down your brain for. Hot Pursuit is the definition of lazy film making where every character is a stereotype and all the jokes seem to revolve around the same concepts: white southern girls are flat and uptight, while latinas are loud, busty and aggressive. There is not much more to this film that only stands out because it stars two females in the lead roles. We've all been asking for more substantial roles for females so it is always a delight to see a film like this highlighting two females as the main stars. Unfortunately the script lacks ideas and the comedy falls completely flat which doesn't help the feminist case at all.
The film stars two extremely talented and funny actresses, but the script completely handcuffs them and there isn't anything they can do to save the movie. If you want to have fun go watch Sofia Vergara in any episode of Modern Family and I guarantee you that you will get more laughs out of it. Reese Witherspoon was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year for her performance in Wild where she was outstanding, but if she's not careful she might end up turning into the next Cameron Diaz who tries so hard to be funny that she only ends up being annoying. If you want to see Witherspoon giving a fun performance then check out Legally Blonde or Election which were the two films that put her on the radar. Vergara and Witherspoon are funny actresses so on papers this seemed like an interesting project, but here they aren't given any opportunity to shine.
The premise of the film is pretty simple: Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) is an uptight cop who takes the law seriously. Her boss asks her to escort a key witness who is going to testify against an important drug cartel leader. The witness is Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara). Things don't go as expected as several corrupt cops and drug dealers try to prevent the two women from reaching their destination. There are also some twists along the way that really don't add much to the comedy. The film is an excuse to put the two talented females together, but the screenwriters managed to take away whatever magic the two actresses might have had together. Hot Pursuit might be one of the front runners for this year's Razzies for its lack of imagination and being such a missed opportunity.
Eliza Graves (2014)
Looks Atmospheric but doesn't build on it
"We're all mad Dr. Newgate. Some are simply not mad enough to admit it."
Set in a mental institution during the end of the 19th century it's hard not to compare this Gothic thriller to Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Whereas Scorsese managed to create a film with an eerie atmosphere full of intrigues and thrills, Stonehearst Asylum fails to do so. It seems to have the perfect setting and cast to do so, but director Brad Anderson (known for The Machinist) isn't able to come up with a compelling script. There is a scene during the opening of the film where a young doctor played by Jim Sturgess arrives at this Gothic asylum and the atmosphere seems ideal for a great suspenseful thriller, but the story never seems to catch on with the visuals and the atmosphere is lost. It isn't enough to make a film with a Gothic look if the story isn't engaging, and this movie is proof yet again that a talented cast doesn't always make for a good film. Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine all star in this film which should automatically make it worth giving it a watch, but unfortunately the script doesn't do anything to make their characters interesting. The film is based on Poe's short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, but the adaptation to the big screen doesn't necessary make for a good watch.
The plot revolves around Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) who arrives at a remote mental institution to offer his assistant. Despite his young age, he is eager to help these mentally ill patients and Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) greets him with enthusiasm. Edward realizes that Lamb's methods are a bit unorthodox as he allows his patients to run around freely in the institution helping around with the chores. Mickey Finn (David Thewlis) is Lamb's right hand man, but he seems a bit unstable and many of the patients seem to fear him. When Edward meets Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a patient who seems very enlightened and educated, he immediately becomes infatuated with her. She seems to have issues with touch and intimacy, but at the same time she is also a very caring individual who looks after some of the patients in the ward. Early in the movie there is a twist that I won't give away, but where Edward is introduced to some other characters among which is Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine) who makes a very interesting claim that could change everything he has come to believe about the asylum.
I think the revelation in the film is made too early on and it takes away from some of the suspense it could've benefited from. Once the reveal is made the film seems to lose some of the tension and it becomes a bit predictable along the way. It is a shame because there was an interesting cast to work with here. As stunning as she is in this film, Beckinsale doesn't get much to do other than simply captivate audiences with her looks. Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine are such wonderful actors that I could've used more face off between the two. The film continues to deliver some twists along the way, but they never do anything to build the suspense. It has the right look, but it simply doesn't transmit the suspense and the Gothic atmosphere it so desperately tries to establish.
Doesn't live up to the high standards Mendes had set in Skyfall
"You are a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr Bond."
Sam Mendes did a fantastic job sitting in the director's chair for Bond's previous movie, Skyfall, so expectations were really high for what he could deliver in his follow up: Spectre. If there is something that Daniel Craig has brought to the franchise is that he has turned Bond into a serious character from the start. Casino Royale is still my favorite Bond film, but I've enjoyed all of his films, which wasn't the case when Pierce Brosnan was playing the titular role. After the success of Skyfall it would be impossible to live up to the expectations Mendes had built with his now demanding crowd, so it is only normal that Spectre feels like an average spy thriller. The film still continues to look gorgeous, but the story did lack some originality and for that it feels predictable and familiar. Spectre also has pacing issues, but I'd say the main problem is that we've seen better spy films released this year. Mission Impossible raised the bar in its action sequences, while Spy was a comedy action film that barely missed a beat. If Spectre would've come out any other year it might have been a bit more interesting, but after the fresh success of both those films I felt like this was a letdown. As much as I love Craig as Bond, he didn't have much to work with here and the villains didn't present much of a threat either. Spectre has the look and feel of the rest of Bond films, but it fails to entertain or bring anything new to the table. Out of the four films Craig has played Bond this is probably the most formulaic one.
Spectre opens with a rather impressive sequence in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration, which was a perfect opportunity for the marketing campaign to include the cool looking skeletons in the posters and the trailers. Bond (Daniel Craig) follows a gorgeous women through the crowded streets of Mexico during the parade to her hotel room, kisses her and walks out to the balcony saying he'll be right back. That is when we realize he's actually on a mission and a series of gunshots, explosions, and chases ensue. It was a great opening sequence but the film failed to build up the momentum from then on. What we get next is what we've seen before, Bond arrives in London and is suspended by M (now played by Ralph Fiennes) for causing so much chaos without being authorized to actually be in Mexico. Bond is working on his own because he doesn't know who he can trust after the previous M left him a secret message before being murdered. Her message is what led him to Mexico in the first place and then to Rome where he discovers a secret organization responsible for several terrorist attacks that is led by a man named Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Blofeld discovers Bond and sends his assistant, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) to try to stop him. In order to uncover what this secret organization is all about, Bond enlists the help of the daughter of one of its former members, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw are also back playing the roles of Moneypenny and Q respectively.
Spectre is a little over two hours long and the pacing really doesn't help the film either. You can feel it take its toll because the action sequences are far from being impressive and the plot is predictable. As cool as Craig is playing Bond, we've seen him do it so many times that we need more now. Waltz is a talented actor, but he seems to excel only when working with Tarantino. Here he doesn't get much to do really and at times his character seems a bit cartoonish. Bautista is menacing, but he says one word in the entire film. Lea Seydoux is the Bond girl and she looks great, but there isn't much more she can do to add to the story. Spectre isn't a bad film, but the success of Skyfall raised the bar and left us a much more demanding audience. I think the major issue here was the screenplay which felt rather weak and bland. There is some fun to be had with the movie, but it ends up being forgettable in the end with a rather unsatisfying climax. Spectre has its moments but it is just too dull when compared to the other Bond films.
The Visit (2015)
Shyamalan getting back on track with a lower budget film
"Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?"
I've always been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's work despite his recent strikes, so The Visit was one of my most anticipated films for this year. I had stayed away from the trailers because I wanted to experience it as fresh as possible. Shyamalan has directed some of my favorite movies (The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable) and I even defended The Happening because I found it to be rather hilarious and it worked for me. The Visit has a similar approach in that it balances out the horror aspects of the film with the comedy (some may argue that in The Happening he never intended it to be a comedy but I disagree) although I wouldn't say it works as well. There are many funny scenes and a few jump scares that work, but overall the film doesn't seem to do much more than entertain. This is Shyamalan's lowest budget studio feature film and I think this is the kind of films he needs to be directing (staying away from big Hollywood productions like After Earth or The Last Airbender). Shyamalan has always worked best when he is contained and his films center on a few characters enclosed in a small space. In that way The Visit is a return to form for this talented director, who I've never questioned in the past. His decision to make this a found footage film also does wonders for the film, and I usually don't tend to be a fan of such a style. Everything is executed really well in The Visit and I was so enticed in the story that I was never really trying to discover what the twist would be at the end so when the revelation came I was pleasantly surprised. It probably wouldn't be too hard to figure out the twist if you were trying to search for it from the first minute, but if like me you simply let yourself enjoy the narrative then you will be pleased with the result. My problem with the film actually has to do with the final execution of the climax once the twist has been revealed. I wasn't a fan of the ending and that ultimately brought my score down a bit, but I still had a fun time with the movie.
There is a perfectly believable reason why the film is shot in found footage style. Becca (Olivia DeJonge) wants to document her visit to her grandparents house and she gets her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to help in the process. She is a film fanatic and knows her way around the camera despite her young age. The reason she wants to document the visit is because her mother hasn't been in contact with them since she ran away from home as a teen. Becca believes she can heal the wounds between her mother (Kathryn Hahn) and her parents if she documents their story. The film takes its time to introduce each character before the grandkids head to meet their grandfathers for the first time. Tyler is very charismatic and loves to rap, while Becca is more of a quiet and studious girl. Their mother has been dealing with depression after her husband abandoned her, but is currently dating someone. After her parents reached out to her via email they ask if she could send the kids to spend a week with them so they can meet. Becca and Tyler both convince their mom to send them to their place, but once they arrive they discover that their grandparents seem to be hiding a secret of their own. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) seems to act in a very strange way once night falls and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seems to have some issues of his own as he secretly comes in and out of the shed near the home. Of course this awakens the kids' curiosity and strange things ensue.
Much of why I felt this film worked for me had to do with the cast. Ed Oxenbould, who I really wasn't a fan of in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, gets to shine in this film. He carries the film for me and delivers much of the needed charm. The comedy is what works best in the film since there are really few scares, although I must admit that I did jump up from my seat a couple of times. Oxenbould was responsible for most of the funny scenes and I don't think this film could work for anyone if they find his character annoying. DeJonge as the older sister also delivers and is believable in her role although she doesn't seem to stay out. Deanna Dunagan is the creepiest of the grandparents and she delivers in some rather scary and tense moments. Even though I wasn't blown away by Peter McRobbie's performance he is responsible for the funniest scene in the movie which involved him being caught on tape with a shotgun to his mouth and after he immediately realizes it he claims to be cleaning out the gun. These moments of humor are what work best in the film and Oxenbould really delivers in that department with his sharp and witty commentaries. This might not be one of Shyamalan's best films, but it definitely is an improvement over his recent films. I was really enjoying this film up to the final five minutes where the comedy is pushed aside to build the climactic ending. Other than that I really enjoyed this film and I will continue to look forward to what Shyamalan will be doing next. He seems to be getting back on track and doing what he does best. Here he gets to tackle some of our fears involving old age and health and plays with them in a very inventive way.
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
Light hearted drama
"My father was diagnosed manic-depressive in 1967."
Maya Forbes's debut film received a lot of praise when it was released at TIFF last year, especially for Mark Ruffalo's lead portrayal of a father undergoing a bipolar disorder. The film is set in the early 70's and it centers on this unconventional family that is separated when Cameron has his first breakdown and is sent to a halfway house. Maggie (Zoe Saldana) is left on her own trying to raise her two young daughters with very low income. Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) and Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) are very spirited and loud spoken girls who want their parents to be reunited once again. Wanting to give her girls a better life, Maggie decides to move to New York to study and leaves the girls in Cameron's charge. The film focuses on this estranged father and daughter relationship in a very light hearted way. Cameron has his usual up and downs, while the girls struggle to adapt to their new lives. Ruffalo is a talented actor, but every time he would have an outbreak I kept on waiting for him to transform himself into The Hulk. I never really saw him as Cameron and I had a difficult time seeing Ruffalo as this character despite all the praise he's received for his performance. I personally felt the material was taken in a very light hearted way, but I'm in the minority here. Overall I did enjoy the pacing of the film, but I couldn't help but feel that something was missing.
Zoe Saldana is a talented actress, but she is relegated here to a supporting role because the focus of the film is on the father and daughter relationships. Her chemistry with Ruffalo wasn't an important aspect of the film and it is a shame because she is the one making the sacrifices for her daughters. She is playing a strong and independent female role but the film doesn't take time to focus much on her character and the sacrifices (or risks) she makes for her children. It decides to center on Cameron and his ups and downs as he struggles to care for his daughters. The two child actresses are fantastic. They have some strong emotional scenes and I especially enjoyed Imogene Wolodarsky's performance. The daughters are given pivotal roles because the film revolves on them and how they are affected by their father's mental illness. This is a light hearted drama that never manages to scratch under the surface, but for audiences who are simply looking for a fun drama it offers more than enough.
Villeneuve delivers another thrilling film once again
"You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now."
It's been over a month now since I've seen this film and it has stuck with me in a way few films have this year. Denis Villeneuve is a talented director who knows how to build the right atmosphere for his movies. Sicario is all about tone and atmosphere. We've seen the premise of this film done to death, but somehow Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan manage to tell a familiar story in a very unique way. The success of Sicario isn't that it has a unique premise or a fantastic twist, but that it manages to tell a familiar story in such a captivating way with some of the best performances of the year. Sicario will be included in my list of the best films of 2015 without a doubt, and it is a must see for movie fans around the globe. Emily Blunt continues to expand her acting career with another brilliant performance although its Benicio de Toro who will get all the accolades for getting the stronger dramatic material to work with.
The film has the best opening sequence by far in a movie released this year as we are introduced to Emily Blunt's character, Kate Macer, who is leading a SWAT team across an Arizona desert and into a house where they suspect to find one of the Mexican cartel leaders, but end up finding much more than what they bargained for. Kate is a tough DEA agent who is determined to bring down the Mexican cartel. Once they arrive back at the station she is introduced to Josh Brolin's Matt Graver, a superior who wants her assistance in catching the cartel leader who was responsible for the events that unfolded at the house. Graver has a suave persona, he may be in charge of the operation but he seems laid back with his flip flops and cargo pants. His right hand man is much more silent and mysterious. It's Benicio del Toro's Alejandro, who certainly seems menacing and is hiding something underneath his calmed demeanor. He is evidently a man who has seen and experienced a lot of things in life. Kate accepts the mission despite not being fully informed of what she must do and she becomes a surrogate for the audience as she tries to understand what these men are up to just as we do. Villeneuve keeps the audience hooked and engaged while taking us through the Mexican border an back again with some magnificent cinematography from Roger Deakins. Sicario is a brilliant film that maintains the tension throughout its entire runtime. My only complaint is that the second half isn't as strong as the first.
Sicario is a film that should receive several nominations come Award time and I can't see how Del Toro won't be nominated for his superb supporting performance here. Although I must say that Brolin and Blunt are equally deserving for their work. Blunt is much more subtle in her approach as she has to adapt to this masculine dominated world and is constantly left in the loop of things. Brolin plays a character that he could play in his sleep with his suave and cool exterior, but he does it so well that it's hard not to sympathize with him. Del Toro is menacing and his turn as Alejandro will be one of the most memorable characters of the year. He has some great scenes. It's hard to avoid some comparisons with Zero Dark Thirty, especially the way some of the scenes were shot and how it focuses (although in a very different way) on two strong motivated female characters who are determined to accomplish their goal in a masculine run world. It also happens to be a very intelligent thriller that manages to tell a familiar story in a fresh way. Sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference and in Sicario Villeneuve manages to craft an engaging work of art. This is the Zero Dark Thirty of war on drug films.
Fun and energetic coming of age film
"I'm from a poor, crime-filled neighborhood, raised by a single mother, don't know my dad, blah, blah. It's cliché."
Writer and director Rick Famuyiwa delivers an energetic coming of age film that goes out of its way to avoid clichés. That is why despite having a familiar premise, the characters feel unique and are fun to hang around with. This film premiered at Sundance and it was well received thanks to Shameik Moore's charismatic lead performance. It's a feel good movie about a straight-A student who despite growing up in a poor neighborhood dreams of being accepted into Harvard. Malcolm also happens to have a punk band and hangs around his two best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). The three are geeks who happen to be fascinated with 90's hip hop culture, but Famuyiwa writes these characters in such a way that they don't feel like your typical geeks from high school. The three friends have a difficult time surviving their last year in high school, but things take an unexpected turn for them when a drug dealer named Dom (ASAP Rocky) invites them to his birthday party. A riot ensues later that night in the club and Dom hides the drugs in Malcolm's backpack which will in turn unfold a chain of crazy events that will put his and his friends' lives in danger. I know the premise might sound a bit familiar for a coming of age film, but the movie does avoid familiar clichés and ends up taking a life of its own. Not every scene works in this comedy and I was grossed out a couple of times (the Chanel Iman scene didn't work for me), but there are some funny moments. There is one scene where Malcolm and his friends are having a conversation with their stoner buddy (played by Blake Anderson) about why white people can't use the n word. The film also ends with the main character breaking the fourth wall and giving us a moral lecture about racism which many found to be a bit preachy and out of place, but I didn't have an issue with it.
The things the film does get right is the energetic editing that keeps the pace of the film moving at a fun beat and the fantastic soundtrack from Pharell Williams. It's hard not to enjoy a film that pays tribute to some of the 90's pop culture references and there is even a scene where Dom's character disses Malcolm and his friends for being overly excited about that era, so even if you weren't a fan of the 90's you can enjoy his rant about it. The film always has this feeling of being fresh and fun and Shameik Moore plays a huge role in doing so. His friends don't get much character development and are only there to back him up at times or land a strong joke, but they have strong enough chemistry with Malcolm to give the film its energy. Forest Whitaker is the narrator and we get several interruptions during several moments in the movie to hear what he has to say. I don't know if it was necessary, but it didn't take away from the movie either. There is also a romantic relationship that is very loosely explored between Malcolm and Nakia (played by Zoe Kravitz), but it isn't really a big part of the film. The entire film feels fresh because it's very different from other coming of age films. As I mentioned before these aren't the typical geeks we've seen in other films and Malcolm has a strong and charismatic personality that allows the story to rely on him. The script is witty and avoids falling into familiar stereotypes and that is why I enjoyed this comedy.
City of Angels (1998)
It misses its mark
"I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One."
Brad Silberling's City of Angels isn't a film that seems to have aged well and perhaps it suffers a bit from the Nicholas Sparks syndrome we've been exposed to over recent years. I'm not bashing on Sparks because I was a fan of The Notebook, but his stories seem to have been recycled over recent years and its hard not to find them emotionally manipulative. That's the case with Silberling's film as well, it seems as it is trying to force a chemistry that isn't really perceivable. The film is a loose remake of Wim Wender's German film, "Wings of Desire," which I haven't seen but heard is far superior. After seeing City of Angels I honestly have no desire to watch the original. I felt like something was missing from this screenplay (adapted by Dana Stevens) and perhaps it was simply the cast, but I never found the romance behind this story believable. Costner did a much better job than Cage does here playing the lead character in Stevens's previous screenplay "For Love of the Game" which is a film I still admire despite its flaws. There was something about Cage's performance here that simply didn't resonate with me. I found his character more of a creepy stalker than anything else and his puppy dog eyes didn't change my perception either. Cage is a talented actor and there are a number of films where I've really enjoyed his performances, but this wasn't one of them.
City of Angels introduces us to a guardian angel named Seth (Nicolas Cage) who watches over the people of Los Angeles along with many other angels. One day as he is sent to pick up a dying patient at a hospital he falls for a heart surgeon named Maggie (Meg Ryan). He is captivated by the way she fights for this patient's life and how his death affects her. He begins falling her around and after giving it some thought he allows her to see him. He's never experienced touch or feelings before so he asks her to describe everything around her, such as the taste of the pear she's eating and so on. He is surprised when one of her patients at the hospital senses his presence. Nathaniel Messinger (Dennis Franz) is a man who enjoys life to the fullest and while he is being treated at the hospital he acknowledges Seth's presence. He confesses that he was once an angel who decided to give up on eternal life as an angel to become human. When Seth realizes this is possible he begins to ponder whether or not he too should fall to Earth to be with the woman he has become enfatuated with.
Silberling's film isn't simply a love story, it is a film about living life to its fullest and learning to appreciate the small things in life. That is what it tries to say anyway in a rather manipulative way through Cage's character. I think that the film misses its opportunity to explore love and how it is much deeper than a simple feeling. Seth was the perfect vehicle to explore this considering he could not feel anything but somehow he felt attracted to Maggie. Unfortunately the film doesn't explore this and it lacks that emotional impact that I though a film like this could deliver. The lack of a stronger chemistry between Ryan and Cage definitely hurts the film, but at least Dennis Franz elevates the material. It's a shame this is the last film he made considering he went on to work in NYPD Blue for more than a decade and has retired from acting since. He showed a lot of potential here playing a very different role. Andre Braugher also gets to share some scenes with Cage as one of his fellow angels as the two philosophize about life. After having been released over 15 years ago the greatest legacy this film has left is its soundtrack, which is easily recognizable thanks to its popular pop songs.
We Are What We Are (2013)
I simply couldn't digest it.
"We need to stick together now."
There is no doubt in my mind that Jim Mickle is a very talented director. His film, Cold in July, was one of the pleasant surprises from last year, so I decided to give his earlier film, We Are What We Are, a watch. It was well received by critics and I understand why because it is well shot and Mickle knows how to build the right atmosphere, but this horror film was a bit too gory for my personal taste. I don't get any pleasure from watching films like this with shocking and graphic visuals without serving any other purpose. We Are What We Are isn't a horror film that aims to scare its audience, it's true purpose is to shock them through a carefully constructed build up. The film is a bit slow paced but it doesn't take too long to introduce us to the premise. What it amazingly does well is keep up the tension once the premise is revealed, which I thought would be the highlight of the film. The story still delivers twists along the way, but it simply didn't work for me because certain scenes were just too difficult to digest.
This horror drama is actually a remake of a 2010 Mexican film directed by Jorge Michel Grau, but most critics agree that this is the superior version thanks to Mickle's craft and solid casting. The story introduces us to Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva) as she is heading towards a grocery store. She is apparently very ill and collapses after exiting the store. She falls into a pit that is flooded from the pouring rain and drowns. When the officers arrive to her secluded home to inform her family we meet her husband, Frank (Bill Sage), their two daughters, Iris (Amber Childres) and Rose (Julia Garner), and their young son Rory (Jack Gore). It is evident from the get go that the Parker's are hiding a secret. The daughters are very fearful of their father and seem to be very submissive. Frank is a religious man and he has his family fasting for the day as they prepare for one of their strict rituals. The death of his wife has shifted the responsibilities for everyone in the family, and despite the pain of losing his wife, Frank is determined to go on with their custom. However the unrelenting rain has uncovered a secret near the Parker's property that Deputy Anders (Wyatt Russell) has begun investigating. Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) has also found some disturbing evidence while examining Emma's body, but his theory is a bit far fetched. It all leads to a shocking discovery.
I don't want to give away what the shocking revelation is although it has been detailed in some summary plots. I actually went into the movie knowing what it was, but it isn't really much of a surprise either considering that it is revealed early on in the movie. What Mickle manages to do well is keep building the drama and the suspense despite it all. The performances here also elevate the material. Bill Sage is a menacing presence and the control he has over his family is very believable. The two daughters are also brilliantly portrayed by Childres and Garner. The film has its strong moments, but as I said before there are too many scenes that disturbed me and didn't allow me to enjoy the film at all. We Are What We Are is one of those films that delivers exactly what you are expecting so if you are a fan of gore you probably will be satisfied, but if you have a weak stomach like I do then this isn't the film for you.
Bridge of Spies (2015)
Spielberg and Hanks deliver, but it's Rylance who steals the movie
"This man, my father's friend, he was beaten. Every time they hit him, he stood back up again. They hit him harder, still he got back to his feet. I think because of this they let him live."
Over the past few years Steven Spielberg has shied away from the big blockbuster productions and settled for historical dramas such as Lincoln, War Horse, and Munich. Now we can add Bridge of Spies to Spielberg's list of history lessons which counts on some outstanding and understated performances from an A list cast. This is the fourth collaboration between Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and although it doesn't rank amongst my favorite I still enjoyed the character he plays here. Hanks is James B. Donovan, an insurance attorney with a strong sense of justice who also happens to be a respectable family man. Hanks plays the character very subtly and in a way he reminded me of Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch because both characters seem to share a strong moral code and they put their sense of justice above what the community might think of them. Here Donovan is given the task to serve as a defense attorney for a KGB intelligence officer named Rudolf Abel (played masterfully by Mark Rylance) during the height of the Cold War. You can imagine how the public reacts when Donovan begins to take his role seriously and defends this spy. It takes a toll on his family as well, his wife is played here by Amy Ryan and his children by Jillian Lebling, Noah Schnapps, and Eve Hewson. They believe in him, but also seem to be going through a similar conflict. My complaint here is that Amy Ryan is sidelined and doesn't get to play an important role in the movie.
There is also a parallel story going on as several US pilots are being recruited on a special mission to secretly fly U2 planes over the Soviet Union to gather intel. One of these pilots is Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) who on his first mission is shot down and captured by the soviets. The two plots come together when Donovan is asked by US government officials to try to negotiate a deal to interchange their prisoners. Spielberg delivers a historical piece with precise attention to detail giving us once again another important lesson about humanity's unsung heroes. Donovan represents the ideal character here with strong moral values that are often forgotten or overlooked in today's movie. I couldn't think of a better actor to play such a character than the great Tom Hanks. However the standout for me was Mark Rylance as the soviet spy. It was a breath of fresh air to see a character like this portrayed in such a humane light. He is not the enemy here, he is a man who is doing his job and also seems to share a strong moral code. Rylance gives the film's best performance and I think he out shined everyone in this film. The great Alan Alda also gets to be on screen for a few minutes although he isn't playing against type or anything like that.
Political thrillers are rarely in my interest, but I couldn't let this film pass me by considering Steven Spielberg is the director who has made more of my favorite films than any other. Include a screenplay co-written with the Coen brothers and I was sold. The pacing of the film at times did seem to drag the movie down, but Spielberg treats the material with respect. Kaminski's cinematography captures the era perfectly and Newman's score adds to the emotional moments. The 50's are perfectly captured through the art direction and Spielberg managed to transport us back to Berlin during the construction of the wall. Overall I enjoyed my history lesson once again from Steven Spielberg, but I felt that the film could've benefited from more thrills and a better pacing. It's still a must see in my book.