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Newlyweds (2011)
7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Good film making just can't be this easy, 19 July 2012

Despite treading in those dangerous waters of 'a newly married couple's love and trust being put to the test' Newlyweds is a surprisingly comfortable film to watch.

Edward Burns is the Writer/Director/Actor/Tea & Sandwich Maker & etc. playing genial Buzzy. With his reedy voice and understated charm Burns reminds me of Gene Kelly - who he physically resembles but for an extra twelve inches in height. He's a regular guy working as a trainer at a gym. He has a prim, young and well-to-do wife, Katie (Caitlin Fitzgerald). We're informed early on that despite the fact they don't see much of each other the relationship thrives on this. We have to be told the fact because we don't actually see it in the 90 minute span of the film. Still, you have to bear it in mind as one of the questions the film poses is rather like that old joke: Should a married couple be Frank and Earnest? ("No, one of them should be a girl!" is the answer they give in Utah). For despite being newlyweds they are safe and contented. Their personalities and personal situations don't seem to allow for doubt and jealousy, drama and, perhaps, passion. And as neither is particularly big on self-analysis or inveterately curious about the other much has been left untouched and undiscovered. There is a lot of talk about 'telling the truth' and being 'honest' while wordlessly asking the question 'about what?' The major catalyst comes in the shape of Buzzy's sister Linda who has come to New York from the west coast to get an old boyfriend back (played by Kerry Bishé – who wins a gold star on her resume for a terrifically deft portrayal of a girl who's immature, unstable, provocative, self absorbed, heartbroken and a dozen more things I can't think of the words for). Throw in Katie's ex husband and her bickering sister and spouse and you have a tight ensemble cast who seem to be having a lot of fun with their characters and manage to present them in a way that allows us to criticize them but never come near to hating them.

Something I love about the film: Burns has developed the Annie Hall faux documentary interviews to a new level that follow relevant scenes to behave rather like the person's conscience speaking. I know Kurt Vonnegut had a gripe about writers telling us what a person thinks but I've never had a problem with it (if a writer can tell us what underwear someone is wearing they can sure as hell tell us what they're thinking). But how do you do it in film? Having every character doing voice-overs would be dumb. So while we might wonder what the real motives of characters are in some of the emotional exchanges the 'interviews' act as a clarifying narrative. OK, I'm assuming they are telling the truth as far as they see it. I'm assuming a lot. That's the way it came across to me. And this has an intriguing effect on the way you feel (I felt) about the outcome. You may not be sure how all of the plot lines are going to unfold but you don't dread a negative outcome due to these personality building blocks that give it all a sense of karma.

This is the most accomplished of Burns' films that I've seen. It has a grace and polish that makes me disbelieve stories of how quickly it was made. Surely there was a lot of workshop rehearsal work before shooting? Good film making just can't be this easy.

7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Gets you to the top but what about getting down?, 1 April 2012

Just to let you know where I'm coming from: As usual I avoided reading anything about the movie before seeing it. A film is ALWAYS better if it's like a book by an unknown author that you picked up off a bookstall as you were heading to the airport. Seriously, why do film companies essentially blurt out a film story's secrets that will take any surprises out of the first hour of a film? Maybe this is why I enjoyed the first half so much compared to other reviewers. It's a good yarn that is not as obvious as some would have you believe. Ben Stiller doesn't go too far from his safety zone playing Josh Kovacs, a reliable, serious, not-exactly-happy-but-putting-up-with-it manager of a ritzy apartment block. You like him. He's decent, loyal and almost a slave to the wealthy, privileged tenants who hold a great sense of entitlement to the things the majority of us don't have. Here's the subtext. He's like most of us today who live in a society that is convinced those less well off should get the "trickles" that come down from government payouts to our betters (BTW, didn't anybody in power look up the word "trickle" before okaying this?). And Stiller does it very well. He's getting older and greyer. He's fit and precise but a shade weary, repressed by a life of looking after the wishes and feelings of others and foregoing his own. (Probably coincidence but an almost interesting one: Kovacs backwards is Scavok. Sciavo in Italian is 'slave'). Alan Alda is the initially affable Arthur Shaw, a big guy on Wall Street. You like him too. He's friendly, avuncular and a man of the people. Director Brett Ratner gives us a sharp and snappy whirl through the characters and milieu with Dante Spinotti's strong and glossy cinematography hitting all the right notes. There's a great support cast of workers of an ethnic rainbow who we already like from their film histories that include Michael Peňa and Gabourey Sidibe, rising sufficiently above their paper stereotypes to just about forgive the cynical choices in creating them. Matthew Broderick is overly convincing as a crushed and ruined investment banker, a personality that exhausts your patience but must have seemed a good idea at the time. Casey Afflek shows a great talent for comedy timing as Josh's unreliable brother in law and Eddie Murphy steals scenes by his observations on "Lesbian titties" or by simply smiling. The romantic interest is FBI agent Tea Leoni, who is invariably wonderful in anything and doesn't fail here, giving depth to words that are sometimes as thin as the ink they were written in. She's not a twenty-something anymore and the camera irritatingly avoids real close ups. Ah well. That voice. I'd be happy just to listen to her but would have preferred if they didn't worry so about showing the forty-ish female lead as anything less than airbrushed. Like Eddy Murphy she ultimately seems grossly underused. I'm not giving much away in an IMDb review to say that Alda's Shaw turns out to be a Bernie Maddoff character callously looking to get away with ripping off thousands of investors and cheating justice as well. The pensions and savings of tower staff look to be lost and when Josh sees first hand Shaw's indifference to the plight of his fellow workers he gathers a team of unlikely robbers to regain the usual 'hidden stash' in the penthouse apartment. So we come to the big flaw of a film that needed one last rewrite: the director and the script writers get us to the top of the building, but they don't know how to get us down safely. They are altogether deft and efficient up to this point but run scared when presented with the job of bringing all the threads of action and personality to their just ends. We get resolution without closure. I understand there are other versions of the ending. As is now becoming familiar perhaps the DVD will be the finished product, where we are allowed to have several alternatives mingle into a whole and satisfy us beyond the clean-cut simplicity of the screen version. (nb. There is yet another reference to a chess game between villain and hero that like dozens of others in recent times sounds like the writers' knowledge comes from a single Wikipedia article. Enough with the chess motif!)

6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
The world reinvented, 25 March 2012

Spielberg won't get the credit he deserves for it. That's the way it is with successful directors. If this was by a relatively new presence we would be fawning over them, calling them a genius. (Or genii, as this involves at least two big talents, Spielberg and Peter Jackson). Remember what was said about Monet? "Just an eye, but what an eye!" Well, these two men each have a fantastic eye and more than that in spades. It is a good story if not a great story. Young Tintin buys a model boat that is stolen by villains and he is sucked into a mystery involving lost treasure and family vengeance. The cartoon element of the characters does detract from our emotional involvement, as does the peculiarly uncomplicated nature of the hero. But I think everyone should see this movie because of the way it blurs our distinction between the world and its imitation. Those same people who criticized Spiderman's CGI movements might well have occasional words to say here but I'll ignore them too. This is not the comic brought to life or the real world in animation. Not a Toy Story or an Avatar. This is the world reinvented. You can do what you want now, unhindered by bleary eyed actors with agendas of their own. Forget gravity or rainy days – unless they help the story. Jackson's production company has produced a world that sparkles like our own. (Perhaps better if you come from the same place I do). Andy Serkis is the star (for me) and does a fantastic turn as Captain Haddock with a raw Scottish accent that happily rises to a Sean Connery impersonation from time to time. I say 'happily' because the villain is played by another Bond, Daniel Craig who would have done better to showboat a little to keep up. Jamie Bell has a direct, youthful, no-messing part as Tintin – a wise choice as he never sounds whiny. The brilliant pair of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unnecessary as the overly stupid Thompson Twins. But things other than people crave your attention too because they appear to have been created with such care: the swell of the waves, flaming sails, the glimmer of cobbles, inky clouds around crackling lightening, the glow of skin in sunlight, and on and on… It has to be compared to Martin Scorcese's more human Hugo for a variety of reasons but I'll mention only one. Scorcese begins his film in a suitably cinematic and impressive way with an impossible long take in Hitchcock fashion, the camera wending its way like the eye of a God narrator, through windows and buildings and over constrictive machinery. Spielberg waits nearly an hour and a half before giving us a two and a half minute sequence of continuous choreographed adventure. It's a chase for secret documents, the maguffin, down a sparkling hillside in North Africa on a motorbike that will eventually fall apart while buildings are torn asunder and characters woven in and out of frame in a complexity that boggles the brain. The thing to do is forget your qualms and skepticism about CGI and animation. It's a film I wish I could watch as a young boy in 12 B.C. (Before Critics).

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
If Only, 13 August 2011

A film angsty teenage girls who like emo-pop videos, combat computer games and sleepovers will love, as well as boys who desire the aforementioned girls. For some of us it will be a film that will play like those moments on American Idol when a very good singer has chosen a song we can't stand because our big sister played it four thousand times on the same day the hamster died. Granted it is often beautiful to look at: beautiful images and sequences with beautiful faces and bodies and beautiful costumes but that is all a bit wasted on a story that tries to be three layers deep but all comes off as a bass relief rather than 3D. I hate saying that. There is a wealth of ideas and not a little love put into it. Here are my if-onlies: If only it didn't remind me of those earnest theatrical plays of plays within plays (within asylums) like Marat/Sade which I knew would be good for me to see (intellectually) but found grim as homework. If only it didn't remind me how daft a lot of action films are which I don't question because they use a cool tough dude to do the far fetched nonsense and not sweet and beautiful girls. If only it didn't occasionally recall scenes from films like The Ring Trilogy, Zathura, Labyrinth and all that Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet stuff so that the incredibly fertile imagination of the creators looks to have limits. (Yep, that's a back handed compliment.) If only the soundtrack didn't stick itself in your face so much and make you think they were spending whole afternoons trawling You Tube music videos instead of WORKING ON THE SCRIPT!!!! If only the Barbie Doll image for the lead girl hadn't been such a good idea on the one hand but resulted in a lack of emotional involvement on the other. If only I wasn't so critical. But these people can take it. There will be better from them in the future for sure.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Rear Window meets Rashomon, 26 May 2011

In three words: Sophisticated, sexy, smart. In one sentence: What a script!

This is s very daring film. It actually imagines that the person watching is paying attention and willing to be enthralled by an exceedingly clever story. If you are seeing it at home then don't go and grab something from the fridge without hitting the pause button. If you do you won't understand it at all. You can't miss anything, right from the seemingly unimportant opening scene in a jewelers shop on the phallocentric Place Vendome (think Freud via Hitchcock) with an exposition on three engagement rings, up until the credits. This film will take you one way, double back on itself, then dig an escape tunnel right under your nose. You can't tell much of the plot without giving some of the game away so as to the story let me only say this: The worldly Max (Vincent Cassel) is about to be engaged to Muriel (Sandrine Kiberlain). He is also heading off to Japan on a business trip and prior to catching his plane makes a visit to a café and overhears a voice speaking on the telephone who he suspects is a woman he once knew: Lisa (Monica Bellucci),. This triggers an old obsession in him and instead of taking his flight he follows a trail of clues in the hope of finding this former love. We are treated to his relationship with her in flashback. But if you think you know what is going on don't rest on your laurels. A third and even a forth strand of the story will be revealed to you (but not to Max) in poignant fashion. Think of Hitchcock's Rear Window and Vertigo crossed with Kurosawa's Rashomon and treat yourself to having the action happen in Paris with the achingly beautiful Monica Belluci, a passionate Romane Bohringer and that unwitting, lucky bastard Vincent Cassel who gets to smooch with both of them. There is a slight misjudgement in pace two thirds through but keep watching as you can't take for granted where the story will go. And as it seems Vincent Cassel is on the brink of making a second grand career on this side of the Atlantic this is an excellent place to start your homework on the man.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Affleck's Vengeance, 26 May 2011

Ben Affleck must be kicking himself. I'm sure it passed through his mind when he was making particularly empty vehicles as an actor and turning in self-conscious performances as Daredevils and Dick heroes that he wasn't enriching the history of cinema and had somehow joined the Forces of Evil, conspiring against the wellbeing of humanity by cashing in on a watery culture of cinematic mediocrity. He knows that film at its best can make the world a better place – somehow. It is implicit in the script of Good Will Hunting. Then Hollywood came along and tried to tell him otherwise and he forgot, like those flawed heroes who become mired in just getting by everyday after their fall from grace. Well, consider Gone Baby Gone his vengeance. It is superb. Immensely detailed, textured and nuanced he uses his own brother Casey as his alter ego to confront a world mired in selfishness and deception. The Afflecks will attempt to do what is right, what is good, and yet……! It is the "and yet…..!" that makes this film so special even beyond the great performances of pretty much every actor in the show. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play Patrick and Angie, life partners as well as professional partners in their business of private detectives. They are hired by the relatives of a child who has been kidnapped from her drug-using irresponsible mother (Amy Ryan playing Helene McCready in one of those turns that is unfortunately so richly convincing you don't actually think she is acting). Patrick may be street wise but there is a youth and innocence to him that makes the viewer feel protective. Those hand-picked masters of gravitas, Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris play 'the grown ups' as it were. Freeman is the police chief who has suffered a young daughter being murdered in the past and at first appears as a minor character in it all. Harris plays Remy Bressant, the seasoned cop working with colleague Nic Poole (John Ashton) obliged to share their findings with the young pair. The relationship proves to be mutually beneficial as they delve inside the shabby crime kingdom of Boston with its drug lynch pins, hustlers, thugs and users. From a Dennis Lehane novel the script by Affleck (Ben) and Aaron Stockard handsomely builds up the detail and complexity of the story. Affleck knows how to make a scene count and there are stings and zingers throughout this two hour movie that make each word and image essential and watchable. The writers also take a big chance with structure, chucking the (recently) time-honored three act system out the window, as the film is divided into two halves. It is a risk to take nowadays as audiences are so used to the set up, but it pays off because of the density of events and - that rare thing nowadays – real character development. At the heart is Casey Affleck's prickly boyish persona, both strong and brittle, a resolute and doubting crusader, vulnerable and untouchable, a sinner or a saint in the making.

While I'm reminded of those early Scorcese films that weave Catholic hope and guilt between urban conflict, Gone Baby Gone manages to produce a new level of sophistication. Scorcese heroes are iconic and distant. Affleck is within arms reach. This is a crime genre film that is reflective without forgetting the viewer, dealing with the lives of ordinary Americans as if they mattered, brimming with compassion, while still managing to be a cinematic ride of craft, invention and mature intelligence.

Yep, Affleck must be kicking himself for wasting so much time letting less capable people shape his offerings to film when all the while he should have been at the helm himself. I hope he has learned his lesson. Loved it.