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A film full of class, and one of the most aesthetically beautiful films
to grace the screens this year, Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between
Oceans" manages some tender and enchanting moments. With that said, it
stumbles and falters in certain executions of character motivation and
generic story structure. Cianfrance has performed remarkably well in
his other two efforts ("Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the
Pines") however, this is probably his weakest overall outing yet.
"The Light Between Oceans" tells the story of Tom and Isabel, who live on a remote island. Tom works as a lighthouse keeper, and is trying to come out of the horrors of World War I. As the couple begin to find happiness in their solitude, their inability to have children begins to plague their fairy tale. Isabel's hopes and prayers are believed to be answered when a dead man and an infant baby girl wash ashore. While Tom grapples with the reality of reporting the incident, or making the woman he loves happy, he ends up choosing the former, kicking into motion some heart wrenching consequences.
The high marks are present and littered frequently throughout. It begins with the heartbreaking turn from Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as the devastating Hannah, a grief-stricken mother whose arc goes into interesting territories. Michael Fassbender as the stoic and tortured Tom, has the actor showcasing another effortless and engaging presence that proves he's got plenty more to offer the realm of cinema.
Co-star Alicia Vikander, recently just crowned for her riveting turn in Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" earlier this year, is as capable as ever in portraying a difficult and unlikable character. The problem is the script doesn't particularly offer her an opportunity for the audience to tap into the soul of Isabel. Her behavior at times is so despicable, it's hard to wrap your head around any her actions and why she chooses to do them. What's worse, it that we can't understand why her husband Tom would love someone like her. It feels even at times, unnatural. Everything from the inception of their love, to the finding of their baby, and the surrounding events that follow.
Technically, the romantic drama is wholeheartedly intact. Composer Alexandre Desplat continues to deliver score after score, with strings and chords that tug at the heart. Desplat's choice of swells and subtlety are quite remarkable. They are choices that can once again, land him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw ("Animal Kingdom" and "MacBeth") glosses the screen with invigorating colors and breathtaking imagery. When the word "class" is associated with any work of art, Arkapaw is the epitome of understanding in that regard. He frames a scene with respect and adoration, fixating on the not so obvious objects and movements of a scene. He allows us to travel graciously through the picture, enriching a methodical and lavish wonder of screen shots.
With all these great high points provided, there's a very visible and apparent weakness in the script. Constructed by Cianfrance, and adapted from the novel of the same name, he attempts to build a vivacious love story. He gives us two people who he is saying to the audience are "meant for each other." Cianfrance ends up failing in establishing a believable and unique take on these two individuals from different walks of life. Tom, a veteran and tortured man of war is drawn to the passion and energy of the young Isabel. On paper, that can be sufficient but you must give the viewer motivation, action steps, and beats that prove the point you're trying to make. There's an elephant sized hole in the house that our director and writer tries to build.
The writer/director truly fumbles in the final third of the film. He chases ideas that are leisurely shoehorned in the story. Cianfrance chases suspense, nostalgia, heartbreak, and resolution. All of these things seem like they're thrown together in a ten-minute scene reel. The filmmaker also manages to go down "J. Edgar" territory of bad makeup, aging characters that end up just becoming beautiful distractions of their former selves. There's even an abrupt ending that manages to raise eyebrows.
Consequently, "The Light Between Oceans" doesn't totally fail. It's ambitious but unbalanced, desperately attempting to make a modern-day John Cassavettes. His fixation with love, and the dismal look at the reactions of people in a relationship is evident. Perhaps in the future, he'll put a much more focused effort on the sub-stories and actions that surround them.
Animation has never been such a fantastic blend of fun and dirty as
seen in "Sausage Party" from Sony Pictures. Created as the movie your
perverted older brother made in high school but you can't help but love
him for it, the definitely offensive but enthusiastically rapturous
romp is the surprise hit of the summer.
Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan helm the ship that was written by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir with a steady hand as they play off social and racial stereotypes in the vein of something we would have seen on "South Park." Trickle in a talented voice cast that includes Rogen, Oscar nominees Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Edward Norton, and Salma Hayek, and you got a formula for something downright hilarious.
"Sausage Party" takes no prisoners as the profanity and graphic nature makes an educated film-goer wonder "how the hell did this just get an 'R' rating from the MPAA?" Shock value will bubble to the brim and likely spill over as we see food make sexual advances, dirty and used condoms interact with a smaller hotdog, and an orgy that might manage to trump any movie in the last 15 years.
Taking the "Toy Story" premise and asking the question, what if food could talk? "Sausage" gives its characters a dynamic range of emotions as they mix in the very questions of today that marry the ideas of religion, purpose, and tolerance. I'm sure somewhere deep in the bones of every Pixar writer in the world, they've wanted to make THIS kind of movie. Why wouldn't they? The animation is tenderly bright and vibrant, creating a world of chaos but clarity. They work through the material with a bold and fearless nature that the Academy Awards would feel so lucky to be included among their Animated Feature nominees in 2017.
Stepping outside the box with a raunchy song, Alan Menken's compositions and work stand just as high as anything delivered this year so far. Vivaciously alive in every beat, you can't help but smile ear to ear as the party rolls on. I'd surely say Menken is the hunt for an Oscar nomination in Original Song.
The rest of the voice works of Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, and ESPECIALLY Nick Kroll are purely delightful.
This is not the movie for Mom, unless your mother is awesome in every way. This is not the movie for your kids, because I can't wait to hear the headlines of the general audience goers that brought their kids to see thinking it was just a "cute cartoon." This is not the movie for your sophisticated movie friend because he or she is probably going to call you dumb for laughing at the jokes. This IS the movie for the Friday night, bring your girlfriend or boyfriend, watch their jaws drop, and enjoy the company of just plain old fun at the movies.
Pixar offers another base hit for its already stunning performance as a
well-oiled studio with Peter Sohn's "The Good Dinosaur." Standing tall
as one of the Pixar's most beautiful creations to date. A lusciously
crafted piece that stands as another key example of cinematography
executed brilliantly in animated features. While the story hawks too
much back to past Disney films like "The Lion King," there's no denying
the emotional and cautiously executed impact the story and its
characters possess. It also assembles an impressive cast of voice work
that should surprise no one as each one excels in their own way.
"The Good Dinosaur" tells the story of Arlo, an Apatosaurus who makes a perilous journey back to his family, while meeting an unlikely human friend named Spot.
Young Raymond Ochoa, who voices Arlo helms the picture with gifted innocence and a palpable feeling of growth. Arlo, who's small, fearful, and unconfident is visually seen growing and maturing before our eyes. Ochoa nails every nuance and emotion required of him. Around him, Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, who voice Momma and Poppa fearlessly engage with the very mature subject matter. As one of Pixar's most "adult"-like themed movies to date, there is still a sense of naïvety as the parent dinosaurs attempt to teach life lessons. The rest of the cast is littered with the works of Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliot, and more, all culminating in a smorgasbord of raw talent.
From top to bottom, "The Good Dinosaur" soars on its visual elegance. Using the backdrop of real nature camera work, the two worlds are blended in a most fascinating way. You never feel as if the animated dinosaur and human are plucked into the scenery unwillingly or awkwardly. It works in every frame. Also worth noting is the another vivacious musical score by Academy Award winner Mychael Danna and his younger brother Jeff Danna. The two come together for a swelling of tears and suspense, all littered throughout the Pixar treat.
With all the positive vibes and words that "The Good Dinosaur" inhabits, the story structure and baseline for our main character doesn't fall into Pixar's most original database. Essentially "The Lion King" for dinosaurs, the film takes queues from many animated tales seen before, and while those aren't exactly poor representations, you are very much aware of its predecessors. There are also two or so dead spots, where the film feels like it hits a brick wall. Possibly suffers from lingering too long on a moment or not exactly going places well enough, its apparent by the middle of its highly publicized troubles before release.
All in all, "The Good Dinosaur" works. On an emotional level, I felt it hit better than "Inside Out," but in terms of innovation and originality, it come up a little short. Great for kids and adults like always, Pixar does its job and does it with satisfaction.
"The Good Dinosaur" opens on Thanksgiving.
There comes a moment in "Anomalisa," from co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, where you stop fighting the need to try to understand the weird yet invigorating story structure, and surrender to all the quirks, charm, and emotional tension its displaying on screen. Hypnotizing in the words ad expressions of its stop-motion characters, Kaufman's screenplay is right up there with his top-tier works of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich." If anything, it's as if Kaufman merged his brilliant writing style with the works of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, delivering a newly interpreted work that shows itself as one of the year's gargantuan masterpieces in writing. The less you know, the better. Watching the recent trailer that dropped for the film did it no favors as it presented itself as the animated version of "Lost in Translation" when its anything but. Simply put, it focuses on a man named Michael Stone, who has made a career about stressing the importance of customer service. When he takes a one day trip to Cincinnati, he begins to focus on the mundanity of his life. I've banged this drum too often, with some help from notable critics and viewers, but voice work has to be looked upon as a genuine performance, and you'll find just another example of it with the outstanding works of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Thewlis' Michael Stone is intricate and calculated with a real sense of disparity and hopelessness. He envelops the essence of a lost man, attempting to regain normality in a world where everything is far too familiar and similar. Jennifer Jason Leigh captures the essence of innocence and perplexity, as her Lisa tries to make sense of a situation that can either be interpreted as fate or coincidence. Visibly broken, and aching to be put back together, Leigh enriches the morose yet intriguing nature of the film with zeal. It's one of her best performances and one you can look back upon as another staggering performance from a voice-actor. Tom Noonan where's so many hats in "Anomalisa," a chameleon transcending the inner workings of a broken man. It's a breathtaking performance, one not obvious at first, but eventually opens up in the most awkward but satisfying manner. When walking into Kaufman and Johnson's world, one of the first questions you have to ask is why stop motion? Does this have the opportunity to be interpreted in different mediums that could be more satisfying and accessible for the viewer? It's a perfect marriage of narrative structure and story. As an adult animation drama, you can see the freakish elements of films like "Fantastic Mr. Fox" but it is in no way for children. This speaks to the minds of adults. If you have ever struggled with depression, or have been stuck in the abnormality of a current state of living, the film may hit some very real chords with you. "Anomalisa" is an astounding achievement on every level. Exquisite and ravishing animation is on full display, using divine, subtle tones of color to capture the mood of a world all too distant but so uncomfortably close. It's single-handedly one of the best films that 2015 has to offer. Don't deny yourself this experience.
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An inspiring, academic by the name of Dr. Bennet Omalu takes on the titan of Sundays, the NFL, in order to prove a direct link from head trauma during football games to CTE, a football related injury that occurs. Writer/director Peter Landesman takes on the very detailed, and dramatic thriller "Concussion," with an insightful amount of control in direction, mostly thanks to Academy Award winning editor William Goldenberg, who keeps most of the film at a decent pace. However, with a clichéd script that brings the eye-rolling effect to a fever pitch, you can't help but wish that the material was more rendered and secure in its delivery. Surely to bring on an inner rage as we watch these men, so revered by Americans on a weekly basis, beg for absolution as they lose sight of themselves as time progresses. What doesn't work in "Concussion's" favor is the glossing over the real human condition that is so desperately apparent in each frame the film attempts to show.
Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith as Omalu, he delivers one of his strongest performances ever. An impeccable capture of a man from Africa, soulfully searching for acceptance in America, Smith brings a visible intensity in each line spoken. Settling into a role that calls for the best parts of Smith's charisma, which he has demonstrated effortlessly throughout his career, he handles it with an equally emotional heft that garners most of the film's best moments. This is a performance that deserves to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Landesman also constructs a decent cast with Alec Baldwin (not totally owning his own southern-ish accent in his exchanges), Gugu Mbatha- Raw (beautiful but utterly wasted in under developed scenes), and David Morse (who deserves much more roles and is quite effective in his limited screen time). Of all the supporting players, Albert Brooks delivers as the vulgar Dr. Cyril Wecht. It'll call back to his beloved turn in "Drive" just a few years back (minus villainous murders). As a distracting entity, Luke Wilson cast as Roger Goodell is a poor choice by the filmmakers, serving nothing more as celebrity wallpaper.
Composer James Newton Howard puts his horns on overload, sweeping into scenes that work well in films like "The Village" but with a film such as "Concussion," it begins to grate on the ears at times.
At 123 minutes, the film bloats like you over indulged at dinner time. In some bizarre, and almost "too try hard" choices, Landesman attempts to focus on some of the more "human" and "natural" elements of Dr. Omalu's life. As we find ourselves more interested in the case at hand, the writer/director almost sets out to make his version of "The Insider," which would be fine if he got a better grasp on which elements he should focus on.
"Concussion" isn't a complete failure, delivering at times with a grandiose turn from Will Smith. If anything, he's more than worth the admission ticket but I believe most of all, the film does successfully place a spotlight on an issue that is in desperate need of change. The final title cards will prove the NFL's power, and even deepen your frustration and anger. I think that it'll at least offer up a discussion point. That's success on its own.
Often movies have a magical quality as you're viewing them. Some will
demand your undivided attention, others will hypnotize your senses,
leaving them to simply wash over you with their exuberance and classic
filmmaking procedures. In the case of John Crowley's "Brooklyn," the
latter is certainly the case. There comes a moment in the film when you
are taken in by the film's classic style filmmaking, and tenderly
thought-provoking performances from its cast. Director Crowley, in
partnership with Oscar-nominated scribe Nick Hornby, create a beautiful
and sensitive love story that is everything a Nicholas Sparks film
adaptation wishes it could be. With a vibrant turn from Academy Award
nominee Saoirse Ronan at the helm, "Brooklyn" utilizes all of its tools
in its arsenal to convey a potent message of love and family.
"Brooklyn" tells the story of Ellis Lacey (Ronan), who in 1950s Ireland and New York, has to choose between two men and two countries. One is the charismatic Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) while the other is the reserved yet sensitive Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Both are making a case for Ellis' love.
The film is helmed with a strong and undeniable confidence from Saoirse Ronan. Feeling the internal battle just pouring out of her in nearly every sense and every scene, Ronan finds Ellis' struggle and wears it on her sleeve. She doesn't just have fear of choice, she goes through a barrage of emotions, and we actively see the character progress in each milestone that she hits throughout. It begins with the yearning and devastating separation from her family in Ireland, before gradually being brought to a yearn for acceptance in a new city. Her mild but rewarding progression into comfort and confidence is shown before being abruptly ripped away when tragedy strikes. Every instance is felt in Ronan's work, all of which is authentically true and vivaciously real. It's one of her best turns, and further proof that her name will be on our lips for quite some years.
After breaking out with a scene-stealing turn in Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines," Emory Cohen shows his sensitive and charming side of his range, resulting in an equally measured and tantalizing performance to his co-star. Don't sleep on this kid. Domhnall Gleeson's reservations to Jim Farrell is haunting in a role that doesn't call for many words or emotions. You can see the ache and pain in his movements, desperate for love and an overwhelming feeling of being lost. In a few scenes, Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe sustains as a surprisingly comic relief in a very serious drama. Her stoic, passive demeanor is such a treat to watch in her scenes of interaction with the girls of the boarding house in which Ellis is staying.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby constructs the story with real life emotion, taking very few short cuts for its characters. He allows Ellis' feelings to make the journey in each instance in which she faces them. The foundation of Tony and Ellis is honest, and rings true as something we'd see in any instance within our own lives. Where he really shines in the connection between Ellis and her family. Thousands of miles away, and with little interaction on screen, you are heartbroken and pulled through the ringer as Ronan exemplifies the loss of her family and determination to see them once again. If there is a chink in Hornby's armor, it's the case he creates for the audience for Ellis to stay in Ireland. Up until the second half of the film, Hornby makes his case for New York, I'd only wish he made a more compelling case for Ireland, giving the audience a more fruitful and difficult dilemma in making their own decision about where Ellis should be.
One must acknowledge how impeccably constructed the film is from head to toe. Crowley assembles a dynamite team behind the camera, who all standout in their own right. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger, with a yellow hue and soft palate, capture the country and the city to stunning results. He frames each scene intimately, capturing the heart and emotion of every word spoken. Production Designer François Séguin and Set Decorator Suzanne Cloutier capture the 50's homes as if plucked from the time period themselves, along with transporting us to a foreign land we can only dream to visit. Odile Dicks- Mireaux's magnetic costume work elevates each performance, allowing the actors to fully engage with their characters and the time. And finally, the music of Michael Brook is a breathtaking swell of emotion, creating moments that will surely bring you to tears.
"Brooklyn" is a damn fine movie, following all the classic beats that we've grown to love about the most timeless love stories. "Brooklyn" will join the ranks of those timeless stories in the coming years. It's a joyful and heart aching film that stands as one of the year's best, and a sure-fire contender for several Academy Awards.
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We simply don't deserve László Nemes, the first-time writer/director of
Hungary's submission for the Oscar's Foreign Language category, "Son of
Saul." Nemes vacuums everything we think we know about filmmaking and
the Holocaust, and gives it a raw, intense, and fresh outlook that we
haven't seen since Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," perhaps even Steven
Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Not to mention, he is thoroughly aided
and indebted to the stunning and remarkable talent of Géza Röhrig, in
his feature debut. The two simply dance circles around other films and
performances seen in this year, with an authentic and genuine approach
to art, that we just don't get to experience too often. I'm in awe.
"Son of Saul" tells the story of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners isolated from the camp and forced to assist the Nazis in the machinery of large- scale extermination. In October 1944, Saul discovers the corpse of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkomando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task.
Its direction like Nemes that should make the world very optimistic about the future of cinema. If we have filmmakers like him, getting in the trenches of history and the human spirit, and beckoning its awakening into our souls, we should be so lucky to have him display the beauty and evil of the world in such a provocative and engaging manner. His choices in which to shoot the film, and portray one of the most heinous acts in the history of our existence is just downright scintillating. "Son of Saul" plays as if we're watching a disturbing, noxious, and depraved home movie about a time in which we never want to see. From a near first-person perspective, we enter the revolting world of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses out of focus camera work, to not bath in the bloodshed, but wallow in the psyche of a man, that is desperate for purpose. It's the single best direction of the year. I'd go so far to say this could be the single best direction seen this decade. His script, along with co- writer Clara Royer, is so painstakingly simple but echoes decades of oppression in its short, respectful run time.
Don't call him a "poet by profession" because newcomer Géza Röhrig doesn't believe in the word profession. There's only artists. Géza Röhrig is an artist, of which I haven't seen in some time. With little words, he says countless and devastating things about what he's feeling and what we know about ourselves. He doesn't use cheap tricks to engage the audiences like "really intense face" or "really scared moving." Röhrig displays the numb, almost disengaged weight of the world in every physical and vocal movement he chooses to exhibit. It's a flawless, masterful performance that we need more of in this cinematic world.
Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély is your next great craftsman to watch, even though making his mark on films like "The Quiet Ones" and "Miss Bala." He frames close-ups that Danny Cohen himself, would hope to achieve in his next collaboration with Tom Hooper. He stays with a person, a scene, a moment, so intelligently, and so vibrantly, he places each one of us in the rooms, full of fear, and full of hopelessness. The subtle yet effective music by László Melis is sonorous but the Sound team is what really needs their praise. Tamás Dévényi (Production Soundmixer), Tamás Székely (Sound Editor), and Tamás Zányi (Sound Designer) create monstrous and dynamic effects that essentially become its own focal point of the story. We are listening intently, desperately, and just fearful at every nick, boom, and cry we come in contact with. It's something everyone should and will notice and applaud.
"Son of Saul" sneaks up on you. It's too important and critical to our cinematic landscape to overlooked or forgotten. I can't imagine a more dour and sullen experience this year that fills my heart with this much adoration. It stands toe-to-toe with most Holocaust films created in and before my lifetime. It may be the definitive one this millennium.
There are dozens of things to truly admire about Danny Boyle's new film
"Steve Jobs," from its ambition to tell a compelling story about a
famous man and the structure in which it decides to tell it. The
initial casting of Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender was
criticized initially because some felt he was "too good looking" to
interpret a man, who was essentially a computer nerd. By the film's
third sequence, Fassbender fully melts into the role and delivers one
of his most visceral and intriguing performances to date. What's
equally measured to his work is the talent and ferocity of Academy
Award winner Kate Winslet, who falls into a sympathetic, determined
woman, whose conscious is complicit in witnessing vile behavior. Aaron
Sorkin's script is a multitude of words and one- liners, and is just
plain smart in its dialogue exchanges between its characters. And
finally, Boyle himself has never been more reserved in his direction,
letting the words flow through the screen like a tractor trailer
through a corn field. He sits on the sidelines, only letting instances
of his vivacious direction show its head, which may or may not be a
plus for Boyle enthusiasts. With all this said, it sounds like just a
romp at the movies. Then why am I left underwhelmed by the final
We have to begin with the story's narrative structure. Choosing three set pieces in 1984, 1988, and 1998 to show the progression of the film's characters was genius. We see a growth and progression to not just Steve Jobs, but the surrounding players in which are a part of his life. The film is jam-packed with wall-to-wall dialogue, something that is truly impressive to watch unfold in the moment, but hard to take in as key information and thoughts are being displayed. I needed some more beats, to take in, and disengage from the moment, to properly move on to the next. Its a movie that clearly needs two or three viewings to get everything from it. This may be its ultimate downfall. "Steve Jobs" demands so much of its viewer. Our attention, dedication, and fearless endowment to the characters and the moment. I'm not entirely certain that general audiences can do that for 122 minutes. It becomes a double-edged sword. Is it okay that a movie such as this exists that will require us to give repeated participation to fully understand everything it has to say and reveal or does a film only deserve one shot to say everything it wants to say? I'm not sure I have a clear answer to that but I feel comfortable that general audiences members probably feel more towards the latter. Sorkin's work is compelling, with vibrantly preyed upon dialogue that simply sings through the theater. Its surely one of his most ambitious efforts of his career, and likely something that will forward his progression as a screenwriter, even in his later years.
From a performance standpoint, the film stands near the top of ensembles and individualized works seen in 2015. Fassbender approaches Jobs with a familiarity, like he knows the man. He finds sarcasm to be a second language, and repugnancy to be a way of life. Boyle and Sorkin do very little to have Jobs redeem himself, as he continues to pile on immorality with repulsive, revolting behavior that may make you think twice before talking to "Siri" ever again. I can't recall a Lead Actor candidate this unlikable in quite some time. It's a tour-de-force to behold, and one that will surely place near the top of Oscar ballots, but I'd be lying if I say I was looking forward to spending time with the character "Steve Jobs" again.
What Fassbender benefits immensely from, is a squad of supporting players, each making their individual mark. Winslet firmly plants her feet next to "Jobs," declaring herself as one of the finest actresses we have working today. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley is easily the most comfortable with the script's barrage of words. Daniels handles it with a defined purpose, delivering his best portrayal since "The Squid and the Whale." To a pleasant surprise, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak is tenderly inserted, and holding back all his normal tics and signature mannerisms that have made him a star. It's a welcomed entry into serious and challenging roles in the actor's future. Staggeringly underused but equally effective as each of her castmates is Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs' high-school girlfriend and "possible mother" to his daughter, played by three talented child actresses, Makenzie Moss, Perla Haney-Jardine, and Ripley Sobo. The dynamic and vigorous Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld is a sensation to watch, and will go down as one of the key players by a select group of movie-goers. Let's just call this a SAG Ensemble lock, shall we?
Boyle's market for his bombastic colors and dance sequences are sure to miss them because they are non-existent. It's great to see him taking a different approach to his storytelling, though letting running text play a role should feel familiar for many. What I found dizzying was the camera work by Alwin H. Küchler, who in the spirit of "Birdman," has the audience constantly moving along with its constant walking characters. At one point, you want to just beg them to sit down and chill out for a second. Hats off to Elliot Graham's editing, who cuts to a commanding pace, even if more pauses would have been appreciated. What shines above all the technical merits is the score by Daniel Pemberton, orchestrating a symphony of music that swells in at the finest moments, and breathes new life into the work of composers everywhere. It was a truly remarkable piece of music that just flies off the screen.
One of the most prolific directors in the history of cinema, Steven
Spielberg, returns to the silver screen with his new period thriller
"Bridge of Spies" starring two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. It
features competent and solid filmmaking from its director, writers, and
crafts team however, the film doesn't quite ignite passion and
excitement from its standard storytelling. What really manages to
standout is the impeccable and sensational performance of Emmy Award
nominee Mark Rylance, who steals and owns every scene he's present.
The film tells the story of James Donovan (Hanks), an American lawyer that is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot (Austin Stowell) detained in the Soviet Union. It all begins with the discovery of a probable spy on our own soil Rudolf Abel (Rylance), who tests Donovan's profession and safety net.
Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg brings many of his signature techniques to the spy tale. Tugging at the emotional heartstrings is an Olympic event at this juncture in his career, although not exactly hitting the mark the way it was intended. He frames his scenes with the same familiar authority that we've grown to love about Spielberg, and it definitely exceeds some of his lesser works like "War Horse" and "The Terminal." What the film truly lacks is a daring approach to its source material. Unfamiliar with the story and real life individuals, Spielberg, and the writers, Joel & Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, don't enter the grit and horror of two countries at a feud, literally on the brink of a real devastating war.
Tom Hanks brings his natural charisma and wit that we've loved about him for decades. His James Donovan is caring, engaging, and reminiscent of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird." His devotion to his family and the human condition is truly admirable, all clear and on display thanks to Hanks. As Rudolf Abel, Mark Rylance is just a joy to behold, filling in the gaps of the film's shortcomings with charm and seasoned acting ability. It's a brilliant turn by a brilliant actor. It's one of the year's best supporting turns and a contender for the Oscar statue.
As James' wife Mary, Amy Ryan is relegated to just a few scenes but great nonetheless. Also brief are the works of Billy Magnussen and Alan Alda, who have good, solid one scenes to chew on.
Technically the film does present qualms. Janusz Kaminski's camera work is distracting in parts, shining bright lights through windows, and keeping a one note camera style all throughout its 135 minute run time. Thomas Newman's score isn't put to its best use, as it swells in inopportune moments, even managing to overwhelm a key and fantastic scene by Rylance. Michael Kahn cuts the film to a bloated expansive run time but manages to keep you involved enough to make it through. The film really shines in its Production Design by Adam Stockhausen and its Costume work by Kasia Walicka-Maimone.
"Bridge of Spies" may find lovers in mass audiences. What it does well is ignite a curiosity and power to look at the history of its subject. Spielberg succeeds at introducing the world to James Donovan and what else he contributed to society, along with the supporting players at hand. We do wish that a better, more dynamic treatment had hit the screens. From an awards standpoint, it's going to appeal to a great deal. Perhaps a second viewing will open up more possibilities.
The seduction and hypnosis of a Todd Haynes film is hard to deny. His
attention to detail in such films like "Far from Heaven" and "I'm Not
There" are simply superb, and one cannot overlook the vision he engulfs
upon as he directs each one of them. In his newest venture, "Carol,"
which is based on the book "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith,
the luxurious command in which he approaches the material is confident
and pristinely evident once again. He pulls out some outstanding
performances, especially from Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson, and
crafts another multi-layered deconstruction on love during a time where
it was simply one note to modern society. With all that said, there's a
barrier between the film's central characters and its audience,
resulting in a good, not great cinematic endeavor.
"Carol" tells the story of Therese (pronounced TER-REZ and played by Rooney Mara), a department store clerk who dreams of a better life outside the normalcy of work and her persistent beau Richard (played by Jake Lacy). Set in 1950s New York, she falls for an older, married woman names Carol (played by Blanchett), and the two embark on a journey of forbidden love.
"Carol" is as lusciously made as you come to expect from any Haynes film. Sexy, sultry, and vibrantly crafted, Haynes pours his heart and soul into each frame he directs with generous and respectful admiration. He transports us to a time we can only see in our dreams, with stunning cloths of the 1950's, thanks to outstanding Sandy Powell, and gorgeous set design, thanks to Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler.
The script by Phyllis Nagy, whose only credit is the TV Movie "Mrs. Harris," which she also directed and was nominated for an Emmy, is profound in parts. It's natural to go back to something like "Brokeback Mountain" for comparison, a story that succeeded so much on the subtle and quietly spoken thoughts of its characters. We see their love present in a secret kiss on the side of an apartment, or on a quiet standing by a camp fire as Ennis goes to take care of the caddle for the night. These are factors that add to up a forbidden love.
In "Carol," there's a missing variable in Carol and Therese's relationship. They meet, flirt awkwardly, and then suddenly are together in a strange circumstance. Now, one can argue that love knows no boundaries of time nor space. Perhaps you would be correct in that, but the main difference between Ennis and Jack versus Carol and Therese, is that the love in the former felt just as high-stakes at what they threatened to lose. Ennis loses his family, wanders the Earth essentially, still unsure of his own place, even without theoretically any more obstacles. Yet, Jack visits him upon the news of his impending divorce, and with still a real fear of exile and being true to himself, Ennis sends him away. Jack is heartbroken by this behavior, that translates well into one of the most iconic lines, "I wish I knew how to quit you."
Carol feels like Ennis in this regard, destined to live alone despite embracing her own sensibilities and self. However , in Therese's young, unconfident mind, she doesn't equal or amount to the yin, of Carol's yang. Her exploration comes off like curiosity rather than love. Perhaps that's the intent, and if it is, then I applaud it, but when the film reaches its conclusion, nothing supports that claim. I find little reason to root for these two to be together. "Blue is the Warmest Color," even with intense and ill-fitting explicit scenes, manages to show the passion between the two main characters. I think that's the key word that's missing from the film: passion.
With those hurdles, some of the performances surpass any and all expectations. With a stellar year in hand with James Vanderbilt's "Truth" already loved by so many, Cate Blanchett delivers an even more breathtaking portrayal in Haynes' film. Blanchett captures the lioness quality of Carol, steaming forward with blinders on as she finds herself entranced by Therese's innocence. Her slow, sultry hand moving across her lover's shoulder is a vibrant action that speaks impeccable volumes. I thought it was one of her best performances ever.
Rooney Mara's sensitive yet disengaged nature from her surroundings is particularly moving as she walks through the film. Her quiet breakdowns are felt in the moment but have no lasting effect for the rest of the story. With such strong Supporting Actress buzz for the performance, I'm a little baffled by its unanimous love fest. Especially when standing next to the great Sarah Paulson, whose role and performance will hawk back to Patricia Clarkson in "Far from Heaven" but with such depth and assurance. Not exactly developed to its full potential, but as Abby, Carol's best friend and former flame, Paulson engages it all with a vigorous and palpable energy. As Carol's husband Harge, Kyle Chandler's desperation and urgency is lively and vivid, but with not enough substance and time to really make an impact.
"Carol" is fruitful in the cinematic capacity of its structure but it leaves some things to be desired. For a Haynes enthusiast, they'll likely run the gauntlet on its construction and performances, eating every morsel of it up with a spoon. For others, the appreciation will surely be clear, but there may be some that are left out in the cold.
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