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The Yards (2000)
plausible story, exemplary cast and a true story
A very sensitive, intelligent and ambitious variation on the traditional going-straight story. Mark Wahlberg is just out of prison and determined to keep off troubles but inevitably runs into them when getting involved in the sabotage and in the unforeseen murder. In terms of conventional suspense, the film is too much muted and sombre in order for it to deliver the goods convincingly but as a character study and an exploration of different notions of family, friendship, duty and loyalty, the careful attention to detail pays off. A great cast (Phoenix and Theron perfect as wheel) does help, as does the strongly surprising use of good music.
Lone Survivor (2013)
terribly effective movie
Lone Survivor is a brutally effective movie, made by people thinking they're serving their country. However these people make the audience coarser and more self-centered. They perpetuate the kind of propaganda that sent the heroes of the Seal Team 10 to death. The film is intense though but balanced by the moments of surprising tenderness, among the men themselves and also in the field. The ensemble cast delivers properly, working with a screenplay telling the story with considerable force. The story itself is not just about a fire fight with the enemy, it regards more the sense of brothers in arms helping each other to survive. This is what makes the film powerful and somewhat satisfying in a terrible sort of way.
flawless road trip movie
A low-key story about fathers, mothers and brothers as well as life and death. Its characters are contradictory and rich. There's a lot of small-town satire here, with a melancholy-comic tone. Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "The Descendants") makes movies about people, not superheroes. He takes his time, allowing the viewer to observe and form opinions about men and women in all their frayed and imperfect humanity. They do the ordinary things that people do eat, travel about, find places to sleep and we gather a lot from those everyday ordinary actions. His films are both surprising and logical, and "Nebraska" is one of his best.
disturbing and haunting but perfectly shot
"Disconnected" is a judiciously told story about Internet dangers like bullying, identity theft and sexual exploitation, a powerful tale about the dangers of spending a lifetime online or losing one's self to online fantasies or ideals. Overall an immensely compelling and taut thriller, trying (succesfully) to plug in to real emotions, with a cast acting in a superlative way (though with no bombastic names). These are all stories that could be told in separate films but work as a very cohesive unit here, since they all talk to the same online dangers that we see in the news. In the end a strong and powerful tale, one of the rare films directly responding to and expressing modern anxieties.
Judy Dench simply perfect
Judi Dench., the legendary Judy Dench, is perfect as usually. The story's based on true events chronicled in the book but the script allows the pathos of this search to proceed without ever being excessively "sugary". The actions of the nuns are horrifying, reminding a lot of another film about Catholic nuns "The Magdalene Sisters". However Philomena treats the subject more gently. There's an odd couple's comedy vibe about two totally different characters tracking down leads and ending up in the United States. Coogan's Sixsmith is a delightful and perfect foil to Philomena/Judy Dench. He's annoyed at first by her ramblings as they travel on their quest and also surprised and frustrated she isn't angry about how the way she was treated. However, he comes to realize that there is great strength in her quiet determination, as the spectators understand. A story of heartbreak told in the form of a moving road trip, Philomena allows Judi Dench to prove once again that she is a cinematic treasure, a genius.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
sharp comedy/drama boosted by a terrific performance of Cate Blanchett
Classical Woody Allen's movie with the usual compositions, line readings and endless babble in apartments/restaurants/city streets it's the first one shot in the US after 10 years. Race and class are the issues most conveniently and conspicuously described in this story. The lead actress (absolutely formidable her performance) is sprung from the bubble of privilege to the real world, where everything happens to her and where she's so unequipped and unprepared to live. As soon as we reach the end we understand we've smiled a lot but we've also watched a terribly sad flick, though cheered by the view of San Francisco, perfect location for such a story. To sum up the director addresses many pertinent real-world concerns - as class, gender and corporate criminality in urban America - all in a single story, a masterpiece.
The Counselor (2013)
almost a masterpiece, strongly reminding "No Country for Old man"
It's a mixture between two very different sensibilities, those of its author, Cormac McCarthy, and its director, Ridley Scott. McCarthy wrote the script of The Counsellor, whereas Scott directed it. Lots of the characters remind McCarthy's novels and atmospheres, the script being perfectly intricate, verbally and visually. There's a good chemistry between different styles and the real strength here proves to be Fassbender, an actor able to do anything. When he breaks down, he moved me a lot. There's no emptiness, for all the inventive horror and salacity here, it's all talk in the end. The result is a movie probably not to be watched on Saturday night, due to the impressive and terrible violence scenes (especially the one where Bradd Pitt is killed).
Prisoners is marked by very strong performances and many moral/religious complexities. The story brings basically many ethical and moral questions: what would you do to protect your family? Would you torture someone to detract information? Jackman juggles these moral queries in an emotionally gripping performance. In Keller you have the tortured father who could not protect his child. In Loki you have the guardian of a community who has sworn to protect and serve. It's not surprising to see such religiosity in a film of incredible and uncompromising darkness. Villeneuve makes everything work, with an experience stimulating on an emotional and spiritual level. Thrillers like this should be embraced. Prisoners proves compelling, thanks also to the subject matter that practically demands emotional investment from an audience: children in peril. The film's pace is an endurance test, an excessive 2 and a half hours runtime but everyone gets to share in the dread of the final revelations. Does the end justify the means? All in all it's rare to find a film that really works on all levels, but that's exactly what Denis Villeneuve's and his cast have constructed with Prisoners.
2 Guns (2013)
strange collaboration for 2 very different actors
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg have very different acting styles that get to work surprisingly well together in this movie. The story is consistently entertaining, with corruption being so rampant between naval officers, DEA agents and CIA operatives. The action is spiked with many comedic touches, visual and verbal, acting is very good on the whole, the most interesting part is in my opinion the presence of two neurotically different personalities (Lethal Weapon style) with their unexpected complement. The result of this shoot-'em-up is funny and action-packed, though the story is not so solid but not a pop corn flick either.
The Frozen Ground (2013)
incredibly true and with solid performances
With an A-list cast with Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, "The Frozen Ground" is an innovative, well-paced and engaging thriller having the appeal of a truth-based narrative. Some thrillers hide the identity of the bad guy but this story doesn't. It's clear from the beginning that Hansen is the killer but the suspense comes in watching Halcombe fight to prove it. "The Frozen Ground" doesn't have flaws in my opinion, there have been a lot of serial killer movies but this one's different, though containing an unnecessary subplot about Halcombe's family life. All in all "The Frozen Ground" is an excellent movie, with Cage and Cusack being outstanding. The film may have had a limited theatrical run but it's considerably better than many pictures which earned a wide release.