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Ethnic casting is a slippery slope, with the danger of confirming cruel stereotypes. The biggest problem with American Pastoral is that screenwriter and McGregor don't grasp Roth's universe, with the casting missteps foreshadowing flat performances. Obviously correct ethnic casting guarantees nothing special. Translating Philp Roth's novel to the screen is always daunting but with American Pastoral, it's probably not doable at all, mainly because the novel's complex narrative emerges from multiple perspectives, each shaped by the distorting lens of imagination. The ambiance only is original but overall the movie doesn't work.
An engaging prison drama with a standout ensemble of British and Australian actors. Such are the vivid details giving "Starred Up" vigor and credibility, even when its plot goes a bit wobbly with schematics. O'Connell gives a breakthrough performance as a young man who has suffered from lack of parenting and many other things.. It's an an oblique but candid portrait of how prison works that surely explains its insights, from the power dynamics between prisoners and their guards to the portrayal of incarceration as something akin to extreme day care. Seen through the movie's lens, Eric and his fellow convicts aren't beasts as much as big babies. For all its savagery "Starred Up" gets to be sympathetic, not only due to O'Connell's galvanizing turn but also due to Asser and director David Mackenzie's commitment to portraying his character with as much compassion as brutal honesty.
A very muscular Damon speaks with his actions rather than his words, that's the basic bottom line of the movie. His reluctance to hurt or kill anyone makes him fascinating, and Damon adds layers of repressed emotion to the already emotional character, which creates a terrific contrast with his two nemeses here: the amusingly sardonic Jones and the casually murderous Cassel. All the main characters are very tenacious, so that the build-up to their climactic showdown gets terribly intense. With his usual shaky-cam under tight control, Greengrass directs the action on a large scale with documentary realism, from the unpredictable fiery street protests in Athens to the destructive final car chase. The film is gripping, with engaging characters and surprising relevance in the political settings. So it doesn't matter that there isn't much depth here, as the movie becomes little more than a revenge scenario.
The Shallows is another entry in that genrea "survival thriller" about an epic battle of survival taking place between an American woman, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), and a vicious shark. The Shallows is categorized as a "suspense thriller," and suspenseful it certainly is. It has certainly taken the lessons of Jaws and made them his own, understanding and employing to great effect, the power of the shark's-eye-view of a human frolicking on the surface of the water. On top of that it adds a lot of lush and masterful cinematography. This is a movie, of course, about a lady-surfer and you would expect a certain amount of lady-surfer-in-her-bathing-suit images but the main fact here is that the images The Shallows serves up aren't just remarkably sexualized, they're also remarkably violent.
Bastille Day is a vehicle showing off Idris Elba's action hero skills and it succeeds in that respect, menacing with a suave meanness, kicking asses and taking no prisoners but all with charm. He commits to the action hero role with a screen presence that carries the film, even as the script goes down every clichéd path B-grade action movie. The Paris we see is not the City of Lights but a place where the lead actor drives his way through gritty Parisienne outskirts, avoiding bad guys, all the way drawing the viewer's eye away from the secondary actors who never get a chance to flesh out their characters. All in all a nice story with an original location.
A thriller aboard the Trans-Siberian line, stretching 5,000 miles from Beijing to Moscow, is certainly original. Transsiberian director Brad Anderson, certainly has fun with the exotic setting but his main characters could use more spice. There's no question that trouble lies around the next snow in the tracks and the good thing is seeing how the trouble unspools for the couple. But by the time the always excellent actor Ben Kingsley takes over as a Russian inspector Anderson's once- promising trip gets better and stays more in the rails. It's not a totally terrific combination of action, mystery and adventure but works on the whole.
A film that relies far more on the fame of its stars than the contents of the story itself, this low-budget action-thriller is an extremely basic crime/heist movie, attempting to highlight the "talents" of its star(s). In reality, Jackson is at best average as Sonny, with his monotone narration. His scenes with Willis highlight how far the rapper-turned-actor is from being a bona fide movie star, even if the Die Hard actor looks uninterested. Gunther also brings in odd direction, with sudden, jerky camera movements giving the feel of a television drama. There are plus points, such as the occasional humour in the script, but overall, awkward is probably a good adjective to describe this disjointed and strained film. Pity because the cast is excellent and the story might make sense, in spite of some plot holes.
All the guys proceed well but the actors, including the scene-stealing, acquit themselves quite amusingly, as does director Haley, who also plays one of Travolta's henchmen. Working from a chatty script not as cleverly hatched as it likes to think it is, Haley whips it into something decently entertaining even as you begin thinking about how truly great "Get Shorty" and Travolta's Chili Palmer were midway through those double-crossing criminal activities. Criminal Activities is overall a sneaky, snaky little crime thriller with some pretty impressive plot twists with some stylish touches and committed performances which enliven this otherwise not special crime thriller.
A dusty and stuffy Australian drama by first-time director Kim Farrant, who echoes the Outback-set aura of some of her country's best filmsPicnic at Hanging Rock, Walkabout, and A Cry in the Dark. Nicole Kidman, who's rarely spoken in her native accent on screen a handful of times since her film debut plays in a perfect way the role of Catherine, a mother to two teenagers in an Aussie desert town. Kidman's best performances have often been as grieving moms and on this occasion provides another excellent acting. On a visual scale, Strangerland naturally takes advantage of the landscape's harsh light, and its quality rises with an arrestingly shot sandstorm happening around the movie's halfway mark. Fiennes as well acts (almost) perfectly but what in my opinion matters the most is the suitable location and atmosphere.
Everything moves so fast in this story that there isn't time to stop and think about how stupid the premise is. All of these characters act on their basest instincts, so that viewers trying to make sense of the plot will lose their sense of direction. The film's edgy tone gives the illusion of depth within the brutal and ruthless violence, while the excellent cast adds weight to a variety of the other characters. Kevin Costner gets some real depth with Jericho constantly surprising and mixing a killer instinct with invention and some dark emotions. His scenes Bill's wife and daughter are tense and moving. Overall the entertainment and the story hold the water.
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