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|435 reviews in total|
Once again, Danny Boyle shows that he has quite a lot of style. His
talent for creating memorable images, powerful compositions and
suspenseful, energetic shots is stronger on 127 Hours than it was on
any of his films since Trainspotting. Cinematically, 127 Hours is a
very solid piece, beautifully shot and edited, and complimented by a
marvelous performance from Franco.
And yet, at the same time, Boyle also shows just how incompetent he is at constructing a coherent and well-paced film. The chaos that worked for Trainspotting did not work well on any of his other works, and it fails here too. The biggest problem 127 has is that it begins and ends at the middle. We get no character development, no structure, no build-up, no satisfying ending - we're expected to get into the action right away, and just as quickly the film ends seconds after the climax. For that reason 127 feels more like a music video than a film. It has no real characters; the few flashbacks the protagonist has seem like a pretty lame cover-up for that fact, giving him a background and a family as generic as possible.
It's pretty shocking, in fact, that a story this dark and shocking can eventually feel so light on film. Despite the grimness of the whole situation, it feels like a lighter version of Into the Wild. Which is why, as powerful as the film is while you're watching it, it leaves absolutely no lasting impression - which is criminal for a story like this. It's probably a good thing that it's short then, because it's just long enough to enjoy the visuals and Franco's acting, to be mildly shocked the way you would be at a news broadcast, and then to move on with your life.
With the release of 25th Hour, Spike Lee has been blamed for 'going
middle of the road'; for 'going white', for 'going Hollywood'. The film
has also been accused of being too slow, too atmospheric, too
indulgent, with no plot. Of course, it was only two years before that
Lee's previous creation, 'Bamboozled', was blamed for being too
provocative, too racially focused, too in-your-face, and with too many
contrived plot turns. It seems he just can't win these days; it seems
quite obvious to me that these two films, very different though they
are, are his best creations in a long time since 1992's 'Malcolm X'
at least and both are fantastic and original films, among my
It's true that there is very little going on in '25th Hour', but a lot is happening beneath the surface; while it raises none of the racial issues we may somehow expect from Lee, it's a very powerful if subtle social commentary, about post-9/11 New York City. Other than being the first major piece of fiction to refer to the disaster from a personal viewpoint, and that much can be seen from the beautiful montage of footage from the WTC monument that follows the moody opening scene. Lee's approach to this difficult and provocative subject is very real and very personal, and it's clearly from the viewpoint of a real New-Yorker. And although Ground Zero at WTC serves mainly as a backdrop and the attack is referred to directly only once in the film, it's hard not to see the important connection between the story of New York's disaster, and the personal disaster of New Yorker Monty Brogan.
25th Hour is as much an achievement for Spike Lee as it is for lead actor Edward Norton; and I consider it the final piece in a trilogy of fantastic films that clearly based Norton as one of the leading actors of his generation, a rise that began four years earlier with American History X and Fight Club (sadly, Norton has not again fulfilled his potential since 25th Hour, but I'm still waiting to see what he has to offer). Norton's portrayal of Monty Brogan is moving and complex; Brogan is a drug dealer, but he's not necessarily a bad guy he's a man who made some bad decisions, and is now paying for them. And even though Norton is supported by a fantastic, first rate cast one that includes Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper and Anna Paquin it's clearly his show, and he makes the most of it. Norton brings Monty to life as a classic anti-hero, and he's as fascinating a protagonist as the characters he played in Fight Club and American History X. 25th Hour is an atmospheric and intense character study, and Norton's performance makes it perfect.
That can be seen most clearly in the infamous mirror monologue, which was attacked most vigorously by the film's critics, and hailed most enthusiastically by its supporters. That scene harks back to a very similar scene that Lee did many years before in his celebrated masterpiece 'Do The Right Thing', but it provokes a very different meaning. Like the scene in 'Do The Right Thing', the mirror scene is a perfect example of one of the things I love most about Lee as a director, and one that constantly angers his critics, is his uncompromising approach for provocation and straightforwardness; Lee never felt any need to be too subtle or to dodge artfully around painful subjects like racism, and in this scene he tackles the problems of post-9/11 head on, and with no fear of stirring things up. It's a powerful and difficult scene, one of the boldest made in recent years, and by itself it makes the film memorable.
25th Hour is poetry; if it sometimes seems slow, it's because the important action is all below the surface, in the soul of Monty Brogan, and in all the lost souls of New York City. It's probably the most atmospheric piece Lee has pulled, but it's a beautiful work, and is well recommended for fans of Lee's and Norton's both. It's an unnerving and unsettling experience, but well worth the admission.
Straight out of the Juno school of filmmaking, here's another bitter-
sweet, off-beat romantic comedy with a quirky, off-beat girl, an ironic
sense of humor mixed with sweet romanticism, and tons of cultural
references and name-dropping from Ringo Starr to Ingmar Bergman to
Oscar Wilde, a sure way to appeal to young proto-intellectuals and
It works, to a certain degree, especially thanks to two very effective leads. Having had my own little celebrity-crush on Zooey Deschanel ever since her short but unforgettable performance in Almost Famous almost a decade ago, it was easy to relate to the character portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's growing up to be quite a decent actor by his own right, even if he still looks sixteen (I was hoping to see some stubble in the scene in which he's depressed and doesn't leave his bed for a week, but nada).
500 Days of Summer has a lot going for it, and a lot of the right elements are in place, but it doesn't achieve real greatness, not even mild and humble greatness like that of solid, intelligent romantic comedies (Jerry Maguire, When Harry Met Sally, High Fidelity etc.) It's just not that memorable, and stylistic elements like the non-linear storytelling serve mainly the purpose of being cool and contemporary than any real one. And even though the actors are great and they do their best, they do it with characters that aren't very complex to begin with. It's an enjoyable movie, and a fantastic date-movie for a couple of young cynics, but it's not one that will stick with you for long.
50/50 falls very neatly into the very definition of "dramedy" - as the
title suggests, it's a 50/50 split between the two. That's not to say
that it isn't, in its heart, very much a drama; the poster and tagline
that suggest a buddy comedy starring Seth Rogen should not be trusted.
But it refuses to ever delve into kitsch or soap-operatic melodrama; it
tackles a difficult subject with maturity, subtlety and yes, a sense of
humor. It's lighthearted, but never tasteless. And it's this
combination that makes it so realistic, so lovable and so easy to
relate to. It's never too depressing or bleak, but it's also not
unrealistically optimistic; and being a positive, honest film about
terminal disease, it feels very refreshing indeed.
Cinematically there's nothing very special about it. The editing and cinematography are actually very good; but just in a way that makes the film easy on the eyes and easy to connect to. Just like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance, which is naturalistic and very strong but also subtle and quiet - which is maybe why he was snubbed so badly during award season. The supporting cast, too, are all deserving of praise - Seth Rogen (clowning around as always, but also a surprisingly realistic and compelling character), Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer all deliver beautifully - but all their performances are toned down, they don't deliver any poignant monologues or soliloquies. They're all just believable and real human beings with flaws as well as virtues.
All this makes 50/50 a film that may not leave a striking impression, but will stay with you in its spirit and its humanity - which may just be the point. It doesn't strive to be a great film, just a very good one, that diffuses some of the melodrama usually affiliated with a subject like cancer, and presents it much closer to what it would play like in reality - a part of life, one that hopefully one wouldn't have to experience, but a part of it nonetheless. It won't make any top 50 lists, nor should it, but it should be watched by everyone.
5x2 was my second Francois Ozon film, and as much as I enjoyed the
English speaking 'Swimming Pool', I was pleasantly surprised to find a
very different film in 5x2. The two share some themes of sexuality,
passion, temptation and insincerity, but while Swimming Pool is a dark
psychological piece, 5x2 is realistic - so realistic, in fact, that it
might hit far to close to home for many viewers.
The format of a story told backwards has been done many times before - Irreversible, Memento, and much earlier than that Harold Pinter's 'Betrayal' are all notable examples. The effect is quite different in 5x2. Rather than create mysteries and then gradually revealing the answers, each scene in 5x2 sheds new light on previous ones, while the shadow of the earlier scenes is always on the latter (chronologically earlier) ones, creating an effect that would make the film almost too painful to watch a second time. The story is extremely realistic and relatable, and there are no shocking revelations throughout; the film's strength is in its subtle simplicity, which makes it seem unimpressive while you're watching it but stay on your mind for a long time after. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Stéphane Freiss create real, relatable, likable but very flawed characters that bring the story to life, a story about love, sex and marriage that is sincere and real in a way that American films hardly ever comes close to.
My biggest disappointment when watching 9, though I knew it was coming,
was barely fifteen minutes into the film, when 9 was finally able to
talk, he opened his mouth and Elijah Wood's voice came out, the most
generic, All-American, goodie-two-shoes man-boy voice you could
Which is the one and only thing that didn't allow me to enjoy 9, at all. It's not exactly a bad movie; but while the original short was fresh, surprising and haunting, the expanded adaptation is mundane and mediocre beyond belief, which is epitomized most of all by the bad dialog and voice acting. While the original short featured a mute protagonist who spoke and expressed with every motion of his body, Shane Acker clearly realized that to make the feature film profitable it needed dialog and attractive stars, but he didn't really know what to do with them. which is why we got top actors not really doing much acting. At times the character and voice actor expressed completely different emotions at the same time. The entire speech element, actually, felt to me like it was tacked on at the last minute.
That feeling of disappointment lingered on for the remainder of the film. Some of the qualities of the short, especially the animation and gorgeous design, were maintained, but the full-length feature offered nothing to make the expansion worthwhile. The simple, symbolic plot of the original was expanded into a myth with history and internal logic that doesn't really add much, and it's filled with clichés right out of a Disney film; the design, too, has been smoothed down, and to me at least felt much less interesting and impressive than the rough, ragged look and feel of the original.
Not a horrible movie by any means, you might enjoy it if you're looking for an adventure film with some action, some thrills and some unusual designs, but it's sadly very far from its potential.
Reviews about 9 Songs seem to divide up between the 1's and the 10's,
mostly based on the reviewer's attitude towards explicit sex scenes in
a film. So let's get this out of the way: yes, the film has a lot of
explicit, unsimulated sex. No, I don't find anything wrong with it.
Actually, I find the uproar completely hypocritical, because I can
name, off the top of my head, a dozen films that presented sex, while
simulated, in a much more disturbing, violent, negative manner. The sex
in 9 Songs is only between two consenting adults, with no orgies,
pedophilia, bestiality, roughness or BDSM in sight - no homosexuality
even! So it seems the one thing those prudes are complaining about is
the fact that the sex is real - but it makes very little difference
on-screen, only in those people insecure minds.
In fact, the one thing 9 Songs truly excels at is portraying a very realistic sexual relationship, one based on attraction, lust and physical chemistry, which anyone who has ever been in a healthy sexual relationship can tell. The relationship between the two characters isn't idealized, nor is it presented as abhorrent or vile. The film's impressive achievement is providing a virtual window into real people with real lives, a real relationship with real feelings and real passion. The sex scenes aren't porn, nor are they the romanticized fluff of the soft-porn erotic thrillers of the 80's; while the sex itself is real, there's substantial acting talent on show in how real their feelings and lust seem on-screen.
Unfortunately, that's not quite enough to make it a satisfying film. The characters feel like real people, but we get to know very little about them - we go through the film as peeping toms, seeing them in their most private moments, but we get no kind of insight, and we have no reason to care about their relationship. If, on the other hand, the film tries to make some sort of broader, more universal statement about the human condition or about sexuality, it fails at that too - the relationship between the two characters is good, it's healthy and then it ends. At the end, it's hard to see any point to the film, other than some well-directed, well made sex scenes that might have been taken from a longer, more interesting film. I'd have preferred to get twenty minutes more that would give me a hint as to what, if anything, 9 Songs is trying to say.
As it is, it seems that the film's only purpose is to prove that unsimulated, explicit sex has a place in a legitimate film, and in that it's a great success; while the content may be considered by some to be pornographic, the way it's made and the way it's presented isn't, and 9 Songs is indeed a legitimate film. It's just not a very good one. Now that the point is proved, I'm waiting to see another director make it.
Absolute Power is not among Clint Eastwood greatest films, but it's
much better than is usually given credit for. A dark thriller, directed
as professionally and bleakly as only Eastwood can do it, Absolute
Power centers around Luther Whitney, a professional burglar (Eastwood
himself, in one of his best performances in the last decade), who finds
himself in a classic wrong place, wrong time situation while robbing
a luxurious mansion, he accidentally witnesses a sexual assault and a
murder, and the subsequent cover-up, that involves the President of the
United States and the White House staff. That scene at the very
beginning of the movie is probably the strongest one in it, Eastwood
making brilliant use of cinematography, music (and especially the lack
of) and his trademark heavy contrasted lighting, and with almost no
dialog at all, it's a remarkably effective scene that overshadows much
of the rest of the film.
Still, as the film turns into a more standard conspiracy-thriller, it holds its own quite well, mainly due to William Goldman's wonderful script (as his always are, this is the genius who wrote 'The Princess Bride', 'Marathon Man', 'Misery' and 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', among others) and most of all thanks to the absolutely fantastic all-star cast; other than Clint himself, who is ideal as the charming, ruthless but honest criminal, fantastic performances are also given by Gene Hackman as the President and by Ed Harris as the detective on the case. The rest of the excellent cast includes Laura Linney ('Primal Fear') as Luther's daughter; the fantastic Judy Davis ('Naked Lunch', 'Barton Fink') as the President's sneaky assistant; Scott Glenn ('Buffalo Soldiers'); Dennis Haysbert ('Far From Heaven'); E.G. Marshall ('Tora! Tora! Tora!'); Penny Johnson ('24'); and Richard Jenkins ('Six Feet Under'). As is usually the case with Clint Eastwood's films, all the actors seem to have been hand-picked by him directly, rather than participated in an audition, because each character seems to have been designed specifically for the actor portraying them. Because of that cast and the brilliant directing and dialog, Absolute Power is an entirely gripping watch, even if the story is at times less than entirely convincing and just a little fragmented.
Absolute Power tries to make its mark on three levels the thriller level is the only one where it completely succeeds, and it manages to be constantly exciting, gripping and enticing. It works slightly less well on the human level, because the inter-character relationships are rather poorly developed. Laura Linney's character in particular is underdeveloped, and so the father-daughter relationship element hardly carries any weight in the story, and neither does her relationship with Ed Harris's character. As there is no interaction between Eastwood's character and Hackman's, the only relationships that are worth mentioning are the ones between Eastwood and Harris, which is strictly superficial and based on mutual respect, and the one between Hackman and Marshall, who plays the old billionaire who funded Hackman's rise to the presidency. The third level on which the film works is as political commentary; there it achieves partial success, as the story often seems contrived (although, one might note, not as contrived as we may imagine). Still, it can give you a general idea of how absolute power corrupts, and of the kind of horrors that the intricate systems of democracy might hide; but it's not to be taken too literally. The strongest elements of the story are the mystery, and Clint Eastwood's character, clearly the strongest in the film; as such it's a solid and enticing thriller with lots of atmosphere and wonderful acting, that will keep you glued to your seat.
A masterpiece doomed to go unrecognized. Not too many people would like
it or even sit through it, but in fact it's one of the best
holocaust-related films ever made. Hateful reviews have commented on
the fact that the film is disturbing and weird - or about the absurdity
of a man surviving the holocaust by acting like a dog for the
entertainment of a Nazi officer; is it any more absurd than the idea of
people stamped with numbers or shoved into ovens? In the face of a
horrifically absurd reality, insanity is often a valid option. Most
WWII films center on the partisans, the heroes, the ones who kept their
dignity and humanity in the face of genocide. But not everyone did. A
major goal of Hitler's action was not just to destroy the Jews, but to
dehumanize them first. And in many cases it worked. That's what this
film is about - the loss of humanity, the feelings of guilt shared by
the ones who survived at the expense of their own most basic human
dignities, and it's small wonder that it's difficult for most to
Paul Schrader made a fantastic job adapting Yoram Kanyuk's novel; reviews blaming him of 'emotional detachment' miss the point that this detachment is very intentional. The cold and distant feeling experienced while watching it is very different from the pathos of Schindler's List or Life Is Beautiful, and, rather than draw the viewer into the actual events, brings them face to face with their very madness and incomprehensibility. Jeff Goldblum portrays that feeling perfectly in what may be the most powerful performance of his career - reminding me, at times, of Roy Scheider in All That Jazz. Master-character actors Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi compliment him perfectly without stealing the show, and some of Israel's biggest stars join in to complete the ensemble cast. Bottome line - a terrific film, and instantly a favorite of mine, but I hesitate to recommend it to anyone for fear of being blamed for it later. Watch it at your own risk, with an open mind, and with an empty stomach.
Even at his very worst, David Cronenberg always makes interesting
films, and A Dangerous Method is no exception - there are some very
memorable scenes, some superb acting (a given with Viggo Mortensen,
Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel, but Cronenberg really drew a
surprisingly gutsy and total performances out of Keira Knightley) and
especially some truly beautiful shots. That's enough to be worth the
100 minutes; but A Dangerous Method is unmistakably one of Cronenberg's
weakest films, and a very disappointing follow-up to the subtle
intensity of Eastern Promises and A History of Violence - films whose
dark, dreamy realism it clearly tries to follow.
The film's main weakness is lack of decision; it masquerades as a biography of Carl Jung, but doesn't really offer any interesting information for anyone half-familiar with his life story, and what facts it presents are dubious at best. It also fails to show any real insight about the relationship between Jung and Freud; I would forgive all that if instead it showed some insight into the differences between their different methods, but it barely even touched that point, mentioning briefly what anyone who knows anything about either man already knew. Instead, A Dangerous Method is mainly an offbeat romance/psychological thriller which uses Freud and Jung as a backdrop which barely contributes anything to the story. It might have been about the rivalry between two fictional modern-day university professors or surgeons and not change all that much.
A Dangerous Mind has plenty of beauty to make it watchable, and a lot of work was clearly put into the costumes and sets - that much I could find in most Hollywoodian period piece, but in a Cronenberg film I want more, and I didn't get that. As uneven as Cronenberg's output always was, this may be the only one of his films to actually bore me.
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