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There doesn't seem to be anyone around
Spike Jonze's latest feature film Her tackles the subject of being alone. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man separated from his wife who spends most of his time working, checking emails, playing video games, and talking to his computer. He is not the only person partaking in this ritual. The majority of the characters and extras in the film are talking to their ear pieces and interacting with their computers, or OS (operating system). Things change when OS-1 comes out, introducing the world's first artificially intelligent OS. Shortly thereafter we are introduced to Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johnansson). This first encounter will forever change Theodore's life.
What is so wonderful about Her is the world that Spike creates. It's a world exactly like ours. The key for me is how nonchalantly his characters use their tech. People walk around with tech sticking out of their ears, talking to themselves, and going about their business completely oblivious to what's happening around them. We have, "interactions," and, "connections," with other people through our devices. We walk past strangers who are using the same tech and having the same experience. We rely so much on these devices to go through day to day living.
Spike ingeniously takes this obsession with tech and gives it a personality. Instead of talking to Siri about a new email, listening to music, or taking a picture (because you may never see a sunset again!!!), Theodore partakes in all of these rituals with Samantha. So he's not just listening to music. He's listening to a song Samantha picked out (or composed) just for him. He's not just taking a picture of a sunset. Instead he and Samantha can experience it with him. They converse about what they're doing instead of just mulling about aimlessly.
By giving the tech a personality and the ability to think, it makes the experience of being alone not so lonely. Theodore and Samantha overcome many obstacles in their relationship, the first being that Samantha isn't just an OS. Samantha is, well, Samantha. A free thinking, super inquisitive mind that has wants and needs and can be happy and afraid all at once. It's brilliant how the outside world views their relationship. In short, it's perfectly okay to have this relationship. Not everyone agrees and those people who are hesitant cause some doubt to creep into Theodore's head, but don't all new technologies have people that oppose its use? Let's face it, 10 or 15 years ago the idea of meeting a person online seemed pretty ridiculous. Nowadays not only is it acceptable, it's become a primary alternative to meeting someone new.
This near tangible relationship with a non tangible being is, at first glance, odd. There is a scene where Theodore can't find Samantha. His connection to the server isn't going through. He frantically searches for connectivity, like a parent looking for a lost child at Disney. We don't look at this as crazy. We can sympathize because we do the same thing, like when we search for free wifi or that elusive 4G bar we desperately need for a phone call. Heaven help us if for one minute we can't receive an update or check our email, for the alternative is...alone time...
The inability to spend time by ourselves could be brought on by the pace at which we live our lives. Faster, stronger, newer, and bigger. Think of how long it took mankind to develop boats, then trains, planes, and rocket ships. Now think about how quickly we move today, both in physical and mental space. We are constantly, "progressing," because our technology allows us to do so. So when we have a lull in activity, our minds start to wander, and that is not natural for today's standards. When Theodore can't connect to the server, he is left alone, and the thought of being alone scares the hell out of him.
In the end that's what Theodore is looking for. In a way so is Samantha. We are constantly looking for distractions and a companion so we don't have to be alone. No matter how many friends, likes, retweets, pins, or subscribers we have, there is always that fear of being alone. I know this doesn't necessarily include everyone. There are people, fully functioning people, who don't require these needs, but for the most part, we can all agree that our world will never be the same because of our technology.
The connections that matter most are not the ones made by circuits, microchips, and displays. They are made with each other. They are made by communicating face to face. They are made with our senses. They are made with our memories. Spike could have taken this film is a variety of directions, and the one he chose couldn't have made me happier. You should experience it on your own. You just might learn something about yourself.
Tonight when I take the train home, I'll throw on my ear buds and play melancholy music, just like Theodore Twombly. I'll flick through my news feed or maybe take an Instagram of a cool angle on the railway. Or maybe I'll just sit there instead. I'll let my mind wander, drifting in and out of rational and irrational thought. I could revisit a memory or plan out what to eat for dinner.
With my iPhone, only so much is possible. With me, anything is possible.
World War Z (2013)
Don't give up
At the end of World War Z, just as the credits began rolling, a gentleman, scratch that, an idiot spoke up from the back of the theatre exclaiming, "What? That sucked! The book was nothing like that! Booo!" I'm sure he scurried away back home, logged online, and began tweeting, posting, and blogging, furthering his rant. Much like my response to him at the theatre, I hope he receives silence in return.
It's true, World War Z is nothing like the book. The book is told from the point of view AFTER the war. It's a "historical," account of what happened during the war. Rather than make a mockumentary with flashbacks, which would have been the wrong decision in my opinion, the filmmakers decided to put us right in the middle of the action.
When adapting a piece of literature it is impossible to bring every page, every paragraph, every nuance onto the screen. Some have come close depending on the material, but for the most part, they all have to take their own creative licenses. After all, it's called an "adaptation," for a reason, otherwise they would call it a copy or mimic.
Where World War Z works (that's a mouthful) and where so many others fail is that just because the world slips into total and utter chaos, doesn't mean that governments, military, and law enforcement agencies go away. Quite the opposite. If anything, these scenarios bring out the best of all of them. We see generals, UN delegates, and scientists trying to solve complex issues that they don't know anything about. Rather than going into hiding, they act. Society doesn't crumble. Bands of cannibals and leather strapped gangs don't patrol the streets with necklaces made of teeth. People do what they can to survive, and the higher ups try their best to find a fast and effective solution.
At first, I thought the movie started too fast. How could something this violent and concentrated go undetected, but after a while I got it. The opening montage of news reports said it all. How many of us listen to everything we hear on the news? Exactly. So much goes undetected while we focus on issues that effect us immediately. It's too late when the virus touches US soil. Not even social media can keep up with it.
As far as zombie movies go this one is pretty great. Though I think 28 Days Later takes the cake in terms of realism, in-camera effects, and sheer terror, this one holds its own. Brad Pitt plays a former UN investigator who is traveling with his family just as the zombie attack on Philadelphia unfolds. The film goes from 0-60 before you take a sip of your Coke. This is a fast paced, edge of your seat thrill ride led by one of the finest actors of this generation (Pitt's acting ability is far too underrated and lost in the kerfuffle of tabloid news).
For those of you who stare at the ticket window debating whether or not to see a film in 3D or standard, you might want to spend the extra few dollars to see this one in 3D (I know it's asking a lot, but maybe you can sneak some candy or a bottle of water to offset the concession stand price - deal with it). I tend to air on the side of "screw it, I want to see it in 3D." Now not every movie NEEDS to be seen in 3D, hell there are really only a couple that absolutely have to be seen in all three dimensions (Avatar and maybe Life of Pi), but this one really surprised me. 3D is not about things jumping out at you, but it's about layers. Luckily this film has both. Big chase scenes in Philly, particles floating about in South Korea, and tracking shots in Jerusalem make this one of the 3D events of the year. No exaggeration.
Like so many other summer blockbusters before it, civilization is on the brink of extinction and only a handful of experts can save us. What World War Z does that so many have failed is give us hope. Hope that humanity won't dissolve into nothingness. In the face of sheer danger these fighters stand tall, take a deep breath, look the enemy in the eye, and say, "No."
Only God Forgives (2013)
Coffee Table Movie
Nicolas Winding Refn has made a career of shocking audiences, for better and for worse. Through all of his work there is one word I keep repeating: hypnotic. I've seen five of his films and all of them put me in a trance. The stories, the camera work, the ethereal music beds, and the performances. Everyone involved seems to know what Refn is aiming to make, and when it works we inevitably figure it out.
In the case of Only God Forgives, I wish we knew what was going on.
Sometimes a film seems like it has one or two inside jokes that the characters get but you don't necessarily understand. I feel like if I watched this with the cast and crew they would smirk at certain moments and nod at a particular line. I, on the other hand, would be left scratching my head.
This is a film that after several viewings, probably similar to Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, would make more and more sense, and maybe even create an appreciation for what is being done. Some movies can pull it off. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one such a film. it gets better and better with each viewing. Though The Master doesn't quite deserve a revisit just yet (it does have quality performances), this film falls completely flat.
It's a shame. A real shame. Refn is one of the most interesting filmmakers out there and his body of work shows it. He turns violence into an art form, where it's not just about special effects and blood curdling screams. He doesn't let violence carry on and on, barreling through walls and off of cars. Fighting hurts everyone, both the victim and the assailant. It's a very emotional experience with lots of blood, sweat, and swelling. That's what we saw in Drive, Valhalla Rising, and Bronson. That's not what we see here with OGF.
Now, I'm not advocating violence by any means. Violence when photographed and presented correctly can show humans at their most primal level. Here we have a lot of violent people, but there's no motive, nothing driving them to such violent acts. In Drive, the Driver is on his own. He must fight to survive, but he would rather use his wheels do the talking. The villain is an old, mean gangster with no patience to rant and torture his victims. His violent acts are done with purpose and precision. In OGF we have a lot of violent people, none of which we ever truly get to know.
Julian (Gosling) is a fighter (maybe) who runs a Thai boxing gym as a front for his mothers drug trafficking. He doesn't say much (less than in Drive if you can believe it) but he has a look about him that says...well, I'm not sure what it says. He's almost like a puppy. When his brother is killed his mother comes to seek revenge, hoping that Julian will help out. He doesn't. We find out later that he may or may not have been jealous of his brother's relationship with his mother, but we're never told anything that is the honest to God truth. You can't trust any of the characters...except the detective who wields a katana and slices up everything that moves.
I really don't want to go into the details because there isn't much and most of it is speculative. There are a few dream sequences (maybe) and one fight with Gosling, who may or may not be a good fighter. He sometimes has a temper but he also has a good side. His mother has no redeeming qualities and is pretty nasty to everyone. The detective leads a pretty wholesome life when he isn't stabbing, slicing, impaling, or gouging his way through the movie.
So the takeaways? Well, it looks pretty. This would probably serve better as a coffee table book than an actual movie. I would rather just look at a few images than an hour and half of synth tones, neon lights, and sword slashing. Honestly, watch the trailer. It tells a much more precise story and is more easy to understand. Hell, the trailer is actually pretty awesome (there is also a red band trailer that is more like a short Refn film).
Only God Forgives isn't an unforgivable sin. I don't even think it needs an apology. Refn clearly made a film that HE wanted to make. He has earned it in my book. Now that he has it out of his system I'm hoping he gets back to basics and starts making more films like Drive, Bronson, and Pusher. The ball is in your court Mr. Refn.
Tough to swallow
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of a family living in New York City post 9/11. Oskar and his mother Linda (Thomas Horn and Sandra Bullock respectively) are still coping with the loss of Thomas (Tom Hanks), Oskar's father and Linda's husband. He was the glue that kept the family together, and not that he is gone there is a giant void in both their lives. When Oskar stumbles upon a key, he sees is as one final contact with his father, one final game the two can play. What does the key fit? Where will it take him?
Oskar is a unique child, both in his abilities and inabilities. He was once thought to have Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, though his tests were inconclusive. Regardless, he is a special boy with an imagination as lofty as lofty as his determination to find the elusive key hole for his father. With the help of his grandmother, grandmother's renter (Oscar nominee Max von Sydow), and the entire city of New York, Oskar journeys out into the unknown, hoping to come across the owner of the said key hole, but more so to find out where his father's final game will take him.
This film should come with a warning along with the MPAA's rating. THIS FILM WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR EMOTIONS. It's really not fair at times. A boy with Aspergers loses his father on 9/11 who is played by Tom Hanks, whom EVERYONE loves. The child's mother is played by Sandra Bullock, another of America's sweethearts, throw that on top of a very intense story about love, loss, and self discovery, you've got one heavy emotional cocktail.
I do think this film hits below the belt a few times, but overall I was impressed with the story. It wasn't so much about finding closure for the death of his father, this was a story about a city still reeling from a tragic event. This boy risks a lot going out into the city, greeting strangers to find out if they knew his father or not, only to discover that there is a good in every person, including himself. He was bringing comfort to their lives, be it a shoulder to cry on or a voice to laugh with, he was there.
Horn, Bullock, and Hanks offer up pretty solid performances. Sydow, who received an Oscar nod for the voiceless Renter, gives a nice performance, but I don't know if it was more worthy than say Albert Brooks in Drive or Andy Serkis in The Adventures of Tin Tin. Regardless it's still a great character and offers another angle to the story of Oskar and his father. Horn and Bullock really lock horns in this film, spewing some shocking revelations.
Director Stephen Daldry has a knack for tackling some tough issues. His last two films, both of which garnered Best Picture nods (The Reader and The Hours), ventured into the Holocaust and suicide. Where these films differ is with the characters. They both had very deep, complex characters, which in Extremely Loud the characters are more confused that anything else, or we can't understand as in Oskar's case. Daldry isn't shy to hold punches, but his punches here seemed a little too harsh and more consistent. It wasn't totally abusive but it came close.
It's a tough movie to get through for some more than others, but for those who can handle the subject matter they have the most to gain from watching.
Albert Nobbs (2011)
Albert Nobbs is a labor of love. Glenn Close, who stars in the titular role, has been connected with this material for nearly 20 years, playing the same role on stage in 1982. For years she tried to get the production to the big screen, and after a long wait her efforts have put forth a brilliant film. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment), this film tells the story of Albert, an Irish waiter at a hotel. The trouble is she has been portraying herself as a man for 30 years. She has become encased in her mindset of Albert Nobbs that she doesn't know her true self anymore. She must do whatever it takes to get by, even if it means keeping her secret to the grave.
She befriends a local painter, Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), only Hubert isn't all that he says he is either. With Hubert's friendship, Albert sees that what he needs is a wife. He attempts to court another maid at the hotel, Helen (by Mia Wasikowska), only she has taken a shine to Joe (Aaron Johnson), the new handyman. It's sometimes painful to see the lengths that Albert goes to for Helen, but Albert it so pure in his thinking and kind of heart that we want him to get the girl no matter what.
What makes Albert Nobbs so special is Close's performance. Close truly fits the part. There is something in her eyes that makes you really believe that the woman in Albert is only what he keeps hidden under his clothes. All the rest is a man. Close makes us believe that Albert sees himself as a man only just a little different. We see a fragile man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means sucking up to the harsh and vulgar members of high society.
The supporting cast around Close is fantastic as well. McTeer really shines as Albert's only true friend. I would look for both Close and McTeer to be in contention come this Oscar night. Wasikowska and Johnson look great for their respective parts, playing them with honesty. Another accent to the cast is Brendan Gleeson as the local doctor. He adds a touch of sensibility to the entitled of the day. He likes a good, stiff drink (or three) and finds himself comfortable in the company of those considered lower than him.
Gleeson's character brings up a great quality to the film. I am astonished at how much of a commentary of 19th century life is put into the film. I would say most of the first act is setting up the world they live in and periodic references and characters enter the second and third acts to remind us of the time period this story is taking place. Albert Nobbs is in fact a reflection of what it was like to live back then. In order to make a decent living one had to be a man, otherwise find someone to live off of.
It's a heartbreaking story that will really hit home. Albert on the surface is a simple man, but underneath lies a wealth of feeling, confusion, and love. The film ends with the beautiful song "Lay Your Head Down" with lyrics by Close herself, music by Brian Byrne, and sung by Sinead O'Connor. It reminded me of "Into the West" by Annie Lennox, the Oscar winning song from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. This song from Albert is somber, sweet, and plays like a lullaby. I think it's safe to say that is exactly what it is; a lullaby for Albert, a character whose life has been so strenuous and tiresome.
The more I think about it the more I love this film. Great performances, great characters, and a perfect time period to be placed in. The song is the icing on the cake (and probably has the best shot at winning come Oscar night). It looks like Meryl Streep is all but a lock for Best Actress, but we shall see what happens. Who knows, maybe Albert will gain momentum coming down the homestretch. I hope it does.
La piel que habito (2011)
Almodovar strikes again!
The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) is an emotionally draining yet highly enjoyable romp into a quasi new genre for Almodóvar. On the outside this has all the markings of a science fiction thriller, but the science involved really isn't the meat and potatoes of the film. It's a drama/romance steeped in mystery and intrigue, masquerading in sci/fi clothing. It stars Antonio Banderas, who reunites with Almodóvar after working with him over 20 years ago. Banderas plays a doctor whose controversial foray into developing new, stronger human skin forces him to test his new substance on a human patient in secret. Her name is Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), and we are aware that Vera is, or at least was, being held captive inside Banderas' home.
There is also the housekeeper, played by one of Almodóvar stand by actresses, Marisa Paredes. She has known Banderas since he was a child. She is well aware of all his secrets, even ones that he isn't aware of. Her main goal is to protect him from the dangers of his work. Vera because of the reconstruction he has done to Vera's skin, he has made her similar to the wife that he lost, a concern for Paredes. Can he separate his feelings from his work, or will he succumb to desire and fall in far deeper than he could possibly imagine?
Almodóvar doesn't just give us generic characters in an average plot. No, no, no. He is not the person to put ordinary people in extraordinary situations. He takes extraordinary people and puts them in unimaginable circumstances. He has always done that and will continue to do that, and for that we thank him. Like M. Night Shyamalan, only less predictable, Almodóvar always keeps us on our toes. Just when we think we know where he's going, he jerks us in the other direction, and then jerks us back again. He does so cleanly and efficiently what others would make a mess of.
Banderas isn't just a talented doctor, he's a talented doctor bent on righting wrongs, revenging his family, and filling that empty void in his life. The same goes for Vera and Paredes. They both fit archetypical characters from the thriller genre, but there is so much more going on under the surface. Almodóvar's characters are like icebergs. What you see is only a tiny percent of what they are truly made up of.
Like so many of Almodóvar's previous films, especially those made in the last decade or so, this film has such a clean look to it. What I mean is the camera shots are well placed, level, and you can easily follow the action. We're not floating around the room or rumbling inside of a car. He and José Luis Alcaine (they've worked together several times before) utilize the beauty of their talent, the beauty of their setting, and juxtapose it with the ugliness of what is going on. There is kidnapping, murder, jealousy, lust, and science experiments, yet somehow they make it all look so chic. The use of color, a prominent feature in many of Almodóvar's films, is highlighted brilliantly here.
It's unlike any Almodóvar film I've ever seen, but at the same time it's like wearing your favorite shirt. It just feels so right, so comfortable. The material has changed but the elements are all there. He continues to shine with age and pushes the envelope further and further. He's a rebel, a genius, and a visionary, and one of the most talented artists working today.
Addiction up close and personal
Shame, the real feel bad movie of the year, is only McQueen's second feature film to date. His first film, Hunger, focused on a man who made his life very public when he went on a hunger strike during the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes. In Shame, McQueen dissects the very personal and often shocking sexual addiction of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender). Brandon is a well off business man. He has an apartment in New York where he leads a seemingly good life, but hides a dark secret that is on the verge of destroying him. His sex addiction has gone out of control. To make this even more difficult, his sister drops in unexpected and crashes at his place (played by Carey Mulligan). Her lifestyle begins to interfere with his addiction, forcing him to take drastic measures.
Every waking moment is spent towards achieving one goal: orgasm. We see him smile, laugh, engage socially, but when he is alone he is focused, like a junkie going through the routine of drug addiction. Brandon's tools aren't lighters, spoons, and rubber ties. He uses prostitutes, Internet pornography, magazines, or his imagination. Even at work his mind wanders off, either at a passing coworker or something he has looked up on his computer. This is far from a private matter. His addiction is slipping into the open and he knows it. We assume he is aware of his problem. At the beginning of the film we see Brandon lying naked in bed, the sheet pulled over his private area. He lies motionless, only staring at the ceiling above, breathing in and out as if he knows that today is going to be a long day. We know he's not thinking about work. He has one thing and one thing only. Sex.
Most people associate sex with pleasure. I'm sure Brandon has at one time or another had a pleasurable experience during intercourse, but he is long past that stage. During a scene on the subway he spots a woman. She's an attractive woman. She's alone. Vulnerable. She eyes Brandon staring back at her. The two have chemistry. In silence they are mentally engaging each other. His stare never wavers, he just scans her up and down. Suddenly her face changes. She gets up, showing the audience her wedding band. We can feel her shame for flirting with Brandon. He gets up and stands behind her. He follows her out of the train only to lose her in the crowd. His disappointment isn't so much in relation to not getting to know her, but that he will have to continue his search for sex elsewhere.
Brandon is a tragic character. His only connection with people is linked with sex. How will this person help or interfere with me reaching my goal of orgasm? Brandon's limit's knows no bounds. Fassbender, who also appeared in McQueen's Hunger, gives a fascinating performance. It is fearless both in the sense that it is a physically challenging role and that he accomplishes the role with such honesty. He could have played it like some debonair businessman just looking to score. Fassbender knows that his character is truly disturbed. He knows that if people found out about his condition he would be ostracized. He also knows that he needs help and won't get it. All of these factors come into play and create an incredible performance. Much like Gosling pulled off in Drive, Fassbender uses his eyes and body language to express how he feels.
Pain is a word often associated with addiction. We see videos of addicts going through withdrawals in health class. They kick, scream, shake, vomit. Evidence of a sickness in the body. Fassbender's character also shows great pain and uneasiness. During times of sheer euphoria, at least for a normal person, Fassbender gives us pain and suffering. He can't help what he's doing but he needs it to stay normal.
Along with Fassbender is Mulligan, another one of today's rising stars. Her character is rebellious, dependent, and loving. She wants nothing more than to find someone to care for her and to spend time with her brother. Her brother is too involved with his addiction and her taste in men and willingness to fall in love with them brings her down even more. She plays a girl on the edge of a breakdown and really shines on screen. Like Fassbender, she gives her all for the role, exposing her true colors.
In just two films McQueen has established himself as a major player in the art house scene. Both films are festival favorites with critical praise, but the general public isn't ready for his heavy storytelling. With hope (and some financial backing) he will continue to make the films he wants to make and hopefully garner enough praise here in the states to win over more of the public. It's going to be hard if he keeps getting NC-17 ratings.
The Ides of March (2011)
Watch your back!
The Ides of March is a "grab you by the throat kind" of political drama. I don't want to call it a political thriller like The Manchurian Candidate, but it has certain elements that make you stand on edge (confrontations, secrets revealed, intense dialogue). It stars Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers, a young and talented man who is second in command on presidential hopeful Mike Morris' (George Clooney) campaign staff. When he has an unauthorized meeting with the opposing candidates campaign manager, all hell breaks loose as friendships are tested, news stories are released, and the worst thing a campaign can buy pokes its ugly head out; a scandal.
Along with Gosling and Clooney is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Clooney's head campaign manager, Paul Giamatti as the opposing manager, Marissa Tomei as the news reporter for the Times, and Evan Rachel Wood as the young intern who catches the eye of Gosling in more ways than one. A terrific ensemble cast that pulls off a terrific political drama in a political climate that is volatile and overflowing with unethical behavior.
Gosling continues his dominance on screen. Not just as a heartthrob but as a dramatic force. Not since Paul Newman flashed those baby blue eyes has there been an actor with such intensity without saying a word. There is an intense scene between Wood and Gosling where with just ONE look Gosling lets the audience know what he is thinking, what he wants to do, and what he has to do. This performance along with Drive make 2011 a really special year for the young actor.
Clooney pulls off the rare quadruple crown by acting, directing, writing, and producing. Though not as prominent on screen as Gosling, Clooney's presence is vital to the film, especially towards the end. In just his fourth film behind the camera, Clooney is building up a pretty decent resumé (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, Leatherheads). He calls on the help of Phedon Papamichael to photograph (he also photographs Clooney in Alexander Payne's Oscar hopeful The Descendants), who cleverly shows us what the people see and what is going on behind the scenes of politics (flipping back and forth nicely between the two). There is a scene where Clooney is giving a very enthusiastic speech in front of a large American flag, meanwhile Gosling and Hoffman are having an intense discussion on the reverse side. I saw Clooney on one side speaking of the light side of politics while on the other side, in front of an illuminated AND reversed American flag (used on soldiers uniforms in times of war), two men delving into the darkness of politics. They are the soldiers of war. Clooney is the poster child (literally).
There are so many reference to the Obama campaign that are hard to ignore like the advertisements, the political messages, the overall feeling of goodness. I don't think this is in any way shape or form a slant at Obama. No, no, no. I think they are trying to mimic the political climate and using images and ideas we have recently seen. I DO believe this is a huge slap in the face of politics and even a little jab at the current administration, saying that no matter how hard you try to do good if you want to succeed in Washington, you need to get dirty.
There are so many levels to dissect here. It's a story about survival, idealism, morality, politics, and a big reflection on the political machines that are in play in our nation's capital. What we see on TV is Clooney's character, Mike Morris. A clean-cut, righteous politician who wants nothing more than to change the ways of government. What we don't see are the nasty, backstabbing ways of politics, where one candidate's agenda doesn't mean squat when it comes to getting elected. There are others waiting to bring you down or raise you up.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and much like Roman politics there are friends waiting with open arms and knives at the ready.
There is a moment in Paddy Constantine's Tyrannosaur where the two main characters confront each other about a major problem they are facing. For the first time the male protagonist sees what he was, what he has failed to do, and what he must do to make things right. It is such a cathartic moment of clarity for him and his female friend, both clarity and horror, and a complete shock for the audience.
Peter Mullan stars in one of the year's best films. He plays a man, Joseph, who suffers from alcohol, loneliness, and worst of all rage. His temper hurts those around him and gets him into more trouble than he can chew. His only friend is dying, the daughter of which hates both him and her dying father. He drinks all day, staggers home at night, and fights anyone who does him wrong, or at least what he calls wrong.
One day he winds up hiding inside a woman's garment shop. She finds him irritable, vulnerable, and extremely volatile. The woman, Hannah (Olivia Colman), does what most of us wouldn't do. She let's him be, offers tea, and prays for him. This confuses Joseph. It's quite evident, but underneath all the testosterone and aggression you can almost see him trying to figure out why she helps.
We soon find out that she is the victim of someone similar to Joseph, only more cruel and abusive than just angry. Her husband James (Eddie Marsan) drinks as well but his temper and need for sex and authority drive him to do awful things to Hannah. Joseph and Hannah strike an unlikely friendship, attempting to find solace in the utter chaos that is life.
Mullan and Colman play off of each other so well. They both need help and want help but don't know how to ask others let alone help themselves. Mullan's character lost his wife to diabetes, though his aggression doesn't stem from that single incident. We don't know everything about him or Hannah but we know their characters have seen a lot and have had to deal with more than your average Joe. Their faces and their voices speak volumes of their back story.
Director Constantine makes his feature debut (he also wrote the script). He shows a gritty and morbid, Irish Landscape, where the beer flows, the skies are rarely bright and sunny, and the nights are filled with barking dogs, violent husbands, and tortured souls crying out. He has developed some really deep, disturbed characters that have significant baggage. The writing is authentic (I'd be curious to find out how much was improvised by Mullan and others, especially during tirades). There is a great deal of heart poured into this film.
There is a good amount of disturbing material here that some people might find offensive. As tough as these scenes and images are to take in I find that they are necessary to tell this type of story. Violence is not pretty, but when done with a certain grace and dedication it can really turn into something special, such is the case with Tyrannosaur.
Margin Call (2011)
Margin Call is one way of examining the economic collapse in 2008. It doesn't name names or implicate certain companies, but what it does do is utilize what we know and force us to complete the picture. We follow a trading company's 24 hour meltdown. The head of risk management (Tucci) is let go from the company just as he stumbles upon an alarming trend in the company's earnings. He gives the data to one of his workers (Quinto) who in turn discovers the horrifying truth about the companies dealings.
The matter goes through a series of bosses (Spacey, Baker, Irons), causing the company to come to an emergency meeting to try and figure out what to do next. Like many of us "normal" citizens, we woke up one morning and found that the stock market had taken a historic hit. And like "normal" citizens it took a while to figure out what happened and is still to an extent being explained to us (thank you Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story). Chandor realized this when writing and knew that a lot of the people implicated didn't quite understand what exactly they were doing. So we along with a lot of these "high-up" people find out from workers like Quinto that the work they have been doing was morally wrong and they are now facing one of the biggest and most dangerous decisions in US history.
Chandor does an excellent job in explaining what happened without really saying for sure what happened. He puts into layman's terms the basics of what happened, but we never know exactly how the company did what the did and what they did it with (that was a mouthful). It all sounds kind of boring on paper, but when people who care about what they are talking about discuss it with passion, it becomes very interesting.
Now, I am not one to get caught up with politics or news of this sort (I try to keep up on current events, emphasis on try) but I must say this was the most eye-opening explanation of the economic crisis I have seen yet. It was engrossing, enlightening, gripping, and hard to believe. Granted this is a work of fiction, I can imagine that Mr. Chandor did lots of homework in preparing to discuss this subject.
I wouldn't say that there is a standout performance here (other than Chandor). This was really an ensemble effort. Each performance had to be as convincing and as strong as every other. If one link in the chain breaks off, everybody falls. If I had to pick someone that really stood apart from the rest I would give it to Spacey. I really felt that he nailed the part. We really see him change over the course of the film, yet in a way we're not sure if he ever really will change.
These characters live in a culture like that of Oliver Stone's Wall Street. They waste money, try to accumulate as much money, and leave morality on the side. The work that they do involved not just numbers on a computer screen but the lives of millions of people. Their loss is a much greater loss for the general population. I found myself enraged at how some of these people think and act, but when I really thought about, they don't know any better. They've been spoiled their whole lives. It's pitiful. I honestly feel sorry that these people can't see past making a dollar than owning up to their mistake. The cast does a fantastic job in conveying this feeling. You can see the internal struggle start to manifest externally.
This is probably going to be as good as it gets for fictionalizing the economic disaster or 2008. I can't see how someone could improve upon it without naming names and villainizing people and corporations. It's a disturbing film in some regards (when you look at what is actually happening), but it's a breath of fresh air as far as filmmaking. Wonderful debut by Chandor. Very excited to see where he goes.