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|11 reviews in total|
Drive is the movie I always wanted to see and nobody had ever directed
before. It is the story of an unnamed, lonely stuntman who moonlights
as a getaway driver. The driver falls in love (or at least he seems to)
with his neighbor, but an attempt to help her ex-con husband triggers a
deadly chain of events.
Drive is a great movie because its style is as important as its plot in telling the story. With only a few scattered lines and lots of silence, the extraordinarily gifted director Nicolas Winding Refn is in charge of telling most of the story through his cameras. And he does, and well! Refn's way of framing every scene is exceptionally powerful in conveying the character's emotions. The exchanges between Ryan Gosling and Corey Mulligan are loaded with unspoken emotions. The occasional bursts of violence are intense and explosive, hard and unforgiven, without the cathartic overtones of Tarantino's. The car chases are focused and intense, because they feel what a real car chase should feel like, concentrated on the goal of saving your own life, and not on the roller-coaster's thrill of driving fast.
The entire movie's style is based on the tension between the dryness and brutality of the character's interactions on screen, and their emotional world as communicated by the visuals and the movie's score. In fact, Drive's music (sophisticated, nightly, electronic) is the off-screen main character. Its retro style gives the film a dreamy atmosphere, keeping it half-way between the gritty reality of the story and a wonderful and poetic heroism that makes up fairy tales and knight stories. The movie keeps these two distant worlds apart and strangely connected, which is what makes it movie so powerful in the first place.
Some commentators compared this movie to "Layer Cake" or "Lock, Stock ". They are seriously mistaken. The only thing in common with "Layer Cake" is that the main character remains unnamed. The only thing in common with "Lock, Stock " is that the director is European. "Drive" is not a crime story, at least not in a strict sense. Drive is distilled movie about an archetypal lonely hero. It is a movie about whether we really have choices in our life, or we are bound to follow our nature. And it is one of the few masterpieces I have seen in many years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Mama" comes with a fantastic pedigree. It is produced by Guillermo del
Toro, and directed by Andy Muschietti, who has adapted its own
wonderful short movie "Mama" (2008; you can find it on Youtube). The
trailer was also exceedingly good, so my expectations were reasonably
high---but they were disappointed.
"Mama" tells the story of two little girls who are abandoned in the woods after losing both parents in tragic circumstances. They are found after 5 years in horrible conditions: feral and dirty, they crawl on four legs and move like an animal. Everybody assumes that the girls have survived on their own in the woods. Unfortunately, that is not quite the case. And, when their uncle and auntie take them in with them (helped by a shady psychiatrist), the frightening truth comes out.
"Mama" has a few stunning visuals and delivers the promised amount of scares. It does juggle well the balance between suspense and sudden jumps, and it is a quite enjoyable horror movie, several steps above the average horror flick. The disjointed figure that moves at unnatural speed (which made the short movie famous in the first place) is eerie, scary, fresh, and beautiful at the same time. The trick of speeding-up movements to create a sense of supernatural pace is used for the girls too (when they crawl on all fours at impossible speeds), and it works perfectly.
However, "Mama" never quite overcomes its origins---that is, a short movie that has been stretched out to full-feature length. In this stretching-out process, some additions were made that work perfectly (the story arch of the girls left alone in the woods, and found in a feral state), and some were made that simply don't work at all (the titular character's background story is cheesy, the psychiatrist is introduced simply as an excuse to explain parts of the plot, then quickly dismissed). Like many horrors, Mama works when each scene is taken in isolation, but does not work as a whole because the screenplay does not quite organize the brilliant seminal idea in a proper way. Some dialog is just too bad; some characters undeveloped; some plot twists forced; some background explanations unnecessary and prosaic.
Somehow, the problems of structuring the original ideas into a full-length storyline ends up compromising the movie's visuals, which are its strongest point. The special effects for the main character work beautifully as long as it makes only brief appearances. But the extended storyline requires it to be seen on screen for longer periods of time towards the end, and, as the titular creature is seen more and more, it loses its realism and begins to look like cheap CGI, glossy, fake, translucent and not quite believable enough to be genuinely scary. This is a mistake that, for instance, last year's superior "The Woman in Black" cleverly avoided making.
In summary, the movie is an above-average horror that could have been a great horror, but fell short of accomplishing its potential.
I love David Russel. He is quirky. He is smart. He has style. He knows
how to make a movie live, and how to make a story pulse. He knows how
touch different cords of the heart. Most importantly, he knows how to
make fun with weird characters without making fun of them, and this
skill is the key to the beauty of Silver Linings Playbook.
The movie deals with two broken characters, Pat and Tiffany, who suffer from mental illness (bipolar disorder and depression) and are recovering from traumatic events that changed their lives. They meet by chance, and they form a bizarre friendship when they agree of doing each other a favor, which results in them being tied in long-term project until Christmas. The story is told from the point of view of Pat, recently released from a mental hospital and also dealing with his troublesome return to his parents' house.
Silver Linings Playbook is an odd romantic comedy between two broken souls. Its strength comes from the genuine mixed of two opposite strategies. On the one side, it follows the template of a romantic comedy, with its predictable twists and its reassuring plot resolutions. On the other hand, it subversively refuses to follow the beaten pat, not taking comedic shortcuts and not employing shallow characters. The director follows his characters with genuine interests and love for their human faults. It refuses to divide them in good or bad. It respects their emotions and their contradictions, which are beautifully brought to life by the actors. The pain of mental illness truly comes through, and although it makes for some funny moments, is never made fun at, but instead made part of the laughter with an accepting spirit.
The entire movie follows the main characters closely with steady cams, letting a vast range of emotions come through. David Russell maintains this style even in the climatic dance scene---and his decision to film the scene this way, prioritizing the character's point of view instead of the choreography, show that he is a real auteur. His style is modest, personal, original, and functional to the story.
So, following the template of a romantic comedy,David Russell creates a wonderful movie about the lack of happiness in life, accepting one's own problems, dealing with the turns of fortune, and grabbing the rare opportunities that life offers.
As I was a kid growing up in Italy, I remember when the national TV
channels broadcast classical operas. Even as a kid, I could understand
the efforts of the directors who had to work with what they
had---editing in real time live stage actors. Obviously, movie
directors do not have the limitation--- they can edit, dub, sync, use
CGI, and move their cameras at will, in harmony or in counterpoint to
the music. So, I was utterly disappointed when I saw that Tom Hooper
did not achieve anything better than the old-timey Italian TV directors
could do with staged opera.
That is even more surprising because Hooper is working on Les Miserables---the longest-running, most beloved musical of all time. Les Mis contains some of the most beautiful, moving, and powerful pieces of music ever written. And its music is layered on one of the best and richest novel plots.
With such a rich material available, Tom Hopper makes the odd decision in concentrating all of his efforts in beautifully rich scenarios and CGI reconstructions of Paris (one of which is bizarrely out of perspective), and filming every single solo as a more-or-less single shot of the close-up of the singer. With Anne Hathaway's performance, it kind of works, but it fails with everybody else. In fact, I found that this choice creates two kinds of problems. First, it creates an uncanny contrast between the intensity of the performance (strengthened by the close-ups) and the fact that, well, the characters are SINGING, even when dying. Somehow, forcing the intensity of the acting breaks the spell instead of strengthening it.
Second, and most importantly, there is an unresolved tension between the music and the immobility of the camera. the music drives the feelings, and invites motion and changes. You want the camera to roll and open spaces, and, instead, you find yourself still staring at Hugh Jackman's wrinkles. One might say that this is some kind of ascetic directorial decision, but no---when the characters are not singing Tom Hooper abuses impossible camera work that zooms in and out at impossible distances, from the detail of a face to bird's eye views of Paris. So the reason for the poor filming of singing actors must lay somewhere else. Maybe the root of these problems is Hooper's much celebrated choice of having the actors sing in real-time. But, again, why was decision made in the first place? Since it causes problems in the final result, I see no point in recording the actors while singing live--- if not for bragging about it later on.
So, in summary, the movie was disappointing. And good performances (or even great performances) cannot save a weak directorial work that fails to shape the richness of the story and the music. If the director was someone like the energetic Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge! and Ballroom), we could have had a real movie, if not a masterpiece. Instead, we got an expensive TV Christmas special.
The Magic of Belle Isle is one of those supposedly inspirational movies
where a lonely character who has been embittered by life's misfortunes
gets his lost hopes back through an accidental encounter that changes
his life. In this particular case, the character is a wheelchair-ridden
western book writer who hasn't written anything in ages and is plagued
by alcoholism. The sparks that reignites his life are befriending a
smart 9-year old girl and falling in love with her mom. The fact that
the aged writer is Morgan Freeman (aged 75) and the mom is Virginia
Madsen (aged 50) makes the relationship odd if not creepy, but
teary-eyed audiences have seen and forgiven far worse the that.
The movie, to be fair, is not too bad. Director Rob Reiner has done "When Harry Met Sally", and somehow he avoids most of the cheesiness and emotional blackmail that comes with such a story. But not even he can avoid all of the clichés (e.g., Morgan Freeman recounts the story of how he lost his legs. Dramatic pause and close up of his face. Beethoven's sonata begins).
The fact is that most of this movie's pitfalls lay beyond what any director can do. The screenplay is messy, and a number of plot points are careless. The most blatant case is that Morgan Freeman is left alone in an empty house despite being in an electric wheelchair AND having lost use of his left arm (no, you cannot lift yourself to bed with one arm only. Not even if you are Morgan Freeman). Some subplots are thrown in there and simply forgotten. For example, at a certain point the three girls find a lunch box that belonged to their mom. Inside the lunch box is her 7th-grade diary. The oldest girl steals it and reads it. And that's it---we will never know what was inside that, besides a causal remark towards the end of the movie.
Some elements are exceedingly cheap. Morgan Freeman constantly speaks with an erudite selection of words that is what the average viewer can identify as "literary English". Why? Because the authors need to make sure everybody remembers that he is a writer. In the meantime, they forgot that he writes western novels (they clearly never read one) and not Elizabethan drama. Also, at a certain point Morgan Freeman threatens a clown at gunpoint. Why? Because the clown yelled at the little 9-year old girl for puncturing his air-blown castle. The goal of this scene is to make Morgan Freeman look like the hero for defending the girl, and to make him look badass despite his wheelchair. They needed to do that because they felt (correctly) that they did not convey much of Morgan Freeman's character in the preceding 60 minutes. But the clown (as made clear in the preceding scene) makes his living out of renting his rubber castle for birthday parties! And the girl did, in fact, just destroyed it! And why is Morgan Freeman bringing a gun to a 9-year old birthday party?
The fact is that these "technical" issues betray what is the movie's most irredeemable fault, that is, its underlying emotional shallowness. This is best revealed in the case of one secondary character, Carl. Remember that the movie hinges upon Morgan Freeman's handicap and the pain it causes him. But then the authors throw in a secondary character, Carl, who is a young adult with Down syndrome. Carl is the movie's equivalent of the town's fool; he goes around hopping like a bunny (which is, apparently, what the screenwriters believe people with Down syndrome do), wears scuba goggles while shopping, and almost drowns in a shallow pool of water. What's the point of Carl? To give comedic relief, of course, even if it is cheap comedy (a grown up man the hops like a bunny is sad, not funny, unless you are 5 years old) and at the expense of a character who ALSO has an handicap. Somehow, Morgan Freeman's handicap is serious, but Carl's can be laughed upon.
So, overall, the movie does rise above the meager standards of similar flicks, but not quite enough to make viewing it worth it.
I have been waiting to see Sinister since the first buzz about it at
the SXSW festival. I finally saw it and it fulfilled most of my
Horror movies are made of different traditions and styles. You have those with creepy atmosphere, those with disturbing imagery, or those with scares-that-go-bump-in-the- night. Sinister is one of the few that reaches a consistent mix of all the elements. In the movie, a true-crime writer moves into a house where a family was killed, and founds a box of super8 reels that depict that murder, as well as others. The super8 movies provide the "disturbing imagery" part of Sinister, and they are truly chilling and unsettling. Hidden in the footage, the writer finds glimpses of a mysterious figure, and his investigation suddenly turns into a nightmare for him and his own family. That's where the "creepy atmosphere" sets in. And, as his investigation progresses, you have plenty of sudden scares and jumps.
Thanks to an amazing camera work, a skillful direction, and an a perfect (and slightly atypical for horror flicks) soundtrack, Sinister manages to be extremely effective in delivering all of these different shades of horror. Sinister also has a quality that most horror movies lack: It is actually well written. Some reviewers have gone at great lengths in pointing out supposed inconsistencies, but, as far as I can tell, they have all misunderstood several plot points. For instance, a few reviewers ridiculed the fact that the main character wonders in his house without turning the lights on---but, in the movie, it is explained that the electric circuits are off. If you pay attention, every action is explained. In fact, it is refreshing to see an horror movie that doesn't feel half-backed, and where characters act consequentially.
One of Sinister's writers was a former movie critic (at Ain't It Cool News), and his love for the genre (strong as it needs to be in a fan, but sophisticated as it needs to be in critic) comes through. The quality of its writing is apparent in the smoothness of the final product. Most horror movies tend to be discontinuous and uneven. For instance, before getting to the interesting part of "Paranormal Activity", you need to get through a lengthy and cumbersome introduction. And "Insidious", after a fantastic first half, ends with a predictable and awkward second act. Sinister, instead, proceeds evenly, pacing its scares, revealing important clues at the proper time, and giving equal attention to the buildup of the situations as well as their resolution.
Part of this strength comes from the fact that the movie's concept, while not entirely original, is well thought out. The metaphor of the "evil force" that lives inside the world of images is better developed here than in (for instance) "The ring", and does not fill shoe-horned as a metaphor for horror movies themselves.
The last strength of the movie that I want to mention is Ethan Hawke's exceptional performance. Hawke is truly believable as the writer obsessed with finding one last great story to tell---and eventually getting more than what he asked for. He succeeds in making his character complex and credible, and in making the viewers care for and identify with him. I am hard press to find a similarly convincing performance in a horror movie, besides George C. Scott in "The Changeling".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched Avengers on a special Marvel Marathon that included all the
previous movies in the series. I have mixed opinions on the previous
single- superhero flicks (loved Iron Man, hated the sequel; cold on
Hulk, hated Captain America). I can definitely say that this movie far
exceeded my expectations.
It' s hard to define how its charm comes from the subtle the balance of many elements. It does not reinvent the comic books, and does not pretend to make it a 'serious' version by adding additional cerebral sub-texts (like Nolan's Batman movies). Instead, it plays by the rules, respectfully including all the popular elements of the Marvel comics. But Joss Whedon plays his cards (both as a screenwriter and as a director) with exceptional class. First, the screen writing is perfect, with great pace and great sense of rhythm. The movie is full of humor, but it is character-driven and does rely on tired one-liners. The characters are developed with such a secure writing that it takes them just a few words to define their types and personalities. Whedon manages to keep the continuity with the previous movies, but also adds his own, adult and smart, sense of development. For instance, Stark's individualism and diffidence is brought to light in a much more developed fashion that in Favreau's Iron Man movies. Even more impressive is Whedon's result with the Hulk: Whedon manages to accomplish what Ang Lee and Leterrier failed, i.e. portraying Banner as the angered, emarginated individual he is, and giving angst to his conflict with his alter ego.
Whedon's direction also shines through with fantastic touches. While respecting the Marvel universe movies, where skyscrapers need to be smashed and heroes bounce against each other in unreal crashes, Whedon manages to keep the visuals stunning, give realism to the scene while keeping the fun. When the Helicarrier rises in the movie, you can appreciate how Whedon manages to make it look imposing without overdoing it. When heroes have comic crashes against each other (Thor and Hulk, or Thor and Iron Man), Whedon plays with irony. When the crashes are painful (Captain America during the invasion), Whedon does make it look painful--the hero stills smashes through walls and cars with his body, but you can feel the pain. These differences lay in subtle changes in pace and visuals, and Whedon really knows how to control each scene's tone with subtlety and craftsmanship.
Recalling the movie, I have a hard time not to smile thinking back at how much I enjoyed each scene. I am hard pressed to think of a movie that gave me more fun at each level. It makes the Marvel universe real and tangible without making it look childish. More importantly, it communicates love for comics and for movies in equal measure. If Francois Truffaut were alive, he would have probably found in Whedon's blockbuster the same love for the capacity of telling a story in a movie that he loved in his favorite films.
I loved this movie. And I find it very hard to believe that somebody could hate it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Bleeding House was an absolute surprise. I was expecting one of the many gory serial-killer- gets-into-the-house kind of movie, but this movie is, instead quite different. First, the gore is minimal, and the blood shown on screen is limited to the necessary amount required by the story (it plays an important and symbolic role for one of the characters). Second, the traditional scares (i.e., the assassin jumps out of the corner) are basically non-existent. The movie takes its strength from the eerie atmosphere, which is drenched in dysfunctional family relationships and broken characters looking for redemption. Predictable in its plot, but beckettian and original in its execution, with a pace that takes its strength by being consciously slowed down (even when the killer strikes, he seems to do so with a Bressonian lack of speed in its movement) instead of sped up, the movie has definitely something new to add to the genre. While the final revelation of the family secret is disappointing, the confrontation between the two killers (and main characters) is interesting and well-done, and gives a gruesome and chilling spin to everybody's quest for meaning in life---and empirical lack thereof.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been a fan of Niccol since I saw "Gattaca". In fact, I have been
waiting for him to make a new "Gattaca" ever since. "In time" keeps up
to enough of my expectations to keep me engaged until the end, but it
is still a far cry from the feeling I got from "Gattaca".
As it is typical in Niccol's screen writing (Gattaca, The Truman Show, Nicole...), the premise is clever: imagine a world where you stop aging at 25, but you have to keep buying time ever since- --and you literally die when you run out. In this world, time has become the only existing currency (eg you pay coffee in minutes), poor people live in ghettos and refill their clock every day, you might be killed just to have a few hours stolen from you, and rich people live in isolated areas and have centuries at their disposals. Niccol cleverly makes the most of this premise, and creates a beautifully uncanny world of dystopian social separation, where familial relationships (grandmothers, mothers, and daughters) are flattened and made ambiguous by the uniformly young look that everybody has.
Unfortunately, the great premise is not followed by an equally well-developed plot, which basically amounts to an underdog of the poor class (Justin Timberlake) being framed for murder, discovering the hugeness of the social divide between the rich and the poor, fighting for social equality, and convincing the rich daughter (Amanday Seyfred) of a time-bank lord to join him in a path of social revenge Bonnie & Clyde style. The plot hints metaphorically at the current social protests, but its simplistic conspiracy scheme (i.e. rich people keep the others poor to make sure the earth is not overpopulated) and its solutions (revolt and rob banks) do not compare to the originality of the premise. Even the crucial elements in the plot (like Sylvia falling in love with Will) are poorly developed. Even more surprisingly for Andrew Niccol, some subplots are entirely messed up---for instance, Will's father's fate is never explained although several characters hint at its importance and Raymond's connections to Will's father remains obscure and unnecessary. Some other characters talk too much and deliver too many philosophical one-liners that explain the director's point of view, but sound unrelated to the character (ie, the gangster's monologue on its role to keep the poor in their condition, or the confrontation between Will and Sylvia's father).
On the good side, Niccol delivers his usually uncanny and stylishly retro look on the future dystopia, unsettling and unnatural beauty, and cold and detached beautiful actors that deliver their lines in a minor mode. The visual of the movie are, in fact, refreshing and beautiful, and I appreciated how Niccol can take a prototypical action movie scene, like the escape on the roofs, and easily adapt it to his own, personal, ghostly style. In fact, the movie was absolutely fun to watch, and Niccol's directorial skills provide the necessary emotional depth where the plot lacks. For instance, the death of Will's mom, which would have been pure trash in the hands of other directors, is intense and dramatic in Niccol's rendition. The line between lyrical poetry and teenage trash can be a fine line, and Niccol's style always veers away from trash and into art. In fact, the scene of Will's mom's death conveys much more social criticism and depth of argument that many useless lines given by the characters. And, in fact, the movie would have been so much better if Andrew Niccol had trusted his message of social criticism to the Niccol-director instead of the Niccol-screenwriter, letting the script free to develop as a story without explaining the metaphor from within.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Superhero movies could be, depending on who writes and directs them,
dark (Burton's Batman), cerebral (Snyder's Watchmen), tragic (Nolan's
Batman), cleverly funny (Favreau's Ironman) or fashionably pop (Raimi's
Spiderman). Unfortunately, some can be utterly stupid, like
Schumacher's Batman & Robin and, now, Captain America.
I found so many flaws with this movie that it is difficult to begin the list. First, the retro-style, which could have potentially been a plus, was simply tasteless and idiotic. The good care spent on style, clothing, and hairdos of the 40s was out-weighted by the bad taste in designing weapons that lacked any imagination, and looked like colorful glow sticks at best.
The jingoist atmosphere of the beginning was downright irritating, with the skinny main character trying to enroll in the Army and being rejected (c'mon, like the army never enlisted skinny guys as spies, clerks, radio operators, mechanics, or simple cannon meat) only to be picked up by a team of scientists for an experiment to create super soldiers.
To be fair, Chris Evans is not that bad as an actor. although he had more sparks in Fantastic Four and Scott Pilgrim. But Markus and McFeely must have thought that writing a superhero movies frees writers from any duty to put together a decent plot. They did not invest any effort in creating plausible scenarios (Rogers/Captain America is in Italy exactly where his best friend's division is captured, which is also exactly where the colonel who selected him for the experiment is located, which is exactly where the token girl/scientist was displaced). They also did not spend time introducing characters (The bad guy, aka Red Skull, has a risible back-story, besides a risible and overly cartoonist make-up). They even miss potential opportunities: The McGuffin of the movie is some sort of cubic lava-lamp that the Nazis are after. The lava-lamp has some kind of unexplained occult nature; is retrieved from a church in Norway (wtf???) and is finally used to create... death rays! Yes, death rays, a plot device that (a) was shunned upon in B-movies even in the 50s, and (b) discards the only cool subplot, i.e. the Nazis dabbling in the occult, which was not lost, for example, in Hellboy.
As for the adventures of Captain America, let's drop a veil of pity. He is supposedly the strongest/faster super-soldier, but his great adventures basically consist in ziplining through the Alps and opening prisons cells after stealing the keys. That's really all. Not a single combat scene that goes beyond what you could see in the Beastmaster in the 80s. Are the authors maybe going for a sane, raw, realistic take on superheros? Nay---when needed, and even when not needed at all, Captain America shows off his great weapon, which is basically a giant Frisbee that defies gravity and conveniently resists to the Nazi death rays.
In the meantime, director Joe Johnston (ok, that's the guy from Jumanji and Jurassic Park III, but even he could do better) is very careful in avoiding putting the camera in any position that might give some edge and atmosphere to any shot. In fact, the movie was so cinematographically dull I was surprised they just did not shoot everything with 3 cameras, like I Love Lucy. I guess that the most original shots were contributed by the CGI guys.
Essentially, what comes through is an expensive toy-movie with grandiose and expensive visual effects, firefighter's orchestra music, and lots of advertisement spent to promote a ridiculous man-in-tights wielding a pied metal saucer, and fighting villains whose makeup and depth make Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze look like Shakespearian characters.
I want my money back. The only way the movie could have redeemed itself is if Captain America died in the damn Nazi flying plane. Unfortunately (sorry to ruin the surprise) it doesn't happen.
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