Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

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50 New Movies in 100 Days: Zero Dark Thirty

January 21, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

This is a film that everyone is probably more familiar with than the last three anyways.  Having just seen it a few hours ago, I can say that this is a very well put together docu-drama.  It walks a very fine line between the realism it portray while keeping the film moving along.  They give snippets of the timeline from 9/11 until Bin Laden was killed, and they give the times and places to keep the documentary feel, but you get more intimate moments like that of a drama.  While watching it, it didn’t seem to fly by like some films that I’ve seen recently, but because of the documentary feel I didn’t feel like it needed to.

As far as the plot, I won’t go into major detail, but what I’ll say is that it was put together to focus less on the raid on Bin Laden, but it focuses much more on the process of finding out where Bin Laden is.  There are scenes of torture and interrogations. It focuses on the nitty-gritty of what went on in the background and who died in an attempt to find out where Bin Laden is.

This film rocks when it comes to acting.  Jessica Chastain,and rightfully so, is getting tons of praise for her performance.  Her portrayal of Maya is well done, she develops her character as time passes, a level simplicity and innocence in her character which develops into an obsession which feeds on her.  I also have to give props to Jason Clarke.  His performance has a level of seriousness to it which is wonderfully done.  He has a few moments of comedy and levity, but you can always see that there is a seriousness and heaviness behind it.  There are many other solid performances, some of the detainees did a brilliant job, but I’m not sure who is who for recognizing them.

The direction of this film is spot on.  Kathryn Bigelow has done a brilliant job and from what I’ve seen, she should have been nominated for an Oscar for it.  It has a level of seriousness to it, very straight forward shooting of the film, pseudo-documentary at times.  She shows off the humanity of her characters well, while she doesn’t make it a character piece, she develops each of her characters beyond a simple level.  The locations are well shot, and in several suicide bomber scenes she pulls what I’ll loving refer to as a Joss Whedon, she doesn’t focus on it, she keeps it as part of the narrative, but there aren’t touching scenes where everyone stops and pauses.

This is a wonderfully constructed film and deserves every bit of praise that it is receiving.  Kathryn Bigelow has put together a great film, very serious, very well done.  It won’t fly by while you watch it, but compared to many war films it is so much better put together.  I am not a fan of war films or government espionage films in general but this one I approve of, because it doesn’t try to glorify, it doesn’t try to stylize, it simply lays out a compelling storyline and powerful set of action.

Critical Grade: A

Entertainment Grade: B

Overall Grade: A-

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Winter in Wartime

April 25, 2011

Winter in Wartime


Winter In Wartime is a well created film that does a wonderful job in homage to the story that it is based on.  It balances solid acting and a solid story together, and while the production qualities aren’t that of your typical Hollywood film, it holds up quite well.  A film that everyone won’t appreciate, as it is subtitled, it comes across with a fair amount of emotion and some strong emotion as it looks  at the struggles of a small town that has been occupied by the Germans and that of the leading family of the town.

The story revolves around Michiel, the 14 year old son of the Mayor, who doesn’t like his father because of the political games his father is playing.  Michiel wants him to take a hard line against the Nazi’s and their forces, but his father instead tries to walk the line keeping the villagers safe, and Michiel finds that too sympathetic to the Nazi’s.  Michiel accidentally becomes involved with helping a RAF pilot escape after he crashes in the woods just outside of the town.  He does this because his uncle Ben, whom he looks up to, is helping the resistance and Michiel wants to be like him.  Things don’t go as planned when it comes to escaping and Michiel ends up much further over his head than he expects he will.  Everything crumbles around Michiel and he is left with a series of very tough choices to make.

The acting is surprisingly good, you generally expect a need for big names, but Martijn Lakemeir does a very good job in the lead role as Michiel.  He plays a very quiet character in many ways, and that works out very nicely.  Yorick van Wageningen does a good job as Michiel’s Uncle Ben as there turns out to be more depth than expected from the role.  The rest of the cast is solid is well, there aren’t any standout roles, but all the performances are done with an understated dignity about them which plays very well for the serious tone of the film.

Technically the film struggled at times, there were a few points in time where the camera was shaking so badly that it became very hard to watch and the music was very strong in the film, which didn’t work all that well.  It definitely told you which emotion it was attempting to portray, but it was overbearing in a film that had so many understated performances.  Martin Koolhoven did a good job in the direction of this film and did a good job of getting a lot out of his actors.

This is a solid film overall, but not without its issues.  The music and the necessity for a third act really hurt the film.  The story ended very nicely without a tacked on third act that was meant to make everyone feel better, but the resolution felt forced and it was a happy ending that was very much tacked on.  But the rest of the film makes up for the third act, it is just a shame it leaves a bad taste in your  mouth when you see it.

Critical Grade: C-

Entertainment Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B

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Swimming Pool

May 18, 2010

Swimming Pool

This art house film is fairly well done that takes on one of my favorite subjects, writing, much like Finding Neverland.  The acting in this film is quite well done and it just flows together quite nicely blending two stories into one.  It combines a soul finding adventure and mystery.

The story starts off with Sarah Morton, a British mystery writer, trying to get work done on her next book.  She is stuck and hasn’t been able to write for a long time, so her publisher kindly offers her the use of his vacation home, in the south of France.  She goes there, and words start to flow onto the paper, and then a disruption comes into her life as Julie comes into her life as her publisher’s daughter.  She is a promiscuous and is working her way through the town and other country men.  She generally disturbs and frustrates Sarah Morton.  Sarah eventually ends up using Julia as a muse for her story, adding in her sorted affairs.  Things go very wrong when one of Julia’s trysts ends up dead.  Then there is a twist at the end that leaves you thinking.

Charlotte Rampling stars in this film as Sarah Morton.  She does a good job creating the character of a seemingly boring author writing about something that she really doesn’t know having lived a safe life and showing just a little interest in the sorted affairs that are going on around her.  Ludivine Sagnier takes on the role of Julia, and while primarily in the film for her beauty, she does a decent job in terms of acting.  There is some semblance of being care free and rebellious that she blends together very well as she bucks the ideals that Sarah Morton expects.  Rest of the acting is pretty minimal after Rampling and Sagnier, there are various men that show and disappear in the film with Sagnier’s character, and the publisher only shows up at the beginning and end of the film.  They all do a solid job, but it is much more about Sagnier’s character pressing and bothering Rampling’s.

Francois Ozon screen wrote this film as well as directed it.  He takes on a pretty challenging story as creating a story about another storytelling medium.  Visually he does a solid job portraying the beauty of south France and creating a beautiful story at the same time.  He likely won’t ever be a household name in the United States with only a limited number of films, and all of them in France, but he definitely has a talent for story telling and has written most of what he has directed.

This isn’t a film for everyone, it is fairly risque with all the sorted affairs, and it moves along fairly slowly developing characters more then it works on moving the plot along.  However, the characters are interesting and it is an entertaining film to watch.  This is a film that should be better known as well because the story is as good as is, and it is fairly well critically recognized.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B+

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Zodiac

April 19, 2010

Zodiac

Two for Mondays, that is what I’m going to do since I don’t really remember to post over the weekend.  Or I’ll come up with something less lame later.

I know that this movie is supposed to be very interesting and well done, I must say I didn’t agree with that assessment at all.  The story is obviously based upon the Zodiac Killer in northern California and the fact that it was never solved.  However, this retelling of the story simply lacks all that much luster.

The story starts by following Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for a paper, who starts solving the puzzles that the Zodiac Killer is sending to the papers.  He starts talking to Robert Avery another reporter at the paper who is much more senior who becomes obsessed with the case.  They start working on the case until Avery falls further and further into the obsession and drunkenness and Graysmith takes on the case by himself.  He starts talking to the Inspector David Toschi who is the lead on the investigation.  Then the story spins off as Toschi works on the investigation off the book and on the book to the angst of his boss.  And that is the part that completely ticks me off about this story.  It goes from Graysmith to Toschi and then it comes back to Graysmith as more time separates from the murders and the messages that are sent.  It also doesn’t help that this is an unsolved case and they clearly want you to believe that it was a specific one of the suspects instead of remaining somewhat open and letting the viewer draw their own conclusions.

The acting in this film is pretty solid.  Robert Avery is played solidly by Robert Downey Jr who probably is the strongest actor in the film.  Even though the role of Inspector Toschi is very good as well.  Mark Ruffalo  is a very solid actor and very underrated as an actor.  This performance doesn’t live up to his previous performances such as You Can Count On Me.  Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead in this film as Robert Graysmith.  Gyllenhaal isn’t all that great an actor, he is pretty solid, but not all that great.  Chloe Sevigny plays the girlfriend of Graysmith who sticks with him for a long time, but it isn’t all that memorable role.  The performances are just somewhat disappointing with the amount of talent in the film.

The direction in this film is decent with David Fincher.  He has done much better work with Fight Club, Se7en, and even The Game.  It is well shot, but the lack of continuity in the story just doesn’t work all that well.  Fincher should have gotten more talent in this film.  And while it is visually entertaining, it doesn’t make the film good.  It starts off really well, but it loses so much focus in the middle and with the talent of Fincher, it doesn’t help.

Overall this isn’t as good a film as it should have been.  I love to write and read, so the story is the most important aspect to me and that is where this film really suffers.  It is a lot of fun at the beginning and sucks you into it quickly with the puzzles and the intrigue that way.  But once the best acting performance, Ruffalo, is brought into the story as a main character it just really falls apart.

Entertainment Grade: C-

Critical Grade: B

Overall Grade: C

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Frequency

April 14, 2010

Frequency

Frequency

I have issues with this film, for a while it was a guilty pleasure film of mine because the story is pretty interesting, it tugs on some heart strings, and who doesn’t want to have a tip to go back in time and invest in someone like Microsoft or Yahoo and get rich off of it?  However, when I think back on the film, which I haven’t watched in a little while, but I have seen probably three times, I’m just not so sure I like it as much as I thought.  It is a quite contrived story that the talent pulls off fairly well, but it doesn’t pop as much as you’d like it to.

The story begins with John Sullivan, played by James Caviezel, monkeying around with an old radio of his fathers.  An odd phenomena happens and suddenly the radio is able to link into the past, just before his father, Frank Sullivan, played by Dennis Quaid, is killed in a fire.  John realizes what has happened and he decides to save his father.  Like in any good time travel film, there is a noticeable butterfly effect and every change that John makes in the past comes shooting forward in ways that you basically expect.  This part of the story isn’t all that bad and does tug at ones heart strings.  The problem is that they try and work in this whole secondary serial killer plot that drags from time period to time period because of the butterfly effect.  This part of the story is just too contrived and just doesn’t flow as well as the rest of the story.  The other thing that I’m not a huge fan of with this story is the end.  It is the end that you expect to see the whole time, the typical wrap everything up with a pretty ribbon ending that all good Hollywood films end with, which will from here on be referred to as a Hollywood ending with no more explanation as to what it is.

The two lead performances as are solid.  James Caviezel can act decently well.  There are points in the film where his character could be more believable, but he does a solid job throughout, just with a little limited emotion.  Dennis Quaid is in one of his better roles.  He does a good job as a concerned parent or concerned leader situation, i.e. G.I. Joe and The Day After Tomorrow, but his acting talent isn’t anything all that special.  The rest of the rolls are filled in by smaller actors and actresses who do a serviceable job, but none of the performances are really all that memorable.  Michael Cera even makes an appearance as one of the little kids in the film, something I didn’t realize until recently.  Oddly enough, it isn’t his typical Michael Cera type of role.

Visually this film does a solid job of creating the same town in two different time periods.  But it is less impressive then it sounds, like most fairly small towns, not all that much changes.  The old houses might get a new coat of paint and the vehicles will look newer and the trees a bit larger, but small towns don’t change that much in a twenty (or so) year period of time.  Gregory Hoblit does a solid job with his direction in this film and while I do remember this film fairly well, he wasn’t able to create that one reason why.  It’s more something I remember just because of repetition of seeing it.

This film isn’t anything great and to truly enjoy it you have to be able to turn off your brain for a little bit and just watch it as a guilty pleasure of a time travel-esque film.  It lacks the substance to allow for deeper thinking.  It isn’t a bad film and it will definitely entertain, but there have been better films made along this line that have come out.  Although, time travel is generally a very sticky type of film to be made because so many of them end up being very cheesy or leave massive plot gaps.

Entertainment Grade: B-

Critical Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

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The Invisible

April 12, 2010

The Invisible

The Invisible

Not a film that a ton of people heard of, but this was a surprisingly good film.  It comes across as a little pretentious, but it is a fun story and surprisingly well acted.  Probably a film that I’ll like better then most people, but I know of a number of people who like it at as well.

The story is about Nick Powell, Justin Chatwin, a graduating student from high school and he has a good life, even if he doesn’t like everything about it.  Things go wrong with a friend of his gets into trouble and he tries to help by going up against Annie Newton, Margarita Levieva.  He ends up getting beaten and tossed down into a storm drain when Annie and her gang believe that he is dead.  Nick isn’t dead and ends up in a state of flux, basically as a ghost hanging in between life and death.  Annie, who is used to trouble, doesn’t know what to do and Nick can almost contact her at times until she realizes that he is alive.  Then it becomes a race against time to save him.  The story comes off as a bit pretentious, but it is a well created story.  And the film has a message that it wants to get across and that works with how the story is told.

Justin Chatwin does a solid job in this film.  He plays a fairly pretentious character who believes that he knows it all, at the beginning of the film, but he comes down to earth throughout the film.  Margarita Levieva is the start of this film.  It isn’t the best performance I’ve seen of hers, but she is a solid up and coming actress and this film is a good starting point.  She was previously on the TV show Vanished, which lasted for half a season, and then the film Noise in which she was very good.  The cast is generally unknowns, but they do a solid job in this film.  There aren’t many bad acting performances but none of them of all that memorable.

Visually this is a pretty good film.  They do a good job of keeping Chatwin separate from Levieva in the world of the living and the dead and how Chatwin tries to interact with her juxtaposed to her not being able to see him.  It is shot in a straight forward style and it works.  David S. Goyer, writer on such films at The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, and The Dark City (which I’ve previously reviewed) and the TV show FlashForward, does a good job directing this film and making it engaging.

This isn’t a film that everyone will enjoy simply because it is somewhat pretentious.  Also, don’t let my use of the word ‘pretentious’ scare you away if you are interested.  It is a much better story then the critics would make it out to be, mainly because they want to be the ones judging as compared to being judged by a film.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: C+

Overall Grade: B

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Citizen Kane

March 15, 2010

Citizen Kane


Citizen Kane is arguably the greatest film of all time.  But that doesn’t detract from the fact that the story itself isn’t as interesting as you’d hope to find in a film.

Orson Welles came to Hollywood and basically changed the way that films were made.  He wasn’t trained in making films, but he decided he was going to make one and he decided on what he wanted and then he expected it done.  From the set designs which were disproportionately large to the actors at times to lighting schemes which allowed for the whole scene to be in focus from front to back, he did things his way.  And it progressed film forward with a giant leap.

That is what makes this film great.  It doesn’t hurt that the story isn’t bad and the acting is very good as well, but what makes this film great is the technical achievement in this film and how it progressed the film industry.  Sometimes industries are progressed one step at a time, and sometimes there is a film like Citizen Kane that just takes it ahead a couple of leaps.

The story is a look back into the life of Charles Foster Kane.  From his humble beginnings to his news paper empire, to his political life, and to his extravagant ending.  The basic through line is that of “rosebud”.  The story begins at the end of his life where “rosebud” is his dying word.  It then follows a reporter who searches down those who know Kane in an attempt to find out what that final word meant.  If you’ve read Peanuts, then you know what that last word was, but if not I won’t spoil it for you.   The story itself is just a bit dull and the method of telling it, while interesting doesn’t translate into the greatest screen play.

The acting itself is quite strong.  Orson Welles doesn’t only direct the film but stars in it as Charles Foster Kane.  He certainly has a swagger playing the pompous business man and politician so full of himself that he can’t see anyone else.  The thing about the performance is that it wasn’t actually acting.  Orson Welles was that pompous and this ultimately led to Hollywood not wanting anything more to do with him and his films and forcing him elsewhere to make his films.  The supporting case is also very good, but they pale in comparison to the icon that Charles Foster Kane is both in the story and on the screen.

Visually I’ve touched on what makes this film great.  The depth of field work is simply phenomenal and ahead of its time.  What the real treat from this depth of field that Welles created was the fact the audience was able to focus on anything in the shot.  It wasn’t a situation where only one person was in focus or the background of the scene didn’t matter.  Welles allowed the audiences eye to float from one point to another and they could choose to see what they wanted to see.  Even in films today this technique is very rare as the director as story teller often has a specific story that he wants to be told.

Overall this is a film that anyone who is interested in film as film should watch.  It is a masterpiece and even if you don’t get it as a story and as entertainment the significance for the film industry makes this the legend that it is.

Entertainment Grade: B-

Critical Grade: A+

Overall Grade: B+