First off – sorry this review is posted so late; but as the following passage in the Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse states:
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
I so had the best of intentions last week and while I had bits of my commentary written out, I just could not manage to finish and refine it on time. ANYWAYS, I am finally there and so, here we are.
Normally when I am posting a review/response to a film, I do not look at what others say. This time however and for this film in particular, I was a bit curious. When I read the IMDB rating and the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate, as well as read some of the corresponding reviews, I was a bit surprised. While I would not put this film up there with the great thrillers of this or any other era, it is not the as bad as some would characterize it.
Indeed the film is held together for the most part on the strength of its lead, Viggo Mortensen; but there is another element that captured my notice – the environmental setting, known in Argentina as the Tigre Delta. It seems the perfect location and backdrop for a story shrouded in mystery; one that relies on the revelations of the unknown.
Directed and written by filmmaker Ana Piterbarg, Everybody Has a Plan (Todos Tenemos Un Plan) tells the story of brothers Agustin and Pedro (Mortensen in a dual role), who could not be any different. By all accounts, Agustin is respectable doctor who lives with his wife in Buenos Aires. Eventually the audience is made privy to the uneasiness that Agustin has with his staid life and is seeking life’s ‘next big adventure.’
His identical twin brother, Pedro, lives in the aforementioned Delta of their childhood. Early on, it was not totally apparent to me what he was involved in, but it definitely looked a little shady. Almost immediately, my suspicions were confirmed.
At the moment of Pedro’s untimely (?) death Agustin decides to put action to his thoughts about pursuing that adventure, assuming his brother’s identity and returning to the Tigre Delta. Upon his arrival ‘home,’ he soon discovers the many layers of his brother’s less-than-noble activities.
So what did I think about the film? Off the bat, I must admit, that yes, some of the criticism (and praise) I have read was reasonable. On the plus side thee was the already referred to performance of Viggo Mortensen.
On the negative side, on more than one occasion, I was not sure what this film was trying to be – was it a straightforward crime thriller? an intense family relationship drama? a taught mystery?
Now, this is not to say a film cannot have ALL of these elements but rather that at its most effective, a film more or less follows an identifiable narrative path. The process of moving beyond this convention to surprise and shock an audience is usually left to the most artistically adventurous of filmmakers.
For Mortensen’s part, I can totally see why he would take on this project (he is also credited one of the film’s Producers). Having spent his early years in Argentina, this marks a homecoming of sorts. It is obvious in his portrayal that he is comfortable and at ease with the material and the language.
So to recap, not a great film but definitely a terrible one either (at least in my opinion).
Filmed in Spanish with English subtitles; total running time of 118 minutes.
The Sapphires (2012) is based on the 2004 stage play of the same name, itself loosely based on a true story. The film is directed by Wayne Blair and co-written by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs, who also wrote the play (another ‘fun fact’ about Briggs – his mother and aunt are two of the real-life “Sapphires”).
The year is 1968 and before we anything taking place on the screen, we are given a little historical context for what we will see over the next couple of hours. As someone who has always been fascinated by the plight of indigenous populations, I knew a little about the “Stolen Generation” – that is the Australian policy of taking fair-skinned Aborigines who could “pass” from their settlement homes and integrating them into white society. The next (startling) factoid to appear in black and white was that, until the 1970’s indigenous Australians were classified as part of Australia’s “flora and fauna.”
Set against the tumult of the war in Vietnam, the audience is witness to the journey taken by four young women of the – headstrong Gail (Deborah Mailman), bubbly Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who has been away in “mainstream” Aussie society and Julie (Jessica Mauboy), the young one with the powerful voice. A chance encounter with Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) failed entertainer extraordinaire takes them from Melbourne to the Vietnamese war zone in a mixture of comedy, tense drama and of course, MUSIC.
In terms of the acting, Chris O’Dowd again proves his comedic/romantic leading man bona fides as the feckless manager who falls for one of the singers. I am not as familiar with many of the other performers, but they are all entertaining in their roles. The other standout for me is Jessica Mauboy, who is featured as Julie, the lead vocalist of The Sapphires; in fact, Ms. Mauboy is a known quantity in her native Australia, where she is a popular R&B singer. SIDE NOTE: she sure has some pipes on her.
Let it be known there is a lot going on here. As I mentioned at the open, the fun of this film is set alongside some serious topics – war, racial discrimination and the like. This is particularly evident in the parallel drawn between the plight of the indigenous population and African Americans half a world away (and in one pivotal scene, on the Vietnamese battlefield. On one hand, it connects to the thread of the essence of what soul music represents – the struggle and the triumph of the human condition.
However at times I felt it was more window-dressing and used as a means of driving the plot and interaction between a couple of the members of the group and less about informing the audience. For my part, I admired the effort, even if the execution was not 100% to my satisfaction.
In spite of these quibbles and although in places, the film fell victim to the conventional tropes one finds in similarly themed movies about the rise (and in this case) stall of a girl group, that does not detract from the wonderful I say WONDERFUL film I had the pleasure of seeing yesterday. It left me laughing, tapping my feet and in some instances, crying. It is all heart and soul.
Happy Thursday ILC Readers –
I FINALLY have gotten around to catching the 2012 release of Quentin Tarantino’s latest, the Oscar-nominated (and Oscar winning) homage to the spaghetti western, Django Unchained. Let me preface this post by stating that I have not seen the film that serves as an “inspiration” for the film, Django (decidedly WITHOUT the chains, but with some of the same baggage).
Anyhoo, below are a few of my initial observations and reactions to the movie (in no particular order). Enjoy!
The film’s music was on-point. I really like this soundtrack. The juxtaposing of the classic western theme music with modern hip-hop and everything in between just worked for me. Tarantino is after the man who reminded how much I LOVE Let’s Stay Together by one Reverend Al Green. Respect.
Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious. True this is a statement of the obvious (seriously check out dude’s Twitter feed for evidence), but his turn as the not-so-subservient servant Stephen at least for me was one for the ages. The classic “wise fool” bluff.
DiCaprio should do really, really dark more often. In general, Leo does seem to edge slightly in the role of anti-hero when selecting his roles (kinda sorta can’t wait for his turn as Jay Gatsby). But here as the proprietor of one Candyland, Mr. DiCaprio was especially menacing NOW I know why folks felt like he was snubbed of an Oscar nod. Still that does not take anything away from …
Mr. Christoph Waltz. Man, what a screen presence. Sure I am the last person on the planet NOT to have seen Inglorious Basterds (Note to self: really need to work on that one, ILC) but he really takes the cake for me.
Kerry Washington is just so … durned pretty and apparently, a master of linguist. Heck, I was convinced by Brunhilda’s German – granted, that is a pretty low bar I suppose. I felt like she spoke more German (or nearly as much) as English in the time she was on screen (and actually spoke).
The film coulda used a little trimming around the edges. Now I must say that I was not bored in the slightest, but especially near the end, I felt like the film could have been trimmed down a bit. A nearly three hour commitment (without an intermission) is quite a lot to ask of an audience. At the end of the day it is a credit to the film itself that so many folks enjoyed it, in spite of its running time.
Franco Nero (The O.D. – Original Django) likens “The Most Interesting Man in the World”. I just wanted to put that out there because I was so proud that I spotted his cameo, all the while not expecting it. Five points for Ravenclaw (Blasted Sorting Hat!)
Jamie – ruffles and blue silk, or whatever that shiny material was, is not a good look. That about says it all [wink].
Now is this film for everyone? OF COURSE NOT. This holds especially true for those who are perturbed by a high level of on-screen violence and/or the overuse of certain harsh (to put it mildly) turns of phrase.
So as you can see, all controversies aside (definitely a discussion worth having – I have already had several, including a long-planned one with my hairdresser), I actually enjoyed this film, and quite more than I expected to. I even laughed at some pointed moments (see note on Sam Jackson above).
That is to say I did not think I was going to see a turkey, but considering the last QT film I saw in the cinemas was Kill Bill, Volume I … you can imagine my initial trepidation – alas when the final credits rolled, all fears were allayed.
Honestly I did not know what to expect when I entered the movie theater on that cold rainy Friday night. The only thing I did know about the film I was about to see (Silver Linings Playbook) was that it had just received a slew of Academy Awards nominations. I sat in my seat rearing to go.
After 2 hours, would I declare this a hit or a miss? Read down further to find out …
We open by meeting Pat (Bradley Cooper) as he is being treated in a facility for what we find out is a previously undiagnosed mental ailment – which itself is the aftermath of engaging in a disturbing manic act, one that may have otherwise landed him in the slammer. Now released to the custody of his mother and father (Jackie Weaver and Robert DeNiro) he is determined to reclaim that life taken away from him. Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) recently widowed and sister to Pat’s estranged wife’s friend (played by Julia Stiles). Pat and Tiffany are two people meet at a very low point in each other’s lives and are trying to fight their way through their troubles. As the movie progresses, the idea that they might just get there if they work together and support each other.
Sounds heavy, right? Well, in the end what you have in this film that is a variety pack: a romantic comedy/family drama/session on the psych’s couch. And, to my pleasant surprise, it works. We shift through the various layers and stories at play seamlessly. I found myself laughing out loud at times and at other times genuinely feeling for the angst I saw on screen.
Onto the performances. While I have been one to admire many aspects of Bradley Cooper it seemed to me at least like there was something missing from the performances on screen. Alas with Silver Linings Playbook I feel like he hit a sweet spot. In fact this got me reflecting more on that fact that there are a lot of talented people out there in H-wood and sometimes it is simply a matter of finding that material which out the best in you. Maybe it had something to do with shooting the film in and around his native Philadelphia (I do my research) but there seemed to be even tone to his performance as ironically a man who was battling a crippling mental ailment.
Cooper’s co-star, Jennifer Lawrence, carries on the role as the longing, grieving and heartbroken widow with an aplomb that belies her age. I know folks are ready to crown the America’s next sweetheart and all, but please just let her grow into her craft and go from strength to strength.
The supporting cast is nothing to scoff at either. I think my personal favorite is Chris Tucker, Pat’s friend from his time inside, who turns up at the most random moments to great comedic effect.
Of course this praise of the film is due in large part to finding a director that can bring out the best in you and weave all of these story elements together – much dap to David O. Russell for doing this with his cast of characters.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, I did find myself asking if it deserves the plaudits that have been heaped upon in. Why not is my response. During the awards season, I think that many of us get caught up in the notion that if a film is to be a serious awards contender it must be overly esoteric or dramatically epic. That position really does diminish the value derived from the simple act of moviegoing and purely enjoying oneself. In the case of Silver Linings Playbook you have a well-constructed story, very well acted. Thus making it a film well worth watching.
Okay I admit it – I was a Season 1 “Gleek.” And while my enthusiasm for the television series has waned what has not waned is my love for the good ole singing and dancing numbers that sometimes accompany film and television. So when I found out about the film Pitch Perfect you can imagine my anticipation with seeing it.
About 90 minutes later, while I found the number routines quite fun, the “narrative” left me a little flat. Not that I think there was much concern for that anyways because most of us were there for the song and dance anyways.
Add to that the fact I am pretty sure I am not the target demo for this film (being well past my teens and all) I can excuse some of the plot contrivances common among teen comedies – most notably the whole “boy meets girl” scenario, band of misfits, etc. – for the sake of some unadulterated fun.
Pitch Perfect was directed by Jason Moore and is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same title written by Mickey Rapkin. Largely set on the fictional campus Barden University, the film opens at Lincoln Center in New York City; we are smack dab into the final round of a nationwide a cappella competition. The Barden Bellas, the all-female group, experience an unfortunate onstage incident which makes them the laughing stock of their campus and the fodder of ridicule especially at the hands of the award-winning all male rival group on campus – the Treblemakers.
Desperate to right the wrong done to them the Barden Bellas set out on a mission to bring in some new blood – this is where “the misfits” enter, headed y teen wannabe DJ Beca (Anna Kendrick) and “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). It instantly becomes a clash between old and new and rivalries heightened as the march toward a cappella greatness continues …
Ironically, there are a couple of references to another teen oriented comedy from nearly 30 years ago, The Breakfast Club (DANG it is that long ago? I’m old). Unfortunately for me, this reference to that film was a reminder on some level what this kind of genre can be at its most earnest (minus the singing and dancing of course). Okay so maybe that is not a fair comparison to make since Pitch Perfect is not a film that takes itself too seriously. All the more fun!
In addition to some good musical numbers and solid performances by the leads, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the a cappella group from my alma mater – The Hullabahoos – have a cameo in the film. WA-HOO-WA!
But as I said earlier despite this (unfair) comparison, Pitch Perfect ultimately strikes the right note.
Zero Dark Thirty had a lot to live up to in my mind – the plaudits (and criticism *) have come in fast and furious, declaring that this is one of the best films of the year while at the same time decrying its depiction of torture and various other crimes, etc. So while I did not really know what to expect (The Hurt Locker, part two, perhaps?). I entered the cinema not knowing what to expect. Well maybe that is a bit of a stretch – considering in general, I feel quite safe in Ms. Bigelow’s directorial hands.
For those who may not know, Zero Dark Thirty is based on true events and tells the story of America’s covert operation to capture the “mastermind” (a term used advisedly) behind the events of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden (UBL). It is an unflinching at often at times unsettling look at the frustrations, small victories and major setbacks the intelligence community experienced in the years of infiltrating the terror networks of the Middle East, all in hopes of getting the Al Qaeda leader and many of his cohorts.
Our guide on this journey is the fresh outta Langely Maya (Jessica Chastain). At first she seems slightly ill at ease with seeing up close the tactics used by her colleagues, she gradually grows into her role until it is clear that her singular mission to see justice done to UBL at all costs.
I am certain there are several but one criticism audiences with have with the film is surely the now obligatory use of the “shakey-cam” – nearly a requirement for all military films to convey a sense of action and realism. While I agree that at times it is rather bothersome (especially as I had the good fortune of sitting in the first row of the theater – price paid for getting to a NYC theater ON TIME) it was not enough of a distraction or hindrance to ruin the film for me.
Kathryn Bigelow (I have always been a personal fan of hers) proves yet again to be an auteur at the top of her game.
Kudos to all the performances by the cast; this was an ensemble piece with Jessica Chastain leading the way. As I previously alluded to, there may not have been a great deal of character development given (not really needed, given the overarching subject matter), there was just enough that as the hunt for UBL progressed, Ms. Chastain conveyed the image of a woman on a mission singularly obsessed with personally capturing this target. And by the end, we see the toll this hunt has taken on her; there is a sense of ambiguity I felt at the close – it was not necessarily satisfaction, more relief and a moment to exhale.
If you want to find out more about the CIA character on who the character is based, check out this Washington Post article.
Overall, Dark Zero Thirty is a solid, well-executed military suspense / action /drama (with a couple of chuckle-worthy moments thrown in) that in spite of the audience knowing the endgame, will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has achieved what a lot of films aim to do but just fallen short of – hitting that sweet spot of telling a true life story that has the drama and tension of the best of those stories.
* Note: I know that there are many controversies surrounding the film’s politics – and while I do not want to be dismissive of those criticisms, I have left them out of my discussion of the film.
Earlier this week, I entered the screening of Hitchcock with the highest of expectations, given my given love of the director’s body of work. Ninety minutes after seeing the film, I arrived at the following conclusion – in spite of an interesting premise and my enjoyment of several key elements of the film, ultimately was a hodgepodge of comedy, suspense, psycho-drama and, at the center of it all, the personal and professional lives of husband-wife-collaborators Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville (Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, respectively).
Based on a the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello and directed by Sacha Gervasi, the movie starts with a rather startling opening sequence, made lighter by the presence of Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) giving a direct to camera monologue in the style of his television show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
Immediately there is a shift to the premier of the 1959 classic North by Northwest. Hitch was in a pickle – he was looking for the next story; circumstances brought the true-crime book Psycho to his attention.
As Hitch becomes deeply immersed in the world of Psycho, the audience is given a glimpse into Hitch’s well-documented obsession with the “cool blondes” and the impact it had on his marriage. This collision of his personal neurosis and an increasing fixation on Ed Gein (the inspiration for the Norman Bates character) leads to slightly creepy yet at the same time misplaced sequences when Hitch is working out some of his darkest thoughts with the serial killer.
As I previously stated, the actual “story” of the behind-the-scenes of Hitch’s 1960 horror classic, Psycho is basically the b-story. But even in that regard, it is a well-developed sub-plot involving the making of the film.
Anthony Hopkins yet again proves that in spite of not looking like The Master of Suspense, he is able to (in great part this time through the magic of movie makeup) totally embody a character – whether fictional or real-life – almost without fault. The cadence in his voice was spot on. Equal kudos to Helen Mirren, who delivers a solid performance. She gives weight to the woman behind the man, a woman who may be unknown to many audiences but who in her introduction for many audience members to the woman behind the genius who was a genius and creative force in her own right.
A welcomed pleasure for me was the work of the supporting cast – especially from Jessica Biel (Vera Miles) and Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh). When I first heard of this project and saw the casting news, I had some reservations about how this would work – but it did. There were additional noted turns by James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins) and Toni Collette as Hitch’s personal secretary.
And now for a few things that were not as effective for me. I have already mentioned the dialogue between Hitch and the Ed Gein of his mind was a little unsettling for me (maybe I am just a scaredy cat). In addition, the “direct to camera Hitch” presentations were a bit misplaced for me.
Script wise, I felt the dialogue had too many hints of exposition and information whose context would only be known with the benefit of hindsight. I cannot imagine any of the characters capable of delivering some of the words naturally in real life. However, let me play Devil’s Advocate to my own argument – I suppose this is due to screenwriter John McLaughlin creating dialogue based on the information from the source material – information that likely has the factual and reference points. That said, it just did not translate well as on-screen dialogue for me.
Another thing that did not sit well with me is the handling of the central relationship between Hitchcock and Reville. The fact that a tertiary character (in the form of Whitfield Cook, portrayed by Danny Huston) was inserted to form a potential romantic rivalry seemed unnecessary. I think just looking that the two people and not placing an emphasis on an “interloper” would have been more than enough.
Perhaps I am a little too close to the subject matter and am just being really picky. That said, let me take a step back and think about it for a moment; the question ultimately is do I think that a non-Hitchcock obsessive would enjoy this film? And unfortunately, the best answer I can come up with is maybe.
It has been nearly two weeks since I first saw Skyfall in the cinema. In that time, I have read a lot more on others’ positive (or negative) reaction to it. After all is said and done, one thing remains abundantly clear for me about this film: it is an exhilarating, action packed film that in my estimation is one of the finest 007 outings that has been produced.
From the onset, we know we are in for an exhilarating (literal) ride, with our intrepid agent chasing down someone who has information that if placed in the wrong hands (as presumably his are) spell disaster for M (Judi Dench) and her band of spies. As the story unfolds, it is apparent that this time, the end game is much more personal, closer to home – even as we enjoy the bits of globe trotting thrown in between. However it is the United Kingdom, and London in particular, that featured prominently. I think this made Skyfall more grounded in terms of time and space.
When I first heard Sam Mendes was coming on board to direct the next James Bond film, I was slightly bemused; surely I did not doubt his ability to direct, but my concern came from his ‘action-y’ bona fides. Any skepticism on this matter was shattered by my satisfaction with the big action sequences that blended so well with the dramatic action taking place around it.
In terms of the performances, it’s official – Daniel Craig has supplanted the Bond that marked my coming of age, Roger More. I know he might not be everyone’s cuppa, but I quite like his grizzled, world-weary and weathered British agent. On the flip side, Javier Bardem’s Silva had a gravitas and purpose to his villainous ways that did not have to resort to the caricature “wanting to take over the world” baddie that we all but expect to see in these types of films. For their part, the ‘supporting’ players – including Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw – up-and-down the line made the film all the more enjoyable for me.
And now, the bad news , a couple of quibbles …
Of course the ever-present, shoehorned product placement is something that I can ignore, but when my guard is down, there are those moments when I am jolted by the crass commercialization so clearly exhibited on screen. We can get past that.
One thing that bothered me a bit more was the role Berenice Marlohe’s Severine served – her presence in the film only seemed to serve 007’s pleasure, and when her ‘work’ was done, she was no longer be required. Perhaps, the further away I get from the film it is something that I have thought about a little more, but in the moment, it sort of washed over me because I was so invested in reaching the end point of the film. Then again, maybe I am overthinking this whole thing – it is a Bond film, albeit a grand, well crafted one, after all …
So, one may ask, was this observation enough for me to NOT recommend the film? After some thought, I feel comfortable in saying that for 007 fans this is a must-see film. Even if you are not a devotee of the film franchise (incidentally celebrating its 50th year with release of this film), I think there is enough in here – with all the drama, explosive action and yes – even a couple of punchy one-liners thrown in for good measure –to make Skyfall an enjoyable night at the movies.
Last week, I have the privilege of catching a sneak preview of Andrea Arnold’s latest film – her adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Equally exciting was the opportunity to participate in the Q&A session that followed the screening, with the director herself live and in person.
Alas, I did not have a particular question to ask Ms. Arnold; but I did have a lot to think about, as I was still processing what I just saw on screen.
Having been a fan of her work and having seen two of her previous directorial outings (Red Road, Fish Tank) I knew that this film would not provide a stock, straightforward adaptation of the source material. Over the years, Arnold’s films have stood out in my mind for their depiction of an unflinching world in which her characters live and are often fighting against.
* Since this is a classic and must read for many a school-aged child, I will not drag on about the plot but will, instead, direct you to a fine synopsis of the novel here.
Going into the film, I also had a little bit of a background understanding of some of the artistic embellishments added to the film, most notably in the casting of young, Black British men in the role of Heathcliff as a youth and as an adult. For some this was a controversial choice – for me, it was not that much of a stretch – in fact, I thought it allowed a contemporary audience to experience the treatment gypsy (as Heathcliff is in the novel) would have experience at the hands of people who lived in rural 19th century England. It especially gave his treatment at the hands of Hindley that much more weight. Although in our screening at least one viewer took exception to the “obvious” – his words not mine – characterization of Hindley as a skinhead. Ms. Arnold’s humorous retort was one that accepted this fact and swiftly moved on from it. And so shall I.
As for the film itself, very much like in the book, the external environment plays a vital role in telling the story the tragic lovers. However I must say in this version, the moors have a decidedly cold, remote feel to them. I would liken the coldness I felt here to my experience watching Jane Eyre last year. That said, the cinematography is quite good in capturing the landscape, even if at moments the use of the hand-held camera proved a little trying on my weary eyes.
As for the ever-important portrayals of Cathy and Heathcliff, I think that the performances of the younger pair (Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave) really rose to the occasion and worked better (for me) than of the actors who played the tragic couple as adults (Kaya Scodelario and James Howson).
Like many adaptations of Wuthering Heights, the story focuses on the central Cathy and Heathcliff relationship (this time the story is specifically viewed from Heathcliff’s perspective – as was Arnold’s stated intention) and cleaves the entire second half of novel, which is fine by me, since I felt the book was a bit of a letdown once Cathy’s fate is sealed.
One final thing that I am still undecided on is the ending … in particular the music that leads us into the final credits. Normally this is not something I pay too particular attention to, but in this case the music choice stands out in that it is most decidedly anachronistic (* if any of you have seen the film let me know what you think in the comments section below).