Archive | September, 2017

Good Time – Review

28 Sep

Every now and then, a movie comes along that completely destroys the conventions of its genre. Sometimes that works well, and other times it holds the movie back. It all depends upon the creative force behind the project. Ben and Josh Safdie have recently proven that they are more than capable to create a movie that defies all the rules expected in a feature film. Their newest film, Good Time, is the perfect example. The trailers for this movie had me really intrigued, but I didn’t get the proper feel of the style going into it. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but what I got was something so different and disturbing that I dare say this is a movie that should not be ignored. Good Time is a piece of art that defies all expectations and rules but also feels like one of the realest movies of 2017.

Constantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is a petty thief who is looking for a score that could potentially change his life. He’s careless in many ways, bust most of all by utilizing the help of his mentally challenged younger brother, Nick (Ben Safdie), with his crimes. After successfully robbing a small New York bank for $65,000, Constantine and Nick think that they’ve made it out scot free. That is until a police officer gets too close to Nick and scares him, which sends the two brothers off running with the police in hot pursuit. After a chase, Nick is arrested, while Constantine ultimately gets away. After hearing about the abuse Nick is forced to put up with, Constantine begins an odyssey into the underbelly of New York City to raise $10,000 to bail his brother out of jail. As the night progresses and more altercations keeps Constantine from the money he needs, his desperation starts to wear him down and reveal a side of himself he didn’t want to believe existed.

Something that I sort of guessed about Good Time is that it would feel very episodic. I had Collateral in mind before seeing this movie, but the two really don’t share many similarities. Good Time is very un-cinematic in the way it tells its story, and I found it a bit hard to grasp onto at first. The beginning of the movie really pulled me in, but it became hard to find the rhythm the story was moving at. After awhile, I decided to stop looking for it. I would simply let the film wash over me and wherever it went, I went. This is one of those movies that it all makes sense after it’s over and looking back on it, I appreciate it more than I did as I was watching it. Scenes lead into the next almost at random as small occurrences that seem minor are enough to shake up the lives of the few characters that share the screen. There’s little rhyme or reason as to why things happen, just that it’s the sole consequences of the characters and not for the sake of driving the plot forward. Some may say it’s anticlimactic. I say it’s brilliant.

Speaking of un-cinematic, the look of Good Time is really something to behold. It was sort of marketed as this neon lit trip down the rabbit hole like something out of the mind of Nicolas Winding Refn. There are a few scenes that do go a little over the top with the lighting, and sometime it was a bit distracting. For the most part, however, that is not the style of this film. This is a grimy, dirty, and highly unflattering film. The sets are run down and gross and the actors are made to look their worst. These are bad people operating out of bad places and the Safdie brothers really work to make that clear. A lot of scenes are also shot using off balanced angles with the foreground obstructing the view or close ups that come across as jarring. This is a disturbing film and this is really the only way this film could’ve been shot. Any other way would’ve robbed the audience of the proper tone. I do wish that some scenes toned it down with the lighting however. They didn’t always fit.

A while ago, I reviewed The Rover and I commented on Robert Pattinson’s understated but superb performance. Pattinson is one of those actors who can give an unexpectedly brilliant performance when paired with the right script and film maker. His understated performance in The Rover works really well, but his performance in Good Time is something else. This one is much more kinetic, dark, and completely devoid of innocence. His command of the screen is evident in this film and the weight of the character is clearly heavy, but he carries it all very well. Ben Safdie as his mentally challenged younger brother also gives a startlingly real performance that I wasn’t really expecting. There’s a strange cameo in the beginning by the always excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh to top off the cast of excellent performers. This may be one of the best acted movies of the entire year.

Good Time is a truly unique cinematic experience by the Safdie brothers. I’m unfamiliar with their earlier works, but if it’s anything like this I really need to check it out. That being said, I’d love to see more from them in the future because this felt like pure, in your face cinema. This is a darkly disturbing film that will make you long for the shower after the credits start to roll. If you have become overwhelmed with the summer blockbusters that have all come and gone, take a look at Good Time, but make sure you buckle in first.

Final Grade: A

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Tears of the Sun – Review

18 Sep

It’s always an exciting feeling to finally get around to watching a movie you’ve been trying to watch for years. I remember seeing the trailer for Tears of the Sun years ago when I was younger and first getting into war movies. I thought it looked excellent and I really wanted to see it, but never actually got a chance to. Now, 14 years after the movie was first released, I’ve gotten around to seeing it. I had high expectations going into it since it’s been a recurring thought to me for years and also the fact that it’s helmed by Antoine Fuqua. Unfortunately, these expectations were nowhere near met. Tears of the Sun does have its surprises and some truly gripping scenes, but it too often falls into the clichés of the genre which really just leaves it as a middle of the road war drama.

After a coup leads to a rebel uprising that results in the murder of the Nigerian president and his family, violence inevitably erupts throughout the entire region. U.S. armed forces are deployed off the coast, including a team led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis). After completing a mission, the lieutenant and his team are sent back into the hot zone Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) to extract Dr. Lean Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen running a mission and hospital in the middle of the conflict. Nothing in Waters’ orders does it say for him to also extract the able bodied Nigerians staying at the mission, and at first he isn’t planning on it. After seeing a particularly brutal massacre, however, Waters decides to go against orders and lead both Kendricks and the civilians from the mission to the Cameroon border. With rebels hot on their tails, Waters and his team have to keep everyone moving as fast as they can, but a conflict with the rebels chasing them eventually becomes inevitable.

Tears of the the Sun is an extremely muddy movie and that’s what really holds it down. It starts off interesting enough, but once Waters, Kendricks, and everyone else start their journey through the jungle, it just turns into a mess. There’s scene after scene after scene after scene of just everyone hiking through various locations with an attempt to progress the drama. Unfortunately, the characters are so dull that this drama isn’t anything special and just gets lost in the uninspired performances and gray cinematography. There’s also plenty of lines of dialogue that I said before the character even had a chance to say them because this movie is loaded with your standard war clichés. A change of location might have changed things up after a while, but every scene looks almost exactly the same it felt like everyone was just walking in circles. This could’ve been an interesting element in the movie, how the immense jungle can cause confusion, but no.

Like I said before, the characters in Tears of the Sun are just dull. There’s very little to say about them because most of them lacked individual personalities. The men in Waters’ team were all pretty much the same person. They were all the hardened soldier that still had the wit to crack a joke from time to time. None of them stood out and anyone of them could delivered any line. When things get hectic during the climax and their lives are in danger, I didn’t really care because none of them really made me care about them. The same can be said about Willis’ character. His performance is so one note that it was hard to connect with him in the least. This role could have been played by anyone and he was just a boring protagonist. The only person that really stands out is Monica Bellucci who gives a very heartfelt and honest performance as Dr. Kendricks. She’s one of the only people who actually seems to be trying.

There are a few moments that do stick out in the otherwise muddled plot. The beginning was interesting and did pull me in to the setting easily enough. There’s a gut wrenching scene in the middle of the movie that shows just how truly horrible the situation is during this conflict and the prices that people trying to live their lives are paying because of it. The scene actually got me back with the movie and created a whole new layer of drama and suspense, but once the same old hiking through the woods started up again I began to drift once more. The climax is less than spectacular, but the very end of the movie features a scene of Willis actually acting like he wants to be in this movie. It’s a satisfying ending that wraps everything up well, but it certainly doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie.

Tears of the Sun is a watchable movie, but that’s all I’m really going to say about it. Besides Bellucci, the performances are one note, the cinematography is boring, and the constant walking through the jungle with characters I didn’t care about just became boring after a while. There are a few scenes that stick out, but they really are few and far between. Tears of the Sun is reminiscent of other movies that are just done better, while this one if meant to live in the realm of mediocrity. This isn’t a necessary movie nor is it one that will be remembered. It isn’t exactly bad, but there just isn’t too much to say about it.

Final Grade: C

Logan Lucky – Review

17 Sep

Steven Soderbergh has always been something of an inspiration to me. He helped start the indie craze of the 1990s with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, has made some excellent mainstream films like Ocean’s 11, dabbled in the world of surrealism with Schizopolis, and also was the creative force behind one of the most chilling television shows in recent years, The Knick. He’s a film maker that can pretty much tackle anything, even though I’ll be the first to admit he doesn’t have a spotless filmography. After taking time away from the big screen following 2013’s Side Effects, I was excited to see him return with another heist movie, this one being Logan Lucky. This has been a movie I’ve been anticipating for awhile, but I never really got my hopes up for it. After seeing it, I can say that while it’s far from Soderbergh’s best, it’s still a damn fun movie.

Sometimes it seems that certain people have all the luck, and they could really share some if they wanted to. That’s a description that is far from fitting for the Logan family. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) had a promising football career, but an accident killed that dream and left him with a limp. His brother Clyde (Adam Driver) had his fair share of luck after his time in Iraq left him with a prosthetic arm. Still, the two seem to be surviving just fine, that is until Jimmy is fired from his construction job and begins scrambling to find a way to provide for his daughter, who he still keeps in close contact with after his divorce. This prompts Jimmy to dig deep into his plans and reveal a scheme to rob the funds from the Coca-Cola 600 race, and the only time to do it is on Memorial Day, one of the biggest races of the year. In order to do this, the brothers enlist the help of local ne’er do well, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who they have to sneak out of jail with just enough time to pull off the heist. With the old Logan bad luck facing them down, the team have to use every ounce of ingenuity to get through this unscathed.

Right off the bat, the best thing about Logan Lucky is its characters. Jimmy and Clyde are such a believable pair of brothers, and part of the reason they work so well is the chemistry and dynamic between Tatum and Driver. Channing Tatum works great as a leading man in this movie, and it’s really cool to see a down to earth, blue collar guy leading a major heist. There’s such a difference between Jimmy Logan and Danny Ocean, but both characters work great. Driver is one of my favorite elements of this movie, and every line he delivers was spot on and hilarious. Daniel Craig also goes against the mold here as the gung ho Joe Bang, and his brothers played by Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid match his level of slightly unhinged mania. It’s a motley crew of people that make such a fun ensemble cast. I also have to give a lot of credit Farrah Mackenzie, who plays Jimmy’s daughter. She is awesome in this movie and performs way better than your average child actor. I see a bright future there.

While I do really like the blue collar element of this movie, I couldn’t help but thinking this movie was lacking in what I will call the “AHA department.” This is where you watch a heist movie and you think you’re seeing everything, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. That’s a staple of modern heist movies, and it almost feels like you’re witnessing a magic trick. There’s a feeble attempt at this in Logan Lucky, but for the most part what you see is what you get. There’s nothing terribly complicated or interesting about the heist, and that’s something of a disappointment. There’s also a lot of suspension of disbelief that has to happen for this to seem credible. For some people, it’s more than can be tolerated. If someone said they had a hard time buying everything they saw in this movie, I wouldn’t argue. Even I did at times. What saved the movie for me was the level of chemistry between the characters and the depth that they each individually had. You want all of them to succeed in their own ways, and because the character are so likable, it’s possible to look past some of the glaring storytelling flaws.

What Logan Lucky did have plenty of that surprised me is humor. I knew going in that this was going to be a light hearted and fun film, but there are moments that are just downright hilarious. Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are very funny, but the real comedic stars of this one are Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson. They are just so over the top and relishing the characters they are playing. They had potential to be really annoying, but they were just the right amount of goofy. There’s also a near unrecognizable Seth MacFarlane in here as well, and his scenes were some of the highlights of the entire movie. The writing may be lacking in terms of cleverness in the heist, but it more than makes up for it with the genuine laughs it provided.

Logan Lucky isn’t Soderbergh’s best film and it isn’t the grandest return he could’ve made to the silver screen, but I will say it’s clearly a project he wanted to do. This movie has a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a slew of great characters all bouncing off of one another. This is pure, lighthearted film making that offers up plenty of feel good energy. The actual heist could have been more creative and the third act feels a little rushed, but this was still a fun film. I doubt it’s going to make anyone’s list of best films of the year, but it’s one that may be worth checking out.

Final Grade: B

Aguirre, the Wrath of God – Review

11 Sep

One of the most iconic professional relationships in the history of film is that of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Herzog is a brilliant film maker who pushes the boundaries of cinema and has made a name for himself doing it. Kinski, on the other hand, was an absolute madman who threatened people on a daily basis and had manic explosions that makes the Vesuvius eruption seem like nothing. While the two men were constantly at odds with each other, it can’t be denied that they did some excellent work together. The first film they ever collaborated on is the 1972 film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Upon its release, it was a critical success and has been called a masterpiece of cult film making. That’s a lot to live up to, but this minimalist adventure into both the South American jungles and insanity lives up to the hype.

After conquering the Incan Empire, conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés) leads a group of his men and slaves down the Andes Mountains and into the jungle in search of the lost city of El Dorado. As they get deeper and deeper into the jungle, Pizarro decides to send a small party further downriver, led by Don Pedro de Ursúa (Ruy Guerra) and his second in command being the manipulative Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). When Ursúa recommends going back to Pizarro’s camp after 7 days of searching, Aguirre decides that that this course of action is unacceptable and leads a mutiny against the leader and elects the slovenly nobleman Don Fernando de Guzmán (Peter Berling) to lead the group to El Dorado. Of course, Aguirre knows that Guzmán is a fool and uses this to take power over the party and to build a raft to sail deeper into the jungle that is crawling with native cannibals looking for food. As members of the party start being picked off one by one, Aguirre falls further into madness and becomes hungrier for power, and will stop at nothing to find El Dorado, even when the expedition becomes a hopeless tragedy.

Who better to tell this story than Werner Herzog? Well, I could actually think of a handful of people to make it before I thought of Herzog, but it’s excellent that he was the one to tackle it. The characters in this movie are all based on real people who actually did go looking for the mythical city of El Dorado, but it isn’t known for sure how they all met their demises. Herzog isn’t interested with fact in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Instead, he’s interested in weaving a story full of deception, manipulation, and murder. While this all sounds very theatrical, this movie is anything but. Shot on location in South America, it would’ve been impossible to bring a film crew out that was necessary with the budget Herzog was working with. This made the film maker shoot scenes in whatever way he can which made for a very loose and almost documentary style. It’s a method that makes this film absolutely engrossing and it really worked at making me get immersed in the jungle environment these characters were trying to navigate. It’s a prime example of a low budget miracle.

This was a highly demanding movie for both the actors and the crew, so I imagine it wasn’t always easy getting the performance that was necessary, especially from you know who. Still, the performances in this movie feel very natural and ahead of their times in some ways. Herzog is an auteur film maker and his demand for his vision is evident with the stories that have been recorded from the set and the actual outcome of the movie. I do have to talk about Kinski’s performance since it’s one of the main reasons to even watch this film. He has a fire in his eyes and he captures the madness of Aguirre with perfection. He’s actually not in it as much as I thought he would be, especially since the movie is named after his character. He definitely is the main driving force behind the film, but he often times pulls the strings from offscreen. When he is onscreen, however, his acting is electrifying and you can see why Herzog chose to collaborate with him four more times after this despite the trouble he had.

This movie had the story to be an epic yet tragic adventure tale full of larger than life heroes and villains. Instead, Herzog went the much quieter route and it’s all the better for it. Most of the violence happens within the blink of an eye and most of the dialogue is spoken in a very uncinematic way. Much like everything else, the story doesn’t flow and move like a traditional film. Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a very slow movie that isn’t afraid to completely stop moving for a while and focus on the stability, both mental and physical, of the characters. If you’re looking for a swashbuckling action adventure film, Aguirre is bound to disappoint. This is a film that takes its time and forces you to stick with it.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is an outstanding film through and through. It’s a subtle tale of madness that works so well because the storytelling is so quiet and unconventional. Herzog’s guerrilla style behind the camera also made the film seem all the more authentic. If anything, it’s worth a viewing just to see Kinski’s manic performance come to life before your very eyes. This isn’t a movie for everyone I don’t think, but it is a masterpiece of the cinematic arts and any brave lover of film needs to give it a go.

Final Grade: A

Cold Mountain – Review

3 Sep

Civil War movies fascinate me because I’ve always seemed to gravitate towards World War II films so I feel like I’ve missed out a little bit. It’s a really intriguing era with a lot of potential for some exceptional production design with how America looked and functioned in this mid 19th century time. In 1997, a novel called Cold Mountain was released having been written by Charles Frazier. It went on to win the National Book Award, but I don’t really hear too much more about it. In 2003, it was adapted for the big screen by acclaimed film maker Anthony Minghella, who before this won the Academy Award for his directing of The English Patient. I had some reservations going into Cold Mountain, but it actually surprised me. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a solid Civil War epic that deserves some attention.

With the South talking of seceding from the North, tensions in the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain are high. Many people want the war to happen, but the new town preacher, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), and his daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman) are staunchly against it. Amongst these talks of war, Ada finds peace with a local man she meets named WP Inman (Jude Law), and the two quickly fall for each other. Before anything can be done with their feelings, North Carolina secedes from the Union and most of the men of the town enlist to the Confederate Army, including Inman. As the years of the war drag on and hope for the South seems bleak, Ada struggles to survive in the town and only gets by with the help of a local woman (Kathy Baker) and her new tough talking friend, Ruby (Renée Zelwegger). Meanwhile, Inman is injured in a battle and after receiving a letter from Ada decides to desert and make the long journey home to Cold Mountain. Along the way, Inman sees all sorts of kinds which gives him a perspective of what he’s been fighting for and how the war has torn apart so many lives.

That was a pretty tough summary to write because there’s so much that happens in Cold Mountain. It’s a long movie that clocks over two and a half hours, which was actually one of my main worries. I’m all about watching a long movie that has a grand scope, but I’ve seen some recently that don’t really know what to do with a story of that magnitude. Luckily, this isn’t Minghella’s first rodeo and he knows just how to handle a story like this. I left out a lot of characters and subplots, because there’s no way I’d be able to fit it all in to one paragraph. This is truly an epic film and it’s one that works. Inman’s travels through the different regions is extremely entertaining because he sees so many different kinds of people. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a reverend who gets banished from his town for getting a slave woman pregnant, Giovanni Ribisi plays a man who is using the war to his advantage in treacherous ways, and Natalie Portman is a woman who’s lost nearly everything. It’s a journey that has layers and is at times heartbreaking, touching, and hilarious. This may sound cheesy, but it really felt like an adventure.

While this adventure through the crumbling South, Ada’s own personal adventure in Cold Mountain is just as interesting. It’s a town in utter despair with the casualties of war posted on a board in the middle of town. The town seems to be dying just like the men that went off to fight, and watching it happen can prove for some rough viewing. The Civil War has always been seen as a war where Americans killed their fellow men, and that macrocosmic idea is taken to just one town where the violence of the war bleeds into this area that hasn’t seen any actual battle. It’s a different kind of struggle for survival and even though it isn’t as epic a journey as Inman, it never bored me. This is another surprising thing about this movie. It’s nearly 3 hours but I was never bored.

This is a huge cast so forgive me if I can’t get to everyone. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman both do very good work in this movie and their chemistry is believable even though the amount of screen time they share compared to how long the movie is is very small. A lot of the minor characters really steal the show however. Both Hoffman and Portman are two that really stand out, but I also have to give credit to Brendan Gleeson and Jack White, of all people. The real stand out performance, however, is Renée Zelwegger, who won the Academy Award for her performance, and rightfully so. The only thing that doesn’t always work for me in this movie is the writing. It gets a little too theatrical in moments that require some down to earth dialogue. It’s a very melodramatic movie at times and sometimes it works, but sometimes I found myself cringing.

Cold Mountain was a surprisingly affective movie that I don’t hear too much about. It has an incredible cast that are part of a really entertaining, but sometimes difficult story about how war can tear a nation to shreds. The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was some of the melodramatic writing that just felt forced and was probably only necessary so they’d have a clip for the Oscars. Still, that is a minor issue that doesn’t hurt the movie to bad. It’s an epic adventure that has all the ingredients for a memorable film.

Final Grade: A-