Tag Archives: based on a novel

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-

Filth – Review

8 Aug

One of my favorite movies of all time is Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, which was based on a novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. Welsh is an author who expertly weaves pitch dark comedy with serious drama that has made a major impact on my movie watching life. In 2013, another of his novels was adapted into a film, this time starring James McAvoy and the title being Filth. I recently had the joy of watching this movie and I have to say that it’s definitely an Irvine Welsh story and it’s also a really excellent character study. It is hard not to compare it to the two Trainspotting movies, which are superior, but even though it doesn’t reach the heights of those two movies, it’s a film that’s grown on me more and more since I saw it.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is truly one of a kind. As a highly respected detective for the Edinburgh police force (in his own mind anyway), Robertson feels sure that he’s a shoe in for the big promotion to Detective Inspector. What he fails to realize however is that his massive addiction to cocaine and alcohol, combined with his highly abusive sexual behavior and bipolar disorder may really put him at odds with other people in his task force. This shouldn’t pose much of a threat however, since Robertson is a master manipulator and likes to take part in what he calls “the games,” which is really just another form of psychological abuse where he uses other people’s insecurities and weaknesses to his advantage. After a foreign exchange student is brutally murdered, Robertson is put on the case and while investigating the death is faced with some insecurities and problems of his own which sends him deeper and deeper into a psychological and drug fueled meltdown that puts himself and everyone else around him at risk.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There are plenty of great actors in this movie that perform very well, but the movie belongs to James McAvoy and this is clear proof that he’s one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today. Bruce Robertson is not an easy character to tackle for so many reasons. Like Mark Renton in Trainspotting, Robertson is troubled but unlike Renton there’s no reason to put any faith in Robertson’s character. Bruce is a drug addict, thief, Machiavellian manipulator, and endorses violence on a sociopathic level. He is a villain of villains, but he’s also the star of our movie and he’s also suffering from a severe case of bipolar disorder. This is quite a handful for McAvoy. He has to portray and evil man while at the same time portraying the same man that longs for the quiet life he once had where he was surrounded by people he loved. Along with his more recent role in Split, his performance in Filth ranks as one of his best.

While Welsh has stated that Filth serves best as a commentary on the corruption of Scottish institutions, I feel like it’s best experienced as a character study. Sure, there are plenty of strong opinions about Scotland that come through in the screenplay which I’m sure are in the novel, but I have to admit that I’m pretty unfamiliar with it all. I just found a lot of joy watching Bruce Robertson completely lose his grasp on reality. This didn’t just stem from him being a monster of a character, but just because of McAvoy’s performance and also from a strong storytelling standpoint. The story of Filth is very intriguing and it’s hard to look away from it even at its most depraved, and depraved it gets. I’ll get more to the positives of that notion in a moment, but I do want to touch on the negatives. Irvine Welsh isn’t one to shy away from crude humor, and that shows in Trainspotting to spectacularly memorable results. In Filth, it’s much more hit or miss. A lot of jokes fall completely flat or just don’t feel executed properly. This is a major hit since this movie is a dark comedy over everything else. At times it just felt a little too juvenile for what the story deserves. With source material like this, easy laughs are the least important ones, and this movie does go for plenty of easy laughs along the way.

While the film does lose its footing a little bit with some of the humor, I really have to commend Jon S. Baird for taking this shockingly ugly subject material and not backing down. Adapting this story into something marketable couldn’t have been easy, but he managed to do it. Not only is Filth not afraid to live up to its title and show some truly reprehensible behavior, it manages to do so using and abundance of style and flash that helps it fit right in with the two Trainspotting films. The different lenses used for different scenes mixed with some chaotic and rhythmic editing makes Filth an achievement in film making as a craft. When the story starts to slow down or wear a little thin at some parts, Baird keeps your attention with his film making techniques. This is the kind of movie that succeeds in making you feel a certain way using its style, and it’s also the kind of movie that may make you want to take a shower after viewing.

I had pretty high expectations going into Filth, and while some areas were clearly weaker than others, it was a memorable film that left me feeling gleefully disgusted. This is a double-barrel shot to the senses and it will leave you with lingering thoughts and feelings. McAvoy is excellent as Bruce Robertson and I’m very proud of writer/director Jon S. Baird for making the film that he envisioned. This isn’t always an easy film to stomach, but I definitely recommend Filth for anyone willing to run the gauntlet.

Final Grade: B+

Revolutionary Road – Review

2 Sep

To me, some of the coolest kinds of movies take subjects that seem completely normal and uneventful and completely flip them on their heads to show a much more unsettling look at normalcy. In 1999, director Sam Mendes graced the world with a masterwork of film making, American Beauty, which took a darkly comedic look at the sometimes tragic follies of suburban living. After this great success, Mendes would revisit similar themes with his 2008 film Revolutionary Road. While it does share similar elements to his earlier film, Revolutionary Road is a much more serious and unsettling look at marriage, mental health, and the idea of “settling down.” It’s an overwhelming experience that is bound to leave you drained by the end.

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After Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets April (Kate Winslet) at a party, it doesn’t take long for them to fall in love and start their life together. They move into a nice house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs of Connecticut. Frank gets a job as a salesman for Knox Machines and April stays home taking care of their two young kids. It seems like the perfect nuclear family. What’s happening behind closed doors is less than perfect. Frank and April’s relationship is completely disintegrating, and this disintegrations is causing a lot of hate to boil to the surface. This hate has to remain hidden from their friends and neighbors. Their final solution to this is to pack their things, get out of the mundane life they created and move to Paris. While this idea brings them closer to the happiness they desire, a promotion offered to Frank once again puts their relationship in jeopardy as their desires and feelings become even more at ends and their lives begin to spiral out of control.

What Mendes did for more modern suburban life with American Beauty, he does for the nuclear family in Revolutionary Road. This film takes a tough look at what is labeled as the “perfect American life.” The Wheelers are a close family that live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and that’s ultimately what seems to be their downfall. Everything is just too nice. It also shows the long term consequences of decisions that seemed like a great idea at the time, like quickly getting married or hastily taking a job that you have no interest in. I feel like I’m rambling a little bit, but that’s one of the more interesting parts about this movie. Everything seems so mundane and ordinary at first glance, but this mundanity is what’s helping to tear this family to shreds. Revolutionary Road also takes a critical look at relationships. It doesn’t condemn them even a little bit, but it forces the audience to examine what makes them actually work and how too much focus on yourself, no matter how right or wrong you may be, can wreak the foundation a relationship is built on. In a nutshell, Revolutionary Road is a film about the extraordinary dark side to an otherwise ordinary life, which may seem all to real to some people.

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Revolutionary Road is an emotionally exhausting film, and I guarantee that by the end you’re going to need either eat an entire tub of ice cream or take a really long nap. There are scenes in this movie that are so intense and real and uncomfortable that I was looking at it through my fingers. When a movie isn’t a horror film and it elicits that kind of reaction, then something was done very right. While it is very intense and tragic in many scenes, there are times where it got to be a bit too much. That’s probably my only complaint with this film. It goes from being highly dramatic to too predictably melodramatic. This only happens a few times throughout the course of the movie so it really isn’t that big of a complaint at all. Most of the scenes hit the dramatic intensity just right, while a select few kind of just go too far. One major contribution to the drama is Thomas Newman’s excellent score that fits right in with the film’s onscreen action.

Watching this movie, it isn’t hard to believe that before working in film, Mendes was a prolific director of stage plays. He, along with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, films this movie like something that could be found on stage. It works great for the film and really allows that actors to work with the limited space that is given to them DiCaprio and Winslet have already shown their chemistry in Titanic, and now show a much more matured version of that chemistry in Revolutionary Road. They give outstanding performances that, I feel, have become under appreciated since the time of this movie’s release. I was surprised to see Michael Shannon, who has grown to be one of my absolute favorite actors, shows up for a little bit. He’s only in a few scenes, but he absolutely owns the screen whenever he’s on, and for this small performance he was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Revolutionary Road is one of those movies that really hits you where it hurts. At times, the drama could get a little heavy handed and the writing could stray into the “no one really talks like that” category. Even with the rare heavy handedness, this is a really interesting and upsetting film that succeeds in exactly what it was trying to do. Not only is this film shot very well, but the acting is superb and the production and costume design really get you into the era that the film takes place. Mendes is a film maker that understands the more subtle terrors of normal life, and he uses them very well in Revolutionary Road.

The Client – Review

5 May

Even if you’ve never read one of his books, chances are you still know the name John Grisham. Many of his stories have been turned into feature films, with my favorite being the 1996 courtroom drama, A Time to Kill. While that’s my own personal opinion, there are a lot of people who say that the best adaptation of a Grisham novel is the 1994 film, The Client. I remember watching this movie on t.v. when I was really young, and something about it really struck a cord in my brain making me remember it to this day. It’s finally time I revisited it and see if it’s held up after all these years.

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Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) and his little brother Ricky (David Speck) live a simple life in a trailer park by the woods. After sneaking in there to have cigarettes behind their mother’s (Mary-Louise Parker) back, the two boys witness the suicide by a mafia lawyer named Jerome “Romey” Clifford (Walter Olkewicz), but not before spilling the beans about his murderous client, Barry “The Blade” Muldanno (Anthony LaPaglia). This information makes the fame hungry federal attorney Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones) anxious to get his hands on what the kid knows and lock Muldanno up for life, even if it means putting Sway in the sights of numerous mafia hitmen. This prompts him to get a lawyer of his own, the inexperienced Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon), who treats Sway’s case with a special kind of attention and won’t stop until he is protected from both Foltrigg and Muldanno.

This movie really has a recipe for success. Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon are enough of an acting force to push any story forward, but it also helps having a Grisham story and Joel Schumacher backing them up. Before anyone says anything, I realize Schumacher is responsible for Batman and Robin, but he’s also responsible for some great films like Phonebooth and Falling Down. This is a very well constructed and acted movie from everyone involved. Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but Tommy Lee Jones also has a lot of great scenes that showcases how smarmy his character really is. This is also the debut of Brad Renfro who stands up very well to his acting superiors, which makes it more unfortunate his career was cut short when he died at the age of 28.

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With all of these talents mixing together, I’m quite surprised that The Client isn’t as exciting or thrilling as it should have been. I went into this wanting to see a lot more of the legal procedures and the mafia getting involved, but there’s only one court room scene and the mafia villains are completely laughable. For someone nick named “The Blade,” I was surprised to see how much of a cartoon character he was. It got to the point where it was hard to be threatened by these Looney Toon mafiosos. One of the reasons I love A Time to Kill so much is because there are great courtroom scenes. The one in The Client works fine, but there just isn’t enough there to make it really exciting. The film instead seems to want to focus on the relationship between Reggie Love and Mark Sway.

Since the attention is put on Brad Renfro’s and Susan Sarandon’s character, it’s important that they succeed in making their relationship interesting. At times, I feel like that’s the real crux of the movie. Sarandon’s character wants to have a connection with her estranged kids and Brad Renfro’s character wants to have a parent that can actually protect him. That’s where these two characters meet and find a special bond that makes their relationship interesting. There are times where this theme of needing some sort of connection is beat over the head, but it still works well enough and adds an extra layer to the movie.

I had a bit of a hard time writing this review because I don’t really have a whole lot to say about The Client. The opening scene is one of the most intense and memorable intros to a movie I’ve ever seen, but from there it gets a little less than thrilling. What holds the movie up is the unique characters and an especially unique murder mystery that a child has now gotten mixed up in. If more attention was spent to actually making an exciting court drama with a touch of gangsters that weren’t cartoons, The Client would have certainly been a better movie. As it is, it’s a hard movie to talk about because it really is just ok.

Christine – Review

29 Aug

I recently reviewed the first ever Stephen King adaptation, Brian DePalma’s film Carrie and its remake. I guess I just can’t stay away from his stories, since I’ve got another one for you today. In 1983, King released a novel called Christine which was adapted into a movie by John Carpenter that same year. As you might expect about a movie where a car is the primary source of fear, this isn’t a particularly scary story, but there is just enough flair and personality to make it another success for both King and Carpenter.

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Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), who along with his friend Dennis (John Stockwell), are starting their senior year of high school with high hopes. The only difference between the two boys is that Dennis is popular, on the football team, and has girls fawning over him. Arnie has a different sort of appreciation that comes from the school bullies. While the two still remain good friends, Arnie finds a real companion in a 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. He loves the car so much that it begins pushing him away from everyone he formerly cared about, including his new girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Cabot). As Arnie and Christine spend more and more time together, Christine begins getting jealous of the people around Arnie, and they soon begin to disappear one by one.

Now, while this movie is regarded among a lot of people as a small classic of the horror genre, there certainly is an elephant in the room and I just want to point it out. The premise to this movie is…like… really weird. A sentient car seduces a teenager, which pretty much turns him into a totally different person, and then the car goes on a rampage to prove just how much she (the car) cares for the guy. It’s not an easy task to take a story as ludicrous as this and make it into something that is easy to believe. That being said, it’s pretty necessary to suspend all disbelief for Christine. Once that is done, I feel like most people can have a pretty good time with this movie.

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What the story does very well is present characters and, certainly in Arnie’s case, the arc that the character goes through over the course of the movie. There’s also characters that get along that you don’t really expect to, and in that sense Christine is a pretty unconventional movie. Dennis and Arnie get along right from the get go, which gives these two main characters a past, and therefore make them feel a lot more real. The only character who doesn’t feel like there’s much of a past behind them is our title character, Christine. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Christine, especially when she begins her murderous rampage. Is it Christine or Arnie committing these crimes? This builds a lot of suspense, but there’s mystery around Christine that doesn’t really need to be there. Why is Christine sentient? Where did Christine really come from? I know in the book there’s more of an explanation, but it unfortunately didn’t really translate well to the screen.

This being a John Carpenter movie, there are a few things you can expect. The first is that this film is shot better than your average horror movie. Carpenter knows how to block shots using wide lenses to get the most into a shot as possible. There are also great scenes where Christine fixes herself, which was accomplished using plastic, vacuums, and reversing the footage. Really creative stuff. Now the idea of a car that’s actually alive isn’t particularly frightening (Pixar did it after all), but Carpenter knows how to use what material he has to the fullest. The black tinted windows add a nice layer of suspense, and this film probably has the best use of headlights you’ll ever see. It gives the film more menace than it probably would have had under a less talented hand.

John Carpenter and Stephen King are two masters of their genre, so seeing them both work together is something to really enjoy. Would it have been a little cooler if it was a different, more scary story of King’s? Maybe, maybe not. I do know, however, that while Christine isn’t a particularly scary story, it’s one that is told with clever writing, a confident hand behind the camera, and a vision provided by both of these minds that comes together quite nicely. While this isn’t the best of either of these two titans, it is a very good movie that is accessible to more people that some of their other works.

Mr Holmes – Review

3 Aug

Sherlock Holmes is arguably of the most well known and recognizable characters to grace any sort of media. Originally written in stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has been portrayed by many actors over the years. His most recent incarnations have been played by Robert Downey, Jr. in Guy Ritchie’s two films, Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC show Sherlock, and now we have him played by Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes. While still being about the world’s most famous private detective, this film is very different from what we have seen in books, movies, and television. This is a much more personal story that may also feature some of the best performances of the year.

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The year is 1947 and Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), now age 93, has long since been retired and living far away from society in a farmhouse. Living with him is his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) who understandably has a keen interest in the aged Holmes. While perfectly content keeping to himself and taking his bees in the backyard apiary, Holmes finds himself struggling with writing down the true events of his final case, which ultimately made him give up being a detective. As time goes on, Holmes finds his memory, which he had always considered his greatest asset, to quickly be fading due to what appears to be the onset of dementia. He finds help in the most unexpected of places, however, when he takes Roger on to be his protégé.

As the credits began to roll and the lights came up and everyone began shuffling out of the theater, I knew that I was going to have a lot to think about. Mr. Holmes is a much heavier movie than I was expecting it to be. Maybe I didn’t do enough research on it, but I kind of figured it would still be a movie about some sort of mystery. In a way, it still is, but it’s a mystery that’s already been solved. Instead, this film took me in a completely different direction, and the story I got was something special. Just the idea of the most observant detective there ever was struggling with memory loss and dementia is almost devastating to watch, especially since we’re dealing with such a well known character.

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Sometimes I see performances and I can almost visualize the Academy awards in my head. This is the case with Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. McKellen perfectly captures the lack of human understanding that is usually seen with the character, but also adds a major dose of humanity which isn’t normally seen. Of course, this has a lot to do with the screenplay and the source material, but it’s McKellen that brings it to life onscreen. If he isn’t nominated for Best Actor this year, I’ll eat my elbow. I can also say the same thing about Laura Linney’s performance as well. It’s a lot more understated than McKellen’s, but it’s perfect for the role she’s playing.

Finally, to just top it all off, the look and the music in Mr. Holmes are both fantastic. Since the movie has three different plot points, there are quite a few locations that the story happens in. What I enjoyed watching was the contrast between Sherlock’s rural exile and the industrious, urban settings of London and Hiroshima. To match the gorgeous visuals, and also the excellent costume design, is a score by Carter Burwell, who has had extensive work in film having notably worked with the Coen Brothers on many of their films. This film is just a fine example of sight and sound, which is something that is probably experienced quite a bit, but rarely remembered.

I went into Mr. Holmes expecting to see a good movie, but I wasn’t expecting to see something that would end up being one of my favorite movies of the summer. Everything from the screenplay, to the visuals, to the design and the music all come together so perfectly to tell a deep and emotional story about one of history’s most beloved fictional characters. It may be a film that has slipped under the radar, especially with a lot of the other movies coming out this season, but Mr. Holmes is still one of my favorite films to come out this summer, and I’d also say one of my favorites so far this year.

The Bridge on the River Kwai – Review

9 Mar

World War II is a topic that no one can really stay away from, which is fair enough because there’s so much to do with it. There’s been a huge amount of movies, games, and books dedicated to certain moments throughout the war, be it real or fictional. There are some, however, that really stand out and one of them is David Lean’s 1957 war epic, The Bridge on the River Kwai. While it is a work of fiction, it’s based off of a true event, but nonetheless, it stands as one of the greatest war films ever made but also one of the most complex.

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Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness) and his British troops find themselves in a bind when they end up in a Japanese labor camp commanded by Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). Nicholson and Saito soon butt heads when Saito orders everyone, including the officers, to start work on constructing a bridge over the River Kwai. Nicholson soon finds himself watching over the construction and believes it to be an accomplishment for the British, but also a way of raising the morale of his men. Meanwhile, escaped American prisoner, Commander Shears (William Holden) is put in charge of a mission to destroy the bridge and the first train scheduled to cross it. As Shears’ team gets closer, it becomes clearer that Nicholson will do whatever it takes to complete and protect the bridge, even if it means betraying the Allied forces that he is a part of.

What’s so impressive and difficult about this film, especially considering the time it was made, is that there are no real good guys or bad guys. The Japanese Saito runs the camp with an iron fist and mistreats certain prisoners, but deep down he’s a man who appears weak facing the code of honor and winning the war for his country. Nicholson appears to betray his own country to protect the bridge even though he’s doing it for reasons he thinks are for the long running good of Britain and his troops, making it easy to sympathize with him. Meanwhile, Shears is a liar, lazy, and cold towards other people making him more of an anti hero, despite him being an American soldier fighting for the Allies. It’s incredibly interesting seeing these morally ambiguous characters clash throughout the movie, and it makes them seem like real people.

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While it is ultimately the actor’s job at making the characters seem real, it would all be for nothing if nothing else had the air of realism about it. This movie feels very grounded in reality and part of what makes it feel that way is how huge it is, and I’m not just talking about the close to three hour run time. What I mean is that the jungle seems vast, the bridge looks gigantic, and everything just pretty much feels epic. This makes sense since Lean would go on to do his masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia just a few years later. That’s one thing that I just couldn’t get enough of in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Lean’s sense of space translates so well to the screen, especially with this being the first film that he shot in Cinemascope.

I look at this movie like it’s a two part type of deal. The first part is pretty much just in the Japanese labor camp with Nicholson and Saito trying to outdo one another. The second part deals mostly with Shears and the other British troops making their way to the bridge to destroy it. While the second part definitely has more action, I prefer the first part more because I loved Alec Guinness’ performance and his character. The second part had a lot of meetings and walking through the jungle that made me kind of fidget during. It all still comes together really well in one of the most memorable and intense climaxes in film history.

Simply put, The Bridge on the River Kwai deserves its place in just about every film textbook you can find. It’s a triumph as a character study, an adventure story, and a war epic. While the second half seemed to drag a little bit and got a tad derivative, the movie as a whole took a lot of chances in its viewpoint of soldiers from around the world during World War II. It’s a fantastic film that deserves to be watched way more than once.

Parker – Review

3 Feb

Let’s face it, most action movies starring Jason Statham don’t require too much thought or attention, which is actually one of the primary reasons why a lot of them are so fun. Some of my favorite action films are The Transporter trilogy and the two Crank movies, but recently, Statham has been kind of in a low spot in his career with films like Blitz, the only moderately entertaining Safe, and his 2013 film Parker. I really wasn’t thinking anything much of it before I watched it, but as I was watching it I realized my suspicions were almost correct. This film is nothing special, but for certain reasons it is a little bit better than what Jason Statham has been in recently.

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Parker (Jason Statham) is professional thief who operates with his own strict moral code, so when he is hired to lead a job with a bunch of criminals who firmly believe that they can do anything to get the job done, personalities clash in a very bad way. After being left for dead by a member of the crew, Melander (Michael Chiklis), Parker starts a one man quest for revenge that takes him to the sunny and comfortable land of Palm Beach, Florida. While down there, Parker takes on the false identity of an oil magnate from Texas and enlists the help of struggling real estate agent Leslie Rogers (Jennifer Lopez) to covertly track down Melander, uncover his grand plan for his next heist, and ultimately get his revenge and his money.

Here’s the gospel truth: this movie is one of the most nothing special movies I may have ever seen, although I will say that there were points where it felt like it was trying. The biggest problem with Parker is that it’s just way too generic. Going back to The Transporter and Crank, those were Jason Statham movies that had material, scenes, and style that made them memorable. Parker doesn’t. Even Parker as a character is made generic. A criminal with a strict moral code that convinces the audience he’s a good guy? Doesn’t that sound like every other Jason Statham movie ever? I know that these movies are supposed to just be entertainment, but this gets old after a while. It all just feels so tired if there’s nothing in the movie that spices it up.

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Let me give this movie some credit though. There were parts in it that were really entertaining. Hearing Jason Statham try his best to go full Southern is hilarious and Michael Chiklis really hams it up as the villainous Melander. Even Jennifer Lopez brings some nice moments of drama and comedic relief, even though her character is pretty much useless. The best parts of the movie, and I say this without any shock, are the action sequences. One brutal scene in particular where Parker fights an assassin in a hotel suite was particularly satisfying and pretty much raised the standards of the film from being hopelessly bland to mediocre. Unfortunately, there are only a few other scenes like this in the movie, and never do they reach this level of intensity. This leads me into what may be my biggest complaint of the movie.

The structure of this movie is just too weird. It starts as a heist movie, turns into a revenge story, then some weird con/buddy movie, and then revenge again. Like, what is this movie supposed to even be? Not to mention there’s a mysterious Chicago mafia boss that is talked about for the entire movie and is only seen for almost thirty seconds at the very end of the movie. It felt like they had this big scene or twist with this guy planned and it just never came to be. I was really enjoying the movie for what it was at the beginning, but once Parker gets to Palm Springs, everything just gets so distracted and misused, which makes me wonder this movie would have been better if it was just 15 or 20 minutes shorter.

Listen, I don’t want it to seem like I hated Parker. It’s not that I hated it, but more that I thought it was just nothing too special. If you’re a Jason Statham fan, like myself, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something to really enjoy with this movie, or at least kill a few hours. It’s time well spent if you’re enjoying yourself. I will say, however, that Statham has been in much better movies than this one. Compared to some of his recent stinkers, it’s a step above them and has its redeeming qualities. If you aren’t a fan of Statham’s other movies, you’re gonna hate this one. It’s ultimately a mediocre entry into his filmography.

The Paperboy – Review

5 Oct

I would assume that when people think of the film maker Lee Daniels, there are a few movies that immediately pop into their heads. These movies are Precious and the more recent The Butler, a movie which Daniels seemed to love putting his name all over. I would venture to guess that not many people would think of his mainly under the radar film of 2012, The Paperboy, a film based off of novelist Pete Dexter’s book of the same name. While being nominated for Golden Globe and also competing for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this film remained relatively unheard of, which kind of seems to make sense after watching it.

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In the small bayou town of Lately, Florida, investigative journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) are hired by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) for a rather strange job. The two are to investigate an old crime and hopefully prove the innocence of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a death row inmate who has been charged with murdering a sheriff and with whom Charlotte has fallen madly in love with. Soon, Ward’s younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) makes himself part of the investigation, but can’t seem to get past his feelings towards Charlotte, who is becoming more and more obsessed with Hillary. The investigation is met with a seemingly endless run of obstacles including racism, unexpected violence, and secrets that none of the characters are willing to have come to light.

Now, I’ve never seen a movie by Lee Daniels before, but just judging from The Paperboy, I love his style. This movie takes place in the deep south during the 1960s, so there’s plenty of stylistic choices to go with. One way would be to make a film that simply and realistically depicts what this would look and sound like. The other way, or should I say the more interesting way, would be to create a hyper-realistic film shot on 16mm to give it a gritty look, make all of the colors faded, and have all of the actors look like their dying from heat stroke. That is how Lee Daniels makes this movie look excellent. It actually looks like it was produced in the 1960s, so I have to give Daniels a lot of credit there. Not only that, but I could almost feel the heat and humidity that seemed to be radiating from this movie.

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I also have to give Lee Daniels and Pete Dexter credit on the uncompromising way they tell the story. I was actually kind of surprised that the MPAA let this movie fly so easily cut the way it is. Lets just say The Paperboy went places with its story that I was neither expecting it to, but also it went places that it probably shouldn’t have. I like that the film makers liked to take risks, since not taking them can sometimes lead to a boring movie. The problem that it poses here is that the movie got way too distracted and often times took itself way too seriously. It was too often that the plot strayed way too far from the crux of the drama, and too close to the angsty spirit of Jack. By the time we get to the climax of the movie, I didn’t feel like I was all there cause I wasn’t even quite sure how we got there. It would have been much more interesting to focus on the criminal investigation with these over the top characters, but instead we get a sort of twisted, lustful romance that took itself way too seriously and detracts major, major points from the movie as a whole.

What saves the movie from falling too deep into the pit of awful is the performances by each and every one of the actors. Of all the Disney stars that have come out of that hell hole over the past few years, Zac Efron is the one that shows the most potential, and he handles the thickness of this movie well. As it would be expected, Matthew McConaughey owns every scene he’s in, even though I feel like he was a tad underused. John Cusack plays a creep almost too well, and I haven’t been as frustrated with a character as I was with Kidman’s in quite a long time. Going back to what I was saying about the story, I just wish they stuck more with McConaughey and Oyelowo’s characters since I found what they were doing much more interesting and involving.

I’ve heard a lot of negative things about The Paperboy, but at the same time I’ve heard people who’ve loved it. This is one of those movies where you really love it or you hate it, but for me it just isn’t that simple. I didn’t think that this was a great movie, but it was a good homage to pulpy, entertaining trash. I’m not sure if this is what was expected, but that’s just the feeling I got from it. This would have been a really good movie if the story was more concerned with the drama that actually felt important and interesting. Instead, it gets distracted with some random scenes of steamy lust and young adult angst. Just know what you’re getting into if you decide to watch this movie.

Let the Right One In – Review

19 Sep

Regardless of what people may or may not think, it is completely possible for a film maker with some talent to create a really cool vampire movie. There has been enough tom foolery happening with vampire lore, that it sometimes seems too much to handle. Enter novelist/screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist and director Tomas Alfredson who worked to create what may be the best vampire film of the last decade, Let the Right One In. It’s an outstanding blend of human drama, vampire folklore, coming of age, and romance but also will very likely remain a movie that I consider to be a modern day classic.

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Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a 12 year old boy living in the suburbs of Sweden who has trouble letting out his hostilities caused by the constant bullying he is subjected to at school. Life for Oskar is shaken up when a mysterious young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), moves into the apartment next to his. The two children soon become friends, even though throughout the town there are brutal murders and disappearances occurring. As the two children become closer and closer to each other, and a small romantic bonds for between them, Oskar begins realizing some strange things going on with Eli, starting with the facts that she is way older than 12, has an unending thirst for blood, and may be responsible for all of the missing and murdered people around town.

This is a movie that has so much going for it that it’s hard to just talk about it in so many words. I think it’s important to talk about some of the subtext going on in Let the Right One In. First of all, the way they handle Oskar’s character is brilliant. There are plenty of movies out there where a kid gets bullied, but in this one, we focus more on his time away from the bullies and how it is affecting him psychologically. Oskar spends his time clipping news stories about murder and guns before going outside to stab at a tree with a knife he hides under his bed. Much like another movie I recently reviewed, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, this film deals with a mortal side effect to bullying. While we never see Oskar go to the extremes that are shown in Elephant, we do get a look at a boy who is slowly becoming more and more psychologically disturbed, which is just as terrifying, if not more terrifying, than any vampire you will see in any other movie.

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Despite what some people may want to think, vampires are very romantic creatures, even if the romance is in some form of creepy or unsettling way. Just look at Bram Stoker’s novel of Dracula. The romantic qualities of Dracula are certainly creepy, but he still seems to have a sort of power over women. In Let the Right One In, the romance is between 12 year old Oskar and the infinitely 12 year old Eli. This kind of romance is sweet to see and is also combined with a strange coming of age story for Oskar and a shift in the life of Eli. This is a much more interesting story than the murderous consequences of Eli’s thirst, although I can’t deny that this movie as some genuinely creepy moments that are guaranteed to make your skin crawl. This is a horror movie after all, but a horror movie that is devoid of those god awful jump scares. The horror in this movie feels legitimate, and not just something that gets your adrenaline fueled for a few seconds. Anyone who has seen this movie would agree that the climax of the film is one of the best in the history of horror films.

Finally, this is a film that will get people talking. I first saw this movie in school, and pretty much only watched it as an interesting take on vampire movies. Watching it again just a few days ago, I saw how brilliantly written it is. There is just enough information given in the plot for us to know what is going on. I never really had any questions or confusions about what was being revealed, but there is so much happening beneath the surface that is merely alluded to that left me, and I’m sure many people, wondering. Now, I’ve never read Lindqvist’s novel, and from what I hear, a lot is explained. That’s fine for the novel, but for the movie, I love the mystery surround Eli and her past. It adds a whole layer of depth that wouldn’t be there if everything was simply explained.

Let the Right One In is simply one of the best vampire films ever made and a personal favorite of mine in the horror genre. It retains an excellent feeling of terror throughout the whole film but also adds nice moments for the two children to grow closer to one another in a way that only children can. The performances by these kids are also both excellent and surprisingly believable considering who their characters are. I haven’t seen the American remake of this film, but I’m not sure I’m too interested in it. This movie is perfect enough as it is, and one that I could watch over and over again.