Tag Archives: depression

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.

Modern Times – Review

28 Jul

Charlie Chaplin is a name that has become synonymous with silent comedy, and I would say comedy in general. From his beginnings at the Keystone Film Company, Chaplin has made audiences everywhere laugh, cry, and stare in bewilderment at the physical feats that he would do for his pictures. They weren’t just shallow comedies, either. Chaplin had a way of injecting searing social and political commentary in his films. One of his most famous films is his 1936 silent (?) comedy, Modern Times.

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Set in Depression-era California, Modern Times tells the story of the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), who’s trying to survive in the industrialized world. In the beginning, he works as a factory worker who’s repetitive job becomes to much for him, and he has a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, he loses his job at the factory and meets a young Gamine (Paulette Goddard). Together, they travel the city and look for work in all the right places, but can’t seem to make any money or keep their jobs due to the world around them.

Chaplin considered this one of his most important projects, to the point where he became obsessed with making it perfect. In fact, he started sleeping at the studio and only left work with the sound recorders when Paulette Goddard begged him to. After traveling the world to promote City Lights and meeting with important friends in many different countries, Chaplin saws firsthand the conditions of the modern world and how machines seemed to be taking over.

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Visually, this movie is a masterpiece, and not just in how the aesthetic sense, but also the excellent sight gags. The outstanding set pieces all look great and larger than life. In the most famous scene of the movie, and one of the most famous images to ever come from film, shows Chaplin getting caught in giant cogs, making him literally part of the machine. Another great scene shows the Tramp trying to do some good and give a flag back to a truck driver, but is mistaken for being the leader of a protest. The exteriors all look appropriately, well, depressing.

The thing is, though, is that this is not a completely silent picture, unlike Charlie’s earlier work. Much of the sound that is heard comes from phonographs and the sound of the factory boss hollering through a television. This is to show how technology is even changing Hollywood, with the introduction of sound in its modern devices, and also how Chaplin viewed this introduction to sound as not being the correct way to go. In what should be seen as one of the most important scenes in film history, the Tramp actually gets his own time to be heard as he sings a gibberish song in a cafe and pantomimes what the story of the song is.

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Modern Times is an important statement on the conditions of the modern world, trying to keep up with it all, and the increasingly difficult life of workers. This is also a film that has stood the test of time with its comedy that never gets old and themes that still resonate all these years later. In my opinion, Modern Times is a must see and must laugh film that everyone should experience at least once in their life. Charlie Chaplin surely was something special.

Melancholia – Review

19 Jul

Lars von Trier is no stranger to shocking and appalling audiences. It seems he relishes in the idea of giving the willies to unsuspecting audiences. Mind you, he isn’t some sort of horror film maker who fills his films with monsters and murder. His films give a more spiritual upheaval or a large dosage of mental anguish. Melancholia hits where it hurts, and leaves you feeling hopeless and completely insignificant. Sounds like a bummer, right? Well this bummer of a film is also completely mind blowing and will leave you in a state of thought for days to come.

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The film is broken up into two parts. Part 1 is titled Justine. It is the night of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael’s (Alexander Skarsgård) wedding. Arriving two hours late to their own reception at Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mansion, tensions are already running high. Throughout the night, Justine becomes more and more distant from everyone, leaving the party to sit by herself many times. Soon the entire party comes crashing down on everyone’s heads. Part 2 is titled Claire. In this part, we follow Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) as they allow Justine, who is depressed to the point where she can’t even take a bath, to stay with them. During their stay, a planet called Melancholia, is either going to pass closely to the Earth and allow a spectacular display or will crash into Earth, ending all life as we know it.

Visually, this is an incredible movie to look at. Lars von Trier has a way of making his movies look like moving paintings, rather than moving pictures. Every shot is so deliberate, even with the handheld style that he uses to give a more intimate look into the private lives of these people. What is really very impressive is the CGI visuals of the planets. In a breath taking opening sequence, we see planetary events from a remarkable view. While I know that it is all just special effects, it felt majestic.

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To many, Melancholia will be a prime example of a boring movie. The whole film takes place primarily on the grounds of John and Claire’s mansion. By the third act, the excitement and suspense really pick up, but for a bulk of the movie, not too much really goes on. There are some familial betrayals and arguments, but it’s very much just a family drama and character driven story. That being said, until the science fiction element of the story really kicks in, the plot moves fairly slowly. This is hardly a problem thanks to the excellent performances by the cast, with a special recognition going to Charlotte Gainsbourg for really conveying the emotional intensity of the story and characters beyond the screen. Kirsten Dunst also has a challenging role, and does a fine job at getting the physical and mental troubles of constant dread across.

A word of caution. If you’re in a great mood before watching Melancholia, be prepared for that happiness to be shattered. If you’re a generally sad or depressed person, than maybe this movie wouldn’t be the best thing to watch on one of your gloomy afternoons. By the end, you feel absolutely helpless and alone in the universe. All of the controllable and fixable problems that the characters have on earth mean nothing when an oversized planet is careening towards them. You are forced to put yourself in their situation, because you, no matter who you are, would be affected by this interstellar disaster.

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What Lars von Trier has done with Melancholia is blend beauty and tragedy, love and hopelessness together to create something that, to me, has surpassed what movies are really supposed to achieve. The reaction that I had to this movie is deep and personal because it deals with my own mortality. This movie isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t really traditional entertainment, but it has a way of sticking with you and affecting you. I implore whoever reads this to give Melancholia a chance for the visuals, the acting, and the internal turmoil that it is sure to cause.

Side Effects – Review

18 Feb

Steven Soderbergh is one of those film makers that seems to have the ability to dabble in any genre imaginable. His filmography is extensive and seems to be painted in broad strokes. His latest film, and supposedly his last film he will be releasing for theaters, is Side Effects. As a theatrical swan song, I don’t think there is a movie that could be more appropriate to best represent his diverse skills.

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When Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison after serving four years for insider trading, it is assumed that life will go on for the couple as it did before his incarceration. Not so. Emily finds herself depressed to the point of attempting suicide on multiple occasions. She meets with psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who after consulting her past therapist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones), prescribes Emily with a new experimental drug, Ablixa. The drug appears to be working until its side effects tear Emily’s life to shreds. Blame is soon put on Jonathan, who suspects there is more going on with Emily than meets the eye.

About 2/3’s of the reviews that I have read for Side Effects, good or bad, have split the movie up into two separate parts. The first part involves Emily’s struggle with her depression and the prescribing of different drugs until the Ablixa drug is brought to light. This is a very interesting look into the debilitating effects of depression and a filmic debate over the necessity and morality behind prescription drugs. The second half is Jude Law’s show. During this time we see the fall of his character and his attempts to climb out of the mire. The theme of prescription drugs stays strong for this half, but the concrete finger pointing of the companies behind them make this half engaging.

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While four people are shown on the poster, the two main players are Rooney Mara and Jude Law. Both give two of their finest performances. Jude Law, who has recently become one of my favorite actors, gives a very convincing performance that has its moments of subtlety and explosive anger. Mara has proved herself in her career making role as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but shows once again why she should be one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. Zeta-Jones’ character is unfortunately wasted and has only one or two brief scenes that stand out. Finally, Channing Tatum is considered to be a joke of an actor to many, but I give him credit. Give him the right director and the right script, Tatum is actually a pretty good actor. He’s not great, but talent is definitely evident. He just needs to start going after more mature movies.

This film screams Soderbergh. The screenplay written by Scott Z. Burns, who has collaborated with Soderbergh for The Informant! and Contagion, brings a great layer of drama, crime, and corporate thrills that would make Hitchcock proud. Visually, Side Effects looks great. The use of low angles and depth of field tricks definitely visualizes the mental state of depression. I’ve heard aesthetic comparisons of this film to that of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the most obvious being the very opening shot, which I consider to be a direct homage.

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I really hope that this isn’t Steven Soderbergh’s last theatrical release. The film world would be losing a powerhouse film maker that it can’t really afford to go without. He has provided many smart films with different societal messages that can be taken seriously or darkly comic. If this is his last, Side Effects is a great film to go out on. It’s condemnation of big companies, suspicion against legality of drugs, and the interest in different states of mind define his career and proves this film to be one of his bests.