Tag Archives: giovanni ribisi

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-

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Contraband – Review

14 Feb

In 2008, an Icelandic film was released titled Reykjavik-Rotterdam and it became something of an international hit in some circles. It was one of the most expensive Icelandic films when it was made and received plenty of awards in its home country. As America likes to do with foreign hits, we made a version of our own in 2012 and called it Contraband. What made this remake unique was that it was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original 2008 film. While this is an interesting directing choice and the cast has a couple of my favorite actors, the end result is nothing too memorable at all, or at least memorable for the wrong reasons.

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Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was one of the most brilliant smugglers to ever work in the business, but has long since left his life of crime to settle down with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two kids. While Farrady is content with living a quiet life, her brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is not, and soon gets mixed up with a dangerous criminal named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Briggs is after Andy for $700,000 after he screwed up a job, and is even going so far as to threaten Chris and the rest of his family. This forces Chris to go back to his old ways for one last job to pay back Briggs. With a little help from his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), Farraday heads to Panama to bring back $10 million in fake bills, but what Farraday fails to realize is that there is a higher power than Briggs pulling the strings.

So the first thing I have to say about this movie is that it isn’t very original, and that’s ok. I didn’t really go into Contraband expecting it to break new ground or anything. All I wanted was to be entertained for a couple of hours. That being said, this is a pretty entertaining movie with a great deal of suspense and some cool action sequences. But honestly, it isn’t really enough to keep it all afloat. One of my more minor complaints is part of the cast. Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster completely own their roles and reminded me why they are two of my favorite actors. Unfortunately, Wahlberg doesn’t really have much of a personality and all and delivers a lot of his lines with the same awkward enthusiasm that he did in The Happening. As for the rest of the cast like Kate Beckinsale, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, and even J.K. Simmons, well, they just didn’t really have too much to do.

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I’m not sure if the intended goal of Contraband was for it to be an action movie or a heist movie, because it sort of does both, but not entirely too well. There’s not enough action for this to be called an action movie and there isn’t enough planning or fake outs for this to be a heist movie. Instead it’s this weird mash up of cliches from both genres. There’s one real all out action scene and it hardly even fits into the movie. In fact, the whole middle part where Farraday gets mixed up with some random Panamanian gangster really didn’t need to be in the movie at all, which brings me to my main beef with this mess of a movie.

This movie goes all sorts of places that it has no business going to. For a while the plot goes on pretty normally, and I was into it, but then it redefined the term “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” There are far too many plot twists and contrivances that get in the way of a narrative that had all the opportunity in the world to go smoothly and painlessly for close to two hours. Instead I ended up watching a movie that is packed to the brim with stupid twists all for the sake of shocking the audience, instead of being put in to try and tell a good story. The major twist was pretty cool, but all of the other minor ones just frustrated me and made the movie feel completely broken into pieces.

Contraband tries really hard to be a highly intelligent, complex heist thriller that turns out to be nothing more than convoluted and overdone. The only real redeeming qualities this movie has are the performances given by Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster. They can really do a lot with shoddy material. Contraband is an unoriginal mess that isn’t really an awful movie, but it’s hardly one I can recommend to anybody.

Middle Men – Review

20 Jul

When I first heard about Middle Men, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I never thought they would make a movie about this.” It never even crossed my mind that this story needed to be told, but George Gallo, the writer/director, thought otherwise. What we got is a occasionally funny, entertaining, albeit messy movie.

Internet pornography exists, even to the dread of parents and Republicans, but who would’ve guessed it was started in a dingy apartment by two loser best friends, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht). Newfound success comes quickly along with a troubled partnership with the Russian mob. To fix this issue, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is brought in and uses his expert negotiation skill to make everyone more money by becoming middle men instead of actual pornographers. With a rise this tall and steep, the fall is going to ultimately end in betrayal, murder, and sex…lots of sex, but that’s just business.

Middle Men didn’t sweep through the awards circuit nor is it destined to be some sort of classic. What we have is a purely entertaining movie with an interesting story. I can’t really tell you how much of it is real, however, but I still had fun watching it and seeing how the ensemble cast was going to turn out.

The casting of this movie is about as strong as any movie with this kind of budget is going to get. Luke Wilson brings the right amount of good and evil to his role, but we never really feel like he is a bad person. He is the Tony Montana of this rise and fall story, only nowhere near as crazy. Giovanni Ribisi is the scene stealer. Most of the laughs that are generated by this movie come from him, with his coked up persona and constant aggravation. James Caan and Rade Serbedzija also play their characters successfully and comically.

Don’t let the marketing campaign of this movie fool you. It is not 100% comedy. There’s a lot of comedy in it, but this movie can get dramatic, although that’s not what is memorable. The drama comes and goes, but never hits hard enough to make the viewer think about the morality of the characters. Everything keeps moving and just begins to blend with the rest of the the story.

The real problem with Middle Men is that there is much story in a movie that isn’t even two hours long. Movies that can be classified as “crime chronicles” are normally way over the two hour point, allowing their stories and characters to be appropriately fleshed out. Here, we are given information through flashbacks and cuts in time when it would have been easier and a lot less messy to just keep the movie more linear. The beginning of this movie has more flashbacks in the first fifteen minutes than I might have ever seen in an entire movie. Never use a flashback as a crutch. It makes the narrative messy.

Still though, everything was presented interestingly enough to make sure that I never got bored, and I didn’t. To put it more concretely, I never check to see how much time was left. I was totally engaged by the story and all of its players. The cause and effects of Middle Men are both hilarious and serious. The narrative has its choppy moments and the writing isn’t a masterpiece, but this movie is a lot of fun. It isn’t the best ever, but I’d say Middle Men is worth a viewing.