Tag Archives: joaquin phoenix

We Own the Night – Review

27 Oct

One of my favorite types of movies are crime movies or gangster movies. Anything like that, really, is worth checking out. There’s just something fascinating about the lifestyle, and it gets even more fascinating when the story is set in a time and a place that really adds character to the situations the characters find themselves in. James Gray’s film We Own the Night takes place in the late 1980s, which was a time in New York City when crime was at an all time high. This caused the rise of the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit, whose tagline was the title of this film. All this history and material should make this film an instant classic, but it unfortunately fell under the radar for some reasons that became very obvious as I was watching.

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Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) is a manager of a popular club that is unfortunately a host to a nefarious criminal named Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). Despite this, Bobby is living the life he loves at the club with his girlfriend, Amada (Eva Mendes). What the club owners and employees don’t know, is that Bobby’s father, Burt (Robert Duvall), is the chief of police and his brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), is a highly respected officer of the Street Crimes Unit. These separate lives intersect when Burt and Joseph ask Bobby if he is willing to inform on Nezhinski’s activities to them, but after Bobby declines and there’s a raid on his club, Nezhinski starts taking matters into his own hands and attacking police. As Bobby tries to resume life by any means, the gangsters operating out of his club start getting closer and closer to learning who Bobby and his family is which forces the police to start working faster and making rasher decisions.

There’s so much that material to work with to make this an epic crime film of this time, yet it falls very short of that epic scope it should have had. The first glaring issue is the uneven tone and pacing of the story. During the first half of the movie, Bobby feels very disconnected from everyone and everything, including his family and his club. Part of the reason why is because we’re just thrown right into his life without getting any history of the characters or why they behave like they do. Some set up would have really gone a long way. Once we get around halfway through the movie, things really start focusing up and the story really feels like it gets kicked off. There’s just so much jammed into the first half without any back story given, while the second half is the payoff from all of that which is done in a much more concise and focused way. It feels like this could have been a 3 hour movie instead of a 2 hour one.

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We Own the Night has an excellent cast, which is another reason that drew me to this movie. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most powerful actors working today and he gets some really excellent scenes to show just how talented he is. Eva Mendes also gives one of her better performances, and Robert Duvall gives a very subtle yet sincere performance as Bobby and Joseph’s father. Now we come to Mark Wahlberg. I’d love to say he did great in this film since he is a fine actor, but he doesn’t get to do a damn thing. For a huge portion of the movie, he isn’t even in it, but when he is, he’s either berating his brother or sitting around in his office. When he finally does get to go out into the field, he still doesn’t do anything. I haven’t seen a character wasted like this in a really long time, and no other such egregious instances comes to mind in recent memory.

What really saves this movie from falling into the deepest pits of mediocrity are some scenes that show what James Gray is really capable of. One scene towards the beginning of the movie shows one of the most realistic depictions of street violence I’ve seen in a movie. It’s shocking and gut wrenching in its realism. Speaking of gut wrenching, there’s a car chase later on that is so un-cinematic and all the more intense for it. There’s minimal music in this scene and most of the action takes place inside one car with the the other action and sound just what can be seen and heard through the windows and the torrential rain. There’s a handful of other great scenes as well that really bolster this movie up higher.

I wanted to like We Own the Night a lot more than I did. It has all the makings of being a great movie, but the plot and tone can be so uneven and a potentially important and interesting character is completely wasted. While some of the pieces don’t fit very well, there are still some really memorable scenes and very good performances by the actors whose characters actually get to do some stuff. I was looking for a movie that was going to hopefully sit with the greats in the crime subgenre, but what I got was a movie that was a little frustrating and failed at reaching its true potential.

Final Grade: B-

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Her – Review

3 Feb

What do you think people would say 50 or 60 years ago if you were to tell them that in the future we would be talking and dating people we met on a crazy invention called the internet? Wouldn’t be even stranger to try to explain that sometimes people don’t even each other before they begin a relationship? We have entered a crazy time in social networking and relationships, where our connectivity is almost crucial to our friends and significant others. Her not only explores this in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s been said a hundred and ten times, and it also provided a more than worthy love story that may arguably be the best since Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

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Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad and lonely man who works for a company that writes personal letters for other people. Theodore has been avoiding signing the divorce papers from his wife and childhood friend Catherine (Rooney Mara), and as a result has become introverted and uninterested in any kinds of relationships, including rarely seeing his good friend Amy (Amy Adams). One day, Theodore purchases an OS (Scarlett Johansson), or Operating System, that he customizes to have a female voice, and when he learns that this computer is able to think for itself and have an identity the two become friends. The OS names herself Samantha, and her and Theodore begin a romantic relationship. Life seems to finally be going well for him until it becomes apparent that Samantha is learning and evolving in a much faster rate than can ever have been expected.

While Spike Jonze doesn’t have a particularly long filmography, you can’t argue that it isn’t impressive. Films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich have proven that he is an exceptional film maker, and his background in music videos also shows that he has a good visual style. Now with Her, he shows that he has major talent in the writing department. Jonze deftly mixes his absurdist humor with some real, down to earth human drama. That might sound kind of odd considering what this movie is about and how crazy the storyline is, but I feel like a lot of people could connect with the characters in this movie.

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It really says a lot about the actors in this movie how they are able to build such a great relationship, even when they don’t see each other face to face and don’t even touch in any sort of way. Joaquin Phoenix handles the arc of his character very well and Scarlett Johansson, who only provides her voice for the film, does a great job at making a computer as lovable as the HAL 9000 was feared. Amy Adams also does a good job as Theodore’s documentary film making, hipster friend who plays on the cliches of that demographic in a very funny way. As good as the actors all are, if it wasn’t for Spike Jonze’s incredibly strange screenplay, complete with believable and human dialogue, Her wouldn’t be as great a film as it is.

Most of all, I think, is that I really like what Jonze is trying to say with this movie. It’s a pretty obvious statement on the case of relationships and friendships that have become very impersonal thanks to online social networking, where you don’t even have to be near the person to have a full blown conversation. It’s also a clever look at the future, and the kind of things that may or may not be acceptable if we keep going on the same path that we’re on. Not only is its messages something to listen to, but it was refreshing to see a love story that is different from the ones that come out all the time that pretty much seem to be following the same formula and have the same characters.

Her is a real one of a kind movie that made me so happy once it was over. This isn’t because the movie is especially hilarious and uplifting, because it’s actually a really sad experience. I was happy because it was just so well written, filmed, and acted and that it provided me with a different trip than I’m used to. It is a very absurd movie with an outlandish plot, but if you can get past that you will really appreciate everything about Her.

The Master – Review

14 Oct

One statement I don’t think I’m ever going to have to say is, “That new Paul Thomas Anderson movie sucked.” I just don’t think he has it in his genes to make anything less than spectacular. I guess you guys all know where this review is headed now. Yes. The Master was a great movie and definitely a contender for multiple Academy Awards, hopefully even to win Best Picture.

 

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has survived World War II, but not entirely. During the war, he became an alcoholic, and even went so far as mixing poisonous chemicals into his drinks. With the war over, he can’t seem to find a job due to his violent outbursts and manic  tendencies. After scuttling a yacht during a party, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a group called The Cause. Dodd immediately sees potential for experimentation with Quell and aides him in beating his addictions and behavior. But is he helping Quell or himself? Does he really mean what he says?

First things first. If Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance, I will get out of town, jump in a lake, and swim myself into oblivion. Wow, that’s weird, but that’s the equivalent of how I’d feel. I never got the feeling that I was watching Joaquin Phoenix. I felt like I was watching the life of Freddie Quell unfold before my very eyes. He was absolutely fantastic. I’d say it’s not just the best performances of the year, but one of the best performances of all time.

 

The genius of this movie is the way the story presents itself. There isn’t a huge dramatic climax that completely changes the direction of the story. Besides a couple scenes, many of the dramatic beats are very subtle and down to earth. That’s the best way to describe the movie. Down to earth. As a viewer, I felt like I wasn’t watching a conventional narrative, but more just a chronicling of a point in this man’s life. It’s never hard to believe or far fetched, which goes hand in hand with the subtlety of the entire thing. This proves that a movie doesn’t have to be loud or in your face to be intense.

Speaking of, this was a very intense film. Hoffman and Amy Adams play their roles to the best of their abilities and it shows. Hoffman seems like he could start a real movement if he wanted to, and Adams is a quiet storm of boiling anger. The set design and costuming are also very authentic without being extravagant. To top it all off, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack thumps and screeches in the background like a lurking malevolent force. Anyone who has seen There Will be Blood knows that Greenwood has this strange way of making off tempo music work perfectly in a scene.

 

The Master is a phenomenal work of artistic fiction that I think is destined to become a classic that’s studied for years to come. It is packed with controversial thematic material that is bound to spark heated discussion. It’s intense, expertly made, and at the risk of being corny, proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master at his craft.

Reservation Road – Review

9 May

To preface my review for Reservation Road, I think it’s appropriate to point out that not many movies have the intensity to push me to the verge of tears. It takes special kinds of films, like The Green Mile, to do this to me. Now I can say that Reservation Road can be added to this small list due to its excellent character development and intensely realistic themes.

It is a day like any other in a small Connecticut town. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is driving his son, Lucas (Eddie Alderson) back to his mother’s (Mira Sorvino) house after a memorable afternoon at a Red Sox game. Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace (Jennifer Connelly) Lerner are driving their kids, Josh (Sean Curley) and Emma (Elle Fanning), home after a recital that Josh was in. While making a pit stop, two lives collide as Dwight accidentally hits Josh with his SUV, killing him. Instead of stopping, Dwight drives away out of fear. Now comes the turmoil of both families; one struggling with overwhelming guilt and the other obsessing over the truth.

It would have been easy enough for this film to turn into a run of the mill melodrama, but I feel that it succeeds in crossing that line and becoming something much more powerful. This is done by the remarkable performances of the lead characters. Joaquin Phoenix lights up the screen with his fits of anger and sadness, showing that he has a very wide range of emotions as an actor. Jennifer Connelly also travels across a large character arc from despondent and grieving to a woman just trying to get on with life.

The most interesting character for me though is Mark Ruffalo’s character, Dwight Arno. Recently, Ruffalo has caught my attention as being a fantastic and deep actor. His character in Reservation Road is very difficult because even though he has done a terrible thing, he is not a bad person. In fact, he is a very good hearted person who just so happens to have made a terrible mistake. There were times where I was hoping Arno would come out unscathed, but then it would dawn on me again that what he did is near unforgivable.

The use of children in this movie also hits like a sucker punch to the throat. Seeing how kids react to a tragedy like this is difficult to watch. Elle Fanning gives an impressive performance as the little sister whose brother has been killed. Eddie Alderson also gives a fine performance, although Elle’s character gets to explore more emotion.

There aren’t any tricks in Reservation Road, and for good reason. The camera work and cinematography are just fine, but nothing special. If their were loads of stylized camera movement and dramatic lighting, than the story would feel less intense I feel. Terry George, who also directed the powerhouse Hotel Rwanda, puts story and character development above all else.

There are a few plot points that feel a little stretched. By that, I mean they seem rather unlikely. For drama’s sake, they work pretty well in creating extra depressingly awkward tension and suspense. If the viewer can suspend some disbelief, than these points won’t be a problem. It is true, however, that the other realistic points are affected by the unrealistic.

Reservation Road is one hell of a film. Terry George succeeds, almost 100%, in creating an intense, believable narrative full of pure human emotion and the consequences of our actions. After watching this movie, I tried to put myself in the places of both Ruffalo’s and Phoenix’s characters. This gets you to thinking about your own morality and ability to handle loss. Sure, the film may feel melodramatic at times and there may be some unlikely scenarios, but don’t let this stop you from seeing Reservation Road.