Tag Archives: melissa leo

21 Grams – Review

11 Jan

I didn’t really know what to expect going into 21 Grams. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it and I have seen and enjoyed Babel, another film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, I didn’t know what the story or execution of 21 Grams was going to be like, so I was really going in blind. What I got was more than surprising. It was an exceptional piece of art that deserves the highest amount of praises, and while it may not be a new favorite, I can say that it was one of the most well put together and executed films that I have ever seen.

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The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three characters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con who is trying to turn his life around by teaching the word of God to people who need it most. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving wife and mother with a disturbing past. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician who is slowly dying of heart failure and in need of a new one for a transplant. One night, Jack is involved in a hit and run accident with the family of Cristina, who now has lost everything, but Jack has gained a new heart out of it and is trying to connect with the person who saved his life. As the lives of these three people come closer together, a more volatile mixture of love, hate, and revenge begins to brew.

The best way to describe what I was feeling within the first 15 minutes of this movie would be confusion. I was completely lost until I realized that 21 Grams is told completely out of order. It seemed like the editor was someone with terrible ADHD that was just clicking on random scenes and pasting them together. If you thought Pulp Fiction was jumbled, check this one out. It took a little while to get used to, but once I found the style, it made piecing together these different puzzle pieces all the more fun. Almost as if I was only given the pieces, but didn’t see the full picture beforehand. It’s an interesting way to tell the story.

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I don’t think there’s really a specific need for the story to be told this way, but I’m really glad that it is. I’ve heard reviewers say that this disjointed narrative pulls you away from the characters and makes you feel like they aren’t as three dimensional as they could have been if the story was told in a more traditional way. I completely disagree. I felt very close to the characters and really was concerned for what the outcome would be for them. Also, if you really break this movie down, it is a plain and simple melodrama. Hearts being transplanted, ex cons finding Jesus, and a love being described as taboo would be the understatement of the century. This disjointed narrative keeps things interesting. Rather than just watching things play out, I had to piece things together, which made me pay a lot more attention than I probably would have.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies where I need to rave about the acting, the past two being Prisoners and American Hustle, and now the streak continues with 21 Grams. Everyone in this movie is really incredible. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn carry the film all through its jumbled plot with ease and made me really believe in these characters. Naomi Watts, especially, gives 110%. Even the supporting cast is great. Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg, while they are minor roles, help carry the movie and support the main players.

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21 Grams is a fascinating movie that hooked me with its performances, characters, and direction with special detail given to the editing. While Babel was a really good movie, it isn’t as memorable as 21 Grams. The story that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have created is deeply moving and thought provoking in a way that can truly change people. It’s rare that a movie can really make me think as much as 21 Grams, and because of that it is one of a kind.

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Prisoners – Review

6 Jan

I can’t speak from experience, but I’m pretty sure that the thought of having your child or children abducted is every parent’s worse nightmare. It’s something traumatic enough to really mess with a person’s mind and body in such a way that they may resort to actions that they never would have thought possible. From this idea comes Prisoners, a morally heavy film that really shows that in extreme situations, morals lines may shake or disappear all together, but wouldn’t all of  us do anything to protect our children?

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Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a deeply religious man with a loving wife (Maria Bello), a son, and a young daughter. On Thanksgiving, Keller and his family spend time with their neighborhood friends Franklin (Terrance Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis), who also have two daughters of their own. After dinner Dover’s daughter and one of Franklin’s daughters go missing when they go outside to play. The police are called and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is claimed never to have lost a case, is assigned to find their daughters. When a suspect is found in the man-child Alex Jones (Paul Dano), there appears to be hope, but there isn’t enough evidence against him and his Aunt (Melissa Leo) is determined that there is no way he could have done such a thing. As Detective Loki has to battle to stay within the realm of the law during his investigation, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.

Emotionally, this is a very heavy movie. Right in the first fifteen minutes I felt an unbelievable dread. Not only is the subject matter heavy, but the look of everything is so gray and uninviting throughout the whole movie. It always seems to be raining. On top of how horrible this movie makes you feel, the run time of two and a half hours doesn’t make things any easier. But seriously, this movie is loooooooong. I’d say it’s a little bit longer than it needs to be. I could see it clocking in at a little over two hours, but two and a half going on three is kind of pushing it. There’s a surprising amount of things that happen in Prisoners which led the story to place I didn’t think it was going to go. This is cool and all, but a little but of trimming would do the movie a lot of good.

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The real draw of this movie is the performances. Just look at the cast. It’s unbelievable. Hugh Jackman gives an Oscar worthy performance as Keller and makes us sympathize, yet cringe at what he is doing and going through. Maria Bello and Viola Davis are both great, yet different, as the two grieving mother with Bello giving a more fragile performance than the strong willed Viola. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a very grounded performance as Detective Loki is what I may argue is his best performance and Terrance Howard, though not onscreen too often, gives a very quiet but tragic performance. Finally, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are both excellent as always as they seem to have completely morphed into the characters they are playing.

Finally, I need to give a special nod to the cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who really gives his all with the dramatic lighting that is seen in Prisoners. A lot of what is seen seems pretty natural, as it should, and the exteriors all have a gray look, but there are times where the drama picks up that the lighting looks fantastic. There’s great exposures for silhouettes and very hard, foreboding lighting that really shows the gravity of a scene. Deakins has also been the cinematographer for a lot of the Coen Brothers movies like No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski and also did beautiful work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I would check any of his movies works on.

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Prisoners is a very powerful and draining movie whose only hinderance is a run time that goes on a little bit too long. The content is very difficult, and to have to sit through that for such a long time may put some people off and that’s totally understandable. Still, this is a fantastic movie with some fantastic performers giving everything they have to their roles. This is not a movie that should be missed.

Red State – Review

21 Dec

Kevin Smith is a huge inspiration of mine as I’ve made clear with numerous past reviews. His name is synonymous with raunchy, yet smart, comedy. That’s why Red State is such an out of the blue movie for Smith. The long winded and quick dialogue is still there, but this is an intense action thriller/horror film that is aimed to shock and inspire thought. Even amongst all this, there is still some room for comedy.

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Three horny teenage boys are invited by an older woman named Sarah (Melissa Leo) to come to her house for a night of drinking and sex. The boys are thrilled until they realize their drinks have been drugged and the pass out. They awake to find themselves held hostage by the Five Points Trinity Church, a fanatical Christian group led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who is using the boys as an example against sin. As the boys fight for their lives, the local police are alerted and inform the ATF who send a task force led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman). Negotiations end quickly as a firefight erupts…

It isn’t hard to believe that this is a Kevin Smith movie, despite the drastic change in genre. The character’s dialogue is as quick and as sharp as ever, filled with youthful cynicism and sarcastic commentary. That is until 20 minutes into the film where we meet Abin and his family. The audience is treated to an entire sermon said by Abin that goes on for quite a long time, but never gets dull. It’s a terrifying speech filled with a strange brew of hate towards others but also sweet love for his family. There are times where Smith injects his own brand of comedy that often works, but sometimes throws the mood off. There are some quick scenes of comedic dialogue between the ATF agents right before the firefight, which isn’t really the best time.

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The combination of genres is also pretty impressive. In the beginning, the movie fools the viewer into thinking that this is just another movie like Mallrats or Clerks. There’s a lot of talking and banter that doesn’t serve much purpose except to entertain. Then the movie gets scary with the Cooper family murdering a poor guy while preaching their hateful message. The genre changes again when the ATF force shows up and the massive shoot out starts. The shoot out is kind of odd. For a lot of it, you can only hear what’s going on, but can never see a whole lot of the action going on outside. We’re mostly stuck inside the house with the Coopers, while occasionally moving outside. It was an interesting way of filming. Speaking of filming, Red State was filmed on the Red camera system that allowed Smith to edit on the spot, but it also left the finished product looking digitally extra crisp.

Let’s look at the topical side of this movie. This isn’t a religious movie like Dogma is a religious movie. Red State is far more serious. The Five Points Trinity Church has a lot in common with the bastards at the Westboro Baptist Church. Now, I’m not saying that they kidnap and kill people, but the family in the movie protest at a funeral and share the same beliefs as WBC. The way the family follows Abin so unquestioningly can be compared to those at Jonestown, which truly ended in disaster. The point is that this isn’t totally fiction. There are fanatical groups in the world who would be willing to commit such atrocities as seen in this film. This is an action thriller that provides some food for thought.

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I really liked Red State a lot. Like a whole lot. It was great to see Kevin Smith leave his comfort zone and make a mature and brutal film about something that is all too real. The multiple genres, characters, and choices that this movie includes proves that it is intelligent and creative. It’s a great movie that I don’t think gets as much credit as it really should. Check out Red State.