Tag Archives: michelle monaghan

Machine Gun Preacher – Review

25 Aug

There are some stories that are just begging to be adapted into movies, and some of these examples come from real life events. One of these stories is the life and work of a man named Sam Childers, who gave up his life of crime after finding religion and begin working and defending children in the Sudan whose lives have been uprooted by civil war. That sounds like a movie just begging to be made. Well, it was made, titled Machine Gun Preacher, and released back in 2011. With source material like that, nothing could have went wrong. Unfortunately, a lot did go wrong, and while this is a competent movie in some regards, there’s so much tedious and annoying aspects that bring it way down.

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After being released from prison, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) quickly falls back into a life of drug use and crime. It isn’t until he almost kills a man that he asks his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), to help him. This prompts her to expose Sam to religion and the redemption that is has to offer. After being accepted by the faith, Sam learns of the tragedies happening in Sudan and quickly makes the trip to Africa to help in any way he can. After seeing the horrors first hand, Sam, with the help of his newfound friend Deng (Souléymane Sy Savané), opens up an orphanage to help all of the children affected by the violence in the region. This is an almost impossible task with the LRA constantly attacking from all ends, which forces Sam to take up arms and fight the LRA with his own brand of justice.

With real life source material, where could this movie possibly go wrong. This sounded like an amazing story of heroism that was being done by a seemingly normal guy with a seedy past. There are some positive things in this movie that are memorable. For one thing, it shines a glaring light on events happening in Africa that, at the time the movie was getting made, was not getting nearly enough attention. It also has some very well done scenes. One scene in particular shows Sam Childers arriving in a village that has been completely destroyed with all the people murdered. This is a chilling scene that works very well, and it shows some really impressive acting chops from Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, these scenes are really few and far between, with everything else being pretty derivative and, towards the end, angering.

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While the story of this movie is incredible, and the real life Childers is certainly one of a kind, I have to look at the movie as a movie and not as a document of real life. That being said, there have been movies like this made before, but made better. The idea of people from a more well to do area being dropped in another area that is a complete war zone only to have them change by the experience has been explored in multiple movies. One of my favorite examples of this is the highly underrated film, The Bang Bang Club. This is the same kind of story arc with Machine Gun Preacher, and while it does have its own unique elements, a lot of the drama felt like it was ripped from a text book, and devoid of any actual emotion. By the end of the movie, and throughout all the ups and downs, I never really felt like I connected at all with Childers, the people who worked with him, or his family and friends. The only character I felt any kind of emotion towards was Michael Shannon’s character. That may be because I’m a huge fan of Shannon, but I also think his character was used just right and written very well.

Finally, I have to talk about the character of Sam Childers himself. Now, I’m not going to claim I know anything about the guy, other than what I saw in the movie. I didn’t do any research on him, so I can only speak about how he’s portrayed in the film. At first, I was into his character and behind his mission 100%. As the movie went on however, he just got more and more annoying and aggravating. The decisions he was making in Africa mixed with the way he was treating his family just got to be way too much. It’s pretty typical in a movie like this for a character to reach low points, but these low points happened at a really weird time and made the rest of the movie almost unwatchable, just because I hated how over the top they made Childers’ personality change. It’s hard to enjoy a movie when the main character becomes so unlikable.

Machine Gun Preacher had the potential to be a lot better than it actually was. The story of Sam Childers giving up his life of crime to go to Africa and save orphans from the LRA sounds ripe to the taking. Unfortunately, the movie became too clichéd too fast, the drama failed to hit as hard as it should have, and the character of Childers became very unlikable towards the end of the movie. I really wanted to like this movie, but it just really didn’t do it for me.

 

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Gone Baby Gone – Review

25 Jun

Ben Affleck’s career has had plenty of ups and downs. As far as acting goes, he hasn’t really established himself as a critical success. Sure, he’s been in a lot of blockbuster movies, but a lot have been critically panned. As far as a writer and director, he has had much better luck, most recently with his Academy Award winning film Argo. His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, is also a deeply moving film with incredible characters, stunning realism, and powerful decisions where there may not actually be a morally decent choice.

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In a close knit neighborhood of Boston, four year old Amanda McCready is kidnapped, causing a media circus. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to work in unison with a police task force run by Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). Along with Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), the private investigators dig deeper and deeper into the seedy underworld of the neighborhood in order to find out who and why has this young girl. As more secrets are uncovered, Patrick and his team learn that Amanda’s mother Helene (Amy Ryan) has more enemies and vices that she originally led everyone to believe, putting all involved in finding the girl in a much more hopeless and dangerous situation.

A style that Affleck seems to use with great skill is one that can almost be compared to Italian Neo-Realism. Everything looks very natural and real. Now, calling Gone Baby Gone a work of Neo-Realism would be very farfetched, but there are small comparisons. For one, many extras and smaller character roles are simply neighborhood residents that were chosen to be in the movie. Also, many interior shots look naturally lit and dim. These aesthetic choices puts the viewer into the environment of the city so deeply that everything seems more close and intimate. In a story that involves such real elements as the kidnapping of young children, family turmoil, and pedophilia, it’s much more effective to give the environment a more realistic look. That, and this entire film was shot on location. Affleck did the same thing in his later film, The Town, which also gives the viewer the pleasure of being thrust directly into the mise-en-scène.

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As for the more accomplished actors, all of the performances are spot on. Casey Affleck, as always, delivers a wonderfully in depth performance as a a troubled man, torn between different versions of morality. Michelle Monaghan, who isn’t in much of the movie, gives a solid performance as well that is on par with Casey’s depth. When the two are together, the chemistry feels perfect adding a layers to their history, which we unfortunately don’t know much about. The performance that seems to stand out, however, is Amy Ryan who was actually thought to be a Boston native on the set, and wasn’t allowed in. She is so deep into her character that it never feels like you’re watching an actor perform. That’s the real test of a professional actor, and she succeeds very, very well.

To connect Gone Baby Gone with Neorealism one more time, the characters of this movie are the lower and middle class workers who are just trying to survive with what was given to them. Relating to these people is easy, even though some of them don’t quite reflect the better side of society. They all seem like average people, even the characters played by more recognizable actors. The theme also doesn’t provide much hope for everyone. A characteristic of Neorealism is the feeling of being little in a much bigger world, and the inability to not really change the bigger picture. In Gone Baby Gone, the viewer notices this in the characters. As much as everyone tries, the problems just keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s a movie with very little hope, despite all of the efforts.

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Some may call this a depressing movie, and they would be right. It is. By the end, you find yourself asking more questions than when the conflict was originally presented, but not about the plot, but about your own morality and what is really right and wrong. The heroes and villains in this movie are not definite, save for a few particular characters who are downright dreadful. The questions asked in this movie are not easy and the controversial subject matter is difficult to stomach at times, but Ben Affleck and his cast and crew have created an undeniably moving piece of cinema that should be required viewing. It shows a dark, but all too real side of life that can not be ignored.

Source Code – Review

5 Oct

As a person who spends a fair share of his waking hours on trains, Source Code wasn’t exactly my dream premise when in come to comfortability, but other than how I felt in relation to reality I was wholly impressed. I didn’t know what to think going into this movie. I heard a lot of good things, but I wasn’t totally convinced. I had to dive in and see for myself that Source Code is a fantastic science fiction mystery and genuine human drama.

 

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train in Chicago without any explanation on how he got there. The mystery thickens when he keeps getting called “Sean” by the woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan). The train explodes and he is brought back to a dark capsule and talked to by Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who explains that the train is a “source code” made up of the last eight minutes of Sean’s life, and that Stevens must navigate this source code and find out who bombed the train so that he can be stopped in the real world from bombing the city of Chicago with a dirty bomb.

The plot and how deep it goes down the rabbit hole is enough to make your head spin. It brings back the confusing memories of Inception, The Matrix, and even Groundhog Day. The layer of pure drama that was completely unexpected puts this movie on a much higher level than I was expecting it to be. I wasn’t just interested in unravelling the mystery of the bomber and the source code, but I was also interested in the human side and the emotional response that Colter Stevens is feeling because of this experience.

 

You might think that watching the same thing over and over again would get boring. Not so. Just like the protagonist, I tried to pick out little idiosyncrasies or clues to point me to the bomber. Also, it’s interesting to see how the way the conflict is approached has a very large effect on the events leading to the inevitable outcome. Stevens tries all sorts of tactics from violent to more stealthily. There’s also a heightened feeling of suspense since he has to complete his mission in only eight minutes.

Writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones have crafted an outstanding story that, like I said, will make your head spin. The imagination behind this is brilliant, even if there are some elements of the plot that seem way too unlikely. I don’t want to talk too much about the ending out of fear of giving it away, but there is something about it that doesn’t sit right with me even though I was happy with it. In my opinion it doesn’t fit right with the story and everything explained in it, but it’s how I wanted it to end so I can’t say if I love the ending or not.

 

Films that challenge an audience to think are desperately needed in a time when movies baby the audience and hold their hands to get the safely to the conclusion so absolutely no discussion is necessary and they can get back to their lives. Source Code challenges the viewer to think about what makes up the source code and the morality behind it, and how this morality relates to real world events. It’s a surprisingly deep film that has an intriguing story, excellent performances, and mind blowing layers. Don’t miss out on Source Code.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Review

25 Apr

Unfortunately, there really is no way for me to say this next statement without sounding like a pretentious douche bag, but I’m going to give it a shot because it has to be said to preface the review for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I’m absolutely sick and tired of the predictable, humdrum, and fearful styles that film makers implement nowadays, especially the Hollywood types. These familiar structures that are seen in many different mainstream movies are boring if not completely unoriginal. It takes a truly bold and talented film maker to take these conventions and manipulate them into something totally different. Shane Black does this with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and at the same time, mocks the overused mainstream formula.

As far as petty thievery goes, the world has seen better than Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.). When one of his attempts ends up with the police hot on his tail, he finds his escape through an audition to be in a Hollywood movie, and is actually considered for the role. He is flown to Los Angeles and put under the wing of Private Investigator Perry van Shrike, nicknamed “Gay Perry” (for reasons you can probably guess, in order to prepare for the upcoming role. He is soon mixed up in a bizarre web of crime involving a millionaire producer and his daughter, and the lovely girl from back home, Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan).

Shane Black is most known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies and is arguably one of the forerunners in the modern day action scene, although he went awhile without making a film. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is his directorial debut, and it is clear that he has talent in both the writing and directing areas of film. The dialogue in this film is quick, witty, and sarcastic from beginning to end. Some of the humor is easy to pick up on, and some requires the viewer to be paying attention to get the joke.

As I said before, this film exists to entertain the audience, but also to call out modern film conventions and formulas, and make a mockery out of them in a clearly tongue-in-cheek way. From the get go, Harry Lockhart establishes himself as a terrible and completely unreliable narrator by forgetting something important to the story and needing to go back or simply by saying that a certain scene seems unnecessary. This film is also very self-aware in the way that a few characters talk to the audience and give them advice. It’s a really funny tool used by Black, but these are just a few ways this movie plays with certain formulas. This film also succeeds in calling out the Hollywood/Beverly Hills culture and making a joke out the way these people live, and the ruthlessness behind the film industry.

In certain sections, the film tries its best to be really cool, in the sort of Ocean’s 11 or Snatch kind of way. Unfortunately, this is the area where the movie is pretty weak. This film tries really hard to belong in that subsection of crime films, and it doesn’t really work very well. I went into the movie expecting something like the aforementioned movies, but got something totally different. Luckily for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, what I got instead was just as good, if not a little better, than what I was expecting, even though it had the potential to fall flat on its face.

The chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer is fantastic and makes for some exceptionally hysterical bickering. This helps the audience sort of keep their head on straight and laugh while trying to make their way through the way too convoluted plot. I really enjoyed all of the scenes in the movie, but I don’t feel like I completely can wrap my head around everything that happened in the movie. There are so many twists and additional plot points that happen and the pace of the movie is so quick, you have to be paying very close attention to the characters and situations in order to firmly grasp the plot.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may be convoluted and tries to hard to be cool, but the comedy, dialogue, and characters hit a home run and make this film a fantastic piece of self-aware entertainment. For anyone who is sick of the repetitive formula of most Hollywood films or if you just enjoy snappy wordplay, then Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is right up your alley. It’s are really good movie that I can’t wait to watch again!