Tag Archives: realism

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

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Manchester by the Sea – Review

14 Dec

Sometimes it seems that a great movie can just pop up out of nowhere. I shouldn’t really be saying that about this one considering this is the time of year when a lot of the great movies come out and also the fact that this particular film was getting a fair amount of buzz. When I first heard of Manchester by the Sea I was determined to see it because of the praise that was being given to Casey Affleck, one of my favorite actors. I went to the movie not knowing too much of what the plot was or who was involved with the production, but looking back on it, Manchester by the Sea is one of the stand out films of the year and one of the most honest and down to earth stories I’ve seen in a long time.

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Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts who is known by the tenants for his often volatile personality. One day he gets a call to let him know that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has died which forces Lee to return to his home town of Manchester-by-the-Sea for the services and to also look after Joe’s son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This return to Manchester opens some old, deep wounds that Lee has been running from for years that are only made worse when he finally runs into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and the two begin talking for the first time since a tragedy forcefully pulled them apart. As Lee starts to deal with his past and the problems he is presently facing, a bomb is dropped on him when it’s revealed that he is now the legal guardian of Patrick, a responsibility that seems so far from what Lee is capable of.

There are so many really impressive things about Manchester by the Sea from the way the story is told to the actors responsible for bringing all of the poignant scenes Kenneth Lonergan created to life. In terms of story, it’s simply beautiful and it’s so beautiful because it’s so real. There’s nothing glamorized in this movie and the drama feels like it could happen to anyone including yourself. The idea of having a death in the family, especially someone as close as Lee and Joe were, is a very upsetting thing to think about but the story never becomes so upsetting that all the hope is lost. People deal with loss in different ways including lashing out at other people or hiding behind a sense of humor. This movie explores all of these ways and it surprisingly made me laugh more than a few times. In one scene, Lee and Patrick are having an argument while they walk up and down a street looking for where they parked the car. This frustration of forgetting where they parked adds frustration to their argument and fuels the fire. This is a great scene that perfectly illustrates the real scenarios that are relatable to the viewer.

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Part of what made this movie connect with me so much actually had a lot to do with the location. Manchester is shot like it could be Anytown, USA. There’s something really familiar about the businesses and the homes that just put me at ease with where I was. Like I said, there’s nothing glamorous in Manchester by the Sea and that includes the way the settings and people are shot. None of the characters look like movie stars, but are made up to look like they could be anyone’s next door neighbor. It reminded me a lot of British realism in the sense that all of this could be happening next door from you and you may not even know. Lonergan has truly crafted a story that can speak to anyone, no matter how cold and jaded you’ve become.

On to the reason why I really wanted to see this movie. Affleck has been getting a lot of attention for his performance in this movie and he deserves every bit of it. He gives an understated and honest performance, but he also just fits right into the location like he’s been there all his life. There are some scenes that require him to really put energy into the drama, but there are so many great scenes that are much quieter and you can see just by his face that the gears in his head are turning and turning fast. Lucas Hedges also gives a surprisingly great performance as Patrick, and the two leads work great with each other. It’s a very real relationship they have and the conversations we get to listen to happen so naturally. Finally, Michelle Williams is always one to give a strong performance and her tragic character in this film is clearly and accurately brought to life.

Manchester by the Sea snuck up on my out of nowhere and has become one of the strongest and most memorable movies of 2016. It’s a pretty long movie and it can be argued that not much happens in the slow burn of a storyline, but I’d argue that. This is a very deep, complex, and emotional story that’s acted by some of the best in the business and realistically brought to life by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. It doesn’t so much succeed as a drama as it does in showing life and humanity in the most organic way you can see on film. Manchester by the Sea is required viewing.

Final Grade: A

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Review

25 Feb

Noir is something that will hopefully never go out of style. It’s far too cool to just disappear off the face of the earth without a trace of hope that it may return. There’s so many interesting things you can do with the noir genre, and Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead certainly does something different to it. Hodges may best be known for directing the British gangster classic Get Carter, so it was exciting to see what he would do with a more modern gangster/noir film. Well, the result is many things. It’s weird, boring, tedious, and strangely thought provoking.

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Will Graham (Clive Owen) was a notorious gangster before suffering some mysterious mental breakdown that prompted to leave London and start a new life as a drifter devoid of any complicated moral responsibilities. This decision to leave town is met with the risk of leaving his irresponsible brother, Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) to fend for himself. After a night of partying and an especially brutal encounter with a car salesman named Boad (Malcolm McDowell), Davey is found dead in his bathtub of an apparent suicide which prompts Will to return to London to get to the bottom of what happened to cause Davey to do such a thing. Coming back to his old city starts some trouble with his old friends, relationships, and enemies, but Will’s main goal is to track down whoever is responsible for pushing his brother over the edge.

As far as gangster movies go, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is about as minimalist as you can get. The pace of this movie is deathly slow and the overall mood is so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Along with the whole noir aspect, there’s also touches of New Wave and British Realism thrown in, which is an odd combination to mix with noir. I’m not saying this is really a bad thing, but it does make for a movie that isn’t really too much fun to watch. The not even two hour run time feels stretched to the lenghths of Goodfellas‘ run time with so many scenes of quiet conversations and brooding moments of Will walking down the dark London streets. Since there are so many scenes like this, the conflicts of the movies often feel minimized to a huge degree.

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When I say that there is very little conflict in this movie, I sort of mean it, but at the same time I recognize the other kinds of conflict. For example, we hardly see Boad in the movie. He gets maybe 10 minutes of screen time in total. There’s also another gangster that feels threatened by Will’s return, but we only ever see him talking to people in his car and nothing ever really comes out of his storyline besides an ending that serves to confuse the viewer. The conflict really lies in Will’s character and his troubles readjusting to life in the city while also trying to stay clear of his criminal past. This is hard since he wants revenge for his little brother. This movie’s really about inner conflict and regression, rather than a simple revenge story. Like I said before, this movie isn’t really fun to watch. It’s more fun to talk and think about it once it’s over.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a pretty deep movie, but it’s important to remember that just because a movie is super slow doesn’t mean it’s super intelligent. There are plenty of interesting points in this movie, but the execution of them feels so slight that they might as well not have happened at all. The main force of pain for Davey is one of the most daunting things to ever happen to somebody, and it’s something that I don’t see in movies too much. There’s a very interesting premise that almost makes up for the whole movie. The rest of the ideas and conflicts either get fixed to soon or conclude in the most enigmatic of ways. I get that was the whole point of the movie, and I’m not meant to feel satisfied at the end, but I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a strange exercise in low key film making and it’s one that doesn’t really mix all that well. The acting and the dialogue is all great, and the premise takes a story that could be generic and makes it more interesting. The only problem is that it movies too slow, thinks it’s making a much bigger and complicated statement than it actually is, and resolves conflict too easily or not at all. It’s not completely ruined or wasted, but I wanted a little bit more out of it. I can’t really recommend watching it, but some people may find it interesting.

Fish Tank – Review

2 Oct

I was first exposed to the work of Andrea Arnold in my first screenwriting class when the professor put on one of her short films called Wasp. This was a pretty incredible short film that showed a realistic depiction of the lower middle class in Britain, but more importantly, it showed the struggles of a family. The drama was never overdone and it was a very personal story. Now I can add Fish Tank to the list of Arnold’s movies that I have seen, and although the story is a lot more dramatic than that of Wasp, it still doesn’t seem like it couldn’t happen. In fact, this is one of the best examples of realism I have ever seen.

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Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a fifteen year old girl living in a council estate with her mother and her younger sister. She is on the path to destruction with the type of people that she associates with and how her mother treats her. Her only solace can be found in dancing to hip hop. Her life undergoes a drastic change when her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), starts hanging around and making his way into their lives. Mia takes a surprising liking to Connor that she doesn’t really understand, but this connection flips her and her entire family’s life upside down.

This doesn’t really seem like the kind of movie that I’d run out to the store and spend a good amount of money on. The only reason I did purchase it was because I saw that Andrea Arnold made the film and Michael Fassbender had a starring role. When I actually saw what the story was about, I wasn’t to thrilled about actually watching. This just goes to show that I need to learn not to judge a movie before I see it, because Fish Tank is a really powerful movie in both its realism and its multiple layers of thematic material and a cast of characters whose problems really hit you where it hurts.

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I keep using the word “realism” to describe this movie, but that’s because it really is an excellent example of British realism. Italian Neo-Realism was a popular movement in the early to mid 1900s, but now the British are having their turn at the realist style. Every where from the down to earth acting, the complete lack of extravagant lighting, and the very natural set pieces really turn this movie into something special. The locations, save for a few, have this grit to them that makes the places seem livable, but not too comfortable. In terms of the camera work, a lot of it is steadicam, and Arnold seems to relish in tracking shots to pull the viewer in to the character’s lives more and make them forget that they are watching a movie.

So while there is a lot of minimalism of style when it comes to the set design and other aesthetic areas of this movie, the acting is on par with the story. Katie Jarvis gives an outstanding performance where, as cliché as it might sound, you can see the pain and confusion in her eyes. Matching Jarvis’ naïve angst is Fassbender’s pleasant, yet suspicious, personality. Seeing the two characters clash works so well because the writing and the performances are all spot on.

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So while Fish Tank doesn’t seem like my first choice of a movie to watch, I am in no way disappointed in what I saw. The story was understated at first, but really winds up into something explosive, without ever going overboard. While the movie could be a tad shorter, that is really my only complaint. If you don’t mind a slow pace and a minimal, gritty style, Fish Tank is an excellent drama that you should check out.

Contagion – Review

20 Jan

The unknown is a pretty terrifying thing, but what happens when the unknown goes viral? Panic? Desperate people doing desperate things? A massive fight for survival is a definite. Disease is, believe it or not, a natural disaster. AIDS, SARS, and the flu are just a few examples. They’re small quiet killers that don’t care who they attack. Steven Soderbergh recognizes this and realistically displays such terror in Contagion.

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After a businesswoman (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip, she becomes seriously ill leaving her husband (Matt Damon) to care for her son and his daughter by himself. This virus soon spreads throughout the world leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) work for the CDC and try to not only find a cure, but also keep the situation as calm and sterile as possible. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) is a internet blogger who decides to use the outbreak to make quick cash and powerful step above the bureaucrats. Finally, Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) works for the World Health Organization in Hong Kong, but is soon kidnapped and held ransom until a cure can be found for the disease.

The narrative presented by Soderbergh is impressive. He did the same kind of thing with his masterpiece from 2000, Traffic. This narrative style is called “hyperlink narrative.” This style involves having multiple characters with their own plots and devices and having them interwoven with each other to make a sort of collage of humanity over time and space. It is a very challenging type of film to fully comprehend, even if you consider yourself to be the world’s biggest cinephile, and Contagion is no exception.

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The best part of the movie is trying to keep up with all of the story lines thrown at you at once and seeing all of the connections. In that same respect it would be difficult to really care about each character since we are constantly jumping around. This really isn’t a problem in this movie though thanks to the writing/acting combination. All of the actors (there’s too many to name them all individually) are great. My personal favorite is Jude Law since I was never quite sure what he was up to and he was also very outspoken. In real life, I would hate this guy, but in the movie he was great.

While I said “this isn’t really a problem” does not mean that it wasn’t at all. This movie is far from being perfect and teeters comfortably on the good/great line. The scale of it s great, but it is stretched way too much. There is a certain character in this movie (coughcoughmarioncotillard) that I didn’t care about in the least. She had all the building blocks to be memorable, but she wasn’t used enough and when she was onscreen she didn’t have the same force as the other characters did. It’s really a shame because I feel like her character would be important.

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Contagion will certainly succeed in freaking you out. It will also succeed in making you think of how the governmental powers of the world may realistically act during a situation like this. The narrative approach of this movie is perfect for the genre, but not done as well as I would have liked. I appreciate the realism and the attempt. It’s a brilliantly planned and and thought out movie. Unfortunately, the writing of certain characters and scenes make people and events feel not so important. This is a good movie that was a little too long and stretched out. If you miss this movie, you’ll survive, but giving it a chance wouldn’t hurt either.