Tag Archives: woody harrelson

TransSiberian – Review

8 Aug

I’ve had a few lame vacations, but none of them can compare to the nightmare that the couple in TransSiberian have to endure. The worst part is is that it is all because of their own mistakes and the fact that bad people possibly outweigh the good. This is an intriguing  and tight thriller that requires one viewing, but deserves multiple.

 

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are an American couple who are traveling from Beijing to Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Along their travels they meet another couple: Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). There seems to be more lurking beneath the surface of these two, and when a Russian narcotics officer, Ilya Grinko (Sir Ben Kingsley) gets thrown into the mix a supposedly innocent trip turns into a violent game of cat and mouse filled with murder and deception.

As I was watching this movie, my mind kept going to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train. That is because TransSiberian hearkens back to the golden age of thrillers before high tech espionage and intense car chases became the norm in movies of this genre. The thrills come from the characters, their decisions, and the consequences of these decision. I always found the volatile nature of humans and their extreme drive for self preservation to be more interesting than any CGI-fest or high octane action thriller.

The setting of this movie is almost as dangerous as the characters themselves. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the foreboding Russian tundra is just as much a character as Roy and Jessie. Not only the cold landscapes, but the broken down interiors, minus the inside of the train, just scream tetanus. It couldn’t have been a better setting for a movie such as this.

Thematically, TransSiberian explores the snowball effect of lies and the amount of trust that we should put in other people. All of the trouble caused in this movie stems from these two themes. Another interesting theme of the movie is that of the Russian legal system especially in poverty stricken areas and against foreigners. I was on a message board and there was a post that claimed this movie was strictly anti-Russian propaganda. Another poster argued that they were actually from Russia, and this film is an accurate depiction of the problems the country is facing. Kingsley’s character has an interesting dialogue on the differences between Soviet Russia and modern day Russia. He pretty much says that things have changed, but not necessarily for the better.

 

So the themes, characters, and setting are what really make this movie thrilling. I have a gripe about the story, however. I understand that, without giving too much away, a certain character is faced with a massive problem that is only made worse by lying, even though telling the truth probably would have made things go a little smoother. I can’t speak for the characters or what others would do in this situation. I’m not even sure about what I would do. Let’s just say there were times where I wanted to knock some sense into this character.

TransSiberian is a gripping thriller that would make any Hitchcock fan proud. There isn’t wall to wall action, steamy sex, or death defying stunts. What we have is an intelligent and well crafted thriller that is supported by its aesthetics and its characters and how the actors portrayed them. I didn’t know much about this movie when I watched it, but when it ended I felt fulfilled and ready to share it with other people.

 

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The Messenger – Review

18 May

As war and turmoil rages on in the Middle East, smaller and more personal battles continue on the home front as families are torn apart by the worst news possible. Hearing that a loved one has died one the battlefield is terribly difficult to hear, and this drama is wonderfully captured in The Messenger, with a few dramatic curve balls thrown in.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is a war hero who has been assigned with a job that he is not particularly happy about. Along with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), he is given the task to notify families about their loved ones who have been killed in action. One particular widow (Samantha Morton) draws Montgomery close into her personal life, and he finds himself slowly falling for her, which is strictly against protocol.

This summary doesn’t really do this film justice, since its more of a character study than a traditional story driven narrative. At the end of The Messenger, nothing much has really changed. The war still goes on and people are still dying, but the characters in the film have progressed even if it is only slightly. That’s what is the true strength of the movie. The audience is meant to care more about the characters than what the story is. If one was to focus just on the story, the film would probably feel pretty hollow and boring, which it is not.

The screenplay for The Messenger is really marvelous with true to life dialogue that is never melodramatic and was nominated for an Academy Award for best Original Screenplay. There are a few lines that seem out of place like calling kids “green with envy” or some forced “good bye(s).” Other than that every line is appropriate. There is even a really good monologue said by Ben Foster towards the end of the movie that never sounds forced. The handheld camera work is also subtly fantastic at giving the film a more realistic feel. One shot in particular is eight minutes long and full of dramatic and emotional change.

Seeing Ben Foster in a role where he doesn’t have to shoot or hit anyone was a nice change. It’s been established with movies like 3:10 to Yuma and The Mechanic that he can play a tough talking badass just fine, but now it is known that he is perfectly capable of playing a deep character who makes a great change throughout a movie. Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton are also above average which also earned Harrelson an Academy Award nomination.

The Messenger came out the same year as The Hurt Locker, which is also about the tragedies surrounding the war in Iraq. Although the same themes are explored, they are done so in polar opposite ways. Deciding which film is more effective would be a very difficult task. Both do a great job, but I felt more impacted by the dialogue in The Messenger than the often flashy and violent material in The Hurt Locker, but this could just be because The Messenger is fresh in my mind.

This was a quietly intense and emotional film that strikes many different cords. I’d like to see The Messenger defined as a classic in a number of years because of its presentation. I really enjoyed this movie a lot, and would recommend it to anyone.

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.