Sunday, January 19, 2014

Movie Review: All Is Lost


"I'm sorry... I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried, I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn't. And I know you knew this. In each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here..." - Our Man

And so begins the story of an unnamed man and his battle against nature. All Is Lost is a harrowing look at eight days in the life of a sailor and all the measures he takes to ensure his survival. Waking up from a nap to find his boat has been struck by a wayward shipping container, Our Man quickly finds himself on the offensive against Mother Nature leading to some of the most intense 100 minutes of 2013.

Robert Redford gives one of the best  performances of his long and storied career here, holding your attention with nothing but his presence. This is an actor at the top of his game, given a relatively dialogue free screenplay and commanding the screen through sheer talent. You truly feel for Our Man as one terrible situation after another comes his way; from the wayward shipping container that begins his plight to horrific storms and a malfunctioning radio, Redford is constantly overcoming one horrible situation after another.

J.C. Chandor's work behind the camera is astounding. Directing from his own screenplay, which was only about 30 pages long, Chandor impresses at every point. Though barely any words are spoken throughout the film, it's never boring which is a true credit to his talent as a filmmaker. All Is Lost is only his second film and judging from that we'll be able to enjoy his work for many years to come. 

Described by some as Gravity on a boat, All Is Lost is far more effective than Alfonso Cuarón's film mostly because it's more relatable. Very few, if any of us will ever become astronauts but being stranded in the middle of nowhere here on earth is all too real and all too possible. Gravity was a very good film, All Is Lost is a great film, Chandor does more with so much less and the journey is all the more effective for it.

A great story of survival with one of the single best performances of 2013, All Is Lost is a phenomenal experience.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Review: Her

"The past is just a story we tell ourselves." - Samantha

It was only a matter of time before Her came to be. Go to any public place; a bar, coffee shop, park or even the mall, and you will see a multitude of people staring down at their smartphones. Her asks the question of what happens when our smartphones become intelligent beings who can actually listen to us, give advice and yes, fall in love.

Spike Jonze's Her tells the story of Theodore, played masterfully by Joaquin Phoenix, a writer in the midst of a nasty divorce with Rooney Mara, who on a whim decides to switch to a new Operating System with artificial intelligence. This OS, which he names Samantha is played by Scarlett Johansson in one of the best voice acting performances I've ever heard. Theodore and Samantha make up one of the best film couples in cinematic history which is quite the feat since she isn't ever on screen. This relationship is at once outlandish but terribly believable, there's a real weight to their trials and tribulations that are on display here.

Jonze's vision of a near future Los Angeles is a sight to behold. There are no flying cars or jet packs, this is the future as any rational person would see it. From the clothes to the technology to the architecture on display, Jonze creates a world that is both science fiction and probable fact.

This is a film that will make you look back on every failed relationship you've ever been a part of and perhaps even question your current one as well. People do change, we are not constant images. We evolve in our relationships and in life and that's what Jonze shows with brutal accuracy. Her will be dismissed by many as frivolous and hard to understand but I was floored once the credits rolled. This movie turned me into an emotional wreck like few other have in the past.

Her is one of the best films of 2013 and one of the best romances you'll ever witness. A film that makes you question yourself almost as much as you question the film. I have a feeling that we are heading in the direction that Her presents and it will be an interesting and ultimately heartbreaking time to be alive.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers have always populated their worlds with awkward people doing awkward things, five minutes into Inside Llewyn Davis our lead is carrying a tabby cat through the streets of New York. So clearly they haven't lost their knack for the awkward.

The tale of a down on his luck folk singer "living" in 1961 Greenwich Village, Llewyn Davis is a man who doesn't seem awful by choice but by his circumstances. The perennial "guy on the couch" at various apartments throughout the city, Davis just can't seem to keep his mouth shut, which is bad since he only seems to spit venom at everyone trying to help him. There are times you're actively rooting for him to just be quiet so maybe something good will come his way but that's not who Llewyn is and this is a Coen Brothers film.

Film critic West Anthony once described the Coen's Fargo as "bad things happening to people at all times," and that's an apt description for this as well. Llewyn Davis just can't seem to catch a break no matter how much he tries. The sad thing is that he's actually a very talented singer with some good material, and I hate to go back to it but this is a Coen film, so that isn't going to get him anywhere.

The cast that's been assembled here is supremely talented and I was constantly impressed with the performances, every character no matter how small seems fleshed out even if they only get a few minutes of screen time. Oscar Issac is a revelation as the lead, bringing a believable sense of defeat and a fantastic singing voice. Carey Mulligan plays a woman scorned with crisp take-downs aimed at Davis. John Goodman on the other hand plays a cantankerous jazz pianist who always has something to say, very little of it nice, but he brings some great comedic levity to the shit-storm that is Davis's life. Also as usual, Justin Timberlake gives a solid performance as one of Davis's friends with a heart of gold.

Inside Llewyn Davis may not be a perfect representation of the early folk scene in New York but it's definitely the Coen's perfect representation. Solid performances, great music and never ending circle of terrible situations, this is the Coen Brothers doing what they do best.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

A colossal disappointment from one of my favorite directors, Pacific Rim is a wooden, anger inducing mess.

How could the man who made Pan's Labyrinth have anything to do with this? Nothing seems fleshed out beyond a rough sketch. Sure the monsters and robots look cool and it's some fun to watch them fight but the human element is nothing but cliches and catchphrases.

Charlie Hunnam is an absolutely atrocious lead here, with the range of a cardboard cut-out. I felt bad for his co-stars since he clearly brought nothing to the table.

Good special effects can't save this wreck from being anything other than C grade sci-fi.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Movie Review: Cronos

A dark, adult fairy tale from Guillermo Del Toro with fantastic makeup effects and performances.

The story of a kindly old antiques dealer who gets in way over his head with an immortality device, Cronos was Del Toro's first feature film. Though a bit rough around the edges, this is a film with a purpose that accomplishes what it sets out to do.

A one of a kind vampire film and undeniably raw, Del Toro does what he can with his budget to explore death and death after death. Not to give anything away but this film completely shifted gears in what I was expecting about half way through and I couldn't have been more pleased with what I saw.

Performances are enjoyable here including a delightfully unhinged performance by Ron Perlman as the villain's crazy, brutish nephew. Great praise should be reserved for Federico Luppi as Jeśus Gris, the lead protagonist, he brings a warmth to the role that was a nice touch. The relationship he has with his granddaughter Aurora is both believable and in the end quite sad.

A great debut from one of my favorite filmmakers and a wonderfully original vampire story, Cronos much like his later Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale even adults with enjoy.

Movie Review: The Stranger

Having never seen one of Ray's films I wasn't too sure of what to expect. What I got was an immensely pleasurable film with a great cast and performances.

The story of a long lost uncle coming to visit his niece's family for a week is both tense and heartwarming. Her husband is suspicious that he's a con-man while her son immediately bonds with the old man through his tales of the world. Written by Ray, I got the sense that this was a real family with strong bonds and the dialogue shows this.

Though there aren't many locations there's a real sense of place when you're in this family's home, almost as if you would know exactly where you were going if you were there. During the outdoor scenes there's vibrant color and beautiful scenery to behold and I was never bored throughout the two hour runtime.

Much like Kurosawa's final film 'Madadayo' this is a smaller movie than what has come before in the director's canon but from what I've read, just as powerful.

A great film from a director whose work I'm looking forward to delving deeper in to.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Movie Review: To The Wonder

A harrowing look at the formation and eventual crumbling of a relationship.

Told by Terrence Malick as a sort of visual poetry, this is a beautifully shot film that is in no way an orthodox romance or drama. Then again none of Malick's films are truly straightforward affairs.

As with most of his recent films, movement is key. These characters are always moving throughout the frame and to match that, the camera constantly moves as well.

To The Wonder may not be his best film but it is certainly a good one. It's great that Malick is making films at such a pace these days and not taking 20 year breaks between films.

An "art-house" romance film from a man with an eye for the little things.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Movie Review: Misery

A tightly scripted, suspenseful thriller from Rob Reiner of all people!

Kathy Bates is absolutely terrifying in the role she'll always be remembered for, for better or worse. She becomes the crazed Annie Wilkes, chewing up the scenery left and right. Not to be outdone is the always reliable James Caan as her captive author who brings true dread and helplessness to his role. Richard Farnsworth makes a great turn as a sheriff with a lot of heart and quick wit which is a nice change of pace from all the crazy happening in the cabin.

Reiner proves he can make a masterful suspense film with Misery. His choice to film a lot of the dialogue head on, where the characters seem to address the audience is brilliant.

The cast and direction help this film rise above the usual mediocrity of Stephen King adaptations and along with The Shining, Misery might be one of the best.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Movie Review: About Schmidt

Alexander Payne has always made films about family. Sure, they're usually dysfunctional, but they are families nonetheless. About Schmidt, his 2002 film starring Jack Nicholson in one of the best roles of his later career.

Nicholson plays a small character for a change who goes through a ton of changes in a short period of time. Payne has a wonderful way with turning movie stars into actors and he seemed to bring Nicholson down to earth on this picture.

Beautiful cinematography, accomplished direction and a truly great cast make this one of Payne's best.