Sunday, July 25, 2010
This award winning documentary from Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington is a harrowing journey that puts you smack into a year in the lives and deaths of a platoon of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The soldiers are real, the bullets are real and the emotions run high.
Credit Mr. Junger and Mr. Hetherington for capturing every moment, whether it be boredom or the middle of a firefight, with unflinching camera work and editing. The film was shot over the course of a year from 2007-2008 in the Korengal Valley, know as "hell on earth" to the soldiers deployed there.
The filmmakers avoid any political or outside commentary and concentrate solely on the 15-20 men that make up the unit, that comes to be know as OP Restrepo. (You'll understand the name when you see the film) The film intersperses headshot interviews of the various men in between footage of them going about the daily routine of war.
This is a "no holds barred" look at modern warfare in a war that will seemingly never end.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
It's entertaining to watch five good actors playing a very dysfunctional family but the novelty of this nuclear family having gay parents who's sperm donor suddenly enters their life wears thin. Not that the excellent cast doesn't try hard but the plot turns melodramatic and predictable.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play the parents of Mia Wasikowaska and Josh Hutcherson. Ms. Bening's character is written to be the annoying overbearing parent and she overplays the part annoying the audience as well as her screen family. Ms. Moore's character is more of a free spirit and it's hard to imagine they've been together at least 20 years, let alone raising two children who seem so well adjusted.
Into their lives comes Mark Ruffalo, when Mr. Hutcherson convinces his sister to contact their biological father. His presence soon turns the family dynamic upside down. Mr. Ruffalo's character is just too good to be true. He's sexy and single, owns an organic restaurant, drives a motorcycle and just so happens to be in need of Ms. Moore's gardening skills.
Everyone plays their part very well. It's a treat to watch the acting and there are some well written scenes but overall, it's just...alright.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Writer/Director Christopher Nolan is back in full brain twisting mode after giving us the thrill of "The Dark Knight". He confounded us with the trippy "Memento" which played with the concepts of the space/time continuum and now he enters our dreams to steal our thoughts and asks, "can the dream be the reality?"
This is a brilliant film filled with solid acting and wonderful effects. It demands your attention or, like many of the characters themselves, you will be lost in its dreams. Mr. Nolan constructs a multi-layered dream within a dream landscape and takes us on a wild journey that followed carefully will captivate and stimulate your own mind. Your pilot for this flight of fancy is Leonardo DeCaprio and he is excellent as the self tortured "dream extractor". Ellen Page is your co-pilot as "The dream architect" who's main purpose is appears to be the audience's avatar and ask the questions that help explain the logic of the film. This is Ms. Page's first foray into an "adult" role and she handles herself admirably against heavyweights like Mr. DeCaprio and Michael Caine (In a little more than a cameo as Mr. DeCaprio's father).
The film also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy. Mr. Levitt has a wonderful sequence without gravity that is remarkable to watch and even more so as I believe it was done without any CGI effects. Mr. Murphy plays the "mark" who mind is invaded by Mr. DeCaprio and his team. Also co-starring Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, and Marion Cotillard. The entire cast is just perfect without any false notes to shatter the concept.
If you have trouble following the plot, I recommend you just let yourself go and enjoy the ride. There will be plenty of time for analysis and debate once the credits roll. And trust me, you will analyze and debate. "Inception" is the first truly original movie of the summer and one of the year's best.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
All of the "Millennium" trilogy has already been filmed in Sweden and now Part Two arrives here with sub-titles for fans who can't wait for the American version. If you haven't read the books, you may still enjoy the film but also find it confusing and not really appreciate the nuance of the characters. The film is very much the middle of the story and will only be fully appreciated after viewing the final chapter.
To trim the story for film, excess parts have been exorcised and that's both good and bad. The entire first 150 or so pages of the book exist for mere minutes during the opening credits which is a good thing as that sub-plot was silly to begin with. What has been trimmed and very much missed, is the investigation from the police point of view. Detectives that figure so prominently in the book are reduced to minor roles as the film focus remains on Salander and Bloomqvist. A major plot point left out of the first film removes the explanation of why Lisbeth has stopped talking to Bloomqvist as the second film begins. There other other minor changes to hasten the film along but they can be forgiven.
The good news is that Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist have returned as said characters and it's fun to watch them, once again, bring these people to life. I can't imagine anyone else as Lisbeth Salander at this point as Ms. Rapace loses herself in the role of a very complicated woman. Thankfully, they will continue to play the roles in the third and final film, " The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest".
While the first film, "Dragon Tattoo" introduced the characters in a great stand alone mystery, this time the story gets personal and much more convoluted. Reveals and sequences stretch the boundaries of credibility but still make for an exciting story. Like the book, this film ends on a cliffhanger so don't expect closure. For that you'll have to wait for "Hornet's Nest".
Sunday, July 04, 2010
After a recent round of Indie films, I decided to jump back into the Hollywood pool with "Knight & Day". Now I know why I prefer Indies. Before we get to the film itself, let's chastise the studio marketing department for the worst title and marketing campaign to come along in years. The title has absolutely nothing but a sliver of a connection to the film and has no appeal whatsoever. Therein lies the problem. 20th Century Fox figured they have Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz...heck we can call the movie "paper" and people will come. Guess what, they won't... according to the recent box office.
This film is a perfect example of the Hollywood machine gone awry. Take two superstars, add exotic global locations (including Brooklyn NY?), mix in a formula villain you can spot immediately and drag it out for maximum stunts, explosions and comedic interplay between the leads and what do you have? A film you have seen countless times before and probably done better. The script really insults the audience's intelligence.
You never forget for a moment that you are watching Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. They don't even bother trying to create characters. They try hard to just get by on their looks and charm. Credit Ms. Diaz especially in the charm department. She actually outshines Mr. Cruise in the fun to watch category. She is obviously having fun with her role and lets the audience in on the gag.
To be fair, the stunt work is good and many sequences are exciting (with the exception of some sub-par CGI) but just when you've have your fill of explosions, globe hopping and gunplay, you get more. For a film that runs under 2 hours, it seems like an eternity. A better title would have been "A Long Day's Journey Into Knight".
Friday, July 02, 2010
From the fertile mind of writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet comes this wonderful new film. Mr. Jenuet has brought us "Delicatessen", "City of Lost Children", "A Very Long Engagement" and most notably, "Amelie". His visual style is like no other and his whimsical approach to storytelling brings us films you never want to end. "Micmacs" happily falls into the same category.
This is a most original tale of a man plagued by arms dealers (don't try to understand, it's clear when you see it) who, with help from a ragtag band of misfits living under a junkyard, plots his revenge in a most outlandish and amazing way. It is delightful from start to finish. The actors are wonderful and the cinematography is incredible. The artistic, visual storytelling is done with a minimum of dialog propelled by a wonderful score (including vintage Max Steiner material).
Dany Boon stars as Bazil, the loner seeking revenge and he is a combination of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau. The film also stars Andre Dussollier, a popular French actor known more for drama than comedy and Julie Ferrier, a charming and most nimble contortionist. Rounding out the cast are a number of Mr. Jeunet's usual stalwarts from his earlier films.
In New York, "Micmacs" is still playing at The Angelika in Manhattan and Cobble Hill Cinema in Brooklyn. If you miss it, add it to the top of your Netflix list. It is easily one of my favorite films of the year.