Friday, August 16, 2013

Only God Forgives

      And I thought "Drive" was bad. This new film from writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn makes his last film look like an Academy Award winner. What was star Ryan Gosling thinking? For that matter what was co-star Kristin Scott Thomas thinking? Right now, this has to be the top candidate for worst movie of the year.

      Odd artsy lighting, little dialog, long slow scenes where nothing happens and then random acts of gory violence...about sums up the film. What passes for a plot involves Mr. Gosling's character, Julian who is involved in the criminal underbelly of Bangkok. When his brother is murdered, his foul mouthed mother ( Ms. Scott Thomas) shows up looking for revenge. There is also a sword wielding cop who likes to sing in a nightclub. He haunts Julian in his dreams and then there is an actual confrontation.

       You can't say Mr. Gosling acts in this film. He barely moves or strings two sentences together. Ms. Scott Thomas is so far against type, she comes off absolutely ridiculous in an unbelievable role. I can't think of anything in this film worthy of a positive comment.

       The title is appropriate as only God would probably forgive Mr. Winding Refn for this waste of 90 minutes.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blue Jasmine

      Woody Allen continues a hot streak with this drama based in San Francisco.  As usual, the film is written and directed by Mr. Allen and he has created still another in a long line of strong roles for women.  

       "Blue Jasmine" is bound to get star Cate Blanchett an Oscar nomination. She stars as Jasmine, a rich society wife who becomes penniless and is forced to move cross country and live with her sister in very unfamiliar surroundings. The film grows from an idea based loosely on the Bernie Madoff scandal and borrows heavily from "A Streetcar Named Desire" but it's still has the Woody Allen pedigree.

         All the roles in the film have been cast perfectly. Besides a wonderful performance from Ms. Blanchett, Alec Baldwin is terrific as her husband Hal, and Sally Hawkins does great work as her sister, Ginger. The film also features Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C. K., Michael Stulhbarg and a surprisingly good Andrew Dice Clay. Mr. Allen always seems to bring out the best in his actors and this ensemble is no different. The film, however, belongs to Ms. Blanchett, who moves through so many emotional twists and turns, it's hard to keep up. She is just brilliant.

           As usual, the cinematography is excellent as is the soundtrack. Filming outside of New York for his last few films seems to have rejuvenated Mr. Allen. Familiar yet fresh, the film is dramatic with some light moments. You may prefer a different ending but that will always be debatable. Go for the acting. It's perfection and should get Mr. Allen an Oscar nod as well for direction.

The Heat

 After a promising '70s style credit sequence, this new film from Director Paul Feig quickly falls into a stereotypical, mismatched buddy comedy with a standard formula. The lazy plot and direction are only saved by the great chemistry of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

     Ms. Bullock plays the buttoned-up, smug, FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn and Ms. McCarthy plays the sloppy, foul mouthed but street smart detective, Shannon Mullins. Its standard buddy comedy 101 where each character ends up a better person for working together.

      The film takes place in Boston and there is ample opportunity to make fun of Detective Mullins's stereotyped Irish family. Most of the laughs come from Ms. McCarthy foul mouth and the film doesn't hide from plenty of gutter humor. But I must admit, there is plenty of very funny dialogue in the film.

        Ms. Bullock is a fine actress, playing comedy as well as drama and she always seems to elevate the material but here she doesn't even try and instead lets go and just has fun playing off Ms. McCarthy.

          This one has sequel written all over it, which, with a stronger plot will probably make an even better film. I can see it now..."The Heat 2: Even Hotter"

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Attack

Written and directed by Zaid Doueiri,  this controversial new drama asks difficult questions with no easy answers.

Ali Suliman plays Dr. Amin Jaafari, a successful, Israeli Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv. He has a good job, a loving wife but his world is turned upside down when it is revealed that his wife, Siham, has detonated a suicide bomb in a crowded restaurant killing herself and many others.

Coming as a complete shock, Dr. Jaafari at first, refuses to believe his wife could be capable of such an act but when facts reveal themselves, he sets out to discover how and why this could happen. He leaves Tel Aviv and sets out for the Palestinian territories in an attempt to discover the truth.

This is a thoughtful moving drama that puts the viewer inside Dr. Jaafari's world, feeling his grief and confusion about a person he only thought he knew. Mr Suliman acts with great conviction and it is easy to sympathize with him. There is no tidy Hollywood ending here but Mr. Doueiri tells a powerful story.

Fruitvale Station

Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, "Fruitvale Station" retraces the last day in the life of Oscar Grant before he was detained and killed by police in the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland California. The film is based on real events that were captured on video by other passengers on the train. 

The film opens with one of those videos and then in flashback, we learn how Mr. Grant spent his last day, New Years Eve 2009. Some of the events of the day are obviously accurate, preparing for his mothers birthday dinner, going out with his friends to celebrate New Year's Eve but scenes of Mr. Grant alone can only be assumed by Mr. Coogler.

We see, that while he had a minimal criminal past, he was trying to turn his life around for himself, his girlfriend and small daughter. He is not portrayed as a saint but an average guy trying to get by in a difficult life. As imagined by Mr. Coogler, the day presents some challenges but is fairly uneventful until the tragic circumstances at Fruitvale.

Mr. Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan and he is excellent in the part. He has a very natural way about him and is very engaging. His girlfriend is played by Melonie Diaz and their scenes together have an authentic tenderness about them. Octavia Spencer plays his mother, Wanda and she at her most powerful in scenes just after the shooting.

This is Mr. Coogler's first feature film and it has created a deserving buzz. He doesn't try to manipulate the audience with cheap sympathies. He presents a portrait of a man, through an objective lens and lets the audience draw their own conclusions from a horribly tragic moment.