Friday, April 18, 2014

Nymphomaniac Volume II

            It is more obvious now that writer/director Lars van Trier originally made a single four hour film cut up for U.S. distribution. Vol. 2 picks up immediately where Vol. 1 ends and continues the story of Joe, the woman found beaten in an alley and tended to by Seligman.

             Vol. 1 centered on Joe as a young woman discovering her sexuality. As we begin the second half, the adult Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has lost all sexual stimulation and begins a descent into extreme kinds of sex in order to experience orgasm. She continues to relate her story to Seligman (Stellen Skarsgard) who passes no judgement and finds ways to wax philosophical about her increasingly strange life.  Mr. van Trier has a odd sense of humor and while there are a few disturbing yet somehow humorous scenes, most of Vol. 2 takes a more serious and darker tone.

              Shia LeBeouf returns as Jerome and as in Vol.1 is still embarrassing to watch. Jamie Bell co-stars now as "K",  a sadistic young man who invites women to knowingly and willingly be tied up and beaten. It's a brave but brutal role and I give Mr. Bell credit for taking on the challenge. Willem Defoe also has a small part as a shadowy figure who gives Joe a job as an unusual debt collector.

               As with all his films, Mr. van Trier is daring and provocative but after four hours of emotionless sex and various shots of both male and female genitalia sprinkled in between ridiculous dialog, you will find yourself bored rather than aroused. It all "climaxes" in an ending I found utterly repulsive and unnecessary.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Raid 2

         Gareth Evans does it all...screenwriter, director, choreography and producer but it's star Iko Uwais that you will never forget in this "sequel" to "The Raid: Redemption". In the first film, Rama, a cop played by Uwais storms his way into an apartment complex overrun by bad guys and fights his way to the top in what was billed as one of the greatest action films ever (and was). "The Raid 2" picks up moments later as Rama, with barely time to breathe,  is recruited to go undercover and infiltrate a gang of very, very bad criminals.

           In this new film, Mr. Evans actually makes an attempt at a real plot but borrows heavily from "Infernal Affairs" (later done as "The Departed" by Martin Scorsese) as his undercover cop Rama, finds himself in the middle of a mob war. The dialog is silly, in sub-titles and barely necessary since you bought your ticket for the action but endure the story and you will be rewarded by amazing sequences. Mr Uwais is a living version of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil and has moves Bruce Lee could only dream of. The fight scenes are breathtaking in a beautiful ballet of violence and mayhem. No CGI here, you feel every punch and Mr. Evans has a particular style that leaves you surprised with every battle.

          You may quickly forget the plot but you will remember the fight in the prison yard, the fight in the kitchen, the fight in a moving car, and the fight in the hallway just to highlight the best of the action sequences. The fight choreography is incredibly real and so inventive that if you are a martial arts aficionado or just an action junkie, you will be blown away.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Draft Day

    Kevin Costner and sports films always make a great combination and "Draft Day" scores a touchdown, especially if you are a football fan. There have been comparisons to "Moneyball" which is understandable since they are both about the business side of sports but "Draft Day" has the advantage of a fictional story to add much more suspense to the plot.

         The film takes place over the course of the 12 hours leading up to the NFL draft, the time when teams announce which college players they are selecting in a pre-arranged numerical order. General Managers can wheel and deal up to the last second deciding on players and trading "picks" with other teams. For a team's general manager, coach and staff, it's their Superbowl with the future of their organization hanging in the balance.

          Mr. Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the GM of the Cleveland Browns. His "Cap" analyst/girlfriend is played by Jennifer Garner and other co-stars are Frank Langella as the owner of the team, Dennis Leary as the team coach and Chadwick Boseman (so good in "42") as one of Sonny's potential target players. Sean Combs is well cast in a supporting role as a sports agent representing another player Sonny covets. There are also many real life football players in various roles. 

            The film is fun and gets more exciting as the clock ticks down towards Cleveland's allotted pick time. What will Sonny do? That sums up the plot pretty succinctly. The film misses the "extra point" with too many melodramatic sub-plots thrown at Sonny to complicate his day and director Ivan Reitman relies way too much on split screen effects to tell the story. It's a very deliberate choice but ends up making the audience dizzy.

            Most of the action is not on the field but rather behind closed doors but it's still a fascinating look behind the scenes. To this football fan, it seems pretty accurate and probably close to what really happens on draft day.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

     Credit screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for a terrific script that turns a superhero movie into a political spy thriller. Grounded in reality, albeit a Marvel reality, the film works on all levels and is extremely entertaining.

      Chris Evans returns as Captain America along with Scarlett  Johansson as the Black Widow (Natasha Romanov) and Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury. All three have become very comfortable in their roles and are well suited to their comic book characters. Another Marvel superhero makes it to the big screen as Anthony Mackie co-stars as The Falcon (Sam Wilson) with upgraded wings. Sebastian Stan plays the title character, The Winter Soldier and he is a formidable opponent for "Cap". A big surprise is the addition of Robert Redford, playing against type as Alexander Pierce. Mr. Redford is the last person you would expect to see in a Marvel film but he seems to be enjoying himself immensely.

        There are secrets, plots and double agents galore when S.H.I.E.L.D is compromised and of course it's up to Captain America to save the day. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo balance the intrigue with many exciting action sequences culminating in an explosive finale. There are in-jokes for the devoted comic fans and of course, stay through the credits for a double surprise.