If you require a large number of explosions, CGI werewolves or are a HUGE Chris Tucker fan you probably shouldn't go to see All Is Lost. Excluding one, fairly brief, voice over there are a probably less than half a dozen words in the entire film (I recall four). But the plot explains this; it is the story of a man trapped at sea. He spends most of his time talking to a volleyball. Oh...wait...wrong movie.
Robert Redford's sailor doesn't talk to anyone because there is no one there to talk to and there is no contrivance to make him speak. He attends to the task at hand, which is what a person in this situation would do.
If you've seen the preview you know Redford's (and his character is not named) character's boat strikes an errant shipping container. From there he works on fixes and plots courses while battling the elements and plain old bad luck.
One amazing thing about the movie is that it never lags and it manages a sort of low-key tension throughout. Redford never has a real moment of rest, of comfort, as he tries to save himself. Director, J.C. Chandor, foreshadows some of what is to come in the film at the outset. The audience knows what the man on screen does not. Truthfully you know if you saw the previews but it is artfully done in the movie.
Redford gives a powerful performance that, by definition, has to be understated and restrained. But there are moments that have to be done so delicately--rare moments when the character gives into emotion or, particularly, a point where the character truly believes all is lost. At that moment he is about to do something that truly is giving up and he can barely bring himself to do it. His depiction of this moment and of a man in these straits is outstanding. It is worthy, at least, of an Oscar nomination (although it would be shocking if he won).
One other thing about Redford--he looks good for a man his age but he looks at least CLOSE to his age. This is something aging leading men (or former leading men) should take a cue from. When you get older and you get Jean-Claude Van Damme-style plastic surgery it really doesn't prolong your career. It just makes you look like an alien.
This film curiously mirrors the recent film, Gravity, also about someone marooned and trying to survive but in a slightly different environment. Gravity is spectacular looking and keeps the back story spare. But it is incredibly detailed compared to the story of All Is Lost. We can glean some details from little clues throughout but we only have what happens on screen to go on--there is no talking, no photos of loved ones and no doomed side-kick. It is all Redford and the sea and curiously that is more than enough.
12 Years A Slave is a moving story. How could the story of a free man kidnapped into slavery not be? It is also a very good movie with excellent performances in even small roles. It is, likewise, an interesting piece of direction and cinematography.
In several instances in the film there are close ups that linger to the point of almost uncomfortableness. One instance where a character is left hanging, feet barely touching the ground as the day goes on about him, is as harrowing and disturbing as any scene in any horror film.
The movie brings the horrors of slavery to life in a way that isn't often seen. The beatings, the cruelty, the horror of separating families have been explored many times. What often is lost is how the institution of slavery corrupted the slave owners-- and not just psychopaths like Edwin Epps, portrayed with a performance destined for a supporting Oscar nomination by Michael Fassbender. Benedict Cumberbatch appears as a more "benevolent" slave owner but his personal decency? In the end it counts for nothing against the putrid system he is part of and institution he supports. The film does a good job of showing the human degradation of slavery. The slaves lose their freedom and the owners their humanity.
But the shoe-in for an Oscar nomination--and it is hard to imagine a better performance--is Chiwetel Ejiofor. His portrayal of Solomon Northup is both understated (yes, my favorite word!) and emotional in turns. As his situation deteriorates, with just his bearing, Ejiofor, shows the stress on Northup but always maintains his dignity. He is a powerful presence as he has shown in smaller roles in the past (Serenity springs to mind). The actors around him show, again often without words, how their situation has worn them down.
It is all superbly done.
And while all the actors acquit themselves well, there is one other--one who might wind up ignored--who deserves Academy Award consideration. Lupita Nyong'o's portrayal of Patsey, a slave that is the object of the sadistic Epps' sexual obsession, is every bit as good as Ejiofor's. She is both favored and the subject of terrible abuse. This is also another subtle way this film shows how all encompassing was the evil of slavery; Patsey is a "favorite" of Epps but this makes her the subject of special abuse by Epps' wife. And, of course, being Epps' "favorite" includes rape and jealous rage. Her position dooms her and makes her even more miserable.
Director Steve McQueen, in his third feature film, creates something great and disturbing. If anything the story of slavery has been under-told in American cinema. We need movies like this that focus on those held in bondage and we need them to be based on fact and not wishful thinking. Basing this on Solomon Northup's account of his ordeal makes it all the more powerful. This is also so well written. There is never a moment where you feel it isn't real. It isn't just the dialog but the action and the non-verbal communication in the film.
Everyone should see this film.
Carrie (2013) version isn't bad but it is as unnecessary as any remake that ever put the dollar signs dancing in a Hollywoood producer's head.
Movies are made in the hope that they will make money of course. Even someone creating an obscure art film has some desire, in the back of their mind, some notion that they might turn some tiny profit. Hell, people who make Youtube videos on their smart phones HOPE to make money off the endeavor.
Then there are the movies that are made JUST to make money. These can still be entertaining--if they are well cast and made with a degree of professionalism.
Carrie is sort of in this category. There isn't anything terrible about it. It, more or less moves along at a decent clip, the acting is decent, the writing isn't embarrassing (even if most of the "scares" are not the least bit scary). It just isn't very satisfying and it seems sort of tired.
Carrie is cotton candy. It has no real value beyond that initial taste. While it is not poorly done it is also not particularly well done. They wisely eschew going for camp as the original mixed camp and serious too well to be copied. There is no real tension in this movie and some of the acting falls short of "good" (the main antagonist for instance).
Julianne Moore does a solid job chewing the scenery and playing the mad, religious fanatic mother. Chloë Grace Moretz, a lovely girl, somehow manages to make herself look and seem awkward and plain in parts (until she is required to look dazzling). She does a fine job with the role, such as it is.
Yet all of this is barely enough to keep an audience engaged. It is difficult to pick out the good and the bad in the film because most of it is just so overwhelminglye mediocre. Carrie does the bare minimum.
There is nothing whatever wrong with Captain Phillips, the latest film starring Tom Hanks. Sounds like faint praise but there are plenty of films in the theaters that have a great deal wrong with them. Having nothing wrong puts a movie well ahead of the curve.
The acting is solid, the film never slows down or gets distracted by side plots. We all know the basics, if not the details of the story. And unless you were on the ship and wanted to be paid for your part of the story worrying about it being 100 percent accurate is silly too. What Hollywood "real life" film is 100 percent accurate?
But Captain Phillips is not the sort of film that is likely to stay with you after you see it either. As noted, the story is still fresh in the minds of many. There are few surprises here. Nor is there any attempt to get at deeper issues--Phillips family life, the conditions in Somalia that lead to such acts etc. It wise decision for the sake of this movie that these topics were only glanced on--any more would have risked dragging the movie down into the briny deep (as much as I am usually of for more Catharine Keener screen-time)
We get just enough of Phillips at home to see he has a wife and kids. We get just enough of how and why the Somali pirates do what they do to make them more than just "bad guys." The audience knows they are put in the position they are, largely, by forces beyond their immediate control (ie the men who make the money on such crimes are not the ones racing through the seas on a skiff).
Of course this didn't stop one audience member, upon seeing the sentence one pirate received blurting out "I wonder how much WE are paying for that." Interesting sociological reaction and indicative of America today. Everything boils down into how much something costs. It would have been interesting to hear what this woman thinks should have been done to an apprehended and unarmed man. Some torture perhaps? And how much better are we as a people than they? Really? think about it.
But I digress.
Captain Phillips never gets into these issues and they have only a very peripheral place in this film. It is, however, very clear that the pirates are not operating out of ideology but for money. "No Al Queda." says the "captain" of the pirates--ably portrayed by Barkhad Abdi. Abdi mixes a sort of pathos with menace in his role. He brings a real tension, not necessarily because he is waving around a gun but because you see some sort of internal conflict in him as he makes his decisions, some sort of doubt.
The previews may make the film seem like a U.S. Navy action film. It isn't really about that, although the ending of the film certainly has that element (done quite well). Most of the movie is about the crew and Phillips avoiding being boarded and then resisting the pirates once aboard. There has been some criticism of the film making the real Phillips seem overly heroic. This is baseless, Hanks portrayal is as an everyman. He does nothing overly heroic--aside from his job.
In fact, one of the interesting parts of the movie is that there is no individualist hero. The "hero" here is procedure. Things do not go well for the crew of the Maersk Alabama in the movie but they certainly do not go as poorly as they might have. The film puts forward that the reason was that captain and crew stuck to the rule book. This is an unusual--and realistic--take on how to survive a crisis in a Hollywood film. Usually in Hollywood there has to be a hero--a highly paid bankable star with a machine gun. You need Brad Pitt to save you! In real life you need to keep your head and stick with what works (in most cases anyway).
This sense of the realistic animates this movie and while it isn't the most memorable film you will see this year? You will be entertained in the theater. Again, this puts it far ahead of the curve.
Gravity is a tense movie. The audience is barely in its seat before the action begins and from there it barely lets up. It is, in some way, a difficult film to discuss;the character development is minimal and there are only three characters that the audience sees on screen. The plot is fairly simple; astronauts, in space, face a catastrophe and try to survive.
It sounds like it isn't much of a movie, based solely on this synopsis. But it actually is a pretty remarkable film. It looks fantastic. It might even give you a little bit of vertigo and it clearly isn't intended to be a recruiting tool for NASA. Sandra Bullock's character states, at one point, "I hate space."
The film is also, as mentioned, tense, even stressful.
One of the reason the film manages this tension is that it resists Hollywood's usually irresistible desire for a back story, for a love story or maybe a montage where Bullock tries on clothes. There are no flashbacks, no Apollo 13-like anguished family on the ground wringing their hands. The action takes place in space.
That puts the film, beyond the special effects, on the backs of Bullock and George Clooney. Clooney pays the story-telling, wisecracking commander or the mission, Matt Kowalski to Bullock's mission specialist, Ryan Stone. To say there is no back story isn't entirely accurate. We learn about these people how you would learn about someone in real life--through snippets of conversation (in this case under great stress). You do care what happens to them.
Alfonso Cuarón has made a couple of provocative films in the past (Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men). This film is not really provocative but it is close to perfect. It never lets you rest, never makes you bored but, at the same time, it does not rely on random explosions.
The film is about the action. And it begs the question; why do so many other films fail in this regard?. In many cases it is bad editing. In others someone just decides that MORE explosions is really all you need. Here the "explosions" happen at the right times and are not overdone. You even are given a sort of countdown to when they happen in some cases. It all ticks along like clockwork and the editing is so tight that you are never given a chance to relax. The special effects are not gaudy but truly give the feel of space flight. It seems real even when some of the action maybe strays a bit from reality (it IS a movie).
This isn't to give short shrift to the acting--both Bullock and Clooney do well in their roles, as fairly minimal as they are. Imagine them as people you just meet (in space). You find out as much about them as you would spending a few hours talking to them.
It is a peculiar film to try to describe or recommend because it is so focused on what happens rather than the story or the characters. It is also one of those rare films that viewers should consider seeing in XD 3D. A great deal will be lost in 2D viewings of the movie. It is about the visuals.
The Grandmaster has a number of things to recommend it; it is a beautiful looking film from beginning to end and the fight choreography is fantastic. If you have just those two in a martial arts movie you are usually far ahead of the game.
Unfortunately this is as much historical period piece as it is martial arts film. In this regard The Grandmaster shows a few warts. None of these blemishes ruin the film, they generally do not even slow it down, but they are there nonetheless.
The film tells the story of Ip Man, who is credited with bringing kung fu to the world. But that is far from the focus of the film. Indeed it is difficult to discern much of a focus. But somehow this lack of focus sort of works.
The film starts with, Gong Yutian, a grandmaster of Northern China announcing he will retire. There is a division between northern and southern kung fu schools that is explained in passing. Gong comes south and it is determined Ip Man will meet the grandmaster in a fight (which turns out to be different than you might imagine). In besting a grandmaster you become hair to He meets Master Gong's daughter, Gong Ep, during these proceedings.
The story, which is fairly thin, revolves around the various kung fu schools, Ip Man's personal life, the Japanese invasion of China and ultimately the grandmaster's move to Hong Kong. The Grandmaster
is a sketch of a time, a culture (not Chinese but kung fu culture), a love story and a biography but it does not delve too deeply into any of these worlds. It provides clues, parables and a sense of an "era gone by". It is a fantasy since it is likely the era it shows never existed.The plot here is
secondary to the action--and it is not always kung fu fighting. It is sometimes romantic entanglement. But usually it is disconnected fights and challenges. Yet these fights are not pointless but individual parables that move the story forward (albeit in fits and starts). The movie does not move in a typical narrative and jumps long periods of time. It is ot a typical bio-pic. If you expect to learn anything about Ip Man you will be disappointed. But then it may be the thing that inspires you to learn more about him. How often does a bio-pic tell the whole or even the real story of a person?The acting is stylized but solid. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
, always reliable, is stoic in the lead role and the lovely Ziyi Zhang
appears as Gong Er and is given the most chance to emote and show emotion in the film--her character seeks love, vengeance and honor with intensity. She is given more opportunity to act, to emote than anyone else in the film.
The film is being marketed as an action film or a kung fu film and it is a bit more than that. The marketing also uses "Bruce Lee"
as a lure; this film has almost nothing to do with Bruce Lee. Go into this with no expectations and you will take something from it. Go in expecting The Raid: Redemption
and you will be perplexed.
is a film about terrorism it is true but it is also a love story, a mystery and a personal story about the individual’s place in society. It is a film that is best walked into knowing little. It is probably a bad idea to even watch the trailer.
The story is basically about a Palestinian doctor, living in Israel and is connection to a terrorist attack. The doctor is played by Ali Suliman
who brings a quiet intensity to the character. He chews no scenery and seems so real in the role you forget you are watching an actor. The film revolves around him but the supporting cast is also stellar and gives the same sort of truly human portrayals. Reymond Amsalem
is also excellent in limited screen time. Dvir Benedek
, with even less time, creates a human face for the Israeli security forces. He conveys humanity in a role that might have been unnoticed.
The film works so well because it is not focused on the details of politics or the grand scheme of things. It is the story of this one man and his journey to find the truth. It is about him, one human, interacting with others, all of whom seem perplexed by some part of his motivation. The great tragedy is reduced to one of its helpless parts. The Attack
has something American filmmakers could learn from--even in silly action movies. Cartoon-like terrorist villains are not scary. Actual humans, who seem normal and even decent but who become terrorists are. The last time an American movie even tried to do this was Traitor
with Don Cheedle
Yet there are no villains in this film. Some will be shocked by this notion after you see the film yet it is true. It is a movie full of victims. Even someone who kills almost a dozen children in a restaurant is a victim. This isn't put across in some obvious way. You are not beaten over the head with the woes of the Palestinians. In fact, an Israeli security officer is the one who makes the statement that resonates throughout the movie as to why such attacks happen.
The film does not take a "side" but gives viewers a feeling that the whole notion of “sides” is irrelevant now. Everyone is playing some predestined role in a great tragedy. Decent, good people look at other decent good people and see an enemy--or a potential enemy. It is not a film that fills you with hope about prospects for peace but it does leave you with some positive feelings about human beings as individuals.
The Attack is also a beautifully shot movie. It looks fantastic. And even though it deals with some terrifying and gruesome material it never feels the need to revel in the visual side of this. It makes you feel through the story, not through gore. But there are moments where you just marvel at the beauty of the work here--moments where the camera is used to convey feelings when no words are spoken.
Director Ziad Doueiri hits all the notes perfectly here both visually and in the writing. There isn't a discernible flaw here. Doueiri uses visuals to be sure you never lose sight of the fact that this is about people--not ideology. At the same time the film never feels the need to preach. It is startling, sad and keeps you engaged from beginning to end.
The film was released in 2012 but is in USA theaters now.
The World's End is a funny movie. No doubt about it. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost all involved in a movie seems to be a pretty solid recipe for actual laughter. Is it as funny and original as Shaun of the Dead? Probably not but it is probably a hair better than the also amusing Hot Fuzz.
There is one problem with the movie and it isn't actually WITH the movie but a broader problem that Hollywood needs to deal with right NOW; they need to stop telling us so much in previews.
I would have been much happier if I hadn't KNOWN this film was about robots? As an avid movie goer I should, at least, have the opportunity to not know. If I want to have a movie spoiled there are tons of reviewers willing to do that for me. I didn't need to go see the Harrison Ford/Gary Oldman movie, Paranoia, because the previews pretty much told me what was going to happen in the film. Even more egregious are the previews for the remake of Carrie, the new Vin Diesel film, Captain Phillips...hell pretty much every single preview I've seen for months.
Hollywood thinks we are stupid and won't understand if they don't spell it out for us. Please, stop! It actually stops me from going to certain movies and I am sure I am not alone in this.
But let's get back to The World's End.
How many of you recall high school as the pinnacle of your life? It is to be hoped very few. Even so it is a certainty that you know someone who feels this way. They have never gotten past their "glory years" which were usually far less glorious than they recall. That is the starting point for this film.
Pegg plays Gary King, the vaguely goth high school superstar who decides (at a little too much length) to get his old friends together to relive their youth via a particular quest. He wants them to return to their hometown to go on a pub crawl--having a pint at each of a dozen pubs, culminating at The World's End.
Frost is decidely NOT Ed from Shaun of the Dead in this movie, instead being cast in the sober, responsible role. He and Gary's other friends are all gainfully employed, fairly successful and only moderately nostalgic for days gone by. But with clever lies and manipulation Gary gets them all on board for the trek.
All along the way gags ensue. Much like Hot Fuzz before it this movie will improve upon second viewing. Some of the early jokes are put into context by what happens later. That is one of the beauty of the "Cornetto Trilogy" all the films stand up well to repeated viewings.
There are some lessons in this one but these are never used as a bludgeon. And also the ending sort of leaves it open for interpretation what, precisely, these lessons are. Maybe it is ok, under some circumstances, to live in the past? Perhaps when the present is miserable?
But life lessons are not really the point here in any case--humor is and The World's End gets that part right. It does it in a way that induces more chuckles than uncontrollable laughter but that is by design. It is to be hoped that this isn't the final curtain for this group working together.
Lee Daniel's The Buter (to use the official title) is a fairly compelling movie that is not, in fact, a true story. It is based on a true story and has a definite ring of truth throughout. But do not take every single thing that happens in the film to be indisputable fact.
It is better to look at this movie as am amalgamation of the experiences of black families in the America of the last century. And it is a moving amalgamation.
Usually when a film comes out that deals with civil rights issues (or, even worse, slavery) you can count on box office failure. In this case? After one week in theaters this film is the number one film in the country. Guesses as to why this is the case are that it is the end of the summer and there is a dearth of new movies worth seeing and, Oprah Winfrey is in it.
Winfrey's last film, the underrated Beloved, underperformed (it was marketed as a "slavery" story when it probably should have been marketed as a "ghost" story). This film is marketed as just what it is. Some of it is hard to watch. Who want's to hear people called "niggers" and demeaned?
Ultimately, this film is about a generational divide. The father made his living as a butler, the son sees this 'servile' position as demeaning. They disagree on race relations and how change can be made. The son, ably played by David Oyelowo, is less a character than a representation of the change in attitude. He turns the other cheek and follows nonviolence but then changes. How is it that you stick to nonviolence when it seems to get you nowhere? Oyelowo brings this character, who could have been just a symbol, to life. He makes him human.
Forrest Whittaker plays the father, Cecil Gaines (loosely based on Eugene Allen). There is a great deal of the real character's life in the film but the changes help make the film broader. Whitaker is one of those actors you can say is always good. He just is, even in movies that are not, Whitaker has shone. Here he plays his character with understatement that makes the occasional explosion of anger or grief all the more powerful.
The film is full of cameos. Various well-known actors portray, in bit parts, some of which are only one scene, famous Americans--from Presidents to First Ladies to civil rights leaders to regular folks. Most of these work and those that do not are not particularly glaring. Many will find Winfrey's presence distracting. She is OPRAH. We all know her and it is hard to get past that. Yet she delivers a solid performance (she really should act more). There is some padding of her character that is, perhaps, a little irrelevant to the plot of the film but it isn't overdone and never brings the film to a grinding halt.
This is an entertaining film. It may not be an easy film to watch in all parts but has a humanity to it. It is, in parts, funny even. The characters are alive and real. You care about what happens to them. Some of the most heart wrenching events, events that seem "Hollywood-created" are actually from the life of Allen.
We know the basic story here, or it is to be hoped we do. But with recent events that divide the USA along racial lines? It is always a good thing to be reminded of the bad old days, days when things WERE worse. This doesn't mean things are perfect and racism is gone now. It shows us that, even when attitudes among the majority ranged from poisonous to indifferent, change was possible. How much easier SHOULD it be to move forward now? That is hopefully part of what people will take away from this film.
Kickass 2 is not unwatchable but there is something, a thread of "not right-ness" that permeates the movie. In fact it isn't just ONE thread but several.
The first of these is the juxtaposition of horrific violence in a movie where most of the violence is cartoon-like. There are two brutal murders (one that is like something from The Sopranos but with silly costumes and another that seems like something off of Oz or Breaking Bad) that are mixed with half-hearted attempts at humor that fall dreadfully flat.
It isn't that you cannot make jokes about horrific things but those jokes damned well better be funny. There is even a scene where a rape is about to take place that turns into a penis joke. Not funny.
Can you tell jokes about rapes that are funny? No, you cannot. But you can allude to the subject. Check out the scene in This Is The End that does it. The joke isn't ABOUT rape but about the attitudes of the characters, showing their mindsets and, to a degree, their hypocrisy. Remember how the film Something About Mary used a mentally handicapped character to set up jokes? Remember how that worked? Because we were laughing with him and not at him, because the jokes were funny and because the jokes were at the expense NOT of the handicapped character but of those around him.
That is probably the crux of the matter with why this movie just doesn't work--most of the jokes are obvious, most of the deaths are obvious and telegraphed and there is a pointless side-plot that seem designed to include ONE gag. That gag? A vomit and poop gag.
Do not get me wrong. I am not high brow. To quote the sage wisdom of the Frank Reynolds character from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia; "Poop is funny." But it isn't ALWAYS funny.
Then there is the violence. The one thing I walked out of this movie thinking was that Jim Carrey's denunciation of the film's violence was the result of three possible things 1) an attempt to promote the film (OH this is SO violent...don't see it! wink wink) 2) Jim Carrey does not see very many movies or 3) Jim Carrey is an idiot.
The film, comparatively, is just not that violent. There are more violent basic cable television shows. I have seen a dozen films in the past year that are more violent than this. And the violence is generally the best part of this movie.
There are some pretty decent action sequences in the film, although the "final confrontation" seems more than a little flat.
All the actors in this movie acquit themselves pretty well--with a few exceptions. They are handed pretty mundane lines to deliver and the spit them out like pros.
But WHY, in the name of all that is holy, in an action film that glories in violence and mayhem, a film about vigilantes who dress up like super heroes, do you include a long aside that seems like something out of a teen high school TV series? This who portion of the movie is yawn inducing and could have been handled in a tiny fraction of the time (and as noted before the "payoff" is a poop and vomit joke).
Kickass 2 isn't all bad. There is some decent action. There are a few jokes and gags that sort of work. The actors elevate the rather dubious material and with a few, previously noted exceptions the film moves along fairly well. It just falls short across the board.