Thursday, December 29, 2011
Writer/director Matthew Chapman hasn't made a film in nearly 20 years, but he was so passionate about this script that he new it had to be made. He wrote the script for "The Ledge" with the specific cast in mind and it took a couple years to get Terrence Howard, Patrick Wilson and Liv Tyler to all be available at the same time. The film is an exploration of the psyche under duress and at the same time is a beautiful love story and a tense compelling thriller.
The story begins with a lot of foreshadowing as Gavin’s (Charlie Hunnam) and Shana (Liv Tyler) share a bus to work. At work Gavin has a flirtatious conversation with a co-worker about if an object that is sacred to you can give you an emotional attachment and if a religious experience can transform the object into something sacred. It is the objectification of Shana by her husband Joe (Patrick Wilson) that builds the tension in the film and draws out the emotion.
The film plays on multiple levels of religious faith and agnostic belief with Joe and Gavin taking the polar opposite views and even having an philosophical debate during the film. Gavin believes that once you realize the life is finite you don’t want to waste a moment of it. Joes believes that he is able to be totally without fear and has the courage to die for his beliefs because he believes that he knows where he is going after death. Gavin might possibly have the most faith in the face of human nature as he is willing to give up his life for that faith. He shows that it is possible to be good without having any faith through the simple rule of “do undo others as you would want done upon you”.
Patrick Wilson was good in "Insidious", wasn't at his best with "Young Adult", but showed his range with his performance in "The Ledge". When he says "if I say I'm gonna do something, you better believe I will" just sends chills down your back.
The film asks the question what would you do in this extreme situation. Would you have the faith to take a life for the one you love, sacrifice another life for your own, and ultimately forgiveness of those that you love. With such a heavy hand being used with religion the film can be difficult for some. However, the performances in the film stand above the themes and carry it to a 3 Quack rating.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
"The Tree of Life" is a visually impressive film from writer/director Terrance Malick that uses amazing artistic imagery. With over 40 years of experience in film making, the vision of Terrance Malick took years to complete and worked with his friend Douglas Trumbull to deliver on the visual effects in creative forms that is a departure from modern film making. The story is secondary to the visual effects, which is unfortunate when you have a cast that includes Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. The film is more of a concept, or an idea, about faith and asks the question about the meaning of life.
The film requires a tremendous amount of patience for the first hour of the film, but then begins to soften as the story begins to be told. Once you get past the creation of the Universe, the dinosaurs, and a meteor the story about life, death and how you treat the ones around you becomes the heart of the film. Much of the film is presented as a snapshot, or family video, with voice over. However it is this dialogue that is so deeply powerful in telling the story of a man that all he ever wanted for his children was to make them strong and grow up to be their own boss and to be better than their father. He is a very authoritative father figure demanding the best from his children. upon the death of one of the children their faith begins to show doubts.
The approach to parenting is vastly different between the authoritative Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) and his wife Mrs. O'Brien (Jessica Chastain) who was sensitive and compassionate. Mr. O'Brien tells his children that their mother is naive, and that it takes fierce will to get ahead in the world. The limited dialogue in the film highlight the moments of parental advice from the parents to their children. It can almost be taken as an exposition from Terrance Malick to remind the audience not to let anyone tell you there is anything you can't do. Not to let yourself get sidetracked and that if you want to succeed you can't be too good. All of this can be seen simply with the undertaking of such a film. The film reminds you that the only way to be happy is to love, and without love your life will flash by.
The performances in the film are extremely delicate as the writing is sparse and much of the performances are through voice-over, but show the skill and ability specifically from Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt. Jessica Chastain has been a very busy woman ("The Help", "Take Shelter", "Coriolanus" and "The Debt") and continues to show that she is one of the best actresses of her generation. Brad Pitt does well with what he has to work with, but if you want to see and hear Brad Pitt you would be better served to see "Moneyball".
I didn't quite understand the ending with them walking on the beach with the old Jack (Sean Penn) seeing his family 30+ years younger including his brother who past away. As well as the images of a mask floating in the water, or a door opening into the water, or the door of the house opening to a dry desert. These are just examples of the artistic style that Terrance Malick forces upon the film. The fragmented and non-linear approach can be difficult when compounded by the artistic style of a film that runs over 2 1/2 hours. However with patience the "Tree of Life" is still a 3 Quack film.
"Barney's Version" is another helping from novelist Mordecai Richler and directed by Richard Lewis about an imperfect person that had the perfect life with one problem, he was a miserable and ungrateful prick that needed to stop feeling sorry for himself to realize it. This is easily the best film from Richard Lewis as his previous work was mostly on TV.
The film is an autobiography of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) recounting his life from his perspective. While he is an imperfect person, the people around him don't always help him be happy until he finally meets the mother of his children, Miriam (Rosamund Pike). However, before he can be happy he must go through the pains of two previous marriages to Clara Charnofsky (Rachelle Lefevre) and the 2nd Mrs. Panofsky (Minnie Driver) who each have unique problems for Barney to deal with. His friends don't exactly help him with his happiness either, but his father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) provides amazing paternal wisdom about marriage.
They mystery of the film is the disappearance of Barney's best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) that lead to the divorce between Barney and his 2nd wife. Though there is no body, police suspect murder, and Barney himself is tried but acquitted of murder.
The film doesn't focus on the trial, but rather has Barney moving to New York to start a relationship with Miriam and start the family that he dreamed about and finally find happiness. The film disguises itself as a romantic story, but is an honest depiction of the effects of Alzheimer's Disease and the impact on the loved ones around them.
Paul Giamatti is perfectly annoying and inappropriate as Barney, but equally charming and endearing reminiscent of his performance in "Sideways" (2004). The performance is difficult as it spans more than 30 years of Barney's life. This can be difficult to accomplish for some actors, but Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman and Rosamund Pike are the perfect canvas for the make-up artists. Other films take an approach of putting glasses, facial hair or simply fattening up the actor to show the passing of time. However, the superb character acting combined with the make-up artists vision contribute to a very believable.
The book written by Mordecai Richler was also the inspiration for a song written by Craig Cardiff that is about forgetting.
The film never received the attention it deserved in the theaters and was only nominated for the Academy Award for makeup. While the makeup is impressive the performances are much more deserving and worthy of being viewed by all. Paul Giamatti deserved a nomination for Best Actor for this performance and continues to be one of the must under-rated leading men. This is a legitimate 5 Quack film that everyone should add to the top of their list.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
With all the holiday films this year, for some reason I found myself enjoying Zombieland the most and figured why not write a review for it. Ruben Fleischer is the director who has since also directed "30 Minutes or Less".
If you don't already know the story, the planet has been taken over by flesh eating zombies. Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) first meets Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee) then the two of them are conned by Emma Stone (Wichita) and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock). Beyond that there isn't much you need to know.
The best thing about Z'land is no more flushing, free parking, and no need to update your facebook status. Beyond the list of rules that Columbus has the next best moments of the film revolve around Tallahassee's search for the golden delicious Twinkies.
The film might have one of the best cameo performances from Bill Murray. Between you, me, and What About Bob this is a 4 Quack film, but based on my rating scale that doesn't mean much. So go find the movie on TV or pick up the DVD if you haven't already seen it. It is insanely re-watchable and if you are having a party is fun to have in the background.
Miranda July received attention for her debut as a writer/director with "Me and You and Everyone We Know" (2005), which received multiple awards at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, among others. Her sophomore attempt is "The Future", which can be described in nearly every opposite way that her debut was described. Where "Me and You" was delicate, "The Future" is abrasive; and where "Me and You" was tender, "The Future" insensitive. Miranda July is poetic and daring in how she desperately attempts to find ways for her outcast characters to find happiness. With "Me and You" she had John Hawkes, but there isn't a performance equal to his that can carry this film.
"The Future" is narrated by a cat Paw-Paw, who is waiting to be adopted and is adorably naive and wise. Paw-Paw hopes to be adopted by Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who are a couple that are going through the motions. They originally believe he will only survive another six months, but the vet informs them he could be around as long as five more years. With a month left until they can complete the adoption process, Sophie and Jason figure they must say good-bye to their freedom. At 35, they conclude that they'll be 40 in five years, which is the new 50. "Everything after that is just borrowed time," Jason says. Determined to make the most of the next thirty days, Sophie and Jason temporarily cut off their Internet, quit their boring jobs and set about to do something that means something. It is during the month of exploration that Sophie seeks the companionship of an older divorced dad Marshall (David Warshofsky) and Jason meets lonely elderly widow Joe (Joe Putterlik), a man who was joyously married to his wife sixty-four years prior to her passing. These new relationship help Sophie and Jason to better understand themselves and what happiness means to them.
The performances are extremely indie and difficult to connect with. Jason is easier to connect to emotionally than the socially removed Sophie character, but together their awkwardness is attractive. How they play off each other is like a relationship that has really been built over the years. I could watch the scene of their special abilities over again and loved how they brought that back into the story in the second half of the film.
Ultimately, this isn't a film that you should run out and find. But if you are like me and see a lot of films and at times run out of films to watch, this is a DVD worth picking up. As an indie film, I doubt it will ever be picked up for TV, so you will need to put a little effort into finding it. For me it was found through Redbox and Netflix. But with only 2 Quacks that is about enough effort for both of us.
"Margin Call" comes from first time writer/director JC Chandor who grew up close to the investment banking profession, but from an outsiders view as his father worked for Merrill Lynch for 30 years. This unique perspective provides a human quality to the financial crisis of 2008. The ensemble cast contributes well to the first time writer/director to deliver this amazing film.
The story centers on a 24-hour time period at a nameless Investment Bank that is responding to the slowing economy through a series of layoffs, and as a result have discovered that they are too leveraged in high risk investments that have exposed them beyond their market capitalization limits. What works well with "Margin Call" is that it doesn't try to explain the technical causes of the financial crisis, but instead demonstrates that it is the lack of understanding by the executives along with their greed that were the catalyst to the failures. By keeping this a human story, the film is very accessible to the audience.
The ensemble cast is brilliant starting with Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) and Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) who are the lone surviving members of the risk management division of the firm after the dismissal of Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) who has discovered the leverage issue in his absence the research is picked up by Peter Sullivan. The film doesn't explain why Eric Dale was terminated, but it could be indicative that the firm is unable to properly identify its own risk and terminates the one responsible for managing the level of risk. However, it is the greed of the executives that created the high risk investment packages that exposed the firm. At the top of the firm is John Told (Jeremy Irons) who instructs Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) to make the difficult decision to sell-off the investments at a loss. Supporting this decision is Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) and Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore).
During the 24-hour period the life of those involved is uniquely isolated inside the building and from the rooftop looking down on the city. The effect is to show that the life of the investment bankers is severed from the outside world and that they have no real connection with normal people. The live in a world were everyone makes six-figure salaries and enjoys fancy cars, meals and entertainment.
The performances from all except for Simon Baker and Demi Moore were terrific. The scenes with Baker and Moore seemed more like an executive management film on office conversations and comes across as flat. Zachary Quinto again demonstrates that he has leading man potential and not just a pretty face as he was in "What's Your Number". Quinto is complemented by top performances from Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, and Jeremy Irons. Kevin Spacey provided a unique perspective to the film when compared to his performance in "Horrible Bosses" as he is a respected manager that I would enjoy working for in "Margin Call". Paul Bettany emerges from the film unscathed by the terrible film "Priest" and shows that he is still an actor to pay attention to.
This film comes highly recommended and should be remembered much in the same way that "Wall Street" (1987) and "Boiler Room" (2000) have been. It steps away from "Too Big To Fail" from earlier this year, which celebrated the political side of the financial crisis and took away from any human perspective. Those educated in finance and investments can criticize some of the details in the film, but for the general public this is a 4 Quack film that has amazing performances.
Kevin Smith steps way out of his comfort zone of indie comedies and the expectation of many of the fans of Silent Bob, with the thriller "Red State". It is his appreciation for the honest and pure film making process that is at the heart of this film. Independently financed, Kevin Smith refused to answer to any preset Hollywood ideals. "Red State" is reminiscent of the Grindhouse films from Quentin Tarintino, Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie. These writer/directors have become masters of the indie horror/thriller in recent years and have inspired a new generation of indie film makers along with Kevin Smith.
The film begins innocently in any Middle American town, and quickly becomes complicated by a protest at a church by extreme fundamentalists. The first half of the film focuses on three high school boys, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), who think they found a woman, Sara (Melissa Leo), on the Internet willing to have sex with them. Kevin Smith interjects with his witty writing that "craigslist is for people who want to get fucked". What the teenage boys don't realize is that it's all a setup by the extreme fundamentalists who lure sinners to their compound. The fundamentalist beliefs are preached by the patriarch Abin (Michael Parks) and in the second half of the film is confronted by government agents led by Joseph Kennan (John Goodman) and Harry (Kevin Alejandro).
However, when a standoff-turned-shootout begins, and the government decides that it doesn't want to make the dispute a public, the confrontation becomes a moral choice for those involved.
The performances from Michael Parks and John Goodman stand above all others. Michael Parks brings the fire and brimstone to his style of preaching that make him so quickly despised. His performance is chilling and is equaled in every way by John Goodman. This is one of the best performances Goodman has had in years and continues to show that he is having a great year on screen combined with "the Artist".
Kevin Smith doesn't take a delicate approach to his exposition on understanding the views of extreme fundamentalists. The words of the sermon are counterbalanced by the teacher in the classroom and a difficult phone call that Agent Kennan must have with his superiors. Specifically with the phone conversations, the dialogue is difficult to follow as it is a one-sided conversation that doesn't present well on screen.
While this isn't the best film for Kevin Smith, it is certainly a refreshing step in a new direction. He has said he is retiring, but hopefully this won't be true and he can continue as one of the best indie film makers. The film has its flaws, but is still worth seeing and receives 3 Quacks.
Monday, December 26, 2011
The Sara Gruen best selling novel, "Water for Elephants", is remembered as being a beautifully written book with a great ending. Richard LaGravenese adapted the screenplay using his experience with romantic dramas. The dialogue provided by Richard LaGravenese adheres very much to the spirit of the book. The vision comes from Francis Lawrence, director, whose previous work was with music videos before the visually brilliant "Constantine" (2005) and "I am Legend" (2007). Francis Lawrence demonstrates tremendous attention to detail without the reliance on CGI or profanity.
"Water for Elephants" is set during the American depression, and centers around Jacob (Robert Pattinson), who finds himself working for a circus after he is unexpectedly orphaned. The story alternates between Jacob’s life in the circus, and Jacob as an old man (Hal Holbrook), recanting the story. Jacob joins the circus as the vet, working for the Benzini Brothers traveling circus ring leader, August (Christoph Waltz), who views the circus and its pieces as his "things" and demonstrates extremely violent tendencies towards his "things", including his beautiful and quiet wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). August is very possessive of Marlena and becomes suspicious of Jacob who finds himself falling in love with her.
The film is very similar to "Titanic" (1997) in the forbidden romantic relationship between Marlena and Jacob. The introduction to the film seems hard to believe as Jacob is only one exam away from his degree, but finds it necessary to run away. It becomes almost convenient in how Jacob sets-off on his journey, but it does come full circle with him "coming home" to the circus rather than him "running away". The performances from Christoph Waltz, Reese Witherspoon, and Robert Pattinson are well done. Christoph Waltz and Robert Pattinson play off each other in an interesting way, with the powerful performance from Waltz countering against the emotionally passive Pattinson. Of the three stars, Reese Witherspoon is surprisingly the least inspiring. The character of Marlena could have been given more complexity, but in the 1930s the subservient woman is to be expected. The rest of the human cast perform well, but are not memorable.
The animals are the most impressive performers in the film including the elephant Rosie and Queennie the Jack Russell terrier who also stole the show in "the Artist". The animal cruelty is difficult to watch, but to properly depict the culture of the traveling circus it is necessary.
While many will only see this film for the movie connection and others will view it for the teen sensation Robert Pattinson, it is the cinematography and performance from Christoph Waltz that makes this film worthy of viewing. Christoph Waltz outshines the beautiful Reese Witherspoon and heart throb Robert Pattinson, and combined with the cinematography contributes to the 4 Quacks rating.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The challenge of making a silent film is competing with the talking films of today. Michel Hazanavicius set out to prove to the modern movie audience that you don't need a voice to communicate a story. "The Artist" demonstrates this skill beautifully through its tongue-in-cheek moments as well as the simplicity and clever story. This is surprisingly the second film of the year to incorporate the themes of silent film. The film asks the question of how does one make the transition from a silent film to a talkie?
The film starts in 1927 Hollywoodland, as silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) refuses to believe that his star will fade with his fans for the favor of talking pictures. The story continues through the first "talkie" films that featured Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a young dancer set for a big break, whom he discovered; and the financial crisis of 1929 forcing George Valentin to his own depression. Peppy Miller is a rising star that takes on the diva role who in public slams the old silent film stars for mugging infront of the camera, but privately shows compassion for her friend and role model.
Taking in every visual cue offered by Michel Hazanavicius is important to the full appreciation of the film. Background set props remind the crew and the audience to "Please be silent". The movie titles that George Valentin and Peppy Miller are involved with provide foreshadow to their relationship with Peppy being his "Guardian Angel".
Jean Dujardin delivers a captivating and wonderful performance in every way. Whether it is his simple mugging for the camera or the classic features displaying each emotion. Complimenting this performance is the equally stunning Bérénice Bejo. Supporting performances from more familiar actors in the US were fun to watch as the audience might be more familiar with their voice only to have it muted by the silent film theme. John Goodman delivers an intense performance; contrasted by the stoic James Cromwell as the long time friend and confident to George Valentin. The scene stealer throughout the film is the four-legged star Uggie, a Jack Russell that could be a serious contender for a best dog nomination along with Cosmo from "Beginners".
"The Artist" is a unique film that stands out from the rest of the films during the year that included remakes, reboots, 3D, CGI, etc. The soundtrack of the film provides the necessary tone to the silent film. If you want to enjoy a film in its true art form this is the perfect example of what cinematic art can accomplish. With the performances of Dujardin and Bejo combined with the scoring provided by Ludovic Bource the film is a every bit a 5 Quack film.
Monday, December 19, 2011
One of the most anticipated films of 2011 is finally making it to the theaters. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is based on the first of Stieg Larssons three best-selling novels, and the largely successful Swedish film trilogy. All of this attention should lead everyone to think that this will be a blockbuster hit in the US. There are going to be two groups of people that will be drawn to this film. First, you have the fans of the bestselling novels written by Stieg Larssons or the Swedish films. Secondly, there will be those going into the film completely blind.
The US version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" begins with a heavily influenced Trent Reznor introduction that looks more like a NIN video than a movie intro. The opening credits sequence of metallic objects melding into a human form doesn't seem to have any connection with the rest of the film. The song being played during this introduction is a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" performed by Karen O, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. The song was good and gets the audience excited for the film, but then reverts the tempo of the film back to the investigative procedural story.
At the start of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) loses a legal case involving allegations about Hans-Erik Wennerström (Ulf Friberg). Blomkvist is offered a freelance assignment by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to solve the case of his niece who has been missing for over 40 years and presumed dead. During this time, Blomkvist meets and begins to work with rebellious computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Together they uncover dark secrets about Vanger's family and develop a relationship.
The performances in the US version were good for the most part, but the inconsistent accents are like fingernails on a chalkboard. Daniel Craig is more of an action star lately with performances in the James Bond series and less of the everyday average guy that Michael Nyqvist provided in the Swedish version. Rooney Mara comes across as too sweet and innocent even though her character is supposed to have this rough edge to her that you don't want to cross. Noomi Rapace was able to instill fear in her character through her facial expression and eyes, but by the end of the US version the character is like a pouting child. Together, Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara do not share sexual chemistry or even a hint of attraction for one another before they're stripping nude for each other. This relationship as well as the sexual assault from the despicable Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen), feels excessive and exploitative.
However, the performances from Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgård are vastly improved upon and makes for the compassionate figure that Henrik Vanger should be and the feared image of a psychopath that Martin Vanger will be remembered for. Stellan Skarsgård will make you forget about his performance from "Thor" and should be ranked highly as one of the most loathing villains of the year. Christopher Plummer delivers yet again one of the more impressive performances of the year complimenting what he did with "Beginners".
Checking in at 158 minutes (6 minutes longer than the Swedish version), the new version allowed for David Fencher to incorporate some aspects to the story that were missed in the original film. For example, Mikael Blomkvist's daughter is the catalyst that helps solve the mystery and how the mystery is wrapped up is different between the films. However, with the longer run-time there is no clear explanation of the purpose that the flower provided as a gift from Harriet to Henrik. There is also no involvement of Lisbeth's hacker friends and her identify as Wasp, which helps set-up the later parts of the series is muted.
No adaptation of a film to the book is ever perfect. When a Swedish film came out a couple years ago it makes one wonder what the purpose of the US version really is. The problem is that the majority doesn't enjoy foreign flicks with their subtitles. So ultimately the US version becomes necessary. David Fencher provides a visually amazing film and the score from Trent Reznor is one of the best this year. The film is absolutely worth seeing, but if you miss the opening credits don't feel bad. This is certainly a 4 Quack film and will be one of the best films of the holiday season.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
"Les Aventures de Tintin" is a series of Belgian comic books created by Hergé. The clean, innocent and expressive drawings of Hergé caught the attention of director Steven Spielberg who worked with what might seem as an awkward writing team. Joe Cornish (Attack the Block); Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgram vs the World); and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) don't sound like a natural combination, but together their mutual interest in the Belgian comic shines and is brought to life visually in stunning CGI. "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" was originally written in the 1940s and references to previous stories make appearances throughout the film.
The hero of the series is Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young Belgian reporter who is assisted in his adventures by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy. One day, he comes across a model ship of the Unicorn that he buys. He is confronted by Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who shows interest in the same model ship and peaks the curiosity of Tintin. The mystery and adventure is afoot as Tintin meets the brash and cynical Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).
A complimenting side story follows the bumbling and incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) as they are in search of a master pick pocket (Toby Jones). Just enough of the side story is included to provide comic relief and even finds an interesting way to bring the two stories together to help conclude the mystery.
The visual element of the film through the 3D special effects and creative ways to changes scenes will hold your interest from the shadowy beginning chase scene to the final reveal. Steven Spielberg used his imagination in shifting scenes from shaking hands to a desert scene by using the outline of the two hands into the surface of the desert. The attention to detail didn't stop visually as Steven Spielberg also called upon his friend John Williams to score the film, which provides perfect plot points that build the mystery and comic timing. John Williams has been nominated over 30 times for an Academy Award and this could be another year for him to make an appearance.
As the movie concludes, and the story is set for a sequel, a smile will come across your face and you will see why I am going to give this film 4 Quacks. The popularity of the comics from the last generation will now have a warm spot for a new generation and will continue for years to come. This is a perfect family holiday film.
In a semi-autobiographical film, writer/director Mike Mills delivers his best effort with "Beginners" that demonstrates the difficulties in coping with the loss of a parent and trying to start a romantic relationship with a woman dealing with her own issues with her parents. The film builds on the heartfelt moments of life through a series of flashbacks and present day moments. The use of flashbacks have been overused in recent years, but each moment in the film compliments the last and builds up to the final moments in the story.
The cancer story has been a popular one for filmmakers recently, with the attempt to balance between the deeply emotional moments and the lighthearted family memories that provide just enough laughter to keep your eyes from getting wet. The film begins with a monologue from Oliver (Ewan McGregor) "My father was 75 when he told me he was gay; four years later he died in this room." Oliver is still trying to get over the death of his mother when his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) tells him he is gay and has a much younger lover. Hal is beginning a new stage in his life and has a young boyfriend that provides a challenge for Oliver. In the complimenting "beginning moment" Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a French actress, and hopes she will help him through the loss of his father.
While this is a story of a father and son bonding, it is also the story of a son coming to grips and trying to console his father who has cancer while dealing with everything else. All that said, it's not really a depressing movie and is definitely worth watching.
The performances in the film are all superb, but in a twist to the all but familiar cancer patient is Christopher Plummer who plays Hal Fields, the father of Oliver (Ewan McGregor). The twist is that after his wife passed away he came out as a member of the gay community. Hal Fields is able to hide the pains of his illness to his friends, but the camera doesn't allow him to shy away from the difficulties during private moments. However, the scene stealer comes from an unconventional actor in the film; Arthur the dog that is a Jack Russell terrier that Oliver reminds is very cute to humans, and that people love them so much that they often put them in TV shows and movies. Oliver tells Arthur that if they are going to live together he is going to have to learn to talk, which is just ridiculous. However, Mike Mills gets creative by providing subtitles to the dialogue of Arthur.
Mike Mills deserves a nomination for the screenplay and Christopher Plummer deserves a best supporting actor nomination for how well he portrayed a stage four cancer patient that is enjoying life. Films like this usually translate well and "Beginners" is no different. Easily a 4 Quack film that I encourage everyone to find on DVD.
This DVD sat on my coffee table for six months because I just couldn't motivate myself to watch a subtitled film even though I normally enjoy foreign films. So with an open weekend I dropped it into the blu-ray player and enjoyed every moment of "Biutiful". The writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu deserved all of the award nominations the film received in 2010, which included the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and a Best Actor nomination for Javier Bardem.
Set in Barcelona, the film focuses on Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a man who is dealing with a recent diagnoses of terminal cancer, a troubled relationship with his abusive/depressed ex-wife, his ties to local criminal activities and through all of it he shows the strength and love for his children Mateo (Guillermo Estrella) and Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib). Everything Uxbal is doing is with the best interest of his children in mind so that they don't have to live the life that he has. He wants a better life for them and recognizes that through his friend Ige (Diaryatou Daff) that he can do right in helping a friend and protecting his children. Even though it isn't quite this simple, you (the audience) have to have that hope in the end and that part of the journey is that you want the kids to end up with Ige even though she is a stranger.
This is still a very long film that could have been helped by a little more editing and a shorter script. Some have applauded Inarritu for what is considered a simpler script. However, the crime involvement shows that Uxbal is willing to do whatever it takes to provide a better life for his children and helps contribute to show the compassion that he has, but those could have been accomplished in other ways. If you can have the patience to sit through the 148 minutes you will be rewarded with an amazing performance from Javier Bardem.
The film is visually beautiful and the performances are well done, which help one to look past the longer run time. "Biutiful" falls just short and finishes as a 4 Quack film.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is the first novel of the Karla Trilogy, the second and third novels being "The Honourable Schoolboy" (1977) and "Smiley's People" (1979). "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" was a TV miniseries in 1979 receiving praise for Alex Guinness where he followed his performance with "Smiley's People" in 1982. Other film adaptations of the George Smiley character came in "the Spy Who Came in From the Cold" (1965) and "Murder of Quality" (1991). John le Carré is the master mind behind these spy novels and adaptations with the latest vision being provided by director Tomas Alfredson.
The story can be difficult to absorb as there is a lot of information hitting the audience quickly. Much of the background story is told through the use of flashbacks while the main story centers on code names, deception, and the investigation techniques of George Smiley (Gary Oldman). Smiley has been forced into retirement by the departure of the Chief of the Circus (British Secret Intelligence Service), Control (John Hurt), but is asked to investigate a story told to him by a rogue agent, Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy), that there is a mole in the Circus. Smiley considers that the failure of a recent mission and the continuing success of Operation Witchcraft (an apparent source of significant Soviet intelligence) confirms this, and takes up the task of finding the mole. Through the efforts of Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley obtains information that eventually leads him to identifying the mole.
The mole is believed to be a senior intelligence officer of the Circus, so code names are used to protect those spying on the spies. The mole suspects are allocated code names by "Control" based on the nursery rhyme "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor; rich man, poor man, beggarman thief". "Tinker" for Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), "Tailor" for Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), "Soldier" for Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), "Sailor" and "Rich Man" are skipped as the former sounds too similar to "Tailor" and the latter seemed inappropriate, "Poor Man" for Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and "Beggarman" for George Smiley. The investigation looks into each of the suspected moles, with the exception of Roy Bland, which confuses me.
Taking on this film was not an easy task for Tomas Alfredson, but with a superstar casting job the task was accomplished. The performances are all amazing from the methodical Gary Oldman to the intense rising star of Tom Hardy. However, a couple performances stand out from the group. Benedict Cumberbatch carries himself so well in the film not being intimidated by the experienced actors around him and his character even pops off on Percy Alleline, which felt so perfect in the moment. Mark Strong as the mysterious Jim Prideaux sends chills up your spine when he talks reminiscent of him from "Green Lantern". Finally there was the performance from Colin Firth as the depraved bisexual. His ability to act with such grace and delicate prose makes him one of my favorites. The character reminds me of his performance in "A Single Man" (2009) that is a must see film.
I am afraid the Cold War themes just don't resonate with modern film and the runtime of over two hours is difficult considering the slow and methodic pace that the film takes. I wanted to like this film more, and while the acting delivers extremely well the overall film lacks for the big screen. The miniseries format was much better applied to capture the vast knowledge necessary to uncover the mole. The film is absolutely worth seeing, but be wary that it might require a second viewing to fully absorb the mystery. Ultimately this is still a 4 Quack film, and I will be making a return viewing to fill in any of the gaps that I missed the first time.
Monday, December 12, 2011
"Ben's Zoo" was the subject of a BBC four part documentary in 2007 and is now making it to the big screen with "We Bought a Zoo" under the direction of Cameron Crowe who has been quiet since 2005. The story centers on Benjamin Mee and the 30-acre Dartmoor Zoological Park located in a small South West village of England. For the film adaptation the story shifts to the rolling hills north of Los Angeles in Thousand Oaks, California.
Recently widowed Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) is struggling with being a single parent and seeks an adventure with his children Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Dylan fills the stereotype of the child that is desperately looking for attention to cope with the loss of his mother. So they leave the city and against the advice of his older brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church) buy a zoo that is being run by Kelly (Scarlett Johannson). As the film progresses the relationship between Benjamin and Dylan solidifies through the symbolic nature of the zoo; and through a positive messages that flows throughout the film that if you give just 20 seconds of insane courage that something great will come from it. The performances from Maggie Elizabeth Jones and Thomas Hayden Church were well done providing just enough cuteness and comic humor to keep the movie uplifting.
There is a couple interesting casting choices for the employees of the zoo. Elle Fanning as the sister of Kelly and the love interest of Dylan seemed a bit forced and never works on an emotional level. She seemed more natural in "the Case". Perhaps it is just young actors trying to play more mature roles that come across as awkward on screen. However, Patrick Fugit who previously worked with Cameron Crowe on "Almost Famous" provided a surprisingly solid performance in a relatively small role.
The film is perfect for kids with the exception of its run time of just over two hours. There were a couple children in the screening and they were getting fidgety towards the end of the film, so that might be my biggest criticism of the film. It is your typical holiday film and with a couple jokes for the mature audience it is a quality family film. While this isn't the type of film that I usually see, it is still a 3 Quack film. So get the 20 seconds of courage it takes to buy your movie ticket for the holiday.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
My first thoughts on "The Sitter" was that this would just be a guys version of "Adventures in Babysitting" (1987), and that gut feeling is pretty accurate. If you mix in a little "Get Him to the Greek", then you pretty accurately described the film. At least, director David Gordon Green, has redeemed himself from the disaster that was "Your Highness" earlier this year, but not close to what he has done with "Eastbound and Down" or "Pineapple Express" (2008). The promotional movie poster includes the personal phone number of Jonah Hill. It is listed as (917) 409-7838 and if you call it you will hear a message about how fucked up it is to take children on drug deals.
The film is about Noah (Jonah Hill) who is a self proclaimed loser that gets talked into babysitting so that his mother (Jessica Hecht) can go on a much deserved date. Even though he would rather watch James Franco on General Hospital, or how they perfected the pancake (sorry WaffleBot), he begrudgingly takes on the babysitting responsibility. That is until his "girlfriend" (Ari Graynor) tells him that they will finally have sex and he for some reason decides to pile the kids into a minivan and go for an adventure. Of course drug use, police, and explosions take place; but there are a few lighter moments where Noah is able to provide guidance to the children to help them be better people. The children break every stereotype, which in a way is actually refreshing to see as there is Slater (Max Records) who is as queer as a football bat; Blithe (Landry Bender) who is a future JonBenét Ramsey; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) who is the future Unabomber.
Of course any film involving Jonah Hill requires a certain amount of improvisation and his signature is all over the place. Whether it is his inability to buy underwear, or his jive talking the thugs to get out of a jam, he delivers the comedy. Jonah Hill was much better in "Moneyball", but that is an entirely different genre for him. Not to be missed is the performance from Sam Rockwell as the drug kingpin that is over the top and provides some of the best lines in the film.
If you are looking for something funny this weekend that is the opposite of the other films competing for the latest Oscar buzz, then this film might be perfect. Stick around for the credits as there are some additional items that will make you laugh. Given the time of year this is a decent 3 Quack film. So go make love to the night and let me know what you think.
Monday, December 5, 2011
"New Year's Eve" comes from the same writing and directing tandem of Garry Marshall and Katherine Fugate who also brought us the film "Valentine's Day" (2010). The style of telling the story has been done so often the last several years that it almost is nauseating seeing it done again. The film is a simple dramatic rom-com that applies multiple stories and clichés allowing for a failed story to be overshadowed by another and allowing for a wider specter of fans to find something to relate to.
There are more celebrities in this film than in rehab. When you have this many stars and overlapping stories, it leaves less time for character development. The performances in the film are all over the place. Some of the younger actors struggled to deliver anything worth watching, but some of the veterans that have developed a sense of comic timing were able to shine and make the film almost bearable. There are a few good one-liners here and there, but nothing really worth remembering. The stories follow the clichés that you can expect including the lost love, the first kiss, the resolutions, the first new born, family and traditions. None of the stories really connected, but there was an attempt at having a common message that everyone deserves another chance.
The only performances in the film that stood out for me were from Jessica Biel/Seth Meyers as a married couple expecting their first child and competing against Sarah Paulson/Til Schweiger to be the first new born baby of the year. It seemed as if there was more improv used and less script, which allowed for it to flow better and feel less forced like other stories seemed to be doing. The only other performance worth mentioning was from Robert DeNiro as a patient with one last wish to see the New York City New Years ball drop. How he connects to some of the other stories is interesting and one of the few redeaming aspects in the film.
If you want to see more performances from this group then you can find Sarah Paulson in "Martha, Marcy May, Marlene", Til Schweiger in "Three Musketeers" and Robert DeNiro in "Limitless".
The film is entertaining, but there are so many better films out there that you could enjoy. If you want to see a romantic comedy there have been some decent ones during the year, so why not go to Redbox or Netflix; grab a bottle of wine, chocolate and some Chinese take-out; and snuggle up on the couch with someone under a blanket and enjoy the privacy. But don't take my word for it; I am more of a Labor Day kind of guy. NYE is only a 2 Quack film, but worth a lot more if you go see it in the theater with the right person.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Writer/Director Steve McQueen is a rising star that has an ability to strike the balance between writing a script that can resonate with the most base humanistic feelings, but also represent those feelings visually without being overly stylized. "Shame" fearlessly plumbs the soul-churning depths of sexual addiction with cinematography that is reminiscent of films like "Metropolis" and "Bladerunner". Indie films are often more art than is necessary, but Steve McQueen is able to simplify his vision, which makes for a more powerful and realistic film.
The hype surrounding the film unfortunately focuses on the NC-17 rating and not the difficult topic of sexual addiction that the film addresses. If the film dealt with drug/alcohol addiction or gruesome acts of violence it wouldn't receive an NC-17 rating. Yes, there's nudity. Yes, there are scenes of people fornicating. However, I don't feel that the film celebrates the sex in the film or is in any way gratuitous. How can "Straw Dogs" depict a brutally violent sexual attack and receive an R rating, but willing participation receives an NC-17 rating?
The film centers around Brandon (Michael Fassbender) who is struggling with the pains of sexual addiction, but hides himself with his everyday life to keep his shameful habit of masturbating, internet porn, and sex with prostitutes from being discovered. It's not a question of satisfaction or pleasure; like other addictions, it's about numbing oneself to the world in whatever way works. The addiction has even numbed his awareness of the needs that his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), requires of him. She is deeply depressed and desperately grasping for his attention and the affection of others. One flaw in the story is that you never learn why Brandon and Sissy have the issues they have, but you do understand that the disease impacts others in powerful ways.
When I read the script I was apprehensive of casting Carey Mulligan as Sissy. However, she continues to impress with every film she is involved with including "Drive". With all the rigidness that the film hits on, the soft beauty of Carey Mulligan is refreshing. The performance from Michael Fassbender was better in this film than he was in "X-Men: First Class" and "Jane Eyre" combined, and I thought he did very well with both. He carries himself with confidence yet an ability to breakdown and show the raw emotions of his characters illness.
NC-17 films are not allowed wide advertisement and are often rejected by the major cinema chains like AMC and Regal, so you will have to look for this film at an art house theatre. However, this should be a must see film for anyone that can find it and is a 5 Quack film for me. I would like to see an acting nomination for Michael Fassbender, a supporting actress nomination for Carey Mulligan, and an original screenplay nomination for Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan.