Monday, December 31, 2012

Promised Land

Matt Damon and John Krasinski have written an excellent screenplay for "Promised Land" along with Dave Eggars about the impact that big business has on the future of rural America.  Gus Van Sant has beautifully created the vision of Matt Damon and John Krasinski by reminding the audience that two hours outside of any city looks like Kentucky (where Gus Van Sant is from) and accurately sets the tone that the story being told could happen anywhere in America. 

The story begins with Steve (Matt Damon) refreshes himself with clean water on his face before he returns to a business lunch where he is being considered for a VP promotion within the natural-gas company that he represents.  He and his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) travel to a rural farming community in Pennsylvania to sell the landowners a future that gives them opportunities that they currently cannot afford.  Whether it be an education for their children or the comfort of knowing what financial security really means. 

What seems like an easy job for the Steve and Sue, given that the community has been hit hard by the economic decline in recent years, becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by Dustin (John Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally for the attention of Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) a teacher who returned to the community from the big city after her father passed away so that she could keep the family farm working.

The film tackles the debate about fracking, the controversial drilling technique that has been hailed as an economic boon and reviled as an environmental nightmare.  The film doesn't necessarily portray the controversial drilling technique entirely in a negative way, but instead implores the audience to make a decision for itself.  Both sides of the argument are valid and there isn't a clear right, or wrong, answer.  You can't necessarily say that if you are against fracking that you must be for petroleum, or that if you are farmer that the decision to lease the land is better than the farm subsidies that the government provides for the crops.  Certainly natural gas is a clean energy source to those using it, but the impact on creating it is still not entirely known.  I am not an environmentalist, but I do believe in the individual right to choose and that to properly make the decision requires the appropriate amount of research and information.  Frank Yates, portrayed by Hal Holbrook, is exactly the spirit the movie should inspire.  The information is readily available, and the lure of a quick payday shouldn't be taken lightly. 

I would be shocked if this movie doesn't receive several award nominations.  Among the more likely would be Matt Damon for Best Actor, John Krasinski and Francis McDormand for Best Supporting and a shared Best Screenplay nomination for Matt Damon and John Krasinski.  Gus Van Sant might also deserve some consideration for Best Director of what is easily a Best Film nominee and a 5 Quack film. 


Life of Pi



Being a fan of the book, I was excited to see that Ang Lee was going to direct the film adaptation.  "Life of Pi" is a story of faith that raises complex philosophical and religious questions, while challenging the power of storytelling. 

Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" is a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan as an adult and Suraj Sharma for the majority of the film), the curious son of a zoo keeper. He was born a Hindu and worships Hindu gods, but soon he also embraces Jesus, Mary and Mohammed.  Every week, he worships at the Hindu temple, the Catholic church and the Islamic mosque.  He lives with his family in Pondicherry, India, when his father decides decides to move to Canada, hitching a ride on a huge freighter.  One of the better lines in the film comes as his fathers decision to move the family to Canada saying that it will be like Columbus, to which Pi proclaims that Columbus was looking for India.  Unfortunately, their fate takes a turn for the worse when a horrible storm sinks the boat. 

After the shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.  It is here that the movie really takes off and is visually one of the best for the year.  While Pi is on the lifeboat the animals that he encounters are all created digitally through CGI.  While the story that is told by Pi is extravagant it doesn't go without merit.  The “truth” is that Pi survived for 227 days at sea, married the girl of his dreams, had children, and lived to tell about it. 
 
The film and book ask the audience what do you believe without requiring the reconciliation of the differences between faith interpretations (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam).  Interpretation is subjective but the question is intended to serve as a moment of theological reflection.  Are you a person that prefers to believe in things that always make sense/things that you can see?  Or are you a person that prefers to believe in miracles/take things on faith?  There are no right or wrong answers; just an opportunity for introspection.  I believe that "Life of Pi" is a 5 Quack film and a must read book.  What about you? 


Sunday, December 30, 2012

This is 40

When it comes to the R-rated comedies, there are few better than Judd Appatow in how he writes for the underdog in a way that you really want to pull for them by the end of the film"This is 40" is a look at the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) a few years after the events of "Knocked Up" (2007).

The story starts in the shower as Pete is using a little blue pill to give Debbie a special gift for her 40th birthday but does not want to admit it.  While Pete is also turning 40 around the same time, she refuses to allow any kind of joint birthday party celebration to happen, and still tries to make everyone claim she is 38-years old.  The independent recording label that Pete created in "Knocked Up" is on the verge of bankruptcy and they have missed the mortgage payment on their amazing house because he keeps lending money to his father, Larry (Albert Brooks).  Debbie's business, a clothing boutique, also is having difficulty, because one of her employees (Megan Fox or Charlyne Yi) might be stealing from her.

One glaring omission from the film was that even though the family back story for Debbie was given there was no mention of her sister Alison (Katherine Heigl) from "Knocked Up".  Instead the story introduces John Lithgow as the biological father that Debbie has only seen a couple of times since she was a child.  Additionally, the film is lacking a structure as too frequently it jumps from sequence to sequence just to try for a laugh.  The ultimate conclusion for Pete and Debbie is terrible as they realize that it isn't each other that are causing their unhappiness, but instead everyone else.  It is this shallow revelation combined with the extravagant spending at resorts and catered parties that hurts the film.  I can't help but feel that the film is really just an attempt by Judd Appatow and Leslie Mann to put their children (Maude and Iris) in a movie. 

After reading this review I ask that all of you stop looking at me with those slow blinking eyes.  I know what you are thinking and while this isn't the best film, but it is still entertaining even with its absent minded plot.  The result is a generous 3 Quacks, but I encourage people to look for the DVD in a couple months as I am sure the deleted scenes will be worth the wait. 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Hobbit

On the heels of the success of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is the first part of "The Hobbit" from Peter Jackson.  While "the Lord of the Rings" was a natural trilogy sourced from three books written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the decision to turn the singular book for "The Hobbit" into three movies is somewhat of a mystery.  The epic nature of the story and the vast vision of Peter Jackson certainly lends itself to expanding the story, but where "The Lord of the Rings" succeeded in telling a story and featured individual performances that stood on their own "The Hobbit" is muddled without a true lead and instead thirteen dwarfs. 

I tend to believe that popular books and movie franchises have two types of fans.  There are the people that read the books and want to see how the film is adapted for the screen; and then there are the people who are fans of the movies who haven't read the books.  I fall in the latter category for the Tolkien franchise and enjoy the adventure that unfolds on the screen for the first time.  Not knowing what will happen next adds another level when the adaptation is done well and treats the source material with the proper respect that Middle Earth deserves. 

The story begins with a reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is approached by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and then thirteen dwarfs led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).   Bilbo is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from a dragon named Smaug.  During the journey through Middle Earth the group is confronted by Trolls, Orcs and Goblins while also being assisted by elves which provide familiarity to the previous films with the return of Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett).  Bilbo is separated from the group during the battle with the goblins and meets Gollum.  It is here that Bilbo gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring and the two have a battle of wits by matching riddles (see answers below the trailer) to determine the fate of Bilbo. 

(#1) This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down.   

(#2) Thirty white horses on a red hill, First they champ, Then they stamp, Then they stand still. 

The Hobbit is a very visually impressive film, but what lacks is the lack of a true leading performance.  With thirteen dwarfs in addition to Bilbo and Gandalf it just isn't clear who exactly is the important character to follow.  Is it the Dwarf King Thorin or one of the others that are going to be the most important?  Is it Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Nori, Dori or Ori that are the most important.  Most of the actors are relatively unknown with the exception of James Nesbitt, but I may be in the minority on appreciating his previous performances.  I know that Bilbo is supposed to be the lead, but nothing about Martin Freeman's performance really communicates that.

While Peter Jackson works well with CGI there seemed to be something slightly off with the quality in "The Hobbit" as it resulted in an appearance that was similar to what many complain about the "Star Wars" Episode I through III.  This certainly brings the film short of what it could be and by expanding the story to three films results in too much attention given to minor details.  All of this being said the film is still a lot of fun and is easily worthy of 4 Quacks. This film is truly an unexpected journey, and I cannot wait to see the desolation of Smaug in 2013 and then the return back to the Shire in 2014.




Riddle #1: Time
Riddle #2: Teeth

Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained

Django Unchained has every single element of a perfect Quentin Tarantino movie with the added pleasure of being done almost better than he has ever done before.  If you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino then you will love this film.  It has elements from "Pulp Fiction" (1994), "Reservoir Dogs" (1992),  "Inglourious Basterds" (2009) and even "Kill Bill" (2003).  The idea of a spaghetti western (or in this case a southern) is lost to many as the genre is forgotten by Hollywood.  Of course if someone can bring the idea of the grind house back, there is only one person that I would look to for a spaghetti southern. 

Former dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), is working as a bounty hunter when he buys the freedom of a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), and trains him to be a bounty hunter as well with a mission.  The doctor gives Django the option of helping him hunt down and kill the Brittle Brothers; a ruthless gang of killers whom he needs Django to recognize for him.  In return, the doctor will free Django from slavery completely and help find and rescue Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the charming but ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who owns Candyland, a plantation where male slaves are trained to be Mandingo fighters and female slaves are forced into prostitution.

The Quentin Tarantino signature starts with an amazing soundtrack that includes Rick Ross, John Legend and many others.  What has become a signature along with his popularity is the amazing casting, even in the smallest roles.  The Klan leader portrayed by Don Johnson and Jonah Hill was possibly the funniest in the film.  Jamie Foxx is absolutely brilliant as he is more of an action star than ever before with a most amazing shootout where he literally kills all the white people.  Christoph Waltz is just a joy to watch on screen.  He transforms so easily into each of his characters, and delivers his best performance since "Carnage" (2011).  Certainly I realize that was just last year, but I also can't wait to see his upcoming portrayal of Mikhail Gorbachev.  Leonardo DiCaprio has matured into an actor that is so much more enjoyable to watch than when he was a younger.  His performance reminded me of Tom Hanks from "Ladykillers" and was equally despicable. 

For anyone hopingt to watch a film about slavery and have any factual elements, you might want to look to "Roots" instead.  Much like "Inglourious Basterds" had little factual basis for WWII, the revisionist approach used by Quentin Tarantino is for entertainment value only. 

I really enjoyed how the story was told through the fairytale of Brynhildr as only Quentin Tarantino could.  That being said Django Unchained may go down at some point as Tarantino's greatest film, which is why I give it 5 Quacks and expect to see several nominations to come.  In addition to a directing nomination, Quentin Tarantino should also get an original screenplay nod.  The film is rich with characters, and among them the ones that stand out the most are without a doubt Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio for a combination of best actor and supporting nominations.  So go see this movie, but remember that the D is silent hillbilly.


Safety Not Guaranteed

Have you ever sat around with a group of friends and laughed at the classified ads that are in the local paper?  If you lived in the Seattle area in 1997 you might have seen the following ad:

"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

So if you could go back in time, where would you go, who would you see and why?  For Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a disillusioned college graduate who lives at home with her widower father (Jeff Garlin) and interns at a Seattle magazine, she would like to go back to see her mom. Darius seeks out the source of the classified ad in Ocean View, Washington along with magazine writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson), and Arnau (Karan Soni).  While Jeff just wants to chase after his high school crush and Arnau wants some kind of life experience, Darius spends her time with Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a man who believes that he has built a time machine. The closer they become and the more they understand about each other, the less clear it becomes if Kenneth is just crazy or if he actually is going to successfully travel back in time.

This is a quirky film with actors that excel with being on the fringe.  Aubrey Plaza is one of the best actresses on "Parks and Rec", who with just her eyes is able to deliver so much more.  It one moment you can see her sadness and in another her face brightens with a smile.  Mark Duplass is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, whether it be the slacker in "The League" and "Your Sister's Sister" or as a writer for independent films like "Cyrus" or "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" he is an amazing talent.  Together with Aubrey Plaza they actually make a believable couple that by the end of the film you want to see them succeed. 

A surprise for me was Kristen Bell who plays the mysterious ex-girlfriend of Kenneth and helps to feed the suspicions of Kenneth and challenges the faith of Darius.  A disappointment for me was Jake Johnson, who I haven't quite been able to figure out.  He is funny as the down on his luck roommate in "New Girl", but in this film he is despicable in how he seeks out his high school crush and thinks that because he believes he is successful that he can "save" her and bring her to the city. 

While the film won't be for everyone, it is still enjoyable and if one can look past the slow pace of the film the ending will deliver in a way that you won't entirely expect.  The quirky nature of the film can be funny for some, but the jokes will certainly be missed by others.  Overall, I am glad that I waited to see this on DVD and comfortably recommend it to others as a 3 Quack film



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Contagion


Contagion is a thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors attempting to deal with the outbreak.  Hasn't this story been played out by now, or is their really need for another film about a deadly virus.  Director Steven Soderburgh does what he usually does by overcasting the film with high profile celebrities hoping to compensate for a lacking script from Scott Burns. 

Soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwenneth Paltrow) dies from an unknown virus, shortly followed by her young son later the same day.  Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) however seems immune.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet) and the World Health Organization (Marion Cotillard) work to identify the virus and to develop a vaccine as the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide.  The story addresses how an epidemic impacts various individuals from civilians to the government and how the society order will break when people begin to panic. The lack of communicating details by the government leads a blogger (Jude Law) to come at odds with the government over the truth. 

None of the individual performances stand out, but the cinematography captures the international perspective of the film.  Perhaps it was the scientific method of explaining how a virus works that lost my attention.  Additionally the blogger concept never seemed to fit as there was only claims of having 12 million followers of the blog, but not real impact recognized.  His message is ominous and seems more like a political message being delivered by Steven Soderburgh.  There may be some truth to the corporate and political implications, but if that was the point of including the blog story in the film it missed for me. 

The result of the film is that the audience will likely be overly aware of people coughing on public transportation and the overuse of hand sanitizer.  The film does a better job than the previous outbreak films, but nothing stands out.  Steven Soderburgh does well with ensemble casts as he has done with "Ocean's Eleven" and other films.  Each of the high profile actors in the film get their moment, but the lack of character development prevents the film from taking any larger level of appreciation and is why it is a 3 Quack film and I will wash my hands and use hand sanitizer more (I promise).


The Conspirator

The popularity of the 16th President of the United States of America in the 21st Century is only equaled to the 19th Century.  For anyone that enjoyed Steven Spielberg's epic "Lincoln" (2012) the events that took place afterward are told by Robert Redford in the film "The Conspirator" (2011). 

It is commonly known that John Wilkes Booth shot and killed the President, but what isn't widely known is the individuals that were charged with conspiring to kill the President, the Vice-President, and the Secretary of State. The lone woman charged, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kobbell) and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks. Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is a Civil War veteran and a lawyer that is asked to defend Mary Surratt before a military tribunal.  As the trial unfolds, Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt, her own son. 

The story itself is intriguing, but the casting was even more impressive.  Kevin Kline is almost villainous as War Secretary Edwin Stanton that declares he doesn't care which is convicted (Mary Surratt or her son) as long as one of them pays the price.  Tom Wilkinson is Senator Reverdy Johnson who hand picks Frederick Aiken for the trial.  The innocence that comes so natural to Evan Rachel Wood is what shines as the daughter, Anna Surratt.  Another regular from "True Blood" is Chris Bauer who takes the witness stand along with Stephen Root and several others.  Danny Huston is the opposing lawyer while Colm Meaney leads the military tribunal. 

The biggest failure of the film is the personal life of Frederick Aiken as the performances from Alexis Bledel and Justin Long as his close friends.  The script from James Solomon works with his strengths of writing a legal drama.  While I understand that the inclusion of the secondary story was needed to help show the difficulties Frederick Aiken was emotionally dealing with; the acting from Alexis Bledel and Justin Long fell short resulting from a lack of chemistry.  Justin Long attempted to bring humor at times that wasn't necessary while Alexis Bledel in my opinion can't act. 

The ensemble casting of the film may be one of the best in years.  While the film is best categorized by the sum of its parts being better than the hole, it is never the less a film that is absolutely worth seeing as a 3 Quack film.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsmen

"Snow White and the Huntsman" should be a better film than it is.  Instead it feels like a film that was made for the SciFi channel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as I very much enjoyed their take on the 2007 Wizard of Oz story with "Tin Man".

The film falls in line with some of the other recent adaptations of the classic fairytale stories (e.g. "Red Riding Hood") where a darker approach to telling the well known story is used.  While I am not completely against the approach, the story needs to have more substance to fall back on and less of a visual spectacle to carry the film.  I was almost expecting Arnold Schwartzineiger to be the magical mirror that comes into a human form out of the liquid metal.  Or that an R.O.U.S. would attack Snow White and the Huntsman in the Dark Forest, or was it the Fire Swamp from "Princess Bride".

The main story is familiar as Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is opposed by the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and is being hunted by The Huntsmen (Chris Hemsworth).  The script is lacking and the acting suffers as a result.  But then again many of the target audience isn't going for acting.  The most impressive sequence of the film is when Snow White and the Huntsman meet the seven dwarfs.  While the names of the dwarfs are not the familiar names from Disney, they are also not portrayed by actual dwarfs, but instead continue the incredible casting of the film by including the talents of Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Brian Gleeson, Eddie Marsan and Ian McShane.  They perhaps have the best writing and with the talent deliver on a much wider scale.

The film is truly a waste of its potential and only magnifies the brilliance of "Once Upon a Time" on ABC.  Updating a known story isn't difficult, and even incorporating stylized special effects can be done well, but "Snow White and the Huntsmen" just isn't where it will be found and neither was "Mirror Mirror".  For a dramatic film the audience shouldn't be laughing at the attempts to update the story.  The film is what it is and it is a 2 Quack film.  
 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hitchcock


"Hitchcock" has a similar feel to it as "My Week with Marilyn" (2011) as the audience is taken behind the curtain of the making of a classic film with an icon of American cinema.  "Psycho" (1960) is the backdrop for the story between the 'Master of Suspense' and his wife and muse Alma Reville.  Director Sasha Gervasi works off a screenplay based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello.

"Hitchcock" follows the same template as the television program "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" with Hitchcock (Sir Anthony Hopkins) introduces the film in front of the house where Ed Gein lived because if it wasn't for him we wouldn't have this story.   In this personal look into the man behind the classic film the audience is asked to call him Hitch, because you can hold the cock.  The story picks up in 1959 after Hitch releases "North by Northwest".  Searching for his next project with his wife Alma (Dame Helen Mirren) he comes across the "Pyscho" book written by Robert Bloch that was loosely based on the crimes of Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein.  Hitch was confronted by Paramount Studios unwillingness to finance a film about a transvestite and his murderous relationship with his dead mother, which led him to finance the film himself and mortgage his home in an effort to get the film into production.  With the added stress of the film, his relationship with his loving wife, and un-credited screenwriter of "Pyscho", Alma begins to strain and pushes her to seek the attention of another writer, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

The film takes us through all aspects of the production of "Psycho" including the casting interviews with Anthony Perkins (played dead on by James D'Arcy) and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and the fights with the ratings board (Kurtwood Smith).  Hitch didn't want to use music during the infamous shower scene but was convinced by his Alma. 

Anthony Hopkins plays Hitch with a touch of the arrogance and you see the emotional attachment to the story and his own personal history of abandonment with a voice that at times sounds like Hannibal Lecter.  Yet the playfulness of the character is captured through the signature profile and background "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" theme music.  Helen Mirren perfectly balances the performance with Anthony Hopkins notably in a scene where Alma is confronted about having an affair.  You cannot help but admire the two on screen together and know that they are both deserving of a nomination for Best Actor and Supporting Actress. 

Not only was the acting well done, but the screenplay was well adapted and the makeup was equally impressive and deserving of nominations.  The film is fun, suspenseful and Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of the film.  It is very deserving of 5 Quacks and hope that everyone goes to see this film.




Thursday, November 8, 2012

Skyfall

What can be done with the twenty-third Bond film that hasn't been done before?  Quite simply you can make him more human than any of the previous films.  Sam Mendes provides a delicate and emotional touch that is rarely seen in the Bond films, which usually specialize in action sequences that involve the chase and explosions.  But staying with the Bond template is a requirement and Sam Mendese delivers exactly what fans of the series are expecting.  The most notable signature for the Bond series is the opening title sequence which includes an original song by Adele (see below). 

The story for "Skyfall" begins in Istanbul, Turkey where James Bond (Daniel Craig) is on a mission to retrieve a computer hard drive that has a list of British agents.  As Bond chases the man who stole the hard drive through the streets, rooftops and countryside of Turkey we reach an ultimate moment on top of a train where another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to take the shot which leads right into the opening title sequence from Adele.

The more delicate side of the story takes over as MI6 is evolving with Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) telling M that the British government is upset with MI6 for losing the list; and that she'll be allowed to retire.  The theme of growing old runs throughout the film as a new younger Q (Ben Wishaw) is introduced as the story takes us to Shanghai, China and the discovery of who has the list of British agents.  The main villain is someone from M's past and who has it in for her and is intensely portrayed by Javier Bardem.

This is Daniel Craig's third turn at 007 and every time I watch him I forget about Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore (but of course not Sean Connery).  Daniel Craig provides a physical quality to 007 that is matched by his good looks.  Daniel Craig is an intense performer and watching the "Skyfall" reminded me of why I didn't agree with his casting in "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" (2011).  He carries a brutal grittiness that is balanced by a suaveness that works so well as 007 and lesser so as a journalist.  Also returning for the seventh time is Judi Dench who is masterful in her performance as a "Bond-girl"  and after declaring it would be her last she is certainly sent off in a respectful manner.  Judi Dench will always be the quintessential handler of the 00 section of MI6 as she provides tough love yet remains motherly in the film as she gets to know James Bond better than she ever has before.  Javier Bardem does what he is best it, which is dominates the screen at all times as the ultimate Bond-villain, Raoul Silva.  His mannerisms and the most simple facial expressions provide a chilling sociopath that reminded me of the Joker from "The Dark Knight" as he leaves you completely uncertain of what extremes he is willing to go. 

I couldn't help but wonder if Sam Mendes was at all influenced by Christopher Nolan and "Batman Begins" or "The Dark Knight" or "Straw Dogs".  There are certainly similarities between the stories, but "Skyfall" stands on its own as one of the most entertaining films of the year and is easily worthy of 4 Quacks.  The film has an A-list villain, exotic locations and brilliant cinematography.




Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lincoln

Steven Spielberg is a well-known history buff, and leaned heavily on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who wrote the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" for which the film “Lincoln” is in part based.  The film is a portrait of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and some of the men who served with him in his Cabinet.  The film focuses on Lincoln's mostly successful attempts to reconcile conflicting personalities and political factions on the path to abolition and the events leading up to the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution.   
 
The film opens on the battlefield, but little more of the Civil War is shown beyond this sequence.  The words of the Gettysburgh Address are recited to Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) by soldiers establishing how powerful of an orator the President was.  As the Civil War continues to rage, Abraham Lincoln struggles with continuing the numbers lost in battle and fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.  President Lincoln and other Republicans was concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be seen as a temporary war measure, since it was solely based on Lincoln's war powers.  Working closely with his Cabinet notably including Secretary of State William H. Seward (David Strathairn) and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill) the struggles to pass the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives proved to be difficult.  The glad-handing mission to win votes from Democrats is taken on by Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and WN Bilbo (James Spader) while Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) works as a civilian to help negotiate peace with Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley) and others.  In the House of Representatives the 13th Amendment is championed by Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and others within the Republican Party who uses quick wit to provoke the opponents on the other side of the isle.  While the fight to abolish slavery takes place both in Washington and the battlefields there is also a fight at home between Lincoln and Mary Todd (Sally Fields) who are still struggling with the loss of their son and the appropriate amount of attention to give to their two remaining sons, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tad (Gulliver McGrath).  The assassination is well known, and in true Spielberg fashion we are left with the emotions of the event even though it is not shown specifically. 

The film has a theatrical feel to it that never allows the audiences to be fully engaged by the story.  Instead the legal procedural jumps from scene-to-scene requiring message boards similar to an episode of "Law and Order" to inform the audience just who each actor is and the date of this most significant event.  The film is a whitewash of Lincoln and slavery, instead celebrating the amazing man without acknowledging his political views.  With its drawbacks, the acting in the film is what really stands out.  Many are required to deliver long and memorable speeches, with just a small amount of humor delivered by James Spader in a performance that would make Falstaff roll in the isles.  Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field are very much deserving of a best actor and supporting actress nomination, but don’t be surprised if Tommy Lee Jones also receives a supporting actor nomination.  Everyone in the cast absolutely delivers a flawless performance that  

There are no vampires in this more honest telling of the 16th President of the United States, but the script leaves the audience wanting to know more about the actual individuals involved.   The make-up is amazing as you get lost in the faces of the actors to recognize who they are.  Not only was Daniel Day-Lewis transformed into Abraham Lincoln, but also Jared Harris into Ulysses S. Grant among others.  This is a 5 Quack film that will be the measure for Lincoln in the classroom for years to come. 


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Perks of Being a Wallflower


Stephen Chbosky wrote "Perks of being a Wallflower" in 1999 and immediately caused controversy due to Chbosky's portrayal of teen sexuality and drug use resulting in the book being banned.  More than a decade later he wrote the screenplay and directed the film that has yet to receive a wide distribution, but is a powerful film that should be seen by everyone. 

The story takes place in a suburb of Pittsburgh during the early 1990s, when Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a high school student counting the number of days until he graduates.  Charlie is apprehensive due to the death of his only good friend Michael, who committed suicide several months before the story begins.  He does not feel that he can lean on his perfect family with an older brother, Chris (Zane Holtz) that plays football at Penn State, an older sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev) that has a loser boyfriend, and their unnamed parents Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh, because they never truely understood them.  He also explains that the only relative that he ever felt close to was his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), but she was killed in a car accident on his seventh birthday for which he blames himself.

Charlie's life is very simple yet complicated as he journeys through the challenges and the joys of falling in love for the first time.  Trust me when I tell you that this film is anything but an after school special.  Charlie has no friends at first, but receives special attention from his English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd) even though he realizes that if the only friend he makes is his teacher that he will likely never make any new friends.  The happy-go-lucky Patrick (Ezra Miller) takes him under his wing and welcomes him as a wallflower and to the band of misfits along with his step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson). 

The story manages to go through a spectrum of topics such as homosexuality, drugs and death.   The dialogue is so very honest and is the perfect vision of Chbosky that engages the audience and communicates to the teen that is still in all of us.  What really connects the audience with the story is the soundtrack that includes amazing songs from a mix tape from Chbosky that includes the Smiths "Asleep" and David Bowie’s “Heroes”.  The acting in the film from Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller is absolutely amazing.  While it was nice to see Emma Watson in something outside of Hogwarts, she seemed just a bit off to me.  The lack of parental guidance in the film also appeared amiss to me as they don't have names and are rarely involved with any of the kids lives.  Ezra Miller deserved a nomination for his performance in "We Need to Talk About Kevin", and even more deserving now as a positive role model to gay teens as his performance is not defined by his sexuality.

"Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a powerful film that will find a way to connect with most everyone.  It is one of the best coming-of-age films in recent years and deserves a much larger distribution than it has currently received.  In addition to Ezra Miller's performance which should receive a nomination for supporting actor the screenplay is also very deserving.  This is yet another 5 Quack film and I hope everyone will see this film.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cloud Atlas

The architects behind "Cloud Atlas" are Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana (Lana was Larry until a gender transition that was completed about five years ago).  The film is based on the award winning novel written by David Mitchell.  The novel and film encapsulate six individual stories that narrowly have a link, which draws you in while you try to understand what exactly the link is.  You find yourself grasping at the small clues that link one story to the next, but in the end you aren't entirely sure you fully achieved the complete understanding.  The motives and background of each story is certainly lacking, but somehow the visual components overshadow this glaring void.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is on a slave ship and writes a journal that falls into the hands of Robert Forbisher (Ben Whishaw) in Cambridge in 1936 where he is working on a musical composition with Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).  In San Francisco in 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) finds a recording of the musical composition titled "Cloud Atlas" after reading the letters between Robert Forbisher and his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy).  In London in 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is writing a manuscript of the "Luisa Rey Mystery" when he is confined against his will in a nursing home from which he escapes and becomes the centerpiece of a movie titled "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", which is seen by Somni-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant that has achieved independent thought and escapes from captivity with Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess) in Neo Seoul in 2144 where her story establishes her as a religious figure to a post-apocalyptic primitive society.  Meronym (Halle Berry) visits a distant post-apocalyptic primitive society and is lead to the temple of worship by Zachry (Tom Hanks) who must battle his inner demons represented by Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) and other cannibals that oppose the new religion.  The final story of Meronym and Zachry is told to children by the campfire by Zachry several years later to conclude the story.

Confused yet?  There is even more going on as so many of the actors, as you may have noticed, play different characters in each storyline.  The make-up is impressive as you can see through the credits the transformation that takes place from one story to the next.  Hugo Weaving stood out the most for me as he transitions from an 1849 businessman, to a physical nurse in 2012, to an asexual interviewer in 2144, and finally as the Old Georgie who is a devil tormenting Zachry in the post-apocalyptic future.  The make-up for Halle Berry and Tom Hanks was equally impressive as their physical size and skin color was adjusted to each story. 

The performances from the entire cast are amazing; even the smaller contributions from Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant who traverse from one story to the next keeping the audience focused on even the smallest of details. 
David Mitchell took liberties with the novel that allowed for humor to be instilled through self-deprecating observances and clever writing that was incorporated with the film.  Whether it be the disdain for flashbacks and flash forwards, or Javier (Brody Nicholas Lee) warning Luisa Rey that it is usually this time in the story that the main character dies, the subtle humor is not missed by the audience or a theater of critics with the line "what is a critic but someone who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely".  The story is rich with philosophical writing asking "if God created the world how are we to know what we can change and what must stay the same", or that "our lives are not our own, we are bound to others, past and present that with each crime and every kindness we birth our future".

This is a film that will not be for everyone as it challenges the audience much like "Tree of Life" with deep philosophical questions.  With the six stories and a nearly three hour run time it will be difficult to win everyone over.  However, there are some pieces that are worth noting.  The make-up and wardrobe is very deserving of award consideration and quite possibly an adapted screenplay nomination which finds a way to maintain a narrative in the atypical structure.  When I walked out of the theater I was not sure of the rating to give this film, but after taking the time to digest it and better understand the various stories I can see that it is much better than I initially realized and feel comfortable with giving the film 4 Quacks.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sessions

Yet another festival favorite from Sundance this year was "The Sessions" written and directed by Ben Lewin.  The film was inspired by the writings of Mark O'Brien and the short documentary (see below) by Jessica Yu "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" (1996), which won the Academy Award for best documentary short. 

While sex is at the center of the story, the film is more about how an individual gains independence.  Independence is a very tricky thing for disabled people.  It doesn't mean that they want to do everything themselves.  Independence has to do with the power being within us, and it is through Cheryl that Mark finds this power.

The film starts with Mark O'Brien's (John Hawkes) poetry and historical footage of Mark navigating his way through the streets of Berkley, California on his way to graduation with a voice over of his poem "Graduation Day".  His existence is confined by the 650-pound iron lung that encases his body and fills his chest with air. But the life he shapes inside is as vital, and as urgent, as breath.  At the age of 37, Mark O'Brien decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of a therapist and his priest (William H. Macy), he contacts Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate.  The film follows the evolving relationship between Cheryl and Mark as she takes him on his journey to manhood through body awareness exercises and intercourse.  Along with understanding his own body, he learns about the female body and the language of sex.  His assistant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) tells him that she prefers to call it a dick, because a penis sounds like a vegetable that you don't want to eat and a dick is what it is.  Cheryl educates Mark that when you touch one breast you have to touch the other, it is sort of a rule.  The biggest rule for a professional sex surrogate is to not let the relationship become personal, however this rule is broken by both Cheryl by allowing them to have a date and by Mark who sends her a love poem.  Cheryl's home life with her son and husband offer just enough of a look into this growing conflict.
John Hawkes has become one of my favorite actors as he has built an amazing resume with recent performances in "Martha, Marcy May, Marlene", "Winter's Bone" and the TV show "East Bound and Down".  His performance captures the spirit of Mark O'Brien perfectly, which is unbelievably difficult given the lack of a physical performance and a complete reliance on his voice and facial expressions.  After watching both the documentary and the film the likeness and voice is perfect.  Mark is a warm, wickedly funny charmer that quickly wins people over. 
Helen Hunt matches John Hawkes instilling a dignity and compassion to Cheryl as she educates Mark in the ways of physical intimacy.  Those teachings tastefully deconstruct the act of sex and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes along with it.   She combines professionalism, playfulness, sensuality, and compassion in series of sessions which require full nudity.

Not to be forgotten are the performances from William H. Macy's as Father Brendan, who gives Mark his blessing and becomes a source of counsel, friendship, and laughs throughout the film; and Moon Bloodgood as his main caregiver in a role that requires very little emotion, but just enough life is brought into the character even though her personal life is never the focus.  Additionally, Rhea Perlman makes a brief appearance as a Mikeh Lady assisting Cheryl with her conversion to the Jewish faith providing her own perfect timing and tone.

The film incorporates the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry, and his candid, and wry sense of humor.  He was a dynamic voice in a paralyzed body.  It is this body that god crafted for him and that is a beautiful thing.  Both John Hawks and Helen Hunt are very deserving of a nomination as their performances carry the film to a 5 Quack rating.  The screenplay should also get some consideration for its adaptation from Mark O'Brien's writings.




Let me know what you think of the following video in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

"Silver Linings Playbook" is adapted from the debut novel of the same name written by Matthew Quick.  Crazed football fans are at the heart of "Silver Linings Playbook", but the book is also a moving story of a man with mental illness and the people around him.  The film was adapted for the screen and directed by David O. Russell, who is known for his work with ensemble casting and handheld camera use that was so perfectly used in his last film "The Fighter" (2010).  After receiving the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival the film quickly jumped to the top of my list of must see films for the year. 

At the start of the movie Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental health facility into the custody of his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), and father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).  All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet - and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team.  To adjust back to life at home, Pat formulates a theory that should he become a better man his silver lining will be the reconciliation with his ex-wife.  Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a tragically widowed and clinically depressed girl.  Tiffany agrees to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he'll do something for her in return.  As their arrangement plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

The performances in the film are some of the best for the year.  Jennifer Lawrence is intense and with just the look in her eyes you feel that she is on the edge of doing something extreme at any moment.  Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro work amazingly togetherhaving recently worked together on "Limitless" just last year.  Both give a performance that makes it believable that they could be father and son.  Neither have a filter, but the best fatherly advice ever comes at the end as Robert De Niro holds Bradley Cooper close and tells him to go after the woman he loves.  Jacki Weaver is a rich character that keeps the family together. 

The story manages to be comic, tragic, and often surprising.  It delivers to fans of football and "Dancing with the Stars" at the same time as providing an emotional story with rich characters that you want to cheer for.  The movie doesn't end with a medical cure, but instead it ends with healing from his family and love.  Jennifer Lawrence should receive a nomination as well as one fore Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper.  The screenplay is very deserving of a nomination and the picture as a whole could even receive the nomination.  The fans at the Toronto International Film Festival got this one right as it is a 5 Quack film.

EXCELSIOR.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seven Psychopaths


Martin McDonagh scares me, but not because he is a psychopath; instead because of how amazingly talented he is.  For those that don't know who Martin McDonagh is, he is an acclaimed Irish playwright best known for writing and directing "In Bruges" (2008) for which he received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.  Before "In Bruges" he received the Academy Award for "Six Shooter", a live action short film in 2006 (see below).  Recently, he worked with Christopher Walken on the Tony Award nominated play A Behanding in Spokane and is currently working on a new stage musical with composer Tom Waits.  Along with his friend Colin Farrell the rest of the casting for "Seven Psychopaths" is comprised of Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek and some female actresses that do very little more than look pretty on screen. 

The film starts with Larry (Michael Pitt) and Tommy (Michael Stuhlbarg) discussing how they are going to kill someone.  For fans of "Boardwalk Empire" it is always fun to see these two together.  This is also the introduction to the Jack of Diamonds Killer and the quick departure for Jimmy Darmody and Arnold Rothstein.

The story focuses on Marty (Colin Farrell) who is an alcoholic screenwriter struggling to write his latest script, but he does have the title done.  Being a pasophist, he is struggling with writing a story about Seven Psychopaths while staying true to his anti-violence, peaceful desires.  Marty’s best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), wants him to finish the screenplay by any means possible, and is constantly looking to inspire him by giving him ideas for psychopaths.  Billy tells him to read an article about a current Los Angeles serial killer known as the Jack of Diamonds Killer,  tells him an urban legend about a vengeful Quaker, and even posts an ad in the newspaper.  Billy’s an actor, but between gigs runs a dog catching (borrowing) scheme with Hans (Christopher Walken). After kidnapping a Shih Tzu that happens to belong to a violent gangster (Woody Harrelson), the most amazing story unfolds that will keep you laughing and cringing through the film credits.

"Seven Psychopaths" is a tongue-in-cheek comedy that employs dueling dynamics, both as a film about the film making process and having its characters actually live the film they’re writing. While it perhaps doesn’t have quite the sarcastic edge as it may be trying to employ, it has as many flashes of comedic excellence as it does brutal violence.  The film also serves as a dialogue between Martin McDonagh and the audience, even addressing the criticism that he cannot write women characters, claiming none of them are even able to put a sentence together.  Likewise, the three females in the film (Gabourey Sidibe, Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish) are all given short screen time.  Respectfully, Linda Bright Clay has one of the best performances in a hospital room with Wood Harrelson. 

I don't want to spoil the big final shootout that Billy has in store, but for 5 Quacks this is a film that will get people talking.  Martin McDonagh should again receive a nomination for the screenplay; and while the acting performances are all amazing none rise to the level of award consideration. 



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Argo

Ben Affleck again takes on double duty as the director and actor in the political thriller "Argo".  Having also directed "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) and "the Town" (2010) there are going to be high expectations.   "Argo" is loosely based on Tony Mendez's account of the true story of how a CIA exfiltration specialist attempts to free six U.S. diplomats from Tehran who have taken shelter in the home of the Canadian Ambassador during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis also known as the "Canadian Caper".  The heroic mission was kept top secret until President Bill Clinton lifted the mission's classified status in 1997.  After receiving people's choice praise at the Toronto Film Festival, this quickly became a must see film for me.

The story opens with a mixture of cartoon story boards and historic news footage telling the story of the political events between the U.S. and Iran that lead up to Iranian militants taking control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and taking 52 Americans hostage.  During the siege six American's were able to escape and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home.  President Jimmy Carter is shitting enough bricks to build a pyramid and turns to the CIA who is looking for the best of all the bad ideas as it appears to be a situation that cannot be resolved.  Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is an exfiltration specialist with the CIA that creates a plan to rescue the house entrapped Americans by posing as a film crew for a fake science fiction film titled "Argo".  In an effort to have the mission legitimized, Mendez recruits Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Special Effects man John Chambers (John Goodman) to give the project credibility with the idea of turning the fake movie into a fake hit.  Tony Mendez finally gets permission from the U.S. government, his boss (Bryan Cranston), and the White House (Kyle Chandler) to make a fake movie. 

The casting in the film is absolutely amazing and the performances are some of the best this year.  There are several casting choices that are mostly familiar through TV.  Zeljko Ivanek and Titus Welliver (best known as the man in black from "Lost") work at the CIA along with Bryan Cranston whose best idea was to give the six American's bikes to escape.  Luckily, training wheels and Gatorade weren't enough to seal the deal.  The six American's seeking to escape are Bob Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Lijek (Clea DuVall), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Kathy Stafford (Kerry Bishe), and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane).  For the most part they are unknown, but that helps disconnect (and connect) the familiarity of the story to the audience.  The American's are aided by an actual Canadian, Victor Garber (best known for Alias). 

Even though Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin are not receiving significant screen time in the film, they deliver the more memorable performances.  They certainly had the best lines, but their performances go beyond the clever lines that contribute to bringing some laughs to the otherwise serious story.  They fit perfectly and during the closing credits they are shown in photographs next to the real people they are recreating and it is impressive how similar they look.  The authenticity of the story is enhanced by the historic news footage from Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw as well as footage from President Jimmy Carter.

Ben Affleck's previous films have only received Oscar nominations for supporting roles, but I have a feeling that Ben Affleck will receive a nomination for best director, and possibly supporting nominations for Alan Arken and Bryan Cranston.  Overall, "Argo" should also receive a best picture nomination and receives 5 Quacks.  Really cannot think of a reason someone wouldn't enjoy this film, so if you do find yourself on the outside... well "argo fuck yourself". 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Looper

"Looper" reunites Rian Johnson, writer/director, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt who previously worked together on "Brick" (2005), which continues in the pseudo film noir style that Rian Johnson is known for with a sci-fi element.  "Looper" is a part of the resurgence of the sci-fi following films such as "the Adjustment Bureau", "Limitless", "Another Earth", and "Source Code".  These are films that challenge the audience to think about the possibilities and thrust the viewer into a scenario asking what would you do in the same situation. 

Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.  "Looper" is set in the year 2042, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of several specialized assassins known as 'loopers' who are tasked with 'taking out the future's garbage'.  The targets are delivered from 30 years in the future to a waiting looper, who puts a bullet in their head, burns the body and collects their silver.  Loopers are well paid, but when the bosses decide it's time to 'close the loop' and they send back your own future self back for assassination, leaving you with only 30 years to live, they are given the golden pay day. 

Somewhere over the years 10% of humans had a mutation where they have the ability of telekinesis.  While some thought this would mean that there would be super heroes with special powers, in reality all it meant was a bunch of assholes could levitate a quarter.  Are you confused by the films concept yet? 

Joe's loop is set to be closed, but his older self (Bruce Willis) escapes.  Old Joe meets up with young Joe and explains the situation in the future involving the mysterious Rainmaker who is closing the loop on all Loopers.  In doing so, old Joe's wife is shot in 2072 and to gain vengeance seeks out to identify who the Rainmaker is in 2042.  As old Joe sets off to murder the child aged Rainmaker his map is torn and young Joe goes to protect the family of the possible target in turn looking to close his loop and move on with his life.  Young Joe meets Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), which is where the film delivers the amazing twists and turns that separates it from any of the other sci-fi films. 


Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis both provide amazing acting performances.  However, the make-up for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make him look like Bruce Willis is slightly distracting.  The most impressive performance probably comes from Pierce Gagnon who has an amazing ability to frighten an audience with his facial expressions. 

The film contains a balance of both intelligence and action, too much of either and the film risks failing, the is a perfect example of a science-fiction thriller movie.  The movies narrative is very original and leaves you not knowing what could happen next as both of the Joe's battle for different situations.  With most sci-fi films you need to check your disbelief at the door, but the world that Rian Johnson has created is very believable without being over the top with flying cars.  I hope to see the screenplay nominated for an award and recommend this film to all of my friends as a solid 4 Quack film.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Master


Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges that "The Master" was modeled after the late L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.  Taking on such a controversial topic isn't easy as there are so many doubters, but this movie is about much more than spiritual belief.  Paul Thomas Anderson is a very talented filmmaker having also been the writer and director of "There Will Be Blood" (2007) and had received several other nominations. 

The story begins during the final days of World War II with Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) on the beach.  After the war, Freddie is left to his own self-destructive ways as he wanders aimlessly, recklessly from job to job.  He makes his own special type of moonshine, which he relies on to get him through the day as he cannot take his life straight.  The opening sequence features Joaquin Phoenix almost exclusively as a backdrop to the mind of a emotionally struggling individual.  In a way this could also be a way of explaining his absence from the big screen over the last four years where he said he was retiring.  Luckily, much like his character fate has brought him to the film where he has a chance encounter with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a stow away aboard a private cruise boat.

As the story develops, the methods and applications of Lancaster Dodd are demonstrated on Freddie, who has become his protégé and guinea pig.  Dodd's movement asserts that we are a part of a billion years of life connected over time and through a force different from God but no less powerful.  It is that spiritual and emotional human void that is so easily exploited by this movement.  Is there a basis for the methods and applications used by Lancaster Dodd, or is he making it up as he goes along as his son (Jesse Plemons) implies?  Through the eyes of Freddie it isn't clear who is actually drunk.  Is it the spiritually weak Freddie who is dependent on alcohol, or is it Lancaster Dodd who is drunk with power.  With the use of alcohol there are several instances where you wonder if what you are watching is what is actually happening or just what is a part of a day dream from Freddie.  There is a connection between the two that bonds the two men together, and helps Freddie cope with his past failures.  Whether it is a true method that can be applied to all is unclear as even Lancaster Dodd changes the message to his followers. 

The performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are equally stunning.  However, not to be outdone is Amy Adams who powerfully stands along the side of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the wife to the Master.  There are also some smaller roles that are worth noting including Madisen Beaty (Doris), a 16 year old that Freddie starts a relationship with before going off to war; and Ambyr Childers (Elizabeth), as the the daughter of Lancaster Dodd who is supportive of the methods along with her husband Clark portrayed by Rami Malek.

The use of imagery by Paul Thomas Anderson is strong throughout the film.  Images of the sea and the wake of a ship churning the deep blue water show that Paul Thomas Anderson is thinking more about the articstic qualities of the film and less the story being told.  It is beautiful to look at, much like Terrance Milick's "The Tree of Life", but requires further analysis to understand the true meaning.  Is it that the powers of technology are greater than the spiritual nature of the Earth?  In taking an artistic approach to filmmaking, Paul Thomas Anderson used 70mm film to capture the vast imagery, which is truly beautiful to look at.

This is a film about the extraordinary complexities of human character and relationships.   While the story suffers from its grand approach to a controversial topic the performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are among the best for the year and are each deserving of a Best Actor nomination.  It is very clear that Joaquin Phoenix is "still here" and Phillip Seymour Hoffman never left.  While this film will not be for everyone, taking a step back from pre-conceived notions of religion and enjoying the performances will help get you past a run time that exceeds two hours.  I happily award 4 Quacks to "the Master" for its amazing performances.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

End of Watch


"Once upon a time in South Central" is not how you would expect any film that is to be taken seriously to begin.  But then again most police buddy films are not like "End of Watch".  The film is written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote "Training Day" (2001) and "the Fast and the Furious" (2001).  David Ayer writes about what he knows best, which are the streets of Los Angeles where he grew up; and delivers witty and realistic dialogue that ignores the cliches of other police films.  David Ayer has said that most of the situations shown in the film were ones encountered by his friend, Jaime FitzSimons (technical adviser and  acts as the police captain), during his service with the LAPD.

The story takes place during the summer of 2011 when Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-marine, and his partner Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) have recently been cleared of a shooting.  They have become the hotshots in the station with an ego that accompanies it.  Taylor is taking a film class and is filming the day-to-day activities of being an officer with the LAPD, which provides the lense that a lot of the film is seen through.  This hands-on approach to filming along with the dashboard cameras that are attached to the police cruisers gives the film a gritty and realistic feel that immediately separates it from other police films.  This is a story of police work in an often difficult neighborhood: their duties (the life blood of police work is the paper work), their dangers, and sometimes the drudgery of what they must do which is why "policing is all about comfortable footwear".

As the story develops Officer Taylor and Zavala confiscate two of the major food groups, money and guns (including Liberace's AK-47 and other blinged out guns) from a member of a cartel during a routine traffic stop.  At first the connection between the routine traffic stop and other activity that Taylor and Zavala discover isn't clear.  However, what is clear is that these two are some of LAPD's finest as they receive the Medal of Valour for saving the lives of children in a house fire.  David Ayer almost goes out of his way to establish the quality of these two officers as compared to the other films about the LAPD that generally portray the police as being corrupt.  Much of the films intensity comes from the very real influence of the Mexican drug cartels in southern California and how Officer Taylor and Zavala stumble upon the critical inner workings.   

The chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña is unquestionable as the brotherhood of the police force supports the family emotions centered in the film.  The dialogue between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña provides a lot more comedy to the film than anticipated, which helps soften the heaviness of the situation that the film deals with.  Their differences and their mutual put-downs can't quite hide the level of trust and family that is the police force.  The friendship that emerges in the two officers is only supported by their girlfriend/wives, who contribute to the realism of their life outside the police cruiser.  Janet (Anna Kendrick) comes across as someone Officer Taylor could really fall in love with, just as the sassy side of Gabby (Natalie Martinez) complements the fun side of Officer Zavala. 

One scene that will probably get some people talking is the funny wedding dance between Anna Kendrick and Jake Gyllenhaal.  I am sure that someone will be copying this for their own wedding and posting it on youtube.  Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" is an 80s classic that will never go out of style.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña give the best performances of their careers and I could even see both of them deserving of a nomination (not sure who would be the lead though).  In addition to the acting, the script is tightly written and the hand-held camera work is creative without being nauseating.  The overall intent of the film is made clear towards the end of the credits where recognition of all those who serve in law enforcement is given.  This is the best police film I have seen in a while and is a 5 Quack film. 



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