Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Enough Said

The reason I usually avoid comedies with romantic elements (not romantic comedies) is that the lead characters are always in their twenties or thirties. Maybe it's just a way to connect with the target audience (I myself am 20), but I find it annoying after a while.

That is why Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said stands out. Why? Because the lead characters are in their fifties when they're fully aware of life's hardships, not twentysomethings practically starting their lives. The leads in Enough Said are divorcees and have their kids heading off to college. How often do you see that in a film?

The female star of Enough Said is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a familiar face to regular TV viewers. Of course anyone who's seen Seinfeld or Veep knows that she can do comedy. (After all, she has four Emmys just for comedy.) But Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva in a different way than she does with Elaine Benes or Selina Meyer; she makes Eva human.

The male star of Enough Said is the late James Gandolfini, another familiar face to regular TV viewers. It sounds strange to see Tony Soprano in a much lighter role, but Gandolfini proves he's very much capable doing something outside of the gangster role. It's a shame he passed away earlier this year. This film showed he was just getting started.

If I couldn't make it any more clear, I just adored Enough Said. It feels like a very natural film, nothing about it felt artificial. Thanks to the performances from Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini, Enough Said is an endearing little film that I hope many people will seek out.

My Rating: *****

The Fifth Estate

It's always hard for a director to bounce back after a fall from grace whether it be in their professional or personal lives. Bill Condon, for instance, wowed audiences and critics with films like Gods and Monsters and Kinsey. Now that once-glowing resume is tarnished with him directing not one but two of the Twilight movies. Does he redeem himself with his new film The Fifth Estate?

Well, yes and no. Yes because the film proved he still had it in him. No because upon seeing it, I'm not sure if Condon was right for the film. I mean, on the one hand this isn't the first time Condon made a film about a controversial figure. But on the other hand, the mood of the film feels off throughout. (I would also make a few tweaks to Josh Singer's script.)

Though Condon did get a rather impressive roster of actors for his film. Among the supporting actors are David Thewlis, Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, Alicia Viklander, Carice van Houten, Peter Capaldi and Dan Stevens. They all make the most of their limited screentime, but they all pale in comparison to the two leading men.

Those two leading men are Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl, both of whom were recently recognized for their supporting work in Star Trek Into Darkness and Rush respectively. They don't play martyrs with a cause but rather men that think what they're doing is for the greater good. (Yes and no in that regard.) Suffice to say they're both very good in their roles, but Cumberbatch in particular deserves a mention.

The Fifth Estate is by no means a bad film as a majority of certain bloggers are making it to be. That said, however, it does have its flaws. All the pieces are there, just not put together properly. Though if I wanted a film about leaked secrets and it featured Cumberbatch, I'd just stick with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

My Rating: ****

Monday, October 21, 2013


It always seems risky to release a movie based on a TV show, especially if it's a show that wasn't on the air for very long. (Well, I suppose it's better than the other way around.)

Yet Joss Whedon's Serenity doesn't feel like any of those other movies. (Maybe because Whedon is behind it.) Following where Firefly left off, the movies shows what's going on with the crew of Serenity. (Hint: it's not very peaceful.)

I had only finished Firefly recently so I can safely say Whedon wrapped up what the unjustly cancelled TV show left hanging very neatly. (That's more than I can say for some shows in general.) Indeed there were many elements from Firefly passed into the movie, but I feel there were some aspects Whedon was clearly saving for when he had a bigger budget.

Of course the stars of Firefly reprise their roles for Serenity but the movie has an added bonus of Chiwetel Ejiofor as the main villain. Ejiofor, who's recently been earning deserved praises for 12 Years A Slave, plays cool and collected like nobody's business and it's awesome. (On a different note, how is Nathan Fillion not more popular?)

Anyway, I really enjoyed Serenity. I'm not sure if it's as accessible to non-Firefly viewers but knowing Whedon, I have a feeling it might be. (Though there are some moments that are pure Whedon. You know which ones if you've seen Serenity.) If you want to see this, I suggest checking out Firefly first.

My Rating: ****

Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors working today whose visions are truly one of a kind. None can compare to the fantastic creatures and world from del Toro's mind. (That, um, rhyme wasn't intentional, I swear.)

And what better film proves that than Pan's Labyrinth? Blending the horrors of reality with the fascination of fantasy, the film showcases the dream-like and nightmare-fueled perspective of a young child. (That aspect alone makes the film even more terrifying in parts.)

In a way, Pan's Labyrinth is del Toro's twisted variation of Alice in Wonderland. A girl falling into a world of make-believe which is almost as dangerous as the world she lives in? Yep, sounds like something from the mind of Lewis Carroll.

But it's not just del Toro's story that makes Pan's Labyrinth so mesmerizing. It's also the many visual accompaniments as well. There's David Marti and Montse Ribe's makeup which is solid proof as to why CGI is somewhat pointless (and also deservedly won an Oscar). There's also Guillermo Navarro's cinematography which embodies the difference between the two worlds (and also deservedly won an Oscar). And I also must mention Javier Navarrete's Oscar-nominated score, all the creepy gorgeousness of it.

You've probably heard enough people tell you to see this. Well, here's another person telling you to see Pan's Labyrinth. Seriously, what more do you need to prove you're missing out on one of the best films of the last decade? (Besides that, I mean.) Honestly, go!

My Rating: *****

Monday, October 7, 2013


"In space, no one can hear you scream." That's the famed tagline for Alien. It's also an apt tagline for Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. After all, it's about surviving in the unsurvivable.

Cuaron is no stranger to the sci-fi genre. His last film Children of Men featured an unbelievably bleak dystopia that would rival anything Orwell wrote. With Gravity, Cuaron (which he co-wrote with his son) condenses the scale to a much smaller degree and amps up the terror.

Remember when it was announced that Sandra Bullock would be in Gravity and the internet let out a collective "WHAT?!" I wonder if those same people ate their words when they actually saw Gravity. I myself am not very well versed with Bullock's work but I can safely assume that this is her best work.

Apparently it's now a trend to release a film you simply must see in 3D. (Not complaining, mind you. Just a small thing I noticed.) Like what Robert Richardson and Claudio Miranda did with Hugo and Life of Pi respectively, Emmanuel Lubezki takes a predominately CGI film and turns it into art. (Especially when coupled with Steven Price's chilling score.)

Gravity is honestly one of those films that gets into your mind and you can't stop thinking about it. Thanks to the glorious combination that is Cuaron, Bullock, Lubezki and Price, Gravity may very well be up there as one of the best science fiction films ever made.

My Rating: *****

Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is certainly one of the more popular young actors working today. Even though he's been a familiar face since his days on 3rd Rock from the Sun and has done a multitude of roles, it's what he's done in the last few years that garnered him recognition.

Now he's directed a film! With his directing debut Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt shows his audience what kind of society we're a part of whether you've noticed it before or not. (I'm aware of this society, and I'm not fond of it.)

What is Gordon-Levitt trying to show his audience with his film? The fact we are all a part of a society that believes out romantic and sex lives will be exactly like what you see in movies and even porn. Like the complete deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl character and the "boy meets girl" story in (500) Days of Summer, Don Jon shows don't believe everything you see when it comes to sex and love.

And Gordon-Levitt got some pretty good actors for his film. Along with himself as the title character, he also enlists the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza in supporting roles. And boy, they're all deliver top notch performances.

Don Jon is a good satire on what the media has us think love is supposed to be, but I came away a touch unsatisfied. Maybe I was expecting too much out of it (most likely), I don't know. Still, I enjoyed seeing Gordon-Levitt step behind the camera.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Captain Phillips

There must be nothing more terrifying than realizing your life is in great danger. That is when your survival instincts kick in, hoping that you'll see this terrible ordeal end without your life being taken away from you.

This is what Capt. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) encounters throughout Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips. Based on real (and recent) events, it's a taut film that doesn't let go until the very end. Then again, when you have a film directed, written and shot by the men also responsible for United 93, Shattered Glass and The Hurt Locker respectively, what else would you expect?

It feels like such a sell-out when a front page story gets turned into a movie within five years of first hitting the press. (The events in Captain Phillips take place in April 2009.) But Greengrass pulls no punches with this. No Hollywood treatment, just the facts of the story. Again, this is the man who made United 93.

It also feels like a bit of a sell-out when you have an A-list actor like Hanks in the title role. (A stark contrast to the roster of unknowns in United 93.) But once the story begins, all doubts are cast aside. What Hanks does in his final scene has to be one of the most staggeringly brilliant pieces of acting I've ever seen.

Captain Phillips is quite simply put a transfixing film. Much like United 93, it will give you one hell of an emotional beating. Thanks to Hanks' performance, Greengrass' vision, Billy Ray's script and Barry Ackroyd's keen eye, they make Captain Phillips a film you simply must see.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Love Me or Leave Me

When Chicago gangster Martin "The Gimp" Snyder (James Cagney) first lays eyes on Ruth Etting (Doris Day) in Charles Vidor's Love Me or Leave Me, he's instantly drawn to her. And her initial attitude is a good match for his. She's not some airhead blonde; she's got determination coursing through her veins.

She longs to be a singer. Snyder gives her the opportunity for some small gigs, but that's simply not enough for Ruth. She wants the stage for herself. As time wears on, Ruth becomes famous not just on stage but on screen as well. But things get complicated between Snyder and Ruth. (Well, more complicated...)

Love Me or Leave Me features some amazing work from Cagney and Day. It's amusing to see Cagney do a film that managed to mesh the two genres he frequently did (the gangster picture and the musical). he again plays a gangster but not one with a hair-trigger temper like in The Public Enemy or White Heat. He plays a gangster that acts like a big shot but is anything but. (One character points out how Snyder's a force to be reckoned with in Chicago but a complete nobody anywhere else.)

Long before she made her famed romantic comedies with Rock Hudson, Day shows a brassy yet bold side to her acting. Her many musical numbers are mesmerizing, especially "Ten Cents a Dance". She most definitely holds her own against a screen presence like Cagney. (And this was a role considered for Ava Gardner or Jane Russell!) How she failed to snare an Oscar nomination is beyond me.

Love Me or Leave Me is certainly one of the lesser-known films of Hollywood's Golden Age and I don't understand why that is. It features one of Cagney's best performances and the performance of Day's career. And, quite simply, it's a fascinating story to watch.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Au revoir les enfants

Stories told through the eyes of a child are bound to be more heartbreaking. How so? This is because (at least most of the time) they are unaware of the world around them. (Don't believe me? Go read or watch To Kill a Mockingbird.)

And this is the viewpoint that Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants is told from. Semi-based on an event in Malle's own life, the film depicts a time of war through the eyes of innocents. (Many other films have tried to follow in Malle's footsteps but very few have succeeded.)

I think what makes Au revoir les enfants an interesting watch (the semi-autobiographical elements aside) is that the events of World War II are treated as simply a minor discussion starter. The film is mostly revolving around the personal dilemmas facing Julien (Gaspard Manesse): doing well in his classes, the occasional schoolboy crush, things of that nature.

What's also surprising about Au revoir les enfants is how bleak it is. But it's not the story that's bleak. It's how the film was shot. Renato Berta's cinematography shies away from vibrant colors and it always seems to be a cloudy day. It's a small detail that I simply love.

Au revoir les enfants is quiet and heartbreaking in every frame, especially in the cinematic beauty that is that final shot. Malle usually employs a sort of detached sympathy with some of his films (The Fire Within springs to mind), and Au revoir les enfants is an excellent exception. It's as fantastic as it is sorrowful.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

BOOK VS MOVIE: Of Human Bondage

People are complicated. Everyone knows this. No one on this planet knows what they want for certain whether it be making a name for themselves or simply having another person in their life. It's simple nature.

This is what Philip Carey realizes time and time again throughout Of Human Bondage. He thinks he has his life in order whenever he pursues a new passion but something always throws a wrench into his desires. Poverty, lack of inspiration or, the most devilish of them all, a waitress by the name of Mildred.

W. Somerset Maugham's novel goes into great detail as to what molded Philip into the man that he is. In the wrong hands, this could be viewed as a way to fill the pages. But Maugham makes it an art form, something I've only encountered with a few other authors. Nothing that Maugham writes sounds preachy nor desperate. (Perhaps because of the semi-autobiographical elements?)

John Cromwell's film noticeably condenses Maugham's novel into a manageable running time (83 minutes!) yet it keeps the disillusioned nature of the novel very much alive. This is thanks to the performances from Leslie Howard and Bette Davis as Philip and Mildred, and they show the contrast between their characters excellently. The dejected tone in his features and voice and the vulgar nature in hers simply says it all.

Does Maugham's novel reign supreme or does that honor go to Cromwell's film? Both are superior in their own rights and certainly have their charms. (If "charm" is an appropriate word to use for a story like this.) The novel shows how dreams can die cruel deaths whereas the film is bolstered by two fantastic performances, so I suppose there's only one way to dispute this.

What's worth checking out?: Both.