Sunday, March 30, 2014

Big Night

During an opening scene of Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott's Big Night, you can just see the utter exasperation on Secondo's (Tucci) face as he explains Italian cuisine to an ignorant diner of his restaurant. This is something that's common between he and his brother Primo (Tony Shalhoub).

The brotherly bond between Primo and Secondo is a running theme throughout Big Night. As anyone with a brother or sister knows, the connection between two siblings is a rather dynamic one. Simply put, the bond between siblings is one like no other.

Big Night isn't just about brotherly bonds; it's also about the food. This is one of those films that you need to watch on a full stomach. (Watching it when hungry is rather unwise.) God, all that food looks decadent, doesn't it?

Another aspect of Big Night I admire is its ambiance. It captures the mood of 1950s small town life. Most films set or from that time period are often set in a bustling city but Tucci and Scott decided on the opposite instead. It's a small touch but I appreciate it.

Now I didn't adore Big Night like some people I know, but I did like it. There were several great performances out of the actors (I particularly liked Scott's bit part). All in all, Big Night is a pretty good film.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Limey

"You tell tell him I'm coming. Tell him I'm fuckin' coming!" This threat from Wilson (Terence Stamp) pretty much sets the mood for Steven Soderbergh's The Limey. And boy, the film is a hell of a doozy too.

How so? Well, for starters, the film isn't exactly told in proper order. By that, I mean the editing by Sarah Flack presents the film in a different way than you would expect with the standard film. (Okay, not in the same way as, say, Memento.)

I'm not overly familiar with Soderbergh's films but I know what his style is like. (One thing I know of is that he's fond of yellow and blue lighting.) Anyway, his style is very much all over The Limey.

There's also something very subtle in The Limey that I really liked. Pay attention to the flashback scenes. Those are actually scenes from a film of Stamp's from way back when. It's a nice touch by Soderbergh.

The Limey isn't my favorite of Soderbergh's films I've seen, but I did very much like it. The best parts were definitely Stamp and Peter Fonda. So if you're a fan of Soderbergh or you want a throwback to films of the 1960s, The Limey is for you.

My Rating: ****

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Matador

There are always those actors who have that one role casting a shadow over their careers. Sometimes they're stuck with that role forever looming over them, but the wise ones shy away from projects that resemble their famed role.

An interesting example is in the form of Pierce Brosnan. As most people know, he played James Bond during most of the 90s. And by all accounts, he's managed to escape the shadow of Agent 007. But that doesn't mean he's not willing to do a role with shades of Bond as proven by his work in Richard Shepard's The Matador.

In that film, Brosnan plays Julian Noble, a professional assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis. After meeting Denver businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) while in Mexico, they form a sort of kinship...even though Danny's taken aback by Julian's line of work.

Much like Shepard's upcoming film Dom Hemingway, The Matador shines the lead character (one who partakes in an illegal profession) in a very sympathetic light. It's clear that Julian is a very flawed (and sometimes fucked-up) person. Conscience: it can screw you up sometimes.

The Matador is a very funny film but at the same time, it's a quiet character study as well. Brosnan and Kinnear are hilarious together. (I sort of want them to do another film.) SO be sure to see The Matador (and Dom Hemingway when it gets released).

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stranger Than Fiction

In the opening moments of Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, a narrator describes the day of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). It becomes strange for Harold when he begins hearing the narrator (and no one else can).

Now that opening paragraph could easily have you believe that Stranger Than Fiction was a comedy, especially since Ferrell is the star of the film. But it doesn't take long in the film to change in mood. (And it happens several times in the film as well.)

I think what makes the film work is that so many aspects of it simply work. It's hard to have both the story and the actors change in mood over and over again and have the film still work. Not many films can do that.

Oh, and speaking of the actors, they're all fantastic here. They all hit the right notes during their scenes, again a rarity amongst most films. Personally, I thought Emma Thompson stole every scene she was in. (Not to mention she was perhaps the most accurate depiction of a writer ever.) But I think the real shocker was definitely Ferrell. Can we get another role like this for him, please?

Stranger Than Fiction is a very lovely film. So much of it resonates once the credits have rolled. Also, on a different note, can we get another film like this for Forster to direct?

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Killed My Mother

It's made quite clear early on in Xavier Dolan's I Killed My Mother that the familial bond between Hubert Minel (Dolan) and mother Chantale (Anne Dorval) is a frayed one. It could initially be distinguished as simple teenage drama on Hubert's part. But it quickly becomes something else.

There are a number of films revolving around the tumultuous lives that teenagers often lead. But often times it's overdone, perhaps because the directors and writers (and sometimes the actors) aren't in their teens. Dolan, meanwhile, was sixteen when he wrote I Killed My Mother (and twenty when it was released), so he easily defied that Hollywood annoyance.

Dolan has stated that his first foray into directing was semi-autobiographical, so it makes I Killed My Mother all the more fascinating. What aspects of the film were from Dolan's own life and what aspects were from his mind? These are thoughts that run through your mind as you watch.

What also makes I Killed My Mother an interesting watch is that the film doesn't actively try to make the viewer pick sides. It doesn't want you to side with either Hubert or Chantale; it simply wants you to watch the mayhem unfold.

I Killed My Mother is easily one of the best directorial debuts I've seen in a while. Though I have to admit I'm envious of Dolan. Making a film this good at the age of 20, which is also my current age? Show off some more, why don't you?

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel displays many of the distinct traits found in the director's earlier work. And yet at the same time, Anderson's newest film is different from his other films.

How so? Even amid all of the pastel colors and quirky characters, it is noticeably darker in nature. Sure, Anderson's previous films also had this trait (The Royal Tenenbaums most noticeably), but The Grand Budapest Hotel takes it to a new level. Then again, the film's story does begin after a sudden death...

I think I can say on the behalf of several people that one of the main draws of The Grand Budapest Hotel was its influences. Anderson himself cited the films of Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner) and Rouben Mamoulin (Love Me Tonight) as role models amongst others. I mean, if that doesn't get you a bit excited, I don't know what to tell you.

Well, if that didn't excite you, the (as expected) star-studded cast certainly will. (The roster of actors Anderson gets for every new film he does still blows my mind.) I won't mention every actor in The Grand Budapest Hotel but I will say that Ralph Fiennes is hilarious. (More comedy roles for him, please.) Oh, and newcomer Tony Revolori is also very, very good.

The Grand Budapest Hotel isn't my immediate favorite of Anderson's films (Moonrise Kingdom gets that spot) though it was certainly a delight to watch. (Sometimes it's fun to see serious actors loosen up a bit.) I anticipate your next film, Mr. Anderson.

My Rating: *****

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sexy Beast

Within the opening moments of Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast, the viewer watches as Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone) sunbathes under the Spanish sun...and almost gets crushed by a falling boulder. That alone implies what's in store for Gal.

Admittedly, Sexy Beast is different from Glazer's later films Birth and Under the Skin in the way of aesthetics. That said, there are some shots in Sexy Beast that would be synonymous with Glazer's style. They're subtle but if you've seen Glazer's other films, you'll be able to catch them.

Likewise, the premise isn't exactly an original one (a criminal is recruited to do one last heist) but both Glazer and the actors make it fresh for the most part. Again, it's a premise that's been done countless times throughout the years but at least they've tried.

Anyway, onto the performances. Winstone is clearly the support for a bulk of the film, but the main attraction of Sexy Beast is definitely Ben Kingsley. He's violent, he's foul-mouthed, he's short-tempered, he's off the fucking wall. (And this is an actor who played Gandhi, for Christ's sake.)

Sexy Beast certainly grabs the viewer's attention for most of it, but it sort of loses steam in the third act. Still, it's worthy of a look if mainly for Kingsley's performance and Glazer setting the foundation for his career as a Hollywood director.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Omen

It's established early on in Richard Donner's The Omen that all is not well in the Thorn household. Yes, Robert (Gregory Peck) and Kathy (Lee Remick) are leading a quite happy life with their young son Damien (Harvey Stephens) but they've recently noticed things have gotten...strange.

There have been countless horror films that focus on the supernatural. Most of them rely solely on scares. Very few (mainly those from the last few years) have a sturdy story around the scares. (This is why I'm more fond of horror films from the fifties to the seventies.)

Much like The Haunting and Rosemary's Baby before it, The Omen relies more on the paranoia than the actual physical scares. You don't know if what Robert is discovering is true or he's slipping into insanity. That's good horror in my eyes.

To make any horror film convincing, you need the right actors to make it all the more terrifying. Donner wisely enlists the likes of Peck and Remick for his film. (It's more interesting in regards with Peck because of the reality subtext behind his role.) Also, Stephens is really creepy. (Then again, small children in horror films usually are.)

The Omen is a textbook example of what horror films should be like nowadays. (None of that gorn schlock.) Seriously, we need more that rely on nail-biting suspense, not a deluge of blood and guts. And...end rant.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

You know how in some movies, there are those characters that are mostly off to the side yet they always get the viewer's attention? Sometimes you wonder what those characters are like when they're not onscreen. How about a spin-off featuring them?

That's what Tom Stoppard apparently had in mind when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead back in the late 1960s. Fast forward to 1990, and Stoppard adapted his play for the silver screen. And it's certainly an amusing adaptation.

For those rusty when it comes to the works of William Shakespeare, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were supporting characters in Hamlet. In Stoppard's work, it's the other way around. Most of the major characters of Hamlet are merely backdrop for the majority of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And it's certainly an interesting concept.

And with any good British production, you need the right actors. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth work off each other hilariously. Amongst the supporting actors, you have Richard Dreyfuss stealing every scene he's in and Iain Glen (yep, Ser Jorah Mormont himself) doing very much of the same. (It usually doesn't take much to amuse me.)

Anyway, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is very ambitious during its philosophical moments even if they don't entirely work some of the time. Still, Stoppard managed to make an amusing film. That alone is worthy of a pass from me. (Well, that and Oldman and Roth are priceless.)

My Rating: ****

Friday, March 21, 2014

Captain America Blogathon

Andy over at Fandango Groovers is at it again with a new blogathon. To celebrate the upcoming release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Andy orchestrated this blogathon. The details are quite simple actually:
I have just see an extended trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In it we see Steve Rogers make a note in a pocket note book. A list of things he missed out on in the time he was frozen that people have recommended he should catch up on. Towards the bottom of the list there are two movies Rocky and Rocky II. This got me thinking, what ten movies would you recommend a person who had been frozen between 1943 and 2011.
Considering I've been rather absent from the blog, I decided to chip in my two cents. My choices are separated by two categories: A Changing America and A Darker America. My choices also start after the jump.