My Brother the Devil

April 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This small British film follows the relationship between two Arab brothers in working class London.  The older brother is entrenched in a street gang and has made a living selling drugs.  His younger brother idolizes him, much to his parents’ concern.  Now the older brother is trying to break clean from the gang and come to terms with his sexuality just as his younger brother is starting to get involved.  This movie is like a softer version of “American History X” and explores much of the same territory about the relationship between brothers.  It is not nearly so well acted nor so powerful as “American History X” and it does not shed any new light on that subject.  However, it is a far easier film to watch.  I was also really drawn into the view it gave us into gangland London and the relationship between Arabs and Africans.  There was only 1 White character in the whole movie and this is the first time I have seen that in a British film.  The two main characters and fairly well acted and likable enough that you are drawn into the story.  Director Sally El Hosaini makes nice use of lighting and manages to create moments of real beauty.  She can be a bit heavy handed with some symbolism, such as having the younger brother wear only pink shirts for the first half of the film and then only purple ones after that.  I don’t know what that is supposed to mean but it was distractingly obvious she was trying to say something.  This is a small critique, though, in a film that was, overall, pretty enjoyable.

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Oblivion

April 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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For the first of the summer movies, this was an acceptable bit of fluff.  It never required too much of the audience and rarely delivered more than was expected.  Everyone knows from the previews that something’s not quite right in this world but the plot twists unfold with varying level of surprise and at an appropriate pace.  Tom Cruise is at his Cruisiest best; it is nothing short of astonishing how good he looks for 50 and he carries out the hand-to-hand combat scenes like a guy half his age.  Pretty women and  men abound but none of them is terribly relevant to a film that puts Cruise at the center of virtually every scene.  What really stands out are the visuals.  Setting aside the implausibility of New York looking anything like that in a mere 65 years, the images of the buried city are beautiful, evocative and a bit haunting.  This interplay between the ruined planet and the ultra-cool technology of Cruise and his base are the best parts of the film.  The plot itself is a fairly uninspired mash-up of sci-fi we’ve seen before but is not particularly worse than any of those films.  It seems to me it has most of the elements of a sound genre movie: it is fairly well paced between action and exposition, it has a few twists, plenty of special effects, and a cool vision of the world.  The one thing it is missing, in spades, is a sense of humor.  When I think of all the blockbusters I have enjoyed in the past, they contain clever banter and a kind of self-mocking that lightens the heavy-handedness.  This film is just painfully serious.  As such, it feels like it is trying to impart a weight of importance that it cannot earn.  If it had borrowed, not just plot devices but actual tone, from films like “Independence Day,” it would have been a much better movie.

Trance

April 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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Director Danny Boyle (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) hearkens back to his earlier works with this twister of a tale that seems part “Inception,” part “The Mechinist” and part “The Spanish Prisoner.”  In the world of convoluted plots, this one is a doozy.  Simon (James McAvoy, “The Last King of Scotland,” “X-Men: First Class”) works for an art dealer and helps Franck (Vincent Cassel, both “Messrine” movies, “Black Swan”) to steal a priceless painting.  However, he has attempted to double cross Franck and has hidden the painting but, after a serious injury, he cannot remember where.  Frustrated, Franck brings in a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson, “Kids,” “Sin City”) to help Simon remember.  With me so far?  If so, you won’t be for long.  The story twists and turns as we slip in and out of Simon’s brain.  Little clues to his repressed memories pop up in flashes here and there as it becomes less and less clear to the audience when we are in a dream and when we are in reality.  As the story becomes stranger, so does the filming of it.  The movie started out with very standard cinematography and lighting but, by the end, it is all odd angles and primary colors; whole scenes are in orange or blue or red lighting.  This vividness adds to the audience disorientation and our inability to tell reality from dream.  I am sure this is Boyle’s intention, however, we might have been better served with fewer tricks.  The initial mystery had me drawn in but I was a bit exhausted by the end.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun ride and I enjoyed myself.  I just think it might have been a better film if it had spent less time trying to play with the audiences’ minds and stuck with just playing with Simon’s.

The Place Beyond The Pines

April 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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This is not the movie you think it is.  I just have to say that before I start and by way of explaining that I am not sure how to proceed without saying too much.  I will tread carefully.  Everything I saw in the trailers was over within the first 40 minutes of this 2 hour and 20 minute film.  What came next was all a bit of a surprise to me.  That’s the good news; I like have no idea where a film is headed and that was certainly the case here.  The bad news is, in the end, I wasn’t that interested in the journey.  Both Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling give fine but not outstanding performances.  Cooper’s pales when compared to the complexity of his character is “Silver Lining Playbook.”  Gosling ‘s performance lies somewhere between his too-cool-for-it-all character in “Drive” and his broken man in “Blue Valentine” and fails to be as believable or as resonant as either.  The brilliant Ben Mendelsohn (“Animal Kingdom”) is shamefully underutilized.  Ray Liotta is, well, Ray Liotta.  Eva Mendes doesn’t seem capable of the performance required of her character.  In fact, I felt like the whole movie lacked the energy it was trying to generate.  This story seemed to be trying to say big things about the relationship between fathers and sons over 3 generations and how we repeat the way we were raised, for better or worse, despite our best efforts.  I could be a powerful story and the script is certainly packed with punches but they all felt like glancing blows.  I’m not sure I can say exactly why.  The script is at times overwrought but there are some genuine moments that should have worked for me.  Part of it was that the characters didn’t connect with me; perhaps none of them is on the screen long enough for me to care.  I think this was a film with two too many stories told in a 3 act format.  It’s a shame but, in the end, it just didn’t work for me.

The Silence

April 2, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I have something of an ongoing debate with a friend about what is/is not Film Noir.  He would argue that it is defined by the look of the film: black and white, dark sets, dingy cities, night scenes, rain and long shadows.  I have argued that it is more defined by the tone of the film: a crime story with a cynical take on human nature.  Which is more Noir: “Bound” or “The Man Who Wasn’t There?”  Well, you can argue that amongst yourselves.  What I can tell you about “The Silence” is that this German film, by director/writer Baran bo Odar, kept reminding me of the Danish t.v. series, “The Killing.”  Their tones and how they unfold feel remarkably similar.  It starts with the murder of a young girl and then, twenty-three years later, the disappearance of another one in much the same way.  Like any good cop tale, you have the requisite off-kilter but brilliant detective with his own issues, the retired detective who is haunted by the last case, and the lazy by-the-numbers boss.  You also have mountains of tension, sometimes built by a heavy-handed (but effective) score but often built by the slow unraveling of a tense story.  Bo Odar paces the film very well, kicking up the momentum again just as it is starting to flag but never being guilty of rushing to action the way many mainstream films can.  He shows the same cleverness (and slight heavy-handedness) with his color palate; the film is very monochromatic (virtually everything is in various shades of beige, brown, tope, gold or occasional blue-greys) with the exception of everything associated with the crimes.  Those items are all bright red (a car, bike, dress, even the police file on the case); the first victim’s mother wears burgundy and crimson; the father of the missing girl wears light pink.  This was a bit of a conceit that some might find distracting but I enjoyed it as the intrusion of color tended to shock the surrounding environment.  The acting was strong enough, especially on the part of the mother of the first missing girl, who seemed to embody sadness on a bone-deep level.  The story had twists and turns that kept me interested but none of them seemed contrived.  It is as its best in its final scenes and ends leaving the audience unsettled.  Is it Noir?  I think so.

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