Archive for April, 2011
Posted by benjamin on April 29, 2011
Welcome to a new segment style review where I take a look at those that came before and those that are here now. Remake versus Original. There are thousands out there and I’m here to determine which wins on the rectangular screen.
A young business savy girl hires an old marshal, one with “true grit”, to find the coward who shot and killed her father in order to bring him to justice.
Growing up with a father that loved Westerns, I was always encouraged to sit down and enjoy the great John Wayne. Well looks like I finally took the advice because John Wayne shined as the drunken, grizzly marshal. It was a performance worthy of nominations and his eventual wins.
But John Wayne is not the only shining individual within this movie. As much as the film relies on Rooster Cogburn (Wayne), it also relies on the headstrong young girl who hired him. Kim Darby held her own on screen and the relationship between child and man grew from it. My only complaint with Darby’s Mattie Ross was that for someone with a father that was just killed she often seemed more excited to be on the journey to find her father’s killer than to actually bring that man to justice.
Often as it is with the classics, I love to be surprised by other famous actors that I did not realize were in the movie when I initially start it. True Grit offers two more greats in the form of Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. Duvall is hard to miss but I definitely missed Hopper so I’ll have to line myself up for another viewing.
As good as this Western was, it was made during a time period where Westerns can often be campy and that’s not my preference. The G rating alone should have been my first sign but the opening music and credits solidified it only seconds into the movie.
Campy, but that’s the time period.
If this is the Coen’s Western, then sign me up. This was a Western that didn’t feel like a Western. It had all of the proper elements but something was missing that me believe it was a non-Western Western by being a Western. Not sure what that means but I do know that it means something good was on that screen in front of me. I’ll even step forward and request that they continue making films in this genre.
Just like the original, the film is defined by the marvelous 3 of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), La Boeuf (Matt Damon) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and this trio shine like no other. It is the collection of moments on screen when all three are together and interacting with one another when I was the most enthralled by the story. These characters were brought to life before my eyes. Having seen the remake prior to the original, I didn’t realize that I was seeing actors make characters their own but still provide some of the needed characterizations that were brought by those actors that came before.
Now with this trio, one would expect greatness from Damon and Bridges, but it is Steinfeld who truly stole the show. Many newcomers would fall flat on their face when faced with her opposition, but at many times she stole the screen from many other seasoned actors. I honestly believe that the Coen dialog was what elevated her further. Her nomination was well deserved and hopefully there will be more great films and awards in her future.
As much as this film gave me, one of the defining scenes was a huge let down because of the way it was shot. As Mattie and Rooster rode off together, the scene looked campy and over the top instead of the raw and real look that accompanied the entire rest of the movie. The original True Grit shot this with the actors on real horses riding through the countryside. It added so much while the updated version lost so much more.
I had to pick a winner so I went with the Remake. I, of course, loved pieces of each more than the other, but in the end, the Remake seemed to provide me more of the elements that I wanted to enjoy. It was the complete package of dialog, performances, and visuals.
Posted by abby on April 22, 2011
Language: English, French, German
Runtime: 111 minutes
Plot: A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.
I’m a woman of simple needs when it comes to movies. To my mind, a really good film hits at least three out of four criteria. I want to be entertained. I want good writing (including a good story). The acting needs to be convincing. And, finally, the movie needs to look good and be made intelligently. If you get these parts right, everything else will fall into place. If you don’t, it’s much harder to recover.
“Hanna” is a movie that hits nearly all the right spots. It’s wonderfully stylized, and as entertaining as you’d expect, while keeping its head. But the spot it misses is a big one: story. The dialogue and plot development in this movie depend more on showing than telling. While this is a positive characteristic in most other films, with “Hanna,” the script relies too much on showing, and too little on telling, leaving a lot to be desired.
The story, despite initial appearances, is so simple it’s almost nonexistent. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lives with her father (Eric Bana) in a wintry forest. He’s trained her to be an efficient little killer, with one purpose in life: to hunt down C.I.A. agent Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett) and kill her. The day Hanna completes her training, she flips the switch on a signal that will lead Weigler’s people to her, and the hunt is on.
Seth Lochhead and David Farr’s spare script structures the story like a fairytale and the film is filled with elements that won’t let you forget that. Hanna and her father plan to rendezvous at Wilhelm Grimm’s house, for example. Another scene has Blanchett’s icy Weigler standing in front of a wolf’s mouth. It’s an intriguingly dark concept, and, like a lot of fairy tales, doesn’t include much plot or character development apart from Hanna herself, only characters who serve as obstacles or points of assistance along the way. The most entertaining is a hippie family Hanna tags along with—the always enjoyable Olivia Williams is particularly fun as the mother. Tom Hollander is also good as a creepy assassin who wears impeccably clean track suits and tennis whites, and surrounds himself with a gang of skinheads.
Major props also to director Joe Wright, who seemed to know exactly what he wanted the film to look and feel like. His uses of lighting, editing and music are excellent, all razor sharp and timed precisely. Wright is apparently responsible for reuniting the Chemical Brothers to do “Hanna’s” music, a choice that fits this movie as perfectly as Daft Punk’s “Tron Legacy” score. It appears, in comparing Wright’s previous work like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” with “Hanna” that the director’s no costume-drama pansy filmmaker. Wright’s a versatile, visual director with an eye for detail, and “Hanna” is the project that lets him show audiences what he’s really made of, outside the realm of corsets and courtesy.
But that script…it’s a problem. While “Hanna” is full of visual symbolism, the story has next to none; no greater concept, no moral (which, given its fairytale styling, is a bit disappointing). This would be fine if it told an exciting story with a cast of compelling characters, but it doesn’t really have that, either. It’s an odd conundrum, since a beefier script would have messed up the film’s coldly brilliant aesthetic, but in order for “Hanna” to fully work as a movie, the extra development is exactly what it needs. It feels skeletal.
“Hanna” is a very well-made movie. It’s flashy and well-constructed. The actors give effective performances, and there’s a good amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to match the onscreen action and tension. But it’s not a warm or full movie, by any means. The lack of character development or explanation of motivations beyond the bare necessities leaves audiences with a movie that looks fantastic, but feels hollow. As a result, “Hanna” is a movie that settles for being very good instead of aspiring toward greatness.
Posted by christopher on April 13, 2011
Runtime: 94 minutes
Plot: If you don’t know what this movie is about you’ve probably had your arm stuck under a rock.
As the movie goes so shall my commentary. There is really little need for any introduction, back story, or general warming notes to get into the meat of things.
127 Hours is unquestionably a good watch for the story of Aaron Ralston, directing by Danny Boyle, and performance by James Franco. It is entertaining, emotional, and though provoking. It is complicated in and of itself too. As my leading points indicate, pretty much everyone going into the movie knows the overarching story and the ending–in case you don’t, Aaron gets his arm stuck and has to hack it off to escape alive, all of which occurs over 127 hours. So the question and challenge becomes how to make things interesting. I found this was achieved in two ways.
First, the story arc is given the necessary underpinnings of Aaron the person, a somewhat selfish, thrill seeking, engineer-minded individual. These elements are weaved throughout the film, adding context and making sense of how Aaron got himself into being stuck and how he eventually got himself out. These elements also serve as a critical means of breaking up the monotony of you the viewer being stuck looking at Aaron’s face for the majority of the film. The flashbacks also more complexly bring you mentally out of the frame to a new place where Aaron is not stuck. By pulling you out and then pushing back in you keep from becoming completely immunized to what’s going on, fulling appreciating the degradation and desperation of the situation. And fundamentally it just helps keep things moving.
The second challenge and conquering of the challenge is with the photography. Because of the situation, there is little variety in what is actually being shown on the screen. It forces relatively tight but largely similar views. Boyle and his team took this challenge and dialed it up, getting incredibly tight on Franco and the situation but keeping it true to that form throughout even when not necessary. I found this captivating in that it puts a laser focus on one thing be it an object or action or emotion. This I think brings the viewer close to what is going on or what has happened or what is going to happen; the thoughts and emotions of Aaron himself. The same thoughts we all have after doing something stupid or wrong, processing all the events leading up and opportunities missed that could have prevented where you find yourself, or longing for that one thing that would make everything better or at least bearable.
Franco gave quite a fantastic performance. He is responsible for the emotional impact of the hand-stuck-in-rock problem, and develops the character of Aaron from adventurous to instinctive to resourceful to loving.
While I enjoyed the film and found it successful in the major elements of movies, it still lacks that certain something to turn it from good to great. As I think through why, I’m really only left with the lack of delivering something unexpected. Because it is based on a “story of the week” that I can even remember seeing on the morning news, I’m more or less satisfied from the onset. There’s a bit of curiosity just to see it end-to-end, and as I commented earlier the film delves into character elements of Aaron to add a layer of complexity, however there’s no real need to revisit this ever again. The little curiosity is now gone. The experience was pleasant but not pleasantly surprising the evokes the strong love we all end of developing for other movies.
So, see it, enjoy it, don’t buy it.
Posted by abby on April 6, 2011
Runtime: 98 minutes
Plot: An ex-gangster has betrayed his former “colleagues” and now lives in Spain where he thinks he can hide from their vengeance. Ten years later, two hit men show up and kidnap him under orders to escort him back to Paris where he’ll face execution. But it is a long way to Paris…
I love gangster movies, particularly British gangster movies. At their best, they’re complex pieces of work that have as much to do with class differences and character development as they do crazy car chases and guys with cockney accents named Terry. At their worst, they’re Guy Ritchie movies. So it was with great excitement that I picked up “The Hit,” a Stephen Frears movie about an informant who’s found and brought in for execution by his old boss. I was expecting a highbrow version of the usual stuff: hit men, gangsters, wild action, lots of violence.
I got most of that, but in a different package than I expected. It turns out that “The Hit” isn’t really a gangster movie at all, at least not by typical standards. It’s a movie about death that takes a zen-like approach to the subject. It hasn’t got the pulpy action of a movie like “The Long Good Friday,” but it still manages to be plenty tense. It’s a special kind of movie, the kind that still rattles around in your head the next day.
Terence Stamp plays Willie Parker, a former criminal-turned-informant hiding out in Spain after helping put his cohorts in jail. His old boss has just been released, and sends a hit man, Braddock (John Hurt) and his young punk of an apprentice, Myron (Tim Roth), to get Wille and bring him to Paris where he’ll be killed. Willie knows what’s happening the moment he’s abducted, but doesn’t seem bothered at all. He’s talkative; charming, even. He never attempts to escape, or delay his execution. He even repairs Braddock and Myron’s car after it breaks down. It all seems a bit odd. Is he trying to get the hit men to like him, so they won’t kill him later? Does he have a plan to escape that we don’t know about? What’s his game?
The movie is full of long, gorgeous shots of the Spanish countryside that radiate dust and heat, and the great soundtrack by Eric Clapton and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia is brilliantly in tune with the action and location. But this is a Stephen Frears movie, which means we’re here for the performances, and boy does the cast deliver. Stamp is instantly likeable as Willie. He’s an intelligent, witty guy who makes for an intriguing character. But, good as he is, Roth and Hurt are the ones who really stand out—they’re the most dynamic characters in the piece, and both actors embody that depth and inner turmoil brilliantly.
Roth lends a surprising amount of sympathy to Myron, who first shows up looking like a manic little killing machine. But despite his initial thuggishness, it’s clear from how easily he connects to the other characters that Myron’s not the tough guy he thinks he is. As Roth plays him, Myron is a naïve young man who lacks direction. He’s got lots of energy; he just doesn’t know where to put it. Very impressive, considering it was his screen debut.
Alternatively, there’s John Hurt’s Braddock, a world-weary assassin who’s got the process down to a science. Hurt gives Braddock an exterior of cold efficiency (the description on Criterion’s website calls him “soulless”), but of all the characters, he’s the one who undergoes the biggest changes. He’s shaken up by Willie’s casual demeanor, and Hurt shows us how experiencing such a strange attitude towards death would effect a man who kills for a living.
“The Hit” takes viewers on a fascinating, conflicted ride through the minds of its characters. It takes a long and winding road, and ends the way it should, but not necessarily the way you’d think. Peter Prince’s cerebral script gives audiences a compelling story and shows compassion for characters you wouldn’t think it possible to show compassion for. “The Hit” wasn’t the movie I expected, but I’m glad. It was something much more unique, and an interesting addition to a genre that usually doesn’t take this much time to stop and think.