Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category
Posted by christopher on May 23, 2011
Runtime: 146 minutes
Plot: The life and times of a mobster.
To be a Goodfella, that’s the life, you’ve got it made. Money, respect, women, drinking, gambling, you’re a part of a family. It’s all that Henry wanted growing up. Forget the middle class, average, monotonous lifestyle, sitting behind a desk writing reviews for your blog. That’s not for Henry, there’s no risk, no adventure, no fun. It’s a grind in the start, being a grunt, a gopher; but if you show respect and don’t fuck up, you’ll get yours, Henry sure did.
I had not had the pleasure of viewing this movie prior to this point. I was aware of it but it had only recently struck me that, as an indisputable classic, I should probably give it a whirl. What struck me right away was how much I had missed not seeing Goodfellas earlier. It’s been parodied and redone but only now can I truly reflect and appreciate what an influence it was on media and our culture. What also struck me was the timeliness of the film. Viewing it on Blu-ray I’m sure it was in some way digitally enhanced, and while not a taxing film visually, it could just as easily been created today as it was in 1990. Also to this point was the surprising applicability in light of the “Jersey” movement, where the film highlighted the women’s lavish but incredibly tacky lifestyle choices from their homes, pets, clothing, and makeup. Same too with the men, all named “Pauly something something.” Same as it ever was.
The topical influence is rather apparent but the directorial influence deserves incredible credit as well. It goes without saying that Scoresese is an incredible filmmaker, and it’s telling in the shots that have been mimicked many times now. I’m thinking specifically of a scene where Henry is first taking Karen out on a date to the club. They skip the line and enter through the backdoor/kitchen. The one shot follows Henry and Karen through the halls and kitchen, eventually leading them to their table, capturing every interaction along the way no matter how subtle. It serves to establish Henry’s character for one as a strong, respected member of the family without cutting for even a moment to switch scenes. Scorsese pulls a similar move in introducing the family in the beginning; a one shot again from a first person perspective.
One piece of the film that initially captivated but eventually drew me out was the narration. I quickly became drawn into the film and into Henry’s character as Ray Liotta led the story. He has a great voice, one that always imparted a bit of youthfulness and innocence in spite of his actions. Unfortunately the film switches with Karen narrating for a short while. This would have been wonderful had the film continued to switch, with new characters taking the lead, discussing their thoughts and the current actions in relation to Henry; it did not, however. Henry, in stead, picks the narration back up which frankly just left me confused in hind sight. In the grand scheme, given Karen’s role, I’m not sure why she led the story for a short while.
The performances, across the board, were quite spectacular. De Niro and Pesci particularly. They not only embodied the mobster personality but both added lightness to the story. As much comic relief as was necessary, often times quickly countered by extreme violence, intensity, and often psychopathy, which in and of itself was fun and entertaining.
Beyond the narration, I found the story dragged. There was a point of transition, after which point it just repeated itself. It all eventually served into the climax but could have been cut into a tighter story.
Still, in my humble opinion, Goodfellas is a made movie.
Posted by robert on May 9, 2011
Runtime: 134 minutes
Plot: Freed after 27 years in prision, newly elected President of South Africa Nelson Mandela urges the nation’s rugby team towards victory and his country towards reconciliation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The profound poignancy of the real story of Nelson Mandela and the quest for racial reconciliation in South Africa is sufficient to excuse the over-the-top cheesiness that occasionally surfaces in Invictus. Let’s hope that the movie that truly captures that epic story has not yet been made, but if it takes a Matt Damon sports themed vehicle to expose new generations to the all too recent history of apartheid South Africa, so be it.
Playing team captain Francois Pienaar, Damon is more believable as a rugby player than a South African, but his accent is close enough not to be distracting. Morgan Freeman lives up to the expectations that had long cast him as “born to play” Mandela. The rugby story, the window into the greater drama of injustice and redemption, often seems like an overreaching fairy tale, but in fact stays true to the outcomes of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The film has a couple of moments of melodrama that seem a bit like cheap shots, and absent much reference to the broader context, Mandela appears obsessed with rugby to the exclusion of other presidential concerns.
Reconciliation among black and white members of Mandela’s security detail, Mandela’s insistence on retaining the apartheid-era name of the national rugby team, and Pienaar’s visit to Mandela’s jail cell are among the elements that prompt the viewer’s wonderment and ultimately awe, at the transformative influence of a man with the humility to use his power for forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance of one of the great injustices of the twentieth century.
All this adds up to a compelling story and a heart-warming film, even if it only leaves you wanting to know more about Nelson Mandela and the story of post-apartheid South Africa.
The Social Network
Posted by will on May 6, 2011
Runtime: 120 minutes
Plot: On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.—Columbia Pictures
I have long been fascinated with the application and practical usage of social interaction online. Not to mention, I have long struggled to balance where I want to be and where I should be when it comes to an online presence. Sure, I have tried them all (at least, it seems like it) and over the years my memberships have been in flux as I have joined and left digital social circles at various junctures and personal whims. These circles have had their niches (blogs, photos, music) and have spanned professional and personal life.
Yet, as we all know, the behemoth of social networking is Facebook. I’ve been a member of the site since 2005. I had to practically beg my friends to join at the time and now, every few months, I’ll go through and “trim the fat” in my friends list. Six years later I still haven’t quite come to grips with my love/hate relationship with the site. Speaking of six years later, who would have thought there would be a movie based on the creation of the site. Not to mention, a 3 time Oscar winning movie?
The plot is crafted around a series of depositions (Zuckerberg is being sued concurrently for ownership of Facebook) which are cut between flashbacks that give us the story of the creation of the company It is best to keep in mind that both the director and writer have claimed that this film should not be intended to be taken as an accurate depiction of the creation of one the most recent and influential business successes of the past 10 years. Many liberties are taken from a basic premise.
Director David Fincher’s technical aspects, from the camera’s movement and framing, really create a visually striking film. There is always a callous, shallow feeling to the movie, regardless of what’s going on. Like Fight Club and S37en before it, The Social Network has an oppressive yet flashy vibe. So, kudos to Fincher for creating an interesting world around, on paper, a pretty boring pretense. Visuals can be a phenomenal aspect to a film but the discussion, the tête-à-tête, is what really separates the banal from the magnificent. Enter Aaron Sorkin.
I love Aaron Sorkin (for the most part). His quick-hit, sharp, biting dialogue turns a so-so tale into a tale with a little bit of grit and intrigue. You know him from the television series The West Wing and Sports Night as well as movies The American President and A Few Good Men. The conversations he crafts for the character interactions are whip-smart and funny to boot. The writing really made this film zing. Credit to you if you caught Sorkin’s cameo as a prospective investor.
So, now that I’ve heaped praise on the direction and writing, let’s take a moment to applaud the acting prowess from the young leads of the film. Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Mark Zuckerberg crafts the primary character into a multi-dimensional anti-hero. While publicly, the real Zuckerberg appears as an aloof oddball (check out his SNL cameo), Eisenberg instilled a necessary edge to his onscreen (and fictitious?) persona. In a crude sense, he gave the cold, calculating genius a nice pair of brass balls which were necessary to eschew anything to make his idea, his company, a success.
Andrew Garfield, to counter Eisenberg’s Zuck, portrays Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s best friend. While Eisenberg gave us an mostly emotionless, hyper-active performance, Garfield’s Saverin is the perfect foil; passionate, emotional, and, dare I say, human. Saverin’s sympathetic figure makes Zuckerberg’s portrayal all the more tragic. Eisenberg’s the humanoid, Garfield the human.
I should also mention the performances of Justin Timberlake as former Napster employee, Sean Parker (in the movie, Parker is identified as the founder of Napster, which, in real life, is not correct) as the bandwagon-jumping jackass and Armie Hammer is the upper-crust Winklevoss Twins; both turned in outstanding portrayals and grabbed the appropriate emotional reactions that I imagine Fincher wanted.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the music underneath all of the layers of complexity keeps a steady hand on the tiller amid the chaos. The tracks are haunting and tense but as they come to a breaking crescendo, they only bend – thus keeping the uncomfortable annoyance buzzing along. Most memorable films contain memorable music and in The Social Network is just another example. Admittedly though, I’ll best remember the first trailer’s backing track than anything from the movie.
Overall, this movie is clever and moves at a modern-day pace. Does it speak for our generation? I would like to think not. Perhaps it’s a Generation X take on a Millennial scenario. Either way, it’s more than worth your time.
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.