Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nine Lives

Do you know what one of the problems in Hollywood is? Not enough well-written roles for women. Sure, there are some on television within such shows as Mad Men and Masters of Sex, but it's lacking when it comes to film. It only takes the right person to create an at least decent role for an actress.

Rodrigo Garcia is thankfully one such person. The proof is Nine Lives. A series of, well, nine vignettes, the film focuses on women as their lives take an unexpected turn. Some good, some bad, some life-altering.

The vignettes are similar to the likes of a Robert Altman film in the sense of quality performances from a wide range of actors. But unlike Altman's film, Garcia has his vignettes shot in one continuous take courtesy of cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet. It's something not normally seen in the average film, but it's certainly daring.

Speaking of the actors, Garcia certainly got an enviable roster of actors for his film. (I mean, just look at the names on the poster.) In their limited screentimes, they all provide top notch performances. Some are better than others, granted, but it's clear that some of the actors are giving career best work.

Yes, some of the vignettes aren't as great as the others, but that doesn't lessen Nine Lives' value. (My personal favorite was "Lorna" with "Diana" and "Sonia" as close seconds.) To be honest, I don't understand why more people haven't seen it. After all, it's a testament of writing and acting at its finest.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hunt

Be careful of what you hear. The power of one's words can easily get blown out of proportion. They can also destroy one's reputation. (Atonement provides one such example.)

Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt is another stellar example. But rather than revolving around what was said, the film focuses one the reactions to what was said. And boy, it ain't pretty.

The film focuses on Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who recently got his life back in order. But a nasty rumor starts to circulate in his small town, and it's possible that Lucas' reputation could get ruined.

It's thanks to Vinterberg's direction and Mikkelsen's performance that make The Hunt work. You expect at some point for Lucas to slowly crack under pressure but throughout the film, he remains resilient until it's finally too much. Again, Vinterberg's direction and Mikkelsen's performance, both unflinching, are what make the film work.

By many means, The Hunt is a quiet film but it doesn't stay that way the whole time. As well as being incredibly dark (even considering its subject matter), the film also convinced me that the human race is a vicious one. We just need that one provocation, and only God knows what'll happen next...

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hard Candy

The opening scene of David Slade's Hard Candy focuses on a supposedly innocent online chat. The Hayley (Ellen Page) and Jeff (Patrick Wilson) meet in person. The noticeable age difference aside, they get along very well...then things start to change.

Those are the best kind of films, aren't they? The ones that start off normal and slowly become something more twisted. Boy, does Slade know how to weave such a tale. (It's almost a shame that he would do a Twilight movie a few years later.)

It's also a strong testament when a film relies only on two actors to carry the story. (Both relative unknowns at the time too!) Most films of this nature usually require actors who are well-established throughout Hollywood. But Slade enlists the likes of Page and Wilson (both of whom not too far off from their big breaks) and damn, does it work.

Here's the interesting thing about Hayley's actions: we don't know why she's doing what she's doing. She doesn't give any hints that something of this nature had happened to her personally. Is Hayley retaliating or is she simply a devil with the face of an angel? Forget Juno; this is the role that should have gotten Page a nomination.

Although it loses steam in parts, Hard Candy is a thoroughly effective film. Thanks to the work from Page and Wilson (both of whom need to be in more stuff), the film proves that looks can be very deceiving. (It's true, you know.)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Calvary

In the opening scene of John Michael McDonagh's Calvary, the fate of Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is sealed by an unseen presence. In that scene, we witness Gleeson's face as Father James tries to process what he's been told. It's a lingering long take that resonates for the rest of the film.

But what does McDonagh's film revolve around afterwards? Simply put, it focuses on Father James in the days after his fate becomes sealed and the various townsfolk he encounters. To anyone else, no one would think too much about menial moments like those. But to Father James, with his days numbered, they take on a new meaning.

With Calvary, McDonagh does an inversion from his last film The Guard. Rather than having a morally corrupt lead around good people, Calvary features a good lead around morally corrupt people. But rather than being a dark comedy like The Guard, Calvary opts for a more serious and somber tone.

McDonagh also got a rather impressive (and very Irish) cast. As well as Gleeson, the cast features the likes of Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Chris O'Dowd and Dylan Moran. (There's also Domhall Gleeson as an one-scene wonder.) They're all great but this easily Gleeson's show. Without a doubt, this is his best work as an actor.

Calvary is a quiet by many means but it also provides the impact when it's required. Thanks to McDonagh's direction and Gleeson's performance, the film shows how darkness lingers where you least expect it.

My Rating: ****

Friday, August 22, 2014

What If

Can a man and a woman stay friends and only friends? It's a question that has been asked since, well, When Harry Met Sally brought it up. Many other films have been trying to ask that question since then, and the answer is usually "no". But is it possible?

Michael Dowse's What If (or The F Word as it's known everywhere else) is the newest film to ask that question. In a way, the film is similar to When Harry Met Sally in regards with some character interactions. But What If also examines a recent phenomenon that When Harry Met Sally didn't have a name for: the "friend zone".

Admittedly, the "friend zone" isn't something I like hearing about on a semi-regular basis (particularly from the "spurned" side of the situation). However, I'm willing to hear one's take on the matter. And Dowse provides a variation where the two friends are actually fine with their current situation but everyone else thinks it won't stay that way for very long. (Though admittedly that's another trope altogether.)

But who are the two halves of this "just friends" situation? Well, they're played by Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, and they both provide an honesty to their roles. Their characters of Wallace and Chantry show a genuine connection throughout their scenes, something that's often lacking in other romantic comedies.

Though it doesn't break any new ground, What If is still a rather charming film. It has its fair share of rom-com cliches but thanks to Dowse, Radcliffe and Kazan, they provide variations of them. What If is without a doubt a nice change of pace from the last few romantic comedies we've been getting lately.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

If I had to choose which decade had the best comedies, I would easily pick the 1960s. They manage to mix innuendo of the decade with the familiar slapstick of the previous decades. It's a mix that most comedies nowadays need to do more often.

Richard Lester's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is one such comedy. Based on the stage musical of the same name, the displays the familiar slapstick antics of the earlier decades. (Certainly doesn't hurt that the film has Buster Keaton amongst the cast.)

Sometimes the main plot for a comedy involves lies upon lies building up throughout the film. And boy, it is all over the place in this film. And as the lies build, the antics can get crazy. (I honestly wonder how they could do some of those antics on stage let alone on screen.)

And with any comedy, it all relies on the actors. It features several names that were popular at the time, such as Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers. They all do very well their roles, but nothing can compare to the wild-eyed mania of Mostel.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum certainly has its moments but in comparison to other comedies of the time period, it feels like the weaker of them. Still, Stephen Sondheim's musical numbers are quite entertaining as are the actors. If you need a silly film to pass the time, this is it.

My Rating: ****

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

You know how with some movies it takes a while to establish mood? Like sometimes the true mood doesn't show up for a solid hour? But there are some whose moods are made quite quickly.

And if you've seen James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy (which you probably have), it's pretty obvious as to which category it falls under. It's throughout the opening credits that the movie makes it pretty damn clear how different it is from the usual Marvel productions. It's not the poster child like Iron Man or Captain America; it's the crazy uncle no one really talks about. ("What a bunch of a-holes.")

I think what makes Guardians of the Galaxy work as well as it does is that it's aware that it gets ridiculous at times. (I mean, two of the heroes are a raccoon and a tree creature.) It practically basks in its own absurdity. (There's an absolutely perfect example towards the end.)

And those involved are clearly having one hell of a time. Chris Pratt acts as if he's playing a goofy mix of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds, and it works. His co-stars (Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel) also kick serious ass. John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro easily entertain in their few scenes. Not to mention that Lee Pace and Karen Gillan are friggin' awesome as villains.

If I wasn't clear enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the most fun you can have with a movie this summer. It also proves that a comic book movie doesn't have to be entirely serious. (Especially that post-credits scene. I mean, who the hell was expecting that?)

My Rating: *****