Monday, April 14, 2014

The Broken Circle Breakdown

No one said life was easy. No life begins and ends perfectly. No one can lead a life without a few bumps in the road.

That certainly seems to be the main theme for Felix Van Groeningen's The Broken Circle Breakdown. Following the lives of Didier (Johan Heldenbergh, who also co-wrote the play the film is based on) and Elise (Veerle Baetens), the film shows how with every happy moment in one's life, tragedy will follow suit. (Like I said, life isn't easy.)

This is a small detail I often notice when watching foreign films. Most Hollywood films want to end on a positive note whereas foreign films aren't afraid to have a downer ending. (It also tends to sum up why I don't watch them as much as I should.) Basically if you want a sad ending, watch something not made in the United States.

How can I sum up The Broken Circle Breakdown into a concise sentence? Well, I suppose comparing it to a film from recent memory would do, but which one? Oh, that's easy. The Broken Circle Breakdown is like a more depressing Blue Valentine. (And that's saying a lot.)

Long story short, The Broken Circle Breakdown is devastating. Thanks to Heldenbergh and Baetens' performances, the film showcases how life can deal a cruel hand from time to time. And God, it'll hurt your heart immensely.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It's hard for superhero movies to carry on using the same formula time and time again, especially when in the shadow of something like The Avengers. Thankfully, some aren't afraid to try something new. (Working successfully, however, that's another matter.)

Thankfully, Anthony and Joe Russo's Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to deliver on so many levels. (Not bad considering the directors hadn't done anything in the action genre before.) And since we're living in a post-The Dark Knight and The Avengers world, that's saying a lot.

What makes the movie work is that it doesn't actually become a superhero movie until the final third. The other two-thirds are a nice throwback to thrillers from both the Cold War and the 1970s. (Paranoia can make for one hell of a plot point.) God, we need more movies like this.

And like any good thriller, it all comes down to the actors. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie certainly keep the suspense very much alive. But I just want to talk about Robert Redford's work for a moment. He seems like the last actor you'd expect to see in a Marvel movie, and he's awesome.

Anyway, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was very effective up until the last third. It's also a nice change of pace from some of the other run-of-the-mill superhero movies. (Read: it's not overwrought with angst like some of the others.) It's definitely worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

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 him...you 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: *****