Monday, September 29, 2014

The Trip to Italy

There's a scene in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip to Italy where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (once again playing "themselves") discuss the disadvantages of doing a second restaurant review column. Coogan argues that a second anything isn't as great as the first. (Brydon only replies "The Godfather Part II.") An ironic discussion considering The Trip to Italy is just as good (if not better than) the first film.

It's true that sequels aren't usually as great as the original film, but what makes The Trip to Italy stand out is that it has the first film's charm. (Most sequels are absent of that.) It's a small detail but one that works in the long run.

Now this may be because I'm a bit of a film and literature snob, but the various references and discussions throughout the film were a nice touch. Whether it's discussing Lord Byron's own trip to Italy or reminiscing over Italy-set films like Contempt or La Dolce Vita, it's simply a detail that those who admire those things will like. (Again, it could just be me.)

Here's a detail that's worth bringing up: in the first film, there was a subplot of Coogan trying to further his own career and improve his personal life. This time around, it's Brydon facing dilemmas. And much like Coogan's work in the first film, Brydon provides some good dramatic moments as well as comedic.

The Trip to Italy is one of the rare instances where the sequel improves on the original. It's charming, funny and, all in all, very entertaining. And is there a better way to take your mind off your troubles than by watching a comedy?

My Rating: ****

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

People are complicated. Everyone knows that. We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad days. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond were right when they said nobody was perfect.

That's the running theme throughout Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. Revolving around the strained marriage of a young couple, the film depicts how difficult life can become when something unexpected happens. (C'est la vie, after all.)

The film has an eclectic roster of supporting actors. Amongst them are the likes of Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Bill Hader. They all do well within their screentimes but Davis easily steal every scene she's in.

Now onto the leading actors. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are fine actors, provide good performances in an otherwise decent film. Both have done their fair share of somber roles in the past and this film is no different. However, here there are simply the building blocks for what could have been great performances.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them works in some scenes but overall is lacking. (Oh, to have seen the original cut.) All of the actors do their best, but it doesn't feel like it's enough. Still the film does provide a nice glimpse into a certain kind of people. (All the lonely people, where do they all come from?/All the lonely people, where do they all belong?)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Love Is Strange

Hollywood doesn't seem to understand how same-sex relationships should be depicted in films. Ever since Brokeback Mountain (and even before then), films revolving around such relationships are often lit in a melodramatic light. When will same-sex relationships be depicted the like any other relationship?

Thankfully, Ira Sachs' new film Love Is Strange has fulfilled that wish. The relationship depicted is not an angst-riddled one, not in the least. Instead, the bond between George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) is much more subdued than what's usually depicted. (Not to mention they're adorable together.)

What's also worth mentioning about George and Ben is that their relationship isn't even the prime focus of the film. Instead, the film revolves around everyday life and those close to them. Again, this is a rarity amongst films with LGBT relationships but thanks to Sachs, he makes it work.

Molina and Lithgow, both fine actors, bring their roles to life. They're intimate without being too revealing. They're honest without being blunt. In short, they make their roles human.

Love Is Strange is a sweet little film. There's not a single false note at any point. To sum things up, this film is perhaps the most honest film you will see all year. (And yes, the R rating is stupid.)

My Rating: *****

The Skeleton Twins

It's practically a requirement for a comedian or comedienne at some point in their career to do a serious role. It's true. There have been a number of Saturday Night Live alumni that have dabbled in drama.

And the newest members of the "comedians doing drama" group are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig thanks to Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins. Now I haven't seen much of their work on Saturday Night Live, but what Hader and Wiig do here is amazing. (And I don't say that a lot, mind you.)

To be honest, a film focusing on the same material that The Skeleton Twins doesn't sound like the most appropriate for a comedy. (Then again, it's more of a drama with the occasional funny scene.) But when you have names like Hader and Wiig, all that matters is that the film works.

Now onto the performances. The film co-stars Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell, both of whom are very good in their roles. But The Skeleton Twins is Hader and Wiig's show. They have wonderful moments together, both funny and sad.

While it doesn't work in some scenes, The Skeleton Twins is still overall a very effective film. As mentioned many times throughout this review, Hader and Wiig are well worth the price of admission. Long story short, it's worth checking out.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, September 25, 2014


If there's one thing that can be said about Richard Linklater, it's that the man has patience. After all, he made a trilogy over the span of nearly twenty years, so what else could he be capable of?

The answer is in the form of his new film Boyhood. Shot over a period of twelve years, the film revolves around a young boy as he experiences life around him. And it's not an always happy one either.

It's certainly a bold move on Linklater's part to make Boyhood for that period of time. Sure, there have been films set during that time frame but filmed? It's not commonplace for films, that's for certain.

As is often the case with a Linklater film, the acting is excellent. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are very good in their roles but the main highlights are certainly Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (the director's own daughter!). It's not very often you see consistent performances from young actors. (Usually such performances are...hollow.)

Boyhood is a one of a kind experience of a film. To repeat a cliche, it's something unlike any other film you've seen. Seriously, be sure to see it before the year's out.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Boy, Liam Neeson's career has certainly gone down a different path in recent years, hasn't it? He went from starring in dramas like Schindler's List and Kinsey to starring in action movies like Taken and The Grey. Certainly not the usual roles for an Irish actor in his sixties.

And he continues this trend with his role in Scott Frank's A Walk Among the Tombstones. In many aspects, the film doesn't really provide anything new. That said, however, it does have a few perks to it.

You know how most films of this nature, the main culprits are either drug dealers or member of the mafia? Surprisingly, A Walk Among the Tombstones has the former as supporting characters. (And they're not the vicious kind either.) You don't see that very often, that's for sure.

But does that make A Walk Among the Tombstones good? Well, in two words, not really. It starts off relatively promising before slipping into B-movie material (particularly how women are treated an depicted throughout the film). It's not schlock but it's not too far off from it.

Anyway, A Walk Among the Tombstones is solid in some scenes and flimsy in others. Neeson is good as are Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook. But if you want to see a good thriller from Frank, your best bet is in the form of The Lookout.

My Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Drop

Ah, the crime film. Ever since Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese got famous for making them during the seventies, there have been countless other directors trying to repeat the same success. Some have been lucky, some not so much.

So how has Michael R. Roskam fared with his new film The Drop? Well, on the one hand, the film does provide entertainment to those who watch it. But on the other hand, it doesn't really provide anything new.

That said, the people involved are rather impressive. It's written by Dennis Lehane (the film's based on a short story of Lehane's), and the film certainly has a similar mood to that of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Among the actors involved are Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini (in perhaps fittingly his last film role), Noomi Rapace and Matthais Schoenaerts, all of whom do very well.

Back to the original point. The Drop for the most part follows the usual crime film conventions. Trying to stay out of the game, violent criminals, obvious fates for certain characters...these have been seen time and time again throughout the film industry. You'd think for the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone Lehane would've been able to come up with something new.

Long story short, The Drop is good but not great. Sure, the acting and directing are good, but the plot could have been used a little work. Still, it's pretty solid enough to warrant a look.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


One of the qualms I have with thrillers is that they're too clean cut most of the time. They often revolve around a government conspiracy that gets resolved within the span of two hours. I mean, there have been good ones throughout the years like The China Syndrome and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but all of the other ones follow the same formula.

That's why Morten Tyldum's Headhunters is a very refreshing change of pace from some of the more recent thrillers. It doesn't revolve around a mass conspiracy, not in the slightest. Instead, the conspiracy hones in on one person: corporate recruiter/art thief Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie).

But who would put Roger through such an ordeal? The answer is in the form of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the executive of a company. The reason? Well, let's just say Roger didn't exactly make a wise decision in trying to rob Clas. (Certainly not the wisest thing to do if you just met the guy.)

What Tyldum does throughout Headhunters is he builds suspense at a steady pace. Usually films of this nature reveal too much or not enough in the short amount of time they have. But Tyldum uses the right amount of build-up for his film and boy, does it work.

Headhunters is one damn good film. Tyldum weaves a story that gets more and more fascinating as it unfolds. I wonder what Tyldum has in store for his next film...

My Rating: *****

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

It's surreal to watch an actor in a film released posthumously. Their presence throughout the film is felt but no longer in real life. It's a very bittersweet feeling.

Without a doubt, this is the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man. As pretty much everyone can attest to, Hoffman was one of those actors that always made any film better. But since his passing this February, this sentiment is still very much shared.

A Most Wanted Man is similar to other adaptations of John le Carre's work like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. It builds with a slow burn, perhaps too slow a burn in some scenes. Not that it's a total flaw, mind you. It gives the film more time to focus on character interactions.

Corbijn (who also directed Control, one of my favorite films) directs the film with a keen eye. With cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, Corbijn makes every shot stand out with a certain color palette within each scene. (No surprise since Corbijn was a photographer before becoming a director.) It's a director's touch not often seen.

A Most Wanted Man is well done but rather bleak. (Perhaps because the shadow of Hoffman's passing looms over it?) Hoffman, as well as Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright, give exceptional performances. Ignoring Mockingjay for a moment, the final shot of A Most Wanted Man could easily be the perfect ending for a career as prominent as Hoffman's.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Trip

This is more of a small observation I've made in recent years, but the Brits really know how to make quality films and television. (Trust me, I've seen a lot amongst both fields.) Whether it be comedy or drama, those across the pond really know what they're doing.

The newest entry I've seen from the United Kingdom is Michael Winterbottom's The Trip. On paper, it doesn't sound like your average comedy. But it's actually quite clever as you watch it.

The film stars comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom I'm rather familiar with. (Coogan from films like 24 Hour Party People and Philomena; Brydon from panel shows like Would I Lie to You? and QI.) Now both men by themselves are funny. Together: priceless.

The thing about most comedies it that they're usually a mix of scripted material and improv. In the case of The Trip, it's mostly improv. (Then again, it is a film starring Coogan and Brydon as exaggerated versions of themselves.) The amount of self-deprecation throughout the film isn't something usually seen in comedies but it is British humor we're talking about, so that should come as no surprise.

The Trip is a rather charming film. (In the British sense, mind you.) Admittedly, the ending sort of altered the mood of the film (and it might have broken my heart a little) but that doesn't make the film any less solid. After all, a good comedy does one good.

My Rating: ****

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: ****