Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I'm sorry.

Really, I did not mean to go missing from this blog for the past week or so. I've just been feeling unmotivated in regards with my writing. I've been thinking about closing this blog but not on a serious level. But believe me when I say this blog will be up and running again tomorrow.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mona Lisa

Neil Jordan, from what I've been told, is an eclectic director. He's done crime, romance, historical dramas and everything in between. So as a newcomer to his work, I wondered which film would be best to start with.

I opted for Mona Lisa, his third film. It has many elements found in a number of dramas from the 1980s: good story, strong actors and a nice backdrop. And, of course, solid directing. So I figured I'll give it a chance.

What I got was a film chronicling a man's descent into the London underworld. The man in question is George (Bob Hoskins), who was recently released from prison. He's now a chauffeur for prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson), a job given to him by his former boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). George's descent gets pretty grim after a while.

The main focus of Mona Lisa has to be Hoskins' performance. He can be reserved one minute then having an outburst the next. It's George's trigger temper that makes Hoskins' work pay off. You don't what will set him off or when. He keeps you on your toes just watching him.

Hoskins' performance aside, there's not much else in Mona Lisa that stood out for me. I did like Jordan's direction, so I'll certainly be checking out some of his other work. But apart from that, not much happens in the film. I still liked it though.

My Rating: ****

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wendy and Lucy

Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy certainly doesn't seem like most films in recent years. There's only one major star, there's nothing glamorous about the film and it's very minimal in almost every aspect. And yet, Reichardt provides a compelling story.

The major star in question is Michelle Williams, who would later work with Reichardt on Meek's Cutoff. Williams here doesn't use her natural beauty to snag a man not does she act dumb. She instead uses some common knowledge to stay safe and ahead of the game. It's a simple performance that leaves an impact.

The minimal nature of Wendy and Lucy is another feature that would be carried into Meek's Cutoff. Reichardt isn't interested in the flashy ways of telling a story. She wants to get right to the point with her film. That's a style of filmmaking you don't see very often.

Reichardt also made me realize that directors like her (read: female) are vastly underappreciated. Honestly, Reichardt, Coppola, Campion...all great directors still overlooked by the public. Granted, the latter two have earned their recognition from AMPAS, but when will other female directors follow suit?

Anyway, I really liked Wendy and Lucy though a few scenes felt off to me. Williams continues to confirm that she's one of the best actresses working today. As for Reichardt? I'm certainly looking forward to her next film.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, April 18, 2013


One of the first images in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight is of a young woman sprawled on her bed, a small bottle clutched in her hand. Who is this woman and why did she try to kill herself?

We find out she's Thereza (Claire Bloom), a ballerina struggling to find work after a bout of illness. The man who saved her is in a similar situation. He's Calvero (Chaplin), a once-great music hall performer now in his twilight years. She recovers and manages to find work, but his career continues to dwindle.

Limelight is certainly Chaplin's most somber film. After all, this was made not long after his popularity started to fade. (In fact, on his way to the London premiere, he was denied access back into the United States.) And parallels between Chaplin and Calvero are intentional.

Chaplin doesn't sugarcoat any aspect of Calvero's downfall. When we're first introduced to Calvero, he's drunk. Not comedic drunk; it's more of a pathetic drunk. And any promise of a career kick start getting shot down is truly devastating. Sad clown, indeed.

Limelight quite quickly became my favorite Chaplin film. Granted, I did enjoy the bittersweet comedy of Modern Times and The Gold Rush, but what Chaplin did for Limelight is something that must be seen. Just the poignancy and sadness about the film...it's lovely.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


There are people who think a career in Hollywood is easy to achieve. That getting your name in lights takes little effort. Boy, how stupid some people are.

By all accounts, it takes years to garner a name for yourself if you want to be an actor. It'll take even longer if you want to be a director or a writer. Spike Jonze's Adaptation shows the situation for the latter albeit an already established one. Even after you've made a name in Hollywood, it's hard to follow up.

The film was not only written by Charlie Kaufman but also has him as the main character. Kaufman is played by Nicolas Cage, who also plays Kaufman's (fictional) twin brother Donald. Seeing Cage play both the repressed Charlie and the eccentric Donald is an absolute marvel. (When will Cage get another role like this?)

Also among the cast are Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, both nominated alongside Cage. (Cooper was the victor of the trio.) Both have done a number of serious roles, so seeing them do something more free-spirited is a nice touch. Their nominations (and Cooper's win) were completely justified.

Adaptation could have a number of ways and I'm grateful that it didn't. It gets a little too crazy in some scenes but that didn't stop me from loving it. And again, can someone in Hollywood give Cage a good role again please?

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

The one somewhat annoying thing Hollywood tends to do is when a film is set in New York, it's almost always going to be set in New York City. Speaking as a New Yorker, I've always found that bothersome. (There are other areas of New York after all.)

Derek Cianfrance's new film The Place Beyond the Pines is set in Schenectady, a city I myself live quite close to. (For you non-upstate New Yorkers, Schenectady is about twenty minutes from Albany.) And Sean Bobbitt's cinematography wonderfully captures the various Schenectady locales.

However, that's the only good thing I found in The Place Beyond the Pines. The rest of the film is bogged down with too much ambition. To think Cianfrance's previous film was the very devastating Blue Valentine.

There are a few redeeming features in The Place Beyond the Pines, and I do mean "few". The features in question are the performances from Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper. They don't go over the top at any point and in my eyes, Cooper gave the best performances of the three.

I was just really underwhelmed by The Place Beyond the Pines. It could have been so much better. I really hope Cianfrance's next film will be more structurally sound than this. (Seriously, that third act wasn't needed at all.)

My Rating: ***

Monday, April 15, 2013

Big Deal on Madonna Street

Many crime films revolve heavily around planning the perfect crime. Every detail must be absolutely perfect or you'll be caught by the authorities. Then there are those films revolving around crimes practically doomed from the start.

One such film is Mario Monicelli's Big Deal on Madonna Street. Revolving around a ragtag group of would-be robbers, the film proves that even the most thought-out plan can collapse spectacularly. (Honestly, I can't think of a scheme in the film that worked.)

It's amusing to see an Italian film that isn't depressing. (I've seen too many neorealism films.) And considering the last Monicelli film I saw (The Organizer), I was almost reluctant to watch this. Safe to say now that I'm glad I saw it.

Anyway, I was really amused by this. I initially thought it was going to be too silly for my tastes. Granted, it was in a few scenes but I really enjoyed it. (And this is coming from someone that's not too big on comedies.)

So Big Deal on Madonna Street was actually better than I originally thought. It certainly got me interested in what else Italy has done in the way of comedy. I'm quite sure there are a few that have flown past my radar...

My Rating: ****

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Layer Cake

There's a certain distinction between American films and British films. American films seem more driven by their stars. British films seem more focused on the stories. (At least that's from my perspective.)

And certain genres are different on each side of the pond too. Take for instance the crime genre. American films tend to have more bloodshed. British films are more slick. (They have just as much bloodshed but depending on the director, it's usually toned down.) The criminals in the latter films have more style. (Again, that's just from my perspective.)

One such film that displays that trait is Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake. Straying away from most crime film cliches, the film focuses more on the business side of drug dealing. Sounds dull, but Vaughn makes it really interesting.

The cast is pretty awesome. The names range from established actors to future stars. It should come as no surprise that Daniel Craig totally owns this film. (Also no surprise that it was this film that convinced producers to hire Craig as James Bond.)

It strays from the plot every now and again, but Layer Cake is an amusing watch. It felt like a Guy Ritchie film at times (which is ironic/fitting since he was attached to direct this at one point), so that says a bit right there. I've a feeling I'll be watching this whenever I'm in a certain mood.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I certainly don't know why it is, but there's a certain allure to British productions. Maybe it's the actors, maybe it's the stories. Either way, I thoroughly enjoy them.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth essentially sums up why I'll usually prefer British productions. Revolving around two very different men, the film focuses on a battle of intellect between them. And as time wears on, their battles become more vicious.

I have a feeling that Laurence Olivier must have had some fun with his role. Far from his authority roles and Shakespeare parts, Olivier displays a certain sort of comedic sociopathy in his Andrew Wyke. And yet when he is defeated at his own game, you sort of feel sorry for him.

Michael Caine in turn does the opposite as Milo Tindle. You feel sorry for him initially but once he starts to understand his Andrew's mind games, your sympathy starts to dwindle. Just imagine what the response was towards the then-relatively unknown Caine.

Sleuth is damn clever. You really don't find films like this nowadays. Olivier and Caine are really great here, perhaps their best work in general. If you can get a hold of this film, it's definitely worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, April 12, 2013

24 Hour Party People

Everyone knows of the British Invasion of the 1960s. You know, when the rest of the world got a taste of bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. Roughly a decade later, the UK had a new name of music: puck rock.

This era of music was immortalized by bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. The era of music that Michael Winterbottom captures in 24 Hour Party People is the post-punk era. (The punk era itself is glimpsed at briefly.) This is the era where Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays reigned supreme. And Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) was responsible for getting them recognized.

As with other stories of meteoric fame like Sid and Nancy and Control (the latter would make for a good double feature with this), 24 Hour Party People shows that getting sudden recognition might not always be the best thing. Many times, the overwhelming success will result in substance abuse. That very thing is what happened with several of Wilson's clients.

Amusingly, Winterbottom doesn't stick with a particular format for the film. It isn't a straight drama because Wilson/Coogan breaks the fourth wall ever now and again, particularly to point out who's making a cameo. And it's not a documentary since the people shown are actors, not the real people. Still, the blending of the two genres is a nice touch on Winterbottom's part.

24 Hour Party People certainly seems like one of those films that I'll be watching again in the near future. Featuring a motley crew of British actors (a number of them later making names for themselves on television), the film showcases an era full of sex, drugs and plenty of rock 'n roll.

My Rating: ****

Monday, April 1, 2013

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Sweet Hereafter

What does one do when tragedy strikes? Some mourn. Some go into denial. Some rage against the heavens. Regardless of the reaction, it's hard to cope with the sudden news.

The Sweet Hereafter explores a tragedy in a small New York town through the eyes of several people: the driver of the bus that crashed; the father of two of the victims; a lawyer hired by some of the town's residents; and the lone student who survived the accident. All are reeling from what has happened in their own ways.

Russell Banks' novel shows that before the tragedy, these people suffer from their own personal problems. The accident only added to their troubled lives. All are not perfect humans, and Brooks proves that in his writing.

Atom Egoyan's film keeps the spirit of Banks' novel alive with a few added details. The main one is depicting the New York (actually Canadian) landscapes thanks to the watchful eye of Paul Sarossy. They add certain elements to the film which make the original material come even more alive. Throw in some great performances (particularly from Ian Holm and Bruce Greenwood), and that sums up Egoyan's film.

Both Banks' novel and Egoyan's film basically keep many aspects of the story the same, but there are a few noted differences between the two. Banks' novel is more subtle whereas Egoyan's film is more haunting. As with many previous entries, I must pick my favorite of the two though it might be hard.

What's worth checking out?: Both.