In the last three months I have maintained my quota of watching 10-12 films per month, but my blogging has suffered terribly. My commitment in the short term is to get back to posting more often. The attempt to do so begins with this massive recap of films I have seen recently. In addition, I already have finished two other postings that I plan to publish in the coming days. One is a full review of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, my 6th review in my marathon of the director (which needs to pick up). The other is a special look at the largely overlooked Netflix original show “Orange is the New Black” which will kick-off Television reviews in this blog.
Without further ado, here is a compendium of short reviews of all the films watched this past summer (in no particular order):
DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) [ 3.5/5 ]
Interesting thriller starring the up-and-coming Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) opposite a taciturn and overly quiet Colin Farrell.
The struggle at the film’s core lacks believability as well as some of the action scenes, but the plot and characters are developed well enough to keep us engaged.
One of the better films Farrell has been a part of recently.
ADAPTATION. (2002) [ 4/5 ]
♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦
A peculiar film that moves elegantly between deeply affecting and comedic moments. Nicholas Cage plays two twin brothers. One the brilliant artist with a lot of self-doubt and a case of writer’s block; the other a confident ladies’ man whose decision to emulate his brother and write a movie script turns unexpectedly successful.
The film, like the actor, is a mixture of seriousness and comedy, loneliness and goofiness, reflection and thrill that makes for a rather interesting watch.
Director Spike Jonze once again captivates me not so much with the film he crafted, but with the ideas and notions that it explores.
Another great performance by Nicholas Cage, whose recent run of films has suggested he stopped caring for his craft a while back.
GOMORRAH (2008) [ 4.5/5 ]
♦♦ Official Inclusion to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦♦
A fantastic, often shocking film about daily life in a poor neighborhood of Naples that is completely controlled by the Camorra (Neapolitan mafia).
Gomorrah is a revisionist film, void of the glamor and romanticism Hollywood has distilled on the mafia and its ways. Instead of the lovable Corleone family from The Godfather trilogy, Gomorrah depicts unscrupulous criminals that take advantage of the needy in pursuit of money and power.
NOTORIOUS (1946) [ 3.5/5 ]
My sixth entry of my Alfred Hitchcock Marathon. Full review upcoming!
THE QUIET (2005) [ 2.5/5 ]
If it were not for the occasional attempts to lighten up the mood, The Quiet would just be a distasteful attempt to shock us with content that deserves to be explored in a more careful and elegant manner.
Despite having a couple of deeply emotional moments that are as effective as they are disturbing; the film feels cheap overall, with a plot so thin that it becomes stuck around one idea. I wish the screenplay would have found ways to make the story more believable, instead of choosing to make characters that seem to be willing participants to perversion.
WOULD YOU RATHER (2012) [ 1/5 ]
Yet another film that I watch due to my roommate’s never-ending love for cheap horror and gore. Would You Rather? is a contemporary horror film with little concern for artistry, made with the goal of shocking audiences and nothing more. There is plenty of over acting, poorly executed sequences and plenty of corny dialogue. One of the worst films of the year.
THE CONJURING (2013) [ 3.5/5 ]
The film’s creepiness is very consistent from beginning to end. There is a sense of dread and doom that is maintained through every sequence. The art direction, cinematography and the solid performances by the cast all contribute towards keeping the film interesting and scary.
The Conjuring resorts to every trick in the horror genre, opting to show rather than to suggest, which in turn made the film a lot less effective than it could have been.
MAMA (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]
Why must there be creepy little children with creepy little voices in horror films? In a genre that could explore just about anything worth cringing about, horror often means evil children, exorcisms or very angry ghosts.
Directed by Andres Muschietti, Mama is interesting on a purely visual level, but it’s nowhere near as effective as it tries to be.
There are plenty of elements that are terribly unnecessary and unoriginal. One example comes from Jessica Chastain’s character, whose “rebellious” attitude towards life (bass player of a rock band, dyed ’emoish’ hair, skeptical about marriage and kids) is used as the starting point for a heroine whose views and attitudes about life drastically change over the course of the film. It is an obvious resource that contributes to the predictability of the film.
PACIFIC RIM (2013) [ 4/5 ]
An action feast that only Hollywood and the vision of a talented director like Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) can make possible. Find my full review here
LAWLESS (2012) [ 3/5 ]
Set in Franklin County, Virginia, during the Prohibition Era, Lawless focuses on a family of brothers whose alcohol bootlegging business is threatened by corrupt public officials who want to cash in on their power.
Even though it promised to be a refreshing take on the criminal network that was spurred by Prohibition in America, Lawless is an unfocused film that explores too many plot avenues, without finding its true message or purpose.
There is also plenty of wasted talent on the screen, with Tom Hardy at the forefront as Forrest, the quiet man whose steely courage and tough guy exterior has made him a legend of sorts. His take on the role goes from convincing to utterly disappointing, depending on his control over his English accent. Shia LeBouf as Forrest’s little brother is forgettable at best, while Jessica Chastain does what she can with a very unremarkable role as Forrest’s love interest. The best one out of the bunch is undoubtedly Guy Pearce, who is terribly entertaining as the devilish corrupt Marshall Charlie Rakes.
ARBITRAGE (2012) [ 3.5/5 ]
There have been plenty of films about corporate greed and the excesses of capitalism ever since the global economy tanked. Arbitrage is among the better ones because its concern is not to lecture us, but to explore the motivations of a man whose incredible ambition has made him lose touch with what is right.
Arbitrage is a well-made cerebral thriller moved forwards by Richard Gere, in one of the stronger performances of his career. It has enough suspense and twists to keep us engaged even when the direction is terribly uninspired, often making the feature film look like a made-for-TV movie.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) [ 3/5 ]
The latest offering by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn is quite the “trip” for those who appreciate some good-ol’ street justice set in the traditions of East Asia with plenty of gore and sexual situations.
Overall, it is not nearly as interesting or artistically savvy as Drive. A small mistep in the career of a very talented director with a keen eye for visuals. Find my full review here
AMOUR (2012) [ 4.5/5]
♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦
A beautiful story about love, sacrifice and mortality. The film is occasionally punctuated by truly sublime scenes of contemplation and self-reflection. The acting is absolutely wonderful, with two characters that are brought to life by two legendary French actors at the end of their careers.
Amour’s greatest accomplishment is that it is inspirational and moving without being overly tragic or sad, a great feat if we consider the subject matter.
Find my full review here.
THE ROAD (2009) [ 2.5/5 ]
In a post-apocalyptic world a man and his son struggle to stay alive, scavenging for food, which is in very short supply, and avoiding the dangers posed by hungry, hopeless people with guns.
While films like Amour find love and inspiration in tragedy, The Road’s approach is to rely on it unmercifully to find some profound humanity that is not more than an unwillingness to give up and survive.
Instead of siding with our hero, a sickly-looking Viggo Mortensen, we can’t help to find reason in the despair of others. The Road is not truly about hope and survival, but about misguided optimism in an incredibly depressing dying world.
A sad film is not always moving.
THE INTOUCHABLES (2012) [ 4.5/5 ]
♦♦ Official entry to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films ♦♦
There is something wonderfully airy and hopeful about this delightful French film.
Though we do not particularly get much insight into the lives of most of the characters, there is so much heart in this story that every member of the cast becomes an extended part of our family, and we emphatize with their struggles.
Though it may initially lead you to believe that it is a film about overcoming disability or simply dealing with it, The Intouchables is actually about friendship, and an unlikely one at that. In it, we can find a profound message on humanity and how, by helping others, we can also help ourselves by better understanding what we are capable of.
The Intouchables makes light of tragedy by being funny and charming from the first scene to the last. Also, it boasts some of the best, most effortless acting I have seen in a while.
CLOUD ATLAS (2012) [ 3.5/5 ]
A highly ambitious film that cannot be faulted for its lofty goals, but for the inconsistency of its delivery. Find my full review here
WORLD WAR Z (2013) [ 3/5 ]
Sometimes violence and gore are neccessary for a film to feel right. This is the case of World War Z, an apocalyptic zombie movie with little to none of the violence and gore that is commonly associated with the genre. That is, of course, until you watch the unrated version and catch a glimpse of what the film might have been like.
Apart from a handful of impressively orchestrated sequences and some nifty CGI work, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the film. Brad Pitt does not add much, except for his much needed star power.
DREDD (2012) [ 3/5 ]
Dredd is the American response to the acclaimed The Raid: Redemption. A futuristic, less in-your-face version where hand-to-hand combat is largely replaced with a lot of firepower and some cool weaponry. Much like The Raid, the film takes place inside a tall building where violence and poverty define the lives of its residents.
Two “judges” (a form of modern judge/jury/executioner) go into the building to solve a series of murders, only to quickly find themselves embroiled in a battle for survival against a deadly gang that controls the entire structure.
Karl Urban plays the title role without ever taking his helmet off, which should give everyone a pretty clear idea of just how straightforward this film is.
AN EDUCATION (2009) [ 2.5/5 ]
A young Carey Mulligan plays a book smart young girl from a modest family somewhere in a small town in England. Her father hopes, and she does too, that her talents will be enough to get into Oxford.
One day she encounters a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard) that offers her a ride during a storm. Upon this faithful meeting, she is slowly seduced to the point where she abandons her own dreams to follow his.
Apart from being a rather predictable story, there is nothing in particular that makes the film sizzle. Not one moment of poignant tragedy or of significant inspiration.
An Education is highly overrated and largely inconsequential. Some great acting and a positive message keep the film above mediocrity.
GARDEN STATE (2004) [ 3/5 ]
A heartwarming tale of romance with well-developed characters that seem to gravitate towards each other in a natural and believable way. There is plenty of dark comedy in the film, some of which hits the mark.
Garden State is the inspired creation of Zach Braff, whose work here hints at great things to come. Sadly, it has not panned out that way (sorry to the fans of Scrubs).
BLACK ROCK (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]
3 girls decide to patch their friendship when they meet in a small island locals refer to as The Black Rock. Soon after their arrival, they come across 3 guys. For a brief moment the stress level goes up only to subside when one of the girls recognizes one of the guys. As expected, this is only a short distraction and what we expect all along starts to happen.
Black Rock has a promising first act, only to become an uninspiring “cat follows mouse” kind of story with sub-par acting and poorly executed action scenes.
TRANCE (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]
Trance starts off rather well, coming off as a psychological thriller of the likes I had not quite seen before. The more time passes, Trance becomes more of a convoluted mess where reality and dream mesh into one, and the path the film seemed to be following is completely altered. James Mcavoy does most of the leg work, opposite a largely disappointing Rosario Dawson and an under-utilized Vincent Cassel in the latest directorial effort by Danny Boyle.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER (2011) [ 3/5 ]
A ridiculous comedy with enough funny moments to keep us engaged. Our Idiot Brother offers Paul Rudd a role that is tailor-made to his talents as a comedic actor. Playing Ned, the pot-smoking, naive, and overly optimistic brother of three sisters with big personalities, feels like an extension of Rudd, whose chill vibe and unassuming friendly eyes suggest perfect casting.
The comedy does tend to get a bit too silly for my taste and, for this reason alone, I give it a little less credit than I would have otherwise.
THE CALL (2013) [ 3/5 ]
If The Call had only been about the stress and the suspense that goes with being a 911 responder in a big city, the film would have been a complete success. Instead, The Call becomes far too interested in expanding the role of Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) to more than just a woman who takes her responsibility very seriously. Away from the rapid-fire phone exchanges, the film loses much of its appeal and momentum, ending with a final act that is both ludicrous and poorly orchestrated.
Does every woman in the lead role in a thriller need to become a bad-ass heroine these days?
UPSIDE DOWN (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]
Actor Jim Sturgess seems to be on a roll with sappy roles in epic romantic movies. In Upside Down, he plays a down-on-his-luck nobody named Adam who falls in love with Eden (Kristen Dunst). They live in a world with two separate gravities. Adam’s half of the population lives “down below”, while Eden’s half sits directly above their heads or “up above”.
Aside from a clever title, some interesting ideas and special effects, Upside Down seems like a film that wanted and needed to be larger, more daring and slightly more complex than it was. The love story behaves in the same way, feeling rushed and unconvincing. If adding to all of this is an anticlimatic ending, Upside Down is a film with a lot of wasted potential.
DIRTY GIRL (2010) [ 2.5/5 ]
A wacky “dramedy” about a promiscuous high school girl and a self-conscious gay teen who form an unlikely friendship during high school. The film is best when the two main characters share the screen when they take a road trip so she can meet her biological father.
Though the story has its charms and the characters are developed well enough, Dirty Girl suffers from poor film making, with a plethora of scenes that lack punch, a script that falls flat and that lacks believability more often than not.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) [ 3/5 ]
The prequel to one of the most famous films ever made disappointed more than a fair share of fans.
Oz is the kind of Hollywood product that is so overproduced and neatly digitized, that it takes the soul out of the story, converting it into a fantastical world that is excessively awash in CGI.
James Franco does not do the film any favors either. His performance is too laid back and too relaxed to feel genuine. This is not Oz we are watching, this is Franco’s version of Oz.
Apart from a couple of well-timed side characters and inventive set designs, I have the feeling that Oz could have been a lot better than it was because all of the talent and the budget they needed was at their disposal.
CRONOS (1993) [ 3/5 ]
Guillermo Del Toro admitted to the people over at the Criterion Collection that his first feature-length film, Cronos, is his most personal, but also his most flawed creation. I could not agree more.
Without any major experience under his belt, Cronos is both an inspired first feature for the talented director, and an imperfect attempt at making something a bit more profound. Cronos explores the subject of immortality, but it does so rather uniquely, with a mixture of dark comedy and existentialism that draws parallels with films like The Fly, in which the protagonists transformation into a different state of being is not altogether satisfactory, quickly becoming a tragedy of mythical proportions. A full review to come soon!
TAKING LIVES (2004) [ 3/5 ]
There might be no one better than Angelina Jolie to kick some ass and look good and convincing doing it. Taking Lives is a precursor to the excellent Salt. In both films Jolie plays to her strengths, displaying a remarkable physicality and intensity that was needed for the roles.
In general the film lacks pzzaz all the way up to the final act where Jolie exacts revenge in the most complex, yet coolest way possible.
IMDB TOP 250: 2001 SPACE ODDISSEY [ 5 ]
MILLION DOLLAR BABY [ 4.5/5 ]
MILK [ 4/5 ]
WEEKEND [ 4/5 ]
IMDB TOP 250: DJANGO UNCHAINED [ 4.5/5 ]
MOVIES OF THE SUMMER:
1. The Intouchables [ 4.5 / 5 ]
2. Gomorrah [ 4.5 / 5 ]
3. Amour [ 4.5 / 5 ]
4. Adaptation. [ 4 / 5 ]
5. Pacific Rim [ 4 / 5 ]